Mischief Night: A Look at Online Retail Hijinks

Does anyone remember URL targeting, in which through a “normal” media buy, an advertiser was able to hijack a person trying to go to one site and navigate them to another?   This was legal, as was Gator  — another popular ad-supported media machine that eventually went away for similar, deceptive reasons.

There is some tremendously illegal and egregious internet activity in 2014 that deserves the attention of the serious security people trying to catch it and shut it down.  Not nearly as serious but annoying nonetheless is the legal, albeit black hat activity, that happens occasionally with online retail.

On the eve of “Holiday” (Christmas, not Halloween), let’s consider for a moment how the gloves come off by many affiliates and retailers on the biggest online shopping day of the year — Cyber Monday. Continue reading

The State of Social Media Marketing in 2014

I have read a couple of blog posts the past week alluding to a “social media bubble.” For the past couple of years, social media was the focus of pretty much every conference I attended.  The conversation mostly centered around the value of social media in terms of its ability to drive ROI.  The most memorable comment I can recall was at an eTail West session in which the speaker said “how do you measure the ROI of a bathroom in a store?”  It never really got much clearer than that over the years in terms of how social media could be cleanly linked to an acceptable ROI result.  There was much work done on trying to place a dollar value on a Facebook fan which no best practices ever resulted from that I am aware.  From that, social media became about driving awareness or improving SEO results.  Some brands and retailers determined that fan quality was preferred over quantity but again, not much transpired in the way of tying the actions of the most engaged fans back to actual ROI.  Real strides were made by some marketers in the way of assuring authenticity on their pages, which was a great byproduct of the debate for some brands but not all.  Unfortunately, now there are black hat tactics in the way of bots mimicking human actions on fan pages to simulate engagement, so not all is authentic out there in the social mediasphere.

So in hearing about this social media bubble, I can see why it could be, but it is doubtful anyone really believes social media is going away any time soon. Continue reading

Digital Strategies to Drive Retail Traffic

Most retailers rely on media to support store openings and store events as well as for lifting sales of struggling retail locations. Drive-to-retail marketing plans have typically consisted of radio, print and TV in order to build awareness, but more recently, digital has become an increasingly important component of the media mix.  What makes digital unique relative to traditional forms of media is the level of targeting and sophistication that the others can’t provide.  Continue reading

What is a Paid Search Restructure, Anyway?

Many paid search advertisers turn over the keys of their campaign to an agency to manage it and don’t typically get under the hood too often to see how the campaign is structured. There is a lot of minutia in the search tools, and if someone is not a regular, taking a look now and again exposes a world that is potentially too complex from which to draw any meaningful, actionable conclusions. However, there is much industry buzz right now around the campaign restructure and the belief that it could be the magic bullet that improves paid search performance. For people who don’t know whether or how to get on board with this, how true is it really in terms of a restructure being a strategic imperative? Continue reading

Troubleshooting Paid Search Performance

When sales from paid search suddenly spike in the wrong direction, it can be a nightmare figuring out how and why. It shouldn’t have to be, though. There is always a reason, and it can be found. If conversions from paid search suddenly fall off, here are some ways to troubleshoot.

Contribution: If the paid search channel typically makes up a steady percentage of total online sales, check web analytics to see if the percentage is the same or has fallen.  If the percentage is even with past performance, this indicates a site-wide issue. If the other online channels are showing sales percentages that are in line with historical performance but paid search has fallen, then the problem likely lies with paid search.

Tracking: Check to see if tracking fell off. Continue reading

Staffing for Digital: More Important Than Ever to Get It Right

Before talking about present-day staffing needs in digital, here is a quick look back at the evolution.  For a time, digital marketing was a sexy new career choice.  People in offline businesses were jumping ship to digital.  Now, though, for any company who sells something, digital marketing is a means to an end:  customers need to be followed and serviced in the channel in which they have chosen to interact with the business.  First it was offline, then it was the internet, and now it is shifting quickly to mobile.  People are choosing digital careers because it is where the jobs are.  Al Gore spoke at Internet Retailer a year ago and said that he seldom addresses audiences who are working in double-digit growth industries.  In spite of the proliferation of jobs in digital marketing, some choose it above all else because it is an intellectually stimulating and fast-paced industry that satisfies a need for challenge. 

Back when people were still jumping ship to digital,  ecomm and marketing departments were largely staffed with the digitally-minded, in-need-of-a-challenge type employee.  They were early adopters, and there were not a lot of digital jobs back then.  Most of these people are now in senior positions elsewhere in digital; whereas, today’s marketing and ecomm departments are fully staffed with lots more digital employees who simply do the work.  Digital careers are mainstream:  today’s staffers  may or may not be intellectually stimulated by their work and chances are, the majority may be in it more for the paycheck.

Herein lies the problem with staffing for digital:  technology is advancing faster than the rank and file can keep up with.  Early adopters dove right in to master new technologies, but today’s talent pool will use the technology mostly to complete assigned tasks.  Most of the best online platforms and technologies are all self-service.  The power of some of these tools is amazing, but the staff is only using a small subset of what they can actually do. 
Continue reading

Close Variant Match Type: Time to Benchmark is Now!

With the recent announcement that at the end of September Google will remove the ability for search marketers to opt out of close variant matching for exact and phrase keywords, there is less than a month away to benchmark the impact of this change before it is gone for good.

When Google first implemented the close variant match type feature in 2012, which enables search queries that contain plurals, abbreviations and misspellings to trigger exact match or phrase match ads, 80% of search advertisers began using it (granted, using it by default since they have to manually opt out to disable it).  As a result, the permanent move toward eliminating the close variant opt-out feature will only affect about a fifth of search marketers.

However, for the 20% who are currently opted out of it, there are clearly reasons why.  Continue reading