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"In a nutshell, Jason created our marketing analytics capability. He was able to figure out what data we collect, where it is, what was missing, and hook it all up so we canget meaningful, actionable data. Our marketing efforts have improved leads and conversions in some cases by an order of magnitude. He knows his stuff."
Chris Foleen, Marketing Project Coordinator, TransCore, Inc.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Campaign as Quest: Using Web Analytics to Tell the Story

I started reading a book called Read Literature like a Professor.  It's interesting.  As a once-upon-a-time literature major in college, it is a good reminder of symbolism and structure, etc.

Well, as a now marketer and someone who spends a large amount of time telling stories with numbers, this seemed like something that could easily be applied to reporting and web analytics.  Especially the "quest" structure.

Two Models
First, let's take a look at the basic elements of a quest as described by Prof. Foster:
  1. A quester--the hero or heroin
  2. A place to go--somewhere other than here
  3. A stated reason to go there--save the maiden, do a job, etc.
  4. A Treacherous Path--i.e challenges and trials, villians, monsters, etc.
  5. A discovered reason--the lesson learned (never the same as the goal)
Note: Items 2 and 3 go together always go together.

Second, let's take a look at the very basic elements of planning a campaign with analytics:
  1. Determine Objectives
  2. Decide on tactics and KPIs
  3. Setup and run the campaign.  Correct course as necessary.
  4. Report results and learnings.
One piece that is a key difference between analytics and the quest model is that in a quest, you assume the main character is the right person for the job.  In campaign planning, you may have several characters in the form of different tactics which may come in and out of the picture. To overcome this, you have to understand the campaign itself as the main character.

Another difference is that in the quest model, the "real" reason for the quest is never the originally stated reason.   This is the core mechanism for character development that happens in the story.  In marketing, we can't be switching around goals like that.  If we're going to save that damsel in distress, we're looking for a 100% success ratio with low budget impact and a chance for repeat visits, if you know what I mean.  The goal is the goal.  

However, we often do come away from a campaign having learned something new about the audience, marketplace, tactics, user experience, etc.  These additional learning can be just as valuable as the original objective because they influence the next campaign.  That could be seen as a sort of character development.   

Bringing the Models Together
So, with a little bit of rearranging, we can merge the two models in this way:
  1. Questor = Campaign
  2. Place to go = external placements, marketing buys, etc.
  3. Stated goal = campaign objective
  4. Treacherous Path with monsters = running the campaign, identifying hurdles, making adjustments.
  5. The discovered  reason = final report and the discoveries made along the way.
In #5, we find out if the story was a comedy or a tradgedy.  Of course, no one wants a tradgedy, but sometimes it happens and that is important to recognize.  Because many times, with tradgedy comes deeper learning, which sets the stage for a sequel, or a grand finale.

Answer Six Questions to Tell the Campaign Story with Web Analytics
Telling the story of a marketing campaign using the quest narrative model has less to do with cramming your marketing into a plot structure, and more to do with communicating easy to understand ideas.  If you can get these unquestionably identified, the story will build itself.

Answer these questions:

Q: Who is the hero?  A: Your campaign; name it.
Q: Where did it go?  A: Your placements, media types, etc.
Q: What is the goal? A: Generate 200 sales with ROI > 300%
Q: What happened along the way?  A: [show an annotated trend line]
Q: What was the biggest obstacle?  A: [i.e. conversion rates]
Q: How did it all end?  A: We got 200 sales, but ROI was only 80%.

Now plug in the touching ending that wants them to read more, something like:
We learned people are not motivated by [whatever] as much as we thought.  The low bounce rates show that visitors to the microsite were interested, but the promotional offer itself seemed to be off the mark.  Based on analysis of the response, an offer that highlights [whatever] should result in more sales and a higher ROI.
We recommend planning a follow up campaign immediately.
The journey is over--we've gone there and back again. The hero kinda won the day.  The villian has been identified and plans are soon to be in the works for his defeat.  

The story is told.

Analytics really can be an adventure.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Brand and Lead Generation Dashboard Improvements

Promotional performance is many times reduced to very simple measures--visits, leads, sales, etc.  But when comparing campaigns over time, or just inspecting the variability of activity over time, it really helps to know what else is going on in the world that may be impacting your efforts. 

Marketing Performance Influencers
  • The Offer.  This is something that gets a lot of attention already.  Testing offers can be helpful to understanding what gets your audience to respond.  This can be the biggest influencer of all for campaign performance, but it is not the only influencer.  
  • User Experience / Creative.  Good creative can help a campaign.  A broken user experience can kill it.  Bad messaging will leave your campaign dry.  Really fun and engaging creative can go viral.  What you present to the audience and how you present it can make or break your campaign.  
  • Seasonality.  Otherwise known as timeliness, this is important.  Don't run a "back to school" special in April. Understand when your market is more responsive, and use that to inform your calendar.  Even for products that would not seem to be tied to any one particular time of year, there may be other temporal factors that make certain times better than others.  Tax season.  End of year budgeting.  Tourist season.  Lots of things can create cyclical patterns in your sales numbers.  It's important to understand where you are today on that cycle in order to maximize your campaign's potential.
  • Brand. How your brand is perceived, trusted, and respected in the market place can help set the stage for a successful campaign.  Gather information from social metrics, customer feedback, web traffic, and surveys to give you an idea of what value your brand has in the market place.  Is there a lot of negative sentiment?  Is there a wave of buzz over a recent white paper?  The ebb and flow of a brand, just like seasonality, can enhance or dampen a campaign's performance.
  • Macro Economic.  Everyone lives in an economy and economies have ups and downs.  Just because your brand seems to be doing good and you have a strong promotional offer does not mean your campaign will break records.  Especially if your target market is a group that has been hit hard by some economic set backs.  National and vertical indicators are good to be aware of as the environment in which your promotion lives and is received.  
A More Complete Marketing Dashboard
The next question becomes how to use this information and who should use it.  The short answer is that it should be on a dashboard and marketing planners should be using it.  This kind of contextual detail may not be appropriate for an executive dashboard, but it would be very helpful one level down in an analytical dashboard for decision makers and planners.
  • Brand Condition.  Having some way to show what sort of state your brand is in would be a great enhancement to a dashboard.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way to show this unless you opt for a very simplified or compound number--like "visibility" in search.  Visually, I think a 3 dimensional line chart would be interesting showing volume against sentiment over time.  However, dashboards favor simplified numbers in only one or two dimensions so this particular visualization may not work.
  • Seasonal Impact.  Are sales slower in the summer?  How much?  This modifier looks at the deviation from historical data to see what kind of adjustment should be made to performance expectations.  
  • Macro-Economic Impact.  Another modifier like seasonality, this metric reflects some sort of larger situation to help predict higher or lower returns.  Choose the indicator(s) depending on your industry and target market.
Adding these will take your dashboards and reports further than before and help predict performance more completely.  Careful analysis afterward will help you understand how to weight the factors and what the flags are for conditions that could be hurt or help your campaigns.  Did social improve brand perception and raise lead gen performance?  Do you need a stronger offer to counter-balance a weak shopping season?  How much stronger?  Incorporating data on influencers into your marketing dashboards and reports can help figure that out.

Friday, September 03, 2010

12 Tips for Integrating Analytics with Web Projects

A Pervasive Problem
I recently wrote a tip sheet on how to integrate web analytics into web projects, especially for interactive agencies.  This is a big problem, I have found over the years.  Mostly because a lot of agencies are so design centric.  Design is easy to sell to clients.  You can show it; it gets an instant response.  It appeals on intellectual and emotional levels.  Even more so than usability, design is main selling point.  

But design is not the whole project.  Every project I have been apart of has had some sort of goal.  As an analyst, it has many times fallen to me to come up with an interpretation of whether or not the project met that goal, regardless of design.  

Unfortunately, many agencies are moving so quick and trying to take on so many things that they focus on what will sell quickest and swing the rest.  This means there is a rush to comp and get the project kicked off.  Unfortunately, there is not always the follow up to make sure things are done in a way that gives measurable results.  This is a pervasive problem that I have seen in virtually every organization I have worked with.  It is not unique to agencies, but it is amplified in the agency world.

Alternately, analytics is seen as an "add-on", "enhancement", "phase two", "upgrade".  Invariably, treating the one thing that can prove the strategic value of your entire project in this way is going to cause problems down the road.

At the heart of what this tip sheet is about is the idea that analytics is more than an add-on or an "enhancement".  If you want good, reliable, results oriented reporting, then you need to understand analytics as central to the project.  As central as design.  As central as programming. As central as strategy.  As central as content strategy.  As central as success.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Test Results: First vs. Last Touch Keywords with Google Analytics

The idea of what the value of topical search is in a situation where branded phrases clearly dominate the conversion metrics is not a new one.  This is a big motivator for multi-touch tracking.  I wrote about SEOMOZ's article on multi-touch keyword tracking previously, and this got me thinking through how you would actually implement first and last touch tracking in the current Google Analytics platform.  So, I made some changes to the tracking script and pushed it live. 

The results of my first and last touch keyword attribution test were not as robust as I'd hoped.  The usable data set was much smaller in the end than I was looking for. After filtering out all the things you can't use, you find this type of analysis really applies only to a small group.  Mostly this is becuase I was primarily interested in the cases where the first touch keywords as different than the last touch keyword.  The ones that were the same were not as interesting to me.  that being said, seeing the difference in volume was eye-opening.

A custom Google Analytics tracker was created and placed on a website for 30 days.

The test was to see:

1. How often visitors returned to the website on a different keyword.
2. How often topic initial keywords led to brand keywords on repeat visits
3. How first vs. last keywords differed in general.

During that time, 860 visits were tagged from google search with a custom variable that captured the first visit's keyword. 57 visits were scrubbed for weirdness.

459 visits were recorded as 100% new and were filtered out.

After filtering 100% new visits and funky data, the working data set was 344 visits.

264 visits were tagged as having identical first and last touch values.

80 visits showed different first and last touch keywords. (23%)

Of these, 61 showed a branded first touch keyword and 19 showed a non-branded keyword.

Branded First Touch Keywords
19 out of 26 distinct first touch keywords were some kind of branded keyword with many mispellings. Of these, the second touch keyword was set by google analytics as "not set" in 16 cases. In 100% of the remaining cases, the second touch keywords was a branded phrase of some sort, usually very related to the first touch phrase.

Stacked bar showing the volume of visits relative to each other.
The visits that were most relevant to this test turned out to be a very small percentage of the total.

Non-branded First Touch Keywords
In the remaining cases, "not set" as the last touch keyword became more common (12 out of 19). In the remaining 7 cases, a little more than half (4) had a branded last touch keyword.

Summary and Next Steps
Overall, when thinking about how topical phrases and brand phrases interact with each other, you're really talking about a strick minority of the overall visits to a website. This perspective raises the question of how much this type of analysis really worth at the end of the day. But if you are really interested in web traffic behaviour like I am, you do it anyway because:

1. Finding out that people are most likely to keep finding you in the ways they have already found you is interesting and helpful. They are unlikely to change the way they think and find you.

2. Understanding that if you do want to change the way they think and find you, the path of least resistance is moving from topic to brand, not from brand to topic. No one who used a branded phrase returned on a topical phrase, but the other way did show some movement. This can be important for how you position a product in marketing because, in my mind, this represents more of a bottom up approach, rather than a top down approach.

Next steps are really to get a bigger data set. Reliable conclusions are hard to claim when looking at such a small group. Also, I want to factoring in conversion rates to determine traffic value would add more context. So, more testing is on the way!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Brand Marketing, Web Analytics, Social Measurement, and the Future

So often the topic of branding and marketing is coming up for me that I almost can't believe it.  It seems like this is the thing everyone is trying to understand right now. I think it all started with social media and people trying to get their arms around what the value of it is.  If there are 28 million tweets flying across the internet every day, that must represent some kind of value, right?  The answer was assumed to be YES, and analysts when to work trying to find it.  

But the answer has been elusive because it is a different answer than what people expected. Tweets can skyrocket.  Visits from Facebook and Twitter and jump.  Sales can stay flat.  Sometimes there is a direct correlation with sales, but a lot of time there isn't.  I don't think this is what many people expected.  I know it is not what I expected.

But no one stopped there.  If social doesn't drive sales, and we believe that it has values, then we just have to keep looking for what that value is.  

The Social Media Situation
Jim Stern's book on Social Media Metrics is wonderful at working through this.  For all us bean counters, he gives exhaustive lists of metrics that can be used to measure social media.  But, to be honest, there are so many metrics it is almost like a sarcastic joke saying "You can apply almost any metric to this".  There is just no guarantee the numbers will be what you want to see. 

But there is a way to make more sense out of it.  In talking through measuring outcomes, Sterne mentions that social can be used to see "storm clouds on the horizon" (p.115).  In this way, tracking social sentiment is like weather forecasting.  Although everyone knows how unreliable weather forecasting is, it is still useful as an early indicator of where things may be going in the (near) future.  This is important because when that future becomes the present and you need to engage in actual revenue generating activities, your results may be better or worse than expected. If you can get some advanced warning of performance, then you can plan accordingly.  This, of course, is very useful if there is negative sentiment to be overcome. New messaging can be created in the next campaign and hopefully the tide can be turned and that campaign will do better than expected.  Sterne goes on at length about this in his book, several times.

How Branding Fits In
Branding seems to fall strongly in line with this approach.  Brian Lesser wrote an interesting article on branding measurement and expectations that perplexed me at first.  He writes:
A variety of branding campaign goals can be measured, including how a campaign reaches an audience beyond the advertiser's core customers, how it lifts brand awareness and recognition, and how it drives traffic to the website...
More importantly, the click-through and conversion metrics that are central to measuring direct response campaigns are almost irrelevant for most branding campaigns
I have to say it was a bit perplexing to me, because you can't pay the bills with good intentions.  At the end of the day, revenue and profit keep the lights on.  Avinash Kaushik recognizes this in "A clear line of sight to net income."   Stern devotes more than one chapter to it.

If you own an apple orchard, it is great to know how the summer weather is going to help or hurt you, but at the end of the day, no matter what, you need to sell apples. 

This last part seems to be not only left out of so many of the conversations on branding and social media, it is almost violently ejected from the conversation.  This seems like a huge mistake to me.  

Business intelligence needs a business to support. It cannot be an end unto itself.  But the conversations are seeming so polarized to me, especially lately.  

Why does Lesser disconnect brand from conversions?  I'm not sure, but my guess is that he intends it to be seen only as a part of a bigger picture, and not be mistaken for a complete approach unto itself.

When I think about where to go with this and how to use it in a cohesive way, it seems that there are a couple takeaways:
  1. Don't ever forget that revenue is the goal.  Conversion metrics matter.  You gotta sell apples.
  2. People will not buy your product if they do not like your company (usually).
  3. Understanding what people think of your brand is like weather forecasting and there are new tools coming on the market almost everyday that can help you read the horizon.
  4. AFTER you have an idea of what is on the horizon--what the marketplace thinks of you--use branding to build on strengths and address weaknesses.  Continually do this--monitor and message--as long as you need to and/or can afford to.  Measurement is critical.
This stepped approach seems to make a lot of sense.  

Measuring sentiment leads to brand messaging (and social outreach) which helps fertilize the ground for response marketing that drives sales.

When used in this way, brand and social activities fit nicely into the revenue generation process.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Google Adwords Sandbox

When a new search campaign starts out, many clients are totally impressed by how well it works and what a great regurne then are getting. The search campaign seems like the best thing they have done so far--it drives traffic and leads, it doesn't cost too much, and their ad is possiitioned right at the top fo the search page just as they always imagined. things are great.

Then, two weeks later, the drop happens. Their costs go up, they get less visitors, and their amazing search ad does not appear every time they search for it in Google. "What happened?!" they ask.

What happened was that they reached the end of the Adwords testing period. The honeymoon is over, and google has collected its data and made its judgements. Your ad moves down 2 positions, your CTR goes with it, your CPC goes up, and your traffic slows down. This kind of shift in behavior is normal, but an unpleasant surprise to most clients. What they frequently don't understand is that Google has been super-charging their account for the past two weeks in order to see how it will perform. During this time, they get lots of impressions and strong ranking. Google is watching the Click through rates. Measuring the landing page relevance. Making judgements.

A less dramatic example:

In accounts where a lot of changes are going on in the first couple weeks, this pattern may not be as evident. But that does not mean that Google is not doing the same type of testing in the background. Consequently, changes made in the first 2 weeks of a paid search campaign may be premature. Unless you are trying to correct an obvious miscalculation, it may be better to wait for the dust to settle and the humps to start before you start reconfiguring your SEM plans.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Boating and The Value of Web Analytics

There is a fundamental value system inherent in the basic concept of even having analytics at all.  At the very bottom of it all is the idea that knowing what your marketing and website are doing--how they are being recieved and utilized--is important to know because it can help you make better decisions.  This is many times called "data driven decision making".  It is also called "informed decision making".  It is the idea that doing, then learning, then adjusting course is good.  I have not met a single decision maker who would ever admit to not wanting to make data driven decisions.  Everyone says information is important.  Absolutely everyone.

But not everyone really lives that out in their actual process.  I veiw this as one of the biggest tasks of the analytics consultant.  Perhaps you have been faced with this situation also. You present a report.  You have solid findings.  You start talking about it in a group.  The conversation goes seveal directions.  The action items at the end are a little data driven, but mostly whatever seemed like the most attention getting.

Many marketing organizations operate like they are playing boats.  Imagine you are sitting on the shore of a small pond.  On the other side of the pond are little boat slips.  The game is to get as many boats into the slips as possible.  There are two ways you can do this.  The first way is to push as many boats out there as you can and hope for the best.  Just keep launching; something's gotta hit.  The second way is to launch fewer boats and take the time to guide them into the slip--adjust course along the way.

The basic principle of any analytics implimentation is that it is better to take the time to guide the boats home.

Many organizations operate by pushing as many little boats out there as they can and hope for the best.

In order to be successful in analytics, it is the highest priority of the analytics worker to change the culture of the organization to a "fewer and better" one.  Show that better results are gained from taking the time to drive that little boat, steer it, give it a motor and keep it going, make a longer term plan for it than just the launch.  This is especially important for SEO and social, but all marketing campaigns need this kind of attention.

This shift of culture can be the hardest part of the work, because it can involve retraining the thinking of the people you work with/for in a way that does not make it seem like you are trying to be a "know-it-all" pain in the ass.  Many of these people are good at what they do, have been doing what they are doing for years, and have a lot of confidence in their judgement and their abilities.  It may be impossible to shift their thinking and planning processes completely.  But with enough patience and time and honest intentions, you can make a difference.

What are some ways to get this shift happening?  Here are some ideas:

1.  Always push for analytics whenever you can.  Get a data driven foot in the door as much as possible.

2.  Present the results in as user-friendly and understandable way as possible, even if you have to sacrifice "best practices" at first.

3.  Think through what needs to be done, summarize it, write it down, and reference it as much as needed.

4.  Be as helpful as possible. Make new ways of doing things painless.

5.  Have a lot of patience.  It will take a long time for people to actually start changing behavior.  It is much easier to say you want to be data driven than it is to actaully be data driven.

6.  Remember the end goal.  It is about bottom line performance and even the best analytics cannot always predict that.

Those little boats need to get home.  We can help them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Which Touch? Going Past Last Touch Attribution in Google Analytics, a response

The guys at SEOMOZ have done some great thinking in their article "How to get past last touch attribution with Google Analytics" describing how to tinker with Google Analytics to get more than last touch attribution out of organic search referrals.  

Referencing Avinash's post on the value of "Upper funnel" keywords and several very interesting articles on how to build custom filters, they lay out a theory for how this could work.

"First touch attribution" is the first topic they take on.  Here the theory is that first touch keywords (upper funnel keywords) are the real stars.  Since they do the introducing they should be getting conversion credit.  Repeat visitors who use branded phrases and convert are only there because of the topic first touch.  This accounts for the higher conversion rate of branded search repeat visitors, but credit should really be given to the first touch.  The SEOMOZ guys do an interesting job of showing how to create the filters and settings to show first touch attribution in Google Analyics.

This is an interesting proposition and worth investigating.  However, I am skeptical.  In my experience, low priced products convert better from topical search while high priced products convert better from branded search.  For topical search conversions, we don't need to dig any further.  But branded higher priced purchases speak to the power and improtance of brand in the psychology of the buying cycle. This is ignored (maybe even discounted) by first touch attribution and the SEOMOZ article.  Even if topical search is attracting new visitors, brand is an undenighable influencer in big ticket and/or multi-touch purchasing decisions.  If you were to start taking your eye off your branded, repeat traffic in favor of first touch metrics, you could very well misunderstand your audience and their motivations.

The only way to work out the value of this and how to weight the metrics would be to run a test and see the results.  The test would have to collect all touch data so it could be evaluated.  This gets to the second part of the SEOMOZ article--multi-touch attribution.  

"Multi-touch attribution" is involved collecting all the referral data and then, normally, weighting it. First touch and last touch are the main points of interest.  The content and quality of the touches in between are informative.  Everything is given an "assist" value to weight its importance.

Here the SEOMOZ article has an interesting, but most-likely unworkable solution, especially if your website has any real volume of traffic.  

I appauld them for pointing out how it is possible by using a combination of filters and scripting to collect this information.  I also applaud them for recognizing that this would absolutely require a data export and external manipulation.   However, where they say a pivot table, I'm betting it would be more like a database and some creative SQL if your website has any volume at all.  This is because by concatenating the sources together into the _setCustomVar value in Google Analytics, you are essentially creating automatic segmentation and your variations are going to multiply uncontrollably.  Eventually you could have a quantity of segments equal to the number of visitors you have.  Only those who followed exactly the same series of keywords and sources could be aggregated together.  Because of this, I have a hard time seeing how this could be applied in any way outside a test environment unless more software and infrastructure was inserted into the mix to handle the post-processing of the GA data.

They also mention the concept of assigning value to the assist visits, but this is more completely thought through in C3 Metrics' whitepaper.  

Overall, I think the guys at SEOMOZ have done a great job in starting to unravel the intricacies of crediting multiple sources and how that might work with Google Analytics.  And, honestly, I'm thinking about how to start working some of this into my own clients' analytics.  However, there are a lot of assumptions going on here, some untested theories, some early summer dreaming, and implimentation in a production environment seems pretty far away.  

But then, isn't that how everything great starts out?

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Social Media is Changing the Game for Small Business

Contributed by Tom Bennett

Small businesses often need to focus marketing that creates immediately measurable results, usually focused at having people take action (buy or sign up, or call). Historically this has created a very tactical approach to marketing. It’s about spending dollars to make things happen. Now with the rise of Social Media, there is a new opportunity to use low-cost tools to engage in more sophisticated activities like customer engagement and brand development.

You might be hearing a lot about Facebook and Twitter, and all might seem a bit silly. How can a small company take advantage in this space when it’s all grannies and frat boys? Why would a company want to “invest” time and effort? How does this help my small business?

Social Media is especially good for small business

Think of it this way: If there was a town square, where everyone went to have a huge party, share ideas, ask for referrals, and talk about their favorite solutions for things, wouldn’t you want to be part of that conversation? If you didn’t go, and you later heard that people were actually talking about your business anyway, and it wasn’t very flattering, is that worth your time to correct? People are out there talking about everything you can imagine. They are talking about you. No one can speak better about your company or brand than you can, so participate.

When someone goes to a social network like Facebook asks their friends for a referral for a good plumber, (and this happens, believe it.) they’re essentially looking for an easy way to know and trust a partner. They don’t want to spend time calling around for a plumber, hoping that the first guy that shows up knows how to wear a belt. They want a shortcut to a good relationship with a pro. Consumers are 78% more willing to believe recommendations from friends, or even from other consumers before they will believe advertising. Small businesses that can recognize this need and make it easy will win.

So how do you get started? Starting with an email address, it’s free to setup a Facebook account. Get on there and look around, and try it for yourself.  Be a consumer, and ask friends for information. See how they react and share. If you want to get started with marketing, there are lots of resources on Facebook itself, or ask us we can give you pointers.

The important thing is to start. It costs nothing, and you’ll learn a lot quickly.  It is about sharing and contribution, being present in the networks, and fostering a relationship with customers and prospects before they need to call you. That kind of work can build brand equity for your business: and that’s worth real money.

About Tom
Tom is a Marketing Strategist at The New Group in Portland, Oregon, where he guides online marketing for major brands in B2B and B2C. Besides pursuing the latest in communication and marketing technologies, he is a big fan of how Social Media will bring changes in how we communicate and collaborate. 

Attain SEM Success Through Authority

Build authority and improve ROI for your brand by combining SEO, PPC, and Social Media
Contributed by Ben Lloyd

A lot of the thinking we do about search these days revolves around this concept of authority. As the SEM industry has matured, we are beginning to understand that the interplay of PPC and SEO and Social Media enhances the perception of your brand as an authority and improves results.

The driving principles of SEO have always been content and authority (in the form of links). Since Google came around – this principle has never changed even as the tactics have. As the search results page has gotten more competitive, and social media has started shedding light on a brand’s strengths and flaws - it has become more important and difficult to cut through the noise and capture attention. Improving the perception of your brand as an authority can help you do this.

To command more authority – combine a well-executed paid search campaign with your organic presence and experience the pay off with better results from both. When your site shows up for your targeted terms in both the organic and paid portions of the results page – you’ll experience increased click through rates and conversion rates from the search results page. Not only do you own more of the search results page real estate, which gives you a better shot at capturing a click, but one could argue that there’s a gain in brand perception and credibility as well. When your brand appears in both organic and paid listings, users are more confident in your brand and therefore more willing to click through and buy from you.

Both of the following charts reflect data uncovered in a 2009 NYU Stern School of Business study on the effects of having an Organic (SEO) and Paid (PPC) presence in search engines

Figure 1: Click Through Rates increase for terms where you have both an organic (SEO) and paid (PPC) presence.

 Figure 2: Conversion Rates increase for terms where you have both an organic and paid result. Perhaps having a presence in both improves your credibility?

Building on this idea of authority, a 2009 eMarketer study “The Synergy of Search and Social Media” demonstrated two key points.
  1. Consumers exposed to a brand in social media and paid search were much more likely to search on the brand.
  2. That consumers exposed to paid search along with influenced social media had a 50% increase in click through rate on paid search ads. 
Demonstrating your command of and authority in the space enhances the perception of your brand and encourages click through.

Figure 3: Searchers exposed to your brand on social media and paid search (like Google PPC) are MUCH more likely to keep your brand in mind and search on it again.

Figure 4: The effect is even more pronounced when it comes to product terms rather than brand terms.

When it comes to SEO – authority is the name of the game and links = authority. Social media has been a godsend for SEOs. Any SEO will tell you that link acquisition is the hardest part of the job… A solid Social Media strategy can make the job easier. Not only have search engines started to incorporate social media signals into their ranking algorithms, but social media also makes it easier to put your content in front of people who can and will link to it. The publicity that social media can give your content can help your site acquire links AND influence those social media signals that search engine algorithms are looking for. As a result, your SEO should be a key stakeholder in your social media strategy.

Let’s take a look at the relationships here:
  • SEO and PPC both benefit when your listing shows up in both
  • Users exposed to PPC and Social Media are more likely to keep your brand in mind and search for it again
  • SEO and Social Media can work hand in hand to drive links and create the signals that search engines are looking for
To sum it all up – when you properly execute and leverage SEO, PPC and Social Media, you can enhance your brand’s perception as an authority and help it stand out above the crowd.

About Ben Lloyd
Amplify Interactive is a boutique firm focused on search engine and social media marketing with clients ranging from the high-tech B2B sector to lifestyle and consumer goods companies. Ben is also a co-founder and the current President of SEMpdx.

Is Your Brand Ripe for Community Building?

If a bunch of surfers could do it, why can’t you?
Contributed by Kris Larson

Brand communities are about lifestyle and affiliation and they are nothing more or less than a place where people of like mind, with a shared passion or interest, can go to affiliate with each other and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

With that definition in mind, I point to one of the first brand communities built in the 60’s by surfers, of all people. Although this may be a surprise to some people, brand communities do not rely on social media to exist. Nor are social media communities necessarily the same thing as brand communities.

Surfers created one of the first lifestyle communities that evolved over time into a series of brand communities. Magazines and movies showcased a laid-back lifestyle that featured amazing images of big waves, and bold surfers with exotic names like Duke Kahanamoku, and Greg “Da Bull” Noll. Surfers even had their own music with bands like Dick Dale and the Deltones, The Ventures, and of course, the Beach boys.

 Movies like “Endless Summer” let us in on how surfers lived, traveled, and viewed the world. “Gidget” made surfing the most popular sport in America when it came out.

 Surfing (founded 1964) and Surfer (founded 1960) celebrated a counter-culture lifestyle and become the voice of a “tribe” of surfers and surf enthusiasts: people who just wanted to look like, sound like, and hang out with surfers.

Early marketers like Greg Knoll and Dewey Weber used their surf “cred” to build and sell surfboards with their custom marks that every surfer wannabe had to have.  Even Mickey Dora, AKA “Da Kat,” who supposedly rued the commercialism created out of the surfing lifestyle, was cashing in with his name-brand surfboards.

Smart marketers took notice and started leveraging the community to promote their lifestyle brands. Early adopters included Mr Zogg’s Sex Wax, Billabong and O’Neill.

So what can we learn about building a brand community from these people who did it so well?

First of all, marketers did not create the community. The community existed first, before anyone even thought about using it to sell stuff to people. The community was actually created by the enthusiasts. The marketers just found a way to cash in on it.

And this tells me that maybe brand communities can’t be created by every single company in the world who has something to sell. Maybe it only works well for those companies with a product or service that are already catering to an active and engaged community base. Take Harley Davidson, for example. There is a great case study of how they reinvented their entire business based on the brand their community of enthusiasts created for them. Source: Harvard Business Review: Best Practice Case Study: Harley-Davidson (April 2009).

Ideas of places where community and engagement make sense (and therefore social media makes sense) are those that contain an element of passion, hobbyism, or intellectual interest.

Companies that are providing products, services and events (engagement) in these areas may be prime candidates for creating or leveraging a brand community:

Industries that require ongoing learning and development to stay current such as:
  • IT
  • Internet Developers
  • Marketing
  • Social Media Consultants
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Etc.
Products or Services that appeal to enthusiasts who share a love or passion for a sport, hobby, or activity such as:
  • Surfing
  • Skiing
  • Boarding
  • Rock Climbing
  • Knitting
  • Sewing
  • Cooking
  • Art
Or products or services that can tie-into a community with a mission
  • Cancer patient support
  • Weight loss motivation
  • Political action groups
  • Youth ministry
However, if you or your client do not have a strong brand and is not affiliated with a big idea, lifestyle, or interest of your core customer-base, I’d recommend spending your limited marketing resources elsewhere. Because after all, who cares enough to spend their precious moments signing up for your Facebook page, Twitter account, and multiple blog feeds just to see the latest announcements about your product or company? What’s in it for them?

This is the question marketers need to be thinking about the next time they’re tempted to plaster a client’s home page with social media buttons. What exactly are you offering customers? Are you turning off prospects, or engaging them? Are you only doing it because the boss says its cool? What is your strategy?

If you’d like to test your company’s readiness to build a brand community, there’s a nifty little online quiz created by the Harvard Business Review called “The Community Readiness Audit”:

I’d love to hear your feedback on how you and your clients are using social media  -- either successfully, or not so successfully. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on other types of companies, industries or products or services that could tap into a lifestyle and create a brand community. Kris Larson’s blog is currently under construction, but I’ll be following the conversation here.

About Kris Larson
I’ve been building brands and creating integrated marketing solutions for companies for many years. Some of the companies I’ve worked with include: L.A. Gear, Computer Sciences Corporation, Technicolor and AnimationMentor.com.

Lose 10 lbs. with Google Analytics

Let me start off by putting two ideas out there:

1. I don't think I'm alone in admitting that winter usually brings with it a little extra. Holiday dinners and cold rainy weather have a tendency to keep me home and sedentary. But spring is here, and I'm ready for some outdoor activity. With my Droid, I have an abundance of apps that are made for tracking how far and how fast I can go.

2. There is a thing in analytics called "onclick tracking". Onclick tracking is when you make a call back to the analytics platform and tell it to record an event when something is clicked. This is really important for finding out things like how many people clicked on links that took them off your website. Onclick tracking is also good for recording how many people submitted a form when there is no "thank you" page. Onclick tracking is essential in AJAX environments. Onclick tracking can help you understand what people are reading when you use CSS to hide and display information on a page. Overall, onclick tracking is amazingly versatile and important.

One day these two ideas combined in my mind: Why not use Google Analytics to track and trend how much exercise I do? A simple web interface, a little math, and some creatively named onclick calls could bring it all together.
  1. Select the activity. 
  2. Start the timer. 
  3. Stop the timer. 
  4. Do some math to get the number of minutes. 
  5. Send those minutes up using an onclick call that records each minute as a specially named page view. 
  6. The date is automatically recorded by GA, and the info will be aggregated and trended effortlessly.

By nesting the names correctly, you could even track and set alerts for how much of each kind of exercise you want to do.

Re-purposing Page Views is the Key
For this you need to use page views. Why? Because, then we can configure GA to track our calories and/or minutes of exercise as "goals". Once we track them as goals, we can use Intelligence to send us alerts if we are not keeping up with our routine. Want to do 30 minutes a day of exercise? Set a custom alert to look for a value of less than 150 per week of Goal 1. You'll get a nice reminder from Google, letting you know that you are falling behind on your routine.

"Events" (the other basic unit of measure in GA) won't work because it cannot be used to set up goal tracking.  

You could track and set goals for all your exercise needs--calories burned, miles jogged, buckets sweated.

Track Anything with Google Analytics
You could open the horizons even further and track almost anything you need tracked--miles driven, client hours billed, dollars spent on groceries, phone calls received. Anything that can be distilled down to an integer recorded over time can be tracked.  The opportunities for what you could do with Google Analytics Life Tracking are huge.  

Build a web interface for your call center and integrate your incoming phone calls with your online campaigns using shared campaign codes and custom parameters. With a bit more work, web to phone tracking in one unified analytics view becomes possible.

All you need is a good web programmer, a solid analytics strategist, and some creativity to start looping those page views.

Before you know it, you'll have lost those 10 lbs. and have the analytics to prove it!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Creating a Marketing Performance Dashboard

Most managers are in love with the idea of an information "dashboard".  The appeal is universal--a wonderous little view into how things are going that is easy to understand and quick to access.  The promise of easy, meaningful information that auto-magically updates itself is a siren song to busy managers who are trying to make decisions on the go.  

I don't know how marketing dashboards got this reputation, but they seldom live up to it.  And I don't think they ever will.  In order to make well informed decisions you need more than a snapshot.  Drill down reports are required.  Distilled analysis plays a large part.  Balancing options, understanding variables, fuzzy forecasting, and internal politics are the real ways decisions are made and priorities set.  Most everyone wants to be making "data driven decisions", but usually data is only one component in decision stew. 

Seeing this for what it is, I have had an on again-off again relationship with marketing dashboards.  There was a time when I thought they were wonderful and tried to make them for everything.  Then I was struck by their limitations and turned away from them.  But now I'm finding some room for them again.

It is the understanding of what a marketing dashboard is that is important.  In client services, we call this "managing expectations".  When dashboards are involved, there are a lot of expectations that need to be managed.  This can be difficult.  Romantic dashboard daydreams are not easily dispelled.  But, it is possible. 

What a Marketing Dashboard Is Good For
What a marketing dashboard is good for is finding problems and successes.  Like key performance  indicators (KPIs), the dashboard is really just a temperature gage.  You'll not get any complete answer from a dashboard, but you will get some idea of what the landscape looks like and where to go hunting if there are problems.  

Your marketing dashboard is only the starting point.  It is a summary.  It is a paraphrase.  It is the elevator pitch.  It is a news brief.  It is a 10,000 foot view.  It is shallow and superficial.  Most importantly, it is a short-cut.  

When you see things moving in a positive way on your marketing dashboard, celebrate.  Then provide additional information on what worked.

When you see things moving in a negative way on your marketing dashboard, cringe.  Then provide additional information on what went wrong.  

It is the additional information that is the real stuff to help decision-makers.  The marketing dashboard simply gives some help to decide what to talk about.

A Marketing Dashboard Example
Here is a screen shot of the general traffic section of a dashboard I recently created for a client.  

You can see that the information is by no means complete.  However, in one view you get a very good feel of where their traffic comes from, what the value of that traffic is, what the 6 month trend is, and what the successes and opportunities are.  From here we talk about specifics.  
  • How to get more traffic from social.
  • How to improve organic topical search.
  • How to get all traffic to convert better.
  • How to get campaign traffic to bounce less.
So many additional topics to cover, all guided by a single view that is quick and easy to digest.

Now I have formed a new, more mature relationship with dashboards.  And I think this one will last. 

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Value of Adwords Local Paid Search

I have consulted with many small businesses about their local search needs.  These are businesses who live off the local market--attorneys, tradesmen and other service providers that cannot sell their services nationally.  They want to use the internet to help them.  They are building or upgrading their websites.  They are interested in some local advertising and they are thinking about local paid search.  We talk.  I find out about their business, where they want to go, how they want to use search, and then I get back to them with some estimates and some hard realities.

The truth is that I have not found a local, small business that would get any real value out of Adwords local.  Depending on their industry other services might work--CitySearch, Angie's List, etc.  But because Google is synonymous with search, Adwords is invariably what they are looking for.  After using the Google tools, we may set up a test account with a reasonable budget for a reasonable time.   At the end we review the results.  90% of the time the answer is the same:  "You can use Adwords Local if you want.  It won't cost you much.  But it won't deliver the volume of business you are looking for either."  In the end, it becomes a question of do they want to put the time into managing it when they may only get a handful of leads every month.  It almost never makes financial sense for me to manage it for them, and I tell them that right up front.  The low volume keeps click costs down, but management time and energy are costs that need to be considered too.

We also have a conversation about bridging the online-offline gap for lead tracking.  Local businesses almost always do better when someone calls them, rather than fill out a form on their website.  How do you measure this?  They may have anecdotal information about the number of calls they get that come from their website, but that is not really good enough for ROI calculations.  When we get into topics like unique phone numbers and call tracking (most of which a small business does not have in place already), then the burden becomes greater.

There is a lot of promise in local search and many people forecasting it to be the future of search.  This also means it may be the future of search marketing dollars.  However, I can't in good conscious sit down with a 2 person law office and sell them the benefits of local paid search without also being realistic about the insignificant impact it will most likely have on their business.

Like I said, other services like CitySearch or SuperPages may be a better fit for them.  Unfortunately, half the time these businesses have already tried this and been turned off by the costs and poor results.

So, when is paid local search a good value?

1.  Get the tracking in place to measure it correctly.
2.  Have almost no expectations around the volume of business it will produce.
3.  Be willing to try some short term testing campaigns with a reasonable budget.
4.  Be willing to learn to manage it for yourself.

If this sounds okay, then Adwords Local may be just right for you!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Social Media and SEO Webinar by Webmarketing123

Here are my notes from this webinar I attended today. Overall, I gave the webinar a 3 out of 5 but there were some key problems with it.

SEO Benefits
1. Very high ROI (1st page = free marketing)
2. No direct cost for unqualified clicks (a big worry in PPC)
3. Stability--good sites that rank well stay ranking well.
4. A Google serp listing is essentially a trusted 3rd party endorsement.

My comment
The key here is " no direct cost". SEO normally is an indirect cost. One of my clients is spending a ton of money on a new website and one of the primary motivators is to get more benefit from SEO. That is certainly a cost, but what kind of cost? And how do you measure ROI for it? In fact, it is almost impossible to truely measure ROI for an SEO effort. The points about stability and endorsement are good ones. The issue of cost is a complicated one that is being over simplified and maybe a little mis-stated by Webmarketing123.

Social Benefits
1. Humanizes your business, creates relationships and dialogs
2. Encourages loyalty and brand trust
3. Provides a way to be responsive to concerns

Website Optimization
1. Onsite Factors:
  • Keywords in the title,
  • Keywords in the URL
  • Keywords in the visible page content. Keyword density is not as important as creating a keyword theme across several pages.
  • Keywords in your internal links.
2. Offsite Factors:
  • Keywords in the anchor text of links coming from credible websites.
My comments
This is all pretty basic SEO stuff. One thing I think they were soft on was the value of the keywords in the URL. The examples for this were of users reading the URL and understanding where the link went. Considering this section of the presentation was about SEO and algorithm influencers, using a human example was not relevant. Sure, it's nice that people will understand the URL, but how do the bots understand the URL? That is the SEO factor.

How to Twitter -- Social Media Example 1
They used Zappos as an example.

1. Use @ replies
2. Re-tweeting content is flattering to the original tweeter.
3. Include casual tweets along with your business tweets. This adds personality and makes your tweeting more interesting.
4. You don't always have to include links in your tweets, but use a lot over all.

How to Facebook -- Social Media Example 2
They used Betty Crocker as the example.

1. Wall posts engage your fans.
2. "likes" are viral because they get reposted.
3. Comments become viral because they get reposted.
4. @name references become viral because they get reposted.
5. Pictures, vids and events are more engaging and appealing than just text posts.

For B2B, Facebook offers higher qualified leads, but not high quantity like B2C might. This is a key differentiator B2B users should understand.

My Comments
Calling the Facebook spam-house "viral" seems like a stretch to me. It can be viral if it is propagated by other users, but I wouldn't say it's viral by default.

How to Linked In Groups -- Social Media Example 3
1. Discussions get the most activity
2. The News tab has updates
3. You get more comments if you make more updates.

There was a question from the audience about how to reach "C" level people (CEO, CIO, etc.) with social media. The answer was that even though these people are doing social media, you probably won't be able to reach them (what!?). Who you should shoot for are the "gate keepers" and decision influencers who can take your message to the "C" level decision makers. I really didn't find this answer helpful at all.

Tracking Social with Google Analytics
Pros -- You can see which websites refer traffic.
Cons -- Can't see what they do when they get to your website. Can't see who they are or what they are saying.

My comment
What?!? They went so fast through this section that I doubt these people have ever used Google Analytics. This analysis is completely wrong. So wrong, in fact, I'm wondering if I misunderstood what they said. I tried to go back and listen to the webinar on their website, but the link was broken. 123-Fail.

Brand Monitoring
Measuring sentiment is extremely important. Use tools to measure volume of positive and negative comments. Make sure to double check what the tool says, because tools can't recognize sarcasm.

The only tool they mentioned was www.socialmention.com, even through they were emphatic about the need to measure and monitor comments.

My comment
This section on measurement was full of emotion and emphasis but had very little substance. Also, tools don't recognize sarcasm thereby requiring you to double check their findings, how useful is that tool?

Social Helps SEO
Blogs were the main reason that social helps SEO by optimizing inbound links to your main site.

If you start your own blog, there are two ways to do it and they each have a different benefit.

blog.yourdomain.com. Using a sub-domain helps create inbound links to your main website.

yourdomain.com/blog. Using a sub-folder helps with content development.

Use social listings and your main site to own the whole 1st page for your keywords.

Real Time Search is coming and catapults social commenting into prime SERP position.

My Comment
This is a valuable thing to point out because most companies that want to start blogs have no idea about the different kinds of value a blog can represent.

My Overall Summary
This webinar was good for beginners, but lacked any real substance for people who work in this industry. The section on measurement was particularly weak to the point of being misleading. The section on SEO costs was incorrectly stated.  They did make a few good points though, and provided some good (very general) guidelines for how to use social media. In general, the relationship between social and SEO was pretty superficially stated. I rated it a 3 for basic info about social and SEO. As someone who has a special interest in measurement, it would score lower.