Are You a Little Channel Dependent?

Google Caffeine Update

In August 2009 it was reported that Webjet was cutting back on its paid search activity and was getting out of affiliate marketing because of its reliance on the channels. And whilst Webjet feels that its decision is also partly because of its brand maturity, I think this highlights an important consideration for brands in the online space – Is your online strategy too dependent on one online channel?

Google Caffeine UpdateChannel dependence is an issue that any online business should consider the ramifications of. Whilst Webjet has realised the potential issues before there have been serious consequences, other businesses have not been so lucky. A few years ago I stepped into an organisation operating in the classifieds sector that had a strong reliance on email marketing, so much so that it delivered 70% of their conversions. And tried as I might to change their mindset on singular channel reliance the powers at be were not bought in to increasing marketing spend to diversify. Only then, when site content dipped dramatically (which was the sole driver of the email program), did the organisation sit up and take note. The net effect resulted in a decline in site conversion of 30% in a 1 month period. Ouch!

And it seems in the world of the Google Behemoth that many businesses could be exposed to a similar issue. In a recent article in the Brisbane Times, Melbourne-based website publisher Joey Lee, who runs more than 15 websites, highlighted the impact a Google change had on his business in 2003. Mr Lee said “In 2003, with Google’s ‘Florida Update’ [a surprise new algorithm that dramatically changed search results and site listings] my traffic and revenue dropped 40 per cent.” So with a big Google update looming – Google Caffeine – could your online strategy be overexposed to organic search? Or with paid search inflation at spiralling out of control, can you business continue to compete in 12 months time?

The message here online marketers is simple. Whilst some online channels may appear to be more cost effective than others – consider the risks and costs associated with channel dependence, and channel proof your online strategy before your dealt a serious blow.

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Playing a Little Defence On The SEO Court

Google Spam Report, Defensive SEO

When developing and refining a search strategy, many SEOs focus on how to aggressively improve one’s own site rankings. But what many fail to do is consider playing defence when competitors are climbing the rankings at a rapid rate.

After managing the marketing function for a job site in what is considered a very competitive industry in the UK, I realised that it is rarely enough to rely on playing a purely offensive game because you may not get ahead if the other team is not playing by the rules.

And whilst the early days of SEO was rife with black hat SEO, it seems there are still many out there prepared to play the dangerous game of cat and mouse with Google to get ahead.

For those who therefore want to play a little “d” as part of their SEO strategy it is important to analyse the competitor sets strategies, to identify the more unsavoury tactics that may be deployed to outrank your site.

Here I will share 3 techniques that I have seen deployed by 3 different competitors that were in my competitive set.

Google Can Find Your Hidden text1. Hidden Text

This technique has been around for a long time but it still props up in various forms. In this particular instance the competing site hid text within the page making it invisible to the naked eye. However if you happened to click on a particular part of the page, the page would extend and the SEO copy would suddenly be revealed.

How can you spot it?

Compare content in the back end code with that on pages within a site. If the content is not visible on the site it could be hidden through the use of white text or by using a similar technique to the one that I have described above.

2. Excessive Link Buying;

Another prominent competitor in the space was engaging in excessive link buying to build artificial rank. Since 2008 Google has frowned upon the use of such a technique given its ease to build PageRank.

How to spot it?

Excessive link building is usually simplified through the use of a link broker. As a result the offending links usually adopt a similar format. Start by reviewing competitor sites utilising Yahoo Site Explorer. Look for links that appear on irrelevant or spammy sites. In addition look at how links appear on sites – are they in a similar format with the same anchor text and are there many of them?

3. Bogus Domains

Yet another competitor was using a technique whereby they registered a large number of domains to create bogus landing pages which were then hosted on different servers. These pages were created to target specific keywords and were used to point towards a master domain to make the site look popular by Google’s standards.

How to spot it?

This one can be a little more difficult to identify. Look for patterns in the types of domains pointing to the site, are they similar in nature? Are the pages just simple landing pages like doorway pages that link through to the master site? Do they provide the user with any value or do they simply look to be set up for the purpose of rankings?

Google Spam Report, Defensive SEOWhat to do about it?

The most important part to a defensive SEO strategy is to report an offending site to Google. Submit your case via the Google SPAM report form and Google will then review it which can lead to downgrading a sites PageRank, impact rankings or if severe can result in Google blacklisting the offending site from the SERPs.

Have you found a competing site that you think might not be playing by the rules? If so please email me at marketing@digitalmarketinglab.com.au and I would be happy to look at it for you.

 

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The Long & Short of It – Paid Search That Is

Google Adwords

Over the past few weeks there has been a floury of industry talk surrounding AdWords including Google’s immediate and long term plans. Now a staple part of the digital strategy diet – AdWords it seems that despite its success Google is continuing its innovation assault on paid search to keep buzz going and to give us new and exciting opportunities in the short, medium and long term.

So what are they are what is the verdict?

Short Term

Google opportunities is a new tab which has been beta tested in the US and is now being rolled out to Australia and the UK as the next stage of testing. The tool provides advertisers with additional ideas for keywords that could be targeting complete with search volumes., as well as budget suggestions.

Verdict?

I have taken it for a little test drive and I would have to say this hasn’t rocked my paid search world. The tool provides similar functionality to the old campaign optimiser tool however is a little less labour intensive providing suggestions for an entire campaign rather having to optimise each ad group one at a time. In addition it demonstrates how many additional clicks you could achieve if you increased your budget to a certain level. The big difference however is that this tool has a prominent position in the main navigation which provides Google with more opportunity to recommend campaign changes to increase advertiser spend. On a more positive note however I am led to believe that this is just the start of a larger set of new tools that will help advertisers streamline campaign management.

Google AdwordsMedium Term

Google knew the opportunity that video presented before many of us. Their purchase of YouTube and introduction of universal search demonstrated that Google was able to foresee how big the video opportunity would be and now they are taking it one step further. In the US Google is currently beta testing video ads in AdWords search results for the entertainment sector. The new AdWords feature remains in closed beta however Google intentions are clear.

Verdict?

This is definitely a good move for Google. The online advertising industry is far more dynamic than it was 5 years ago and Google knows it must move with the times and offer more interactive inventory to its standard search results . If organic search provides blended formats – why shouldn’t paid search? In addition as the next stage of the online advertising industry will be social advertising (whereby users can share advertising messages with friends) Google needs to provide more interactive ad units that will entice users to engage in such an activity. This is definitely just the beginning and I believe there will be a lot of innovation by Google in this area in the next 12 months.

Long Term

At a recent conference in the US, discussion focused on the long term possibilities of paid search. It is believed that eventually we will see a move away from a model of keyword targeting to a model whereby advertisers provide Google with a summary of product or service offering, pricing and product descriptions and it will do the rest. Whilst this is very early days, possibly at least 5 years away, such conclusions come at a time where keyword portfolio’s have been shown to be continually expanding from changes in search behaviour, making the optimisation process even more arduous. Thus Google knows to stay competitive it must make ease of use simpler for advertisers.

Verdict?

In principle something has to change as keyword portfolio management is becoming increasingly difficult. Obviously however until semantic search becomes a reality such a concept is not feasible. One thing though is for sure, given the rapid pace of digital, there is no doubt that in 5 years time paid search will take on a completely different form to maintain relevance in this dynamic space.
What do you think about the latest Google paid search innovations? Would like to know your thought.

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A Social Step Up For Customer Service In Oz

Twitter Strategy

For years marketers have debated the positive and negative impact word of mouth can have on a brand. Negative customer experiences and word of mouth offline has always been a concern, but fast forward to today’s day and age and very quickly a negative customer experience projected through social media channels can cause a PR disaster.
Unlike offline negative word of mouth a poor customer experience captured online is;
• Real Time – Customers do not have time to reassess the situation, venting their frustrations immediately without further thought
• A Digital Footprint – A bad customer service experience is retained online for others to view for years to come
• More Widespread – It is largely believed that consumers tell 7 or 8 people about a bad experience – but online such a broadcast could be cast to hundreds of contacts.

However despite all the draw backs, one of the big benefits of social media is that organisations can identify unsatisfied customer experiences and nip them in the bud. And if dealt with effectively these consumers may radiate their positive experience to their wider online network.
Thus as social media usage has exploded in Australia, some Australian organisations have taken the brave step into the social media customer service space. So whose doing it and what can we learn from some of the social media customer service case studies in Australia?

PANASONIC

Just last month, Panasonic Australia launched support services through both Twitter and Facebook to enable customers to log queries related to products such as Viera televisions and the new Limax Life camera.

 

Panasonic Twitter Strategy

Their approach

Through social platforms, Panasonic has been able to launch its new camera Lumix to enthusiasts and have proactively offered support, to new Lumix customers, which from a customer service perspective is quite forward thinking. In addition Panasonic have made it clear that their strategy will not just focus on one channel but rather support consumers across some of the most popular social media platforms in Australia . However how can Panasonic improve their customer service offering through social media?

The Facebook presence seems to be largely unattended to by its customer service staff. Whilst only a few customers have requested assistance, it seems their questions have either been answered via a direct message to the user or not at all. In the customer service sector obviously delivery is key so this is an important consideration for Panasonic.
In addition Panasonic could consider promoting their new customer service options via their site to encourage more consumers to ask questions because at this stage the service is experiencing some demand but not high volume of take up. Whilst a strategy of inviting more people into the social space to raise their customer service questions or complaints could be risky – it will enable Panasonic to meet changing customer needs as consumers can interact with the brand by their preferred method of communication.

OPTUS
Telecommunications is one industry that suffers from a high level of customer service complaints, therefore it is no wonder that both Optus and Telstra have invested in social media customer service. If you spend 10 minutes searching Twitter there is no wonder why such a strategy is important for both these brands – with many unsatisfied customers venting their anger, a social media customer service strategy is crucial to maintain at least some credibility in the market.

Their Approach

Optus seems to monitor its online Twitter presence very carefully and by doing so it seems they are in at least in some cases turning customer informants into advocates.
Whilst Optus is changing many customer experiences from negative to positive ones, one in particular stands out. In a recent article published in Marketing Magazine, it seems Optus has been able to turn around one #badoptus customer to a satisfied one, who told his 4,268 followers that;

“You may have seen some of my past #badoptus tweets. Thanks to Scott at @Optus social media response team I can now say thank you #goodoptus.”

But have Optus got it 100% right? As Optus only entered the space in the past 4 – 6 weeks, one of the biggest downfalls for their strategy would have to be timing – with so much bad consumer PR being posted online, Optus should have entered the space sooner to effectively manage its reputation and attend to consumers needs.

For Optus coverage may also be an issue. For any brand moving into the social media space it is important to not just to concentrate on the platform but rather consider where consumers are passionately expressing their views, whether it be social networking platforms, forums or even blogs to determine how the customer service strategy can most effectively reach the large pockets of consumer complaints and customer service issues.

For Optus Facebook is another area where consumers are passionately expressing their dissatisfaction about the brand by joining or creating “hate Optus” groups, and this is probably just the beginning. However despite the negative feedback on Facebook, for Optus Twitter may have been the most important channel to tackle first, as the brand had been inundated with negative PR.
Regardless of their approach, for those considering social media customer service it is important to monitor the web and determine where conversations and complaints are occurring about their brand before determining the best approach.

Business Brand Twitter Strategy

Overall despite some of the improvements that can be made I believe Panasonic, Optus and even Telstra should be applauded for taking the bold step into the social media space.

Got any other examples of Australian organisations who are using social media to improve customer service? If so add them below.

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Making It In The Digital World – Client Side

Digital Industry

Marketing teams are evolving, and whilst some organisations have been online for years, many are still in their infancy of embarking on an online strategy. As a result many marketing professionals are upgrading their knowledge from traditional marketing channels to cover digital areas such as search, social media and even onsite optimisation and usability.

But besides the multitude of technical knowledge required to be a talented client side digital marketer, what other skills and qualities do you need? Working client side for the past 4 years in digital, here are some of the key skills I think separate the online men from the boys – or the women from the girls for that matter.

Educator & Champion

In Australia, digital marketing is still an emerging area. Those up-skilling or who already have digital expertise, need to take on a wider role within their marketing department and across their organisation as an educator and champion of the discipline. Those who can successfully educate those surrounding them will find stakeholders are more bought into the strategy and concept of the online channel which provides the added support and investment needed to succeed online.

Educating and championing digital amongst peers and senior management however is not an easy task and requires persistence and a significant investment in time. But those that can effectively acquire and utilise this skill will find the road for implementing digital just that bit easier.


Networking

Online NetworkingWhilst developing strategic partnerships is not a new concept for some marketing professionals, digital marketing professionals will benefit from gaining thorough knowledge of how to build online relationships with bloggers, portals and other influencers in the community. Such relationships can spawn opportunities for cross promotion through online partnerships, co-creation of valuable content to deliver to users or third party endorsements such as those that can come from professional bloggers. Online networking used in this context in some ways can be the modern form of building relationships with the press, and if done right can therefore provide digital marketers with many new lucrative avenues to expand a digital strategy outside of the more obvious channels of search and email.

Resourcefulness & Entrepreneurial Spirit

Digital IndustryAs digital marketing is still a relatively new channel for many organisations, being resourceful and sometimes almost entrepreneurial is key. In many instances organisations will not heavily invest early on until a return is shown, thus digital marketers more so than other marketing professionals need to deliver results to secure a larger investment for the channel. Digital marketers must therefore consider where their marketing spend will net the largest return online to make sure that every dollar spent delivers a healthy CPA. Focusing on what you have got rather than what you haven’t is important as is looking for creative new ways to achieve objectives and leveraging the free and low cost tools available online.

Commitment

To be one of the best you truly have to love all things digital. The digital industry is a fast moving beast, one which holds enormous potential and is truly inspiring but one which you can lag behind in very quickly. The best client side digital marketers are those that not only have a commitment to continually deliver on business objectives, but ensure they are keeping up to date with the latest digital trends and new technologies. This knowledge is invaluable to drive new innovative strategies in the space and stay ahead of the curve.

Do you think there are any crucial skills or attributes client side marketers need to be the best in the digital industry? Add your comments below.

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