The state of influencer marketing in 2016

insta-vs-twitter

Before Vine’s popularity declined, Vine stars had transcended the platform to become actual celebrities. How has influencer marketing changed as it’s grown?

Justin Bieber has 22 million YouTube subscribers. Rihanna has 21 million. Katy Perry and Eminem, 18 million apiece. These four musicians are among the most famous people on the planet, and none of them has even half the following of Felix Kjellberg.

You know, PewDiePie. The Swedish video gamer who made $12 million last year, as the most-followed person on YouTube. Though PewDiePie largely stays away from marketing (though he has partnered with Mountain Dew in the past) the same can’t be said for many of his fellow social media stars-turned-actual stars.

Logan Paul, a Vine celebrity who has graced the cover of AdWeek, has worked with Verizon, Nike and Dunkin Donuts. Michelle Phan parlayed a YouTube channel about makeup tutorials into a line of cosmetics with L’Oréal. Influencer marketing has been huge for a while. How has it changed as it’s gotten bigger?

Vine declines as Instagram and Snapchat soar

Vine has traditionally been a big platform for social media influencers – Paul has nearly 4 billion loops – but its star is fading. Analyzing the Vine accounts with more than 15,000 followers, influencer marketing technology platform Markerly found that 52% of those users have left the platform. Paul hasn’t posted a new Vine since April.

“I don’t think there’s one specific reason why, but the content is way too short,” says Sarah Ware, founder and chief executive (CEO) of Markerly, who believes Vine became so popular because it was something of a novelty in 2012. “If Vine were to be released now, it probably wouldn’t be that popular because there are so many video platforms now. At the time, it was different, but it hasn’t been able to keep up that momentum.”

Ware doesn’t see the decline of Vine taking away from the popularity of influencer marketing. While the six-second videos were the go-to medium for many advertisers, the same influencers also have presences on other platforms with bigger, more engaged userbases. (Vine is currently ranked 135th in the App Store; Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are all in the top 10.)

In Ware’s opinion, Instagram is the ultimate platform for influencer marketing. According to a recent Comcast survey, it also now has more advertisers than Twitter. It’s got a young audience, but not so young that brands can’t reach the coveted millennial mom demographic there. In addition, Markerly sees a distinct correlation between Instagram posts and the brands’ site traffic.

“It’s the place to be for product placement,” says Ware. “If I sell couches and give one to an influencer, every time she posts a picture of her kid on the couch, she’s going to tag my brand.”

There’s also Snapchat, which is having its moment in the sun. But it’s still got some kinks, such as poor discoverability and the fact that many marketers haven’t quite figured out how to navigate it.

Will McDonough, head of brand at KICK, is a fan of turning his Snapchat over to influencers. KICK is all about soccer, and this strategy keeps the media destination from being too one-dimensional.

“It’s unique and it’s fun.” says McDonough. “We want to be that great connector. You like soccer and you also like fashion; there’s a lot of fashion in soccer. We try and find that little Venn diagram where soccer hits the rest of the world in pop culture.”

As influencer marketing grows, people are becoming more aware of it

Influencer marketing is such a big thing now that many brands have specific influencer strategies.

It’s also so common that McDonough likes to sometimes turn regular KICK fans into influencers, just to switch it up.

“What can we do that’s going to cut through the noise? Everybody’s got somebody taking over their handle,” he says. “What we try and do is, let’s get a fan to do it because that’s what KICK is about: the voice of the fans. We find cool fans who are good at telling stories and say, ‘Hey man, go to the match and show the audience.’”

Working with influencers has also become a much more costly strategy. That Adweek story reported that Logan Paul was paid $1,000 to promote a video game on Vine three years ago; now he can make six figures for brand work.

When it comes to advertising, “costly” is relative. A Super Bowl ad can cost $5 million – so $166,000 per second – but brands keep doing it because they’re in front of the largest TV audience possible.

For Ware, influencer marketing is worth it, if you go about it in a smart way – which many brands are savvy enough to do now. She said that it’s common for brands to contract influencers to do a certain number of posts over a period of time, though reach often determines the price.

expensive

“If you’re putting $25,000 toward Instagram, we’re giving you a total reach of 5 million people,” says Ware. “You can work with a couple of really large influencers, or a ton of smaller ones. You’re paying the same and you’re reaching the same. It’s just, how much content do you want created?

“If you’re able to repurpose that content, it’s really worth it,” she adds.

If these people fit naturally, they’ll help the brands get a lift because ultimately, people like them. But if the influencers are bright enough stars, they can still help the brand get a lift either way because people just like them and want to see what they’re doing.

Does anyone really think Kendall Jenner stops by the Estee Lauder counter at Macy’s to pick up makeup? Probably not. But there are more people in the world following Jenner on Instagram than there are living in Spain, and within a day of Estee Lauder appointing her the face of the brand, its Instagram following shot up by 18%.

I’d add a note of caution. Though I’m sure many people are well-aware that these influencers are being paid by brands for endorsing their products, there are some grey areas here.

Google’s recent use of manual actions around bloggers linking to products in return for freebies may have been harsh in some cases, but it illustrates the importance of clarity in advertising.

Just because they’re sharing, it doesn’t mean they’re reading

twitter analytics May

If you’re visiting this article before or after sharing it on a social channel, then may I offer you a warm welcome to an increasingly exclusive club. For you are just one of the 41% of people who not only shared the article but actually read it too.

In news that will embolden some, depress others and possibly surprise nobody, a new study by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute reveals that 59% of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.

As the Washington Post put it this weekend in one of their best headlines ever – 6 in 10 of you will share this link without reading it, a new, depressing study says.

Back in 2014, it was estimated that social media referral was responsible for 30% of total visits to websites. However according to the research published by HAL (yes, a group of computer scientists publish their research under the name HAL, what of it? Why are you terrified?) and using a dataset amounting to 2.8 million shares, 75 billion potential views and 9.6 million actual clicks to 59,088 unique resources, most people just retweet news without ever reading it.

According to the study’s co-author, Arnaud Legout, “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

These blind retweeters are also, worryingly, shaping the news agenda, by sharing what is already ‘viral’ and adding to social platform’s ‘trend-watching algorithms’ without first stopping and reading what they’re actually doing.

Or are our favourite news sources so trustworthy that we can put blind faith in anything they publish? To be honest, Facebook will probably just ignore much of this anyway.

For proof of this, you need not look any further than May 26, when a certain social media manager (*cough*) tweeted the following headline but accidentally forgot to include the link to the article.

Is content marketing really working? Advice and insight from #ClickZChat: pic.twitter.com/MotnFQ49q6

— Search Engine Watch (@sewatch) May 27, 2016

And yet the tweet enjoyed 25 retweets and 28 likes. That’s one of our most popular tweets, and yet not one person noticed the lack of link. Maybe that’s the key for us… black and white photo + non sequitur headline – link = engagement gold.

A peek behind the wizard’s curtain

To add our own two pence (or cents depending on where you are right now) to this debate, let’s open up our own analytics and let you see what influence SEW’s social channel on traffic to the site.

Let’s look at our own Twitter analytics for May 2016…

A ‘robust’ 2.5 million impressions from only 465 tweets is pretty good. But what about actual click-through rate (CTR)?

Let’s take a look at our top tweet in May…

twitter analytics top tweet

The impressions gained from its 29 retweets resulted in 18,202 impressions and ultimately 40 link clicks. This means it had a CTR of 0.2% which is about our average. Sadly, this is a little lower than the industry average.

According to Hubspot the average Twitter CTR is 1.64%, and the more followers you have, the fewer clicks you’ll receive on your tweets.

  • Users with 50 – 1,000 followers had a 6.16% CTR.
  • Users with 1,000 – 5,000 followers had a 1.45% CTR.
  • Users with 5,000 – 10,000 followers had a 0.55% CTR.
  • Users with 10,000+ followers had a 0.45% CTR.

And according to this Quora forum on Twitter CTR, links shared by Mashable’s Twitter account, despite its 7+ million followers, results in a CTR of just 0.11%.

If that’s not enough to be completely down heartened, let’s open up Google Analytics and see how much traffic social drove to SEW in May.

social analytics

Over the course of 31 days in May, only 4% of our total traffic came from social. The majority of our traffic comes from organic search (as you would hope and expect from a site with ‘search engine’ in the title), with direct, email and referral all coming in above social.

To break it down further by social channel, it’s 47% from Twitter, 24% from Facebook, 11% from LinkedIn and, uh, 0.3% from Pinterest.

However if we look at Twitter, the most popular social channel we operate, it drove more than 16,000 sessions to the site, 40% of which are from unique users.

So despite a low CTR, these aren’t inconsiderable numbers, and certainly the research presented by HAL should not be used as an excuse to ‘switch off’ your social activity.

You should just be aware that, if your boss is asking for metrics to measure your engagement, a simple number of retweets isn’t good enough.

Everything you need to know about AdWords’ store visit conversions

Ecommerce sales came to more than $341 billion in 2015. That’s huge. But amazingly, 90% of sales still happen in stores, not online, according to Google.

That’s why AdWords introduced the in-store visits metric in 2014. The consumer purchase journey is now more complex than ever – and Google wanted to create a way businesses could understand how much in-store foot traffic their location-based PPC ads were driving.

Thus far, Google has measured more than 1 billion store visits. But not every business has access to this powerful metric.

At the Google Performance Summit – where Google announced Expanded Text Ads, new local search ads, and gave us a preview of the new AdWords interface – in-store conversions were one of the huge topics of conversation, and Google promised this metric would soon become more widely available to more businesses.

If you’re a local business, the combination of new Google Maps Local Search ads and in-store conversions will be an absolutely killer combination.

To get you ready, here are seven things you need to know about AdWords’ store visit conversions.

1. What are store visit conversions?

Google estimates store visit conversions by looking at phone location history to determine whether someone who clicked on your search ad ended up visiting your store. Google looks at ad clicks on all devices – smartphone, desktop, and tablet.

In-store conversion data will help you understand which ad campaigns, keywords, and devices send the most people to your store so you can optimize your account to increase ROI. It doesn’t guarantee that someone bought from you – just that they visited after clicking on one of your ads.

Google’s goal is to provide the data so you can attribute the online value of your ad spend. In less than two years, advertisers in the retail, restaurant, travel, automotive, and finance industries have counted more than one billion store visits globally.

For privacy reasons, in-store conversion data is based on anonymous and aggregated data gathered from people who have Location History turned on. A conversion can’t be tied to an individual ad click or person.

Here’s Google’s official overview video on AdWords Store Visits Conversions:

2. What technology does Google use to measure store visits?

Google Maps knows the exact coordinates and borders of millions of businesses globally. That’s why the AdWords team worked with the Google Maps team to match location history for hundreds of millions of users with Maps data for more than two million businesses.

Google says they use a hybrid approach with a large number of signals in order to measure visits.

To ensure accuracy, Google also surveyed more than 5 million people to confirm they actually visited a store. Google used this information to update its algorithms and reported that its results are “99% accurate”.

3. What’s new with store visits?

At the Performance Summit, Google announced that it most recently made in-store visits available to manufacturers, like auto manufacturers, to track store visits to dealerships.

Google shared a case study on how Nissan UK has been using store visit conversion data to see which keywords and campaigns were driving people into their dealerships to buy a car and increase their ROI by 25x. They’ve used the data to map buyer journeys to reach them at key moments of the research journey.

They discovered that 6% of their mobile ad clicks resulted in a visit. This is huge, considering that the average consumer only visits a dealership twice before actually buying.

You can see more in this video AdWords posted:

4. Is Google using beacons to improve?

Google said it is starting to experiment with beacons to improve its algorithm. Google is exploring how to use Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) beacons for in-store analytics and in-store visits.

In fact, Google has a BLE beacon pilot underway that should eventually help people who operate at smaller locations and businesses by ensuring Google is getting and providing the most precise and accurate location data for the least amount of effort.

5. How many store visits are incremental?

Though most purchases happen in person at a physical location, digital channels – especially paid search – still play a huge role in the research and buying process.

Google wanted to quantify the substantial offline impact mobile search ads can have on a business. So Google ran a study of 10 top big box US retailers (including Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond) to determine how many store visits are incremental.

What Google found was that, on average, the number of incremental store visits driven by mobile search ads actually exceeded their number of online purchase conversions.

The study essentially found that these store visits otherwise never would have happened, if not for the influence of mobile search ads.

6. How can you get access to store visit conversions?

Store visits have been made available to more than 1,000 advertisers in 11 countries so far, and Google promises more will gain access soon. If you want to start tracking store visits, you can contact your account manager.

Not every business can track store visits yet – there are a few requirements. You must:

Have multiple physical store locations in an eligible country.
Receive “thousands” of ad clicks and “many” store visits every month.
Link a Google My Business account to your AdWords account.
Enable location extensions.
7. Where can you view visit conversions?

Store visit conversions will be added to the “All conversions” column in your campaign reports. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to add this column to your reports:

Store visits are available at the campaign, ad group, and keyword level and can be segmented by device. Google provides step-by-step instructions here.

Why retail needs to prepare for digital transformation

A picture of a hand bringing a mobile phone close to a white Square reader to pay for a cup of coffee on the counter.

Digital transformation is disrupting industries whether we like it or not. But is the retail sector as prepared for this as it needs to be?

ClickZ Intelligence’s most recently published report The Pulse of Digital Transformation suggests not. It found that in a survey of more than 400 US readers, just 26% of retail and e-commerce specialists had a formal plan in place for digital transformation.

Financial service providers fared comparatively better, with 56% reporting that they had a formal digital transformation plan in position. But ClickZ’s ‘Innovation in Retail Banking’ report illustrates just how much the digital disruptions taking place in the financial sector will affect retail and ecommerce as well.

The report looks at several major innovations in banking and payments, including contactless payments and the Internet of Things, which are the face of digital disruption in the banking sector. Here’s why these technologies are equally big news for retail, and why it unquestionably needs a formal digital transformation plan in place in order to deal with them.

The contactless revolution

The contactless payment revolution is transforming retail already at a rapid rate. According to a study by the UK Cards Association, contactless spending in the UK rose from £287 million ($414 million) in January 2015 to £567 million ($818 million) in June, an increase of 97.5% over the course of just five months.

The study further put the value of contactless spending in 2015 at £7.8 billion ($11.2 billion), up from £2.3 billion ($3.3 billion) the previous year. Kevin Jenkins, managing director UK & Ireland at Visa Europe, calls contactless payment the “new normal” in the report, saying that Visa has “seen unprecedented growth in this area, with the number of Visa contactless transactions more than trebling in the past year in the UK.”

This trend goes far beyond the UK: Mastercard recently reported 150% year-on-year growth for Mastercard and Maestro contactless transactions across Europe. And in Australia, a survey of more than 1,000 people aged 18 to 65 found that for 66% of them, contactless was the preferred method of payment, with 64% preferring it to cash.

Paying for coffee with Square’s Apple Pay reader: just one of a proliferation of new contactless technologies making their way into banking and retail.
(Photo by Mybloodytypeiscoffee, available via CC BY 4.0)

While this might not seem like such a big deal for retailers, considering that most have embraced contactless card payments already, contactless payment isn’t just about cards. Despite its slow rate of adoption, the launch of Apple Pay has paved the way for many similar contactless technologies, and banks are innovating with gusto.

In 2014, Heritage Bank in Australia designed the ‘power suit’, a fine merino wool suit with a Near Field Communication chip embedded into the sleeve that allows consumers to pay with a swipe of their arm. (Talk about taking ‘wearable technology’ to the next level). On a slightly less drastic level, CaixaBank’s Visa contactless bracelet, which similarly allows users to pay by bringing their wrist close to the retailer’s PoS, was the largest such programme in Europe when it was launched in 2014.

Visa’s cloud-based mobile contactless payments have seen large-scale adoption by Polish banks such as ING Bank Śląski. And even more futuristic forms of payment are being pioneered that could have a huge impact on how customers pay for goods in retail and ecommerce in the near future.

A photo of a finger pressing down on a red-lighted square to be scanned.Photo by Rachmaninoff, made available via CC BY-SA 3.0

CIBC, for example, has been experimenting with voice authentication technology that would allow customers to use their voice not only to access their accounts, but pay bills and transfer money. It isn’t hard to imagine the same technology being used to authorise ecommerce payments.

Other forms of biometric authorisation, including fingerprint access and facial recognition, have been implemented by banks like HSBC, and it’s easy to see the possibilities for retail as well. Amazon is already reported to have filed a patent application that would allow customers to ‘pay with a selfie’ (that is to say, using facial recognition).

The banking sector is right to be upping its game and experimenting with the latest technologies in a bid to make payments more secure. But the retail sector should be prepared for what it means for them, as well.

Banking of Things

Another big innovation in banking which has implications for the retail space is the Internet of Things, whose application in the banking sector has been dubbed ‘Banking of Things’ (BoT). According to a November 2015 survey report by Efma and Infosys Finacle, 47% of respondents believe the technological disruption by BoT will have the maximum impact on the banking industry. And its disruptive potential for other industries also shouldn’t be underestimated.

ClickZ’s ‘Innovation in Retail Banking’ report cites Turkish bank Garanti’s app iGaranti as an example of how BoT is revolutionising banking. iGaranti’s functions include a mobile wallet, peer-to-peer lending via social networks and hands-free voice control for money transfers. A collaboration between Fidelity National Information Services and software company SAP may also give consumers the ability to pay their petrol bill from their car using their smartphone.

A photograph of a shiny chrome coffee machine pouring coffee into a small white cup.The Internet of Things could soon enable consumers to make purchases via everyday appliances like fridges and coffee makers. | Photo by Romi, CC0 public domain image

The report goes on to add,

“One of the main applications of BoT is expected to be in payments as is evident from the previously mentioned partnership between FIS and SAP. It has the potential to drive a radical shift away from cash and card payments to payments made from unlikely objects such as a fridge or a coffee maker.”

These ‘unlikely’ payments could be just as significant for the retail sector, as the Internet of Things and the rise of ‘smart objects’ allow consumers to do things like pay for their groceries using their fridge, or reorder filters and coffee grounds using their coffee maker.

Retailers will need to make sure that they have the infrastructure set up to deal with these incoming new technologies, the different opportunities they present for sales and marketing, and the way they will change buying behaviours.

Social payments and social shopping

Finally, we have the disruption that social media is bringing to the banking and retail industries by transforming the way that we pay for things online. A number of social networks and social apps are integrating payment features into their services as a way to attract businesses and brands to invest in them, while also providing a useful extra functionality for consumers.

In China, as our Asia Editor Sophie Loras reported, 31% of WeChat users are making ecommerce purchases using the app. This figure is already twice that of last year, when 15% of users were found to be using WeChat for ecommerce – and we’re only in June. Snapchat is another social app that recently made the move to ecommerce, presenting users in late April with ‘shoppable’ ads that allowed them to swipe down to make a purchase.

A series of smartphone screens next to each other showing colourful Snapchat adverts for the cosmetics company Lancome. The Snapchat ad for Lancôme (source: Snapchat)

As the ‘Innovation in Retail Banking’ report writes,

“One of the primary drivers of this trend is the robust growth in mobile commerce which is outpacing desktop usage in some countries, including China. As the world of mobile payments integrates with social media, the line between social networking and payments is starting to blur.”

The same could easily be said for ecommerce: that as the world of mobile payments integrates with social media, the line between social networking and retail is starting to blur. Social shopping is already a rising trend in ecommerce, with social networks integrating ‘buy’ buttons into their platforms and businesses making use of shoppable video and galleries to smooth the purchasing process.

It can be difficult to know what to do about digital disruption, or even to be aware that it’s happening until it’s right on top of you. One respondent to ClickZ’s ‘Pulse of Digital Transformation’ report said that, “It is so difficult to ‘see’ what the disruptions might be when we are busy doing work every day. [We] need leadership in this area.” And it can be a further challenge trying to get company leaders to see the need for digital leadership and transformation.

But as the examples above illustrate, the technology that will disrupt the retail industry is fast approaching, and in many cases is already here. Retail and ecommerce specialists with a formal plan in place for dealing with digital transformation will have the best chance of surviving and thriving.

To read more about digital disruption in the retail banking industry including 50 of the most amazing recent innovations in retail banking, get the full Innovation in Retail Banking report. Or download your complimentary copy of our most recent report, The Pulse of Digital Transformation!

Should publishers and content marketers be playing the platform game?

A graph by Parse.ly showing referral traffic for Google's various properties (including search engines and Google News) versus Facebook between April 2012 and October 2015. The Facebook line starts off much lower at around 10% of referred traffic, with Google between 30 and 40%. It climbs steadily upwards while Google declines slightly, briefly overtaking it in October 2014, before overtaking it for good in June 2015.

The early 2000s saw the advent of platforms on the web: somewhere that bloggers and publishers could host their content without having to worry about the back end, while still maintaining control over their own outlets and what they posted.

More than a decade later, and many of the social media platforms of today are starting to suspiciously resemble blogging platforms, becoming a place for users to publish content instead of just share links and brief updates. At the same time, huge companies like Facebook and Google have developed native publishing platforms aimed at providing a superior user experience for an increasingly mobile audience.

We have a wider choice of platforms to publish to than ever before, and each is promising the fastest, shiniest interfaces that will put our content directly in front of huge audiences we can’t reach through other means.

But how can we manage to spread ourselves between so many different outlets, and what are the drawbacks of these platforms? Veteran digital journalist and university lecturer Adam Tinworth gave a presentation at CMA’s most recent Digital Breakfast on ‘playing the platform game’ which looked at what this plethora of new tools – and gatekeepers – means for online content.

Social publishers and walled gardens

In 2015, we reached a watershed moment: in June, Facebook surpassed Google as the top referring site to publishers, according to Parse.ly. Clearly, we are now living in a very different internet age, in which social publishers dominate over search engines as a means of distribution and referral.

Tinworth remarked in a panel discussion later in the Digital Breakfast that social networks have taken over from search engines in the role of “finding something to read” online, leaving search engines to fill more of an “answer engine” role. This has huge ramifications for both SEO and social publishing, some of which are already being felt, and others which will make themselves known further down the line.

The other huge trend affecting the way that traffic reaches sites online is of course mobile. An Ofcom report from August 2015 declared that the UK is “now a smartphone society”, with 2/3 of Britons owning a smartphone and 33% seeing it as the most important device for going online, above laptops at 30%.

The trend towards mobile has affected the types of platforms springing up that we can publish to. Take Snapchat, the ultimate mobile-native social app, whose Discover publishing platform was just revamped to become much more visual, allowing users to more easily browse content at a glance.

Although Discover is only available to a select few publishers, many more brands and businesses use Snapchat for content marketing, and the redesign shows that Snapchat is serious about pushing further into the publishing space.

The new, more eye-catching Snapchat Discover

Meanwhile, publishing platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) have come about with the goal of providing users the best possible experience in mobile. They aim to load fast and look sleek, getting rid of the distracting artefacts which clutter the desktop web to deliver a streamlined product.

Instant Articles and AMP, while they are often mentioned in the same breath, take fundamentally different approaches to providing a better mobile experience. AMP is an open-source project aimed at reinventing the code on which the mobile web runs (from HTML to AMP-HTML), and can be used by anyone to build a faster mobile site. Instant Articles is more selective and restrictive, requiring publishers to have a Facebook page, and allowing them to begin publishing subject to having a sample of their content reviewed by Facebook.

A screenshot of guidelines for Facebook Instant Articles, stipulating that publishers must create at least 10 articles in their Production library before submitting for review, and the Facebook team will review the articles and provide feedback within 3-5 business days. Below this, a notice states "Your review is currently pending. Article reviews are usually completed within 3-5 business days."

But both companies ultimately have the same goal with their platforms, which is to keep users within the spaces they own, their walled gardens, for as long as possible. Readers who click on Sponsored links in Facebook Instant Articles find themselves redirected to other Instant Articles, still within Facebook; and Accelerated Mobile Pages allow you to swipe between news stories without leaving Google.

Other new publication platforms like Apple News have the same basic aim. Even Medium, which appears at first brush to just be another, more social-oriented take on the blogging platform, forces writers who publish with it to give up much of the editorial control they would normally enjoy over how they offer their work, in order to produce content (and revenue) for someone else’s branded platform.

As Tinworth put it in his presentation, “There’s a whole new set of gatekeepers between us and audiences.” But if you can connect with much bigger audiences than you would be able to reach without them, then it’s worth it, right?

The danger of sites as gatekeepers

As we’ve established, publication platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Medium can provide excellent user experiences, but at the cost of giving over control of your content to the brand whose platform you use.

There’s another, more general, drawback to this proliferation of platforms, which is that suddenly publishers are having to publish to a whole range of different formats. Publishers who are serious about social media, said Tinworth, have known for some time that you need to insert certain metadata in order to do well on those sites, making sure that your social posts look clean and carry the right information.

Multi-platform publishing takes this to the next level, requiring publishers and content creators to cater to wildly different formats: the requirements for Facebook Instant Articles are different to AMP, which is different to Apple News, which is very different to Snapchat, and so on. But if you want to get engagement on these platforms, this is the game you have to play.

“It’s complicating what was a fairly simple and opening publishing format,” said Adam Tinworth.

The danger of putting these different companies (Google, Facebook, Apple) in front of our content as gatekeepers is that they start to call the shots and tell us exactly how we ought to publish.

So, away with platforms, then? Should we all stick doggedly to hosting all of our content on domains and websites that we have complete ownership and control over? Well, not necessarily. There’s still a lot to be gained from publishing to platforms, and ignoring them means missing out on a great deal of opportunities to connect with the audiences who use them.

What’s good about publishing to platforms?

As Tinworth pointed out, we can’t afford to ignore platforms: they’re incredibly valuable for finding audiences and getting our content out there. And there are other good things about publishing to them.

Platforms are rich experiences where people hang out online, and deliver good traffic and interaction. Posting content there can provide a huge visibility boost, especially if the platform features it in some way; and it reduces the need to drag people, by hook or by crook, over to your own website when they’d rather not go.

A presentation slide detailing the good aspects of publishing to platforms. The bullet points are as follows: Rich experiences where people hang out online; Deliver good traffic and interaction; Often favoured by the platforms; Reduce the need to drag people to your own site.

Mike Burgess, another speaker at the Digital Breakfast, also advised that you can have success by being early onto platforms even when they’re not that successful overall, like Apple News.

Of course, there’s also the bad, which I’ve given plenty of attention to in this article: publishing to multiple platforms means more APIs and feed formats to support, and that extra bit of distance between you and your readers. It’s harder to get access to meaningful analytics, which can be issued at the discretion of the platform, and we’re at the mercy of the platform in other ways – including if they decide to charge.

A presentation slide detailing the bad aspects of publishing to platforms. The bullet points are as follows: Lots of APIs and feed formats to support; Distancing relationship with readers; Analytics can be tricky; We're at the mercy of the platforms; And they do like charging...

Where does that leave publishers who want to get the greatest returns out of the platform game, however that might mean playing it? Ultimately, said Adam Tinworth, the trick is to play it strategically. It’s inevitable that publishers will have to play the platform game, and the key is finding the platforms that the audience you want to target are using.

Mike Burgess gave an excellent example of this in his own presentation when he talked about travel brands on Instagram. Instagram is home to an absolute wealth of travel-related content, with 353 million travel-related hashtags on the app.

People turn to Instagram in droves for inspiration on where to go for their travels, spending an average of 21 minutes per day perusing the app; and yet the travel industry has been the second-slowest (after financial services) at adopting and making use of Instagram.

Businesses can’t afford to be too high-minded about platforms and social publishing, for fear of missing out on golden opportunities like these. At the same time, it’s also worth being aware of the risks and drawbacks, and keeping an eye on them so that you know if they ever start to outweigh the benefits.

Five of the most interesting search marketing news stories of the week

outbound links study 2016

It’s Friday once again, and time for a round-up from the world of search marketing.

This week we have App Store search ads, the ability to compare search queries in Search Console, and more ad tests from Google…

Web users think most outbound links are commercial

A study by Dan Petrovic, aka @DejanSEO, looked at the attitudes of 2,000 web users in the US and Australia around the reasons why web publishers link out.

The research found that more than 40% of users think that outbound links another are there because they generate revenue for the publisher.

‘Marketing Advertising & Revenue’ was seen to be the number one reason why a link exists, with almost a third of users expecting there to be some sort of commercial arrangement behind links.

Apple introduces search ads to the App Store

Apple announced this week that it will allow app developers to pay for a slot at the top of searches on the App Store.

Google tests out ‘top-rated’ shopping ads

Another week, another Google ad format test. This time a new way of displaying shopping ads according to user ratings.

top rated ads

Comparison reporting in search analytics

As reported by SEMPost, Google has now added the ability to compare search queries within Search Console.

Here we can see ‘seo basics’ battling Chuck Norris…

compare console

Everything’s gone green

We reported back in March that Google had been testing out green labels for PPC ads, and now they’ve rolled out everywhere.

It seems the tests must have delivered a positive result for Google, and these green labels are delivering more clicks for advertisers.

green ads

Could this be because the green ‘ad’ text blends in, making these ads look less like ads? I’ll let you decide…

How brands are using data visualisation in social campaigns

pablo

In this post, I’ll look at how brands are making the most of data visualization and data-informed product design to bring out data’s creative side.

Prompted by the agenda of a conference I recently attended, I asked myself a random question: is big data actually still a thing?

My conclusion was that it is, and is likely to remain so in the near future, though in a slightly different way. My view is that we will be seeing a lot more of data’s creative side.

So what it is data’s creative side?

The developed area in this regard is probably data-informed user experience (UX) design. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

There are (at least) two further areas of data-centric creativity that are growing rapidly and worth a closer look.

1. Data visualization – the communication of data in an easy to digest way

All the data in the world doesn’t mean anything if it cannot be understood clearly. For it to be understood, it should be communicated in an easy to digest manner. And that’s where data visualization comes in.

The visualization of data is often overlooked, especially here in Asia. If you’re guilty of doing so, here are two consumer-facing campaign examples that should put the presentation of data back on your radar.

Netflix: #Cokenomics

In order to promote the TV show Narcos, which tells the story of Pablo Escobar, Netflix created infographics that brought the economy of the Columbian cocaine trade to life in a socially engaging way.

Netflix built a whole campaign around the Columbian cartel’s cocaine data under the hashtag #Cokenomics.

The Twitter account @NarcosNetflix has almost 67,000 followers and posts regular tweets such as this one:

Geniuses are always branded as crazy. #Narcos pic.twitter.com/zPhzFQ8eLv

— Netflix UK & Ireland (@NetflixUK) February 16, 2016

Here’s an example of content for Instagram:

The agency behind the campaign – Mistress – says its initial campaign drove more than 100,000 engagements.

Spotify: Found Them First

Spotify’s Found Them First gave music fans a way to prove that they were really into certain bands and singers before they actually became famous, for the bragging rights.

Users’ listening data was used to show users all the artists they had discovered ahead of other Spotify listeners.

Within weeks of the launch in October 2014, the campaign had received more than a million visits and 100 million social media impressions, all without any media spend.

Data Visualization_Spotify_Found them first_600

Data tools

Data doesn’t actually need to be communicated to customers directly in most cases, but it’s important to get this across to internal stakeholders.

For such circumstances, there are several tools that can help you avoid the all-too-common walls of text with stock charts presentations, and substitute them with something a little more engaging and inspiring.

For example, if you are looking to beautify your charts, graphs, maps and timelines, check out the likes of RAW, Datawrapper, and Timeline JS.

Should you have a little more time on your hands, and you also know how to code, have a look at D3.js, which comes highly recommended by my own team’s creative technologist.

If you really want to up your data visualization game, you can take some inspiration from Hans Rosling, known for his unconventional ways of bringing subjects such as population growth and income equalities to life in a more tangible way.

2. Data-informed product design

Another space to watch is data-informed product design. Now I’m not talking here about your typical research-initiated product innovation cycle. I’m talking about an evolution of data visualization that quite literally and directly translates data into an actual product.

Here are three of my favorite projects within this space. I can’t wait to see more like this.

Flowing Data: Multivariate Beer

Nathan Yau from Flowingdata took U.S. demographics to brew four different types of beer.

For example, he mapped population density to the total amount of hops, and ethnicity to the type of hops used.

See Flowingdata’s website for a more detailed description of the process and other ways it transforms data.

Data Visualization_Flowingdata_05-Bottles_600

Tempescope

This was invented by Japanese software engineer Ken Kawamoto. It’s a device which displays either current weather conditions or forecasts them physically.

Meshu

This is a concept which takes important life locations such as cities or even specific street addresses, maps the paths between them, and finally transforms them into a piece of jewelry.

Data Visualization_meshu_600

The examples above demonstrate that there are no boundaries to data’s creativity, though a lot of it is still driven by artists, entrepreneurs and scientists. I hope that, in future, the marketing and advertising industry will recognise more strongly the beauty that lies within data and the compelling stories it can tell.

Storytelling is after all, a major part of our jobs.

We have moved far beyond the question of whether data enables or hinders creativity. The question nowadays is how can data itself become even more creative?

Have anything to add? Please let me know in the comments section below.

*Featured image: Spotify / Found Them First

Why your audiences are so important

Eaton's_War_Bonds_Rally_1943_Audience

No, it’s not a misspelling or a typo – I did say audiences, plural!

Why am I putting such an emphasis on that plural? Because most people fail too! People tell you to write for your audience; locate your audience; conduct keyword research for your target audience; create quality content to please your audience.

They don’t tell you that you have more than one audience!

And it’s true – almost every single one of you has more than one audience. I’m not talking about sub-groups or divisions of audience – but multiple audiences. These different audiences have completely different behaviours, intentions and reactions to your content.

Notice all those lovely informative posts that talk about your sales or conversion funnel? You realise that they are completely wrong – well, some of the time they are. That’s because of different audiences.

So what are the different audiences?

Well, that’s a secret. Oh, okay, I’ll tell you 😀

  • Consumers
  • Peers

That’s it – that’s your secret?

Well, yes. But there’s far more to it than that (else I wouldn’t be banging on about it). These two groups have completely different sets of wants and needs. They have different expectations of you, your company and your content. They should influence your decisions, your targeting and your content creation in different ways.

Consumers

This is the main audience people refer to. Typically, we define consumer audiences by several methods:

  • Specific – an actual item/service, such as they read The Times, or use a Dyson vacuum.
  • General – a class/type of product or service, such as they read broadsheets or use upright vacuums.
  • Classes – earnings, gender, ages, location etc., such as >30K, white collar, B1, 25-30, males in Las Vegas.

But there are other methods, or more accurately, other labels and classes that may be more useful;

  • Repeat consumer
  • Previous consumer
  • Current consumer
  • Potential consumer

Now, if you’ve been paying any attention to those funnel pieces, those should look vaguely familiar. You should have also noted that many of the funnel pieces fail to cover repeat consumers, despite them being highly important to your business.

Each of those groups has different needs, and would require different content. Just as important, they will react differently to your content and your company.

In most industries, it’s easier to sell to previous and current consumers. It’s also easier to get recommendations (reviews, ratings, testimonials) from repeat, current and previous consumers (generally in that order). It’s also easier to engage with those groups.

The content needs of each group are different. Those funnel pieces you’ve been reading generally cover this – each stage of the funnel covers different types of content, such as:

  • Raising/increasing awareness (branded marketing/advertising)
  • General information (types of products/services, benefits/features, USP/VP)
  • Specific/comparative information (individual products, services, guides etc.)
  • After-sales/user information (guides, complementary material etc.)

Consider offers. You can have introductory offers – those target potential consumers and help raise awareness and interest. Or you can run with rewards – those target current, previous, repeat consumers.

Yes, yes, most of this is common sense and well known, but how often are you actually using this information when looking at your objectives and content?

Think about it – one of the main reasons you produce content is to improve your SEO – to get links.

Which of those groups are going to give you links? How many links are you likely to get from them? What sort of value are those links going to be? Right – and that’s where understanding that you have the other audience comes in!

Peers

I use the term ‘peers’ instead of ‘industry’ as it’s broader, and gives us a little more wiggle room and flexibility. Peers include not only those in your industry, but in sibling and related industries. It also covers enthusiasts and hobbyists (I would have defined that as a separate group, but that would have made it much messier :D). Depending on your goals, you could also include groups like investors, shareholders or the media.

Categorising peers is every bit as important as defining consumers. Each group and type of peer has different goals and different reactions. That means you need different content and can use them for your own objectives.

One way to break peers down is by level:

  • Layperson
  • Amateur
  • Professional
  • Expert

Now, it’s important to note that this type of grouping generates a pyramid. That pyramid not only shows the general difference in quantity of each group, but the flow of influence and the increase in difficulty to obtain a desired reaction.

DCF 1.0

Another way of looking at peers is by role. Far too often people focus on their niche, their industry, or what they provide. They often forget that they do different things, such as using software, run accounts or are themselves consumers (as people and as businesses). This opens up more content topics and more marketing potential. Look at some examples:

  • Executive – those that in positions to make decisions and hold a large amount of influence.
  • Technician – those that utilise hardware/software to perform tasks that require knowledge and/or skill.
  • Sales – those that have direct contact with consumers, either inbound or outbound.
  • Services – those that perform company functions, such as accounts.
  • Care – those that run the contact points, after sales and complaints.
  • Labour – those that perform manual labour or use tools and equipment that requires only moderate knowledge or skill

There are many other way labels or tiers you could use, but that should give you the gist of things.

Looking at the peer audience this way shows you that you could generate content of a completely different nature, such as cheat-sheets for software, macros for spreadsheets, templates for word processors, sources of alternative software, operating tips, safety advice etc.

What’s important here is to understand the differences between consumers and peers. The chances of ‘converting’ a peer in the traditional sense are slim. Very few decorators are going to hire the decorator whose article they are reading. Few Advertisers will contract with another advertiser. Instead, peers serve an entirely different set of goals.

It’s peers that will give you the greatest chance of links. Peers will provide authority. Depending on your industry, content and marketing, it’s peers that will give you the most social shares.

Now, jumping back to the peer pyramid, let’s look at the difficulty of obtaining a desired reaction. This is an important bit, and one that many never mention!

Getting links from thought leaders, influencers and experts is damned hard. But getting links from amateurs is easier. Getting links from laypeople is even easier. Chances are you won’t get high value links, but you will get more links. These people are easier to please, easier to impress and are far more willing to promote your content and further your marketing efforts.

Peer consumers

For some of you, this group might not even exist. These are the people that are in your industry, or a related one – and may buy your products or pay for your services. That means this small and rare group may well serve most, if not all, of your objectives.

How nice would it be to not only make money off them, but also get them giving your reviews and sharing your content?

So, who has peer consumers? Well, those that sell products to do with their services (such as artists selling materials and mediums), and those with tools that pertain to the audiences services (such as templates for web designers or plugins for content management platforms).

As you can see, it’s kind of a sweet spot, and I’m sure, without too much effort, you can think of several well-known examples in our own fields 😀

How audience types can influence things

The above is a little general. The reason is that there is so much variance, based on your industry and objectives, or those of your clients. The idea of the piece is to help you realise the amount of influence that knowing your audiences should have on your content and marketing plans.

Remember, you should be defining goals and objectives, then creating content to achieve those goals and objectives.

The key part is what happens in-between those two things, your research, which should include researching and defining your audience and target terms. That would include understanding the types of queries they will make, and what the intention of those queries are.

Five ways to improve the retail customer journey online and in store

price comparison

The Digital High Street 2020 Report calculates that more than £150bn of retail sales are now influenced by digital.

The report further suggests that retailers whose services don’t meet customers’ expectations could lose more than £12bn a year.

The Digital High Street Advisory Board announced in March 2015 a five-year strategy that sets out ambitions to connect town centres to mobile, broadband and wi-fi, while also improving digital skills, by 2020.

But internet connectivity and technology are only part of the picture.

The real power of digital is about mindset. About being more customer-centric. If you want convincing that a retail business needs digital transformation, then look at your customers’ behaviour.

In our brand new ClickZ Intelligence Report, The Future of Customer Journey, Martin Talks looks at how digital technology and neuroscience can be used to create more people-centric organisations, based on their own customers’ behaviour and that the journey is no longer a linear route.

The entire 45 page report is available to download by signing up to ClickZ Intelligence here. In the meantime however, let’s take a look at some of the implications of a digitally transformed retail industry, along with Martin’s recommendations.

Recognising that the customer is in control

Digital is inherent to the customer journey. It’s rare that at some point between research and purchase, part of the journey isn’t touched by connected technology.

This means that a customer can alter the direction of their journey with the touch of a button. They can’t be funnelled into a retailer’s preferred channels in quite the same way they were before.

Look at the rise of ‘showrooming’, where a customer enters a shop for research and perhaps to get some guidance from shop assistants, but then goes and buys the same product online.

How should retailers respond? By recognising that showrooming will happen as customers can do as they please and offering them a better service.

You can do this by price-matching, using staff members with connected tablets, price comparison kiosks or mobile apps with which customers can scan any product and check a competitors’ price.

Moving on from the 4 Ps to the 4 Cs

The 4 Ps has dominated marketing thinking for some time: price, product, promotion, and place. But this thinking is linked too much with seeing customers as targets that need to be promoted at.

You should instead think in terms of the 4Cs: creating, curating, connecting and culture.

Your customers should also be included in your digitally-aligned thinking, as should your suppliers and business partners.

Systems thinking

‘Systems thinking’ is the process of understanding how every element influences one another within a complete entity, or larger system.

Systems thinking is needed to create and execute marketing in an integrated fashion, and for the organisation to deliver joined-up experiences.

This requires breaking down organisational silos that may for example prevent offline marketers knowing what online marketers are doing, or the in-store employees knowing what the ecommerce team are doing.

An example of joined-up thinking, is the ability not just to find a store on a mobile device, but to check stock availability from the mobile and locate the nearest store that has real-time stock availability.

systems thinking

Personalisation

Every journey is individual, so personalisation is essential. Understanding that a person may have transacted online should be recognized by an assistant in store.

This can be achieved in a number of ways. Facial recognition of customers based on the sort of technology used in airports for security scanning is possible. Indeed, around 30% of retailers use facial recognition technology to track customers in-store, according to research by software firm CSC.

Technologies that pair with smartphones are also being used. Macy’s deployed beacons in nearly 800 stores throughout the US in order to track customer movements within store to allow recommendations and discounts.

Seamless service

Offering a consistent brand experience across channels is crucial for developing trust. This needs to extend to the service experience too.

This could include a ‘reserve in store’ option, such as Argos offers, and a postcode lookup tool which checks stock levels in local stores.

postcode tracker

Cross-channel discounts also reinforce a consistent experience. This includes the ability to make discount offers available online and mobile to be redeemed in store and in store offers to be redeemed online via such techniques as bar-codes or QR codes which are scanned.

For much more detail, download our brand new ClickZ Intelligence Report, The Future of Customer Journey.

Why technical seo is so much more than just ‘make-up’

site migration finance

Technical SEO is vitally important it is for your website, and provides the foundations for an effective search strategy.

I was prompted to write this article having read a post on the subject this week, written by Clayburn Griffin.

The author of that article doesn’t seem to value technical SEO so much. He says that “Technical SEO is easy, breezy, beautiful, but it’s no game-changer.” For me, this falls a long way from explaining what technical SEO actually is, and how important it is for your website.

In my role I will help clients with a huge range of SEO issues, and a large majority of those technical in nature. These can range from an erroneous implementation of hreflang or JSON-LD to helping a client target territories with no ISO country code – where GEO IP would only get you ~60% accuracy and browser location isn’t an option.

As an SEO who specialises in technical SEO, for me it is more of a process than a set of “esoteric skills” – although those skills do come in handy – it is about working with the clients needs, the developers needs and coming up with creative solutions for SEO, as it is not always possible to implement best practices.

The world without tech SEO

At the core, the assertion of the post is: Technical SEO can tart your site up for search engines, but won’t bring in the money.

And it is this assertion that I would like to challenge most vehemently, taking four examples from the technical SEO world.

1. Botched migration

We’ve all been there. A client is going through a migration but doesn’t want to shell out for a full service, saying “Our development team has done loads of these.” Only to watch from the side-lines as some fairly basic errors cost them all of their visibility, and only then to be asked for your help to fix it.

There is so much technically that can go wrong in a migration;

  • No 301 mapping
  • .htaccess rules not written correctly/efficiently
  • Staging environment gets indexed
  • Staging robots.txt or meta robots data brought over to live
  • Different versions of PHP/Apache/jQuery between environments

I could go on, but the point is without technical SEO any one of these numerous issues could kill your site dead, overnight.

2. Faceted search

This is a common technical SEO problem for anyone working with ecommerce. How to deal with your faceted navigation.

  • Are you creating duplicate content?
  • Should you use canonicals or noindex in robots.txt?
  • If so, where and which ones?
  • Which faceted navs can be indexed and which should not?
  • Rel prev/next on pagination or canonicals?
  • Add more facets or remove?
  • How should url re-writing be handled?
  • How many products per page?
  • Do your facets mirror your IA?

These are just some of the questions that come up for just this aspect of the site, and there is no definitive correct answer to them all; you can’t just check Google’s guidelines.

The answers to these questions change with every site, its needs and its current visibility.

3. Hreflang implementation

Here’s one for anyone who has gone international. Hreflang is not the simplest thing to implement and is often done incorrectly. People forget to self-reference, use the wrong codes, use incomplete codes, miss just one territory from their list, don’t include all versions of the page or simply forget to regularly audit their implementation.

Any one of those mistakes can break the entire implementation and leave you with duplicating content and rapidly falling rankings.

4. Optimising page load

This is perhaps one of the most all-encompassing technical issues an SEO can deal with. It is also one of the most frequently overlooked and poorly addressed; due in part to the wide range of skills required to fully address it, but also due to the cost of a lot of the solutions.

I always find this surprising as an old study from Amazon.com found that for every 100ms they improved page load their conversion rate increased by 1%!! It doesn’t take a genius to work out that’s a whole load of extra PlayStations getting sold at Christmas.

Page load speed can be effected from simple things like large image sizes, too many HTTP requests and multiple DNS lookups all the way to poorly configured servers, inefficient or badly curated code.

Truly improving page load speed could, and has, required completely rebuilding a website. Re-platforming, migrating subdomains and servers. And at every step of the way there are serious technical SEO considerations that must be made.

What is technical SEO?

Technical SEO, for me, is the science of search. It is bringing together what you know and testing it. Google won’t always tell you the truth about what works best, and may not necessarily know themselves.

You have to pore through technical specifications, stack exchange and webmaster central as well as conducting your own experiments and testing what you know.

More practically it is not just about going through the same tired checklist of robots.txt, 301 redirects and pipes vs hyphens, but about working with all other elements of a broader SEO strategy and with the client’s development, marketing, senior management and web teams to present the best possible version of their site to the world.

I do agree with some points in the article though. For one, there are plenty of people and agencies who say they can understand technical SEO and can help you with it, only to come unstuck when someone asks them the best solution for becoming mobile friendly.

And this does no favours for those of us still trying desperately to get away from the image of snake-oil salesmen and spammy, shoddy tactics.

However, without technical SEO your site will not rank for your keywords on Google. I agree that it should always be part of a broader SEO strategy encompassing content and offsite optimisation. It’s far more than mere make-up.

Image credit: PI Datametrics