Archive | December, 2011

3 Contest Platforms to Help Brands Win

Ever passed up browsing through the pictures of an ugly Christmas sweater contest? Not many of us do, because even if we don’t enter the contest ourselves, the contest and pictures are amusing and interactive.

However, not only are contests an enjoyable pastime, but they can also be used as valuable tools for brands looking to engage their audience. Yet setting up and managing contests can be difficult and time consuming. So instead of throwing out the idea of contests all together, why not use a platform to help your business create and manage these interactive online sweepstakes?

Here are three contest-creating options to consider:

Contestcore

This contest platform for small businesses and organizations, helps its users create, manage and promote their own user-generated content (text, photo and video) contests and sweepstakes. Contest can be set up on unique URLs, but many customers use either a subdomain or vanity URL. Additionally, contests live in a brand’s Facebook Fan Page, and brands can also require users to like their fan page prior to accessing the contest. Contests are completely customizable, and Contestcore monitors all votes and users in order to protect against vote fraud.

Wizehive

Contest Manager from Wizehive helps manage Facebook, photo, video contests and more. The contest forms are customizable and can be created on a stand alone Web page or integrated into an existing website. Contest voting is also customizable, and can be configured to a user’s preferences, such as scaled rankings, randomized winners, public voting options or through a team of private judges. Brands can also generate revenue by requiring entry fees as part of the application process.

Memelabs

Create custom-built contests online through avenues like Facebook and mobile with Memelabs. This platform allows its brands to monitor campaigns through analytics and reporting, as well as reach out to a user base with a newsletter management system. Furthermore, brands can generate buzz through social media and other promotional tools from the platform, such as a custom player that encourages users to share and promote the contest. Clients of this platform include Old Navy, Levi’s, PBS and Wells Fargo.

Channels- useful links

There are various social media channels available, each with its own specific purpose and target. Determining which one is right for you is the key to successful learning.

Communication Channel

 
Collaboration Channel

 
Multimedia Channel

 
Reviews/Opinions Channel

 
Entertainment Channel

 
Miscellaneous Channel

 

BREAKING: WordAds from WordPress Launched

It’s been a long time coming. But through its partnership with Federated Media, popular blogging platformWordPress has launched an AdSense alternative dubbed WordAds.

While the name is confusingly similar (at least to me) to Google’s search-based advertising product Adwords, expect the millions of WordPress users to sign up in droves.

WordPress has never supported the inclusion of advertising so this does come as a bit of a surprise for many.

“We’ve resisted advertising so far because most of it we had seen wasn’t terribly tasteful, and it seemed like Google’s AdSense was the state-of-the-art, which was sad. You pour a lot of time and effort into your blog and you deserve better than AdSense,” said Jon Burke of WordPress in the official announcement.

Only publicly visible blogs with custom domains will be considered for the program. Website Magazine will provide more information as it becomes available.

 

Drive Higher Engagement with These Content Types

A Web marketer’s job can be made much easier when meaningful and valuable content is available to promote.

There is no shortage of platforms on which to promote content, or channels through which to promote your content, or ways to construct messages about your content.

But where many Web professionals fall short is in the assembling of the content itself. Too often, online workers will recycle dated material, tired messaging and straight-up boring content. On the other hand, when you have content that by its very nature leads to deeper levels of engagement, it will show in the volume of conversions.

So, what types of content drive engagement?

It is likely that they are already at your disposal and, if not, you should start creating it. There’s actually quite a bit of content that you as a Web marketer and search engine optimization professional should have in your asset library. Videos, images, interviews, product manuals – just check out WM’s article on knowledge-base optimization. But many content types don’t really lead to high levels of engagement (return visits, more pageviews, additional downloads), so it’s important to accurately know the value of your content assets.

Let’s look at a few vital content assets that all marketers should be regularly promoting on social networks and private forums, within email newsletters, on your own website, through display and search-based advertising and, of course, within the Google and Bing natural search results.

Product/Feature Releases: There seems to be a general feeling in our industry that it’s not wise to be overly self-promotional. I agree in some respects but disagree in many others. It’s hard to argue, particularly when it comes to those with an established audience, that there remains a need to notify users of advancements about your business. Case in point – product/feature releases.

Not only are they a powerful way to keep messaging fresh and compelling, it’s also worth mentioning and should be in your lineup of options to promote content when the aim is to drive engagement. People like “new” and recently added features, and products definitely fit the bill. The key to driving engagement with product release-focused content is to carefully select the platforms on which to promote that content. For example, product releases are ideal for social media followers but not great for cold prospects that can be reached elsewhere.

Webinars/White Papers: Marketers jump at the chance to promote a webinar or a white paper. The reason is simple: It’s easy – easier than nearly any other form of content promotion. Production of these content types aside, buyers are naturally drawn to webinars and white papers because they provide information, meaningful/valuable insights that can be immediately used.

That’s one of the things that the three content types featured here all provide – valuable information. Webinars and white papers are perfect for nearly any channel (social media and search) but can be most effectively used in advertising, when the challenge is to educate, entertain and inform in a matter of seconds. When you show up with something as valuable as free information, the likelihood you will generate more clicks than the competition is all but guaranteed.

Feature Articles: The term “content marketing” is poorly defined. With so many opportunities to promote content and so many formats, it’s not uncommon that marketers opt for the fastest solution, and that is rarely the feature article. If you’re staffing a team of writers, or are skilled at producing/publishing content, then it would be a shame not to leverage feature-ready, long-form articles (starting at 800-1,000 words).

Search engines give preferential treatment to long-form content over short-form – at least in my experience – so dedicating yourself to regularly producing information in this manner will serve you well. Long-form, insight-rich content increases the time on site (and even page views) and drives sharing and additional on-site activity, particularly when linking to your own content. With the exception of advertising, features articles can be used within any promotional channel – particularly in search and social media.

Content is king and the level of quality does matter a lot, but marketers can give themselves a leg up by focusing on the types of content that have proved they can deepen engagement and increase conversions.

 

Pre-Search Marketing Campaigns

It might sound crazy, but driving increased traffic to your website through SEO and paid search may be damaging your brand, rather than helping it. SEO and paid search efforts can be valuable ways to increase site traffic, but launching these efforts without first developing a solid business and marketing strategy is risky. If done incorrectly – without a winning strategy in place – SEO and paid search could actually threaten your marketing efforts and possibly erode your brand name. You also risk wasted time, money and effort – and may also alienate prospective customers.

But there’s a solution! By conducting the following five assessments of your business prior to launching an SEO or paid search campaign, you’ll build a bullet-proof business foundation while greatly increasing the chances that your SEO and paid search campaigns will thrive.

1. Branding Assessment

Before launching your SEO and paid search campaigns, determine whether your branding is truly effective. Many companies skip this step, but the right branding will serve as a solid foundation, generating greater results for your SEO and paid search efforts. If your brand is in good shape, you’ll drive more revenue for the same (or even less!) effort. That’s just smart business. Yet, companies often plow ahead full-force with SEO and paid search campaigns with brands that are taped together with rubber bands, silly putty and band-aids.

A B2B e-commerce company was eager to launch their first SEO campaign and had earmarked a large percentage of their marketing budget to the endeavor. Yet their online business had no identity, mission, personality, positioning or differentiation. In contrast, their competitors looked far more professional, reliable and credible. Regardless, this company insisted on moving forward with SEO, hoping to drive more traffic to their site.

This is a doomed plan. Even if the company increases traffic to their site, there’s no compelling reason for site visitors to trust them or purchase from them. The company’s poor brand image is apparent. Their time, funds and energy would be better spent on building a strong brand first, and then launching an SEO campaign. Otherwise, their revenue results will continue to lag far behind their traffic numbers indefinitely.

2. Audience Assessment

It’s critical to understand your audiences prior to launching SEO and paid search campaigns. Certain companies rush to create online campaigns without fully understanding their priority populations and crafting customized marketing messages targeted to defined personas.

An online apparel retailer believed that their audience included all mothers. Market research showed, however, that fashionable, upscale, metropolitan moms wouldn’t even consider shopping on their site, but budget-seeking moms would. By changing their approach – and messaging – accordingly, this company’s search campaigns performed more efficiently and increased revenue.

3. Analytics Assessment

Because SEO and paid search are so data-heavy, you’d think that all search marketers start with a major analytics analysis. However, all too often, they don’t, which is a problem. Analytics reveals important marketing insights, which can be key to a successful search campaign.

A national food brand was optimizing their website and launching a new paid search campaign. After reviewing their web analytics, it became clear that driving additional traffic to the site would actually create poor brand experiences. Their analytics revealed that their average site visitor came to the site only 1.1 times. There were hardly ANY repeat visitors. People clearly didn’t like what they saw on the site, so they never came back. Before driving more visitors to the site, the company needed a major site overhaul to help attract and retain their customers.

A B2B documentation company wanted to launch a new search campaign, hoping to drive additional traffic to the site. Their web analytics showed that their website had a conversion rate of 0.3%. That’s not a typo! It was truly that low. The source of the visit didn’t matter – the conversion rate was consistently dismal. Clearly, they needed to fix their website prior to focusing on SEO and paid search. After creating customized, redesigned landing pages, the company was able to increase both their conversion rate and revenue. Subsequently, their search campaigns generated much greater business results.

4. Business Model Assessment

Struggling companies often assume that their business models are working, but their marketing campaigns are underperforming. But what happens if the business model is weak and/or outdated?

Every industry can go through disruptive innovation. At one point, Smith Corona was the world’s leading typewriter company. Over time, they believed their marketing campaigns were failing them, but in reality, their business model had become outdated. Tweaking their marketing campaigns didn’t matter. They needed to blow up their business model, switching their focus from outdated typewriters to innovative computers. Amazon is an example of a company that disrupted the book industry in the 90s, introducing a revolutionary e-commerce model. They’re doing it again with the innovative, timely Kindle today.

Is your company focusing as much attention on your business model as your SEO and paid search campaigns? Tweaking a campaign can lead to improved marketing results, but to maximize your business performance, you need a current, competitive business model.

Sometimes, adjusting just one aspect of a business model prior to SEO or paid search can make a huge difference in your campaign results. A music studio wanted to grow its revenue. Instead of incrementally capturing more students to take music lessons under its existing pricing system, the company needed to overhaul its business model to perform more like a membership-based health club. Changing that one element of the model improved their financial performance dramatically. Consequently, their SEO and paid search resulted in an increased profit per student and the company grew in an accelerated manner.

5. Website Assessment

Assuming you’ve defined a solid brand, identified your audiences, gained insights from your analytics and created the optimal business model, the next step is conducting a website assessment.

If you’re driving traffic to a site that doesn’t satisfy visitors’ needs, it doesn’t matter how much traffic you generate. As more traffic visits the site, more people suffer through a poor user experience and associate that negative experience with your brand. Therefore, you need to first ensure that your site is fully satisfying your site visitors.

A B2B corporate gifts company wanted to launch an SEO campaign. Their business model centered on an audience-segmented approach, specializing in the education, healthcare and government sectors. Even though their business relied so heavily on segmentation as a competitive advantage, their website felt “cookie cutter” and didn’t spotlight their customized solutions. The company redesigned their website, focusing on different offerings for their core audience segments. Their subsequent SEO campaign increased traffic in line with their differentiation, producing better financial results.

Maximizing Results

If you hope to maximize business results through SEO and paid search, remember that these efforts do not work in a silo. Instead, they’re part of the overall business and marketing strategy, and without solid foundations, any SEO and paid search campaigns will fall short of its potential. Therefore, it’s critical to first build your brand, understand your audiences, measure their online behavior, build the right business model and launch the right website. Only then can you maximize your SEO and paid search results.

About the Author: Tom Shapiro is the founder & CEO of Digital Marketing NOW, a full-service digital marketing and design firm that offers strategy, web development, design, SEO, conversion optimization, social media, email marketing and more. Tom cuts through all the hype and develops clear, differentiated marketing strategies focused on real results for his clients. Throughout his career, Tom has worked with dozens of Fortune 500 companies including P&G, HP, IBM, Sears and Kraft Foods.

 

Weekend Warrior: The Impact of Social Media

Democracy reigns supreme for companies that use social networking to market themselves and their products. A new study by Performics reveals that most users agree that the voicing of opinions on social networking sites can influence the business decisions of a company or brand.

Called S-Net, The Impact of Social Media, the study found that 52 percent of the respondents either strongly or somewhat agreed that voicing opinions on various brands, companies or products on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ can influence business decisions.

Eighteen specific industries were included in the study, including apparel, appliances, automotive, education, electronics, entertainment, financial services, food, healthcare/pharma, household, magazines/newspapers, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, personal care, restaurants, sports, telecommunications and travel. Performics also discovered that educational institutions, sports and entertainment were the most discussed categories on social networking sites.

Below is a list of best practices for marketers looking to utilize social networks based on the results of the study:

Understand customer desire for brand interaction in the relevant category
The study revealed that 74 percent of people who purchase entertainment products will go back and discuss them on social networks. Hey, everybody’s a critic.

Create and adapt marketing strategies to cater to participation expectations and desires
Over half of the respondents (53 percent) admitted that they will follow travel companies or brands on social networking sites in order to get coupons or discounts. With the price of gas these days, who can blame them?

Allocate time and resources to the most relevant and appropriate social networks
Forty-two percent of those surveyed said that they will discuss automobiles on social networking sites as a way to compare prices.

Regularly monitor and measure social network activity
Thirty-two percent said that they have made a sports-related product purchase because of something they saw posted on a social network. In fact, I’ll even ‘fess up to purchasing a Pittsburgh Steelers Snuggie while browsing Facebook.

Adjust strategies and tactics as necessary to optimize engagement
As with travel companies, electronics companies on social networking sites don’t have a lot of fans who like them based on personality alone. Forty-three percent of respondents said that they will follow electronics brands or companies on social networking sites for offers or chances to win points or online currency that they can redeem for products.

While social media can offer unlimited exposure and huge potential for Web marketers, there isn’t yet a perfect solution for analyzing and evaluating consumers’ responses to the messages that businesses and brands are sending out. This study is a great start for those who want to get a solid, industry-specific look at how important social media interaction can be for their particular audience.

“Customers expect, and are already participating in a two-way dialogue,” says Daina Middleton, CEO of Performics. “It’s imperative for marketers to listen to customers and adopt strategies that engage them in every channel of their media mix – across all platforms, devices and screens.”

 

Impact of Google Search’s SSL Change

The encryption standard SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) should be familiar to digital workers, particuarly Internet retailers. Whenever private data is in play – whether via banking, shopping, or even sharing information – SSL will make an appearance.

SSL in fact has become a core encryption technology on the Web in the past five years. Google has, in good form I believe, largely encouraged SSL use on its own services, including within Gmail and in January 2010′s release of an encrypted search service. Google is not the only big data company leveraging SSL - Facebook and Twitter have also shown the love for SSL in recent months.

In its pursuit of protecting user privacy however, Google has made it much harder for digital marketers to access keyword referral information. Google announced last month that it will be applying SSL to search queries and that has caused quite a bit of blowback from the SEO community.

What the development means is that if you are tracking keyword usage data – this also applies to the providers of search marketing software solutions – then the referral information received won’t be nearly as accurate. Google has indicated that at least ten percent of its traffic will be using its encrypted search (available when users are logged into their Google account) but many estimate that the number will be much, much higher over time.

While there are reports containing keyword referral information available within Google Webmaster Tools, they are too infrequently updated – with only a 30 day refresh of the data – to help strategists compete in a digital age when freshness matters almost as much authority.

 

Top Five Sites for Source Code Hosting

Code sharing and hosting platforms, which enable designers and developers to share (and reuse_ code with team members or the wider web community, have exploded in use the past several years – hat tip to the cloud. Let’s take a look at some popular source code hosting sites. Did we miss one? Let us know – share your comments!

 

 

Github.com

 

 

Google Code Hosting

 

Sourceforge.net

 

 

Codeplex

 

 

Bitbucket

 

PageRank Update the Most Important Ever?

After nearly six months of waiting, word is out that Google has just pushed out new PageRank values.

This is the first update since January 2011 and the first since the now infamous Panda update clawed through a long list of sites. While many have questioned the value of PageRank in the past (some even very recently), the update might just provide site owners/webmasters/SEO’s an indication of just how Google currently perceives their site’s authority and standing.

Because of the rapidly evolving search landscape, WM believes this might just be one of the most important (meaningful) PR updates in a very long time. It is also interesting to note that the recent PageRank update closely follows Google’s release of a new Google Toolbar a few weeks ago.

Personalization – Web Marketing’s Holy Grail

What does “personalization” really mean? You’ll be forgiven if you have absolutely no idea. As trendy catchwords go, “personalization” has become a go-to term for websites and online marketers, laden with all the possibilities of connecting with individual consumers and a departure from the limitations of one-size-fits-all.

Nearly every online marketing vendor touts some form of personalization as their secret sauce for helping you target customers.

It makes sense. The potential of personalized online marketing, when done well, is enormous – and for that reason, it’s a compelling sell. The problem is … it hasn’t been done very well thus far. And, thanks to vendor hype and overpromise, just mention the word “personalization”, and most have learned to greet it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

But personalization isn’t just marketing hype. It’s a complex concept that really can live up to its billing. But first, retailers, in tandem with their marketing vendors, must identify what personalization really means – and what it means to their business and target customers.

Furthermore, when it comes to their websites, mobile sites, apps and CRM platforms, major ecommerce players need to realize that only through a customized combination of multivariate testing, optimization and personalization best practices, can they truly begin to reach consumers with personalization that is effective and impactful. There are no easy answers or instant solutions for creating personalization that works – it’s about evolution rather than revolution.

Defining Personalization
A truly personalized customer experience – what amounts to a custom website for every consumer – has been the Holy Grail of marketing for over a decade. Yet the very concept is conflicted, fragmented and confusing. Ask 10 marketers to define personalization and you’ll get 10 answers. You’ll also find that despite all the hype, the bar has been set low; most of these same marketers are hoping for nothing more than a few product recommendations or more effective targeting.

Even the experts don’t give us a whole lot of direction on personalization. According to Forrester, Web personalization is “creating experiences on websites or through interactive media that are unique to individuals or segments of consumers.” Just about as vague as every other definition.

In reality, every specific piece of information you can gain about your customer – from search information to online behavior and purchases – can be used to create a personalized experience. Which means that your approach to personalization can be as simple (using one or two collected insights) or complex (a detailed formula based on multiple insights) as you want it to be.

With the right combination of technology, research and testing, ecommerce businesses can now deliver a personalized online experience that far exceeds anything that can be delivered in store – short of hiring a dedicated personal shopper. With the right personalization strategy and tools, companies can create an online equivalent of a brick-and-mortar store where anything a consumer might want is located in a single aisle.

Technology is So Personal
It goes without saying that your marketing team is comprised of geniuses, but a lack of imagination – and technology – may be limiting their vision when it comes to personalization.

Yes, they’ve thought about segmentation, recommendations and retargeting, but these techniques are only a fraction of what technology now allows. New sophisticated real-time automated SaaS solutions empower marketers to create personalized experiences that far exceed what was previously possible. With SaaS solutions working in tandem with strategy and implementation, companies can begin to move towards complex forms of personalization – and achieve online what is already being done offline with propensity modeling and other business analytics.

Really, knowing about low-cost SaaS solutions – and how to use them to take advantage of opportunity – might just be the most significant indicator of marketing genius.

Getting Started with Personalization
Once the right technology is in place, one of the best ways to get started with personalization is with a set of “rules” that define parameters. These rules establish conditions for a specific visitor experience; for every insight gleaned, you create a more and more personalized experience.

Of course, rules don’t exist in a vacuum. When defining them, you must take into account known consumer behaviors, including the various stages that shoppers go through when making any kind of purchase and the fact that they may visit your site several times before actually pulling the “buy now” trigger. While this knowledge might seem to complicate your rules in the immediate, it can be used to your advantage.

Sure, go ahead and create rules for first-time visitors, but you can and should also create more complicated formulas that incorporate insights and data from previous visits and apply them to future visits. So, for example, retarget a repeat visitor based on the last product they searched for during their last visit. This rule path can then be enhanced with complementary content or offerings, whether for discount on the searched product or an up-sell on similar items. It’s personalization that gives customers what they want and shows them that you value them – a must for creating relationships and loyalty online.

Keep in mind, however, that while targeting with rules is effective and often a great place to start, it does have its limitations.

Marketers will find it nearly impossible to manually define rules for expansive websites that have vast and diverse daily traffic. In this case, technology needs to be partnered with sophisticated behavioral targeting through mathematical models that allow you to predict the most compelling content and offers based on known insights and data points about each visitor. This type of model learns and adjusts dynamically over time to optimize visitor experiences with content that yields the highest conversion rate. This approach is also better for the broader range of content (product types, specific brands or destinations) that each individual can get based on unique predictive attributes.

Using Product Recommendations the Right Way
Want to see great personalization in action?  Amazon continues to set the gold standard for best practices in personalization. The site has an unparalleled ability to recognize and deftly exploit consumers’ online browsing and buying habits. (Of course, it also has the advantage of customer interactions living entirely online, while most retailers have offline presences that dilute their ability to gather insights.)

Because of Amazon’s clear success, almost every major ecommerce site has taken steps to mimic Amazon’s highly successful interactions with returning customers. (“You were interested in XYZ, so you may enjoy ABC,” etc.) Read More…