Why Businesses Can’t Ignore Google AMP Stories

The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) project was launched by Google in February of 2016 with the goal of putting mobile performance above everything else on the web.

And Google definitely met their goal.

AMP powers more than two billion mobile pages and 900,000 different domains. Pages with AMP now load twice as fast as pages without added AMP elements.

If you think you can ignore AMP, you’re wrong. AMP has some pretty awesome features and benefits that can take your content creation efforts to the next level.

If you don’t take the time to understand or use AMP stories, you’re missing out.

Here’s why businesses can’t afford to ignore them.

But first, let’s analyze what AMP stories truly are.

What are AMP Stories?

Google’s AMP stories features allow publishers to create content that is very similar to Instagram stories, designed with mobile websites in mind.

But the content created with AMP doesn’t get added to an app. Instead, it’s placed right in search results pages.

AMP is an open-source project that was created in response to the fact that mobile users now spend more time on apps than in websites.

77% of their time, to be exact, according to Statista data.

mobile users spend most time on top three apps

With AMP, content loads extremely fast, which helps keep mobile users on those pages and off of their apps.

Instead of regular search engine results, users receive a swipeable story that’s easy to navigate. The UX is somewhat similar to the popular dating app, Tinder.

swiping through cnn AMP stories from Google

AMP partners include CNN, Mic, Wired, The Washington Post, Mashable, and People.

AMP partners

Beyond loading at lightning fast speeds, AMP Stories can also be shared in the same way news articles are shared.

Here’s a breakdown of how they work.

How Accelerated Mobile Pages Work

Today, JavaScript can be used on almost any web page to modify any portion of it.

But it also slows the loading and rendering of pages. And since page speed is so important (we’ll talk more about that later), that’s something you want to avoid.

AMP only allows for asynchronous JavaScript to run on pages, meaning that the JavaScript code won’t block any other code present on your site.

asynchronous javascript on AMP

JavaScript written by the webmaster is forbidden on AMP stories, and interactive pages must only contain custom AMP elements.

Custom elements can consist of JavaScript at their core, but they must be specifically designed to make sure that they don’t cause any restrictions on the overall performance of a page.

Third-party JavaScript is also allowed with AMP, but it cannot block page rendering.

AMP also does not allow for any kind of extension mechanisms to block page rendering, but it can be used for Instagram embeds, tweets, or lightboxes.

Because of this, users can swipe through mobile-optimized content on AMP pages without all of the unnecessary distractions.

AMP vs non-AMP story

As you can already tell, there are a lot of reasons why AMP stories are growing fast.

Why Should You Use AMP Stories?

Some of your competition is probably consistently using AMP.

If you aren’t, you might as well be accepting defeat.

On the other hand, if you start using AMP protocols before your competitors, you’ll differentiate yourself as a frontrunner in your industry.

Why? Because AMP features can help you tell stories, and storytelling is powerful.

Storytelling is Powerful

Everyone loves a good story.

At least 100,500 digital words are consumed by the average U.S. citizen in one day, while 92% of consumers want to view and read ads that feel like stories.

amount of words americans consume

There is some evidence out there that suggests that people view AMP stories much longer than they view traditional alternatives.

This could be because faster loading times make it easier to view more content for a longer period of time.

AMP lets you tell stories in a powerful, fast, unique way. And when you tell a good story well, you’ll be able to reach your audience effectively.

Speak to your readers’ needs, give each piece an interesting arc, and don’t forget to add in all of the hard data needed to prove your point.

Page speed plays a huge role in AMPs success, too.

Page Speed is Important

Site speed is important. Pages that take a long time to load can kill your conversions. If your site takes a while to load, you’ll rack up less and less conversions.

conversion rates and load time

Luckily, AMP pages load about twice as fast as regular mobile pages.

AMP pages load faster

With such quick loading times, customers will be able to get to your content faster than ever before.

This is great news, since the probability of a bounce increases by 32% if a mobile page takes as long as three seconds to load.

If it takes five seconds, the probability of a bounce increases by 90%.

Because of the quick loading times provided by AMP, users will be more likely to go ahead and buy from you.

When they know they can interact with your brand without any friction or wait time, they’ll be willing to trust you with their money.

To make the case for AMP even stronger, Google tends to give faster loading mobile pages special treatment and better rankings.

Take advantage of the creative design features offered by AMP to keep viewers engaged and intrigued.

Take Advantage of Creative Design

In case you didn’t already know, design is important. And AMP pages let you add in creative elements that take your content to the next level.

Don’t be afraid to add forms, buttons, videos, images, shopping options, or links to your AMP stories.

Your site will look much more sleek and functional, giving you tons of opportunities to attract, engage, and hold your viewers’ attention.

AMP on google and the layout of AMP

AMP can give your site the SEO boost it needs.

AMP Helps SEO

AMPs give your site a huge visibility boost.

As of right now, a page with AMP protocols won’t increase your site’s page authority or domain authority.

That being said, it does give the page a chance to be featured in the AMP carousel that appears above traditional Google search results.

AMP carousel

This means that if your site shows up in the carousel, it will appear before the number one placement.

It doesn’t get any better than placing before the number one spot, does it?

This can give you the big boost in organic search results that you need, bringing more traffic to your site than ever before.

Next, let’s break down all of the moving parts that make AMPs so great.

Introducing the AMP Story Features

Traditional AMP content relies solely on text, but the new and improved format includes videos, animation, and images to give users a full experience.

For publishers, you can:

  • Embed your stories across apps and websites
  • Access stories via both desktop and mobile
  • Tell stories without needing to have a ton of technical knowledge

The best part? AMPs are free for everyone to try.

Let’s examine all of the parts involved in completing an AMP story.

Parts of an AMP story

Before you can create your first AMP story, you have to master all of its components.

Every story is structured with individual pages. Each page consists of individual layers that are made up of a combination of HTML code and AMP elements.

Here’s how the components will look when added to your code:

Story = amp-story
Page = amp-story-page
Layers = amp-story-grid-layer

When added to a page, the code might look something like this:

AMP story code

The story component contains your entire AMP story, while the page component contains each specific page that exists within your story.

The layers component contains all of the elements that are present on a page.

Here are some examples of a few AMP stories.

Examples of Google AMP Stories

It’s no secret that Google will link to AMP versions of web pages over traditional ones any time that they’re available because Google prefers them.

Because of this, every AMP partner has used the feature of the service to suit their strengths.

The most commonly known AMP adapters were news organizations since they could use AMPs to get information out quickly and effectively to searchers.

Here are examples of how CNN has utilized AMP stories to share and amplify breaking news:

CNN AMP stories

Some publishers have even written AMP stories over the exact same kinds of content (with the same cover photo):

same content on AMP

But AMPs aren’t just for news sites. You can turn your long-form content into an AMP if you want to. And you should.

What are people saying about AMP, overall?

What People Are Saying About It

AMP Product Manager Rudy Galfi recently told AdWeek that AMP stories “should make for a really engaging ad format.”

But what does everyone else seem to think about publishing content with AMP?

Econsultancy writer Stuart Shaw says that while AMP pages require some maintenance, the payoff and exposure that they provide is well worth it.

In an April 2018 post, he wrote:

“Sure, all you’ve done is improve things for your mobile users – and only on the few scant pages that you’ve implemented AMP on…But optimization isn’t about making things perfect in an instant It’s a gradual process that must adapt to the ever-changing ‘techscape’ that is search.”

In general, reactions to AMP on sites like Twitter are fairly positive. Some people are calling AMP one of the most important trends of 2018.

AMP trend to watch 2018

Others really love the recent changes and updates to AMP, like Gumpo, who says “We love this as a way of delivering interactive content with rich visuals.”

Gump Web Marketing AMP tweet

In September of 2017, SEO company Optimising had this to say about AMPs on Facebook:

optimising facebook post about AMP

“We love Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) here at Optimising.”

The experts at Search Engine Journal have some awesome tips on how implementing AMP for eCommerce sites can help improve users’ experience and boost conversions.”

Overall, it looks like AMP is here to stay.

Here’s how you can get started creating your own AMP stories.

How to Get Started With Google AMP Stories

Now that you know what AMP stories are, how they work, why you should use them, and what people are saying about them, you can get down to business creating your own.

To get started, download the code.

1. Download the code

In order for Google to pick up on the AMP version of your articles, you have to modify the code of the article page.

The original article must have the following tag, which is an AMP canonical tag:

<link rel=”amphtml” href=”http://www.example.com/blog-post/amp/”&gt;

If you want all of the AMP code you need all from one page, click over to the amp-wp GitHub page and select the “Download ZIP” button.

download AMP

Then, install this code on your WordPress site just like any WordPress plugin.

Alternatively, you can also download the following code from AMP directly and save it to a file with a .html extension.

AMP code

Once your code is downloaded and added, you can run the sample page.

2. Run the sample page

In order to test out your sample page, you’ll need to access your files from a server.

There are a few ways you can create a temporary local web server to help you test it:

AMP recommends that you use HTTPS, here, for added security.

After you set up a local web server, you can access your sample article by heading to this URL:
http://localhost:8000/article.html.

If everything looks good, go ahead and create the cover page.

3. Create the cover page

Your cover page is represented with the tag.

You can have more than one components within a story, which contain each of the individual screens for that story.

But the first page that you specify will act as the cover page.

To create a cover page, assign a unique ID for your cover to the first page:

<amp-story standalone>
<amp-story-page id=”cover”>
</amp-story-page>
</amp-story>

That code acts as a shell for your cover page. But you need to specify at least one layer to make it valid.

layers on AMP

Layers in AMP work similarly to layers in graphics: they consist of different elements stacked on top of one another.

In the example above, layer one contains the image that serves as the cover photo, while layer two contains the title and byline of the story.

To create layer one, add the <amp-story-grid-layer> element to <amp-story-page>.

If you want the image to fill the screen, add the template=”fill” attribute to the amp-story-grid-layer tag.

Inside the layer, add the <amp-image> element for a cover.jpg file and make sure it’s responsive by adding the tag layout=”responsive”.

Here’s what the code for the first layer should look like when it’s all said and done:

layer code for AMP

Check how the page displays before moving on.

To add a second layer, use the “vertical template” instead of the “fill template” found here.

AMP vertical template

Once your cover page is complete, you can add more pages.

4. Add more pages

Adding more pages is similar to adding your sample page and cover page.

The code you use will depend on the template you choose.

To add text to a layer with the vertical template, add something similar to the following elements:

  • An <h1> element containing the title
  • A responsive amp-img
  • A <q> element that contains all of your text

Your new page should come out looking something like this:

cats AMP page

You can also add animating elements to enhance your story.

5. Add animating elements

If you want to take your story to the next level, you can make your title drop into a page, fade in, twirl in, and so on.

The AMP framework currently includes the following preset animating elements:

AMP animating elements

If you want to add an animation to an element, add animate-in=”animationpresetcodehere”.

For example, to use the pulse animation, your code might look like this:

<amp-story-page id=”page3″>

<amp-story-grid-layer template=”vertical”>
<p animate-in=”pulse”>Pulse this text into the page </p>
</amp-story-page>

Once you’ve added animating elements, you’re ready to create the bookend.

6. Create the bookend

The “bookend” is the last screen that wraps up your story.

You can use it to add related links or social sharing links, too.

In your amp-story elements, add the bookend-config-src attribute. Then, point it toward the bookend.json file.

<amp-story standalone
bookend-config-src=”bookend.json”>

</amp-story>

Your bookend should look something like this when you’re finished:

AMP bookend

Finally, you’re ready to validate your AMP HTML.

7. Validate your AMP HTML

There are a number of ways to validate your AMP pages.

For example, you can use the Chrome DevTools console:

  1. Open your page in a browser
  2. Add “#development=1” to your URL
  3. Open the Chrome DevTools console and check for any validation errors

validation errors in google chrome inspector

You can also use the AMP Validator browser extension.

AMP validator browser extension

Both tools will show you any issues with your AMP code and describe ways to repair them.

Here are three quick tips to keep in mind when creating AMP stories.

3 Quick Tips

To make a great AMP story, you’ll need to add videos, text, pictures, or all of the above.

Here are some quick and easy ways to save yourself some time in the process.

For videos

It’s not uncommon to add a click-to-play overlay on videos across the web. You can use it to add a custom play icon that matches your page’s style along with the title of your video.

video overlay on AMP

AMP stories don’t come with this feature automatically added.

However, you can easily add it with a tag like:

<div id=”myOverlay”
class=”click-to-play-overlay”>

For text, you may want to manage the size or fit to make certain text fit within a specified area.

For text

The amp-fit-text component lets you manage the size or fit of text within a specified area, which is perfect if you don’t want to play around with font sizes all day.

The component finds the best font size to fit content in the available space automatically, so you don’t have to.

best font size fit to scale

Some HTML image tags can become problematic when it comes to AMP.

For pictures

Most HTML tags can be added directly in AMP HTML.

That being said, some tags (like the <img> tag) are sometimes replaced with enhanced AMP HTML tags. A few problematic HTML tags are banned completely.

Instead of the <img> tag, be sure to use <amp-img>, which has an end tag.

You can view the full list of AMP tag conversions here.

HTML img tags for AMP

Conclusion

AMP was created by Google to put mobile first in search engine results pages and across the web.

AMP stories are similar to Instagram stories, and tons of well-known companies are dominating the Internet with them. If you think you can ignore them, you’re wrong.

Billions of mobile pages are powered by AMPs. Those pages load twice as fast as before because JavaScript code isn’t allowed to slow them down.

There are plenty of reasons to use AMP stories. They can help improve your storytelling efforts, boost page speeds, improve your site’s creative design, and help SEO efforts.

There are three parts to an AMP story: the story, the page(s), and the layer(s).

Huge media sites like CNN are using AMPs to share breaking news, while other sites are using them to share their long-form or video content.

And the reactions to AMP are positive overall. Most people are calling it the next big thing of 2018. Publishers love it.

To get started creating AMP stories, download the code, run a sample page, create your cover page, add more pages and animating elements, create the bookend, and validate your HTML.

If any issues are uncovered when you validate your AMP code, fix them immediately.

To save some time, there are a few quick tips and tricks you can use when adding videos, text, and pictures to your stories.

Add a custom click-to-play overlay for videos, use the amp-fit-text component to automatically size your text, and never try to use <img> tags. Instead, use <amp-img>.

Now, go forward and put mobile users first on your site, too.

Which piece of content are you going to turn into an AMP story first?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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Introducing Alliioop: The Customer Marketing Platform (to Build an Awesome Customer Base)

Shopify, Facebook, FedEx and the likes have made it easier than ever to birth ecommerce brands. And that’s exactly what’s been happening. Three people in a garage can launch, look and execute like a 100+ person company of old. I’m not saying it’s easy, there’s way more to it than that, but the triangulation of tech, logistics and online-all-the-time buyers have certainly paved the way for the ecommerce boom.

Keep your customers from cheating on you

And, just as the number of ecommerce companies have exploded, so too has the consumer’s opportunity and willingness to switch brands. Consumers are inundated with Facebook and Instagram ads, and don’t bat an eye at the notion of switching from one shop to another, or to Amazon. And it won’t stop–unless you can establish your brand and value to make them loyal.

Repeat customers are your #1 asset for growth

One thing that hasn’t changed since the brick-and-mortar days, is the fact that customer loyalty and lifetime value are critical to company growth and long-term survival. And that has never been more true. While store location could practically drive loyalty before–now location don’t mean diddly. It’s how you interact with your customers and build a relationship with your brand that matters most.

power of repeat purchases for ecommerceA graph illustrating the power of repeat purchases for your company growth

Build a brand your customers love

Getting customers to your site is one thing, but converting them into loyal, repeat customers is an entirely different challenge. That’s exactly why we created Alliioop. A customer marketing platform that makes it easy to engage each customer precisely the way they want and expect–and build a relationship that lasts forever.

Blanket emails won’t work

Alliioop is far from just another email marketing tool like Mailchimp. The biggest difference is Alliioop was built on a customer analytics platform. That means we can deliver deeper customer insights and more granular segmentation than ever before, so you can deliver messages that are more on target and stay personalized as you scale.

Building a kickass customer base

Clearly, building a large, loyal customer base takes time and effort–and both art and science. It requires that you understand what make customers tick, and not. It’s not always about sending discounts and special offers, though those do work. Delivering well timed content, advice, product recommendations, as well as those special offers is what adds value, builds appreciation and drives loyalty. We combined the key features in Alliioop to make it easy to catch people at the right time, with the right message.

Getting results with Alliioop

We’re thrilled with the results our customers are getting with Alliioop. They’ve seen immediate insights on how to engage their customers with highly targeted Facebook and email campaigns to increase conversions and sales.

Getting started and getting results is easy with our Shopify and Facebook integrations. Plus our pre-built reports, segments and campaigns come to life right after you turn it on, with these key capabilities:

Reporting: We’ve pre-built a suite of reports that will show you everything from high-level conversion metrics, to campaign performance, LTV and the details of every customer path. You get insights that will highlight what you should do next to increase conversions.

Segmentation: Sending highly targeted messages requires powerful segmentation. You can segment on anything and the segments are dynamic–meaning people are added and removed from segments in real-time–not stale, static lists.

Facebook: Keeping your Facebook Custom Audiences fresh and on target is cumbersome. We automatically add and remove people from your Facebook Custom Audiences based on their behavior. This keeps your audiences fresh and your ads more on target–and effective.

Email campaigns: Create and automatically send great emails that can be connected to your segments for highly targeted, timely delivery. Build flows that map to customer profiles and behaviors to get more clicks and purchases.

Automation: Driving all these engagements requires serious automation. Alliioop monitors all your customer behavior and triggers the engagements automatically. So as you build more granular targeting over time, we manage all the delivery so you can scale.

Alliioop is the first Customer Marketing Platform built from the customer data perspective and specifically for ecommerce. The power, simplicity and automation are combined in a platform that will scale your business and be as critical to your growth as your ecommerce platform is to your operations.

If you’d like to see how Alliioop can grow your ecommerce company, request a personal demo here

Enjoy!

About the Author: Brian Kelly is the CEO of Space Pencil. Space Pencil is the creator of Alliioop, Sherlock and Kissmetrics.

Is Influencer Marketing Dead? A Hard Look at The Newest Data (and What You Can Do Instead)

Is anyone having deja vu?

Every time a new marketing tactic becomes more mainstream, marketers and researchers inevitably wonder if it has peaked and started to lose its effectiveness.

We’ve seen this before with SEO, email marketing, Facebook marketing, and many others.

is seo dead google search

It’s a fair question to ask, though.

After all, each year brings new trends in marketing, and some tactics can go out of style. It’s worth examining different approaches to see if they’re still effective.

The tactic we’ll evaluate today is influencer marketing.

Though influencer marketing has been around for a very long time, it has only become a popular marketing tactic in recent years.

With the influx of social media in 2004, influencer marketing exploded and became a lot more prevalent.

Now, fast forward 14 years later.

Influencer marketing has seen some incredible successes and even a few massive failures.

That’s why we need to take a closer look at influencer marketing in 2018.

Should you continue to invest in influencer marketing, or is it dead?

The answer isn’t exactly a simple “yes” or “no.”

But recent data can help you decide if influencer marketing has staying power and if it is the right tactic for your brand to implement in 2018.

The complex current state of influencer marketing in 2018

Let’s dive right in.

I’m going to address the million-dollar question that everyone is asking:

“Is influencer marketing dead?”

Here’s the answer: not really.

But, I have to admit, its future is uncertain.

At the moment, marketers are continuing to focus on influencer marketing as a viable and essential marketing tactic in 2018.

In fact, in the survey below, marketers picked it as the “fastest-growing online customer-acquisition method” over organic search, email, paid search, and more.

fastest growing customer acquisition method

There’s no questioning the popularity of influencer marketing, especially in recent years.

Marketers seem to be searching for new ways to involve influencers on a variety of campaigns.

And they’re investing in their influencer marketing campaigns, too. The influencer marketing industry is booming.

Projections show that marketers will spend $2.38 billion on influencer marketing on Instagram in 2019. That’s more than a $700 million increase from 2018!

instagram influencer marketing

But it doesn’t matter if marketers are fans of influencer marketing. We need to look at the data to see if it works.

Is it truly effective? Are you getting a bang for your buck?

The answer to both questions is still “yes.”

Data shows that influencer marketing is still providing marketers with a strong return on investment. Let’s take a look.

revenue per $1 spent on influencer marketing

The data shows that influencer marketing generates $6.50 for every dollar a company invests. Approximately 70% of companies earn $2 or more for every dollar, and 13% of companies earn $20 or more.

That’s valuable.

But you might not always be so lucky.

If you look closely, you’ll see that 18% of businesses didn’t receive any return on investment at all. When you factor this into how much a campaign can cost, things can get a little pricey.

This is one reason that many marketers (including myself) wonder how long influencer marketing will remain a viable tactic.

Many factors make the future of influencer marketing uncertain, too.

First, the FTC introduced regulations to “improve disclosures” in 2017. This helps consumers understand which posts are promotional, even if they are coming from an influencer.

While the regulations are needed, additional ones may cause some brands to stray away from influencer marketing due to the risk of malpractice.

Plus, influencer marketing campaigns are starting to get more expensive.

cost estimates of influencers

Mid-range influencers with 50,000 – 500,000 followers can charge anywhere from $400 to $2,500 for a post.

Influencers with a following in the millions can charge between $30,000 and $187,500 per post.

With such a large investment in a single post, marketers are expecting a huge ROI.

But there’s only one problem:

Many don’t know how to accurately measure the ROI from their influencer marketing campaigns.

An overwhelming majority (76%) of marketers agree that the biggest challenge of influencer marketing is determining the ROI of campaigns.

top influencer marketing challenges

How can you improve something if you don’t measure it? Worse yet, how can you even know if it’s working?

But the problem isn’t just with marketers.

Consumers are evolving, too.

The scale has tipped, and millennials are now trusting influencers less than they were in previous years.

millennial trust in influecers

Can you blame them, though? After all, think back to the Fyre Festival influencer marketing gaffe.

Influencers including Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, Whitney Fransway, and many others promoted the event. But it didn’t live up to expectations.

girl sitting in private jet sharing on instagram

As a result of this failure, 94% of marketers stated they were “not likely” or “very unlikely” to seek out big-name influencers for future projects.

All of these factors play into the unstable future of influencer marketing.

As you continue with influencer marketing campaigns for now, you should also begin to test, expand, and optimize other areas of your marketing strategy.

Here are the alternatives to influencer marketing that you should be focusing on in 2018 to help accelerate the growth of your business.

1. Focus on experiential marketing for live events

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget there’s a whole world “out there.”

Your customers aren’t always online.

Live events can provide a unique touchpoint for your customers that influencer marketing can’t.

And they’re effective, too.

According to a recent study, “79% of brand respondents said they would execute more experiential programs this year compared to last.”

Take Clif Bar as an example.

They focused on creating an experiential marketing activation at Pitchfork Music Festival last year. Their activation included a tattoo parlor, photo booth, and more.

tattoo parlor pitchfork festival

At the event, they distributed 26,000 CLIF bars, and one in 20 social posts with the tag #Pitchforkfest also featured the CLIF bar activation.

Live events provide a unique experience in real life, and their impact often expands onto social media.

HBO tapped into its live event playbook when they debuted their interactive Westworld event at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

Participants boarded buses and went right outside the city limits for an immersive experience that brought to life the fictional Westworld town from the hit TV series.

The experience was highly detailed and highly personalized. Participants could get their picture printed on a western “Wanted” poster, which aligned well with the brand.

wanted jon woods poster

People constantly shared experience on social media during SXSW. It stole the show and earned 62% of the entertainment brand mentions at SXSW.

Live events are an important marketing tactic to help you connect with your customers in a meaningful and authentic way. Influencers simply can’t do that for you.

2. Invest in video content to share your company’s narrative

Video marketing isn’t just flashy, and it isn’t a fad.

It is here to stay, and it can drive serious growth for your business.

Most importantly, though, is that it is becoming mainstream and responsible for a bulk of Internet traffic.

According to estimates, video will make up more than 80% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2021.

Hopefully, you already use video as a part of your content strategy. If not, you’re going to fall behind soon.

In a recent survey, 49.5% of marketers said that video will be a focal point for their marketing.

video marketing survey

That’s nearly half of all marketers.

Now, I know what you might be thinking: “My influencer campaigns already use video, so I’m all set.”

Unfortunately, you’re wrong.

You’re missing the chance to focus on everyday people and create meaningful, evergreen content that showcases your brand’s values and embodies your mission.

You can’t rely on influencers to create content that resonates with your audience. You have to do it yourself.

After all, brands often miss opportunities to connect with their customers. A study found that 78% of people feel that brands never connect with them emotionally.

But LinkedIn recently did this well in a documentary-style integrated video campaign. They used the hashtag #InItTogether for it.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Campaign Director Stacy Peralta talked about the impact of the campaign. She said, “I knew from the first reading of the boards that this was one of those rare opportunities.”

She added, “They asked us to tell real stories about real people, they wanted it shot in black and white, and they wanted energy, enthusiasm and candor from the people involved.”

That campaign generated great content for LinkedIn to share with their audience.

But where should you share your video content after you finish creating it? Well, consumers watch and engage with branded content in different ways on different platforms.

It’s important to know which works best for your business, but here are some generalizations across all social platforms for consumer viewing and engagement habits:

consumer viewing and engagement habits

As you can see, Facebook has the highest viewership as well as engagement numbers (60% and 49%, respectively), while Twitter has the least (41% and 22%).

The interesting part, though, is that there is only a 2% difference in viewership among the top three platforms: Facebook, Instagram (Video), and Snapchat. YouTube and Twitter fall close behind.

On the engagement side of things, it is much different. Facebook is the clear winner (49%) with YouTube (32%) coming in second. That’s a 17% difference.

So that gives you an idea of where you should be sharing your content. But now, you might be wondering how long your videos should be.

Thankfully, there is data to support the ideal length, and the conclusions are clear as day. Here’s the basic principle:

Make them short.

Approximately 56% of all videos that users shared in 2017 were less than two minutes long.

Viewers will lose interest and likely leave if a video is longer than two minutes.

average engagement vs video length

If you aren’t yet certain that video content can be effective in marketing, look at this experiment from HubSpot. They examined the difference between acquiring customers with video content and non-video content.

They tried switching to video content as opposed to blogs and whitepapers.

As they optimized and emphasized their videos, their views and engagement rates skyrocketed. Here were their engagement rates with their old strategy:

hubspot old engagement rates

Now, here were their engagement rates after they started emphasizing their video content:

hubspot new engagement rates

Before this experiment, their videos averaged 50,000 views per month. But in their first month of optimizing and promoting their video content, they achieved 1 million views. Those are clear results!

Another great example is BakedNYC’s video campaign.

baked nyc facebook

BakedNYC used video to capture emails, and their results were fantastic.

Through this campaign, they achieved a 40% increase in pie sales, a 68% increase in leads, and a 30% decrease in cost per lead.

Video content presents a huge opportunity for your brand. But creating quality videos might feel like a daunting task.

Don’t fret if don’t think that you can do this alone. You don’t have to be Steven Spielberg.

There are plenty of tools that can help you create engaging video content on a low budget in a tight timeframe.

One of them is Promo.

promo homepage 2018

I love Promo because they have over 12.5 million clips that you can customize. You can add music, text, and even your logo to personalize the clips and make them your own.

Magisto is another great tool to use.

magisto homepage in 2018

The cool thing about Magisto is that it has a smart video editor, which makes it incredibly easy to cut and edit your videos online.

These tools can help create great video content that will drive sales on your website.

If you want to get the most out of your marketing efforts in 2018, spend time crafting video promotional campaigns and fine-tuning your video content strategy.

3. Initiate an affiliate marketing program

Not having an effective affiliate marketing program in place is simply leaving money on the table.

Affiliate marketing can bring in a lot of money for your business. To put it in perspective, 15% of the digital media industry’s revenue comes from affiliate marketing.

With affiliate marketing, you’re letting related sites and partners do the work for you.

So, where do you begin?

There are three types of affiliate programs that you can implement:

  • Pay-per-sale: The merchant pays the affiliate in relation to the number of sales that they received from their site.
  • Pay-per-click: The merchant pays the affiliate in relation to the number of clicks that visitors performed while browsing the affiliate’s site.
  • Pay-per-lead: The merchant pays the affiliates in relation to the number of people who sign up.

Affiliate programs succeed in ways that influencer marketing doesn’t. First, it’s usually a win-win for both the affiliate and the merchant because you share the same business goals.

Sites want to send you traffic so that they can earn money. You want the same thing because the affiliate will send you new customers. It’s a win for both of you.

In some cases, influencers don’t share the same mission. They might be just looking for a quick payout, which could lead them to share your campaign in a way that isn’t authentic or true to their brand or yours.

The Points Guy is an example of a company that has a strong affiliate marketing program in place.

He started his site as a place to show people how to travel by using points they’ve amassed from purchases. Now, the site is an affiliate site for credit cards, hotels, and flights.

In his AMA, he confirmed that he receives “2.5 million monthly unique views and gets $50-$400 per credit card someone signs up for.”

the points guy reviews in 2018

As a business, you can harness the traffic that is already in place for a well-oiled site. By giving them a little kickback, you both win.

They’ll make money, and you’ll acquire a new customer. It’s really a no-brainer.

4. Be responsive on social media and circulate user-generated content

If you’re reading this blog, I’d go out on a limb to say you have, at the very least, a presence on social media.

While influencers typically utilize social media to propel their efforts, sometimes taking matters into your own hands can retain customers and have a more profound impact on your sales.

Social media marketing has been an important part of any marketing strategy over the years, and it only continues to evolve in 2018.

most effective digital marketing tactic for 2018

Your customers are already hanging out on there. New data shows that a majority of Americans are now on Facebook and YouTube.

majority of american now use facebook and youtube

Once again, this fact reinforces your need for video content.

But how else can you use social media to grow your audience and increase sales? One important answer is quite simple:

By being responsive.

Data shows that companies can make a dramatic effect on their bottom lines if they are responsive and engaging on social media.

Consumers say that the best way for a brand to get them to make a purchase is by simply being responsive.

brand actions that promote purchases

If you respond on social media, people will talk about your positive customer service interactions. Studies found that approximately 48% of people tell their friends about a good customer experience on social media.

This creates a powerful form of word-of-mouth marketing. Your customers’ friends can soon become your new customers.

Facebook understand how impatient people are. They’re now labeling pages with badges that designate their response times.

facebook page about

To get the coveted “Very responsive to messages” badge, you need to achieve two things over the course of seven days:

  1. A response rate of 90%
  2. A response time of 15 minutes

But what if you get a lot of inquiries? How should you keep up with all of them?

Mention is a tool that can help you streamline your customer experience operations on social media.

mention homepage in 2018

It can provide assistance and organize your mentions in an easy-to-read way so that you aren’t overwhelmed.

An example of exemplary customer service on social media would be JetBlue.

jetblue interaction with customer on twitter

Before things got out of hand, they moved quickly and efficiently to resolve the situation, resulting in a happy, satisfied customer who might buy again.

But that’s not all. JetBlue cares so much about their customer service that they announced a partnership and investment in the customer service startup Gladly.

Here’s what Bonny Simi, the president of JetBlue’s corporate venture group, said about their customer service strategy:

“People just don’t want to call in anymore, so we are aiming for omnichannel communication that is on at all hours.”

He added, “[This communication should] take advantage of AI to resolve customers’ issues as quickly as possible, and that will work with all of the important messenger apps.”

As you work on being responsive on social media, you’ll want to circulate the incredible content (photos, videos, and comments) and great accolades that your users are sharing. User-generated content is incredibly valuable.

Sponsors generally pay influencers to post about their products or content. User-generated content, on the other hand, has no financial incentive.

It makes your brand more authentic.

which statement do you agree with

And it’s needed now more than ever.

Research shows that “92 percent of consumers trust organic, user-generated content (UGC) more than they trust traditional advertising.”

Currently, Southwest Airlines is running a user-generated campaign that they call 175 Stories. This integrated campaign invites customers to share their seat story using the hashtag #175Stories.

They even launched a microsite to further share the content.

southwest airlines explore the stories

Judging by a quick hashtag search, the campaign seems to be effective.

Encouraging users to act as your own photographers and share their content can have a positive impact on your business’s growth.

An active presence on social media is not only beneficial to your customers. It can also do wonders for your brand awareness and revenue.

5. Leverage social messaging apps to reach more customers and connect with existing ones

Mobile messaging marketing has emerged as a new trend in 2018.

It seems like social messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and many others) are all the craze these days.

And honestly, they should be.

Influencer marketing shares one message with many people. By using social messaging apps, you can send numerous highly-personalized messages to many people.

Users and businesses on Facebook send approximately 8 billion messages on Messenger every month.

The best part is that they usually have high open and click-through rates, too.

The growth of these messaging apps has skyrocketed in recent years. In 2017, over 76% of smartphone users worldwide used messaging apps.

mobile phone message app users worldwide

The graph also shows that, according to current projections, there will be 2.48 billion mobile phone messaging app users by 2021.

If you want to be where your customers are, then you should think about how you’re leveraging your messaging app strategy.

But what’s interesting is that not all marketers, for some reason or another, aren’t using this as a marketing tactic.

The State of Social 2018” study found that, despite the increase in interest and adoption of messaging apps, nearly 80% of businesses don’t market through them at all.

has your business used messaging apps for marketing

That’s bad for them, but it’s great for you.

Fewer businesses promoting their messages means a greater chance of yours cutting through the clutter.

Messaging apps are a great place to distribute content and offer promotional deals directly to your customers.

Look at how DigitalMarketer used a chatbot to distribute their “Ending the War Between Sales & Marketing” report.

Those interested in the report could connect their Facebook with just a simple click. Then, an automated message would arrive in their Messenger account with a link to the report.

It’s quick, easy, and even feels a little personal.

digitalmarketer chatbot

But this isn’t just a flashy way to distribute content.

It gets results, too.

For example, look at this retargeting campaign that used a chatbot to allow customers to “unlock a special discount.”

The results were incredible. They achieved a 48.2x ROAS (up from 5.6x) and a 1133% conversion rate increase.

HolidayPirates saw incredible success when they used a chatbot to deliver a promotion code to their customers.

They have over nine million digital followers, and they wanted to interact with them on social messaging platforms and send them a holiday promotion.

They grew their WhatsApp following to 750,000+ and achieved open rates of 50-60% and 90% click-through rates for the campaign.

holidaypirates how we attract subscribers

A 90% click-through rate?

That’s something you don’t see every day.

To get a chatbot set up, you just need to follow a few easy steps.

For this example, I’m going to use itsalive.io.

First, visit their homepage and click on “Get Started for Free.”

its alive get started

Then, fill out the information they ask for to register your account.

its alive register

From there, choose your plan and hit “Next.”

its alive choose your plan

Name and describe your bot, and then hit “Create this bot.”

its alive new bot

Click on the pencil icon to edit the test bot that you get by default.

is alive edit bot

Add your trigger and text. Triggers can vary from keywords to events. You can then program what you’d like the bot to do.

You can add as many triggers and texts as you’d like.

In this case, I am setting up the bot to answer FAQs.

is alive bot faq

Then, click the back button and select “Link to Facebook” in the menu.

From there, you’ll want to “Connect to your Facebook account” and select your business page.

Take special note of the test code as well. You will have to add that four-character code when you test your bot.

its alive link to facebook

Then, you can test your bot and see it in action for yourself.

its alive testing bot

Continue to tweak your bot until it accomplishes your business objectives.

Due to the widespread adoption of messaging apps and the generally untapped potential of social messaging marketing, your business could cut directly through the clutter with this tactic.

You should really consider how you can leverage it to reach new customers.

6. Continue to invest in your email marketing strategy

You might be thinking, “Email marketing. That’s so old school.”

While that may be true, it’s still a viable marketing tactic that you should double down on.

One advantage is that you can control and target your audience with email marketing better than you can with influencer marketing.

Emails are part of everyday life, and using them as a marketing medium gets results. After all, users send 149,000+ emails each day.

That might sound like a lot of clutter, and it is. But it’s important that you keep your business top of mind in your customers’ inboxes.

But why?

Email still has the highest ROI when you compare it to any other marketing tactic.

For every $1 businesses spend on email marketing, they average a $38 return.

email delivers highest roi

Notice how email marketing soars ahead of affiliate marketing, paid search, display ads, videos, social media marketing, and traditional marketing tactics.

If you want to assess the ROI of your email marketing campaigns, I recommend this email marketing ROI tool.

It’s very easy to use and can provide great insights into your current email marketing efforts.

Marketers even collectively agree that email has staying power in 2018.

In one survey, marketing professionals rated the effectiveness of digital marketing channels. Approximately 35% gave email marketing a “good” rating, and 18% rated it as “excellent.”

effectiveness of digital media channels

This put email marketing in the lead as one of the most effective digital marketing channels according to marketers.

In 2018, you need to have an email marketing strategy in place and execute highly-personalized and targeted campaigns.

Customers are expecting this in all marketing tactics, but especially in email. If you haven’t targeted your email, they’ll consider it irrelevant to them. You can bet they’ll delete it.

Even worse, they might not open it.

effects of personalization in the shopping experience

A total of 49% of shoppers said that personalization “has led shoppers to purchase an item that wasn’t planned.”

By personalizing your copy, messaging, design, and even your pricing structure, you can encourage conversions and move customers to buy.

You can do this by segmenting your lists (separating your lists to ensure the correct campaign is going to the right audience) and using dynamic copy or pricing.

segment your list convert

How do you make sure that you’ve personalized your email campaigns and that you’re sending them to the right people?

That’s what the men’s shirt company Twillory had to answer.

The team initiated an email campaign when they moved into a larger warehouse. They sent the below email to their first-tier recipients and achieved a 48.5% open rate and an 8% CTR.

twillory

To their less-engaged tier, they stripped the graphic away and took a simpler, personalized, text-based approach.

all text email

This resulted in “a 33% open rate and 11% click-through rate with a group of people who had not engaged in over 270 days.”

That’s a significant impact for their email marketing efforts.

If you want to effectively reach your customers, then deploy smart, personalized, and targeted email marketing campaigns.

Conclusion

Influencer marketing isn’t dead.

At least, it isn’t dead yet.

For now, it still can perform as a viable part of your marketing strategy. The influencer marketing industry is still booming, and it’s still profitable in many cases.

But it may not be around for much longer. It’s becoming increasingly expensive, there’s no guarantee of results, it’s difficult to track the ROI of campaigns, and users are beginning to trust influencers less.

You need to prepare for alternate ways to acquire customers.

Turn to video content to share a compelling narrative about your brand or help put a product on display.

Engage with customers directly on social media. Go out of your way to provide out-of-this-world service experiences that will turn your customers into passionate fans.

Focus on messenger marketing and directly share content, promotions, and solutions through messaging apps.

Finally, double down on email marketing. But as you do so, make sure that you target the right audience and personalize your messages with dynamic content.

If you do all of this, you’ll be ready if the days of influencer marketing come to an end.

What marketing tactics will you use in place of influencer marketing in 2018?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

Why Good Site Architecture Is The Only CRO You Need

When you hear the words “site architecture,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably SEO.

It doesn’t take much digging into SEO best practice to learn that Google loves a site with clearly defined architecture that’s easy to crawl and index.

But if you stopped your site architecture planning with just your SEO, then you’ve missed out on the greater picture.

Site architecture isn’t just an effort to game search engines into ranking your site higher.

It does help with SEO, but it’s so much more than that.

Ultimately, your site architecture should be a strategic effort that allows your organic or paid visitors to navigate easily and use your site for its intended purpose.

That means that site architecture is the older brother of conversion rate optimization.

So in this post, I want to show you exactly how site architecture simultaneously supersedes and enables traditional conversion rate optimization efforts.

And to start things off, I want to dig a little deeper into why so many conversion rate optimization efforts fail.

Why conversion rate optimization doesn’t always work

When dialing in your conversion rate optimization, it’s easy to want to focus on the more traditional efforts.

Typical conversion rate optimization efforts require brands to set up competing versions of the same page in order to see how they can improve them.

how a/b testing works

It’s like a battle royale for website pages.

After a week or two of waiting and measuring, the best performing page wins.

One of them stays up, while the others are discarded for all eternity.

From there, more experimentation occurs based on the winning page’s performance to see if anything else can be improved.

Sometimes, brands will even get brave and conduct some multivariate tests to see if changing multiple elements can yield improvement.

how multivariate testing works

Much like a traditional A/B test, the results hinge on a last-man-standing approach.

Brands can be the loser, and the winner stays up as the subject of more experimentation.

All of this is an ongoing effort to see how you can improve conversions over time.

Many frequently blog about this practice, which even has its own career field in the marketing industry.

But these types of tests aren’t always the most dependable for small brands that need to optimize as efficiently as possible.

And even some large businesses fall prey to common A/B testing mistakes.

For example, elements like sample size can drastically skew the results of conversion rate testing.

testing thresholds

Simply put, if you’re not getting enough traffic, then you’ll be making changes and concluding off of insufficient amounts of data.

That means you could be making the wrong moves and ultimately hurting your brand’s performance.

Or you could also be testing something silly, like colors on your website.

To put it in ConversionXL’s Ott Niggulis’ words:

“There is no universal best color. What works on one site, doesn’t necessarily work on another.”

And that’s part of the point as well.

Many conversion rate optimization trends rise on the backs of a brand or two saying they saw good results from a particular experiment.

Then everyone does it, and confusion results when improvement doesn’t follow.

And then to make matters worse, many brands often don’t allow a proper amount of time to see if their results end up sticking.

conversion rate over time

If your variable regresses back to your control’s average, then there’s a good chance that dropping your control could be a bad idea.

Many brands will prematurely make a decision on the first few days, which ultimately hurts them in the long run.

People call this the small win mentality. It ultimately leads to poor optimization and potentially undermines your results.

what changed results in 5% increase in conversion rates

So with all of the potential pitfalls of traditional conversion rate optimization, can site architecture create a more foolproof way to ensure that your website sees plenty of conversions?

To answer that, I want to break down some of the basics of site architecture and show you how it correlates to your conversion rate optimization.

How site architecture creates conversions

Your site’s architecture focuses on building a platform that is easier for your users to navigate.

When you look into what site architecture actually is, you’ll typically see a graph that offers a genealogy-like depiction of how pages on your site interact.

how pages interact

While there’s a good chance no two sites will be exactly alike, this hierarchy style is a pretty standard example.

You start from a homepage and then navigate through a series of categories and subcategories until you’ve found what you’re looking for.

If this process is fluid, as in the graph above, then your users will have no issues.

But if the architecture is muddled, and it’s hard to find a page that should fall under a natural category, then it’s increasingly more likely that your users will leave.

In other words, the idea is to create a fluid user experience that ultimately leads to trackable and accurate conversion testing.

what equals conversion optimization

If you implement this correctly, you’ll have a site that’s easier to improve on in the long run.

But does site architecture have a genuinely positive effect on your conversions?

A brand called Voicer reported a 75% increase in conversions by correcting some “small” user experience flaws in their site.

If they can see that kind of improvement from small changes, imagine what would happen on a site that has significant user experience problems.

And yet another brand reported a 112% increase in revenue by improving the usability of their site.

So, good site architecture that leads to good user experience can clearly act as a solid basis for conversion rate optimization.

But breaking down the user experience of your website isn’t a simple process.

It requires a great deal of data gathering and analyzing to get to a point where you can indeed create a site architecture that works well for conversions.

Thankfully, there’s a method called the honeycomb model that shows you how exactly user experience can be broken down to help optimize your conversion rates.

honeycomb model

This methodology provides a simple framework that helps brands create websites with the following characteristics:

  • Useful: Serve the purpose for they created it.
  • Usability: Simple and easy to use.
  • Accessible: Anyone can use it.
  • Desirable: Provides positive emotion and is pleasant to use.
  • Findable: Navigation is intuitive, and solutions are easy to find.
  • Credible: Conveys in a believable or trustworthy manner.
  • Valuable: Delivers on a promised value.

If you can fulfill all of the requirements in the honeycomb model, then you optimize your sales funnel paths naturally for conversions.

So for the rest of the article, I want to show you some ways that you draw a direct line between user experience, site architecture, and conversion rate optimization.

You’ll see without a doubt that site architecture is a viable path to increase your lead generation.

Reason #1: It gives your site utility

The first steps of the honeycomb model rely on creating a website that is useful and usable.

This addresses the utility and the function of your site in a few ideas that are easy to understand.

But just because they’re easy to understand doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement.

When building out your site’s architecture, you need to create an experience that helps your user find what they came for.

This natural flow is the first place to start when addressing the usability and usefulness of your website.

natural flow

This ultimately determines how people interact with your website.

And how they interact with your website will, in turn, determine how many conversions you get in the long run.

Think of it in terms of an example involving a site that sells power tools.

On a well-designed website, this would be a logical flow of thought:

logical flow of though in site architecture

Users can navigate based on the type of tool that they want to find. The site then presents individual products according to whether they are cordless, electric, or gas powered.

Now imagine if you were to switch some of the products around.

switching products in site structure

In this case, if you were trying to find a gas powered saw, you would naturally look under the gas powered tools.

If you misplace this in your site’s architecture, a user might navigate to the logical page but still be unable to find a product you actually have.

That means no matter how much you optimize the page, your organic traffic will struggle to navigate your site and may ultimately leave.

So when linking site architecture to conversion rates, the first place most brands start is with a mockup of what they want their users to achieve.

The purpose is to base the entire website design process on actual data and user behavior.

In the words of Paypal UX designer Larry Sawyer:

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but a mock-up is worth even more than that.”

So this design process typically follows a flow of testing, analysis, definition, ideating, prototyping, and then validating.

design process flow

If you follow this particular model, you’ll be able to create a website that is usable by anyone in your audience and thus inherently useful to all parties.

So your initial goal is to optimize your site according to what visitors are doing.

You then take that information and analyze their behavior to see what stands out.

How they use your site defines what is essential, which further provides you the ideas you need to test if you want to improve your conversions.

From this information, you create a prototype of your website, and then validate your findings with additional testing.

If the prototype is invalid, you rinse and repeat until your site is in complete working order.

Keep in mind that this style of UX design does typically involve more design than just site architecture.

But for our purposes, we want to focus on the bigger picture.

So when finally creating your site’s architecture mockup, many brands start with a comprehensive markup of how the elements of every page contribute to the user experience.

how pages contribute to user experience

As this professional breakdown demonstrates, you can draw out and improve every aspect of your site.

From this exercise, you can create a basic outline of what your users should achieve on every page of your site.

overall view of site architecture

The purpose here is to take a vast amount of data from your original design and then strip it away until only a series of user actions remain.

This, in turn, dictates your site’s architecture as it is a direct representation of how you want your user to use your site.

From this simplified design, one then typically creates a more comprehensive wireframe mockup.

comprehensive wireframe mockup

Once you’ve completed the wireframe, you only need to finalize your imagery, copy, and calls to action.

You can then test your new prototype site to see if your user experience is positively affected.

If this simplifies the actions your users take, then you truly aligned your site’s architecture with the intent of your audience, thus fulfilling the usefulness and usability criteria.

This process can be tedious, but it’s a great illustration of how data-backed and conversion oriented your site architecture really is.

If you can successfully do this with your site, you’ll be one step closer to creating a better overall conversion funnel that will help your brand for years to come.

Reason #2: It creates positive momentum

As we move deeper into the user experience and site architecture connection, the next layer according to the honeycomb model hinges on creating positive momentum.

That means according to the honeycomb model it needs to be desirable, accessible, and findable.

So once you’ve established a flow and created a site that’s usable on any device, the next step is to move beyond and create a pleasant experience.

It may surprise you to learn that one in three users will leave a site because they can’t find a product.

That means your site architecture can hurt conversions in a very direct way.

So your goal at this point should be to create a site that’s both easy to navigate and that builds natural forward momentum.

If you strive to emphasize the architecture of your site with compelling storytelling, the natural result will be that more users complete actions on your site.

That means finding a way to create a site whose architecture naturally lends itself to being informative, interactive, and even at times entertaining.

Consider the example of the site My Grandmother’s Lingo.

my grandmothers lingo

This award-winning website helps users learn new words from one of the oldest language in the world.

The creators designed the website for use and utility but even took that effort a step further by making it compelling and engaging.

The tantalizing idea of learning something both old and new hooks the user, and then sends them on a 10-minute journey where they learn something.

In the end, the primary goal is to help spread awareness of these ancient languages and provide a platform for future preservation.

How do they achieve this? Through vivid storytelling and a clear site architecture that’s geared toward positive momentum.

But momentum isn’t just about storytelling.

It also relies on where you position yourself, like on mobile.

More than ever, users are browsing with a mobile device.

That means that the architecture of your site needs to be conducive to both a desktop user and a mobile user.

If you only focus on one or the other, you are missing a significant portion of your potential audience, and thus you are losing conversions.

And if someone comes to your mobile site only to find it isn’t optimized, then all positive momentum is gone.

But momentum has to start even further back with your SEO.

And site architecture plays a critical role in bringing organic traffic to your site and providing forward momentum.

In one study, a brand was able to increase their site’s organic traffic from 800 visits per month to over 3,600 per month by focusing on the user experience their website gave.

That’s a growth of 350%.

350 percent growth

They achieved this by focusing entirely on the information architecture of their site and its contents.

So it’s clear that site architecture can lead to more traffic.

If your traffic can access across any device, then your momentum continues.

Moreover, if your storytelling is engaging, you further the momentum again.

And all of this links back to your site’s architecture and how well both Google and your audience utilize it.

Reason #3: It ultimately clarifies value

The final reason that links your site’s architecture to your efforts concerning conversion rate optimization hinges on your site being credible and valuable.

Another way you could say that is, “How does your site’s architecture help you deliver on your promise?”

If you fail to deliver a promise by creating a muddled and confusing site, then you’re never going to be able to see any real improvement from an A/B test.

And according to the LIFT model of CRO, the clarity and relevance of your value proposition will ultimately take your brand to new heights.

value proposition plane

The key to remember here is that users don’t always come to your website via your homepage.

There’s a good chance they could enter at any given point, so long as they have the right URL.

For example, how do you potentially sell – via your site’s architecture – to a visitor who first visited your blog?

If you don’t have a way for them to get their bearings and navigate your site immediately, you could potentially lose a lead before the process even begins.

Your goal then, with your site’s architecture, is to provide value at every stage.

provide value in site architecture

That means that when someone comes to your site, they should immediately know where they are.

Elements such as your permalink structure even play a role in helping your visitor understand where they are and what value your site offers.

If you parse your site out into easily understandable silos, like the example above, users will see your site as much more credible and ultimately more useful.

Take for example the Merge and Purge case study that sought to boost organic traffic and improve user experience.

plateau of pain boost organic traffic

In this case, the focus was on taking disparate pieces of content created over many years and compiling them into understandable content silos.

When the site was simplified, they saw a 32% increase in organic traffic.

And as we’ve already seen, organic traffic is the part of the site architecture conversion machine.

So in this case, by clarifying the value of their site by creating a cleaner content architecture, the brand was able to achieve a big win.

Brands should always seek to clarify their value proposition, and in this case, the answer is simple:

Your site architecture is the best place to start.

Conclusion

Conversion rate optimization is a nuanced and technical field.

It takes a lot of time and effort to learn the ins and outs of what works and what doesn’t, and that often trips up brands that seek to experiment and grow their online presence.

A/B tests fail very often, and the resulting frustration often turns businesses away from conversion rate optimization as a whole.

But if you were to focus on creating a robust site architecture, the results can be very different in the best possible way.

Site architecture is the backbone of conversions, and following the honeycomb model to help improve your user experience is the best course of action.

If you do, your site will have much more utility, and your site’s users will be able to navigate with ease.

From there, you can use your architecture to build positive momentum and keep people engaged with your brand.

And finally, you’ll have a clearer and more appealing value proposition that users can find from any entry point.

You’ll be much better suited to grow and convert new leads by merely creating a solid site architecture.

How has your site’s architecture helped or hurt your brand?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

25 Sales Questions to Qualify Your Leads Faster

You can attribute a lot of great relationships to perfect timing.

When you connect with the right person at the right time, everything seems to just fit.

This is especially true for sales.

Connecting with your lead too early means they won’t be ready to buy.

But if you wait too long, they may have moved on to a competitor.

Unfortunately, finding the perfect time to connect with a customer is complicated.

It’s not like you can set a timer that will ding when they’re ready to connect.

Instead, you need to qualify your leads yourself.

It’s always important to connect with your leads to figure out where they’re at in the buying process.

Asking questions, getting feedback, and building a relationship can set you on the right path for being available when they’re ready to buy.

To help you qualify your sales prospects, here are 25 questions you should be asking.

Establishing the relationship

The relationship is the most important part of closing a sale.

When it comes time to make a purchase, your consumers aren’t going to buy from just anyone.

Instead, they’re going to turn to someone they know they can trust. Unfortunately, only 3% of people trust marketers and salespeople.

marketing and sales have a trust problem

In order to be there when they’re ready to buy, you want to work on establishing the relationship early on.

To lay the foundation for the business relationship you’re creating, here are a few questions you should be asking.

1. How did you hear about us?

Sales leads should be coming to you from a variety of angles.

In fact, buyers typically consult almost five different information sources when deciding on products, vendors, or services.

information sources used by buyers

Some may find you on social while others may have participated in a webinar that you hosted.

Referrals are another popular way new sales prospects tend to find potential vendors or agencies.

Customers or clients who come to you by referral actually have a 16% higher lifetime value.

Knowing how the lead found you can help you understand the best way to move forward.

If the lead is a referral, this can strongly influence their willingness to work with you.

You can leverage that relationship to win over the lead and convince them to purchase.

If they found you through a more traditional lead generation source, you can get a better understanding of what aspect of your brand interests them.

2. What are you looking for in a new vendor or agency?

Ask your leads what their “dream” vendor or agency would look like.

Have them point out three key factors that they’d expect out of a new vendor or agency.

For buyers, the most important factors of a new pairing are adapting to fit processes, scaling with growth, and providing measurable results.

priority mismatch in sales

While you may not fit this description perfectly, it can help you better understand what they’re really looking for.

Then, think of ways that your company fits the description they’ve created.

However, don’t try to trick them into believing that you’re exactly what they’re looking for – especially if you’re missing some key components.

Instead, be upfront and honest about what you can provide and how you can help.

This kind of honesty can do wonders for the relationship you’re creating.

3. What attracted you to our brand?

Try to find the characteristics or qualities that made you stand out to your prospect.

Whether it’s your unique branding or your pricing strategy, understanding why the lead likes your brand can help you better understand where their priorities lie.

Knowing their favorite points about you can also give you an angle to focus on during your conversations.

For example, say that a lead mentions that your pricing attracted them to you the most.

This means they’re probably sticking to a tight budget.

As you nurture the lead into making a purchase, you can focus conversations around pricing and budgets.

This personalized approach can convert leads faster and help the prospect feel like you’re taking care of them.

4. How can we best help you make this decision?

Every sales prospect has something holding them back.

Whether it’s budget or not being entirely sure what they need, you want to find the hurdle that’s preventing them from pulling out their credit card.

Finding where that obstacle is can help you qualify your leads faster.

Ask your sales prospect what you can tell them about or offer them that will help them say “yes” to a deal.

Remember to listen to their unique challenges and fears.

Even if you’re trying to qualify multiple leads at once, you want each to feel special.

5. Who else is part of this decision-making process?

On average, 6.8 people are part of the B2B decision-making process.

Unless you’re working with very small business, you’ll probably need to convince more than just one person that you’re the right agency or vendor for them to work with.

However, 90% of individuals stated that there is usually one member who pushes the decision their way.

decision making process in sales

To ensure you’re establishing a relationship with all the right people, you want to find out exactly who is involved in the process of making decisions.

You’ll also want to find out where this individual fits within that process.

Knowing if you’re dealing with the CEO or the manager can make a major difference in how you pitch your solutions.

Discovering the problem

Before a lead can make a decision to work with you, they need to understand why they need a change.

You can do this by helping them find the problem with what they’re currently doing.

According to Gong.io, discovering business issues should make up the majority of your discovery calls.

effective sales discovery calls

Chances are, they probably know something isn’t right.

However, they may not know exactly what needs to change, so they don’t know why they need your help.

By bringing the problem to the surface, you’re making your leads more aware of where they’re falling short.

Focusing on where they’re going wrong or falling behind can encourage them to look for a solution faster.

You can help them find their problem with these questions.

6. What resources or solutions have you tried in the past? What happened?

Ask your prospects to talk about what they’ve already tried.

This can help see if you can offer different solutions.

It also helps the lead recap what they’ve already been through.

By going back and covering all the things they’ve tried and failed with, they can begin to understand what solution they might be looking for.

Additionally, covering the things that have brought success can give you some insight into their audience’s behavior.

Arjun Varma, Sales Manager at Quantcast, uses the tactic “ask, define, explore” to get more from his prospects.

He says:

“Ask discovery questions to uncover the largest business challenges a prospect is facing. Define the implications of these challenges. Explore a partnership or sale that addresses the defined challenges and helps the customer do more business.”

You can then use this information going forward to provide them with solutions that are more likely to work.

7. Why weren’t you happy with your last vendor or agency?

Sometimes, it isn’t the attempted solution that isn’t working. It’s who they’re working with.

Letting your lead discuss the problems they’ve experienced with their current agency or vendor can help you better understand what they’re expecting out of a new partnership.

Maybe their current agency isn’t working fast enough.

Maybe they aren’t giving them the personalized attention they had hoped for.

Or maybe they’re just looking for something new and different.

However, knowing what they don’t like can help you become what they do like.

8. What are you hoping to accomplish in a new partnership?

Bouncing off their unhappiness with their current vendor, try to see what they’re hoping for in a new partnership.

Try to go beyond simple business goals.

Instead, focus on what they’re looking for in the actual relationship with your business.

And remember: use collaborative language.

Sales representatives who used “we” instead of “I” or “you” were more than twice as likely to get a deal.

usage of we i you in sales

As you talk about what a new partnership would look like, start creating an image in the prospect’s mind of the two of you working together.

9. Why are you choosing to look for a new agency or vendor now?

Try to get to the root of what happened to push the lead to connect now.

Was there a particular event that made them realize they need to make a change?

Are they fed up that others aren’t meeting their expectations?

Are they looking to launch a new product or service and needs some additional hands on deck?

Customers tend to leave companies when they feel like the company is ignoring them, when they find a better deal, or when they have a bad experience.

When you know their purpose behind connecting, you can get a better idea of when and why they’re looking for a new deal.

10. What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

Take a minute to try and understand the lead’s perspective about their own business.

Ask your sales prospect to outline where they believe they shine and where they think they may be lagging behind.

Knowing how they view themselves can help you understand their priorities.

Finding a solution

Once you’ve discovered the problem and agitated it, you want to help your leads find a solution.

By working with them to discover what their next move should be, you’re establishing trust and confidence that you can help them through the next stage of their business.

Here are a few questions that can help you and your lead discover the right solution for them.

11. Where do you see your competitors surpassing you?

Ask your lead who they believe their competitors are.

Then ask how they believe their competitors are surpassing them.

By getting them to think about the areas their competitors are doing better in, they can better understand the solutions they need to implement to see similar success.

This can give both of you a better idea of what steps you need to take moving forward.

12. What is your budget?

The budget is arguably the most important part of a new partnership.

That’s why almost 60% of buyers want to discuss pricing on their first sales call.

what buyers want to talk about in first sales call

For both you and your lead, you need to find a way to create a deal everyone is happy with.

Talking about budget expectations up front can help you understand where the lead falls in becoming ready to purchase.

You can also get an idea of where they can fit within your pricing strategy and if they’ll be able to afford your products or services.

13. What is more important: money or productivity?

Unfortunately, you typically can’t have more productivity on a smaller budget.

Asking your leads if they’d rather grow quickly or save cash can allow you to get a feel for where their current priorities lie.

If they’re looking to move quickly, they may be more likely to make a purchase sooner.

However, if they’re looking for a new budget-friendly option, you can provide them with the marketing materials they need to see you as the right financial fit.

14. What requirements or deal-breakers are there for working together?

Requirements and deal-breakers can sometimes be a difficult thing to talk about.

However, discussing these requirements up front can make it easier for you to tell if you’re the right fit for each other.

Regardless of the direction the conversation goes, it’s always important to be open and honest about your product.

Buyers find vendors more influential when they are honest about their product or service – even if it means admitting it isn’t the best fit.

product limitations mentioned in sales

Trying to deceive the customer into believing you offer the perfect solution will only cause headaches and frustration down the road.

15. What is your biggest priority right now?

When a new lead comes to you, they probably have a few ideas about what they’d like to accomplish.

Unfortunately, it isn’t likely that you’ll be able to tackle all of these problems at once.

Talk about what the customer’s main priority is at that time.

This can give you a better idea of what solutions they’re really looking for.

Discovering a timeline

Timing errors or miscommunications can cause serious problems in new deals and partnerships.

Discussing a timeline up front can also help you identify when the prospect might be willing to buy and what commitment they’re looking for from you and your team.

By determining your prospect’s ideal timeline, you can then get a better idea of where they are in the buyer’s journey.

The more you know about when they’re looking to buy, the more specific content you can provide them with.

Here are a few questions you should ask to learn more about your prospect’s purchasing timeline.

16. When do you hope to get started?

There is a big difference between starting in a week and starting in three months.

However, 63% of people requesting information about your business will take at least three months to buy. Another 20% will take more than twelve months.

If you know that your lead isn’t looking to buy for another year, you can focus your nurturing efforts further down the line.

However, if they’re looking to get started immediately, you’ll need to be more aggressive about the way you promote.

Although it may not be exact, ask your prospect for a timeframe of when they’re looking to get started.

17. What is the timeline for your goals?

Talking about goals is great, but it’s more important to know when they’re hoping to accomplish those goals by.

Getting a timeline for when they’d like to achieve their priorities can help you better understand what kind of commitment they’re looking for.

If they need to accomplish their goals within just a few weeks, they may be looking to hire a committed team immediately.

On the other hand, if they have no idea when they’d like to accomplish their goals, they may need some more nurturing and education.

18. Do you have any outside factors influencing your timeline?

Your leads may have an idea of when they’d like to get started or complete their goals by.

However, it isn’t always in their control.

Sometimes, outside factors constrain our leads.

External due dates and other factors can make your job more complicated. At times, they can influence when a deal can actually go through.

They can also add some restriction about when a prospect is really ready to make a purchase.

Whether they have a contract they need to see through or they have a deadline they’re scrambling to meet, you’ll want to ask if there are any outside factors that will influence the timeline.

19. What could stop us from working together?

Unfortunately, lots of things can make a deal fall through.

In fact, the average lead-to-deal conversion rate for B2B sales is only 0.08%.

lead to deal sales conversion rate by source

Maybe your lead found a better deal elsewhere or they decided that they didn’t need your product or services after all.

Regardless, discuss what potential events could prevent you from working together.

Head sales experts like Geoffrey James use this type of “reverse selling” trick.

In an article that Inc. published, Geoffrey sites “The Reverse Close” as one of his five key ways to close a deal.

Once you know what might inhibit a deal, you can find solutions to ensure that the sale goes through.

20. How soon do you want to see results?

Knowing what kind of turnaround your prospect is expecting can help you better understand when they may be willing to make a commitment.

If they want to see results in just a few weeks, you’ll want to get started right away.

However, if they have no idea when they’d like to start their progress, they’re probably not yet ready to make a purchase.

Establishing future success

It’s always more efficient to gain repeat customers than it is to constantly connect with new prospects.

This is why you should always plant the seed of a long-term relationship when you’re still in the nurturing process.

Letting your sales prospects know how you can help them through growth and changes can help you secure long-term relationships with them.

Here are a few questions you should ask to help establish a future relationship.

21. What hurdles might we run into down the road?

It’s impossible to know exactly what hurdles will show up when you’re working with a new client or customer.

However, determining what they could be can help you plan ahead.

Discuss which hurdles might arise and what solutions they may need.

22. How do you measure success?

Small business owners are becoming increasingly confident in their success.

small business owners present and future situations

However, success can mean different things to different people.

Some simply see success in dollar signs while others focus on the number of happy customers who keep coming back for more.

Knowing how your sales prospect defines success can help you determine what will keep your customer happy and what they’re ultimately looking for from you.

23. What are your long-term goals?

Chances are, you’ve already discussed some goals at this point.

However, you really want to dig deep to find out what long-term goals the individual or company is hoping to achieve.

Ask what they’re looking to accomplish further down the road – even if those dreams are too far out of reach at this time.

24. How do you see your needs changing as you grow?

Your sales leads are looking for a solution for now.

But if you can also provide a solution for the future, you can help them achieve growth with a smoother progression.

Helping them understand how their needs may change as they grow – and how you can be there to help them solve new problems or meet new goals – can help set you up for a long-term partnership.

25. Where do you see this relationship going moving forward?

Find out early if they’re only looking for a short-term deal.

Are they just looking for someone to help with their current goals, or do they want a long-term partner who can help them overcome future hurdles?

For PJ Pereira of Pereria & O’Dell, a willingness to collaborate is one of the most important factors when choosing a new agency to work with.

Showing your prospects that you’re thinking about how you can keep the relationship going as they grow might encourage them to work with you over a competitor.

Conclusion

Quit playing the guessing game when it comes to connecting with sales prospects.

If you want to stop missing out on high-quality leads, stop assuming that you know when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Instead, let them tell you when they’re ready – even if they don’t realize they’re doing it.

By asking these 25 questions, you can get a better idea of who your prospect is, what they’re looking for, and how you can help them.

What questions do you like to ask your sales prospects?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

Your Business Needs More Negative Reviews. Here’s Why

Do you work hard to earn great reviews for your business?

If so, you’re not alone. Most businesses strive to get as many five-star reviews as possible. And it’s not hard to imagine why.

Before you buy something online, drive across town to a restaurant you’ve never tried, or download an app, what’s the first thing you do?

You probably check the reviews. If they’re bad, you probably won’t purchase an item or try a new restaurant. But if they’re good, you’ll likely give it a try.

So you should do everything in your power to try and get five-star reviews across the board and prevent any negative reviews, right?

Actually, that shouldn’t be your goal.

Believe it or not, earning perfect reviews isn’t critical for your business. In fact, negative reviews can actually help your business in ways you may have never expected.

If you’ve put all of your focus on avoiding negative reviews, you’re going about reviews all wrong.

You may find that hard to believe, but it’s true.

Here’s why you need negative reviews and some of the ways that they can be beneficial for your business.

The importance of negative reviews and how they can help your business grow

Before the digital era, we all relied on our friends and families for testimonials. But now, we rely on so many other factors to make our final decisions about companies.

Statistic: Most common purchase influences of online shoppers in the United States in 2017 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

It appears that trustworthy reviews now have a bigger influence on online purchase decisions than family and friends do for 68% of US shoppers.

Recommendations from friends and family influence only 42% of consumers.

Instead, rewards programs, brand reputation, and trustworthy online reviews have taken the place of good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendations.

A 2017 study by Power Reviews once again confirms the growing consumer dependence on ratings and reviews.

Today, 97% of consumers read product reviews before making a purchase decision. 89% of them consider online reviews to be an essential resource in the process.

On the flip side, 85% of consumers look for negative reviews in order to make informed purchase decisions. And this number skyrockets to 91% among consumers from the ages of 18-29.

Why?

Because bad reviews give customers a sense of the worst-case scenario. They want to know what can go wrong to understand just how much it will matter to them.

Too many positive reviews can seem fake to some shoppers, so you have to watch out.

But how do consumers determine if a review is truly authentic and trustworthy?

BrightLocal’s study shows that Facebook and Yelp are the two most-trusted review sources for local searches. Google comes in third.

review site most trusted for local searches

Out of all these review platforms, Yelp seems to have the most strict rules and regulations.

This explains the fact that the average review score on Yelp is 3.65, which is the lowest out of these platforms. The average reviews on the others major platforms are 4.42 on Facebook, 4.3 on Google, and 4.25 on Tripadvisor.

Therefore, Yelp may be the most reliable place to gauge reviews.

And these ratings matter for your bottom line. An extra rating star on Yelp translates into a 5% to 9% revenue growth, which is an impressive but dangerous correlation.

Reviews really can make or break your brand’s growth. But on any platform, you will inevitably receive some negative reviews. So, how do you respond to them?

You should start by coming up with a game plan.

Create a game plan before you respond to negativity

The way that a business treats a negative review can tell you a lot about them.

Don’t panic. Don’t ignore them. Instead, embrace them.

Some brands like Wendy’s are even using negative reviews as a chance to make a splash on social media and go viral.

wendys your food is trash tweet

However you choose to embrace negative reviews, you need to come up with a game plan before you say anything back to your customers.

But customers expect businesses to respond to their reviews quickly. 51.7% of consumers expect businesses to respond to their negative review within seven days.

how quickly do you expect a business to respond to a negative review

So if you do happen to receive a negative review, you need to act fast.

Being aware of your customers’ complaints should be your number-one priority for customer service.

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that not all negative reviews are valuable.

There are two types of negative reviews.

The first type is reviews from disappointed customers who have had a real negative experience like those who were part of the Vow to Be Chic wedding rental scandal:

vow to be chic buzzfeed tweet

And then, there are the troll types who seek attention and potential monetary gain.

flux capacitor needs to be more reliable amazon review

Some people might want to take advantage of the leverage that leaving a bad review might give them by blackmailing you or threatening to leave a bad review if you don’t give them a refund.

And you can’t insure your business against trolls.

Constructive feedback, on the other hand, is a gold mine for any business. It is a form of valuable, direct, instructional feedback from the people who matter most.

And a negative review will only stay negative forever if you ignore it and never address it.

So having a game plan to respond to these complaints is what will set you apart from companies who choose to ignore them.

Decide on a communication strategy that will match your brand identity and tone of voice. Try to keep it consistent across all review platforms.

Zappos never fails to respond to negative customer reviews, and they give their responses a positive twist. Take a look at a recent response they gave to a complaint on their Facebook page.

zappos facebook review response

The brand offered to send the customer a new replacement pair, and they recommended that she keep or give away the shoes that don’t fit.

It’s pretty hard to argue with an attitude like that.

Depending on the personality of your brand, you can choose to be friendly and conversational like Zappos or more formal but tactful like Marriott.

marriott facebook review response

Whichever way you choose to go, make sure that you remain genuine. Don’t answer with a template. Take the time to actually investigate each issue and respond accordingly.

You should think of each negative review as an opportunity to show your customers that you care.

Here’s what Marina Cheal, Chief Marketing Officer at Reevoo, said at the Motor Trader Summit last year:

“Rich reviews drive engagement and people stay on site longer. Bad reviews are a brilliant way of showing that if something does go wrong you have credibility in how you deal with the issue. It shows you care about the customer.”

Believe it or not, bad reviews have the power to improve your conversion rates, too.

Bad reviews improve your conversion rates

If your business gets only positive reviews, consumers might question whether those reviews are legitimate or not. Not everyone will, but those who are a little bit more cautious might.

And with so many fake and paid reviews circulating on almost every review platform, this is becoming a real issue.

Amazon’s fake positive review problem has recently become huge.

amazon fake review problem

As the average rating has risen, the average review weight has taken a huge nosedive.

There are even Facebook groups that incentivize people to write fake reviews of Amazon products.

facebook group incentives fake reviews

On the other hand, having a healthy mix of both positive and negative reviews will help build trust in your business more quickly.

A study by Northwestern University’s Spiegel Research Center discovered that likelihood of someone purchasing a product with five reviews is 270% greater than a product with no reviews.

number of reviews and conversion increases

That means having five reviews, whether good or bad, can increase your number of purchases by nearly four times.

And a mixture of good and bad is helpful so that you don’t fall into the “too-good-to-be-true” category.

So, what is a healthy mix of good and bad reviews?

What amount of bad reviews will boost your conversion rates instead of driving customers away?

Anywhere between 4.2 and 4.5 stars is an ideal average.

More stars does not equal more sales. When your positive reviews appear with a few negative reviews, you reduce buyer skepticism.

But you obviously you don’t want to end up with too low of an average. A lot of customers use rating filters to simplify their searches, so you may not even show up when they search for products if your average reviews are below four stars.

amazon customer review stars

If your ratings are low, don’t fret. It actually doesn’t take a lot to increase your ratings.

A recent study of TripAdvisor found that one-third of the hotels were able to increase their rounded ratings by half a star or more within six months of their first management response.

In a nutshell, here’s the logic that this all boils down to:

Customers actively seek authentic and trustworthy businesses. No business is perfect, so negative reviews will assure those who read them that the reviews are authentic.

Negative reviews show your human side

Negative reviews are a perfect stage for you to shine as a business with top-notch customer service. It is an opportunity to show that there are actual people behind your business.

Customer service is not just about assisting a purchase. It’s about solving any problems that come up before, during, or after a purchase and preventing them from happening again.

Poor customer service will cost your company big time.

Tons of consumers have abandoned a business due to poor customer service. As you can see, this figure has grown over the last couple of years.

cost of poor customer service

And it’s only going to keep increasing.

So customer service is still a huge deciding factor for customers making purchase decisions and for you retaining existing customers.

According to numbers from Kingfisher Inc, acquiring a new customer is five times as expensive as retaining an existing customer.

cost of customer loyalty

Responding to negative reviews will help you keep your current customers coming back for more.

It’s a good idea to respond to all reviews — both good and bad.

On the one hand, your negative reviews give your company a chance to show it’s human side.

On the other, responding to positive reviews will help you show appreciation for your happy customers, whose reviews matter most in the long run.

The biggest challenge to responding to every review is that you may receive an overwhelming quantity of reviews. Quite often, it requires a whole team of customer service heroes to handle reviews on all channels.

And all of your customer service reps need to know how to respond well.

Here are some essential tips to keep in mind when replying to negative reviews.

1. Get to the bottom of the issue. Always try to verify what the reviewer says by conducting a quick internal investigation with your staff.

UPS customer support on twitter

You always want to try to understand what happened.

2. Hold back your emotions and do not get defensive. Sometimes, the reviews will be unfair and even false. Remember to always stay respectful and factual in your response like Amazon in the example below.

amazon dealing with crazy customer on twitter

3. Show genuine empathy. Sometimes, the only thing that a disappointed customer needs is a simple apology.

seattle airport facebook apology

When you respond to reviews with an honest apology, your customers will know that you truly care.

4. Take the problem offline. If you feel like the issue is escalating, it makes sense to continue the discussion privately rather than commenting back and forth.

apple support tweet let us know via DM

5. Respect the rules. Many businesses offer discounts and coupons to make up for their mistakes, but some platforms consider this a violation of trust or even bribing.

major sorry for site downtime

Like in the example above, email the coupon or discount instead of posting it on a social media site.

Never forget to tell your side of the story to defend your brand, either.

Don’t be afraid to tell your side of the story

Bad reviews are not always your fault. But when a number of things add up to a negative customer experience, your business might suffer.

If somebody were to falsely accuse you of a crime, you would do anything in your power to prove your innocence.

When a review is simply untrue, you might need to do the same.

Sometimes, you need to share your side of what really happened.

cake de jour facebook post

That way, future customers who come across your page and see negative reviews can read your account of the story and make an informed decision for themselves about what really happened.

When you can gracefully articulate the facts and show off the benefits of your business at the same time, you can take a negative situation and spin it into a positive one.

When you satisfy your customers, you’ll encourage them to stay loyal to you.

Satisfying unhappy customers encourages loyalty

Answering each and every customer review is a must. But it’s even more important to actually solve your customers’ problems.

Nothing is more disappointing than a regular “we apologize for any inconvenience caused” type of response with nothing but a bunch of meaningless words.

That’s not helpful or satisfying. It’s annoying.

And being timely with your detailed solution is also important.

Data from HBR shows that brands that respond to customer issues quickly have more chances to retain customers.

responding quickly makes customers want to pay more

The quicker you respond, the more customers will be willing to pay for your products and services in the future.

In this study, customers were willing to spend almost $20 more for a ticket from an airline that responded to their complaints in less than five minutes.

That same study found that customers of wireless carriers who got their issues resolved with customer service reps were willing to pay $8 more for their wireless plans.

But what is even more fascinating is that customers were willing to pay an extra $6 for wireless services from the brand even if the carrier didn’t solve their problems. Just getting a response was enough to make willing to pay a little bit more.

Obviously, there are customer problems that you can’t resolve for a number of reasons.

But this study shows that even a simple expression of empathy can go a long way in diffusing frustration and providing good customer service.

Delta’s pizza party is a great example of how brands can provide good customer service through empathy.

delta pilot sharing pizza

They ordered 600 pizzas for their passengers who experienced delays because of severe weather in Atlanta.

Here’s what Julieta McCurry, Delta’s Managing Director of U.S. Marketing Communications and Sponsorships, said:

Empathy always has and continues to drive our experience design, service and delivery. With a new year, we renew that commitment.”

Another benefit of responding to angry customers is engaging them in a conversation. Making a personal connection with a dissatisfied customer can make all the difference.

When your customer service reps do this, it’s a good idea to have them sign their initials or names when responding.

This way, customers will feel more comfortable following up on their issues later on. Many brands use this, including Burt’s Bees.

burts bees customer inquiry

Encourage customer service agents to add their names to tickets and responses for a personal touch.

All in all, you should always think of negative feedback as a chance to improve.

Negative feedback is an opportunity to improve

Customer satisfaction has never been more important than it is today.

Around half of all startups fail. And that’s not just true about tech startups. That’s true of businesses in nearly every industry.

Take a look at this 2017 graph from Failory. The highest failure rate occurs in the information industry where 63% of startups fail.

startup business failure rate by industry

But having a sound customer retention strategy can increase your odds of success, and review management is a big part of it.

Treat every kind of feedback you receive as a gift. It is a free piece of information that you can use to improve and grow your business.

There is no better way to know if your business does well than asking your customers.

That’s why there are so many businesses carry out customer surveys every year.

Big brands spend tons of resources on conducting customer satisfaction surveys even though customers often abandon them without finishing them.

customer feedback survey abandonment

As you can see, it’s difficult to get customers to complete surveys. That means that getting voluntary feedback is invaluable.

It can help you uncover and resolve key consumer pain points. This, in turn, can help your business grow.

Just look at how Domino’s recovered from the viral prank video scandal back in 2009 calling their product “edible cardboard.”

Their stock went from $4 per share in 2008 to $215 per share in 2017.

Keep in mind that not every customer will bother to leave a negative review.

However, the ones that do are probably not alone. There will be a lot of customers who feel the same way but never express their opinions. They just leave without you even knowing.

It’s always good to show love to your unhappy customers and strive for a second chance with them. But that’s not the only way to use negative reviews for your business growth.

If you dig deeper into those reviews, you will be able to find actual business ideas. This is especially true for digital businesses like SaaS or other web-based services.

Many of these businesses utilize tools like UserVoice to bring customers into the product development process itself.

Here’s how it works.

When a customer is unhappy about certain aspects of the product, customer service agents encourage the user to submit a feature request in UserVoice.

If the feature gets enough upvotes, it ends up on the product roadmap.

uservoice voting

No one can tell you how to improve your services or products better than your own customers, so never miss a chance to listen to what they have to say.

For instance, Buffer used customer feedback to validate the idea of having a video upload feature. This idea came from a customer request.

buffer customer feedback on uservoice

Buffer soon implemented this feature, and it was a success in terms of customer collaboration.

Don’t view all of your negative reviews as threats. Strive to learn from them and use them to improve as a company.

Conclusion

Most businesses do everything they can to avoid negative reviews. And in many ways, this makes sense.

But not all negative reviews are bad. In fact, they can be helpful in several ways.

Bad reviews help build trust. Today, buying fake reviews is as easy as getting any other service, which makes it difficult for shoppers to identify businesses with trustworthy ratings.

Negative reviews create a healthy balance and help shoppers see that your public reviews are trustworthy. Ultimately, they’ll trust your business more because of them.

Negative feedback is also a gold mine of opportunity. But you need a game plan before you respond to a customer.

When it comes to customer interactions, do you want to be casual, formal, or somewhere in the middle? You should decide this before you begin responding.

Customer complaints are a powerful tool to uncover internal problems on time and fix them before they go out of control. For this reason, they can help to boost your conversion rates.

So, it is important to monitor all review platforms regularly.

This feedback provides invaluable insights into customer satisfaction, which would otherwise require more effort and resources.

It also provides a chance to showcase your customer care excellence and your human side. Be empathetic with reviews and apologize when you should.

You shouldn’t ignore any reviews whether they’re positive or negative. Answering your customers’ feedback promptly and consistently translates into actual sales increases.

This means that every review that remains unanswered is a lost opportunity to retain existing customers and attract new prospects.

You also need to address reviews that aren’t true. You need to defend your brand against false claims. In most cases, that’s better than ignoring them.

When you satisfy unhappy customers, you’ll be encouraging brand loyalty. And negative feedback is simply an opportunity to improve overall.

But never forget to treat your happy customers with as much care and attention as the ones who complain. Happy customers are the best marketing. And it’s a free opportunity.

Each review is a free piece of information that you can use to grow your business. Treat each one as a gift.

In what ways have negative reviews benefited your business?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

Stop Targeting Keywords and Start Targeting Customers

For years we’ve all been taught that the first step to creating content that ranks is to target keywords.

For years, the ability to rank high in SERPs seemed to rely heavily on two things. First, pick keywords that are high traffic and low competition. Then, practice keyword density.

This is no longer true.

In fact, Google views too high of a density as keyword stuffing, which they will punish.

Keyword research is still important, but the way we should be implementing it has changed.

Why?

First, SEMRush did a study of Google’s ranking factors and found keywords were pretty far down the list. The first keyword related metric came in at 12th place.

That’s well below customer engagement metrics such as time on site and bounce rate.

Second, although meta tags are useful for users, they no longer influence rankings.

Google’s algorithm has become more sophisticated. It’s now smart enough that it no longer has to rely on simple keywords to tell it what your content is about.

If you want to be rank high in SERPs in 2018, you’re going to need to start targeting your customers and not just keywords.

Don’t worry. I’m going to walk you how to do this step-by-step.

But first, let’s look at the algorithm changes that have led to this shift.

Algorithms are becoming more human

In 2011, Google rolled out Panda which was designed to target and penalize sites that were producing thin and low-quality content.

Why?

People had learned that they could follow a practice called keyword stuffing to rank high in search results.

Here’s an example of keyword stuffing for the phrase ‘ALT Tags’:

alt tag screen readers

Keyword stuffing may have helped rank your content in search engines, but it tended to result in an unnatural flow that didn’t resonate with readers.

Google recognized this and decided to find a way to penalize the practice.

This was just the beginning of Google reducing the effectiveness of keywords in SERPs.

The next year brought the introduction of the Knowledge Graph.

This was the beginning of Google being able to interpret strings rather than just isolated words.

For example, Google understands that when someone types in the keyword “Obama,” they probably are referring to the US President Barack Obama.

google knowledge graph of barack obama

The knowledge graph can connect this one word with not only an actual person but also with some connections to other people, places, and things.

In 2013, there was even further advancement with the introduction of Hummingbird.

It was a huge change and a big step further in Google’s ability to handle “conversational search.”

Even five years ago, Google was beginning to understand and answer intent.

This 2013 example shows the simple question of, “will it rain tomorrow?

will it rain tomorrow google search

The question did not have to state a location or ask for a weather forecast. Google simply knew the searcher’s location and knew that rain was related to weather.

In 2015, an even bigger change came, when Google announced the launch of machine-learning artificial intelligence that it had dubbed RankBrain.

Within months of it being launched, Google claimed it was their third-most important ranking factor inside their search engine algorithm.

Why?

RankBrain was designed to help identify and respond to intent, instead of just words.

What does this mean?

Well, for example, if I search for ‘RankBrain’ I’m not really telling Google what my intent is, am I? All I’ve given it is the one word.

However, check out the search results:

rankbrain google search

Now, look at the search results for ‘what is RankBrain?’

what is rankbrain google search

They’re the same.

RankBrain has been able to use machine learning to understand that both of these keywords have the same intent for the majority of people.

This is how Google can make sure it’s bringing back the most relevant content to its users.

The first search result is FAQs on RankBrain. If you check it out, the article mentions RankBrain 52 times in 2,660 words, which is just under 2% of the time.

Optimal keyword density in this new world is between 0.5% and 2.5%. There was definitely no keyword stuffing done to achieve ranking.

This just goes to show that keywords alone will no longer grab you the top spot in search results.

In fact, keyword densities that are too high will be penalized.

irrelevant keywords

With the move to mobile-first indexing and the growth of voice search, algorithms have had to get even better at deciphering intent rather than words.

There is an increasing trend toward voice search using apps such as Google Assistant.

It’s available on more than 400 million devices. Some estimates indicate Google sold over 10 million Google Home units last year alone.

This impacts the way search results work in two ways:

1. Digital assistants are beginning to influence search results.

Smartphone assistants will answer basic queries with three different listings.

They’ll also blend these requests with your own personal, historical data to tailor results.

Google Home will also provide you with the answer in the featured snippet for that search.

barack obama height google answer

If you want your content to be the result heard by searchers, you need to obtain the featured snippet spot.

2. Voice search allows for conversational phrasing.

Users of voice search want to be able to speak naturally and still get the results that they ask for.

That means you need to consider conversation, content, and context.

To meet these needs, algorithms and marketers are increasingly required to focus on conversational language and keyword clusters, rather than specific keywords.

For example, Haahr previously explained that if a user is searching for “Walmart,” they don’t want to see results about the head office.

They expect results showing them the Walmart store closest to them.

So how do we target customer engagement instead of targeting keyword use?

Understand the intent of your audience

I mentioned earlier how Google’s RankBrain was designed to interpret the intent of searchers.

Search engines are putting customer needs, wants and desires first, and we should be doing it too.

So, how do we capture this intention and focus on it rather than specific words?

First, let’s look at what a user intent SEO strategy really is.

user intent seo strategy

We know that we need to understand the overlap between what phrases people are actually searching for and what they really mean.

We also have to pinpoint where this intersects with our content marketing strategy.

It’s important to understand that some general keywords can be classified into either navigation, research or conversion keywords.

These classifications align with the stage of the conversion funnel that a searcher is in.

conversion funnel stages

Content needs to take into account where customers are in the funnel, as well as what keywords they’re using, to properly target intent.

Research keywords are typically used with informational intent.

These searches are likely looking for broad informational guides such as walk-throughs, how-tos, and step-by-step procedures.

Conversion keywords imply transactional intent. Users are getting ready to convert or buy.

Common phrases they may search for are:

  • “Coupon”
  • “Discount”
  • “Shipping”
  • “Where to buy”
  • “[product one] versus [product two]”
  • “Best [product] under [price]”
  • “Best [product] for [consumer group]”

Incorporating these words into your keyword research can help identify long tail phrases that better match intent.

Navigation keywords are typically used when a shopper is already looking for a specific brand, company or site.

types of search query

For example, “content marketing” may be an informational keyword, but “Content Marketing Institute” implies someone is specifically looking to navigate to that company.

Keywords should line up with customers’ level of interest as well as their intent.

keyword research target model

The better able you are to understand customer intent, the easier it will be for you to target customers instead of just keywords.

There are a number of tools you can use to help you better understand the intent of your current customers.

Heat Maps

Heat maps such as Crazy Egg allow you to see where visitors clicked on your site.

You can also use them to see which content was scrolled through.

scroll map

This helps you better understand, even within an article or a page, exactly what it was searchers were looking for.

The more you focus on what your customers really want instead of focusing on just the few words used, the better your content will perform.

Focus on content packages

To bridge the gap between targeting keywords and targeting customers, we need to look at how we package our content.

As we discussed earlier, Google is getting better at showing searchers the best results that match their intent.

If you want to rank above what’s already there for a certain keyword, you need to create better content.

Short, light fluff pieces will not suffice.

This can be seen by looking at how the length of time taken to create content keeps going up every year.

the average time it takes to write a blog post

Just as the time invested has increased, so has the number of words.

According to Ann Handley of Marketing Profs, the big takeaways from this is that quality matters and “we don’t need more content. We need more relevant content.”

You can use Google AdWords Keyword Planner to come up with hundreds of related keywords. But how do you package them in a way that is relevant to your customer interest and intent?

Use topic clusters.

A good way to start creating a topic cluster is to select a broad topic and build an initial pillar page about it.

Then you would create a separate post for each cluster content area referenced in the pillar page.

This might sound a bit confusing, so let’s look at an example.

Local marketing is such a broad subject that the intent could be very different depending on who typed in the keyword.

That’s why this was the broad topic Duct Tape Marketing choose for their pillar page, The Ultimate Guide to Local Marketing.

google my business and citations

The Ultimate Guide is a page on their website which offers various content across multiple mediums such as the downloadable playbook and an embedded video.

This page then goes on the link out to many other posts on their site. Each one dealing with a content cluster, or a specific subset of local marketing.

adwords paid local traffic ultimate guide

Not only that but each one of the ‘subset’ posts links back to the Ultimate Guide.

subset posts link back in post

All of the posts are meticulously linked together using categories, backlinks, and anchor text.

Where the author did not yet have sufficient depth of a subject covered, he linked out to curated content from high authority sites like Moz.

11 ways for local businesses to get links

This allowed him to build a deep, insightful topic cluster with a wealth of backlinks and content to answer a “local marketing” keyword search no matter the intent.

Every time a new related post is created, it will be linked back to the Ultimate Guide, keeping the content updated and fresh.

The keyword the author had targeted was “local marketing guide,” for which he currently ranks second overall in Google.

local marketing guide google search

The interlinking has also helped several of the other subposts end up on the first page of search results, such as Adwords for local businesses.

adwords for local businesses google search results

Why do topic clusters work so well?

One reason is that the main page has so much content and so many links that people tend to stay on the page and the site.

Duct Tape Marketing’s bounce rate for their Ultimate Guide is almost zero. Google translates this to be high engagement, which is exactly what it’s looking for.

So how do you create a content package?

There are tools on the market that help you do this.

MarketMuse

MarketMuse helps you to identify content gaps within your website and in the market.

marketmuse value prop

It can help you to build, organize, and optimize your content by the topic cluster to optimize your organic SEO.

Content Strategy

HubSpot has also launched their own content strategy tool.

hubspot content strategy headline

They have designed it to help you create, publish, and report on your content by topic grouping.

LSIGraph

Another option is to use an LSI generator such as LSIGraph to identify keywords that are related to each other.

lsi graph

It’s a free tool that will provide you with related keywords for whatever term you search.

Google Search

Finally, Google is always an option.

After all, Google wants to provide searchers with the best results. This means it’s to their benefit to help you create the best content.

You can find relevant topic clusters using Google in three different ways:

1. Auto-suggest. As soon as you start typing, Google starts automatically populating suggestions of what it thinks you might be looking for.

For example, this is what I see when I start typing “search engine” into Google.

search engine autosuggest

2. Related searches. After you hit enter, you can scroll down to the bottom of the search results page.

google related search terms

3. People also ask. For some searches, Google will also provide you with a “People also ask” section.

people also ask google search

These are common questions Google is asked that it thinks are similar to what you’re trying to find.

Make sure your pillar topic is sufficiently broad enough to be the umbrella for the rest if you’re going to use a pillar page.

Then create separate linked posts for each potential subset topic that you grouped using one of the above-suggested tools.

Once you have content clusters or groupings, it’s also important to make sure you choose content types that align.

For example, consider the following:

  • On-site glossaries and FAQ pages are good ways to tackle simple keywords that may be searched by people in the informational stage.
  • Pillar pages, cornerstone content and blog posts are great for in-depth answers related to the informational stage, as well as targeting people in the navigational stage.
  • Once consumers are into the transactional stage, landing pages are a great way to use content to help close the deal.

Here’s a slightly different approach to lining up content type with buyer readiness stage:

lining content with buyer readiness

Don’t forget the rest of your SEO arsenal.

This post has focused on how and why to transition from keyword targeting to focusing on customer intent and interest.

However, as I’ve mentioned, engagement is a driving factor in how Google gauges quality content that satisfies intent.

Because of this, we can’t forget the other areas of SEO that also impact engagement.

Technical and off-page SEO are just as important for positive customer experiences.

technical offpage and onpage seo

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is primarily your internal and external link portfolio.

You need to develop a link building strategy that helps promote your site authority and helps show Google you’re a great match for customer intent.

One way to do this was mentioned earlier through the building of topic clusters and content packages.

However, you also need to keep a close eye on who’s linking to you, so that you don’t end up with backlinks that are spammy.

After all, backlinks are currently four of the top eight ranking factors.

backlinks in ranking factors

To keep your links clean, I recommend conducting a link profile audit on a regular basis to see how things look.

If you find any questionable sites linking to your content, make sure that you disavow them.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO can sound complex, but I promise it’s not as bad as it seems.

It’s also a critical part of any SEO toolkit.

Here’s an excellent high-level summary from Moz on what parts of technical SEO you should begin to focus on:

technical seo questions

When thinking about keywords from a technical standpoint, you need to consider three main areas.

1. Content tags

There are two main types of content tags you should focus on: H1 (headings) and H2 (subheadings).

H1 tags are your titles.
H2 tags are subheadings.

You should still make sure one of your relevant keywords is in your H1 tag.

However, with the new algorithm changes, it’s less important that your H2 tags are riddled with keywords, and more important that they withstand a readability test.

Your content, including your subheadings, needs to be simple and flow well.

It should be written for someone reading at a 7th or 8th-grade level.

2. Site Speed

Google released an announcement in January that starting this July pagespeed will be one of their ranking factors for mobile searches.

Not only that, but 40% of your audience will abandon your website if it takes longer than three seconds to load.

landing page loading stat

If your page speeds are slow, your bounce rate will increase, causing Google to think that you’re not doing a good job satisfying customers.

3. Mobile friendliness

I’ve already mentioned the importance of mobile earlier in this article.

Mobile landing page optimization is vital now that Google has switched to a mobile-first index.

The number of mobile users continues to every year. Last year 66% of the population had a mobile phone.

global digital snapshot

Strong technical SEO will help improve important ranking factors such as time on page and bounce rates, by improving the user experience.

It should not be overlooked in any strategy, particularly as the importance of providing outstanding customer experiences increases.

Conclusion

Thanks to advances in technology, the algorithms used by search engines like Google are getting more advanced.

Instead of focusing on simple metrics such as keywords, they are now looking for content that provides value and engagement to audiences.

Google’s algorithm is continuing to advance toward voice search and conversational phrases.

This means the exact wording used in search boxes is becoming less important in which results rank well.

To get your content in front of your desired market, you need to focus on intent, interest, and engagement of customers.

You will need to account for the growing use of Mobile and Voice apps and ensure your content is optimized for them.

Then you need to engage your audience is make sure you understand what their intent is.

Make sure you understand what people are really looking for when they use certain keywords.

This means combining their searcher intent with where they are in the conversion funnel and using your content to target them properly.

You can use tools such as Behavior Flow, Site Search or Heat Maps to better understand the interest and intent of your current audience.

Then you can focus on building out in-depth topic clusters and content packages to target different customers.

Create ultimate guides and resource centers for customers early on in the conversion funnel.

Build out leadpages and conversion posts for customers near the bottom of the funnel.

Finally, continue to use keywords, but use them the right way. Don’t keyword stuff your posts. Looking for short phrases and referencing them multiple times is no longer enough.

However, you can use keywords to help you understand searcher intent and to build context into your articles and guides.

What tool are you using to cluster your content around customer intent and interest?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.