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Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 18

New year, new SEO goals — here’s how to ensure your strategy is primed to hit the ground running in 2020

Here, you’ll find:

  • The biggest factors affecting your SEO
  • Tips for setting measurable SEO goals
  • How to assess your current SEO standing
  • Ways to stay on top of the latest SEO trends

With a new year comes a fresh start. The day-to-day tasks are what keep a company humming along, but every now and then, it’s important to zoom out and look at your processes from a bird’s (or, you know, a hawk’s) eye view.

Now is the perfect time to focus on your company’s current search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Don’t have one? Then now is a great time to start! 

SEO includes both on-page (elements on your own website) and off-page (which comprises things like backlinks and social media) optimization. While you have more control over your on-page SEO, there are things you can do for both categories to ensure your site is getting as much exposure as possible.

Ready to dive in? Here are 8 action items you can start now to set your business up for SEO success in 2020.

HawkSEM blog: 8 Tactics to Improve Your SEO in 2020

Along with SEO, it’s also a good idea to check on other technical elements of your site. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Give your site a “wellness check”

There are multiple factors that go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to give your website a “wellness check” once a year — at least. 

As we’ve mentioned before, you can seek out a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up. 

During this SEO wellness check, you’ll want to check for things like:

  • Page titles (ideally 70 characters or less)
  • A site map for easy navigation
  • Relevant meta descriptions (ideally 300 characters or less)
  • Headings and subheadings on blogs and other pages
  • Dead-end pages (broken links that route to empty 404 pages)

Along with SEO, it’s also a good idea to check on other technical elements of your site. Things like page load speeds, your domain’s security (especially if people log in or are asked to submit their info on places like landing pages), and compressed media files all go into managing a top-notch site. 

2. Conduct a content audit

There’s no single “right” way to conduct a content audit. The aim of this practice is to analyze your content. With an audit, you can identify old posts, high-performing pieces, duplicate content, and everything in between.

Creating a spreadsheet is the easiest way to conduct an organized content audit. This spreadsheet should have categories for:

  • Content title
  • Content type
  • Author
  • Date published
  • Keywords
  • Meta description
  • URL
  • Word count
  • Traffic

You can uncover lots of insightful SEO data through this type of audit. It’ll show you which content could use a refresh, which pieces need to be optimized, any duplicate content that could hurt your SERP ranking, and which pieces aren’t getting you any traffic whatsoever. This will also help you identify top traffic drivers that you’ll want to work to expand upon or replicate.

If you have a high volume of content (and not a lot of time to gather this info manually), you can use Google Analytics or SEMRush to help you gather the URLs and other info you need to perform the audit.

3. Identify topic gaps you could fill

Another helpful use for your audit is to identify topic gaps you can fill via new content. Which topics related to your business have you not covered? Which related topics are your competitors outranking you for? 

Often, these chosen topics (start out with a list of 10) relate to the products or services your business offers. Once you’ve narrowed them down, you can use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords. 

Determine the prioritization of your topics and organize them in something like a Google Sheet. That way, you can more easily brainstorm specific blog ideas that fall under the more general (and more competitive) umbrella of your chosen keywords.

4. Create (or update) your content strategy

The best content strategy is one that’s not set in stone. The more you create content, the more data you can gather, the more topics you can cover, and the more opportunity you have to optimize your site for search engines. 

Your content strategy serves as a high-level look at your content goals and how you plan to achieve them. 

Whether you create a doc, a slideshow, or go old-school with pen and paper, your content strategy should include:

  • Goals
  • Key performance indicators
  • Target personas
  • Tactics
  • Creation process
  • Projects

Your strategy could also map out how often you plan to publish content. Some content strategies even include content creation checklists to ensure each published piece is optimized before it goes live. Optimized content has elements such as:

  • Subheadings
  • Title tags
  • Internal and external links
  • Meta descriptions
  • Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
  • Images with alt text

Pro tip: Want to rise in the SERP ranks? Of course you do! Optimizing your content for voice search and featured snippets can help. Try to add content ideas to your calendar that answer common questions your prospects would type into a search engine or ask a voice search device. Then answer those questions via content in a straightforward, concise way.

HawkSEM blog: 8 Tactics to Improve Your SEO in 2020

Backlinks are like endorsements — they help illustrate to Google that your site is legitimate and valuable. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Have a link-building plan

When it comes to off-page SEO, link-building is one of the most effective methods out there. It also — like SEO itself — takes time to cultivate properly.

The more backlinks (links from other sites to yours, also called inbound links) you have from relevant, credible sites and sources, the higher your website is likely to rank. That’s because backlinks are like endorsements — they help illustrate to Google that your site is legitimate and valuable. 

Start out by linking your own content to credible sites and sources when relevant. By giving others backlinks, you can build a relationship with other sites that can help encourage them to backlink to you as well. 

There’s no secret to getting good quality backlinks, but some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:

  • Publishing unique stats, research, or findings
  • Guest blogging on other sites
  • Leveraging industry influencers
  • Reaching out to sites with directories (like a site’s resources page)

If you have the means, you can also consider partnering with a public relations (PR) agency. These pros often have tons of nurtured media relationships, which means they can help get the word out about a new infographic, cool survey results, or an experienced team member who’s available for interviews.

For future content, you can look into potentially partnering with another (non-competitor) company to expand your reach. This could be a joint webinar or survey, or something like a content swap.

6. Sign up for an SEO newsletter 

The SEO world is ever-evolving, and keeping up with the latest updates and changes can seem like its own full-time job. That’s where SEO newsletters come in. Instead of taking the time to research, you can work smarter (not harder) and let the latest news come straight to your inbox instead.

There are plenty of SEO newsletters to choose from, and you may even be able to find one that applies specifically to your industry. Moz Top 10 is a popular newsletter that sends out the 10 most valuable pieces of SEO content every two weeks. The newsletters from Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal are worth subscribing to as well. (P.S. Hawk has one, too!)

7. Write down your SEO goals for the year

With January just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to determine your SEO goals for the next year. If the idea seems overwhelming, don’t fret! Here’s how you can break it down.

Start off with where you currently are with your SEO. How are your rankings? What’s your organic traffic like? What about referral traffic, links, and search volume? 

Once you know where you are, determine where you want to be and how you’ll get there. Which pieces of content do you want to get from page 3 to page 1, and how will you work to make it happen? How many leads or sales do you want to attract in a certain time period? How much do you want traffic to increase?

Once you’ve determined your goals, you can create tangible steps and tactics that will light your path to success.

8. Track your progress

Having goals is only half the battle — you also need to be tracking your progress. This keeps you on the right path and can shine a light on how and when you should be iterating your processes. 

Keep an eye on your monthly ranking status and any new backlinks you accrue. This also allows you to quickly see when to disavow links that might be spam, which can hurt your SEO status. Disavowing a link basically tells Google to ignore the link in connection to your site.  

You can even monitor website speed as you add new content. Being able to evaluate your progress and efforts is key to your SEO success.

HawkSEM blog: 8 Tactics to Improve Your SEO in 2020

Having goals is only half the battle — you also need to be tracking your progress. (Image via Unsplash)

The takeaway

Whether you’re finetuning your current strategy or starting from scratch, the new year is a perfect time to assess your SEO goals, evaluate your current practices, and implement a stellar SEO plan. 

Here at HawkSEM, we’ve successfully helped clients improve their keyword research and development, site optimization, content creation, and more. Want to know more? Let’s chat

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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(Image via Unsplash)

12 Marketing Conferences to Attend in 2020

From paid search to content and everything in between, these are the can’t-miss marketing conferences happening around the country Here, you’ll find: 12 innovative marketing conferences to attend ...

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HawkSEM blog: 9 Ways Digital Marketing Builds Brand Trust

9 Ways Digital Marketing Builds Brand Trust

How to build brand trust and loyalty with customers and prospects through authenticity Here, you’ll find: Why owning mistakes is key How to respond to positive and negative reviews Tips for creating...

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HawkSEM blog: 10 Ways to Take Holiday E-Commerce Sales to the Next Level

10 Ways to Take Holiday E-Commerce Sales to the Next Level

'Tis the season to discover new ways to spice up your ad campaign, increase traffic, and boost sales for the holidays. Joy to the e-commerce world!...

Read More
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Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 14

From paid search to content and everything in between, these are the can’t-miss marketing conferences happening around the country

Here, you’ll find:

  • 12 innovative marketing conferences to attend in 2020
  • What to expect from each event
  • The types of sessions and speakers at each conference

For those who work in the ever-changing marketing field, it can be hard enough to find time to grab lunch, let alone carve out days away from the office.

But in fact, taking the time to attend an industry conference can be greatly beneficial, both personally and for your company.

Conferences give you the opportunity to learn more about your field, stay up to date on the latest developments, meet like-minded people, and gather inspiration (and ideally a to-do list) you can bring back to your team. 

With all the marketing conferences out there, it can be hard to know which ones are right for you. Don’t worry — we’ve done the work for you. Below, we’ve highlighted 12 worthwhile marketing conferences happening around the country in 2020. 

Image via Unsplash

(Image via Unsplash)

1. Industry Preview

Find out what’s new, next, and on the horizon for 2020 in the world of marketing technology at this AdExchanger conference. Glean valuable insight from high-level leaders from companies like Google, Amazon, Wayfair, Verizon, Facebook, and more. 

Attendees can expect 50 visionary speakers and more than 30 session options in between mingling and networking with hundreds of fellow industry pros. It’s a conference that’ll ensure you start the new year off on the right foot.  

When: Jan. 28-29, 2020

Where: Grand Hyatt New York, NYC, New York

2. Search Marketing Expo

This two-day event is touted as the conference for those obsessed with SEO and SEM. With search marketing as one of the most effective digital marketing tools at our disposal these days, SMX aims to help attendees boost conversions, increase sales, grow awareness, and achieve their goals.

Sessions will cover topics from new nofollow and snippet rules to driving profitable sales with Amazon ads and how link building has evolved. Plus, for the first time, the 2020 event includes a new two-day track specifically geared toward e-commerce marketing.

When: Feb. 19-20, 2020

Where: San Jose McEnery Convention Center, San Jose, California

3. Social Media Marketing World

Get the lowdown on the latest in social media marketing at this results-driven conference. Over the course of three days, expert speakers will cover social strategy, social advertising, content marketing, video marketing, analytics, customer advocacy, and more.

With plenty of sessions, workshops, and after-hours parties to choose from, this is the go-to conference for many social media marketers, digital marketing managers, agency owners, consultants, network marketers, and corporate marketers alike. 

When: March 1-3, 2020

Where: San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, California

4. SearchLove

Looking for insight into SEO trends, mobile search, Google algorithm updates, and PPC for inbound marketers? Distilled’s SearchLove conference has you covered.  

Past speakers have come from the likes of Moz, Microsoft, Unbounce, and HubSpot. You can even get expert feedback on your website at one of SearchLove’s site clinics.

When: March 26-27, 2020

Where: Kona Kai Resort, San Diego, California

5. MarTech

As a marketer, you want to boost ROI — and MarTech wants to help you do just that. This three-day gathering is for all levels of ambitious marketers looking to expand their industry knowledge. 

Get tools and tips on building a digital marketing operation from the ground up, creating true multi-touch attribution, innovating within a budget, and everything in between.

When: April 15-17, 2020

Where: San Jose McEnery Convention Center, San Jose, California

6. Incite Marketing Summit

This two-day conference from Reuters Events encourages attendees to look ahead at the marketing industry’s future to better prepare for what’s to come. Their three pillars of focus are:

  • marketing with purpose
  • data and personalization
  • compelling content

Learn how you can bring all of these concepts together in your own marketing strategy while hearing from accomplished speakers representing brands like Marriott International, CareerBuilder, HP, and Forbes. 

When: May 14-15, 2020

Where: San Diego Hilton Spa and Resort, San Diego, California

(Image via Unsplash)

(Image via Unsplash)

7. DigiMarCon Midwest

For those looking to leave a conference with pages (whether actual or digital) of actionable insights, look no further than DigiMarCon. With a program designed to help attendees build and develop their audience, expect to learn about growing traffic, creating brand awareness, leveraging the latest tools, and plenty more.

In addition to sessions led by acclaimed speakers, DigiMarCon offers limited-edition Master Classes. Past classes have gone in-depth on topics like AI & Programmatic Advertising, Brand Storytelling, and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO). 

When: June 17-18, 2020

Where: Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois

8. MozCon

Stay ahead of the curve while learning next-level tactics on everything from ranking higher to making better data-driven decisions at this three-day search marketing extravaganza.

Hear from a variety of knowledgeable session leaders while networking with those well-versed in SEO, content marketing, paid search, social media, and agencies.

When: July 6-8, 2020
Where: Seattle, Washington

9. Inbound

HubSpot’s highly anticipated marketing event is part conference, part festival. Each year, the brand brings together a mix of industry leaders from big-name brands and celebrity entrepreneurs to share their knowledge. 

With interactive booths, live entertainment, a buzzy food truck lawn, and hundreds of sessions across multiple venue spaces, expect valuable lessons and takeaways for every type of marketer at Inbound. (See our top takeaways from the 2019 event here.)

When: Aug. 18-21, 2020

Where: Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Boston, Massachusetts

10. Content Marketing World

Content is a key part of any good digital marketing strategy’s foundation. This four-day conference wants to arm attendees with creative ideas, organizational tools, and effective insights to take any brand’s content marketing to the next level.

Thousands of attendees from more than 500 companies are expected to attend the 2020 event, meaning nearly endless opportunities to learn, connect, and collaborate.

When: Oct. 13-16, 2020

Where: Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, Cleveland, Ohio

11. Onward

Big names like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Seth Meyers, and Seth Godin have graced the stage at this Yext conference geared toward search marketing. The 2020 edition promises to be just as impressive.

This often sold-out conference highlights buzzy topics like AI, technology trends, and evolving industries, all through the lens of search marketing. Learn innovative ways to meet customers where they are, with a side of live entertainment and after-hours fun. 

When: Nov. 16-18, 2020

Where: New York Marriott Marquis, NYC, New York

12. Digital Summit

Digital Summit wants to empower attendees to go from just another fish in the sea to becoming marketing leaders. Their multi-city events offer engaging info sessions on all aspects of marketing: content, search, email, mobile, UX and design, social, and strategy.

The success of the Digital Summit series has caused the event to grow, spanning various dates and cities throughout the year. Look for this can’t-miss conference to pop up in cities including Seattle, Raleigh, Denver, Los Angeles, NYC, Atlanta, Houston, and more. 

When: Various dates

Where: Various venues

(Image via Unsplash)

(Image via Unsplash)

The takeaway

At the end of the day, marketing is about connection. When you attend marketing conferences that let you connect with ideas, strategies, and people who are passionate about the same things as you, amazing things can happen.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 12

How to build brand trust and loyalty with customers and prospects through authenticity

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why owning mistakes is key
  • How to respond to positive and negative reviews
  • Tips for creating trust-building content
  • Ways to showcase the people behind your company

Keeping it real. No filter. Cutting to the chase. When it comes to marketing, we’re living in the age of authenticity.

Consumer surveys show that customers reward the brands they consider to be authentic by purchasing from them over others, according to Inc. These days, most people are digitally savvy enough to know when they’re being sold to. And most may not even mind, as long as the messages they’re receiving are honest.

This begs the question: How can companies build trust in this day and age? Digital marketing is a great place to start.

1. Create content that aims to educate

Content is one of the most effective ways you can foster trust for your brand. Not only does it allow your company’s authentic voice and tone to shine, but it can be used to show your audience that you want to help them, not just sell to them.

While driving sales is one of the big foundations of a digital marketing plan, it shouldn’t always be top of mind when you’re brainstorming blog or other content ideas. Instead, your content should aim to:

  • Answer common questions your clients and prospects have
  • Touch on each stage of the buyer’s journey
  • Speak directly to your chosen persona
  • Position your brand as a thought-leader
  • Be easy to read and digest
  • Feature tactical advice and actionable tips

Too much company-facing content can be a turn-off to prospects. Instead, focus on your industry, whether that means expert advice, trend breakdowns, or something in between. Put yourself in your personas’ shoes: what content can you produce to show them you have their best interests in mind?

HawkSEM blog: 9 Ways Digital Marketing Builds Brand Trust

By connecting with your prospects and clients online, you turn individual buyers into a community. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Respond to your reviews

It can be tempting to write up an enthusiastic “thank you” message in response to a positive review — while leaving the negative ones alone to languish. Alternatively, some brands choose to only respond to their negative reviews to offer a rebuttal. 

Customers care more about brand reputation than ever before, according to a survey from Trustpilot. So it’s no surprise to see business experts agree that, if you want to build trust for a brand, it’s wise to respond to all of your reviews.

Thanking someone for a positive review makes the person feel seen and appreciated. Negative reviews are, of course, a bit more touchy. Your type of response should depend on the review itself. If the person had a bad customer service experience, it’s a good idea to respond apologetically. You can also offer up your contact info if the reviewer wants to continue the conversation privately. 

If the issue was a simple mix-up or misunderstanding on the reviewer’s part, you can point this out and, again, offer to continue the conversation privately. 

If the reviewer is a current or former client whose contact info you already have, proactively reach out and try to smooth things over. Best-case scenario: They realize it was an honest error, and update or remove their negative feedback.

3. Start (and participate in) industry conversations

The brands that know how to properly leverage digital marketing to build trust know that it’s all about connection. By authentically connecting with your prospects and clients, you turn individual buyers into a community. 

Starting and joining in on conversations is a great way to foster this community connection in your industry. Social media is often where these conversations are taking place, so get involved! Participate in live chats on Twitter, join relevant professional LinkedIn and Facebook groups, and use popular industry hashtags on Instagram. 

Being part of the ongoing conversations in your field shows you’re paying attention, and it can help grow your company’s organic reach.

4. Use badges and client testimonials to your advantage

Which seems more trustworthy to you: A brand talking about how great they are, or one that lets their clients and business partners do the talking for them?

When it comes to authenticity, it’s better to show rather than tell. Leverage positive reviews and happy client feedback by adding these attributed quotes to your website (as long as it’s cool with the source, of course).

And while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to show off any special accreditations, certifications, badges, or awards your business has accrued, too. Third-party validation makes your brand look trustworthy and helps you stand out. You’ve earned the props, why not share them?

5. Partner with other authoritative brands

Working in a silo can only get you so far. Look into opportunities to partner with other brands, whether for a content swap, joint webinar, or a preferred vendor program. The companies you seek out should ideally be in your industry and have similar target audiences without being competitors.

Build up a relationship with the people behind these brands. You can offer to share their content with your audience, for starters. For the best chance of creating a relationship, reach out in a way that highlights the benefit for them. 

Particularly with more established brands, you may have to reach out to a few before getting a response. Because of this, it’s good to already have a plan or vision in mind for how you could team up in a way that’s beneficial for both of your businesses.

HawkSEM blog: 9 Ways Digital Marketing Builds Brand Trust

If you want people to trust your company, then security should be a top priority. (Image via Unsplash)

6. Make sure your site is secure

Quick ways to lose brand trust: A client getting spam emails from your company or realizing you sold their info to a third party without their consent. If you want people to trust your company, then security should be a top priority.

Having a secure domain (that begins with https:// instead of http://) is a clear indicator that someone can feel safe submitting their personal info via a form on your website. If users log into your site for any reason, make sure you’ve got the proper settings in place to prevent hacking. 

Lastly, if you accept payments through your site or platform, make sure you’re adhering to PCI compliance guidelines (a set of security standards that help keep payment info secure). This will bring you and your clients peace of mind.

7. Own up to your mistakes

Let’s be real: sh*t happens. Sometimes websites crash, broken links end up in blogs, or newsletters get sent out at the wrong time. Instead of trying to cover up a mistake, just own it, apologize (if necessary), fix things, and move on.

Particularly in competitive fields (and these days, most of them are), it can be scary to admit you screwed up. But research shows that people value transparency and the humanizing humbleness that comes with a company saying, “sorry.” No one’s perfect, after all.

8. Give your team time in the spotlight

It’s not just search algorithms that favor sites with human elements (bylines, bios, headshots) over those without. Putting faces to your company reminds people that there are real-live humans behind your product or service. 

Your team is something that makes your business unique — so let them shine! 

A few ways you can highlight employees include:

  • Having them host video webinars or a branded podcast
  • Posting a spotlight series on social media that features different team members with their photo, name, job title, and a fun fact
  • Including a group photo or individual headshots on your website’s About Us page

9. Make your company mission clear

Sometimes it pays to get back to basics. Think about why your business was started in the first place. What’s your mission? What need does your company aim to fill? What problems are you trying to solve?

Mission-driven branding will always come off more authentic than gimmicky ads or sensationalist copy. Keeping in mind why the company was created in the first place can help you stay on course and show people that your intentions are good.

HawkSEM blog: 9 Ways Digital Marketing Builds Brand Trust

Customers care more about brand reputation than ever before. (Image via Unsplash)

The takeaway

More and more people are looking to buy from businesses they can trust. As competition becomes more fierce, leveraging your company as a trusted source can be what makes your offering stand out from the crowd.

Now that you’ve got the trust thing down, let’s chat about how we can take your digital marketing to the next level.

 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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HawkSEM blog: 10 Ways to Take Holiday E-Commerce Sales to the Next Level

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Written by Jane Serra on Nov 8

Here’s how your e-commerce brand can ensure that this holiday season is your best and (most profitable) yet — while surviving the end-of-year rush.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to leverage the busy season
  • Ways to make holiday e-commerce email campaigns work for you
  • Tips for beefing up your PPC ads
  • Ideas for optimizing your product pages

As the hustle-and-bustle of the holiday season picks up and Q4 quickly comes to a close, you want to end the year not with a jingle, but with a bang.

According to Deloitte’s 2019 retail holiday survey, shoppers are expected to spend nearly $1,500 per household during this holiday season. On top of that, those surveyed expect to spend 59% of their holiday budget shopping online.

Even if the weather outside is frightful, a boost in holiday e-commerce sales is always (you guessed it) delightful. So, how can you make the most of the seasonal madness? We’re glad you asked: start with these e-commerce holiday tips that’ll help you turn sales season into growing traffic and a better bottom line.

HawkSEM blog: 10 Ways to Take Holiday E-Commerce Sales to the Next Level

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the busiest days of the year for most online retailers. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Create a personalized shopping experience

Page journey tracking (or what Google calls flow visualization) can identify a customer’s cursor at every stage of the shopping process through checkout. Not only can this help you identify strengths and weaknesses on your site, but you can use these details to reveal different information and products to different customers based on their browsing history and content interaction. 

Add a call to action (CTA), reduce page length, or insert an exit-intent popup to help engage the customer more effectively. You can also re-engage repeat customers through remarketing ads that include similar products or special offers like a discount or free shipping.

2. Leverage peak promotions

If it seems like every other company is blowing up ad space and social feeds with holiday catchphrases and Santa Claus memes, that’s probably because they are. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the busiest days of the year for most online retailers, with the month of December not far behind. 

Google Trends suggests people begin to holiday shop in September and are in full purchasing mode by mid-October. This means it’s wise to form a strategy early so it can be ready to roll before the big buying push — not afterward. To make promotions as effective as possible, figure out when peak purchasing times are and design campaigns to be released ahead of time.

3. Prioritize customer service

As the number of shoppers and purchases increase, so do the questions. 

Here are just a few FAQs to be prepared for:

  • How many days does it take to ship a product out?
  • Are there any additional promos or deals going on?
  • Will it be here by the holidays?
  • How can I find or track my purchase?

Adding an FAQ page to your website makes it easy for shoppers to find the info they’re looking for, and it gives your team members a link they can send to those with the same questions.

However simple you make accessing this page, some shoppers will likely still reach out in an email or through social media messages. In some cases, shoppers will even want to talk to an actual human being and will make a phone call. To handle the increase in these types of customer questions during the holidays, have multiple communication options available to customers. 

Pro tip: While you can hire a seasonal elf or two to handle the phones, a chatbot might also be necessary for those nocturnal shoppers who need help with purchases in the middle of the night.

4. Create holiday e-commerce email campaigns

Email is one of the most effective marketing methods you can leverage when it comes to holiday e-commerce strategies. Cyber Monday drove $7.9 billion dollars in e-commerce sales in 2018, according to Big Commerce. Furthermore, Shopify reports that approximately 24% of those sales were through email.

Holiday email marketing lets you meet your customers and potential buyers where they already are — but to stand out in an overflowing inbox, you’ve got to get creative. 

When crafting your emails, we recommend you:

  • Keep the message short and include eye-catching, themed visuals
  • Create a “holiday countdown” email that tells recipients how much time they have left to place an order for overnight delivery, free shipping, etc.
  • Always include a clear CTA that leads back to your site
  • Add a limited-time offer (LTO) — customers are more likely to take action when they know the deal won’t be around for long
  • Segment your email lists so you can send the most relevant products to each group
  • Optimize for mobile, as the percentage of people purchasing straight from their phone continues to rise

Is your company participating in any philanthropic initiatives during the holidays? Whether it’s donating to a nonprofit organization or volunteering, highlight this in your email. Consumers tend to favor brands that give back over those that don’t. 

Pro tip: Plan to launch your holiday campaign before Black Friday. Data shows that Thanksgiving Day is actually the fastest-growing day of cyber week for e-commerce sales.

HawkSEM blog: 10 Ways to Take Holiday E-Commerce Sales to the Next Level

Customers value sustainability more and more — and it can affect a purchase decision. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Focus on video ads

Video ads on sites like YouTube and platforms like Instagram’s IGTV can produce better results than a text advertisement in some instances.

The current generation of shoppers mostly prefers video ads, and this type of ad tends to be a better way to engage consumers. Live-action features like Instagram Live also make it easy for e-commerce brands to get traction through promotional videos.

6. Use ad extensions and sitelinks

Because pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns encourage targeted traffic, they’re on the top of most e-commerce brands’ wish lists. When your company ad comes up, give customers the option to click on sales products, special holiday gifts, bonus offers, and similar promotions. 

Using ad extensions and sitelinks gives you the chance to add more context to the ads you publish. When a brand is searched for on Google, sitelinks can appear below the ad’s main URL. Similarly, Google Ads can include ad extensions that provide more info about whatever your ad is about through copy.

These sitelinks and extensions reduce the amount of work shoppers have to do, which can encourage them to click the link. You can also use review ad extensions to mention price reductions, special holiday shipping information, and more.

7. Target the eco-consumer

Customers value sustainability more and more — and it can affect a purchase decision. Get creative by highlighting any eco-conscious efforts you have at your company (hopefully you have a few). It may be the tipping point that gets someone to choose your product over a competitor’s. 

Consider (and following through with) the following to comfort shoppers concerned about the environmental impact of their purchases:

  • Reduced packing material
  • Re-usable boxes
  • Recycled (or recyclable) packing materials
  • Eco-friendly package transportation
  • Packing a multiple-item-order in as few packages as possible

8. Create a holiday gift guide (or related content)

Who doesn’t love a gift guide? Adding a fun branded gift guide into your email newsletter can be a highly effective way to grab the attention of shoppers and help boost sales. It’s safe to guess that subscribers are already familiar with and fans of your brand, so these guides connect with consumers through convenience as well. 

It saves shoppers from having to scroll through page after page or list after list of older or less relevant products and showcases the new merchandise or services alongside (ideally) special promos and ways to save.

If you only have one or a few products or a gift guide just doesn’t mesh with your brand, you can also consider creating holiday-specific content, such as a gated guide or e-book that provides value to the consumer and incorporates your product.

9. Focus on review sections

When 91% of customers who browse internet products read reviews, you know they’re incredibly valuable. Online shoppers tend to pass over or red-flag products with no reviews or too many negative ones. 

You can beef up your credibility by adding review sections, making them more prominent on your product pages, or asking previous satisfied customers to provide reviews via automated emails.

10. Ensure your site is speedy

Oh, what fun it is to shop on a site with an average load time of under two seconds! (…Not.)

Radware found that after three seconds, 57% of site visitors left a page they were unable to interact with. Simply having a fast load time can double traffic — no sleigh required.

Site speed can also influence repeat business, as 79% of shoppers who had a poor impression of website performance are unlikely to purchase from or revisit that site, according to Kissmetrics.

HawkSEM blog: 10 Ways to Take Holiday E-Commerce Sales to the Next Level

Deck your site with holiday cheer and watch the sales grow. (Image via Unsplash)

The takeaway

The holidays should be a time of cheer — not a time to run yourself and your team ragged trying to keep up. Hopefully, these tips can put you at ease and show you how your e-commerce digital marketing holiday campaign can be your most successful yet. 

Now that you’re excited (or at least a little less Grinch-like) about the holidays, it’s time to deck your site with holiday cheer and watch the sales grow.

Jane Serra

Jane Serra

Jane Serra is the VP of Marketing at HawkSEM. She's an accomplished marketing executive with more than 12 years of experience leading digital marketing teams across demand generation, branding, events, content, and communications. When she's not strategizing, networking, and honing her craft, she enjoys traveling and scrolling Yelp for new restaurants to try.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Nov 6

From ideation to optimization, these steps will help you create a solid process for high-quality content marketing

Here, you’ll find:

  • Methods for sourcing content ideas
  • How to prioritize your content calendar
  • Tips for effective content writing
  • Ways to promote your content to your audience

A site without strong content simply can’t compete with one sporting an extensive blog, an array of case studies, and other helpful written resources. Having quality content on your website is one of the most effective ways to take your SEO from “eh” to “awesome.” 

Whether you write it yourself, leverage a team member, or outsource to an agency, these are the elements you need for content that’ll make your brand an industry thought leader.

HawkSEM blog: 11 Steps to Create Quality Content

After you have your plan written down, you can update and optimize as needed. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Start with a content marketing strategy

Before you put pen to paper (or marker to whiteboard, or fingers to keys), take the time to lay out your content strategy. Ask yourself things like:

  • What are your content marketing goals?
  • Which KPIs will you measure?
  • How often will you publish?
  • What tools will you use to stay organized?
  • Which forms of content will you publish?

Once you’ve worked out the nitty-gritty details, lay them out in a content strategy doc. After you have your plan written down, you can update and optimize it on a quarterly, biannual, or annual basis as needed.

2. Flesh out your personas

When you’re building your plan for creating quality content, it helps to go back to basics. After all, the ultimate aim of content marketing is to:

  • Raise awareness about your company
  • Educate and provide value to your audience
  • Build loyalty and credibility
  • Improve your search engine results page (SERP) rankings
  • Differentiate your company as a thought leader
  • Drive sales

The most effective content marketing speaks directly to a company’s ideal client persona (ICP), in a language they understand. So, if you haven’t already, make sure you’ve fleshed out your personas

Once you can visualize who your content is speaking to, you can then begin to target their needs and wants, buyer’s journey stage, and interests in a more concrete, specific way.

While you can get as detailed as you want, thorough personas often include:

  • Name
  • Photo or graphic representing the person
  • Company type or industry
  • Job title
  • Key responsibilities
  • Pain points
  • Helpful demographic info (like age, salary, city or region, etc.)

3. Define your voice and tone

Your brand’s voice and tone are illustrated through your website, your content marketing, your ad copy, your social media, and more. These things are reflected in how you speak to your audience. Your voice and tone should make sense for your audience as well as the overall ethos of your business.

A good place to start with identifying your voice and tone is by looking at your target personas. How do they talk? How formal or casual are they? How much time do they have to consume your content? All of these elements can factor into your voice and tone. 

Next, revisit your company’s mission and values. Some businesses use bright colors, youthful acronyms (like LOL), and other nontraditional marketing elements in their branding.

Others have an audience that prefers a minimalist design, a serious demeanor, and no-nonsense verbiage. By blending together the right combination of elements, you can define your voice and tone.

Pro tip: You can codify your voice and tone by creating a content and style guide exclusive to your company’s content marketing. This can include goals, guidelines, and any mechanics you want to make clear, along with info on voice and tone.

4. Conduct keyword research

Grab your shovels — it’s time to do some digging. Identifying your best SEO keywords can help inform your content goals and the topics you cover. If you want to improve your SERP rankings, high-quality content informed by proper keyword targeting is one of the most effective SEO tools at your disposal.

Keyword research can tell you what keywords you’re currently ranking for, what keywords bring users to your site, the most popular keywords for your industry, and more. You want to pinpoint what the user would be searching for (what terms and phrases they’d often use) to find your product or service.

Conduct your research by listing out topics relevant to your business. Next, determine the keywords that would fall under those categories. You can then use an SEO tool (like Google Keyword Planner) to find out the monthly search volume. You can also go directly to the SERP to see how you stack up against your competition.

Ideally, you have a mix of long-tail keywords, which are phrases that usually have three or more words, as well as one-word keywords. Just keep in mind that one-word keywords usually aren’t high converters.

It’s not so much about search volume or length of the keyword — the goal is to rank as high as possible on the highest intent keywords. Targeting is how you find the keywords that have the highest buying intent behind them.

Pro tip: While it’s good to check out which keywords your competition is ranking highly on, don’t spend all of your time and effort trying to outrank them. There’s plenty of value in carving out your own niche as well.

HawkSEM blog: 11 Steps to Create Quality Content

Once you’ve determined your goals, done your research, and consulted your team, you should be able to prioritize your content ideas. (Image via Unsplash)

5. Gather and organize your ideas

Keyword research is a solid jumping-off point when you’re creating your quality content plan. But it shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of your ideation process. This is a great opportunity to leverage people on your team and in other departments to help decide which subjects your content should cover.

Consider hosting a brainstorm session or creating a Slack channel where content ideas can be shared and discussed. This is a great way to leverage colleagues (like the sales team) who are regularly interacting with prospects and clients and hearing about their pain points, needs, and interests. Put all of these ideas onto a cloud-based doc that can be regularly modified, added to, and updated. 

Once you’ve determined your goals, done your research, and consulted your team, you should be in a place where you can properly prioritize your content ideas. Figure out which topics you want to tackle sooner and later, then create a content marketing calendar to keep it all organized. 

While there’s no one way to create your content calendar, it’s a good idea to include elements such as:

  • content title
  • content type
  • writer
  • due date
  • publish date
  • keywords
  • funnel stage or persona

As far as formatting, you can create your own spreadsheet or opt for a pre-made template.

6. Determine your creation process

The creation process for your content will depend on things like your bandwidth, the size of your content team, and the amount of content you want to produce in a certain time, among other things. But laying out a process will make the whole endeavor seem less overwhelming and more manageable. 

A common content marketing creation process looks something like this:

  1. Determine topic
  2. Conduct research
  3. Gather information
  4. Brainstorm headlines
  5. Create outline
  6. Write draft
  7. Edit draft
  8. Finalize draft
  9. Format and upload 
  10. Publish

Again, your process doesn’t need to follow this format exactly. However, by creating a step-by-step checklist for content creation, you can break up tasks into smaller bits to easily stay on track — and on deadline.

7. Let drafts breathe

This step may not seem crucial, but trust us, it is. While it can be tempting to type up a draft, give it a quick once-over, and immediately publish, it’s often not the wisest move. 

Not letting your drafts “breathe” — aka taking a break between writing and publishing — is how errors and incomplete content get published.

Even if you just get out of your desk chair and do a lap around the office, or wait until the next morning to reread your draft, reviewing your content with fresh eyes can make a world of difference. The last thing you want is to publish or send the content to your boss and get a “???” message in response.

Pro tip: No matter how technical your industry or topic is, it’s a good rule of thumb to always write how you speak. By writing in a way that’s conversational, your content comes off more human, authentic, and trustworthy. Plus, with voice search continuing to grow in popularity, content that uses simple, concise language is that much more likely to rise through the search ranks.

8. Have someone else edit (if possible)

Speaking of having a fresh set of eyes (which sounds kind of gross, now that I think about it), those eyes are ideal for another key part of creating quality content: proofreading and editing. Editing is an important step to take to turn a piece of content from good into great.

This editor could be your boss or a colleague, and it doesn’t have to be the same person each time. If you’re on a small team or are a team of one, you can be your own editor. Just make sure you don’t edit your piece directly after finishing the draft.

It’s also a good idea to print out the piece and read it that way — the change of format often helps you spot errors you may not have seen on the screen. 

No matter who edits, make sure they know what to look for. A good editor can see both the forest and the trees. This means that they’re looking for an overall solid piece of content that’s thorough, educational, and covers the topic properly. They also should be on the lookout for grammar and spelling errors, missing words, and an inconsistent tone.

9. Think beyond blog posts

Blog articles can be a huge asset to your website for all the reasons above. But don’t think that blog content is all you need to create. Quality content also comes in the form of social media, guides, case studies, checklists, e-books, white papers, webinars, podcasts — the list goes on.

Once you’ve built a strong content foundation, you can experiment with new formats and see how your audience responds. You can also create complementary content that covers one topic in a variety of ways, with each piece linking to one another.

Pro tip: Don’t rush the headline-writing process. A good headline can be the difference between someone clicking on your link or continuing to scroll. After you’ve written a piece, try to spend at least 10 minutes brainstorming as many headline options as you can before making a final decision.

10. Don’t forget to promote

Like a tree falling in the forest, if a blog article is published and no one knows about it, does it make a sound?

To ensure your content gets the widest reach possible, you’ve got to do what you can to promote it. While you don’t want your social media to be a one-way conversation where you’re constantly shouting about your own company, you should be sharing your content regularly with your audience and followers. 

If you send out a client or prospect newsletter, this is also a great opportunity to include your own content. If you’ve published a new e-book or research findings, you can go so far as to add a banner to your website homepage directing people to the post.

HawkSEM blog: 11 Steps to Create Quality Content

Content marketing is an SEO tool that takes time to cultivate. (Image via Unsplash)

11. Monitor performance

A content strategy is never set in stone. After a few months of publishing, it’s a good time to do a performance check-in. Look into your content traffic and performance metrics, see which pieces are doing well, and see if your rankings have improved.

If you’re not seeing much change, don’t panic. Content marketing is an SEO tool that takes time to cultivate. As long as you’re producing work that’s informative, interesting, digestible, and accurate, you’re on the right track. 

Your content plan should include reminders for optimizing older content as well — ensuring all links are still active, the information is up-to-date, and any new developments are included. When you start to see patterns emerge that show what’s working and what’s not, you can optimize accordingly. 

The takeaway

Content marketing is a great avenue for showing your audience that your business knows how to leverage experts and wants to help them learn more. 

By following these 11 steps, you can build up a top-notch resource library that positions your company as a leader among your competition.

We’ve helped tons of companies big and small take their content marketing to the next level. Want to know more? Let’s chat.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Nov 4

5 strategies to lower CPA for SaaS companies while keeping sales high

Here, you’ll find:

  • Why PPC isn’t the only way to keep CPA low
  • How content, SEO, and landing pages can help lower CPA
  • Why audience targeting is crucial (and not just on Google)
  • Reasons why you should also measure LTV

Sure, a productive tech company’s office needs things like pens, paper, and sticky notes. (Oh, and snacks — don’t forget the snacks). But at the end of the day, digital rules all. It’s what lives at the core of these businesses — and that includes software as a service (SaaS). 

Whatever their market and target audience, SaaS brands create software to solve a problem. Because of this, it’s likely that digital marketing and paid search have been part of your core business from the start. But, no spoiler alert here: as your business changes, so should your digital marketing strategies.

One metric you’re likely familiar with in your SaaS paid search strategy is the cost per acquisition (CPA). Also called cost per action, CPA is defined as an online advertising payment model in which payment is based solely on qualifying actions such as sales or registrations. 

Many SaaS companies only associate PPC or paid search with improving cost per acquisition (CPA). And while you’ll find a wealth of information linking the two, it’s worth noting that these things are not mutually inclusive. 

If you’re a SaaS company focused on CPA over cost per lead (CPL), you’re already ahead of the game. Many businesses get too hung up on low CPL. But even if an ad doesn’t bring in a ton of leads, if the conversion rate is high, you know you’re doing something right.

Lowering your CPA is a broad-based task. PPC is just one tool available to help you accomplish this. As you’ll see, there are other digital marketing strategies that you can also leverage that’ll help you bring in new business without breaking the bank.

HawkSEM blog: Digital Marketing Strategies to Lower SaaS Cost-per-Acquisition (CPA)

You don’t need to overhaul your content in order to make it a solid tactic for attracting new, high-quality leads. (Image via Unsplash)

1. Leverage good ‘ole SEO

With new online marketing trends cropping up nearly every day, it can be easy to overlook the effectiveness of good old-fashioned search engine optimization (SEO). 

This isn’t meant to downplay the complexity of this style of marketing. Rather, it’s to remind you that you don’t need to overhaul your content in order to make it a solid tactic for attracting new, high-quality leads.  

By simply understanding search engine algorithms and how to mold your SaaS content to better accommodate them, you eliminate the need to rely solely on developing new advertising campaigns. By learning to master the intricacies of SEO, you can enjoy benefits such as:

  • ‘Evergreen’ sustainability
  • Greater ROI
  • More leads and sign-ups
  • Free or inexpensive traffic increases
  • Increased authority in your industry or field

For SaaS companies, in particular, gating content is a great way to generate leads. However, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your SEO since the content isn’t publicly available without filling out a form. Content marketing can still be a big boon for your biz, though (we’ll get to that in the next section), whether or not it’s indexed for SEO.

2. Focus on quality content marketing

In the world of internet marketing, if SEO is what brings them in, then good content is what keeps them around. Rather than understanding how the search engine ranking system works and manipulating it to work in your favor, content marketing is about understanding your customer base and tailoring your content to them. 

However, knowing your customers entails a lot more than just having their names and email addresses on file. You need to understand what really makes them tick when it comes to doing business, such as their:

  • Buyer personas and backgrounds
  • Intent
  • Problems and pain points
  • Expectations
  • Values

What makes SaaS content marketing such a cost-effective method at improving your CPA is that you already possess most of the information needed to improve your content. A thorough analysis of your sales history and the feedback provided by customers will give you a wealth of information on what content and topics really hook customers. 

It’s also worth taking the time to see how your competition stacks up in the content marketing department. Which topics are they outranking you on, and how are they doing it? Identify content gaps and see how you can leverage them for your own brand’s benefit.

By highlighting new trends and innovating ways to help your audience, you can start building the relationship and brand trust. See what you can learn from your competitors in the SaaS space, then determine how you can beat them at their own game. (In your own voice and without plagiarizing, of course.)

Add into that a detailed analysis of keyword trends and their conversion rates, and content marketing allows you a virtual sneak peek inside of customers’ heads without them even knowing it.

Understanding just how to use SEO and content marketing to bring new visitors to your site is key if you hope to see high conversion rates from your organic traffic.

3. Optimize your landing pages

In case it wasn’t already apparent, we’re big fans of landing pages around here. That’s because we know it’s a solid way to take a user from an organic search result, paid search ad, or marketing promotion straight to a specific page on your website with a clear call to action.

An optimized landing page can be a major key to your digital marketing success, particularly when the competition is stiff and the cost-per-click (CPC) is high. A few ways to ensure yours are optimized include:

  • A killer headline
  • A consistent message
  • A mobile-friendly experience
  • A thoughtful design

Experts know that designing your landing pages to have a specific purpose and drive a particular action will help boost your conversion rate.

Plus, a lot of SaaS lead capture campaigns represent just the starting point. Once they’re in, you can work your lead through an email drip campaign or additional display remarketing that serves up something like a free whitepaper download. These follow-up efforts are natural areas to iterate on and optimize.

HawkSEM blog: Digital Marketing Strategies to Lower SaaS Cost-per-Acquisition (CPA)

Demographic targeting and ads on social media platforms are great methods for meeting your prospects where they are. (Image via Unsplash)

4. Find your audience

Google’s audience tools are great for targeting users in the consideration stage. You want to get your SaaS product in front of people who are looking to buy what you’re selling, are similar to an existing audience you have or are researching one of your competitors. 

Using Google Ads audience targeting to pinpoint or even just “observe” these users can be highly valuable and help you lower your CPA. Just don’t forget to perform regular testing so you can be sure you’re aiming in the right places. 

But this doesn’t just apply to Google. Demographic targeting and ads on the main social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) are great methods for meeting your prospects where they are.

Connect with these users through offering high-value content that shows you’re a thought leader and leads them right to (you guessed it) an eye-catching landing page.

5. Don’t forget about lifetime value (LTV)

CPA is no doubt a crucial metric for SaaS companies. But to get a full picture of your digital marketing ROI, you should also be looking at LTV. 

Many SaaS companies operate on a subscription or annual contract level, meaning the transaction isn’t a one-and-done deal. Looking beyond the initial CPA can tell you much more about the actual value and ROI of your efforts. 

For example, if your customer refers two other businesses who end up purchasing your product, you’ve just saved money by not having to use marketing to gain that business. The LTV can also be affected if your customer re-ups their contract for 2 years at once. 

The Balance Small Business explains that a simple way to break down this number is through the following formula:

LTV = Lifetime Customer Revenue – Lifetime Customer Costs

The takeaway

For SaaS companies, there’s no shortage of data — the key lies in translating all of that noise into a cohesive and useful narrative. 

Combine these marketing strategies with a successful PPC campaign, and you can immediately see your site quickly transform into a powerful (and efficient) sales tool. 

We’ve helped plenty of clients strengthen their online presence and achieve a greater ROI from their marketing dollars. Looking to join the ranks? Let’s chat.

This post was originally published in September 2014 and was updated in November 2019.

 

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Managing your pay-per-click program shouldn’t feel like you’re wandering in a haunted house. 

Here, you’ll find:

  • A few of the most common PPC problems
  • Actionable solutions that’ll help you overcome these problems
  • Pro tips to boost your PPC program

Ghouls, monsters, zombies, and an underperforming PPC campaign — scary stuff, right?

When it comes to paid search, it can be easy to spend your whole budget and still get underwhelming results. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We’ve highlighted 4 common PPC problems, complete with solutions that can help turn things around. Just beware: there’s spooky stuff ahead.

HawkSEM blog: 4 Common PPC Problems — And How to Fix Them

Create ads that match your keywords closely to create more detailed reporting and become that much more likely to attract qualified leads. (Image via Unsplash)

PPC Problem #1: You’re driving traffic, but not conversions

So you’ve decided on the copy, finalized the design, organized your campaigns, and launched your ads. Now, you’re seeing traffic numbers go up — that’s great! But conversions are another story.

Traffic is one thing, but if you’re not seeing conversions, something is amiss. So, what gives? It may be a matter of where you’re sending that traffic on your site.

Solution: Create optimized landing pages

If your ads send leads to your homepage, you’re not making the best use of your traffic. When people click your ads and land on your homepage, it’s not always clear where they should go or what they should do next.

By sending this traffic to optimized landing pages instead, you can deliver a minimalist visual experience with a clear message that makes it easy for your leads to know exactly what action they should take. You can even tailor these various landing pages to different audience segments and speak directly to them.

Properly optimized landing pages have elements like:

  • Consistent verbiage with their corresponding ads
  • A clear CTA
  • A mobile-friendly format
  • Easy shareability

PPC Problem #2: Your leads aren’t qualified

Sure, it’s great to have a large influx of leads coming your way. But if, upon closer inspection, the bulk of your leads aren’t qualified, you’re using up time and money that could be better spent elsewhere. 

By not taking advantage of all of the keyword and targeting strategies at your disposal (like using too many overly broad keywords and not leveraging retargeting and negative keywords) you risk having a high volume of leads that don’t actually translate into sales.

Solution: Revisit your targeting strategy

It may be time to look into the audiences you’re currently targeting. Where are they in your buyer’s journey? By targeting your prospects who are further down the funnel and closer to the decision-making stage, you can create hyper-focused campaigns that’ll increase your odds of converting them into closed business.

It’s also a good time to look into single keyword ad groups (SKAGs). Experts define SKAGs as ad groups designed with a one-to-one relationship between the root keyword and the ad. These groups can include multiple variations and long-tail keywords. 

By creating ads that match your keywords closely, you can pull more detailed reports and become that much more likely to attract qualified leads. 

Pro tip: While most brands know about targeting on social media platforms, don’t forget about Google and Bing audience targeting, too. When it comes to leads, it’s a game of quality over quantity. 

PPC Problem #3: Your PPC program relies too heavily on automation

Automation can be great for time-saving and repetitive manual tasks. But being too hands-off with your PPC program can have drawbacks.

This can result in underperformance along with a lack of understanding about what’s going right and what needs attention. When you opt for the “set it and forget it” model, you risk wasted spend and losing control of the whole operation.

Solution: Keep the human element intact

At its core, marketing is about connecting with people. Because of this, it’s essential that you keep the human element at the core of any marketing strategy or initiative.

Leveraging tools to make your job easier is a win, but they work best when paired with a hands-on approach. This means taking the time to understand your audience (in a way no algorithm can), revisiting your goals, and iterating when necessary. By continuing to test, track, and reconfigure your PPC program, you’ll land on the combination that works best for your company — with or without automation.

Pro tip: If this all sounds overwhelming or like something you simply don’t have time for, consider partnering with a digital marketing agency focused on ROI. They can identify your company’s strengths and weaknesses, put the right systems in place, and help you start to see those numbers heading in a more pleasing direction. 

HawkSEM blog: 4 Scary PPC Problems (And How to Fix Them)

It’s easy to spend your budget in a flash when you’re managing PPC campaigns. (Image via Unsplash)

PPC Problem #4: You’re not sticking to your budget

When you’re managing PPC campaigns, it can be easy to go through your allotted budget in a snap. But, as we said above, if your campaigns are bringing you a high volume of leads without resulting in substantial ROI, then there’s work to be done.

But, wait! Don’t throw more money into Google Ads to try to boost profits and fix your wasted ad spend issue just yet. Alternatively, you don’t need to necessarily modify your budget just because you’re consistently underspending and not hitting your budget. 

Solution: Identify your “money keywords”

We’re all about money keywords — the keywords that bring you the most PPC ROI. By zooming in on the right data, you can get a better idea of your money keywords and the ones that can be scrapped.

First, check out your PPC performance over the last 3-4 months (as long as your current strategy has been in place at least that long).

Go into your Google Ads account in the Keywords tab. Next, then identify all the keywords that haven’t produced any conversions during those months (you can organize this info in a spreadsheet or PivotTable) and dump them. It’s worth noting here that brand keywords are a different story, as these can help boost your quality score, even if they don’t result in conversions.

At the end of the day, it’s not all about clicks and traffic, both of which may decrease after you eliminate those keywords. Look at which ones are driving the best lifetime value (LTV), then put as much of your budget as you can towards your money keywords. 

Pro tip: If you’re not hitting budget, increasing your cost-per-click (CPC) bid limit and expanding your audience location can help. By creating a simple budget tracker that includes things like your overall budget, average spend rates, and actual monthly spend rates, you can get a firmer grasp on where you are and where you want your program to be. 

Your paid search strategy shouldn’t be a mystery, and it shouldn’t feel like you’re simply throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. By identifying your PPC problems and arming yourself with the solutions, you can turn a broken program into a high-performing strategy that yields big results.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Sam Yadegar on Oct 28

If you’re not using pay-per-click (PPC) ads for your higher education digital marketing, you might be missing out on a huge recruitment opportunity.

Here, you’ll find:

  • How to plan your higher education PPC campaign
  • Key ways to define your audience
  • Pro tips for keyword bidding
  • How to stay organized and leverage remarketing

Creating buzz, fueling enrollment, increasing applications — to thrive, higher education institutions need to drum up a steady influx of new students every year. An easy-to-use website and solid SEO strategy can make up a successful digital plan, but on their own, they may not attract the numbers you need. 

Competition is fierce, but there’s a reason why so many colleges and universities advertise online: It’s where future students are. 

Search engine marketing (SEM) can be one of the most cost-effective forms of advertising for the higher-education industry. It scales easily while providing swift reporting and transparency. 

PPC (or paid search) also delivers fast results. It can drive greater return on investment (ROI) for a broad range of goals, from improving recruitment numbers and lead generation to increased brand recognition.

Higher education paid search allows you to personalize each searcher’s experience with your school, from prospective students and parents of students to educators and members of the community.

PPC lets you engage your audience at the right time with the right message on the right device. The result: more exposure and higher enrollment.

We’ve gathered some of the most effective tips to help you get started and make the most of your college or university’s digital marketing budget.

HawkSEM blog: Paid Search Marketing for Higher Education: Advice from an SEM Agency

Have active campaigns for early admissions leading up to application deadlines and other time-sensitive dates. (Image via Unsplash)

Plan your higher education PPC campaign

Online activity for colleges and universities often peaks and dips predictably. While this may mean that you bump up your advertising spend more at critical times of the year, it’s essential to keep advertising going year-round. 

The budget can be shifted based on the day, week, month and quarter using historical performance and prospect cycles. When developing a year-round budget, consider these factors:

Lead time
For traditional students, the recruitment cycle is long. Prospects begin their school search throughout grades 11 and 12, and virtually no one makes a decision based on a single click. It can take months or years for them to convert.

PPC is a multi-touch affair. It requires preparation and nurturing throughout the lead generation funnel. Have active campaigns for early admissions leading up to application deadlines and other time-sensitive dates.

Undergraduate vs. graduate programs
For schools with rolling admissions, there is some predictable activity for undergrad programs, especially from prospects coming from high school. However, it’s not as clear cut for non-traditional students.

Adults may search at any time of year, and their lead time is often shorter than for high schoolers. Graduate programs are also less predictable, with ebbs and flows throughout the year.

Branding and remarketing
Starting and stopping PPC campaigns can hurt your efforts more than it helps. By optimizing a higher-ed strategy that runs all year, you can take full advantage of your branding and remarketing efforts while getting a better view of the big picture via data and reports.

Otherwise, you may drop off the map entirely, and you essentially end up starting all over again when you create new campaigns or reactivate proven ads. Keep the conversation going by maintaining a strong PPC presence.

Define your audience

When creating your paid search strategy, it’s crucial to have a firm grasp of your target personas. Who are they, and what interests them? Put yourself in their shoes and identify with their needs. 

For example, college-bound high school students may be more interested in the traditional “college experience” of sports and local hangouts. It’s a different perspective than the adult with a family who’s trying to finish their degree after 10 years in the workforce. They’re more interested in convenience, flexibility, and time management.

Focus each campaign toward your most relevant audience. Look at your data. Are most of your leads local or in-state students? Craft your higher education PPC towards that niche. Are you recruiting for a particular program? Get granular! Use terms that help searchers find that specialty. You probably won’t get as many impressions, but the lead quality could go through the roof.

Pro tip: When bidding on branded terms, you may be concerned about existing students and faculty that use Google clicking on the ad to get to your website. To mitigate this, you can always exclude a radius around the school so those in close proximity don’t get shown the ad.

HawkSEM blog: Paid Search Marketing for Higher Education: Advice from an SEM Agency

Splitting campaigns into groups using specific characteristics can help you measure the results and see which segments perform the best. (Image via Unsplash)

Organize the account structure

Make the Google Ads account structure work for you by making sure your campaigns are organized. Not only can this help you make the most of your budget, but it can help grow conversions. Make sure you use a consistent naming convention for campaigns and ad groups that make the intent identifiable. The proper structure can influence how well your ads perform.

If you have too few campaigns and too many ad groups, you might miss out on the full potential of your budget. Increase the number of campaigns and segment the account for greater insight. A compelling account structure for higher education PPC may look like this:

  • Campaign Name: Undergraduate Search
  • Ad Groups:
    • Bachelors’ Degrees
    • Degree Programs
    • Continuing Education
    • College Classes
    • Online College

Splitting campaigns into groups using specific characteristics can help you measure the results and see which segments perform the best. That way, you can make changes accordingly. Not everyone will use the exact terms that you use, so expand your bidding to related terms.

Keywords can be costly, and the wrong ones can reduce the effectiveness of campaigns. Get more bang for your buck by using specialized keywords and single keyword ad groups (SKAGs) rather than general terms. 

Instead of using the official name of your writing program, for example, use the phrase “creative writing.” Try using “digital marketing degree,” even if digital marketing is only a subcategory of your Marketing degree program. Selecting the terms searchers want is crucial to higher education SEM.

HawkSEM blog: Paid Search Marketing for Higher Education: Advice from an SEM Agency

The success of your higher education paid search hinges on how well your campaigns target your audience, address their concerns, and handle the competition. (Image via Unsplash)

Remarketing

It makes sense to target searchers who already show interest in your programs by visiting your website. You can begin the nurturing process by using remarketing. This is a type of PPC campaign that shows your ads to people who previously visited your website. It’s a great way to keep your school top of mind, especially as potential students are weighing their options.

These campaigns are generally much cheaper than Google Ads. Plus, they can help improve brand awareness by targeting people who already know about your college or university. You can even serve compelling ads for your programs each time a prospect visits a competitor’s site. The more you stay top of mind, the more likely they are to convert.

Pro tip: Make sure you’re familiar with the settings to help you properly focus your remarketing efforts. Within campaign targeting settings, turn off automated targeting settings so that you serve ads only to the exact audience you want.

PPC doesn’t have to be expensive. When you get right down to it, the success of your higher education paid search hinges on how well your campaigns target your audience, address their concerns, and handle the competition. 

PPC can help your school break into new areas by improving your reach and following up on existing leads. Continuously measuring and monitoring user behavior is the ultimate guide to effective targeting. Well-defined goals and a focused approach can help your higher education PPC become a powerful tool.

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.

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Written by Caroline Cox on Oct 25

Highlighting 5 HawkSEM clients who hit the big time through major funding or IPO

Here, you’ll find:

  • Lessons learned from some of our accomplished clients
  • The path these companies took to succeed
  • Why there’s more than one way to define “success”
  • How you can put their tactics into practice 

We love to see our clients go on to accomplish incredible things, from awards and funding rounds to acquisitions and IPOs. 

Of course, we can’t attribute all of these brand successes solely to our partnership (though hopefully, we’ve helped!). So we dug a little deeper into a handful of these companies to see what lessons we can learn from them.  

By emulating these successful brands, you can be that much close to achieving similar greatness. Below, we’ve highlighted a few best practices you can follow at your own company.

Zephyr prioritized growth and innovation without skimping on customer experience — and reaped the rewards as a result. (Image via Unsplash)

Always be iterating

Based in San Francisco’s Bay Area, Zephyr is an end-to-end test management company. Since 2007, they’ve made a name for themselves through providing agile testing software to thousands of enterprise teams in 100 countries around the globe. 

In 2016, Zephyr announced they had received $31 million in Series B funding. The funding was invested by Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm Frontier Capital, which focuses exclusively on software and technology-enabled business services brands. As a fast-growing product, Zephyr poised itself for this investment by gaining a reputation not just for appealing to a wide variety of industries, but for providing visibility and iterating quickly to meet customer needs. 

We worked to help Zephyr get proper conversion tracking in place (our audit revealed that their tracking was off). By improving their campaign structure, tightening their keywords for higher intent, and rolling out new ad copy that improved their quality score, the company was able to test innovative campaigns melded with offline marketing assets for a tailored digital experience. 

Zephyr is a great example of a company that prioritized growth and innovation without skimping on customer experience. As a result, they reaped the rewards. 

“Doubling our conversion rate was just a dream until you guys showed us the way.” – Zephyr

Don’t be afraid to be first

Back in 2007, it’s safe to say that the business of video for companies and brands was nowhere near where it is now. But that didn’t stop the brains behind Panopto from cornering the market on what’s been called “expert learning” videos. 

For nearly 10 years and with just $8 million in total investment, Panopto continued to build their brand up and amassed a roster of hundreds of enterprise and academic customers. Then, in 2016, the company announced that they’d secured more than $42 million in minority-growth funding led by Sterling Partners. This funding has helped them grow while remaining steadfast in their field, even as more competitors crop up.

We helped Panopto ramp up their rate of acquired users per month while lowering the average user acquisition cost. We also revamped their remarketing efforts with custom designs and upgraded display assets. This allowed them to run critical campaigns related to integrations with which they were compatible. This resulted in a boosted brand resonance in the digital marketplace that helped them win users over their competitors.

Another key advantage Panopto has over the competition? Those years of experience when they bet on themselves by doing what few others were. 

Try to remain agile

In 2017, monitoring software development company AppDynamics scrapped their previous plans to get an initial public offering (or IPO, making them a public company that could raise capital from public investors). Instead, they were acquired by networking hardware company Cisco for a cool $3.7 billion. 

AppDynamics’s software helps big-name companies like Expedia quickly catch any issues or bugs on their mobile apps or websites. This is a crucial need when a few bad reviews can hurt your bottom line. These days, TechCrunch reports that the brand is thriving and expanding. 

During our time together, we restructured a good number of AppDynamics’s key campaigns and helped manage bids that balanced their costs and growth. We also rolled out multiple rounds of keyword expansion and helped improve their quality scores and clickthrough rates (CTRs) through additional ad types.

When you look at AppDynamics, It just goes to show that remaining nimble, particularly in the tech field, can pay off in dividends — even if you have to quickly change course.

“Having such a large account gave me tunnel vision. Hawk’s expertise helped immensely. I couldn’t reach these goals without you.” – AppDynamics

Thanks to impressive profits and demolishing growth goals, Datadog was confident that IPO was the way to go. (Image via Unsplash)

Keep the big picture in mind

Datadog is a cloud-based monitoring and analytics software-as-a-service (SaaS) company based in NYC. They help brands improve performance and user experience through leveraging data and other tools.

Just before Datadog IPOed in fall 2019, Cisco Systems offered them a $7 billion buyout. Instead of taking the cash, they decided to go public. Thanks to impressive profits and demolishing growth goals, they were confident that IPO was the way to go. 

Turns out, their gut instincts were right. Shortly after their opening, Datadog shares rose 39%. It can be scary to walk away from a big-dollar buyout, but the team knew they had even greater goals they wanted to achieve.

During our partnership, we helped Datadog create new landing page assets that greatly improved performance. We also set up proper conversion tracking while helping them scale their budget efficiently and effectively. We’re proud to say that we partnered with them during a stage of critical growth for their company.

Meet your target audience where they are

Mobile Data Labs’s MileIQ began with a mission to be the most seamless and stress-free mileage logging mobile app. The company automated the mile-logging process through their precise recording, one-swipe classifications for business or personal travel, and special features that let you customize your log for more accurate deductions and reimbursements.

By putting a big focus on mobile and SEO, MileIQ put in the work that got them in front of their target audience. After multiple successful funding rounds, MileIQ’s parent company was acquired by Microsoft in 2015. At the time of the acquisition, MileIQ had reportedly amassed more than 1 million clients and had been the top-grossing finance app in Apple’s App Store for 20 months. 

To beat out the competition, the minds behind MileIQ knew they needed to make the logging process as streamlined as possible. They needed as much exposure to their target audience as well. The HawkSEM team worked with MileIQ to improve their organic footprint and site traffic. 

We focused on elements like featured snippets — where you rise in search engine rankings by answering common search questions concisely — while optimizing their website and expanding MileIQ’s global reach to align with new national and international markets. Exposure begets exposure, and the snowball effect of MileIQ’s growing traffic led to their star continuing to rise.

The takeaway

We’re passionate about helping our clients take their digital marketing to the next level. Through things like a refined strategy, better targeting, increased organization, and creative copy, we aim to help our clients grow and achieve greatness.

Want to know how we can help you do the same? Let’s chat. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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Written by Caroline Cox on Oct 23

7 ways that a digital marketing agency can help take your in-house team to the next level

Here, you’ll find:

  • How agencies improve in-house marketing teams
  • The added benefits agencies bring with them
  • Ways agencies can align multiple in-house teams
  • How agencies can help your programs improve faster

Whether you’re a one-person marketing master or have dozens of colleagues on your team, managing a digital marketing program encompasses many factors. From paid search campaigns and optimization to content creation, evolving industry practices, and more, it can feel like you’ve got several plates spinning all at once.

That’s where partnering with an agency comes in. Not only can an agency help you keep those plates balanced, but they can juggle other aspects you hadn’t even thought about. 

Read on to find out about the 7 main ways agencies and in-house marketing teams can come together to produce greater results than the sum of their parts.

1. A broader view of your program

There’s a lot to be said for seeing both the forest and the trees. Being able to see the big picture without letting details slips through the cracks is perhaps an underrated skill — but it’s one that many agencies know well. 

One of the biggest benefits of partnering with an agency is how it offers a broader view of your program as a whole, including its strengths and weaknesses.

It makes sense: when you’re part of an in-house marketing team, it’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to your digital marketing efforts. Agencies offer an outsider perspective and can address blind spots you didn’t even know existed.

HawkSEM blog: How Working with an Agency Improves Your In-House Team

Partnering with an agency means you basically have access to a whole additional team of marketing pros. (Image via Unsplash)

2. Combined years of marketing industry experience

Add up the years of experience your team members have. By working with an agency, you can instantly double or even triple that number — not too shabby, right? 

Partnering with an agency means you basically have access to a whole additional team of marketing pros. Depending on the company, some of your account managers may have worked in the industry for several years in different roles across various industries to boot. 

By combining your knowledgeable team with another knowledgeable team, you’ve got that much more experience that will no doubt come in handy, especially when changes arise and tough decisions need to be made.

3. Insider access to the top platforms

Oftentimes, agencies have developed partnerships with professionals at different platforms, from Google and Bing to Facebook, LinkedIn, and more. 

Not only do these partnerships help potentially expedite issues when troubleshooting, but they can keep you ahead of the game when it comes to platform updates and news. 

And since agencies generally have higher management status with the likes of search engine brands, they can often get access to beta testing before other companies. This means they’re sometimes testing out new automation and algorithms that could help your business down the road.

4. Less time spent troubleshooting and testing

You should always be honing your digital marketing strategy. Not only does that take time, but it involves brainstorming, testing, data gathering, and analyzing, among other tasks.

An agency can benefit your in-house team because they’ve been there. Depending on how many clients they’ve worked with, they’ve likely got the experience that will help fine-tune and iterate your program faster. 

What this means for you: less time spent on what isn’t working, and more time on what is. 

5. Keeping an eye on your competitors

Remember that tunnel vision we talked about? While you may not want to admit it, it’s easy for this to happen when it comes to your brand versus your competitors, too. And it’s understandable: you’re trying to make things happen for your company, so you don’t want to spend too much time on others.

But knowing what your competitors are up to helps you stay in the game and, more importantly, not fall behind. A good agency will keep an eye on your competition, from the keywords they’re bidding on and the content they’re creating to approaches you could adopt for your own success.

HawkSEM blog: How Working with an Agency Improves Your In-House Team

Whereas a consultant is often one person, agencies may have 3-4 people working on your account. (Image by Unsplash)

6. A new set of resources

If your business is trying to decide whether to partner with a consultant or an agency, this is another big differentiator. Whereas a consultant is often one person, agencies may have 3-4 people working on your account.

Agencies often come with experts in fields like search engine optimization and search engine marketing. But many also have on-staff developers, graphic designers, and content writers you can also leverage.

7. Connecting marketing to other teams

Your marketing team isn’t the only group that stands to benefit from an agency partnership. It can also help align other departments in your organization, resulting in better communication and a more streamlined process overall.

By implementing lead scoring, for example, an agency can create a more unified relationship between sales and marketing by putting more emphasis on the quality of a conversion. Or by putting cleaner data into your CRM, you can give your e-commerce procurement or fulfillment teams a better understanding of order volumes to prepare for in the future.  

The Takeaway

Partnering with a marketing agency doesn’t mean that your in-house team has failed or isn’t up to snuff. Actually, the opposite is true. 

By adding the additional layer of knowledge, insight, and hands-on action that agencies provide, you can see a significant boost in how your current SEM and SEO programs perform. 

HawkSEM would love to be that game-changing agency for you — want to know more? Let’s chat.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her nearly 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

Questions or comments? Join the conversation here!

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