Keep Your Digital Marketing Up to Date with Technology

Digital marketing is a unique blend of communication and technology.  Both aspects need to work in tandem for effective campaigns.  While communication platforms change, the basics for communication, video, text, interaction, and design remain fairly static.  Technology on the other hand . . . changes rapidly. Don’t allow your digital marketing to be undermined by falling behind on technology.

This post is a self-criticism.  Our site, especially the blog, is in dire need of a technology update.  Obviously client projects come first but we’ve allowed this to fall so far behind that it’s impacting our SEO (because we aren’t meeting some of the responsive layout requirements that Google looks for).  It’s a good example of how falling behind in one channel can cascade down to others.

It often takes a concerted effort to get your digital marketing technology up to date.  Our blog for instance has the latest plugins and updates; unfortunately the layout itself has fallen behind the times which limits the entire site’s performance.

Don’t repeat the error we have made here.  Review the technology that your digital marketing is based on at least every other year.  That ensures that you won’t fall far behind current technology and allows you to identify elements that are out of date and map a strategy to update them.

Image courtesy of Joel Penner on Flickr.

Anticipate the Summer Slow Down

Acknowledging headwinds is the first step to overcoming them.  Most trainers, consultants and professional coaches experience a slowdown in their digital marketing over the summer months. Anticipating and preparing for that three month lull is critical to ensure that you meet your marketing targets.

Hope is not a strategy.  Almost every training and consulting market will be less available in the summer months. Unless your business is growing rapidly, chances are you have fewer visitors or a percent slow down compared to previous months due to traditional summer slowdowns.

You shouldn’t panic because of digital marketing performance drops during vacation season. Instead prepare for it in one of two ways:

  1. Pad Performance
    If you’ve experienced a summer slowdown in the past, you’re probably going to again next summer. Plan for the slowdown in your annual marketing goals.  The other seasons need to produce enough leads or sales to overcome the anticipated summer deficiency.Rather than setting a standard monthly target, compare year over year statistics to identify what a typical summer slowdown has been for your digital marketing campaigns. Then build a lower summer conversion into your plan and set benchmarks to pad performance. If summer happens to stay consistent then it’s a great opportunity to outperform annual goals.
  2. Increase Activity
    If you have the time or resources, you can increase your digital marketing activity. Essentially this is casting a wider net or increasing marketing frequency to improve your odds of connecting with those prospects that are available in the summer.  Make sure that the increased activity isn’t overbearing. There’s no benefit to alienating good prospects in an effort to keep summer numbers consistent.

Don’t panic when the summer slowdown hits. As long as you maintain your processes and activity, it won’t be depressed for long.

Checklist Mindset in Digital Marketing

I am a checklist junkie.  I create monthly task calendars that I break down into weekly checklists and then create daily journal entries for what needs accomplished. For me it’s natural to want to do a task, complete it, and then check it off the list.  While valuable in task completion, a checklist mindset can be detrimental when misapplied to digital marketing efforts that require ongoing and consistent execution.

In a recent review of an SEO report with a small business owner, we outlined a number of updates that could be made to improve his site’s ranking.  One of those aspects was review links to his site.  The business owner assured us that he had plenty of reviews and pointed to his 5 Yelp reviews as evidence.  He felt that reviews had already been done and should not be part of the action plan for further improving his search engine ranking. While having the review in place was certainly a positive thing, there were two misconceptions.

The first was the apparent suggestion that 5 reviews was the end of the road.  Marketing is a consistent and ongoing process.  Five is a good start, six would be better, twenty-five would make significant impact on his site rank.  The method of soliciting reviews can evolve, an individual review can be completed, but there should not be pre-defined finish line on the activity itself.

The second issue was that all five reviews happened within a couple weeks of one another.  So the listing showed that they had been in business for three years but only one month contained reviews.  Either that was a stellar month or it’s an obvious and short-sighted attempt to drum up reviews. This has two negative consequences.  The first is that search engines will identify and marginalize such an isolated spurt of activity.  The second is that people that use the review site are likely to notice an anomaly like this which will call the credibility of the reviews into question.

Rather than having a mindset that reviews are finished, the business owner needs to break the category into replicable tasks.  As an example, he might have a thank you email or satisfaction survey that gets delivered to clients that features a link to leave a review in Yelp.  In this way the individual task can be thought of as complete but the overarching activity of acquiring reviews is ongoing.

Checklists and project completion mindsets are invaluable in executing the individual tasks of a digital marketing campaign but should be consistently applied in cycles. The activity itself doesn’t end when a particular instance is complete, but rather should be reapplied to a future instance. Set a goal and then build an execution plan into your daily operations. Quick fixes lead to short term results that can often do more harm than good for your long-term objectives.

Digital Marketing: Is Doing Nothing an Option?

Getting started with digital marketing is often the hardest step to take.  We speak with many trainers, consultants, and professional coaches that know they need to do something but there’s always one more thing to square away before launching their digital marketing plan.  There will always be one extra element that could make digital marketing better but if it will cause an indeterminate delay in launching your digital marketing activity,  it’s best to take a few initial steps and build on that rather than trying to craft a perfect scenario before getting started.

A marathon runner doesn’t wake up the day of the race and pound out 26.2 miles.  They work up to it via a training regimen.  The training regimen is often a result of just experimenting with running in general before discovering they had a passion or talent for it. In other words, they had to try out the activity before they started becoming proficient at it.

Digital marketing beginners should have a similar path.  If you’re starting from scratch, get a basic lead generation mechanism (like a website, social media page, or affiliate form) established. Then start experimenting with channels to drive traffic to that lead mechanism.  Will the implementation be perfect?  Absolutely not, but it will provide some baseline discoveries to guide you into what digital marketing activities have the most value for your business.  Furthermore, some early progress and results will motivate you to get other digital marketing elements together and launched.

The same guideline applies when contracting out digital marketing services.  If you can meet a pre-requisite list for a particular digital marketing activity but not others, start there and then build up to others.  For instance, we have a client that wanted SEO, website lead generation landing pages, email marketing, and social media to be in their digital marketing plan.  However, they didn’t have a sufficient database of contacts to launch an email marketing campaign and content for SEO was in a state of disarray.  Instead of hitting the brakes on everything we started out by updating the website and setting up landing pages, starting social media posting, and set up a temporary pay per click campaign while the SEO elements were being developed.  In this way the foundations were started and the elements with missing pieces could be develped using data and insights from the iniatial digital marketing.

Procrastination in launching digital marketing efforts is often a smokescreen for being overwhelmed or unorganized.  The volume of information about digital marketing can make a launch seem like a more daunting task then it needs to be. Doing nothing ensures that you will fall further behind and gives the competition even more time to fortify their position as market leader. Take a simple first step with your digital marketing and build from there.  Otherwise doing nothing might be a permanent decision.

Exploiting Current or Cultural Events in Marketing Often Lacks Authenticity

starbuck_by_diablo2003Last week I visited a national park that is a civil war battlefield. During a conversation with the Ranger at the visitor center, she mentioned that the national park service had encouraged each park to do a promotion that tied in with the release of the new Star Wars movie. She explained that several parks came up with good promotions, especially those where Star Wars had been filmed or had an obvious connection.

I asked what promotion her park had come up with and the Ranger stated, “I had several ideas to tie it in with the rebels but thought better of it. The Civil War still hits a nerve with many people here and I didn’t want any backlash from our members or supporters in comparing it to a movie. In any case, the connection was a real stretch.” Unfortunately many marketers didn’t use the same discretion and tried to get on the cultural trending whether it made sense or not.

I have literally been bombarded the last few weeks with marketing messages and articles about ____ is like Star Wars, Use the Force to _____, or ____ leads to the dark side. Some of those messages or promotions were attention grabbing with a witty or amusing connection. Many were a real stretch and appeared to only be interested in exploiting a cultural trend.

There are only two marketing scenarios where using trending current or cultural events has authentic impact:

  • There is a direct and obvious connection to be drawn.
  • There is a personal connection to the cultural event where the author or poster is very knowledgeable or a large fan.

Star Wars is a major cultural event with wide exposure so it’s easy to understand why so many people wanted to use it for marketing purposes. But without a clear connection, it can ring hollow as an artificial attempt at tapping into keywords or riding a trend’s coattails.

This is especially damaging if it’s a regular tactic in a trainer, consultant, or professional coach’s marketing mix. Using every cultural trend reflects a lack of sincerity. Like a politician kissing babies, it tends to raise doubts and suspicions rather than credibility. If you have an authentic connection, then by all means display that connection in your marketing communications. But remember that it’s impossible to have a connection with every current or cultural event so don’t overdo it.

Is this article hypocritical being posted as The Force Awakens continues to rule the box office? Maybe, but as a lifelong Star Wars fan; I thought I might get a pass.

Image courtesy of  diablo2003 /

Digital Marketing Goals: Projects for Improvement or Business as Usual

As the year closes out, digital marketing goals should be set for the following year. This can be especially true in digital marketing because campaigns can be repetitive and trainers, consultants, and professional coaches might allow that to lull them into complacency. This can cause swift declines in results due to the digital marketing environment changing so rapidly. As you set your goals they should fall into two categories: Business as Usual (BAU) or Projects for Improvement (PFI).

The reason to break goals into these categories is to ensure that at least a couple fall into PGI. Often times, digital marketing goals look more like a checklist of current activities rather than a list of strategic initiatives. We don’t want the status quo to be the standard moving forward. Each year should have targeted improvement.

So yes, your goals should include your website updates, email marketing outlines, social media schedules, SEO tasks, report/download call to action creation, etc. But these are BAU goals and should make up no more than 75% of your total goals. These goals, while important, should be a given for completion as it’s the action items required to run an effective online marketing campaign.

Put some real thought into PFI goals. What changes can be made to get better results? Does the website need an updated layout or additional sections to drive calls to action? Does the email marketing campaign need updated segments or additional content? Do social media channels need integrated with a particular app to refocus on a particular audience? Whichever PFI goal(s) you choose, it should serve to get marketing tasks done more quickly/efficiently or seek to improve conversions.

PFI goals are often the most difficult to set for digital marketing because they usually involve an element of the unknown. Resist the fear of the unknown and commit to the goal. In doing so you’ll find your campaign improving rather than just happening.

Mismatched Digital Marketing Metrics

ID-100107531Comparing disparate data doesn’t provide a lot of valuable insight. However, this sometimes happens when trainers, consultants, or professional coaches try to rush the numbers to get trend data.

Here’s a common example we might run into.

An industry standard of a metric, like search engine hits to a website, is used as a comparison to gauge the effectiveness of an SEO campaign. Typically a comparison timeframe will account for at least twelve months to account for seasonal or industry shifts that would affect the overall average. An initial comparison can be run for the same twelve month time period to show a direct correlation to find where the SEO campaign falls against standard results. So there is immediate gratification in setting the benchmark.

But then the process slows considerably as changes need made, the data needs compiled, and then progress can be measured. Typically that will take at least a few months. And while smaller sections of time can be used to infer progress, overall improvement can’t be gauged until the average has had time to increase.

This is where impatience can result in false comparisons. The twelve month average will only be improving gradually because the newest months can’t immediately offset previous months. In an effort to prove the effectiveness of the current campaign, a request might be made to compare the current month to the twelve month average. While this helps show the progress it doesn’t account for seasonal or industry based fluctuations.

As an example, many Business to Business companies see a slow down over summer and in late December. Business to consumer companies might see an inverse effect. Certain industries, like health insurance, have a quoting and enrollment period which sees substantially more activity than other times of year.

False comparisons often disregard these fluctuations which can lead to overly positive or negative conclusions. For instance, if a consultant works with school districts that set staff engagements in August only, every other month is going to look lackluster compared to that single month. Even a single anomaly period can skew an average up or down significantly which will offset the accuracy of any time period that does not account for that trend.

Make sure your trending and data analysis is comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. Making conclusions on incompatible data degrades the entire purpose of data driven decision making in digital marketing. Have the patience to track gradual improvement, rather than rush to infer more significant shifts that may or may not be accurate.

Image courtesy of  Mister GC /

How Valuable is A Keyword to You?

In asking trainers, consultants, and professional coaches what their keyword focus is, the answer is typically something general like “Sales Training”. There are two problems with this general objective. The first is that such a simple term will be very hard to rank highly because the competition will be intense and it will take a lot of time, energy, and/or money to get a meaningful rank. The second problem is that it will attract a general audience, many of which are not a good target for specific products or services. In considering keywords, come up with a valuation and target the ones that give the biggest bang for your buck.

So how does a trainer, consultant, or professional coach find target keywords? There are a ton of tools available. For simplicity sake, I typically recommend Google Keyword planner which is free with an AdWords account. The Google Keyword Planner will show you stats like average monthly searches, competition level (high, medium, or low), and the average cost per click for a pay per click campaign.

These stats can give you insights into the keywords that are most valuable to you. Focus on the terms that accurately describe your business in a fair amount of detail. For example, “Sales Training Programs in PA for Technology Professionals”. This is focusing on the long-tail search terms, or in other words, it’s the most valuable keywords specific to your business that can be ranked well with significantly less effort than general terms.

Often times, general keywords are targeted because the thought is that long-tail keywords don’t net as many people. While it’s true that a general term will outrank a single long-tail term, the inverse is true when looking at them collectively. Typically the aggregate of the long-tail keywords will make up 70% of total searches as compared to 30% of general searches.

The other major advantage to long-tail terms is that it connects with users that are further down the sales funnel. A search for “sales training” does not necessarily mean the searcher is interested in buying a program. They could be looking for a book or articles. “Technology Sales Training Programs in PA”, however, sounds like someone interested in a specific program in a specific area.

Spend some time researching keywords to discover the ones most valuable to you. You’ll find that SEO efforts to rank highly will be more successful and the hits that come from those keywords will convert at a higher rate.

Beware Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tricks

It’s not uncommon for a trainer, consultant, or professional coach to ask for their site to be updated with SEO “tricks”. The problem is that “trick” usually means “shortcut”. SEO is not a one shot project. Good SEO requires ongoing content generation, appropriate on-site structure, and responsible off-site linking and promotion. In short, there’s no simple trick that will reliably improve search engine ranking. However, those tricks can hurt ranking if applied improperly.

Search engines are getting better all the time at understanding what users are looking for and what content they value. Furthermore search engines are getting better at identifying people trying to game the system.

Here’s an example of how the tricks can undo your SEO efforts.

A couple years ago we were engaged with a client that had an aggressive content generation schedule. This content was optimized for identified keywords and was being published out to a few reputable trade publications as well as their social media accounts. Yet after months of pushing for select keywords, rankings did not improve.

We knew the content was generating interest because leads and responses were generated from direct listings but we were stumped as to why there was no movement on the search engine rankings. The client was understandably frustrated because a better ranking was sure to leverage the content to exponentially grow leads.

In an update meeting, the client told me that he was going to push harder on a contractor he had been using for SEO “syndication” for years to really drive SEO results. I was not aware of what the contractor had done to this point and no efforts were synchronized so a joint meeting was set.

In the joint meeting, the consultant kept stating that he would increase “syndication” but I was unclear as to what he was referring to. He went on to explain that he was listing all the content we created in automated batches to a list of hundreds of directories. We reviewed these directories and found that few of them had anything to do with the client’s industry or expertise.

Directory links are an old SEO trick that search engines have been wise to for at least several years. While effort was being put into appropriately promoting the content, the directory listings were throwing red flags to search engines that the content was SPAM.

Have a process for SEO rather than intermittent attempts at tricking search engines. It’s a tough game to short cut the search engines and even if its accomplished it will typically not last long doing more damage in the long run.

Reusing Articles For Marketing

Article and content reuse can be a valuable way to save time in producing the quality content that drives productive online marketing. It can also be a crutch that leads to repetition, disinterest, and obsolescence.

It’s rare that I encounter a trainer, consultant, or professional coach that isn’t strapped for time. Any strategy for decreasing the time commitment to sustain marketing efforts is a welcome one. However, in content reuse, what starts as a one-time shortcut often becomes a habit.

In meeting with a trainer recently, I asked if they would need help with content creation. The trainer said, “No I don’t need anything like that. I recycle the same group of articles so we’re set for content.” In asking about the content it worked out that the articles repeated on about a two year cycle. I asked if there was any indication that his audience had lost interest in his articles and he replied, “No one’s ever complained about it. Heck if someone was paying that close attention they’re probably already a client.”

However, in looking over his marketing metrics his audiences engagement was significantly lower than average. While there could be several factors weighing in on that, the fact that he was repeating himself over and over didn’t seem like a motivating factor for people to remain engaged.

If you find you chronically reuse content then you are likely suffering in three primary ways:

  • New articles are not being added to your website so there is not a consistent feed of fresh content to assist in your search engine optimization efforts.
  • Social and email subscribers may not recognize specific articles have been repeated but almost always recognize a similar topic and begin to disengage or ignore the messages.
  • Content online often gets dated quickly and using old articles with current dates can often make you look out of touch. (One of the trainer’s articles referenced cellular phones as a “new” technology)

While some content reuse is often valuable and effective, too much is often a problem. It’s OK to revisit past content from time to time, especially when a time crunch prevents new material from being created. However, be sure to edit it to ensure that the article is still relevant and makes a valid point.

If you find that you are habitually reusing content then it’s time to evaluate your marketing strategy. It’s unlikely anyone will complain about repetitive content, instead they’ll disengage or stop paying attention. Take a good hard look at your metrics, is it providing the complaint that your audience is tired of hearing the same thing over and over?

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