The BoomBlog

SEO Budgeting: How to determine ROI on your Search Marketing efforts

SEO-Budgeting-ProcessCalculating return on investment (ROI) is not unique to internet marketing, but the proliferation of available analytics data that provides insights into online behavior has created opportunities for data-driven decision-making that simply do not exist in other areas of marketing and communications.

Setting a budget for SEO is more difficult than it is for paid advertising, but it’s no less possible, as you can track metrics around your SEO performance that enable standard ROI calculations.

There is no reason why SEO can’t have its success or failure measured, as long as you can 1) add up the cost of your SEO resources and 2) quantify the value of a visit to your website.  With these two items, SEO can be calculated as a percentage of your revenue, and you can develop deeper and more useful metrics, such as:

  • cost per customer acquisition
  • cost per lead
  • cost per sale
  • profit per sale

Let’s setup an example scenario in which a business can begin to measure ROI from their SEO.  Let’s say you are a small business that has never done any SEO, but you do have analytics tracking on your website.  You may not even be aware of the depth of data you can get from Google Analytics, but it’s possible to quite easily gather the following:

  • A list of the top 10 pages currently getting the most visits from non-paid Search over the past 6 months
  • Number of visits from non-paid Search for each of those pages, individually
  • Running historical average of overall site visits from non-paid Search over the past 6 months
  • Breakout of the referring search engine that brings those visits:  x visits from Google, y visits from Yahoo, etc
  • Bounce rate of each of the target pages (% of visitors that leave the site from the page at which they arrive)
  • A handful of keywords that have brought visitors to those pages (Google won’t give you all this data, as many of the visits will be marked as “Not Provided”, but you can still get a nice indicative bunch of keywords)

Depending the type of business you are in, you may also have conversion data that is calculable from the visits to those 10 target pages, and you can set a metric such as # of sales generated by visits to those pages, and profit per sale from the specific visits brought in by non-paid Search traffic.

Time to Hire an SEO!

Ok, so you’ve got some starter data, and you can set your “pre-SEO” benchmarks for your top pages, and for your site overall.  Then you hire an SEO consultant to conduct a site audit, do keyword research, and recommend the best optimization strategies for those 10 target pages.

If you have a smart SEO who knows what he or she is doing, they will give you an extremely focused plan based on solid research so that you can target specific keyword rankings, either to improve rankings you’ve already got, or to attain new rankings for keywords that were not bringing you any visits before.  You implement the plan by improving the content of your existing pages, or by creating new pages to target new keywords, and by building links and promoting your content through social media, PR, and other channels.

After 6 months, it’s time to calculate your ROI from your SEO efforts.  All the costs that went into SEO consultant fees, web development, content production, linkbuilding, and content promotion go into your “investment” column.  Then look at your latest stats from the 10 pages in question, and any new pages created as part of the SEO effort.

Compute the change over the 6 months… Did you have a page ranked at #15 in Google that generated 100 visits per month, which now ranks at #4 and generates 250 visits per month?  Great!  Those new 150 visits per month go into your measurable returns column.  You get the idea.

You’ll end up with an analysis that looks something like this.  These numbers are just examples, based on a sample site where 10% of site visits tend to generate a sale that brings an average of $25 in revenue:

SEO/ROI Analysis

SEO Investment Cost
Consulting fees to SEO company $6,000
Web development to optimize site $1,500
Cost of producing new content $500
Cost of linkbuilding efforts $1,000
Cost of YOUR internal time managing all this $2,000
TOTAL $11,000

 

SEO Measurable Returns (6 months) Metric
Increased visits from search to top 10 target pages 4,000
New visits from search to site overall, above historical average 1,500
Sales generated from those increased visits 550
Revenue from those sales (# sales x $25) $13,750

 

So in this example, the SEO campaign delivered success over 6 months that resulted in revenue that was $2,750 above the cost of doing the SEO.  So a basic ROI in revenue terms is 25%.  Not bad.

Amortization Adjustments to SEO ROI

But let’s be fair… some of the above investment items should be amortized…after all, if you are doing social media marketing, and you’re interacting with customers, promoting the site, answering questions, and building your brand’s reputation, that volume of work has its own value outside of the benefit it drives towards higher search rankings.

This is where you have to make an assessment, either via creativity or simply gut-level intuition, but you can take a percentage of those costs out and assigning the rest to SEO work.  Let’s say you credit only 75% of the investment costs to this particular calculation… You’ll then get an ROI like this:

$13,750 – ($11,000 * 0.75) = $5,500.00

$5,500 / $8,250 = 66% ROI from SEO

This re-assignment of investment costs to other important areas such as brand equity, customer service, or increased social media presence are what start to create some fuzziness in the ROI calculation.

But there’s typically only upside to this process… After all, the 6 month period as just the beginning.  Unlike paid advertising, your SEO success will have lasting power, even if you stop investing after the 6 months, because you will likely hold your new search engine rankings for a long time to come.

And, there is a rolling benefit that takes place on the web, where success breeds more success… New customers share their experience with their friends, recommending your site months later, causing more new traffic, etc.  Hard to measure, but difficult to discount entirely.

I started the example with the idea of looking at 10 target pages, because an identifiable group of pages that had specific SEO attention to them can serve as a test case for future SEO efforts.  After those pages increase their rankings, you can continue to add to their ROI calculation even years down the line… If they continue to maintain higher rankings and draw more traffic then your initial benchmark, you can keep revising your ROI calculation to be more favorable.

Don’t Forget Referral Traffic

It’s also important to recognize that the measurable part of SEO success also belies additional success that may not be as directly measurable.  If a page is doing better because some new links pointing to it have increase the influence and page authority of that page, and hence the Google/Bing/Yahoo ranking of that page, then there should also be regular referral traffic coming through to those pages from folks clicking on the links themselves, having discovered the linking page.

You can chase down those metrics as well by looking at your referral traffic from new links gained as part of your SEO effort, and add those visits to the column of visits gained via the linkbuilding part of your SEO campaign.

Deeper Metrics

With these figures, you can calculate other ROI factors like profit per sale, cost of new customer acquisition, and other metrics.  At this point, this is not even “web stuff”… this is just regular business ROI, but it’s grounded in real and reliable data coming from comparing your benchmarks to the new site performance.

Conclusion

Doing return-on-investment calculation for SEO is a bit more challenging than other types of web efforts, but the reason has mostly to do with the presence of less measurable “bonus” benefits that you’ll experience for years down the line.  These are difficult to capture, but only lend more rationale towards doing SEO in the first place. The fact is, you can develop ROI on your organic Search efforts, and use it to make near-term decisions regarding your site and how it’s marketed.  Even a failed SEO effort can give you insights into the ways your site succeeds or fails on the web, and this info can be fed back into your overall marketing strategy.

Remember, paid advertising is great, but the benefits to your site drop off dramatically as soon as the investment stops.  SEO, by its nature, is a content strategy, and if it’s done correctly, adds an “evergreen” factor to your site which can pay off in spades for a long, long time.

OK

JM

Jim Magary is the founder of Boomient Consulting, and is one of those ROI-obsessed “smart” SEOs so slyly referred to in the above article.  For more information on getting Boomient to help you measure your ROI for SEO or any other marketing efforts, contact us here.

 

The Promise of Co-Citation to Replace SEO Links

Co-Citation-Links-SEOAnyone knowing much about SEO has probably seen or read advice and predictions from Rand Fishkin from SEOMOz, one of the leading knowledge gurus and developers of useful SEO software.  Recently Rand predicted that linkbuilding anchor text is going to be diminishing as a signal used by the search engines, to be replaced to one degree or another by something called co-citation.

Let’s figure out what these concepts are and discuss how they may apply to your business.

What’s Anchor Text?

First, for those who don’t know what anchor text is, it just means that a link on a web page is using text instead of a web address, for example:  Genius SEO person is an anchor text link, instead of http://boomient.com/jim-magary which is a web address link.

Anchor text has been widely used for much of the history of SEO as a way of targeting a keyword.  The idea is that by using the keyword as the anchor text in a link, you are telling the search engines that the page you are linking TO is related to the phrase in the anchor text.  Historically, this has been shown to have a great effect on the ability to rank for the phrase, and has created a huge and sometime shady industry of linkbuilding for the sole purpose of sticking certain phrases into links and pointing them to your page.

As with all things that area exploitable for monetary gain, the use of anchor text has been rampantly overused, and thus represents the latest dying Golden Goose of the SEO era.

Millions of web pages, some belonging to linking services consisting of a variety of (crappy) blogs designed only for the purpose of including links, were created to contain (or sell) anchor text links that point to pages that want to rank for the terms contained therein.

The search engines are not dumb… They are well aware that millions of web marketers out there have beeng trying to game their way up the rankings by doing more of whatever works, if they can find a way to get it done and appear “natural”.  Anchor text included in articles, comments, social media posts, and other places has become an unreliable signal as to whether the page it links to is relevant to the topic, not to mention whether the page is worth reading at all.

The Advent of Co-Citation

What Fishkin has predicted in his recent post was that reliance on anchor text is going to be replaced by co-citation.  This concept essentially expands the idea of a single link being relevant to the topic in question, and includes the larger context of the content piece in which a link exists, or even a Brand mention where a link doesn’t exist.

An example of co-citation:  An article mentions “left-handed golf clubs” and talks extensively about this subject.  In the article, there’s a reference to Bob’s Lefty Golf Shop, an online retailer.  Other articles on the web also talk about Bob’s store, and also use the phrase “left-handed golf clubs“.

In the anchor text era, those articles would have had to link to Bob with the anchor text phrase for his site to see an SEO benefit.  In the co-citation model, Bob would benefit whether the link is included or not, simply because the search engines are looking more widely at the association between his website (which presumably is already well-established as being associated with the name “Bob’s Lefty Golf Shop”), and the topic in question.

Fishkin points out that there are already some notable example of sites which rank well for terms that are barely included in the content of the ranking page.  For example, Consumer Reports has a page that ranks well for “cellphone ratings”, an extremely competitive phrase, despite the fact that the exact phrase doesn’t’ appear on the ranking page AT ALL.  For anyone doing SEO in the past few years of keyword link accumulation obsession, this is simply amazing to see happen.

So how does co-citation work in the algorithm?   Well, what Google (and supposedly Bing) are doing here is using the proximity of the terms “cellphone ratings” and “Consumer Reports” that appear on numerous webpages, whether they are linking to consumerreports.org or not.  There’s a quantitative judgement rendered that those two things simply go together because so many different authors on the web have used the phrases in close proximity.

It’s a great example of how Google is simply getting smarter and better at what they do, and how they are also frustrating the efforts of “quick fix” SEOs who want to rank quickly by doing some simple linking (or buying anchor text links, which is a nasty practice you should NEVER engage in).

If a Search ranking is earned by having your brand name associated with the keyword phrase, but NOT through the practice of linking to your page, then the focus will have to be on the content that is discussing your brand… The actual writing and association-making that occurs from the high-quality discourse of which the “meaningful web” is composed.

How Co-Citation Benefits the Worthy

I got a quote and a mention for Boomient recently in an article on CBS Moneywatch, because the reporter saw one of my blog posts, where I took Yelp.com to task for their laughable attempts at selling me ad programs.  While I was thrilled to get the mention, I was disappointed that the reporter was not able to link to my site.  Of course, I asked him if he would, and he explained that CBSmoneywatch.com policy prohibited him from giving the link himself, and that his editors made those kinds of decisions.

However…. if the concept of co-citation takes hold, then my website should ultimately benefit from the CBS mention, even if it doesn’t come with a link.  This is because my brand, Boomient, is discussed in the story, which is on a high-profile website talking about “web advertising” and “criticism of Yelp.com” and their business model.  Despite the lack of a link to me, I can hope to benefit in the future from people searching for topics like “yelp advertising” and “web advertising rates“.

If I get traffic from this, you could argue that I deserve it, rightly, as someone who has been determined by an authoritative 3rd party (CBS reporters and editors) to be associated with that topic.  Eventually these algorithmic practices may render the need for a link almost irrelevant in favor of co-citation analysis.

FYI, my analytics is already showing that my humble SEO blog is occasionally receiving traffic for searches that include ‘yelp advertising‘, which may be attributable to co-citation analysis from the CBS article (that’s right, Yelp, you are not off the hook with me yet ;-) )

This recent development is all good news to me, and should be to any web marketer concerned with getting credit for being an authority on your subject.  Content is still King, and anything that helps good content producers get visitors is helpful to web users and web marketers alike, link or no link!

OK

JM

Jim Magary is founder and lead SEO consultant at Boomient Consulting, and would very much like to have his name and company brand woven deeply into the fabric of Google’s algorithm for phrases like “seo consulting” and “web marketing”.  To ask Jim how he can help your business develop an effective content strategy, contact him here.  

Lichty Guitars Website Wins UltraWeb Award

Lichty Guitars Wins Web AwardI was thrilled to recently learn that our client Lichty Guitars has won a web award which recognizes the quality, design, and flawless functionality of their website at lichtyguitars.com.

Since 1999, the Ultraweb Awards have recognized webmasters and marketers who combine user experience with creativity to craft an excellent online experience.   Lichty Guitars has been chosen as an Ultraweb Level 2 Award  Winner, an award which recognizes high-quality content, good design, and ideal functionality. A few of the past Level 2 winners are Mayo Clinic, Caribou Coffee, the National Aquarium of Baltimore and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Last year, I helped Lichty Guitars build their new site and establish a proper SEO strategy, which has resulted in increased traffic and greater online visibility for the company.

Located in Tryon, NC, Lichty makes custom handmade acoustic guitars and ukuleles.  They have enhanced the web with a site that showcases the beauty of the instruments through rich acoustic guitar photography, elegant design, and informative content.  All this adds up to a unique shopping experience for site visitors considering the options of an acoustic instrument that can cost upwards of $5000 or more.

Check out the story in the link below to read more about the award:

Ultraweb Award Winner Lichty Guitars
Lichty Guitars, Level 2 Award
LichtyGuitars.com features the work of North Carolina custom acoustic guitar and ukulele builder Jay Lichty. The website successfully conveys the quality of craftsmanship, look, feel and sound of Lichty instruments. Warning: Guitarists visiting the website will want a Lichty masterpiece of their own.

______________
Congratulations to Jay Lichty and Corrie Woods of Lichty Guitars!  It’s always great to see our clients doing so well, and increasing their online footprint.

ok

JM

Bottlenose Search – A Promising “NOW” engine for the Social Web  

bottlenose-search-engine-marketingI’m always eager to try new search engines. I’ve got about 12 of them bookmarked on my trusty Rockmelt browser (yeah, I like to try new browsers too). Everything from Blekko to DuckDuckGo to Wolfram Alpha has been either a flavor of the month, or turns out to be a useful niche engine that can help you in certain situations.

Today I discovered a beta engine called Bottlenose that seems to have some promise.  The idea is that it’s a “now” engine, specializing in finding things that are trending, happening now, or widely discussed in social media.  The site gives you a pretty good results page, which looks more like a content magazine site than a search engine, with a bunch of snippets, hashtag links, social streams, comments, and readable excerpts from articles on the subject you searched.

Searching for Now instead of Then

Bottlenose search appears to have promise for those situations where you want to search something for which there’s a lot of historical content on the web, but you are looking for something that just happened related to it, and you don’t want to weed through old pages.

Now of course, Old Reliable Google has custom options to filter your searches by date, or by News, Blog, etc, which is a fast way to narrow down, but not nearly as much fun as exploring content that has been assembled by virtue of its trendability, and not just its publication date.  Also, Bottlenose lets you bypass the need for making those custom settings, as it assumes you are looking for the new and the now on your topic.

Here’s a good example…. there’s many, many gigabytes on the web covering influential musician Kurt Cobain (ah, Kurt, if you had only lived to see your own Wikipedia page), so a search for him on a traditional engine will lead you to fairly predictable sources.

A search for him on Bottlenose, however, may be different every day, as it’s pulling things said about Kurt in real time.  The search I did today pulled down a number of versions of a story that made its way through the music press today, as Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins fame name-dropped Kurt Cobain in a mini-tirade against the music site Pitchfork that was just angry and interesting enough to blow up a little on the web, at least within the circles of folks who care about that sort of thing (yes, me!)

Kurt-Cobain-Billy-Corgan-Bottlenose

Bottlenose searches for trends, not records

I’m looking forward to playing with Bottlenose a bit more, to see if it can supplement my searching and improve my ability to stay current on news, and get to the front curve of trending conversations.  Seems like a promising tool for bloggers, marketers, and journalists in particular, or for those who just love to live in the here and now.

OK

JM

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Good Reasons To Redesign Your Website

With thanks to SEO.com…

Reasons To Redesign Your Website - Infographic

What to do NOW For Your Brand on Pinterest: Get On Board

Promote Brand on Pinterest Ok, so Pinterest is the hot thing right now in social media, we know that.  I can barely read an industry blog or news story without hearing about it.

There’s tons of advice developing about the best way to leverage the site, and much of that will change and evolve as we all figure out how people are really going to use this new social network.

After all, the web is a living, breathing, wild beast, and sometimes new websites, even social networks, succeed in spite of their own strategies, by virtue of people using them differently than their founders intended.

Social Media Surprise

Recall that Mark Zuckerberg was a bit suprised by the extent to which people wanted to post pictures on Facebook, vs how he originally envisioned the site.  This prompted FB to expand and improve the photo posting and tagging functionality of that site (and, no doubt, increase their server space), to accommodate the massive interest in that particular type of sharing.

And recall that Twitter never invented the #hashtag on their own.  No one knows who did, although many claim credit, but it’s clear that the Twitter-verse grew its use organically, as early adopters discovered that they needed a way to tag keywords to create more focused ways of searching the site and following trending content.  Twitter responded and quickly made changes to encourage the use of hashtags, which are now central to the Tweeting experience.

So now we have Pinterest, where you can quickly find 100 different chocolate-chip cookie recipes, or 100 different pairs of Jimmy Choos, or 18 different pictures of David Bowie to post on your “Fave Artists” board.  The fervor surrounding this site reminds me of 2007 and 2008 when Twitter really took off to the mainstream, and brands scurried to figure out how to leverage the platform for their own purposes.

Companies and brands are already all over Pinterest, and right now there’s a bit of a land-grab going on.  People are following just to get re-followed, and pinning and “liking” everything in sight, just in hopes of getting a followback.  I pinned my client’s booking agency site today, only to see that someone named “Victoria’s Secret” went and “liked’ it, which makes no sense at all, but goes to show that some over-caffeinated social media marketing intern right now is at her desk, tasked with grabbing attention anywhere they can get it by pinning like mad (**Update:  the Victoria’s Secret page that liked my post has since been removed, either because it was not the real VS or because Pinterest doesn’t want pure brand pages**).

Of course this behavior is par for the course on all other social media, but the speed and excitement with which it’s happening right now on Pinterest is pretty amazing, and makes it worth getting on board (yes, a pun, sue me) soon to establish a beachhead.

How to Use Pinterest for Your Brand… at least for now

Pinterest strategy will certainly evolve as we learn exactly how all these millions of new users actually behave on the site, and how they regard and reshare promotional content.  If you have a brand to promote, and if you also have the benefit of being a human person, then here’s some quick tips you can do to get started right away:

1.  Join Pinterest Twice:  Setup an account in your own name, and another one as your company name… in general, it’s always a good idea to lock up your Brand’s username on a new social site, even if you’re not going to use it, just to keep it away from others.  You’ll have to request an invite but at the moment it’s not hard to get it.

2.  Link Accounts:  I linked my personal account to my Facebook account, and my business account to my Twitter.  This gives me some freedom to be a little sillier with the posts I make on the personal account, since they will re-post to Facebook.

3.  Setup Boards:  Create a few boards, and re-pin a bunch of things from other people… you don’t want to just self-promote at first, and you need to get activity going so that people see who you are and follow you back.

4.  Share Fun and Crazy Stuff: Pinterest is all about photos and interesting images, so you have to have something on the page worth sharing visually.  If the site you want to promote doesn’t have good photos, add them first, and make as much “Pinbait” (yes, clear attempt to coin a phrase… sue me as long as you link to me ;-) ) as you can.   The interesting thing that seems to separate Pinterest right now is the simple accumulation of linked content that occurs without people actually visiting the links, or being aware of the page they are even on… I have re-pinned recipes that I plan to check out later, but have not visited the page they’re on, and may never, but there they are, on my board.

5.  Last, start following people widely, by re-pinning their content, and following their pins, and liking their content… most people will follow back and that will expose them to your pins and get them in front of the photos that you’ve included from the site.

"Pinbait": Gosh, this is so funny.... don't you just want to re-Pin it?

We’ll have to see where this goes… Pinterest may have finally cracked the code of how to make a mainstrem social bookmarking site that people actually use as a resource, rather than a collection of links that never get revisited or shared.  There’s tons of social bookmarking sites, but let’s face it, there haven’t been any good ones.  Pinterest may be that one.

Effects on SEO are uncertain (the links are no-follow), but if there’s a multiplying effect to be had from posting your own quality content, then there’s real traffic to be had, and that’s the type of think that generates links later, as people discover, read, and re-share what you have to offer.

All Aboard!

OK

JM

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Authorship Markup Using rel=”author” Attribute

Google-author-attribute-relI watched a good video today from Matt Cutts and Othar Hansson from Google, explaining the advent of authorship markup.  They hinted ever so slightly that this is something that Google will be using as a search engine ranking signal, and though it’s in the early stages, it’s something that HTML-savvy folks out there can implement easily on their sites.

So what is it?  Well at this point it refers to the authentication of authorship, and it’s implemented in HTML code by using an attribute called rel=”author”.

The idea behind rel=”author” is that this bit of code can be used on a page containing content written by you, to send a deliberate signal to search engines that a particular person wrote the content.  This snippet is inserted into the HTML code of the link from that page that leads to your on the same site.

So if you write a blog post, use the rel=”author” attribute in a link back to your author profile page (again, only on the same site), so that Google will know that you wrote it and that you’d like to get credit for having written it if the page ever turns up in search results.  They will then be able to associate that writing with other things you’ve written.

And Why Bother?

The promotional payoff, at least at the moment, is that if Google decides to trust this attribute, they will place your profile picture next to a search result that includes something you’ve written, although it’s not clear yet as to whether Google will assign this trust automatically.  It looks something like this:

How to use the rel author attribute

In the future, authorship markup may actually mean that Google begins to assign ranking value to your profile, and uses it to influence the ranking authority of an individual piece you’ve created.  They won’t say how or how much, but the idea may be that authors can achieve a level of credibility on the web through these attributions, and that the sum total of your credited work will play a role in boosting the calculated relevancy of an individual piece, when compared to the work of other authors in the index.

If this is the case, the authorship markup function could serve as another social signal, similar to the strength of your influence as measured by re-Tweets, or re-shares of your posts, and other public signals which have been increased in importance and which Google and Bing admitted are now playing a role in rankings.

In the video, Matt and Othar suggest that the G-friendly thing to do is to also put another link on your own site back to your Google Plus profile, and make sure the profile also links back to the site where you created the content, creating a two-way verification process that Google can trust.  That gives big G a reason to know that you are not trying to pretend to be Barack Obama or Maureen Dowd, since those folks would not link their Plus profile to your blog.

Here’s the basic format for a link with the rel=”author” attribute: 

<a href=”http://boomient.com/jim-magary” rel=”author”>Jim Magary Author Page is here</a>

 

So to recap, the steps to authorship markup, for an individual blog site, as of August 2011:

  1. Link your Google Plus profile to the author profile on the site where you publish content (your blog, etc)
  2. Create a link on your site to your Google Plus profile page (ideally a link in the header, footer, or ubiquitous iconset so it’s on every page of the site)
  3. When you write a post or article, include a link to your own site’s author profile of you, and use the rel=”author” attribute in the link code as above. 

Note to WordPress bloggers:  Adding the link automatically to the author links that appear on blog posts can usually be accomplished by finding the single.php file and also the loop.php file, and editing the part where it calls for the info to build the author URL and post meta-data.  Here’s what mine looked like after I added the markup:

<a href=”<?php echo get_author_posts_url( get_the_author_meta( ‘ID’ ) );?>” rel=”author”><?php the_author();?></a>

While we all love big ideas on the web, a daily reality is that it is the accumulation of dozens, if not hundreds, of small tactics like this one, that will pay dividends in the long run.  If you’ve got the time and the knowledge, at least setup your two-way verification links so that Google may, just may, start looking at you as a real person (I know, it’s a lot to hope for).

OK

JM

The Almighty Media CPM: And Why Yelp.com are Out of Their Minds

yelp-advertising-cpmAs a business owner I get a lot of emails and phone calls from people looking to help me advertise and promote my services.  As someone who is in the promotion and awareness business myself, I’m always curious to hear their pitch, especially for new web programs that are trying to filter targeted web users towards the right marketing messages.

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a young and eager sales-newbie at Yelp.com, who tried feverishly to sell me on their new display advertising program, and the conversation reminded me just how new the web still is, and how little some folks understand basic media analysis.

If you don’t know Yelp.com, they are truly one of the best local-search sites out there. Standing out among a throng of horrendous yellow-page clones and local directories, Yelp actually offers a pretty well-designed user experience, and attracts a devoted following of folks who enjoy reviewing restaurants and business in their communities.

Since Yelp tends to perform well in the search engines, thanks in part to SEOMoz who put them on the map, I make sure all of my small business clients setup their free Yelp listing, even if they are a national or global business, because it’s a solid business directory with strong editorial credibility on the web.

My particular Yelp sales-newbie wanted to interest me in a program whereby I’d have access to all of the people in my town who use Yelp to search for things in my business category (web services and marketing).  She enthusiastically explained to me that there were about 700 people per month searching that category who live within 20 miles of me, and that I could show an ad for Boomient Consulting to them near the top of their search result page.

For a mere $500 per month, I would get all of this traffic, which would link right to my Yelp profile... yes, they were trying to sell me links to a page on their own website.

This hapless salesperson was fishing in too small of a pond to begin with, as even a quick glance at my site (or even my Yelp page) would have indicated that I am a national and global business, and my customers don’t need to be located in my hometown.  I told her that she would have been better off trying to sell me the banner ad at the top of the page, currently occupied by Verizon, because I’m just as happy to market to the whole country as my local area.

But the true travesty, which I explained to her politely, was that she was trying to sell me a media buy that carried a $714 CPM (cost-per-thousand impressions), which is way more expensive than most web advertising, not to mention Prime Time network television.  I asked her why I would pay a price that was LITERALLY 26 times more expensive than an ad on the Super Bowl, and for an ad that doesn’t even bring visitors to my own site.

The counter-arguments to my point, by the way, include a discussion of audience targeting capabilities, the differences between a narrow-target CPM and a general audience CPM, and the advantages of standing out from local competitors, none of which my Yelp sales-newbie seemed to have at hand, and which still don’t justify the obscene CPM of this program.

Local Web:  Still an Ocean of Confusion

This example sits somewhere in the vast expanse of the marketplace where the modern, hyper-targeted web finds and devours the ancient local business practice of yellow page advertising.  Millions of small businesses used to budget thousands of dollars per year to be in the almighty yellow pages, and now the ones that can’t do basic CPM math are being sold “bargain” local programs like this one from Yelp that claim the same benefits that the ol’ finger-walking book used to provide.

But unlike the Yellow Pages of olden times, no site on the web has a monopoly on search in local communities.  Most people use a search engine like Google, but many use sites like Yelp or Judy’s Book to find a local contractor or business.  The choices are many, the sites are mostly terrible, and the “advertising” or “SEO” programs are often downright shady.

You shouldn’t have to spend thousands to be listed in local directories (most are free for a basic listing, in fact), and paid advertising on these sites can have CPMs under $1.00.

I’d love to work with some businesses in my town, so I’d like to get the attention of the 700 people looking for marketing and web services in my zip code.  But for the same $500 Yelp is trying to get from me, I can put an AdWords ad in front of thousands of people, and I can geo-target that ad to my zip code if I want to.

I’d pay by the click with Google, but at least I’d be bringing those clicks to my site based on targeted keywords, not a broad category search, and I wouldn’t have to entice them through my lackluster Yelp page (which, by the way, would still have ads on it from other companies… you’re welcome, Verizon!).

Even LinkedIN has a new advertising program where you can target people by job title or by company, and serve them ads paid for on an impression basis.  I did a test-run of their ad program and paid a CPM of about 70 cents.

So let’s see… Yelp is charging a multiple of one thousand vs LinkedIN, for ads that don’t even bring people to my site.  Yeah, I think I’ll pass… and something tells me that Verizon is not paying $700 CPMs for their national banners at the top of Yelp.com, making this whole local Yelp offering seem even more predatory and slightly icky.

It frustrates me that local businesses are falling for these type of ad buys, and it saddens me that good web companies like Yelp are preying upon business folk who might be duped into thinking they need to pay through the nose to “claim” their place on the local listings in every way they can, and who, not unlike my Yelp sales-newbie, may not understand how to calculate a media CPM.

Worse still, some hapless businesses owners may see these programs as a bargain compared to what they used to pay annually to be in the yellow pages.  It may be years before they realize that the return on investment is nowhere near where it should be.

With any ad program, it’s best to start an evaluation by doing a basic per-impression calculation:

COST/IMPRESSIONS times 1000 = MEDIA CPM.  

The cost of an impression is certainly not the only metric that you can use to evaluate media, and on the web it’s not even the best one –cost-per-conversion or ROAS (return on ad spending) are much more useful if you can get to them — but CPM is a good place to start when looking at the price tag of anything that’s going to drive traffic of an known quantity and an unknown quality.

Moral to the story… beware expensive local ad programs.  And keep a calculator handy!

OK

JM

WordPress 3.2: The Good, the Bad, and the Whaaaa???

I haven’t been blogging about WordPress much lately, but I’ve been upgrading a number of different WP sites lately and had to deal with decisions related to the WordPress 3.2 upgrade after it was announced on the 4th of July, and I thought my experiences in the past few days might be worth sharing.

If you don’t know WordPress, it’s a website publishing platform that lets users, even those of the decidedly non-techie variety, publish a blog or a full-fledged website with relative ease.  WordPress is an open-source system, which means that both everyone and no one is ultimately responsible for its functionality.  WordPress is free, which is a good price for something this amazing, but the open-source nature of the thing is often a blessing wrapped inside a curse (or the other way around), on any given day.

While there is a core group of folks (led by Matt Mullenweg) who manage the updates of WordPress, an astonishing amount of both functionality and support for WordPress is provided by independent users and developers the world over, making it one of the largest open source projects in history.

Rhapsody in Blue

Every so often WP releases a new installation, upgraded to offer anything from small security features to wholesale improvements in the platform.  This month they released WordPress 3.2, known as Gershwin (the WP folks seem to like American Jazz performers as name sources, ala Mingus, Duke, Coltrane, and Thelonious, all past releases).  Gershwin promises a number of features designed to make WordPress faster and lighter, easier to install and run, and with some pretty cool user-end features.

If you have a WordPress site, you are advised not to upgrade until you know the effect it will have on your site.  While there are some cool features you’ll like, there are some pitfalls, which is always the case with any brand-new batch of open-source 1′s and 0′s that you invite onto your machines.  Before you do anything remotely Gershwin-esque, don’t forget to back up your stuff.

The Good

The rundown of the “good” in 3.2:

  • A New default theme, called Twenty Eleven (the previous was Twenty Ten):  Prettier and more functional than its predecessor, although I’ll never use it, so who really cares?
  • “Zen mode”:  the full-screen toggle on the writing editor now does a cool thing and makes everything else on the Dashboard disappear so you can just concentrate on writing.  It’s a much better fullscreen mode than they had before, and you can update the page while remaining in it… a nice touch.
  • Streamlined Dashboard:  Much more clear labeling of things, with more fitting on the page to view.  Oddly though, they still don’t show you what your Post ID number is, and you still have to jump through hoops or install a plugin to find out what this often-used digit is (one of the great ongoing mysteries/gaffes in WordPress development history)
  • Speed Upgrades:  This new WP makes use of a feature called PHP lazy loading, which speeds things up on the developer end and disables a few things that usually lead to slowdown… always welcome!!

The Not So Good

And here’s the things that will make you pull your hair out and forget all about how cool “Zen” mode is:

  • This is a MAJOR update:  There is a growing list of popular plugins that have survived many tweaks of the WP upgrades, but many of these plugins don’t work in WordPress 3.2.  This kind of thing is to be expected in an open-source dilly, so if your site relies heavily on plugins, do your research and check around before you upgrade to 3.2.  It may be better to wait until plugin updates have caught up to Gershwin.  Here are the plugins I’ve had trouble with so far:
    • Cache Plugins:  WP Super Cache and W3 Total Cache worked for me across multiple other themes but both have given me problems in WP 3.2.  This may be due to theme compatibility, and probably is, but that’s little comfort when you start getting error messages across your pages.  Waiting for some consensus to develop on the best caching plugin for WP 3.2, or for an upgrade to these popular plugins.
    • Quick Page/Post Redirects:  I totally love this plugin because it makes redirecting pages easy as pie, but it crashed the site I’m working on now and I have to find something else to use.  It was working fine on 3.1 so the upgrade must be affecting it.  I have had to ditch the use of this plugin and edit my .htaccess file manually to get my redirects to work.
    • NextGen Smooth Images:  NextGen regular is working ok, but the improved version has not yet been upgraded for 3.2
  • Slider Problems/JQuery:  Some themes that use things like jquery image sliders, especially the JQuery Nivo Slider, may experience conflicts when they upgrade.  In my case one of my homepage sliders just froze up and I had to revert back to the old WordPress (read here to learn how) while waiting for the theme designer to publish a 3.2-compliant upgrade to his theme.

What You Should Do About WP 3.2

If you are able, try installing 3.2 first on a test site or on a local server (I love WAMP), include all the plugins you care about, and see if you have problems.  If you do, de-activate each plugin one at a time to isolate whether it’s these that are causing the issue, and also check the support for your theme to see if they are doing anything to address Gershwin issues.

In the case of my slider site, the developer just had to update the js folder than contained the scripts for the Nivo Slider, so you may only need a file or two.

The lesson I learned with this WordPress upgrade is to not get too eager… after they publish an update, it’s advisable to hang back a bit and see what the web community has to say, and do a bunch of testing offline or on a test site before rushing in with the upgrade.  Gershwin is nice, but at the moment the headaches have outweighed the improvements.

Onward and Upward!

OK

JWM 

Read more about WordPress help here and let me know if you have questions.  

Social Media Marketing: Best Practices for Success

social media best practiceSocial media is a growing challenge for businesses, and many companies are getting themselves out there in the SM space without really having a coherent strategy.  That’s understandable, because the cost of entry is so low (like, uh… nothing), and marketing managers don’t want to seem like they’re behind the curve by not having a social media presence at all.

So, you have a Twitter account… good for you… but do you have a strategy?

Treating social media as a strategic marketing practice is smart for business, plain and simple.  Here are some key social media best practices you should consider elemental to success in this emerging space:

#1:  Determine Your Channels

Figure out which brands or areas of the company embody something that’s worthy of being followed or “liked”, and assign a specific channel definition to those areas.  A social media channel could be your brand, or a specific product, or it could be your HR/recruiting function, or it could be in the person of your particularly charismatic CEO.  Each of these could qualify as a distinct social media channel, deserving its own channel strategy — separate but coordinated.

A social channel within your company will set its own course to a large degree, managing its own separate accounts with social sites like Twitter and Facebook.  It can create its own branded groups on LinkedIN, or make a video channel on YouTube.

This channel separation is important… I see way too many companies using Twitter to build a product-oriented fan base, and then inexplicably start dropping into the stream such non-relevancies as job postings, or other things which are of no concern to 99% of their followers.  Think like the Ghostbusters… don’t cross the streams!!!

#2:  Define Mission and Purpose

This is pretty fundamental, but again, think of each channel… what is the purpose of doing social media, and who is the audience that should be targeted by that channel?  These decisions will govern the sites you use, the editorial you create and share, and the voice you speak in, so don’t skimp on formalizing these fundamental decisions.

#3:  Develop an Editorial Plan and Schedule

To engage in social media, you’ll have to create content… cool, fun, valuable, share-able content.  For each channel, decide how often you’ll be creating this content and when it should best be distributed.  Make this part a real strategy… don’t use social media to “dump links” everywhere… that’s not going to be worth the effort. Give your target something compelling to read, to redeem, to join, or to share, and make it worth the click.

#4:  Treat Social as a Two-way Street

Listening is one of the most important functions in any relationship, and a productive social media relationship is no different.  If you treat social media only as a way to distribute marketing messages, then you are engaging in Advertising and PR, not Social Media.  You need a framework for listening to social media conversations, by formally monitoring the web and key sites for mentions of  your brand, or responses to your company’s messages.

#5:  React to Customer Service Opportunities

Related to the last point, you can use social media listening as a means to react quickly and effectively, by answering queries, or participating in conversations about your products or services, or industry.  Use the social sites to help customers, not just to market to them.

#6:  Assign Social Media Messengers

Usually one person per channel should be tasked with being in charge of the nature of the content that is put out on the web on behalf of that strategy… you don’t want too many people Tweeting under the same account, as this will quickly lose the effect of “social personality” which is vital to getting people online to trust the source and feel a level of personal attention.

#7:  Write Some Rules

If you have many people involved in your Social strategy, it’s a good idea to set some rules of conduct so that everyone speaks the same language and knows the best way to share a consistent message.  When is retweeting ok?  How often should you post new information?  How should you best use images?  When is it ok to comment on industry rumors?  These are all considerations that each individual may treat differently, so get your own internal best practices together and get everyone on the same page.

#8:  Monitor Performance

You’ll want to select KPIs (key performance indicators) around social media engagement factors, and set goals to improve on these over time.  Examples:  number of followers, likes, messages, retweets, site visits.  All of these are important to optimize, so use the data available to you to guide the editorial strategy.

In practice, social media is a way to get little tidbits of information about the company out there frequently, and it’s tempting to just treat it like a series of small bites.  But over time, companies will develop Social Web personalities, and you want to make sure you are doing all of the above things correctly, to optimize your presence and generate the kind of multiplying effect that makes social media such a compelling marketing opportunity in the first place.

OK

JM

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