Author: Guest Author

Top 7 Video Advertising Trends of 2019

Video marketing dominated last year and there is no reason to think that will change in 2019. As we close in on the next decade, roughly 86% of marketers are using video content to advertise, educate, and entertain. New formats and a rise in consumption continue to bolster video as an increasingly effective, engaging medium. It’s a train your business can’t afford to miss.

Here are the top seven video advertising trends you can expect to see more of in the new year.

1. Shorter video ads

Today’s abundance of video content creates an endless amount of competition for advertisers. Customers with the ability to watch virtually anything will only watch an ad if it is relevant, attention grabbing, and valuable. As a result, the amount of time people spend watching ads has declined across nearly every medium. Similar trends are leading brands to test short video ads that aim to beat the skip button and serve short attention spans.

Short bumper ads present a creative challenge for marketers who must tell a brand story in under 15 seconds. The format calls for impactful content that can induce an immediate emotional response from a viewer. Below are two examples of prominent brands using humor, shock, and action to create compelling short and effective pre-roll ads.

Hefty Brands

Mom’s Touch

Concise video ads like these have started to become a staple in video-focused marketing. According to a study by Google, 90% of bumper ad campaigns boosted global ad recall by an average of 30%. It’s a safe prediction that more brands will jump on the trend this year.

2. OTT advertising

Over the top (OTT) is a term used to describe content providers that distribute streaming media over the internet. These services are disrupting traditional broadcast television and have led a new generation of consumers to “cut the cord” with satellite and cable services.

There are three video on demand models currently dominating the OTT industry:

  • Subscription VOD: Netflix, Hulu, HBOGo
  • Transactional VOD: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play
  • Ad-supported VOD: YouTube, Twitch, Vimeo

Marketing through these platforms offers benefits similar to those gained from conventional online advertising. Unlike traditional commercials, OTT allows marketers to utilize targeting, ad insertion, and advanced analytics to create shorter more personalized ads. This enables brands to run full screen ads catered to the viewing habits of an entire household. Viewers watching these ads from an OTT streaming device can’t skip or install an ad blocker. As a result, video completion rates are significantly higher for OTT advertising than in-browser video ads.

The number of places to advertise through OTT is growing exponentially. Future iterations might combine data from other devices in the household to create even more effective targeting. Not only would this technology maximize the potential of ad campaigns, but it would also ensure viewers are seeing ads that actually match their interests. In the years to come, OTT could rise to be one of the most lucrative channels available to modern advertisers.

3. Mobile-first advertising

Smartphones have become ubiquitous. In 2018, mobile devices accounted for over 52% of all worldwide online traffic, and all video marketing stats show continued growth. Marketers are well aware that consumers now rely on their phones for news, shopping, and a significant portion their entertainment. As a result, forward-thinking brands have worked to make their websites, advertisements, and even services mobile-friendly. Creating this intuitive user experience is critical during a time when nearly half of all online transactions are done on smartphones.

In addition to changing the way we consume, mobile phones have also started to influence the way we create video content. The majority of videos recorded on mobile devices today are being shot in an upright format known as vertical video. It’s a trend that has led many brands to create vertical advertisements intended for platforms such as Instagram Stories, Snapchat, and even Facebook. Using this vertical format enables marketers to get engaging content in front of modern customers and minimize on-screen distractions.

Vertical stories are reportedly on track to surpass Facebook and Instagram news feeds in terms of user engagement. Additionally, the advent of shoppable Instagram stories and vertical video platform IGTV have created a practical motivation to create in this format. We can expect the use of mobile-first content to continue its spread well into and after 2019. 

4. Cinemagraphs

Cinemagraphs are a new form of digital art gaining popularity online. These photo and video hybrids contain a subtle motion that plays in a seamless loop while the rest of the image remains still. It’s a visually interesting effect that creates the illusion you are watching an animation. Whether the subject is waves crashing against a shore or the flicker of a candle, the end result is an alluring image that captures the viewer’s attention.

Cinemagraphs are made using high-end cameras and a post-production tool to composite a series of photos or video recordings. The first to use this technique (or popularize it) were New York based photographers Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck. It was originally intended to bring life to their fashion week photos but ultimately sparked the curiosity of the web. It wasn’t long before advertisers started using Cinemagraphs for marketing campaigns.

Cinemagraphs garner more interest than photos without the involved process of video. It calls for a bit of imagination, but it’s another way advertisers will tell their stories in 2019.

5. User-generated content

Even in the digital age, word-of-mouth marketing remains a valuable asset to brands. In a recent survey, 76% of consumers said they trust content shared by “average” people more than by brands. This underlines the importance of leveraging user-generated content, or UGC, to build trust with your audience. UGC can be defined as pictures, videos, reviews, social media posts, or any relevant content created by unpaid “fans” of your brand. Not only is UGC more budget-conscious than other forms of marketing, but it has also been shown to generate 7X higher engagement than standard brand generated content.

What makes UGC most appealing is the authenticity it presents to an audience. Today’s customers are no longer impressed with pushy sales tactics. People want to engage with brands they feel an emotional connection to. The best way to build that relationship is through transparency and storytelling. Brands who find ways include their fans aren’t just marketing to them, they’re creating a viable community people are excited to be a part of.

Toyota, for example, boosts ad engagement by 440% with UGC.

Our online experience is becoming ever more content-driven as customers seek brand experiences that align with their personal interests. Marketers who succeed in creating or encouraging UGC will develop a brand people can connect to.

6. Facebook in-stream ads

In-stream ads allow advertisers to place 5-15 second videos directly within live and on-demand videos on mobile devices. These short mid-roll ads can be optimized for video views, brand awareness, app installs, reach, or engagement. The feature has proven to be extremely effective: 70% of ads are watched to completion. In-stream ads are also non-skippable and maintain an average on-target rate of 89%. This has made them a popular tool for tapping into Facebook’s daily average of 8 billion video views.

Another perk of in-stream ads is the ability to deliver on Facebook’s Audience Network. This allows advertisers to show people ads while they’re watching videos on third-party websites and apps. Video ads on the audience network differ from typical in-stream ads. They can appear as pre-roll or mid-roll ads and run up to 30 seconds in length. Additionally, in-stream ads delivered through the audience network can be displayed on both mobile and desktop. Over one billion people see an ad through Facebook’s Audience Network every month, making it a useful option for extending the reach of your ad campaign.

Recently, Facebook decided to offer a premium option for in-stream advertisers. Brands can now opt for In-Stream Reserve, which ensures placement in top-performing videos from high-quality publishers and creators. As Facebook continues to prioritize video over other forms of content, in-stream ads will become a vital part of the platform’s advertising strategy.

7. Increase in ad spend

As video consumption grows, platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even LinkedIn have made video marketing a primary focus. In 2018, brands spent over $90 billion dollars on video ads. According to a recent Forrester report that number is expected to hit $102.8 billion by the year 2023. The explosion of video along with advanced analytics has made video advertising vital to any online marketing plan.

One of the video areas seeing the largest jump in ad spend will be mobile video. Mobile video is the fastest growing video type among consumers- accounting for more than half of all video plays. Advertisers spent over $30 billion on mobile video advertising alone in in 2018. These numbers could grow even higher as content providers unveil more mobile-first platforms and experiences. For advertisers looking to jump on this growing opportunity, it will be critical to focus on creating high-value story driven video content.

Marketers driving this spike in video ad spend will also be the leaders testing new and previously mentioned formats. We can expect to see more brands adopting vertical, six-second, and non-skippable ads into their online marketing strategy this year. Together, larger budgets and optimized ads could create the perfect storm for capitalizing on video’s exponential growth. We can only imagine the shifts in technology and online advertising this growth will lead us to next.

About the author

Mike Clum is the founder & president of Clum Creative, a video production company serving marketing departments and entrepreneurs around the world.

How to Prevent XSS Attacks: What DoubleClick Advertisers Need to Know

In late 2017, Google released a warning for DoubleClick platform users about a design flaw that leaves their websites vulnerable to cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks from third-party vendors.

This wasn't the first time Google Ads has had problem, but those are usually coming at us from the admin side. This is a design flaw that degrades UX by hijacking the script mid-session.

Cross-site scripting issues aren't new. They aren't even the biggest digital marketing story of the year; this type of vulnerability has been around since the 1990s. Recently, however, hackers have found newer and sneakier ways to exploit it – and not in a small way.

  • Facebook spent most of 2018 battling various XSS exploits and bad publicity as it tried to secure its platform for millions of users at risk.
  • In the latter part of 2018, a handful of some of the world’s largest platforms (including Reddit, Amazon Music, Tinder, Pinterest) risked compromise to a staggering 685 million accounts as a result of a third-party XSS vulnerability

The issue happens with “iframe busters” – HTML files on a domain server that determine how a Display ad is engaged by a visitor, effectively allowing ads to appear larger than their encapsulating iframe.

Now, cyber attackers have found a way to add arbitrary code to the busters, leaving websites and visitors open to infiltration. This undermines visitor trust at a time when consumer confidence in cybersecurity is already low and data integrity issues are front-page news.

In this article, we’ll take a look at XSS attacks and outline ways in which advertisers can steer clear of the attacks themselves and for their partners – publishers and vendors.

What is an XSS attack?

Cross-site scripting has a built-in flaw that leaves dynamic web content open to manipulation by inserting malicious code into the embedded script. It usually affects Javascript code that's used to power ads, but it can be injected into any type of active code like ActiveX, Flash, or VBScript.

Exploiting this weakness in the coding wreaks havoc by redirecting – or misdirecting – website visitors, accessing cookies, or installing malware. It can hijack a user's entire session and send them to another website. The bigger and more interactive a website is, the more insertion points there are for hackers to probe for weaknesses.

This is part of the reason that systematic flaws and XSS attacks are so difficult to detect and prevent. Coding is inserted on the client side, relying on user-generated actions for initiation.

Meaningful penetration testing relies on anticipating every possible interaction between user and application in order to be effective, and it must be able to detect every possible access point.

Who's affected by the latest round of XSS attacks?

Monetization is one of the chief ways ecommerce sites, bloggers, vloggers, and others generate revenue online. As annoying as ads can be, they're the life's blood of online business owners. In 2018, nearly 25% of enterprise companies spent 50% or more of their marketing budget on retargeting ads.

Display ads also allow website owners to provide value to their visitors while keeping a free internet truly free for users. Today's ecommerce environment is all about providing a quality user experience (UX). Google algorithms will even reward you for it with higher placement on the SERPs.

It's ironic that this flaw is affecting their user base through a monetization interface that Google encourages website owners to use. It doesn't affect static content but any app or website using dynamic web content that requires a user response to initiate an action is technically vulnerable to an XSS attack.

That means games, websites that use clickable ads, and ecommerce websites that have a high amount of user-generated content, like eBay, can by hijacked. This vulnerability affects platforms, advertisers, website owners, and their traffic.

Looking at advertising in particular, the entire supply chain of this industry finds itself in peril from XSS purveyors at each step along the way. Here’s a quick list of participants affected and how:

1. Publishers find their sites are hacked.
2. Google has their network compromised with bad actors (bad advertisers).
3. Vendors get lower quality traffic because the ads are more aggressive.
4. Advertisers are the good guys who play by the rules are unduly affected.

Such attacks also undermine consumer trust and confidence if they aren't immediately addressed and rectified.

How hackers exploit script vulnerabilities

Attackers probe Javascript or Flash coding by finding a weak point to insert alternative instructions.

Any time that application is used, the malicious code activates and whatever result the hacker intended is performed. The most common points of insertion are web forms, search fields, forums, and cookies.

Further, XSS attacks “work” even if a visitor encrypts his or her traffic using a virtual private network, or VPN. VPNs are effective for maintaining anonymity, but XSS attacks can penetrate whenever your visitors click on an infected third-party ad, perform a search, or otherwise encounter the script. Entire sessions can be hijacked, and the code can even enable access to a user's account.

That's bad for business.

This latest attack strikes through flaws in iFrame Buster kits used to expand ads on DoubleClick for Publishers, DoubleClick Ad Exchange, and other platforms that allow website owners to display ads outside of iframe.

The HTML code in iFrame Buster allows creatives like GIF, JPEG, JavaScript, HTML, and Flash to show beyond the confines of the frame that contains it. An example is banners that expand when a user moves their cursor over the ad.

Website owners, servers, or browsers reading the script have no idea there's malicious code present that doesn't belong, and neither do the hosting platforms or users. The problem is mainly due to ad developers incorrectly coding their content with in-house frame-busting apps.

Proof of concept (PoC) was released through a Full Disclosure mailing list entry by an IDM employee who uses the name Zmx. It provides sample codes and other examples of how the attacks are initiated. There's also a list posted of affected vendors and advertisers that includes Undertone, Interpolls, and IgnitionOne (netmng.com). Tech researcher Randy Westergreen has also provided samples and an explanation of the latest XSS issue.

The only ways to prevent such attacks are through diligent testing and/or removing any dynamic, interactive content from your website. Since many ecommerce websites rely on input from visitors to generate revenue, the latter option is the least appealing. That leaves diligent probing and testing as your first and last defense.

Strategies for protecting your DoubleClick Ads from XSS attacks

 The latest attack accesses users’ cookies when they interact with websites that carry banner ads, but it can also attach itself to emails, URLs, and other interactive, clickable content. The current problem is thought to originate with Web 2.0 and Ajax technologies that allow more covert infiltration.

Google has taken action over their recent third-party XSS issue. A spokesperson for the tech giant released this statement in response to the initial discovery: "We have disabled these vendors, removed these files, and added instructions in our help center to help publishers manage any additional steps to help ensure their users are secure."

So what can ad creators, site administrators, and developers do to protect websites and visitors from an XSS attack in the future?

Disable browser scripting

 In the short run, this stops the bleeding but also eliminates a lot of website functionality. The long term fix would include replacing buggy code with best practices that filters user input and removes malicious scripting before it can be installed. Patch any present flaws and vulnerabilities found and, going forward, always test code before deployment. 

Perform penetration testing

This allows administrators to check for malicious code and determine the impact removing it will have on website or application functionality. This analysis should be performed on live code and use a test run of at least one hour in order to root out the unauthorized scripts so they can be removed. This can be done by inserting tracking code from Google Analytics into the HTML script for each page or by using Google Tag Manager to target specific scripts.

Use a strict whitelist strategy

As well as vendors who work with advertisers (or networks) who have exploited the vulnerability. According to Westergren, most of the XSS vulnerabilities he found were due to poor whitelist implementation. In other words, publishers failed to restrict certain domains which should be granted access to executing scripts.

He went on to outline a number of high-traffic websites using an iFrame Buster with weak restrictions, thus allowing attackers to compromise the domain, including Jivox and Adtech. DoubleClick advertisers should follow Google updates regarding XSS and other advertising exploits, pay attention to affected domains, and selectively remove them from your ad campaigns. Fortunately, the ability to control which publishers your ads appear on is built into DoubleClick.

According to Google’s knowledge base, excluding domains will prevent your ads from appearing on any page on or within that domain. So to avoid advertising on domains compromised by XSS, regularly audit and update your “blacklist” in DoubleClick and you’ll be in the clear.

The Bottom Line

Until platforms are able to completely anticipate and block XSS attacks, hackers will continue to exploit the vulnerabilities inherent in the script used to direct dynamic content.

It's time for an industry-wide solution to a problem that has been plaguing website owners for nearly as long as ecommerce has existed. But for now, make sure you’re following these strategies to protect your own DoubleClick ads against these attacks.

About the author

Dan Fries is a freelance writer and full stack Rust developer. He looks for convergence in technology trends, with specific interests in cyber security and cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) applications. Dan enjoys snowboarding and is based in Hong Kong with his pet beagle, Teddy. 

How to Increase PPC Profits – By Decreasing Sales

Ever heard the phrase “turnover is vanity, profit is sanity”?

This phrase rings especially true for ecommerce advertisers who may be blinded by revenue levels or conversion numbers instead of what really matters: the actual profitability of their PPC accounts.

It’s understandable to follow the logic that more sales would lead to more revenue. But that’s not always the case. In this guide, I’m going show you how you can maximize the PPC profitability for your ecommerce business both ways – the traditional way, by adjusting your bids, and the non-traditional way, by actually decreasing your sales.

Maximizing PPC profitability: The traditional way

If you’re not happy with your ROI, the most intuitive way to increase paid advertising profitability is to be smarter with your bids or your bid adjustments. That way, you’re increasing the impact of your ad dollars without spending more.

Tweaking bids to increase profits

One strategy for maximizing your ad spend is changing your bids in order to increase your profits.

If you take the price you sell a product for and subtract all costs (product cost, admin cost, staff cost, shipping cost, etc.) then you are left with the raw profits generated by each product sale.
Most of our clients use between 30-50% of this raw profit to help advertise the product. This leads to the ad cost being taken away from the total raw profits generated to make the sale in the first place, giving a final profitability relationship:

This allows advertisers to work out a target return on ad spend (ROAS) for a product by dividing the revenue generated by each sale by the cost of advertising.

When setting bids on search or shopping campaigns an advertiser can tweak bids up or down to aim towards a target ROAS or even reverse-engineer CPCs to find an ideal Maximum CPC bid.

Modify bid adjustments to increase profits

Ecommerce website users are a fickle bunch; some may convert differently during different times of the day, some demographics may increase average conversion rates while others drag it down, and often users act very differently depending on which device they have in their hands.

Without using bid adjustments, you have to combine highly converting users with poorly converting users and work towards the hazy midway average performance between them, which is less than ideal.

By segmenting and using bid adjustments, however, you can boost ad positions for the high converters (boosting high converting traffic levels) and reduce bid positions for the low converters (reducing wasted ad spend). The overall result of this is more conversions with the same level of profitability per conversion (the same ROAS amount):

Maximizing PPC profitability: The “less is more” way

In some cases, adjusting your bids might not be enough for your business. For these situations, you should consider decreasing your sales. This sounds counterintuitive, I know, but hear me out. By making each sale significantly more profitable, you need fewer sales to boost your overall profits and ROAS.

There are two main ways you can actually decrease sales whilst still raising overall profitability. Remember that turnover is vanity, but profit is sanity!

Raising product prices to increase profits

It may sound obvious to some advertisers and alarmingly risky to others, but actually increasing product prices can lead to higher profitability if done correctly.

An ecommerce client of ours was complaining about keeping up with the demand of their main product online, they were very busy manufacturing the product (luxury coats) and had to stop selling certain colors and sizes due to popularity. We raised prices of the coats by 70%, and the number of sales fell by just under 43%, a huge improvement to their bottom line overall.

Clearly, raising prices generates more profitability per sale, but when other costs are factored in you could actually triple the profitability with just a small overall price increase:

Raising prices has a negative effect on the number of sales overall giving a profit vs. price relationship as shown below:

Setting prices too high will stop any sale from happening, too low and you could spend more on advertising and other costs than actual revenue generated.

What we’re after in this case is the magical sweet spot of price profitability vs. conversion rate, i.e., the highest point on the CPC vs. profit curve.

Tweaking prices is, therefore, a great way of optimizing an individual product and you now see dynamic pricing across many limited-service industries such as flights, hotels, and taxi apps.

Raising average order values to increase profits

For some mass manufacturers, B2B product sellers or bulk drop-shippers, there’s a catch-22 situation when it comes to the Google or Bing Shopping platforms:

  • You can openly sell products on your website. This enables shopping campaigns, but your product prices must be shown on the website, and you may get many smaller orders from the general public.
  • You can sell products only to registered or approved website users. This blocks shopping campaigns from being available (prices must be public for shopping campaigns to exist), but your product prices are hidden, and you can set minimum costs for an entire order.

Our client wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted maximum traffic and exposure on Google and Bing Shopping, but at the same time, they wanted to discourage time-wasters with orders of only one or two products.

Here, product delivery overheads are very similar if a customer wants one item or as many as 20 items, thus making really small orders non-profitable.

The solution to this problem was to increase the average order value (AOV) by reducing bids on keywords, ad groups, and shopping product groups if they fell under a certain level:

Bid adjustments were not applied when the AOV was over a highly profitable threshold (£50 in this case), and they were applied in a negative linear fashion when under the value.

The minimum bid adjustment was set to -80% in order to keep ads within the first page of results more often and to not totally kill off any product bids.

The results from this were impressive in many ways for our client:

  • The average number of deliveries decreased, lowering internal delivery costs
  • Less administration work was needed, improving the quality and speed of admin tasks
  • Total delivery times were shorter, leading to an increase in positive customer reviews
  • Average order value increased, raising the average return on ad spend

Sometimes less does mean more

When you’re setting up and optimizing your PPC campaigns, it’s important to identify the ultimate goal. Are you chasing traffic and sales? Or are you looking deeply into how to really improve what matters to a business, the profitability? In most cases, it’s the latter that’s better for your ecommerce business.

Alongside best practices of calculating the ideal CPC amount and bid adjustments, you can surprisingly increase profitability by just raising product sale prices or stiffening orders with a lower average order value.

About the author

Jonathan Ellins, head of insights at Hallam Internet, has over 11 years of digital marketing experience. His innovations were shortlisted for Google’s EMEA Premier Partner Awards 2017 & 2018 for PPC Innovation using AdWords Scripts and Client Data Automation towards Google Shopping, Google’s biggest award for digital marketers. In his spare time, Jonathan has a keen interest in game development, extreme sports, unusual holiday destinations, digital artwork, and complex craft beer.

How to Make the Most of Your Ad Spend with Email Validation

You know the value of a strong paid search strategy. That’s why you spend significant time and money running ad campaigns, from keyword research to writing ad copy, and targeting your spend in order to drive qualified leads to a landing page.

When prospects click on your ad, you don’t just need them to fill out your webform. You need them to fill out your form correctly.

But here’s the reality: 1 in 10 customers who fill out your webform will enter an incorrect email address. They’ll type “gmal” instead of “gmail.” They’ll forget an “@” sign. The period will be in the incorrect location. Incorrect contact information means no lead.

In the end, your ad spend (and precious time) was lost to a simple typo. Bummer.

The good news? There’s an easy way to recapture otherwise lost leads: email validation.

The problem with landing page forms

What could go wrong when a user tries to fill out the form on your landing page?

 

Image Source

A whole bunch of stuff. *Shudder*

For one, there’s the simple, but oh-so-devastating typo. A user forgets to add an “@” sign in their email address. Someone’s typing quickly, and she doubles up on a letter. Another prospect forgot his glasses and didn’t notice he gets the numbers wrong. Whatever the typo might be, suddenly, an otherwise qualified lead is unreachable.

With more users browsing the web on mobile phones than on desktop computers, the problem is compounded. It’s easy to miss a tiny key on a virtual keyboard, or mindlessly enter your email address incorrectly on your phone while binge-watching your favorite TV show.

Marketers also need to protect their forms against spam bots, which can flood databases with inaccurate or toxic emails. While CAPTCHA or reCAPTCHA can help, they also interrupt the user experience.

It’s no wonder so many emails entered on webforms are inaccurate.

What is email validation?

Simply put, email validation is a service that determines if an email is deliverable without sending an email to it. An email validation provider corrects poor syntax, suppresses toxic data and ensures deliverability by pinging an email’s domain and mailbox.

Why is this important?

Every company that sends emails will hit bounces—even if the company uses best practices for collecting email addresses, such as only mailing to organic leads who have opted into the database. That’s because, on average, email marketing databases lose 22.5% of their contacts every year.

Continuing to hit invalid or toxic email addresses will damage your reputation as a sender. Your sender reputation impacts how certain Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Email Service Providers (ESPs) filter your emails. A poor reputation could land your emails in the spam or promotions folder—or, worse, could result in blacklisting.

Instead, marketers can use email validation to improve the quality of their data, leading to better inbox placement and higher response rates.

How does email validation work?

Email validation uses a four-step process to determine whether an email address is deliverable or undeliverable.

  1. Catch and correct poor spelling and syntax, such as a missing “@” sign or “gmal.com” instead of “gmail.com.” Email validation will catch any typos in the email domain part of an address.
  2. Identify risky or possibly malignant email addresses.
  3. Check the email domain.
  4. Ping the email’s mailbox.

Once each email address completes this four-step process, a status code is appended. This status code will identify if the email address is deliverable (good to go), unconfirmed or undeliverable, and why.

In general, marketers will send to the deliverable addresses and remove the undeliverable addresses from their sending list. However, some marketers may still wish to send to email addresses that are unconfirmed, because these often include B2B email addresses with uncommon domains or catch-all email addresses that are difficult or impossible to verify.

The best part: Email validation can take place in real-time via an API.

A marketer or developer would simply need to integrate an email validation provider’s API into their webform. Then, when a user enters their email address, they are alerted instantly that the address is inaccurate. This prompts the user to take a second look and correct any inaccuracies.

Voila! A correct email address is gathered, and a great lead is captured.

What else is email validation used for?

Email validation can also be performed retroactively on a list of emails. We recommend companies clean their data once per quarter. You can upload a .CSV into an email validation provider’s portal and validate the entire list. While this process isn’t instant, it’s still quick. And it’s an important part of regular data hygiene.

Not exactly the supplies you need for good data hygiene.

Other services can also complement and bolster the effectiveness of email validation. For example, let’s say you have a list of customers who have not opened one of your commercial emails within the past year. Does this list have bad email addresses, or are the users simply not interested in your content?

Email validation can provide one piece of the equation. But to understand the complete picture, you need to know when that email account last opened a commercial email. This allows you to better re-engage your disengaged customers and provides an extra layer of protection against fraudulent or poor data.

For example, say your user last opened another commercial email this month, but hasn’t opened your emails for a year. You could send them an enticing coupon to encourage them to open your email and re-engage with your brand.

What’s the ROI for email validation?

Remember: 8.4% of email addresses entered on webforms are inaccurate. But let’s talk ROI in dollars. We’ve done the math for you.

Say, for example, you are an ecommerce company. Your current email list is 25,000 records, and you get an average conversion rate of 1%, with an average order size of $50. That’s $12,500 per email campaign. If you mail twice per month, that’s $600,000 per year.

The average value of each email address, in this case, is equal to $600,000/25,000, or $24.

Say, for example, you capture 1,000 new emails per month. If 8.4% are invalid, that’s up to 84 lost per month or 1,008 new emails lost per year. Taking the average value of $24, that’s $24,192 in lost value, or 4% annual sales.

We also need to factor in the cost of email validation, which starts at $0.01 per email validated. The example above is looking at a spend of $1,200 per year.

$24,192 in sales ÷ $1,200 in cost = 20x ROI. There’s a good chance your numbers aren’t far off, and that doesn’t even include the additional benefit of the better open rates that clean data provides.

Use this same formula to calculate your email validation ROI:

(# of new emails per month)*8.4% = potential # of reclaimed emails

(# of reclaimed email addresses)*(value of an email address) = recaptured revenue

(recaptured revenue)/(cost of email validation) = ROI

Spot check your lead capture with email validation

You spend a lot of time meticulously planning, writing, and analyzing your email sends. Why wouldn’t you focus that attention to detail on your email lists, too? Email validation is an effective way to maximize your ad spend and ensure you are capturing real leads. By stopping bad emails at the point of entry and prompting customers to enter correct addresses, you can make sure to recapture some of that value.

About the author

Kirsten Onsgard is the marketing operations specialist at TowerData, where she helps fellow marketers better reach and engage the person behind the email address. TowerData, a WordStream customer, offers a suite of services that enable marketers can improve the quality, depth, and reach of their data to meet customers with the right message in the right place at the right time. TowerData's flagship services include email validation, email intelligence, email activity and identity matching.

10 Social Media Marketing Tools You Just Might Need

Social media marketing is a rather counterintuitive field. It looks like anyone could do it: post something (anything!) on social media, look for existing content, talk to people, fill your company’s Instagram account with your most photogenic team members. Sounds like a task for any kid of today’s social media era.

However, if you want your ROI to grow, this isn’t the way to go.

It may look easy, but it’s almost impossible to make social media marketing effective without financial resources, talented people, and the right tools for the job. This post will focus on social media marketing tools. These SMM tools stand out because they are user-friendly and keep improving in response to changes and trends in social media. I’ve divided them into three groups according to the most important SMM tasks that require automation: social media management, social media monitoring, and social media advertising.

Social Media Scheduling & Workflow Tools

These social media management tools are the ones that help you manage the workflow that social media requires (yes, it’s in the name). They make the process easier, more organized, less stressful, and, therefore, more effective. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. IFTTT

So you’ve got your posts scheduled and maybe you even crossed off the content curation task. What’s the next step? To automate everything that comes before and after (and in between). That’s what IFTTT is for. The name of this automation tool stands for If This, Then That. It links all kinds of apps and services together to automate multi-step tasks in whatever way you want. So for example, if you publish a blog, you can create an IFTTT “recipe” that will see the new post and create a tweet  as well as an Instagram post about it.

If there’s a task in your workflow that you always forget about despite all the post-it notes, try IFTTT.

Price: free

2. Buffer

Buffer is a popular scheduling tool that allows marketers to schedule posts across a variety of social media platforms. You can either tailor each post to each platform or publish the same one everywhere.

You can use a Buffer Chrome extension to add any content you find on the Web to the Buffer queue. This adds a bit of fun and creativity to the whole process of content aggregation and sharing, because for once you don’t have to plan what to share in advance. Yet your posts still will be shared at the best possible times. You can also track links to see which content is most popular with your readers.

Price: freemium; paid plans from $15/mo

3. Quuu

Already got Buffer? To simplify your work even further, i.e., to eliminate the part where you are the one looking for valuable content to share, start using Quuu. This is a social media marketing tool that curates content for you: it takes hand-picked, always relevant content, and adds it to the Buffer queue. This eliminates any trouble of curating and sharing any content other than the stuff you most want to share (i.e., your own blog posts and promotional content).

Price: plans start at $15/mo

4. MeetEdgar

MeetEdgar is another scheduling tool that stands out for one reason: it allows you to recycle old posts. This is more important than it seems: Content, even good and popular content, gets forgotten and left behind. Recycling that old content so it can get views again is low-hanging fruit, and too often a missed opportunity.

With MeetEdgar, you organize posts by category, schedule content by category, and then, every time the tool has gone through your scheduled posts, it will automatically post old content from each category so it can get attention again.

Price: $49/mo

Social Media Monitoring Tools

Organic social media marketing is divided into two processes. One is about the content that comes from you and your brand. It’s the content you create, the content you aggregate and share with your audience, and promotional content. SMM tools that automate and optimize this part of social media marketing are discussed above. The second aspect of social media marketing comes from the audience. It’s the mentions of your brand online, reviews, questions, compliments and complaints directed towards you.

While posting may be more important for increasing brand awareness, keeping an eye on what people say about you and responding appropriately is important too. It’s pretty much impossible to manually find all mentions of a brand on social media, as even on social media platforms people don’t always tag the brand. That’s why social media monitoring tools exist: to make communication with an online audience comprehensive. Here are a few that stand out:

1. Awario

Awario is a social media listening tool made for solopreneurs and small businesses. It doesn’t require a large budget, yet it covers all major social media listening features: finds mentions of your brand or any other keyword on all major social media platforms, including influential forums like Reddit; breaks mentions down into positive, negative, and neutral ones; shows you a list of influencers; and offers reports with all the stats on the authors that mention your brand.

Price: starts at $29/mo

2. Mention

Mention offers real-time social media monitoring, and you can set up alerts for your brand, your competitors, and your industry. With this tool, you can view and respond to each like, tag, or mention (ah, see what they did there?) right in the app. You can also sort mentions by importance or significance, and even set up filters, including by source or by language.

Mention also offers two options tailored to the different who need social media monitoring: small businesses focused on their own branding and agencies working on behalf of their clients.

Price: starts at $29/month

3. Brandwatch

If your budget is much larger, then Brandwatch may be the tool for you. Brandwatch’s analytics data is highly visual: perfect to illustrate the meaning of social media marketing to clients, if you’re an agency.

Another feature that makes Brandwatch stand out is Signals. You have an option to set up an alert whenever a keyword is mentioned by the authors you choose. Signals alert on significant changes in the data set, such as a sudden peak in the number of mentions or an increase in negative mentions.

Price: starts at $800/mo

3. Talkwalker

Talkwalker is another enterprise-level tool that’s undoubtedly one of the most powerful on the market. It offers a huge range of filters, sub-filters, and platform coverage. Not only does it cover social media, news sites, blogs and forums, but also broadcast, TV, and print. The data available is almost endless. It combines information from Google Analytics and social media, sentiment analysis and image recognition to show you the most accurate report on every aspect of the audience.

Talkwalker is aimed at teams of marketers and PR pros, and it makes working in teams easy. It allows you to manage a smooth workflow within a department and easily share data across departments.

Price: starts at $9,600/year

Social Media Advertising Tools

Social media marketing is tricky. Sometimes it seems as if everything can be achieved organically and for free, as long as your efforts are creative and authentic. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and it becomes less and less common to achieve social media marketing success without any advertising budget. This is especially the case with Facebook. However, as appealing as Facebook makes advertising look, it’s pretty hard to make it work if you don’t have the right tools. So here’re the chosen ones:

1. Facebook Ads Grader

Although Facebook offers some analytics on ads, it’s often hard to tell whether your ads are worth the money, and if not, what has to be improved so that they could be more effective. WordStream’s Facebook Ads Grader lets you know just that: it provides a complete free assessment of your Facebook Advertising performance.

The report-based tool generates a detailed summary in the areas in which you’re succeeding and falling behind. The analysis includes metrics which show you how much the Key Performance Indicators differ based on who you’re advertising to; how your best and worst performing ads compare to your competitors; whether you’re paying too much; whether you’re targeting the right audience; etc. It also shows if your campaigns, ad sets, and ads adhere to the industry standards established by Facebook. Basically, the Facebook Ads Grader is the easiest way to see if you’re getting the most out of your budget and how you can improve.

Price: free

2. Qwaya

Qwaya is a tool to help create and manage Facebook and Instagram ads. It makes sense to buy it before you’ve even started investing money in Facebook Ads. Qwaya lets you schedule ads, offers analytics integration and team collaboration. Most importantly, it lets you A/B test your ads.

Anyone in marketing knows that testing is key to find the right message for your audience. Social media advertising isn’t an exception. With Qwaya, you can test every variable you’d like to make sure you’re not wasting your money and getting the best possible outcome.

Price: starts at $149/mo

3. Perfect Audience

Perfect Audience is a retargeting tool that can be used for Facebook advertising. Once you get over the clearly outdated design (sorry) and try the tool out, you might find it to be very effective for your business.

Retargeting is a big part of any advertising strategy – or at least it should be. Perfect Audience simplifies the process and helps you set up campaigns and view results. It provides info on impressions served, clicks back, conversions, and cost. The tool can be used for the Web and mobile as well as Facebook.

Price: charged on a CPM basis (more details here)

About the author

Alina Gorbatch is an experienced web marketing specialist and content writer at Awario. Follow @BlondeAlina on Twitter.

5 Critical Landing Page Design Mistakes that Cost You Conversions

What is the best button color for boosting conversions?

Red? Orange? Green? Blue?

According to HubSpot, red beats green:

This study on CTA button color is easily one of the most authoritative out there. The study tracked conversions to see if there was any difference in performance of the two button colors based on a sample of 2,000 visitors to the landing page. Contrary to the study author’s expectations, the red CTA button outperformed the green one by a whopping 21%. So is that the final answer?

As far as Unbounce is concerned, the future of CTA buttons is BOB: That stands for Big Orange Button. A Wider Funnel test corroborated this stance with a study that showed a Big Orange Button resulted in a 32.5% increase in conversions. As Unbounce notes, “According to Wikipedia, Orange represents energy, enthusiasm, and a ‘get-it-done’ attitude. Sounds like a call to action to me.”

I mean, what CTA button color converts better than one that asks you to just “get-it-done,” right?

Really Good Emails took an entirely different approach: it analyzed every email sent to it in a particular year to see what is unique about them, as well as what they all have in common. Really Good Emails concluded that blue is the clear winner and CTA button color of choice.

According to Dmix? Red wins!

And Monetate? Blue beats orange!

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you’ve gotten the gist by now. Some CRO experts are certain your button should be a certain color. As for me, rather than focusing on button color alone, I believe the context of the button is what’s important.

Here are five critical landing page design mistakes that cost you conversions – regardless of your CTA button color.

1. Using CTA Colors that Blend In

The very first CRO mistake you can make when it comes to your pages is that of using a CTA button color that blends in.

For a moment, let’s take a look at the HubSpot study again:

When you carefully analyze that image, something becomes instantly clear: the green button blends in with the site’s design. The site’s color scheme and background is green. After black, green is the most used color on that page. Naturally, users are already used to seeing the color green and are as a result more likely to ignore it.

Now, when you take a look at the CTA button on this page comparing VPS services, however, the bright orange color stands out in stark contrast to the site’s blue color scheme – and that is all that matters.

This makes sense and goes in line with a principle of psychology called sensory adaptation. While this psychology principle doesn’t talk about colors exactly, it does talk about stimuli and how we respond to them. According to this principle, repeated exposure to any stimulus prompts us to gradually tune it out until we fail to notice it.

Take a minute to think about what happens when you wear your clothes or your shoes. You feel it for a while, and then it feels as if it is part of your body. Okay, how about when you dip your hands into slightly hot water for a few minutes? It hurts at first, but then your hand adapts and you no longer feel it. That is sensory adaptation at work, and it is one of the first principles you should understand when it comes to conversion rate optimization. Whether it is repeat noise or a button color, we are hardwired to react in the same way and start ignoring the stimulus.

Before you start your button color tests, realize that a color that stands out – whether it is red or orange – will always outperform a color that blends in. So, always make sure your button color stands out in comparison to your color scheme.

2. Making Buttons That Are Too Small – or Too Big

Just as CTA button color needs to stand out, the size of your CTA needs to be a good – and compelling – fit.

Let’s go back to the WiderFunnel test, which resulted in a 32.5% increase in conversions and the concept of the “Big Orange Button.” It is clear that the button size played a major role in the increase in conversions.

In fact, an article on call to action button best practices implies that using a CTA button that is 20% larger than the logo is a good idea.

So how important is CTA button size? Important, but relatively. Your CTA button should be large enough to be noticeable in comparison to other elements on your page – so that it stands out. However, especially in a world where more people access the Internet from mobile devices than desktop computers, making it too large – in a way that affects UX – can backfire and result in a decrease in conversions.

So when it comes to CTAs, size matters: It has to be big enough to stand out, to be noticeable, but at the same time it shouldn’t be so big that it impacts user experience.

3. Ignoring Your Audience’s Color Preference

Besides using CTA colors that blend in, another critical conversion optimization mistake you can make is that of ignoring your audience’s color preference, both for your CTA and overall landing page color scheme.

If you run a website where your audience consists of cyclist with a preference for doing risky things and a website where your audience consists of yogis looking for peace and calm in their lives, due to this huge divide in the type of audience, the color that appeals to each audiences will be different.

In fact, research shows that color alone can influence people’s decision to interact with your brand. One study found that people will decide whether to interact with you within 90 seconds, and that up to 90% of this decision will be influenced by color.

Men and women typically have different color preferences. A color that works for an audience of men might not be as effective for an audience of women. This is worth keeping in mind.

The chart below shows common color preferences for men and women:

And this chart shows color dislikes:

4. Not Optimizing for User Flow

What is user flow? Basically, it’s the series of steps a user takes to achieve a particular goal on a website.

Good conversion optimization should not ignore user flow. Moz found that when users were asked to “schedule a demo,” users would have to stop what they are doing, check their calendar, and see if there is available time matching the company’s schedule. User flow was interrupted by this, and it affected conversions. By tweaking the CTA offer from “Schedule a Demo Today!” to “FREE 5 Min Demo Video,” Moz eliminated the need for having to check the calendar. This consequently improved user flow, and conversions increased by a massive 739%.

CRO success is about more than just getting users to click a button. It’s about getting visitors to become leads, and it’s about getting leads to become paying customers. This means your effort goes beyond just the landing page. The subscription and checkout page matter, too.

Any action that makes users stop, or even pause, in the process of achieving the goal you set for them on your website is interrupting their flow and costing you conversions. This could be how your site structure and elements are designedthere is no point in straying from user expectations on your website.

Various studies have demonstrated that every extra form field you add interrupts user flow and negatively affects conversions. So drop those extra form fields. Only request for the barest minimum information you need to get users to act now – you can gradually get other necessary information later.

5. Forgetting Trust Factors to Boost Your Credibility

Often, when you go through conversion optimization studies, you see a major brand implement a particular conversion hack with great results. But when you go ahead to do the same on your website, you got nothing. Or sometimes your conversions even suffer.

After all, based on how much Amazon (or your favorite big brand) spends on conversions, if it implements a particular conversion tweak it can’t be wrong, right? Not necessarily. You’re not getting results doesn’t necessarily invalidate the experiment you read: perhaps you are studying that particular experiment in isolation when, in reality, there are other factors at play.

Let me be clearer: You could have the best offer, extraordinarily good copy, and follow all the tips in this article, but it wouldn’t move the needle for you if people do not trust you. In a world rife with scams and spams, people aren’t just careful about who they give their credit card details to – they are also careful about who they give their email address to.

If people do not trust you, conversion optimization hacks won’t make much of a difference. This is why one of the major mistakes most people make when optimizing their conversions is failing to improve their trust factors.

Simple tweaks like using a trust seal can double your conversions – as many as 48% of people won’t trust a website that doesn’t use a trust mark.

Research also shows that simply enabling SSL can boost sales by up to 30%.

Take active measures to ensure that you communicate trust with visitors to your landing page:

  • Use trust marks and secure seals to give assurance about users’ security on your website.
  • Use SSL – let them see that green padlock!
  • Use social proof when possible to reinforce the belief that they aren’t taking a leap of faith in dealing with you; they are joining others who have achieved great results.
  • Make it easy to contact you on your website.

Remember, Your CRO Results May Vary

At the end of the day, it is important to realize that when it comes to conversion rate optimizations, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to things. You can’t always depend on hacks that work for other companies to work for you. But what you can do? Make sure to review your account and avoid these critical mistakes.

About the author

Robert Mening is a web designer and conversion optimization expert who runs WebsiteSetup.org, a project that has helped over 250,000 start their own websites.

What Ecommerce Brand Bidders Can Learn from Amazon Advertising

Bidding on competitors’ brand terms is always a tricky business, but it’s particularly tough for ecommerce. To stand a chance of winning, you need enticing ad copy, tailored landing pages, and an effective bid strategy – yet in most cases it is still very hard to make it work.

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. In this article, I will explain step-by-step how B2C brands can leverage learnings from Amazon advertising to increase their chances of success when it comes to competitor brand term bidding.

Step 1. Research User Consideration and Product Similarity

B2C marketers often roughly know which of their products resemble competitors'. But betting on this with confidence and setting up paid search campaigns that target competitors' branded terms and also convert can be tough. Testing (and potentially being proven wrong) can be time consuming and costly. Luckily, Amazon advertising can be used to improve things.

As a first step, you need to run an Amazon Sponsored Products campaign and select “Automatic Targeting.”

With automatic targeting, you essentially put Amazon in the driver's seat and allow the Amazon algorithm to target keywords and product pages it deems relevant. The key thing here is that “product pages” are targeted. Hence your ads are displayed in the “Sponsored products related to this item” section of Amazon product listings. The screenshot below shows an example. 

Ads shown on product pages (highlighted in red) can currently only be served via automatic targeting campaigns

As a result, your ads will also be served on your competitors' product pages as well as your own product pages. By exporting the Search Term report of an automatic targeting campaign (under “Advertising” -> “Advertising Reports”), you can find out where exactly your ads were shown and how they performed. Did you only get impressions, but no clicks? Were there any conversions, and at what cost? Simply download the search term report of an auto targeting campaign and filter it for Amazon Standard Identification Numbers, or ASINs.

The screenshot below shows a list of customer search terms (Column B) versus conversion revenue of different campaigns.

For most Amazon product categories ASINs are a string of 10 characters, starting with a "B." Use this formula to filter your report for ASINs when exported to Excel or Google Sheets: =if(LEN(B2)=10,if(left(B2,1)="b","Yes","FALSE"))

Step 2. Match Amazon ASINs to Product Names

ASINs listed in your Amazon Search Term report indicate that your ads were displayed on an Amazon product page. Those could be your own product pages or your competitors'. Unfortunately, by default, Amazon will not provide you with product names in the search term report but only a list of ASINs (as shown in the screenshot above). So to map ASINs against product names you can input them into the search field on Amazon.com. The example shown in the screenshot below shows that the ASIN B016OP6N3M is linked to a cutting board.

As typically the search term report will produce a very long list of ASINs (hundreds or thousands depending on your media spend), this can be time consuming. To speed things up I use a robot that will automatically input a long list of ASINs into Amazon's search box and then save all corresponding product names. Dexi.io is an easy-to-use and cost-effective solution for that. The screenshot below shows this (Matching product names in Column A).

Step 3. Leverage Reviews to Write PPC Ad Copy that Converts

Once you have sliced and diced your data and zeroed in on competitors' product listings that have proven to drive conversions on Amazon (at an acceptable conversion rate and cost), things become interesting: Amazon can be used not only to cherry-pick specific competing products but also to optimize Google Ads copy. To do so, read negative reviews of your competitors’ products on Amazon and highlight the points that do not apply to your product.

Take the cutting board as an example: some negative Amazon reviews for this, on average a very highly rated product, point out that pieces of wood may come off. So if the cutting board you are selling is made of a different material where this won't be an issue, try highlighting that in your paid search ad copy. In my experience, this increases the chance of “flipping” users. 

Use Amazon Data to Get a Leg Up in 2019

Competitor brand term bidding will certainly never be easy, and there are some risks to it. To increase efficiency, you can get more tactical and use it in RLSA campaigns, offer special discount codes, and more. Leveraging Amazon as a research tool provides a data-backed starting point that can help you zero in on specific SKUs, as well as ways to increase ad copy efficiency.

Despite this, keep in mind that there is no guarantee for success. Experiments I have run with this setup have in some cases produced good outcomes and in other cases mixed results. It always depends on what acquisition costs are deemed acceptable, how comparable the products you are selling are, how competitive your industry is, how effective your landing pages are, and more. However, for brands looking to grow aggressively in 2019, this tactic can help drive additional sales.

About the author

Hendrik Kühl is a strategic marketer with comprehensive experiences in brand strategy and digital marketing. Originally from Germany, he has lived in Asia for over a decade and is based in Hong Kong. He has worked both agency side and in-house working with numerous leading brands including Shiseido, Ford, The North Face, and HTC. His deep understanding of Amazon Advertising, Google Ads and Facebook Advertising enables him to provide holistic perspectives to help build successful brands.

4 Ecommerce Success KPIs That Are Critical to Growing Your Online Store

When tracking online sales in ecommerce, it’s easy to get caught up in vanity metrics, metrics that don’t really tell you much about how your online sales are performing.

Impressions, clicks, and those other shiny looking metrics might look amazing on your Google Analytics reports, but they ultimately give you zero depth into what the heck is actually happening.

It’s amazing to open Analytics or your store stats and see 10,000 unique visitors today!

But did they buy from you? How much did it cost for you to get that site visit? And how many times does the average visitor engage with you before deciding to give you money?

You see, most metrics are very misleading. They sell you false hope of success.

When it comes down to it, only a few metrics matter for ecommerce success.

Ready to find out which?

1. Cost per acquisition AND lifetime value

Let’s start with the top dogs of ecommerce KPIs: cost per acquisition and lifetime value.

Why are they the top dogs? Because they determine just about every marketing and selling action you take.

Let me explain. First, let’s start with acquisition costs. Acquiring customers costs money, unfortunately. Whether you are getting them through content marketing, social media lead magnets, pay-per-click advertising, on Snapchat or even by sponsoring a new podcast, everything you do costs money.

While PPC is a more direct way of paying for traffic via clicks…

...you still incur costs when creating posts for social media or detailed content marketing pieces to attract organic visits.

For instance, the best blog posts for content marketing take at least six hours. And if you want to stand out today, sub-par content won’t cut it on SERPs.

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And that’s just for a 1,151-word blog post:

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Data shows that 2,000-word blog posts rank best. This mean that you’ll be paying for 12 hours or more of labor for a single piece of high-quality content. And labor ain’t cheap when you are hiring top quality writers.

All of this requires labor, design, and development that, unfortunately, you have to factor those into your acquisition costs.

Simply put, cost per acquisition is the average amount of money your ecommerce store has to spend to acquire a single customer.

Cost per acquisition is vitally important, as it can dramatically impact your acquisition strategy.

But, to get the full picture, you need to look at lifetime value too.

Customer lifetime value is the average amount of money a single customer will spend with you over their lifetime / relationship with your store.

The connection here is important, as analyzing either of these metrics alone won’t make sense.

Why? Here is an example:

Let’s say your cost per acquisition is $50. That’s fifty bucks for a single customer to do business with you.

So what? Alone, that doesn’t tell you much.

Now, let’s say your lifetime value is $45.

Only now can you make sense of these metrics. From the example above, your acquisition costs are too high, because they surpass the amount the customer spends with you!

But if your lifetime value is $500, a $50 cost per acquisition is nothing!

When analyzing key metrics for success, you should always start from the top with lifetime value and customer acquisition costs.

Depending on these KPIs, you can easily plan the next steps you need to take:

If your CPA is higher than your lifetime value: You are paying more to land the customer than they spend with you. This means you are not producing a profit. To combat this, you have a few options. You can cut costs on advertising or find ways to produce cheaper lead magnets and content marketing. Or you can focus on improving your customer retention and focus on upselling existing and loyal customers to build lifetime value. Building lifetime value per customer will help you afford those acquisition costs.

If your lifetime value is higher than your CPA: Congrats! You are doing great. This opens the door for tons of growth. If LTV is far higher than CPA, you are making a profit per customer and have room to spend even more on customer acquisition because of your high lifetime values. LTV can be higher for ecommerce subscription businesses or companies selling online courses and digital subscriptions, as monthly recurring revenue can greatly increase LTV. With a return on ad spend (ROAS) over 3:1, you can focus heavily on new customer acquisition and sustainable growth.

2. Cart abandonment rate

Cart abandonment rate is the percentage of people who leave their cart after putting items into it on your store.

This pesky little metric can tell you a lot about your current ecommerce store and website. Cart abandonment tells you if your website is killing it or driving people away in masses. It’s one of the most annoying metrics to see on your dashboard, but it’s also one of the most telling, helpful metrics to analyze.

According to Statista data, cart abandonment averages at 74.2% for online retailers in 2018.

That’s high. Too high.

While not all stores will have such a high rate, the average ecommerce store does. What are the most common reasons? Almost all of them have to do with key purchasing pain points:

  • Expensive shipping
  • No free shipping
  • Unaware of shipping costs
  • Slow shipping
  • Researching
  • Long process
  • Bad site UI

Thanks to Amazon, shipping has become a value point in its own right. No longer are the days where people will patiently wait 7-10 business days to receive the product they ordered. Not when Amazon delivers in two days (or even same-day).

Do you have competitors selling on Amazon with similar products and pricing to you? Do you have high cart abandonment rates?

You can bet that people are abandoning your cart, looking to Amazon, finding competitors, and getting their products because of shipping.

So, how can you combat it?

By tackling cart abandonment rates at the source:

  • Showcase pain points during the cart process
  • Improve speed

First, you need to combat pain points during the checkout process. And the biggest pain points all revolve around shipping:

  • Cost
  • Time to ship
  • Estimated delivery dates

Amazon wins the shipping game not just because they have two-day shipping, but also because they are so clear about your shipping expectations before you even order the product:

People know exactly when they are going to get their product instead of seeing “7-10 business days after order processing.” What does that even mean for a consumer? How are they supposed to know what your order processing looks like? Is that one day? Next week?

These all cause frustration and lead to cart abandonment rates. On your checkout page, be sure to make shipping as clear as Amazon does.

Another key reason for cart abandonment is bad user experience. How fast is your site? Is it easy to navigate? Choose a top web hosting provider with uptime history monitoring that won’t impact your site speed. Google data shows that most websites are far too slow:

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This can lead to big bounce rates and cart abandonment:

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Are you making customers wait seconds between each step of the checkout process due to speed? They aren’t gonna stick around. Data shows that most people use WordPress to create a website.

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In addition to WordPress ecommerce plugins, there are countless plugins that you can use with WordPress to increase speed.

Simplify your checkout process, improve your speed, and address shipping pain points right in the checkout process with detailed information. This will result in much lower cart abandonment and improved sales.

3. Branded online search impressions

I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t he just say that vanity metrics are worthless?

You bet I did.

But online search impressions aren’t a vanity metric when you are concerned with brand awareness. For most ecommerce stores during the growth phase, this is a vanity metric. But once you have a steady stream of organic sales, it’s anything but a vanity metric.

You see, most new commerce stores make the mistake of focusing on this too early. This leads them to have distorted views of what metrics matter. Only when you have consistent organic sales should you start monitoring your branded online search impressions.

When it comes to ecommerce marketing, you need to look at it with a funnel just like any business:

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Depending on funnel stages, KPIs can change.

When it comes to developing a growth strategy with key metrics, you have to start at the top, listing metrics that you can track years in advance and ones that also matter more in the short-term development of your store, like brand awareness:

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Branded online search impressions is a metric that tells you how many people are organically (not paid) searching for your brand on different channels.

An easy way to track online branded search impressions is via a keyword tool, either directly on Google Ads or through a tool like WordStream, Moz, SEMRush. orAhrefs.

For instance, if I wanted to track the branded online search impressions for WordStream, I would plug variations of “WordStream” into the keyword tool to see how many monthly search impressions are:

Then, you can track impressions over time, as they hopefully increasing month over month.

Organic branded search impressions tell you how well your marketing efforts are paying off for building brand awareness, even in local markets.

If more people are starting to search for your store via branded searches, you are doing something right!

Another great way to manage online impression building is via customer reviews. This can help you learn about customer complaints, trends of how your reviews look, and where you can improve:

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Plus, it’s far easier to sell to brand aware searchers than people who have never heard of you before!

4. Average order value

 The average order value, or AOV, is a metric that shows you how big an average order on your website is.

This is the average figure for all the orders made on your website during a particular period of time. This number tells you how many people really want to buy from you and in what quantity.

In simple terms, AOV is total revenue divided by the number of orders you have:

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AOV can tell you a ton about your current selling strategy.

It’s one thing to have 1,000 new orders on your store for $5 each compared to 500 orders for $100. The revenue differences are huge. Most people will get caught up in having more orders. More unique orders from new customers. But more often than not, the fastest way to increase total revenue isn’t to acquire more customers.

Why?

You are paying to acquire more customers, and they aren’t going to be your biggest spenders.

It’s often repeat purchasers who spend the most with a business. In this case, you don’t need more and more orders. You just need bigger average order values! That is why, as an ecommerce owner or digital marketing expert, you should be aiming at maximizing the AOV before total order volume.

The other interesting thing about the AOV is that knowing this number will help you easily define the threshold for free shipping. You can even use this is a tactic to increase average order values over time!

For instance, this is a strategy that Pura Vida Bracelets takes to increase their AOV and meet the shipping preferences of their consumers:

“Free Shipping On All Orders $30+”

Using the strategy, they can drive AOVs above $30 and provide shipping value. This way, they don’t need thousands of orders for $5. They need far less but with higher order values per sale.  AOV is a useful metric for tracking how well you are selling to new, existing, and loyal customers.

Conclusion

Ecommerce metrics are almost limitless. But KPIs like CPA, AOV, branded search impressions, CLTV, and cart abandonment are some of the most important ones around.

If your reporting is focused on vanity metrics like clicks and impressions, it’s time to shift your perspective. While those vanity metrics can be great for measuring brand awareness, they aren’t so good for measuring direct revenue gains.  And getting too caught up in the glitz and glamour of them will have you draining your company account faster than you can blink.

Focus your ecommerce data strategy on the metrics we covered today and you will be a better leader in the space and set yourself up for success in the future.

About the author

Adam Enfroy is a writer and strategic partnerships manager for BigCommerce. With 10+ years of digital marketing experience, he's passionate about leveraging the right strategic partnerships and software to scale digital growth. Adam lives in Austin, TX and writes about selling online courses and scaling your online influence on his blog, adamenfroy.com. You can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

6 Overlooked Optimizations to Increase Your PPC Conversion Rate

In the paid search world, you learn by testing. You test your CTAs, your ad copy, your images. You test your headlines, your placements, your keywords.

With all that testing, it’s easy to get worn out and think you’ve tried, well, everything to improve performance and increase conversion rates.

Don’t worry: you haven’t.

Whether you’re a business owner trying to grow your business, an account manager looking for new strategies, or a PPC specialist exploring tricks to have powerful campaigns, these six often-overlooked optimizations can increase your PPC conversion rate.

1. Run a branded campaign

Branded campaigns are essential when you’re in a competitive market. If you’re not bidding on your own name, there’s a chance your competitors are. A branded campaign will help you protect your brand name against competitors and deter them from getting your clicks, impressions, and conversions!

So how do we get started?

Here’s an example from one of our clients. First, we looked at our Search Terms Report and found a trend in searches that included our client’s branded name.

We did a search for the branded terms and didn’t find our client’s ads; instead, there were three of their direct competitors’ ads in the top positions.

The next step is where we made the most impact. We created a branded campaign targeting our branded keywords that included the main service or product people would be looking up when searching for the company.

The branded campaign increased our visibility, CTR, and, most importantly, conversions and conversion rate.

Within a three-month timeframe, the branded campaign increased the overall conversion rate by 10% with 27 conversions!

Looking at the Auction Insights below, we found that competitors had 100% of all the branded traffic before we created a branded campaign for our client.

Although people are looking for your particular brand, if you’re not the first ad in the paid search, you’re giving the user a chance to look at a competitor. That might be enough for them to go to your competitor instead of scroll through the search engine result page (SERP) looking for your website.

Pro tip: Exclude converters so you don’t target the same people who are looking to purchase a second time.

2. Test branded ad copy: H1 vs H2

Now that we’ve set up a branded campaign, we are looking for the next opportunity for conversion rate optimization. It’s time to make an impact.

In this new era of shorter and distracted engagement, users are looking for a direct solution to their search at a glance. If you’re not giving that to them, they’re either scrolling past your ad or searching a new query.

Chilling.

With a branded campaign, we know users are searching for your brand, so why not put that immediately in the H1 where it’s the first copy they read?

We tested the brand name in first headline versus the second headline to see just how much of a difference this would make.

Branded in H1:

Branded in H2:

Results showed a huge spike in conversion rate with the brand name in the H1!

The conversion rate for branded H1 compared to the branded H2 was almost a 9% increase in conversion rate.

This test shows that impact that the first headline has. Take advantage of the fact that people are searching for YOUR brand versus someone else’s!

3. Leverage Search Impression Share

Search impression share is another effective yet simple way to increase your average conversion rate. This metric shows you the percentage of impressions your campaign (or ad group or keyword) receives, compared to the number of impressions it was eligible to receive.

If you have a high-converting campaign with a low impression share percentage, this is a hidden gold mine. You’ll want to add more budget to increase the impression share and get your ads to show up more often.

Previously, we knew this was our highest converting campaign, but our search impression share was declining, and we needed to act fast.

We added more budget into the campaign that was losing visibility and conversions due to search impression share.

Within two weeks, our conversion rate TRIPLED, and the campaign’s search impression share grew.

#GetThatSearchImpressionShare

4. Optimize Your Landing Page Conversion Rate

Landing page CRO is one of my favorite facets of PPC.

There’s no “right way” to do this necessarily. The success of a test differs case by case, and you really only know by testing it out yourself.

For our client’s landing page, we had what seemed like two CTA buttons. One was a video play button, and the other was the true CTA button. Having two buttons on the landing page could confuse users who might not know which button to click.

Because the conversion rate was at a low 2.70%, we wanted to test our button theory.

On the new variant landing page, we added more social proof and reduced the size of the “Watch Overview” button so it would be less distracting.

Variant W, the original landing page.

Variant U, the new variant landing page.

Within one week, the new variant with smaller video play button with added testimonials had a 9.32% conversion rate as opposed to the original variant that carried the 2.70% conversion rate.

Keep this test in mind next time you want to test a small change but aren’t sure if it’ll make any difference. Small changes can still produce huge results!

5. Target In-Market Audiences

In-market audiences are segmented audiences identified as having expressed interest, researched, or looked into purchasing a particular product or service.

These segments are a great addition to any account.

Why?

They provide a more granular view of a visitor’s behavior. You’ll be able to see which groups convert higher for your business and so forth. Most importantly, in-market audiences give you the power to advertise to the right people at the right time.

You can either observe or target these in-market audiences; however, it’s best practice to set the audiences to observe only until you gather valuable data.

If you see audiences perform well with a large number of impressions, then you can either set a bid adjustment or create a new campaign tailored to the specific group.

In our campaign, we targeted audiences that have significantly higher costs-per-action (CPAs), high spend, and little-to-no conversions. We tested placing a negative 50% bid adjustment and targeted observation only.

Placing a negative bid adjustment tells Google to bid your desired percentage less on the segments of people who are in the market for that specific product or service.

Placing a positive bid adjustment will tell Google that you want to increase your bids by a given percentage on a specific audience that is in the market for that product or service.

The campaign’s conversion rate did increase, but the CPA also dropped by 36% compared to the previous month!

conversion-rate-optimizations-audiences-campaigns

A good follow-up test would be to add positive bid adjustments to the in-market audiences we know are consistently high-performing within search. The sky’s the limit!

Pro tip: You can layer your best performing in-market audiences with demographic audiences that work best for your campaign to jack up your conversion rate even more (or exclude the high-cost non-converting audiences)!

6. Add Negative Search Terms

Have you ever had feedback from a client who wasn’t so happy with the lead quality coming from a campaign?

High cost + unqualified leads = pause that campaign ASAP – at least in the client’s eyes.

I’m sure we’ve all been there at least once.

Before you go pausing the campaign, see how this conversion rate optimization increased the campaign’s conversion rate by +200% (during the slow holiday season).

First, we wanted to identify which keywords were pulling in conversions. We needed to identify the intent behind the converting users.

We started at the keyword level and looked for keywords with conversions. Then, we took a deeper look at their search terms.

We wanted to see if any searches stood out as irrelevant. Most converters here were seeking “how to” with “sponsorship, sponsor, and sponsored.”

The intent behind someone searching for “sponsors/sponsored” has language that is speaking from a consumer or personal intent.

Someone searching for the keyword “sponsorship” is language that has business or sales intent.

We looked at our ads to see if they satisfied a consumer or business intent.

The language in the headlines, “corporate” “sponsorship” and “event,” tells the searcher that these sponsorships are for businesses who may be on a corporate level.

Next, we checked out the landing page to see what language we were using...consumer or business?

The landing page itself reflects the intent for “sponsorships” and NOT “sponsors” or “sponsored.”

Pro tip: Find a high converting keyword in your campaign. Go to your landing page, CTRL + F the keyword to see how many times it’s mentioned on the page. Take note of the number of times it appears.

You should find that your highest performing keyword is placed on the landing page several times. Then do the same for a high-cost non-converting keyword. You’d be surprised at how little the keyword is mentioned on the page (if it’s mentioned at all).

In our case, the keyword sponsorship is mentioned 10 times while sponsors/sponsored is not mentioned once.

We added the below keywords as negatives and expected conversions/CPA to decrease. In return, the conversions we do get should be higher qualified leads.

Results were astonishing.

The average conversion rate quadrupled from 2.39% to 8.22%, and lead quality improved! Since we were no longer showing up for empty promises (searches that gave us high impressions or clicks but no conversions), Google was able to show our ads to those highly targeted people who were converting for business sponsorships and not consumers looking for sponsors.

Here’s a comparison of what the search terms looked like before the negative keywords were added versus after the negatives.

Search terms without negatives:

Search terms with negatives:

Takeaway

If you’re a paid search specialist seeking new strategies, an account manager looking to expand, or a business owner simply learning the ropes, these six overlooked optimizations can increase your PPC conversion rate. Have fun and ride the wave!

If you have any questions or tried these optimizations, please reach out and share your results!

Author the author

Athena Pham realized early on she wanted to pursue digital marketing as a career and took a leap of faith and left formal education to take her freelancing skills to the next level. She found a home at Directive, a leading search marketing agency specialized in the B2B and enterprise space, and took her skill set to the next level. At Directive, she thrives as a PPC specialist and creates tangible ways to help her clients increase conversion rates daily.

How to Get High-Quality B2B Leads with Facebook Ads

Allen Finn already wrote the definitive piece for WordStream on why Facebook ads can be great for B2B.

But at the time I write this, only 39% of marketers say they've even tried using Facebook ads to create conversations with B2B prospects, according to Zoominfo.

If Finn's piece wasn't enough to convince you, I’m going to share my own experience about why I think it’s insane that Facebook is so underrated for B2B, and I’ll tell you three ways to generate high-quality B2B leads.

The Case for B2B Facebook Ads

According to Marketing Charts' summary of a Hubspot report, the average cost-per-B2B-lead for agencies in 2017, from all channels, was $172.72.

By contrast, when we run Facebook campaigns for our agency clients, it's not unusual to see it as low as $50. In fact, here's a screenshot from a real campaign we're running for an agency client.

(And, as I’ll explain below, we’re excluding a lot of the cheaper leads because we focus on quality.)

What's more, the average cost per click on LinkedIn, the most popular social channel for B2B (the source of over 80% of B2B leads) was $6.50 in 2017. On Facebook, those same clicks are available for $1-$2.

So it's clear there's a gap between Facebook's utility as a source of bargain B2B leads and how business owners and marketers perceive the platform.

Facebook's reputation as a recreational network – in contrast to LinkedIn’s as a place where "serious business people" congregate – is doubtless responsible for some of the misunderstanding.

But I've also spoken to plenty of small businesses who have tried Facebook, and many believe it simply doesn't work.

"We can drive clicks all day," they'll tell me, "but we never close any of them. They'll almost all unqualified."

One business owner I spoke to had gotten more than 50 leads in the last month, and only one was qualified.

Again, that contrasts with the results we've seen firsthand. For instance, here are some stats for a client campaign from the last ten days: 18 leads* for a total of $691.73 in ad spend. After an audit, we determined that seven of them appeared “qualified” (full-time entrepreneurs, legitimate websites).

That's just under $100 per qualified lead.

All of which begs the question: if many business owners and marketers are only generating unqualified leads, what are the successful marketers doing differently?

In the remainder of this article, my goal is to share with you the things we know for sure moved the needle to improve the quality of B2B leads – as opposed to untested theories, or things that might have had an effect but we can't isolate it – so that you can apply them in your B2B lead generation strategies and skip past the part where most businesses get stuck.

*The reason we get fewer leads overall  although many more qualified leads than some campaigns  is that we introduce friction in the funnel, by requiring people to certify they are full-time business owners, and/or meet a certain income level, before they can book-a-call.

Use Proof

Think about the last time you made a big procurement decision for your business.

Did you look at lots of options, compare a number of features, seek the opinions of others, and approach the decision deliberately and carefully?

Or did you immediately hire the first sponsored result that came up after a 15-second Google search?

If you said option two, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

In all seriousness, your clients likely arrive at decisions the same way. If you cater to million-dollar businesses with marketing departments, they don’t take lightly the decision to hire an agency. The most qualified prospects are efficient and forthcoming, and they respect your time.

But, I’m sure you’ll agree, most don’t make knee-jerk decisions

That’s why using proof in your Facebook ads is one of the best ways to ensure that qualified prospects will fill out your contact forms and call you on the phone.

To illustrate the magic of proof, we ran the following split test:

We were already using proof in one client’s ad:

But we decided to pull out all the stops. We removed all the numerical proof from both the ad and the landing page of one ad, and we doubled down on another, punching up the headline with even more proof:

Here’s the sub-headline of the landing page from the “Uber-Proof” version:

And here’s the landing page with the sub-headline removed:

Then we let the test run for two weeks to collect data.

The results?

Caveats first: a split test expert will tell you this is by no means statistically significant. You’d need thousands of conversions.

But it’s strongly suggestive that the data underpins what makes sense to us intuitively when we put ourselves in the shoes of a business owner considering hiring the business running the ad: proof works.

Let the Algorithm Work

Most of the articles I’ve read on B2B lead generation on the Facebook ads platform mention the multiple ways you can slice-and-dice your audience.

And many mention defining a client avatar really specifically…

  • Are they a CEO or a CMO?
  • Are they male or female?
  • Do they like apple pie or cherry pie?

Okay, maybe not the last one. But most articles do go on to suggest making a fine-grained uber-audience, with tons of cross-referenced targeting parameters.

There’s just one problem: we’ve tested these “smart” audiences against “dumb” audiences, and they’ve got a pretty poor track record.

Here’s how a “dumb” audience, with just three interests and little else, performed in a recent campaign:

Here’s how a “smart” one, with seven total parameters – two demographic and five interests – performed in the same campaign (fewer impressions because we shut it down once it got blown away):

Zilch.

Of course, we’re cherry-picking here (even though there are dozens of other examples I could include if I weren’t conscientious of taking your time).

But it only takes one counterexample to disprove a theory – that complex audiences and “pre-defined” avatars always perform better – and we’ve got countless such examples.

In fact, we’re hard-pressed to find a “smart” audience that does outperform a dumb one.

I’ve got two hypotheses for why this is: one theoretical and one grounded in Facebook ads theory.

First, if you’re a fellow fan of Nassim Taleb’s books The Black Swan and Antifragile, you’re familiar with his theories on “teaching birds to fly.”

Simply put, human beings have a pretty garbage track record of predicting the future (see the ‘08 financial crash) or determining in advance what people will buy and what they won’t (see practically any business case study).

A “smart” audience in Facebook does just that: tries to predict in advance the exact characteristics of buyers, subscribers, clickers, or leads.

The more effective way to tell?

Trial and error.

That’s why, for every campaign, we put up to 100 potential interests in a spreadsheet and test at least five of them in parallel at all times.

We let the results tell us which targeting parameters work best.

My second theory is really just a Facebook fact: as long as you’re tracking the right conversion parameter, the algorithm will figure out who to show the ad to in order to get the lowest conversion costs. (It’s worth shouting out another important point of Allen Finn’s article: make sure you know how to use the tracking pixel!)

When it comes to how much audience you give Facebook to “play with,” there’s a balance. Make your audience too broad, and you’ll run out of budget showing your ad to everybody in the universe before you get any conversions. But narrow your audience too much, and you’re limiting the algorithm’s ability to find potentially qualified prospects.

And a lot of the “smart audiences” do just that: exclude people Facebook could potentially identify as good prospects.

Get SUPER Specific with Your Copy

There’s a marketing saying that goes “Google is where people go to make a decision; Facebook is where they go to avoid making a decision.

And yet, as I’ve shown, some of the cheapest qualified B2B leads are not on Google ads but rather on Facebook.

So what gives?

Well, there’s less competition, for one, as long as most business owners continue to believe Facebook “doesn’t work” for B2B.

And it’s also harder to create bidding wars of the type you see on Google ads, because Facebook’s platform is audience-based rather than keyword-search-based.

But the above axiom does get one thing right: You don’t have the luxury of just being the-thing-somebody’s-searching-for:

That’s an advantage if you don’t want to be commoditized and comparison-shopped, like the mowers above.

But it requires getting your prospect’s attention while she’s on Facebook to do something other than search for solutions to her business problems…

...and that requires specific copy.

First, a self-evident example:

Say you’re fed up with your inventory software.

You wish it pushed real-time updates to all the handsets. That way your employees wouldn’t have to waste time logging on to one of the core computers to check their inventory.

Now, say there was a software company who made just that.

Do you think you might click on an ad that said “Finally – an inventory software that pushes updates in real-time,” with a headline that said,Stop Wasting Time Logging on and Get Back to Business”?

I sure would, in this obviously completely hypothetical example.

What if instead it said, “Acme Inventory Software, for all your inventory needs”?

You might, if you were bored. Or desperate.

But hopefully you see my point. Specificity matters when you’re getting people’s attention while they’re looking at baby pictures on Facebook.

Want to Try Facebook Ads for Your Business, But Scared of Unqualified Leads?

When businesses see crappy results from Facebook ads, it usually takes on of the following forms:

  • Part-timers/”wantrapreneurs”
  • People who want something-for-free
  • Time wasters

But, as we’ve shown, qualified prospects are out there, and they will respond to your company. You need to:

  • Show them proof you really do what you say you do
  • Define your campaign goals carefully, and find the right balance with targeting
  • Get ultra-specific with your copy

Unqualified leads will waste your time. Apply these tactics to your Facebook ads account, and I guarantee you’ll not only have fewer of those but also attract more of those high-quality B2B leads you’re looking for.

About the author

Nathaniel Smith is a direct response marketing strategist who specializes in Facebook ads for B2B.