Everyone talks about Facebook, Twitter and to some extent Foursquare when addressing the power of social media. Sometimes – IPO news notwithstanding – it seems like LinkedIn is the forgotten stepchild. People know it’s there but they don’t know what to do with it. Companies may have a hard time viewing LinkedIn as anything more than an online resume repository. But like any other social network, LinkedIn offers opportunities to increase brand awareness and user reach in search space. When properly leveraged, LinkedIn can help you tap into your career-minded audience and build your professional network – connections that could drive client relationships.
Many companies place LinkedIn solely in the hands of human resources. LinkedIn is a great recruiting tool but it is also a great way to improve your page one rankings on Google, Bing and Yahoo; therefore, it should be part of any Search and Social optimization campaign. Incorporating relevant keywords into your LinkedIn profile and joining or creating LinkedIn Groups can build up your search authority on the major search engines. Also, utilizing the LinkedIn RSS feed is a great way to drive traffic to your corporate blog. According to HubSpot, small businesses that actively blog get, on average, 97% more inbound links, 434% more indexed pages and 55% more site visits. That is some serious SEO mojo you could be giving your LinkedIn page.
Unfortunately for LinkedIn, it is lacking the cool factor inherent in Facebook and Twitter. People don’t like – Facebook pun not intended – updating is as often. But content additions and revisions help improve search rankings, which makes incorporating them into LinkedIn important to your overall search strategy.
In its Interactive Marketing Forecast Report, Forrester Research portends that search, display advertising, mobile, email marketing and social media will drive a 35% increase in ad spending by 2016. That’s certainly good news worth believing in, especially coming from such a respected source. The report is full of interesting statistics and industry forecasts but one prediction is particularly eye-catching; the growth of interactive marketing will essentially sign the death warrant of the daily deal. Again, it’s tough to argue with Forrester but this may be a tad rash.
Daily deals have become an important results-driver within the affiliate marketing channel, which is conspicuously absent in the Forrester growth model. This is strange considering Forrester predicted US affiliate marketing spend would hit the $4 billion mark by 2014. Also, other performance channels like email marketing and social media have spearheaded the success of daily deals through advanced geo-targeting and effective consumer engagement. Perhaps Forrester is equating the recent trials and tribulations of Groupon with the whole of daily deals. Groupon is the big fish but it isn’t the only fish. Nowhere was that more evident than at last week’s DailyDealMedia Conference where some of the heaviest brand hitters sung the praises of the daily deal.
Daily deals detractors often point to the savvy consumer as the eventual downfall of the industry. Can a company really grow with a fly by night customer only interested in a 90% coupon? No, not if the sole ROI metric is profitability. Many companies leverage daily deals for engagement or branding similar to the non-revenue ROI goals of many social media campaigns. And yet it’s doubtful any research firm will be signaling the end of social anytime soon. Given their positive impact on the affiliate marketplace, daily deals deserve a place at the interactive marketing table. Maybe the industry needs to offer Forrester a kick arse coupon.
Advertisers and marketers need to keep singing it. Why? Because online users continue to view display advertising campaigns as intrusive and essentially tone deaf to relevancy. According to research conducted by AdKeeper and 24/7 Real Media, 58% of users don’t click on display ads because they’re deemed irrelevant to their needs. Performance channels, display advertising included, are meant to drive efficient growth. But such compiled data makes that a tough sell. So what’s the solution? How about some common sense targeting!
Folks aren’t interesting in anything that makes life harder. Life is hard enough. When users are online searching for products and services, they want to get in and out fast. They don’t want ads of dance-challenged men sporting beer guts promoting muscle building products to impede their search for an apartment. When checking on travel delays, they don’t want to have to squint to find the X to close out an ad for a breakthrough diet supplement. These are just a few examples of banner ads gone terribly awry. They leave a bad taste in the mouths of users and do great harm to the industry as a whole.
The good news that can be inferred from that AdKeeper and 24/7 Real Media statistic is that 42% of users are clicking on display ads or can be persuaded to click. Proper targeting and user-friendly advertising are giving them a reason.
Even in invite-only beta mode, Google+ has made a large impression in the social sphere. And at the risk of throwing off the obvious cheesy pun, the social network certainly has its pluses and minuses. To keep from ending this blog on a sour note, let’s examine where Google+ needs to improve, at least in the eyes of many users:
- The Name Game – Many are up in arms about Google’s insistence on opening accounts with real names. While irksome to individuals, advertisers and marketers who will eventually look to Google+ as a tool for brand advocacy should support the real name policy. It could ensure accurate targeting practices in the short- and long-term.
- Too Early to Launch – On some level, Google underestimated the degree of interest in its social network. Why else would it be launched with a user quota?
- +1 – Though Google’s answer to the Facebook Like is likely (yes another pun) to become a significant engagement tool, the limitations of the network are stymieing its functionality. Also, some in Search have expressed concern that it slows load times.
That’s the not so good news for Google+. But the social network has done something unprecedented. It has gotten under the skin of Facebook prompting it to make sweeping changes to its privacy and tagging capabilities. Google+ Circles allow people to pick and choose the things they want to share and the people they want to share them with. The circles graphically provide users with comfort and security; they can keep information in their own little bubble. The same couldn’t be said of Facebook – until now.
If asked whether these changes were a direct response to Google+, Facebook would likely hedge. But the lesson to be learned from these improvements is that social competition is a good thing. It brings out the best in each network and promotes continuous improvement of functionality for users, advertisers and marketers.
Today is Day 2 of Affiliate Summit East 2011. The ASE website calls it the premier affiliate marketing conference and few would argue that assertion. But few would also deny that the affiliate landscape has matured recognizing and acknowledging the need for cross-channel, agency-based program integration to drive results and profits for advertisers and publishers. Even though the ASE is unlikely to re-brand, signs of this shift in mentality are evident in the diverse panels and speaking engagements at the event. That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that the evolution of affiliate marketing isn’t well known outside the industry. For instance, public sentiment on the Nexus Affiliate Tax is only now beginning to slowly turn in favor of affiliate marketers. While that’s a step in the right direction, federal regulation remains a very real possibility, one that can hinder short-term and long-term profitability and growth. The bottom line is many people still have an adverse view of affiliate marketing.
They say good things come in threes. Over the three-day Affiliate Summit East 2011 conference, emerging platforms like social media and mobile will be addressed and broad and niche-based affiliate and SEO topic discussions will be held. The event is always fun and chock full of insightful learnings. But what happens after the conference is just as important as the conference itself. Affiliates must drive conversions; they should strive to change the minds of outsiders currently fearful of the marketplace and help them understand the ROI benefits of a cross-channel and integrated performance approach.
Social media experts obsessed with engagement are quick to point out that tweeting links works. According to Adam Bain, Twitter President of Global Revenue, 80% of Twitter engagement is link clicking. At first glance, that is a powerful statistic, especially for companies and brands looking to drive thought leadership initiatives. Theoretically, spreading your industry knowledge to a relevant Twitter audience could generate leads and revenue. But you need to have your best practices ducks in a row in order to make this theory come to fruition.
- Thought Leaders, Know Your Followers – Articles on the importance of engaging your followers are published ad nauseam. The strength of social media is squarely in the consumer’s hands. They don’t want to be told to read your brilliance. If you’re followers are from your specific industry, chances are they are following the same publications you are. Try tweeting links directly from the publication site. It’s much less of a hard sell.
- Embrace the Retweet – Bain added that the remaining 20% of engagement stems from normal tweets and retweets. While that figure might not appear as striking as its 80% counterpart, it is actually more important. Remember that bit about the consumer being the straw that stirs the social drink? Well, if you are a budding or established thought leader, the retweet is a much favored concoction. If a reader deems your article worthy of spreading socially, the retweet is the seal of approval. And if you’re base of followers is industry savvy, they won’t regard it as just another link.
- Link Tweeting = Link Building? – Recently in Graywolf’s SEO Blog, Michael Gray asserted that the desire to acquire Facebook Likes is becoming the equivalent of black hat link building. Couldn’t the same be said of certain Twitter follower building strategies? With Twitter feeds influencing organic search rankings and with link clicking engagement at 80%, it’s plausible that tweeting links for the sake of tweeting links could eventually get Google’s attention. As more and more social networks pursue IPOs, like and tweeting practices will be heavily scrutinized. Again, this brings us back to point #1 – ensure your follower base is relevant to your industry.
Building up a strong thought leadership program requires driving awareness. Leveraging social media channels is a great way to go about it, as long as you know your audience. Tweeting a link to a piano playing cat might get you followers in the short-term but it’s doubtful many will stick around when your social conversation turns to high level topics that are of no interest to them. After all, a true leader never has to ask for followers. They just come naturally.
I did something interesting today. Well, interesting to me. I went on dictionary.com and looked up social. Twelve similar definitions came up but I was most intrigued by #4:
- living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation: People are social beings.
Let’s apply that definition to social media. The need for companionship across a plethora of social channels has given way to an increased competitive spirit. Companies whose social strategy is “More, More, More” are determined to build their friend count hoping this will translate into sales. And though that may sound good, even reasonable, social media marketing is much more complex. Turns out having a whole bunch of friends can be very isolating if you don’t know what to do with them.
For instance, take my local gym. It currently lists over 1,300 friends on Facebook. Perusing the friend list, I can honestly say I’ve never seen any of these people working out. That begs the title question – What Do You Do With the Friends You Have? For friends to convert into revenue, they have to be the right friends. To that end, search and email marketing would help.
Small to mid-level businesses, my gym included, should update their Facebook profiles to continuously attract higher search results and engage users. In order to improve social search positioning, your corporate profile shouldn’t resemble your personal profile. If you’re a gym, your corporate profile is not the place to praise the latest menu option at the local pizzeria. Also, include relevant brand keywords like “fitness”, “workout routines”, “cardio” and “exercise”. Search marketers can help you create a keyword portfolio designed to be both cost-efficient and results-effective.
On the email side, creating a newsletter or promotional messaging will not only benefit your Facebook friends but their interested and actionable network as well. With respect to my gym, social email marketing can take its pool of friends, wean out the ones that are less likely to join and fortify efforts to get those interested on the treadmill.
More, more, more can work if your goal is to take your friends and turn them into sales. Each business has its own unique brand identity. The mistake companies make is equating friend counts with furthering that identity. Ultimately too many friends without a sound performance-based strategy can prove very socially isolating.
Search is in a constant state of evolution. But that doesn’t mean the evolution is green. For search marketers on the PPC side of the spectrum, campaign spending can still be costly and satisfactory returns can still be hard to quantify. It’s a puzzle that PPC. But does it really have to be? Not necessarily. Not if you consider the campaign benefits of calculating Quality Score.
Without getting deep into algorithms and metrics, Quality Score measures relevance. It helps customers find sites relevant to their search and it enables advertisers to benefit from creating relevant ads. Click-through rates (CTRs) as well as ad text and landing page relevancy are key factors in calculating Quality Score. By generating a high scoring ad (10 being the cream of the crop) you are essentially telling Google that you’re a relevancy star. I know what you’re thinking. How does relevancy stardom translate into lower PPC costs?
Let’s briefly analyze the three key factors in determining Quality Score. CTRs are the main ingredient in calculating Quality Score. If people are clicking on your ad, they are confirming its overall relevancy. The more CTRs produced, the more revenue generated. Therefore, a high Quality Score will keep you from wasting critical PPC spend on ads that aren’t converting. As for ad text and landing page relevancy, these are controllable metrics. By testing and retesting ads and landing pages, you can make improvements to your Quality Score by focusing on areas like:
- Keyword performance
- Content relevance
- Page load performance
There is a reason Quality Score is such a trusted PPC metric. It helps drive better, more efficient results. Of course, there are other metrics to consider based on your campaign goals. But it’s in your best interest not to count Quality Score out.
Display ad spending rose above $10 billion for the first time in 2010 and is poised to produce even more growth by the end of in 2011. 20% of growth was based on impressions while 26% was related to spend. One of the strategies driving both impression and spend growth are homepage takeovers. According to a report by Macquarie, homepage takeovers accounted for 26% of all homepage ads via Yahoo, AOL and MSN in Q4 2010, up from 18% in Q3 2010. And unless you were living under a rock on July 15th, you saw they were a big part of Warner Brothers push to promote the final Harry Potter. As appealing as the growth potential surrounding homepage takeovers is, it’s wise to determine whether or not your campaign really needs to take that step.
Takeovers aren’t cheap. They can swallow up hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign spend. They are certainly not appropriate for Mom and Pop businesses. But for some campaigns, the benefits – exclusivity and 100% share of prime online real estate – outweigh the costs.
Understanding advertiser goals is important but so is keeping them in line with publisher revenue objectives. For example, if an advertiser is looking to stage a homepage takeover promoting the MLB Game of the Week but your publisher network is mainly education-based, where is the ROI incentive for the pub? With regard to the advertiser, what good is securing a top homepage placement if you can’t guarantee the right audience is exposed to it?
Whether you are launching a standard display campaign or planning a homepage takeover, precise audience targeting is crucial to maximizing user reach and increasing ROI. The strategic targeting and tracking of prospective customers ensures that the right ad will get to the right user at the right time. Geographical, contextual and behavioral targeting drastically improves your chances of relevant engagement. And with social media becoming more of a force in the display marketplace, any sized campaign should leverage Facebook and YouTube.
Staging a homepage takeover requires a cautious approach and a deep analysis of the pros and cons for advertisers, publishers and consumers. Make sure you have a diverse, strong ad network at your disposal, one with 3rd party and proprietary technologies to meet your tracking and targeting needs. Also, set attainable ROI expectations for publishers. Homepage takeovers can drive serious growth for some campaigns but they can financially cripple others. Leveraging display advertising expertise could help make your homepage takeover quite a campaign coup.
Email is not dead. Email marketing is not dead. But email marketing as we have known it to be in the past, well, that’s forever changed. For email marketing to truly be effective for driving consumer interest, sales and ROI, it has to be performance-based. Performance-based email programs recognize that consumers are the new brand ambassadors. They like being in control and dictating the sales cycle. Think Social Media. They are also much more on the go and want relevant, timely messaging to fit their busy lifestyles. Think Mobile. By incorporating those emerging platforms with strong data and effective segmenting, you can take your email marketing to the next level. And yet, there are some email marketing truths that remain steadfast even amid the changing digital landscape and some that might surprise the most experience online marketer.
In email marketing more than most channels, providing a compelling albeit user-friendly customer experience is key. You don’t have to go much further than your own inbox to know that there is far too much email infiltrating the space. People don’t have time to go through each and every one, which makes targeting, tracking and data acquisition absolute musts. Also, email marketers need to make it easy for users to opt-in, opt-out and unsubscribe. Yes, you read correctly. If a customer wants out of your campaign, you should consider that knowledge a good thing. It means you won’t be wasting time and resources trying to target products and services to someone uninterested in what you have to offer. Redirect those offers to consumers who what to hear more about your brand.
When it comes to email marketing, you can make the case that everything old is new again. Email marketing has always been one of the more cost-effective and result-driving channels in the performance industry. By incorporating new philosophies stemming from emerging channels and adhering to some old rules, your email marketing will not only stay alive – it will thrive.