Influencers see surge in engagement, want to help SMBs
While other forms of marketing have generally seen decreased effectiveness figures during the coronavirus pandemic, influencer marketing has seen surging social media engagements and impressions, with some 70 percent of influencers seeing audiences seeking guidance from them during the crisis, according to recently-released survey data of interest to digital marketers. Influence Central
Forrester: Brands must build trust as coronavirus saps consumer sentiment
Although brands have been facing decreased consumer confidence due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are also achieving new levels of trust by helping consumers regain a sense of control, a shift examined in newly-released consumer energy index survey data from Forrester. Marketing Dive
Facebook Added a New ‘Experiments’ Element to Ad Manager to Help Optimize Ad Performance
Facebook has released new online video watching features to meet growing usage demands due to the coronavirus pandemic, including audience targeting campaign test results that are easier to track, and other additions that had previously been available only to partners, the social media giant announced recently. Social Media Today
An Age Gap Emerges in the Streaming Video Ad vs. Costs Debate
52 percent of the 25-34 age group demographic are open to seeing more online advertisements in exchange for lower streaming video service fees, while just 28 percent older than 55 take the same view, two of several findings of interest to digital marketers in new survey data. MarketingCharts
The new contextual ad targeting works, study says
With browser cookie-based tracking on the wane, contextual advertising has been getting a second look from marketers seeking alternative tracking, and recently-released test results found that contextually relevant ads generated some 43 percent greater neural engagement along with 2.2 times better ad recall, among other findings of interest to marketers. Search Engine Land
Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust and the Coronavirus Pandemic [Edelman]
Brands can meet the challenges surfaced by COVID-19 by offering solutions and setting aside passion, according to newly-released consumer trust report data from Edelman, which revealed that some 57 percent of consumers want brands to stop all humorous or light-hearted marketing and advertising during the pandemic. Edelman
Remote working: B2B brands feeling more resilient than B2C
B2B marketers have a greater sense of resiliency than their B2C counterparts, especially when it comes to remote collaboration, with 51 percent of B2B marketers viewing their organizations as very proficient at conducting remote work, while just 34 percent of B2C marketers took the same view — two of several findings of interest to online marketers contained in new Marketing Week and Econsultancy survey data. Marketing Week
UK B2B marketers split on whether they can overcome coronavirus pandemic
While some 45 percent of B2B marketers in the U.K. said that they were either extremely or fairly confident about finding success during the coronavirus pandemic, just 40 percent felt confident in achieving any return on investment (ROI) from current campaigns, according to recently-released survey data from CogniClick. The Drum
Three Points B2B Sellers Should Consider to Improve Buyers’ Experiences
86 percent of B2B technology buyers have an expectation that they will receive personalized sales material — a rate that is likely responsible for 71 percent of B2B buyers saying that their salesperson relationship directly influenced a recent purchase. These purchasing experience results are along several of interest to digital marketers in newly-released report data. MarketingCharts
How COVID-19 Is Impacting Social Media Ad Rates and Engagement
The coronavirus pandemic has brought lower cost per click (CPC), click-through rate (CTR), and ad spending figures for brands, including social media ad engagement that was down 17.2 percent during the middle of March, according to newly-released report data from Social Bakers of interest to digital marketers. MarketingProfs
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE:
A lighthearted look at decision paralysis by Marketoonist Tom Fishburne — Marketoonist
Thanks for taking the time to join us, and we hope that you will return again next Friday for a new array of the most relevant B2B and digital marketing industry news. In the meantime, you can follow us at @toprank on Twitter for even more timely daily news. Also, don’t miss the full video summary on our TopRank Marketing TV YouTube Channel.
As marketers, our goals are straightforward. We want to unearth a person’s desires and show them that they have a need—which, conveniently, the brand, product, or service we represent can fulfill. Ultimately, we want to help people solve a problem in their lives.
But for 90% of Americans, the customer experience they encounter after being wooed by our messaging dictates if they stick around and offer praise, or flee and spread the word of your brand’s false promises and tone-deaf communication.
To avoid losing potential or existing customers, your brand’s customer experience (CX) strategy must be comprehensive, effective, and efficient—from the very moment a user engages with your company. Deciding how to build those attributes into your CX strategy requires close integration with your unified content strategy.
Integrating CX as a core content strategy component allows you to provide the necessary solutions to a user’s needs preemptively. The more high-quality solutions you build, the stronger your customer journey becomes, and the more likely you can draw in users, convert them, and then retain their loyalty.
There are three crucial tasks you must include in your content strategy to develop top-notch CX pathways:
Identify customer service pain points
Create friction-specific customer service solutions
Communicate authentically with customers
In this post, I’ll establish some of the options for tackling each task.
How to Identify Customer Service Pain Points with Content Strategy
If you want to stagger fleeing customers and retain existing ones, part of your content strategy should be in-depth user research, which provides the needed data to learn where your existing customer experience is going wrong. Use the following data collection techniques to discover how your CX is breaking down.
Review Customer Contact Records
70% of the customer’s journey is based on how the customer feels they are being treated. The best data source to learn about how customers feel are chat logs, recorded calls, emails, social media interaction, and “contact us” forms.
None of us have the time to scour through hundreds of phone call conversations or skim thousands of chatbot messages. So the trick to deciphering this data is quickly identifying common themes your customers talk about.
The way you go about this step depends on your available resources, although two approaches tend to work well for most companies.
First, talk with your sales, customer support, and social media teams to learn about the most common feedback they encounter. Also, make sure you learn your company’s customer churn rate and probe the people you’re talking with to tell you why customers stop doing business with your brand. Afterward, you should have a clear picture of a problem area in the customer journey.
Second, if you use a chatbot or email support, analyze the records from those platforms with a natural language processor (NLP) to highlight any recurring themes. This technique requires a bit of technical knowledge and development work, but these 12 open-source NLP options can get you started. Compare the chat records with the information from the sales, customer support, and social media teams to get an idea of how widespread the CX issues may be.
Plus, because NLP relies on the users’ vocabulary, you know the exact phrases and keywords they use to identify their needs. You can then search for those phrases online and discover how other people, including your competition, are handling these concerns.
Another observation you should make is how the customer’s attitude changes depending on the contact option they use. HubSpot’s research shows that 62% of customers want to communicate with companies via email; 48% want to use the phone; 42% like live chat; 36% prefer a contact form. If you lack one of these contact methods, you may inadvertently be hampering your CX by causing unwelcome frustration.
Learn what contact methods your users like with feedback surveys, polls, or asking them directly while they are in your customer service funnel. Also, learn about the average time it takes a customer to solve their problems for each support method. If you’re unable to provide the most preferred and fastest option, make sure you at least offer their second choice.
Spot Missing Content with Analytics Data
Analytics data can help identify which type of CX content you’re missing or if your existing self-service content is underperforming.
The first step is to evaluate your CX content (product pages, customer service pages, important blog posts or white papers, etc.) with a small audit using a standard smattering of best practice content KPIs. I recommend starting with the basics like pageviews, bounce rate, and conversions, and then expanding your KPIs from there. This mini-audit will give you a great idea if your crucial CX content is resonating with users.
If you’re not entirely sure which pages you should audit first, take a look at your customer journey map and focus on the content your users interact with along their journey.
The next step, if your website has a search function, is to learn what people are searching for. If people are searching for content that doesn’t exist on your website, then those topics are something you should consider addressing.
For example, in February, three people searched for “podcast” on Portent’s website. After they found the page they wanted, those users spent an average of 17 minutes exploring that content and other areas of the website. Based on the average time of page for our site as a whole, we can assume they probably found what they needed.
On the other hand, if those users perform their search and instead immediately leave the website, that would signal they didn’t find the type of information they want. So we would either need to create new content or update the existing content, depending on how important those queries are to us. Check out this blog post for more tips on analyzing internal site search data.
User testing is another sure-fire way to learn what people do and don’t like about your product pages, customer contact journey, sales reps, etc. The most time- and cost-effective methods of user testing to determine CX pain points are:
If you’re trying to diagnose a multifaceted issue, then a combination of each test is preferred. But you can glean useful insights from even the simplest of exercises.
For example, one of our clients was getting an unusual amount of phone call traffic to their sales center. Normally, this would be great news. But most of these calls were not people trying to buy products; instead, these users wanted billing and account support.
The differing expectations among users and the sales team caused frustrations for everybody: the users kept getting transferred between departments, which increased wait times and delayed help, and the sales team was fielding calls for problems they couldn’t solve rather than helping new customers.
To identify what was going on, we used Hotjar to ask a simple, one-question survey on the homepage of the client’s website. The survey asked users about what type of help they expect to receive by calling a prominent phone number on the homepage.
The results showed us that we were displaying the wrong number for what most users wanted. By adjusting the phone number to meet user expectations, we improved both the customer experience journey and employee morale.
Heat Maps and Click Data
Heat map and click data shows you how much of your content users scroll through and what points they interact with. Use this information to identify if users are seeing the information they need from your self-service content, product pages, white papers, etc.
For example, if you have a contact page with one CTA and only 43% of users see the CTA, you’re creating frustrations for the other 57% of users.
Likewise, if you have multiple CTAs on a page but the most important gets a pittance of clicks, you should evaluate if the CTAs you’re offering users are the best choice for their needs.
The Best Friction-Specific Customer Service Solutions
Without a doubt, the hardest part of creating a seamless CX is having content that solves a user’s problem the way they want it solved, and presenting a personalized solution exactly when they need it most.
Ideally, you could always help users before they realize they need it, like offering an optional tutorial for newly installed software. Unfortunately, precognition isn’t a skill most of us have, so we’re stuck using the data we collected in our user research to build a world of personalized CX content that we expect users want.
As Ian Lurie, Portent’s founder, argues: marketers are world builders. We set the framework for users to tell us stories of what they need by creating places for user-brand interaction.
For example, let’s say your brand sells high-quality coffee grinders. A user who wants a new grinder may begin their journey with a Google search about coffee grinders, discover your website, and then convert.
Another person might start with a YouTube video review of different grinders, and your product could be mentioned; afterward, they find you on Amazon or Twitter. Eventually, they navigate to your website to look at specific products. After that, they go back to Google and search for reviews of the products they’re interested in. Maybe they poke around in Reddit or Quora for a bit, too, to read reviews from other users rather than bloggers or industry experts. And, after all that research, they finally take action and convert.
Every point of interaction in both of these journeys is a place.
As Ian explains, marketers don’t create the paths or tell the stories that users engage with. We put places on a map, create context, and let the audience do the rest. And every place you control should aid the user in whatever stage of the journey they’re in.
The following three types of customer-support content are among the more common places you’ll create or encounter.
Blogs, Guides, and White Papers
First, the most common content type: editorial content.
Whatever blog posts, white papers, case studies, etc., you choose to produce, your CX goal should be to establish the context that creates relevancy for all of the places users will visit when learning about or interacting with your business.
In our coffee grinder example, you could foresee the user’s confusion about their coffee grinder choices. In turn, you could make a blog post, video, or infographic about the different types of coffee grinders or what settings somebody would use if they’re making espresso compared to Chemex coffee.
Not every article you produce will perform on search engines either; more than likely, very few will. Instead, you’ll need to create content hubs and use a robust internal linking strategy to ensure users can find the relevant information when they’re ready to move forward along their path.
Writing an FAQ page is easy; after all, it’s a list of questions and answers. But writing a good FAQ page is much harder. You must give users enough information to meet their needs but not overwhelm them with too much information and cause sensory overload.
Here are a few FAQ best practices to keep in mind:
The page layout, questions, and answers should be clear and concise
Information must always be accurate and up-to-date
Include the most important questions or answers first
Afterward, organize questions by category
If you have more than 10 questions, include a search bar
The key concept that ties these best practices together is that you should minimize distractions on your FAQ page. Keep the content focused on helping the user get answers fast and then empowering them to move on to the next step in their journey.
Customer Support Hub
Among the last troubleshooting steps customers want to take is physically getting in touch with your brand with a phone call, instant message, or email. That’s why self-serving customer service portals are crucial to providing a positive CX.
Amazon’s portal is an example of what works well.
Amazon has taken the most common queries users have and combined them into a self-serving customer service portal, presumably to cut down on the amount of interactions users have with customer support staff.
Let’s say you want to return an item. Choosing the refunds and returns section takes you to a short FAQ that walks you through the returns process.
The information also contains hyperlinks to the next steps a user may want to take after reading this information, which lets the user achieve their needs while Amazon saves resources. And crucially, this lets users approach the interaction at their own pace and on their own time.
Although your customer contact hub doesn’t need to be this robust, you should provide users with the opportunity to self-serve before they resort to getting in touch. Plus, during this self-service journey, make sure you provide the most relevant contact information for that specific problem, just in case they do need to contact your company for more help.
The jumbled and inauthentic communications strategies that so many brands put forth create trust issues among users. This statement is particularly true for e-commerce and retail brands because 50% of shoppers believe any feedback they provide doesn’t get acted on.
You can improve your brand’s CX by proving to customers that their opinions are taken into consideration. Whenever you communicate with users, you should talk about the feedback you received from them and what you’re doing with that information.
The goal is to listen and respond. Listen in the places your users create: social media comments, independent blog articles, online reviews, Instagram posts, etc. Use tools like Buzzsumo to discover who on the web is talking about your brand.
Respond with thoughtful, honest, and transparent insights or solutions to the customer’s problems. If possible, avoid using impersonal, templated responses. You want users to believe you care about them; if they see the same response on every positive or negative comment, the personalized experience vanishes.
Each of these conversations builds a connection with your users and gives context to the places they create. Part of your unified communications strategy should be using these conversations to plan how, when, and why to communicate with users.
CX Strategy is a Plate of Nachos
As you’ve discovered, developing a unified communications strategy to bolster your brand’s CX is a multi-layered project. Fortunately, your content strategy team can deliver most of the research and solutions you need to cook up the best CX strategy for your company and its users. So go ahead: Collect the customer experience ingredients your users need to feel fulfilled and then bake it into a scrumptious journey that everybody will enjoy.
“Look, marketers. Everywhere the light touches is content beloved by customers.”
“But what about that shadowy place over there?”
“That’s our unseen content. We worked hard to create it, but nobody ever visits it.”
“That’s really depressing.”
Okay, sorry to bring the room down. And I’m also sorry to say that it gets worse. A recent study found that 69% of all web content is not seen by consumers.
The remaining 31% is our kingdom.
Fortunately, there are many ways to create content that beats the odds. For example, you can co-create with influencers, or experiment with interactive content that inspires social media sharing. But what about the content you have already created? The really good stuff that never caught on with an audience?
With the right search engine optimization, you can shine a light on that content and help it earn organic traffic. Here’s how we do it.
Ungate the Good Stuff
Five years ago, the best practice for marketers was to gate your most valuable content. It makes sense: You’re offering something great, so people should be willing to offer their contact info in return for it. It’s a simple value exchange.
The flip side, though, is that your most impressive and useful content is now being seen by a smaller audience. You’re intentionally introducing a barrier between your target audience and your most persuasive content.
I’ll grant that the debate of “to gate or not to gate” is ongoing, and marketers are seeing results with either tactic. But especially for SEO purposes, we recommend trying an ungated approach.
For example, this asset from client SAP has it all: influencer participation, stats, eye-popping interactive visuals. It’s ungated, and the container page is optimized for search. Keeping this substantial piece of content ungated makes it more crawlable, findable and sharable. As people discover and share it, it gets even more SEO juice. And as an added bonus, the included influencers are far more likely to share an ungated asset.
Ditch the PDFs
Everybody loves PDFs, but… okay, so nobody really loves PDFs. Their popularity is really a holdover from the old days of the web. You didn’t want to take a beautifully-designed piece of content and try to recreate it in clunky HTML. So the PDF made sure people would see the content exactly as it was designed.
Now, however, you don’t have to be a web designer to create something beautiful on a regular web page. And since plain text is crawlable and PDFs are not, turning that PDF into a web page is a solid SEO move.
Our client Prophix just published original research in their CFO Benchmarks Report. Instead of making a landing page with an ungated PDF embedded, we turned the report into a long-scrawl web page, then offered a PDF download at the bottom. That way, the content is crawlable by search engines and more easily accessible to potential readers. What’s more, the content is now optimized for visually impaired users as well.
Consolidate Posts by Topic Clusters
It’s standard SEO practice to combine thin content that addresses the same keyword into one comprehensive post. If you’re not doing that type of repurposing yet, that’s a good place to start.
To take it to the next level, think beyond individual keywords and consolidate posts around topic clusters. For example, your outdoor gear company might have a post for the best hiking shoes, one on how to pick the right backpack, one on the best shirts to wick away sweat, and so on.
Even though these posts have different keywords they’re aiming for, they all fall under a cluster: Best hiking gear. Combining all the posts into a mega post with navigation elements gives you a more valuable asset for search engines and humans. People will likely spend more time on the page, and be more likely to share and link to your comprehensive resource.
Build a Web of Internal Links
Another common cause of hidden content is that it’s minimally accessible through your site’s navigation. This is especially true if you’ve changed your site architecture over time — and who hasn’t? Content can end up with only a couple links to it, or even none at all.
Content architecture is one way that search engines can better understand your site and which content to recommend to searchers. An orphaned page with few or no links is unlikely to pass muster.
This guide from Search Engine Journal can help you find your orphaned pages. Once you identify them, add links to and from relevant pages throughout your site. The goal is to build a logical link structure that helps users and bots understand which content is the most important.
You may also find that these orphaned pages are ripe for consolidation and optimization into more substantial content pieces, too.
Build External Links
The end goal of our first four points is creating assets that are substantial, valuable, easy to find and share, and optimized for SEO and humans. This type of content is perfect for ethical link building.
Backlinko has an excellent, comprehensive linkbuilding guide (ungated!) that’s well worth your time. But here are a few quick strategies to get started:
Write guest posts for relevant industry publications and include links back to your content.
Identify posts that are linking to similar, but outdated content and suggest updating with a link to your piece.
Promote your content with paid and unpaid social media posts — those shares will indirectly influence your ranking, and can lead to more backlinks as well.
Let Your Little Light Shine
It can be demoralizing to think that 69% of your content is stuck in the dark. But think of it this way: You have a massive resource of already-written content that can find an audience with just a little SEO illumination. Make your content more accessible, easier to find, and more substantial for your audience, and you can bring that forgotten content into the light.
With the right client testimonials and customer reviews, B2B brands can increase trust and loyalty in uncertain times while strengthening existing connections and fostering new ones. Your brand may even be sitting on a goldmine of evergreen trust-building user-generated content.
Let’s take a look at 20+ tips to invigorate and expand your B2B marketing toolkit with a smart customer review and testimonial strategy.
Making The Statistical Case For Testimonials & Reviews
Conversion rates can skyrocket by as much as 270 percent when online reviews are smartly incorporated, however, as shown in the Website Builder Expert data below.
Some 30 percent of businesses said that customer reviews had a major impact on their overall success, and just over 26 percent said reviews also had a major impact on profitability, as shown in the following chart from a recent ZenBusiness survey.
The same survey revealed that 52.2 percent of older businesses monitor online reviews weekly and 18.5 percent do so daily, while 47 percent of newer firms monitor weekly, and 39.3 percent monitor daily, suggesting that more established brands have settled into a weekly cadence, while younger firms tend to keep a more frequent watch over reviews.
Businesses tend to monitor a multitude of online review platforms for reviews, with 67.6 percent using Google, 55.1 percent Facebook, and 46.3 percent Yelp, followed by others as shown below.
Only 11.9 percent of businesses said that they respond to every review left for them, while 60 percent said that they interact with either some or most reviews they receive, the same survey noted.
Younger B2B buyers are increasingly looking for reviews and testimonials to be delivered to them in methods that differ from those of older buyers, creating an opportunity for some brands looking to connect with younger audiences.
[bctt tweet=”“In 2020 social media marketing will shift from vanity metrics to transparent and authentic channels to focus on real-time customer engagement.” @iSocialFanz” username=”toprank”]
You May Already Have a Goldmine of Testimonials
Many established B2B brands may already have a fantastic cache of glowing testimonials from clients, however because some firms don’t have any established practice for gathering, collecting, and most importantly utilizing them in marketing efforts, they remain mostly hidden.
Gathering existing reviews and testimonials can be a great way to get new insight into your most loyal customers, unearth any points of customer dissatisfaction, and to build new mechanisms for improving communication with your customers.
Client and customer kudos today comes from more channels than ever, which can make it challenging to gather and compile into a dedicated testimonials file. A list of only a few of the digital channels to search for possible existing testimonials includes:
Online Collaboration Tool Chat History
Private Social Media Posts
Public Social Media Posts
Mobile Device Text Message History
Whether it’s each quarter, weekly, or every day, taking the time to mine testimonials from each of the channels your firm user is a great way to unearth potentially powerful customer and client testimonials.
Tactfully encouraging clients to consider leaving a review or testimonial is a nuanced process best customized on a per-client basis, however there are also some universal methods to help guide a good strategy, such as those outlined in “14 Proven Ways to Encourage Customers to Write Reviews.”
[bctt tweet=”“Whether it’s each quarter, weekly, or every day, taking the time to mine testimonials from each of the channels your firm user is a great way to unearth potentially powerful customer and client testimonials.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis” username=”toprank”]
Testimonials & Reviews Increase Trust & Loyalty
Trust is paramount as B2B marketers seek to attract, engage, and convert new clients, and testimonials and reviews from satisfied existing customers are among the most powerful forms of messaging when it comes to earning the business of potential new clients.
It’s no secret that for many years study after study has shown that testimonials and reviews hold the power to build trust, and ultimately help persuade people to engage your company’s services.
When trust has been lost, however, some 82 percent said that they would not purchase again from the brand, highlighting the importance of building brand trust — something reviews and testimonials excel at.
Testimonials & Reviews Strengthen Existing Connections & Foster New Ones
Testimonials and reviews showcase the ability of your business to provide best-answer solutions so well that people take the time to personally write appreciative messages sharing their gratitude.
Testimonials and reviews also take good business partnerships and strengthen them, and help bring B2B relationships to new levels of commitment and trust.
62 percent of consumers leave positive reviews in order to help others in making buying decisions, while 52 percent say they leave negative reviews to warn others, as shown below.
The connections forged through testimonials and reviews makes the relationship between your business and your clients stronger, and also serve as an important and visible example for potential new clients who are looking for information about your company.
More firms are also making it easy for customers to leave video feedback, such as a method Airbnb has implemented that mimics the ease of use users have come to expect for sharing videos on YouTube or Instagram.
The video review format has led some customers to share lengthier and more precise feedback, which in turn allows businesses greater insight into their customers.
“Videos can be richly emotional — offering the real voice and face of the customer. That emotion, transmitted directly to front-line employees and leaders, often generates the sort of empathy that inspires and motivates thoughtful action,” Rob Markey has noted.
By making video reviews a simple and optional part of customer feedback surveys, brands can have the best of both traditional text-based input and — for those who choose — the advantages of video reviews.
“If they say yes, then we’ve incorporated a video widget into the survey where they can just turn the camera on on their phone or computer and leave a response,” Airbnb customer insights manager Raj Sivasubramanian has said.
“The customers that chose that option really embraced it. And we actually had a lot of customers tell us in the video, ‘This is really cool. I love the fact that I can do this,’” Sivasubramanian added.
[bctt tweet=”“Testimonials and reviews take good business partnerships and strengthen them, and help bring B2B relationships to new levels of commitment and trust.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis” username=”toprank”]
Recent survey data has also shown that 55 percent of consumers see the biggest red flag with reviews that use the same wording, while 35 percent view an overwhelming number of positive reviews to be indicative of inauthentic reviews, as shown below.
Testimonials & Reviews Are Evergreen
Most testimonials focus on the things that a client or customer loved about working with your team, and these are also largely the type of praise that isn’t particularly directed at a specific time, which makes testimonials excellent sources of evergreen content that can often remain relevant and convincing for years.
To help you along your path to building more powerful testimonials and reviews into your current strategy, or to begin implementing your first such plan, here are several additional recent resources that have been published:
Reinvigorate Your B2B Marketing Testimonial Strategy
We hope this introductory look at the power of client testimonials and customer reviews to help B2B brands boost trust and loyalty and strengthen connections has been helpful, and that the tips and statistics we’ve shared will help make your marketing testimonial strategy more robust and successful.
One of the exciting frontiers in Search Engine Optimization is A/B testing. Historically, most of the discourse around split-testing traffic has been for conversion rate optimization or testing ad copy, and it often leaves SEOs out of the fun!
Perhaps you’ve already heard of the idea from Distilled or Etsy’s very influential blog post on their testing practice. When I read Etsy’s post in 2016, I was very excited to start running my own tests. Finally -A way to isolate the impact of my SEO recommendations!
In this post, I’ll show you the process for implementing an SEO split test from start to finish, only using free tools.
Remember: We’re Not Doing CRO Testing
A/B testing for SEO is a bit different than what we would do for conversion rate optimization or user experience testing. We’re still presenting users with two different versions of our content to see which they prefer. In this case, we’re also trying to see what search engines prefer.
In short, our objective is to take a set of similar pages on our website, like product description pages or location pages for our stores, and split them into a control group and an experiment group. Then we’ll change an element on the experiment group pages, like a title tag or H1 template that we think users and search engines will like more, and let search engines index the pages. Finally, we’ll collect performance data on our two groups and see if our experiment group had measurably better performance than our control group.
The idea is similar to traditional CRO A/B testing, but we’re making the change over multiple pages using the same template instead of a single landing page.
Why You Might Not Find a Testing Tool
There are already a few SEO A/B testing tools entering the market, but they are far from complete solutions like a Google Optimize or an Optimizely in the CRO world.
In Winter 2019 I shopped for a tool to use for a few clients, and I’ve sat in on product demos and tested a few tools for myself. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.
Here are a few reasons the tools I looked at were disqualified:
Cost. Some testing tools might be too expensive for your budget. Distilled ODN is a fantastic tool that does a great many things very well, but you need to be an enterprise-level organization to afford it.
Measurement. Etsy and Distilled have popularized Google’s CausalImpact package to measure results, but many tools aren’t using this approach. RankScience does use a similar method to CausalImpact, and is a perfectly fine alternative.
URL Targeting. I was surprised by how many tools were unable to execute a test on a simple list of URLs. I found options to run a test on 50% of pages, as well as a user-defined percentage of pages, but that doesn’t give us much control. What if I want to use stratified sampling? Not possible.
All that being said, when it’s time for you to shop around for a split-testing tool, you might find a perfect fit based on your specific needs. Hopefully, in a few years, we will have a handful of companies that make SEO A/B testing a breeze to set up and measure.
We Can Do It Ourselves
For a long time in digital marketing, I’ve seen a type of magical thinking where if we buy a tool that does something we don’t know how to do, we’ll somehow be able to do it. That’s backward.
Tools are for making tasks we already understand easier. By taking a DIY approach to our split testing for SEO, we will become very knowledgeable about the testing process. Then we will have a better understanding of what available tools out there will actually make the process easier.
Executing a test has three major parts, and we already have the general-purpose tools for them:
Making changes on specific pages (Google Tag Manager)
Recording results (Google Analytics and Google Search Console)
Google Tag Manager has a few huge benefits that make it suitable for executing tests:
We can target specific pages for our experiment groups with the right triggers
We can make changes to pages without altering anything in our CMS
We can turn off tests without an engineering release
How to Design an SEO A/B Test
SEO testing is essentially the same as hypothesis testing in CRO, but with a couple of key differences. First, we’re not sampling users landing on one page, but rather two or more sets of pages. Second, we don’t get to use a statistical test like chi-squared or the two-sample t-test.
One of the biggest differences is that we’re comparing two time series and not comparing two averages.
The rest of the test design is similar to what you would expect if you’ve designed split tests for CRO:
Objective. We’re not performing tests for fun (although it is). A successful test should directly contribute to a KPI for a channel or team. “Increasing the amount of qualified organic traffic that lands on our location pages” is an acceptable objective.
Hypothesis. What change are we making to our pages, and how is it going to influence users and search engines to support our objective? Here’s a good example: “By changing the H1 template on our store pages to ‘Little Tony’s Pizza Delivery in <city>, <state>’, we will improve our relevance for pizza delivery keywords and let users know they are on the correct page for pizza delivery in their city. The improved relevance and user search experience will improve our rankings and increase our organic traffic as a result.”
Experiment Groups. We want a list of randomly-selected pages for our control and experiment pages, but we also want to make sure our random sample is representative. If the pages we want to test have subcategories or a property we want to make sure is evenly represented in our experiment group, then we should use stratified random sampling. If 30% of our product description pages are energy drinks, then 30% of our experiment group should also be energy drinks.
Duration. We should run our test long enough to collect data over a few weekly cycles and give Search Engines time to index our changes. I’ve seen Google take as long as two weeks to index a single page and as little as one week for a majority of pages in a test. That’s why I like to run tests for four to six weeks.
Primary Metric. We need a single metric to judge the outcome of our test. Usually, our tests are going to rely on organic users or sessions to determine performance. We want to influence rankings and click-through rates with our changes, but both of those contribute to how many people end up on our pages. If our test yields more users, then we can infer that rankings or CTR improved.
Secondary Metrics. Here is where we’re going to use rankings and click-through rate. Secondary metrics are for helping us trust the result we see in the primary metric. If our experiment group is receiving more traffic as we expected, are we also receiving more traffic from the keywords like we were expecting? Unexpected results here are going to have an impact on our conclusion.
An Immediately Invoked Function Expression (IIFE). It’s very difficult to know which variable and function names are already used by other scripts running on our pages. Immediately invoked function expressions limit the scope of our script so that we don’t accidentally overwrite any variables from another script.
Console messages. When we’re debugging our code, or just want to confirm that our test is working, sending console messages makes it easy for us to make sure things are executing the way we expect.
The code we would enter into Google Tag Manager would fit this template:
Google Tag Manager doesn’t come with jQuery, and we don’t need it. Changing title tags, meta descriptions, and H1 tags is pretty simple, and adding jQuery through GTM isn’t worth the trouble.
Firing Our Tag on Experiment Pages
Making a tag fire on a specific list of pages in Google Tag Manager is a little tricky. There isn’t a feature that allows us to paste a list of URLs to fire a tag on, so we’ll need to use some regular expressions.
Since we’re testing one section of our website, like product description pages, product listing pages, or location pages, each URL in the section should use the same format. We can exploit that similarity between our URLs with a regular expression that matches each URL in our experiment.
Suppose we’re testing product description pages, and their canonical URLs look like this:
The GTM trigger to fire a tag on only those pages would be this:
Suppose we also have 1,000 of these pages that we want to include in our experiment group. It’s not feasible to type out all that regex, so let’s use TEXTJOIN() in a Google Sheets formula to make this easy:
Your URLs are probably more complicated than this, so I recommend using a regular expression tool like Regex101 to hack on the expression until you get everything to match correctly.
A Magical Example
Suppose we are working on MTGStocks, a website that tracks price histories of individual Magic: The Gathering cards. They’re not a client of ours, but let’s pretend they are.
MTGStocks has first-page rankings for a lot of keywords like “lightning bolt price history” and “arclight phoenix price trend,” but they mostly rank toward the bottom of the first page. These are important keyword groups for them, but they are dominated by competitors like MTGGoldfish and TCGplayer.
This performance isn’t too surprising. At the moment, their title tags are pretty basic for their card price pages: “Lightning Bolt – MTG Stocks”. Plus, their card price pages have other problems, like no meta descriptions are defined or there is an empty link in the H2, and that H2 should be an H1. We’re going to ignore those and focus on title tags instead.
The most direct test we could run on their title tags is a simple keyword addition. If their titles appeared like “Lighting Bolt – Price History & Trend – MTGStocks” instead of “Lightning Bolt – MTG Stocks”, would they receive the performance boost we’re expecting from “price history” and “price trend” keywords?
The GTM configuration for this test is just like the previous examples. The code we need for the Custom HTML tag would be:
Since the URL structure of MTGStocks looks like https://www.mtgstocks.com/prints/47446, the regular expression for our trigger is pretty much the same, except we’ll need to fire the tag on DOM Ready instead of Page View because it’s an AngularJS app:
Analyzing Results With CausalImpact
Finally, we get to talk about CausalImpact and graphs we can create with it. It’s a causal inference approach invented by Google for estimating the impact of a change by comparing its data against the data generated by a counterfactual forecast.
In other words, CausalImpact uses mysterious bayesian statistics to forecast the traffic of our experiment pages as if we didn’t make a change, and then compares it against the actual traffic after we implement the change. Since we can’t have a true control group for our experiment, we’re fabricating one out of the set of pages we’re calling our control and the traffic we’ve collected from our experiment from before we implement the experimental change.
The mathematics involved in CausalImpact are complicated, and the folks at Distilled were gracious enough to create a tool for us to use that does the heavy lifting. To get the tool to work, we need to feed it 100 days of traffic from before the test begins through all of the traffic after for our control and experiment groups.
To get the data we want to feed into the tool, we need to pull unsampled data from Google Analytics in a spreadsheet, for the 100 days plus test duration.
Imagine we performed our example test on MTGStocks. The GA segment we would use to collect our experiment page traffic would look just like the regular expression we used in the GTM trigger:
We would also need a segment for the control pages, and we would have to create a regular expression just like the one for experiment pages, but for our list of control pages:
We’ll also need to limit the date range to make sure we’re only receiving unsampled data from Google Analytics. If we can’t get unsampled data from one day of traffic, then we’ll need to look to alternatives like Supermetrics or Big Query to get the data we need.
When we’re finished with that, we should have a table that looks like the Input Data tab of this Google Sheet:
Then we set the date in Distilled’s tool to the first date in our table, paste in our control and experiment time series data, and hit “forecast”:
After it finishes calculating, we’ll get a line chart with our experiment segment traffic and the forecast:
Next, we output the raw data of the chart by clicking the “Download CSV” button. The resulting file is formatted as a CSV, but there is no file extension. So before you open it in Excel or import it into Google Sheets, edit the filename and add “.csv” to the end to give it the typical CSV file extension.
When you open the CSV, you will get a table with five columns. But where are the cool graphs we always see in Distilled’s cool blog posts about SEO A/B testing? We have to make them ourselves.
Here’s the Google Sheet of example data with the formulas and graphs already made:
To see how our actual traffic performed against the forecast, we can just plot the two “original” and “predicted” columns in the export CSV:
Generally, we aren’t going to use the performance comparison graph to tell us if the test was successful. What we need is the cumulative difference graph to see if our experiment consistently performed better than the forecast:
We can see in the hypothetical MTGStocks example that although there is some jaggedness, the pages with the adjusted title tags consistently performed better than what we were expecting if we didn’t change the titles.
Statistical Significance is Tricky
So how do we trust the data we’re receiving from CasualImpact is the result of our experimental change and not random noise? In A/B testing for conversion rate optimization, we typically use the chi-squared test with a p-value of 0.05. Or in other words, if the null hypothesis is true, we should see our observed data 1 -0.05 = 95% of the time. Our test is positive when our observed data is outside of that 95% interval.
The output data we received from Distilled’s CausalImpact tool has a p-value of 0.05 built in; we just need to graph it.
Remember the 4th and 5th columns in the output data “predicted_lower” and “predicted_upper”? CausalImpact calculated these upper and lower bounds with a p-value of 0.05 to make the upper and lower bounds of the forecast.
If our experiment is statistically significant, we should see our observed traffic turn out to be higher than the upper bound of the forecast the majority of the time. If we do, we’ll have both a positive cumulative difference curve and a positive cumulative difference between our observed data and the upper bound of the forecast.
In other words, when we visually inspect our cumulative difference graph, all three curves should be above the y=0 line at the end of the graph to have statistical significance.
Corroborating Our Data
What if our cumulative difference is positive, but we’re not statistically significant? Should we make the change or not? This will frequently happen if the effect of our experiment is positive, but the effect isn’t big enough to reach confidence.
The decision to implement the change is a judgment call. If you can also detect improved rankings and keyword clicks in Google Search Console, then you very likely have a real positive improvement with the experiment. This isn’t rigorous hypothesis testing, but we’re already putting far more rigor into this decision than usual for SEO.
When to Pay for a Split-Testing Tool
Like I said earlier in this post, tools are for making tasks we already understand easier. If you’ve attempted DIY A/B tests and find the setup and executing time too demanding, then it’s a good time to get a tool. If you’re trying to run a test over too many pages for Google Tag Manager to handle, then you definitely need to get a tool.
Hopefully, in the future, we’ll have the kind of maturity in our SEO split-testing tools that we see in Google Optimize, Optimizely, and VWO. Features like user-friendly WYSIWYG editors and intuitive confidence graphs make split testing for CRO a lot more accessible, and I can’t wait to see them in SEO testing tools.
In these unconventional times, many work teams are grappling with an unconventional dynamic: fully distributed personnel and remote collaboration. This setup presents a number of challenges, but thankfully we live in a time where technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected and tightly aligned on our work.
For B2B agencies like TopRank Marketing, this has always been a point of emphasis. In servicing clients from around the globe, we’re accustomed to communicating across distances, borders, and time zones. We occasionally have our own team members work from home, and in fact, we have a few who do so full-time.
While having everyone in the organization work remotely is uncharted territory for us, our built-in comfort with digital collaboration gives us a head-start, and has allowed us to hit the ground running with minimal disruption to our programs and workflows.
To help other remote teams that might be trying to find the right rhythm and maximize their collective productivity, I thought I’d share a few practices and discoveries that are helping us stay close virtually, even as the circumstances of life push us apart.
How Team TopRank Maintains Tight Collaboration Remotely
Tailor Your Toolset to Your Team
As mentioned, there is a wide range of different tools and software available to power remote collaboration. Some of the common mainstays, like Slack* and Zoom, need no introduction. There are plenty of others out there with specific capabilities that might be suited to your team’s needs. Here’s a list from ProofHub arranged into several different functional categories.
Above all, I encourage business leaders to solicit input and feedback in making these selections. The biggest key is identifying tools that people actually like using. Review the usage rates for your existing tech stack. If certain software isn’t being uniformly engaged with, or is surfacing a lot of frustration, there’s no better time to step back and reevaluate.
Unsolicited plugs for a couple of our clients, whose offerings can be very useful at a time like this:
Sococo provides a “virtual office” platform that recreates the dynamic of happenstance workplace encounters and productive chats at the water cooler.
monday.com is a highly visual and intuitive work operating system, which employees tend to really enjoy using. As mentioned, that’s critical.
[bctt tweet=”“Review the usage rates for your existing tech stack. If certain software isn’t being uniformly engaged with, or is surfacing a lot of frustration, there’s no better time to step back and reevaluate.” @NickNelsonMN” username=”toprank”]
Focus on Details and Documentation
Not only is it important that your tools get used, but right now it’s vital they get used to the fullest. At TopRank, our work runs through a project management system, and I’ve noticed teammates making concerted efforts to attach client docs, source materials, and comprehensive information into the tasks themselves. As a content writer, it makes a big difference when I can find everything I need in one place, because it’s no longer as simple as walking to an account manager’s desk 10 feet away to ask a question.
Jump on the Phone Post-Meeting
While technology makes it easier to communicate and collaborate from afar, there are certain subtleties and productive habits that can be overlooked in the transition. As one example, when teammates and I hold a client meeting in the office, we’ll almost always stay in the room to debrief afterward, discussing takeaways and next steps.
One way we’ve replicated this action remotely is by using the Slack Call functionality, which enables you to quickly spark an impromptu conference call straight out of the Slack app. Since we already have our client teams arranged into channels on Slack, all it takes is one click to get all relevant parties on the line for a quick post-meeting rundown.
Rely On One Another for Knowledge-Sharing and News Updates
If you find yourself constantly distracted by scanning headlines and refreshing your preferred news websites, you are not alone. Being in the midst of an ongoing global health crisis adds a unique disruption factor to the situation at hand.
One way we’ve countered this at TopRank is by creating a #covid-news channel in Slack, where teammates can share updates they come across about the pandemic and its ripples that might impact our lives, our clients, or the business world at large. Knowing that I’ll get a notification whenever something new gets posted on that channel makes it easier for me to unplug from the Google News feed and stay focused on my work.
Get Faces On-Screen
It’s easy enough to hold conference calls when people are working remotely, but I highly recommend using apps like Zoom and Google Hangouts with video-conferencing capabilities, and urging everyone on the team to turn on their cameras. Seeing the faces of my coworkers really helps diminish feelings of isolation and disconnection that can be inherent in a scenario such as this.
Don’t Forget About Team-Building and Socialization
I’ve talked a lot here about ways we stay centered on our work, and that’s of course very important. But don’t let recreational team experiences fall by the wayside. Strengthening the overall cohesiveness of your various people through bonding exercises is maybe more essential than ever.
Virtual happy hours are gaining a lot of popularity as a way for folks to ramp down and relax together after working all day. Consider also scheduling some fun and leisurely team activities during work hours here and there. There are plenty of games that can be played remotely while creating a feeling of togetherness. I recommend the Jackbox Party Pack series, which features all sorts of fun mini-games and allows everyone to participate from their own device. Our team delved into a round of Quiplash during a recent Friday meeting, and we all enjoyed several laughs while getting a chance to appreciate the creativity and cleverness our colleagues bring to the table.
Go the Distance with Remote Collaboration
It’s all too natural to get caught up in the stress, anxiety, and overall downside of what’s taking place in the world right now. Because of this, I find myself striving to find positives and silver linings. They really do exist. If we can all find ways to stay connected and collaborative during these challenging times, I know we’ll be able work together — with clients, colleagues, and peers — more effectively than ever once things return to a state of normalcy. We might even find ourselves with a few newfound efficiencies that stick.
TopRank Marketing’s Social & Content Manager, Lane R. Ellis, is one of the aforementioned agency team members who works remote full-time, hailing from the northern reaches of Minnesota. He shared with me this sentiment that, I think, encapsulates the upside of a tough situation:
“I think if we’re open to it, our shared pandemic experience offers up a sizable opportunity in our lives — to reflect on what is truly important to us and how we work, to make positive changes that may until now have been perennially postponed, and to grow both our capabilities and our compassion in business and in personal life. It’s also a time to listen, and to be especially sensitive to your professional associates, your business teammates, and most of all to your family and friends.”
While uncertainty can be distraction, now is a time for focus in the B2B marketing world. Beyond figuring out the new logistics and operations of remote work, paused marketing efforts and the urgent need to keep employees, customers and community safe and healthy, there’s still a need for marketing. In fact, the areas of focus below are relevant in any time but are worth considering over the coming weeks and months.
Align content strategy with the entire marketing funnel.
Successful business marketers are doing more than ever to understand the customer journey and realize that in today’s environment, buyers are pulling themselves through 60-80% of the funnel with information they find on their own before ever contacting a vendor. Without real-world events and interactions, the current focus on digital engagement pushes that percentage even higher.
During that self directed information gathering process, marketers have an opportunity to create content experiences that engages with prospects and earns their trust. Providing what we call best answer content to questions buyers have at each stage of the funnel builds a connection early and can last all the way to the decision making stage.
B2B marketing likes acronyms so here are a few that represent how B2B companies are focusing on each buyer stage:
TOFU – Top of funnel content emphasizes broad topics, empathy with understanding the problem and building credibility
MOFU – Middle of funnel content helps provide answers to more practical questions about how solutions can solve the problem specifically for a company in a given industry. Case studies and testimonials build confidence in the solution.
BOFU – Bottom of funnel content provides even more specific information about implementation, support, costs and gives evidence of success. Scoping tools and calculators are helpful for prospects to scope the solution.
With a shift from demand gen to branding during COVID-19, lead gen is still needed, but how?
In a time when push marketing and advertising can be seen as tone-deaf and opportunistic, pull marketing methods like SEO enables B2B brands to attract customers on their own terms. While building brand credibility through thought leadership is very different than most SEO efforts, prominent search visibility adds credibility to a brand, especially for category level search topics.
Branding content should focus on articulating the unique value of the business and build credibility with support from internal and industry experts, industry media and credible content like research. Brand content can and should also be optimized for search visibility.
There are many specialist articles on SEO and experts who can help with this (including TopRank Marketing), but at a high level, B2B content marketers can optimize for better organic search visibility through a mix of technical optimization (page speed, markup and structured data, mobile friendly, etc), on page content quality and ability to engage, as well as 3rd party references to brand content. Check out this video from Moz’s Britney Muller for where to focus on SEO in 2020.
B2B Needs to Learn Communication Lessons from B2C
You may be familiar with the expression that the B’s in B2B are people too. That means empathizing with business buyers as people, not just as corporations can result in content that is more consumer friendly, yet topically relevant for business.
Over the past few years there’s been a trend in the consumerization of business software where business users expect a consumer like experience when using enterprise software. That same set of expectations is showing up for business solution buyers and the content experiences that B2B marketers create to attract and engage them.
An example would be an unboxing video featuring a commercial class server that is done somewhat in the style of consumer electronics unboxing videos which get incredible traffic. A 4 hour server unboxing and configuration video in the style of the latest iphone unboxing my not appeal to a consumer, but the details, questions and actual example is very appealing to those in the market to purchase that kind of hardware. Plus it can be infotaining.
Take a look at top consumer video channels from influencers and brands alike for inspiration to create more entertaining, yet informative content for B2B audiences.
Creating experiential content is a key differentiator for B2B brands and podcasts are a great place to start.
Podcasts are hot and the reason is, they are a format that is easy for customers to subscribe to and consume during their commutes or even listen to during work. Well-done podcasts can feel like a one to one communication and build a connection with the audience in a way that text does not.
In the current environment without real world conferences, alternative formats like virtual events, webinars, video livestreaming and podcasts can serve as an effective format to deliver useful content in a way that feels personal.
Ultimately, a focus on the customer will drive the relevant areas of focus for B2B marketers. That opportunity for focus is true whether it means full funnel alignment with content strategy, creating more engaging content experiences like video or audio, or optimizing brand and lead gen content for questions buyers want answered vs. pushing tone-deaf brand messages.
Being an advocate for my client is the starting point for what I do here at Portent. Sure, how I serve a client is probably formalized in some boilerplate paragraph in an SOW and quantified in an SLA. But that’s something for two legal teams to be happy with. For me, advocacy is striving to drive business for a client, ultimately becoming an integral part of their team. I relish building that relationship.
However, I also need to be an advocate for my internal team. I want my strategists to feel supported, like they are being set up for success, so they can have fun delivering on our promised goals. Achieving this balance, however, requires understanding what drives business impact for your client, and making sure your internal team feels empowered to apply their expertise to client goals.
In this post, I’ll share some successful account management strategies that keep both your client and team needs in mind.
1. Get to Know Each Other
The best way to start a business relationship off on the right foot is with mutual understanding. It’s important that you learn your client’s needs, pain points, and goals so you can build your strategy accordingly. It’s just as critical that your client is familiar with your internal team, their expertise, and how they will work together to execute on that strategy.
During a kickoff or onboarding call, It’s always a good idea to discuss why you’re all meeting for the first time. This is a good opportunity to dig into the initial sales process: Why were you hired? What is the customer promise here? From there, it’s time to discuss how everyone delivers on that promise.
Understanding Your Client
I’ve worked in some very disparate product verticals. Even if my team and I marketed a similar product before, it’s still wise to ask your client about their teams, products, and processes. During your kick-off meetings, inquire to see if you can get introduced to the heads of the other teams you might not interact with regularly (e.g., product managers, content creators, sales managers) who can provide valuable perspective on the business and impact of marketing campaigns.
If you’re working with the marketing team and your KPIs are MQLs, perhaps request a call with the sales team to understand how they define an SQL. That way, you know what the downstream/down funnel effects of your work are, and how to set expectations across teams. Get to know the product team, too, so you have insights into what’s important in their world. Understanding what a company believes about its products and features can only help as you prepare to market it to potential customers.
Of course, before you can go to market, you need to define those KPIs. In a world of BI, data visualizations, and enough metrics to drown in, coming to an agreement with your client on the most important data points to focus on will set a strong foundation for your relationship and ongoing collaboration. And with KPIs in hand, you can begin formulating your strategy.
Introduce Your Team, Company, and Philosophy
At Portent, we have a set of defined values (which we self-review on) and a marketing stack that defines how we approach our work. These are the foundation for guiding our ongoing client relationships, and we share this information with clients right off the bat.
This introduction provides a basic understanding of our approach to digital marketing and provides a benchmark to revisit throughout a client engagement to reinforce why we may recommend specific channels and pivots in strategy. It sets our entire team up for successful conversations with the client in the months ahead.
2. Set Expectations!
This one is pretty straightforward. Once your client contacts have told you all about their business, you should certainly let them know how your company works most efficiently. The best relationships are based on understanding and trust. So if you’re upfront with a client on when and how you will communicate, you’re setting yourself and your team members up for success. However, it’s a two-way street here. A frank discussion on how you can meld the rhythms of two companies early on will pay dividends later.
3. Proactively Communicate
As I just noted, if you’re proactive in setting communication expectations with your client, you’ll be better for it. Start with talking through what your SLA is for getting a response out to a client touchpoint. Is it four hours? Eight hours? A day?
More often than not, my team responds pretty quickly to client requests. However, I’ll always reach out to PPC, paid social, SEO, and content specialists to confirm when they will be available to respond to a client question or request. From there, one of us can reach back out, letting the client know when we’ll have an answer for them.
Talk to your client about expectations when an emergency happens. You should know what your internal team can do in these situations to ensure that the client’s expectations are realistic. If there’s a gap, be sure to find a way to bring both sides to a resolution. When an emergency does arise, it’s on the account manager to determine what work may need to be waylaid as this unexpected task gets prioritized and to communicate about any changes with the team and the client.
Empower Your Strategists
As an account manager, I strive to empower my strategists to answer questions as they come in without checking with me first. At Portent, we pride ourselves on hiring superior communicators; once that initial rapport has been established, individual strategists are encouraged to respond directly to client requests. This builds confidence and strengthens the relationship between the client and our marketing team.
Do You Speak Client?
Your client has a language all their own. To you, a sales qualified lead might be a form fill or a phone call. Your client, on the other hand, may have specific metrics they use. As an example, a customer phone call may only be valid to them if the call duration is over 60 seconds. When you do get confirmation from the client that they’re only interested in that subset, be sure that you’re not wasting their time and your credibility reporting on unnecessary metrics.
This holds true for your custom reporting dashboards as well. Sure, you’ve got a killer template that you can base your reporting on. However, it really should be tailored to the KPIs they gave you previously. And if they didn’t give you any? Then it’s time to dig in again to see what’s important to their business. You have the data and can likely find a few points that should clearly illustrate the health of their marketing channels.
Learning your client’s language, and adapting your communication style accordingly will help build trust in both your communication and your strategy.
4. Connect the Dots
As mentioned above, let’s say your client is interested in calls originating from their website that were greater than 60 seconds in duration. Let’s also assume that you’re running paid search to this site that features call tracking.
You should be able to tell a story for both the client and your internal marketing specialists that starts at the top of the funnel with impressions, or at the very least clicks to their site. You will likely talk about how your costs per are affecting site visits. From there, you can transition to speaking in greater detail about clicks to the site. What’s the conversion rate of their page? How many calls have your efforts generated? What’s the cost per call, and what’s the ROI (if you know the average revenue per sale)? All of these items are important when telling the story of the primary KPI!
Obviously, connecting the dots should be tied to what’s important to the client. But there’s another side to this coin. During your reporting or check-in calls, be sure to call out all of the work your team is doing to move these KPIs in the right direction: A fun conversation to have!
Managing KPIs: Win, Lose, or Pivot
What if key metrics aren’t moving in the direction you wanted or at the velocity you envisioned? Then it’s time to revisit the work you’re doing and take a look at your implementation recommendations. From there, you can collaborate with the channel specialists to frame the conversation and next steps with your client.
Are you solely responsible for fulfillment of the work? If so, let them know what you did, where it ties into the marketing stack, and the expected outcomes. If you fell short or failed to execute on time, explain why that may have happened.
Does your work involve client input or involvement? If this is the case, regularly thank them for their help. At Portent, we understand that our clients have their own work in addition to approving and executing digital marketing recommendations. When things are going great, we make sure the client is getting credit for all of the help they provided us.
When things get delayed or held up on their end, however, it’s time for a different conversation. We’re all accountable to someone. As a vendor, we’re accountable for the work and to the client. Our client contacts are responsible for ensuring our internal team has what we need to continue to work toward our goals.
If you’re not getting it, it’s on you to find a way to ensure you do… or to pivot. Regardless, be sure to document your decision(s) with the right people. This includes detailing what the impact you foresee will be. If a particular part of the marketing stack will be affected, call this out, as well as where you may potentially alter your strategy. This transparency and straightforward information will not only protect your internal team and reinforce their expertise, but provide the data needed to make a decision and move forward. Once you have agreed on next steps, it’s full steam ahead!
It’s About Building Trust
As you work through your campaigns, be sure to circle back and take time to see how it went. Perhaps it’s a simple retrospective. What worked? What didn’t? Maybe you can run a full quarterly business review to talk through your wins, challenges, and opportunities. Not every campaign is going to be a winner, but win or lose, there’s some valuable insight to be shared. Agree with your client and team on what you learned and how you’ll incorporate changes into the next campaign.
If you, your team, and your client can all respect the work to be done, and the impact that being open and honest can have, then you have a strong foundation for building and evolving a marketing program.
LinkedIn rolls out Conversation Ads, aimed at improving personalization in messaging
LinkedIn has begun launching its new Conversation Ads, with real-time engagement ad options that include multiple calls-to-action. Conversation Ads are rolling out to all LinkedIn (client) advertisers over the next several weeks, the firm recently announced. Marketing Land
Social Media Consumption Grows Amid Coronavirus
Social media usage has sharply increased in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain Instagram #ad campaign post likes have seen an increase of up to 76 percent during the past two weeks, as the majority of workers have shifted to temporary remote work. AList
CX in B2B Marketing: Top-of-Mind Strategy in 2020
54 percent of B2B marketers say their organizations are focusing most on customer experience and loyalty in their marketing efforts, according to newly-released report data examining global B2B customer experience priorities. MarketingProfs
Coronavirus: Emarketer lowers global ad spend projections for 2020
Worldwide ad spending will decrease due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a previously expected $712 billion total being revised to $691 billion for 2020, a 3 percent decrease, according to newly-released forecast data, with many expecting even sharper forthcoming ad spend decreases. Marketing Land
B2B Senior Marketer Survey: The Most Effective Approaches for 2020 [Infographic]
LinkedIn (client) is tops among senior B2B marketers for nurturing leads, with some 84 percent saying the Microsoft-owned platform is the most effective social media channel, followed by Facebook at 43 percent and YouTube at 25 percent, according to recently-released survey data of interest to B2B marketers. MarketingProfs
Facebook Warns of Ad Approval Delays Amid Staff Changes Due to COVID-19 Impacts
Facebook was among the first social media platform to announce that the COVID-19 pandemic would affect how it reviews and approves certain content including ads, with a full slate of Facebook monetized content options being impacted. Social Media Today
Sales And Marketing Are Misaligned As Email Lags In B2B Nurture Mix: Study
While some 64 percent of marketing teams said that their organizations use account based marketing (ABM) for at least half of their marketing, 90 percent consider it challenging to successfully use it across multiple channels including sales — two of several findings of interest to digital marketers in recently-released survey data. MediaPost
Instagram’s Testing the Capability to Add Hashtags and Location to Stories Highlights
Marketers may soon be able to add location information and up to four hashtags to the Highlights option of Instagram Stories, which stay active beyond the usual 24-hour active period, according to recent test observations — changes that could eventually bring an array of new targeting options to digital marketers’ toolkits. Social Media Today
Amazon could win big in the post-coronavirus retail economy
Marketers may swivel more ad dollars to Amazon, which has seen sizable demand increases in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The firm announced that it was hiring more than 100,000 new workers, and a jump in ad revenue also appeared likely as some marketers have shifted more spend to the e-commerce giant. Marketing Land
Data Hub: Coronavirus and Marketing
28 percent of industrial marketers plan to shift marketing budgets from trade shows cancelled due to COVID-19 to digital advertising instead, while 14 percent will allot that spending to content marketing — one of several statistics of interest to digital marketers contained in newly-released report data from MarketingCharts. MarketingCharts
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE:
A lighthearted look at how not to communicate right now by Marketoonist Tom Fishburne — Marketoonist
Diabolical Mailing List Admin Twirling Mustache and Cackling at Dead “Unsubscribe” Link — The Hard Times
TOPRANK MARKETING & CLIENTS IN THE NEWS:
SAP, Dell Technologies — 3 Tips For B2B Marketers When Your Big Trade Show Is Cancelled Due To Coronavirus — Forbes
Thank you for taking the time to join us, and please return again next Friday for a new selection of the most relevant B2B and digital marketing industry news. In the meantime, you can follow us at @toprank on Twitter for even more timely daily news. Also, don’t miss the full video summary on our TopRank Marketing TV YouTube Channel.
Is it a creative theme that catches your attention? Is it the insightful expertise featured within? Is it the number of leads it produced?
Answer: it’s all of those things and more. Great B2B marketing campaigns have great ideas and great execution.
But great execution is hard to achieve. It demands excellent resourcing, swift approvals, streamlined processes, and more. And as you may have noticed, these aren’t marketing functions. They’re operational functions.
For your B2B marketing campaigns to truly be successful, you need someone leading the operational side of things. You need marketing operations.
What Is Marketing Operations?
According to MarketingProfs, marketing operations is “an emerging discipline that increases efficiency and drives consistent results in marketing-focused organizations. It builds a foundation for excellence by reinforcing marketing strategy with metrics, infrastructure, business processes, best practices, budgeting and reporting.”
Our translation? Marketing operations is the act of creating and enforcing processes, regularly assessing scope, allocating team resources, and introducing new martech tools to increase team efficiency and campaign results. It is the umbrella under which B2B marketing campaigns become more efficient and effective.
[bctt tweet=”“For your B2B marketing campaigns to truly be successful, you need someone leading the operational side of things. You need marketing operations.” @annieleuman” username=”toprank”]
Why Do You Need Marketing Operations?
Marketing Operations Increases Efficiency
From martech tools to processes to best practices, there are a handful of ways B2B marketing teams can improve efficiency. However, the owner of those responsibilities is often unclear. Instead, teams tend to divide and conquer. One person is responsible for campaign best practices, another owns martech, and a third might own business processes. Or worse, no owner has been set. As you may have guessed, this is an inefficient way to battle inefficiencies.
An efficient way to correct course is to set ownership of those responsibilities to a marketing operations role or department. This is a more focused approach that makes accountability clear. Plus, with increasing efficiency as a primary responsibility of marketing operations, instead of a secondary one, you can be certain that efficiency is a priority, not a nice-to-have.
There’s a process for everything. For communicating internally or externally. For creating a social image. For drafting a blog post. How many of your processes are documented? How many of them are followed step by step? With so many processes to juggle in B2B marketing, it’s understandable that not every process is going to have 100% adoption.
That changes with marketing operations woven into your organization.
As a function that is dedicated to making sure processes are defined, documented, followed, and iterated on, marketing teams have increased clarity into what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and who is responsible. This enables your team to move at faster speeds with confidence that the best, most optimized process is being followed.
Marketing Operations Enables Scalability
Take a look across your past marketing campaigns. Are they consistently executed upon? Or does each campaign have slight deviations from the norm? Save that mental picture. Now, imagine what happens to your consistency when you topple on another 10 to 20 campaigns or projects. It could get chaotic.
But if you can do it once, you can do it a thousand times.
Marketing operations allows your organization to quickly scale across campaigns and projects. With proven, documented approaches to each project and campaign type, your team can quickly kick off and launch their campaigns. Marketing operations does this by consistently assessing campaign scope, performance, and lift and using those findings to create the optimal campaign or project.
[bctt tweet=”“Marketing operations allows your organization to quickly scale across campaigns and projects. With proven, documented approaches to each project and campaign type, your team can quickly kick off and launch their campaigns.” @annieleuman” username=”toprank”]
Marketing Operations Optimizes Campaigns
Optimization is nothing new to a marketer.
From on page content and SEO to social images and digital advertising campaigns, there’s always something to optimize in the realm of marketing. But what about the campaigns themselves? Are you optimizing your workflows? And what about your scopes?
Part of the marketing operations role is to track and analyze marketing campaign budgets, burn rate, workflows, and results to find opportunities for optimization. Powered with this information, they can then optimize campaign structure, resources, and scope for maximum impact in minimal time. The end result is a campaign or project that drives great results, reduces costs, and increases profits. Talk about a big benefit.
B2B marketing greatness requires both creative ideas and efficient execution. Do your B2B marketing campaigns have both?
Marketing operations leads to better campaigns, better workflows, and, ultimately, better results. If you’re lacking great execution that is timely, transparent, and repeatable, you need to make marketing operations a priority within your organization. Ensure there is someone at the helm of process management, martech tools, and resourcing, and your marketing machine will run better than ever.