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In 1996 Bill Gates famously stated “Content is King” and 25 years later he is still right. If you lack great content it’s game over and this is why you need to continually improve website content. Great content generates strong engagement, which is why “Engagement is Queen”. In this article, we will explore some of the basics of content. Let’s start with a true story about content improvement.
True StoryWebsite Redesign
Around Y2K, we were contacted by a prospective client that had a website disaster, and they were trying to figure out why. A designer had convinced them that they needed to redesign their website. The designer told them to lose the dated folksy style and replace it with a world-class state-of-the-art, cutting-edge design. They were told they needed the latest e-commerce shopping cart with advanced analytics. They were told that they should play down the phone number because everyone wants to buy online. The comps used in this argument were Apple, Amazon, and many others. The Client bought-in to the vision and agreed with the designers.
They approved a budget they could not afford, but they felt compelled to compete at the next level. Over the next few months following best-practices the designers delivered on their promises. By all measures, this website was a huge improvement. The design was world-class and made their little business look competitive with the biggest players on the web. They were excited to see the launch date coming up and were planning on how to handle all the new growth that would surely follow…
But something else happened instead
The launch date came and went and the site came online, on-time, and on budget. The early results showed increased traffic but the sales dropped and they went into panic mode. They scheduled an emergency meeting with the designers, consultants, and their sales department but nobody could find anything wrong. Everyone they talked to said the new site was better, slicker, and cooler. But still the sales were not there, so they went back to the old design and everything returned to normal levels. They stood there in shock trying to make sense out of what just happened.
This is when our phone rang
We listened to their story, examined the websites, and we agreed with their assessment. The new website was beautiful, slick, and well optimized. After a discussion of things they had already explored, we put a crazy idea on the table. We proposed the insane idea that nobody else had thought of – wait for it – Let’s ask the customers. We called 10 random customers and asked them what they thought of the new website.
They all agreed that the design was much better, very corporate, and made the business look much more professional. However, they LOVED Grace and Greg and the handcrafted products and the personal service they had always gotten. One customer capsulized it perfectly “If I wanted a low price and impersonal service, I would go to Amazon”. What they got from Grace and Greg was a handcrafted piece of art created with love and a very personal level of service.
It turned out that the dated folksy style matched perfectly with the “Want” of the customers. The new site looked like they had lost all of that and had gone all impersonal, professional, and corporate. A few customers thought they had been acquired and were sorry to hear about the change. The customers started to treat their dear friends, Grace, and Greg, just like Amazon, making the sales proposition all about low price – a contest they always lost.
Moral of the Story
Web content quality is relative to the audience’s wants, expectations, and values. Content has to be authentic and perfectly in-sync with the rest of the customer’s experience. Customers will immediately sense when a business is not being authentic and their reaction is rarely good. Grace and Greg are fictional names but the story is true and has happened more than a few times over the years.
Experts Learn from the Real World
At a professional level, you need to evolve and refine your skills to reach maximum engagement. Content is the facts, data, and messages. Engagement is when your data morphs into meaningful information that engages the mind of your visitor. Engagement is difficult to achieve and even more difficult to measure.
I am going to make an audience assumption: since you were attracted to an article on How to Improve Your Content Skills, you already know the basics. Once you get past the foundational basics, it has been my experience that personal growth comes from networking with other professionals that challenge you. This can be internal or external and as you reach higher levels, the mix shifts to be more external.
Networking for Content Professionals
Content Professionals need a trusted network that will give them brutally honest feedback on their work to help them improve website content. The single best source of content improvement is professional peer feedback. A great network will force you to grow up and excel at your craft.
The natural tendency is to look internally but that is a flawed strategy and is the first step in mutually assured failure. Internal staff rarely have agendas that align with the target consumer of your content. This means that you have to reach outside your organization to build your network. The more robust your network the better you will be at delivering spot-on content.
There are many ways for a Content Professional to expand their network and here are some of my favorites:
Toastmasters focuses on live presentation skills and excels as a business networking strategy. The feedback is live and you can learn from your efforts and the other members. I am new to this group and I am beyond impressed. Toastmasters focuses on educating you and making you a better public speaker but the same basic communication concepts apply regardless of the publication form. The huge advantage that Toastmasters has is the live interaction and nothing is better than being able to see the audience reaction to your content and using this feedback to improve website content.
Chambers of Commerce
Almost every city has a Chamber of Commerce and I have been an advocate of engaging with Chambers for decades. I was first introduced to Chambers and their community mission in Milwaukee in the late 80s. Just belonging creates almost no value but engaging with the Chamber is of high value. Simply put, you get out what you put in.
All Chambers have Mixer events where they bring their members together and these are great opportunities to test your latest content and messaging. Attend a mixer with a goal of meeting 10 new people each meeting and in short time you will greatly expand professional network.
Industry Trade Groups
Every business has one or more trade groups that they align with. We have belonged to the regional technology trade associate Softec for decades. Both our CEO’s have served as President of Softec. Like all trade associations, they create connections to parts of the community that can be important to your business.
Within the business community, you will find specialized groups like CEO Roundtables that can be invaluable to your marketing networking because C-Level executives are a common strategic target of campaigns. These are a little tricky and you may have to build this through others in your organization. For example, CEO Roundtables require that you be the CEO to be a member, this is a problem if you are not a CEO. If this is the case, you need to convince your CEO to engage with the group and provide mentoring guidance to you.
Ideal Customers or Prospects
This is the toughest to build but the absolute best to have. The key to this is to make sure it’s the ideal customer, not the biggest customer. Many times the biggest customers are not representative of the market and they get special treatment that cannot be replicated at a smaller scale. The challenge is how you make the relationship reciprocal and balanced so the other person receives fair value for their time and effort. Typically, this is done by giving them an incentive like a discount or something of that nature.
How these Sections Connect
We started with a story about a web design disaster and then talk about building your professional network and the connection might not be obvious. If the Client had a strong Customer Network and had reached out to them on how to improve website content, they might have caught this problem before they started the website redesign.
How to improve engagement
Engagement is not a single event; it is a state of being. It flows through three clear steps and good content design will track these:
The Engaged Reader
The Returning Visitor
The Engaged Reader is a status earned when the visitor goes beyond the landing page. In our business, we count an engaged reader when they leave the landing page and go to another page to learn more about our business. This is measured simply by Google Analytics recording a second page read during the session. This fires a goal that we import into Google Ads for paid traffic.
The Returning Visitor is commonly an 80/20 rule. Check your data to see if this is true in your business.
Do returning visitors account for less than 20%?
Do 80% of your conversions come from returning visitors?
If your business has a relational marketing strategy, odds are that this will be as true in your business, as it is in ours. In our business, we find that 80% of our hard conversions come from returning visitors not new visitors.
Hard Conversions are when the visitor does something the business has decided is of specific business value. In a relationship business like ours and many others, these are lead forms, call requests, calls, and appointments set. We have specific targets for each of these but they rarely happen on the first visit.
To Improve Engagement – you must become one with the Customer
If you have developed your professional network make sure that you reach out to it to test your content to see how you can improve website content. This will both engage them and provide actionable input to improve your content. Over time you will find yourself asking yourself what a specific person in your network would say. When you can answer as they would, then you are truly becoming one with your audience and you are on your way to marketing greatness.
Wrapping this up
Clearly, we could write a book on how to improve website content and this is just a primer. I hope you enjoyed the article and I would like to ask for a favor. Please be part of my Ideal Customer or Prospect Network.
The marketing needs of every business are unique but in digital marketing, there are four common pillars built on a foundation. In this article, we will explore the general concepts of the digital content strategy and discuss what to look for in the fit of these pillars to your business. The foundation of all pillars is your content and taken as a collection, content is the image you are painting in the minds of your market. Executives need to closely direct and oversee any Content Strategy Agency or internal staff used in developing supporting collateral materials.
How to Optimize PPC – aka Paid Traffic
While this goes by many generic and brand names, PPC is simply paid traffic. It is often the first tactic brought to the account because it’s the quickest to deliver. The time from launch to the first click is minutes not months. PPC is a big field of study and to understand it we need to slice it down into fine sections. Within our blog you will find hundreds of articles on how to tune PPC accounts – it is what we do.
The secret to optimizing PPC is finding the optimal balance between the manageable variables with bid and budget being big ones. There are lots of other settings and don’t forget ad and page content. Increase the bid and you get more traffic driving up the volume of leads and the CPA. Increase your budget and your volume goes up and your checkbook balance goes down. The key is to know your target for cost and volume and to constantly tune your settings.
PPC’s first split is between Search and Display. When people think about search engines the keyword-based search is what they think of. This is a process of matching keywords both positive and negative to present your ad on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). Controls over PPC Search are extensive and include keywords, geographic location, devices, audiences, demographics, time, and others. Simply put, Search PPC are people searching for your product or service.
PPC Display is advertising that people run into rather than search for. Commonly, these ads are placed on web pages that match the keywords targeted by the advertiser. This is one of several targeting options available. The Google Display Network (GDN) is estimated to have almost 2 million websites that your ads could appear on. Some of these are high profile credible sites with strong reputations that could be huge for your brand. However, the GDN also has some very marginal sites and in there lies the problem. It takes a significant effort to make sure that your ads appear on the good sites but not on other less credible websites. This creates a worldwide game of digital whack-a-mole as you try to exclude the marginal sites while competing for the good ones. Targeting in GDN is also extensive with many of the same controls of keywords, geographic location, devices, audiences, topics, time, and others.
How to Optimize SEO – aka Earned Traffic
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the oldest of the pillars. When we first started working in Digital Marketing in 1994, SEO was the only pillar available. At its core, SEO is simple to understand but as they say “the devil is in the details” and there are lots of details. While there are huge debates in the details, the general concepts are well known and widely accepted.
Regularly Published Great Content Consistently Wins Every time
Great content wins the SEO game every time while games and tricks have very short life spans. SEO breaks down into four manageable major categories:
Click Through Rate
Word Weight is what most people think about when they talk about SEO but it is only one of the factors. The word weight comes from the occurrence (raw total) and density (percentage of total words) and the position it was found in. The hierarchy is:
Meta Description (10)
Anchor text (4)
Body Text (1)
Nobody knows exactly how much weight is given to each category but I am sharing my formula numbers which seem to give results very similar to a Google Search. I used the number next to each item as the weight. So a word occurring in a title gets 20 points with the same word in body text getting 1 point. The density is used to calculate a standard weight so comparisons from site to site can be performed. With a standard weight, the total of all sites adds to the same number and for my calculations, I use 1,000. We sum the word weight then divide 1,000 by that. Then recalculate the weight using that standard.
Page Rank is what makes Google Google. It is a summary of the page ranks divided by the number of outbound pointers to the site. Below is a simple example of page rank:
The real math is fancier than this example but if you understand this and multiply the standard weight by the PageRank you get very close to the internal workings of Google. Outside this formula is lots of protection to stop this from being tricked by ethically challenged SEO experts.
Here is what this data looks like in a real-world example: Here is the same data in a word cloud.
This is a visualization of what your page is actually optimized for. It is not unusual to see common words that have no meaningful value to your SEO strategy exist in high-value positions. In this example, the goal is to be about query optimization strategy but the words, a, with, the, are wasting SEO juice. Finding pages that are optimized for words of no business value is common and you would be amazed how many pages we find optimized for the word “Home”.
Authority is the next factor and it has many potential items that might be considered. Google has been working on this for many years and there are some well-known items. Freshness is a factor that will give you a higher rank but it will decay quickly depending on the type of content that Google believes the page falls into. An example of content type would be editorial versus sales copy. Separating these is not difficult and we can tell you with a high degree of confidence that Google ranks editorial higher than sales copy. Google is always trying to produce the best possible SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and they want to answer the users query. In most cases, they are seeking editorial information.
CTR (Click Through Rate) is a factor and it is huge!!! I have been working in SEO since 1994 and my gut tells me that CTR could be as much as 65% of the total page score. The CTR is how Google converts impressions into money so it stands to reason that they would highly value this on the organic side as well as the paid. You have control of your page titles and meta tag descriptions which can affect your CTR. Titles and descriptions are what is shown in the SERP. What you put in there has a strong influence over the CTR. Google’s official position is that CTR is not used in the SEO Score but many years of experience tells me otherwise.
How to Optimize Email
Optimizing Email is as simple as these three steps:
Write great original content
Send to a list that opted-in and cares about your content
Send on a regular and reasonable frequency
Do these three simple steps and your email will be a home run and you will be blessed with wonderful engaged traffic.
Email is one of the most powerful tools on your marketing tool belt but you need to have content and a list to use it. Building a list takes time to get people to opt-in and you have to offer them something of value for their email address. You can rent lists but you need to do your homework to ensure you do not get branded as a spammer. Email is wonderful because the more you use it, the better it gets. There is a cost that is overlooked, though. If you are actively building your list as you should be, then you should know what it costs to get a new subscription. You will inevitably lose some subscribers and that, multiplied by the cost to replace that name, is the cost of using that list.
Email lists are a conversational tool and lists tend to get better with time because you are increasing your marketing frequency. As everyone knows, marketing campaigns are managed by reach and frequency. In an email, the first open is your reach and the second is your frequency. Increasing frequency can be both good and bad. It’s good in that it raises the awareness of your brand but bad if it is overdone. Too frequent, and you are a pest, too low, and you are forgotten.
How to Optimize Social Media
Social Media is the new kid on the block and it has been disruptive. Many think about only the earned traffic from social media but there is also paid advertising in social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Social media is a change in the communication model for most businesses. It is a conversation tool not a place to lecture and the business has to adjust for that. I like to stress the word social in social media because if your profile is all business all the time, your audience will ignore your messaging.
Social media is a platform in which you can talk about your business. It is an outlet that allows you to connect with your customers, increase awareness of your brand, and if used correctly, engage with those potential customers. The goal of social media is to turn customers into a volunteer marketing team. When your fan base engages and share your posts, their friends, and their like audience see the engagement; which broadens your reach and frequency. However, there is a trick to posting the right content.
Communicate Authority – Customers are becoming savvier in how they research a business. Before making a decision, they do a quick search to not only browse your website, but also your social media presence. Will they find an empty storefront or a rich source of relevant information? Showing what your business offers, values, and finds humorous, helps establish confidence and trust that you are the expert in your industry.
Be Authentic – Your audience can spot inauthenticity from a mile away. People connect most with content that is real. Be honest and real about your product, service, and yourself when you can. Go behind the scenes and humanize your business.
Show your brand personality – Be personable, witty, and humorous. People love jokes, witty sarcasm, and a little self-deprecating humor is fun once in a while. Use this wisely, and your fans/followers will share your content and you will reap the long-term benefits of your volunteer marketing team.
Provide Resources – It is a complete disservice to your business to run a social media plan without having someone monitoring and responding to feedback. Social media platforms have successfully broken down barriers between companies and customers. Many people turn to social media business pages to ask questions or look for solutions to their problems. Responding as quickly as possible to questions and concerns, in a positive and helpful manner, helps customers feel they’re being heard. However, do not dismiss the power of an old fashioned phone call. Make sure your business phone number is listed in your social media platforms, with a ‘click to call now’ feature.
Take the time to plan and build an authentic yet personable social media plan with the above points in mind. Remember your posts should align with your company’s brand image and values. Your social media presence is ingrained as your company’s reputation. So make sure it’s great!
Putting a bow on this
Start with a foundation of great content and use these pillars, also known as channels, to dominate your market. This will not be an easy mission and your competitors will fight you at every step but the rewards are worth it. Keep your head in the long game and constantly push the quality of your content.
If you are looking for a Content Strategy Agency to assist or supplement your internal staff we would love to have that conversation.
Solve this marketing equation and explode your sales potential.
Yes, responses happen at the intersection of Audience, Message, and Timing. Below is a formula visualization using intersecting circles.
So that’s the secret in 50 words.
The rest of this article is a deep dive into the details of how to influence these factors. Your goal is to make the small yellow intersection larger while consuming the smallest amount of resources. Generally speaking, businesses have two forms of resources they can use to move these circles. They are creativity or cash.
Solve this equation for your business and the Internet becomes infinitely scalable and you become rich beyond your wildest dreams. The devil is in the details and the rest of this article is a discussion of those details. Take it from me, if this was easy, everyone would do it. While we doubt anyone will ever fully solve this equation, all you have to do is improve the performance and that starts with an understanding of the variables.
y = Yes
I am going to be Mr. Obvious here and state that yes responses in Sales make the world wide web go round. The key is how to drive this number and that is our subject for today. The first thing to consider is how much to ask for. All businesses want to jump to the final order but in many cases, this is simply unrealistic. It is a rare business relationship that goes hello to thank you in one touch. So be careful what you ask for.
Ultimately the business goal is the final sale but in most cases, you need to guide the customer through that path. While studies vary, everyone will tell you that one touch to a sale is not something that happens very often.
a = Audience AKA Your Who
Understanding and defining your Audience is the start of this process and there are some beginner’s mistakes you absolutely need to avoid. First is, many rookies make the mistake of thinking EVERYONE is a prospective customer. The problem is that 16-year-old Emily isn’t interested in the same things as 35-year-old Ryan. Failure to define your audience is how you create a marketing disaster. If you cannot define your audience you are not ready for this article.
Audience selection is a classic quality versus quantity problem. The tighter the targeting the smaller the audience and if done right the higher the quality. The game here is to tighten the target the best balance between the highest quantity and quality. Rookie mistakes are thinking that everyone is a potential customer or over tightening to a point where you cannot reach your volume goals for the business. Marketing is a messy business so there is no right answer but there are answers that are more right than others.
In the world of digital advertising, there are lots of controls over Who you are targeting and like all marketing data, it is generally correct but never accurate.
m = Message
Think about your marketing message strategy as the painting of an image in the minds of your audience. Each touch is one more brush stroke towards completing the work of art. As touches accumulate your marketing image emerges and forms in your Prospect’s mind. Like art your marketing message is appreciated by different people in different ways, influenced by their life experiences. Like art, your message needs to uniquely reflect your business why, mission, and goals. If you copy someone else people will consider it printing not art and they will value you less.
Marketing messages can be both positive and negative. Current politics is a great way to illustrate this. Merely mentioning President Trump causes a reaction: good and bad. An ad in support of President Trump will get you a positive from some and a negative visceral reaction from others. Pick your side but I can assure you that different people will take the message in different ways. Not all messages have such an easy to see the positive and negative value but almost every message has it to some degree. The tighter you define your audience the better you can fit the message to create the communication experience you are seeking.
Many will tell you to measure message delivery with reach and frequency but this is far too simplistic. As a business, you must consider the strength and delivery cost. Reach is the volume of your target audience that sees the message. Frequency is how often they see it and this decays over time. Strength is the degree of emotional reaction you get from the message and audience. Delivery cost is a constraint because nobody has an unlimited budget to work with.
t = Timing
Many think that markets are driven by Need but I propose to you that it is Want. You think they need it but it only happens when the customer wants the product or service. The transformation of a need to want typically is event-driven and in many cases, this is outside your control but not outside your considerations.
Let me illustrate the transformation with a true story. Many years ago our agency was contacted by a business that wanted to increase their sales. They had good service, strong execution, and solid business that served a customer’s need. We created a marketing strategy with solid campaigns with the right keywords, good ads, and bids tuned to get their site on the top of the results. We turned this on and nothing happened and as you might expect the client was upset. This went on for some time before we got the dreaded “What have you done for me lately?” call. We managed to survive this call but we knew that our client relationship had a clock on it. We tried everything but nothing would move the needle because the customer’s need had yet to morph into a want. Then we got lucky and the client’s phones lit up to the point where they called and said: “Turn it off – We are buried!”- our favorite type of call!! To create some suspense in this story I withheld the service involved. The client’s service was snow removal and a big snow storm rolled into town. In this case, the reason for the bad response was known and understood but the conditioning of the market was part of the excellent ROI they saw on this campaign.
In most cases, the reason is not this simple or easy to understand but the same dynamic is always there. Advertising can raise awareness and drive revenue but it cannot make it snow.
Timing is driven by events that cause the message you have painted in the audience’s mine to morph the need into a want. So ask yourself, “what events cause the metamorphosis of your customer’s want into a need?” Then look for ways to refresh your touch to them at that time. If you have done this right they will come to you. You will never get the juggling of time and resources perfect but you can get past the random chance you probably operate with today.
Getting it Right
When you look at the formula visualization, it is easy to see why prospecting efforts have such horrible response levels. Fortunately, your competitor faces the same challenges so remember that you do not have to be perfect – just better than them! Grow, shrink, and refine your audience. Fill in the blanks in your message and try to get lucky on the timing (clue: the harder you work the luckier you get). Balance your resources and by all means, spend your creativity before your cash. We can tell you with 100% certainty, which one you will run out of first.
Everything in life requires maintenance and WordPress websites are no exception. Not maintaining your website is like driving your car and never changing the oil. Eventually, the check engine light will go on and you will buy a new engine. WordPress is a great CMS (Content Management System) but even with this tool, websites still require maintenance. That is because websites are a process, not a project. Website maintenance never ends because the world keeps changing and you have to change with it. In most businesses, the design of a website has a lifespan of 3-7 years. Between those years there is a need for maintenance. Many fall into thinking that once the website is finished the work ends. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Let’s explore why this is so.
Competitors are Wily & Evil
Website Competitors are wily, evil, smart, and persistent. Your business has to be the same, only better. A website that publishes and then rests on it laurels will be defeated. Competitors will not just roll over and give you market dominance. You have to earn and defend it. Beat a competitor on a keyword and we can guarantee they will respond in this never-ending battle. This is why we call this Word Wars. It has been waging since the second dot com site was issued to BBN.com on April 24, 1985 and there is no end in sight. The bottom line here is, you have to continually respond and react to your competitors or they will roll right over you.
The World Keeps Changing
The internet is constantly changing. Those changes outside your control can and require constant maintenance. The world of SEO is the poster child for this with the best professional estimates pegging algorithm changes to 500-600 times each year at Google alone. Last year Google had at least these nine major changes.
Medic Core Update — August 1, 2018
Chrome Security Warnings — July 24, 2018
Mobile Speed Update — July 9, 2018
Video Carousels — June 14, 2018
Snippet Length Drop — May 13, 2018
Unnamed Core Update — April 17, 2018
Mobile-First Index Roll-out — March 26, 2018
Zero-result SERP Test — March 14, 2018
Brackets Core Update — March 8, 2018
These are just the confirmed updates. I’m sure that there are updates that Google did not announce that the industry did not notice. There are many sites that track these changes and my favorites are:
Each of these changes holds the potential of impacting your website content and requiring changes to your website. For example, the Snippet Length Drop change impacted every page on a website and changed the default recommendation for this critical page element.
Page load speed has a reputation of being one of the big issues for a website. This can be changed by dozens of factors. These factors change and create the need for maintenance. The first step is to know that something went sideways. Your maintenance team has to routinely monitor and troubleshoot pages that are performing poorly. Changes in technology often result in winners and losers in the performance area. This is a task that is never done and is best done as part of a continual improvement process for the site. There are a variety of tools in this area that are constantly evolving so your maintenance team needs to stay alert and use different tools.
Not all Hosting is created Equally
Hosting services are a big part of website performance and this impacts both your visitor’s experience and search engine position. The only way you know if you have a performance problem is to constantly monitor it. The best hosts monitor the plugins used and in some cases move them to the server to improve performance and security.
Website Security is no Joke!
Cybersecurity is a rapidly changing world and even huge companies struggle to keep their sites secure. There is no perfect answer but the first line of defense is a diligent monitoring of suspicious activity and keeping your tools and website up to date. Security vulnerabilities can emerge at any time and you have to quickly respond to avoid being a victim. The first item on the website security checklist is to pick the best host with an active monitoring system and that is fully staffed.
Google Search Console
A regular visit to the search console gives you a heads up on any problems that are building inside Google. Failed searches and recent organic traffic Gets frontpage attentionbut there is so much more. It’s a good idea to balance your pages a few times a year. To do this get a list of all your pages and compare that to a site search on google. Website optimization is about distributing its page rank over the pages. In SEO there is a fundamental truth “The more things you are about the less you are about any of those things.” Balancing your pages is about finding the balance between conflicting SEO goals.
Monitor & Repair Links
Links, especially those that point off-site, can, and do decay over time. Reviewing your site on a regular basis can help keep this under control. It is important to understand that when Google indexes your site and sees broken links, they take that into consideration when evaluating the quality of your site. Cleaning this up can help in both the organic position as well as the visitor’s web experience on your site. “404 page not found” is a perfectly avoidable error that happens on websites every day. It destroys the user experience and costs business billions each year. It is the great silent killer of e-commerce.
Did you even know there was such a thing? Many do not realize that website blacklists exist but they do. If you end up on one of these you need to go through a forgiveness process to get removed. Trust me, you do not want to be on a blacklist. This largely impacts those using email but it can have other side effects as well. What happens in email is that major ISPs use these lists to block email from reaching their users and if your goal is to reach those users – you have a problem being on these lists.
WordPress is constantly being revised and this results in a need to apply those updates to stay current. Some might ask, “if it is still working, why fix it?” The answer is because sometimes these changes can fix security flaws and not updating can leave you exposed to site hacks and other nefarious acts. Last year there were 11 updates so on average almost one per month. Updates are not as simple as just applying them. You need to understand what changed and how it might impact your site. You then have to consider what parts of your site need special attention to make sure that the fix did not break something else.
WordPress Plug-in & Template Updates
Separate from updates to WordPress itself, you have to monitor and update templates and plugins with special care for any security updates. Plugins are well known for causing problems so you want to keep their use to a minimum and use only those that have been well vetted. The more experimental plugins can cause lots of problems so tread carefully here.
Content Review & Monitor
Content is not fine wine that gets better with age. Most content decays over time and this creates a maintenance issue. In the maintenance strategy, you need to routinely review content for decay and apply the new SEO and Content best practices. At a minimum, you should decide on the lifecycle of content and then break that down into manageable segments that can be reviewed and updated on a continual improvement cycle.
Response Verification & Testing
If your website is designed without a Call to Action you need to wonder why you created it. Response design needs to be tested periodically because nothing operates forever. For some sites t,his is as simple as filling out the response forms and verifying that they went to the person responsible for follow up. For others, the testing plan can be extensive. Lots of things can change resulting in a fault in systems that were well tested when implemented and sometimes you just need to check the basics. You will be amazed by how many times we have found email servers disabling critical business systems or shopping carts calculating the wrong shipping rate.
Traffic Fraud Monitoring
There is an old joke that the “www” on website addresses stands for the “Wild Wild Web”. The other definition is the World Wide Web but that’s boring and does not help with the point we are trying to make here. With over 25 years of web management experience, I can tell you without reservation that there are bad people with bad intent out there and you have to be constantly vigilant in protecting your site. Part of that process involves a routine review of your server logs, analytics, and other traffic data looking for things that do not fit your normal patterns. These are early signs of problems or residuals from attacks and you have to be aware. Like most guard duty most of the time it’s boring work until it isn’t. Most hosting services will have tools to detect up front assaults like a denial of service attack but most of those had earlier signals in your data when they were probing your site for vulnerabilities.
Implement & Monitor LargeFS
LargeFS is a way to expand your server storage from your normal server onto S3, where storage is practically infinite. Historically it was challenging to cleanly integrate the standard WordPress UI with the scale of S3. For example, there were often problems uploading images through the media uploader and also retaining support for other plugins and themes which depended on those files being on the local filesystem. LargeFS retains the advantages of S3 while mitigating the downsides.
Implement & Monitor Global CDN
Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) are systems of distributed servers that are intended to speed up website loading times and protect against issues caused by traffic spikes.
CDNs store copies of static content throughout their network, and then serve them up to users from the most geographically logical server location. Since they typically have servers all over the world, loading times can be sharply reduced. Make sure that your Host provides this as part of their service.
Development Setup for changes
WordPress is great for fast fixes – just jump in and change that word and it’s all over in a few seconds. However, sometimes you want to make big changes. You need a dev or development site set up so you can make changes and roll them all out at one time. When the dev site is active, you have to keep up with minor changes in the production version because when you roll out the new those changes will go bye-bye. Maintenance strategy in your site changes when a dev site is active!
Development to Production
Moving the new and improved website to production is a maintenance process that has to be quickly followed by a complete test of the site.
WordPress is great at quick page maintenance and it seems so simple but I can assure you the devil is in the details. The challenge is remembering all the details that might impact that quick change. In website maintenance one-step forward and two-steps back happens more often than anyone would like to admit. Something as simple as changing a word on a page can set off a cascading problem in website content. While there is risk there is also great power in adjusting your message and content to improve the web experience or search engine optimization.
For anyone working in IT (Information Technology) backup is not just something you do, it is a religion that you follow. Anyone with experience will have a story of how a backup saved their job.
Keeping Your Ear to the Ground and Your Eye to the Sky
The Internet is a dynamic world and that drives the maintenance strategy but only if you are situationally aware. In today’s world, this means a complex network of monitors and alerts that are reviewed by smart people. The basics in this are setting up alerts for your website, competitors, and other market driving resources (think media sites).
Having zero downtime is the most ideal for protecting your site’s SEO. A site monitor verifies that a site is responding 24/7 and sends the web team an alert if the site fails. There is plenty of technology that you can subscribe to that alerts you to an outage but you still have to do something about it. In most cases, you want to alert the hosting company and get the problem resolved. Next, you want to shut down paid advertising until service is restored. In the end, you will have a historical trend on how reliable your site is and if your website host is meeting your expectations.
Virus Detection & Removal
Viruses happen to websites and when they do, the damage can affect your site for a long time. If you immediately detect and remove the infection, the damage can be contained – hopefully before Google notices. If you do not respond immediately, the bad guys will continue to invade your site and the repair will require a restore to a previous point in time. If the virus is present long enough for Google to notice you will have to go through a verification process before your site’s infection flag is removed.
Top 5 SEO Testing
In SEO there is 90/5 rule a close cousin of the 80/20 rule that is so common in business. This rule states that 90% of your valuable SEO traffic comes from your top 5 keywords. Every business should know these phrases and monitor them on a regular basis. When your position slips, and it will slip, you need to know this and take corrective action.
There are lots of registrations that have to be watched over and renewed and updated. This is not a huge task but you would be amazed how many times we have found this to be the cause of a site outage. As a minimum, you want to verify the DNS and SSL registrations and renew well before their expiration date.
DIY, Delegate, or Outsource?
Given the right training and experience, you can do this yourself (DIY) or delegate it to someone on your staff that has spare time to fill. If you decide to outsource, then we advise you to be careful and pick your partner with care and due diligence. Make sure that you have direct access to the analyst that does the work. You will want a brief, routine communication with them on changes in your business and industry as that directly impacts the value they can create for you.
When a company markets a service or product without a published price, the most common question is the dreaded: “How much does it cost?”. It is very rare that this question isn’t addressed in some way during the first call. Many agencies loathe getting into this conversation but we have always been very transparent because we know how valuable we can be to your team. Let’s take a deep dive into this topic.
It’s the Wrong Question
This is often the first question, which is always answered with “it depends.” We are not being evasive but rather, don’t have enough information to answer the question properly. This is the equivalent of calling a car dealer and asking them how much a car costs. There are different criteria that dictate the price of the vehicle, the same with our services. This is the wrong first question because you have to qualify the pricing model and scope of services first.
Different agencies have different pricing models and the two big ones are hourly or a percentage of advertising spend. The spend percentage comes from the old world marketing agencies that were accustomed to that model. Today when the agency is managing the cost per click it seems out of sync with the market. Pricing on spend incentivizes the agency to spend more and when an agency is setting your bids this is a potential conflict of interests that is hard to miss. In our business, we use an hourly fee for projects and a fixed fee for account maintenance.
Professional Services We Provide
Like all agencies, we have a variety of services depending on what the client wants and needs. Here are the common ones:
PPC Account Management (Google Ads/AdWords)
Social Media Account Management
SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Services
Web Experience Design
Each service listed above has a common cost range. They can range from small budget to infinity and everywhere in-between. The key is to define the scope, duration, and intensity of the effort.
How much does a PPC Expert Cost?
The hourly range is from $95 – $150. This depends on the scope of services and the level of the experts providing services. Small business budgets range from $350 to $1,000. The big variables are the expected number of hours that it takes to professionally manage the account and the amount of reporting the client wants. Account size, complexity, competitiveness of the industry are all variables within the scope. Competitiveness is a variable because the tougher the competition the more time it takes to win. High maintenance industries include Personal Injury Lawyers, Bail Bonds, and Garage Door Repair because of the very high click costs. While diets, Miracle Products, and items on the edge of policy problems are more expensive to manage. Other variables considered are the networks being managed. Because of the dominance of Google in PPC, we always start with Google Ads but it’s common to add Bing Ads, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon, and others as the account matures. Each network adds to the time it takes to manage and the monthly retainer cost.
How much does a Social Media Expert Cost?
On an hourly basis, the range is $95 – $150 and the variables are the size of the project, complexity, and volume of content. This service can go to infinity but never does because business economics stops this from getting out of control. The high range for Social Media are experts that help craft the strategy, while the bottom end are content creators and placement personnel that execute the plan. For small business budgets generally, range from $400 to $1,200.
How much does an SEO Expert Cost?
On an hourly basis, the range is $125-$250. SEO is different from other services because the time required to manage the account is higher at the beginning. The cost decreases because the work to maintain position is less than the work to improve it. We treat the first stage as a project that is quoted based on the amount of content to be optimized. To win SEO requires a continual investment in content at a level that beats the competitors. Once you win the top position, you have to continue the content generation to hold your position. Small business budgets generally start at $1,200 for the initial review, recommendations, and changes with a $360-$500 monthly retainers to hold a position. Your industry is a big variable in deciding the cost as well.
How much does a Web Experience Designer Cost?
A Web Experience Designer starts with a traffic source such as PPC then crafts an experience to reach a specific goal such as a Sales Lead. This is not web design, although they use web design components for the experience path. The objective of this process is to funnel traffic from source to goal. Hourly rates for Web Experience Designers range from $150 to $250 hour. Experience Design is typically done as a fixed price project with recurring reporting.
How much does a Response Designer Cost?
Hourly rates for Response Designers range from $100 to $175. A Response Designer starts with existing web site content that is not reaching its goal and tests concepts to improve on those goals. While similar to a Web Experience Designer the Response Designer typically works with a single page rather than a source. Their focus is on the response elements within the experience.
How much does a Website Designer Cost?
Hourly rates for Website Designers range from $95 to $125. Website designers create and maintain websites. Most of our web design projects range from $2,000 to $5,000 based on an hourly range. The website creation is typically done as a fixed price project where the scope of the project is agreed upon by both parties. It is very common for clients to ask for things outside of the scope so pricing is adjusted accordingly. After the site is created it has to be maintained and Website Designers provide this support most typically under a monthly retainer. Retainer budgets range from $350 and up depending on the expected monthly hours needed.
How much does a Marketing Coach Cost?
Hourly rates for Marketing Coaches range from $125 to $250. Marketing Coaches are for clients that want to work on their account but want a coach to help them develop as a professional. The Coach is responsible for making sure that their player is constantly challenged and continues to improve over time. Secondarily, they are a resource conduit to other specialists that are needed from time to time. Coaches commonly will replace one of their sessions with another expert that the player needs to learn from. The hourly rate for a coach is $200 for on-call hours. The hourly rate under a retainer varies based on the number of monthly hours the client commits to. Typically coaching retainers are one, two, or four hours per month with rates of $175, $150, and $125. Time is scheduled on a recurring time slot each week, bi-weekly, or monthly.
How much does a Marketing Strategist Cost?
Hourly rates for Marketing Coaches range from $125 to $200. A Marketing Strategist develops overall marketing plans for a business and they cross over all the specializations to bring this together. They typically work on a fixed price project with a defined project deliverable. Projects are normally $3,000 to $5,000.
What are the benefits of a Monthly Retainer?
For the client, a retainer gives them a monthly expense they can plan on. It is exceptionally rare for a retainer to be exceeded and when it happens, we eat that expense. Things outside of the retainer can come up but that work is never performed without getting your permission. You will never experience an unexpected expense from us. Retainers benefit the client as well as us. A retainer provides the client with a lower hourly rate while providing us a dependable income that we can plan our business under. This improves our ability to recruit and train the absolute best for your requirements. The discount on the rate is in exchange for this security.
When should you Outsource Marketing?
If you need more than 50% of a full-time position on a consistent basis, then you need to hire a new person. If you need only a few hours a week or less of a specific skill, then outsourcing is a better option. Keeping up to date in Digital Marketing is a large expense and it needs to be leveraged. Our staff can keep up to date because it is all our business does. If you give a few hours of PPC, Social Media, or Designer work to a person as fill-in work, it will not end well. You will set them up for failure because the experience needed isn’t there and never will be. Maintenance efforts given to an individual almost never work because their “Real Work” ends up being the priority and the maintenance slips until it comes crashing down into your inbox.
Why Outsource Marketing Projects?
Projects come and go but employees are a fixed cost. If the project is going to come in and go out, you do not want to hire for that. The ramp up and ramp down costs of internal staff is just prohibitive. Sometimes outsourcing is a higher hourly rate but a lower total cost.
So there it is – the answer to your simple question
The 1,400+ word answer to your simple question of “How much does it cost?” Call us if you would like more details specific to your unique business situation.
What is the ROI on Marketing?
This is the question you should ask rather than “What’s the cost”. ROI (Return on Investment) is Value divided by Cost with 1.0 being breakeven. Here is a clue; your target has to be much higher than one, but you knew that already. Value is the revenue minus the direct costs. So let’s have the conversation about how we create ROI rather than “What is the cost?”.
In marketing, you get what you pay for and someone will always offer a lower cost. Do yourself a favor and carefully check their references and dig beyond the couple of names they give you on the first request. Billing rates are driven by wages and good talent is not cheap. If the price is too good to believe then it’s probably the most expensive savings you will ever find.
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. While our world is constantly changing, this adage rings as true as ever in Social Media. The volume of your social media voice is created by the quality and quantity of your connections. Without connections within the network, you simply have no voice. Let’s explore the details of how to improve LinkedIn presence for business to business customer-facing staff.
Business to Business Customer Facing
This tactic is very specific and assumes that you are building a professional network because you hold a customer-facing position within the business. Examples of customer-facing roles are sales representatives and executives with active roles in sales. Since LinkedIn is the dominant professional network, we also assume that the business network you seek to build is B2B. LinkedIn certainly has consumers in it but at its core, it is a professional network. To run into this network with a consumer tactic is a marketing disaster looking for a place to happen.
The Connection Request
If there is one thing that separates winners from losers in LinkedIn it is their connection request. A connection request is sent to the person you are saying hello to and limited to 300 characters and spaces. A good connection request has these components:
Explains who you are
Explains value to them
Strong “Call to Action”
If you hit all four of these you will have a high “Yes” rate and you will start the relationship with a positive first impression. If you think that writing this is easy, you do not yet understand the challenge. On average, you have 42 words to project your personality, explain who you are, and why a relationship with you is mutually positive. Doing this in 42 words or less is a huge challenge. You will know that you have done a good job with this when your “Yes” rate exceeds 20% from a cold contact. Since we recommend driving this by the title of the potential contact, getting personal is possible and it sets the stage for who you are and how they get value.
The foundational tool for building your network is the search and more specifically the title search. Our goal is to connect to a specific level within targeted organizations. Here is an example of a title search:
In this example, we are looking to connect to Sales Executives and Vice President of Sales. These are two very common job titles that are typically utilized with this tactic. There are some challenges to watch out for on this. While this shows a result of 9,411 results you cannot get to all of them. At most, LinkedIn will give you 100 pages with 10 people per page for a total of 1,000. If your search exceeds 1,000, you cannot see the other 8,411 listings. This is only my 2nd level contacts. If I add 3rd level contacts, the number jumps to 68,171 which increases this problem.
So how do we get around this limit?
The same way you eat an elephant: One “byte” at a time. The solution takes time. You have to work the list little by little until you get through the first thousand results. As people accept your connection invitation they move to your 1st level creating an opening in the top 1,000 2nd level. This can get very complicated very quickly so make sure that you keep good records of your requests. LinkedIn will limit your daily requests to 100 so processing the top 1,000 will take 10 days. The key here is a continual effort at a reasonable level.
LinkedIn also has a cap on the total pending connection requests and it was recently increased from 3,000 to 5,000. It is a must to remove stale requests to create new space in your account. Click on your network tab then Manage all on the right side:
Then click the Sent tab
Remove the oldest requests to make room for new ones.
What happens as you work the account is that a certain percentage of people will accept your connection request. This moves them to a 1st level contact. This increases the number of 2nd and 3rd level contacts. If you continually work on your network it will grow but don’t go too fast because you will be flagged as a connection spammer.
It’s about Quality, not Quantity
Businesses have long known that it’s not what you know but who you know and how you know them. In social media, in general, and LinkedIn specifically, creating a connection is equivalent to saying hello in the physical world. If the person says hello back then its an invitation to have a conversation. From conversations come relationships and from relationships come to value. In LinkedIn, this conversation comes from your postings and while that is outside of scope for this article, it is a necessary part of the process.
LinkedIn Tries to Help
If you click on the My Network tab on our account you will get this:
These are the recommended connections from LinkedIn based on your account and honestly, they do a fairly good job. With just one click, the request is sent. How cool is that? Be careful though because with great power comes great risk. This sends a standard “Please join my network” message; a clear sign that you gave no effort toward the relationship. These requests will get rejected at a much higher rate than those sent with a personalized message. I do use this function from time to time but I click through to the profile and use a custom introduction. It shows I care.
Business Versus Personal
This is a debated issue in our world and we do not have the answer for your situation. Our goal is to help you understand the issues. Businesses invest in building networks to communicate with their market but LinkedIn profiles are based on a person. So who owns this is a business asset? If you are creating a new profile, and get a written agreement in advance, there is a possibility that your business can own it. If you hire a person with an existing profile the business claim to ownership is beyond thin. We have not seen this tested yet but it is a conflict that is hard not to see. We are NOT A LEGAL resource but, it stands to reason that if a business invests thousands into building a profile they would like to own it. Our best marketing and business advice is to clearly understand the risk you are taking. Talk to a good business lawyer, not your marketing agency, and get an agreement in advance, not at the end of the employment relationship.
Do, Delegate, or Outsource
Work gets done in one of these three ways and each has its strengths and weaknesses. As it applies to building your connections in LinkedIn, you can do it yourself. This article gives you the basics of how and certainly nothing here is rocket science. If you read this far, we are sure you can do the work. The question is, should you? Most customer-facing staff are professionals and executives and honestly, the process here can be a bit mind-numbing for people of that skill level. You can delegate but that can spread your staff too thin. Another issue is that social media changes a lot so keeping up to date is a challenge for internal staff. The exception to that is a delegation to an internal social media management department. Outsourcing often makes sense but it is not without its challenges. In an outsourcing relationship, make sure they never try to represent the business. In the event of an unusual response, they need to immediately raise it to the profile owner and get out of the loop. Most outsourcing resources will perform this task full time allowing them to keep training up to date while staying within the limit imposed by LinkedIn. Done properly this is one to two hours a week.
Utilizing any tactic requires goals and a budget. We recommend that you start at a pace of one hour per week. In one hour you should be able to reach out to 100 people and get yes responses. You should get a 20% yes rate but if you do not get these results, something is wrong. Examine your message and your target and make the necessary adjustments. If after 30 days of getting your 20%+ yes response you can ramp this up until you top out at 5 hours a week. At that point, you will start running into the system limits for network building.
To build a network you need more than the free account on LinkedIn because your search results will be very limited after a few searches. The cost of an annual Premium Business account is $575.88, which translates to $47.99 per month. This brings your out of pocket cost to $0.56 per connection. The labor cost depends on how you value your time. For this discussion, lets say your opportunity cost is $100 per hour. This adds $5 to your per connection cost for a total of $5.56. Compared to most outreach efforts that open permission to communicate with a prospect LinkedIn is a bargain. Opportunity cost is the value you could create in your business if you were focused on something else.
Do, Delegate, or Outsource
This is a function that is often delegated or outsourced because customer-facing individuals have very high opportunity costs. Delegation sounds good and seems to cost less but it’s often difficult to manage and maintain. Few businesses have someone sitting around waiting for work to do. This work often gets dropped for higher priority work and it takes time to keep up to date with changes in the network. Outsourcing is a solution we offer with typical lead costs in the $5.33 range. Call us and we will be glad to quote this for you.
Now that the simple stuff is done
While in the beginning, building your connection network might seem like a daunting task, it is just the first step of a very long journey. As you build out your network, you have to start communicating with everyone and create your professional persona.
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This subject is a rewrite of our oldest blog article, first published in 2007. As we travel back to the future, it is amazing how little has changed in this fundamental building block of Word Wars. How a person presents a query is the first thing you learn. This knowledge should be used to develop any tactic or strategy for your website’s PPC, SEO, or Social Media. For it is only understanding of this formation that we can develop tactics that leverage your content.
Word Wars and the TV Game Family Feud are conceptually the same thing. Survey an audience and try to guess how they answered a specific question. In Word Wars, we start out with a question and then guess how they would express that to the search engine. This is called the search query and it’s the reason this topic is so much fun.
Example for Our Discussion
To explore a complex topic we need to reference an example that everyone understands. We picked a common product that everyone owns or at the very least, has used. If you are a geek like me you probably have a drawer full of these.
I have a question for you: How would you search for this product?
Below is a chart with common terms for this product. Is your query on that list? Let’s dive in.
What Google Trends Says:
The current data from Google Trends shows that Flash and USB are the two big ones but others are still significant. Do you see the problem?
It comes back the this basic SEO rule: The more things your page is about, the less it is about any of them. In this example, the more you optimize for USB Drive, the lower you rank for Flash Drive. It’s a string problem in which you pull on one end of a string the other end moves.
Page Optimization is Impossible – Get over it.
The SEO Industry has a few experts but there are also some less than honorable businesses and individuals, so be careful when you select an expert to work with. If an SEO promises you the first position in Google, they are lying. If they promise it for a small amount of money, then grab your wallet and run for the door. SEO is hard work, full of compromises, research, and content creation. Anybody that really knows how this works will not make a first position guarantee statement. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a process of optimizing the page content to improve search engine position. The fatal flaw is that the process begins with the query, not the page. You cannot optimize a page until you know the query. As you will see in our example, and in real life, the query is a list of variables not a single target.
Pick Your Battles
Using our example, you can see that in almost all cases, the search volume drops off rapidly. Since optimization is based on the query, a decision has to be made on the target. Often the right choice is the first answer, but not always. In some businesses, something as simple as a plural form makes a difference. In our example, the plural form is much lower volume. If you are new in the industry and getting crushed on the singular form, it might make sense to go after the plural form first to establish a base. Once you have a good base, you can go up against the companies playing in the larger volume.
The Big Question
When a prospective customer needs/wants your service or product, what will they search for to find you? In general, people create queries based on their life experiences and the top 2-3 normally make up over 80% of the volume. If you have one answer for a query, you are not done yet. Grab a cup of coffee and think deeper. If you really want to do this right, find somewhere that prospective customers gather and ask them directly. You will be amazed at what you can learn from a few conversations. What you are out to discover is how do people talk about your product or service before they know about you.
Searches Nobody Does
You would be amazed at how many times we have seen sites proudly presented to us as being “First on Google” but with little to no business coming in. What we typically discover is that the site ranks highly for a search term nobody, except the client, searches for. When thinking through your strategy, it is best to think like your customers and this can be challenging. We highly recommend checking Google Trends, your Search Console, and Google Ads data BEFORE deciding what you want to target.
Understand Your Searcher
You have to become one with the audience and live their life experiences and perspectives. All too often, keywords are targeted based on the most senior person in the brainstorming session. This is a disaster, especially if that person is not representative of the target group. Go back to your target personas and ask the team how they would search and why. This is one of the biggest challenges a Word Warrior will face in their career.
Evolve Your Thinking
Queries form in the mind of your prospect where marketing, data, and content collide with wants and needs. This is a very messy process. Whatever your thinking is, I can assure you that it will not be perfect. Talk to those that take early-stage calls for more insights into customer perspectives. Furthermore, look at the data in your search console and Google Ads search queries. Finally, experiment with Google Trends for the big patterns.
Regions are Different
Different regions in the US can have different winners. In our example, you see that the West Coast and a few other random states use the term USB. The rest of the country uses the term Flash Drive. In some businesses, we have found words that vary hugely and sometimes even jump languages.
Language is not static and you have to adapt your thinking about query formation as this happens. A perfect example of this just happened this year when Google changed from Google AdWords to Google Ads. Here is what happened to the search volume as this change gained traction.
This is an example driven by rebranding at a major company but thousands of small changes are modifying search results as I write this. Some of these will affect your business either today or in the future. The media often drives these changes and as a historic example, consider the word “trump”. It used to mean a card that outranks the card in play. Look what happened to that word as the country headed to the 2016 election. The meaning of this word is in flux right now and its meaning often depends on your political perspective.
The point in all of this is that language changes over time; sometimes fast and obvious, but most of the time it evolves slowly over time. Consider all the words used as part of the internet lexicon that did not exist 20 years ago. I still remember when Amazon was the name of a river, not an e-commerce giant.
Marketing data is a funny field because we get clues, not facts, which typically come from flawed experiments. Be cautious with what you think you know. We often see people conduct experiments and from the results, they conclude the reason for the outcome. Getting from result to causation is a very long road and some of it is claimed with hilariously small data samples. I read a book a few years ago where the author conducted an overnight test with 4 ads and 11 total clicks. From those 11 clicks, he determined that one ad was better than another. I couldn’t stop laughing! I know, and forever, will use this as an example of how NOT to learn something from data. To prove something, you need to have data large enough that the result is likely to repeat and that is a lot of data. This author clearly did not understand that concept. There are some great resources to use on your journey. Google trends will give you a big view. The Search Console can give you good insights into your organic traffic. Google Ads (AKA AdWords) can give you some of the best word volumes. Google Analytics is a great resource in all forms of traffic. The industry also has tons of other tools all of which provide another layer of clues but none of them produce facts.
What I would like you to take away from this article is that you can move the needle but there is no silver bullet. Language, optimization, query formation are difficult subjects but within them lays great opportunity.
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Two words that rarely go together are Art and Engineering, yet here we are. The idiom “A picture is worth a 1,000 words” is true in website experiences. Businesses spend lots of time engineering the text but not so much the art. Business invests in the visuals but the focus is on the aesthetics, not how it supports the message. We have seen plenty of websites with beautiful mountain landscapes with a message of grow your business. Mountains are not an image that screams rapid growth to me. I would be inclined more toward a race car or speedboat. Yet it is easy to argue that artwork & images are responsible for 80% of the messaging. Why the imbalance between importance and effort? Great question, let’s peel this one open. The art of Art is outside of the article scope as we explore the data-science of art.
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words
As a Data Scientist, I have a love/hate relationship with designers. On one hand, I love their creativity and ability to create beautiful images. On the other, I am frustrated by challenges they do not understand or simply do not value. Art is truly in the eyes of the beholder but the art on your website needs to serve the corporate message. While the text is more important for SEO purposes, images are what move the emotion of the visitor. The 80/20 rule applies in a web experience: 80% of the impact is graphical and 20% is text. The bottom line is, for the website to be competitive, the text and images need to be synergist and both have to be extraordinarily well done.
Competitive Art Landscape
When developing the strategy for a new client, we ask them for 3-5 of their competitors. We then analyze and compare the homepage of the client and each of their competitors. This gives us a visual representation of the web experience the prospective customer will have while shopping. When the images & artwork are effective they have meaning and huge value in the experience.
All plans need a baseline and for image engineering this is your art inventory. This is simply a collection of the art that is part of the web experience. As this is cataloged, you want to evaluate the message contained and assign it a grade based on how well that message is portrayed. The message you want to convey will dictate what images you ultimately use. This is often when a light bulb goes off when you have a piece of art you like but it communicates nothing.
Keyword Tagging Art
With the art, inventory collected the next step is to tag it. You start with your targeted keywords and assign them to art based on the messaging within the art. There is some art that will be part of your messaging but not part of your keywords. Common things in this category are things like a response design element. These are items like a call, learn more or other action items. It would not make sense to go after these on the keyword side but they certainly need to exist so you create keywords for the action. Some art, for example, logos, are not in your paid keywords but maybe they should be.
Art That Communicates Nothing
This is probably the most common challenge that we see on websites. The art is beautiful and designers and people love it but if it communicates nothing or worse it’s off message. This is a hard reality that many businesses need to address. Starting with the biggest picture ask yourself what is the message. Write down the words you think this represents and ask others to do the same. One common problem with art is “What you said is not what I heard” and like all communication, it has to be clear and concise. If a picture is worth 1,000 words then the care in selecting art should be intense and critical.
Art Exists on a Continuum of Power
When evaluating business art, we must consider that while art may be more powerful. It is also more subjective and complex. Messaging that motivates one individual may discourage another and the “What I said may not be what you heard” is a challenge. Art has the ability to move emotions and communicate facts quickly. This can be used to your advantage. It is also less precise and subject to more misunderstanding.
Split Testing Art
Art and the Word Cloud
Evaluating art and keywords can get complicated real fast. One tool I like to use in this process is a word cloud. It makes it easier to visualize the text data and I can base this on my Google Ads data or as I did, in this case, the website text. If I am missing these critical concepts in the art then there is still work to be done. It is important to sync the messaging in the text and art in order to get maximum effect from both.
Gazing into the Future – AI and Art
AI (Artificial Intelligence) is rolling into our world and image processing is certainly part of that revolution. While there will be debate about the implications to search optimization, a reasonable person must assume that AI image processing with be part of the indexing of a website. So look to the future, run your images through this page and see how it tags the image.
Then take the photos with faces and run it through this to see the emotions connected to each of the people in your corporate image. While there are no steady rules involved in this, your visual image tags should strongly correlate to your keywords.
Even if today’s production search engine is not using this type of technology we can assure you that in the near future it will. The examples given here are Microsoft AI Solutions but all the major providers like Amazon’s AWS and IBM’s Watson have equivalent image tagging and facial recognition tools.
The future is today so you can lead follow or get out of the way. Your choice.
Wrap it Up and Put a Bow on it
Art used for business communication needs a lot of experts. Agencies have forever had art and copy people because they have to think differently. Today you have to add a data person and business executives to those teams.
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Since I am currently a Senior Data Scientist at SMS this might seem like an odd article to write but hang with me just a second. I recently stepped down as CEO of SMS, a role I held for the last 32 years across 4 successful tech businesses and 3 spectacular failures (Currently Batting .571). I built and managed the Regional CEO Roundtables on the Central Coast of California and was the Program Director for 11 years. All my life and all my friends are and have been CEOs of SMBs. I have been a Digital Marketing advisor to hundreds of business over the last 24 years so I am completely comfortable with this topic. I have been involved with social media networks since their inception starting with MySpace and creating one called Kids Around the World around 1995.
Step 1: Tell ‘em what you are going to tell ‘em
CEO’s hold a unique position within their organization. They report to nobody but are responsible to everyone. My friends sometimes joke that the CEO has more bosses than anyone and to some degree, this is true depending on your perspective. What I want to explore in this article is a high-level strategy that I propose fits most CEO’s. This tactic fits any organization where the CEO has a key market facing role. In some organizations, this might be one of the other C level executives but for this article, CEO means the top market facing executive.
Step 2: Tell ‘em
This tactic is NOT for communicating from Executive to the Consumer Market. That will be a future article, but it is out of scope for the purpose of this article. Social Media is a tool that can be used in many ways and for many purposes. The scope in this tactic is communication to a Professional Network NOT a Consumer Network like Facebook.
CEO’s have the greatest communication challenge of any executive because in almost all cases, the other executives have a subset of the responsibility of the CEO. In the typical business CEO’s need to be aware of and sometimes communicate with Clients, Customers, Prospects, Vendors, Employees, Partners, Competitors, and more.
Rule 1: Pick the Right Network
This is actually the easiest part of because the answer is LinkedIn. Wasn’t that easy? Don’t you wish all executive decisions were that easy? It was easy because we limited the scope to CEO communications to their Professional Networks and the Social Media Network for that is LinkedIn.
Rule 2: It’s about the Network Dummy!
Social Media has a basic design concept that you have to work within. As Yoda said to Luke Skywalker “You must become one with the force” and in social media, the power comes from your connections. This means that if you want to communicate you need to build connections. So here is the rule: No network = No Voice.
Developing Your Strategy
As the CEO, you are the tip of the spear so you have to decide who your second tier is going to be. This varies greatly from company to company but normally your second tier will be all your customer-facing executives. For many companies, this includes Sales, Marketing, Purchasing, Customer Service, and Transportation. In our business, we have three market-facing positions CEO, Marketing Strategy, and Data Science. The CEO will direct the next connection request from each new contact based on messaging to the contact. The table below is a typical second-tier distribution.
Campaign Responses to Second Tier Map
Sales, Customer Service, Transportation
Maybe direct to Channel Manager
This is the normal starting point for most businesses because this communication is typically the highest priority – Customers First is a pretty common priority. Now we get to the grueling part and many executives delegate or outsource this. Here are the steps:
Write a 300 character long introduction for the customer.
Get a list of all customers and contacts within the customer.
Decide who will get the second tier contact.
Send the connection request.
Repeat over and over and over.
If you did a good introduction, you should get a very strong positive response from your list. Also, resist the temptation to use the tools that send invites to all your email contacts. This uses a singular connection request and it compromises the quality of the request. Finally, you do not want the same message sent to customers and vendors. These are different requests. Consider extending your connection requests with website content especially for your second tier. If your approval rate of connection requests is less than 50% consider testing new copy for your introduction.
After a connection is accepted here are the standard steps:
Thank the customer! – It is amazing how many skip this step and its cyber-rude.
Forward the names to your second tier and have them request a connection.
As your list builds create communications to open the dialog.
Avoid the temptation to over-communicate and only post genuine content.
Examine the other contacts in this business that might extend your voice.
Normally, second in priority are Vendors and the process is the same. Write an introduction specifically for vendors, find the contact and send the request. Normally, the connection is the Executive Contact for the vendor. Many vendor lists have the contact as the order processor or A/P person but that is not the CEO’s peer so do not send requests to these. This dilutes your voice and communicates to the wrong person. This takes a little bit of research but the admin or A/P contact name will lead you to the all company connections and your goal is to find your peer.
Okay, this is where it gets dicey. Some CEOs truly like to be at the tip of the spear but the world of prospecting is where the world gets messy. If the CEO has a role in sales, as many do, then they should lead this process. Others support but not get involved in sales and those should delegate this to the lead sales executive. Here the steps are the same as customers but it starts by segmenting the industries and writing introductions to specific to each industry. Be clear about how you create value for the prospect.
Expect Higher Rejection
Prospecting is fraught with problems and not the least of which is a very high rejection rate. If you select the targeting properly, have a great introduction, and a solid value for the prospect you should see an acceptance rate of 20% or better. If it’s much lower than that, test carefully and adjust until you have a good intro message. Prospects are the rest of the world so this can and should go on forever.
Competitors & Partners
This network building campaign is last and you should think deeply about this before getting started. Connecting with competitors can be a source of valuable information but it can also be a leak of strategic information to them. In other words, be careful! In some cases, this might be better delegated to Channel Managers and kept out of the CEO network.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions, Oh my!!!
In all campaigns, there are a few decisions that have to be evaluated and this section raises and explores these:
Automation – Friend or Foe?
There are plenty of automation tools around to help import your list into Social Media Networks and LinkedIn has some powerful ones. However, with great power comes great risk and you need to understand this. LinkedIn has tools that will take your entire contact list from your email into the system. The problem is people do this and send invites to people that should not be in your communication strategy. The golden rule here is do not use a mixed list like your email contacts. If you have a clean customer list with email contacts that could be a potential source but again a warning: Many customer lists are administrative contacts, not executive contacts. The CEO needs to be connected to their peers. When you have a mixed list you have to compromise the connection request and that degrades your positive response rate.
DIY, Delegate, or Outsource
Let’s face the facts here, doing this is a grind and it’s probably NOT the best use of a CEO’s time but it does need your involvement. DIY (Doing It Yourself) is probably the least appealing and the least leveraged way to get this done but if the data is a mess, it might be the best way. If your list requires your special knowledge to know the people you should and should not connect to them DIY might be the right strategy. Delegation is a common way to get this done but it has its challenges as well. Every CEO I know staffs the business using the N-1 formula. N-1 stands for Necessary minus one. When you look across your staff, what you find are people that have projects, goals, and missions and giving this to them distracts from those. It is a rare situation where a CEO has excess staff sitting around waiting for work to find them. If you do have that situation, meet with your HR and fix that problem now. Outsourcing is a common way but it has its challenges – sound familiar? The problem here is that the outsourced resource may not know your business and with poor guidelines, processes, and procedures they can introduce errors in the requests. The way you get this done is not important but that you get it done is.
The world changes and this means that on some schedule, you need to Audit your network to make sure that it is the best it can be. Because it takes a long time to send and respond to connection requests our general recommendation is that you audit your network at least once a year. If your business is very active with lots of personnel movements, you might want to make this more frequent.
Social Media Network Maintenance
Social Networks evolve daily and the CEO has to be trained on how to keep their profile up to date. When you meet a new person, you need to request a connection. When something happens in your network, react to it and watch your feed on a regular basis.
Yes there is networking after the CEO
Within this article, we reference the second tier in the business strategy. Each of these will also require an audit and support to build out the enterprise network. When finished the enterprise network should have an open communication channel to every part of the enterprise that touches and outside audience. For example, your Marketing Department should have a connection to every media resource in your market, sales should be connected to every prospect, and purchasing should be connected to every vendor.
A Word about Security
Here are the steps we recommend if you decided to delegate or outsource your network audit.
Change your password to a randomized password.
Give it to the resource performing the Audit.
After the audit, change it back to your normal secure password.
The reason for this change is that you do not want to disclose your password because many times there are patterns that people can learn to break your passwords in the future. The reason for changing it back should be obvious so your account is not exposed after the work is finished.
Tell ‘em what you told ‘em
Social Media is a mystery to many CEOs but this basic process is not. Building the right network is the key to success in this area. Follow these simple processes and with time and effort, you can dominate communications to your market. Make sure that in your business plan you have a social media section that details the tactics and strategies involved in this.
Danger Will Robinson!!!
No general article should be taken as a specific implementable tactic. You have to take the general guidelines and adapt them to best fit your enterprise. In social media, there are no one size fits all solutions and your network will be as unique as your personality and enterprise. If you would like to discuss specifics I am always open to those conversations. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since 2008 our Google Ads Experts have written an open letter to Saint Google. We believe that at least one of Saint Google’s Elves or maybe even the big SG reads our blog because we get lots of things that have been in our letters. Regardless, we find this to be a fun tradition for a company that eats, lives, and breathes AdWords now known as Google Ads.
Negative Search Query
This is the only thing that has been on our list since 2008 and it amazes us that it’s still there. Our bet is that providing this would improve Google revenue by over a billion dollars; why Saint Google do you keep skipping this one? It would make smart advertisers even smarter which is better for the system and in the long run, Google. The concept is simply the other side of the search query. These are the search terms shown on the tabs in the keyword section of search. We are looking for the searches lost due to a negative keyword so we can ensure that this silent account-killer is doing what we want, not what we said.
Negative Keyword Data
Negative keywords have no data to help us understand how they impact the account. We would like to see impression levels and the average CPC of the top position in the search query.
Language Setting for Display Campaigns Sites
Someone is going to jump up on their soapbox and tell me we already have this but we want something different. When you set a campaign to English, you get a check to the language setting of the browser. In a Display campaign, we want to make sure the sites our ads are showing are for the language we set. It is a maintenance nightmare to get rid of these sites with exclusions.
High & Low Bid Columns
Bid modifiers make it very difficult to see exactly what is going on with a specific keyword bid. We can have bid modifiers for location, device, time and day of the week, and audience and probably more in the future. We would like to see high and low bid columns at the keyword and ad group levels. This would precalculate the highest and lowest bid and allow us to see it side by side with the base bid that is being modified. Please, Saint Google, do not forget null because in bidding there is a difference between zero and null. Null would represent no lower or higher bid modifiers exist.
Future Ad Dating
While there are some ways to partially do this we would like to see ads with future Start, Pause, and Remove date and time. With this new toy, we would be able to work in advance of a change in advertising like Black Friday or Cyber Monday pricing. When maintaining an ad we could put in a Start Date along with an optional Stop or Hold Date. The Black Friday Ad would get a Start Date and Remove Date and the current ad could get a Stop Date and Start Date.
Much like keyword insertion, the location insertion would put the location name based on the physical location of the searcher. In this way, you could localize the ad copy without having to write a version for every city in the local area.
Keyword Insertion Override
A keyword insertion override would allow the advertiser to control the insertion when the keyword is triggered. This would give us finer control over the insertion. For example, a person does a search for “Best Plumber San Luis Obispo” but in the insertion, we want a headline of “Plumber SLO” because SLO is what locals call the city. The insertion would normally fail because it would result in a headline that is too long.
Keywords are the foundation of search and they could be so much smarter. We would like to see support for mixing keyword types so we could have broad and phase in the same keyword. For example; +Plumber “Los Angeles” would give us Plumber but Los Angeles meet the phrase rules. We would like to see a stemming wildcard such as a *. When coded in a keyword like Plumb* it would jump to other stems like Plumber, Plumbers, and Plumbing. Additionally, we would like to see list support using % as the wildcard. For example, City% would include all the words in a list called City. Lists should support a null word listing.
If Saint Google wants more detail on the syntax of this, we would be glad to provide more detail.
Search Keyword Lists
Already implemented for negative keywords, we think keyword lists would be cool for the positive keywords. Many campaigns have the same keywords for a variety of reasons and it would make account maintenance much easier with list support. It would also be nice if they were incorporated with the keywords, not a separate list tab. As an example, a local plumber could create a list of local city names:
San Luis Obispo
They then have a keyword of “Plumber City%” which equals keywords for:
Plumber San Luis Obispo
Plumber Los Osos
Plumber Morro Bay
Plumber Grover Beach
Plumber Pismo Beach
Plumber Arroyo Grande
Plumber Shell Beach
Plumber Santa Maria
All Keyword Tab
This tab would show all the positive and negative keywords, including details from Negative Keyword Lists. This would make it easier to see all the things going on at the same time. We have all this data today but it’s spread across several tabs, making it difficult to follow. Lists should expand out to the detailed words and mix with the other keywords.
Better Display Network Controls
The Display Network is a great place to get low-cost traffic but, Saint Google, do you have to make it so difficult to manage? We would like to be able to better control the sites that the ads get placed on. Simple things like domain extensions that we could select or omit. When reviewing placements it would be nice to know if we have already excluded the site so we do not have to remember the 500 exclusions already processed. We know that the poor UI is not because it’s to Google’s advantage to make this difficult. Google would never act like that – right?
Clean Test Tool
The ad preview tool is wonderful but it would be nice if we could access this without being in an AdWords account. What we are looking for is a clean SERP with no extra considerations changing the results. Just the paid and organic results without modifiers from our search history or other things.
Google Search Network Selection
This one is really simple but I doubt we will get this. In search, we can turn off the Search Partners but not the Google Network. The performance between these can vary and we are control freaks, so we always want control. You might think at first blush that turning off the Google Network would be stupid but stop and think a second here. Many times the only problem with the Search Partners is that they need to be bid differently and not just in a broad sense but specific to the keyword level.
Saint Google, Regifting is Okay!
Lots of people think that Regifting is not cool but we are okay with it. These are features that we have had in the past but the evil Google Grinch, the nemesis of Saint Google, has taken away that we would like back.
Exact and Phrase Keywords
The Google Grinch took away Exact and Phrase controls and replaced it with what the evil and inaccurate Close Variants. We would like to be able to tag a keyword so that the exact and phrase controls are purely applied. Sometimes there is a difference between the plural and singular use of a word and close variants are not always our friends.
Search Ad Location Control
In the olden days, we used to have control over the position of an ad and it was a very useful tool. This tool was great for certain Advertisers, not always good for Google, so away it went. For some clients, position one is good for their ego but not for their business. For Advertisers that have a strategy other than first, this was a great way to make the budget last much longer.
Google has not taken this entirely away but they sure made it nearly impossible to use. In the olden days – in Google Time this is less than a year – in placement, we had a lookup that we could search for sites that are active in the network. Now you have to put in the site and see if it gets traffic. Sort of like looking for sites with your eyes shut. Clearly, Google wants to control our placements and they recommend the best practice of using audiences but sometimes we want direct placement with complete absolute control.