Move to mobile hard on news organizations

News operations are discovering a digital fact of life that retailers have long understood: Consumers are rapidly shifting their lives to their smartphones, a device that means more convenience for users, but a smaller bottom line for those selling products and providing content.

For publishers, the shift means it’s harder to sell ads that traditionally have relied on the wide-open spaces of desktop monitors, The Wall Street Journal reports. It’s also more difficult for publishers to track, in a sophisticated way, advertising’s performance on mobile devices because all the necessary infrastructure isn’t in place.

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The Journal story is further proof, as if any were needed, that the future is mobile. Some of the statistics in the report are stunning. Consider that the time readers spend on publishers’ mobile sites increased 40 percent during the year ending in July, the story says. In fact, according to the Journal, time spent on mobile versions of the publications now makes up 55 percent of the total time consumers spend with the digital news products, according to estimates by comScore. (ComScore apparently provided the Journal with a figure updated from this 2014 report.)

Money not following move to mobile

 
But as has been the case with retailers, consumers use of mobile is increasing rapidly, but the profits attributable to mobile are not following. The Journal lays out a couple of specific examples:

  • The New York Times is now seeing more than half of visits to its digital properties coming on mobile devices, but mobile devices accounted for only 15 percent of digital ad revenue in the second quarter.
  • Dow Jones & Co., which publishes the Journal and operates The Wall Street Journal Digital Network, is also seeing more than half of its visits coming from mobile devices, yet revenue from mobile makes up less than 20 percent of its total digital ad revenue.

All signs point to consumers’ growing comfort with mobile devices, including greater comfort reading on the devices, which should be a worry for publishers who are having trouble making as much money on the smaller format. Facebook’s Matt Idema recently laid out for a crowd of marketers at ClickZ Live in San Francisco the way mobile is changing consumer behavior.

Publishers are adjusting their advertising strategies. The New York Times plans to offer native advertising (or narrative form ads) containing general themes depending on the time of day the ads are served up, according to the Contently blog.  And Salon, the piece said, has tried adding vibrations to advertisements, so that users could feel the explosions in a promotion for the TV show “Homeland.”

The gap between mobile readership and the percentage of revenue generated by mobile ads is reminiscent of the “mobile conversion gap” that has retailers scrambling to shift their strategies and the way they think about mobile. For retailers, mobile’s value goes beyond the conversion itself. While many are working to improve their mobile experience to encourage higher conversion rates, the idea of “mobile assist” is gaining prominence. The idea is that even if the sale itself doesn’t close on a mobile device, the mobile device might well have contributed to the eventual conversion, whether that happens on a desktop or in a store.

Mobile drives in-store buying

 
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Deloitte Digital’s finding that mobile devices help drive $593 billion in in-store sales has been widely reported. It was part of the consultancy’s “New Digital Divide” study that concluded that overall digital is influencing $1.5 trillion in brick-and-mortar spending.

All of which points to the growing need to be able to understand consumers and measure success across devices.

In fact, that very need is what gives Facebook a considerable advantage in the mobile advertising game, according to the Journal. Because Facebook requires users to log in, it is able to reliably track users across various devices, as the Journal points out.

In the mobile commerce world, logging into a site is exceptionally rare. Only about 1 percent of users log in to retail sites on their mobile devices, according to BloomReach data, which means that e-commerce operations need to turn to other technology to tie a shopper to his or her various devices.

On the other hand, mobile commerce sites do have an advantage over publishers’ sites. As Deloitte found, a mobile site or app can play a key role in ultimately closing a sale. But for publishers, there is no second-chance to capture revenue from advertising that provides a revenue stream constrained by a lack of solid metrics and the small amount of screen real estate available.

And while smartphones in particular remain the least valuable platform for conversions themselves, eMarketer points out that key indicators are moving in the right directions. Specifically, in the first quarter of the year, smartphone conversions more than doubled year over year; average order values grew faster than on any other device; revenue per visit increased by 147 percent and cart abandonment dropped 3.4 percent, a much more positive change than for tablets or desktops.

Granted, those numbers are moving for a relatively small base, but taken together they provide a brighter picture for e-commerce sites looking at the relationship between smartphones and profits.

Photo of news app by George Kelly published under Creative Commons license. Photo of Walmart.com sign by Mike Cassidy.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

Building great landing pages – Part 1: identifying content gaps

Imagine walking into a clothing store in search of pants. You navigate to the pants section of the store looking for a specific item, except when you get there, it’s a disorganized mess. You have to browse through hundreds, if not thousands, of pants, one by one, to find the right color, material, size, brand, style and cut. Would you spend the time to do it? Chances are that you’d walk out well before you got past item number 19 on the endless rack.

That’s how an online shopper can feel when they land on a website that doesn’t have content organized in a way that surfaces relevant landing pages to users. In effect, these are “content gaps” on your site:  You have the relevant products in your inventory, but no unique landing page or category page to house them, thus hindering the ability of users to discover your products. In Part 1 of this multi-part series, “Building Great Landing Pages,” I’ll focus on the best practices for how to identify these content gaps on your site and how to think about filling those gaps with relevant landing pages.

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Why should I care about filling content gaps?

There are many reasons why content gaps are a problem, but let’s look at it from your users’ perspective. If you don’t have a unique landing page containing a relevant assortment of products, users will:

  • Have a frustrating experience navigating through your site. Some users entering your site will land on your homepage or on a high level category page that may contain hundreds of products. If you don’t have relevant facets to filter the results on the page, the user will get frustrated and bounce. This also means that you will not be able to land users from channels like paid search directly on a page that matches their search intent.
  • Not know you have an assortment of products. Users may land directly on a product page through product listing ads. If there isn’t a relevant landing page containing similar products that a user can navigate through via the breadcrumb, they are as good as gone.
  • Not be able to find your site through organic search. Users will not find your products when they rely on search engines if you don’t have a page with a relevant assortment of products and content worthy enough to come up in search results. You could have the best inventory of products at the best price, but if you don’t have a unique landing page, you just lost out and so did your customers.
  • Encounter sub-optimal experiences. Users, sometimes as a last resort, use site search to find what they are looking for. If you have a great landing page, you could use a keyword redirect to land users on a curated landing page filled with rich content vs. showing them a search result page which may not be the best experience. I will tackle how to think about enhancing your landing-page content in a future post. Also, these curated pages will be much more optimal landing pages for initiatives like email marketing campaigns vs. using a more generic and potentially irrelevant site search landing page.

Content gap pre-work

In order to effectively identify content gaps, you should first map out how your site is organized and what content you currently have. Specifically, you should check the following and enter them into a spreadsheet:

  • What high-level categories exist.
  • What facet categories exist (ie. color, material, brand, etc.).

Researching and identifying content gaps

Now that you know what content you have on your site, you can begin researching to understand where you have content gaps. For each of these suggestions below, you should track the ideas you generate in the same spreadsheet as your pre-work, so you can check if content gaps exist. The goal is to create a set of candidate topics from which to potentially create landing pages. Here are suggested best practices to help you on your way:

  • Review your product feed and descriptions. There is typically more information contained in your product feed than what actually appears on your site’s product pages.  You may find product attributes that are not currently shown on the site, but should be.
  • Look at your internal site search. Review top internal site search queries and see if users are having a good experience or should be re-directed to a curated page with a great experience.
  • Browse the competition. Pick four to five sites that carry similar products and review their category structure and facets. You will likely find they have different (or additional) facets and categories that you do not. Those are areas of opportunity.
  • Find current trends. Browsing blogs related to the topic of your site will help identify the latest trends that exist. Building timely landing pages to cater to the latest trends is a great way to fill content gaps.
  • Look through products from different categories on your site. Pull up products within each of your categories and determine whether you’re categorizing them the way that your users would actually search for them. Are there other ways each of those products could be described?
  • Use external tools. There are a plethora of online tools, both free and paid, that will help generate different ways to describe your products.

Next steps

Now that you have identified potential content gaps, you have to figure out which pages to actually create. You should not create every permutation and combination of these pages based on the attributes and products you’ve identified. Uniqueness and quality are key. Tune in in coming weeks for the rest of our “Building Great Landing Pages” series, including Part 2, in which we will describe the importance of creating unique landing pages.

Photo of clothes rack by Christian Guthier, published under Creative Commons license.

Vache Moroyan leads Product Management for BloomReach Organic Search.

Five keys to marketing success in the CMO decade

Amid all the talk about the power of digital marketing and the rise of the CMO, it’s refreshing to pause every now and then and consider what the heck is going on behind all that?

The answer? Consumers.

It’s a reality that venture capitalist Ashu Garg considers a lot. After all, it’s his business to think about where the marketing world is going and just how it’s going to get there. And when he thinks about consumers, he thinks about people who once sat down to watch TV or listen to the radio and who no longer rely on a few outlets for information and entertainment.

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“Today, you can watch media across hundreds, if not thousands of channels. You can consume music across hundreds of Internet and mobile form factors, and this explosion has fundamentally changed how we consume all kinds of content,” Garg said, recapping comments he made during a recent presentation at BloomReach, in which he laid out the rapidly changing face of marketing.

Garg cited a Vogue survey that asked teenagers to name their biggest cultural influencers. No, they didn’t say Leonardo DiCaprio. Not Jennifer Lawrence. Instead, the top eight influencers were all YouTube stars, acts who had made it big on the Internet.

And not only is the idea of dictating a message to consumers a non-starter, consumers are talking back to brands, in ways that they never could before.

“If I have a problem with United Airlines,” Garg said by way of example, “I don’t bother to call United Airlines. I tweet. I post. If I’m good at it, I create a real storm. The tables have turned and the balance of power has become very uncomfortable for brands at times.”

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And the path customers take between becoming aware of a product and the actual purchase of it? Let’s just say the relatively straight line has become a squiggly mess of turnouts and switchbacks.

“Consumers begin their journey at all kinds of starting points,” Garg said, “and each consumer follows a path that is unique to them.”

For instance, when Garg recently bought an Audi, he started his search on Quora. He read reviews, visited an online car site and bought his car without ever interacting with Audi.

“How do you find a way to be part of that conversation, when the conversation is happening not in traditional channels, but in thousands of new siloed channels?” Garg asked.

(Garg is no relation to BloomReach co-founder Ashutosh Garg.)

But where there is pain, there is opportunity. Innovative companies understand that they now have new ways to reach consumers and that consumers’ social dialogue about their brands can be leveraged in ways that creates relationships and a vibe of genuineness.

Marshaling the torrent of content, though, requires technology, specifically marking technology, which Garg said is in the early stages of a massive evolution. For instance, he put spending on marketing technology software at about $12 billion. In ten years, that figure will be $120 billion, conservatively speaking, he said.

The chief marketing officer will be the new power player in the executive suite. Garg pointed to Gartner’s conclusion that by the end of 2017, CMOs will spend more on information technology initiatives than will chief information officers.

“I believe this is the decade of the CMO,” Garg said. “There is a fundamental shift that is happening in the C-suite. The role of CMO is evolving pretty rapidly.”

In fact, Garg offered five areas –– featured in his latest white paper –– on which enterprises should focus in order to take advantage of the shifting role of marketing in a digital and mobile world.

  •      All Hail King ROI: If marketers want to command a significant portion of the corporate budget, they need to be able to show just what return, in terms of sales, companies are getting for their spending. And not just what return the company has gotten in the past. They’ll need to provide predictive analytics that will show what their efforts will bring in the future.
  •      Hire Math Men, Not Mad Men: The overwhelming majority of advertising is still sold the old-fashioned way, person-to-person, over drinks or dinner etc. That is changing fast. Programmatic advertising is on the rise. By the end of the decade, all media will be bought and sold using software. Have the right people in place to lead the charge.
  •      Publish or Perish: Remember all those information and entertainment channels? Companies need to think like publishers. Traditional marketing messages aren’t resonating. Consumers, whether B2C or B2B, want stories that speak to them and their challenges. Stop writing about you and start writing about them.
  •      Mass Personalization is Not an Oxymoron: Segmenting and “look-alike” personalization is no longer sufficient. Consumers expect their entire purchasing journey to be personalized. They want every touchpoint with a brand to be integrated with each other, so the YouTube video they watch acknowledges the ad they first saw. It’s complicated, but coming. Consider the experiments in New York, in which billboard messages change depending on who is looking at them.
  •      Close the Deal: The line between sales and marketing is blurring. Consider how far along consumers are in their buying deliberations before they even encounter a sales person. Marketing must move beyond generating leads into a role of closing deals by not only predicting where fruitful customers are, but also by finding them and sealing the sale.

The world of marketing is moving fast and marketers need to move with it. Keeping consumers in mind and focusing on the steps that will help enterprises keep up with them will go a long way toward increasing the odds of success.

Photo of Ashu Garg by BloomReach’s Stephanie Yang, Twitter feed photo by Steve Garfield published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

The customer journey is a path marketers can’t get down

You could be mean and say that marketers suffer from a split personality. Or you could be understanding and say that what they are trying to do is really hard in the digital age.

Digital marketers are constantly talking about how important it is to deeply understand their customers’ decision process. They rely on familiar imagery like “path to purchase,” “the customer journey,” “the 360-degree view,” “the purchase funnel,” all smooth and concentric.

But it turns out the path is rocky, the journey is winding and the view is as foggy as can be. And marketers know it. When they’re not talking about how important it is to understand the customer journey, they’re talking about how bad they are at doing it.

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“The customer journey has become more complex since, first, the advent and rise of digital shopping and buying, and, more recently the same phenomenon on mobile devices,” says a recent eMarketer report examining the challenges of modern marketing. “Customers who begin the research process in one place may use several channels before finally making a purchase.”

The report found that from 76 percent (in-house marketers) to 80 percent (agency marketers) used online analytics to study online consumer behavior, but that a dramatically smaller number gathered data from call centers, point-of-sale or even mobile apps to try to build a complete picture of a customer’s decision-making process.

The story was even worse, eMarketer reported, when it looked at data describing efforts for marketers to “connect the dots” between online and in-store behavior. Just over a third of in-house marketers tracked online coupons used in-store, for instance, and only 16 percent were analyzing the frequency of customers ordering online and picking up in the store.

eMarketer based its report on work done by Econsultancy and ResponseTap, which surveyed marketers worldwide. It supplemented those conclusions with a study from Signal that found that marketers’ spotty efforts leave more than 60 percent of them feeling that their marketing efforts were incomplete. About the same number said the knowledge gap means they can’t do the kind of personalization that they want to. And 35 percent said that when it comes to the vaunted customer journey, they were clueless.

The good news, or better news anyway, is that marketers are not stupid. They know they need to do a better job when it comes to understanding how their customers make the decisions they make, a companion eMarketer report indicates.

Marketers realize that consumers today take a serpentine trail from awareness to purchase.

Forget about the process as a funnel and instead think of one of those crazy twisty straws your kid, or some kid you know, got at the latest birthday party he or she attended.

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Only 5 percent of those surveyed by Signal thought they were doing an excellent job when it came to making strategic moves based on insights from customer data. Another 29 percent said they were doing a good job of it.

And maybe the best news of all? Technology is catching up with the need. Innovative companies realize that it’s not about the data, but it’s about what you can do with the data — specifically what those who need to make day-to-day decisions can do with the data.

It seems marketers know what they aren’t doing well and the market is providing them with the tools they need to turn that around. Dare we hope for a happy ending?

Photo of looping roller coaster by Michael Cannon; photo of crazy straw by Mike Cassidy. Chart data provided by eMarketer.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

 

 

 

It’s no time for digital marketers to get comfortable

If you’re in the marketing game, count yourself lucky to be playing at a time when marketing is undergoing what could be its single-biggest shift in history.

You do feel lucky, right? OK, it can be a little stressful. But hey, you can’t have excitement without a little stress. Technology is racing ahead with abandon and it is dragging marketing tactics and strategy along with it.

Some glibly describe the rapid evolution in terms of “Orange is the New Black.”

 


The idea of the changing role of chief marketing officer is one that’s written about frequently.

If you’re a marketer looking for that slow patch where you’ll catch your breath, forget it. Mondo, which provides businesses with contract digital marketing experts and teams, says the infusion of technology into marketing will only accelerate in the coming years.

In its study, “The Future of Digital Marketing,” the New York-based company says 80 percent of U.S. businesses will increase their spending on digital marketing within the next year and a half. The biggest number of them will boost spending by 5 to 10 percent; and nearly as many are looking at an increase of between 10 and 15 percent.

“The biggest challenge really lies within how quickly the landscape is changing and how quickly companies can adapt,” Laura McGarrity, Mondo’s vice president of digital marketing strategy, tells me in an e-mail interview.

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Marketing professionals, who at times are already feeling overwhelmed by ever-changing choices, will have to step up their games to identify and seize on the new ideas and technologies that will give them an advantage in a brutal business world.

Mondo’s online survey of 262 marketing professionals in B-to-B and B-to-C companies indicates that enterprises are well aware of how fast things are moving. For instance, while only 24 percent of those surveyed said they see mobile as a key driver of customer engagement today; 70 percent said it would be key in the next three to five years.

With the shifting tactics and increased spending (as nice as that sounds) comes complications. Companies that embrace new technologies to attract customers and power profits need to come up with reliable ways to measure the success of their efforts. The more tools and strategies they employ, the more difficult it becomes to sort out which change is doing what good.

“It is a challenge because there are so many different touch points for customer engagement and having a pulse on each one, intricately, is a demanding job,” McGarrity says. “It’s critical to look at the strategy and ROI in the big picture and see the overall results, and then dive deeper and really look at each individual channel and recognize its individual impact and measure it against its particular goal and performance metrics.”

As the evolution continues, Mondo says marketing departments will take on a decidedly different look. The majority of those on the marketing team of the future will be temporary workers, brought in for focused projects and campaigns. Today, 42 percent of the surveyed companies have marketing departments made up entirely of permanent workers. That will slide to 23 percent of companies by the middle of 2017, Mondo says. In fact by then, 30 percent of companies will have marketing teams that are divided 50/50 between permanent and temporary workers.

It may be a sign that companies recognize that they need to work differently in order to keep up. In fact, that’s where the biggest opportunity lies in the historic changes occurring now. Enterprises that are willing to aggressively seek cutting-edge marketing technologies put themselves in a position to gain an advantage. Being an early adopter gives a company the opportunity to:

  • be among the first to deploy a technology that provides superior results to whatever the competition is using
  • shape the technology and potentially the pricing for the product by providing feedback for a fledgling enterprise.
  • lock-in a head start gained by weaving new technology into ongoing operations before competitors even fully understand the kind of difference the new technology can make.

In times of increasingly rapid change, it doesn’t do to be a follower. When things are moving at their fastest, the best bet is to get out ahead of it all.

Photo of speeding train by Monica Arellano-Ongpin published courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s Storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

 

 

Yahoo’s handmade directory no match for the machine

A Silicon Valley landmark is coming down at the end of the year and while landmarks in the tech-centric region are sometimes more cyber than brick-and-mortar, their passing is still a cause for reflection.

In this case, the landmark is the Yahoo Directory, an old-school, hand-crafted tool to search the Web. Admittedly, in this time of algorithmically-powered search engines, the 20-year-old directory feels a little like turning to a telephone switchboard to complete a call you could make on your iPhone 6.

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Hand-crafted — that’s how they did it back in the day. Yahoo employed an army of “surfers” who combed through digital piles of URLs, submitted by site owners and the public, and decided which were worthy of inclusion in the directory and under which categories and subcategories they should be listed.

“It was pretty wild,” says Steve Berlin, Yahoo employee No. 14 and the company’s first full-time surfer. “Basically, everyone was given a list of hundreds of sites and every day they were given a new list or every week they were given a new list. Everyone had their own specialties.”

A music fan might be in charge of vetting and categorizing new music sites that were submitted by their developers. A book-worm would categorize books. A sports nut might sort out sports teams and fan sites.

“Since we were from all over, you know geographically, we’d all add sites from our own geographic area that we knew better than some random person off the street,” says Berlin, now a Massachusetts resident who surfed at Yahoo until 2001.

It was as if the surfers were building the knowable Web by hand. They had rules: A website had to be substantive, no thin content. A site needed to be a site, not just a page. And they had standards, which was where Erik Gunther came in. Gunther worked at Yahoo from 1998 to 2008 and his job was to deal with website owners who wondered why their site was not listed in the directory.

“I dealt with people who were eager to get their site listed back when it was a big deal,” says Gunther, a San Jose resident who writes news for the Realtor.com website. “It was a getting listed could make or break your business kind of thing.”

Organizing the Web through a hand-made directory is hard to imagine today. But keep in mind that the system, conjured up at Stanford University by company founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, was better than what was out there at the time.

And it felt like the start of something big — the start of teaming bright minds with powerful machines to get the work done. With the help of human editors, the directory created neatly organized pathways that would guide users to the information they wanted or needed. Looking for the weather forecast? Click on “News & Media,” followed by “Weather,” then “By Region,” followed by “U.S. States,” then “California,” then “Cities,” “San Jose,” “Weather Bug” and “Mountain View.” Done.

Somehow the description “simpler time” doesn’t seem to apply. But it was a time that many look back on with fondness — a sort of digital dawn. I recall visiting Yahoo in 1996, back in the directory days. Founders Filo and Yang greeted me shoeless and showed me to their desks, complete with requisite half-eaten burritos and futon mattresses for under-the-desk nap sessions. A Yahoo employee rode by on a bike (indoors) as we talked and a whiffle ball game broke out in a hallway.

Danny Sullivan, a founding editor of Search Engine Land, wrote a post last month chiding Yahoo for its quiet send-off of what the piece’s headline said was once the Internet’s most important search engine. (Hat tip to Sullivan for publicizing the story, which was mentioned in one paragraph of a longer post on Yahoo’s corporate blog.)

“I think Yahoo has grown and changed so much that it doesn’t even remember or respect its own history, perhaps because there are few left who recall it,” Sullivan said in an e-mail response to my question about Yahoo’s very low-key sendoff. “That’s a shame. It’s also because Yahoo simply might feel calling attention to the closure is somehow a failure; so it doesn’t want to be seen as celebrating a failure. But the directory was so important, so foundational to Yahoo, that this should have overridden those other concerns.”

For her part, Mashable’s Christina Warren, remembers the thrill of having her first website added to the directory in 1996 and shares Sullivan’s criticism for the shrug with which Yahoo is shutting it down.

Yahoo has never been one to mourn the passing of its own history, a corporate characteristic I wrote about when it shut down its iconic billboard off the approach to the Bay Bridge on the edge of San Francisco.

And the truth about the directory is that like those operators working the switchboards of the last century, search technology has by-passed the Yahoo Directory. The Internet was a very different place 18 years ago. As early surfer Berlin told me:

“If they wanted to keep it up, no one would have enough money to throw the manpower at it, that would be needed to do that.”

Think about it: While the exact numbers are open to debate, Internet Live Stats reports that there were about 258,000 websites when I visited Yahoo in 1996. Last month, the number of sites passed one billion. So if, as former surfer Jon Brooks reported on KQED radio, Yahoo needed 100 workers at the time to keep track of the World Wide Web, the Sunnyvale company today would need about 388,000 employees to do the work.

And what would it do tomorrow?

Sure, Berlin and Gunther are both sad that the directory will be no more — sad maybe the way you would be to see the old house where you grew up torn down.

“It was the best job I ever had and the best job I ever will have,” says Berlin, who now does computer consulting. “They were incredibly great people to work with. They were all very smart and clever people and we knew that we were on to something special here. Basically, without Yahoo the Web itself would not be around the way we know it right now.”

But no, Berlin says and Gunther agrees, there is no logical argument for keeping such a manual process going in a world where the Web is vast and growing and algorithms are able to pull most of the weight in keeping track of it.

Clearly, in the case of the Yahoo directory, the work balance between humans and machine had become seriously out-of-whack. It is the natural course when technology evolves. But it in no way diminishes the value of human beings or signals their coming obsolescence.

Instead, it’s a lesson that some things are better left to the machine, while human minds are freed up to work on creative solutions to the next big problem.

Photo of switchboard operators by Seattle Municipal Archives published under Creative Commons license, Yahoo 1996 screenshot courtesy of the Internet archives.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreachcom; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Consumers demand more and more, but tech is there to help

You don’t need me to tell you that connecting with your customers is just getting harder every day.

No, you need Michelle Killebrew to tell you that it’s just getting harder, “exponentially harder” in fact, as she says, because Killebrew, who works for IBM, has done a lot of work on not just how hard it is, but what you might do about that.

First off, focus on social and mobile, Killebrew told a conference room of marketers at the ClickZ Live digital marketing conference in San Francisco. Social networking is the number one pursuit on the Internet, she said, and 60 percent of your customers, or potential customers are shopping on their smartphones. (Numbers vary by study, but mobile behavior is definitely changing.) Did she mention that 90 percent of smartphone owners keep them within arm’s reach?

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She did. Oh, and those customers?

“They expect you to know them, not only who they are, and not only what their preferences are, but what they’re trying to achieve in that very moment.”

Think of it as personalization in real time. Even two years ago, Killebrew said, it was enough for marketers to know their customers personally.

“Now,” she continued, “not only do they need to know that customer as an individual, they need to understand them in context. What device are they on? Are they trying to buy? Do they have an issue? Now they need to innovate and scale personally relevant and rewarding experiences.”

A tall order, but it’s worth executing on.

“Here’s the good news,” she said. “Once you engage with them, they are very likely to become loyal customers.”

And they’re likely to tell their friends and family members that maybe they want to become loyal customers, too.

The information to better get to know your customers and prospective customers is out there, Killebrew said. About 80 percent of consumers have said they’re willing to exchange personal information with a brand they trust in return for a personalized experience, she said.

Even so, most chief marketing officers feel ill-prepared to handle the explosion of data that is now generated. In fact, Killebrew cited IBM research that says more CMOs (82 percent) said they were unprepared in 2013 than just two years earlier (71 percent).

So, what to do? Killebrew says that when it comes to engaging customers, enterprises must focus on:

  • putting the customer in charge of their interaction and experience with you.
  • matching and exceeding your customers’ expectations.
  • providing a consistent message and level of service no matter what device your customer is using to engage with you.
  • being relevant, knowing as a company, who you are and what you’re doing.

And beyond all that, make sure you don’t lose the human element, Killebrew said. Consumers react to personal interactions and personal stories. Make sure your stories are genuine and engaging.

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Putting consumers in charge; exceeding expectations; working across devices; being relevant, being human. It’s a lot; and Killebrew pointed out that the bar has been raised and will continue to be raised year after year. But one reason for that higher bar of expectation among consumers is the evolution of the technology that has powered better experiences. And therein lies some more good news.

As expectations are raised, technology continues to move forward and improve. There is help out there with personalization, scaling memorable experiences and remaining relevant.

Now it is up to marketers to marry that technology with their needs while continually watching the horizon for how that technology and their customers are changing.

Photo of Michelle Killebrew courtesy of Killebrew; photo of couple by Pedro Ribeiro Simões published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter @mikecassidy.

ClickZ Live wisdom: Data tells stories

I’m spending some time this week at ClickZ Live, a global digital marketing conference; and like any global conference worth its multi-logoed gift bags filled with gizmos that are not quite identifiable, this one is presenting pearls of wisdom.

I love pearls of wisdom. They are not necessarily the profound truths that rock your world, but moments that help you stop and think. Right off the bat, here on Day 2 in San Francisco, one dropped into my lap. It came during a discussion about Big Data, a phrase that is alternately revered and reviled. It’s become cool to disparage Big Data as a buzz phrase that business people toss around to sound like they’re on top of things.

ghiradelli

But during a panel discussion, Chis Pemberton, Digital Brand Manager for Ghiradelli Chocolate Co., offered a reminder that it isn’t what you call your data; it’s what you do with it.

“I like smaller data with bigger insights,” said Ghiradelli, who, let’s face it has one of the coolest jobs in the world. I mean, promoting chocolate? How hard could that be? “I’m more interested in the insights that I get from my data.”

It’s something I’ve written about before, sometimes bringing up the idea of thick data; about how Big Data doesn’t pit humans against machines and algorithms, but provides an opportunity for them to team up. In other words, the discussion isn’t just about the data. It’s about the stories that data tells; stories it tells about your enterprise, your customers, your mission and on and on.

“Don’t forget,” Pemberton reminded the marketers in the room, “the data tell a story. You’ve got to tell the story.”

Stories like what?

2636746032_ccc87df03c_z

Well, despite my wise-cracking, it turns out that marketing chocolate can be tricky, particularly in the summer months when the candy tends to melt and tends not to be top-of-mind for the sweet tooth crowd.

“If you look at the search trends,” Pemberton said, “it tends to plummet in the summer. But if you track S’mores recipes …”

Yeah, they skyrocket.

So what does the team in charge of selling delicious chocolate despite the summer sun do with such data? Ultimate S’Mores contest! Of course.

So, take a moment. Stop and think. Maybe there is a S’More right in front of you.

Photo of boy with S’More by Ken Bosma and Ghiradelli Chocolate Factory by Brian Gautreau published under Creative Commons license. 

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com; follow him on Twitter @mikecassidy.

College students take to the Web to find, not themselves, but cat fans

It’s a cliche, this idea that college students, wrapping up their academic careers, set out to find themselves.

Taylor Blake and Abe Collier aren’t into cliches, so rather than search for themselves, they spent months earlier this year searching for gladiator sandals, men’s slim pants, purple headphones and DecoBREEZE animal fans.

Crazy right? But their work torture testing retailers’ websites is helping lend insights into a problem that plagues all of us: It’s way too hard to find what we’re looking for on the Web. BloomReach is dedicated to using big data and machine learning to solve that problem and the company worked with the Brigham Young University students and their professor to build a better understanding of “findability.”

“The nuance around what impedes or enhances findability may be more complicated that it seems on the surface,” says Michael Hendron, an assistant professor of organizational strategy and leadership at BYU. He helped guide Blake, Collier and students Andrew Reese and Benjamin Harrison; and he published some of their findings. (Hendron also wrote a piece based on the team’s work for Wired.)

The team was specifically interested in site search, the sort of search that begins on a retailer’s website in the small box on the site. Having a good site search experience vs. a frustrating experience can mean the difference between making a sale and losing a customer.

site search box

So, e-commerce retailers must put an awful lot of thought, effort and resources into perfecting that little box, right?

“Basically, we were surprised at how bad they were sometimes,” says Collier, a senior who’s interning with Bain & Co.

This was no drive-by survey. The students tested the mobile and desktop sites of 60 top e-commerce companies’ website and apps, searching each for 10 products, using terms and descriptions that typical consumers might use.

“The first couple of times going through the website, it was kind of fun,” says Collier, who lives in Salt Lake City. “It ended up getting quite tedious.”

But in the interest of making your digital life better, while showing retailers the path to increased profits, the team soldiered on. Well, and, they also received credit toward their graduation by participating in the elite BYU program that pairs business strategy students with real-world companies.

And, no question, the work was a real education.

“We found results that weren’t exactly what we were expecting,” say Blake, who recently graduated.

(For a personal take on what it’s like to be a college student doing work at BloomReach see “The college (startup) Internship.”)

In fairness, the team found that sites’ performance varied widely, but in general, Blake says, site search worked quite well if the team typed in an exact product name.

Then again, who does that?

“Most of the sites don’t handle descriptive search terms very well,” Blake explains. “Usually, the search results come up based on the name of the product, which is the brand and some fancy product name that the company gives it.”

Take, for example, Blake’s search for a semi-whacky cat-shaped fan on a big home improvement site. Forget for the moment the question of why you’d want a cat-shaped fan and consider that Blake couldn’t type in “cat-shaped fan” (and how many could there be, really) and expect to find what he was looking for. Instead he had to type in “DecoBREEZE animal fan” to have his cat-fan fancy satisfied.

Abe crop 2013

Collier found on a housewares site that “wooden mixing bowl” wasn’t going to get you to a bamboo mixing bowl, though you could find a lot of metal mixing bowls that way.

And thin contacts? Forget about it. Blake went to a site specializing in contact lenses, typed in “thin contacts” and waited for his slew of recommendations to appear.

“Shocking,” Blake says. “No results show up on a site dedicated to contact lenses.”

Abe Collier

But sometimes maybe nothing is better than something. Consider Blake’s search for shampoo on a grocery and health and beauty site?

“I search for 8-ounce shampoo and it showed me an 8-ounce lobster tail,” he says. “Nothing about shampoo. The results were so far off.”

It would be funny if it weren’t a life-and-death matter for digital retailers. When Blake couldn’t find the thin contacts he was looking for, he took to the big search engines and found what he was after on a competitor’s site.

“I sort of felt like I was playing charades with the website,” he says of the unsuccessful searches, “where I’m trying to act out or describe something and the website is giving me their best guess. But most of the time it can be absolutely random and off-the-wall result.”

Hendron says that if you’re a retailer, you don’t want to being playing charades. In the team’s paper, Hendron writes that visitors who use site search are 90 percent more likely to buy than those who don’t. In other words, good site search has the potential to nearly double your chance of closing the deal.

For that reason, Hendron says, it’s vital for online businesses to differentiate themselves with superior search features.

“Really, to succeed, a company can’t just sort of copycat and do exactly what everybody else is doing just as well,” he says. “You really need to find a way to do it much better than your competitors in the industry are doing it.”

TaylorFor one thing, customers expect it. Blake, who’s taken a job as a product manager for Degreed.com, an online education company, points to Google, Facebook and Siri and says people are finding better and better search experiences in everyday life.

Says Hendron: “It’s partly a function of our society. Our attention spans are just much shorter than they used to be and I think we just have a lot less patience as consumers for trying to figure out and solve our search problems as we’re going about our daily business.”

Taylor Blake

Blake says the importance of site search is one clear lesson he’s taken from his work at BloomReach. Oh, and he has some advice for anyone whose business relies on consumers finding their Web content.

“If I were one of these companies and I had a budget to improve the website,” he says, “I would spend almost all the money improving those search results.”

Take it from one who has spent months searching for the answers.

Photo of college class by Velkr0 published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

The describe the dress quiz isn’t as easy as you think

Most of us learned long ago that words aren’t just words.

Words have meaning. Context is key. Two of us looking at the very same thing can come up with very different ways to describe it. It’s fascinating, really. And potentially dangerous. Who hasn’t frozen when asked by the love of his or her life: How do I look in this?

But how hard can it be, really, to describe a dress? It’s a dress for goodness sake, not a complex piece of art or an intricate landscape in a land far away. A simple red dress.

Unless it’s a simple crimson dress; or a ruby dress; or cardinal, cranberry, scarlet or cherry dress. And there are all those other attributes — fit, neckline, length and material. All those things we consider when the question comes: How do I look in this?

the dress

Not to mention the belt, but oh boy did you mention it.

We’ve been having fun — all of us, right? — describing this dress. Hundreds of you took the BloomReach “Describe the Dress” quiz. You used nearly 3,000 words to describe the dress and its features.

The fit? It’s either tight, form-fitting, slim, body-hugging, figure-hugging, form-fitting, fitted or snug. When the question comes, steer away from snug and move toward slim.

And the neckline? Low-cut, plunging, swooping, sexy, revealing, square, scoop, open, tank. Again, with that question, stay away from words like “tank” and think about “sexy” or “swooping,” if you’re bashful.

It’s enough to have you turning to a wordsmith (and obvious fashion expert) like this guy for help.

As perilous as wardrobe descriptors are to relationships, they are every bit as dangerous for digital retailers who sell dresses and other items and rely on consumers to find them by typing words into search boxes. If you look for a “crimson, body-hugging dress,” will you find the red dress? Not unless the site you’re searching is smart enough to know that one shopper’s “red” is another shopper’s “crimson.”

Or maybe you prefer to describe your dream dress by the type of occasion on which you’d wear it. Quiz-takers pegged the red dress as just the thing for a night out or a night club; clubbing or cocktails.

If you’re a look and feel consumer, the dress’ material is no doubt important to you. According to our quiz-takers, the dress is made either of silk, satin, cotton, lycra, Spandex or fabric. Or maybe the material is best described as stretchy, bandage, synthetic or Viscose.

And of course, that leaves the belt. What can you say? Plenty, apparently. Quiz-takers described it as leather, black leather, corset, tight, harness, S&M or ugly.

What to say about the belt, when the question — how do I look in this — comes up? Honestly, not even the BloomReach blog is going to go there.

When it comes to the belt, you’re on your own.

Photo of the Herve Leger Thin-Strap Bandage Dress with Strappy Leather Harness Belt courtesy of Neiman Marcus.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Closed-Loop Reporting

This is the final blog post in the collaboration between BloomReach and DigitalRelevance on marketing your content. Follow us over the next few weeks on our blog and at DigitalRelevance to learn more. We will also have an e-book and webinar on this series on July 22.

By Bradley Smith

Bradley-Smith-DSC_0655If life is content marketing and liberty is content promotion, then happiness is closed-loop reporting. If your organization is like so many others, it has already inherently begun to understand the current state of marketing. It has gone through the trouble of understanding content marketing, the key metrics of content marketing and the key equations related to content marketing profitability. Now, it’s ready to bring them together with closed-loop reporting.

Life – Content Marketing

If your organization is keeping its ear to the ground, it has seen that content marketing is about to become significantly more challenging. Every organization that should utilize content marketing as a key marketing tactic has already been developing its strategy for some time now. Content marketing is becoming the norm. This means that organizations that do content marketing as a primary marketing channel will soon be swallowed up by the norm. They will stop thriving and begin just existing. What will your organization do when content saturation hits its peak, content fatigue sets in and content marketing no longer has the impact it has today?

Liberty – Content Promotion

Liberty has entered the picture to help amplify your content, and set you apart from the competition. Liberty gives life to existence. But liberty is more than search engine marketing, and it’s way more than your organization promoting itself on its social network of choice. Liberty comes in content promotion through several forms and outlets.

Liberty comes from pitching useful, remarkable content to media, and not in pitching your brand. It also comes in the form of native advertising to the followers of key thought leaders in your industry. It comes in the form of converged media promoting content that embodies permission marketing across content networks. And, it comes in the form of authorship from thought leaders not only on your site, but across relevant industry publications.

These are just a few glimpses of the freedom that comes from content promotion. But, you have to be willing to pursue it. Liberty is there for the taking; contrary to the concept liberty represents, it must be taken captive. You must choose to go after it. Will your organization stop simply eking out an existence and start living?

Happiness – Closed-Loop Reporting

And then, there’s happiness (and the pursuit thereof), closed-loop reporting, reporting every marketer should aspire to achieve. The goal of closed-loop reporting is of course to tie every dollar earned and lead gained back to their original marketing initiative. For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider B2B marketing and reporting. What is necessary for B2B closed-loop reporting, why is it so difficult to achieve, and, more importantly, how can revenue be tied back to every marketing initiative?

So what is necessary for B2B closed-loop reporting? Here are some of the necessities:

1) Initiative and budget – So this should go without saying, but in order to track revenue in a closed-loop for a particular initiative, a budget must be in place.

2) Analytics – Any modern analytics program will work for tracking in a closed-loop: Google Analytics, SiteCatalyst and Coremetrics are popular choices. The key here is that a cookie is set for every visitor to identify them along their path to completion.

3) Campaign identifiers – Analytics campaign identifiers are particularly helpful when reporting on marketing spend. Without analytics campaign modifiers, reporting back up to the original marketing initiative that generated revenue is difficult.

4) CRM – A CRM is critical for managing leads, clients and customers. Some modern-day examples are Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot and Salesforce. Utilizing a CRM properly keeps leads from dropping off in the reporting loop.

Some of the reasons closed-loop reporting is difficult are related directly to dropping a potential customer from visit to lead to sale. They are listed in more detail below:

1) Without proper tracking, a user can fall off in the process from simply browsing a site to when the lead is actually generated.

2) The most common drop-off point is the transition from lead generation to sales hand-off. When a lead is taken from a lead gen database and handed off to sales for follow-up, the lead could drop off during the long sales process. Does the lead get a follow up? Does it complete the sale?

3) When the sales process is long and not easily completed by a simple checkout on a website, how is the lead tied back after completion? The most accurate way would be to tie back the revenue to the original initiative, or use first-touch attribution. In B2B, sometimes this requires a manual entry into a CRM for proper lead or revenue attribution.

So how can revenue and leads be tied back to every marketing initiative? Here are some key pieces to tying revenue and leads back to marketing initiatives:

1) Universal Analytics – the whole point of Google Analytics’ new release of Universal Analytics is to not only capture web interactions, but also to help capture interactions that are outside of the scope of the website. Similar to event tracking on a website, Universal Analytics allows for event tracking in real life. The goal here is to identify any action that leads to revenue and leads that may also happen outside of the website. Coremetrics and SiteCatalyst, as alternative Universal Analytics options, may also have similar features that allow events to be tracked in real life.

2) Impressions – This is a basic concept, but understanding impressions helps calculate most of the other formulas necessary to understand conversion rates for reporting purposes. When it comes to content promotion, understanding impressions on a landing page on your site is important, but it’s also important to understand the impressions that are generated from any content promotion efforts: media placements, off-site authorship, native advertising, etc.

3) Conversions – In general, conversions can be broken up into micro and macro conversions. Micro conversions are any action taken by users that could turn them into a generated lead. Macro conversion by a user would specifically be a purchase. When proper tracking is set up through analytics and a proper hand-off occurs from marketing to sales and back to marketing (often through a CRM), conversions stay in a closed-loop.

4) Attribution Modeling – As mentioned earlier, first-touch attribution would be the most accurate way of attribute revenue back to initial marketing spend. However, the buyer’s journey is often much more complicated than that and many companies use last-touch or evenly distributed attribution (any channel that had a touch point receives equal attribution) to tie revenue back to specific marketing initiatives.

5) Formulas – Impressions, mentioned earlier, come into play in some of these formulas. Here are some of the key formulas used in reporting to prove success of a marketing initiative:

  1. CTR for promotion pieces – what was the CTR for any placement attained through content promotion?
  2. CTR for landing pages – what was the CTR from the landing page to the desired lead gen?
  3. Visitors to lead ratio – How many visitors did it take to generate a lead?
  4. Lead to sales ratio – How many leads did it take to generate a sale?
  5. Visitors to sales ratio – How many visitors did it take to generate a sale?
  6. Dollars spent to leads generated and revenue earned – How many marketing dollars were spent to generate leads or revenue?
  7. LTV of a customer – How much does an average customer spend over their lifetime of doing business with you?

6) Key Questions – These key questions can help make the case for the success of your marketing initiative:

  1. Does a new customer’s LTV equal more than the marketing budget spent on a particular marketing initiative?
  2. Is there a potential to raise the LTV of new and current customers by introducing valuable new products or services?

Conclusion – The Pursuit

Life, liberty and happiness are mentioned, but “the pursuit” is also mentioned for a reason. The pursuit implies that the actual achievement or capturing of the thing being pursued or followed after may or may not occur. In this case, we’re pursuing the achievement of closed-loop reporting. We understand that without closed-loop reporting, proper marketing revenue and lead attribution is not entirely possible and marketing dollars seemingly disappear into thin air. And though achieving closed-loop reporting may be extremely difficult, we aspire to be better marketers, and it’s this aspiration that inspires us to continue the pursuit.

Roller coaster photo featured on blog home page by daveynin published under Creative Commons license.

Bradley Smith is a Senior Marketing Technology Consultant at DigitalRelevance. He graduated from the IU Kelley School of Business with a B.S. in Business Management

How to navigate the new world of SEO measurement

Measuring the success of your organic search efforts has rarely been more difficult. But face it: It’s a big deal. You want to know not only whether what you’re doing is working, but how well it is working. In his post on the DigitalRelevance blog, BloomReach Organic Search product manager Vache Moroyan explains how to use three metrics — discoverability, health and quality — to best understand how your commercial content work is paying off.

Vache-Moroyan

The piece is the culmination of a series of posts aimed at helping you get the most out of your commercial content. Take a look and don’t forget to sign up for our July 22nd webinar about the importance of promoting editorial and commercial content. The session will be led by Mitch Briggs, a client success director at DigitalRelevance, and Will Uppington, head of product at BloomReach.

Tape measure photo by William Warby; photo of Vache Moroyan courtesy of BloomReach.

Thought so: The Internet of things is big business

It’s always good out here in the blogosphere to know you’re on to something and we were on to something with that whole “the Internet of Things is a thing” post.

No sooner had we said so — and OK, we weren’t the first — than the International Data Corporation comes out with its report saying that by 2020, the Internet of Things is going to be a $7.1 trillion business. Yes, trillion as in that .1 is a $100 billion.

SiliconBeat quotes the report to say that the findings are a sign that “the global market for computerized and connected gadgets ‘is exploding.’” Which is so much better than the gadgets themselves exploding.

Here’s Jonathan Strickland’s look at the IoT future, a time when there will be 6.6 Internet-connected devices for every person on earth.

 

ZDNet seizes on the notion that IoT is reaching a tipping point, moving from where tech companies have the goods and want companies and people to buy them to where people and companies want the goods and are looking for tech companies to supply them.

“Consumers continue to experience and embrace IoT in their homes, cars, and in many other aspects of their daily life. Globally, individuals are developing a high affinity for full-time connectivity, which makes consumer IoT a compelling proposition. Businesses are intrigued by the efficiencies, business process implications, and revenue opportunities IoT solutions can generate.”

 

OK, Turner’s title: senior vice president of enterprise infrastructure, consumer, network, telecom and sustainability research. Youch.

Anyway, the BloomReach blog hit the nail on the head in talking about how the IoT, as it’s known, is likely to radically change the way consumers shop (or have shopping done for them), how they receive their packages and how they keep track of where their packages are.

Which is not to under-emphasize the enormous role connected devices are already playing in our lives — and in the way we’re already sharing data. Check out this infographic from PennyStocks:


Click the animation to open the full version (via http://pennystocks.la).
From the IDC news release announcing the report:

“Consumers continue to experience and embrace IoT in their homes, cars, and in many other aspects of their daily life. Globally, individuals are developing a high affinity for full-time connectivity, which makes consumer IoT a compelling proposition. Businesses are intrigued by the efficiencies, business process implications, and revenue opportunities IoT solutions can generate.”

It will be fascinating to see where this all ends up.

Photo of IoT poster by Mike published under Creative Commons license.

Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Reach him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com and follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy

Conquering the full content spectrum to increase relevance

By Mitch Briggs

Today’s post kicks off a collaboration between Digital Relevance and BloomReach. It’s the first post in a series about how to get the most out of your content marketing strategy.

Be sure to subscribe to the DigitalRelevance blog for the next few weeks to learn more. And mark you calendar for our July 22 joint ebook and webinar on the blog series this summer.

Conquering the Full Content Spectrum to Increase Relevance We hear the word “relevance” thrown around lot these days in the marketing world, especially when talking about search and SEO. “Increase your relevance!” “Create more content to become relevant!” But, what does it mean to be relevant? Well, let’s do a quick thought exercise. Start with three topics:

  • Fast food
  • Computers
  • Trucks

Which companies spring to mind when you think of those related to these topics? McDonald’s? Apple? Ford? All of these companies have earned the right to be relevant from decades of marketing content, messaging, growth and consistent consumer experience.

But what happens when you get more specific with the topics? Let’s choose Mexican fast food, hard drives and big truck tires as our three topics. Now, a whole new list of companies is relevant.

Now, think of this in terms of a search engine, a place where billions of different terms are used to find what it is a person is looking for. Odds are that your website or company is related to a large volume of topics and phrases, branching out from the obvious one or two terms that may encompass a business. This creates a large spectrum of terms that can ultimately be classified into two main categories: commercial intent keywords and editorial keywords.

When you can show to the market—and search engines—that you are relevant to both sides of the spectrum of content, you can work magic.

commercial content Commercial Intent Queries Commercial intent queries are both the easiest and hardest half of the spectrum to master. They’re easy because discovering these variations of keywords is usually relatively intuitive. The hard part, however, requires creating all the content necessary to match up with the variation in keywords. You also have to create content in a way that maintains both relevance and an appropriate site structure.

For example: your site sells shoes. It would be easy to build your website with just one big shoes page that the user can browse, but user queries are much more diverse and specific. That means you’ll need to make pages that match up to how people search.  This goes beyond just adding specific pages for men’s shoes and women’s shoes—you’ll need to go down even further to capture long tail keyword phrases like “women’s 6 inch red heels.”

The goal is to cast a wide net and create pages for every variation and combination of products you offer. But the key is to do so in a way that fits into a site navigation and structure. Creating useful pages is important—and when you create more pages than you or your user need, you start to get into the realm of spam.

Editorial Content Queries

The other half of the content spectrum deals with queries that may be related to your product or service, but the user does not want to buy or be served up products. This is often the most neglected of the two sides of the content spectrum because the keyword research is a bit harder and often times websites don’t have proper sections to “house” this type of content. Let’s stick with shoes as the example:

Editorial content This type of content needs to be well-researched and accompanied by engaging visual content like images, graphics or video. Search the topic before attempting to create it to size up your competition; then, create something more useful and more interesting.

Both sides of the spectrum matter when it comes to establishing true relevance for search. The editorial content will supplement the authority of your commercial pages, and vice versa.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Resist the urge to create spam. Instead, focus on creating useful and related content that satisfies users’ needs and earns links.

Are you ready to step up your search game? Come back for the next posts in this series, which will tackle in more detail how to plan and execute your content spectrum.

Mitch Briggs is a Client Success Director at DigitalRelevance. A frequent writer on Business2Community.com, his expertise has been viewed and shared thousands of times across the Internet.

Crying Lion

Developing Relevance Using a Full Spectrum of Content

Crying LionToday we’re excited to kick off the first of eight blogs in our collaboration with DigitalRelevance to discuss the tactics behind creating high quality content and then getting it found. In this series you’ll learn how to:

  • Develop useful and unique editorial content
  • Identify gaps in your commercial content
  • Increase findability by improving your site’s architecture
  • Earn editorial coverage
  • Measure returns on your content marketing efforts

Check out our guest blog on the importance of attacking content in a holistic manner and let us know what you think by tweeting @bloomreachinc.

Photo of crying lion by Iwon Wolkow under Creative Commons license.

New job. New kitchen. What’s the “findability” of new cookware?

This is my second week on the job as Marketing Technologist at BloomReach. My current task is to learn everything I can about the way our products work. Not only have I just gotten a brand new job, but I also moved back to the US from overseas. In the process I gave away almost all of my possessions. Including nearly everything for my kitchen.

I had to immediately go out and buy plates and glasses just to be able to eat dinner at home. However I’ve been holding out for nice cookware. I’m big into cooking and I massacred my old set of Teflon (metal on Teflon is a bad combination). My previous apartment was furnished including stainless steel cookware, which I felt burned quite often. So I’ve decided to buy a nice set of ceramic pots and pans.

At BloomReach we’re talking a lot about findability in Paid Search. I watched a few of our videos showing internet searchers not successfully finding what they were seeking. It’s a difficult problem, as the scale of connecting every query to the right product mix is nearly impossible given the current technology available for SEMs.

So I decided to put findability to the test. Can paid search help me find my pots and pans.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 3.54.33 PM

My first Paid Search result is for Macy’s, it gets me to a kitchenware results page, but returns 0 items for ceramic cookware, I bounce immediately.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 3.55.39 PM

The second result, for Kohl’s returns a legitimate set of Ceramic Cookware, but I’m not so into green. It only gives me a single result & “More to Consider” includes Bermuda shorts & black shoes. I bounce again. Later on I searched for red ceramic cookware sets and that time Kohl’s gave me much better results.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 4.28.56 PM

The first Paid Search result on the right side is for Overstock.com, which gets me into Cookware Sets, but I have to look through 15 items before I find my first set of ceramic cookware, well below the fold. (QVC later down gives me a similar result)

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 4.30.46 PM

My fourth result ceramcor only sells ceramic cookware, but a one egg skillet does not a set make. I have to scroll below the fold to the ninth item to find a set.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 4.34.54 PM

Target.com gets me two legitimate sets of ceramic cookware, but they’re both green again, so I bounce.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 4.36.36 PM

One Kings Lane has a lovely site with a nice fade-in scroll effect, but no where in the 86 results is there a single ceramic pot or pan, let alone a set. Wasted click, bounce.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 4.37.43 PM

My seventh Paid Search result gives me an Amazon SERP for specifically Ceramic Cookware sets. Finally, an entire page dedicated to ceramic cookware sets it includes a couple of results for stainless and Teflon, but for the most part this page is dedicated to what I was actually searching. I think I’ll keep browsing here.

Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 4.42.15 PM

Shop on Google gives me 3 out of 5 products I’m interested in. The Organic results gave me high-quality pages from Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond and Ebay. In the end I still haven’t bought any pots & pans. I think I’ll go back to the brick and mortar Bed Bath & Beyond to hold the pots and pans in my hand. I want to feel the weight of each piece before I make a decision. Then I’ll be back online with a more targeted branded search to see who will give me the best deal.

What is “findability” and why does it matter?

Wikipedia defines “findability” as:

The ease with which information contained on a website can be found, both from outside the website (using search engines and the like) and by users already on the website

For an e-commerce site, great findability is key to conversion. If a would-be customer does a Google search for a product, clicks on a paid search ad, and fails to find the product, they’ll bounce. Or if a mobile shopper (who’s already challenged by thumb typing and a small screen) can’t easily search, navigate and discover on retailer’s mobile site, they’ll leave…often for Amazon.com and potentially never to return.

Today we are releasing some resources to help people understand findability and measure their own customer experiences on paid search and mobile. The goal is to put some quantitative tools in your hands so you can take a hard look at the qualitative experience your users face when it comes to findability.

The resources for Paid Search include:

The resources for mobile include:

 

 

“Findability” in Paid Search: UserTesting.com Study

Paid search advertising is a growing part of the SERP and of your budget. But the focus for marketers is typically on the “pre-click” portion of the experience – the queries and the bids – with precious little attention on what happens “post-click”.  That approach can drive traffic, but can come up short in delivering an experience where would-be customers can find what they are looking for. Put another way, the “findability” suffers if the shopper doesn’t easily find what they want, damaging the paid search ROI and the perception of the brand in the mind of the frustrated consumer.

We worked with UserTesting.com to look at the “findability” of products via paid search. With a specific intent – in this case, any gift item they chose to search for – could that customer use paid search to actually find the product they were seeking?

For the project, UserTesting.com had 50 of their panelists do a Google search for a gift item – any item they chose – and then click a paid link to try to find it.

This highlight reel shows some of the shoppers’ experiences:

The biggest surprise…consumer expectations. Some of them were surprisingly low. Many of the panelists ran very specific queries for gifts, clicked on paid search ads that judging by the language seemed to understand their query, and yet were pleasantly surprised to be dropped anywhere other than the main page of the retailer’s site. That’s a testament to these shoppers’ poor paid search experiences in the past, which likely dropped them at the front door or some other underwhelming location, thus forcing them to search and navigate on the retailer’s site.

But some shoppers knew that they deserve better. In fact, as one shopper points out, “it’s a pretty easy thing that they could I’m sure have a way to redirect to if they wanted.” The reality is, that challenge is not so easy, but the sentiment speaks volumes for the experience discerning shoppers expect. They want what they want and they want it now. If a paid click doesn’t deliver, they’re annoyed. They feel hoodwinked. Their impression of the brand may even decrease. And worst of all…the retailer paid for the click.

It can be better. But the first step is to take a hard look at where your paid search experience currently stands. You’re paying for the clicks. What experience are you delivering? Download the Paid Search Landing Page Audit for a methodology to measure your paid search experience.

Plotting Success: Software Advice and icrunchdata highlight ShopLogic acqui-hire

The co-founder of big data talent recruitment company icrunchdata recently mentioned BloomReach’s May acqui-hire of ShopLogic as a top example of startups bringing in top data talent. In an interview with Software Advice, a free online resource for software buyers, Todd Nevins said that the increasing segmentation, abundance of big-data jobs and shortage of big-data specialists has spawned more creative methods of recruiting elusive “business” big data specialists – citing BloomReach as a top case study.

Nevins also brings up some interesting points about the growth and career segmentation that data science has made on the job market, saying that:

  • 90 percent of the world’s data was created within the last two years; and
  • by 2015, there will be 4.4 million positions specific to big data globally, with 1.9 million of those jobs being in the U.S.

ShopLogic CEO Kevin Chan and CTO Dennis Maskevich joined BloomReach to help the company meet increasing demand for its big data marketing applications by joining the product and engineering teams to build, expand and upgrade its product offerings.

Software Advice’s “Plotting Success” blog is a well-read site for the latest technology trends. Check out the full video below to hear more from Nevins, and don’t forget to check out our careers page to join our growing team. BloomReach is always looking for the best of the best!

Making the Most out of Google ‘Not Provided’ using Big Data

When Google began its gradual move to secure organic search by not providing the actual search terms in 2011, BloomReach began preparing for 100 percent “keyword not provided”. While this makes data analysis more complicated, it doesn’t change the core strategy of creating great content that people want to read and getting that content discovered.

Many have asked, “What will happen to organic search?” and “How can I measure my SEO strategy efficacy now?”

Organic search will continue to be a strategic channel for ecommerce (and all web publishing) – it represents up to 94 percent of the links clicked on by consumers, depending on the market. And there is still a great deal that marketers can do to maximize their efforts to attract organic-search-driven consumers. Measuring organic search results will be done using traffic and quality at the content/page level and potentially with ranking information rather than individual keywords.  For quality marketers, this won’t be a significant change to their strategy even if it’s a change to analyzing their strategy’s effectiveness.

Keyword data is not the only data source available to organic search marketers. There are many other sources of consumer-interest data available including web analytics: traffic and engagement at the page/URL level, social media, paid search keywords, on-site keywords and, if you have access to it, web-wide content and demand. At BloomReach, we enjoyed analyzing real-time keyword data, but it didn’t impact what we presented. Organic search landing pages do not change based on individual user intent. Real-time keyword data constituted one of 30 different data sources that enable us to understand web-wide demand and consumer behavior.

Real-time keywords told us what expressions were already driving traffic; but, by definition, not where there are new opportunities. Continuously understanding our entire customer’s content collectively helps us predict new expressions of intent. This content can be their product descriptions, reviews or copy, combined with our complete database of consumer-intent information from their sites and throughout the entire web.

In addition, creating “editorial-quality website content” is key to successfully making content discoverable, and it’s important to have a decent analytics system to track the quality of that content.

Content analytics can tell you how relevant, unique and dynamic content is on a page, and can optimize content for topic relevance and broad discoverability. Metrics like those in BloomReach’s Continuous Quality Metrics (CQM) give in-depth, yet easy-to-understand, actionable metrics for specific pages on a website.

The bottom line is that there are many strategies and tips marketers can employ in this new era. Having access to Google keywords was nice, but it never could stand alone or substitute for well-written content. If you are interested in a more detailed set of strategies to optimize sites for organic search, I encourage you to read our WIRED article.

How Neiman Marcus Is Driving Mobile Discovery

It’s a story all too familiar to marketers across most industries – the rising tide of mobile traffic. In early 2012, high-end fashion retailer Neiman Marcus started noticing significantly more mobile shoppers exploring its content, but the conversions did not follow. True to its core philosophy and brand, the company knew that it had to deliver the highly relevant and personalized user experiences in order to capitalize on fickle and impatient mobile shoppers. Neiman Marcus has always used their internal data to create the most relevant and personal user experiences. Combined with analytics, Neiman Marcus makes informed decisions that optimize the customer experience each and every time they visit, enabling them to find what they are looking for faster and easier.

The company also has long been a customer of the BloomReach Organic Search big data application, helping to drive more relevant content for its desktop customers, so it seemed natural to collaborate with BloomReach, ultimately becoming the first BloomReach Mobile customer.

“BloomReach was a logical fit,” said Jessica Boland, Director of Search & Site Optimization for Neiman Marcus.

Neiman Marcus already understood the importance of delivering a superlative user experience and knew that desktop and mobile behavior were different, so it was very important that the two experiences were unique. However, unlike many retailers, Neiman Marcus also knew that you can’t just condense a website down to a smartphone screen and expect similar results. BloomReach offered that bridge, leveraging Neiman Marcus’s internal data in addition to behavior across the web to gain a better understanding of the intent driving consumer discovery.

After months of building and fine-tuning the BloomReach’s Web Relevance Engine, observing consumer behavior and crunching gargantuan amounts of data, Neiman Marcus and BloomReach launched the new mobile site in beta before the 2012 holiday season.

Six months of continuous machine learning later, what were the results?

BloomReach helped Neiman Marcus customers discover what they want faster and easier while presenting an experience personalized from initial search suggestions through product selection through dynamic categories using both Neiman Marcus’ and BloomReach’s data. With BloomReach Mobile, Neiman Marcus’ customers are able to easily search for and navigate to what they want and also explore products using “Trending” and “More Like This,” two of the main features of the application.

For example, the initial users of the “More Like This” service generated 150 percent more revenue per visit than visitors who haven’t yet discovered and used the function.  In addition, BloomReach’s “Trending” functionality – which uses social-media cues from Facebook and Instagram on both the desktop and mobile devices – drove 125 percent more revenue per visitor versus those who did not use it.

With Neiman Marcus successfully running both of BloomReach’s big data marketing applications, the partnership still has the potential for tremendous growth.

Said Boland, “After two successful deployments with BloomReach and sustained success not just in the product but also in the service and the partnership as a whole, we have plans to continue to grow with BloomReach and utilize its products in an ongoing e­ffort to deliver the most relevant experience to our customers as possible.”

BloomReach Vies For Two Coveted 2014 SXSW Interactive Sessions

On the heels of continued company momentum with the launch of BloomReach Mobile, BloomReach is up for two highly regarded spots to speak at South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive sessions at the 2014 conference next March. Selection criteria are decided in part by a public vote – making up 30 percent of the overall formula to determine the programming. Each year, thousands of presentations are submitted and less than 10 percent are accepted. BloomReach would love your support to encourage the selection committee to pick us! Voting ends on Friday, so take a minute to briefly create a SXSW profile and give us a “thumbs up.” The two sessions with descriptions include:

Performance Enhancement for the 5” Mobile Letdown – BloomReach CEO Raj De Datta

You built it, they came, but left without a kiss goodbye. Mobile experiences stink, and slapping mobile ‘skins’ on websites hasn’t generated the revenue expected for the fastest-growing segment of online shoppers. While responsive design was a start, what good is a beautiful mobile site if no one can find what they want?

The problem is the data, not UI. In this session, I’ll show how to build a mobile experience that is expected from mobile shoppers, who are impatient and intolerant with the least brand loyalty. Beauty is only skin deep, and responsive design can’t deliver if the data on the backend – from customer’s cross-device behavior, site content and signals from the entire internet – isn’t creating a relevant experience for individual users. Mobile isn’t a channel, it supports all channels – whether online, in-store or ads. This session will show marketers the important data sets, and how to use it to drive mobile revenue by 40 percent and influence others by 7x.

 Lean in: One Year Later

BloomReach Head of Marketing Joelle Kaufman would join Glassdoor SVP of People Allyson Willoughby and Practice Fusion Marketing Communications Vice President Emily Peters to discuss the evolution of women in the workplace. The panel description is below.

Sheryl Sandberg made waves when the COO of Facebook encouraged women everywhere to “Lean In” to their careers. The empowering yet controversial message has generated an uproar of conversation around what it means to be a woman in today’s workplace and opinions range from glowing praise to strikingly negative. This panel will examine what it means to be a successful woman in today’s workplace and how the experience has changed or is seen in a new way thanks to Sandberg’s words. Emily Peters, VP of Marketing Communications at Practice Fusion, Allyson Willoughby SVP of People and general counsel at Glassdoor and Joelle Kaufman, head of marketing and partnerships at BloomReach will discuss their takeaways, triumphs and trials they’ve experienced as female leaders within their respective Silicon Valley organizations because of the conversation started with the words, “lean in.”

BloomReach Becomes Demandware LINK Partner

We are proud to say that BloomReach now has a pre-built integration for BloomReach Organic Search ready for the Demandware Commerce platform. This is a significant achievement both for BloomReach and the many retailers that rely upon Demandware’s LINK partner network to validate quality partners and significantly reduce integration time and costs.

BloomReach Organic Search will offer any Demandware customer the ability to harness the web’s collective intelligence – more than 1 billion consumer interactions and 1.2 billion pages interpreted per week– to capture demand by matching consumer searches with the most relevant content. The application brings between 20 to 80 percent lift in organic search, driving more product discovery on a website. An independent Forrester report released in February stated that the application could provide up to a 196 percent return on investment (ROI) with a payback period of 2.2 days for established e-commerce brands in addition to bringing 60 percent new customers not attracted through other marketing tactics.

This is extremely important in a time when marketers have seen a significant drop in organic search data and insight for action. Not long ago, an organic-search query passed right through to your analytics system, giving you a quantifiable click volume and value (assuming your analytics provided conversion/revenue data). And there was a lot less competition for organic search traffic from other merchants and other content. The focus was justifiably on head and torso term optimization. For example, you could bring up high-volume queries with low conversions with better content or landing pages.

Unfortunately, search marketers no longer have such clarity into their organic-search traffic for two reasons: an increasing percentage of traffic is “no query” and a huge portion of mobile traffic is not categorized correctly, often failing to attribute the traffic to a search rather than “direct.”

In addition to lacking data, real estate is also a growing issue with the space available for organic-search giving way to paid search and product listing ads. At the same time, the majority of online search is still organic, so it’s critical to optimize content for the long-tail organic search consumers, who are often new customers, to grow and maintain e-commerce revenue centers.

The Demandware LINK Technology Partner Program provides Demandware clients with a rich of set of pre-built integrations to cutting-edge commerce technologies and applications that can unlock revenue, generating opportunities and enhance the brand experience. By reducing the cost and complexity of integrations, Demandware LINK allows retailers to adopt innovative third-party technologies quickly and cost-effectively, allowing them to accelerate time to market and attain a faster return on their investment.

BloomReach is proud to be offered with the best of the best, and we look forward to working with Demandware to help more companies get found!

Vote BloomReach As A Top Big Data Startup!

As we build the premier big data company for marketers, BloomReach is continuing to rack up industry awards and acknowledgements. One of those distinctions is veteran technology journalist Jeff Vance’s Startup 42 for Big Data, a list of the currently 42 early-stage big data companies making an impact in the tech industry, which is on its way to 50. As the data industry becomes more mature and the market becomes more diversified, great new organizations are formed almost every week, making BloomReach’s placement an important visibility milestone for our company and its awesome collection of growing talent.

BloomReach recently was just honored to be selected as a challenger for a spot in the list, and part of the criteria is a public vote for your choice of top contenders. While we have some good competition, we’d like you – our community of supporters and followers – to vote for BloomReach to secure us a spot. The public vote only represents a portion of selection, but it goes a long way to indicate to Jeff and other industry pundits that BloomReach is a company making an impact in the world of big data, e-commerce and overall technology.

Startup 50 was started after Jeff wrote two related articles about mobile startups for Network World and CIO. After issuing a call for companies through a popular reporter resource, he received more than 150 recommendations. Since putting together an initial “Final Forty” list, venture capital firms and startups alike have strived to have their interests represented on the list.

Armed with a new approach to highlighting new and exciting tech companies to the public light, Jeff’s list has evolved into a top industry distinction and a go-to source for journalists and analysts to understand the different players in big data, among other markets.

With the recent launch of our mobile big data application, BloomReach is barreling forward in 2013, with much more planned for the rest of this year and early 2014. I encourage everyone who follows BloomReach to cast a vote in our favor to ensure that our momentum is noticed by the people and companies who can benefit from our services.

You can follow Jeff Vance’s Twitter (@JWVance) to keep up with his top-notch coverage of technology in a variety of publications including Forbes, CIO and Datamation.

BloomReach Named eTail Rising Star For Second-Straight Year

For the second time in as many years, BloomReach has been named an eTail Rising Star for Service Technology for 2013. The award is given to people, technologies and service providers that retailers consider to have the leading-edge in value, performance and service excellence. In addition, unlike many industry awards, the eTail Rising Star nominations start with retailers themselves, giving them an extra-special meaning.

We were honored this year to be nominated by vintage-clothing retailer ModCloth – a brand known for its distinct style that runs through all facets of its products and company culture. It has been an awesome to work with them and drive broader discovery for their intricately-described product catalog.

In just the four months after launching, BloomReach’s BloomReach Organic Search increased non-branded natural search visits by 13 percent. In addition, visits to pages other than the ModCloth.com home page—individual product pages and category pages—increased by 40 percent. In addition, BloomSearch relevance has led to stronger conversion rates, putting them on par with paid-search conversion rates and higher than ModCloth’s overall organic search conversion rates.

ModCloth found the thematic page capability within BloomSearch to be particularly useful. With ModCloth’s distinctive product assortment, thematic pages represent about 75 percent of BloomSearch-generated visits. To see more of BloomReach‘s work with ModCloth, check out our case study.

Speaking of eTail, BloomReach is currently showcasing at eTail East in Philadelphia. If you’re there, please check us out at booth 200. Also, please join our CEO Raj De Datta and BloomReach Mobile customer Deb Shops for their speaking session today on driving mobile revenue at 4:55 p.m. EDT at the event.