For a business owner new to online marketing, the space can seem totally bemusing. Google, Facebook, websites, email marketing — so many options — so many tactics and so little time and money to invest. And when faced with so many options to take, the tyranny of choice kicks in, and frequently nothing is done.

But what if from all the options available there was just one thing that needed their attention. Fortunately, there’s a management theory that supports this logic.

The Theory of Constraints was introduced by Eliyahu M. Goldratt back in 1984 with his book The Goal, the cover of which sneaked into a recent presentation I gave to a group of business owners late last Friday afternoon. Now Friday is usually a time for some mental wind down activities, but this group had spent the day planning their efforts for the year with a coaching network we work with. Nevertheless, energy was on the low side and I was the last talk of the day, so I introduced this theory as a simple way to avoid inaction through confusion.

There was no Internet back in 1984 when Mr Goldratt wrote his book. His focus was more on helping organisations optimise systems that were outcome driven and struggling in production and administration. However, online marketing is just a collective group of systems that everyone requires the most from. Think of Google AdWords for a moment. Six steps that need optimising. The prospect searches – step one. Your advertisement is shown – step two. They like your ad and click on it – step three. They like the web page you take them to – step four. They decide you are for them, or they keep looking through your web pages until they are convinced of the fact – step five. They make contact – step six.

Now the theory states that the overall performance of this complete system will be held back by just one of the six steps. Not three – just one that is holding the rest back. It’s the analogy of the weakest link defining the strength of the whole chain. So how does this play out in the real world of people paying for $10 clicks? Here are three real-world examples that I came across last week.

Client A is just starting out with us and arrives paying $10 per click in a highly competitive market. The good news is that there is enough revenue behind each sale to make the cost of these high-priced beauties work IF she can convert them at an industry standard level. (It’s an auction, so someone in the industry must be making it work.) For them the weakest link is Step Three – the prospect liking the ad and clicking on it. They are getting some clicks, but nothing amazing. It’s below our standard and their Google AdWords quality score is suffering because of it.

The reason? Their copy is boring and blends in with all the other “blah” ads that their competitors are showing.  Their service is differentiated — thankfully — but this hasn’t made it through to their advertising. So that’s the focus for the month ahead — right ads that shake up the market. No landing page split tests, no new keywords to bid on or videos to produce — just write better ads.

Client B came to us through one of our Google AdWords Group Training courses. They were struggling with the first step – the prospect searches. The backstory was that they had launched a new product in their industry that delivers an innovative software approach to solving quite a general problem people have in running effective meetings. It’s a cracking solution. Pricing is good. The website looks fantastic. The only issue is that nobody knows  that a solution exists, so they are not using Google to search for it. Unless they can solve this, then their search advertising endeavours will be very short lived.

And finally we get to Client C who is struggling with the last step – the client converts. Prospects are searching,  clicking and engaging with the website content. Videos are being played and PDF documents are being downloaded. However the number who are calling or completing quote/contact forms is way down on where it should be. So it’s here we focus our time. Split testing landing pages — incentivising contact requests — ensuring the site plays well with mobile.

Now I understand that Google AdWords is just one of the many systems you can apply your online marketing efforts to. Social media advertising, organic search optimisation, email marketing, marketing automation are just a few of others available. Thankfully, Mr Goldratt’s theory can be applied at a higher level too — because deep down all these are just sub-systems that operate underneath a general online marketing system.

Make contact if you need help defining which system should deserve your attention, and where in that the weakest link may live.

Started your planning for 2017? Ideally, this would involve extracting yourself from the office – having some way to collect those gems of ideas, plenty of strong coffee to get the neurons working and a general feeling of hope and expectation. But is that enough?

Today I want you to add one more item to your planning toolbox – your Google Analytics Account. With this in mind here are my four steps to crafting a cunning website marketing plan for 2017.

#Step 1 – All Good Things Must Come To an End

Let’s start with the end in mind. What do you want to achieve in 2017 and what role will your website play in all this? If it’s a year of new customer growth, how many more accounts do you want your website to find for you? Or perhaps it’s more about generating more revenue from existing accounts – again, how will your web presence help you achieve this?

For instance, your growth goal could be to win 50 new customers. And for this you will need 150 website quote requests completed over the next 12 months. Or say 300 phone calls for people wanting service requests.

With this in mind, crack open your Google Analytics account and head into the Conversions area to see which, if any, of these are being tracked by your team. By default, Google Analytics ships without any Goals configured, so if nobody in your team added them expect to see zero data.

Last year I huffed and puffed my way around a number of trail run events – nearly always at the back of the pack. The slight comfort I had through all that pain was that my watch told me how far I had gone and, what’s more important, how much was left. Knowing you have just 4km to go when you are out of water and swearing under your breath at every incline makes a lot of difference.

So as Chaucer said in 1374, “All Good Things Must Come to an End”. In the modern world I think that End is a Conversion Goal set up in Google Analytics. Once it’s done you will be able to track how many calls your website generated next month compared to the one prior and if any quote requests were generated from your expensive advertising on Google.

#Step 2 – Love the Traffic That Works

Once you have the end points defined, you can then follow the spaghetti to see which stream of traffic delivers the most love (that is, the most calls or quote requests). You can see this in the report – Acquisition – All Traffic – Source / Medium. It’s one of my all time favourites.

Pick a reasonable date range and let all be revealed. Insights we have seen people gather from this report include:

# Step 3 – Apply the Pareto principle to Web pages

Thankfully, we don’t need to pay attention to all the pages on our website – just those that really matter. To find the select few, head over to the report at Audience / Users Flow. This gives you a visual representation of the digital pathways people tread while on your website.

The first page they see is defined as the “Landing Page”. People who arrive here are important souls. However, if they don’t go any further into your website, things become a bit challenging. Fortunately, in my 32,000 hours of digital marketing experience (yes a few grey hairs) I have yet to see a landing page in which no traffic goes further – so next up, the report shows the top five pages that are fed from this page.

Jot down your top landing pages and top secondary pages – the list should be less than 10 – and you have now created the 20% of your website content that needs work in the months ahead.

# Step 4 – Automate the Party Celebrations

Finally, I want you to configure your Google Analytics account to tell you when it’s time to party. We all experience those weeks when it’s best to look back and, well ….. forget. Now let’s hop into the Custom Alerts part of your account to configure things so you know when it’s time to CELEBRATE.

What times are we talking about? When the conversion rate of your quote form doubles in a week, say. Or your website revenue grows by 25% from the previous month. Why wait until those boring reports hit your desk? Let Google Analytics immediately alert when it knows the good news. Just set up the criteria for a party and work hard on the prior three steps to make it all happen.

So there you go. Just a few short and simple steps to get you into the planning mindset. And if you would like a few grey hairs of digital marketing experience to join you in your planning space then why not make contact? Or if all this reference to Google Analytics makes your head hurt then think about our Google Analytics Group Training Program.

This site tells me that I had 250 working days in 2016. One holiday mid year brings that down to 240. So what did I learn during those 1920 hours of occasional focus? Well, here are five snippets that, with 20/20 hindsight, provided me with a sizeable dollop of knowledge. They may do the same for you.

Dollop #1 – Do It Different

We are lucky to work with a wide range of very smart clients. Looking back, I can see that the fast growing ones have a number of things in common. One of those things is their focus on creating and ruthlessly promoting a clear point of difference that makes them stand out in their respective markets. Google then does a great job of providing the necessary leverage to kick their growth numbers skyward. Whilst their “same as everyone” competitors are left to struggle to make those rising click costs pay.

So what makes you different from your competitors? Is there any way you can make that difference big, bold and obvious? Is it your guarantee, your range, your approach, your people – or all of these and more? Earlier in the year I wrote this blog post that talked to this point. Once you have a clear “message of difference”, your Google Search Ads stand out, your landing pages almost write themselves, and if the difference resonates with your audience then your conversion rates bump upwards.

Do different – it pays.

Dollop #2 – Passion Plays a Part

Back in November I attended Nurture Change in Fiji. While there I met and heard Murray Thom present – he’s the person behind “The Great New Zealand Song Book” and lots more. Murray would have to be one of the most animated and passionate business speakers I have had the pleasure to listen to.

But his was not the usual blah story of success linked joyfully to even greater success. Nope, there were numerous roadblocks, challenges and plain hairy obstructions that lined up in front of him as he built his publishing empire.

Through all this strife it was clear to me that it was his passion in the project that kept him keeping on. There’s plenty of talk about passion in business, but how many times do we really dig down and check in on the real reasons behind the “why” in what we do?

Dollop #3 – Give it a go: the power of the start.

I began 2016 with a plan to launch Google Group Training. Nothing new there – I had started 2015 with the same plans. But things just got in the way. Finally in May it all happened. We put a few days aside and designed and wrote the content for our first Google Analytics course. It sold out in a week.

Later in the year we kicked off Google AdWords training. We tried to condense it into one session and failed miserably. People complained that their heads hurt, there was so much content to consume. So we stretched it out to two sessions with a two-week break in between.

Next month we launch training in Email Marketing and, after that, Search Engine Optimisation – both introductory courses running for three hours each. Registrations are whistling in.

But the success is not the message here – getting started is. So what’s been on your 2016 task since late 2015? Why not give it some air in 2017.

Dollop # 4 – Help Loves Experience

In July my left knee decided that trail running was not such a good idea any more and it was time to stop. NOW. Exercise can be addictive, so it took me a while to listen until the pain became loud and clear.

Off I trotted to a physio who I chose because they were nearby. It was first physio experience, so how else should I chose?

I spent weeks working with this person with very little to show for my money and, more importantly, my time. Thankfully around this period Ark Advance started working with Darren North from Urban Athlete. Now “athlete” is not a classification I would readily put myself into but I can make the “urban” part work – so off I limped.

Darren had seen this problem many times before – we were on the right track from the first session. He had me running up and down the hallway, bending this way and that, and exploring models of troubled knees. In no time at all he taught me what was wrong then showed me how his unique list of new exercises would help – IF I took the time to follow them.

Thankfully I did – things settled down enough for me to have mildly pleasant experiences on a big hill near Waihi and a jumble of rocks around a mountain.

So has 2016 been like a rinse and repeat for the advice you are receiving in your business? Perhaps 2017 could be the time to break out and experience something new?

Dollop #5 – You Can Never Stop Learning

Last month the company turned 14. I have the grey hairs to show that this and a bit prior all adds up to roughly 32,000 hours of experience – and the odd stressful moment – in online marketing. But no matter how much experience you have, there’s always plenty of room to get better.

In October we spent the most we ever have on external training for ourselves. The figure made me wince, but we wanted to upskill on the latest advertising methods, so we gave the credit card a hard nudge and started to learn from the best in Australasia.

As mentioned before, in November I did the Nurture Change experience for the second year running. Yes, it was in Fiji and the resort was stunning BUT I didn’t go for the sand – it was the speakers who make this worth the time. Honest :).

But training and education don’t always need to cost the earth. Here’s the list of books I read in 2016 that made me take notes and apply new stuff. They may for you too.

Confessions of the Pricing Man: How Price Affects Everything – Herman Simon

My book of the year. Pricing is so important and rarely do we get it right. This book helps you navigate around the traps along the way. I gave it as a Secret Santa for my BNI group and was laughed out of the room. I admit it may look like a textbook – but it is an easy read once you get into it.

Making habits, breaking habits: how to make changes that stick – Jeremy Dean.

Learn the easy path to starting what you want and getting rid of what you don’t.

Two awesome hours: science-based strategies to harness your best time and get your most important work done – Josh Davis, Ph.D.

Thankfully, it’s not about working longer. Find the way to design your day to best use the fixed amount of energy you have.

The power of more: how small steps can help you achieve big goals – Marnie McBean

An Olympic-medal-winning rowing athlete explains her approach to goal setting.

Feet in the clouds: a tale of fell-running and obsession – Richard Askwith

Trail running porn. We think we have hills to puff our way up – those fell runners take it to an even higher level.

The World Cup Finally Arrives – My New Zealand Rugby Experience Returns

I had never seen a top-level rugby game before I came to New Zealand. Fortunately, this all changed for the better after just a few weeks of arriving and getting a job in Auckland. I was the enthusiastic new sales engineer who was given a bright red Nissan Bluebird and probably the hardest territory in South Auckland to see what he could achieve.

 

But before I was let loose, my boss at the time handed me a small envelope and told me to take the afternoon off. So this was different. A nice new car, a great boss and the chance to take the afternoon off – now I could get used to working in New Zealand.

I looked into the brown envelope, thinking it was some spending money and all I saw was a single ticket to a game of rugby.

“Take yourself to see some real rugby,” Glenn said.

Then I looked closely at the ticket to see who I was going to watch – the All Blacks against Italy. The opening game of the Rugby World Cup 1987. At the time this meant very little to me, as it apparently also did to the Auckland region at the time. So, while I remember a packed stand, I now read that the stadium was only half full. That’s how much enthusiasm there was for the cup when it last came to Auckland.

My seat was way at the back of what was then a rickety old wooden stand resting in the same place we now have the concrete gargantuan ASB Stand. There was some yelling and screaming from those around, and a fair bit of forceful encouragement but nothing really much of note.

This all changed when a young, tall, blond-haired All Black winger was given the ball way back in his own half and he began to race towards the Italian try line. He darted left and right and managed to work his way through those diving to snare him to the ground. You could feel the excitement build and the yelling with it. We were all standing up and shouting at the top of our lungs as he managed to carve through the lot of them and touch down just to the right of the goal posts. The sound, the excitement, the whole experience was all new to me and something that I will never forget.

This was my introduction to rugby in New Zealand that Friday on May 22nd as John Kirwan ran nearly the length of the field and scored against Italy to help the All Blacks win their opening Rugby World Cup game 70 – 6. Of course, John and the rest of the All Blacks went on to do further great things during the tournament and, as we all know, eventually succeeded in winning it for New Zealand.

Since that time I have yelled for every All Black team. Now, some of my English friends see this as nothing short of treason – but that doesn’t bother me. Here I was introduced to a style of rugby that was both exciting to watch and, more importantly, available for all to play well.

So what will this Wold Cup tournament bring New Zealand? Well, this time I hope it will be a realistic expectation of what it takes to win and a mature attitude whatever result we achieve. Remember how bad the country reacted when John Hart and his team failed to deliver in 1995 after the final with South Africa? That wasn’t pretty.

Nevertheless, 2011 has been a year that should put any result into some context. It has been a year with an unfair proportion of natural disasters and workplace tragedies. We’ve experienced those going through life and death experiences. We’ve seen how these are raw, hard, emotional, life-changing events that had us all looking at our TV screens and shaking our heads in disbelief as fires burnt deep underground and people covered in the dust of shattered Christchurch buildings were led towards help. Any loss on a rugby field shouldn’t really matter that much after going through all this.

So, it must be time to have some fun and let loose to enjoy ourselves for the next two months. Yell for your team. Welcome those new to the country. And it would be nice to have us all on our feet at the one time shouting as an All Black winger runs the length of the field, swatting opposition players in their path.

Have fun.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.