Posted by randfish
In this week's Whiteboard Friday, we go underneath the surface and bring to light some hidden factors in online marketing. These often overlooked details can have a huge impact in helping us accomplish our goals as online marketers. Please enjoy and don't forget to leave your comments below.
Please note that we shot this week's Whiteboard Friday on a brand new video camera and we still need to work out a few kinks. I apologize for the slight purple tint on the Whiteboard.
Howdy, SEOmoz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk about the goals that we try to get people to accomplish on the Web, the things that we're trying to accomplish as online marketers, and what we're trying to optimize for, things like: click-through rate from search results; getting people to subscribe to RSS and e-mail; getting them to click links that are posted on social networks; getting them to share things on social networks, on blogs, on websites of all kinds; getting them to convert from browsing to buying; completing a free trial or downloading a white paper and giving you their information; staying a customer of a subscription product. These goals that we have are traditionally done through optimization tactics that we've talked about many, many times here. But there are hidden factors. There are things that hide beneath the surface that impact and affect all of these, all of the success rates and the conversion rates and the goal rates that you have. They can be so subtle sometimes and so hidden beneath the surface that we don't even realize what's going on. That's what I want to talk about today.
So in terms of impacting all of these items, there's traditional stuff that we know, we talk about. So things like, oh, and the click-through rate for the search results, I know that position matters. I know that getting a rich snippet matters. If I can have little stars next to mine; if I can have a picture, a photo, or a video, that usually increases click-through rate. I know that if I'm in special kinds of results, that can either increase or decrease my results. I know if I've got a listing and an indented listing below, that can help me. I know that with subscriptions to RSS and e-mail, I can test different buttons, different versions of the entry form; different calls to action. On links that I click, I can test different titles. All this kind of stuff, there are those traditional testing kinds of things, right?
So in that traditional CRO, that's been covered a ton of times. We don't need to cover this because you often know a lot of the things that are in there. You can find them. They're well-documented. The subtle stuff, the weird stuff is oftentimes around just two questions.
Number one: Does the product or service or thing that you want me to do meet my needs? It could be as simple as: Do I think when I click on this result in the search engine that it will answer the question that I originally asked? But there are so many subtleties that are involved in that, that we never think about, that doing traditional kinds of CRO testing and optimization, we'll never get there.
The second question is: Do I trust and like the brand and/or people behind the brand? This goes to fundamental marketing and branding awareness, and it is so pervasive in all the things that we do, whether it's in web marketing or in offline marketing, and yet oftentimes ignored by marketers like us, who operate in the inbound world of SEO and social media and content marketing and these kinds of things, because we're so analytics driven, that we see a lower click-through rate than we want, a lower conversion rate than we want, a lower subscription rate, a lower sharing rate than we want, and we think, hey, let's test these traditional types of CRO things. Sometimes the problem or the optimization tactics are at a much deeper level.
Let's start with the product/service meeting the needs. There's a bunch of things that go in here. Uptime and reliability is one of the biggest ones. So essentially, if I click a website and it is not speedy, delivering the things that I need, and consistent, I'm going to learn not to trust it, and I'm going to be less likely to click it. This is why you see things like speed being a factor, webpage load speed in Google's rankings, granted a very small factor, but certainly a much bigger factor when you're talking about, "Hey, I'm going to click this, and boy, it's going to take a long time."
I'll give you a good example. I personally think that a lot of the writing at Forbes is pretty darn good. Same with The Wall Street Journal, same with Bloomberg online. But they almost all have interstitial ads and very, very slow page load times. At least in my experience in the past, those websites have done that for me. Almost always have the interstitial, almost always takes a while to load, and then I have to wait through the interstitial. I hate it.
So if I see something else in the search results, a site in social media, I'm going to be less apt to share it. I'm going to be less apt to click on it. I've learned through the conditioning that those brands have given me that the uptime, reliability speed issues are problems.
Same thing with pricing. So I think Radian6 is an absolutely phenomenal product. I've heard great things about it, met the CEO, know some people there. Terrific product. Way too expensive! No way that I can justify affording it. Right now, I'm using Google Alerts and some combination of Google searches that I do every day, some other brand monitoring stuff that SEOmoz is working on in beta, the Blogscape Project, which of course I get kind of alpha access to.
Pricing is wrapped in there by necessity. When you worry, "Hey, wait a minute. I'm attracting all these visitors. They're not converting or they're not taking this action." They may have heard, or they may know, or they may have seen that your pricing simply doesn't match their market, or they have fears around that. That's why I'm such a big fan of transparency here, because I think that you will weed out and save your salespeople time, and save your customer service people time, and save your website bandwidth, if you're transparent about this most of the time.
Features and perceived features. Features is: Do you do the thing that I want you to do? When I'm talking about features, I could mean in software. I could mean in a product, like I'm buying a digital camera, I'm buying a car, I'm buying a whiteboard pen, I'm buying a subscription to a software service. I'm looking purely for information. The features are: Do you do the things that I want you do to? Oftentimes, that comes through brand perception as well.
So I know that a lot of the times when I visit an eHow type of website, that it doesn't have the features that I want, which is a reliable source that I know I can trust. Wikipedia's the same way. I only semi-trust Wikipedia, and I trust it on some topics and not others, and I always want to back it up with something else from some reliable source where I know the person there or I know the brand there, because Wikipedia could be edited by anybody, and I don't necessarily know who's behind it.
So those types of brands, and this is even true sometimes at About.com, where the writers in some categories are phenomenal. Southern food, I think is terrific. Some of the digital marketing ones are good. Some of them are mediocre. It's a trust factor around the features and the perception of features. Perception of features is often very different from actual features.
We find, for example, when we survey customers of SEOmoz that they have no idea that we actually will help track their Facebook pages, Insights data over time, and their Twitter data over time. Many people don't even know that Open Site Explorer and SEOmoz are offered in the same subscription. So this is clearly a problem that we have had on perception of features, not even on actual features.
Presentation. The way and the style in which the features and the information and the pricing and reliability and the uptime, all of that is presented is another big one. The thing about presentation is that it's a layer that impacts everything else, not just up here, but down here as well. It's often done terribly, terribly wrong on the Web.
Because it ties so much to the, "Do I like and trust these people," let's talk about those. This question, when you ask the question, "Do I like and trust the brand, and the people behind the brand," that goes to a bunch of inputs that are very, very far removed, all so far removed from traditional CRO stuff. That's things like design and UX, which we talk about many times here on Whiteboard Friday and on the site. Higher quality, more professional, more consistent with what your audience is looking for, just does a fantastically better job than, "Oh yeah, we bought some stock photography of some people in an office working, and don't they look attractive, don't they have perfect skin? And now, you know, that's our homepage, and then there's Services, and Contact, and About. Great, we have a professional website!" No, you don't. No, no, you don't!
Design UX isn't just about that. There are other inputs like domain name and brand name. One of the biggest reasons that I'm often against exact- match domains is because it is so tremendously hard to build up any sort of branding. If you name industries, you will very, very rarely hear that the generic, exact-match domain for what we call that industry is a market leader, a brand leader, and because of that and also because, to be totally fair, a lot of people in the domaining sphere and the affiliate marketing and SEO sphere noticed the power that these had in Google and abused them tremendously. So now consumers have an association, particularly savvy consumers have an association, a brand association with exact-match domains. That is, "Oh, that's probably a low-quality site. That's probably not the real brand. I don't know if I can trust it if I click on that," versus actual brand names.
I'll give you some very good examples. In the world of office supplies I've heard of Staples, right? I've heard of OfficeMax. I've heard of Office Depot. But if it's OfficeSupplies.net, I'm sure someone owns that domain. It could even be someone awesome. Maybe it's a great site, but if I see it in the search results, I'm going to be mighty suspicious. That suspicion just naturally creeps in. That's why domain name and brand name are so tied together in the perception of trust and can substantially impact things like click-through rate and conversion rate and subscription rate, etc.
Accessibility of contact information. It's funny, I was just on an e-mail thread yesterday night, and some folks in the SEO sphere said, hey, have you ever heard of this particular – it was an enterprise SEO software provider. I went, "No, I haven't heard of them. This is the first time. Let me go check out their site." I see they try and say a few futures, but there's literally nothing, no one mentioned on the site; no people who are using it, no people who are associated with the brand. The contact information is "Fill out a contact form" or "Here's our office." I think it was somewhere in the United States; I can't remember exactly where. But other than a mailing address and a phone number, there was no human being listed, which made me very suspicious, because why would you not show off the team? Like, here's the exec team behind it. Here are our engineers. That kind of transparency is natural in the software world. Something's weird if it doesn't exist there.
Being able to find that information – a phone number, e-mail, contact forms, here's our Twitter and our Facebook, and these kinds of things – you just expect those from web companies. When they don't exist, you become highly suspicious.
The authenticity of the content. One of my favorite examples is there's a brand that's been doing a ton of fantastic infographics. I think it's MBAonline or MBAeducation.com, one of the online education providers with a very generic name. They really do great infographics. They sponsor some awesome stuff. Sometimes they'll get featured on a Mashable or even a TechCrunch, or something like that. Tremendous work, excellent work getting that brand out there.
But I always look at them and think this doesn't have a relationship with what the services that you're trying to sell, which is you're an affiliate for a bunch of online education providers, which can be a little bit of a nasty, sort of spammy, aggressive field. The challenge here is, hey, yes, you've got the infographic, you've got the link. But when you're trying to tie back into consumers and earn their business, those of us who are savvy and sophisticated, we sort of get a funny feeling, like something doesn't match up. The content is not authentic to the brand. Why is it being produced?
I think a great example of this is OkTrends, which is OkCupid's blog. They essentially have dating content that matches up with what people are looking for from their site. So, here's how to optimize your dating profile, and by the way, we're a dating website. Great, makes perfect sense.
Hey, here's an infographic about the rise of Twitter or Twitter click- through rates or something – and by the way, we're an MBA online education provider. Why is that? It seems like it's just for the links and attention and awareness and has nothing to do with the actual brand. Highly suspicious, particularly in spheres that are very aggressive.
Industry reputation, word of mouth. I'll give you another example. So, there was another provider that was mentioned on this string in the SEO enterprise space. No, I'm sorry. It was another enterprise software provider, but not in SEO. There were some comments of, "Oh, hey, should we use this? Should we use this other one?" Someone remarked on an e-mail thread, "You know, the CEO of this particular company has treated women employees very badly."
You would never find that on the Web, right? That's not information that you're going to see. If you start searching for reviews, you won't find it on their website. It's something that's word-of-mouth only, but it's made its way to enough influencers that now that is an influential thing in the perception of, "Do I like the brand and the people?" Very frankly, I trust this source, and I know the source knows the CEO there, and I don't. I'm probably not going to buy from this particular enterprise software provider, even if they meet my needs up here. This is the type of stuff that influences conversion rate, that is so subtle and so hidden, that you're never going to realize it from a traditional CRO-type of perspective. And yet, it pays huge dividends to go and investigate this stuff and understand that perception.
The final one that I'll mention here is familiarity with the brand and social proof of the brand. A great example here, go to SurveyMonkey's website. If you're not logged in, the homepage is a woman from Facebook, her picture, she's a statistical analyst there, and she's giving an endorsement to SurveyMonkey. Now, Facebook is a phenomenal brand; they're very well-known. Their business practices are respected. People know that they're a great data-driven company, and so the fact that they trust SurveyMonkey strongly suggests SurveyMonkey must be a great provider. So, they've created that social proof, and they're using a brand that you're familiar with.
When you combine those things, it's absolutely excellent and incredibly powerful. When I go to websites and I see a lot of social proof from either people that are anonymous or people that provide only their fist name or people that I don't know, it's less powerful. When I have seen a brand, six, seven, eight times on the Web, at a conference, in various types of ways – I've heard from someone over e-mail, I know someone who's used them, I've had an experience with someone from that company – those types of things strongly influence these. Building up all of this builds up your conversion rates and builds up all of these metrics that you think about as an online marketer, and yet, we often have so little control or so little even ability to judge and record these things.
What I want to suggest is that, to those of you who are doing web marketing, when you're thinking about these metrics, remember that these are all inputs. Don't necessarily use them as excuses, but make sure that you're taking some action on them. Make sure that you're finding ways to measure them. Make sure that these aren't the reasons why your rates over here are low, rather than the stuff that you focus on, because it can be incredibly frustrating to find that, hey, the reason that we're not making good sales is because no one is familiar with our brand, and we don't have the right social proof, rather than, oh, it's because I didn't write the title tags correctly, and I don't have a compelling description for the content, and the page isn't optimized well. It doesn't have a good flow and conversion process and funnel. Sometimes these two things are mixed up together, and I worry about those hidden factors.
So, I hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday, and I hope we'll see you again next week. Take care.
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