What to Look For in an Online Marketing Agency: Customer Service Part II

Earlier this week, we covered some questions you should ask an agency before you sign on the dotted line and today we wanted to delve into a few more questions you should have answered before you make a commitment:

What types of relationships does the agency hold with its most important vendors i.e. Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc.

Find out about the agency’s relationship with the top, second and third tier networks and ask if the agency will provide you with a reference of their contacts at any of the networks. It is also a good idea to find out if the agency you choose is owned by a network – will the agency benefit from putting your ads on a site that is not well suited towards your business?

What benefits does the agency have that an advertiser of your size can’t get by calling Google, Yahoo, AOL or other engines directly?

If complications arrive does the agency have the direct lines to a team that can quickly assist?

Are you able to review the work that has been done on your account? At our company we use various proprietary tools that interact with our customers accounts and in all cases our customers retain control of their accounts. Many customers have commented positively that they have learned much about search marketing through reviewing changes our team has made to their account.  In addition, our CEAM team will provide you with a report that also details the modification history on your account on a biweekly basis.

Can you log in to your account and view the work that is completed for you?

If you don’t understand a change that was made to your account – will someone explain to you in simple terms the implications of each change?

What happens to the work done on your account when you stop working together? There are many reasons why you may need or want to stop working with an agency, and in most of these cases you would still want to access your account and all of the work you have paid for.

Find out from the company what happens to the work created within your account and if any part of the account is used for other clients they may work with presently or in the future. 

If the company is vertically focused – Will your competition benefit from the lessons learned (and paid for) by your account?

Are you tied down by a contract?

What happens if something happens that changes your businesses marketing strategy?

What if performance isn’t what you thought it would be?

There are some companies that will bait you in for a 12 or even 24 month contract and 2 months into the contract; your business will find that you were just fed lines to get you in the door.  What recourse do you have to get out of the contract and how much will it cost?  Our company has a contract option, but the majority of our customers choose our no-contract option that ensures that if you don’t see the performance on your account that you desire – you can end with no penalties.

What to Look For in an Online Marketing Agency: Customer Service

What to Look For in an Online Marketing Agency:  Customer Service

There are many great agencies that businesses can choose to work with, but there are also a few that leave much to be desired.  This week our team is covering what to look for when choosing an agency and there are a few questions you should have answered before making the big decision.

How are communications handled? Your online agency may be making all of the right moves within your account, but if they don’t keep you updated – you will never know.  Ask the prospective company:

How often they will contact you?
Will the contact be via phone or via email or a combination of both?
When you contact the agency, how quickly should you expect to receive a reply?

For our company – we have service level agreements that all employees adhere to.  Before you commit to a service provider, find out the answers to the questions above or you could be stuck with a company that offers 48 hour turnaround on any communications you forward their way.

Who is responsible for keeping you updated on your account? At our company, each client is assigned a dedicated Customer Experience Account Manager (CEAM) and a team of Paid Search Specialists and/or Natural Search Specialists.  The CEAM will meet with you on at least a weekly basis to discuss your account and any particulars that should be addressed.   You will also receive periodic emails and trends via email from your CEAM team keeping you abreast of any changes within your account.  In addition, my main function as the Leader of the Customer Experience Team is to ensure each of our customers receive best in class service – which includes being prompt and accurate in our replies to you.  Make sure you have someone assigned to help you and that the hours they are available is conducive to your working schedule.

What type of ongoing education does the agency offer to its employees and what certifications do they currently hold? Apart from the expensive proprietary tools that an agency must acquire – barriers to entry for an online marketing agency are low.  It is therefore of utmost importance that the team you choose to lead your marketing efforts has the experience and education that is needed to carry out your online marketing tasks.

Ask what qualifications their teams hold and the percent of employees with this certification?
How often do they attend training on the latest developments in the online marketing space?
Who is policing the education and ensures everyone has expert level knowledge of their trade?

Later this week we will discuss a bit more on what to look for when choosing an agency – including why you should care what happens to your account when you stop working with an agency.

Search Queries and Landing Pages

One of the biggest problems in any SEM account is overlooking the relationship of keywords and landing pages.  Some of the smallest differences in a search query can make the biggest differences in landing pages.  An example of this that I recently came across was for an e-commerce client who has see a dip in performance during the recession.  A recent trend in searches alerted our team to the problem that was occurring and how it was causing account performance issues.

In reviewing the search query data, our team found that the newest trend in searches were all price-related, a new trend for a seller of premium products.  Now while it would make sense to pause the terms causing the issues and add all the appropriate negatives: cheap, discounted, sale

Our team looked into the analytical data and found some very interesting pieces of information.  First, the keywords themselves were landing on a page that was sorted by “popular items”, not by price from lowest to cheapest.  Second, the visitors didn’t have poor engagement metrics on the site, in fact we found the average time on site, page views and bounce rates were better than the site average.  What this told our staff is that the traffic itself isn’t unqualified, seen in the engagement that was occurring, however they weren’t finding what was relevant immediately. The change we made next was to land traffic on pages that were sorted by pricing which immediately improved the conversion rates for these “price-related” terms.

Another case we recently came across was with a client who was selling items that are “i-mac” compatible.  We found that this ad group of terms was not converting well for the client and again our team reviewed the landing pages and analytics before pausing the terms.  Based on the engagement metrics and the click path, we found that most of the traffic was bouncing from the landing page and those that remained had average page views that we much higher than the site average. This was a sign that visitors were not finding the landing page relevant which caused them to either leave the site or search extensively to find it.  When reviewing the landing page, we found the issue to be that the landing page itself did not highlight the fact the products were “i-mac” compatiable. Our immediate recommendations were to create headers that pointed this information out to the visitors as this is what the search intention was.

In closing, search query data will tell you the intent of the search visitors coming to your site.  By overlooking this information, you can run the risk of moving away from qualified traffic by shutting down the terms rather than meet the needs of your visitors.  It is always good to evaluate the search query, the landing page and the analytical data between the two.  This will point you in the direction of what landing pages are needed to further your success online….

20% of Searches Haven’t Been Seen in the Last Month

According to a recent study by Searchignite, the need for a business to utilize paid search ads is ever present.  The study found that 20-25% of searches have not been seen within the last 30 days.  What this means is that in order to take advantage of these new search terms your business needs to have a quick and efficient way of driving traffic to your site using certain keywords.  PPC ads are a great avenue for taking advantage of these new searches.  Paid search ads also hold an advantage over organic rankings for sale items, as PPC ads can quickly be changed to accommodate free shipping offers, close-out prices or new product launches.

Search Query Reports (SQRs) will allow your business to see new trends – before others in your market become aware that the trend even exists.   The keywords in the SQR are searches that users are searching for relative to your product and industry, and if you’re lucky you can often capture lower than average cpcs long before others jump on board.  The SQR is also a great way to find long-tail keywords for your PPC account and also for your Search Engine Optimization efforts.

There are some places where natural search is a great weapon in your PPC arsenal.  For example, if your company has a well-known brand and infrequent price or product changes – search engine optimization can be a great idea for your business.  The cost savings for not paying per click – can be enormous, but it is often a long and tedious process to ensure you have the highest rankings.  It can also be a chore to ensure your rankings stay put at the top of the list while your competition is trying to achieve the same ranking you are.

In most cases, it’s good to have a healthy mix of both paid and organic listings for your products across a multitude of products.  Giving up one before the results are really in, is not a good idea and often if you look at data after you have both PPC and SEO working well together you will see the results are very lucrative.  In the aforementioned study – it was found that 12.6% of conversions credited to natural search were preceded by a paid ad click.  Attribution management hasn’t developed a compelling enough equation to show which click carries greater importance, but through the use of both PPC and SEO many businesses are able to increase their business many times over.

Increasing conversions without increasing traffic

Traffic has been steady or maybe it’s even trending upward, but is your site greeting your visitors in a way that is conducive to their shopping or is it trying to shove content down their throat.  Keep the following in mind in order to convert more of your hard earned visitors into customers.

Keep the content fresh

We expect nothing less than fresh ingredients when we’re shopping for produce or grabbing a sandwich from the local deli but somehow leaving a site untouched for the last seven years doesn’t throw up any red flags.  Content may not be as quick to become stale as fresh bread but it definitely isn’t a set it and forget it exercise.  Keep things fresh by addressing product evolutions, bringing attention to industry news, or showing community involvement.  But why stop at freshening up the textual content?  Updating your photos or layout from time to time can payoff in big ways too.  If your site is stuck in the late ‘90s or worse, the early ‘90s, its high time for a refresh.

Be clear

Are your products or services hard to understand?  Time is a commodity and providing understandable content that gets your point and distinguishing factors across in a clear manner is important.  Displaying your content within large blocks of text is generally irresponsible no matter how technical your products may be.  Cut your content into bite size pieces and even take the time to diagram especially hard to understand or complicated information.  Digging through large chunks of content to figure out what sets your product apart from another’s is annoying and will generally result in a higher bounce rate on your site than is necessary.  Try getting a third party perspective from someone outside your industry to make sure it’s not just you who understand.

Optimize for your users

This goes hand in hand with being clear but is important enough that it deserves its own section.  If you have ever found yourself writing your content primarily for obtaining search engine rankings, you have likely failed your visitors in multiple ways.  Though sometimes difficult, it will always pay off to strike a balance between optimizing for the search engines and for your users.  Sure, if you want your page to be relevant for a particular type of product it makes sense to mention that product in your content.  But please, please, do not stuff this product name in every other sentence with every instance bolded.  It doesn’t read well and won’t magically make your site rank first.

Have clear calls to action

Do you have a sales pen full of rock stars?  Can they sell ice to Eskimos?  If your products are complicated and sales come primarily through phone calls, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have your phone number prominently displayed on every page of your site with a ‘call now’ type of call to action.  If your goal is to generate requests for more information through a form fill, make it easy to find your form and refrain from requiring too many details – especially if you haven’t earned your visitor’s trust yet.  Just because you have a contact us page in the navigation bar doesn’t mean you’re all set.  Decrease the number of clicks required to take the next action and you will likely see your conversions increase.

How does your site stack up?  You’ve likely thought about a number of these points but are you really putting these tips into practice?  Take a look for yourself and you’ll likely find opportunities for improvement that will lead to a better user experience on your site.

Second chance at conversions: How to bring them back

Your pay-per-click campaign or your improved natural search visibility has done its job and delivered a new visitor to your site, but for any number of reasons the visitor did not result in a sale the first time around.  What can you do to avoid that visit being a complete waste?  Let’s discuss some of your options.

Have secondary conversion goals

The function of most websites is to drive more revenue through sales of some kind.  And direct sales are typically the easiest types of conversions to place a value on. However, don’t overlook other opportunities to obtain leads and build a pipeline.  Obtaining opt-ins for receiving email newsletters, form fills tied to downloading a white-paper, requests for more information or phone calls can all lead to a quality opportunity to remarket to your potential customers.  Your visitor may not have had the time to fully research your offering and purchase this time around but a well timed and well positioned email just might be enough to close the deal down the road.

Run promotions or contests

Give your users an incentive to come back with an evolving promotion or fresh contests.  A visitor may not have found what they were looking for the first time around but incentive to revisit your site could be just enough to receive a bookmark and a return visit or a mention of your site to a friend (great for link building!).

Make your page titles bookmark or “favorites” friendly

Finding the page you noted to come back to is often made more difficult than necessary by websites that do not have descriptive titles for their pages.  Too often website owners title their pages only with uninformed ‘search engine optimization’ in mind and cram as many keywords into their titles as possible – at the expense of their user’s experience.  When writing your page’s titles, consider how newspaper articles are titled to grab attention as well as to give an idea of what the content is about and take a similar approach.

bookmark example screenshot

Your website certainly will not be able to convert every visitor into a customer but by taking advantage of opportunities to obtain a second chance at converting, you can improve the value of your hard earned visitors.

Traffic Retargeting: How to Win Back Business Online

We all have had a situation in our lives where we could have a “do-over”.  Maybe we said the wrong thing, maybe we didn’t say enough, maybe we understood too little too late.  We have all been in this situation before and wished for another opportunity, another chance to really show what we can offer…well in the world of online marketing you can with retargeting.

Retargeting (aka re-marketing or re-messaging) is the process of “cookie-ing” visitors that leave your conversion funnel by serving them specific ads related to the same product, usually with a sales offer of sorts.  The use of re-targeting can be a powerful tool to bring back those visitors into your conversion funnel.  The reason that this is such a powerful tool is that you are focusing efforts on traffic that has shown a very high interest in your products, taken all the steps except purchasing.  Bringing them back with re-targeting through effective messaging and offers can result in higher conversion rates.

How can you start a re-targeting campaign?  There are ad networks such as the Yahoo Display Network, Quigo (AOL’s platform) and Fetchback.  Each engine will have different ways of re-targeting your traffic and pricing.  If you have any questions about re-targeting or how this can help your online efforts, do not hesitate to contact our team at any time.

Email Marketing Best Practices

Email marketing is a great way to increase business and generate additional revenues from current and prospective customers. Additionally, email marketing is an excellent way to monetize traffic that went to your site in the past, but did not convert. When starting an effective email marketing campaign, you may come across the following questions:

How do I go about getting a list for my email marketing campaign?

Generating a list for your email marketing campaign can be accomplished in many ways. In a previous post we discussed ways of generating revenues from free content and other free giveaways. This is a great way of building your list. Be certain to make sure you have a way of users to opt-in to your email list. Opting in ensures your business stays in compliance with the 2003 Congress action – Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act to curb spam.

Another option for getting a list for your email marketing campaign would be buying a list. While this option is widely available – it’s not a recommended option. If you buy a list you can’t be assured that subscribers have opted in to receive your offers and it’s likely you won’t know until you start to receive complaints from your ISP. If you get too many complaints from your ISP – you may be barred from sending out emails and this can be a costly problem to have.

Some companies may offer your business the option of renting a list from them. While on the surface this may seem like a good idea – the rental company takes on most of the risk, but be wary as you may have no way of remarketing to this group. In addition, this is a very expensive way of generating a list for your email marketing program and in some cases are not the right customers you would like to be targeting.

The most obvious way of creating a list is to reach out to your past customer base. This is a great way to generate referrals for your products or repeat purchases. When customers purchase from your site or even abandon their shopping carts – as long as they are opted in you can continually advertise to them via your email marketing campaign.

How often should I send out emails to people on my list?

You should send out emails consistently to your list, but more important than timing is the quality of your email content. Your subscribers and your ISP will reward you for sending out relevant/quality emails and in the reverse penalize you for sending out junk/spam. Sending non-relevant emails to your list will also cause you to get ignored, deleted or sent to spam. It is also important to note that email addresses not sent to within the past six months may be of a lower quality. This is something that tracking can help you test. Depending on how often you send emails to your list you may build up trust and credibility with your audience. Testing will help you determine how often you should send your email (without receiving unsubscribes). We also posed this question to our pals on Twitter and I think the responses are very interesting.

What should my emails contain?

Any email that you send should include information that users find valuable. Some useful ideas include sales, discounts, how to articles, electronic magazines and the like. For any email that you send out it is important to keep your calls to action clear and you should clearly let the recipient know what you want them to do. Industry best practices suggest that your ‘call-to-actions’ should usually steer people back to your website.

Other important areas you should pay special attention to include the subject line of your email and your images. Your subject line should include your brand name and remember that only the first 40 characters often appear within most email boxes. Any images should be optimized for the preview pane and there should be alt-tags on all images. Alt-tags are HTML tags that can easily be added to show alternative text to users with images turned off within their email boxes. ALT-Tags are also great additions to your emails for users with certain disabilities and for users with slow connection speeds.

How do I know if my email marketing campaign is successful?

Testing is key to finding out if your email marketing campaign is successful. You may consider your email campaign a success if you have a 3% click-through rate to your website or if you generate revenue in excess of your costs of running the campaign. The important point to keep in mind is that through testing of set variables within your email marketing campaign you may find yourself generating additional visits to your site, higher user engagement or even higher revenues from a set of traffic that you may otherwise not have focused your efforts on.

Email marketing is and can be a great option for many businesses, if you plan your strategy and continue to test your offers on a consistent basis.

Microsoft, Yahoo, Mergers, and You!

It has been a few weeks since the Yahoo/Microsoft deal was announced. There are definitely a lot of ins and outs to the deal, and hopefully this will help you understand how it will affect your business. You can also find out more about the deal (as we did) here at SearchEngineLand.com.

· Yahoo is leasing Microsoft’s search engine technology. Basically, Yahoo search will now be powered by MSN/Bing’s backend technology. From a user interface standpoint, nothing is going to change. However, significant changes will be made to the search engine optimization evaluation and Paid Search sides of both companies.

· This deal reflects how both Yahoo and Microsoft wish to position themselves.

1. Microsoft wants to position itself as a direct competitor to Google. Stepping up in this way to compete with Google’s search business diverts Google’s attention and dollars away from its Chrome operating system, which Google hopes will compete directly with Microsoft’ Windows platform. By forcing Google to divide its focus, Microsoft keeps its strongest product base (Windows) and also makes inroads into Google’s strongest base (search).

2. Yahoo no longer wishes to concern itself with being a search engine. Carol Bartz, Yahoo’s CEO, suggested that this deal enables Yahoo to develop a healthy revenue stream while Microsoft invests in search technology.  Interestingly, Yahoo wishes to be a portal-style site where people go to get mail, horoscopes, etc., and will make money off their display advertising network, which is fast becoming the strongest on the internet.

· Paid search technology will also be run by Microsoft. However, all Microsoft will do is provide paid listings. User interface type improvements, like Yahoo’s Search Assist feature, are up to Yahoo to provide. Basically, MSN will deliver the paid listings, then Yahoo can dress them up however they like. All larger advertisers (like Leverage Marketing) will work through Yahoo’s back-end User Interface and have a concierge team (like our Yahoo Agency Team) helping them out. Smaller advertisers, no matter which site they are advertising on, will use MSN AdCenter.

· None of this will take effect for at least a year. This is probably the most important point for advertisers wondering how this will affect them. Yahoo will not begin using MSN tech until late 2010 at the earliest, and their paid ads won’t be run by MSN tech until 2011 some time.

To stay up to date on the latest happenings – think about setting up a Google Alert so you can get all the latest breaking news as it relates to your business.

– John Veron

Need to investigate a drop in conversions?

A drop in conversions can be caused by many factors. The folks over at Google and industry best practices suggest you try at least the following to troubleshoot your account to identify the reasoning behind the drop in conversions:

Have you recently made changes to your website?

Have changes recently been made to your website? If so, a new unfamiliar or unclear design, broken links or just a lack of conversion tracking code could be causing your drop in conversions. You should check to make sure the correct tracking codes are correctly updated on each page you need to track.

Find steps to check your site’s source code here.

Have changes recently been made to your pay per click account?

Budget and bid changes, adding or removing ad text and keywords, pausing or resuming ad groups/campaigns can all cause negative changes within your sites conversion volume. Such changes can affect conversion numbers by lowering average position and ad visibility. To minimize the effects of changes and to understand what changes caused which reactions, it can be best to limit the type and number of changes you are making at once. If multiple people are working within your Pay Per Click account – Google makes it easy to run a change history report.

Find steps to check your Google change history here.

Is this a historical trend that occurs?

Run a daily account or campaign level report for the last thirty days to understand if there is a daily/weekly/monthly trend that occurs within your account. Do you find that your sales numbers usually drop historically this time of year? If you don’t have this type of information available you can also check out Google Insights for Search. It is a great tool to see trends in user generated searches – like this one I did for Ground Hog Day. Not too common of a search this time of year and just as expected the graph shows this trend.

Finally, it is important to note that conversions can take up to 24 hours to be reported within many of the search engine interfaces. Therefore, conversions may appear today for clicks that were made yesterday.