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6 SEM Best Practices Growth Marketers Need To Master

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6 SEM Best Practices Growth Marketers Need To Master


Growth marketing and growth hacking are terms you hear loosely thrown around.

There are even job titles and functions that specialize in “growth hacking.”

But, what does growth marketing actually mean?

Simply put, growth marketing is finding and driving the right customers to your business. These are the people who are most likely to purchase from your brand – whether they’re at the top of the funnel or the bottom of the funnel.

So, what’s the key to growth marketing in today’s world?

Three words: search engine marketing (SEM).

Not to be confused with just PPC or SEO, search marketing has proven time and time again to produce successful results.

SEM is not a short-term effort: it’s an ongoing strategy to drive more qualified customers to conversion in the long term.

Below are six best practices for winning at SEM in today’s market.

1. Deliver Value Across The Decision Journey

As the behavior of your fragmented customers evolves, your growth marketing plan should as well.

Who are the customers behind all those clicks?

Research from Microsoft Ads allows us to better understand the five distinct stages of purchase intent all customers share:

  • Awareness: Getting background information and buying landscape to become a more informed researcher.
  • Consideration: Exploring buying guides, recommendations, and products that meet basic criteria. Comparing a handful of products that meet the customer’s criteria, including ratings, reviews, features, and cost.
  • Conversion: Finding where to buy, then seeing pricing and promotions, availability, and local stores – eventually making a purchase.
  • Maintain: While already having a relationship with a brand, they may come across products or services in different areas that you provide.
  • Expand: The user is a satisfied customer and leaves reviews for your business, word of mouth to peers, etc. These people then go into the Awareness stage.

2. Align Your Campaign & Business Goals

Search can impact, and help you measure, your business goals.

Be sure to align your SEM strategy with your campaign objectives:

  • Brand awareness and perception: Bid competitively on your non-brand, brand, and competitors’ keywords. Non-brand searches are the key to starting a journey: 69% of brand ad clicks are influenced by a non-brand search query. Searchers were 30% likelier to conduct a branded search after being exposed to a brand ad on a generic search query or a competitor’s branded query.
  • Win new customers: Consumers rely on search to inform purchase decisions. SEM can help with every stage of the decision process.
  • Drive sales: Search’s strength is driving conversions. It outperforms other marketing channels across devices in conversion rates.
  • Enter new markets: The ubiquity of search allows you to activate a cross-border marketing strategy that drives foot traffic with Location Extensions, gets more phone calls with Call Extensions, and increases ad clicks with Sitelink Extensions.

3. Expand Your Marketing Funnel

As our constant companion, search is no longer just a product – it’s a behavior.

We turn to search at all times and in all places, whether on our desktops, laptops, tablets, or smartphones.

Understanding how people search at different points on their purchase journeys opens the door to engaging your brand with this new audience.

Having become an engine of insights, search now delivers influence throughout the five buying stages (awareness, consideration, conversion, maintain, and expand).

SEM also reinforces your conversion funnel and unifies disparate marketing activities.

4. Take Audience Targeting To The Next Level

Right-time, right-place engagement alone is no longer enough to compel potential customers.

You need to reach as many unique searchers as possible utilizing audience targeting.

Step 1: Build richer buyer personas that consider these factors:

  • Behavioral: Past behaviors are useful for understanding consumers’ interests and their likelihood to purchase. To better measure user behavior, analyze activities across websites, searches, and content.
  • Demographic: Buying preferences are influenced by elementary but important factors that include age, gender, and location.
  • Contextual: Consumers often search at the moment. Analyzing where, when, and how they search can provide useful content for creating more impactful ad campaigns.

Step 2: Choose keywords that align with the key stages and mindsets of your target customers:

  • Awareness: Keywords such as “What is” and “Benefits of” work best at this stage.
  • Consideration: Keywords such as “Buying guide” and “Models” work best at this stage.
  • Conversion: Keywords such as “Where” and “Coupon” work best at this stage.
  • Maintain: Keywords such as “Support” and “Experience” work best at this stage.
  • Experience: Keywords such as “Reviews” work best at this stage.

5. Lift Other Investments With Paid Search

Optimize your search efforts by combining organic search with a paid SEM strategy.

  • Search and social: Customers who click your paid search and social ads are likelier to buy and spend more. Strengthen your keyword coverage to get more impressions, and tailor your bidding strategy for commercial-related PPC campaigns.
  • Search and TV: Search volume spikes for days after a commercial airs. In a Catalyst Digital study, search volume spiked over 30% vs. the same day and times when a commercial did not run.
  • Search and display: Running search and display simultaneously can allow you to make the best decision on which channel drives the best results, which may be both according to Investis Digital.
  • Search and other channels: When Microsoft Ads is alone in the purchase path, purchases have a 27% higher order average order value than purchases not including Microsoft Ads, which also generate value when paired with other channels.

6. Fight & Win The Battle For Paid Search Budget Share

SEM still competes with other channels for a share of your marketing budget.

So, bring along hard data that connects the dots between search engine marketing and business benefits.

Your budget share battle plan involves three elements:

Pick The Right Metrics To Measure SEM Impact

Metrics provide an easy way to see what is and isn’t working.

Your team can test, change, and optimize your brand’s SEM strategy for better results.

Focus your reporting by identifying and tracking key performance indicators that reflect your business goals:

  • Acquiring new customers.
  • Driving foot traffic.
  • Getting more phone calls.
  • Increasing ad clicks.
  • Building your brand trust.
  • Expanding cross-border strategy.

Separate SEM Impacts From Other Channels

Know which channels drive your marketing results.

Each sale is the culmination of a series of marketing touches that may involve several channels over the course of days, weeks, or even months.

Attribution gets quite complex at times, so if you can prove campaigns with paid search delivers ROI and bottom-line results, you’ll unlock more budget and further optimize search performance.

If you are still looking at conversions through a last-click attribution model, you could be vastly underestimating how other channels and tactics contribute to the overall success.

Apply The Same Process To Allocate Budget Between Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

This last piece falls into place when you analyze the paid click share and query that each SEM option represents within your industry.

You’ll not only get your business in front of a large audience, but you’ll also be confident that your paid ads will lead to clicks.

Conclusion

SEM is the backbone of today’s marketing mix and is crucial for growth marketing.

An expansion of channel availability, and multiple devices per user, can create a more fragmented customer journey.

One of the biggest challenges is getting the right message to the right customer, at the right time, on the right device.

In addition to these challenges, arguably the biggest challenge is measuring the success due to user-privacy limitations.

You no longer can afford to put all of your marketing dollars into one search ad network. If you want to grow your marketing, you must enlist other channels to expand your addressable market.

Follow the best practices outlined here to maximize the reach, impact, and value of your paid search campaigns with bottom-line results.

Utilizing these best practices will equip you when trying to obtain marketing resources or budgets.

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Featured Image: suphakit73/Shutterstock





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Google Outdoor Play Area & Outdoor Games

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GooglePlex Outdoor Play & Games


Here is a photo from a spot at the GooglePlex where Google has set up a nice and comfortable outdoor play area with outdoor games.

This was shared on Instagram who posted “fun times at work.”

This post is part of our daily Search Photo of the Day column, where we find fun and interesting photos related to the search industry and share them with our readers.





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Turn Dry Data Into Rich, Relatable Stories With These Tips

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Turn Dry Data Into Rich, Relatable Stories With These Tips


One of the best things about being a content writer is that no matter the topic, we have a lot of insights at our fingertips. You can use it to provide perspective, validate ideas, give more context, etc.

Of course, all that data also is one of the worst things for a content writer. How do you dig out the story behind the numbers without getting buried under the mountains of facts and stats?

At Stacker, we shape our newswire stories around data and use it to drive all our storytelling. We’ve found the best-performing articles – regardless of topic – share similar strategic data-centered approaches. Here’s some of what we learned by creating data-driven content that engages audiences and earns links from other sites.

Go local and meet readers where they are

A story tailored to a region, state, or city feels instantly relatable and captures the attention of readers’ living in that geographic area. In fact, 71% of our publishing partners say their most-prioritized stories have local news angles.

Narrowing data-driven stories to a state or metro level may seem limiting. Content writers think the more hyper-focused a story, the smaller the reach. But presenting localized data doesn’t have to be an either-or choice.

#Content writers can use data to give stories both a hyper-local and national appeal, says @Stacker’s Elisa Huang via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

CNBC didn’t make a choice in their story about how much the top 1% of U.S. households earn each year. It mentioned the broadest geographic figure – the national number ($597,815 a year on average). Then it detailed the average for each state, from West Virginia’s $350,000 to Connecticut’s $896,490.

CNBC gives its data-driven story national and hyper-local appeal.

One of our top-performing stories for a brand partner looked at the rural hospitals most at risk of closing. It broke down the status of rural hospitals over 43 states, then distilled local versions that would feel most meaningful for targeted audiences from California to New York.

Takeaway: Data at a state- or city-level can have local appeal while still connecting to a newsy national trend. It also opens up your content’s promotion potential to national and local news sites.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Host a hometown showdown by comparing data

People love comparing their corner of the world with others. A recent Redfin report found an unprecedented 8% of U.S. homes are now worth at least $1 million. The story didn’t just reveal the top five or 10 cities but ranked 99 so readers can see how million-dollar neighborhoods compare to other million-dollar neighborhoods.

In this snippet of the comparison content, six of the cities are in California – half of which have a 50% or greater share of homes worth at least $1 million in 2022. Other cities at the top of the list include Honolulu, Seattle, and New York City.

A snippet from Redfin’s story that ranks home price data by state.

When people can see their cities’ results juxtaposed with others, it puts the information into a more powerful context. Ranking stories, such as states with the lowest income taxes or the cities with the highest rent, often perform well.

Ranking stories – where readers can see how their locale compares to others – perform well, says @Stacker’s Elisa Huang via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Writing headlines with phrases like “highest-to-lowest,” “biggest increase,” and “lowest-priced” also signals to readers the underlying numbers-driven methodology used in the content. They not only reinforce the data-first approach, but they build confidence in the prospective reader that the content is powered by data, not opinion.

Takeaway: Use data-driven rankings to tap into readers’ curiosity by showing how their region compares with others in timely trends.

Let time tell the story by thinking past the latest data

Many content creators understandably focus on building a story around the latest numbers or study results to be relevant and trendy.

But pulling in a bit of history through older data sets can add a richer dimension to the storytelling. Not only does historic information add more context to the latest data or breaking news, but it helps the piece become more evergreen. Long after a news headline fades, readers may be still interested in the richly layered content.

Historical data can lead to a more relevant story today, says @Stacker’s Elisa Huang via @CMIContent. #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

We did this with a story about how commuting in America changed over the past 50 years.

Stacker used historical data to highlight how the American commute has changed over time.

Without adding historical data, it would have been impossible to highlight that the average length of work commutes has increased 10% since 2006. This contextualization offers a perspective that wouldn’t be possible by only detailing the current average commute time.

Self, a credit-building app, mapped poverty levels state by state using data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Instead of just mapping the country with the latest poverty rates for each state, the story also charted the rates over time. With this valuable context, readers could see how states’ poverty rates rose and sank after natural disasters, financial booms and busts, and ultimately COVID-19, giving a more thoughtful story that identified contributors to those poverty rate changes.

Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce tackled the value of higher education with another data-centered approach: It looked at the salaries of college graduates in 10-year increments since their enrollment. The findings, picked up by Yahoo! Finance and others, assessed how many decades it took for a student to earn a return on investment on the cost of their college.

Takeaway: Using data over time can add richer context to what numbers mean today – and make the content feel more evergreen.

Liven up humdrum stories with different data filters

Data-driven stories emphasize relatability – they can connect better with your audience and often present a new angle that stands out from your same old story approaches. You can find local angles, make a comparison, and use historical data to provide unique context.

Unsure what data to start with? Poke around government sites like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Education. They can be great places to dig into and see how national-level data looks when filtered across industries, career fields, household incomes, metropolitan areas, and more. By adding focused data to your content, you can tell stories that feel more personalized – and meaningful – to your readers.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute





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Drive Online Sales With These 5 Search Optimizations

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Drive Online Sales With These 5 Search Optimizations


Remember when you had to leave the house to go shopping? What a hassle that was.

But then, way back in 1982, Boston Computer Exchange was launched as the first ecommerce site and the convenience of shopping in your underwear was born.

Today, electronic commerce, the buying, and selling of products and services on the internet is a massive part of the global economy.

In 2021, more than 2.14 billion people worldwide bought something online. And in the U.S., ecommerce sales for just the first quarter of 2022 totaled $250 billion.

We’ve come a long way from those early days of local used computer sales.

These days, you can find everything from shoes to mechanic services to $5,000 heart-shaped potatoes for sale with just a few clicks of the mouse. And nearly every business of every type has a website through which they’re selling their goods and services.

And while that’s really good for shoppers, if you’re an ecommerce retailer, that means you’re facing a lot of competition.

How do you stand out? How can you not only get people on your product pages but turn them into customers? It’s no small task.

But you’re in the right place.

In this article, you’ll find five essential ways you should optimize your ecommerce website for maximum exposure and ROI. Ready to get started? Scroll on.

1. Your Homepage Is Where The Heart Is

Your most-trafficked page, it’s often the first thing any visitor to your website will come across.

It sets the tone for your business, starts the conversion funnel, highlights sales or new products, and directs people to other parts of your site.

Of course, we’re talking about your homepage. And the first step to optimizing your ecommerce site to maximize sales is to make sure your homepage is living up to its weighty role.

Make Navigation Easy

One major issue you’ll want to tackle immediately when optimizing your homepage is navigation.

You want to make it easy and efficient for visitors (and search engine crawlers) to find your content. There should be clear direction as to where the content they want lives.

And a key part of that is using a prominent navigation bar.

In addition to helping users quickly navigate between parts of your site, the navigation bar is also a great opportunity to highlight specific parts of your website, for example, your best-selling product line.

Your homepage also should have an effective and prominent tagline.

Your tagline is a short, usually eight- to 12-word phrase that connects your company with its audience.

Sometimes mistakenly called a slogan (slogans are campaign-specific, taglines are brand-specific), taglines are something too many ecommerce retailers overlook – which is a mistake.

Many first-time visitors to your website will only give it a quick scan.

A descriptive and memorable tagline will help them quickly understand what your site is about and compel them to dive deeper. This leads us to our next point:

Content Is Still King

At the end of the day, content is still the single most important factor of your homepage or any page for that matter.

People are using the internet to find a particular product or solution.

If you offer what they need, you can convert them into sales – provided they land on your page and not your competition’s.

That starts with search engine optimization (SEO). And SEO starts with keywords.

Identify which words and phrases your target audience is looking for and include them organically in your copy. (That is, don’t force them where they don’t belong. This is called keyword stuffing and it can negatively impact your Google ranking.)

Have trouble identifying which keywords are most important? Search Engine Journal has a webinar that will help you determine and implement a keyword research strategy.

There are also a number of free tools you can use to help you decide what language needs to be included on your homepage.

Once you have your keyword strategy down, you can sit back and relax and watch the sales come rolling in, right? Of course not. You’re just getting started.

Next, you should think about the visual assets on your homepage.

Are you using generic stock photos to add visual interest or are you using this valuable web real estate to promote products? Smart ecommerce website operators will choose the latter.

You don’t need to include images of every single product you offer (and in fact, that’s probably a terrible idea), but using prominent images of your best-sellers on your homepage is very important. And make sure clicking on these images directs users to that product’s page.

Don’t underestimate the importance of using internal links. Create links to your most important pages directly from your homepage.

This could be a product category page or a link to your best-selling item. They could be in the navigation bar, the page’s footer, the content, or some combination of the three.

Another best practice is to make sure you’ve created a breadcrumb trail users (and search engine bots) can use to find their way back to the homepage.

For some examples of what a great homepage looks like, click here.

2. It’s All About The Products

The purpose of your ecommerce site is to make sales.

To achieve this, your product pages need to compel visitors to make purchases. Your product pages give you the perfect opportunity to control the narrative around each item you’re selling, which can make a big difference.

Here are some tips to make your product pages exceptional.

What’s In A Name?

Words can be very powerful. Your goal is to use that power to influence buying decisions. And that starts with your product titles.

It sounds deceptively easy, but it takes practice and A/B testing to get right.

Exactly what works for you will vary based on your industry, product, and audience, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Use the right language. This doesn’t mean companies selling in Portugal should make sure all their product descriptions are all in Portuguese (though that is important), but rather that you’re using the same type of tone, words, and expressions your targets are. Write so the audience can understand you. And don’t forget your keywords!
  •  Use the right format. This will probably take some trial and error but is worth the effort. Find the length and the format that resonates the best with your potential customers. For example, you may find your perfect format is brand + size + color. Other factors you may include based on performance and product include product line, color, flavor, model number, and package size/quantity.
  • Make your description complementary. Every product title should have a corresponding and complementary product description. Using search keywords, write an interesting description that avoids generic platitudes. For best results, remember the old copywriting adage: “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” That means your descriptions should focus on the benefit to the customer, not the features of the product.

Get Meta

The meta description is the small blurb of copy that shows up under a link to your website in search engine results.

This is often your first opportunity to attract a customer.

The better your meta description, the more likely a searcher will click through to your site. And that dramatically increases your chances to make a sale.

Use keywords in your brand’s unique voice to create effective meta descriptions.

Make sure you’re specifically targeting the product’s targets with each page’s meta description, rather than using a general blurb about your company.

For more tips on creating the type of meta descriptions that generate traffic, click here.

Show Them What You’ve Got

Product images are vital because they show shoppers exactly what they’re in the market for.

The first thing visitors to your product pages will notice, they draw attention and trigger emotions in viewers. They also help them subconsciously envision the impact they will have on their lives.

Show them different aspects of the product, including different angles or “action shots” of it in use.

A video is also a useful tool, though not everyone will want to watch even short clips, so use them as complementary features.

Images are also a factor in your SEO ranking – and can both help and hurt you.

To ensure you’re getting the most from the visuals on your product pages, you should optimize your images for faster loading.

Not sure how to do that? Don’t worry, we’ve got just the thing. Click here for six tips for optimizing images for your ecommerce site.

Make Sure The Price Is Right

While bells and whistles that differentiate your product from the competition are nice and can play a role in purchasing decisions, many times, what determines if you get the sale is one thing: pricing.

But it’s not always about having the lowest price.

In fact, charging too little for your products can hurt the perception of your brand, as customers will assume they’re getting what they paid for, that is, cheap junk.

Try to find that sweet spot where you make the highest profit from the most sales.

And to help customers overcome analysis paralysis, give them side-by-side pricing comparisons.

This helps facilitate decision-making by allowing visitors to compare their options in one place. And nothing makes a price seem lower than showing it right next to a premium option that significantly costs more.

Another trick, which you’ve undoubtedly already aware of is so-called “charm pricing,” or ending prices with $.99.

The rational part of the customer’s brain knows there’s no real difference between a product that costs $299.99 and another that costs $300, but studies have shown most people judge prices by the leftmost digit. Use this psychological trick to your advantage.

Don’t Take Our Word For It

There’s a reason Amazon features reviews so highly on its product pages – they work.

Consumers trust and rely upon the opinions of people who have already bought your offering.

But, did you know customers who interact with reviews are 58% more likely to convert? That alone should be enough to convince you to add them to your product pages.

Other Tips

Another thing you don’t want to neglect on your product page is calls to action (CTAs).

The first thing most salespeople are taught is if you want the sale, you must ask for it.

Make sure you’re providing clear CTAs on your product pages, for example, a large button that reads “Buy Now.”

And if you sell out of a particular item, do NOT deactivate the link.

By keeping it live, you avoid it being identified as a broken link and dinging your SEO score. Simply indicate that this product is currently out of stock.

3. Don’t Ignore Usability

If you want to make sales, your ecommerce site must be user-friendly.

Without well-designed UX/UI (that is, user experience and user interaction), people will navigate away before you can pitch your product, let alone make a sale.

Minimize your bounce rate by ensuring your homepage avoids common UX pitfalls.

Solve Your Technical Issues

Before you do anything else, you need to make sure your website loads quickly for every user.

Within three seconds, and ideally less, your homepage should display its content to visitors.

If not, users, especially mobile users, are likely to become frustrated and look for another digital merchant.

For more information on how to evaluate and speed up your loading time, this article can help.

And speaking of mobile users, your site absolutely must be responsive.

Phones accounted for 54.4% of global web traffic last year and that number keeps growing. If your homepage isn’t responsive, you’re losing potential customers.

Consider How Your Site Is Being Used

While not everyone will use your website the same way, there should be a general path most users follow.

Identify this and make sure the steps are clear. And remember, from time to time, people will get lost. Make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for by including a search bar.

Don’t forget to tell your company’s story.

The “About Us” page is more than a chance to brag about how great you are, it’s also a chance to share your history, your values, and your services.

For more tips on creating a top-notch About Us page, check out these examples.

And sometimes, your customers will need to speak to a real person, whether over the phone or via email.

Make sure you have a contact page that doesn’t require a lot of searching to find. Make sure your phone number and email address are listed, so you can be reached with questions, concerns, exchanges, and the like.

4. Blog Your Way To Sales

Does your ecommerce site have a blog? It should.

And no, that short-lived personal blog about inconsistencies in the Star Wars universe you ran 10 years ago isn’t going to cut it. You need a dedicated business blog discussing topics relevant to your products and customers.

There are several reasons blogging is important, not least of all from an SEO point of view.

Creating new posts means you’re creating new content, which signals to search engines your site is active. It’s also a means to generate those all-important backlinks.

A quality blog also helps establish your reputation as an authority in your niche, contributes to your brand image, and even decreases bounce rate.

Make your blog an asset to your ecommerce site by creating and implementing a good content strategy built on three key factors: people, technology, and process.

And remember, your blog is your chance to show off your personality. Because it’s a more informal conversation with customers than other, more rigid marketing materials, you can have more fun.

Create the kind of posts that show you’re passionate about your products and happy to share your expertise.

And don’t forget the social media share buttons (which are also an excellent idea for product pages). This allows people to spread your posts outside of your normal audience, generating more exposure and ideally leading to more sales.

Looking for inspiration? Here are nine ecommerce companies doing blogging the right way.

5. Build A Solid Structure

We’ve touched on different aspects of your ecommerce site’s structure so far, but it’s so important it deserves its own section.

One rule you should live by is that all your content should be accessible to visitors within three clicks from your homepage.

Any more than that, and you run a very real risk of customers abandoning the journey.

On that note, your purchasing process should be as streamlined as possible.

Use the minimum number of pages possible to complete a transaction and keep your checkout page simple and straightforward.

Make sure it is always clear to customers where they are in the checkout process.

Have you ever noticed how many e-retailers use the shopping cart icon in the top right corner of their pages? That’s because it works. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Make sure your URL structure is logical and easy to follow.

For example, a product web address of www.example.com/manufacturer/category/item will get more clicks from search engine results pages than www.example.com/01178/iadtttkyu.

Build your entire site around a solid, easy-to-find, easy-to-navigate sitemap, and make sure it’s optimized to be indexed by search engine crawlers, so your pages show up in search engine results.

Finally, because you’re dealing with financial transactions, make sure you’re using adequate security measures.

Make sure your ecommerce site is hosted on a secure platform and consider adding two-factor authentication to prevent purchases made with stolen user credentials.

You should only collect and store the personal data you need.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, there is no one magic bullet that will work for every ecommerce business.

What works for an organic dried mushroom merchant is not guaranteed to work for a video game reseller. And what works for the video game store may not work for a beauty brand. It’s up to you to find what works.

However, armed with the knowledge you’ve gained in this article, you should be prepared to begin taking steps to optimize your own ecommerce site.

Above all, remember what your site is trying to accomplish: selling specific products to specific targets.

If you can keep potential customers in mind, while tweaking some technical things to boost your search engine results and smooth out the customer journey, you’re doing all you can to set your business on the path to success.

Happy selling!

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