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Total posts: 4
Last post: August 12, 2020

How to Perform a Competitor Website Analysis

How to Perform a Competitor Website Analysis

By Ryan on  August 12, 2020

In any industry, it’s important to know who the competitors are, their competitive advantages, and how they’re performing in the market. One of the best ways you can get inside intel on your competitors is by performing a website analysis. This doesn’t even have to be an in-depth, weeks-long investigation - there are several aspects we’ll cover that will give you plenty of insights on your industry’s competitive landscape.

Start with Competitor Website Content

The first step to a competitor audit or analysis requires no experience and no software or tools whatsoever. Simply reviewing your competitor’s website content can give you an immense amount of information:

  • Navigation - First, look at their navigation. Most brands will list the most important parts of their website here, which should give you a broad sense of how your competitors prioritize their products, services, and content.
  • Homepage - Again, most brands will prioritize important items on the homepage. You may find a content slider with featured products, services, events, or content.
  • Products/Services Pages - There’s no better way to get a sense of exactly what your competitors are selling than by looking at their products or services pages. You’ll likely learn how they position their offerings, including features, benefits, imagery, and sometimes even cost.
  • About Page - Most websites have some form of an “About” page that will give you insight on how your competitors attempt to uniquely position themselves in the market.
  • Blog/News - You can often get a pulse on industry trends and happenings by looking at competitor blog posts and news releases. Many competitors will write about topics that are important to their audience on a regular basis.
  • Social Media - Most of the time you can find link or icons to a competitor’s social media profiles directly from their website. Navigating to each of these profiles will help you understand where they’re targeting their audience through social networks, and how they’re speaking to them. Keep in mind, these are often the most frequently updated platforms (even more so than a competitor’s website).

Perform a Competitor Keyword Audit

Now let’s pull back the curtain a little further. Most companies want to know specifically the keywords for which their competitors appear in search rankings. At Aztek, we use several advanced SEO tools to perform competitor search research. However, you don’t need to be an expert to start scratching the surface of competitor keyword research.

  • The Hoth Search Rankings - This tool allows you to see up to 100 keywords for which any site is ranking, along with rank, volume, and search trends. You do have to share your email address before receiving the report.
  • Ahrefs Keyword Rank Checker - This tool will allow you to see if a site is ranking for a specific keyword. It’s a bit more manual but will give you some advanced metrics that can be useful.

Investigate a Competitor’s Paid Search Strategy

While not directly on a competitor’s website, often understanding what a competitor is bidding for through pay-per-click efforts can illuminate exactly what their strategy is. You have to pay for most of the tools used to perform this type of research, and Wordstream has published a great list of those tools.

Conversely, you can do some cursory research by building a list of common industry terms (products, services, topics, etc.) and simply performing a Google search for them. You’ll be able to see which competitors show up for each term, the messaging strategy they’re using in their ads, and the marketing strategies used in each of their landing pages.

See Who’s Referring Traffic To Your Competitor’s Websites

Backlinks (links to a website from another website) provide two very useful opportunities:

  1. They drive referral traffic to the website
  2. They provide Google and other search engines with valuable signals that build trust, thus improving search engine performance

Understanding the backlink profile of any given site can shed light on how authoritative their site is, but it can also help you identify opportunities for building your own backlinks.

Moz Link Explorer is probably the gold standard in the industry for starting to perform backlink analysis. With this (free) tool, you’ll be able to input a domain name and identify the top links to any given site. You’ll also be able to see Moz’s proprietary Domain Authority for that site, which predicts a website’s ranking potential relative to other websites.


If you’re not ready to perform a full competitor website audit yourself, you’re in luck. Aztek provides robust competitor audits that go beyond just content and SEO, but also include important factors like site speed and software usage. And we’ll use all of the fancy tools that might be just out of your price range if you’re thinking about a DIY audit!

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How to Calculate and Set a Digital Marketing Budget

How to Calculate and Set a Digital Marketing Budget

By Ryan on  May 26, 2020

Whether your business operates on a calendar year or a fiscal year, someone is likely responsible for setting the annual marketing budget. Even if that figure is loose or based on the previous year, business owners and marketing leaders typically need to start somewhere.

Oftentimes, the digital marketing budget is a subset of a more comprehensive total marketing budget that may also include traditional marketing and advertising, events, tradeshows, and other offline marketing efforts.

Below, we'll walk you step-by-step through the considerations when calculating a digital marketing budget, including ad spend, investments in any necessary software platforms, and the actual people resources you’ll need to enable your digital marketing efforts.

Calculating Overall Marketing Budget

The first and most common question: How much should an organization allocate to marketing and advertising each year?

You’ll see a lot of different numbers thrown around here. For example, the U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7-8% of gross revenue on marketing and advertising for small businesses. That means for a $1 million per year business, you’re looking at $70,000-80,000 per year for marketing and advertising.

The Gartner CMO survey showed that as recently as August of 2019, CMO's stated that their marketing expenses accounted for about 9.8% of their firm’s revenue.

Finally, marketing event company nuphoriq recommends the “5% rule,” or allocating up to 5% of sales revenue on marketing.

Summing all of this up, it’s safe to say that it’s widely recommended that small- to mid-sized businesses allocate around 5-10% of their revenue to marketing and advertising.

Percentage of Marketing Budget Spent on Digital

The percentage of your overall marketing budget that is allocated to digital is going to depend on a number of factors:

  • Is your audience engaged online? (hint: they are)
  • Are you able to effectively reach your audience online? (hint: you are)
  • How much of your budget do you need to allocate to essential marketing efforts (tradeshows, events, direct mail campaigns, etc.)
  • Is your business B2B, B2C, e-commerce, physical location(s), or a distribution network? (there are certainly more options here, but the idea is to consider how your customers interact with you)

According to Hook Agency, the digital/online part of marketing budgets is expected to be up from 42% in 2019 to around 45% on average by 2020.

If you’re wondering if moving from traditional marketing methods to digital marketing methods is right for you, check out our article on Shifting from Traditional Marketing to Digital Marketing.

Digital Marketing

Calculating Digital Marketing Ad Spend

Digital Advertising is one of the most effective marketing methods due to its ability to yield quick results, precise targeting, and clear reporting and analytics.

Just as you may have line items in your marketing budget for print ads and radio ads (maybe not so much anymore), if you’re running digital marketing ad campaigns you’ll want to budget accordingly. Here are some recommendations in reaching the right numbers here:

  • How many channels will you be advertising on - As a rule of thumb, we typically recommend a minimum ad spend of $1,000 per month per channel (for example, Facebook or Google Ads). Some small businesses can get by with smaller budgets, but this minimum investment allows organizations to collect a sufficient amount of data and reach a large enough audience.
  • How expensive are impressions, clicks, or leads - Depending on your campaign goal, you’ll likely be paying by one of these “pay per” models. While each ad platform has its own average costs, some keywords and/or audiences are naturally more expensive. For example, in Google Ads search advertising, keywords around health care or health insurance can be extremely expensive, reaching upwards of $40-50 per click (or more!). Likewise, very small, targeted audiences in some platforms may cost more because of how specific the audience is, therefore making it more valuable to advertisers.
  • Goals - Simply put, generating 100 leads with a $200 per month budget in any platform will be challenging. It’s important to set clear, reasonable expectations. Work with a partner to understand per click or per lead costs, pair that with your goals (whether it be visitors, leads, sales, or other), and set the budget accordingly.

Digital Marketing Software

Investing in Digital Marketing Software and Platforms

Let’s face it - for marketers these days, there is a bevy of software and tools for just about every aspect of digital marketing. Social media, email marketing, search engine optimization, lead generation, landing page creation - you get the picture. While these will likely find their way into the overall marketing budget, it’s important to be able to evaluate which software is essential to running effective digital marketing programs.

The “All-In-One” Approach

For some organizations, an investment in marketing technology means investing in one platform that can meet most of their needs. There are certainly some good platforms out there, but for as many good platforms as there are, there are just as many (probably more) that are jacks-of-all-trades, but masters-of-none.

The Pros - When you go with an all-in-one marketing platform, for example, Hubspot, the obvious upside is having many tools within one platform. (Note: We’re not a Hubspot partner, so we have no skin in the game here, but we do help organizations evaluate the right platform for them.) A platform like Hubspot includes tools for content creation, landing pages, email marketing, and marketing automation, etc.

The Cons - The biggest downside to the all-in-one approach is the price tag. Most of the larger platforms (Hubspot, Marketo, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, etc.) start at a minimum of around $10,000 per year and quickly scale up to well over $40,000 per year. There also tends to be a greater learning curve with larger platforms. A platform like Hubspot can be pretty user friendly, but these tools typically require at least one internal power user who can dedicate time to training and supporting the organization internally.

The “a La Carte” Approach

Rather than investing in an all-in-one platform, some organizations opt to pick and choose one or a few individual digital marketing platforms that fit their needs.

The Pros - This approach tends to be more cost-effective. Rather than spending tens-of-thousands of dollars per year on one platform, individual platforms are usually in the double to triple digits per month (i.e. $39/month or $159/month). Another advantage is that these platforms serve a more specific purpose. While an all-in-one platform may have a tool for posting on social media or researching keywords, dedicated platforms that are leaders in their niche tend to perform better at that specific task.

The Cons - The potential of having multiple platforms that don’t necessarily integrate and that all require training and education can certainly be disadvantages. For enterprise-level businesses, having a full-suite of niche digital marketing software may work well, but for most small- to mid-sized businesses, once you get past a handful of digital marketing tools, it may become more of a cost and resource burden.

Leveraging a Digital Marketing Agency for Software Access

As mentioned above, two of the major challenges businesses and marketers have with investing in digital marketing software is cost and training. One of the benefits of working with an agency like Aztek is that we’ve invested in a vetted suite of digital marketing tools that we use for and with our clients.

Rather than organizations double-dipping on spending the money on these platforms and spending the time learning them, working with an agency can mean avoiding costly software investments and the opportunity to work with a team of experts that knows how to take full advantage of each platform.

Digital Marketing Employees

The Cost of Digital Marketing “People” Resources

In most cases, the salary of any internal marketing employees won’t be included in the overall marketing budget. Using certain accounting methods, salaries are allocated to specific departments or functions.

In-House Team, Digital Marketing Agency, or Both?

Regardless, your organization will need people to develop and oversee your digital marketing strategy, implement and monitor your efforts, and report ongoing results. This will typically fall into one of three classifications:

  • Internal Digital Marketing Team - Organizations that are dedicated to digital marketing may opt to hire in-house talent who can closely translate the organization’s objectives into a digital marketing strategy that they themselves also implement and track.
  • Digital Marketing Agency Partnership - Many small- to mid-sized businesses will partner with a digital marketing agency to take advantage of having a team of experts with wide industry experience and digital marketing skillsets.
  • A Combination of Both - Oftentimes, an organization will have a strong marketing leader internally (such as a Marketing Director), but will partner with a digital marketing agency to implement the digital side of the marketing strategy.

Think about the following things when deciding which approach best fits your organization:

  • Salary and benefits for digital marketing specialists or generalists vs. agency fees
  • Ability to train internal employees vs. leveraging experience and expertise
  • Software costs (mentioned above)

We put together a helpful blog post on Is it Better to Hire In-House or Outsource Digital Marketing?

Putting It All Together

Once you consider all of the costs that go into a digital marketing budget, you’ll have a clearer picture of how these come together and how you need to balance them.

You can certainly use one of the many digital marketing budget calculators out there as a starting point, but don’t forget that your business is unique. Online marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of endeavor.

If you need help establishing a digital marketing budget, or want to get a sense of the costs of working with an agency like Aztek, reach out to us and we’ll start a conversation!

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SEO vs. PPC: What Should You Invest In?

SEO vs. PPC: What Should You Invest In?

By Ryan on  May 12, 2020

Should you put your time and money in PPC advertising (pay-per-click) or search engine optimization (SEO)? Which one is better for your business? It's an ongoing debate for business owners invested in digital marketing. In this battle of search, we’ll uncover the short-term and long-term considerations between investing in PPC and SEO.

PPC, THE “EASY” TO CONTROL

What’s great about PPC advertising is the amount of customer data you have at your fingertips. You can develop highly targeted advertising campaigns that target the exact search phrase, time, location, and landing page. You can also get a definitive idea of your return on ad spend (ROAS).

In fact, tracking isn't the only thing in your control. You control specific placements, budgets, ad copy, and imagery. And unlike SEO, it's possible to see results quickly with paid advertising. Within a week or two (depending on the industry and other factors), you can start to see leads from paid search.

Not convinced in pay per click? Maybe these stats will help:

  • On average, businesses make $3 in revenue for every $1.60 they spend on AdWords. (Source)
  • The first ad position has a click-through rate of almost 8%. (Source)
  • You can increase your brand awareness by 80% with a PPC ad. (Source)

If it sounds like a no-brainer, keep in mind that launching a PPC campaign takes platform knowledge, keyword research, copywriting, and sometimes graphic design.

Let’s clear up any myths before we go on. PPC advertising will not improve your SEO performance. Paying Google (or Bing, or other search engines) thousands of dollars a month may generate traffic and leads, but it will not help your organic (non-paid) results. That’s where SEO comes in.

SEO, THE COMPOUNDING INVESTMENT

SEO is a longer investment, but what's great is that it's a compounding investment (see MarketingProfs article on this). It's what we call the "SEO snowball effect." Here's Timothy Carter's example that explains it in a simple way:

"When you create a blog post, you instantly gain some new search engine real estate and some inbound link potential. You may get a few hundred visitors in the first week—but that article never goes away. It will keep attracting links, keep earning new visitors, and continue earning your company more visibility and more revenue (especially with a strong call-to-action). As you add more related blog posts, you'll encounter the same pattern of growth."

Although SEO requires continual effort, it's not based on spend. It's based on effort and execution over time. While you can optimize pay-per-click campaigns and find room for improvement, at some point, it falls back on spend (which will only continue to go up).

Since we provided some PPC stats, here are some on SEO:

  • 70% of the links search users click on are organic. (Source)
  • 57% of B2B marketers stated that SEO generates more leads than any other marketing initiative. (Source)
  • 72% of online marketers describe content creation as their most effective SEO tactic. (Source)

What are the challenges with SEO?

  • Keeping up with constant search engine algorithm updates
  • Having the patience to produce content and wait months to see the amount of traffic you’re looking for
  • Knowing what to update on web pages to increase search traffic over time

SEO can not be “gamed” or cheated. High-performing SEO today means writing high-quality content that meets the needs of your audience, as well as understanding technical SEO to ensure that your site is usable, fast, and indexable by search engines. Having other sites link to your sites (a.k.a. acquiring “backlinks”) is also an important part of SEO, though it can be time-consuming and takes the right approach to attain quality backlinks to your site.

SEO or PPC?

The answer is: You should invest in both. Both matter, and both help the other perform better.

Let us explain how they can complement one another. Doing both gives you data and insights on your audience from two channels instead of one. For example, you can see what keywords drive the most conversions from your paid efforts and put some focus on these phrases in your SEO strategy. If you have a content piece that's ranking well and gets substantial organic traffic, you could gate this content and offer it in your PPC ads.

It’s also a good strategy to fill the gaps in pages that aren’t currently ranking well in organic search by supporting them with PPC ads. Once your SEO is able to increase your search exposure, you can scale back on PPC ads. Same goes for existing high-performing pages in search. If you are already ranking #1 for a specific page or keyword, you might not want to pay for an ad to show up right above it (in most cases).

Remember, your audience still has the same questions and the same needs/wants, whether they come from paid or organic search results. The more you know about your audience, the better you can reach them in either search channel.

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Hiring a Marketing Director in 2020: What Skills to Look For

Hiring a Marketing Director in 2020: What Skills to Look For

By Ryan on  January 13, 2020

Whether the title is Marketing Director, Marketing Manager, VP of Marketing, or something similar, once organizations grow to a certain size, they typically hire an individual that is responsible for their marketing initiatives. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these positions are projected to continue to grow by 8 percent between 2018 and 2028.

As small to mid-size companies grow, they are often faced with a question of whether to hire a dedicated marketing professional or outsource this work to a marketing agency. While it may be more cost-effective to work with an agency initially, there are plenty of advantages to hiring a dedicated Marketing Director:

  • A Marketing Director usually has more specialized education and skills focused toward marketing and sales, meaning this responsibility can be taken out of an owner’s hands, or an individual that may not be best-suited for the role.
  • A Marketing Director can be an excellent point person when working with outside partners or agencies, as they likely speak the same language and can effectively communicate goals and strategic plans.
  • A Marketing Director can coordinate many internal departments and initiatives, often working with the internal sales team and stakeholders to ensure that the organization is prioritizing marketing efforts that drive leads, sales, and awareness.

Important Skills for a Marketing Director in 2020

Too often, organizations search for a Swiss-army knife candidate who can do everything, ranging from PR and marketing communications to digital marketing to website design to copywriting. The reality is these individuals rarely exist. Prioritizing the most important skills for a Marketing Director within your organization is critical, and supplementing their skills with freelancers or agency partners can provide the perfect mix of broad skills and specialized skills.

Digital Marketing Director makes a plan.

Strategic Thinking

At the top of this list for a reason, strategic thinking is a critical skill that all marketing leaders must have. One of the most important responsibilities of a Marketing Director should be translating an organization’s short- and long-term goals into actionable marketing activities. A top-performing marketing leader should be able to create a vision for the organization’s marketing strategy, both short-term and long-term.

With so many options between traditional and digital marketing channels, a Marketing Director should be able to understand how the relationship between all of the individual parts of the marketing plan work together.

Telephone.

Communication

Hiring a Marketing Director should come with the expectation that they’ll take on the responsibility of interacting with the different departments, leaders, and partners of your organization. That means effective communication skills are critical.

One of the most critical elements of communication will be the ability to translate often complex ideas into understandable information. The President or Owner of a company doesn’t need to know the intricacies and lingo of the latest social media platform, but they may need to understand how it can be an opportunity for the organization to increase lead generation or engage with their audience. A Marketing Director can help all parties gain an understanding of technical or foreign concepts by communicating clearly and effectively.

A Marketing Director can also act as the point person for partnerships like agency relationships, vendor relationships, freelance employees, press contacts, and more.

Digital marketing analytics.

Analytical Skills

In a world of “big data,” it’s not critical for a Marketing Director to act as a data scientist per-se, but having an understanding of setting and measuring organizational and marketing goals is an increasingly important skill.

This starts with being able to set KPI’s (key performance indicators), OKR’s (objectives and key results), or whatever measurement acronym your organization prefers. Understanding how to measure success and communicate these metrics on an on-going basis with leadership is an invaluable skill.

Going deeper, understanding the drivers of awareness, leads, and sales through data analysis will help Marketing Directors make better strategic marketing decisions, spend marketing budgets more effectively, and drive better results long-term.

Digital marketing manager completes a task.

Project Management

Most business leaders don’t have the time to provide constant oversight to key employees within their organization. That’s why a Marketing Director needs to be able to effectively manage multiple projects, timelines, and relationships.

At any given time, a Marketing Director will have dozens of internal initiatives to manage, each with their own timeline, contributors, and goals. Not to mention, the variables for each of these initiatives will likely be constantly changing. A well-organized individual that can remain calm under pressure and roll with change will be able to handle the critical project management aspects of marketing management.

Technical Skills

So far, we’ve touched on mostly soft skills – traits that are important to the success of a Marketing Director but aren’t related to a specific discipline within marketing. Training Industry asks the question, “Why is it easier to develop new hard skills, such as a new procedure or task, than it is to develop a new soft skill…?” Organizationally, finding a talented individual with the right soft skills should reflect much of your hiring effort, knowing that hard skills are important, but tend to be easier to train up.

Here are some of the technical skills that are important in 2020 and beyond:

  • Technology Proficiency – Let’s face it, there are thousands of platforms that marketers can access to support anything from SEO to analytics to email. You shouldn’t expect to find someone who knows them all, but if you already use certain platforms or know you’ll be focusing on a specific discipline in the future, focusing on proficiency within those categories makes sense.
  • Writing and Content Creation – Not only are writing and content creation important to marketing in general, they’re simply an important part of effective communication. Asking to see writing samples during the hiring process can shed some light on a candidate’s writing skills.
  • Digital Advertising – Organizations focused on growth will want to hire a Marketing Director who understands the value of digital advertising and the landscape of platforms that exist.
  • SEO – While SEO is constantly evolving and complex, having a basic understanding of the factors that affect SEO can be an important skill. This will allow a Marketing Director to develop a strategy focused on increasing search engine exposure and traffic.
  • Social Media – While some organizations mistakenly delegate social media to an intern or office associate, a capable Marketing Director should be able to understand how their audience interacts with social media and what opportunities it brings to create awareness and engagement.
  • Email Marketing/Marketing Automation – An important opportunity to engage with customers and prospects, a Marketing Director should understand the nature of email marketing and, if applicable, be able to develop a strategy to effectively communicate with email contacts.
  • PR/Media Relations – Sharing important company news and interacting with writers and publishers can be an important skill for organizations that are in the public eye.
  • Traditional Advertising – While digital advertising can be more cost effective and easier to track ROI, organizations looking to reach a large audience through branding and awareness may need to look for an individual with experience in print, radio, and/or outdoor advertising.

Digital marketing manager salary.

Determining Compensation for a Marketing Director

Identifying a competitive salary range for a Marketing Director or related position is an important part of attracting the right talent. Take into consideration the following when researching the salary range for a marketing leadership position:

  • Level of Experience – Identify the level of experience that you’re looking for. If the position is new and you can accept an individual learning on the job, you may be able to hire someone with a few years of experience. If you’re ready for someone to hit the ground running from day one with a strategy and high-level of marketing leadership, you’ll likely want to recruit individuals with 5-10+ years of related experience.
  • Location – When you’re researching salary figures, keep in mind that the salary of a Marketing Director in Silicon Valley is going to vary significantly from that of a Marketing Director in a more rural location.
  • Skills – Identify the skills that you feel are necessary to perform the job well. Some skills may warrant a higher salary, such as experience with more complex technology platforms.

Hiring a Marketing Director in 2020

As we’ve mentioned in this article, at a certain point in an organization’s growth, hiring a dedicated marketing leader can add focus to your overall marketing strategy and strengthen collaboration between agency partners. If you’ve hired a marketing professional recently or are looking to hire, and need a digital partner to focus on the technical aspects of web design and digital marketing, let us know!

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2020 Web and Digital Marketing Trends

2020 Web and Digital Marketing Trends

By Ryan on  October 29, 2019

The future of the web—and digital marketing, by default—is constantly changing.  Sure, there may have been a time when you could've dismissed visual search as a fad, or artificial intelligence as a bell and whistle exclusive to large corporations. But, as we move into not just a new year, but also a new decade, we're finding that these behavioral changes and technological advancements are only becoming more in demand and more accessible to businesses large and small.

As you consider your current website and begin to outline your digital marketing strategy for the new year, here are our predictions for where the digital world is heading in 2020.

Design

Asymmetrical Layouts

While many sites follow a strict grid system that organizes design and content into predictable (and sometimes boring) rows and columns, asymmetrical layouts are growing in popularity. These layouts break the traditional grid system and often create more visual interest in a site design.

Asymmetrical layouts

Bold Colors

Whether used as a strong background or in smaller doses to reinforce a brand color palette, bold colors are being used more and more in web design. Big bursts of bold color add interest and personality to pages. They can also be used to draw attention to specific elements or content on a page.

Bold colors

Illustration

Users are becoming bored of seeing the same types of stock imagery on websites. As a result, illustration is making a big comeback in digital form. Brands like Slack, MailChimp, and Dropbox have all developed unique illustrations for their websites as a way of standing out and defining a stronger brand identity.

Illustration

Micro-interactions

Micro-interactions, simply put, are meant to create a tiny moment of delight for the user. While often tied to functional events like clicking a button or tapping an icon, they can improve comprehension, making it easier for users to interact with an interface, and even give useful tips to users. Common places where micro-interactions can be used include:

  • Swipe events
  • Click or tap events
  • Data input
  • Animation
  • Status updates
  • Calls-to-action

Micro-interactions

Shorter Navigation

Websites with too many items in the main navigation make it hard to navigate a website. Instead, more websites today are trending toward a main navigation with just three to five items total. These shorter, more condensed navigation bars focus on the most important elements while reducing the number of decisions the user needs to make.

But what about all those other items that you still need to include on your website? Don't worry, additional navigation items can be nested in drop-down menus, secondary navigation, or even footer elements, they just can't all be in the main navigation.

Shorter navigation

E-Commerce

While e-commerce has been thriving for nearly two decades, traditional manufacturers and organizations selling through distributors are part of a growing trend of companies shifting some or all of their sales operations to an e-commerce model.

Benefits of E-Commerce

E-commerce has some distinct advantages over traditional sales channels:

  • Direct access to customers and data: Having access to customers and customer data allows companies to not only better understand their audience, but also market and sell to them directly.
  • Reach a wider audience and newer markets: While working with distributors and physical stores offers the benefit of a pre-existing audience, it can be limited by geography or each channel’s ability to market/promote your products. Selling online can mean reaching audiences that you may not have been able to reach before.
  • System integration: Most companies that sell or inventory physical products can relate to the challenge of having multiple systems for ERP, CRM, warehouse management, inventory, shipping, etc. When selling online, application program interfaces (APIs) can allow these platforms to integrate with each other and an e-commerce platform, allowing a smooth flow of data from one platform to another.

Trends in E-Commerce

While e-commerce has been around for decades, it continues to evolve and benefit from digital innovation.

  • Shopping in search: Google has quickly evolved to more than just a link-based search engine, as we see products continue to infiltrate the search results.
  • Social commerce: While social media users have seen ads appear in their feed for years, we’re seeing an emergence of shopping ads that can be purchased within social networks without even leaving the platform.
  • Chatbots: Judging from a recent Facebook patent, the ability for brands to sell and transact through a platform like Facebook Messenger using a chatbot (read: no human needed) is becoming a reality.
  • In-app interactions: Many apps give users the ability to chat with a customer service representative to find exactly what they need, replicating the experience of going to a store to speak with an associate, though without ever leaving the couch.

Content Personalization

While you may still be impressed by the ability to merge your audience’s first name into email marketing messages, the bounds of content personalization are being pushed by technology and automation. Gartner predicts that e-commerce businesses that personalize content successfully could see profits rise by 15 percent by 2020.

Some of the key benefits realized through content personalization include:

  • Increase visitor engagement
  • Improved customer experience
  • Increased conversion rates
  • Increase lead generation/customer acquisition
  • Improved brand perception

Some examples of content personalization include:

  • Product recommendations based on browsing or order history
  • Content recommendations based on previous reading history
  • Interactive recommendations or quizzes that serve up customized product or service recommendations
  • Geography-based personalization, such as store locators
  • Personalized homepage content or offers based on content viewed from previous visits

Email Personalization

Once again, email personalization has evolved significantly from the ability to merge some basic fields into an email. The new era of personalization is delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. That means using marketing automation to send tailored content based on a user’s demographics and behavior and sending it to them exactly when they need it or want it.

From a personalization perspective, sending from an actual person can be a small personalization technique that can pay big dividends. Users are more likely to open an email from a human recipient; especially one they know of recognize. Try to match up salespeople, customer service representatives, or frontline company representatives with your email recipients.

Email personalization

Purchase Abandonment

A perfect way to pair e-commerce and personalized email marketing is through purchase abandonment emails. We’ve all had the experience of adding products to a shopping cart and then not going through with the purchase for one reason or another. A friendly reminder from a brand, complemented by an offer or promotion, can significantly increase e-commerce conversion rates.

Segmentation

Remember when we mentioned the right message to the right person at the right time? Segmentation is the key to know the right person. Collecting data to segment your audience by data points like geography, demographics, product/service interest, and more will allow you to send highly targeted emails rather than one-size-fits-all emails.

Segmentation

Digital Advertising

Personalization can happen on your website and in your emails, but you can also leverage personalization on the ads you serve on other websites, search engines, and social networks. Using remarketing, brands can create segments of specific audiences that visited specific pages or sections of their site and deliver specific ad messaging directly to each individual audience.

Continuous Improvement Over Complete Overhaul

We know that the average lifecycle for a website that remains untouched is only a few years. Just like a brand new car, from the moment a new website is launched, it begins to lose value if it’s not properly maintained. Think of all the things that need to be kept up with: technology, content, brand/imagery, SEO, and on and on. That’s why we’re seeing more websites go through continuous and ongoing improvement rather than more frequent and complete overhauls.

Continuous improvement focuses on a more thoughtful approach to keeping a website up-to-date through monitoring, feedback, development, deployment, and testing. It’s the reason we haven’t seen sites like Google and Amazon go through a major redesign during the past couple of years – just thousands of minor improvements over time.

Tools for Continuous Improvement

Trying to predict which site updates and improvements will lead to more leads and sales can be a tireless game. That’s why leveraging tools to better hypothesize and measure opportunities is a good idea.

  • A/B testing: Platforms like Google Optimize allow you to run small experiments with one or more variations to a page or site with the goal of improving a specific goal metric. For example, you can test two variations of website copy for a product page to identify which one leads to a higher “Add to Cart” conversion rate.
  • Heatmaps: Heatmaps allow you to get a better perspective on the viewing, scrolling, and engagement habits of your website visitors. This can help identify areas that need to be emphasized or de-emphasized, pages that are too long or too short, and other opportunities to implement a test to improve site interaction.
  • User tests: There’s nothing like having a real user test a site and attempt to perform a critical function or follow a common user path. Tools like UserTesting allow you to hire a real person and instruct them to perform certain website tasks, all while receiving verbal and written feedback about the process.
  • Analytics: Simply diving into website analytics can provide a treasure trove of information, such as landing pages that result in the most conversions, low-engagement pages that have high bounce rates, and points in your conversion funnel where users get stuck.

A/B Testing

Privacy (GDPR)

In our 2019 trends article, we covered GDPR, and much of that information is still relevant today:

“Under GDPR, people must opt-in, consent and have access to their data and the data must be securely stored. These laws give consumers greater transparency and control over their personal data, and written policies and privacy statements on your site will make it more trustworthy.

If your business operates or collects data in the EU, then you must ensure that your site is GDPR compliant, but regardless, it’s still a good idea to implement similar protections now. While such strict laws have yet to be implemented across the U.S., some states like California and Vermont have already passed data protection laws, with more states sure to follow suit in 2019.”

We were right. Well, almost. On January 1, 2020, California will pass the California Consumer Privacy Act. With many similarities to GDPR, some describing the law as “almost GDPR in the US.”

Bottom line: Being GDPR compliant is simply a good idea, and with legislation coming to the U.S. starting in 2020, it will likely move from being a nice-to-have to being a must-have.

Accessibility

While legislation in the U.S. has made visiting physical locations more accessible for those with disabilities, accessibility for browsing websites has lagged behind. Perhaps until now. The Supreme Court recently made an example of U.S.-based pizza chain Domino’s after a complaint about their website and mobile app became a highly-publicized story – in this scenario, a blind man was unable to order food from a screen reader.

Some examples of web assets that should be accessible (but often are not) include:

  • PDF titles
  • The reading level of a web page or website
  • “Read more” links
  • Color contrast
  • Image alt text

We recommend working toward WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) AA compliance, which requires a website to meet certain requirements. The W3 Web Accessibility Initiative has published a useful Quick Reference guide to understand requirements and success criteria to reach each level of WCAG compliance.

AI and Machine Learning

For a long time, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have graced the content of trend reports, articles, and blog posts. For much of that time, the technology has been expensive and out-of-reach for most businesses. As we approach a new decade, we’re seeing the barriers to entry (cost, expertise, etc.) continue to fall, making AI and machine learning more accessible than ever.

Image Recognition

We used to only be able to search with text. Then, we were able to search with voice. Soon (now), we’ll be able to search with pictures. Projects like Pinterest’s visual search and Google Lens allow users to search for information or similar images using just an image with no words or context.

Visual Search

Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN)

Imagine a computer being able to create nearly any kind of content you need instantly and with just a spoken command. Think: "Alexa, make me a picture of an otter riding a bicycle that looks like it was painted by Van Gogh." With Generative Adversarial Networks, this is on the very near horizon. 

How do they do it? Without getting too technical, they basically make two computers try to outsmart one another until the results are so good, even a human can't tell the artificially generated content isn't "real". Don't believe it? Check out: This person does not exist.

Smarter Digital Advertising

For years, advancements to digital advertising have driven costs lower and opportunities for exposure higher than ever before. Now, we’re seeing advertising networks take advantage of the massive amounts of data they have collected and using that data to help advertisers make better decisions.

For example, Google Ads now uses machine learning with its smart bidding strategies to allow advertisers to focus on a specific outcome (Maximize Conversions, Target CPA, Target ROAS) and let Google optimize bidding for the desired outcome.

Sentiment Analysis

For large brands or brands that garner a lot of social media conversation, monitoring the overall temperature of customer feedback can be challenging. Many social media monitoring platforms, however, have made this easier by using sentiment analysis to help brands understand how many of their mentions are positive, negative, or neutral.

Sentiment analysis

Augmented Reality

Pokemon Go may be the best example of augmented reality going truly mainstream. Fun and games aside, though, we’re seeing plenty of useful examples of augmented reality from a digital perspective. Business and brands are taking advantage of augmented reality in some of the following ways:

  • Product feature training for employees and buyers
  • “Try before you buy” e-commerce (think seeing a sofa in your living room to see if it matches your décor)
  • Facility tours
  • Warehouse logistics (using augmented reality to navigate employees to a specific warehouse location)
  • Field service (employees leveraging augmented reality as a guide to repairing equipment on location)
  • Branded content at events and conferences

Implement These Digital Trends

Whether it's a shift to e-commerce, privacy policy update, or smarter digital advertising, now is the time to start implementing these trends into your website and digital marketing efforts.  Need some help? Aztek is a full-service digital agency that can optimize your efforts in the new year.

Our team of experts are well-versed in the latest industry-leading trends to provide data-backed recommendations and provide digital solutions to grow your business through strategic website design, development, and digital marketing. Let's start a conversation today.

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Turn Your Digital Marketing Vanity Metrics into Actionable Metrics

Turn Your Digital Marketing Vanity Metrics into Actionable Metrics

By ryan on  October 11, 2019

When you see that your latest social media post received a few likes (or loves, thumbs up, etc.), you get excited. Seeing this “success” actually triggers a dopamine high that makes you feel rewarded. However, the reality of feeling rewarded for achieving more likes, shares, impressions, and pageviews can be very misleading.

What are Vanity Metrics?

“Vanity” metrics, as they’re commonly called, can be nice to look at and can make you feel good about your marketing efforts. However, they often aren’t the best indicators of ultimate goals your business is trying to achieve, such as lead generation or increased revenue.

Assuming you’re not collecting advertising revenue, how much does your company make when someone likes your social media post? Or when someone views a page on your website? Unfortunately, that answer is zero.

Vanity Metrics vs Actionable Metrics

It’s time to have a real heart-to-heart about how you’re evaluating the success of your website and digital marketing campaigns. If you’re driving relevant traffic, then it might not matter as much if you rank well for a specific keyword. If you’re not generating qualified leads, then having thousands of Facebook followers isn’t necessarily helping you achieve your goals.

Actionable metrics, according to Litmus, “tell the story of what action needs to be taken to meet your goals.” These are the metrics that translate into insights that will help you understand how to continue or improve your strategy moving forward. Think of conversion points like filling out a form, purchasing a product, calling your business, etc.

Here are some examples of how you can turn vanity metrics into actionable metrics.

Social Media Likes

This vanity metric can include likes (Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn), loves or one of the many other reactions (Facebook), and many others on different social networks. They allow people to indicate how they feel about a specific post, image, or piece of content.

What’s Bad?

Likes are an incredibly simple and quick interaction. All it takes is one click, and you can keep scrolling. Likes don’t drive traffic to your website or sell products. They aren’t even a great indicator of interest in your product, service, or brand; they simply show an individual’s interest in one piece of content.

What’s Good?

Likes show engagement. They let you see which content you’re publishing is resonating more with your audience. They may also let you connect and follow-up with individuals to find out why they “liked” something you published. They often expand your audience by posting your content in the user that “liked” your content’s network.

How to Track Better

Go one step further and track things like which social media channels are driving the most traffic to your site. Leverage “likes” to identify top-performing content and focus on those topics and formats. Or even better, track how many visitors from each social network are converting on your site.

Paid Advertising Impressions

If you’re doing any kind of paid digital advertising, you’ll be provided with all kinds of metrics from your digital advertising platform. Impressions are one vanity metric in this space. After all, it’s easy to become mesmerized by high numbers of impressions—“look how many people we reached!” The problem is these people weren’t necessarily “reached.” Your ad may have just appeared in their view while they’re swiftly scrolling through their feed to find the next hilarious cat video.

What’s Bad?

You shouldn’t mistake impressions for how many people actually saw your ad. There’s a very real phenomena called banner blindness, where users become so accustomed to ads that they don’t even see them. Don’t let this discourage you from pursuing paid advertising, but just be cautious about assuming everyone is seeing your ads.

What’s Good?

Impressions generally show you the potential reach of your ad. The better you’ve design your ad, including image, ad copy, and call-to-action, the higher the percentage of those impressions will turn into people clicking on your ad.

How to Track Better

Unless you’re posting online ads for pure branding or awareness purposes, focus on action-oriented metrics like ad clicks, ad conversions, and conversion value. Pursue ads that have higher conversion rates, rather than the most impressions.

Website Pageviews

Pageviews indicate the amount of traffic a page on your website receives. While it’s great to see the number of people visiting your site increase, how is it affecting your business goals? Are people staying on your site, or does the site have a high bounce rate?

What’s Bad?

Pageviews show the total number of pages viewed on your site within a specific time frame. But what if they’re all the wrong pages? We’ve had clients that have huge increases in pageviews month-over-month, but it’s all traffic to blog pages for example – people were just looking for information, not looking to purchase.

What’s Good?

Seeing increases in pageviews can be indicators that your site content is growing in depth, but also that your pages are receiving more traffic. If assessed correctly, pageviews can be an indicator of healthy website growth.

How to Track Better

First, find out what pages are driving growth and if these pages are generating leads or customers. You should find plenty of opportunities to report on a subset of high-value pages (like product or service pages) and how to optimize these pages based on your findings.

Focus on Digital Marketing Metrics That Matter

Every organization will have a different view on which digital marketing metrics matter most to their business, as they should. Here are some best practices to identifying which digital marketing metrics your business should focus on.

Identify business goals

This is where it all starts. What are you trying to do with your website and digital marketing efforts? Identify your goals or key performance indicators (KPI), such as lead generation, e-commerce sales, branding/awareness, etc.

Determine the metrics tied to those goals

If your goal is lead generation, you should be tracking how many visitors fill out contact forms or call your business from the number on your website. If your goal is e-commerce sales, make sure you’re tracking which channels and activities are providing the best return-on-investment.

Complete the picture with other metrics

Is it wrong to include vanity metrics in your reporting? Absolutely not. But just remember that these are often simply leading indicators to success, not direct indicators. If a metric gives your business insight and helps you evaluate your efforts, then certainly include it. But for every metric, you should be able to answer the questions: “What does this metric tell me?” and “What insight do I gain?”

If you’re ready to truly understand how your website and digital marketing efforts (or lack thereof) are affecting your business, don’t hesitate to reach out or learn more about our web assessments.

Categories:
3 Ways to Use Competitive Research for a Digital Marketing Strategy

3 Ways to Use Competitive Research for a Digital Marketing Strategy

By Ryan on  September 23, 2019

Being competitive in the digital space requires a thoughtful strategy, the right unique value proposition, and a continued focus on growth. But as a company, having a solid understanding of your competitors’ efforts online can give you valuable intel to stay one step ahead of the competition. We outlined a few ways you can leverage competitive research within your digital marketing strategy.

1. Competitive SEO Research

It’s rare to come across a business owner or marketer that doesn’t want to crush their competition when it comes to showing up in search engines. The reality is ranking ahead of every competitor for every keyword shouldn’t be the focus. It should be outranking competitors for the right keywords. There are two ways to look at this:

Focus on core keywords

Let’s face it, a small retailer of athletic apparel is never going to outrank Dick’s Sporting Goods for certain keywords. Yes, they’re likely competitors, but the small retailer shouldn’t be trying to compete on broad keywords like “shoes” or “athletic apparel.” Their focus should instead be local and long-tail keywords.

From a local perspective, focusing on keywords like “Cleveland athletic apparel store” will help the retailer get more specific and competitive. Long-tail keywords focus on more specific keywords and phrases. In this case, if this retailer specialized in little league softball equipment, they could tailor their research and SEO efforts toward keywords like “little league softball equipment.”

Focus on intent-based keywords

Almost all websites we come across rank in search engines for a mix of intent-based keywords and research-based keywords. Here’s how we differentiate these:

  • Intent-based keywords show some action behind them, such as a purchase, signing up for a course or event, request a quote or proposal, etc. Think of keywords like “spinning classes near me,” “business consultant in Cleveland,” or “new 2019 Honda Accord.” All of these keywords have action intent behind them.
  • Research-based keywords are much higher in the “funnel” and are focused on information. They often include words like “how,” “when,” what,” etc. These searches are more focused on gaining information. For organizations with a complete digital marketing strategy, they can be important, but for beginners it’s more important to focus on intent when comparing with competitors.

2. Competitive Digital Advertising Research

Knowing how much your competitors are spending, where they’re spending it, and what kind of performance they’re seeing is an important step to understanding your place within your industry or niche online.

Analyzing Competitors’ Digital Advertising Budgets

You may not be able to get a detailed look into your competitors’ annual budgets, but some thorough research or auditing can give you a good sense of how much your competitors are investing into digital advertising. This will give you a sense of where you stand comparatively. If your competitors are spending $5,000 on digital advertising every month while you’re not actively advertising, you’re likely going to suffer a huge deficit in terms of attention, traffic, awareness, and even lead generation and sales.

Evaluating Competitors’ Digital Advertising Channels

With so many digital advertising channels to choose from, picking the right channel(s) requires a deep understanding of your audience and messaging strategy. Oftentimes, simply looking at where your competitors are advertising can point you in the right direction. It can also open up opportunities if you find that most of your competitors are advertising on one channel but not others, as you may be able to take advantage of the gap in the market.

Assessing Competitors’ Digital Advertising Performance

While you won’t be able to access your competitors’ analytics platform of choice and pinpoint their performance, you can get a sense of performance through research or auditing. For example, if you understand where competitors are advertising, the average cost-per-click for their ads, and the volume for the keywords or audience they’re targeting, you can estimate the volume of traffic or activity they may be receiving from a particular digital advertising effort.

3. Competitive Content Research

One of the biggest challenges most organizations have is content. The most common struggles are generating new ideas, finding the time or resources to write and publish content, and identifying ways to maximize content exposure.

Idea Generation through Competitive Research

While there are a slew of tools and strategies that allow organizations to generate ideas for new or recurring content, one of the easiest tactics is to simply identify what your competitors are publishing. Not all competitors will be publishing good content, but you’ll quickly identify the ones that are. There are two specific actions you can take with this research:

Content Planning

Doing some quick competitive research on your competitors’ websites can often yield a year or more of content topics. Think about it this way: If you’re able to identify 25 topics between all of your competitors’ sites, and you publish new content twice a month, you’re set for a whole year!

Skyscraper Content

Let’s be clear: It’s never a good idea to simply copy your competitors’ ideas. On the other hand, you can often find great opportunities where your competitors have identified a great topic, but produced a shallow or poorly-written piece of content. The skyscraper technique for content essentially has two steps: 1) identify a piece of content focused on a relevant, good idea, and 2) make something better.

Most of the time, you can find competitor content that is 500 words or less and does a mediocre job of covering the topic at hand. Taking that topic and going more in-depth, adding visuals or media, and referencing more/better sources can immediately be an improvement upon their approach.

Finding Your Sweet Spot with Content

As mentioned above, many organizations struggle with the resources needed to produce content on a regular basis. By doing some competitive research, you can get a sense of how often and what types of content your competitors are publishing. Your only focus is to do better.

In some cases, this means publishing more quality content than them. If they’re publishing once a month, find a way to publish twice a month. In other cases, this simply means publishing better content than them. If you find that your competitors are publishing once a week, but their content is really shallow, often 500 words or less and doesn’t do a good job of covering the topics about which they’re writing, simply publish better content. Consider publishing once or twice a month, but publish content that is well-researched, includes high-quality images, infographics, or video, and thoroughly answers any user questions about the topic at hand.

Maximize Content Exposure

One final opportunity to compete in the digital marketing space is to identify ways to maximize exposure. From a research standpoint, this often starts with identifying sites that are linking back to your competitors’ websites. These can be good opportunities to try to gain links from those sites as well.

You can also look at your competitors' social media accounts to understand their followers as well as the type and frequency of content they’re publishing. Once again, if you’re able to leverage this research to grow your audience, you can gain a competitive advantage.

Competitor Audits

If you’re ready to understand your place in your competitive online landscape, Aztek offers a Competitor Audit that will uncover all of the items addressed in this post. We can also focus on Search Engine Optimization and Content. Whether you’re just getting started with digital marketing or ready to get a leg up on the competition, understanding your competitors is a key component to a successful digital marketing strategy.

Categories:
Should Companies Purchase Email Lists?

Should Companies Purchase Email Lists?

By Ryan on  May 3, 2019

When it comes to generating new business, digital marketing provides almost unlimited opportunities to target and reach new prospects. There are long-term strategies like producing quality content and building a strong social media presence. Then there are digital marketing efforts more focused on short-term results such as digital advertising.

A strong digital marketing strategy ideally includes a good mix of short-term efforts that generate quicker results and long-term efforts focused on building recurring inbound leads and sales. And then there are, of course, the “quick fixes.” Those tempting opportunities that seem almost too good to be true (usually because they are).

One of those opportunities is purchasing emails lists. Let’s explore the pros and cons of this tactic and walk through some better ways to approach email list growth and outreach.

Risks of purchasing email lists

Purchasing Email Lists – The Risks

Maybe you’re just starting out with email marketing. Or perhaps you’re struggling to grow your email list at the pace you’d like. There’s a good chance you’ve been presented the opportunity to purchase a list of email contacts, or even explored the idea yourself. Seems like a great idea, right? You invest a little money and all of a sudden you have a targeted list of emails! Not so fast…

Email Service Provider Compliance

These days, many email service providers (the software or program you use to send your emails) require you to explicitly gain consent, or “opt-in”, permission from all subscribers. Here’s a line directly from MailChimp’s Terms of Use for example:

[By agreeing to these Terms, you promise to follow these rules:]

2. You won’t use purchased, rented, or third-party lists of email addresses.

It’s the reason you see a message asking if the emails you’re uploading have been opted-in. By checking this box when using a purchased list, you’re not complying with your email service provider's (i.e. MailChimp) guidelines, and risk being barred from using the service. This isn’t just a threat, we’ve seen this happen firsthand.

Sender Reputation

The simple fact is that when you purchase an email list, you’re emailing a group of recipients that likely have never interacted with you or your brand before. This has the following effects on your email performance:

  • Increases opt-out rates
  • Increases likelihood of SPAM complaints
  • Decreases engagement metrics like open rate and clickthrough rate

Not only do all these metrics look bad on paper, but they also increase the likelihood of even riskier outcomes:

  • Your email service provider may freeze your account until you’re able to clean up your list
  • Your domain may make it onto some very undesirable email blacklists by internet service providers, inbox protection services and firewalls

To reiterate, poor performance isn’t just an issue of short-term lack of engagement, it speaks to a much larger and longer-term issue of sender reputation. This is essentially a score than an Internet Service Provider (ISP) gives a domain or organization that sends email. The higher the score, the better the chance you’ll hit more inboxes. The factors that go into sender reputation include:

  • How many SPAM complaints an email sender receives
  • How often emails go into ISP’s spam traps
  • The domain’s inclusion in email blacklists
  • Recipient engagement (how many recipients are opening, clicking and generally engaging with the sender’s emails)
  • How many recipients are unsubscribing from the sender’s emails

As you can see, when you’re using purchased lists, you’re naturally increasing your organization and domain’s chances of tarnishing your sender reputation. Want to check your sender reputation? Here are some options:

Legal Issues

As if the above issues weren’t enough, emailing recipients who haven’t opted in can actually violate several laws, the newest of which is GDPR.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European data protection law that went into effect in May of 2018, says that your email recipients must have opted in to receive email marketing from you. Simply put, if you’re emailing any recipients in the European Union, you need to comply with GDPR. And spoiler alert, this type of compliance regulation may be coming to other parts of the world, including the United States.

There’s also the CAN-SPAM Act, which has been around for a significantly longer period of time. While this law is a bit less stringent than GDPR, it does clearly state several rules to be followed:

  • Senders cannot use false or misleading sender information
  • Senders cannot use deceptive subject lines
  • Senders must identify the message as an ad (if it is such)
  • Senders must identify their location
  • Senders must explicitly give recipients the option to opt-out of future communications

While each of these has some level of interpretation, we highly recommend email marketers review CAN-SPAM guidelines before sending, especially if sending to recipients that have not opted-in or given consent.

Then there’s the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation, which, according to Constant Contact, “requires you to obtain and document consent before sending commercial emails to Canadian consumers.”

Poor Performance

As if all the above concerns weren’t enough, let’s not forget the performance of purchased lists. To put it bluntly, how do you feel when you receive a promotional email or email solicitation from a company you don’t know, or haven’t given permission to email you? It’s a rhetorical question, we all know the answer…

According to MailChimp, the average open rate for all industries is 20.81%. That’s naturally going to fluctuate by industry, but that’s the benchmark. But according to Opt-In Monster, “If you purchased an email list, you can expect open rates well below the industry average.”

Also consider this: if you purchased this list, others likely did too. That means that not only are those recipients receiving unwanted emails from you, they’re also likely receiving unwanted emails from dozens (if not more) of other senders too.

Alternatives to Purchasing Lists

Ok, you get it. Purchasing email lists isn’t ideal. If you feel like we’re your mother telling you not to do something, we’ve done our job. But if purchasing lists isn’t an option, their must be alternatives, right? Right!

Organic email growth

Growing email lists organically

This is the equivalent of your mother telling you to eat your vegetables. You might not want to hear it, but it’s good advice. Grow your email list organically by producing such high-quality content and value that people want to receive it!

Will this take more time? Yes. But there is a pretty simple process to growing a list the right way:

  1. Identify your audience. Whether you use personas, jobs to be done, or some other framework, you need to have a solid understanding of your target audience (i.e. who you want to populate your email list). Key in on the following:
    1. What industry topics are they most interested in?
    2. What are the challenges they have in their role?
    3. What publications/resources do they read currently?
  2. Develop high-quality content. And to clarify, content that your audience finds valuable, not what you think they need to see. It’s all about your audience. Consider the following:
    1. Topics – Just like putting together a content strategy, you need to understand the trends and topics that your audience is most interested in.
    2. Format – Does your audience like short snippets of content or longform reads? Are they more visual (infographics, video) or driven by research and data?
  3. Consider cadence. How often does your audience want/need to receive email? If you’re publishing pressing industry news and trends, maybe it’s more frequent. If you’re publishing longer-form editorial that may take awhile to digest, consider a less frequent send rate.
  4. Promote. Once you have a valuable email program in place, ensure that you’re promoting it in all the right places:
    1. Website. Pro tip: don’t add a form on your site that says “Subscribe:” with a box and a button. What am I subscribing to? Recipes? Celebrity news? Funny animal pictures? (go ahead and click, we’ll wait) You’re better than that. Put your copywriter hat on and follow this formula: “Subscribe to our newsletter to receive [your valuable content] just for [your audience] every [frequency].”
    2. Blog. Your blog is a slightly different animal than the rest of your website. Typically, the rest of your website is focused on your company, its products and services. But your blog is focused on content. Visitors that land on these pages are interested in content, and as a result are likely to be more interested in receiving continued content from you.
    3. Social Media. Your social media channels are already a place where your followers and fans have “opted-in” to receive updates from you on a regular basis. Occasionally, give them the opportunity to subscribe to email from you as well. Don’t forget to include a link in your social profiles as well.
    4. Offline. Do you engage in a lot of tradeshows and/or community events? Give people the opportunity to sign up for email subscriptions, either digitally through an iPad or laptop at the event, or by simply sharing their business card. Just make sure you make them aware (verbal or written) what they’re opting into. Constant Contact actually has a paper opt-in sheet that you can use to start.

Paid Email Growth

Using Paid Spend to Grow Email Subscriber Lists

You were thinking about paying for that email list anyway, so why not take that budget and put it toward some digital advertising to promote your incredibly valuable email subscription? Using digital advertising, you can get in front of a really targeted audience and encourage them to subscribe.

Facebook Ads are probably the best platform for growing email subscribers through paid advertising. Beneficial because of their cost-effectiveness, you can use the targeted audience you’ve already identified, leverage this audience in Facebook, and leverage a “Lead Ad” to encourage users to subscribe directly from Facebook without ever leaving the platform. Remember, write compelling copy about the immense value your email(s) provide, and set expectations about frequency right away.

Using Offers and Giveaways to Grow Email Subscriber Lists

Whether you’re using organic or paid methods to grow your email subscriber list, you need to have a compelling call-to-action (CTA). Starting with a clear value proposition about what the recipient will receive is critical. Beyond that, think about what you can communicate or offer to spur more subscriptions.

  • Coupons/Offers. Especially valuable for B2C and e-commerce companies, offering a coupon for signing up and/or ongoing offers as an “insider” provides additional value for subscribers.
  • Exclusive Content. Do you have an in-depth guide or research that can’t be found elsewhere? Offer this premium content to new subscribers.
  • VIP perks. Brand loyalists love to feel like a VIP. Whether than means sharing new products or deals before they go public, or publishing content that’s only accessible via email subscription, creating exclusivity can generate more email subscriptions.
  • Useful Tools. If you have the ability to develop valuable tools, subscriptions or applications for your audience, you can provide these for free (in exchange for an email address to sign up, of course). A perfect example is Hubspot’s Marketing Grader, which is perfectly targeted to their audience, and thousands of users are willing to exchange email to use this tool.

Growing Email Lists the Right Way

Even though it seems as if every year a new blog or publication proclaims, “email is dead,” it still remains one of the more effective digital marketing tactics when done right. Let’s summarize how to do it right:

  1. Don’t purchase lists. It’s really tempting, we know. But it’s a shortcut, and a dangerous one at that. When you purchase a list, you’re risking legal ramifications, damaging your sender reputation, and causing serious harm to your long-term email marketing success.
  2. Grow email lists organically. Develop a strategy, identify your audience, and produce truly valuable content that your subscribers can’t live without.
  3. Accelerate email list growth. Take advantage of cost-effective paid digital advertising like Facebook, integrating opt-in opportunities into your website, and leveraging high-value offers like coupons and premium content.

If you need help putting together an email marketing or marketing automation strategy set up for long-term success, let us know! Aztek has multiple email marketing partnerships and certified experts in-house with years of proven success.

Spring Cleaning for Digital Marketers (Marie Kondo Edition)

Spring Cleaning for Digital Marketers (Marie Kondo Edition)

By Ryan on  April 1, 2019

Whether it’s the fact that at the time of writing it’s the first day of spring, or the fact that the Tidying Up with Marie Kondo craze is sweeping the nation, getting organized is top of mind. Just as a house collects clutter over time, most organizations collect digital clutter as well. For business owners and digital marketers alike, there are plenty of opportunities to de-clutter and organize to make for a much more efficient year ahead.

Website

In an ideal world, your website is constantly being updated as your organization, products and/or services change. Unfortunately, it’s more common that a site lags behind or is haphazardly updated. Here are a few tips to stay up-to-date:

  • Review all major product and service pages to ensure the content accurately reflects the product or service offering. Look for opportunities to add new case studies, testimonials, and value propositions.
  • Review main imagery to ensure it’s up-to-date. Lose any stock imagery that looks like stock imagery. Be sure to identify any outdated photography that may contain employees that are no longer with the organization, products that have changed, or branding that has since been updated.
  • Check for speed. Speed is more important than ever, and the more you add to your site, the slower it’s likely to go. Give your site a quick check using Google PageSpeed Insights to see where you’re at, and do your best to address large issues.

Blog

It’s been a long-running misconception that adding more and more content to a blog can only lead to more and more traffic. There’s in fact more research lately that indicates paring down the content on your blog can actually increase traffic in the long run. Consider using the following rules:

  • Keep – Keep evergreen content and content that is still accurate and relevant.
  • Update – Update content that still relates to your business but may have outdated facts or figures. Updating with new information can have powerful results for search engine optimization.
  • Combine – If you have two very similar pieces of content that are competing for keywords and search attention, it may be a good idea to combine both posts for a more focused approach. (Don’t forget to implement the correct 301 redirects!)
  • Delete – Delete content that is no longer relevant to your business. Some easy examples include new employee announcements for employees that are no longer with the organization and announcements of products or services that are no longer being offered.

Analytics

Whether you have a robust tracking strategy in place or you’re just getting started, there are almost always a few cleanup and organization opportunities to work through.

  • Goals/Conversions – Are your goals or conversion points still accurate? Are they still tracking correctly? If you’ve added new conversion points to your site, make sure they’re being tracked.
  • Filters – Over time, any site can start to collect clutter in the form of SPAM or bot traffic. It’s good to take a look at where your traffic is coming from to ensure it’s all valid.
  • Channel Groupings – As the landscape of traffic driven to your site changes, you should ensure your Channel Groupings are up-to-date. Some common things to look at are to make sure social traffic is being divided into paid vs. organic social, make sure all newer search engines (like DuckDuckGo) are being classified as Organic, and ensuring you’re not having any issues with cross-domain tracking.

No analytics, reporting or tracking strategy in place? Let us know, it’s one of our specialties.

CRM

Ideally, all of your customer data is stored somewhere. Whether that’s in a series of folders with spreadsheets (if so, contact us, we need to have a heart-to-heart), or it’s a well-structured Contact Management System (CMS/CRM), this is one of the places that collects the most clutter.

Keeping customer data accurate and up-to-date is a challenging task but can also be one of the most important. Whether your customer-facing employees reach out to verify contact information or use a third-party data source to verify existing customer data, staying on top of this on a regular basis is much easier than dealing with a messy database every couple of years.

Email Marketing

This one pairs well with your CRM data. The better your customer data is, the higher your deliverability and engagement rates will be. The reality is every list goes through a natural “list churn.” Employees leave companies, people unsubscribe, domain names change; for all of these reasons and more, the average email list can churn by as much as half each year. Here are some things you can do:

  • Send re-engagement campaigns – Identify your subscribers that haven’t engaged (opened or clicked) in your email recently (anywhere from 3-12 months), and send them an email inviting them to opt back in. Share the value of your email(s) or provide them with a valuable offer. For those that don’t opt back in, unsubscribe them. You’ll lose a number of subscribers, but the reality is they were already ‘lost’.
  • Test different cadences – Maybe the frequency at which you’re sending emails is too much for some subscribers. Or conversely, maybe you’re not sending frequently enough to keep them engaged. Testing different sending frequencies can help you retain more subscribers over time.

Whoa - too deep on email marketing? No problem, get in touch with our email marketing experts to guide you in the right direction.

Paid Digital Advertising

If you’re running ongoing digital advertising campaigns, it’s important to ensure that they’re being monitored and managed on an ongoing basis. The less attention they receive, the more likely they’re getting stale and underperforming. Here are some things to review:

  • Ad Copy/Creative – Review all of your ad copy and creative to identify your top performers. Drop your low performers and build new ads based on your findings.
  • Negative Keywords – If you’re running search ads, make sure you’re continuously adding negative keywords to guard against keywords or phrases that aren’t driving the right traffic.
  • Bid Adjustments – In each platform, you should have an idea of whether your PPC bids are working effectively or not. If you’re able to bid slightly lower and still drive quality traffic, you might get more bang for your buck. If there are certain audiences, devices, time zones, etc. that are performing better in search, you can add bid adjustments to favor those higher performing segments.

Social Media

Social media may be the platform that gets the most ongoing attention, assuming you’re posting on a regular basis. In addition to reviewing your goals for each channel, there’s some additional fine-tuning you can do to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward.

  • Review branding – Each network will have several branding opportunities, including banner/header graphics, avatars, and room for a description and links. Make sure these are up-to-date and compelling.
  • Take advantage of unique features – Depending on the network, there may be new or unique features that you can take advantage of. For example, LinkedIn allows you to add a Careers page and Showcase Pages. Facebook allows you to add and integrate a number of pages and apps – everything from information to contests.

“Tidying orders and relaxes the mind”

Said best by Marie Kondo herself, the act of tidying and organizing your organization’s digital assets at least once a year can create incredible operational efficiencies. Wait too long and you’ll be faced with a pile of digital clutter that is too mountainous to overcome.

And don’t forget, if you’re overwhelmed with where to start and ready to transform your digital marketing efforts, let us know!

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How to Integrate Act-On Software and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

How to Integrate Act-On Software and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

By Ryan on  March 11, 2019

Not every CRM integrates with every marketing automation platform. Luckily for users of either Act-On Software or Microsoft Dynamics CRM (or both), there is a native integration between the two platforms. This makes it easy to develop a closed-loop system for lead generation, contact management, and marketing and sales integration.

The Benefits of Integrating Act-On Software and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

When using multiple platforms for marketing automation and contact management, it’s ideal for the two systems to be able to “talk” to each other. Not only does it eliminate a significant amount of manual work passing data between the two systems, but it also enables the following:

Marketing/Sales Integration

Typically, your marketing department will spend more time in the marketing automation platform, and your sales team will spend more time in your CRM. When the two are integrated, your sales team can see valuable information about how your marketing efforts are impacting prospects, and your marketing team can see valuable information about the status of leads, prospects and customers.

Seamless Lead Generation

If leads are being generated by a marketing automation platform like Act-On software, but never making it to the sales team, it’s wasted marketing effort. Integrating platforms allows an organization to pass these leads to sales automatically and with all of the essential data your sales team needs.

Lead Scoring

Leverage the ability to take valuable user behavior (like visiting high-value pages on your website or opening important emails) and assign scores to leads based on their activity. Pass that lead score into CRM to empower your sales team to be able to prioritize leads as they come in.

Native Integration

With Act-On Software, connecting to a Microsoft Dynamics CRM instance is easy through what is called a “native integration.” This means that the “bridge” (or API) between these two systems is already built and doesn’t require any additional third-party platforms or development resources.

Act-On Bi-Directional Sync

Bi-Directional Sync

Passing data from one system to another is valuable, but if only one “person” is talking, it’s not much of a conversation. That’s why Act-On Software allows bi-directional sync, which means data can both pass from Act-On Software to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and vice versa. This means both systems will have the most up-to-date data, and it also gives you the option to choose exactly which data is passing back-and-forth down to a field level.

You’ll also be able to set a synchronization schedule, meaning you can choose how often the two platforms sync data so you have complete control.

Integrating Act-On Software and Microsoft Dynamics CRM

As of early 2019, Act-On Software supports the following versions of Microsoft Dynamics CRM:

  • Cloud versions CRM 2011 with update rollup 12, 2013, 2015 including Office 365, 2016
  • On-premise versions CRM 2011 with update rollup 12, 2013, 2015, 2016, and CRM 4, using ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) with IFD enabled

Before you begin, you’ll want to make sure you have the following Microsoft Dynamics CRM information:

  • A Supported Version of MS Dynamics
  • MS Dynamics Login
  • MS Dynamics Password
  • MS Dynamics URL
  • MS Dynamics Version

When integrating the two platforms, here are some of the things you’ll want to consider:

  • Fields/Field Names – Document which fields you’re going to want to import and use in Act-On Software. It’s better to not import all fields right away, because it will make managing field data quite cumbersome in Act-On.
  • Behavior Score (Lead Score) – If you’re planning on leveraging lead scoring, you’ll first want to identify a lead scoring system. Think about your digital touchpoints and consider how valuable they are. As an agency, we often run a Lead Scoring workshop to develop a Robust lead scoring system before entering scores into Act-On.
  • Import – Will you be importing leads and contacts? What about opportunities? Are you importing all, or just segments? Do you have Marketing Lists that you’d like to import? Make sure you document this before integrating.
  • Push/Pull Data – You’ll also want to identify what data you want to push and pull from both systems. It’s ideal to have one source of record, usually the CRM, meaning this is the authoritative location for a specific set of data or all of the data.
  • Users – Who from your organization will need access to Act-On Software? There are typically two kinds of users: marketing and sales. Marketing users will be leveraging more of Act-On’s marketing features, as they name suggests, whereas sales users may just need access to specific features or data.

Working with an Act-On Software Partner

While the process of integrating Act-On Software with Microsoft Dynamics can be done without assistance, it can be helpful and beneficial to work with a certified Act-On Software partner. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Experience/Expertise – Let’s face it, the first time you do something new it’s always a bit foreign. An Act-On partner will have integration experience to make the integration quicker and smoother.
  • Digital Marketing Experience – If you’re working with the right partner, they’ll also have experience necessary to provide additional assistance with Act-On, including building landing pages, email templates, a lead scoring system and more.
  • Strategy – We’ve seen too many organizations invest in a marketing automation platform without first having a well thought out marketing automation strategy. A digital marketing partner can help your organization craft a strategy catered to engaging contacts, driving lead generation and sales, and successfully integrating software platforms and sales and marketing.

Whether you’re already using Act-On Software and/or Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or you’re simply evaluating the platforms, Aztek has extensive expertise with both platforms. As an agency, we’re also able to provide a complete digital marketing strategy to go along with these platforms, including paid advertising and content marketing to drive traffic, email marketing to engage and nurture leads, and analytics to ensure that your investment and efforts are paying off.

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