We have become a culture of people on islands. We are divided by political ideology, by age, and by interests. Targeting communication to people in various groups has always been a goal of marketing. The goal of a marketing plan is to craft appropriate messages specifically for each individual group. However, the big change is in the platform, there are many more than there used to be. There are countless more places that competing for our attention than there were even a decade ago.
For the local business owner, an advertising strategy has become much more complex than putting an ad in a local paper or yellow pages. They must also have a robust online footprint as well.
One thing we have seen while working with clients is that there is often not much cohesion between a company’s promotional platforms. The signs up in their business may say one thing, their web site another, and the message on their social media profiles can at best be described as schizophrenic.
Part of this may be due to each media outlet being added on in a piecemeal fashion. It may also be because those properties are parceled out among many hands without coordination between them. Regardless of the reason, the communication to prospective customers is less than it could be. What is needed is a master plan that each promotional channel ties into.
This is the idea behind our “customer conversations” program at Legacy Marketing. We work with our clients to determine what they want to say, who they want to say it to, and then where it should be said.
After working with a number of small businesses, we realized that needs may change from season to season. While everyone needs a plan to follow, creating and executing a marketing plan “in the wild” and in the middle of ongoing operations often looks a little different than in B-school. We designeda plan that could be flexible and yet within a structure to give growing businesses consistency in their marketing efforts.
If you need more consistency in your marketing and messaging to customers, contact us today to launch your own turnkey plan.
As we begin the new year, you are probably looking back over 2015 and assessing the results for your business: what worked, what didn’t, the challenges and the victories. In a perfect world, each of has a marketing plan in place for 2016 and are in the process now of executing it. That is a perfect world. We don’t live in one.
Most small business owners I know have a tendency to fly by the seat of their pants. Being willing to jump in and facing uncertainty is a necessary characteristic of being an entrepreneur. However, we have to recognize that when it comes to business growth and creating sustainable strategies that strength can become a weakness and a detriment if we don’t put some structures in place for maintaining consistency.
You are wired differently, what excites and energizes you will stress out your employees. Most people that work for you want a plan laid out for them. You want to create your own. They want to know what the goal is, what they are working to achieve, and they want to know exactly what is expected of them. If they know what is expected of them and how they are expected to do it, they will have confidence in performing their job and be excited about working toward achieving that goal with you.
But first, you have to have a plan and set a goal before you can communicate that to others.
Setting Goals for 2016
In my college marketing classes, we created marketing plans for businesses. We had a team of people, spent three months on it, researched all of the available advertising options, analyzed the current revenue and sales processes, ran linear regressions and did market studies to formulate a plan. Let’s get real. That just does not happen with the vast majority of small businesses. That works in large corporations who have departments devoted to marketing and people whose job is to go to meetings to tell other people what to do.
Small business owners are busy doing, not talking about what should be done. But we do need to have a plan so that not only can we be consistent, but that we can communicate that plan to others to execute. Over the years I have seen two major causes of a business failing that have nothing to do with revenue.
Biggest Dangers for a Small Business Owner
The first is divorce. If you are married and have a small business you cannot afford to get a divorce. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen a successful business go down the tubes during or shortly after an owner’s divorce. It didn’t have to do so much with finances, the economy, or the splitting of assets as it was due to the fact that small businesses are usually pretty dependent on the owner for leadership and guidance and no one can be at the top of their game when they are going through emotional upset and turmoil at home. My advice is to guard the health of your marriage as closely as you guard the health of your bank account because the former has a direct impact on the latter.
The other is when the owner has a personal crisis that prevents them from functioning at the same level as they normally do. This may be a health crisis, a family emergency, or some other unforeseen event. One of the most consistent and amazing marketers I have ever met developed a health problem that severely limited their personal involvement in the day to day business. That business eventually closed.
Life can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter how amazing you are at what you do, if it is all in your head and depends solely on you, your business is at risk. There should not be any aspect of your business that is solely dependent on you, or anyone else for that matter. Every function should have the position spelled out so someone else could step in continue to carry on.
There is one goal I would recommend achieving in 2016 above everything else, and that is defining your exit strategy. We will all exit our businesses one way or another eventually. Have a plan and a process in place for that to happen.
Creating a Marketing Plan for 2016
But as my business is about marketing, I am going to be talking about creating not only a marketing plan, but an overall strategic vision for your company. If you don’t already have a plan in place, follow along and work through each section for your own business each week. Be sure you are subscribed to our newsletter for updates. Some of the areas I will cover are:
- Business composition
- On site events
- Community events
- Trade Shows
- Professional Events
- Web site
- Social media
- Personal contact
- New Media
In an article on how to track campaigns in Google Analytics, I explained how to tag urls to your site to track promotional and marketing efforts. As this generates a long url, the recommendation is to shorten them before use. An additional way to brand your site as well as separate tracking data is to use a custom or branded url to use in your promotions.
Branded Short Domains for Your Business
What is a branded short domain, also known as a custom vanity link? It is an extremely abbreviated url that can represent your company. In the original launch of standardized top level domains, the .com extension was set for commercial businesses. It was one of seven original gTLDs, the others being:
- .edu: educational institutions
- .org: nonprofit organizations
- .net: networks
- .gov: U.S. government entities
- .int: international organizations
- .mil: U.S. military units
As the price for yearly domain name registrations dropped along with the barriers to online publishing, the demand for domain names grew and new tlds were released to accommodate demand. In 2001 and 2002, four unrestricted domain names were released for general use: .biz, .info, .name, and .pro. ICANN also released a number of two letter extensions to be used for various country registrations. It was this release that later opened up opportunities for custom short domain urls.
Available gTLDs for Branded Short Domains
As I mentioned the two letter extensions were originally intended for use for web sites based in those certain countries. However, in 2010 the Columbian government release their extension, .co, for public registration. A number of large brands saw the opportunity to use the TLD as a way to stand out among the alphabet soup of the web.
“ . . . dot-CO has found the support of global brands from IBM to Starbucks, from Google to Twitter. The most valuable domains — those with just a single letter, such as “g.co” — have reportedly been sold for seven figure sums. Amazon bought three: a.co for itself, z.co for Zappos, and k.co for Kindle. “
Since then, creative use has been made of a number of other two letter extensions.
How to Choose a Domain for Your Custom Vanity Url
So how do you choose a domain for your custom short url? The most obvious short extensions are .co, .cc, .me, .to, and .us. There are a number of other two letter extensions that allow for unrestricted registration without requirements for citizenship or presence in the sponsoring country. However, make sure that you check the renewal price for the extension that you choose. Some are significantly higher than the more familiar extensions.
My personal favorites for short branded urls are the .co extension for general usage and .us if it is for a location based site. Some ideas for your vanity url might be the initials of your business or an abbreviated form of a keyword related to your business. If you can work the word to incorporate the two letter tld, even better.
How to Use a Custom Short Domain
Once you have your short domain for your url, it is time to set it up with some sort of shortening system that will redirect it to your chosen url. There are several ways to do this. As I mentioned in the article on tracking campaigns in Google analytics, you could even set up a shortening system on your own server if you wanted to.
However, if you are just starting out, that is probably overkill.
One of the easiest ways is to use the shortening service Bit.ly (note the .ly extension), particularly if you are already using the service to shorten links.
Using a Vanity Domain Name with Bit.ly
Entering Domain Information on Bit.ly
- Log in to your account on Bit.ly.
- In the upper right hand corner, click on your user name and select the “Settings” menu item
- In your account information, click on the “Advanced” tab
- Click on “Activate a Branded Short Domain for personal use.”
- Enter the name of the branded short domain that you registered and click “Add”
Redirect Domain at Registrar
The next step requires you to direct your domain to Bit.ly, allowing it to manage the redirections. This is done at your registrar, the place where you just registered your short domain, such as Godaddy or NameCheap. In the domain management, you will set the DNS (domain nameserver) to 184.108.40.206. Each registrar’s domain management is a little bit different, check with their documentation.
Once you have set the A record, it will take a little bit of time for the changes to propagate, up to 24 hours.
Finish Bit.ly Settings
- Return to the Advanced Settings tab and click “verify” to complete the Bit.ly set up.
- Once the domain is verified, select your short domain for the default shortener for your account.
- Finally, set your main domain as the branded short domain root redirect.
Using Your Short Branded Domain Name
The benefit of using Bit.ly as your main url is that a number of third party services have integrations that will allow you to use your branded url due to Bit.ly’s widespread popularity and usage. Buffer, Twitterfeed, Social Oomph and Shareaholic can be set to default to your short url.
If you have a page, service or product that you would like to create a short url to for frequent use, Bit.ly allows you to customize the url generated. However, if the custom short link you enter is already taken . . . taken in their system in general, not just your custom urls . . . You will have to upgrade to the pro tools for more flexibility.
If you took a little break over the holidays from publishing on your Joomla web site, you might have been a little surprised when you logged back in and saw multiple platform updates available. The current stable version of Joomla is now at 3.4.8, if you have anything less, it’s time to update your platform. Unsure what version you have? If you haven’t updated your platform since Christmas – it is out of date.
December Security Updates for Joomla
Joomla has been on a steady release of core platform updates throughout 2015 with [3.4}(https://www.joomla.org/announcements/release-news/5586-joomla-3-4-is-here.html) released February 24th, 3.4.1 on March 21st, 3.4.2 on June 30th, 3.4.3 on July 2nd, 3.4.4 on September 8th, and 3.4.5 on October 22nd. However, the month of December saw the release of three updates in rapid succession due to security concerns that needed to be immediately addressed.
- December 14, 2015: Joomla! 3.4.6 Patched a vulnerability to remote execution as well as several other lower priority security issues.)
- December 21, 2015: After further research into the vulnerability patched the previous week, developers discovered a critical vulnerability in PHP itself. While the current version of PHP is secure, Joomla! Users on servers with older versions would still be open to attack. Joomla! 3.4.7 secured against this issue for users on servers with older versions of PHP (see quote on the update below.)
- December 24, 2015: Joomla! 3.4.8 was released to fix some minor bugs on the previous version. Any time you are pushing so hard, particularly to address a critical issue, there isn’t a lot of time for beta testing for every conflict. I appreciate that the committed core developers pushed right up to the Christmas holidays to release an update that fixed some of the issues users were experiencing.
The Joomla Security Strike team has been following up on the critical security vulnerability patched last week. Since the recent update it has become clear that the root cause is a bug in PHP itself. This was fixed by PHP in September of this year (2015) with the releases of PHP 5.4.45, 5.5.29, 5.6.13 (N.B. Fixed in all versions of PHP 7 and has been backported in some specific Linux LTS versions of PHP 5.3). The only Joomla sites affected by this bug are those which are hosted on vulnerable versions of PHP. We are aware that not all hosts keep their PHP installations up to date so we are releasing a Joomla Update later today which contains additional protection for those users. We do of course recommend that all users apply this update as soon as possible.
Joomla 3.5 Coming in February
The next major release for Joomla is scheduled to release on February 17, 2016 with support for PHP 7. As web sites have become more full featured and performing more and more functions, the amount of load on the server resources has also increased. PHP 7 is designed to handle a higher load of processes at a significantly higher speed. This infographic on benchmarks from Zend is impressive.
However, the platforms operating on the server will have to be compatible with the new version of PHP, which the Joomla 3.5 release will accommodate. Siteground has already made PHP 7 available on their servers for customers and a number of other platform specific hosting services have done so as well.
Need help with your Joomla site? We offer Joomla maintenance service plans. We will keep your platform up-to-date, take regular back-ups, and address any plugin conflicts that arise after a core update. Contact us today for more information for for help migrating your Joomla site from a previous version.
The word “campaign” can be used in a variety of ways. When used in terms of warfare, it refers to a specific effort whose goal is to win a battle. The effort of many campaigns is coordinated to achieve a specific goal, which is to win the war. When a campaign is referred to in term of marketing, it refers to a “coordinated series of linked advertisements with a single idea or theme.” This message can be communicated through a variety of advertising channels, such as TV, print, radio, social media, press releases, events, or web. Regardless of “how” the message is communicated, the “what” and the end goal should all be the same for a particular campaign.
It is possible to expend a lot of effort and money towards a marketing goal without having an understanding of the return or whether or not a particular method is effective. This is very easy to do when it comes to online marketing as promotions, press release, and shared content can be accessed far beyond the time period of a particular campaign. It’s not like a newspaper ad when you know the specific launch date and the expected lifespan is of the ad is until the next issue comes out. There are exceptions to this. Someone may hold on to a magazine for months, or even years, and later respond to an ad, but most of the time there is a limited time period for exposure and reach, whereas online content can pop back up and be reshared at the oddest times.
Identifying Traffic Sources through Google Analytics
So looking at the total bucket of visitors to your web site, how do you know what prompted that visitor to come to your site at that particular time? Out of all the the online promotion efforts you have done over the time your domain has been active, which ones are pulling in visitors? If you are using Google Analytics to track web site usages, there are several metrics Google displays by default. Under the “Aquisition” section are listed:
- All Traffic: The options beneath this include: Channels, Treemaps, Source/Medium, and Referrals. Each of these can be further customized from the default. The referrals dashboards lists all external sites referring traffic to your domain. In the article on how to get rid of Google Analytics referral spam, I explained how to get rid of false referrals that artificially inflate your site statistics.
- Adwords: If you are running an Adwords campaign to promote your web site, this is a key section for testing and monitoring the effectiveness of your campaigns.
- Search Engine Optimization: The reports in this section tell you which search terms a visitor used to access your site. Keyword search terms will display here, unless the visitor is logged into their Google account while searching, then the search terms will be obscured and will be listed under (not set).
- Social: This area gives a number of metrics for assessing the engagement for your site on social media including what networks are sending you traffic, what other networks or “data hubs” are discussing content on your site, the most frequented landing pages from social media referrals, trackbacks, goal conversions from social media referrals, how visitors engage on your site, and where the users go once they get to your site.
- Campaigns: Finally, there is an option to track campaigns in Google Analytics. The most simple type of campaign is a default option in Analytics called “organic keywords.” This tracks the number of people who came to your site through organic keyword searches. If people are finding your site at all in search, there will be “campaigns” listed under organic search. If you are running Adwords campaigns, there will also be results listed under “paid keywords” in this section.
Using Campaigns to Track Marketing Effectiveness
Adwords campaigns and social media referrals are not the only place where campaigns can be tracked. By coding campaign data within a url for Google Analytics, any type of promotion can be tracked and measured as long as the url is triggered.
Specific Content: For example, let’s say you publish a press release and are allowed links within the publication. A custom url can be coded for a link to your site or a specific page on your web site. A visitor coming to your site through that url would register as a visitor gained through that campaign.
Links from email newsletters: One of the most common ways to use campaign data is for links within email newsletters. Commercial newsletter services such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact have built in options for encoding campaign data within each newsletter sent. One thing I have found regarding newsletters is that often the recipients will reopen the email numerous times after the initial sending. In newsletter that track opens, depending on the content, the newsletter can be referred back to months, and even years after it was first sent. If the urls within the newsletter are encoded with campaign data, you will be able to track exactly which newsletters the visitor is clicking through on regardless of when it was sent.
Other ideas: Other places to use campaign coded urls are:
- Links in guest blog posts
- Links given to share with friends
- Links used for QR codes
- Links for other offline promotions
Using Google’s URL Builder
In order to track this information, the url directing the visitor to your site must be coded with the campaign data you would like to track. Google provides a URL builder online as a companion tool to Google Analytics. Simply fill out the fields of the form and hit submit. A url will be generated with your campaign information encoded.
Below are the fields requested. The starred fields are required, the rest are optional. The URL builder will add UTM fields to the end of the url which will register with Google Analytics when the url is accessed.
- Web Site url:* This is the actual url from your site to link to. This can be your root domain or a specific page on your web site. Remember that you will only see the campaign data for your own domain urls. If you encode campaign data on a link to a domain you do not control, they will see the campaign data in their report, but you will not see it on yours.
- Campaign source:* This is where the visitor will be coming from. Are you creating the url to be used in a print campaign, a Facebook post, in a link from a Youtube video? Enter that here. This is a required field. The question this field should answer is where is this link going to be used?
- Campaign Medium:* If the campaign source answers the question “where,” the medium field should answer the question “how” is this link being used. Is it being used in an email, a QR code, a print ad? For an email newsletter, the “source” would be your newsletter list and the medium would be “email.”
- Campaign term: If you are running an Adwords campaign, this field is used to code the keyword that is being targeted in the campaign.
- Campaign content: This field is not required; however, it can be used to add more granular data to your campaign statistics. This is the field that should be used to provide more segmentation within the campaign and/or medium.
- Campaign Name:* This is the name of your actual campaign, the marketing effort that may span not only online promotion, but print, onsite, and a variety of other mediums.
Shortening Services to Us with Campaign Links
After entering these terms, the URL builder will construct a url coded with UTM variables and will look something like this:
You could use this generated url as is; however, if you are trying to share it in a print ad obviously that is not even close to the type of url that someone would actually take the time to manually enter. You could encode it in a QR code for print, this assumes the person knows how and wants to use it. Even though smart phones are fairly standard, there are certain demographics that don’t really use QR code.
So how do you use these unwieldy urls effectively? One option is to convert the long urls into short urls that redirect to the target url along with the UTM variables. There are several ways of doing this:
- Manually creating redirects: If you host your own domain, you have the option to create redirects either through the control panel for your site or manually in the .htaccess file. I know of no one who does it this way, but you could do it.
- Custom URL shorteners: There are a number of custom url shorteners. There are even open source scripts available, such as Yourls which you can install on your server and operate your own shortening services.
- Plugins: There are several plugins for WordPress that allow you to create and manage redirect links. One of the most popular is a plugin called Pretty Link.
- Bit.ly: Bit.ly is a url shortening service that is integrated with a number of other third party services.
Keeping Track of Campaigns URL’s
If you don’t have a plan, it’s probably better not to mess with tagging at all. This is a guide on tagging that points out that campaign tagging is a powerful weapon in the fight for exposure and reach . . . One that can explode your own data if you’re not careful. When you are creating content and running campaigns through multiple mediums over a number of years, it’s very easy to forget what exactly your strategy was if you don’t write it down. For overall campaign information and short urls that part of ongoing promotions, I track the terms, the short links and the target links in a spreadsheet on Google Drive.
Whatever your strategy is write it down. Write down what you are doing and the reasoning behind it so that not only can you refresh your memory when you look back, but coworkers or consultants can see and understand the strategy of your marketing efforts.
Resources for Tracking Campaigns
As I mentioned in the article on tracking traffic with Google Analytics, measuring and monitoring your blog performance is important. The goal is to do more of what does work and less of what doesn’t. However, the amount of blog traffic isn’t always about how your site ranks in search for certain keywords, people find your site and your business in different ways. There are also other factors beyond SEO efforts that influence rankings themselves.
So how do you know what exactly is bringing traffic to your site? Obviously, you can dig into Analytics extensive reporting and analyze what exactly is going on; however, sometimes we want to see the answer more quickly than that and very often, the answer should be obvious. For example, in the case of filtering blog referral spam out of Google Analytics reporting, if your site has been under attack by GA spammers, the drop in reported traffic will be very obvious if the filter is set up correctly. However, as I mentioned in the other article, the filter only applies to traffic reported after it is in place, not prior to. So you have to wait to see the true reports.
Let’s say you go back several months later and you see this drop and you start wondering, “What happened there?” You might wonder if you lost positions in search or if there was a functional problem with your web site. If you are keeping some sort of site journal tracking each change in your web site, you could go back through the history and see if you can tell what cause the fluctuation in traffic. However, there is an easier way to record this, annotations in Google Analytics
What Are Annotations
So what are annotations? An annotation in general is described as “a metadata (a comment, explanation, presentational markup) attached to text, image, or other data.” Put most simply, an annotation is a note that explains data. Google Analytics offers the ability to add an annotation, a note or comment, to any specific date in a reporting period. So, for example, if you add a filter to Google Analytics to block the referral spam, also add an annotation to the date it is done so that someone can quickly see what that change was at any future point in time.
How to Create Annotations in Google Analytics
Adding an annotation in Google Analytics is a simple and straightforward process.
Step 1 Log into your Google Analytics account and go to the Dashboard for the site you will be editing.
Step 2 Under the main traffic dashboard, click the arrowhead underneath the traffic graph.
Step 3 Click “create new annotation.”
Step 4 Click in the date field to select the date to annotation, enter the description of the event and click save.
The traffic graph will now be marked indication the annotation for that date. If you use multiple annotations and want to draw attention to one particular (or more) date, you can star the annotation and a star will display next to the comment indicator.
When to Use Annotations in Google Analytics
When should you use Google Annotations? Anytime you make a significant change to your site or there is a significant event related to your business that has the potention to impact traffic to your web site. This might not be something web related. Maybe you ran an ad with a link to your site. (This could also be tracking using custom urls and campaigns.) Maybe your business was mentioned on the news or another media channel with a wide reach. Maybe you had a piece of content that went viral. Anything that is outside of your regular business practice or normal site promotion efforts and growth. Here are a few suggestions for when to annotate in Google Analytics:
- Any changes that filter traffic or reporting on your site.
- Changes in url structure of your web site
- Launching a new site or a web site redesign.
- Any major change in site keywords and targeting.
- When your business has an event or a promotion that is outside of your standard operations.
- When a piece of content goes viral across any channel. Even if the content is being shared across a social media channel, there should be residual traffic to your site.
- When your business receives promotion that is out of your standard process, such as by a major news source or by an industry leader. This would be a good time if you aren’t do so already to set up a report tracking the average traffic and noting how much of that new traffic is retained after the major spike.
What other ways do you use annotations?