Category Archives: Marketing

Journalistic Disintegrity: CNET Bows to its CBS Overlords

The modern media landscape – especially in the US – has rightly been described as a Gordian knot. The current debacle between tech news site CNET, its parent company CBS, and Dish’s Hopper PVR is merely another example of how constant acquisitions and byzantine media empires have seriously compromised journalistic integrity.

It all started at this year’s CES conference in Las Vegas, a big yearly expo for technology companies, where CNET gives out awards for “Best of Show” and whatnot. Continue reading

Pay-Per-Click Marketing with Text Ads

Pay-Per-Click advertising (PPC) is one of the most common and visible forms of online marketing. Most people know these as “Google Text Ads” since the search giant is by far the biggest player with in that arena. The vast majority of their billions in revenue comes from those text ads, which is a great indication of how easily their seemingly low cost can spiral out of control. It’s easy to get carried away when a click costs only a few dollars but without proper targeting, management and analysis your PPC campaign may well cost more money than it brings in. There are many critical points to consider before jumping in and entering your credit card number.

Are prospective clients online?

The first, and arguably most important, question seems ridiculous – are the people willing to buy your product or service actually online and using search engines? If your business serves a demographic that isn’t online very often and doesn’t know what a Google is, your money may be better-spent elsewhere. As the population in general becomes more tech-savvy this will be less of an issue, but for now it’s still an important consideration.

What are they searching for?

Once you’ve determined that there are customers to be found online, you have to figure out how to reach them. Since text ads are contextual, i.e. show ads that are relevant to the user’s search, you have to determine what your customers-to-be are searching for to give your ads the best chance of showing up. There are a number of tools you can use, most notably Google’s Trends and the Keyword Tool built into AdWords (Google’s text ad service).

It’s easy to get lured into vague, untargeted keywords but that will usually prove to be a money pit. Target specific queries and design multiple ad variants rather than a generic one – it’s more work upfront but it will save you (and make you) money in the long run because you’re going after people who are searching for very closely related terms rather than overly broad ones that won’t convert.

Landing pages

Far too many PPC ads suffer from the elementary mistake of pointing the visitor to the target site’s homepage. While that may seem like a good idea at first glance you’re wasting money by not using a targeted landing page.

Let’s suppose you sell plumbing supplies online and you nave PPC ads for “buy copper pipe”. A user has clicked your ad and made it to your site – great! Now he has landed on your homepage where he must get his bearings and find his way to the copper pipe section. Will he bother? Maybe not.

The better approach would be to build a page for each PPC ad group – copper pipes in this case – and point the ads to that page. At the very least, point the ads to the “copper pipe” section of your site. That’s far more relevant to the user’s search and he’s much more likely to find what he’s looking for.

Optimize the website and landing page

If you’re paying Google to get people to visit your site, don’t burn that money with a website that’s confusing and hard to navigate. Make sure your website – and the landing page in particular – have good content, a nice design, and most importantly a clear call to action. Once the visitor is on the page, don’t leave them wondering what you want them to do. That’s essential in web design in general, but it’s doubly important when building a successful PPC campaign.

Growing and Using a Mailing List

An email newsletter is one of the most effective online marketing tools with possibly the highest conversion rate of any alternative (pay per click, inbound marketing, etc). Admittedly that isn’t fair to the other methods because email is farther down the funnel – people had to sign up for your newsletter from somewhere, after all, in most cases through a form on your website.

Email converts so well because people already know you. They went to your website, read a bit about who you are and what you do, and willingly gave you access to their inbox in return for something special.

Disclaimer: Talking about how great you are isn’t special. Linking out to your TV commercial on YouTube isn’t special. If you don’t think anybody would pay for what’s in the email, it probably isn’t worth sending.

That may seem excessive – why give away something people would pay for for free? – but that’s what marketing has come to. Think of those few lost dollars as a part of your marketing budget. Rather than paying for direct-mail pamphlets or a billboard you can use that money to send out something really useful to people on your email list.

Most email newsletters are either educational or provide some kind of discount (e.g. coupons). The latter is generally easy to implement (and sell!) but good educational content is more challenging because it can be difficult to avoid excessive self-promotion. A well-crafted how-to video is a perennial classic, but it should be more “documentary” than “infomercial” if you don’t want people to unsubscribe en masse. Don’t squander that precious mailing list once you’ve built it!

Conversion Rate: Turning Visitors Into Clients

We’ve already discussed how bounce rate can adversely affect your bottom line (it probably is right now!), and as we move down the old “sales funnel” we come to conversion rate. You probably want the people still browsing your site to do something, whether that’s contact you for a consultation (my goal with this site), sign up for your e-mail list or buy a product through your website. The percentage of visitors that take whatever action you want them to take is your conversion rate.

Customers percentageConversion rate isn’t relevant to every website, but it applies (or should apply) to most. The notable exception are purely informative sites but even those sometimes include some kind of call to action (Donate! Sign Up!). Wikipedia doesn’t usually have a clear sales funnel but they’re currently asking for donations on every page and they’re certainly tracking the conversion rate of each ad. The creepy ones with its founder Jimbo Wales probably weren’t doing so well and now they have different ads with programmers and contributors.

Conversion is a vague term and you can apply it to pretty much any metric you want to track. For example, on my site I can track how many people land on my home page and how many move on to my contact page. I also know how many have contacted me (obviously!) so it’s easy to see if there’s a bottleneck in that funnel. If I have 500 visits to my home page and 200 on the contact page page but only 1 person actually contacted me, it’s pretty obvious that it’s the contact page itself that is scaring people off somehow.

Conversion is something you should always track and tweak. Split Testing (also known as A/B testing) is an excellent way to optimize your conversion, and the flexibility of the online medium allows us to do that much more easily than other methods of advertising. It’s possible to randomly split visitors into groups as they hit your site and show them different versions of your webpages. That can be something as simple as changing the text on a button (which can have a surprisingly large impact) or showing them a completely different page design. It’s best to test small changes incrementally though – if your test pages are completely different you have almost no way of knowing which specific changes are affecting your conversion.

This may all seem like a tedious process (and in many ways it is) but it’s well worth it. There’s a fair bit of planning and analysis involved but making just a few small changes, whether it’s changing a button’s label from “Call Us” to “Contact Us”, or moving a search box from the right to the left side, can double the leads you receive from your website – and who wouldn’t want to double their amount of incoming customers?