Social Media – Just Part of the Job

September 6, 2011 Filed under: Fun Stuff

I attended a Social Media event this week, sponsored by SMC Seattle – the Seattle branch of Social Media Club, a national organization with the purpose of sharing best practices, establishing ethics and standards, and promoting media literacy around the emerging area of Social Media.  These monthly meetings are a great way to network and learn what other people are doing in social media, and, since I’ve attended for roughly 2 years, they also let me observe some things about social media’s evolution in  the Seattle business culture.  Here are some observations that I think are worth sharing from last week’s meeting.

  • Age diversity. Meetings are sold out every month, at ever-larger venues.  Yet this crowd was not only larger, but noticeably more diverse.  Social Media enthusiasts are no longer just 20-somethings, which I assume means employers no longer think you have to be under 30 to ‘get’ the new media.  This gathering featured an 85+ year-old cane-toting man, lots of recent college grads, and an even spread of every age in-between.
  • A new demographic. The speaker, Kathy Savitt, CEO of Lockerz, cited numerous statistics and survey results to describe “GenZ” – the generation of people born since 1990, who’ve never known life without the Web.  Statistics on this age group paint a picture of a generation addicted to mobile devices and social media, while marketers are busy figuring out how to sell to the new, always-connected consumer.  Some of the speaker’s observations:

GenZ is highly friend centric.  It’s no surprise to learn that peer recommendations and social media sharing are the single biggest source of brand exposure and purchase influence for this age group.

GenZ are “curators,” meaning they operate by curating their knowledge and content from multiple sources, not one trusted source. This makes it more difficult for marketers to establish brand loyalty, and requires that B2C companies reach out through as many social channels as possible.

  • Lifestyle impacts. With the novelty of social media wearing off, there is more discussion of its impact on day-to-day life.  Conversations included fun tidbits like stories of ‘when I lost my cell phone’ and ‘most original tweets I’ve seen,’ while more serious topics included the negative impacts of social media on teen motivation and attention, and the feelings of isolation generated by social media over-use.  All are signs of social media being firmly planted in the mainstream, with the next focus on how best to integrate it into our shared culture.
  • Part of my regular job. Two years ago, most attendees identified themselves as social media experts, hired by their employer to ‘do’ social media.  Companies didn’t know what to make of the new fad back then and needed an expert to help them figure it out.  This time, everyone I talked to described social media as just ‘part of my job’. Not one business card I collected even mentioned Social Media. It’s become ubiquitous enough to be taken for granted.
  • Not cool, just practical. While social media experts carried a certain panache and cool factor just a short while ago, discussions at this event carried more of a bottom-line theme.  How can I track my ROI?  What is a Facebook follower actually worth to my business?  How can I integrate social media with the rest of my marketing tactics?  How can I best target my audience demographic through social media?  To claim coolness today, you need to prove it with quantifiable ROI.

What observations have you made about social media’s evolution in your region?

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Which Social Media Channel is Best for Your Small Biz?

August 29, 2011 Filed under: Social Media Marketing — Tags: , , , ,
demographics of social media users

data from AdAge Blogs, May 16, 2011

There are plenty of companies today with an active presence on all the latest social media networks, taking full advantage of the exploding popularity and visibility of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and others.  But most small businesses simply don’t have the resources to engage effectively on more than one or two social channels.  If that’s the case for your business, you may be asking yourself which social media channel is likely to drive the best results for you. Or, perhaps you’ve dived into too many channels and, like the hamster on the spin wheel, you’re wondering how to step things down and better focus your efforts.

While there’s no standard profile for who should use which social media channel for what exact purposes, there are some distinctions that may help you decide which one(s) will be most effective for your business.   Start by defining your own goals, and then consider these differences between the social media options.

Twitter

Twitter usersThis cool infographic from BuySellAds.com gives lots of demographic information about Twitter users, including size of the user population, who uses it, why they use it, how they use it, how often, and more.  While Twitter has been around only 5 years, it has been credited with influencing – some even say inciting – significant newsworthy events, including the “Arab Spring” movements, the British riots, and relief efforts for numerous natural disasters.  But can you harness it effectively for your business?

Twitter allows you to broadcast 140-character tweets to a broad audience, and attract followers on the basis of your information value.  Twitter users tend to follow good information rather than personal connections, which is why it’s the channel most popular with media and news reporters, and favored by businesses who want to establish thought leadership.  If you have valuable, informative content to share, this may be your best choice – and it works particularly well for promoting your blog.   Also be sure to monitor what’s being said about your company on Twitter, and be quick to respond when any issues arise.  Given the popularity of Twitter among influentials, negative news has a way of travelling fast and can quickly spell disaster if you don’t manage it.

Facebook

Facebook usersAnother infographic, this from Digital Surgeons, shows how Facebook and Twitter demographics compare.  With over 700 million users, Facebook is the big daddy of social media channels.   But does that mean it’s a good choice for your business?

Most people use Facebook to chat informally with friends, so it tends to work best for consumer-facing companies – brands which consumers interact with as part of their daily life.  If you want consumers to follow your business on Facebook, be prepared to offer special deals, discounts or coupons, as that’s what most followers expect.  Also be prepared for honest customer feedback — and have a plan for responding to it – as consumers are known to engage most when they have something to complain about.  Some people say that having a company page shows you care what your customers say and think about you (see survey results) – implying that if you don’t, you don’t care.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn targets the business professional and acts as a networking hub, a sort of online rolodex.  It’s useful for job seekers and recruiters, and many users see it as a way to post their resume and credentials online.  There is also a fair amount of selling that goes on, especially by B2B service companies that are heavily relationship-dependent.  LinkedIn discussions have become popular forums in some industries, where idea-sharing and industry-focused meetups are valuable forms of networking.  LinkedIn has recently honed its professional focus even further by offering industry-related news feeds in LinkedIn Today.

If B2B relationship building is key to your business, you’ll want to have a presence on LinkedIn.  Beyond that, it’s a great way to stay in touch with colleagues, to discuss issues within an industry or professional group, or to network for sales or job hunting purposes.

Google+

This newest of the social media channels has had a meteoric start, gaining 25 million users in its first month.  The reviews have been somewhat mixed, with a lot of enthusiasm for features like Circles, Hangouts and Sparks that are missing on Facebook, and a lot of ‘wait and see’ pronouncements because so many of the early adopters are techies and not representative of average users.  Google has not yet rolled out the ‘business version’ of Google+, so it’s too early to characterize what it does best for a small biz.

What is your social media channel of choice?  And why?

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Does Your Business Have a Story?

your company story

Source: bcarsonradio.wordpress.com

An editorial in last week’s Sunday New York Times, called What Happened to Obama? got me thinking.  The article, by Drew Westen, talks about Obama’s failure to ‘tell us a story.’  The author describes his disappointment when he listened to the president’s inauguration speech back in Jan. 2009, disappointing because there was no story told to give context and meaning to the financial calamity people were experiencing:

Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety.

While I found the claims about Obama to be compelling and thought-provoking, it got me thinking more generally about story-telling, that form of art and entertainment that goes back as far as human history.  The article’s key point is that stories matter because they speak to people in a way that straight facts do not.  Stories appeal not just to the rational mind but to the heart, and that’s ultimately what reaches people, what causes them to act, to care, or even to change their mind.

Story-Telling Your Business

So what does this have to do with small business marketing?  The same thing it has to do with marketing anywhere.  Marketing, if done well, is all about telling stories.  There are short-term stories – why a new product matters, how your customers are using your products to solve their problems, what trends are shaping your industry, etc.  These are the stories companies generally issue press releases about and, if compelling enough, get press or blog coverage for.  Then there is a company’s primary, defining story – the story that sticks in customers’ minds about who the company is.  Some would call this a ‘brand narrative’; I would call it a company’s story.  If you want your company to be remembered and your brand to ‘stick’ in the minds of your target audience, you need to have a strong story.  And your marketing – both online and offline – needs to consistently tell that story.

What Kind of Story?

What does it mean for your company to have a story?  Does it mean you have to create a fairy tale around yourself?  Does it simply mean reciting your company history?  Do you need your employees or executives to be colorful characters?  The answer is a partial yes to all these questions, but those are not the questions to start with.  The first question is the one that all sales & marketing folks know the answer to: what is your unique selling proposition?  Start with that, and you can begin to build a story around it.

For some help with the story part, I return to Drew Westen’s column again, where he says (rightly) that “our brains evolved to expect stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought.”  Any good PR person or journalist knows these basic rules about story-telling.  But many marketers do not; those who don’t often default to just relating facts about what products they offer and why you should buy.  Here are some great examples of companies whose brands tell a story:

Apple Computer. The villain was drab, boring business computers in the 1980’s and too many look-alike cell phones in the 2000’s.  Apple’s ‘cool’ products entered the scene, gained recognition from creative advertising and wildly loyal customers, and achieved market share and profit victories because of its ‘insanely good’ product design.  That’s a good story.

Facebook. The villain was “your parents’ computing approach” – namely, email and Internet search.  Facebook, designed for the college crowd (who then grew into the GenX & GenY workforce) defined a new approach to communication and networking and fueled the next tech revolution of social media.  This story was good enough to merit a movie and win an Academy Award.

Subway. The villain here is high-fat fast food chains, and the victims are health-conscious consumers.  Enter fresh, healthy Subway, who’s been around for years, under-appreciated, and now getting a second look from obesity-sickened Americans.  This well-timed story found fertile ground in the health-food movement.

Does your business have a story?  Are you telling that story, or is it being told for you?  Now is the time to seize your own narrative and cement it in your customers’ minds so they can retell it for you.

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What Does PR Even Mean Today?

August 9, 2011 Filed under: Blogging,Content Marketing,SEO,Social Media Marketing

Public relations used to mean working with the media, feeding them story ideas, providing access to spokespeople, and putting the best spin on stories about your organization.  I know – I did it for many years. The assumption was that journalists, with their high degree of credibility, could influence public opinion in your favor if you played your cards right.  The PR skill was in finding and cultivating influential reporters, understanding their audience, and offering them unique, newsworthy story ideas to interest their readers.  You could of course spin things in your favor, but most reporters have a keen ear for the truth and a credible reputation to uphold, so having high quality content and an interesting narrative would get you the farthest.

The model has changed, of course, as journalists are scarce and people currently rely on blogs, social media, online communities and other forms of crowd sourcing for their information.  And yet, despite the changes, the basic ingredients for how to tell your story haven’t changed.  Establishing credibility for your brand still requires compelling stories and influential relationships.

PR today has migrated from media relations and story ideas to encompass blogging, SEO, content strategy and social media.  A PR professional who doesn’t embrace these other points on the Communications circle will likely be overrun by those who do.

PR bleeds into SEO, social media, blogging

Blogging – PR professionals understood early that many journalists were turning into bloggers.  Today, finding the bloggers that influence your target audience can be more challenging as there are more of them and their needs are different.  Many are open to more than story ideas and will welcome contributed articles and guest posts.  Most welcome comments and opinions and can be a great opportunity for focused industry discussion.  PR professionals need to come to the table with more than story ideas if they want to take full advantage of the blogging opportunity.  Ideally, start your own company blog and use your great story ideas yourself.  Or build relationships with other influential bloggers in your market and guest post there.

SEO – SEO aims to bring your target audience to your website.  It starts with keywords, and uses those keywords to flavor your company’s website content so it can be found by searchers.  It then uses links in offsite content  – press releases, blog posts, articles, etc. — to bring new visitors to your website.   Since PR professionals live by words, knowing which keywords to feature and which sites to target for links will make you a key contributor to SEO and online marketing efforts.

Content Strategy — PR is about communicating a company’s messages to its target audiences.  You can’t do that without having interesting stories to tell and plenty of content to share.  That’s true now more than ever.  But with so many places to tell your story online, you’ll be running in circles unless you have a clear strategy for what you want to publish, to which audience segment, via which channel, and when.  A content strategy will  help you determine which audience segments to target with different messages, which channels (blogs, social media, etc.) to target for each audience, and how to ensure consistency across the board.  An editorial calendar is an essential tool for this purpose.

Social Media – Everyone is chatting on social media.  If you’re not there, listening to what opinion leaders and customers are saying, you’ll have a hard time influencing anyone in your company’s favor.  Traditional PR media relations required you to connect with reporters who covered your business; social media relations requires you to connect with anyone talking about your business.  The importance of relationship building has never been greater.

Are you a public relations professional?  How has your job been transformed?

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Why Now Is the Time to Ask For Customer Reviews

July 26, 2011 Filed under: Local Search — Tags: , ,

Google made some important changes to Place Pages last week, including a more focused approach to showing what your customers think in reviews.  In the past, your Google Place Page displayed customer reviews from across the web, showing full text of what your customers said on review sites like Yelp, InsiderPages, Yahoo, TripAdvisor and more.  In addition to full reviews, they were also including ‘snippets’ of reviews in the local search listings next to Google Maps.  As of last week, however, your Place Page will only display what people have said about you on Google, while reviews on other sites will be referenced only through a single link to Yelp, Yahoo, etc.  If you don’t already have lots of customer reviews filled out by Place Page visitors, this would be a good time to start collecting them.

Google Place Page old reviews

Place Pages used to display reviews from around the web...

Customer reviews on Google Place page - new

...now you'll see reviews from Google only.

Google’s recent changes

The recent changes to Place Pages make for a cleaner look and a clearer call to action (note the 2 glaring red buttons suggesting visitors “Write a review”), so Google is making your job easier.  They are also paving the way for what Google describes on its Maps blog as the long-term vision for local search:

  • Bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful;
  • Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms;
  • Giving you more ways to rate, discover and share places you love faster and easier than ever, wherever you are, and on whichever device you choose.

The timing of this change, coming so shortly on the heels of the recent Google+ social media introduction, suggests they’ll likely be integrating the 2 more closely as part of the “more personalized results” goal.  See my blog post on Google+ First Impressions for more speculation on this.

Why customer reviews are important

Trust in AdvertisingIn the Nielsen Global Online survey from Q1 2011 on consumers’ attitudes toward advertising, 76% of US internet consumers said they most trusted recommendations from personal acquaintances, while 49% trusted consumer opinions posted online (e.g. reviews) when they are looking for information on products they need and want.  That’s a strong endorsement for the value of customer reviews and a good motivator for local businesses to get their customers talking.  As Google starts to integrate its Google+ social media site with Place Pages, the trusted recommendations from people you know will likely find its way onto Place Pages as well (just picture being able to see which of your friends like a particular restaurant, for example).

NOTE:  despite the fact that Google is no longer displaying reviews from other sites, there’s no reason to believe they’ve stopped giving value to those reviews in their local ranking algorithm.  So, don’t discount the importance of having reviews in a variety of places.  See Mike Blumenthal’s post on this topic.

Getting your business reviewed

Every business loves to see happy customers write good reviews, unsolicited.  But you’re likely to get far better results if you go a step further and ASK your customers for a review.  Depending on your type of business and customer touchpoints, there are lots of ways to ask.  The first rule is to make it easy and comfortable.  Here are 8 approaches we’ve seen work for some of our clients.

  1. Thank-you email with a link. If you transact business online or otherwise collect your customer’s email as part of doing business, the simplest way to ask for a review is in a followup email, thanking them for their business and including a link to your Google Place Page.
  2. Card or sign at the register. If you have a retail business and don’t collect your customers’ email address, a friendly sign at the register or take-home card listing review sites can work.  If you offer home-delivery, consider leaving the card behind when you deliver the goods.

    Top customer review sites

    Don't forget these other sites for reviews

  3. Computer in your waiting room. If you typically ask customers (or patients) to wait for service, consider setting up a computer kiosk or laptop in your reception area.  It’ll give people something to do while they wait.
  4. Business card. Anytime a customer thanks you or tells you they appreciate your product or service, your reply should always include a suggestion to write their thoughts into a review.  Include your Google Place Page address on your business card in case they catch you on the run.
  5. Email or Tweet. Periodically, or when you have a new offer, send an email or tweet (or Facebook or Google+ post) to all customers and ask them for feedback via a customer review.
  6. Link on your website. Don’t expect customers to find you on review sites.  Send them directly with a link on your website – to your Place Page, to Yelp, or to other review sites your customers frequent.
  7. Digital signature. If you don’t feel comfortable asking customers directly for a review, you can place a link to review sites in your digital email or e-newsletter signature – a slightly more subtle suggestion.
  8. Provide an incentive.  This one is tricky, as you don’t want to be perceived as bribing people for their input.  But some businesses have been successful offering 5% off a next purchase or entry for a free drawing when people are willing to submit a review.

And what, you may ask, should a business owner do if customers say negative things and the whole world is watching?   Most review sites give you the opportunity to respond (publicly or privately) to reviews.  But before you do, read this Forbes article for a balanced view on customer reviews and this SearchEngineLand column for some sound advice on how to respond (or not).

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Roundup of Google+ First Impressions

Google+ pictureIf you follow anything about marketing or technology, you’ve probably heard about Google+.  The new social media channel, released to a limited invitation-only trial on June 28, has taken the tech world by storm.  Since there are plenty of news stories – and Google itself — to explain the new features, I’ll give you instead a roundup of the early impressions and opinions from early trial users.  It seems to be generating as much enthusiasm among Search gurus as HP and the DH2 is among Harry Potter fans.  Here’s what people are saying after the first 2 weeks:

Google+ Circles more like real relationships. The most talked-about new feature is Circles, which allow you to segment your social relationships more like people do in real life (define what circles you travel in socially, separate friends, work, family, etc.).  Wall St. Journal columnist Katherine Boehret, invited to test the Google+ trial, gives a clear overview here.

Targeted for Business. While Facebook was designed with college students in mind, Google+ seems a better fit for businesses.  Google has plans to start a test phase for businesses today, so expect more light to be shed soon on how business can make best use of it.  With high expectations and baited breath, many are waiting to see if and how Google is the social business network we’ve all been waiting for.  Read here about Google’s social business plans.

Game changing for small biz. Google+ Circles, a real-life way to segment your social connections online, will allow small businesses to ‘go social’ with their customers more easily, and will make it easy to join circles of your favorite local businesses through an integration with Google Place listings.  Andrew Shotland writes a great piece on Google Plus Google Places.

Plenty of hype & navel-gazing. Since the trial has been by invitation only, Google has heightened the mystery and gotten the pundits talking.  Like lots of big tech announcements, the initial hype may be a tad overblown. “Once Google+ users start discussing topics other than Google+ then it might get interesting…”  quipped one commenter on TechCrunch.

Google’s Trojan Horse. Devin Coldewey (TechCrunch) claims (convincingly) that the latest Google announcement is not only a replacement for Facebook and/or Twitter, but Google’s long-range plan to take over the Internet. “Sure, right now it seems like it’s aimed at Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, but when the stakes are this high, you better believe they’ve got guns pointed at everyone in the room.”  Yikes.

Inevitable Facebook comparisons.  Google has been widely rumored to have Facebook in its sights, so the comparisons are rampant.  Some of the more interesting include Rafe Needleman’s (CNet) claim that “Google+ Makes Me Happier Than Facebook,” Ryan Singel’s (Wired) preference for Google+ over Facebook on Privacy, …and Mashable’s Facebook Defectors survey results from voters who said “I’ve already left. Facebook is so dead to me” (24.4% of votes at this writing).

It’s still social media. While lots of pundits are saying it’s an improvement, Google+ still gives you the unending stream of comments from all your connections.  Here’s some early advice on how to manage it before it manages you.  Peter Meyers (SEOMoz) advises how to invest only 15 Minutes a Day on Google+.

If you’re not one of the early trial users, be sure to get on Google’s waiting list so you can discover Google+ for yourself!

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4 Tips To Improve Your Landing Pages

July 13, 2011 Filed under: Content Marketing,PPC — Tags: , ,

Guest post by Brandon Clay

landing page example“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Some clichés shouldn’t die. That’s one of them. First impressions are crucial and have value beyond job interviews and first dates. Whether you know it or not, your website is giving many, possibly thousands of first impressions to prospects every day.

Are you making a good first impression on your prospects?

All the quality traffic in the world won’t help a bad website. Even if your PPC advertising and Social Media is cranking on all cylinders, if your landing page doesn’t work, you’re wasting your time. Radical statement – but true. That’s why it’s critical to your business to fix your landing pages.

Landing Page Tip #1: Define Your Purpose

The landing page, or the webpage that your visitors first visit on your site, is your visitor’s first glimpse of your website. Before coming to your landing page, visitors are predisposed to think something positive about your business. Maybe you gave them a business card or promised something in an ad. Whatever the reason, visitors are coming to your landing page because they want to check you out. What do you want them to do there? (more…)

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Make Your Advertising Accountable

July 5, 2011 Filed under: PPC,Web Analytics — Tags: ,
PPC ROI cartoon

Courtesy of http://www.leadformix.com

Guest Post by Brandon Clay

Pay per click (PPC) advertising has deep roots in the advertising industry. The exact medium may be new but the principles have been unchanged for generations. It’s why PPC works so well.

Here’s the backstory:

In 1923, Claude Hopkins published a breakthrough in the advertising world Scientific Advertising. In it, he explained one of the foundations of Direct Response advertising. Its premise suggested that advertisers could test small ads, mediums, and offers. After finding a statistically-verifiable response in the market, advertisers could roll-out the tested strategy on a larger scale.

PPC ROI and claude hopkinsHopkins showed how testing small greatly improved the chances for a positive ROI. He provided a mechanism (“scientific” testing) to get the desired result (positive ROI). And he paved the way for advertisers demanding a return from their advertising investment.

Fast forward nearly 100 years…

ROI is Essential in Advertising

This science of advertising has progressed significantly since Hopkins’ time. Nearly all advertisers now demand a good return on their investment. We see Hopkins’ principle of scientific (now accountable) advertising at work in the marketplace. Ad dollars have fled low-ROI mediums like the Yellow Pages and newspapers and have flooded into higher-ROI mediums like Email marketing, PPC advertising, Facebook marketing and more.

Why?

Advertisers get more return from buying ads in Google versus sponsoring a billboard. They vote with their ad budgets. If they can measure good performance, then they renew the advertisement. If not, it gets cut. It’s that simple.

ROI is Easy to Measure with PPC

Despite Hopkins’ assurances, it’s not always easy to tie successes to every ad campaign. However, that problem is not as nearly acute with PPC advertising.

First, PPC can easily tie ad dollars to success on a website. For instance, an advertiser selling luggage with PPC may create 2 campaigns: one focused on US-based prospects and the other based on European-based prospects. With proper tracking setup, the advertiser tests and refines each campaign. The results may look something like this:

Campaign 1: Luggage – USA
Cost: $2,552
Revenue: $8,235
ROI (Revenue ÷ Cost – 1.0): 222.7%

Campaign 2: Luggage – Europe
Cost: $2,459
Revenue: $3,402
ROI (Revenue ÷ Cost – 1.0): 38.3%

In this example, we can see how much more effective this luggage manufacturer is selling to US-based customers compared to European-based customers. Based on these numbers alone, it would make sense to increase advertising budget in Campaign 1: Luggage – USA and lower (or remove) budget from Campaign 2: Luggage – Europe. That’s how PPC advertising works overall.

But PPC provides even more granular optimizations. Proper conversion and ecommerce tracking shows exactly what campaign, ad group, ad creative, and keyword resulted in particular actions on a website. This allows adept advertisers not only to pull bad campaigns, but also to pull lower-performing ads, keywords, and other less-than-stellar elements.

In addition, advertisers can bid-up on well-performing keywords and further refine winning ads. More importantly, advertisers can see what their PPC dollars bought them and if it was a worthwhile investment, thereby achieving accountable advertising. Hopkins would be proud.

PPC Works with Many Businesses (you should test it!)

I’ve worked in 70+ verticals and managed hundreds of pay per click campaigns and I’m convinced of one thing. PPC works. Thousands of businesses invest hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars in PPC advertising every month. These businesses are getting return from their advertising investment. They couldn’t afford to shell out all those ad dollars if they didn’t get positive ROI consistently.

PPC ROI and geicoFor instance, SpyFu, an online advertising intelligence tool estimates that Geico.com spends up to $90,710 in PPC advertising every day. That’s over $2.7 million per month. GEICO is a smart company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway (Billionaire Warren Buffett). If they didn’t see return from their advertising dollars, they would stop doing PPC.

Your business can probably benefit from PPC advertising, get a positive ROI, and ultimately get consistent revenues from PPC advertising. But don’t take my word for it.

Test it. In the spirit of accountable advertising, setup a good test with enough keywords, good tracking, an experienced manager and enough budget. Once you conduct a good-faith test in the PPC medium, you’ll know whether or not it can work for you.

If it works, expand your business, improve your revenues, and grow your bottom line with PPC. If not, you can explore other advertising mediums. Whatever the result, you’ll practice one of the best time-tested, principles in business: testable, accountable advertising. And you’ll see whether attractive ROI is possible for your business with PPC.

For more information on the concept of accountable advertising on the internet, checkout Avinash Kaushik’s webinar: Accountable Advertising on the Internet.

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3 Case Studies – How Marketing Numbers Tell a Story

June 28, 2011 Filed under: Internet Marketing,Web Analytics — Tags: ,

I hear lots of colleagues in the online marketing world talk about how they increased traffic by 20% or bumped conversions by 50% or grew Facebook fans by the hundreds or moved a search ranking to page 1.  But I rarely hear the story that goes along with it.  Numbers without a supporting story are like words without a sentence – there’s no context and therefore no real meaning.  And most importantly, there’s no insight to be gained about where to go next.  For numbers to be useful in marketing, they must be related to goals and must be understood in the context of the underlying business.  Here are three examples from companies we’ve helped out recently.

web analytics case study

from Wikipedia

Cloud computing company.  This company has seen website traffic drop by 10% in the past year and conversions have remained flat – not good news, at first glance.  But that doesn’t tell the real story.  On closer examination, their direct traffic (people who have bookmarked their site or enter the URL directly) is actually down 16%, while first-time organic search visitors are up by 17% and referring sites traffic increased by 22%.  At the same time, despite the traffic decline, their business is suddenly booming. What’s going on here?  A few contextual elements tell the story:

  • Thanks to SEO efforts and inbound link building, ranking for critical keywords broke onto the first SERP page, causing more searchers to find the company and click through to their site.
  • Because of guest blogging, with valuable links placed on numerous well-regarded blogs, the site has started drawing more referral traffic.
  • Website visitors are calling the phone number published on the site, and company salespeople are following up and closing new business.
  • BUT, visitors aren’t returning to the site, which has caused a drop in direct traffic.  The site has no blog and no source of freshly updated content – so there’s little incentive for people to return.
  • NEXT STEP is to create a company blog and, with regular compelling articles, build a reason for visitors to return.  Promoting the blog through social media will help spread the word that interesting things are happening and encourage followers to check it out regularly.  Additional call-to-action buttons will allow them to nurture leads through followup emails.

web analytics case study 2Financial Trading newsletter. This publisher typically suffers when the stock market is up and does well when stocks are down and people need advice.   But during the market’s recent rise they’ve increased organic traffic to their site by 15%.  That growth is now slowing and the percentage of first-time visitors is declining.  What’s happening?

  • The steady rise in stock prices has caused fewer people to actively search for financial advice and newsletters, so search demand is down.
  • BUT, the site has a high return rate by existing subscribers, as the publisher posts valuable information in a ‘question of the week’ format that clients love.
  • NEXT STEP is to launch a social media campaign and build a following so that loyal clients can share the weekly tips and bring more new visitors to the website to sign up for a trial subscription.

web analytics case study 3High-end Furniture Retailer. This retailer of fine custom-designed furniture has an excellent reputation and a loyal customer following.  They have a beautiful website with lots of pictures but since they don’t sell online, they are looking for ways to use their web presence to drive retail and ‘walk-by’ traffic.  What’s the best solution?

  • They don’t want to try “local deal” services like Groupon because it may tarnish their reputation.
  • They’ve tried Facebook but it hasn’t caught on well and they don’t really have deals to offer.
  • BUT, PPC campaigns have driven search traffic up by 15% in 6 months
  • Local SEO efforts have added 1500 new local visitors per month, coming  from a Place Page with positive customer reviews.
  • The company just had their best Spring Sale results in 3 years.
  • NEXT STEP:  Since search marketing seems to work well for them, focus on a content creation campaign that will help them rank for additional search terms.  And since beautiful pictures are a key asset, get pictures loaded into Google Merchant so Google Shopping customers can see them and come to the website for more.

The first takeaway here is that numbers have to be understood in context of the business goals and circumstances.  And secondly, finding what works may take several rounds of trying different tactics, measuring results, and determining what works best for you.

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10 Great Blogs & Websites for Small Biz Owners

June 21, 2011 Filed under: Fun Stuff — Tags:

small business blogs and websitesMany small businesses are struggling as our economy continues to sputter and choke.  There may not be a silver bullet to solve the growth problem, but there are some good resources on the web for small businesses looking to grow and expand.  Here are some blogs and websites you may find helpful.

Small Business Trends – a website hosted by Anita Campbell, widely regarded as one of the leading small business experts, who follows trends in the small business market and has won numerous awards for her dedication to small business.  This site includes article contributions from a broad list of small business writers and bloggers.  One downside: it’s organized chronologically, not by topic category, which makes it difficult to browse for topics of interest.

SmallBiz Technology – an online publication with easy-to-understand articles on technology.  Educates small business owners on how to use technology as a tool to grow their business.  Offers articles, videos, events, special reports, and great suggestions for small biz tech resources and tools.

BizSugar – A spinoff of Small Business Trends, this is a neat little bookmarking site for small business, which means articles are submitted by readers and then voted on so you can see which ones are most popular and most liked by the small biz community.  It’s easy to navigate, with clear topics (marketing, finance, legal, franchises, technology, startups) and lots of sub-topics, so you can easily browse popular articles in a well-defined category if you’re looking for advice or peer opinions on a particular topic area.  This site has a loyal following and lots of active participants.

Inc. Magazine – This grandaddy of small business publications has been around for 30 years.  The online edition includes a rich collection of articles, blogs, AskInc Q&A forum, IncTV video collection, Guides & Tools for specific small biz challenges, and the first-rate magazine itself.  A great feature is the Inc Advisor, a collection of how-to guides, articles, tips, and video interviews with top entrepreneurs, who share their lessons learned on wide assortment of topics for start-ups.  Another highlight is The Inc.500 | 5000 Conference and Awards Ceremony, an annual event that celebrates the fastest growing private companies in America.

DuctTape Marketing blog – John Jantsch writes this blog on small business marketing, with lots of practical & easy tips of the “10 Best Ways” variety.  He is a popular speaker and consultant, and also has a Podcast series of his famously practical small biz advice  available on iTunes.

Entrepreneur magazine a monthly online publication that carries news stories about entrepreneurialism, small business management, home-based business,  franchising, and business opportunities.

SBA website – the US Small Business Administration has a useful website that starts with a handy assessement tool to help you determine if you’re ready to start a new business.  It’s also got a wealth of articles about managing and growing your business, including practical topics like obtaining licenses & permits, business laws & regulations, loans, grants & funding, importing & exporting, energy efficiency, insuring your business, disaster preparedness, working with the government, etc. The site can also direct you to the local SBA office in your region for more localized small biz information.

NYTimes You’re The Boss blog – a bunch of first-rate journalists contribute to this blog, featuring lots of real-life stories of entrepreneurs and small business owners and what has worked (or not) for them.

Wall St. Journal How-to Guide for Small Business – The Wall St. Journal publishes oodles of articles on small business, but on this site they aggregate lots of “how to” tips, written by some of their top reporters and columnists.   If you’re looking for hands-on advice for how to make some challenging decisions in your business, look here before you pay a consultant.  Article categories include Funding a Business, Franchising, Starting a Business, Hiring & Managing Employees, Buying & Selling a Business, and more.

Business On Main – a Microsoft MSN site that calls itself “a community for small business leaders.”  Includes articles, videos, tools and other information to inform and answer questions about starting, running and growing a business. Includes a Q&A database, though it doesn’t appear to be very active.

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