Podcast 6 – Online Marketing Strategy

Show Notes:

Listen to this great discussion with online marketing legend Mary O’Brien on how to tackle your online marketing strategy.

Mary has been involved in online marketing since the 90’s (which is a life time in this field). She was part of GoTo.com who invented Pay Per Click advertising (no, Google didn’t invent PPC). She has trained over 4,000 people in her time at Yahoo, and now runs a wide variety of online marketing education services.

We cover a whole range of internet marketing areas including persuasive websites, SEO, PPC, email marketing, testing and more. And just as importantly, we talk about what order you should be doing things.

You can follow Mary O’Brien on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

 

Philip:  Today, I’m very excited to speak with Mary O’Brien from the US, Port Townsend just outside Seattle.  She’s been in the online marketing space for a hell of a long time.  I know she was originally involved with Goto.com which many listeners will know were the pioneers of Pay Per Click advertising.  So thanks so much for joining us Mary.

Mary:   Good to be here Philip.

Philip:  Could you provide an intro to how you got started and what you’ve been doing over the last couple of years.  I know you’ve moved a little bit away from Pay Per Click, now you’re looking at all facets of online marketing and hosting a lot of online marketing conferences.

Mary:   Yes, that’s correct.  So I started in online marketing in 1998.  I was one of the early employees of Goto.com and then Goto got bought by Yahoo and became Yahoo Search Marketing and I was with them for several years doing as Senior Director of Training and Organizational Development.  They hired me to come in and train all of their attendees on how to – all their advertisers on how to do Pay Per Click marketing and then I also trained all of the people in-house so over the course of a couple of years, I trained 450 people within the company.

I trained 4000 advertisers then in the four years following after I left Yahoo.  From that evolved a two day conference that we’ve done for several years called PPC Summit which is the same type of thing only we cover more than just Yahoo, we do Yahoo and Google and we do everything to do with Pay Per Click.  Then this last year we kind of branched out and decided to do things more for online marketing because lots of our attendees were sort of saying to us, “Well, you know, Pay Per Click doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  I can’t just do Pay Per Click, I need to do SEO and Social Media and email marketing and display marketing and a whole bunch of different things.  Not very many people out there are providing very indepth training on that so will you branch out and do that?”

So that’s what we did.  Then with the recession happening in the US and around the world in the last few years, many people said, “Well I can’t afford to go to these big online conferences anymore.  It’s too expensive, can’t afford the time away from the office.  I can’t afford the fee for the actual conference registration.  So can you take the sessions and put them online so I can kind of log in when the time is convenient for me and I can still get the same information and still stay current with what’s going on out there.”

So that’s what we did.  We did our first two online events last year.  We did one specifically on Adwords and we did one on Landing Page Optimization and then this year we’re doing five.  So we’re doing one on SEO and Social Media coming up in March.  We’re doing one on Adwords coming up in May.  We’re doing one specifically for smaller businesses because we know that lot of the advertisers who are attending smaller businesses.  So that’s in July.  Then we’re doing one specifically for eCommerce, folks who have internet retail websites.  That’s in September and then the last one we’ll do in a year is the landing page one again but that’s going to be geared more towards lead generation.  So we have five online events this year.

Philip:            Wow excellent.  So I know those events quite well.  In fact we first met at PPC Summit in Los Angeles a couple of years ago.

Mary:            Yeah, yeah we did.

Philip:            I’ve done your Landing Page Online conference which was outstanding.  Now you’ve pretty much covered the whole range of online marketing fields.

Mary:            We’re covering most of the search side of it with the online events and then we want to kind of broaden it out and cover more of the online pieces of it.  So to that end we’re actually setting up a membership site which should be live probably around May 1st where people can log in and they can get the training on demand and not only will we be doing the search marketing side of it but we’ll do email and we’ll do display and we’ll do all the ancillary things that people need to kind of pick up to create a well rounded campaign.

Philip:            So Mary in terms of your training experience considering you’ve trained 4000 to 5000 people, what do you think is the biggest misconception or biggest sort of problem area that most businesses have around online marketing?

Mary:            I think one of the real problems is that a lot of smaller advertisers in particular and some large advertisers as well see online marketing as something that is extremely complicated to do, that they’ve got to spend a lot of money doing it, there is a big learning curve there and they don’t really know where to go to get the tools and tips and things like that they need and they don’t really know where to get started.

So that’s what we’ve tried to do with a lot of our online events and physical events.  It’s really sort of set people off in the right direction and say, “Here, do this, then do this, then do this, then do this”  And it’s particularly strong I think that feeling with smaller businesses, because a lot of times it’s one person running the business and they are the book keeper, they are the marketing guy, they are the sales guy, they are the business development guy, I mean they are everything.  And they need kind of really to get up to speed very fast to get the sort of sales that they need using marketing techniques.

They don’t have time to sort of sit around and take a course for three years and figure out what they are doing.  They need kind of immediate results and if you know what you’re doing, online marketing is definitely the way to go to get that.

Philip:            Yeah, and I see that – we are going to talk about the components of what exactly is online marketing but there are so many facets to online marketing and I think there’s a huge amount of resources whether it’s books or training courses or whatever to find out about those individual components.  One of the hardest parts or one of the biggest challenges I see for businesses is they’re not sure which order to approach things and some leads – now the latest craze is you got to have Twitter, you got to be on Facebook, etc.  But you need to consider the overall strategy and focus on first things first.

Mary:            No, I agree and I think you’re exactly right.  And I think really and I say this with a caveat that I drank the Pay Per Click cool aid a long time ago.  But Pay Per Click can be really easy for smaller businesses to get started.  It can be expensive if you don’t know what you’re doing but if you kind of learn some basic fundamentals, you can sort of start an account fairly quickly and you can see results very quickly specially if you’ve set up some tracking on your account and that type of thing so you can see what’s going on.

I think that one of the mistakes that people are making right now is as you say, a lot of people are jumping on Twitter and jumping on Facebook and taking advantage of the social media because it’s free, the problem with it is, it’s hard to measure social media and so you can spend a lot of time doing it and not realize if you were getting results or not.

It’s also hard to drive direct sales with social media.  It tends to work a lot better if you’re driving people to sign up for your newsletter or come to your site and download something, and you’re trying to engage in that kind of community activity.  But social media doesn’t really bring direct sales immediately.

So that’s where Pay Per Click or SEO or those types of things come in.  SEO would be a great place for a lot of small businesses to start.  The problem is it takes a lot longer to get results whereas with the Pay Per Click site you get immediate results, you get immediate feedback, you can see which keywords are performing and then you can tweak it very easily to get it to actually to bring you the sales.

So once you see the keywords that are performing, it’s really easy to then start doing your SEO and setting up an account on SEO and then you can sort of see the things that you want to follow on social media as well.  So if you know the keywords that are performing for you with Pay Per Click, you can use those keywords to actually follow those keywords on Twitter and see where the conversations are happening and then engage in those types of conversations.

Philip:            And if your website’s crap, a lot of this other stuff is not going to matter.

Mary:            Exactly right, yeah.  Starting off with a good website is kind of a given and I think that smaller businesses, that’s one area where I would say make the investment because a lot of smaller businesses think, “Oh I’ll just set up a website myself and I’ll put it all online and it will be fine and it just needs to be basic stuff about me.”

Well in many cases, your website is your store front.  So I mean you wouldn’t have a store front window, just throw a bunch of stuff in it and not organize it and not make it appealing to the customer if they walked down the street.  So it’s the same thing with your website, it has to be appealing, it has to be a really good first impression of your business.

And now it’s relatively simple to set up a decent website for a small amount of money.  Either doing it yourself or getting somebody else to do it.  So there’s really no excuse for having something that looks sort of clunky and like it came from 1998.

One of the easiest ways to do it is to set up a website on WordPress.  WordPress has a really low learning curve for people.  It’s really easy to do SEO stuff on it.  It has a shopping cart, it has a bunch of different things that you can add to it.  There’s also a lot of consultants who will set up a website for you on WordPress very inexpensively.  So if you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t have a website right now and you’re listening to this, that’s my first suggestion.  Go and get a WordPress website, that will start you off in the right direction.

Philip:            Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.  I saw a great quote on Twitter the other day.  I think it was Avinash Kaushik who was saying, “Don’t drive social media checks that your website can’t cash.”  I felt that was pretty cool.

Mary:            Yeah that’s classic Avinash.

Philip:            I think it’s great to breakdown your levels of sophistication as a business, what to be focusing on first.  And I think that sort of phase one, we both – I mean I think every online marketer would agree, the number one focus is to invest in your website.

Maybe we can just touch on the quality aspects of obviously getting websites that looks good, it works well, that’s indexable and scannable and is constructed in the right way so it pleases the search engines which WordPress is a great way of achieving that.

But I think the biggest weakness, even if a website looks good, is around the credibility and the persuasiveness, just providing as much credibility factors and persuasiveness that you’re a highly credible business, right?

Mary:            Well I think I’d actually take a step backwards from that.  I think one of the issues that a lot of businesses face, both small and large businesses.  They say, “Okay I need a website and I like these colours, that’s how I want the website to look”, they go and they look at a bunch of websites. Maybe it’s their competitor or other people that they’ve seen online that they like or they are an internet retailer.  They say, “Oh I have to have a website that looks like Amazon.  Amazon is huge and they must be doing everything right.”

They don’t really stop to think about well what’s my unique selling proposition?  Because before you design a website, you’ve really got to know what the copy is going to say and copy online is very, very important.  So although the design could look beautiful, if you don’t have the right copy and engage with your visitors as soon as they get to the website, you’re going to lose them and online, people have a three second attention span.  And unless you kind of hit them in the face with your message the minute they hit your website, you’re going to lose out.

So the first thing you really want to do is sit and down and say, “Okay, so what is my unique selling proposition?  What makes me better or different or more interesting than any of my competitors out there.”  And sit down and figure that out that.  Take it step by step.  Do it yourself or brainstorm it with some other people and figure that out.  And then that will drive all of your marketing messages both on your website and in the ads that you write that you put on Google, in the ads that you write, you might do display advertising.

And you want to think about how am I different?  So what are some of the keywords that would describe your business.  Is it integrity?  Is it good customer service?  Is it lowest price?  Is it ease of use?  Is it good follow through? I mean what are those things which is when you’re putting that together and if you write all those things down, then you can give that to a web designer and you can say this is kind of the concept, the feeling that I’m trying to evoke when visitors visit my website.

A good web designer will say, “Okay, then I’m going to use these kind of colors, I’m going to use this kind of style and this is what we’re going to look at and then once you have that down and then the next thing I would say is getting good logo which is very important as well and really kind of drives the image of the business.

So start with your unique selling proposition, then get a good logo, then take the logo and then get a good website design and that will start you off in the right direction or design the website yourself.  Otherwise – it’s almost like building a database, you never want to start in the middle because you’ll miss all the bits on the edge and you have to go back and keep redesigning it till you get it right.  So you want to start with a value proposition and kind of go from there.

Philip:            I think a lot of businesses focus too much of their initial budget on the design elements and not enough on the content creation.  Along with the USP you clearly need all your marketing fundamentals in place first but I find a lot of business owners really under value good copy and quality content which achieves two things.  Obviously one is around improving your search optimization results but also providing that level of persuasiveness specially if you are a service provider where you need to be proving your credibility all the time.

Mary:            I totally agree and having just come off this landing page last seminar we did in the fall, it was amazing.  I mean we had all these landing page experts on and their showing all these examples, sites from really huge businesses and you look at their website to start with and you say, “Well that looks pretty good.”  And then you look at the next version of the website and it looks completely different and you’re sort of looking at it going, “Oh, now I see what they wanted me to do.  The other one looked pretty but it didn’t kind of drive me to take any kind of action.”  That’s the whole thing with the website.

If you don’t get your customers to take some kind of action, you are wasting your time having a website at all.  So either get them to do something when they come to the website.  It kind of goes back to that whole concept of getting to yes, that sales people use when they teach them sales training classes.

The more times you can get your customer to respond to you, the better and you do that in the way you write your copy and the way you do your design and the way you sort of position your call to action.  So get them to download a report or sign up for your newsletter or sign up to get a coupon or sign up for a free trial or get them to take some kind of action so you can start engaging with them.  Copy’s a huge factor in that, that a lot of people don’t pay attention to.

Philip:            So let’s assume we’ve got a decent website for this imaginary client, what are the next major focuses or next elements of online marketing that they should be focusing on?

Mary:            So the next thing I would actually do is set up a pay per click campaign.  You would do it in two different ways depending on whether you are a local business or depending on if you’re trying to attract a national audience.  So I start with Google because Google is one of the easiest ones to start with.

Set up your Google adwords account, either set it up as a local account if you’re local business or set it up as a national account if you’re a national business and then start thinking about the keywords that people would use to search for your business, your product or your service and then you write your titles and description, then you put in your url for your website and you start driving customers back to your website.

Along the way, one thing that is really important is that you sign up for the conversion counter which is Google’s simple little tracking solution and you also sign up for Google Analytics which is a more extensive tracking solution which is also free from Google.  And you make sure that both of those things are working on your website first before you put any money into the account because otherwise, what happens is you’re going to be doing all this and start driving some traffic to your account and you won’t ever be able to tell which are the keywords that people are clicking on to actually get to my account.

What are my customers interested in?  That gives you so much information about changing your copy to meet the needs of your visitors.  What are people interested in?  What are people looking for from you?  So before you spend a penny, make sure that that tracking works.

Philip:            A fundamental starting point is using something like Google Analytics which gives you a lot more information but can give you similar type of information to conversion tracking.

Mary:            It can.  So the difference between the two of them is conversion tracking is – it only shows a 30 day window.  If somebody comes to your website and they buy within 30 days, it will give you that information.  Whereas analytics will give you more information and you can use it to test multiple different things in ways that people are coming to your website.

So once you set up an email campaign, you set up an SEO campaign, you set up display campaigns, all those different things, Google Analytics can handle all of that and so you won’t have to set it up multiple times.  You can just set it up once on your website.  The big key with Google Analytics and this is what people get frustrated with, you need to make sure that the code is in the right place on your website and you won’t really know that very well until you actually, kind of, trial and error.  Try it in different places.

Google Analytics site walks you through where to put it but it doesn’t always work in different people’s templates.  So if you’re using WordPress, there’s a very easy Google Analytics plug in that you can use but if you’re setting it up or having a designer set it up for you, you just kind of have to work through the process.  But don’t spend money until you do that because it’s really important.

Philip:            Right so the main objective of the pay per click – starting with the pay per click is actually proving your website is capable of generating leads or selling products or services right?

Mary:            Yes that’s correct.

Philip:            And you don’t need to get more sophisticated until that’s working because what’s the point of spending a lot more money in other areas of driving traffic if – it’s like a bucket with lots of holes in, you put in water and if it’s just seeping out the edges and nothing is working, you need to plug those holes.

Mary:            That’s true.  Yeah, I mean that really makes a big difference.  You can get immediate traffic, you can literally set up your account on Google Adwords and you will have people visiting your website the same day and then you can sort of see what’s working and what’s not working.

You need to be careful with it and set a very restrictive budget. So don’t set the budget that Google tells you to set.  Set something that you are comfortable with.  So maybe $100 a day or something like that and make sure you put parameters around it and don’t walk away and leave it for the weekend and let it run and assume that when you come back, hey, you might have sales.  You may also have spent a lot of money.

You’ve got to watch it very, very carefully at the start and also think about whether this is the right thing for your business too.  Pay per click marketing works really well for customer service businesses.  It works really well for when you’re selling consumer products.  It can work really well when you’re selling to businesses as well.  You have to be a little more careful with your keywords.

Where it doesn’t work well is if you have a product or service that needs a lot of education around it.  So say you’re selling vitamins, how do they say this in Australia, maybe they say vitamins.

Philip:            Vitamins, yeah, yeah.

Mary:            Vitamins okay.  So you’re selling vitamins, then probably not a good idea to actually set up an adwords account to start with because there are so many vitamin stores out there.  How do you differentiate yourself from something else specially where you have a proprietary brand of vitamins that you’re selling.

So in that situation, you might try something different. You might do article marketing or you might do PR or you might do something completely different.  But for most businesses, pay per click is the way to go and it’s quick, it’s easy, it brings you immediate results and it’s the most trackable thing you can do.  So you can see just right away, is it working, is it not working.

The things to look at are – Google likes you to pay attention to your click through rate on your ads and just to see they adjust your quality score and they adjust your bidding based on whether your ads are actually performing.  You should not pay attention as much to that, you should pay attention to whether the actual clicks are converting because that’s what you want to pay attention to.  That’s your bottom line.  So if people are visiting the website and they’re buying.  Yes that keyword is working.

If they’re visiting the website and they’re not buying, then no, it’s not working and if you’re seeing a really, really low result, it means you need to do a website redesign before you go any further.

Philip:            And what about pay per click for service providers say, consultants and that sort of thing?

Mary:            That can work really well but typically not where you’re trying to drive or direct sale.  So in most cases, people aren’t going to come to your website and plunk down $5000 just by reading the copy on your website.  You have to engage them in a relationship the same way that you would if you were doing cold calling and so you go, you pick up a phone and you call somebody, you go out and you meet them face to face and then try to sell them on your service.

So it’s the same kind of concept with pay per click and that’s where a lot of people go wrong.  They think, “Oh I’ll just drive people to my website and they’re going to fill out the form and flip out they’re credit card and sign up for my service.”  It doesn’t work that way online the same say it doesn’t work that way offline.

So in that situation, you want to start the relationship.  Get them to fill out a form and download some free stuff that you’re providing for them – a white paper, or report or free trial or something like that and then start engaging in conversation.  Either sending them email marketing or engage them on Twitter or Facebook or something like that.  But don’t expect to make an immediate sale if you’re a high ticket item because it just doesn’t happen that way.

Philip:            Yeah, I mean I use the analogy that it’s a seduction process.  You got to nurture, you got to develop the relationship over time, it’s not just a quick approach to a person and request to take them home.

Mary:            Yeah, that’s exactly right.  And that’s why a lot of businesses fall down specially people who are selling to businesses because they’ll just use their website as kind of a brochure and then they won’t take advantage of connecting with the customer as soon as they visit the website for the first time.

I’ve seen tons and tons of really big businesses where they have a beautiful website and it’s basically talking about their services and on the contacts page, it gives information on how to reach them and all of that and nowhere on the website does it require anybody to take any kind of action and they’re missing a huge opportunity because if somebody visits your website then, at a certain level, they’re interested in your product or service.  You’ve done something to spark their interest.

You need to kind of continue that conversation forward and the easiest way to do that is put up a little box and say, we’d love to connect with you.  If you’d like to hear information about our products and services, click here and then they fill out a form or if you’d like to download our newsletter, click here or if you’d like to sign up to get notice of advance sales or something like that, click here, just some way to kind of engage them.

Philip:            Okay, so we’ve got a decent website, we’ve set up Google Analytic or some analytical tool similar to that, we’ve got pay per click working well, we’ve proven the website is now starting to convert, it’s persuasive.  So would we move on to search engine optimization at this point?

Mary:            Yeah I would move on to search optimization at this point.  I would do search optimization before I do social media because social media can help to build your visibility in the market place but where you really build your visibility is by getting better placement on the search engines because even though tons and tons of people are engaging with Twitter and Linkedin and Facebook and that type of thing, the sales aren’t necessarily happening there yet.  It’s just kind of the start of the conversation.

Whereas if somebody puts in a search term into a search engine, they have direct intent to buy and they are further along the sales funnel than people are in the social media situation.  So you want to kind of take advantage of that and start using keywords that are working for you on pay per click and then start optimizing your website for those particular keywords on various pages and try and drive more traffic from the search engines.

Philip:            What tips have you got for choosing – most businesses would be outsourcing their SEO, they don’t have the expertise in-house, but saying that  with WordPress, there’s a lot you can get your head around.  There’s a lot of technical problems you can avoid by just having WordPress in the first place and once you understand the basics about title tags, keywords, using your keywords effectively throughout your copy, you can actually do a fair bit of onsite stuff yourself even if you’re not technical.  But the link building side of things, everyone’s had a bad experience with SEO.  What are your tips around getting good results?

Mary:            I would say that you can really get good results with SEO doing it yourself if you’re in a fairly non competitive space.  So if you’re in an area where there’s not a huge amount of competition, there’s not a ton of people really trying to get the number one page or the number one spot on the first page rather, you can do it yourself.  And you’ll get some really good traction with it.

If you’re in a very competitive space and I think that’s more true of most businesses now, then it can be a lot better to outsource it because that person knows all the ins and outs, they know what they are doing hopefully and they can get you faster results than they get yourself.  I think everybody does have a horror story about SEO at some point.  I think there are a lot of people out there who will tell you that they can get you to first page of Google with very mixed results.

Anybody who says they’ll guarantee that they’ll get you to the first page of Google, you can assume that they are guaranteeing it based on some search term that’s so completely obscure that six people and your mother are going to search on it.  You’re not going to get business from that.  So if any search engine consultant uses the word guarantee, walk away immediately.

But what I would do is I would find two or three people where you see that they had gotten results for somebody or you’ve heard that they have gotten results for somebody, I would check references, ask them for at least three client references and check them.  Don’t just ask them and assume that if they’ve got three clients, they must be doing okay.  Ask for them, check them and then you can kind of make a decision then based on what these folks will do for you.

I would say be careful about signing any type of long term contract.  I think most decent SEO providers will tell you that it probably takes about six months to get really good results with the search engines.  So assume that it’s going to take around six months, if they try to lock you into a year long contract, I’d be less inclined to do that.  Six months I think is reasonable, longer than that I think doesn’t make much sense.

But most SEO providers will try and sell you some type of maintenance contract and that can make sense because as the search engines change their algorithms and do things like that, it’s hard to keep up with that yourself and then if you do website redesign, so things like that, you’re going to have to get a consultant to work on the website again for you.

Philip:            Any good tools you’d recommend on SEO?  I strongly suggest all business owners sign up for Google Webmaster tools.  They can get a lot of information on how Google will – the search engines actually seeing your website and what sort of – if there are any problems, technical problems.  You may not know how to resolve them but at least you know you have some technical issues and you can look for somebody to resolve that. Do you have any other good tools?

Mary:            Yeah there’s virtually a bunch of good tools out there.  There are some that are inexpensive, there are some that are free, there are some that require a monthly membership fee.  So the folks at SEOMoz have really good tools that you can sign up for on a monthly membership and that will allow you to sort of check links, it’ll allow you to check your website optimization and check for a bunch of different things for you, fairly inexpensive.

There’s a company called Raven Tools that offers a really nice suite of tools that are great for smaller businesses where they have pay per click management tools, they’ve got SEO management tools, they’ve got link building tools.

Then you’ve got – if you wanted to really dig into your keywords and kind of blow out your list of keywords and that’s really important.  That’s where a lot of small businesses fall down and I’ve heard from a lot of businesses that I’ve trained over the years and have 15 or 20 keywords, then they wonder why those aren’t brining them results.

Well part of the reason they’re not bringing results is because all your competitors are building on the same 15 or 20 keywords.  So you’ve got to kind of think outside the box and broaden out your keyword list.  What typically happens with keywords is about 80% of your business will come from 20% of your keywords.  It’s just the basic rule of sales, but you’ll never know that unless you start off with a large group of keywords and then sort of narrow it down based on what’s performing and what’s not.

A great keyword tool is Wordstream.  They have a free version, they have an inexpensive sort of a monthly version and I would encourage you to check that out, take a look at it.

Philip:            How do you think Wordstream compares to the Google Adwords tool, sorry the Google Adwords Keyword Tool?

Mary:            Wordstream will give you a lot of suggestions that you don’t necessarily get from the Google Analytics tool because you can get – one of the big keys with pay per click marketing is narrowing your universe rather than – you start off by broadening it and then once it starts performing, you narrow it down and the best way to do that is to use negative keywords.

Wordstream has a really great suggestion tool for negative keywords which is more obvious than the Google tool is and so the Google tool will bring you back a huge set of results, some of those things will be relevant and some of those things won’t.  Wordstream is better off in putting it in buckets for you and telling you these are sort of the ones that you should focus on be they negative or positive keywords.  It comes back with some really great suggestions with a really strong algorithm running in the back with that.

We’ve had a bunch of different people test it for us and everybody sort of came up with keywords which they wouldn’t have thought of on their own.

Philip:            Right, so in terms of this phase one we’re talking about, we got a decent website, we’ve been using Google Adwords, we’re getting good conversions, we’re now investing in search optimization, organic traffic from the search engines is starting to pick up, we’re getting more faith in our website, we’re building up the skills I think.

I encourage business owners to really build up their skills around Google Analytics because that’s your dashboard.  If you’re an online marketing is a critical strategy for your business, the skills you need to build up your own Google Analytics are absolutely critical and then I would say the next area which sort of in this phase one is around email marketing.  It’s such a great way of maintaining relationships and nurturing people and building up that trust over time.  What are your thoughts, any tips around email marketing?  Why it’s so important?

Mary:            Yeah I think email marketing is very important and it’s very overlooked by a lot of businesses specially smaller business.  A lot of smaller businesses really – they understand that they need to engage with their customers but they are hesitant to do it too often and so lots of time they think, “Oh if I’m sending emails to my customers, they’ll think I’m spamming them.”  But a lot of times customers need to be reminded that you’re there and many times they are grateful that you actually sent them something and reminded them.  So the balance – the trick is finding the balance.  How often do you need to engage with your customers.

So the first thing you want to do is, you want to set up a really nice landing page where you can give your customers something of value in exchange for their email address.  Don’t just assume because they bought from you that they want to hear from you every month and so ask them if they want to engage with you and if they want to sign up for your newsletter or your free coupons or to be notified when you’ve got classes, whatever the case may be and test several different landing pages.

So an easy tool to do that with is – Google has a free tool called Google Website Optimizer that is really easy to test landing pages with.  Another easy tool that is out there and is really inexpensive is a company called Unbounced and you can test a bunch of different landing pages with that.  So you can test your email campaign, landing pages, you can also test regular landing pages on your website for your pay per click campaign, for your SEO campaign.

The setup place where people can actually sign up, they can put in their email address and they can tell you that they want to receive communication from you and then sign up with the tools that will allow you to do that.

Don’t try and run an email campaign using Outlook because you’ll get blacklisted all over the place on a bunch of the ISP’s.  So you want to use something that is guaranteed to kind of get through to your customer and by using a good email solution and that can really make a difference in the deliverability of your emails.  So if you’re looking for something inexpensive, I would recommend Eye Contact or Vertical Response or Constant Contact, we’ve used all of them.  And if you want something with a lot more fire power in terms of reporting and things like that, then there is a bunch of other more expensive solutions that have really good reporting, things like Exact Target or stuff like that.

But one thing you want to try and do is get your customers to double opt in because it is a good reinforcement that they want to get the information

Philip:            Sorry can you just explain – can you explain the double opt in?

Mary:            Sure.  So when somebody puts in their email address on your landing page or on your site, then what happens is you send them an email and you say thank you for signing up for our newsletter or thank you for downloading our white paper.  In order to send this information to you, I would like you to confirm that you absolutely want to receive it.  And so they click on a link, they come back to the website where the landing page is and then it opts them in twice.

So it’s a really good reinforcement that this person really wants to receive your information.  Once you do that, you will build up a better reputation with the ISP’s because once they know that you double opt in, they know that these are real customers of yours who absolutely want to receive the information.

Philip:            So the email marketing really ties into – specially if you’re a service provider and you’re trying to build up that credibility, the art of seduction, non stop providing really good value.  So rule number one, you want to build up your list.  That becomes often the biggest asset for a business but provide massive value and do not sell.  I say to clients, 80% to 90% of your newsletter or your correspondence needs to be of benefit to the customer and non salesy.  Maybe 10% to 20% of your communication can be salesy.

Mary:            That really makes a huge difference and I think that marketing has really evolved over the last five years or so.  Really with the advent of the internet and people are so much more technically aware now than they used to be.  Now the concept is, before it used to be – it was all about push marketing where you were constantly trying to push your message in front of your customers face, hoping that they would respond to that and actually buy from you.

Now the concept is much more about pull marketing where if you can put your information out on the internet in as many places as you can in a very non salesy, non threatening way then people really respond to that.  So they might not buy from you today but hopefully you leave them with your credibility and so when they are in the market for that particular service or solution, then they’ll come back and they’ll buy from you.  So now the concept is all about inbound marketing rather than outbound marketing.

Philip:            Yeah, there was a great list of tools you had there.  I’d add just two more.  One is Mail Chimp which is – it seems to be going gang busters at the moment, really really popular, very easy to use, it’s actually free upto a thousand subscribers and then another advanced one with Infusion Soft which is also very popular.

Mary:            Yeah we actually use Infusion Soft and we’ve had very good results with it.  The concern I have with some of them and this is something that your listeners will really need to check this is the deliverability.  The whole thing with any kind of email service provider is whether they have a good reputation with the ISPs.  When I say ISP I mean something like Earth Link or Gmail or Google or Yahoo or Hotmail or Microsoft, all these different things where people are using that as their email solution.  So you need to make sure that the email service provider that you choose has a really good reputation and so you don’t get blacklisted because once you get black listed it’s really hard to get off that type of list.  It’ll take you a lot of work and a lot of hardship.  So make sure you choose something at the start that actually does what you need it to do.

Philip:            Okay.  So now, I think for a business to be – I mean with a decent website, getting good leads, getting organic traffic, working well in ppc, email marketing under control, building up the Google analytics skills, that’s a pretty good place to be and I think if you hit that point, you really see the value of investing more of your budget into your online strategies.  What would you sort of move onto, what are some of the more advanced things?

Mary:            Then I would really start to layer in the social media.  I mean the issue with social media, I see a lot of people doing it say, “I have to be on Twitter.  I have to be on Facebook.  It’s the hot new thing.”  Well unless it brings you results, it doesn’t matter how hot it is, all it is then is just a big time suck and you’re spending a bunch of time doing it with very little return and I’ve seen service businesses in particular who really haven’t had a great return from Twitter or Facebook.

The people that I’ve seen doing really well on Facebook are typically internet retailers because it’s really easy to kind of engage your customers in that type of environment where you can offer coupons and you can offer them reasons to sign up and free shipping and a bunch of different things.  And you can create a really nice sort of a Facebook page with a contest and things like that and then it’s very easy to get people to engage with you.

I see businesses trying to sell to other businesses having a little harder time on Facebook because it is so much of a consumer environment and it’s much more colloquial I think in nature than a lot of bigger businesses are really kind of used to.  You can use Twitter very well for trying to engage people with your product or service and just kind of start a conversation but you have to assume that that’s going to be a long term driver of business rather than an immediate driver of business.

I’ve also seen a lot of large businesses using Twitter very well as a customer service solution so monitoring the conversation about what people are saying about their business but it is very time consuming and so unless you have the time to give to it and you can do it consistently because that’s the key with social media, you have to do it consistently and you pretty much have to do something every day or every couple of days to kind of continue to engage with that audience.

You might actually get a better response from a blog specially if you’re a business to business company.  I see B2B companies doing really well with blogs and kind of getting of getting their information out there specially if you are a small company and you can get several people within the company to blog so you get your CEO to blog and you get a couple of other people to blog and doing that regularly really helps and it helps to position you and position your credibility in front of your audience.

So social media is the next thing, I would say blogging is the next thing.  Display advertising can be good but you have to be really careful with that.  It’s less controllable than pay per click or SEO is and so you can run through a lot of money very quickly and so the thing with that is you have to decide which of other sites where my customers are really engaging and you really need to know the demographics of your audience to engage in display advertising.

Philip:            And I think the other thing, the other risk with social media is the PR issues you can create.  As you’re probably aware, there’s been some really bad floods in Queensland in Australia and a massive retail store has just been absolutely slaughtered online and the forums and stuff because they were promising to donate X dollars to the floods for every person that signed up to their Facebook fan page and they’ve created a massive negative PR nightmare.

So a lot of CEO’s I think quite rightly see if they’re putting their opinions out there through blogs or social media now you’re giving the power to consumers, it’s a very big mind shift.  I think it is a mind shift that has to happen but you really need to plan your strategy thoroughly.

Mary:            Yeah you really do and I think that’s the issue for a lot of businesses is it’s very hard to control the conversation in social media and so you have an impression that you want to get your audience to buy into of your business.  You know it’s credible, you know it has integrity, those types of things.  You want your audience to believe that too but people are human and so if somebody else might have a completely different impression of your business and so whereas before they might have come back to you and said, “Okay, well your customer service is a problem and this is not working for me,” and they might have engaged you.  Now they are more inclined to post it somewhere else and post it on Twitter or Facebook or Linkedin or somewhere like that.  And so you have to kind of monitor that conversation constantly so that you can make sure that you are addressing that as it comes up and because if you don’t and if you fail to address it, it will just sit out there forever.

I mean that’s the problem with the internet, it’s going to be there for the next 100 years.  So you got to make sure that you stay on top of that.  So rather than engaging directly in social media a better way to do it kind of at the start of your business is just to monitor social media and make sure that people are talking about you, that they are talking about you in a positive light.

Philip:            Let’s move on to testing.  Landing page creation, landing page testing, AB testing, multi-variate testing, lots of new terminology for business owners, can you give us a bit of an overview of what testing involves and why you want to do it?

Mary:            You definitely want to test because unfortunately what a lot of little businesses do is they have impressions of how their customers are going to respond to your website.  For most business owners they spend a lot of time setting up their website, getting it to look just perfect, fixing the design, doing all the copy, everything looks wonderful.

And then you sort of put your baby out into the universe and you’re trying to figure out okay, well, are people engaging with it?  Do they think it’s great?  Do they have the same opinion of it that I do and honestly, 99% of the time you’re wrong because you’re too close to it.  I mean it’s almost like your children so you put your children out into the world and you’ve dressed them all up and you’ve sent them off to school.

Philip:            And you think they’re beautiful, yes.

Mary:            Yeah, you think they’re gorgeous and everybody’s baby is beautiful to their parents but the problem is that in most cases when they get out there into the world, they get the crap beaten out of them because basically, somebody else doesn’t share that opinion and it’s the same thing that’s true of your website and the easiest way to figure out what works and what doesn’t is obviously if people are buying from you.

So if somebody comes to your website and you’re making lots of sales, okay, that’s a no brainer right.  That means the website is working.  If a lot of visitors are coming to the website and they are not buying from you, that means that you have a problem and you’re not engaging your customers that way that you should be.

So you want to start then testing different pages with different copy and different headlines and different calls to action.  And so a lot of smaller businesses look at that and get completely intimidated and completely overwhelmed and they’ll say, “Oh I just spend all this money building this website, it’s gorgeous and the designer told me that it was wonderful and now you want me to test other pages.  Can I not just stop now?”  Well unfortunately you can’t, you have to figure out it might work for you but it doesn’t work for your customers.

So the next thing to do then is figuring out some landing pages that you can test and when I talk about a landing page, I’m talking about a page that a visitor arrives on when they get to your website.  So it could be your home page.  If you’re an internet retailer, it could be a category page, if you’re a business to business retailer, it could be the page where you get people to sign up for your newsletter.  Any place that people land on your website, use a landing page.  So those are the areas that you want to test.

So what you want to do is you want to look at a page where you’re getting a lot of traffic to it and then start testing things to see if you can prove the conversion rate on that page.  So you might test different calls to action or different buttons that are in different places.  You can do one test at a time which is called AB testing so what you do is you have one page that has a call to action in one place and then you do a second page and it has the call to action in another place.  So you’re basically testing apples to apples.

Once you get more complicated with it, you can do what they call multi variate testing where you’re testing multiple different things on the same page.  So you might do the button in one place here and a different place on the other page.  You might do a red button on one page and a blue button on another page.  You might do one set of copy on one page and another set on another page.  AB is the easiest one to start off with.  I mean basically just test one thing on the page at a time and see which one performs better.

Philip:            This topic is also called conversion optimization which is another way of saying the exact same thing.  You’re trying to increase your conversions or goals on your website.  We had Brian Massey on as an interviewee a couple of months ago talking about…

Mary:            Oh yeah, Brian’s wonderful.

Philip:            He’s fantastic – talking about the science of conversion optimization and it seems that at all the conferences that I’ve been to the conversion optimization sessions are absolutely crammed.  It’s very much all the rage at the moment but for good reason.  You need to get everything else in the line first, you need to improve your – get your skills up around analytics, get comfortable with a lot of the basics of online marketing and then test like crazy and essentially you never stop do you?

Mary:            No you never stop.  I mean I think that’s one of the issues that people find the most frustrating about online marketing.  It never ends.  I’ve had people over the years say to me you’re a guru when it comes to search engine marketing and yes, I am today and tomorrow I won’t be because Google will change their algorithm or they’ll do something or some new thing will come out like Facebook and the next thing I’m learning it along with everybody else.

So it’s frustrating on some level but it’s also extremely rewarding because people used to say to me, I miss the early days of the internet, can I still get a lot of sales?  My competitors got on this thing couple of years ago and I didn’t and now I’m playing catch up and will I ever catch up?  Yeah, absolutely because the internet is just the greatest equalizer.  It’s really an opportunity for smaller businesses to play in the same playing field as larger businesses.

Years ago it wasn’t like some small computer store who was on the corner could compete with somebody like Dell.  Now they can because they don’t have to have the same kind of marketing budget, they can put in the time rather than putting in the money and they can still get some really decent results.

Philip:            So do you think – how do you see a small player competing particularly around SEO with a big player?  A big player, a big corporate’s going to have a team of internal search engine optimization experts who are going to be focusing on that SEO day in and day out.  I see these big players, they are starting to squeeze businesses out of these really competitive phrases.

Mary:            Yeah I think they are and I would also say they are in pay per click as well.  I mean you’ve seen situations where a lot of bigger players have finally figured it out and so now they are buying up all the big major search terms so they can afford to compete with that.

I think what the smaller businesses have to do, that’s where your unique selling proposition comes in.  If you understand that and you’re really true to that all the time and you think about well, what do my customers want.  Well yeah, they might be interested in cheaper sales from a large player but they are interested in local service, really good customer service from me so that’s where I can compete.  And you write everything on your website or in your titles and descriptions or whatever the case might be.  You write all of that with that bias and really let people know.  This is my wheel house, this is where I can actually get results for you.

But the thing to do with SEO or with pay per click is really kind of go after a lot of those smaller search terms.  So yes the term computers might be wonderful and it’s going to drive tons and tons of traffic to your website but it’s going to be really expensive and you’re going to compete on that level with all these national and international players and the cost per click could be $20 a click.  Or you could spend years trying to get on the first page of results on Google for that particular term.  So you’ve got to kind of balance that out with what you’re trying to do.

If you do a lot of niche terms which are much longer search terms where maybe there is only two or three hundred people searching on that particular term in a month, you can still get a lot of results.  I mean you’ll do a lot more terms and you’ll do more work for it but you can still get really great results.  With SEO a lot of it has to do with your links and it’s relatively easy for you to get just the same good links back to your website as one of these national players will get back to their website.  That’s the big thing.  Don’t assume because it’s a huge company that they do a really great job on the search engine marketing because in a lot of cases, they simply don’t.

Philip:            Yeah, some great points.  I think we talked about it in the very beginning around content creation.  If you’re not creating valuable content, whatever that is for your business, all wrapped around why you are unique.  You’re not going to succeed and that could be articles, blog posts, white papers, video marketing where you’re doing reviews of products or books or whatever it is, whatever your niches is that quality content just needs to be at the core of everything.

Mary:            Yeah it absolutely does and you have to give people a reason to want to visit your site and want to link to your site and content is the easiest way to do that.  At a very basic level, if you can’t think of a lot of articles and things to put out there, then do press releases and announce to the world the things that you are doing that are different or things that you are working on or if you sponsor the local football team or did something like that, that should be a press release.

If you introduced your new product line, that should be a press release.  If you have a new employee that you hired away from some big company, that could be a press release.  If you’ve got a new product or service that you are offering, that could be a press release.  So there’s a bunch of things you can do to actually put those press releases out on there online and get them back and a great service to do that is PR Web.  I mean they are really inexpensive.  If you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to SEO they’ll actually do the SEO on the press release for you.  You probably won’t get a ton of news people calling you but you will get a ton of links and a ton of traffic back to your site because their press releases just get picked up all over the place.

Philip:            And that applies for Australian businesses or businesses in the UK, wherever right?  I mean it’s essentially, it’s global?

Mary:            Yeah, wherever.  I mean PR Web is basically international and we see, when we do press releases we get people picking them up in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, we actually get some people picking them up in other countries where they don’t speak English and their whole website might be in German and they pick up one of our press releases and post it and so we get a link back from a German site but it does drive a lot of traffic for a very inexpensive amount.

Philip:            What sort of focus do you think businesses should have on what their competitors are upto online and there’s a huge amount you can delve into, what their strategy is and learn from them.  What sort of focus do you think they should apply there?

Mary:            I think you have to be really careful doing that.  I mean you definitely want to pay attention to what your competitors are doing but you need to be discriminating and applying that to your business because if you start doing everything that your competitors are doing, that basically takes away from your uniqueness and you just start looking like them or a copy cat of them.

So you want to watch what they are doing and see if you can learn from it and apply it to your business but you want to be really careful with that.  So I had somebody ask me years ago who came to one of my Yahoo workshops and they said I see my competitors are all selling Reeboks and I don’t sell Reeboks, I sell Nikes so I should bid on the term Reeboks right and brink them back to the Nike page and if they see Nike’s that they like, they might buy them.

Well they might and then again they might not and you just paid for all of those clicks with an effort that you’re going to try and educate your audience on the merits of Nikes v. Reeboks.  Somebody who is a dedicated Reebok consumer may never buy a pair of Nikes in their lifetime.  So you’re taking a big risk with that.  So you need to be careful specially when it comes to bidding on keywords.  If you don’t have that product or service on your website, then I would tell you not to bid on those keywords because it’s too expensive a way to educate your consumer.

But you definitely want to pay attention to where your competition is so if you’re competition is on Facebook, well maybe you should try it.  But then again they may be on Facebook and spending a bunch of money and they’re not getting any results from it.  So I would look at that over a period of time.  If you see them on there for 3 or 4 months and they are advertising on Facebook, well, okay yeah, chances are maybe they are getting something from it and you can learn from that.  But if you see them on there for a couple of weeks, don’t just jump on there and assume that you’re going to get business from it because you may not.

Philip:            Right.  Mary we’ve, I’m quite sure of the fact that we can speak about this stuff for hours but we’ve really been going here for a while.  Did you have any closing thoughts on any other tips or good points around the strategy stuff?

Mary:            Well one thing that I would say to your folks is there’s a lot of information out there that they can learn from, there are a lot of really great books on online marketing now.  There are a lot of really great places that they can learn nationally and internationally.  I think there’s some really good conferences in Australia now that people can go to and learn about online marketing.

There’s also some really great kind of online stuff.  I mean we do a lot of online stuff with our events that more than happy to have people sign up for that.  We have quite a following in Australia which is kind of interesting.  We have a following in most of the English speaking countries but the key is to continue learning.  The problem with search engine marketing and online marketing in general is it changes so fast and you have to keep up with it and you have to keep on top of it.  Otherwise you’re either missing an opportunity or you’re account starts to deteriorate.  One of the worst things you could possibly do is set up a pay per click campaign and let it run for a year and not look at because without your input, it really will deteriorate over time.  So you have to constantly kind of keep up with that and figure out what’s a new opportunity for me that I can take advantage of.

Philip:            Thanks Mary.  You’ve been incredibly generous with us with your knowledge and your time.  Absolutely so appreciative of that.  Where can people find you on line?  We’ll include links to all your web properties but for people listening to the podcast, where’s the best place, they can make contact with you?

Mary:            Okay, well they can follow me on Twitter and I am at ppcsummit or marketing institute and that’s mktg institute.  They can connect with me on Linkedin.  I’m on Linkedin and I’m also on Facebook as Mary O’brien.  They can connect with us on our blog and that’s internet marketing institute.com/blog and then the membership site will be live at that url as well.  So if people are interested in that they can kind of follow along and see us, we built the thing out from scratch basically and probably made most of the mistakes that most of your audience makes.  But it’s all about trial and errors.  So love to connect with anybody and then more than welcome to send me a direct email if they’d like to reach me also and that’s mary@ppcsummit.com.

Philip:            Great, thanks so much Mary.

Mary:            You’re welcome.

By Philip Shaw

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