Distance from Perfect

Posted by wrttnwrd

In spite of all the advice, the strategic discussions and the conference talks, we Internet marketers are still algorithmic thinkers. That’s obvious when you think of SEO.

Even when we talk about content, we’re algorithmic thinkers. Ask yourself: How many times has a client asked you, “How much content do we need?” How often do you still hear “How unique does this page need to be?”

That’s 100% algorithmic thinking: Produce a certain amount of content, move up a certain number of spaces.

But you and I know it’s complete bullshit.

I’m not suggesting you ignore the algorithm. You should definitely chase it. Understanding a little bit about what goes on in Google’s pointy little head helps. But it’s not enough.

A tale of SEO woe that makes you go “whoa”

I have this friend.

He ranked #10 for “flibbergibbet.” He wanted to rank #1.

He compared his site to the #1 site and realized the #1 site had five hundred blog posts.

“That site has five hundred blog posts,” he said, “I must have more.”

So he hired a few writers and cranked out five thousand blogs posts that melted Microsoft Word’s grammar check. He didn’t move up in the rankings. I’m shocked.

“That guy’s spamming,” he decided, “I’ll just report him to Google and hope for the best.”

What happened? Why didn’t adding five thousand blog posts work?

It’s pretty obvious: My, uh, friend added nothing but crap content to a site that was already outranked. Bulk is no longer a ranking tactic. Google’s very aware of that tactic. Lots of smart engineers have put time into updates like Panda to compensate.

He started like this:

And ended up like this:
more posts, no rankings

Alright, yeah, I was Mr. Flood The Site With Content, way back in 2003. Don’t judge me, whippersnappers.

Reality’s never that obvious. You’re scratching and clawing to move up two spots, you’ve got an overtasked IT team pushing back on changes, and you’ve got a boss who needs to know the implications of every recommendation.

Why fix duplication if rel=canonical can address it? Fixing duplication will take more time and cost more money. It’s easier to paste in one line of code. You and I know it’s better to fix the duplication. But it’s a hard sell.

Why deal with 302 versus 404 response codes and home page redirection? The basic user experience remains the same. Again, we just know that a server should return one home page without any redirects and that it should send a ‘not found’ 404 response if a page is missing. If it’s going to take 3 developer hours to reconfigure the server, though, how do we justify it? There’s no flashing sign reading “Your site has a problem!”

Why change this thing and not that thing?

At the same time, our boss/client sees that the site above theirs has five hundred blog posts and thousands of links from sites selling correspondence MBAs. So they want five thousand blog posts and cheap links as quickly as possible.

Cue crazy music.

SEO lacks clarity

SEO is, in some ways, for the insane. It’s an absurd collection of technical tweaks, content thinking, link building and other little tactics that may or may not work. A novice gets exposed to one piece of crappy information after another, with an occasional bit of useful stuff mixed in. They create sites that repel search engines and piss off users. They get more awful advice. The cycle repeats. Every time it does, best practices get more muddled.

SEO lacks clarity. We can’t easily weigh the value of one change or tactic over another. But we can look at our changes and tactics in context. When we examine the potential of several changes or tactics before we flip the switch, we get a closer balance between algorithm-thinking and actual strategy.

Distance from perfect brings clarity to tactics and strategy

At some point you have to turn that knowledge into practice. You have to take action based on recommendations, your knowledge of SEO, and business considerations.

That’s hard when we can’t even agree on subdomains vs. subfolders.

I know subfolders work better. Sorry, couldn’t resist. Let the flaming comments commence.

To get clarity, take a deep breath and ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will this change, tactic, or strategy move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Breaking it down:

“Change, tactic, or strategy”

A change takes an existing component or policy and makes it something else. Replatforming is a massive change. Adding a new page is a smaller one. Adding ALT attributes to your images is another example. Changing the way your shopping cart works is yet another.

A tactic is a specific, executable practice. In SEO, that might be fixing broken links, optimizing ALT attributes, optimizing title tags or producing a specific piece of content.

A strategy is a broader decision that’ll cause change or drive tactics. A long-term content policy is the easiest example. Shifting away from asynchronous content and moving to server-generated content is another example.

“Perfect”

No one knows exactly what Google considers “perfect,” and “perfect” can’t really exist, but you can bet a perfect web page/site would have all of the following:

  1. Completely visible content that’s perfectly relevant to the audience and query
  2. A flawless user experience
  3. Instant load time
  4. Zero duplicate content
  5. Every page easily indexed and classified
  6. No mistakes, broken links, redirects or anything else generally yucky
  7. Zero reported problems or suggestions in each search engines’ webmaster tools, sorry, “Search Consoles”
  8. Complete authority through immaculate, organically-generated links

These 8 categories (and any of the other bazillion that probably exist) give you a way to break down “perfect” and help you focus on what’s really going to move you forward. These different areas may involve different facets of your organization.

Your IT team can work on load time and creating an error-free front- and back-end. Link building requires the time and effort of content and outreach teams.

Tactics for relevant, visible content and current best practices in UX are going to be more involved, requiring research and real study of your audience.

What you need and what resources you have are going to impact which tactics are most realistic for you.

But there’s a basic rule: If a website would make Googlebot swoon and present zero obstacles to users, it’s close to perfect.

“All other things being equal”

Assume every competing website is optimized exactly as well as yours.

Now ask: Will this [tactic, change or strategy] move you closer to perfect?

That’s the “all other things being equal” rule. And it’s an incredibly powerful rubric for evaluating potential changes before you act. Pretend you’re in a tie with your competitors. Will this one thing be the tiebreaker? Will it put you ahead? Or will it cause you to fall behind?

“Closer to perfect than my competitors”

Perfect is great, but unattainable. What you really need is to be just a little perfect-er.

Chasing perfect can be dangerous. Perfect is the enemy of the good (I love that quote. Hated Voltaire. But I love that quote). If you wait for the opportunity/resources to reach perfection, you’ll never do anything. And the only way to reduce distance from perfect is to execute.

Instead of aiming for pure perfection, aim for more perfect than your competitors. Beat them feature-by-feature, tactic-by-tactic. Implement strategy that supports long-term superiority.

Don’t slack off. But set priorities and measure your effort. If fixing server response codes will take one hour and fixing duplication will take ten, fix the response codes first. Both move you closer to perfect. Fixing response codes may not move the needle as much, but it’s a lot easier to do. Then move on to fixing duplicates.

Do the 60% that gets you a 90% improvement. Then move on to the next thing and do it again. When you’re done, get to work on that last 40%. Repeat as necessary.

Take advantage of quick wins. That gives you more time to focus on your bigger solutions.

Sites that are “fine” are pretty far from perfect

Google has lots of tweaks, tools and workarounds to help us mitigate sub-optimal sites:

  • Rel=canonical lets us guide Google past duplicate content rather than fix it
  • HTML snapshots let us reveal content that’s delivered using asynchronous content and JavaScript frameworks
  • We can use rel=next and prev to guide search bots through outrageously long pagination tunnels
  • And we can use rel=nofollow to hide spammy links and banners

Easy, right? All of these solutions may reduce distance from perfect (the search engines don’t guarantee it). But they don’t reduce it as much as fixing the problems.
Just fine does not equal fixed

The next time you set up rel=canonical, ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will using rel=canonical to make up for duplication move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Answer: Not if they’re using rel=canonical, too. You’re both using imperfect solutions that force search engines to crawl every page of your site, duplicates included. If you want to pass them on your way to perfect, you need to fix the duplicate content.

When you use Angular.js to deliver regular content pages, ask yourself:

“All other things being equal, will using HTML snapshots instead of actual, visible content move my site closer to perfect than my competitors?”

Answer: No. Just no. Not in your wildest, code-addled dreams. If I’m Google, which site will I prefer? The one that renders for me the same way it renders for users? Or the one that has to deliver two separate versions of every page?

When you spill banner ads all over your site, ask yourself…

You get the idea. Nofollow is better than follow, but banner pollution is still pretty dang far from perfect.

Mitigating SEO issues with search engine-specific tools is “fine.” But it’s far, far from perfect. If search engines are forced to choose, they’ll favor the site that just works.

Not just SEO

By the way, distance from perfect absolutely applies to other channels.

I’m focusing on SEO, but think of other Internet marketing disciplines. I hear stuff like “How fast should my site be?” (Faster than it is right now.) Or “I’ve heard you shouldn’t have any content below the fold.” (Maybe in 2001.) Or “I need background video on my home page!” (Why? Do you have a reason?) Or, my favorite: “What’s a good bounce rate?” (Zero is pretty awesome.)

And Internet marketing venues are working to measure distance from perfect. Pay-per-click marketing has the quality score: A codified financial reward applied for seeking distance from perfect in as many elements as possible of your advertising program.

Social media venues are aggressively building their own forms of graphing, scoring and ranking systems designed to separate the good from the bad.

Really, all marketing includes some measure of distance from perfect. But no channel is more influenced by it than SEO. Instead of arguing one rule at a time, ask yourself and your boss or client: Will this move us closer to perfect?

Hell, you might even please a customer or two.

One last note for all of the SEOs in the crowd. Before you start pointing out edge cases, consider this: We spend our days combing Google for embarrassing rankings issues. Every now and then, we find one, point, and start yelling “SEE! SEE!!!! THE GOOGLES MADE MISTAKES!!!!” Google’s got lots of issues. Screwing up the rankings isn’t one of them.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Cheap SEO Companies WILL cost you a fortune

Andrew Radics and Ian Hopkinson can’t say it enough Cheap SEO Companies WILL cost you a fortune. We will be discussing an email sent to us by a client this morning that offers 17 different…

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The Nifty Guide to Local Content Strategy and Marketing

Posted by NiftyMarketing

This is my Grandma.

She helped raised me and I love her dearly. That chunky baby with the Gerber cheeks is
me. The scarlet letter “A” means nothing… I hope.

This is a rolled up newspaper. 

rolled up newspaper

When I was growing up, I was the king of mischief and had a hard time following parental guidelines. To ensure the lessons she wanted me to learn “sunk in” my grandma would give me a soft whack with a rolled up newspaper and would say,

“Mike, you like to learn the hard way.”

She was right. I have
spent my life and career learning things the hard way.

Local content has been no different. I started out my career creating duplicate local doorway pages using “find and replace” with city names. After getting whacked by the figurative newspaper a few times, I decided there had to be a better way. To save others from the struggles I experienced, I hope that the hard lessons I have learned about local content strategy and marketing help to save you fearing a rolled newspaper the same way I do.

Lesson one: Local content doesn’t just mean the written word

local content ecosystem

Content is everything around you. It all tells a story. If you don’t have a plan for how that story is being told, then you might not like how it turns out. In the local world, even your brick and mortar building is a piece of content. It speaks about your brand, your values, your appreciation of customers and employees, and can be used to attract organic visitors if it is positioned well and provides a good user experience. If you just try to make the front of a building look good, but don’t back up the inside inch by inch with the same quality, people will literally say, “Hey man, this place sucks… let’s bounce.”

I had this experience proved to me recently while conducting an interview at
Nifty for our law division. Our office is a beautifully designed brick, mustache, animal on the wall, leg lamp in the center of the room, piece of work you would expect for a creative company.

nifty offices idaho

Anywho, for our little town of Burley, Idaho it is a unique space, and helps to set apart our business in our community. But, the conference room has a fluorescent ballast light system that can buzz so loudly that you literally can’t carry on a proper conversation at times, and in the recent interviews I literally had to conduct them in the dark because it was so bad.

I’m cheap and slow to spend money, so I haven’t got it fixed yet. The problem is I have two more interviews this week and I am so embarrassed by the experience in that room, I am thinking of holding them offsite to ensure that we don’t product a bad content experience. What I need to do is just fix the light but I will end up spending weeks going back and forth with the landlord on whose responsibility it is.

Meanwhile, the content experience suffers. Like I said, I like to learn the hard way.

Start thinking about everything in the frame of content and you will find that you make better decisions and less costly mistakes.

Lesson two: Scalable does not mean fast and easy growth

In every sales conversation I have had about local content, the question of scalability comes up. Usually, people want two things:

  1. Extremely Fast Production 
  2. Extremely Low Cost

While these two things would be great for every project, I have come to find that there are rare cases where quality can be achieved if you are optimizing for fast production and low cost. A better way to look at scale is as follows:

The rate of growth in revenue/traffic is greater than the cost of continued content creation.

A good local content strategy at scale will create a model that looks like this:

scaling content graph

Lesson three: You need a continuous local content strategy

This is where the difference between local content marketing and content strategy kicks in. Creating a single piece of content that does well is fairly easy to achieve. Building a true scalable machine that continually puts out great local content and consistently tells your story is not. This is a graph I created outlining the process behind creating and maintaining a local content strategy:

local content strategy

This process is not a one-time thing. It is not a box to be checked off. It is a structure that should become the foundation of your marketing program and will need to be revisited, re-tweaked, and replicated over and over again.

1. Identify your local audience

Most of you reading this will already have a service or product and hopefully local customers. Do you have personas developed for attracting and retaining more of them? Here are some helpful tools available to give you an idea of how many people fit your personas in any given market.

Facebook Insights

Pretend for a minute that you live in the unique market of Utah and have a custom wedding dress line. You focus on selling modest wedding dresses. It is a definite niche product, but one that shows the idea of personas very well.

You have interviewed your customer base and found a few interests that your customer base share. Taking that information and putting it into Facebook insights will give you a plethora of data to help you build out your understanding of a local persona.

facebook insights data

We are able to see from the interests of our customers there are roughly 6k-7k current engaged woman in Utah who have similar interests to our customer base.

The location tab gives us a break down of the specific cities and, understandably, Salt Lake City has the highest percentage with Provo (home of BYU) in second place. You can also see pages this group would like, activity levels on Facebook, and household income with spending habits. If you wanted to find more potential locations for future growth you can open up the search to a region or country.

localized facebook insights data

From this data it’s apparent that Arizona would be a great expansion opportunity after Utah.

Neilson Prizm

Neilson offers a free and extremely useful tool for local persona research called Zip Code Lookup that allows you to identify pre-determined personas in a given market.

Here is a look at my hometown and the personas they have developed are dead on.

Neilson Prizm data

Each persona can be expanded to learn more about the traits, income level, and areas across the country with other high concentrations of the same persona group.

You can also use the segment explorer to get a better idea of pre-determined persona lists and can work backwards to determine the locations with the highest density of a given persona.

Google Keyword Planner Tool

The keyword tool is fantastic for local research. Using our same Facebook Insight data above we can match keyword search volume against the audience size to determine how active our persona is in product research and purchasing. In the case of engaged woman looking for dresses, it is a very active group with a potential of 20-30% actively searching online for a dress.

google keyword planner tool

2. Create goals and rules

I think the most important idea for creating the goals and rules around your local content is the following from the must read book Content Strategy for the Web.

You also need to ensure that everyone who will be working on things even remotely related to content has access to style and brand guides and, ultimately, understands the core purpose for what, why, and how everything is happening.

3. Audit and analyze your current local content

The point of this step is to determine how the current content you have stacks up against the goals and rules you established, and determine the value of current pages on your site. With tools like Siteliner (for finding duplicate content) and ScreamingFrog (identifying page titles, word count, error codes and many other things) you can grab a lot of information very fast. Beyond that, there are a few tools that deserve a more in-depth look.

BuzzSumo

With BuzzSumo you can see social data and incoming links behind important pages on your site. This can you a good idea which locations or areas are getting more promotion than others and identify what some of the causes could be.

Buzzsumo also can give you access to competitors’ information where you might find some new ideas. In the following example you can see that one of Airbnb.com’s most shared pages was a motiongraphic of its impact on Berlin.

Buzzsumo

urlProfiler

This is another great tool for scraping urls for large sites that can return about every type of measurement you could want. For sites with 1000s of pages, this tool could save hours of data gathering and can spit out a lovely formatted CSV document that will allow you to sort by things like word count, page authority, link numbers, social shares, or about anything else you could imagine.

url profiler

4. Develop local content marketing tactics

This is how most of you look when marketing tactics are brought up.

monkey

Let me remind you of something with a picture. 

rolled up newspaper

Do not start with tactics. Do the other things first. It will ensure your marketing tactics fall in line with a much bigger organizational movement and process. With the warning out of the way, here are a few tactics that could work for you.

Local landing page content

Our initial concept of local landing pages has stood the test of time. If you are scared to even think about local pages with the upcoming doorway page update then please read this analysis and don’t be too afraid. Here are local landing pages that are done right.

Marriott local content

Marriot’s Burley local page is great. They didn’t think about just ensuring they had 500 unique words. They have custom local imagery of the exterior/interior, detailed information about the area’s activities, and even their own review platform that showcases both positive and negative reviews with responses from local management.

If you can’t build your own platform handling reviews like that, might I recommend looking at Get Five Stars as a platform that could help you integrate reviews as part of your continuous content strategy.

Airbnb Neighborhood Guides

I not so secretly have a big crush on Airbnb’s approach to local. These neighborhood guides started it. They only have roughly 21 guides thus far and handle one at a time with Seoul being the most recent addition. The idea is simple, they looked at extremely hot markets for them and built out guides not just for the city, but down to a specific neighborhood.

air bnb neighborhood guides

Here is a look at Hell’s Kitchen in New York by imagery. They hire a local photographer to shoot the area, then they take some of their current popular listing data and reviews and integrate them into the page. This idea would have never flown if they only cared about creating content that could be fast and easy for every market they serve.

Reverse infographicing

Every decently sized city has had a plethora of infographics made about them. People spent the time curating information and coming up with the concept, but a majority just made the image and didn’t think about the crawlability or page title from an SEO standpoint.

Here is an example of an image search for Portland infographics.

image search results portland infographics

Take an infographic and repurpose it into crawlable content with a new twist or timely additions. Usually infographics share their data sources in the footer so you can easily find similar, new, or more information and create some seriously compelling data based content. You can even link to or share the infographic as part of it if you would like.

Become an Upworthy of local content

No one I know does this better than Movoto. Read the link for their own spin on how they did it and then look at these examples and share numbers from their local content.

60k shares in Boise by appealing to that hometown knowledge.

movoto boise content

65k shares in Salt Lake following the same formula.

movoto salt lake city content

It seems to work with video as well.

movoto video results

Think like a local directory

Directories understand where content should be housed. Not every local piece should be on the blog. Look at where Trip Advisor’s famous “Things to Do” page is listed. Right on the main city page.

trip advisor things to do in salt lake city

Or look at how many timely, fresh, quality pieces of content Yelp is showcasing from their main city page.

yelp main city page

The key point to understand is that local content isn’t just about being unique on a landing page. It is about BEING local and useful.

Ideas of things that are local:

  • Sports teams
  • Local celebrities or heroes 
  • Groups and events
  • Local pride points
  • Local pain points

Ideas of things that are useful:

  • Directions
  • Favorite local sports
  • Granular details only “locals” know

The other point to realize is that in looking at our definition of scale you don’t need to take shortcuts that un-localize the experience for users. Figure and test a location at a time until you have a winning formula and then move forward at a speed that ensures a quality local experience.

5. Create a content calendar

I am not going to get into telling you exactly how or what your content calendar needs to include. That will largely be based on the size and organization of your team and every situation might call for a unique approach. What I will do is explain how we do things at Nifty.

  1. We follow the steps above.
  2. We schedule the big projects and timelines first. These could be months out or weeks out. 
  3. We determine the weekly deliverables, checkpoints, and publish times.
  4. We put all of the information as tasks assigned to individuals or teams in Asana.

asana content calendar

The information then can be viewed by individual, team, groups of team, due dates, or any other way you would wish to sort. Repeatable tasks can be scheduled and we can run our entire operation visible to as many people as need access to the information through desktop or mobile devices. That is what works for us.

6. Launch and promote content

My personal favorite way to promote local content (other than the obvious ideas of sharing with your current followers or outreaching to local influencers) is to use Facebook ads to target the specific local personas you are trying to reach. Here is an example:

I just wrapped up playing Harold Hill in our communities production of The Music Man. When you live in a small town like Burley, Idaho you get the opportunity to play a lead role without having too much talent or a glee-based upbringing. You also get the opportunity to do all of the advertising, set design, and costuming yourself and sometime even get to pay for it.

For my advertising responsibilities, I decided to write a few blog posts and drive traffic to them. As any good Harold Hill would do, I used fear tactics.

music man blog post

I then created Facebook ads that had the following stats: Costs of $.06 per click, 12.7% click through rate, and naturally organic sharing that led to thousands of visits in a small Idaho farming community where people still think a phone book is the only way to find local businesses.

facebook ads setup

Then we did it again.

There was a protestor in Burley for over a year that parked a red pickup with signs saying things like, “I wud not trust Da Mayor” or “Don’t Bank wid Zions”. Basically, you weren’t working hard enough if you name didn’t get on the truck during the year.

Everyone knew that ol’ red pickup as it was parked on the corner of Main and Overland, which is one of the few stoplights in town. Then one day it was gone. We came up with the idea to bring the red truck back, put signs on it that said, “I wud Not Trust Pool Tables” and “Resist Sins n’ Corruption” and other things that were part of The Music Man and wrote another blog complete with pictures.

facebook ads red truck

Then I created another Facebook Ad.

facebook ads set up

A little under $200 in ad spend resulted in thousands more visits to the site which promoted the play and sold tickets to a generation that might not have been very familiar with the show otherwise.

All of it was local targeting and there was no other way would could have driven that much traffic in a community like Burley without paying Facebook and trying to create click bait ads in hope the promotion led to an organic sharing.

7. Measure and report

This is another very personal step where everyone will have different needs. At Nifty we put together very custom weekly or monthly reports that cover all of the plan, execution, and relevant stats such as traffic to specific content or location, share data, revenue or lead data if available, analysis of what worked and what didn’t, and the plan for the following period.

There is no exact data that needs to be shared. Everyone will want something slightly different, which is why we moved away from automated reporting years ago (when we moved away from auto link building… hehe) and built our report around our clients even if it took added time.

I always said that the product of a SEO or content shop is the report. That is what people buy because it is likely that is all they will see or understand.

8. In conclusion, you must refine and repeat the process

local content strategy - refine and repeat

From my point of view, this is by far the most important step and sums everything up nicely. This process model isn’t perfect. There will be things that are missed, things that need tweaked, and ways that you will be able to improve on your local content strategy and marketing all the time. The idea of the cycle is that it is never done. It never sleeps. It never quits. It never surrenders. You just keep perfecting the process until you reach the point that few locally-focused companies ever achieve… where your local content reaches and grows your target audience every time you click the publish button.

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​Inbound Lead Generation: eCommerce Marketing’s Missing Link

Posted by Everett

If eCommerce businesses hope to remain competitive with Amazon, eBay, big box brands, and other online retail juggernauts, they’ll need to learn how to conduct content marketing, lead generation, and contact nurturing as part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

First, I will discuss some of the ways most online retailers are approaching email from the bottom of the funnel upward, and why this needs to be turned around. Then we can explore how to go about doing this within the framework of “Inbound Marketing” for eCommerce businesses. Lastly, popular marketing automation and email marketing solutions are discussed in the context of inbound marketing for eCommerce.

Key differences between eCommerce and lead generation approaches to email

Different list growth strategies

Email acquisition sources differ greatly between lead gen. sites and online stores. The biggest driver of email acquisition for most eCommerce businesses are their shoppers, especially when the business doesn’t collect an email address for their contact database until the shopper provides it during the check-out process—possibly, not until the very end.

With most B2B/B2C lead gen. websites, the entire purpose of every landing page is to get visitors to submit a contact form or pick up the phone. Often, the price tag for their products or services is much higher than those of an eCommerce site or involves recurring payments. In other words, what they’re selling is more difficult to sell. People take longer to make those purchasing decisions. For this reason, leads—in the form of contact names and email addresses—are typically acquired and nurtured without having first become a customer.

Contacts vs. leads

Whether it is a B2B or B2C website, lead gen. contacts (called leads) are thought of as potential customers (clients, subscribers, patients) who need to be nurtured to the point of becoming “sales qualified,” meaning they’ll eventually get a sales call or email that attempts to convert them into a customer.

On the other hand, eCommerce contacts are often thought of primarily as existing customers to whom the marketing team can blast coupons and other offers by email.

Retail sites typically don’t capture leads at the top or middle of the funnel. Only once a shopper has checked out do they get added to the list. Historically, the buying cycle has been short enough that eCommerce sites could move many first-time visitors directly to customers in a single visit.
But this has changed.

Unless your brand is very strong—possibly a luxury brand or one with an offline retail presence—it is probably getting more difficult (i.e. expensive) to acquire new customers. At the same time, attrition rates are rising. Conversion optimization helps by converting more bottom of the funnel visitors. SEO helps drive more traffic into the site, but mostly for middle-of-funnel (category page) and bottom-of-funnel (product page) visitors who may not also be price/feature comparison shopping, or are unable to convert right away because of device or time limitations.

Even savvy retailers publishing content for shoppers higher up in the funnel, such as buyer guides and reviews, aren’t getting an email address and are missing a lot of opportunities because of it.

attract-convert-grow-funnel-inflow-2.jpg

Here’s a thought. If your eCommerce site has a 10 percent conversion rate, you’re doing pretty good by most standards. But what happened to the other 90 percent of those visitors? Will you have the opportunity to connect with them again? Even if you bump that up a few percentage points with retargeting, a lot of potential revenue has seeped out of your funnel without a trace.

I don’t mean to bash the eCommerce marketing community with generalizations. Most lead gen. sites aren’t doing anything spectacular either, and a lot of opportunity is missed all around.

There are many eCommerce brands doing great things marketing-wise. I’m a big fan of
Crutchfield for their educational resources targeting early-funnel traffic, and Neman Tools, Saddleback Leather and Feltraiger for the stories they tell. Amazon is hard to beat when it comes to scalability, product suggestions and user-generated reviews.

Sadly, most eCommerce sites (including many of the major household brands) still approach marketing in this way…

The ol’ bait n’ switch: promising value and delivering spam

Established eCommerce brands have gigantic mailing lists (compared with lead gen. counterparts), to whom they typically send out at least one email each week with “offers” like free shipping, $ off, buy-one-get-one, or % off their next purchase. The lists are minimally segmented, if at all. For example, there might be lists for repeat customers, best customers, unresponsive contacts, recent purchasers, shoppers with abandoned carts, purchases by category, etc.

The missing points of segmentation include which campaign resulted in the initial contact (sometimes referred to as a cohort) and—most importantly—the persona and buying cycle stage that best applies to each contact.

Online retailers often send frequent “blasts” to their entire list or to a few of the large segments mentioned above. Lack of segmentation means contacts aren’t receiving emails based on their interests, problems, or buying cycle stage, but instead, are receiving what they perceive as “generic” emails.

The result of these missing segments and the lack of overarching strategy looks something like this:

My, What a Big LIST You Have!

iStock_000017047747Medium.jpg

TIME reported in 2012 on stats from Responsys that the average online retailer sent out between five and six emails the week after Thanksgiving. Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the top 100 online retailers sent an average of 177 emails apiece to each of their contacts in 2011. Averaged out, that’s somewhere between three and four emails each week that the contact is receiving from these retailers.

The better to SPAM you with!

iStock_000016088853Medium.jpg

A 2014 whitepaper from SimpleRelevance titled
Email Fail: An In-Depth Evaluation of Top 20 Internet Retailer’s Email Personalization Capabilities (
PDF) found that, while 70 percent of marketing executives believed personalization was of “utmost importance” to their business…

“Only 17 percent of marketing leaders are going beyond basic transactional data to deliver personalized messages to consumers.”

Speaking of email overload, the same report found that some major online retailers sent ten or more emails per week!

simplerelevance-email-report-frequency.png

The result?

All too often, the eCommerce business will carry around big, dead lists of contacts who don’t even bother reading their emails anymore. They end up scrambling toward other channels to “drive more demand,” but because the real problems were never addressed, this ends up increasing new customer acquisition costs.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Spend a fortune driving in unqualified traffic from top-of-the-funnel channels
  2. Ignore the majority of those visitors who aren’t ready to purchase
  3. Capture email addresses only for the few visitors who made a purchase
  4. Spam the hell out of those people until they unsubscribe
  5. Spend a bunch more money trying to fill the top of the funnel with even more traffic

It’s like trying to fill your funnel with a bucket full of holes, some of them patched with band-aids.

The real problems

  1. Lack of a cohesive strategy across marketing channels
  2. Lack of a cohesive content strategy throughout all stages of the buying cycle
  3. Lack of persona, buying cycle stage, and cohort-based list segmentation to nurture contacts
  4. Lack of tracking across customer touchpoints and devices
  5. Lack of gated content that provides enough value to early-funnel visitors to get them to provide their email address

So, what’s the answer?

Inbound marketing allows online retailers to stop competing with Amazon and other “price focused” competitors with leaky funnels, and to instead focus on:

  1. Persona-based content marketing campaigns designed to acquire email addresses from high-quality leads (potential customers) by offering them the right content for each stage in their buyer’s journey
  2. A robust marketing automation system that makes true personalization scalable
  3. Automated contact nurturing emails triggered by certain events, such as viewing specific content, abandoning their shopping cart, adding items to their wish list or performing micro-conversions like downloading a look book
  4. Intelligent SMM campaigns that match visitors and customers with social accounts by email addresses, interests and demographics—as well as social monitoring
  5. Hyper-segmented email contact lists to support the marketing automation described above, as well as to provide highly-customized email and shopping experiences
  6. Cross-channel, closed loop reporting to provide a complete “omnichannel” view of online marketing efforts and how they assist offline conversions, if applicable

Each of these areas will be covered in more detail below. First, let’s take a quick step back and define what it is we’re talking about here.

Inbound marketing: a primer

A lot of people think “inbound marketing” is just a way some SEO agencies are re-cloaking themselves to avoid negative associations with search engine optimization. Others think it’s synonymous with “internet marketing.” I think it goes more like this:

Inbound marketing is to Internet marketing as SEO is to inbound marketing: One piece of a larger whole.

There are many ways to define inbound marketing. A cursory review of definitions from several trusted sources reveals some fundamental similarities :

Rand Fishkin

randfishkin.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is the practice of earning traffic and attention for your business on the web rather than buying it or interrupting people to get it. Inbound channels include organic search, social media, community-building content, opt-in email, word of mouth, and many others. Inbound marketing is particularly powerful because it appeals to what people are looking for and what they want, rather than trying to get between them and what they’re trying to do with advertising. Inbound’s also powerful due to the flywheel-effect it creates. The more you invest in Inbound and the more success you have, the less effort required to earn additional benefit.”


Mike King

mikeking.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is a collection of marketing activities that leverage remarkable content to penetrate earned media channels such as Organic Search, Social Media, Email, News and the Blogosphere with the goal of engaging prospects when they are specifically interested in what the brand has to offer.”

This quote is from 2012, and is still just as accurate today. It’s from an
Inbound.org comment thread where you can also see many other takes on it from the likes of Ian Lurie, Jonathon Colman, and Larry Kim.


Inflow

inflow-logo.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is a multi-channel, buyer-centric approach to online marketing that involves attracting, engaging, nurturing and converting potential customers from wherever they are in the buying cycle.”

From Inflow’s
Inbound Services page.


Wikipedia

wikipedia.jpeg

“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

From
Inbound Marketing – Wikipedia.


Larry-Kim.jpeg

Larry Kim

“Inbound marketing” refers to marketing activities that bring leads and customers in when they’re ready, rather than you having to go out and wave your arms to try to get people’s attention.”

Via
Marketing Land in 2013. You can also read more of Larry Kim’s interpretation, along with many others, on Inbound.org.


Hubspot

“Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be.”

Via
Hubspot, a marketing automation platform for inbound marketing.

When everyone has their own definition of something, it helps to think about what they have in common, as opposed to how they differ. In the case of inbound, this includes concepts such as:

  • Pull (inbound) vs. push (interruption) marketing
  • “Earning” media coverage, search engine rankings, visitors and customers with outstanding content
  • Marketing across channels
  • Meeting potential customers where they are in their buyer’s journey

Running your first eCommerce inbound marketing campaign

Audience personas—priority no. 1

The magic happens when retailers begin to hyper-segment their list based on buyer personas and other relevant information (i.e. what they’ve downloaded, what they’ve purchased, if they abandoned their cart…). This all starts with audience research to develop personas. If you need more information on persona development, try these resources:

Once personas are developed, retailers should choose one on which to focus. A complete campaign strategy should be developed around this persona, with the aim of providing the “right value” to them at the “right time” in their buyer’s journey.

Ready to get started?

We’ve developed a quick-start guide in the form of a checklist for eCommerce marketers who want to get started with inbound marketing, which you can access below.

inbound ecommerce checklist

Hands-on experience running one campaign will teach you more about inbound marketing than a dozen articles. My advice: Just do one. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and get better each time.

Example inbound marketing campaign

Below is an example of how a hypothetical inbound marketing campaign might play out, assuming you have completed all of the steps in the checklist above. Imagine you handle marketing for an online retailer of high-end sporting goods.

AT Hiker Tommy campaign: From awareness to purchase

When segmenting visitors and customers for a “high-end sporting goods / camping retailer” based on the East Coast, you identified a segment of “Trail Hikers.” These are people with disposable income who care about high-quality gear, and will pay top dollar if they know it is tested and reliable. The top trail on their list of destinations is the
Appalachian Trail (AT).

Top of the Funnel: SEO & Strategic Content Marketing

at-tommy.jpg

Tommy’s first action is to do “top of the funnel” research from search engines (one reason why SEO is still so important to a complete inbound marketing strategy).

A search for “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” turns up your article titled “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which lists common items that are bulky/heavy, and highlights slimmer, lighter alternatives from your online catalog.

It also highlights the difference between cheap gear and the kind that won’t let you down on your 2,181 mile journey through the wilderness of Appalachia, something you learned was important to Tommy when developing his persona. This allows you to get the company’s value proposition of “tested, high-end, quality gear only” in front of readers very early in their buyer’s journey—important if you want to differentiate your site from all of the retailers racing Amazon to the bottom of their profit margins.

So far you have yet to make “contact” with AT Hiker Tommy. The key to “acquiring” a contact before the potential customer is ready to make a purchase is to provide something of value to that specific type of person (i.e. their persona) at that specific point in time (i.e. their buying cycle stage).

In this case, we need to provide value to AT Hiker Tommy while he is getting started on his research about hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has an idea of what gear not to bring, as well as some lighter, higher-end options sold on your site. At this point, however, he is not ready to buy anything without researching the trail more. This is where retailers lose most of their potential customers. But not you. Not this time…

Middle of the funnel: Content offers, personalization, social & email nurturing

at-hiker-ebook.png

On the “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail” article (and probably several others), you have placed a call-to-action (CTA) in the form of a button that offers something like:

Download our Free 122-page Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This takes Tommy to a landing page showcasing some of the quotes from the book, and highlighting things like:

“We interviewed over 50 ‘thru-hikers’ who completed the AT and have curated and organized the best first-hand tips, along with our own significant research to develop a free eBook that should answer most of your questions about the trail.”

By entering their email address potential customers agree to allow you to send them the free PDF downloadable guide to hiking the AT, and other relevant information about hiking.

An automated email is sent with a link to the downloadable PDF guide, and several other useful content links, such as “The AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear for the Appalachian Trail”—content designed to move Tommy further toward the purchase of hiking gear.

If Tommy still has not made a purchase within the next two weeks, another automated email is sent asking for feedback about the PDF guide (providing the link again), and to again provide the link to the “AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear…” along with a compelling offer just for him, perhaps “Get 20% off your first hiking gear purchase, and a free wall map of the AT!”

Having Tommy’s email address also allows you to hyper-target him on social channels, while also leveraging his initial visit to initiate retargeting efforts.

Bottom of the funnel: Email nurturing & strategic, segmented offers

Eventually Tommy makes a purchase, and he may or may not receive further emails related to this campaign, such as post-purchase emails for reviews, up-sells and cross-sells.

Upon checkout, Tommy checked the box to opt-in to weekly promotional emails. He is now on multiple lists. Your marketing automation system will automatically update Tommy’s status from “Contact” or lead, to “Customer” and potentially remove or deactivate him from the marketing automation system database. This is accomplished either by default integration features, or with the help of integration tools like
Zapier and IFTTT.

You have now nurtured Tommy from his initial research on Google all the way to his first purchase without ever having sent a spammy newsletter email full of irrelevant coupons and other offers. However, now that he is a loyal customer, Tommy finds value in these bottom-of-funnel email offers.

And this is just the start

Every inbound marketing campaign will have its own mix of appropriate channels. This post has focused mostly on email because acquiring the initial permission to contact the person is what fuels most of the other features offered by marketing automation systems, including:

  • Personalization of offers and other content on the site.
  • Knowing exactly which visitors are interacting on social media
  • Knowing where visitors and social followers are in the buying cycle and which persona best represents them, among other things.
  • Smart forms that don’t require visitors to put in the same information twice and allow you to build out more detailed profiles of them over time.
  • Blogging platforms that tie into email and marketing automation systems
  • Analytics data that isn’t blocked by Google and is tied directly to real people.
  • Closed-loop reporting that integrates with call-tracking and Google’s Data Import tool
  • Up-sell, cross-sell, and abandoned cart reclamation features
Three more things…
  1. If you can figure out a way to get Tommy to “log in” when he comes to your site, the personalization possibilities are nearly limitless.
  2. The persona above is based on a real customer segment. I named it after my friend Tommy Bailey, who actually did write the eBook
    Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail, featured in the image above.
  3. This Moz post is part of an inbound marketing campaign targeting eCommerce marketers, a segment Inflow identified while building out our own personas. Our hope, and the whole point of inbound marketing, is that it provides value to you.

Current state of the inbound marketing industry

Inbound has, for the the most part, been applied to businesses in which the website objective is to generate leads for a sales team to follow-up with and close the deal. An examination of various marketing automation platforms—a key component of scalable inbound marketing programs—highlights this issue.

Popular marketing automation systems

Most of the major marketing automation systems can be be used very effectively as the backbone of an inbound marketing program for eCommerce businesses. However, only one of them (Silverpop) has made significant efforts to court the eCommerce market with content and out-of-box features. The next closest thing is Hubspot, so let’s start with those two:

Silverpop – an IBMⓇ Company

silver-pop.jpeg

Unlike the other platforms below, right out of the box Silverpop allows marketers to tap into very specific behaviors, including the items purchased or left in the cart.

You can easily segment based on metrics like the Recency, Frequency and Monetary Value (RFM) of purchases:

silverpop triggered campaigns

You can automate personalized shopping cart abandonment recovery emails:

silverpop cart abandonment recovery

You can integrate with many leading brands offering complementary services, including: couponing, CRM, analytics, email deliverability enhancement, social and most major eCommerce platforms.

What you can’t do with Silverpop is blog, find pricing info on their website, get a free trial on their website or have a modern-looking user experience. Sounds like an IBMⓇ company, doesn’t it?

HubSpot

Out of all the marketing automation platforms on this list, HubSpot is the most capable of handling “inbound marketing” campaigns from start to finish. This should come as no surprise, given the phrase is credited to
Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO.

While they don’t specifically cater to eCommerce marketing needs with the same gusto they give to lead gen. marketing, HubSpot does have
an eCommerce landing page and a demo landing page for eCommerce leads, which suggests that their own personas include eCommerce marketers. Additionally, there is some good content on their blog written specifically for eCommerce.

HubSpot has allowed some key partners to develop plug-ins that integrate with leading eCommerce platforms. This approach works well with curation, and is not dissimilar to how Google handles Android or Apple handles their approved apps.

magento and hubspot

The
Magento Connector for HubSpot, which costs $80 per month, was developed by EYEMAGiNE, a creative design firm for eCommerce websites. A similar HubSpot-approved third-party integration is on the way for Bigcommerce.

Another eCommerce integration for Hubspot is a Shopify plug-in called
HubShoply, which was developed by Groove Commerce and costs $100 per month.

You can also use HubSpot’s native integration capabilities with
Zapier to sync data between HubSpot and most major eCommerce SaaS vendors, including the ones above, as well as WooCommerce, Shopify, PayPal, Infusionsoft and more. However, the same could be said of some of the other marketing automation platforms, and using these third-party solutions can sometimes feel like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

HubSpot can and does handle inbound marketing for eCommerce websites. All of the features are there, or easy enough to integrate. But let’s put some pressure on them to up their eCommerce game even more. The least they can do is put an eCommerce link in the footer:

hubspot menus

Despite the lack of clear navigation to their eCommerce content, HubSpot seems to be paying more attention to the needs of eCommerce businesses than the rest of the platforms below.

Marketo

Nothing about Marketo’s in-house marketing strategy suggests “Ecommerce Director Bob” might be one of their personas. The description for each of
their marketing automation packages (from Spark to Enterprise) mentions that it is “for B2B” websites.

marketo screenshot

Driving Sales could apply to a retail business so I clicked on the link. Nope. Clearly, this is for lead generation.

marketo marketing automation

Passing “purchase-ready leads” over to your “sales reps” is a good example of the type of language used throughout the site.

Make no mistake, Marketo is a top-notch marketing automation platform. Powerful and clean, it’s a shame they don’t launch a full-scale eCommerce version of their core product. In the meantime, there’s the
Magento Integration for Marketo Plug-in developed by an agency out of Australia called Hoosh Marketing.

magento marketo integration

I’ve never used this integration, but it’s part of Marketo’s
LaunchPoint directory, which I imagine is vetted, and Hoosh seems like a reputable agency.

Their
pricing page is blurred and gated, which is annoying, but perhaps they’ll come on here and tell everyone how much they charge.

marketo pricing page

As with all others except Silverpop, the Marketo navigation provides no easy paths to landing pages that would appeal to “Ecommerce Director Bob.”

Pardot

This option is a
SalesForce product, so—though I’ve never had the opportunity to use it—I can imagine Pardot is heavy on B2B/Sales and very light on B2C marketing for retail sites.

The hero image on their homepage says as much.

pardot tagline

pardot marketing automationAgain, no mention of eCommerce or retail, but clear navigation to lead gen and sales.

Eloqua / OMC

eloqua-logo.jpeg

Eloqua, now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC), has a landing page
for the retail industry, on which they proclaim:

“Retail marketers know that the path to lifelong loyalty and increased revenue goes through building and growing deep client relationships.”

Since when did retail marketers start calling customers clients?

eloqua integration

The Integration tab on OMC’s “…Retail.html” page helpfully informs eCommerce marketers that their sales teams can continue using CRM systems like SalesForce and Microsoft Dynamics but doesn’t mention anything about eCommerce platforms and other SaaS solutions for eCommerce businesses.

Others

There are many other players in this arena. Though I haven’t used them yet, three I would love to try out are
SharpSpring, Hatchbuck and Act-On. But none of them appear to be any better suited to handle the concerns of eCommerce websites.

Where there’s a gap, there’s opportunity

The purpose of the section above wasn’t to highlight deficiencies in the tools themselves, but to illustrate a gap in who they are being marketed to and developed for.

So far, most of your eCommerce competitors probably aren’t using tools like these because they are not marketed to by the platforms, and don’t know how to apply the technology to online retail in a way that would justify the expense.

The thing is, a tool is just a tool

The
key concepts behind inbound marketing apply just as much to online retail as they do to lead generation.

In order to “do inbound marketing,” a marketing automation system isn’t even strictly necessary (in theory). They just help make the activities scalable for most businesses.

They also bring a lot of different marketing activities under one roof, which saves time and allows data to be moved and utilized between channels and systems. For example, what a customer is doing on social could influence the emails they receive, or content they see on your site. Here are some potential uses for most of the platforms above:

Automated marketing uses

  • Personalized abandoned cart emails
  • Post-purchase nurturing/reorder marketing
  • Welcome campaigns for the newsletter (other free offer) signups
  • Winback campaigns
  • Lead-nurturing email campaigns for cohorts and persona-based segments

Content marketing uses

  • Optimized, strategic blogging platforms, and frameworks
  • Landing pages for pre-transactional/educational offers or contests
  • Social media reporting, monitoring, and publishing
  • Personalization of content and user experience

Reporting uses

  • Revenue reporting (by segment or marketing action)
  • Attribution reporting (by campaign or content)

Assuming you don’t have the budget for a marketing automation system, but already have a good email marketing platform, you can still get started with inbound marketing. Eventually, however, you may want to graduate to a dedicated marketing automation solution to reap the full benefits.

Email marketing platforms

Most of the marketing automation systems claim to replace your email marketing platform, while many email marketing platforms claim to be marketing automation systems. Neither statement is completely accurate.

Marketing automation systems, especially those created specifically for the type of “inbound” campaigns described above, provide a powerful suite of tools all in one place. On the other hand, dedicated email platforms tend to offer “email marketing” features that are better, and more robust, than those offered by marketing automation systems. Some of them are also considerably cheaper—such as
MailChimp—but those are often light on even the email-specific features for eCommerce.

A different type of campaign

Email “blasts” in the form of B.O.G.O., $10 off or free shipping offers can still be very successful in generating incremental revenue boosts — especially for existing customers and seasonal campaigns.

The conversion rate on a 20% off coupon sent to existing customers, for instance, would likely pulverize the conversion rate of an email going out to middle-of-funnel contacts with a link to content (at least with how CR is currently being calculated by email platforms).

Inbound marketing campaigns can also offer quick wins, but they tend to focus mostly on non-customers after the first segmentation campaign (a campaign for the purpose of segmenting your list, such as an incentivised survey). This means lower initial conversion rates, but long-term success with the growth of new customers.

Here’s a good bet if works with your budget: Rely on a marketing automation system for inbound marketing to drive new customer acquisition from initial visit to first purchase, while using a good email marketing platform to run your “promotional email” campaigns to existing customers.

If you have to choose one or the other, I’d go with a robust marketing automation system.

Some of the most popular email platforms used by eCommerce businesses, with a focus on how they handle various Inbound Marketing activities, include:

Bronto

bronto.jpeg

This platform builds in features like abandoned cart recovery, advanced email list segmentation and automated email workflows that nurture contacts over time.

They also offer a host of eCommerce-related
features that you just don’t get with marketing automation systems like Hubspot and Marketo. This includes easy integration with a variety of eCommerce platforms like ATG, Demandware, Magento, Miva Merchant, Mozu and MarketLive, not to mention apps for coupons, product recommendations, social shopping and more. Integration with enterprise eCommerce platforms is one reason why Bronto is seen over and over again when browsing the Internet Retailer Top 500 reports.

On the other hand, Bronto—like the rest of these email platforms—doesn’t have many of the features that assist with content marketing outside of emails. As an “inbound” marketing automation system, it is incomplete because it focuses almost solely on one channel: email.

Vertical Response

verticalresponse.jpeg

Another juggernaut in eCommerce email marketing platforms, Vertical Response, has even fewer inbound-related features than Bronto, though it is a good email platform with a free version that includes up to 1,000 contacts and 4,000 emails per month (i.e. 4 emails to a full list of 1,000).

Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC)

Responsys (the email platform), like Eloqua (the marketing automation system) was gobbled up by Oracle and is now part of their “Marketing Cloud.”

It has been my experience that when a big technology firm like IBM or Oracle buys a great product, it isn’t “great” for the users. Time will tell.

Listrak

listrak.jpeg

Out of the established email platforms for eCommerce, Listrak may do the best job at positioning themselves as a full inbound marketing platform.

Listrak’s value proposition is that they’re an “Omnichannel” solution. Everything is all in one “Single, Integrated Digital Marketing Platform for Retailers.” The homepage image promises solutions for Email, Mobile, Social, Web and In-Store channels.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Listrak yet, but would love to hear feedback in the comments on whether they could handle the kind of persona-based content marketing and automated email nurturing campaigns described in the example campaign above.

Key takeaways

Congratulations for making this far! Here are a few things I hope you’ll take away from this post:

  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for eCommerce sites to take advantage of marketing automation systems and robust email marketing platforms as the infrastructure to run comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns.
  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for marketing automation systems to develop content and build in eCommerce-specific features to lure eCommerce marketers.
  • Inbound marketing isn’t email marketing, although email is an important piece to inbound because it allows you to begin forming lasting relationships with potential customers much earlier in the buying cycle.
  • To see the full benefits of inbound marketing, you should focus on getting the right content to the right person at the right time in their shopping journey. This necessarily involves several different channels, including search, social and email. One of the many benefits of marketing automation systems is their ability to track your efforts here across marketing channels, devices and touch-points.

Tools, resources, and further reading

There is a lot of great content on the topic of Inbound marketing, some of which has greatly informed my own understanding and approach. Here are a few resources you may find useful as well.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Demonstrating Your Value as a Link Builder.

In her latest column on SearchEngineWatch.com, Julie Joyce asked the question, ‘Why is link development so expensive?’ It’s a great question – and probably one that our clients or bosses ask more often than we would like to imagine. Joyce explains that good link work can’t be done on the cheap. It takes a lot…

The post Demonstrating Your Value as a Link Builder. appeared first on Majestic Blog.

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Leveraging Panda to Get Out of Product Feed Jail

Posted by MichaelC

This is a story about Panda, customer service, and differentiating your store from others selling the same products.

Many e-commerce websites get the descriptions, specifications, and imagery for products they sell from feeds or databases provided by the
manufacturers. The manufacturers might like this, as they control how their product is described and shown. However, it does their retailers
no good when they are trying to rank for searches for those products and they’ve got the exact same content as every other retailer. If the content
in the feed is thin, then you’ll have pages with…well….thin content. And if there’s a lot of content for the products, then you’ll have giant blocks of content that
Panda might spot as being the same as they’ve seen on many other sites. To throw salt on the wound, if the content is really crappy, badly written,
or downright wrong, then the retailers’ sites will look low-quality to Panda and users as well.

Many webmasters see Panda as a type of Google penalty—but it’s not, really. Panda is a collection of measurements Google
is taking of your web pages to try and give your pages a rating on how happy users are likely to be with those pages.
It’s not perfect, but then again—neither is your website.

Many SEO folks (including me) tend to focus on the kinds of tactical and structural things you can do to make Panda see
your web pages as higher quality: things like adding big, original images, interactive content like videos and maps, and
lots and lots and lots and lots of text. These are all good tactics, but let’s step back a bit and look at a specific
example to see WHY Panda was built to do this, and from that, what we can do as retailers to enrich the content we have
for e-commerce products where our hands are a bit tied—we’re getting a feed of product info from the manufacturers, the same
as every other retailer of those products.

I’m going to use a real-live example that I suffered through about a month ago. I was looking for a replacement sink
stopper for a bathroom sink. I knew the brand, but there wasn’t a part number on the part I needed to replace. After a few Google
searches, I think I’ve found it on Amazon:


Don’t you wish online shopping was always this exciting?

What content actually teaches the customer

All righty… my research has shown me that there are standard sizes for plug stoppers. In fact, I initially ordered a
“universal fit sink stopper.” Which didn’t fit. Then I found 3 standard diameters, and 5 or 6 standard lengths.
No problem…I possess that marvel of modern tool chests, a tape measure…so I measure the part I have that I need to replace. I get about 1.5″ x 5″.
So let’s scroll down to the product details to see if it’s a match:

Kohler sink stopper product info from hell

Whoa. 1.2 POUNDS? This sink stopper must be made of
Ununoctium.
The one in my hand weighs about an ounce. But the dimensions
are way off as well: a 2″ diameter stopper isn’t going to fit, and mine needs to be at least an inch longer.

I scroll down to the product description…maybe there’s more detail there, maybe the 2″ x 2″ is the box or something.

I've always wanted a sink stopper designed for long long

Well, that’s less than helpful, with a stupid typo AND incorrect capitalization AND a missing period at the end.
Doesn’t build confidence in the company’s quality control.

Looking at the additional info section, maybe this IS the right part…the weight quoted in there is about right:

Maybe this is my part after all

Where else customers look for answers

Next I looked at the questions and answers bit, which convinced me that it PROBABLY was the right part:

Customers will answer the question if the retailer won't...sometimes.

If I was smart, I would have covered my bets by doing what a bunch of other customers also did: buy a bunch of different parts,
and surely one of them will fit. Could there
possibly was a clearer signal that the product info was lacking than this?

If you can't tell which one to buy, buy them all!

In this case, that was probably smarter than spending another 1/2 hour of my time snooping around online. But in general, people
aren’t going to be willing to buy THREE of something just to make sure they get the right one. This cheap part was an exception.

So, surely SOMEONE out there has the correct dimensions of this part on their site—so I searched for the part number I saw on the Amazon
listing. But as it turned out, that crappy description and wrong weight and dimensions were on every site I found…because they came from
the manufacturer.

Better Homes and Gardens...but not better description.

A few of the sites had edited out the “designed for long long” bit, but apart from that, they were all the same.

What sucks for the customer is an opportunity for you

Many, many retailers are in this same boat—they get their product info from the manufacturer, and if the data sucks in their feed,
it’ll suck on their site. Your page looks weak to both users and to Panda, and it looks the same as everybody else’s page for that product…to
both users and to Panda. So (a) you won’t rank very well, and (b) if you DO manage to get a customer to that page, it’s not as likely to convert
to a sale.

What can you do to improve on this? Here’s a few tactics to consider.

1. Offer your own additional description and comments

Add a new field to your CMS for your own write-ups on products, and when you discover issues like the above, you can add your own information—and
make it VERY clear what’s the manufacturer’s stock info and what you’ve added (that’s VALUE-ADDED) as well. My client
Sports Car Market magazine does this with their collector car auction reports in their printed magazine:
they list the auction company’s description of the car, then their reporter’s assessment of the car. This is why I buy the magazine and not the auction catalog.

2. Solicit questions

Be sure you solicit questions on every product page—your customers will tell you what’s wrong or what important information is missing. Sure,
you’ve got millions of products to deal with, but what the customers are asking about (and your sales volume of course) will help you prioritize as well as
find the problems opportunities.

Amazon does a great job of enabling this, but in this case, I used the Feedback option to update the product info,
and got back a total
bull-twaddle email from the seller about how the dimensions are in the product description thank you for shopping with us, bye-bye.
I tried to help them, for free, and they shat on me.

3. But I don’t get enough traffic to get the questions

Don’t have enough site volume to get many customer requests? No problem, the information is out there for you on Amazon :-).
Take your most important products, and look them up on Amazon, and see what questions are being asked—then answer those ONLY on your own site.

4. What fits with what?

Create fitment/cross-reference charts for products.
You probably have in-house knowledge of what products fit/are compatible with what other products.
Just because YOU know a certain accessory fits all makes and models, because it’s some industry-standard size, doesn’t mean that the customer knows this.

If there’s a particular way to measure a product so you get the correct size, explain that (with photos of what you’re measuring, if it seems
at all complicated). I’m getting a new front door for my house. 

  • How big is the door I need? 
  • Do I measure the width of the door itself, or the width of the
    opening (probably 1/8″ wider)? 
  • Or if it’s pre-hung, do I measure the frame too? Is it inswing or outswing?
  • Right or left hinged…am I supposed to
    look at the door from inside the house or outside to figure this out? 

If you’re a door seller, this is all obvious stuff,
but it wasn’t obvious to me, and NOT having the info on a website means (a) I feel stupid, and (b) I’m going to look at your competitors’ sites
to see if they will explain it…and maybe I’ll find a door on THEIR site I like better anyway.

Again, prioritize based on customer requests.

5. Provide your own photos and measurements

If examples of the physical products are available to you, take your own photos, and take your own measurements.

In fact, take your OWN photo of YOURSELF taking the measurement—so the user can see exactly what part of the product you’re measuring.
In the photo below, you can see that I’m measuring the diameter of the stopper, NOT the hole in the sink, NOT the stopper plus the rubber gasket.
And no, Kohler, it’s NOT 2″ in diameter…by a long shot.

Don't just give the measurements, SHOW the measurements

Keep in mind, you shouldn’t have to tear apart your CMS to do any of this. You can put your additions in a new database table, just tied to the
core product content by SKU. In the page template code for the product page, you can check your database to see if you have any of your “extra bits” to display
alongside the feed content, and this way keep it separate from the core product catalog code. This will make updates to the CMS/product catalog less painful as well.

Fixing your content doesn’t have to be all that difficult, nor expensive

At this point, you’re probably thinking “hey, but I’ve got 1.2 million SKUs, and if I were to do this, it’d take me 20 years to update all of them.”
FINE. Don’t update all of them. Prioritize, based on factors like what you sell the most of, what you make the best margin on, what customers
ask questions about the most, etc. Maybe concentrate on your top 5% in terms of sales, and do those first. Take all that money you used to spend
buying spammy links every month, and spend it instead on junior employees or interns doing the product measurements, extra photos, etc.

And don’t be afraid to spend a little effort on a low value product, if it’s one that frequently gets questions from customers.
Simple things can make a life-long fan of the customer. I once needed to replace a dishwasher door seal, and didn’t know if I needed special glue,
special tools, how to cut it to fit with or without overlap, etc.
I found a video on how to do the replacement on
RepairClinic.com. So easy!
They got my business for the $10 seal, of course…but now I order my $50 fridge water filter from them every six months as well.

Benefits to your conversion rate

Certainly the tactics we’ve talked about will improve your conversion rate from visitors to purchasers. If JUST ONE of those sites I looked at for that damn sink stopper
had the right measurement (and maybe some statement about how the manufacturer’s specs above are actually incorrect, we measured, etc.), I’d have stopped right there
and bought from that site.

What does this have to do with Panda?

But, there’s a Panda benefit here too. You’ve just added a bunch of additional, unique text to your site…and maybe a few new unique photos as well.
Not only are you going to convert better, but you’ll probably rank better too.

If you’re NOT Amazon, or eBay, or Home Depot, etc., then Panda is your secret weapon to help you rank against those other sites whose backlink profiles are
stronger than
carbon fibre (that’s a really cool video, by the way).
If you saw my
Whiteboard Friday on Panda optimization, you’ll know that
Panda tuning can overcome incredible backlink profile deficits.

It’s go time

We’re talking about tactics that are time-consuming, yes—but relatively easy to implement, using relatively inexpensive staff (and in some
cases, your customers are doing some of the work for you).
And it’s something you can roll out a product at a time.
You’ll be doing things that really DO make your site a better experience for the user…we’re not just trying to trick Panda’s measurements.

  1. Your pages will rank better, and bring more traffic.
  2. Your pages will convert better, because users won’t leave your site, looking elsewhere for answers to their questions.
  3. Your customers will be more loyal, because you were able to help them when nobody else bothered.

Don’t be held hostage by other peoples’ crappy product feeds. Enhance your product information with your own info and imagery.
Like good link-building and outreach, it takes time and effort, but both Panda and your site visitors will reward you for it.

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Google’s Physical Web and its Impact on Search

Posted by Tom-Anthony

In early October, Google announced a new project called ”
The Physical Web,” which they explain like this:

The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device – a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car – and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.

At the moment this is an experimental project which is designed to promote establishing an open standard by which this mechanism could work. The two key elements of this initiative are:

URLs: The project proposes that all ‘smart devices’ should advertise a URL by which you can interact with that device. The device broadcasts its URL to anyone in the vicinity, who can detect it via their smartphone (with the eventual goal being this functionality is built into the smart phone operating systems rather than needing third-party apps).


Beacons:
Not well known until Apple recently jumped on the bandwagon announcing iBeacons, beacon technology has been around for a couple of years now. Using a streamlined sibling of Bluetooth, called Bluetooth Low Energy (no pairing, range of ~70 metres / ~230 feet) it allows smartphones to detect the presence of nearby beacons and their approximate distance. Until now they’ve mostly been used to ‘hyper-local’ location based applications (check this blog post of mine for some thoughts on how this might impact SEO).

The project proposes adapting and augmenting the signal that Beacons send out to include a URL by which nearby users might interact with a smart device.

This post is about looking to the future at ways this could potentially impact search. It isn’t likely that any serious impact will happen within the next 18 months, and it is hard to predict exactly how things will pan out, but this post is designed to prompt you to think about things proactively.

Usage examples

To help wrap your head around this, lets look at a few examples of possible uses:

Bus times: This is one of the examples Google gives, where you walk up to a bus stop and on detecting the smart device embedded into the stop your phone allows you to pull the latest bus times and travel info.

Item finder: Imagine when you go to the store looking for a specific item. You could pull out your phone and check stock of the item, as well as being directed to the specific part of the store where you can find it.

Check in: Combined with using URLs that are only accessible on local wifi / intranet, you could make a flexible and consistent check in mechanism for people in a variety of situations.

I’m sure there are many many more applications that are yet to be thought up. One thing to notice is that there is no reason you can’t bookmark these advertised URLs and use them elsewhere, so you can’t be sure that someone accessing the URL is actually by the device in question. You can get some of the way there by using URLs that are only accessible within a certain network, but that isn’t going to be a general solution.

Also, note that these URLs don’t need to be constrained to just website URLs; they could just as well be
deep links into apps which you might have installed.

Parallels to the web and ranking

There are some obvious parallels to the web (which is likely why Google named it the way they did). There will be many smart devices which will map to URLs which anyone can go to. A corollary of this is that there will be similar issues to those we see in search engines today. Google already identified one such issue—ranking—on the page for the project:

At first, the nearby smart devices will be small, but if we’re successful, there will be many to choose from and that raises an important UX issue. This is where ranking comes in. Today, we are perfectly happy typing “tennis” into a search engine and getting millions of results back, we trust that the first 10 are the best ones. The same applies here. The phone agent can sort by both signal strength as well as personal preference and history, among many other possible factors. Clearly there is lots of work to be done here.

So there is immediately a parallel between with Google’s role on the world wide web and their potential role on this new physical web; there is a suggestion here that someone needs to rank beacons if they become so numerous that our phones or wearable devices are often picking up a variety of beacons. 

Google proposes proximity as the primary measure of ranking, but the proximity range of BLE technology is very imprecise, so I imagine in dense urban areas that just using proximity won’t be sufficient. Furthermore, given the beacons are cheap (in bulk, $5 per piece will get you standalone beacons with a year-long battery) I imagine there could be “smart device spam.”

At that point, you need some sort of ranking mechanism and that will inevitably lead to people trying to optimise (be it manipulative or a more white-hat approach).
However, I don’t think that will be the sole impact on search. There are several other possible outcomes.

Further impacts on the search industry

1. Locating out-of-range smart devices

Imagine that these smart devices became fairly widespread and were constantly advertising information to anyone nearby with a smart devices. I imagine, in a similar vein to schema.org actions which provide a standard way for websites to describe what they enable someone to do (“affordances,” for the academics), we could establish similar semantic standards for smart devices enabling them to advertise what services/goods they provide.

Now imagine you are looking for a specific product or service, which you want as quickly as possible (e.g “I need to pick up a charger for my phone,” or “I need to charge my phone on the move”). You could imagine that Google or some other search engine will have mapped these smart devices. If the above section was about “ranking,” then this is about “indexing.”

You could even imagine they could keep track of what is in stock at each of these places, enabling “environment-aware” searches. How might this work? Users in the vicinity whose devices have picked up the beacons, and read their (standardised) list of services could then record this into Google’s index. It sounds like a strange paradigm, but it is exactly how Google’s app indexing methodology works.

2. Added context

Context is becoming increasingly important for all searches that we do. Beyond your search phrase, Google look at what device you are on, where you are, what you have recently searched for, who you know, and quite a bit more. It makes our search experiences significantly better, and we should expect that they are going to continue to try to refine their understanding of our context ever more.

It is not hard to see that knowing what beacons people are near adds various facets of context. It can help refine location even further, giving indications to the environment you are in, what you are doing, and even what you might be looking for.

3. Passive searches

I’ve spoken a little bit about passive searches before; this is when Google runs searches for you based entirely off your context with no explicit search. Google Now is currently the embodiment of this technology, but I expect we’ll see it become more and more

I believe could even see see a more explicit element of this become a reality, with the rise of conversational search. Conversational search is already at a point where a search queries can have persistent aspects (“How old is Tom Cruise?”, then “How tall is he?” – the pronoun ‘he’ refers back to previous search). I expect we’ll see this expand more into multi-stage searches (“Sushi restaurant within 10 minutes of here.”, and then “Just those with 4 stars or more”).

So, I could easily imagine that these elements combine with “environment-aware” searches (whether they are powered in the fashion I described above or not) to enable multi-stage searches that result in explicit passive searches. For example, “nearby shops with iPhone 6 cables in stock,” to which Google fails to find a suitable result (“there are no suitable shops nearby”) and you might then answer “let me know when there is.”

Wrap up

It seems certain that embedded smart devices of some sort are coming, and this project from Google looks like a strong candidate to establish a standard. With the rise of smart devices, whichever form they end up taking and standard they end up using, it is certain this is going to impact the way people interact with their environments and use their smart phones and wearables.

It is hard to believe this won’t also have a heavy impact upon marketing and business. What remains less clear is the scale of impact that this will have on SEO. Hopefully this post has got your brain going a bit so as and industry, we can start to prepare ourselves for the rise of smart devices.

I’d love to hear in the comments what other ideas people have and how you guys think this stuff might affect us.

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