Bringing Customers Back

Come back later!Many of you have explored online advertising, and some of you likely rely on it as a key part of your marketing initiatives. Whether you buy display ads locally or go all-out with pay-per-click advertising, you’re probably familiar with the benefits of online advertising. First, online advertising – especially on the pay-per-click side – offers precision that few other advertising formats can offer. If you want to reach a user searching for “pink foam stress reliever”, there is nothing more precise than online advertising, unless you’ve unearthed some mind-reading techniques that no one else has discovered.

Further, if you want to reach a content-oriented audience – let’s say you want to advertise on any website that is focused on high school football – you can do so using a “content network” strategy. The best online advertisers, of course, use a mix of all of these, tailored to the particular product or category they are advertising.

For instance, you might run display advertising on local news and business sites advertising your promotional and marketing services with a broad message. You might also advertise on sites for specific interests with a category of products – such as sports-related products like water bottles, flags and coolers on the aforementioned football-focused sites. Finally, you can advertise even narrower selections of products (or single products in some cases) to users who enter specific keywords into search engines – like the stress reliever examples above.

All of these are important strategies for the savvy online marketer, and they make even more sense if you are actively selling products online using an e-commerce shopping cart. But they don’t address the biggest problem plaguing any online advertising effort: getting users to come back to your site when they’ve left it without purchasing.

Why won’t they stay?

I’ve addressed the abandonment issue before; shopping cart abandonment rates average around 70% across all industries, which is a pretty terrible number. That means that less than a third of the people who put something in your online shopping cart will ever actually complete that purchase. Even more troubling are high bounce rates – when users come to your site and immediately leave. You can try dozens of techniques to keep them there, but ultimately there are a lot of tire kickers and “browsers” in the world, and you’re not going to get all of them. Even those visitors that don’t bounce immediately may stick around for a few minutes and then bail. It’s brutal out there.

Now, there are a few things you can do while you have visitors on your site to increase the likelihood that they’ll stick around and make a purchase. Live chat is probably the simplest and least expensive technology to interact with a visitor who might be wavering about a purchase or needs to ask a question. But you may not have the personnel to man live chat all day long, and while many visitors use live chat, some of them find it intrusive.

Optimizing your site’s landing pages – that is, the pages where users enter from searches and online ads – is another critical step in ensuring that users find what they want and stick around to buy it. But optimizing landing pages is a time-consuming and often frustrating process – you make a change, wait a while, and then look at the analytics to see if anything has improved. Split-testing (also called A/B testing, such as that available in Google Analytics) can make this process less cumbersome, but it doesn’t get you results any faster. It’s just something you have to do over time.

Where did they go?

Ultimately, you have to resign yourself to the reality that a sizable chunk of your visitors will leave your site without giving you much of anything – not a purchase, not an email address, nothing you can really use other than some measurable indications of when they left and from where they departed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reach them once they’re gone.

Enter “remarketing”. Remarketing is a technology that raises the hackles of privacy advocates and might even provide a dose of the “creep factor” when you’re browsing around online. You’ve probably encountered it before – you went shopping at the Ford Motors web site for a new pickup truck, then a day or two later you notice that there are suddenly ads for Ford pickup trucks on a lot of the sites you visit.

The first time I encountered remarketing was many years ago; I was shopping for a new laptop bag from Timbuktu and left the site after not finding the one I wanted. A day later, I noticed while browsing news sites and technology blogs that I was seeing an awful lot of Timbuktu ads, and they all seemed to advertise the exact line of laptop bags that I had been looking for.

I was, quite frankly, a little creeped out by this. And I’m not the only one – plenty of web users who are very sensitive about their privacy take steps to block these ads, because the technology they use follows you around the web as you go from site to site. It can be a little unsettling to find out that you’re being watched.

But, as Facebook and Google have demonstrated time and time again, many web users will trade privacy for convenience, and the majority of users do not take aggressive steps to block this kind of technology. That means that it’s quite likely that the majority of visitors who leave your site can be reached later with advertising for your products and services. Best of all, this “remarketing” technology is now cheap to run and easy to implement.

How does it work?

Remarketing is devilishly simple: You add some code to your website, and the remarketing provider tracks your visitors by putting a cookie on their computer. When those users leave your site, the remarketing provider shows your ads on other websites that these users visit. You create the ads yourself and upload them (remarketing is most often done with display ads); and then enter where you’d like the users to go when they click. You can send them straight back to your home page or, if you’re a little more savvy, you might want to send them to a landing page geared specifically to what they were looking at when they first visited.

You can get even more precise than that if you have the time. Say a visitor shopped the T-shirts category of your website – if you so desire, you can show them a t-shirt ad. You can even give them offers that you wouldn’t normally advertise in your other campaigns; since they’ve already shown interest in your products, you might want to lure them back with a coupon that only gets shown in your remarketing ads.

How does all this work? Remarketing takes advantage of the massive amount of “inventory” online – that is, all the ad space sitting out there. Since a remarketing provider is showing an ad specific to a user, they (and ultimately, you) can pay a bit more for an impression than an advertiser who is showing the same ads to everyone else who visits that site. It’s a little more money for the site hosting the ad, a tiny bit of money for the remarketing company, and a higher likelihood that you get that click, since the user viewing the ad is already familiar with you.

Want to try it out? There are a number of remarketing companies out there; it’s built in to Google Adwords, but you have to enable it and set it up separately. Of the third-party providers; Adroll is my favorite, because of its simplicity and low cost, but you might want to look around if you’re going to give remarketing a try. You should – it’s inexpensive, easy to implement and gets results.

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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Let’s Have a Little Fun

Having fun on a laptop

Your web site is an advanced piece of technology. Even if it’s a few years out of date, it’s still quite astonishing that information, products, videos, music and more are all at our fingertips on a daily basis. It’s easy to lose our sense of wonder about all this – just two decades ago, very little of what we now call the internet existed. Now, most of us depend on it at some level for social interaction, shopping, research, and business transactions, among many other things.

As that sense of wonder has slowly vanished, replaced by the workaday reality of checking your bank balance or ordering a pair of shoes, it’s worth remembering that there’s still a little bit of room for fun online – even on a buttoned-up e-commerce site. I’m not suggesting that you plaster your online store with cat videos. But it might not hurt to lighten up your presentation – a dose of character, properly administered, could give you the online personality to stand out from the crowd.

If this sounds trivial, it isn’t – if there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned from these columns over the years, it’s that uniqueness is one of the most important traits your website can have. Unique, original websites rank better than websites that substantially duplicate one another, and with promotional products and apparel, you’re competing with thousands of other sellers offering overlapping product selections. There are numerous strategies for making your content stand out, and many of them are labor-intensive and expensive. Injecting some fun into your website is cheap and easy, and you might even enjoy it. Why not give it a try?

If you’re stomping your feet, grousing about being a “serious business”, think about that for a minute: this is primarily a marketing business, and many of your customers are marketing professionals. They love fun. They want to know that you have at least a small creative bone in your body. Jazzing up your website with a touch of personality shows them your creative, entertaining side.

Beyond that, simple, bright, easy web sites are the norm these days. Years back, you decked out your web presence out in dark, serious, corporate colors to impress potential clients and show them that you were, you know, for real. These days, few people expect (or respect) that kind of presentation – we live in an app world, where attention spans are short, technology is back behind the scenes, and unique ideas and character get you eyeballs. Drop that dark maroon and stifling gray and get with the program – fun, open, simple web sites attract visitors and reflect well on your company.

Put a Face on it

Let’s start with the easy stuff. First, think about getting some people on your site. I don’t care if it’s a stock photo (as long as it isn’t that same blonde-haired call center operator that nearly every e-commerce site uses), just put a human being out there. For promotional products and apparel e-commerce sites, this action alone can make a big difference. Unlike buying a book or DVD, an ad specialty order can be an intimidating process, and visitors like to know that a human being is there to help them.

Want to take it to the next level? Put yourself and your employees out there! This is often a business of relationships, so why not just go out there and show people who you are? Smiling faces give visitors confidence that they’ll be taken care of. If your employees enjoy their jobs – if they have fun with it – get that out there! You don’t have to have them dancing in hula skirts and playing ukelele, but a happy face can help keep a visitor sticking around a little longer.

Add Local Flavor

It’s tempting for any online business to downplay their location – you want to be available everywhere, to everyone. For some businesses, if they’re big enough, talking about where you are or where you’re from doesn’t make much sense. But most small to medium-sized businesses will benefit more from talking about their location than simply trying to be a faceless juggernaut.

Why? Because of that uniqueness factor. Everyone is selling everywhere these days, so touting your “everywhereness” (and hiding your location) doesn’t really buy you much as a business – unless you’re huge. Instead, a touch of local flavor is a great way to make your content unique and give visitors a sense of who you are. You don’t have to make it a dominant feature of your web presence, but talking a little bit about the region or city you’re in in your blog posts or “About Us” section is a good start. Even better, tie it in with your employees and let them tell a little story about themselves!

Tell More Stories

This one may seem obvious, but your customers are often your best storytellers, and you should put them on your site. But it can be hard to get a good customer testimonial, which is why they’re often dry and uninteresting. So, go beyond the “Linda went above and beyond” pull quote and actually let them tell a story – let them have some fun.

If they don’t have a good story to tell, you can always make one up and ask for their permission. Just don’t think about testimonials as a stuffy, prove-how-professional-you-are endorsement. In face, so many testimonials read that way that they’re frequently ignored. A fun testimonial, on the other hand – say, a “here’s how Jill saved my bacon at a tradeshow” kind of story – shows that you solve real problems for real people.

Make it Move

It’s hard to overrate the value of videos on your site. They make content unique, offer a means of introducing yourself to your customers, and can even kick up a little bit of social media awareness for your company if they’re done right.

A great way to do them right is to have fun with them; product usage and demonstration videos are a fabulous place to start. If you’ve got a fun product, have some real fun with it – toss a stress ball around, hit the sidewalk outside with an umbrella, or go drive a few branded golf balls and talk about them. Remember, you tell stories about your company and your people with these videos, and if you make them fun, you not only give your visitors something to enjoy; you also show them your expertise.

How’s that? Well, when you handle something with comfort and aplomb, you appear as an expert. It’s the dry, nervous, overly formal presentation that drives viewers away. The more fun you can have with product videos, videos introducing your staff and anything else that you care to put out there, the better. Start your own Youtube channel (it takes a few seconds), get out your smartphone and start recording!

Finally, while social media sharing for e-commerce is a decidedly mixed bag, having a bit of fun with your web site increases your chances of getting noticed – videos get shared, stories get likes, and you begin to build up an online character that customers enjoy. Those social signals help with search engine ranking, as does the originality of your content – there’s really no downside. So loosen up that tie and inject a dash of fun into your site!

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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The Art and Science of Landing Pages

Landing pages collage

If you’ve gotten past the novice stages of selling promotional products and apparel online, you might be trying out a new thing here and there. Maybe you’re dabbling in online advertising using a pay-per-click service like Google Adwords, or perhaps you’ve tried developing some unique content of your own to help with your search engine ranking. Maybe you’re even running some local advertising or sponsorships to draw new customer to your web site.

If so, you’ll soon start thinking about landing pages. Landing pages are what they sound like – a page on your site where visitors land before they (hopefully) take other actions, such as browsing, buying things, filling out a lead form or giving you a call. Any page on your site can be a landing page, although typically when someone enters your site at a specific product page, their destination is so focused that we don’t call that a landing (often it’s just an “entrance”).

In most other cases, though, visitors who arrive at your site need to know that they’ve arrived at the right place. Thus, a landing page might be a listing of products (a category page, for instance) that the user was searching for, a page of information specific to their search, or even a form that addresses their need in specific terms and asks them to sign up for something or request information.

Landing pages can be many different things, but in order to be effective, they need to be welcoming and relevant. Just as you would greet someone entering your retail establishment and ask them what you could help them with, a landing page immediately establishes your relationship with a prospective customer.

What About my Homepage?

Your homepage is, in essence your primary landing page. But your homepage has a problem – it has to be all things to all people, all at once. In its role as a general-purpose greeter, your homepage is more like the doorway to a mall – it’s an entrance point for browsing, but not the direct route to what a visitor might be looking for.

Landing pages, on the other hand, allow you to tailor content and messaging toward a specific audience or product need. You may sell apparel, promotional products, signage and even printing services, and there may be a few of your visitors that are interested in all of those. But if you have a customer just looking for one of those services, you can build a landing page for each service that speaks to your strengths, service and pricing for that service only.

Now, you might protest that you don’t want to get pigeonholed into specific services; you offer everything, and you do it well. That’s fine, and it can be a good message in any number of media. But on the internet, specificity wins. The more you say you do, the less likely you’ll be found for any one thing that you do (there are exceptions to this, obviously, like Amazon, but they are few and far between).

That’s because the holy grail for search engines is to offer up the exact content a visitor wants for the search terms they’ve entered. That means that, all other things being equal, a search engine will prefer a page that is very specifically relevant to the search terms a user entered, as opposed to a page with many different products or services. In practice, that means that a search for “travel drinkware” more likely will be directed to a page about “drinkware” or “travel drinkware” rather than a page about promotional products in general (as I said, there are exceptions, especially with companies with extremely high general-product search ranking).

What Kind of Pages are These?

If you get someone to land directly on a product page, you’ve already won that battle – they’re (most likely) exactly where you want them. But for the rest of your visitors, it’s often beneficial to build or modify key pages on your site so that a “landing” visitor is more likely to stick around and take the action you’d like them to take. As an added benefit, if you’re running pay-per-click advertising, a relevant landing page actually increases your quality score, which reduces you cost per click and improves your ad position.

There are two primary types of landing pages that most e-commerce site owners should be maintaining:

Regular Site Pages: These are the pages on your site that have concentrated content that visitors often search for. For instance, these may be your major category pages (apparel, drinkware, writing instruments, etc.) or the pages where you describe and promote specific services in detail (printing, vehicle wraps, embroidery, etc.). These pages should be regularly maintained, updated and populated with the keywords that best fit the searches for that product or service.

Custom Landing Pages: These are pages you create on your own for a variety of purposes, for instance:

  • Advertising campaign landing pages: If you run an advertising campaign that is likely to attract new customers, rather than just sending them to a page of products, you might want a page that shows them products and (briefly) introduces your company to them. You can tell them a little about your company, your guarantee and so on before diving right into products.
  • Lead Capture landing pages: You might have a product or service that requires followup, estimation or other interaction that you can’t accomplish quickly on a web page. Lead capture landing pages very quickly state the benefits of filling out this form, and ask users for a small amount of information in order to continue the sales process.
  • SEO/Content Landing Pages: If you’re doing SEO work or building content to target a niche or long-tail product area, a landing page with those products and keywords can help you with ranking. We recently built a series of landing pages for very specific products that assisted both with pay-per-click and SEO.

Do I Need All This?

At the very least, you should maintain and optimize those built-in landing pages on your site, like your category pages. A little bit of keyword research can help you determine what kind of content to put on a given landing page. Good keyword content on your landing pages can improve your rankings for specific terms. But it needs to be balanced with content that welcomes visitors. Don’t go overboard with either; imagine a user coming to a landing page for the first time, and think of a message or description that will entice them to stick around.

Custom landing pages are a bit more work, but the payoff can be big, especially with advertising campaigns. For instance, if you are advertising a promotion or discount, your custom landing page can reinforce that messaging and guide a visitor directly into purchasing. You might even advertise to specific audiences, or based on seasonal criteria; the more specific the message, the more important that it be reinforced after someone clicks on the ad.

However far you decide to go, make sure you test your landing page strategy with analytics. Many companies see massive improvements in landing page performance with very small changes – a button moved up the page, a color change, a different headline. With analytics (Google Analytics now offers free A/B testing with its Experiments tool), you can fine-tune your landing pages so that they deliver exactly what you want most: more customers.

A version of this article also appeared in Identity Marketing magazine.

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