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Google Ads recently updated Expanded Text Ads to include a 3rd Headline and a 2nd Description line. In addition, the character counts for the Description lines have been increased from 80 to 90. These changes nearly double the maximum characters available for a text ad across the ad fields.

As SEM managers, we are excited about the extra fields. Compared to other digital ad types, text ad character counts have long been restricting, limiting creative messaging, call to actions and inclusion of a multiple selling points. Google’s first increase to character count came in 2016, when Expanded Text Ads (ETA) were first introduced. ETAs increased the maximum characters by nearly 50%, from 95 to 140. The most recent update to expanded text ads brings the total character count up to 270.

The Medium Enhances the Message

The additional headline and description give advertisers more space to convey their message. Providing more detailed information and context should, in theory, lead to more qualified clicks, resulting in stronger conversion rates and decrease budget spent on lower quality clicks. In 2016, advertisers saw click through rates increase up to 20% due to the launch of expanded text ads. Now the question is, will we see similar performance improvements this time around?

When strategizing your new lines of copy, it’s important to note that the 3rd headline and 2nd descriptions are not guaranteed to show every time the ad is served. This means ad copy should make sense if the extra lines are omitted. Important information, such as call-to-actions, should be included elsewhere in the ad copy, as well, to ensure all impressions consist of the key information.

An Alternative to Responsive Search Ads

The additional lines allow for more flexibility and testing opportunities. Another related product Google has been pushing recently is Responsive Search ads. For advertisers that want more control over their ads, this provides an alternative to Responsive Search Ads, which are still in beta. With Responsive ads, advertisers can input a variety of headlines and descriptions but Google has the power to mix and match them, testing several combinations. Testing the additional lines of copy may also be an opportunity for advertisers to start building data to identify learnings to be leveraged once Responsive Ads roll out of beta.

Although there are extra characters now in the ads themselves, ad extensions should not be forgotten. Google recommends including at least 3 search ads and 3 extensions for each ad group. Ad extensions have been a way for advertisers to take up more real estate on the search results page. Combining longer text ads and ad extensions, offers advertisers copious opportunities to convey messages.

What This Means for SEM Reporting

Reporting doesn’t identify whether or not the full ad was shown. When evaluating the metrics, we’re using the assumption that all lines of copy were displayed. Bing has yet to roll out the these updates, so advertisers who sync their campaigns across platforms should be mindful when importing.

Results to Date

What results have we seen so far? Compared to regular ETAs within the same campaigns, our initial tests are showing an overall improvement in average CPCs (down 16%) and CTRs (up 41%) for the new longer ETAs. Performance has varied by client, as we often see with new tests, so it remains important to develop testing strategies and make decisions on ad type based on client and campaign goal.

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Whether we like it or not, industries are rapidly changing. To stay relevant, it’s critical that businesses understand and stay on top of emerging industry trends. At BusinessOnline, we keep up on the trends of various industries so that we can better help our clients gain necessary insights to seize new opportunities. Fortunately for us B2B performance-driven marketers, we love data and, combined with our industry expertise, love to leverage data to shift strategy as needed. This enables us to deliver fresh campaign ideas that align with evolving trends affecting our clients’ specific industries.

To produce meaningful business results, we are challenged to help our clients understand how to adapt to their rapidly changing industry, while staying up to date on the latest trends within our own. For search marketers, it’s become increasingly important to keep up with Google’s algorithm updates to understand organic traffic patterns and best practices to assure that our clients’ websites are up to par.

Ranking Factors

Before displaying a result, the search engine takes numerous ranking signals into account. Google is fairly transparent about the 200 or so signals that inform ranking, however with the evolution of search trends comes the evolution of the algorithm and the evolution of search results.

Search algorithm updates are rolled out to improve the quality of search results, providing users with results that better match their intent. Each update targets a specific ranking factor, such as page speed or mobile friendliness and most updates are tied to more accurately determining a site’s authority or contextual relevance within its topic or industry.

We tend to have a love-hate relationship with Google’s search algorithm. The updates that occur 365 days out of the year range in severity and even though most of the changes are minor and unannounced, they can still have a strong impact on any given website, penalizing and de-ranking pages that don’t comply with guidelines, and rewarding and improving the ranking of pages that do.

Historical Algorithm Updates

Having the background knowledge on historical major algorithm updates help search marketers better understand the factors that Google deems important, that have a stronger impact on ranking. If a client website experiences a fluctuation, it’s beneficial to understanding the particular update that contributed to the gain or loss in ranking to determine pages that worked and pages with core aspects in need of improvement and further or re-optimization.

Recent algorithm updates include:

  • A Change to The Core Algorithm: March 2018 – Rather than penalizing websites, this update is meant to reward website that are doing things right, remain focused on building great content
  • Mobile-First Index Roll Out: March 2018 – Moving websites that follow the best practices for mobile-first indexing to a mobile-first indexing process where the Googlebot will crawl only the mobile version of a site, rather than the desktop for indexing and ranking to help mobile users find what they are looking for 
  • Chrome HTTP Warning: October 2017 – Google security blog declared if a website was not secure, it would be indicated in URL, websites still not secure could experience a decrease in conversions 
  • The “Fred” Update: March 2017 (unconfirmed by google) – Google targeted low-quality content meant to generate ad revenue, keep high-quality content that is useful and informative for audience 
  • Intrusive Interstitial Penalty (The Popup Penalty): January 2017 – Google penalized websites with intrusive pop-ups and is increasing focus on user experience, minimal impact

 Algorithm timelines are helpful when trying to determine why a drop may have occurred during a specific period of time. Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History is a great source that details both confirmed and unconfirmed updates and provides useful information to stay up-to-date on recent changes, as well as provides information on historical updates.

Sudden Drop in Ranking?

As performance and data-driven marketers, it’s important for us to be able to turn performance data into actionable insights and to be able to adapt strategies accordingly. If there hasn’t been a recent update announced and a sudden drop in organic traffic and rankings occur, we try to identify and understand what changes may have been made to the algorithm to avoid being penalized and assure that we stay on course with content and technical strategies.

To do this, we run ranking reports and look for patterns across all of our client websites that have been affected, specifically looking at high-volume pages that have been impacted. We’ll evaluate the existing SEO in the effort to identify any on-page or technical aspects of the page that may be contributing to a negative impact. Running a search for the page’s target keywords and looking at three organic competitors’ pages ranking higher in the SERPs is a great way to gain insight into what Google likes to see in a page and to uncover ideas and concepts that seem to be working well.

Searcher’s Best Interest at Heart

While most algorithm updates are so minor that they go unnoticed, there are occasionally advancements and modifications made that significantly impact the SERPs and can wreak havoc for websites that are least prepared. We know that Google has a searcher’s best interest at heart and the long-term strategy recommendations we make to clients align with website factors we know to be important to Google. Updates will continue to reward websites in the search results for high-quality, mobile-friendly, secure, relevant websites with valuable content and a good user experience.

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At this year’s SiriusDecisions Summit, our CEO Thad Kahlow sat down with Matt Senatore, Service Director of Account-Based Marketing at SiriusDecisions, to discuss all things ABM. Check out their conversation below and find out everything you need to know about ABM marketing as a B2B marketer.

Thad: What is ABM?

Matt: There are so many definitions. But, I’ll start by saying what it’s not. It’s not a technology, it’s not a tactic, it’s not a one-off program or campaign—what is it? It is a strategic mindset. It’s a change in discipline around how we go to market and it really requires a different way forward, so we have to take our finite resources of budget, people, time and we have to apply those against specific accounts in a way that makes most sense. ABM can be used for net new acquisition, it can be used for cross sell/up sell; it can be used for retention, but when we take those resources against those defined accounts and we begin to understand the needs of the customer and the sales leader and find a symbiotic relationship with those and then use that to develop our outreach, develop appropriate messaging and relevance into that account engagement that’s what brings the personalization into it…. so that’s kind of a long answer, but important to say what it is and what it isn’t.

Thad: No, no I like it. And you know what I heard there, if I can just distill it down into one word, which is focus…

Matt: Yeah, I think that’s a really solid starting point for a one-word answer!

Thad: So, you know, with that notion of focus, personalization, being very intent on what you’re going after and how you’re thinking about it, how you’re setting it up, and where you’re spending your time, energy and effort. You know I feel like we talked about this subject like 5 years ago, when it wasn’t hot, right? What the heck took us so long? What was the mental framework blocking us from saying, this is about the customer, this is about being specific and relevant and driving a level of personalization and focus, what was in our way?

Matt: We had to rewire thirty years of B2B Marketing, right? And so things that people have always done and are comfortable with doing….like setting annual plans of outbound activity that is not always relevant or that is not driven on consumer insight or lack of sales planning input is what we’ve always done. So in order to change that paradigm, and get outside their comfort zone, they needed to see other peers begin to start getting traction and doing it and doing it successfully. For the past 3-4 years, we’ve seen so many clients of ours at Sirius Decisions, doing a really good job of it, telling their stories at things like SDSummit and other marketing events, being recognized for their contributions in this community, growing and building, and so when they see other people doing it they’re like “I want to do that too!” So then how do we embark on that? That’s one thing is the successes of their peers.

Thad: Social persuasion…

Matt: Exactly. And FOMO. Fear of Missing Out. The second thing is over the past 5-10 years there has been a tremendous increase in the amount of account and contact information that drives personalization along with technology and tools that allows us to really understand customer need, what they’re doing, when they might be in market – and begin to use artificial intelligence (AI) to help us determine what is the next best offer, when do I reach out and how do I engage in a personalized manner – that’s really accelerating a lot of this as well.

Thad: The uncapping of all of this data has been a type of fuel to enable us, to become better account-based marketers.

Matt: Yeah, and I think the other thing to is the understanding by sales to say, “I now want to partner with marketing differently than we ever have. I want that level of support.” Because now they’re hearing about the benefits of ABM and they’re saying, “I want this as well.”

Thad: For sure, and you know you mentioned sales as part of this and I come from the marketing mind set which is supporting marketers, showing their impact to business, but let’s talk about sales for a second. I think one of the things that I’ve seen when we work with our clients in the mid-market enterprise is when they get into the process of selecting what approach they’re going to take to account, named, criteria based, size, whatever it may be. It’s very sales driven. So before I interject my opinion on that, have you seen the same and is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? How should we be thinking about it from a marketing perspective?

Matt: Yeah, so I think, very often, and I’ll speak through the lens of my clients, they often have a set of territorial accounts through the sales planning process that’s the starting point, right, and the sales leaders will say these are the accounts were going to focus on.

Thad: Sorry to interrupt, my question there is why? Why do the sales leader pick those accounts?

Matt: Yeah, okay, so the reason why they’re doing that, is often because there are logos that they want to win or because sales may think that they have a good chance of winning for a variety of reasons. There could be people that they’ve sold to in the past that have now moved to those accounts and they got relationships and they’re trying to carry those relationships. There is a variety of factors of why sales thinks those are the right accounts. Now when you take sales ops, and sales ops takes a more data-driven approach to that now you’re getting a little bit more scientific. That’s a starting point I would say, and some marketers are never going to change that, and they have to deal with that. But what we suggest is having a meaningful conversation between marketing leadership and sales leadership around are these the right accounts? So if we do two years of post-deal analysis and we know that there are 5 or 8 or 10 or 12 key factors as to why people buy, I am going to understand the fit and now we can go find the other companies that look like that.

Thad: Yeah, now you’re talking my language, looking back through CRM, what worked, what didn’t work and then layering in some level of market intelligence which is hey, these markets are growing, they have the wind at their back and spending money here for these reasons. And sometimes that can ultimately, significantly shift who you’re going after. And I think a lot of folks miss that because it just comes down to a list that has been dictated.

Matt: Well again, in some situations you need to then try to create the case that says why we should think differently and sometimes sales is willing to hear that side and sometimes they are not.

Thad: When you think about the clients that you’ve worked with and you’ve seen them go through that maturity process, what are some of the fundamental top 2 or 3 mistakes that we are typically missing at the onset of this?

Matt: Not being completely aligned with sales; not establishing and communicating the strategy for ABM and what success looks like. I think a lot of the time people start with saying, “Okay, we’re going to select the right accounts” and then go through that process, but if we haven’t taken a step back and said “What is our ABM strategy? What is the scope of our effort? And who needs to be involved in this from a marketing and sales perspective and I’m talking marketing sub-functions, sales sub-function, so BDR, sales ops, marketing ops, content teams, etc.. If they haven’t thought through that and then worked to build alignment, well first the education around that is who needs to be involved and then what they plan to do and what is in scope and what is not in scope, you’re doomed. If I don’t have the rest of the ecosystem lined up then that’s one big mistake. Another big challenge is not knowing what success looks like and not having alignment on that in the beginning, because if I’m developing an ABM program, where I am trying to grow my existing customer base and I’m looking at cross sell programs, but sales territory planning and sales planning and forecasting really is driven the share by net new acquisition and there’s a disconnect there, I need to again, be aligned, in terms of what the objective is for my program and how that cascades back to forecasting and planning.

Thad: Okay, I love it. So you hit on another topic, which I think is a hot one, especially within the world that we come from, which is performance and defining what is a successful campaign and with that, I’d love to get your thinking on what are some of the most important metrics marketers should be thinking about? I know every strategy is different, the approach you’re going to take, but give us some guidance around how we should be thinking about setting up the right metrics to say this did or didn’t work so we can understand success or lack there of.

Matt: You know, it’s so funny because I just came out of a session here at SD Summit where I presented on ABM measurement. The answer, of course, is that it depends. It depends on what is your measurement objective? There are really two key objectives with ABM measurement. I’m going to demonstrate the overall impact of the program that I am running in its entirety and how it’s impacting the business. The second thing is I want to optimize my execution. I could be in market with a program against ABM accounts, see what is working, what’s not working and it’s going to help me reallocate resources in a campaign. Those are two distinct measurement objectives and depending on what I am trying to do is to communicate to my leadership = why we need to scale and invest more to show business impact against this other audience. How do I get rid of some programs or tactics or remove accounts or add accounts but those then will have a different set of measurement needs underneath those?

Thad: Fair enough and do you have any fear? Because I’ve seen some of the ABMs early on, focus on vanity metrics or softer metrics, which is lift and engagement which is an important indicator to a degree but not being able to see that, being pulled through to revenue or pipeline.

Matt: Absolutely. So, I’m going to drill down on these two key measurement objectives areas a little bit more, so the one around the demonstrating performance, we absolutely have to get to those business impact metrics. How am I impacting pipeline and closed deals? Am I influencing a greater degree of these than I was in the past? Am I sourcing a new amount, if that’s part of my strategy and objective, and by the way, how am I doing against those ABM accounts and how is that different from a set of control accounts? So what we will say is look at things like average deal size for ABM accounts versus similar non ABM accounts, look at average conversion from pipeline to opportunity to late stage to close. Let’s compare those against non ABM accounts because the notion is if I’m getting the right accounts at the top of the funnel, if I am developing and personalizing, activating, and validating and nurturing those in an ABM way, I should get better pull through down through the funnel, so when you start to think about pipeline, acceleration, closed deals – you look at conversion from ABM to non ABM accounts, so those are some key things we tell our customers to look at.

Thad: I think that is super critical because if you don’t do that pull through from revenue to pipeline at some point marketing is the first thing to get cut. I have a thousand other questions, but I think what I want to end with is, outside of the obvious, what advice would you give folks as they embark upon ABM as they’re look to optimize? And number two: what resources do you turn to in order to continue to grow your sophistication in this area?

Matt: There is a growing community of ABMers and just like I said in the beginning of the conversation, I think that is why this is picking up more momentum. Right now, if you go to do a Google search on ABM best practices you’re going to see tons and tons of client successes, so get up to speed on as many of those as possible. The other thing is, I think, in this community whether it’s our event or other events, start attending those. Start making those connections, so that you gain some knowledge. I think the other thing is, you need to be a fearless marketer. If you want to embark on this, you need to go and create. You need to create the business case for why this is going to make a difference and why you should move forward and the second things is, start small, talk to a couple sales people and try to build a guerrilla approach and pilot and get some early traction and then go to create more momentum if you can’t get the initial sign off.

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If there is one SEO effort you need to focus on this year, it should be structured data. It’s no secret that Google loves scraping site data to create new search features. The rise of SERP features this year including local packs, FAQ drop-downs and answer boxes are a telltale sign. Implementing structured data will not only get you featured in these areas often placed above top rankings, but also improve overall site rankings through quicker site crawling. To help you stay ahead, here are a few tips on how to implement a structured data strategy.

What is Structured Data?

Structured data is a standardized format for providing and classifying information about page content. For example, an enterprise software page can specify software name, pricing, ratings, etc. This allows Google to easily understand page content, resulting in stronger rankings and crawling ability. Structured data can also enable rich search results, which can provide a greater user experience than typical search results.

Structured data uses on-page code to markup notable page details. Most structured data use a schema markup vocabulary to specify page type (i.e. product, person, event) and page attribute (i.e. name, brand, price). You can markup pages in three primary formats: JSON-LD, Microdata and RDFa. Microdata is original HTML-based format that utilizes tag elements to name properties. RDFa is another HTML-based extension that can be utilized. Google recommends using JSON-LD – a JavaScript-based format that can be dynamically placed into page contents and embedded into CMS widgets.

Structured Data Best Practices

  1. Markup content that is only visible to users on the page
  2. Define additional recommended features when possible
  3. Utilize the JSON-LD markup format for streamlined page placement
  4. Implement site-wide organization markup when possible (i.e. name, address, number)
  5. Customize site sections with product, service or event specific markup
  6. Update your markup as frequently as information and pages change

While using structured data enables features to be present, it does not guarantee a rich results feature. Google’s algorithm tailors search results based on what it feels provides the strongest user experience. Device type, search history and location are among many other factors that play a role in the algorithm. By referencing Google’s structured data guidelines before making your updates, you will have the best chance at guaranteeing a search results feature.

5 Steps to a Solid Structured Data Strategy

  1. Determine site-wide markup that can be implemented across all pages (i.e. name, URL, description). Review the schema markup for thing, the most generic page type.
  2. Determine site sections that would benefit from schema markup. Product, Event and Service pages all commonly used page types. Browse the full schema hierarchy for ideas.
  3. Utilize schema vocabulary to implement itemscope, itemprop and itemtype specifications. Define all required and as many recommended attributes as possible.
  4. Utilize the structured data testing tool to verify correct implementation.
  5. Publish a handful of pages. Refer to the Rich Cards or Structured Data report in Search Console to monitor results. If you find errors within your structured data, retest on Fetch as Google. Once all errors have been identified and fixed, launch the rest of your pages and repeat the process.
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BusinessOnline isn’t your typical digital marketing agency. With offices in San Diego and Boston, we serve clients from around the world, helping them gain the insights they need about their specific industries to take their companies to the next level. We leverage data and our industry expertise to help clients avoid common mistakes with their marketing strategies while refining their digital presence.

Like many top-notch service providers, we created a profile with Clutch in order to showcase our services and provide our clients with a platform to give us feedback. Unlike other platforms like Yelp and Google, Clutch only shares verified, unbiased third-party reviews, avoiding common problems review platforms face like fake reviews and extremely thin content. We have enjoyed continuing to grow with Clutch, and we are proud to be featured in their prestigious annual press release highlight the top companies in Boston!

We are proud to share that we were chosen by analysts as #2 among their list of top digital marketing agencies in Boston. Also, while digital marketing is one of the most competitive segments to compete in on Clutch, we were also named as a leader for their highly-competitive SEO services in Boston segment.

Because we offer such comprehensive services, we were also named a leader in 6 other up-and-coming research segments: digital strategy agencies, inbound marketing agencies, social media marketing agencies, PPC management services, and full-service digital agencies. Although over 2000 companies were evaluated for this honor, only an elite list of 77 leaders in Boston were selected for the marketing and advertising sector.

“With so many options in the digital marketplace, the need for companies to differentiate and stand out is stronger than ever,” said Katie Wonders, business analyst at Clutch. “These companies have done just that through strategy and technical excellence and have proven that they can help other businesses do the same.”

We are honored and excited to continue to rank as a leader on Clutch and we can’t wait to utilize all their platform has to offer. If you are interested in leaving a review for us on Clutch, please reach out and we would love to hear from you!

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On February 15th, Google took a huge step in moving towards a world without obnoxious ads by enabling its built-in ad blocker for Chrome. We received many questions from clients about the impact of this technology around the time of its launch, and we felt like we should shed some light on the situation now that the dust has settled.

When the ad blocker was first announced, many companies assumed this was the beginning of the end for display advertising—that Google’s goal was to rid the world of all ads and that this was the first step. In reality, that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

The Truth About Google Chrome’s Ad Blocker

Google’s goal was never, and likely never will be, to block all ads. Rather, their ad blocker is designed to dissuade publishers from utilizing obnoxious ad practices by blocking ad formats that generally annoy users—especially on mobile where touch screens make it even harder to close ads out.

Google provided specific examples of the kinds of ads that would be blocked, which are shown below. It’s safe to say that we have all been annoyed by intrusive ads, whether they be the ‘auto-play video with sound’ (which can be conveniently avoided with Chrome’s new ‘Mute Site’ feature) or the ‘full-screen scroll over’ ads, and would gladly welcome this change.


(Image Source: Coalition for Better Ads)

Of course, the initial thought was that if Google Chrome is used to view an estimated 58% of web pages (StatCounter), the impact of its ad blocker would be massive in terms of reducing the overall viewability of ads. But in reality, initial estimates show that less than one percent of all ads were impacted as a result—and the ones that were blocked were ones that we wouldn’t want to be shown in the first place.

So when our clients ask us whether there would be any negative impact on their display efforts as a result, our response is a resounding ‘no.’ Rather, the impact is positive, as the ad blocker’s actual purpose is to block ad placements that we already try to avoid with any display efforts. Chrome’s ad blocker eliminates any association with poor experiences that may have slipped through the cracks, and would encourage publishers to fix or eliminate formats that didn’t meet the ad blocker’s standards.

What’s Next for Ad Blockers and Display Advertising?

Now that this step has been taken by the biggest powerhouse on the internet, what does it mean for the rest of display advertising and for ad blocking as a whole? At present, the general consensus is that about 25% of US internet users employ ad blockers, with the total ads blocked being closer to 12% (eMarketer). However, 77% of ad block users are willing to view some ad formats. So even people that block ads don’t hate ALL ads—just the obnoxious and irrelevant ones.

What this truly means is that people are receptive to ads, if they are less generic and more personalized to our needs and interests. Of course, a balance must be struck between being relevant and being obtrusive—without taking personalization to the extreme. But ultimately if ads show us things we care about, we’ll be receptive to them.

For businesses, this means presenting industry-specific ads that appeal to the use cases of target customers. It means creating regional ads that use local language and have imagery that reflects that environment. And it means presenting offerings that their customers would legitimately purchase, instead of blasting the same ads to everyone that a company ‘thinks’ is in their target market.

At BusinessOnline, we applaud Google’s effort to rid the world of these annoying ads and push providers to create better experiences on the web. In turn, we as an agency continue to evolve in our ability to reach unique audiences with display ads, whether through hyper-focused ABM Campaigns or personalization of content based on prospects’ roles and responsibilities. Relevance and personalization will continue to be essential in advertising to break through the noise, and the hope is that the progression of technology will allow us to continue to do this better.

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A data-focused business strategy and a strong online presence are the way of the future, and nobody knows that better than the team at BusinessOnline. As a performance-driven digital marketing agency with offices on both of the coasts, we work with clients of all sizes from around the world to help them leverage data to understand the needs of their customers and align their services and approach to match those needs. Not only does this personalized approach help our clients tailor their services to maximize their ROI, but this helps create strong relationships based on trust and effective communication. We utilize data-driven marketing technologies to create revolutionary, customer-focused experiences.

As a leader in the internet marketing industry, we are very excited to announce that we were recently awarded a spot as a Clutch Global Leader, a list of the 475+ most highly reviewed companies around the world! Specifically, we were named one of the 15 top digital marketing agencies out of over 6500 firms – no easy feat. We also represent one of the 88 companies based in California.

Although it’s free and simple to get a profile listed on Clutch, only the most highly recommended and high-performing companies in each industry are recognized as leaders annually. The 2017 list of Clutch Global Leaders names 475+ companies that prove their expertise and ability to deliver across 6 industries. Clutch’s research is ongoing, so new companies are constantly being added to their website.

Clutch.co ranks their companies according to an intensive ratings and review process. The largest factor in their rankings, the online reviews listed with companies’ profiles, are created through brief interview-style phone calls that produce case-study- style interviews for prospective clients to read. The rankings also factor in a company’s ability to deliver, the quality of past and current clientele, and their previous work as demonstrated by case studies.

“Digital marketing is changing rapidly,” said Clutch Analyst Ilse Heine. “As consumer behavior changes and technology advances, businesses have to consider more factors. For example, without a strong organic and paid search strategy, content won’t be found by online users. Each element connects to the other, and these high-performing agencies prove that they not only are experts in their specific practice but also have a clear understanding of how their piece connects to a larger strategy.”

The BusinessOnline team would like to thank all of our wonderful clients for their time and generosity, especially those who have left reviews on our profile. We are honored to have made it to the top of one of Clutch’s most competitive ranking processes and we are optimistic and hopeful about where our partnership with Clutch will take us in the future!

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Building your marketing plan doesn’t have to be a daunting task. As with any business plan, it is important to define your target market, performance metrics, goals by marketing channel, and a realistic execution timeline.

Questions to ask yourself when building a data-driven marketing plan:

1. What performance metrics does your business care about?

Are your marketing metrics tied back to business goals? Identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) will help you analyze performance across the funnel. If you have a lead tracking system in place, consider not only tracking how many leads you obtained but if they are marketing qualified (MQL) or sales qualified (SQL), the potential revenue size, and where they are in the sales process – the data needed to give you both the short term and long term view into campaign performance to gain insights for optimizations. Oftentimes, large purchase decisions aren’t made quickly and aren’t made by one person. Make sure to track metrics that determine how far they are in the buying process like key page views, repeat visitors, account based/company tracking, etc. Its also important to understand what you are comparing results against. New campaigns may not have an equivalent reference point from last year but you can track KPIs such as cost per acquisition (CPA) and return on ad spend (ROAS). You can’t set goals without first knowing what metrics your executives and team want to track and why.

2. How well do you track your performance metrics?

Knowing which metrics to track is the first step, now confirm you have the systems in place to track them. Whether you are using Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Optimizely, Marketo, or Salesforce make sure all KPIs are being tracked and tracked correctly. This may mean building out campaign tracking parameters, confirming goals, and defining events within the customer journey. Set best practices and governance models for standardizing tracking procedures. If you aren’t already, consider tracking phone calls and online chat activity. Make sure you can track performance holistically across all marketing channels and efforts. Look at cross-channel performance and establish an attribution model that makes sense for your company. Logging in to each platform individually and trying to connect the dots is time-consuming and difficult so consider investing in a data aggregation and reporting platform that can attribute marketing to sales activity. As an example, at BusinessOnline our proprietary DataWeld platform connects to multiple marketing technology data sources to help our digital marketing experts better attribute and analyze performance.

3. Are your customer personas defined and is their buying journey mapped out?

Defining your existing customer base and putting them into representative groups based on demographics, firmographics, purchase history, and behaviors is an important step in being able to better support them. Once you’ve formally determined your customer personas make sure you understand their buying journey and identify any supporting influencers that may not have made your primary persona list. As you map out their buying journey start thinking about their needs and what solutions they need from you at each step of the process. Mapping the customer buying journey is the first step in planning any successful marketing plan.

4. Do you compare YOY performance?

How are your current efforts performing compared to last year? There will always be variables like market condition changes, budget cuts, focus on different marketing channel allocation, and strategy shifts. You should be prepared to provide the qualitative insights, but comparing the YOY hard data, such as sales growth, pipeline size and velocity, MQL generation, etc. is still an essential first step. If there are gaps in what you tracked last year or it wasn’t a clean look, see if you have what you need going into the next year. Check to see what worked in the past and what systems you have in place to improve your marketing plan for next year.

5. Have you researched all the available digital marketing channels?

It is important to have the above questions answered first to understand your goals for each marketing channel, KPIs, and your customers buying journey. Now is a good time to evaluate each marketing channel and determine if your efforts have paid off. Don’t just do paid search, for example, because you have in the past! A good starting point is to list all of your marketing channel options even if you haven’t used them before – SEO, paid search, content marketing, paid social, influencer marketing, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, SnapChat, Account Based Marketing (ABM), and predictive analytics to name a few. As you test these channels, you can establish new benchmarks to use in forecasting and budget planning for the next year. Don’t just assume what was successful in the past will work in the future. As technology and buying behaviors change, be sure to consistently test your new strategies live in the market even if with a small budget to get real data.

6. Is your technology stack properly in place?

Finally, address your marketing technology stack. Having the right technology is critical to planning, executing, integrating, and tracking your efforts. There are many options available and it’s easy to think you need them all. Start by auditing what you have and identify any duplicative tools and how often each tool is used by your team. Then list the features you are missing and research the top vendors. If you can identify the right technology stack, one that meets your business needs better, and even cut unnecessary software you have now, you’ll have a much better chance of getting your budget approved.

Start off the new year prepared:

Answering these six questions before building your marketing plan will help you enter the new year confidently saying:

  • I know what data and KPIs my executive team wants to see and what they define as success.
  • I have defined the best metrics to track and have a clear process in place to track success of my campaigns.
  • I understand who my customers are and how they go through the buying journey
  • I know what was successful and not successful last year and have a plan in place to improve upon our efforts.
  • I have vetted all the available digital marketing channels and selected the ones that work best for our needs.
  • We have the appropriate technology stack in place to support our marketing campaigns.

BusinessOnline is a performance-driven digital marketing agency that leverages data to gain deep insights about the specific needs of our clients’ customers in each phase of their buying journey and align digital marketing efforts to meet those needs and measure ROI. If you’re building a marketing plan for next year, contact us today for a comprehensive marketing audit.

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Two of the top tech companies are changing how web browsers will work. Google is changing Chrome and Apple is changing Safari. The next generation of these browsers won’t just read web pages but decide how they are shown. Web browsers have always just read website code and displayed it in a neutral way so everything looks basically the same no matter what browser you are using. This is changing to not just be a passive experience, but for the browsers to decide what should and should not be shown.

Both companies will bake ad blockers into their browsers and change how we see websites. Other changes like preventing videos from auto playing, pop up ads, or even just badly formatted ads are also being put into place. Safari will even have ‘Reader’ mode as a possible default setting that will not only take out all the ads, but adjust the layout and design so you’ll never even see the original website.

The first question that you might have is why Google, a company that makes its money from ad revenue and selling ads to be put onto websites, would build an ad blocker into its own web browser.  Google has been a pretty upstanding citizen when it comes to ad networks. Others have allowed questionable types of content, auto-playing videos (that always seem to play on max volume), and inescapably large expanding ads. For the sake of neutrality, or maybe just because we didn’t know any better, we allowed the annoying ads to show up right next to the good (or at least well meaning, non-intrusive ones) and the web continued growing.

Things got out of hand and caused a serious backlash. Now there are huge amounts of privacy concerns, with people consistently using tools that block ads and prevent tracking pixels. The use of ad blockers has been on a huge rise with the ad block designers and the ad networks always trying to outsmart each other. A survey from the Interactive Advertising Bureau has over a quarter of all internet users implementing ad blockers.

This is something Google noticed. They knew that if the other ad networks went unchecked and indirectly kept increasing the amount of people using ad blockers, everyone would continue to lose future advertising business. The new version of Chrome won’t block every ad, just the ones that go over the line so that sites will be better for everyone. People won’t get annoyed and resort to more ad blocking software which keeps Google’s ad revenue safe.

I can’t wait for this as videos that auto play are a personal annoyance, not to mention the malicious ads that try to take over a site. However, it is still good to understand what is going on because we will now see the internet through the lens of Google and Apple. As benevolent as they are trying to be, this does go against the original intent of the internet. It won’t be truly neutral as it will be controlled, if only just slightly, by companies who are deciding how we should experience the web. The experience will undoubtedly be much better and more refined so I look forward to it. But they are walking a very fine line between helpfulness and control that could quickly get out of hand if no one pays attention.

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The internet search giant Google has been in a long court battle for years with an EU anti-trust commission. As US tech companies become more powerful and dominate worldwide internet and mobile phone use, the European Union (among others) has been anxious over how smaller companies will be able to operate in an arena so heavily controlled.

That arena, in their view, is completely dominated by Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. There have even been other related tech companies that have been getting hit with billion-dollar EU fines, like Intel. The EU is getting very serious about limiting the power of these monopolies, at least from a political and publicity standpoint.

Google is already known to have a global majority among search engines and for the mobile OS Android. What changed enough to trigger an anti-trust commission? The reason the EU is so worried is that Google Search isn’t just a majority – it has over 95% of all search engine traffic in the EU. In the US, there are Bing and other search engines to give some competition which keeps Google around 80% of search engine traffic.

The commission found Google was prioritizing Google Shopping campaigns in their search results over any other retailers and ecommerce sites. By pushing all the other sites down the results page, they could improve Google Shopping traffic. This seems like a pretty good and obvious strategy that any company would do if they could. It’s not in the nature of corporations to showcase their competitors, and while most places might not care as much, the EU is making a very public stand.

Will this actually help the situation? Google Shopping barely registers as a contender compared to major ecommerce websites like Amazon and eBay. The fine is a huge amount to mere mortals, but is just a tiny percentage of Google’s annual profit. In fact, the EU had the right to fine up to 10% of their annual revenue which would have made the fine over $9 billion.

Google will have to change their search algorithm a bit to allow a fair share to other businesses on the results page. At least once this is all over and everyone stops appealing decisions and suing each other. They’ll still control web searches and mobile operating systems across the EU and the rest of the world. But I can appreciate what the EU commission is doing.

Fighting for smaller companies and tech startups allows the whole internet to evolve and gives everyone more choice. The case doesn’t really solve anything long term but it is a good reminder just how much control we’ve allowed a handful of companies to essentially take over the internet. As much as I love Google I don’t want to see them as the only player, nor for the other tech giants to sit back as monopolies instead of keeping up with the innovation of anyone willing to challenge them.

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