Darryl, the man behind dotmailer’s Custom Technical Solutions team

Why did you decide to come to dotmailer?

I first got to know dotmailer when the company was just a bunch of young enthusiastic web developers called Ellipsis Media back in 1999. I was introduced by one of my suppliers and we decided to bring them on board to build a recruitment website for one of our clients. That client was Amnesty International and the job role was Secretary General. Not bad for a Croydon company whose biggest client before that was Scobles the plumber’s merchants. So, I was probably dotmailer’s first ever corporate client! After that, I used dotmailer at each company I worked for and then one day they approached a colleague and me and asked us if we wanted to work for them. That was 2013.  We grabbed the opportunity with both hands and haven’t looked back since.

Tell us a bit about your role

I’m the Global Head of Technical Solutions which actually gives me responsibility for 2 teams. First, Custom Technical Solutions (CTS), who build bespoke applications and tools for customers that allow them to integrate more closely with dotmailer and make life easier. Second, Technical Pre-sales, which spans our 3 territories (EMEA, US and APAC) and works with prospective and existing clients to figure out the best solution and fit within dotmailer.

What accomplishments are you most proud of from your dotmailer time so far?

I would say so far it has to be helping to turn the CTS team from just 2 people into a group of 7 highly skilled and dedicated men and women who have become an intrinsic and valued part of the dotmailer organization. Also I really enjoy being part of the Senior Technical Management team. Here we have the ability to influence the direction and structure of the platform on a daily basis.

Meet Darryl Clark – the cheese and peanut butter sandwich lover

Can you speak a bit about your background and that of your team? What experience and expertise is required to join this team?

My background is quite diverse from a stint in the Army, through design college, web development, business analysis to heading up my current teams. I would say the most valuable skill that I have is being highly analytical. I love nothing more than listening to a client’s requirements and digging deep to work out how we can answer these if not exceed them.

As a team, we love nothing more than brainstorming our ideas. Every member has a valid input and we listen. Everyone has the opportunity to influence what we do and our motto is “there is no such thing as a stupid question.”

To work in my teams you have to be analytical but open minded to the fact that other people may have a better answer than you. Embrace other people’s input and use it to give our clients the best possible solution. We are hugely detail conscious, but have to be acutely aware that we need to tailor what we say to our audience so being able to talk to anyone at any level is hugely valuable.

How much of the dotmailer platform is easily customizable and when does it cross over into something that requires your team’s expertise? How much time is spent on these custom solutions one-time or ongoing?

I’ll let you in on a little secret here. We don’t actually do anything that our customers can’t do with dotmailer given the right knowledge and resources. This is because we build all of our solutions using the dotmailer public API. The API has hundreds of methods in both SOAP and REST versions, which allows you to do a huge amount with the dotmailer platform. We do have a vast amount of experience and knowledge in the team so we may well be able to build a solution quicker than our customers. We are more than happy to help them and their development teams build a solution using us on a consultancy basis to lessen the steepness of the learning curve.

Our aim when building a solution for a customer is that it runs silently in the background and does what it should without any fuss.

What are your plans for the Custom Tech Solutions team going forward?

The great thing about Custom Technical Solutions is you never know what is around the corner as our customers have very diverse needs. What we are concentrating on at the moment is refining our processes to ensure that they are as streamlined as possible and allow us to give as much information to the customer as we can. We are also always looking at the technology and coding approaches that we use to make sure that we build the most innovative and robust solutions.

We are also looking at our external marketing and sharing our knowledge through blogs so keep an eye on the website for our insights.

What are the most common questions that you get when speaking to a prospective customer?

Most questions seem to revolve around reassurance such as “Have you done this before?”, “How safe is my data?”, “What about security?”, “Can you talk to my developers?”, “Do I need to do anything?”.  In most instances, we are the ones asking the questions as we need to find out information as soon as possible so that we can analyse it to ensure that we have the right detail to provide the right solution.

Can you tell us about the dotmailer differentiators you highlight when speaking to prospective customers that seem to really resonate?

We talk a lot about working with best of breed so for example a customer can use our Channel Extensions in automation programs to fire out an SMS to a contact using their existing provider. We don’t force customers down one route, we like to let them decide for themselves.

Also, I really like to emphasize the fact that there is always more than one way to do something within the dotmailer platform. This means we can usually find a way to do something that works for a client within the platform. If not, then we call in CTS to work out if there is a way that we can build something that will — whether this is automating uploads for a small client or mass sending from thousands of child accounts for an enterprise level one.

What do you see as the future of marketing automation technology?  Will one size ever fit all? Or more customization going forward?

The 64 million dollar question. One size will never fit all. Companies and their systems are too organic for that. There isn’t one car that suits every driver or one racquet that suits every sport. Working with a top drawer partner network and building our system to be as open as possible from an integration perspective means that our customers can make dotmailer mold to their business and not the other way round…and adding to that the fact that we are building lots of features in the platform that will blow your socks off.

Tell us a bit about yourself – favorite sports team, favorite food, guilty pleasure, favorite band, favorite vacation spot?

I’m a dyed in the wool Gooner (aka Arsenal Football Club fan) thanks to my Grandfather leading me down the right path as a child. If you are still reading this after that bombshell, then food-wise I pretty much like everything apart from coriander which as far as I’m concerned is the Devils own spawn. I don’t really have a favorite band, but am partial to a bit of Level 42 and Kings of Leon and you will also find me listening to 90s drum and bass and proper old school hip hop. My favorite holiday destination is any decent villa that I can relax in and spend time with my family and I went to Paris recently and loved that. Guilty pleasure – well that probably has to be confessing to liking Coldplay or the fact that my favorite sandwich is peanut butter, cheese and salad cream. Go on try it, you’ll love it.

Want to meet more of the dotmailer team? Say hi to Darren Hockley, Global Head of Support, and Dan Morris, EVP for North America.

Reblogged 1 year ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Eliminate Duplicate Content in Faceted Navigation with Ajax/JSON/JQuery

Posted by EricEnge

One of the classic problems in SEO is that while complex navigation schemes may be useful to users, they create problems for search engines. Many publishers rely on tags such as rel=canonical, or the parameters settings in Webmaster Tools to try and solve these types of issues. However, each of the potential solutions has limitations. In today’s post, I am going to outline how you can use JavaScript solutions to more completely eliminate the problem altogether.

Note that I am not going to provide code examples in this post, but I am going to outline how it works on a conceptual level. If you are interested in learning more about Ajax/JSON/jQuery here are some resources you can check out:

  1. Ajax Tutorial
  2. Learning Ajax/jQuery

Defining the problem with faceted navigation

Having a page of products and then allowing users to sort those products the way they want (sorted from highest to lowest price), or to use a filter to pick a subset of the products (only those over $60) makes good sense for users. We typically refer to these types of navigation options as “faceted navigation.”

However, faceted navigation can cause problems for search engines because they don’t want to crawl and index all of your different sort orders or all your different filtered versions of your pages. They would end up with many different variants of your pages that are not significantly different from a search engine user experience perspective.

Solutions such as rel=canonical tags and parameters settings in Webmaster Tools have some limitations. For example, rel=canonical tags are considered “hints” by the search engines, and they may not choose to accept them, and even if they are accepted, they do not necessarily keep the search engines from continuing to crawl those pages.

A better solution might be to use JSON and jQuery to implement your faceted navigation so that a new page is not created when a user picks a filter or a sort order. Let’s take a look at how it works.

Using JSON and jQuery to filter on the client side

The main benefit of the implementation discussed below is that a new URL is not created when a user is on a page of yours and applies a filter or sort order. When you use JSON and jQuery, the entire process happens on the client device without involving your web server at all.

When a user initially requests one of the product pages on your web site, the interaction looks like this:

using json on faceted navigation

This transfers the page to the browser the user used to request the page. Now when a user picks a sort order (or filter) on that page, here is what happens:

jquery and faceted navigation diagram

When the user picks one of those options, a jQuery request is made to the JSON data object. Translation: the entire interaction happens within the client’s browser and the sort or filter is applied there. Simply put, the smarts to handle that sort or filter resides entirely within the code on the client device that was transferred with the initial request for the page.

As a result, there is no new page created and no new URL for Google or Bing to crawl. Any concerns about crawl budget or inefficient use of PageRank are completely eliminated. This is great stuff! However, there remain limitations in this implementation.

Specifically, if your list of products spans multiple pages on your site, the sorting and filtering will only be applied to the data set already transferred to the user’s browser with the initial request. In short, you may only be sorting the first page of products, and not across the entire set of products. It’s possible to have the initial JSON data object contain the full set of pages, but this may not be a good idea if the page size ends up being large. In that event, we will need to do a bit more.

What Ajax does for you

Now we are going to dig in slightly deeper and outline how Ajax will allow us to handle sorting, filtering, AND pagination. Warning: There is some tech talk in this section, but I will try to follow each technical explanation with a layman’s explanation about what’s happening.

The conceptual Ajax implementation looks like this:

ajax and faceted navigation diagram

In this structure, we are using an Ajax layer to manage the communications with the web server. Imagine that we have a set of 10 pages, the user has gotten the first page of those 10 on their device and then requests a change to the sort order. The Ajax requests a fresh set of data from the web server for your site, similar to a normal HTML transaction, except that it runs asynchronously in a separate thread.

If you don’t know what that means, the benefit is that the rest of the page can load completely while the process to capture the data that the Ajax will display is running in parallel. This will be things like your main menu, your footer links to related products, and other page elements. This can improve the perceived performance of the page.

When a user selects a different sort order, the code registers an event handler for a given object (e.g. HTML Element or other DOM objects) and then executes an action. The browser will perform the action in a different thread to trigger the event in the main thread when appropriate. This happens without needing to execute a full page refresh, only the content controlled by the Ajax refreshes.

To translate this for the non-technical reader, it just means that we can update the sort order of the page, without needing to redraw the entire page, or change the URL, even in the case of a paginated sequence of pages. This is a benefit because it can be faster than reloading the entire page, and it should make it clear to search engines that you are not trying to get some new page into their index.

Effectively, it does this within the existing Document Object Model (DOM), which you can think of as the basic structure of the documents and a spec for the way the document is accessed and manipulated.

How will Google handle this type of implementation?

For those of you who read Adam Audette’s excellent recent post on the tests his team performed on how Google reads Javascript, you may be wondering if Google will still load all these page variants on the same URL anyway, and if they will not like it.

I had the same question, so I reached out to Google’s Gary Illyes to get an answer. Here is the dialog that transpired:

Eric Enge: I’d like to ask you about using JSON and jQuery to render different sort orders and filters within the same URL. I.e. the user selects a sort order or a filter, and the content is reordered and redrawn on the page on the client site. Hence no new URL would be created. It’s effectively a way of canonicalizing the content, since each variant is a strict subset.

Then there is a second level consideration with this approach, which involves doing the same thing with pagination. I.e. you have 10 pages of products, and users still have sorting and filtering options. In order to support sorting and filtering across the entire 10 page set, you use an Ajax solution, so all of that still renders on one URL.

So, if you are on page 1, and a user executes a sort, they get that all back in that one page. However, to do this right, going to page 2 would also render on the same URL. Effectively, you are taking the 10 page set and rendering it all within one URL. This allows sorting, filtering, and pagination without needing to use canonical, noindex, prev/next, or robots.txt.

If this was not problematic for Google, the only downside is that it makes the pagination not visible to Google. Does that make sense, or is it a bad idea?

Gary Illyes
: If you have one URL only, and people have to click on stuff to see different sort orders or filters for the exact same content under that URL, then typically we would only see the default content.

If you don’t have pagination information, that’s not a problem, except we might not see the content on the other pages that are not contained in the HTML within the initial page load. The meaning of rel-prev/next is to funnel the signals from child pages (page 2, 3, 4, etc.) to the group of pages as a collection, or to the view-all page if you have one. If you simply choose to render those paginated versions on a single URL, that will have the same impact from a signals point of view, meaning that all signals will go to a single entity, rather than distributed to several URLs.

Summary

Keep in mind, the reason why Google implemented tags like rel=canonical, NoIndex, rel=prev/next, and others is to reduce their crawling burden and overall page bloat and to help focus signals to incoming pages in the best way possible. The use of Ajax/JSON/jQuery as outlined above does this simply and elegantly.

On most e-commerce sites, there are many different “facets” of how a user might want to sort and filter a list of products. With the Ajax-style implementation, this can be done without creating new pages. The end users get the control they are looking for, the search engines don’t have to deal with excess pages they don’t want to see, and signals in to the site (such as links) are focused on the main pages where they should be.

The one downside is that Google may not see all the content when it is paginated. A site that has lots of very similar products in a paginated list does not have to worry too much about Google seeing all the additional content, so this isn’t much of a concern if your incremental pages contain more of what’s on the first page. Sites that have content that is materially different on the additional pages, however, might not want to use this approach.

These solutions do require Javascript coding expertise but are not really that complex. If you have the ability to consider a path like this, you can free yourself from trying to understand the various tags, their limitations, and whether or not they truly accomplish what you are looking for.

Credit: Thanks for Clark Lefavour for providing a review of the above for technical correctness.

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Reblogged 2 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

For Writers Only: Secrets to Improving Engagement on Your Content Using Word Pictures (and I Don’t Mean Wordle)

Posted by Isla_McKetta

“Picture it.”

If you’re of a certain generation, those two words can only conjure images of tiny, white-haired Sophia from the Golden Girls about to tell one of her engaging (if somewhat long and irrelevant) stories as she holds her elderly roommates hostage in the kitchen or living room of their pastel-hued Miami home.

Even if you have no idea what I’m talking about, those words should become your writing mantra, because what readers do with your words is take all those letters and turn them into mind pictures. And as the writer, you have control over what those pictures look like and how long your readers mull them over.

According to
Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene, reading involves a rich back and forth between the language areas and visual areas of our brains. Although the full extent of that connectivity is not yet known, it’s easy to imagine that the more sensory (interesting) information we can include in our writing, the more fully we can engage our readers.

So if you’re a writer or content marketer you should be harnessing the illustrative power of words to occupy your readers’ minds and keep them interested until they’re ready to convert. Here’s how to make your words
work for you.

Kill clichés

I could have titled this piece “Painting a Picture with Words” but you’ve heard it. Over and over and over. And I’m going to propose that every time you use a cliché, a puppy dies. 

While that’s a bit extreme (at least I hope so because that’s a lot of dead puppies and Rocky’s having second thoughts about his choice of parents), I hope it will remind you to read over what you’ve written and see where your attention starts to wander (wandering attention=cliché=one more tragic, senseless death) you get bored. Chances are it’s right in the middle of a tired bit of language that used to be a wonderful word picture but has been used and abused to the point that we readers can’t even summon the image anymore.

Make up metaphors (and similes)

Did you know that most clichés used to be metaphors? And that we overused them because metaphors are possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for creating word pictures (and, thus, engaging content)? You do now.

By making unexpected comparisons, metaphors and similes force words to perform like a stage mom on a reality show. These comparisons shake our brains awake and force us to pay attention. So apply a whip to your language. Make it dance like a ballerina in a little pink tutu. Give our brains something interesting to sink our teeth into (poor Rocky!), gnaw on, and share with out friends.

Engage the senses

If the goal of all this attention to language is to turn reading into a full brain experience, why not make it a little easier by including sensory information in whatever you’re writing? Here are a few examples:

  • These tickets are selling so fast we can smell the burning rubber.
  • Next to a crumbling cement pillar, our interview subject sits typing on his pristine MacBook Air.
  • In a sea of (yelp!) never ending horde of black and gray umbrellas, this red cowboy hat will show the world you own your look.
  • Black hat tactics left your SERPs stinking as bad as a garbage strike in late August? Let us help you clear the air by cleaning up those results.

See how those images and experiences continue to unfold and develop in your mind? You have the power to affect your readers the same way—to create an image so powerful it stays with them throughout their busy days. One note of caution, though, sensory information is so strong that you want to be careful when creating potentially negative associations (like that garbage strike stench in the final example).

Leverage superlatives (wisely) and ditch hyperbole

SUPERLATIVES ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVEST TOOL YOU CAN USE EVER (until you wear your reader out or lose their trust). Superlatives (think “best,” “worst,” “hairiest” – any form of the adjective or adverb that is the most exaggerated form of the word) are one of the main problems with clickbait headlines (the other being the failure to deliver on those huge promises).

Speaking of exaggeration, be careful with it in all of its forms. You don’t actually have to stop using it, but think of your reader’s credence in your copy as a grasshopper handed over by a child. They think it’s super special and they want you to as well. If you mistreat that grasshopper by piling exaggerated fact after exaggerated fact on top of it, the grasshopper will be crushed and your reader will not easily forgive you.

So how do you stand out in a crowded field of over-used superlatives and hyperbolic claims? Find the places your products honestly excel and tout those. At Moz we don’t have the largest link index in the world. Instead, we have a really high quality link index. I could have obfuscated there and said we have “the best” link index, but by being specific about what we’re actually awesome at, we end up attracting customers who want better results instead of more results (and they’re happier for it).

Unearth the mystery

One of the keys to piquing your audience’s interest is to tap into (poor puppy!) create or find the mystery in what you’re writing. I’m not saying your product description will suddenly feature PIs in fedoras (I can dream, though), but figure out what’s intriguing or new about what you’re talking about. Here are some examples:

  • Remember when shortcuts meant a few extra minutes to yourself after school? How will you spend the 15-30 minutes our email management system will save you? We won’t tell…
  • You don’t need to understand how this toilet saves water while flushing so quietly it won’t wake the baby, just enjoy a restful night’s sleep (and lower water bills)
  • Check out this interactive to see what makes our work boots more comfortable than all the rest.

Secrets, surprises, and inside information make readers hunger for more knowledge. Use that power to get your audience excited about the story you’re about to tell them.

Don’t forget the words around your imagery

Notice how some of these suggestions aren’t about the word picture itself, they’re about the frame around the picture? I firmly believe that a reader comes to a post with a certain amount of energy. You can waste that energy by soothing them to sleep with boring imagery and clichés, while they try to find something to be interested in. Or you can give them energy by giving them word pictures they can get excited about.

So picture it. You’ve captured your reader’s attention with imagery so engaging they’ll remember you after they put down their phone, read their social streams (again), and check their email. They’ll come back to your site to read your content again or to share that story they just can’t shake.

Good writing isn’t easy or fast, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Let me help you make word pictures

Editing writing to make it better is actually one of my great pleasures in life, so I’m going to make you an offer here. Leave a sentence or two in the comments that you’re having trouble activating, and I’ll see what I can do to offer you some suggestions. Pick a cliché you can’t get out of your head or a metaphor that needs a little refresh. Give me a little context for the best possible results.

I’ll do my best to help the first 50 questions or so (I have to stop somewhere or I’ll never write the next blog post in this series), so ask away. I promise no puppies will get hurt in the process. In fact, Rocky’s quite happy to be the poster boy for this post—it’s the first time we’ve let him have beach day, ferry day, and all the other spoilings all at once.

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!

Reblogged 2 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

Demystifying Data Visualization for Marketers

Posted by Annie Cushing

I presented on wrangling and demystifying the data visualization process for marketers at MozCon this year, and it turns out there was far more to talk about than could fit into that half-hour. For the sake of those who couldn’t make it and those who could but want to learn more, I pulled together this overview of my presentation, offering more detail than I could in the slides.

To see all of the links shared in this post, check out my
MozCon Bitly bundle.

You may want to open the SlideShare file in another tab or browser window, so you can easily toggle between the post and the SlideShare.

I’m going to go through the presentation slide by slide to bring the narrative to print.

Slide 3

I have a confession: Although it’s probably safe to say I’m a fairly advanced Excel user — at least among marketers — until recently I had no real charting strategy. In fact, I signed up to do this presentation partly to force me to carve out a strategy, particularly with Google Analytics data.

Slide 4

In this presentation I have focused on Google Analytics data for a couple reasons:

  1. If you can wrangle Google Analytics, other marketing data is a walk in the park.
  2. It has naming conventions that map beautifully to Excel, making it an ideal tutor.

Slide 5

My approach may seem a bit Karate Kid-esque, but if you can grasp the interplay between Google Analytics and Excel, you’ll never be left wondering how to visualize your data.

Although there are many aspects to data visualization, I focus primarily on charting.

Slide 6

In Excel there are two components to charts that are critical to understand: data series and categories. They are always used together.

Think of categories as buckets for your data and data series as the data itself.

Slide 7

If you dumped a pile of Legos in front of a group of kids and told them to organize them by color into their corresponding, labeled containers and then count them, the containers would be categories. And the data series would be the count of Lego bricks.

Slide 8

First let’s peek under the hood on a PC by cracking open the Select Data Source dialog. You get to it by right-clicking on your chart and choosing Select Data.

Slide 9

Excel for Mac also has data series on the left and categories on the right. And that’s about all they have in common.

Slide 10

But, as with most features in Excel for Mac, the functionality of the Mac’s Data Source dialog is far inferior to that of the PC.

Slide 11

This sort option is helpful if you have a stacked chart and want to sort the individual data series. I like to put the larger series on the bottom and smaller ones on the top. But if you have a stacked chart on the Mac and you want to reorder the data series, you actually have to delete the series you want demoted and manually add it back in.

It’s kind of like that game, Hand on Hand, you might have played as a kid where kids go around in a circle putting their right hands in the middle, followed by the left hands. Then they go around the circle moving the bottom hands to the top of the pile as fast as possible.

Although in this case, you’re moving the data series to the
bottom of the pile.

Slide 12

To move the Sessions data series to the bottom of the pile, first select it from the Series list.

Slide 13

Then click the Remove button to delete it from the list.

Slide 14

Then click the Add button to add it back to the list of data series.

Slide 15

Click the data selector button to the right of the Name field and select the series name, as directed in the screenshot.

Slide 16

Click the data selector button to the right of the Y values field and click-and-drag over the values. If the column is long, just click the first cell and press Ctrl-Shift-Down Arrow (Mac: Command-Shift-Down Arrow) to select the entire column without scrolling. (We are nothing if not efficient.)

Slide 17

And finally you need to click-and-drag over the category axis labels. Which brings us to the Mac’s other issue ….

Slide 18

In the PC version, there’s one place for the category axis labels. On the Mac you have to choose the axis labels for each series. It’s counter-intuitive.

Slide 19

Categories end up along the horizontal axis — or the vertical axis for horizontal bar charts.

Slide 20

The data series ends up in the legend and is usually a metric (from GA). But there are a couple exceptions, which we’ll get to in a minute. The categories populate to the horizontal axis label or vertical axis label with the bar chart.

Slide 21

Transition to Google Analytics.

Slide 22

The two major players in Google Analytics – that we’ll be mapping to Excel – are dimensions and metrics. They’re (practically) inseparable.

Slide 23

Dimensions are the buckets your data is broken up into. These come into Excel as text – even if they’re values – like you get with the Days to Transaction dimension (which you can get from Conversions > Ecommerce > Time to Purchase). They are always the far-left column of the table.

  • Add a secondary dimension in any report (standard or custom).

  • Create a custom flat table with two dimensions. Learn how in this post.
  • Use the API. This is the only option that will allow you to use more than two dimensions. You can pull up to seven dimensions in one API call.

Slide 24

Metrics are anything that can be measured with a number.

Slide 25

If you’re in a custom report (or have clicked the Edit link at the top of most standard reports), metrics always show up to a party in blue.

Slide 26

And dimensions show up as green.

You can learn more about custom reports from the
video tutorial I created to help marketers.

Now it’s time to marry Google Analytics and Excel.

Slide 27

In most cases dimensions in Google Analytics map to categories in Excel.

Slide 28

And metrics map to data series in Excel.

Slide 29

I’m going to break this down systematically, based on the number of dimensions and metrics you’re wanting to visualize.

Slide 30

Dimensions: 0

Metrics: Multiple

You want this if you want to know aggregate numbers, e.g, sessions for the month, or revenue, or goal completions.

Slide 31

I hate to start on a downer, but you need the API to do this. The GA interface requires at least one dimension.

Slide 32

As with most things, if you prod enough, you’ll discover hacks and workarounds. But the name of the game here is to come up with a dimension that will only have one bucket. Going back to the Legos analogy, it would be kind of like saying, “Put all the plastic Legos in this bucket and count them.”

Slide 33

Workaround: Set dimension to something that will encompass all of your data, meaning you’ll only have one row in the report. One example of that would be the User Defined dimension (under Audience > Custom > User Defined).

As you’ll see in the screenshot, all of the values are consolidated as (not set) since this profile (now called view) doesn’t use the User Defined dimension.

Slide 34

If you’re still using the User Defined dimension (and, therefore, have multiple rows reporting), you really need to update.

If you’re using classic GA, you should be using custom variables and custom dimensions if you’re using Universal.

Slide 35

Another option is to use the Year dimension with a custom report. This is ideal if you are gathering data for a single month. You can aggregate data beyond one month, as long as the date range you choose doesn’t straddle more than one year.

Slide 36

Here’s what the custom report looks like under the hood. Learn how to 
create custom reports in Google Analytics in a video tutorial I did.

Slide 37

You can access this report 
here while logged in to Google Analytics.

Slide 38

This data isn’t conducive to charting, but you can sexy up a table with
sparklines and conditional formatting.

Slide 40

Dimensions: 1

Metrics: 1

An example of this might be revenue segmented by country or bounce rate segmented by device category.

Slide 41

Pie Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the pie chart:

  • They use angles to show the relative size of each value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Avoid 3D pie charts. They distort data.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Pie Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can grab a piece of the pie to isolate it and drag it out slightly to draw attention to it. This is called exploding pie pieces.
  • You can also change the values to percentages in the data labels or even add the categories, thereby negating the need for a legend.

Slide 42

Donut Chart Basics

Here are some highlights about the donut chart:

  • Donut charts show data in rings, where each ring represents a data series
  • It uses the length of the arc to indicate the size of the value.
  • You should put data in descending order to put the most significant data point at 12:00 and radiate clockwise.
  • Data points must add up to 100%. So you can’t take traffic from 5 of your 8 campaigns and chart them.
  • Microsoft says no more than seven categories; I say no more than five.
  • None of the values in your data series can be negative.
  • Learn more

Donut Chart Tricks

Ways to trick out your chart:

  • You can put the title or the value you want to highlight in the center. 

  • I don’t recommend using the donut chart for multiple series or dimensions. They’re more difficult to interpret. 

  • Like the pie chart, you can pull one out to draw attention to it.
  • You can use a donut chart to create a speedometer chart.
  • You can fill it with an image that resembles the surface of a donut to make it look like a … Okay, yeah, never mind …

Slide 43

Column Chart Basics

  • Should sort in descending order.
  • The axis should start at 0.
  • Categories don’t have to add up to 100%
  • Learn more

Column Chart Tricks

  • You can add a trendline to make trends stand out.
  • Consider going totally minimalist with the techniques I demonstrate in this video tutorial. (You can skip to the 15:53 mark.)
  • Don’t be afraid to move the legend around.
  • Excel’s default axis tends to be dense. I typically double the Major Unit, so if the major unit is set to 100, I typically up it to 200. Learn more about the major unit from the Microsoft site. (But I also show how in the above-mentioned video tutorial.
  • You can use a column chart to create a bullet graph to show current data vis-à-vis goals or projections.
  • You can use a column chart to create a waterfall chart.
  • You can add a target line to your chart.
  • If you have many categories to chart, you can use a scrollbar.
  • You can use a column chart to create a thermometer chart.
  • Just remember safety first when working with column charts.

Slide 44

Bar Chart Basics

  • You need to sort your data in ascending order to put the longest bars at the top.
  • Bar charts are good for categories with longer labels.
  • You shouldn’t use bar charts if your dimension is time based (date, month, etc.).
  • Learn more

Bar Chart Tricks

  • You can use all of the tricks (except the last two) listed in the Column Chart Tricks list.

Slide 45

Radar Chart Basics

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.

Radar Chart Tricks

  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. 

Slide 46

Notes about the Heat Map

Learn how to create a heat map in
this video tutorial I did.

Slide 47

And now let’s look under the hood at a typical chart that uses 1 dimension and 1 metric. Let’s say we have this table of analytics data ….

Slide 48

If we create a column chart from this table, this is what it’s going to look like (with some cleanup).

Slide 49

Now if we look at the data source this is what we’ll see ….

Slide 50

The mediums show up over here in the categories …

Slide 51

And the sessions values show up here in the data series …

Slide 52

Which populates to the legend. But you can delete the legend when you only have one metric (or data series). You’ll then want to include the metric in the chart title.

Slide 53

And the mediums populate the horizontal axis labels.

A little piece of Excel trivia: The Select Data Source dialog still says Horizontal Axis Labels, even for bar charts where the labels are on the vertical axis. #pedantic

Slide 54

Example of 1 dimension and multiple metrics: Sessions, goal completions, and revenue broken down by Device Category (mobile, tablet, desktop)

BTW, the Device Category dimension is one of the most important in Google Analytics. By itself it’s pretty useless, but in the context of other data, it’s very useful. You should be segmenting all of your data by it.

Slide 55

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • Clustered column charts are good for showing comparisons (e.g, sessions vs revenue for each month or ROI vs Margin by campaign (or keyword).
  • You could transform the clustered column chart into a combination chart by adding a line chart on the secondary axis that adds a percent value.

Slide 56

Notes about the Stacked Column Chart

  • The stacked column chart is good for showing how each data series contributes to the whole.
  • An example might be revenue broken down by medium.
  • If you want to order the columns by overall height, you can create a total column for the series. You just won’t chart that column.

Slide 57

Notes about the Clustered Bar Chart

  • All of the notes in the above-mentioned stacked column chart.
  • Like the [single] bar chart, the clustered bar chart is better for categories with long labels.
  • You can hack the clustered bar chart to create a double-sided bar chart. You can view a video tutorial I did on how to do this.

Slide 58

Notes about the Stacked Bar Chart

  • If you want to sort the bars so that the longer bars are on top, create a totals column and sort it in ascending order.
  • You shouldn’t use the stacked bar chart if your dimension is time oriented (date, month, etc.).

Slide 59

Notes about the 100% Stacked Column Chart

  • Use the 100% stacked column chart when you are working with percentages.
  • The data series must add up to 100%.
  • For example, if you wanted to see what percentage of social referrals came from desktop, tablet, and mobile devices.

Slide 60

Notes about the 100% Stacked Bar Chart

All of the notes under the 100% stacked column chart apply here.

Slide 61

Notes about the Radar Chart

  • Category labels are at the tip of each spine.
  • You can use a fill with your radar charts.
  • Radar charts can be compelling when you compare multiple entities at once. For example, I saw a set of 50 radar charts that compared metrics like crime rates for different types of crime for each state.
  • If you don’t want the axis labels to show, you can set the number formatting to ;;; to hide them altogether. You can then include an annotation on your chart that lets viewers know the intervals. See the screenshot under the Slide 45 note above.

Slide 62

Notes about the Combination Chart

Learn all about combination charts in
this post I wrote on the Search Engine Land site.

Slide 63 – 69

Self-explanatory as they follow the same dialog as slides 46 – 52.

Slide 71

Notes about the Line Chart

  • In a line chart, category data is usually distributed evenly along the horizontal axis and value data is distributed evenly along the vertical axis.
  • Line charts can show continuous data over time, so they’re ideal for showing trends in data at equal intervals, like months, quarters, or fiscal years.
  • You can add markers and set the lines to none to use them in ranking charts.
  • Avoid using stacked line charts. It’s not always apparent that the data series are stacked. If you want to stack, use an area chart instead.
  • You can add interesting line markers like the ones I created in this video tutorial to replicate the charts in Moz’s tool set

Slide 72

Notes about the Stacked Area Chart

  • Ideal for showing stacked data series over time, especially if you want to demonstrate a fluid trend. Stacked column charts should be used if you want to keep each of the categories more disparate.
  • You should order the data series so that the larger series are at the bottom of the stack with the smaller series being clustered together at the top because people’s eyes naturally travel from the horizontal axis upward with stacked area charts.
  • If you keep the gridlines, make them significantly lighter. A light gray works well.
  • Make sure you have adequate contrast between contiguous data series. Sometimes Excel puts two colors next to each other that blend.
  • If you have smaller data series that are difficult to see, use stronger colors to make them easier to view.
  • If you have all larger data series and you want to add some finesse, give your data series a line (what would be called a stroke in graphic design programs) that’s slightly darker than the fill.
  • You can create a combination chart with a stacked area chart. Just don’t use a line chart for the other style. I like to use a chart style that stands out from the area chart, such as a column chart. You may want to increase the transparency of its fill so that you can easily see through to the stacked area chart.

Slide 73

Notes about the Clustered Column Chart

  • You use the clustered column chart to show comparisons between data series (as opposed to how they contribute to the whole).
  • The clustered column chart is especially effective for showing year-over-year data. The categories would just have the name of the month (I abbreviate to three letters, which you can learn how to do in this tutorial), and one column would be used to show data from one year and the other colored column would indicate the previous year. To show the month from each year as a disparate data series, you would have to make each year a separate column in your data.
  • You can add a line chart on the secondary axis that highlights the percent change between values.
  • You can play with the gap width and overlap settings to adjust the series. You get to those by selecting a column, pressing Ctrl-1 (Mac: Command-1), and navigating to the Series Options (Mac: Options) area of the Format Data Series dialog.
  • Excel doesn’t provide the option to add a data label that indicates the total of all the data series for each column. You can hack one by adding a total column that you include in the clustered column but then change to a line chart. From there, remove the line and add data labels above the line.

Slide 74

Same as Slide 60.

Slide 75

Same as Slide 58

Slide 76 – 77

Self-explanatory.

Slide 78

Things get more complicated when you want to chart two dimensions. There are three ways to get 2 dimensions:

Slide 79

So here we have two dimensions (Device Category and User Type). I picked these dimensions to demonstrate because they have a finite number of options. I LOVE the device category dimension and use it frequently to segment my data in Google Analytics.

Note: When you chart two dimensions, you can only use one metric (or data series in Excel).

Slide 80

Here’s an example of what a clustered column chart might look like.

Slide 81

We now have a dimension in the legend — or category in Excel.

Slide 82

Using the Switch Row/Column button ….

Slide 83

This is what the chart would now look like. Notice we now have three data series and two categories.

Slide 84

Now let’s take a peek under the hood.

Slide 85

Again, here you see we have dimensions, not metrics, in the data series. The metrics should be included in the chart title.

Slide 86

And now the Device Category dimension is in the category area.

Slide 87

Your chart options are the same as when you had one dimension and multiple metrics. These options are not exhaustive.

Slide 88

Slide 89

The data in this table is in report format. If only marketing export data came in this format. (It doesn’t.)

Slide 90

This is how marketing data actually comes out of different marketing tools. It’s called tabular format.

Slide 91

Just as in a database, rows in tabular data are called records.

Slide 92

Columns are called fields.

Slide 93

And the column headings are called field names. But if I were to select two dimension columns and one metric and select a chart, here’s how Excel digests the data …

Slide 94

Gross, I know. I’m a child.

Slide 95

Here’s what it actually looks like. A royal mess.

Slide 96

Excel requires that data be in a report format in order to chart two dimensions. And the one metric (sessions, revenue, impressions, whatever) goes into the green area. There’s only one way to corral an export with two dimensions and one metric into report format …

Slide 97

Pivot tables sound scary and intimidating but not if you think about what pivot means.

Slide 98

When a soldier pivots, s/he very simply goes from standing facing one direction to turning at a 90 degree angle. That’s what a pivot table does. By moving one of your dimensions into the Columns field (Mac: Column Labels field), Excel puts that dimension’s values across the top of your data. 

Once you have your data in report format, and you can chart it. You typically want to put the dimension with fewer values into the columns area.

Learn how to create pivot tables in this comprehensive video tutorial I did.

Slide 99

Although pivot tables come with a lot of junk in the trunk, you can see the pivot table puts the data into report layout, which Excel can then use to chart the data. If you’re on a PC, you can create a pivot chart. If you’re on a Mac, you can create a static chart from the pivot table because Excel for
Mac still doesn’t support pivot charts. Still. Ridic.

Slide 100

Now you’re ready to look at GA data — nay, all marketing data — with a more strategic eye… And spend less time tooling around in Excel trying to figure out how to visualize your data!

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Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

SEOs Know Things about UX: Here’s How to Prove it

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

As a human being currently using the internet, you have opinions about online user experience. The problem is, everyone’s experience is going to be different based on their expectations. So although you, as a Moz blog reader and probably an internet connoisseur, may have some very good ideas about making your company’s or client’s site easier to use for the majority of visitors, there’s a good chance that your boss or client will disagree with you. 

If you’re like me and aren’t a user experience expert, it’s going to be hard to argue with them on gut instinct alone. Rather than debate in circles, spend the time to validate your argument:

  1. Prove there is a problem. This is a good idea even if you and your boss (or client) wholeheartedly agree that the site is less than optimal. Get feedback from visitors who aren’t working on the site and see if their feedback lines up with your assumptions. 
  2. Propose a solution. Based on the feedback, propose a solution. It’s best to do this visually with a page mockup. 
  3. Test that solution. See how visitors respond better to your new design than they did to the old design.

By going through these steps, you can build a strong case for implementing your recommendations.

How to prove there is a problem

The first step is to prove that there really is a user experience issue. If you’re lucky and have time and money, the best way to get user experience feedback is to reach out to your customers and/or people in your target market and work with them in person. But most of us aren’t so lucky. If you’re confined to an SEO’s budget like I usually am, you can use an online tool:

My favorite:

Qualaroo

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Qualaroo is a simple yet effective way to collect feedback. You just put a small piece of JavaScript code on your site, allowing Qualaroo to load a question in the lower right hand corner of a page. You can: 

  • Place the question on any page or group of pages
  • Write your own questions or use their helpful library of examples
  • Set a time for when the box shows up (e.g., on page load, after 15 seconds, or when the visitor moves their cursor up to the URL bar on their browser, indicating they might leave)

Example use: One of my clients runs seminars. They can host them in a number of places, but if the seminar is hosted in their primary building, they don’t explicitly say where the seminar is held. I theorized that this is causing confusion for visitors and that adding the address to the seminar page would make visitors’ decisions easier.

I didn’t want to ask a leading question, though, so I just added a question to every seminar page, “Is there any other information you need to make a decision today?” Once I had collected a few hundred responses, I exported the feedback to an Excel file and started sorting ideas. I was right: a good proportion of people were interested in the location. The exercise also taught me that a lot of visitors wanted a sample schedule of the program. 

Pros: Easy to use, fast way to get feedback, very flexible program

Cons: You only hear from people who are on your site

Price: $79/month (less if you pay for 1 – 2 years at a time)

Cheap feedback without access to the code of your site:

Feedback Army/Mechanical Turk

Feedback Army

While I recommend Qualaroo, I realize that many of you may not be able to convince your boss or client to install JavaScript and potentially distract visitors with your UX questions. If that’s the case, you can use 
Mechanical Turk, or Feedback Army, which is a guy using Mechanical Turk for you, because mTurk’s interface is pretty clunky.

Mechanical Turk allows you to submit questions to millions of online workers from across the world (about 30% are American), so you can use the same questions as you would with Qualaroo. You have to lead them to the right page to review as well, but that should be easy enough.

Pros: An inexpensive way to find and learn from testers

Cons: Mechanical Turk doesn’t pay their testers a whole lot, so you’ll get very quick, off the cuff responses. Plus, they won’t be from your target audience or customer base.

Price: $40 per 10 responses

More expensive feedback without access to the code of your site:

UserTesting.com

usertesting.com

If you’d like a more robust user experience test, try out
UserTesting.com. Testers are paid $35/test, so they’re going to give you a much more in-depth, thoughtful review than Mechanical Turk. With a higher price tag comes a lot more information, though: you give testers a task and ask them for feedback along the way. This may be excessive if your idea was about tweaking one piece of one page, but it’s great for information architecture/site navigation issues.

Pros: A still fairly inexpensive way to find and learn from testers. You can select your target market by age, gender, income, location, and experience online.

Cons: Reviewers are being paid well to test your site, here, so they want to do a thorough job, and I’ve heard they can be nitpicky.

Price: $49/tester (you’ll need a few, at least)

Bonus: Running tests like these without access to the code of the site means that you can run tests on your competitors, too! Use either Feedback Army or UserTesting.com to learn what people like about your competitors’ sites and what frustrates them. It’ll tell you what you’re up against, and pieces that testers praise may be worth imitating on your own site.

Quantitative feedback:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Google Analytics won’t give you the opinions of visitors, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. If your theory is that:

  • Calls to action aren’t really…calling people to action
  • Visitors don’t know how to navigate to the page they’re looking for
  • Readers don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of the page

Then you can look at:

  • What proportion of visitors clicked on that call to action (if there are multiple CTAs to the same location on a page, you may have to set up Event Tracking to be sure which CTA was clicked)
  • How visitors move through your site with the Visitor Flow report, and how many visitors clicked around before using site search with the Site Search report
  • How far visitors scrolled down a page, by setting up Events at certain break points
Pros: Free! And, probably already installed on your system. 

Cons: You get a lot of data, but what it means can be somewhat up to interpretation. This might be a good springboard to convince a client that you need to do further testing, but it can’t prove much on its own.

Price: Free!

How to propose a solution

Proving that there is a problem gets your boss or client to the table. The next step is proposing a solution and proposing it well.

The most effective way I’ve found to pitch a design change is to actually mock up your solution. If you have access to design tools, definitely use those. I don’t, though, so I either modify the HTML with Chrome’s Inspect Element feature or use a combination of the Windows Snipping Tool and Paint.

Snipping Tool & MS Paint

I know, no one gets design cred from using MS Paint. But I’m a child of the ’90s, and Paint was my first introduction to design software, so it’s easy for me to use. The point here isn’t to use Paint necessarily, but to use whichever program you have access to and is easy to use. Don’t stop yourself from creating designs just because you don’t own a copy of Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

When I want to mock up a dramatically different version of a page, I use the Snipping Tool to take a picture of the webpage as it currently is, then modify the parts that I want to. The selector makes it easy to move elements around. If Paint doesn’t have an option I need, I just use other Office products:

  • For text overlays and adding a variety of shapes, I’ll often use Word, since it has a lot of text box options
  • For color changes and setting a transparent color, I use PowerPoint, because as far as I know it’s the only Office product that has that option
  • For text changes, I’ll modify the HTML in Chrome (see section below), then copy that over to my Paint design

Is this hack-y? Yes. Is it impressive? No. But it gets the job done. All you need at the end is a design good enough to communicate your idea. Once you get sign-off, actual designers will make sure that the details turn out right.

Rewriting the HTML

As I mentioned above, this works best if what you’re doing is modifying the existing text or images. You can either download the HTML of a page, modify it, and share that, or you can use Chrome’s Inspect Element to quickly modify text and take a picture of the result. It took me 15 seconds to change the text on Moz’ homepage:

rewriting html in chrome

Just right click wherever you want to edit on your page while in Chrome and click “Inspect Element.” If you want to make color changes or image changes, it’ll be a little more complicated, but still doable. 

You can do this in Firefox as well with Firefox’s add-on,
Firebug.

Once you’ve got a mock up, save it and send it on to your boss/client with your description of the changes you’ve made, the stats from your tests, and why your solution is solving those problems. (Just don’t mention how you made that mock up.)

How to test your solution

Even if your proposed solution is a big hit and everyone wants to implement it right away, it’s better to test to make sure that it’s actually going to work before making a permanent change to your site. I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that it’s too hard to test changes, but it’s actually fairly easy with the right tools.

If you or a dev can build you variation pages:

Google Experiments

google experiments

Image from Marketing Engine Land, which includes more details on Google Experiments.

If you’ve got a developer who can build out your suggested change, 
Google Experiments is a free, reliable, and easy to use tool to track results. It’s integrated into Google Analytics, so it uses the conversion metrics you already have set up (this may mean you’ll have to set up a new goal to cover your test’s desired outcome). 

Pros: Free and completely integrated with Google Analytics

Cons: You have to create your own variation pages.

Price: Free!

If dev resources are limited:

Optimizely

optimizely

Optimizely does need a bit of dev work to install a JavaScript code onto your site, but once it’s there, you can edit the HTML for tests with their web interface, without talking to a developer. You can edit with their editor or use actual HTML, meaning the tool doesn’t require HTML skills, but still allows those able to write HTML the extra precision they can get from making changes to the code directly. 

As a consultant, I
love working with clients who have Optimizely installed, because I can take a test from start to finish. I prove the problem, propose a solution, set up the test, and present results, all without my point of contact having to take time out of his or her busy schedule to make any changes. And, once you have numeric results, it’s easy to prove the value of your suggested change and get it into the dev queue. 

Pros: Easy to use, and gives you a lot of flexibility 

Cons: You have to start with the core page and then modify elements with JavaScript, so you can’t make dramatic changes 

Price: Based on your monthly traffic, prices start at $19/month

Make a solid argument for change

Assuming that each step supported your initial ideas, you now have more than enough data to strongly support making the change you suggested. When you make your recommendation, take the time to tell the story of what you went through—getting user feedback, coming up with a solution, and proving the solution works. Clients and bosses feel a lot more comfortable with your conclusions if they see how thoroughly you researched the issue.

Has anyone else gone through a similar process? Any tools you prefer, or tips you’d like to add? Share in the comments below!

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Reblogged 3 years ago from feedproxy.google.com

How To Tap Into Social Norms to Build a Strong Brand

Posted by bridget.randolph

In recent years there has been a necessary shift in the way businesses advertise themselves to consumers, thanks to the increasingly common information overload experienced by the average person.

In 1945, just after WWII, the
annual total ad spend in the United States was about $2.8 billion (that’s around $36.8 million before the adjustment for inflation). In 2013, it was around $140 billion.

Don’t forget that this is just paid media advertising; it doesn’t include the many types of earned coverage like search, social, email, supermarket displays, direct mail and so on. Alongside the growth in media spends is a growth in the sheer volume of products available, which is made possible by increasingly sophisticated technologies for sales, inventory, delivery and so on.

What does this mean? Well, simply that the strategy of ‘just buy some ads and sell the benefits’ isn’t enough anymore: you’ll be lost in the noise. How can a brand retain customers and create loyalty in an atmosphere where everyone else has a better offer? Through tapping into the psychology of social relationships.


Imagine that you are at home for Thanksgiving, and your mother has pulled out all the stops to lovingly craft the most delicious, intricate dinner ever known to man. You and your family have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon of socializing and snacking on leftovers and watching football, and now it’s time to leave. As you hug your parents goodbye, you take out your wallet. “How much do I owe you for all the love and time you put into this wonderful afternoon?” you ask. “$100 for the food? here, have $50 more as a thank you for the great hospitality!” How would your mother respond to such an offer? I don’t know about your mother, but my mom would be deeply offended.

New scenario: You’ve gone to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s the most delicious dinner you’ve ever had, the atmosphere is great with the football playing in the background, and best of all, your server is attentive, warm, and maternal. You feel right at home. At the end of the meal, you give her a hug and thank her for the delicious meal before leaving. She calls the cops and has you arrested for a dine-and-dash.

And herein lies the difference between social norms and market norms.

Social norms vs. market norms

The Thanksgiving dinner example is one which I’ve borrowed from a book by Dan Ariely,
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions. Ariely discusses two ways in which humans interact: social norms and market norms.


Social norms
, as Ariely explains, “are wrapped up in our social nature and our need for community. They are usually warm and fuzzy. Instant paybacks are not required.” Examples would be: helping a friend move house, babysitting your grandchild, having your parents over for dinner. There is an implied reciprocity on some level but it is not instantaneous nor is it expected that the action will be repaid on a financial level. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with friends and family.


Market norms
, on the other hand, are about the exchange of resources and in particular, money. Examples of this type of interaction would be any type of business transaction where goods or services are exchanged for money: wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefit. These are the sort of relationships and interactions we expect to have with businesses.

I’ve drawn you a very rough illustration – it may not be the most aesthetically pleasing visual, but it gets the point across:

Market norms come into play any time money enters into the equation, sometimes counter-intuitively! Ariely gives the example of a group of lawyers who were approached by the AARP and asked whether they would provide legal services to needy retirees at a drastically discounted rate of $30/hour. The lawyers said no. From a market norms perspective, the exchange didn’t make sense. Later the same lawyers were asked whether they would consider donating their time free of charge to needy retirees. The vast majority of the lawyers said yes. The difference is that, when no money changes hands, the exchange shifts from a poor-value market exchange to an altruistic and therefore high-value social exchange. It is a strange psychological quirk that ‘once market norms enter our considerations, the social norms depart.’

Mixed signals: when social and market norms collide

In a book called
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout (originally published in 1981), the authors describe the 1950s as the ‘product era’ of advertising, when ‘advertising people focused their attention on product features and customer benefits.’ It was all about the unique selling proposition (USP).


In this case, the USP is mildness: “not one single case of throat irritation!” (image source)

However, as the sheer volume of products on the market increased, it became more difficult to sell a product simply by pointing out the benefits. As Ries and Trout put it, ‘Your “better mousetrap” was quickly followed by two more just like it. Both claiming to be better than the first one.’

They describe the next phase of advertising (which hit its peak in the 1960s and 70s and which we can probably all relate to if we watch Mad Men) as the ‘image era’, pioneered by David Ogilvy. In this period, successful campaigns sold the reputation, or ‘image’ of a brand and a product rather than its features. Ries and Trout quote Ogilvy as saying that ‘Every advertisement is a long-term investment in the image of a brand’. Examples include Hathaway shirts and Rolls-Royce.

Rather than the product benefits, this ad focuses on the ‘image’ of the man who smokes Viceroys: “Viceroy has a thinking man’s filter and a smoking man’s taste. (image source)

But yet again, as more and more brands imitate the strategy of these successful campaigns, the space gets more crowded and the consumer becomes more jaded and these techniques become less effective.

According to Ries and Trout, this brought the world of advertising into the ‘positioning era’ of the 80s, which is where they positioned (hehe) themselves. As they described this, “To succeed in our overcommunicated society, a company must create a position in the prospect’s mind, a position that takes into consideration not only a company’s own strengths and weaknesses, but those of its competitors as well.”

This one’s all about positioning Winston’s in opposition to competitors: as the brand with real taste, as opposed to other brands which ‘promise taste’ but fail to deliver. (image source)

And yet, despite this evolution of advertising strategy over the course of the 20th century, all of these different approaches are ultimately based on market norms. The ‘product era’ sells you features and benefits in exchange for money; the ‘image era’ sells you on an image and a lifestyle in exchange for money, and the ‘positioning era’ sells you on why a particular company is the right one to supply your needs in exchange for money.

Social norms and loyalty


When does cheap not win?
When it comes to social norms. Social norms are about relationships, community and loyalty. If your sister is getting married, you don’t do a cost benefit analysis to decide whether or not you should go to her wedding or whether the food will be better and the travel cheaper if you go to your next door neighbor’s BBQ instead. If anything, it’s the opposite: some people take it to such an extreme that they will go into massive debt to attend friends’ weddings and bring lavish gifts. That is certainly not a decision based on monetary considerations.

Therefore, if the average brand wants to get out of the vicious cycle of undercutting competitors in order to gain business, they need to start focusing on relationships and community building instead of ‘SUPER CHEAP BEST LOW LOW PRICES!!®’ and sneaky upsells at the point of sale. This is something my colleague
Tim Allen spoke about in a presentation called “Make Me Love Your Brand, Not Just Tolerate It”. And this is what a large number of recent ‘advertising success stories’ are based on and it’s the whole premise behind many of the more recent trends in marketing: email marketing, personalization, SMS marketing, good social media marketing, and so on.

Some of the most popular brands are the ones which are able to find the perfect balance between:

  • a friendly, warm relationship with customers and potential customers, which also often includes a fun, personal tone of voice (the ‘brand personality’) – in these interactions there is often an offering of something to the customer without an expectation of instant payback, and
  • a strong product which they offer at a good price with good ‘market’ benefits like free returns and so on.

One example of this is John Lewis, who have good customer service policies around returns etc but also offer free perks to their shoppers, like the maternity room where breastfeeding mothers can relax. One of my colleagues mentioned that, as a new mother, his girlfriend always prefers to shop at John Lewis over other competitor stores for that very reason. Now if this is purely a convenience factor for her, and after her child is older she stops shopping at John Lewis in favor of a cheaper option, you could argue that this is less of a social interaction and more market influenced (in some sense it serves as a service differentiator between JL and their customers). However, if after she no longer requires the service, she continues to shop there because she wants to reciprocate their past support of her as a breastfeeding mother, that pushes it more firmly into the realm of the social.

Another thing John Lewis do for their fans is the annual Christmas ad, which (much like the 
Coca-Cola Santa truck in the UK) has become something which people look forward to each year because it’s a heartwarming little story more than just an ad for a home and garden store. Their 2012 ad was my favorite (and a lot of other people’s too, with over 4.5 million Youtube views).

But usually anytime a brand ‘do something nice’ for no immediate monetary benefit, it counts as a ‘social’ interaction – a classic example is
Sainsbury’s response to the little girl who wrote to them about ‘tiger bread’.

Some of my other favorite examples of social norm interactions by brands are:

The catch is, you have to be careful and keep the ‘mix’ of social and market norms consistent.

Ariely uses the example of a bank when describing the danger of bringing social norms into a business relationship:

“What happens if a customer’s check bounces? If the relationship is based on market norms, the bank charges a fee, and the customer shakes it off. Business is business. While the fee is annoying, it’s nonetheless acceptable. In a social relationship, however, a hefty late fee–rather than a friendly call from the manager or an automatic fee waiver–is not only a relationship-killer; it’s a stab in the back. Consumers will take personal offense. They’ll leave the bank angry and spend hours complaining to their friends about this awful bank.”

Richard Fergie also summed this issue up nicely in this G+ post about the recent outrage over Facebook manipulating users’ emotions; in this case, the back-stab effect was due to the fact that the implicit agreement between the users and the company about what was being ‘sold’ and therefore ‘valued’ in the exchange changed without warning.


The basic rule of thumb is that whether you choose to emphasize market norms or social norms, you can’t arbitrarily change the rules.

A side note about social media and brands: Act like a normal person

In a time when
the average American aged 18-64 spends 2-3 hours a day on social media, it is only logical that we would start to see brands and the advertising industry follow suit. But if this is your only strategy for building relationships and interacting with your customers socially, it’s not good enough. Instead, in this new ‘relationship era’ of advertising (as I’ve just pretentiously dubbed it, in true Ries-and-Trout fashion), the brands who will successfully merge market and social norms in their advertising will be the brands which are able to develop the sort of reciprocal relationships that we see with our friends and family. I wrote a post over on the Distilled blog about what social media marketers can learn from weddings. That was just one example, but the TL;DR is: as a brand, you still need to use social media the way that normal people do. Otherwise you risk becoming a Condescending Corporate Brand on Facebook. On Twitter too.

Social norms and authenticity: Why you actually do need to care

Another way in which brands tap into social norms are through their brand values. My colleague
Hannah Smith talked about this in her post on The Future of Marketing. Moz themselves are a great example of a brand with strong values: for them it’s TAGFEE. Hannah also gives the examples of Innocent Drinks (sustainability), Patagonia (environmentalism) and Nike (whose strapline ‘Find Your Greatness’ is about their brand values of everyone being able to ‘achieve their own defining moment of greatness’).

Havas Media have been doing some interesting work around trying to ‘measure’ brand sentiment with something call the
‘Meaningful Brands Index’ (MBi), based on how much a brand is perceived as making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, both for personal wellbeing and collective wellbeing. Whether or not you like their approach, they have some interesting stats: apparently only 20% of brands worldwide are seen to ‘meaningfully positively impact peoples’ lives’, but the brands that rank high on the MBi also tend to outperform other brands significantly (120%).

Now there may be a ‘correlation vs causation’ argument here, and I don’t have space to explore it. But regardless of whether you like the MBi as a metric or not, countless case studies demonstrate that it’s valuable for a brand to have strong brand values.

There are two basic rules of thumb when it comes to choosing brand values:

1) I
t has to be relevant to what you do. If a bingo site is running an environmentalism campaign, it might seem a bit weird and it won’t resonate well with your audience. You also need to watch out for accidental irony. For example, McDonalds and Coca-Cola came in for some flak when they sponsored the Olympics, due to their reputation as purveyors of unhealthy food/drink products.

Nike’s #FindYourGreatness campaign, on the other hand, is a great example of how to tie in your values with your product. Another example is one of our clients at Distilled, SimplyBusiness, a business insurance company whose brand values include being ‘the small business champion’. This has informed their content strategy, leading them to develop in-depth resources for small businesses, and it has served them very well.

2) I
t can’t be so closely connected to what you do that it comes across as self-serving. For example, NatWest’s NatYes campaign claims to be about enabling people to become homeowners, but ultimately (in no small part thanks to the scary legal compliance small print about foreclosure) the authenticity of the message is undermined.

The most important thing when it comes to brand values: it’s very easy for people to be cynical about brands and whether they ‘care’. Havas did a survey that found that
only 32% of people feel that brands communicate honestly about commitments and promises. So choose values that you do feel strongly about and follow through even if it means potentially alienating some people. The recent OKCupid vs Mozilla Firefox episode is an illustration of standing up for brand values (regardless of where you stand on this particular example, it got them a lot of positive publicity).

Key takeaways

So what can we take away from these basic principles of social norms and market norms? If you want to build a brand based on social relationships, here’s 3 things to remember.

1)
Your brand needs to provide something besides just a low price. In order to have a social relationship with your customers, your brand needs a personality, a tone of voice, and you need to do nice things for your customers without the expectation of immediate payback.

2)
You need to keep your mix of social and market norms consistent at every stage of the customer lifecycle. Don’t pull the rug out from under your loyal fans by hitting them with surprise costs after they checkout or other tricks. And don’t give new customers significantly better benefits. What you gain in the short term you will lose in the long term resentment they will feel about having been fooled. Instead, treat them with transparency and fairness and be responsive to customer service issues.

3)
You need brand values that make sense for your brand and that you (personally and as a company) really believe in. Don’t have values that don’t relate to your core business. Don’t have values which are obviously self-serving. Don’t be accidentally ironic like McDonalds.

Have you seen examples of brands building customer relationships based on social norms? Did it work? Do you do this type of relationship-building for your brand?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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