Online Business Is Not Thriving

4 Easily Overlooked Reasons Your Online Business Is Not Thriving

Do you find yourself asking why your Online Business in not thriving? Internet businesses have come to stay. According to a Hosting Facts report, there were over 3.26 billion internet users as of December 2015. This amounted to more than 40 percent of the world’s population. In addition, the report showed that digital interactions influenced retail sales to the tune of $2.2 trillion in 2015. Another mind-blowing statistic: There are currently over 966 million websites in the world today.

I strongly believe that wherever internet traffic is, there are business opportunities there. But only business people who are properly informed about the workings of the internet business cycle will benefit from these opportunities.

In short, while we may be in the “internet age,” quite a number of businesses still aren’t taking full advantage of its opportunities and aren’t using the right strategies. Here are a few overlooked reasons businesses aren’t doing as well as they could.

1. You are not investing in online visibility.

When it comes to internet businesses, one major determining success factor which a lot of people take for granted is their online visibility.

In the words of Guy Sheetrit, CEO of Over The Top SEO, “To be visible online means that you are found when conversations that matter to your business or customers are taking place. It means you are doing your SEO right, and that your website pops up when people go online to search for solutions to their problems, whether it has to do with making purchases, doing research or getting entertained.”

Due to the competition, these goals are sometimes a herculean task considering the vast number sites competing for who gets seen and ranked on Google.

If you still have a new business, however, one extra way you can give your business that needed edge is by getting listed on web directories like DirJournal Local or Local Botw, depending on your niche and business needs. This will equally help put your business at the top of the list, and get you better visibility.

2. Your information is not as secure as you think.

With over 3.26 billion persons using the internet, attention to privacy and confidentiality becomes imperative. Running business transactions on a platform that lots of people have access to will do you little good in your fight against your competitors. If those competitors can access all the information you share with your customers, including the private kind, then you have a problem.

If you often work on your online business while in the office and have need of continuing when you get home, then you probably need to pay special attention to security. According to this VPN guide, using a VPN (virtual private network) isn’t just about privacy, it can help you prevent hacking, spamming, snooping by surveillance agencies and other cyber attacks.

3. You are not maximizing the social media in your marketing campaigns.

The internet space is competitive. But you stand a good chance if your product is unique, and you know how to swing the social media to your favor. You see, it is not enough to have a good product. You must get the right people to see it. And since most of your prospective customers use these social media apps, you should too.

For instance, while speaking on the inbound marketing of mobile apps, the CEO of Boon Infotech, Kelvin Boon, said, “It is very surprising to see a company that doesn’t have their apps on Facebook and Twitter. When you regularly place well-timed tweets, talk about the product’s progress, elaborate on capabilities and features and also shed the light on exciting uses of the app on social media, you grow interest and teach people what may be expected from your app.”

In other words, being active on social media helps keep your prospective customers interested and eager to check out your products.

What about taking an “in your face” approach to your business? Resources like Targeted Facebook ads are getting extremely popular and produce phenomenal results in the conversion to sales/patronage category and in demographic precision.

4. You are not sticking with what works.

Let’s say that you are making a lot of sales via your Facebook ad campaigns, but you are not quite pulling in a crowd on Instagram. Nor is the blog on your website getting serious traffic. What do you do? Run more ads! Diversify your targets and encroach into new territories.

For instance, if your ads have worked well for hoodie sales when you targeted young Canadian males, then you might expand to young American males as well. The idea is to optimize what works for you and make sure you milk it. There is really no need in having a variety of efforts if you can optimize what is working. Sometimes you have to put all your eggs in one basket.

So, invest in content creation, structure your website for SEO, utilize the opportunities presented by the social media, use contests and giveaways, invest in email marketing and do whatever else you can think of. If you keep these tips in mind, you can expect to watch your internet business scale up the ladder.

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Beginner's Guide to Social-Media Marketing

3-Step Beginner’s Guide to Social-Media Marketing

Social media has become as much a daily part of our personal lives as it has our business lives. What once was cutting edge just a few short years ago is now just the norm. So how do you know which aspect of social-media marketing you need to have and which aspects are simply passing fads? Are you in need of a beginner’s guide to social-media marketing?

For entrepreneurs who are just starting their businesses, wrapping your arms around your social-media marketing plan can feel like a stretch. Do you need to be on all outlets? Which are best? How will you manage all those conversations? There’s a lot to think about when you’re getting started and some important questions you need to ask yourself.

1. Determine your MVPs.

When you first begin to formulate your social-media plan, you may be thinking about what outlets to get started on. However, sometimes a more important conversation to have when you’re starting out is which outlets to avoid.

There can be a general feeling that you should get your business on any and every outlet available to you. However, that can be a mistake. Not all outlets are relevant for every business and trying to force your business onto a platform that isn’t right can feel awkward and inauthentic.

Start with your social-media marketing MVP plan. The MVPs of social-media marketing means two things: your most valuable platforms and your minimum viable platforms. When it comes to social media, less can be a lot more. Why?

You are going to need to be active across every platform you’re on for the duration of your business. This means not just great conversations but valuable content and hawkeyed monitoring. Would you rather have sparse contact with tons of people across lots of platforms, or would you rather have valuable, intensely personal and relevant conversations with the right handful of people? Which do you think has the most value to your business in the long run?

2. Consistency isn’t key, it’s critical.

Once you determine your MVPs you need to come up with a reliable posting schedule that can’t be broken. If you aren’t going to be able or willing to post on a specific social-media outlet religiously, you shouldn’t be playing on that platform at all. It’s that important.

Who are you going to assign the challenging and time-consuming task of vigilantly attending to your social-media outlets? Get clear about who will take ownership of this space and come up with a plan for how and what will be said to stay consistent not just with posting but with your brand voice.

Understanding this step can put into perspective the importance once again of your MVP outlets because if you can’t post to an outlet, you shouldn’t be on it.

3. Take risks.

The risks you take will be commensurate with the type of industry your startup is in — but don’t be afraid to mix up the conversation and start taking risks in your social-media postings. These can be anything as simple as showing some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of your day-to-day business or sharing your personal struggles as an entrepreneur.

Make sure it’s honest and relevant, but sometimes taking risk and exposing more of yourself and your business can really help with making a splash. People like authenticity and transparency so let your audiences see what’s behind the curtain.

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hot trends in advertising

Hot Trends in Advertising

A few of this year’s hot trends in advertising include native advertising, mobile and video, and programmatic advertising in digital. Below, we’ve recapped some of the key discussions around each of these hot-button issues.

1. Programmatic

Programmatic ad buying took center stage at AdWeek this year, with more than 20 panels devoted to parsing out the intricacies of the subject. From maximizing profit margins to successfully combining native and programmatic buying, experts from agencies, networks and publishers alike were eager to get to the bottom of this evolving trend.

Although programmatic buying isn’t new, using it for television advertising is. Ad executives speaking on the panel “Programmatic TV, Advertising’s Next Great Frontier” predict that programmatic will account for up to 5% of TV buying in 2015, up from 1% today.

As publishers are diving into programmatic, we’ve seen some interesting acquisitions, such as Facebook buying LiveRail and AOL buying Adap.tv, presumably to boost video ad revenue. Additionally, other traditional publishers like NBC are rolling out their own initiatives to offer programmatic buying to advertisers.

The question of programmatic buying becoming commonplace for TV is uncertain — networks are reluctant to stray from a model that has worked for decades — but advertisers are eager to capitalize on the reduced cost and improved targeting that programmatic offers.

2. Native Advertising

IAB data indicates native advertising is a fast-growing part of the $43 billion U.S. digital advertising market. A study in September 2013 indicated that 66% of American agencies and 64% of marketers planned to spend on native over the next six months, and its rise warranted native getting its own category in IAB’s half-year report.

There’s perhaps no hotter buzzword in the advertising world right now, which explains why native advertising is one of the key conversation topics of Advertising Week. Native is firmly planted in the minds, conversations and budgets of advertisers around the world.

The practice, which integrates brand-sponsored material seamlessly into social platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, and news/media sites has raised quite a stir in the past few years, primarily due to its success in comparison to traditional online advertising methods such as banner ads. Now, the industry is struggling to define what makes a “quality” native campaign, how to properly distinguish (and label) native ads from organic content, and examining some of the native ad strategies that have proved the most — and least — successful to date.

It’s no surprise that panels such as “Brands and the Art of Content Creation,” “Content Marketing Success Stories,” “Branded.Content” and “Sports Journalism and Branded Content: A New Model” have been chock-full of phrases such as “seeds of content,” “online community” and, perhaps most ubiquitously, “storytelling.” Countless conversations among panelists and attendees center on this very concept: Brands as storytellers (or “storybuilders,” as Amy Pascal, director of digital marketing strategy at Johnson & Johnson, puts it).

While there are innumerable — and sometimes conflicting — opinions on the latest craze to hit the ad world, most marketers agree on at least one thing: It’s not going away anytime soon.

3. Video

Even though online video has received less attention than other emerging ad forms — like mobile and native — the topic continues to be well represented.

This is largely due to many marketers’ decision to shift ad dollars from TV to digital video, mirroring recent trends in consumer viewing habits — time spent watching digital video has more than doubled since 2012. Many panels have also discussed the shift toward buying video programmatically, a practice that has been previously associated most closely with display. Programmatic video startup Virool even announced a buzz-generating contest that will send a winner into space with a ticket on Virgin Galactic. Virool is one of the first companies to offer viral video publishing to advertisers that helps push their creative through the company’s ad network.

Additional conversations have focused on how the industry should approach video content. For example, is it better to show longer, interactive pre-roll ads, or chunk ads into “commercial breaks” throughout content? Interactive pre-roll videos empower viewers to participate in video at the beginning of a show, which then allows them to watch without interruptions. Streaming site DramaFever gave viewers exactly that option — and found that 63% of viewers chose the option to engage in the beginning and then skip commercials throughout the rest of the content.

4. Mobile

While “native” might be the belle of the ball at Ad Week this year, “mobile native” is another hot contender. As brands delve further into the possibilities of reaching an audience that’s increasingly connected to smartphones, tablets and even wearables, advertisers are thinking of outside-the-box ways to monetize on the trend.

Mobile was once an afterthought in the advertising world — but today, brands are perking up and paying attention, as mobile usage now comprises 60% of digital media consumption. With new smartphone releases and iPhone 6 sales skyrocketing, everybody’s developing a mobile strategy. And while advertisers agree the platform has a ways to go before they can develop a viable advertising strategy, more and more marketers want in on the mobile game.

The dilemma is that traditional methods of advertising often don’t translate well on mobile — and there’s far less screen space on mobile than desktop. It’s clear that brands and advertisers will need to get creative in order to develop successful mobile strategies.

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Hot Trends in Advertising

A few of this year’s hot trends in advertising include native advertising, mobile and video, and programmatic advertising in digital. Below, we’ve recapped some of the key discussions around each of these hot-button issues.

1. Programmatic

Programmatic ad buying took center stage at AdWeek this year, with more than 20 panels devoted to parsing out the intricacies of the subject. From maximizing profit margins to successfully combining native and programmatic buying, experts from agencies, networks and publishers alike were eager to get to the bottom of this evolving trend.

Although programmatic buying isn’t new, using it for television advertising is. Ad executives speaking on the panel “Programmatic TV, Advertising’s Next Great Frontier” predict that programmatic will account for up to 5% of TV buying in 2015, up from 1% today.

As publishers are diving into programmatic, we’ve seen some interesting acquisitions, such as Facebook buying LiveRail and AOL buying Adap.tv, presumably to boost video ad revenue. Additionally, other traditional publishers like NBC are rolling out their own initiatives to offer programmatic buying to advertisers.

The question of programmatic buying becoming commonplace for TV is uncertain — networks are reluctant to stray from a model that has worked for decades — but advertisers are eager to capitalize on the reduced cost and improved targeting that programmatic offers.

2. Native Advertising

IAB data indicates native advertising is a fast-growing part of the $43 billion U.S. digital advertising market. A study in September 2013 indicated that 66% of American agencies and 64% of marketers planned to spend on native over the next six months, and its rise warranted native getting its own category in IAB’s half-year report.

There’s perhaps no hotter buzzword in the advertising world right now, which explains why native advertising is one of the key conversation topics of Advertising Week. Native is firmly planted in the minds, conversations and budgets of advertisers around the world.

The practice, which integrates brand-sponsored material seamlessly into social platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, and news/media sites has raised quite a stir in the past few years, primarily due to its success in comparison to traditional online advertising methods such as banner ads. Now, the industry is struggling to define what makes a “quality” native campaign, how to properly distinguish (and label) native ads from organic content, and examining some of the native ad strategies that have proved the most — and least — successful to date.

It’s no surprise that panels such as “Brands and the Art of Content Creation,” “Content Marketing Success Stories,” “Branded.Content” and “Sports Journalism and Branded Content: A New Model” have been chock-full of phrases such as “seeds of content,” “online community” and, perhaps most ubiquitously, “storytelling.” Countless conversations among panelists and attendees center on this very concept: Brands as storytellers (or “storybuilders,” as Amy Pascal, director of digital marketing strategy at Johnson & Johnson, puts it).

While there are innumerable — and sometimes conflicting — opinions on the latest craze to hit the ad world, most marketers agree on at least one thing: It’s not going away anytime soon.

3. Video

Even though online video has received less attention than other emerging ad forms — like mobile and native — the topic continues to be well represented.

This is largely due to many marketers’ decision to shift ad dollars from TV to digital video, mirroring recent trends in consumer viewing habits — time spent watching digital video has more than doubled since 2012. Many panels have also discussed the shift toward buying video programmatically, a practice that has been previously associated most closely with display. Programmatic video startup Virool even announced a buzz-generating contest that will send a winner into space with a ticket on Virgin Galactic. Virool is one of the first companies to offer viral video publishing to advertisers that helps push their creative through the company’s ad network.

Additional conversations have focused on how the industry should approach video content. For example, is it better to show longer, interactive pre-roll ads, or chunk ads into “commercial breaks” throughout content? Interactive pre-roll videos empower viewers to participate in video at the beginning of a show, which then allows them to watch without interruptions. Streaming site DramaFever gave viewers exactly that option — and found that 63% of viewers chose the option to engage in the beginning and then skip commercials throughout the rest of the content.

4. Mobile

While “native” might be the belle of the ball at Ad Week this year, “mobile native” is another hot contender. As brands delve further into the possibilities of reaching an audience that’s increasingly connected to smartphones, tablets and even wearables, advertisers are thinking of outside-the-box ways to monetize on the trend.

Mobile was once an afterthought in the advertising world — but today, brands are perking up and paying attention, as mobile usage now comprises 60% of digital media consumption. With new smartphone releases and iPhone 6 sales skyrocketing, everybody’s developing a mobile strategy. And while advertisers agree the platform has a ways to go before they can develop a viable advertising strategy, more and more marketers want in on the mobile game.

The dilemma is that traditional methods of advertising often don’t translate well on mobile — and there’s far less screen space on mobile than desktop. It’s clear that brands and advertisers will need to get creative in order to develop successful mobile strategies.

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google adwords

Things Nobody Tells You About Google AdWords

While there are hundreds of Google how-to guides online, written both by savvy bloggers and Google itself, the advertising giant has a few skeletons in its closet that are rarely talked about. After all, Google AdWords is the ever popular advertising platform – or is it?

1. Google AdWords is no longer working as it did. Marketers from all over the world have been noticing that conversion tracking on AdWords is becoming increasingly more difficult. People need to look a the whole ROI picture.

You should be focusing on the overall business profitability as well as Google’s conversion tracking values. What happens most of the times is that users might be visiting your site while they are at work or on their phones while commuting and then eventually convert from home.

It could also happen that they will convert after clicking on an remarketing ad on social media. All of this can cause a problem attributing your conversion to a given marketing channel. The online market has become more complex and you need to consider all of that in the equation.

Customers no longer purchase right away but compare prices and providers for several days on different platforms and networks before taking a final decision. This is the number one reason cross-channel remarketing has become so popular so quickly. Cross-channel remarketing is advertising to users who have been on your website but did not convert on more than one channel, for instance Google, Twitter and Facebook.

2. Google manages your account free for three months. Official Google Partners have the possibility to offer their new clients three months of free management directly by the Google sales representatives. Naturally, this is free of charge and could save you the agonizing first couple of weeks to see whether your advertising campaign will be profitable. You still have to pay for the advertisement cost but save yourself a potentially substantial management fee and minimum six months commitment.

3. Not all new features are right for your business. Google continuously rolls out new features but what are the ones you should apply to your account? All of them is not the right answer. For instance, let’s assume that the main goal of your campaign is to generate calls via mobile traffic and that you do not care about desktop clicks. In that case, even though you might suffer from a quality score point of view, you would rather prefer not to have sitelinks extensions.

A good extension for you would be Callouts Extensions, which allow to have extra strings of texts but with no additional links to the site. Make sure to analyze your unique needs and make use of the extensions that make the most sense for you considering both advantages and disadvanteges.

4. Google offers customized Google+ solutions. Alicia Keys launched her recent album with a customized Google+ hangout solution that Google itself created in collaboration with her and her team. It was a success for both, as was a custom shoppable Google+ hangout for a major clothing store that was able to insert a personalized product feed in the hangout screen.

The bad news? You need a relatively large budget and an excellent Google Partner who can connect you to the right people in Google. The good news? Some of those customized solutions become private betas so if you know they exist, you can make a request to apply it to your campaigns.

5. You can use Google Hangouts as your own mini QVC. Did you know that you can sell the items of your ecommerce directly via a Google Hangout? This feature is a hidden gem not many advertisers know about. The reason is that you won’t set up the hangout directly from the adwords interface but you first need to create it and then use the URL of the hangout to promote it while you are on air (You can also promote it via your webiste through a custom landing page days before the hangout to create some fuzz).

6. Google helps you generate banners for the display network. On Google, you can run campaigns on the Search or on the Display Network. Just to quickly recap, search campaigns show your ads upon a search query, while display campaigns place your text ads or banner on designated advertising slots on websites. One of the reasons why many small budget startups do not start display advertising is because they would need to hirer a web designer to create banners unless they want to be limited to text ads.

In order to help you generate banners fast and cost effectively, Google provides a free tool within AdWords, that automatically generates banners based on one of your existing text ads. You can customize it after to make it look a little less android and a little more you which makes it a great tool for any advertiser or business owner.

7. Video remarketing works with more than just YouTube. Remarketing, as mentioned above, is a way to target visitors who did not convert. Since AdWords was integrated with YouTube, online video campaigns have become a popular tool for all types of businesses. Something that is often overlooked is that video remarketing campaigns not only exist but that they can also be run on the Google display network instead of Google.

In brief, your 30 second video might show up on a niche website that is closely related to your topic and increase your conversion rate by much more than by being placed on YouTube with the risk to be skipped or overlooked.

8. If you have a choice, pick volume over margins. Google advertises AdWords primarily as a tool that any business can use because there is no minimum budget. Even two dollars a day are enough to get started and as long as there is a return on investment, we can check it off the list as mission accomplished. Something that is a common mistake among first time advertisers and small businesses is the assumption that high margins beat high volume.

You have the budget and the right marketing infrastructure, generating more sales while sacrificing some margins is always more convenient until the extra revenue you will be making is higher than the total loss in margins.

9. Mobile campaigns can get you desktop clicks, anyway. Google AdWords used to offer differentiation by device. Much to the despair of marketers, AdWords is no longer offering this feature but offers so called mobile campaigns instead. The issue is that there is no possibility to target just mobile. Yes, you can increase the mobile bid but there is no way to exclude desktop. In the worst case, you are increasing the mobile bid and end up paying for desktop clicks that are not only overpriced but also useless.

10. All AdWords certifications are linked to your email address. At first sight, there is nothing wrong with that but couple of issues arising over time. If an individual passes the certifications while working at an agency, the email address used will most likely be the Gmail business apps address of the agency. As soon as the employee changes agency, the certificate is valid but useless, since the agency will delete the address. Google offers the option to link several email addresses to keep the certification in place, but let’s be honest, what company keeps email addresses of employees that have moved on to a competitor just to keep them certified for two years?

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digital marketing mistakes

7 Deadly Digital Marketing Mistakes

The “Rule of Seven” is well known in marketing and advertising as the number of times a person must be exposed to a brand before the message “sticks.” But the rule only works if each touch point gives a consistent, positive impression of the brand. When those impressions happen online, white noise, tactical mistakes and basic operational errors keep you from breaking through to your customers.

Consumers are inundated with more frequent marketing messages across multiple channels. Every chance to create a lasting, positive impression is vital. Every part of the organization is responsible for making the most of those impressions, but particularly the executives who should be leading the effort.

Leaders must implement digital oversight to turn common mistakes into competitive advantage. That’s where a new “Digital Rule of Seven” comes in – seven critical website mistakes (and how to avoid them).

1. Missing the point. The web team is often not at the table when the big corporate decisions are made, so when the new strategy is unveiled, there’s no guidance on how the website should serve it.

Take the website out of its silo. Make the web team part of strategy discussions with all departments and teams, at all levels, from the very beginning.

2. Building on sand. Visitors expect to see consistent, accurate information. In a highly crowded landscape, companies that deliver a great user experience can seize competitive advantage.

To avoid a “wobbly” website, define and account from the very beginning the key “pillars” that form the foundation of a robust website – usability, SEO and accessibility.

3. The phantom standard. Managed effectively, website policies and standards can help you protect your brand, reduce your development and maintenance costs, and ensure an optimized user experience. For policies and standards to succeed, you need an end-to-end plan for defining, implementing and managing them throughout the website lifecycle.

4. “That ain’t my job.” Often, there are far too many cooks in the kitchen. Between web editors, designers, brand guardians, executives and third-party agencies, site management and governance can disintegrate into a sporadic activity. Without individual responsibility, even the best standards will fail to deliver. This responsibility must be clear and explicit.

5. The issue with stone tablets. Markets evolve. Threats and opportunities emerge. Business plans alter focus. Sadly, for many websites, things just go on as normal.

Effective management and governance processes are always evolving but your website is tied to your business objectives. If your objectives change, so must your site (and possibly the standards you use to manage it).

6. The people problem. People are difficult and brilliant, in equal measure. They are inherently creative. They want to improve things. They want to make their mark.

Unfortunately, sometimes they do so at the expense of your website’s effectiveness. Ultimately, getting your website right is not simply about assessing analytics data such as traffic, referrals and conversion rates. It’s far more effective to build a culture of best practice.

7. The Estonian microsite problem. Corporate sites in multiple languages. Local office sites. Campaign-specific microsites! Keeping track of all that information can be a nightmare.

Avoid drowning in content by making data your friend. Ongoing measurement is a must if you are to understand how your site is performing against your key performance indicators (KPIs) and your defined policies and standards. It’s only then that you can determine whether you are on track or need to take some remedial action.

Achieving all the above used to be much easier, but the amount of content that comes in and out of organizations has exploded. We’re producing more content and using many different tools across many different channels. It all affects the brand experience. As a result, maintaining brand consistency has become a very challenging problem.

Only when “digital governance” becomes a priority in the C-Suite will this be effectively addressed. That is, just as upper management provides processes and standards to govern offline communications, they should provide oversight for digital communications, as well. Top-down leadership is needed to set and enforce these vital rules across the organization. That is a responsibility executives simply cannot hand off or ignore.

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Is SEO a Necessary and Measurable Investment?

There’s a debate taking place in the marketing world about the nature of search engine optimization (SEO). Is it really a distinct marketing channel? More importantly, has it become such a business necessity that it’s unnecessary to measure its return on investment?

While the first question understandably interests marketers, it’s not of much interest to businesses, especially small businesses, looking to allocate precious marketing dollars. The return on SEO is where the rubber hits the road.

So is SEO a necessity? Or is it a marketing expenditure to be judged on the basis of ROI?

It’s both.

SEO is, in fact, necessary in today’s marketplace. Potential customers do not use the phone book. They use a computer, smartphone or tablet to find what they need. Any business with a website needs to be visible when a potential customer uses an electronic device to search for its product or service.

But it’s also necessary to have people to provide that product or service to a customer. Businesses are certainly interested in employee productivity, and use various means to measure it. Nearly every expenditure has an ROI, either in terms of reducing cost or increasing revenue. SEO is no different.

These are the methods we use to measure SEO ROI.

The first measure is organic website traffic, and whether it is increasing or decreasing over time.

The second is rankings, where a site comes up in a search. That’s actually a rather difficult measure to determine. But there are places to obtain it. Third-party companies such as Moz.com provide ranking data and can demonstrate how those rankings change over time. Even Google provides this information to webmasters.

The third measure is what we call “entrances.” This boils down to how many of a site’s pages are receiving organic referrals. Of course, the more pages, the higher the return.

Finally, the measure that means the most to most business owners is leads, prospective customers who have expressed interest in your product or service but not yet purchased. In most cases they express that interest by completing a web form or calling your business. How many web leads? How many phone calls? And, critically, what is the cost per lead?

If lead measurement is missing from the equation, the first three metrics do not matter. If the leads don’t meet expectations, and the price per lead is not competitive with other marketing channels, then the ROI is not sufficient.

Does that mean a business shouldn’t invest in SEO? No. But it will certainly influence the amount invested.

SEO is like Facebook and other social media — a must-have in today’s Internet-driven consumer experience. But it’s a must have that must show sufficient return to justify growing investment in it. A reputable SEO firm can measure that ROI.

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Why ROI is the Last Metric for Evaluating Your Content-Marketing Plan

It is no secret that not just any content will succeed in online marketing.

Your content must engage your readers, increase brand awareness and improve your bottom line. In the past, many companies simply threw some keyword-rich content on their websites and hoped it would stick. Keywords remain important but it is crucial your content is informative, relevant and interesting. Content+ found that interesting content is one of the top three reasons that consumers follow brands on social media.

Furthermore, TMG Custom Media reports that an astounding 90 percent of consumers believe custom content is useful and 78 percent of consumers believe that companies providing custom content have an interest in establishing good relationships with their customers.

Clearly, the right content is important to determining where you stand with your current content marketing plan. This means measuring engagement and shareability. Consider whether you see a lot of interaction, comments, and shares from the content you post. If your content remains static without any real response, it is time to fine-tun to your approach.

Far too often, many companies focus on the ROI provided by their content marketing plan but ROI is actually a metric that should be measured later, rather than sooner, in the process. You should understand the following metrics first:

  • Are people liking or following your social profiles where you share your content?
  • Are people visiting and returning to your website?
  • Are visitors commenting or asking questions?
  • Are people connecting with other members of the community?
  • Is your content being shared?
  • Are people making comments about your content elsewhere?
  • Are visitors engaging more on your site or social network?

The goal is to get people talking about your content and sharing it with others so that your overall exposure is increased. This means measuring engagement metrics such as shares, likes, comments, link backs, mentions, and retweets. Keep in mind that numbers are important when it comes to engagement, but in the end, it is all about people. In order to understand the type of content you need to develop, you must also identify and research your target audience. Once you have developed a solid understanding of your audience, you can then begin developing customized content based on their interests.

RazorSocial suggests tapping into the power of Google Analytics to measure engagement and use the data derived to assist in guiding your content development plan. With Google Analytics, you can measure the following metrics:

  • Number of returning visitors
  • Audience engagement rate
  • Average pages or time spent on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Conversion rates from different sources

Google Analytics is a vital tool, but there are also several other tools you should include in your arsenal. For instance, HootSuite is an excellent tool for tracking mentions. TweetDeck is also great for tracking mentions as well as hash tags. In order to track all of your content across paid, organic and social mediums, TrackMaven is a go-to tool that also allows you to compare the results of your content to that of competitors. Do you need some insight into content that is resonating with your target audience? Buzzsumo allows you to analyze the performance of content across multiple social mediums. Simply search a topic or keyword and gain insight into successful content. Gravity is another tool that works similarly to Buzzsumo by allowing you to keep tabs on those topics that are currently generating the most interest online and giving you easy tools to view the topics that are more likely to resonate with your own target audience.

Once you understand the type of content that is more likely to resonate with your audience, it is important to develop a plan. CMI and MarketingProfs report that 66 percent of the most effective marketers have taken the time to establish a documented content marketing strategy. Creating content without a specific focus will eventually hurt your efforts. A well-rounded content marketing plan should include a content calendar for regularly scheduled posts. While a calendar is important, it is also vital to ensure that you remain flexible in your publication goals and make adjustments based on customer behavior and other factors.

The ability to respond to real-time events will become even more vital as mobile web consumption continues to outpace desktop usage. Responding to topics that your readers wish to engage with, a process now known as newsjacking, can help your organization to increase revenue. Organizations that use predictive business performance metrics will increase their profitability by 20 percent by 2017, according to Gartner, Inc.

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Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make When Launching an Ecommerce Startup

As we continue to rely on technology for its simplicity and convenience, everything from books to cars are now available online. And many entrepreneurs are jumping on this wave, because when done correctly, ecommerce sites can provide a crucial competitive advantage, giving digital players a chance to go toe-to-toe with traditional brick-and-mortar titans

Ecommerce is also quickly becoming the preferred way to buy. Indeed, 70 percent of shoppers surveyed say they prefer to shop their favorite retailer online, according to a UPS study.

However, simply creating an ecommerce site is not a guarantee of success. The eight years I’ve spent on the front lines of my own company UGallery, an art ecommerce site, have humbled me to a point where I can now impart a few points on what mistakes to avoid when running a successful ecommerce site.

1. Putting features above strategy. It’s easy to be impressed with your own website, but having the coolest, slickest, or sexiest ecommerce site is not a strategy. Leave the bells and whistles to the product team and focus on the big picture: What need do you fill in the market, where are the white space opportunities, what is truly innovative?

Establish a 12-week goal mindset where you set your topline goals at the beginning of the quarter and are accountable to finish them by the end. If a week goes by and you spent too much time updating small design elements or negligible features, you’re stuck in a cyclical pattern. Make sure to focus on critical initiatives that will move the needle.

2. Inefficiently managing email lists. Grow your email list fast and early. It is one of the most effective ways to get people to your site later on. Add email list as a key-performance indicator when you’re measuring success (not just sales or site traffic). If you don’t, you’ll find yourself down the road with a great site but no way to reach people (for free). You’ll be stuck paying for eyeballs through advertising, sponsored content and other paid outlets.

3. Inaccurately measuring success. Compare year-over-year, not quarter-over-quarter, as ecommerce is highly seasonal. Comparing your June site traffic to May site traffic isn’t an effective measure because summer months are typically slower. Compare June to June and May to May, just as traditional retailers do.

4. Not establishing a promotions strategy up front. Be deliberate with your promotions. It’s tempting to run a sale when you want a quick bump of revenue but easy to go overboard or do something that isn’t in line with your brand intention. Determine up front if you want to be a premium brand that never discounts, a discount brand that always discounts or where you want to be in between.

5. Choosing poor advertising partners. When it comes to advertising partnerships, ask for lots of data –reach, open rate, CTR, and frequency of the advertiser’s sponsorships, among other metrics. We advertised on a prominent wedding site when we launched our wedding registry, because it was the biggest name publication in the industry. It turns out they send sponsored emails several days a week and brides are inundated. Needless to say our advertising did not perform well. It was sexy but not effective.

6. Hold your line when negotiating contracts. Contracts only become relevant when things go south. It’s easy to sign a contract and assume there won’t be any issues, and 49 out of 50 times there won’t be. But for the one time that there is, it could have significant impact. Read, negotiate and hold firm when entering a contract. Think years down the road, not months.

7. Not understanding your supply and demand balance. More than just inventory management, understand the big picture of how your supply and demand are related. At a certain point, you have too much product and it doesn’t result in more sales – it just results in an overwhelming shopping experience. Understand how many products someone can reasonably absorb on your site. Brick-and-mortar stores are limited by wall and floor space but ecommerce sites are unlimited. That doesn’t mean every ecommerce site needs to embrace the long tail.

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5 Things CEOs Don’t Ask About Marketing, But Should

It’s often difficult to isolate and quantify what marketing is responsible for, so there is an inherent disconnect between result-oriented CEOs and their marketing teams.

Oftentimes, this results in a completely hands-off approach, usually because management doesn’t truly understand marketing’s strategy enough to know what questions to ask. The problem with this process is that companies are missing out on serious growth potential.

Below are five questions you as the CEO can ask marketing to set the foundation for a profitable, result-focused relationship moving forward:

1. How do I measure the effectiveness of marketing correctly? We all know that “what gets measured, gets managed,” and while it can be more difficult with marketing, it’s no less true. A Fournaise study found that the majority of CEOs don’t trust marketing — in large part because 75 percent don’t think marketing applies the same definitions to things such as “results” and “return on investment.”

CEOs and marketers should define these terms together with a focus on how marketing investments are aligned to company goals. Figure out exactly what data you will be looking at and what you will be looking for, so you aren’t bogged down by a huge report that doesn’t provide measurable results. Allow this conversation to be guided by marketing’s insights on what is reasonable, but in the end make sure everyone knows precisely how success will be measured.

2. How do you draw the line in the sales cycle between sales and marketing? These groups are intertwined, but all too often are at odds with one another, with each wanting to claim the results of success or place blame when a plan is ineffective. For marketing and sales to be aligned, it’s critically important that both teams agree on roles and expectations.

If there isn’t upfront agreement on how the teams work together and deliver united value to the business, the relationship becomes fractured. The clearer it is, the easier it will be to measure results and make each side more effective.

According to MarketingProfs’ Sales and Marketing Alignment Benchmark Report, companies that can figure this partnership out have shown a 36 percent higher customer-retention rate and a 38 percent higher sales-close rate.

3. How does my sales team get the “good leads” they are talking about? Reports have shown that 61 percent of marketers send all leads directly to sales, but in the end only 27 percent of those leads will actually be qualified.

Sales teams have to clearly communicate what criteria they feel is necessary for a lead to be qualified. Marketing must then set expectations as to what will be required to capture leads that match that profile. The more specific the criteria, the more time and/or expense may be required.

If it’s simply not likely to deliver on expectations within the time frame or budget, a different strategy may be required. This can be a tough conversation, but it’s vital for both teams to succeed. Marketing can often shine here, presenting alternative programs and lead-generation strategies to help sales meet their objectives.

There is also a second step that many marketers focus on: sales tools. Part of marketing’s job to equip sales with the tools needed to convert leads. A single brochure that touts the value you see in the product or service doesn’t typically cut it today.

Sales cycles are more complex, often with numerous stakeholders that need to be communicated to. When marketing works with sales to understand this process and create relevant tools that speak to the interest of different buyer motivations, it gives sales a unique advantage and can help drive more revenue, faster.

4. How important is social media? Marketing should be able to answer this with specific reasoning for your company. If they can specify what they want to do and the expected value it will deliver to the business (not smoke and mirrors), trust them.

Social media is here to stay, but it takes resources and should be strategic. Similarly, if they are advising against it, there is probably a good reason. It’s important to weigh the expected investment — dollars, time and resources — with the desired outcome.

Yes, social media can be a powerful tool that can reach a large audience, but that doesn’t mean it is a good way to reach your particular customer. Marketing isn’t about being seen by the greatest number of people, it’s about connecting with the right people.

5. How do we stand out against our competition? Marketing is responsible for how your company is presented to the world. At a product or service level, differentiation can be challenging with competitors offering similar capabilities. This is where company initiatives such as commitment to innovation, strategic partnerships and corporate values can deliver a unique impact in helping your company achieve a market-leader position.

Allow your marketing team to help define these areas of differentiation. If they are consistent with the brand you want to propagate, follow their lead and emphasize those elements throughout the company. The main thing is that they are conscientious about determining what the unique attributes are, and are continually reevaluating to make sure it is still the best for the current market.

The disconnect between CEOs and marketing comes down to communication. If you can work to facilitate an ongoing conversation with your marketing team, with clearly defined terms and expectations, you will find it is a relationship that can work wonders for unifying your company towards growth.

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