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The Thrive Hive

Tips on digital marketing you can apply today.

Summary: Panel on the Future of Marketing

Kristen Fowler Lindsey - Thursday, October 13, 2016

I had a great time today participating in a panel of experts sharing with Alaska marketers about the future of marketing. My fellow panelists were Nick Coltman from the Anchorage Press and Melissa Moody from Google. For those of you that were unable to make it or did not hear about it, I thought it might be useful to have a summary of the bigger topics we covered. 

1. What do you see as the next big disruption in marketing and communications?

There are going to be bigger, better ways for marketers to really hyper-target audiences. Nick described it as sniper-style targeting. As part of that, Melissa made the great point that internet access is already happening more on mobile devices than desktops and computers, and we all agreed that mobile is here to stay and that new disruptive technologies will be primarily happening in the mobile sphere. 

I chimed in that it is critical for marketers to really hone in on target audiences and their needs, pain points, and what else empowers and engages them, then apply the targeting tactics that resonate with each of those audiences. With so many new tools, there is a lot of bad content out there that is turning off consumers. If you can create an authentic, engaging experience with your customers, you are going to cut through the clutter. A great online resource that breaks this down is the Content Marketing Institute.

Nick also pointed out that with this targeting comes much more effective measurement and analytics. It is much easier to learn quickly what works and what doesn't and focus your budget in the right places.

2. As a small business without a marketing staff member, how do we make the most of a limited budget?

Melissa: Start with online local listings and reviews - free and impactful!

Nick: It depends! On the industry, target audience, etc. But if you have $300 to spend there are a lot more inexpensive options out there to take advantage of, from an ad in the Anchorage Press to Facebook ads. 

Kristen: We counsel small business owners to keep the fast-cheap-good triangle in mind when deciding on marketing spend - you can only have two! That is a quick check to prioritize quickly. Also, as the owner with many hats, it is also important to consider how your time is best spent - using that $300 for hiring marketing professionals when your time could have a bigger impact on the business success elsewhere is an analysis of the risk of lost opportunity.

3. How do you see virtual reality playing a role in future marketing tactics?

Melissa: Virtual reality will be a huge opportunity for industries with experiential products and services as it gets more mainstream. She pointed out the important difference between 360-degree photos and Virtual Reality. 360 photos are basically a 360-degree photograph taken with a special camera or else stitched together from a number of pictures. Virtual Reality is an immersive experience that requires some sort of headset. (Incidentally, Scott at our office picked up a Google Cardboard, which allows you to experience virtual reality with some simple app downloads. Check it out!)  

It is becoming easier and more affordable to create 360-degree images and load them up on your site of social networks. She mentioned the Android SprayScape app, which allows marketers to create them quickly with their mobile phone. her advice for small businesses is to start with the 360-degree photos, then more forward from there.

Kristen: I mistook augmented reality with Virtual reality and mentioned how quickly Pokemon went mainstream, but regardless there is a point in there somewhere that even as people grasp augmented reality, it makes it easier for our potential consumer markets to understand Virtual Reality, and that is when the technology is going to become useful to us as marketers. The other point I made was that regardless of what disruptive technology comes down the line, Virtual reality included, that we still need to execute the fundamental ,marketing task of identifying those micro-audiences and understand what content and experiences engage them, THEN apply the technology.

4. How can the big Alaska businesses find marketing opportunity in the current economic situation?

Melissa: there are definitely opportunities in other markets. I was at the Alaska Travel Industry Association convention last week, and hearing Governor Walker talk about the huge cuts in the state marketing budget was hard to hear. But that is completely the wrong way to go, because tourism is an Alaska industry of opportunity.

Kristen: Since we are all dependent on oil and gas to create the business economy here, all industries need to evaluate their opportunities. Just like the state is losing an opportunity by cutting back on the tourism marketing budget, individual businesses must continue to double down on knowing their customers and taking advantage of these new marketing trends. One important way for marketers to do this is to restructure their work process to be able to respond more quickly to consumers with the tactics available, learn what works and what doesn't on the fly, and more forward with what is successful.

Nick: Obviously, marketing is not going to help oil and gas. They need more production and volume. But all the rest of the businesses cannot hide in the sand - their competitors will take up that lost space.

5. One word to sum up the future of marketing:

Nick: Targeting

Melissa: Mobile

Kristen: Agile

Alaska Tourism - How Can You Thrive With Minimal State Marketing

Kristen Fowler Lindsey - Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The state of Alaska's budget woes have reached the tourism industry. Despite near record visitor numbers and a thriving industry, critical state marketing support for the industry has dwindled from upwards of twenty million dollars to to a mere 1.5 million dollars.

Many of our clients are asking about how they can retool their own marketing programs in response to this situation. Here are some digital strategies to consider:

1.  Do you have the right business intelligence?

Of course, businesses look at overall revenues, profit margins, etc. but there are other important ways of tracking your marketing program. Evaluating which analytics you review to support your marketing objectives is an important first step. 

You need a fuel gauge in your car to know if you're running out of fuel, right? Just looking at miles traveled will not tell you if you are in danger. Are you looking at mere website traffic to determine your digital success? Rethink your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and find the ones that give you actionable information. Some examples of KPIs we use with some clients are engaged visitors (sessions of x page views or more), shopping cart abandonment rate, average order value and more.

2. How is your website conversion rate?

Is your site optimized to maximize bookings? An incremental increase in your conversion rate is one of the biggest ways you can improve your digital marketing performance. Analysis tools like heat maps, exit surveys or landing page optimization testing can help you find areas of opportunity. Google Analytics has multiple ways to measure conversion, and spending a little on development to get this information can pay big dividends.

3. Are you spending your digital advertising in the right places?

U.S. department store merchant John Wanamaker is credited with the quote, "I know half my advertising is working; I just don't know which half." With digital advertising & marketing, this is no longer the case. Conducting an ad cost analysis (i.e. cost per conversion by advertising medium) can prevent you from throwing money at a poor performing tactic and underspending on something really valuable. For example, when executed properly, paid search advertising can have the lowest cost per acquisition of almost any other type of advertising. If you have an effective paid search program but not maximizing your spending, you are losing cost effective conversions.

4. Is your site mobile optimized?

So many travelers are making decisions on where to eat, what to do and even where to stay once they have already arrived at their destination, and they are mostly using mobile devices to make these bookings. If your site is not optimized for mobile yet, it is time to bite the bullet and make the investment. Yes, it is a capital expense that may feel like a lot, but is the most important part of conversion optimization you can undertake.

5. It is time to professionalize your social media presence.

Playing around with social media and seeing if it can contribute to your marketing program is a thing of the past. The size of audiences on social media now easily rival audiences in other areas, such as search. Developing a coordinated social media strategy in alignment with the rest of your marketing as well as exploring paid social advertising options will enhance your overall program and increase its impact. As with all marketing, with digital, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy and consistent message among all tactics - search, display, email, social - can have a disproportionate impact and huge bang for the buck.

So, if you are looking for ways to leverage your marketing program further to make up for State of Alaska marketing program support, here are some ideas to start with. Do these resonate with you? Any other comments on digital opportunities you see? Please share in the comments!

The Case for Responsive Design

Scott Thomas - Thursday, June 11, 2015

For some Alaskan businesses, the hype and news surrounding the Google Mobile Algorithm update and the fear of a pending Mobilegeddon may have caught them by surprise. While some organizations have already made the change to responsive web design, we know of many other sites functioning pretty well without any mobile friendly pages. In response to some recent conversations we've had with clients, here is a basic guide outlining why your business should consider making the change to a responsively designed website.

What is Responsive Design?

 From the all-knowing Wikipedia:

Responsive web design (RWD) is an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).

1) Think About the User First.

Providing the answer to a question, or the product or service a person is looking for should be your organization's first priority. Many people in the U.S. are connected to the internet constantly, and moving between devices. If your site is not mobile friendly, and your competitors' sites are responsive, you are likely missing out on leads and customers. Can someone find your business on a mobile device and complete the conversion action(s) you are aiming for? Can your business afford to ignore 10% of your website visitors? 20%? 30%?

2) Searches on Mobile Devices have Exceeded Desktop Search.

Earlier this year, Google acknowledged that the volume of search queries on mobile devices exceed those on desktops in 10 countries, including the U.S.  You have probably noticed significant growth in mobile traffic -and while for some sites -that percentage may be 20% or less of your total website sessions (visits), not many business can choose to ignore or give mobile users a poor experience. A recent study by Nielsen noted that US adults spend more time on the Internet via Smart Phones.

3) Responsive Design is Preferred by Google (and better for SEO).

Since 2012, Google has recommended that websites use responsive design. While it's still a viable option for websites that use separate desktop and mobile sites, choosing such a set-up requires extra web development and content maintenance, as well careful SEO settings to highlight the two separate sites properly.

4) Flexible Formats that Adapt to the Device.

Responsively designed websites are fluid, and adapt the size of the screen. The templates used in responsive design are based upon screen size, not device. If a new technology is developed (or a new screen size) and the existing responsive templates don't work with the new device, one could update the templates for the new device(s).

5) Social Media: It's a Mobile First World.

The majority of social media consumption and sharing occurs on a mobile device. If one is attempting to share website content that isn't mobile-friendly, that will decrease the likelihood of your content being shared. Active social media campaigns can help bring in more mobile traffic, and get your website liked or shared on social media channels.

A Case Study: Denali Zipline Tours

Denali Zipline Tours This spring, we helped Denali Zipline Tours launch a responsive website. Previously, Denali Zipline Tours' site was a non-responsive site without any mobile friendly pages. Their site takes online reservations for their Zipline tours, so we can compare user engagement metrics and online ecommerce revenue for the first 90 days with a responsive design.

Comparing year over year data for this 90 day period, the Denali Zipline Tours website saw the following improvements from their mobile users:

  • 20% Reduction in Bounce Rate
  • Average Pages per Session Doubled
  • 28% Increase in Online Reservations
  • 114% Increase in Revenue

Google's Mobile Update: No Time to Panic

Scott Thomas - Thursday, April 16, 2015

Starting on April 21st, Google will increase the use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal on mobile devices. This change may take days or weeks to roll out, it will affect mobile searches in all languages, world-wide. At this time, it's unclear if the impact will boost mobile-friendly pages or work as a demotion for non-mobile friendly pages, but the intent is to promote mobile-friendly pages up higher in the search results. While there are still some unknowns as to the impacts, we do know that website that are not mobile friendly will not be removed from the search results. 

It appears that the upcoming algorithmic change will not impact desktop search rankings. We also know that the mobile friendliness update will work on the page level, and run in real time. This means that after you update your site with mobile-friendly pages, Google will quickly see that and respond to the change (no long-lasting suppression or site-wide penalties).

Remember, Google's goal is to provide the most relevant search results to it's users. What can your business or organization do to adapt?

Assess your Website Visitors' Experience: What percentage of your website visitors are using a mobile device? For example, if only 20% of your visitors are on a mobile device, and those visitors have similar engagement as your desktop users, then perhaps it's not necessary to quickly develop a new responsive or mobile site. On the other hand, if you are a local, brick-and-mortar business, and you get 30% or more of your current web visitors via mobile devices, then it's likely vital to update your site to include mobile-friendly pages as soon as possible. 

  • For your website, what percentage of pages are visited by Google organic search visitors, from a mobile device?
  • Are these mobile users looking for specific information, such as map or location information?
  • Would it be possible to create a small sub-set of mobile pages, to give these users what they need?

Check and Improve your Mobile Friendliness: Even if you already have a responsively design site, or a combination of a mobile and desktop sites, it's important to do a mobile SEO audit and see if Google is actually serving your mobile pages. Test your site with Google's Mobile-Friendly Testing tool, and see what usability issues, if any, must be addressed. From Google Webmaster Tools, use the Google smartphone crawler to see if there are problems with crawling your site. 

Competition Level in your Niche: Finally, how well does your site stack up to your top competitors? Is your website the only one that isn't mobile friendly? If you are in a very competitive field, then use mobile rankings tools to discover the keywords that your competitors are out-ranking you for on mobile devices. 

Don't Panic, but Create a Plan: While some Internet marketers, designers, and domain registrar companies might be exaggerating the impacts of the upcoming change, it's important to make your site mobile-friendly in the near future. Google representatives have publicly stated that they expect the volume of searches from mobile devices to exceed the volume of desktop-based search during the 2015 calendar year.

If your users are primarily desktop-based, then perhaps you can wait until the next planned website redesign to incorporate mobile-friendly pages. Examine your situation closely by using your analytics data, Google Webmaster Tools, and the mobile friendly testing tool to determine the potential impact of the upcoming mobile friendly algorithm change. Once April 21st rolls around, keep a close eye on the volume of Google organic traffic (especially from mobile devices) and compare it to past performance.

Think about the mobile user first, their experience your website, and when you'll have the budget to update your site for mobile-friendliness. Perhaps you have overlooked those users, and you should update your website for mobile friendliness as soon as possible; but if the impact is low, then you might be able to wait.



Adapting to Keyword Data Not Provided

Scott Thomas - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Google has begun a major shift to encrypting all non-paid (organic) search activity, while continuing to provide keyword data for ad clicks. Within Google Analytics (or other Analytics platforms), this query data was lumped into the (not provided) segment. Anyone involved with online marketing or tracking their website performance with Analytics is likely well aware that this segment of "not provided" keyword data has been growing. Google has confirmed that it has begun shifting all searches to encrypted search, and many marketers have noticed a huge spike of (not provided) this month (Sept. 2013). 

A Brief History of Not Provided

Since October of 2011, Google began encrypting search queries for people who were logged into their Google Account. Initially, Google stated that the percentage of keyword data lost to marketers would be in the single digits. Over time, more searches were encrypted, including search boxes & from the Address/URL bar of the Chrome, Apple's Safari browser in iOS6 and Firefox browsers. Marketers began to track the percentage of not provided and finding ways to adapt to the situation.

The Shift from Tracking Keywords to Landing Page Performance

Given the increasing percentage of not provided keyword data since 2011, the quality of the remaining keyword data from Google organic search has been questionable at best over the last year or so. Instead of evaluating your site's Google organic traffic via the associated keyword data, it's time to shift your tracking to a landing page metric. Based upon the landing pages of your site's visits from Google organic traffic, one can infer the type of keyword phrases that were likely used to find each landing page. 

Other Options for Adapting to Not Provided

Fortunately, Bing still passes on the keyword data for organic search visits. Bing also provides a very high quality set of Webmaster Tools, complete with keyword research tools and SEO recommendations. Unfortunately, due to their small market share, gleaning data for small niche markets can be difficult. 

Since keyword data is still passed onto advertisers, one can use Google AdWords to acquire paid keyword data through CPC advertising. One can measure impression and click through data for a variety of branded and non-branded keywords, and track a site's progress over time.

Google Webmaster Tools provides data on the search queries, impressions, average position, and click data for your website. Currently, Google provides 90 days worth of data, but plans to provide up to one year of historical data in the near future. 

Time to Think Beyond the Keywords

In many ways, Google is pushing online marketers and website owners to think beyond the keyword and trying to rank well. If you are not already, it's time to focus on what really matters: the entire experience of your users. Can they find what they are looking for on your website? Are you providing unique, remarkable content to hold their attention? Will they keep your business in mind when they consider all their options? 

While I don't buy Google's arguments of protecting users' privacy by withholding organic keyword data while providing keyword data for paid ads, that's the world we live in now.