Tag Archive | "Marketing"

Join Us for a Live Workshop on Modern Email Marketing

The major heads-up today is that we have a live workshop next week (Tuesday, April 24 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time) on how to use sophisticated segmentation and automation in your email marketing — even if you have a limited budget and you’re not particularly technical. This lets you create focused and relevant messages for
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Marketing 101: What is website usability?

Usability is in the eyes of the beholder. That which is easy to us isn’t always obvious to our customers. Today, we explore that topic and offer a little advice.
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6 Top Marketing Challenges Solved by Influencer Content

Marketing Challenges Solved by Influencer Content

Whether you’re a new Marketing leader at a company in need of establishing wins quickly or part of a growing organization with ambitious revenue goals, the challenges within marketing today are greater than ever.

To help make sense out of these challenges, I’ve listed 6 of the top obstacles to brands achieving effectiveness out of their marketing and how collaborating with influencers on content help solve each problem.

1. Challenge: Ad Blocking

600 million devices are using ad blocking leading to a loss of $ 22 billion in ad revenue for publishers (PageFair). If buyers don’t ever see your ads, what chance do you have?

Challenge solved: Contrary to ads, influencers are liked and because people pay attention to the influencers they follow, shared brand messages are far more likely to attract and engage buyers.

When you subscribe to the idea that everyone is influential about something, especially with their friends, co-workers and social connections, this statistic from Nielsen (83% of consumers trust recommendations from their peers over advertising) becomes very powerful.

Collaborating with influencers on content that the influencers then promote to their subscribing community can become a powerful differentiator for any marketing program.

Of course not all customers use ad blocking and there are incredible opportunities to be realized with sophisticated ad targeting. That’s why when properly executed, influencer content can be leveraged for both organic and paid promotions.

2. Challenge: Information Overload

Consider this: 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last 2 years. That’s 2.5 quintillion bytes of data a day (IBM). In fact, 74gb of media are sent to the average consumer on an average day (USC/ICTM).

The sheer number of choices faced by consumers and general distrust has turned brand marketing into noise for many customers.

Challenge solved: Influencers are Focused. One of the most compelling reasons a person is influential is because of the specificity in the topics they cover. Because of that specialization, buyers anticipate rather than ignore or feel overwhelmed by what their trusted influencers share.

While some influencers distribute their content on multiple channels, their personal brand focus plus consistency and trust equals a signal that buyers pay attention to.

3. Challenge: Google “Hates” SEO

Search Engine Optimization bloggers have been positing this question for 10+ years. With Google algorithm and platform updates including Florida, Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, Pigeon, RankBrain, Mobile, Possum, Fred and the thousands of launches, live traffic experiments, side-by-side experiments and over 130,000 search quality tests, it makes you wonder: is this all for improving the customer experience or is some of it to thwart SEO?

Challenge solved: Google actually likes influencer content. Another key ingredient to why someone is influential is their credibility and authority. An influencer’s specific expertise and their ability to provide insights, answers and even research based perspectives all deliver on the Google’s expectation that content be useful.

Beyond influencer content being useful, there’s the practice of making content worth linking to. Influencers typically have a subscribed audience, many of which publish themselves. When influencers publish and promote content, it naturally attracts links.

By optimizing content for search and activating influencers, brands can create opportunities to help customers find trusted content and everybody wins.

4. Challenge: Buyers Don’t Trust Brands

Or ads. This is a hard pill to swallow: 42% of consumers distrust brands and 69% distrust advertising according to a study by (Ipsos Connect).

Challenge solved: Influencers are trusted.  A recent study by Fullscreen and Shareblee via MarketingCharts found that nearly 40% of 18-34-year-olds are more likely to trust what an influencer says about a brand than what the brand says about itself. Additionally, Twitter reports that users trust influencers nearly as much as their friends.

Collaborating with influencers on content can bring authenticity, credibility and trust to that content. When influencers share that content, the effect of their audiences’s trust goes even further.

5. Challenge: Content Doesn’t Scale

According to the annual study by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, some of the top content challenges marketers included: 60% producing engaging content, 57% producing content consistently.

Challenge solved: Creator Influencers are experts at creating content. Influencer content creation and storytelling skills come in many forms: blogging, podcasting, video, images, and sometimes interactive.

Brands can extend the media creation skills of their marketing departments by partnering with creators with specialized skills. In addition to skill, creator influencers have an audience to promote the content to.

6. Challenge: Organic Social is Dead

Not only is Facebook organic reach down 52% (MarketingLand) but declarations that organic reach on Facebook is outright dead for brands are being stated by many credible industry publications, including Digiday.

Challenge (partly) solved: Influencers have optimized social popularity. Influencers create the kinds of signals that social network algorithms reward with higher visibility. Influencers understand what resonates with their audience in terms of topic, content type and promotion. Those same influencers also have an active audience that engages with their shared content. This is a powerful combination for triggering social network algorithms to prioritize influencer content in the feed.

Influencer Marketing is no silver bullet. Neither is content marketing or any kind of marketing approach.

But when influencers are intelligently researched, qualified and engaged during the planning phases of a content marketing program, the benefits of the collaboration can include improved content in a variety of ways:

  • Authenticity – Choose influencers that represent your customers and the resulting message will be a lot more genuine to what buyers actually care about.
  • Variety – Including experts beyond your marketing department can generate a greater span of content ideas.
  • Quality – Tapping expertise can boost the quality beyond what marketing department copywriters might be able to produce.
  • Quantity – Engaging a group of influencers on an ongoing basis can boost the volume of content. Factor in repurposing and you’ll create even more content options without increasing spend.
  • Reach – Trusted, credible experts promoting content can reach audiences that are very difficult to connect with through any other way.
  • Trust – The credibility, expertise and authority of influencers that collaborate with a brand over time can grow trust for the brand.

On top of that, there are efficiency benefits. We have implemented influencer content campaigns where influencers have contributed anywhere from 20% to 80% of the content for the entire campaign.

Then there are the effectiveness benefits. For an organic influencer content campaign, achieving a 50% share rate amongst influencers is impressive. We’ve had many programs with over 100% share rate. Why? By communicating effectively, setting expectations and making content that contributors are proud to be a part of.

The reality is that influencer content programs can deliver value across the entire customer lifecycle, not just awareness. That means improved engagement and conversions.

There are many more challenges for marketing than the six above. I didn’t get into martech shock (too much tech), difficulty in finding qualified marketing candidates, measurement challenges or the implications of the lockdown on data represented by GDPR in the EU and recent attention being given Facebook by lawmakers. But addressing the six above should give the vast majority of marketers reading this an advantage.

Establishing relationships with qualified, capable influencers can bring a tremendous amount of value to a company’s content marketing effectiveness. When influencer marketing is thoughtful, ongoing and properly managed, it becomes a force multiplier that is difficult to duplicate.

Are you planning a content marketing program right now? Who are your best influencers? Who are your best employee advocates? Which industry media do you have the attention of? Which of your customers are most likely to advocate for your brand? Do you know if they are influential? Do you know which of your prospective customers are influential?

Answering these questions can open the door to content marketing success for your brand and mutually valuable relationships with the people that actually influence your customers.

 


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3 Content Marketing Myths and Their Reality-Based Solutions

We all know that creating content can be hard work. One of our goals at Copyblogger is to help you make sure you’re putting your work into the right things, so you get results and not just a fistful of disappointment. This week, we looked at three myths and mistakes that can hold writers back
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One Factor that Caused the Current Content Marketing Climate (and How to Fix It)

Pardon our dust. Content marketing is under reconstruction right now, and frankly, it has been for years. Even when content marketing was a newer tactic online, there were naysayers. Now the naysayers point to the loads of crappy content and say, “You think that works?” But there has always been junk. Currently, it’s just easier
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Digital Marketing News: CMO Diversity Shortfalls, Goo.gl Retirement, Facebook’s New A/B Tests

Brands Fail to Meet the ANA’s Diversity Goals, Too

Brands Fail to Meet the ANA’s Diversity Goals, Too
Progress has been strong in CMO gender balance while ethnic diversity continues to face significant shortfalls, according to new research from the Association of National Advertisers and its inaugural CMO scorecard. While 45 percent of top marketer positions examined in the ANA member data were female, only 13 percent were people of color. AdWeek

Instagram Makes Stories Advertising Easier with Automatic Full-screen Support
Instagram advertisers can now have square or landscape ad photos or videos automatically reformatted for full-screen utilization, one of several new features the firm recently announced as part of an effort to improve Instagram Stories. Marketing Land

YouTube Launches Reach-Based Pricing for User-Skippable Ads
YouTube advertisers can buy spots skippable after five seconds with prices based on a CPM basis, the firm has announced. With TruView for Reach, YouTube now offers an ad option aside from its in-stream non-skippable “bumper” ads and its traditional TrueView ads. Variety

Goo.gl Shutting Down – These are Your Options
Google’s popular URL shortener goo.gl is being phased out over the next year, with the Internet giant supporting a move to the newer take on short and persistent links that is offered with Firebase Dynamic Links (FDL). Existing goo.gl links will continue to function, however, Google has noted. Search Engine Journal

Advertisers on Facebook Have Some New Ways to Conduct A/B Tests
Facebook advertisers can now use split A/B tests in its Ads Manager’s Quick Creation system, the company announced Monday, a new option to augment the creative split testing it launched in October. The option to easily duplicate split tests while keeping them separate from existing settings was also among several new features Facebook rolled out this week. AdWeek

Snapchat Lays Off 100 From Advertising Division in Department Restructure
Three percent of Snapchat’s workforce has been cut in layoffs, with 100 workers in the firm’s advertising department being the latest affected in a series of downsizing that has followed lukewarm quarterly earnings results, Snapchat announced this week. AdWeek

Diversity And Gender Progress Is Mixed Among ANA Member CMOs

Facebook Will No Longer Allow Third-Party Data for Targeting Ads
Facebook has begun disabling its popular Partner Categories, as part of a continued recent effort to combat potentially vulnerable advertising practices, the company has announced. The Verge

Twitter’s Timestamps Lets You Share Live Videos from Any Specific Moment
The ability to schedule live videos with a new Timestamps feature has been announced by Twitter, as part of a new set of tool options that also allows video replays to begin at any point. The Verge

Snapchat is Testing ‘Connected Apps’ for Sharing Information
Snapchat has made way for the possibility of offering connected apps in its latest beta version, a move which could eventually mean a similar feature in its widely-used release version. Mashable

Google Lets Businesses Post Offers to Organic Search Results
Google is testing a new feature that allows businesses to present offers in both maps and directly in SERPs, from Google My Business pages, including offer photos, text, link, dates and times. Search Engine Journal

Facebook Restricts APIs, Axes Old Instagram Platform Amidst Scandals
Facebook is shutting down portions of the Instagram API for developers months ahead of a previously-scheduled July 31 deprecation, in the wake of Facebook’s must-publicized recent privacy concerns. TechCrunch

Bing Adds More Intelligent Search Features
Bing has launched several new search features, including aggregated facts from multiple sources, hover-over definitions for uncommon words, image search object detection zoom enhancements, along with updated handling of how-to questions, the company announced. Search Engine Roundtable

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE:

Marketoonist Personal Data Simplicity Comic

A lighthearted look at product proliferation, non-universal USB frustration, and Steve Jobs’ product matrix – Marketoonist

April Fools’ the Day After: Our Roundup of Every Brand Stunt You Missed the First Time Around – AdWeek

Google Rickrolls SEOs With Recrawl Now Button – SEO Roundtable

‘Stolen office lunch’ drama has Twitter gripped – BBC

TOPRANK MARKETING & CLIENTS IN THE NEWS:

  • LinkedIn (client) – How to Ignite Your LinkedIn Marketing Strategy [Infographic] — MarketingProfs
  • Lee Odden – 47 Quotes about content marketing from top content marketers — Medium
  • Steve Slater – Search Marketing Scoop with David Bain #5 [podcast] — SEM Rush
  • Ashley Zeckman – Romancing B2B Influencers: How to Attract, Engage and Persuade Influencers to Co-Create — AMA Iowa
  • DivvyHQ (client) – [Interactive Guide] Take Your Content Marketing Program Back to the Future with DivvyHQ — DivvyHQ

Don’t miss next week, when we’ll be sharing all new marketing news stories, and in the meantime you can follow us at @toprank on Twitter for even more timely daily news. Also, don’t miss the full video summary on our TopRank Marketing TV YouTube Channel.


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Referral Marketing: 4 case studies

If you’re also looking for ideas and tactics to launch or optimize your own referral programs, here are 4 interesting case studies
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Email Clickthrough Rate: 9-point checklist to get more clicks for your email marketing by reducing perceived cost

A walk through our Email Click Cost Force Checklist, step-by-step
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The Guide to Local Sponsorship Marketing – The 2018 Edition

Posted by Claudia0428

For most Moz readers, local marketing means content, reviews, AdWords, local listings, and of course citations. If you’re a larger brand, you might be doing outdoor, radio, print, and television advertising as well. Today we’re here to humbly submit that local sponsorships remain the most-overlooked and opportunity-rich channel, and they build real local connections for both large brands and small business alike.

This article is the second edition of the ZipSprout team’s guide to local sponsorships. We wrote the first edition in 2016 after a few months of securing local sponsorship campaigns for a handful of clients. Since then, we’ve tripled our client roster and we’ve worked with more than 8,000 local organizations, donating nearly $ 1,000,000 in local sponsorships to 1,300+ opportunities. Since then we’ve also learned how to build campaigns for local presence.

So we knew the guide was due for a reboot.

One of our most significant learnings of the past two years is the understanding of local sponsorships as a channel in their own right. They can be directed toward local SEO or local marketing campaigns, but sponsorships are their own breed of local connection — and just like content campaigns, local PR campaigns, or review management, local sponsorships have their own set of conventions and best practices.

This article is meant for anyone with an eye toward local sponsorships as a marketing channel. Agencies and enterprise organizations may find it particularly helpful, but we’re big believers in encouraging smaller local businesses to engage in sponsorships too. Get out there and meet your neighbors!


The what & why of local sponsorships

Local events, nonprofits, and associations constitute a disjointed but very real network of opportunities. Unlike other channels, local sponsorships aren’t accessible from a single platform, but we’ve found that many sponsorships share similarities. This makes it possible to develop processes that work for campaigns in any metro area.

Local sponsorships are also a unique channel in that the benefits can range from the digital to the analog: from local links to a booth, from social posts to signage on a soccer field. The common thread is joining the community by partnering with local organizations, but the benefits themselves vary widely.

We’ve identified and track 24 unique benefits of sponsorships related to local marketing:

  1. Ad (full or partial)
  2. Advertising on event app
  3. Blog post featuring sponsor
  4. Booth, tent, or table at event
  5. Event named for sponsor
  6. Guest post on organization blog
  7. Inclusion in press release
  8. Link in email newsletter
  9. Link on website
  10. Logo on event t-shirt or other swag
  11. Logo on signage
  12. Logo or name on website
  13. Media spots (television/radio/newspaper)
  14. Mention in email newsletter
  15. Mention in publicity materials, such as programs & other printed materials
  16. Networking opportunity
  17. Physical thing (building, etc.) named for sponsor
  18. Social media mention
  19. Speaking opportunity at event
  20. Sponsor & sponsor’s employees receive discounts on services/products/events
  21. Sponsor can donate merchandise for goodie bags
  22. Sponsored post (on blog or online magazine)
  23. Tickets to event
  24. Verbal recognition

There are probably more, but in our experience most benefits fall into these core categories. That said, these benefits aren’t necessarily for everyone…

Who shouldn’t do local sponsorships?

1. Don’t do local sponsorships if you need fast turnaround.

Campaigns can take 1–3 months from launch until fulfillment. If you’re in a hurry to see a return, just increase your search ad budget.

2. Don’t do local sponsorships if you’re not okay with the branding component.

Local link building can certainly be measured, as can coupon usage, email addresses gathered for a drawing, etc… But measuring local brand lift still isn’t a perfect art form. Leave pure attribution to digital ads.

3. Don’t do local sponsorships with a “one size fits all” expectation.

The great thing about local events and opportunities is their diversity. While some components can be scaled, others require high touch outreach, more similar to a PR campaign.

Considerations for agencies vs brands in local sponsorship campaigns

Agencies, especially if they’re creating sponsorship campaigns for multiple clients, can cast a wide net and select from the best opportunities that return. Even if a potential partnership isn’t a good fit for a current client, they may work for a client down the road. Brands, on the other hand, need to be a little more goal and mission-focused during prospecting and outreach. If they’re reaching out to organizations that are clearly a bad fit, they’re wasting everyone’s time.

Brands also need to be more careful because they have a consumer-facing image to protect. As with any outreach campaign, there are dos and don’ts and best practices that all should follow (DO be respectful; DON’T over-email), but brands especially have more to lose from an outreach faux pas.


Our process

Outreach

Once we’ve identified local organizations in a given metro area, we recommend reaching out with an email to introduce ourselves and learn more about sponsorship opportunities. In two years, the ZipSprout team has A/B tested 100 different email templates.

With these initial emails, we’re trying to inform without confusing or scaring away potential new partners. Some templates have resulted in local organizations thinking we’re asking them for sponsorship money or that we want to charge them for a service. Oops! A/B tests have helped to find the best wording for clarity and, in turn, response rate.

Here are some of our learnings:

1. Mentioning location matters.

We reached out to almost 1,000 Chicago organizations in the spring of 2017. When we mentioned Chicago in the email, the response rate increased by 20%.

2. Emails sent to organizations who already had sponsorship info on their websites were most successful if the email acknowledged the onsite sponsorship info and asked for confirmation.

These are also our most successful outreach attempts, likely because these organizations are actively looking for sponsors (as signified by having sponsorship info on their site). Further, by demonstrating that we’ve been on their site, we’re signaling a higher level of intent.

3. Whether or not we included an outreacher phone number in email signatures had no effect on response rate.

If anything, response rates were higher for emails with no phone number in signature, at 41% compared with 40.2%.

4. Shorter is better when it comes to outreach emails.

Consider the following two emails:

EMAIL A


Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. :)

I work to help corporate clients find local sponsorships. We’re an agency that helps our business clients identify and sponsor local organizations like [ORG NAME]. We’re paid by businesses who are looking for local sponsorships.

Often, local organizations are overlooked, so my company, ZipSprout, works for businesses who want to sponsor locally, but aren’t sure who to partner with. To that end, I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorship opportunities you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?


Thanks,

___

EMAIL B

Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. :)

I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorships you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?


Thanks,

___

In an 800-email test, Email B performed 30% better than Email A.

Matchmaking: How can I choose a sponsorship opportunity that fits my brand?

There are many ways to evaluate potential sponsorships.

These are the questions that help us match organizations with clients:

  • Who is your brand targeting (women, senior citizens, family-friendly, dog owners, new parents)?
  • Do you want to tie your brand with a particular cause (eco-friendly, professional associations, awareness foundations, advocacy groups)?
  • Is your campaign based on location? Are you launching your brand in a particular city? A particular zip code?
  • What is your total budget and per-sponsorship range? A top max price or a price range is a useful parameter — and perhaps the most important.

Once the campaign goals are determined, we filter through opportunities based partially on their online presence. We look at Domain Authority, location, website aesthetics, and other sponsors (competitors and non-competitors) in addition to Reach Score (details below).

Further, we review backlinks, organic traffic, and referring domains. We make sure that this nonprofit partnership is not spammy or funky from an SEO perspective and that is a frequently visited website. A small organization may not have all the juicy digital metrics, but by gauging event attendance or measuring organic traffic we can further identify solid prospects that could have been missed otherwise.

We also look at social media presence; event attendance, event dates and how responsive these organizations or event organizers are. Responsiveness, we have learned, is a CRITICAL variable. It can be the determining point of your link going live in 48 hours or less, as opposed to 6+ months from payment.

Reach Score

From a numbers perspective, Domain Authority is a good way to appreciate the value of a website, but it doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to local marketing. To help fill in the gaps we created Reach Score, which combines virtual measures (like Domain Authority) with social measures (friends/followers) and physical measures (event attendance). The score ranks entities based on their metro area, so we’re not comparing the reach of an organization in Louisville, KY to one in NYC.

As of March 2018, we have about 8,000 organizations with valid Reach Scores across four metro areas — Raleigh/Durham, Boston, Houston, and Chicago. The average Reach Score is 37 out of 100. Of the 34 types of organizations that we track, the most common is Event Venue/Company (average Reach Score of 38), followed by Advocacy Groups (43) and Sports Teams/Clubs/Leagues (22). The types of organizations with the highest Reach Scores are Local Government (64), Museums (63), and Parks and Recreation (55).

Thanks to Reach Score, we’ve found differences between organizations from city to city as well. In Raleigh-Durham, the entities with the highest reach tend to be government-related organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce and Parks & Rec Departments.

In Boston, the highest reach tends to fall to arts organizations, such as music ensembles, as well as professional associations. This score serves as a good reminder that each metro area has a unique community of local organizations. (Read more about our Reach Score findings here.)

Fulfillment

Our campaigns used to take several months to complete, from contract to final sponsorship. Now our average fulfillment rate is 18.7 days, regardless of our project size! Staying (politely) on top of the communication with the nonprofit organizations was the main driver for this improvement.

We find further that the first 48 hours from sending a notification of sponsorship on behalf of your brand are crucial to speedy campaigns. Be ready to award the sponsorship funds in a timely manner and follow up with a phone call or an email, checking in to see if these funds have been received.

It’s okay to ask when can you expect the sponsorship digital benefits to go live and how to streamline the process for any other deliverables needed to complete the sponsorship.

Applying these simple best practices, our team has been able to run a campaign in a week or less.

Two important concepts to remember about the sponsorship channel from the fulfillment perspective:

  1. It’s difficult to fulfill. If your city project involves any more than two or three sponsorships, you’re in for multiple hours of follow ups, reminders, phone calls, etc. There is the desire from most local organizations to honor their sponsors and keep them happy. That said, we’ve learned that keeping the momentum going serves as an important reminder for the nonprofit. This can involve phone call reminders and emails for links to go live and other benefits to come through. Again, be polite and respectful.
  2. It’s SO worth all the effort though! It shows that your brand cares. A sponsorship campaign is a fantastic way to get in front of your target audience in areas that have a special meaning at a personal level. And not in a broad general scope, but locally. Locally sponsoring a beach cleanup in Santa Monica gives you the opportunity to impact a highly localized audience with a very particular cause in mind that would ultimately affect their everyday life, as opposed to partnering with a huge foundation advocating for clean oceans.

Enhancing a local campaign

Some prefer to use local sponsorships as a link building effort, but there are ways — and ample benefit — to going far beyond the link.

Local event attendance

So, so many local sponsorship campaigns come with the opportunity for event attendance. We currently have 11,345 opportunities in our database (62.2% of our total inventory) that feature events: 5Ks, galas, performances, parades, and even a rubber ducky derby or two! If you’re able to send local team members, find opportunities that match your target audience and test it out — and bring your camera so your social and brand team will have material for publication. If local team members aren’t an option, consider working with a notable and ambitious startup such as Field Day, which can send locals out on behalf of your brand. We’ve spoken with them on several occasions and found them adaptable and wonderful to work with.

Coupons/invitations

One client, FunBrands, used local sponsorships as a way to reach out to locals ahead of stores’ grand re-openings (read the full case study here).

For another client, we created unique coupons for each local organization, using print and social media posts for distribution.

An example coupon — use codes to track attribution back to an event.


Conclusion: Local sponsorships are a channel

Sponsorships are an actionable strategy that contribute to your local rankings, while providing unprecedented opportunities for community engagement and neighborly branding. We hope that this updated guide will provide a strong operational overview along with realistic expectations — and even inspirations — for a local sponsorship campaign in your target cities.

Last but not least: As with all outreach campaigns, please remember to be human. Keep in mind that local engagements are the living extension of your brand in the real world. And if somehow this article wasn’t enough, we just finished up The Local Sponsorship Playbook. Every purchase comes with a 30-minute consultation with the author. We hope everyone chooses to get out, get local, and join the community in the channel that truly benefits everyone.

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How to Make Effective, High-Quality Marketing Reports & Dashboards

Posted by Dom-Woodman

My current obsession has been reporting. Everyone could benefit from paying more attention to it. Five years, countless ciders, and too many conferences into my career, I finally spent some time on it.

Bad reporting soaks up just as much time as pointless meetings. Analysts spend hours creating reports that no one will read, or making dashboards that never get looked it. Bad reporting means people either focus on the wrong goals, or they pick the right goals, but choose the wrong way to measure them. Either way, you end up in the same place.

So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

We’re going to split this into:

  • Definitions
  • What is the goal of a report and a dashboard? (And how are they different?)
  • Who is the data for?
  • How to create a good dashboard
  • How to create a good report
  • How to create useful graphs
  • Useful tools

(We’ll lean on SEO examples — we’re on Moz! — however, for those non-SEO folks, the principles are the same.)

What is the goal of a report versus a dashboard?

Dashboards

Dashboards should:

  • Measure a goal(s) over time
  • Be easily digestible at a glance

The action you take off a dashboard should be:

  • Let’s go look into this.

Example questions a dashboard would answer:

  • How are we performing organically?
  • How fast does our site load?

Reports

Reports should:

  • Help you make a decision

The action you take off a report should be:

  • Making a decision

Example questions a report would answer:

  • Are our product changes hurting organic search?
  • What are the biggest elements slowing our website?

Who is this data for?

This context will inform many of our decisions. We care about our audience, because they all know and care about very different things.

A C-level executive doesn’t care about keyword cannibalization, but probably does care about the overall performance of marketing. An SEO manager, on the other hand, probably does care about the number of pages indexed and keyword cannibalization, but is less bothered by the overall performance of marketing.

Don’t mix audience levels

If someone tells you the report is for audiences with obviously different decision levels, then you’re almost always going to end up creating something that won’t fulfill the goals we talked about above. Split up your reporting into individual reports/dashboards for each audience, or it will be left ignored and unloved.

Find out what your audience cares about

How do you know what your audience will care about? Ask them. As a rough guide, you can assume people typically care about:

  • The goals that their jobs depend on. If your SEO manager is being paid because the business wants to rank for ten specific keywords, then they’re unlikely to care about much else.
  • Budget or people they have control over.

But seriously. Ask them what they care about.

Educating your audience

Asking them is particularly important, because you don’t just need to understand your audience — you may also need to educate them. To go back on myself, there are in fact CEOs who will care about specific keywords.

The problem is, they shouldn’t. And if you can’t convince them to stop caring about that metric, their incentives will be wrong and succeeding in search will be harder. So ask. Persuading them to stop using the wrong metrics is, of course, another article in and of itself.

Get agreement now

To continue that point, now is also the time to get initial agreement that these dashboards/reports will be what’s used to measure performance.

That way, when they email you three months in asking how you’re doing for keyword x, you’re covered.

How to create a good dashboard

Picking a sensible goal for your dashboard

The question you’re answering with a dashboard is usually quite simple. It’s often some version of:

  • Are we being successful at x?

…where x is a general goal, not a metric. The difference here is that a goal is the end result (e.g. a fast website), and the metric (e.g. time to start render) is the way of measuring progress against that.

How to choose good metrics for dashboards

This is the hard part. We’re defining our goal by the metrics we choose to measure it by.

A good metric is typically a direct measure of success. It should ideally have no caveats that are outside your control.

No caveats? Ask yourself how you would explain if the number went down. If you can immediately come up with excuses that could be answered by things out of your control, then you should try to refine this metric. (Don’t worry, there’s an example in the next section.)

We also need to be sure that it will create incentives for how people behave.

Unlike a report, which will be used to help us make a decision, a dashboard is showing the goals we care about. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. A report will help you make a single decision. A dashboard and the KPIs it shows will define the decisions and reports you create and the ideas people have. It will set incentives and change how the people working off it behave. Choose carefully. Avinash has my back here; go read his excellent article on choosing KPIs.

You need to bear both of these in mind when choosing metrics. You typically want only one or two metrics per goal to avoid being overwhelming.

Example: Building the spec for our dashboard

Goal: Measure the success of organic performance

Who is it for: SEO manager

The goal we’re measuring and the target audience are sane, so now we need to pick a metric.

We’ll start with a common metric that I often hear suggested and we’ll iterate on it until we’re happy. Our starting place is:

  1. Metric: Search/SEO visibility
    1. “Our search visibility has dropped”: This could be because we were ranking for vanity terms like Facebook and we lost that ranking. Our traffic would be fine, but our visibility would be down. *Not a good metric.
  2. Metric: Organic sessions over time
    1. “Our organic sessions have dropped”: This could easily be because of seasonality. We always see a drop in the summer holidays. *Okay, also not a good metric.
  3. Metric: Organic sessions with smoothed seasonality
    1. Aside: See a good example of this here.
    2. “Our organic sessions with smoothed seasonality have dropped”: What if the industry is in a downturn? *We’re getting somewhere here. But let’s just see…
  4. Metric: Organic sessions with smoothed seasonality and adjusted for industry
    1. “Our organic sessions with smoothed seasonality and adjusted for industry have dropped”: *Now we’ve got a metric that’s getting quite robust. If this number drops, we’re going to care about it.

You might have to compromise your metric depending on resources. What we’ve just talked through is an ideal. Adjusting for industry, for example, is typically quite hard; you might have to settle for showing Google trends for some popular terms on a second graph, or showing Hitwise industry data on another graph.

Watch out if you find yourself adding more than one or two additional metrics. When you get to three or four, information gets difficult to parse at glance.

What about incentives? The metric we settled on will incentivize our team get more traffic, but it doesn’t have any quality control.

We could succeed at our goal by aiming for low-quality traffic, which doesn’t convert or care about our brand. We should consider adding a second metric, perhaps revenue attributed to search with linear attribution, smoothed seasonality, and a 90-day lookback. Or alternatively, organic non-bounce sessions with smoothed seasonality (using adjusted bounce rate).

Both those metrics sound like a bit of a mouthful. That’s because they’ve gone through a process similar to what we talked about above. We might’ve started with revenue attributed to search before, then got more specific and ended up with revenue attributed to search with linear attribution, smoothed seasonality and a 90-day lookback.

Remember, a dashboard shouldn’t try to explain why performance was bad (based on things in your control). A dashboard’s job is to track a goal over time and says whether or not further investigation is needed.

Laying out and styling dashboards

The goal here is to convey our information as quickly and easily as possible. It should be eyeball-able.

Creating a good dashboard layout:

  • It should all fit on a single screen (i.e. don’t scroll on the standard screen that will show the results)
  • People typically read from the top and left. Work out the importance of each graph to the question you’re answering and order them accordingly.
  • The question a graph is answering should be sat near it (usually above it)
  • Your design should keep the focus on the content. Simplify: keep styles and colors unified, where possible.

Here’s a really basic example I mocked up for this post, based on the section above:

  • We picked two crucial summary metrics for organic traffic:
    1. Organic sessions with smoothed seasonality
      • In this case we’ve done a really basic version of “adjusting” for seasonality by just showing year on year!
    2. Revenue attributed to organic sessions
  • We’ve kept the colors clean and unified.
  • We’ve got clean labels and, based on imaginary discussions, we’ve decided to put organic sessions above attributed revenue.

(The sharp-eyed amongst you may notice a small bug. The dates in the x-axis are misaligned by 1 day; this was due to some temporary constraints on my end. Don’t repeat this in your actual report!)

How to create a good report

Picking a sensible decision for your report

A report needs to be able to help us make a decision. Picking the goal for a dashboard is typically quite simple. Choosing the decision our report is helping us make is usually a little more fraught. Most importantly, we need to decide:

  • Is there a decision to be made or are we knowledge-gathering for its own sake?

If you don’t have a decision in mind, if you’re just creating a report to dig into things, then you’re wasting time. Don’t make a report.

If the decision is to prioritize next month, then you could have an investigative report designed to help you prioritize. But the goal of the report isn’t to dig in — it’s to help you make a decision. This is primarily a frame of mind, but I think it’s a crucial one.

Once we’ve settled on the decision, we then:

  • Make a list of all the data that might be relevant to this decision
  • Work down the list and ask the following question for each factor:
    1. What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    2. Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    3. How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    4. Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?

Example: Creating a spec for a report

Here’s an example decision a client suggested to me recently:

  • Decision: Do we need to change our focus based on our weekly organic traffic fluctuations?
  • Who’s it for: SEO manager
  • Website: A large e-commerce site

Are we happy with this decision? In this case, I wasn’t. Experience has taught me that SEO very rarely runs week to week; one thing our SEO split-testing platform has taught us time and time again is even obvious improvements can take three to four weeks to result in significant traffic change.

  • New decision: Do we need to change our focus based on our monthly organic traffic fluctuations?

Great — we’re now happy with our decision, so let’s start listing possible factors. For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to include three here:

  • Individual keyword rankings
  • Individual keyword clicks
  • Number of indexed pages

1. Individual keyword rankings

  • What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    • As individual keyword rankings? Pretty low. This is a large website and individual keyword fluctuations aren’t much use; it will take too long to look through and I’ll probably end up ignoring it.
  • Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    • Yes, absolutely. If we were to group this by page type or topic level, it becomes far more interesting. Knowing my traffic has dropped only for one topic would make me want to go to push more resources to try and bring us back to parity. We would ideally also want to see the difference in rank with and without features.
  • How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    • There are plenty of rank trackers with this data. It might take some integration time, but the data exists.
  • Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?
    • We’re just generically looking at performance here, so this is helping me weigh up my decision.

Conclusion: Yes, we should include keyword rankings, but they need to be grouped and ideally also have both rank with and without Google features. We’ll also want to avoid averaging rank, to lose subtlety in how our keywords are moving amongst each other. This example graph from STAT illustrates this well:

2. Individual keyword clicks

  • What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    • Low. Particularly because it won’t compensate for seasonality, I would definitely find myself relying more on rank here.
  • Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    • Again yes, same as above. It would almost certainly need to be grouped.
  • How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    • This will have to come from Search Console. There will be some integration time again, but the data exists.
  • Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?
    • Again, we’re just generically looking at performance here, so this is helping me weigh up my decision.

Conclusion: I would probably say no. We’re only looking at organic performance here and clicks will be subject to seasonality and industry trends that aren’t related to our organic performance. There are certainly click metrics that will be useful that we haven’t gone over in these examples — this just isn’t one of them.

3. Number of indexed pages

  • What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    • Low, although sharp jumps would definitely be cause for further investigation.
  • Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    • It could sometimes be broken down into individual sections, using Search Console folders.
  • How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    • This will have to come from Search Console. It doesn’t exist in the API, however, and will be a hassle to add or will have to be done manually.
  • Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?
    • This is just ruling out, as it’s possible any changes in fluctuation have come from massive index bloat.

Conclusion: Probably yes. The automation will be a pain, but it will be relatively easy to pull it in manually once a month. It won’t change anyone’s mind very often, so it won’t be put at the forefront of a report, but it’s a useful additional piece of information that’s very quick to scan and will help us rule something out.

Laying out and styling reports

Again, our layout should be fit for the goal we’re trying to achieve, which gives us a couple principles to follow:

  • It’s completely fine for reports to be large, as long as they’re ordered by the odds that the decision will change someone’s mind. Complexity is fine as long as it’s accompanied by depth and you don’t get it all at once.
  • On a similar point, you’ll often have to breakdown metrics into multiple graphs. Make sure that you order them by importance so someone can stop digging whenever they’re happy.

Here’s an example from an internal report I made. It shows the page breakdown first and then the page keyword breakdown after it to let you dig deeper.

  • There’s nothing wrong with repeating graphs. If you have a summary page with five following pages, each of which picks one crucial metric from the summary and digs deeper, it’s absolutely useful to repeat the summary graph for that metric at the top.
  • Pick a reporting program which allows paged information, like Google Data Studio, for example. It will force you to break a report into chunks.
  • As with dashboards, your design should keep the focus on the content. Simplify — keep styles and colors unified where possible.

Creating an effective graph

The graphs themselves are crucial elements of a report and dashboard. People have built entire careers out of helping people visualize data on graphs. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the following resources have all helped me avoid the worst when it comes to graphs.

Both #1 and #2 below don’t focus on making things pretty, but rather on the goal of a graph: to let you process data as quickly as possible.

  1. Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Graphs
  2. Karl Broman on How to Display Data Badly
  3. Dark Horse Analytics – Data Looks Better Naked
  4. Additional geek resource: Creating 538-Style Charts with matplotlib

Sometimes (read: nearly always) you’ll be limited by the programs you work in, but it’s good to know the ideal, even if you can’t quite reach it.

What did we learn?

Well, we got to the end of the article and I’ve barely even touched on how to practically make dashboards/reports. Where are the screenshots of the Google Data Studio menus and the step-by-step walkthroughs? Where’s the list of tools? Where’s the explanation on how to use a Google Sheet as a temporary database?

Those are all great questions, but it’s not where the problem lies.

We need to spend more time thinking about the content of reports and what they’re being used for. It’s possible having read this article you’ll come away with the determination to make fewer reports and to trash a whole bunch of your dashboards.

That’s fantastic. Mission accomplished.

There are good tools out there (I quite like Plot.ly and Google Data Studio) which make generating graphs easier, but the problem with many of the dashboards and reports I see isn’t that they’ve used the Excel default colors — it’s that they haven’t spent enough time thinking about the decision the report makes, or picking the ideal metric for a dashboard.

Let’s go out and think more about our reports and dashboards before we even begin making them.

What do you guys think? Has this been other people’s experience? What are the best/worst reports and dashboards you’ve seen and why?

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