How to create copy that works well for search engines?

Previously I’ve been learning about writing effective copy. I now want to learn more about how to best write for search engine optimisation. I used a great ebook titled “How to Create Compelling Content that Ranks Well in Search Engines” by Copyblogger to help me with this.

One of the first aspects raised in “How to Create Compelling Content” is a basic understanding of the three major components that power search engines:

  • Crawling – This is all about search engine “spiders” that crawl the web for content. These are actually bits of computer code that find information on a web page, “read” it, and then tirelessly continue along their journey by following links from your page to other pages. The spider will return from time to time to look for changes to the original page. This means that there will be opportunities to change the way a search engine sees and assesses your content.
  • Indexing –  The spider is not just casually browsing content, it’s storing the content it finds in a giant database. This is called indexing. The spider’s goal is to save every bit of content it crawls for the future benefit of searchers. It’s also gauging how relevant that content is to the words that searchers use when they want to find an answer to something.
  • Ranking –  Ultimately it’s about how the engine decides to deliver the most relevant results to searchers. The search engine algorithm which decides on the results follows a very complex set of rules. Copyblogger explains these rules as “the ground rules for a duel between your content and other content that might satisfy a searcher’s keyword query.”

Copyblogger then goes on to explain the importance of doing some keyword research upfront. What are the words and phrases that people use to find the information that they were looking for? These are the five key things to bear in mind in relation to keyword research:

  • Research tools – Google has a good, free keyword tool and there are similar tools out there such as Keyword Tool and Ubersuggest.
  • Get specific – Even though we often talk about keywords, in most cases it will be specific (short) phrases that are relevant. For example, “new car deals” or “best car discounts”.
  • Strength in numbers – It’s important to look at the relative popularity of a specific keyword among search terms. You want to make sure that enough people use your phrase or keyword when thinking about a specific topic. If you’re trying to rank in a very competitive sector, a keyword combination that can rank for an easier phrase might be preferable.
  • Highly relevant – This feels like the main point when doing keyword research: “Make sure that the search terms you are considering are highly relevant to your ultimate goal.”
  • Content resource – The key question here is whether a particular keyword phrase can support the development of content that readers perceive as value-adding. Copyblogger breaks this down into the following aspects: (1) satisfies the preliminary needs of the site visitor (2) acts as the first step in your sales or action cycle and (3) prompts people to link to it.

The book then goes into the more of the nitty gritty by highlighting “Five SEO copywriting elements that matter”:

  1. Title – With the title of your content, the critical thing is to make sure that the keywords you’re targeting are included in your title. Also, the closer to the front of the title your keywords are, the better. I’ve included some more points on how to best optimise your title in Fig. 1 and 2 below.
  2. Meta-Description – Copyblogger makes a good point by stressing that SEO copywriting isn’t just about ranking. It’s also about what your content looks like on a search engine results page (“SERP”). The meta description of your content will generally be the “snippet” copy for the search result below the title, which influences whether a person decides to read your content (and whether she clicks). Like with the title, the best would be to lead the meta-description with your keyword phrase. Also, you want to try and keep the meta description under 165 characters so the full description is visible in the search result. See Fig. 3 below for some examples of effective meta-descriptions.
  3. Content – For search optimisation purposes, your content should be on topic and strongly focus on the subject matter of the desired keyword phrases. It’s generally accepted that very brief content may have a harder time ranking over a page with more substantial content. So you’ll want to have a content body length of at least 300 words.
  4. Keyword frequency – There’s a clear difference between “keyword frequency” and “keyword density”. Keyword frequency is the number of times your targeted keyword phrase appears on the page. In contrast, keyword density is the ratio of those keywords to the rest of the words on the page. Copyblogger explains how keyword frequency affects ranking and that keyword density might not. I guess it’s a case of using common sense when writing content, checking the frequency of your keywords against the rest of the content. A keyword density greater than 5.5% could find you guilty of what’s called “keyword stuffing”, which tends to make Google think you’re trying to game their system.
  5. Linking out – Search engines are keen that your content is well connected with other content and pages, hence why linking out is important from an SEO perspective. Copyblogger provides some good tips with respect to linking out (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I’ve learned that getting your copy right is extremely important from an SEO perspective. This starts with being clear about the ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve through your content, making sure this is reflected in your keyword phrase and, subsequently, in the title and body of the actual content.

Fig. 1 – Optimising the title of your content for SEO – Adapted from: http://www.copyblogger.com/seo-copywriting/

  • Have an alternative title in the title tag – It’s important that your CMS or blogging software allow you to serve an alternate title in the title tag (which is the snippet of code Google pulls to display a title in search results) than the headline that appears on the page.
  • Try to keep title length under 72 characters – Keeping your title length under 72 characters will ensure the full title is visible in a search result, increasing the likelihood of a click-through.

Fig. 2 – Sample titles, optimised for SEO:

For example, let’s say the keywords or phrases that I’m looking to target are “Ford Focus discounts”, then sample titles could look something like this:

“Three ways to get the best discount on your Ford Focus”

“Why getting an incredible discount on a new Ford Focus is easy”

Both titles contain my keyword phrase, but the keywords might not be in the best location for ranking or even for quick-scanning searchers compared with regular readers. By using an alternate title tag, I can enter a more search-optimized title for Google and searchers only, such as:

“Ford Focus: 3 ways to get the best discount”

“Getting discounts on a Ford Focus is easy”

Fig. 3 – Examples of effective meta-descriptions – Taken from: https://econsultancy.com/blog/62553-33-examples-of-great-meta-descriptions-for-search/ 

meta_descriptions_1

 Fig. 4 – Best practices with respect to linking out – Taken from: http://www.copyblogger.com/seo-copywriting/
  • Link to relevant content fairly early in the body copy
  • Link to relevant pages approximately every 120 words of content
  • Link to relevant interior pages of your site or other sites
  • Link with naturally relevant anchor text

Learning to write copy for the Web

Copy. Words. We all need them. On a piece of paper. On your phone. On the Web. I recently decided to learn more about writing copy, particularly aimed at writing for the Web. The first question that I asked myself was “what makes effective copy?”

From The 5P Approach to Copy that Crushes It by Copyblogger I learned that:

“The most important aspect of copy that works is how well your message matches up with the way your prospective customer views things.” 

UK based copywriting expert Andy Maslen explains that before you do anything else, it’s important to think about your answers to these three questions:

  1. What keeps your prospect awake at three in the morning?
  2. What can you promise them to ease that pain?
  3. Why might they not believe you?

Andy then goes on to explain how answers to these three questions will help you create effective copy:

  • Answer question one and you have psychological insights into your prospect’s needs, desires and motivations.
  • Answer question two and you translate the features of your product into its deep underlying benefits.
  • Answer question three and you identify their objections, which you can then start to overcome.

I then delved deeper into Copyblogger’s 5P approach:

  1. Premise – The emotional concept that not only attracts attention, but maintains engagement throughout every element of your landing page copy and imagery. The ultimate outcome of the premise is the desired action that you would like the reader of your copy to take (see Fig. 1 below). Copyblogger explains this as follows: “The premise connects you to the emotional centre of your prospect’s brain, stimulates desire, maintains credibility, and results in the opening of the wallet. It’s the unification of the prospect’s worldview + the market + the benefits + the proof + a call to action into one simple, compelling message.”
  2. Promise – Using the so-called “Pyramid of Benefits”, you can come up with numerous befits of your product or service (see Fig. 2 below). However, it’s the ultimate benefit you discover by working through the benefits pyramid that equates to your premise.
  3. Picture – The picture phase is all about using images, storytelling, and tangible language as a way to hold the reader’s emotional interest while you nudge them down the path to acceptance. I’m learning that the way to best retain the reader’s attention is to get her to imagine herself enjoying the ultimate benefit or desired outcome. Then you get very specific about how your proposed solution or idea makes that benefit happen. A great example is “The Man in a Hathaway Shirt” by advertising guru David Ogilvy (see Fig. 3 below). The key aspect of the “picture” element is that the reader has to tell herself their own story based on the picture you create in their head with the elements of your landing page or imagery.
  4. Proof – Statistics, studies, graphs, charts, third-party facts, testimonials, a demonstration that the features of your product deliver the benefits you’ve promised—these are all part of the “proof” section of your piece. The main thing to remember here is to ensure that your premise (see Point 1. above) shines through every bit of your copy and is also reflected in the proof that you provide.
  5. Push – The “push” phase is more than just a call to action. It’s about communicating an outstanding offer in a clear, credible, and compelling way, and then asking for action. Persuasive writing begins with the desired outcome in mind, so during the push you’re tying the beneficial premise and the vivid picture to solid acceptance and concrete action.

Main learning point: I found it really helpful to learn about the “5P” approach to writing copy on the web. It may sound obvious to some, but thinking about the reader of your copy, their needs and objectives, is an easy thing to lose sight of. Considering the 5Ps before, during and after writing your copy will no doubt help to get your content read or applied more widely!

Fig. 1 – Elements of a Premise – Taken from: http://my.copyblogger.com/basic/5p-copy/

  1. Be unpredictable – The first thing you absolutely must have is attention. Without initial attention for your content, nothing else you’ve done matters. And nothing kills attention faster than if your prospective reader, listener, or viewer thinks they already know where you’re going. Beyond curiosity, a great premise delivers an unpredictable and unexpected element that makes it irresistible. It all comes back to knowing at an intimate level who you’re talking to and what they’re used to seeing in the market. What messages are they getting from your competition? This is what you must use as the benchmark to create your own unique and unexpected angle that forms the foundation of your premise.
  2. Be simple – Because a premise by definition is an unprecedented and grand idea, sometimes boiling it down to its essence is difficult, or worse, neglected. However, it’s important to always to try and keep your premise as short and powerful as possible.
  3. Be real – ‘Keeping it real’ in the copywriting sense means a couple of things. Firstly, by making sure that your premise is highly relevant to your intended audience. For example, when I write copy as part of my day job at carwow, I’ll need to make sure that my copy is perceived as relevant in the eyes of my target audience, i.e. buyers of new cars. The aim here is to inspire a desirable reaction from your target audience before triggering a desirable action. Secondly, your message must communicate meaningful benefits that are also tangible. In order to create a sense of “instant understanding” with your audience, you need to tell the story in a way that conveys information in a way that’s likely to resonate with your prospect.
  4. Be credible – If you’re writing to persuade, you have to hit the gut before you get anywhere near the brain. The part that decides “I want that” is emotional and often subconscious. If your premise doesn’t work emotionally, logic will never get a chance to weigh in. Credibility or “proof” needs to be baked into the premise as much as possible.

Fig. 2 – The Benefits Pyramid – Taken from: http://www.somethinggreat.com/promotion-events/

Benefits-pyramid-pic

Fig. 3 – “The Man in The Hathaway Shirt” ad by David Ogilvy – Taken from: http://www.directmarketinginstitute.com/HathawayShirtAd.htm

hathaway shirt ad

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.makepeacetotalpackage.com/archives/make-your-products-benefits-sparkle/

CarStory and its ways to enhance your car inventory

The other day I came across CarStory. Since I’ve started with car comparison site carwow I’ll always keep an eye out for similar sites, changing the way in which consumer buy new or used cars. Given that I’m not a US based car dealer, my testing of the CarStory site and app is limited. I did, however, learn quite a lot about CarStory’s service by reading reviews and watching videos.

These are the main things that I learned about CarStory:

  1. Mission statement – “Turn car shoppers into customers” is CarStory’s main tagline. On its homepage, there’s a succinct description of CarStory’s value proposition. The service is aimed at car dealers, providing them with a “CarStory” to their inventories. A CarStory is a market report which “tells a story”, highlighting your cars’ unique features and value in the local market (see an example in Fig. 1 below). CarStory’s goals are to (1) build consumer confidence and (2) accelerate purchase decisions.
  2. Use cases – I guess the main benefit for dealers using CarStory is that they will have a good bit of car specific info at hand, not having to check multiple sources to answer customer questions about e.g. fuel consumption, features or alternative models (see Fig. 2 below). From a customer’s perspective, dealers are likely to be set up well for specific questions e.g. about price comparison or the most popular features on a specific car.
  3. Infographics – Apart from vehicle specific ‘story cards’, dealers can also use CarStory’s infographics to provide their customers with more data and insight about a specific model. For example, I can look at high level supply and demand data for a specific model (see Fig. 3 below).

Main learning point: CarStory offers an interesting way of creating market reports and integrating these reports into a dealer’s daily workflow. It currently only seems to apply to used cars and it would be good to find out from a customer’s perspective how the CarStory data and insights help in making purchasing decisions, whether it’s for a new or a used car.

Fig.1 – Screenshots of a sample CarStory – Taken from: https://www.carstory.com/static/img/market_sample.pdf

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 16.04.11

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 07.57.43Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 07.58.47Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 07.59.41

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 08.00.54

Fig. 2 – CarStory use cases – Adapted from: http://blog.carstory.com/business-development-sell-more-with-carstory/

  • Identify other cars in your inventory to match customer needs – A dealer is on the phone with a customer and can use CarStory to check his inventory to see if there are any cars in the other to meet a customer’s requirements.
  • Provide car specific info on the phone, email or on text – With the data included in a CarStory for a specific vehicle, dealers will be able to answer specific customer questions on the phone, email or on text. The idea is that customers don’t necessarily need to come into the dealership to find out certain details about a car.

Fig. 3 – Example of a CarStory infographic – Taken from: http://blog.carstory.com/market-reports-dodge-caravan-infographic/

dodge-caravan

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.dealerrefresh.com/carstory-app-interview-with-vast/
  2. http://www.autoremarketing.com/trends/features-info-used-car-buyers-want-most
  3. http://blog.carstory.com/get-to-know-carstory-part-3-vehicle-condition-is-key/
  4. http://blog.carstory.com/business-development-sell-more-with-carstory/
  5. https://www.carstory.com/static/img/market_sample.pdf
  6. http://blog.carstory.com/getting-to-know-carstory-part-1-can-you-trust-the-data/
  7. http://blog.carstory.com/get-to-know-carstory-part-2-good-deal-great-deal/
  8. http://blog.carstory.com/top-10-carstory-market-report-tips-and-tricks/

Site review: ao.com

Looking at eCommerce sites helps me to learn more about effective User Experience design and user journeys. I recently looked at ao.com, a UK website specialised in selling white goods.

  1. How did this site come to my attention? – I recently read a great article by David Kyle titled “What ecommerce managers can learn from AO.com” . David’s article triggered me to have a closer look at this well known website.
  2. My quick summary of the site (before using it) – A site dedicated to selling washing machines, dishwashers, etc. Not the most sexy stuff, but ao.com has been doing particularly well in this segment, resulting in a successful stock listing last year.
  3. How does the site explain itself in the first minute? – By scrolling down the homepage, I get the impression that ao.com is all about getting the best deals for products such as fridges and hoovers (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. Getting started, what is the process like? – Let’s say, I was looking to buy a new fridge, there are number of ways to navigate the site to discover the fridges that ao.com has to offer. I’ve outlined the different ways in Fig. 2 below. However, the “product overview” was the feature on ao.com which I was most impressed with. I believe that product pages are critical to any self-respecting eCommerce site and ao.com does a great job in this respect; well written, easy to understand, practical and a good use of imagery (see Fig. 3 below).
  5. How easy to use was the site? – Very. It’s easy to find out about the service that ao.com offers to its customers. For example, both in the header and the footer of each page you’ll find the key tenets of ao’s service: “Price match promise”, “Pay on finance”, “Free delivery”; “We’ll recycle your old”; “We’ll connect your new” and “14 day returns” (see Fig. 4 below). Using site search on terms like “finance” and “delivery” was also pretty straightforward, I got direct to a finance and delivery page respectively (see Fig. 4 below).
  6. How did I feel while exploring the site? – Again, ao.com did feel very easy to use and to navigate. The page design and structures felt intuitive and not too overwhelming.
  7. How does this site compare to similar sites? – I looked at Currys site, which felt similar to ao.com. However, I felt that the site navigation and use of imagery throughout the Currys site could be improved substantially. From my initial browsing, Currys’ site didn’t feel as intuitive and easy to use as ao.com. However, “Things to consider when buying a …” is a feature that I particularly liked on Currys as it felt very informative and practical (see Fig. 5 below). In comparison, when I shop for fridges on BestBuy the navigation is similar to ao.com. For example, on the fridges landing page, I can choose between “Shop by Type”, “Featured Refrigerator Innovations” and “Shop by Brand”.
  8. Did the site deliver on my expectations? – ao.com definitely did deliver on my expectations as it was easy to find out about good deals and compare products. The site doesn’t feel over-engineered and instead provides a clear and easy to use site structure. The way in which ao.com executes its product pages is great and something which I believe lots of other eCommerce sites can learn from.

Fig. 1 – Screenshots of the homepage of AO.com

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 20.14.15

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 20.14.29

Fig. 2 – Different ways to discover fridges on AO.com

Way 1 – Via top level navigation: I select the “Fridges & Freezers” tab in the top level navigation. This opens up a clean and well presented overlay, which displays five self-explanatory product categories within the “Fridges & Freezers” category. For example, the “Fridges” categories has been broken down into three sub-categories: Freestanding Fridges, Under Counter Fridges and Best Buys.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 17.59.47

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.02.22

When I click on “Best Buys”, I’m directed to landing page for fridges. It becomes clear from looking at the banner at the top of this page, titled “Best Buys Fridges”, that the fridges displayed on this page represent good value for money.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.07.40

Way 2 –  Via “Looking for the best appliance” landing page: On the homepage, I click on the call to action in the “Looking for the best appliance” tile. The “shop now” call to action takes me to a landing pages which shows me an overview of the different product categories, with the promise that these are “Our best appliances, handpicked by our experts for: Best quality; Best price and Best features”.The sub-categories under fridges are nearly the same as when I navigate to fridges via the top level navigation (see Way 1 above: Fridges, Under counter fridges and Wine coolers. When I click on “Fridges” I automatically land on the “Best Buy Fridges” landing page (see screenshot above).

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.13.44

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.16.05

Way 3 – Via “Best Sellers” section on homepage: Alternatively, I can select a fridge as featured in the “Best Sellers” section on the homepage. For example, when I click on the Hisense American Fridge Freezer featured in the section, I’m taken to the product page for this make and model (see screenshot below), where I can find out more about this fridge freezer and explore similar products.

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.25.29

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.29.49

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.31.01

 

Way 4 – Via “Shop by brand” section on homepage: If you already know which brand you want for fridge, the the “Shop by brand” section at the bottom of the AO.com homepage is your place to go. For example, if I know that I want to buy an Indesit fridge, then I simple click on the Indesit logo and I’m taken to a landing page for all Indesit products on AO.com.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 07.29.25

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 07.34.42

Fig. 3 – Screenshots of the product overview for a Hisense American Fridge Freezer – Taken from: http://ao.com/product/rs731n4ac1-hisense-american-fridge-freezer-stainless-steel-28316-27.aspx

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.36.36

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.40.05

Fig. 4 – Screenshots of header and footer on AO.com:

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.49.38

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.50.24

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 18.55.18

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of a “Things to consider when buying a fridge or freezer” section – Taken from: http://www.currys.co.uk/gbuk/household-appliances/refrigeration-333-c.html

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 07.40.46

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://econsultancy.com/blog/66233-what-ecommerce-managers-can-learn-from-ao-com/
  2. https://econsultancy.com/blog/64902-13-ecommerce-best-practice-lessons-from-ao-com/
  3. https://econsultancy.com/blog/64704-25-effective-design-patterns-for-ecommerce-site-search-results

 

App review: Meerkat

The other day is saw a discussion about whether Meerkat will or won’t last. Meerkat is a simple video app which lets people stream live to their Twitters. It launched about two weeks ago and has been talked about (and used) a lot since. Let’s do a quick review of the app:

  1. How did the app come to my attention? – Simple. My wife told me about Meerkat about a week ago. I also came across the app on ProductHunt.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) – This app lets me stream live to my Twitter follows.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – The first time I open the app, there’s a screen that introduces Meerkat’s ‘rules of conduct’, explaining that “Everything that happens on Meerkat, happens on Meerkat” and thus making it clear that my Meerkat recordings will be shared on Twitter (see Fig. 1 below).
  4. How does the app explain itself in the first minute – The Meerkat login screen says “Tweet Live Video”, which clearly suggests that I’ll be able to tweet live video streams. At the top of my personalised screen I see a text field which says “Write what’s happening …” with two big calls to action – “schedule” and “stream” – underneath (see Fig. 2 below). I’m not quite clear about what will happen when I write something in the text box, or what to expect when I click on “schedule” or “stream”. Nor am I clear on why certain posts appear under the “upcoming” header; I’ve got three upcoming streams from Index Ventures in there, but I don’t understand where these posts have come from. Are they based on Twitter accounts that I follow or are they just placeholders to deal with an initial ‘cold start’ problem? Also, I know I’m not a designer but the light grey font used for the “upcoming” header doesn’t work particularly well against a dark grey background in my opinion.
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like – I type in “Playing with Meerkat” (see Fig. 3 below) and then click on “schedule” to put in a time that works for me (see Fig. 4 below). Et voila, a tweet announces my live stream and off we go (see Fig. 5 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app? – Fairly easy. I guess I personally could have done with a bit more to better understand how Meerkat works and perhaps see some examples of other live streams. For people like me who don’t do video that frequently or who are who conscious of the things they share on Twitter, a bit more context on the app would be helpful. For instance, I can see on the Meerkat leaderboard that Nir Eyal, who I know and trust, is an avid Meerkat user (see Fig. 6 below). It would be good to see some of Nir’s video streams directly from the app.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?Qik, which is now part of Skype, and Periscope, which is currently in private Beta are similar to Meerkat in a sense that enable live video streaming from a multitude of devices. It will be interesting to see what Periscope will look like when it goes live and to learn how easy to use the app is in comparison to Meerkat.
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes. The app is simple – perhaps a bit too simple in places – and does exactly what it says on the tin, nothing more and nothing less.

Main learning point: It will be interesting to see what Meerkat’s usage is like once the current hype has subsided and once competitors like Periscope have entered the fray. The app is easy to use, but I feel it could yet do more in terms of its explanatory interface and enabling users to discover content. Considering that this is only the first release of Meerkat, it feels like a good and effective product.

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the Meerkat screen which introduces the Rules of Meerkat

Meerkat 1

 

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat 

Meerkat 2

Fig. 3 – Screenshot of my personalised screen on Meerkat after I’ve typed in something in the free text field

Meerkat A

Fig. 4 – Scheduling my live video stream via the Meerkat app

Meerkat 5

Fig. 5 – Screenshot of my tweet announcing my live video stream on Meerkat to my Twitter followers

Meerkat B

Fig. 6 – Screenshot of the leaderboard on the Meerkat app 

Meerkat C

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://quibb.com/links/on-meerkat-and-why-it-won-t-last
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/9/8164893/meerkat-live-video-streaming-twitter-yevvo-periscope
  3. http://www.producthunt.com/posts/meerkat
  4. http://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-acquires-live-video-streaming-startup-periscope-1425938498
  5. http://hunterwalk.com/2015/03/14/meerkat-the-value-of-slow-graphs/

The what and why of programmatic marketing

The term “programmatic marketing” is relatively new. Ben Plomion, VP Marketing at Chango, first wrote about programmatic marketing back in 2012. In this article he expands on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of programmatic marketing. Ben’s piece formed a great starting point for me to learn more about what programmatic marketing means and what its benefits are.

Let’s start with the ‘what’:

Wikipedia provides a nice and concise definition of programmatic marketing: “In digital marketing, programmatic marketing campaigns are automatically triggered by any type of event and deployed according to a set of rules applied by software and algorithms. Human skills are still needed in programmatic campaigns as the campaigns and rules are planned beforehand and established by marketers.”

I’ve broken this down into some specific elements:

  1. Events – Marketers can set rules around specific ‘events’ which they expect to trigger specific marketing activities (e.g. a display ad or an email). An abandoned online shopping cart is a good example of such an event. For instance, I receive an email with a subject line that says “Do you still want to buy a white pair of Converse All Stars” after I’ve abandoned this product in my shopping basket.
  2. Automatic triggers – Once an event has been selected, an automatic trigger can be created. For instance, if I search for “blue cashmere” jumpers, I’ll be presented with display ads for the blue cashmere jumpers on other applications or sites that I visit or browse.
  3. Rules set by marketers – There’s a strong human element to programmatic marketing. Marketers need to fully understand the customer journeys and metrics related to their product or service. This understanding will help you to make sure the right marketing activity is triggered, for the right customer and at the right time.

Why? What are the benefits of programmatic marketing?

  1. It’s automated – By automating buying decisions, marketers remove the friction of the sales process (including humans placing buying orders) and reduce their marketing costs.
  2. Organising data – A programmatic marketing platform allows marketers to better organise their data and create highly targeted marketing campaigns. The goal is to avoid wasted clicks or impressions. Programmatic marketing helps to target those consumers who have (expressed) an intent to buy, and who are likely to covert into the desired behaviour.
  3. Targeting and personalisation – Programmatic marketing helps in targeting specific user types or segments, having a better understanding of user activity and interests. Programmatic marketing increases the likelihood of consumer action by showing each user a personalised message. The goal is to present users with a more customised call-to-action based on their recent browsing behaviour, for example, or other anonymised data that you know about them.
  4. Reaching consumers across channels and devices – Similar to marketing based on user behavioural data (see my previous point), you can use programmatic marketing to understand and tap into which channels and devices customers use as part of their experience.

Some programmatic marketing techniques to consider:

  1. Dynamic Creative Optimisation – Dynamic Creative Optimisation (‘DCO’)  allows marketers to break an online ad apart into individual pieces, and to create different pieces for different audiences. With these dynamic elements, you can easily rotate the layout of the ad based on user data (see Fig. 1 below). For example, if we know that a user has been looking at cheap flights to Orlando, we can tailor the ad accordingly (see the Travelocity example in Fig. 1 below).
  2. Shopping cart abandonment email campaigns – Every retail or transactional site collects data on users who don’t complete the checkout process. Abandoned shopping cart emails are sent to those customers who added products to their cart but failed to check out. Customers can fail to purchase for a whole a number of reasons, varying from deliberate (e.g. decision not to purchase) to circumstantial (e.g. the website crashed or the session timed out). Sending a users an email to remind them of their abandoned shopping cart is a great way for businesses to act on this data (see some examples in Fig. 2 and 3 below).
  3. Programmatic site retargeting – Programmatic site retargeting (‘PSR’) is designed to increase revenue from someone who has already visited your site or expressed an interest in your product. As the aforementioned Ben Plomion explains here: “PSR crunches all that data and creates a score that determines how much to bid to serve an impression for that user via an ad exchange, allowing marketers to target leads on the cheap”. It’s about using data such as resource pages on your site that a person has visited, or where the user came from, to serve a highly targeted and relevant ad on the favourite site or application of the user.

Main learning point: After having dipped my toe into programmatic marketing, I feel that there’s much more to learn about how programmatic marketing works and about how to do it effectively. Some of the programmatic marketing techniques seem fairly obvious. However, I guess the challenge will in collecting, understanding and selecting the right data to drive your programmatic marketing activity.

Fig. 1 – Good examples of Dynamic Creative Optimisation – Taken from: http://www.adopsinsider.com/ad-ops-basics/dynamic-creative-optimization-where-online-data-meets-advertising-creative/

CDO 1

Fig 2 – Example of an email to remind people of their abandoned shopping cart – Taken from: http://www.shopify.co.uk/blog/12522201-13-amazing-abandoned-cart-emails-and-what-you-can-learn-from-them

Fab

Fig. 3 – Example of an email to remind people of their abandoned shopping cart – Taken from: http://www.whatcounts.com/wp-content/uploads//Hofstra.png

Hofstra

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/collection/programmatic-marketing/
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmatic_marketing
  3. http://www.adopsinsider.com/ad-ops-basics/dynamic-creative-optimization-where-online-data-meets-advertising-creative/
  4. http://digiday.com/platforms/why-programmatic-marketing-is-the-future/
  5. https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/interview/moneysupermarketcom-activating-customer-data-with-programmatic-marketing/
  6. http://www.mediaweek.co.uk/article/1227382/programmatic-marketing-trends-watch-2014
  7. http://www.fanatica.co.uk/blog/programmatic-marketing/
  8. http://blog.clickwork7.com/2014/12/11/programmatic-versus-native/
  9. http://www.256media.ie/2014/10/smart-content-marketing/
  10. https://medium.com/@ameet/demystifying-programmatic-marketing-and-rtb-83edb8c9ba0f
  11. http://www.shopify.co.uk/blog/12522201-13-amazing-abandoned-cart-emails-and-what-you-can-learn-from-them
  12. http://www.clickz.com/clickz/column/2302627/how-programmatic-site-retargeting-can-give-marketing-automation-a-superboost
  13. https://retargeter.com/blog/general/real-time-bidding-and-programmatic-progress

App review: OpenTable

“The UK’s number one restaurant booking website” is what it says on the homepage of http://www.opentable.co.uk/. One of the reasons why I was keen to find out more about OpenTable is the fact that it serves two types of customers since its connects restaurateurs with customers. This is a similar mechanism which Carwow specialises in, a website which I reviewed previously.

This is my review of OpenTable’s iOS app:

  1. How did this app come to my attention? – I found out the other day that “TopTable”, a restaurant booking site which I’ve used in the past, had been taken over by OpenTable. It’s always good to have a restaurant booking site at hand, reason why I decided to give OpenTable a try and do a quick review.
  2. My quick summary of the app (before using it) –  This is a restaurant booking site. I expect to be able to discover and book restaurants in my local area through this site.
  3. How does the app explain itself in the first minute? – Straightforward; a list of restaurants that I can book (see Fig. 1 below). Because I’ve enabled location tracking, the suggested restaurants are all in the area from where I’m accessing the app. I can view available time slots per restaurants as well as star ratings and proximity.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – I first decided to change the default setting from “Table for 2, today at 12:00” to 2 people on Sun 25 Jan at 12:00. I then select “Chamberlain’s Restaurant” at 12:00, after which I get presented with a nice landing page for Chamberlain’s Restaurant (see Fig. 3 below). By default, the “Info” view is displayed for a restaurant, which means that the view offers practical info such as price range, cuisine and parking. When I switch to the “Reviews” view, I see that the restaurant is rated based on four criteria: food, service, ambiance and value (see Fig. 4 below).
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? I then click on the red “12:00” button, after which I click on the “Reserve as a guest” button (see Fig. 5 below). Signing up as a guest is simple, I just need to enter my first name, last name, email and phone – all the info I expect to submit when making a restaurant reservation (see Fig. 6 below).
  6. How easy to use was the app?  Very easy and intuitive. Granted, I didn’t do the whole Open Table sign-up process, but the design of the app is simple and provides the functionality that you’d expect.
  7. How does the app compare to similar apps?  I had a play with the iOS app of Bookatable, which felt very similar to Open Table. Whereas OpenTable seems to focus very much on displaying available time slots (see Fig. 1), Bookatable concentrates more on providing appealing visuals and highlighting good restaurant deals or “offers” (see Fig. 7 below). Another example, US oriented Resy, looks quite basic in comparison (see Fig. 8 below).
  8. Did the app deliver on my expectations? – Yes, although I expected the app to work harder on ‘drawing’ me in, explaining the benefits of OpenTable and really encouraging me to pick one of the restaurants recommended. The iOS app provides an easy to use and intuitive experience, but I believe it could provide a more compelling experience (see Fig. 9 below).

Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the first screen of the OpenTable iOS app, based on my location

OpenTable1

Fig. 2 – Screenshot of date and time selector on the OpenTable iOS app

OpenTable 2

 Fig. 3 – Screenshot of the landing page for “Chamberlain’s Restaurant” on the OpenTable iOS app

Chamberlain's

Fig. 4 – Screenshot of “Reviews” view on OpenTable iOS app 

OpenTable 6

Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the step prior to making a booking through the OpenTable iOS app

Carwow 7

Fig. 6 – Screenshot of information required to make a reservation through the OpenTable iOS app 

OpenTable 8

Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the first screen of the first screen of Bookatable’s iOS app, not based on my location 

Bookatable 1

Fig. 8 – Screenshot of the first screen on Resy’s Android app

Resy

Fig. 9 – Some initial suggestions to make OpenTable more compelling

  • Highlight ‘hard to get’ bookings – Similar to US apps like Resy and Shout, it would be interesting if OpenTable were to highlight certain restaurants,e.g. based on reputation (and difficulty of getting into) or based on price.
  • Personalised recommendations – Once I’ve made a few bookings through OpenTable, I expect to see or receive more personalised recommendations. I can imagine that OpenTable are already looking at best ways to engage with and retain their users, encouraging ‘personalised discovery’.
  • Visually appealing – Some of the imagery currently available through OpenTable is fairly bland and nondescript. I feel that rich imagery can act as an first important pull to get the user to make a booking or to look at the available menu options or reviews for each restaurant.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.fsrmagazine.com/marketing/pros-and-cons-opentable
  2. http://www.quora.com/Are-there-OpenTable-competitors-If-so-who-are-they-and-how-are-they-doing
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2014/jun/17/restaurant-booking-apps-shout-resy
  4. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2655722/Want-dinner-exclusive-restaurant-craving-cronut-The-apps-lets-jump-queue-New-York-price.html
  5. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-10/reservation-startups-will-snag-you-a-table-for-a-fee.html
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2014/10/28/reserve-from-startup-studio-expa-makes-restaurant-reservations-easier-than-ever/
  7. http://startups.co.uk/restaurant-booking-website-bookatable-acquires-nordic-competitor-2book/