Digital marketing benchmarking report for premium home and garden retailers

Over the course of 2010, Leapfrogg is conducting a series of surveys investigating premium retailers’ use of, and attitudes, towards digital marketing. We are looking at a number of very specific niche markets beginning with home and garden. Further surveys will look at premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

This first survey was sent to 80 premium home and garden retailers with just over a quarter taking part. Respondents included well recognised high street brands and smaller retailers.

The full report is available to download here. Below we have included some of the key findings:

Use of marketing channels

The top five online marketing channels being ‘heavily’ or ‘partially’ used by premium home and garden retailers are articles and press releases (75%), email marketing (67%), search engine optimisation (67%), paid search (66%) and voucher codes (48%).

Respondents are ‘just getting started’ with social networking (38%), micro-blogging i.e. Twitter (33%), blogging (30%) and involvement in forums and communities (25%).

Interestingly, respondents have ‘no intention of becoming involved’ in the creation of audio (55%) or video content (35%), mobile marketing (33%) and shopping/comparison engines (33%). And although a number of retailers are adopting the use of voucher codes, a further 33% have no intention of using them.

It is suggested that premium home and garden retailers take the time to investigate the opportunities presented by video and mobile in particular. Video and the use of mobile technology to access the Internet, read product reviews and download coupons/vouchers are experiencing significant growth with consumers.

Importance of marketing channels

The top five online channels that are considered most important to the success of the business are search engine optimisation (76%), email marketing (50%), articles and press releases (33%), paid search (30%) and reputation management (25%).

The areas that are felt to be unimportant are voucher codes (33%), social networking (30%), audio (27%), mobile marketing (24%) and shopping and comparison sites (24%).

Understandably, premium brands may feel the use of voucher codes ‘cheapens’ their offering. However, Leapfrogg would consider it a concern that so few companies rate the importance of social networking and mobile marketing, in particular.

Channel rating according to return on investment (ROI)

The key channels that are claimed to deliver return on investment are search engine optimisation (SEO), email marketing, and articles and press releases.

In respect of the other 13 online channels the majority view is that the return on investment is indifferent.  Social networking is perceived to have a very poor return on investment by one quarter of the respondents, suggesting that premium home and garden retailers have not yet implemented appropriate systems to measure their social media marketing efforts with accuracy and in line with business goals.

Channel resource plans

The online activities where resource is being increased in 2010, compared to 2009, are social networking (65%), email marketing (60%), micro-blogging (58%), SEO (57%), activity in forums and communities (43%) and blogging (44%).

Plans to increase resource in social networking is interesting when it is considered that a quarter of respondents perceived social networking to have a very poor return on investment, whilst a lack of internal resource (see later section) was also deemed a significant barrier to the success of social media efforts. It is therefore suggested that premium home and garden retailers need to carefully consider objectives from social media activity, set up appropriate systems to measure performance and ensure adequate levels of in-house resource are dedicated to managing social media effectively.

Multi-channel marketing

Results indicate that respondents combine more traditional online activities, such as SEO, PPC and email when running multi-channel campaigns. Social media and blogging also represent popular channels, yet integrating mobile is very low, despite consumers growing use of smart phone technology to access the Internet.

It is recommended that premium home and garden retailers consider all the ‘touch points’ between brand and consumer and implement multi-channel marketing campaigns that ensure a consistent offering and message is present across all of them.

Management of marketing channels

Marketing is the department responsible for managing all online activities except PR, of which there is either a dedicated department or it is outsourced.  IT is responsible for search engine optimisation (SEO) in just over one third of the retailers who responded, which might suggest it is viewed as a technical discipline as opposed to a marketing activity.

Knowledge of customers

Generally, premium home and garden retailers feel that they need to know more about the behaviour of their customers online. 82% do not know how their customers behave on social networks and 66% do not know what their customers are saying about their brand online.

The latter is a particular point of interest as consumers are increasingly willing, and easily able, to share their thoughts with hundreds, possibly thousands of others through blogs, forums, reviews sites and social networks. In turn, purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by the positive and negative reviews a retailer may receive online. It is therefore suggested respondents investigate the use of buzz monitoring tools to quickly identify the conversations happening around their brand and products.

55% feel informed about their customer’s behaviour on their website suggesting respondents have implemented, and are using analytical tools to good effect. However, 45% appear not to be using tools, such as Google Analytics, to great effect therefore limiting the opportunity to make informed decisions on optimising site performance.

Knowledge of search engine ranking factors

Premium home and garden retailers rate keyword placement (67%), website architecture (57%), Meta tags (55%), the user experience (48%) and external links (43%) as crucial to achieving high search engine rankings. Rich media content and blogging were considered by the majority as important but not crucial to improving search engine rankings.

A quarter of respondents were unsure of the impact on search engine rankings of choice of technology and social media activity. Concerning the latter, it is recommended respondents investigate the relationship between search and social media as these channels cannot, and should not, operate in isolation of one another.

Goal setting

Half of premium home and garden retailers used past performance as a benchmark for setting goals for digital marketing activity along with basing predictions on financial goals.

One third of respondents do not currently set goals for digital marketing activity. It is highly recommended that premium home and garden retailers work to establish objectives using SMART methodology to ensure there is direction and focus for digital marketing activity. In addition, appropriate tools and processes should be put in place to measure goals accurately.

Ability to track goals accurately

Respondents rated their ability to track search engine rankings (57%), online conversions (48%), email marketing performance (47%), behaviour of site visitors (35%) and affiliate marketing (33%) as good.

Areas not being tracked accurately include conversions from social media activity (74%), mobile marketing (73%) and customer lifetime value (71%).

59% do not currently track overall return on investment from digital marketing activity.

This would indicate there is still a great deal of progress to be made in the area of measurement. Retailers should be implementing the appropriate tools and processes to measure the impact of each online channel. Better tracking will not only enable return on investment to be calculated from each channel but also provide invaluable data for forecasting and developing future strategies.

Agency relationships

The split between managing work in-house and the use of external agencies is 50:50 with a slight preference for conducting more of the work in-house but using specialist agencies where needed. Those that use external resources use specialist SEO agencies, full service digital agencies, web designers, affiliate marketing and PR companies.

Premium home and garden retailers rated the ability to deliver results (95%) as the most important factor when working with an agency. Specific knowledge of the customers’ market (76%), and having open lines of communication (67%) also rated particularly highly.

Premium home and garden retailers believe it is ‘crucial’ that an online agency has knowledge of the clients’ target audience (80%), their key performance indicators (73%) and knowledge of the business plan (53%). Yet only 40% believe an agency should have knowledge of the clients’ offline marketing strategy (40%).  This indicates that premium home and garden retailers need to better communicate offline activity with their agencies therefore ensuring a consistent, and properly integrated online/offline marketing strategy.

Barriers to success

The barriers that prevent premium home and garden retailers from maximising their online marketing efforts are lack of internal resource, lack of budget and a lack of understanding.  Board approval and not having an appropriate measurement tool are also cited as significant barriers.

The ‘lack of internal resource’ is of particular interest as a high number of companies choose to manage digital marketing in-house yet do not appear to possess the necessary capacity to do so to maximum effect.

Download the full report here. If you would like to discuss any aspect of the report findings, please get in touch. And remember to keep a look out for future reports covering premium fashion, health and beauty, and food and wine.

Infographic – the online retail wheel of fortune

With ever-increasing competition online and the demand to deliver a multi-channel shopping experience, online retailers have a never ending list of actions they need to take in implementing a successful digital marketing strategy.

Add to that the growing sophistication in how search engines display their results; the introduction of blended search, personalised search, social search and real-time search demand a much more holistic approach to search engine optimisation (SEO); an approach that combines traditional activities, such as keyword selection and link building, with more contemporary tactics in social media and content marketing.

A successful online retail strategy is therefore made up of many parts that are continually growing and repeating throughout the customer buying cycle. This can at times be overwhelming as retailers struggle to find the resource, time and skills to succeed in every necessary area.

Understanding this, we thought we would lend a helping hand to online retailers by creating the infographic to end all infographics; the online retail wheel of fortune. This is a graphical representation of the main elements to be incorporated into your online strategy to maximise success.

And here it is! Now being rather large, and very detailed, you will need to download the pdf version to digest it fully, which you can access by clicking here.

As you will see we have split our graphic into four main sections, representing key stages of the customer buying cycle as follows:

Reach
Covering the top line projects and tactics aimed at maximising your online exposure, therefore enabling you to connect with as many prospects as possible, which in turn drives more of the right traffic to your website.

Engage
The tools and techniques you can use to ‘talk’ to your audience once you have found them.

Convert
How to turn those engaged prospects into customers by optimising the user experience on your site, for example.

Retain
The actions you need to take to encourage repeat sales and develop advocates of your brand.

For each key stage of the buying cycle, we have detailed areas of attack, top level projects, specific actions within those  projects and some of the key benefits you will experience. Start with ‘reach’ before working your way out and then around to the next stage.

We realise it is a lot to take in…but this should also highlight just how much is involved in researching, planning and implementing an integrated digital marketing strategy for retailers.

We’d love to hear from you with your comments.

25 questions to ask yourself before taking digital marketing in-house

From time to time, our clients will decide to take their entire digital marketing strategy, or perhaps certain activities, in-house. As an agency we have no problem with this. We accept that relationships built on transparency and trust will inevitably see some clients learn enough from our team, and develop the confidence, to eventually feel they can take things forward without the use of an agency.

Where this is the case, we like to help clients on their way by ensuring they fully understand the range of required skills, technology and resource to manage their online strategy to maximum effect. We do this by working with them to assess their capability and capacity through a series of questions, often with a workshop tagged on for good measure.

The agency vs in-house conundrum is one that you may well face at some stage. To help you decide whether in-house, outsourced or a combination of the two solutions is best for you, I thought I’d share a number of the questions we pose to our clients when they’re considering their options.

You’ll notice the questions tend to be more general than highly specific as responses will inevitably lead to further discussion. What we try and highlight to clients during this process is that search engine marketing has become increasingly complex over the years. This means a greater amount of expertise, experience and resource is needed than ever before if they are to maximise the effectiveness of their in-house efforts.

So with that in mind, here are 25 questions to help you assess whether you have the skills and resource to manage an integrated search, social media and content strategy in-house:

Search engine optimisation

1) What is your knowledge and understanding of search engine algorithms?

2) Are you aware of ‘blended search’, ‘personalised search’, ‘social search’ and ‘real-time search’, and what they mean for your search engine marketing efforts?

3) Do you know how to research and categorise search terms? What is your experience of incorporating these terms naturally into highly engaging web copy?

4) How will you be continuously building links to your website? What is your experience / knowledge of good practice in this area?

5) What knowledge do you have of user-experience and the impact this has on both search engine rankings and conversion rates?

6) Do you understand what needs to be considered when the time comes to redevelop your website, such as the choice of technology / content management system (CMS) and how to migrate from the old site to the new without negative impact?

7) What is your experience of using freely available tools, such as those in the Google Webmaster console and their role in analysing search engine performance?

Paid Search

8 What experience do you have in setting up and managing Paid Search campaigns?

9) Do you know how to analyse campaign data on an ongoing basis and optimise campaigns with a view to maximising ROI?

10) Do you have experience in landing page testing with the aim of improving conversion rates?

11) How much time can you dedicate each day to managing your Paid Search campaign?

Content

12) What provisions/plans/schedules do you have in place for creating content, on a regular basis, in formats, such as articles, press releases, blogs and video?

13) Do you know how to properly optimise all of the above formats?

14) Do you know how to most effectively distribute the above formats to maximise reach?

15) Do you know how to measure the impact of your content strategy?

Social Media

16) What research tools do you have to identify the websites, blogs, forums and communities where your target audience is most active?

17) Have you got a social media strategy in place based on this research?

18) Do you understand the ‘rules of engagement’ when it comes to using social media tools, such as Twitter?

19) How will you be monitoring where your brand is being talked about online?

20) Have you had experience in dealing with negative comments about your brand or service online?

21) Do you monitor buzz on your industry so you can proactively respond?

22) How will you monitor / measure the success of your social media efforts?

23) What efforts do you make to retain customers and develop advocates of your brand?

Measurement

24) How will you set and measure goals and objectives? Do you have the appropriate experience, tools and processes in place to measure the variables that really matter, such as conversions, cost per conversion, lifetime value of customer and ROI?

25) Do you have experience in studying web analytics to make informed decisions about your website aimed at improving conversion rates?

As well as the above questions we also recommend people consider how they are going to keep pace with latest trends and developments  i.e. how much time can they dedicate to reading, attending conferences and so on? This is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of managing things in-house.

One point I would like to highlight is that even though I operate agency side I do not automatically assume outsourced is the best solution. It is entirely dependent on the organisation in question. It is rare amongst SME’s in particular, that one solution is more effective than the other. Usually, companies will have certain in-house skills and a certain amount of capacity to look after aspects of their strategy. But an agency will usually have invested in technology and a team of people possessing a wide range of skills that can be brought to the table to complement those possessed in-house.

Another equally important point to consider is that even when outsourcing to an agency, your involvement in the project is integral to its success. Digital marketing is never 100% outsourced because to a certain degree the success of a project is dictated by you, the client. I’ll be exploring this in more detail next time around.

Until then…

How the big retailers conquered the recession (and the lessons you can learn from them)

As this is our first post of 2010, I’d like to welcome you back and wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

And what a start to the year it has been. Wherever I turn recently I am being bombarded with news that many of the UK’s largest retailers enjoyed a roaring, and in some cases, record Christmas trade. The likes of Next, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Gap and House of Fraser are just some of those reporting some mind boggling trading figures.

Whoop whoop and high fives all round because after a year of doom and gloom it’s both a joy and relief to hear such marvellous success stories. And the even better news, especially if you work in digital, is that the Internet played a defining role for most of these businesses.

Although the recession suffocated the high street in 2009, it appears online retail, or e-tail if you like, may have saved many of our favourite high street names from suffering the same fate as big names such as Woolworths. For many of our largest retailers Internet sales have seemingly countered the losses of a quieter high street. And it’s not just big brands that have experienced this. We work with a small retailer based in Brighton. They invested in their digital marketing strategy at just the right time and it paid dividends in 2009. The client set growth targets of 22% for 2009. They hit 27% and although sales via the physical store were down the web more than made up for it.

But how have retailers achieved this and what can you learn from them? Well first and foremost, and perhaps most importantly, was the ‘fortune favours the brave’ approach taken by major brands and many smaller players alike. The wisest of retailers looked at the situation at the beginning of 2009 and realised to survive they needed to continue investing in marketing, particularly online, by ramping up their efforts in order to match the expectations and demand of their customers. Three key areas have been integral to success:

Improvements to website

Retailers worked hard to improve their websites, with a particular focus on design and user-experience. If there is one analogy that I cannot stop saying to people right now it is this…’you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink’. No words could better describe the workings of a website because in many ways it is relatively easy to drive traffic to your website. However, actually turning visitors into customers is a whole different ball game. Research from Amaze and the University of Glasgow discovered a staggering 87% of customer abandon their baskets before completing their purchase. This should highlight just how hard you have to work to turn an interested window shopper into a purchasing customer.

This challenge is only met with a well designed, intuitive, content-rich website that instils trust in the visitor. Retailers are realising you need to offer a lot more than a list of products. Useful and engaging content, such as ‘how to’ guides, articles, blogs and especially video have become vital to retail websites over the last year or so. Marks and Spencer and ASOS are just a couple of the retailers who have invested heavily in cat walk style video to show their products off in a more engaging way. I don’t have the data available but I bet it’s had a profound impact on conversion rates.

Social media

Many retailers have also embraced social media as a means of creating open dialogue with their prospects and customers. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be particularly powerful tools with retailers looking to connect with their audiences with product updates, sales, promotions and so on. The recent figures released by Dell show that with the right strategy in place Twitter is a viable marketing channel that can be linked directly back to sales and ROI.

The rise of social media has also contributed to retailers upping their game when it comes to service. In an age where blogs, forums and review sites offer an open invitation for customers to say both good and bad things about a brand, companies have realised that they need to wow their customers with great service and communication. The use of social media tools are therefore perfect for creating open dialogue with customers both as a promotional tool and for customer service.

Measurement

Retailers are implementing systems that allow multiple channels to be measured with a high degree of accuracy. In turn, the marketers on the front line can demonstrate to the big cheeses that Internet marketing is not a passing fad but the most targeted, cost effective and measurable means of reaching their target audience available.

It is worth noting that retailers have also benefited from changes in consumer behaviour. The average consumer has become more astute and explorative when buying online meaning they’re investing more time in hunting down a bargain or discount. According to a recent Paypal report, 62% of shoppers believe the best bargains are to be had online. The advent of voucher codes along with the discount boom helps provide a constant incentive for people to browse and spend more time on the Internet than they would normally spend visiting the high street on a Saturday afternoon. (And with that men up and down the country are rejoicing as their better halves turn to the Internet instead of dragging them around the local shopping centre!!).

In a follow up post to this one I’ll be going into more detail on what needs to be included in your digital strategy for 2010 if you are to repeat some of the success stories highlighted above. In the meantime, bear this in mind; Retail Decisions (ReD) has calculated that internet retail sales in the UK hit £49.8 billion in 2009, up 21% from 2008. Overall, up to 33 million consumers made an online purchase last year. And according to research carried out by eDigitalResearch, four in ten consumers plan to spend more online next Christmas due to a positive online experience this year. It might be said therefore that online retail has defied the recession and in my view will continue to do so.

So as we say goodbye to a pretty rotten 2009, it’s time to start afresh and review your plans for 2010 to ensure you are positioning yourself to take full advantage.

Until next time…

Froggblog top posts of 2009

As we draw towards the end of 2009, we thought it would be useful to compile a list of the most useful articles from the Froggblog written by our team of experts over the course of the last 12 months. It is by no means a definitive list of the key events of 2009 (there have been just too many for us to find the time to write about all of them!). However, there has been some really useful advice shared by our team this year, so with that, here we go…

Strategy

Looking to succeed online? Be guided by these three words

Acquisition, conversion and retention should be at the centre of your digital marketing strategy. Ben Potter explains why.

Digital marketing snakes and ladders

Client Relations Manager, Christos, provides some great advice on developing and maintaining a fruitful relationship with your agency.

All good things come in threes; search, social media and content is another

Ben Potter explains the intrinsic relationship between search, social media and content-based marketing techniques and why they need to work together as part of an integrated digital marketing strategy.

The importance of customer care ‘after the click’

Dan Richardson endured a frustrating afternoon with a customer services rep; this got him angry and he blogged about it with advice all brands should take heed of.

Website Optimisation

Pretty websites do not automatically win popularity contests

Website optimisation executive, Claire Mason, looks at why a successful website has to do a lot more than simply look good.

Quick tips to increase your online conversion rate

It’s one thing getting visitors to your website but quite another turning them into customers. Suzanne Taylor offers some quick tips aimed at increasing those all-important conversion rates.

Improving your bounce rates…Jump to it!

More advice on making your website more sticky!

The case of SEO ‘Boondoggle’ – Leapfrogg’s view

Search guru Jill Whalen wrote a thought provoking article earlier in the year debunking many of the SEO myths that agencies and individuals, in the worse cases, hoodwink their clients into believing are more important than perhaps they actually are. Claire Mason gives her view.

Logical URL structure that benefits users and search engines

The structure of your website sets the foundations for how search engines spider and index your content, and also the ease by which visitors navigate the site to reach the point of conversion. A logical site structure is therefore integral to the success of your digital marketing efforts. Suzanne Taylor explains more…

How to optimise your site for Bing

Another big story in 2009 was the release of Bing; Microsoft’s new search engine. Claire Mason investigated whether this new engine required anything different to the traditional methods of optimising a website.

25 things to remember when launching a new website

Mistakes made when launching a new website are all too common and can have some pretty dire consequences. Account Manager, Laurence West, well experienced in these matters provides an extensive checklist of things to consider when taking down your old website and launching a replacement.

Copywriting

How to sell your web copy

Some quick-tips from in-house copywriter Matt Crick on creating great web copy.

Syndicating content without losing authority

Publishing content, such as articles, online is a great way of extending your reach and gaining links. But you want to ensure that you are credited with being the originator of this content. Some tips from Suzanne on how.

How to create and formulate an effective blog schedule

Blogging in undoubtedly an important tool for the vast majority of online marketers. But all too often writers are stuck for ideas. If this is the case, you need to create a blog schedule for those moments where inspiration is not forthcoming. Matt explains how.

Social Media

Social capital, getting among the buzz, and what this all means

A good overview of social media and what it all means from in-house consultant Catherine Pryce.

Video: Social media tools you can start using today, for free!

Earlier this year I delivered a seminar on the beauty of free social media tools. Unbeknown to me the whole thing was recorded!

Twitter – A Quick Start Guide

If they handed out an award for social media tool of the year, Twitter would get it. There has been a huge amount of buzz around it and even I was converted! Some useful tips on how to get started.

Paid Search

Top tips on setting up your Google AdWords campaign for maximum ROI

Advice from Paid Search extraordinaire Amelia Dawson on setting up your Paid Search campaign to ensure maximum ROI.

Top tips on optimising your Paid Search campaign to maximise ROI

Part two of Amelia’s mission to stop you wasting money on Paid Search; this time, how to optimise your campaign on an ongoing basis.

How the Yahoo-Microsoft deal will affect SME paid search campaigns

Another major news story in 2009 was the Yahoo – Microsoft deal. Amelia went straight to work investigating what this means for those currently advertising across both networks.

Paid Search; bidding on competitors brand terms…the why’s and wherefores

Just because Google now allows you to bid on competitor brand names, it doesn’t mean you should! Amelia explains the pros and con’s.

That just leaves me to thank our team for some useful and insightful articles over the course of 2009 and to you, our readers, for tuning in. Expect the Froggblog to continue evolving next year, especially in light of a new niche offering we will be announcing during the early part of 2010.

Merry Xmas and a prosperous New Year!

The benefits of an E-newsletter (and the news it should have in it)

Hands up please those of you who’ve subscribed to a highly anticipated newsletter, to then be let down by its content? Worse still, receive a newsletter with content aimed for a different target audience (FYI: I have often received promotions for women’s wear since subscribing to a very large, online fashion retailer). Both outcomes are frustrating, but both can be prevented.

We encourage all of our clients’ to introduce an E-newsletter if there’s significant benefit in doing so, but time and effort is required to launch and manage one. However, there are a host of individual benefits that a well engineered E-newsletter provides which can collectively meet your commercial objectives. A newsletter is no longer hard copy information that people divert to the nearest bin; it is personalised, compelling content all at the click of a button. So, here are my top 10 benefits of an E-newsletter:

1. It’s an extremely quick, cost-effective way to communicate with your demographic (compared to print)
2. It amplifies your business’s brand and reputation – showcasing your authority on up-to-the-minute industry news
3. It extends the loyalty and commitment of your customer base
4. It offers immediate, trackable results
5. It identifies ‘undeliverables’ which can be rectified and resent
6. It ensures a higher response rate due to the researched target audience
7. It supports your overall marketing, advertising and sales agenda
8. It is perfect for linking back to specific pages on your site or blog, encouraging quality, targeted traffic
9. It serves as a vehicle for promotional content, competitions and news feeds
10. It is similar to an online press release in the way that it can extend your media reach

So, could an E-newsletter do wonders for your business? I’m fairly sure that one of your key business goals is customer retention, so all of the benefits above essentially join forces in keeping your existing customers happy, as well as up-to-speed with company/industry developments – but what about gaining new customers?

Well, this is where I suggest you be controlled and cautious with your mailing. As I mentioned at the start, it’s annoying when a subscriber receives the wrong content, but you will severely lose trust and opportunity if you bombard prospective customers with irrelevant ‘salesy’ emails. Do comprehensive market research, combined with a quality (not quantity) mailing list and you’re almost ready to go.

Give your E-newsletter value and a voice
You know the benefits and your customers and commercial goals, now you need to fill your E-newsletter with, well, news. This is of course your choice, but it’s very important that the content is insightful, educational and fun.

All about the Intro
I would certainly recommend a personalised introduction, for example: “Hi Matt…with the colder months now upon us, we want to make sure you’re wrapped up well this winter. Check out our favourite cardigans and jackets that we think you’ll love…” etc, etc. This personal approach will go a long way, and compel your customer to read on.

Pearls of wisdom
Share any useful tips, advice and ‘How to’s’, as this will enhance your service or product. By incorporating our “top tip of the month’ or ‘five ways to cook with Asparagus’ it will reinforce authority within your industry and create a distinct, consistent voice. And, if you’re producing content in-house regularly, say as bloggers, then that can also be fed into the newsletter.

Look who’s talking
You can go one step further by accommodating a ‘Meet the team’ or ‘Staff Profile’ each month so your customers can put a face to a name. I don’t know about you, but I always like to know who I’m working with, but this will also give you an advantage when mailing your newsletter to a prospective list.

So, I think you’re pretty much good to go. The layout of your E-newsletter will of course reflect your brand and website, but remember that this is an opportunity to be flexible, creative and have a little bit of fun. Every business wants a positive and strong identity that extends to their customers in a refreshing and personal way. An E-newsletter is one the most inexpensive ways to communicate with your target audience, but more importantly, the most effective. So, what you waiting for?

All good things come in threes; search, social media and content is another

I explained in a recent post that just three simple words should be at the heart of your online marketing strategy; acquisition, conversion and retention. Focusing on these three key stages of the customer lifecycle ensures your attention (misplaced obsession for some) moves well beyond that number one ranking on Google to instead building a much more holistic understanding of your prospects, what it takes to turn them into customers (conversion) and vitally how to keep them (retention).

My theme of three’s continues with this follow up post. I’ll explain why, beginning with a bit of background…

Search marketing has certainly changed since I started out in the industry over six years ago. The work of a search marketer in 2003 focused mainly on optimising the website (think the basics of SEO; keywords, Meta tags, etc), a touch of link building (usually reciprocal-everybody liked to swap links in those days!) and perhaps the odd article or press release. But the demands on a search marketer these days are far greater. Why? Well, the consumption of online media has changed significantly in recent times. We spend more time online than ever before and spend that time in new ways. We create; we share; we talk; we watch; we recommend; we research; we meet new people; we look for advice and we network, amongst other things. And we don’t just do it at a computer. Mobile phones are almost unrecognisable from the bricks we used to walk around with and offer access to a whole range of Internet based services.

All of this activity means that your target audience are spread over a much wider area; they no longer simply rely on search engines to find information. So as marketers you have to do many more things to reach the same number of people. This makes a straightforward (‘2003 style’) search engine optimisation campaign virtually obsolete. In my view, it must now include two key components to accompany ‘traditional’ search activity; social media and content. Before we go into the detail, let’s look at a very simple example to highlight why search marketing, social media and content cannot operate in isolation of one another:

1. A piece of video content can be used to engage your audience when placed prominently on your website.  Examples might include interviews with employees or product demonstrations.  Video has grown in popularity exponentially as broadband has spread across the UK, smart phones allow easy access to it and the costs to create even professional video content have come down in price significantly. Many businesses now create it at virtually no cost at all with very good results.

2. To extend the reach of this video it can placed on social networking sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo. These networks are where users can create, upload and share their content with others. Placing video on sites like YouTube allows you to extend the reach of your content to an audience that may not have otherwise seen it.

3. Because today’s search engine results are a blend of images, videos, maps, news and local listings, there is a very good chance that, if properly optimised, the video will appear on the search engine results page (SERP) for relevant search queries. In Google’s case, the bringing together of content in various formats in one page of search results is called Universal Search.

It is worth bearing in mind that virtually any content created by you or your prospects/customers, in almost any format, has the potential to be picked up and found in search engine listings. If you search for ‘Leapfrogg’ on Google you will notice press releases, social networking profiles, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Flickr, as well as directory listings all featuring in the search results. Some of this content we control, some of it we don’t. For many larger brands this lack of control has proved a major headache as bloggers and reviewers say both good and bad things about their experiences with the particular products or services sold by that brand. A few years ago such comments might be exposed to a few friends down the pub; these days they might be seen by hundreds or thousands of Internet users.

With the somewhat simple example above I find it impossible to consider how search, social media and content can operate in isolation of one another. Entering social networks, for example, is dictated by the content you choose to create and share, whether that is a short comment or a well produced piece of video. And the success of your social media efforts will be dictated by the quality of this content. Therefore, there has never been so much demand on search marketers to create content in a range of formats that is interesting, unique and highly engaging. Content that meets such criteria is how you differentiate yourself in an increasingly competitive online space. Regular articles, white papers, slideshows, podcasts and videos are just a few ways in which greater value can be added to your website enhancing the experience of the prospects and customers paying you a visit. And regular, good quality content added to your website will earn you brownie points with search engines; they like nothing more. This blog post, for example, will be picked up within a couple of hours by Google.

This is all great I hear you say but where do you start in understanding the target audience and the content you should create to engage them? A successful, integrated strategy involves research aimed at establishing where and how your target audience spend their time online. Remember they are not just on search engines so you need to go and find them; what sites do the frequent, what are they saying, what are they demanding, what issues do they have and so on. In addition to that, you need to understand who the influencers are in your space. These will include bloggers, reviewers, journalists and so on; the sort of people who influence the thoughts and opinions of the people you are looking to sell to. It is important you look to engage with these influencers but you are only likely to capture their attention if you have something pretty compelling to offer. A great bit of content might do the trick! At this point it comes full circle; if a blogger, for example writes a positive review about one of your products there is every chance they will also link to you. Search engines like links; they really like them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, search, social media and content are intrinsically linked; no doubt about it. Therefore, they need to form part of a well planned and implemented online strategy. This once again calls into question the validity of services offered by so called SEO professionals (snake oli salesman as they have become to be known) offering guaranteed positioning on search engines and so on. Search engine algorithms look well beyond basic optimisation efforts these days when ranking web pages. This demands a more sophisticated strategy that firstly seeks to understand your target audience and their behaviours, enabling you to be highly focused in the content you create to engage them and the sites you market that content across. And only by creating great content, which is properly optimised, will you satisfy search engines hungry for content in various digital formats.

Video: Social media tools you can start using today, for free!

Back in March of this year, Leapfrogg was invited to present at a local networking event organised by our friends over at Nido Marketing. Along with Steve Robinson from Sales Engine the afternoon focused on sales and marketing techniques that could be adopted to not only survive these difficult times but actually prosper.

Social media remains the buzz word of the moment but much confusion surrounds the tools available, how to utilise them and of course the benefits available to marketers. To give the attendees a brief introduction my presentation focused on some of the free tools available, mainly concerned with social media but also ensuring measurement tools such as Google Analytics were being utilised.

Not until the last minute was I told the whole event was to be filmed so I hope my rather deep sounding voice and Tony Blair style hand gesturing work for you!

Part 1 – What is social media, what forms does it take and things to consider before getting started.

Part 2 – Blogging, Twitter and social networking tools, such as LinkedIn.

Part 3 – Benefits of social media, conclusions and Q and A.

Looking to succeed online? Be guided by these three words

At the turn of the year I wrote a post on this blog hoping predicting that the impending recession would see many of the aptly named ‘snake-oil SEO salesman’ go out of business as buyers become more aware of what is required to succeed in search engine marketing and in particular, demand that companies have both the ability and track record in delivering ROI.

Unfortunately, the reports I am hearing suggest that this is not the case. If anything even more companies and individuals appear to be popping up offering ‘guaranteed top search engine rankings’ and ‘top website ranks’. I said back at the turn of the year and I repeat it again now; sometimes I just want to find these people and wring their necks. They prey on the naivety of what remains a relatively uninformed audience, they rarely deliver, don’t even pay up on their ‘guarantees’ when they don’t deliver (due to their cleverly written contracts), devalue the better agencies and ultimately inflict great damage on the reputation of the search industry.

So in light of the fact that the recession seems to be breeding, not wiping out, the ‘snake-oil salesmen’, please, please take heed of my advice; there are no magic formula’s, tricks or otherwise to achieving online success, especially where search engines are concerned. If it sounds too good to be true…that’s because it is. No search engine marketer can guarantee any ranking, for any keyword, on any search engine – FACT.

To get some perspective, and avoid bad decision making, I recommend going back to the ‘old school’. If you ever studied marketing at university do you remember reading about the customer life cycle? Although, admittedly, I have forgotten a great deal of what I learnt at university (nothing to do with the cheap alcohol, honest), the customer life cycle has always stuck with me. If you are not familiar with it, it is a term used to describe the steps a customer goes through when considering, purchasing and maintaining loyalty to a product or service. This theory is as relevant today as the day it was written but for reasons unbeknown to me is often left at the door when considering a search engine marketing strategy. Too many people; agencies, clients and especially those nasty ‘snake oil salesman’, are still focused on gaining search engine rankings; nothing else, just being well placed on the search engines. But to successfully grow your business through the web you must consider what happens once you have got the traffic to your website and also how you maintain a relationship with those people who do choose to buy from you.

So lets look at three stages of the customer life cycle that should arm you with an overriding strategic formula that separates the long term approach that is necessary to achieve online success from the short term nonsense spouted by ‘snake oil man’.

Acquisition
This is concerned with driving targeted traffic to your website. The amount of traffic will depend to a large extent on your ‘reach’; in simple terms how far and wide you can spread your message so as to engage your target audience and bring them back to your website.

Search engines are at the very centre of a successful acquisition strategy but search engine marketing cannot operate in isolation. An effective online marketing strategy combines search engine marketing with social media and content strategies to maximise reach. The last year or two has seen the gradual convergence of these channels to the point where one cannot operate in isolation of the other two. A piece of video content for example, can be used to engage your audience on your own website. However, it can also be used to enter a social space, such as YouTube. In turn, Google index the content and feature the video in their search results.

Conversion
It’s all very well driving targeted traffic to your website. But turning these visitors into customers is an altogether different challenge and can only be achieved by delivering an intuitive user-experience along with engaging content, and of course an offering that is different to that of your competitors. Therefore, when we talk of the word ‘optimisation’ it should be used to describe not optimising for search engines but optimising for visitors. Question an agency about their approach to optimisation; what are they doing to improve the user-experience? What content do they suggest can be added to the site to make it a better resource for website visitors? If they are only interested in stuffing the copy you already have with numerous occurrences of a keyword or adding some Meta tags to your site, it’s time to walk away.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that optimisation is not a one time hit. It is a continual process where changes are made to your site based on analysis of stats, such as Google Analytics, user-testing and the inevitable shifts in your business, competitors, search engines and the Internet at large.

Retention
Repeat business is an essential component in achieving online success because as the old adage states, it is a great deal cheaper, and easier, to sell to somebody who has bought from you previously than to somebody who hasn’t at all.

To encourage repeat sales you must deliver great service and an engaging overall experience with your brand. In an age where social media sites, such as blogs, forums and review sites offer an open invitation for customers to say both good and bad things about your business, products/services and market at large, you must deliver on your promises. At the same time you must also embrace social media and other tools, such as email, as a means of creating open dialogue with your customers and prospects.

By focusing on these key stages of the customer life cycle you can increase ‘reach’ and therefore targeted traffic to your website. Through initial, and ongoing, optimisation of your website you will improve conversion rates leading to increased sales. By analysing your post-sales processes and communication with customers you can improve customer retention rates therefore maximising the revenue generated by your website and returns for your digital spend.

Of course, so as not to turn this into a dissertation, I have really only touched on each of these stages and what each of them entails. But I hope that it will go some way to showing there is no magic formula to achieving success through search engine marketing (unless you want to call the customer lifecycle itself a formula!). So, in making a decision on an agency or indeed any marketing decisions that you take in-house, go back to the marketing books you studied at university and start applying old-school theory to new-school environments. Because ultimately, nothing has changed other than the environment you are selling in. You have a product, an audience and a means of getting your message to them. In choosing to engage with your company, the customer still works through the same buying cycle as they did in 1978. So get back to basics, use common sense and let’s rid the industry once and for all of ‘snake oil man’. Because as I stated in my last article on this topic, if you are not educated and therefore fooled into buying crap, there will always be people only too willing to sell it to you!

The importance of customer care ‘after the click’

I’ve been in the market for a netbook – a mini laptop with broadband internet connection. I looked around online and placed an order with one of the mobile operators.

The process was very straight forward and painless.

I chose the laptop, decided on the contract plan and placed the order. Bosh!

So far so good.

Some time later I received an email confirming the purchase of my “mobile”. As the company is a mobile phone operator, I did not mind too much that they seem unable to differentiate between a laptop with modem and a mobile phone. It was a standard email after all!

Later on that afternoon I received a further email letting me know that my mobile (again!) had been sent and that it would be delivered by courier on Saturday 11th. The email referred to a courier tracking number, but crucially that information was missing.

Saturday came and I waited at home all morning – no delivery.

Monday – Bank Holiday

Tuesday – still nothing, so I decided to call their customer services department to find out what was going on. This is where the real trouble started –  not a single contact number on their website anywhere!

It took me an age to find an instant messenger type service for people who had a query before their purchase. I fired off a message asking for a phone number for customer services, which I was given. However, this number turned out to be wrong.

I sent another message and was given another number – this one turned out to be correct. I spoke to someone who took all my details regarding the non delivery and promised to get back to me.

Wednesday the usb modem arrives – no sign of the actual netbook

I’m a bit fed up now so today I call the head office – having obtained the number from 118 500.

I wanted to talk to their customer relations director whose name was on the letter that accompanied the modem. The receptionist kindly told me that “he does not take customer calls” before putting me through to customer services who I had spoken to on Tuesday.

I then noticed a different number on the receipt which I called and after a couple of minutes I got my answer! Laptops are delivered two days after the modem. Why, I don’t know, but it would have been nice to have known that at the outset.

I am now disgruntled and unimpressed and I haven’t even received the whole product yet!

The lessons here for any online retailer are key.

You’ve probably thought a lot about how a visitor navigates around your site and what their purchasing experience is like. You’ve worked hard to make it as easy and obvious as possible. You’ve instilled a sense of trust by clearly showing payment options and the fact that the site is secure, but are you giving enough thought to what happens after the final click.

Based on my experience this week, here are my top five things to think about:

1. Make it easy for customers to be able to talk to you. Your phone number should be clearly displayed not only on your website but also included in any email correspondence.

2. When you send out confirmation emails, make them personal and make sure you refer to the actual product the person bought. Also do include a tracking number if you refer to one!

3. Make it clear exactly what is going to happen and when, and stick to it. If you cannot stick to the promise you made, let the customer know in advance.

4. Send a follow up email after delivery to check that everything is okay and your customer is happy.

5.  Invite feedback. It’s the only way you’re going to improve.

And if you don’t? Your unhappy customer may write a blog post about it. However, they might not be quite so nice not to include your name!