The power of partnerships

As part of Movable Ink’s summer campaign, the brand reached out to all its partners and proposed a friendly competition. This sparked engagement and helped better inform wider teams, as well as our customers, of the powerful technology available. Never one to back down from a challenge, dotmailer set its eyes on the prize and swept away the competition.

A walk in the park

At dotmailer, a lot of careful consideration goes into who we choose to partner with. Dedicated to giving our customers the best service around, we only pick the best partners who are as dedicated to their customers as we are.

Movable Ink (MI) allows brands to create compelling and beautiful dynamic content for emails – a perfect match for our smart marketing automation platform. This valuable partnership empowers our customers to take their content to the next level.

We’re all-in

One of the hardest challenges in partnerships is getting everyone aware of what’s possible with the collaboration; the competition was a genius idea to engage all departments and provide a buzz in the office as we debated the answers.

We must have done something right which is why you’re now looking at the Quizmasters!

To stay on top, we make it a priority to know all there is to know about our partners. This means our Account Managers can fully represent our partners when discussing solutions with clients. That’s why our services are second to none.

 

MI Quizmasters winners

 

Dedicated to working together

We’ve taken the spirit of the competition to heart and launched our Partner Lightening Talks. These give our partners a chance to come in once a month and showcase what they do to our teams. Extending our network with our partners is crucial to our success. Lightening Talks will allow us to share knowledge, improve our services, and add even more value to our customers.

The post The power of partnerships appeared first on The Marketing Automation Blog.

Reblogged 2 months ago from blog.dotmailer.com

The Magento Xcelerate program: A positive sum game

As an open source ecommerce platform, Magento is flexible and accessible for developers to work with and as a result, an active community of developers emerged on online forums and at offline meetups all over the world. Many of these were happily plugging away independently of Magento until the split from eBay in early 2015.

Free from the reins of eBay, Magento has decisively been reaching out to, promoting and rewarding the individuals, agencies and technology providers that make up its ecosystem. Last February they announced the Magento Masters Program, empowering the top platform advocates, frequent forum contributors and the innovative solution implementers. Then at April‘s Magento Imagine conference (the largest yet) the theme emerged as ‘We are Magento”, in celebration of the community.

The new Xcelerate Technology Partner Program focuses not on individuals but on business partnerships formed with the technology companies that offer tools for Magento merchants to implement.

 Sharing ideas, opportunities and successes:

This is the Xcelerate Program tagline, which acts as a sort of mission statement to get the technology partners involved moving with regards to continuously considering Magento in their own technology roadmap and jointly communicating successes and learnings from working on implementations with merchants.

“In turn, the program offers members the tools to get moving, through events, resources and contacts. Our goal is to enable you to be an integral part of the Magento ecosystem” Jon Carmody, Head of Technology Partners

The program in practice:

The new program is accompanied by the new Marketplace from which the extensions can be purchased and downloaded. The program splits the extensions into 3 partnership levels:

Registered Partners – these are technology extensions that the new Magento Marketplace team test for code quality. Extensions must now pass this initial level to be eligible for the Marketplace. With each merchant having on average 15 extensions for their site, this is a win for merchants when it comes to extension trustworthiness.

Select Partners – extensions can enter this second tier if the technology falls into one of the strategic categories identified by Magento and if they pass an in-depth technical review. These will be marked as being ‘Select’ in the Marketplace.

Premier Partners – this level is by invitation only, chosen as providing crucial technology to Magento merchants (such as payments, marketing, tax software). The Magento team’s Extension Quality Program looks at coding structure, performance, scalability, security and compatibility but influence in the Community is also a consideration. dotmailer is proud to be the first Premier Technology Partner in the marketing space for Magento.

All in all, the latest move from Magento in illuminating its ecosystem should be positive for all; the merchants who can now choose from a vetted list of extensions and know when to expect tight integration, the technology partners building extensions now with clearer merchant needs/extension gaps in mind and guidance from Magento, and of course the solution implementers recommending the best extension for the merchant now knowing it will be maintained.

Reblogged 2 years ago from blog.dotmailer.com

Creating Demand for Products, Services, and Ideas that Have Little to No Existing Search Volume – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

A lot of fantastic websites (and products, services, ideas, etc.) are in something of a pickle: The keywords they would normally think to target get next to no search volume. It can make SEO seem like a lost cause. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand explains why that’s not the case, and talks about the one extra step that’ll help those organizations create the demand they want.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about a particularly challenging problem in the world of SEO, and that is trying to do SEO or trying to do any type of web marketing when your product, service, or idea has no search volume around it. So nobody is already looking for what you offer. It’s a new thing, a new concept.

I’ll use the example here of a website that I’m very fond of, but which there’s virtually no search volume for, called Niice. It’s Niice.co.

It’s great. I searched for things in here. It brings me back all these wonderful visuals from places like Colossus and lots of design portals. I love this site. I use it all the time for inspiration, for visuals, for stuff that I might write about on blogs, for finding new artists. It’s just cool. I love it. I love the discovery aspect of it, and I think it can be really great for finding artists and designers and visuals.

But when I looked at the keyword research — and granted I didn’t go deep into the keyword research, but let’s imagine that I did — I looked for things like: “visual search engine” almost no volume; “search engine for designers” almost no volume; “graphical search engine” almost no volume; “find designer visuals” nada.

So when they look at their keyword research they go, “Man, we don’t even have keywords to target here really.” SEO almost feels like it’s not a channel of opportunity, and I think that’s where many, many companies and businesses make mistakes actually, because just because you don’t see keyword research around exactly around what you’re offering doesn’t mean that SEO can’t be a great channel. It just means we have to do an extra step of work, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

So I think when you encounter this type of challenge — and granted it might not be the challenge that there’s no keyword volume — it could be a challenge in your business, for your organization, for some ideas or products that you have or are launching that there’s just very little, and thus you’re struggling to come up with enough volume to create the quantity of leads, or free trials, or customers that you need. This process really can work.

Key questions to start.

1) Who’s the target audience?

In Niice’s case, that’s going to be a lot of designers. It might be people who are creating presentations. It might be those who are searching out designers or artists. It could be people seeking inspiration for all sorts of things. So they’re going to figure out who that is.

From there, they can look at the job title, interests, demographics of those people, and then you can do some cool stuff where you can figure out things like, “Oh, you know what? We could do some Facebook ad targeting to those right groups to help boost their interests in our product and potentially, well, create branded search volume down the road, attract direct visitors, build brand awareness for ourselves, and potentially get some traffic to the site directly as well. If we can convert some of that traffic, well, that’s fantastic.”

In their case, I think Niice is ad-supported right now, so all they really need is the traffic itself. But regardless, this is that same type of process you’d use.

2) What else do they search for?

What is that target audience searching for? Knowledge, products, tools, services, people, brands, whatever it is, if you know who the audience is, you can figure out what they’re searching for because they have needs. If they have a job title, if they have interests, if you have those profile features about the audience, you can figure out what else they’re going to be searching for, and in this case, knowing what designers are searching for, well, that’s probably relatively simplistic. The other parts of their audience might be more complex, but that one is pretty obvious.

From that, we can do content creation. We can do keyword targeting to be in front of those folks when they’re doing search by creating content that may not necessarily be exactly selling our tools, but that’s the idea of content marketing. We’re creating content to target people higher up in the funnel before they need our product.

We can use that, too, for product and feature inspiration in the product itself. So in this case, Niice might consider creating a design pattern library or several, pulling from different places, or hiring someone to come in and build one for them and then featuring that somewhere on the site if you haven’t done a search yet and then potentially trying to rank for that in the search engine, which then brings qualified visitors, the types of people who once they got exposed to Niice would be like, “Wow, this is great and it’s totally free. I love it.”

UX tool list, so list of tools for user experience, people on the design or UI side, maybe Photoshop tutorials, whatever it is that they feel like they’re competent and capable of creating and could potentially rank for, well, now you’re attracting the right audience to your site before they need your product.

3) Where do they go?

That audience, where are they going on the web? What do they do when they get there? To whom do they listen? Who are their influencers? How can we be visible in those locations? So from that I can get things like influencer targeting and outreach. I can get ad and sponsorship opportunities. I can figure out places to do partnership or guest content or business development.

In Niice’s case, that might be things like sponsor or speak at design events. Maybe they could create an awards project for Dribble. So they go to Dribble, they look at what’s been featured there, or they go to Colossus, or some of the other sites that they feature, and they find the best work of the week. At the end of the week, they feature the top 10 projects, and then they call out the designers who put them together.

Wow, that’s terrific. Now you’re getting in front of the audience whose work you’re featuring, which is going to, in turn, make them amplify Niice’s project and product to an audience who’s likely to be in their target audience. It’s sort of a win-win. That’s also going to help them build links, engagement, shares, and all sorts of signals that potentially will help them with their authority, both topically and domain-wide, which then means they can rank for all the content they create, building up this wonderful engine.

4) What types of content have achieved broad or viral distribution?

I think what we can glean from this is not just inspiration for content and keyword opportunities as we can from many other kinds of content, but also sites to target, in particular sites to target with advertising, sites to target for guest posting or sponsorship, or sites to target for business development or for partnerships, site to target in an ad network, sites to target psychographically or demographically for Facebook if we want to run ads like that, potentially bidding on ads in Google when people search for that website or for that brand name in paid search.

So if you’re Niice, you could think about contracting some featured artist to contribute visuals maybe for a topical news project. So something big is happening in the news or in the design community, you contract a few of the artists whose work you have featured or are featuring, or people from the communities whose work you’re featuring, and say, “Hey, we might not be able to pay you a lot, but we’re going to get in front of a ton of people. We’re going to build exposure for you, which is something we already do, FYI, and now you’ve got some wonderful content that has that potential to mimic that work.”

You could think about, and I love this just generally as a content marketing and SEO tactic, if you go find viral content, content that has had wide sharing success across the web from the past, say two, three, four, or five years ago, you have a great opportunity, especially if the initial creator of that content or project hasn’t continued on with it, to go say, “Hey, you know what? We can do a version of that. We’re going to modernize and update that for current audiences, current tastes, what’s currently going on in the market. We’re going to go build that, and we have a strong feeling that it’s going to be successful because it’s succeeded in the past.”

That, I think, is a great way to get content ideas from viral content and then to potentially overtake them in the search rankings too. If something from three or five years ago, that was particularly timely then still ranks today, if you produce it, you’re almost certainly going to come out on top due to Google’s bias for freshness, especially around things that have timely relevance.

5) Should brand advertisement be in our consideration set?

Then last one, I like to ask about brand advertising in these cases, because when there’s not search volume yet, a lot of times what you have to do is create awareness. I should change this from advertising to a brand awareness, because really there’s organic ways to do it and advertising ways to do it. You can think about, “Well, where are places that we can target where we could build that awareness? Should we invest in press and public relations?” Not press releases. “Then how do we own the market?” So I think one of the keys here is starting with that name or title or keyword phrase that encapsulates what the market will call your product, service or idea.

In the case of Niice, that could be, well, visual search engines. You can imagine the press saying, “Well, visual search engines like Niice have recently blah, blah, blah.” Or it could be designer search engines, or it could be graphical search engines, or it could be designer visual engines, whatever it is. You need to find what that thing is going to be and what’s going to resonate.

In the case of Nest, that was the smart home. In the case of Oculus, it was virtual reality and virtual reality gaming. In the case of Tesla, it was sort of already established. There’s electric cars, but they kind of own that market. If you know what those keywords are, you can own the market before it gets hot, and that’s really important because that means that all of the press and PR and awareness that happens around the organic rankings for that particular keyword phrase will all be owned and controlled by you.

When you search for “smart home,” Nest is going to dominate those top 10 results. When you search for “virtual reality gaming,” Oculus is going to dominate those top 10. It’s not necessarily dominate just on their own site, it’s dominate all the press and PR articles that are about that, all of the Wikipedia page about it, etc., etc. You become the brand that’s synonymous with the keyword or concept. From an SEO perspective, that’s a beautiful world to live in.

So, hopefully, for those of you who are struggling around demand for your keywords, for your volume, this process can be something that’s really helpful. I look forward to hearing from you in the comments. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Reblogged 3 years ago from tracking.feedpress.it

10 Predictions for the Marketing World in 2015

Posted by randfish

The beginning of the year marks the traditional week for bloggers to prognosticate about the 12 months ahead, and, over the last decade I’ve created a tradition of joining in this festive custom to predict the big trends in SEO and web marketing. However, I divine the future by a strict code: I’m only allowed to make predictions IF my predictions from last year were at least moderately accurate (otherwise, why should you listen to me?). So, before I bring my crystal-ball-gazing, let’s have a look at how I did for 2014.

Yes, we’ll get to that, but not until you prove you’re a real Wizard, mustache-man.

You can find 
my post from January 5th of last year here, but I won’t force you to read through it. Here’s how I do grading:

  • Spot On (+2) – when a prediction hits the nail on the head and the primary criteria are fulfilled
  • Partially Accurate (+1) – predictions that are in the area, but are somewhat different than reality
  • Not Completely Wrong (-1) – those that landed near the truth, but couldn’t be called “correct” in any real sense
  • Off the Mark (-2) – guesses which didn’t come close

If the score is positive, prepare for more predictions, and if it’s negative, I’m clearly losing the pulse of the industry. Let’s tally up the numbers.

In 2014, I made 6 predictions:

#1: Twitter will go Facebook’s route and create insights-style pages for at least some non-advertising accounts

Grade: +2

Twitter rolled out Twitter analytics for all users this year (
starting in July for some accounts, and then in August for everyone), and while it’s not nearly as full-featured as Facebook’s “Insights” pages, it’s definitely in line with the spirit of this prediction.

#2: We will see Google test search results with no external, organic listings

Grade: -2

I’m very happy to be wrong about this one. To my knowledge, Google has yet to go this direction and completely eliminate external-pointing links on search results pages. Let’s hope they never do.

That said, there are plenty of SERPs where Google is taking more and more of the traffic away from everyone but themselves, e.g.:

I think many SERPs that have basic, obvious functions like ”
timer” are going to be less and less valuable as traffic sources over time.

#3: Google will publicly acknowledge algorithmic updates targeting both guest posting and embeddable infographics/badges as manipulative linking practices

Grade: -1

Google most certainly did release an update (possibly several)
targeted at guest posts, but they didn’t publicly talk about something specifically algorithmic targeting emebedded content/badges. It’s very possible this was included in the rolling Penguin updates, but the prediction said “publicly acknowledge” so I’m giving myself a -1.

#4: One of these 5 marketing automation companies will be purchased in the 9-10 figure $ range: Hubspot, Marketo, Act-On, Silverpop, or Sailthru

Grade: +2

Silverpop was 
purchased by IBM in April of 2014. While a price wasn’t revealed, the “sources” quoted by the media estimated the deal in the ~$270mm range. I’m actually surprised there wasn’t another sale, but this one was spot-on, so it gets the full +2.

#5: Resumes listing “content marketing” will grow faster than either SEO or “social media marketing”

Grade: +1

As a percentage, this certainly appears to be the case. Here’s some stats:

  • US profiles with “content marketing”
    • June 2013: 30,145
    • January 2015: 68,580
    • Growth: 227.5%
  • US profiles with “SEO”
    • June 2013: 364,119
    • January 2015: 596,050
    • Growth: 163.7%
  • US profiles with “social media marketing”
    • June 2013: 938,951
    • January 2015: 1,990,677
    • Growth: 212%

Granted, content marketing appears on far fewer profiles than SEO or social media marketing, but it has seen greater growth. I’m only giving myself a +1 rather than a +2 on this because, while the prediction was mathematically correct, the numbers of SEO and social still dwarf content marketing as a term. In fact, in LinkedIn’s 
annual year-end report of which skills got people hired the most, SEO was #5! Clearly, the term and the skillset continue to endure and be in high demand.

#6: There will be more traffic sent by Pinterest than Twitter in Q4 2014 (in the US)

Grade: +1

This is probably accurate, since Pinterest appears to have grown faster in 2014 than Twitter by a good amount AND this was 
already true in most of 2014 according to SharedCount (though I’m not totally sold on the methodology of coverage for their numbers). However, we won’t know the truth for a few months to come, so I’d be presumptuous in giving a full +2. I am a bit surprised that Pinterest continues to grow at such a rapid pace — certainly a very impressive feat for an established social network.


SOURCE: 
Global Web Index

With Twitter’s expected moves into embedded video, it’s my guess that we’ll continue to see a lot more Twitter engagement and activity on Twitter itself, and referring traffic outward won’t be as considerable a focus. Pinterest seems to be one of the only social networks that continues that push (as Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube all seem to be pursuing a “keep them here” strategy).

——————————–

Final Score: +3

That positive number means I’ve passed my bar and can make another set of predictions for 2015. I’m going to be a little more aggressive this year, even though it risks ruining my sterling record, simply because I think it’s more exciting 🙂

Thus, here are my 10 predictions for what the marketing world will bring us in 2015:

#1: We’ll see the first major not-for-profit University in the US offer a degree in Internet Marketing, including classes on SEO.

There are already some private, for-profit offerings from places like Fullsail and Univ. of Phoenix, but I don’t know that these pedigrees carry much weight. Seeing a Stanford, a Wharton, or a University of Washington offer undergraduate or MBA programs in our field would be a boon to those seeking options and an equal boon to the universities.

The biggest reason I think we’re ripe for this in 2015 is the 
LinkedIn top 25 job skills data showing the immense value of SEO (#5) and digital/online marketing (#16) in a profile when seeking a new job. That should (hopefully) be a direct barometer for what colleges seek to include in their repertoire.

#2: Google will continue the trend of providing instant answers in search results with more interactive tools.

Google has been doing instant answers for a long time, but in addition to queries with immediate and direct responses, they’ve also undercut a number of online tool vendors by building their own versions directly into the SERPs, like they do currently for queries like ”
timer” and “calculator.”

I predict in 2015, we’ll see more partnerships like what’s provided with 
OpenTable and the ability to book reservations directly from the SERPs, possibly with companies like Uber, Flixster (they really need to get back to a better instant answer for movies+city), Zillow, or others that have unique data that could be surfaced directly.

#3: 2015 will be the year Facebook begins including some form of web content (not on Facebook’s site) in their search functionality.

Facebook 
severed their search relationship with Bing in 2014, and I’m going to make a very risky prediction that in 2015, we’ll see Facebook’s new search emerge and use some form of non-Facebook web data. Whether they’ll actually build their own crawler or merely license certain data from outside their properties is another matter, but I think Facebook’s shown an interest in getting more sophisticated with their ad offerings, and any form of search data/history about their users would provide a powerful addition to what they can do today.

#4: Google’s indexation of Twitter will grow dramatically, and a significantly higher percentage of tweets, hashtags, and profiles will be indexed by the year’s end.

Twitter has been 
putting more muscle behind their indexation and SEO efforts, and I’ve seen more and more Twitter URLs creeping into the search results over the last 6 months. I think that trend continues, and in 2015, we see Twitter.com enter the top 5-6 “big domains” in Mozcast.

#5: The EU will take additional regulatory action against Google that will create new, substantive changes to the search results for European searchers.

In 2014, we saw the EU 
enforce the “right to be forgotten” and settle some antitrust issues that require Google to edit what it displays in the SERPs. I don’t think the EU is done with Google. As the press has noted, there are plenty of calls in the European Parliament to break up the company, and while I think the EU will stop short of that measure, I believe we’ll see additional regulatory action that affects search results.

On a personal opinion note, I would add that while I’m not thrilled with how the EU has gone about their regulation of Google, I am impressed by their ability to do so. In the US, with 
Google becoming the second largest lobbying spender in the country and a masterful influencer of politicians, I think it’s extremely unlikely that they suffer any antitrust or regulatory action in their home country — not because they haven’t engaged in monopolistic behavior, but because they were smart enough to spend money to manipulate elected officials before that happened (unlike Microsoft, who, in the 1990’s, assumed they wouldn’t become a target).

Thus, if there is to be any hedge to Google’s power in search, it will probably come from the EU and the EU alone. There’s no competitor with the teeth or market share to have an impact (at least outside of China, Russia, and South Korea), and no other government is likely to take them on.

#6: Mobile search, mobile devices, SSL/HTTPS referrals, and apps will combine to make traffic source data increasingly hard to come by.

I’ll estimate that by year’s end, many major publishers will see 40%+ of their traffic coming from “direct” even though most of that is search and social referrers that fail to pass the proper referral string. Hopefully, we’ll be able to verify that through folks like 
Define Media Group, whose data sharing this year has made them one of the best allies marketers have in understanding the landscape of web traffic patterns.

BTW – I’d already estimate that 30-50% of all “direct” traffic is, in fact, search or social traffic that hasn’t been properly attributed. This is a huge challenge for web marketers — maybe one of the greatest challenges we face, because saying “I brought in a lot more traffic, I just can’t prove it or measure it,” isn’t going to get you nearly the buy-in, raises, or respect that your paid-traffic compatriots can earn by having every last visit they drive perfectly attributed.

#7: The content advertising/recommendation platforms will continue to consolidate, and either Taboola or Outbrain will be acquired or do some heavy acquiring themselves.

We just witnessed the 
surprising shutdown of nRelate, which I suspect had something to do with IAC politics more than just performance and potential for the company. But given that less than 2% of the web’s largest sites use content recommendation/promotion services and yet both Outbrain and Taboola are expected to have pulled in north of $200m in 2014, this is a massive area for future growth.

Yahoo!, Facebook, and Google are all potential acquirers here, and I could even see AOL (who already own Gravity) or Buzzfeed making a play. Likewise, there’s a slew of smaller/other players that Taboola or Outbrain themselves could acquire: Zemanta, Adblade, Zegnet, Nativo, Disqus, Gravity, etc. It’s a marketplace as ripe for acquisition as it is for growth.

#8: Promoted pins will make Pinterest an emerging juggernaut in the social media and social advertising world, particularly for e-commerce.

I’d estimate we’ll see figures north of $50m spent on promoted pins in 2015. This is coming after Pinterest only just 
opened their ad platform beyond a beta group this January. But, thanks to high engagement, lots of traffic, and a consumer base that B2C marketers absolutely love and often struggle to reach, I think Pinterest is going to have a big ad opportunity on their hands.

Note the promoted pin from Mad Hippie on the right

(apologies for very unappetizing recipes featured around it)

#9: Foursquare (and/or Swarm) will be bought, merge with someone, or shut down in 2015 (probably one of the first two).

I used to love Foursquare. I used the service multiple times every day, tracked where I went with it, ran into friends in foreign cities thanks to its notifications, and even used it to see where to go sometimes (in Brazil, for example, I found Foursquare’s business location data far superior to Google Maps’). Then came the split from Swarm. Most of my friends who were using Foursquare stopped, and the few who continued did so less frequently. Swarm itself tried to compete with Yelp, but it looks like 
neither is doing well in the app rankings these days.

I feel a lot of empathy for Dennis and the Foursquare team. I can totally understand the appeal, from a development and product perspective, of splitting up the two apps to let each concentrate on what it’s best at, and not dilute a single product with multiple primary use cases. Heck, we’re trying to learn that lesson at Moz and refocus our products back on SEO, so I’m hardly one to criticize. That said, I think there’s trouble brewing for the company and probably some pressure to sell while their location and check-in data, which is still hugely valuable, is robust enough and unique enough to command a high price.

#10: Amazon will not take considerable search share from Google, nor will mobile search harm Google’s ad revenue substantively.

The “Google’s-in-trouble” pundits are mostly talking about two trends that could hurt Google’s revenue in the year ahead. First, mobile searchers being less valuable to Google because they don’t click on ads as often and advertisers won’t pay as much for them. And, second, Amazon becoming the destination for direct, commercial queries ahead of Google.

In 2015, I don’t see either of these taking a toll on Google. I believe most of Amazon’s impact as a direct navigation destination for e-commerce shoppers has already taken place and while Google would love to get those searchers back, that’s already a lost battle (to the extent it was lost). I also don’t think mobile is a big concern for Google — in fact, I think they’re pivoting it into an opportunity, and taking advantage of their ability to connect mobile to desktop through Google+/Android/Chrome. Desktop search may have flatter growth, and it may even decline 5-10% before reaching a state of equilibrium, but mobile is growing at such a huge clip that Google has plenty of time and even plentier eyeballs and clicks to figure out how to drive more revenue per searcher.

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Reblogged 3 years ago from moz.com

How To Select The Perfect Clients

Posted by Bill.Sebald

I truly believe in the power of partnerships. There have been some incredible partnerships that changed the fabric of our culture. Larry Page and Sergey Brin. William Procter and James Gamble. The Olson Twins.

Good partnerships provide support, motivation, and complementary skills, often allowing you to overcome hurdles faster and create some truly marvelous things. In consulting or any agency work, the concept of “partnership” should be the backbone of your relationship. Like a puzzle piece, sometimes the fit is initially difficult to find – if available at all. The truth is, you’re only secure if your clients are walking in the same direction as the flow of your service. If they’re walking against the current, you have what I believe to be the most detrimental predicament a service provider can have –
a rift. That’s a truly offensive four-letter word.

What kind of rift are we talking about? Let’s do a little calculating.

First think about what you or your agency is really good at. Think about the components you have the most success with; this may actually be different than where you’re most experienced. Think about what you should be selling versus not (even if those items are currently on your menu – let’s be candid here, a lot of us casually promote services we
believe we should be selling even though it’s not a fully baked product or core competency). Think about the amount of time you really spent challenging a given service to make sure it’s truly impactful to a client versus your own bottom line.

Next, think about your past client debacles (if you haven’t stopped to perform a postmortem, you should). Chances are these led to events that cost you a lot of time, pain, and possibly money. They are the memories that make you shudder. Those are the days that made you dust off your resume and think about a career change.  

Finally, how many of these past clients should have never been signed in the first place? How many simply weren’t a fit from the start? How many simply never had a shot at being successful with you – and vice-versa? This computation really needs serious consideration. Have you wasted everyone’s time?

There can be a costly fallout. I’ve seen talented team members quit over clients that simply could not be managed. I’ve seen my colleagues go so far as to cry or start seeking therapy (in part) because of overwhelming clients who were not getting what they expected and a parent company who wasn’t providing any relief. Sometimes these clients were bound to an annual contract which only made them more desperate and angry. Rifts like this can kill your business.

This should never happen.

Client/agency relationships are marriages, but marriages start with dating

I really like this 2011 post from A List Apart called
Marry Your Clients. A few years old, but nothing has changed. However, my post is going to talk about the courting part before the honeymoon.

My post also assumes you make more money on longer consulting relationships. If you’ve somehow built your model through routinely hunting new business with the expectation you’re going to get fired, then that’s a different story. For most of us however, on-boarding a client is a lot of work, both in terms of hours (which is money) and brainpower. If you “hit it off” with your client, you begin to know their business more intimately, as well as their goals and KPIs. The strategies get easier to build; they also tend to be more successful as you become aware of what their tastes and limitations are. You find you have things in common (perhaps you both enjoy long walks to the bank). You often become true partners with your clients, who in turn promote your ideas to their bosses. These are your most profitable engagements, as well as your most rewarding. They tend to last years, sometimes following your point-of-contact to their next jobs as well.

But you don’t get this way simply because both parties signed a legally-bounding document.

The truth is not all parties can work together. A lot of client/agency relationships end in divorce. Like in romance, sometimes you just aren’t compatible.

A different kind of online dating

After my first marriage went kaput, I’ll admit I went to Match.com. For those who never tried online dating, it’s really an exercise in personal marketing. You upload your most attractive pictures. You sell yourself above everyone else. You send communications back and forth to the interested parties where you work to craft the “perfect” response; as well as ask qualifying questions. I found it works pretty well – the online process saved me from potentially bad dates. Don’t get me wrong, I still have some awkward online dating stories…

Photo from Chuck Woolery’s
Twitter profile

With consulting, if we’re supposed to ultimately marry our clients, we should obviously be allowed to see if there’s a love connection. We should all be our own Chuck Woolery. I tend to think this stage is crucial, but often rushed by agencies or managed by a department outside of your own.

Some agencies seem to have a “no dating” policy. For some, it’s not uncommon to come in to work and have an email from a higher-up with the subject, “congratulations – you’re now married to a new client!” Whether it’s a client development department, or an add-on from an existing client, your marketing department is suddenly forced into an arranged marriage where you can only hope to live up to their expectations.

This is a recipe for disaster. I don’t like to run a business on luck and risk, so clearly this makes no sense to me.

But I’ve been there. I once worked for an agency that handed me a signed contract for a major underwear brand – but I didn’t even know we were even speaking to them. Before I had a chance to get the details, the VP of digital marketing called me. I did my best to understand what they were promised in terms of SEO goals without admitting I really had no clue about their business. The promises were unrealistic, but being somewhat timid and naïve back in the day, I went with it. Truth is, their expectations did not fit into our model, philosophies, or workflow. Ultimately I failed to deliver to their expectations. The contract ended early and I vowed to never let that happen again. Not just for the stress and anxiety it brought upon my team and me, but for the blatant neglect to the client as well.

With this being something I never forgot, I would occasionally bring this story up with others I met at networking events or conventions. I quickly learned this is far from an isolated incident occurring only to me. This is how some agencies build their business development departments.

Once again, this should never happen.

How to qualify a client

Let’s assume by now I have successfully inspired a few things:

  1. A client/agency relationship should truly be a partnership akin to a good marriage.
  2. A client should never be thrown into a model that doesn’t make sense for their business (i.e., your style of SEO services), and process should be in place for putting all the parties in the same room before a deal is signed.

    Now we’re up to number 3:

  3. Not all relationships work, so all parties should try to truly connect before there is a proposal. Don’t rush the signature!

Here are some of the things we do at Greenlane to really qualify a client. Before I continue, though, I’m proud to brag a little. With these practices in place, our close rate – that is, the companies we really want to work with – is 90% in our favor. Our retainment is also very high. Once we started being prudent with our intake, we’ve only lost a few companies due to funding issues or a change in their business model – not out of performance. I should also add that these tips work with all sizes of clients. While some of our 20+ clients are smaller businesses, we also have household brands and public companies, all of which could attest to going through this process with us.

It’s all in the details

Your website is your Match.com profile. Your website is your personality. If you’re vague or promotional or full of hype, only to get someone on the phone to which your “car salesman” gear kicks in, I don’t think you’re using the website to the best of its ability. People want to use the website to learn more about you before the reach out.

Our “about us” page is our third most visited page next to the homepage and pricing (outside of the blog). You can see an example from a 
Hotjar heatmap:

The truth is, I’m always tweaking (and A/B testing) our message on the about us page. This page is currently part of a funnel that we careful put together. The “about us” page is a quick but powerful overview putting our team front and center and highlighting our experience (including some past clients).

I believe the website’s more than a brochure. It’s a communication device. Don’t hide or muddle who you are. When I get a prospect email through our form, I always lead them to our “Are We The Right Fit” page. That’s right – I actually ask them to consider choosing wisely. Now at first glance, this might go against a conversion funnel that heats up the prospect and only encourages momentum, but this page has really been a strong asset. It’s crafted to transparently present our differentiators, values, and even our pricing. It’s also crafted to discourage those who aren’t a good fit. You can find this page
here. Even our URL provides the “Are We The Right Fit” question.

We want prospects to make a good decision. We care so much about companies doing great that we’d rather you find someone else if our model isn’t perfect. Sure, sometimes after pointing someone to that link, they never return. That’s OK. Just like a dating profile, this page is designed to target a certain kind of interest. Time is a commodity in agency life – no sense in wasting it on a conversation that isn’t qualified. When we do catch a prospect after reviewing the page and hear, “we went with another firm who better suits our needs,” it actually doesn’t feel like a loss at all.

Everyone who comes back goes into our pipeline. At this stage they all get followed up on with a phone call. If they aren’t a good fit from the get go we actually try to introduce them to other SEO companies or consultants who would be a better fit for them. But 9 times out of 10, it’s an amazing conversation.

Never drop the transparency

There are a few things I try to tell all the prospects I ultimately speak with. One, I openly admit I’m not a salesman. I couldn’t sell ice water to people in hell. But I’m good at being really candid about our strengths and experiences.

Now this one tends to surprise some, especially in the larger agency setting. We admit that we are really choosy about the clients we take on. For our model, we need clients who are flexible, fast moving, interested in brand building, and interested in long-term relationships. We want clients who think in terms of strategy and will let us work with their existing marketing team and vendors. We audit them for their understanding of SEO services and tell them how we’re either alike or different.

I don’t think a prospect call goes by without me saying, “while you’re checking us out to see if we’re a good fit, we’re doing the same for you.” Then, if the call goes great, I let them know we’d like a follow up call to continue (a second date if you will). This follow up call has been where the real decision gets made.

Ask the right questions

I’ve vetted the opportunity, now my partner – who naturally has a different way of approaching opportunities and relationships – asks a different set of questions. This adds a whole different dimension and works to catch the questions I may not have asked. We’ve had companies ready to sign on the first call, to which I’ve had to divert any signatures until the next conversation. This too may seem counter-intuitive to traditional business development, but we find it extremely valuable. It’s true that we could have more clients in our current book of business, but I can proudly state that every current client is exactly who we want to be with; this is very much because of everything you’ve read so far.

On each call we have a list of qualifying questions that we ask. Most are “must answer” questions, while others can roll into a needs analysis questionnaire that we give to each signed client. The purpose of the needs analysis is to get more granular into business items (such as seasonal trends, industry intelligence, etc.) for the intention of developing strategies. With so much to ask, it’s important to be respectful of the prospects’ time. At this point they’ve usually already indicated they’ve read our website, can afford our prices, and feel like we’re a good fit.

Many times prospects start with their introduction and answer some of our questions. While they speak, I intently listen and take many notes.

These are 13 questions from my list that I always make sure get answered on a call, with some rationale:

Questions for the prospect:

1. Can you describe your business model and products/services?

  1. What do you sell?
  2. B2B or B2C
  3. Retail or lead generation?

Rationale
: sometimes when reviewing the website it’s not immediately clear what kind of business they’re in. Perhaps the site just does a bad job, or sometimes their real money making services are deeper in the site and easily missed by a fast scan. One of our clients works with the government and seems to have an obvious model, but the real profit is from a by-product, something we would have never picked up on during our initial review of the website. It’s important to find out exactly what the company does. Is it interesting? Can you stay engaged? Is it a sound model that you believe in? Is it a space you have experience in?

2. What has been your experience with [YOUR SERVICE] in the past?

Rationale: Many times, especially if your model is different, a prospect may have a preconceived notion of what you actually do. Let’s take SEO as an example – there are several different styles of SEO services. If they had a link building company in the past, and you’re a more holistic SEO consulting practice, their point of reference may only be with what they’ve experienced. They may even have a bad taste in their mouth from a previous engagement, which gives you a chance to air it out and see how you compare. This is also a chance to know if you’re potentially playing with a penalized site.

3. What are your [PPC/SEO/etc.] goals?

Rationale: Do they have realistic goals, or lofty, impossible goals? Be candid – tell them if you don’t think you can reach the goals on the budget they have, or if you think they should choose other goals. Don’t align yourself with goals you can’t hit. This is where many conversations could end.

4. What’s your mission or positioning statement?

Rationale: If you’re going to do more than just pump up their rankings, you probably want to know the full story. This should provide a glimpse into other marketing the prospect is executing.

5. How do you stand out?

Rationale: Sometimes this is answered with the question above. If not, really dig up the differentiators. Those are typically the key items to build campaigns on.  Whether they are trying to create a new market segment or have a redundant offering, this can help you set timeline and success expectations.

6. Are you comfortable with an agency that may challenge your plans and ideas?

Rationale: This is one of my favorite questions. There are many who hire an agency and expect “yes-men.” Personally I believe an agency or consultant should be partners; that is, not afraid to fight for what they know is right for the benefit of the client. You shouldn’t be afraid of injury:

 

7. Who are your competitors?

Rationale: Not only do you want this for competitive benchmarking, but this can often help you understand more about the prospect. Not to mention, how big a hill you might have to climb to start competing on head terms.

8. What is your business reach? (local, national, international)?

Rationale: An international client is going to need more work than a domestic client. A local client is going to need an expertise in local search. Knowing the scope of the company can help you align your skills with their targets.

9. What CMS are you on?

Rationale:
 This is a big one. It tells you how much flexibility you will have. WordPress?  Great – you’ll probably have a lot of access to files and templates.  A proprietary CMS or enterprise solution?  Uh-oh.  That probably means tickets and project queues. Are you OK with that?

10. What does your internal team look like?

Rationale:
Another important question. Who will you be working with?  What skill sets?  Will you be able to sit at the table with other vendors too?  If you’re being hired to fill in the gaps, make sure you have the skills to do so. I ask about copywriters, developers, designers, and link builders at a minimum.

11. What do you use for analytics?

Rationale:
A tool like Wappalyzer can probably tell you, but sometimes bigger companies have their own custom analytics through their host. Sometimes it’s bigger than Google Analytics, like Omniture. Will you be allowed to have direct access to it?  You’d be surprised how often we hear no.

12. How big is your site?  Do you have other properties?

Rationale:
It’s surprising how often a prospect forgets to mention those 30+ subdomains and microsites. If the prospect envisions it as part of the deal, you should at least be aware of how far the core website extends.

13. What is your budget, preferred start time, and end date?

Rationale:
The biggest question of all. Do they even meet your fee requirements? Are you staffed and ready to take on the work? Sure, talking money can be tough, but if you post your rates firm, the prospect is generally more open to talk budget. They don’t feel like a negotiation is going to happen.

Conclusion

While these are the core questions we use, I’m sure the list will eventually grow. I don’t think you should copy our list, or the order.  You should ultimately create your own. Every agency or consultant has different requirements, and interviewing your prospect is as important as allowing them to interview you. But remember, you don’t have to have all the business.  Just the right kind of business.  You will grow organically from your positive experiences.  We all hear about “those other agencies” and how they consistently fail to meet client expectations. Next to “do great work,” this is one powerful way to keep off that list.  

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