How To Beat Your Competitors At PPC

archer aiming downward at target

When it comes to online advertising, one of the top points of frustration for clients and prospects is the visibility of their chief competitors. Whether the performance of other advertisers in the marketplace is due to skill, luck, or both, there are strategies that can maximize your returns no matter who is sitting at the table.

Perception is reality. Perception is the competition showing up “all the time” in the search engine results. The reality is that there are methods to overcome those obstacles despite your market being severely entrenched.

What makes you stand out? In sales and marketing, we call this your “unique selling proposition”, “USP”, or “value props”. In the pay-per-click advertising discipline, this ties directly into your ad copy. Assuming your keywords are well chosen, your bids are sound, and other targeted settings are optimized, you now have a potential customer and this is your chance to shine.

If you are concerned with keeping up with the Joneses, start mapping your competitors’ searches and ads. Examine how they market themselves. How can you use their marketing strategies for your benefit? What common themes do you see? What kinds of value props are they advertising? Short lead times? Low cost? Huge inventory?

If you partner with an agency, you will most likely have access to more sophisticated tools for your strategy. You will be able to see the paid keywords and ads your competitor’s websites are ranking for. Use this information to make decisions. This is more efficient than manually doing Google searches and recording the results.

Keep in mind that playing off of existing ideas seen in ads is a great way to get started and put yourself in the mindset for developing new ad copy for yourself. However, the real win is going to be differentiating yourself from the herd, especially in a case when Google is serving 10 text ads in the same results page.

When everyone else in the market is competing on the basis of price, take this as an opportunity to offer value that no one else can. Whether that comes in the form of education, quality, or customer service, you want to take your moment of truth in the search engine results and capitalize on the value that sets you apart.

To do some more advanced brainstorming, I would recommend generating a spreadsheet. Begin by mapping out features and corresponding benefits of your products or services. Ask for an outside perspective; it’s easy to have tunnel vision when you’re so close to your business every day.

From there, think about how people might find you on the search engines. What kinds of searches might lead them to your website? How might someone’s readiness to contact you or purchase influence the type of messaging they are likely to respond well to?

With this information prepared, you are ready to sit down and write ads that are contextual and relevant. Good ads speak to the user at the right moment in the right way based on the keywords they will show for. By taking the time to work through this creative process, you will already be steps ahead of most of your competitors.

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How To Develop A Successful Online Marketing Strategy

I’m going to start with a pretty big assumption: you know that you need to market your business online. You’ve read that online sales are expected to grow from $225 Billion in 2012 to $491 Billion in 2018.You are also aware that even when a purchase does not occur online that 81% of consumers research online before buying. “But Justin,” you say, “those are e-commerce and B2C driven statistics. You’ve left out the fact that 78% of B2B buyers start their research with search!” And you are absolutely right! Again, we’re all savvy business owners and operators so the question is not if we should invest in online marketing, it’s how we invest.

The majority of users will have their first impression of your business online, so make it count. Do it right and you will earn the new business you’re looking for. Do it wrong and your competitors will be writing you thank you cards for driving customers away.

Step 1: Define Your Goals

This may seem like an obvious step, but you’d be surprised how often defining marketing goals is overlooked or taken for granted. Business owners assume that their marketing department knows what they want for their business. Marketing Executives think their agency understands their business goals because they were alluded to over a series of five separate e-mails/phone calls/meetings. Hindsight reveals these obvious disconnects, but I get it: when you are in the thick of a project, goals and objectives can get lost. It happens to the best of us.

To avoid these disconnects, I focus on the SMART method for goal development. It ensures the goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

  • Specific – Be specific with your marketing goals. Business owners are going to have the goal of growing their business/revenue/clientele etc… This is admirable and necessary for their business to succeed but it lacks the specificity needed to effectively market the company. Will the business grow through promotion of a new product line? Or acquiring international business? Or by expanding into new markets? Take the time to identify your specific objective.
  • Measurable – You should be able to measure how your efforts are performing in relation to your goal. This will help you keep track of the progress made while the campaign is running, and will also help you determine how effective your marketing efforts are at the end of the day.
  • Attainable – While everyone would love to have a site that drives millions of visitors a day, this is not possible for 99+% of site owners. While I applaud and encourage aggressive marketing goals, a healthy dose of reality will help you set the proper expectations and help you succeed in the long run.
  • Relevant – A relevant goal will be appropriate for your business, industry and your target audience. For example, reaching 1000 views of your YouTube video tutorial by the end of the month may be specific, measurable, attainable and time-bound, but it’s probably not relevant if your target demographic is 65+ years old.
  • Time-bound – Setting a time-frame can help keep your efforts on track as there will be specific deadlines around your marketing strategy. Grounding your goal in a time-frame will also provide you with boundaries to accurately measure the success of your strategy.

Step 2: Identify Your Assets

The key to success in an online marketing campaign is having a bevy of tools at your disposal all working in harmony. You cannot maximize marketing results by relying on one channel. Even if your goal is to raise your social following, you need your website to promote your social properties, specific markup to make sharing easy and interactive, or an incentive/giveaway for those that choose to follow.

Start by creating an inventory of the various assets that you have to support your online marketing campaign. This will be a mixture of digital assets, physical assets and manpower. Don’t limit this list based on your specific goals. This list should be comprehensive and a resource that can be updated/re-used for future marketing efforts.

Then evaluate each asset on a scale of 1 to 5 (5=I’ve got the best asset in town, 1=I sure hope that no one sees this…). This will help you identify opportunities for improvement as well as which assets are ready to promote your marketing initiative.

There are numerous assets that may be at your disposal but here are a few examples and what you should be evaluating. Also consider getting a third party involved for some of the more subjective criteria.

Website: This is the crux of any marketing campaign, let alone an online campaign. Make sure this is looked at with the most critical eye. Some things to consider during your evaluation:

  • Is my site responsive? Mobile usage is spiking and sites with a poor experience on phones and tablets will suffer.
  • Does my website appropriately represent my brand? You’ve worked hard to build a world-class business, does your website reflect that?
  • Is my site setup to convert? Depending on your goals, is your set built to guide users to your desired outcome (form completion, e-mail, social share etc…)?

Blog: A blog can be a great way to develop fresh content that users in your industry and marketplace are looking for, but only if executed properly:

  • Do you have a target audience in mind? You should have an understanding of who you are trying to speak to in order to develop appropriate blog topics.
  • Does your content have value? Make sure you’re developing content that there is demand for. An easy way to do that is talk to your sales or customer service team to brainstorm questions or concerns that customers have when buying your products/services. Then develop content to address those questions and concerns.
  • Do you post frequently? There is no magic number for the frequency of blog posts, however a blog that is poorly maintained or ignored can hurt more than it helps. Choose a posting frequency that is both realistic for your team, and often enough to promote confidence in users.

Social Media: Like a blog, social media can be a great tool when utilized properly. It gives businesses the ability to engage with their customers and promote their content.

  • Are you on the right social properties? There are many different social media outlets to choose from and not every one of them is right for your business. An understanding of your customers, industries and products can provide insights into where you need to be active and which media you can avoid.
  • Have you optimized/branded your social accounts? Social media can be used to search through their database of users/companies/pages so optimizing your account with keywords can help users find you. Also, make sure that the account is an appropriate reflection of your company and brand. Use similar color schemes, logos, and value propositions to maintain consistency.
  • Do you post frequently/appropriately? Each social media is different and has their own set of best practices. Take some time to learn about what those are before giving up on a social media channel.

Download our full Marketing Asset Evaluation Worksheet to complete a full assessment.


Step 3: Create your plan

Now that you have your goals and an understanding of the assets at your disposal, the time has come to create your master marketing plan. When creating your plan, make sure that you are setting deadlines, timelines and expectations for the various marketing channels. With all of the variables and uncertainty that come along with a marketing campaign, this allows you to take a modicum of control over the strategy. It also helps when you go back to analyze the plan to understand its effectiveness.

Step 4: Execute!

This may sound like a no-brainer but you need to put the plan into action. It’s easy to get lazy or overlook a part of the plan that you think is less valuable, but you took the time to develop an elaborate plan, now you need to see it in action.

Remember: your plan may be a work in progress. There may be channels that perform really well and you may want to allocate more time and budget sacrificing underperforming parts of the plan. I would advise that you be flexible while also being patient. Some marketing efforts take time to build momentum and yield results. Pulling the trigger too quickly could cost you in the long run.

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Top 3 Benefits of Combining SEO and PPC

There is a lot of controversy about whether organic or paid digital marketing channels provide the best return for businesses. This debate continues even within the search marketing community, and each side claims a number of well-known and respected proponents. Putting that all aside for a moment, ask yourself this clarifying question:

Are you thinking about search marketing in the way that makes sense for your business?

If there is one thing that both sides can agree on, it is that visibility in the search engines is a good thing, and we all want more of it. The scarcity of the top positions in search engines for valuable keywords is real, as is the opportunity cost of not playing the game at all. If you are not actively engaged in improving your visibility where it counts, the likelihood that your competitors will ultimately benefit is very high.

The best thing that you can do is to view search marketing as an investment that deserves a strategy. A partnership with a team of experts makes the breadth of this strategy more manageable and allows you to capitalize on more of the opportunities at hand. The best search marketing strategies do not favor organic over paid, but find ways to optimize the use of both channels to reap the greatest benefit.

Below are the highest impact ways that including both of these channels in your arsenal can improve your online marketing strategy and make you a better, more efficient brand evangelist:

  1. Keyword data. The #1 way to determine what works well in search is to battle test keywords in a pay-per-click campaign. This will reveal not only click-through rates for given terms in your specific geographic area, but also valuable insight into which keywords your audience is actually searching in order to trigger your ads. Once you have these insights, you need to make them actionable! Follow the market; map the best performing keywords to your website and do on-page optimization while continuing to develop content around them. These efforts will pay off by bringing in more organic traffic down the road. Additionally, they will help to improve your quality scores for paid search, which will provide savings and boost average ad position with time.
  1. Occupy more real estate in the search results page. There have been multiple studies done that suggest that click-through rates in the search engine results increase dramatically when multiple results for the same domain exist on the same page. With PPC & SEO, you can build strategies to try and rank highly for terms of great value to your business. By taking over spots both on top, in the side bar, through Shopping ads, local, and organic results, the opportunities for a strong brand to own SERPs for their key terms is higher than ever. Plus, having a plan in place for both disciplines will make you more resilient to changes in the ranking algorithms.
  1. Achieve greater spending efficiencies when you work with an agency that isn’t organized in silos. By sharing keyword data among teams within the agency, you can optimize spending by channel. On the paid side, you can review the “Paid vs. Organic” report in Google AdWords to see which terms perform better where – and adjust strategy accordingly. What used to work well in the past may not be working as well today. For instance, new advertisers are always entering the marketplace, and occasionally bid automation software will drive up the cost of individual keywords to a point that makes their paid ROI negligible. If that kind of situation arises, you can begin working on an organic ranking strategy to stay relevant for that term and save money in the process.

Working with someone that understands how your business objectives can be mapped to a marketing strategy and subsequently deployed through all of the tools available (such as search engine optimization and pay per click) will put you among the elite in today’s digital marketing world. A good strategy is comprehensive, integrated, and tied to the numbers. So if you haven’t been putting your website to work for you in as many ways as possible, ask yourself:

Are you thinking about search marketing in the way that makes sense for your business?

Follow the author of this post, Ben Page, at @Benjamin_Page.

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The Importance of Claiming Your Company Name on Twitter

Every company should claim their company’s name on Twitter – even if you don’t plan on tweeting. The biggest reason is to claim your company’s name before someone else does. But there are other reasons, which I will cover in this blog post.

It’s Easy

Setting up a Twitter account is easy and takes only a few minutes. There are many great tutorials that will guide you through the process. This tutorial is old, but I like it and find it is still very useful.

Creates Consistent Branding

As I mentioned at the outset, claiming your company’s name on Twitter is very important. All too often, we will help a client set up a new social media campaign only to discover that their company name is already being used on Twitter.Name Chck Image_revised

There are a number of platforms created to check the availability of Twitter handles. My favorite is NameChk, which is shown above. With this free tool you can check the availability of potential names on Twitter as well as more than 150 social media platforms.

Your company may not actively use Twitter now, but you may decide to in the future. Capturing your company name on Twitter helps maintain your company branding. In most cases, you don’t have to worry about your Twitter handle expiring. Even if your account remains inactive for longer than six months, which is when Twitter deems it as being an inactive account, it most likely won’t get claimed by another person. If you are concerned about your account becoming inactive, you can periodically send out a tweet to maintain the account’s activity.

Access to Monitoring Tools

One of the greatest aspects of Twitter is having access to information from respected authorities in various industries. Once you have a Twitter account, you can access tools like TweetDeck, which takes social media monitoring to a whole new level.

Tweetdeck image

TweetDeck is awesome because it allows you to set up multiple streams for following different data sets. TweetDeck allows you to track people who are mentioning you, your company or various brands, track your Twitter’s account activity, interact with different people; and manage all of your interactions. All of these things can be very helpful for managing your marketing activities.

Just Do It

So even if you don’t have immediate plans to start tweeting, take a few minutes out of your day and claim your Twitter handle. It’s simple, easy and will provide great opportunities for branding in the future.

 

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Conversion Tracking Within Google AdWords

Measuring the Effectiveness of your PPC Advertising

With the recent changes to popular naming conventions within AdWords, as well as the updates to the methods used for measuring conversions themselves, I thought a fresh look at the way we measure conversions within the dashboard was in order. A pre-requisite for tracking within AdWords is to make sure that:

  • AdWords auto-tagging is enabled
  • AdWords is linked to a Google Analytics view with goals set up
  • You have imported your Google Analytics goals into Adwords

Once you are confident you are tracking all of the goals you need to in your analytics view, you are ready to proceed. Note that I assume you are using call extensions with your ads for the rest of my article. If you need help with establishing any of the above, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@Benjamin_Page) for assistance.

First, you will want to be on the campaigns tab in the dashboard. From there, you will want to customize your columns [“Columns” dropdown > “Customize Columns”] and add the four following:

1. “Converted Clicks” – similar to the old one-per-click conversion column, which tracks unique conversions – because duplicates from multiple conversions via the same ad click are not included here. This column does include users who “clicked to call” using the ad’s call extension.

2. “Estimated Total Conversions” – this also happens to be an area addressed in the Google Partners webinar last week. This column represents estimated cross device, many-per-click, and manually dialed phone call conversions. With many-per-click conversion tracking, duplicates count (see #3).

3. “Conversions” – tracks many-per-click conversions. If one click leads to multiple conversions, all subsequent conversions (within the default 30-day window) are counted here.

4. “Phone Call Conversions” – tracks manually dialed phone call conversions that last over your specified threshold (default is 60 seconds). If someone sees your call extension phone number and manually enters it on their keypad, it is routed through the Google call center and subsequently tracked.

The best way to make this report more visually appealing and actionable is to segment by “Click Type” once you have these columns enabled. From there, you will be able to see clicks on the different parts of the ad, it’s extensions, and the call type.

In this example, there are 84 “Converted Clicks”, 3 of which are mobile clicks-to-call. There are 9 “Phone Call Conversions”, which were manually dialed. This would mean that we saw 93 total unique conversions for that campaign within the specified date range. Presently, this is my favorite (and arguably the safest) way to report conversions: adding “Converted Clicks” and “Phone Call Conversions”. With this, you will get all of the unique on-site conversions, and call conversions – whether manually dialed or click to call.

These two columns are probably the best non-trivial indicators of performance that are quickly available to advertisers. Other metrics like assisted conversions are not without value; they provide some context on the customer journey and help us understand how users interact with our brands post-ad-click. As the methods for offline & cross-device conversion tracking continue to develop, we will get closer to measuring the true impact of our campaigns. For now, though, I’ll leave the estimates alone, and work on improving what I can measure.

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LinkedIn Removes Products & Services – A Guide to LinkedIn Showcase Pages

As of April 14, 2014, LinkedIn has disabled the products and services pages for businesses. GASP! How could they do that? LinkedIn is the social media platform for businesses and companies to showcase their business. LinkedIn states that, “A company page helps LinkedIn members learn about your business, brand and job opportunities.” So why get rid of listing products and services? LinkedIn aims to provide their users a product that is efficient and simple to use, and as a result they have moved in another direction to assist companies reach their audience with tools such as Showcase Pages and Company Updates.

Showcase Pages
Showcase pages allow companies to extend their presence by creating dedicated pages for products and services. The goals behind these pages should be to build long-term and in-depth relationships with members who follow your products and or services. For more information on what a showcase page is visit Hubspot’s Blog on Showcase Pages.

Follow These Steps to Create a Showcase Page.

Step 1: Get started!

Click the down arrow next to the blue Edit button on the Company Page and select “Create a Showcase Page”.

Step 2. Create your Showcase Page

Choose a Showcase Page name that is specific to a product or service.

Step 3. Upload an image and write a description

Be sure the image you choose is consistent with your website and your other social media pages. Your description should be 200 characters or less, and should include strategic keywords and a link to your website.

Step 4. Upload logos

Include a standard logo (100x60pixels) and a square logo (50x50pixels).


Step 5. List Featured Groups

You must either be an admin or a member of each group to list them.

Step 6. Add a URL and select your industry

On the right side of the page, be sure to add a Showcase Page Website URL. Choose a landing page that relates to the product or services you are showcasing. Also, choose a Main Showcase Page Industry. Finally, make sure the showcase page is listing under the company parent page.

Step 7. Publish Your Post


How to use your LinkedIn Showcase Pages with Company Updates
Showcase pages should be used for a specific product or service your company offers. These pages are linked to your company’s LinkedIn page and are an extension of your website. Here are a few tips on what to post on these pages:

  • Product announcements
  • Relevant company and industry news
  • Previous posts you made to the company page or on other platforms.
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Is your marketing plan scoring ROI points, or are you just playing defense?

Readers of this blog, by and large, are marketing people. You understand that marketing is an investment that can pay significant returns. However, many of you report to non-marketing people who may regard marketing as an expense. This post is for you. It’s going to help you explain to your boss why investing in marketing is a really profitable idea.

Let’s do a little thought experiment.

Imagine a company that spends absolutely nothing on marketing. Now imagine another company that spends 100% of its revenue on marketing. Neither of these companies is going to be around for very long. The first company won’t have any marketing-related expenses, but they also won’t have much in the way of sales. The second company might get a lot of sales, but their marketing expenses will wipe out all their profits.

Obviously, these are extreme, hypothetical examples. However, as we move away from these opposing ends of the spectrum, we can create a picture that illustrates the “right” amount of marketing investment.

The point of increasing returns

Everyone understands the concept of the point of diminishing returns. It’s the point where spending more money begins to result in smaller and smaller gains. We don’t talk about it as often, but it stands to reason that there’s also a point of increasing returns.

Are you playing defense or offense?

Now let’s put some numbers on that curve and consider how it relates to ROI. As you can see, in this hypothetical example, an investment of $30,000 results in a return of $30,722. Increasing the investment to $32,500 yields a return of $49,248. A further increase to $35,000 results in a return of $74,057.

Calculating the ROI of these investments, we find that the $30,000 investment has an ROI of 2%. Pretty much a wash. This is what I consider “defensive marketing”. Defensive marketing doesn’t significantly increase sales; it simply gets an organization “in the game” and allows it to conduct business. At $32,500, the ROI increases substantially to 52%. Increasing the investment by another $2,500 more than doubles the ROI to 112%. At this point, the marketing effort has gone on “offense” by bringing in profits that significantly exceed the marketing expenses.

Incremental ROI

Here’s where things get really eye-opening. When we increased our hypothetical marketing investment from $30,000 to $32,500, the return increased by $18,526. The incremental ROI of that $2,500 increase was 741%. And it continues to get better. Our next $2,500 bump will increase the return by $24,810, which means its incremental ROI will be 992%!

So what does this mean?

Most digital marketing investments are scalable; we get to choose how much or how little of them we want to do, and how much we want to spend to do them well. This is true of SEO, pay-per-click advertising, social media, blogging, and video. Similarly, if you’ve been through a website redesign, you know that costs can range from less than $10,000 to well over $100,000. It all depends on what you want to accomplish and how important marketing is to the overall success of your business.

The point of this exercise is to illustrate how important it is to invest the right amount of money in your marketing efforts. As the graphs above show, a small increase in your investment can have a dramatic effect on your ROI. On a related note, we can also see how important it is to invest in the right number of marketing tactics. Spreading our investments thinly across a large number of tactics keeps us down on the defensive part of the ROI curve. Instead, we should focus on a core set of integrated marketing tactics and invest enough resources in them to go on the offensive.

Putting it into practice – with a caveat

I have a dilemma. I want this post to contain some practical application advice. At the same time, I don’t want to get too “salesy”. So, if you get what I’m saying and you have a clear idea for how to put it into practice, stop reading right here.

I’m going to be real frank with those of you who are still reading. Too many of us settle for defensive marketing, especially when it comes to our websites. I’ve been guilty of it myself. A website build or re-build is a major undertaking, and it usually costs a sizable chunk of our marketing budgets. We get a lot of pressure from the well-meaning holders of the purse-strings, so we try to keep the cost to a minimum. But when we do that, we end up with a website that doesn’t do a good enough job at attracting traffic, creating a favorable brand impression, giving visitors a really good experience, and making it easy and rewarding for them to take a step forward in the buying process.

So here’s my advice to you: use this article as a tool to demonstrate the value and the necessity for things like search engine marketing, digital advertising, user testing, social media, and content marketing. Although these things add cost to your marketing budget, they will quickly accelerate your results up the steep part of the ROI curve. Ultimately, those results will help your fiscally-responsible stakeholders understand and appreciate how marketing truly is an investment that helps increase your profits, not just an expense that diminishes them.

Posted in content marketing, Conversion, Marketing, PPC, ROI, SEO, Social Media, Usability | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Google Pulling Paid Search Keyword Data From Analytics

According to this report posted by Search Engine Land, several sources are reporting that Google is going to stop passing paid search keyword data to analytics, replacing it with the dreaded (not provided).

Now according to these sources, the keyword data will still be available in AdWords, so this will prevent a “PPC is dead!” over-reaction from the search community that occurred when the same thing happened to organic search terms. However, it got me thinking about the ramifications outside of soon-to-be inconvenient reporting for paid search specialists.

Two of the reports that I still find valuable (if a site has a long enough history in Google Analytics) are the Organic and Paid Keyword reports under the Acquisition menu.Google Analytics Keyword Reports

These reports house valuable historical (in the case of organic) and current (paid) data on search queries used to access your site. It has been speculated for a while that the Organic Keyword Report would be phased out by Google, especially with the shift to 100% secured searches from Google. I believe that Google has kept it around because they didn’t want their Paid Keyword Report to be lonely. Now with both channels providing no valuable data whatsoever, I envision these reports are on the fast track to be removed from our lives forever.

“Why does that matter?” you ask. Well if you’re a brand new site or are just being introduced to Google Analytics, it does not mean a whole lot and you should focus your time on learning to unlock the valuable data that Google Analytics still provides. But for those of us who have been around long enough, it means losing all that precious historical data that can still be put to good use. And I don’t mean to get all Andy Rooney on you, but it’s like losing a part of your past, when you could turn to Google Analytics to find exactly which search terms were driving traffic, and you could use that data to improve your website. The nostalgic loss will be the most devastating (at least for me).

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Salespeople Are an Untapped Resource For Content Creation

Salespeople are an integral part of any organization. They generate leads, manage relationships, and help ensure the company continually generates revenue.

They are also on the front line with most companies’ end-users. Because of that, they can be an excellent resource for expanding the content on your website.

Most web pages list the products specifications and features, which is very important. As a search marketer, I’ve seen data that shows that Google is rewarding sites that have more in-depth content. This means that you need to go beyond the basic information about your products. That’s where your sales staff can be an excellent resource.

Answering the Customer’s Questions
During their course of their communication with potential customers, sales people get asked a variety of questions about the products their company offers.
• What separates your equipment from your competition?
• How long will we be able to use the product before needing to replace it?
• Is it difficult to get replacement parts quickly?
• Can anyone service this equipment?
• Is the product compatible with X?

This insight gained through these questions is very valuable because it helps you better understand what the customer wants to know about your products rather than relying on assumptions. By answering some of these common questions, you will be able to build content that you know will appeal to your target audience.

Generating Revenue & Content
Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, identifies the Virginia-based in-ground pool company, River Pools, as a prime example of how effectively this tactic can be. River Pools’ owner, Marcus Sheridan, tracked every question his customers asked and then wrote a blog post for each one. One of the posts he created, about the cost of a fiberglass pool, is estimated to have delivered more than $1 million in revenue, according to Pulizzi. (Source: “Epic Content Marketing“)

Partnering with Your Sales Reps
So next time you are struggling to come up with new content ideas, why not make a sales call to one of your sales reps, and ask them what they are hearing from your clients? Or better yet, do a ride-along. You never know what insights – and new content ideas – will result.

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SEO Versus Engagement Metrics: Correlation or Causation?

Recently, one of the SEO specialists here at Top Floor pointed out that he was seeing a correlation between engagement metrics, specifically Average Visit Duration, and SEO success. That is, in sites that are experiencing growth in Organic Traffic, a corresponding increase in Average Visit Duration was apparent. So we wanted to take a closer look for a connection between a site’s Engagement Metrics (Pages/Visit, Average Visit Duration, and Bounce Rate) and the performance of the website in Organic Search.

I’m An SEO, Why Should I Care About Engagement Metrics?

SEO at its very core is about driving traffic to a website, and there is still a strong sentiment in certain areas of the SEO community that once a user gets to the site, an SEO’s job is complete. I haven’t been in SEO long enough to know if that mind-frame was appropriate or accurate in the early days of SEO. All I know is that SEOs can no longer afford to think that way as search engines get smarter and continue to rely on relevancy and searchers’ intentions. So analyzing what users do once they get to your site is the best way to gauge your site’s relevancy.

At first glance, this makes perfect sense. Google wants to provide their users with the best user experience (read: search results) and the more a user is engaged with the content that was served up by a search result, the better the user experience. When a user returns to the search results and clicks on a different link, this is an indicator that the first link was not what they were looking for. This type of action is referred to as “Pogo-Sticking” and is believed to be a metric that is factored into search engine algorithms.

Rand Fishkin over at Moz had a great Whiteboard Friday presentation on Pogo-Sticking. In the video Rand discusses how Pogo-Sticking may be calculated.

Google measures these kinds of things. So does Bing. They measure this pogo-sticking … X% of people pogo stick away from IT Boston in their first 5 seconds of visiting the site, Y% do it for this BuzzFeed page, and Z% do it for IT 101. We’re going to calculate some average, the average pogo-sticking as sorted and weighted by the ranking position for this particular search result.

Long story short, user engagement is/will be a factor that needs to be monitored by SEOs.

How We Gathered The Data (And Some Disclaimers)

As an agency, we are in a unique position in that we have access to hundreds of Google Analytics accounts so there is quite a bit of data available at our fingertips. For the purposes of this research, we selected 50 sites so the data set was large enough to draw preliminary conclusions.

We chose from sites that had no major updates (redesigns, restructurings, or additions like a blog or knowledge center) over the most recent six month period and compared that data year-over-year to remove any seasonality.

We looked at changes in Organic Traffic, Pages Per Visit, Average Visit Duration, and Bounce Rate.

And now for a couple of disclaimers. We deal primarily with Industrial and Manufacturing clientele that are largely B2B. Data was collected anonymously and any specific performance metrics have been stripped of labels to further ensure anonymity.

What I Expected To Find (Hypothesis)

Given this perceived insight into the search engines’ algorithm, I expected to find a somewhat direct correlation between Organic Visits and the three Engagement Metrics. If a site has a lower Bounce Rate, more Pages Per Vists, and a longer Average Visit Duration, there will be less pogo-sticking and the site should receive more Organic Traffic.

That being said, with the hundreds of ranking factors that go into SEO, we do not have the expectation of finding the “Magic Bullet” to SEO in one of these metrics. We are simply looking for potential relationships across a wide data set.

Now let’s get to the data…

Pages Per Visit

Data

Correlational Coefficient: -0.44

Pages Per Visits Correlation Graph

Analysis

Initially, I was a bit surprised that there was a pretty significant negative correlation between Organic Visits and Pages Per Visit. But the more I thought about it, the more this makes sense. If an SEO campaign is effective in targeting the right audience with the appropriate content, a user should find the majority of what they were searching for on their entry page. There’s less time spent searching through the website to find what they seek.

Average Visit Duration

Data

Correlational Coefficient: -0.28

Average Visit Duration Correlation Graph

Analysis

This is a much weaker negative correlation, but negative nonetheless. As you can see from the chart, the data is not as grouped as in the Pages/Visit graph, with many more outliers. Another factor to take into consideration is that Bounce Visits are tracked in Google Analytics as having 0:00 visit duration. As we make the shift towards trying to answer all of the user may have with the content on a landing page (as Cyrus Shepard of Moz suggests here and here), users may be spending more time digesting the content provided before leaving via a “Bounce”. Especially when you are working within a B2B vertical where the buying process is very long, these types of visits are not necessarily a failure.

Bounce Rate

Data

Correlational Coefficient: +0.22

Bounce Rate Correlation Graph

Analysis

Now this is the data that surprised me most. While it is a very weak correlation, there is still a positive correlation in that as Organic Traffic increased, so did the Bounce Rate. As mentioned in the previous analyses, this may not be troubling. Searchers are typically looking for very specific information, and if we successfully provide that on the landing page, they may have no further need for our site during that visit. Also, with the inability to track how long a user was on site, these Bounces could have occurred after 5 seconds, or 5 minutes.

Summary Of Findings

While the data did not support my hypothesis it still shed some light on how these sites are being utilized after a searcher arrives. I think as SEOs, we owe it to ourselves and our clients to look at the entire package from Visit to Conversion and everything in between. When a marketer works to improve engagement metrics, they are putting the user first and catering a web experience to them. And when you sort through all the vague statements, repetition and actions taken by search engines in the recent years and months; that is what they are looking for. A truly great experience for their customers.

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