Month: April 2009

Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

April 7, 2009 ark-com

I have just finished a fascinating book called “Why we buy: the science of shopping”, written by Paco Underhill. It describes how the retail shopping experience can be improved (read ‘sell more’) just by monitoring the way in which shoppers interact with the environment in which they shop. Paco’s team have perfected the art of subtly and unobtrusively following shoppers around stores, recording exactly what they do while in the store.

Big retailers call them in to a fix a whole range of problems. Some of the suggestions they come up with are a lot simpler than you would imagine for something as complex as store design. For instance, Paco mentions the story of an Australian store that was having problems selling cut flowers. There was a wide range on offer in the aisle and great foot traffic passed the display but the category was still underperforming compared with other similar-sized supermarkets.

Paco’s team started their monitoring and gradually the issues came to light. Firstly, the flowers were placed in large plastic bins, which made it difficult to see if they were sold individually or as a bunch. The bins also managed to hide the price of each bunch so shoppers had to pull out a bunch from each bin to see what they cost, and by doing so they promptly dripped water all over the aisle.

The highly technical solution was to pull out a few bunches from each bin and place them in an easier-to-reach container and make the price more obvious. Once this was done the flowers started flying out the door and the category performance came up to standard. No extra advertising, no expensive store display, no change of category mix. Probably the simplest of solutions (most in Paco’s book are painfully obvious but frequently missed by retailers) but nevertheless the best solution for the problem.

Unfortunately, when things fail to perform online this type of user analysis is rarely considered an option. (And yes, there are some tools we use so we can see ‘over the shoulder’ of each of your website’s visitors.) But most people think that traffic – or a lack of it – is the reason why a product or service is not selling online. This is the reason why ‘How do I build traffic to my website?’ is one of the top three questions I get asked each week.

However, just like the flower example, finding more traffic is usually not the solution. It wouldn’t have mattered how many people walked past the flower aisle in its original form, those flowers would still have remained stuck in their over-sized buckets.

So how do you know if your low website conversion rate is a problem that has a solution as easy as this one was? Especially when increasing your visitor traffic takes both time and money, while basic web page changes can usually be made in minutes for little investment.

Sometimes it is easy to pick out – here are a few ideas for you to try.

First, it pays to recognise the need for a fresh pair of eyes to help you see problems that have previously remained hidden to you. I am frequently called in to take on this role. All I’m told is that there is a problem (low sales or low conversions) and I’m then left to wander through the person’s website to buy or register for something along the way.

Just like Paco’s team do, it is ideal if you can look over the shoulder of the person using your site. Technology makes this easy. We use Gotomeeting – it allows you to see the reviewer’s computer screen as they click throughyour site. Couple this with a phone call so you can hear them mutter away about what they want to do but are having problems with and you are set. We go one step further and record the process so website owners can refer to the session later on as they work through making any changes identified.

Fresh eyes will pick up ‘instruction text’ that trips up rather than guides visitors through their shopping experience. For an e-commerce site, the main instruction points occur during these stages: adding product to a cart, checking out the purchase, entering personal details, entering billing details, and confirming the purchase. There’s a lot in here to cause problems for a first-time shopper. (Any website analytics tool should confirm how big the problem is by the percentage of people that fall out of the buying process at each stage of the sale.)

Last week I reviewed a website that had some problems in this area. Their instructions were not clear on how the shipping cost was applied and what you needed to do to register your details. I was running a Gotomeeting session, with the website owner seeing what I was doing, while I talked through what content was causing my confusion. I picked up obvious things that they had missed because they had seen their site too often. So when we reached the problem stages they didn’t really need my comments, they were obvious to them too – it was just that they had missed them before. We found problems with four areas and suggested some small changes that should have a dramatic effect on improving their conversion rates.

Finally, once you have all your ‘instructions’ working well, you need to look at the softer side of the sale – the level of assurance your site provides the first-time shopper. When thinking about how much of this is required I always think of my father-in-law as the shopper we are dealing with. How would he feel as he worked through the sales process for the first time? Would the text be big enough? Are the action buttons absolutely clear? Are all his questions answered in such a way as to make him feel comfortable making his first online purchase on the site I am reviewing?

Assumption is the problem here. You know you have a 14-day money-back guarantee with nice customer service staff to help with any returns but unless you make these statements obvious on your order pages nobody else will know. Remember the recent concern over security of the online payment of Auckland toll transactions? How do you tell your shoppers your site is secure?

These three points done properly should pick up the small, obvious changes that can have a big effect on your site’s conversion rate. Don’t underestimate how much these little alterations can do. As I was once told by a successful retail manager “Retail is detail” – well, the same applies online.

Tags: General

Einstein Was Onto Something

April 7, 2009 ark-com

This is the tale of two companies with a very similar lead-generation problem. Both had similar issues holding them back and both applied a fair amount of resources to find a solution. They were able to do this because of previous success in markets that have recently been described as problematic. But throughout all this, only one of them achieved success. The reason why one did whereas the other didn’t is one I see played out more often than you would think.

But first, before I get into the detail, here’s a quick overview of each business. One operates in the travel industry, while the other is in construction. Each market has its own private piece of turmoil. Third-party commissions have been hacked to pieces, and the lack of available capital has put many a building project on hold. The Internet is partly blamed for the demise of one, while our friends in Wall St seem to be touted as accountable for the other. Nevertheless, both of our businesses in question are doing quite nicely, thank you very much. Why this is needs some discussion; it’s partly why one achieved while the other didn’t.

Of course it is true that the Internet has dramatically changed how travel is presented and sold. For instance, last year Claire and I took the girls on a road trip down country to show them snow for the first time. (I know, the youngest is 9 years old, and we are bad parents for delaying it for so long.) Anyway, we researched and booked it all online. Motels, hotels, baches, ski passes – all done through www. You probably do the same yourselves.

Remember when you used to walk into a travel agent and they sat in front of the screen while you talked to them, and they were kept busy typing in what you wanted? Well, now we face our own computer screen, do all the typing and leave the travel agents sitting and waiting. A lot have moved onto other roles, but the business in this story stayed – and prospered.

They achieved this through niche marketing. Their niche was managing travel to a country that was responsible for supplying many new New Zealand citizens. Their business helps these people when they want to visit home. Simplicity itself. But beneath this basic sound business plan is a very clever person who I would imagine knows this market better than anyone in the country.

During a month I meet for the first time a fair number of company owners. I have become reasonably good at picking in a few minutes the ones that have a successful operation under their belt. The tell-tale signs are the numberof details they can tell me about their customers. From my experience, those that know the most, sell the most.

And the owner of this travel business knew a lot. It helped that before he founded the business he came from the same country, and therefore has a natural affinity with its local community. So if a golf tournament needs sponsoring, he is one of the first businesses approached and immediately confirms. If someone needs help settling into their new country, he lends a hand in whatever way he can. And if a relative back home dies suddenly during the early hours of the morning, he is the one that takes the 3.00am call, ensuring the person is on the next flight home. All this has been well rewarded. His travel agency now represents the majority share of all flights to this country from New Zealand. He spends so much on airfares that major airlines visit him at his modest office in town, just to check that all is well.

Success arriving as a reward for superior market knowledge was a theme repeated in the other business in this story. They manufactured quite integral parts that go into any commercial development project. Yes, they designed and built them here in Auckland and had made a success of doing this for many years. And based on the number of people in their showroom when I last visited, this was going to continue for a while yet.

The story of their achievement began with a good idea matched with a rampant market need. (How common is it to have one without the other?) However, this winning pair enabled them to form some close working relationships with the architects and designers who were also searching for ways to solve the same problem. Between them they came up with a product that was truly ‘market designed’.

So now they own the building they operate in, the showroom carries all their products, and architects and their clients frequently drop by to pick the right model to suit the building they are designing. But before clients visit, the managers of this business make sure they call the architect so they know whether or not they should talk about pricing with their customer and, if so, what pricing they are to quote.

I have never marketed to architects, designers or specifiers but I hear they are a challenging bunch to promote to. They are a busy lot and it’s not easy to get a hearing, let alone time to present your product as one ideal to be specified. They receive so many approaches from so many new product marketers that, for them, it all becomes one big mass of work interruption that should be avoided at all costs. Hence, once this business had done the hard work of successfully establishing their product in the early stages, it was then effortlessly specified again and again. Great when you’re the one with the product ‘in’, not so good when you’re not.

Anyway, that’s the two happy tales of previous success. Now it’s time to dig into the bit where things start to get off the tracks. So, just to recap, each business wanted to enter a new market. Both realised that this opportunity could potentially be worth more than their existing business. This made each of them willing to spend a bit to make their launch work. I arrived on the scene after each had done some work and had invested some of their budget. Nothing too major, probably in the tens of thousands – just enough to get them a bunch of new problems to solve.

Can you guess which of the two had the biggest ones? That question is a bit unfair – you would only be able to pick it if you met the people concerned.

You see Einstein was really onto something when he stated “Don’t expect the same thinking that got you where you are to take you where you need to go.” I see this played out again and again through the thinking I experience with those attempting new endeavours. This case was no different – there were stark differences between how one business owner saw their new market entry compared with the other.

Both realised that a web presence of sorts was required as part of their new venture marketing (that was why I was sitting in the office). But while one was struggling to see how this would come together within their current experience of building websites, the other had ploughed on regardless and enlisted some external help to get them going.

So when I met them, the travel people were on their third try at getting their website up and running. (The construction people had yet to start.) Fortunately, their most recent version was proving to be the best so far andsales were gradually coming in. Their path to this early success had been torturous. They started working with contractors in faraway lands; this lasted a while, cost them a reasonable-sized investment, but gave them nothing of value. This was scrapped and they engaged some local developers. Unfortunately, this ended the same way – it just took longer and cost more to get there.

Finally, they found a local website developer who, fortunately, did the job properly and they are now running with this website. During this journey they have learned not only how to pick a good web development partner but, more importantly, what sort of website works best for their new market.

But while they had accomplished more than the other business, this improved level of activity wasn’t the main attribute that ensured their future success. This I would put down to the importance (or lack of it) they placed in the experience they had gained from their previous success when deciding what to do in their new market. For them the two were not linked in anyway. They had realised at quite an early stage that the thinking that had helped them achieve success before would not help them this time. The market was different, the product was different, and the types of customers they would need to attract would be different. Therefore, different thinking was required.

So this meant embarking on creating a website that was more technically complex than their existing one – hence the issues having it built. And, once built, they needed to become aware of how to market it so that a reliable and responsive stream of prospects arrived on its pages each day. They knew very little about Google AdWords but what they did know made them realise it was a marketing channel they needed to learn more about.

When I arrived their AdWords click costs were going up and their daily budget was being chewed through before midday. But that said, they had done a reasonable job setting themselves up with a Google AdWords account and had picked a quality range of keywords to work on. I had seen a lot worse.

I completed some Google AdWords tuning, set up conversion tracking and Website Analytics, and then worked with them on building a more sustainable online marketing strategy. We bit things off in small manageable chunks – each time gradually growing their knowledge of both the methods of marketing but, more importantly, the vagaries of this new market.

Whereas, back in the construction business, this team was struggling to make any gains. Their thinking was very different. They saw their new product launch as an extension of what they already did and, therefore, had expectations of an easy success. The market had different ideas.

Their pre-existing customer intimacy had allowed them to operate with a website that was way below the quality of their competitors. However, their new product was a complex beast that needed its benefits explained in detail with case examples to support its message. All of these things could be achieved with the help of a website if it contained the right content, not the plain ‘brochure style’ messages it currently contained.

When I arrived, they had tried both magazine advertising and email marketing for the product launch, each with little success. They were struggling to see what the problem was and asked for my feedback. I mentioned that previous success in one category does not always ensure the same level of achievement in another. They were not convinced. To them it was a case of selling a similar product to a similar audience. I showed them their website, highlighting how little ‘selling’of the company it did. (There were less than 5 words on the home page.) They admitted that it may need some ‘tweaking’ and would get around to it once they had figured out what they needed to say.

Then I was told that the few pages that were there had been produced a few years back by a younger relative of one of the directors. They mentioned that they had known for a while that the site was lacking and, while the person who built it was still at University, they were available and able to add some extra content, once they had come up with some ideas of what needed to be added.

Their original success had come at a time when the Internet was quite young. Back then you could phone up your prospects and set up an appointment for the next day – all in a matter of minutes. Now things were very different. Their prospects were harder to track down and required an information-based approach that a good web presence could support. Times had moved on, but their thinking hadn’t.

I left them with a few ideas to work on and a challenge to start approaching the problem with more ‘new thinking’. Yes, they had achieved great things before – but this new market didn’t care about this history – and in their case it was the thinking linked to this success that was holding them back rather than helping them achieve. I made contact a few weeks back to see how things had changed – unfortunately, little had.

So, while the travel business carried on improving with gradual gains in their new market, the construction business faltered and never really got up to speed. Both were operating under the threat of competitors arriving to spoil their efforts. And as each day passed, one was better placed to win this fight than the other.

More often than not it’s the acceptance of new thinking rather than new skills that is the defining difference between success and failure when launching new products or services. And, like in these cases, this is doubly difficult for marketers to grapple with when their prior thinking has delivered such strong prior success.

So if you are struggling with a new product launch, or are failing to achieve additional growth with your existing offer, why not take a look at your thinking before considering anything else? What assumptions are you making that could well be wrong? Where are the differences between what you have done before and what you need to achieve now? And, of course, if you need some fresh new thinking on where to focus your online efforts give us a call – it would be a pleasure to help.

Tags: General

Within every Great Online Marketer there is a McDonald’s Restaurateur Waiting to Get Out

April 7, 2009 ark-com

Within every Great Online Marketer there is a McDonald’s Restaurateur Waiting to Get Out

It still amazes me how a bunch of pimply adolescents can successfully run a bustling burger store whether it is in Tokyo, Los Angeles or Masterton. Orders are correctly filled, fries are properly cooked and only a small proportion of the patrons are poisoned in the process! It’s a testament to the strength of the business system that supports McDonalds’s, which ensures that all this happens while a maelstrom of hormones are rushing through the place as fast as cars arrive in the drive through.

Of course, burgers are not the only products that survive on the strength of a great system. Car manufacturing has its own wonder system. For instance, Toyota is a worldwide practitioner of Kaizen (Japanese for continuous improvement). Each year tens of thousands of small improvements are made to their manufacturing process as a result of small changes being made under the Kaizen system. Some claim this is the main reason why they are the most profitable car manufacturer on the planet.

Great systems can produce great things, so how can we harness this theory for our own online marketing efforts?

Well, I think that Online Lead Generation is a sitter for a system or two. The obvious one would be the Kaizen approach to gradual improvement, but to make this work you need to have a complete system to start with. This is where a large proportion of lead-generation websites are lacking.

Each month we manage dozens of lead-generation websites on behalf of clients. Each site we look after has its own system of turning new website visitors into sales leads. Some of these lead-generation systems follow a path similar to one that others selling products of the same level of complexity have used before.

The rest use a process that is as unique to them as the markets they work within. Nevertheless, each has its own lead-generation methodology to follow that is built to attract, persuade and then nurture their online prospects.

Once a winning system such as this is established then our work follows the standard Kaizen formula of continuous improvement. Analytics tools tell us where any improvements can be found, while our testing tools allow us to deploy and monitor the success of any changes that are required. However, while any improvements to Toyota’s production line will be assessed in terms of reduced defects, the elimination of waste or the speeding up of production, our changes are aligned to just two goals – improving our customer’s lead quality and quantity.

This work of continuous improvement would fail miserably is there wasn’t a complete system to work with or, even worse, no system in place at all. Fortunately, not many new customers arrive at Permission with no system; however, most marketers have issues in developing a complete system. Yes, they will have a website and some idea of what they want it to do but, no, they haven’t fully documented the complete ‘system’ the website needs to follow to help them achieve their goals.

For instance, I had a call a few weeks ago from a business manager who wanted some advice on how to use their website to sell their mortgage broking services (currently not a market for the faint hearted.) But, while demand may be down, this is still a rather cluttered market of similar service offerings. Just Google "Mortgage Broker", look at the AdWords ads and see what I mean – they all look very similar.

When I first spoke with them, they commented on how they saw their website’s role in their lead-generation system as taking just two steps. Step one involved it receiving paid traffic from Google AdWords, and step two encompassed the site accepting this traffic and convincing the prospect to pick up the phone and call them. From here the steps went offline – they accepted the call, booked an appointment and then visited the prospect to sell their services. A phone ringing was a sign that the website part of the system was working. Needless to say, things were quiet around the office.

We started optimizing the website process by breaking it down into more measureable and manageable steps. Installing Google Analytics on the website helped us here. Using this tool, we could see what AdWords keywords delivered website visitors who stayed long enough to read any content on the site (there was a reasonable proportion that left within 3 seconds – for the moment these were paused).

Then, from all those who stayed on the site long enough, we tracked those who visited the actual appointment request page. Finally, we looked at the behaviours of those who actually completed the form: where they looked on the page, how long they spent reading, and the problems they were experiencing in filling in their details.

By now our system was looking like this. Step one, attract people who are searching for certain keywords in Google; step two, entice them to a specific page on the website; step three, have them stay long enough to read the copy on the web page; and step four, convince them to fill in the form and request an appointment.

So, where there had been two steps we now had four, and we had a clearer understanding of what needed to be done at each step to achieve improvements. From here, the whole system will get better and better. From what we have seen, the more detail you can add to the steps your website needs to achieve, the easier it is to work on any changes you want to apply. For instance, some of our clients have over a dozen steps to their online lead-generation system, each of which we monitor and manage for them on their website.

And that’s why every part of your McDonald hamburger’s life is fully documented and learnt BEFORE anyone anywhere turns on a hob or fryer to create your next Big Mac. It’s not step one, turn on hob; step two, deliver finished burger. I would imagine there are probably twenty or more steps to be completed before the job is done and your hamburger is ready.

So why not spend some time today to break down your online lead-generation system into at least twice as many steps as you have now? Then you should begin to see how this makes your own Kaizen experience of continuous website improvement an easier job. Or failing that, call us on 09 929 9130 and we can talk you through some of our proven lead-generation systems that may suit your needs.


The Popcorn in Your Google AdWords Account

April 7, 2009 ark-com

The Popcorn in Your Google AdWords Account

The price of movie theatre popcorn continues to defy any recessionary trend if my recent Christmas holiday family visit was anything to go by. Last year, I remember reading how that, while these concessions account for only about 20% of a theatre’s gross revenues, they represent some 40% of a theatre’s profits. Apparently, while ticket revenues must be shared with movie distributors, 100% of concession revenue goes straight into an exhibitor’s coffers. Hidden inside those big buckets of mostly air is quite an important economic result for every movie theatre you visit.

Movie theatres are not the only places where seemingly small details of the service, like popcorn, can make a disproportionate difference to the success of the enterprise. Google AdWords has its own batch of hidden economic treasures too. And like movie popcorn, they are frequently missed as one small part of the full solution, when in reality they are responsible for a sizable part of the service’s revenue (for Google that is, not you).

One of these details is the option Google gives you to use broad match keyword terms in your keyword list. It’s their default setting and, not surprisingly really, it provides them with the most control over your final ad spend.

Broad match keyword bidding done badly can remove any reasonable chance of making your Google AdWords spend pay its way. However, conversely, when managed properly it can be the one factor that ensures your campaign succeeds while your competitor’s sucks money day after day. It all comes down to how much control you let Google have over how your broad match keywords are used.

So, let’s cover some background details first before I dive in and provide you with the knowledge on how to make broad match bidding work to your advantage.

But first, let’s have a quick refresher on how ‘broad match’ bidding works. Google allows you to choose three ways to bid on your keywords: broad match, phrase match and exact match. It’s easier if I cover these in reverse order, so here’s some explanation on each.

Exact match is what it says – you bid on [flowers] (with the hard brackets around the keyword in your keyword list) and only those people who type in this exact term will see your ad. Exact match bidding works when you know ‘exactly’ what people are going to type in. Naturally, this is a hard strategy to use on its own – guessing all those keywords can be a real challenge when you are starting out.

Phrase match makes things a bit easier. This is where you bid on a term like "flowers auckland" (now with quote marks around it to denote this match option). This lets your keyword show for terms that include this exact word BUT with additional words either side of the phrase. For instance, cheap flowers auckland, or flowers auckland delivery Epsom.

Broad match takes phrase match and expands it in two ways. First, it allows other search keywords to be placed between any multi bid keyword. For instance, say you are bidding on the multi keyword phrase – wedding flowers – then you will also have your ad presented for these terms: wedding spring flowers and wedding without flowers options.

That should be all quite logical and nothing too scary to worry about. Now here’s the ‘popcorn’ bit. By choosing the broad match option you also allow Google to extend the term using synonyms it thinks are appropriate. It’s a function called ‘expanded broad match’ and can be a problem when you use terms that have many synonyms that you don’t want your ad to show for. For instance, say you are bidding on the single broad match keyword of flowers, you could also have your ad shown for the terms roses, plants, florist, tulips, carnations and even orchids. Now, you may only provide cut flowers and never purchase orchids, which means the last option would be incorrect and would bring the wrong traffic to your page. (That is after someone had spent your money by clicking on your ad after searching for this term.)

Google’s take on using expanded broad match keywords is that they are helping you by showing your ad for keywords that they think are relevant. My take is that this type of matching is not what broad match was originally meant to do and, while it has been around for a few months now, I recommend all those using broad match to be aware of it and take steps to limit its capability to generate costly wasted clicks.

So, how do you find out if this type of matching is causing you a problem? The first step is to find out how much ‘expansion’ is happening with your own broad match terms, and then limit this by deploying the fourth keyword match type – negative match.

Hidden within your Google AdWords Report section is a report called ‘search query performance’ (see the picture below).

This will reveal the exact search terms people typed in before they clicked your AdWords ad. By running this report you will see all the terms that were entered compared with their original broad match keyword. For instance, the broad match term could have been "Auckland florist" and they may have typed in "Auckland business for sale florist".

Now, you may have a florist business but you may not want to put it up for sale so any terms that relate to this are incorrect and don’t need to fire up your ad. Hence, you are best to make the term "business for sale" a negative keyword (you do this by placing a negative sign before it, i.e. "-business for sale", and adding it to your keyword list.) Your negative keywords can be at either an Ad Group or Campaign level.

Here’s an example of the power of spending time working on this process. The image to the right shows a snapshot of results for a Google AdWords campaign we took over a few months ago. This is for a business that sells only part of a range of a widely used product. They were bidding on a lot of broad match terms with hardly any negative keywords. Each month they ended up buying traffic for searchers looking for the part of the range they didn’t stock. What’s more, the synonym match algorithm was causing problems. It was a bit of a costly mess.

Note how after adding a long list of relevant negative keywords we were able to drop the impression count by 88.5%, increase the click through rate of the ads by 250%, and slash the spend in half by ensuring the ads were only shown for product keywords the company actually stocks.

So there you have it. It pays to be aware of how Google treats the broad keywords you have in your account. Why not run the search query report today and see what it turns up? You may be unpleasantly surprised.

Tags: General

When Not to Use Email Marketing

April 7, 2009 ark-com

When Not to Use Email Marketing

There are some situations – more than you would think – when email marketing just doesn’t work. In these instances, creating smarter content, tightening your list selection and improving your message delivery may result in some benefit, but in the end you will still be disappointed with the results. Carrying on with your efforts would be like throwing good money and time after bad – a total waste of effort.

Some may like to discover these moments for themselves. There’s nothing like the rush of excitement about finding something new in your marketing, even though this new find may resemble a black hole of wasted effort. However, others might be interested in a few pointers on what not to point their email marketing engine at. For you, here are my thoughts.

Starting a conversation.

Not only is it illegal to email market to people who don’t already know you, it’s also a plain waste of effort. Yes, you may be able to convince yourself that because they are customers you can ‘claim’ a business relationship, so what you send is legally fine, but it’s still a bad start. Membership organisations can get away with it – their members are usually very keen to find our more. However, businesses need to look for an opt-in first; any subsequent email marketing is then expected, wanted and usually acted upon.

When you want to make an impact.

While a direct mail pack will hang around a prospect’s desk, an email equivalent will disappear in their Inbox as more messages pile on top. Email is so much easier to ignore, file and, unfortunately, delete than its hard paper alternative. Think of the attention email receives as a burning match compared with a lit candle for paper. So, if you want to send an annual update to your top customers to re-cement their relationship with you, then think printed, bound and expensive rather than email, short and cheap.

When your message needs time to consider.

This follows on from the last point. There’s only so much you can cover in the minute of attention your email message captures. Video will give you 3-5 minutes (that is if the first 30 seconds are good enough to keep them watching more). Direct mail may get you above 5 minutes. Pick and choose between all the available media options to find one that best suits your message.

When you want people to part with their time or money.

I’m probably going to get into trouble with this one, so first let me clarify what I’m stating. Using email – on its own – to convince people to part with their time or money is very, very hard. For instance, if you send out a message promoting a course and requesting all those who want to attend to reply with their details you will struggle to make it pay. Now, if the message introduced the need and motivated those who want to meet this need to click onto a web page to read the full argument of why the course is the best solution for them, then your chances of success will improve.

When the message has to get through.

Email is not a 100% reliable communication channel. So, if some legal requirement means that you have to confirm that everyone got your message, then you’d best cover your bases by using additional options such as direct mail and even telemarketing. Spam filters, corporate firewalls and the internet just ‘loosing stuff’ all sit between you, your email dispatch tool and your subscriber. There’s no way anyone can guarantee that all the emails you send will arrive.

These five scenarios cover the most common misuses of email. If you can, try to avoid using email in cases that are similar to these and you will save yourself valuable time and money. It really all boils down to the snippets of attention email provides and the permission you need before sending it. Ensure you consider these before designing your next campaign and you will be a few steps closer to having a success on your hands.

Tags: General

Slowly, Slowly Catchy Monkey

April 7, 2009 ark-com

Slowly, Slowly Catchy Monkey

If you have managed to read all my newsletters from the last 12 months you now know enough to put you in the top 10% of online marketers. However, knowledge on its own is nothing but idle fancy. You see, knowing new stuff is one thing, applying it to your unique business situation is quite a different matter.

The power of new knowledge is in its implementation. It’s the main attribute I see in those members who get the most from our group coaching programme. They start off completing the easy ideas first and then move onto others each and every month, and have finished the year with some huge gains. These are the ones that end up much further ahead compared with those members who rush into it in the first week and promptly lose momentum after the first 6 weeks. Small changes made frequently win out in almost all cases.

For instance, did you know that improving your business by just 1 % each day would represent an overall 50% improvement in 72 days? Some of those 1% improvements are easier to make than others. And truth be told, there are some simple, small changes that produce 5% improvements. The challenge, of course, is knowing where to find those improvements and knowing which are the bonus ones that provide the greatest increase with the least amount of effort.

And, while I mentioned earlier that previous newsletter editions have pointed you in the right direction to find these changes, here’s a short review for those new to the newsletter and those who (like me) are short on memory.

Website Analytics – tracking the paths and final destinations of your website visitors.

It’s the subject I cover at the start of every monthly coaching session I run. (I’m working on the theory of constant repetition to ensure that everyone gets the message.) This is one of those bonus improvement areas – there is at least a 5% jump in effectiveness for anyone who installs and configures a system correctly. And what’s more, any work done here can provide you with all the knowledge you need to support your future changes.

Email Marketing – match the right message to the outcome you want.

Once you have mastered the technical nuances of this media (this on its own is a good 1% improvement over others), then look further into the content you create. Most companies deliver email in its most basic and ineffective form – one list, one message, and one send. There should at least be two groups of messages, with prospects receiving one message and customers receiving the other.

Online Lead Generation – people search for solutions to problems not products or services.

Over 90% of websites talk about what they do and how they do it, with very few words on the problems their products/services solve and the benefits this brings. To see how your site fares, search for the word ‘we’ across your site and see how often it comes up compared with ‘you’.

Swing the balance back to favour more use of ‘you’ and you will instantly grab a solid 1% improvement in your copy. If you capture the attention and contact details of prospects who are in the research phase of buying what you offer, then you have achieved another bonus 5% step in improvement.

Online Advertising – buy only the choicest ‘cuts’.

So long as the first improvement step of installing a website analytics application has been achieved, then this is a viable option. Only then will you know which traffic stream brings you ‘sirloin’ – that easily converts to prospects – compared with the ‘low grade mince’ traffic that most receive but are unaware of.

So there you have it. One percent improvements can be found in a whole range of online marketing endeavours. Five percent enhancements are there too – all are just waiting to be acted on in the months ahead. Pick a few ‘quick wins’ and let’s get this thing started.

Tags: General

It’s Not about You – It’s about Me: Prospect Commitment and How to Grow It

April 7, 2009 ark-com

It’s Not about You – It’s about Me: Prospect Commitment and How to Grow It

Three of this month’s consulting calls focused on solving the same problem – how to generate more sales leads from an existing prospect database. In each case it was an owner of a service business, so with their specific needs in mind, here are a few options for you to consider if you are struggling to solve the same problem.

Firstly, let’s cover the main reason why this situation exists – low levels of prospect commitment. In most cases there’s a chasm of engagement that must be bridged to get someone from subscribing to receive your report or join your newsletter to getting them to become your next customer.

Part of the problem is the incorrect assumption that, by a prospect joining a list or registering for a report, they are more interested in the supplier than they really are. Their initial interest is more likely to be related to the information provided than the business that produced it.

Therefore, helping prospects transfer their engagement from the information to the supplier is a key part of any enhanced lead-generation solution. Once complete, the idea is to capitalise on this new-found engagement by gently convincing them to take the manageable next step in the sales process. Not developing this bond or even failing to provide a doable next step are common faults in this area.

Both of these were issues with one of the businesses I was asked to help. In their case, the sales process had just two steps – register for the report, then buy the service on offer. The business provided high-end consulting services, with a typical engagement price that began at $10,000. Prospects were failing to make this transfer from subscriber to sales lead because a) not enough work was being put into bonding them with the supplier’s team; and b) there weren’t any lesser priced solutions to offer as possible purchase steps for prospects, making the first step to high-priced consulting a difficult one for them to take.

Because there were no lesser priced services available, we discussed building additional steps into the sales process itself. Webinars, fast-fire complimentary consulting sessions and attending physical seminars were all possibilities discussed. That way prospects could reveal their growing interest by attending any of these and, by doing so, signal their willingness to move one step further along the sales process.

Then we tackled the issue of forming a tighter bond between the supplier and the prospects on their list. Without work in this area to improve engagement, it wouldn’t matter how many extra steps we added into the sales process because no one would be taking them. We somehow had to increase the low commitment levels common to any prospect subscriber list enough to convince prospects to attend a webinar or spend 15 minutes on a call.

Articles, reports and all things text were used in their prospect communications. On their own, words frequently lack the power to form the attachment required to get some engagement momentum going. So, a plan was set up to supplement all this text with some audio and video, with the focus on content rather than production values. They recorded some teleconference sessions and did some budget ‘talking head’ 3-minute video work to kick things along.

All this occurred a few weeks ago and the early signs are promising. Messages carrying this new multimedia content are attracting above average readership, but time will tell if this is enough, with the first webinar due to be launched early next month.

About a month ago I experienced firsthand an example of what it was like to be on the receiving end of both good and bad prospect marketing. It was due to my own initial reactions to this and the recent coaching calls that followed that motivated me to get started on this article in the first place.

First, the bad experience. It all started with me attending a webinar hosted by one of the overseas coaching suppliers. The guest speaker presented well on an area I was keen to expand my thinking on. At the end of the call we were given the option to visit their website and register for a report for more information. That was for me, so I traded my details and downloaded it. It was a good read. This person obviously knew their stuff. But then the selling started. For me it felt too soon (it was probably 2 weeks after I had received the download) to make the next step that he was suggesting (which felt more like pushing), which in this case was a quite sizable $3k investment. It wasn’t the price that was the problem, I just didn’t knowthis person well enough yet to make the next move.

My commitment wasn’t there because the bond between him and what he offered and me just wasn’t enough to convince me to take it to the next stage. I am still a subscriber, and the emails are rolling in BUT the bond is still ever so slight and not growing much either.

Compare this with another scenario that happened around the same time. I have been on the email list of another overseas consultant for 8 months now and have received a growing amount of value from their messages. These are mostly text, but the occasional MP3 of a teleconference recording file gets sent and, even less frequently, a video of sorts. The content is very specific to my needs and the bond has steadily grown bit by bit over the months.
You can probably guess where this is heading.

Yes, they released a product – the price point was well within my capability to accept, based not just on its value but also on my level of engagement, so I parted with the $475.00 required, and I was converted from a prospect to a customer. By doing this, I moved my commitment level up a few rungs, which makes the next $1999 product look a lot more enticing and manageable than it ever did before.

So what’s next? Well, if you too suffer from a lack of leads from your prospect list, then I suggest you tackle this problem in two ways: a) by re-evaluating your prospect communications to see if they are doing as good a job as possible in creating a bond between you and those on your list and; b) by presenting extra stages in your sales process or by offering lesser priced product options to make it easier for these prospects to signal their intention to become customers.

Tags: General

Improving Your Testing Mind Set

April 7, 2009 ark-com

Improving Your Testing Mind Set

The subject of testing your advertising is one that usually starts and ends with a chapter or two in a Marketing 101 text book. And while it may seem easy to accomplish in print, it’s somewhat more difficult to achieve in the real world we all operate in.

Try convincing the local newspaper to share two different versions of your advertisement across its print run to see which one is the best. Or your radio station to switch alternate adverts at the same time of the day to pick the winner. Perhaps you could re-shoot the end of the next TV commercial with three different calls to action and try to keep it all within your modest budget. Achieving any one of these with a view to improving your own testing methods would be a struggle and possibly prohibitively expensive to achieve.

Online the story is a bit different. Here, with the low cost of production and easy access to free tools to manage the testing process, marketers have the chance to really unleash the tester in them that may have lay hidden for years. The only issue is that all this new capability can be easily squandered by marketers who struggle to capitalise on any gains this opportunity brings with it because they lack the experience in how to best make testing work.

To help those who are new to this challenge, I’ll outline four points you can apply. It’s by no means an exhaustive list; just enough to help you avoid the common mistakes we see and, by doing this, ensure the time you invest in testing is well spent.

But first, why should you embark on testing anyway? For those not convinced of the benefits, try reviewing this article I wrote earlier on the Multiplication Effect of Testing: The improvements that testing bring can help you achieve dramatic and long-lasting effects on your marketing. For instance, all it takes are a few tests that return an extra 3% increase in conversion rate for each and you can be well on the way to doubling your advertising effectiveness.

Convinced of the value but not sure what to test? Here are a few ideas. Our testing methods usually follow the paths a prospect takes through our customer’s marketing funnel – going from the top to the bottom. So if they are running a simple lead-generation campaign using Google AdWords for traffic, we would test the following in this order: Google Ad Words headline, body copy and display URL, and then the landing page headline, lead-in copy and body copy.

These four tips illustrate the process we follow to ensure our efforts with testing will be worthwhile.

Tip One

Start your testing at the front end of your marketing. (In the lead-generation campaign example the front end would be the AdWords campaign.) All tests will require a steady stream of traffic to run through them before they reveal the winner. In most cases, there is more traffic volume towards the front of the sales process, which allows your tests to be completed faster and, therefore, improvements can be applied quicker.

Consequently, any gains in efficiency can then be passed onto tests further down your sales process. So, once you have an ad that produces a sizable number of clicks at a tenable cost, then focus your mind onto the possibly more complex tests you may need to apply to the next step – the landing page.

Tip Two

Start by testing the big things. The other day I heard a great analogy for this – first test the forest, then the trees, then the branches and, finally, the leaves.

So, start with two vastly different Google Ads or Landing Pages (forests), then find the theme of one that works and needs further testing against quite different copy (trees). Then test the headlines (branches), followed by the font type and background colour (leaves).

Tip Three

Concentrate on testing one thing at a time. The ease with which you can alter your online advertising copy frequently trips people up here. For instance, when we are called upon to review Google AdWords accounts that include multiple text ads, quite often we will see two ads that are different in multiple ways (say a headline and the display URL). Now, if one is pulling 30% more traffic than the other, which part of the ad is doing this extra work?

The same applies to landing pages. Compare headlines between otherwise identical versions, rather than changing headlines, body copy text and images.

Yes, all this takes time as you have to run more tests. But each test builds on the one before it. Also realise that some tests will take you backwards and reduce your results, so knowing what worked before makes it easier to back-track to the previous winning version.

Tip Four

Allow your test to run long enough to provide you with accurate results. The more results you collect, the higher the probability that what you see accurately reflects reality. Fortunately, there are some great free online tools that will help you make this statistically based decision. For instance, this tool will help you determine if your AdWords ad is a winner:

So there you have it. Four pointers to ensure the time you invest in testing is well spent. Why not set up some tests this week and see what the results tell you? There could be some big improvements just waiting for you to discover.

Tags: General

Challenging Times Call for Old Solutions

April 7, 2009 ark-com

Challenging Times Call for Old Solutions

One of my favourite books on writing sales copy is The Robert Collier Letter Book. First printed way back in 1937, it introduces many concepts that work as well now as they did then. One of these concepts is the advice to produce copy that enters the conversation that is already taking place in the mind of your prospect. This, he proposes, is a lot easier than trying to replace what is there with your own. As a theory it sounds fine, but it is only recently that I have begun to see the power behind its use, especially based on recent economic events.

The date that this book was published provides some clues to the relevance of its message. It was first released at a time where there had been, and were about to be, a group of deeply felt ‘conversations of the mind’ experienced by many a prospect. The great depression, which had started in the early 1930s, was now gradually being replaced with a time of steady economic growth.

While we are not experiencing economic ails as bad as those of the early thirties, only a fool would ignore the effect the current economic situation has in placing conversations in the mind of their own prospects. Your prospects read the paper, watch the news and listen to the radio – they are not immune to the media onslaught that rains down on us on what seems to be a daily basis about how badly our local and international economies are fairing. This is one ‘conversation of the mind’ that you can guarantee your prospect has – to what degreedepends on his/her own personal situation, but it will be there. Your job is to use it as best you can, rather than ignore it and hope it will go away. Somehow, you want to harness the emotional force your prospect has with this current ‘conversation of the mind’ and use it to help you add impact to your sales message.

For instance, during times like these, business owners are more careful and considered with their investment plans and have a preference towards those that provide a strong chance of quick success. Additional levels of proof may also be required to substantiate any claims you make in your copy, with verification that points to fast revenue growth and/or even quicker cost reduction being well received. Testimonial and other credibility-building content all needs to be bolstered up during times like these, and then presented repeatedly during any early prospect communications.

However, sometimes there are events (both good and bad) of such a large international and emotional scale that the conversations they set off in the minds of those that experience them are more far-reaching than would normally seem possible. Not many events equal the impact of what took place on the morning of September 11, 2001. The Price family was on a short break in Rotorua at the time. The girls were up early and it was my job to turn on the TV in their room to the Disney channel so Claire and I could snooze for a bit longer. I still remember to this day turning on the TV to see the image of a bright blue New York sky and what seemed like a shining arrow of a jet liner heading towards that tower. We all sat and stared at the destruction that followed – Claire and I struggled to explain to two girls under 6 years old what this all meant, when we really had no idea ourselves.

We all remember the immediate effect this had on the US. Planes stopped flying, businesses shut for a few days, NFL football games were canned – the country went into a period of shock and then came out as one determined to do whatever it took to find those responsible.

Last week, I read of how this tragic event had triggered a conversation in the mind of Americans that I would have never picked, but its effect rippled all the way to an outdoor clothing manufacturer in Christchurch – slashing their sales overnight by 30%.

Published as a case study in the latest University of Auckland’s Business Review, the article documents the story of Macpac from its founding in 1990 to its sale to Mouton Noir in mid March 2008, and provides a fascinating insight into how 9/11 had such an immediate impact on their business.

"The outdoor industry experienced a massive shift from being hardcore, involving adventure travel, mountaineering, and multi-day tramping to being softer and more focused on fashion. The fashion area end of the market continued to grow but the hardcore end collapsed. People stayed at home and stopped doing adventurous activities."

The last sentence points to the conversation running through peoples’ minds, which made such a dramatic shift possible. It is a conversation that I don’t think many people would have expected as an outcome from events that unfolded that morning.

I hope that we never again have to deal with managing the outcomes of an event as tragic as 9/11 – and whilst economic ails are with us, they are nowhere near as bad as those experienced in the 1930s by Robert Collier.

However, his theory of entering the conversations already going on in your prospect’s mind when crafting your sales copy are as sound now as they were in 1937. So, my advice is to face it head on – start talking about it in your sales copy and enter the ‘conversation’ already running in your prospect’s mind, to better frame the opportunity your product or service provides.

Tags: General

Making Sense of Google Adsense

April 7, 2009 ark-com

Making Sense of Google Adsense

Tapping into a steady, reliable stream of visitor traffic is usually the first goal when optimising a website. The Google AdWords advertising system is usually up for this job. Once set up properly, it will faithfully divert those searching for products like yours to the right pages of your website. All you have to do is add four lines of advertising text next to the search results displayed in Google.

However, sometimes you need alternatives to Google’s search advertising. For instance, you may have exhausted all the search traffic you can find. Or perhaps the opposite is true, and you just can’t get the search advertising system to perform. This could well motivate you enough to start looking into Google’s other advertising option – its content placement solution.

With the content network your adverts are displayed on websites rather than next to search results. Website owners who participate in the Google Adsense system allow Google to place its content advertising on their website. For this they receive a cut of the advertising fees charged to advertisers whose ads they host. Needless to say, there are thousands of websites participating.

For those new to content advertising it’s important to realise that it’s a completely different advertising ‘beast’ to manage compared with its larger search cousin. Strategies that worked well with search advertising could well bomb with content advertising. When dealing with an advertising engine that can suck up as much budget as you give it – with possibly limited returns – it pays to understand what these differences are before you start parting with your hard-earned money.

To help out here’s a list of five of the most common questions I’m asked about Google’s content advertising system, and their respective answers. These should fill any knowledge gaps you may have. Just knowing answers to a few questions could save you a fair chunk of time and money in your advertising endeavours.

Question 1: What’s the core difference in the types of prospects this network delivers?

Think of search advertising as a tool to locate prospects who are in the early stages of their quest for information whereas content advertising attracts those further down their path of research. For instance, aprospect just starting out may type into the Google search engine the term ’employment law advice’ and be presented with a list of results that lead to all manner of websites.

As they work through this list they may come across a forum on the exact subject area they are interested in. The publisher of this forum could be using Google’s Adsense system to display content advertising to support the ongoing costs of running the site. Therefore, somewhere near a forum post your prospect reads, they could also come across your content ad. Thankfully this includes copy that appeals, prompting them to click further and arrive on your website.

The terms ‘come across’ and ‘stumble upon’ may help you build a picture of the state of mind your prospect is in when they see your content advertising. It’s a much more passive experience than searchers viewing search ads.

Question 2: How should I set up my Google campaigns for this type of advertising?

It’s best to set up a separate campaign to manage your content advertising. The stark differences in the type of prospects you attract with content campaigns and the unique ways in which the campaign needs to be set up make it too hard to run a campaign that mixes both content and search advertising together. Be aware also that, when setting up any new campaign, Google turns on both content and search advertising by default, so please ensure you de-select one or the other, depending on what you want your campaign to do.

Question 3: How are my content ads matched to the web pages that display them?

There are two ways Google achieves this. The first is by matching your chosen keywords against any content found on the advertiser’s web page. This is very similar to the search network; however, it’s a few levels up in smartness.

For example, unlike search advertising, where if you bid on the term ‘java’ your ad will be shown to both those seeking coffee AND the similarly named programming language, with content advertising your ‘java’ driven coffee bean advert is only shown on website pages talking about coffee.

The other way to pick where your content ads are shown is by selecting the exact website and web page you want your ad to be seen on. For instance, the Google advertising engine will display a category-driven list of websites (sport, business, health – there are a lot of options) for you to pick and choose where you want your ad displayed. This process can be quite granular and allows you to specify an exact web page for your ad to show on any site you choose.

Question 4 – What types of ads can I use?

Google’s content advertising allows you to break free of the text-only options that limit the search advertising network. And, while text is still an option, you can also place image ads (of varying sizes) and even flash and video ads within the content network. However, more sites support text advertising than images, and if images are supported at all then sometimes only a few sizes are available.

That said, if you can use images on a site you want to advertise on, I suggest you give it a go. All this extra space to tell your compelling story can make a large difference in your click-through rates when compared with a text alternative.

Question 5: How can I track the sales and leads that I get from my content advertising?

Google’s regular conversion tracking tools, which are so handy with search advertising, are fortunately also supported in the content network. These allow you to track sales or leads and see which website was responsible for each event, even down to the web page the prospect was on when they clicked your ad.

While this is the last question on the list, setting up your conversion events is likely to be the first task you complete when setting up any content campaign. Being unable to fine tune your advertising because you haven’t set up this part of the system is one sure way to waste a lot of time and money with any paid advertising network.

Bonus Question: How much does all this cost?

Unlike search advertising, where the only model is cost per click, content advertising provides two options – cost per click and cost per impression. The cost per click pricing model is very similar to search advertising, so no further explanation is required here. Cost per impression pricing, however, can work against you if not set up properly, so requires some further comment.

An impression is a unique page load your prospect makes on any page your content ad is presented. So, if after 1000 page loads your ad is clicked 100 times, and you pay $2.00 per 1000 page loads, then your cost per click is $2.00/100 = 2 cents – a click cost so low that you may struggle to improve on this with search advertising.

So far so good. However, if your ad is placed so far down the page that it is not seen each time the page is loaded and the site is very busy, then the story is quite different. For instance, from 10,000 page loads you may only achieve 10 clicks, and at $2.00 per 1000 page loads, your click cost is now $20/10 = $2.00 – a cost you could well better with search advertising.

Hence, purchasing your content advertising on a cost per impression basis needs some careful consideration. Remember that throughout all this, a click cost of $2.00 from your content campaign could be fine if those clicks go on to provide a 50% conversion rate on your landing page – leaving you with a very attractive cost per lead.

So there you have it, six snapshots to introduce you to the content advertising network and go some way to explain the differences between it and its much larger search advertising cousin. In some lead generation cases, traffic from this network is the only traffic that generates leads, while others successfully use a mix of both content and search advertising.

Why not give it a try and see how you fare or, failing that, ask the team at Permission to help you out?