Google’s algorithm changes in 2021: What do they mean for your Lancaster business?

Google’s algorithm changes in 2021: What do they mean for your Lancaster business?

As a local business, you may not have time to pay close attention to the goings-on at Google. However, changes in Google’s search engine algorithms can affect businesses across the globe, including mom and pop businesses right here in Lancaster County. If any portion of your new customers find your business via an internet search, then your business can be impacted whenever Google makes a change. In this article we’ll summarize the most important changes in Google’s updates through July 2021.

First – the basics

Why do Google updates matter? They matter because Google’s algorithms control what appears in search results. So, if a local consumer types “hardware store near me” into Google, Google decides whether or not your hardware store’s website appears in the list of results and, if it does appear, how high on the list. Google’s algorithms change over time, so while your hardware store might have appeared at the top of the list earlier this year, it might not appear that high on the list after a Google update. Appearing high on the list of search results is important because most consumers don’t scroll past the first page of search results.

There are two types of Google updates, regular updates and core updates. Regular updates are generally unheralded in the mainstream press and have smaller impacts on specific types of searches. Regular updates happen frequently. An example of a regular update was an April 2021 update for search results for product reviews. That type of update would only affect sites that have product reviews, like e-commerce sites. Google also regularly does spam updates to attempt to keep junk websites from appearing in searches. Google also rolled out a page experience update in June, more on that below.

The other type of update is a core update. Core updates only happen a few times a year. Core updates are broad in scope and affect most types of searches. An important Google blog post about core updates can be found here and it is definitely worth a read. As Google explains in that blog post, their focus is on high quality, original, trustworthy content when determining which sites will outrank other sites in search. Google is continually assessing the content of every website in the world to determine if it is relevant, valuable, and useful to searchers. In Google’s perfect world, every time a user searches for something, Google would provide the perfect website as the first result.

Google uses the acronym E-A-T to summarize how it identifies quality websites: E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness.

• Expertise – Google has different expertise requirements for different types of content. For example, a site that has product reviews from ordinary users can rank highly for expertise since these users, even though they don’t have expert credentials, can be considered experts because they have used the product. However, for YMYL sites (Your Money or Your Life) the standards are higher. YMYL sites are focused on content such as health, news, safety, law, finance, and shopping. Google has higher expectations for YMYL sites and will look for site authors to have relevant credentials.

• Authority – Google assesses your site’s authority by looking for links to your site from other sites, as well as mentions of your site on other sites. If your site’s content is widely cited and shared by other sites that’s an indication to Google that your site has authority.

• Trust – Google assesses trust by noting several attributes on your site, such as: privacy policy, terms of service including refunds and exchanges, clear contact information, product specifications (if applicable), product reviews (if applicable), and positive reviews on other sites.

Overall, if you think about the content on your own site from an E-A-T perspective, you’ll have a clear lens through which to assess whether your site’s content meets Google’s definition of quality.

Because Google is always trying to make search results more relevant for users, it needs to do regular updates to its algorithms. So if your store’s website dropped down in search results after a Google update, it’s because something in your website’s content or metadata is no longer considered by Google to be as relevant to that particular search as it used to be. This is actually a good thing in the long run because the more relevant Google’s search results are to users, the more users will trust Google to provide the right information. This means that when your business’s website appears in a Google search results page, consumers will trust that your business will satisfy the need they searched for. However, as you’ll read as in the paragraphs ahead, Google’s updates don’t always work perfectly or predictably.

The best way to increase the likelihood that your business’s site appears in relevant searches is to pay continual attention to your site’s search performance. This is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). You can read more about SEO here and here. Most small to medium sized businesses do not have the resources for an in-house SEO expert. If this is the case for your business, then you should invest in a shared SEO expert through contracting with a Lancaster County digital agency, such as LNP Media Group. While an SEO expert cannot 100% “future proof” your site against Google algorithm changes, an SEO expert will stay on top of Google algorithm changes and will help your site respond appropriately. This will make your site “future responsive” and help your site achieve and maintain good organic search placement over the years.

What has changed in the 2021 updates?

Google does not directly state the detail of changes in their core updates, but resources like Search Engine Journal and SEM Rush publish articles with observations and information from SEO experts. Reviewing multiple such sources revealed the following list of significant changes and impacts from the 2021 updates.

1. Volatility – Many experts report that there has been significant volatility in search rankings (and thus in traffic generated by searches) after the June and July core updates. Experts have indicated that some sites may have gained traffic after the June core update, only to lose it after the July core update, or vice versa. This is because every update may have unintended consequences in search results which, as they become apparent, may require a correction in a succeeding update. If your site’s organic traffic has experienced a sharp dip or boost, it may be because of this post-update volatility. Consult your local SEO expert to understand the specific factors that may be in play on your site.

2. Certain types of sites were more affected than others – According to SEM Rush, the 2021 Google core updates affected almost all industries. However, some industries were slightly more affected than others. If your business is in an YMYL category, your website is more likely to have experienced search/traffic volatility than other types of sites. Generally speaking, Google is especially cautious about content on health, medical and financial sites because searches that produce links to spammy health, medical or financial sites can have a significant negative impact on users. When just looking at the mobile web, sites that are in the industries of real estate, people/society, and beauty/fitness also experienced increased volatility in search rankings after the core updates. The specific reason behind this mobile web volatility is not yet clear. If your site has been affected on mobile, consult a local digital agency for an SEO consultation.

3. Certain sized sites were more affected than others – Also according to SEM Rush, sites with small to medium sized traffic (500k or fewer views per month) were more affected by the core updates than large sites. This is relevant to Lancaster PA businesses because most businesses in our area will have sites with small to medium amounts of traffic.

4. Sites with common content – Sites that publish content that is readily available on other sites (think song lyrics, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and business directories) may experience more volatility than other types of sites as a result of Google core updates. This is because the identical nature of the content makes it hard for Google to determine which sites should rank higher. Although this should not be an issue for local Pennsylvania business sites, a solution to this issue is to always add unique, relevant, value-added content to any pages that have commonly available content.

5. Product reviews – In April 2021 Google released an update focused on sites with product reviews. In essence, this update aimed to reward sites that have high-quality, relevant product reviews, and aimed to penalize sites with thin product reviews. However, the concept of a “thin” product review does not relate to word count, it relates to quality. Product reviews, ideally, should be written by named authors who have expertise in the products they are reviewing. The reviews should be original, helpful, personal, and insightful. Google’s product review update also penalized sites that over-use affiliate links and a lot of ads on their product review pages. This is because Google has accurately determined that users don’t like being overwhelmed by monetization strategies while they are in an information-gathering phase of their shopping journey. You can read more detail about the product reviews update here.

6. People Also Ask – Have you ever done a search and found, just below the first few results, a box that says “People Also Ask” with several questions underneath, all related to your search? That is Google’s People Also Ask (PAA) feature, which was introduced in 2015 and has currently expanded into over half of search results pages, according to SEM Rush. PAA is Google’s way of refining searches, by letting you see related terms/questions other searchers are using. If you click on a PAA box, it will expand and you’ll see a short answer. Google’s latest core updates continue the expansion of PAA into more searches. Worth noting is that Google has stated that requests from businesses to update/remove information in PAA boxes will take longer than other types of update/removal requests. This is because the PAA results are more “indirectly” sourced. The details on this seem scant, but you (or your SEO expert) should pay attention to PAA results as they relate to your business’s website.

7. Less country code top level domain crowding – Country code domain crowding is when several search results have the same domain name listed multiple times but with different international country code extensions. This can happen when an international company has multiple sites with the same top level domain name, but different country codes such as .ca, .uk, .rs, etc. For local businesses in Lancaster PA, this is not an area of concern, but it’s worth noting that Google’s core updates have made this less of an issue for users overall. Conceivably, this could result in a Lancaster County business’s site moving up on the page because there should be fewer repeated international domains taking multiple positions on the page.

8. The impact of page experience – The page experience update was a regular update that rolled out slowly June through August and is not predicted to have a large impact on search ranking. The main point to note about this update is that while Google pays some attention to user experience when determining rankings, content is more important. If your site is mobile-friendly, loads quickly, is secured (using HTTPS instead of HTTP), and doesn’t have disruptive interstitial ads, then your site most likely qualifies as having a good user experience. Google will use page experience as a tiebreaker when determining how to rank several sites with equivalent content. As always, your local Lancaster SEO expert can help you make changes in these areas if needed.

Closing thoughts

With Google frequently changing how it evaluates and ranks sites, what is a local business owner to do about keeping up with and responding to these changes? The best approach is to keep a consistent focus on providing a great user experience. As a site owner, you need to understand what your users want and then deliver it to them. For example, most users now visit websites via their phones, so making sure that your website offers a great mobile experience is critical. You also need to ensure that your site navigation is clear and that there are no dead end pages (404 errors) to frustrate users. Put the time and effort into populating your site’s pages with useful, honest, clear content that provides value to your users.

And, finally, if this all seems too much to worry about while also running your business, consider contacting LNP Media Group to contract for SEO services. SEO is a long-horizon project and requires expertise with Google’s ever changing rules. SEO does not have a payout within a week, it pays out over the course of six months and longer. But, this long term investment pays off when new customers find your business again and again at the top of a crowded Google search results page.

 

Video Production in Lancaster PA

Video Production in Lancaster PA

If you have a small to medium sized business in Lancaster County PA, or in surrounding counties such as Berks, Dauphin, Chester, York, or Lebanon, you may wonder how to secure high-quality videos for your company’s marketing campaigns. Lancaster is not a large metro area like Philadelphia but it’s still very possible to find affordable video marketing services locally. This guide will walk you through three topics:

1. How to find a local video production agency.
2. What to expect during the video production process.
3. Ways you can leverage video in your marketing.

Step 1 – Find the right Lancaster video production company for your business’s needs

To find a video production company that suits your needs, first develop an initial list of requirements for your video project. Your list may evolve after you have found a video production company, but you need to have a starting place.

Here are some considerations for your initial list of requirements:

  • • Video length: A commonly used video length is a 15 to 30 second spot for pre-roll ads, TV ads, or social media. Another common length is a 2 to 3 minute video for branding or how-to instruction. Of course, videos can be much longer as well. You’ll need to think about where your video will be distributed (see below) and the content of your video.
  • • Distribution: Consider where your video will be distributed, for example, on your website, TV, OTT/CTV, Social Media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, TikTok, etc). If you want your video to be placed as a pre-roll ad, then you’ll need the services of a digital marketing agency. In this case, working with a video production team that is part of a digital agency will save you time and effort.
  • • Topic: The options for video topics are almost limitless, but here are some common examples: a history or narrative of your company and its brand, a short advertising spot to entice customers to buy a product or service, a how-to video about using your products or services, a training video for onboarding new hires, or a testimonial video from customers who are your company’s fans.
  • • Style: Will the video be taken in a single shot? Or will there be multiple shots that are edited together? Will sound need to be recorded, or will there be music or voice-over added in post-production? Do you need actors? Do you need animation or drone footage? Animation and drone piloting are a very specific skills that not all video companies can provide. Drone pilots are required to be certified and the drone itself must be registered with the FAA. In Pennsylvania, drone pilots need to abide by regulations including no-drone zones, altitude restrictions, no surveillance, and more. So if drone footage is a requirement, make sure to find a video production company that has a properly licensed drone pilot.
  • • Location: Videos can be shot on-site or in the studio. Not all video production companies have their own studio, so if you want your video shot in a studio, you’ll need to inquire about facilities. An on-site video could be shot at your location or at another location such as where your products are services are being used. Because video production companies will need to charge for their travel time to the site, in-studio videos are more affordable than on-site videos.
  • • Budget:  Video is an incredibly valuable format for conveying your business’s marketing message in a way that is engaging and accessible. An inexpensive video can cost as little as $500 for a 30 second promo filmed in the studio. A longer affordable video format is two to three minutes that are filmed on-site at a cost of $3,500 to $5,000. These price points are reasonable given the skills and equipment required for the production of high quality videos. Of course, videos can cost much more if they are longer and more complex.

Now that you have your list of requirements, how do you go about finding a local Lancaster County video company? Here are some ideas to help you with your search:

  • • References:  Ask colleagues in your field if they have had videos made by a local Lancaster video production company. Make sure to ask if they were happy with the work and if they have advice for your video project.
  • • Browse your competition: Take a look at competitors’ websites and marketing campaigns. Do they use video and, if so, do you like what you see? A quick call to the competitor may provide you with information on who produced their videos. The value of using a video production company that has worked for a competitor is that the video team will already be familiar with the types of products and services your company offers.
  • • Search engines: Use Google or your favorite search engine to find local video production companies. Use several different search terms to develop different lists of video production companies. Remember to look past the first page of search results; hidden gems can be found further down the list. Use search terms that include your location, such as “Lancaster County PA video production”, in order to find the most relevant companies. You’ll see ads on search results pages too and some of these may be worth checking out.
  • • Review samples:  Video production companies should have samples of their work included on their websites. Take a look at those samples and see if the style and content match up with your needs.

Step 2 – What to expect in the video production process

You’ve found your ideal video production agency and you are ready to start work. What does the video production process look like? This handy guide breaks down the steps, so that you’ll have an idea of what to expect as you get started.

PLANNING

The first phase, naturally, is the planning phase. You should expect to meet with your video agency team members to discuss key points such as:

  • • Audience Profile: The video team will need to know the audience you are trying to reach. The first question will be whether you are trying to reach consumers (B2C) or businesses (B2B). If you are trying to reach consumers, who are they? Retirees? Young parents? Home repair do-it-yourselfers? Fashionistas? If your video will be viewed by other businesses, who are they? Firms in need of legal advice? Companies that need construction services? Manufacturers who need safety compliance consulting? Knowing the audience will help your video team point the project in the right direction.
  • • Brand position: In addition to defining your audience you also need to define your brand. Is your brand identity young and edgy? Is it down-home and comfortable? Does your brand identity include professional certifications or expertise? Is your brand a market leader or an underdog? Is your brand a bargain or a luxury? And, is your brand satisfied with its current position or does your brand need to develop a new identity? Answers to these questions will help the video team understand the tone they need to achieve in your video.
  • • Content Development: Once you have defined the audience and your brand position, you can brainstorm the content of the video. You’ll work with the video team to decide what will be shot and where, as well as the number of shots and how they would need to be threaded together. You’ll decide if there will be people in the video and, if so, who they are. If you’ll be filming people speaking, then you’ll need to have scripts written; your video team will be able to help with this. You’ll also make choices regarding voice-overs, background music, special effects, drone footage, and text on screen. Your finished video will need to be framed with an intro shot and an exit shot, or possibly an exit screen that has written messaging such as your business’s logo, web address or phone number.
  • • Storyboarding: Once all of the content decisions have been made, the video agency team will create a storyboard. A storyboard is a visual, graphical plan, shot by shot, of how your video will flow. The storyboard proceeds in a linear fashion from intro to end with notes about the action, the script, and production. Once the first draft of your storyboard is completed, consider sharing it with members of your team to get their input before shooting starts. A well-developed storyboard will make production faster and will help avoid costly re-shoots.
  • • Production Planning: After the storyboard has been finalized, you will be ready to make a production plan. This plan will include all the details for the shoot, such as dates, times, locations, equipment, props, scripts, and persons. If you are planning an outdoor shoot, you’ll need to consider the time of day/angle of the sun, so as to get the best opportunity for good natural lighting. You’ll also need to plan for rain dates in case of inclement weather.

PRODUCTION

Once planning is complete the next phase is production. With your storyboard and production plan in place, production should proceed smoothly and includes the following elements:

  • • On-site or in-studio shooting: Shooting on-site involves the video team and their equipment traveling to the specified location for the shoot. To save time, ensure that you have the site all set up and ready for the video team’s arrival. Conversely, shooting in the studio means that you’ll need to transport all of your people and items on the designated time/place.
  • • Directing and filming: Your video production team will direct the action as they film it. Having an experienced team directing the action ensures that the storyboard is followed, so that the end product is what was planned. An experienced director will also help navigate any unforeseen last-minute changes that might occur, such as missing props, missing actors, or a cloudy day.
  • • Photography: Consider contracting with your video production agency to have still photographs taken at the same time as the video is being filmed. Still shots can be used on your website, social media, or in ads. Still photographs will be an additional expense because a photographer will need to take the shots while the videographer does the filming. However, if you’ve gone to all the effort of setting up a great plan and a great setup for a video, having still photographs taken at the same time will maximize the value you’ll receive from your efforts.
  • • Lighting and sound: Your Lancaster video agency will bring appropriate lighting and sound equipment with them, according to the needs outlined in the storyboard and production plan. Professional lighting and sound equipment are essential to producing a high-quality video. You may think you can produce a video yourself just using your iPhone, but there is no comparison of visual and audio quality from an iPhone vs. professional equipment. A top quality video is a long-term investment in your business.
  • • Set design and styling: The video team members will also be able to guide you in the design of the set and overall styling. Styling includes the selection, placement and usage of items such as props, costumes, hair, and makeup. Props can be as simple as notepads, laptops, and coffee cups for a conference room video shoot. Or, they can be as complex as having the right vehicles in the background, or pouring the perfect mug of beer. All of these elements need to be aligned with your brand position and intended audience in order for your video to be a success.

POST-PRODUCTION

The video shoot has been completed and now it’s on to post-production. This phase will take your video agency a week or more to complete and involves the following aspects:

  • • Professional Editing: Your video production team will have more footage than needed for the length of your final video. All of the footage needs to be reviewed and the best footage selected for inclusion in your video. Video footage will be rearranged to match the sequence dictated by the storyboard and transitions will be created between clips. Color corrections, filters, and other enhancements will be applied as needed.
  • • Voice over: If voice over is part of your video, it will generally be during the post-production phase using a professional voice actor. Your video team should be able to provide a resource for voice overs. Once the voice over is recorded, the video production team will sync the voice over to the video, so that they work together seamlessly.
  • • Music: Your video team will be able to guide you with regard to music that is legally allowed to be used in your video. Most music is copyrighted, so you can’t just put your favorite songs as background to the video. The video production team should have access to a library of stock background music, much like stock images. However, this music may have a generic feel that is not the right mood for your video. If that is the case, discuss with the video production team if it’s possible to acquire a license to use a copyrighted piece of music. Another alternative is to work with a local Lancaster County musician who would like to sell their music, or perhaps allow you to use for free it in exchange for a credit at the end of the video.
  • • Graphics and animation: If your video production team is part of a digital agency, they will have artists who can design graphics and slides for your video. Animation is a much more difficult skill to find in the Lancaster area. Animation also tends to be expensive, so discuss this with your video production team to decide if it is truly essential to your project.
  • • Color grading: Color correction, mentioned earlier, involves ensuring that the color in the video matches what was naturally present during filming. Color grading is different and is a creative effort to apply color to create a mood or effect. Your video may or may not need color grading, depending on the goal of your video.

Step 3 – Ways to leverage video in your marketing.

Your video is complete and it’s perfect! But how do you get it in front of your target audience? Ideally, the video production team you selected will be part of a Lancaster digital agency. A local digital agency has the expertise to consult with you to find the most targeted and effective digital channels to distribute your new video. Examples of possible channels include the following:

  • • Websites/Blogs: If your video is a branding or testimonial video, posting it on your own website or blog page is a logical choice. Videos on your site are useful for two main reasons. First, video is an easy way for users to learn about your brand, service, and products. Watching videos quickly conveys information in an engaging fashion that text can’t match. Second, Google favors video content, so posting videos can help with your site’s search engine optimization (SEO). However, to ensure best results from having a video on your site make sure you follow all of Google’s best practices when posting your video.
  • • Social media channels: 15 or 30 second videos are perfect to use in social media. You can post your videos on your social media channels organically or you can get extra value out of your video investment through a paid social media marketing campaign. Facebook and other social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter provide options for targeting your desired audience by demographics, hobbies, location, behaviors, and more. Your Lancaster County digital marketing agency will help you with targeting selections, copy-writing, and ad creatives. A local digital agency will also report on campaign performance and will optimize the campaign as needed. Read our social media marketing blog post here:
  • • Targeted emails: Email marketing is another digital campaign type that has many options for audience targeting including location, interest, business category, occupation and more. Video can be embedded within the email body, or the email can contain a link to a web page with the video. Embedding video is a great user experience on most email clients, with the exception of Outlook, which does not support video players. Read our blog post on email marketing here.
  • • TV, OTT, and CTV commercials: TV, OTT and CTV are prime placements for your new video. CTV pre-roll ads allow you to reach people who like to stream content but don’t use cable. OTT ads also reach people who don’t use cable, but have the advantage of being clickable and viewable on phones and tablets. TV, of course, is the traditional video ad channel. All three formats provide targeting options including by day part. Read our blog post primer on OTT and CTV here.
  • • Pre-roll and post-roll: If your video is a 15 to 30 second ad spot, pre-roll and post-roll offer a wealth of placement and targeting possibilities. Your pre-roll/post-roll video ad can be distributed via Google Ads or Youtube and targeted by demographics, interests, affinities, custom intent, and more. Remarketing is an option that will allow your video to be shown to audiences who have previously engaged with your videos. Video pre-roll ads can also be placed on local news media websites that have news videos, such as LancasterOnline. When video is placed as a pre-roll ad on local news videos, you can select the type of video content that you want your pre-roll ad to be associated with. Placement on a local news media site ensures that your video is associated with trusted local news content.

According to Forbes magazine, the use of video for small and medium sized businesses can be summed up in four broad categories. First, it increases social engagement, second, it works well on mobile, third, it boosts SEO on your site, and fourth, it conveys brand personality. All of these reasons, and more, make a compelling argument for investing in video for your local Lancaster business.

LNP Media group is a full service digital agency and video production company. We have an in-house video production staff with years of experience crafting the stories of companies in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York area and beyond. We have a certified drone pilot, a state-of-the-art video studio, and full post-production editing capabilities. Once your video is complete, our digital agency team can place your video in a targeted digital campaign such as pre-roll, social media, email marketing, display, or more. Contact us today for a free video strategy session.

The Importance of Setting Goals and Tracking Performance in Digital Marketing

The Importance of Setting Goals and Tracking Performance in Digital Marketing

It goes without saying that all successful digital marketing campaigns start with the digital marketing team settling clear goals. Goal inform the details of the marketing campaign plan (how to get to the goal) and illuminate other objectives to reach. However, if a digital marketing team fails to set a goal properly, the campaign is doomed from the start. As such, it is absolutely critical that every digital marketing campaign have clearly defined and achievable goal; that goal is the foundation upon which the rest of the campaign relies.

But setting a goal properly is no easy task. While it may seem simple, specifying the exact objective of a digital marketing campaign is actually one of the hardest parts of planning the campaign. Therefore, it is vital for digital marketing professionals to understand how to form, analyze, and track their goals.

Choose a SMART Goal

Digital marketing campaign goals should be SMART. SMART is an acronym standing for:

Specific means narrow and clearly defined, not vague, and understood fully by all involved. “Improving sales” is too vague, “increasing by 10% the number of blue widgets sold in Florida by the end of the month” is more specific.

Measurable means having an objectively quantifiable or unambiguously qualifiable target to reach. “Selling a lot more blue widgets” is unclear and unmeasurable, since people will have different ideas about what “a lot” entails. “Increasing blue widget sales by 10%” is measurable.

Attainable means being realistic and not excessively ambitious, but still challenging and worth reaching. “Putting a widget in every home in America” is not attainable, “becoming the leading state distributor of widgets” is attainable.

Relevant means being worthwhile, aligning with company or consumer values, and fulfilling needs. “Lobbying Congress to remove environmental regulations” is not relevant, “finding cost-effective green production methods” is.

Timely means having a deadline or end-date that the goal needs to be completed by. “Releasing a new widget” is not timely, “releasing a new widget by Christmas of next year” is, because there is a clear deadline.

SMART goals have been used for decades in the professional and academic world. Until recently, their success was so self-evident that few even bothered to question them. But recent studies have confirmed what many already knew – SMART goals help people work smarter, not harder. In fact, a 2018 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that SMART goals can even be helpful in making students smarter. Resident medical students were found to study more after being briefed on SMART goals,

“SMART goals serve as a powerful primer to promote additional self-directed learning,” the study authors wrote in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. “This intervention can be readily applied to most simulation debriefing sessions and requires little training to be employed effectively.”

But SMART goals aren’t just for medical students. A number of different digital marketing campaign strategies mesh perfectly with SMART goals, which means that it’s smart to use them for digital marketing teams, too. The examples listed above are just a few of the ways that digital marketers can integrate SMART goals into their campaign plan. To really make SMART goals work well in the digital marketing world, however, KPIs are the place to start.

Getting SMART with KPIs

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) measure success against a specific target. Any objective or numerical goal can function as a KPI. Fortunately, SMART goals usually have key performance indicators built into the first two letters of the acronym. However, it is still important to understand KPIs on a deeper level.. As Forbes puts it:

“Too often owners fail to get an understanding of how their business operates. They fail to log any departmental metrics of their operations throughout the year, and they’re stuck with an idling business wondering where problems lay…KPIs are a pertinent part of measuring the successes and failures of your business.”

Because KPIs are data-driven, they are often tied to financial goals that measure profit margins or revenue. Perhaps the most popular and widely known KPI is net profit: the revenue left from a given period after accounting for all expenses in that same period. For many KPI measurements, net profit is converted to a percentage of revenue called the “net profit margin.”

There are many other KPIs and new ones are invented to measure performance in new situations every day. However, there are some ubiquitous tried and true KPIs that have been used for years across a diverse range of different industries. It is important for digital marketing teams to know what these common KPIs are. Even if these KPIs aren’t useful for a campaign right now, learning about these common KPIs can provide insight for designing or selecting other relevant KPIs (and the more common ones might always come in handy some day in the future). Here are some of the most widespread KPI categories and how they are used:

Customer Metrics. KPIs focused on customers tend to cover customer retention (how many repeat customers a business gets), customer satisfaction (usually based on ratings or reviews from customers) or various measures of productivity/efficiency on a per-customer basis. Some common customer metrics include Customer Lifetime Value, or CLV, which is the total quantity of revenue that a customer gives to a business over the whole lifespan of their relationship with the business, and Customer Acquisition Cost, or CAC, which is the total marketing and sales cost necessary on average to get a new customer. Many businesses also get more perspective by comparing CLV and CAC, which can help determine the efficacy of marketing campaigns that are aimed at acquiring more customers.

Process Performance Metrics. These metrics tend to analyze operational performance in an organization. One example is measuring the efficiency of a production process by dividing the total number of defective products by total product output to find out how much waste is in the process. If a significant portion of products a business makes are defective, then waste is losing the company money and that number needs to get cut down. Process performance metrics are useful for this type of analysis, such as Throughput Time which measures how long a particular process takes to run and complete.

Financial Metrics. Metrics focused on the financial performance of a company are also important. One example of this type of KPI is Burn Rate, or the rate that a company is spending money for a given period of time. Financial metrics vary considerably based on the size and type of company, so Burn Rate KPIs (especially short-term ones that cover periods in the week or month range) are most popular among small companies that cannot undertake extensive, large financial analyses but still want to look at how sustainable their expenditures are.

However, digital marketing offers a whole range of its own KPIs that are based on the unique industry they represent. But before choosing KPIs for a digital marketing campaign and learning what KPIs can do to enhance campaign goal setting, it is crucial to understand what KPIs cannot do.

What are the Limits of KPIs?

Digital marketing teams should keep in mind that KPIs are limited in their efficacy, so they shouldn’t be relied on exclusively as the only type of SMART goal that can be set. Some of their limitations are their requirement for non-stop tracking and monitoring (as well as close follow up) to be useful and the fact that they usually need to be measured over a long time to produce meaningful data. Still, their biggest limitation is their effect on workers. Since KPIs are typically numerical and quantitative, they can ignore the qualitative traits that companies need to thrive. For example, a company maximizing the widgets made per month as a KPI can end up making lower quality widgets that break easily or don’t work as intended. KPIs can also force employees to shoot for unrealistic targets, undermining the point of SMART goals and creating unnecessary stress that damages long-term productivity. Workers that are just chasing after a numeric goal are less happy and less fulfilled, which may make them more likely to leave the company for competitors or other fields entirely.

Perhaps worst of all, KPIs have the potential to lead managers to “game the system” to try and appear to meet their performance targets. Although some level of “cooking the books” is an unfortunately widespread practice in many organizations, poorly designed and implemented KPIs can turn minor number tweaking into total falsification, which can spell death for any organization big or small. The importance of getting KPIs right shouldn’t be underestimated; historically it has led to the collapse of entire nations. One classic example is the Soviet Union. After Stalin seized power in the late 1920s, he implemented a series of “Five Year Plans” that were meant to rapidly industrialize the USSR which was still reeling from World War One, the two bloody revolutions and a civil war that followed, and a crushing economic crisis. Five Year Plans, interestingly, made use of KPIs – managers of factories and collective farms were given production targets that had to be supported with measurable data.

During the Five Year Plans, goal success was measured exclusively using these production quotas, and they were the end-all, be-all of the plan. However, the quotas were usually set far too high, and were sometimes impossible to meet. By the 1930s, the pressure to reach production quotas was so high that managers routinely falsified their numbers. As the British National Archives describes it:

“If workers did not achieve their targets, they were punished. Desperate factory managers fiddled the books or committed suicide as the pressure to produce more and more became too great. If the workers succeeded in reaching targets, they might be rewarded with increased wages. But usually their targets were increased as well [leading to] problems with wastage and inefficiency in the plans.”

The lesson here is that the more unrealistic the goal is and the more pressure workers are under to meet it, the more likely they are to fabricate results. As such, when building KPIs into a goal, it is critical to ensure that the goal is reachable and that there are not excessive consequences for failing to meet it. It is almost always better to reward people for meeting KPI goals than to punish them for failing to reach the target. Another important lesson is that significantly raising KPI targets because workers reached the previous target can backfire. The USSR isn’t the only place this this has happened – in the U.S. federal government has this problem too. The “use it or lose it” approach – where agencies risk future budget cuts if they don’t use their entire yearly budget – has led to serious wasteful spending. It is counterproductive to punish people with budget cuts or drastically higher productivity targets. Finally, KPIs should never be the totality of any goal or plan, but rather be used as an objective indicator that helps paint a larger picture. Other methods of goal measurement should be implemented to compensate for the limitations of KPIs.

“Despite having multiple KPIs,” according to Forbes, “every report should tie together into a single flash for the business as a whole. Not every KPI measures the overall performance of the business. They don’t show the totality of a project’s performance.”

What KPIs Work Best for Digital Marketing Campaigns?

For digital marketing campaigns, KPIs are based more on the digital world than the financial or customer service world. While all these areas are of course still important, there are unique circumstances in the digital marketing industry that have led to innovative new ways to measure success. One of those circumstances is social media, and the way individuals can express themselves and tailor the content of their feeds. As such, digital marketing campaign KPIs are as varied and curated as the customers the campaigns are trying to reach. Still, there are some broad goals and KPIs that are often used to measure the success of digital marketing campaigns, such as:

Digital Marketing Return on Investment. Most people who have worked in the business world are familiar with return on investment (ROI), but digital marketing teams face the unique challenge of clients asking “how do we know all this digital marketing stuff even works?” Fortunately, digital marketing return on investment is the answer to that question. Calculating digital marketing ROI is easy as long as the digital marketing team can figure out what new revenue to attribute to their efforts. The equation for calculating this metric is: (Total Revenue From Digital Marketing – Total Digital Marketing Cost) / (Total Digital Marketing Cost)

Conversion Rate. The term conversion refers to users completing a desired action, such as creating an online account, signing up for a free trial, or downloading a file. The importance of conversion lies in the data it generates; every conversion is another entry in a marketing database that helps further analysis. Conversion rate is the percentage of users in a given period of time who complete the action desired and is calculated like this: (Conversions / Total Visitors) x 100%

Cost Per Click (CPC). One of the most common KPIs in digital marketing is CPC, the price paid for each click users make, typically on ads. CPC is useful for measuring the effectiveness of a digital marketing campaign and is commonly used in display campaigns. It illustrates not just whether a campaign is generating clicks, but also whether those clicks are worth the cost of the campaign. It is also useful for comparison between different campaigns. CPC is calculated simply by dividing cost of an ad by total clicks.

Cost Per Acquisition (CPA). CPA is the average cost in marketing and sales for every new customer acquired during a campaign. It is a critical digital marketing KPI since it can make or break a campaign; campaigns that fail to acquire customers efficiently will inevitably be abandoned. CPA doesn’t apply in all circumstances, though. It is most useful when the goal of a campaign is acquiring customers that will have high lifetime value, rather than campaigns that aim to facilitate one-time sales. CPA can be calculated in two ways. The first equation is: (Total Ad Cost) / (Total Conversions). The second is: (Marketing Costs + Sales Costs) / (Number of Customers Acquired).

Cost Per Conversion (CPCon). Though similar to CPA, CPCon is a broader metric. While acquisitions refer specifically to gaining a customer, anything can be called a conversion (a sale, a lead, a download, a subscription to a newsletter, etc.) so CPCon takes a bit of a wider view. It varies and is defined by the business model and type of campaign it’s measuring. CPCon is also calculated in two possible ways, first: (Cost) / (Conversions). Note that in this first equation the term “cost” is vague; that is because the costs being used to calculate CPCon will also vary from campaign to campaign. The second equation is: (CPC) / (Conversion Rate).

Cost Per Lead (CPL). Although it can be tempting to look at the raw number of leads to measure success, that isn’t enough to mark the success of a digital marketing campaign. Lead acquisition costs have to be low enough to maintain a good margin and show significant growth. That’s where CPL comes in. It can be calculated as: (Total Campaign Cost) / (Number of Leads)

Revenue Per Lead (RPL). Measuring CPL is good, but it’s important to consider the other side of things and look at the approximate sales value for each new lead. This metric allows digital marketing teams to predict their future sales based on conversion rates and expected traffic. It also helps reveal where the most profitable leads come from so the team can allocate resources effectively and reinvest in those more profitable channels. It can be calculated as: (Total Revenue Attributed to Campaign) / (Number of Leads)

Email Clickthrough Rate (ECTR). In email marketing campaigns, the email clickthrough rate measures the target audience’s engagement. It shows whether an email is actually getting customers to take a desired action and can help the team discover what aspects of an email do and do not work. It can be calculated as: (Number of Clicks) / (Number of Emails Successfully Delivered) x 100%

Email Open Rate (EOR). It is one thing to measure ECTR and know how many people are taking a desired action, but it is important to compare ECTR to EOR. Why? Because some members of the campaign’s target audience will open an email and then not click through. EOR also shows how effective the email subject lines are at grabbing the attention of potential customers. A big difference between ECTR and EOR demonstrates that an email has an eye-catching title, but the content of the email might be failing to get customers to take the desired action. EOR can be calculated as: (Emails Opened) / (Number of Emails Successfully Delivered). However, it is worth noting that tracking of email open rate is achieved through the use of an invisible pixel on the email which, when downloaded in the email client, informs the email service provided that the email has been opened. In June 2021 Apple announced that, with iOS15, the iPhone mail app would no longer support this type of email open tracking in a bid to assure users that Apple valued user privacy. As of this writing, the impact of this change is not yet clear.

Bounce Rate. Of course, not all emails are delivered successfully. Sometimes things go wrong, such as the email list having incorrect or invalid emails. A high Bounce Rate means it is time to clean up the email list and potentially get more email addresses. The Bounce Rate can be calculated as: (Emails Sent – Emails Delivered) / (Total Emails Sent) x 100%

Cost Per Install (CPI). There are few metrics more significant for mobile app owners to measure than CPI. It is a way of measuring the number of paid installs against organic installs. For companies that are trying to extend their existing business into the mobile world, CPI is a critical indicator of where they need to invest to make sure mobile marketing is effective and reaches out to their target customer base. CPI can be calculated as: (Total Ad Cost) / (Total Installs).

After creating a digital marketing plan and selecting the main KPI metrics that will measure its success, it is time to choose what tool to measure them with.

Choosing Analytics Tools

There are a number of different platforms to manage digital and social media analytics. They fall into three categories: web & SEO tools, social media tools, and email marketing tools.

Web & SEO Analytics Tools

Search Engine Optimization and web analysis is difficult and complex, but fortunately there is an abundance of different tools to help assess the success of efforts in these areas. Here are some of the biggest ones:

Google Analytics. By far the most popular, Google Analytics runs on a freemium model provided directly by Google to help digital marketing teams track various metrics about traffic and other web performance measures. The basic version is free, but the premium version (Google Analytics 360) has a number of additional features that many find well worth the cost.

Google Search Console. This program, which is a part of Google Analytics, offers in-depth SEO reports when linked to a Google Analytics account. The service is completely free to use and does much of the SEO-based analysis that Google Analytics doesn’t offer.

HubSpot. For those looking for inbound marketing and automation, HubSpot can be used to track website traffic, social media channels, landing pages, inbound marketing, calls to action, and more. HubSpot is especially geared toward B2B companies.

Moz. One of the more comprehensive platform for web analytics, Moz offers a broad range of tools for virtually everything a digital marketing team would need to do, including: keyword analysis, SEO competition, SERP features, search volume data, and more.

ClickMeter. As a single virtual platform, ClickMeter aims to be a one-stop shop for businesses seeking to analyze and optimize their marketing links and conversion rates. If Moz is a toolbox, ClickMeter is a comprehensive multi-tool.

SimilarWeb. SimilarWeb is a platform that allows businesses to compare their website to competitors around the world, discover what sources drive traffic to any website (search inquiries, social media, referrals, etc.), and analyze target customer base interests. SimilarWeb has the unique advantage of allowing digital marketing teams to see the organic and paid keywords – even the “Google not-provided” ones – of any website.

Crazy Egg. With a number of unique tools such as Heat Map, Scroll Map, Overlay, and Confetti, Crazy Egg allows heatmap tracking of website usage. Crazy Egg is notable for its visualization features, making it easier to understand the data without getting buried in numbers. Crazy Egg also offers A/B Testing and other editing tools that are designed to help businesses build and modify content features for success.

Ahrefs. Unlike its competitors, Ahrefs is made for maximum ease of use and minimal navigation. A paid SEO software suite, it has various tools for rank tracking, link building, keyword analysis, competitor analysis, and website audits. For many businesses, the biggest draw for Ahrefs is that it is designed specifically to learn why competitors rank highly. Getting that inside information can give companies an edge by showing them what they have to do in order to outrank the competition.

Social Media Marketing Analytics Tools

Social media marketing can seem deceptively simple, but a deeper look reveals that there is much more than meets the eye. There are a handful of good programs to help dig in and gather metrics so help you engage social media users better.

Facebook Business Manager – Facebook Business Manager is your control console for paid Facebook and Instagram marketing campaigns. In Business Manager you’ll build you creatives, add your copy and calls-to-action, set campaign targeting, and set the goals for the campaign. You’ll be able to track progress to goal and see engagement with your paid Facebook promotions.

AdEspresso. Hootsuite’s latest social media management suite, AdEspresso offers a wide range of helpful tools that provide real-time social media performance metrics. Some of the analytics it includes are: engagement, clicks, follow/unfollow statistics, mentions, and the performance of the social media team in responding to visitor messages and comments.

Socialbakers Social Media Analytics. A completely free collection of cutting edge social media analytics tools, Socialbakers is designed to measure social media performance against competitors. It is built on the idea of multi-channel publishing, social media listening, and analyzing competing companies’ social media accounts to learn from them.

Buffer. It can be exhausting to try and keep up with all the different social media accounts that a modern business can have, but Buffer helps by providing a platform to manage them all in one place. Buffer helps social media and digital marketing teams schedule content and publish it automatically, get analytics insights for all social media accounts, and understand how to improve performance. It also has the unique bonus feature of creating reports for managers and clients with pre-designed templates.

Email Marketing Analytics

Email marketing is like Pong: easy to learn, but hard to master. Email marketing analytics fall into several basic categories:

Email service providers (ESPs) – ESPs are the tools you use to design and send out your email marketing. They range from simple, easy to use tools like MailChimp and Constant Contact, up to more sophisticated ESPs like Salesforce and Marketo. ESP analytics generally cover open rate, click rate, unsubscribe rate and bounce rate. ESP analytics will also include details on which links or buttons were clicked and some insight into deliverability.

UTM codes – Putting UTM codes on your email CTAs (calls to action) allows you to track how well each CTA does in driving traffic to your site. Using Google’s UTM code builder is the easiest way to generate logical UTM codes. You’ll track UTM codes in your site’s Google Analytics dashboard.

Email deliverability – Deliverability has to do with whether or not your outbound email marketing is being received and, if so, in what tab. If you have a Gmail account you know it has three tabs: Primary, Social and Promotion. Of course, every email marketer would like their outbound email offers to land in recipients’ Primary tabs, but can be difficult to achieve. Use Google Postmaster to monitor your IP and mailing domain reputation for recipients’ Gmail accounts. To assess deliverability across all email clients you can use a tool like Glockapps which will send test emails and measure whether they are delivered or blocked in Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, and more.

Email rendering – Every email client will read your email code slightly differently. This means that your email will look different depending on whether it is received by Gmail, Outlook, AOL, Yahoo, or others. And your email will also look different on an iPhone, Android phone, laptop, desktop, or tablet. Tool like Litmus and Email on Acid will test your email designs across all email clients and viewport sizes to give you clear metrics on how it will look.

Making Digital Marketing Campaigns Work

Often, the reason that digital marketing campaigns don’t succeed is not that they lack quality, creativity, or skilled team members. The actual reason that many campaigns fail is that they do not set the right goals and track the campaign’s performance.

LNP Media Group is a leading Lancaster digital agency with the staff to do all of your digital campaign management in-house. We work with businesses across the Harrisburg-Lebanon-Lancaster-York area as well as businesses up and down in the east coast. During a marketing planning and strategy session we’ll set SMART goals for your campaigns to ensure their success. And, following campaign deployment, we’ll continue to be your partner in mid-campaign optimization and post-campaign analysis. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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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What Local Businesses Need to Know for Reaching Sports Fans

What Local Businesses Need to Know for Reaching Sports Fans

Lancaster County loves football, from high school teams to the NFL. Every Friday night, LNP readers take to the fields to watch their local high school football games. No one knows more about local high school and college sports than LNP. We offer great news reporting and highlights in print and online, and we offer a range of advertising opportunities like the High School Football Preview. So during the peak of fall sports, your business can reach fans right here in Lancaster.

When your business places advertisements in the High School Football Preview, your brand shows support for your favorite high school football team.

Why should your business care about advertising in this popular annual feature? Simple: This is the opportunity for your business to generate sales and goodwill by being a team sponsor. High School Football Preview could be a touchdown for your business.

Associate your business with a school by placing team ads.

Sports fans connect with their favorite team. Studies have shown that for fans, identifying with a favorite team is more important than being identified with their work and social groups.  Support for a certain team or club can serve as a point of identity for sports lovers. Die-hard fans will do anything for their team.

Use this to your business’s advantage. Make a connection with local sports fans by identifying your business as a high school football team fan when you advertise in the High School Football Preview.

Reach sports fans, parents, and students in Lancaster County.

Football Sports player High School in LancasterJust like the competition athletes face on the field, your business has its own competition. By becoming a team sponsor, your business will attract the sports fans in Lancaster and beat out the competition. When fall comes around, high school football games attract fans that could also become customers. It’s not just men reading the Sports Section. Teachers, parents, students or any fan of local Lancaster high school football teams could be reading your advertisement in LNP. This opportunity allows you to connect with a wide range of sports enthusiasts. Your business could be seen by the 140,000 people who read LNP on weekdays when you become a part of the High School Football Preview.

Football brings lots of hype once the season starts. People bring out their favorite jerseys, tailgating supplies, and decorations for their homes. Why wouldn’t your business want to join the hype that football season brings? It’s a smart move.

Mixing sports and marketing is a good play.

LNP will publish this special edition on Wednesday, August 30 and Wednesday, November 29, during the beginning and end of high school football season. By running your business’s advertisement twice, you can reach twice the number of sports fans and athletes! Your business can reach over 140,000 readers and potential customers with each publication.

Want to be a part of this special spotlight edition? Hurry! The deadline for space reservation is Friday, August 11th.

Beat the competition and build awareness with the High School Football Preview. Contact us now to speak with a Sales Rep!

What 7 in 10 LNP Readers Revealed in Our Last Survey

What 7 in 10 LNP Readers Revealed in Our Last Survey

Reading Habits can be Personal

It’s probably not surprising to learn that the people at LNP Media Group are obsessed with measuring and analyzing reader habits. We do a lot of research and big studies. We ask a lot of questions to find out what people care about, and try to measure how much they care about it. But readers are not always forthcoming. Sometimes they don’t get specific, or don’t want to share too much about what they read, or why. Despite all the research we do, we’re not always 100% sure about our readers feelings about every part of our news and information offers. Over the years, we’ve come to accept that people don’t always want to share every part of their reading habits. Some parts of our subscribers’ lives are personal. We get it.

We Never Expected Rave Reviews

Maybe that’s why we were surprised when we started getting positive feedback. Sometimes it was a short note. Other times it was a legitimate, handwritten letter. (Yes, they still exist!) And we started getting emails, and Facebook posts and comments. We got lots of positive comments in surveys. In fact, everywhere we look, people were making an effort to tell us how much they like our new magazine. There’s no other way to describe it. Sunday magazine got rave reviews.

 7 in 10 Readers read Sunday EVERY WEEK

Our last survey cinched it. 7 out of 10 people who subscribe to LNP on Sundays reported that they read Sunday magazine every week. That translates to loyal weekly readership in over 50,000 homes, with a readership of almost 140,000.

While it surprises some, Sunday magazine is not available in newsstand editions. None of its content is available online. It doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account. Instead, it’s a rock-solid expression of our commitment to print and to those who love it. We’re grateful that our readers love our magazine. And we’re excited to have such a beloved magazine to offer to our local advertisers.

 

Haikus, Birdwatching, Local Makers and More

Whether you love nature, culture, food, history or the arts, Sunday offers readers original, local content every week. The Sunday staff looks for the very best of everything local. That’s why you’ll find work from local poets and writers, profiles on businesses, chefs, craftsmen and historians, glimpses back into Lancaster County history, recipes, profiles on artists and musicians and, of course, our now famous Lancaster County-inspired word searches.

How Can You Reach Sunday Readers?

Sunday magazine offers three ways to reach our loyal readers.

  1.  1/3 page ads–Only two are allowed on any one page, so your business gets maximum attention.
  2. Table of Contents page–Your logo will be included on a page that not only kicks off the Sunday magazine experience, but also features a timely quote, information about the cover and a map that sources every story or feature and connects it to one of the towns or townships in the county.
  3. Page sponsorship–Some of our pages get special attention from readers, such as  The Lancaster That Was, Almanac and Puzzles. We don’t offer ads on these pages, but we do offer sponsorships, so you can be in front of readers as they spend extra time with our magazine. Your name or logo will be prominently featured on the page.

Want to learn more? Contact us and let’s start talking about introducing your business to our passionate and engaged readers.