Posts about paid search, display and other online ads.

SEO Trends and Predictions for 2017

The beginning of 2017 may be a fresh start for you, but for Google, progress in the sphere of optimizing Internet search won’t slow for a second. The preference for mobile Internet consumption, the desire for quicker and denser content, mounting pressure to increase ad revenue, and the unstoppable development of digital assistants and voice search point to a new golden rule for search engine optimization (SEO) trends:

Make it for mobile.

Mobile-First Is Undeniable

chart of hours spent daily on mobile devicesSEO experts have been predicting the latest SEO trends as part of their jobs for years, and there’s one that keeps making an appearance in the latter 2010s: mobile is the future of Internet and search. Major search engines are putting mobile at the forefront as trends in SEO continually point toward the indomitable strength and convenience of mobile consumption.

More Americans are spending more of their free time watching the screens on their smartphones and tablets, according to comScore. If the amount of activity on social networks is any indication, it’s likely that most of those hours are spent scouring Facebook and Twitter feeds for images and videos. Social apps and mobile search are in line to become some of marketing’s biggest targets for paid advertisements and organic efforts. Changes in the way that search will respond to mobile users as well as desktop users point to an almost certain future of mobile takeover.

Mobile-First Indexing

In the latter half of 2016, at the beginning of October, the first iterations of mobile-first indexing became a reality. Mobile-first indexing resets the priority of Google’s indexing bot to read through a site’s mobile version when determining how a site should be indexed. That means Googlebot looks at the relevance, speed, and technical organization of mobile sites over desktop sites when it decides where your page goes on the search engine results page (SERP).

Desktop SERPs Match Mobile

December also saw a UI update for desktop search engine results pages that helped them match the appearance and function of mobile SERPs. Specifically, desktop users see more specialized cards such as featured snippets and maps when they perform searches that trigger those cards. Of course, in such early stages, the desktop experience isn’t quite optimized for desktop searchers:

how long does google take to index serp with mistake

As of 2016, producing cards for desktop searches runs into trouble when wording is ambiguous. In our example, it seems that Google understands our query to be something closer to “How long does it take, Google, to [get to] Index, [WA]?”

Fortunately, development of semantic search promises to inch ever closer to matching the meaning and understanding the context of searches and the searcher’s intent. Consistent improvements in machine learning allow more of your searches in 2017 to reflect the intent of your search rather than the face value of the words you have typed into the engine. While returning relevant search results has long been a goal of Google search, the rise of digital assistants and voice search has lit a new fire in the quest to teach machines to parse language in the same way as humans.

Progressive Web Apps

Google has created a streamlined way for business owners to build progressive web apps, mobile applications that integrate the in-app experience with web capabilities. In many ways, they are web pages that look and act like apps. The intent of progressive web apps is to keep users engaged with apps by:

  • Provided online and offline service
  • Drastically decreasing loading times
  • Eliminating the need for purchase and installation
  • Offering an app experience without the maintenance of an app

Progressive web apps are perhaps the first step toward creating seamless product and service shopping experiences without the need to download apps. Users can keep progressive web apps on the home screens of their mobile devices and load them instantly.

The goal is customer retention. According to Smashing Magazine, users are three times more likely to reopen a mobile application than a website, especially after receiving push notifications. If integrating the app experience with the web experience can make purchasing easier for users, SEO experts will need to focus efforts on driving more customers to those progressive web apps organically.

Video and Images Are Next

The Content Is King mantra is steadfast, but SEOs need to consider more than ever that content has a greater reach than text articles. Major search engines, too, are looking for ways to read and organize all types of content. The term content includes video, animations, and images as well as text. Quality videos and images are proven ways to increase customer engagement and retention, and SEO experts will need to find ways to optimize videos for search in 2017.

Multimedia works in all parts of the marketing funnel and matches the goals of SEO:

  • The intent to purchase of users who enjoy video ads increases by 97%
  • One-third of all online activity is encompassed by watching video
  • 87% of marketers are using video content

These incredible facts from HubSpot make the user preference for video and image content clear. Check out some of the ways marketers are using video content in 2016:

Branded Video Content on Social Networks

titanfall advertisement with video on facebook

Autoplay pushes social videos straight to the brain. When advertisements combine exciting content with beautiful presentation, customers watch – and buy.

Live Streaming

new york times live stream video facebook

Anyone can instantly live stream a video on lots of social networks. Companies can get on-the-spot engagement by sharing stories, information, or just entertaining audiences.

Background Video on Home Pages and Sales Pages

life of pi home page background video

Companies can capture attention instantly with moving backgrounds, then entice users to stay with text overlays or an in-video call to action.

GIFs everywhere

giphy home page with trending gifs

GIFs resonate with young audiences, and marketers are learning how to pull on their heartstrings with simple animations that celebrate their favorite people, movies, shows, and music.

Closer Ties for SEO and PPC

Ad-heavy search results mean that competition for top rankings in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising will likely push advertisers to improve the quality of their paid content. SEO experts must be ready to focus on improving quality scores for ads in 2017 as Google search moves toward a role as a PPC giant as well as an organic search engine giant.

Voice Search and Digital Assistants

The artificial intelligence that governs the functions of voice search and digital assistants is the focus of research for many of the companies developing such technologies, including Google. Digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant use artificial intelligence to attempt to understand natural language and harness that knowledge to produce useful information and resources for live people.

If they weren’t already, SEOs should look to improve relevance, usability, and permanence of content so that digital assistants and voice searchers can utilize the real language contained within the content to find the highest quality information.

What Should We Focus on in 2017?

In anticipation of an even more quickly changing search landscape, SEOs should focus on:

  • Crafting all SEO strategies and making design decisions based on mobile use
  • Building a video strategy that integrates with other marketing solutions
  • Sharpening PPC and paid search knowledge to keep customer rankings high in the paid sphere
  • Optimizing organic content to be found by digital assistants that understand real language

Don’t be afraid of change, be ahead of it, and remember: Make it for mobile.

Leverage Marketing can take you every step of the way through the SEO process – but we also do so much more. If you’re thinking about changing the way you market your business, let us guide you through it. Start by getting your hands on our 2017 Digital Marketing Budget Guide and find out what it will take to pull your marketing into 2017.

Tips for Planning Your Digital Marketing Budget [INFOGRAPHIC]

You know that if you want your business to grow, you need to dedicate a budget to marketing. Otherwise you could have an awesome product or service but no way to tell consumers about it. But how do you determine the amount of money you should be allocating to your marketing budget? And how do you decide on the size of your digital marketing budget compared to your offline marketing budget?

There’s no easy answer to the question, “What should my digital marketing budget be?” However, this infographic and blog post can help you choose a strategy to plan a marketing budget for your business.

Digital Marketing Budget Tips Infographic

Using a Tactic-Based Approach

One way to map out your digital marketing budget is to break down the costs of individual tactics, line by line, and add them up to get your total cost per month and per year. This approach can be good if your business is new and you don’t have a lot of historical data to work with.

It’s straightforward to calculate your internet marketing budget if you outsource your efforts to freelancers or a marketing agency on a per-project basis. However, it gets a little more complicated when you need to calculate the cost of marketing efforts that you keep in-house. You’ll need to start by estimating the number of man-hours for each project and the cost-per-hour for each employee assigned to the project. When calculating cost-per-hour, you’ll need to account for the cost of benefits, training, and vacation days.

Once you’ve determined the cost-per-hour for an employee, multiply that by the number of hours you expect them to work on the project. Repeat that for all employees who will work on the project to get the total cost of labor. In addition to labor costs, you’ll also need to factor in other resources (such as subscription-based software) to get your total cost for a tactic or marketing campaign.

Determining your Budget as a Percentage of Revenue

Most businesses determine their annual marketing budget allocation as a percentage of their revenue. Different sources will give you different estimates for what percentage of your gross annual revenue you should dedicate to marketing, but as a rule of thumb, businesses that are less than five years old should spend about 12-20% and businesses that are more than five years old should spend about 6-12%.

Businesses that are less than a year old and haven’t established their annual revenue can still use the Percentage of Revenue method, but they’ll need to use their projected revenue when crunching the numbers.

One thing to keep in mind with the Percentage of Revenue method is that it can help you determine your overall offline and online marketing budget, but it won’t help you determine how much you should spend on different strategies. You may find it helpful to research how much other comparable businesses in your industry are spending on different strategies (such as SEO and email).

Basing your Marketing Budget on ROI

If you’ve already established an annual marketing budget but are looking for a way to maximize it, consider adjusting the budget throughout the year based on your return on investment (ROI) for different tactics. For example, if you exceed your ROI goals for a paid search campaign one month, you could increase your ad spend the next month. This budgeting method will allow you to grow your revenue quickly and adjust your web marketing budget accordingly, rather than waiting until the next quarter or year to make changes.

The Tied to ROI budgeting method works best with direct-response strategies, such as pay-per-click (PPC) ads and social media ads. This method is more challenging to use with branding strategies, which may be more difficult to measure.


Looking for more advice on planning your online marketing budget? Download our 2017 Guide to Planning Your Digital Marketing Budget to learn how to audit your marketing efforts and determine costs for different internet marketing strategies.

Prep Your Website for Black Friday: A Marketing Checklist [UPDATED]

This post was originally published on October 8th, 2015. We’ve updated it with several new checklist items for 2016.

With Black Friday coming up on November 25th and Cyber Monday following right on its heels, your holiday marketing is no doubt well underway. In all the chaos, it’s easy to overlook some of the small but impactful online marketing tactics you can use to boost sales on two of the biggest shopping days of the year. With that in mind, we’ve put together a marketing checklist of things to do in the weeks leading up to Black Friday.

Download a PDF of our Black Friday Checklist

Web Design

o Update homepage for Black Friday.

Make sure anyone who lands on your homepage in the days leading up to Black Friday/Cyber Monday knows about the deals you’re going to offer. Add relevant banners and calls-to-action, change your home page header/hero image to highlight your Black Friday offers, and consider adding a countdown clock to build excitement. You may also want to create a banner that you can place at the top of all pages to remind shoppers about your deals.

o Simplify forms and checkout process.

Take some time before the holidays to go through your checkout process and identify steps where shoppers are likely to drop out. Eliminate unnecessary form fields and try to minimize the clicks it takes to complete a transaction.

Compress and resize any images that are weighing down your pages. 

Unnecessarily large images can slow down page load times, and online shoppers aren’t going to wait patiently for your site to load. Take some time before Black Friday to check images on your home page and most popular product pages, and either resize or compress high-resolution images.

o Test site to ensure all pages are mobile-friendly.

By now you likely know how important it is to have a website that looks good on mobile devices. Even if you think your site is fully responsive or adaptive to mobile, it’s worth testing individual pages—especially new ones you’re adding ahead of Black Friday. Enter page URLs into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test bar to determine if all pages meet Google’s criteria for mobile-friendly design.

o Set up live chat.

There are dozens of live chat systems available online, and you can easily set one up by adding a piece of HTML code to all the pages where you want the chat window to appear. If you don’t have a system in place yet, install one before your big holiday sales days so that potential customers can quickly get help from one of your team members.

Email Marketing

o Craft emails to build anticipation for your sales.

Schedule your emails so that subscribers receive an initial announcement about your holiday sale, followed by several messages designed to build anticipation and keep you top of mind. Consider revealing some of the upcoming Black Friday sales prices on top-selling items, or send out a sales offer that is exclusive to email subscribers.

A/B test subject lines.

Remember: before you can get readers to click on email links leading to great Black Friday deals, you have to convince them that opening your email is worth their time. Businesses flood their subscribers’ inboxes with promotional messages around the holidays (MailChimp delivered 1.2 billion emails last Black Friday), so you need to make sure your messages stand out. Be clear about the deals you’re offering in your subject line, and A/B test different subject line variations to see what gets the most engagement.

o Write copy for transactional emails.

Tailor order confirmations, abandoned cart notices, and other automated email messages to your Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. Consider adding copy about upcoming holiday sales to encourage visitors to shop with you again before the end of December.

o Write emails to remind shoppers that your sale is about to end.

Create a segmented list of email subscribers who haven’t purchased anything on Black Friday or Cyber Monday and send an email several hours before the end of sale, reminding them that there is limited time to take advantage of your discounts.

o Test email links.

Before running any of your holiday email campaigns, take a few minutes to make sure none of your email links are broken and that all links go to the appropriate landing page.

o Create landing pages that align with email CTAs.

It can be jarring for email subscribers to click on a call-to-action that takes them to a landing page with a completely different offer—and shoppers aren’t as likely to convert if the initial CTA and landing page don’t match. Check the copy in your email message and on the landing page to ensure it’s coherent.

SEO

Make sure you’ve enabled ecommerce tracking. 

If you sell products through your site, you should absolutely set up Ecommerce Tracking in Google Analytics (if you haven’t already). Ecommerce Tracking will give you more insights in your customers’ behavior patterns so that you can better tailor future sales to your audience. If you’re not sure how to set up Ecommerce Tracking, check out our step-by-step guide.

o Check page load times.

Go to the Site Speed tab in Google Analytics to check the load times of your web pages. On average, people will give a page three seconds to load before abandoning the site, so if you have pages with slower load times, you’ll need to fix them. If you’re not sure what’s causing the slow load time, have your marketing team perform an audit.

o Create landing pages for sales categories.

Include ‘Black Friday’ or other holiday-related keywords in your title tags, header tags, and content so that the landing page has a better chance of being served to web users who enter relevant search queries.

o Research long-tail keywords.

Long-tail keywords will have a lower search volume than more general Black Friday-related keywords, but they will also have less competition and are more likely to attract shoppers who are looking for your specific products or services.

o Pitch products to influencers who curate gift guides.

Backlinks from high-quality third-party sites are a ranking factor for SEO, so it’s always a good idea to make connections with bloggers and journalists in your industry who may be interested in sharing your content. Lots of sites begin publishing holiday gift guides in November and December, so try pitching some of your best gift products to relevant sites. In addition to the SEO-value of backlinks, having your products featured in gift guides can also help drive traffic to your site.

o Local brick-and-mortars: check your online listings.

If you own a brick-and-mortar as well as an online store, go through all the major online directories to make sure your address, phone number, and other important information are up-to-date. If you have not yet claimed your business on Google, do so now using Google My Business.

PPC

o Set up meeting with your PPC team.

Keyword bids will be high around Black Friday because this is one of the busiest shopping times of the year, so you need to get the most out of your budget by choosing the keywords that are most likely to lead to conversions for your business. Unless you are a PPC professional, you should meet with your PPC team to discuss strategies.

o Create PPC campaigns tailored to consumers who are researching before Black Friday.

Most Black Friday/Cyber Monday shoppers will be researching deals in advance so that they can get the products they want before they are out of stock. In the weeks leading up to Black Friday, tailor the copy in your PPC ads to your customers’ research phase.

Prepare ads for several top sellers if you think you may run out of inventory.

Have you been promoting a particular product heavily? Is it possible that this product will be out of stock before the end of Black Friday? If so, write ad copy for several other top sellers so that you will have ads ready to go if you have to pull the ads for an out-of-stock item.

o Retarget web users who have already visited your site.

If you have a retargeting pixel set up on your site, start remarketing to customers who have previously browsed your site. This is a good way to stay top of mind and announce deals to people who may not be on your mailing list but who have shown interest in your products.

Use day parting and bid scheduling to maximize your paid search budget. 

Look at your historical data to see which times of day you’re likely to see the highest levels of traffic and conversions. Allocate more of your paid search budget to the top-converting hours of the day to maximize your ROI.

Social Media Marketing

o Use Facebook and Twitter remarketing.

Retargeting pixels on your website aren’t just for PPC ads—you can also use them to create ads for custom audiences on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook even lets you serve ads to Lookalike Audiences—that is, people who are similar to your existing customers and therefore likely to be interested in your products. If you’ve never done this before, talk to your online marketing team about creating targeted social media ads before Black Friday.

o Create exclusive offers for followers on social media.

Offering exclusive discounts is a great way to reward your followers on social media—and to encourage those followers to recommend your social profiles to their friends and family.

o Put together holiday gift guides and share on social sites.

Use a design template site like Canva or Piktochart to create visually-appealing gift guides in different categories (e.g. ‘Stocking Stuffers’, ‘Gifts for Grillmasters’, etc.), and share those guides on your social channels. If you have a following on Pinterest, keep in mind that you can now create buyable pins that integrate with Magento, Bigcommerce, and IBM Websphere.

Use relevant holiday hashtags. 

Do some research into hashtags that are being used around Black Friday and think about how they pertain to your sale. You can, of course, use tags like #blackfriday and #cybermonday, but keep in mind that everyone else will be doing this as well. To stand out and get customers excited for your sale, consider using additional hashtags related to your store name and location. Let social media users know they can get updates on your sale (or maybe even get entered into a contest) by using your business-specific hashtag.

o Make sure at least one team member can monitor Twitter on Black Friday/Cyber Monday.

If you have an active presence on Twitter, you should assign at least one team member to monitor this social site for mentions. If customers are tweeting at you because they have a question or complaint related to your sales, you’ll want to be able to respond quickly.

Having trouble with any of the action items above? We’d be happy to help you check all the boxes on your holiday marketing to-do list. Contact us to get started.

How to Target Mobile Shoppers for Black Friday

In 2015, marketers noticed an unexpected change among Black Friday shoppers: it seemed that most shoppers were growing tired of bleary, cold, early mornings and the frantic dash to grab doorbuster deals at their favorite Black Friday shopping spots. Instead, the mobile Black Friday shopping experience, which shoppers can enjoy in small stretches of free time in the comfort of one’s home, started to replace some of the groggy storefront shopping messes that traditionally dominate during the holidays.

Mobile Black Friday shopping set a record in 2015 – it captured 22% of online sales, up by an incredible 70% from 2014 figures. Black Friday mobile sales alone accounted for $583 million in revenue. Thanksgiving Day saw an additional $639 million in mobile sales. Of the total $4.45 billion in sales (including in-store, online, and mobile purchases), one-third of total shoppers used their smartphone or mobile phone to make a purchase.

The trend toward mobile shopping is real, and when combined with the online-focused sales power of Cyber Monday, it could eventually evolve into an entirely new Black Friday shopping experience. Your business can get a piece of those online shopping sales and prepare for a wave of up-and-coming ecommerce strength by learning to target mobile shoppers for Black Friday this year, then perfecting your approach in the coming years.

Rework Your Mobile App and Shopping Interface to Be More Mobile-Capable

The onslaught of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is the perfect excuse to refine your entire mobile shopping experience on your mobile site or mobile app. Because of the huge sales figures of which your company will be a part, you’ll get a fabulous return on your time and resource investment if you tighten up your mobile shopping interface before the big day hits.

etsy mobile shopping home page

Etsy’s mobile home page is a prime example of effective mobile shopping.

Risks of a Poor Mobile Shopping Experience

  • A Dip in Customer Loyalty – Even your most enthusiastic customers won’t put up with a bad mobile app or ecommerce site. In 2013, 30% of consumers never made a second visit to a retailer’s mobile website on which they had a negative shopping experience. 43% said they would immediately move on to a competitor website if something went awry while shopping on a mobile app or site.
  • Low Recurring Sales – Consumers waited about a year before returning to a mobile site on which they had a poor experience. The good news is that you’ll have another chance next Black Friday. The bad news is that you won’t get any sales from those customers during the long year in between.
  • Faltering Brand Recognition – Having a few unhappy customers is a phenomenon of retail that can’t be helped. But droves of unhappy mobile shoppers, especially on such a big holiday like Black Friday, will tarnish your brand instantly.

Mobile Shopping Challenges to Consider

  • Competitive Buying Experiences – It’s punishing trying to out-price your competitors on Black Friday. There’s a threshold at which the returns on your sales will no longer justify the discounts you offer. The best way to compete is with seamless shopping experiences for the developing mobile crowd.
  • Diversity and Evolution of Mobile Devices – Your consumers use Android phones, Nexus tablets, iPhones, iPads, and all manner of mobile devices to do their shopping. Each device has different capabilities, a different interface, and different compatibilities, and you’ll need to cater to each device’s individuality to capture major Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
  • google wallet logo with textShifting Payment Methods – It’s not just about credit cards anymore. Debit transactions are in charge, there are quick and easy digital wallet payment methods such as Apple & Google Wallet, and some goods and high-priced services allow direct transfers from checking accounts. Make sure you know what your customers like to use to pay and make it easy for them to use that method or service.

Ways to Improve Mobile Sites and Apps

  • Eliminate Frustrations – Don’t be afraid to survey and get feedback from customers to find your system’s weak points. Look at comments about your mobile ecommerce, find out what bothers your customers, then address those concerns directly with your developers.

click to tweet button

Common ecommerce mistakes for mobile include small product images, poor navigation, security concerns, and tedious checkout.

  • forever 21 poor mobile shopping screenRespect the Buyer’s Journey – Shopping for bicycle parts is different than shopping for a PlayStation, and Black Friday shoppers will be looking for both. The path your buyer follows to finish a sale will be different depending on your product. Know what your customers are looking for and how they can find it easily with a touch-screen.
  • Avoid the Unexpected – When a customer aims to buy something, he or she wants to find that item, hit Check Out, and wait for delivery. Keep your mobile shopping experience as close to that simplicity as possible. Don’t assault your customers with sign up gateways and full-screen ploys to join an email list. Give them an option at checkout to join your list and emphasize that checkout is easier when you sign up, but don’t force your customers to go out of their way before they buy.

Make Your Calls-to-Action Mobile-Friendly

black friday ads with mobile shopper aimed copyAdd language to some of your special Black Friday and Cyber Monday copy that includes direct references to smartphones, tablets, and mobile apps.

Make sure your customized mobile shopper copy makes it to CTAs that appear on your site as well. If you do, you’ll be able to grab online shoppers who may be browsing on their desktop and laptop computers but are too busy to run through the purchase process just yet.

Avoid driving away foot traffic. Storefront sales may be on the decline, but they still represent the majority of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Your copy should encourage people to feel comfortable with your mobile app and website shopping experience without excluding any other available shopping options.

Clean Up Mobile Ads and Product Feeds

This section comes from the astounding mind of one of our paid search wizards, Michael Holeman, author of 4 Ways to Track Conversions When Your URL Does Not Change.

Make sure your product feeds are cleaned up well in advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday so you can focus your efforts on your promotions. That means as soon as your summer sales die down, get your pay-per-click advertising in Google AdWords and any other paid search services you use optimized for conversions.

Spend some time making sure that all of your products are accessible by Google Merchant Center. Update your titles and descriptions for maximum user-friendliness. Remember, the way your data is set up in the Merchant Center is the way your product ads will appear. Also, be as detailed as possible when categorizing your products, so that your products will appear for the most relevant searches. If you do, you’ll grab more of those last-minute shoppers shopping on their mobile devices.

shopping ads in google shopping interface

If you’re running fall mobile ads as well, clean them up before the close of November. You’ll be able to run your Black Friday and Cyber Monday mobile ads and then immediately switch to any winter promotions you have lined up once the sales are over.

Also, create a Merchant Promotions Feed in addition to your Shopping Feed so that your product ads will have the most relevant promotions served alongside your products in Google Search results.

merchant promotions list in google adwords

The Merchant Promotions Feed will make it easier for you to serve the appropriate ads at times when they make sense to consumers. Pause any summer-specific deals you have to make room for Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts.

Bottom Line: Make Mobile Shopping Easy

TL;DR – Forecasters predict another jump in the percentage of sales overtaken by mobile shopping this Black Friday, and the faster your customers can check out, the larger chunk of those sales you’ll grab. Before Black Friday and Cyber Monday roll around, check these items off your list:

  • Streamline your mobile shopping experience on your mobile app or website from the home page forward
  • Design ads that promote shopping from home and shopping on your phone
  • Clean up your product feeds for paid search so they appear easy-to-use on mobile search

Remember, don’t discourage business at your storefront, just encourage business on the homefront for a successful and increasingly mobile Black Friday and Cyber Monday.


The marketing team at Leverage Marketing has been through countless Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays together with our loyal clients and have raised the bar for holiday shopping success on mobile and desktop alike. If you have questions about your marketing approach to Black Friday, ask our team for advice. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter today for non-stop insider tips about marketing, business, SEO, and a whole bunch more.

Why Your Site Needs More Than an Instant Audit

This blog post was written by social media intern Ali Flowers. Ali is a Senior at the University of Texas at Austin, where she studies Public Relations. Ali enjoys good food, good friends, and spending time with her family.


So you’ve decided your company needs to invest in digital marketing. Great! Every business or organization can benefit from actively promoting themselves online. You are on Google and you search for ‘digital marketing near me’. You’ll likely be served thousands of results and several top-of-the-page advertisements about digital marketers in your area. Regardless of what link or ad you click on, you will probably be offered an instant audit.

What’s an Instant Audit?

With an instant audit, a marketer (or marketing automation software) analyzes various aspects of your business or organization’s online presence so that they can then advise you on the efforts you should take to promote yourself online. Some agencies claim they can audit your site in minutes or even seconds.

This might leave you thinking: Great! I can get all of that information at the click of a button? Who knew! Well, yes, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Why are Instant Audits Risky?

Digital marketing is a huge investment in both time and money.  It ranges from things like search engine optimization to paid search and even social media, all of which can work together to increase your sales, and none of which are free. Would you really feel safe making such a big move for your company based off of such a quick assessment of your site? That would be kind of like buying a house immediately after seeing a few pictures of its exterior online.

So What Should You Do?

You do need an audit–but one that is done thoroughly. You need trained professionals to look at your previous marketing efforts and your competitors’ marketing efforts, find your strengths, identify your weaknesses, and then give you a full overview of your company’s situation. Your marketing agency should conduct interviews and create a report of your company’s digital marketing history so that you can identify specific areas for improvement. A real, fully-developed audit takes time, and you shouldn’t just settle for one that was given to you at the click of a button.

If you are ready to move your company into digital marketing, find a company that will provide you with a thorough audit. Look for a marketing partner who can accurately tell you where to invest and how to push your business forward. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your audit shouldn’t be either.


Check out our methodology page to learn about the in-depth analysis Leverage Marketing performs for prospective clients. If you’re ready to have us review your digital marketing opportunities, schedule a call.

6 Advantages of Working with a Google Partner [UPDATED]

It’s no secret that Leverage Marketing has earned the Premier Google Partner badge. Our Partner badge, which signifies that we have multiple employees certified in Google AdWords, is in the footer of every one of our pages (and in this post), and we link the badge directly to our Partner page. But what does it mean to be a badged Google Partner and why is working with a Google Partner better?

Why a Premier Partner Badge Matters

Google recently made a Premier Google Partner badge available to advertisers who have passed the criteria to become a Google Partner and have also met higher spending and performance requirements. Leverage has earned this badge by having multiple employees certified in AdWords, managing a large ad spend every 90 days, and continuously meeting Google’s standards to maintain partner status.

We have also earned specializations in Search and Mobile advertising. This means we have team members certified in these specific product areas and are well-versed in helping clients create and optimize ads for both desktop and mobile.

As Google Partners, we are well-versed in all things AdWords and are devoted to paid search marketing for a variety of clients. Being a Google Partner means that we deliver quality customer service, offer a competitive advantage to clients, and have received training to help grow businesses online. Below are 7 specific advantages of working with a Google Partner such as ourselves.

  1. Work with Certified Analysts and Account Managers— Any company that achieves Google Partner status has employees with Google Adwords certifications managing their clients’ accounts. Google ensures that these certifications are current and that the company or agency meets Google’s standards for account management best practices.
  1. Have Access to Masters of AdWords Features — Google Partners must be well-versed in all the features of AdWords and use them in a way that is profitable to the client. Our analysts are required to master the use of negative keywords, site links inside of ads, ad extensions, phrase match keywords, split testing with AdWords, broad match modified keywords, ad scheduling, and more.
  1. Get a Leg up on the Competition with Beta Features– Companies that have earned a Google Partner badge have access to Google’s beta features. This means that after Google has developed a new feature or application, its partners can test and use this feature up to a year or more before it is available to the general public. Imagine the advantages to be gained by using Google marketing features before your competition even has access to it!
  1. Avoid Waiting in Line – Google Partners with a large ad spend have their own Google Agency Team that they can contact without waiting in line any time a client has an issue. Let’s say your site has a problem with malware and your AdWords campaigns are shut down. You continue to lose money until those campaigns are reactivated. It can sometimes take days to address this matter, but if you or your agency has access to a Google Agency Team, the problem can be addressed immediately.
  1. Keep up with PPC Best Practices – In order to maintain Google Partner status, agency team members must take certification exams in AdWords Fundamentals, Search, Display, Shopping, Video, and Mobile Advertising. Partners are also able to attend free training sessions to keep up with the latest PPC practices, so you’ll know that your agency is keeping up with PPC strategies as they evolve.
  1. Testing & Innovation – Google Adwords Partners are required to show they are employing best practices. This may include actively doing split testing on ads to attract the greatest volume of customers to a client’s site and ensuring that there are multiple ads per campaign group with different keywords and messaging. Google encourages ongoing experimentation by targeting the various demographics that fall into a client’s target market.

A company that doesn’t continue to maintain Google’s standards for partner status can have their badge removed. This ensures that a high standard of service is maintained no matter the date that Partner Status was achieved. When you work with Leverage Marketing, you get an agency that is qualified by Google—and an agency that offers its own guarantee of high-quality service.

 

Being a Google Partner Also Has Some Perks

 

4 Ways to Track Conversions When Your URL Does Not Change

If you perform Internet marketing functions for enough clients, you’re bound to run across this problem at one point or another.  What do you do when you are trying to track a goal or conversion but the URL does not change after action is taken?  This happens most often when people submit lead forms–you hit “Submit” and the form posts but the entire page does not refresh.  Far too many people just end up giving up, and then, are unable to track their campaign performance.  Others will set that form page as a goal / conversion so anyone who sees the lead form counts as a win whether they complete the form or not. There has to be a better way, right?  Well there is, or actually, there are.  Below are several ways to track these conversions along with examples.  I’ll do my best to break this down for the novice developer but some basic HTML / Javascript skills are required.


Call to action text in case your image doesn't load.

For Analytics-based tracking, these tips are for Universal Analytics and calls to analytics.js.  If your implementation still calls ga.js, we will provide links to Google’s Developer resources for legacy implementations (though you should strongly consider upgrading your implementation to analytics.js)

1. Analytics Event Tracking

Event Tracking is a fairly powerful and very underutilized function in Google Analytics that allows you to track things like button clicks, video plays, or file downloads.  Event tracking makes a call to ga.js in order to notate non-pageview items on your website.  The results will show up in the “Events” reports under the “Content” section of Google Analytics.  You can also define an event as a goal.  For our purposes, we want to track people who press the “Submit” button on the lead form.

In this example, we only need to focus on the “Submit” button in the code.  Below is a generic example of such a button.

<input type=”button” id=”subbtn” value=”Submit;” />

To add event tracking to this button, we’ll need a minimum of 3 basic elements:

  • Call the ga() function to send an event
  • An event category (a grouping that you determine for the event, i.e. “lead forms”)
  • An event action (what the user is doing to trigger the event, i.e. “submit”)

Labels (additional information you want to provide about the event) and values (similar to a goal value) can also be added but are not required.  We’ll omit them for simplicity.

After adding that information, here is how our new code should look:

<input type=”button” id=”subbtn” value=”Submit” onClick=”ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Form’, ‘Submit’);” />

Click here to visit the Google Developer resources for ga.js implementations.

Please note that this is not a perfect solution.  If a user clicks the “Submit” button more than once, the event may be duplicated.  Also, if somebody does not fill out the form in its entirety and receives an error upon submitting, it will still track as an event even if they do not go back and complete the form.  If you have some sort of form validation in place, you can modify the code to only run if the submission was successful but that will vary by the type of form you’re using.

2. Analytics On-Click Virtual Pageviews

The _trackPageview function is another call to ga.js that allows you to artificially generate a pageview when an actual pageview does not take place.  This is quite useful for many of the same reasons as Event Tracking, and has the added benefit of showing up as a pageview in your content reports.  For example, if you have an AJAX shopping cart, you can use this function to tell which step of the checkout a user abandons.  This is also common if you have PDFs on your site for sales info, forms, restaurant menus, etc. Virtual pageviews can also be turned into goals, just like a standard pageview goal.

For this tracking function, let’s assume your checkout is all on one page but requires users to click “continue” to reach separate sections.  Below is the existing code example:

<button type=”button” id=”continueCheckout” onclick=”billing.save()”></button>

(user clicks that button, and then, the following div loads)

<div id=”checkout-step-payment”>

With virtual pageviews, we only need to create the call to ga() function to send a pageview and provide the naming convention for the virtual URL.  There are numerous ways to call these actions but we’ll use an onclick event to do so here.  Below is the modified example:

<button type=”button” id=”continueCheckout” onclick=”billing.save(); javascript: ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’, ‘/checkout/payment/’);“></button>

Click here to visit the Google Developer resources for ga.js implementations.

In this example, the semi-colon at the end of the existing onclick event is important so the browser knows to look for additional items when the button is clicked.

3. Conversion Code in a div that Loads after Submission.

In many forms, the user is greeted with a “thank you” message that appears on the page upon hitting submit but the URL does not change.  Generally, this type of response is called by PHP and the specifics of it can vary by the type of form you’re using.  However, if your site is developed in PHP, there’s a good chance your form page will have a section like the one below:

<?php if ( $success ) echo “<p>Thanks for sending your message! We’ll get back to you shortly.</p>” ?>

This is your opportunity to add your AdWords / AdCenter tracking code.  Simply paste the code you get from the PPC channel into the response message and it will appear after a user successfully submits your form.  Even though this is pretty straightforward, I have an example below (please substitute with your own PPC conversion code or this won’t work).

<?php if ( $success ) echo “<p>Thanks for sending your message! We’ll get back to you shortly.  <!– Google Code for Conversion Page –>

<script type=”text/javascript”>

/* <![CDATA[ */

var google_conversion_id = XXXXXXXXX;

var google_conversion_language = “en”;

var google_conversion_format = “3”;

var google_conversion_color = “ffffff”;

var google_conversion_label = “XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX”;

var google_conversion_value = 0.00;

var google_conversion_currency = “USD”;

var google_remarketing_only = false;

/* ]]> */

</script>

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”//www.googleadservices.com/pagead/conversion.js”>

</script>

<noscript>

<div style=”display:inline;”>

<img height=”1″ width=”1″ style=”border-style:none;” alt=”” src=”//www.googleadservices.com/pagead/conversion/XXXXXXXXX/?value=0.00&amp;currency_code=USD&amp;label=XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX&amp;guid=ON&amp;script=0″/>

</div>

</noscript>

</p>” ?>


Call to action text in case your image doesn't load.

4. On-Click Conversions with Call Tracking

This fairly new feature of AdWords allows you to track click-to-call actions on your website as conversions.  This is great for mobile traffic or desktop users that have Skype (or a similar VOIP solution) installed.  AdWords will also report conversions for visitors who manually dial the phone number displayed on the web page.  When you create a new conversion in AdWords, you’ll now see an option to track Phone Calls.

The conversion code is below, and has a few key differences from a standard conversion.

<script type=”text/javascript”>

(function(a,e,c,f,g,b,d){var h={ak:”XXXXXXXXX”,cl:”XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX”};a[c]=a[c]||function(){(a[c].q=a[c].q||[]).push(arguments)};a[f]||(a[f]=h.ak);b=e.createElement(g);b.async=1;b.src=”//www.gstatic.com/wcm/loader.js”;d=e.getElementsByTagName(g)[0];d.parentNode.insertBefore(b,d);a._googWcmGet=function(b,d,e){a[c](2,b,h,d,null,new Date,e)}})(window,document,”_googWcmImpl”,”_googWcmAk”,”script”);

</script>

For one, it’s all javascript.  Due to the nature of this conversion type, there is no way a script-free pixel can fire so users must have javascript enabled.

Beyond that, you need to have some extra code to make this conversion type work.  The code above goes on any page with your phone number listed.  To activate the conversion, you need to add a second piece of code to call the _googWcmGet() function and replace your phone number with a Google forwarding number when someone visits your site through an AdWords ad.  There are a few different options for implementing this piece, but the most straightforward is to create a “number” class and place your number in appropriate spans.  Here is an example:

<body onload=”_googWcmGet(‘number’,’555-555-1234’)”>

<span class=”number”>555-555-1234</span>

</body>

Now every time an AdWords visitor calls you from your site, a conversion will be triggered in AdWords. You can also define conversions based on the length of the call. It’s quite simple to implement and very valuable for companies that receive a lot of phone leads.

How We Track Marketing Attribution & Revenue

The Real Deal with Bob Kehoe

When it comes to seeing the positive results of your efforts, I think I’m no different than most worker bees.

Like the chef who churns out an evening’s worth of top-of-the-line food for his or her hungry patrons, the sales team who lands that big, sought after client, or the carpenter whose long hours and sweat resulted in that nice new building addition, I am elated when the fruits of Leverage’s labor turns out to be noteworthy growth for our clients.

Recently, my team gave me yet another noteworthy reason to sing their praises.

A short time ago, we assumed the online reins of a specialty computer manufacturer and sales company.  What they’re selling is way above and beyond the high-end laptops being sold at Best Buy (I know all too well about those as of late, having just forked over no small amount of change for one for my college-bound daughter, but that’s another story). This company’s clientele includes major film and television networks, visual effects companies, and big-name engineering and architectural firms. On the low end, their computers start in the $4K ballpark.

The manufacturer’s previous experience with a digital marketing firm was an exercise in futility: after a year with our competitor, they saw little, if any, return on their investment, most notably when it came to tracking any revenue generated from or attributed to their website.

Enter Leverage Marketing. And Bizible.

Recently, Leverage has entered into a partnership with Bizible, who offers, among other things, top-notch programs that allow marketers and their clients to use cross-channel marketing attribution data. Basically, Bizible helps marketers figure out how to assign credit to different touchpoints on the customer journey, such as SEO, PPC ads and landing pages, in order to streamline marketing efforts, as you can see in the image below. Like Leverage, Bizible casts a wide net with the industries their products can serve: real estate, health care, and manufacturers such as our computer client are just the tip of the iceberg.

Bizible-marketing-attribution

After only a couple weeks, our computer client started seeing notable results, thanks to both Leverage’s innovative and meticulously constructed game plan and Bizible’s dynamic software. Or, as one of the client company’s head honchos put it, “we went from working in the dark to having stadium lighting.”

Bizible allows us to track all of our marketing efforts and allows us to properly attribute success to the appropriate channels.

Bizible-revenue-tracking

Despite my penchant for giving props to Leverage and other colleagues whenever possible, there is a part of me that also has a glass-half-empty mindset: basically, if it’s too good, I wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. But with Bizible, that shoe never dropped. The equation is simple: in this case, Leverage’s innovation plus Bizible’s program equals success.

Excuse me now while I rest my arm. It’s admittedly a little sore from all the back-patting I’ve done here. If you’re missing tracking of your marketing efforts, you’re not alone. According to the 2015 State of Digital Marketing Report, one-third of marketers say they don’t know what digital marketing channel makes the biggest impact on revenue.

Give us a call to discuss how we can set up attribution tracking for your business. You should know what marketing channels contribute most to your bottom line. Otherwise, you might as well be playing blackjack with your marketing budget.

7 Ways To Conquer Summer Hospitality Marketing Online

School’s out, leisure travel’s up. If you work in the hospitality industry, summer is probably your busiest season. But are you getting as many visitors as you could from your online marketing efforts? If your online marketing went into hibernation this winter and failed to get a fresh start this spring, it’s especially important to make some changes now.

Here are 7 actionable tips to help travelers find your site when they’re booking their summer trip.

Update your website content to reflect the season.

As a hospitality business, failing to keep your website updated is kind of like leaving your Christmas lights up year round… only worse. Not only does an infrequently updated website look bad, it’s also likely to rank lower in the search engine results pages (SERPs) than sites that regularly add new, original content—and that means visitors are less likely to discover you organically.

Of course, SEO value isn’t the only good reason to add fresh summer content to your site. Chances are, visitors who land on your site are already contemplating a summer getaway, and having visual and written content that aligns with their wants will help convince them to book. Try adding bright outdoor photos taken on or around your property, and consider writing summer guides letting visitors know what there is to do in your area this time of year.

Make sure your site is optimized for mobile.

According to a recent update from Google, mobile searches have outpaced desktop searches in the US and 9 other countries. On top of that, sites that are mobile-friendly (i.e. are easy to read and navigate no matter what size screen they’re on) rank higher in the SERPs than those that are not optimized for mobile.

Even if they convert on a desktop computer, many of your prospective guests will begin their summer travel research on a phone or tablet, so you need to make sure your site utilizes responsive design and looks good on all screen sizes.

Pay attention to the window between booking and traveling.

Many hotels and vacation rental companies are discovering that the window between when a guest books a room and when they arrive has narrowed considerably in the last several years. To figure out when your PPC ads for summer travel will be most effective, you need to figure out the average window for your business. For example, if the 4th of July week is typically your busiest time of year, and you determine that your guests book 30 days out on average, you should start running PPC ads for this holiday weekend in early June.

So how do you find your business’s booking window? Look at historical data from recent summers, as well as emerging trends in your booking system. You should also pay attention to when competitors are increasing their PPC spend.

Spruce up your local SEO.

Location matters, online and off. When most vacation-goers start planning a trip, they search for some combination of a place name and a venue, such as “Las Vegas hotels” or “best restaurants Atlanta”, so you need to make sure your business is ranking for relevant local searches. Here are a few things you should be doing for local SEO to increase the return on your summer hospitality marketing campaigns:

  • Claim your business listing on as many relevant places as you can, including Google, Bing, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and UrbanSpoon (for restaurants)
  • Make sure your Google+ business page is completely filled in
  • Make sure your name, address, and phone number are structured as data on your site so that search engines can easily categorize them
  • Research keywords that have a relatively high volume of traffic but low competition from other area businesses (e.g. “Austin hotels” is a very broad search, while “Austin hotels near South Congress” is a more specific search that will likely have less competition)
  • Try to get your business listed in well-ranked niche and local directories

Target staycationers.

Don’t forget about local web users who aren’t traveling far but still want to take a mini-vacation. According to a 2015 Skift survey, 62% of Americans don’t plan to take a big summer vacation this year because they are too busy or can’t afford it, but 33% of Americans say they will still take short trips on the weekend.

Consider crafting PPC ads that are specifically targeted to people within your city or state. Use your site and social media to promote a special discount rate or package deal for locals. Add content to your blog that gives readers tips on how to be a tourist in their own city. There are great hospitality marketing opportunities for businesses even when travelers are sticking closer to home.

Use retargeting ads with compelling incentives.

Taking a summer vacation is a big decision, and most people don’t commit after just one short perusal of a hotel or vacation rental company’s website. Keep in mind that people who visit your site are likely in the research phase, and be ready to remind them about your accommodations as they move closer to the decision-making phase.

You can stay top of mind by retargeting ads to people who have visited your site without converting—just make sure the ads give them a good reason to choose you. For example, for people who looked at your ‘Rooms’ page, you might create an ad offering a one-week only discount on a standard room.

Invite summer visitors back again.

The end of this vacation season doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship with your summer guests. Encourage guests to follow you on social media or subscribe to your email newsletter (try offering an incentive, like a special discount for subscribers), and keep sharing engaging content about your facilities and region that will make them want to come back again next year.

It’s impossible to fit a complete guide to online seasonal hospitality marketing into one blog post. Want to learn more? Share your question or comment below, or contact us to start a conversation.

Take the Leverage Digital Marketing Quiz!

Find out if you’re a marketing grandmaster, a novice, or somewhere in between. Take our digital marketing quiz now and see how much you kick ass! (or not…)

 

Get the bragging rights you deserve and challenge your coworkers to beat your score!

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