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.

Business Bust? Lead Nurturing Efforts Coming Up Short

e-mail lead nurturing not effectiveWhen it comes to e-mail lead nurturing in the business world, it turns out there’s a whole lot of mediocrity — or worse — going on.

In discussions with my company’s clients, it seems that most of them are dissatisfied with what they consider, at best, only “middling” engagement levels that they’re achieving on their e-nurturing campaigns.

On top of that, many of them suspect that they’re underperforming their counterparts in the market.

I don’t think that’s the case.  Since we work with a variety of clients and thus hear about the results from a group of firms, not just one or two, we can see that most everyone is in the same boat.

Even so, it’s anecdotal evidence rather than statistically quantifiable data.

But now we have the results from a new B-to-B survey conducted by Bizo and Oracle Eloqua … and what they’ve found is that many companies are struggling like most everyone else when it comes to developing comprehensive lead nurturing programs that perform well.

This survey of ~500 B-to-B marketing executives revealed that nearly 95% of all companies have some form of lead nurturing program in place.   But having such a program in place doesn’t mean it’s all that effective.

How challenged are these marketers?  Consider these key findings from the research:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents report that their e-mail open rates don’t exceed 20% on average.
  • ~45% report that only 1% to 4% of known contacts develop into marketing-qualified leads.
  • Only ~5% of buyers on business websites are willing to provide detailed information on a “gated” contact offer form.

The implications of these findings are varied:

  • E-mail databases that are built from website visits tend to have significant omissions (and errors) regarding contact information.
  •  Only a smallish fraction of e-mail subscribers are reading the e-mails they receive … and by definition, no anonymous prospects are, either.
  • Because e-mail marketing relies on having access to prospects’ e-mail addresses, the e-marketing approach provides no opportunity to engage with a potentially much larger audience of customers who may be in the market for a company’s products and services at any given point in time.

The chances are likely, too, that those prospects are visiting relevant websites.  We know this because Forrester Research reports that the typical B-to-B buyer’s “journey” is nearly complete by the time he or she contacts a vendor’s sales department.

With so much useful information so available online, websites is where research can occur without have to deal with pesky sales personnel until “the time is right.”

It’s also why, despite the well-known negative aspects and limitations of web display advertising, nearly half of the respondents in the Bizo/Oracle Eloqua survey feel that online display advertising plays a role in attracting anonymous prospects and nurturing those leads through the sales funnel.

But marketers are also showing interest in multi-channel nurturing, and are receptive to adopting techniques that support the ability to nurture known and anonymous prospects without using e-mail.  Those tactics will probably the next new wave in lead nurturing practices going forward … provided people know where they can access the tools to make it happen.

More details on the Bizo/Oracle report can be found via this link.

B-to-B e-mail marketing: From sleepy to creepy?

Unwanted e-mails from businesses and brandsThe amount of information that companies know about the behavior of their customers has been growing, thanks to the “digital footprints” people leave all over the place when interacting with companies and brands via web surfing, e-mail and e-commerce.

Still, up until now, there’s been a polite dance wherein the companies don’t acknowledge the degree of that knowledge. Call it a sort of digital politeness.

But that seems to be changing, as the stakes have grown higher for engaging with customers via online, social and e-mail communications rather than traditional advertising.

Take Pitney Bowes in the B-to-B world, for example. In recent months, its marketing staff has sent out e-mail communiqués to their opt-in customers containing messages like, “We notice it’s been a while since you opened an email from us.”

That creepy little missive is as impertinent as it is likely false. Considering the wide swath of people who use the Microsoft Outlook e-mail platform – and many of those use preview panes and have set their default preferences to block images – in reality Pitney Bowes doesn’t actually know if its customers have been reading its e-mail messages or not.

It’s also unclear whether Pitney Bowes really wants its opt-in recipients to go away rather than just browbeating people into engaging with their e-mails more.

This has manifested itself in e-mail messages sent asking if customers are still interested in receiving e-mails so they can “continue receiving the latest from PB.” But despite this implicit threat to be dropped from Pitney Bowes’ e-mail database, ignoring those e-mails doesn’t seem to result in that actually happening.

Rather, it’s just a continuation of more borderline-creepy e-mails with messages chiding the recipient for potentially missing out on “valuable information about supplies, offers, discounts, new products and thought leadership pieces.”

Thought leadership pieces? The leaders of Pitney Bowes may think quite highly about their company and its “vaunted” position in industry … but self-describing itself as being the fount of industry-leading knowledge is a surefire way to get laughed out of town.

Just like the obnoxious teacher’s pet in school or the crashing bore at a cocktail party, no one enjoys interacting with a know-it-all who just can’t wait to corner you and tell you all about his or her latest feats of accomplishment.

In a world where most businesses are spending more effort than ever trying to collect e-mail addresses for ongoing engagement with customers and prospects, here’s a little reminder to them: Try disseminating content that is actually of value to people … which is what will get them to engage with you.

More often than not, that content won’t be about their products and services.

Big Branding News on the Internet Domain Name Front

ICANN logoIt was only a matter of time. Internet domain names are now poised to move to a new level of branding sophistication.

This past week, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) decided to broaden domain name suffixes to encompass pretty much anything. Instead of being restricted to suffixes like .com and .net that we’re so used to seeing, beginning in January 2012, companies will be able to apply for the use of any suffix.

At one level, there’s a practical reason for the change in policy. As happened with telephone lines in an earlier era when a host of new FAX numbers and cellphones came onstream, the inventory of available web addresses under the original system of .com, .edu, .gov and .org has been drying up. Recent moves to authorize the use of .biz, .us and .xxx have been merely stopgap measures that have done little to alleviate the pending inventory crunch.

But the latest ICANN move will likely have ripple effects that go well beyond the practical issue of available web addresses. Industry observers anticipate that the new policies will unleash a flurry of branding activity as leading companies apply for the right to use their own brand names as suffixes.

In fact, Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN’s board of directors, believes the move will “usher in a new Internet age.”

It’s expected that major consumer brands like Coca Cola and Toyota will be among the first to nab new domain suffixes like .coke or .toyota.

It’s a natural tactic for companies to employ as a defensive step against unscrupulous use of their brand names by other parties. But it’s also an effective way to gain more control over their overall online web presence via the ability to send visitors more directly to various portions of their world in cyberspace.

Of course, we can’t expect these new suffixes to be acquired on the cheap. Gone are the days when someone could purchase an address like “weather.com” for a just few dollars … and then sell it later on for hundreds of thousands.

In fact, it’s being reported by the Los Angeles Times that the cost to secure a new domain will be in the neighborhood of $185,000 – hardly chump change. At that price tag, only well-established organizations will be in a position to apply – and those applications must also be able to show that they have the technical capabilities to keep the domain running. So no cyber-squatters need apply.

Bloomberg Businessweek predicts that leading companies may invest upwards of $500,000 each to secure their brand identities online and to prevent them from being “hijacked” by others. It certainly gives a fresh new meaning to the term “eminent domain”!

The European Union Versus Marketers

EU e-Privacy Initiative attacks ad tracking via cookiesI wonder how many marketers are focused on what’s happening in Europe on the digital marketing front? While companies here are busily engaged in making sure ad tracking is being done to the nth degree, in the UK and Continental Europe, new legal restrictions on advertising tracking threaten to upend a lot of these efforts, particularly for multinational brands.

In short, the EU’s e-Privacy Directive restricts the use of “cookies” and virtually all other digital ad tracking methods. And the legal frameworks set up around this directive would require any marketer with users in any EU country to be subject to EU-wide and country-specific privacy legislation.

The new privacy initiatives are far more restrictive than the present US-EU “safe harbor” agreement, which merely requires American companies to notify users when cookies are used on a website. The new regs covering web pages, web apps and mobile apps would require giving notice each time a cookie is used, thereby setting up a flurry of endless notifications that promises to seriously degrade the online browsing experience.

The seemingly reasonable compromise of adding information to a “terms of use” agreement isn’t acceptable to the EU either, unless all users are issued the new agreement and they certify their acceptance.

And just to make sure everyone knows how serious all of this is, the new regs call for the imposition of financial and/or criminal penalties for the non-compliant use of cookies. But for the moment at least, only two relatively small countries besides the UK – Estonia and Denmark – have implemented controls to enforce the EU directives.

Here in the United States, privacy legislation slowly wends its way around Congress, with many legislators understanding that the key to successful commerce online is the ability for marketers to match marketing messages to interested consumers. It’s in Europe where governments appear more than willing to cripple the ability of marketers to do the job they’ve sought to do for decades: Target their audiences with as much precision as possible.

As a result, some European businesses are making noises about abandoning Europe for the United States. The problem is, in the digital age with so much of the branding and commerce blurred between countries, it’s impossible for restrictive moves in one region not to cause negative repercussions somewhere else.

Facebook’s Hidden Bombshells

Facebook's hidden bombshellsAs Facebook has been busily turning itself into a web powerhouse – challenging even the likes of Google for dominance – some people are beginning to question the fundamental aspects of how Facebook treats users and the content they post.

Last week I came across an interesting article by Douglas Karr, a social media consultant and author, who has spent thousands of dollars advertising on Facebook for himself and his clients. Karr summarized recent experiences he’s had with Facebook accounts that now make him extremely leery of using it as a central rather than an ancillary platform for promoting companies and their brands.

Facebook somehow became suspicious of entries posted by one of Karr’s clients. Facebook then proceeded to disable every administrator’s account that was associated with this client’s Facebook page. Because Karr was one of the administrators, this action disabled all of his Facebook pages and applications as well.

It then took a Herculean effort to repair the damage, during which time Karr learned quite a bit more about the customer service side of Facebook – if you could even call it “customer service.” Here’s how he summarizes it:

Facebook lacks a meaningful customer service process. There’s no phone number to call … or dedicated e-mail address specifically for support. So good luck trying to get any sort of satisfaction. Karr was asked to submit a form in order for his account to be turned back on. But that communication only resulted in an automated reply message to verify his identity.

In the meantime, with his accounts disabled, there was no way for Karr to log in and retrieve any of the now-hidden content.

What Karr learned is when all of what makes a Facebook presence so valuable – postings, photos, video and other content, fans, applications, etc. – goes by the boards, there’s essentially no recourse for a business.

Luckily for Karr, his account was re-enabled after a few days – with no notification from Facebook. But then he still had to republish all of the pages.

[It turns out that Karr’s client had a “friend of a friend of a friend” at Facebook who was able to pull a few strings to set things right … but how many of us should be so fortunate?]

This experience revealed another distasteful reality: The content you post on Facebook may be yours, but Facebook owns the access to it.

Yep. If you look closely at Facebook’s fine print, this is what you’ll find: “You grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

So much for keeping proprietary control over anything that may go viral and ends up on Facebook.

Karr’s word of advice for companies considering employing Facebook as their primary means of generating online traffic and revenue: “Don’t.”

Instead, he suggests adopting other tactics such as developing a blog, investing in search engine optimization and search engine marketing, using Twitter … and owning all of your content on your own domain.

That’s pretty smart advice from someone who speaks from experience.

Online Display Ad Clickthrough Rates Finally Bottom Out … Near the Bottom

Online Display Ad Clickthrough Rates Bottoming Out
Online display ad clickthrough rates have stopped declining ... bottoming out at 0.09%.
The latest news in online display advertising is that ad clickthrough rates have now leveled off after an extended period of decline – one that was exacerbated by the economic downturn.

So reports digital media marketing firm MediaMind (Eyeblaster). According to a report released this past week, one key reason for the decline being arrested is the greater sophistication of advertisers in targeting online advertising to audiences and groups that are more likely to be interested in them.

That being said, the overall clickthrough rate has leveled off at an abysmal 0.09%.

That is correct: less than one tenth of one percent. In any other business, this would be a rounding error.

If that statistic seems difficult to believe, consider this factoid: The average Internet user in America is delivered more than 2,000 display ads over the course of a single month. We might think that users would be inclined to click on more than just two or three of these ads during a month’s time.

But it’s important to realize that when users are in the mood to shop and buy, they’re typically going straight to the sites they like … or they’re using Google, Bing or some other search engine to find their way.

And it turns out there’s really no such thing as an “average” Internet user, anyway. Research conducted by digital marketing auditing and intelligence firm comScore, Inc. has found that around two-thirds of people on the Internet never click on any display ads during the course of a month. Moreover, only 16% of Internet users are responsible for around 80% of all clicks on display ads.

All the more reason why search marketing continues to be the online advertising powerhouse that it is. And why not? It’s putting your business in front of the customer when s/he is in “search-and-buy” mode … not when s/he’s doing something else.