What is Mobile First Design? And Why Is It Important For Your Business?

What is Mobile First Design? And Why Is It Important For Your Business?

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The internet is a mobile- first world now, and your website needs to embrace this shift to avoid missing out on opportunities. By prioritizing your mobile experience with user friendly design principles and an always on-the-go approach to content, you can reap bigger rewards from referral channels and compete more effectively for visibility.

There’s no understating just how much of an impact smartphone devices have had upon the online landscape. Seventy-seven percent of U.S. adults (≈250 million) now own a smartphone, according to Pew Research, and only 17 percent of people own a cell phone but not a smartphone. Even more interesting, there are 6.5 million more smartphone owners than desktop/laptop owners, and 65 million people depend entirely on their smartphones for internet access.

The shift from large, stationary computers to pocket-sized touchscreens has had a huge impact on not just website design but also how online content is consumed in general. Understanding just how much the mobile first mindset has affected the website design process can help your business learn how to build a better website that’s aware of mobile’s center stage presence in our modern tech culture.

What Does Mobile First Design Mean?

The term “mobile first” may sound like a buzzword or industry jargon, but it’s actually quite descriptive despite its simplistic name. People use the term “mobile first” because it instantly separates their design philosophy from older, non-ideal approaches to mobile website design and optimization.

To explain the differences in design philosophy, let’s start with a history lesson. Our journey through time begins in the late 1990s, when pocket-sized devices like organizers and cell phones first began to have internet connectivity.

The thing about the internet back then was that it could be janky and unreliable. People were still figuring out how to make it work properly across a range of computers and connection types. Few people had home access to a reliable and relatively speedy internet connection.

As you might imagine, cell phones at the time endured this struggle a hundredfold. Their processors were weak, display resolutions were minimal and you could never count on a sustained connection.

To compensate, web designers would build two versions of a website. One version would be the fully-featured design intended to run on a standard desktop or laptop computer. Then, a mobile website team would strip down this design as much as possible to its barest components. That version would be loaded when a mobile signal was detected.

At first, most early mobile internet adopters would be forced to navigate to a different URL with an “m.___” added to the domain, such as “m.yourbusinesssite.com” instead of the normal “yourbusinesssite.com” they would find when searching from a desktop computer.

Then, developers and devices advanced so that the exact same URL could load different content for mobile versus desktop/laptop users. This approach was called “dynamic serving.”

Now, most developers have moved onto “responsive design,” which uses the same HTML code for all users. Instead of serving up a few different tiers of content, all content scales automatically. That way, people with different device screen sizes can automatically have the best usability.

During the transition from separate URLs to dynamic serving to responsive design, overall mobile internet use surpassed desktop laptop traffic. In response, designers and developers stopped treating mobile websites as an afterthought or something that is built off of a secondary version of their site. Instead, they considered mobile first, and their designs for larger screens were advanced off of those basic blueprints.

“Progressive Advancement” Versus “Graceful Degradation”

Another way to conceptualize the difference between “mobile first” as opposed to “mobile sometime later” is through the above two terms.

“Graceful degradation” was the old standard operating mode for designers. Their desktop/laptop website was the development priority, and it’s what most of their resources went towards. Then, once most or all of the desktop-focused design was complete, a team would try to scale down the website’s size and complexity while sacrificing as little of the original experience as possible.

In other words: they degraded the original design as gracefully as they could. Compromise was inevitable, and many website visitors could feel like they were being served a second tier experience.

“Progressive advancement,” on the other hand, refers to that approach in reverse. The design team comes up with the perfect set of design principles and layout ideas built around a small screen. This design is optimized so that mobile phone users across a broad range of screen sizes and processing powers could still have an amazing experience. Then, a desktop/laptop team would consider how to expand that core design and take advantage of larger screens, more precise navigation (aka non-touchscreen controls) and heftier processing power.

Mobile users get two main benefits out of progressive advancement:

  1. The website was built from the ground up to look great and be usable on mobile
  2. They never feel as if they are having to make sacrifices to view a website on their mobile device; the larger site version just adds bells and whistles

A further consequence of progressive advancement is that most of the creativity and effort behind a website goes into the mobile experience. Instead of thinking, “how do we change this menu so that people without a mouse pointer can actually use the darn thing?” the team says, “what would a menu perfect for touchscreen controls look like?”

The consequences of such a mindset switch are huge, and they can have a direct impact on your bottom line.

How a Mobile First Website Approach Benefits Your Business

We’ve talked at length about how the mobile first approach evolved over time and how it makes life better for the average smartphone user. But what about how these changes bring your business more opportunities and more money?

Here are a few of the biggest benefits you’ll notice when you make the switch:

1. Better Search Engine Ranking and Visibility

In April of 2015, Google decided to finally put their foot down regarding websites that ignored the needs of mobile users. From that point on, websites that met their mobile-friendly design guidelines would get a ranking boost for all mobile searches.

The change effectively punished sites that weren’t able to keep up with their expectations. There wasn’t a huge penalty, but the difference was enough to create a gap that potentially lead to lost leads and revenue.

Furthermore, since behavior signals like click-through rate and overall traffic can help or hurt your rank, building a solid experience gives you a competitive SEO advantage.

2. Improved Website Experience Leads to More Customer Conversions

People don’t want to give their money to businesses that make it difficult or impossible to access their website via mobile. According to one Google study, 61 percent of people who have trouble accessing a mobile website leave and never return. Forty percent of these lost lead opportunities will then visit a competitor’s website instead.

Ignoring the needs or convenience of mobile users can therefore literally drive customers away from your sales funnel and into your competitor’s arms.

3. A Mobile First Approach to Design and Content Now Means a Softer Learning Curve

Make no mistake: mobile audiences are the dominant driving force behind all online innovation and evolution. Data usage and website visits across the entire internet have gone up—both per-person and overall. Yet, traffic from tablets and desktop/laptop devices has declined.

This scenario tells you that smartphones are the main driving force behind growing online use. Our obsession with social media and browsing on-the-go is changing the way we approach the internet as a whole.

All of these changes are important now and will only become more important in years to come. If your business keeps kicking the can down the road, you could quickly find that your strategies are hopelessly dated, leading fewer opportunities and lower conversion rates.

Make the switch now. Start thinking “mobile first” with everything you do, because smartphones are no longer the sideshow; they’re the main event.

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Why High Quality Content Matters More than Keywords for SEO

Why High Quality Content Matters More than Keywords for SEO

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Attention content creators: Google reads everything you write! Well, not “reads” in the literal sense, but its algorithms are now sophisticated enough to pick up on unnatural language and poor formatting—both of which send strong negative signals that hurt your ability to rank.

In fact, Google’s approach to ranking has gotten so sophisticated that they’ve learned that content quality matters more to search users than the presence of any particular keyword phrase. As a result, you may find a No. 1 search result that doesn’t contain an exact match keyword anywhere in the body.

We’re serious! In an exhaustive study of 600,000 keyword phrases, 18 percent of the domains that ranked position 20 or higher didn’t have the keyword in the text at all. Instead, these sites had a few things in common: website visits, user behavior signals and the number of links to the content all influenced Google to rank them near the top. All of these signals tell Google one thing: people seem to like this content.

In addition to these behavior-based markers of content quality, Google and other search engines actively sift through content to see signals of quality within the text itself.

After all, Google’s main objective isn’t getting your website traffic; it’s giving people good search results.

Thankfully, the company’s own guidelines are fairly specific and helpful. We’ll point you towards the exact markers of “high quality” Google is looking for.

What Are the Red Flags for Poor Content Quality?

Google’s guidelines for content quality are pretty thorough. This is likely because it’s hard to put into words exactly what makes something “good” or “high quality.” It takes a lot of nuance!

On the other hand, you can fairly quickly point out factors that immediately signal poor quality.

It’s like baking cake. There are a million different types of cakes out there and as many ways to prepare them. Flour, sugar, eggs and milk may be your raw ingredients, but you can make thousands of different types of delicious cakes. Also, “the right cake to bake” differs according to the context and circumstances. You can have a moist cake that’s yummy, or you could have a more solid cake that still does the trick.

But you can’t put sand in your cake. That’s a no-no. And it’s an automatic recipe for an inedible cake.

Similarly, Google highlights some markers of poor quality that instantly flag a page as having content not worth ranking:

  • Spamming keywords, especially if they’re irrelevant
  • Creating content that’s mostly copies of existing content
  • Typos, bad spelling, grammar errors
  • Sentences or paragraphs that never seem to end
  • Content that has little to no formatting, leaving just a dense chunk of text
  • Going crazy with links that aren’t relevant to the content at hand
  • Dropping lists of keywords somewhere in your page, especially if you’re hiding them with text color choices
  • Content that is excessively thin, especially for pages like blogs that promise substance

There are also a number of ways to get instantly deindexed by Google that go beyond content quality. Since that’s something you likely want to avoid, they’re well worth reviewing!

Google’s SEO Guide Considers Content Quality, Navigation Ease More Important Than Keyword Use

If you go and take a look at Google’s SEO starter guide, you’ll find that suggestions for how to use keywords properly don’t come up until around halfway through. Before that point, they take a moment to repeat four times that you shouldn’t overuse keywords or stuff them into your technical SEO elements.

Once they do mention keywords, they simply advise that you tailor your keyword strategy to your audience. For instance, people who watch soccer regularly might expect “FIFA” or “football” to be in the content they read, while casual users may expect more generic terms like “soccer playoffs.”

Immediately after that, they go back into quality. “Avoid writing sloppy text with many spelling and grammatical mistakes,” they suggest, as well as “awkward or poorly written content.”

To truly hammer the point home, Google spends far more time writing about ease of navigation and quality of life improvements for website visitors. Based on how the information is organized, Google cares more about your site map than your keyword usage when deciding rank.

“The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want,” explains the search giant. “It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important.”

All of this information can be summed up thusly: search engines aren’t dumb. They know the things that make life easier for their users and content better to read in general. They pay far more attention to these elements than how you use keywords.

In fact, with voice search on the rise, search engines have had to get smarter than ever about interpreting keyword intent and finding semantically related terms. That way, someone searching for “best places to eat near me” can pull up a list of “top-rated restaurants” without having to first sift through unhelpful results that contain exact keyword matches.

5 Tips for Writing Higher Quality Content

So now you’ve heard what definitely not to do when creating content, with only a hint of what so-called “high quality content” looks like.

To steer you in the right direction, here are a few general tips that can boost the quality of all content.

1.“Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”

This rule comes directly from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. It’s actually the very first thing they say under “Basic Principles.”

The search giant even suggests you ask yourself “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?” when making a decision on how your website operates. Those questions definitely apply when writing new content.

So foremost, determine an audience need based on a keyword search, and write to answer that need. The better able you are to satisfy someone’s search intent, the better behaviour signals your site receives, and the more likely you are to rank.

If you’re at a loss for how to connect a keyword to user needs, do a little research. Plug in the keyword yourself, and try to find questions related to it.

Or, if the keyword is directly related to an “I want to purchase something or research a purchase” intent, take notes on the content that ranks highest. Chances are good that the page offers excellent examples of site organization, layout clarity and overall usability in addition to some solid text content.

2. Edit Your Writing, and Push Yourself to Improve

Like good cake, good writing is definitely in the eye of the beholder. But at the same time, you wouldn’t bank on your cake getting top votes if all you did was use a box mix.

In other words, if you want to write better, you’re going to have to learn from others. We suggest reading publisher sites related to your industry that get high traffic, and cover topics similar to what you want on your blog.

Some general guidelines for improving your writing include:

  • Use less “being” and “linking” verbs in favor of strong action verbs. If you find yourself writing words like “is, was, are and be,” go back and see if you can identify the true subject of the sentence and what it’s doing.
  • Structure your writing like you would an outline. Tell people what they’re going to learn from your post as soon as possible, and then delve into each smaller point one at a time until you’re finished.
  • Write casually but not unprofessionally. Aim for a “friendly, conversational tone with a clear purpose—somewhere between the voice you use when talking to your buds and that you’d use if you were a robot,” suggests Search Engine Land’s paraphrasing of Google’s own Developer Documentation Style Guide.
  • Edit your writing! Far too many people don’t go back and reread. Watch out for sentence and paragraph transitions that could make people have trouble following your logic. Ask people for their opinion on how readable everything is. If they have a complaint, see if you can break the excerpt down into its most simple parts and reconstruct it.

3. Read, Read, Read and Read Some More

Reading teaches you how words and sentences form ideas. We take a lot of this stuff for granted, but it’s quite complex. Fortunately, others have mastered it and can teach you techniques to add to your repertoire.

4. Pay Attention to Your Audience’s Behavior Signals

What content pages get the most views? Which ones get the best responses or the most engagement in comments or on social media? Where do people tend to spend the most time?

Look to your own Google Analytics data, and try to identify patterns. People tell you what they like without ever having to say a word.

5. If You’re Struggling to Write Good Content, Go Back to the Basics

You may feel hesitant about writing on simple topics, such as “The Beginner’s Guide to SEO” or something like “Why People Buy Things,” but these are actually great topics. Yes, they’ve been done to death, but they help people learn.

Also, you might put things in a certain way that makes an extremely deep or complex subject click for your audience.

Above all else, articles like these teach you the fundamentals of writing for your audience. You learn how to break big concepts down to their bare components and communicate complex ideas with clarity.

Next to reading, writing down the basics is the best way to teach yourself how to craft better content.

Stop Obsessing Over Keywords and Start Writing Better

The writing’s on the wall: Google and online audiences are sick of bad content, keyword stuffing and deceptive practices aimed to help websites rank but that make readers miserable.

Put content quality factors like readability, grammar and topic organization as a higher priority than keyword use. People will know what you’re talking about, even if you don’t use an exact keyword match—and now search engines will too.

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How Often Should I Be Posting to My Blog?

How Often Should I Be Posting to My Blog?

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Blogging frequency is somewhat of a sticky topic in the digital marketing world. Some people have hard and fast beliefs about how “you have to post seven blogs per week or EVERYTHING WILL EXPLODE!” Others only post whenever they feel like it, which can be as unpredictable as it sounds.

In truth, both camps are wrong. Posting on a regular schedule is absolutely essential. It helps you build audiences, stay organized and discipline yourself to continually push out worthwhile content.

On the other hand, posting too frequently leads to diminishing returns. Posting every day, for example, can mean that a fair chunk of your blogs never get read. When promoting your blogs on social media, the algorithms may also be much more likely to pass over your umpteenth blog promotion for the week.

So what is the happy medium? How often is the right blogging frequency for you?

The answer is a resounding: “It depends.” The circumstances surrounding your business and the unique qualities of your audience both dictate the right number of times to publish a blog post each month. Your marketing goals also come into play, especially if you intend to use your blog to increase your search engine rank or support lead generation.

On average, posting once or twice a week should hit the “just fine” mark. But if you want to know how to calculate exactly how often you need to publish in order to benefit your objectives and audience needs, keep reading.

Why Posting Every Day Isn’t Smart or Necessary

First, let’s get some reasons out of the way for why it’s pure overkill to post a new blog every single day.

For starters, you’re going to wear out your audiences. If they happen to follow you on social media or subscribe to your email list, a daily promotion talking about your latest in a slew of new posts is going to get under their skin really quickly.

Forty-six percent of people say they have unfollowed a brand because it promoted too often, and 35 percent say that they’ve unfollowed someone because they post too much in general. Constant nagging in their inbox or begging on social media ran its course, and they jumped ship.

Even among audience members who absolutely love to read your content, posting every day is too much for them to keep up with. They’ll inevitably fall behind, meaning not every blog gets the attention it deserves. This may be less of a problem if, say, you’re an outlet with millions of readers, but the average website only gets so much attention for its blog per week.

Similarly, social media algorithms may begin to think that people don’t like engaging with your content. The more of your posts that end up with an extremely low engagement rate, the more likely the algorithm is to decide that you aren’t worth showing up on someone’s newsfeed.

Plus, having hundreds of posts without a single like or comment can start to look downright sad. Someone might even write an article about the embarrassment if you’re a big enough brand.

Earning comments and engagement serves as “social proof” that looking at your content is worthwhile. It’s the same thing as seeing a line outside a bar; people think “that’s gotta be the place to be!” Popularity brings more people.

But when you have no engagement, it kinda makes people steer clear. You start to look like the one kid sitting by himself at lunch. Someone might feel bad for you, but engaging at that point could be social suicide.

So don’t overdo it! Any way you slice it, it’s going to make your brand feel like a social outcast. It will also mean that you’re wasting resources in the process on superfluous blogs that hurt, rather than help, your marketing goals.

The Importance of Consistency

In addition to realizing that there’s a blogging frequency line you shouldn’t cross, recognize that consistent publishing benefits your blog performance for several reasons.

One of the biggest reasons consistency helps your readership is that it means you’re predictable. People know that if they visit your blog or check out your social feeds, they’ll see something new every so often. Even if you prefer to only publish blogs once or twice a month, people can anticipate when the next post will drop as long as you release them on a consistent calendar.

Realize that 18 percent of people will unfollow a brand because it’s page is “too quiet.” Someone may just end up checking out because they decide you’ve run out of things to say.

Consistency also forces you to be disciplined about blogging. Search engine optimization (SEO) takes several months to begin working. Search engines need to be able to index a consistent volume of content regularly over weeks and weeks before they begin to consider linking to your domain. They also seek out fresh content, meaning that what helped you rank last year could quickly get stale and overtaken this year.

Publishing on a regular schedule therefore ensures that you are constantly planting seeds for a sizeable readership and SEO. Each new blog helps your previous efforts take root, and just as a piece of content begins to become less effective, a whole new crop is ready to take its place.

One last benefit of consistent blogging frequency worth mentioning is that it forces you to plan. If you have a set number of blogs to publish each week or each month, you’re strongly incentivized to create a content calendar.

You may also be more inclined to plan out your topics. Preferably, you are bookmarking interesting things you’ve seen throughout the week to develop a content idea queue. As you place these ideas on your calendar, you can determine how to have a variety of topics that keep your blog interesting while covering your desired keywords.

Determining Your Ideal Blogging Frequency

Now that you know why blogging on a consistent basis—but not every day—are the golden rules, here is how you can figure out the best blogging frequency to meet your needs.

  1. Define your goals and key metrics to measure
  2. Form a hypothesis for how often you think you should post to meet these goals
  3. Post at your hypothesized frequency for at least two to three months to establish benchmark data
  4. Hypothesize how you might improve your key metrics by adjusting your posting frequency
  5. Measure the difference averaged over a few weeks
  6. Go back to step four and continue experimenting to optimize

Notice that step six implies that this is a never-ending process. The perfect posting frequency for you now may change in a few months.

As for how to make an educated guess for how often you should post, you can use some of the following decision-making criteria.

Current volume of content

Blogs with little to no existing content should push themselves until they have at least a few dozen articles under their belt. Don’t publish every day, but don’t be afraid to publish far more often than you intend to, just so you can build out your content with a healthy backlog.

Current readership volume

If you have thousands of readers for every blog post, you should always see what happens when you post slightly more often. Chances are great that your priority metrics and views will only go up.

If you don’t have very many readers yet, posting more often could risk dividing their attention. Experiment with shifting days around and adding slightly more posts per month rather than assuming more is always going to be better.

Best traffic sources

Your main source of traffic—or the channel you intend to use as your main source—matters a great deal for how often you post.

Neil Patel points out how blogs like Moz that produce high quality content can depend on new backlinks and search engine referrals bringing people to their content for months, sometimes years.

On the other hand, blogs like Buzzfeed, that earn most of their traffic from social media, have to “feed the beast” with constant new articles and updates. For blogs that get lots of viral shares and engagement via social media, sometimes posting multiple times a day can actually be a strategy that works!

Your own capacity and resources to create blogs

This is an incredibly important point that can all but negate everything else we’ve already suggested. Specifically: only write as much as you can. Otherwise, you are going to get burnt out and start publishing sub-par work.

The best way to avoid burnout is to have enough polished content that you are at least a month ahead. That way, you can take a break if you aren’t feeling inspired or motivated. You may also need to find outside help from a content marketing agency or a freelance writer.

In the end, just listen to your brain when it comes to how positive you feel about blogging. Developing a schedule and a content calendar can make you more productive, but it can’t make you an amazing writer every time you sit down at the keyboard.

“If you post only once every two months, but the content is truly awesome, you will be much more successful than someone publishing crappy posts every day,” reflects SmartBlogger—and we couldn’t agree more!

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Why Your Online Marketing Budget May Soon Go Up

Why Your Online Marketing Budget May Soon Go Up

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Recent surveys show that the majority of businesses plan to increase their digital marketing budgets over the next 12 months. These increases mean stiffer competition and growing rates to achieve the desired level of impressions and performance.

Today’s internet marketing practices have matured dramatically since the days of dial up. Channels like social media have likewise matured, changing the landscape from a “Wild West” feeling to a more familiar competitive market. As businesses spend more on aspects of marketing like paid ad inventory, prices go up. There is, after all, a finite number of eyeballs browsing the internet at any given time.

Businesses also find themselves competing more earnestly for organic traffic and impressions. While it used to be easy to rank high on search engines if you were the only business on the block doing SEO, now achieving results pits you against countless others.

With all this going on, business owners should expect to dig deeper into their pockets in the near future in order to achieve their goals for awareness, revenues, growth, and more. To help encourage you to keep pace, here are some observations we’ve made that reveal the current state of online marketing and indicate where it could be going soon.

Survey Says: Online Marketing Spending Growth Outpaces Traditional Ads

In a recent survey of CMOs, the respondents indicated that they intend to increase their digital marketing spending by 15.1% on average. By comparison, the average respondent said they plan to shrink their traditional advertising spending by 1.7%.

The decrease follows a distinct trend of budgets shrinking for traditional media, which includes ads on TV, radio, print, billboards, and other non-digital channels. The last time budgets increased by more than 1% was in 2011. Since that point, budgets were cut by an average of 1.6% every six months. That’s a total drop of 22% in traditional ad spending from 2011 to the present.

In the meantime, digital marketing budgets have increased by double digits every six months with only one exception. The changes equal a 167.5% increase, for an average of 12% every six months.

Spending on digital and traditional marketing techniques is diverging, and the effects are more noticeable in certain industries. Business-to-consumer (B2C) companies in particular say that they will have the biggest jumps. Product-focused B2C companies intend to increase digital marketing budgets by 17.9%, and service-based B2C companies say they will increase their budgets by 18.2%.

All of these data points indicate a steady stream of dollars flowing into digital channels. Companies in all sectors are investing more in online marketing campaigns, including content creation, strategy, management, promotion, and actions like performance measurement.

Budgets Stay Largely Flat as a Portion of Marketing Spending and Revenues

While budgets are increasing across the board for most companies, the ratio of that budget to other key metrics has remained stable for the most part.

The current industry average for marketing budgets as a portion of overall spending sits at 11.1%. This ratio is mostly unchanged since 2011. Similarly, marketing spending as a portion of company revenues is an average of 7.9% this year. That number has increased and decreased by small increments since 2012, barring a slight jump and then regression in Fall 2012.

So what does this mean in terms of trends? Well, if spending is increasing but budgets as a ratio are staying flat, that indicates that companies tie their spending growth to sales growth and budget growth. You could chalk these strong correlations to inflation or a general growth trend in both revenues and spending. You could also observe that, across all industries, spending strategies remain fairly conservative.

But a few key distinctions are to be made if you take the time to break down spending further. For instance, the ratio of money spent on content marketing compared to a business’s entire budget can dictate their ability to accomplish their content marketing goals.

In a survey of B2C companies using content marketing, the average respondent said they spent 22% of their marketing budget on content. The companies that rated themselves as “least successful” at accomplishing their goals spent an average of 18%, while the companies that said they were the “most successful” spent 26%.

These differences were even more pronounced among business-to-business (B2B) companies. The average B2B content marketing spend was 26% of their overall marketing budget. Yet, the least successful companies spent just 14%, while the most successful ones spent a whopping 40% on average.

So, while the aggregated data may hint that online marketing spending strategies are conservative, companies that lean into their digital marketing campaigns with a larger budget percentage tend to see better performance.

Costs of Online Advertising on the Rise

One of the biggest factors encouraging companies to increase their budgets is that costs have risen. According to a study by Adobe, the costs of digital advertising are rising five times faster than the current rate of inflation in the U.S.

Looking at data from 2014 to 2016, mobile display ad prices increased 12%, video ads increased 13%, and mobile paid search ads went up 11%.

Overall, companies spent 42% more on search advertising. At the same time, search engine traffic increased by just 11%. These two observations together mean that competition is getting more fierce for smaller slices of traffic.

Similar trends can be seen with social media advertising. Companies engaging in social media marketing are having a harder time earning impressions organically. To compensate, they are increasing their volume of paid social campaigns as well as their budgets. Bid prices for limited ad inventory go up.

In total, experts predict that ad prices for Facebook could rise anywhere between 25% and 79% in the coming year.

Few Companies Measuring Performance, Impact and ROI

As the costs of marketing rise, it’s more important than ever to measure impact and performance. Without this data, businesses could spend on campaigns and activities that don’t bring them measurable value.

Also, they lack the data to optimize their campaigns over time. Without knowing, for instance, that one social media campaign type brought better performance than another, the business will have fewer decision-making tools in hand to strategize for future campaigns.

Despite the risks described above, 58% percent of companies don’t use marketing analytics to measure performance and help them make decisions. For social media marketing, 34% of companies don’t measure the impact of their campaigns at all. 42% claim they have a good “qualitative sense” of how their campaigns are performing but don’t have the numbers to back up these observations.

The situation is even more dire with content marketing. 5% of companies don’t have any content marketing target metrics to speak of. 41% don’t measure content marketing ROI, and 21% say they are “unsure” as to whether they are accurately measuring ROI.

Every penny you spend on digital marketing counts, especially as costs rise. Make sure you have a strategy in place to maximize your returns, as well as tools you can use to measure those returns quantifiably.

If you need help getting to this point, we’re here for you. Contact us today for assistance with planning, executing, measuring, and optimizing your digital marketing strategies.

Get prepared for the future with the expertise you need to compete and stay ahead as the digital marketing realm becomes more expensive.

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11 Steps to a Successful Social Media Contest

11 Steps to a Successful Social Media Contest

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Running contests on social media offers one of the best strategies for getting audiences engaged, earning shares, and generating impressions. Following a careful procedure can increase your contest’s chances of success.

On the other hand, not having a plan and a strategy can mean that even the most popular contests accomplish little in the way of marketing goals, while taking resources from other campaigns. Or, worse, the contest can turn into a giant mess that leaves a sore spot on your brand image.

So, to make sure your contest has the best odds of helping boost your social media marketing performance, use the following 11 steps below. They’ll help you strategize for your contest, plan it out, create a schedule, and follow through on everything in a way that leaves both your participants and your fellow co-workers satisfied with the results.

1. Decide on a Social Media Marketing Goal

Many contests start by thinking of a great promotion, prize or theme. The goals get defined later.

While this approach feels natural because thinking about prizes or contest themes is exciting, there’s danger in not having a focus from the beginning. Your goals can easily get diluted or intermingled in a way that makes them ineffective.

For instance, let’s say you are a scuba diving certification company. You want people to enter into a contest to win some free gear. If your ultimate goal is to get people to sign up for lessons, then the format of your contest needs to be positioned toward people who have never scuba dived before.

The problem is that only people with scuba experience may share your contest since they are the only people who know how valuable the gear you’re offering is. To fix the problem, the contest needs to highlight from the beginning how winning your gear set makes it easier than ever to start scuba diving. Without this perspective, you may instead end up pitching the value of a feature-packed diving watch, which will read as “all Greek” to people who aren’t familiar.

So, start from a defined goal and let the structure of the contest expand organically from there.

Common goals include:

  • Increasing overall purchases.
  • Increasing brand awareness.
  • Increasing conversion actions like demo signups/free lesson signups/webinar registrations/content downloads.
  • Capturing emails.
  • Increasing site traffic.
  • Earning more page likes/followers.

Make sure that no matter what, your contest reinforces your goals. If, for example, you want to earn more traffic, make visiting a landing page on your site mandatory for entry. The landing page should also have a call to action suggesting people browse your content or your products. Similarly, if your aim is to increase purchases, you can make a purchase a necessary part of entry.

2. Decide on Your Hosting and Promotional Venues

The venue you host your contest on can have huge consequences for how your contest is structured and how it will play out over time. Some platforms – i.e., Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – have strict rules regarding how contests are held and how they are conducted.

Eventually, you will need a legal team to review your contest plan before you put it into action. The venues you use to host and/or promote the campaign will affect their recommendations for what you can and cannot do.

Note that “hosting” a contest refers to all of the contest activities taking place on that platform. For instance, if you are going to make the entry requirement sharing a post and the prize drawing comes from those shares, the contest is occurring on that platform.

On the other hand, if you are going just to be promoting the contest on social media and the actual entry and other activities takes place on your own site, that creates a different set of conditions.

Realize that the more channels you have your contest hosted on, the more complex your campaign will become. You can reduce complexity by directing everyone to one point of entry, such as prompting “Enter on Facebook” or “Visit Our Website to Enter!” This strategy makes promoting your contest across multiple channels easier without having to add data-gathering and community management headaches.

3. Decide How People Will Enter Your Social Media Contest

A few entry requirement options you can consider are to:

 

  • Submit email and other contact information.
  • Require a connecting action, such as “liking” or “following” your page.
  • Require an engagement action, such as “liking,” commenting, or sharing a particular post.
  • Ask people to cast their vote using polling tools on Facebook or Twitter or on your own website.
  • Create and submit user generated content for judgement, meaning the selected best entry gets the prize.

 

Direct submissions of emails typically take the least amount of effort to track, especially if you use a custom form. Requiring people to comment, like or share a post can be similarly easy, although this engagement may not connect meaningfully with the desired goal or conversion action.

Voting can be another easy entry mechanism, but you may want to steer people to a custom form since many social platforms register votes anonymously.

Creating user-generated content is an awesome idea since it leads to the creation of marketing assets you can later use while bringing higher levels of engagement to your campaign. However, you will need to review the legal requirements of such a campaign and disclose details like ownership rights and liability to anyone who submits.

Software tools are available to help you track data such as new page “likes,” so you can differentiate new entrants from people who already like your page. These tools include Strutta, Shortstack, Wishpond, and Rafflecopter. Of these, Rafflecopter has the best pricing and is singularly dedicated to contests.

4. Create a Contest Theme and a Name

Your social media contest theme should have its own set of branding devices in play. The more vivid your branding, the more excited entrants will be. Well-branded and themed contests also have a way of attracting more attention.

Remember that the clarity of the theme and also the clarity of a contest title can make or break participation. Shorter names are usually better, especially since space is limited on social posts for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.

5. Settle on a Contest Timeline

Decide on a date you will make the final prize announcement. Then, work backward from this date to plot out when drawing/judging will start and end. Going further, decide when entry is closed, when it is open, when promotion for the contest starts, and any other key dates involved.

Build in the needed time to handle everything, especially if snags or hurdles emerge. You need to give yourself time to plan and design creative elements, get approval from legal, and accomplish other milestones.

6. Decide on Prizes or Giveaways

You may have already had a prize or giveaway in mind, but you should wait to finalize this decision until you have all the other above elements in place. Holding off prevents you from getting locked into the prize aspect and losing focus on everything else. If you’ve seen the Office episode where Michael Scott auctions off non-existent Bruce Springsteen tickets, you know what we mean.

As we suggested above, ensure the prize directly ties into your goals, your desired customer path, and your business as a whole. Offering a generically appealing prize like a free iPhone can earn you thousands of entrants, but most of these entrants will not be viable customer leads.

Instead, think of prizes that connect to your business, your brand, and your most important values. Also, try to think of a storytelling angle so that your prize winner can become a testimonial of sorts, illustrating what makes your company great.

7. Draft an Editorial and Social Content Calendar

Using the timeline you created, plan out ahead of time exactly what types of social media posts and other promotional collateral will be needed and when it will be published. You can always use placeholder content or deviate from your calendar, but the last thing you want to do is promote your contest off-the-cuff with no real approval or planning.

To help you decide what kind of content will be needed when, think of your social media contest in six discrete phases:

  1. Pre-launch.
  2. Launch.
  3. Last chance for entries.
  4. Closed for entries.
  5. Winner announcements.
  6. Post-contest promotion and related campaigns.

8. Develop Your Promotional Strategy

You want to amplify visibility for your contest as much as possible, especially during the first few days of launch. Having a “slow burn” strategy actually hurts your chances for entrants since posts with little engagement tend to get buried. However, posts that get tons of engagement the moment they are created tend to be discovered more readily by late-comers.

Include paid ads, organic promotions, website content, and social media content within your promotional strategy. You don’t have to have a huge budget for any one particular thing, but generally the more you can invest, the better your results will be.

9. Have a Community Management and Crisis Plan in Place

Since it will be hosted online, your contest will essentially run 24/7. You therefore need a plan for someone to monitor activities during off-business hours.

Remember that contests tend to overwhelm unprepared social media marketing teams since they create a flood of engagement compared to the normal day-to-day. Be prepared for this in advance.

Also, have a backup plan in case things go wrong. Hopefully, you will never have to implement your crisis management plan, but having it prepared ensures you have a set damage containment strategy rather than responding on-the-fly. Sometimes when we improvise while handling stressful situations, we can make things worse, so have your backup plan written down.

10. Finalize Your Rules, and Have Legal Review Everything

The last thing you want is for your contest to result in a lawsuit or bad PR. You should therefore have experienced legal counsel verify that all your rules, prizes, and general procedures are appropriate and legal.

Consider that if you run your contest nationally or internationally, different states may have different rules regarding contests and prizes. You want to be in compliance everywhere possible, which may even mean restricting entry within certain geographical areas.

11. Document Everything So You Can Learn in the Future

As an extra step, make sure you take notes on as much of what you learn as you can. Also, gather data throughout the contest, so you can trace ROI and whether you’ve met your goals. This documentation may be extra work, but it will pay off by helping you learn lessons and improve over time.

If you need help with social media marketing or hosting a social media contest, you can always look to outside expertise. Contact us today if you need assistance planning your contest, tying it to your goals, or simply verifying that it has the best possible chance of bringing you success.

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We offer professional SEO services that help websites increase their organic search score drastically in order to compete for the highest rankings even when it comes to highly competitive keywords.

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    • admin
    • January 1, 2014
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    • January 1, 2014
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      • January 1, 2014
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