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Online Advertising

The Future of Publishing And Content Marketing

Lately, I have done an impromptu talk with Murray Newlands and Oliver Roup on Future of Publishing with two other guests who run businesses within that space (Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages and Pirouz Nilforoush, President and Co-Founder NetShelter). Our discussion covered the nature of content quality for driving SEO and monetization initiatives, whether you a blogger, or a large ecommerce site. It is a 30 min video, yet here are the key points that outline recent changes in the world of social, search and publishing:

1) Authorship is key, it allows to discriminate the original author or source of the content and also helps to leverage social tagging and integrate editorial from multiple profiles. It shapes up a single (individual) voice and leverages the level of influence (what is rel= author tag?). Google Plus integrates all your publishing channels, as an example.

2) Universal search is becoming necessary for effective SEO strategy. A killer piece of content is multi-formated: video, photos, graphics, text, social media posts (tweets, Facebook comments, etc.) People love infographics, they tag and share them. Video or photo reviews with personality become key pieces of sharing and engagement: they drive demand and close the purchase decision. Brands and publishers have opportunities to gain search visibility by producing multi-format content on and outside their own sites. (In depths thoughts on universal search as future of SEO is shared by Mike Grehan).

3) Quality content is original, unique, not copied and a must-have to be Google friendly, especially post Pandas. It must engage users, be creative and relevant to users. Look at Amazon and Zappos product pages, big retailers add their own content in addition to the one provided by manufacturers. Other ecommerce sites engage audience & produce killer reviews, guides and buying suggestions, which are surfaced throughout the shopping funnel.

4) Fresh content becomes golden in order to surface or sustain visibility on search engines, thus ongoing content publishing cadence is rewarded given Google freshness algorithm change in Nov 2011. Sustained effort when it comes to content marketing is important to stay relevant and be able to enjoy successful content monetization.

5) Content monetization and site monetization must be balanced and prioritized. Your best converting pages might not include lots of content and your lesser converting pages might be just as good for the audiences that are still searching and deciding what to buy. Test your content placement and ad placement carefully and see what level is optimal for your conversion first, SEO & RTB second. Or optimize various pages on your site per monetization goals they have: is that affiliate revenue that you are growing or lead generation? Optimize your site on what takes importance and priority based on revenue stream shares.

Watch full video discussion on future of publishing.

Top 3 Online Marketing Channels That Influenced My Purchase Decisions This Month

Usually, I write about ideas and experiences from the 3rd party perspective, but this month was very much consumed by my own online shopping, searching and finding the basic necessities of an urban lifestyle, driven by my recent move from Seattle, WA to Dallas, TX. Thus, my only observations of what got me sold in ecommerce are derived straight from the source – my own experience as a customer. So, what drove my purchasing decisions and resulted in my smooth transition from NW to SW?

1. Retargeting (re-messaging) online display ads that appeared “miraculously” on various online destinations that I went afterwards – Facebook, Google Maps, Reader, email, news sites – kept my attention sharp on the items I wanted and got me to buy them within a week from the point of initial search to a purchase. Granted, I did abandon the cart a few times (intentionally and not), but it was followed up with  coupon discount offers in emails and re-messaging ads, thus overstock.com managed to win my business.  To get the fundamentals of its effectiveness, see my prior post -“Why Should You Care About Retargeting“.

2. Online reviews for apartments, furniture and local area services and neighborhood amenities very much influenced my choice of the zip code to live, an apartment complex to choose to shortlist and large furniture items to consider.  Shopping for something like your new place to live without visiting is almost comparable to getting married before going on a blind date. It is all good and fancy on the perfect website – the pictures are stellar, the web copy is all flattery and a price seems to be within the range. But, I still have a cold feet feeling.  So, I asked for the photos of the actual products – in this case, an apartment unit available. And, I did have to ask for those twice, because on my first request, I got the same photos I had seen on all websites where this product was shown. The lesson was to remain beware and careful. So, I went digging and searched for reviews, not just on those sites – but everywhere online. And, this is where the bits of true customer experiences started to come out, warning me about some features that I would not even think of or confirming my prior research. Thus, online reviews influenced roughly 80 % of my buys, which is pretty much close to the standard rate of online reviews reliance by US customers, according to the study (April 2009) by Opinion Research Corporation [”The survey revealed 84 percent of Americans say online customer evaluations have an influence on their decision to purchase a product or service..”].

3) Social networks – namely Facebook, allowed me to bounce back my shopping and searching questions through my friends in Seattle, who knew people in Dallas, who I trust! It always intrigues me how our social affiliations and friendships influence our purchasing behavior. But, it would be not wise not to utilize this time and experience-tested well of information.  I asked and I got my questions resolved.  Imagine of there were an app that would advise my friends on the things in Dallas I would be interested in – as a fresh local? Could some piece be triggered in Facebook settings that noticed the change from Seattle to Dallas and prompted my friends on either side to recommend new places, granted that most people enjoy giving recommendations? As we know, the core enjoyment of being social derives from those mini information trades!  Still psyched about Facebook and all it has to offer?  Then, check “Facebook Marketing Bible” by Justin Smith or a comprehensive list of “300 Social Media Marketing Case Studies” by Wendy Tarr.

In sum, I had limited time, resources and attention like any other average consumer. But, my needs were destined to be met after a through mix of intelligent personalized advertising that I did not mind (as my brain was set to pay attention to the items in demand), availability of online “usage stats and opinions, aka reviews” and referrals from my social capital.  Overall, my shopping process resembles a pretty mainstream buyer behavior pattern that is easy to utilize these days. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and replicate!

When Speeding Makes Money…Online

“Speeding makes money?” – you ask. It does, if you think of the value of speed when it comes to online sales. Speed sells” trend marks the entire issue of Internet Retailer this month.  Simultaneously, the speeding comes in different flavors:

1) Speed of page load – the faster it is, the less you challenge your customers. At the same time, all those social media widgets and bandwidth clogging features (video, zoom, animated content) are also demanded by savvy online shoppers.  What to do? Regardless of this double sword situation, online retailers become resourceful and find new ways to accelerate site performance by:

      a) Exploring the caching resources of their ecommerce applications (from looking into internal applications, utilizing the web browsers capabilities to store commonly used elements of the page or opting for content delivery networks to do the job).

     b) Cutting on the “extra” (from multiple Java script libraries to style sheets that can be compressed and finally to slimming the images based on their performance).

     c) Using lower cost connections when possible with a flexibility to route traffic to the best performing pipe.

2) Speed of shipping – the more options you offer and the faster you can execute on the delivery, the more chances you have to close the sale.  Even Amazon, the online giant, recently started providing same day delivery. And if this offer becomes standard, imagine its effect on bricks-and-mortar stores. The instant gratification need is very much solved by this move and more companies will emulate this strategy in the near future.  So in sum, this is illustrated by:

     a) Providing same-day delivery option (as above). Will that make you buy today and now? It surely will!

     b) Backing free shipping through automating labor intensive transactions (returns) allows to keep the order volumes high enough to afford the free delivery benefit for end-customers.

     c) Managing efficiency of shipping carriers (through various software) and choosing the most cost-effective or customer-chosen option. This is especially critical in current times, when carriers stopped providing best rates based on volume.

3) Speed of making your shoppers decide to purchase now.  In other words, using all those “accelerate” road signs that put your customers into action – online discounts, coupons, groupons and all that turn that “recession-irritated” buyer’s remorse into a savings practice! The last tactic is very much enjoyed by smaller retailers that shine in creativity when it comes to promotions run to beat the big dog. Examples of the most common ones are:

      a) 110% price guarantee (a coupon valued at 110%  of the difference if your shopper reports a lower price within 3 days).

      b) 20 to 50% off retail prices, 10% off second orders within 60 days. Stimulates come backs (loyalty)!

      c) 100% low-price guarantee plus 10% on next purchase, 90-day “hassle-free” returns.

Indeed, online coupons and groupons make it easier for us, expense-conscious consumers, get to enjoy the luxuries we used to afford effortlessly before. A great many coupon driven marketing services have been growing to cater to this trend, providing marketers with clever promotional programs to drive both volumes through the actions of end-users (by making it enticing to share the coupon to get the great rate and onboarding 5 to 10 other consumers to enjoy a product or a service, implemented through Facebook or Twitter).

Thus, all in all, speed rules the online shopping today. So go ahead and speed up your site, your delivery or the purchase decision of your customers!

Why You Should Care About Re-Targeting AKA Re-Messaging Or Re-Marketing

Persistence, most of the times, pays off in life. The same applies to advertising. Your audience might be at various points of consideration for your product and it is only natural that it can lose its attention for some time due to other events happening simultaneously. A savvy medieval merchant always knew the value of early engagement and a continuous courtship of a potential patron. He knew that someday this fearless young boy that irritates his parents today with his fiery temper, would become a courageous fighter tomorrow…So the merchant let the lad play with the real sword today …seeding the wanted affiliation and desire to have it for the future…chances were very favorable that a matured gladiator would come back to this very merchant when the time was right.

Re-marketing to your audience, based on already known interactions (level of engagement) expressed through your online advertising analytics, represents a modern method of a future customer courtship. You track your site user through cookies and target him/her elsewhere with a content that speaks to the level of interest based on the latest point of interaction. In the industry, re-marketing is also known as re-targeting or re-messaging.

Why should you care about re-targeting?

1) If you are selling anything online, you battle with the wicked abandonment rate, trying to figure out how to catch the fleeting shoppers…and retargeting ads help you re-catch them! You will need to have a sizable budget to enhance your online advertising “nets”, on average of approximately 30K a month, as Adam Boalt shares with us in his post. At the same time, if your ads return at almost $10 ROI, you will accelerate your online sales not just cover the costs. Plus, if we choose to re-engage with the known average of 98% of your audience that leaves without becoming a customer, imagine the potential uplift in your other online marketing efforts – SEO, PPC & search!

2) Arm your customer loyalty program. Your product was already passing through the customer minds, so why not re-introduce yourself again. Or your own customers, who made a purchase before, but got distracted and then became exposed to competitive “apples of knowledge’, are now wondering in temptation! According to the article of Janet Hoffman and Eric Lowitt, Strategy & Leadership Journal, on “A better way to design loyalty programs“,”85 percent of the “loyal” customers are willing to shop elsewhere if properly enticed.” By supplementing your advertising mix with re-targeting, you have all the ammunition necessary to re-conquer your customers’ challenged loyalty. Remind them about the benefits they receive, provide them with appealing discount offers and your efforts will pay off in repeat business – Amen!

3) Your product/service requires longer purchase cycle -“…retargeting leverages sequential advertising to reinforce your message as the consumer goes through the research and consideration process prior to completing a purchase.” In other words, it helps you do the expected “white glove holding” online and be present at every stage of your customer consideration process, especially if it takes on average 7 different contacts (touch points) with the company for a prospect to convert (purchase).

If you are responding to either one reason above, you should revisit your online advertising budget to find a spot to drive return conversions. Again, like with display ads, complementing search, re-targeting only works best when combined with other advertising initiatives that drive traffic to your site. 

And the industry is opening up with opportunities for easy implementation. Though, re-targeting is a growing trend in online advertising, there are a number of well-established players that provide specifically this service.  At the same time, most online advertising platforms started to work on providing this solution or already doing so. Simultaneously, web analytics industry players are also getting into the space.  This, all in all, creates a healthy competition and a number of quality choices for online marketers, like you and I!

How Rich Media, Targeted Email, Mobile and Paid Search Fuel Ecommerce

Retailers are hurting! People are not spending as much regardless quite appealing discounts, but online business is still doing well according to Forrester report for 2009. What fuels it? Can you believe, if I say, it is good marketing, in the form of rich media ads or experiences, well-targeted email marketing, paid search and enabling mobile shopping opportunities? At the same time, it is not quite as odd as it seems – without marketing and advertising your online business might lose its running fuel and vanish. Bringing the traffic to your site is very vital and transferring it into purchasing crowd even more so. It does require more effort than before due to the normal environmental intricacies of online shopping and additional challenges of reduced spending. So what are the secrets of steady online business?

Through browsing the latest ecommerce guides, I distinguish the following factors contributing to present online success:

1) Rich media application through online shopping experience – making your product appealing to your audience. While selling online, it is critical to recreate a close to “real life” experience and rich media does just that. It allows maximum engagement opportunities (high definition demo, reading reviews while browsing, moving a picture/product, deep zooming it in/out, changing color, seeing the product in a number of suggested backgrounds (a whole outfit for apparel or a furnished bath for specialty appliances). Once you manage to deliver this optimal selection/consideration experience, enhanced with visualization tools (pictures, interactive video) at a privacy of one’s own home (where the “mall buyer’s remorse” is weakened thanks to the latter), you got your conversion, sealed by the sales transaction.  Examples of using rich media are: perfect car finder with Kelly Blue Book; Fathead.com with its popping answers to shoppers’ questions and literally bringing the product to life when images leap from video into the page; or Disney digital ad (my favorite), that truly immerses viewers into the product consumption reality (seeing a movie). And there are more of those! Check your own experience next time you browse your favorite brand or notice an ad about a product that you have already considered!

2) Targeted email that motivates buyer behavior. You might say – “Oh, that is not new!”, but I would encourage you to look closely at the best practices and keep refining your email strategy. The most successful email marketing program delivers products consumers want, when they want them. Thus, at the point of customer acquisition you should offer a number of product specific notifications and then cater only the information of interest in separate messages versus all-in-one for everybody on your list.  Plus, it helps to study the best responses for each acquired customer and test the optimal frequency, because ultimately you are building relationships.  Finally, spend some time offering the sign-up opportunities for your email programs everywhere on your site or ads.  Or to dress it up even more – provide incentives for your potential customers to sign up and keep the pipeline growing!

3) Mobile shopping becomes a competitive channel to boost sales. Putting your stores, literally into your customers’ purses and pockets can bring you a significant boost in sales. And the growing adoption of smart phones confirms the importance of this so called “fourth channel” – 95 % of all mobile traffic to m-commerce sites comes from smart phones! A shopper in a brick-and-mortar store might lure to your site to verify the prices on the spot. A busy multitasker will greatly appreciate your way of letting her order an item on the go via a text. Plus, think about the potential of texting – mobile selling without internet (especially to young consumer who grew up texting in his cradle!), when a delighted customer shares the love with friends and family (shares the info on the deals and promotions). Finally, we also have mobile applications/application stores to add to the equilibrium, which offer a richer shopping experience and an opportunity to purchase a product through the phone application itself (needed data can be drawn from a retailer’s web server). Not a bad alternative!

4) Search, search and again search  – one cannot win online only with SEO when it comes to converting the eligible traffic to sales. Search marketing has become one of the most popular tactics due to its direct measurability to sales and natural integration in the consumer shopping behavior. “Paid search is very quick and responsive, and that’s in its favor in a volatile market.” When we want something, we go online and start the search. Then, it is up to the advertisers to compete for our attention and gradually our dollars. Oh, and sometimes, you have “to flirt” with us, shoppers, when we are comparing prices! In addition, even if you are sold on investing into search – do not forget other channels. I see that some marketers falsely abandon other channels and start chasing the “hottest” paid search.  But if you think again from the buyer perspective – to make me search for you and your product – I need to become aware of it and be exposed to messages about it. Thus, it is only common sense to view your effective paid search campaigns supplemented and augmented by other marketing programs, be those display ads, product placements or social media engagement campaigns.

So, what are you waiting for? Need more convincing evidence? Read my prior post “All You Need To Know About Selling Online Today From Top 100 Online Retailers.” Or, go and implement some ideas above!

A Marketer Tribute to Online Videos

If you are constrained with time and resources, but need to create a compelling piece of marketing collateral that serves its purpose naturally, instantly and with ease of engagement, what would you choose – a one page guide, a white paper, a site or a video? My recent observations on the effectiveness of marketing content pushed out to the masses, (or seeded towards, be those targeted or not), compel me to pay a tribute, or to confess in love, as you will, to online videos that meet all our secret marketing needs!

Why videos? Well, let’s see.  If we start with 5 common sense reasons why online videos are effective in engaging your target viewer, we will find:

1) Ease of use – it is so easy to view a video versus to read an article – so much less effort and attention needed to decipher the message.

2) Entertaining factor – for long, we have been primed to be entertained by TV ads, movies, TV programs, etc. that it becomes a second nature to get into that state of expecting a show worth of our attention.  No wonder why all the mentioned media strive to entertain us first to utilize that captivated attention.  Hence, when it comes to video content, we are more likely to engage into viewership on the premise of the anticipated “show”.

3) Message interpretation accuracy – “even though visual communication is a less direct way of communicating, most people rely on this form of communication and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! Visual communication adds another layer of information in our communication with each other, and perhaps that is why we cherish our vision so much.” Numerous studies, books, articles emphasize the importance of body language or visual memory in communications. The referenced article by Debbie Jensen explains why visual memory precedes all others – a simple reflex or function of our mind to organize information beyond one point – the law of continuation. So if we see the message, we are better off comprehending it.

4) Longer life in audience memory – people remember better in pictures than words. How many times you recalled something faster because it had an association with the name of your home town or some other event? How many times you were able to achieve something because you visualized it? You simply gave a command to execute the vision to your mind. Imagine what it can do for your call to action – it can be easily presented in action to your audience.  In other words, videos are visualized messages that you can more effectively plant into your customers’ memories!

5) Wide range of channels to place those wonderful “communication machines” for free – isn’t that something? Usually, you do not need to worry about media placement costs, run of time and on and on…the key “details” that rank up your marketing spend when it comes to TV ads, or product placements.  Plus, a myriad of “audience-heavy” user-generated sites from YouTube to MySpace provides you with various options on where to seed your videos.  So, go and use them…wisely!

On the other hand, if we browse the latest industry trends on online video usage, we will support the above 5 reasons with the following facts:

1) Overall, the average US online video viewer watched 327 minutes of video in March, nearly 5.5 hours - according to emarketer, online video ad spending in the US will pass the $1 billion mark in 2011. Go and capture your audience right there, right now, when it browses YouTube or its online newspaper sites.  A good video marketing strategy can produce stellar results for your brand!

2) In total, 138 million Americans – approximately three in four US Internet users – viewed online video – according to comScore. And that was measured in November 2007 – imagine what it is now (or conservatively stay within the same data point) and use it to support your marketing web strategy rationale to invest in video production.

3) Private studies show that awareness and purchase intent grow significantly as a result of online video views – according to AdAge author Kevin Nalty. Though, there is no reference to study results, the statement makes sense even from the personal shopping experience – yes, I will more than likely buy an item that I saw in action in a video.  Moreover, if that video was shared by my respected Facebook friend, I am to invest more thought into the buying process.

So, are you convinced to produce some “kick-ass” videos? Your marketing strategy might get a well-deserved lift!

Online Video Ads – What Are They? Types?

Online videos became standard in our everyday life. How many times a week does an average or avid internet user check YouTube or Hulu to listen to that new inspiring song or watch that episode of Simpsons? Perhaps, quite often and video ads become a hotter advertising vehicle. So what are different types of video ads that exist today that we can pick through?

Googling the term brought a very good article by Max Bloom from streamingmedia.com where he shares a glossary of video ads, which is very comprehensive and definitely is worth reciting or even placing on wikipedia for all of us to refer back to.

  • Companion ad – a banner ad that displays related content concurrently with a video ad” – companion ad are targeted based on the overall site content where the video unit is embedded. It can be priced as keyword targeted ad if it is targeted that way or opted in to the content network, thus CPC will serve as a unit price metric. Or it can be priced as placement targeted and charged per CPM.
  • Cursor  chase – ads that chase after the viewer’s cursor as it glides across the screen. These ads leap from a fixed ad and follow the viewer’s cursor arrow for a present duration and can be disabled by the viewer at any time.” – Cursor ads are good for branding as they immerse the user into play, thus creating an interactive brand experience.  Advertisers can measure its performance by assessing ad display and interaction time, chase time and number of closes.
  • “Expanding ad – expands in size and direction upon user interaction. ” Advertisers can offer more interactivity and information into this unit while also eliminating the “annoyance factor” since the user chooses to see more if he/she is engaged. Talking about the user control! One can track expanding ad interaction and display time, number of user expansions and contractions, interaction within the expanded portion, manual closes and conversions!
  • Floating ad – moves across the user’s screen or floats above the content.” Usually, they are good at grabbing attention with motion and copy impact. Creatives have flexibility while choosing size and shape of the ad. Audience interaction metrics include: clicks on floating ad and reminder, floating replays, reminder display and interaction time, manual floating and reminder closes.
  • Floating with in-page – when a floating ad is finished playing, it leaves behind a smaller floating ad. Viewers can replay the ad, interact, or click-through, even after the initial ad has played.” The benefits are the same as for the floating ad, plus the heightened audience recall provided by the in-page unit.
  • Free-form expanding – features multiple floating elements placed anywhere on the page that expand like an expanding when viewers interact with them. ” This type has the main benefit of the expanding ad – total user/viewer control.
  • In-page ads – appear on a web page, outside of the video player or window.” These ads are very familiar TV-style, full motion, full screen and sound adverts that appear in between the ‘white space’ of the web content.  One can measure ad display and interaction time and identify multiple exit links.
  • In-stream ads -pre-, mid-, or postroll videos that appear in the video player or window. In-stream banners (also known as tickers, bugs or overlays)- often transparent and appear on the top of the video in the player. Commonly appear in the lower third of the video window. ” In- stream advertising is the most expensive online ad format since it is shown to the captive audience that cannot click away from it unless it chooses not to view the requested content. At the same time, it is so much cheaper to produce in-stream online video ads than TV, thus it makes this format so enticing.  Regardless of no control issue from the viewer perspective, advertisers can still optimize in-stream ads through its rich media interactive options that are not existent in TV. Thus, click-throughs can be increased if advertisers create a dialog with the viewer through interactive features.
  • Interactive video - includes polls, games, or other interactive options in the video ad”. That what I meant in the item above!
  • “Interstitial - advertising placed in between the origin website and the destination website, either physically or in time.” They are quite as effective as banner ads when it comes to recall of the advertising message with click-throughs five times outperforming banners, but they are also twice as irritating! Talking about interruption marketing!
  • Locked floating – floating ad “locks” into place on the page and will not move as the user scrolls through the content. Keeps advertiser’s message visible throughout the page view.” The same benefits and audience interaction metrics as for floating, minus user control.
  • Peel down- reveals a glimpse of your ad in a corner of a webpage, which peels down upon user interaction.” This format stimulates the user to play with the content and can actually complement other ad formats for broader awareness and impact.  Advertisers can measure ad display and interaction time, number of peel-downs and closes, and ad interaction time within the peeled down area.
  • Player skin – ad graphics that surround a video screen.” Could be a great area to enhance your messaging if you think creatively.
  • Polite ad – large ad downloaded in smaller pieces to minimize the disruption of the content being viewed.” If all the formats were developed from the user experience perspective!
  • Pre-expanding – viewer first sees the ad in its “expanded” state, and then it retracts automatically to its standard size”.
  • Pushdown – expanding ad that “pushes down” rather than covers the content of the page when the ad expands.”
  • Roadblock – provides advertisers with complete share of ad space by synchronizing any number of display or rich media ads with the video creative.”
  • Self-initiated video ad – plays automatically on a page, or when rolled over by a mouse.”
  • Shadow ad – additional ad that shows directly below the video only when it is playing. “
  • “Tabbed expanding ad – presents a range of relevant information into a series of tabbed panels. Each panel can feature video, dynamic data or content. ” This type allows advertisers utilize best elements of their site into the creative, provides extensive space for messaging and interaction, and makes user/viewer experience controllable.
  • Teaser, or bumper – short video that appears before a full-length video or when a player loads.” These ads were very popular in early days due to its high click-through rates, but what was really going on – is viewers’ disappointment when clicking on seemingly unbranded clip and seeing an ad for some ordinary service of a well-known advertiser.  The surprise was not as pleasant as it seemed. Or, if you do plan to use it, make sure you follow up with the clues campaign and consistent punch line.
  • Telescoping – lets users learn more about a product by displaying a long-term version of the video ad at the user’s request. “
  • “Video ad curtain – gives the advertiser complete coverage of the player area with a rich media ad that expands while a video plays.”
  • Wallpaper ad – ad that changes the background of the page being viewed.”

Finally, the world of video ads made clear! Now, what would be more exciting is to look at the reporting advertisers get on the performance of those ads! Perhaps,  a topic for a next post!

Search marketing, where it is going, the old, the new and the basics

Attending SMX West this week brought quite a number of enlightening experiences: opportunities to get feedback from customers, catching up with people in the industry, learning something new and building new connections.  The ability to reach out and connect to people within the same industry is priceless -as it opens up new doors into sometimes, – surprising interests. 

From the attendee perspective, my favorite session was “The Economics of Search” – where all presenters shared solid expertise and insights on how the search engines business is being progressing and what economic fundamentals apply to make search marketers (advertisers and publishers) more successful. 

Michael Schwarz from Yahoo! Research shared his fundamentals – that he believes hold true:

A) in order to be successful as a search engine, there should be no tradeoffs between revenue and satisfying users and advertisers  

B) in order to be successful as an advertiser, one should be able to discriminate well between the values of search and display ads:

  • Search is for direct revenue and display ads for branding
  • Search is about current intent and display is about demographics
  • Search is spot market, display contracts
  • Search is more mature and available for small advertisers as rates start from 5 cents, display is older and very expensive, but holds opportunities when technology will make it more cost effective and audience effective (better targeting)

Hal Varian, Chief Economist from Google shared his advice on estimating the value of the click from the marginal cost perspective in order to make economic sense in the bidding race.  An advertiser’s profit directly depends on the value of the click, its number and cost. At the same time, what matters most is the marginal cost for every additional click you buy. If you do a simple formula that distributes those values, you will be able to actually see what makes sense -since all three variables will be depicted “in action”.  Also, on average, incremental cost per click (ICC) is always at least 15-20 % higher than a CPC (cost per click)  – thus it makes a difference to pay attention to it to win the bidding game.

Peter Coles, Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School revealed his predictions on mobile search growth – even with 1 search per mobile device per month in 2010 means you could generate $2.3 billion in mobile search revenue worldwide. 10 monthly searches means mobile search will be greater than PC search. 

Thinking of search marketing in the above mentioned terms – from the economics standpoint – makes it so exciting! See more excitement on the similar impressions at SEOmoz blog.

What Are The Benchmarks for Conversion Rates?

Pondering upon the conversion rate made me wonder what the standard, normal conversion rates for various types of sites could be.  If I am entering online retail business, what should I strive for or measure against when I launch my site?

According to MarketingSherpa’s Ecommerce Benchmark Guide 2007, the average conversion rate on top tier search sites 2006 & 2007 was 4.3% for both years. In 2006, high end of normal range was 10%, most common rate was 2.5 % and low end of normal range was 1.0%.  In 2007, the average rate remained the same (4.3%), but the high end rose up to 12%, thus driving the mode (most common rate) to 3% and leaving the low end the same (1%). So, it is not 50% or 70% that we should expect seeing from online marketing and if we reach 12% – we are the winners! It make sense if we simply look at the formula for conversion rate (total number of outcomes (leads, orders) divided by the total number of unique users), with the former number being significantly lower than the latter.  Of course, these standards apply only to e-commerce sites, which assume purchases as a result of conversion.  Lead generation and content sites might enjoy higher rates since all they track would be of somewhat easier visitor engagement behavior (filling out the registration form, signing up for a newsletter, requesting more information or providing comments and viewing the content).

So what could you do to drive and truly impact your conversion rates? To do so, it is worthwhile to look at the conversion data on all acquisition channels that you employ (email, banners, SEM and organic traffic) separately and summarized.  Once you go through this exercise, it is easier to see where to invest to drive the right traffic to your online store and eventually see those rates go up!

Targeting Methods in Online Advertising

Selecting the right audience is the key driving factor in online advertising – your marketing campaigns’ performance depends on it almost 90 percent. With numerous tracking systems for monitoring users behaviors online, their ways to interact, their purchase habits, there are a number of targeting variables available to modern marketers. What is a well-targeted advertising? It is more relevant, compelling and subtle. What are the tools we have these days? According to the Advertising Research Foundation in its latest publication titled as The Online Advertising Playbook , there 7 highly usable methods:

Demographic Targeting – the old and familiar approach that defines audiences by gender, age, occupation, household size. It will always be there due to its advantages for broader product categories. It is easy to project behavior for such products based on demographic information and it costs less than tracking individual purchase behavior. More on the tips for successful demographic targeting, read the article on iMedia Connection.

Contextual Targeting – implies placing ads on sites that are related in content to the products, as an example: diet programs ads show up on healthy living related sites, financial products ads are displayed on money and investment sites. Contextual placements catch shoppers at the time when they are thinking about the product or related to it issues, catch up on news or read up on tips.  Due to the fact that shoppers (potential and actual) are caught in the active state – it becomes quite important to select quality sites, with relevant and most popular content to make your campaigns perform.  Site credibility is also important for the product especially when sales occur offline. Thus, it is a key consideration for your branding efforts.  Also, if you are tasked with building a community around your product, having a group of high regarded sites extends your influence further with the already highly engaged audience.  More on the contextual targeting, check this blog post that cites the research study on its effectiveness.

Behavioral Targeting – is the hottest method these days and the most controversial, allows marketers to track users’ site “hopping” through the cookies and come up with models and behavioral patterns for targeting those users later on those sites. Advertisers use these models to serve ads that are relevant to those “mapped” individuals across the various sites. It could be cheaper to do behavioral targeting than a contextual one: you have more points to reach the same audience. At the same time, it has its pitfalls and Jack Jia covers them well in his recent article.

Geographic Targeting – is especially powerful for smaller businesses that would like to capitalize on the local searches for products and services. DMA areas, area codes, time zones, GPS coordinates and IP protocols provide some geo targeting capability and allow marketers maximize the reach.  In addition, it can always bring additional sales to the brick-and-mortar store if you send your shoppers to the nearest location to pick up the purchase. More on the ways you can leverage geo information, read this blog post by Charles Thrasher.

Daypart Targeting – comes back to online advertising from the more traditional media (TV, radio) where it reaches specific audiences. Daypart targeting varies by audience size and specifications, can be very cost-efficient – as you expose your message to the largest audiences at the right time when they want to hear, see, view your message. Internet is used differently throughout the day with the highest percentage of people shopping and surfing the web during the normal business hours at work! According to emarketer, 31% people shop online at work, and if you add more detailed data on at which hours exactly they heavily engage into it – you are in business!

Affinity Targeting – refers to reaching customers on their favorite sites (usually related to hobbies and interests) that they heavily visit and interact with. Those users spend more time online (on those sites), are more favorable to the site content and ads and purchase faster and easier. If you like one site that you visit daily, you are more open to digest the message in the ads and in fact act on it. Works every time.  Affinity targeting especially works for brand evangelism.

Purchase-Based Category Targeting – represents a new method of merging data from the online behavior database to the purchases. It is very efficient, but very costly since you do have to customize the databases for your specific markets.  Companies like Nielsen try to create profiles of the “heavy shaving cream users” and low-carb dinners buyers” and map it against their online surfing patterns and predict their next purchase across product categories.

With all those methods, marketers are indeed empowered to deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience, even when the data is not perfect. Select 2-3 methods that fit your business and marketing strategy and find the good enough fits for your audiences and you are bound to have success.

What Is Your Conversion Rate? Plus Two Other Metrics That Make It More Meaningful

Posing this question to myself last week, brought me to a number of nuggets that I wanted to write down for reference and share.

Conversion rate is a percentage of your audience that was successfully “sold” to your message and engaged into a purchase to the overall audience that viewed your communications. Conversions come in various shapes: sales, leads, sign-ups for newsletters, information requests, linking to your site or blog, views of a certain page, downloads of a specific media material or referrals. In other words, it could be any action that you want your target audience to do as a response to your communications.

Conversion tracking becomes a very “magical” tool when you want to test the efficiency of your ads, copy or keywords in your online marketing initiatives. As an example: you can have 2 versions of an ad with a rate of 1.3% CTR (click-through) and 1.7%. If you just rely on the CTR, you will keep using the second version with a higher rate. However, even though more people clicked on the second ad, how many did actually register a purchase? This is answered by the conversion rate that might prove the opposite regarding the effectiveness of your ad. Perhaps the “catchy” headline in the first ad was very effective, but call-to-action copy failed to deliver. By having the conversion rate metric you can use the call-to-action copy from the second ad. And test.

You still need CTR! To calculate the profits you make from your ads. That’s where CPC (cost per click) comes in. Thus, you can see how much you spend relative to what you gain. But again, we are only using 2 metrics and can miss on the information. As an example, you might have an ad or a keyword with a lowest CTR and low CPC, but it can convert very well. Here you need to add another dimension – the amount of traffic which you can measure as well. How valuable all the traffic that this ad brings to your site? This way you need to calculate the profit each ad brings. To do so you need to calculate the total number of conversions (number of clicks multiplied by the conversion rate and divided by 100) and the value of a conversion (which you can assign (example your sale is $50 and you keep $30 after subtracting all the costs and fees, thus $30 is your conversion value). The value of a conversion helps you understand how much this action is worth for your business. The profit per ad = (conversion value X total number of conversions(profits)) – costs).

The Future of E-Commerce According to the Experts

Day One of the Online Market World Conference was opened up with a starter session that covered the upcoming trends in the e-commerce industry. I thought it was rather “short and sweet” in content and delivered a good overview that is worth sharing. According to Joe Chung (Allurent), Doug Mack (Adobe) and Michael Hines (Jones Apparel Group) there are a number of trends in the evolving e-business:

1) Rich media meets rich applications - the user experience becomes very engaging, interactive and “seamless” thanks to the latest and greatest in the web development apps that leverage the graphic user interface. Examples include Gucci watch and Teamwork Athletic Apparel sites that bring authentic interactive brand experiences right at your computer.
2) Increasing community involvement - plays a major role in creating relationships, brand recognition and promotion from the mere transactions. If they (transactions) were good, easy experiences – they become stories that people pass along and eventually translate into more revenue.
3) Back to the desktop - lots of $$ is invested into the desktop shopping platforms, “browser-free” online shopping – imagine that!
4) Content as the Interface - plays a great role in the new way e-commerce sites get content and “inventory” – see Zillow’s site where users can post their house info (pictures, videos, etc) on sale in 60 seconds and watch the bids come.
5) Online shopping to be successful must be: enticing + engaging + executional + pervasive + mobile.

It is interesting to see how the same principles and concepts are applied throughout various industries and disciplines: I see the basics of the social media concepts, user experience design, permission marketing, branding and CRM – all work in tandem to accomplish a simple goal. You hear all the time the same fundamentals: ease of use, emotion, relevance, experience, engagement = all in various combinations bring you to success, as they are the same needs expressed by the sophisticated consumer, online shopper, primarily the US-based individual. As Joe Chung says, “extensive increases in the software development are very well offset by increasing customer expectations”, – so viva the online shopper – as there will always be plenty of work for all of us in web applications and services development as well as online marketing!

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