Tag Archive | "Online"

Taking Local Inventory Online: An Interview with Pointy’s Mark Cummins

Posted by MiriamEllis

Let’s go back in time 20 years so I can ask you the question, “How often do you look at a paper map every month?”

Unless you were a cartographer or a frequent traveler, chances are good that your answer would be, “Hmm, maybe less than once a month. Maybe once or twice a year.”

But in 2019, I’d wager there’s scarcely a day that goes by without you using Google Maps when planning to eat out, find a service provider, or find something fun to do. That web-based map in your hand has become a given.

And yet, there’s one thing you’re still not using the Internet for. And it’s something you likely wonder about almost daily. It starts with the question,

“I wonder who around here carries X?”

A real-world anecdote

After the tragic fires we’ve had this year in California, I wanted to wet mop all the floors in my house instead of vacuuming them, due to my concerns about particulate pollution in the air. My mother recommended I buy a Swiffer. I needed to know where I could find one locally, but I didn’t turn to the Internet for this, because the Internet doesn’t tell me this. Or at least, it hasn’t done so until now. Few, if any, of the local hardware stores, pharmacies, or big box retailers have reliable, live online inventory. At the same time, calling these places is often a huge hassle because staff isn’t always sure what’s in stock.

And so I ended up going to 3 different shops in search of this particular product. It wasn’t a convenient experience, and it was an all-too-common one.

The next big thing in local already exists

My real-world anecdote about a wet mop is exactly why I’m so pleased to be interviewing Mark Cummins, CEO of Pointy. 90% of purchases still take place in physical stores and it’s Mark who has seen this gap in available online knowledge about offline inventory and has now set out to bridge it.

I predict that within a few years, you’ll be using the Internet to find local inventory as frequently and easily as you’ve come to use its mapping capabilities. This chat with Mark explains why.

The real-world roots of an existing local need

Miriam: Mark, I understand that you were formerly a Google Search Team member, with a background in machine learning, but that your journey with Pointy began by walking into retail shops and talking face-to-face with owners. What did these owners tell you about their challenges in relation to offline/online inventory? A memorable real-world anecdote would be great here.

Mark: I started thinking about this problem because of an experience just like your story about trying to find a Swiffer. I’d recently moved to a new country and I had to buy lots of things to set up a new apartment, so I had that kind of experience all the time. It felt like there was a huge gap there that search engines could help with, but they weren’t.

I had been working at Google developing what became Google Lens (Google’s image recognition search feature). It felt strange that Google could do something so advanced, yet couldn’t answer very basic questions about where to buy things locally.

So I started thinking about ways to fix that. Initially I would just walk into retailers and talk to them about how they managed their inventory. I was trying to figure out if there was some uniform way to bring the inventory information online. I quickly learned that it was going to be hard. Almost every retailer I spoke to had a different method of tracking it. Some kept records on paper. Some didn’t count their inventory at all.

My first idea was a little crazy — I wanted to build a robot for retailers that would drive around the store every night and photograph all the shelves, and use image recognition to figure out the inventory and the prices. I spent some time seriously thinking about that, but then landed on the idea of the Pointy box, which is a much simpler solution.

Miriam: Can you briefly describe what a typical Point of Sale system is like for retailers these days, in light of this being technology most retailers already have in place?

Mark: Well, I would almost say that there isn’t a typical Point of Sale system. The market is really fragmented, it sometimes feels like no two retailers have the same system. There’s a huge range, from the old-style systems that are essentially a glorified calculator with a cash drawer, up to modern cloud-connected systems like Clover, Square, or Lightspeed. It’s very disruptive for retailers to change their POS system, so older systems tend to stay in use for a long time. The systems also differ by vertical — there are specialized systems for pharmacies, liquor stores, etc. Dealing with all of that variation is what makes it so hard to get uniform local inventory data.

A simple inventory solution is born

Miriam: So, you spoke with retailers, listened to their challenges and saw that they already have Point of Sale systems in place. And Pointy was born! Please, describe exactly what a Pointy device is, how it solves the problems you learned about, and fits right in with existing Point of Sales technology.

Mark: Right! It was pretty clear that we needed to find a solution that worked with retailers’ existing systems. So we developed the Pointy box. The Pointy box is a small device that attaches to a retailer’s barcode scanner. Basically it links the barcode scanner to a website we create for the retailer. Whenever the retailer scans a product with their barcode scanner, we recognize the barcode, and list the product on the website. The end result is live website listing everything in the store — here’s an example for Talbot’s Toyland, a toy store in San Mateo. They have over ten thousand products listed on their site, without any manual work.

The experience is pretty much seamless — just plug in Pointy, and watch your store website build itself. The Pointy box connects directly via the cell phone network, so there’s really nothing to set up. Just plug it in and it starts working. New products automatically get added to your store page, old products get removed when you no longer sell them, item stock status syncs automatically. We did quite a bit of machine learning to make that all automatic. Once the site is live, we also have some SEO and SEM tools to help retailers drive search traffic for the products they sell.

Miriam: My understanding is that the Pointy Team had to do a ton of legwork to put together various product catalogues from which data is pulled each time a product is scanned so that its information can be displayed on the web. I’m not familiar with this concept of product catalogues. What are they, what types of information do they contain, and what did you have to do to pull all of this together? Also, is it true that your team hand-reviews all the product data?

Mark: If you’re working in shopping search, then product catalogs are really important. Every mass-market product has a unique barcode number, but unfortunately there’s no master database where you can enter a barcode number and get back the product’s name, image, etc. So basically every retailer has to solve this problem for themselves, laboriously entering the product details into their systems. Pointy helps eliminate that work for retailers.

There are some product catalogs you can license, but each one only covers a fraction of products, and errors are common. We built a big data pipeline to pull together all of this product data into a single catalog and clean it up. We automate a lot of the work, but if you want the highest quality then machine learning alone isn’t enough. So every single product we display also gets approved by a human reviewer, to make sure it’s accurate. We’ve processed millions of products like this. The end result for the retailer is that they just plug in a Pointy box, scan a product, and their website starts populating itself, no data entry required. It’s a pretty magical feeling the first time you see it. Especially if you’ve spent countless hours of your life doing it the old way!

Where real-time local inventory appears on the web

Miriam: So, then, the products the retailer scans create the brand’s own inventory catalogue, which appears on their Pointy page. What tips would you offer to business owners to best integrate their Pointy page with their brand website? Linking to it from the main menu of the website? Something else? And do these Pointy pages feature SEO basics? Please describe.

Mark: Some retailers use Pointy as their main website. Others have it as an additional profile, in the same way that they might have a Facebook page or a Yelp page. The main thing Pointy brings is the full live inventory of the store, which generally isn’t listed anywhere else. To integrate with their other web presences, most just link across from their main sites or social media profiles. A few also embed Pointy into their sites via an iframe.

We work a lot on making these pages as SEO-friendly as possible. The queries we focus on ranking for are things like “product name near me” or “product name, location.” For example, a query like “rubber piggy bank san mateo” currently has the Pointy page for Talbot’s Toyland in #1 position. We have an engineering team working on this all the time, and we’ve actually discovered a few interesting things.

Miriam: And how does this work when, for example, a product goes out of stock or goes on sale for a different price?

Mark: We keep that information updated live. The stock status is updated based on the information from the Pointy box. We also handle price data, though it depends on what features the retailers is using. Some retailers prefer not to display their prices online.

See What’s In Store: Google totally sees the opportunity

Miriam: I was fascinated to learn that Pointy is the launch partner for Google’s See What’s In Store feature, and readers can see an example of this with Talbot’s Toyland. Can you explain what’s involved for retailers who want their inventory to appear in the SWIS area of the Google Business Profile (aka “Knowledge Panel”) and why this represents such an important opportunity? Also, does the business have to pay a commission to Google for inclusion/impressions/clicks?

Mark: This is a pretty exciting feature. It lets retailers display their full product catalogue and live inventory information in the Business Profile on the Google search page. It’s also visible from Google Maps. I’m guessing Google will probably start to surface the information in more ways over time.

It’s completely free for retailers, which is pretty interesting. Google Shopping has always been a paid service, so it’s notable that Google is now offering some organic exposure with this new feature.

I think that this is going to become table stakes for retailers in the next year or two, in the same way that having your opening hours online is now. Consumers are simply going to expect the convenience of finding local product information online. I think that’s a good thing, because it will help local businesses win back customers that might otherwise have gone to Amazon.

We’ve worked a lot with Google to make the setup experience for local retailers very simple. You just link your Pointy account to Google, and your live inventory appears in the Google Business Profile. Behind the scenes we do a lot of technical work to make that happen (including creating Merchant Center accounts, setting up feeds, etc). But the user experience is just a few clicks. We’ve seen a lot of uptake from Pointy users, it’s been a very popular feature. We have a bit more detail on it here.

What about special retail scenarios?

Miriam: So, basically, Pointy makes getting real-world inventory online for small and independent retailers who just don’t have the time to deal with a complicated e-commerce system. I understand that you have some different approaches to offer larger enterprises, involving their existing IT systems. Can you talk a bit about that, please?

Mark: Yes, some larger retailers may be able to send us a direct feed from their inventory systems, rather than installing Pointy boxes at every POS location. We aim to support whatever is easiest for the retailer. We are also directly integrated into modern cloud POS systems like Clover, Square, Lightspeed, Vend, and others. Users of those systems can download a free Pointy app from their system’s app store and integrate with us that way. And for retailers not using those systems, they can use a Pointy box.

Miriam: And what about retailers whose products lack labels/barcodes? Let’s say, a farm stand with constantly-changing seasonal produce, or a clothing boutique with hand-knit sweaters? Is there a Pointy solution for them?

Mark: Unfortunately we’re not a great fit for those kind of retailers. We designed the experience for retailers who sell barcoded products.

Miriam: You’re a former Google staffer, Mark. In local search, Google has become aggressive in taking a cut of an increasing number of local consumer actions and this is particularly hard on small businesses. We’ve got Local Service Ads, paid ads in local packs, booking buttons, etc, all of which struggling independent businesses are having to pay Google for. Right now, these retailers are eager for a competitive edge. How can they differentiate themselves? Please, share tips.

Mark: It’s true, lots of channels that used to be purely organic now have a mix of organic and paid. I think ultimately the paid ads still have to be ROI-positive or nobody will use them, but it’s definitely no fun to pay for traffic you used to get for free.

On the positive side, there are still plenty of openings to reach customers organically. If small businesses invest in staying ahead of the game, they can do very well. Lots of local product searches essentially have no answer, because most retailers haven’t been able to get their inventory online yet. It’s easy to rank well for a query when you’re the only one with the answer. There’s definitely still an opening there for early adopters.

“Pointing” the way to the future

Miriam: Finally, Pointy has only been available in the US since 2016, and in that short amount of time, you’re already serving 1% of the country’s retailers. Congratulations! What does the near future look like to you for retailers and for Pointy? What do you see as Pointy’s mission?

Mark: We want to bring the world’s brick-and-mortar retailers online and give them the tools they need to thrive. More than 90% of retail goes through brick and mortar stores, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t have an amazing technology platform to help them. The fragmentation and difficulty of accessing data has held everyone back, but I think Pointy has a shot at fixing that.

Miriam: Thank you, Mark. I believe Pointy has what it takes to be successful, but I’m going to wish you good luck, anyway!

Summing up

In doing this interview, I learned a ton from Mark and I hope you did, too. If a local retailer you market is seeking a competitive advantage in 2019, I’d seriously be considering early adoption of Google’s See What’s In Store feature. It’s prime Google Business Profile (formerly Knowledge Panel) real estate, and so long as SWIS is free and Pointy is so affordable, there’s a pretty incredible opportunity to set yourself apart in these early days with a very modest investment.

I’m feeling confident about my prediction that we’re on the verge of a new threshold in user behavior, in terms of people using local search to find local inventory. We’ll all have the enjoyment of seeing how this plays out over the next couple of years. And if you heard it first at Moz, that will be extra fun!

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Former Saks CEO: What’s Fascinating is the Convergence of Online and Stores

The former CEO of Saks, Steve Sadove, says that what’s really fascinating is the convergence that is currently happening with online and brick and mortar stores. You have the Amazon’s of the world adding brick and mortar store options and then you have Walmart and Target and many others growing at 40-50 percent with their online sales.

Steve Sadove, former Saks CEO, discussed the online and physical store convergence on Fox Business:

Brick and Mortar Isn’t Dying

People buy for many reasons and a good part of it is the experience of shopping. About 80 percent plus of shopping is still done in a brick and mortar store. Brick and mortar isn’t dying, people want to touch and they want to feel. Just think about apparel. With apparel, my old company Saks was doing 30-35 percent of the product online but customers still want to touch and feel and meet with the associate and experience it.

What’s Fascinating is the Convergence of Online and Stores

What’s fascinating is this convergence of online and stores. The Amazon’s of the world are now opening up stores. Then you have the brick and mortar guys who are saying buy online and pick up in stores. Walmart is moving much more in the direction of being omnichannel, encouraging online shopping. Amazon is opening up stores. You have the pop-up stores, you have the Warby Parker’s who are online opening up stores.

The Good Retailer Provides the Experience Wherever They Want It

Then you have the brick and mortar people, Target growing 40-50 percent, Walmart growing 40-50 percent with their Internet business. It’s this convergence that really is what the consumer is valuing because they want to buy anytime, anywhere they want to get product. Some of them hate going into a store. Others just want to go into a store. The good retailer is going to provide that experience wherever they want it and they’re going to give them the value that they want.

The post Former Saks CEO: What’s Fascinating is the Convergence of Online and Stores appeared first on WebProNews.

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The E-Commerce Benchmark KPI Study: The Most Valuable Online Consumer Trend of 2018 Revealed [Video]

Posted by Alan_Coleman

The latest Wolfgang E-Commerce Report is now live. This study gives a comprehensive view of the state of digital marketing in retail and travel, allowing digital marketers to benchmark their 2018 performance and plan their 2019 strategy.

The study analyzes over 250 million website sessions and more than €500 million in online revenue. Google Analytics, new Facebook Analytics reports, and online surveys are used to glean insights.

Revenue volume correlations

One of the unique features of the study is its conversion correlation. All website metrics featured in the study are correlated with conversion success to reveal what the most successful websites do differently.

This year we’ve uncovered our strongest success correlation ever at 0.67! Just to give that figure context: normally, 0.2 is worth talking about and 0.3 is noteworthy. Not only is this correlation with success very strong, the insight itself is highly actionable and can become a pillar of your digital marketing strategy.

And the stand out metric is (drumroll, please!)…

Number of sessions per user.

To put it plainly, the websites that generate the most online revenue have the highest number of sessions per user over 12 months. Check out the video below to get a detailed explanation of this phenomenon:

Video transcript available below

These are the top factors that correlated with revenue volume. You can see the other correlations in the full study.

Click to see a bigger version

  • Average pages per session (.37)
  • Average session length (.49)
  • Conversion rate by users (.41)
  • Number of sessions per user (.67)
  • Percentage of sessions from paid search (.25)

Average website engagement metrics

Number of sessions per user Average pages per session Average session duration Bounce rate Average page load time Average server response time
Retail 1.58 6 3min 18sec 38.04% 6.84 1.02
Multi-channel 1.51 6 3min 17sec 35.27% 6.83 1.08
Online-only 1.52 5 3min 14sec 43.80% 6.84 0.89
Travel 1.57 3 2min 34sec 44.14% 6.76 0.94
Overall 1.58 5 3min 1sec 41.26% 6.80 0.97

Above are the average website engagement metrics. You can see the average number of sessions per user is very low at 1.5 over 12 months. Anything a digital marketer can do to get this to 2, to 3, and to 4 makes for about the best digital marketing they can do.

At Wolfgang Digital, we’ve been witnessing this phenomenon at a micro-level for some time now. Many of our most successful campaigns of late have been focused on presenting the user with an evolving message which matures with each interaction across multiple media touchpoints.

Click through to the Wolfgang E-Commerce KPI Report in full to uncover dozens more insights, including:

  • Is a social media engagement more valuable than a website visit?
  • What’s the true value of a share?
  • What’s the average conversion rate for online-only vs multi-channel retailers?
  • What’s the average order value for a hotel vs. tour operator?

Video Transcript

Today I want to talk to you about the most important online consumer trend in 2018. The story starts in a client meeting about four years ago, and we were meeting with a travel client. We got into a discussion about bounce rate and its implication on conversion rate. The client was asking us, “could we optimize our search and social campaigns to reduce bounce rate?”, which is a perfectly valid question.

But we were wondering: Will we lower the rate of conversions? Are all bounces bad? As a result of this meeting, we said, “You know, we need a really scientific answer to that question about any of the website engagement metrics or any of the website channels and their influence on conversion.” Out of that conversation, our E-Commerce KPI Report was born. We’re now four years into it. (See previous years on the Moz Blog: 2015, 2016, 2017.)

The metric with the strongest correlation to conversions: Number of sessions per user

We’ve just released the 2019 E-Commerce KPI Report, and we have a standout finding, probably the strongest correlation we’ve ever seen between a website engagement metric and a website conversion metric. This is beautiful because we’re all always optimizing for conversion metrics. But if you can isolate the engagement metrics which deliver, which are the money-making metrics, then you can be much more intelligent about how you create digital marketing campaigns.

The strongest correlation we’ve ever seen in this study is number of sessions per user, and the metric simply tells us on average how many times did your users visit your website. What we’re learning here is any digital marketing you can do which makes that number increase is going to dramatically increase your conversions, your revenue success.

Change the focus of your campaigns

It’s a beautiful metric to plan campaigns with because it changes the focus. We’re not looking for a campaign that’s a one-click wonder campaign. We’re not looking for a campaign that it’s one message delivered multiple times to the same user. Much more so, we’re trying to create a journey, multiple touchpoints which deliver a user from their initial interaction through the purchase funnel, right through to conversion.

Create an itinerary of touchpoints along the searcher’s journey

1. Research via Google

Let me give you an example. We started this with a story about a travel company. I’m just back from a swimming holiday in the west of Ireland. So let’s say I have a fictional travel company. We’ll call them Wolfgang Wild Swimming. I’m going to be a person who’s researching a swimming holiday. So I’m going to go to Google first, and I’m going to search for swimming holidays in Ireland.

2. E-book download via remarketing

I’m going to go to the Wolfgang Wild Swimming web page, where I’m going to read a little bit about their offering. In doing that, I’m going to enter their Facebook audience. The next time I go to Facebook, they’re now remarketing to me, and they’ll be encouraging me to download their e-book, which is a guide to the best swimming spots in the wild west of Ireland. I’m going to volunteer my email to them to get access to the book. Then I’m going to spend a bit more time consuming their content and reading their book.

3. Email about a local offline event

A week later, I get an email from them, and they’re having an event in my area. They’re going for a swim in Dublin, one of my local spots in The Forty Foot, for example. I’m saying, “Well, I was going to go for a swim this weekend anyway. I might as well go with this group.” I go to the swim where I can meet the tour guides. I can meet people who have been on it before. I’m now really close to making a purchase.

4. YouTube video content consumed via remarketing

Again, a week later, they have my email address, so they’re targeting me on YouTube with videos of previous holidays. Now I’m watching video content. All of a sudden, Wolfgang Wild Swimming comes up. I’m now watching a video of a previous holiday, and I’m recognizing the instructors and the participants in the previous holidays. I’m really, really close to pressing Purchase on a holiday here. I’m on the phone to my friend saying, “I found the one. Let’s book this.”

Each interaction moves the consumer closer to purchase

I hope what you’re seeing there is with each interaction, the Google search, the Facebook ad which led to an e-book download, the offline event, back online to the YouTube video, with each interaction I’m getting closer to the purchase.

You can imagine the conversion rate and the return on ad spend on each interaction increasing as we go. This is a really powerful message for us as digital marketers. When we’re planning a campaign, we think about ourselves as though we’re in the travel business too, and we’re actually creating an itinerary. We’re simply trying to create an itinerary of touchpoints that guide a searcher through awareness, interest, right through to action and making that purchase.

I think it’s not just our study that tells us this is the truth. A lot of the best-performing campaigns we’ve been running we’ve seen this anecdotally, that every extra touchpoint increases the conversion rate. Really powerful insight, really useful for digital marketers when planning campaigns. This is just one of the many insights from our E-Commerce KPI Report. If you found that interesting, I’d urge you to go read the full report today.

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How the hospitality industry should approach online reviews and citations

Looking for more positive reviews? Here are some smart ways to build citations and reviews plus tips to boost the visibility of businesses in the hospitality sector.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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GDPR: What it Means for Google Analytics & Online Marketing

Posted by Angela_Petteys

If you’ve been on the Internet at all in the past few months, you’ve probably seen plenty of notices about privacy policy updates from one service or another. As a marketer, a few of those notices have most likely come from Google.

With the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) set to go into effect on May 25th, 2018, many Internet services have been scrambling to get in compliance with the new standards — and Google is no exception. Given the nature of the services Google provides to marketers, GDPR absolutely made some significant changes in how they conduct business. And, in turn, some marketers may have to take steps to make sure their use of Google Analytics is allowable under the new rules. But a lot of marketers aren’t entirely sure what exactly GDPR is, what it means for their jobs, and what they need to do to follow the rules.

What is GDPR?

GDPR is a very broad reform that gives citizens who live in the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland more control over how their personal data is collected and used online. GDPR introduces a lot of new rules and if you’re up for a little light reading, you can check out the full text of the regulation online. But here are a few of the most significant changes:

  • Companies and other organizations have to be more transparent and clearly state what information they’re collecting, what it will be used for, how they’re collecting it, and if that information will be shared with anyone else. They can also only collect information that is directly relevant for its intended use. If the organization collecting that information later decides to use it for a different purpose, they must get permission again from each individual.
  • GDPR also spells out how that information needs to be given to consumers. That information can no longer be hidden in long privacy policies filled with legal jargon. The information in disclosures needs to be written in plain language and “freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous.” Individuals also have to take an action which clearly gives their consent to their information being collected. Pre-checked boxes and notices that rely on inaction as a way of giving consent will no longer be allowed. If a user does not agree to have their information collected, you cannot block them from accessing content based on that fact.
  • Consumers also have the right to see what information a company has about them, request that incorrect information be corrected, revoke permission for their data to be saved, and have their data exported so they can switch to another service. If someone decides to revoke their permission, the organization needs to not only remove that information from their systems in a timely manner, they also need to have it removed from anywhere else they’ve shared that information.
  • Organizations must also be able to give proof of the steps they’re taking to be in compliance. This can include keeping records of how people opt in to being on marketing lists and documentation regarding how customer information is being protected.
  • Once an individual’s information has been collected, GDPR sets out requirements for how that information is stored and protected. If a data breach occurs, consumers must be notified within 72 hours. Failing to comply with GDPR can come with some very steep consequences. If a data breach occurs because of non-compliance, a company can be hit with fines as high as €20 million or 4% of the company’s annual global revenue, whichever amount is greater.

Do US-based businesses need to worry about GDPR?

Just because a business isn’t based in Europe doesn’t necessarily mean they’re off the hook as far as GDPR goes. If a company is based in the United States (or elsewhere outside the EEA), but conducts business in Europe, collects data about users from Europe, markets themselves in Europe, or has employees who work in Europe, GDPR applies to them, too.

Even if you’re working with a company that only conducts business in a very specific geographic area, you might occasionally get some visitors to your site from people outside of that region. For example, let’s say a pizza restaurant in Detroit publishes a blog post about the history of pizza on their site. It’s a pretty informative post and as a result, it brings in some traffic from pizza enthusiasts outside the Detroit area, including a few visitors from Spain. Would GDPR still apply in that sort of situation?

As long as it’s clear that a company’s goods or services are only available to consumers in the United States (or another country outside the EEA), GDPR does not apply. Going back to the pizza restaurant example, the other content on their site is written in English, emphasizes their Detroit location, and definitely doesn’t make any references to delivery to Spain, so those few page views from Spain wouldn’t be anything to worry about.

However, let’s say another US-based company has a site with the option to view German and French language versions of pages, lets customers pay with Euros, and uses marketing language that refers to European customers. In that situation, GDPR would apply since they are more clearly soliciting business from people in Europe.

Google Analytics & GDPR

If you use Google Analytics, Google is your data processor and since they handle data from people all over the world, they’ve had to take steps to become compliant with GDPR standards. However, you/your company are considered the data controller in this relationship and you will also need to take steps to make sure your Google Analytics account is set up to meet the new requirements.

Google has been rolling out some new features to help make this happen. In Analytics, you will now have the ability to delete the information of individual users if they request it. They’ve also introduced data retention settings which allow you to control how long individual user data is saved before being automatically deleted. Google has set this to be 26 months as the default setting, but if you are working with a US-based company that strictly conducts business in the United States, you can set it to never expire if you want to — at least until data protection laws change here, too. It’s important to note that this only applies to data about individual users and events, so aggregate data about high-level information like page views won’t be impacted by this.

To make sure you’re using Analytics in compliance with GDPR, a good place to start is by auditing all the data you collect to make sure it’s all relevant to its intended purpose and that you aren’t accidentally sending any personally identifiable information (PII) to Google Analytics. Sending PII to Google Analytics was already against its Terms of Service, but very often, it happens by accident when information is pushed through in a page URL. If it turns out you are sending PII to Analytics, you’ll need to talk to your web development team about how to fix it because using filters in Analytics to block it isn’t enough — you need to make sure it’s never sent to Google Analytics in the first place.

PII includes anything that can potentially be used to identify a specific person, either on its own or when combined with another piece of information, like an email address, a home address, a birthdate, a zip code, or an IP address. IP addresses weren’t always considered PII, but GDPR classifies them as an online identifier. Don’t worry, though — you can still get geographical insights about the visitors to your site. All you have to do is turn on IP anonymization and the last portion of an IP address will be replaced with a zero, so you can still get a general idea of where your traffic is coming from, although it will be a little less precise.

If you use Google Tag Manager, IP anonymization is pretty easy. Just open your Google Analytics tag or its settings variable, choose “More Settings,” and select “Fields to Set.” Then, choose “anonymizeip” in the “Field Name” box, enter “true” in the “Value” box,” and save your changes.

If you don’t use GTM, talk to your web development team about editing the Google Analytics code to anonymize IP addresses.

Pseudonymous information like user IDs and transaction IDs are still acceptable under GDPR, but it needs to be protected. User and transaction IDs need to be alphanumeric database identifiers, not written out in plain text.

Also, if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to take the steps Google has mentioned in some of those emails they’ve sent out. If you’re based outside the EEA and GDPR applies to you, go into your Google Analytics account settings and accept the updated terms of processing. If you’re based in the EEA, the updated terms have already been included in your data processing terms. If GDPR applies to you, you’ll also need to go into your organization settings and provide contact information for your organization.

Privacy policies, forms, & cookie notices

Now that you’ve gone through your data and checked your settings in Google Analytics, you need to update your site’s privacy policy, forms, and cookie notices. If your company has a legal department, it may be best to involve them in this process to make sure you’re fully compliant.

Under GDPR, a site’s privacy policy needs to be clearly written in plain language and answer basic questions like what information is being collected, why it’s being collected, how it’s being collected, who is collecting it, how it will be used, and if it will be shared with anyone else. If your site is likely to be visited by children, this information needs to be written simply enough for a child to be able to understand it.

Forms and cookie notices also need to provide that kind of information. Cookie consent forms with really vague, generic messages like, “We use cookies to give you a better experience and by using this site, you agree to our policy,” are not GDPR compliant.

GDPR & other types of marketing

The impact GDPR will have on marketers isn’t just limited to how you use Google Analytics. If you use some particular types of marketing in the course of your job, you may have to make a few other changes, too.

Referral deals

If you work with a company that does “refer a friend”-type promotions where a customer has to enter information for a friend to receive a discount, GDPR is going to make a difference for you. Giving consent for data to be collected is a key part of GDPR and in these sorts of promotions, the person being referred can’t clearly consent to their information being collected. Under GDPR, it is possible to continue this practice, but it all depends on how that information is being used. If you store the information of the person being referred and use it for marketing purposes, it would be a violation of GDPR standards. However, if you don’t store that information or process it, you’re OK.

Email marketing

If you’re an email marketer and already follow best industry standards by doing things like only sending messages to those who clearly opt in to your list and making it easy for people to unsubscribe, the good news is that you’re probably in pretty good shape. As far as email marketing goes, GDPR is going to have the biggest impact on those who do things that have already been considered sketchy, like buying lists of contacts or not making it clear when someone is signing up to receive emails from you.

Even if you think you’re good to go, it’s still a good time to review your contacts and double check that your European contacts have indeed opted into being on your list and that it was clear what they were signing up for. If any of your contacts don’t have their country listed or you’re not sure how they opted in, you may want to either remove them from your list or put them on a separate segment so they don’t get any messages from you until you can get that figured out. Even if you’re confident your European contacts have opted in, there’s no harm in sending out an email asking them to confirm that they would like to continue receiving messages from you.

Creating a double opt-in process isn’t mandatory, but it would be a good idea since it helps remove any doubt over whether or not a person has agreed to being on your list. While you’re at it, take a look at the forms people use to sign up to be on your list and make sure they’re in line with GDPR standards, with no pre-checked boxes and the fact that they’re agreeing to receive emails from you is very clear.

For example, here’s a non-GDPR compliant email signup option I recently saw on a checkout page. They tell you what they’re planning to send to you, but the fact that it’s a pre-checked box placed underneath the more prominent “Place Order” button makes it very easy for people to unintentionally sign up for emails they might not actually want.

Jimmy Choo, on the other hand, also gives you the chance to sign up for emails while making a purchase, but since the box isn’t pre-checked, it’s good to go under GDPR.

Marketing automation

As is the case with standard email marketing, marketing automation specialists will need to make sure they have clear consent from everyone who has agreed to be part of their lists. Check your European contacts to make sure you know how they’ve opted in. Also review the ways people can opt into your list to make sure it’s clear what, exactly, they’re signing up for so that your existing contacts would be considered valid.

If you use marketing automation to re-engage customers who have been inactive for a while, you may need to get permission to contact them again, depending on how long it has been since they last interacted with you.

Some marketing automation platforms have functionality which will be impacted by GDPR. Lead scoring, for example, is now considered a form of profiling and you will need to get permission from individuals to have their information used in that way. Reverse IP tracking also needs consent.

It’s also important to make sure your marketing automation platform and CRM system are set to sync automatically. If a person on your list unsubscribes and continues receiving emails because of a lapse between the two, you could get in trouble for not being GDPR compliant.

Gated content

A lot of companies use gated content, like free reports, whitepapers, or webinars, as a way to generate leads. The way they see it, the person’s information serves as the price of admission. But since GDPR prohibits blocking access to content if a person doesn’t consent to their information being collected, is gated content effectively useless now?

GDPR doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of gated content, but there are now higher standards for collecting user information. Basically, if you’re going to have gated content, you need to be able to prove that the information you collect is necessary for you to provide the deliverable. For example, if you were organizing a webinar, you’d be justified in collecting email addresses since attendees need to be sent a link to join in. You’d have a harder time claiming an email address was required for something like a whitepaper since that doesn’t necessarily have to be delivered via email. And of course, as with any other form on a site, forms for gated content need to clearly state all the necessary information about how the information being collected will be used.

If you don’t get a lot of leads from European users anyway, you may want to just block all gated content from European visitors. Another option would be to go ahead and make that information freely available to visitors from Europe.

Google AdWords

If you use Google AdWords to advertise to European residents, Google already required publishers and advertisers to get permission from end users by putting disclaimers on the landing page, but GDPR will be making some changes to these requirements. Google will now be requiring publishers to get clear consent from individuals to have their information collected. Not only does this mean you have to give more information about how a person’s information will be used, you’ll also need to keep records of consent and tell users how they can opt out later on if they want to do so. If a person doesn’t give consent to having their information collected, Google will be making it possible to serve them non-personalized ads.

In the end

GDPR is a significant change and trying to grasp the full scope of its changes is pretty daunting. This is far from being a comprehensive guide, so if you have any questions about how GDPR applies to a particular client you’re working with, it may be best to get in touch with their legal department or team. GDPR will impact some industries more than others, so it’s best to get some input from someone who truly understands the law and how it applies to that specific business.

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SearchCap: Google earnings, fake online reviews & paid search

Below is what happened in search today, as reported on Search Engine Land and from other places across the web.

The post SearchCap: Google earnings, fake online reviews & paid search appeared first on Search Engine Land.



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4 Integrated Content Marketing Insights From the Trenches of Online Dating

Left. Left. Left. Right. Left. No, this is not an army drill. These are the swiping habits I’ve picked up from my time online dating. Done in a split second, I can swipe faster than most people can snap their fingers. If you’ve ever dabbled with dating apps or online dating, you know that these snap judgements start to become second nature.

With the average human attention span lasting just 8.25 seconds, there’s something to be said about those snap judgements. As a marketing copywriter who’s working day in and day out to woo my audience with clever prose and charming insights, it’s my job to make a great first impression on my audience. If I fail, they’re going to move on to something (or someone) else. And I don’t want my audience dating around — I’m after that exclusive kind of relationship.

However, simply writing great content won’t get the job done. You need to have multiple tactics in play from SEO to social and beyond to really woo your audience whenever and wherever they are. It’s why our own client programs at TopRank Marketing have an integrated content marketing strategy driving them. Content, while a key component, is only a piece of our formula for fueling results.

To help you elevate your content marketing efforts to “swipe-right” status and spark instant chemistry with your audience, here are a few of my tips inspired by my time on the front lines.

#1 – Looks are everything, which means visual and visually appealing content is an imperative.

In the app and online dating world, looks are everything when it comes to making a first impression. Profile pictures are your first glimpse into who your dating prospects are, and the more interesting and compelling, the more likely it is that I’ll stop and give the full profile my time. And, as you may have already guessed, the same can be said for your content when it comes to visual appeal.

If visual content isn’t a key component of your content marketing mix — from native or produced video on social to the actual structure of your content — it probably won’t do much to stop scrolling thumbs from passing over you. What kind of visual content am I talking about? A header image should always be included, but in today’s digital marketing landscape video, infographics, charts, tables, and even special formatting should be considered. Bulleted lists, article structure, broken up paragraphs, and other formatting elements give readers the impression that your content is easy to digest. A wall of text is a huge turnoff.

For images that really stand out, avoid using common stock photography — odds are, someone else has already used it for a similar topic, which rings a little too close to catfishing for my taste. Instead, go for sources that other brands avoid like Flickr’s creative commons, make your own custom image in Canva, or get out your smartphone and snap your own pic. Even better, if you have an in-house designer, take advantage of their talents to create something custom.

 

#2 – Your average pick-up line isn’t going to cut it on social media.

Nothing is more annoying than thinking you’ve found a good candidate only to find out their bio has a solitary emoji in it (this really happened to me, by the way). That does nothing to pull me in. Instead, it makes me immediately want to swipe left. (Is the thumbs up saying they’re a good person? Saying I’ll have a good time with them? Letting me know that they will only communicate in emojis? What does it mean?!)

Whether your audience enjoys longer form content or want you to keep it short and sweet, organic visibility is next to zero on Facebook these days, and Twitter and LinkedIn feeds move fast and have their own ways of prioritizing content.

At the most basic level, this means that perceived value, engaging messaging and visuals, proper hashtag usage, and authenticity are non-negotiables. Next, this means that paid social promotion is a new norm for achieving reach. And finally, influencers can provide a killer hook to capture attention and inspire action.

#3 – Cease and desist all SEO catfishing.

When it comes to online or app dating, catfishing is always a risk — which adds a level of skepticism in the minds of any single looking for love. If someone has a profile picture I’ve seen associated with a different name, comes across as fake, or is just crazy out of my league, I’m definitely not swiping right in an effort to avoid a catfish.

When it comes to infusing SEO into your content, the days of prioritizing the search engine above your audience are long gone. Not only are old-school tactics like keyword stuffing ineffective for enticing or accurate read, you’re also just asking for search engines to put a permanent swipe-left on all your content.

In addition, clickbait title tags and meta descriptions need to go (This goes for any social promotion, too). Simply put, you need to be walk the line of honesty and intrigue with your audience, or else you’re no better than a catfish and you’re audience will bounce.

A great example of transparency and piquing interest comes from fellow TopRank Marketing employee Joshua Nite. He’s the king of injecting humor into his writing, which translates into his title meta content to pull people in from search (see picture below). Not only are his descriptions funny, but they’re also accurate to what’s on the page. And it works, too, because his posts have some of our highest organic traffic. In fact, his post, 20 Jokes Only a Marketer Could Love, had an average CTR of 11.42% in SERPs over the last 90 days.

#4 – Know your type to find perfect matches with digital advertising.

If someone’s a gym junkie, I’m swiping left. If someone’s a big football fan, I’m swiping right. Why is this? One’s my type and one isn’t. And knowing my type, I can widdle down my options and find a better match than if I was just playing a guessing game. If I give my own profile the same treatment, I can expect I am attracting a like-minded person.

Understanding who I want to attract and who I don’t, ensures that I am only receiving quality matches and gives me ammo to reach out to them with. This same practice should be applied to your paid promotion where you can target specific audience segments with customized messages.

Before launching a digital advertising, you should know the audience segments you want to target using their job title, company size, age, location, values, and interests using your website analytics service. And if you have a Facebook Pixel on your site, you can discover even more helpful information about your audience and how to target them. Once those segments are defined, you can use solutions like LinkedIn Campaign Manager or Facebook Ads to target those individuals with personalized posts that are more relevant to them. Through targeted posts, you can feel confident that you’re attracting the right audience.

 

Entice the “Swipe”

When it comes to reaching, resonating, and captivating your audience, you know simply publishing a good piece of content isn’t enough. Like creating swipe-right-worthy profile, you need to go beyond a simple photo and one-sentence bio if you want to attract well-matched prospect.

Integrating a mix of interconnected tactics such as compelling visual content and content infrastructure, honest and intriguing SEO, smooth social promotion, and digital advertising that hones in on your perfect match, are key for enticing your audience.

Once you’ve gotten the “swipe,” what comes next? Captivate them with good conversation (aka: get them to stick around for all 800+ words.). For your best chance at retaining your audience, check out these pointers for consistently creating quality, engaging content.


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How (and Whether) to Invest in and Structure Online Communities – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Building an online community sounds like an attractive idea on paper. A group of enthusiastic, engaged users working on their own to boost your brand? What’s the hitch?

Well, building a thriving online community takes a great deal of effort, often with little return for a very long time. And there are other considerations: do you build your own platform, participate in an existing community, or a little of both? What are the benefits from a brand, SEO, and content marketing perspective? In this edition of Whiteboard Friday, Rand answers all your questions about building yourself an online community, including whether it’s an investment worth your time.

How and whether to invest in and structure online communities

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Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week, we’re chatting about how and whether to invest in and structure online communities.

I want to say a thank you to @DaveCraige on Twitter. Dave, thank you very much for the question, an excellent one. I think this is something that a lot of content marketers, web marketers, community builders think about is, “Should I be making an investment in building my own community? Should I leverage someone’s existing community? How can I do that and benefit from an SEO perspective and a content marketing and a brand awareness perspective?” So we’ll try and tackle some of those questions today on Whiteboard Friday.

Strategy first!

First off, before you go and invest anywhere or build anything, I urge you to think strategy first, meaning your business has goals. You have things that you want to accomplish. Maybe those are revenue growth or conversions. Maybe they have to do with entering a new sphere of influence or pursuing a new topic. Maybe you’re trying to launch a new product. Maybe you’re trying to pivot the business or disrupt yourself, change with technology.

Whatever those business goals are, they should lead you to marketing goals, the things that marketing can help to accomplish in those business goals. From that should fall out a bunch of tactics and initiatives. It’s only down here, in your marketing goals and tactical initiatives, that if online communities match up with those and serve your broader business goals, that you should actually make the investment. If not or if they fall below the line of, “Well, we can do three things that we think this year and do them well and this is thing number 4 or number 5 or number 10,” it doesn’t make the cut.

Online communities fit here if…

1. A passionate group of investment-worthy size exists in your topic.

So if, for example, you are targeting a new niche. I think Dave himself is in cryptocurrency. There’s definitely a passionate group of people in that sphere, and it is probably of investment-worthy size. More recently, that investment has been a little rocky, but certainly a large size group, and if you are targeting that group, a community could be worthwhile. So we have passion. We have a group. They are of sizable investment.

2. You/your brand/your platform can provide unique value via a community that’s superior to what’s available elsewhere.

Second, you or your brand or your platform can provide not just value but unique value, unique value different from what other people are offering via a community superior to what’s available elsewhere. Dave might himself say, “Well, there’s a bunch of communities around crypto, but I believe that I can create X, which will be unique in ways Y and Z and will be preferable for these types of participants in this way.” Maybe that’s because it enables sharing in certain ways. Maybe it enables transparency of certain kinds. Maybe it’s because it has no vested interest or ties to particular currencies or particular companies, whatever the case may be.

3. You’re willing to invest for years with little return to build something of great long-term value.

And last but not least, you’re willing to invest potentially for years, literally years without return or with very little return to build something of great long-term value. I think this is the toughest one. But communities are most similar in attribute to content marketing, where you’re going to put in a ton of upfront effort and a lot of ongoing effort before you’re going to see that return. Most of the time, most communities fail because the people behind them were not willing to make the investments to build them up, or they made other types of mistakes. We’ll talk about that in a second.

Two options: Build your own platform, or participate in an existing community

You have two options here. First, you can build your own platform. Second, you can participate in an existing community. My advice on this is never do number one without first spending a bunch of time in number two.

So if you are unfamiliar with the community platforms that already exist in interior decorating or in furniture design or in cryptocurrency or in machining tools or in men’s fashion, first participate in the communities that already exist in the space you’re targeting so that you are very familiar with the players, the platforms, the options, and opportunities. Otherwise, you will never know whether it’s an investment-worthy size, a passionate group. You’ll never know how or whether you can provide unique value. It’s just going to be too tough to get those things down. So always invest in the existing communities before you do the other one.

1. Build your own platform

Potential structures

Let’s talk quickly about building your own platform, and then we’ll talk about investing in others. If you’re deciding that what matches your goals best and your strategy best is to build your own platform, there are numerous opportunities. You can do it sort of halfway, where you build on someone else’s existing platform, for example creating your own subreddit or your own Facebook or LinkedIn group, which essentially uses another community’s platform, but you’re the owner and administrator of that community.

Or you can actually build your own forum or discussion board, your own blog and comments section, your own Q&A board, your own content leaderboard, like Hacker News or like Dharmesh and I did with Inbound.org, where we essentially built a Reddit or Hacker News-like clone for marketers.

Those investments are going to be much more severe than a Facebook group or a Twitter hashtag, a Twitter chat or a LinkedIn group, or those kinds of things, but you want to compare the benefits and drawbacks. In each, there are some of each.

Benefits & drawbacks

So forums and discussions, those are going to have user-generated content, which is a beautiful thing because it scales non-linearly with your investment. So if you build up a community of people who are on an ongoing basis creating topics and answering those topics and talking about those things in either a Q&A board or a forum discussion or a content leaderboard, what’s great is you get that benefit, that SEO benefit of having a bunch of longtail, hopefully high-quality content and discussion you’re going to need to do.

Mostly, what you’re going to worry about is drawbacks like the graveyard effect, where the community appears empty and so no one participates and maybe it drags down Google’s perception of your site because you have a bunch of low quality or thin pages, or people leave a bunch of spam in there or they become communities filled with hate groups, and the internet can devolve very quickly, as you can see from a lot of online communities.

Whatever you’re doing, blog and comments, you get SEO benefits, you get thought leadership benefits, but it requires regular content investments. You don’t get the UGC benefit quite like you would with a forum or a discussion. With Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups, Twitter hashtags, it’s easy to build, but there’s no SEO benefit, usually very little to none.

With a Q&A board, you do get UGC and SEO. You still have those same moderation and graveyard risks.

With content leaderboards, they’re very difficult to maintain, Inbound.org being a good example, where Dharmesh and I figured, “Hey, we can get this thing up and rolling,” and then it turns out no, we need to hire people and maintain it and put in a bunch of effort and energy. But it can become a bookmarkable destination, which means you get repeat traffic over and over.

Whatever you’re choosing, make sure you list out these benefits and then align these with the strategy, the marketing goal, the tactics and initiatives that flow from those. That’s going to help determine how you should structure, whether you should structure your own community.

2. Participate in existing communities

Size/reach

The other option is participating in existing ones, places like Quora, subreddits, Twitter, LinkedIn groups, existing forums. Same thing, you’re going to take these. Well, we can participate on an existing forum, and we can see that the size and reach is on average about nine responses per thread, about three threads per day, three new threads per day.

Benefits & drawbacks

The benefit is that it can build up our thought leadership and our recognition among this group of influential people in our field. The drawback is it builds our competitor’s content, because this forum is going to be ranking for all those things. They own the platform. It’s not our owned platform. Then we align that with our goals and initiatives.

Four bits of advice

1. If you build, build for SEO + owned channels. Don’t create on someone else’s platform.

So I’m not going to dive through all of these, but I do want to end on some bits of advice. So I mentioned already make sure you invest in other people’s communities before you build your own. I would also add to that if you’re going to build something, if you’re going to build your own, I would generally rule these things out — LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, Twitter hashtag groups. Why? Because those other platforms control them, and then they can change them at any time and your reach can change on those platforms. I would urge you to build for SEO and for an owned media channel.

2. Start with a platform that doesn’t lose credibility when empty (e.g. blog > forum).

Second, I’d start with a platform that doesn’t lose credibility when it’s empty. That is to say if you know you want to build a forum or a content leaderboard or a Q&A board, make it something where you know that you and your existing team can do all the work to create a non-graveyard-like environment initially. That could mean limiting it to only a few sections in a forum, or all the Q&A goes in one place as opposed to there are many subforums that have zero threads and zero comments and zero replies, or every single thing that’s posted, we know that at least two of us internally will respond to them, that type of stuff.

3. Don’t use a subdomain or separate domain.

Third, if you can, avoid using a subdomain and definitely don’t use a separate domain. Subdomains inherit some of the ranking ability and benefits of the primary domain they’re on. Separate domains tend to inherit almost none.

4. Before you build, gather a willing, excited crew via an email group who will be your first active members.

Last, but not least, before you build, gather a willing, excited group of people, your crew, hopefully via an email group — this has served me extremely well — who will be those first active members.

So if you’re building something in the crypto space, as maybe Dave is considering, I might say to him, hey, find those 10 or 15 or 20 people who are in your world, who you talk to online already, create an email group, all be chatting with each other and contributing. Then start your Q&A board, or then start your blog and your comments section, or then start your forum, what have you. If you can seed it with that initial passionate group, you will get over a lot of the big hurdles around building or rolling your own community system.

All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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Academy Pro: A WordPress Theme for Online Courses and Membership Sites

Introducing Academy Pro … the theme for online course creators, membership site owners, and educational content marketers. Academy Pro is the latest premium theme from StudioPress, designed specifically for people in the business of online content and community. Read on to discover all the features and benefits you get with this theme, and how it
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Academy Pro: A WordPress Theme for Online Courses and Membership Sites

Introducing Academy Pro … the theme for online course creators, membership site owners, and educational content marketers. Academy Pro is the latest premium theme from StudioPress, designed specifically for people in the business of online content and community. Read on to discover all the features and benefits you get with this theme, and how it
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