All posts by fran1

“I Can’t Afford Digital Marketing!” We Believe you Can!

“Hubspot? Pardot? These guys are just too expensive!”

We hear this a lot, and we understand. We love working with both of them, but you may not be ready for the big guys of digital marketing. Don’t just give up…there are ways to make things happen if you’re a small to medium-sized business owner:

  1. Get your website priorities in order. The goal, of course, is to be so fully optimized that you’re on page 1 of organic search results. Is this going to happen for you? Well, it depends on so many factors. Just as with traditional marketing, there’s placement, competition and, what we believe to be most important, customer experience. You can have the most optimized site on the web but if customers can’t navigate to what they want, or have a pleasing buying experience, your competition is a click away.
    • We recently audited an online retailer for fine teas because they were losing customers during check out. While their selection was wonderful and their site was easy to navigate, their shopping cart had problems. Changing one mailing field created problems with the credit card verification, thus customers were becoming frustrated and leaving the site. Analytics showed most went to Amazon where the customer buying experience is fast and easy.
  2. The basic best practices for SEO still apply:
    • Do refresh your content regularly with keywords and phrases that you have researched and found to be what the customer is looking for.
      • The most compelling key phrase for your business may not have anyone searching for it. Unless you want to spend significant dollars on creating a category, find alternatives by doing your research.
      • Don’t overdo it. Keyword “stuffing” has a negative effect for search engines.
    • Quality links are better than the quantity of links you may have. One link from a highly trusted site can boost your rankings significantly. Competitive research, analysis, and using ethical link building (hint: don’t buy or pay for links) will provide you with the quality that Google is looking for.
      • One of our clients has #1 organic rankings for most of the prominent phrases in his industry. What was missing was the plural of these phrases – the competition was beating him out here. We refreshed page content and titles and, most importantly, found a few influential bloggers that linked over using the plural formats of his terms. Bingo, the site started gaining traction for those terms as well.
    • Use Webmaster Tools to understand how Google is seeing your site. This is especially important if you have bad links coming in. There are some very unscrupulous people out there that will send bad links to their competition to affect their rankings. If you think this is happening, find the bad links and disavow them. If you don’t, you may find yourself in a penalty situation.
  3. Mobile is here to stay. I won’t preach – since 2016, most sites are first found on a mobile device. If your site is not mobile friendly, you are losing customers on a minute to minute basis. And, Google’s algorithm rewards sites that are mobile-friendly. Just do it!

So, where do you start with digital marketing outreach? If you are a small to medium-sized business, you can start small and reap rewards:

  • Create some content that people will find compelling
  • Have customers sign up to receive this content
    • Now you have their email address
    • Use a small, free email service (Mailchimp, etc.)
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • TRACK in analytics.

It’s pretty simple, will bring more customers, and potentially pay for the big guys someday.

We can help! Talk with us…the first conversation is always free!

 

The Rising Tide that Lifts All Boats

Well, as much as I hate to say it. I’ve been around a long time. My first real “career” was in marketing automation at American Airlines back in the 80s. Helping travel companies grow their business using hard-wired computer terminals, later followed by PCs.

When we got into this Internet thing in the early 90s, we were all neophytes…taking a stab at things and seeing how it worked. Google wasn’t even around…the big players were AOL and the newcomer; Yahoo!. I was fortunate to be working for a company with vision that let us make our way by making good and bad choices and learning from them. The most successful online ventures at the time continued to focus on customer service as they grew their websites. Lands’ End carried its “Guaranteed. Period.” and strong customer service model to a successful online shopping experience. We had eAAsy SABRE running on the Compuserve and Prodigy networks, which morphed into Travelocity. In a similar way, we invoked the strong customer service model that helped our customers learn about the wild and wooly practices of booking travel.

With that history in my pocket and Google becoming the prominent search engine, I struggled to learn SEO and all its minutiae. As my boss at the time, Stephan Spencer used to say; “SEO is the rising tide that lifts all boats,” and this is still true. The technical side of SEO broadened to include things like link building, social media, and other best practices…culminating in the practice that’s now called Digital Marketing.

My point in this little trip down memory lane is that learning from mistakes can lead to success, and it’s a game of inches. Google can impose penalties on those online businesses that try to cut corners, but overcoming this using online marketing best practices can lead to stronger results. Spending thousands of dollars on firehose marketing campaigns that produce few results is a learning experience that can result in being receptive to (full circle for me!) marketing automation tools that drive ongoing customer relationships.

One of our clients, TVLiftCabinet.com sells those nifty TV Lift Cabinets that hide the TV when you don’t need it. Back in 2014 when we started working together, they were the target of some spammy links, and were put in penalty situation with Google. The process to fix this took several months of tedious work to identify the offending links and implement the process to disavow them. The result of all this work more than doubled TVLiftCabinet’s natural search traffic and revenue. Since that time, we’ve done some pretty creative things along with the day to day work of SEO, all within the ethical best practices of online marketing, to continue to grow their business.

Finding the solution for your business can be about learning the hard way or finding someone with the experience (and the mistakes under their belt) to lead you in the right direction. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune…and will save you money in the long run.

Talk with us…the first conversation is always free!

 

Do the Work! Get Results.

With all the algorithmic changes happening at Google, a north-star strategy has definitely emerged:

 

But that doesn’t mean your website, text content, images, links, videos and social media presence should be oblivious to Google, either. As Google itself points out with more than 362,000 results, “hope isnot a strategy.”

Don’t try to outsmart Google. That’s pretty good advice. If you’re looking to improve your company’s revenue, build a more competitive presence online, and really nail the whole digital marketing thing, it’s important to understand it takes mindful intent. It’s complex and inter-related—symbiotic relationships abound.

Great results center on good old-fashioned marketing work. It means in-depth looks at competitors, keywords, content and links. It means making digital marketing a priority as a core lifeline. It means doing the homework, investing the time, reaping what you sow. It doesn’t happen by accident, or from an approach that’s mostly “It’ll just take care of itself.” Instead, it comes from careful consideration of what you’re purposefully saying and doing online.

When it’s done well, the results are legitimate, impactful and real—a significant asset for your business.

Continue. Stop. Start.

Consumed by day-to-day operations, it’s amazing sometimes just how many business people forget where the money comes from. In other words, many fail to remember that there are exactly two* ways a dollar can enter most businesses:money

  1. From a new customer
  2. From an existing customer

(*Three, if your company is engaged in its own finance and investments. But let’s assume that’s not a significant portion of income for your business.)

This means that in order to achieve top-line growth, you need to sell stuff to new customers. Or you need to sell more stuff to existing customers. Or, ideally, both. Seems pretty obvious, but yet we tend to overlook its simplicity.

Some basic roadmap questions can help add perspective to driving more sales. They break down to three components: Continue, stop, start. Here’s how that looks:

What should we continue? What’s working well? Can it be even faster, cheaper or better? Can it be expanded and applied to other areas or markets? What do our customers really like?

Conversely, what should we stop doing? What’s NOT working well? Can it be fixed at a reasonable cost? Or should it be discontinued? What are we doing with five people that could be accomplished with two? What’s outdated or unwanted?

Finally, what can we start doing? Where is there a new opportunity that might not have existed even a short time ago? Where do we need to respond to competitive threats or simple market demands? Where can we make fast improvements? Is there a new technology make sense? Where are the long-term opportunities and how do we get there?

These aren’t always easy questions to answer. But they do create a framework for action. And all three directives—continue, stop, start (in that order)—could be significant influences on the ways dollars enter your business.

As always, when it comes to things related to road-mapping, strategic action plans, ecommerce, web marketing and other essential elements of building a business, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We can help you identify and validate the things you should continue, stop and start.

Customer Experience Lessons from the Un-Online

If you haven’t had a chance to look at customer experience (CX) research from the Temkin Group, it’s pretty fascinating. While it largely focuses on big brands and major industry sectors, there’s a lot of insight you can apply directly to your own business. You can grab a free copy of the 2016 Temkin Experience Ratings here, although you will have to register to download the report.smiley

Temkin starts with 10,000 U.S. consumers and asks them basic questions about interacting with 293 different companies. Questions like, “Were you able to accomplish what you wanted to do?” And “How easy was it to interact with this company?” And “How did you feel about these interactions?”

You can probably guess the worst performers: Internet service providers, TV service providers, health plans and car rental agencies. The report doesn’t pull any punches, and it names names.

But you might be surprised to see what industry seems to dominate. In fact, companies from this sector take the top three customer experience spots overall, four of the top seven, and ten of the top 22. Can you guess?

Supermarkets. Yeah, supermarkets!

Isn’t it interesting that perhaps the most un-online sector is apparently killing it in terms of customer experience? And it’s not a fluke: Other un-online sectors like fast food chains and retailers are next in the rankings.

Think about your own shopping habits: When was the last time a technical glitch caused you to stop your grocery shopping and leave the store without a purchase? Probably never. Yet online, this experience happens more than it should.

Or when was the last time you simply abandoned your cart while shopping in a physical store because you were confused, annoyed or disrupted by something the store did? Again, probably never. But online, it’s one of the biggest challenges businesses face.

We can take three things from all this:

  1. Clarity and ease of navigation are paramount to CX. Conversely, confusion and ambiguity destroy customer experience. Period.
  2. Everything needs to work. Technical glitches are becoming increasingly unforgivable.
  3. Customers aren’t expecting a life-changing experience. Instead, they have reasonable and pragmatic hopes for a simple, conventional and straightforward encounter. Start there.

Chances are, you’ve never thought that solid customer experience should aspire to be the next Publix or Aldi. But perhaps a look at the un-online is a good place to start.

Through this lens, does your customer experience measure up?

 

 

 

 

A Case of the Shoulds

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About this time of year as we finally emerge from short days and cold nights, many of us suffer from a sudden onset of the shoulds. You’ve probably experienced them.

Bordering the fine line between healthy obsession and mental illness, the shoulds usually look like this:

“My website should be updated. It should have some new content. Maybe I should be updating more often. I should do a bunch of videos. Or at least I should make overdue fixes to existing stuff. I should really look at ways to make it faster.”

“I should tweak my SEO strategy. Or maybe I should try that A/B testing program I’ve been thinking about. Should I re-strategize my email campaigns? Actually, I should spend more time on analysis. Yeah, but first I should fix that technical glitch.”

“I should fix that service issue right away though—that should get the most attention. Maybe I should entirely rework the way we think about customer experience. I should really drink more water and get more sleep. I should eat better.”

Before you know it, you should all over yourself. You sit there, practically paralyzed, overwhelmed, exhausted. The optimistic attitudes usually associated with spring cleaning and renewal are suddenly sour. What could be a healthy and productive time now looks like ten pounds of junk in a five-pound bag.

But at the risk of adding a few more shoulds, here are two things you should remember:

  1. Perfect is the enemy of progress.
  2. A good plan now is better than a great plan next week

Getting started with a slow and steady strategy will move you in the right direction.  Websites are never “done.”  SEO is never “done.”  Good nutrition is never “done.”  But, as you make small changes, and measure them, you will be working toward a continuous improvement for your customers, your business, and your life.

In your business, if you need help sorting it out and turning the most important shoulds into a prioritized strategic action plan, we’re here to help.

All Roads Should Still Lead Back to You

With the state of the web these days, you might think social sites will ultimately be the only place for content. Think about it: LinkedIn has a thriving publishing platform, YouTube has a daily presence in our lives, Facebook’s Instant Articles allows sharing directly inside the Facebook app and Twitter might allow longer tweets. Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest are already original content hubs for images.

And with ridiculously easy sharing, in essence, all of these (and many others) are really just content syndicates.

That’s fine for you, the consumer. For you, the business, it’s not a great strategy.

Yes, you need a social presence, and yes, you need great content. But, as content-marketing master Demian Farnworth points out, there’s a better way to look at it:

“Rather than building mini-empires on other platforms, focus on creating definitive articles on your own site.social link building Once that’s in place, use social platforms to drive traffic back to you.”

That’s sound advice, as true now as it was five years ago. Here’s why:

  • Social links (back to your site) are valuable. They boost SEO and give search engines and viewers valuable information about what you do, what you sell and who you are.
  • You don’t want to become completely dependent on someone else’s platform. From perpetual interface changes and new features to a site falling out of favor with its finicky audience, your content shouldn’t rely on social platforms. They’re ever-changing and scatterbrained in their philosophies. In a relatively short time, as history proves, most will be dead.
  • Social is the power behind sharing, but not buying. The ideas of “viral” and “shareable” are valuable, and social is certainly the stage on which they’re set. But real authority and true e-commerce should be your show, exclusively.

In other words, while you should certainly optimize social media content for each specific platform where you publish, all roads should still lead back to you and your original authoritative content. Simple as that.

More Google Changes

Another big change just happened at Google. Well, actually two.google

First, you probably noticed Google’s elimination of right-rail paid ads in search results.

But wait, there’s more: With the right rail gone, paid results will now take up the top FOUR spots on the page. If you haven’t consciously looked in a while, check it out—it most certainly looks and feels different than before. And it emphasizes the need to be fast, relevant and current when it comes to SEO.

The other big change is a little more under-the-hood: The launch of AMP.

What’s AMP? Last October, Google announced an initiative called the Accelerated Mobile Pages project, or AMP. Its goal: Dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web.

With a reworked version of HTML that strips out a lot of other stuff (like Javascript and third-party scripts), Google claims a page created with AMP HTML can load anywhere from 15% to 85% faster. Considering the explosive growth of mobile devices, that’s a pretty good idea.

Not surprisingly, in keeping with Google’s own desire to make mobile experiences faster and better, AMP-coded pages will receive better search rankings. After all, according to Kissmetrics, 40% of web users will abandon a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load—a waiting time that seems almost unbearable on a mobile device. And for the icing on the cake (and another ranking boost), a secure connection (HTTPS) is mandatory. So AMP-based pages could prove to be a significant advantage.

Of course, AMP code won’t just happen on its own. In the coming months, we’ll monitor advances in WordPress plug-ins and other software that can generate this code on the fly and suggest ways it might work for your site, improve your rankings and create a better experience for your customers.

If nothing else, these changes illustrate the simple truth that the web is never static. If it’s time for a check-up or review of your site, let us know.

What about YOUR Super Bowl Ad?

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For a moment, let’s say you found a bit of inspiration in this year’s crop of Super Bowl ads. Maybe a few of them struck you as dead-on, engaging and everything that’s right about mass-market advertising. I’m willing to bet, though, most of them didn’t. But that’s OK. Let’s continue the thought.

Despite your enthusiasm, you’re probably thinking, “I can’t imagine having a budget like that!” Well, just for a moment, imagine you DO have a budget like that.

Imagine you just got a text message from your CEO telling you that you MUST spend $5 million to buy a 30-second spot for your business during next year’s Super Bowl. One spot, $5 million, that’s it.

As you inconspicuously try to wipe the smile off your face, your mind races about the story your ad will tell. Will it be funny? Will it be straight-ahead and factual? Will it seek to build your brand? Will it be powerful and inspiring? What will you do? And how will you know it worked? Or how will you know it wasn’t mocked on Twitter or just ignored entirely?

Don’t look at us—our experience with advising on Super Bowl advertising is exactly zero.

But what if your Super Bowl ad could actually contain success metrics like digital marketing? What if you could set up KPIs like site visits, pageviews, time on site, referring traffic sources and cost-per-click? Or what if it could track things like open rates, click rates, bounce rates, unsubscribe rates and list growth rates? Or maybe total referrals, conversions, cost of acquisition, attributable revenue, qualified leads, lead sources and more?

Now THAT would be some ad. And unlike most Super Bowl ads, you’d actually have some real data. Of course, that’s not really possible with a TV ad. But it is possible (and flat-out required) for digital.

We tend to think of Super Bowl advertisers as the superstars in marketing. After all, the prestige of running even one ad is the top of the mountain, isn’t it? Yet year after year, it almost looks like Super Bowl advertisers don’t learn much of anything. The reality is that exorbitant budgets and questionable results are the norm.

In your business, you can do far better.

 

 

 

 

Six things you can check right now to improve your site

Whether it’s a defined goal, aspirational resolution or just a subconscious want, “Make the website better” is a common theme this time of year. The first quarter is kicking in, so it’s time to get started. images

But before you do—and this is important—step back and adopt a neutral perspective. Don’t automatically hate your website, but don’t fall in love with it either. Instead, if you look at it through the eyes of an uninterested-but-reasonable shopper, you might see things you can improve.

  • Quick! What’s your site about?  Within a few seconds, your visitors should know what your site is about and have a good idea how to navigate it. Returning visitors should have a feeling of confidence and familiarity. Make sure your visitors know what’s in it for them: a great deal, a new product or a quick path to the information they want. This should happen fast with no ambiguity.
  • Appearance is important. Do your pages look strong and up-to-date?  Does your site appear up to the standards of a professional business, or does it look like it was coded by your nephew in 2007? Is it welcoming and intuitive? Is it ready for a modern and sophisticated user whose expectations of online experiences grow by the day? Would you buy from a website that looks like yours?
  • Are your keywords really hitting?  Sure, the keywords that worked a few years ago might still be working. Or maybe not. Knowing exactly what your target audiences are looking for, what terms they use, and how search optimization evolves can make a big difference in traffic and search rankings. If you haven’t done a keyword analysis in a while, it’s time.
  • Be honest: Are your pages fast enough?  If web pages don’t load in a split second and users have to wait to see them, the propensity to click off is higher than ever. Users aren’t patient. Slow-loading pages not only keep customers away, but search engines don’t like them much either.
  • Do your visitors get lost?  Here’s why good website navigation is so important: Aside from the human experience, usability influences your search engine rankings. Make sure your site’s navigation is intrinsically easy enough to let visitors know where they are, where they came from, what their options are and how to complete the sale or desired action. The easier it is to navigate your website, the higher your conversion rate. Simple as that.
  • Do you offer compelling content and a clear call to action?  Stale and boring content isn’t flattering. And it’s not effective. Make sure your pages are interesting, current, informative and error-free. Answer the visitor’s inherent question, “What’s in it for me?” as clearly as possible. Do some periodic refreshes. Update some photos. And most of all, make sure each page features a clear call to action.

Not sure where to start?

Hey, we get it—it can be a little overwhelming. That’s why we’re here to help. Drop us a line and we’ll walk through these things together. Soon, that tuned-up site will be hummin’ right along for 2016.