Leapfrogg wins two commendations at the Online Retail Awards 2014

Earlier this year, we were pretty chuffed to discover we had been shortlisted for five awards at this year’s Online Retail Awards.

We were up for ‘Digital Agency of the Year’ and our work with Fever London and the ‘Perfect-Fit’ model competition was shortlisted in the ‘Fashion & Clothing’ category and our ‘Bride of the Year’ campaign for Wedding Rings Direct was shortlisted in the ‘Accessories’ category. Both campaigns were also up for ‘Marketing Campaign of the Year.’

So on Tuesday, we all put on our finest attire and headed up to London for the awards ceremony held at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.

Leapfrogg at The Online Retail Awards

We had a great evening at the awards and although we were disappointed not to win, we were very happy to walk away with commendations for ‘Digital Agency of the Year’ and also ‘Marketing Campaign of the Year’ for our work with Fever London.

Online Retail Awards

Thanks to The Online Retail Awards for a great event.


Five (Apprentice contestant-free) Christmas tips

This time last year, I sat on a panel at the ECMOD conference. The theme? Tips for a successful Christmas.

The whole affair was somewhat surreal in that a former Apprentice contestant was pulled in at the last minute to sit on the panel. I am assuming that the good people at ECMOD saw him wondering around and thought “Hey, he was on The Apprentice, he’ll have something useful to share.”

For his sake I won’t mention him by name. However, to say he missed the point of the panel would be an understatement of gigantic proportions. Interspersed between the quick-fire tips from those panellists that had understood the brief, was a series of grandiose ramblings containing just about every cheesy business cliché you are ever likely to hear. Christmas tips they were not.

Slipping away quietly and slightly embarrassed by the whole affair, I had completely forgotten that my well-intentioned tips were left sitting on my iPad. As Christmas is almost upon us, a time when many retailers generate as much as 50% of their annual revenue, I thought I should put the ghost to rest and publish the tips on the Froggblog. No cheesy business speak, I promise.

So, here goes…

1) Paid search

Competition – and therefore click costs, are very likely to increase over the festive period for most retailers. If you are not careful, your cost-per-acquisition will do the same.

Very few retailers have an unlimited media budget. Therefore, making it work harder and smarter over the festive period is critical to driving a positive ROI. With this in mind:

  • Pick your battles – focus on categories and products where you have an advantage over the competition. For example, if you offer the lowest price, free delivery, free returns or a discount on the next order. Ensure these messages are prominent in advert copy.
  • In turn, ensure budgets are allocated to the highest performing products and keywords to avoid wasting budget. This means watching campaign performance like a hawk. The world of retail moves fast. At Christmas it’s even faster. There is no place for setting up a campaign in October and simply leaving it to run.
  • Be prepared to boost your bids whilst demand and competition is at its highest (whilst ensuring that the click cost and cost per acquisition remain within acceptable boundaries).
  • Consider the longer term value of a new customer in your bidding strategy. This allows you to work out how much you are prepared to spend to acquire a new customer. Reflect this in your bidding strategy (more on this below).

2) Look beyond the first sale

Consider the following scenario. I am looking for a particular beauty product that my wife has subtly dropped a hint she would like for Christmas. I do my research and make a purchase through a site I have never bought from before (and am unlikely ever to again).

From the retailer’s point of view they have got the initial sale (win!) but sending me their catalogue or signing me up to their newsletter is a complete waste of time. I’m just not their target audience. In short, people like me, making one-time gifting purchases, offer very little long term value to the retailer.

Therefore, the retailer, making an educated guess that I am purchasing a gift, should be looking at ways they can ‘get to Mrs Potter’ (for want of a better phrase).

At the checkout, you could ask if the item being purchased is a gift. You could ask who it is for. You could ask if the gift recipient would like to receive special offers and promotions in the future (after Christmas of course – you don’t want them to spoil the surprise!)

Alternatively, you could insert a card in the packaging with a promo code to be used in the New Year.

In short, consider how you can build a longer-term relationship with the customer even if that person isn’t the one who actually made the purchase.

3) Offer free returns, even if this is only a temporary change of policy

Research carried out last year by fit.me found that 60% of UK consumers will not even consider making a purchase unless free returns are offered.

A free returns policy at Christmas is even more important to allay any fears that a gift recipient may not like a present or it may not fit, for example.

Whatever you decide to do where returns are concerned, ensure that the policy is prominent on the website and in ad messaging to counter any potential barriers to conversion.4

4) Deliver on your promises

When it comes to delivery for example, most people don’t mind waiting a few days for an item to arrive, as long as it drops through the letterbox when promised by the retailer.

However, when this fails to happen, especially in the week leading up to the big day, customer dissatisfaction will be amplified ten fold. It’s a pretty stressful time of year for many. The last thing someone needs is a mad dash to the shops on Christmas Eve to hunt down a gift they had assumed would arrive days ago.

This is just one example of where you must ensure (as far as is humanly possible) that you can fulfil those promises you shout so proudly about in ad messaging and web copy. Failing to do so means a disgruntled customer who will a) probably not buy from you again and b) moan. Not just to their mates down the pub but across their social media channels, amplifying your failures to hundreds, maybe thousands of people.

5) Review success and failures in January

Finally, ensure you make time to review what worked and what didn’t immediately after Christmas (well, you can at least let the Christmas pudding settle in your belly, but you know what I mean).

Start preparing for next Christmas whilst things are fresh in your mind.

Hurrah! Tips shared without an Apprentice contestant in sight.

Have a very prosperous Christmas one and all.


Why every brand needs a social media policy

Over the last 12 months, as to be expected, there has been further acceleration in the uptake of social media amongst retailers. This is a result of increasing usage amongst a wider demographic, new networks popping up (such as Pinterest), as well as the role social plays in wider search, content and customer experience strategies.

Regardless of the goals you have for your social presence (whether customer acquisition, retention, customer care, brand awareness, etc.) a key foundation for success is a comprehensive social media policy. This should include:

  • Branding, tone and vocabulary guidelines
  • Customer service guidelines
  • Negative interaction protocol
  • Respectful practice guidelines
  • Legal practice and copyright awareness

Remember one size doesn’t fit all – a social media policy should be tailored to the brand. Depending on the nature of your organisation, there may be unique factors you need to consider, so don’t be tempted to use a template for your social media policy.

Here are a few important roles a good policy can fulfil:

Branded communication
Use your social media policy to guide branding across channels. We all use social media in our free time; clearly stating key buzz words, brand values and vocabulary to avoid prepares your employees to interact as brand representatives, communicating your values and writing in the correct tone of voice.

Protection for yourself and your employees
Clearly stating procedures within a social policy will help to safeguard you and your employees from negative situations and mistakes. Outlining  employee roles (for example, who leads customer service dialogue) reduces confusion around responsibility and optimises time and resource. Highlighting  legal practice, platform rules and copyright awareness is vital to ensure you aren’t in breach of the CAP digital remit.

Deliver  seamless customer service
A good social media policy will guide the customer service process, ensuring the employees responsible are aware of correct protocol for escalation and importantly, who to notify within the company if a volatile situation occurs. Negative comments are inevitable in every social space – it’s how you deal with them that will set you apart from competitors.

Avoid social faux pas:
We all know how much negative media attention the wrong tweet or post can generate. Remember Urban Outfitters’ ill-considered sales tweet amid the devastation of super storm Sandy in October 2012?

It’s tempting to think that if you have a small social team you’re unlikely to commit a social faux pas. The real time nature of social coupled with human nature can be a recipe for unintentional disaster. Neatly outlining the rules encourages employees to think twice before they tweet.

While it’s important to lay out the rules, make sure your policy isn’t too restrictive. Social media is a leisure space for consumers and interaction should be responsive and flexible; in most cases it should also be fun for all involved, both the brand and the consumer. Therefore, whilst social media policies are necessary don’t let them suffocate the spirit of social media.

What we learnt in 2012 and what we look forward to in 2013

At the end of each year, I encourage the Leapfrogg team to take some time out to review what they have learnt from the events of the last 12 months. It’s an opportunity to take a step back and think about what we have witnessed in digital marketing, retail and the luxury sector, as well as the strategies and tactics we have employed for an ever-growing portfolio of high-end retailers.

So here are a few of our main observations from another eventful year, with comments from members of the Leapfrogg team, along with what we look forward to (hopefully) seeing in 2013.

Panda’s and penguins changed the game…for the better

Google’s Panda and Penguin updates dominated the search landscape in 2012. Scores of websites found their search engine rankings negatively impacted by the updates. The techniques they had been using to unnaturally garner search rankings (or that agencies were adopting on their behalf, such as buying links) were hit hard by Google’s aggressive, and very public, attempts to clean up their search results.

As Ben Adam, Senior Natural Search Consultant, comments ‘it seems that Google has finally found a means of taking action against web spam; the kind of action that most search marketers have been asking for, for years.’

Website Optimisation Manager, Suzanne Taylor adds, ‘The search engines have got wiser and duly penalised sites that have been chasing rankings with ‘black hat’ tactics. For some businesses, this re-education has cost them time and money, however businesses that have focused, first and foremost, on creating a good experience for their customers have benefitted.’

These updates have had a significant (and in our view, positive) impact on the discipline of natural search (SEO). As Senior Content and Social Media Consultant, Emma-Jane comments, the updates place greater emphasis and reward on traditional content based and PR-style marketing, making quick-win techniques, such as sharing keyword stuffed articles and mass-submitting to thousands of low quality directories, riskier than ever before. A PR-led approach to building a holistic and sustainable link profile has seen a welcome move towards creating editorially-led, consumer facing content. This not only benefits search, but becomes an important part of the customer journey.’

As natural search is now so closely entwined with other marketing activities, such as content planning and PR, Head of Search, Matt, expects to see search getting greater recognition as a strategic business operation in 2013, commenting ‘successful search engine optimisation requires a sophisticated approach to relationship building meaning companies need to work harder to engage with customers, suppliers, partners, press and commentators. This means that SEO should, for the most forward thinking companies, be at the heart of a business not on the fringes, which can only be a good thing.’

Content marketing is nothing new

What was particularly interesting to witness in 2012, as a result of the Panda update in particular, was the sudden surge in interest for ‘content marketing’ services. I’ve been amazed at the number of agencies suddenly changing tact (and in some cases their straplines) to place content marketing at the core of their offering (as if creating genuinely engaging, useful content has always been their approach to search…when quite frankly, it wasn’t.).

‘Content is king’ they said again…and again…and again…

Content marketing, even in the online world, is not a new discipline. Neither is it one that should be getting any more, or less, attention just because Google has found a way to combat the poor quality content that for so long could be used to manipulate your way to the top of the rankings.

Managing Director, Rosie, comments ‘content is not king. Instead, the customer’ is king. Regardless of the marketing activity, whether on or offline, single or multichannel, you must put the customer at the heart of it. Good customer insight is the rocket fuel for your content and wider retail strategy…and always has been. Nothing has changed other than Google getting better at separating the wheat from the chaff.’

In 2013, we hope to see the (somewhat artificially inflated) industry furore around content marketing calm down. We’ll continue to apply a back to basics attitude where content is concerned, namely that strategies are driven by a genuine understanding of the customer, as Senior Content and Social Media Consultant, Emily, explains, ‘delving deeper into our clients’ consumer demographics with detailed customer surveys and audits of each touch point in their retail journey will further develop our customer-orientated focus in 2013, which continues to be at the heart of our approach to content strategy.’

Consumer expectations are moving faster than most retailers can keep up

Driven mainly by technology (the growth in smartphones and tablets, for example), there have been significant changes in consumer behaviour in recent years and, in turn, the expectations that consumers have of the retailers they choose to shop with.

As I noted in an Econsultancy article back in November, ‘what is a ‘nice to have’ now will be the expected norm in 2013. As consumers become conditioned to in-store consoles, delivery on their own terms and a more personalised shopping experience (to give just three examples), they will more readily question those retailers not offering the same. In short, consumers won’t put up with average when exceptional becomes the norm.’

As such, we will undoubtedly see more retail casualties in 2013. However, it would be too simplistic to blame economic factors alone for these failing businesses. Instead, there will be some retailers who simply cannot evolve their business models in line with customer expectations and, as such, will disappear from our high streets.

In 2013, the successful retailers will be those who place much greater emphasis on customer insight and ‘big data’ to drive marketing decisions. Gone are the days when retailers can afford to throw money at something on a whim. The customer needs to be at the heart of every decision. As such, we expect to see customer experience become more and more of a focus during 2013 to the extent it occupies board level discussions.

Social media is evolving to become a mind-set, not just a tactic

Alongside Google’s well publicised efforts to clean up their search results, 2012 also saw social media’s influence on search results increase. As Client Services Director, Greg, comments ‘Google+ started to show real signs of traction in 2012 – especially with regards to having an impact on natural search visibility within the search results’.

We still think the jury is out when it comes to the role Google+ plays in meeting wider customer engagement objectives (simply put it hasn’t reached critical mass) but, without question, Google is making a massive push for it to a part of our everyday lives. I just hope consumers, brands and agencies invest in the platform in 2013 because it adds genuine value to their retail strategies, not just because it is a necessary vehicle to improving Google search rankings.

Aside from Google+, in 2012 we saw a definite step change in how clients’ perceive social media and the role it plays at every stage of the customer journey. As Emily notes, ‘across our client portfolio, we’ve seen an increased interest in (and understanding of), the importance of social, both for accessing and expanding their consumer bases, as well as becoming an increasingly important factor in search.’

Greg continues ‘brands have been much more willing to at least ‘have a go’ in social media even if specific objectives and KPIs are unclear at the start.’

Measurement and attribution remains a challenge

Mobile and tablet use exploded during 2012 with Matt commenting ‘adoption of mobile devices was notable last year. Customers of premium brands are more likely to own a smartphone and tablet with some of our clients seeing up to 40% of their website traffic coming from mobile devices.’

As consumers move so freely between channels and devices whilst researching, considering and making their purchase, tracking this journey and attributing revenue to the appropriate channel presented a major challenge in 2012…and it will continue to do so in 2013.

Head of Search, Matt, sees part of the solution in social media. He comments, ‘Social media offers a solution to attribution issues created by multiple devices and cookie deletion. With a billion people on Facebook and other networks such as Twitter and Pinterest growing quickly, people logged in to social media platforms and email services, especially on their mobile devices, could be the solution to the attribution conundrum’.

Watch this space!

Things get better with age

In December, we will be celebrating our tenth birthday. Quite frankly, I don’t know where the years have gone!

One thing I do know is that Leapfrogg is evolving all of the time. Each day, month and year we improve, never satisfied with our approach, processes and knowledge. For me, that is what makes a great agency; the constant desire to be better than you were yesterday.

Therefore, we look forward most to celebrating 10 years in business by continuing to work with some fantastic retail brands, constantly innovating to help them meet their commercial objectives.

Account Manager, Nick, sums this up best; ‘for me, what I’m most looking forward to in 2013 is pushing our fantastic clients to be bold, experimental and ultimately, successful. With the green shoots of an economic recovery beginning to show, 2013 will be the year when forward-thinking and innovative clients can really get the jump of their competitors. I’m looking forward to leading the way with Leapfrogg’s fully integrated approach and setting the standards.’

With that, we’d like to wish you a happy and prosperous New Year!

Top ten Froggblog posts of 2012

As we draw towards the end of another eventful year in the worlds of digital marketing and retail, it’s time for our annual round up of the top posts from the Froggblog.

I’ve been lucky enough to write a number of guest posts for Econsultancy this year, some of which are also included below.

Also, be sure to keep a look-out for our summary of what we have learnt this year and what we look forward to in 2013.

For now, here is a run-down of our top posts in 2012:

Stick, twist or bust: Thoughts for digital marketing investment in 2012

Right at the start of the year I argued that retailers should ignore much of the doom and gloom they are exposed to through the mainstream media and instead formulate their strategies by taking other external factors into account. With the somewhat depressing Autumn Statement fresh in our minds, my advice remains as relevant today as at the turn of the year so it’s well worth revisiting.

The retailer’s guide to using AdWords Ad Extensions

Ad extensions allow you to make your Google paid search adverts more relevant and useful to prospects. Paid search analyst, Andy Miller takes a look at each of those ad extensions and how to utilise them to improve the performance of your Adwords campaign.

Ten ways retailers can maximise digital sales of high-value items

Over the years, we’ve worked with a number of retailers selling high-value items, such as furniture, online. Website optimisation expert, Suzanne, offers advice for retailers in operating in this space where a complex sales journey, involving multiple channels, is common, as well as a long consideration period.

First steps towards multichannel marketing for independent retailers

It has undoubtedly been the year that multichannel retailing (and more recently omnichannel) has stolen all of the headlines. The need to deliver a seamless and consistent experience for customers as they move between store, website, mobile and catalogue is much easier said than done. With this in mind, our Managing Director, Rosie, offers advice for independent retailers looking to make their first moves into multichannel.

How stores should embrace digital to provide an innovative shopping experience

‘Showrooming’, when a customer visits a brick and mortar retail store to touch and feel a product with the intention of making the purchase online, has become common customer behaviour in recent times. Suzanne looks at how a retailer can deliver an in-store experience that takes advantage of this behaviour rather than viewing it as a threat.

Survey results: Inside the mind of your premium retail customer

At the start of the year, we conducted some research to explore the habits and behaviours of consumers purchasing premium products and services. It revealed some interesting insight not least that 61% of consumers said they would not reduce their online spending habits in 2012. Take a look at the full report to see how your experiences in 2012 marry up.

The agency vs in-house conundrum…the impact of Google Panda on staff resourcing

The big news in search this year centred on the Panda and Penguin updates. I take a look at the impact these updates have had on the discipline of natural search (or SEO if you prefer) and what this means for a brand considering managing their search strategy in-house.

The importance of customer insight to search strategy

No marketing campaign can be truly effective unless you have a genuine understanding of the audience you are targeting. Head of Social Media and Content, Lucy, looks at the importance of customer insight to delivering a winning search strategy.

Essential e-commerce features & functionality to drive great customer experience

This two part post from Ben Adam looks at the importance of choosing the right website platform or technology with an emphasis on the features and functionality that help drive a positive and engaging web and cross channel experience. Part 2 can be found here.

Content marketing – applying the principle of ‘form follows function’ to deliver great customer experience

Rosie looks at the challenges brought about by multiple stakeholders creating content seemingly to serve different objectives and how the principle of ‘form follows function’ can act as a means of delivering a more joined up and consistent approach.

Articles featured on Econsultancy

Earlier this year I started guest blogging for Econsultancy. My articles reflect a passion for demystifying the many half-truths that surround disciplines, such as natural search, and in turn helping businesses make informed decisions when it comes to shaping their online strategy, choosing the right partners and allocating appropriate resource.

SEO: search experience optimisation

I explain how a change to the ‘E’ in SEO can encourage a subtle (but significant) change of mind set that, in turn, can help marketers take a more objective view to what they should be doing (and more importantly what they shouldn’t) when it comes to shaping and executing their SEO strategies.

Four SEO payment models you need to seriously question

I take a look at a number of SEO payment models that, for me, don’t come under nearly enough scrutiny and why, in my view, they just don’t work in the context of today’s search landscape.

Will Panda kill the freelance SEO star?

The well-publicised Panda and Penguin updates have had a significant (and in my view, positive) impact on the discipline of SEO. I ask whether it Is possible for one person to manage a full end-to-end SEO strategy when the discipline involves such a multitude of skill sets.

Writing a search marketing brief in a multichannel world

In the context of an evolving search landscape and multichannel environment, retailers need to re-evaluate the information they include in a brief when sourcing a search agency.
This article explores firstly why the search marketing brief needs to evolve before providing practical advice on what retailers should include in it.

Keep up to date with our latest articles and news in 2013 by following us on Twitter or LinkedIn, or by adding Leapfrogg to your circles on Google+.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from everyone at Leapfrogg.

Client / Agency relationships – the evolution continues…

As we enter the last quarter of the year, much continues to change in the world of search – technically and commercially.

At Leapfrogg, we have also become ever more aware that those clients who really believe in search as a core part of their marketing armoury will face a key question as they reconsider their objectives and strategies for 2013; how much of the work involved in search – especially in terms of pure implementation – can or has to be brought in-house?  What is the best balance of staffing up internally and retaining external, specialist expertise to ensure their strategy and tactics are making the most of how search marketing is evolving?

This has become a more frequent discussion with our clients this year than ever before.  As clients develop more confidence in what search can bring in terms of revenue and ROI, so there comes a time when they weigh up whether extra budget allocation for search should be invested in expanding the team internally or with external specialists.  Quite rightly, it’s not best use of client budget to be spending it getting external specialists to be doing ‘grunt’ work.  At the same time, if someone in-house is being tasked with devising a search strategy and executing this tactically, alongside other marketing responsibilities and tasks, they are at risk of not being as ‘sharp’ on the latest insights and techniques that specialist agencies make it their business to know.

We are in the process of working with a couple of our clients through this transition process, where elements of search strategy and tactics are ‘in-sourced’ and our expertise is deployed in a more purely consultative role, advising, guiding, corroborating and fine-tuning.

We look forward to seeing how this will evolve.  We may find that the skills and expertise in-house are more robust, and that they can throw off the need to have agency ‘stabilisers’ sooner than perhaps even they think. Alternatively, it may be that the ‘weaning off’ process has tried to do too much too soon, to the detriment of campaign performance, and so agency involvement may need to be re-assessed.

Only time will tell.  We shall adapt and adjust as we always must in the business services sector, as client/agency relationships continue to evolve naturally.

One simple question to ask yourself when assessing the validity of a search marketing tactic

Last week, my latest article was published on the Econsultancy website.

It explores SEO payment models that buyers need to seriously question before committing to (or in some cases avoid completely!).

The payment models under scrutiny are:


  • Fixed fee, quoted up-front
  • Pay-on-performance (based on rankings)
  • Pay-on-performance (based on sales without proper attribution)
  • Anything less than £200 per month

Head over to the Econsultancy blog to read why, in my view, these models just don’t work in the context of today’s search landscape.

At the end of the article I introduce a theme that I am going to briefly expand on below but which I’ll also be exploring in more detail next time.

The theme is ‘experience’. As I state in the article, here at Leapfrogg we believe it is ‘experience’ that, in time, will separate the winners from the losers. Those businesses that can deliver a superlative experience at every stage of the buying journey from awareness to advocacy will prosper. Those that don’t will fail.

For me, search marketing (and in particular the approach that is taken to natural search) can play an integral role in how a brand delivers a positive, engaging and memorable experience; the kind of experience that drives repeat business and brand advocacy. This is for a number of reasons, not least the fact that search engines remains the number one method by which prospects begin their discovery of a new product or brand. According to a report from Hitwise, on average, the UK is making an additional 93m visits per month to search engines compared with last year, representing an average year-on-year growth of 4.3%.

Therefore, the route a prospect will take in discovering your brand and products will more than likely involve a search engine. In turn, the first impression a prospect may have of your brand will come as a result of how you present yourself (or fail to present yourself) in search listings. With this in mind, search can either act as the starting point to delivering a superlative experience for the prospect OR the means by which you lose the game before they’ve even visited your website.

I’ll be exploring how specific naturals search techniques and tactics contribute to driving a positive experience (or not, as the case may be!) in my next article.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the same question I concluded my latest Econsultancy article with; a question that I believe all marketers should ask themselves when considering a natural search technique or tactic:

‘How will this approach or activity deliver a memorable & superior experience for my customers?’

By starting with this question it will allow you to take a more objective view to what you should be doing (and more importantly what you shouldn’t) when it comes to shaping and executing your natural search strategy.

This is what I’ll be exploring further next time around.

Until then…

A summary of great client results in Q2

What’s happened to 2012?  Bleak weather, bleak economic conditions, some light relief courtesy of the Olympics, but otherwise an air of uncertainty prevails.

In this climate, then, we’re so proud of the great work – and great results – we have delivered so far for our clients this year.   They reflect;

  • the confidence of our clients to put their money where their mouths are by investing in digital to start with
  • our own expertise to identify areas for improvement in client digital activity and then execute our work to deliver these improvements

Following on from my last post looking at results achieved in Q1, here are some highlights from our efforts during Q2:

Premium retail;

  • Luxury bedroom furniture retailer, Feather & Black; their non-brand term natural traffic increased by over 60% year-on-year.  Whilst I cannot disclose the actual figure, revenue from online sales is a very healthy % higher than this time last year
  • High-end fashion brand, Bastyan; for every £1 they spent on paid search the campaign generates ten times the amount in sales revenue
  • Emma Bridgewater; again, for paid search their campaign delivers return investment at a ratio of 19/1
  • Posturite; online revenue has increased by over 80%
  • Filofax; we have more than doubled their click-thru rates on paid search


  • Cox & Kings; their non-brand term natural traffic has increased by 60% year-on-year.  Revenue attributed to online also more than doubled year-on-year

Business Services;

  • Fruitdrop; their non-brand term natural traffic increased by over 100% year-on-year delivering return on investment at  a ratio of 5/1
  • Flexioffices; we’ve recently exceeded conversion rate targets by over 40%

This is a flavour of the great results we’ve delivered to our clients.  So far this year, then, we have helped them to win, to meet or exceed their own targets, about which we’re all delighted.

That said, we’re not letting the euphoria (nor the Olympic distraction) run away with us.  Our clients each have challenging targets and business environments.  Great results so far are lovely – but nothing like as important as making sure we’re focused on delivering more great results for them this year and beyond.

The economic outlook remains uncertain – the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that growth is still a long way off.  Therefore, strategies need to be regularly reviewed, tactics revised where necessary, results have to be maintained and improved, sales and revenue must be generated.

In some ways there is freedom among the uncertainty.  If this causes the main focus to be on the here and now and making sure what we’re doing today and into the immediate future is working, then that’s what we’ll do.

That doesn’t mean we’re retreating into a tactical, short term shell, however.  In July we hosted an event at RIBA in London where we presented our Retail Marketing Machine, which will underpin our strategic approach for our work for the 2nd half of this year, into 2013, and beyond (with apologies to Mr Lightyear…)

I’ll be back with an update on more great results from Leapfrogg later in 2012

The agency vs in-house conundrum…the impact of Google Panda on staff resourcing

The downturn of the last few years has inevitably led brands to scrutinise every pound spent on marketing. In some cases, brands have concluded that it is more cost effective and efficient to manage their search marketing activity in-house. Although I have always worked agency side, I have no problem with this and see it as inevitable for certain businesses as they scale up their operations.

However, recent Google updates, Panda for example, represent perhaps Google’s most aggressive attempt to clean up its search results and in turn, this is having a significant impact on the skill sets required to deliver an effective natural search strategy (also known as SEO if you prefer).

Essentially, Panda targets those websites creating and hosting poor quality content. In other words, content that is usually created purely for the purposes of gaming search engines. We’ve all seen this type of content; pretty pointless, keyword stuffed articles, for example, that too often find their way into prominent search engine positions impacting the quality and relevancy of search results.

Google has been hammering well known article sharing sites, as well as blog networks in recent months, which in turn has impacted search results for businesses overly reliant on links from these sites.

Continuing the animal theme, we’ve also seen the Penguin update, focused specifically on targeting web spam, as well as the introduction of ‘over-optimisation’ penalties.

What impact have these updates had on natural search?

The extent to which your natural search strategy needs to adapt as a result of these updates will very much depend on how you have historically approached the discipline.

Here at Leapfrogg, we’ve always lived by the mantra ‘users first, search engines second’. In other words, we don’t subscribe to adopting any technique which is purely about garnering a search engine ranking. Instead, we ask the question; ‘will this benefit the target audience?’ As such, we have never bought links, subscribed to blog networks or ‘spun’ poor quality content because we deem these as techniques which offer no benefit to the target audience of a particular client. Therefore, we have seen very little, if any, of our clients negatively impacted by these updates.

But of course if you have subscribed to these techniques (and any others that go against Google’s published quality guidelines), then, in all likelihood, you are having to make significant changes to how your approach natural search and may even have found your website negatively impacted by these algorithm changes i.e. a drop in rankings and therefore traffic and sales.

Post Panda, today’s natural search strategies need to be underpinned by genuinely engaging and useful content and supported by social media and PR activity to deliver a sustainable and reputable search engine presence. As such, natural search, in the traditional sense, is not the stand-alone discipline it perhaps was once. The winners will ultimately be those that can join the dots between search, social media, content strategy and PR.

How have these updates impacted the skills required to deliver an effective natural search strategy?

In years gone by, it is fair to say you could probably hire one person to look after your natural search activity in-house. In all likelihood they probably came from a technical background and could do a pretty decent job in improving your search engine rankings.

However, in light of how search has evolved in the last couple of years, one person is no longer equipped to manage a highly effective search strategy on their own. Whilst there remains a technical aspect to search, there is now a multitude of other skill sets that have heightened in importance following the recent Google updates described above, for example:

•    Customer insight, analysis, segmentation and persona development
•    Online PR and brand building
•    Content strategy and execution
•    Social media

The freelance world might disagree with me but I simply cannot see how one person can be an expert in all of the above areas, not to mention those disciplines that haven’t been cited above such as conversion optimisation and data analysis. Quite simply, the complexity of today’s search engines, along with ever-increasing competition, requires a skillset which is beyond the ability of one person alone.

What does this mean for a brand considering managing their search strategy in-house?

It means you will need to build a team probably consisting of at least four or five people. Broadly speaking, this might include a website optimisation expert, covering everything from keyword strategy through to testing. It would require a content strategist covering content creation, optimisation and an ability to market that content effectively using online PR skills. A social media expert would be integral to the team, not just because of the ‘social search’ angle but also to develop a community around the brand and products, whilst using social tools to communicate with customers at every stage of their buying journey from promotions to customer service. I’d also argue an analyst would be needed who can interrogate tools such as Google Analytics to understand the buying journey of customers and make informed decisions on how to optimise marketing channels and drive efficiency.

It will also need one of those people, or somebody senior to them, to have the expertise and vision to develop the strategy and ensure it is working in unison with offline marketing and PR activity. Nothing can work in a silo.

Of course, the specific skills required will differ from business to business and will be dependent on the sector but the point I seek to make here is that both in terms of skill and man hours, it is simply impossible for one person to deliver an effective search strategy on their own.

Inevitably, this means that the cost of taking search in-house is much higher than might be initially anticipated. Hiring a team of four or five is a very different proposition to hiring one person, not just in terms of salary but also the many other costs associated with recruitment and the wellbeing of staff. More often than not, it simply does not make commercial sense to build an in-house team. At least the same level of expertise and experience can be bought in at a significantly lower rate by partnering with an agency.

Another issue to consider when it comes to resourcing is the availability of skilled staff. In Econsultancy’s recent SEO Buyers Guide one of the key industry issues cited by agencies was the shortage of skilled and experienced workers. In short, there are just not enough digital marketers to satisfy a growing agency market. Therefore, brands will often find themselves competing with agencies for staff. Yet agencies can offer something that many brands cannot; the opportunity to work across a wide variety of clients and campaigns which adds greatly to the experience an employee can gain. So whilst it is by no means impossible to attract the best talent to work client side, it is by no means easy and will require a competitive package to do so.


As the recession continues to bite, brands will rightly question the value they receive from agencies and whether costs can be cut and efficiency improved by managing their search strategy in-house.
But to do so, requires a greater investment than many brands may plan for. Natural search has evolved greatly in recent years to require a broad range of skills that, in turn, impact the resource required to deliver an effective strategy. This needs to be carefully considered before brands make the decision to manage search marketing in-house.

What a multichannel retailer should include in a search marketing brief

Back in November 2010, I wrote about the importance of, and what to include in a brief when looking to appoint a search agency.  Whilst much of the advice remains the same, an awful lot has changed in the last couple of years, which in turn impacts how a retailer needs to brief prospective agencies.

Firstly, search has continued to evolve. It is far from the stand-alone discipline it perhaps once was. Social media, content strategy and online PR are now all critical components of a successful natural search strategy (also known as organic search or SEO).

Furthermore, retailers are operating in a complex multichannel environment where increasingly savvy customers expect a consistent and seamless experience as they move between different channels, such as desktop PC, mobile, store and catalogue.

The winners will ultimately be those who can effectively integrate their search, social media, content and online PR strategies, whilst also ensuring that their online and offline operations work in unison.

As such, when multichannel retailers are looking to source a search agency they need to provide access to information, which on the surface, may appear irrelevant. However, in the context of an evolving search landscape and multichannel environment, such information is integral to the delivery of an effective search strategy.

Why is a brief important?

Ultimately, developing a brief is to the benefit of both parties. The agency can build a strong understanding of the business, which leads to the most appropriate solution being presented. The retailer benefits for the very same reason; a solution is developed which is most appropriate to their objectives, internal resource and budget, whilst being aligned to other marketing channels.

What should be included in a search marketing brief?

With the above in mind, multichannel retailers should include the following information in a search marketing brief. Please note; it is not unusual for an NDA to be signed at pitch stage bearing in mind the sensitive nature of some of the information required

Company background

It is useful for the agency to understand the context of why you are looking to engage them. This starts with an understanding of where you’ve come from before we explore where you want to go. Therefore, this section should include a brief history of the business, recent market trends, how the company has performed and the challenges you are facing (both internal and external).


There should be a particular emphasis on your most profitable and popular product lines. For the purposes of forecasting be open to sharing average order values and margins, as well as an overview of your product strategy i.e. innovations, new launches and so on.


The agency will be looking to assess potential keyword targets (based on the product lines you have cited above). This will involve identifying your competition in search results, as well as researching other marketing activity they are undertaking. It is worth noting that often your competition in search results is very different to your competition across other channels. A small retailer selling black dresses, for example, may find themselves competing in search results with major players, such as Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, which in turn may make related keyword targets unrealistic.

Target audience

Describe your target audience (sex, age, geography, for example), whilst also outlining what your insight is based on. For example, have you got an active database of customers where you have conducted surveys or focus groups? Ultimately, if an agency is going to help you acquire more customers they need to have an acute understanding of who you are trying to reach.

Also consider why this audience should listen to you. Why are you better than the competition? For example, do you position yourself on price, quality or service? Drawing out your USPs and key benefits will be critical to shaping a content-driven, search strategy to increase customer acquisition.

Your commercial objectives

I cannot stress enough the importance of sharing your overriding commercial objectives, ideally for the next 2 – 3 years.  If an agency is to deliver an effective search strategy they need to understand the context of how it is expected to contribute to overall business goals.

At Leapfrogg, we work on the premise that objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) and based on reliable market data.

At this stage, you should also explain your wider business and marketing plans. Reiterating the point that search does not operate in a silo, it is important that the agency understands what other marketing channels you will be investing in to meet your objectives and in turn, how search might support them, for example new store openings and your mobile strategy.

Current activity and performance

To develop a top line strategy and tactical plan at pitch stage, the agency need to understand the investment you have already made in the channels under discussion, as well as having access to data via tools such as Google Analytics.

Therefore, an overview of the tactics that you are currently employing or have employed in recent months, such as natural search, paid search, social media, content and so on, will be useful. This is a chance to outline other partners or agencies that you employ and that your search agency will be expected to work alongside, for example web developers and offline PR.

Understanding your in-house resource is also essential in the spirit of developing a collaborative partnership with an agency. You should not be looking to ‘outsource’ your search marketing in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, you should seek to partner with your agency, sharing roles and responsibilities where applicable. As such, the agency needs to understand the skill, experience and desire of in-house staff to work on certain aspects of the strategy and tactical execution.

Timescales and budget

All too often, time and resource is wasted during the pitch process (on both sides) because important matters such as timescales for moving ahead and budget are not discussed openly and honestly upfront. An agency will invest many hours, perhaps days, in putting together a proposal. Therefore, to avoid time being wasted, which also includes your time in sourcing and supplying information, it is helpful to know when you intend to start the project, whether you are in contract with an existing agency and any notice clauses.

When it comes to budgets, avoid a situation where you give no indication of what you have to play with. Have in mind a budget and be prepared to share it so that the agency can shape a solution that is appropriate. Essentially, ensure there is a correlation between your commercial objectives and the amount of budget you are prepared to invest in meeting them.

Finally, outline the stages you will be working through in making a decision; how many agencies are you inviting to pitch, who will be involved and who will make the ultimate decision, as well as any particular conditions an agency has to meet. This might include specific sector experience or preferred payment models, for example.


Without establishing a brief you run the risk of making a potentially costly decision when it comes to your search strategy. The briefing process should involve intense questioning by the agency and a willingness on the part of the retailer to share required information.

Anything less than this and you are likely to fall into the trap of buying an off-the-shelf, packaged solution…the polar opposite of a search strategy that is aligned to your business objectives and in tune with your wider retail strategy. The latter can only be achieved with a properly defined brief.

Yes, the process takes time but in the long-run will ultimately deliver far greater returns.