Everything Your Lancaster County Business Needs to Know About Social Media Right Now

Everything Your Lancaster County Business Needs to Know About Social Media Right Now

When it comes to social media, it pays to stay up-to-date. That’s because all types of social media are changing quickly, and what worked well last year might not perform as well in 2020 and beyond. Lancaster County businesses and organizations need a way to keep track of what’s going on with the top social media platforms; YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

NOTE: If you’re reading this in 2021 or beyond, things may have changed significantly since we first penned this article in September of 2020, so be sure to check in with our LNP Media Group team before making any marketing decisions.

Changes are happening faster than ever in the social media world. Before digital, it could take decades for a new medium to mature. But today’s media giants can emerge in just a few years. For example, it took fifteen years for Facebook to grow into the world-dominating social media platform that it is today. Google-owned YouTube was created in 2005 and moved into the number one social media spot just a few years ago. But TikTok, currently a top social media platform, was launched in 2016, and by 2018 it had already reached over 500 million users.

As each new social media platform is created, the media world holds its breath to see if this new entity will dominate or dissipate. After all, for every big success like TikTok, there is a string of failures. Companies like DailyBooth, FriendFeed, iTunes Ping, Google+, Google Buzz, Meerkat, Friendster, Yik Yak, and Vine all came and went in a matter of years. Other companies were absorbed when larger, more prominent entities purchased them.

While strong competitors continue to enter the marketplace, YouTube and Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram) manage to continue to dominate the social media world. According to a 2019 Report from Pew Research,

“Facebook – which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary – remains one of the most widely used social media sites among adults in the U.S. Roughly seven-in-ten adults (69%) say they ever use the platform. (A separate 2018 Center survey showed Facebook use among U.S. teens had dropped in recent years.) YouTube is the only other online platform measured that matches Facebook’s reach: 73% of adults report using the video sharing site. But certain online platforms, most notably Instagram and Snapchat, have an especially strong following among young adults.”

Yes, YouTube and Facebook are well-established and very profitable. But they don’t rest on their laurels. These giants stay strong because they are constantly innovating in ways that allow them to compete, provide value, and stay relevant. As new apps and innovations tap into new needs, wants, and desires, the existing social media giants innovate quickly to offer similar products. Sometimes these innovations are a big success, like Instagram Stories, and sometimes it simply fails, like Google+.

With so much happening in the world of social media, it can be hard to keep up. Happily, for Lancaster County businesses, LNP Media Group has made it easy for you to stay current with today’s social media offerings. In this article, we offer easy-to-understand guides to the top social media platforms, including what they are, who’s using them, advertising opportunities, new features, and the controversial aspects of each.

YOUTUBE

It’s hard to imagine a world without YouTube, but this video giant has only been around since 2005. It was easy to see its potential early on, which is why, within a year of its founding, Google purchased the wildly popular video publishing platform, and continues ownership today.

YouTube is a social media platform that makes it easy for people to post videos. This user-generated content is combined with relevant ad and commercial information. While leading media companies create top-notch content specifically for YouTube, the bulk of the platform’s appeal still lies in the value of user-generated video. Whether you want to look for 5-year-old math geniuses or 90-year-olds explaining Depression-era cooking, YouTube has something for everyone. In fact, more than 2 billion people use YouTube each month. Hundreds of new videos are uploaded every minute. By YouTube’s own estimate, the social media monolith provides about two-thirds of all the content on the Web. But as big and significant as YouTube already is, it is still seeking to expand and grow. Recently, YouTube launched YouTubeTV to compete with cable and streaming services like Hulu.

YouTube is also in the final phases of testing “Shorts,” a video app reportedly designed to compete with TikTok. According to sources at YouTube,

“We’re testing out a new way for creators to easily record multiple clips directly in the YouTube mobile app and upload as one video. If you’re in this experiment, you’ll see an option to ‘create a video’ in the mobile upload flow. Tap or hold the record button to record your first clip, then tap again or release the button to stop recording that clip. Repeat these steps until you’re done capturing footage up to a maximum length of 15 seconds. Creators will also have the ability to adjust the recording speed and also set a countdown timer for their multi-segment video uploads. If you’d like to upload a longer video, you’ll still be able to do so by uploading from your phone gallery instead of recording through the app. We’re starting these experiments on mobile (both Android and iOS) with a small group of people while we gather feedback.

While YouTube offers a wide range of advertising tools and offerings, businesses can benefit from YouTube without placing paid ads. Many companies host YouTube “Channels” and post information and how-to videos. Some firms choose to host their website videos on YouTube to reduce site download time.

While some businesses use YouTube videos as a way to post infomercials or self-promoting videos, YouTube videos from media giants like Bon Appetit, Vanity Fair, Autocar, and even Playboy are now big money makers for the ailing print publishing industry. When these kinds of content providers choose to become part of the YouTube Partner Program, they can keep a percentage of the ad revenue generated by their videos. And since many of these channels get over a hundred thousand views each month, those revenues are substantial.

Some media sources such as comedian Mike Falzone also require channel memberships for premium content, sell merchandise on the platform, use Super Chat & Super Stickers, and generate YouTube Premium Revenue.

EXAMPLE OF CHANNEL MEMBERS

https://www.youtube.com/user/mikefalzone 

But organizations don’t have to utilize a celebrity with more than 100,000 followers to get customers from YouTube. Even if the company is not in the Partner Program, they can place ads on YouTube. There are many advertising options to choose from, and they’re changing all the time. The best-known YouTube advertising options are skippable in-stream ads and non-skippable in-stream ads. But advertisers can also choose from a range of ad options. Discovery ads appear next to related YouTube videos, as part of a YouTube search result, or on the YouTube mobile homepage. Bumper ads usually convey very short messages. These non-skippable ads are scheduled to play before, during, or after another video. (This type of advertising is called a donut ad in broadcast.)

Masthead ads aren’t available to everyone, but they are YouTube powerhouses. Masthead ads allow advertisers to run a featured video without the sound for up to 30 seconds at the top of the YouTube Home feed. However, advertisers must meet specific criteria to qualify for Masthead ad access.

It’s important to remember that different ad options each come with varying production specifications and ad requirements. For example, some types of ads allow clickable links, so those advertisers need to have a hard-working landing page in place. Some ads require a video, while others can be created using text and graphics only.

Some video ads are set up to require the user to see the entire ad; others can be skipped after a few seconds. For marketers who have purchased a skippable ad, it’s smart to make sure that the core message is clearly communicated in the first 3-5 seconds.

The point is, it’s smart to select the YouTube ad tools that are the best choice for the marketing goals and budget before the content is created. Once a marketer chooses an ad format, they’ll know which types of information, images, video, text, or calls-to-action need to be considered as they produce their ads.

When it comes to targeting audiences, YouTube offers a deep set of audience demographics and psychographics, including keyword contextual targeting, topics, video remarketing, affinity audiences, life events, and custom-intent audiences that allow marketers to reach viewers as they’re making purchase decisions using keyword searches as qualifiers. It also allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connections, and create audiences based on website traffic. Using the audience targeting tools properly will help a wide range of industries get the best results for any type of YouTube ad.

When placing ads or videos on YouTube, it’s also important to understand that many types of YouTube content allow comments, and those comments can be vulgar or abusive. The video’s creator is responsible for monitoring comments. However, for marketers who want to protect a brand (or a client) from being associated with abusive or offensive language, potential comments may be a concern.

FACEBOOK

More than one billion people are active on Facebook each month. Started in 2004, Facebook is the most popular format for sharing personal news, photos, and personal information. Although Facebook encourages videos, most posts are still using photos or images in personal posts and ads.

Facebook is an attractive format for advertisers looking for clicks because Facebook users have been well-trained to “Like” and click on posts and advertising. It is a reliable and cost-effective way to create awareness and drive. This social media platform is set up to run inexpensive, short-run ads as well as pricier, ongoing campaigns. This means that the ads users see are usually a mix of locally-owned businesses and national advertisers.

Although most Facebook ads use still images, the use of videos is an easy way to make Facebook ads more compelling. Authentic and less polished images and videos often outperform stock or slick, high-budget commercials.

Facebook has easy-to-use tools that allow advertisers to create slideshows that play as videos and offers some free stock photography to advertisers.

However, Facebook believes that text or logos in images or videos diminishes the Facebook usage experience, and they often penalize advertisers for this. Advertisers who put text or logos on videos or images may find that Facebook will distribute their ads more slowly, or not distributing them at all.

However, Facebook ads do come with descriptors, headlines, and space for text so that the ad message can be explained.

Facebook ads also allow comments, so it’s essential to carefully monitor the advertisement and hide or block comments and users as needed.

The Facebook Ads Manager tool offers precise targeting, positioning, and analysis. However, some categories are not allowed to advertise on Facebook, including alcohol, tobacco, gambling, firearms, adult content, some types of loan businesses, and many other controversial categories. Additionally, any advertising that is promoting political or issues-based content will need to go through a strict ad authorization process. Any ads that refer to social and political issues, finance, health, or body image will take longer to place, and longer to approve. Facebook will reject many messages that would be acceptable in other advertising platforms.

Facebook allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connection, and create audiences based on website traffic.

An experienced ad professional can help you identify potential issues in advance to ensure your ads run as expected.

INSTAGRAM

More than 1 billion people use Instagram every month. Instagram is owned by Facebook and shares an ads manager, which means you can target ads in the same ways, and the same advertising restrictions hold for Instagram. However, Instagram works very differently than Facebook.

Influencers, people with thousands or even millions of followers, often sell the chance to feature a product or service on their feed. These placements can cost as little as $20 for a low-level Influencer, to $1 million for a mention on a top-tier influencer’s feed.

While Influencers are undoubtedly a significant factor for marketers, Instagram also offers video and image ad opportunities for advertisers that can be placed using the Facebook ads manager tool.

Importantly, for most posts, clicks are not allowed (some exceptions apply for accounts with followings of 10K+.) Advertisers looking for click-throughs from Instagram should invest in ads.

Comments on Instagram tend to be much more favorable than on Facebook, but negative comments can appear. Because most people comment via phones, hearts, and emojis are common.

While videos and Stories have been a part of Instagram for a while, Instagram recently introduced Instagram Reels, which offers the same kind of easy-to-use, sometimes over-the-top video editing tools and effects tools already in place on TikTok and Snapchat.

 

 Image courtesy of Instagram.com

TIKTOK

Estimates report that more than 800 million people use TikTok each month. This easy-to-use app has only been around for a few years, but because it makes it easy to upload, customize, and share videos quickly, it has rapidly grown to one of the most popular online platforms. TikTok fans claim it’s one of the easiest ways to make everyday events fun, funny, and sharable.

According to Maryam Mohsin on the Oberlo blog in July 2020,

“TikTok is one of the fastest-growing social media platforms in the world which presents an alternative version of online sharing. It allows users to create short videos with music, filters, and some other features… What helps TikTok stand out among the competition is that it’s more of an entertainment platform, instead of a lifestyle platform. And what makes it so attractive is that practically anyone can become a content provider because of the simplicity of using the app.”

While TikTok is wildly popular among teens and Millennials, older users are not as familiar with the app. The interface shows two feeds side-by-side. The feed on the left is called For You, and is a predictive learning feed, which means it is designed to deliver videos based on your preferences and previous viewing patterns. The right-hand feed offers popular and trending videos, as well as some wild cards, which means the content can be surprising or even unwelcome.

This video from Social Media Marketing is a good tutorial for advertisers and new users.

This platform advises marketers, “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks!” However, once you begin using the ad creation tools, you’ll see similarities with many other social media platforms. As with Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Snapchat, you must choose from a set of standard campaign objectives. On TikTok these include reach, traffic, views, app installs, and website conversions.

TikTok started in China, so many of its ad tools and content delivery options are still focused on Asian markets. While international marketers can choose from a variety of placements, U.S. advertisers must stick with the TikTok basics. The ad placement tools are similar to those used for Facebook and will feel familiar to most social media pros. TikTok does not restrict categories, which is significant if you’re selling alcohol, tobacco, guns, gambling, or adult content.

As of this writing, the TikTok ad placement interface is changing weekly. They are working to make it easy to place ads to smaller audiences in smaller geographies, with the apparent goal of offering all of the ad flexibility of Google and Facebook.

TikTok demands video content for ads, but the platform offers an extensive library of stock video clips to edit and design templates that you can customize using your own videos or product images. This video creation tool is relatively new, and like other parts of the interface, changing weekly. Their goal is to make TikTok the easiest platform for advertisers to create and post video ads.

Recently TikTok has been accused of misusing data, with investigations pending. Want to know more about the August 2020 TikTok Trump Controversy? Click here.

LINKEDIN

LinkedIn is a job-oriented social media platform. While it boasts that more than 670 million people use LinkedIn each month, many of these people use it to increase job connections or look for new employment. As a rule, the audience is not as engaged on LinkedIn as on some other entertainment or socially-driven interfaces.

LinkedIn is trying to change that. It transformed itself over the past few years from a job site to a platform that offers all kinds of professional and industry news and advice.

LinkedIn also offers unparalleled access to users by professional title, place of employment, industry, self-reported salaries, and even educational degree. However, LinkedIn often requires minimum spends and charges a higher cost per thousand or cost-per-click compared with other social media platforms.

LinkedIn has added in-app ad placement to its ad suite, so marketers can send paid messages to LinkedIn users even when they are not on the platform. While advertisers don’t usually obtain high click-through numbers, with the right ad set up, they can expect highly-qualified clicks.

When advertisers want to send social media ads to their databases, they can upload the lists onto the platform, called a custom audience. Platforms like Pinterest and Facebook have a hard time matching work emails to their user databases because people often enter personal emails when creating new accounts. Companies with an extensive list of business emails will find that LinkedIn offers higher match rates. People with LinkedIn accounts often use business emails in their profiles, which allows LinkedIn to match a much higher percentage of business databases.

LinkedIn also allows advertisers to create duplicate audiences, create audiences based on connection, and create audiences based on website traffic.

TWITTER

More than 330 million people use Twitter each month. This social media is a valued source of news, tech, celebrity, and political updates. Posts, called Tweets, are created to be very relevant to the moment it is posted. Old tweets age quickly, and become outdated, sometimes within minutes.

Twitter can be an effective way to promote a celebrity or politician, communicate news and

information, talk about business resources, or launch the latest innovation. But when it comes to other marketing categories, Twitter ad performance can be lackluster.

Experienced Twitter ad pros can help you get the most from this fast-moving platform. The ad placement platform is structured to be similar to Google and Facebook ad managers. Twitter advertisers can use images or videos and can choose from a wide range of precise targeting tools. Like Google, Facebook, and other social media platforms, you can upload databases to create custom audiences, create duplicate audiences, and create audiences based on your followers or website traffic.

PINTEREST

More than 330 million people use Pinterest each month, and about 70% are female. This format has developed strong followings in certain categories, including (but not limited to) home, DIY, crafts, food, cocktails, books, fashion, travel, health and fitness, parenting, photography, mommy blogging, and design. This image-based platform has been compared to an online scrapbook, an idea book, and an aspirational, wish-list platform.

While Pinterest isn’t right for every advertiser, a well-executed campaign on Pinterest can deliver astronomically high impressions and impressive click-through rates. In addition to image ads, Pinterest also offers Shop the Look Pins, Recipe Pins, Product Pins, and other features that make this a smart advertising format for many types of businesses.

All Pinterest ads begin as a post or “Pin.” Unless the advertiser hides or removes the Pin, a Pinterest ad can continue to perform weeks, even months after the campaign is completed. Because the Pin can continue to work after the ad spend is exhausted, many marketers include a set of searchable hashtags in the text to make it easier for an interested buyer to find the information in the future.

SNAPCHAT

 

With more than 200 million people using Snapchat each month, this media platform ranks fifth in the U.S., but it dominates when it comes to young audiences. Snapchat reports that it reaches 90% of all 13-24 year-olds and 75% of all 13-34 year-olds in the U.S.

In January 2020, Maryam Mohsin reported in the Oberlo Blog,

“When it comes to communication style, Snapchat mirrors how people interact with each other face-to-face. The interactions are temporary, and not stored anywhere, much like real life. This enables users to share photos and videos that last a short time before they disappear forever- leaving no history that can come back to embarrass them later… it wasn’t long before Snapchat caught the attention of brands and marketers. With the potential to reach out to younger audiences, Snapchat is a great platform if your target market consists of millennials and Gen Z’ers.”

Like most social media ad platforms, Snapchat offers advertisers ways to drive website traffic and app installs. It also offers ad formats that promote calls and texts directly to a business. Instead of clicking, users swipe up to get to a site, download an app, make a call, or send a text to a company. Videos are the preferred ad medium on Snapchat, but advertisers can also use images.

Snapchat also allows users and businesses to create filters and lenses for posts (also called Snaps) that make it easy to create interesting effects.

For anyone not yet familiar with lenses, this video from Lens Studio explains,

Social Media Controversies Abound

Whenever companies grow very large in size, profits, or influence, governments take notice. And social media is no exception. In recent years, a long list of social media executives have been called to speak in front of committees about processes, technology, business ethics, monopolies, and even interference with elections.

Most recently, TikTok was targeted for sharing databases with the Chinese government. In response, President Trump has demanded that TikTok be banned from the U.S. Although the enforceability of such a presidential order is in debate, controversies around social media platforms continue. 

President Trump also offered to allow TikTok to continue in the U.S. if an American-owned company agrees to become the majority owner of TikTok. Microsoft has been in negotiations with TikTok, but the viability of such an acquisition, especially on an accelerated timeline, is in question.

On August 14, Eric J. Savitz reported in Barrons,

“The Trump administration threatened to shut down TikTok in the U.S. in an expanding war on China’s tech sector. TikTok parent ByteDance, a China-based company, has been seeking a buyer for the unit. Microsoft (ticker: MSFT) confirmed holding talks on a potential deal and said it expects to conclude negotiations by Sept. 15. Other megacap tech companies would likely face antitrust scrutiny from a TikTok deal; it would be hard to imagine regulators approving bids from Alphabet (GOOGL) or Facebook (FB) given Congressional and regulatory scrutiny on the power of the social networks. There have been reports that Twitter (TWTR) has explored a combination, but the math would get difficult given Twitter’s relatively modest market cap at under $30 billion. TikTok is expected to fetch as much as $35 to $40 billion.”

TikTok is not the only social media platform that has run into controversy. As social media platforms grow in prominence, power brokers at every level are taking note.

Instagram has no major government investigations in place, but parents across the United States continue to be concerned about the platforms ability to accelerate mean behavior among tween and teen peers, which may include posting inappropriate photos or videos, online bullying, posting nudes and attributing them to another person, and of course, the privacy and safety of minors.

Instagram struggles to provide safer ways for young users to interact with the platform and has experimented with hiding Likes and Shares in some countries as a way to reduce the social pressures associated with posting.

Twitter has recently come under investigation. As of this writing, the FBI is looking into Twitter hacks that took over the accounts of several prominent U.S. politicians, that point to more significant security concerns. Although the recent Twitter hacks seem to have a monetary motivation, the investigations are also part of a larger effort by the U.S. government to remove foreign influence in the American political process.

According to a story released by Reuters on August 14, 2020,

“The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading a federal inquiry into the Twitter hacking, two sources familiar with the situation said, after hackers seized control of accounts belonging to Joe Biden, Kim Kardashian, and others in what appeared to be a bitcoin scam. Earlier the FBI had said: ‘We are aware of today’s security incident involving several Twitter accounts belonging to high profile individuals. The accounts appear to have been compromised in order to perpetuate cryptocurrency fraud.’

YouTube continues to struggle with content creator transparency issues that affect ad revenue sources. Content protection issues have also resulted in battles with the FTC over content parameters.

On February 27, 2020, Julie Alexander reported in The Verge,

Concerns over transparency and a lack of communication between the company and an increasingly frustrated creator base grew over the last year. In an April 2019 letter to creators, (YouTube CEO), Wojcicki said the company will “be making a big push to meet creators where they want to communicate — through social, video, and one-on-one sessions.” In Wojcicki’s November letter to creators, the CEO acknowledged that the company heard “creators say it feels like an inconvenience when we run experiments or make changes,” adding that creators “ask why we’re trying to fix something that doesn’t seem broken, and they want more of a heads up.”

Facebook continues to struggle with regulations surrounding inappropriate content, bad actors, and data management. And many digital businesses, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook, are facing anti-trust suits and charges of monopolizing the market.

On July 29, 2020, Andrew Hutchinson reported in Social Media Today,

“As noted by House Judiciary Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-RI) in his closing remarks: ‘This hearing has made one fact clear to me: these companies as they exist today have monopoly power. Some need to be broken up, all need to be properly regulated and held accountable. We need to ensure the antitrust laws first written more than a century ago work in the digital age.’

“That, really, is what’s at the core of this investigation, whether the existing laws are as applicable as they could be in the current, digital age. That also applies to copyright regulations and content ownership provisions. Many of these laws were written in a time of physical media, or publisher-controlled broadcasting. The digital landscape has changed everything in this respect, and is still changing every day – and as such, it’s important that the laws reflect the current state of the market, and elements like anti-competitive activity.”

So, What’s Next?

Marketing leaders today have more media choices than ever. In addition to print, outdoor, and broadcast, digital innovations have made hundreds of new marketing options a reality for even the most frugal mom and pop operation. Whether you have an ad budget of $100 or $100 million, you can create effective campaigns using digital tools.

If you choose traditional or digital media, some of the same rules apply. Start by knowing your audience. Understand who is your best market, where do they live, what do they do, and what’s important to them. Without this information, any marketer will struggle to succeed.

Secondly, set realistic, attainable goals for your business and your ad campaign. Create ROI measurements and goals. What is a new customer worth to you? What will they spend with you during the first visit? Over a lifetime? Once you establish the value of a new customer, you can create a reasonable acquisition cost to acquire them.

For example, if you’re selling sandwiches, and a new customer is worth $150 of profit to your business over the course of a year, it won’t make sense to spend $150 to get one new customer. If you spend $1,500 on an ad campaign to get ten new customers, your ROI measurement might show that you have just broken even. Conversely, if you spend the same money and get 20 new customers, it may not feel like a big win until you realize you’ve doubled your marketing investment.

Using the same logic, if you’re making $10,000 in profit on every new car that you sell, it may make sense to spend up to $5,000 to get a new customer.

The next consideration is context. When you place an ad, make sure your ad will be surrounded by content that is compatible with your brand and your customer’s expectations. A butcher shop may not want to appear next to posts about the virtues of veganism. Lawn care services don’t want to appear next to videos touting high-rise living.

And the next factor is production costs. In addition to placing an ad, you’ll also need to create content. That may be a cost-effective solution, like using existing photography, or it may require an investment in high-quality video. Factor the time and expense needed to create materials in your marketing plan.

Timing is also part of the mix. With digital media, you’re able to choose the day or times of day your ad will run. If you’re a shop open Monday-Friday 9-5, you may decide to run ads when you’re open. If you’re a late-night club, you may want to run ads when your late-night clientele is out and about. You have more flexibility and control with digital media, so research your options.

Finally, make sure you understand the ever-changing nature of social media. They continually improve their ad delivery algorithms. Additionally, the people that use social media come and go; being very active one month and almost absent the next. Regulatory factors come into play. And as competitors fight for market share, innovations, new tools, and features are continually introduced, tested, integrated, or discontinued.

Things are always changing on social media, and it’s tough to keep up. That’s why you need a smart digital marketing partner like LNP Media Group to help you take advantage of new developments and avoid mistakes. Our team stays on top of social media platforms, ad choices, innovations, and discontinuations. Contact us to discuss your business and advertising goals and let us help you make social media a part of your marketing mix.

 

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Digital, Traditional, or Both? Why Your Business Needs a Multi-Channel Media Campaign

Digital, Traditional, or Both? Why Your Business Needs a Multi-Channel Media Campaign

If you’re like most marketers in Lancaster County, you are spending a lot of time thinking about which media platform is best for your business or brand. Should you invest in newspaper advertising? Is it time to launch a digital campaign? What about local magazines? Outdoor? TV? Here in Central Pennsylvania, marketing pros and business owners must continually work to find the best value for their advertising dollars.

To add to this complexity, new media and ad platforms seem to pop up every day. The sheer volume of advertising and marketing choices, new and established, can be overwhelming. Each new program, platform, or publication offers its own strengths and weaknesses, pros and cons, and challenges and benefits for your brand and your business.

With so many choices available, your organization’s marketing campaign is probably already multi-channel in some way. But did you know that utilizing multiple communication channels in the right ways, in complementary combinations, can really help you improve returns on your investment? When done right, multi-channel marketing can increase awareness, drive engagement, and produce more leads and conversions. Connecting with your target audience in ways that fit how they use media can help improve your business’s sales and profits.

First Things First. What are Traditional and Digital Media?

Media and advertising platforms now fall into two basic categories – traditional and digital. Traditional media existed before the rise of the internet. Newspapers, outdoor billboards, magazines, TV, direct mail, couponing, and radio all fall into the traditional marketing category.

Digital media not only includes everything you see online, but it also includes technologies enabled by the internet. Most of us categorize online advertising as including search engine optimization (SEO), paid search ads, social media marketing, smartphone ads, online videos, and websites. But did you know that podcasts, digital billboards, geofencing, and streaming programming are also considered part of the digital marketing world?

While it may be tempting to choose one over the other, strong marketing efforts use the power of blending; use traditional and digital marketing together to get the most reach and impact.

Taking a multi-faceted approach to marketing allows your business to take advantage of the strengths of each media. You can customize messages and creative to leverage those strengths and fortify the impact of your message and increase your reach.

For example, traditional print marketing offers benefits that digital marketing lacks, such as touch, feel, and even smell. Print media has a long shelf-life, large-format ads, and is seen as very trustworthy. Traditional print is still preferred to reach older, wealthier households with plenty of disposable income.

Conversely, digital complements traditional media buys by providing reach and targeting, especially if you’re looking to reach a younger demographic. Digital media also gives consumers the ability to click to place an order, learn more, or sign up for offers. These actions, taken online, are called engagement. Engagement is the term used when a consumer moves beyond viewing into interacting. Liking, sharing, clicking, commenting, and buying are all forms of engagement.

Why Multi-Channel Marketing is More Important Than Ever

The media world is in constant upheaval. As digital marketing and resources continually change, the types of media and advertising tools available to business owners in Lancaster County have exploded. While advertisers in past generations could choose among a handful of media platforms, today’s marketers have hundreds of options. Instead of being limited to newspaper, magazines, radio, outdoor, TV, or direct mail, marketers must now choose among options that include websites, blogs, social media ads, social media channels and pages, organic content, instructional videos, online display ads, business listings, retargeted ads, pop-up ads, search engine listings, paid search (PPC), SEO, podcasts, streaming radio, subscription TV, connected TV, streaming video, gaming, text message marketing, email marketing, abandoned cart reminders, native marketing, affiliate ads, in-app advertising, location-based marketing, promoted search, and more.

With so many choices at your fingertips, websites and search engines now seem like old standards. But even these digital staples are continually evolving and changing. As each new technology enters the market, such as a breakthrough social media platform or another way to deliver clickable ads, that additional technology changes the way consumers read, think, and consume media. For example, in the beginning, Google offered AdWords which are paid search ads that showed up on the side of the organic search listings. As other ad options entered the market and the technology raced forward, Google added features and options that allow advertisers to run search network campaigns, display network campaigns, shopping campaigns, and video campaigns. Instead of limiting results to search engine results pages, Google advertisers can measure success by the number of sales or leads, website traffic, product and brand consideration, brand awareness, reach, and app promotion.

That’s why multi-channel marketing has become the new norm. Today, few businesses stick with one traditional or digital media choice. That’s why it’s so important to understand what multi-channel advertising is and how to integrate it into your marketing plans.

Multi-channel marketing uses a variety of media channels and tools to reach your best customers. It has also been called cross-channel marketing, cross-platform marketing, and agnostic marketing. By using different channels, tools, media, or platforms, marketers strive to reach consumers at the best time, to be placed next to the best content, to reach customers in the right frame of mind, and to drive prospects and clients to notice and adsorb the ad message or take the desired call to action.

With so much media at their fingertips, it’s no wonder that today’s consumers are more likely than ever to research products and services online before purchasing. People spend time looking at features, options, costs, and even warrantees before buying products online or offline. 82 percent of smartphone users say they look up reviews or information about a product or service before they make the decision to buy. In fact, most brick-and-mortar store owners are already aware of the impact of this ever-increasing online research. Maybe that’s why 99 percent of businesses have reported that they plan to increase their digital marketing budgets. These businesses understand that online marketing messages are now mandatory if they want to reach all those prospects and customers who are spending time researching online.

Of course, with so many choices for news and information, your potential customer doesn’t stick to just one media and neither should you. Your business should think about the buying journey. Which media do they use to become aware of your product? To research it? To get promotions? Think about what your potential customers expect from a newspaper, a podcast, or a social media post, and tailor your message in ways that facilitate engagement and continue to move your customer toward the desired action.

When you consider where your customers are as they identify a need and move through the marketing funnel, you’ll be able to evaluate media more critically and be more selective about the placements that make sense for your business. Creating multi-channel marketing campaigns allow organizations to reach customers at different times, with tailored messages formatted to the platform and designed to fit with the customers’ expectations on the platform.

While better targeting definitely benefits businesses, it also helps consumers. Mashable reported that 72% of consumers say they respond best to an integrated marketing approach. Delivering relevant information to people at the right time is a helpful service. Providing the wrong messages that are poorly timed may be perceived as a nuisance. Perhaps that’s why consumers respond best to ads that make sense within the platform.

Even though digital advertising has become a critical part of the marketing mix, the best marketing campaigns often include traditional components. Traditional media tools like newspapers and magazines not only increase brand awareness, but they also increase brand trust and credibility. Well-crafted ads in traditional media entertain and inform the buyer.

For example, newspaper ads offer lots of space and access to an older, affluent audience. For some businesses, this is the right place to load up on graphics, detailed product or service information, or testimonials for the product or service. Newspapers also continue to be a valuable source of coupons for all ages of consumers.

When marketers place their ads and messages in more than one media platform, it helps build frequency. Frequency allows your customers to absorb the message and develops preference. An old rule of thumb is that consumers must see at least three messages from an advertiser before they begin to have brand recognition. When your ads and promotions show up in many places, you create frequency without feeling repetitive. The dynamic formats allow customers to select the ways they want to interact with your brand.

When placing ads or creating content, it’s also essential to factor in editorial context. What content surrounds your brand? Can you choose the type of content your ad appears near? Many businesses in Lancaster County want their advertising to be surrounded by credible, responsible content that enhances the trustworthiness of their brand. Newspapers and their associated online news sites can deliver trustworthy context in a way that social and other digital media cannot.

When Central Pennsylvania advertisers align their marketing messages with a credible news source that people trust and respect, they enhance their own credibility and trustworthiness. That’s why newspapers, online news, and broadcast news are still some of the most valuable advertising placements for any brand or business. 

Do people really trust the value and accuracy of information from news sources?

 

Can you trust the accuracy of the news?

 

The following chart from a 2019 Gallup study illustrates how people’s perceptions of trustworthiness change across platforms.

When your ad is surrounded by trustworthy content, it pays off for your brand.

Which Media Should You Choose?

Creating the right multi-channel marketing plan can be intimidating. After all, today’s marketer has exponentially more media and placement choices than their colleagues did just 15 years ago. The experts at LNP Media Group can help businesses evaluate and place advertising with all of the following media channels:

Some Types of Media Tend to Work Well With Others

Wine and cheese. Dinner and a movie. John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Some things just go together. The same holds true for multi-channel marketing. Many Lancaster County businesses don’t have the resources or the budget to invest in all the different types of media out there. And the good news is they don’t have to. Instead, local businesses can evaluate some popular pairings, selections of media that are often used together to get extraordinary results.

To help your business get started on your multi-channel media campaign, here are some good media combinations to get started.

  • Website / PPC / Print
  • Online News / Email Marketing / Social Media Advertising
  • Online Video / Social / Google Display
  • Online Commerce Website / Print / PPC
  • Newspaper / Geofencing / Email Marketing
  • Podcasts / Email Marketing / Online News
Media Complementary Set: Website / PPC / Print

Campaigns that include a website, PPC, and print are core components in many Lancaster County business marketing programs. If your company or organization wants to get more people to understand what you do and how you do it, developing a good website is critical. Effective websites usually include compelling explanations of your work, describe why it’s important, and tell your prospects and customers how to get started and how to get in touch. Other popular elements are newsletter sign-ups, blogs, coupon codes, explainer videos, and company profiles. Websites also give marketers the chance to write the kind of long-format content that really digs deep into who you are and what you do. You can also publish articles that relate to your industry, share product lines, specifications, usage suggestions, and solicit comments or reviews.

However, no matter how good your website is, if no one sees it, it’s not going to help your business thrive. That’s why it’s so crucial that your website is built and programmed in ways that promote higher search engine rankings. This process is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO. To achieve strong SEO, seasoned pros will complete a long list of methods and tactics that ensure your website shows up when people are looking for your type of products and services. SEO also requires ongoing changes and updates to your site, so it’s smart to set aside an ongoing budget for this process. And while including SEO into your site may seem like a no-brainer, you might be surprised at how many website builders and businesses skip this step.

According to Michael Guta in an April 9, 2020 report in Small Business Trends,

“The data on the latest SEO strategy trends comes from a new report from The Manifest titled, “Top 5 SEO Strategies for Small Business in 2020.” And according to the 501 respondents in the survey, 70% don’t have an SEO strategy. When you consider 75% of people don’t scroll past the first page of Google search results, it drives the point of why SEO should be a key strategy by small businesses and businesses of all sizes. As the author of the report, Kelsey McKeon, says, now is a great time for small businesses to start performing SEO. Primarily because they are having to adjust to the COVID-19 crisis by cutting costs. The cost-effective nature of SEO makes it the ideal tool for saving money and improving your digital presence.”

Once you have a robust website up and running (and your SEO is going strong,) you’ll want to encourage even more people to see it and check it out. Paid search (also called pay-per-click or PPC) is a smart way to get traffic to your website.  Formerly known as Adwords, Google Ads PPC ad extensions offer businesses many options that can help achieve real multi-channel marketing. For example, the Click-to-Call Extension adds a phone number to ads, which makes it easier for online users to call your business.  The PPC Offer Extension lets advertisers include coupons with a PPC ad, which allows users to print out the coupon and bring it to your store.

Showing up at the top of the page is a crucial step to increasing web traffic. That’s important even if most (or all) of your sales happen offline. In fact, according to Google, 78 percent of local searches result in offline purchases. No matter which type of paid search ad you choose, utilizing paid search is the first step to moving your business into the top listings on a search engine results page, so people see your business first when they are searching for services like yours.

In April 2019, Search Engine Land reported,

“Even though we live in a digital world, consumer journeys that begin online rarely stay there. This is especially true when the consumer journey involves a local mobile search…By focusing on driving offline conversions from search, delivering personalized high-quality consumer experiences, and analyzing results, marketers can tap into the power of offline to convert consumers from shoppers into buyers and optimize marketing ROI.”

Which brings us to print. Advertising in Lancaster County’s only county-wide newspaper, LNP, is a great way to reach a broad audience and increase awareness. It’s also an excellent place to promote your website. Think of your print ads as another tool to drive people to your business online and offline. Whether you want to get people to your website or your brick and mortar store, ads in LNP can appear in print and on LNP’s companion news website, LancasterOnline. Like Google paid search ads, print ads can drive people to call, to use a coupon, or to visit your website.

Media Complementary Set: Online News / Email Marketing / Social Media Advertising

People love online news. Did you know that over 1.5 million unique users access stories on LancasterOnline every month? In fact, LancasterOnline is the leading news website in the Lancaster County and surrounding counties, attracting more visitors than any other Lancaster County news or information website. So placing ads on LancasterOnline is a no-brainer. But don’t stop there. Make sure you set up a relevant landing page that helps people take action when they click on your ads.

A dedicated landing page is a separate web page created to help businesses get user information and may exist for a limited time. For example, an ad promoting a homebuilder might lead to a landing page that encourages users to sign up for a free report on how to plan a new home. A video promoting a new restaurant might click-through to a landing page with a coupon for a meal discount. Useful landing pages not only provide a seamless user experience, they can also help capture leads and user data.

Tech Times, July 30, 2020, advises,

“To create a maximum effect, you should send people who click on your ads to a specialized landing page that connects them directly to the banner, messaging, and offers. This is because online advertising includes a set of steps that start with the banner, and the click is the next step. The third and equally important step is to drive clickers to act via a clear and convincing post-click experience.”

You can use the emails you’ve collected from your landing page to create custom audiences on social media. By uploading your email list onto select social media platforms, you can create customized audiences based on your email lists. Best of all, platforms like Facebook and Instagram also allow you to create a “lookalike” audience based on the attributes of your email list. This means that your business can now send ads and messages to more people who behave in the same ways the people in your email list do.

Once you have an email list, it makes sense to start email marketing. It’s time to create email campaigns that help you meet your brand and sales goals. Whether you want to nurture leads, increase loyalty, or encourage additional purchases, email marketing can help.  In fact, the emails you capture through your LancasterOnline ads and social media ads can be used for email marketing campaigns for weeks, months, or even years to come.

Media Complementary Set: Online Video / Print / Social Media

One of today’s most effective marketing tools is video. People love watching videos, and online media gives users millions of ways to watch: on websites, in social media, on YouTube, and on video apps like TikTok.

In fact, video has become so prominent that LNP Media Group started offering video production to clients in 2017. LNP Media Group clients can now create long or short videos to use on websites, social media, or embedded in digital ads to get more attention and to tell more vibrant, visual stories.

The rise in video marketing shows no signs of slowing.  According to Eric Hamilton in a July 8, 2020, Tech Times article,

“The consumption of video content on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube keeps following an upward trend. An astonishing one-third of internet users, as many as 1.9 billion people, use YouTube. That is a good enough reason for marketers to not only include ‘video marketing’ in their overall marketing plan but make it a focal point and strategize interesting video marketing campaigns.”

While online videos are hard-working marketing tools, they also work well as companion pieces to print ads and sponsored content in print. While videos are great ways to create engaging, emotional short stories, print allows businesses to expand on ideas, create offers, and even offer cutouts.

When you marry print and video campaigns, you get the best of both worlds, but when you add social media to the mix, you take your marketing to the next level. That’s because social media is a naturally complementary media for a print-video campaign. Social media channels like Facebook offer the opportunity to use video ads along with longer format descriptions. Social media supports both images and video, even within the same campaign.

While Facebook does not offer as much space for text as newspaper print ads, social media ads can target very specific consumers, so you can make sure your most valuable customers and prospects see your message.

CASE STUDY: Local Heroes Campaign

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, quarantined people quickly felt isolated and alone. Penn Medicine worked with LNP to create a symbol for Lancastrians to use to show their unity and dedication to social distancing.

This ad ran in March, asking LNP readers to post the red rose in the front windows of their homes to show support for neighbors and the community. “Social distancing is tough, but it works. Stay home and take good care of yourself and your family. If you take a walk, make sure you look for the red roses posted in the windows of homes around your neighborhood. It’s a little reminder that we’re all in this together.”

The same message was delivered on LancasterOnline, which also offered printable red rose cutouts. By running ads in print and online, this integrated campaign from Penn Medicine promoted community spirit and highlighted healthcare heroes. An article about local women, both retired healthcare workers, making masks for local healthcare workers.

This sponsored article ran in print and on Lancaster Online.

The video of the interview with the women also ran on the popular LancasterOnline Facebook page, complete with the Penn Medicine logo.

Penn Medicine reached more people, more demographics, and achieved much higher reach and frequency by embracing a multi-channel approach.

Media Complementary Set: E-Commerce Website / PPC / Retargeted Ads

If your business has a website with an online e-commerce component, this combination is for you, especially if your focus is a very specific customer type. B2B sites that sell parts, supplies, or services to an industry vertical will find this is an especially effective multi-channel marketing option.

LNP Media Group is experienced in helping e-commerce websites optimize listings, information, and SEO in ways that make these sites more visible to search engines and help them rank higher against selected keywords. Whether you’re selling five items or 5,000, our team can help you with paid search and retargeted ads.

E-commerce sites must address organic search, or SEO, first. Once that’s taken care of, paid search (also called pay-per-click or PPC) is the next step to more visits and more sales. By using the keywords that are most relevant to your site or your products, your paid search ads will appear when people search for products or services that you offer, and will click through to your e-commerce site.

For example, for a client selling parts online, LNP Media Group created a paid search campaign that used parts numbers and descriptions as keywords. This strategy enabled the client’s ad to appear in the top three paid listings at the top of the search results page when people were looking for those specific replacement parts.

According to Ronald Dod in an April 9, 2020 article in Search Engine Land

“When a site runs PPC advertising, they appear at the top of the search results, thereby being the first thing that searchers see. When coupled with SEO efforts, a brand can potentially consume a large portion of the SERPs (search engine results pages), showcasing adverts at the top and organic listings below. Therefore, if a searcher skips over the ad section and goes directly to the organic rankings, they will find the business there as well. This effectively allows sites to gain double the exposure they would if only one of these strategies were employed, thereby increasing the chances that the user will click-through to the brand’s site. Moreover, given that a particular company is so well-represented in the SERPs, this provides consumers with enhanced confidence that the business is a reputable one that provides quality products or services. By combining PPC and SEO, organizations can more effectively guide prospects to their site and encourage engagement among consumers.”

Once a user visits an e-commerce site, it’s smart to send retargeted ads to visitors to remind them of their shopping history, and to draw them back to the website to complete their purchase or purchase again.

Media Complementary Set: Newspaper / “Near Me” Optimization / Geofencing

When it comes to local marketing, people rely on hometown newspapers for tips and ideas. Online and offline, LancasterOnline and LNP are leading resources for finding local businesses, entertainment options, and services in Lancaster County. If you want to attract nearby people to your business, LancasterOnline and LNP are great places to start.

These two leading news sources also offer the advantage of providing highly credible, trustworthy content that is appropriate for all audiences. As mentioned earlier in this article, surrounding your advertising messages with reliable content is a good way to increase your business’s trustworthiness.

Another way to attract local people to your business is to ensure your website is optimized for “near me” searches on mobile.  A “near me” search describes the activity of searching for a thing that is close by. Examples include:

  • Find a pizza place near me
  • Dentist near me
  • Auto repair near me
  • Homes for sale near me
  • Lawn service near me
  • Hair salon near me
  • Fun shopping near me
  • Fine dining near me

According to Norman Rohr in November 2019 on wwd.com,

“‘Near me’ searches — localized mobile searches for brands, business locations and products close by — have exploded. Today, 65 percent of all Google searches happen on a mobile device, and 70 percent of these mobile searches are “near me” searches. This means that some 46 percent of all Google searches have a local intent. More than ever, as search engine and smartphone technology has advanced, consumers are prioritizing proximity and convenience.”

While you might think that merely being “near me” would qualify your company to show up in a search, it’s not that easy. Importantly, optimizing your online presence for near me searches is often time-intensive. But because it’s becoming a primary way of finding nearby businesses, local companies need to take the time to leverage this type of mobile activity.

statistics

Source: ThinkWithGoogle

Effective “near me” strategies include completing and optimizing your business listings, using proper schema markup, acquiring backlinks with geographic anchor text, optimizing location terms in your SEO, and making your site mobile friendly (since almost all “near me” searches happen on mobile devices.) And don’t forget about preparing a list of queries that people might ask smart devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Finally, consider adding geofencing to your “near me” marketing mix. Geofencing allows advertisers to send a message to consumers’ mobile devices after they enter a predefined geographic area. When people are within the chosen perimeter, geofencing delivers your ads to them, but only while they are in the defined area. This ad tool allows you to deliver your message within a “fence,” so you reach consumers in the right place.

For example, you may want to capture people at a nearby event to get them to come to your restaurant. Or you may wish to send specials or ads to car buyers when they visit a competitor’s car lot. You choose the time and the area and the geofencing campaign will post the mobile ads. It’s a smart way to get more people to your location.

Media Complementary Set: Podcasts / Email Marketing / Online News

If you haven’t listened to a podcast yet, you are now in the minority. 55 percent of Americans have listened to a podcast and listenership continues to rise. That’s because the number of podcast listeners has grown almost 40 percent in the past three years. They’re a great way to reach commuters and people in places where listening makes more sense than watching or reading, such as during walks, at the gym, or while doing housework or yardwork. Almost all podcasts accept advertising in the form of sponsorships. These podcast sponsorships can be a smart move for businesses looking to find a way to advertise within focused content targeted to certain consumers.

Toby Lett explains on Performancein.com,

“Digital audio advertising has one major advantage over other forms of media in that it doesn’t require a screen, so it allows advertisers to reach consumers when they are engaged in other activities. Pre-lockdown, many assumed podcast audiences were most likely to listen when driving or traveling by public transport. Still, recent experience has shown podcast audiences also listen when exercising or doing household chores – activities which make them hard to reach through visual channels. Also, podcast listeners in particular can be difficult to access through other digital audio channels, with over half of listeners saying they don’t stream music, for instance. “

Because most podcasts are listened to via headphones or in vehicles, this platform offers a “one-on-one” feel that many listeners appreciate. Podcasts ads are often delivered by hosts, adding credibility and trust to your message. Podcasts also target people at a time when they’re focused on listening, so if your businesses benefits are best delivered via audio message, this is a great time to reach focused listeners.

Email marketing offers that same focused, one-on-one feel. Emails are personal delivery devices, with messaging that can feel intimate and personal. Emails also provide the chance to share detailed information and even audio or video files.

The third component of this plan is online news advertising on sites like LancasterOnline. News websites are a natural fit for focused messages delivered in a more personal, targeted way. Like emails and podcasts, news sites can accommodate audio messages, but they can also feature video ads for a more engaging experience.

Ready to Start Creating Your Multi-Media Strategy?

These examples are just a few ways you can combine traditional and digital, news media and technology. No matter which media you choose, when trying to capture the attention of a niche audience start by understanding your target market. Know the demographic you want to attract and the offers that will capture their attention and drive them to act.  Your multi-channel media strategy should be a plan of action that helps your organization reach its prospects and customers in ways that increase and improve your conversion rate.

Listen, we get it. Multi-channel marketing is complicated, ever-changing, and often overwhelming. New options are being created every day and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how, when, or why digital and traditional resources work. Increasingly, combinations of media, tools, and platforms are needed to obtain the reach and frequency required to make an impact and drive sales.

But you don’t have to go it alone. LNP Media Group has strong expertise in multi-channel marketing and we can help you combine all the parts of your marketing strategy in ways that help them work together. Contact us today and let’s start talking about ways to expand and strengthen your marketing program.

E-commerce: Now Your Business is Always Open

E-commerce: Now Your Business is Always Open

Many small businesses are limited by their location. They are limited to the customers that live or work near them. They are limited by the hours in a business day.

The cost of additional staff and additional operating expenses may make extended hours undesirable. Even their geography can make all night operations unpractical, unprofitable, or unsafe. For many small organizations with finite resources, 24/7 business hours are impossible.

However, with e-commerce sites, many types of businesses can allow customers to shop and learn about their products and services at any time of day. e-commerce enables the company to take orders and send communications, even when the shop is closed. No wonder so many small businesses have started making e-commerce sites part of their strategic plans.

In March of 2020, many small businesses became more interested in e-commerce solutions. The COVID-19 crisis mandated the shut-down of many types of brick and mortar businesses. While many of those enterprises were able to bounce back after all the restrictions were finally lifted, many companies found they had to shut their doors forever. For other organizations, an E-commerce site helped defray or eliminate losses while Americans stayed at home and social distanced.

For many firms, the pandemic accelerated the need for a strong e-commerce site. However, the argument for websites that handled shopping or transactions was already well developed. In fact, the use of e-commerce sites has been growing in importance over the last ten years. And it’s easy to see why.

E-commerce sites have become easy to use. Online transactions have become more secure. Customer shipping options have become more affordable or even free. As a result, online sales increased by nearly 15% in 2019 alone, and that growth is predicted to continue or accelerate over the next five years. That means that for anyone selling products or offering services, e-commerce may become a viable way to increase revenues and expand reach without opening more locations.

On April 24, 2020, Emarketer reported,

“Whether by desire or by necessity, consumers are moving their spending online. And some of these consumers, who rarely or never bought online, may not go back to shopping like they used to. As a result, brands are increasingly pivoting to a direct-to-consumer business model and many e-commerce businesses are experiencing sizable growth. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, e-commerce sales represented the bulk of overall retail sales growth in the US—$600 billion in online sales accounted for 56% of overall retail growth last year. And projections say e-commerce sales may go as high as $6.5 trillion in 2023.”

While online shopping used to be a novelty limited to tech-savvy Millennials, today it’s the norm. From tweens to retirees, all ages have become more enthusiastic about online shopping. With grocery purchases, apparel shopping, and even car sales happening online, e-commerce has become a necessity that shows no signs of slowing down.

It’s easy to see why. e-commerce sites allow consumers to shop when it’s convenient for them. Busy parents can order necessities at any time of night or day. Third-shift employees can buy on their schedule. At the end of a workday, Americans can now relax in an easy chair and take care of shopping needs from the comfort of their living room. Compare that with rushed trips to stores in rainy weather, and the appeal of e-commerce is clear.

While some people avoided online shopping for years, 2020 changed all that. A tsunami of people began learning how to use e-commerce sites out of necessity. This need to get comfortable with online shopping fast, regardless of your aversion to websites in the past, made transactional websites even more popular. Unprecedented world events combined with technology trends to create unexpectedly strong demand.

Retailers who were undecided about adding online shopping to the mix became more motivated to create an online presence with e-commerce functionality. Technological advancements made it easier than ever for all sizes of companies to develop scalable, sustainable revenue streams that expanded a business’s geography beyond a neighborhood or township. In theory, a small shop with one location could now have a worldwide presence in a matter of weeks. But best of all, once an e-commerce site gains traction, it can serve as a buffer from the idiosyncrasies of the market. Businesses with online components and options are better positioned to weather recessions, pandemics, or other world events that can impact face-to-face sales.

But even without factoring in major disruptions, e-commerce makes good business sense. After all, more and more consumers say e-commerce is their preferred way to buy. In a recent UPS study, almost 70 percent of participants reported that they preferred shopping online.

On April 24, 2020, in The Washington Post, Sindya N. Bahnoo reported,

“The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the die-off of America’s storefront retail at a frightening speed, forcing independent stores to close on short notice and deepening the advantage of online behemoths like Amazon and Walmart. But a few independent retailers have rapidly pivoted toward e-commerce, in some cases using strikingly low-tech analog systems to retaliate against Amazon, which itself went live as a small online retailer of books 25 years ago. These businesses may not beat Amazon at its own game, but with some creativity and customer goodwill, they might survive the crisis and come out with some much-needed upgrades.”

While COVID-19 wreaked havoc, it also created new opportunities for small businesses. While building an e-commerce site can feel like an intimidating undertaking, following LNP Media Group’s step-by-step guide may simplify the process. For many companies, it’s easy to start small and scale up as demand increases. Over time, your e-commerce website may rival your bricks and mortar locations for sales and profitability.

But how to get started? We’ve outlined several e-commerce development steps to help small businesses think through the process and prepare for the world on online commerce.

Step 1: Define Your E-commerce Niche

While Amazon makes money selling everything, most retailers do better by sticking to a specialty or niche. Customers are more likely to choose you over big brands if you’re an expert in your field and offer specialized products and services developed for a narrow audience.

While it’s tempting to be all things to all people, it’s smart to start as a specialized business, with a limited product line. Once your online model is up and running, and profitable, you can expand into other areas with confidence.

Step 2: Research E-commerce Models

Before you get started on your new website, make sure you know what kind of sites are already out there. Start your journey with research. Spend time online. Look at what your competitors are doing. Explore what e-commerce looks like for other industries.

After all, growing any online business is an investment, and will require your time and your treasure. Research will increase your understanding of what works and reduce the chance that you choose a problematic model or one that discourages customer interaction.

It’s also important to remember that no one structure or type of e-commerce works for everyone. A store selling lamps will operate differently than an IT consulting service. Pizza shops have different needs than furniture stores. Pharmacies have specialized transactional requirements, while floral shops may have delivery restrictions.

The good news is that today’s e-commerce platforms provide customizable software that empowers almost any type of enterprise to offer complex online shopping functions. A decade ago, e-commerce solutions were generally costly and required the help of an experienced IT team and maintenance by an in-house development team. The old platforms were hard to scale and difficult to integrate with other marketing platforms like your existing website, your email programs, or your social media.

However, today’s platforms are flexible, intuitive, and comparatively inexpensive. Even the most basic e-commerce platforms allow users to customize products, pricing, inventory management, and promotions. And most come with easy-to-access reporting systems that can enable real-time monitoring of sales and inventory

It’s also wise to think through your customers’ payment preferences. Some platforms exclude payments from third-party vendors such as PayPal, which could slow sales.

Subscriptions provide a steady revenue each week or each month. For example, it may make sense for a lawn service to offer subscription rates, with services delivered in pre-determined intervals. Medical or health care products are also good choices for subscription deliveries.

Step 3: Choose an Online Shopping Program

E-commerce is defined by the inclusion of payments online. There are many online payment and e-commerce platforms out there that can be used to create a new site or to integrate into an existing company website. Some of the most popular names in e-commerce include Shopify, Woo Commerce, Big Commerce, Ecwid, Jimdo, Weebly, and Volusion. CRM programs like Squarespace and Wix also offer e-commerce programs. Even Square, the iPad-based cash register program, offers sleek integrations that allow businesses to create online stores or online ordering for in-store pickup.

Most of these platforms operate on a monthly fee basis. However, just reviewing flat rates can be deceptive. That’s because costs may depend on whether your site is self-hosted vs. hosted, and the estimated traffic and number of transactions. Most of these platforms charge a processing fee that can add up quickly. Conversely, other platforms are too simple and limited to just a few functions. Others may charge for bells and whistles that you won’t need to meet your online shopping goals.

Almost all online shopping platforms offer basic features such as a shopping cart, a search bar, and a customer login. They will allow you to use your company’s logo and brand colors. They will have data encryptions features that ensure your customers’ data is secure and to make hacking very difficult. Most platforms allow you to group products into categories and add images for each product or service. You should also be able to set prices, offer promotions, and manage your email lists within the platform.

Good e-commerce platforms also give you many ways to manage your database, grouping it into pre-selected segments such as regular customers, people who have not purchased for a while, and people who began to order something, but then abandoned their online cart without purchasing.

Most platforms also offer automated email follow up or integrations into email programs such as Constant Contact or MailChimp. That means you can use the programs together to create a robust shopping, purchasing, and follow-up program.

It may sound complicated, but all it takes is time online, investigating how similar businesses operate, and thinking about what you do and don’t want to offer online.

It’s also critical to ensure that the e-commerce platform you choose will integrate with your website. Most online shopping platforms feature a wide range of tools and integrations that allow you to customize the shopping experience.

Other plugins are available to handle accounting need such as sales reporting, estimated taxes, and P&L reports.

Some programs offer robust email marketing tools as well as sophisticated list management features. Others offer shipping add-ons or customer loyalty widgets.

Before you make your decision, make sure you understand all the ways you can use the platform to manage your e-commerce business.

Step 4. Make Sure Your E-commerce Site is SEO Friendly

Traffic from search engines will become your site’s most significant source of new customers. That’s why many e-commerce businesses live and die by how well they manage their Search Engine Optimization or SEO. A site with strong SEO will rank high on search engines against selected keywords. Ranking higher on search engines means that customers can find your business when they’re searching for products or services like yours.

While that sounds simple enough, SEO is actually relatively complex and can take up a lot of time. But because top-ranking sites consistently attract more click-throughs than lower-ranking sites, SEO is well worth the time and effort.

Google’s Free SEO Tools

While SEO should be a long-term business strategy, newcomers to e-commerce can get started by using simple strategies and following best practices. For example, Google offers many free tools to help websites improve their SEO. Setting up Google Analytics and a Google Search Console is relatively simple and free. These tools will help you track traffic to your website and understand how to improve your site so it can rank higher against your chosen keywords.

Google recommends you submit your sitemap to Google through your Search Console account. Most e-commerce platforms, such as Woo Commerce or Shopify, and CRMs like WordPress or Square Space, automatically generate sitemap files. These list your website’s individual pages. These site maps help search engines index all the pages on your site, which is one way to improve SEO.

Google Search Console also reports crawling errors. Search engines like Google index websites using programming bots which “crawl” the website and its pages. When a bot attempts to reach a page or website but fails, it reports a crawling error. Crawling errors hurt your SEO, so it’s smart to fix broken links, missing pages, or other crawling errors immediately.

Follow Google’s official recommended practices to help you avoid the e-commerce and website practices that may end up hurting your site’s SEO.

E-commerce SEO Starts With Keywords

Keywords are the building blocks of any SEO effort. To rank on search engines, you start by choosing the words or phrases you want to rank against. For example, if you’re a salon, you might want to rank for “Best Lancaster Salons” and “Lancaster County Beauty Salons.”

How do you know which words and phrases to use? Google’s Keyword Planner is an excellent place to start. This tool will show you the search volume for any keyword or keyword phrases you submit, so you get an idea of whether the keywords are used regularly, or if they’re too generic and used too frequently for unrelated topics. For example, while “cars” might seem like a good keyword for your business, people searching for cars might be looking for automobiles, Disney movies, or 80’s pop bands. Using terms like “Used Buick in Lancaster” might be a more specific and relevant term for your business.

Spending time with Google’s Keyword Planner helps marketers understand how people search for products and services and will allow you to get more targeted in your keyword choices.

A Word About E-commerce Page Optimizations

Website platforms have many tools that can make it easier for search engines’ bots to find and index your site.  H1 tags are one of these tools. Use one H1 tag on each page to serve as the main headline. Preferably the page’s H1 tag will also contain at least one the site’s main keywords or keyword phrases.

Another way to boost SEO is to keep page titles under 60 characters to prevent them from being truncated or cut off in the search results.

A meta description is the preview text that appears when your site shows up in a search. Having the right meta description in place can increase your click-through rates. While Google has reported that there is no official limit on characters for meta descriptions, most experts say that using 155-160 characters is optimal.

While some sites automatically generate URLs, they can also be customized. To boost your e-commerce site’s SEO, be sure to include some keywords or keyword phrases in each page’s URL.

Google Image searches account for nearly 23% of all web searches. Each time you add an image to your site, you can create alt tags and file names for each image. Make sure each of your file names and alt tags have descriptive names and try to include keywords or keyword phrases.

Step 5: Create Relevant Content

A well-planned content marketing strategy not only helps your site become more visible to search engines, but it also makes the site more relevant and engaging for your customers.

Content can describe your products and services, but it can also show customers how to use your products in new or unusual ways. For example, grocery stores can include recipes and storage tips. An auto repair shop can include tutorials on checking oil or putting air in tires.

Answering Frequently Asked Questions or FAQs is another way to boost SEO while meeting your customers’ needs. And all content should be developed with keywords and SEO in mind.

In G2, Andrej Kovacevic emphasized,

“…a whopping 70% of marketers are currently investing in content strategies, and 72% cite having a good content strategy as a major key to their success. For small businesses, content marketing is arguably even more vital. That’s because smaller companies often don’t have the marketing resources that larger firms do, and content marketing delivers some of the highest overall ROI for every marketing dollar spent. It’s also a long-term strategy that can continue to pay dividends for a long time after it’s put into effect.”

As a rule of thumb, blocks of content and blog posts should aim for 500 words and up. While quality trumps quantity every time, this is not the place for short, snappy prose. Take your time to describe and explain everything thoroughly, so you give search engines and consumers plenty of time to understand who you are and what you sell.

Google penalizes you for plagiarism or duplicate text among websites or webpages, so make sure your text, product descriptions, and blogs are your own. If the text lives anywhere else online, even on your company’s other websites, social media, or other websites or social media, consider rewriting it. Google and other search engines won’t index duplicate copy, which means repeated descriptions could hurt your SEO.

If a page on your e-commerce site becomes inactive or products are removed, it’s smart to add a redirect that page, which will send users to a different but still relevant page. Not only are inactive pages frustrating for consumers, but they also make your site look uncared for, and hurt your SEO.

Step 7: Make Sure Your E-commerce Site is Mobile Friendly

Almost 60% of searches are completed on smartphones. Much of e-commerce also happens on a mobile device. Because mobile is becoming the dominant tool for accessing the internet, it’s more important than ever to make your site completely accessible on mobile devices. Many e-commerce programs and CRMs such as WordPress offer responsive or adaptive templates that automatically reconfigure to meet the needs of the device.

As you create your e-commerce site, remember that many of your images will be seen in smaller dimensions on a smartphone, so keeping images simple makes sense.

Your site should also download quickly. Site download speed is a significant ranking factor, for both desktop and mobile searches. Google offers PageSpeed Insights to measure your site’s download speed and can provide advice on improving speed.

Step 8: Think Through Customer Service

While many business owners understand how customer service works face-to-face, online customer service can be more complicated.

E-commerce offers a new set of customer service challenges, including service issues, software glitches, and other things that are often out of your control.  E-commerce platforms with 24/7 service reps are worth the extra cost when you need answers immediately (and not three days from now.) Make sure you understand what kind of customer service is offered with any e-commerce platform you’re considering.

You may also want to consider amping up your own online customer service with pop-up chat options, chat agents, and other ways to contact your team (or outsourced customer service reps) with questions or concerns.

Step 9: Don’t Skimp on E-commerce Site Security

Online security and data security is one of the hottest issues in online commerce today. As a result, most e-commerce platforms and CRM programs include robust security standards. However, it’s also essential to make sure that any site that allows consumers to input any type of data, whether it’s an email or a credit card, uses HTTPS encryption to ensure a safe and secure checkout experience.

According to Google,

“HTTPS helps keep your browsing safe by securely connecting your browser or app with the websites you visit. HTTPS relies on encryption technology—SSL or TLS—to secure these connections… HTTPS web connections protect against eavesdroppers, man-in-the-middle attacks, and hijackers who attempt to spoof a trusted website. In other words, encryption thwarts interception of your information and ensures the integrity of information that you send and receive. Because older hardware and software often don’t support modern encryption technologies, users of these devices may be more vulnerable to security threats.”

It’s also important to make sure that any e-commerce platform you choose is PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliant. The PCI Security Standards Council recently updated standards, as noted in this June 2020 press release,

“Established to protect PINs (Personal Identification Numbers) and the cardholder data stored on the card (on magnetic stripe or the chip of an EMV card) or used in conjunction with a mobile device, PTS POI Version 6.0 reorganizes the requirements and introduces changes that include:

  • Restructuring modules into Physical and Logical, Integration, Communications and Interfaces, and Life Cycle to reflect the diversity of devices supported under the standard and the application of requirements based upon their individual characteristics and functionalities.
  • Limiting firmware approval timeframes to three years to help ensure ongoing protection against evolving vulnerabilities.
  • Requiring devices that accept EMV enabled cards to support Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) to help facilitate the EMV migration to a more robust level of cryptography.
  • Enhancing support for the acceptance of magnetic stripe cards in mobile payments using solutions that follow the Software-Based PIN Entry on COTS (SPoC) Standard.”

Step 10: Get Ready to Ship

For e-commerce sites that ship their products, this step is critical. Your ability to sell or get repeat business may hinge on the decisions you make about shipping.

Free Shipping Pros and Cons

Free shipping has become standard on many e-commerce sites. That’s because free shipping is one of the most effective ways to drive purchases and reduce shopping cart abandonment. However, while you may offer free shipping, as any online merchant will tell you, shipping is not free for the merchant. If you want to offer free shipping, you’ll need to factor those costs into your e-commerce pricing strategy. How do you do that?

  • Increase product prices to cover costs for shipping to keep healthy margins.
  • Cover the full price of shipping, thereby reducing your margins.
  • Bump up the product price enough to partially cover shipping costs which means the customer will pay for a part of it, and you will pay for part of shipping.
  • Offer free shipping based on a minimum order amount. Not only is it easier to cover the cost of shipping for larger orders, but this strategy can also help you increase your average order size.

Flat Rate Shipping

Some e-commerce sites charge one rate per order, regardless of order size. This makes sense when your product line is made up of items of similar sizes and weights.

Real-Time Carrier Rates

Many e-commerce platforms, such as Woo Commerce, offer real-time integrations with carriers like UPS and the USPS to automatically calculate shipping based on their order. Small, light packages cost less. Big, bulky packages cost more.

Local Delivery

When your customer base is local, and your products are expensive to ship, local delivery is a smart option. Many e-commerce retailers use their own delivery trucks and employees to offer free local delivery for larger orders such as mattresses, appliances, boxes of office paper, or other heavy, hard-to-ship items.

Step 11: ABC…E (Always be Collecting Emails)

Opt-in forms and email database management is at the heart of any successful e-commerce site. Collecting emails and sending out proactive messages via email is one of the most effective ways to gain new customers, nurture existing clients, and find new prospects.

The best way to grow your email list is to include opt-in forms throughout your e-commerce site. Why not ask them to sign up for your news, deals, and information at a time when they’re already engaged on your e-commerce site?

Opt-in forms don’t need to be pushy or unattractive. With a little effort, you should be able to create forms that look great, support your brand, and drive opt-ins. Here are a few hints for creating hard-working opt-in forms.

  • Place them in the site’s header, footer, and in the navigation bar. While these locations may have lower conversion rates compared to a dedicated landing page, consistent placement on every page is a good long-term strategy. Over time, the number of subscribers these locations generate adds up.
  • Create an opt-in pop-up form. When you set pop-ups to trigger based on exit cues, you can catch your visitor before they leave, without slowing down the purchasing process. These are called exit-intent pop-ups and are usually triggered when a visitor moves their cursor off your website to a search bar or back button. Most e-commerce platforms have simple plugins and add-ons that can help you find the best way to create effective pop-up opt-in programs.
  • Include opt-ins on blogs.While your content may have been developed to educate your customers, it’s also a common place for newbies to enter your e-commerce site. Why not capture their emails and try to convert them into customers in the future?
  • Offer high-value lead magnets. Instead of promising “news and deals,” why not create a special piece of content designed to attract new customers? If you’re a florist, create a video about how to select flowers for weddings. Bike shops can create pdfs with maintenance checklists. Grocery stores can send out mini cookbooks with valuable coupons included. The idea is to offer specific, high-value information designed to appeal to your best customers and prospects.

Step 12: Leverage Email

Once the visitor has left the site, email is one of the best ways to reach out to them to continue the conversation. If you have captured their information via opt-in forms or received their email as part of an order, now is the time to ramp up your email marketing efforts.

Make the Most of Emailed Order Confirmations and Receipts

Order confirmation emails or emailed receipts have some of the highest open rates. The open rates can be as high as 90 percent, depending on the industry. Why not take advantage of this high attention rate to start making your next sale?

Of course, the content your email receipts must tick all the usual boxes; what was ordered, cost, shipping address, and expected delivery time, but after these are taken care of, try suggestive selling.

  • Upsell related or companion products.
  • Send out an offer to get a second item at a discount.
  • Offer an ongoing discount if they establish a subscription purchase.
  • Give them a discount code or coupon to use toward a future purchase, preferably to be redeemed within a limited time frame. Bounce-back offers are proven ways to build customer loyalty.
  • Offer them the chance to send the same item as a gift purchase, at a discount.

Improve Your Shipping Confirmation Emails

Shipping confirmation emails also have high open rates, so make sure you’re setting them up to work as hard as possible.

  • Make it easy for your customers to track their orders. Include the expected delivery date and tracking number linked to the shipping company so people can click once to see exactly where their order is in the delivery process.
  • Suggest the customer refer a friend by forwarding a link to the product they purchased. Incentivize word-of-mouth marketing by implementing a referral program with rewards.
  • Include product suggestions that match a customer’s purchase. Make sure you’re asking shoppers to purchase something they’ll actually be interested in.

Email Marketing Boosts E-commerce Sales

While email receipts and shipping orders are valuable communication opportunities, email marketing can address your consumer in every part of the marketing funnel. Developing an email list, setting up a cart abandonment campaign, developing bounce back offers, and sending nurture emails will help you drive consistent, qualified traffic to your site that will boost sales.

Digital Marketing to Promote Your E-commerce Site

In addition to SEO and email, today’s e-commerce website has a wide range of marketing tools from which to choose. Google ads and Google display ads are an effective way to identify your site traffic and send ads to them based on their viewing habits. Known as retargeting, this marketing strategy uses automation and pre-programmed logic chains to send the right information to the right person at the right time.

Social media ads on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and LinkedIn are also cost-effective strategies to help you find customers and increase online sales.

Paid search engine listings are another way to ensure your site shows up in front of people who are searching for products and services like yours.

Video marketing is another way to get people excited about your products. Once you create product and service videos, you can place them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and LinkedIn as posts or as paid advertising.

And don’t forget to promote your e-commerce site in all of your traditional marketing programs. Promote it in-store signage, in print and broadcast ads, on your business cards, and even on your delivery trucks. Make sure all your existing customers know they now have a new way to order.

The Takeaway

Starting any business is challenging. Keeping an existing company profitable can also be a real challenge.  E-commerce is intimidating to many business owners because it has many hidden problems that can be hard to identify. While e-commerce can be scary, it’s a smart move if your firm teams up with an experienced online shopping expert that can help you avoid the pitfalls and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

If you’re considering moving away from the traditional storefront model, or diversifying your business with an e-commerce site, or want to offer your customers more ways to buy, choose a digital marketing partner and an e-commerce platform that makes sense with your products, service, goals, and budget. LNP Media Group is an experienced e-commerce marketing partner. We’re here to help you map out your path to online success. Contact us today for more details.

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LNP Media Group can be Your Agency’s Digital Expert

LNP Media Group can be Your Agency’s Digital Expert

Agency-to-Agency Digital Services & B2B Digital Marketing

There are hundreds of advertising and marketing consulting agencies in Central PA. If you’re one of them, you know that it’s hard to stand out, challenging to find qualified staff, and difficult to convince clients to let you handle their digital marketing project.

While most clients are comfortable with one agency doing their media buys, event planning, and public relations, when it comes to digital marketing, clients want in-depth technical knowledge. That can be a challenging need for small or mid-sized agencies.

Digital marketing works best when it’s shepherded with top-level marketing strategy, but digital efforts fall apart if key team members don’t understand how to make the tools work. Now, more than ever before, successful marketing and advertising clients must pair seasoned strategic direction with the ability to execute on a tactical level.

Easier said than done. After all, digital tasks and tactics take time, experience, and flexibility. They require both extraordinary skill and relatively low overhead. Team members who can manage one part of the digital universe may not have expertise in other areas. That means that robust digital marketing programs need large teams to succeed. And keeping a large staff on hand for inconsistent project work is always a challenge.

However, smart advertising agencies in Central PA understand that LNP Media Group’s digital team is a trustworthy, affordable digital resource. Advertising and marketing agencies can use LNP Media Group’s digital resources to go from zero to hero in a short time period.

Why Hire LNP Media Group as Your Digital Marketing Resource?

LNP Media Group continues to be one of the largest and most experienced communication companies in Pennsylvania. With hundreds of employees and deep digital resources, we’re able to attract top digital experts with a variety of specialties, including search marketing, SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, and video marketing.

Unlike many digital agencies, LNP Media Group can provide a corporate environment including the kinds of benefits packages that attract the best of the best. As a result, LNP Media Group has compiled a top-notch team of experienced veterans to complement our more junior, tactical account teams. Each month senior and junior teams work side by side to help agencies and clients develop and grow. We execute digital marketing campaigns in ways that support strategic growth goals and enhance their key performance indicators.

Our on-site video studio is another benefit that few other digital agencies can offer. Our exceptional video team works with network affiliates, news teams, local businesses, and large corporations. Our sophisticated editing studio and state-of-the-art audio and sound equipment are paired with talented videographers, writers, and editors who all work together to create top-level video at affordable price points.

Central PA Ad Agencies Need Flexible Partners They can Trust

While it’s tough for growing agencies to staff up to meet fluctuating demand, it’s also disheartening to reduce staff when clients cut budgets or switch agencies. Hiring and firing quickly seem to be part of agency life. However, ad agencies that bring LNP Media Group in as a digital partner can achieve immediate scale while keeping expenses in check. Our digital team understands how agencies work, and we’re willing to create relationships that work with your business model.

Our digital teams can work behind the scenes with your strategists to help your agency keep up with the ever-changing tech world. Our experienced team works with a wide variety of industries using a range of tools. We help agencies take on big digital projects without the risks of steep learning curves or laddering up staff.

The Affordable Way to Scale Staff

LNP Media Group is a deeply-staffed digital resource that can handle large and small projects on an as-needed basis. Agencies often use our resources for big one-time projects that require instant expertise. We’re also an excellent choice for seasonal needs that require periods of intense activity followed by bursts of inactivity.

We report to your staff and allow your digital and strategic teams to lead the way. We remain in the background, invisible to your clients, and let you and your team shine. We have the resources you need to take your advertising agency to the next level.

Whether you’re a small agency that finds it hard to hire or retain strong SEO and digital professionals or your team need to focus on your strengths, we’re here to help. LNP Media Group allows Lancaster County and Central PA advertising agencies to assign the behind-the-scenes work to specialists while they focus on building client relationships.

It’s Time to Partner with LNP Media Group for Digital Marketing Services

LNP Media Group has over 200 years of experience working with advertisers and marketing experts. Our entire business model was created to work with advertising agencies. After our legacy print organization developed digital marketing for internal use, we also began offering it to our partners.

As LancasterOnline grew into the premier news and advertising site in Lancaster County, our digital skills expanded beyond on-site ad sales into other digital marketing areas, including SEO, SEM, email marketing, video development and production, website development, social media marketing, and more. These skills grew to meet in-house needs and morphed into a best-in-class area resource for digital marketing.

Because of economies of scale, LNP Media Group has been able to create a digital dream team. Our staff are experienced pros who love what they do, have a strong history of outstanding success, and are passionate about watching our agency partners succeed online.

We Take Care of Digital. You Focus on Clients.

As a digital marketing resource that caters to a wide variety of clients, LNP Media Group understands the need for digital reinforcement. That’s why your agency can count on our digital team to boost your business when you need it. Our talented digital teams can be a seamless solution. We offer a range of internet, web, and digital services that can help you serve your clients without losing time hiring and training.

Our digital experts offer precision targeting to help your clients reach potential customers by geography, demographics, job title, and interests. LNP Media Group offers complete campaign reports for every campaign that detail engagement and results, so you’ll know the ROI of your expenditure.

No wonder LNP Media Group has earned the reputation as a reliable and trustworthy partner for Central PA agencies and businesses.

PPC Experts

As Google Premier Partners, we’ve achieved the highest level of Google Partnerships. Not only have we passed Google’s certification exams, but our Premier status is a result of attaining substantial revenue and growth for our PPC and SEM clients.SEO and Local SEO

Our team understands how to optimize your website, create content, and build links in ways that increase your client’s sites search rankings. We also know that “near me” and local searches are critical for many local businesses and retail clients. LNP Media Group has a comprehensive set of tools to help increase local SEO and drive local foot traffic through your clients’ doors.

Email Marketing

Our experienced email marketing team started as an internal resource. With the help of marketing staff recruited from some of the most successful email marketing companies in the country, LNP Media Group has been able to develop a team of top-notch professionals who can help develop, create, launch, and optimize even the most ambitious email marketing programs.

LNP Media Group can offer access to 200 million people in the U.S. who are ready to engage with your offer. We have access to 100% CAN-SPAM compliant email lists. Not only do we offer highly targeted audiences, but we also offer interactive email formats, and results-driven emails with proven results.

Video Development Production

With roots in the news industry, LNP Media has embraced video marketing online. As video facilities grew to meet the needs of the editorial staff, our video marketing expertise developed.

Video has become the core of many types of digital marketing, and our video team knows how to create videos that stand out.

According to Ryan Flanagan at CTV News,

The report released Thursday by Waterloo, Ont.-based network management company Sandvine found that overall internet traffic grew by more than 40 percent between February 1 and April 19, with almost all of that increase occurring in March and April. According to the report, video streaming is now responsible for 58 percent of all internet traffic Sandvine monitors, while social networking (11 percent) has displaced general web browsing (eight percent) as the second-most-popular online activity.”

Because video has become such an essential part of online activity, LNP Media Group invested in world-class video studios with top-notch audio custom-designed by the Clair Brothers. We employ sophisticated video, drone, and editing capabilities. And we offer seasoned staff to write, shoot, and edit.

But unlike many video production companies, we’re committed to a lean, affordable process. We combine practical approaches with high-end production values. That means that your ad agency will get the best video quality at price points that work within your clients’ budgets.

Web Development and Optimization

Whether you need to create an entirely new website or optimize an existing site, LNP Media Group can help. Our programmers and web designers can work with a wide variety of web layouts and formats from WordPress to Wix. We also optimize sites for SEO and create vibrant content marketing programs that will increase online visibility and website relevance.

Our team also creates high-converting landing pages that help agencies track clicks and leads.

Social Media Marketing

Whether you like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, or another platform, social media is one of the most versatile and effective platforms for targeted digital marketing.

While social media growth was already snowballing, the COVID-19 pandemic spike usage to all-time highs. According to Miles Park in a May 25, 2020, NPR article,

“For the first time ever, Zuckerberg announced, more than 3 billion people used Facebook, Messenger, Instagram or WhatsApp in a single month. Twitter announced last month as well that it saw a first-quarter 24% year-over-year increase in the number of daily users who saw ads.

In addition to scale, social media offers razor-sharp targeting tools. Social platforms have advanced audience targeting devices that allow us to send messages based on interests, job titles, and demographic data. LNP Media Group’s experts have designed hundreds of successful social media campaigns and want to help your agency make social media a part of your clients’ marketing plans.

The ABC’s of Digital Marketing with LNP Media Group

The world is full of digital terms. These are the “ABCs” that our digital team leans on to ensure that our internet and digital marketing moves your clients forward. We offer all of these services or tools to our digital clients.

Advanced Audience Targeting

LNP Media Group offers access to a wide range of extraordinarily targeted and well-defined audiences for email marketing, digital display advertising, paid search, and social media advertising. When you work with our digital marketing teams, you’ll get advanced audience targeting options that will make your campaigns work even harder.

A/B Testing

Our A/B testing process compares two takes on a single variable to determine which performs best in order to help improve marketing efforts. We work with our ad agency partners in Lancaster County and Central PA to continually optimize their clients’ communications and advertising.

Anchor

When creating scrolling website formats, some navigation elements will link to an area on another part of the page. In order to link the navigation to the correct page section, HTML anchors are created to “anchor” the link to the relevant text.

Backlinks

These incoming hyperlinks are on another website, linking to your site. Not only do they lead more people to your website, they’re also a signal to web crawlers that your site deserves to be ranked higher. This is a critical factor in SEO that needs to be done the right way or it could end up hurting you more than helping.

Bounce Rates

A bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. We take bounce rates seriously. We measure and analyze them on a monthly basis to determine which instances are normal and which ones are a sign of poor website performance.

Broken Links

Broken links can hurt your website in terms of SEO health. One of the ways search engines gather the information needed to rank websites is to send code, called crawlers, through the site’s code, using links to go from page to page. If the crawler encounters broken links on your website, the code can’t move forward and index the rest of your site. These are also red flags to your site users.

Call to Action

LNP Media Group encourages its agency partners to include specific, compelling calls to action in each digital media campaign. Even awareness campaigns should include tools that enable teams to measure and optimize engagement.

Campaign Reports

We report on all campaigns and projects in ways that make it easy to understand what happened, how much happened, and how that activity affects clients’ goals. We can customize our reporting to meet your agency’s needs.

Content Strategy

LNP Media Group has deep roots in content development. Our digital marketers are committed to creating compelling, consistent content. Not only do our experts develop and execute ad campaigns with targeted messaging, but we also use content to engage potential customers. Our team will create content plans based on your clients’ goals. Whether we send customers to websites, social media pages, or customized landing pages, LNP Media Group will create hard-working content that moves the needle.

Conversion Funnel

All our marketing efforts work to bring potential customers to your website and guide them through the conversion funnel, turning them from internet browsers to relevant leads. For agency partners involved in e-commerce, we help create or refine the purchase journey in ways that enhance and increase conversion rates and, in turn, revenue.

Email Marketing

LNP Media Group offers exceptional experience in email marketing. Using advanced audience targeting techniques, we can send emails to lists that are not only 100 percent CAN-SPAM compliant, but also extremely effective. LNP Media Group can offer access to 200 million highly targeted, specific “intenders” in the U.S. who are ready to engage with your offer.

Flat Design

There are many types of web design. Flat design is a term for a clean, simple approach to website navigation to allow users to reach any page within one or two clicks. This can be key for UX and SEO results.

Engagement Rate

When it comes to digital marketing, engagement matters. The engagement rate is a social media metric that reports on the amount of interaction, such as likes, comments, or shares, that any post or piece of content receives. High engagement rates signal successful targeting and relevant content. Engagement rate is also a way to measure website performance in terms of goals and calls-to-action.

Geofencing

Geofenced ads use global positioning (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define a geographic boundary with extreme precision and accuracy. When the “virtual barrier” is established, LNP Media Group can set up triggers that deliver ads to users at a certain street address, attending a concert, or shopping at certain mall.

young professionalsGoogle Premier Partner

LNP Media Group is a Google Premier Partner. Google explains what “Partner” and “Premier Partner” certification means,

“Achieving Partner status means that your company has demonstrated Google Ads skill and expertise, met Google ad spend requirements, delivered company agency and client revenue growth, and sustained and grown its client base. Partner status gives your company access to a number of benefits, including the Google Partner badge that can be shown on your website and marketing materials.”

Premier Partner requirements include,

“Meet the performance requirement by delivering solid overall ad revenue and growth, and maintaining and growing your customer base.”

Google Display ads

LNP Media Group’s Google Certified team can help ad agencies find effective ways to help clients promote their businesses when people are browsing online, watching YouTube videos, checking Gmail, or using mobile devices and apps. Using Google tools, our digital experts can create and program display ads to reach certain people across the Google Display Network. This network reaches 90 percent of all internet users worldwide, and includes millions of websites, news pages, and blogs.

HTTP and HTTPS

HyperText Transfer Protocol, or HTTP is simply a way to transfer information on the internet and precedes the “description” of the URL or resource being accessed. However, in the past few years, Google has shown SEO preference to websites that are HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS, because on these sites, information transactions are handled over a secure, encrypted connection. Changing a website from HTTP to HTTPS is usually fairly simply and affordable.

Interlinking or Internal Links

Websites are indexed by search engines, such as Google, because web crawling code (also called crawlers, spiders, or bots) moves around a website and evaluates the information. Crawlers will look for paths to other pages and their relevance to each other. If a crawler finds a webpage without internal links to other pages it may leave the site and stop indexing that site. To keep crawlers moving through websites (and therefore indexing more code,) smart programmers create internal links on each page. An internal link will lead to another page on the site. Including one or more internal links on each page makes it easier for crawlers to move through your site, and index it correctly, resulting in improved authority and visibility over time.

Indexability

Indexability is a term used to describe how easy or difficult it is for a search engine to analyze and add a page to its index. Making a site or page easier for search engines to analyze is called increasing indexability.

Keywords

Keywords is the term used to describe words or phrases people enter into search engines to find information. When creating websites, improving SEO, developing content, or placing PPC ads, LNP Media Group researches keywords to find which words or terms people use to find the information, product, or services the clients offer, and to evaluate the best keywords or set of keywords to use based on popularity, localization, and relevancy. When creating websites or improving SEO, we include the keywords in your site’s code and content in ways that will best optimize your website for search. When developing content, we make sure the subject and context maximizes keyword relevance. When placing PPC ads, we evaluate keyword popularity against cost per click, and competitive use of keywords.

Landing Page

A dedicated landing page is a separate or stand-alone web page designed to capture information in a certain way, usually for a limited time. For example, an ad promoting a sweepstakes might lead to a landing page with an online entry form. A video promoting a new pizza might lead to an online order for that pizza, with a special trial price. Custom landing pages work best when they enhance conversion-driven campaigns. With the right elements in place, they can also help capture leads and user data. While the average landing page conversion is about 2 percent, well-designed landing pages can have a conversion rate of 11 percent or more.

Local Optimization

For ad agencies that cater to local businesses, showing up in “near me” searches and within Google’s “Local Pack” is vital. Local optimization is focused on increasing local search engine traffic. Strategies for local optimization can include increasing organic search, paid search, and “near me” searches. When looking for local business, 82 percent of smartphone users enter a “near me” search. LNP Media Group can help sites optimize their content, structure, and business listings in ways that enable them to rank higher in local searches.

Mobile Friendliness

Some web developers still design sites on desktops, without considering how they will look and work on mobile. However, mobile friendly sites are a critical component to digital success. How critical? According to Google, a mere one-second delay in mobile load times decreases conversion rates by 2 percent. So, the margin for error is slim. Additionally, Google has made it clear that if a site isn’t mobile-friendly, it will rank lower. It’s always important to consider your users and currently, most industries are facing mobile-first audiences.

Navigation

Website navigation tools allow users to move around a website. Primary navigation links or icons are usually a part of the top menu, but navigation links can occur in multiple places on a page, and on any page on the site.

Optimization

Optimization is a term used for making a site more search-engine friendly and is usually a term that can be used interchangeably with search engine optimization or SEO. Usually these changes are minor and not a complete site rebuild. Because many optimization tasks take place within the website’s code, they can be invisible to users. Reworking the structure of a page, reworking content or adding context and coding, adding images with alt text, adding video, compressing image size, increasing site download speed, improving the mobile experience, and building internal and outbound links are all subtle changes that add up to big differences in search engine visibility.

Optimization can also refer to adjustments made to a website or page to increase the rate of conversion (Conversion Rate Optimization).

Pageview

In website analytics, a page view is the total number of times a single page has been viewed. For example, if a page has 10,000 page views, it may mean that two users have visited the page 5,000 times each. Or it could mean that 10,000 unique users visited the page one time each.  As this example illustrates, page view numbers are not usually meaningful unless used in combination with other data.

Paid Search or PPC

PPC is an abbreviation for Pay Per Click, a form of Internet advertising. Advertisers place text ads that usually appear at the top of a search engine results page. Advertisers pay for each click the ad attracts, not impressions. The cost per click can vary based on the popularity or demand for keywords or search terms involved. High value search terms (ex: insurance) usually have a high cost per click. Unusual or seldom used search terms (ex: North Carolina historic turtle soup recipe) is often very inexpensive. The PPC text ad appears at the top of searches using your keywords. PPC is a very measurable ad format, and allows advertisers to see reports on impressions, clicks, and with the right set up, leads or sales generated. PPC can be the most effective way to find customers that are actively seeking the products and services that you provide.

QA

QA is a common abbreviation for quality assurance. It is used to reference the extensive testing that is done when websites are completed. In the QA process, programmers and web designers usually test a new site’s compatibility with multiple browsers, also testing all links and navigation on each browser. The site should also be viewed on Apple and PC desktop, mobile and tablet applications to test site responsiveness and speed. More recently, some QA includes responsiveness for smart watch and cloud-based voice services like Alexa.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is a website traffic source identified within Google Analytics. Referral traffic usually consists of clicks to your website from other websites, listing services, from your paid ads and listings on other sites.

Responsive Design

Responsive design is an important SEO ranking and UX factor. Website and digital information may be viewed on a variety of platforms including desktops, smart phones, tablets, smartwatches, and cloud-based voice services like Alexa. Website designs should be programmed to resize and reformat in ways that allow it to be accessed easily across devices, or “respond” to platform challenges. Responsive design allows for the user to click on and view (or hear) some or all parts of a website on every platform. Non-responsive sites can appear tiny, compressed, unreadable, or even cut off. For devices like smartwatches and cloud-based voice services, some websites edit and reform information to work better with the abbreviated capabilities.

Retargeting

Retargeting (or Remarketing) is the term used when advertisers send ads to people who have already visited a website or engaged with their previous advertising . These retargeting ads follow site visitors as they travel to other websites, with the hope of attracting them back to site, even after they’ve left. Re-engaging website visitors with retargeted ads containing relevant messages is often an effective way to convince potential customers to return to the website and convert.

Session

A website session refers to a single visit to your website. It may consist of one or more pageviews, and any other activities, transactions, views, or submissions. A website session can last up to 30 minutes without activity. After 30 minutes, even if the tab remains open, the browser terminates the timing of that session. However, if after 30 minutes of inactivity the same person returns to the site and is active on it, they will count as an additional session.

Social Media Marketing

People spend a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, LinkedIn, SnapChat, YouTube and other platforms. Developing relevant content, building followings, encouraging engagement, and running advertising on these platforms can be a targeted and effective way to build awareness, gather leads, or even sell products and services directly, but for businesses, it can take a lot of resources. LNP Media Group helps clients determine which platforms can work best to meet their needs and the most effective way to market on them. We use advanced audience targeting to find well-qualified consumers. Our team of experts can also create and manage organic (unpaid) postings, sweepstakes and contest, video content, and marketing campaigns.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Like optimization, SEO refers to the practice of improving a website and its online visibility to increase the quantity and quality of its traffic without the use of paid ads or PPC. Tactics can include altering the structure of a webpage, editing code, changing content, adding images with keyword-optimized alt text, the use of video, compressing the file sizes, improving download speed, improving responsiveness, and adding internal and outbound links to improve the overall search engine visibility and indexability.

Technical Optimization

Technical optimization is a process that confirms that all indexing files, such as the XML sitemap, are in place and up to date. In this process, LNP Media Group checks the website’s structure, and optimizes it to follow best SEO practices.

Transparency and Trust

When you work with LNP Media Group, we can make you as involved or as hands-off as you wish. Either way you’ll know what we’re doing, when, and why. We compile detailed and transparent monthly reporting, supported with ongoing communication. We share results, failures, tests, and optimizations, every step of the way. You’ll always understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what we hope to achieve, and how well we achieved our goals. Monthly reports can also be customized and formatted to fit into your clients’ preferred format.

Unique Page View

A unique page view reports how many individual, or unique, persons view a page. The key metric in this measurement is the number of people on your pages. Even if a person views a page multiple times within a single session, it will be counted as one unique page view. For example, if an order page gets 10 visits, there may only be one unique page view, because one person went back to that page 10 times. Similarly, if an order page gets 10 unique page views, it means that 10 different people visited the page.

User Experience Design

Some websites are easy to navigate and explore. Others are difficult or confusing. The way a user interacts with a website is call the User eXperience or UX. Skilled web designers spend time considering the way people move through websites, and take into account factors such as text size and readability, established conventions and habits, user needs, site architecture, responsive design considerations, and site speed. Good UX design leads users through the website in ways that meet the clients’ objectives, whether it’s driving them to a key page, spending more time on the site, visiting more pages, gathering e-mail addresses, or motivating purchases.

Video Marketing

Video marketing is an important part of any digital marketing plan. Videos combine the power of people, motion, and stories in ways that attract and influence customers. Maybe that’s why so many people are watching online videos. 85% of the US online audience watches videos, with millennials watching more video than other demographic groups. Video on social media is especially effective. Over 8 billion video views occur on Facebook every day. In fact, social video ads are the most common ways consumers discover a brand from which they later make purchases. The LNP Media Group video team is experienced creating brand videos, TV commercials, short films, social media clips, pre-roll ads, web videos, music videos, or corporate presentations. We have the experience to shoot on location or in our state-of-the-art video studio in the heart of downtown Lancaster. Our certified drone pilots allow LNP Media Group to offer aerial videos and photos in addition to HD, multi-cam, live streaming services for Facebook, YouTube, or your custom RTMP.

Website Design 

Whether you are building a new website or rebuilding an existing site, LNP Media Group can help create user-friendly, mobile-friendly, and responsive websites that build brand and meet objectives.  A well-designed website, with thoughtful UX, SEO optimization, and relevant content is one of the best ways organizations can communicate credibility, reliability, and leadership.

XML Sitemap

An XML sitemap is a coding tool that lists all of the pages on your site. XML sitemaps are created to inform search engine crawlers. It lists the pages on a site that can be crawled. This kind of site map is especially helpful if there are webpages that are difficult to locate, hidden from navigation, or lacking internal links.

301 Redirect

A redirect is the term used to describe the process of sending, or redirecting, both users and search engines to a different URL from the URL or page they originally requested, to another page. A 301 Redirect is the term used to describe a method of permanently redirecting a visitor from one web page to another web page.

302 Redirect

A 302 Redirect is used to temporarily redirect a visitor to another web page. It’s similar to 301 redirect but should only be used for short-term situations.

404 Redirect

A 404 error occurs when a visitor goes to a web page that does not exist or is no longer available. A 404 error will automatically be generated when a nonexistent URL is used. However, some websites create custom 404 redirect messages for deleted pages or for non-existent pages within their domain. For example, https://lnpmediagroup.com/case-studies/ is a page on lnpmediagroup.com. But if you go to https://lnpmediagroup.com/elephants, you’ll discover a customized 404 error redirect message from our web team.

Want to Talk About Ways LNP Media Group can Help Your Agency Manage Growth?

When it comes to finding trusted digital partners, it makes sense for your ad agency to choose a company with a history of success. When you work with LNP Media Group’s digital marketing teams, you get access to digital experts, media experts, skilled digital content creators, and cost-effective video solutions in one trusted resource.

Check out our case studies for more examples of our clients’ successes, or contact us today to talk about how we can help your agency succeed.

Contextual Targeting: Discover why Consumers and Advertisers Prefer Relevant Content Placement

Contextual Targeting: Discover why Consumers and Advertisers Prefer Relevant Content Placement

As long as there’s been advertising, some form of contextual ad placement has existed. Any businesses or organizations that have run ads in newspapers, in magazines, or on television have been placing ads in ways that ensure they are surrounded by relevant, credible content. Choosing an ad placement based on the surrounding content makes sense, and this concept is pretty easy for most marketers to understand. For instance, it’s no surprise that TV commercials for frying pans are most interesting to viewers of cooking shows. Newspaper ads for movies get more attention when they are placed in the entertainment section. Magazine ads for gym memberships are noticed more when they are placed in fitness magazines.

This simple, easy-to-understand approach holds true when it comes to digital ads and online marketing. Placing ads on pages or videos with related content or similar interests is a smart way to increase an ad’s effectiveness. When advertisers and marketers look for websites full of related, credible content for their digital ads, professionals call it contextual targeting. While this is a relatively recent term, the approach is nothing new. Placing ads and messages next to or within the content (that already appeals to your best customer) increases the power, relevance, and effectiveness of the marketing message.

While this all sounds like common sense, it’s not always easy to implement. That’s because today’s advertising platforms and technologies are developing and changing rapidly. Modern formats and context change daily, even hourly. Also, it’s often tricky for advertisers to evaluate all the different options and approaches available within contextual advertising.

However, with a little help from an experienced marketing partner, finding the right contextual content for your advertising plan can be the turning point for your online marketing messages. Most marketing experts now believe that contextual advertising not only provides more precise targeting tools, but is also able to reach consumers at the moments in their day in which they are most receptive to these messages.

While this marketing strategy might seem like a no-brainer, it’s not always the way digital advertising works. Tracking cookies and data profiling have been the preferred method for many advertisers for the past several years. When using data-driven profiling, digital marketers often use demographics, web behaviors, and purchasing behaviors to determine which people will see their messages. While these advertisers may be reaching the right people, they are also sending ads to audiences in places in which the user sees no related content. For example, a Facebook ad about retirement communities might reach a person chatting with family about a child’s birthday party. An advertisement for an online university might pop up on your smartphone while you are playing solitaire. You may see popups on YouTube for the latest movie while you look for videos about how to fix a broken toaster.

With contextual advertising, ads are sent to content pages, not people. That means that the marketing messages are placed in front of online users consuming related content. People reading about tropical vacations might see ads for swimwear. Smartphone users reading about educational options might see an ad from an online university. Movie ads could be delivered to online users reading about local bands and theatre productions.

To explain it more simply, data profiling or behavioral advertising targets a consumer based on who they are or what they have done. Contextual advertising targets the site or page and reaches the people only when they are reading or viewing that content.

When advertisers target programmatically based on the content, they find the right pages using a Demand Side Platform, or DSP. This allows a media planner or marketer to purchase ad inventory that contains a keyword, a set of keywords, individual sentences, or matches with pre-selected contextual segments.

What are the Advantages of Contextual Targeting?

While data-driven profiling can be an effective way to send out marketing messages, contextual advertising also has many advantages. Almost half of marketers say this is their favorite targeting format. One of the most essential benefits is relevancy. Because they appear within related content, contextual ads make sense to the reader and match their interests. Therefore, they tend to be noticed more and clicked on more often. When marketers employ sophisticated contextual advertising strategies, they can locate sets of ad viewers who will be interested in the company’s messages based on the information on webpages they are visiting.

Why is Contextual Advertising Becoming More Popular now?

Data-driven profiling techniques have come under increasing fire in the past year. This type of profiling combines readily available information, like social media profile stats, and combines it with bits and pieces from other databases. Some varieties of data gathering also track an individual’s browsing history and include data about online purchases or offline credit card purchases. As a result, many consumers and governments have protested these practices and consider many types of data collection and data aggregation as an invasion of privacy. However, contextual targeting doesn’t require user profiling or tracking codes.

More and more countries are passing legislation that protects user data, and user privacy, including the EU’s landmark General Data Protection Regulation  (GDPR), passed on May 25, 2018. The GDPR legislation took away the ability of some online businesses to use or profile some types of information. As a result, many online websites and social media platforms have had to change and simplify the way they create or profile audiences. GDPR also mandated that any website using tracking codes, or cookies, must get user permission before tracking their behavior or sharing it with other sources or entities.

While GDPR was limited to European websites, any website or social media platform that intentionally or incidentally attracted European users had to comply with the new regulations. As a result, for most online sites and platforms, creating audiences based on consumer online behavior and traits slowed down or went away. While many sites still use cookies, they can only do so after a user opts-in or gives permission. The permission requirement has resulted in a dramatic slow-down of data-collection, making this type of advertising less precise and less prevalent.

However, when marketers choose their ad placements based on surrounding content, they do not rely on user profiling. Instead, they market to users on the site, whoever they may be. The qualifier for contextual advertising audiences is created based on their media usage at the moment, instead of basing it on past behavior or recent media usage.

Most experts agree that the practical impact of the GDPR legislation and related efforts in the United States have been the primary reasons advertisers began paying more attention to the benefits of contextual targeting.

On TheDrum.com, Julia Nightingale reports that GDPR has changed the way marketers think about contextual advertising,

“Does the fallout from GDPR mean that audience targeting as we know it, will become a thing of the past?…Having access to granular data is of course extremely valuable from both an insight and targeting perspective. Has the legislation change forced companies to take a closer look at their data infrastructure? Will we see a drastic change in the ways companies choose to target their audiences?”

Happily, for many advertisers, contextual usage has always been a preferred method for identifying audiences. Contextual marketing offers exceptional reach and vast audiences. It ensures the users are interested in their content “right now.” For example, an ad for NFL gear on a sports website is surrounded by plenty of sports- and football-related coverage, which means that the users tend to be highly qualified audiences. A robust website may have hundreds of pages of NFL or football content and hundreds of thousands of users. In this example, contextual advertising provides marketers with plenty of content and large audiences for their ads.

Contextual advertising is also a smart strategy for niche products. For instance, companies that sell specialty woks may not be able to use data-driven profiling to identify customers who are “most likely to buy woks.” Still, they can find interested audiences by placing wok ads in articles about woks, ranking woks, or describing the best way to use woks. They can also put their ads on cooking sites that feature recipes using woks, or within videos that show or use woks.

In the Past, Behavioral Targeting and Cookies Ruled

Not so long ago, behavioral marketing, using data-driven tracking, seemed unstoppable. After all, there were few legal limits on the ways digital platforms and websites could profile users. Social media platforms were especially adept at tracking and aggregating data in creative and specific ways. And it wasn’t limited to companies like Facebook. Google, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn. Many major websites programmed their digital properties in ways that enabled them to gather all kinds of information about individuals including age, gender, political preference, race, buying habits, credit scores, age of children, the brands they used at grocery stores, their net worth, the value of their home, and more.

By using cookies, a type of code that tracks online users’ web behaviors, sites could match emails to online and offline databases. Even credit information and purchasing habits from grocery store loyalty cards could be added to the online profiling systems. By employing a sophisticated set of programmatic ad tools, these tech companies could empower platforms like Facebook to target and retarget users with particular ads that could pinpoint their behavior from the websites they visited recently, to the model of the car they were likely to buy in the next 30 days.

This kind of behavioral targeting did not factor in contextual information, such as the content or articles on a website. Instead, the primary driver was tracking the behavior of users with digital code or cookies. It was the power of the cookies which allowed advertisers to gather personal web usage information and then use that information to create a digital profile.

With so many razor-sharp tools in place, contextual targeting became less popular. Behavioral targeting seemed to offer more in-depth data set to reach people in more specific ways than ever before. However, in recent years, users began to resist such intimately targeted ads. The ads became so specific to the actions of users that consumers started to suspect that computers were “spying” on them, and then selling their information to online companies. While the reality was rarely so sinister, abuses did exist. When the flaws of behavioral targeting became apparent, the United States and other countries required these digital companies to stop using certain types of tools to create audience profiles. Many tech companies voluntarily stopped using more sensitive types of data gathering, most notably political, racial, and financial profiling. As a result, advertisers find that it is now significantly more challenging to send the right ad to the right person at the right time.

Happily, contextual advertising was unaffected by these legislative demands. Because contextual advertising relies on surrounding content to attract users, instead of behavioral profiling to track user characteristics, it has never come under regulatory scrutiny. Contextual marketing does not utilize web tracking or previous behaviors as a way to connect a user with interests. Instead, the content attracts the user. Advertisers that use this strategy are placing ads on digital platforms where the user is reading compatible content, right now.

Is Contextual Advertising the Future of Online Advertising?

In addition to regulation from Europe, some U.S. states have also enacted legislation that restricts web tracking and data profiling. America’s largest state, California, has passed its own online privacy policies, the California Consumer Privacy Act, or CCPA. Other states may soon follow. The California legislation requires compliance by any website that wants to do business in California or send products to California. As a result, tech giants like Google, Apple, and Mozilla have responded in kind with additional, voluntary restrictions. According to Phil Schraeder in the April 12, 2020 issue of AdWeek,

“…the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) went into effect on January 1, leaving brands, ad tech vendors and publishers scrambling to figure out what they need to do to comply. Then, a couple of weeks later, Google announced that its Chrome web browser, following similar moves by Safari and Firefox, would eliminate cookies by January 2022, further complicating how, in the not-too-distant future, digital advertising would reach customers without access to the third-party data that had become the standard for programmatic initiatives.”

While many Americans are not yet fully aware of privacy regulation, that may be changing. On May 7, 2020, an IAS study was released that showed online privacy is paramount. The IAS study reports,

“While 89% of consumers say data privacy is important, more than half (55%) are unaware of any data privacy regulation…when it comes to preferences, consumers are most receptive to contextual targeting (such as an ad for baking supplies on a cooking website) over behavioral, audience, location, or social targeting. As privacy legislation and consumer actions accelerate a shift in targeting strategies, innovative advertising strategies like contextual targeting based on the categories, sentiment, or emotion of the page will be prioritized by marketers. Enabling contextual advertising will allow advertisers to adjust to the evolving landscape while engaging consumers in appropriate environments.”

As more and more governments and online entities get stricter about the use of tracking code, or cookies, some marketers are calling this dramatic increase in regulation the Cookie-pocalypse. In Australia’s Marketing Magazine, reporter Jasmine Giuliani wrote,

“When Google announced the decision to phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2022, it caused a considerable stir in the marketing community. Whether digital marketers are rejoicing or panicking, there is no denying the move will change how online targeting, ad tracking and privacy will work on the web.”

As the news articles cited here demonstrate, the restriction of cookies is not the only reason contextual advertising is on the rise. As online browsers like Google, Apple Safari, and Mozilla’s Firefox struggle to gain market share, they are restricting the use of third-party cookies to provide a more secure user experience. These browsers are also allowing users to select more comprehensive privacy preferences, which makes cookies and tracking difficult or even impossible.

Because contextual targeting attracts relevant readers, it does not require the use of third-party cookies. In fact, contextual advertising does not actually target the user in any way – it seeks out content. It seems likely that contextual advertising will play a much more significant role in online advertising going forward.

As the public becomes more aware of data-profiling, more and more companies and governments are mandating data-monitoring restrictions. This means that behavioral advertising is becoming more attractive than ever. As a result, more advertisers will take advantage of the ability of good content to attract qualified consumers.

How is Contextual Advertising Used in Different Industries?

As explained earlier in this article, looking for on-page keywords is one way to help ad placement tools identify the meaning and context of a page. Once that context is defined, it’s used to make ad-serving decisions. This kind of contextual advertising allows all sorts of advertisers to serve up highly-relevant ads on pages with the type of content that identifies the interests of the readers.

How exactly does this work? To help our advertisers understand how to apply contextual advertising strategies, we’ve created these examples.

How to Use Contextual Advertising for Pennsylvania Auto Dealerships

Online buying and selling cars, trucks, and SUVs is more common than ever. But some marketers find that finding the best local customers online can be challenging. For auto dealerships in and around Lancaster County, placing ads on pages with specific make and model descriptions makes perfect sense. Advertising on sites with advice about auto care and maintenance is another smart strategy. To capture shoppers in the research phase, dealerships can advertise on sites with car listings, financing advice, or car shopping tips.

Dealerships who want to take advantage of the benefits of contextual advertising may want to place ads on sites or content that uses keywords that describe car care, auto financing, how to get the best price on a new car, top 10 cars of 2020, car selection, truck repair, how to clean your car, or even news of a new dealership in the area.

Contextual Advertising for Pennsylvania Entertainment, Movies, Theatre, Plays, and Concerts

When you’re a business that offers events and entertainment in Lancaster County and Central PA, it’s smart to look for content that uses keywords indicating interest in your production. While some online users will search for movies, to get even more people out to see the latest film at a theater marketers should serve up advertising on sites filled with the keywords regular moviegoers use, like things to do this weekend, cinema, binge-watching, and of course, movie.

It may also make sense to look for people interested in the titles of the movies that are playing right now. For example, instead of limiting ads to sites talking about film, also include digital platforms that talk about the movies that are running in your local theater. Place children’s movies ads on parents’ sites with “activities to do with kids” articles.

The same marketer might also market to keywords that make sense with the content of the movie. If it’s a movie about the rock group Queen, marketers might look for content about Freddy Mercury, Brian May, or Roger Taylor. Or they may look for articles that mention similar types of 80’s rock, Kiss, ELO, Aerosmith, and Moody Blues.

To sell tickets to the next big concert coming to town, it makes sense to reach people who are reading about entertainment news, celebrity gossip, music events, local concerts, bands, and venues. But if you’re hosting a Martin Short comedy show, you may also want to look for sites that mention Martin Short, comedy clubs, and comedians.

A smart marketer will think hard about the kind of content that will appeal to the target audience. By thinking about the keywords they will be reading, a media planner will be able to identify the best contextual content for your ad placement.

Contextual Ads for Lancaster County Food and Restaurants

Central PA loves good food, and residents of Lancaster County can choose to eat at a wide variety of great restaurants. And they also like reading about the people, food, and chefs that make our area a culinary haven. By serving ads on sites using contextual advertising strategies, restaurants can reach people who are reading pages about specific types of food, cuisines, and dishes. For example, if the advertiser is a Thai restaurant and they want to reach people who love Pad Thai, they can choose delivery by keywords around Pad Thai, the ingredients, Thai cuisine, and similar dishes.

A grocery store might want to target contextual ads based on keywords about products carried, online recipe sites for Lancaster County, articles on food health, food budgeting, shopping tips, couponing, and articles that talk about cleaning, cleaning tips, and housekeeping tips.

For B2B marketers who sell to restaurants, think about serving ads on the sites restaurant owners and decision-makers visit. Consider advertising in the business section, on restaurant health inspection pages, and in news about commercial real estate in the area.

Wedding and Event Venues

Any florist, party planner, linens rental, limousine service, or venue that wants to target bridal and big events can find relevant audiences by choosing the kind of keywords that will show up in content created to appeal to brides and bridal celebrations. For Lancaster County, these kinds of advertisers might want to target keywords or context segments like engagement, bridesmaid, engagement ring, wedding gown, bouquets, catering, and bridesmaid dresses. When a marketer chooses these kinds of keywords, their ads will be served to pages and articles about wedding registries, wedding planning, floral arrangement, bakeries, cake decorators, wedding planners, and more.

How, Exactly, Does Contextual Marketing Work?

While we’ve been talking a lot of about contextual or behavioral marketing, it may help to explain precisely how this type of advertising buy works. A contextual advertising system, such as Google Display Network, scans millions of websites every day using web crawlers or bots. These crawlers are continually indexing the text or words on websites for keywords. This includes the text, subheads, headlines, and other relevant code formats.

The contextual ad system can now send digital ads to a webpage based on the indexed keywords (or phrases, or context categories.) More advanced contextual targeting systems will scan for additional information (such as alt text on images or video content.)

These tools are also able to read the sentiment or tone of the page. They sort the pages into categories of credibility, reliability, and seriousness. This improves relevancy and avoids issues of brand safety. For example, with the proper filters specified, a financial ad can be served on a site full of credible content, like a LancasterOnline article on personal finances, but won’t appear on questionable sites, such as a video spoofing banks or using obscenities.

Often advertisers want to appear on particular websites. The way some publishers help advertisers perform contextual targeting with ad inventory may help. While situations vary, contextual targeting ad programs can often be built around the specific site, channel, page type, keyword, or taxonomy provided by the site owner. Taxonomy is a system classification or the way a site organizes its data into categories and subcategories. The deeper and more specific the site’s taxonomy, the richer the contextual targeting can be.

While costs vary widely based on targeting parameters, the current market dynamics mean that the price of contextual advertising is often lower than the investment needed in other types of online advertising. That’s because there currently is a large inventory of available content online. In other words, the impression inventory available is very high for contextual advertising. More contextual ad spaces are open compared to the number of ad requests. Since cost is created based on supply and demand, a vast supply means that ad buyers have lots of flexibility to decide when, where, and how an ad is delivered and shown.

However, all contextual advertising is not created equal. Targeted advertising on highly credible sites tends to cost more than broadly targeted ads with less stringent parameters on content quality.

Within this marketing strategy, there are a few techniques any marketer can use to reach their best consumers. Always consider the balance among your marketing goals, the information you want to communicate, and ad formats available to you. Remembering the role of these considerations will help your marketer make the decisions that work best for your Lancaster County or Central PA business.

Should You Target Using Off-the-shelf Contextual Segments?

Off-the-Shelf is a term used to describe pre-built audience segments. When advertisers look for pages for contextual targeting, they can select ad placements included in the Google Display Network based on keywords. But what if relevant pages don’t use those keywords? Off-the-shelf contextual segments are pre-built to be relevant to a category instead of a single term.

For example, an ad planner can work with a client to create a core theme or category for a set of ads. When placing ads, the planner chooses from among thousands of Google contextual segments that include sites and pages that have been selected because they contain syntax that shows the pages are about selected topics, even when they lack identified keywords.

For example, if a business wants to reach people looking for retirement communities, they can choose from a variety of contextual segments that are about retirement or similar subjects. While these pages may not contain specific words or phrases, they will still be on-topic and relevant to the category.

Targeting by segments ensures that an advertiser will run ads on the right kinds of sites. For example, if an advertiser targeted using the word “retirement,” they might also land on sites about corporate retirement savings plans and 401ks.  By choosing a segment, they are making sure they don’t end up on the wrong site.

Should you Target Using Custom Keyword Segments?

Just like off-the-shelf segments, custom keyword segments are sets of prebuilt keyword groups to help ad planners create contextual targeting marketing plans for Google Display Ads without using specific keywords. These keyword segments are less granular than a customized keyword approach but less generalized that the off-the-shelf segment option.

To prevent confusion or misplacement, these options also allow you to exclude terms. Using the retirement community example, you may want to exclude keyword segments that include 401ks, IRAs, financial planning, or employer retirement savings plans.

What is Contextual Advertising With Video?

Video has become one of the most popular parts of the online universe, so don’t overlook it in your contextual advertising plan. Both Google Ads and YouTube are good choices for advertisers who want to use contextual advertising to reach people viewing relevant videos about related topics or who are watching videos on specific video URLs. For example, if your business sells parts to repair home appliances, ads on how-to videos about appliance repair would be a perfect contextual fit.

What is HyperLocal Contextual Advertising or GeoFencing?

For many companies, nothing beats local advertising. Keeping content relevant to the places people go offline is at least as important as being relevant to the context in the digital world. That’s why so many advertisers are including offline locations as a part of their contextual advertising plan. Usually a part of a geofencing strategy, hyperlocal contextual advertising uses place as context. For example, if people are online while in a local coffee shop, they are doing certain things – drinking coffee, meeting friends, and relaxing. This might be a good time to send ads about coffee, eating out, or shopping. If the coffee shop is next to a gas station, ads about checking the tank may be relevant. If the coffee shop is next to a movie theater, advertisers can deliver ads promoting the latest films.

Can You Target by Site?

For some advertisers, you won’t need a lot of technology partners to get started. If you’ve done your research, and already know the types of sites that your target consumers go to, you can target by a specific site.

There are two ways to do this. The first strategy is to utilize a narrow industry example. For instance, marketers who want to reach trucking companies can look for sites that are specifically targeting the trucker industry. These may be news sites, listing sites, or industry publications.

The second example is to go directly to the site. If your business wants to start advertising on LancasterOnline, for instance, you can contact the site directly. In this example, the marketer must make a direct deal with the inventory owner (LNP Media Group.) When you work directly with a site that offers advertising, you have the advantage of a direct connection to the content. You will agree on terms, price, and estimated reach, or CPM (Cost Per Thousand.) When you work with well-developed content sites like LancasterOnline, you rely on an account rep to make recommendations about content and frequency. This account rep sends the client proof of performance once the ads have run.

In this example, if you want to send ads to people who are visiting Lancaster on vacation, you may want to advertise on LancasterOnline’s pages about area attractions that show up in searches for “what to do in Lancaster.”

You may want to expand your advertising to other tourism and visitor’s sites as well to reach more people looking for information about Lancaster County. Each website will have special requirements for how and when marketers can advertise.

Advertising on local media properties is one of the most common uses of contextual advertising. Websites like LancasterOnline offer brand-safe environments with broad reach. They also provide a deep set of topics and industry specialties so that you can advertise to very targeted groups of B2C and B2B audiences.

Are you Ready to Get Started?

Contextual advertising allows your company to reach people when they are exploring related content. That content may be about your product or industry, or it may be related to your business in other relevant ways. You can target by keywords, website, or prebuilt segments. You can also use contextual advertising for video ads and location-based advertising.

LNP Media Group is experienced in this kind of marketing and ad placement. Whether you choose to run ads on LancasterOnline or you want to create a contextual campaign to run on other websites and platforms, we can help you develop plans that meet your marketing goals.

Contact us today for a free consultation, and we’ll show you how contextual advertising can work for your Lancaster County or Central PA business.