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Content that Keeps ’em Coming Back

Wed, 09/02/2015 - 10:17
Content Marketing Campaign Ideas for the Post-Purchase Phases of the Consumer Decision Journey

A few weeks ago, my colleague and king of content, Gregory Sidor, wrote an insightful piece on how to guide consumers toward conversion with content marketing, specifically during the Consider and Evaluate phases of the Consumer Decision Journey (CDJ). If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend starting there before moving on.

In this piece, we’ll show you how to craft effective content that will engage readers during the remaining phases of the CDJ and explain why you mustn’t leave your customers hanging after they convert.

Out with the Old

In the olden days, we used to talk about the ‘Purchase Funnel,’ which was purely linear, with a top (awareness), middle (evaluation), and bottom (purchase). Back then, marketers were often too busy high-fiving each other after the sale, they forgot about the customer—the person—on the other end of that sale.

Image courtesy of:

In with the New

Since then, we’ve learned how important it is to nurture relationships with existing customers by recognizing the true value of their satisfaction, repeat business, and brand loyalty. Studies have shown that hooking new customers costs businesses more than keeping the ones they already have, especially in today’s social media environment. What’s more, according to a 2013 study conducted by Sumall, companies with more repeat customers weather tough economic times more easily than those focusing primarily on gaining new customers.

The most successful content marketers recognize that the purchasing process is not linear. It doesn’t just begin, end, and start over. It’s cyclical and never-ending—at least that’s the goal.

After successfully engaging prospects during the Consideration and Evaluation phases, it’s time to secure the Buy, maintain a relationship with the customer during the Post Purchase phase, and establish a Bond that will keep them coming back.

To demonstrate these steps, we’ll pick up where Gregory left off with Four Walls and a Roof, a fictional company that manages apartment buildings around Southern California.

In the Buy stage of the CDJ, your prospects have already done their research, evaluated the competition, and decided exactly what they want and where they want to get it. This is your big moment! The customer has landed on your page and is ready to convert by scheduling an apartment showing online.

Make sure that your conversion process is simple and easy to follow. Content should be clear and concise. This is not the time to bog down your landing page with excessive body copy or photos. You’ve come this close. Confusing or overwhelming the customer could cost you a conversion. Spell out exactly how to schedule a showing, stress how fast and easy it is, and let the user know exactly what to expect after the form is submitted.

Image courtesy of:

Post Purchase

At this point, the apartment showing has been scheduled. This is a great opportunity to keep the customer engaged and confident in their decision to choose Four Walls and a Roof.

Some strategically written and timed pieces of content can help gain the customer’s trust and keep them interested during the days or weeks leading up to the apartment showing and hopefully, the signing of a new lease.

PRO TIP: Immediately after the appointment is set, send the client a confirmation. This could come in the form of a thank you page or an email. Use this opportunity to make the customer feel welcome, taken care of, and not afraid to reach out if they need help.

Remember, moving to a new apartment can be very stressful. Anything you can do to make your customers’ lives easier will only benefit you in the long run.

PRO TIP: Offer the option to link the appointment to the client’s Outlook or Google Calendar. Provide a list of local resources to help them with their move (movers, utility companies, furniture stores).



Congratulations, you now have brand new tenants! They may have signed a one-year lease, but that doesn’t mean your work is done. If you want your customers to be satisfied enough to the point where they’ll keep coming back and refer you to their friends, you’ve got to form a Bond.

But Mary,” you say. “My product/service is so top-notch. Shouldn’t that be enough to keep my customers coming back?” It helps, but it’s definitely not enough. In today’s cutthroat digital market space, competition is fierce. Social media is rampant. If you want to retain your existing customers and grow new business, you need to do everything you can to make sure your brand is the point of conversation. This can all be achieved through skillful content marketing.

Just as you did during the Consideration and Evaluation phases of the CDJ, you should be providing useful, relevant content to your customers during the Bonding phase. Try some of these content tactics to Bond customers to your brand,

  • Publish a blog just for residents and update it regularly with fun DIY projects, space-saving tips for apartment dwelling, community news, and more. Promote the blog and encourage social sharing and interaction.
  • Create profiles on Facebook, Instagram, etc. and promote them on the company website and blog. It’s important to note that it shouldn’t be your goal to create profiles on all social channels—just the ones that make the most sense for your brand. Keep social media pages active and engaging with resident stories, local events, photos, and company news. Encourage followers to submit their own photos or stories. For instance, ask your followers, “What’s your favorite room at home?” Ask them to submit selfies cooking in the kitchen, relaxing on the couch, or sitting at the dinner table with family.
  • Create a YouTube channel and link virtual video tours of apartments for rent, apartment facilities, etc.

These content tactics are designed to keep your current customers engaged and encourage them to share their experiences with friends and family. Offering your customers an opportunity to interact with you directly through social media is also a great customer service tool, making them feel welcome and valued even in the digital space. Just be sure that you have the appropriate resources to directly respond to all customer comments/questions, otherwise, it could work against you.

A good content strategy is like the gears in a watch. Circular, always in motion, sometimes turning in different directions, but always connected.

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You’ve Been Warned, Says Googlebot

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 15:38
How to Optimize After Googlebot’s “Cannot Access Your JavaScript and CSS Files” Warnings

Received any warnings recently from Google Search Console? Back on October 27, 2014, Google announced they had updated their Webmaster Guidelines to include information about JavaScript and CSS file blocking. If you haven’t received any warnings recently, no need to worry. However, if you were indeed a lucky recipient of one or these more recent warnings pertaining to this past update, your site may have some JavaScript and CSS blocking issues. These issues need to be fixed in order for Google to properly crawl and index your site. But, why? Well let’s continue down that rabbit hole.

What’s the Big Deal Here?

Fixing these issues is important because when Google cannot crawl your site properly, the search engine cannot log a full picture of what your website has to offer its users. Without this level of visibility, Google’s trust in your site diminishes, making the search engine less likely to serve your content to its querying users.

In more technical terms… By blocking these file types, you affect how well Google’s algorithms render and index your content, which, of course, may have a negative impact on your site’s overall rankings. JavaScript and CSS files play a huge role in creating a website’s look and feel, and, in some cases, a site’s content may even be JavaScript-dependent. By blocking your scripts, you risk hiding functionalities and visuals.

Basically, if Google can’t crawl your site, Google can’t trust your site, and Google won’t serve your content. No Bueno. So, what’s the fix?

How Can I Avoid This?

Fixing these issues is, in most cases, quite simple. Here are a few key tools you can use.

First off, use Google’s Fetch as Google tool before you fix the issues, to help identify exactly which files are being blocked and how said blockage is affecting Google’s visibility on each page of your site. Then, use this information to prioritize your optimization plan, allowing those blocked files that are preventing important content/functionality from being seen first, and fixing less important pages secondarily.

You can also use Google’s Mobile-Friendly test to make sure robots.txt isn’t blocking any of your site’s CSS or JS files. This kind of blockage may impact the responsiveness of your site, keeping Google from seeing your site as mobile-friendly, even if it actually is mobile-friendly.

After you run the Fetch as Google tool, check to see if you currently have any scripts trapped in disallowed folders in your robots.txt file. Below are examples:

Disallow: /media/                   Check your file management system for any JavaScript or CSS
Disallow: /plugins/                  that may accidently fall into any of your disallowed folders.

Remove any Disallow: /.js$* and Disallow: /.css$*

To fix these issues, move JavaScript and CSS files outside of blocked directories, or remove the disallow commands themselves. You can also update the commands to allow the specific subdirectories where these files live, while continuing to disallow higher-level directories. Once you are done fixing those issues, Fetch as Google again to check your work and catch any lingering errors you may have missed.

In the end Google warned us about these errors last year. Though they are not hard to fix, we should still optimize our sites and follow this protocol.

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New Channel Alert, B2B Advertisers!

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 14:57
Use Gmail Sponsored Promotions to Grow Your B2B Outreach Beyond Paid Search

For many search marketers who have worked on B2B accounts, the challenge of growing a B2B audience efficiently, while at the same time scaling reach beyond paid search, hits close to home. Thankfully, a new solution has emerged – Google’s display media product, Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP). GSP is still in Beta and now available in the AdWords UI for whitelisted advertisers.

What are Gmail Sponsored Promotions? GSP campaigns show expandable, interactive ads above the Promotions tab in Gmail inboxes. Advertisers pay only for the first click to expand their ad. While this point of conversion does not necessarily guarantee subsequent traffic to an advertiser’s site, it does offer a low-cost way to generate brand awareness and advertise new business products or promotions to the B2B audience. Added bonus? GSP CPCs are as low as $.40, which is uncommon for a targeted display product.

Here are some other great ways you can use GSP campaigns to optimize different parts of your marketing funnel.

Upper Funnel – Generate Brand Awareness

GSP campaigns can be great tools for generating more brand awareness. For B2B brands, competitor-focused campaigns, as well as campaigns that leverage interest/topic targeting or demographics targeting can be great tools for opening those upper marketing funnel flood gates.

Target Your Competition: Using GSP campaigns to target a list of your top competitor domains is a great first stab at leveraging this new marketing channel to generate brand awareness. Targeting your competitor domains can engage users who are already familiar with and receiving email promotions from your competitors but not necessarily familiar with your brand. The advantage of targeting competitor domains with GSP campaigns vs. search is that the CPCs are considerably lower with GSP campaigns.

Zone in with Interest/Topic Targeting: Running interest/topic-focused GSP campaigns allows you to cast a wide net, targeting users who have visited similar business websites and/or expressed interest in similar business categories – in many ways just a different angle on introducing your brand to your competition’s customers. As you can imagine, interest/topic targeting can drive a ton of volume at very low cost, but may generate less qualified leads. Thus, this strategy is a good way to drive mass brand awareness at low CPCs.

Important Note: Before launching an interest/topic based campaign, first consider budget and your team’s primary goal (generating leads vs. growing reach). If lead generation is your primary goal, consider layering interest/topic campaign over keywords with the goal of turning up traffic but also maintaining the more targeted traffic.

Reach Your Key Demographics: Running a GSP demographics campaign offers Marketers the ability to exclude demos or adjust bids based on gender and age. This control allows marketers to focus budgets on targeting their core demographics, which are more likely to convert.


Lower Funnel – Retarget the Interested

Not only can GSP campaigns work for brand awareness plays, but they are also awesome tools for lower funnel retargeting initiatives.

Retarget Warm Leads: GSP campaigns offer advertisers the ability to tailor messaging to visitors who have previously visited your site via their email list targeting. Impressions volume will be based on the size of the associated email list. This is the closest targeting method to remarketing that GSP currently offers. These types of campaigns will target users who have shown interest in your site, making them much more likely to come back and convert.


Anywhere in the Funnel

Perhaps you’re looking to use GSP campaigns as a full-funnel optimization solution? Awesome, and possible! Like most online marketing channels, the trick to efficiently leveraging this tool is keyword testing.

Test Broad and Niche Keywords: When launching these GSP campaigns, we recommend testing both a broader and more niche set of keywords. The broader keywords will have a higher likelihood of capturing a new audience, while the niche terms are more likely to drive users that are more qualified. Start with a mix of the best performing keywords in your search campaign.


Overall, Look Before You Leap

Proceed with caution when starting any new campaign. Start with low budgets and refined targeting, as some targeting levers have the potential to drive a lot of traffic very quickly, especially on mobile, and you don’t want to blow through your whole budget in a week.

Breakout High Performers: One way to do this is to breakout higher volume targeting like interest/topic into a separate campaign for better budget control and performance visibility. Once you have had some time to optimize and are happy with performance, look at growing volume and improving campaign performance with keyword/domain expansions, ad copy testing and banner testing to name a few.

The beauty of GSP is that it’s extremely easy to use now that it’s integrated into the AdWords UI. The optimization levers are very similar to search and display campaigns with the ability to pause non-performing keywords, adjust mobile bid modifiers, ad test, day part, etc.

All things considered, robust targeting levers and lower competition due to Beta status makes Gmail Sponsored Promotions an attractive channel for growing brand awareness and generating leads at low risk for B2B advertisers.


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Will Google+ Finally Stand Out from the Crowd?

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 10:30
The Search Agency Crowdsources Musings about the Future of Google+

Marketing Land Columnist Mark Traphagen has intently followed Google+’s years-long evolution, and recently released his latest musings on the future of Google’s social product. We read it, and we have some thoughts.

Our team has long struggled to see the true purpose of Google+, and we, along with Mr. Traphagen, believe Google has too. However, Mr. Traphagen pitched a few possible changes that piqued our interest – namely automated feed filtering and Collections.

Photo via: Aplet

Filtered Feeds? Sign Us Up!

The ability to filter and serve content according to known interests could be a very strong G+ selling point. In the last few months, we’ve started seeing more photos and status updates from friends-of-friends on Facebook – and it’s disconcerting.

If filtering is indeed an option, this revamped Google+ could also filter out posts you may find offensive, that is if Google determines you aren’t that interested in things like politics or social causes. Who knows! Maybe it could even keep our feeds clear of avid (read unnecessary) updates about certain celebrities who shall remain nameless…


Collections You Say? Said Our Inner-Marketers

As Mr. Traphagen points out, right now a drawback on available social media platforms is that sometimes you’re in to what another person is in to, but just not so in to that person him/herself. Enter Collections! A new way you could potentially follow a collection of another user’s topic-related posts without having to follow that actual person. As Marketers, we see these potential Collections as an awesome avenue for social media marketing campaigns. Brands could create Collections where they post images of their products along with links to buy those products right from those feeds – ala buyable Pins… yeah, you’re right. It is a perfect time to get into lingering redundancies.


Threats of Redundancy Still Loom Large

While the aforementioned possibilities certainly entice, a key threat still lingers for any new iteration of Google+: I can already get everything I need to know on a particular subject I’m interested in from my existing Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter & YouTube accounts. The social media space is already oversaturated, and has been for the last 5 years or so. To skirt this threat, Google will need to start getting specific, and pump up the fun factor!


Infiltrate Oversaturation? Sounds Fun!

Our opinion, after extensively studying social media behavioral patterns as well as using these platforms ourselves, is that any future social media platform’s success rests on four key features – an intuitive UX, mobile-friendliness, specification, and the fun factor.

Looking at this list of social platforms in existence today, it feels like we’re getting close to having different types of highly-specific social media platforms for every interest-type, and those that stand the test of time absolutely optimize for these four core features. Platforms that do and will continue to succeed have a specific purpose and are fun to use. And let’s face it – as it currently stands, G+ just isn’t all that much fun.


UX Not Intuitive Yet

G+ two-column layout alone screams just leave already! Should we read posts left to right, top to bottom, or what? Not fun. The truth remains, most folks only have a G+ account so they can cover their bases – not really because they’re constantly engaged with the platform. How long can you really devote resources to something like that?


Pick a Side

Social media, in general, thrives on producing an organic and genuine conversation amongst new and old friends – a digital experience that connects us in a unique and different way. As we’ve previously stated though, really successful platforms hone in on one particular way to foster these conversations. Currently, Google+ falls short in its attempt to fuse the fun of Facebook with the professional feel of LinkedIn – too broad. From a marketing perspective, while their new interest connector may be a hit amongst existing users, without further simplifying their platform’s lingering generalities, Google+ stands to only perpetuate their initial problem of failing to acquire new and younger audiences. No social media platform can grow without the younger demographic, and that younger demographic seems only interested in adding specific-use platforms to their vast repertoire of regularly-used social tools.


In theory, the future of G+ sounds really appealing to us as online marketers, that is, if it works. It does seem to us though that Google is too focused on what they want to get out of G+ vs. what users want. Guess we’ll just have to stay tuned.


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Calling All Marketers!

Fri, 08/07/2015 - 10:13
How to Use Google AdWords’s Call-Only Campaigns to Your Advantage

On Feb 20th, Google AdWords came out with call-only campaigns, a new mechanism for businesses to target smartphone–searching users. This new campaign type encourages users to call businesses directly, bypassing the process of having to visit brand websites to find contact info — yet another small step in streamlining the online path to purchase.

Although Google has done something like this before, via call extensions, this new campaign type shows up on mobile devices only, making it easier to manage bids and budget for mobile. Also, with this new campaign type, users do not even get the option of clicking to your website. It’s click to call only!

AdWords users have reported some bugs with this campaign type thus far, such as in the example below, in which Google is saying that this account’s ads are not showing, when they really are, but only on mobile devices.

Regardless, we see a lot of potential for using these ads to target mobile users.

Are these Campaigns Right for My Brand?

If you value call generation more than online form-based lead generation, running these call-only campaigns are a great option — service-based industries such as financial services or plumbers might, for example, really benefit here.

Boost Bang for Your Marketing Buck

We hear this question from our clients time and time again: How can I generate more quality leads with my marketing spend? Boost visibility! Running a call-only campaign, especially in conjunction with a call-tracking provider such as Dialog Tech or a similar provider, is a great strategy for generating more quality leads because it gives you new eyes on variables such as,

  • Length of call-only campaign-generated phone calls
  • Whether the phone call was received or missed
  • Visibility into which keywords/ad copy options generated the most phone calls

Example data set from a typical call-only campaign.

This visibility alone can quickly inform brands about how their copy is doing, how their keywords are doing, and clarify where to optimize further. Suddenly you can make the changes you need to make quickly, really scale your phone call volume, and understand where the quality calls are coming from — boosting quality and quantity all with one strategy.

PRO TIP: It’s important to double check the data that Google provides with your own internal data. Sometimes the data you see internally and the data that Google provides is not apples to apples.

To further illustrate how running a call-only campaign could be used to a marketer’s benefit, let’s walk through a fictional case study. Let’s say that after examining their data, ABC Insurance saw that phone calls coming from their competitor keywords on average lasted over 10 minutes. Knowing that a phone call over 10 minutes typically results in a sale, this brand could increase bids and budget on the keywords that drove those quality phone calls. In addition, they could expand upon those keyword sets and find new options that drive additional volume. Lastly, they could test different offers in their ad copy to see if certain copy options compel users to call more than others.

Best Practices

Here are a few best practices we feel are important to remember when setting up these call-only campaigns.

Encourage Calls: Change the call to action in your adcopy to encourage phone calls. Use a call to action such as Call Now or Call for a Quote.

Invest in a Dedicated Line: Get a dedicated phone number solely for your call-only campaigns. This will help you track exactly which phone calls came from the call-only campaign rather than just generally from your other marketing initiatives.

Integrate Your Data: Integrate data from your call tracking providers with AdWords or DoubleClick to get keyword conversion data.

Start Small: Start out small and scale your campaigns once you see success. It’s important to remember that with call-only campaigns, you’re being charged for the click, not the call. So if someone clicks on the ad and changes their mind about calling, the advertiser is still being charged. Therefore, it’s really important to stay on top of your number and make hitting your target a real goal.

Other Potential Hiccups and How to Avoid Them

Additionally, here are a couple potential cons to running call-only campaigns, and strategies for combating them.

Dueling Campaign Cannibalization: Since you will likely be running the same keywords on both call-only and legacy mobile campaigns, you may run into a duplicate keyword issue – causing your dueling mobile marketing campaigns to cannibalize one another.

Solution: Reduce risk of cannibalization by lowering your mobile bid adjustments on the legacy campaigns and increasing mobile bids on your call-only campaigns. This tactic will help ensure your call-only campaigns show over legacy campaign ads. However, organizing bids thus will also make running both regular ads and click to call ad at the same time impossible. Keep in mind though, under most circumstances, advertisers running click-to-call campaigns would much rather those click-to-call ads show up in the SERPs over their text ads, as they value phone calls over form fill leads.

Jumping the Funnel: Running a call-only campaign without developing a strong strategy supporting its launch may result in lots of searchers being served ads asking for calls when they just aren’t yet ready to pick up that phone and become a lead. They may still be in that early Consideration phase of their Consumer Decision Journey, still searching on their own for more information. Being hounded for a phone call in this early phase may come across as too aggressive and result in the call-only campaign ads deterring potential customers. How do you protect against this potential hurdle?

Solution: Develop appropriate targeting and adcopy strategies, ensuring this con becomes a non-issue.

Overall, Call-Only campaigns are a great way to generate phone calls without investing a lot upfront into marketing efforts. Once you see the return, these campaigns are easy to scale and grow in volume.


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Take Me to Your Reader

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 10:44
Guide Consumers Toward Conversion with Content Marketing

The internet has made it incredibly easy to compare prices, features and reviews when considering a purchase. While most of us appreciate this convenience, the path from expressing interest in a product to finally prying open our wallets can be quite lengthy.

The Consumer Decision Journey (CDJ) shown below encompasses the main steps in making a buying decision, beginning with “Consider” and moving clockwise to “Post Purchase.”

Creating content for customers at different points along this journey is one way to shepherd users toward a purchase. Articles or blog entries that answer their questions and concerns are also prime real estate on which to deploy valuable keywords. Since you’re addressing people with differing levels of interest, it’s easy to develop a strategy that moves from broad, high-volume terms to longtail keywords.

Of course, part of the challenge is coming up with compelling pieces that will work in your favor without beating people over the head with the hard-sell. Cynical web users are likely to see through something like, “10 Reasons to Live at Fair Oaks Apartments.”

In order to demonstrate how this might work, I’ll lay out a basic content strategy for a fictional property management company. I’ll provide sample keywords and brainstorm possible topics that incorporate them for a clear strategy during the Consider and Evaluate stages of the CDJ.

Our make-believe client, Four Walls and a Roof, manages apartment buildings around Southern California. With housing costs rising, competition for renters is fierce. Four Walls and a Roof is interested in content that will appeal to people searching for an apartment.



The first stop on the CDJ, people in the Consider phase may be months away from moving. They could decide to abandon their search altogether and re-sign a lease. These people are testing the waters to see what’s available. Relevant keywords are broad, and include:

What can we determine from this sample set? Clearly cost is an issue for many, and a significant number of people are planning to stay in the same general area.

Consider the concerns of the searchers above. How could they be addressed in compelling (and helpful) ways? Assuming your building satisfies the queries, you could target these keywords with content like:

“How to Find a Great Low-income Apartment” – Many families and seniors rely upon subsidized housing to keep a roof over their heads. One concern among low-income renters may be safety and quality. Providing tips on sorting the good properties from the bad would be of great use to these customers. While you will mention your brand, it isn’t central to the piece.

“10 Ways a Cheap Apartment Can Cost You” – Many people search for the lowest possible rent in their target area. No one wants to pay more than necessary, but this topic allows you to capture bargain shoppers and convince them to spend a bit more. In the best-case scenario you capture some traffic on a high-volume keyword that you may not otherwise target.

“10 Best Neighborhoods for Renters in L.A.” – This article would allow ample opportunities to localize your content. Including details about neighborhoods – restaurants, employers, access to transportation – is not only useful for potential renters; it also helps your site build up authority as part of a specific location.

These topics provide a chance to establish Four Walls and a Roof as a resource for renters. They’re also likely to remain relevant for a long period of time. This is just the kind of content your site needs.



In the Evaluate stage, potential customers are comparing you to the competition. Your goal is to come out on top. In this case, you’d want to consider what differentiates your buildings from others in the same category. People in this phase of the CDJ would search according to more unique, make-or-break concerns:

If you own buildings that fulfill these criteria, customers could be reached with content like:

“7 Reasons Your Pet Will Love Rolling Hills Apartments” – Many buildings allow pets, but what if your apartment complex takes “pet-friendly” to a new level? Maybe there’s a large courtyard perfect for playing Frisbee with the dog, or bay windows that are the ideal spot for a real cat nap.

“How to Pet-proof Your New Apartment” – Draw attention to your pet-friendly building with helpful tips that everyone can use. A piece like this could develop traction on social networks as people share the tips.

“5 Luxury Features at Rolling Hills Apartments (Your Own Washing Machine!)” – Every apartment site should list amenities. Providing a gallery or blog entry that’s heavy on visuals lets you supply this information in a more engaging and shareable format. It’s also a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition. Your photo of a full washer/dryer will be more compelling than a bulleted list of features.

Depending on your industry, keywords can get very specific early on. For example, a plumbing supply company may get more traction on “how-to” content rather than galleries about pipe fittings. This is where your own knowledge of the business comes into play.

Do your keyword research and imagine a hypothetical consumer. What would you expect when performing these searches? Formulating a content strategy based on the Consumer Decision Journey can serve both the customer and your bottom line.


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Why Your Website Should Be More Like Duct Tape and Zip Ties

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 13:07
How to Marry Your Website’s Design and Engineering with the Principle of Affordance

Photo via:

Have you ever visited a website and thought, what on earth am I supposed to do with this? I’m having trouble using this website. Let me go find my answer elsewhere. Not a great user experience, huh? Inversely, have you visited a site and wondered, Wow! This is a visually appealing and very intuitive website. It lets me do what I came here for and more! – this is the reaction you want your customers to have every time they land on your site. So how is this achieved? Enter affordances.


What are Affordances?

That mostly subconscious feeling you have when something “just works” is all thanks to the principle of affordance. You see, affordance is where design and engineering come together to produce something that is versatile even beyond its intended use. Let’s watch this quick two-minute explainer video:



So what does this have to do with websites? Well, let’s just say when it comes to websites… users totally judge the book by its cover. Sure, your website might have been created to help your brand acquire new leads, sell your products/services, and/or educate users, but these days, users crave more. When a site not only offers relevant information but also packages said information in an aesthetically pleasing way, more often than not the enhanced packaging is what increases on-site user engagement. Implement the principle of affordance and suddenly your site users feel like they’ve found your information more valuable – enough to endorse it, vouch for it, share it, and keep coming back all because you gave them the goods they came for and more.


Photo via:

Examples of Affordance at Work

Personally,,, and win in my book for providing excellent, affordance-optimized, article-reading experiences. Here’s why:

In the grand scheme of any marketing manager’s strategic focus these days, many neglect affordance. Plenty find ways to succeed without it. However, then you have big shots like Apple making affordance a top priority, a choice many would argue remains a core catalyst for their continued success.

So no, to generally succeed in the digital space, Apple or the websites I highlighted above did not necessarily have to choose to spend time and money developing their unique affordance-optimized features. However, by choosing to invest in these areas, they set them apart from their competitors and enabled their complete UX to soar above and beyond their core affordance – allowing users to read articles, yes, but also creating innovative, interesting ways to reinvent reading itself for the digital space. Essentially, they made their website into the duct tape and zip ties of their industries!


The Magic of Duct Tape and Zip Ties

What comes to mind when you think of duct tape and zip ties? Worthless? Can’t do much with them? Actually, for most I’m guessing it’s quite the opposite. Duct tape and zip ties are two of the simplest tools that can be used in countless different ways. Ever heard of duct tape prom outfits or whatever Christian Grey needed these for (see, many uses!)?



Photo via:


When figuring out how to apply the principle of affordance to your website’s design and engineering, your best bet is to shoot for making your site more like duct tape and zip ties – a simple tool, usable in countless different ways.


Photo via:


Google Agrees!

Google loves websites with many affordances. It loves them so much so that it is advocating that developers develop versatile websites designed to help users not only complete intended actions, but also complete future actions like asking the website a question or setting a command. Jarek Wilkiewicz, a Googler working on Knowledge Graph, explains that designers must embrace certain affordances as the new standards because search engines are increasingly using them to inform their rankings – favoring webpages with the best affordances satisfying a given user query.

Why has Google started favoring affordances in this way? Well it all goes back to that core principle of affordance. Generally speaking, when a site is optimized with affordances, it not only provides the content a user is looking for, but it eloquently presents the content in a useful context. Essentially, a website or app offering many affordances provides a better user experience and therefore should rank higher.


A Few Affordance Optimization Tricks

Recently, fellow Search Agent Kirby Burke attended the Smashing Magazine Conference, at which presenters discussed many of the performance and design issues I have talked about here. In summary, make sure your website isn’t another useless invention by following these performance and UX tips:

  1. Fast: Optimize resources to render above-the-fold content in two seconds or less.
  2. Functional: Ensure the most important elements and actions are accessible to users across all devices. Check out our white paper on Implementing Responsive Web Design for more fast and functional tips.
  3. Consistent: The visual design style should be consistent across all devices.

Think about the other businesses in your industry or vertical. Which website(s) do what they are made for and more? Which websites do you frequent, and why? Would you still visit those sites if they didn’t have that extra feature which sets them apart from the rest? Which website do you consider to be at that versatile duct tape and zip tie level?

Let me know in the comments!


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Make Display Ad Impressions = Display Ad Views

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 14:35

Google recently released an infographic, The Importance of Being Seen, on the viewability of display ads by consumers. Short and succinct, the study determined that…

Overall, only 56% of all display ad impressions are actually viewed.

The study also found that,

  • Above the fold is a better position than at the top of the page, with 68% viewability
  • Below the fold can be effective
  • Vertical ad units are seen more than horizontal ones
  • Performance varies across industries

So what does all of this mean and what should you do with it? In this post, we’ll address these questions and more, starting with,

Are people seeing my banner?

Yes, but just not all of the time. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines whether or not a display ad is viewed based on if at least 50% of the ad’s pixels are in view on the screen for a minimum of 1 second. One second – that’s slower than your average scroll, but faster than someone loading the page and walking away. Thus, it is likely that only 50% of your banner impressions are actually seen by the human eye. However, you should also keep in mind that unless you have strict frequency caps on your campaigns, even if user A can’t see your banner on site B, they may very well see it on site C, when they’re surfing for something else.

Should I pause my display campaigns?

No, but with a caveat. If you’ve run display ads in the past, you know that they can drive click traffic and conversions. Additionally, they contribute to the click volume and conversions on your paid search campaigns. Display ads are also a great way to try and reach new consumers who are unfamiliar with your product and wouldn’t automatically search or click on your paid search ad.

Now the caveat…

If your performance data shows either no lift in brand awareness, site traffic, or to your other channels (eg. paid search), then it’s time to rethink where you are advertising and why. The answer could be as simple as shifting budget to a different vendor who is more in line with your target market or as complex as an entire revamp of all of your creative and display goals.

If in reviewing your data you find out that your display strategy needs a complete overhaul, consider this before you let the impending workload get you all pause-happy: while possible, it is rare that display campaigns are ever completely ineffective. At their worst, ads delivered via this online marketing channel drive increased traffic toward your site by raising brand awareness, so doesn’t developing a new display campaign sound completely worth the investment? We think it does.

Should I limit my ad position to above the fold?

No. Although Google’s determined that above the fold has a 68% viewability vs. the 40% of below the fold, when you break out the data between these two positions a bit more granularly, you see that your ads have better chances of being viewed below the fold than they do above the fold. In addition, jockeying for above the fold visibility often comes with premium prices and higher position competition, which could likely increase your costs exponentially without driving that many more conversions or visitors to your site. If, however, you leave your campaign open to whichever position is available in the auction and set competitive bids, you’ll still be viewed in either of the two areas on the page.

Should I rethink my ad sizes?

Potentially. Before deciding yes or no here, review your performance data – something you are already doing as part of your normal campaign optimization, yes? So, let’s say you see better performance with your 160×600 while your 300×250 is expensive and not converting. Your initial response to these results may be, oh, of course it makes sense to either pause the 300×250 or bid it down so that I’m not spending as much. However, let’s consider Google’s recent findings again. There is still a 41% viewability rate on the 300×250, so it’s not a quick – pause all horizontal units – decision. You really need to consider all of the available data before you flip that switch.

What’s my next move?

To truly get the most out of this study, you should analyze your current display budgets and campaign performance stats, then determine if you’re allocating your dollars in the most efficient places. When digging into the data, here are some questions to consider:

  1. Goals – what am I trying to achieve with these display campaigns?
    • If your main goal is to drive more awareness, then you should determine just how much money you’re comfortable spending on your campaigns.
    • If your main goal is to drive more conversions, then you should take a look at campaign performance, cost per conversion, and whether or not your display campaigns drive paid search click and conversion volume before implementing any changes.
  1. Budget – How much spend am I allocating to display vs. paid search?
    • Test out different percentages spent on paid search vs. display. Allow each new balance variation to run for at least two weeks, but preferably closer to 4, to determine how much of an impact a lower display budget has on your total conversion volume. Once the results are in, make adjustments accordingly.
    • Advanced option – Is it possible to split your display budget out into brand awareness vs. direct response, so that you can test both? Try it out!
  1. Bid Strategy – Which bid strategy works best for my campaigns?
    • Viewable CPM only charges you when 50 percent of your ad shows on screen for one second or longer, so you should only pay for ads that are seen. This strategy works best in brand awareness, where the goal is to get as many eyeballs on your ad as possible.
    • CPC bid strategies only charge you when a consumer clicks on your ad. This strategy works best if efficiency and direct response are your goals, since you only pay if the consumer takes an action on your banner.

Important Note Here: Depending on the targeting of your campaigns, sometimes viewable CPM is more effective than CPC and vice versa. So, your best bet is to run a test, where one type of GDN targeting campaign is bid one way for 30 days and then the other for 30 days. Review the results after the 60 days to see which one achieved your desired result. Rinse and repeat for the other targeting types you’re using in your campaigns.

In the end, what it boils down to is that display ads do contribute to your overall marketing goals. You just need to figure out by how much to inform how much you are willing to spend on them. As with any marketing channel offering growth potential in the online space, the motto remains test, test, test, rather than pause, pause, pause.

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