5 Online Marketing Tactics I Learned From My Previous Startup

As a co-founder of an eCommerce startup in a highly competitive industry, I quickly realized that we had to move beyond the basics of marketing optimization and test some advanced techniques to improve our ROI.

After much trial and error, we found few tactics that were really effective. Although our startup did not survive, the learnings I took away from our extensive experimentation and optimization were priceless. In this post, I will cover some of the techniques that worked really well for us.

Before I share these tactics, I would like to point out that it is crucial to achieve a high level of alignment between your marketing, engineering and product teams. Your engineering team should understand marketing and your marketing team should understand the technology. In today’s world, technology plays a significant role in marketing optimization and it is important for your teams to have that common perspective.

Tactic 1: Customize Website Experience Based Upon Visitor Personas

All marketing channels are not equal. Visitors from different channels (or campaigns) are typically in different stages of purchase cycle and have different aspirations.

For example, visitors coming from your affiliate channels that focus on coupons are more likely to be interested in exploring discounted products. On the other hand, visitors coming from Display channels such as Facebook might need some inspiration and education before you barrage them with pricing and transactional information. Many marketers spend a good deal of time optimizing the initial landing page to make sure it is relevant to the campaign that brought the visitor.

But what about optimizing the rest of the website based upon the visitor’s context?

We found that making subtle changes to the entire website content based upon visitor’s persona (associated with the marketing campaign) resulted in over 20% increase in conversion rate. For example:

  • Automatically changing the product sorting algorithm on category pages based upon the type of the campaign that brought the visitors (e.g. automatically showing highly discounted products on top of category pages if the visitors came from “deals & discount” focused campaigns).
  • Automatically “injecting” dynamic content through out the website based upon the visitor persona (e.g. Showing “Trendy” and “Lookbook” content to visitors coming from Lifestyle oriented Display FB campaigns).
  • Dynamically updating the homepage banner sliders based upon the visitor persona (e.g. if the visitor came from “discount” focused campaign, automatically show the “Sale” focused homepage banner as the main banner).

You don’t need to invest in a highly sophisticated personalization technology to implement these dynamic capabilities. In our case, we used Google Tag Manager to setup above rules to update dynamic content throughout the website. Here are some steps to implement dynamic content for your website visitors using Google Tag Manager:

  • Come up with 4 or 5 distinct personas that represent your target customers. (See example below)
  • Once you have the personas defined, tag every campaign and Ad Set with the appropriate persona. For example, if you use UTM tracking for your marketing campaigns, you can pass an extra variable in your URL such as “utm_persona” which provides a better context about the visitor.
  • Then in Google Tag Manager, you can setup rules that dynamically update certain predefined content zones on your website based upon the visitor persona.
  • You can even use JavaScript in Google Tag Manager rules to automatically set a different sorting order for your products (based upon the User persona).
  • Within the same rules, you can also fire a special Google Analytics event so that you can track the conversion rate improvement associated with these dynamic rules.

visitor_personasSample personas for an online fashion retailer.

Think about your website as a smart salesperson who is able to understand the context of your customer, and speak the language that resonates the most with the customer. There is a lot of information that can be inferred about the visitor by using the referring campaign’s targeting criteria. Take advantage of this information and personalize your website and landing page content to better manage the visitor’s journey on your website.

Tactic 2: Make Your Campaign Hierarchy as Granular as Possible

Many websites run large monolithic campaigns that target multiple demographics and interests. If you are running Facebook ads, create as granular ad sets as possible so that you can easily spot the best segments that are resulting in greatest performance. For example, my current startup targets early stage entrepreneurs who might be looking for branding help. In this case, breaking the ad sets in the following way allows us to get much better insights about which segment is delivering the best performance:


Yes, managing your ad sets at a much more granular level can lead to additional overhead but it can definitely pay off in the long run. You will be able to find hidden gems much more easily and avoid wasted spend on the segments that are not delivering a strong ROI.

When you are optimizing the ad sets, change one thing at a time and measure results. For example, do not change the ad copy, targeting criteria and bid price at the same time. You will never know what led to the improvement (or deterioration) of your campaign performance.

Keep a log of the changes you are making for optimization so you can refer to them. Once you have documented your changes for 30-45 days, you will start seeing interesting trends such as: ads which include a specific time limit (“only 5 hours left”) result in much better CTR than those with generic messaging (“Sale Ending Soon”).

Tactic 3: Smartly Segment Your Retargeting Audiences

Retargeting is a great strategy to convert some of your recent visitors to buyers. A little bit of segmentation can go a long way in optimizing your retargeting campaigns.

First, it is generally safe to exclude all those visitors from your retargeting campaigns who bounced after seeing your initial landing page. It usually means they were not interested in your product or service. Don’t feel bad. It happens. Maybe they landed on your website accidentally, or they realized that your offering is not a good fit for them. Whatever the reason, I have seen a significant ROI increase by excluding those people who bounced after seeing the initial landing page, or those visitors who spent less than 60 seconds during their visit.

Second, always focus on the lowest end of your funnel as the starting point. This is your bullseye. Customers who left your website from the final payment or conversion step might just need a little bit of push to purchase. Those who left from a page that is higher up in your purchase funnel might need a bit more convincing. Create separate segmented lists that correlate to different steps in your purchase funnel. Your bidding strategy should correlate to audience belonging to these steps. Always bid highest for those visitors who abandoned from the final step of your funnel.

Don’t forget about time-based segmentation. Generally, you will see a much better outcome from your recent visitors compared to those that visited your site, say, 7 days or 30 days ago. When you are setting up time-based lists, pay close attention to setting correct exclusion rules. For example, in your 3-day list, always exclude those who belong to 24 hour list. This way, you can ensure that there is no audience overlap in your 24-hours and 3-day lists.

In Google AdWords, you can setup these exclusion rules by using Custom Combination lists.


One more thing – please set some frequency caps to make sure you are not following your audience till eternity. Showing your ads too often can actually turn off your potential customers. I would recommend setting a frequency cap of no more than 5 impressions in a day. However you can test different caps to see what works best in your situation.

Tactic 4: Consider LifeTime Value (LTV) While Optimizing Campaigns

If your website focuses on multiple product categories, you might find that the lower priced or discounted products deliver the best conversion rate. You might be tempted to spend more on those campaigns that are delivering the best cost per conversion. However, this is not always a good thing.

If you analyze your revenue and profitability from these campaigns, you might find that the most profitable campaigns are those where the customers are purchasing higher value products, and where the customers have a greater probability of making a repeat purchase.

To illustrate this, consider the example in the table below. At first glance, the campaign with conversion rate of 3% and cost per conversion of $20 seems to be the most effective and you might be tempted to allocate more marketing spend towards this campaign.


However, once you bring in the revenue, order value and LTV data, the picture changes completely. With the additional data, you will notice that the campaign that targets men on iOS devices seems to be delivering the best overall margin as well as LTV.


Assuming your goal is to improve your bottom line, your marketing spend allocation should be based upon an overall ROI metric which takes into account the LTV of customers acquired from that campaign. Consider building your own custom dashboard (or use an analytics tool like Kissmetrics) to monitor marketing effectiveness, taking into account your internal profitability metrics such as margin and LTV.

Tactic 5: Make Use of Automation

There is a great deal of automation available in platforms such as AdWords that can help you optimize your campaigns on an ongoing basis. Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting you put your campaigns on “cruise control” and expect that the automation will handle your optimization for you. However, there are some fundamental levers that you can set up which would allow you to focus your time and resources on more strategic optimization.

Here are few examples of what you can automate in AdWords:

  • Raise bids automatically to top of page bid if the keyword is delivering a strong ROI. Let’s say your target Cost Per Conversion goal is $25. In that situation, your goal should be to maximize the impressions for those keywords that are delivering conversions below your acceptable threshold. You can setup rules to automatically increase the bids to top of the page bid in order to maximize the impressions for these keywords.
  • Automatically lower bids if your keywords are not giving a strong ROI. You need to allow enough time and impressions before you start reducing your bids. However, let’s say you expect your keywords to deliver a Cost Per Conversion of $30. You could set up rules to automatically reduce max bids by 20% If your keywords have already generated few hundred clicks, but are delivering a Cost Per Conversion of $40 or higher.
  • Setting these rules will allow you to automatically optimize the “extreme” outliers so that you can focus your time and effort on other aspects of your campaign.

adwords_automationAutomated Rules in Google Adwords


Marketing optimization is an ongoing journey. There is no finish line. Even though the above tactics worked well in our situation, you might find that they don’t work in your case. That’s ok. The key is to continue to experiment and test. As long as you take a focused and structured approach in experimenting your ideas, you will collect significant insights over time that work well for your business. As architect Buckminster Fuller rightly said:

“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

About the Author: Darpan Munjal brings over 19 years of ecommerce experience in technology and digital marketing with companies such as Sears, Kaplan as well as venture backed startups that he co-founded. Currently, he is the Founder of Squadhelp, a crowdsourcing platform helping startups engage branding experts for their naming and branding projects. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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MarTech returns to the San Francisco Hilton May 9-11. This year’s expanded edition features 8 tracks on topics at the intersection of marketing & IT. This unique program blends advanced marketing, technology and management presentations; each designed to help you succeed in our software-powered...

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How to Recover From a Failed Product Launch

Launching a new product requires time, money, and a whole lot of elbow grease.

When the launch goes off without a hitch, all the effort seems worth it — but when it fails, it can send you and your business into a doubt-ridden daze.

Coca Cola’s ‘New Coke’ disaster back in 1985 still draws attention, while Amazon’s more recent failure with the ‘Fire Phone’ is still fresh in our memories.

The good news is even if your product launch was a total dud, there’s a strategic three-step recovery plan that can turn the tables in your favor once again.

Here’s how it’s done:

Step 1: The Autopsy

There’s usually a very real and quantifiable reason for the failure of your product launch — you just have to find it.

This three-step autopsy will frame your investigation:

Analyze The Data

First things first, you’ll want to analyze every piece of data surrounding the failure of your product launch.

Why? Because your product itself may not have been the reason for its failure — it may have been the customer journey surrounding it.

If you used Google Analytics, or any other entry-level analytics platform, you’ll want to begin investigating the following metrics:

  • Bounce Rate: Your website’s bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who land on a page, and then exit before visiting any other page. By investigating the bounce rate on your website on a page-by-page basis, you can identify your weakest pages and then think about how to improve them in order to retain your traffic. To check your bounce rate using Google analytics, go to Audience > Overview.
  • Exit Pages: Knowing where you lose your audience is key. If, for example, most of your traffic leaves your website at the checkout page, you can investigate your checkout process further to see what’s turning people away. You can evaluate which pages are leaking visitors by going to the Users Flow section in your Google Analytics dashboard.
  • Entry Pages: It’s not all about evaluating bad news. By finding out which pages your audience is landing on most, you can work on optimizing that section of your site. You can access these metrics by heading to Site content > Landing Pages.


Additionally, if you are a Kissmetrics user, you can drill down to your website’s most relevant data with features such as:

  • Path Reports: This Kissmetrics feature shows the quickest and most effective route your customers take towards your entire website’s goal.
  • Objective-based Reporting: Don’t know what kind of report to create? Objective-based reporting is a Kissmetrics feature that recommends an appropriate report based on whatever your objectives are. For example, if you’re focused on improving your funnel, you can use the Funnel Report to see where prospective customers are dropping out before they purchase.
  • Cohort Reports: This feature shows how segmented groups behave over time. You can use such information to figure out how well your audience in one particular country is reacting to a piece of content over time, for example.

The bottom line here is that you should try to get your hands on as much data as possible from your analytics platforms. You can then spend time analyzing that those insights in a way that will help you improve your conversion rates. This guide to ecommerce analytics should help you along the way.

Talk To Your Audience

Next up, you want to engage with your audience to find out what exactly turned them off your previously failed product.

Leveraging your email list is the most common way to reach out and survey your audience. It’s as simple as sending out a request for your subscribers to fill out a short survey on a platform such as SurveyMonkey. You could ask questions like:

  • What did you dislike about ‘Name of Product’?
  • How would you improve ‘Name of Product’?
  • What ‘Name of Product’ features did you like?
  • What were you trying to accomplish with ‘Name of Product’?

Or any other question that will help you better understand the perception around your failed product. As an incentive, you could offer them a discount on other products in your store.


You can also reach out to your audience on social media by running Twitter polls and asking for feedback via Facebook and Instagram.

To really make use of your customers, you can continue your outreach by inviting engaged members of your audience to meet you (or perhaps video chat with you), in order for them to further explain the problems they had with your product — and how they propose you fix it.

Reach Out to Experts

Although your existing audience will shed plenty of light on the failure of your product launch, hearing from experts from within your niche will enhance your understanding even further.

Websites like ExpertFile can help you find experienced names in your industry.

Once you whittle down a list of experts who can help you improve your product, you can reach out to them individually — and perhaps send them a free product — in order to get their take on why it failed to resonate with your audience.

Step 2: The Overhaul

Armed with the data from your autopsy, it’s time to revamp your marketing strategy in preparation for your new and improved product.

Apply All Necessary Changes

With the data you gleaned from your audience, and the feedback you received from the experts you reached out to, you need to apply all necessary changes to your product.

Naturally, the specific changes you need to make will depend upon the type of product you’re dealing with — but one rule always applies: don’t rush it.

Embrace the feedback you received, and take your time in applying it properly. The last thing you want to do is rush it back to market in a poorly prepared state.

Return to Your Audience

Remember when I told you to talk to your audience and set up feedback meetings? Now is the perfect time to reconnect and show them the changes you’ve implemented.

You can present new features (or features that have been stripped away), and demonstrate first hand that the product is in line with their feedback. If their updated opinions are now positive, you know you’re on the right track.

On the other hand, if they still have some qualms about the product, you can always go back and tweak it to perfection. Getting back in touch with those experts at this stage would also be a good idea.

At the same time, be wary of abandoning your own vision and intuition at this stage. The experts are worth listening to, but your own experiences with your audience will tell you things that no expert can.

Identify Your Target Market

Getting to grips with your target market is absolutely vital to the success of your future product launches. Thankfully, there are a few simple ways to do it.

First up, a quick visit to your Google Analytics dashboard can reveal the age, level of education, gender, and browsing location of your current audience. Alexa’s paid service expands upon all of that by giving you insights into things like the keywords being used by your competitors.

Analytics tools like Google Analytics or, even better, Kissmetrics can also teach you a thing or two about your existing audience. Google Analytics will give you an overview of what pages they visit and where in the world they are, but Kissmetrics is built to tell you far more about the people visiting your website. See where they’re coming from, where they drop off in your funnel, and remarket to your best customers – all within Kissmetrics.

Ahrefs is another handy tool that you can use to identify the audiences of your competitors — an extremely useful tactic for when your product rivals the offering of an existing brand.

Finally, you can use Hunter.io to get the emails of individuals within organizations that you could partner with, as well as influencers who can help get the word out about your future product launches. However, you should be cautious with unsolicited emails by not spamming the receiver’s inbox with multiple messages.


Define Your Keywords

Once your audience has been identified, you can start thinking about the keywords you want your content and marketing copy to revolve around.

The most efficient way to come up with keywords is as follows:

  1. Create a Seed List: Start with a seed list of terms based around your products. For example, if you’re selling furniture, start with keywords like ‘Oak dining tables’.
  2. Expand with Keyword Research Tools: Next, expand your terms by running your seed list through tried and tested keyword research tools like Google Trends and the Google Keyword Planner.
  3. Check Competitors: Finally, you want to check out which keywords your competitors are focusing on. This may sound difficult, but there are in fact tons of free and inexpensive competitor keyword research tools to help you achieve this.

Once you have your extended list of keywords, it’s wise to head back to Google’s Keyword Planner in order to see which keywords will fetch you the most impressions and traffic. That way, you can focus your marketing efforts around those select few keywords.

Select Your Marketing Channels

If you’re struggling to figure out which channels to market through, here’s a hint: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Pinterest are the biggest players — and you should consider marketing through all of them.

With that being said, marketing veteran Neil Patel is an advocate of brands covering as much ground as possible when it comes to social media marketing. In fact, he advocates publishing on a wide range of social media platforms at least once per day. Be cautious of which social media platforms you choose (if any). Make sure it’s a platform that is used by your target market and has a good user base.

But if you’re still unsure of where to really focus your social media marketing efforts, here are breakdown of each of the top players:

  • Facebook: With over 1.79 billion active users, Facebook is the world’s most popular social media platform in the world. Its most popular age demographic is 18-29, although it’s safe to approach it no matter who your target market is. Here’s a guide to Facebook marketing to get you started.
  • Twitter: While not as big as Facebook, Twitter brings brands and personalities closer to their audiences by creating a very direct conversational link. This is evidenced by the fact that 83% of world leaders have a Twitter account. This Twitter marketing guide will teach you the basics.
  • Pinterest: If you’re targeting women, Pinterest is for you. According to recent research, 71% of Pinterest users are female. Here’s how to start marketing on Pinterest.
  • Snapchat: Originally touted as a passing fad, Snapchat is becoming a very serious player in the marketing scene, especially for brands targeting millennials. In fact, Snapchat’s biggest age demographic is the 18-24 age group. It can be a tricky platform to get familiar with though, so checking out this guide to Snapchat marketing is a good idea.
  • Instagram: Like Snapchat and Pinterest, Instagram has a heavy focus on visuals. However, recent updates — such as Instagram Stories — have turned it into a very direct rival to Snapchat in particular. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you should check out this detailed Instagram marketing guide.
  • YouTube: If you’re planning on creating long-form video content, YouTube is the place to publish it. Why? Because it reaches more 18-49 year-olds than any cable network in the U.S. Here’s how to start marketing on YouTube.

Step 3: The Lessons Learned

Now that you have thoroughly investigated the failures of your last launch, and addressed any holes in your marketing campaigns, it’s time to gather the lessons you learned for future reference.

The lessons, expert advice, and customer feedback that you gleaned from your failed launch should be compiled in the form of a marketing strategy document: which will be your smoking gun for all future product launches.

A marketing strategy document is an in-house guide that your sales and marketing teams can refer to when setting up marketing campaigns, and whenever a new product is getting prepared for launch. The lessons learned from the previous failure will prove invaluable in such times.

This marketing strategy template will help you to frame your content, although the following articles are also worth reading:

You want the document to be the embodiment of your recovery process, ensuring that the same mistakes never get repeated in future.

To sum up, here’s how to finalize your recovery from a failed product launch:

  • Gather all your analyzed data, expert opinions and customer feedback
  • Put together an improved marketing strategy, with a redefined audience
  • Create a marketing strategy template to house all your findings and new objectives

Once you have your final marketing strategy document, your team will be able to easily extract the lessons from your failed product launch — making it more like a successful experiment.

The Value of Failure

As serial-entrepreneur Richard Branson once said, “don’t be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.”

In light of that quote, it’s fair to say that not every move you make is going to be a win, so gleaning the positives from your worst moments is a vital skill.

Not only will this recovery process improve your product, it will also highlight your mistakes and give you a better understanding of your audience. Not a bad return for a complete failure, right?

Has your brand ever had to recover from a failed product launch? Let us know how you handled it in the comments section below!

About the Author: Anja Skrba is a content manager at First Site Guide, and she has been in the world of online business and content marketing for many years! You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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6 ways to grow your podcast audience with SEO

Columnist Stephan Spencer explains the benefits of podcasting, as well as how to optimize your podcast for visibility in search engines, YouTube and platforms like iTunes or Google Play.

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It’s time to get ready for the holidays (Yes, really!)

It's February, and you know what that means -- the holidays are just around the corner! Okay, maybe not, but columnist Dave Davies explains why now is actually the ideal time for SEOs to start preparing for holiday season 2017.

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