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Tips for a 21st century digital marketing department

SNEWS tech reporter Yoon Kim shares insight on the ever-evolving company role of the digital marketer.

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Just a decade ago, Facebook was nothing more than a site where Ivy League students “poked” each other. WordPress had just gotten started and there was no such thing as YouTube or Twitter. The cool kids in social media were Xanga, AOL Instant Messenger and Hot or Not (which is making a comeback by way).

Digital marketing has come a long way in a short amount of time and given that 87 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet and 73 percent of them are on social media, it probably a good time to upgrade, or yikes, even establish your digital marketing department.

In ten short years, Google has recognized seven channels that have established themselves as being major drivers of online revenue. Those channels are: social media, e-mail, organic search, paid search, display, direct and referral. Here’s a look at how to perform in a few of those channels as well as ideas for each.

Social media
“Tracking ROI on Social Media is like tracking ROI on air conditioning. You just need it,” said Steve Hartman, vice president of online marketing at Urban Outfitters. Here’s the problem with social — it’s a poor generator of revenue. Social media is one of the lowest performing channels for e-commerce simply because people are not on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to shop (as opposed to say, when someone types in a set of keywords on Google).

But that doesn’t mean social media doesn’t contribute to the overall revenue picture. If each of the channels is a player on a basketball team, social media is the point guard. It might not score a lot of points, but it racks up a ton of assists. In many cases, social media is your first point of digital contact to customers and is particularly useful for building leads for other revenue generating channels, like e-mail or search.

While Facebook is particularly powerful because you can target segmented demographics, there are other channels that require little segmentation since the demographic using the platforms are already niche. Furthermore, a recent Princeton University study showed that Facebook is set to lose 80 percent of its users audience by 2017, so now might be a good time to look into other rising social networks like Snapchat, Instagram, Vine, Pinterest, and even, YouTube.

Try this: Set up a campaign (perhaps a giveaway) where your goal is to collect e-mail addresses. Target a demographic that you’ve traditionally not targeted, but that is part of your overall customer base. Now, customize an email that is specific to that demo. You’ve just created a customer segment.

The funny thing about e-mail is that many brands only do one format, which also happens to be one of the lower performing formats: periodic newsletter blasts. There are at least three more formats that your company should try.

>> Follow up after orders: This could be a one-time offer to customers who buy certain products, or even, just saying thanks for ordering. It’s surprising how many companies don’t even say thanks in their receipt!

>> Reply to newsletter signups: Your customer voluntarily gave you permission to market him/her; this is a great time to convert. Make an offer!

>> Remarketing emails: Only about 2 percent of your unique visits will convert, but a whole heck of a lot more are abandoning their shopping carts. A remarketing email reminds shoppers to revisit their lonely carts. Most e-commerce platforms support remarketing plugins. If your e-commerce store is built from scratch, integrating a remarketing system is a matter of hiring a developer for a number of hours.

>> Welcome series: Customers buy your products because it makes them better at something. Help them achieve that lifestyle with high quality content that is only available upon request. Some brands like Orvis have created multi-part emails to engage users but of course, market their products while doing so. The content is still free to the user but hey, you might as well get an email address out of the deal, right?

Organic search: On page and off-page SEO
Organic search traffic is the highest quality traffic in terms of conversion rate. Organic search traffic is made up of people who are actively searching for your product on search engines, whether they are at work, on their phone, or on their tablet at home.

The key is to show up in the top three searches when the customer is searching for your keywords. According to a study done BY Chitika in June 2013, the top three searches get over 60 percent of the clicks with search rankings four through seven getting around 22 percent. To get your pages into the top rankings, call upon Search Engine Optimizers or SEO’s. There are two types of SEO: On-page SEO and off-page SEO.

On Page SEO refers to tweaks that you can make to pages so search engines can easily figure out what those pages are about. This includes editing the title and header tags, meta descriptions as well as implementing rich snippets or schema data into the HTML of the page.

The latest development in on-page SEO involves video creation. You know those thumbnails that have recently been showing up to the left of your Google searches? That’s not actually a video player; it’s an image that was coded using schema data. Those thumbnail images attract eyeballs, which give the page a higher click-through rate, which in turn increases the page’s quality score, which in turn raises rankings. It’s a virtuous cycle that makes video a quick returning investment.

Off-page SEO refers to content generation that sets you up as an authority on a given topic. This is typically done through blogs. Google sees all those likes, shares, tweets, and inbound links that your blog articles are collecting and rewards the rest of your site with higher rankings.

Paid ads: Google AdWords, affiliate marketing, product listing ads, retargeting
There are many tactics in digital marketing that could fall under the broad category of paid ads, but only a handful are specifically e-commerce driven.

SEM refers to search engine marketing or paid ads on search engines like Google, Bing or YouTube. PLA’s, or product listing ads, are image-based ads on product listing sites like Google Shopping or Amazon. Affiliate marketing refers to the practice of incenting affiliate websites (blogs, listing sites, etc.) to drive sales, usually to the tune of 8-12 percent. Retargeting is the practice of serving ads to users who have visited your site based on cookie data.

SEM campaigns typically are not done in house because margins are relatively thin and it’s possible to lose money from a poorly executed bidding strategy. SEM’s research the cost to advertise for a particular set of keywords then bid for those keywords on platforms like Google AdWords (those ads on the right side of a Google Search Engine Results Page) in hopes that their ad copy will show above their competitors. Several things determine ad placement in SEM like click-through rate (the number of people who click the ads versus how many people saw it), bid price, and competition for those keywords.

PLA’s can be executed quickly and for free by submitting a product feed to Google Merchant Center. Optimizing a PLA campaign will require ad dollars and a similar keyword bidding strategy as SEM, but uploading a product feed (again, it’s free) will earn you some free impressions in Google Shopping.

Affiliate marketing campaigns are set up through mass brokers like Commission Junction or industry specific brokers like AvantLink. These brokers place your banner ads on “affiliate” sites so their readers can click into your product pages. Say a reader clicks on your affiliate ad and later (up to 90 days later) buys a product on your site. You’ll pay a commission to the referring site on that sale. Once set up, affiliate marketing doesn’t require much time but shop carefully as “cookie stuffing” scams have plagued affiliate marketing’s reputation.

Retargeting is similar to affiliate marketing in that a network of websites (usually blogs) serves your ad creative (like banner ads) to readers. The difference is that ads are only served to people who have visited your site. Say a shopper comes into your site that sells tents, but clicks around at all sizes. Well, you can serve that person a generic branding ad. But say a shopper clicks around on 2-person tents specifically. You can now serve even more targeted ads related to exactly what the shopper was viewing.

Legal: MAP enforcement, privacy policies, giveaways
Your e-commerce strategy is only as strong as your reseller price policy. If one of your resellers is undercutting prices online, or heaven forbid, an unauthorized reseller is selling grey market goods, your e-commerce efforts can only go so far. Over 80 percent U.S. consumers go online to research before buying a product and many of them will compare prices.

Enforcing minimum advertised price or reseller price policies is an arduous task but there are software services that scan the Internet looking for violators. According to talk given by Larry Pluimer at OIA Rendezvous 2013, there is one particular type of violator to be mindful of known as “fly by night” resellers. Like the name suggests, these resellers open up shop on marketplace sites like Amazon or eBay for just a few days, often under obscure DBAs. They then sell your product at blowout prices, hurting both brand and your e-commerce efforts, then disappear like nothing happened.

On the marketing side, legal help will help you navigate the disclosure requirements of web privacy policies and giveaways.

Hopefully by now, you’ve implemented some form of privacy policy to cover requirements of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, the Bramm-Leach-Bliley Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, each of which have requirements relevant to your online privacy policy. Thankfully there are several free websites that will auto-generate a custom privacy policy that abides by these laws.

While Facebook giveaways can be executed pretty quickly, you’ll want to abide by Facebook’s Promotions Guidelines (scroll down to section E) that govern what kind of disclosures you’ll need. These include “official rules, offer terms and eligibility requirements (age and residency restrictions) rules of the promotion and all prizes offered.”

Take all these tips with a grain of salt; 10 years ago, none of this existed. Ten years from now, it could look very different. In the digital world, years are like eons.

–Yoon Kim