The Best Marketing Mix for 2014

by John Eberhard

I started working in the marketing field in 1989. For those of you that are history-challenged, that was before there was an Internet. I have specialized in Internet marketing for the last 10 years or so, so it is interesting now that I am starting to come full circle.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that in 2014 it is time for marketers and business owners to realize that the best marketing strategy is a balanced and varied approach, using a variety of online marketing strategies as well as some offline strategies.

Search Engine Marketing

There are three different types of search engine marketing: organic position, pay per click advertising (Google AdWords), and Google Places.

Organic Position: This is where your site comes up in the regular listings on Google when someone searches for something. This whole area is heavily in flux right now due to changes that Google has made over the past three years, and has been continuing to make over the past few months. Basically Google stated many years ago that the number of links to your site is the main determinant to how high your site will rank organically for a given keyword. But all of their algorithm updates over the past three years have worked to stop people from doing proactive link building. See my recent article series (1 2 3) for more in depth on this.

My conclusion right now is that you can’t depend on organic position as the only thing you are doing to market your web site or business. I don’t think someone should necessarily stop link building if they are doing it successfully, and we are still doing it successfully with some clients. But I don’t think that is the only thing you should be doing.

Pay Per Click Advertising: These are the ads that appear at the top in Google (highlighted) and in the right hand column. PPC continues to be a very successful advertising medium, as long as you are selling a high ticket item, i.e. something that costs at least $500 and preferably several thousand dollars. Bid prices are driven up when there are a lot of companies competing for the same keywords. So in some very competitive industries the prices have gone up to a point where it isn’t viable anymore. If you want to make a go with PPC my advice is to hire an experienced consultant to set it up and manage it.

Google Places / Google Maps: A Google Places account is a necessity for any local oriented business, meaning one that serves a local area, such as a health care practice, restaurant, home improvement company and so on. Hire a consultant to get you onto page one.

Proactive Marketing

One of the disadvantages of search engine marketing is that you do various things and then wait for the search engine to move you up in the rankings. Since Google at least seems determined to stop anyone from being cause over their rankings, I think it’s time to step around them and look for other areas where we can be more proactive, like email marketing, social media, video marketing, and offline marketing actions like direct mail and print advertising.

Email Marketing: For most companies it is a must to build an in-house email list and send an email newsletter to it on a regular basis. In the past I have said that renting email lists is no longer viable due to poor response rates and high prices. However, I am seeing a bit of a revival in this area, with some companies seeing good success renting, with lower prices and better response rates.

Social Media: This continues to be an important medium for many types of companies, with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn being the primary players. Having an account on these sites and sending out regular communications is vital. Facebook made some changes in the last year where your posts on your fan page don’t go out to all your fans anymore, unless you pay them, on each post. Seems like a rip-off to me, especially since many companies worked hard and spent good money to build up their fan lists. But for companies that have built up large fan lists, they should do it. Photo sharing sites like Flickr and Pinterest are gaining momentum.

Video Marketing: Having a 2-3 minute video for your company is becoming more and more important. Our company now offers a video optimization service, where we can get your video onto page one of Google for a local, regional or national keyword. It’s one of the most affordable ways to get onto page one for a given keyword.

Direct Mail: I explained in my earlier series how certain types of businesses sort of fall through the cracks when it comes to search engine marketing, i.e. it doesn’t work for them. For many of these types of companies, direct mail remains an important option, especially the less expensive varieties.

Display Advertising: I’ve never been a huge fan of display advertising, especially in magazines and newspapers. But I think some display advertising is a good idea in your marketing mix, especially if you are in a business-to-business industry and there are trade publications.

Market Research

I think that in light of the economic situations we face today, where consumers of all types of products and services feel differently about spending money than they did five years ago (and there’s no real recovery despite what the administration tries to tell us) that it is more important than ever today to survey your target public.

You can find out what benefits they feel they would get from your product or service, what benefits they value most, what media they would or go to in order to get information about your product or service or find a new provider, how they feel about their current provider, what might get them to switch providers, what media they use or read, what Internet sites they go to, and so on.

Especially if your promotional materials are not getting an adequate level of response, you should consider surveying.

Best of luck with marketing your business in 2014.

Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing Today – Part 3

by John Eberhard

This is the conclusion of a 3 part series on inbound and outbound marketing. You can read parts 1 and 2.

A Bill of Goods

Basically you can probably tell that I think that the “inbound marketing” advocates are selling the public a bill of goods when they say that inbound marketing is all you have to do and that outbound marketing is dead. I have observed that some don’t even understand that different types of businesses have different needs and have to be marketed differently.

But I think the bill of goods goes deeper than that. If you’ve followed my articles you probably have guessed I’m not a total fan of Google.

Years ago before Google came on the scene, a web site’s ranking for a given keyword was determined by various factors, including how many times the keyword appeared on that page. When Google arrived their system was based on the idea that your web site’s ranking for a given keyword would be based mostly on how many links there were to your web site coming from other sites. This revolutionized the search industry and today most other search engines incorporate this idea into their algorithms.

For years Google has been advising web site owners to put up great content on their sites, i.e. information and articles that the public will find helpful and informative. Their major premise is that if you put up great content on a web site, that other people will then link to that site from other sites.

Since Google came up with this system that puts a lot of weight on the number of links that are coming to your site from other sites, web site owners and search engine optimization (SEO) consultants have found various ways to boost the number of links to their sites or their clients’ sites. This has then improved the search engine rankings of those sites.

Google hates this. They do not want SEO consultants to be able to build up links to web sites. They lament that this will not show a “natural linking pattern.” They have reiterated over and over that all you should do is create great content on your site and people will link to it in a natural way.

And, most importantly, every major Google algorithm change in the last several years has been an attempt to stop SEO consultants from doing link building and penalize every type of link building. They have even tried to promote the idea that doing various types of link building is “unethical” or wrong in some way. I have even heard one SEO consultant say that it is too dangerous to do link building any more. I don’t agree with that but it is an illustration of how Google has tried to stop people from doing link building.

One well known SEO consultant has even posed the question recently “Does search engine optimization still work?”

So let’s go back to this major premise of Google’s. They say that you should just put up great content and people will link to you.

Let’s take an example I mentioned earlier in this series of a dentist in a local town. Exactly what type of great content is he going to put up that people will link to like crazy? He can write articles about proper dental care, proper treatment for various conditions and so on. But unless he is some kind of regionally or nationally famous figure, who exactly is going to link to it? Are his patients going to link to him on their web sites? Probably not. Unless they’re really crazy about the care they got from him. He may not have any kind of interest in becoming a regional or national expert.

Now let’s look at this from the other side of the equation. What type of web site owners will actively link to content on other sites? Well if you’re a business that sells products or services and you have a web site, you are typically not going to link to other sites very much. You have worked hard to get web site visitors there and the last thing you want to do is send them away to some other site. You’re not in business to promote other people. Web sites used to typically have a “links” page that linked to various other web sites, sometimes businesses in the same industry, sometimes other web sites not even related. But that trend is on the way out and hardly anyone does that any more.

So who is going to link to other web site content a lot? Here are some examples:

  1. Blog writers. And by this I mean blog writers who write on a given topic all the time, but are more like journalists, in that they are not writing to promote their own products or services. These are guys who write about computers or health care or whatever, some topic that is common to all their blog posts.
  2. Actual journalism web sites. By this I mean web sites for actual newspapers or magazines, or sites that are devoted to news on a specific topic.
  3. Hub sites for a specific topic.
  4. Hobbyists who have sites about a given topic

So those sites listed above are going to link to other sites. But what percentage of the web is made up of sites like that? And how much are they going to be interested in a local business owner like our dentist?

So how does Google’s major premise work out for that dentist? The answer is, for organic search engine rankings, it doesn’t. He can put up great content all day and all night for years on end, and exactly nothing will happen. He will be lucky if he has a couple hundred links. And that will be several thousand shy of what he needs to rank well for any keyword, even local ones.

Yet Google does not want him to try to increase the number of links to his site, except by “writing great content.” That may work if you are a company or person who is already well known, like Coca-Cola or Apple, but for a small business, it just doesn’t work. Period.

Solutions for the New Year

The solution here is first of all to realize that Google is telling people to do things that are good for Google. It’s not necessarily good for you. And stop believing everything they say and treating them like gods. In fact I would go as far as to say that on the topic of achieving good rankings on search engines, that people should stop listening to Google altogether, because their advice is just bad and isn’t designed to help small businesses at all.

Second, work out what are the best inbound marketing actions that make sense for your type of business, and do them. But by no means should you limit your marketing actions to inbound. Consult a knowledgeable marketing consultant on which actions are best for you. Here are some ideas:

Inbound Marketing Ideas

  1. Do SEO (on-page optimization) to your site. This means to write meta titles and descriptions and a keyword block for each individual page.
  2. If your business sells a high ticket item (say over $500) then do pay per click advertising on Google AdWords.
  3. If yours is a local business servicing people only in one local market, put up a Google Places page if you haven’t already, and take actions to push it up towards the top. This includes getting positive online reviews, and creating listings on other business listing sites.
  4. Link building. I am still doing link building for some clients, and I still think it is a good idea. But you should definitely not depend on this as the only thing that is going to get you traffic.

Outbound Marketing Ideas

  1. Direct mail to targeted lists of your potential customers
  2. Limited display advertising in newspapers and magazines. I say limited because advertising definitely does not work like it used to. So you do it for increased awareness of your business, but be sure not to do it as your only promotional action.
  3. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Put up accounts on these sites, work to get lots of friends, fans, followers and connections. Then put someone onto sending out communications to those people regularly.
  4. Get videos made and put them up on YouTube and also post them to your site.
  5. Online advertising on Yelp can be very effective for local businesses.
  6. Email marketing. Develop an in-house email list and send regular content to it such as newsletters. Buy or rent lists from outside sources but be cautious on the prices for these. Some providers are still charging a lot for sending to their lists and email doesn’t work nearly as well as it did 12-13 years ago.

Then, come up with a marketing plan that incorporates sensible inbound AND outbound marketing actions. Then track the success of all the actions you’re doing and adjust according to what is working best.

Good luck with your marketing efforts into 2014!

Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing Today – Part 2

by John Eberhard

In my last article I described what “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing” are. Here’s a fast recap:

Basically, “inbound marketing” can be defined as placing information about your company in an area where people will see it when they search for information about your products or services. This means search engines. The “inbound” part of the term refers to the fact that people are actively searching for you.

Outbound marketing is defined as more traditional marketing, where you place an ad or send out direct mail or send email. It’s also called, by the buzzword people, “interruption marketing” due to the fact that you are typically interrupting something else the person is doing to get out your marketing message. They inbound marketing gurus use the term “interruption marketing” as a sort of demeaning term, as they typically believe outbound marketing is a wave of the past.

Proponents of inbound marketing say that it is the wave of the future and that the advent of inbound marketing has changed the basic nature of marketing. It works better than outbound marketing. Some proponents go so far as to say that outbound marketing is dead.

Except that there are some flaws in this design. There are gaping holes for certain types of businesses, holes you could drive a space shuttle through.

What do I mean? Let’s explore.

  1. The Local Business in a Very Competitive Market

Let’s say you are a local business in a very competitive market. One example is dentists. I have yet to see any market in the U.S. where there less than hundreds of dentists, each competing for business. Other types of health care practices are very competitive too. Another type is computer consultants.

So let’s say you have a dental practice. You can’t really use pay per click advertising because there are so many guys competing, it drives the bid prices up. Plus, unless you are a specialist of some kind, it is hard to make your practice stand out from the others.

You can and should put up a Google Places page, but in any given city, you will be competing with up to a hundred or more dentists. So depending on how many competitors you have, getting onto page one can take time.

How about organic search engine optimization? Once again, even for local keywords like “dentist Glendale” you are going to be competing with hundreds of other similar businesses. And getting to the top of organic listings takes time.

So if you are a local business in a competitive market, and someone tells you that inbound marketing is the wave of the future and that you shouldn’t or can’t do outbound marketing, they just haven’t looked at your situation closely enough.

The fact is that like in investing, you have to diversify. You can’t put all your eggs in the inbound marketing basket. You can put up a Google Places page and you can do some organic SEO on your site and some link building, but you better not just leave it at that. Another great vehicle for local businesses is paid advertising on Yelp. You need to also do some outbound marketing actions like direct mail, display advertising in local magazines and newspapers, or email marketing. And carefully track the results, i.e. where your leads are coming from.

  1. The Business Selling Low Ticket Items

Let’s say you are selling books or CDs, i.e. items that don’t sell for very much.

You can’t do pay per click advertising (PPC), because it is just too expensive. You could have done this 7-8 years ago, when not many people were doing PPC. But now there are lots of people doing it and that drives the bid prices up. So if you tried to do PPC advertising to sell a book, you’d lose money on every sale.

If your business is local in nature, you can put up a listing on Google Places. You can do SEO to your site and do link building, but as mentioned earlier, it’s going to take time to build up organic rankings, and Google is attacking link building actions.

I think social media marketing is a good medium for low ticket items. Also, on your web site you should work out how to give away some item for free and make people give you their email address to get it. Then send them regular email selling your products, or an email newsletter.

I’ve seen a very successful tactic recently where authors write a multi-part book series, then give away the first book in the series on a site like www.bookbub.com or a similar site. I personally have found some great free books on BookBub and then bought the rest of the books in a series on Amazon.

Next week in Part 3 of this series I will discuss how the whole idea that all you have to do anymore is inbound marketing, is a complete bill of goods. Further, I will dissect the major premise of Google that you shouldn’t do any link building and all you need to do is create and put up great content.

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing Today – Part 1

by John Eberhard

“Inbound marketing” is one of the newer buzzwords in the marketing world today, and unlike with many buzzwords, it is something worth knowing about.

Basically, “inbound marketing” can be defined as placing information about your company in an area where people will see it when they search for information about your products or services. This means search engines. The “inbound” part of the term refers to the fact that people are actively searching for you.

Outbound marketing is defined as more traditional marketing, where you place an ad or send out direct mail or send email. It’s also called, by the buzzword people, “interruption marketing” due to the fact that you are typically interrupting something else the person is doing to get out your marketing message. They inbound marketing gurus use the term “interruption marketing” as a sort of demeaning term, as they typically believe outbound marketing is a wave of the past.

Inbound marketing with Google (the largest search engine) is in three different forms:

Google AdWords: This is where you place text ads that appear on Google in the first three lines at the top highlighted in pink, and in the right hand column going down the page. Your account gets charged every time someone clicks on your ad. You select the keywords that you want the ad to appear for, you write your ads and you select a page where people will land when they click. You also select the geographical area where you want your ads to appear. Google AdWords typically works best at this point for high ticket items, i.e. items that cost say more than $100 or so. You cannot use it to sell things like books or CDs because the ads are just too expensive.

Google Places / Google Maps / Google+: Whenever you do a search on Google for something it considers is local in nature, it will show a map in the right hand column and listings corresponding to the map in the left hand column. These are different from the organic listings (see below) and the steps to take to get your business listing to rank well (i.e. on the first page) are different than for organic listings. But if you have a local oriented business, where you service people in a defined geographical area, such as a restaurant, a retail store, a health care practice or a home improvement company, it is vital to have a listing on Google Places. Getting your listing onto page one of Google requires getting online reviews of your business on Google and other sites, and creating listings on other business listing sites. Google notices these other listings and that helps move your listing higher.

Organic Listings: These are the other listings on Google other than the paid listings and the Google Places listings. They are located in the left hand column. There are usually several below the paid listings at the top, then the Google Places listings if it is a local search, then more organic listings below that. Getting your listing to rank well in the organic listings requires doing search engine optimization and link building and can take some time, often 6-12 months.

Proponents of inbound marketing say that it is the wave of the future and that the advent of inbound marketing has changed the basic nature of marketing. It works better than outbound marketing because you are putting your message in front of people who are actively looking for what you sell and deliver, instead of interrupting people while they are doing something else, like reading articles or watching TV or whatever. Some proponents go so far as to say that outbound marketing is dead.

Fair enough. There is no question that inbound marketing as described above has changed marketing in a fairly fundamental way. If you can catch people when they are actively looking for something, you are theoretically catching them at the peak of their interest cycle. And there is also no question that outbound marketing does not work as well as it used to. So all is rosy, right? If you’re doing inbound marketing, you’re on Easy Street.

Except that there are some flaws in this design. There are gaping holes for certain types of businesses, holes you could drive a space shuttle through.

What do I mean? Let’s explore.

  1. The Local Business in a Very Competitive Market
  2. The Business Selling Low Ticket Items

The inbound marketing paradigm just doesn’t work for these types of businesses. In addition, you have the fact that Google has for years been actively working against anyone being able to be cause over their organic listings. They pay lip service to the idea that they are working with SEO consultants. But their actions speak louder than words, because every one of their algorithm updates in the last few years has in effect taken away the tools that SEO consultants have been using to help clients improve rankings.

Next week I will discuss more on the holes in the inbound marketing universe, what you can DO about it, and how outbound marketing still plays a major part in marketing.

Market Research Options

by John Eberhard

Many companies have been experiencing a reduction in leads and sales since the financial downturn in 2008. This is largely because the public’s attitudes about buying things has changed dramatically as a result of that financial downturn.

So if you are trying to market to your target public with the same message you were using before 2008, it is most likely not going to be working as well.

In this situation it is vital, not to accept a period of “lowered expectations,” but to survey your target public and find out what their current attitudes and “buttons” are. You need to find out what they need and want, and what benefits they think they would get from your product or service. Market research surveys are the answer.

Armed with the correct survey data, you don’t need to lower your expectations. Your business can prosper even in a down economy. And you can compete more effectively in your marketplace.

I’m going to talk about some of the different types of surveys that could be done on your target public.

Target Public Surveys: If you do not have a clear idea of exactly what type of public will buy your product or service (and a surprising number of companies don’t), a “which public” survey can be done. This type of survey identifies characteristics, often demographic information like age, gender, income, or attitudes and interests, that sets your target public apart from the general public. Once you find this out, you can often find ways of targeting this public more effectively and more economically with promotion.

Buttons/Buying Attitudes Surveys: Your target public can be surveyed to find out what their current attitudes are on buying your products or services. Typically this includes finding out what benefits they feel they would receive from buying your product or service, and often will include surveying to find out what problem they feel they could solve by buying your product or service.

Positioning Survey: How your company or product is positioned can be very important in how it is perceived in the mind of the prospect. A positioning survey is done to find the best way to position the product or company.

Customer Satisfaction Survey: What do your customers think of your company? How satisfied are they with your product and service? The answer may surprise you, and it’s important to find out.

Competitor Research: This research centers on your successful competitors, including their marketing message, what promotional media they are using, what kind of information they have on their web site, and what they are doing on social media.

Several of these types of surveys can be conducted more inexpensively by email (rather than by phone), if an email list can be acquired specifically of your type of target public.

In summary, if you have experienced a decrease in leads or sales in the past few years, don’t accept it. You can do something about it, by surveying your target public.

Niche Positioning

by John Eberhard

A positioning is the way you define or establish a product or service in the mind of a prospect. An excellent book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” written by Al Ries and Jack Trout, explains this in detail.

There are several ways in which to position a product or service. One way I call a “niche” positioning. This is often used in a field or industry which is crowded with a lot of products or services. So the effort with a niche positioning is to establish your product or service as being in a certain “niche” or subset of the field as a whole.

One good example of this is beer. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of different brands of beer. Yet within the overall field of beer, most of the beer brewers have worked to define their beer as a certain type of beer. Within the overall category, there are domestic beers, German imported beers, beers imported from Holland, imported from Mexico, etc.

Within the subset of domestic beers, there are beers that are considered lower level beers, beers that are considered more premium, and so on.

Often a beer maker will create a tag line that appears after the name of the beer, that helps to define the niche that the beer is in. These often change over time. Here’s some of the current ones:

Budweiser is the king of beers

Michelob: Crafting a better beer

Coors: The Banquet Beer

Heineken: Imported, brewed in Holland

Becks: most popular beer in Germany

You can probably think of other examples.

Another example of the use of niche positioning is with auto manufacturers. Within the field of automobiles, you have a number of niches, such as:

Domestic economy cars

Domestic luxury cars

German imported luxury cars

Japanese imported economy cars

Japanese imported luxury cars

Just as an example, within the niche of Japanese imported economy or mid-priced cars, you have Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda, and Mazda. Every one of these manufacturers has worked to establish their car’s position in the proper niche.

Here’s an example of how to do niche positioning properly. A number of years ago Honda decided they wanted to produce a luxury car. But they wisely knew that they couldn’t come out with a Honda luxury car. Why not? Because “Honda” is firmly established in the mind of the consumer as a maker of quality mid-priced cars. So if you said to someone “Honda makes luxury cars,” they wouldn’t accept it. They would reject that statement because they know that Honda makes mid-priced cars, known for reliability, etc.

So Honda decided to create a whole new brand, Acura. This was a quite a commitment on their part because it involved starting new Acura dealerships across America. But they did it and the Acura Legend dominated the luxury car market in the US for a number of years. And basically Acura created and established a new niche: Japanese imported luxury cars.

Toyota noticed the success of Acura and decided to come out with a luxury line too. They also wisely recognized that they couldn’t do it under the Toyota brand, which is also very established as a Japanese economy or mid-priced brand. So they created Lexus. They basically took the Camry and added some luxury features to it and called it the ES 300. Lexus has also been very successful in the US.

Next Nissan got into the act by creating the Infiniti brand.

Now here are a couple examples of how to do it wrong. Mitsubishi decided they wanted to create a luxury car, so they came out with the Diamante. A friend of mind had one and I rode in it once. It was very nice. Definitely a nice luxury car. But they never sold a lot of them. Why? Because Mitsubishi already has an established niche as a Japanese economy or mid-priced car, perhaps a little lower than Toyota and Nissan. If you said to someone “Mitsubishi makes luxury cars,” they would reject that statement. Because they know that Mitsubishi makes Japanese economy cars.

Another friend of mine bought a luxury car made by Kia. Again I rode in it once and again it was very nice. But again these are not selling like crazy, because Kia is established as an imported economy car. They are a ways down the ladder from Honda, Toyota and Nissan, since they’re newer in the market. When you say “Kia luxury car” to someone, the datum just won’t go in. It goes against the position that they have for Kia in their minds.

The lesson is that if you have already established a niche for your business or for one of your products, you can’t easily change that niche. People have put you in a certain category in their mind, whether it is the “inexpensive ______,” the “premium _______,” the company that gives great service, the low price leader, the “expert at ______,” or whatever.

There is value in having an established niche. If you don’t have an established niche yet, it is worth some thought to determine what niche you want to be in. If you want to establish yourself in a new niche, it is worth surveying your public to see if it would be acceptable, believable, and liked.

Good luck with niche positioning.

Leads and Promo Tracking

by John Eberhard

It is vital for any business to track both the amount and type of promotional materials that are going out each week from the business, and the number of leads that are coming in and where they came from. By “where they came from” I mean what prompted that person to contact your company?

I continually run into companies that are not tracking one or both of these factors, making it impossible to analyze what kind of response they are getting to their offline or online marketing efforts.

Promo Tracking

Let’s start with promo tracking first as that is what starts the cycle. You should develop a method of tracking what promotional actions you do each week, with the media used (i.e. ad in newspaper, email, direct mail piece, etc.), the number sent, the list sent to, and a copy of the piece.

I have seen companies do this with a binder, with copies of the piece used, and all other relevant data recorded in the binder. You can also do this with a spreadsheet, as long as you also have a copy somewhere of all the pieces used.

The point of this is that you will experience affluences and valleys in your leads and sales. And you will want to know what you did that caused an affluence, so that you can reinforce that action and cause more of the affluence.

And when you see a downtrend in the leads and/or sales, you want to be able to analyze why that happened. Almost always it will be some change that was made that caused the downtrend, either dropping the promo amount down to a lower amount, or dropping it out completely. Or it could be that a new promotional piece or action is not working as well as a previous one.

A long term downtrend can also be caused by changes in the target public’s attitudes, changes that you’re not aware of. And your promotional materials don’t take that change into account. In this case you should survey your public, or survey them again if your existing survey data is older than a year or two. As an example of this, many people’s attitudes about buying things changed significantly in 2008 when the economy took a dramatic downturn. If you’re still using the same marketing materials as you were prior to 2008, you need to re-survey your public.

If you do have an effective promo tracking system in place, you can look at what went out when, and then compare that to the leads coming in, and figure out which promotional actions are working well for you.

Leads Tracking

Lead tracking is a simple process, but it has to be done religiously. You must have a method of tracking every single lead that comes in, with the name of the person and company name, the date, and what prompted them to contact you.

Getting the correct data on what prompted them to contact you can be a little tricky at times, because people unfortunately will routinely give you the wrong data on this. I’ve seen people answer this question by saying they heard about the company on TV, when the company has never advertised on TV, and similar situations.

With certain types of promotional materials, you can use a numeric code, so that when someone calls in they can give you that code. For instance, on direct mail you can put a numeric code at the bottom and then ask the person for the code when they call. With an email promotion, the person will click on a link and then fill out a form on a landing page, and you can set up that landing page so that when they fill out the form, it can have a code in the subject line of the email that comes to you.

There are phone tracking services where you pay a monthly fee for the use of certain phone numbers. When someone calls that number, it bounces over to your regular phone number. But the call was tracked and most services will even record the call so you can listen to it later, checking on how your receptionist or salesperson did in handling the call. This is especially helpful with certain types of online promotion where a good percentage of the leads come in via phone.

If you are doing a lot of email promotion, sending to different lists, I would assign a different code for each list, so you can track how many people came in as leads from each list.

With pay per click advertising with Google AdWords, Google’s system gives you very sophisticated statistics on how many people clicked on your ads and how many filled out a form on your web site and became a lead.

The point is that you want to set up your promotion in such a way that you get as accurate data as possible on where your leads are coming from. And as much as possible, I try not to rely on the people telling me, because their data will often be inaccurate or incomplete, such as “I saw something on the Internet.”

No system of lead tracking will be 100% foolproof, but you want to get as much accurate data as you can.

With accurate and complete promo tracking and lead tracking, you can analyze the results of your marketing campaigns and make adjustments to keep things going up.

Avoiding Online Scams

by John Eberhard

I have a client who does email marketing, sending out emails to various email lists via several companies that have compiled these lists. This client has a very specialized public for his service, so sending out to an email list of this specific public is good for him.

Recently he found an email list provider who seemed to be doing really well for him. Every time he had an email sent to this list, his web visits would spike, way higher than normal. And every time he would get a bunch of people (a dozen or two) filling out a form expressing interest in his service.

All good, right?

You would think so. Except that my client started noticing things about this scenario that seemed a bit “off.” Like for instance, no one from this list would ever fill in a phone number on the form. They just provided email addresses.

We even went to the point of changing the form that they landed on from the email, making it so the phone field was required. Then another email was sent to the list last week, and every single person who filled out the form (22 of them) filled in something in that field, but not one of them was a phone number. They filled in dashes, “n/a,” “none,” “just email,” or random numbers.

And my client emailed all these people, and a few wrote back asking questions or whatever, and then they just fell off and didn’t respond anymore.

Sounds suspicious, right? One other fact seemed to validate that this was a valid email list and these were real people, which was the fact that every time this email was supposed to go out, we would see a huge spike in the web visits. I was not aware of any way to fake that. Until I searched on a search engine. And I found a software program that you can buy for $39 that will fool Google Analytics and make it appear that you had a ton of visits to whatever site or page you choose.

At that point my client decided this was a bogus email list, and the provider was going to great lengths to make it appear he was sending out emails to his list, when apparently nothing was really happening. Nothing that could result in a sale anyway.

I had another interesting and similar experience recently. I found a provider of an online email service where I could send out to non-opt-in lists. This is different from providers like Aweber or Constant Contact where all the lists have to be opt-in. This provider allowed me to send to non-opt-in lists, and I have several I send to for my marketing (and there’s absolutely nothing illegal about that and I follow all laws).

Anyway, I signed up with this company and uploaded my lists and started sending out to them. I noticed that I was no longer getting any responses to my emails. I started thinking that these publics were really hurting and didn’t want to spend any money and didn’t want to expand their businesses. I started putting together new surveys to conduct on these publics to find out how their attitudes had changed.

About that same time I wanted to check on one other angle on this. Were the emails really arriving? I sent out a number of test emails to my own various email addresses. None of them arrived. Checked spam folders. Nothing.

I emailed my rep at the company, and said that I was not getting any responses to my emails, and I could not even get a test email to arrive at any of my email addresses. The rep did not even respond over a week’s period, despite sending that email to her twice.

A few days later an email arrived with an invoice for the next month’s service. I forwarded it to my rep and said not to ding my credit card, that I was discontinuing my service. She responded right away saying OK.

Then the next week I started sending out emails again from a program on my desktop, which is what I had been doing before using this company. And my leads shot way up. Hmmm.

So what happened? Was it a scam from the start? Hard to say. My test emails had worked at first. Maybe they just ran into technical problems and were no longer able to get my emails out, and were too embarrassed to say. They didn’t seem like criminals. But it’s possible.

Both my client and I felt sheepish after these two episodes, like we should have known better.

I think the moral of this story is that whenever you have something being done for you on the Internet or via email promotion, it pays to verify that it is happening and is being done properly. Test emails are vital. Put Google Analytics on your site if you don’t have it already, and check the statistics regularly. Although it’s not infallible, it’s an important tool to see what’s happening with your site.

Sales or Income Down? What is the Solution?

by John Eberhard

Many companies today have experienced a decline in sales or income, or both. In such a climate it is tempting to get the idea that it is because of the economy or the federal government or some other reason, and that there is nothing that can be done about it.

In fact I would go so far as to theorize that many business owners today have experienced a decline in income, and have decided that they just can’t expand their business right now. That it is impossible to reach previous income goals. That they have to wait out the bad economy or some similar idea. And so they aren’t even trying to expand their businesses.

So is this conclusion correct? Is it impossible to expand a business today?

Well it certainly is true that we have a challenging economic environment. And if you are doing things the same way you were prior to the economic downturn in 2008, then chances are you will not be setting any income records. But I submit that it is not true that you cannot expand a business today.

So what do you need to do differently today, in order to actually expand a business in this climate?

One fact that cannot be denied is that people have different attitudes today about spending money than they did prior to 2008. So you cannot continue to promote to your target public with the same type of message or approach that you used five or more years ago.

How do you find out the current attitudes of your target public towards your product or service, and towards spending money today? You survey them. You do market research.

And if you survey your target public correctly, you can learn more about their attitudes today and from that, figure out how to better motivate them to buy your product or service. It may even take more than one survey project to get the right answer on how to motivate people better, but it can be done.

And if you know how to properly motivate people by understanding their current attitudes, then you can increase your leads, sales and income. And you can promote with confidence.

The key is to understand that if your promotion is not working like it used to, or if your sales and income are down and you just can’t figure out why, that you are not hitting your public with the right message any more. Their attitudes have changed, and you need to find out how they have changed. You have to make a commitment to surveying your public and finding out what they think right now. That will open the door to better reaching them and better motivating them to buy your products or services.

 

Handling Negative Reviews Online

by John Eberhard

There are quite a few sites now where the public can write a review about your company, if you have a business listing on that site. These include Google Places, Yelp, Merchant Circle, Insider Pages, Manta, and more. Most allow the person to rate their experience with you with 1 through 4 stars or 5 stars.

The idea is that you want to get a bunch of positive reviews online, so that potential clients or customers will see those reviews and feel good about doing business with your company. It is supposed to be a true third party endorsement.

But what if you get a negative review? Or several? Can it negatively impact the amount of business you get from the web? You better believe it! What can you do about it?

1. First of all, if the review is actually false, i.e. they are saying something about their experience with your company that is not true, you can request of the website that they take that review down. I’ve been able to get Yelp to take certain false reviews down. Failing that, like if the site won’t take it down, most sites allow you, the vendor, to comment on a review. So you can post a comment saying that wasn’t true or whatever.

2. If the review is correct and you did deliver poor service or product in some way, you can contact the customer and offer to do something to make good on the service problem. You can offer to correct the problem or offer something else like a discount on further service. If you can reach an agreement where the customer is now satisfied, you can ask them to take the review down and sometimes they will. If they will not take it down, you can post a comment explaining what you did to make the customer satisfied.

3. You can overwhelm the poor review or reviews by getting lots of positive reviews. I have created a program I offer clients where I set up a series of emails that can be sent out to pre-selected customers of my client (people who were very happy with the service). These emails ask the person to write an online review, and give links to the exact page on the company’s business listing on the various sites, so they can just click on the link and write a review. I call this my Online Review Machine.

One aspect of this is that I include in the emails (with my client’s approval of course) that the customer is being offered a $5 or $10 Starbucks card for writing the review. I think this incentive is important because on most of these sites (except for Manta) you have to have an account on that site in order to write a review. So if the person does not have an account he will have to create one and frankly that’s a bit of a pain. On Google you can write a review if you have any Google account, such as Gmail for instance.

Be aware that Yelp has a strict policy that you cannot offer your customers anything as an incentive to write a review on Yelp. So if you do offer people something make sure you do not include the link to Yelp as part of that.

It is important today to manage the reviews that people write about your company online. This means you have to be aware of what reviews are out there, notice when you get a negative review or reviews, work out the best possible handling for any negative reviews, and be proactive in getting customers to write positive reviews. Reviews will definitely impact the number of leads you get from the web.