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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:

http://elegantthemes.com/preview/Gleam/

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:

 http://www.elegantthemes.com/preview/MyProduct/

 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?
etc.

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.

Is Affiliate Marketing Right For Your Business?

Affiliate Marketing

For those unfamiliar, Affiliate Marketing is a performance-based marketing strategy that rewards affiliates (or partners) for certain types of conversions (usually acquisitions or leads). If you sell shoes, for example, you could join an affiliate network, allowing other people to sell your shoes for you. They would then be rewarded (usually a flat fee or % of revenue) for every sale they made.

Many online marketers have a love/hate relationship with affiliate marketing, and many businesses are torn between its potential benefits (i.e., growing their business) and its potential problems.

So how do you know if affiliate marketing is right for your business?

Affiliate Marketing Pros and Cons

Pros

  • No marketing expenses – The obvious downside of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) is that you actually have to pay for that click! With affiliate marketing this is a non-issue; others are putting forth their own money and time to promote your product/service. If they fail, it’s their loss. If they succeed, you pay them a percentage of the profit and it’s a win-win.
  • Brand Advocacy – On the same note, affiliate marketing is recruiting brand advocates. Affiliate marketers have a choice, and if they choose to promote your product/service amongst the sea of other options they have, that’s saying a lot! Either they love your product, know how to promote it, have the right infrastructure/network to do so, or all of the above.
  • Reach and Expertise – A growing network of affiliate partners has the potential to find you new demographics, verticals and marketing channels that would require an army of a sales/marketing team to match. You would also benefit from each affiliate marketer’s skill set and “know how” in promoting your product.

Cons

  • Brand control – In a way, affiliate marketing is a Pandora’s box. You never really know what you’re going to get. Ultimately, you rely on people you don’t know who, in some cases, might resort to dubious techniques for selling your product. Some examples: using copy that isn’t appropriate to your brand or your messaging; advertising your product on unsuitable sites; spamming inboxes with advertisements of your product; and much, much more. Although there are many steps you can (and should) take to minimize the risk involved (mainly due diligence and approval of every potential partner), this can be a demanding task and you still won’t have 100% control over your brand once you give them the green light.
  • Sales Cannibalism – In many cases, when you let someone sell your product, you’re creating competition with yourself. Your partners may be bidding against you in PPC. They may be pushing their websites up the organic rankings for your keywords, resulting in your site losing its rightful organic placement. Or, they may be marking up your product for a higher price. In any case, be very clear with your affiliate partners about where they can and can’t sell your product. Sidenote: This is why Google is wary of affiliate marketers – rewarding them only if their techniques actually provide real value to consumers (i.e., additional valuable information, reviews, comparisons, etc…).
  • Affiliate Marketing Arbitrage – The affiliate system can only work sustainably if affiliate marketers can sell your product in a way that’s profitable for them and for you. Your affiliate partner is getting a piece of the pie (assuming every sale is divided between yourself, your affiliate partner, and the affiliate network you’re using), and if that piece is still a profitable engagement for them, you might want to check whether you might be better off spending your own advertising money while cutting out the middle man.

To sum it up, here are some of the key questions you should be asking to decide whether or not affiliate marketing is right for your business:

  • How important is controlling your brand?
  • How engaged are your consumers with your brand?
  • What are your marketing budget and resources?
  • What product/service do you sell?
  • How high is your profit margin?
  • Can other people be more effective at selling your product than you?
  • Do you have the right infrastructure in place to deal with sudden peaks in demand?
  • Are your competitors utilizing affiliate marketing? If so, how? If not, why?

Agree? Disagree? Have anything to add? Feel free to share your thoughts below!

Attribution Modeling…Crawl Before You Walk

With the release of the Google Analytics Attribution Modeling tool to all users, I am sure many marketers are excited but don’t know where to start.

To start, you need to crawl before you walk. Start with what you know by using your current reporting as your framework. Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels reports are the gateway to Attribution Modeling. Let’s review a few of the reports.

Use the Overview report to see how your channels interact (see Venn diagram, below). If there are large overlaps between your channels, this shows that multiple touch points happened before the conversion and is a sign you should look into attribution. Remember which ones overlap so you can pay close attention to those in attribution.

Next, view the Time Lag and Path Length reports to see how often visitors came to your site and how many interactions visitors had with your site before they converted. If a high percentage of your conversions are greater than 0 or 1 visit or interaction, then you should consider looking at the attribution tool.

Review the Assisted Conversions report to see how each channel initiated, assisted and completed as well as the value of those sales and conversions. Look at the Assisted/Last Click Conversion value (last column below) to determine if the channel value is:

  • Close to 0, primarily functioning as the final interaction
  • 1, primarily functioning equally in assist and final interaction
  • Exceeds 1, primarily assisting conversions

Use the Top Conversion Path report to see all of your unique conversion paths that lead to conversions. This can also help confirm what you will eventually see in the attribution modeling tool.

  • Create custom channels that are based on your channel structures
  • For example, you could create a custom channel grouping by breaking out branded and non-branded PPC and organic terms.

The use of multichannel funnels and attribution modeling allows for marketers to gain control of their ROI and make smarter decisions when allocating marketing dollars. You also see the big picture as you view your marketing campaigns as unified. This will give you more insight and the ability to change campaigns based on consumer behavior. You will do a better job providing clients with information when they want it along the customer journey.

Advanced Location Targeting for AdWords

AdWords provides search marketers with many location targeting options. For campaigns promoting specific business locations, determining how to reach your target market is a crucial step in optimizing your PPC campaigns.

These are a few examples for advanced users. If you’re looking for basics, Scott Dunroe’s post in the AdWords Community is a must read.

Display Targeting: Regional vs. National

A client wanted to promote a new property. We developed a campaign on Google’s Display Network to target people searching for apartments in a specific city.

Targeting Clicks Impressions CTR Conv. Rate
National 112 31,439 0.36% 9.82%
Regional 20 5,409 0.37% 5.00%

The “National” campaign was set to target the entire U.S. on pages that mentioned the targeted city. This was done with a combination of managed placements and keyword targeting. The “Regional” campaign used the same list of managed placements but instead of keywords, location targeting was used. This allowed the campaign to reach anyone looking for apartments in the target city.

The National campaign was expected to generate more impressions since it targeted a larger area. In this example, clicks from the National campaign also converted at a higher rate. While there are many contributing factors, it is important to test different methods of location targeting to determine which is most effective for that specific campaign.

Targeting Nearby Locations

AdWords typically does a good job determining the geographic area a search is referring to. Sometimes a business may have a mailing address just outside a larger town or city. The target area could also have a low population. While this can complicate your location targeting, experimenting with multiple locations can lead you to the best geographic settings.

Targeting Clicks Impressions CTR Conv. Rate
Nearby Town 1 13 251 5.18% 9.09%
Town 264 2,940 8.98% 18.50%
Nearby Town 2 569 5,998 9.49% 19.71%
Town Zipcode 0 11 0.00% 0.00%
Nearby Zipcode 1 18 5.56% 0.00%

The above example shows results for five locations entered into one campaign. The business’ mailing address is the same as the “Town” targeting. You can see that even though the business is in one town, people searching for the second nearby town converted at a higher rate. This is not uncommon. If the location you target in AdWords has a low population, target other nearby towns or zip codes.

Using Location Bid Adjustments

With AdWords Enhanced campaigns, bid adjustments can now be added to different locations. Incorporating location extensions allows you to increase bids if a search is performed close to the business’ location.

Targeting Clicks Impressions CTR Conv. Rate
National 481 35,482 1.36% 1.67%
National +20% 1,230 53,564 2.30% 1.87%

The two targeting methods are from the same campaign. “National +20%” increased the maximum bid by twenty percent if the search was performed within three miles of the property. This specific method of targeting generated a higher CTR and conversion rate.

There are many more location targeting methods PPC managers can use within AdWords. Try experimenting to see what works best.

Three Reasons Your Agency Should Hire Recent College Grads

Alright, here’s a quick rundown of why it’s a bright idea to hire recent grads to work at your marketing agency. A lot of this comes from my own agency experience, some of it comes from logic, and some of it comes from ancient mathematical equations known only by eldritch sorcerers such as myself. Anyways, here goes:

Masters of Switching Between Tasks

The average full-time college student takes four or five courses at a time and has to learn to switch between the different subject matters and projects. In many agencies, having four or five clients at a time is fairly common.

Both in undergrad and grad school, I often found myself managing two projects, three papers and a presentation simultaneously. And at first, this was overwhelming. But like most things, you adapt to it, and it just becomes the norm. Transitioning from this sort of lifestyle into marketing agency life felt natural.

I remember spending my college-era summers at in-house digital marketing positions and being bored to tears. There was a seemingly infinite backlog of recommendations to be implemented, and things moved slowly. Each day I would be looking at the same website, seeing the same problems, and growing more impatient. Agency life was a cure for this, as working with multiple clients allowed for each of them to stay fresh and exciting.

TLDR: The level of task-switching in college life is similar to that of agency life, so hiring recent college grads makes sense for agencies.

All Deadlines, All the Time

Meeting multiple deadlines and dealing with confounding variables – time management issues, unavoidable delays, the occasional crashing of Microsoft Word – is right in the recent grad’s wheelhouse.

The college experience forces you to get good at this. While many freshmen may wait until the night before to write a 10-page paper on Kant, by the time senior year rolls around, they’ve straightened themselves out. They know how long tasks are going to take, in what conditions they work most efficiently, and how to prioritize.

TLDR: Recent grads are used to deadlines. Agency life is filled with deadlines. Do the math.

Learning, Duh

Even if you hire someone who has been in the industry for quite some time, there will always be something new to learn during the first couple of weeks on the job. For me, it was BrightEdge and Majestic SEO. And Basecamp. And a whole lot of other stuff. Invariably, a new job means new skills.

Recent grads are still in information-absorption mode. College students have no fear of acquiring and applying new information. They’re not stuck in a routine drilled into them from years in a position somewhere else, and they don’t hold onto any stubborn opinions or previously-obtained misinformation. They are clean slates.

TLDR: Learnin’. College grads are in the right mindset for it.

AdWords Ad Testing: Simpson’s Paradox and Aggregating Stats

Typically with A/B ad testing it is necessary to aggregate statistics across ad groups in order to come up with statistically significant conclusions. Unfortunately, when doing this, if your ads are not being displayed evenly, you can run into Simpson’s Paradox.

According to Wikipedia, Simpson’s Paradox is “a paradox in which a trend that appears in different groups of data disappears when these groups are combined, and the reverse trend appears for the aggregate data.” Simply put, when you combine data for ad groups, you may draw the opposite conclusion than you should, picking poorer performing ads over better performing ads.

As an example, say you are testing ads for greater clickthrough rates. You created two variations, with different description 1 lines, and have applied them to two different ad groups (four ads total). At the end of the test you aggregate data for the two variations to find a winner:

Aggregate Data

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 10,600 125 1.18%
Ad2 7,500 125 1.67%

From this data, you’d conclude that Ad2 is the winning ad because it has the best CTR. But say you decide to look at individual statistics by ad group:

Ad Group 1 data

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 600 25 4.20%
Ad2 2,500 100 4.00%

Ad Group 2 data

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 10,000 100 1.00%
Ad2 5,000 25 0.50%

Now you see that Ad1 has the best CTR in both ad groups. Because Ad Group 2 tends to have lower CTRs and Ad1 gets displayed there much more, it has skewed your results. Ad2 is not the best ad even though it appears to be when you look at aggregate stats.

This is made-up data, so it’s important to consider whether it’s possible to actually see numbers like these inside of AdWords. Based on experience, you’d be most likely to see numbers like these with optimized ad serving turned on (“optimize for clicks” or “optimize for conversions”). Optimized ad serving distributes ads more frequently when they have greater CTRs; this is the case for Ad Group 2. It is also possible to see ads with greater CTRs distributed less by ad group if the data is not significant and occasionally if the better performing ad has such a different quality score that it gets distributed much more frequently for generalized queries. This would be the case for Ad Group 1. When optimized ad serving is turned on, aggregate statistics can be misleading in reporting.

If you’d like to see which ad is winning overall, you can still do so by looking at which ads are getting distributed more frequently. It may be possible for poorer performing ads to have greater overall distribution if the ad groups in the test are not similar. Another method is to look at ad groups individually and label which ad wins in the most ad groups; however, the reason why stats are aggregated in the first place is because individual ad groups are not providing statistically significant data. The best solution is to look at overall stats and ad group stats in pivot tables to check whether there are any anomalies or if there really does appear to be a winner across the board. It’s common to see one variation winning in some of the ad groups but not others; it’s rarer to see very dominant winners unless you haven’t followed best practices in the initial drafting of your ads. Seeing mixed results in ad groups can mean that your ads all perform very similarly. It can also mean that you aren’t looking at significant data in a lot of your ad groups.

Reducing the Risks of Simpson’s Paradox

If your ads are distributed evenly across ad groups, and your ad groups are closely themed, there’s no risk of falling into the Simpson’s Paradox trap. Google has an ad serving option for “rotating ads indefinitely.” This option can be useful if you’re interested in aggregating statistics to draw broad conclusions about what types of ads work for your account. There are a few drawbacks to doing this:

  • Optimized ad serving automatically adjusts serving to maximize performance at the ad group level. You lose this automation when you turn on even rotation.
  • Certain ads may perform better in some ad groups but not in others while another ad does better overall. When you apply ad changes universally across ad groups, you can lose optimization at the ad group-level that automatically takes place with optimized serving.
  • Rotating ads don’t actually rotate ads evenly – just approximately. If you have two ads that perform very differently, they are going to have different quality scores. The ad with the higher quality score will get distributed more frequently because it will be eligible for more auctions.

Speaking to this last point, here is real data from a campaign with ads set to rotate evenly:

Impressions Clicks CTR
Ad1 9,284 307 3.3%
Ad2 3,235 58 1.8%

These ads performed so differently in terms of CTR that one got distributed a lot more. The bids were set too low for the second ad to be eligible for the same number of auctions.

While even rotation may seem like the way to go, you can still run into distribution problems, lose more granular optimization, and lose out on automatic optimization.

Using Conversion Metrics for Optimization

Most of this post talks about using CTR as the metric for optimizing ads. It’s possible to use alternative metrics like conversion per impression or profit per impression. Most of these concepts still apply when using these other methods for optimizing ads – perhaps more so because you’ll be more likely to group data when analyzing less frequently occurring events like conversions and sales. Using these other metrics does not solve Simpson’s Paradox (and in fact, they have many drawbacks, but that is outside the scope of this post).

When looking up statistics across very different entities, be careful that you are reporting the results correctly. Besides wasting a lot of testing time, you can even make your account worse off!

International SEO Infographic

Hey everyone! I wanted to explore a new service called Infogr.am that creates semi-interactive infographics. I needed a topic to play around with, so I chose to create a quick introduction to the concepts and themes of international SEO. Embedded below is my first creation:

Well, I hope you enjoyed the infographic. Keep in mind this is only the most basic introduction to international SEO – more information can be found by Googling these strategies. And of course, if you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line.