Consumer reviews are important to online shoppers. So, are more people participating now?

Based on new research, the time-honored “90-9-1 rule” may no longer be accurate.

The 90-9-1 rule states that for every 100 people active online, one person creates content … nine people respond to created content … and 90 are merely lurkers – consuming the information but not “engaging” with it at all.

But now we have a survey by ratings and reviews platform Clutch which suggests that the ratio may be changing. The Clutch survey finds that around 20% of online shoppers have written reviews for some of their purchases.

That finding would seem to indicate that more people are now involved in content engagement than before. Still, when just one in five shoppers are writing and posting customer reviews, it continues to represent only a distinct minority of the market.

So, the big question for brands and e-commerce providers is how to encourage a greater number of people to post reviews, since such feedback is cited so often as one of the most important considerations for people who are weighing their choices when purchasing a new product or service.

A few of the ways that businesses have attempted to increase participation in customer reviews include:

  • Make the review process as efficient as possible by requesting specific feedback through star ratings.
  • Provide additional rating options on product/service performance sub-categories through quick guided questions.
  • Offering incentives such as a contest entry might also help gain more reviews, although the FTC does have regulations in place that prohibit offering explicit incentives in exchange for receiving favorable reviews.
  • Providing timely customer service – including resolving products with orders – can also increase the likelihood of garnering reviews that are positive rather than negative ones.

This last point is underscored by additional Clutch results which, when the survey asked why online shoppers write reviews, uncovered these reasons:

  • Was especially satisfied with the product or service: ~33%
  • Received an e-mail specifically requesting to leave feedback: ~23%
  • Was offered an incentive to leave feedback: ~5%
  • Was especially dissatisfied with the product or service: ~2%

For companies who might be concerned that negative feedback will be given lots of play, the 2% statistic above should come as some relief. And even if a negative review is published, the situation can often be rectified by reaching out to the reviewer and providing remedies to make things right, thereby “turning lemons into lemonade.”

After all, most consumers are pretty charitable if they sense that a company is making a good-faith effort to correct a perceived problem.

Changing Buying Behaviors: Clues from Thanksgiving Weekend 2017

If there was any doubt that we’re in the midst of fundamental changes in consumer buying behaviors, the results from the opening days of the 2017 holiday season have put such questions to rest.

Movable Ink, a firm that enables content personalization within e-mails, has just published some insightful statistics it compiled from Thanksgiving weekend last month.  Movable Ink logged nearly 438 million e-mail opens between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the following Cyber Monday. What did it find?

To start with, it found that recipients engaged with them.

Of the e-mails sent on Black Friday, nearly 50% achieved read lengths of at least 15 seconds. On Cyber Monday, the results were nearly the same (~46%).

Fifteen seconds may not seem like a long time to engage with an e-mail, but it’s light years compared to what is often experienced in consumer e-retail.

Movable Ink also found that the majority of the e-mails were opened on smartphones — far outstripping desktops and tablets:

  • Smartphones: ~53% of e-mail opens
  • Desktop computers: ~25%
  • Tablet opens: ~16%

An equal 53% of conversion actions happened on smartphones … but desktop conversions proved to be higher than their open stats, and e-mails opened on tablets were much less likely to experience conversions:

  • Smartphone: ~53% of e-mail conversions
  • Desktop computers: ~38%
  • Tablets: ~8%

Consumers were certainly in a buying mood over the holiday weekend, with purchases averaging between $120 and $140 on each of the four days of the long weekend:

  • Black Friday: An average of $124 spent
  • Saturday: $120
  • Sunday: $119
  • Cyber Monday: $141

However, while smartphones led in terms of e-mail engagement, when it comes to actual dollar sales smartphones come in last – by a country mile:

  • Desktop computers: ~$162 average holiday weekend total spend
  • Tablets: ~$107
  • Smartphones: ~$85

We can acknowledge that smartphones have become the most important method for reaching consumers with product content, coupons and special offers.  And yet, significantly more purchasing continues to happen on desktops.

One takeaway is that for all of the convenience smartphones purport to provide, the purchasing experience on mobile devices doesn’t yet match the experience on desktop computers.

It would also help if there was more similarity between the purchasing process sellers are delivering across all platforms. That continues to be a missing ingredient with some sellers, and it’s likely explaining at least some of the dampening effect on mobile sales revenues.

Fewer brands are engaging in programmatic online advertising in 2017.

How come we are not surprised?

The persistent “drip-drip-drip” of brand safety concerns with programmatic advertising – and the heightened perception that online advertising has been showing up in the most unseemly of places — has finally caught up with the once-steady growth of economically priced programmatic advertising versus higher-priced digital formats such as native advertising and video advertising.

In fact, ad tracking firm MediaRadar is now reporting that the number of major brands running programmatic ads through the first nine months of 2017 has actually dropped compared to the same period a year ago.

The decline isn’t huge – 2% to be precise. But growing reports that leading brands’ ads have been mistakenly appearing next to ISIS or neo-Nazi content on YouTube and in other places on the web has shaken advertisers’ faith in programmatic platforms to be able to prevent such embarrassing actions from occurring.

For Procter & Gamble, for instance, it has meant that the number of product brands the company has shifted away from programmatic advertising and over to higher-priced formats jumped from 49 to 62 brands over the course of 2017.

For Unilever, the shift has been even greater – going from 25 product brands at the beginning of the year to 53 by the end of July.

The “flight to safety” by these and other brand leaders is easy to understand. Because they can be controlled, direct ad sales are viewed as far more brand-safe compared programmatic and other automated ad buy programs.

In the past, the substantial price differential between the two options was enough to convince many brands that the rewards of “going programmatic” outweighed the inherent risks.  No longer.

What this also means is that advertisers are looking at even more diverse media formats in an effort to find alternatives to programmatic advertising that can accomplish their marketing objectives without the attendant risks (and headaches).

We’ll see how that goes.

Consumers continue to grapple with what to do about spam e-mail.

Over the past decade or so, consumers have been faced with basically two options regarding unwanted e-mail that comes into their often-groaning inboxes. And neither one seems particularly effective.

One option is to unsubscribe to unwanted e-mails. But many experts caution against doing this, claiming that it risks getting even more spam e-mail instead of stopping the delivery of unwanted mail.  Or it could be even worse, in that clicking on the unsubscribe box might risk something even more nefarious happening on their computer.

On the other hand, ignoring junk e-mail or sending it to the spam folder doesn’t seem to be a very effective response, either. Both Google and Microsoft are famously ineffective in determining which e-mails actually constitute “spam.”  It isn’t uncommon that e-mail replies to the personal who originated the discussion get sent to the spam folder.

How can that be? Google and Microsoft might not even know the answer (and even if they did, they’re not saying a whole lot about how those determinations are made).

Even more irritating – at least for me personally – are finding that far too many e-mails from colleagues in my own company are being sent to spam – and the e-mails in question don’t even contain attachments.

How are consumers handling the crossed signals being telegraphed about how to handle spam e-mail? A recent survey conducted by digital marketing firm Adestra has found that nearly three-fourths of consumers are using the unsubscribe button – and that figure has increased from two-thirds of respondents in the 2016 survey.

What this result tells us is that the unsubscribe button may be working more times than not. If that means that the unwanted e-mails stop arriving, then that’s a small victory for the consumer.

[To access the a summary report of Adestra’s 2017 field research, click here.]

What’s been your personal experience with employing “ignore” versus “unsubscribe” strategies? Please share your thoughts with other readers.

Organic Search: Still King of the Hill in Generating Web Traffic

online searchingIn recent years, the focus on “content marketing” has become stronger than ever: the notion of attracting traffic via the inherent relevance of the content contained on a website rather than through other means.

It seems eminently logical.  But content marketing is also relatively labor-intensive to build and to maintain. So there’s always been an effort to drive web traffic through “quicker and easier” methods as well.

But the newest findings on web traffic really do demonstrate how fundamental good content is to meeting the challenge of generating web traffic.

An analysis by web analytics and measurement firm BrightEdge reveals that organic search (SEO) drives over half of all traffic to websites (both business-to-business and business-to-consumer).

By contrast, paid search (SEM) accounts for only one-fifth of SEO’s result, and social is lower still:

  • Organic search: Generates ~51% of all web traffic
  • Paid search: ~10%
  • Social media: ~5%
  • All other methods (e.g., display advertising, e-mail and referred): ~34%

Web traffic driversSource:  BrightEdge, 2014. 

In other words, all forms of advertising put together don’t drive as much traffic as organic search.

The BrightEdge statistics also remind us that social media, however popular it may be to millions of people, isn’t a highly effective traffic generator like search. Here are some of the key reasons why:

  • Social shares are fleeting and can get drowned out easily.
  • Most users don’t go on a social platform, only then to click on different links that take them away from social.
  • Not everyone uses social media, whereas everyone uses a search engine of some kind when they’re in “investigative” mode.

That’s the thing:  People use SEO when they’re seeking answers and solutions — often in the form of a product or a service.  Unlike in social or online display advertising, there’s no need to “disrupt” the user’s intended activity.

And if you’re in the B-to-B realm, organic search even more prevalent:  Organic search drives ~73% of all web traffic there.

Even consumer categories like retail, entertainment and hospitality find that organic search is responsible for attracting 40% or more of all web traffic.

The takeaway for companies is that any marketing strategy that doesn’t adopt “content development” as a core tactic instead of an “ornamentation” is probably destined to fall well-short of its full potential.

What do B-to-B buyers really want in a website?

Hint:  Forget social media.

btob web surfingAs online communications continues to evolve, B-to-B marketers have more options than ever to interface with prospects and suspects.

In fact, it’s pretty easy to get distracted by the latest “shiny objects” in marketing … and we sometimes see a lack of focus — and “prioritization all over the map” — as a result.

With company websites serving as the “hub” of marketing communications, it’s only natural to try to align the information provided to prospective customers with what they’re seeking.

A recent survey of several hundred B-to-B companies conducted by DH Communications and KoMarketing Associates sought to determine what business-to-business buyers are doing once they land on a vendor website. Which elements on the site increase a vendor’s credibility … and at the other end of the scale, what causes visitors to leave?

The results of this survey confirm what many have suspected. In a nutshell:

  • Buyers come to a vendor’s website with one thought foremost in mind: to qualify the company in order to begin the process of moving towards a purchase.

And this:

  • Buyers believe the vendor qualification process should be simple and straightforward, and they don’t have time to deal with it any other way.

This mission manifests itself in the following typical behaviors when landing on a website:

  1. The first place visitors go is straight to the products and services pages.
  2. They want to see technical information … and published pricing information, too.
  3. They look for testimonials or case examples to see how others have solved their problems using the products or services.
  4. If they don’t already know the company, they check out the “about us” pages to gauge its credibility as a supplier – but only after they’ve determined that its products or services are aligned with their needs.
  5. They have little interest in social media – and hence mostly ignore those elements.

Website Must-Haves

The survey asked respondents which informational content elements are “must-haves” for a B-to-B website. It found that these elements are of greatest importance:

  • Contact information: ~68% consider a “must-have”
  • Pricing information: ~43%
  • Technical information: ~38%
  • Case studies/white papers/articles: ~38%
  • Shipping information: ~37%

The first item on the list above may seem like a given. But it turns out that many websites don’t offer visitors the most preferred methods of contact: an e-mail address (~81% want this option) and/or a phone number (~57% want this).

What about “Contact Us” forms? It turns out that quite a few visitors don’t like them at all. It makes sense to offer them … but also to provide other contact options. Otherwise, some visitors will leave the site without any further engagement — or so they claim.

Axing the Distractions

Because most visitors come to vendor websites to gather information and research products in preparation for making a buying decision, things that detract from those objectives are viewed as an interruption and a distraction.

Some elements are so irritating, they’ll compel visitors to leave the website altogether.  What are those? Video and/or audio clips that play automatically, animated web designs and other visual hijinks, plus pop-up messages are the worst offenders.

Basically, anything that interrupts the visitor’s train of thought reduces the vendor’s credibility and helps the push the company further down the buyer’s list of prioritized vendors.

What’s Missing from Vendor Websites

The survey also asked respondents to cite what they feel is lacking on many vendor sites. Their responses to this question could be considered an indictment of B-to-B websites the world over!

  • Case studies/white papers/articles: ~54% say these are most lacking on websites
  • Pricing information: ~50%
  • Product reviews: ~42%
  • Technical support details: ~42%
  • Testimonials/client list: ~31%

Social Media?

To consider the social media attitudes revealed in this survey of B-to-B buyers is to wonder what all the fuss has been about over the past five years. In citing how impactful social media is on the buying process … it’s clear that the impact isn’t great at all:

  • Social media isn’t a factor: ~37%
  • Neutral feelings about social media: ~26%
  • Social media is a factor, but not a “deal-breaker”: ~30%
  • Social media is a big factor: ~6%

The takeaway?  If B-to-B web content managers spent less time on social media and more time on pricing information, case study testimonials and robust technical data, it would be a more valuable use of their energies.

I’ve summarized some of the key survey results above – but there are more research findings available in a 32-page report summary just published by KoMarketing Associates. You can download it here.