Is Email Marketing Disappearing?

Per this October report by Mailchimp (email marketing platform), the open rate of promotional emails in the e-commerce sector is only about 16%. Worse, clicks on them is even more dismal – just 2.4%.

Does this mean that e-mail marketing is on the brink of disappearing from digital marketing? After all, most of the users cannot complain against the emails as spam. In all probability, they have subscribed or opted in to get them.

In fact, there are strong laws against spamming. The FTC or Federal Trade Commission – the federal agency to protect consumers’ rights in the US, clearly states: each email in violation of the law of ‘Compliance Guide for Business’ is subject to “penalties of up to $16,000.”

Is Email Marketing Disappearing Then?

According to Email Marketing Industry Census 2016 brought out by Adestra, email marketing tops for ROI (ahead of SEO) with 73% of companies agreeing that email offers ‘excellent’ to ‘good’ ROI.  The survey involved more than 1,500 respondents from across the globe, mainly in-house marketers, and was carried out in February and March 2016.

So the answer to the question is an emphatic ‘No’. In spite of stiff competition from other modes of marketing tactics and channels, email marketing still provides for highest level of ROI for companies.

It makes perfect business sense to know more about it. So read on.

Basics: What are the Different Types of Marketing Emails?

Welcome Emails: A welcoming email is the first mail sent to the reader once he signs your mailing list. This creates credibility and trust, enhances your brand and of course, helps you to upsell your product.

Dedicated or Direct Emails: These mails are usually sent by most businesses, focusing on product launches, events, news, sales or special offers.

Newsletters Emails: These are regular emails sent to subscribers who have opted to receive updates from a company.

Lead Nurturing Emails: Sent to subscribers who we want to turn into customers.

Transactional Emails: To initiate a transaction from a prospective customer, transactional mails are sent. For example, if a customer abandons a cart on your site, you can send a transactional email reminder to checkout.

Occasion Special Emails: To create personal rapport with the customers, these mails are useful.

Thank you Mail: Last but not the least, a thank-you mail is a must after each transaction or action.

Interesting: Whose Email Campaign is Doing Better – Donald Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s?

Mailjet (email service provider) analysed emails sent by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s campaign teams over the course of the last two months, including communications around the first and second debates, and scored the emails according to a range of metrics including design best practices, personalisation, subject line, cross-channel marketing and the creativity of the content.

With a possible 27 points up for grabs, Donald Trump’s email marketing campaign is outperforming Hillary Clinton’s by 12.9 points to 11.0 across six separate marketing parameters. As a consequent follow-on, Donald Trump is doing better – there is a bigger surge in small-dollar donations to the Republican candidate.

However, both campaigns show huge missed opportunity for both nominees.The main drawbacks are poor personalisation, poor design and cross device compatibility.

Attributes of a Successful Email Marketing Campaign

As exemplified above, an email campaign needs to implement certain guidelines to be successful and survive in the cut-throat competition of other marketing methods. In a nutshell, it has to offer consumers with relevant and immaculately presented content. Keep in mind the following points.

Audience Segmentation:  To get the best response from an email campaign, make sure to segment your audience based on different characteristics like gender, location, age, interests, customer’s job titles or company size, transactional data such as past purchases or particular plan, or behavioral data such as customer vs prospect.

Responsive Design: It’s critical that you create emails that look just as good when opened on a mobile device as on a web browser. Responsive designs provide a better experience for each device on which the campaign is viewed.

Automation: With respect to email marketing, there are various CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and automation tools like Silverpop, MailChimp and Streak that help in seamless automation, greater and efficient lead and customer tracking, and expansion of retention rates.

Content Guidelines:

Customised content & Personalization: E-mail marketing needs to display the right content to the right user. The first basic rule – you have to be on a first-name basis with your recipient. Begin a message with “Dear John” instead of “Dear Customer”. Customize your email based on his location and time. If you have data on his past purchases and purchasing behavior, then compose your mail accordingly. All this is possible through proper integration between real-time audience data, data management platforms and ad exchanges. Check different CRM and automation tools available for the purpose.

Clear and concise: When sending out emails to current and potential customers, make sure the content is clear and concise. The offer should be prominent and easy to understand.

Call to action: The emails need to have a call to action that is clear and obvious. Create a sense of urgency. An “offer end date” can help drive immediate action.

Strong subject lines: The subject line should entice the recipient to open the email and learn more, as well as promote a sense of urgency.

Short subject lines: Limit subject lines to fewer than 50 characters. Longer subject lines can get cut off in the recipient’s inbox.

Landing pages: Before you send out the emails, evaluate the campaign’s landing page for effectiveness. The landing page should mimic the offer highlighted in the email and have the same look and feel.

Multiple call-to-action mechanisms: In addition to a landing page, provide a phone number as an alternative way for customers to respond.

Look and feel: The designs should be attractive, creative, simple and show all content without scrolling.

Analytics: To get the most out of the campaign, it is important to track it on multiple levels. Have mechanisms in place to track both sales and conversions generated from the campaign.

Conclusion

According to a report by Radicati, in 2015, the number of emails sent and received per day total over 205 billion. This figure is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3% over the next four years, reaching over 246 billion by the end of 2019.

Corresponding to such encouraging data, there is no sign of email marketing fading away. It has been around for more than 20 years and is still one of the most powerful tools of a marketer. However, the key is whether you are doing it correctly.

 

 

Some Black Hat Techniques (for SEO) Needn’t Be So ‘Black’!

In July this year, Gary Illyes, Webmaster Analyst at Google dropped a bomb on the SEO world. He said: “We’re going to go back to the kind of ranking algorithm we had ten or so years ago. This is probably going to shock a lot of people because it’s inclusive of what we’ve called Black Hat tactics”.

Well, we have to read between the lines. You are still advised to use White Hat SEO. However, some tactics that were considered as vintage ‘Black Hat’ techniques before are not penalised by Google algorithm now. What are they – we will discuss later.

What is Black Hat SEO?

According to Wordstream, “Black hat SEO refers to a set of practices that are used to increase a site’s or page’s rank in search engines through means that violate the search engines’ terms of service”. So essentially, Black Hat techniques are unethical ways of optimising websites and mainly used by computer hackers, virus creators and those who carry out illegal actions on the computer.

Through Black Hat SEO,  you may see an increase in site traffic initially. But in due course, your site may be badly affected and you see a rapid drop in site’s ranking and traffic. There is even the fear of your site being banned or completely de-indexed from Google and other search engines; and you have to start all over again from scratch.

So in general, Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines have denounced Black Hat tactics and strategies. 

What techniques come under Black Hat SEO?

In late March 2016, the researchers at the Imperva Defense Center investigated a sophisticated SEO campaign  that was successful in upping the rankings of certain websites consistently. The finding was interesting – among other techniques, they used extensive Black Hat techniques like SQL injection, comment spam and exploitation of thousands of third-party applications and websites.

Google and other search engines constantly update their algorithms so that such websites are penalised. Below we have listed some key Black Hat techniques that should be avoided:

  • Content Automation
  • Doorway Pages
  • Hidden Links
  • Negative SEO
  • Keywords Stuffing
  • Sneaky Redirects
  • Cloaking
  • Paid Links
  • Blog Spamming
  • Comments Spamming
  • Guest Posting
  • Duplicate Content
  • Link Manipulation
  • Auto Generated Queries to Google
  • Duplicate Domains and Sub-Domains
  • Web Pages with malicious content.

The Big Question:  Can You Ethically Use Black Hat Techniques for SEO?

We can, however, work around some of the Black Hat techniques mentioned above to make them ethical. Let’s see how that can be done.

IP delivery: You can create specific localised content to offer to a country specific IP address.

Redirect 301: All out-dated content can have a 301 redirect to a new webpage or your homepage.

Micro sites: Use popular short-term keywords to create micro sites. These sites can be abandoned later on.

Cloaking: Heavy flash animations can be hidden from Google and you can simple display the text-only version for easy accessibility and search-ability.

Keyword stuffing: In SEO, keyword stuffing is unethical but you can do this ethically. The process is known as folksonomy, wherein your user does the tagging. It also includes social classification and social indexing where more meta data is created with more and more keywords acceptable to search engines.

Hidden text or CSS pagination: Another ethical way to use Black Hat SEO is to create CSS-based websites with JQuery effects, such as CSS pagination – which help to display few content portions and hide a large text portion in layers.

Scraping: You can create similar or mirror websites of your website.

Page jacking: Though duplicate content is a strict “NO” in SEO, a popular Black Hat technique in an ethical way is to offer your website content under a creative Commons License with attribution.

False headlines: If newspapers can do it, why not Black Hat SEO? You can use deceptive headlines in your website content to grab attention and increase traffic. But do not overdo it.

Blog links and Blog spam: Create a network of legitimate blogs with backlinks to your site. These should be quality blogs. For blog spamming, install a WordPress blog without Akismet spam protection and add few posts to it. Now when spamming of comments start, parse the comments and publish only those which have keywords related to your site. Rest, you delete it.

Brand jacking: Positive reviews work but do you know even bad reviews or false reviews work fine for your website’s performance? Create a page for bad reviews of particular products or services and let consumers voice their concerns.

Automation of Tweets:  Twitter automation is not wrong but should not be done in excess. You can automate repeating and rescheduling of tweets and RSS feeds for your website and blog.

Doorway Pages: It is wrong to create a page with lots of keywords so as to make visitors enter the page and then automatically redirect them to a separate page. Rather, create a page with relevant and rich content. The doorway pages can be interesting pages that redirect to the main landing pages.

Paid links: It is unethical to pay to get links published in articles, blogs or advertisements that rank high on search engines. But when you buy links or sell paid links, the ethical practice is to include “nofollow” on the links. The links then appear just like proper ads to users and search engines.

Conclusion

Black Hat techniques are like the Sirens in Greek mythology – deadly attractive. They give your site immediate gains for some time but soon, Google and other search engines penalise your site and push it down the rankings to obscurity.

So the safest bet is to have patience and work on the SEO of your website gradually through White Hat techniques. You may also use tweaked Black Hat techniques as mentioned above. 

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3 Digital Marketing Trends You Need to Invest In Before It Is Too Late

According to the research firm eMarketer, the digital marketing industry in the world is about $187 billion now.

Well, this is a rough estimate. To be honest, if someone were to ask you how big is the digital marketing industry in the US, any other country or in the world, you probably would be lost for words. This industry is rather complex and is rapidly changing with innovations in technology.

However, we can study the data of some market metrics and come to some analysis points, like that done by eMarketer above.

For example, Alphabet (the parent company for Google) officially announced its Q2 2016 earnings at 21.5 billion – a 25% increase in constant currency revenues year over year! And in this, Google revenue from ads is worth $19.14 billion.

Another report by Nielsen says that in 2015, on an average, Facebook app and Youtube has 126 million and over 97 million unique users per month respectively. This shows the increasing popularity of social media platforms which brands can use for promoting their products and services.

In such a competitive digital marketing industry, it is important to ride the trends and succeed in your marketing efforts.

Mobile is the Way

Worldwide, the number of smartphones are forecast to cross the 2 billion mark, according to a Statista report. Look at the graphic representation below.

source: Statista

source: Statista

In terms of smartphone penetration, US leads the world with 83%, followed by UK and Germany. Check the chart below:

source: BI Intelligence

source: BI Intelligence

However, in terms of absolute numbers of smartphones used, China is way ahead by virtue of its huge population. The forecast is that by 2018, half of the Chinese population will use a smartphone, and by 2019 that number will rise to 690 million.

source: eMarketer

source: eMarketer

 

Now, according to Google’s Internal Data (based on 10 countries including the US and Japan, 2015) – 39% search on a smartphone only, 32% search on a computer only, and 28% search on more than one type of device.

This same information was espoused by Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai at his conference call with investors after the Q2 2016 earnings announcement of his parent company, Alphabet. He also hinted at the future that Google is working towards. “While today, mobile is the engine that drives us, the company is looking to machine learning for future growth. Through investment in AI, we are investing in our future.”

So from the perspective of consumers, one trend is obvious – the rapid growth of mobile internet and corresponding mobile marketing.

Skyrocketing Popularity of Messaging Apps

Today, messaging apps are usurping email and texts as the preferred mode of communication. The reason is that they combine the key USPs of both the platforms: searchability feature of emails and the quick, conversational style of texts.

According to a news report published in Nasdaq, 66% of consumers prefer to reach brands or be reached by them through messaging apps. Of course, what apps they prefer vary based on their locations.

Are you serious about Messaging App as a marketing channel?

Are you serious about Messaging Apps as a marketing channel?

 

Brands can use Conversational Marketing or Conversational Commerce – a term coined earlier this year, to interact with customers in a conversational manner. For example, instead of simply displaying ads, a clothing brand can interact with its customers with personalised messages like “What is your size?”, “Which color of shoes are you looking for?” or “When would you like to come over and pick your items up?” through Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp.

Recently, Google too entered the app market with the launch of Allo. The app integrates information like restaurant recommendations with features like Google Calendar and predicts your responses. This is the next level of AI and looks promising to businesses.

Is Customer Service Going the Artificial Intelligence Way?

The consumer today is complex. Her buying decision journeys through different platforms and channels as she consumes different formats of content. The real challenge is to capture her attention at the right time or at the correct points in the sales funnel. On putting this context according to business parlance, it reiterates that customer service and engagement is more important now for successful business.

Human customer service may soon be replaced by Artificial Intelligence

Human customer service may soon be replaced by Artificial Intelligence

 

Companies spend millions of dollars to improve their customer service through training their employees and setting up customer care centres. However, the trend today is to go for AI or Artificial Intelligence.

Theoretically, AI can deliver on the promise of efficient and quick customer service and engagement with minimal errors. AI is based on the ability to interact intelligently with the user. And in order to do that, we should have a robust system that understands what an input means. Like the travel portal Expedia wondered in one of their blogs: “If someone says in casual conversation, “I want to go to Paris,” we make an assumption that they mean Paris, France instead of Paris, Illinois. Similarly, “Show me a flight on Friday” likely means for the next Friday on the calendar instead of one random Friday next month…these options are nearly endless.”

We are in a stage where many companies have developed bots for the purpose of customer service – though, we dare say, they are not cent percent faultless. For example – Siri from Apple, Cortana from Microsoft, Watson from IBM, Facebook’s Bot Engine for Messenger, and Google Assistant. However, what we have achieved so far is the harbinger of the future that customer service will be across verticals and geographies.

For small businesses, it may not be possible to have their entire customer service go the artificial intelligence way, as of now. But the owners of such businesses can definitely use AI-based apps to streamline their work activities and get competitive advantage. Examples – Amy by x.ai, Quill by Narrative Science, DataRPM, Textio and SalesforceIQ.

Conclusion

Today, we have many technologies to help us plan our marketing strategy across a customer’s lifecycle – be they the search marketing insights tools, marketing automation tools, web personalization tools, programmatic tools, or cloud services. The challenge lies in our expertise to know what to use and how to do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reap the Benefits of Google Maps Before Others Crowd It

Analysts at Morgan Stanley feels that Google Maps will easily generate 1.5 billion dollar revenue by 2017. But how? Read on.

First, an interesting piece of statistics – according to Facebook Business, less than 10% customers in the US buy retail products from e-commerce sites. The rest 90% actually do it in brick-and-mortar shops after researching their wishlist products and services on their mobile phones. So if you have businesses like retail, grocery, telecommunications, restaurants or auto dealerships, location-based advertising is a must.

In other words, Google Maps will earn more and more revenue through ads placed on it. “In our view, Maps remains one of Google’s most under-monetized assets,” Morgan Stanley wrote in the note to investors.

How Google Maps Help You?

Tech Target defines Google Maps as a “Web-based service that provides detailed information about geographical regions and sites around the world. In addition to conventional road maps, Google Maps offers aerial and satellite views of many places. In some cities, Google Maps offers street views comprising photographs taken from vehicles.”

Indeed, from a web-based mapping service developed and launched by Google in 2005, Google Maps has come a long way. It has revolutionised the world of digital maps and now it has more than one billion users.

Let’s check some of its key uses:

  • It is a route planner for drivers, bikers, walkers, and passengers of public transportation who want to travel from one specific location to another.
  • The API or Application Program Interface of Google Maps helps web site administrators install Google Maps into a proprietary site like a community service page, real-estate guide or location specific page.
  • Google Maps on Mobile helps drivers and motorists find locations through Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • Google Street View helps users to view and navigate panoramic street view – both horizontal and vertical images of different cities around the world.
  • For astronomers, Google Maps provides images of the moon, Mars, sky and other heavenly bodies.

Why is Advertising on Google Maps Important for Your Business?

In a recent Google Performance Summit, Google revealed some interesting statistics that businesses should take notice of.

  • Around 90% of all global sales will happen in stores and not online.
  • Nearly a third of mobile searches are associated with location.
  • Location-related searches have been growing 50% faster than mobile searches overall in the past year.
  • Over a billion people now use Maps.
  • Consumers search 1.5 billion destinations every year on Google Maps.
  • Almost 84% of consumers opt for local searches.
  • Three out of every four people who search for something nearby end up visiting a store within 24 hours and 28% of those searches lead in a purchase.

What do all these data mean? If your business has a physical location and you want to grow, then it is necessary that you are visible on Google Maps. When people on the go browse for your products or services on their smartphones, they should find you. 

Promoted Pins

Google Maps will soon launch Promoted Pins — purple pins on map search results — that will pop up information on products or services if a user decides to tap them. It’s expected to be a major force in local SEO. For advertisers, this means driving more footfalls to physical stores, and for users, more options when they search for directions.

Promoted PIns on Google Maps

Promoted Pins on Google Maps

When someone types a destination into Google Maps, they’ll see the standard red pins that connect one location to another, complete with directions. Then, they’ll also see nearby local businesses highlighted in purple – with the company logos. The user then has the option to tap a purple pin to see more information on the business and products it sells.

Some Other Exciting Features to Look Out For in Google Maps

New local search ads: Advertisers can now use location extensions on their local search ads in AdWords on Google Maps for both desktop and mobile devices. These local ads include “Call” and “Directions” buttons and this way a vast number of potential consumers can be reached.

In-store promotions: There is another friendly in-store promotion feature – just below the logo on the map itself that will appear to the user as he is driving and navigation in and around the location. For instance, if you are near a Starbucks’ store, then you may see the Starbucks’ logo with the in-store promotion happening at that moment at that location – say, a $1-discount offer. When you tap on the logo, you will get to the business page at the bottom of your screen, displaying the at-the-moment offer. This feature has tremendous possibility to bring in more new customers.

Customizable business pages with Promoted Pins: If you use Promoted Pins (as mentioned above), then you can have customizable local business pages with all the basic information like address, phone number, operating hours and offers.

But What Ads Google Maps Will Show Users?

All the above features are great from advertisers’ point of view. However, there could be hundreds of stores near your location but only a few precious ad spots. How does Google know which listing is the most relevant to the searcher? Google says it is using a “variety” of signals, including:

  • Query context
  • Location
  • Search/browsing history
  • Interests
  • Behaviors
  • Time of day
  • Demographics

So essentially, what Google Maps is doing is similar to the ad serving used on the Google Display Network. These search business ads appear on both the desktop and mobile versions of Google Maps. On mobile devices, there is the added advantage of features like as Call or Directions which make it more convenient for customers to reach you.

In this context it is to be noted that just recently, Google has introduced a new update to Google Maps in its new version 4.24 on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch where users are provided with new useful features, including the ability to order food from your favourite restaurants. This is not available for all locations at present but if your location is supported, when you look for a food joint or take-away within the app, you will now view a new “Place an Order” option in the details of the location. Clicking on the button will lead you to the website of the food delivery service provider.

How Do You Then Ensure Your Ads on Google Maps?

Location Extensions in AdWords: If you run AdWords campaigns, enable location extensions. They will allow you to enter business hours, Google reviews, and phone numbers to your listings. These will be critical when an ad is displayed in Google Maps. You’ll need to enable location extensions at the account level and also set locational bids.

‘Google My Business’: Enter your business in ‘Google My Business’. Doing this establishes your business’ formal existence and public identity with Google. Even if you’re a “virtual business” with no physical address, you should establish a presence here; if you do have a physical location, or multiple physical locations, Google provides a “dashboard” that makes editing and adding content very easy.

Add content to your business listing: If you don’t, Maps users searching for your business will see a “default” image – usually sourced from Google Street View – that doesn’t always paint a flattering picture. Seize the opportunity to provide images that drive people to your enterprise – not away from it.

Conclusion

Remember, Google searches guide consumers to 1.5 billion destinations every year. So the bottomline question: if you have a location-based business, is it “on Google Maps?” Make sure it is, because maps-oriented user interfaces are becoming as important as the traditional hierarchical list-oriented interfaces (such as SERPs) we’ve grown used to in the past 20 years.

Is Native Advertising the Future of Digital Marketing?

Have you ever seen any display or banners ads in BuzzFeed? If you are a regular to the site, your answer will be an emphatic no. Yet, its revenue was close to USD 170 million last year while media houses around it were struggling to survive.

When Netflix was ready with Narcos Season 1 (web crime series), it partnered with Wall Street Journal to bring out an exclusive article on the logistics and financial aspect of running a drug cartel. The media giant published an in-depth report – Cocainenomics, and needless to say, it prompted huge viewers to the show. The series became a critical and commercial success and the producers soon planned for Seasons 2, 3 and 4.

In both case studies above, the connecting thread is native advertising. But what exactly is it? Read on.

What is Native Advertising?

Smart Insights define native advertising as, “Online content that is created for paid promotion of a brand on a media site which doesn’t use a traditional ad format such as a banner ad, but includes editorial content such as a blog post or infographic”…promoted tweets, Facebook news feed ads, AdWords and Bing Ads, SERP ads, StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery, etc.  

Essentially, native advertising is disguised advertising – where the advertising content takes the form and style of the platform in which it appears. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US has defined native advertising as an effective mingling of advertisements with entertainment, news, and other editorial content in digital media.

Contrary to embedded marketing techniques where we place the advertised product/service within the content, in native advertising – both the product/service and content are merged. In many cases, you would not even realise that the content is actually an advertisement.

Native advertising is not new. Google and other search engines have been doing it through paid ads for quite sometime. However, in the last 4-5 years, the buzz has become more prominent. Native advertising is more sophisticated today and include new strategies and innovations.

Some Successful Examples of Native Advertising in the Last Few Years

In 2012, England footballer Wayne Rooney advertised the Nike brand, his sponsor, by simply using his Twitter feed, making it sound more like a personal comment, rather than an advertisement.

In 2013, the 157-year-old magazine, The Atlantic, published a story about the Church of Scientology and its worldwide expansion on its website. There was lot of criticism against it as readers took it as genuine. Later the same day, it pulled the story and ran a statement that started with “we screwed up.” 

In 2015, ‘The A-Zzz of Bedroom Ideas‘ produced by IKEA and The Telegraph was a brilliant native advertisement highlighting the need for IKEA solutions to solve your sleep problem.

Why Companies Should Try Native Advertising?

FIPP, known as a hub of global media knowledge has published a report about the native marketing trends in 2016 – after surveying executives from more than 39 countries. The findings re-emphasises the importance of native advertising for all brands and companies. The key points are:

  • There is more purchase intent in native ads compared to banner ads.
  • For mobile media buyers, almost 97% of them consider native ads more effective at achieving marketing goals.
  • Native advertisements are comparatively economical and easy.
  • Native ads are more subtle and less annoying.
  • Native ads create more brand loyalty.
  • Users consume native advertisements more than the standard banners.
  • Users consume native advertisements more than the editorial content.
  • Great storytelling really works in native advertising.
  • Digital and printed articles, and video content perform the best.
  • Native advertising will grow more in the future.

How is Native Advertising Done?

The IAB Native Advertising Playbook has classified Native Advertising into the following 6 categories:

Content Recommendation Engine Widgets: These ads appear at the bottom of an article or blog post with a heading like “You May Also Like” , “Recommended for You”, “Elsewhere from around the web”, “From around the web”, “You may have missed” etc. The widgets display some external links or references, somewhat on related topics, which when clicked take you to other sites. Examples of recommendation widgets: Outbrain, Taboola, Disqus, Gravity.

Promoted Listings: Promoted listings are usually found in e-commerce sites in the category pages (as ‘sponsored products’). They are related to what the users are searching on the sites. Examples of platforms for promoted listings: Etsy, Amazon, Foursquare.

Paid Search Ads: These are the original native ads. They appear in search result pages of search engines where the ads will be based on the user’s search queries on them, and also on individual sites whose content or products/services match the ads. Google is the most famous example for such native ads.

In-Feed Units: These are sponsored content published within a natural index of articles, placed in a manner that both the original content and the sponsored content from advertisers are visible to the readers as part of a stream or gallery. Examples – Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Forbes.

In-Ad with Native Elements (IAB Standard): These ads are for sites that have standard IAB inventories like 300×250 or 300×600 banners. The ads contain contextually relevant content within them – which encourages the user to engage more with the ads. Example platforms that provide IAB inventories: Onespot, Appssavvy, Martini Media, Federated Media, EA.

Custom Ads: These ads are contextual ads that do not have a standard format but are created on the basis of a person’s browsing activity. Depending on his searches or the ads he clicked, he gets to see ads which might be of interest to him. For example, if you visit a site having a playlist for workout music, you might come across ads for sports products or sports drink. Example platforms where this is done: Tumblr, Pandora, Spotify, Flipboard, Hearst.

Native Advertising Platforms

Apart from the ones mentioned in the above section, here are some more platforms (with unique features) for Native Advertising:

  • AdsNative: Both in-feed and in-ad placement strategies are used.
  • Adtile: Gives focus on native advertising solutions for the mobile industry.
  • AdYouLike: Promotes brand content in any type of editorial content.
  • BidTellect: Targeted native ads are delivered across all devices and in all formats.
  • Connatix: Content spread across web and mobile media properties.
  • Disqus: A blog comment hosting service.
  • DistroScale: A marketplace for delivering, buying and measuring native content.
  • Kargo: Mobile marketplace.
  • MoPub: A full-featured ad platform optimized for mobile publishers.
  • Namo Media: Allows any mobile app to do custom mobile advertising.
  • Plista: Users are helped to determine what advertisements and recommendations to receive.
  • PubNative: Mobile publishers earn revenue by implementing native advertising.
  • Yahoo Gemini: All mobile search and native ads can be optimised in one single place.
  • Yieldmo: Optimizing revenue for publishers and connecting them with advertisers.
  • Zemanta: The original content optimized for multiple distributions.

But is Native Advertising Free from Criticism?

Several reporters and thought leaders feel that native advertising will lead to the fall of journalism. Some say that native ads make the content look organic though it is sponsored and it tricks consumers to fall for it. The ads are misleading and readers cannot differentiate between articles and ads.

Well, to counter such criticisms, the IAB (conglomerate of leading media and technology companies for digital advertising and marketing in the US) has come out with the following guidelines to standardize native advertising:

  • There must be visual clues. These must be created in such a manner that the readers must be able to identify the ad as sponsored.
  • Native ads must be labeled as ‘Promoted’ or ‘Sponsored’.
  • Consumers should know to identify the editorial of native ad content.

Conclusion

Traditional advertising formats like rich media and display are rapidly fading away from people’s minds. So look for native advertising opportunities for your brands. They have a strong but less intrusive format and can be integrated well into sites, apps and mobile platforms.

Today, be it the search engines like Google or Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube – marketing platforms are offering different forms of native advertising with the perfect combination of format, scale, looks and feel of advertisements and messages.

 

How to market your startup without spending anything: a guide for beginners

According to Y Combinator, an American seed accelerator for startups, on average, the success rate of startups is as low as 0.4%. Such staggering data is indeed scary, which renders all the more important to market your idea effectively.

However, marketing in general is a revenue-guzzling activity; more so if you are a startup or new in business.

So below, we have listed some marketing ideas that don’t eye your pocket or at worst, are extremely easy on it!

1. Social Media

Without a doubt, the best way to market your business is through effective content in different social media platforms. Be it Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest or any other social media platform, good content is always liked and shared. This increases your audience and potential customer base.

It is great if you can create original content which sometimes, may get viral. Nothing beats the importance of viral content in branding your business to a wide audience.

But remember, you need to be consistent and regular in your social media activities. Try to have at least one post in your chosen social media platforms.

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If you find it not practical to create original content every time, you may like to share content on general information or updates about your industry.

Of all social media platforms, Twitter has gained much prominence. With clever and consistent strategy, Twitter can be a great way to brand your business and drive sales. Create a Twitter account for your startup and tweet relevant information related to your business, at least once daily. In fact, it is better if you can tweet every two-three hours.

Remember, your tweets should not be only about sales; there should be generic interesting tit-bits about your industry as well. Retweet important tweets. Actively reply to your tweets and engage with people.

Apart from the free marketing, you may try the paid ads options available in different social media platforms. But first we suggest, be effectively active through the free mode.

2. Blogging

In today’s digital world, content is king. And in that context, an effective way to promote your business is by having a blog.

Post relevant and innovative topics regularly in your blog. Update it with the latest industry news.

Try to make your blog a complete media hub. Have audio and video files, podcasts, webcasts and if feasible, webinars as well.

Blogging

If any content goes viral, you will reach a huge online audience. In general, interesting videos go viral easily.

But remember, such innovative content can go waste if you don’t promote it effectively through social media. So promote your blog posts through different social media platforms.

Through your blog, engage with your readers actively and develop a community. This helps immensely in branding your business.

An interesting offshoot of blogging is that it improves the SEO of your website. Since your blog is linked to your website, more people coming to your blog effectively means more traffic to your website.

Essentially, blog can build trust for your business and position you as an industry expert. The more you can demonstrate your expertise and knowledge about your business domain, the more will people try your product or service.

3. Guest Blogging

In simple words, guest blogging is about link building. Or in other words, bringing traffic from different websites to your site.

However, according to a recent post by Matt Cutts from Google Webspam team, guest blogging is no longer valuable to drive traffic. The reason is that Google has found the practice spamming.

But remember, if your content is original and you choose good websites, guest blogging can still be used to drive quality traffic to your site. The practice is still used by many businesses.

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Do research sites that are related to your business and have high traffic as well. Offer to guest blog for them.

Join guest blogging communities like MyBlogGuest to interact with other bloggers in your industry, find more useful guest blogging opportunities and in general, get information and updates about your industry.

4. Question-and-Answer Websites and Internet Marketing Forums

There is a worldwide community online who interacts with each other in different question-and-answer sites (Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com, Askville, Quoraspring.me, Answerbag, All Experts, etc) and marketing forums. The Internet is full of marketing forums of every conceivable business or product.

We suggest you do a Google search and research question-and-answer sites and forums that have most of your target audience.

Q&A

In question-and-answer sites, answer questions related to your business and industry and post your own doubts as well. While in marketing forums, join the threads or create your own thread.

Be regular in the sites and forums and interact actively. You should try to become a reliable source of industry information and create a good list of followers, both in the question-and-answer sites and marketing forums.

5. Post Ads in Free Sites

There are many websites which allows you to post ads for free like Craigslist, MerchantCircle.com,  Local.com, Gumtree, etc.

Explore such websites for your business.

Post-Ads

6. Host High-Profile Interviews, Live Chats or Twitter Parties

Can you manage an interview with a prominent personality in your industry? If yes, then you can have it in your blog. Traffic for such searches is high; so it can be a good way to bring users’ notice to your business.

Media

Decide on an interesting topic related to your business or industry and start a Twitter party. Or, you can have  a live chat discussion where users can consult with experts.

Either way, the whole idea is to engage the audience with each other, while at the same time build trust for your brand.

7. Free Offers, Discounts and Coupons

It is always a good business strategy to give free trials or ‘try before you buy’ offers, discounts or coupons to your audience. So if feasible with your business plan, then do it for a limited period.

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In the process, you will collect the contact details of many potential buyers. Even if the users’ opt out of your product or service after the discounts or free trials, you can pitch them later.

8. Press Media Exposure

Do press releases and try to find some space in the media. Nothing is more relevant for effective branding than a good press for your product or service.

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9. Contests and Local Events

Try to associate with local events where you can display your product or service and generate public buzz.

Alternatively, you can hold different contests, both offline and online, and offer the winners discounts or coupons to use your product or service.

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Either way, the motive is to bring the audience closer to your business.

10. Customer Feedback Loop

Essentially, customer feedback loop refers to the gathering of feedback from different sections of the targeted audience through various means, and then using the information to better the products/services offered.

Providing excellent customer service is an excellent marketing strategy to spread news about your business by word-of-mouth and customer testimonials.

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Interact with customers at every opportunity in your website. Have interactive chat and on-site survey feedback on select pages like category or sale.  Promptly respond to any user who has interacted with you.

On-site survey feedback, for both fresh leads and existing customers, should contain only relevant questions and should not take more than 2 minutes to complete.

Don’t shy away from negative feedback. It is even more important to interact with such aggrieved customers. If feasible, try to compensate them.

If customers don’t participate in your on-site survey feedback, proactively encourage them to give you their reviews or testimonials for your products or services. This will help you to plug the loopholes in your business, if any, and enhance the customer experience.

Note, according to a report by McKinsey, 20-50% of all purchasing decisions are driven by testimonials.

So select some of the positive feedback and include them in your testimonials page. Try to include photos of the customers who gave you the positive feedback. You may add a couple of bad reviews as well. This will add to the credibility of the good testimonials.

Conclusion

For a startup with limited resources, it is a challenge to work on your business and marketing simultaneously. We suggest you use some or all the ideas mentioned above to popularise your business effectively.

Do you think there are more ways to market a startup? Let’s start a discussion!

First published: YourStory, Oct 2014

 

What You Can Learn From Yahoo’s Fall? 5 Lessons To Implement in Your StartUp

On July 25 early morning, Forbes headlined the Yahoo deal as ‘saddest $5 billion deal In tech history’. This is heartbreaking indeed. Throughout our childhood in the 90s, Yahoo was the king of the Net. In fact, when Yahoo went public in 1996, its shares soared by 154% in a single day and in just three years, its founders were worth $8 billion each. The company had a dream run until Google came along.

Is there something that we can learn as startups from this classic fall-from-grace story? We have looked at the discussions and perspectives around the topic and come up with the following analysis. Read on.

Know Your Customer

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Yahoo began its journey in 1994 as ‘Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web’ – a directory page created by two Stanford University students where they listed websites that they found useful. In US then, dial-up internet connection was gaining popularity and people wanted a one-stop destination where they can access different facilities. Yahoo was at the right place at the right time. It became a portal and became extremely popular as it rode the dot com bubble.

By turn of the century the advantage of portal slowly dwindled. The world was more focused on social and search. And more and more people were turning to smartphones.

However, Yahoo essentially remained just that – a portal where millions of people come everyday to do almost everything from searching to emailing, checking news to weather, playing games to chatting. All these activities were not particularly popular with the smartphone audience. But in spite of these obvious signs, Yahoo hang on with the concept and tried to add capabilities within it.

For startups, this is a good learning – know your customers well. It is important to analyse the interests, demographics and other metrics of our target audience, and formulate strategies and services accordingly.

Keep Your Best Team Together

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According to a Forbes article, at one time Yahoo had the best brains in Silicon Valley. But as the company gradually lost its importance, its best engineers started moving out to its competitors.

Yahoo, however, did not seem serious enough to keep its talent density intact. In fact, it filled in the gap with mediocre engineers. One of the ex-managers of Yahoo famously confessed to a magazine that given a choice, he would like to fire at least 80% of the engineers at Yahoo.

This is a good learning for all companies – more so for startups. A good team will see your company through all times – good and bad. The key is to identify the key stakeholders and focus on maintaining the talent density.

Focus on Your Core Product or Service

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Remember the time when Google appeared as a search option on the Yahoo portal? Google has long come out from the shadows and have eclipsed Yahoo completely in search. Facebook has taken over the excitement that we once experienced with the many Yahoo chat rooms. Apps in smartphones have weaned us away from the web. In short, Yahoo does not seem to have any specific focus – when compared to such companies. To be brutally frank, even the home page looks cluttered and out of focus.

The learning is an eyeopener for startups. Understand where your key strength lies and give special focus to that product or service line. It is better to be specialist in one field and offer unique experiences to customers than to be a ‘Jack of all trades but master of none’.

Be Clear about Your Revenue Model

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Critics feel that Yahoo lacked foresight and did not have unambiguous focus on revenue channels and generation.

In the late 90s, Yahoo could clearly see that the internet was fast expanding and its methodology of manually curating and indexing websites on its portal no longer holds good. But it did not really make an intense effort to come up with a technology to automate the process. In fact, when the young founders of Google approached it then for investment, it outright disapproved.

Later however, Yahoo understood its mistake and invited Google to put up its search bar on its portal. Ironically, this helped Google much more than it did to Yahoo – it positioned Google as a better option in search technology. In 2002, Yahoo offered to acquire Google for $5 billion – but this time, Google said no.

Yahoo was aware that it does not have social media clout. So in 2006, it offered to buy Facebook for $1 billion and Mark Zuckerberg was almost ready. But then, Yahoo’s stock value faltered and it renegotiated the deal to $850 million. Zuckerberg didn’t like it and walked away.

The worst part is, Yahoo could not make the best use of Overture – its pay-per-click program. Interestingly, AdWords is based on it and today has become the biggest source of revenue for Google.

And what is even more heart breaking is that Yahoo missed to capitalise on the millions of early leads of an entire generation that came (and still do) to its portal.

When Marissa Mayer took over as CEO, she understood the importance of mobile experience for users. But may be, her efforts were too little too late. Critics point out that Yahoo did not have enough mobile experts and it was spread out on too many apps.

In short, essentially, with the rise of Google in search and Facebook in social, and with no clear presence in web or mobile, the potential of Yahoo to generate revenue was gradually going downhill.

This analysis is a clear learning for startups. From the beginning, we should have definite understanding of our revenue model and how we plan to go about it.

Set Clear Work Culture

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Yahoo always had an employee-friendly culture where people were happy, relaxed and had the freedom to pursue their passions. This is good, but the culture should also push employees to move fast, innovate and create real impact to the company.

When Marissa Mayer became the CEO, she tried to do away with the work-from-home option which was abused universally. She also tried to bring in strict appraisal system where an employee would fall in different buckets like ‘exceeds expectations’, ‘meets expectations’ or ‘below expectations’. Did her initiatives bear fruit – the jury is still out.

Look at the irony. The technology Hadoop was nurtured at Yahoo, but other companies are generating billions of dollars around it now. There were other ideas which received many awards at conferences – however, most were not implemented. So here is the question – were the stakeholders not active or fast enough in the company to translate those ideas into business?

This is a wakeup call for startups. It is very important to set up an office culture where employee-friendliness and, strict goals and work expectations go hand in hand. The culture and values should be clearly mentioned in the company’s page – something that Google has done effectively and Yahoo has not.

Conclusion

Of course, all is not lost for Yahoo. It stills hold non-core patents and stakes at Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. It is worth only $36 billion now – a mighty 75% fall from what it was in 2000, and definitely less than the $50 billion that Microsoft once offered to acquire it. But in its Greek tragedy, there are many gems of wisdom that startups need to take note of.