Design a Website That Drives Conversions

Design CRO: How to Design a Website That Drives Conversions

Design a Website That Drives Conversions

Driving traffic to your website isn’t always easy. Between your SEO campaigns and paid ads, it takes time, money, and effort to get visitors to land on your site.

But getting people to your website is only half of the battle. What happens next is what really matters.

Are your website visitors converting? If the answer is no, or not as much as you’d like, then you need to take a step back and analyze your design.

First impressions matter. 94% of first impressions are related to a website’s design. Furthermore, people form an opinion about websites in just 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds).

So even if you’re producing great content or you’re selling an outstanding product, your site can still have a negative perception if it’s poorly designed.

That’s why 38% of people stop engaging with websites that have unattractive designs.

Fortunately, you’re not doomed forever. Bad website designs can be fixed. You just need to keep conversions in mind for every design element on your site.

Follow the design best practices that I’ve outlined in this guide and apply these concepts to your website. These simple changes can help your conversion rates skyrocket.

Simplify the Navigation

Design and navigation go hand in hand.

People don’t land on a website and convert within seconds. They typically do some browsing and navigate to other landing pages.

But if those website visitors have trouble finding what they’re looking for, then they won’t be able to convert.

The easiest way to simplify your navigation is by eliminating unnecessary options from your menu.

Take a look at this sample homepage created by Jimdo, which is a platform for creating websites.

Simple Navigation Jimbo Cafe

The navigation bar has 11 options. While it may not seem like a lot initially, this can be overwhelming for your website visitors.

It increases the chances that they’ll navigate to the wrong landing page. This is frustrating for your visitors and can cause them to leave your site without converting.

When you take a closer look, it’s clear that some of these menu options can be combined or eliminated. Here’s an updated look at the same sample homepage.

Updated Navigation

By reducing the number of menu options to five, it’s much more visually appealing.

There aren’t any conflicting or confusing navigation links, so it will be easier for website visitors to find exactly what they’re looking for.

Less is more. Giving people too many choices harms conversions. This theory was put to the test in a famous experiment known as the jam study.

A grocery store set up a display table offering 24 samples of jam. This table attracted 60% of shoppers, but only 3% of them actually made a purchase.

Another day, the same grocery store set up a table with 6 flavors of jam. 40% of shoppers came to the table, and 30% of them bought jam.

The same concept can be applied to your website navigation. Offering too many options will have an adverse effect on engagement. While fewer choices yield higher conversion rates.

Eliminate Large Blocks of Text

Too much written text on your website is another way to kill conversions. People don’t want to read paragraphs before making an action.

So you need to come up with ways to get your point across as short and efficiently as possible.

Rather than using paragraphs and long sentences, consider replacing those large blocks of text will quick bullet points.

Bullet points are easier to read, and much more visually appealing.

Use Images (Sparingly)

This piggybacks off of your previous point. High-quality images paired with short text is another great way to explain things on your website.

Take a look at this example from Square.

Images Paired With Short Text

This landing page design conveys information about the Square reader for processing payments in person. Rather than explaining exactly how the product works in long-form text, the site uses pictures to do the talking instead.

Based on these pictures, it’s very clear how the product works.

The short text paired with the images complements the design of this page.

For visitors that want more information about how the product works, they can simply click on the “learn more” button to see additional details.

While you should definitely be using images to improve the design of your website, make sure you don’t go overboard.

According to Google, too many images can have a negative impact on conversion rates.

Fewer Images Create More Conversions

If you have too many visual elements crammed into a small space, the clutter will overwhelm your site visitors.

Plus, images can increase the weight of your website, which slows down your page loading times.

Prioritize Speed

Don’t let your design choices compromise the performance of your website.

At the end of the day, you still need to make sure your site is designed with user experience in mind. Page loading speed can make or break your conversion rates.

Loading Time Impact on Conversion

It’s a simple concept. Research shows that sites with faster loading times have higher conversion rates.

People won’t convert if they get frustrated and abandon your site.

So how fast should your website load?

According to a recent study, 47% of people expect pages to load in two seconds or less. 40% of people will abandon sites that take more than three seconds to load.

75% of users surveyed said they won’t return to sites that take more than four seconds to load.

Sites with too many images, videos, GIFs, and other large files will load slower than sites that have a simple design. So remove clutter and unnecessary flashing lights, bells, and whistles.

If you keep your design simple and clean, your loading times will be faster.

Make Sure Your CTA is Obvious

How can people convert on your website?

This is not a trick question. Take a look at your website and actually ask yourself what a visitor needs to do in order to convert.

If they have to scroll, click on a link that brings them to another landing page, and then search for a button hidden in the bottom corner, then you won’t have high conversion rates.

While that hypothetical example may sound extreme, you’d be surprised how many websites lack an obvious CTA button.

Just 47% of websites have CTA buttons that can be spotted in three seconds or less.

Furthermore, 72% of sites don’t feature CTA buttons on interior pages. That design flaw will kill your conversion rates.

Your CTA needs to be on every page, and in view at all times. It should be obvious, so the visitor knows exactly where to click when they’re ready to convert.

Try pinning your CTA to the top menu bar, so it’s in view no matter how a user navigates.

Here’s an example from BuildFire.

Obvious CTA

BuildFire is a company that builds mobile apps. Both CTAs on this homepage navigate to the same landing page, but they’re just worded differently.

When you view their homepage, you can spot these buttons instantly.

Before I continue talking about their CTA strategy, take a moment to analyze the other design elements of this homepage. I used this site as an example because BuildFire has applied some of the other strategies that we have already discussed.

There are limited navigation options, minimal text, bullet points, and an image that fits perfectly on the page.

Now—back to the CTA. No matter where you navigate on this site, at least one CTA will always be on the screen.

CTA Always on Screen

This screenshot was taken from their blog after I had scrolled down a bit to see older posts. Even as I scrolled, the “build an app” CTA stayed pinned at the top of the screen.

I highly recommend using this design tactic on your website as well. If the CTA is too hard to find, your traffic won’t convert.

Shorten Form Fields

Some of you might have forms as a requirement for driving conversions on your site. If these forms aren’t optimized properly, then fewer people are going to fill them out.

The best way to improve the design of your forms is by reducing the number of required fields.

People don’t want to spend all day filling out a form on your website. They also don’t want to disclose information that’s too private or personal. So make sure you’re only asking for information that’s actually required for your purposes.

According to Ninja Forms, sites with fewer form fields have higher conversion rates.

Conversion Rate of Form Fields

If your forms are too long, figure out what you can eliminate to make them shorter. Getting your forms down to three fields will give you the highest opportunity for conversions.

Optimize Your Checkout Process

For those of you who are using your website to sell products or services, conversions equate to dollars. So if people aren’t converting, then you’re not making money.

The design of your checkout process could be hurting your conversion rates.

How many steps does a visitor have to take from the moment they decide to buy something, until the time the purchase has been finalized?

If they have to go through too many steps and landing pages, they’ll abandon to the process.

Check out the top reasons for shopping cart abandonment.

Reasons For Shopping Cart Abandonment

28% of people abandon carts because the process is too long and complicated. That was the third highest response.

This problem can be solved by improving the design of your cart.

Eliminate unnecessary steps. Each added step gives the customer a chance to change their mind or encounter a problem.

So design your checkout pages in a way so that everything can be filled out on one page, with minimal scrolling. Make sure the “buy” or “purchase” CTA is big, bold, and obvious as well.

Use White Space

Your landing pages don’t need to be filled wall to wall with design elements. White space can be just as effective for driving conversions.

By simplifying your design and including less on the page, it draws the users’ attention to the elements that are most important.

Check out this example from Apple.

Example of Using White Space

I always like to turn to industry leaders as a way to replicate success. If an industry giant like Apple uses whitespace, then you should follow their lead.

Rather than trying to pack the page full of images, text, and links, the majority of the screen is just plain white space.

Our eyes automatically focus on the few design elements that are in view. The use of white space also limits our choices, so the chances of converting are much higher.

Final Thoughts — Always Improve

Follow the design tactics that I’ve outlined above to improve your website conversion rates.

But with that said, don’t just make changes and move on. There will always be room for improvement.

No website can be 100% perfect. So I recommend using A/B tests as a way to constantly enhance your design.

For example, you can run A/B tests on your CTA button for things like:

  • Placement
  • Wording
  • Color
  • Font

The test will automatically direct 50% of your traffic to one version of your website, and the other 50% to a variation. This will tell you which version is converting at a higher rate.

Then you can make the necessary adjustments, and continue running A/B tests on the other design elements of your site. Each test will help you boost conversions.

For those of you who need more assistance with design CRO, reach out to us here at McDougall Interactive, and we’ll be happy to help you out.

Social Media Marketing News

Google’s Mobile-First Indexing, Hotel Price Graphs in SERPs and Other Digital Marketing Updates

Social Media Marketing News

This month brought in a lot of digital marketing updates both for social media and SEO. Whether you’re in the travel business, ecommerce, or some other industry that uses digital marketing, we have useful social media marketing news and SEO news for you here.

6 Digital Marketing Updates to Watch Out for

1. LinkedIn Improves Transparency Features for Advertisements

LinkedIn Pages will now have a tab showing the ads a page is running for the last six months. Users can click on the ads to see the advertisements the page is running, but the advertiser won’t be charge for the clicks and it won’t impact their campaign reports.

This new feature is in line with LinkedIn’s efforts to make users feel secure, such as the previously launched feature that allows members to change their ad viewing settings.

Facebook started introducing transparency measures for ads just a few months ago after several social media marketing news articles informed the world of how their ads were used for political manipulation. Since LinkedIn is a professional work and networking platform, it doesn’t seem that they would face similar issues but it’s good to see them taking proactive measures to protect users.

2. Google’s Mobile-First Indexing to be Used on all New Sites Starting July 1

Google just announced that all new websites or those still “unknown to Google”  will be indexed using the search engine’s mobile-first criteria by default starting the first of June.

Older websites already on mobile-first indexing will continue to be indexed as such while those not yet on mobile-first indexing will continue on desktop-first indexing until they are ready for mobile. Older sites not on mobile-first indexing will be notified via Google’s Search Console once they are considered ready for mobile indexing.

If you want to check how your website was indexed, just enter your site’s URL on Google’s URL Inspection Tool.

Google Mobile First Indexing URL Inspection Tool

3. LinkedIn’s Ad Targeting Set to Improve after Acquisition of Data Personalization Company

Drawbridge, an AI data analytics company, was recently purchased by LinkedIn in an effort to refine their ad targeting capacity.

LinkedIn’s accumulated data doesn’t seem as in-depth as the data points Facebook accumulated through user profiles and surfing activity. But LinkedIn’s purpose as a professional and business networking platform can give it an edge for recruitment, B2B, and professional advancement marketing promotions. I will write more about this social media marketing news once there’s more info on how effective their ad targeting is.

4. Google Now Shows Hotel Pricing Charts in SERP

A few weeks ago at Google Marketing Live, the search engine giant launched its consolidated travel planning tool ‘Trips.’ Further back in March, they introduced a hotel and vacation rental booking site.

From the looks of it, Google is ramping up its travel arsenal. The recent move of hotel price graphs into the SERP confirms this.

Now travelers can see the historical pricing trends of the hotel they’re checking right on the search results. Here’s what that looks like based on a search for “New York Marriott Marquis

Digital Marketing Updates Hotel Price Chart Serp

5. Creepy or Useful? Infographic Shows How People Feel About Personalized Ads

Retargeted ads that follow you around the web could be useful or creepy, depending on your perspective.

Ads that offer you a discount for a product or service you put in a shopping cart but never actually bought might make you feel like you scored a deal. If you’re protective about your online privacy, such ads might make you feel anxious—regardless of how good a deal it is.

Question is how do people actually feel about personalized ads and retargeted ads? One team sought to find out.

Signs.com surveyed more than 1000 consumers to get their take on personalized ads and where they draw the line between useful and invasive ads.

For starters, 87.4% out of 1000 responders are familiar with personalized ads. The fact that they’re familiar with the concept suggests they won’t be easily creeped out by such advertisements. Regardless of familiarity, 52% think these ads are unethical.

Personalized Ads Survey 1

As expected, 90% saw ads based on their browser history while 81.7% saw ads related to their purchase history. What’s surprising though is 59% received an ad for a “recently discussed item,” which draws into question how some social platforms might be “listening in” on conversations or messages.

Personalized Ads Survey 2

Since people feel personalized ads are unethical, what should advertisers do? If we base it on the percentage of what the survey respondents did online, it looks like sales emails work a tad better. About 24.5% of people surveyed clicked through a sales email, while 24.3% used a coupon they received via email. Conversely, only 16.4% clicked on social media ads.

Personalized Ads Survey 3

It’s not so cut and dry though. Social media ads are still effective, according to the survey’s findings.

6. Use VPN for Local SEO Use

Search Engine Watch previously published a piece using VPNs to make local SEO work easier. For instance, you might be in the United States but the customers you’re targeting are over on the other side of the pond. So if you do a Google Search, you’ll see the results from the USA not UK.

To make your SEO efforts work, you need to know exactly what your local market is searching for, and what the competition is like in that area. The products and services you offer might not change much wherever your customers are, but the keywords, demand, and competition are different. Using a VPN will help you get around the search limitations so you can do an accurate research on your market.

A VPN can also help you bypass Google’s reCaptcha flag that comes up when you do too many searches, and access websites from countries that block IPs that from foreign countries.

While there are free VPNs available, they’re not always reliable. NordVPN is cheap at just $2.99 per month but there are cheaper VPNs available. The cost depends on how much you’re going to use it and what features you need. Check out this comparison of available VPNs for more information.

Stay Tuned for More Search Engine and Social Media Marketing News

Come back again next month for another dispatch of digital marketing updates and social media marketing news

If you’ve got a tip on search engine optimization, content, and social media changes that affect online marketing, chime in here or chat us on our social channels.

On Page SEO Techniques

Google’s On Page SEO Techniques Revealed, Another Algorithm Update & Other Digital Marketing News

On Page SEO Techniques

Welcome to 2019 and another year of monthly roundups detailing the trends and updates in the search, social, and content marketing industries.

This month, I’m happy to say nothing too scary happened in digital marketing. In fact, it seems all the updates from Google and the major social networks are focused on improving things for the better. A Data Scientist at Google even shared the on page SEO techniques Google uses for its own websites—that’s good news for everyone out there wondering if Google plays by the same rules they impose on us SEOs.

February’s Search, Social, and Content News Roundup

1. Google Chrome Ad Blocking will Rollout Worldwide on July 9

Google published an update that blocked abusive ads in Europe and North America last February. Starting July 9, however, the same ad blocking practices will affect websites worldwide.

This change in ad blocking practices comes after Chrome’s success prompting website owners to update their sites. According to them, less than 1% out of millions of websites reviewed have had their ads blocked.

“In the U.S., Canada, and Europe, website owners have successfully been able to make changes to the ads on their sites. As of January 1, 2019, two thirds of all publishers who were at one time non-compliant to the Better Ads Standards are now in good standing.”

If you don’t want your website’s ads and traffic conversion to be affected by this update, you should start reviewing the Better Ads Standards, which is the same guideline Chrome’s ad blocker follows.

Created by the Coalition for Better Ads, this guideline includes 12 ad experiences that research has found to be irritating to many users.

The image below gives an example of what the Better Ads Standards considers to be annoying ads:

Better Ads Standards

Not sure if your ads are up to scratch? Use the Ad Experience Report tool to see if your website’s ad complies with the Better Ads Standards.

2. Instagram Now Lets You Post Content to Multiple Accounts within Its Composer

Rumor has it that Instagram now allows users to post the same content to multiple user profiles on its own composer.

Well, that’s no longer a rumor as TechCrunch confirmed it recently and the feature is already rolling out, starting in iOS.

Instagram Multiple User Posting

Social media managers will love this feature because it will make it easier for them to post content to the accounts they’re handling.

Some people claim this move will just flood Instagram with duplicate content, while others say it’s not necessarily a bad feature because it just depends on how people will use it. For instance, you can post the same photo or video to multiple accounts and no one would complain if the profiles target different audiences.

Big brands with multiple accounts, like Nike that owns Nike Sportswear and Nike Football, can use this feature to blast promotional messages easily.

3. Google’s On Page SEO Techniques and Off Page SEO Approach for their Own Websites Revealed

Google Data Scientist Sean O’Keefe shared a rare glimpse into Google’s own SEO strategy, when he revealed how the tech giant handles the SEO of the 7000 websites they manage last Thursday.

O’Keef confirmed that they make an average of 200 changes (a combination of on page SEO techniques and off page SEO techniques), and that even the little changes they make can make a big impact on the site’s rankings. For instance, the chart below shows the organic traffic improvement of Google My Business website, after they applied some on page SEO techniques, such as improving its canonicals, meta data, and adding hreflang to the XML sitemaps.

Google On Page SEO Techniques

Google also confirmed the “less is more” SEO strategy many experts tout, which simply means having fewer sites with better content leads to better results compared to having a ton of micro sites with shoddy content, and in most cases, duplicate content that confuses search engines.

They proved the effectiveness of the “less is more” strategy after they consolidated six websites into the Google Retail site, leading to a 64% increase in organic traffic and almost double the site’s previous conversion rate.

Consolidating Website Content

4. How to Optimize Your Site for Voice Search in 2019

PWC’s 2018 report shows that 72% respondents prefer to use their voice assistant to search for items instead of typing them.

Is your website ready for voice search?

Spoken and typed queries differ, which means the SERP for the same query can vary greatly depending on its source—was it typed or spoken?

For instance, if you’re planning a vacation to the Caribbean, you’ll probably type “Caribbean Tourist Spots.” But if you ask Alexa, you’ll probably say, “Alexa, what are good places to visit in the Caribbean?” Voice search is more natural. 

Read this article from Search Engine Watch to discover six steps that will help your website improve its rankings in voice search.

5. Trends in Marketing and Marketing Jobs in 2019

As an SEO and digital marketing agency, we keep ourselves updated on the changes in the digital media landscape. Since January already brought a barrage of people shouting their predictions for this year’s marketing trends and changes, we’ll just go a slightly different route.

Instead of predicting what’s going to happen to SEO, social media, and content marketing, we’ll look at the trends in digital marketing jobs. After all, hiring trends also reflect the focus and main goals of the businesses hiring marketing professionals. It’s a good indicator of what’s to come.

CMO’s 2018 survey shows a 6.4% increase of marketing hires this year, the biggest growth is predicted to come from retail (14.5%) and transportation companies (13.3%). Product-selling B2C and B2B companies are expected to increase their hires at 9.7% at 7% respectively this year. On the surface, this is just a signal of job growth in these industries but if you think about it, these numbers also show the demand for marketing services.

As for the specific services or skills that are in demand, the same survey shows that companies are allotting 9.4% of their budget on mobile marketing—a 3.7% increase from 2017. Budget for marketing analytics is also expected to increase by 21.3% in the next three years.

I’m not sure, however, why SEO doesn’t show under its own category in the marketing activities that companies focus on. Perhaps companies consider SEO tasks under digital marketing or positioning? It could also be that many companies prefer to outsource SEO services because of its technical nature. After all, advanced SEO does take time to learn and it’s not as simple as building links or inserting keywords.

CMO Survey

If you think your previous marketing degree or educational background didn’t equip you for any of these in-demand skills, you can easily earn a certificate through self-study via Hubspot or one of the many courses in Udemy, and some schools have updated their marketing curriculum to include social media campaigns and other new digital marketing topics into their curriculum.

6. Newsgate Algorithm Update

Rumor is, there’s another algorithm update and some webmasters say many sites in UK already lost traffic but others didn’t see any changes in their rankings yet. Some people on Webmaster Forum are complaining that websites who don’t guest blog were getting demoted in the SERPs because of the latest update.

Google Algorithm Updates 2019

But Google’s previous document release, “Ways to Succeed in Google News,” suggests that sites who engage in republishing content or posting scraped content from other sites shows that guest posting isn’t to blame. People are calling this the Newsgate Algorithm Update.

What’s Your Plan for 2019?

Did you get more leads from your website last year? If not, how do you plan to improve your traffic and conversion rates this 2019? A mix of on page SEO techniques, social, and content marketing usually work well for businesses in most industries.

If you’re not yet sure what to do, give us a call for a free consultation of your website’s SEO and digital marketing strategy. And don’t forget to come back next month for another dose of digital marketing updates.

Social Media Marketing News

YouTube New Features, Google’s New WordPress Plugin and More Social Media Marketing News

Social Media Marketing News

Have you ever seen one of those funny shirts on Facebook with jokes like, “Scary without Coffee… I’m all BOO without my brew?” or perhaps those oddly personalized jackets with slogans like “Soon to be December Bride”

As a digital marketer that’s always up to date with social media marketing news, you’re familiar with Facebook ads and how advertisers are targeting you based on your interests and activity on the social platform. What you probably don’t realize is tons of people are making a business selling these shirts online. If you’re interested in this line of business, we have something for you here.

If not, we have other news that may interest you, such as YouTube’s bet against Instagram Stories and Google’s upcoming WordPress plugin.

Social Media Marketing News and Digital Marketing Trends to Check this December

1. YouTube Launches ‘Stories’ Competitor

YouTube Stories, formerly called Reels, was just rolled out last week after its failed debut a few years ago.

Now, YouTube creators with at least 10,000 subscribers can access its features.

YouTube Stories comes with its own set of tools, including features to add music, YouTube stickers, filters, and the ability to respond with images and videos on comments. Viewers can also engage with your stories through thumbs up, thumbs down, comments, and hearts. Of course, all the comment moderation tools on regular videos are also available on Stories so you can manage your community easily.

 2. Site Kit by Google Gives WordPress Users Easy Access to Google Website Tools

Soon, you won’t need a separate window to access your Google Analytics, AdSense, Pagespeed, and website console because Google’s Site Kit will make all these accessible directly on your WordPress dashboard.

For instance, instead of visiting your analytics dashboard, with Site Kit you can just go to the specific page on your website to check its traffic stats.

Google Site Kit

Search Engine Journal reports that you can also get notifications about your publishing milestones and consolidated data on the average traffic of your recent posts.

Google Site Kit Stats

Site Kit will be available for beta-testing early 2019, but users interested to see an early version can sign up to try it here.

3. Facebook Relaunches Search Ads

Facebook is competing with Google AdWords again with the relaunch of its ads in the search results and Marketplace section.

For now, this option will only be available for ads in the ecommerce, automotive, and retail industries in the U.S. and Canada. Since Facebook is just testing this feature, Search ads will just be a repurposed version of News Feed ads labeled as “Sponsored,” so it’s going to have the same structure, complete with a headline, image, copy, and link to an external URL. You can’t create an ad specific for Search ads yet, and there’s no option to target specific keywords.

Unfortunately, we don’t have screenshots of this ad type as Facebook declined to share this with Techcrunch and other sites that publish social media marketing news, citing that the feature is still in testing and that the features may change as they gather more data.

4. The Birth of the Dabbing Santa Sweater and How People are Making Millions Selling Shits Online

Charlie Jabaley, co-founded Sreet Execs, a marketing firm that sells merchandise for celebrities, among other services. Unfortunately, his first few ventures selling merchandise and apparel for music celebrities weren’t as successful as he hoped.

But he kept at it, until he stumbled upon the idea that would eventually lead him to sell millions of dollars in hip-hop shirts—the Dabbing Santa sweater, a play on the dance stepped popularized by 2 Chainz’ Dab dance.

POD Dabbing Santa

His previous failures led him to believe that the old model of researching a product design for two to three months, and then spending a few more months making and stocking inventory, isn’t effective anymore. Like other retail businesses, Jabaley lost time and money on unsold inventory.

So to solve the potential inventory problem and minimize upfront costs, he turned to Print on Demand, a method where a supplier custom prints white-label products with your own design, so you can then sell them on a per-order basis. Since the supplier will only manufacture your items once someone orders it, you don’t have to worry about unsold inventory. You can quickly test designs with little effort.

How can you use Print on Demand?

  • Create original products for a niche – like the hundreds of designers and micro-entrepreneurs selling custom merchandise via their own online stores (like this one selling apparel and trinkets for engineers), or these individual sellers on Etsy cashing in on the unicorn trend.
  • Monetize your following – Like how popular stand-up comedian Ali Wong is selling shirts with her jokes on it.
  • Test products – Have apparel, accessory, or a home product idea you’d like to test out? There are print on demand suppliers for just about any product imaginable. Even if these aren’t your main products, you can easily create an extra revenue line that complements your main product offerings.

Because of the low-overhead, plenty of success stories like Jen Smith of Budget Babe and Michael Essany of Merch Momentum are published online, not only because they’re making a good profit selling Print on Demand apparel but because tons of people are starting to get into this business.

5. How to Nail Down Your Audience Persona

Folks at Bootcamp Media shared this article with great tips on creating an audience persona. Most articles on this subject would have you include the target audience’s location, job titles, estimate salary, gender, and the usual demographic stuff.

They suggest you go a bit further than that by creating negative personas—people you know that don’t want your product. It makes total sense. For instance, targeting marketing managers in the hotel and restaurant industry in one country will still give you a big, somewhat undefined audience. But if you create a negative persona with details like red flags, buying behavior you want to avoid, or goals that don’t fit in line with your offer; you can further narrow down your marketing efforts. You can even include these details in your content to tune out people you’re not interested in.

Social Media Marketing News and SEO News

The year 2018 is about to end. Were you able to accomplish your business and marketing goals this year? If not, what are your plans for 2019? What changes are you making to make 2019 a better year for your business?

As for us at McDougall Interactive, we’re going to continue improving our craft in helping businesses get on the first page of the web using search engine optimization, social media, and content marketing.

Google updates for SEO

Google’s New Chapter of Search and What it Means for SEO

Google updates for SEO

Google celebrated its 20th birthday last month. What started as a research project of two Stanford students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, is now a powerful search engine with a network of information spanning over 190 countries and 150 languages.

The latest Google updates include three features made possible by AI and machine learning. Some of these changes are already underway and explains the algorithm updates we’ve seen this year such as Medic update last August.

So before you get surprised with another update, its time you understand Google’s plan for the next chapter of search and how that will affect your website’s traffic.

Three Upcoming Google Updates for SEO

1. Journeys

Most searches don’t end with a single query; people often come back minutes or days (in some cases) with new questions on the same topic.

With Google’s shift from search to “journeys,” the search engine will know what you’ve already read and what you intend to accomplish, so you don’t have to read the same info you did last time. To do that, Google will show the pages you’ve visited during your last session in a tab above the search results. Below that, you’ll see a list of pages you haven’t visited organized into different categories related to your search.

In the example below, the user searched for “Camping” and previously read articles about camping meals and choosing the best tent. Google also suggested related search terms like, “Camp tent for family” since it’s obvious from past activity that the user will be camping with their kids.

Previously read content can be organized in boards, a.k.a “Collections” like those used in Pinterest.

New Chapter of Search Journey Camping

So what’s in it for Google? For one, they will benefit from increased engagement, as users come back to their search collections. They can also use engagement data to determine what kind of content is often saved and revisited, so they can show more of those in the search results.

Google Updates Journey Camping Basics

While these features won’t be available until later this year, all these changes show how Google search algorithm changes has improved in terms of understanding a user’s intent.  It also confirms that they’re taking cues from popular social media platforms in terms of UI design.

2. Query-less Search

Google is a search engine, so users need to enter a query to use it. Social platforms, however, don’t require a query. Facebook and its kin are discovery platforms that show information based on a user’s previous activity and interests. Google is aware of this limitation and are working to overcome it.

To this effect, Google launched Google Feed last year to show users information relevant to them, like a centralized dashboard of news and other topics you’re interested in. Because of its 800 million monthly active users, third party publishers are starting to see its potential as reliable and free (for now) source of traffic.

Feed is now called “Discover,” and with this new name comes a ton of shiny new features. Aside from more videos and images, Discover will show topic headers that you can click to get more information.

Discover topic header

Like Pinterest boards, users can follow a topic they like so Google can serve them more info on the subject next time they check their feed. For instance, when you search “scuba diving,” Discover will show you different information ranging from basic signals to advance open water skills. And because of Knowledge Graph 2.0, Discover can soon tell your level of expertise on a subject, and show you information based on your skill level.

This improved Knowledge Graph 2.0 and Topic Layers functionality maps the user’s journey on search using Google’s improved understanding of the relationship between different search parameters, such as things, places, entities, and people.

What do these google updates mean for SEO? It’s no longer enough to include appropriate keywords throughout your content, you should also anticipate your visitor’s next question. Now more than ever, you need an SEO team that doesn’t rely on outdated practices like stuffing keywords and building links to any website that will accept them.

Discover, unlike social platforms, doesn’t have community building functionalities such as likes, comments, and shares. Some publishers may see this as blessing, since what users see on their feed won’t be determined by which content gets the most comments or likes. Users won’t be stuck in a bubble of opinions and content they agree with, like what happened with Facebook and Twitter feeds last election.

3. A More Visual Search

Previously, Google relied on alt tags, descriptions, transcripts, and meta tags to understand images and videos. With its improved computer vision, Google’s “understanding” of a video has improved to the extent that it can direct users to the exact time stamp within a video to answer a search query.

For instance, in the screen shot below the user searched “How to wipe mac” and Google’s 1st result is a video titled “How to erase and Factory Reset Your Mac” at exactly at 2:14 of an almost four minute video.

Google Updates Computer Vision

Google Images algorithm was also changed to rank pages with better images and content, specifically pages where the image is higher up on the page and plays an integral role in the page’s purpose. For instance, if you’re searching for a new trench coat, Google will prioritize pages dedicated to a specific trench coat design instead of a category page showing different trench coat styles.

The domain’s authority on the subject of your image search is also taken into account, so if you’re searching for low-carb meals, Google will prioritize content from food-related sites. You’ll also see more context in the image search results, such as image captions, and the title of the webpage where the image was found. And in keeping with the “journeys vs search” functionality, you’ll also see related search terms at the top of the image SERPs so you can quickly jump to different subtopics.

desktop redesign

It’s safe to say stock photos with no real connection to the site’s content are no longer enough. You have to at least add some text to the image to explain its relevance. Better yet, create your own screenshots, infographics, and graphs.

Media networks and solopreneurs making a living through their blogs aren’t the only ones who can capitalize on this opportunity. Google Shopping, the company’s bet against Amazon, allows users to purchase items directly from search and pay with Google Express. They’re using Google’s search functionality to bring consumers and stores closers, bypassing the need for Amazon and other third party sites.

Ecommerce retailers that don’t want to play on Amazon or Google’s terms, however, can take advantage of the changes in Google Image algorithm by building online stores with lots of high-quality images and descriptive captions near the top of their product pages so next time someone searches for items they’re selling, they’ll have more chances of appearing higher-up in the image search results. It’s important to note that these image improvements should be coupled with a responsive mobile design, as last year’s Black Friday reveals that about 30% of online sales were done on mobile devices (64% for Shopify store owners and 50% for BigCommerce).

Adapt Now

All these changes suggest Google is on a silent war with Facebook and other social media platforms. While their failure with Google+ set them back in the race to win back users from Facebook, it’s evident now that they’re getting ready to attack on another angle—this time playing on their strengths as a search engine.

LinkedIn Lead Generation

How Banks Can Use LinkedIn to Search and Connect with New Clients

LinkedIn Lead Generation

Sales in financial industries have always been a face-to-face, relationship-based business. Deals are discussed and won over lunch, sponsored events, seminars, and yes, on the fairways.

Unfortunately, these prospecting and sales strategies aren’t always scalable because they’re too expensive and time consuming for the average banker or financial sales consultant. There are only so many dinners and conferences you can attend, right?

Then there’s also the case of millennials, who, despite what the media say, also need the financial services and products banks offer. The news about them not earning or saving enough isn’t exactly true but what’s true is they’re a generation not keen on answering the phone. The popularity of “online-only” banks among millennials is proof of this.

You can hit two birds with one stone if you include LinkedIn lead generation strategies in your marketing efforts. Unlike networking events where you’re limited to the number of people you can meet per night, there’s no limit to the number of people you can reach online. Social media platforms like LinkedIn also let you filter prospects, so you don’t waste time and energy building a relationship with someone who’s not even your ideal customer.

LinkedIn Lead Generation Opportunities for Bankers

LinkedIn now has more than 500 million users worldwide, with over 138 million in the United States alone. Even more interesting, data from Pew Research Center shows that over 45% of LinkedIn users earn upwards of $75,000 a month, which makes many of them a good candidate for financial products.

LinkedIn Demographics

American Express and other financial institutions capitalized on the LinkedIn lead generation opportunity as early as 2013, according to Jennifer Grazel, who used to be Head of Global Marketing for Enterprise Services at LinkedIn.

An advisor from Morgan Stanley, for instance, uses a combination of the keywords “financial advisor,” “independent,” and “woman” to rise above the search results of her target client—female heads of households. Another advisor uses status updates, such as a job change or the start of a new business, as an opening to get in touch with existing connections.

Another example is American Express’ Open Forum, a LinkedIn group for small business professionals where Amex brings experts to share their insights in the group while members share their knowledge with each other. It’s not exactly a direct way to get client referrals, but this group increased brand awareness for Amex products specifically for small business while building their brand’s thought leadership in this niche.

In the same way, if you want to get in front of property developers to sell them big loans, you should frame your approach in a way that paints you as a thought leader on commercial lending. Otherwise, they’ll just see you as another salesman gunning for a big fat commission.

Using thinly veiled “financial advice” to sell financial products, such as mortgages, CDs, checking accounts, and even big loans and investment products, don’t work if it doesn’t include their business’s unique challenges.

How to Use LinkedIn’s Lead Generation Tools to Build a Client Pipeline

The principles of good networking are the same online. It’s all about finding the people you can add value to or have a common ground. LinkedIn has so many users that it’s impossible to meaningfully connect with every one of them, so you need to be decisive when identifying the characteristics of your ideal prospects.

Here’s how you can do that.

1. List Key Identifying Factors of Your Ideal Prospect

Find out as much information as possible about your ideal prospect.

  • What products or services are you selling? Who are your typical clients?
  • What’s their job title?
  • How big is their employer or company?
  • Are they limited to a specific industry?
  • Where are they located?
  • What’s their job seniority level?

For instance, let’s say you’re promoting equity investment products and most of your previous clients are executives in the IT industry who work for big companies.

2. Use Advanced Search to Create Your Prospect Pool

LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature allows you to find people even if you’re not connected to them. For instance, if you search for “IT Executives” without using location filters or industry filters, you’ll get over 200,000 matches.

Linkedin General Search

But if you narrow it down to a specific location, industry, and job title, you’ll get a shorter list. Here’s what I got after using the following filters:

  • Location: Greater New York City Area
  • Job Title: Executive
  • Industry: Information Technology and Services
  • Connection: 2nd level

LinkedIn Lead Generation Advanced Search

You can even narrow down the list further using LinkedIn’s “Premium Search Filters,” found in business subscriptions or in Sales Navigator.

LinkedIn Lead Generation Sales Navigator

Notice the new search features not available in the regular advanced search:

  • Relationship
  • Function: so you’re not limited to searching exact job title matches
  • Years at current company
  • Company headcount: allows you to filter companies based on their size
  • Company type
  • Tag
  • Groups: allows you to search members of a specific group
  • Posted content keywords: searches for keywords a user has on their profile or status updates

It’s tempting to cater to everyone, to want a bigger prospect list. But as the saying goes, “If everyone is your customer then you have no customer.”

Besides, it’s easier to personalize your sales pitch when you have a good idea of who your customer is. It’s also more appealing to a prospect when they feel like you specialize in helping people just like them.

A Less Awkward Version of Cold Calling

LinkedIn Sales Navigator, InMail, and even the regular (free) version of the platform allow you to connect and send messages to individuals even if you’re not yet connected. Unlike cold calling or cold emailing, these LinkedIn lead generation tools give you the opportunity to learn as much as you can about the prospect’s situation and needs, before you send a message.

1. Personalize Your LinkedIn Invites

Don’t send the auto-generated invite LinkedIn provides, and don’t copy/paste a generic invite. LinkedIn invites are the online equivalent of a first impression, so put your best foot forward. Mention shared contacts, mutual groups, or anything you find genuinely interesting about the person you’re attempting to contact.

Keep it short though and resist the temptation to promote yourself or the products you’re selling. You don’t want to turn off your prospect before they even get a chance to know you.

Example LinkedIn invite script:

“Hi Amy,

We’ve never met but we’re both on several groups, such as GROUP NAME 1 and GROUP NAME 2. I also see that we’re both connected to Nate Smith. Appreciate it if we can connect on LinkedIn.”

2. Follow Up

Send a thank you note to prospects that approve your connection request. Don’t promote your services just yet, but this is a good time to suggest that you want to talk at a later time.

Example follow-up message:

“Hi Amy,

Thanks for approving my LinkedIn connection request. I look forward to talking to you at some point.”

Some of your prospects might reply and express mutual interest for a meeting, but most will not. Don’t worry, that isn’t the main goal of this message. You’re just building the relationship at this point.

3. Tell them About What You Do and How You Can Help

Warm up your prospect by commenting on an article they follow on LinkedIn pulse or sending them something you wrote that’s related to their group or professional interests on LinkedIn. It shows that you took the time to get to know them before selling them on something.

“Hi Amy,

I hope you’re well. I don’t know if you remember me, but I sent you a connection request a few weeks ago because we have a mutual connection, (Mutual Connection’s Name).

I saw that you’re interested in (Topic they follow on LinkedIn pulse/Group) and wanted to share with you this article I wrote: (Topic headline + URL). I think you’ll find it (helpful/gives a different angle on the topic).”

4. Ask for a Quick Phone Call or Coffee

This is the message where you tell the prospect what you do, and how you can help them. Below is a sample message you can customize.

Like the invite, you should mention names of mutual connections and common interests, especially if someone from a common group is a past client.

“Hi Amy,

I’m a (Your Job) at (Name of Financial Institution/Bank), and I’ve helped many (your target market) like yourself with their business financial needs. Steve from (a mutual group where you both belong) got his small business loan from us.

Would you be available for a quick 15-minute call or coffee to see if I can help you in any way? I would really appreciate it.”

Move the Conversation Out of Social

When a prospect responds to your message, ask for their email and phone number or find it online. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding and connecting with new prospects, but not everyone checks their LinkedIn account regularly.

Guest Post onEntrepreneur

How to Guest Post on Entrepreneur.com

Guest Post onEntrepreneurAs a business owner with some knowledge of the trending marketing strategies these days, you probably know what getting featured on a popular website can do for your business.

A well-written article that solves your customer’s problems can generate lots of traffic or qualified leads to your website. And even months after your article was published, the privilege to include any one of these websites logos on your media page or website footer will boost your brand’s credibility for years to come.

Unfortunately, getting your byline in any of these popular websites isn’t easy. You can’t just write an article for them and expect them to publish it for you because you asked. They have strict guidelines and are selective in the articles they accept, so there’s a lot to you have to do before you start writing an article. You have to learn how to guest post on Entrepreneur first, before submitting an application.

Challenges in Submitting a Guest Post on Entrepreneur.com

Entrepreneur.com accepts articles that provide “actionable information and practical inspiration for business owners,” which is somewhat broad when you think about all the topics that could fall into that category. Indeed, you can see that they publish a wide range of topics, from the latest wearable gadgets, franchise options, and even business book recommendations from Bill Gates.

Guest Post on Entrepreneur Articles

Since it’s a high-profile website, most of guest posts on Entrepreneur either have exclusive quotes from a reputable source or a fresh angle on a popular topic. Their editors like articles featuring new studies, industry reports, breaking news, or in-depth analysis of business-related subjects. They won’t run articles with generic advice you can find pretty much anywhere online.

You also need to pitch your topic idea first because Entrepreneur.com doesn’t accept unsolicited articles. If your idea is time-sensitive, such as a holiday or event-related piece, pitch it at least two weeks in advance (if you can) and mention that it’s time sensitive in your email subject line so your idea could be reviewed immediately. For evergreen articles, it may take six to eight weeks before you receive feedback on your idea.

How to Pitch a Guest Post on Entrepreneur.com

1. Find an Idea

Find a topic that you can confidently write about, either because you’re an expert on it or you have connections to trustworthy sources that will give you information. This bit is important because they want contributors to provide multiple examples to support your point. Unless the company, study, or personality you’re using as an example is well-known, such as Amazon, Bill Gates, or Google, Entrepreneur’s editors will require you to include more than one example to prove your argument. Another possible reason for this is they want to deter people who submit content just to promote their products or services.

If you can’t find three supporting examples on your own, look for a reputable source to lend credibility to your argument. If you don’t know anyone that fits the bill, you can ask their editor for suggestions on whom to interview. They can even help you line up an interview if needed, but it’s still better to have your own source to show editors that you’ve done your research. There’s just a catch if you’re interviewing a popular source: another contributor or an Entrepreneur staff writer might have already interviewed them, so if that happens you need to find someone else because Entrepreneur prefers to avoid duplicate coverage.

Their editors want articles with unique insight on current trends, actionable advice, and inspirational stories for business owners.   The challenge is they have a large roster of contributors and they publish lots of articles daily, so you can’t just pitch an idea because you think it’s great. You have to check if someone already beat you to it. Here’s how to ensure your article idea is unique:

  • Search the site to find the recently published and most-read articles. Use this to discover the kind of stories that resonate well with their audience, and to strike off ideas similar to recently published articles on your
  • Consider your personal experience to bring a unique perspective on a well-worn topic
  • Tie your idea to a trending event if you can provide commentary on how the said event might impact other entrepreneurs in your niche

2. Complete the Application Process

Go to Entrepreneur’s Contributor Application form here. Fill out your complete name, email address location, and social media profiles.

The first free-form box asks for two to three article ideas, this is where you will include the ideas you came up with in step one. Write a good headline for each and include a brief overview of what you plan to cover, why it’s unique and why entrepreneurs need to know about it. You only have 250 words for this section, so make every word count.

Guest Post on Entrepreneur Application Form

In the second box, you have to convince them why you’re the perfect person to write about the ideas you proposed.  Here’s where you can brag about your certifications, business awards, published books, and anything else that can prove why you’re an expert on the topics you suggested. You also have 250 words for this question, but you don’t need to use them all.

The last box is where you can include previous articles you’ve written. Entrepreneur’s editors will read these articles to gauge the quality of your writing and the advice you can give, so only include articles relevant to the ideas you’re pitching. When possible, include one link to one of the best articles on your own site, and two links to articles you wrote for another popular site.

3. Pitch an Editor for a Specific Category (Optional)

Entrepreneur.com receives hundreds of submissions so it might take a while for you to hear back, if you get a reply at all. It’s safe to say your application was declined if they don’t contact you after 10 weeks.

You can fast-track your application if you pitch an editor assigned to handle a specific topic. Just find the name of the editor assigned to your chosen topic here then see if you can find their email address online or through LinkedIn. If you can’t find their contact info, try FirstnameLastname@entrepreneur.com as that’s usually the pattern for their staff email address.

Start Pitching

If this is your first time pitching a big publication, you should know that it’s a numbers game. That’s how journalists and PR professionals see it, the more ideas they pitch, the more chances they have of getting accepted.

Don’t lose heart when you don’t hear back on your first try to guest post on Entrepreneur.com. Review your application to find out what you can do to improve, then apply again with another set of article ideas. The authority you build will be well worth the effort.