Risks and Returns In ‘Pure Play’ Digital Marketing Strategies

Marketing strategies that rest on a single channel of customer acquisition have become much less popular over the last couple years. There are various reasons for this: the internet is becoming more of a settled business environment, there’s more competition on every conceivable channel, and service providers like Google and Facebook have taken to charging more money to businesses who are trying to reach customers using their services.

Whereas in 2010 or 2011, a company like Zynga was able to use viral recommendations to fuel rapid growth at a low cost, changes to platform rules across all services have made it so such strategies are no longer feasible for companies operating at any scale without a carefully considered strategy and well-executed tactics.

Anyone who relied on a pure play strategy over the last several years can tell you how they’ve had a major impact to their business from an update to the Facebook Newsfeed algorithm of a Google Search update like Panda or Penguin.

If you’re relying on a sole source for incoming traffic, here are some points for your consideration:

Knowing the risks

  • You’ll see an immediate drop-off in organic traffic or a spike in your cost per acquisition without warning. It can be as quick as one day to another.
  • You can have your company or a website that you own penalized by the service, with limited recourse available.
  • The service provider that you’re working with may not be capable of adapting to changes in the sole service you were using to generate traffic.
  • Your websites may need to be restructured significantly to handle changes that you can’t control.
  • All your revenue can be shut off without warning, leading to cash flow issues.

Understanding the potential returns

  • Using one service to drive traffic makes for a simpler overall marketing strategy.
  • It can be cheaper to manage up-front.
  • It requires less learning to remain current on.
  • It’s easier to find and hire experts in a sole marketing channel than it is to find generalists with high expertise in all the channels that they use.
  • It’s cheaper to optimize traffic coming in from a single source.
  • Requires less investment in alternate landing pages and customer on-boarding sequences.

Making better decisions about your marketing mix

In general, pure play strategies have more potential returns in the short run. They can also generate superior long-term results if and only if you speculate correctly about future policy changes in the marketing channel that you’re using.

For long term management of your marketing risks, it’s better to rely on a mixture of traffic sources appropriate to your campaign goals. Unless you have reliable moles working in all the major online platforms (which is a good idea), you have to hedge your bets. Comparing customer acquisition costs on different channels by running frequent tests will also help you to increase the effectiveness of your spending.

The larger the company, and the more significant the spending, the broader the mix that generally needs to be used.

New Keyword Research Guide Live at iSpionage

Today, my article on how to find highly profitable keywords to advertise against went live on iSpionage under the editorial direction of Joe Putnam.

It’s given me an opportunity to put into words a keyword selection strategy that I’ve gathered from both personal experience managing accounts and reading some of the best books and guides that I’ve been able to hunt down on both paid search and SEO.

Joe was very helpful in putting together the topic and has shown a strong interest in building up the search advertising community. I look forward to writing more frequently for the company to help them raise the bar of quality overall commentary about the industry.

Why Revenue Is A Critical Decision-Making Tool for Entrepreneurs

Procrastinating on bringing a product to market and starting to generate revenue harms your ability to make intelligent marketing decisions.

The reason for this is that revenue is itself a critical signal that helps you determine how to dedicate your efforts and create a budget, even on a short term basis. Even taking pre-orders for a product that isn’t released yet can help you to put some meat on the brittle bones of a demand forecast.

The amount of money that you can spend on marketing is infinite, but spending money intelligently requires an approach that’s consistent with the amount of revenue that each expenditure brings in. Selling is inherently a reality check: it means you can start recording critical metrics that you can use to then decide what you should spend across which channels to build your business.

Some of the most important numbers you want to establish are:

  1. Cost of customer acquisition
  2. Average lifetime value of a customer

With those two numbers, you can then move on to segmenting different sections of customer and determining how much money and effort you can expend to make each sale or acquire each new customer. Anything involving money is more important as a metric than anything regarding traffic and conversion rates. The latter two don’t mean much of anything if it’s not connected to the core accounting metrics that are common to any business.

If there’s no revenue coming in, you can stress out over the design of a website, how much to spend on ads, how much effort or money you spend on content, and how much you focus on other forms of promotion without actually driving bottom line results in a sensible way.

As soon as revenue comes in from any source, you can start trying new things to augment that existing stream of money, even if it’s tiny to begin with.

Especially for new businesses, the money is worth more than the value that’s printed on it. What matters more is that the money is an objective source of information about market conditions. Even when your employees are salaried or you’re doing everything yourself, tracking your time is critical. You can use software to do it, but paper can get the job done too, if that’s what you prefer using.

Don’t be busy just to feel busy. Record what you’re doing so that you know what you’re working on (and what your employees are working on) is driving business results. You’ll get more return on your effort in a more consistent manner when you do.

3 Ways To Avoid Being Baffled By Metrics

With all the tools available to measure customer behavior on your websites, it’s easy to become baffled by metrics. What gets measured gets managed, and because it’s so easy to automate measurement, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by all the opportunities to manage what you’re measuring.

There are a few guidelines that you need to follow before you start obsessing over all the various traffic counters that you have available to you.

#1: Identify Your Key Performance Indicators

Key performance indicators (KPIs) is a marketing jargon term that means the sole numbers that you use to determine the success of a campaign or website. Where most people go wrong how they handle their metrics is to fail to pick a KPI that’s consistent with their business goals. A typical mistake is to optimize a website for raw traffic rather than a meaningful goals like:

  • Generating high quality leads
  • Driving newsletter and social media subscriptions
  • Buying products and services on the site

Raw traffic, even for publishers that earn money by the pageview, is usually only going to be the denominator for a more meaningful conversion rate. However, because it’s the easiest thing to measure, and the simplest thing to boost, it’s what often gets focused on at the expense of other more meaningful business metrics.

Having a clear KPI to work towards makes it easier to plan out projects, create budgets, and assign tasks. When there is no KPI, people tend to putter around in an undisciplined manner. They may even start scheduling countless expensive meetings to attempt to reduce all of the chaos in their work.

#2: Respect Statistical Significance

To gain certainty on any statistical measurement, you need to ignore your natural instincts to assign enormous importance to sample sizes that are too small to be mathematically meaningful. Any study must have a sufficiently large sample size to return meaningful data. The more elements that you are testing at once, the larger the sample size you must collect.

You can still use smaller amounts of data: you just have to assign it the appropriate weight in your decision making process.

#3: Incorrect Analytics Configuration

Setting up your measurement system tends to be a development afterthought. In many cases, when small changes get made to the system, something can break in the measurement system without anyone noticing. Putting aside some time each month to examine your existing installation for issues is a sensible maintenance task.

If you’re using Google Analytics, taking the time to go through the Google Analytics IQ study guide — or a similar technical manual — will help you to identify issues that might be present on your website and fix them in a cost-effective manner. Whatever you’re using to measure your marketing, read the instructions and do the work to verify that it’s in working order.

Ensuring that you use tracking codes for all of your marketing efforts that build links will also help you to be smart about how you measure your work.

With these common problems out of the way, you’ll be ready to measure the right things and act on the knowledge.

Creating eCommerce Product Descriptions That Sell

eCommerce is the mail order business ported to the web.

The added functionality that the web has does not always lead to increased selling power. It can reach a broad audience, and simple tools drop startup costs to next to nothing, but the fundamentals of how the business works are very well established.

The catalog and mail order business is centuries old. There are established conventions that don’t make the transition to the web perfectly, but more of them do than people tend to realize. Other similar sources of inspiration for improving your sales include television product sales programs like long infomercials and QVC.

Don’t scoff: those methods are tested for response rates and conversions.

[Read more…]

How To Protect Your Adwords Account Security

Handing over the login credentials to your Adwords account to an outside agency should make you feel nervous.

Even though I know people do it, there’s no reason for you to give your login and password to anyone at all. If you follow these steps, you’ll improve your security and permit you to make more extensive use of outside help on all of your accounts. Similar processes are also available on Bing ads and for other major ad platforms.

If someone asks for your login credentials, you should report the person for phishing. If everyone in the paid search community is looking out for threats to security, everyone benefits.

Ask Them To Invite You From Their MCC

The way that you can have someone work on your search account without jeopardizing your security is to ask the person to instead invite you to share credentials through their My Client Center account.The only information that you need to provide is the 10-digit account number in the upper right hand corner of your screen.

If they don’t have an MCC, ask them to sign up for one. The process only takes a few minutes, and a Google phone representative can walk the person through it if they’re having trouble.

This is a feature used by agencies in the Google Partners program (like us) for both convenience and security.

Once that happens, the agency will invite you, and you can decide what level of access that they should have. If they’re only evaluating your account to make recommendations, you can give them ‘read only access.’ This will prevent them from making any changes to the account that could result in charges to your credit card. If you want to revoke the access later, you can do that.

If you decide to permit them to manage the account later, you can set it so that you need to review any changes made before they go live.

Turn On Two Factor Authentication For All Accounts

The next most important move you need to make is to turn on two factor authentication for all the Google accounts that have access to the Adwords account. You should also ask your point of contact with any outside agency that has access to your account to use it also.

The benefit of this is that anyone who wants to access your account will have to enter a code sent by text message. What this means is that even if your login and password are stolen, an attacker will not be able to access your accounts so long as they don’t have access to your SMS account as well.

While this isn’t fool-proof, it significantly increases the difficulty of hacking your account. The majority of criminals will look for an easier target if your account is protected by two factor authentication.

For convenience, you can also set it to trust certain machines. This will be slightly less secure, but reduce the annoyance of needing to check a phone every time you need to log into the account again from a certain machine.

Use A Business Credit Card For Account Payments

This one is the last backup to prevent unauthorized charges to your accounts. If everything else fails (say, a rogue ex-employee accesses your systems), Google’s phone support (or your assigned sales rep) should be able to help you to identify the wrongful charge and potentially get a refund.

If that doesn’t work, using a credit card instead of a debit card or bank account to processes payments will allow you to dispute the charges in case of fraud. In general, it’s easier to recover your money if you’re using a credit card than it is with other methods that debit directly from an account.

Final Comments

The PPC marketing ecosystem enjoys a better reputation than many other fields in internet marketing and advertising. Whether it’s deserved or not is up to the continued good behavior of its participants. Not everyone follows the best practices available in security, and it doesn’t necessarily make them bad people.

That trust can be strengthened by encouraging agencies, clients, and consultants to improve their security practices as much as possible. Security breaches in some parts of the industry can have a negative impact on everyone, driving up prices, increasing risks, and reducing profits. Passwords suffer from some inherent security weaknesses, and reducing reliance on those as much as possible makes business better for everyone.

How To Save Money On Marketing With Online Surveys

Online surveys are an under-appreciated tool for saving money on your marketing budget.

While larger companies tend to use them with gusto, apprehensions about cost and other factors tend to scare away people with small budgets. The irony here is that the people who really need to use them the most tend to use them the least.

The two main vendors that I recommend are:

  1. Google Surveys
  2. SurveyMonkey

My personal preference is for Google because it’s better integrated into their ad products for publishers. Website owners can also use their satisfaction measurement widgets for free if you don’t customize the settings.

SurveyMonkey tends to be the better choice if you need to have detailed questionnaires filled out.

Both of these give you flexibility to survey existing customers or prospects in a target area. It’s easiest to get results with factual queries about demographics that you can’t necessarily get from the Census website or a research tool like Wolfram|Alpha.

I believe that using surveys to attempt to forecast product demand directly is usually a mistake, because people will tend to make incorrect predictions about their own behavior. What it is useful for is to gauge simple consumer opinions and to gather some factual data that might have some material impact on your marketing plans.

You can use this sample size calculator to determine how much a useful survey will cost in conjunction with the vendors suggested above.

Some things you can use a survey for:

  • Measuring the impact of your display advertising by testing brand recall (hold surveys before and after a campaign in a target area to determine whether or not it worked)
  • Learn more about a particular market and their purchasing habits
  • Shape the language that you use to reach the surveyed population
  • Decide whether or not a given market or website is worth advertising to at a certain price

And a lot more.

The reason to use surveys throughout a marketing campaign is to reduce the risk that you spend a bunch of money on a stunt that doesn’t work to a market that never wanted to buy your product anyway. If you’re testing a new website, for example, you can use data collected from a small market to prepare for a roll-out into a larger one.

Instead of advertising a new website to the entire United States, you can pick a single market, test and refine the offer, and then roll it out to an expanded target area once you’re confident that it sells.

One of the cool things about the internet is that this kind of method used to only really be within reach for larger companies. Now anyone with a computer and a connection can do it.

It’s also a handy way to make changes in the subjective mood of your website visitors easier to quantify. Metrics like bounce rate and time on site are only coarsely related to consumer sentiment. Their responses to natural language queries will tend to give you richer material to work with.

When you’re designing your surveys, follow these guidelines:

  • Yes/No questions require a smaller sample size and will tend to give you better data.
  • Questions that ask the customer to either remember their own behavior or predict their own behavior will tend to give less reliable data.
  • Questions about preferences regarding something that’s on the web page they’re on right now will give you better results.

Long surveys will tend to need some sort of incentive to encourage people to fill them out. They can also be used for lead generation purposes (which just means collecting their e-mail so that you can solicit them later). A restaurant, for example, might offer a free dessert coupon for people who provide their e-mail and fill out an online survey.

Interesting survey results can also be a dirt-cheap way to generate material for a press release. The sample size doesn’t need to be huge for simpler questions. Journalists love these kinds of stories because it lets them put a number in the headline, counts as news, and makes them seem more scientific. It can also portray your company as a thought leader in your industry, not-coincidentally resulting in positive mentions for your brand name and the key people involved in conducting the study.

Don’t Overlook reddit Advertising

It’s been easy to overlook reddit advertising over the last several years. But many of the aspects that people criticize it about are also what makes it a potentially attractive candidate for certain campaigns.

Here are its strengths:

  • Inventory is cheap. It mostly hovers around $1 CPM or less for native ad units that perform a lot like regular posts, except that they’re stuck to the top of a subreddit or on the front page.
  • Subreddits are organized around interests, and many of those subreddits have high product evaluation intent.
  • The native format is flexible. The headline gives you a lot of characters to work with, you can include a small image, people can comment on the ad itself, and it comes with a link to a page of your choosing.
  • Users respond well to targeted offers and companies that offer products that appeal to their particular community.

The amount of targeted inventory that you can pick up is not available in large quantities, however. reddit makes up for this by permitting you to do interest-based targeting, but because interest-based targeting tends to be so slapdash even at companies like Google, I wouldn’t expect great results from what reddit offers.

The advertisers that should contemplate the platform should not care about demographic targeting, because users are pseudonymous. What you do know when you target based on the subreddit is that all of the active users have shown some intent about the particular interest of the subreddit that they’ve subscribed to. While you may not control the context in which the ad appears, if you’re familiar enough with the culture of a particular subreddit, you can tailor the ad content and the offer to increase the chances of success.

Much of the interest around advertising on reddit tends to be around going after the ‘default subreddits’ with enormous numbers of subscribers and daily traffic.

While this can work for general consumer brands, it’s less likely to work for companies with more niche offerings. /r/videos subscribers only show intent to watch lots of cool videos. That doesn’t mean anything for you if you sell motorboat supplies. The Venn diagram of /r/videos users and people who own boats has almost no overlap.

On the other hand, if you buy an ad on /r/boating, you’re reaching people who have self-selected as boating enthusiasts. That would be a good candidate for someone to sell those users accessories, or to promote content related to boating.

It’s a platform with a ton of under-realized potential for advertisers who:

  • Have strong niche appeal.
  • Are interested in building community discussion around their brand.
  • Can take a little hostility that might come around if the offering meets a poor reception.
  • Can speak the language and respect the culture of the particular subreddits that they’re advertising on.

While the platform interface itself tends to be pretty weak compared to the established online ad platforms, and the banner options are underwhelming, there’s some under-appreciated opportunities abounding on the site. Another nifty aspect of the fixed pricing is that inventory on different subreddits tends to have a relatively fixed price.

Verticals that would be competitive in search advertising are stupid-cheap on reddit, and billed as CPM while behaving a bit like a typical text ad. Until they correct that into a more flexible auction-based pricing model, there may be some solid opportunities there.

Plan Content Around Your Customers

The reason why you need to plan content around your customers is to address their needs.

Why should you help out the customer without asking them to pay you anything for it?

Well, you don’t have to do it for free. But it’s a very good idea to give away free, useful material on the internet, because it helps to establish the positive reputation of your business. It also helps people to stay subscribed to your newsletters and social media accounts. It encourages searchers to find your website. It builds positive business relationships with potential partners.

An example of this in action is our recent Practical Content Strategy guide, released for free. The motivation behind that isn’t entirely altruistic. Sorry if you took that impression from it: it comes from a selfish and greedy place.

The idea behind creating these kinds of resources for visitors is to

  1. Generate more qualified leads for the business
  2. Help our clients to improve the quality of both their business and our working relationship
  3. Have ready-made training materials to provide our employees and contractors
  4. Be something to give away to visitors who might become qualified leads in the future, but don’t have the budget or authorization yet to become customers

This method is not unique to the internet. If you go through old newspapers and magazines, you’ll see countless advertisements offering free booklets, free recipes, free books, free brochures, free newsletters, free gewgaws, and other similar material in return for mailing a clipping. It’s an old advertising trick because it keeps people in business reliably regardless of the technology used.

The other reason to plan your content around the customer is that it lowers their natural skepticism of being sold to. Salespeople have an undeserved bad reputation as being shysters eager to get one over on people. While those unfortunate characters do exist, they tend not to be the best ones. In order to build your reputation as a trusted adviser in your particular line of business (and enhance the brand of your company by extension), you have to start with as much generosity to the prospect as you can afford, and then some more.

People who shop online are rightly skeptical of what they read. Overcoming that skepticism is one of the largest initial challenges to winning a new customer’s business.

The way to disarm skepticism is to be useful to the prospect without asking for anything in return. This is more of a ‘soft-sell’ technique than a ‘hard-sell’ method intended to appeal to some urgent need in the person.

The reason that this works is that by promising a benefit to the customer and then delivering it to them, you’ve completed a non-monetary transaction successfully. If you’ve completed one transaction, you’re a lot more likely to complete a second, a third, a fourth, and so on and so forth.

The way to come up with ideas is to figure out what problems that the prospect has that you can solve before needing to get them to hand you some money.

In the case of a men’s shirt company, for example, you can advise the prospect on how to select a professional outfit, how to launder their existing clothes to preserve them over time, how many buttons to unbutton when you’re dancing the tango, and so on and so forth.

It doesn’t have to be didactic and in corporate-ese, either.

All you need to do in that case is to be more generous to the prospect than the last person who sold them a shirt. This should not be challenging at a time when most sales clerks in physical stores are poorly trained and indifferent to customers. In this example, if the customer begins to believe that this particular vendor of shirts has his best interests in mind, he will become more loyal to that brand.

Twillory mailed me a couple of free metal collar stays with a little card about how to use properly. Those are a lot more useful than a pen.

This doesn’t mean that this type of approach can entirely replace conventional advertising. Dos Equis runs a superb traditional spokesman line of commercials: surely, you’ve heard of the the Most Interesting Man In The World? They also tell you how to mix a beer cocktail with their brand. Their entire method isn’t just the bearded guy who tells you to ‘stay thirsty.’

End the struggle to come up with new ideas by thinking from the perspective of the customer. If you work in sales or marketing for your company, remember the objections that prospects tend to make. Take note of the recurring problems that they encounter. Look for when your competitors stumble, so you can take advantage of it. If you have especially passionate customers, learn from how they interact with your products, and highlight that in your sales material.

Why You Should Match Landing Pages To Each Ad

In most cases, when non-specialists start advertising campaigns, they neglect to customize landing pages to each ad.

It’s not a crime to do this. The internet marketing police are not going to knock down your door if you do it. It just wastes your hard-earned money.

One of the aspects of most forms of internet advertising that has been weak when compared to more traditional mediums is that link-based ads tend to be severed into two pieces.

Unlike a full-page print ad or a TV commercial, in which the experience is fully contained within its own borders, the majority of online ads today are split experiences with a short delay stuck in theĀ  middle. That’s the click followed by the loading screen followed by the destination page.

This is changing. It probably will no longer be true in five years. But for the moment, in 2014, it’s true. The experience of clicking on a text or image link on one website, waiting a second (or much longer), and then arriving on a new website is a disruptive one. It’s irritating. It breaks the flow of the user. But it’s still your best option in many situations.

A landing page is a jargon term that means the web page that the user arrives on after clicking on a particular link.

For example, Fred the Farmer clicks on the following text ad:


Discount Tractor Parts

CheapskateFarmer.net/Tractor-Parts
Keep Your Farm Running.
Free Shipping. 48 Hour Delivery.

 

What should the page that the person arrives on look like?

Should it be selling tractors? Should it be selling full-priced tractor parts? Should it be selling animal feed? Should the landing page have backhoe parts on it? Should it be selling miniature pony saddles?

No! Absolutely not! The page that the user arrives on should offer tractor parts at a discount.

The on-page text should reflect the ad text and vice-versa. If it’s a search ad like this example, the keywords should match the copy. If it’s a display ad, the design, color, copy, and photography used in that display ad should be used on the target landing page.

The way to think about it is that any ad that contains a link is really an advertisement in two parts. The job of the first part is to encourage the user to look at the second part, and the job of the second part is to get the user to convert. The first part makes the promise, and the second part fulfills the promise. That builds trust in your website and by extension your brand.

This sounds like a lot of extra work. It can be. That’s why a lot of people don’t bother, and wind up wasting money on advertising. If you want to gain a competitive advantage, improve your conversion rates, and make more money, then you have to put in the additional effort of matching the ads to the landing pages.

When you’re constructing an ad campaign, it can be tempting to include some of the broader keywords that you might not have proper pages for. This can be particularly tough when you have a substantial and constantly-rotating inventory. For advertisers like this, dynamic keywords and various tools for mass-building landing pages and integrating ad platforms with your inventory system are a good solution.

For everyone else operating at a lower scale, some elbow grease and proper planning suffices.