Digital Inbound & Media: How They Work Together

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For companies which rely on online leads and sales, few marketing strategies work better than a strong mix of inbound digital marketing tactics paired with carefully-placed online and offline advertising designed to drive your best prospects to a conversion-focused website.  When managed properly, these tactics work together to guide the consumer through the pre-purchase – or consideration – phase of the buying cycle.

Marketing through the pre-purchase phase is important. Without a proper strategy, acquiring new customers and generating new revenue is extremely difficult.  Here’s how the tactics work together

  1. Inbound digital marketing tactics engage customers with interesting content and targeted messaging. These tactics include search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) ads, blogging, social media marketing, and email marketing.
  2. Multi-channel advertising strategies build awareness and attract customers. Advertising mediums like online banner and video ads, TV and radio spots, billboards, print ads, signage, displays, and out of home experiences are but a few examples of advertising tactics that work.
  3. By engaging and attracting our target audience to well-designed websites and landing pages, we build trust and interest.
  4. When our target audience is interested and trusts us, we use techniques to begin converting them into customers.  Subsequently, leads and sales increase.

In a perfect situation, all of these marketing activities are unified and guided by a clear vision.  Since all messaging is guided by that vision, your customer’s journey is consistent.

Each time you consistently deliver the same messages about your brand, you’re shaping the customer’s impression of your product. If they find interest in that product and what it can do for them, their curiosity will lead them to learn more about your product.

When properly planned and executed, a combined digital inbound and advertising strategy offers the best changes of success.  Yet, despite the desire to maximize marketing ROI, few organizations properly leverage the combined strengths of these two unique marketing approaches.

If it Works, Why Isn’t Everyone Doing It?

Here’s why. Small businesses believe (often incorrectly) they can’t afford both strategies.

Growing companies often change direction quickly and may find it challenging to manage sophisticated strategies without taking resources away from important projects and core business functions.

Large corporations have money and resources, yet their strategies may still fall short when relying on multiple agencies, vendors, and media companies, each focused on niche responsibilities instead of holding overall accountability for campaign performance.

Here’s Why That Thinking is Wrong

There are solutions to each of these organizational challenges if you’re open-minded.  And why wouldn’t you be?  The stakes are high.  We already know that a tightly-integrated digital inbound and placed media strategy is critical if you want to get the most out of your marketing budget.  So what holds companies back, and what can be done?

 

Choices

When it comes to implementing a coordinated strategy, you really have four choices.

1. Manage digital inbound & media in-house.

2.  Manage multiple partners and vendors.

3.  Partner with a full-service Digital/Media Agency.

4.  Do nothing.

 

Considerations

What’s the Best Solution for Your Company?

What are the Right Tactics?

What ROI can I Expect, and What Should I Invest to Get it?

Consider these questions when deciding if your overall marketing strategy should be audited:

It is especially important to understand the correlation between traditional advertising and digital marketing investments. For example:

SEO/PPC/Website/Traditional Advertising: What’s the correlation?

  • Traditional advertising, branding and direct response campaigns, generate increased direct website traffic and branded search activity (i.e. when a user searches using a phrase like “Joe’s Shoes Harrisburg PA”). Your digital marketing provides a way to show up well in the competitive online environment.  As a complementary strategy, your traditional advertising supplements those efforts by eliminating the clutter, making sure you are also sought out directly.
  • When well-tailored messaging drives consumers to a website optimized for conversion, each message optimized for the medium and targeted consumer but tied together by the brand’s vision, your advertising and digital marketing will create an accelerated journey from initial contact, to point-of-purchase (and beyond with remarketing efforts)

“One delivers ROI, the other not so much.”

  • False! All marketing investments should be governed by the same metrics to understand how the various “moving parts” generate bottom line costs.  For certain companies this metric may be “What does it cost to get a lead?”  Other companies may seek to understand “What does a new customer REALLY cost?”  Large consumer brands tend to look more generally, “What does a pair of eyeballs cost?”
  • When you tie everything together strategically and run it through holistic analysis, you gain a true understanding of customer acquisition. This becomes critical as you make decisions to grow… now you have the tools to establish goals and plan your brand’s path forward with incredible accuracy.

What to Do if You’re Unsure

In a marketing environment that offers hundreds of ways to bombard consumers with messaging, it’s of great importance for your marketing team to lead a unified charge when taking your brand to market.  When “Big Data” and “Big Picture” perspectives align, synergies emerge, creating heightened marketing ROI.  This is only achieved when one over-arching strategy governs the execution of both.  Much like your corporate culture and day-to-day operations; your marketing requires a reliable team capable of executing your vision through collaboration and specialized knowledge.  Are their inefficiencies in your current approach?  Contact us to receive an assessment at no charge.

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Conquer Scope Creep Before It Kills Your Project

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Avoiding Scope Creep’s Harmful Effects

In marketing project management, the point in which a project grows beyond its originally anticipated size is termed scope creep. A long-standing enemy of agencies due to its profit-killing consequences, scope creep victimizes clients, too.  Scope creep pushes budgets and extends deadlines. It causes frustration and stress. Sometimes, it can doom even your project; according to the Project Management Institute, 36% of all large projects fail due to scope creep.

While changes to a project often start off with the best intentions, it’s best to avoid scope creep whenever possible. I’m convinced more projects have failed or been severely delayed due to scope creep than any other cause.

What Causes Scope Creep?

Being that I am a believer in the special things an agency and client can accomplish working together as one, I’ve made some observations about project scope creep:

Most scope creep is avoidable.
It’s caused by poor needs analysis, documentation and planning
and is exasperated by disorganized communication, lack of flexibility, and missed deadlines.

Regardless of its causes and which party is responsible for it, scope creep doesn’t have to ruin your next big project. Here are my best tips for combating scope creep, with a little comedic assistance from Dilbert along the way.

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1.  Define Expectations of Success

At the start of a project, every person and company involved should discuss the business case for the project, its goals, and expected outcomes. I called this “setting the Expectations of Success.”  To get the conversation started, I’ll ask “What would it take for this project to be considered a success?” or “What does success look like for you in this situation?”

Discussing what a project looks like when it’s completed is actually the most logical first step; because to get there, then best way is usually to work backwards. Let those early discussions guide decisions throughout the project.  Be transparent, and be clear of what you expect from all parties.  Use quantifiable goals and measurements if possible.  And document these expectations in writing so every project stakeholder is working toward the objectives and goals of the project.

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2.  Get Input Before the Project Begins

We’ve all worked on projects where someone who had no interest in being involved in early decisions suddenly appears with great interest in the 11th hour, proclaiming his expertise on all matters related to the project.  Due to rank, we may need to listen closely to this person’s opinions. And if his input means we need to make changes to the project, well then – more often than not – those involved in the project since its beginning may have to make dozens of new decisions that affect timeline and already-completed parts of the project.

The best way to avoid the effects of a latecomer is to get input from all stakeholders in before the project requirements are drafted and a Scope of Work is created.  If that’s not possible, clearly state the impact that a late change will have on the project: cost and budget overruns, schedule changes, additional project risk, and so forth. In some cases, a seemingly “easy change” announced on a whim will be shelved when put into the perspective of additional costs and time delays.

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3.  Document Everything – in Writing

Most scope creep is caused by a lack of organized communication between the agency and client, and vice versa. Among my favorite oversights are missed technical details (“Did I mention that every form needs to be connected to our new CRM?”), forgetting to warn of upcoming milestones (“Ooops… I need all your new content by this Friday”), and unplanned reviews (“I need to send this to Legal for review…I’ll let you know when they’re done redlining.”)

Missteps like these add cost, time, and stress to any large marketing project – and can often be avoided with thorough, upfront planning. Constant, ongoing communication between client and agency is the key to avoiding these situations. Setting up formal communication practices, like weekly project summaries in writing and pre-scheduled project meetings, can help you avoid misunderstandings and unpleasant surprises. If significant details are discussed by phone, take a few minutes to write up a recap and send an email to everyone involved on the call. These simple practices require little time or effort, but can prevent re-work and unplanned delays.

Sometimes, scope creep is simply unavoidable. If both parties agree to a change in the project scope, your agency should provide you with written documentation defining the change, as well as detailing the additional time and costs to be incurred before the work has started.  No one likes receiving a surprise bill in the mail.

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4. Define Upfront, but Remain Flexible

Web and IT projects, particularly where custom functionality is being developed, can fall victim to seemingly small changes which add significant risks and resources to a project. Define the project’s scope in writing as thoroughly as possible before the project begins, and openly discuss potential unknowns that will be worked out as the project advances.

Those unknowns are where you, as a client, can be taken advantage of. Do your best to define those potential cases upfront and be clear that communication is critical if the project changes. If the project must begin without all known requirements, the agency and client should define early on how scope changes will be estimated, prioritized, and documented.  An open, honest conversation upfront can help avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings once the project is underway.

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5.  Consider the Consequences

Sometimes, deadlines are set in stone and cannot change. In many cases, however, the deadline is an imaginary expectation we’re holding ourselves to.  Since doing something “right” usually takes more time and effort, planning buffer time in a project schedule is wise – particularly for projects which may require research and development, extensive reviews, and user testing. The factors in the project that may be outside of your control, the more buffer time you should plan for in your schedule.

Remember that any changes to the project scope will have an effect on production schedules no matter how many people are working on the project, so adjust accordingly. Certainly there are exceptions to this statement, and a good partner will work hard to minimize the impact of scope changes on a project’s timeline. Sometimes, though, adding time to a project’s schedule is unavoidable.

When this occurs, try to be open-minded to your agency’s concerns. We want you to be happy and we want to get your project completed on time – but we also want to make sure that we are doing our best work for you.  Adding features without adding time to the schedule is a sure recipe for disaster, because it typically leads to “cutting corners” during the development, testing, and review phases of the project.  When that happens, you can be assured that you’ll pay the price dearly in the future.  Rushing through projects due to late scope changes can increase the costs of maintaining and updating your site or web application in the future – and can lead to decreased customer satisfaction, increased customer service volume, and time lost dealing with problems after the product launches.

Conquer Scope Creep Before It Kills Your Project

Scope creep can kill projects, but it’s avoidable by following some simple guidelines. Define and document everything you can before the project begins.  Get input from all stakeholders. Communicate openly and often. Put everything in writing. Remain flexible. Consider all consequences of scope changes and give extra time if it means getting your project done right.

And if you’re tangled in a project that may be on the wrong path, give us a shout. We’re here to help.

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Inside Hershey’s new Jobs Website

Building the Ultimate Human Resources Website

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts’ (HE&R) human resources team has a big job: they’re charged with communicating job openings, marketing the benefits of working at the company’s 16 properties, and managing the application process for thousands of job seekers annually – while supporting more than 10,000 full-time, part-time, and seasonal employees.

To attract applicants in an increasingly-competitive job market, HE&R’s human resources department maintains a dedicated human resources website to manage their hiring needs. After receiving user feedback and seeing opportunities for improvement, the HR team tapped Synapse for solutions that would improve the website’s user experience (especially on mobile devices), and show off the benefits of working for HE&R – while seamlessly integrating the site with their third-party Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Here’s what the website looked like before Synapse:

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And, here’s what the website  looks like after the Synapse redesign:

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New Navigation & Content Strategy

The site’s new content strategy focused on helping the user understand the benefits of working for HE&R, and to help them find the right job for them. To accomplish this, we created a completely new content structure – expanding some content, creating new content, and consolidating old content into fresh pages. Our idea was to create a five-prong funnel to get the user into the application process, depending on what was most important to them:

  • Tailored search using the Find Your Sweet Opportunity search app.
  • Featured jobs advertisements.
  • Search by HE&R property.
  • Search by career interest.
  • Search by special requirements, such as jobs suitable for teens.

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Intelligent Job Search

With hundreds of job openings available at all times, a big complaint about the original site was that users were having trouble finding the set of jobs that met their individual requirements. Rather than requiring the user to sift and sort their way through all the jobs, we took a fresh approach and created the Sweet Opportunity Finder.

This filtered form, which uses strategy similar to eCommerce product selection, allows the user to select from various preferences so they can see a list of job opportunities that meet their exact requirements. This custom application is integrated with Findly, a third-party Applicant Tracking System, to ensure real-time, up-to-the-minute accuracy and seamless integration of the application process.

HersheyJobs_Job Finder

User-Friendly Page Features

Creating a user-friendly, intuitive experience for users on all devices was one of the key requirements for the project. Relying on our knowledge of UX best practices, we packed each content page with user-friendly features.  Here are a few tricks we used that you can incorporate into your own web pages:

  • Lead the user toward your conversion funnel by using prominent CTAs positioned high on the page.
  • When more than one call-to-action is displayed on a page, use buttons for the most important actions, and text links for secondary actions.
  • Offer automatic filtered search options to make information easy to find, like SEARCH JOBS FOR THIS CAREER PATH.
  • Provide links for related content, in this case: RELATED JOBS.  Never take the user to a “dead end.”
  • Make it easy to share content on social media with one-click sharing buttons.
  • Incorporate text, visuals and videos to engage the widest variety of users.
  • Use charts to help users compare data when presenting multiple options.
  • Showcase related events or learning content which may be of interest to the user.
  • Keep copy concise. Use bullets and section headings to guide users who “skim” through copy.
  • Use sticky navigation bars and breadcrumbs to assist the user with navigation tasks.

HersheyJobs_Page Features

Internal Content Page

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Top 16 Most Effective Search Engine Optimization Tips [Infographic]

Powerful SEO Tips to Get More Website Traffic

We field a lot of questions about search engine optimization, how it works, what techniques work best, is SEO worth the money, etc. Now, thanks to our friends over at Dilate, here’s a simple infographic that shows the the most effective SEO techniques that are needed for every website.

After you’ve checked out the infographic, take us up on a free SEO audit that will uncover how many of these search engine optimization techniques you are using on your website. Simply contact Synapse for a free Expert SEO Audit and get a comprehensive SEO analysis of your website at absolutely NO charge.

Top 16 Most Effective Search Engine Optimization Tips 2016 infographic

Free Search Engine Optimization Audit

Want a free SEO audit that will uncover how many of these techniques you are using on your website? Contact Synapse for a free Expert SEO Audit and get a comprehensive analysis of your website, FREE of charge.

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Best Practices Learned from Managing 14,000 Marketing Projects

07-13_Best-Practices_01A skilled marketing project manager is a rare combination of event organizer, cheerleader, analyst and taskmaster; able to motivate and invigorate a diverse team of uniquely skilled, creatively talented folks, as well as to advise, assure and, at times, assuage clients who run the gamut from demanding to ambivalent. Synapsians Pam Denlinger, Director of Account Management, and Katia Byler, Senior Account Manager, shared some of their thoughts as to what they feel has helped them become successful project managers and offered some Best Practices for others in the position of managing large-scope marketing projects.

1. Planning and Preparation

Any project is made up of several key milestones along the way to the final destination. Content creation, creative design and so forth mark the path to a final goal, whether that is an email design or an entire website.

“The main reason a project seems to go off track is not meeting milestones on time,” warns Katia. “This can happen when there isn’t a clear line of communication and project timeline set up at the start of the build. To help avoid this, layout detailed timelines and expectations during the project planning stage.”

Such a timeline, agreed upon among team members and the client during a project kick-off meeting, let’s everyone know precisely when their contribution to the overall project is to be completed.

2. Know What the Final Goal Is

As projects move along, it’s important that both the client and the project team are aware of what is and isn’t included in the planned schedule and budget. Clients will change their mind about what they want, and developers and strategists will want to create a top-of-the-line product with all the latest bells and whistles. A well-documented Scope of Work is critical to the success of any project, as Pam underscored in her comments.

“Scope creep and revisions late in the game are two things that can all of a sudden get a project off course. We go back to communication and let the client know that a change like [what they are asking for] could cause delays in launch, etc. But other times we can be our own worst enemy and want to give them the world – but not be wary of our own time restraints. We AMs try and urge against those things, but we also want to give the best possible product to our clients we can.”

It’s a balancing act, but one that is far more easily accomplished if the rules are clear to begin with.

3. Communication, Communication, Communication!

When asked what they feel is the most important skill a project manager needs to develop, both Pam and Katia agreed that the ability to keep communication lines flowing is at the top of the list. Even with planning and documented scope, there are going to be changes and adaptations along the way, but good communication allows the flexibility to adjust to those plan alterations.

“Knowing everything about what’s going on with your projects is huge,” says Pam. “Make sure you are always communicating with your team and your clients so that they always know what the expectation is.”

Katia agrees: “I can tell you all the usual – time management, organization, planning – but I also think a big skill is always being prepared for your plans to change and knowing how to properly reorganize and move forward.”

4. Client Management

The client is your customer, of course, and your goal is always to provide them the best service and best end result. A wise project manager recognizes that the client is also part of the project team, and as such needs to be managed and scheduled just as much as any other team member.

Pam knows that projects can be thrown off by clients who “take their time getting us approvals, which can cause serious challenges with scheduling.”

Again, communication is key, and gently reminding a client that their project cannot move forward until they have done their part is often all it takes to get things going again.

5. Adapt, Adopt, Adjust

The old saying about “the best laid plans…” is just as true in project management as in anything. But being able to go with the flow at times and demonstrate adaptability and flexibility will not only make your current project go more smoothly, but will help you grow as a project manager for future assignments.

07-13_Best-Practices_02“Always be prepared for your day to go in a totally different direction than you had planned for,” laughs Katia. “It’s OK though; it makes every day different and exciting! This also teaches you to not put anything off until tomorrow. If you get into that habit, you will always be falling behind on your daily duties and client expectations. “

Pam concurs: “There are times where we have all felt extremely overwhelmed, but when a client is delivered a product that your whole team is proud of and they love, it makes it so worth it. There will be days that are long and times when you think nothing else can go wrong. It’s in those moments that you need to remember that you have a strong support staff who is there to help you, and anything can be worked out by getting together and coming up with a good game plan.”

If you would like to partner with a team who will help you come up with a good game plan for your marketing needs, start a conversation with Synapse today!

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18 Ways to Maximize the Value of Your Website

07-13_18-Ways_01A good looking website conveys a positive image for your business and provides users with all the information they’re looking for in a way that’s easy for them to discover and explore. That’s the basic, bare-bones function of a website.

But a high-performing website does so much more. It makes a measurable impact on your company’s bottom line.

If your website isn’t doing the following, it’s not providing the ROI that it should for your business.

1. Decreasing call volume.
A good website provides basic information about your business, but a great website decreases unnecessary calls across your organization by providing users with the information they need to complete their goals—and yours—without picking up a phone.

2. Directing the calls that count.
For users who are ready to get in touch, a great website directs them to the right people in the best way, be it email, chat, or online contact forms.

3. Sending shoppers to stores.
Website locators allow users to find the store or dealer nearest them and get directions. Great locators are linked to your databases to provide accurate, up-to-date information without maintenance from your staff.

4. Streamlining your HR processes.
A good website conveys your brand and culture, helping you attract talent. But a high-performing website also cuts paperwork for HR staff by providing easy job posting and removal, accepting applications and forwarding them to appropriate staff. The result is fewer calls and emails and a uniform application process that provides screeners with the information you want in the format that works best for you.

5. Pre-qualifying leads.
A good website provides visitors with a way to contact you. A great website leads users at every point deeper into the sales funnel—and captures the right information along the way to let you identify quality leads and follow up.

6. Expanding your available hours.
Your business may only be open 8 or 12 hours a day, but your website can be taking orders and fielding questions 24/7/365. A website that is designed to guide prospects to the right call to action (CTA) at every step ensures that visitors are always encouraged to move forward with you, even after business hours.

7. Driving and managing ecomm.
A good ecomm website presents all of your offerings and completes transactions without a hitch. But a great ecomm site provides the right product information, intelligent filters and search functions and other user-friendly features to drive sales. It also makes the buying experience as quick and easy as possible, encouraging future visits and repeat sales.

8. Providing happy landings.
A good website is there to greet people who respond to your marketing campaigns. A high-performing website takes them to custom landing pages to close the deal—and captures valuable information along the way.

9. Tracking goals and progress for you.
A great website is aligned with your organization’s goals, provides conversions to match and tracks your progress through tools such as Google Analytics, making it easy for you to see which tactics are working—and which aren’t—and adjust your strategy in response.

10. Building a high-quality mailing list.
A good website lets readers get in touch with you, but a high-performing website unobtrusively captures email addresses and other key information at various stops along the way, letting you build your email list with interested prospects.

07-13_18-Ways_0211. Asking the right questions.
Customers hate filling out extra forms and fields. Ask too much of them and they may wander away. Ask too little and you risk wasting staff time or getting information you can’t use. A great website captures the right information and sends it where it can do your organization the most good.

12. Providing deeper intelligence.
A good website tells you how much site traffic you receive each day, but a great site is set up to tell you much more, including where visitors are coming from, what they’re reading and which pages are leading to conversions. It can also provide user demographics through tools such as cohort analysis.

13. Following the five-second rule.
A good website reflects your visual brand language and conveys key information about your company. A great website tells visitors instantly who you are, what you do and why you’re different. Your website should convey all of that within 5 seconds of landing on the home page, or your website is failing you.

14. Getting social.
A good website has icons for connecting with social pages. A great one is your social media hub, inviting users back and forth through connected content, dedicated landing pages and more.

15. Going mobile.
A good website is legible on mobile. A high-performing one is built for it. Not only is this crucial for driving sales from today’s mobile shoppers, but now that Google has made the mobile experience a major search ranking factor, it gives your website a major leg up in the SERPs.

16. Managing registrations.
A great website manages everything from reservations to event registration, contest entries and volunteer sign-ups. It can also provide calendars and infographics linked to real-time data, dramatically reducing administrative work.

17. Surveying visitors.
A good website provides a contact form. A great one gives you the opportunity to ask users key questions if you wish and compiles them in actionable reports.

18. Distributing literature.
A great website provides a document center that distributes literature to key personnel and customers. Different levels of access can be granted for employees, dealers, customers and the public, and all of it can be managed easily through a single interface.

Is your website working to build your business? Or is it just hanging around looking good? (or worse, doing neither?) Contact us today to talk about using the full power of digital marketing to power your business.

Let’s Talk >

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Ghosts in the Machine: How to Combat Ghost Referral Spam in Google Analytics

6.29.15---Ghost-ReferralsI admit it, I’m a numbers guy.  I realize that some of you reading this cannot fathom how anyone could enjoy spending hours looking at spreadsheets, analyzing data, ferreting out trends and putting together reports, but I truly enjoy it.  Most of the time.

When the data is in our client’s favor and showing successes in their marketing efforts, I am elated; when the data tells a different story I am consternated but still enjoy the process of finding the solution to whatever is wrong.  But when the data I am given to analyze is unreliable and unable to truly tell me anything, well, that’s when it gets really frustrating.

Referring to the Issue at Hand

One of the tools I rely most heavily on in my day-to-day work is Google Analytics.  There is so much information to uncover, so many layers of data to tease out from within its segments and dashboards, and so many times when spending an hour or two chasing the numbers has eventually led me to a solution I could never have reached otherwise.  It is a remarkable and powerful tool.

It is also remarkably easy to spoof data in GA, and in recent months the ever-present issue of Spam Referral Data has become a major headache, thanks to a noticeable increase in the amount of ghost referral spam travelling around the Internet.

What Is It?

Of the many channels of website traffic, Referral Traffic is among the more actively sought and highly valued.  Referral Traffic, as its name implies, consists of visitors to your website who have arrived via links from other websites.  The volume of referral traffic your site sees is, in some ways, a measure of how popular your site is.  When Google sees a number of sites linking to yours, it raises your Authority scores, which in turn helps your positioning in search results.

Inexperienced Analytics users will occasionally see sudden influxes of hundreds upon hundreds of site visits from unfamiliar websites, and will be elated thinking a link to their site has potentially gone viral.  Unfortunately, what they have experienced is actually the tell-tale signs of a spam referrer.

Spam referrers vary in their methods and intents.  In general, they all hope you’ll see their site name (or the name of the site they are posing as), wonder what caused them to link to you, and click to visit the link.  In many cases, these spammers are less-than-ethical “black hat” SEO or marketing concerns who have sold a “guaranteed quality traffic” package to the website they spoof themselves to appear to be.  You click and land on that site’s page, and you’re more than likely going to spend a few moments clicking around the site trying to figure out where the non-existent link to your site is located.  By the time you give up, your visit has been tallied as traffic with a decent session duration and maybe even multiple page views.

Other spam referrers are not in it to make money, but are hoping to entice your click for more nefarious purposes, such as passing malware, Trojans or viruses on to your machine.  For this reason, your best practice is to never click on an unfamiliar referrer’s link in Google Analytics.  Doing a Google search of the referrer will quickly tell you whether you’ve got a spammer.

An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to combat spam referrers is to set up a filtered view within your Google Analytics account which screens out the spammers.  If you manage several accounts through Analytics, setting up a block at the server level can often be more efficient.  You need to be constantly vigilant, however, because the spammers are insidious.  Just when you think you have them filtered out, they alter their domain name or IP address just enough to skirt past the filters and go about their spamming.  Updating filters is an ongoing chore, but necessary.

Now for the bad news: there is an ever-growing segment of spam referrals that, no matter how thoroughly you build your filters, you cannot screen out.  Why not? Because they actually never visited your site at all.  These are the Ghost Referrals, and it can feel like chasing ghosts trying to keep your data free of them.

Ghost Referrals work by using brute force programs to mimic Google Analytics Tracking IDs, running through every possible combination that fits the UA-XXXXXXXX-X pattern that Google’s tracking IDs follow.  Eventually they happen onto a valid ID, and use it to fake a pageview directly to Google’s tracking service.  Google’s tracking cannot differentiate between real and fake pageviews; it only looks for valid IDs.  When it sees a session with your Google Analytics Tracking ID, it tallies it in your data reporting with whatever referral source the spammer has spoofed.  Your server level and account level filters are useless because the spammer never actually arrived to trip them!

Who You Gonna Call?

I gave you the bad news, so now here’s the good news:  you can guard against the Ghost Referrers, too, and it’s not overly difficult to do.  You simply have to reverse your thinking.  Rather than trying in vain to filter out the bad traffic, create a filter that only allows the good traffic to come in.  You can do this using the Hostname dimension in Analytics.

Under Acquisition in the Analytics menu, find All Traffic > Referrals.  Set your Secondary Dimension to Hostname.  You’ll quickly see a list of the servers through which the referrers claim to have arrived at your site.  Those that actually did will show your server’s name (often identified by your URL) or the name of a server you recognize as valid.  For example, if you use a third party such as Volusion for the shopping cart on your site, you might see traffic coming through the hostname “volusion.com.”

The ghosts never visited your site, so they do not know the correct hostnames to use – and that is their fatal flaw.  Instead, they either use a fake hostname or report the hostname as “(not set).”  All you need do, therefore, is design your filter to only include traffic whose reported hostnames match those you know to be valid.  Just like that, the ghosts will vanish!

One caveat to this method: always, always make sure to have set aside one view for each account that you leave unfiltered.  If you mistakenly filter out good traffic and have no unfiltered view in place where it would have been captured, it will be lost forever.

If you’re running into issues with spam referrers distorting your site data, or even if you just don’t feel comfortable setting up Analytics or other SEO tools to help manage your website performance, start a conversation with us at Synapse today.

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Inbox Overload: How Much Email Is Too Much?

6.29.15---Inbox-OverloadHave you ever gone to one of those networking dinners where local businesspeople get the chance to glad-hand and swap elevator pitches in the hopes that they’ll find someone who either wants their services or knows someone else who does?  There’s always the one guy there who has that uber-slick look about him, gives you a bad vibe, but is insistent on trading business cards with you.  You smile politely, trying to nonchalantly edge away from this guy, muttering something to the effect of, “Yeah, well, I’ll give you a call if I’m in the market for your business.”

“Hey, great!” he responds, “Hey, is it alright if I give you a call?”

“Sure, sure,” you reply, happy to get away.  But, you haven’t gotten away – now this fellow is calling you almost daily, giving you his heaviest sales pitches, desperately hoping to wring some business out of you.  This guy has quickly escalated to the top of your irritation list, to the point where even if you desperately needed whatever business services he offers, you would go anywhere else but his company for those services.

Are You That Guy?

You may have groaned in acknowledgement as you read that description, either from personal experience or from simply imagining the situation.  And if I were to ask you if you believe you are guilty of that annoying, irritating marketing of your services or products, you would likely be quick to say “No way I would be that insensitive and off-putting with a potential customer!”

Let me ask you this:  how often do you send promotional emails to your house email list?  Every few days?  Every day?  More than once a day?

Unfortunately, many email marketers become “that guy” without realizing it by virtue of an overly aggressive schedule of email blasts.   Even if prospects have willingly given you their email addresses because they have purchased from you in the past and were so pleased that they want to be kept in the loop for upcoming sales and special offers, it won’t take long to turn them from satisfied customers to unhappy former customers if every time they open their inbox there’s another email from you screaming “BUY SOMETHING!” from the subject line.

How Much is Too Much?

There’s no magic formula for determining when you’ve crossed the line into Too Much Email territory, but you’ll know it if and when you get there.  You’ll see your email list start to dwindle as frustrated folks unsubscribe.  You’ll see your sales numbers begin to drop, too.

The best advice is to err on the side of caution.  A once-a-week sales flyer type of email is certainly acceptable, especially if you maintain consistency in day and time of your send.  If you build an expectation within your audience that they’ll see an email from you weekly on Tuesday mornings, you shouldn’t suffer the wrath of the inbox hawks.  Once a day, on the other hand, can get annoying fast.

I’ve seen some websites actually put the decision in the recipients’ hands: when you sign up to receive emails, you are given an option as to how often you want to receive mailings.

Quality Over Quantity, Always

Despite what your intuition – or a less-than-ethical marketing manager – might tell you, the way to raise your sales numbers is not simply to blast even more emails out there.  The first place to look for improvement possibilities is the content of the emails you are sending out already.  Remember, the email has one job: to get the recipient to take action.  Any recipient of your email is going to ask themselves one question before deciding whether or not to visit your website, take advantage of a coupon, or signup for an offer:  “What’s in it for me?”

If your email traffic isn’t where it needs to be, chances are good that your emails are not answering that question.  If your email content shows the recipient the benefit he or she will receive by taking action, whether that be a special discount, an online-only sale, or free shipping, once a week will prove to be more than often enough.

Need Help Strategizing Email Content and Schedule?

The experts at Synapse Marketing Solutions are skilled at creating compelling, eye-catching emails and helping you find the right sending schedule.  Start a conversation with us today!

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6 Ways to Leverage Content for More Website Traffic

At the core of nearly every successful digital marketing strategy lies a strong content strategy. Thousands of articles have been written on producing content in all its glorious forms; noticeably absent from most content plans, however, is a strategy for distributing the content once it is created. Content does no good collecting dust on a web page somewhere, hoping to be found. This is why having a content distribution strategy is a critical part of your overall content marketing plan.

With that being said, here’s a simple yet amazingly-effective content distribution strategy that will grow your website traffic. I like this approach because it solves three key issues:

1. Since content is expensive (in time and dollars) to create, it helps you get the most out of your investment.

2. It’s a multi-channel approach, so you won’t miss an opportunity to get in front of your audience – no matter where they consume content. It saves heaps of time and makes your social media, email and search marketing efforts quite a bit easier, too.

3. It pleases Google, which naturally leads to better search engine rankings and more web traffic.

OK, I can see you’re sold on why having a content distribution plan makes sense. Here’s the strategy presented in a neat, orderly graphic:

Content Marketing

(Many thanks to our client, The AMES Companies, for designing this graphic. I’m going to reuse it because it’s much prettier than my original crudely-drawn sketch.)

The process is simple. It starts after a piece of content is created – an article, infographic, video, whatever. Focus on making your content useful and interesting to your target audience and then follow these six steps for a well-rounded distribution approach:

1. Find a home on your website where the content can live. You’ll get the most out of your content when it lives on your site, collecting SEO juice while letting everyone know that your website is updated on a regular basis. Think of your website as a ‘Content Hub’, ’cause that’s where content should live for all to see. The more often you post interesting content to your site, the more repeat and referral traffic your site will receive in return.

2. Optimize the content for the search engines . In fact, I never create content without doing proper SEO research first, because I want to create content which delivers organic traffic based on what is on my audience’s minds. At a minimum, make sure to include high-value keywords in your article, write solid page titles and meta descriptions, optimize heading tags and use long-tail terms in the body. Over time, well-optimized content brings in more visitors from search engines, which typically account for 40 to 80 percent of all new site visits.

3. Share your content on social networks where your audience lives, works, plays and shops. Depending on your business, this could mean you’ll need to create a few Facebook posts, Tweets, LinkedIn posts, Pins, or what-have-you. Don’t spill all the beans on social media, though; you’re trying to get your audience interested enough to click the link and go to your site. This is one way to direct traffic from your social media pages to increase your website’s traffic, allowing you to measure your social audience’s behavior along the way.

4. Earn some links. If your content is good enough, plenty of blogs that cater to your industry (or customers) will want to summarize it, share it, borrow it, and otherwise link to it. When they do, you’ll earn links and referral traffic. There are plenty of articles written on the topic of earning links for your content so I won’t go into depth about link-building practices here, but a good starting point is to have a working list of industry influencers and trade mags that may be interested in what you have to say. (In the same vein, make sure users can easily share your sparkly content right on your blog page.) More quality links equals more referral traffic coming to your website.

5. Email a regular summary of your best content to your customers, prospects and industry influencers. This is essentially the easiest way to create an email newsletter. The key to successfully using email to distribute content is to build a strong list and share relevant content with it on a regular basis. For B2B marketing, we’ve found sending one to two content-related emails per month is the right frequency for keeping your brand in front of customers without risking unsubscribes.

6. Post your video content on YouTube, but don’t just plop your video on your channel page and call it a day. Again, there are many in-depth articles about YouTube optimization (like this one) but here are a few tips: write a lengthy video description loaded with video-friendly keywords (especially long-tail terms), utilize tags, encourage subscribing and linking in your description text and at the end of the video using YouTube’s pop-up ad features, and organize your video content into keyword-rich playlists. There are more than a billion YouTube searches performed each day, giving properly-optimized YouTube channels a serious opportunity for potential website referral traffic.

As you can see, once you’ve created a piece of original content, there are many effective ways to distribute it through web, social media, referral, email and search channels. With a plan and a little bit of discipline, your content can bring in droves of new visitors to your website. It should take a skilled internet marketer (or digital marketing agency like Synapse) about an hour or so to cover the six steps above, which is a very small investment considering all the energy spent creating the content in the first place. Simply put – don’t create content without a plan to distribute it.

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Cohort Analysis in Google Analytics

Have you begun using the new Cohort Analysis available in Google Analytics?  What are you waiting for?  There is a wealth of valuable information there about the behaviors of the most important people in your virtual world: the folks who are actually visiting your website!  It’s really a fairly simple report for one the can give you so much actionable information.  Let’s take a look at how Google Analytics has set this up, what the reports can analyze, and how you can use that information to improve your overall online marketing efforts.

Defining The Term

The word “cohort” comes to us from the ancient Roman Army, where it was the most basic military unit.  A Cohort was made up of 480 soldiers; ten Cohorts comprised a Legion.  In the modern Google world, “cohort” has been adapted to refer to a group of people sharing a similar trait, whose behavior on a website is being tracked as a group over time. Presently, while Cohort Analysis is still in the beta stage, the only shared trait that you can consider is the date of a visitor’s first session on a website.

You could look at groups whose first session occurred in the same month, in the same week, or on the same day, so an individual is theoretically a member of three cohorts.

How Does It Work?

You’ll find the Cohort Analysis option under the Audience section of Google Analytics.  When you open this report, you’ll be met by a two-section screen.  The top section gives you some options to clarify the information you want to see, and a linear graph:

5.29.15 - Cohort (Image 1)

Choose your cohort type (again, at present you may only choose to group by acquisition date) and size (day, week, month).

The metric drop down gives you options of the data you want to track for each cohort over time.  If you are running an EComm site, you may be most interested in revenue generated by each cohort, or number of transactions; many website owners find the default measurement, “user retention,” to be valuable – this measures the percent of users from each cohort who return to the site in succeeding days.  This is the metric we’ll use in this example.

Finally, you’ll choose to measure that data over a time span of 7, 14, 21 or 30 days.

The linear chart graphs the average data of all cohorts by default; however, by using the drop down at the top of the graph, you are able to graph one cohort in comparison to others.  Still, the linear graph can be difficult to interpret.  That’s where the second part of the screen comes in, presenting the data in a chart that compares each cohort in a sort of “heat map” where better results are shaded more heavily:

5.29.15 - Cohort (Image 2)

You can quickly see which cohorts had better short term and long term results.  In our example, you can see that the cohorts of May 16, May 19, May 24 and May 27 had the strongest retention on Day 1 (the first day after their acquisition date). It begs the question, what was happening on those days that caused more people to come back to the site the next day than any other?  Do those dates coincide with an email blast?  New content posting?  An on-site contest or game of some sort?  Whatever it may have been, if a pattern is found it may be a pattern you want to consider using even more often.

Go Beneath the Surface

But let’s look further.  In all four of those cases, the drop in retention to Day 2 is precipitous.  The cohorts of May 17 and May 25 didn’t have as strong an immediate retention, but a fair number of those folks came back the next day – and the day after that as well. And the cohort of May 15, despite dipping a bit on Day 2, was still showing string retention through Day 4.  You would really want to look back at those dates to see what factors may have contributed to those successes.  If you wish, you can dive even deeper into this data by segmenting out specific types of traffic.

It’s worth spending some time familiarizing yourself with Cohort Analysis.  In its beta form, it already poses the kinds of questions you want to be asking yourself about what is and isn’t working on your website. Undoubtedly as Google rolls it out from beta, additional traits for defining cohorts will be added and a wealth of information will be unlocked.

If you are looking to partner with a team of experts to help analyze and optimize your website, start a conversation with Synapse today!

 

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