Friday, November 30, 2007

Helpful SEM Advice from MarketingSherpa


If you missed it, MarketingSherpa hosted a webcast on New Research: Top 5 Tests to Raise Landing Page Conversions earlier this week. Key findings from their presentation:

  • Marketing results are generally getting better—either marketers are getting landing page design down to more of a science, or the strong economy is fueling more buyer interest, or some combination of the two.

  • The most popular test was dynamic pages—changing the information displayed on the landing page to reflect the exact search term. Considering that half of the respondents don't or can't do even simple a/b testing, it's surprising that a sophisticated technique like dynamic landing pages would generate this level of response, but that's what their data showed. Here is MarketingSherpa's example of this practice, though it doesn't work quite right (I actually searched for "stratocaster guitar," not "stratocaster parts").

  • Other popular tests included registration forms (shorter is better); creative design (the key is eyeflow—two columns are better than three, one column is better than two); and optimizing SEO landings (which should be a no-brainer).

  • Other design findings: never use center-justified text, avoid reversed-text (light on dark background) if at all possible, and use big type: 10 point minimum, 12 point is better. Make buttons big—you should be able to see them from six feet away from your monitor.

  • I've had it drilled into me that "PR is NOT lead gen," but one company that linked terms in its press releases to specific landing pages on its site saw a 12.5% conversion rate. Hmm, may be worth trying.

  • The most important—and basic—point is that you can't manage (or test) what you can't measure: nearly 20% of respondents had no way to test landing page results. They are (quite possibly) wasting their money just paying for clicks.

  • And the most surprising point: 16% of respondents said they didn't share SEM results with their agencies. My question is: why isn't their agency managing their SEM program in the first place?

For more MarketingSherpa advice on landing pages, you may want to check out this excerpt from their 2007 Landing Page Handbook (or spring for the $497 full copy).

They also recently published an outstanding case study on improving SEM results through Google's content network entitled How to Get the Most Out of Google AdWords—8 Strategies to Maximize ROI. It's one of the best pieces I've seen providing clear, concise and practical advice on maximizing content network results.

Lest you think I'm a shill for MarketingSherpa—naw, just a fan, as they usually do excellent work. Once in a while, however, they blow it. Another of their recent case studies, "How to Use Online Calculators for Lead Generation & Quadruple Conversion Rates," sounds tempting but is crap to be avoided at all costs. The campaign it describes is too idiosyncratic for broader application; too expensive for most marketing budgets; and panders to global warming hysteria—"carbon footprint" nonsense designed only to make the ridiculous Al Gore even wealthier. I remain a fan of MarketingSherpa, but even their experts screw up now and then.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

SEO is Insanity

If you've been in the business world for any length of time, you've probably seen the following somewhere—in a building lobby, on a website, or on a nicely framed poster in an office:

Seems reasonable and intuitive, so if you accept that statement as true, you'd also have to accept the logical extension of that statement:
    If you do the same thing, the same way, you should expect to get (roughly at least) the same results.

This holds true across many if not most areas of business and life in general: manufacturing, research, software development, teaching, cooking...but not SEO.

Before I began doing SEO work for clients, I'd done it for a number of other websites: my own, friends', and corporate employers. I coded, I tested, I read articles and blogs. I applied the methods learned to client websites, and got excellent results. Here's one example:
    55 total search terms
    Before SEO:

    Top 20 positions across the three major search engines: 17
    Top 10 positions across the three major search engines: 9
    Top 5 positions across the three major search engines: 5

    After SEO:
    Top 20 positions across the three major search engines: 88
    Top 10 positions across the three major search engines: 73
    Top 5 positions across the three major search engines: 55

Recently, however, I worked on two websites where, although SEO results improved, the final outcome was disappointing. Now, I thrive on getting great results for clients. I get profoundly frustrated when I don't. So, I coded, I tested, I read some more articles and blogs. Small improvement.

These sites have numerous external relevant links, keyword density right in the sweet spot, and optimized meta tags. Here's an example analysis:

Did the same thing, the same way, utilized established best practices in SEO, and—got only marginal improvement.

What's a person to do? Continue to code, test, and read some more articles and blogs. But when the consistent application of proven methods produces wildly varying results, one can only conclude from this: SEO is insanity.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Top 100 Social Media Blogs for 2007


The VirtualHosting blog just announced their list of the Top 100 Social Media and Social Networking Blogs for 2007. The list is divided into nine categories including Most Popular Social Media, Most Popular Social Networking, Web 2.0, Industry News, and Social Media and Marketing.

The list includes both obvious choices such as JD Lasica's Social Media, Social Media Club, Mashable, TechCrunch, BL Ochman's What's Next Blog, and Paul Gillin's Social Media and the Open Enterprise blog.

Overall, it's a great list and enough to keep anyone interested in social media and social networking busy for quite awhile.

*****

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Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oh Canada!


Being the day before Thanksgiving, it's likely that few people are thinking about work, but many are thinking about travel. So, here's an off-topic travel post for the holiday weekend.

We took a family trip to Canada in August—six days of getting away from cell phones (no coverage), the Internet (no connections) and normal life in general. There was plenty of scenery on the drive up Minnesota's north shore and around the top of Lake Superior, as shown in the first two photos here (although, by the end of the trip, the kids had grown a bit weary of "rocks, water and trees").

There isn't much civilization between Thunder Bay and Sault St. Marie, leading us to spend one evening at a cabin that was "rustic" to say the least. Ah, but that's the kind of experience memories are made from. Also a lot of great hiking.

Among the most interesting Kodak moments, however, were some of the signs we came across.

First, there was the stop sign that was definitely Canadian—someone had spray-painted the ubiquitous "eh!" across the bottom.

Second, I puzzled over a sign near the Magpie Scenic High Falls. I'm no expert on boating, but even I could figure out that "high falls" and "boat launch" aren't a good combination. Not for a boat I'd want to be in, anyway.

Finally, every few miles were the bi-lingual moose warning signs. Apparently, there is quite a danger of running French moose at night, for sure.

Happy Thanksgiving!




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Monday, November 19, 2007

TechTarget Acquires KnowledgeStorm: The Impact on B2B Lead Generation


On November 7, TechTarget announced that it had acquired KnowledgeStorm for $58 million. The acquisition gives TechTarget--which gives them, in addition to their own huge opt-in base and network of portal sites, access to KnowledgeStorm's 800,000 subscribers, web properties and partners sites.

This is a clear win for TechTarget, and a loss for at least some KnowledgeStorm employees (a number of very talented people have already left the company, voluntarily or otherwise). It may also be a win for smaller players in the white paper and thought-leadership content syndication space, including NetLine and Insight24 (which syndicates webcasts, video and podcasts). Even TechTarget (reluctantly) concedes that there will likely be current KnowledgeStorm content partners seeking new syndication sources.

The same week, CNet announced its acquisition of FindArticles, significantly expanding its content network.

Around the blogosphere, Barry Graubart at Content Matters argues that "TechTarget had previously acquired KnowledgeStorm competitor BitPipe, so they now have a solid lock on the IT white paper and lead gen market." (I suspect the folks at ITToolbox would disagree.) Marji at InfoCommerce Group believes "The combination of content and resources from both KnowledgeStorm and TechTarget should be win-win for the companies and the customers they serve (both content-seeking professionals and lead-seeking advertisers)." And Melissa Chang at sixteenthletter got some lively comment response to her statement that "With KnowledgeStorm and Bitpipe (TechTarget’s lead gen engine) teaming up, this leaves four major players: the Web Buyer’s Guide (Ziff Davis), IDG Connect, BNET (from CNET) and the KnowledgeStorm/Bitpipe combo."

Supplier consolidation is rarely good for consumers (in this case, B2B media buyers). However, there are still enough competitors in this space to provide buyers with some leverage; there is as of yet no player that dominates online B2B lead generation in the way that Google dominates search engine advertising. The consolidation of vendors will also simplify B2B media buying to some degree.

The M&A activity in B2B media mirrors acquisition activity on the online consumer marketing side, nicely covered on MediaPost by Tim Vanderhook. Vanderhook contends that consumers will be the winners in that battle, writing "If the ads they see are relevant to who they (consumers) are, what they are interested in, and where they are located, it becomes a win-win for all parties in the chain." It remains to be seen whether the same will hold true for business buyers.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

How to Select an SEO Firm


Search engine optimization (SEO) is about as close to a no-brainer as any marketing investment gets: you've made a significant investment in designing and building an attractive, easy-to-navigate, content-rich website, so why not invest just a bit more to make sure it's easy to find? Or to put it in Biblical terms, quoting Matthew 5:15, "No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket."

SEO is relatively cheap, it brings prospects to your site when they are interested in your product or service, and it enhances your brand image by associating your company with the problem-solving terms your buyers use.

So, case made, how do you select an SEO partner? Jonathan Ashton offers Ten Tips For Choosing The Right SEO Partner in the Search Insider blog, including:
  • Don't respond to unsolicited emails from SEOs.

  • Prepare an RFP (good advice in any agency selection process).

  • Get references (of SEO firms from your network of associates, and of clients from prospective SEO providers).

  • Be patient (SEO work is fast, but search engines are slow).

I don't agree with everything on Jonathan's list (I think he had to stretch to get to 10 items), but overall his advice is sound. To his enumeration, I would add a few more points:
  • Avoid anyone who "guarantees" you top placement on search engines. Quite frankly, any SEO firm that makes such a promise is spewing bullsh*t. The only person in the universe who could possibly guarantee anyone a #1 spot on Google is Matt Cutts, and he's not for sale.

  • Ask potential SEO partners how they build external links—there's the right and reputable way, and the wrong way.

  • On a related note, ask how the firm performs SEO in general. A reputable firm will outline their process and indicate what automated tools they use to check the quality of their work. Respectable SEO practices are pretty well-known; if a potential SEO vendor starts talking about their secret sauce or doesn't want to share the "how" of what they do, don't walk—run away.

  • Have realistic expectations. While you should expect your SEO firm to follow established best practices, as noted above, no one can guarantee you top placement, particularly for highly competitive two-word search terms. If you want to make sure your company appears on the top half of page one on Google for a specific term, buy the term in your AdWords program. Your SEO partner can make every effort to get you to the top of the organic results, but can't possibly guarantee this. Any valid SEO effort should show improvement in your search engine position, but not necessarily top half of page one on every desired term.

  • Remember the 80/20 rule. A relatively modest SEO effort can produce decent results. The more you are willing to spend, the better the results you can expect to achieve, but the return on investment declines rapidly near the top end. Put another way, it may very well cost more to move your site from position six or seven up to the first or second spot than it does to from the fifth page to the first page.

Finally, keep in mind that quality content is king. While investing in SEO may be a no-brainer, putting useful, relevant content on your site is the first step—make this modest internal effort before you start looking for an SEO partner, and you'll be halfway to success from the start.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Generating B2B Website Traffic Through Social Taggin

Back in May of this year, I reported the results of a test of the impact on B2B website traffic growth using Web 2.0 social tagging. That experiment showed that tagging B2B thought-leadership content on social media sites increased traffic growth for B2B websites by 50%, and on a B2B marketing blog by more than 100%, over 60 days.

So—how do the numbers look six months later? Can these traffic growth gains be sustained?

As shown here, on the B2B website, WebMarketCentral, traffic growth slowed considerably over the summer before posting a fall rebound, ending with a 12.7% monthly growth rate for the year—still a respectable monthly traffic growth rate, but well below the trend line following the social tagging activity.

The traffic change on this blog, however, showed a much different pattern. As shown below, after six months, the growth rate continued to show nearly a 50% increase even after six months, from 8.0% to 10.9%.

Three conclusions from this:

1) The effect of social tagging on B2B website traffic, even for thought-leadership content, is primarily a short-term bump in the traffic growth rate (though there are some positive long-term SEO effects as well). This pattern was similar over several B2B websites tested.

2) Most B2B websites show a flattening of traffic growth over the summer months, with perhaps even a traffic dip in August, followed by an autumn rebound. This pattern held for every B2B website I tracked (except one—a software application targeted at government buyers, which may have a different pattern from the private sector market).

3) Social media tagging appears to have a significant, sustained effect on traffic growth for blogs.

The lesson for B2B companies: blogging may be hard work requiring consistent effort, but it is worthwhile for establishing a thought leadership position in your industry. While developing relevant content for your corporate website is still important for PR and SEO purposes, writing and promoting a blog establishes credibility in a way that articles viewed as "vendor content" can't. Social media tagging on sites such as ClipMarks, Searchles, Digg and Zimbio can have positive effects on your website traffic, but has a much larger effect on driving increased traffic to a thoughtful and relevant industry blog.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Friday, November 09, 2007

How to Successfully Launch B2B Products and Services


A new survey produced by Schneider Associates and the Center for Business Innovation at Babson College details some very interesting findings on what makes for a successful B2B product or service launch. The free report, entitled Business-to-Business Launch Survey, profiles the ten key lessons B2B companies can use to improve their odds for launch success. The study investigated effective product and service launches to help B2B product and service managers improve their launch practices and success rate.

Among the most interesting findings in the study (and keep in mind, these are the successful launches):
  • Just 22% of B2B services companies and 37% of product vendors followed a formal, documented launch process—though another third of each group said they used "a general, undocumented repeatable process."

  • Planning most commonly started anywhere from three to 12 months before launch—though nearly 40% of B2B product companies didn't get started until within three months of the planned launch. Correspondingly, about 30% of respondents said they would change launch timing for their next release.

  • Product companies were four times more likely than service firms to use an outside PR firm to assist with their launch. Not surprisingly then, nearly 30% of service launchers expressed an interest in improving their PR campaigns, compared to about half that percentage for product firms.

  • Roughly a quarter of respondents—the largest group—considered their launch process "complete" once the first commercial sale was made. Another 20% placed called the process complete six months after the first sale, while about 10% said the launch process continued through the first year after initial sales.

  • Astoundingly, a third of respondents hadn't established a specific launch budget, and 18% didn't even know if there had been a budget established! In addition, 42% of B2B product companies didn't know the percentage of their overall marketing departmental budget was dedicated to launch activities.

  • Among the companies that did set a launch budget, more than half established this budget during the product or service development phase.

  • Just 16% of B2B service providers used an external PR, advertising or digital agency as part of the launch process; 40% of product companies included outside firms.

  • While a number of metrics were used to measure launch success, "achieving sales targets" was by far the most common measure, cited by nearly 60% of service providers and 70% of product companies.

  • "Sales force preparation" was identified as the most important contributing factor to launch success, followed by word-of-mouth and online campaigns. Word-of-mouth promotion was fostered by press releases and articles, webinars, and customer seminars and testimonials. Nearly half "were happy with their Internet-based activities."

  • Three things you probably didn't need a survey to tell you: 1) nearly 40% of respondents (the largest single group) said that if they could change one thing next time around, they'd want a bigger budget. 2) "Launch delays are almost inevitable." 3) New-to-the-world products and services have greater launch impact than line extensions, upgrades or copy-cat offerings.

There's lots more. To improve the success of your next B2B service or product launch, check out this study. Finally (being an agency type) my favorite quote from the report:

"Having the right marketing professionals participate in designing your launch from the start is critical. It's worth noting that nearly all the factors B2B launchers in our survey chose as being most important to their success are best handled by a marketing communications firm."

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

How to get a Bigger SEM Budget


In a recent Search Insider post, Gord Hotchkiss asks the question: "Will Agencies Get Search?" After making a convincing argument that search "blows away other channels"—because it makes your product service easy to find when buyers are actually looking for something like it, rather than interrupting them while they are doing some else (which is what most advertising is about), Hotchkiss identifies four reasons:
  • Search is small.

  • Search is measurable.

  • Search is hard ("You’ll never hit a search home run with one inspired brainstorm...You just keep plugging away, tweaking keywords and pulling in prospects").

  • Search is utilitarian.

And concludes by saying "And for all these reasons, I don’t think big agencies will ever truly get search." Maybe he's right, and big agencies won't get it (though smaller agencies, like the one I work for, certainly do). And the more interesting question to me, in looking at the four points above, is: why don't advertisers spend more on search? It's generally not a terribly expensive proposition, the results are easy to track, it's generally not a core competency of the internal marketing team, and, again in the words of Hotchkiss, "search works because it’s the customer driving the process, not the advertiser."

Yet according to Forrester Research, "While 87% of B2B marketers we surveyed last year said that they use email in marketing, most lagged behind in adopting interactive tactics such as search (57%)." Given the advantages of search engine marketing (cheap, measurable, effective), why do nearly half of B2B companies ignore it?

I believe the answer is that a lot of advertisers have had bad experiences—not because SEM isn't effective, but because campaigns were poorly implemented. And when that happens with search, the numbers are obvious. If you produce a lousy campaign in a medium that's difficult to measure (e.g. TV or print), it may not be apparent. But because search is extremely measurable, bad results are front and center: low click-through rates, high cost per click, and worst of all, poor conversion.
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So to return to my question in the headline—how do you get a bigger budget devoted to search? In two words, easy to say though not easy to do: earn it. As an example, I was asked several months ago by a client to take over a floundering SEM campaign. The return looked awful at the time, and Google was helpfully "recommending" that the daily search budget be increased by 67%. There was no way, quite understandably, that the company was going to throw good money after bad by heeding that suggestion. I was asked to fix it or shut it down.

Three months later, cost per click had been reduced by nearly 20% (through bid optimization), the click-through rate increased by 25% (better ads), lead count was up 13% (landing page optimization), and most importantly, cost per lead decreased by more than 30% (following SEM best practices).

Furthermore, through day-parting, bid optimization, and dropping non-productive search network sites, Google's budget increased recommendation was cut in half. With search now producing demonstrable results, the client was happy to increase their search budget by 33% to maximize both brand exposure and leads.

So, returning to the question Hotchkiss asks, "Why don’t more ad agencies and brand advertisers get search?,” we see a vicious cycle at work: because (some) agencies don't get search, their campaigns produce poor results. Because results are poor, clients won't increase their budget allocations. And because search budgets are small, agencies won't invest in becoming experts. Clients deserve better.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

New "Top 50 Marketing Blogs to Watch" List

EvanCarmichael.com just published its list of the Top 50 Marketing Blogs to Watch in 2008. The list of blogs is helpfully broken down into ten categories:

- Search Marketing
- Online Marketing
- Affiliate Marketing
- Small Business Marketing
- Marketing & Advertising
- Business to Business Marketing
- Marketing & Technology
- Guerrilla Marketing
- Brand Marketing
- General Marketing

It contains several of my favorites, including the TopRank Online Marketing Blog from Lee Odden, Buzz Marketing for Technology by Paul Dunay, and John Moore's Brand Autopsy, as well as many more worth checking out.

EvanCarmichael.com describes itself as "the Internet's #1 resource for small business motivation and strategies. With over 240,000 monthly visitors, 1,600 contributing authors, and 35,000 pages of content no website shares more profiles of famous entrepreneurs and inspires more small business owners than EvanCarmichael.com."

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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Monday, November 05, 2007

WMC Interviews: Jared Reitzin


Last week I got an update from Jared Reitzin, CEO of digital marketing firm mobileStorm and creator of the Entrepreneur Success blog.

mobileStorm offers products and services that help any size organization—from small businesses to Global 2000 enterprises—quickly, easily and reliably create, deliver and analyze successful email marketing, mobile marketing, voice, fax, and rss marketing campaigns. The company's on-demand tools include Stun!, a hosted service that is a simple, yet powerful customer communications solution specially designed for small-to medium-sized businesses, and Bolt, a hosted service built to support the needs of large enterprises to deploy marketing, customer service and transactional messaging programs. Jared's blog covers topics such as the latest laws surrounding digital marketing, as well as multi-channel marketing and new marketing technologies.

Here's our conversation:

WebMarketCentral (WMC): So Jared, what did you do before starting mobileStorm? What’s your background?

Jared Reitzin (JR): I started managing bands and soon after started a record label called Katalyst Music Group. We were very strong online and started a technology division where we built websites for larger labels to earn income and to create stronger relationships for our band. An adviser of mine started getting me excited about mobile (wap, SMS, Bluetooth etc.) and where it was going and eventually I decided to continue with technology and started mobileStorm as a result. At 19, before I started Katalyst I was a product manager at a video game company called Interactive Light. I never finished college, I always had too much going on.


WMC: How and why did you get started in this business?

JR: As noted, after Katalyst, when I got excited about mobile technologies. When I started mobileStorm, investors were throwing money at anyone who uttered the word "mobile." I think one of the best mistakes I never made was taking investment. I don’t think I would be around today.


WMC: Who do you target—who's your ideal or typical client?

JR: We have two parts to our business: our online which focuses on small business, and our direct sales group which focuses on mid-market customers. Our strengths lie in the verticals we first started in (entertainment, hospitality, nightlife, events, and agencies), however today we service everyone from airlines to schools, healthcare and retail.


WMC: Who do you view as your competitors, and what separates your offering from theirs?

JR: On the small business end we compete with Constant Contact, iContact and VerticalResponse. On the mid market side BlueHornet, ExactTarget and Silverpop. The biggest advantage we have is that we are one of the only true multi-channel platforms. Through one interface, we allow our customers to send emails, wireless text and voice messages, faxes, and create and distribute RSS feeds.


WMC: How do you market and promote your business?

JR: We have a strong online marketing plan which includes SEO, pay-per-click and banner advertising. Our marketing budget until recently was very, very small. We just raised a round of funding and we are going to start to do trade shows, radio and newspaper ads. As for selling, we have a top-notch direct sales team that handles larger accounts.


WMC: You also write the Entrepreneur Success blog. How does that fit in with what you’re doing at mobileStorm?

JR: A lot of people using mobileStorm’s services are owners of their own businesses. They are people like me who need easy-to-use tools to make their business more successful. JaredReitzin.com covers real life issues that these business owners have to deal with. My goal is to cover topics that will continue to make these entrepreneurs successful. Another benefit is that my blog really enhances my personal brand, and it helps in positioning me as an expert in my field. People like working with experts and it definitely helps me win new customers.


WMC: What’s the biggest or most important marketing lesson you’ve learned since you got started in all this?

JR: Don’t go half-ass with your brand. From day one, spend the money to create a clean looking brand that will make you look 10 times your size. Customers will buy from a business that has good branding because they like the security and comfort.


WMC: Anything else you’d like to add?

JR: I love the blog Tom, keep up the good work and thank you for this interview!

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentral.com

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