Archive for Internet Marketing

It’s Never Been More Important To Own Your Own Site

John Scalzi explains it so well:

“So, let’s go back to 1998. You’re a new writer and you want to establish a permanent residency online. Which would be wiser: Having your own site at your own domain, or putting up a site at GeoCities? It’s 2001, same drill: Which is wiser: Having your own domain, or creating a site on AOL servers?
2003: Your own domain, or a Friendster page?
2007: Your own domain, or a MySpace page?
(Hindsight is a useful thing.)
And now it’s 2011 and the choice is one’s own domain or a page on Facebook. Guess which I think you should do.”

Yet brands still continue to promote their facebook and twitter pages over their own domains. In every published media and commercial are vague hastags of company taglines. “Like Us On Facebook!” (BTW this is not a compelling call to action) messages are still predominantly shown over domain names.

Ever since Facebook launched EdgeRank it has become a very bad option in trying to keep customers looped in. Since Facebook wants you to be as engaged as possible whenever you visit, they use an algorithm to decide what would be the most relevant content for you to see. So it is not possible to reach people who have explicitly pressed “Like” to receive your updates, unless you want to pay Facebook for more reach.
Going forward you really can no longer make any claims or give incentives to people about receiving timely updates via facebook because you can only reach 10% – 15% of them with every post.  Dangerous Minds has written a very good post on why “putting a lot of energy into building a Facebook presence is a sucker’s game”.

These kinds of changes in social media that put more control in the hands of the company rather than in the hands of the user is a trend that isn’t about to slow down. Warren Ellis reports that the first cycle of social media is coming to an end:

“This may be the end of the cycle that began with Friendster and Livejournal. Not the end of social media, by any means, obviously. But it feels like this is the point at where the current systems seize up for a bit. Perhaps not even in ways that most people will notice. But social media seems now to be clearly calcifying into Big Media, with Big Media problems like cable-style carriage disputes.”

Your own site gives you credibility, control, analytics and the ability to collect information from visitors and choose how you want to communicate with them. Use social media as the spokes to which your personal site is the hub.

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False Proxies In Online Marketing

Seth Godin wrote a post explaining:

“Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need, so we invent a proxy, something that’s much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation…You’ve already guessed the problem. Once you find the simple proxy and decide to make it go up, there are lots of available tactics that have nothing at all to do with improving the very thing you set out to achieve in the first place. When we fall in love with a proxy, we spend our time improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead.Gaming the system is never the goal. The goal is the goal.”

Online marketing is rife with false proxies.

1. Increase the amount of Likes/Followers+1s you have.
The goals associated to social media are typically hard to measure: strengthen the connection you have with our fans, allow for better customer satisfaction, enhance memory of your product offering, hold more of your customer’s attention. When you use the amount of  Likes/Followers/+1s to act as a proxy for those goals you end up using every technique out there to beg/cajole/lead/mislead people into pressing that button.  Social media strategies end up being self obsessed and include lame stuff like sweepstakes, polls and posting your latest press release – all of which give you the oposite of what you really want.

2. Increase visits
You want your site to grow but an obsession with more and more visits is an unhealthy one. Its like a drug addiction which will keep you working on sensational controversies or clever images, or other link bait that keeps the fly by night traffic coming back. If instead you engage your existing users far more deeply and Increase their participation, their devotion and their interconnection you can turn them into ambassadors, charged with the idea of bring you traffic that is focused, traffic with intent.

3. Increase page views per visit
You want to know how much people like your site but page views per visit is not the way to measure it. Focusing on the false proxy of page views per visit will lead you to become one of those awful content sites that reloads every page in a photo slideshow so you can maximize ad impressions – simultaneously maximizing how much people despise your site.

4. Increase Ad clicks and impressions
You want your advertising to be successful but getting more clicks and impressions are not meters for success. Click through rate at least gives you an idea of how relevant your ad placement is. Really you want your ads to deliver a result – like sales.

A consistent theme with false proxies in online marketing is that they are conducive to short term gain and long term loss. The better metric to use for each goal is one that focuses on how well that metric affects the end goal, not just a means to that end.

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Online Marketing Growing Pains

For years direct response marketing online via paid search, seo, email, affiliate and comparison shopping engines have been very efficient and predictable. But we are currently in a transitional time for online marketing where these modes of advertising are not as efficient or predictable as they used to be. There are two changes that are causing a shift.
First is the attribution problem caused by the increasing amount of sources that a person uses before they purchase which dilutes direct response profits. According to a study by Google, people use more than 10 sources of information to arrive at a purchasing decision. And this trend is only going to increase. What does this mean for direct response mediums online?: the constant feeling that you aren’t getting full credit for your spend, but you’re not quite sure what level of credit you should be taking.
Second, mobile costs and click-throughs continue to grow but the return on investment isn’t growing with it. Customers are using mobile devices in droves but  but advertisers are not yet convinced that they are as effective as desktop ads.
From The New York Times: “People click on ads on smartphones more often than they do on desktop computers, 5.1 percent compared with 2.4 percent of the time, according to Marin Software, which makes technology for advertisers to use to buy ads on Google, Bing, Facebook and other sites.
That is because ads take up more space on cellphone screens and are more likely to answer the kinds of immediate questions asked on mobile devices, like “Where is a bar near the ballpark?” said Gagan Kanwar, director of research and partnerships at Marin.
People make purchases after clicking on ads 4 percent of the time on desktops and just 2 percent of the time on phones, so mobile ads are worth less, he said.”
Online marketing budgets are made with specific returns in revenue in mind which is very different from traditional tv, radio and print advertising where the main objective is to build the brand and occupy more mindshare of the customer. When online marketing direct revenues go down, spend goes down with them – if it’s not providing the return than stop spending – a different mentality than traditional advertising. Even though those marketing dollars may still be driving sales, its harder to measure the return because of mobile and attribution problems.
I don’t think this funk we’re in is here to stay however. Technology will catch up to the customer again and allow the kind of tracking necessary to prove results. Once we start using our phones to make purchases, a lot of the attribution problems with mobile will be solved. A purchase with a phone will close the loop on the user who saw an ad on that same phone. Customer Relations Management technology will improve so that unique identifiers will be assigned to a user so all their actions across devices and programs will be identified.

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Online Marketing Attribution Is Not Getting Easier

“Only half of advertising works, but the trouble is knowing which half.” Online marketing has long been heralded as the cure for knowing which half is wasted because it’s so much more trackable. But I don’t think the problem of accurately attributing marketing spend to increased revenue will ever be fully solved.

sources of research

People use more than 10 sources of information to arrive at a purchasing decision according to a study by Google. With that many sources of information you can forget about ever being able to quantify every interaction let alone rank the importance of one interaction over another. Compound that with multiple computers (shopping at work, buying at home), multiple devices (searching on mobile, buying on tablet), online and offline (shopping online buying in store) and it’s a big mess.  Even if you were able to capture every source there are the seasonal outliers that change customer behavior that your advertising is not responsible for such as seasonal differences, changes in product price, changes in what competitors are doing, and constant finicky consumer taste.

There is no shortage of tools to help you see a portion of the path that a customer uses so that you can quantify the total value of a keyword  as an introducer, influencer and closer but all of those labels need to be taken with a big grain of salt.

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Ecommerce Personal Product Curation

In the face of Google’s infinite possibilities (and Google’s efforts to make results more bland), many of us are panicking and searching less, going shallower, relying on bestseller lists and simple recommendations. This is why personalization, curation and discovery is so important to ecommerce now. As we make a decision to search for or buy something online, we are trained to go to Google and search by keyword, and sort through results to eventually make a transaction. In order for that to work, we have to first know what we want. But how do we know what we want in the first place? While Google makes money at the bottom of this decision funnel, the top of the funnel is where discovery happens. Facebook facilitates serendipitous discovery through friends posting what interests them. Pinterest does this even more because it’s based around curating things including products to purchase.

What Pandora does with music and Netflix does with movies, ecommerce sites are doing with their products. They are taking their seemingly infinite options and whittling them down to a small selection, catered to an individual’s taste. There are different ways of doing this like using implicit data like Amazon does with their recommendations of similarly viewed or bought items based on your browsing history. Facebook Connect can pull your social graph into the site and show you what friends have purchased in the past. Or products can be curated through explicit data which is information you actively offer with questionnaires or quizzes.

Wantful will guide you through a questionnaire to help you pick a tailored gift for anyone on your list. Questions range from style to organization to the frequency at which you sign along to music.
Shoedazzle takes you through a questionnaire that allows you to define your interests based on the styles of shoes and brands that speak most to your sense of style.
Nextpedition builds a “traveler profile” that defines the kind of traveler you are to pick the best kind of vacation.

This process of personalizing the shopping process is a messy one still but it will continue to be a huge part of ecommerce going forward. The part that I think is really interesting is using your personal data as a form of currency. The site Personal.com is trying to enable individuals to own and sell their own data:

“In years to come, people will look back and wonder how companies ever thought they could control or own all of our personal data. The current system is ineffective: according to the Direct Marketing Association, over 97% of online advertising fails to reach the right person at the right time. Let’s change that by letting people take back control of their data and by giving companies a better way to connect with consumers.”

This is really cool, it’s my data why shouldn’t I be able to own it and do with it what I please? And if advertisers want to market to me they can pay me for the privilege and I’ll only see ads that are relevant.

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My Top Online Marketing Posts Of 2011

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A Flowchart For Sharing Content

Are you about to fire off that blog post/tweet/status update? Put your idea through this flowchart and see if it is share-worthy before pushing the publish button. Most campaigns live and die according to their propensity to be shared, how does yours stack up?

Flowchart For Sharing Content

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Video Conversion Funnel

There are a lot of reports about the positive effects online video has in increasing engagement and conversion rates. I think it’s still one of the most under-utilized tactics for ecommerce sites. There are different kinds of videos that can be used for different purposes, just like different kinds of content for each stage of the conversion funnel.

Brand awareness: This is your typical commercial. Usually you have to pay money to get people to watch these. Hopefully you can make something compelling enough that people will enjoy and want to share with their friends.

How to: These are videos not specific to your product but that answer the questions people search for. Lowes does a good job with this, if you Google “How to Install a Glue-Down Engineered Hardwood Floor” Lowes is right there  with helpful content related to their products and services. Lowes isn’t pitching their product, they are earning attention instead of buying it.
These videos are also huge for driving organic traffic; Youtube is the worlds second largest search engine. According to some reports, videos “stand about a 50 times better chance of appearing on the first page of results than any given text page in the index.”

Category Education: Videos don’t have to only live on product detail pages. Videos on category pages can explain collections and broader use cases than on just the individual product level.

Customer Service: Videos can go a long ways to help users navigate a site, answer questions about the assembly or use of their purchases and answer customer service centric calls like how to return a product. All of these types of videos save money deflecting calls from customer service call centers and make customers happier that they don’t have to call.

Product video: The traditional product video explaining the use of the product. Missing from a lot of these videos is showing the product in context. Too often product videos are done inside a beige studio with a stale person showing all the product features. There is a much bigger branding and emotional aspect that these videos could capitalize on by showing the product being used in its intended setting with people who reflect the aspirational style of the customer.

The most focused on types of videos are the brand awareness and product videos, but there are a lot more opportunities in between.

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The Balance Between Visits And Conversion Rate

See if this scenario sounds familiar:

This report shows visits are up year over year. Yea! Well done everyone, the markting budget is paying off! Let’s keep the momentum going and see if we can continue to drive even more visits to the site!


This report shows conversion rate is down year over year. Boo! What the heck is going on everyone! Let’s optimize our accounts, cut cost per acquisition in all channels and limit non-qualified visitors entering the site!


The truth lies when you look at conversion rate on top of visits. Obviously, if you’re spending more on reaching out to drive more visitors to the site, chances are they are new visitors and not very low in the conversion funnel, causing a drop in conversion rate. Do you ask someone to marry you on the first date? No of course not, yet that is what too many companies expect when they pay to drive new traffic and expect them to purchase after their first interaction with the site.
What is a “good” conversion rate? Is less than 1% bad? Is greater than 7% amazing? Neither. It all depends on volume of traffic, average order value and margin. If you sell a product for $50 online, would you rather have a site that gets 100,000 daily visits and have a dismal looking conversion rate of .9%, or a site with an amazing conversion rate of 6% but gets 1,000 visits? Option one would be making $45,000 while option two makes only $3,000.
It gets dangerous when an organization has its mind set on a specific conversion rate and makes short term changes to maintain it – like managing their marketing channels so that only the most qualified and interested visitors come to the site. These visitors tend to be repeat customers already far down the conversion funnel – converting the converted. A healthy business will continue to invest in adding more new customers into top of the the bucket. If not, and the tyranny of maintaing conversion rate runs rampant, the amount of people leaking out the bottom of the bucket will exceed the amount going in the top. A target conversion rate should allow for a healthy amount of new visitors who are an investment in the long term. Today’s expensive, non-converting visitors are tomorrows cheap, high-converting visitors.

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Who Is Safe From Online Price Transparency?

In a world of ultimate price transparency, where the majority of shoppers go online to research products before buying them online or off, how can a retailer online succeed? You have to compete with a myriad of competing companies online, most importantly Amazon which has a broader product assortment (thanks to their marketplace), less stock outs, rated best customer service, and quick shipping. If you sell a product that can be found using a specific search like “sony hdr-cx160”, in other words, really easy to do price comparisons, than you’re in trouble. A strategy of selling average stuff to average people is not a sustainable one, it’s a race to who can do it the cheapest. In the early days of ecommerce you could get away with it, but now customers have the tools and have been trained on how to find the lowest price online.

Companies that have a protective barrier from their private label that only sell in their channel like Pottery Barn, Tiffanys and JCrew will survive. Companies that have sell stories, curate content and products worth talking about are the ones that will work. Businesses that cultivate a group of people with the same mission and then let the business be the symbol that those within the group use to identify themselves and identify each other will win.

No matter how savvy at search, display, attribution or analytics you are, I think that the real secret to success online in the future isn’t more unique ways of discounting but is a brand that means something.

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