Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Aaron Goldman is Thankful For

Aaron Goldman over at MediaPost just posted his 10 Reasons Search Marketers Should Be Thankful. In terms of the research, the links, and the thought put in behind it, this is an outstanding post.

Search may not be recession-proof—links to a post Aaron wrote about a month ago where he provides research demonstrating how and why search marketing will remain strong through this downturn.

Google's free keyword tool and Insights for Search tool—the keyword tool is hardly new, but has been upgraded, and is much more robust than it used to be. And Insights is just a lot of fun.

Google Analytics is enterprise-ready—a recent post from Jeff Campbell that delves into the latest enhancements added to Analytics and why these make it now competitive with top-shelf analytics packages.

New Study Reveals Untapped Billions In Search Marketing—some interesting research here on the growth potential for paid search. However, "hold-outs from the paid search Stone Age" seems a rather harsh way to refer to the large number of search marketers who still use Excel, which works just fine for the vast majority of companies, those that spend less than $50K per month on paid search.

I'm thankful for my clients, my readers, and endless opportunities to continue learning in the constantly changing world of search marketing.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Looking Back at 300: Top 10 Posts

On the occasion of the 300th post on the WebMarketCentral blog, and to see how things have changed since the first 100 posts, here are the 10 most popular posts of all time so far.

#10: The 8 Layers of a B2B Web Marketing Plan, October 8, 2008

The most recent post to make this list presents B2B marketing as a series of concentric layers, with SEO at the core then moving outward from highly measurable online direct response tactics to broader brand advertising.

#9: Best of 2007: Articles and Blog Posts on SEO (Part 1), January 28, 2008

Summaries of and links to a dozen outstanding articles on SEO from some of the top pros like Lee Odden, Jon Rognerud and Danny Sullivan. Also, I think, the first time on this blog I made the case that SEO is far from dead.

#8: Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 7: The Best, June 26, 2007

"Based on two months of testing across a half-dozen B2B websites and blogs, these Web 2.0 social bookmarking sites produced the best results, in terms of driving direct traffic and having active, engaged discussion communities." Of mostly historical interest now, from the early days of social bookmarking, before Mixx, Sphinn, Propeller and Twitter took off.

#7: Web 2.0 Social Tagging Sites, Part 4: B2B Traffic Building, May 15, 2007

The first post where I showed, quantitatively, how social media can accelerate traffic growth for both blogs and commercial websites.

#6: Selecting an Advertising Agency, June 7, 2005

The second post ever written on this blog and the only post common to both this list and the top 10 after first 100 posts.

#5: Best of 2007: Website Design, February 4, 2008

Eleven outstanding articles on blog posts on website design tips, tactics and tools from experts like Stoney deGeyter, Ralph Wilson, Mark Jackson, Jay Lipe and Kalena Jordan.

#4: How to Write a Strategic Marketing Plan, December 6, 2007

My recommended outline for crafting a strategic marketing plan, from high-level business objectives and strategies through marketing and PR tactics and tools.

#3: The Social Media Email Signature, September 18, 2008

A look at how traditional email signatures have evolved into their Web 2.0 version, now incorporating elements such as LinkedIn profiles, blog links, Twitter pages, Facebook, StumbleUpon, even Second Life IDs. Includes notable examples from social media pros like Jon Rognerud, Viewzi evangelist Giovanni Gallucci, and Guy Kawasaki.

#2: Google AdWords Average CTR and Best Practices, September 20, 2007

Various estimates for average click-through rates (CT) from Google AdWords along with 14 best practices to make search engine marketing programs more successful.

#1: Email Campaign, Newsletter and Banner Ad Click-Through Rates (CTR), August 14, 2007

And the most popular post thus far on the WebMarketCentral blog covers...industry data to help set goals and benchmark the performance of email marketing, newslettor sponsorship and banner advertising programs.

That will do it for me this (short) week. Happy Thanksgiving!

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Best of 2008 (So Far) - Blogging for Business, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Blogging for Business on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Four Reasons to Keep Branding During a Recession

The trends are clear: as the economic malaise deepens, GDP growth heads into negative territory and unemployment rises, marketers are slamming the brakes on any program that is offline / branding and shifting whatever dollars they have left in their shrinking budgets to online / direct response.

Last week, MarketingSherpa published two charts showing the shift from offline to online spending, and from brand advertising to direct. Then yesterday, they released this chart, providing detail on the shift in tactics.



The temptation to move in this direction is obvious—but temptations can be dangerous. Shifting resources to social network interaction is smart, and likely would have occurred to some extent even without a recession. Emailing to house lists is another no brainer, though it has to be done with caution; if overdone, unsubscribes will increase and your house list will shrink.

As for the next two tactics on the list, paid search and telemarketing, the only surprise is that there isn't a more pronounced shift toward these activities. They are highly measurable and meet the need for instant gratification.

So, if "everybody's doing it"—shifting resources from branding to direct marketing—why should your company buck the tide? Here are four reasons.

Less clutter means more chance to stand out.

Fewer banner ads on websites, fewer print ads in magazines, and fewer pieces of direct mail in in-boxes mean that your ads and mailers have much less competition for attention.

It makes you look like the big dog.

Buyers figure that if your company is one of the few still willing and able to keep running print and online display ads when everyone else is cutting back, there must be a good reason for it. Success breeds success.

The slowdown gives you leverage.

Think about the people trying to sell online display, print, radio and TV advertising right now—they're desperate. That not only means you can get more attractive pricing, but also that you can get creative in terms of what else goes into the mix: print advertorials, case studies or bylined articles; online editorial coverage, reduced-cost lead gen activities like webinars and white paper syndication; reduced pricing on newsletter sponsorships, etc. What else do you want? Now even moreso than in good times, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Most importantly, branding supports direct response.

Prospective buyers are more willing to open a piece of mail, take a phone call, or click on a search ad if they are familiar with a vendor. By enhancing name recognition and credibility, brand advertising makes your direct marketing programs more effective.

Don't neglect branding. While shifting some of your marketing dollars from offline to online programs certainly makes sense, there are compelling reasons to take advantage of the current climate to make some smart branding moves as well.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Viral Marketing Campaigns - Keep It Simple

Creating a successful viral marketing campaign has been likened to hitting home runs—you never know which at-bat is going to produce one, so the key is to make a lot of trips to the plate. Put another way, there is no magic formula for producing a viral campaign, you just have to try different concepts. There are, however, certain characteristics that will either increase the odds of viral success, or doom it to failure.

Simplicity: engaging with your campaign should be easy and intuitive. Most of us have too much to think about already: deadlines at work, paying the bills, juggling schedules—interacting with a viral campaign isn't something we should have to put a whole lot of thought into. If your concept requires too much thought, the only people it will catch on with are those who have nothing better to do.

Originality: if an idea feels too familiar, it won't go anywhere. There are about a zillion variations of whack-a-mole games, for example. This concept was very clever the first time, and perhaps moderately clever in a few of the first variations. Now it's a yawn.

Entertainment: while widgets which are practical rather than entertaining can go viral, the most successful viral campaigns are either fun or very amusing. That's why "how to create a viral YouTube video" has had about 17,000 views, while Harry Potter and the mysterious ticking noise has had 54 million.



Speed: people worth reaching tend to be busy. They'll take a short diversion break, but unless your campaign is extremely engaging, they'll shut it down if it's too time-consuming. That means you either need to make it fast, make it brilliant enough to keep their attention away from other priorities, or make it flexible enough that anyone can engage quickly, while those with more time can interact at a deeper level.

Respect: most people understand that if you've created a viral campaign for marketing purposes, especially in the b2b world, you're going to ask for contact information at some point. That's fine, but ask only for the information you really need. If your initial interaction is going to be by email or phone, for example, you don't need to ask for physical address.

Relevance: ideally, your viral campaign will actually have some relation to your product or service, so that it attracts people who are actually in your target market and reinforces your value proposition. How many times have you remembered a very funny or creative TV ad, but forgotten what was actually being advertised? `Nuff said.

Sharability: very simply, the easier it is to pass something along, the more likely it will be. Embed code, "email this" and social bookmark site tagging buttons are examples of simple ways to increase pass along.

I recently received a press release about a viral campaign for a new movie. While the concept sounded clever, it turned out to be confusing, unnecessarily complex, time-consuming, and worst of all, it required participants to give up not only their own privacy, but that of their social network connections as well. Bad idea.

On the other hand, there's the Interstellar Pizza Express game from Minneapolis-based web hosting provider Visi.com. Players choose web hosting options to maximize their pizza sales. The high scorer each month wins an iPod. While there's no guarantee this campaign will go viral, it does have most of the right attributes for potential viral success: it's relatively simple (though some of the options could be made more clear); definitely original; moderately entertaining in a geeky sort of way; quick to play; extremely relavant to Visi's business web hosting services; and asks only for pretty basic contact information. One area where the campaign could have been improved is on sharability—an email-this button and badges for social bookmark sites like Digg and StumbleUpon would have simplified pass along.

Still, the Visi campaign exemplifies many of the key requirements for going viral. Whether your next viral campaign is a home run or more of a strikeout, however, the most important tactic of all is to keep swinging.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Twitter Twaddle, Part 2: Best Practices, Tools and The Future of Twitter

This is the second of a two-part series. Part one covered what Twitter is and why it's cool; this post discusses Twitter etiquette, tools, and speculation about its future.

How to Twitter Properly

Like any other social setting, Twitter has its own etiquette. This can be confusing to new users. (And, as you can see by spending more than a few minutes on Twitter, it's apparently elusive to many long-time users as well.) Margaret Mason has written an outstanding primer on Twitter etiquette, offering advice such as watch your ratio ("If only a few people follow you, but you follow a thousand or more, many people will assume you’re a spammer. That’s because you probably are. Go away, spammer."); never Twitter if you're drunk or high; and most importantly, "remember that everyone can hear you."

The brilliant Mike Volpe of HubSpot takes a different approach to offering his advice in 5 Things On Twitter That Annoy the Crap Out of Me. His practices-to-avoid include always broadcasting and never conversing (again, some @ posts are good, too many are bad); insisting that everyone you follow return the gesture ("Just because you follow me does not mean I want to follow you. In fact, I only follow back about half the people that follow me. I look at your profile, check your recent tweets and bio, and decide if what you are saying is useful to me. Not useful, no follow. Sorry. Stop harassing me! You can unfollow me if you like."); and providing too much information ("I like how Twitter is a combination of some business and some personal info so I can get to know people on both levels. But there are limits." Like your morning run.).

MarketingSherpa has also produced and excellent case study on How to Target Twitter: 8 Ways to Build a New Audience in this Niche Community (fee-based, but non-members can access it through a free trial).

Noting that "Major media outlets (and) smaller regional publications...have generated thousands of followers for their Twitter feeds. By reaching out to that community, these publishers are developing new content strategies that are driving traffic, brand awareness and healthy online discussion about the topics they cover," the MarketingSherpa case study advises content publishers (including bloggers) on how to find the right community to target, make tweets relevant to the community, use proper timing and volume, and grow your audience: "Don’t follow every Twitter user in your coverage area or everyone who shares interest in your publication’s topics. Users receive an email notification whenever a new member follows their updates; simultaneously adding dozens or more followers looks like spamming to the Twitter community."

Twitter Tools

Similar in concept to Facebook applications—but different—Twitter has spawned an industry in clever little tools. Want to know how you rank as a Twitter user (or check out anyone else's rank)? Get your "score" from Hubspot's TwitterGrader. Forrester guru Jeremiah Owyang recommends desktop client Twhirl and search tool Tweetscan among his list of essential Twitter tools.

There are lots, lots more. Use Twitscoop to find out what topics of conversation are hot on Twittter; Tweet Later to set up automated Tweets or schedule messages to display in the future; TwitDir to search for users by name, location, description or other attribute; and Twubble, which helps you find new friends based on the attributes of your current followers and followees. Find even more tools on Jon Clark's list of the top 75 Twitter tools, applications and plugins.

And there's no shortage of new ideas, as evidence, for example, by Lee Odden's wish list for Twitter.

The Future of Twitter?

Obviously, Twitter has inspired a large and enthusiastic following. Its business potential, not just for marketing and PR, but for applications like customer relations and crowd-sourced product development is only beginning to be tapped.

Yet there are significant concerns about the future viability of the platform. Marios Alexandrou of All Things SEM believes Twitter will die because there are too many worthless posts, one-way conversations, and a focus on quantity over quality of followers among other reasons. Dave Winer takes a different tack, arguring that Twitter is like to become the next Netscape, as "they've definitely staked out too much territory, they're spread too thin" and are vulnerable to being overtaken by a better, more open alternative. MG Siegler disagrees, however, noting that "Certainly a big player, maybe even Microsoft again, could move in to try and make a new version of Twitter that is fully open. But if Twitter hasn’t died by now, I’m not convinced that it’s ever going to die."

One problem is increasing competition. In Building a Better Twitter, Douglas MacMillan list several microblogging platform competitors that offer Twitter-like capabilities but with unique twists, such as video (Seesmic) or music integration (Blip.fm). These sites pose a potential threat to Twitter not like a shark able to kill with one big bite, but more like a school of pirahna, nibbling around the edges of Twitter's dominion and taking away share bit by bit. Still, MacMillan is bullish on Twitter, noting that "Soon after Twitter raised $15 million in funding, Silicon Alley Insider blogger Henry Blodget speculated that the site may be worth as much as $1 billion." After all, alternative search engines have been trying to take the death-by-a-thousand-small-bites approach to knocking off Google for years without diminishing the search giant's dominance.

The biggest concern, however, is Twitter's revenue model—or lack thereof. As CNet's Caroline McCarthy points out, "Twitter remains Silicon Valley's poster child for hyped companies without revenue models. With the financial crisis continuing to unfold daily, that simply isn't acceptable." Popularity alone won't sustain Twitter (a lot of popular sites disappeared in 2001). But Twitter is a product of insight and creativity, and one has to conclude there is at least a good probability that those attributes will enable Twitter to continue offering a platform for news, links, wisdom and commerce mixed among a sea of trivial but very human chatter.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Best of 2008 (So Far) - Cool Web Tools, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Cool Web Tools on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Twitter Twaddle, Part 1: What Twitter Is and Why It's Cool

Most Web 2.0 sites fall into one of a few increasingly well-defined categories, such as social bookmarking (Digg, del.icio.us, Searchles), social networking (LinkedIn, Facebook) or file sharing (YouTube, Flickr, podOmatic). Twitter, however, stands alone. (Okay, there's also Pownce, but Twitter is better.)

Self-described as simply a real-time short messaging service and often referred to a microblogging platform, to those new to it, Twitter resembles nothing so much as a giant cocktail party where everyone talks at once and hopes others listen. You can tell who's important by how many "followers" that person has, though that's no guarantee anyone is really paying attention. People (or rather, Tweeple in the Twitter lexicon) can come and go without really being noticed, just like at a real (very, very large) gathering.

Twitter can be difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with it. Jennifer Laycock writes that Twitter is like Post-It notes; lots of them and in multiple colors. Johnny Makkar provides some helpful guidance on how to get your co-workers to start Twittering, in which he links to this long but informative video from HubSpot on how to use Twitter for marketing and PR.

Types of "Tweets"

I'm sure there's a better list somewhere, but from my observation thus far there are five primary types of messages posted to Twitter:

Evangelizing: One of the most common and valuable uses of Twitter—linking to and promoting great stuff, like articles, blog posts, videos, etc. Example from Bill Hartzer: "Ask.com Adds One-Click Election Poll Information to Search http://ff.im/5x8." It's okay to evangelize your own stuff occasionally, as long as 1) it's great stuff, and 2) you don't evangelize only your own content. That would be...Twitterbation?

Social: Arranging live meetings is another practical, common and perfectly acceptable use of Twitter. Got a long layover at the Detroit airport? Use Twitter to see who among your "followers" might also happen to be there and grab a cup of coffee together. Example from Chris Brogan: "Chicago area meetup 11/10: http://tinyurl.com/54rs7m Pass it on!"

Thoughtful: Inspiration, observation and philosophy in 140 characters or less. For example, from Jeremiah Owyang: "Be inspired this week my friends: Try something new, learn something you always wanted to --be uncomfortable."

Conversational: Using the @ symbol before someone's Twitter name lets you target a public message to them. A fine practice, though it should be used in moderation. If you never use the @ symbol, you may be perceived as anti-social, arrogant or purely self-promotional. If you use it too much, you should probably take some of these conversations offline.

Annoying: Tweets which add absolutely no value to anyone, but are written just for the sake of writing something. Among the worst are the "Off to the gym," "Going for a run," "Just got back from a workout and gosh I'm stiff!" variety. Argh. The rest of the world would care about this...why?

What's Cool About Twitter

Fans of Twitter believe it is a key social media tool for business. According to the MindValley Labs blog, Twitter is an incredibly powerful marketing tool, and they offer up three forbidden Twitter mind control tricks for marketing, stating "Twitter is currently the closest app on Earth that replicates the actual thought patterns of the human mind. You see, the human mind does not really think in blog and article form. Instead, it thinks in a stream of consciousness way, random disjointed thought layered upon random disjointed thought...After all, what’s more intimate than the whispering voices in your head?"

Ellie Mirman of HubSpot contends that tapping into the conversations happening on Twitter related to your brand, product or industry is crucial even for niche businesses. And Miguel Cancino explains why Twitter is a key tool for reputation management.

This was the first post in a two-part series. Part 2 will cover best practices for using Twitter, Twitter tools, and the future outlook for this platform.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, November 03, 2008

McCain, Obama, and Marketing Part 2: Brand vs. Value

The presidential election now upon us offers an interesting contrast in marketing approaches. One candidate is all about brand, image, and soaring rhetoric that appeals to the heart. The other is (significantly) less flashy but appeals to our more practical side. He's the candidate of rational, "value" buyers who carefully consider the offerings then choose the one that offers the greatest benefit for the lowest price—an appeal to the brain.

From a product standpoint, Obama is like the iPod. Never mind that there are lots of MP3 players that offer matching or even superior functionality, at a lower price, without the limitation of compatibility only with a closed network—the iPod is cool! So much so that "iPod" has become to "MP3 player" what "Kleenex" is to "tissue."

McCain on the other hand is the "off-brand" that peels buyers away from the big name through an appeal to value. A classic example is Dell Computer. When the company first got started, IBM was the premier, established brand in PCs. But Dell eventually wiped them out of the market with a better product, lower price, and direct appeal that bypassed traditional channels.

There's no question that McCain represents the better "value" in this election: lower taxes, smaller government, free trade, free market healthcare reform, and on foreign policy experience...no comparison. But on brand, Obama kicks. He's the candidate of hope and change, of mega-crowds, a uniter-not-a-divider (wait, wasn't that...ah, never mind). McCain, in contrast, appears to many people that he really is your father's Oldsmobile. Or worse, your grandfather's. And his choice of a running mate who, fairly or not, comes off as not exactly Mensa material has arguably hurt McCain more than Obama's past connections have impacted his image.

Sometime late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning (barring any hanging chads), we'll know: are the majority of us brand buyers or value shoppers?

*****

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Best of 2008 (So Far) - SEO Guidance, Part 3

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: SEO Guidance on the Webbiquity blog.

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