It’s a brand new year. I’ve got a new job, a new domicile, and a whole new perspective. I am ready for the trials and tribulations yet to come, sort of. January is typically the time for those of us in the business of the advertising to get up and get going after a few weeks of holiday lull.
Here’s an update on my “lull.” My worldly goods arrived in New York City unscathed, my car was unceremoniously delivered to a warehouse in New Jersey by accident and no one, not even the moving company, has any idea where my motorcycle is and I just don’t feel like I can move on without it. As the old saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it and I wouldn’t want that to happen to any of you.
So before we jump headlong into the new year, here’s a look back at 2004 and the hottest search topics we covered at iMedia according to a complex ranking engine I developed exclusively for this task. The ranking system is a combination of popularity ranks and overall keyword positioning. The algorithmic sequences of said ranking system I will carry to my grave but, if you want to buy your way into my ranking engine, you can bid for position starting at $50 a click.
A whole new way to define IPO
It seemed every search engine marketing journal, Web posting, blog entry, or expert opinion centered around Google going public in 2004. For a while there it didn’t seem like the whole thing would happen.
There were lawsuits pending, the company seemed quite content with maintaining its private identity, and before anyone knew it a new and different way for a search firm to head out into public opinion was introduced. Whodathunkit?
In the process I accidentally introduced a new way to describe “IPO” for search that started popping up all over -- sometimes credited, sometimes not. I look at it this way; at least I know who’s reading my stuff.
Believe in your people, share information, treat the world with care and grace. Searchers of the world unite! And then the shareholders got involved.
Read the article here.
The year of local hype?
The Kelsey Group’s Greg Sterling helped us out with a little local intelligence last May. Of course one or two prognostications about the Google IPO were in order, but once all the IPO hype died down, the search world needed a new focal point. Local was the way to go.
In 2004, Google and Overture introduced local products that may or may not have hit the high points of user need. In the end, Internet yellow pages tried to become search engines and pay per click search engines tried to engineer an efficient phone book like existence.
2004 opened the arguments on geographically relevant search, but the user jury is still deliberating on who will hold sway over the local space in 2005 and beyond.
Read the article here.
A funny thing happened to me when …
Industry trade show lesson one: If you aren’t attending at least one AD:TECH per year, you are missing out on essential intelligence in online marketing. Having said that, much knowledge was offered in the few sessions on search last June in San Francisco.
We talked about brand and search long before the big industry studies were released. Big developments in research from big brands and how they used search were introduced and for the first time that I can remember, key phrase selection and the buying funnel were finally discussed in an intelligent, practical format.
Later in the year AD:TECH got serious with search and the lesson here is clear: buy the tickets, stay for the entire show, and go for the sessions not just the trade show floor.
Read the article here.
Although we as search marketers spend a great deal of time hawking the top categories, far less frequently we illustrate the train wrecks search marketers should avoid while pursuing, oh, let’s say an online retail situation.
Well, that’s exactly what Hollis Thomases of WebAdvantage.net did. In a profile of “what not to do” with search and etail, she showed us the good, bad and very ugly mistakes to avoid when selling your widgets with search as a sales and marketing tool.
Bring searchers in that will actually make a purchase and search marketing will be etail friendly.
Read the article here.
The day the search music died
My love of charts and graphs to align data from searchmas past came to life in a look at where search should go, where it has been and what it needs to do to move forward. Of course all of this comes with a little help from the IAB’s annual data release.
What do we do, and where do we go from here? Search saw unprecedented growth in the past year or two, but to think this growth would continue at such a high rate would be childish and more than slightly foolish.
Read the article here.
Hey search, grow up will ya?
Speaking of kid’s stuff, Bob Heyman of Mediasmith, Inc. offered a very quotable perspective on what search needs to do to grow up and take a seat at the adult’s table while many of us are still waiting for online advertising to do just that.
We spend entirely too much time “buying the same old keywords,” Heyman said. The world awaits a better way to integrate search, and I for one, would like a get up from the kiddie table as well.
Read the article here.
Packaged goods and search
Consumers often make decisions that marketers don’t necessarily like or decisions product manufacturers never intended for them to make. Marketers have a choice. They can embrace consumer behavior or they can try to fight it.
Understanding user behavior is but one of the keys needed to unlock the secrets of packaged goods in search. Although CPGs aren’t much of a category killer online, search can be a very effective tool for marketers online.
There are a lot of smart people in search marketing, and many of those smart people are writing for iMedia. Matt Naeger, of IMPAQT is no exception.
Naeger wrote about how customer knowledge can be used to apply a higher level of science to search. And therein lies the answer to discovering something beyond what is immediately placed before your nose -- understanding data is a multidimensional experience.
Read the article here.
I got yer local sesame chicken
There’s marketing information, you see, and then there’s trying-to-feed-the-masses information. Something wonderful happens when you graduate beyond the press releases and really try to use some of the tools that get hyped up in the daily press. In my case, it was trying to find Chinese food at home.
An interesting side note to this story: I offered a challenge to anyone using a local search tool to find a delivery service for Chinese Food in my neighborhood. Of course someone actually found one using Switchboard.com, and although the food was awful (another local search problem, answering, “How’s the grub?”), they did, in fact deliver. I am not so big a man that I can’t admit when I am wrong.
Read the article here.
Agencies of the world -- get the shaft!
As the year wound down, it seemed a reality check was in order. In yet another example of the search world needing to “grow up” we witnessed the need for evaluating search relationships, which coincided with my need for new geographic surroundings.
Agencies or search engine marketing firms provide a service that only an unbiased third party can offer. In the Lion King search engine marketing circle of life each SEM animal serves its purpose but when the hyenas try to rule the pride lands, all hell will break loose.
Read the article here.
Happy new year!
Did I mention my new place has a spectacular view of that area of Manhattan once referred to as the World Trade Center? Every morning I have been getting up, looking out the window to see … yep, they are still gone. Then I dart off to the dining room to make sure the Empire State Building is still there.
It’s still hard to accept the fact those two giant buildings I grew up seeing so far away from the Bronx and later used as my sole navigation point to help me get around in Manhattan are no longer there. But, as I look down into what is now called Ground Zero I can see the elements of new life and new construction emerging from the depths. The area known as Ground Zero will be big again, better, and, more beautiful than ever.
That’s how I’d like to begin the new year, with new hope for growth and development. Maybe this will be the year online marketing begins to show signs of really growing up, not just growing.
P.S. If you happen to notice someone tooling around the tri-state area on a BMW R12 Stiletto with California plates, drop me a line. I’d like to get my two wheels back.
About the Author: iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.
Think like a carpenter
There's an old saying that carpenters measure twice and cut only once. And according to Scott Holmes, managing partner of United Future, the interactive division of the WONGDOODY agency, marketers and their web designers need to think like carpenters before the first mockup is made or the first line of code is written.
"Oftentimes the client and web designer/developer do not have a clear understanding of the objectives, nor enough details of the requirements needed to achieve those objectives," Holmes explains. "The largest expense is change of scope; if the vision is not thoroughly understood upfront, you have to tear down part of the house and rebuild it."
QA yesterday, today, and tomorrow
Whether you've overseen the builds of a dozen website or none, you've probably heard that the quality assurance (QA) process comes at the end. That is, once everything is built, you spend some time making sure it works before you officially launch, right? Wrong, says Holmes, who believes that it's more cost efficient to check work (to the extent that it's possible to do so) throughout the process.
"In many cases, clients and agencies alike check the quality of the code after it's completed," Holmes says. "Most challenges, bugs, and overages can be addressed much sooner in the process if quality management is implemented throughout. Companies generally cut QA to save money, and oftentimes find themselves spending much more to fix what could have been avoided earlier in the development lifecycle."
Plan for obsolescence
It's a strange thing to consider, but if you're building a website, you have to know that your site will likely be out of date and behind the technology curve before you finish the first planning meeting. It's enough to make you want to bang your head against the wall. But, says Ken Chow, VP of marketing at R2integrated, those clients who don't get frustrated with the fast pace of technological change online are those who remember that change comes with the territory and plan accordingly -- even if that means planning for your current site's extinction.
"In order to stay current, you should make sure that your design firm provides you a platform that is as open and extensible as possible," Chow says. "Should you wish to add functionality, sections, or technology later, your site should be constructed in such a way to make this a straightforward process. Otherwise, you may encounter significant additional development costs."
But even if your technology lasts longer than you initially thought it would, the chances are good that you'll need to launch new products in and around your website. And again, that means planning your build to be as open and scalable as possible, says Brian Hull, group creative director at Organic.
"With any website, a final element you have to keep in mind is that interactive technology -- from mobile, video, and social aggregation tools to augmented reality applications -- change daily, and your site needs to be designed to be ready to ride this wave," Hull explains. "By building a site that is scalable, you will be ready for change, able to quickly adapt to these new advancements when they happen, and will remain fresh, all without having to break the bank."
It's not all about the build
Depending on your business, a website can do a lot of different things. But if your goal is to keep users returning to your site every day, you're going to have to put up fresh content to keep people interested (and coming back). And if that's the case, it might not pay to spend all of your time, money, and effort on the initial website build because you won't know what you really want or need until you start creating content and letting users tell you what they think.
"Today people tend to focus their efforts solely on site build and putting in place the most visibly stunning website," Hull says. "The truth is that for some businesses, website success relies less on the launch of a new site and more on creating a strategic and consistent flow of fresh new material capable of drawing in new and returning visitors. For these businesses, designers should put a greater emphasis on site maintenance, or the process of refreshing the site with new, simple, and compelling content that holds the interest of the visitor. It is success on this front that will generate visitor satisfaction."
Don't reinvent the wheel
There's a lot of really good technology out there, and if it's free, it pays to use it, Hull says.
"Depending on your budget, [you should] consider using the existing technologies and services that are at your disposal right now," Hull says. "Try as you might, you can't build a better photo aggregation system than what is offered by Flickr. The same goes for YouTube. These are proven technologies that are available to you now, and best of all, they are budget friendly."
The same advice is applicable to the platform you build your website on, says Ray Grady, EVP at Acquity Group. While you'll likely want a professional designer to build out from free platforms like WordPress, using open-source tools for the building blocks of your website can save you a lot of money. It also makes changes down the road simple and more cost effective.
"Using open-source technology can often reduce your software license fees by a factor of 10 without sacrificing any of the features and functionality," Grady says. "[The technology] has advanced to credibly compete with established, more expensive vendors, while including advanced plug-ins for social media initiatives, content management systems, and other types of advanced web apps."
That said, using open source shouldn't be confused with a shortcut, says Brian Snyder, VP of delivery technology at Worktank.
"Open source may save on licensing fees, but without solid documentation, your developer may have to burn up that savings trying to figure out how it works," Snyder explains. "At minimum, find a platform with a strong community, and plenty of plug-ins."
Remember to budget for user testing
Ever look at a sleek, new website and ask yourself, "Where do I click to find...?" Well, if you've had the experience of being totally lost on what looks to be an otherwise well-built website, chances are you're not the only one who feels that way. While it's a hard pill to swallow, the truth is that outrageous sums of money are spent on new websites without a single dime being budgeted for user testing. But finding out if users can, well, use your site should be of paramount importance, and it should have a line in your design budget.
"Don't forget to budget for user testing," Snyder at Worktank says. "Just because decision makers believe that a website is organized and content is labeled in obvious ways doesn't mean that your audience will understand and get it. Especially if your site includes calls to action, it's critical to test the design before pushing it out to the masses."
Know the price
While all of these tips will help you save money on web design, there simply is no substitute for transparent pricing, says Frank O'Brien, founder of Conversation. O'Brien believes that being able to make apples-to-apples comparisons is a factor of working with an agency that is comfortable showing its clients its pricing schedules.
"Work with an agency that can explain pricing levels," O'Brien says. "Most projects can be completed at a variety of budget levels. One thing that we do is tier out 'full Flash' versus 'lite Flash' versus 'non-Flash' [sites]. The model works in reverse as well, but the ability to truly budget lies with having an agency that truly knows the difference in costs."
Michael Estrin is a freelance writer.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
More sieve than funnel
Let's start with an example of a particularly common misstep: A landing page that's more sieve than funnel. Remember, the purpose of the landing page is to help facilitate a transaction -- you don't want potential sales and leads getting lost along the way to conversion.
Consider this example: Imagine you're representing a travel company that wants to increase leads by offering brochures and catalogs that describe river boat cruises. Start with the paid ad:
So far, so good -- the headline is relevant, and the brief copy not only mentions that there are 30 different destinations to choose from, but also ends with a call-to-action directing readers to order a brochure. But what happens when users click the ad?
(American Cruise Lines' US River Cruises landing page)
They land on a page with multiple navigation options. "Request a free brochure" is obscured in the copy of the first section and at the top of the page. The result: Potential leads are spilling out of the sales funnel, and the funnel isn't a funnel at all -- it's a sieve.
PPC landing pages are not SEO sites. The two can play in the same playground (the digital space), but should be kept out of the same sandbox. While relevant content can positively affect SEO visibility, information overload can kill a PPC campaign. So, it's important for the landing page to actually be a PPC-specific landing page (as opposed to just the brand's homepage) and for the content to be "just right."
Take Goldilocks as an example -- she has a bit of a pest problem (termites), but Goldilocks (being Goldilocks) isn't very astute at picking an option and sticking with it. Let's imagine Goldi goes to her desktop and types "termite extermination" into her search engine and at the top of the SERP finds this ad:
It's relevant, and she's enticed by the "free inspection." So she clicks through and finds herself here:
There are a few things happening here. For one, there's a lot of content, and it's not specific to termite extermination -- the hero image is a picture of roaches, for example. The form fill doesn't include a field to describe what the particular problem may be (termites), and the page is actually the homepage of the business -- not a PPC-specific landing page. More likely than not, Goldilocks is bailing from this page in search for a more perfect fit.
And now for something completely different: Irrelevancy
Pointed, specific queries that lead to a corresponding, conversion-ready landing page are paid search marketing gold. If a user is searching for a particular item, and your paid ad matches that search query, and your landing page confirms and provides the particulars of the search, your chances of conversion increase significantly.
Let's take the example of Dorothy, a hipster millennial who's in the market for a fresh pair of red shoes. She types in her query, "red shoes," and her eyes spy the following ad:
The title says "Red Shoes," there's a boatload of positive reviews, free shipping, free returns, no tax -- all good incentives, and it's relevant. So she heads on down this yellow brick road and clicks through, only to find:
Suddenly, she's not in Kansas anymore. Not only does the page contain boots and sandals, but there isn't a red shoe to be found. Dorothy, if she hasn't clicked her little heels off the site, would have to navigate below the fold to find the option to search by color and then she'd have to click through to another page before she even finds those coveted ruby slippers. Not ideal.
Looks great -- on a desktop (not mobile-ready)
Sometimes, the landing page looks great, but it's not mobile-ready. With the continuing increase in mobile users, it's critical that landing pages render properly no matter what device the page is being viewed on.
Look at this example from American Bullion, calling users to invest in gold. The main conversion point is a form fill to receive an investor's guide. The desktop landing page is designed and laid out well:
But is it converting visitors who land on the page via a mobile device? Here's what the same landing page looks like on the Apple iPhone 3:
(Image courtesy of MobileTest.me)
The experience is completely different. The user has to zoom out or scroll over to find the form fill, which is small and difficult to fill out on a mobile device.
You want me to do what? Why? (No incentive)
Incentives are powerful conversion drivers. Coupons, sales, and free offers capture attention and help fuel click-through rates.
But it's one thing to make the offer and another to follow up on the offer once the user lands on the landing page.
Consider this ad for office supplies:
For someone looking to save money on office supplies, the ad is enticing: The supplies are (apparently) half off, there's a good deal of positive reviews, and there's a "wide selection" to choose from. Perfect.
Once we click through to the landing page, however:
We're greeted with this page. It shows a wide selection of office supplies, but the incentive is missing. Where is the 50 percent-off offer? Which supplies are half-off and which ones are not? If you're going to incentivize your offers, be sure to follow through on that promise when the user clicks through to the site.
Sleaze factor turned up to 11
Your landing page is a welcome mat. It may be the first introduction to your brand. First impressions matter -- a lot. Most of us probably wouldn't head out on a first date with someone who just showed up at our door not showered in a pair of sweatpants, wearing socks with sandals. Likewise, most online users won't convert on a landing page that seems dicey or fishy, either.
Consider this query: "business help." "Business" is an extremely competitive and expensive keyword. If you're bidding on this keyword, it's imperative that all your ducks are in a row. But take a look at the following paid ad:
First of all, it's not the best ad -- it's not terribly relevant to the query, and the copy isn't informative. But what's worse is the landing page:
Beyond the obvious problem of too much information, what strikes you about this landing page? Is this a company that appears trustworthy? The layout, cheap design, and bad stock photography just make the page ooze with griminess. If I'm a user seeking business credit help, I'm bouncing off this page.
The paid search trifecta of "keyword, ad copy, landing page" forms one of the strongest conversion generators in marketing. Like the triangle in geometry, take away one of its legs, and the model falls apart.
Your landing page is crucial to your lead generation and sales efforts. Haphazard, ugly, dysfunctional landing pages will do little to move the needle. And while you may entice a user here and there to kiss the proverbial frog, most of your otherwise qualified leads will have bounced off the page in search of a more handsome prince.
"Scared man fearing the worst" image via Shutterstock.