Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals


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What Do You Think? – Beyond Web Analytics

On reading this title you may be forgiven for thinking I am going to criticise the use of web analytics. You would be wrong.  As everybody knows the appeal of online marketing for many businesses is the depth of data available to commercial leaders, the transparency of results and of course the ability to optimise as a result of triggers your web analytics provide.

Web analytics also support decisions across a whole range of departments, including marketing, merchants, tech & design teams and customer experience professionals.   However with ever complicated reports being generated and increased levels of analytical power being unleashed does web analytics provide all the answers?  My truthful response to that question is No.  What web analytics provide is a great foundation to inform discussions, however as online businesses have matured so have their needs.

In the past you could probably get away with employing a very analytical skilled online marketeer to run your analytics.  Partly because the primary use of web analytics was to measure campaign and SEO performance.  As e-Commerce matures so do the requirements of businesses.  e-Commerce is now core to most medium to large businesses.  Web analytics supplies a much wider audience with huge volumes of data to inform decisions.

Even if you have managed to employ a highly talented web analyst that understands your Omniture, Coremetrics or any other system you use, they may not understand the commercial ramifications.

Every business needs to set their objectives and then set their web analytics to help provide the data and modelling to assist in their decision and development plans.  Then the modern commercial leader whether from a marketing or trading background needs to be conversant in multi-channel business and how the web analytics assist in measuring their performance.

However that isn’t enough. The leader then needs to apply old fashioned inturpretation to those figures.  When doing so they need to do so with preconceptions or being blurred by their own view.  They need to use their commercial and technical experience and match it with instinct.

Web Analytics is still one of the most powerful tools a modern business has.  The more data you have the more you can base decisions on fact rather than gut.  Remember to utilise your web analytics with your other data, such as inventory data and customer research. Put it all together and what looks a great website might get ruined by poor stock availability or negative customer feedback.  Yet looking solely at web analytics could show a rosey picture.

I will follow this post up in the future looking at how web analytics can be used for different areas of a modern business.


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Producing Content for Company Websites

What is Content?

One of the key topics that pop up with industry types, affiliates and agencies from an SEO, Social Media and Online PR stance is content.  Before I delve too deeply in to the subject matter, I think its important that I clarify what I mean by content.  This isn’t the standard information about your company.  It isn’t even about content around the products or services you offer, even though those areas are imperative.  In the context of  this post, I mean compelling content that people may want to read regardless of any affinity or lack of with your brand or their current interest in buying from you.

Why provide content?

Well it all depends what your objectives are.  For some organisations additional non-sales related content may be impractical or unworkable.  I can’t think of a single case where it won’t provide some form of benefit.  It’s just whether the scale of the benefit is worth the investment.

In the main, the reasons for providing content can be varied depending on your circumstances.  However you need to be clear of your objectives.

From my perspective the main reasons for providing content include:

Upside on SEO

Social Media SOV

Online PR outreach

Community Building

Providing an authority to your subject matter

Create buzz around your site

Upside on SEO

As well all know there are many black hat techniques to help radically increase your rankings within all of the major search engines (and Google is no exception).  However these techniques are ill-advised and can cause your organisation to be penalised or even delisted by the likes of Google and Bing.

It is also frowned upon to instigate link building campaigns by going out and buying lots of backlinks to artificially inflate your ranking.  Both of these techniques can also cost quite a lot.

So the best way to ensure improvement in search engine rankings is to create a good content plan.  The content should be devised to make it both interesting and relevant to your audience, whilst also providing genuine reasons forbloggers or sites to link to or to like, retweet etc in social networks.  Simple?

If your content strategy is devised purely for SEO reasons then you obviously need to know what terms people are searching on and where the gaps are in your keyword coverage.  You then need to engineer your plan to help build up potential linking on core terms.  The research is the critical element to this area, as you need to know how this element enhances or could potentially distract your overall SEO efforts.

My personal opinion, is that, if you develop content purely for SEO reasons, you are doing something wrong.

Tip 1 – You should provide worthwhile content that people want to read and get links on the merit of the content.  There is no problem in optimising the content for SEO reasons, as long as it doesn’t damage the content for the reader.

Social Media SOV

Your content is like a currency,if quality is good and matched with its frequency.  People will want to read what you produce and in term want to link to it and share with their friends.

Remember if your quality is poor or full of errors there is an equal likelihood that people will link or share your content but with negative container terms.  This doesn’t impact your SOV, in fact,it does increase it.  However it does effect the sentiment which effects both what your community or following think about you but also could impact your search rankings.

Tip 2– Provide simple methods to allow people to share your content.  Options such as Add This buttons or utilise tools such as Facebook Connect on your site

Online PR Outreach

Bloggers are an influential bunch.  But not all of them.  Remember it isn’t always about the bloggers with massive audiences that matter.  If you want reach and awareness then of course go for high-traffic blogs.  It isn’t always the best target however.  You need to create a robust outreach plan, as you would with journalists.  Understand why and how you contact bloggers and take the time to build relationships with them.

Understanding why you are reaching out to a blogger and what benefit you can provide to them is half the battle.  You also need to work out if your objective is reach or to inspire a change in people’s (not the bloggers) perception of your company and the content you produce.

Tip 3 – Personal relationships are important.  Don’t just send SEO friendly Press Releases, it isn’t good for you or the blogger

Community Building

Having a forum and a Facebook presence won’t give you a community.  The only reason you will create a community is by providing your members with currency, a reason to keep coming back.  Whether that is in the form of articles, forum topics or competitions, you have to give them something to get excited about.  Motivate them and influence them to join in or share.  As with the other areas research is important as is a deep understanding of what your community will want.

Why not get your community involved? They are much more likely to share and promote the content if they have been involved.

Post the content where they will want to receive it.  You can’t always put a snippet on your Facebook page and link through to your site, you have to be where they want to receive information.

Tip 4 – Fully research your area and ensure your community needs and motivations are answered.

Providing an authority to your subject matter

As long is your content is good, thorough, provides a point of view and above all creates something your average reader wouldn’t find you will begin to create an authority.   This point of view and authority will help improve your standing with your target audience.  They will start to trust what you are saying and you become the go-to site for your subject matter.  Perhaps more importantly for company sites, the visitor in terms becomes increasingly likely to buy from you as that trust builds.  This trust becomes a perceived brand value for the customer and will help the user make purchase decisions, regardless of channel.

Being an authority figure also ensures that you are referenced much more by the industry and in turn by people in their social networks or on their blogs.  All great SEO.

Tip 5 – If you want to create an authority, only people who genuinely know should write and make the pieces thorough.


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Affiliate Marketing (for Merchants) – Part 1

Affiliate Marketing (For the Merchant)- Part 1

Long gone are the days when affiliates used to solely be one man in his bedroom, hacking about with some clever code.  In addition most merchants are more savvy to the opportunities affiliates can present when working in partnership.  Gone are the easy pickings of brand bidding and in the main, gone are the days when merchants used to treat affiliates as a second-class channel.

Affiliate Marketing is one of the most established online marketing channels.  Affiliation can provide everything from volume of clicks or UVs, e-Mail address collection and most commonly sales or leads.  Part One of my guide is centred around the more novice internet marketing professional, call it a beginners guide if you like.

Working out the commercials

The main benefit the channel provides merchants is a manageable approach to customers where costs can easily be controlled.  Merchants should know their margins and in turn know how much margin they can afford to give in terms of a commission (commission being the operative word, more later).  If the programme operates on a CPA basis the maths are straightforward.  If my product makes retails at £100 and I make 20% margin, my profit is £20.  I then know that if I want a 4:1 return on my spend my CPA would be set at £5.  Simple.  Remember if you are using an affiliate network you need to account for their over-ride (standard industry practice is 30% of commission.  In this case it would be an additional £1.50 (which already negatively effects your ROI.

Tip 1 – When working out your CPA to hit ROI targets, build in any network over-rides or additional costs to understand a true Net CPA and ROI.

Tip 2 – The networks will hate me for saying this, but the over-ride can normally be negotiated (if you are a merchant of either perceived value or revenue potential).

Choosing a network or going direct?

This is an age old debate within the sector.  The majority of merchants use an affiliate agency such as Affiliate Window or Commission Junction.  The benefits of using a network (even if you have an internal affiliate team) are numerous.  The major ones from my experience are the fact that payment to affiliates and expensive programme admin are taken care of.  Affiliates are a networks business and as such the platforms are built to take into account affiliate needs (much cheaper than merchants doing it from scratch).  Finally, the fact that the networks know all the affiliates and should be able to guide you on who to partner with.  They can also do some of the lengthy selling-in and negotiation with both established and up and coming affiliates, that direct merchants may not be aware of.

But what about Amazon?  Yes Amazon are one of the key success stories in terms of going direct.  However their entire model (as a vanilla pureplay) meant that they could set the system up from scratch.  The prices and range are so broad that affiliates fight to work with Amazon, rather than the opposite way round with a majority of merchants.

The main benefit of the Amazon approach is that they know their categories better than any network ever can.  They also know their stock and pricing in real-time rather than relying on a third party to update feeds.  They can speak passionately about promotions and campaigns and the affiliates hear it directly.

Tip 3 – Take the best of both approaches. Use the networks to manage and administer the account but work jointly on relationships with key affiliates

That leads me neatly on to the point I told you to keep an eye out for in the earlier post.

Commission

Affiliates will always want more as this is their bread and butter.  Merchants will inevitably want to pay less as it hits their margins.

My view is that if you treat the outlay as commission you should hit a fair level.  I have always considered my top revenue driving affiliates as a virtual sales force.  They are my sales people out on the road that can get people’s attention and drive them to my virtual shop window.

Like a physical sales force, this virtual salesforce will be motivated by money.  However the virtual sales force may be even more motivated by the commission they can earn.  This isn’t due to greed but related to the fact that the majority of this virtual salesforce has to place their own investment in.  That may be monetary through Google adwords or through effort and opportunity cost through the likes of SEO or social media.

Whilst your virtual sales force will be reactive to the commission structures you put in place and any additional incentives, the majority are also pragmatic enough to realise that you can only reach a certain level, before it becomes impossible for you to maintain.

As with physical sales forces, incentives can prove extremely motivational.  A push to go the extra mile.  Whether that is by taking advantage of a sponsorship property you have and offering tickets.  Inviting affiliates to attend a bespoke event or cold hard cash.  All can influence an affiliate.  However with the more experiential incentives, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a parallel increase in revenue.

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force. Reward them and the commission negotiations are normally easier and fairer all round.

Types of affiliates

As I said in the intro of the post, gone are the days of one man in his bedroom trying to earn a quick buck.  Nowadays, affiliates are some of the brightest online marketers or smartest developers.  You must define your strategy and decide what affiliates you should work with and to what level and on what basis.  Below are a few examples of different types of affiliates

Cashback – this is possibly the biggest area of growth within affiliate marketing.  Sometimes thought of as the pariah within the affiliate community, the growth is in part due to the economic climate.  Essentially, these affiliates pass on all or part of the commission you give them, directly back to the customer.  Sites such as Quidco and TopCashBack fit into this category

Loyalty – the name is slightly misleading in terms of the loyalty is normally with the affiliate and little loyalty will be passed on to the merchant.  Essentially working in the same way as Cashback, except rather than cold hard cash being placed into a customers bank account, points are awarded.  Examples of these are Nectar and Airmiles.

Voucher Codes – if Cashback sites are though of by some affiliates as pariahs, then voucher codes are seen as bandits.  Essentially these sites provide details of all the codes available, people click on a link to reveal the code and generally a cookie is placed on the customer’s PC, meaning that affiliate gets the commission.  Its at this point I feel compelled to say that these views are not my own.  Both Cashback and voucher code sites perform specific roles within a merchants mix.  Whilst I accept some cannibalisation will take place, there are a number of customers that wouldn’t buy without this bargain mechanic.  Examples of this type of affiliate include MyVoucherCodes and VoucherCodes.co.uk

PPC – there are some affiliates that specialise in PPC (sponsored terms in the search engines).  PPC can be a grey area in affiliates and you need to have strict control over who can bid and on what terms.  If you don’t have a PPC agency or any internal expertise, these affiliates can provide great top-up resource to your own PPC activity

Tip 5 – Understand your PPC strategy and place clear T&Cs in your programme on PPC restrictions, such as brand bidding, using your brand name in the URL, direct linking etc

Content – this is potentially where affiliates started out.  People generally with a personally interest, creating great content that they just want people to read.  These sites then realised that they could potentially make money from their sites and started selling advertising.  This could be anything from one person with their site on a topic of personal interest such as making orange food, to more established content sites such as The Sun.  Although blogs are rightly considered social media, I would place them in this section.  Nowadays blogs seem to be more geared towards providing useful content and information as opposed to the web log (diary) approach that was intended.

Price Comparison – another type of affiliate that isn’t normally relevant to all merchants is Price Comparison.  The standard of these types of sites are varied.  Some use bespoke software that allows them to scrape the web for up to date prices and deals.  The others (more akin to traditional price comparison engines) take a feed once a day and produce pricing information.  Networks have developed increasingly sophisticated tools to simplify the process for affiliates to add Price Comparison functionality to their content (the best example being Affiliate Window’s, Shop Window).  There are some broad price comparison engines available through affiliate networks, however the more successful ones for merchants tend to be the more focussed engines such as Whiteboxdeals, a Price Comparison engine specialising in large domestic appliances such as washing machines and ovens.

Social Media – with the low cost of entry of social media and the advances in affiliate technology from networks means a new wave of affiliates are emerging.  These are the ones that have embraced the newer technologies such as Twitter and Facebook.  Whilst all the research indicates that recommendation by a friend, either in person or online, is the most powerful tool, please be aware.  Some people using social media tools are not just making recommendations to their network but creating brand accounts.  This is especially true in Twitter where minimal dev work is needed.  That being said, there are a number of affiliates that have made social media work and come up with creative solutions or use an established network.

Tip 6 – If you consider using Social Media affiliates, ensure your T&Cs are very clear in terms of people using your brand name.  Also, vet applications very carefully.  Some people end up spamming contacts, which reflects badly on the merchant.

OK, so that’s it for Part 1.  In part 2 I get a bit more practical, rather than just an introduction.  I will look at what types of affiliates different sectors/merchants could be best placed using.  I will look at which affiliates and approaches you could use for different stages of a business of product lifecycle and I will also review the methods of building relationships and rapport with affiliates either directly or through the networks.  I may even explore the age-old debate about single Vs multiple network.  If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.

Finally, here is a recap of the tips

Tip 1 – Build in all costs to determine CPA (inc network over-ride)

Tip 2 – Negotiate your network over-ride

Tip 3 – Take a collaborative approach with your network to managing affiliate relationships

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force

Tip 5 – Understand your own PPC strategy and reflect this in your PPC T&Cs

Tip 6 – Have clear T&Cs on affiliate use of Social Media and tightly manage applications

If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.


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Attention Planning – Social Media

Attention Planning

There is always a mass of hyperbole surrounding social media and branding.  This can be due to lack of understanding, the fact that few hard measures are put in place or just the fact it is in the interests of some marketeers to keep the mystique around these subjects.  Whilst both areas may not be as simple to analyse as an immediate ROI from a PPC campaign, or coupon redemption through DM, there are ways to measure their impact and effectiveness.

This post looks very simply at some of the methods of measuring social media campaigns and in a way, branding campaigns online in general.

Social Media sites

Desirability

This is the section that traditional ATL or brand advertisers would call consideration.  Essentially it is the measure to ascertain if people actually like your brand or not.  Traditional advertisers will run surveys, perform focus groups or take a spurious number from a third party research house.  However, these are sometimes the route of the reason why we never truly know the impact of our activity.  How many times have you been asked to take part in ‘research’ and declined the opportunity.

There is a (relatively) quantifiable way of doing this online.  Tapping into the social media cloud around your brand, you can see how people view your brand, both positively and negatively.  This can be done through buzz metrics (reputation management) which effectively analyses all the commentary your brand receives through social media channels.

Awareness

The central point for any brand has to be has your target audience seen the brand and are they aware of it?  These are important (although not necessarily critical) questions to answer prior to your campaign, as it is easier to raise awareness if there is existing rapport.  As users become increasingly sophisticated and engaged with your brand, campaign materials will be spoken about, distributed by users and eventually searched on.  Again as a brand you need to extract these conversations, it not only allows you to evaluate awareness, it also allows you to understand impact and perception.

A great example of a campaign that has generated large levels of awareness is ComparetheMeerkat.  The TV ad aired and created a stir.  A microsite was available that was then promoted via the majority of online channels, social and other.

Compare the meerkat

Frequency

The old rule of traditional advertising was developed in the 1970s by Krugman.  He stated that you need to expose your target to your message three times. What? Why? and the payoff.  Essentially this still rings true.  Potentially even more relevant in social media.

Be aware when developing campaigns or activity for your brand you need to have a sufficient campaign base and content to maintain users engagement and buy-in.  Users aren’t willing to see and review the same content on a regular basis, they are even less likely to be interested in distributing this to their friends.

Engagement

This is quite simply how deeply entrenched your brand is within the consumers’ minds.  How often are you referenced in blogs, on forums or other social media platforms.  This is how many times are you commented on, how long were the conversation strings and were the messages postive or negative.  The ultimate and potentially more difficult to measure is did the activity spark other activities.  A great example of this in action can be found on YouTube, where users in the YouTube community post video responses.

Pay-off

With more media becoming available at an accelerated pace both online, in print and on broadcast media with the advent of digital TV and Radio, users attention is becoming more and more difficult to obtain.  Key measures to see if you have grabbed the attention are simple methods such as click-throughs, UVs and repeat visits.  This indicates your content is engaging enough to offer users some form of pay-off.

Another measure (depending on your content) is time spent interacting.  Generally in brand building (social) campaigns the longer users spend on site, the better.

Spread

Traction is key here.  As an advertiser you can only target certain media channels, it would be impossible to target all possible channels.  Therefore organic spread is a great measure of success.  Your campaign needs to spread from mailbox to mailbox if it is to progress.  Perhaps more importantly does the campaign spread from social network to social network?  Another great track is to see if your campaign gets bookmarked on social bookmarking sites such as Digg or Stumble.

Reach

Remember you need to track your campaign.  Remember review how many people have seen your campaign and are they in your target audience?  Reach is important and the more people that see your campaign the better.  However it would be better to sacrifice some numbers in order to maximise your reach within your target audience.

Summary

Whilst none of the points raised in this post are as complex as rocket science, they may seem obvious, many organisations forget these principals when placing their brands in social media.

They often believe just because they are established brands or are well known, they deserve their place in people’s everyday social networks.  If that was the case the job of the Internet Marketeer would be a very simple one.  However, social media has made the landscape more complex.  You must have a reason for being in social media and above all track what you are doing.

To enable this, you need to set out some clear objectives that can be measured.  In my opinion I would also suggest employing a reputation management specialise.  Somebody along the lines of Market Sentinel that could also analyse the benefits of all your activity on SEO and overall marketing efforts.


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Top Organic Search Terms – Helps with PPC development?

Fastest Growing Search Terms

So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that finding the top search terms can help your PPC.  You don’t have to be a Marketing guru to comprehend that allowing your PPC and SEO to work hand-in-hand enables you to create maximum efficiencies from you SEM.  But what else can this simple analysis provide?

Well the 2008 Search Reviews from the major players, gives us some fascinating yet simple views.

Search as Navigation

Of the Top 10 search terms in Google in 2008, only three could be described as non-navigational.  This could be the output of lazy typing or perhaps a result of Google toolbar being installed on more regular internet users.   Does Google’s feeling lucky help make it quicker than typing a full URL in the address bar?  Maybe it is a consequence of the new generation of surfers typing addresses in the toolbar and thinking it is the navigational tool.  (I know people that do that).

Aside from the obvious trend of people typing in simple websites that need little investigation, e.g. BBC – it also uncovers a growing influence of Social Media.

Has it evolved?

In 2006 there were different terms, however navigational searches still dominated, as did “Web 2.0” – a major sporting event also dominated with World Cup being in position 3.  Interestingly the word video was number 7.  No sign of YouTube at the time.

The Difference Between Engines

The Top 10 UK Searches on Google in 2008

facebook

1. Facebook

2. BBC

3. YouTube

4. eBay

5. Games

6. News

7. Hotmail

8. Bebo

9. Yahoo

10. Jobs

Compare this to Yahoo

britney-spears1

1. Britney Spears

2. Big Brother

3. X Factor

4. Oasis

5. High School Musical 3

6. US Election

7. Amy Winehouse

8. Heath Ledger

9. Kate Moss

10. Eastenders

The comparison would clearly indicate a difference in behaviour between the two main search engines in the UK.  Google Top 10 contains more navigational and generic searches (possibly related to toolbar), whilst Yahoo contains more celebrity based enquiries.  The queries also centre more around topics with potential scandal or gossip attached.

What does this mean?

Well whilst it could be argued that this comparison can be taken with a pinch of salt, there is an indication of searchers.  If I was responsible for a Finance brand, I would feel more alliance with the Google base.  If however, I was running PPC for a DVD or music retailer, I would push more towards maximising my presence on  Yahoo.  Whilst this is easy to push in pure black and white, one must remember that Google dominates the search market spectrum in the UK.  No matter what sector, who your audience is or what you are trying to say, unless you are very specific in your targets or operate in a niche, you must always use Google.

The findings in the comparison may however help you to adapt your ad copy to a certain degree.  Depending on your brand you may wish to adapt your tone of voice as well.

As a quick bonus tip, use a site called GrabAll, this tool allows you to see the search results of the major search engines side by side.  Not great for complex research or reviews, but very useful for quick snapshots.


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Meerkat PPC – Confused?

Compare the Meerkat PPC – Confused?

 

OK so I have referenced that I think Compare the meerkat has to be one of the top TV ads of the moment. 

Compare the Market are obviously bidding on their own campaign in Google, but hats off to Confused.com – they are also bidding on the terms.  As their ad copy also features the word meerkat, their ad is normally higher in the Google rankings.  Whilst we can’t be sure of the conversion off such terms or the ROI it is a good nudge to the team at Compare the Market.  Maybe its a little jealousy as Confused.com ads aren’t particularly inspiring.

Confused bidding on Compare the Meerkats

So the fact Confused.com is bidding on Compare the Meerkat, is amusing and slightly annoying to Comparethemarket.com and their Comparethemeerkat.com campaign.  However notice the top ranking on natural search – hardly inspiring, this is something that should have been spotted by either the creative agency or Compare the market.

Call me old fashioned but Copyright 2009 BISL Limited is not the most engaging opening to a search description I have ever heard.