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10 Things that DO NOT (Directly) Affect Your Google Rankings – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

What do the age of your site, your headline H1/H2 preference, bounce rate, and shared hosting all have in common? You might’ve gotten a hint from the title: not a single one of them directly affects your Google rankings. In this rather comforting Whiteboard Friday, Rand lists out ten factors commonly thought to influence your rankings that Google simply doesn’t care about.

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10 Things that do not affect your Google rankings

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about things that do not affect your Google rankings.

So it turns out lots of people have this idea that anything and everything that you do with your website or on the web could have an impact. Well, some things have an indirect impact and maybe even a few of these do. I’ll talk through those. But tons and tons of things that you do don’t directly affect your Google rankings. So I’ll try and walk through some of these that I’ve heard or seen questions about, especially in the recent past.

1. The age of your website.

First one, longstanding debate: the age of your website. Does Google care if you registered your site in 1998 or 2008 or 2016? No, they don’t care at all. They only care the degree to which your content actually helps people and that you have links and authority signals and those kinds of things. Granted, it is true there’s correlation going in this direction. If you started a site in 1998 and it’s still going strong today, chances are good that you’ve built up lots of links and authority and equity and all these kinds of signals that Google does care about.

But maybe you’ve just had a very successful first two years, and you only registered your site in 2015, and you’ve built up all those same signals. Google is actually probably going to reward that site even more, because it’s built up the same authority and influence in a very small period of time versus a much longer one.

2. Whether you do or don’t use Google apps and services.

So people worry that, “Oh, wait a minute. Can’t Google sort of monitor what’s going on with my Google Analytics account and see all my data there and AdSense? What if they can look inside Gmail or Google Docs?”

Google, first off, the engineers who work on these products and the engineers who work on search, most of them would quit right that day if they discovered that Google was peering into your Gmail account to discover that you had been buying shady links or that you didn’t look as authoritative as you really were on the web or these kinds of things. So don’t fear the use of these or the decision not to use them will hurt or harm your rankings in Google web search in any way. It won’t.

3. Likes, shares, plus-ones, tweet counts of your web pages.

So you have a Facebook counter on there, and it shows that you have 17,000 shares on that page. Wow, that’s a lot of shares. Does Google care? No, they don’t care at all. In fact, they’re not even looking at that or using it. But what if it turns out that many of those people who shared it on Facebook also did other activities that resulted in lots of browser activity and search activity, click-through activity, increased branding, lower pogo-sticking rates, brand preference for you in the search results, and links? Well, Google does care about a lot of those things. So indirectly, this can have an impact. Directly, no. Should you buy 10,000 Facebook shares? No, you should not.

4. What about raw bounce rate or time on site?

Well, this is sort of an interesting one. Let’s say you have a time on site of two minutes, and you look at your industry averages, your benchmarks, maybe via Google Analytics if you’ve opted in to sharing there, and you see that your industry benchmarks are actually lower than average. Is that going to hurt you in Google web search? Not necessarily. It could be the case that those visitors are coming from elsewhere. It could be the case that you are actually serving up a faster-loading site and you’re getting people to the information that they need more quickly, and so their time on site is slightly lower or maybe even their bounce rate is higher.

But so long as pogo-sticking type of activity, people bouncing back to the search results and choosing a different result because you didn’t actually answer their query, so long as that remains fine, you’re not in trouble here. So raw bounce rate, raw time on site, I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

5. The tech under your site’s hood.

Are you using certain JavaScript libraries like Node or React, one is Facebook, one is Google. If you use Facebook’s, does Google give you a hard time about it? No. Facebook might, due to patent issues, but anyway we won’t worry about that. .NET or what if you’re coding up things in raw HTML still? Just fine. It doesn’t matter. If Google can crawl each of these URLs and see the unique content on there and the content that Google sees and the content visitors see is the same, they don’t care what’s being used under the hood to deliver that to the browser.

6. Having or not having a knowledge panel on the right-hand side of the search results.

Sometimes you get that knowledge panel, and it shows around the web and some information sometimes from Wikipedia. What about site links, where you search for your brand name and you get branded site links? The first few sets of results are all from your own website, and they’re sort of indented. Does that impact your rankings? No, it does not. It doesn’t impact your rankings for any other search query anyway.

It could be that showing up here and it probably is that showing up here means you’re going to get a lot more of these clicks, a higher share of those clicks, and it’s a good thing. But does this impact your rankings for some other totally unbranded query to your site? No, it doesn’t at all. I wouldn’t stress too much. Over time, sites tend to build up site links and knowledge panels as their brands become bigger and as they become better known and as they get more coverage around the web and online and offline. So this is not something to stress about.

7. What about using shared hosting or some of the inexpensive hosting options out there?

Well, directly, this is not going to affect you unless it hurts load speed or up time. If it doesn’t hurt either of those things and they’re just as good as they were before or as they would be if you were paying more or using solo hosting, you’re just fine. Don’t worry about it.

8. Use of defaults that Google already assumes.

So when Google crawls a site, when they come to a site, if you don’t have a robots.txt file, or you have a robots.txt file but it doesn’t include any exclusions, any disallows, or they reach a page and it has no meta robots tag, they’re just going to assume that they get to crawl everything and that they should follow all the links.

Using things like the meta robots “index, follow” or using, on an individual link, a rel=follow inside the href tag, or in your robots.txt file specifying that Google can crawl everything, doesn’t boost anything. They just assume all those things by default. Using them in these places, saying yes, you can do the default thing, doesn’t give you any special benefit. It doesn’t hurt you, but it gives you no benefit. Google just doesn’t care.

9. Characters that you use as separators in your title element.

So the page title element sits in the header of a document, and it could be something like your brand name and then a separator and some words and phrases after it, or the other way around, words and phrases, separator, the brand name. Does it matter if that separator is the pipe bar or a hyphen or a colon or any other special character that you would like to use? No, Google does not care. You don’t need to worry about it. This is a personal preference issue.

Now, maybe you’ve found that one of these characters has a slightly better click-through rate and preference than another one. If you’ve found that, great. We have not seen one broadly on the web. Some people will say they particularly like the pipe over the hyphen. I don’t think it matters too much. I think it’s up to you.

10. What about using headlines and the H1, H2, H3 tags?

Well, I’ve heard this said: If you put your headline inside an H2 rather than an H1, Google will consider it a little less important. No, that is definitely not true. In fact, I’m not even sure the degree to which Google cares at all whether you use H1s or H2s or H3s, or whether they just look at the content and they say, “Well, this one is big and at the top and bold. That must be the headline, and that’s how we’re going to treat it. This one is lower down and smaller. We’re going to say that’s probably a sub-header.”

Whether you use an H5 or an H2 or an H3, that is your CSS on your site and up to you and your designers. It is still best practices in HTML to make sure that the headline, the biggest one is the H1. I would do that for design purposes and for having nice clean HTML and CSS, but I wouldn’t stress about it from Google’s perspective. If your designers tell you, “Hey, we can’t get that headline in H1. We’ve got to use the H2 because of how our style sheets are formatted.” Fine. No big deal. Don’t stress.

Normally on Whiteboard Friday, we would end right here. But today, I’d like to ask. These 10 are only the tip of the iceberg. So if you have others that you’ve seen people say, “Oh, wait a minute, is this a Google ranking factor?” and you think to yourself, “Ah, jeez, no, that’s not a ranking factor,” go ahead and leave them in the comments. We’d love to see them there and chat through and list all the different non-Google ranking factors.

Thanks, everyone. See you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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5 Can’t-Miss Sessions at #INBOUND17

It’s that time of year again, Inbounders!

Between September 25 and 28, marketers of all walks will descend on Boston for HubSpot’s annual celebration of “the human, helpful side of business.” This year’s INBOUND keynotes promise to be unbelievable (again), with speakers as wide ranging as former First Lady Michelle Obama and WWE star John Cena.

inbound 2017 wordstream sponsor 

In addition to the inspiration and insight shared by the bevy of engaging speakers, there are more than 300 breakout sessions (including one from our founder, Larry Kim).

While you might already have your week planned, we figured it couldn’t hurt to pull together a short list of paid search and social themed sessions. Oh, and don’t forget to stop by the WordStream booth and say hello between sessions (more on that at the end of the post)!

#1: Data-Driven Remarketing: 3 Funnel Flipping Insights for Targeting Your Personas

Michael Bartholow is slated to deliver the only AdWords-centric session at Inbound, and it’s a must-attend.

inbound 2017 sales funnel tactics 

Getting prospects to click your ads once is hard enough; this makes remarketing part art part science, but 100% necessary if you want to maximize the value of AdWords. Michael will walk you through how to create custom audiences that target your site visitors with key messaging. Strategies for CVR-optimization through remarketing will include Customer Match, Custom Audience Segments and RLSA.

They’re calling this one a high-level session, so have your pen and paper ready.

Data-Driven Remarketing: 3 Funnel Flipping Insights for Targeting Your Personas

#2: How to Win at B2B Facebook Marketing

B2B Facebook marketing looks to be a tough nut to crack. Even if you’re skilled in the ways of audience creation, organic presence, and advertising, it can still take a lot of work to convince clients that Facebook is a viable advertising channel. Michael Hard, owner of Aquaspresso, will present “a step by step approach on how all B2B can start using Facebook effectively to generate leads and sales for their business.”

inbound 2017 breakout session facebook ads 

Whether you’re in-house or work at an agency, this could be a great way to pick up tips on selling your boss or client on a new strategy (note that there will be an encore of this session: there’s no excuse not to check it out).

How to Win at B2B Facebook Marketing

#3: The Top 10 Facebook and Twitter Content Promotion Hacks of 2017

The man needs no introduction.

Larry will present 10 ways you can amplify your reach on Facebook without spending an arm and a leg. With a combination of ingenious audience-creation insights and content promotion tactics, he’ll help your SMB or agency ball on a budget.

inbound 2017 larry kim breakout session 

The best part? Every hack makes use of some feature added to Facebook within the last year. Expect actionable advice and unicorns for days (this one’s got an encore scheduled as well)

The Top 10 Facebook and Twitter Content Promotion Hacks of 2017

#4: What I’ve Learned About Paid Ads from Spending Millions on Facebook

While you might not have millions to spend of Facebook advertising, you can learn a ton from the folks who can. Take advantage of this opportunity to hear from a veteran who has spent more than $50 million on behalf of Inbound’s organizer, HubSpot.

inbound 2017 facebook big spender breakout 

Paid Acquisition manager Rex Gleb will dish on what’s worked (and, more importantly, what hasn’t), arming attendees with enough knowledge to leave his session ready to make the world’s most popular social network sing.

What I’ve Learned About Paid Ads from Spending Millions on Facebook

#5: Get More Leads from Content with Facebook Lead Ads

Facebook’s Louis Moynihan and HubSpot’s Lars Osterberg will be speaking about something near and dear to my heart: Facebook lead ads.

inbound 2017 facebook lead ads breakout 

While it seems the primary focus of this breakout session will be to highlight HubSpot’s new-ish Facebook integration, it won’t hurt to hear about lead ads straight from the horse’s mouth. If you’re struggling to increase lead quality and improve ROI with Facebook ads, this session is for you.

Get More Leads from Content with Facebook Lead Ads

Where to Find WordStream at Inbound

If you’re looking to improves your AdWords account, get started with Facebook ads, or simply say hello, just look for the WordStream logo near the center lounge.

A small army of WordStreamers wearing great shirts will be at booth S22 ready and waiting to share insights talk PPC.

wordstream booth s22 inbound 2017 

And if you’re looking for something to do in the Seaport after your first full day at Inbound…

Tuesday Happy Hour at Papagayo

Love networking with fellow marketers and sipping margaritas? Let us buy you a drink.

wordstream event inbound 2017 papagayo 

WordStream, G2Crowd, & SnapApp are sponsoring a FIESTA for attendees on Tuesday, 9/26 at 6:30 PM. 

Papagayo is just a short walk from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (the address is 282 Summer Street). If you plan to attend, please register here!

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How to Prioritize SEO Tasks [+Worksheet]

Posted by BritneyMuller

“Where should a company start [with SEO]?” asked an attendee after my AMA Conference talk.

As my mind spun into a million different directions and I struggled to form complete sentences, I asked for a more specific website example. A healthy discussion ensued after more direction was provided, but these “Where do I start?” questions occur all the time in digital marketing.

SEOs especially are in a constant state of overwhelmed-ness (is that a word?), but no one likes to talk about this. It’s not comfortable to discuss the thousands of errors that came back after a recent site crawl. It’s not fun to discuss the drop in organic traffic that you can’t explain. It’s not possible to stay on top of every single news update, international change, case study, tool, etc. It’s exhausting and without a strategic plan of attack, you’ll find yourself in the weeds.

I’ve performed strategic SEO now for both clients and in-house marketing teams, and the following five methods have played a critical role in keeping my head above water.

First, I had to source this question on Twitter:

http://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Here was some of the best feedback from true industry leaders:

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 1.59.39 PM.png

Murat made a solid distinction between working with an SMBs versus a large companies:

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 2.03.26 PM.png

This is sad, but so true (thanks, Jeff!):

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 2.00.16 PM.png

To help you get started, I put together an SEO prioritization worksheet in Google Sheets. Make yourself a copy (File > Make a copy) and go wild!:

Free SEO prioritization workflow sheet

TLDR;

  1. Agree upon & set specific goals
  2. Identify important pages for conversions
  3. Perform a site crawl to uncover technical opportunities
  4. Employ Covey’s time management grid
  5. Provide consistent benchmarks and reports

#1 Start with the end in mind

What is the end goal? You can have multiple goals (both macro and micro), but establishing a specific primary end goal is critical.

The only way to agree upon an end goal is to have a strong understanding of your client’s business. I’ve always relied on these new client questions to help me wrap my head around a new client’s business.

[Please leave a comment if you have other favorite client questions!]

This not only helps you become way more strategic in your efforts, but also shows that you care.

Fun fact: I used to use an alias to sign up for my client’s medical consultations online to see what the process was like. What automated emails did they send after someone made an appointment? What are people required to bring into a consult? What is a consult like? How does a consult make someone feel?

Clients were always disappointed when I arrived for the in-person consult, but happy that my team and I were doing our research!

Goal setting tips:

Measurable

Seems obvious, but it’s essential to stay on track and set benchmarks along the way.

Be specific

Don’t let vague marketing jargon find its way into your goals. Be specific.

Share your goals

A study performed by Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found that writing down and sharing your goals boosts your chances of achieving them.

Have a stretch goal

“Under-promise and over-deliver” is a great rule of thumb for clients, but setting private stretch goals (nearly impossible to achieve) can actually help you achieve more. Research found that when people set specific, challenging goals it led to higher performance 90% of the time.

#2 Identify important pages for conversions

There are a couple ways you can do this in Google Analytics.

Behavior Flow is a nice visualization for common page paths which deserve your attention, but it doesn’t display specific conversion paths very well.

Behavior flow google analytic report

It’s interesting to click on page destination goals to get a better idea of where people come into that page from and where they abandon it to:

behavior flow page path in google analytics

Reverse Goal Paths are a great way to discover which page funnels are the most successful for conversions and which could use a little more love:

Reverse goal path report in google analytics

If you want to know which pages have the most last-touch assists, create a Custom Report > Flat Table > Dimension: Goal Previous Step – 1 > Metric: Goal Completions > Save

Last touch page report in google analytics

Then you’ll see the raw data for your top last-touch pages:

Top pages report in Google Analytics

Side note: If the Marketing Services page is driving the second most assists, it’s a great idea to see where else on the site you can naturally weave in Marketing Services Page CTAs.

The idea here is to simply get an idea of which page funnels are working, which are not, and take these pages into high consideration when prioritizing SEO opportunities.

If you really want to become a conversion funnel ninja, check out this awesome Google Analytics Conversion Funnel Survival Guide by Kissmetrics.

#3 Crawl your site for issues

While many of us audit parts of a website by hand, we nearly all rely on a site crawl tool (or two) to uncover sneaky technical issues.

Some of my favorites:

I really like Moz Pro, DeepCrawl, and Raven for their automated re-crawling. I’m alerted anytime new issues arise (and they always do). Just last week, I got a Moz Pro email about these new pages that are now redirecting to a 4XX because we moved some Learning Center pages around and missed a few redirects (whoops!):

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 9.33.40 PM.png

An initial website crawl can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful. I get anxiety just thinking about a recent Moz site crawl: 54,995 pages with meta noindex, 60,995 pages without valid canonical, 41,234 without an <h1>… you get the idea. Ermahgerd!! Where do you start?!

This is where a time management grid comes in handy.

#4 Employ Covey’s time management grid

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 12.04.15 PM.png

Time management and prioritization is hard, and many of us fall into “Urgent” traps.

Putting out small, urgent SEO fires might feel effective in the short term, but you’ll often fall into productivity-killing rabbit holes. Don’t neglect the non-urgent important items!

Prioritize and set time aside for those non-urgent yet important tasks, like writing short, helpful, unique, click-enticing title tags for all primary pages.

Here’s an example of some SEO issues that fall into each of the above 4 categories:

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 12.03.55 PM.png

To help prioritize Not Urgent/Important issues for maximum effectiveness here at Moz, I’m scheduling time to address high-volume crawl errors.

Moz.com’s largest issues (highlighted by Moz Pro) are meta noindex. However, most of these are intentional.

Screen Shot 2017-06-16 at 2.41.12 PM.png

You also want to consider prioritizing any issues on the primary page flows that we discovered earlier. You can also sort issues by shallow crawl depth (fewer clicks from homepage, which are often primary pages to focus on):

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 12.44.50 PM.png

#5 Reporting & communication

Consistently reporting your efforts on increasing your client’s bottom line is critical for client longevity.

Develop a custom SEO reporting system that’s aligned with your client’s KPIs for every stage of your campaign. A great place to start is with a basic Google Analytics Custom Report that you can customize further for your client:

While traffic, search visibility, engagement, conversions, etc. get all of the reporting love, don’t forget about the not-so-tangible metrics. Are customers less frustrated navigating the new website? How does the new site navigation make a user feel? This type of monitoring and reporting can also be done through kickass tools like Lucky Orange or Mechanical Turk.

Lastly, reporting is really about communication and understanding people. Most of you have probably had a client who prefers a simple summary paragraph of your report, and that’s ok too.

Hopefully these tips can help you work smarter, not harder.

Image result for biker becomes a rocket gif

Don’t miss your site’s top technical SEO opportunities:

Crawl your site with Moz Pro

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8 Popular Landing Page Designs: Which Types Work Best?

“I told you guys there would be blood, sweat, tears. I told you guys he was a hell of a fighter standing up — kinda shocked me.”

That quote comes from Floyd Mayweather, following his recent bout with Conor McGregor. Mayweather walked away from the fight with at least $100 million, while McGregor pocketed a mere $30 million.

Landing page designs Mayweather McGregor fight

Image via Esther Lin/Showtime

All kidding aside, the idea came to me: Designers and marketers are always debating what types of landing pages work best. Minimalist design? How much copy? Why not square landing page designs off in a series of fights?

So check out eight popular landing page design types, their pros and cons, how they compare, and what might happen if they duked it out in a ring.

Short-Form Landing Pages Vs. Long-Form Landing Pages

Tired of the never-ending debate between these two? I am. So, I’m putting the tension between these landing page types to rest. Once and for all.

Short-form landing pages work better for minor asks. That usually means an email address or small purchase.

For example, Michael Aagard found a Swedish gym chain boosted sales 11% with a shorter landing page:

Landing page designs A/B test example 

Image via ConversionXL

Note: 249 Swedish Krona equals about $31.

So when short-form and long-form landing pages square off, short-form pages win with smaller asks. However, depending on what you sell, you may not know what “small” means to your market. Test if you’re not sure.

Short-form delivers a surprisingly painful blow to the chest early into the match.

Conversion Rate Experts puts long-form landing pages to the forefront, as they helped Moz (then SEOmoz) generate an additional $1 million in yearly revenue with a long-form landing page.

To make it happen, they talked with paying Moz subscribers, free trial members, and paying members who canceled. They also spoke with Rand Fishkin, who explained how he sold in person with ease.

Eventually, they came up with a landing page, oh, about seven times or so longer than the original:

Landing page designs Moz longform landing page example 

Image via Conversion Rate Experts

…And long-form landing pages pop right back with an equally wicked counterpunch. In this case, the offer is software, which usually requires more commitment from the buyer, so they might want more information before making a decision. This is where longer landing pages shine.

Note that cost is not the only variable here. Sometimes even a free offer requires more context. WordStream tested short and long versions of the landing page for its AdWords Grader and found that the long version performed much better. This is a free tool, but in this case, prospects wanted more information before connecting their AdWords accounts – so the page is built out with plenty of info to build trust (like testimonials).

This harkens back to an important lesson from the legendary business book Built to Last by Jim Collins and his research team. The book compiles years of research that shows what companies who survive the test of time do versus those who fade into obscurity.

Great companies reject what was called the “Tyranny of the OR.” Instead, they embrace the “Genius of the AND,” which refers to their ability to incorporate two extreme dimensions into their operations simultaneously.

And this situation certainly demonstrates how that principle applies to short- and long-form landing pages. Vary the length of your landing page depending on the cost and/or complexity of your offer. (And always test.)

Video Landing Pages Vs. Static Landing Pages

What marketer doesn’t love those cool, auto-playing video backgrounds? By the way, here’s 50 for you to check out.

Hey, I love them too. But videos don’t make everyone happy.

In particular, B2B buyers do not care for video backgrounds. The 2015 B2B Web Usability Report found 33% say “automatic audio/video” is the most common reason they leave a website:

Landing page designs reasons why people leave websites 

Image via KoMarketing (PDF)

The same report later details how B2B buyers don’t like websites loaded with distractions. They want to focus, research, and learn so they can make a valuable business decision.

But you’ll notice, that doesn’t mean they don’t like video at all. The report didn’t include any data on video that doesn’t play automatically. Since it specifically mentions “video that plays automatically,” it’s safe to assume B2B buyers don’t mind video – as long as they have controls.

Automatically playing video backgrounds also don’t work when you need to make a complex sale, Unbounce found. Again, they distract. Specifically, they keep visitors from reading your above-the-fold messaging.

Shockingly, video backgrounds take a powerful blow between the eyes to begin the match.

So…do video backgrounds ever work?

Yes.

That same post from Unbounce found they do well when you want to communicate a certain feeling. For example, you want to invite people to a conference, performing arts event, or restaurant.

And what about when you have video that only plays with controls? It raises conversions dramatically.

Data from Kissmetrics reports:

  • Organizational housewares retailer Stacks And Stacks found consumers who watched video were 144% more likely to buy than those who didn’t.
  • Advance Auto Parts found instructional and how-to videos led to visitors staying on-site twice as long and visiting twice as many pages as those who didn’t watch videos.

Video lands a flurry of quick jabs.

But what about plain ol’ static web pages? Why would you use those, without any video at all?

LeadPages published a test run by Gary and James Michaels from StrategicShape.com  to find out. The offer was a song download, and one version of the landing page included the music video of the song:

Landing page designs split test example video landing page 

Image via LeadPages

At the conclusion of the test, the version without the video outperformed the version with video by 23.84%.

Why? A few possibilities:

  1. The version without the video created more mystery
  2. The removal of the video made the page shorter and simpler
  3. The music video wasn’t motivating enough to win more conversions

You always have to test. But as above, consider using video landing pages (ideally, not auto-playing video) to provide context for products and to form an emotional connection with your prospects.

Flat Design Vs. Old-School Landing Pages

Flat landing page design, which you may also call “minimalist” or “modern” design, is the trend nowadays.

But it’s not a guaranteed approach. And some marketers generate astounding success with the old-school, hypey, infomercial-type landing page.

One example of the latter comes from nationally renowned copywriter Bob Bly:

Landing page designs bad page example 

Image via Bob Bly

Ick! Doesn’t it make the marketer in you cringe? Or maybe you suddenly feel sick…

But here’s the thing: Bob attests to making more than $600,000 per year as a copywriter. And all his landing pages have this old-school, infomercial-looking approach. He certainly wouldn’t consistently use it if he found a different approach that works better.

He may use this approach because he sells to current and aspiring copywriters. They work similarly to a B2C audience.

They don’t need a gorgeous design. He has one opportunity to make the sale. So, he has to use an attention-getting headline, and clear copy that commands 100% focus on the message. Further down the page, he describes in explicit detail what you get, asks for your order three times, and offers several dozen testimonials.

It’s clear he wants you to buy now.

And Bob’s not the only master marketer who does this. Leading email marketer Ben Settle uses a similar approach to sell his “Email Players” course that teaches you how to sell through email (at $97 per month, no less):

Landing page designs bad page example 

Image via Ben Settle

Amazing! The old-school, infomercial approach knocks flat design to the mat in the beginning of the first round.

Can modern flat design get up and come back?

It can. And does.

Just for reference, a prototypical flat landing page looks something like this:

 Landing page designs flat landing page example

Image via Webydo

You notice the bright colors, minimalistic text, large amount of white space, and lack of 2D objects trying to appear 3D.

Nice. Simple. Clean. Not pushy or salesy at all.

When do flat landing page designs make sense?

For starters, web users see them all the time. That means you meet your visitors’ expectations immediately. You won’t baffle them somewhat at first, like you might with an old-school approach.

Flat design doesn’t encourage you to use a high-pressure, order-now-or-its-gone-forever sales approach. It’s a more natural fit with today’s focus on earning trust and building relationships.

So flat design pulls itself off the mat and hammers its way back into the fight.

Again, you have to consider your audience (hip millennials? Or baby boomers?) and possibly test both approaches.

Homepage Vs. Lead Capture (AKA “Squeeze”) Page

Please, please, please… do yourself a favor and never ever, under any circumstances, use your homepage as a landing page for your marketing campaign.

Yes, visitors land on your homepage. And yes, it’s the most visited page on your website.

But you don’t use a single, specific campaign to drive traffic to your home page. Instead, your home page gets traffic from many sources, so the page needs to be flexible to address a range of possible visitor needs. This usually means that there are multiple calls to action (CTAs), giving the visitor options.

Let’s take a look at some homepage examples from leading companies, because you know they’ve done extensive testing to optimize their homepage conversion rates:

HubSpot

Landing page designs HubSpot squeeze page example 

HubSpot has three CTAs above-the-fold. Two direct you to use their platform. One sends you to a four-day live video event.

Three other CTAs come later on the page. Each describes a leading feature of HubSpot, and the benefits of those features.

A final CTA comes at the end of the page. And it again directs you to start using their software.

That’s a total of 6(!) CTAs.

Brian Dean, Backlinko

 Landing page designs Backlinko example

Brian Dean runs a much different business type than multibillion-dollar HubSpot.

He uses his personal brand to do one thing: grow his list. I’m not sure of the exact size. But it’s at least 100,000, and I believe several times that size. That makes it one of the largest lists in his niche (SEO).

If you’re on his list, like me, you know he sells courses.

So, he uses an approach with just a single CTA that asks you to join his list.

Unbounce

Landing page designs Unbounce example 

Unbounce has a unique approach. One I admittedly haven’t seen on a homepage anywhere else.

They have two clear CTAs above-the-fold. However, they don’t put the obvious one under the main marketing message.

Rather, it’s clear they want you to sign up for a free trial because that’s the more noticeable of the two buttons.

The overall approach is sensible. They allow visitors who aren’t ready for a free trial to get to know Unbounce better, and why they’d like to use it, before starting a free trial. And for those who know they’re ready, they can do that now too.

Why they don’t switch the two CTAs so the free trial button is in the center of the screen…I don’t know. But testing must have revealed this approach results in more or higher-quality conversions.

By the way, the whole page has three CTAs, with the final one showing you the pricing plans.

Conversion XL

 Landing page designs ConversionXL example

Conversion XL has a unique approach on their homepage too. With four CTAs above the fold, they have the most of any homepage you’ve seen so far.

Plus, not a single one uses a button. They’re all links. Two more CTAs follow later on down the page, asking you to subscribe to their newsletter and see the upcoming courses.

That’s a total of six CTAs on the homepage.

While the approaches vary, these homepages:

  • Differentiate the business from the competition
  • Share the top benefits available
  • Have varying asks of different sizes

…Homepages come out swinging and draw first blood.

But now, compare homepages to squeeze pages. With these, you create a specific campaign to drive a precisely defined customer to a landing page with a single ask.

You know all your traffic sources, so you can deliver the same targeted messaging to each visitor.

If you’re B2C, you collect contact information so you can continue to build your relationship and list. In B2B, squeeze pages can be used to build lists. But more commonly, they get used to qualify the lead so they can be handed over to sales (or not).

Brian Dean’s homepage actually works well as a squeeze page because that’s the only CTA. Check out this squeeze page to learn a little more:

 Landing page designs GQ magazine example

Image via Instapage

Big brands many times do an awful job in their online marketing. But GQ is not one of them. This squeeze page works because it:

  • Asks for minimal information – just an email – which makes signing up quick and painless
  • Slips in a little humor, which goes a long way
  • Has a spot-on marketing message men can relate to
  • Uses Zach Galifianakis’ star power
  • Shows an abundantly obvious CTA button

And compare that to this B2B lead capture page by Salesforce:

Landing page designs Salesforce example 

Image via Salesforce

Clearly, with the amount of information they require to get the freebie (a white paper), Salesforce wants to qualify leads. If the B2B buyer doesn’t have time to fill out the form, then they likely won’t make a good customer later on anyway.

Using the information entered, sales can make educated decisions on how to follow-up with the lead next.

While the homepages drew first blood, squeeze pages crack them square in the nose in return. Both then counterpunch each other at exactly the same moment, falling to the mat for a knockout at precisely the same time.

Your Landing Page Design Should Consider Your Goals and Your Sales Cycle

Four ties (“It depends”)? Maybe that’s not the drama you hoped for.

But it’s the truth about landing page designs. No single approach is ALWAYS “better” than any other. Each works better in different circumstances.

You have to choose the right approach based on your business goals, the preferences of your market, and your visitors’ stage in the sales cycle.

To discover those, you have to ask yourself questions like:

  • What do you really want your visitors to do?
  • What are they thinking the moment they hit your landing page?
  • What are your audience’s psychographics?
  • What step did they previously take, before hitting the page?

How can you get answers to these questions if you don’t already know?

  • Can you examine competitor landing pages for clues?
  • Could you survey or call customers?

Look, creating a high-converting landing page isn’t easy. But it does boil down to simply testing and retesting approaches until you’re happy with your conversion rate.

For now, you’re armed with some of the leading types of landing pages, and you can figure out which design makes most sense for you.

About the author

As a freelance copywriter, Dan Stelter crafts persuasive lead-generating content for B2B software, SaaS, and service companies, earning him the moniker “The B2B Lead Gen Guy.” When you don’t find Dan helping B2Bs swipe more market share from competitors, you will find him reliving the good ol’ days of The Simpsons.

from Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream http://ift.tt/2xq70hq

So You Want to Build a Chat Bot – Here’s How (Complete with Code!)

Posted by R0bin_L0rd

You’re busy and (depending on effective keyword targeting) you’ve come here looking for something to shave months off the process of learning to produce your own chat bot. If you’re convinced you need this and just want the how-to, skip to “What my bot does.” If you want the background on why you should be building for platforms like Google Home, Alexa, and Facebook Messenger, read on.

Why should I read this?

Do you remember when it wasn’t necessary to have a website? When most boards would scoff at the value of running a Facebook page? Now Gartner is telling us that customers will manage 85% of their relationship with brands without interacting with a human by 2020 and publications like Forbes are saying that chat bots are the cause.

The situation now is the same as every time a new platform develops: if you don’t have something your customers can access, you’re giving that medium to your competition. At the moment, an automated presence on Google Home or Slack may not be central to your strategy, but those who claim ground now could dominate it in the future.

The problem is time. Sure, it’d be ideal to be everywhere all the time, to have your brand active on every platform. But it would also be ideal to catch at least four hours sleep a night or stop covering our keyboards with three-day-old chili con carne as we eat a hasty lunch in between building two of the Next Big Things. This is where you’re fortunate in two ways;

  1. When we develop chat applications, we don’t have to worry about things like a beautiful user interface because it’s all speech or text. That’s not to say you don’t need to worry about user experience, as there are rules (and an art) to designing a good conversational back-and-forth. Amazon is actually offering some hefty prizes for outstanding examples.
  2. I’ve spent the last six months working through the steps from complete ignorance to creating a distributable chat bot and I’m giving you all my workings. In this post I break down each of the levels of complexity, from no-code back-and-forth to managing user credentials and sessions the stretch over days or months. I’m also including full code that you can adapt and pull apart as needed. I’ve commented each portion of the code explaining what it does and linking to resources where necessary.

I’ve written more about the value of Interactive Personal Assistants on the Distilled blog, so this post won’t spend any longer focusing on why you should develop chat bots. Instead, I’ll share everything I’ve learned.

What my built-from-scratch bot does

Ever since I started investigating chat bots, I was particularly interested in finding out the answer to one question: What does it take for someone with little-to-no programming experience to create one of these chat applications from scratch? Fortunately, I have direct access to someone with little-to-no experience (before February, I had no idea what Python was). And so I set about designing my own bot with the following hard conditions:


  1. It had to have some kind of real-world application. It didn’t have to be critical to a business, but it did have to bear basic user needs in mind.
  2. It had to be easily distributable across the immediate intended users, and to have reasonable scope to distribute further (modifications at most, rather than a complete rewrite).
  3. It had to be flexible enough that you, the reader, can take some free code and make your own chat bot.
  4. It had to be possible to adapt the skeleton of the process for much more complex business cases.
  5. It had to be free to run, but could have the option of paying to scale up or make life easier.
  6. It had to send messages confirming when important steps had been completed.

The resulting program is “Vietnambot,” a program that communicates with Slack, the API.AI linguistic processing platform, and Google Sheets, using real-time and asynchronous processing and its own database for storing user credentials.

If that meant nothing to you, don’t worry — I’ll define those things in a bit, and the code I’m providing is obsessively commented with explanation. The thing to remember is it does all of this to write down food orders for our favorite Vietnamese restaurant in a shared Google Sheet, probably saving tens of seconds of Distilled company time every year.

It’s deliberately mundane, but it’s designed to be a template for far more complex interactions. The idea is that whether you want to write a no-code-needed back-and-forth just through API.AI; a simple Python program that receives information, does a thing, and sends a response; or something that breaks out of the limitations of linguistic processing platforms to perform complex interactions in user sessions that can last days, this post should give you some of the puzzle pieces and point you to others.

What is API.AI and what’s it used for?

API.AI is a linguistic processing interface. It can receive text, or speech converted to text, and perform much of the comprehension for you. You can see my Distilled post for more details, but essentially, it takes the phrase “My name is Robin and I want noodles today” and splits it up into components like:

  • Intent: food_request
  • Action: process_food
  • Name: Robin
  • Food: noodles
  • Time: today

This setup means you have some hope of responding to the hundreds of thousands of ways your users could find to say the same thing. It’s your choice whether API.AI receives a message and responds to the user right away, or whether it receives a message from a user, categorizes it and sends it to your application, then waits for your application to respond before sending your application’s response back to the user who made the original request. In its simplest form, the platform has a bunch of one-click integrations and requires absolutely no code.

I’ve listed the possible levels of complexity below, but it’s worth bearing some hard limitations in mind which apply to most of these services. They cannot remember anything outside of a user session, which will automatically end after about 30 minutes, they have to do everything through what are called POST and GET requests (something you can ignore unless you’re using code), and if you do choose to have it ask your application for information before it responds to the user, you have to do everything and respond within five seconds.

What are the other things?

Slack: A text-based messaging platform designed for work (or for distracting people from work).

Google Sheets: We all know this, but just in case, it’s Excel online.

Asynchronous processing: Most of the time, one program can do one thing at a time. Even if it asks another program to do something, it normally just stops and waits for the response. Asynchronous processing is how we ask a question and continue without waiting for the answer, possibly retrieving that answer at a later time.

Database: Again, it’s likely you know this, but if not: it’s Excel that our code will use (different from the Google Sheet).

Heroku: A platform for running code online. (Important to note: I don’t work for Heroku and haven’t been paid by them. I couldn’t say that it’s the best platform, but it can be free and, as of now, it’s the one I’m most familiar with).

How easy is it?

This graph isn’t terribly scientific and it’s from the perspective of someone who’s learning much of this for the first time, so here’s an approximate breakdown:

Label

Functionality

Time it took me

1

You set up the conversation purely through API.AI or similar, no external code needed. For instance, answering set questions about contact details or opening times

Half an hour to distributable prototype

2

A program that receives information from API.AI and uses that information to update the correct cells in a Google Sheet (but can’t remember user names and can’t use the slower Google Sheets integrations)

A few weeks to distributable prototype

3

A program that remembers user names once they’ve been set and writes them to Google Sheets. Is limited to five seconds processing time by API.AI, so can’t use the slower Google Sheets integrations and may not work reliably when the app has to boot up from sleep because that takes a few seconds of your allocation*

A few weeks on top of the last prototype

4

A program that remembers user details and manages the connection between API.AI and our chosen platform (in this case, Slack) so it can break out of the five-second processing window.

A few weeks more on top of the last prototype (not including the time needed to rewrite existing structures to work with this)

*On the Heroku free plan, when your app hasn’t been used for 30 minutes it goes to sleep. This means that the first time it’s activated it takes a little while to start your process, which can be a problem if you have a short window in which to act. You could get around this by (mis)using a free “uptime monitoring service” which sends a request every so often to keep your app awake. If you choose this method, in order to avoid using all of the Heroku free hours allocation by the end of the month, you’ll need to register your card (no charge, it just gets you extra hours) and only run this application on the account. Alternatively, there are any number of companies happy to take your money to keep your app alive.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to break down each of those key steps and either give an overview of how you could achieve it, or point you in the direction of where you can find that. The code I’m giving you is Python, but as long as you can receive and respond to GET and POST requests, you can do it in pretty much whatever format you wish.


1. Design your conversation

Conversational flow is an art form in itself. Jonathan Seal, strategy director at Mando and member of British Interactive Media Association’s AI thinktank, has given some great talks on the topic. Paul Pangaro has also spoken about conversation as more than interface in multiple mediums.

Your first step is to create a flow chart of the conversation. Write out your ideal conversation, then write out the most likely ways a person might go off track and how you’d deal with them. Then go online, find existing chat bots and do everything you can to break them. Write out the most difficult, obtuse, and nonsensical responses you can. Interact with them like you’re six glasses of wine in and trying to order a lemon engraving kit, interact with them as though you’ve found charges on your card for a lemon engraver you definitely didn’t buy and you are livid, interact with them like you’re a bored teenager. At every point, write down what you tried to do to break them and what the response was, then apply that to your flow. Then get someone else to try to break your flow. Give them no information whatsoever apart from the responses you’ve written down (not even what the bot is designed for), refuse to answer any input you don’t have written down, and see how it goes. David Low, principal evangelist for Amazon Alexa, often describes the value of printing out a script and testing the back-and-forth for a conversation. As well as helping to avoid gaps, it’ll also show you where you’re dumping a huge amount of information on the user.

While “best practices” are still developing for chat bots, a common theme is that it’s not a good idea to pretend your bot is a person. Be upfront that it’s a bot — users will find out anyway. Likewise, it’s incredibly frustrating to open a chat and have no idea what to say. On text platforms, start with a welcome message making it clear you’re a bot and giving examples of things you can do. On platforms like Google Home and Amazon Alexa users will expect a program, but the “things I can do” bit is still important enough that your bot won’t be approved without this opening phase.

I’ve included a sample conversational flow for Vietnambot at the end of this post as one way to approach it, although if you have ideas for alternative conversational structures I’d be interested in reading them in the comments.

A final piece of advice on conversations: The trick here is to find organic ways of controlling the possible inputs and preparing for unexpected inputs. That being said, the Alexa evangelist team provide an example of terrible user experience in which a bank’s app said: “If you want to continue, say nine.” Quite often questions, rather than instructions, are the key.

2. Create a conversation in API.AI

API.AI has quite a lot of documentation explaining how to create programs here, so I won’t go over individual steps.

Key things to understand:

You create agents; each is basically a different program. Agents recognize intents, which are simply ways of triggering a specific response. If someone says the right things at the right time, they meet criteria you have set, fall into an intent, and get a pre-set response.

The right things to say are included in the “User says” section (screenshot below). You set either exact phrases or lists of options as the necessary input. For instance, a user could write “Of course, I’m [any name]” or “Of course, I’m [any temperature].” You could set up one intent for name-is which matches “Of course, I’m [given-name]” and another intent for temperature which matches “Of course, I’m [temperature],” and depending on whether your user writes a name or temperature in that final block you could activate either the “name-is” or “temperature-is” intent.

The “right time” is defined by contexts. Contexts help define whether an intent will be activated, but are also created by certain intents. I’ve included a screenshot below of an example interaction. In this example, the user says that they would like to go to on holiday. This activates a holiday intent and sets the holiday context you can see in input contexts below. After that, our service will have automatically responded with the question “where would you like to go?” When our user says “The” and then any location, it activates our holiday location intent because it matches both the context, and what the user says. If, on the other hand, the user had initially said “I want to go to the theater,” that might have activated the theater intent which would set a theater context — so when we ask “what area of theaters are you interested in?” and the user says “The [location]” or even just “[location],” we will take them down a completely different path of suggesting theaters rather than hotels in Rome.

The way you can create conversations without ever using external code is by using these contexts. A user might say “What times are you open?”; you could set an open-time-inquiry context. In your response, you could give the times and ask if they want the phone number to contact you. You would then make a yes/no intent which matches the context you have set, so if your user says “Yes” you respond with the number. This could be set up within an hour but gets exponentially more complex when you need to respond to specific parts of the message. For instance, if you have different shop locations and want to give the right phone number without having to write out every possible location they could say in API.AI, you’ll need to integrate with external code (see section three).

Now, there will be times when your users don’t say what you’re expecting. Excluding contexts, there are three very important ways to deal with that:

  1. Almost like keyword research — plan out as many possible variations of saying the same thing as possible, and put them all into the intent
  2. Test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test, test (when launched, every chat bot will have problems. Keep testing, keep updating, keep improving.)
  3. Fallback contexts

Fallback contexts don’t have a user says section, but can be boxed in by contexts. They match anything that has the right context but doesn’t match any of your user says. It could be tempting to use fallback intents as a catch-all. Reasoning along the lines of “This is the only thing they’ll say, so we’ll just treat it the same” is understandable, but it opens up a massive hole in the process. Fallback intents are designed to be a conversational safety net. They operate exactly the same as in a normal conversation. If a person asked what you want in your tea and you responded “I don’t want tea” and that person made a cup of tea, wrote the words “I don’t want tea” on a piece of paper, and put it in, that is not a person you’d want to interact with again. If we are using fallback intents to do anything, we need to preface it with a check. If we had to resort to it in the example above, saying “I think you asked me to add I don’t want tea to your tea. Is that right?” is clunky and robotic, but it’s a big step forward, and you can travel the rest of the way by perfecting other parts of your conversation.

3. Integrating with external code

I used Heroku to build my app . Using this excellent weather webhook example you can actually deploy a bot to Heroku within minutes. I found this example particularly useful as something I could pick apart to make my own call and response program. The weather webhook takes the information and calls a yahoo app, but ignoring that specific functionality you essentially need the following if you’re working in Python:

#start
    req = request.get_json
    print("Request:")
    print(json.dumps(req, indent=4))
#process to do your thing and decide what response should be

    res = processRequest(req)
# Response we should receive from processRequest (you’ll need to write some code called processRequest and make it return the below, the weather webhook example above is a good one).
{
        "speech": “speech we want to send back”,
        "displayText": “display text we want to send back, usually matches speech”,
        "source": "your app name"
    }

# Making our response readable by API.AI and sending it back to the servic

 response = make_response(res)
    response.headers['Content-Type'] = 'application/json'
    return response
# End

As long as you can receive and respond to requests like that (or in the equivalent for languages other than Python), your app and API.AI should both understand each other perfectly — what you do in the interim to change the world or make your response is entirely up to you. The main code I have included is a little different from this because it’s also designed to be the step in-between Slack and API.AI. However, I have heavily commented sections like like process_food and the database interaction processes, with both explanation and reading sources. Those comments should help you make it your own. If you want to repurpose my program to work within that five-second window, I would forget about the file called app.py and aim to copy whole processes from tasks.py, paste them into a program based on the weatherhook example above, and go from there.

Initially I’d recommend trying GSpread to make some changes to a test spreadsheet. That way you’ll get visible feedback on how well your application is running (you’ll need to go through the authorization steps as they are explained here).

4. Using a database

Databases are pretty easy to set up in Heroku. I chose the Postgres add-on (you just need to authenticate your account with a card; it won’t charge you anything and then you just click to install). In the import section of my code I’ve included links to useful resources which helped me figure out how to get the database up and running — for example, this blog post.

I used the Python library Psycopg2 to interact with the database. To steal some examples of using it in code, have a look at the section entitled “synchronous functions” in either the app.py or tasks.py files. Open_db_connection and close_db_connection do exactly what they say on the tin (open and close the connection with the database). You tell check_database to check a specific column for a specific user and it gives you the value, while update_columns adds a value to specified columns for a certain user record. Where things haven’t worked straightaway, I’ve included links to the pages where I found my solution. One thing to bear in mind is that I’ve used a way of including columns as a variable, which Psycopg2 recommends quite strongly against. I’ve gotten away with it so far because I’m always writing out the specific column names elsewhere — I’m just using that method as a short cut.

5. Processing outside of API.AI’s five-second window

It needs to be said that this step complicates things by no small amount. It also makes it harder to integrate with different applications. Rather than flicking a switch to roll out through API.AI, you have to write the code that interprets authentication and user-specific messages for each platform you’re integrating with. What’s more, spoken-only platforms like Google Home and Amazon Alexa don’t allow for this kind of circumvention of the rules — you have to sit within that 5–8 second window, so this method removes those options. The only reasons you should need to take the integration away from API.AI are:

  • You want to use it to work with a platform that it doesn’t have an integration with. It currently has 14 integrations including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Slack, and Google Home. It also allows exporting your conversations in an Amazon Alexa-understandable format (Amazon has their own similar interface and a bunch of instructions on how to build a skill — here is an example.
  • You are processing masses of information. I’m talking really large amounts. Some flight comparison sites have had problems fitting within the timeout limit of these platforms, but if you aren’t trying to process every detail for every flight for the next 12 months and it’s taking more than five seconds, it’s probably going to be easier to make your code more efficient than work outside the window. Even if you are, those same flight comparison sites solved the problem by creating a process that regularly checks their full data set and creates a smaller pool of information that’s more quickly accessible.
  • You need to send multiple follow-up messages to your user. When using the API.AI integration it’s pretty much call-and-response; you don’t always get access to things like authorization tokens, which are what some messaging platforms require before you can automatically send messages to one of their users.
  • You’re working with another program that can be quite slow, or there are technical limitations to your setup. This one applies to Vietnambot, I used the GSpread library in my application, which is fantastic but can be slow to pull out bigger chunks of data. What’s more, Heroku can take a little while to start up if you’re not paying.

I could have paid or cut out some of the functionality to avoid needing to manage this part of the process, but that would have failed to meet number 4 in our original conditions: It had to be possible to adapt the skeleton of the process for much more complex business cases. If you decide you’d rather use my program within that five-second window, skip back to section 2 of this post. Otherwise, keep reading.

When we break out of the five-second API.AI window, we have to do a couple of things. First thing is to flip the process on its head.

What we were doing before:

User sends message -> API.AI -> our process -> API.AI -> user

What we need to do now:

User sends message -> our process -> API.AI -> our process -> user

Instead of API.AI waiting while we do our processing, we do some processing, wait for API.AI to categorize the message from us, do a bit more processing, then message the user.

The way this applies to Vietnambot is:

  1. User says “I want [food]”
  2. Slack sends a message to my app on Heroku
  3. My app sends a “swift and confident” 200 response to Slack to prevent it from resending the message. To send the response, my process has to shut down, so before it does that, it activates a secondary process using “tasks.”
  4. The secondary process takes the query text and sends it to API.AI, then gets back the response.
  5. The secondary process checks our database for a user name. If we don’t have one saved, it sends another request to API.AI, putting it in the “we don’t have a name” context, and sends a message to our user asking for their name. That way, when our user responds with their name, API.AI is already primed to interpret it correctly because we’ve set the right context (see section 1 of this post). API.AI tells us that the latest message is a user name and we save it. When we have both the user name and food (whether we’ve just got it from the database or just saved it to the database), Vietnambot adds the order to our sheet, calculates whether we’ve reached the order minimum for that day, and sends a final success message.

6. Integrating with Slack

This won’t be the same as integrating with other messaging services, but it could give some insight into what might be required elsewhere. Slack has two authorization processes; we’ll call one “challenge” and the other “authentication.”

Slack includes instructions for an app lifecycle here, but API.AI actually has excellent instructions for how to set up your app; as a first step, create a simple back-and-forth conversation in API.AI (not your full product), go to integrations, switch on Slack, and run through the steps to set it up. Once that is up and working, you’ll need to change the OAuth URL and the Events URL to be the URL for your app.

Thanks to github user karishay, my app code includes a process for responding to the challenge process (which will tell Slack you’re set up to receive events) and for running through the authentication process, using our established database to save important user tokens. There’s also the option to save them to a Google Sheet if you haven’t got the database established yet. However, be wary of this as anything other than a first step — user tokens give an app a lot of power and have to be guarded carefully.

7. Asynchronous processing

We are running our app using Flask, which is basically a whole bunch of code we can call upon to deal with things like receiving requests for information over the internet. In order to create a secondary worker process I’ve used Redis and Celery. Redis is our “message broker”; it makes makes a list of everything we want our secondary process to do. Celery runs through that list and makes our worker process do those tasks in sequence. Redis is a note left on the fridge telling you to do your washing and take out the bins, while Celery is the housemate that bangs on your bedroom door, note in hand, and makes you do each thing. I’m sure our worker process doesn’t like Celery very much, but it’s really useful for us.

You can find instructions for adding Redis to your app in Heroku here and you can find advice on setting up Celery in Heroku here. Miguel Grinberg’s Using Celery with Flask blog post is also an excellent resource, but using the exact setup he gives results in a clash with our database, so it’s easier to stick with the Heroku version.

Up until this point, we’ve been calling functions in our main app — anything of the form function_name(argument_1, argument_2, argument_3). Now, by putting “tasks.” in front of our function, we’re saying “don’t do this now — hand it to the secondary process.” That’s because we’ve done a few things:

  • We’ve created tasks.py which is the secondary process. Basically it’s just one big, long function that our main code tells to run.
  • In tasks.py we’ve included Celery in our imports and set our app as celery.Celery(), meaning that when we use “app” later we’re essentially saying “this is part of our Celery jobs list” or rather “tasks.py will only do anything when its flatmate Celery comes banging on the door”
  • For every time our main process asks for an asynchronous function by writing tasks.any_function_name(), we have created that function in our secondary program just as we would if it were in the same file. However in our secondary program we’ve prefaced with “@app.task”, another way of saying “Do wash_the_dishes when Celery comes banging the door yelling wash_the_dishes(dishes, water, heat, resentment)”.
  • In our “procfile” (included as a file in my code) we have listed our worker process as –app=tasks.app

All this adds up to the following process:

  1. Main program runs until it hits an asynchronous function
  2. Main program fires off a message to Redis which has a list of work to be done. The main process doesn’t wait, it just runs through everything after it and in our case even shuts down
  3. The Celery part of our worker program goes to Redis and checks for the latest update, it checks what function has been called (because our worker functions are named the same as when our main process called them), it gives our worker all the information to start doing that thing and tells it to get going
  4. Our worker process starts the action it has been told to do, then shuts down.

As with the other topics mentioned here, I’ve included all of this in the code I’ve supplied, along with many of the sources used to gather the information — so feel free to use the processes I have. Also feel free to improve on them; as I said, the value of this investigation was that I am not a coder. Any suggestions for tweaks or improvements to the code are very much welcome.


Conclusion

As I mentioned in the introduction to this post, there’s huge opportunity for individuals and organizations to gain ground by creating conversational interactions for the general public. For the vast majority of cases you could be up and running in a few hours to a few days, depending on how complex you want your interactions to be and how comfortable you are with coding languages. There are some stumbling blocks out there, but hopefully this post and my obsessively annotated code can act as templates and signposts to help get you on your way.

Grab my code at GitHub


Bonus #1: The conversational flow for my chat bot

This is by no means necessarily the best or only way to approach this interaction. This is designed to be as streamlined an interaction as possible, but we’re also working within the restrictions of the platform and the time investment necessary to produce this. Common wisdom is to create the flow of your conversation and then keep testing to perfect, so consider this example layout a step in that process. I’d also recommend putting one of these flow charts together before starting — otherwise you could find yourself having to redo a bunch of work to accommodate a better back-and-forth.

Bonus #2: General things I learned putting this together

As I mentioned above, this has been a project of going from complete ignorance of coding to slightly less ignorance. I am not a professional coder, but I found the following things I picked up to be hugely useful while I was starting out.

  1. Comment everything. You’ll probably see my code is bordering on excessive commenting (anything after a # is a comment). While normally I’m sure someone wouldn’t want to include a bunch of Stack Overflow links in their code, I found notes about what things portions of code were trying to do, and where I got the reasoning from, hugely helpful as I tried to wrap my head around it all.
  2. Print everything. In Python, everything within “print()” will be printed out in the app logs (see the commands tip for reading them in Heroku). While printing each action can mean you fill up a logging window terribly quickly (I started using the Heroku add-on LogDNA towards the end and it’s a huge step up in terms of ease of reading and length of history), often the times my app was falling over was because one specific function wasn’t getting what it needed, or because of another stupid typo. Having a semi-constant stream of actions and outputs logged meant I could find the fault much more quickly. My next step would probably be to introduce a way of easily switching on and off the less necessary print functions.
  3. The following commands: Heroku’s how-to documentation for creating an app and adding code is pretty great, but I found myself using these all the time so thought I’d share (all of the below are written in the command line; type cmd in on Windows or by running Terminal on a Mac):
    1. CD “””[file location]””” – select the file your code is in
    2. “git init” – create a git file to add to
    3. “git add .” – add all of the code in your file into the file that git will put online
    4. “git commit -m “[description of what you’re doing]” “ – save the data in your git file
    5. “heroku git:remote -a [the name of your app]” – select your app as where to put the code
    6. “git push heroku master” – send your code to the app you selected
    7. “heroku ps” – find out whether your app is running or crashed
    8. “heroku logs” – apologize to your other half for going totally unresponsive for the last ten minutes and start the process of working through your printouts to see what has gone wrong
  4. POST requests will always wait for a response. Seems really basic — initially I thought that by just sending a POST request and not telling my application to wait for a response I’d be able to basically hot-potato work around and not worry about having to finish what I was doing. That’s not how it works in general, and it’s more of a symbol of my naivete in programming than anything else.
  5. If something is really difficult, it’s very likely you’re doing it wrong.
    While I made sure to do pretty much all of the actual work myself (to
    avoid simply farming it out to the very talented individuals at
    Distilled), I was lucky enough to get some really valuable advice. The
    piece of advice above was from Dominic Woodman, and I should have
    listened to it more. The times when I made least progress were when I
    was trying to use things the way they shouldn’t be used. Even when I
    broke through those walls, I later found that someone didn’t want me to
    use it that way because it would completely fail at a later point.
    Tactical retreat
    is an option. (At this point, I should mention he wasn’t
    the only one to give invaluable advice; Austin, Tom, and Duncan of the
    Distilled R&D team were a huge help.)

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Ethical Marketing: 5 Examples of Companies with a Conscience

Did you know that 92% of Millennial consumers are more likely to buy products from ethical companies? Or that 82% of those consumers believe ethical brands outperform similar companies that lack a commitment to ethical principles?

Ethical marketing

These are just two of the findings of a recent Aflac survey (PDF) into the potential business impact of ethical commerce and corporate philanthropy. Brand authenticity has never been more crucial to a business’ success, and companies that have dedicated themselves to the greater good instead of solely to their bottom lines have seen a remarkable surge in support – and revenue.

In this article, we’ll learn what ethical marketing is and take a look at how five different brands have proven their commitment to ethical marketing. The following examples show the principles of ethical marketing in action, as well as why championing good causes is so effective for today’s brands.

What Is Ethical Marketing?

Before we dive into the examples, let’s take a moment to clarify what ethical marketing means.

Ethical marketing fair trade principles

Image via World Fair Trade Organization

Ethical marketing refers to the process by which companies market their goods and services by focusing not only on how their products benefit customers, but also how they benefit socially responsible or environmental causes.

To put this another way, ethical marketing isn’t a strategy; it’s a philosophy. It includes everything from ensuring advertisements are honest and trustworthy, to building strong relationships with consumers through a set of shared values. Companies with a focus on ethical marketing evaluate their decisions from a business perspective (i.e. whether a particular marketing initiative will deliver the desired return) as well as a moral perspective (i.e. whether a decision is “right” or morally sound).

With that out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

Ethical Marketing Example #1: TOMS

My wife loves her TOMS ballet flats. They’re cute, comfortable, and best of all, socially conscious.

Ethical marketing TOMS shoes 

TOMS isn’t just engaged in corporate philanthropy to make a quick buck; it’s a core part of the company’s values and brand.

TOMS was founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006 following a trip to Argentina. During his visit, Mycoskie saw firsthand how people living in impoverished areas of Argentina had to live without shoes, a challenge that many of us likely give little thought. Inspired by his trip, Mycoskie decided to establish his company with giving in mind.

Ethical marketing TOMS shoes philanthropy 

Since 2006, TOMS’ footwear business has donated more than 60 million(!) pairs of shoes to children in need all over the world. As if that weren’t enough, TOMS’ eyewear division has given more than 400,000 pairs of glasses to visually impaired people who lack access to ophthalmological care.

The company has further diversified its operations to include clean water initiatives through its coffee business, and its line of bags has helped support projects to expand access to birthing kits to expectant mothers in developing nations as well as training for birth attendants. To date, TOMS has helped more than 25,000 women safely deliver their babies.

How Does TOMS Use Ethical Marketing?

TOMS puts its social and environmental philanthropy on full display in virtually every aspect of its branding. This not only lets potential customers know the kind of company they’re dealing with right off the bat, but also reinforces TOMS’ brand values consistently across all channels.

Take a look at TOMS’ homepage. Right underneath the carousel, the company tells you that, for every product you purchase, TOMS will help someone in need:

 Ethical marketing TOMS shoes ballet flats

TOMS’ mission is so central to the company’s branding, it’s given almost equal emphasis on its website as the products it sells. In fact, it’s almost impossible to navigate through TOMS’ site without seeing further examples of how TOMS helps people around the world.

This isn’t a typically cynical attempt to capitalize on empty gestures or a feel-good sales tactic; it’s the same principle leveraged by brands that use display advertising. Just as many display ads are designed to promote brand awareness and achieve top-of-mind presence among consumers, TOMS’ philanthropic mission is constantly reinforced throughout its website and marketing materials. As a result, it’s almost impossible to think of TOMS as a brand without thinking of the company’s various outreach projects and corporate giving initiatives.

Ethical Marketing Example #2: Everlane

Clothing manufacturing is among the most controversial industries in the world. During the past 20 years or so, much greater attention has been paid to how and where our clothes are made, particularly in light of tragedies such as the blaze that tore through a garment manufacturing facility in Bangladesh in 2012, killing 117 people – a factory that supplied clothing to American retailers including Walmart and Sears.

 Ethical marketing Everlane homepage

In light of greater awareness about the use of sweatshops, demand for ethically made clothing has soared in recent years, a trend that has given rise to dozens of companies that want to change how we make and view clothing, including Everlane.

Founded in 2010 by Michael Preysman, Everlane is boldly committed to ethical manufacturing. All of Everlane’s garments are made in factories that meet the most stringent quality standards – not only in terms of the clothes themselves, but also in how workers are treated. Everlane only partners with manufacturers that demonstrate a strong commitment to their workers’ welfare, a fact the company prides itself upon in its marketing material.

How Does Everlane Use Ethical Marketing?

Like other ethical brands, Everlane’s About page tells the story of how the company champions the rights and well-being of the workers who make its clothes. What’s really interesting about Everlane, though, is its commitment to radical transparency.

Ethical marketing Everlane factory worker

An Everlane warehouse worker prepares garments at the company’s
Mola, Inc. tee-shirt factory in Los Angeles, CA. Image via Everlane.

Everlane isn’t content to merely tell you that its clothes are manufactured and sold ethically; the company also provides customers with a detailed cost breakdown for each and every one of its stylish, minimalist garments. This includes details on the cost of materials, labor, transportation and logistics, excise taxes and duties, and even hardware such as zippers and buttons.

The company’s Elements jacket, for example, costs $60 to produce, and you can see exactly how much each of the manufacturing and logistical elements affects the retail price:

Ethical marketing Everlane garment cost breakdown 

Typically, the production costs of most commercially produced clothing are a closely guarded secret. This isn’t merely because a breakdown of such costs would reveal a brand’s potential profit margin on a specific item, but also because they highlight the desperately poor pay and conditions many people working in garment manufacturing endure.

By boldly revealing precisely how much each of its garments costs to make, Everlane can offer its customers the kind of transparency consumers want while enjoying the considerable karma this kind of radical transparency offers.

Ethical Marketing Example #3: Dr. Bronner’s

Consumer demand for ethically produced cleansing products has intensified in recent years, and although there are literally hundreds of brands of soap available on the market, few are as unique or memorable as Dr. Bronner’s, the top-selling organic liquid soap brand in America.

 Ethical marketing Dr. Bronner's liquid soap

If you’ve ever bought or seen a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap, you’ll already know that the company is a little different to other soap companies. For starters, the product’s unique packaging features the company’s fascinating “Cosmic Principles,” a 30,000-word philosophical screed that company founder and self-styled doctor Emanuel Bronner spoke of while touring the United States’ lecture circuit in the late 1940s. Bronner offered his now-famous peppermint liquid soap as a freebie for people who attended his lectures, but it didn’t take long for him to realize most people would only turn up at his speeches to grab their free sample of soap.

It wasn’t just Emanuel Bronner who demonstrated a commitment to social and environmental activism. Bronner’s grandson, David, was arrested in 2012 for publicly harvesting hemp from inside a locked cage outside the White House, a stunt orchestrated to protest what David Bronner felt was the federal government’s undue oversight of hemp production in the United States.

Ethical marketing Dr. Bronner's campaign GMO labeling

Image via Mother Jones

In the years since the cage incident, David Bronner has been extremely active in many areas of social and environmental justice, including the fight for greater oversight into the labeling of products that include genetically modified ingredients.

How Does Dr. Bronner’s Use Ethical Marketing?

Dr. Bronner’s is such a unique brand because of the eccentricity of its founder. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how different the Dr. Bronner’s brand would be without the “Moral ABCs” that Bronner lectured about shortly after World War II.

Ethical marketing Dr. Bronner's Moral ABCs 

As a result of the company’s unorthodox founding, Dr. Bronner’s is uniquely positioned to leverage its history of ethical manufacturing in its marketing. In many ways, the company’s iconic product packaging serves as the perfect introduction to the firm’s philosophy; I often find myself reading the Moral ABCs while showering.

Of course, the company’s commitment to what it calls “constructive capitalism” goes far beyond its unusual packaging and mission statement. Dr. Bronner’s is what’s known as a Benefit Corporation (or B-Corp), a designation that states such companies must be for-profit operations that have a “positive impact on society and the environment according to legally defined goals.”

Ethical marketing Dr. Bronner's B-Corporation report card 

To this end, Dr. Bronner’s succeeds admirably. The company is committed to several tangible objectives, including raising awareness of crucial environmental and social justice issues, the use of USDA-certified fair-trade ingredients whenever possible, and to equitable compensation structures that limit executive pay to five times that of lower-level employees. (For a little perspective, Dunkin’ Donuts CEO Nigel Travis said in 2015 that paying workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour was “absolutely outrageous” despite the fact that he personally “earns” approximately $4,889 per hour.)

Ethical Marketing Example #4: Conscious Coffees

Coffee is serious business – and I’m not talking about lame “don’t bother me before I’ve had my first cup” jokes. Globally, the coffee industry directly supports the livelihoods of more than 120 million of the world’s poorest people, and few industries are likely to experience the kind of disruption wrought by climate change as intensely as agricultural coffee production; in worrisome news for the constantly caffeinated, literally half the world’s coffee farming land could be lost by 2050 if climate change isn’t tackled aggressively.

Ethical marketing global farming land loss climate change

Image via Global Agriculture

To that end, many companies are seeking to improve conditions for coffee farmers and producers around the world, and one of the best is Conscious Coffees. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, Conscious Coffees was founded in 1996 by Mark and Melissa Glenn, who later sold the business to current owner Craig Lamberty earlier this year.

Since its founding, Conscious Coffees has worked tirelessly to improve its production pipelines to benefit growers, farmers, and suppliers across South America. Like Dr. Bronner’s, Conscious Coffees is a certified B-Corporation, and earned a community impact score in the top 10% of all certified B-Corporations worldwide for its work.

How Does Conscious Coffees Use Ethical Marketing?

Everything about Conscious Coffees, from its name to its logo, reinforces the company’s mission and ethical production philosophy – so much so that Conscious Coffees doesn’t use ethical marketing as much as it embodies the principle as a brand.

Ethical marketing Conscious Coffees affiliated coffee growers

Conscious Coffees-affiliated growers preparing coffee beans.
Image via Conscious Coffees.

In addition to its strong commitment to ethical production processes and fair-trade commerce, Conscious Coffees engages in a wide range of community outreach initiatives.

Its CAFE Livelihoods Program empowers people in El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Nicaragua to own and operate their own coffee businesses through training workshops and ongoing guidance and support. The company regularly donates coffee to the local Community Cycles program, a project run by cycling enthusiasts from across the Boulder region who help other cyclists with repairs, maintenance, and refurbishment of old and used bicycles. Conscious Coffees’ team of coffee experts offer technical advice and support to growers and farmers as part of the USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer initiative, which helps coffee growers across South America learn new techniques that can help them maximize yields and engage in fair-trade economic practices with North American suppliers.

Ethical marketing Conscious Coffees Community Cycles program

Bike enthusiasts at a Community Cycles event. Image via
Conscious Coffees.

Conscious Coffees is the perfect example of a brand that not only uses ethical marketing practices, but embodies them in everything it does.

Ethical Marketing Example #5: Farmer Direct Co-op

Ever watch one of those food documentaries on Netflix about industrialized agriculture? If so, you’ll already know that farming is not only one of the hardest jobs in North America, but that it’s also one of the most unethical industries. From corporate strong-arming of family owned farms by huge corporations to the abject cruelty and misery inflicted on livestock, farming is a far cry from the bucolic, pastoral scenes presented to us on the packaging of many foods in our local supermarkets.

Ethical marketing Farmer Direct Coop Canada logo 

That’s what makes central Canada’s Farmer Direct Co-op so exciting. An entirely worker-owned cooperative, Farmer Direct is farming with a mission. The cooperative’s network of more than 60 privately owned and operated farms across southern Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan is firmly committed to truly sustainable agriculture and responsible environmental stewardship. The co-op is affiliated with several organizations with a focus on sustainable farming, including the Cornucopia Institute and the Fair World Project.

Ethical marketing Farmer Direct Coop products 

In terms of what Farmer Direct actually sells, all of the co-op’s produce is certified organic, and includes produce such as beans, peas, and oats, all of which are sold at Whole Foods locations across North America.

How Does Farmer Direct Use Ethical Marketing?

Like all of the examples above, ethical marketing lies at the heart of Farmer Direct’s operations. In addition to its vibrant, active social media presence (through which Farmer Direct offers a range of healthy eating tips, recipes, and other fun content), Farmer Direct maintains a lively blog and newsletter, both of which serve as further opportunities to help people make better decisions about their food and live a more conscientious lifestyle as consumers.

Perhaps a little unusually for an agricultural organization, Farmer Direct also maintains a surprisingly good Pinterest profile, which is always great to see alongside the mainstays of Facebook and Twitter.

Ethical marketing Farmer Direct Coop Canada Pinterest 

Farmer Direct’s mission may be a little more challenging than that of the other companies featured in this post. Not because they’re not trying to sell something (they are), or because there’s no demand for organic, authentically grown produce (there is), but because they want to change the way people think about food and where our food comes from. This is a much longer-term goal, and a really ambitious one, too. Industrialized agriculture has transformed the way we eat – and not in a good way.

Ethical marketing topsoil erosion diagram

Image via Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations

Another element of Farmer Direct’s ethical marketing that’s worth mentioning is its strong dedication to truly sustainable agriculture from an environmental perspective. Many farms emphasize their organic certifications or their beautiful pastures where their livestock are free to roam and wander, but Farmer Direct wants to raise awareness of how factors such as topsoil erosion can devastate rural farming communities and even individual farms.

Businesses Can Do Good AND Do Well

Although each of the businesses featured in this post are distinctly different, they all share a common characteristic: a commitment to giving back and protecting the rights and livelihoods of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. These companies have embraced ethical marketing not as a cheap gimmick they can exploit to drive sales, but as a core part of their mission and values as organizations.

Ethical marketing relies on a long-term strategy of continuing education, campaigning, and activism. It’s about helping consumers make better, more conscious choices about the products they buy and the stores they frequent. It’s about changing the way we think about how goods are provided, the people who make and sell the things we buy every day, and the communities that rely on fair, ethical trade to survive. It’s about cultivating brand loyalty by aligning your organizational values with those of your ideal customers.

Hopefully these examples have given you some ideas on how you can develop and incorporate philanthropic principles in your own organization. Not every company will be suited to ethical marketing – there are no fair trade plumbers, after all – but those that are may find that focusing on people and not just profit could be a wise investment.

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The Anatomy of a $97 Million Page: A CRO Case Study

Posted by jkuria

In this post, we share a CRO case study from Protalus, one of the fastest-growing footwear companies in the world. They make an insole that corrects the misalignment suffered by roughly 85% of the population. Misalignment is the cause of most back, knee, and foot pain. Back pain alone is estimated to be worth $100 billion a year.


Summary

  • We (with Protalus’ team) increased direct sales by 91% in about 6 months through one-click upsells and CRO.
  • Based on the direct sales increase, current run-rate revenue, the “Virtuous Cycle of CRO”-fueled growth rate, and revenue multiple for their industry, we estimate this will add about $97 million to the company’s valuation over the next 12–18 months*.
  • A concrete example of the Virtuous Cycle of CRO: Before we increased the conversion rate and average order value, Google Adwords was not a viable channel. Now it is, opening a whole new floodgate of profitable sales! Ditto for at least two other channels. In part due to our work, Protalus’ annual run-rate revenue has grown by 1,212% in less than a year.

* Protalus’ core product is differentiated, patent protected, and high margin. They also have a strong brand and raving fans. In the Shoes & Apparel category, they’re most similar to Lululemon Athletica, which has a 4x plus revenue multiple. While Nike and Under Armor engage in a bloody price war and margin-eroding celebrity endorsements, Lululemon commands significantly higher prices than its peers, without big-name backers! Business gurus Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger often say that the true test of a defensive moat around a business is “Can you raise prices without hurting sales?” Protalus has this in spades. They’ve raised prices several times while simultaneously increasing units sold — from $39 to $49 to $59 to $69 to $79 to $99 to $119.


One-click upsells: A 21% sales boost

When we do engagements, the first order of business to uncover low-hanging fruit growth opportunities. This accomplishes two things:

  1. It helps the client get an immediate ROI on the engagement
  2. It earns us goodwill and credibility within the company. We then have wide latitude to run the big, bold experiments that produce huge conversion lifts

In Protalus’ case, we determined they were not doing post-purchase one-click upsells. Adding these immediately boosted sales by 21%. Here’s how we did it:

  • On their main sales landing page, Protalus has an offer where you get $30 off on the second pair of insoles, as well as free expedited shipping for both. About 30% of customers were taking this offer.
  • For those who didn’t, right after they purchased but BEFORE they got to the “Thank You” page, we presented the offer again, which led to the 21% sales increase.

Done correctly, one-click upsells easily boost sales, as customers do not have to re-enter credit card details. Here’s the best way to do them: The Little Secret that Made McDonalds a $106 Billion Behemoth.

Below is the final upsell page that got the 21% sales increase:

A screenshot of a cell phone Description generated with very high confidence

We tested our way to it. The key effective elements are:

1. Including “free upgrade to expedited shipping” in the headline: 145% lift

The original page had it lower in the body copy:

Google Experiments screenshot showing 145% lift

2. Adding celebrity testimonials: 60% lift

Google Experiments screenshot showing a 60% lift

Elisabeth Howard’s (Ms. Senior America) unsolicited endorsement is especially effective because about 60% of Protalus’ customers are female and almost one-third are retired. We uncovered these gems by reviewing all 11,000 (at the time) customers’ testimonials.

3. Explaining the reasons why other customers bought additional insoles.

See the three bulleted reasons on the first screenshot (convenience, different models, purchasing for loved ones).


Radical re-design and long-form page: A 58% conversion lift

With the upsells producing positive ROI for the client, we turned to re-designing the main sales page. The new page produced a cumulative lift of 58%, attained in two steps.

[Step 1] 35% lift: Long-form content-rich page

Optimizely screenshot shows 35% lift at 99% statistical significance

Note that even after reaching 99% statistical significance, the lift fluctuated between 33% and 37%, so we’ll claim 35%.

[Step 2] 17% lift: Performance improvements

The new page was quite a bit longer, so its “fully loaded” time increased a lot — especially on mobile devices with poor connections. A combination of lazy loading, lossless image shrinking, CSS sprites, and other ninja tactics led to a further 17% lift.

These optimizations reduced the page load time by 40% and shrunk the size by a factor of 4x!

The total cumulative lift was therefore 58% (1.35 x 1.17 = 1.58).

With the earlier 21% sales gain from one-click upsells, that’s a 91% sales increase (1.21 x 1.35 x 1.17 = 1.91).


Dissecting the anatomy of the winning page

To determine what vital few elements to change, we surveyed the non-converting visitors. Much of the work in A/B testing is the tedious research required to understand non-converting visitors.

“Give me six hours to chop a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

All CRO practitioners would do well to learn from good, ol’ honest Abe! We used Mouseflow’s feedback feature to survey bouncing visitors from the main landing page and the check-out page. The top objection themes were:

  1. Price is too high/product too expensive
  2. Not sure it will work (because others didn’t work before)
  3. Not sure it will work for my specific condition
  4. Difficulty in using website

We then came up with specific counter-objections for each: A landing page is a “salesmanship in digital print,” so many of the techniques that work in face-to-face selling also apply.

On a landing page, though, you must overcorrect because you lack the back- and-forth conversation in a live selling situation. Below is the list of key elements on the winning page.

1. Price is too high/product is too expensive

This was by far the biggest objection, cited by over 50% of all respondents. Thus, we spent a disproportionate amount of effort and page real estate on it.

Protalus’ insoles cost $79, whereas Dr. Scholls (the 100-year-old brand) cost less than $10. When asked what other products they considered, customers frequently said Dr. Scholls.

Coupled with this, nearly one-third of customers are retired and living on a fixed income.

“I ain’t gonna pay no stinkin’ $79! They cost more than my shoes,” one visitor remarked.

To overcome the price objection, we did a couple of things.

Articulated the core value proposition and attacked the price from the top

When prospects complain about price it simply means that they do not understand or appreciate the the product’s value proposition. They are seeing this:

The product’s cost exceeds the perceived value

To effectively deal with price, you must tilt the scale so that it looks like this instead:

The perceived value exceeds cost

While the sub-$10 Dr. Scholls was the reference point for many, we also learned that some customers had tried custom orthotics ($600 to $3,000) and Protalus’ insoles compared favorably.

We therefore decided our core value proposition would be:

“Avoid paying $600 for custom orthotics. Protalus insoles are almost as effective but cost 87% less.”

…forcing the $600 reference point, instead of the $10 for Dr. Scholls. In the conversion rate heuristic we use, the value proposition is the single biggest lever.

We explained all this from a “neutral” educational standpoint (rather than a salesy one) in three steps:

1. First, we use “market data” to explain the cause of most pain and establish that custom orthotics are more effective than over-the-counter insoles. Market data is always more compelling than product data, so you should lead with it.

C:\Users\jkuri\AppData\Local\Temp\SNAGHTML32c02fc1.PNG

2. Next, like a good trial lawyer, we show why Protalus insoles are similar to custom orthotics but cost 87% less:

C:\Users\jkuri\AppData\Local\Temp\SNAGHTML32c1e5dd.PNG

3. Finally, we deal with the “elephant in the room” and explain how Protalus insoles are fundamentally different from Dr. Scholls:

C:\Users\jkuri\AppData\Local\Temp\SNAGHTML32c39c19.PNG

We also used several verbatim customer testimonials to reinforce this point:

C:\Users\jkuri\AppData\Local\Temp\SNAGHTML32c7042b.PNG

C:\Users\jkuri\AppData\Local\Temp\SNAGHTML32c8a047.PNG

Whenever possible, let others do your bragging!

Attacked price from the bottom

Here, we used a technique known as “break the price down to the ridiculous.” $79 is just 44 cents per day, less than a K-cup of coffee — which most people consume once or twice a day! This makes the price more palatable.

C:\Users\jkuri\AppData\Local\Temp\SNAGHTML32cd1f37.PNG

Used the quality argument

The quality technique is from Zig Ziglar’s Sales Training. You say to a prospect:

“Many years ago, our company/founder/founding team made a basic decision. We decided it would be easier to use the highest quality materials and explain price one time than it would be to apologize for low quality forever. When you use the product/service, you’ll be glad we made that decision.”

It’s especially effective if the company has a well-known “maker” founder (like Yvon Chouinardat at Patagonia). It doesn’t work as well for MBAs or suits, much as we need them!

Protalus’ founder Chris Buck designed the insoles and has a cult-like following, so it works for him.

Dire outcomes of not taking action

Here we talked about the dire outcomes if you do not get the insoles; for example, surgery, doctors’ bills, and lost productivity at work! Many customers work on their feet all day (nurses, steelworkers, etc.) so this last point is highly relevant.

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Microsoft employed this technique successfully against Linux in the early 2000s. While Linux was free, the “Total Cost of Ownership” for not getting Windows was much higher when you considered support, frequent bugs, less accountability, fewer feature updates, and so on.

2. Not sure the product will work

For this objection, we did the following:

Used Dr. Romansky

We prominently featured Dr. Romansky, Protalus’ resident podiatrist. A consultant to the US Men’s and Women’s soccer teams and the Philadephia Phillies baseball team, he has serious credibility.

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The “educational” part of the landing page (above the fold) is done in “his voice.” Before, only his name appeared on a rarely visited page. This is an example of a “hidden wealth” opportunity!

Used celebrity testimonials on the main landing page

Back in 1997, a sports writer asked Phil Knight (Nike’s founder): “Is there no better way for you to spend $100 million?”

You see, Knight had just paid that staggering sum to a young Tiger Woods — and it seemed extravagant!

Knight’s answer? An emphatic “No!” That $100 million would generate several billion dollars in sales for Nike over the next decade!

Celebrity testimonials work. Period.

Since our celebrity endorsements increased the one-click upsell take-rate by 60%, we also used them on the main page:

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Used expert reviews

We solicited and included expert reviews from industry and medical professionals. Below are two of the four we used:

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These also helped address the price concern because some site visitors had expressed discomfort paying so much for an over-the-counter product without doctor recommendation.

3. Not sure the product will work for me

This is different from “Not sure the product will work” and needs to be treated separately. If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it is that everyone thinks their situation is one-in-a-million unique!

We listed all the conditions that Protalus insoles address, as well as those they do not.

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In addition, we clearly stated that the product does not work for 15% of the population.

By conspicuously admitting this (NOT just in the fine print section!) you are more credible. This is expressed in the Prospect’s Protest as:

“First tell me what your product CANNOT do and I might believe you when you tell me what it can do!”

4. Difficulty in using the site

Several visitors reported difficulty using the site, so we used Mouseflow’s powerful features to detect and fix usability issues.

Interestingly, the visitor session recordings confirmed that price was a big issue as we could clearly see prospects navigate to the price, stare incredulously, and then leave!

Accentuate the customers’ reasons for buying

Most of the opportunity in CRO is in the non-converting visitors (often over 90%), but understanding converting ones can yield crucial insights.*

For Protalus, the top reasons for buying were:

  • Desperation/too much leg, knee, or back pain/willing to try anything (This is the 4M, for “motivation,” in the strategic formula we use)
  • The testimonials were persuasive
  • Video was convincing

On the last point, the Mouseflow heatmaps showed that those who watched the video bought at a much higher rate, yet few watched it.

We therefore placed the video higher above the fold, used an arrow to draw attention, and inserted a sub-headline:

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A million-dollar question we ask buyers is:

“Was there any reason you ALMOST DID NOT buy?”

Devised by Cambridge-educated Dr. Karl Blanks, who coined the term “conversion rate optimization” in 2006, this question earned him a knighthood from the Queen of England! Thanks, Sir Karl!

It’s a great question because its answer is usually the reason many others didn’t buy. For every person who almost didn’t buy for reason X, I guarantee at least three others did not buy!

Given the low response rates when surveying non-converting visitors, this question helps get additional intelligence. In our case, price came up again.

*Sometimes the customers’ reasons for buying will surprise you. One of our past clients is in the e-cigarette/vaping business and a common reason cited by men for vaping was “to quit smoking because of my young daughter.” They almost never said “child” or “son”! Armed with this knowledge, we converted a whole new segment of smokers who had not considered vaping.

Speed testimonials

One of the most frequently asked questions was “How soon can I expect relief?” While Protalus addressed this in their Q&A section, we included conspicuous “speed testimonials” on the main page:

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For someone in excruciating pain, the promise of fast relief is persuasive!

Patent protection exclusivity & social proof

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Many of Protalus’ site visitors are older and still prefer to buy in physical stores, as we learned from our survey. They may like the product, but then think “I’ll buy them at the store.” We clarified that the product is only available on Protalus’ site.

Mentioning the patent-protection added exclusivity, one of the two required elements for a compelling value proposition.

At its core, landing page optimization isn’t about optimizing pages. A page just happens to be the medium used to optimize thought sequences in the prospect’s mind.

Dr. Flint likes to say, “The geography of the page determines the chronology of thought sequences in the prospect’s mind.” As shown above, we repeated the social proof elements at the point of purchase.

Tying it all together

After systematically addressing each objection and adding various appeal elements, we strung them all in the cohesive long-form page below.

We start with a powerful headline and Elisabeth’s story because it’s both intriguing and relevant to Protalus’ audience, which skews female and over 55. The only goal of a headline is to get visitors to read what comes next — NOT to sell.

The product’s price is not mentioned until we have told a compelling story, educated visitors and engaged them emotionally.

Note that the winning page is several times longer than the control. There is a mistaken belief that you “just need to get to the point” because people won’t read long pages. In fact, a previous consultant told Protalus that their sales were low because the “buy button” wasn’t high enough on the page. 🙂

Nothing could be further from the truth. For a high-priced product, you must articulate a compelling value proposition before you sell!

But also note the page is “as long as necessary, but as short as possible.” Buy buttons are sprinkled liberally after the initial third of the page so that those who are convinced needn’t “sit through the entire presentation.”


Acknowledgement

We’d like to thank team Protalus for giving us wide latitude to conduct bold experiments and for allowing us to publish this. Their entrepreneurial culture has been refreshing. We are most grateful to Don Vasquez, their forward-thinking CMO (and minority owner), for trusting the process and standing by us when the first test caused some revenue loss.

Thanks to Hayk Saakian, Nick Jordan, Yin-so Chen, and Jon Powell for reading drafts of this piece.


Free CRO audit

I can’t stress this enough: CRO is hard work. We spent countless hours on market research, studied visitor behavior, and reviewed tens of thousands of customer comments before we ran a single A/B test. We also solicited additional testimonials from industry experts and doctors. There is no magical silver bullet — just lots of little lead ones!

Results like this don’t happen by accident. If you are unhappy with your current conversion rate for sales, leads or app downloads, first, we encourage you to review the tried-and-true strategic formula. Next, we would like to offer Moz readers a free CRO audit. We’ll also throw in a free SEO (Search Engine Optimization) review. While we specialize in CRO, we’ve partnered with one of the best SEO firms due to client demand. Lastly, we are hiring. Review the roles and reasons why you should come work for us!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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What’s a Good Quality Score for Each Type of Keyword?

When it comes to Quality Score everyone wants a 10. But for certain types of keywords, that’s about as likely as WordStream doubling my salary to drink bourbon and grill dry-aged ribeyes on a veranda overlooking Lake Winnipesauke. We can dream, but it ain’t gonna happen.

You see, when you add a new keyword to your account, Google automatically assigns it a starting Quality Score of 6. From there, a combination of factors, including expected CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experience, will determine whether that score sinks or skyrockets. But not all keywords are created equal.

traits that impact quality score include expected ctr ad relevance and landing page experience 

Today, we’re going to talk about what constitutes a good Quality Score depending on what kind of keyword you’re bidding on. Viewing this key AdWords metric in context will help you identify the right keywords to focus your optimization efforts on.

Here’s a high-level overview of what you’ll learn today:

  • A “good” Quality Score in AdWords depends on what kind of keyword you’re looking at
  • A good Quality Score for branded keywords is between 8 and 10
  • A good Quality Score for high-intent commercial keywords is 7 to 9
  • 7 is a good Quality Score for low-intent keywords
  • Aim for a Quality Score of 3+ on competitor keywords
  • Prioritize raising your Quality Score for high-intent keywords first

Now let’s dig into this topic in a little more detail, including a quick recap on how Quality Score works.

What is Quality Score?

For those of you who are new (or could use a refresher), Quality Score is the metric Google uses to determine the quality (duh) and relevance of your ad copy and landing page in relation to a given keyword. It’s then used to calculate your cost per click (CPC) and ad rank for that keyword. The higher your relevance and your Quality Score, the better your ad rank and the less you pay every time someone clicks on your ad.

This makes Quality Score really important to your AdWords performance.

quality score in adwords impact on cost per click

Also important to your performance—from a conversion and ROI standpoint—is intent.

If you sell mugs decorated with witty phrases, the keyword “buy novelty mug” is inherently more valuable to you than, say, “mug” or “what are mugs.” While those last two are relevant (ish) to your business, they’re not commercial; those searchers are very unlikely to buy anything from you.

As such, time spent trying to improve your Quality Scores on broad, informational keywords will have much less of an impact on your bottom line than optimizing high-intent keywords that lead directly to action.

Believe it or not, this holds true for businesses outside of the highly competitive ceramic drinkware industry, too.  

The 4 Kinds of Keywords

For the purposes of this exercise, we can divide keywords into four major groups: brand, competitor, high intent, and low intent. 

A branded keyword is a layup. No other advertiser can use your brand in their copy (it’s against Google’s guidelines) and it’s unlikely that a competitor’s using your name in their URL or on a landing page.

quality score has the ability to make you pay more or less per click based on degree of optimization 

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s almost impossible to get a Quality Score of 10 when bidding on your competitor’s name; for New Balance to outrank Nike on a search for “Nike,” they’re going to have to pay an arm and a leg.

Between the poles of brand and competitor, we can split keywords into two groups: low intent (typically informational or navigational searches) and high intent (commercially relevant keywords, the ones that lead to conversions, the backbone of your AdWords account. Need I go on?). Both are important to your overall AdWords success (if you use remarketing, cheaper low intent keywords are a great way to create audiences and drive conversions down the road), but treating them as equals is a waste of your time and money.

With that, let’s look at what a solid Quality Score looks like for each type of keyword (and talk about how to improve them if you’re missing the mark).

What’s a Good Quality Score for Branded Keywords? 8+

Even though your website should be the first thing that shows up in the organic results when someone searches for your business, there’s a big old chunk of real estate above the organic listings that your competitors are welcome to claim. (And the above the fold real estate on brand searches looks even more commercial on mobile devices.) Fortunately for you, competitors need to pay a premium to do so.

That being said, many of them are ready and willing.

For this reason, you need to bid on your own keywords. The required investment is small—especially compared to some of those high intent keywords (we’ll get to them in a minute)—but dominating the SERP pays dividends. You can basically sleep your way to a high Quality Score for branded campaigns. That means if you’re not seeing at least an 8, something has gone horribly wrong (don’t worry, it’s fixable).

Think about the contributing factors. The expected CTR should be high since the search was for your brand (intent city) and your ad couldn’t be more relevant. The only potential detractor is landing page experience, which is impacted by a combination of content, structure, and load time.

Check out this New Balance ad that surfaces when I search for the brand and nothing more (can you tell I love leisurewear sneakers yet?).

example serp for branded keywords showing quality score 

The copy isn’t salesy outside of an obligatory “shop now” in the description. The rest of the ad speaks to the brand’s heritage (“Since 1906,” “For more than 100 years”) and ad extensions are used to share additional value propositions and links to high-traffic pages.

Guess what? You can do this, too.

Simply speaking to your prospects and sending them to a relevant location will yield a high Quality Score, making your branded keywords dirt cheap on a CPC basis.

Tips to Improve Quality Score for Branded Keywords

  • Ensure that your landing page loads quickly with the Google PageSpeed Insights tool.
  • Don’t be afraid to tout your brand’s distinguishing factors in your headlines, even if it means relegating your CTA to the description .
  • To dominate the SERP, add as many relevant ad extensions to your branded campaigns as you can; this will help prospects navigate to more relevant pages and push competitors further down the page.

What’s a Good Quality Score for High-Intent Keywords? 7-9

High-intent commercial keywords are the most important subset of keywords in your AdWords account. They also tend to be the most expensive. As a result, high-intent keywords are the area in which maximizing Quality Score will have the greatest impact on performance.

Whether you’re a merchant of $15 skinny jeans or $25,000 software, high-intent keywords are those search terms that convey clear intent to do X, where X is your conversion objective.

Let’s say you sell flowers online and, two days before his mother’s 49th birthday, a terribly forgetful son needs to send something that will elicit a smile. He types “buy flowers online” into Google and sees…

 keywords with high commercial intent are the place to focus your quality score optimization efforts

What do you notice about these ads? What do they have in common?

The ads are relevant and feature CTA’s for days.

Even 1-800-Flowers (who have brand recognition for days) uses the search term in their copy. You’ll also notice a smattering of dollar signs and deals, all of which exist to entice a searcher into clicking. These advertisers are specifically attempting to improve their expected CTR for the term “buy flowers online.”

Before Google even considers the landing page experience component of the Quality Score calculation, each of these advertisers has made a concerted effort to optimize for ad relevance and CTR. This means that two-thirds of the contributing factors are accounted for, making a QS of 6 or 7 attainable through diligent ad testing and good account structure alone.

Landing pages are trickier to tackle from a resources perspective, but if you can ensure speed and relevance, you’re going to please Google’s algorithm. For your high-intent keywords, try to build out single keyword ad groups and implement ad group level landing pages. While this can be a major hassle (not to mention expensive), ensuring semantic relevance and fast load times is the best way to improve this crucial component of your Quality Score. For the keywords most likely to impact your bottom line, it’s totally worth it.

Tips to Improve High-Intent Keyword Quality Score

  • Use Single Keyword Ad Groups (SKAG) to isolate high intent terms. This gives you more control over your bid and allows you to implement the exact term in your ad copy.
  • Have dedicated landing pages in place for your most valuable keywords.
  • Include your target keyword in your ad at least twice, but don’t overdo it! I suggest using it in the first headline and again in the URL paths; use a related term in the description to add emphasis without coming off as spammy.

What’s a Good Quality Score for Low-Intent Keywords? 7

Low-intent keywords aren’t unimportant. In fact, they form the foundation of any great remarketing campaign (and can be used to forge successful Lookalike audiences in Facebook). That being said, most SMBs and overworked agencies simply don’t have the time to push Quality Scores to 10 across the board.

Let’s say you’re running the AdWords account for an online MBA program. This is a ridiculously expensive niche, with stiff competition and CPC’s commonly exceeding $30.

though important to the top of your sales funnel low intent keywords should be optimized after high commercial intent keywords 

That’s why I’m suggesting you set a more realistic target: aim for a Quality Score of 7 on your non-branded, top-of-funnel keywords.

Google’s baseline Quality Score of 6 is faux optimism on their part; it’s almost guaranteed to go down from there as soon as you record a few hundred impressions. Why? Think back to those contributing factors again.

Google cannot determine your CTR if a keyword is brand new. If you’re lumping comparable keywords into a single ad group (instead of using the SKAG I mentioned earlier), you’ll never maximize the landing page experience component outside of load time. That leaves only ad relevance, which can suffer from the same keyword oversaturation that may plague your ability to max out landing page performance.

From a business value standpoint, it simply isn’t worth your time and money to invest in trying to max out Quality Scores for informational or navigational keywords. That being said, you can make strides towards reaching a Quality Score of 7 for your low-intent keywords by crafting irresistible CTAs (like we talked about earlier) and ensuring a well-laid-out account structure.

This means no more than 20 keywords per ad group. They need to be related by some common thread; whether that’s semantic or thematic is your call, but ensuring similarity will allow you to ensure ad and landing page relevance without stretching yourself too thin.

Tips to Improve Quality Score for Low-Intent Keywords

  • Try to implement campaign-level landing pages; this will ensure contextual relevance (allowing you to answer a prospects’ questions) without getting too granular and wasting optimizing for terms that don’t tie back to revenue.
  • Split your keywords into tight, organized ad groups that can be more effectively tied to individual campaigns and landing pages.
  • Outside of using a keyword (or close variant) in your ad copy, focus on improving CTR by testing CTA’s in your first and second headlines.

What’s a Good Quality Score for Competitor Keywords? 3+

Finally, we come to the most challenging subset of keywords (at least in terms of Quality Score): your competitors’ branded terms.

Everything that works in your favor when bidding on your own brand is now reversed; your lack of “relevance,” at least as Google sees it, means you need to bid up if you want to show up. A Quality Score of 3 or better in a competitor campaign means you’re killing it. That’s because your only real weapon—outside of your own brand recognition—is irresistible ad copy.

Let’s dig into an example…

Here’s a SERP for the search query “HubSpot”:

 it's difficult to optimize quality score for competitor keywords but focus on expected ctr with compelling headlines

HubSpot doesn’t have an ad on this page, but they’re the first organic result (remember what I said about all that real estate? Read ‘em and weep). Both competitors with ads served for my search are deploying similar tactics—hammering home difference in cost and a demo offer—with one exception. One is attempting to trick Google’s Quality Score algorithm (and searchers, for that matter) by implanting an alternate spelling of HubSpot. Don’t do this. While it may save you a buck, it may result in ad disapproval or suspension (plus the dishonesty is a bit uncouth).

Instead, focus all your efforts on crafting headlines that can’t be ignored and CTA’s that make your competitors’ offering look obsolete.

Tips to Improve Your Quality Scores for Competitor Keywords

  • Use RLSA to increase bids for searchers who have already visited your website; they’re worth paying a bit more for because their search habits indicate that they’re shopping around.
  • Test your CTAs constantly to find out what maximizes CTR: this is the key to a QS 3 or higher.
  • Say something outlandish in your first headline to draw attention away from the organic search results.

Conclusion

Improving your Quality Scores isn’t a one-time thing: it’s a constant process. For each type of keyword, you should be aiming for the following Quality Scores…

  • Branded: 8+
  • High Intent: 7-9
  • Low Intent: 7
  • Competitor: 3+

While a well-manicured account structure and great copy can go a long way towards establishing success, the nature of expected CTR is such that continuous testing is the key to maintaining enviable Quality Scores across the board.

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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8 Advertising Tips for Electricians & Other Tradesmen

For a millennial, full-time digital marketing professional who runs ad campaigns for the tech startup she’s employed for, learning AdWords seems quite feasible.

For an electrician, roofer, locksmith, or contractor, PPC might as well stand for party planning company… Why would people in small service-based trades like these be familiar with pay-per-click advertising? They may not have grown up with the internet, and they certainly did not attend school to become digital advertisers. They more likely attended a trade school to master the jobs they do now. Their priorities are fixing your pipes, repairing your roofs, and ensuring your televisions are installed properly.

This is what makes digital advertising challenging for many tradesmen and blue-collar professionals.

construction workers in the 1930s

Typical lunch break

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with WordStream customer William Rusch, who refers to himself as the “master electrician” of Charleston Electric, a family-run electrician business in Charleston, South Carolina, that’s grown substantially in their last five years in operation. William is actually far too modest because he does much more than practice his craft of electrician; William is the founder of Charleston Electric, and also runs the company’s marketing campaigns, and is responsible for bringing in new clients to keep the business running. This of course includes paid search.

Marketing and Advertising Challenges Faced by Tradesmen

When William and I discussed some of the challenges he’s faced while running online ad campaigns through Google AdWords while also running his electrician business, two in particular stood out…

1) Allocating Your Online Ad Budget Properly

The world of AdWords is not an easy one to navigate. There’s campaigns, ad groups, keywords, match types, negative keywords, ads, extensions, mobile ads, bidding, budgeting, and the list goes on. As an electrician, understanding the strategy to spend money wisely in this crazy world of paid search isn’t easy.

adwords budget breakdown

“The challenge is knowing how to spend your money. It’s not easy to know how to use AdWords,” William said. “As electricians most of us are not marketers. We know how to do our job really well, but when it comes to advertising we are forced to pay someone to do it or do it yourself.” This leads me to the next challenge…

2) Having to Rely on Outside Help

When you’re in a line of work like William, your main focus is fixing the electrical issue at hand rather than advertising and marketing. This often leads to relying on outside help, which can lead to money being thrown down the drain.

“A lot of people I know in similar lines of work have been burned when paying someone else,” William said. “They end up spending thousands of dollars per month and not knowing where their money is going. In the past we’ve used companies to market with and I never felt like we got great results from what we did.”

So, how do you get around these challenges without hiring help? Well, if you’re a blue-collar professional trying to fulfill your long list of jobs while simultaneously getting new clients, you’ve come to the right place.

Follow these eight tips to run more effective online ads and grow your client base and revenue with paid search.

How to Run Effective AdWords Campaigns in Blue-Collar Industries

#1: Structure Your Ad Campaigns by Location

Location can make or break your chances of getting a client in the trades. For instance, if I’m looking for a plumber in Hingham, MA, I’m more likely to go with the one within a 3-mile radius of my location rather then one located in downtown Boston. Often enough the situation may be urgent when it comes to manual labor, so proximity is critical.

This is something that advertisers need to keep top of mind when configuring and structuring their campaigns.

“We use location-specific targeting to structure our campaigns around the three major cities where we operate and towns around them,” says William. “We then generate ads based upon location, and have those ads specific to that location. We also have a very good name that’s specific to the area that we’re in.”

location targeting in adwords

An example of radius-based location targeting in AdWords

Make sure to get specific with your campaign targeting, even drilling down to a specified radius. Then structure your ad groups around keywords that pertain to that location. For example, if you operate in Boston, create a campaign for people who live in Beacon Hill and target that specific radius. Then bid on keywords like “electrician in beacon hill” and “beacon hill electrician near me.”

#2: Cater Your Ads to Targeted Locations

Bouncing off the last tip, it’s important not to forget to add in the location into your ad text. Regardless of whether your targeting and keyword strategy is spot on, if the location isn’t prevalent in the ad copy, then a competitor’s ad with more detail will likely win the click over yours.

Don’t leave any mystery around the location – being clear about this will lead to more actionable outcomes from searchers.

Take the example below. When I searched “roofer near me” these two ads popped up:

online ad tips for small local service professionals

While it’s great that the first one includes information around price, what I’m really interested in is location. I know immediately that the second ad is located in Framingham where I currently am located. It’s not only broadcasted in the ad text, but it’s reinforced in the link as well, and luckily I can also get a free estimate before making a commitment to the roofer in my area.

#3: Encourage and Prioritize Phone Calls

For William, phone calls are essential, since this form of communication is the way that the majority of new and repeat customers contact Charleston Electric.

I imagine this is true for many others in similar lines of work, because when an individual needs someone to visit their home or workplace they want to ensure they’re booking an appointment with a real person. They also likely have a very specific scenario that is much easier to describe over the phone rather than through a form or email.

So how do you prioritize phone calls in PPC? Here are few tactics to mastering this:

  • Set up call extensions
  • Experiment with call-only campaigns
  • Ensure you’re using call tracking so you know where your calls are coming from
  • Broadcast your businesses phone number in your ad text and on your PPC landing pages
  • Make sure your landing pages are mobile responsive
    • Make use of call-specific CTA’s (calls to action)

landing page for blue collar business

William’s home page

“We often encourage people to call now or save $25 with a phone call in our ad text,” says William.

#4: Run Competitor Campaigns

Staying ahead of your competition is important in any industry, but it can be especially helpful to have a competitive strategy in place when it comes to blue-collar advertisements. Often searchers will look for a specific electrician company, perhaps one that’s more well-known or was a referral from a neighbor. Here lies the opportunity to appear ahead of that company by bidding on competitor keywords.

“We have lots of competitors so we’ve geared up our competitor campaigns to market against them,” says William. “For different competitors I create campaigns and I target their company name, and make it specific to what they’re doing. Competitors don’t seem to be spending as much, so if we spend a bit more we can beat them in the SERPs, generate calls at cheap CPC’s, and gain customers that are actually looking for them.”

#5: Create Authentic and Trustworthy Ad Copy

Ad copy can make or break your chances of getting site traffic or even a direct phone call from your ads. Especially in an industry where customers are typically making close comparisons to your competition nearby, thinking strategically about ad copy becomes even more critical.

This isn’t something you have to tell William twice. When writing his ad copy he decided to use the emotional aspect of the fact that his business is family owned and operated.

build trust with ad copy

“I always like to add ‘family-owned’ company because we are family owned and operated,” said William. “I also talk about the amount of experience we have because these two components provide a sense of trustworthiness.”

Taking a tip from William’s book, I think it’s important to be transparent and honest in your ad copy, and let the best things about your business sell it to your customers.

#6: Let Your Customers Speak for You

In a situation where a contractor or electrician is coming to your home to make a repair, consumers are always cautious about being scammed. We’ve all heard the nightmare stories of someone who pays hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get their chimney fixed when the next week the same problem arises. Yet, the contractor who made the repair has managed to drop off the face of the earth.

This is why customer testimonials are more important then ever.

“Testimonials are very important to us. People want to know what they’re getting into. Luckily, we have almost 80 reviews on our Google page,” says William. “Overall we have a positive reputation and that helps to persuade people that they should give us a shot over someone else who maybe doesn’t have testimonials.”

reviews and testimonials

5-star reviews!

If you’re company is lacking testimonials, don’t be afraid to ask your happy customers for them!

Here are a few ideas for how you can incorporate more customer testimonials into your digital marketing efforts:

  • Configure review extensions in your search ads
  • Encourage customers to review you on multiple platforms (Yelp, Google, Facebook, Angie’s List, etc.)
  • Publish testimonials on your AdWords landing pages
  • Create a dedicated area of your website to highlight customer testimonials
  • Invest in video testimonials for your homepage

#7: Open Your Wallet

Don’t roll your eyes just yet! Often enough, business owners hold their wallets far too tight to their lockbox. But when it comes to paid search, the word “paid” is in the title for a reason.

If you want to get a high return you need to be willing to invest. Yes, it’s important to know what you’re doing before dumping your money into a bunch of poorly structured campaigns running on highly competitive broad match keywords. But once you’ve nailed down a solid strategy, put a reasonable amount of money towards your PPC campaigns to ensure you’re being competitive enough to appear in the top spots.

“If you are in a service-based business, advertising is extremely important. If you do not advertise you’re not going to bring in new customers on a daily basis,” says William. “You’ll get referrals, but to generate new business you need to advertise to grow. While it may be scary to spend $1,000/month, if you want to grow and get new business there’s only one way to do this and that is to spend money.”

In my opinion, William has the perfect attitude. “I spend a lot of time focusing on our marketing, and I’ve made a goal to maximize advertising dollars. I’m always willing to try new things, and spend the money to try it.”

Follow William’s advice and invest in market research! It could substantially pay off in the end.

#8: Always Be Identifying Negative Keywords

If you’re wary about wasting money, then you should be proactive about identifying negative keywords. Negative keywords – the searches that you DON’T want your ads to appear for – will ensure that your ads don’t show up for irrelevant searches.

They are especially important when bidding on broad or phrase match keywords, and unnecessary to configure for exact match keywords since ads will only appear if the exact term is matched with the keyword search. For more on negative keywords check out this resource.

William found that adding negative keyword research to his PPC workflow not only saved him huge amounts of money, but it also improved his AdWords ROI.

negative keywords

Big-budget advertisers know how important negative keywords are for ROI

“I found negative keywords like ‘electrician shoes,’ ‘electrician gloves,’ ‘electrician knives,’ and ‘electrician tools.’ Since we do repairs and installations, every time we get a click for something like that it just wastes money,” he says. “For us it was thousands and thousands dollars per year we were wasting. It’s one thing to spend money and get relevant clicks, but another to spend money and get unqualified traffic.”

After realizing how much money William was wasting he decided to streamline his process, and began using QueryStream, a WordStream Advisor tool that shows the exact keywords individuals are typing into Google to find his ads.

querystream

Those “Milwaukee” and “Wisconsin” search terms probably aren’t converting well

“QueryStream is the most helpful tool. I simply go on there every night, go through each campaign and go through the clicks we’re getting,” he says. “Then I go through and add in negatives throughout the whole campaign or even our whole AdWords account. It makes it so simple to do, and it’s so much easier than trying to do it through AdWords. Before we were wasting our budget. WordStream has allowed us to streamline our account, and really make our advertising budget work for us.”

While yes, managing online advertising can be quite difficult for people in this line of work since their main responsibilities lie elsewhere, the investment can significantly grow your business.

If you’re currently advertising on Google and curious as to how you’re doing, try our AdWords Grader for a free report!

About the Author:

Margot is a Content Marketing Specialist at WordStream and nutrition graduate student at Framingham State. She loves all things digital, learning about nutrition, running, traveling, and cooking. Follow her on:

Twitter: @margotshealthub

Instagram: @margotshealthhub   

Blog: http://ift.tt/2o7a6TV

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Understanding and Harnessing the Flow of Link Equity to Maximize SEO Ranking Opportunity – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

How does the flow of link equity work these days, and how can you harness its potential to help improve your rankings? Whether you’re in need of a refresher or you’ve always wanted a firmer grasp of the concept, this week’s Whiteboard Friday is required watching. Rand covers the basic principles of link equity, outlines common flow issues your site might be encountering, and provides a series of action items to ensure your site is riding the right currents.

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Link equity flow

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about understanding and harnessing link equity flow, primarily internal link equity flow, so that you can get better rankings and execute on your SEO. A big thank you to William Chou, @WChouWMX on Twitter, for suggesting this topic. If you have a topic or something that you would like to see on Whiteboard Friday, tweet at me. We’ll add it to the list.

Principles of link equity

So some principles of link equity first to be aware of before we dive into some examples.

1. External links generally give more ranking value and potential ranking boosts than internal links.

That is not to say, though, that internal links provide no link equity, and in fact, many pages that earn few or no external links can still rank well if a domain itself is well linked to and that page is on that site and has links from other good, important pages on the domain. But if a page is orphaned or if a domain has no links at all, extremely difficult to rank.

2. Well-linked-to pages, both internal and external, pass more link equity than those that are poorly linked to.

I think this makes intuitive sense to all of us who have understood the concept of PageRank over the years. Basically, if a page accrues many links, especially from other important pages, that page’s ability to pass its link equity to other pages, to give a boost in ranking ability is stronger than if a page is very poorly linked to or not linked to at all.

3. Pages with fewer links tend to pass more equity to their targets than pages with more links.

Again, going off the old concept of PageRank, if you have a page with hundreds or thousands of links on it, each of those receives a much more fractional, smaller amount of the link equity that could be passed to it than if you have a page with only a few links on it. This is not universally… well, I just want to say this doesn’t scale perfectly. So it’s not the case that if you were to trim down your high link earning pages to having only one link and point to this particular page on your site, then you suddenly get tremendously more benefit than if you had your normal navigation on that page and you link to your homepage and About page and products page. That’s not really the case. But if you had a page that had hundreds of links in a row and you instead made that page have only a few links to the most important, most valuable places, you’ll get more equity out of that, more rank boosting ability.

4. Hacks and tricks like “nofollow” are often ineffective at shaping the flow of link equity.

Using rel=”no follow” or embedding a remotely executable JavaScript file that makes it so that browsers can see the links and visitors can, but Google is unlikely to see or follow those links, to shape the flow of your link equity is generally (a) a poor use of your time, because it doesn’t affect things that much. The old-school PageRank algorithm not that hugely important anymore. And (b) Google is often pretty good at interpreting and discounting these things. So it tends to not be worth your time at all.

5. Redirects and canonicalization lose a small amount of link equity. Non-ideal ones like 302s, JS redirects, etc. may lose more than 301, rel=canonical, etc.

So if I have a 301 or a rel=canonical from one page to another, those will lose or cost you a small, a very small amount of link equity. But more potentially costly would be using non-ideal types of redirects or canonicalization methods, like a JavaScript-based redirect or a 302 or a 307 instead of a 301. If you’re going to do a redirect or if you’re going to do canonicalization, 301s or rel=canonicals are the way to go.

So keeping in mind these principles, let’s talk through three of the most common link equity flow issues that we see websites facing.

Common link equity flow issues

A. A few pages on a large site get all the external links:

You have a relatively large site, let’s say thousands to tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of pages, and only a few of those pages are earning any substantial quantity of external links. I have highlighted those in pink. So these pages are pointing to these pink ones. But on this website you have other pages, pages like these purple ones, where you essentially are wanting to earn link equity, because you know that you need to rank for these terms and pages that these purple ones are targeting, but they’re not getting the external links that these pink pages are. In these cases, it’s important to try a few things.

  1. We want to identify the most important non-link earning pages, these purple ones. We’ve got to figure out what these actually are. What are the pages that you wish would rank that are not yet ranking for their terms and phrases that they’re targeting?
  2. We want to optimize our internal links from these pink pages to these purple ones. So in an ideal world, we would say, “Aha, these pages are very strong. They’ve earned a lot of link equity.” You could use Open Site Explorer and look at Top Pages, or Ahrefs or any of our other competitors and look at your pages, the ones that have earned the most links and the most link equity. Then you could say, “Hey, can I find some relevance between these two or some user stories where someone who reaches this page needs something over here, and thus I’m going to create a link to and from there?” That’s a great way to pass equity.
  3. Retrofitting and republishing. So what I mean by this is essentially I’m going to take these pages, these purple ones that I want to be earning links, that are not doing well yet, and consider reworking their content, taking the lessons that I have learned from the pink pages, the ones that have earned link equity, that have earned external links and saying, “What did these guys do right that we haven’t done right on these guys, and what could we do to fix that situation?” Then I’m going to republish and restart a marketing, a link building campaign to try and get those links.

B. Only the homepage of a smaller site gets any external links.

This time we’re dealing with a small site, a very, very small site, 5 pages, 10 pages, maybe even up to 50 pages, but generally a very small site. Often a lot of small businesses, a lot of local businesses have this type of presence, and only the homepage gets any link equity at all. So what do we do in those cases? There’s not a whole lot to spread around. The homepage can only link to so many places. We have to serve users first. If we don’t, we’re definitely going to fall in the search engine rankings.

So in this case, where the pink link earner is the homepage, there are two things we can do:

  1. Make sure that the homepage is targeting and serves the most critical keyword targets. So we have some keyword targets that we know we want to go after. If there’s one phrase in particular that’s very important, rather than having the homepage target our brand, we could consider having the homepage target that specific query. Many times small businesses and small websites will make this mistake where they say, “Oh, our most important keyword, we’ll make that this page. We’ll try and rank it. We’ll link to it from the homepage.” That is generally not nearly as effective as making a homepage target that searcher intent. If it can fit with the user journey as well, that’s one of the best ways you can go.
  2. Consider some new pages for content, like essentially saying, “Hey, I recognize that these other pages, maybe they’re About and my Terms of Service and some of my products and services and whatnot, and they’re just not that link-worthy. They don’t deserve links. They’re not the type of pages that would naturally earn links.” So we might need to consider what are two or three types of pages or pages that we could produce, pieces of content that could earn those links, and think about it this way. You know who the people who are already linking to you are. It’s these folks. I have just made up some domains here. But the folks who are already linking to your homepage, those are likely to be the kinds of people who will link to your internal pages as well. So I would think about them as link targets and say, “What would I be pretty confident that they would link to, if only they knew that it existed on our website?” That’s going to give you a lot of success. Then I would check out some of our link building sections here on Whiteboard Friday and across the Moz Blog for more tips.

C. Mid-long tail KW-targeting pages are hidden or minimized by the site’s nav/IA.

So this is essentially where I have a large site, and I have pages that are targeting keywords that don’t get a ton of volume, but they’re still important. They could really boost the value that we get from our website, because they’re hyper-targeted to good customers for us. In this case, one of the challenges is they’re hidden by your information architecture. So your top-level navigation and maybe even your secondary-level navigation just doesn’t link to them. So they’re just buried deep down in the website, under a whole bunch of other stuff. In these cases, there are some really good solutions.

  1. Find semantic and user intent relationships. So semantic is these words appeared on those pages. Let’s say one of these pages here is targeting the word “toothpaste,” for example, and I find that, oh, you know what, this page over here, which is well linked to in our navigation, mentions the word “toothpaste,” but it doesn’t link over here yet. I’m going to go create those links. That’s a semantic relationship. A user intent relationship would be, hey, this page over here talks about oral health. Well, oral health and toothpaste are actually pretty relevant. Let me make sure that I can create that user journey, because I know that people who’ve read about oral health on our website probably also later want to read about toothpaste, at least some of them. So let’s make that relationship also happen between those two pages. That would be a user intent type of relationship. You’re going find those between your highly linked to external pages and your well-linked-to internal pages and these long tail pages that you’re trying to target. Then you’re going to create those new links.
  2. Try and leverage the top-level category pages that you already have. If you have a top-level navigation and it links to whatever it is — home, products, services, About Us, Contact, the usual types of things — it’s those pages that are extremely well linked to already internally where you can add in content links to those long-tail pages and potentially benefit.
  3. Consider new top-level or second-level pages. If you’re having trouble adding them to these pages, they already have too many links, there’s no user story that make good sense here, it’s too weird to jam them in, maybe engineering or your web dev team thinks that that’s ridiculous to try and jam those in there, consider creating new top-level pages. So essentially saying, “Hey, I want to add a page to our top-level navigation that is called whatever it is, Additional Resources or Resources for the Curious or whatever.” In this case in my oral health and dentistry example, potentially I want an oral health page that is linked to from the top-level navigation. Then you get to use that new top-level page to link down and flow the link equity to all these different pages that you care about and currently are getting buried in your navigation system.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. Give us your tips in the comments for how you’ve seen link equity flow, the benefits or drawbacks that you’ve seen to try and controlling and optimizing that flow. We’ll see again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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