Planting Seeds

Assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s hard to think about gardening right about now. With the Winter Solstice upon us, the days are the shortest of the year. In fact, in the continental U.S., we’ll dwindle to just nine hours and 32 minutes of daylight on December 22. In Barrow, Alaska, there won’t be a sunrise at all.

Still, in these darkest days, we find reason for optimism. We take a few steps back to reflect, consider and plan. We think about warmer days and planting seeds. And we take hopeful comfort in what they will bring.planting seeds

The continual life cycle of a garden—preparing, planting, nurturing and reaping—is a wonderful, timeless metaphor for our businesses. They work exactly the same way.

During the next few weeks, many of us spend much-needed time away. We decompress and reconnect. Or maybe we steal a few moments of solitude in the midst of holiday madness to think about a new goal or an emerging opportunity. Or maybe we have the chance to finally see the past year as a finished verse rather than a work in progress. We begin to prepare.

Shortly after, it’s time to start planting seeds. In many ways, it’s a conscious acknowledgement that good things usually don’t happen immediately. And that faith, skill and confidence (and maybe even a little luck) are the non-quantifiable ingredients for a thriving garden.

So in the midst of these shorter days, as the year draws to a close, consider your business and the relationships that drive it. Think about your customers and their experiences. Step back and ponder about operational improvements or streamlined processes. Think about things a little outside of your comfort zone. In other words, think about what that garden could look like.

Now’plant-the-seeds the time. Plant some seeds.

Will you see meaningful results in a few weeks or months? Probably not. But soon, you might just see the germination of something that could transform your business.

 

From all of us at InMarket Success, our best wishes for a joyous holiday season and a thriving new year.

Fran-Nahabedian
Fran Nahabedian
kmannbio
Kerry Mann

Three Not-Trues

As marketers, it’s essential that we sometimes step back and challenge our own assumptions. In many cases, we take things for granted that are simply not true. Here are three.

  1. “Email marketing doesn’t really work.”

    Mailchimp
    Mailchimp

Not true. E-mail marketing absolutely works. In fact, over the five days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, it continues to be the strongest channel for generating online sales. In fact, it accounted for 25.1 percent of transactions, according to Custora, which tracks e-commerce and benchmarks retailers. The key? Sending impressive and relevant offers to customers who have expressly opted in. Companies that do this well are seeing big returns.

  1. “Social media drives e-commerce sales.”

Not true. Over the same five-day shopping period, Custora also found that social media drove only 1.7 percent of online sales. So if you’re dubious about Facebook, Instagram and Twitter driving any serious sales (retail or otherwise), you’re probably right. Simply, while social media plays a role in influencing purchase decisions and search results, it doesn’t drive e-commerce sales yet. Yes, there are a few exceptions. But considering we’re past the peak of the Facebook era, social media in its current form may never establish itself as a main sales driver.

  1. “When shopping online, consumers go to Amazon first.”

google shoppingNot true. While many consumers may indeed end up making a purchase on Amazon, Google Shopping is establishing itself as the 800-pound gorilla of online deal hunting and where they start first. In other words, instead of consumers wading through lots of different deal sites (like slickdeals.net or woot.com, for example), Google Shopping provides a consolidated look, right there in the regular search results.

Since Google transitioned to Shopping campaigns last year and Product Listing Ads (PLAs) continued to explode in popularity, retailers now have access to more tools, more advanced reporting and more competitor data than ever before. The e-commerce consulting firm Channel Advisor notes that Google Shopping is even cannibalizing its own search results.

As always, we encourage our clients to challenge their assumptions, look beyond the status quo and make data-driven decisions. Not surprisingly, given the dynamic nature of online shopping and e-commerce, hard-and-fast rules usually don’t last too long.

If you’d like some help evaluating your assumptions and discovering what’s actually true for your business, drop us a line.

Now what? 5 Great Tips for Continued Online Success

now-whatLet’s say you’ve done a fantastic job of incorporating keywords into your site and you’re perfectly tweaked for efficient SEO. You’ve got a good inbound linking strategy. You’ve built a nice user experience and maybe even incorporated some video. Your reporting and analytics functions are tuned to your liking.

So is that it? Are you done?

Nope.

Certainly, SEO efforts and keyword optimization are an ongoing function of your business. But it’s also critical to make sure you’re welcoming Google with open arms. It’s as simple as this: When Google doesn’t crawl your site frequently, your ranking will likely drop.

Here are five tips to make sure Google stops by for frequent visits, courtesy of Pratik Dholakiya over at Search Engine Watch:

  1. Make sure your web server is fast. Slow load times and unreliable servers can incur SEO penalties and discourage frequent visits from Google. So whether you host your site yourself or contract for hosting services, it’s critical to optimize for better performance.
  2. Update your site. A lot. Need a good reason to have a blog? This is it, because Google likes new content. Another benefit: Google applies the SEO benefits of your blog to your entire site, so frequent updates can pay big dividends. Just make sure your blog falls inside (not outside) of your site’s core domain. In other words, it should be yoursite.com/blog, not blog.yoursite.com.
  3. Get more inbound links. Quality counts more than quantity, but links pointing to your site continue to tell Google “Hey, this is good stuff.” If you need more quality inbound links (and who doesn’t, right?) just be sure to ASK for them – don’t buy them. Ever.
  4. Ask Google to crawl your site. Using the “Fetch as Google” tool, you can tell Google to crawl any page of your site. This is especially useful for time-sensitive updates to your content.
  5. Keep your sitemap updated and error-free. An XML sitemap, when properly maintained and implemented is like a plate of warm cookies when Google shows up at the door.

Most of these things you can do yourself, but some are definitely more complex. Some require intentional effort and planning. Just know that we’re always here to help, with a combination of strategic marketing and extensive technical know-how.

The Black Friday Experience

Once the boon of every retail business, Black Friday has taken quite a P.R. hit lately. And for good reason. What was once a fun early-morning adventure for bargain hunters has become a chaotic, frustrating and painful ordeal. Could the experience be any worse?black friday

You’ve probably heard about camping/sporting goods retailer REI boycotting Black Friday, and others have followed. M
any have finally said “no” to being open on Thanksgiving Day.

On the consumer side, many of us already skip Black Friday—you surely know people who consider a 4:00 a.m. trek to the mall to be the very definition of insanity. Even the latest data from the National Retail Federation suggests that 45% of shoppers won’t do any on-site shopping over the 2015 Black Friday weekend.

Meanwhile, according to the NRF, online sales are once again expected outpace overall growth, increasing between 6 and 8 percent to as much as $105 billion in November and December. And on that fateful Friday, online sales casually peak around noon, not 7:00 a.m. At the very least, that’s a stark contrast to camping out on a sidewalk to save some money on an off-brand TV.

There’s a lesson here, and it speaks to customer experience. While most retailers will continue to do brisk business on Black Friday, the shift to online shopping is a direct response to a retail experience that leaves a lot to be desired.

Simply, consumers want something better. Maybe it’s a better price. Maybe it’s knowing when an item is in stock. Maybe it’s a more efficient and time-saving way to shop. Maybe it’s something far less frustrating. Maybe, with a good cup of coffee and a favorite playlist, it’s an experience that’s actually—gasp!—enjoyable.

Good businesses know this. If you’ve ever shopped on a fast, well-designed site with a silky smooth interactive interface built for ecommerce, gorgeous images and an intuitive shopping cart, it’s hard to imagine ever going back to the bricks.

Experience matters. This year, make sure your site isn’t the online version of Black Friday.

The ABC’s of KPI’s

For centuries, businesses have been operating with two Key Performance Indicators, or KPI’s. You probably know them well: A profit-and-loss statement and a balance sheet. Indeed, these two KPIs can provide meaningful information about your business.

Ah, but there’s so much more. With today’s free-flowing data, analytics capabilities, remarkable computing power and graphical user interfaces, KPI’s based solely on basic accounting just seem so last-century.

So just what is a KPI? Surprisingly, there are a lot of definitions.KPI

Here’s a hybrid compiled from Avinash Kaishik, KAIZEN Analytics and Bernard Marr:

KPI’s are an actionable scorecard that keeps your business strategy on track. They enable you to manage, control and achieve desired business results. They translate complex measures into a simple indicator that allows you to assess the current situation and act quickly. They provide immediate performance information to help you understand whether the organization is on track or not.

Building effective KPI’s isn’t as easy as it sounds. For example, it’s easy to say that you’d like sales to increase, but how will you do it? Will you shorten the sales cycle? Generate more leads? Get loyal customers to buy more? Create a new market for your product?

When you have these answers, you can build a KPI that reflects your goal. That might mean measuring keyword searches, unique visitors, traffic sources, bounce rates, or even integrating financial data to determine cost per sale, cost per lead, quote-to-close ratios and more.

On the marketing side, you might set up KPI’s to measure how your audience moves through a campaign from one step to the next. Or maybe you want to prove its effectiveness with an incremental sales KPI. Maybe you simply need to determine which keywords are performing the best. Or monitor ongoing open rates for email campaigns.

Some KPI’s (like traffic source, bounce rate and email open rate) are pretty standard and well-known. Others are highly custom and borderline exotic. The important thing is to narrow in on just a few (think about five or six, not 50 or 60), make them easily accessible through a dashboard and monitor them over time.

Remember, the whole point of KPI’s is action. That’s why they exist.

If you’d like more KPI ideas and inspiration, check out sites like kpilibrary.com and this post from Bernard Marr on LinkedIn. Then reach out to us for help in brainstorming, building and implementing the KPIs that can help your business thrive.

Your WordPress Resource

We’ve been fans of WordPress for quite a while because of the important SEO abilities it has grown to incorporate. Of course, there’s more to it than that. At a high level, here are some pretty great things about WordPress:wordpress

  • It’s in a constant state of growth, care and evolution. For the foreseeable future, you won’t have to worry about obsolescence. It’s the very nature of the open-source environment.
  • It’s well-known and popular, with a big user base. That means it’s pretty easy to get help, find custom programmers or even hire an in-house administrator.
  • It’s stable, secure and easy to back up (when properly configured, of course).

Then, when you add the capabilities of thousands of potential plug-ins and themes (some free, some not), you start to see the power that mere mortals can use. Here are a couple of our client sites we’ve completed using WordPress:

Antenna International

Evolve Media

From simple contact forms to live chat, you can expand the features and functionality of your site in ways unthinkable just a few years ago. The possibilities are almost endless: Social sharing, auto-responders, image galleries, auctions, payment systems, conditional logic, even entire reservation systems and many more. The best part? No Computer Science degree or resident IT wonk required.

But that doesn’t mean it’s as easy as it sounds. Or that there isn’t a learning curve. Or that you don’t need some good old-fashioned technical and content expertise.

If you’re just starting out with WordPress, or if your site might need anything from a minor tune-up to a total overhaul, we can help. In fact, WordPress expertise and consulting is a big part of what we do. We’ll look at everything from top to bottom, provide specific advice on new functionalities and possibilities and help you get the most out of this amazing platform.

8 Things You Can Do to Drive Traffic and Create a Good Experience

Yep, it’s time for a list post.

These tips are especially good because they’re time-proven. They aren’t based on flavor-of-the-day techniques to outwit Google or give you a quick temporary boost you’ll later regret. So if you’re looking for some solid traffic drivers and good experience builders, try these tips:

  1. Use good keywords in your content. Doing your homework with keyword research pays off. You’ll know what to say in your content because you’ll know what your customers are looking for.
  2. Make sure your sitemap is working hard. When done properly, your sitemap gives Google, Yahoo and Bing a list of everything you’d like them to see.  An XML sitemap is the place to start.
  3. Use simple page titles and good descriptions. Not only do humans like to see pages with appropriate and understandable titles, so do the search engines.images
  4. Fix broken links and 404 errors. Nothing kills an experience like an unexpected 404. There are lots of tools out there to scan your site and see what might be broken.
  5. Strengthen weak content. If the page contains more template content (headers, navigation, buttons, footers, etc.) than actual content, it might not provide a great experience for your customer. Fix it with more information, better product descriptions, an instructional video, product specifications, links to other resources, anything.
  6. Fix content errors. Hey, it happens. A misspelling. An incorrect price. Missing information. Take an hour with a few other sets of eyes and be as nitpicky (but objective) as possible.
  7. Decrease page loading times. While not always easy, your IT resources or web host may have suggestions to make your pages lightning-fast. And who doesn’t love that? The search engines certainly do…it’s a ranking factor!
  8. Get more backlinks. Organic backlinks to your site are precious. There’s no shame in asking for them, especially with trade associations, charities, or anything you’ve sponsored. And don’t forget to create your own backlinks using your social media accounts. The more stuff that points to you, the more valuable your web channel becomes.

For more insights or assistance with any of these, call us any time or contact us by email.

Google: Delivering traditional web-based results is soooo 2014.

In early June, Google announced that iOS users who search with the Google app will be able to find content that exists on other iOS apps.

That means searching for a restaurant might return content from an app like OpenTable. Or if you’re looking for a recipe, the results could include something delicious from iphoneyour Pinterest app.

See what they’re doing here? That’s right: Delivering a better experience. It means a combination of high-quality results AND the front-end interface users enjoy. In other words, it’s not just about web browsers anymore.

If we’ve learned anything from Google, Bing and Yahoo in the past year or so, it’s that user experience is becoming the top factor in terms of search rank. So it’s not just about traditional WEB content, but ALL content.

In the coming months, Google says it will roll out new search features to help users find content from even more apps. Bing’s doing it too. In many ways, it’s simply an intelligent response to how we realistically use our smartphones.

But just like every other technology rollout, it’s nothing to fear. Sure, it’ll mean some new optimization techniques, but they’re all pointing to the same thing:  Better user experiences.

 

Rants of a Frustrated Shopper: What 300 Thread-Count Sheets Mean to Your Business

There’s an obvious (but often overlooked) reality associated with long-tail search:  The longer the search phrase, the more ready the customer is to buy.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? If someone is highly specific with search terms, particularly when searching retail goods, services and most B2B categories, the end of the sales funnel—the sale—isn’t too far away. For example, if you search “300 TC cotton percale sheets for 12 inch king mattress,” you’re expecting to see exactly that. And if you’re that specific, chances are pretty good your credit card is out and ready to buy.rants image

But here’s the problem: If Google doesn’t hit on that long-tail search, you’ll see something similar. Maybe the search result returns a buying opportunity for cotton sheets, but they are deep pocket and will drown your 12″ mattress. Or maybe, instead of cotton percale, you see results for great prices on polyester sheets. In other words, the results are pretty close, but not quite right. For a savvy shopper, that’s just maddening.

As a business, how do you solve this? With analytics and Google’s keyword tool. With an expanded keyword set. With good headlines, product titles and thorough product descriptions.

Bottom line? With careful planning, keyword analysis and SEO-conscious tactics, you greatly increase your chances of hitting on those long-tail searches. Which means more relevant search results, better customer experiences and more sales.

It’s also an incredible opportunity to beat the big guys.

Yet Another Mobile Milestone

smartphone searchEvery day it seems, we cross another threshold in the online world. We saw this one coming, but now it’s officially here.

Google just announced that more searches now take place on mobile devices than on computers. And it’s not just in the U.S., but in 10 countries that include Japan and most of Europe. To add even more emphasis to the importance of mobile, Google did NOT include tablets as mobile devices, only smartphones.

For marketers, this means two things:

  1. Google’s recent mobile-friendly algorithm update may as well be a giant message in the sky that says “Mobile is now the primary screen!”
  2. Content matters more now than ever before. Why? Because even Google admits that paid advertising on mobile platforms isn’t as effective as desktop ads.

In other words, organic results—based on solid content, smart keywords, long-tail phrases, descriptive page titles, good H1 tags, and rich media like video—are still the name of the game.

Not a shock, right? If you combine small screens, smart on-the-go users and a savviness that mentally blocks brazen attempts at interruption, it’s easy to see users want meaningful content.

“Google is a company built on intent and immediacy. Our mission has always been to connect people with what they are looking for in the exact moment they are looking.”

That’s Google VP Jerry Dischler talking—not in 2010 or last year, but yesterday. Don’t overthink what he’s saying.

Always consider the customer first…and be available where, when, and how they’re looking for you!