Archive for November, 2010

Which Flavor of Social Commerce Is Right For You?

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
Social Commerce Flavors

Photo credit: timtak via Flickr

Social Commerce is a very hot topic right now with numerous blog posts, articles and even a few events focused on ecommerce and social media.

Adding ecommerce functionality to social sites is something that I’ve wondered about for quite a while:

“What I’d like to see more of is the availability of basic ecommerce functions as plug ‘n play options with major blog software packages. Blogs are good for business, big and small and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for business and value for consumers with ecommerce blogs.” Dec 28, 2005.

Too bad I wasn’t more of an advocate for social commerce since, but then again, consumers haven’t really responded well to shopping implementations with social media sites until recently, if at all.

Overt marketing messages have not traditionally been very welcome within social channels but as more brands become involved, consumers are expecting more than being able to comment, rate and share.

When considering the question of ecommerce and social media, I think there are two fundamental approaches to consider:

Adding social media features to existing ecommerce websites.

Levis Facebook Like

Examples of this are abundant now, especially with the addition of Facebook Like buttons on shopping sites and the ubiquitous social news, bookmarking and Tweet this buttons. See a great pair of jeans on There’s a Facebook Like button there to share it with friends, to get opinions or just let them know what you found. The Digital IQ Index Specialty Retail report (download pdf) from earlier this year found: “Retailers who currently host the “like“ button on their site demonstrated 80 percent higher average three-month traffic growth.”

Effect of Social Features on Traffic for Retail WebsitesOther social features that have long been in place with ecommerce and shopping sites include ratings and reviews which are well entrenched in certain industries like travel & hospitality. Adding links to social sites a company is active on is a pretty common feature for services like Google Places.

Plus servies like Groupon adds an entirely different angle to social and commerce.

Adding social features to existing commerce platforms and situations is the low hanging fruit of social commerce at the moment and studies like this one from Eventbrite show a clear revenue benefit. I suspect its something consumers are starting to expect.

When I was in a somewhat remote place last week on the South island of New Zealand, I noticed the standard “Visit us online at” was often replaced with: “Visit us online at (followed by Facebook and Twitter icons). I’m sure you’ve seen such signage in storefront windows in your town as well. Social connections are becoming part of expected exchanges between consumers and the brands they buy from. The opportunity for brands is, how relevant and useful (and easy) can they make these exchanges as part of the customer relationship?

Adding sharing, interaction, rating/review or even something like group buying to a web property that is already perceived as a destination for ecommerce transactions is an easier thing to do than adding ecommerce to a social media site and it’s likely perceived as more appropriate. It’s a way of showing that the brand isn’t just about selling product/services, but that its open to connecting and useful engagement too. Companies are increasingly rewiring more than their web sites for such social commerce.

Incorporating ecommerce functionality within social media websites.

Target Facebook Club Wedd Fan PageEarly adopters for adding ecommerce and transaction capabilities within social media sites include Brooks Brothers and 1800Flowers with storefronts and Walmart with a deals app on Facebook. Another major retailer, Target, put searchable product inventory on Facebook as part of their Club Wedd registery offering, but the actual transactions take place on the website.

It’s still early days for finding the right way to add ecommerce functionality within a communication environment that is intended to be social, not transactional. Of the early adopters that added online stores to Facebook or their blogs, I do wonder how profitable those initiatives are at this point.

My cautious optimism about social ecommerce doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s an area that will take hold. I do, as long as merchants can make the buying experience part of the social experience. I suspect that’s going to be different by industry and community.

What do you think?

Are social networks and media sites ready and appropriate for transactional ecommerce functionality? How seriously should brands take the opportunity for order capture within social media sites?

From a consumer perspective, have you ever ordered something within Facebook or another social media site? If you’ve checked in out and didn’t why not? If you did, what made you comfortable and would you do it again?

In fact, let’s take a formal poll on which “flavor” of social commerce our readers are implementing most:

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post’s poll.

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What Is a Landing Page and Why Should You Care

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

What is an effective landing page If you could do one thing to dramatically improve your marketing ROI today, it would be to use landing pages on your website.

What is a landing page?

A landing page is a website page that allows you to capture a visitor’s information through a lead form. A good landing page will be targeted to a particular stream of traffic – say from an email campaign advertising a particular whitepaper – and, because it is targeted, and because it has an interesting offer behind a lead capture form, you will convert a higher percentage of your website visitors into leads with which you can follow up.

Why are landing pages so critical?

Too many companies send their advertising, email, or social media traffic to their homepage. This is a huge missed opportunity. When you know a stream of targeted traffic will be coming to your website, you can increase the likelihood of converting that traffic into leads by using a targeted landing page.

For example, imagine you have a Google AdWords PPC ad running for one of your best keywords. Even if you advertise how great your company is (a boring offer for any company) and someone (amazingly) clicks through on that ad, do you want to send them to your homepage? When they land on your homepage, what are they supposed to do? What do you want them to do? Once you figure out what you want the visitor to do, make it easier for them to do just that. Send them to a landing page that prompts them to complete that action. You’ll see the effectiveness of your online marketing improve dramatically.

What makes a landing page most effective?

Ready to create your first landing page, or improve on a landing page you already have? Here are some of the most important elements to make sure your landing page is working hard for you:

  • Limit Navigation. You’ve brought your targeted traffic to a page where they can take your desired action. Don’t distract them! Limit the number of exits from your landing page so that your visitors are focused on filling out your form. A key part of this is to hide your website navigation elements on landing pages.
  • Deliver Value. First and foremost, if you have a valuable offer, your visitors will give up their contact information in exchange for your offer. Ask yourself if your is offer compelling to your audience and make sure that your landing pages demonstrates that value.
  • Keep your landing page shortEnable Sharing. Tap into a huge community of your best (and free!) marketers: your audience.  Add share links to your landing page to encourage your website visitors to share your content to their audiences.
  • Keep it Short. The longer your landing page and form, the more friction you add to the lead conversion process. Keeping your lead form short and straightforward will increase your conversion rate.
  • Landing Page DashboardTest, Test, Test. As many best practices as you may read about online, your landing page can always use more testing and improvement. Make sure you have a landing page creation tool  that  allows you to create and test many different landing pages to see what works best for your business. 

Are you a landing page guru? Check out some of our advanced tips and data around landing page best practices on effective calls to action and the best/worst button text (hint: don’t use “Submit”).

If you’re working hard to drive traffic to your website, don’t make the mistake of not capturing that traffic as leads.

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Improve Search Rankings with Effective Link Building

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

If you’ve read a bit about search engine optimization (SEO), then you know that attracting lots of high quality inbound links is one of the most effective ways to build authority and improve your rank online. Even if you know how to go about building links – directories, networking and creating remarkable content that people will link to – you may not know what sites to target for inbound links.

First, A Quick Refresher on Inbound Links

An inbound link is a hyperlink on someone else’s web site that includes the URL for a page on your domain. Inbound links vary in quality and usefulness based on the originating site’s own authority, how many other links originate from that page and the actual text that is hyperlinked. What you want most are:

  • Links from high authority sites. Getting a link from the New York Times has much more value than a link from my personal blog. Just like a personal introduction from your dearest friend has more value than an introduction from a distant acquaintance.
  • Links that you don’t have to share. Search engines give a page only a certain amount of credibility. This credibility or “link juice” is split up among the links coming from that page.  That means you get a lot more value from an inbound link that is a story just about your products or services than an inbound link that lists you as one of ten hyperlinked companies.
  • Links with relevant text descriptions. Search engines recognize which words are hyperlinked and give value to those words. Therefore, if someone hyperlinks to your golf school and they hyperlink the text “the program” instead of “golf academy,” you are missing out and you should politely ask the linker if they wouldn’t mind shifting the link to the more SEO-friendly text. Most of the time they are happy to help.

Second, How Do You Research Inbound Links?

Now that you know what you are looking for in an attractive inbound link, you need to figure out WHO you’d like to link to your site. That means some combination of industry relevance, high authority and the ease with which you can get in touch to share content that is link-worthy.

Logically, you should start with what and who you know. Make a short list of trade publications, blogs and contacts in your network who might be good candidates. Now, don’t stop there.

Turns out there are a few tools on the market to help you even further. Tools like SEOMoz’s LinkScape and Yahoo Site Explorer both provide this functionality. HubSpot also provides link research tools as a part of our integrated marketing software. Here’s an example of how you can do research to work out link strategy using HubSpot.

In this example, you see the inbound links for a concrete countertop company. 67 total links with an average of a “low” link grade. What does that really mean?

Inbound Links on Concrete Company Site

Let’s check out the competition to find out. Here’s another local competitor. 

Competitor Link Research

Wow, comparatively speaking, our concrete countertop guy is doing great – he has a lot more links (60+ vs. 10). But maybe there are still some ideas for him here. Looks like the Better Business Bureau link could be of value, as could and which look like listing services. Add these to the list to investigate.

Next, let’s pick a more ambitious competitor. Looking at someone in the concrete business that has national exposure, we can see what Cheng Concrete Exchange is up to.

Competitor with Many Inbound Links

Wow. They are a national outfit and it shows – they have hundreds of inbound links, many of high quality. This is a treasure trove of link opportunities to research further, looking for either personal connections or maybe sites that love to link to award-winning products, great content or customer stories.

Third, What Do You Do With That Research?

That little “spying” activity gave us a lot of insight into how the concrete business is doing and where there might be some opportunities to seek additional inbound links. Next steps would be to do a little research about each interesting source of links and determine what they want for a link. 

  • Is it a member directory that you pay for? 
  • Is it a content centric site that might let you post a guest article? 
  • Or, is it a business that you may already be networking with and you can find out if there are any opportunities to share content or promotions to help each other out with relevant links.

Prioritize that list and start working away at it one link at a time.  You’ll find that online authority and the resulting search results improve over time and the best benefit – the more people find you, the more they link to you, creating a virtuous cycle of link building that will be really hard for your competition to beat!

Try HubSpot’s Free Trial for Effective Inbound Link-Building!

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Tips on Video: B2B Facebook, Social ROI & Repurposing Social Content

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

While traveling recently in New Zealand and a short stay in Sydney, Australia I shot a few videos offering social media marketing tips. Check them out below and you can also view many other tips videos and interviews we’ve done with search and social media marketing experts on the  TopRank Online Marketing YouTube Channel.

Tips on Social Media ROI from Sydney Australia near the famous Opera House & Sydney Harbour Bridge. Sorry about the wind, it messed with the audio a bit. I need to get a Zi8 and a microphone!

Common B2B Facebook Myths from Rangitoto Island, off Auckland, New Zealand. (From an old Army bunker near the mouth of a 600 year old volcano actually)

Tips on Repurposing Social Content from Queenstown, New Zeland on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountain range.

Obviously I have a ways to go before making these kinds of videos really good.  Simply creating an outline script and adding a microphone and tripod would probably make a big difference vs. using a Lumix and making it up as I go.

Despite the non-existent production value, I am curious if readers of Online Marketing Blog are interested in this kind of thing.  I don’t plan on posting them all here, but will likely draw attention to one per trip and post the rest to our YouTube channel.  Is this format of any interest to you?  What do you think of video previews for a longer blog post?

Thanks for watching and reading.

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Will Review Sites Destroy Organic Search?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

describe the imageThis week, the New York Times put a nail in the coffin of organic search in their article about distressed consumers buying from ecommerce sites ranked highly in Google. At the center of the Times’s criticism and commentary on how search engines work is the hundreds of consumer review sites around the web, such as GetSatisfaction, among others.  One site in question, DecorMyEyes, created a policy for themselves of harassing and deliberately making mistakes with their customers – Creating thousands of unhappy customers who were sure to go online and complain about their experience.

Many websites exist to pull together consumer reviews, including GetSatisfaction and the Better Business Bureau. These sites have tens of thousands of pages of user-generated content that helps them rank well in search engines. Unfortunately, people rarely spend the time and effort write to reviews on these sites from positive experiences, meaning that many review sites end up as collections of only the bad reviews.

The owner of DecorMyEyes, the focus of the Times’s article, realized that he could harness that energy to create thousands of inbound links for his website, boosting him up in organic search rankings. GetSatisfaction has since printed a response to the article, noting that links out from their reviews are tagged with the “nofollow” article, meaning that search engine credit does not pass out from them to the site being reviewed. Either way, enough reviews and links exist on the web to catapult to the top of the search engine rankings. Because of these review sites and search engine’s current ranking methods DecorMyEyes was able to increase its traffic and customers by intentionally creating unhappy customers.

Marketing Takeaway

What is a good inbound marketer to do in the face of such overwhelming poor taste on the part of their competition? First, relax – The New York Times article notes that DecorMyEyes has many issues with their business as a result of their customer policies. They are very troubled financially, and are constantly threatened with losing their authority to process transactions by MasterCard and Visa. It appears that they are spending almost as much time trying to keep the basic mechanics of their business running as they are actually selling their merchandise. This also will not work for any business that depends on repeat business – None of their unhappy customers will ever come back for a second purchase.

The ultimate solution here will be part of Google’s continuing strategy of adding reviews and editorial commentary to links in their search engine results. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote quite a bit about that yesterday, with examples. Google is doing their best to serve the best results their algorithm can show – We wouldn’t want them to take a direct editorial view and take a website out of the index because of negative reviews or comments – Imagine what would happen to so many sites around politics, religion, and other controversial topics.

Ultimately, as a marketer, you should continue to build links in the smart ways that you have before, and collect testimonials from your best customers and their experiences. Publish those on your website, and place them strategically as content around your website. They will both encourage the people that you shared to share the links with their friends, and provide comfort to the website visitors considering your business.

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Convincing Your Boss in the Value of Social Media [Marketing Cast]

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Have you faced challenges when explaining to your senior management that social media is worth your time and effort? In this episode of the Weekly Marketing Cast, David Meerman Scott outlines a few ways to make this argument more convincing. 

People Are Fearful of New Technology

David points out that people are often fearful of emerging technologies and of “investing time and money into something that is new.” That has been the natural response of many companies when first PCs and then Email got introduced into office spaces. “The same thing is now happening with social media,” notes David.

Marketing Takeaway: As an industry leader, you shouldn’t fear new technology but figure out ways to leverage its power.

Follow the Steps of Your Customers

“If your existing and potential customers, and the media, and the analysts are using social networking, then you have to be using that too,” says David. “So, it is a really easy decision.” There are reports announcing not only the number of people using certain networks, but also the profiles of these audiences.

Marketing Takeaway: Research which platforms host your target audience and focus your engagement efforts there.

Share Examples of Success

There are tons of case studies from various industries and organizations that provide compelling examples of successful usage of social media for business. For instance, you can find a few on HubSpot’s case studies page and on David’s blog, Web Ink Now

Marketing Takeaway: Pick a case study in your industry and share it with your boss.

These are just a few ways in which you can demonstrate the value of social media to your senior management and erase their doubts about emerging technologies. As David says, “Try to get your executives, board members, whoever is providing the push-back, to divorce their fear of this stuff from the reality of what people are using to communicate today.”

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Ben & Jerry’s Complete Rejection Of Conventional Wisdom

Monday, November 29th, 2010

I was at a conference recently where Ben Greenfield from Ben & Jerry’s was the lunchtime keynote speaker.  The thing that struck me about the talk was how a very unlikely duo became very successful by ignoring conventional wisdom at every turn.  Here are some of the ways they ignored conventional wisdom that I liked a lot:

1.  Ben & Jerry’s started in Burlington, Vermont, selling ice cream cones.  The problem they quickly ran into was that no one bought ice cream cones in the winter in Vermont!!  To try to stimulate sales in the winter, they offered a penny off for each degree below 32 degrees it was that day.  In other words, if it was 2 degrees out, you got 30 cents off your cone.  Brilliant!  [Does this spur any creative packaging ideas for your business?]

Screen shot 2010 11 29 at 11.49.48 AM resized 600

2.  They had a heck of a time getting merchants to buy their ice cream from them since they already stocked Haagen Dazs and other flavors.  In order to break the logjam, they offered to BUY BACK any unsold ice cream from the stores.  This turned out to be the difference maker for them in the early days!  [How about you try doing a money back guarantee for your product as a test -- might it work better than all traditional marketing stuff combined?]

3.  Once they started to get momentum in Vermont, they convinced some larger distributors to carry their products alongside Haagen Dazs.  Once Pillsbury (Haagen Dazs parent company) found out about their distributors carrying both products, they threatened to pull out of their arrangements with them.  Ben & Jerry’s went on a “What’s The Doughboy Afraid Of” offensive against Pillsbury.  They took out ads in the Wall Street Journal, Jerry picketed in front of Pillbury headquarters, they put a call to action about this issue on their ice cream containers asking customers to write to Pillsbury’s ceo, etc.  Guess what — it worked! [Is there a clever way to upset the distribution model in your industry?]

4.  When they were about $3million in annual revenue, they wanted to expand.  All of their advisors told them to talk with venture capitalists and private equity folks.  They didn’t like that idea, so they did their own version of an IPO.  They sold shares in Ben & Jerry’s for $126 each door-to-door and store-to-store in Vermont and raised $750k — one in every 100 households in Vermont bought a share in the company.  They later did a national offering in the same style to raise more money.  Fascinating!  [Could you leverage your fundraising process to build more fans of your company and get more customers?]

5.  When they were well down the path and quite successful, Jerry went to one of his advisors and said he wasn’t happy and was thinking of selling the business.  His advisor said, “If you don’t like it, change it — your the CEO.”  Ben never thought about it that way and set about making some radical changes to the company to align it with the way he thought a business should be run.  The most glaring of these changes was that 7.5% of the company’s pre-tax profits was put it into a foundation that supported organizations that the employees thought helped social and environmental issues.  He didn’t comment on this in his keynote and I don’t think he did it for this reason, but I betcha this more than paid for itself in profits because everytime someone eats their ice cream, they know that some of the profits are going to a good cause.  [Could you spin up a similar program that would help your bottom line at the same time as it helped a good cause:  1+1=3?]

HubSpot is the first company I have ever started (if you don’t count Stroker Ace Painting Co in college — smile) and I have found myself having an interesting relationship with conventional wisdom.  Here at HubSpot we tend to question conventional wisdom every step of the way.  In some cases, that questioning turns into our spending a lot of cycles on something that turns out to work just fine if you follow conventional wisdom — uugghh!  In other cases, that questioning turns out to be just right because conventional wisdom is out of date and dead wrong.

Our biggest “win” as a company is our complete rejection of traditional marketing conventional wisdom.  As you all know by now, we believe that traditional, outbound marketing (advertisements, email spam, cold calls, etc) is dying as people are getting sick of the interruptions and getting better at blocking them out (dvr’s, pop-up blockers, Pandora, spam protection, CallerID, etc).  It is this complete rejection of marketing conventional wisdom upon which we have built our company and it is working out pretty well so far (3600 customers today — up from about 1600 customers a year ago).

Probably our second biggest “win” as a company is our near complete rejection of how “work” should happen and how the relationship between a company and its employees should operate.  This rethinking of the work structure and culture has provided big benefits for us in that we have attracted really great employees who are highly motivated…the company was named the #1 Place To Work by The Boston Business Journal and the #4 Place To Work by the Boston Globe.

What do you all think?  Do you have an complicated relationship with conventional wisdom like I do?  Do you tend to go with the flow or try to rethink the flow like Ben & Jerry’s did? 

What companies do you really admire?  Do those companies win because they follow conventional wisdom or ignore it? 

Free Download: 2010 Online Marketing Blueprint

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Google Testing 4 Organics

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Just saw this on Google (see screenshot below), it’s basically a search results page with very accurate location information (my poscode has been erased out) and it only shows 4 listings. DaveN says he has seen this on some searches for brands and James, one of our developers, has also been seeing it. If Google [...]

Google Testing 4 Organics is a post from: Dave Naylor’s SEO Blog.

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Developing Personas for Better Social Media Marketing

Friday, November 26th, 2010

personasDemystifying better social media marketing often starts with doing a better job of connecting with customers. But how can you connect with customers if you don’t know who they are?

Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what they search for and talk about on social networks? What influences them to buy or to recommend things to others?

While I’m pretty sure an entire book or two could be written about the details behind the art and science of developing personas and profiles, here are a few quick tips you can implement right now to get started.

I first heard of personas from Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester at a MIMA Summit in 2005. She discussed methodology for persona development and it seemed a very smart way to better segment and personalize marketing communications to be more relevant and effective. At the time, there weren’t a lot of resources for small businesses to implement.

To start, here are some considerations:

  • What are your customers content preferences?
  • How do they discover, consume & share content?
  • What are they looking for on search engines and discussing on the social web?

The answers to questions like these can help marketers make important decisions about content marketing strategy, social media channels of focus and measurement via social monitoring and web analytics.

Developing a profile involves collecting data, aggregating and analyzing it into profiles and maintaining the personas based on ongoing measurement and analysis.

Starting point: Getting data to develop personas. Here are a few ideas on where to get the information from which you can aggregate profiles representing customer segments you’re trying to engage:

  • Survey existing customers aka “Ask them”
  • Web analytics & conversion data
  • Social media listening tools
  • Demographic info from Quantcast, Compete
  • Keyword info SEMRush, Google
  • Engagement info from PostRank
  • Aggregate social network information from Flowtown, Rapleaf (assuming you have an email list)

The data you collect can be compiled and analyzed to reveal common characteristics for persona development. Then that persona can guide everything from the kind of content planned on landing pages, blogs and social media. It can also guide engagement via social channels.

I’ll follow this post up with another giving a few examples of how persona’s can be put into action. I

If you’ve tested or implemented personas with social media marketing, please share your experiences. What worked? What didn’t? What questions do you have?

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Google: The World’s Biggest Porn Site?

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

It’s something of a truism that porn drove the development of much of what we take for granted on the web today. Streaming video, social networking and online payments were all pioneered by porn sites well before most of today’s etailing giants were diagrams on a white board. Of course, porn is also at the [...]

Google: The World’s Biggest Porn Site? is a post from: Dave Naylor’s SEO Blog.

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