Friday, August 28, 2009

Single 'Tweet' Gets Company Worldwide Media Coverage

As an internet marketer with a strong background in traditional public relations I’m constantly asked about the value of social media when it comes to generating news coverage – and leads – for companies. A recent post on Fast Company’s Brand U blog provides a powerful example of how just one tweet can unleash a flood of media coverage.

The post, From obscurity to Twittereity in one little tweet, summarizes how a tweet by San Antonio-based Pear Analytics helped the company generate worldwide media coverage:

Around 10 a.m. CDT on Aug. 12, Ryan Kelly, the founder and CEO of market insights and analysis firm Pear Analytics of San Antonio, posted the following on Twitter: "The Twitter Study we mentioned at #bmprsa is now available: interesting results..." BMPRSA is a San Antonio PR and social media group that Kelly had addressed a few weeks before, mentioning the upcoming study.

Almost immediately after he posted the tweet, a friend from sales and marketing company Sales by 5 sent him a Twitter direct message: "Please let me know when you release it, and I'll send it to Mashable."

By 5 p.m. that day, Pear's study was featured on the front page of Mashable, one of the largest blogs discussing social media and technology. By 6 p.m., the study was the top two trending topics on Twitter. Later that evening, Kelly was interviewed by Robert Scoble, formerly of Fast Company and now an evangelist for Rackspace. And from there it went viral.

Do a Google search on Pear Analytics today, and you'll see some 500 articles from everyone from the BBC to CNET to to outlets worldwide writing about its study. It's the sort of publicity a company would pay a big chunk of change to get.

Perhaps the best part of the entire story is the fact the study in question reported that 40 per cent of Twitter messages are what Pear Analytics called “pointless babble”.

Ironically Kelly’s tweet certainly wasn’t babble and garnered widespread exposure on the Internet and mainstream media for his company.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Managing CPC Campaigns on a Cost per Lead Basis

As a PPC agency, we get to review a lot of PPC campaigns that are run either in-house or through another agency for the purpose of helping prospective clients determine if we can achieve better results.

Since we tend to do more business in the B2B space, it’s surprising to me that many of the campaigns we review seem to be focused on getting as many visitors as possible for the allotted PPC marketing budget. The bids are low and the keywords are loosely and broadly targeted, resulting in the showing of ads to a large number of untargeted visitors, and generating low cost and low value visitors.

Generally, we’re seeing a focus on more traditional web analytics metrics that can be good for measuring visitor engagement, but are not the most appropriate for a lead generation campaign. The focus on these metrics is causing a part of the problems we see:

Avoid Too Much Focus on ‘Soft’ Engagement Metrics
There are certain metrics we call ‘soft’ metrics because they don’t correlate directly or even indirectly to sales ready leads generated. These include:

• Total number of visits
• Cost per visit
• Bounce rate
• CTR (click through rate)
• Time on site
• Number of pages viewed
• Conversions

It’s not hard to understand why this is the case. First, these are the metrics that are immediately available within in Google AdWords and Google Analytics (or any other PPC or web analytics platform), with minimal configuration. Secondly, and more concerning, is that they can easily and ostensibly appear to show ‘value’; an increased number of visits, and apparent ‘prospect engagement’.

These metrics aren’t totally useless, but viewed in isolation they can be dangerous and can lead to erroneous assumptions regarding campaign success. Just because a campaign demonstrates increases in site traffic and page views, which will very likely happen as a function of the paid search program, does not mean that it’s been successful. Focusing on these soft metrics can lead clients into believing that a poorly run campaign is actually driving business results. Yet other measures, which may be being overlooked (e.g. conversions and leads) may not be increasing at the same rate, which would paint an entirely different picture of the campaign.

For most B2B companies, paid search campaigns are run with the intent to generate leads. As such this type of campaign needs to be approached and run quite differently from one that’s intended to generate more site visitors and more page views (e.g. for a B2C portal that’s business model is based on selling advertising).

Managing PPC Campaigns through Cost per Lead and Opportunity
We strongly believe that PPC marketing campaigns that are intended for lead generation should be laser focused on cost per prospect, lead, opportunity and sale over any other metric. These metrics are the only true measures of value for a campaign that is focused on lead generation. Implementing tracking systems for accurate measures of these metrics is not necessarily easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

Creating targets for the cost per opportunity and sale and focusing on developing a laser targeted campaign that attracts exactly the right visitors (who are most likely to convert to a lead or sale) is a much more effective strategy for a B2B campaign. A monthly budget limit can still be used, but the number of leads generated will be typically greatly increased compared to the previous campaign. And if the organization has no problems related to inventory or fulfillment of the business (a surprisingly common problem) – it may well be determined that the budget should be increased based on success to scale as far as the search volume allows to deliver even more leads to the sales force.

Use of Industry Averages and Benchmarks
Developing targets and comparing against industry benchmarks for ‘soft’ metrics can be useful, but should be considered no more than a secondary goal to achieve.

In general, it’s better to look at industry average conversion rates, cost per prospect, cost per lead, cost per opportunity and cost per sale. But even then, industry averages can lead you astray because cost per click varies widely per keyword, and other cost measurements are affected greatly by the persuasion and nurture components of the campaign. So while comparisons to industry averages can help to some extent with goal setting, this should not be the only measure used.

Doing Your Marketing Math
It can be quite difficult to set up accurate tracking mechanisms to measure the cost of sales down to the campaign and keyword level, particularly in B2B markets with high value sales. Some of the problems include sales being closed offline, leads being delivered to partners or through a channel, multiple people in the purchasing decision, or even internal resistance to measurement where it’s perceived as a threat.

It’s absolutely possible to implement better tracking, however, and it will probably have to be done eventually. It might take some significant changes to the way the business operates, but that’s to be expected and should actually be embraced given the changes that the Internet is bringing to businesses in all industries.

Conversion Rates
Our experience suggests that it should be the target of a lead generation campaign to achieve conversion rates in the double digits over time, with a short term target of at least 3-5%. Considering the amount spent on Media over time – its well worth it to measure, test, and attempt to improve your conversion rate by campaign and traffic source. This is typically accomplished through the development of a large set up landing pages designed to provide perfect context for every visitor to the site, optimized conversion paths, and triggered nurture campaigns.

Every extra little bit of improved performance you can squeeze out of a campaign results in a higher ROI, and will allow you to pay more than your competitor for the traffic while remaining profitable.

Cost per Prospect and Lead
Multiplying your conversion rate by your estimated avg. CPC (cost per click) will give you your cost per prospect. You should probably aim to convert 15 - 50% of those prospects to sales ready leads through the second step form(s) and triggered nurture campaigns.

Calculating this, first as an estimate, then tweaked as necessary to create goals, and then measured with actual results will give you your estimated, target, and actual cost per lead.

Don’t just rely on Google data
It’s important to note that a ‘conversion’ as reported by Google Adwords, or a ‘completed goal’ as reported by Google Analytics is NOT the same as a prospect or a lead from a sales and marketing perspective. It’s very easy for these numbers to be distorted through multiple form submissions by the same person, test submissions by employees and developers, ‘fake’ or ‘invalid’ submissions by prospects trying to ‘beat the system’, or non-sales related inquires. Only through analyzing, filtering and reporting on actual prospects in the database is it possible to determine the actual cost per prospect.

What’s required to do this is a combination of the appropriate technology and correct campaign tagging that will accurately capture all contact source information including the website, campaign, keyword, and medium (CPC, Organic, etc.) that brought the contacts.

SELF-PROMOTIONAL SIDENOTE: We’ve been developing and refining this technology in our online marketing platform for a number of years. It’s easy, and perhaps natural, for an ambitious IT department to want to develop the technology in house, or have concerns about using 3rd party systems to track their own data, but I think it’s rare for this to be a cost effective approach since the technology can be ‘rented’ for a fraction of the cost of developing even a basic system from scratch. Data concerns can easily be mitigated, and you get the even more value from a platform is under constant development

Cost per Opportunity and Sale
Qualified opportunities and sales should be tracked by the sales team and reported back to the agency or PPC marketer through a CRM system integration (or using simple Excel files) so they can close the loop and determine the real cost per opportunity and sale. This provides the ultimate ROI for the paid search campaign, allowing clients to make informed decisions on which parts of the program should be expanded, and which parts should be discontinued.

It’s important to note that opportunities – even those lost – should usually be considered of good value to continue acquiring. It’s often the case that even though you may not have won the business that the opportunity was worth having. (Perhaps the sale was mishandled, etc.)
Predicting Campaign Performance

Typically, if we can analyze keywords, conversions, impression share and other metrics from an existing account we can project a number leads and sales that, if achieved, would more than justify the expense of implementing our technology, improving and continuing of ongoing management of a campaign.

The projected cost per lead and cost per sale usually compares extremely favorably against other methods of lead generation. What’s needed for comparison is the current cost per lead and sale from their other marketing programs. If that isn’t readily available, a simple estimation can be created by dividing last year’s marketing budget by number of leads generated.

It’s our goal to change the paradigm of measuring marketing effectiveness across all channels for all of our clients. We believe it’s a gamble worth taking because B2B industry reports unvarying report search marketing to deliver a lower cost per lead than any other channel.

Improving Exposure to the Most Targeted Visitors
A little known, but highly valuable, report in Google Analytics is impression share. This report reveals the percentage of time your ad appeared in the search results based on the total number of times it could have appeared if you weren’t out-bid for first page position, or didn’t run out of budget.

When we run impression share reports on many accounts it’s not unusual to see very low numbers.

This is a result of targeting keywords that are far too broad and limiting ad serving based on budget, and/or impression loss due to low position based low cost per click (bid).

Essentially, in these cases the campaign manager is abrogating responsibility to Google’s servers to randomly determine which visitors to show the ads. We believe it’s far more responsible to run a much narrower campaign focusing on the very specific keywords that have been proven to bring the right visitors and then managing the bidding and budgets to be in the results nearly every time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Demand Metrics: There's more to it than that

In early April I began my internship at Agito for the final leg of my Corporate Communications and Public Relations post-grad program at Centennial College. I’ve been assisting Barry with public relations efforts and content writing for Agito clients. In that time my work has varied from writing online news releases, website content and primers for Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Online News Releases.

During my time here, I’ve read a lot about SEM as it relates to online lead generation for business-to-business (B2B). One example would be Demand Creation: Five Metrics That Matter, a Sirius Decisions research brief. (An overview can be found on the Canadian Marketing Association blog.) I’ve found through speaking with Keith, that Sirius’ metrics for converting a sale are pretty similar to how Agito measures its lead generation.

In the paper, Sirius splits the process into a simple “Demand Metrics Waterfall”. The graphic looks very simple and straightforward, and in my conversations with Keith about it, he said he found it quite accurate, though with one caveat. Agito goes deeper by breaking down Inquiries into two parts – conversions and prospects.

Here are the five metrics Sirius believes are most important to a company:

Keith made it clear to me that Agito pays special attention to how conversions are measured. Many pay-per-click (PPC) management companies only measure conversions. It’s important for clients to know that while x amount of conversions are coming in, the true number should be broken down even further.

The chart below shows how Agito varies from Sirius:

To start, Conversions are not the same as a prospect, lead or inquiry. They’re simply the submission of a form (ex. contacts, tests and queries, regardless if they’re valid or not) and they’re measured with Google Adwords and Analytics.

For example, the conversion metric on its own can be broken down into three categories.

Invalid Submission
An example of an invalid submission would be “tire kickers” or people who submit with fake e-mail addresses (i.e.

Breaking down a non-prospect:

  • Test/Information – Web designers or developers of the website could be filling out forms for Quality Assurance (QA).
  • Non-sales related – Someone fills out the ‘contact us’ form to get in touch with an employee, ask about the company’s stock prices, etc.
A prospect has these three qualities:

  • Not necessarily sales related – Someone who downloads a whitepaper or views a webinar. If that person only leaves their e-mail address, the only way to know if it was a lead or not would be to nurture it.
  • Valid contact – Someone who enters a valid name, e-mail and phone number into a form.
  • Not a test or internal – The corresponding e-mail is from an outside source and is deemed to not be spam.
Determining which prospects are worth confirming is done by taking the data collected from Google, and using the Bettermail lead source tracking functionality to break it down further. Here, it’s determined if it’s a valid contact, a non-test or internal and if its sales related. Confirming a prospect as a legitimate sale opportunity means going through the sorted data and determining if that prospect is satisfactory enough to be passed on to Sales.

The next step in Agito’s metric list is Lead. In this step there is a method used to see if a client is on the right path to completing a sale.

Keith believes using the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Time frame) method helps determine which prospects are ‘hot’ and how to respond effectively. Leads are highly dependent on the potential client meeting the criteria asked in the BANT questions. For example, do they have…

… a pre-defined Budget to solve her problem?
… the necessary Authority to make the decision?
… the Need for the product or solution?
… a specific Time frame to make a decision?

The next step – opportunity – requires having the BANT questions answered satisfactorily for the sale to be forecast.

Finally, if your company offers the best product or solution, and all the metrics have been met, there’s no reason why the sale shouldn’t be finalized.

I’ve found both viewpoints to be pretty useful to making a sale. I like Keith’s additions because it explicitly shows the details of what’s behind two important steps. That being said however, the “Demand Metrics Waterfall” Sirius Decisions has come up with is a great overview for the most important metrics a company should follow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Trending on Twitter: Splash Landings and Fear of Flying

The miraculous “splash” landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15th provided further proof of the incredible power of Twitter and its relevance for not only delivering news as it happens, but also connecting people during moments of high drama. Fortunately it was all good news this time, unlike Mumbai where on-the-spot tweeters kept us holding our breath as the attacks unfolded.

Flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River during my Intro to Media Relations class and Centennial College – and coincidentally while we discussed the influence the Internet and social media tools are having on traditional PR and marketing. The conversation included Twitter, and we logged on without knowing about the drama unfolding in New York. I sent a message inviting my Twitter followers to say hi to my PR students. Almost immediately, I got this tweet:

Hi @TORONTO_PR_GUY 'S class :) Show them the power of Twitter - plane crash 1 hr ago - pictures up right away -

The link provoked a gasp from my class – click it and you’ll see why. I couldn’t have asked for a better real-time demonstration of Twitter at work.

The “Miracle on the Hudson” as captured on Twitter had another unintended lesson – illustrating how Adwords work. The program is set up to match keywords being searched with related advertising which can be dropped into a particular page. Searching the word “Hudson” on Twitscoop showed the class all of the tweets being sent in real time referring to the plane crash. Prominently displayed with the search results, however, was this:

Terrified of Turbulence? Sleep Like a Baby Your Next Flight – Guaranteed Cure! and Dr. Singha’s Travel Tonic: An amazing all natural remedy for nausea, travel anxiety and much more.

It made me feel a little queasy – and showed us that sometimes adwords do collide inadvertently. Who wants to see fear of flying ads while reading about a plane crash? Or was that the strategy? It got us thinking here at Agito about what selection of key words produced the ads, and whether it was intentional or one of those things that happen when various search terms come together. What do you think? Did the ads appear by chance or design? Ever had a similar incident where keywords you bought had you showing up where you least expected or wanted?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Talk is Measurable

Last night Keith and I attended Centennial College’s Talk is Cheap 2.0 – an unconference on Social Media and PR (full disclosure – I teach at Centennial and helped organize the event). It brought together more 150 marketing and communications professionals, students and people just interested in social media for a series of thought-provoking participant-led sessions that covered the gamut from the corporate blogging policies, new technologies and how to use social media in a crisis.

Two thoughts really stood out for me this morning when I thought about the event and how it relates to what we do every day at Agito and the interrelationship between online marketing, social media and PR. One came from a discussion during the live taping of the weekly podcast, Inside PR, where David Jones from Hill & Knowlton pointed out that the lines between “earned media” and “social media” are being increasingly erased when it comes to RFPs. It’s the same when it comes to online marketing – years ago I think we called it “integrated” marketing – the point being that clients are looking for marketing partners that understand the “big picture” particularly when it comes to their online activities. And given that the results of traditional media relations programs, like newspaper or TV coverage, now find a way online, either on media websites, or picked up in blogs or sharing tools like Facebook, one has to look at how marketing efforts all work to influence each other. That includes integrating search marketing to make sure you are not only capturing the conversations that the marketing efforts are generating, but leveraging them to your advantage.

That leads to my other thought. There was a lot of talk last night about measurement and whether social media and digital marketing will be the first to be jettisoned during the economic slowdown because it’s hard to show any return on investment. I’d argue that done right, it’s not only possible, but also imperative, to show just how online marketing, including the effective use of social media, can prove its worth in spades. It all leads back to the ability to measure everything you’re doing online, and track it back to the source. At Agito, we won’t do it if we can’t measure it; and while it’s not always as black and white as tracking a pay-per-click campaign, we’re using the best analytics tools available (free, commercial, and home grown) to measure and correctly attribute site traffic and lead generation against everything happening in online media, the blogosphere, social networking spaces and beyond. On the Internet there’s a way to measure practically everything.

A shout out to everyone who attended Talk is Cheap - and to my colleague Christine Smith and the outstanding CC&PR Class of 2009 who did such a fabulous job pulling it all together.

Monday, October 20, 2008

So Google can NOW Index Flash? Really....

Every so often I hear that Google can now index flash files, sometimes presented as if it's a great gift to the world, and we can all now finally shed the archaic HTML system and build a beautiful new flashy Internet that we'll all be better off for.

This time it's started again with some big official announcements back in July:

And there's a lot of discussion about it again, mainly around the same topics that have came up before.

So is it real this time?
Yes it’s real, but there is still a big difference between being indexed, and being found on the first page of results.

Even now that Google can now index flash files, it is still is and will always be difficult for Google to understand the hierarchy of information in the flash file, so don’t think flash is going to be at the top of the search results any time soon.

Here are a few examples of the problems with flash, even now that Google can index the content:

  1. What constitutes a page in a flash file? A flash file appears as a single page, and there is no way for Google to externally reference a specific section of the flash. Google likes to send visitors to the most appropriate page that matches their search, and visitors like going to the most relevant content. But you can only send someone to the home page of a flash file. This is not in Google’s interests, the site owners interest, or the visitors interest, so this factor alone makes it very unlikely flash files are going to start competing for top rankings.
  2. Where are the titles, headlines, subheadlines and most important content? Since flash designers aren’t constrained to any of the HTML standards of defining title tags and headline tags, they may all do it differently, making the context and importance of content difficult to determine.
  3. Images: Many flash files make extensive use of images and video. Google is still unable to parse words from images, so if your navigation or content uses images, it will not be indexed.
  4. Meta data: There are standards for defining information about the information in HTML (meta tags, robots.txt files, no-index, no-follow commands, XML sitemaps) that help Google understand the information on a site. None of these exist in flash.
These are a few of the reasons why it will always be difficult to optimize, and get good search engine rankings, with 100% flash websites. Add to this the problem that it’s too easy for Flash designers to make non-standard navigational schemas and therefore make the site difficult to navigate, it still makes no sense to me why anyone would make a 100% flash website (except in cases where the site is intended to provide a unique “experience” and search engine visibility is completely unimportant).

This does not mean that you shouldn’t use flash. A marketer can still take advantage of all the benefits of flash by chopping it into elements that can be included in an HTML layout. It can still even appear as if it was 100% flash. The difference is that the site would be structured in a standard way that can provide context to the content, and the content would remain in a form that can be externally referenced (you can send someone to a specific page). It’s important when building a site like this that an SEO professional is consulted on how the content is built in Flash to maximize visibility.

It turns out I wrote a post about the difficulty of indexing flash and ranking in the search results with a flash site back in 2006. I wonder if I'll write about it again in 2010? My guess is yes.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the "Plumbers" Win the Google Lottery

Move over Joe Sixpack, meet Joe the Plumber. Joe was mentioned 25 times during last night’s Presidential Debate, primarily by John McCain in a last desperate attempt to get something to stick to Obama. Joe has become an overnight star: The Guardian reports everyone on Facebook wants to be his friend; people are “tweeting” about him like crazy; he’s rocketing to number one on YouTube.

Anybody need a plumber?

It occurred to me to check where Joe is on Google this morning. No surprise, he had already made it to the top on Google Canada, right behind the guy who might just be the luckiest plumber in Canada this morning: Whitby’s Joe the Plumber. In fact, across the world there are more than a few ordinary Joes that might have a right to feel like they’ve won the lottery. I’m talking about Joe Lara (, Joe from Seattle ( and the grand prize winner, Joe from Amarillo – They should probably all invest in larger servers – and hire a few more plumbers. After all, from now on, what’s the key phrase that will come to mind next time anyone needs a plumber?

And while these average Joes may get pushed aside by the Joe the Plumber on Google for a little while, it won’t be long before his 15 minutes of fame is down the drain. Unless he wants to pay a plumber in Amarillo a sink full of cash for The only downside for Amarillo Joe? There goes his tax cut.