Often I get approached by new startups and budding entrepreneurs looking for assistance with developing and executing their digital marketing strategy from scratch. And my response is almost always the same…
Don’t hire me.
Let me explain:
Often I get approached by new startups and budding entrepreneurs looking for assistance with developing and executing their digital marketing strategy from scratch. And my response is almost always the same…
Don’t hire me.
Let me explain:
If you’ve ever explored Google Analytics, you’ve probably felt overwhelmed by the countless metrics that can be measured.
However, if you’re not tracking key performance indicators, you’re flying blind. You might be able to wing it for a little while. But with the immense competition online, it’s a near certainty that sooner or later, a data-driven competitor in your industry will come along and overtake you by focusing on the fundamental metrics that help an ecommerce business scale.
Below, find the 6 fundamental metrics you need to know to build a successful, scalable online store.
When I am talking to a prospective client regarding their online marketing strategy, the interview process is as important to me as it is to them.
While I can give them an overview of online marketing tactics, it takes a deeper understanding of their business, resources, and goals before we can mutually determine if working together would be a good fit and how we would approach their strategy.
I was visiting a client that produces designer jewelry and tableware and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with his stunning pieces.
As I held one of his forks in my hand, I could feel the heft of the metal and the curvature of the handle, feel an appreciation for his spiritual vision along with the superior artistry, craftsmanship and elegance of his ladder-style design that was inspired by angels ascending into heaven.
That experience helped me rationalize that it was a $40 dinner fork.
Then I went to his website…
You’ve finally gotten your prospect to take the plunge.
They may have completed a purchase on your ecommerce site, or signed up as a customer for your service. You might be thinking your work is done.
While you may have achieved your initial conversion goal, some of your most important work is yet to come. And it all starts with your purchase confirmation email and the post purchase emails to follow.
It’s critical not to let this opportunity to present messaging to highly engaged customers go to waste. Then, continue to cultivate the customer relationship through the various email workflows that you can create.
You were successful in convincing your customer to purchase, but that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t having second thoughts. You want your customer to feel like they just made the best decision in the world.
Use your order confirmation email to reinforce what made them purchase in the first place; get them even more excited to be a customer and start using your product. Especially if a customer has to wait to receive or start using your product due to manufacturing or shipping times, you don’t want the lack of instant gratification to cause the initial excitement to wane.
Bonus Tip – Get Referrals
Leverage this post-purchase excitement to generate word-of-mouth. Offer a reward such as a discount, gift card, or even commissions to a customer in exchange for referring your company to their friends and family. Software tools such as OSI Affiliate Software can assist with this.
Especially when it comes to SAAS (software as a service) products, the next steps after a client signs, especially for an introductory trial period, are critical.
The onboarding stage influences whether they become a long-term customer or someone likely to quickly cancel after failing to recognize the value of their ongoing investment. Aside from providing general direction for getting started and links to self-service resources, understanding what specific user-activity differentiates those customers that have gone on to become power users from those that lack engagement is crucial.
For a project management software, maybe it’s creating a first project or inviting a certain number of other users to your project. Tailoring a series of post purchase emails that help guide users to take specific actions that contribute to their engagement and ultimate success with your product can help drastically reduce abandonment and churn.
Even with physical products, producing a more active user could mean the difference between someone tossing your product in a closet after a few tries or becoming a product evangelist that helps spread the word.
If you’re offering a product or a service, you likely have complimentary products or services that would be of interest/value a customer.
The cost of marketing to an existing customer is drastically lower than acquiring a new customer. Improving the lifetime value of a customer increases overall profitability and can open up new customer acquisition opportunities that were previously cost prohibitive.
Use purchase history data to determine what other related items or services you have to offer, then create a (dynamic) email that helps the user understand how they may experience increased incremental value from your additional offerings. A new digital camera may benefit from a carrying case or zoom lens; a customer service SAAS product may benefit from integrating a live chat module. Furthermore, customers may appreciate being presented with suggestions that truly benefit them.
Customer support SAAS product Groove uses their initial onboarding email to glean important information about what made the user sign up in the first place.
They can then use key insight to tweak everything from their website copy to the product itself to further accelerate their sales. Furthermore, offer users the opportunity to choose what types of emails they receive.
They could opt-in to receive emails on specific product lines or topics that are of interest to them, only receive promotions, or you can dynamically determine which content they engage with in order to create an updated profile. Use that information to curate future follow-up emails that are more uniquely relevant to the recipient and watch your open rates and brand engagement soar.
Congratulations on closing a sale. Now be sure to strengthen that relationship by utilizing the aforementioned tactics and you’ll surely build your business and help maximize the value from each and every new customer.
One of the worst fears business owners face is seeing a complaint or negative customer review posted online. Whether it’s on a review site such as Yelp or Ripoffreport, social media, or even a relatively unknown site that happens to show up near the top of the search results for anyone researching your business, it’s extraordinarily frustrating for entrepreneurs. So when small business resource site RabidOfficeMonkey asked me to help their readers understand how to handle this tricky situation, I was eager to contribute. Here’s a brief summary of some of the key takeaways, but you can read the complete text at their site here.
How many times have customer reviews or online feedback influenced your purchasing decision? We all know how important these can be and how much a negative review can impact your business; studies have also been done confirming this. Yet, no matter how much you can try to provide excellent products and services and have no intention of ever disappointing a customer, it’s likely unavoidable that at some point during the life of your business, a customer will still post something unflattering online. The important thing is what you do next.
It’s tempting to engage the complainer, especially when it comes to defending your business, employees, and even yourself. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, because your response is likely to also become public and can further escalate the situation if not handled properly. Alternatively, a great response can be an opportunity to demonstrate your customer service values and attract new customers as a result.
Often the most vocal critics become the most enthusiastic brand proponents when you solve their problem. So look at online complaints as an opportunity to discover ways to improve your business and showcase your customer service skills. Your business and your mental state will reap the benefits.
Jumping into online marketing with unrealistic expectations or a misunderstanding of what is required to position yourself for success is a surefire way to waste both time and money. So, I put together the top 5 online marketing myths and misconceptions that I’ve heard from friends and clients:
This is probably the #1 online marketing myth that many business owners and entrepreneurs still believe. “All I need to do is post my idea on social media, and it’s definitely going to go viral!” While the internet offers a great and (sometimes) inexpensive medium to get the word out about your company to a potentially large audience, you’re competing with the millions of other companies and websites all vying for attention, mind-share, and wallet-share. So while it absolutely helps to have an exceptional product/service and can even be critical to the long term success of your business, you still need to get the word out and then convert visitors into customers once they are at your site. Apple spent millions (and later billions) advertising the iPhone even though it was a game-changing product. And while it’s great to have viral, easily share-able elements in your marketing, the expectation of your business going viral, or even a reliance on that happening is simply not a marketing plan.
First, people have to actually know you exist. Offering a cheaper price than your big name competition doesn’t do any good if no one knows about you. Some of the products I offered through my sites were cheaper than what Amazon.com sold them for. Yet Amazon probably sold 10 times the amount of that product than my company did, because Amazon has far more customers and greater awareness. Cheap prices don’t automatically translate into massive word of mouth, PR and market share. You still have to create awareness using fundamental online marketing tactics and still have to convey a sense of trust and value that goes beyond just offering similar features to a competitor at a lower price. Incidentally, it’s wise to consider if can you still offer such low pricing once you factor in the time and expense associated with creating awareness for your site.
Second, the problem with focusing on price is that it leads to you getting the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers. [Tweet “Focusing on price gets you the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers.”] Alex Turbull from Groove (a customer service SAAS product) puts it well:
[Price shoppers are] higher maintenance, far less loyal, and gone at the drop of a hat when a cheaper option comes along. Plus, if you try to compete for customers on price, a bigger player can always lower their prices to bleed you out of business. We learned that we had to compete on other differentiators. Ones that actually made people want to do business with us because we were the best choice for them, not because we were the cheapest. We needed customers who were motivated by more than price.
Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos.com has said the same and even stopped offering to price match competitors for these same reasons.
There is a big difference between attracting traffic and the right kind of traffic. Getting 100 highly qualified prospects to your website of which 15 become leads or customers is better than 1000 visitors of which 10 become leads or customers. The online marketing myth that says your goal should be to get as many eyeballs as possible on your site is simply not accurate. That’s likely to be expensive and ultimately unproductive. You goal is to create content that has value and appeals to your target audience to attract them to your site and to focus on marketing through channels that you believe will produce relevant prospects.
You’ve hired great designers to create a beautiful website. Spent hours coming up with the copy for each page. It’s gone live and your friends and employees you showed it to think it looks great. You’re all set, right? Not even close. If you aren’t expecting to have to consistently create great content and find ways to engage your customer through a variety of channels outside of your site to build an audience, your investment in your attractive new site could be for nothing. It’s a lengthy, time consuming process to start generating meaningful traffic. Make sure you have allocated the time and budget to execute an ongoing online marketing plan. Your great new site will hopefully help convert those visitors into leads and customers, but even the site itself is always a work in progress.
At the very least have a presence on the web so that customers, business partners and even potential employees can quickly and easily find out more about your business and the products or services you offer. Ensuring that your presence accurately and reflects your brand can help your business build a relationship with your customers that extends offline. Furthermore, it makes your brand more memorable next time they are in the market for your product or service or passing by your location. Even using your site for non-transactional purposes such as to generate leads or cultivate a mailing list allows you to locate customers online and drive them to your offline business. Finding new customers and engaging existing customers through online channels even for an offline business is critical to the success and growth of your business.
What others can you think of? Be sure to leave it in the comments!
Split testing (also referred to as A/B testing or multivariate testing) is a method of conducting automated and random experiments with the goal of improving a predetermined website metric, such as number of clicks on a specific element (I.E. add to cart button, register button, play a video, click for more info), form completions (I.E. registrations, opt-ins, contact requests), or purchases. Incoming traffic to the website is distributed between the original (control) and one or more variations. This is transparent to the visitor, who does not know they are part of an experiment. You, the tester, waits for a statistically significant difference in behavior to emerge. The more traffic the page gets, the faster you can obtain statistically relevant results. The results from each variation are then compared to determine which version showed the greatest improvement. If it is determined that there is a clear winner, you would likely update your site to incorporate the elements from your winning experiment. (And then start a new experiment to improve it further!)
Nearly any element can be varied for a split test. For example:
Split testing isn’t only used for testing webpages. It can be very useful for testing your emails as well. You can answer questions such as, What’s the best day to send your email marketing campaign? What time? What kind of subject line works best? Something promotional? (Save 10% on Widgets Today Only!) Or something more subtle and informative? (Find Out How Our New Widget Can Save You Time.) You can set goals such as opens, clicks, or ROI for each email variation. First, make sure you integrated analytics into your emails. Many email service providers such as Mailchimp and Aweber can do this for you automatically and also offer certain reporting capabilities such as the number of opens and clicks directly in their system. You can then set up segments of your email list, perhaps sending one version of an email to 10% of your list and then 10% to another version (or the same version, but at a different time.) You can then see which performed better and send the remaining 80% out using the winning version, or at the winning time.
Split testing doesn’t have to be complicated. Services such as Visual Website Optimizer, AB Tasty and Optimizely offer interfaces that allow you to create page variations without touching your website code. Conversion Rate Experts has a great breakdownof the numerous split testing tools and platforms that are available. With easy ways to do split testing of your website and emails, there is no excuse for settling for the status quo. There is always room for improvement throughout your site. So once you find improvements, don’t stop there. Keep testing!
Companies looking to improve their website conversion rates often ask me something that I find rather farcical. “Can you tell me why aren’t my customers converting?” Sure, we can dive into the analytics. We can record user sessions. We can look at heat maps. Eye tracking. Run split tests. There are lots and lots of articles written about best practices for web/landing page design with a focus on conversion, and many of these are quite good. But my first question is, “Have you actually asked them?” They typically give me a look resembling something between perplexed and contrite and say “Um, no.”
We can analyze the website data and draw conclusions from it, but often the fastest and easiest option is to simply ask customers. On site survey software such as Qualaroo or Webengage allow you to create unique (even rules-based) on-site surveys so you can ask a simple, open-ended question like “Is there anything still preventing you from purchasing?” You might be amazed by what they are willing to tell you.
There are 3rd party abandoned cart follow up email tools that can automate this process. Additionally, a number of common email platforms that you might already be using for your email newsletters even allow rules-based triggers that you can create based on customers visiting certain pages of your site and not converting. For example, something as simple as “Hi [Name], Thanks for visiting [Website Name.] We noticed that you did not complete your order for [product name] Is there anything currently preventing you from completing your purchase that we can assist you with? [Your Contact Info, Call to Action, Assurances, etc.]”
On a related note, I also find it irrational when I hear from a company that “We get the same questions from customers over and over again.” I would simply ask, “Have you reviewed your website to make sure the answers to these questions are obvious?” It may be a fix as simple as adding another FAQ, adding additional product specs, or making a button bigger and more noticeable. Look at your customer inquiries. Talk to your customer service staff. They are a great resource to help you get inside the heads of your customers, because they are the ones actually interacting with them. Even reach out to your existing customers and ask them what made them become customers in the first place.
Now that you’ve asked the questions, can you use the answers to build a customer profile to get inside their head and understand their concerns? Their uncertainties? Their needs? Imagine if you proactively addressed all of these in your website copy and what that might do for your conversion rates! Rather than marketing “at” your potential customers on your site by rattling off features, you could instead actually be speaking their language and showing that you truly understand them. Your product or service is the solution to whatever problem they are facing or addresses their needs and you can provide it in such a way that they feel comfortable doing business with you. Wouldn’t you be more likely to buy from a company that you thought really understood you and presented a clear value proposition?
You just built a beautiful website for your business. Now, how do you get anyone to actually find it? This is probably the most common question I get asked by friends and clients and, while there are many more great ways to drive traffic to your site, usually the initial question I get asked comes down to focusing efforts on search engine marketing through either search engine optimization (SEO) or pay per click (PPC).
Search engine optimization is the process of attempting to get your website to show up towards the top of the organic (aka FREE) search results on Google and other search engines for a variety of keywords related to your business. For example, if you sell athletic shoes, you’d be in pretty great shape if your website showed up in the top few results when someone searched for “running shoes” or “Nike shoes.” You cannot pay to influence where you appear in these results and best of all, every click your website receives costs you absolutely zip.
Pay per click in the context of search engine marketing refers to the sponsored results that appear on the top and side of search result pages (SERPS) as well as on other websites that display targeted ads served by the search engine. For example, if someone created a blog talking about the latest and greatest running shoes, perhaps they would choose to allow Google to display ads on their website related to running shoes in exchange for a share of the revenue generated from the ads. With PPC search engine marketing, you have the ability to pay to show up in the search results, or on these targeted third party websites. More on how to determine how much this costs and where you appear later.
Ideally, you should be working on a dual-strategy that incorporates both approaches. However, if you are a small business with limited time and resources, it’s understandable that you may need to pick one or the other, at least at first. The main factors to consider are:
Both search engine marketing strategies strategies require an investment of time, especially initially. Both require you to identify the types of keywords that your customers would be seeking. As a side-note, you’ll want to focus on “long-tail keywords” which are more specific, niche phrases because they will generally be easier to achieve rankings for in SEO and less costly for PPC. For example, don’t expect to get the #1 ranking on Google for the word “marketing software” and furthermore, bidding on the word “marketing software” is not only going to likely be expensive, but generate an enormous amount of less-than-ideally targeted paid clicks that will burn through your budget and likely not convert well for you. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help you identify keywords and estimate costs.
After you identify some good keywords to focus on, you’ll have to incorporate these into the pages of your site for SEO, or build a structured, scalable PPC campaign to target these keywords. (More on creating efficient, manageable campaigns in a future post.) Note – if you’ve already built your website before considering a SEO strategy, you’re already late to the dance! Take the time now to go back and ensure your existing pages are optimized for keyword-rich content.
Once you have a core, keyword-dense site up and/or a basic PPC campaign built, both strategies require some ongoing time commitment. This is generally greater for SEO if you want to increase your likelihood of achieving good rankings. There are numerous methods and tactics to utilize to bolster your organic rankings that require their own posts to describe in detail, but generally one of the fundamental and most effective is the continued creation of unique relevant content within your site. This may include such things as a dedicated blog or other informational content pages such as how-to articles, announcements, additional product or service detail pages, and even videos. Creating this content regularly helps establish your site as a leader in the field and can improve how the search engines deem the importance and relevance of your site. (Additionally, this content is great for “inbound marketing” which I will elaborate on in another post.) Creating this content can be time consuming and you can determine how frequently you’re prepared to do it, but try and stay on a consistent schedule whether it’s a couple times a month or more so you don’t lose momentum. PPC does require monitoring to identify what is and is not working well for you and to optimize your ROI. However, very basic, small campaigns don’t typically require a large ongoing time commitment to make incremental tweaks here and there.
Time should also be considered in the context of how urgently you need to start generating traffic. Many businesses want and need to start driving awareness of their site immediately. SEO is a long-term strategy. Top rankings may take a significant amount of time to develop and are not guaranteed, especially for keywords that drive significant traffic. PPC can be up and running almost immediately and you can jump right to the top if you’re willing to pay for the privilege.
In the long-term, however, SEO can be an excellent investment. These links continue working for you indefinitely, sending you free traffic. In analyzing our sources of revenue at my companies, I would constantly find very old pages still generating traffic and sales. PPC on the other hand is like a faucet. You simply turn it on or off, depending on your budget and ROI criteria.
If you are developing and executing your SEO strategy yourself, your primary investment is time. Time to learn the search engine optimization methodology, time to implement it, and the continuous time investment in content and tactics to improve your ranking position. To expedite the process, sites such as Scripted.com can help match you to freelance content writers in your industry, or service providers such as myself can assist in your overall strategy development and efforts.
For PPC, every click comes at a cost. Unlike SEO where the more clicks you generate, the better and even un-targeted clicks don’t do any harm, with PPC you actually want to eliminate as many clicks as possible from users who are unlikely to convert into leads or sales. Optimizing your PPC campaign allows you to achieve better ROI as well as expand your PPC efforts to as many keywords as you can find that meet your ROI requirements. You can set an overall budget for the campaign per day (useful especially when you’re just getting started to ensure there are no surprises) and you can also control the maximum amount you’re willing to pay per click. There are also various filters to help you focus your budget on visitors likely to convert such as location, type of online browsing device, and “negative keywords” to block your ads from appearing on unwanted keyword variations. If you sell athletic shoes and your target cost per acquisition (the amount it costs you to generate the sale) is $10 or less, that means if 1 out of 10 people who click your PPC ad purchase the product, you can bid up to $1 per click to stay within your target cost per acquisition. (We’ll discuss ways to improve your site performance through conversion rate optimization in future posts and why conversion rate is so important.)
A great aspect of PPC is if you have such things working for you as a short sales cycle, good margins, and/or fast payment terms, you’re in a position to rapidly scale your PPC campaign budget provided it’s within your ROI target. Because unlike traditional advertising where you might pay a lot up front for an advertisement that appears and leads come in later and over time, with PPC you’re paying for the clicks that come in and are immediately generating revenue for you. If you’re getting paid quickly, the more you can grow your PPC campaign, the more revenue you’re generating.
Think of PPC bidding as an auction for each keyword, happening in real-time, every time someone searches for that word. If your ad for athletic shoes gets clicked on 1 out of every 10 times someone searches for athletic shoes and you’re willing to pay up to $1 per click while another company is willing to pay up to 50 cents per click for the same keyword, if they also get clicked on 1 out of 10 times then you’ll only pay 51 cents to appear above them in the search results – the minimum amount over the next highest bidder to achieve a better placement. However, what if someone is willing to pay $3 a click for the same keyword? Can you still show up higher? Yes! If their ad gets clicked on 1 out of 50 times and yours gets clicked on 1 out of 10, you’re going to show up higher. Search engines obviously want to maximize their aggregate income, so if they know that they will make $10 off your ad for every 100 searches (10 clicks out of 100 searches at $1 each) or $6 off the other advertiser (2 out of 100 searches at $3 each) guess who shows up first? You! *Remember, you don’t necessarily want more clicks, you want more likely to convert clicks. The big players in your industry can and will outbid you particularly on broader terms, not just because they have bigger budgets, but also due to factors such as a larger and more comprehensive product selection, more brand awareness, or higher margins, this means they have more opportunities to monetize that customer, their maximum cost per acquisition criteria may be higher, and that customer represents a greater lifetime value to them. So again, the more targeted and specific the keyword (I.E. “pay per click bid management software” instead of “marketing software”) the more likely will it be available at a lower cost because there is less competition for it and the more likely it is to convert into a lead or sale for you, improving your ROI.
Competition has a similar effect on SEO efforts. Imagine competing with the likes of Zappos for the term “shoes” or Microsoft for “software” or even the thousands of other companies in any sizable industry that have been around for years, have hundreds or thousands of relevant pages, thousands of links pointing to them, and even teams focused on SEO. Banking on getting to the top of those rankings is probably an even worse idea than banking on your product getting named as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things. As a small business, break down your specific areas of expertise as narrowly defined possible and start developing content around that. Find the terms that are relevant to your business that aren’t already saturated with advertisers. Demonstrate how you are an authority on those subjects. You can always expand from there as your company expands. Granted the traffic you receive from these niche keywords is going to be lower, but there is a cumulative effect of putting out content that is always working for you and driving incremental traffic over time.
So who wins in the battle of SEO vs PPC when it comes to your search engine marketing strategy? While PPC is the fastest horse out of the gate, SEO is the one who hangs towards the back of the pack and then creeps up to go neck and neck down the home stretch and perhaps even winning by a nose at the end. Especially for a small business just starting out, a PPC strategy to start generating immediate traffic and data to analyze can be essential. But SEO should always be considered during the initial planning of your online presence and in all of the content you add going forward because it will start to work on your behalf without costing you anything. Take a look at some of your most popular pages right now and try and find some instances where you can replace a generic term – like “software” – with a search engine optimized keyword – like “hosted PPC bid management software”. Keep making those constant incremental improvements and watch the momentum start to build.
And no matter what, make sure you are tracking all of your site activity and conversions with Google Analytics or a similar product from the get-go. This data is pure gold and the more historical data you have, the more opportunities and insight it will provide for you in the future. Soon we’ll talk about how to optimize all of this new traffic you’re getting so you can potentially EXPONENTIALLY impact your revenue.
Do you do PPC, SEO, or both? I want to hear about your experiences, questions, and requests for more posts so leave a comment below!
All the best,
P.S. – So I’m quickly discovering for myself that each new blog post spurs numerous new ideas and opportunities for more posts. While I’m trying to stay on topic and keep things concise so you’re not overwhelmed, it’s hard to resist not to going off on a tangent when I get to an exciting new topic. I’ll continue posting more detailed explanations of various marketing strategies and cross-link previous articles to make it easy to stay broad or get into more detail on each topic.
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