Category Archives: Business Marketing Online

Buying an email list is a terrible idea

Buying an email list is a terrible idea. It always was bad, but in these times when so much consent is required for marketing, I don’t understand how it can work. Just who are these people who’ve said to some third party: “Sure, you can sell my email address to unknown manufacturers”?

Who they are, of course, are people who’ve given their email address to a publisher, exhibition organiser or other presumably reputable organisation and not noticed that they’d also given permission for their contact details to be passed on. These aren’t a group of people whose inboxes you want to invade.

Third-party mailings that the recipients have signed up for, such as email newsletters and magazines, are a different matter. You can put your message in these and get some decent response. But please, make sure you’re measuring that response. Use Google’s Campaign Builder to create clickthrough URLs which can be identified and measured in Google Analytics. Set the campaign source to be something like “Widget World Newsletter”, the medium to be “email” and the “Campaign” to be “Widget World Newsletter August 2018”. Then you’ll be able to see the response instantly, under the Google Analytics “Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium” report, perhaps with the “Secondary Dimension” set to “Campaign”.

Talking about Google My Business

Very few online services make me tear my hair out as much as Google My Business. Yet it’s something we should all use. ‘GMB’ lets us manage how our business appears on Google Search and Maps, including the big panel which appears in the Google results next to searches on our company name. That panel can contain reviews and photos posted by people outside the organisation, and can get quite out of control if you’re not on top of your GMB account.

People have so many different problems with Google My Business that I wouldn’t try to pick out specific ones to tackle here. But if you want to get more confident with your account (or if you have a specific problem), spend some time on the Official Google My Business Community. Also, make sure you keep a link to it for when something crops up in the future.

Don’t be pressured into neglecting results

Once upon a time, I was fortunate enough to do an A-level course which introduced control system theory. It’s stayed with me all of my life, and I’ve found that it applies far more widely than in an engineering sense. It can be a big help in tackling everyday business projects if you understand that most systems have an input, a process, and an output which feeds back to optimise the input.

The key to efficient system management is to have confidence in the process, and concentrate on analysing the output to provide better feedback to the input.

How does this apply to providing services or products to customers? If your process is sales, it’s inefficient to devote all of your resources to pushing input into the system (e.g. getting enquiries), and not monitoring the results (determining which ones were productive). When I start a new business relationship – providing a service – I know it’ll be a good one if clients are mainly interested in talking about specifying the required outcome and reporting on how we’re doing. It’s not going to work well if they spend their time telling me how they think things should be done, and barely looking at the results.

If you’re managing a marketing process, such as running a website or pushing out emails, the key to success is spending time studying the output and getting that feedback loop working efficiently. Pushing stuff into the system has to be done, of course. But it’s not everything.

Why you should renew your efforts to get ‘featured snippets’

I thought I’d return to the subject of ‘featured snippets’ in Google results, as they’re continuing to be incredibly productive for several of our clients who have tackled the opportunity with enthusiasm. To recap, featured snippets are the full explanations Google puts up in the results for search queries that it thinks are wanting a definition as the answer. Something like this, for example.

Most featured snippets are effectively a normal Google result, but with a longer description, larger text and presented in a boxed panel. There are also versions with bullet point lists and even some with an image. They are attainable by anyone, and catapult you up to the top of the page in an even more prominent way than if you had the normal top position. Clickthrough rate is correspondingly higher than even the normal top position, and if you get a few of them, I’ve seen a site’s search engine traffic doubled.

Studies suggest that – unexpectedly – most search queries which trigger featured snippets are not questions. I suspect, however, that they’re shortcuts to something which could have been asked as a question, like the example above.

How do I find out what Featured Snippets I have?
There are paid for SEO tools which can do this, but a manual method is to use Google Search Console to see which searches are bringing visits to your site. Any search queries which are featured snippets will have notable traffic, and you can investigate with your own Google search.

Most people’s first question is: can I really get these? The answer is a qualified yes: research shows that it’s unlikely your page will be displayed as a featured snippet unless you’re already on the first page for a similar query. But even if you’re not, the process of trying to get one of these should give you an improved ranking which you can then work on. For that reason, I’d start the process of encouraging featured snippets by looking at searches for which you already rank well. You can get these from Google Search Console (Search Traffic > Search Analytics, and select “Position”). A useful next step can be to use the ‘filter’ on ‘Queries’ to identify searches with words like ‘how’ or ‘why’ in them. Then take a look at the actual search results and see if you’re a well-placed result but without a ‘featured snippet’ presentation.

This is just a start though. The best ideas will come from your own industry experience. What other relevant questions for your technology can you come up with? Remember, you’re looking for ones where you probably already appear in the first page of results, but don’t really answer the question head-on. What you then need to do is either to amend the existing page appearing in the results, or create a new page, so that it does answer the question. Updating the existing page is preferable and easier, but be careful you’re adding quality and not hurting anything else which has been working well.

What Google is after is the question, and a concise, one-paragraph answer (or a multi-paragraph answer where the first one summarises everything and stands alone). The question doesn’t have to be the title of the page, although that may be worth trying. Google loves lists and numbers too. A page can answer more than question, separately or together. Indeed, a page of FAQs with concise answers after each can score in many different searches.

How are searches on your company name looking?

A simple Google search for your company name may well be the first thing a serious prospect sees after initially becoming interested from a meeting, reading about you or whatever. It’s really important.

In the worst case, you don’t come up at all for a search on your name. That could be because your company name is – unfortunately – the same as something else which is much more popular in search. Also a problem is if the top (and perhaps only) result is another part of your company, or an overseas parent. In all these cases, the prospect might give up if there are alternative suppliers to investigate. These issues affect more companies than you might imagine, and the fact it’s so common suggests that the companies concerned don’t realise how much this is costing them …or they’d do something about it.

Then there’s the ‘poor result’. To understand how you can look really second-rate in Google on a search for your company, take a look at a good result. Search for a household name like Barclays Bank to see what you could have. A whole set of ‘sitelinks’ (those indented secondary results); a map showing your location; a ‘knowledge graph’ panel on the right; social media results – they’re all up for grabs. If you just have a single, minimally-sized result, it looks… well, disappointing.

So, what can we do about all this? Getting more links to your company website from elsewhere is an obvious strategy. Any company of importance will have lots of links to its website, so that will be a critical factor in Google’s algorithms. For immediate impact, the best line of attack may be to spend a few pounds a month (and it needn’t be much) on a search advertising campaign targeted at your company name. This can give you not only the top spot and the sitelinks, but other elements such as a contact number, ‘callout’ text and ‘structured snippets’, none of which appear next to standard search results. Most importantly, unlike the standard results, you’re in complete control of the content too. Want to include a special offer or a news message? No problem.

A final critical reason to run a search advertising campaign on your company name is to stop anyone else doing it. It’s quite legitimate for competitors to put ads above searches on your name, and any message they like in that advert. Put your own (cheap) advert there, and unless the competitor is prepared to pay silly money to outbid you at a far higher cost per click, their ad will be relegated to the bottom of the page or off it completely.

Newsflash for Google Search Advertisers:

In the biggest change to search ads for a long while, Google has just announced that it’s soon to allow a third headline and a second description. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this, of course, but we’re not going to rush into changing the tens of thousands of ads we manage. Google has form on introducing new ideas and then backtracking, so we’ll play a conservative game on this one. If you manage your own search advertising, we suggest you do too.