Archive for February, 2012

New Facebook Premium Advertising Features Offer Marketers 3X the ROI

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

new facebook featuresintermediate

Looks like Facebook wanted to close out February 2012 with quite a bang. In addition to the launch of its new Facebook business page design, which mimics the familiar timeline layout personal profiles adopted over the past couple of months (learn how to set up your page and leverage the countless other feature tweaks in our complete guide), Facebook also announced three new features today that should get marketers pretty excited.

  • Facebook Premium Offers
  • Reach Generator
  • Mobile News Feed and Logout Page Ads

So what are these new features all about? Let’s break down what each new feature does and how it changes how you advertise on Facebook.

Facebook Premium Offers

The Next Web reports that Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg shared the goal of making marketing more social today at the Facebook Marketing Conference in New York, after which Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox took the stage to congratulate marketers for being Facebook’s best content creators, and presumably reward them for it with the news marketers have been waiting to hear from Facebook for a while — Facebook is going to make it easier to get marketers’ content in front of more people (and the right people, at that) more often.

What exactly does that mean? The release of “Facebook Premium Offers,” available now — that’s what it means. In short, you can think of it as the Facebook equivalent of Twitter’s Sponsored Tweets, giving your Facebook premium advertising and Sponsored Stories better placement. Mike Hoefflinger, Facebook’s director of global business marketing, explained that with Premium Offers, a brand can start with a post to their page, and if it’s successful, choose to increase that post’s distribution through Premium Offers. “Over the last few years while testing the efficacy of Premium,” he shares, “it can hit 3X the ROI for brands.

Reach Generator

The release of this feature should be music to marketers’ ears. As Hoefflinger tells it, Facebook fans have been found to be twice as valuable as the general population based on purchase behavior, so it makes sense you’d want to promote your content — think offers, coupons, and landing pages — to the low hanging fruit that could more easily convert into a customer. That’s why Facebook also introduced something called “Reach Generator,” a new product that guarantees that 75% of your fans will see your brand’s content each month. Facebook cited Ben & Jerry’s as a case study who, using these new tools, reached 98% of their fans and increased sales 3 to 1. Right now, less than 16% of a page’s Facebook fans see their posts.

So if marketers know what stories their Facebook fans enjoy the most — let’s say for HubSpot, it’s our educational content about using social media for marketing — we can use the Reach Generator to promote those stories as Premium Offers so they are distributed to more people — 75% more, to be precise. These stories will appear in the news feed right in the mix with all of your fans’ other updates — on desktop and mobile devices.

Reach Generator is now available through Facebook’s premium managed accounts, and it establishes fixed pricing based on the number of fans your page has. It will also help marketers select the posts with the highest potential for success in the new ad placement format.

Mobile News Feed and Logout Page Ads

Wait, did you say ads are appearing in the news feed on mobile devices, too?

Why, thank you for noticing. It’s true, Facebook announced that starting today, news feed ads will be shown on mobile devices, too. But the prominence of ads doesn’t stop there. Users will also begin seeing ads when they log out of Facebook, starting in April. Boy, they sure are aiming to monetize after their S-1, aren’t they?

facebook logout ads

These stories you’re telling with the new Premium Offers and Reach Generator will now also appear when users log out of Facebook — a fantastic idea, as it turns out, since according to TechCrunch, 105 million people log out of Facebook every month, not to mention that there is no other content to distract users during the log-out process, giving your stories even more visibility. But if you’re a Facebook advertiser, make sure you still create compelling, eye-catching content in these giant log-out ads; users don’t tend to hang around the log-out screen for too long!

As we learn more about these new features (Facebook hasn’t even blogged about them, yet!), we will keep you updated about which tactics are most effective.

What marketing value do you see in any or all of these three new Facebook advertising feature launches? Will you be experimenting with this new functionality, or do you think it’s too intrusive for users?

Image credit: stoneysteiner


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The Complete Guide to Setting Up the New Facebook Page Design

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

fb page introductionintroductory3

Our social media team had a nice little surprise upon logging into Facebook this morning. We hinted at it last month, but it looks like the day has already come. The new Facebook business page design, which is virtually the same as Timeline, is now available for all businesses to implement on Facebook pages!

Facebook is giving page administrators the chance to preview, tweak, and publish their new design immediately, but the new design won’t be forced on you until March 30, 2012. In other words, you have until March 30 to play around with the new design without publishing before it must go live. Here’s what you need to know to make the most out of the new design and all the features it has to offer.

How to Set Up Your New Facebook Page Design

Upon logging in and accessing your Facebook business page as an administrator, you’ll be presented with the following message:

page preview resized 600

Start Tour: Click the green ‘Start Tour’ button to get started.

Step 1A: Set Your Cover Photo

In the ‘About’ section of the tour, you’ll first be prompted to choose what’s called a cover photo for your page. If you’re familiar with Timeline for personal profiles, this is similar to the large banner image that is shown at the top of the page. For pages, the cover photo dimensions are 851 x 315 pixels. Choose an image that is representative of your brand, and don’t be afraid to get creative with it (here are some great examples from Social Fresh to spark some creativity). You can change it as often as you wish, but you should also adhere to Facebook’s policies regarding cover photos, which states that cover photos cannot include:

  • Price or purchase information, such as “40% off” or “Download it at our website.”
  • Contact information such as a website address, email, mailing address, or information that should go in your Page’s “About” section.
  • References to Facebook features or actions, such as “Like” or “Share” or an arrow pointing from the cover photo to any of these features.
  • Calls-to-action, such as “Get it now” or “Tell your friends.”
  • Covers must not be false, deceptive or misleading, and must not infringe on third parties’ intellectual property.

No calls-to-action? A little bit strict, Facebook … don’t you think?

final cover photo hubspot resized 600

Step 1B: Set Your Profile Picture

Once you click ‘Next,’ Facebook will prompt you to adjust your profile picture, which is the image that will get shown next to each of your updates on your wall and in users’ news feeds; it will also appear with any sponsored stories or ads that you run. A logo is a good choice here, but you can choose any image that is representative of your brand. Choose an image that fits 180 x 180 pixels and also looks good when scaled down to a thumbnail size of 32 x 32 pixels

hubspot profile image resized 600

Step 2: Organize Your Views & Apps

The new design features photos, likes, and apps at the top of your page below your cover photo. Photos are automatically featured in the first spot, but page admins can rearrange the rest to feature the most important ones first. Overall, a total of 12 apps can be shown here, which can be viewed when page visitors click the dropdown arrow (highlighted in orange in the image below). Admins can also customize the images that get shown for each app in this toolbar using the ‘Manage’ >> ‘Edit Page’ dropdown via the ‘Admin Panel,’ which is accessible at the top right of their business page.

views tour resized 600

Step 3: Star, Hide, or Pin

In step 3 of the tour, Facebook will prompt you to modify the items in your page’s timeline. By hovering over individual stories, you can make them wider, hide them from your timeline with the pencil icon, highlight them as important with the star icon, or delete them entirely. A great new feature to note here is that you can pin/anchor a specific story to the top of your timeline for up to 7 days. This means you can highlight specific posts such as remarkable content, calls-to-action for your best marketing offers, or other events/promotions you want to feature. Pinning it to the top of your page will prevent it from getting buried by more recent updates. Perhaps Facebook is offering this functionality in an attempt to make up for its strict cover photo guidelines.

star hide image resized 600

Step 4: Explore the Admin Panel

The new Admin Panel which, as we mentioned earlier, page admins can access from the link at the top right of their business page, allows admins to track all of the activity on their page in one convenient place. From here, admins can easily respond to comments, edit their page settings, access Page Insights (i.e. Facebook page analytics), create new ads, and even change the name of their page.

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Step 5: Enable Messages

The Facebook guided tour ends with information about messages, a brand new feature for business pages. Admins can now allow users to send them personal messages. This makes it much easier for admins to have private conversations with their fans. Use this feature when you need to discuss a topic or customer service issue in more depth, and when you’d prefer the conversation not be made public for all page visitors to see. We don’t recommend limiting methods of communication available to your fans, but admins can also choose to turn off messaging capability by accessing the Admin Panel, choosing ‘Manage’ >> ‘Edit Page’ >> ‘Manage Permissions,’ and unchecking the ‘Messages’ box.

messages final resized 600

Additional Features

In addition to the new features we’ve covered in the tour above, there are several other features available in the new page design that you should also know about.

About: Although the ‘About’ section of your Facebook page isn’t exactly a ‘new’ feature available with these updates, it’s still worth mentioning due to the prominent placement it gets in the new design (see below). This section gives you the opportunity to briefly explain your business and let new visitors quickly understand what your business is about. Keep it brief so the description doesn’t get cut off, and include a URL to your business’ website.

about section resized 600

Friend Activity: When people visit your new business page, they will now have a more personalized experience because they’ll see how their personal Facebook friends have interacted with your page. In other words, if a user tags your business page in one of their posts or checks in at your business’ location, the people they originally shared with (i.e. their Facebook friends) will see these stories highlighted for them on your business page’s timeline if they visit it. You can learn more about your page’s visibility settings here and what people can see here. In a nutshell, this means that your page will now include more elements of social proof; if a visitor to your page sees that he/she has friends who have interacted with your page, they might be more enticed to stick around and become a fan themselves.

As you can see from the screenshot below, the new design shows me how many friends of mine are fans of the HubSpot page. I can also see a post one of my friends made about the HubSpot page.

friend activity resized 600
Milestones: The new design also allows admins to feature what are called “Milestones” on their page. This allows page admins to highlight some of their business’ biggest accomplishments, such as fan growth, award wins, product releases, etc. Milestone images are set at 843 x 403 pixels. You create a new (or past) milestone via the status update box, which will prompt you to input the following information about your milestone.

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When complete, it will look something like this on your timeline:

describe the image

Activity Log: Your activity log allows you to view, manage, and organize all the posts on your page (even the ones you chose to hide from your timeline). With this page, you can filter stories by date or story type (see “All”), view spam vs. photos vs. comments vs. posts by others, and the list goes on. From this view, you can also hide, delete, or star (highlight) individual stories, as well as change dates of stories on your timeline. To access the activity log for a page, page admins should visit their Admin Panel and click ‘Manage’ >> ‘Use Activity Log.’

activity log resized 600

Best Practices For the New Page Design

In addition to the tried and true Facebook marketing best practices you’re likely already used to, here are a few additional ones to add to your list, brought to you by the brand new page design.

1) Publish More Visual Content

Facebook’s new timeline page design places more of an emphasis on visual content like images and videos, so use that to your advantage. According to an internal Facebook study, “posts including a photo album or picture can generate 2X more engagement than other post types.” Because these images will now appear larger and more prominently on your page, make it a point of posting your best visual content to your Facebook page, or make more of an effort to make the content you already create more visual. Think photos, charts, infographics, and other content visualizations. And hey — you can always use it on other visual-oriented social networks like Pinterest and Google+, too!

2) Feature Custom Tabs in Views & Apps Toolbar for Lead Gen

Unfortunately, with the new timeline design for pages, Facebook no longer allows you to set a default landing tab for your business page. All new page visitors will automatically be directed to your timeline. This means that for those of you using the HubSpot Facebook Welcome App, you can no longer make it so that new visitors see that tab upon visiting your page for the first time. That being said, you can feature the app (or other custom apps/tabs) in the Views & Apps toolbar below your cover photo. As we mentioned in step 2 of our setup steps above, be sure to rearrange your Views & Apps icons to show your top tabs to highlight tabs you’re using for lead generation.

facebook welcome resized 600

3) Edit Images That Appear in Your Views & Apps Bar

To build off our last best practice, you’ll also want to make sure you choose the best images possible to represent the items in your Views & Apps toolbar. To customize the way these apps appear on your page, visit the Admin Panel, click ‘Manage,’ and choose ‘Edit Page’ from the dropdown menu. In the ‘Apps’ section, click ‘Edit Settings’ for the specific app image. Then you can upload the new image you’d like to use to feature that app (dimensions should be 111 x 74 pixels). This will enable you to turn your featured apps into compelling calls-to-action, as HubSpot did in the image example above to highlight its HubSpot Welcome App tab. Use these to call attention to your premium content to support Facebook lead generation.

4) Make Sure Your Best Posts Appear on Your Timeline

Make sure to expose visitors of your page to your most important content. To do so, make your default setting ‘Allowed on Timeline’ by checking ‘Everyone can post to HubSpot’s timeline’ in the ‘Manage Permissions’ section of your page settings. To highlight posts you want to give prominent placement on your timeline (they’ll take up the full width of your timeline), access your Activity Log and select ‘Highlight on Timeline’ to star particular posts.

5) Pin New Featured Promotions Every 7 Days

As we mentioned in setup step 3, admins are now able to pin content to the tops of their pages for 7 days at a time. Use this to anchor updates about the promotions you want to feature (e.g. events, new marketing offers, other awesome content, etc.) to the top of your page to make them as visible to page visitors as possible. Pinned stories will appear right below the status update compose box. Update your anchor pin every 7 days once the old one expires. To pin an update, hover over a story, click on the pencil icon in the top right corner, and choose ‘Pin to Top.’

pin to top

Conclusion & Additional Resources

As you can tell, there’s a lot to learn and get used to with the new Facebook page design. Use the next month to experiment with your timeline, and achieve the look you want before you publish it to the world. In the meantime, we’ll keep the helpful content coming and do our best to uncover any new best practices as we find them.

If you’d like to check out what a timeline page looks like in the wild, we published HubSpot’s new page design this morning. It’s still a work in progress, but take a look!

Facebook has also published a few helpful resources you can access for even more information:

Are you excited for the new Facebook page design?


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Why Social Networks Like Pinterest Will Never Be Marketing-Free

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

pinterest ebook pinintermediate

Since the recent explosion in popularity of Pinterest, many marketers have been experimenting with how they can take advantage of it for business. And as evidenced by the success of HubSpot’s new ebook on how to use Pinterest for business, which has been downloaded by over 37,000 people, it looks like a lot of you are interested in figuring out how to leverage this new social channel for your marketing efforts, too, regardless of whether you’re a B2C or a B2B company.

It’s no surprise. At HubSpot, we’ve been noticing some very interesting trends from our own Pinterest presence. We compared the conversion rate of our presence on Pinterest to that of another fairly new social network you may have heard of: it’s called Google+. And in the month of February, our visitor-to-lead conversion rate for Pinterest has been nearly double than that for Google+: 16% from Pinterest vs. 8.4% from Google+. Turns out traffic from Pinterest converts pretty darn well for us, even though we’re a B2B company.

But a recent comment thread on one of HubSpot’s pins — interestingly, a pin of our new Pinterest ebook we just mentioned (how meta, right?) — has raised a fascinating debate. Should websites like Pinterest be off-limits to marketers?

The Pinterest Marketing Debate

First, let’s take a look at Pinterest’s Etiquette regarding self-promotion:

pin etiquette

Sounds pretty vague and lacking a definitive stance on whether/how marketers can use Pinterest, right? Just the fact that Pinterest calls these guidelines “etiquette” rather than something more concrete like “rules” or “policies” implies a lenient point of view regarding how the site should be used. And if you focus on the keywords “try” and “purely” highlighted by us in red above, you might start to realize why Pinterest isn’t exactly slamming down on marketers’ presence on Pinterest. And there are quite a few out there.   

If you’d like to read the whole comment thread debate that resulted from HubSpot’s controversial pin, which has accumulated 40 comments in the past 5 days, you can do so here. The gist of it is, there were a few people who believed that because the nature of Pinterest is to “curate and share things you love,” the site is meant for users to share content they come across on the web, not for marketers to share their own content. And because HubSpot posted content that was deemed by some users to be violating Pinterest’s etiquette of “avoiding self promotion,” those users were disapproving of HubSpot’s behavior.

Opponents of brands on Pinterest aside, many other Pinterest users came to HubSpot’s defense. They raised the point that HubSpot wasn’t pinning images of its paid product, but rather of its free, educational content. They also mentioned that HubSpot wasn’t using Pinterest purely for promotional purposes, pointing to HubSpot’s other pinboards of non-promotional content that are used in alignment with the Pinterest vision of sharing the things you love with people who share your interests.

As one commenter pointed out, what is the difference between HubSpot pinning its valuable content and hairstylists pinning images of their beautiful hairstyles? Hairstylists may seem to have a more acceptable presence on Pinterest because their styles are more visually appealing than, say, an ebook cover; however, it’s no less promotional, which seems to be the crux of the issue. And for a Pinterest user who could care less about hairstyles but loves reading educational ebook content, following HubSpot’s pins would provide more value to them individually. In other words, value is the eye of the beholder, and as another commenter said:

user comment 2

The debate on HubSpot’s pin is just one example to illustrate a larger, more interesting discussion topic: Should certain websites or channels be off-limits to marketers? Even more so, can channels that are completely devoid of marketing ever exist? The short answer? Probably not. Here’s why…

Social Media Sites Need a Way to Monetize

As we’ve seen with most other social networks, marketing tools aren’t usually built into new social networks right off the bat. Just look at some of the most popular social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn … all of these social networks now provide tools specifically designed to enable businesses to better leverage those social networks’ marketing potential (e.g. internal advertising platforms, business branded pages, etc.); but none of these social networks launched with these tools available.

I could be wrong, but it seems like Pinterest’s vague guidelines regarding self-promotion weren’t exactly an oversight. It’s likely that Pinterest wants to see how people naturally use the social network and watch how that usage evolves over time. As one commenter on the HubSpot pin noted:

user commentPinterest may also have intentions of leaving itself open to future ways of monetizing its site. While Pinterest was unique in that, unlike many other major social networks, it monetized its presence early on through the use of Skimlinks, I wouldn’t be surprised if down the line, Pinterest started offering tools and functionality specifically geared toward marketers, like an advertising platform and brand pages, just as the other major social networks before it have done.

Social Networks are Permission-Centric

As I mentioned, the major social networks that still exist today have thrived because they’ve been able to monetize their existence through advertising. Although some users may like to think that social networks should be void of intrusive ads and outbound-style marketing, these sites simply wouldn’t be able to exist without it. In other words, they require an element of intrusiveness to thrive. That being said, with better personalization and targeting that is evolving around online social advertising, advertising and marketing on social networks can still be less intrusive than other offline, outbound marketing methods.

What was particularly interesting about the comment thread on HubSpot’s controversial pin was the fact that the few people who were against marketers’ presence on sites like Pinterest seemed to be making the point that brands’ organic presence there is already intrusive. And as a company that strongly believes in the concept of inbound marketing, which is built on the principle of permission-based marketing, this point of view was alarming to us at HubSpot.

All major social media sites are built around the concept of following the users you want to follow so you see only updates that are interesting and relevant to you. In other words, you can subscribe to the content you want to see, and avoid the content you wish not to see. Communication like the phone and email, on the other hand, is not necessarily permission-centric. While he or she may be breaking the law in doing so, technically a marketer can email and call you if they have your contact information, whether or not they have your permission. However, with an organic social media presence, a marketer cannot share messages directly with you unless you follow them/their brand and give them permission. Therefore, the social media user is the one in control in social media (it is permission-centric), and that is what makes social media inherently inbound and different from communication methods like the telephone and email.

So how could HubSpot’s organic presence on Pinterest be considered intrusive? If a user has chosen to follow a particular brand on Pinterest or any other social site, is this not permission-centric? If the users who were angered by HubSpot’s pins weren’t following HubSpot’s account, why should they feel so violated? As one user commented:

user comment 3The fact of the matter is, social media sites are building in content other than what users specifically subscribe to as part of their models. On Pinterest, for example, users can choose to view “everything” that has been pinned on Pinterest, regardless of whether they’re specifically following those pinners or not (although the keyword there is choose).

pinterest everything

This is likely how some of the disapproving users found HubSpot’s pin in the first place. Another likely scenario is that those users were following pinners who re-pinned HubSpot’s original pin. A similar dynamic occurs on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter, as users can share and retweet other users’ updates. But is this not the nature of a “social” network? Surely, users of social networks should understand that this is how all social networks generally function, and that it’s under the networks’ — not marketers’ — control.

How Marketers Should Adapt to New Channels

As marketers, we’ll always be on the lookout for new ways to reach our target audience and spread awareness for our business, and it’s unrealistic to think that this will ever change. While most consumers understand that marketing is pervasive these days, the takeaway here is that marketers need to modify and adapt their strategies based on the platforms and channels they’re leveraging as well as how their audience uses them. It’s important to understand that each social channel comes with its own nuances, which require marketers to customize their strategies to suit those individual subtleties. In our introductory blog post about how to use Pinterest for marketing, for example, we advised that marketers use the new network similar to the way people are naturally using it — and the way Pinterest frames its vision — emphasizing that marketers should use Pinterest to highlight the lifestyle their brand promotes, not the products it sells.

Furthermore, when it comes to new channels like Pinterest, marketers should watch how users are adapting and using the site overall. As we mentioned before, Pinterest likely left its guidelines so vague in order to see how the site would evolve and how different types of users would leverage it. So if you launch a brand presence on a new social network like Pinterest, monitor it closely, and be receptive to the feedback from your followers and other users. When we noticed our HubSpot pin had sparked an interesting discussion and debate, for example, we chimed in to learn how we could improve and adapt our Pinterest presence to provide our followers with the best value.

hubspot comment

As with any new social network, it will take time for marketers to settle in and find their place, but I doubt any social network will ever be completely devoid of marketing.

What do you think about marketers’ presence on Pinterest? Should marketing ever be ‘off-limits’ in certain channels?


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It’s Not SEO Anymore, It’s Marketing. Deal With It.

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Customer Centric SEO

Optimize For Customer Experience

When people learn I’ve recently written a book called Optimize they usually ask what it’s about. I say it’s about optimizing customer discovery and engagement with content. The response I usually get is something like, “Oh, cool. I thought it was about SEO.”

Well, in a way optimizing content and customer experiences is SEO. That’s because what most of the better SEOs practice today is really more about the promise of marketing: attracting, engaging and inspiring customers to buy.

Whether it’s Google, Social Networks, Online News Media, Digital Assets or any other channel/format for content – best practices optimization is in effect for smart companies that want an advantage.

2005 Called, It Wants Its SEO Back. If your SEO is still overwhelmingly focused on massive keyword lists, ranking reports and directory/social bookmarking style link building then you’re stuck in 2005. It’s time to evolve with an optimized state of mind.

Optimize Throughout the Customer Life Cycle. To “optimize” in the search world may have traditionally focused on keywords and links but has changed to focus holistically on the journey from prospect to customer to advocate. At least in my view it does. When companies look at the entire customer life cycle, it will reveal a tremendous opportunity for optimization, not just for the top of the sales funnel.

Modern Optimization is Adaptable. When Google, Bing and Ask implemented various media and data sources into common search results (Universal Search) SEOs adjusted with digital asset optimization. When Google evolved their place pages, SEOs adjusted with local, mobile and geo-specific optimization. Panda? Better quality and less duplicate content. Personalization? Better title tag and meta description writing to inspire greater CTR. Social? Say hello to a tirade of G+ SEO. Conversions? Check. Pigeon Rank? If was real, check.

Helping Search Engines Helps Our Optimization. Technical SEO will have it’s place as long as there is an opportunity to create advantage by doing so. Search engines are imperfect in their attempt to crawl, index and rank all of the digital content that exists online. Making that process easier, more efficient, more useful and meaningful for search engines is something website owners must pay attention to regardless of how the search experience evolves ala universal, personal and social.

Optimization is Art and Science. Process, continual data analysis and tools are also persistent characteristics within the world of SEO because they enable some science into the art of optimization so it can scale.

Holistic Optimization for the Win. At the same time, the notion of optimization with a holistic view extends to all aspects of the customer experience with brand content. Whatever can be discovered, consumed or shared can be optimized for better performance – both for customers and for achieving brand business objectives. That means marketing, public relations, customer service, investor relations, human resources/recruiting and any other content a businesses publishes online.

Optimization Follows Search Engine Innovation. The best practices of optimization mirror many marketing best practices and in the end, the best way to view business investment in modern SEO is as an investment in marketing and all that marketing tactics can achieve. Optimizing the search experience works concomitantly with changes in search technology and how search engines work. There is no death to SEO, just a shift in what to optimize in order to improve performance.

Continuous Optimization Is Forever and Profitable. Just because Google masks keyword referrers for logged in users, emphasized Google+ content and signals, elevated content quality standards and changed how links are evaluated doesn’t mean opportunities to optimize have gone away. For companies that employ optimization as a process of continuous implementation, assessment and improvement, there’s nothing closer to effective online marketing than the practice of optimization.

Don’t Tread on SEO, Elevate It. For those who think SEO is dead. It’s just your limited understanding of SEO that’s dead. For web developers that treat SEO as a one-time task during web design and only focus on marketing content (vs. ALL of the website content), and no ongoing content promotion, you’re only touching the surface and may be causing your clients to lose revenue in the long run. For bottom feeding SEOs that continue to over-promise and under-deliver with sensationalized accounts of traffic boosts, rankings and links, you’re short sightedness is hurting companies and our industry.

SEO is really just marketing, so deal with it. The evolution of customer centric content marketing and it’s intersection with social media and optimization represents the kind of online marketing that companies are really sinking their teeth into in 2012 and beyond. To be a great SEO, be a great marketer because that’s what SEO is.

Learn More at Search Congress, Barcelona. I am very much looking forward to presenting on this very topic at Search Congress in Barcelona this week. I may not speak a lick of Spanish or Catalan, but hopefully my enthusiasm for the topic will make up for my Midwestern accented English.

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Social Engagement ROI & the Value of Exchange

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Social Media Engagement & ROIHow do you measure your online marketing performance? What are your goals, your KPIs and how do you measure ROI? These are pretty common questions in the world of social media marketing.

As companies evolve their people, process and technology to attract, engage and inspire customers through content, I think attention on a broader view of the value that is created warrants consideration.

Many companies that approach my agency ask about the ROI of specific tactics as if they are gambling money with a direct rate of return. If there are agencies contributing to that perspective amongst clients side marketers, I wish they would stop. It’s not helping anyone. Here’s why:

The underpinning of marketing is centered around presenting something of value to customers who hopefully exchange money for it. Many marketers use the notion of ROI to characterize the effect of their marketing investment. Of course it makes sense to understand what the return is on where you’re spending money. But I think traditional models of ROI (input – output) can miss the point of how much impact integrated search, social and content marketing can have on the overall customer relationship. Besides ROI, there are other cumulative effects that can amplify the effect of optimized online marketing efforts that are worth measuring.

Today’s digitally savvy customers are empowered to publish and prone to share their experiences with brands, friends and broader social networks. Consumer expectations of brands are evolving into participatory exchanges with multiple threads of dialog. What consumers want from socially savvy brands is not just about getting free coupons or unique content any more.

The brand / customer relationship is not just about marketing presenting offers to target customers. Brand points of contact are not limited to designated personnel in sales, customer service, media relations or recruiting. Socially empowered businesses are connecting with social savvy customers in a matrix of connections. The growth of social business means entire organizations are becoming empowered to communicate and advocate on behalf of the brand. What’s the ROI on that?

Value of Exchange – The relationship between consumers and the brands they buy from involves more than just a single transaction or a subscription. Every touchpoint between a company and a customer is an opportunity to advance or decline the relationship. Businesses have come a long way in doing that for specific departments such as marketing, PR, sales and customer service.  But with the advent of social business and social media empowerment across the organization, the threads of dialog between employees and customers becomes diverse very quickly.

How to manage that? You don’t. Not entirely at least. You inspire it with leadership and a vision for what your brand stands for and what kind of relationship you want with customers, employees, partners, the media and public.

Maybe you’ve observed or worked with companies that have singularly emphasized ROI in every marketing tactic employed without seeing the bigger picture of investing in the broader brand and customer relationship. Viewing industry relationship building as speculative and with uncertain financial ROI can cost a business substantially in the form of positive brand connections with customers, influencers and media. There’s a sort of equity of relationship that serves as an outcome of meaningful industry participation and leadership that many companies don’t  bother with because it doesn’t answer short term ROI questions.

When a competitor makes those investments, the neck and neck competition normally experienced can give way to the competitor pulling away because of the amplification effect on their marketing efforts that continued and consistent investments in network development, relationship building and goodwill have achieved – all without certain or short term ROI.

Is your company making marketing investments solely based on immediate ROI? Are you also making investments in resources and relationships as a thought leader and building your network beyond prospects, investors and industry journalists? How are you measuring the value of exchange between your employees and the public?

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Businesses That Blog Generate 2X More Email Traffic [New Data]

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

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Peanut butter and jelly, Brad and Angelina, sun and sand, puddles and boots, blogging and email. What do these all have in common?

They’re all better together!

A new study of over 6,000 HubSpot customers shows that among those who use email marketing, companies that blog get 2X more traffic from their email than those that don’t. In this data, “Email Traffic” includes two main sources: traffic from traditional email marketing and lead nurturing campaigns, and traffic from blog post email alerts (emails to people who subscribe to the blog via email).

These numbers show that blog emails and traditional emails from customers who blog, taken as a whole, generate more traffic than traditional emails from customers who don’t blog.

email traffic and blogging data

Interpreting the Data

Email traditionalists might look at this finding and say, “Bah! You’re conflating two types of email. Of course emails from blogs are going to generate more traffic! Content isn’t that important to traditional email marketing.”

But this is old-school thinking. Look at the critique closely. That emails from blogs are going to generate more traffic is intuitive to most marketers — yet many of those marketers continue to pump out traditional emails bereft of engaging content. Blog emails work because they include remarkable content. Include equivalent content in your traditional email marketing — and repurpose the quality blog content you already have — and your engagement will shoot up.

Marketing Takeaway

As a marketer, I think this study has a simple takeaway: if you want to make email work, you need to focus on the content.

How do you focus on content? Create a blog that covers topics your buyer personas find useful, and come up with creative ways to repurpose that blog content (as well as content from other assets like videos, ebooks and webinars) in your emails. A good example of this is the State of Inbound Marketing Report we included in one of our HubSpot emails, featured below.

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If you want to learn more about creating a great blog or creating compelling email offers, read this business blogging ebook, and our introduction to email marketing. And it’s important marketers invest in the quality of their email content considering the rapid depreciation of email lists. Approximately 25% of your email list expires every year, and you’ll have trouble rebuilding it (or even see more rapid rates of depreciation) without investing in consistently creating quality content. Or worse, you could become addicted to the crack of purchased email lists.

If you don’t believe me, just read the story of this marketer who set off to do sophisticated email marketing — marketing automation, actually — without the right kind of content. The results were catastrophic. As he said, “We … quickly discovered that marketing automation is a beast – it devours content. If you don’t feed it, it dies.”

What types of blog and email marketing content do you find the most effective?

Image credit: spcbrass


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How to Tackle Real-Life Social Media Customer Service Obstacles

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

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eMarketer research reveals that 46% of customers want to solve a problem when they’re engaging with a brand on social media, and 39% are looking to give feedback about a product or service. It looks like companies intent on keeping social media in the marketing department alone are missing out on a huge opportunity — the chance to give the people what they want.

It’s understandable that Marketing is reticent to relinquish control of social media accounts outside their department. But really, every communication with a lead or customer is a marketing opportunity, so anyone on the front lines with customers is already marketing for your company every day. Instead of worrying about all the things that could go wrong with social media out of Marketing’s complete control, set up a process that helps mitigate any potential problems and allows customers to reap the benefits of interacting with your service and support teams on social media.

To help ease you in to what may be an uncomfortable transition, we looked at some of the most worrisome outcomes marketers envision when getting customer service involved in social media — and then found examples of the brands that have successfully overcome those obstacles, and what you can learn from them. Take a look, and see how you could implement social media as a customer service avenue based on their examples.

Obstacle 1: Mixing Customer Service Messages and Marketing Messages

Perhaps one of the biggest barriers to brands opening up their social media accounts to customer service is the mixed messages to fans and followers. If your social media accounts are set up to serve content that fosters discussion among people that like you, do you really want to expose them to the seedy underbelly of your support and service issues? Let’s take a look at how fasion retailer Asos resolved this common problem.

asos customer service account

See that first Twitter account? It’s called ‘ASOS Here to Help,’ and it was set up as an entirely separate entity from ASOS’ “marketing” Twitter account — the second image shown above. ASOS also has a similar division set up on Facebook, with one page dedicated to customer service, and the other to marketing messaging.

This lets you neatly separate conversations between customers who are unhappy or have questions for sales or support, and leads who are following your account for education and information. Sure, there will be spillover; a customer may find the Twitter account first and tweet their problem there, but it’s easy enough to address the issue by responding using the Twitter account specifically built to handle customer service questions, and the conversation can contine between those two accounts. And many third-party services like HootSuite and CoTweet can make the collaboration between two accounts easier through the use of assigned tweets.

Obstacle 2: Dealing With Sensitive Information

According to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research, most Americans are reticent to mix personal financial information with social networking; the report found a 4-to-1 resistance against receiving updates about promotions and discounts, to a 9-to-1 resistance against reviewing or receiving account balances. Along with these consumer concerns come regulatory compliance issues and data security. So if you’re working in an industry that handles peoples’ personal information — finances, health, even something as basic as their contact information — handling privacy is a real concern when dealing with customer service over social media. So what’s a brand to do? Let’s take a look at how Citigroup handles private information via its customer service-oriented @AskCiti Twitter account.

twitter citigroup

The solution you can implement here is threefold. First, do like Citigroup does, and cover your butt with a privacy notice applicable to your industry that’s visible right on your social media account. Then, when customers do get in touch with you, move it to a more secure and appropriate channel that can securely handle their private information. You’ll also notice how vigilant Citigroup is about reminding customers not to include private information in their messages — even in private Twitter direct messages (DMs). Citigroup not only bolds it in its Privacy Policy, but they also reiterate not to include account or PINs every single time they ask someone to DM their phone number to be contacted.

citigroup privacy tweet

Which brings us to our third method of getting over the social customer service security barrier — you can simply use social media as a customer service monitoring and routing mechanism. Whether you intend for your social media account to be used as a customer service channel or not, it is something consumers have come to expect. As such, they will likely post complaints on your Facebook page or tweet their problems at you from time to time. Set up a customer service social media account on which you don’t solve peoples’ problems, but simply monitor for problems that arise that you can then route to the proper support person in your queue for follow-up.

Obstacle 3: Scaling Social Customer Service Efforts Across a Large Organization

Monitoring your social media accounts for customer service issues that crop up is one thing; but implementing a national or international initiative? Well, it’s not easy, but it can be done. A great example of a well run, scalable social customer service program is Best Buy’s Twelpforce, launched in 2008. In the social media world, that makes them an early adopter!

Best Buy employs a force of 3,000 tweeters to help with customer service issues on Twitter. Having such a wide range of employees answering questions that are tweeted to @Twelpforce helps ensure that there’s always someone with the right knowledge set available to respond. Think about it — if you have a question about which camera to buy, do you want to talk to the guy who specializes in GPS installation? I think not.

best buy twitter customer service

But Best Buy doesn’t let just anyone act as a social customer service agent, either. According to The Wall Street Journal, Best Buy requires all employees who want to participate in the program to enroll online, verify their employment status, and go through a training program that outlines how to perform effective Best Buy customer service on Twitter — what it calls “healthy usage guidelines.” And these employees are never, technically, off the clock, either.

That’s not to say you need a force of 3,000 employees monitoring round the clock to scale social customer service efforts. Southwest Airlines does so successfully with a team of ten that runs from about 5AM CST to 11PM CST, its flight hours. They employ one person from job functions across the company to answer questions that relate to their area of expertise.

southwest twitter customer service

You’ll notice that Southwest Airlines’ tweeters, like many other successful social customer service programs, maintain an upbeat and conversational tone. Compare this to a company like Walmart who requires that employees stick to “official” Twitter uses in customer service in order to aid in its scalability — a fine tactic, but not as friendly as what customers experience with companies like Best Buy and Southwest Airlines. All of this, in fact, leads us to the next common problem that comes with scaling a widespread social customer service initiative.

Obstacle 4: Communicating Like Humans, Not Robots

One of the challenges that comes with scaling is avoiding canned responses. Many companies that do social customer service know there are so many canned responses that it feels like the opposite of what social media is supposed to be — you know, social. Instead of two people talking together, it’s a person and a script. Take a look at how KLM combatted that with its “Live Replies” campaign, centered around highly personalized responses (fast forward to 1:54 for the meat of the video).

This video is in response to just one person’s tweet. Obviously this campaign is on the extreme end of the personalization spectrum (not to mention an unscalable approach), but the campaign itself does garner attention for its personalized response approach to social customer service. If you take a look at KLM’s actual social media accounts, you’ll see the company lives up to it in its more scalable day-to-day efforts.

klm facebook customer serviceAnother element of personalization is research. Notice in the example below that the KLM service representative took time to look up the response — about an hour, in fact. The lesson here is that it’s okay to take some time to respond! Truly personal responses are informed, well-researched, and address the customer like a real person, not a number in the service queue.

klm personalized responses

Obstacle 5: Demonstrating the ROI of Social Customer Service

Gary Vaynerchuk, a new member of HubSpot’s advisory board and author of the book The Thank-You Economy, says that “it’s ridiculous that we are being asked to justify the ROI of social media when traditional media metrics are full of s**t.” Whether you agree with that or not, if you can justify the ROI of social customer service, why not give it a whirl? Consider the lost revenue associated with losing a customer and the costs of acquiring a new one, compared to the costs associated with employing a social customer service staff. If you’re interested in a method for calculating the ROI of social customer support, visit Kathy Herrmann’s SlideShare presentation, in which she provides valuable sample calculations you could apply to your business.

Zappos — a customer service pioneer we would be remiss not to address — takes a less mathematical point of view (at least as far as the public eye can discern) to its social customer service dedication. CEO Tony Hsieh simply believes that customer service is one of the best marketing investments one can make, as it yields tremendous returns when customers not only buy from you over and over, but bring along their friends and family, too. And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, for plenty of other companies. Barn Raisers LLC has aggregated a fine arsenal of case studies on the subject — let’s dive into two remarkable examples.

Jason Falls at Social Media Explorer examined the case study of CareOne Debt Relief Services, which launched an online community in 2006 on which people could register to ask questions about debt relief, consolidation, and budgeting. A few years later, CareOne followed it up with communities on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that require no registration. The result was not only better customer service response time, but 179% higher lead generation, 6 times faster form completion, and a 7 times better rate of first payment than non-social media customers.

Lenovo launched support comunities of its own — LenovoThink and Lenovo Idea — in order to take control over the conversations taking place about their products on third-party sites. According to Forrester Resarch, Lenovo has since seen a 20% reduction in laptop support call rates, increased agent productivity, a shorter problem resolution cycle, an increased Net Promoter Score, and reduced support costs.

What you’ll notice about these case studies, however, is that none of them have completely abandoned traditional customer service for social customer support alone; they’ve supplemented it and integrated them. But even if you don’t launch a full-scale social customer service program like these companies have, it behooves you to vigilantly monitor your social presence for customer service issues. Your customers will look for you online to help with their customer service issues, and if you’re not there, they will still talk about you online — both positively and negatively.

What other brands are utilizing social media well for customer service? What other creative ways can you think of to use social media for customer service?

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Inbound Leads Cost 61% Less Than Outbound [New Data]

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

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HubSpot’s newly released 2012 State of Inbound Marketing Report reveals fascinating data around marketers’ lead generation costs and how various lead sources compare to one another.

The study, which is based on a survey conducted in January 2012 of 972 marketing professionals, found that inbound marketing-dominated organizations experience a 61% lower cost per lead than organizations that predominately leverage outbound marketing. The average cost per lead for outbound-dominated businesses was $346. In comparison, the average cost per lead for businesses leveraging primarily inbound techniques was $135. Take a look at the data in more detail below.

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Inbound marketing techniques include SEO, blogging, and social media. The focus of inbound marketing is to get found by relevant prospects who are using the Internet to learn about products and services. Outbound marketing techniques include direct mail, trade shows, and telemarketing. Outbound methods are a more traditional approach to marketing wherein businesses push their messages to prospects, as opposed to attracting prospects to them.

The survey also asked participants to classify each lead generation category as ‘Below Average Cost,’ ‘Near Average Cost,’ or ‘Above Average Cost’. The results of the survey showed:

  • Blogs, social media and organic search maintained the top slots as least expensive.
  • Blogs had the highest instance of being reported as ‘Below Average Cost.’
  • 52% of companies who blog indicated leads from this channel were ‘Below Average Cost.’
  • Trade shows, direct mail, and telemarketing were most frequently ranked as more expensive.

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These findings don’t necessarily mean that every business should entirely eliminate outbound marketing methods. Rather, it’s important to strike the right balance for your own business, and determine which channels actually deliver the highest ROI. In addition, some of your target segments may be more or less receptive to a certain channel. The easiest way to track the performance of each channel is with a closed-loop marketing system, which tracks leads from their initial channel, through their first conversion, until they become a customer.

For an in-depth review of the study’s findings, join us for the upcoming 2012 State of Inbound webinar on Thursday, March 1st, 2012.


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How Google Evaluates Links

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Google recently announced “40 changes for February” but the big one from an SEO’s point of view was the Link evaluation Link evaluation. We often use characteristics of links to help us figure out the topic of a linked page. We have changed the way in which we evaluate links; in particular, we are turning off [...]

How Google Evaluates Links is a post from: Dave Naylor’s SEO Blog.

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Online Marketing Best Practices: Software & Technology Marketing

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

software marketing best practicesAt TopRank Online Marketing, we work with clients in many different industries each facing a unique set of problems.  One of the industries we provide online consulting for regularly is software.  Be it network monitoring, healthcare system and hospital software, email marketing, project management, or B2C software, promoting technology solutions has been a part of our expertise since TopRank was founded over 10 years ago.

Software development continues to become even more valuable in today’s social, mobile and overall digital world as companies begin to migrate what were once offline industries into SaaS and cloud based services.  It wasn’t too long ago that recruiting, sales, and marketing relied heavily on meeting in person or over the phone. With advancements in software and devices, organizations are now able to accomplish the same if not better results at a drastically reduced cost.

Here is where software companies are met with a compelling challenge:  With so many new and previously established software solutions available for easy download and implementation, how can you compete in the marketplace?  It is no longer just a price or feature based conversation.  Companies are struggling just to get their brand front and center with potential customers.  Take Google for example, how often do you search and stray farther than the second page of results before you begin contacting companies to setup a demo of some sort?  Chances are you (and your prospects) don’t go past that first page.

Our internet marketing agency works with many companies that are facing similar struggles: How to attract people looking to buy in such a competitive market?  Companies know that they have a great product but don’t know how to go about getting in front of decision makers and influencers within organizations.  By this point we know that an integration of marketing and sales is necessary for success.  In fact, companies that excel at lead nurturing generate 50% more sales ready leads at 33% lower cost. Here’s a great guide to lead nurturing from our SaaS client, Marketo.

Before making software marketing consulting recommendations, it’s important to do some due diligence to figure out key information about the software/technology company and their customers including:

  • Current Situation:  Where are they currently marketing? Sales performance? Leads, sales, order volume, length of sales cycle, cost per lead/sale?
  • Objectives: Where do they want to be both short-term and long-term?
  • Target Audience:  Define customer segments, characteristics and preferences. Who is the customer?
  • Pain Points: What problems are solved for both the prospect and the company they work with if they buy your software/service?
  • Differentiation:  What makes your software or technology different from the competition? What is the value proposition?

Agencies working with internal client marketing teams is an essential part of a successful online marketing engagement.  When the agency can work with internal marketers on strategy and planning together, they are able to determine top ranked objectives and can then tailor the solutions to meet the unique needs of the situation. That’s how top agencies (like TopRank) work with clients vs. providing ala carte or commoditized services.

One of our clients is a leading software company in the recruiting industry.  This client wanted to increase their qualified lead inquiries by at least 100% a month.  A qualified lead was defined as a prospect submitting a request for information, setting up a demonstration, or contacting the company directly.  Through a combination of what we call a “push and pull” communications strategy we were able to significantly exceed initial projections.

Push communications were implemented with the intention of increasing brand awareness of the client as a leader and respected source within their industry.  Pull communications included a series of tactics aimed at educating and encouraging prospects to begin making inquiries regarding their software solutions.

The tactics that were used to draw in prospective customers included:

Many corporate marketers can get tunnel vision when it comes to marketing their software. They may prejudge integrating channels like search or social media and discount the value of outside expertise because of concerns about effectiveness or the idea of change. Whatever the barrier to getting outside expertise is, there are many situations where it can make a world of difference – especially with situations like the one above where a division of an international software company spiked sales and now has processes in place that would have taken years to do on their own. Ongoing online marketing consulting continues to provide value and more than pay for itself with increases in performance, efficiency and effectiveness.

The simple approach of Situation, Objetives, Audience, Pain Points and Differentiation seems straightforward but so many companies are still on the “Features and Benefits” hamster wheel. An outside online marketing service can break free of those confinements and duplicate outcomes with less effort in the long run.

The process and marketing mix above isn’t limited to software and technology of course. What approach does your company take towards software and technology marketing? Are you integrating channels like SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing?


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Online Marketing Best Practices: Software & Technology Marketing |

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