Bringing much-needed transparency to RTB

Real-time bidding (RTB) is great for scale and efficiency, but it can come with risks for brand image, as recent developments have highlighted. Columnist Alex Bornyakov discusses these risks and explores whether it is possible to increase transparency in this programmatic channel.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
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The power of location audiences: A buyer’s guide & scorecard

Location data can help take your marketing and advertising to the next level, but columnist Michael Della Penna says brands and agencies must do their homework before investing in location data, buying audiences or looking at offline attribution.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
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Relevance vs. authority: Which link has more value? (Part 1)

When pursuing a link, which is more important, relevance or authority? Columnist Andrew Dennis asks expert link builders this question, and in the first of his three-part series, we hear from those who value relevance.

Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
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Soft Micro Conversions: The Little-Known, Conversion-Assisting Factors that You Might Be Ignoring

You’re tracking the big stuff.

The ‘macro conversions’ like form submissions, phone calls, and product purchases.

But lying in between those are micro-conversions, the critical yet ‘under the radar’ site actions that ultimately drive success.

When done right, they can accelerate purchases by helping consumers over each potential hesitation or objection (before they arise).

But when you get them wrong, they can self sabotage your efforts by erecting a big, giant, conversion roadblock between consumers and their end goal.

Here’s what they are, how to find them, and how to make sure they aren’t sinking your sales.

Why You Should Stop Obsessing About Conversion Rates

Conversion rates are easy to see.

The Goals inside Google Analytics each time someone purchases, opts-in, or takes a concrete action.

Because they’re easy to see, to spot, and set up, they’re also easy to measure.

It’s Digital Marketing 101. Takes three to five minutes. And pretty soon you’ll start seeing that number move in the right direction.

There’s only one problem though.

Conversion rates aren’t wrong per se. They’re important. But they can be misleading, too.

Conversion rates, by themselves, aren’t actionable. And they only account for a very small slice of the interactions that happen on your website. So only ~2-10% are doing it.

Optimizing the hell out of that 2% to move it higher to 10% is fine. Until that high conversion rate backfires.

It was artificially pumped up; like your favorite roided-out bros at the gym, taking #swellfies while pumping out bicep curls. All the while, they’re wearing pants to cover up those skinny, wimpy legs that would snap under their top-heavy torso if they attempted to play any sport.

bodybuilder-steroids-bicep-curl

What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, conversions.

Issue #2:

Focusing 100% of your time on 2% of your site visitors… doesn’t make a whole lotta sense when you think about it. Sure, a tiny bump in that conversion rate could mean serious revenue.

But it’s the end of a process. Not the beginning. There’s a bunch of little stuff that happens before people even get to that final destination.

Which brings us to Avanish, the Amazing Analytics Avenger.

He recommends you focus on “Task Completion Rate by Primary Purpose” instead of obsessing over conversion rates.

Um, what?

Essentially, that means solving for why people visited your site in the first place.

Basically, people come to your site for a whole variety of reasons. It could be to purchase, sure. But that’s only the tiny majority. Everyone else is visiting in order to learn something, find something, or do something.

Maybe they found your blog post on Twitter and wanted to read a few more. Or perhaps they’ve been to your site once or twice and wanted to check out how your services work.

The “Task Completion Rate” thing attempts to determine if people were actually successful (or not) in quickly, easily, painlessly, finding that stuff.

It’s fundamentally better for customers because it should result in a better website experience. And it should be better for your team because it gives you actionable elements to fix or change or track.

Before we get to those individual details though, you need to figure out which paths people are already taking through your site. The actions or tasks they’re trying to accomplish. And then zero-in on those ‘user flows’ first.

What is User Flow Optimization?

A user flow (or ‘user journey’) is “the path a user follows through your website interface to complete a task (make a reservation, purchase a product, subscribe to something)” according to Peep @ ConversionXL.

Ecommerce checkout flows or funnels are the easiest to see for most. But they also apply to a ‘user journey’ that doesn’t end in a hard conversion, too.

For example, you could have someone from a PPC campaign go directly to a landing page and then an opt-in or purchase page.

But you can also have people from Facebook go to a blog post. Or brand-aware people typing in the homepage and then going directly to your Services and About Us pages.

user-flow-different-channelsImage Source

Each is a separate journey. With a different beginning and end. With a different intent.

Google Analytics even has a helpful little report, appropriately called ‘User Flow’ (under Behavior). It will show you the (1) source people are using to find your site, the (2) very first page they land on, and (3) the subsequent pages they visit afterwards.

user-flow-google-analytics

It’s not perfect. There are flaws. But it’s a start. You can start seeing those patterns, like organic search traffic going directly to your homepage. Which then lets you draw a few assumptions (like most of those visitors are ‘brand-aware’ because they’re probably Googling brand names to hit the homepage).

The Reverse Goal Path under Conversions is another helpful report. True, it focuses on those hard, ‘macro’ conversions we were just warning against. But you can also back the truck up a little bit and see which pages were hit before the conversion took place.

reverse-goal-path-google-analytics

You’re looking for the pages that assist conversions. The ones that grease the wheels and make them happen.

If you have the full gamut of TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU offers setup, it’s also helpful to line all of these micro-conversions up to see the transitions from one to the next.

paid-search-funnel-red-line

After doing this, you can start to look for those conversion rates at each little step to quickly figure out where ‘conversion bottlenecks’ are undermining your efforts.

Here’s a classic scenario.

Conversions are “too low” says boss or client. Ok… but things actually don’t look to bad. It’s right in line with ~2% eCommerce conversion rates or ~7% for B2B services. Sure, it could be better. But it’s not terrible.

Instead, you see that the rate of people viewing the product page and adding it to their cart is low. (Or viewing the Product/Service page and scheduling a demo.)

So. Your attention then switches to the ‘beginning’ of the user journey. How many people that are looking at the initial Features page are clicking through to either (a) learn more about the product or (b) schedule a demo?

kissmetrics-old-product-page

Ok, perfect.

Now, how many are completing the ‘micro-conversions’ on each product page (that ultimately lead a greater percentage of them into your check-out or opt-in flow)?

Those commonly include customer reviews, photos, discounted pricing or special offers.

micro-conversions-amazonImage Source

The best part about these ‘micro-conversions’ is that you can test them.

For example, just including a video on a landing page can lift conversions 80%.

So… do that! Then create a Funnel Report to compare conversion rates for those that watch the video against those that don’t watch it.

has-not-done-event-funnel

The best part is that these micro-conversions (+ funnel reports) can even arm you with more ammunition to go back to your boss or client.

For example, find the conversion rate impact from testing different micro-conversions first. Say, one video for one product.

watched-product-video-compare-funnels

Good. Now let’s apply that change in conversion rate. Let’s say an extra 1%, which is high, but it keeps the math simple.

  • 10,000 customers
  • $100 average value
  • 2% with video views (vs. 1% with normal)
  • Extra revenue with video view: $10,000 ($20,000 – $10,000)

That’s kinda wishful thinking. But you get the idea. That extra revenue lift, applied across all products, should give you a theoretical budget to play with in producing more videos, images, etc.

Now. Let’s see how this plays out in real life with an example.

Bonobos Example: How Micro Conversions Impact Conversion Rates

Bonobos is a low priced yet fashionable online retailer.

They’re about to be acquired by WalMart for a reported $300 million. So, not bad, considering they were founded in only 2007.

Their branding is good. Products are good. UX is good.

Conversion flow? Not so much.

Things start out fine. You add a few products to your cart. And continue browsing. The first potential issue is that in an effort to stay true to a minimalist, elegant UX, they completely downplay that you even have anything in your cart in the first place.

bonobos-wool-suit-product-page

Not great, but not terrible, either. Unfortunately though, this is…

You want to checkout and buy the products. Or at least see how much they end up being with taxes, fees, etc. So you click on Checkout and see:

bonobos-enter-email-address

Ok. Strange. You’re trying to checkout and the next screen is a generic “Hi there!”, asking for your email address.

So you do what any sane, rational person in this scenario would do: you try to keep hitting Continue to bypass this step.

Problem is, they don’t let you go any further without creating an account.

bonobos-purchase-process

Ok. Time for some stats to illustrate this potential pitfall.

Shopping cart abandonment hovers around ~70%. That’s terribly high.

One of the primary reasons people abandon carts? “Did not want to create an account with the merchant.”

Usability expert Christian Holt pegged that number at 30% who abandon because they’re asked to register upfront. Another study found that removing the required account creation helped boost sales for one retailer by $300 million.

(Or the same price being floated for the Bonobos acquisition.)

Now compare that to an excellent checkout flow from mattress company Helix.

build-your-helix-mattress

  1. Progress Bar: 75% of people want this usability feature.
  2. Save Progress: For the 24% who prefer to save and come back later.
  3. Consumer Reviews: Subtly supporting the 90% of people that believe peer reviews over branded messages.

Same end goal: ecommerce checkouts. But a greater focus on the micro conversions that add up to the ultimate macro-one.

Conclusion

Your overall, site wide conversion rate leads to sales. Sure.

But it’s the output, or the result of many little things that came before it.

Micro-conversions occur at every single step from when someone hits your site. Those ‘user flows’ are critical to eventually, one day, turning into paying customers (assuming they had a good experience, first).

Then once they do come back, micro-conversions could mean the difference between a larger number of visitors turning into customers because of video views, progress bars, and more.

Or it could mean the difference between a greater of number people abandoning your checkout process because you don’t allow guest checkouts.

The only way to know for sure, is to switch your focus away from conversion rates (initially) and instead spend more time helping customers complete the “task” that brought them to your site in the first place.

About the Author: Brad Smith the founder of Codeless, a B2B content creation company. Frequent contributor to Kissmetrics, Unbounce, WordStream, AdEspresso, Search Engine Journal, Autopilot, and more.

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Master This Writing Practice to Find More Loyal Readers

"In order to work, pre-internet writers had to follow a publication’s editorial standards." – Stefanie Flaxman

If you want to write about anything you’d like, as often as you’d like, there’s a place for that: your own website.

It’s a modern privilege that gives writers the freedom to digitally publish their work publicly, with the potential to reach any reader with an internet connection.

Can you imagine going back in time and telling that to someone who only wrote on paper? Someone whose only readers were those in physical possession of their writing?

We’re so lucky.

But we may miss out on ways to spread our writing, because we’re not as accustomed to the practices our writer predecessors needed to implement to get their work in front of new readers.

I want to show you how to seize more contemporary opportunities with classic grit.

And the practice I’m going to talk about is guest posting.

While I know you’ve heard the benefits of guest posting before, I don’t think it’s often discussed as a practice.

A lot has to happen before more readers discover your writing, and one big obstacle blocks many internet-era writers …

Has our entitlement cup runneth over?

Since we’re so used to writing on our own sites, it’s natural to think our own style is acceptable on other sites.

The misconception is that once you find a site that has an audience you want to connect with, you can offer that site a typical article you’d write and lock down a publishing spot on their editorial calendar.

While it’s certainly possible to have that experience with guest posting, many large publications aren’t interested in publishing a post that would appear on your blog.

Instead, they may be interested in your expertise and point of view, but they need you to craft an article that honors their editorial standards and would appear on their blog.

In order to work, pre-internet writers had to follow a publication’s editorial standards.

They didn’t have the luxury of publishing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted; they had to learn to trust an editor’s vision for their writing in order to get their articles in front of new readers.

An example: monster truck racing for ladies

I want to demonstrate how the practice of guest posting — or contributing to a publication other than your own — can help you both grow your audience and grow professionally.

In this scenario, monster truck racing has recently surged in popularity among women. Women can’t get enough information about monster truck competitions, so Edith Editor at Cosmopolitan magazine gets a pitch from Frank Freelancer.

Frank regularly contributes to The Monster Truck Times and runs his own blog, Big Wheel Freaks, where he specifically writes about monster truck races.

Edith likes Frank’s article idea, but she needs to educate him on the type of content that is the right fit for Cosmopolitan. She’ll give him their writer guidelines so he can match the tone and style of his article to the publication’s specifications.

Since Frank is a pro, he knows he needs to be flexible. He understands that Cosmopolitan subscribers aren’t used to reading the usual content he writes for The Monster Truck Times and Big Wheel Freaks.

If he wants to connect with Cosmopolitan’s audience (which he does), he has to adapt his writing based on Edith’s guidance. Frank knows that working writers don’t always get to write exactly what they want, and he welcomes the opportunity to strengthen his creative muscles.

Plus, he understands that if Cosmopolitan publishes his writing, he gains authority and validation as a trustworthy source of information. He has a chance to capture the attention of new people who aren’t familiar with his work and then direct them to his typical articles.

If he didn’t view the situation with that attitude, Edith wouldn’t be able to publish his article and she’d find another monster truck writer with more experience working for a professional publication.

Practice the process of guest posting

So, as you can see, my view on guest posting is more involved than simply getting another website to agree to publish one of your articles.

It’s a process of finding publications that are looking for what you offer and collaborating with them.

Successful guest posting consists of:

  • Building relationships
  • Learning and following rules
  • Adapting your writing to become a regular contributor

Let’s look at each one …

Building relationships

"There is only one reason you should initiate a relationship with a content publisher — you genuinely enjoy their work." – Sonia Simone

The way two people connect and bond may look nothing like what another two people experience, so I think it’s best to view relationship-building as an art form with a variety of factors that are different for everyone.

But that also makes the process a bit difficult to describe.

First, accept that every relationship develops differently. You’ll rarely be able to duplicate something that worked for someone else and get the same results — your copycat version will seem forced and inauthentic.

Second, relationship-building needs you to detach from possible outcomes. For example, when you have an authentic interest in talking to a blogger whose site you enjoy, you’ll genuinely enjoy chatting with them in blog comments or having a quick email exchange.

The experience of connection is the reward.

On the other hand, if you contact someone because you want something from them, you’ll be preoccupied with getting that person to agree to your request. You might even feel entitled to their time and attention.

Your agenda is always more obvious than you realize — and it’s not attractive.

Connect with people you want to meet without needing anything from them. If a relationship grows naturally, somewhere down the line you’ll probably both be happy to help each other out.

Learning and following rules

"That's why they call it work." – Robert Bruce

The first “rule” on your radar should be familiarizing yourself with what certain publications are looking for, or not looking for …

Now’s a good time to mention that Copyblogger does not currently review unsolicited guest post pitches. However, many publications do review them and display guidelines on their sites to help you shape your submissions.

Those guidelines aren’t arbitrary. They are what the publication wants you to submit to optimize your chances of getting the “yes” response that you’d like, so study and follow the instructions.

You want to be intimately familiar with any site you pitch to (like how Frank Freelancer knew Edith Editor would be looking for a monster truck writer), so even if pitch guidelines aren’t available, you’ll naturally know how to grab their attention.

For instance, some publications prefer receiving a full article for consideration while others want to see an outline before the author finishes writing.

Regardless of your publication’s preference, demonstrate that you can offer their readers a new perspective, but that you’re also a professional who will meet their standards.

Pitching to smaller publications is a great way to practice guest posting.

Many won’t have as many rules as larger sites, so getting your writing published is sometimes a quicker process. Even though their audiences may contain fewer people, those individuals may be highly engaged with the site’s content, which helps you initiate new relationships and invite those readers back to your site.

Adapting your writing to become a regular contributor

"'Link building' is something I’ve never done in my 19 years of publishing online." – Brian Clark

It’s definitely an accomplishment to have a site other than your own publish your writing. But guest posting will be the most beneficial to your writing career if you aim to become a regular contributor — to one site or several.

Guest posting can help influence your area of expertise. Keep learning about the topics that the sites you’ve contributed to want to share with their readers.

For example, Frank Freelancer might enjoy writing for Cosmopolitan and continue to perform detailed research on relevant subjects for the magazine. He’ll treat his Cosmopolitan articles with great care and submit his best work.

As you grow a long-term relationship with a publication, they’ll get to know you better as well and appreciate your professional attributes, such as meeting deadlines and submitting drafts without typos.

When you contribute value over time, the publication will also be much more willing to help you out with a favor, if you ever need one.

Finding loyal readers requires the same persistence writers have needed since the birth of the first writing instrument … but I think those ancient writers would have preferred to have access to new audiences on the internet. Don’t squander your upper hand.


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