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Call Tracking – from Basic to Advanced

Our Integrated Digital Marketing projects and client relationships live and die by our ability to prove the results of our efforts. We succeed when our client can prove hiring us and following our recommendations has been profitable.

Common questions include:

  • Was it worth it?
  • Should we do it again? More? Less?
  • What could be eliminated to allow us to invest more in [successful activity A]?
  • How does [activity A] affect [activity B]?

When we’re performing AdWords optimization, search engine optimization, and other services for clients, tracking customer actions that start and end entirely online are easy. Google Analytics and other web analytics tools provide great data and visualizations to show the results of paid search campaigns, content creation and optimization, and linkbuilding efforts. Google Analytics also allows for us to see the interactions between these efforts in multi-channel funnel and attribution reports.

Yet, with the increasing proportion of web searches and purchases done on mobile devices (25% of all online Black Friday sales came via mobile devices – via TechCrunch), and since mobile phones are built better for making phone calls than navigating shopping carts, order forms, or filling out web contact forms, we’re seeing the proportion of phone calls in our web conversions increasing. And this means we need to track phone calls with the same precision as we do web form submissions.

Photo of man in office on a cell phone

Some people use their cell phone to respond to online campaigns. Here is our very own Todd Hall on an ancient cell phone, a gift from Ann Arbor’s Recellular. OK, this one is a little larger than the ones currently in market.

In the future world phone call tracking will be perfectly integrated with web analytics. There are some types of click-to-call and call extension initiatives in AdWords that flow data well into Google Analytics. Call tracking vendors such as Mongoose Metrics also allow phone call pingbacks to Google Analytics. Yet, for now, integrating web actions and phone call from online activities takes a little bit of effort on the interpretation side and a little bit of custom or third-party coding on the website end.

The scale of phone call tracking that is right for you and your business depends on the mix of tactics you have in play and your need for granularity in reporting.

Levels of Tracking Granularity

The most basic kind of phone call tracking is using a different phone number for calls from your website from all other marketing activities (e.g. trade shows, direct mail, email campaigns, what have you). This doesn’t differentiate online campaigns from each other, but will separate calls that originate from someone looking at your site. You can have a custom 800# available on your site and count calls that come in through that route. Yet, that’s still much less granularity than is available through web analytics, which allows web form submissions to be categorized by the medium (e.g. cpc/paid search, organic search, direct, etc.) and for some channels by keyword (paid search).

A second gradation is to use a system that identifies information about the incoming web visitor and shows a custom phone number by medium, by device, by whatever you need to track. We use Mongoose Metrics for this, and there are many vendors such as Who’s Calling, ifbyphone, and telmetrics. We then analyze the web form and phone call data together, doing daily data exchanges with our client’s contact center, to see how our initiatives do in acquiring leads and sales for our clients. While we can see the calls coming in by medium in our dashboards, only they know the conversion rates of calls and web forms to sales. We see differential conversion rates from inquiry (web or phone) to ultimate sale and tracking through the entire process is important!

These systems can be configured with increasing granularity – using unique phone numbers for paid search ad groups or keywords or even to generate a unique phone number for a unique visitor.

Be careful, tracking may disturb performance

Of course, phone number substitutions and tracking phone numbers wreak all kinds of havoc in local search optimization, as consistency of name address and, yes, phone number remain important. So it can be best for companies with brick and mortar locations to use a form of call tracking that does not interfere with their SEO. Services like Mongoose Metrics and its competitors can perform the phone number substitution in a way that does not affect the search engine results (dynamic number insertion via JavaScript), and this would be our recommendation for anyone needing to be found for [keyword] + [geolocation] and needing to track their phone calls.

Managing Mobile URLs and Their Use In Paid Search Ads

If you’re running an AdWords account and haven’t set your mobile bid adjustment to -100%, there’s a good chance your ads get a significant amount of mobile traffic – especially if your business is local and consumer-oriented. In any account where mobile traffic is significant, you want to target visitors with landing pages that are designed for mobile. Given AdWords editorial policies, tracking requirements, and differences between the two major paid search platforms – Google AdWords and Bing Ads – getting visitors to the proper landing page can be a difficult task. Assuming you’re working with a website that has mobile variations of its pages, here are some pitfalls and solutions to implementing the proper mobile URLs in your ads and getting visitors to those mobile-designed pages. Each case outlined below is based on the type of mobile site, whether it shares the same top level domain as the non-mobile site, and whether it uses redirects.

Case 1: Responsive or dynamic design, same URLs

If your website uses responsive design, detecting when a visitor is using a mobile device and serving a page formatted to be easily read from that device, you are typically all set. You’ll still want to look at ad performance from mobile devices separately but since your visitors will not be going through any redirects or do not need different ad URLs based on the device they are using, you can serve the same ad URLs for desktop and mobile and not worry about editorial rejections or broken URLs.

Case 2:  Separate mobile site, no redirects, same domain

If your website has two versions, one for mobile and one for desktop/laptop/tablets (btw Google recommends you use your regular website for visitors on tablets, not your mobile site), you’ll need to create “mobile preferred” ads in Google AdWords. Each ad group will have two ads: one for all devices and one that is mobile preferred. The mobile preferred ad will use the appropriate mobile URL. Inside AdWords this will cause the mobile ad to be displayed only to visitors from mobile devices, and the other ad to be displayed to visitors from all other devices. However, if you are running ads in both AdWords and Bing Ads, your accounts now have a compatibility issue. While Bing Ads supports “mobile preferred,” it behaves differently than in AdWords. In Bing your mobile preferred ad should display more frequently on mobile devices, but it might also display for non-mobile users. In this case, you never want that to happen – non-mobile users should never see a mobile landing page. In order to get around this, you need to create a separate mobile-targeted campaign in Bing Ads (something you are not able to cleanly do in AdWords). It’s counter-intuitive that in the paid search platform that is less likely to have significant mobile traffic, you need to separately target mobile with new campaigns, increasing the size of your account, but that’s the way it works. Alternatively, you could turn off mobile-targeting entirely in Bing Ads, as it is less likely to produce the amount of traffic that justifies doubling the size of an account.

Case 3: Separate mobile site, automatic redirects, same domain

If your website has a separate mobile version and it automatically detects when a visitor is on a mobile device and redirects them to that version, you might think this is the same as Case 1. It can be, if the redirects are done well. The first thing to check is that all of your regular pages that you use in your desktop/laptop ads redirect appropriately from a mobile device. Sometimes interior pages do not have a mobile variation and mobile visitors will be getting redirected to a 404 page. It’s quite easy to setup a campaign, leave mobile bids the same as desktop/laptop bids, use the same URLs in all of your ads that all return a 200 status from non-mobile devices, and not realize that all of your mobile visitors are seeing a 404 page. Those ads won’t get rejected in AdWords, and you will just be wondering why mobile is doing so bad in your account. The second thing to check is that all of your pages keep their tracking parameters when they redirect. If they don’t, you won’t be able to see your paid search performance in third party platforms like Google Analytics. Often times tracking parameters will get stripped out when a URL redirects.

For example:


…might redirect to this URL:


…when it needs to redirect to this URL:


If your redirects aren’t as good as you thought, then you’re stuck treating Case 3, like a Case 2, creating separate mobile-preferred ads in AdWords and worrying about compatibility in Bing Ads.

Case 4: Separate mobile site, no redirects, different domain

If you have a separate mobile site that uses a different top level domain than your regular website, you have a bigger problem. Google AdWords does not allow you to use different domains in your display URL for the same ad groups. So if you tried to treat this like Case 2, your mobile-preferred ads with different domains from your ads for all other devices would get rejected. To get around this, you can use keyword level URLs like these (with the appropriate mobile and non-mobile URLs entered of course):


Bing Ads supports these ValueTrack parameters, so there shouldn’t be compatibility issues. Setting keyword URLs has at least two major drawbacks: you can’t test different URLs in ads at the same time, and they’re easily a source of error if you’re not careful with how they’re managed.

Case 5: Separate mobile site, automatic redirects, different domain

Like case 3, how this is handled depends on how good your redirects are. Even though AdWords’ redirect policy is for the destination domain to match the domain of the original URL, ads that redirect to a different domain for mobile will get passed by editors (from my experience). So if your redirects work, and they pass tracking appropriately, you’re fine with treating this case like Case 1. However, if tracking parameters are not passed (and you don’t want to sacrifice tracking), or if the redirects create 404′s, you’ll want to treat this like Case 4.

Compatibility and Editorial Issues

These are the major cases I have come across when dealing with mobile landing pages and the solutions I’ve used to maximize compatibility between programs while avoiding editorial rejections. Clearly there’s a huge advantage to having a responsively designed website, but this isn’t always how sites exist in the wild.

Good error pages anticipate user needs – Zingerman’s real-world signage

Zingerman’s Delicatessan is an institution here in Ann Arbor. It’s packed on football Saturdays, homecoming weekend, and the lunch-spot of choice for students to be taken out for yummy food during a parental visit.

Zingerman’s growth strategy has focused on expanding into related areas rather than scaling its core business larger. They never expanded the deli outside of Ann Arbor but food aficionados all around the country (and the world) can get Zingerman’s items express shipped to them through Zingerman’s Mail Order. The Deli gets its bread from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and some of its cheese from Zingerman’s Creamery. Zingerman’s caters and now has a Zingerman’s Events space near the Deli. They also opened ZingTrain, where they teach the principles and techniques they use to manage – interesting to other food businesses as well as those looking for Open Book Management training and other techniques that apply to many businesses outside the food world.

Zingerman’s Deli is a neighbor of ours here in Ann Arbor, and we hope someday soon they will become a client (give us a ring – will work for food! ;)). Their expansion has given them multiple storefronts and offices, potentially increasing confusion for those just looking for a sandwich.

And so I was charmed to see this sign on the Zingerman’s Events space helping the hungry and lost seekers of sandwich nirvana find the Deli if their GPS or feet took them to the Events space.

Sign helping people find Zingerman's Deli

A sign guiding people from one Zingerman’s business to another.

This sign has lots of great elements. First, it celebrates what the person has found – a Zingerman’s business, just maybe not the one they were seeking. Second, it provides a diagram showing the path to get to the Deli along with a visual of the distinctive brick storefront of the Deli so the seeker will know it when they’ve found it. Third, it gives options. If all that fails, it gives a phone number to call, just in case the map is not clear enough for that particular visitor. Fourth, it is entirely consistent with the Zingerman’s brand – it looks and feels like other signage, menus, and collateral from Zingerman’s.

The organic growth of Zingerman’s businesses might just mimic the growth of content on your website, requiring more helpful navigation and perhaps a redirect when things go awry. This sign is a great model for that kind of redirect – a.k.a. a 404 error page on a website:

  • Confirm you’ve arrived somewhere and give you options for how to get where you intended to go.

Zingerman’s does it on their website too: Zingerman’s page not found error page. So take a cue (and maybe go get a sandwich or order some bread) from our neighbor at Zingerman’s and welcome people even when they go awry on your website with good, clear, and brand-consistent signage.

Remarketing Lists for Search Ads: Add On for E-Commerce

AdWords now offers remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA). Previously, remarketing was only available for targeting ads to the display network. But now, account managers can use lists to target visitors on Google Search. The way remarketing typically works is you place some tracking scripts on the pages of your site that set cookies. These cookies make it possible to target visitors who have already been to your site before: you can modify bids, targeting, and ad messaging based on the pages a visitor has seen in your site. Unfortunately, remarketing relies on third-party cookies. A web browser movement is forming to block third-party cookies by default, so remarketing, as it is now, might not have much of a future in the long term. But in the short term, it’s still a nice little addition to an account.

There are a few ways to get started with remarketing in Google AdWords:

1. You can visit “Audiences” under the “Shared Library” inside the AdWords interface. This will require you to install a piece of JavaScript on all of the pages in your site (all of the pages you want tracked). You can then build and refine lists by page URLs.

2. You can modify your Google Analytics script (if you’re already using Analytics), and build lists inside the Analytics interface, which you then link to your AdWords account.

3. You can use existing AdWords conversion tracking tags in your account to create a list.

If you have a large e-commerce site, here is a nice trick using method number 3.

E-Commerce and Remarketing Lists for Search Ads

There are a lot of possibilities for using RLSA with an e-commerce site. The larger your site is, the more possibilities. Unlike lists for display ads, which require only 100 members, lists for search ads require 1,000 members. So you need to get a good amount of traffic before a list is usable, and really, you’ll want more than a 1,000 members to create an effective initiative. If you’ve already got AdWords e-commerce conversion tracking on your site, you can take advantage of that tag to quickly get started with remarketing, targeting visitors who have already made a purchase on your site. Creating a list for visitors who have already made a purchase on your site allows you to:

1. Bid higher on your keywords for those who have made a purchase before. You know they are already interested in your products, so when they do a search for something you offer, you’ll want to bid higher because you can expect your conversion rate to be greater than it is with visitors who have never made a purchase before.

2. Target more generalized keywords. You already know these visitors are interested in your niche. So when they perform a general query, you can have greater certainty that the keywords they are using are in reference to products that you offer specifically.

To do option 1, you’d need to add your list to each keyword-targeted ad group in your account, selecting to “Bid Only.” You can then specify a multiplier, so that your ads appear higher when a person who has made a purchase before does a search for one of your keywords. This can be a tedious process because Google does not offer a bulk way to do this yet, so start with your most lucrative ad groups.

To do option 2, you’d create a new campaign and add audiences to keyword-targeted ad groups, selecting “Target and Bid.” You’d then add general keywords.

For a list that has 5,000 or more members, you could see this kind of remarketing setup contribute 10% more revenue from AdWords.


What’s Important After Google’s Hummingbird Algorithm Update

As you probably know, Google’s Hummingbird algorithm overhaul has been called one of the least disruptive major updates in years. While I agree that it hasn’t had a huge impact on rankings for our clients or their overall success, I think the implications are larger.  This isn’t about Google; this is about marketing success.

In short, I believe we (SEOs and marketers in general) need to continue to push ourselves even further away from keywords and keyword search demand and more toward content and holistic website themes to ensure visitors’ needs are met along the customer journey.

Google has been telling us for years to move away from keywords – and, truthfully, it’s possibly the world’s worst secret that Google says so partially to push its paid ads and make money – and there is good reason behind it.  Only caring about keywords and keyword volume alone is short-sighted.  Instead, there are three points that Hummingbird may now finally make us realize.

1. High quality content does not mean high value content

With renewed focus on content marketing there also comes increased emphasis on quality (or at least there should be). However, it’s easy to mistake quality for value. Your content may be the most well written, best executed, and prettiest looking piece of content there ever was, but if it doesn’t connect with your customers or prospects, it’s worthless. Instead, you need to build quality content that’s based on what your audience actually cares about, which brings me to my second point…

2. Listening and having conversations is more important than ever

You know you market a good product and that at least some of your customers love what you sell and what you do for them. But that doesn’t mean that your prospects have to respect that. You need to earn their respect and you do that by listening first and engaging in conversation second. Even as “not provided” becomes the new norm and other forms of easy prospect/customer information is harder to access, good marketers will find a way. This is where your marketing strategy should start.

3. There is value in structured data that is easily overlooked

Your internal structured data is a great place to find some of this information. Beyond that, structured data back to the search engines through schema.org or other microformats is a great way to share what you’ve found and what you provide. The real trick is in finding the right way to cull through your internal data and package it in an interesting way that appeals to prospects and is easily understood by search engines.

The point of this article isn’t to say that keywords are now worthless; however, their stock has dropped a bit. Good marketers will recognize that and turn to a more holistic approach to building their marketing strategy rather than continuing to simply chase rankings.

AdWords and Bing Ads Radius Targeting in Bulk

Radius Targeting Basics

Radius targeting is a geo-targeting method in paid search accounts to quickly select a group of towns/zips (even congressional districts) that lie within a certain distance from a selected point. For example, if you have a local business in a particular town and would like to serve ads to anyone nearby without explicitly selecting all of the towns and zip codes you’d like to target, you might specify a radius around your business location. Radius targeting is not exact. For example, if I select five miles around my address, search engine users who see my ad are not necessarily only 5 miles from my address. There are a couple reasons why:

1. Location services by IP address are not always that accurate. For a laptop, a user’s location is approximated based on the IP assignments from an internet service provider and other calculations.

2. When you select radius targeting, your target locations are translated into geos that the paid search program might have information about. AdWords doesn’t know your latitude and longitude when you type in a query from your laptop. Google has an idea of what town or zip code you might be in. So when you enter a radius around a point, Google includes targets that the radius crosses over. You can see the locations that your ads might be eligible to target when manually entering a radius target in AdWords. These are in the section labeled “Locations Within This Target” in the image below. For example, if I select a radius of 10 miles around Ann Arbor, MI; it is likely that my ads are eligible to show to anyone that AdWords is locating inside of Washtenaw County, and possibly even anyone inside the MI-12 congressional district, which is quite larger than Ann Arbor itself.

When using radius targeting for multiple locations it’s important to make sure your ads aren’t being distributed further than you’d like. You can test whether an AdWords ad shows using the ad preview tool. It’s also important to make sure that nearby locations in separate campaigns aren’t overlapping, or if they are overlapping, that the results are acceptable. Overlapping targeting from multiple campaigns can cause management problems inside your account. For example, let’s say I have two campaigns eligible to show ads to users in Plymouth, MI. Let’s also say that Plymouth, MI doesn’t do that well. The campaign that most consistently shows ads in Plymouth has a high cost per conversion, so you lower bids in that campaign. But without you noticing, that campaign stops distributing ads as much in Plymouth and the other campaign, which now has higher ad rank for Plymouth, starts showing ads. That campaign starts doing worse, the other campaign starts doing better. You adjust bids accordingly, and now the other campaign starts doing worse. . . so you get into a cycle.

Barring these potential difficulties, radius targeting is beneficial for ease of setup and, typically, ease of management. Particularly if you’re setting up campaigns for hundreds of locations, radius-targeting might be the way to go. So how do you setup radius targeting for hundreds of locations?

AdWords Bulk Radius Targeting

In AdWords, you bulk add radius targets using the AdWords Editor. From the AdWords Editor menu you select “Data > Locations > Add/update multiple locations.” You include a campaign field and a location field in the bulk upload. The format of the upload looks something like this:

Campaign Location
Ann Arbor Campaign (10mi:42.284278:-83.746822)
Ann Arbor Campaign (10mi:42.282873:-83.746798)
Detroit Campaign (10mi:42.338484:-83.045934)

The format for the location field is (radius:latitude:longitude). You might not know the latitude and longitude of your locations (but you’d be surprised, in a website that has hundreds of locations, this information could be readily available). There are tools out there that can convert addresses to latitude, longitude coordinates, just google “latitude longitude bulk lookup” or “batch geocoding.”

In the sample upload, I’m adding two radius targets to a campaign called “Ann Arbor Campaign” and one radius target to “Detroit Campaign.” All targets are 10 miles around the points specified by the latitude and longitude coordinates. This can easily be scaled to hundreds of locations.

Bing Ads Bulk Radius Targeting

Bing ads is much more difficult to bulk add radius targeting. First off, it isn’t completely compatible with AdWords radius targeting, offering specific radii options, with a 5 mile minimum. But more importantly, Bing Ads desktop editor and bulk imports don’t deal with radius targeting; you have to use the Bing Ads API. If that doesn’t sound scary to you, it probably should. But if you’re committed, here is a cursory summary of how you do it using Java:

Sign up for a Bing Ads developer token, here. You’ll also want to start a sandbox account while you’re there. After you’ve signed up for a sandbox account, bulk import a few of your campaigns from your live account. You’ll use these campaigns for testing your code.

Generate the classes for campaign management, as outlined here. You’ll want to be sure to use the same development environment described in the instructions: Axis 1.4.0 and Xerces 2.7.1; both downloadable from the web. If you use a later version of Axis, you might get unusable classes.

Write your classes for updating the targets in the Bing Ads library. This is how to proceed:

1. Create a flat file where you set campaign IDs and latitude, longitude targets. Campaign IDs can be looked up by logging into your account from the web interface and exporting your campaigns. There is a field that includes campaign IDs. You could also look them up with the API.

2. Create an object to parse the fields in that file so you can use it to update radius targeting for each campaign. I put the data from the file into a HashMap<Long, ArrayList<Double[]>> (Long is the campaign ID and the ArrayList is the list of coordinates).

3. Setup your campaign management service and stubs. A basic example on getting started is here.

4.  You’re going to want to make an UpdateTargetsInLibraryRequest and GetTargetsByCampaignIdsRequest.

5. Follow Bing’s instructions for updating/adding a radius target. Here is a section of example code for updating the location targets for a set of campaigns using the HashMap “campLatLong” described above. Use at your own risk!:

// loop through each campaign
for(Long campaignId : campLatLong.keySet()){
 // for multiple locations per campaign, add RadiusTargetBids to list
 List<RadiusTargetBid> arrayRadiusTargetBid = new ArrayList<RadiusTargetBid>();
// get the current target for the campaign so as not to overwrite other settings
// expects only 1 target to be returned. Bing only updates targets in batches,
// so it's possible to overwrite other targets.
 getTargetsByCampaignIdsRequest.setCampaignIds(new long[]{campaignId});
 getTargetsByCampaignIdsResponse = campaignManagement.getTargetsByCampaignIds(getTargetsByCampaignIdsRequest);
 Target[] targets = getTargetsByCampaignIdsResponse.getTargets();
 RadiusTarget rt = new RadiusTarget();
 Target t = targets[0];
 LocationTarget lt = new LocationTarget();
// loop through each latitude, longitude pair for the campaign
// to create new RadiusTargetBid
 for(int i = 0; i < campLatLong.get(campaignId).size(); i++){
 RadiusTargetBid radiusTargetBid = new RadiusTargetBid();
// assign RadiusTargetBids to your new RadiusTarget, assign your new RadiusTarget 
// to your new LocationTarget, set the new location target for your campaign's Target.
 rt.setBids(arrayRadiusTargetBid.toArray(new RadiusTargetBid[0]));
// update the Target for your campaign to the newly created target with updated 
// radius targeting, erasing the old location targeting.
 System.out.println("Calling CampaignManagement.updateTargetsInLibrary");
 updateTargetsInLibraryResponse = 
 campaignManagement.updateTargetsInLibrary(new UpdateTargetsInLibraryRequest(new Target[]{t}));

 Bulk Radius Targeting in Paid Search

That’s how you radius target in paid search. When considering location targeting there are more options than just radius targeting; in fact, radius targeting settings are really just the tip of the iceberg. For greater reach and even greater simplicity in creating AdWords/Bing compatible campaigns, you might consider DMA targeting. In the least, it would help you avoid using the Bing Ads API. Other important considerations when selecting your location settings are “Advanced Location Options” and analysis of location data inside Enhanced campaigns. You’ll want to weigh your options before selecting a radius targeting methodology, particularly in large accounts.

Google Analytics Multi-Channel Funnel – Four-Item Venn Diagram is Misleading

So, we’re thrilled with Google Analytics’ addition of multi-channel funnel analysis. Google Analytics has a great price – free! – and the addition of advanced features is wonderful for us and our clients.

Why? Multi-channel funnel analysis can show how marketing campaigns interact with each other to influence behavior and the all-important leads and sales that power our clients’ businesses. Among other things, we can assess which campaigns initiate conversations (say non-brand organic or non-brand paid search) against those that close leads and sales, helping us invest our clients’ funds in the strategies that win across the customer journey from awareness through consideration, conversion, and loyalty.

A screenshot of the Conversion analysis menu in Google Analytics

The Conversion menu in Google Analytics

Last week, we prepared for a client meeting involving new higher-ups who required a visual summary instead of a long and nuanced explanation of interactive influences. To help the visual folks in the room, we looked to the Venn diagram on the overview page in Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnel.

It’s a great illustration, easily showing how each medium contributes and overlaps to support the end goal – a web form submission in this case. You can see the legend here on the right – paid search, organic search, direct (people who type the web URL into their browser or use a bookmark), and then referral, social network, and email were options for analysis.

The legend for the Venn diagram showing which web medium is which color.

The multi-channel funnel visualization legend.

Well, one of us was looking at the three-item Venn diagram (paid search, organic search, and direct) and another of us had checked the top four items in the legend (paid search, organic search, direct, and display). You wouldn’t think we should get different visualizations that would lead to different interpretations, right?

Three-Element Venn Diagram

A three-item Venn diagram summarizing overlap between paid search, organic search, and direct.

Four Element Venn Diagram

A four-item Venn Diagram, same data as in the three-item diagram.

And….sad trombone…we got ourselves all confused by the Venn diagram. So, this post is a word to the wise to be careful when using that visualization.

You can see a difference between the three-item and four-item Venn diagrams: In the four-circle version, there is almost no overlap between paid search (blue) and direct (yellow). The underlying data is the same, so what gives?

After some fussing around and hovering over the overlap areas and looking at the numbers of visitors in each (which is a nice real-time way to interact with the Venn in Google Analytics) we realized that it’s just a problem with the visualization. Four-way Venn diagrams are wonky.

A quick Google search reveals that this is a known issue with Venn diagrams. If you use circles, you can only represent the overlap of three things. To add the fourth item, you actually lose fidelity in the data. Yikes!

As a cool-looking but inaccurate diagram is unacceptable, we opted for the three-item Venn for our meeting. We learned something important – don’t use the Multi-Channel Visualization Venn diagram with more than three items checked.

Don’t believe this quick visual? See Amy N. Myers’ paper Are Venn Diagrams Limited to Three or Fewer Sets?, available from the Bryn Mawr website. She writes

Are we missing something, or is a Venn diagram using circles for four (or more) sets simply impossible?

Well, here’s to happy analysis! (Just make sure you use your Venn diagrams responsibly.)

Related Resources:

B2B Digital Marketing: Building a Digital Marketing Strategy (Pt 1)

This is the first of a 3-part series on building a marketing strategy for B2B organizations. Next up: part 2 (what a B2B marketing strategy should include) and part 3 (building your strategy).

A recent digital marketing strategy report shows B2B businesses are spending more on marketing, particularly on digital and content marketing, but sales-driven organizations are still clamoring for more leads and more output.

It tends to be easier for B2B organizations to overlook building a digital marketing strategy. Unlike flashy consumer-driven organizations, B2B types can be more conservative, product-driven, and, frankly, more likely to call on the same tactics they’ve always used, even if they aren’t the most productive. However, even in the most conservative organization, data and results still count the most.

Many organizations are struck by the, “That’s a great idea!” bug without giving too much thought to how a tactic fits into the greater whole. String a few of these together and you’ve blown half your marketing budget before you know it. Often, not only do these “great ideas” produce less than a handful of leads, but the organizations that use them often can’t even determine what they got out of them because they were never tied to internal analytics.

What’s the answer?

Slow down.

“What? Sales is pushing for more leads and you’re telling me to slow down?!”

Yes, but only for a minute. Take your foot off the gas just long enough to take inventory, talk with stakeholders, review results and then build a strategy.

Defining Your B2B Digital Marketing Strategy

Granted, the thought can be overwhelming. And what does it even mean to, “build a strategy?” To a lot of B2B organizations, a “strategy” might just sound like another marketing buzzword with nothing to back it up. But, just like building any other internal plan, you get out of it what you put into it.

In part two, we’ll get into the nitty gritty and tell you exactly what it should include, but at a high level: It should be an annual event (at least) and should include:

  • Your overall marketing goals
  • A list of tactics you plan to use and their associated costs and expected returns
  • Which goals those tactics will align to
  • A way to measure the results

Even if your marketing team is small and you wear other hats, your marketing strategy is critical to your success. Not only does it help build your plan for the year (or quarter or however regularly you build it), it also gives you a platform to show off your successes and learn from your mistakes.

Sound strategy can be the difference-maker for your B2B organization, so stay tuned!

Google’s Reading Level Tool for Copywriters and Content Marketers

Many online marketers are unaware that Google offers an excellent tool for analyzing the reading level of online content. If you work in an agency or are entering a new industry, there’s a good chance you’re not intimately familiar with the writing styles appropriate for relevant digital content. While Google’s measurements of reading level won’t entirely solve that problem for you, they’re a good first step. Let’s start out doing a search for “sloths.” To determine the reading level of the results on this page, click “Search Tools,” “All Results” and then “Reading Level.” Maybe not surprisingly, a search for “sloths” returns results with a fairly low reading level: But something a bit more academic can show us the opposite: But how can this really be useful to us in the world of digital marketing? Well, let’s say you are a copywriter or content marketer who, either by working in an agency or getting hired in a new vertical, needs to write for an industry with which you are unfamiliar. Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the reading level of top-ranking content so you can emulate it? Chances are the top-ranking content is compelling and well-received, otherwise it would not likely attract backlinks, and probably wouldn’t have made it to the first page of Google. Personally, I’m unfamiliar with materials engineering, so let’s try that out as an example. A quick Google search revealed that “polymer engineering” is a subset of this, so let’s view that as a keyword we might want to write content around. Let’s consult Google to see the average reading level of top-ranking results for this term: Clearly, we’re going to want to write at a more advanced reading level for this one or hire writers who can do so appropriately. But what exactly does Google mean by higher reading level? Well, Google’s official documentationis only mildly helpful:

The reading level for a particular result is determined by a computer program. When the program was created, thousands of web documents were rated by teachers as basic, intermediate or advanced. These ratings helped the program understand what factors led results to being easier or more difficult to read. When new results appear, the program determines their appropriate reading level based on factors such as vocabulary, word length and grammatical complexity

Google employee Daniel Russell adds a bit more on his personal blog:

So the breakdown isn’t grade- or age-specific, but reflects the judgments of teachers as to overall level of difficulty. Roughly speaking, “Basic” is elementary level texts, while “Intermediate” is anything above that level up to technical and scholarly articles, a la the articles you’d find in [Google] Scholar.

In my opinion, your safest bet would be to take a page that both matches the overall distribution of reading levels for the first page and also ranks highly on the first page, and emulate the writing style. If you look closely at the gray text beneath the green URL for each result in the SERP, you’ll see the reading level of that page. In our case, we would want to pick the top-ranking result (preferably one whose offering matches our client’s) with an “advanced” reading level. Well, that should be enough to get you started. Please share your questions and concerns in the comments!

WordPress SEO: Your First Five Steps

In this article, I will lay out what I believe to be a solid set of five first steps for SEO optimizing your new WordPress site. Of course, there is always more SEO to be done, but these five steps are crucial for success. In my experience building dozens of WordPress sites, they aren’t too time consuming either!

1. Pick a Theme that Won’t Hold You Back

There are a lot of themes out there that, while “pretty,” are total garbage from an SEO perspective. They don’t allow for sufficient content that Google can index, and may have bizarre linking structures. Here’s a great example of a theme NOT to chose if you want to succeed in SEO:


What’s wrong with this theme from an SEO perspective? Well, simply put, there’s no parseable text whatsoever on the page. So unless you have a boat load of links, search engines won’t view it as an authority on… pretty much anything. Don’t get me wrong, themes like these are great for personal or portfolio-based websites, but if the goal is maximizing your exposure in organic search, it’s best to steer clear. You’d be much better suited with a theme that has plenty of space for text-based content and hyperlinks, like this one:


 2. Form a Content Plan by Polling your Audience and Create Individual Pages

This step is crucial. I’ve seen many businesses flounder in SEO by writing exclusively about what they know, rather than what their audience wants to read. Chances are you are friends with some folks that fit into your key demographic – just ask them what they are interested in right now. Then write up a page (or post) of at least 300-500 words for each of these. Try to avoid combining multiple topics onto a single page, because it often makes it more difficult to rank well in Google when spslitting your effort between two or more topics.

For example, suppose a friend of mine wanted to create a website about house music, with the goal of eventually selling related merchandise once he had built up an audience. He polled his audience and found that many of them were confused about all the different subgenres of house music. So, he saw this as an opportunity to create individual pages about the different subgenres in order to capitalize on people looking these terms up. So he ended up with pages like:

What is “deep” house music?
What is “progressive” house music?
What is “tech” house music?

Having individual pages for these was a much stronger approach for SEO than having one page addressing “What are deep, progressive, and tech house?”

3. Install the Yoast SEO Plugin

There are a lot of SEO plugins out there, some better than others. But the one I’ve come to trust has been the Yoast SEO Plugin. It’s free, not prone to bugs, and effective. You can find and install it just by visiting the plugins section of WordPress, clicking “Add New” and searching for Yoast SEO. Then just click “Install Now” under Yoast.

What will this do you for? Well, to start, it will clean up your URLs and generate you a high-quality XML sitemap (you might need to check the box at the top of the XML Sitemap page to enable that). Overall, it works really well out-of-the-box, but I recommend browsing through each of it’s options, as the exact setting to choose will depend highly on your website. If you don’t understand it, just install it, enable XML sitemap creation, and forget it.

4. Make Sure your Homepage and Key Landing Pages have Enough Text

So I’ve already touched on this twice, but it’s worth talking about specifically. Simply put, your chances of ranking well are much lower if you have only a small amount of text on a page. Generally, we recommend having at least 500 words of text (including a given keyword at least 2-3 times) on a page that you want to make visible in the Google or Bing search results.

This is absolutely crucial on your homepage, but can benefit other pages too – including your category pages. This might take some fiddling with the code of your theme, and so if you’re not up for that, don’t worry about it. But if you have the programming chops, I highly recommend including at least 300 words of text on each of your category pages.

5. Write Optimized Title Tags and Meta Descriptions for your Key Landing Pages

Finally, using the Yoast SEO box that appears beneath the text editor in the page editing interface of WordPress, you can specify custom title tags and meta descriptions for your posts and pages.

For any page that you’d like to see appearing in Google or Bing, take the time to write a unique title tag and meta description. Here are some guidelines:

Title tags:

  • Keep ‘em under 70 characters.
  • Include at least one keyword, preferably at the first start of the title tag.
  • If you need to separate keywords, do so with a “pipe” symbol: | . For instance, a good title tag could be: Deep House Music | How to Make Deep House | HouseGuru2013.com. This includes two separate keyphrases and also the website name.
  • Try to make them unique for as many pages as possible.

Meta Descriptions:

  • Keep ‘em between 70 and 155 characters.
  • Include at least one keyword – doesn’t matter where it appears in the meta descriptions.
  • Include a call to action, like “click here to learn more about..” or “find out how you can maximize …”.
  • Try to make them unique for as many pages as possible.