My meetings in Germany got cancelled, so I tried to contact the airline to change my booking. Chat did not work. E-mail was not offered. Call centre kept on cutting me off for hours on end. Finally, someone in their overseas office answered. It took me more than 6 hours to get help.
We at Futurelab tend to have strong beliefs – and we are usually not afraid to voice them. One of those beliefs is that, despite the advances of recent decades, humans must remain the alpha and omega of any technological innovations.
One of the exciting frontiers in Search Engine Optimization is A/B testing. Historically, most of the discourse around split-testing traffic has been for conversion rate optimization or testing ad copy, and it often leaves SEOs out of the fun!
Perhaps you’ve already heard of the idea from Distilled or Etsy’s very influential blog post on their testing practice. When I read Etsy’s post in 2016, I was very excited to start running my own tests. Finally -A way to isolate the impact of my SEO recommendations!
In this post, I’ll show you the process for implementing an SEO split test from start to finish, only using free tools.
Remember: We’re Not Doing CRO Testing
A/B testing for SEO is a bit different than what we would do for conversion rate optimization or user experience testing. We’re still presenting users with two different versions of our content to see which they prefer. In this case, we’re also trying to see what search engines prefer.
In short, our objective is to take a set of similar pages on our website, like product description pages or location pages for our stores, and split them into a control group and an experiment group. Then we’ll change an element on the experiment group pages, like a title tag or H1 template that we think users and search engines will like more, and let search engines index the pages. Finally, we’ll collect performance data on our two groups and see if our experiment group had measurably better performance than our control group.
The idea is similar to traditional CRO A/B testing, but we’re making the change over multiple pages using the same template instead of a single landing page.
Why You Might Not Find a Testing Tool
There are already a few SEO A/B testing tools entering the market, but they are far from complete solutions like a Google Optimize or an Optimizely in the CRO world.
In Winter 2019 I shopped for a tool to use for a few clients, and I’ve sat in on product demos and tested a few tools for myself. I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.
Here are a few reasons the tools I looked at were disqualified:
Cost. Some testing tools might be too expensive for your budget. Distilled ODN is a fantastic tool that does a great many things very well, but you need to be an enterprise-level organization to afford it.
Measurement. Etsy and Distilled have popularized Google’s CausalImpact package to measure results, but many tools aren’t using this approach. RankScience does use a similar method to CausalImpact, and is a perfectly fine alternative.
URL Targeting. I was surprised by how many tools were unable to execute a test on a simple list of URLs. I found options to run a test on 50% of pages, as well as a user-defined percentage of pages, but that doesn’t give us much control. What if I want to use stratified sampling? Not possible.
All that being said, when it’s time for you to shop around for a split-testing tool, you might find a perfect fit based on your specific needs. Hopefully, in a few years, we will have a handful of companies that make SEO A/B testing a breeze to set up and measure.
We Can Do It Ourselves
For a long time in digital marketing, I’ve seen a type of magical thinking where if we buy a tool that does something we don’t know how to do, we’ll somehow be able to do it. That’s backward.
Tools are for making tasks we already understand easier. By taking a DIY approach to our split testing for SEO, we will become very knowledgeable about the testing process. Then we will have a better understanding of what available tools out there will actually make the process easier.
Executing a test has three major parts, and we already have the general-purpose tools for them:
Making changes on specific pages (Google Tag Manager)
Recording results (Google Analytics and Google Search Console)
Google Tag Manager has a few huge benefits that make it suitable for executing tests:
We can target specific pages for our experiment groups with the right triggers
We can make changes to pages without altering anything in our CMS
We can turn off tests without an engineering release
How to Design an SEO A/B Test
SEO testing is essentially the same as hypothesis testing in CRO, but with a couple of key differences. First, we’re not sampling users landing on one page, but rather two or more sets of pages. Second, we don’t get to use a statistical test like chi-squared or the two-sample t-test.
One of the biggest differences is that we’re comparing two time series and not comparing two averages.
The rest of the test design is similar to what you would expect if you’ve designed split tests for CRO:
Objective. We’re not performing tests for fun (although it is). A successful test should directly contribute to a KPI for a channel or team. “Increasing the amount of qualified organic traffic that lands on our location pages” is an acceptable objective.
Hypothesis. What change are we making to our pages, and how is it going to influence users and search engines to support our objective? Here’s a good example: “By changing the H1 template on our store pages to ‘Little Tony’s Pizza Delivery in <city>, <state>’, we will improve our relevance for pizza delivery keywords and let users know they are on the correct page for pizza delivery in their city. The improved relevance and user search experience will improve our rankings and increase our organic traffic as a result.”
Experiment Groups. We want a list of randomly-selected pages for our control and experiment pages, but we also want to make sure our random sample is representative. If the pages we want to test have subcategories or a property we want to make sure is evenly represented in our experiment group, then we should use stratified random sampling. If 30% of our product description pages are energy drinks, then 30% of our experiment group should also be energy drinks.
Duration. We should run our test long enough to collect data over a few weekly cycles and give Search Engines time to index our changes. I’ve seen Google take as long as two weeks to index a single page and as little as one week for a majority of pages in a test. That’s why I like to run tests for four to six weeks.
Primary Metric. We need a single metric to judge the outcome of our test. Usually, our tests are going to rely on organic users or sessions to determine performance. We want to influence rankings and click-through rates with our changes, but both of those contribute to how many people end up on our pages. If our test yields more users, then we can infer that rankings or CTR improved.
Secondary Metrics. Here is where we’re going to use rankings and click-through rate. Secondary metrics are for helping us trust the result we see in the primary metric. If our experiment group is receiving more traffic as we expected, are we also receiving more traffic from the keywords like we were expecting? Unexpected results here are going to have an impact on our conclusion.
An Immediately Invoked Function Expression (IIFE). It’s very difficult to know which variable and function names are already used by other scripts running on our pages. Immediately invoked function expressions limit the scope of our script so that we don’t accidentally overwrite any variables from another script.
Console messages. When we’re debugging our code, or just want to confirm that our test is working, sending console messages makes it easy for us to make sure things are executing the way we expect.
The code we would enter into Google Tag Manager would fit this template:
Google Tag Manager doesn’t come with jQuery, and we don’t need it. Changing title tags, meta descriptions, and H1 tags is pretty simple, and adding jQuery through GTM isn’t worth the trouble.
Firing Our Tag on Experiment Pages
Making a tag fire on a specific list of pages in Google Tag Manager is a little tricky. There isn’t a feature that allows us to paste a list of URLs to fire a tag on, so we’ll need to use some regular expressions.
Since we’re testing one section of our website, like product description pages, product listing pages, or location pages, each URL in the section should use the same format. We can exploit that similarity between our URLs with a regular expression that matches each URL in our experiment.
Suppose we’re testing product description pages, and their canonical URLs look like this:
The GTM trigger to fire a tag on only those pages would be this:
Suppose we also have 1,000 of these pages that we want to include in our experiment group. It’s not feasible to type out all that regex, so let’s use TEXTJOIN() in a Google Sheets formula to make this easy:
Your URLs are probably more complicated than this, so I recommend using a regular expression tool like Regex101 to hack on the expression until you get everything to match correctly.
A Magical Example
Suppose we are working on MTGStocks, a website that tracks price histories of individual Magic: The Gathering cards. They’re not a client of ours, but let’s pretend they are.
MTGStocks has first-page rankings for a lot of keywords like “lightning bolt price history” and “arclight phoenix price trend,” but they mostly rank toward the bottom of the first page. These are important keyword groups for them, but they are dominated by competitors like MTGGoldfish and TCGplayer.
This performance isn’t too surprising. At the moment, their title tags are pretty basic for their card price pages: “Lightning Bolt – MTG Stocks”. Plus, their card price pages have other problems, like no meta descriptions are defined or there is an empty link in the H2, and that H2 should be an H1. We’re going to ignore those and focus on title tags instead.
The most direct test we could run on their title tags is a simple keyword addition. If their titles appeared like “Lighting Bolt – Price History & Trend – MTGStocks” instead of “Lightning Bolt – MTG Stocks”, would they receive the performance boost we’re expecting from “price history” and “price trend” keywords?
The GTM configuration for this test is just like the previous examples. The code we need for the Custom HTML tag would be:
Since the URL structure of MTGStocks looks like https://www.mtgstocks.com/prints/47446, the regular expression for our trigger is pretty much the same, except we’ll need to fire the tag on DOM Ready instead of Page View because it’s an AngularJS app:
Analyzing Results With CausalImpact
Finally, we get to talk about CausalImpact and graphs we can create with it. It’s a causal inference approach invented by Google for estimating the impact of a change by comparing its data against the data generated by a counterfactual forecast.
In other words, CausalImpact uses mysterious bayesian statistics to forecast the traffic of our experiment pages as if we didn’t make a change, and then compares it against the actual traffic after we implement the change. Since we can’t have a true control group for our experiment, we’re fabricating one out of the set of pages we’re calling our control and the traffic we’ve collected from our experiment from before we implement the experimental change.
The mathematics involved in CausalImpact are complicated, and the folks at Distilled were gracious enough to create a tool for us to use that does the heavy lifting. To get the tool to work, we need to feed it 100 days of traffic from before the test begins through all of the traffic after for our control and experiment groups.
To get the data we want to feed into the tool, we need to pull unsampled data from Google Analytics in a spreadsheet, for the 100 days plus test duration.
Imagine we performed our example test on MTGStocks. The GA segment we would use to collect our experiment page traffic would look just like the regular expression we used in the GTM trigger:
We would also need a segment for the control pages, and we would have to create a regular expression just like the one for experiment pages, but for our list of control pages:
We’ll also need to limit the date range to make sure we’re only receiving unsampled data from Google Analytics. If we can’t get unsampled data from one day of traffic, then we’ll need to look to alternatives like Supermetrics or Big Query to get the data we need.
When we’re finished with that, we should have a table that looks like the Input Data tab of this Google Sheet:
Then we set the date in Distilled’s tool to the first date in our table, paste in our control and experiment time series data, and hit “forecast”:
After it finishes calculating, we’ll get a line chart with our experiment segment traffic and the forecast:
Next, we output the raw data of the chart by clicking the “Download CSV” button. The resulting file is formatted as a CSV, but there is no file extension. So before you open it in Excel or import it into Google Sheets, edit the filename and add “.csv” to the end to give it the typical CSV file extension.
When you open the CSV, you will get a table with five columns. But where are the cool graphs we always see in Distilled’s cool blog posts about SEO A/B testing? We have to make them ourselves.
Here’s the Google Sheet of example data with the formulas and graphs already made:
To see how our actual traffic performed against the forecast, we can just plot the two “original” and “predicted” columns in the export CSV:
Generally, we aren’t going to use the performance comparison graph to tell us if the test was successful. What we need is the cumulative difference graph to see if our experiment consistently performed better than the forecast:
We can see in the hypothetical MTGStocks example that although there is some jaggedness, the pages with the adjusted title tags consistently performed better than what we were expecting if we didn’t change the titles.
Statistical Significance is Tricky
So how do we trust the data we’re receiving from CasualImpact is the result of our experimental change and not random noise? In A/B testing for conversion rate optimization, we typically use the chi-squared test with a p-value of 0.05. Or in other words, if the null hypothesis is true, we should see our observed data 1 -0.05 = 95% of the time. Our test is positive when our observed data is outside of that 95% interval.
The output data we received from Distilled’s CausalImpact tool has a p-value of 0.05 built in; we just need to graph it.
Remember the 4th and 5th columns in the output data “predicted_lower” and “predicted_upper”? CausalImpact calculated these upper and lower bounds with a p-value of 0.05 to make the upper and lower bounds of the forecast.
If our experiment is statistically significant, we should see our observed traffic turn out to be higher than the upper bound of the forecast the majority of the time. If we do, we’ll have both a positive cumulative difference curve and a positive cumulative difference between our observed data and the upper bound of the forecast.
In other words, when we visually inspect our cumulative difference graph, all three curves should be above the y=0 line at the end of the graph to have statistical significance.
Corroborating Our Data
What if our cumulative difference is positive, but we’re not statistically significant? Should we make the change or not? This will frequently happen if the effect of our experiment is positive, but the effect isn’t big enough to reach confidence.
The decision to implement the change is a judgment call. If you can also detect improved rankings and keyword clicks in Google Search Console, then you very likely have a real positive improvement with the experiment. This isn’t rigorous hypothesis testing, but we’re already putting far more rigor into this decision than usual for SEO.
When to Pay for a Split-Testing Tool
Like I said earlier in this post, tools are for making tasks we already understand easier. If you’ve attempted DIY A/B tests and find the setup and executing time too demanding, then it’s a good time to get a tool. If you’re trying to run a test over too many pages for Google Tag Manager to handle, then you definitely need to get a tool.
Hopefully, in the future, we’ll have the kind of maturity in our SEO split-testing tools that we see in Google Optimize, Optimizely, and VWO. Features like user-friendly WYSIWYG editors and intuitive confidence graphs make split testing for CRO a lot more accessible, and I can’t wait to see them in SEO testing tools.
There’s a tragedy unfolding all around us, unevenly distributed. It’s about health and it’s also about the economy. We are called upon to not panic, to try to focus, to figure out how to make it all work. And many of us are overwhelmed. From health care workers who are burning the candle at both ends to parents with too many demands on their time, it’s been crazy.
And if you’re a freelancer, it can be challenging because the steady gigs or the easy gigs might be on hold.
If you’re fortunate enough to have time on your hands, what to do with the downtime?
If you’re looking for a gig or if you’re hoping for a new client…
It’s easy to get stuck waiting. The alternative is not to wait.
More time spent fretting isn’t going to help.
The alternative is to dig in and build your portfolio.
A portfolio that includes three things:
ONE: What are you good at? You can dramatically increase your skillset (including your attitude about the work you do) in just a few days of focused effort.
TWO: What have you done? You can actually do work, real work, volunteer work, spec work, digital work and you can do it right now.
THREE: How have you expressed 1 and 2? When we look at your portfolio, what do we see?
You are not your resume. Your prospects are based on the work you’ve done and the way you do it.
When you do a good job on your skills, your work history and your expression, you’re more likely to get better clients.
Getting better clients is super simple and really difficult. The current environment makes it even harder, which means we need to be prepared for a longer, more difficult process ahead.
The benefit of better clients is pretty clear: They challenge you to do better work, they talk about you and your work, they pay on time, they want you to do work you’re proud of and they’re motivated to do more than most people expect.
The difficult part is becoming the sort of freelancer that better clients seek out.
Because while it’s true that better clients make you a better freelancer, the work is too important to simply wait for them to show up. Particularly during difficult and uncertain times. Maybe this is an opportunity to reset expectations and recommit to the practice.
If you’re seeking better clients, I hope you’ll check out The Freelancer’s Workshop. It launches today. You can save some money by clicking the purple circle, which is at maximum value today.
We considered canceling this scheduled session of our online workshop, but for many, this is a good moment to take a breath, settle in and level up. These are perilous times, and it’s easy to get pessimistic and stuck. Let’s learn together instead.
Here’s to health and peace of mind as we all slog forward together.
[At 11 am ET today, I’ll be taking your questions on working from home, freelancing and resilience. We’ll be on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, tech permitting–LinkedIn gets posted later.]
In more recent times,innovative designers have been striving to discover ways in which paper and technology can work together to create ground-breaking designs. Paper most certainly hasn’t lost its place in the digital world, and these designs are here to prove it. Whether you’re looking to enhance your digital experience, simplify it, or take a digital detox without experiencing the dreaded nomophobia (the irrational fear of being without your mobile phone), good old-fashioned paper offers a solution. Read on to discover some ways that the world of print has interacted with that of technology to fantastic effect and prepare to rethink the possibilities of print.
Out of The Box
The Out of the Box project by Samsung was initially thought-up as a way to help elderly people embrace smartphones and empower more people to interact with smart technology. After conducting consumer research, it became clear that it wasn’t necessarily stubbornness that was stopping the older demographic to engage with smart phones, nor was it a lack of skill. In many cases, it was the complex manuals that were becoming a barrier between older people and their smartphones.
In answer to this, the set-up manual underwent a redesign in order to replicate something more familiar — a book. The book that was designed allowed users to set up their phone one step at a time. With the phone itself (as well as parts such as the SIM card) embedded in the pages of the book, printed arrows could link the simplified instructions directly to the part of the screen to which they referred. In order to set up their phone, users simply must flick through the book, page by page, following the instructions as they go. By the time they reach the last page, voila! Phone set-up complete.
The Out of the Box project was a huge success. It was the only phone manual that has ever been featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, so it must have been doing something right! This is a brilliant example of thinking outside the box and using something familiar, like a printed book, to help embrace the unfamiliar.
This next design is Special Projects’ answer to nomophobia. It is a simple, yet effective idea that allows users keep the important elements of their phone they really need, while still taking a much-needed digital detox.
After downloading the Paper Phone app, users can select certain elements of their phone that they need for that day, such as essential contacts, a map of where they’re headed to, or a couple of calendar days and appointments, and these elements will then be used to create a ‘paper phone’.After selecting the elements that you wish to keep, you can then create a PDF or print directly from your phone. The app does all of the work for you, laying out the information you’ve requested in an aesthetically pleasing and easy–to–read format.
There you have it! You can venture into the outside world, paper phone in hand, ready for anything, yet not reliant on technology.
Our final example of the unlikely collision of paper and tech is the DIY paper lamp from Bare Collective. Following the theme of simple ideas, this design harnesses the power of origami. The idea of transforming a single piece of paper into a functioning light sounds bizarre, but Bare Collective’s easy-to-use guide (AKA, the Electric Paint Lamp Kit) includes everything you could possibly need. Within the kit, there is a circuit board, six LED lights, a micro USB plug and electrically conductive paint.
From this kit, users can easily construct a functioning light with a sleek minimalist design — it even includes a touch-sensitive switch for the LED lights! The simplicity of this accessible design allows anyone to construct something impressive. The company explained, “The assembly process is really easy so anyone can succeed in creating their own lamp. And it’s got the built in the excitement of using Electric Paint to bring some magic into the design, with absolutely no electronics experience.”
There is certainly magic in the simplicity of paper. Even in more traditional ways, from posters to luxury business cards, we are clearly still relent on this product.
Although we are racing forward into a world powered by technologies, there is clearly still a place for the tangible — as well as fantastic ways in which the two can work together!
There’s only one thing worse than having no data, and that is using the wrong data. Numbers without context are useless. Well, you can say the same for knowledge: Competencies and skills are useful, but without the ability to make deeper associations that lead to ah-ha moments or new insights you cannot ask better questions. When you don’t understand why something is happening, it’s because you don’t have all the underlying variables. What’s evident for data — yet still misapplied — is also true for thinking and reasoning. If there ever was a time to get outside your comfort zone,…
Selecting web hosting service for any business first requires a close study of all the hosting services along with the present and future requirements. Selecting a web hosting service is similar to selecting a home for you for approximately 2-3 years. Hence, you would want the home for your website to be the ideal place. A website is originally a collection of documents or pages that are downloaded every time you open a URL for any website. You can compare them with your mobile applications like Facebook or Skype, web applications reside over the server. In the times of impatient website visitors, no one would like to go through slower website loading pages or any other kind of attrition.
The systems we use at home or in our offices are designed in such a way so that they can deal with one user at a time. But the servers are designed in such a way to deal with multiple users like these. Hosting service providers nowadays make use of world-class servers to meet the needs of the current user base. In the midst of this, hosting services like VPS hosting are gaining popularity. There are staunch reasons behind it. Your website deserves the best hosting service and VPS hosting is the one you are looking out for. Want to know why? Then let’s dig deeper to know why-
What is VPS hosting?
Virtual Private Servers (VPS) is based on the concept of virtualization. As we all know that the world is becoming more and more virtual and so are our services. Then how hosting services could have been left behind?
Think VPS hosting service as a dedicated hosting service using a single server with multiple users on it. Each server compartment within a VPS server holds the characteristics of the entire server. The virtualization technology helps in creating virtual divisions between real compartments. Each compartment has its own set of Operating System (OS), application, resources, and configurations. All the compartments concealed within a consolidated server with multiple VPS accounts on it.
Although each user is using the same server but does not share a single bit when it comes to benefits. Thus VPS web hosting is said to be one of the most flexible hosting services at the cost at which it comes. The best part about VPS hosting is that it can be declared as “best of both the worlds”. It provides advantages of a dedicated server hosting but comes at a lower price, which is a little more than shared hosting.
So if you are thinking of upgrading your hosting service from shared, then VPS would be the best choice for your small or medium scale business. It would not be an exaggerated statement if it would be said that VPS hosting is the optimal solution for your website. Here are the reasons for the same-
Dedicated services at not so dedicated prices
There is no harm in being cost-effective when it comes to selecting your web hosting service. Once your website starts outgrowing, it is not preferred to keep it within the boundaries of a shared hosting service. And when you can get better services without any overspending. VPS hosting plans mostly dangle between somewhere between shared and dedicated hosting. VPS hosting plans generally start at like somewhere around 700-800 per month which is more than shared but way lesser than any dedicated hosting service. The money you are saving here can be put into some better use like in developing your website or its better design.
Complete control while sharing
Due to the virtual compartments, the user gets full control over their compartment that acts as a separate server in itself. Complete access to files and all the resources makes VPS hosting as the best platform to explore the advantages of hosting services. This gives the developer’s full authority to freely perform their experiments, the only restriction is the configuration set by the hosting provider.
Negligible instance of going down
As the components within a VPS host are virtual it’s very easy to restore the backup of any server image and can be pulled whenever required. So if one server goes down, very soon the image can be recovered from the other physical server. This makes sure that all your essential operations carry on with full swing.
No sharing of resources
The applications or website hosted over a shared hosting service very often face this problem of going short of the resources. Hence, when one of the websites that share the server in a shared hosting starts to overgrow. Then the problem arises with other applications and websites start going through a lack of resources. But all thanks to VPS hosting services that websites don’t have to go through a situation like this. Therefore, it is recommended for websites who are expecting higher traffic to migrate to VPS hosting from shared hosting service.
Security comes as part and parcel with VPS hosting
Websites or applications dealing with crucial details like medical information based websites or e-commerce websites that are dealing with millions of businesses on a daily basis have security as the priority factor. Any threat that falls upon the very next account, its effect will never reflect on any other account that is been subscribed to the same server. Hence, VPS servers are a kind of a blessing for all those website owners who are looking out for flexible hosting services. Also shifting services from any shared hosting account to a VPS one is not at all a hefty task. Most of the web hosting providers has this provision of easy migration within a matter of minutes.
All these reasons are staunch enough to avoid any confusion while selecting a VPS hosting service for your website. Also, not much of technical knowledge is required for managing PS hosting. Thus, VPS hosting should be chosen to support tons of users, server up a resource-heavy website and maximizing RAM for high-resolution results. For bloggers who are falling out of resources from a shared hosting service are recommended to upgrade to VPS hosting service provider.
It doesn’t really pay to classify multitudes by their age–every generation is complex and intermingles with all the others.
But it might be a useful way to understand the issues we’ve faced and where we might be heading.
Generation C was inaugurated with the events created by Covind-19, and it is defined by a new form of connection.
There’s a juxtaposition of the physical connection that was lost as we shelter in place, and the digital connection that so many are finding online.
Not just a before and after for the economy, but for culture, for health, for expectations. School and jobs are different now, probably for the long term.
No idea or behavior shift has ever spread more quickly or completely in the history of the planet. In seven weeks, the life of every single person on Earth changed, and the unfolding tragedy and the long slog forward will drive expectations for years. Expectations about being part of a physical community, about the role of government and about what we hope for our future.
If previous cycles of media were about top-down broadcast (from radio, TV and cable), the last few years have been about the long tail, about giving a microphone to anyone who wanted one. But now, the peer to peer power of the internet is dominating. The Kardashians won’t be as important as 3,000 people with a thousand connections each. Never mind a million people with 100 each.
Companies are now competing to see how few employees they have instead of how many. The lattices of the connection economy are racing to replace the edifice complex of the previous one.
And if Covind-19 and Connection are the first two C’s, the third one is going to be Carbon.
Because we’re going to need to pay. All of us. To pay for the dislocations and to pay for the treatment and to pay for the recovery.
Worldwide cataclysms are different from local ones. As we shift gears and seek to revitalize our economy, put people to work and build a resilient future, it might be tempting to drill and burn, and to try to adopt an emergency footing that disregards any long-term future more than a few months ahead. But GenC may be too wise for that. And they may be connected enough to speak up and overrule the baby boomers.
A threat and an enemy will focus public attention. For a long time, that enemy was other people or other nations, and an us-vs-them mindset was a great way to get attention or get elected. But just as we came to understand that you can’t bully a virus, you can’t personalize carbon either.
The worldwide challenge of carbon is not a problem for someone else, it’s a problem for all of us. Using carbon consumption as a way to pay for rebuilding our community brings all three Cs together.
Emergencies are overrated as a response mechanism. Preparation and prevention are about to become a more popular alternative.
My generation was the dominant voice for sixty years. A voice that worried about the next 24 hours, not the next 24 years. That’s about to shift, regardless of what year you were born.
In the short run, it’s easy to abandon what we believe. Deep down, we assume that once things go back to normal, so will we.
Organizations end up with bullies, predators and bad actors for only one reason: In this moment, it’s easier to keep them. There’s some sort of urgency that makes asking them to leave too difficult right now, so we put it off for a little while. When we make a “just this once” exception, we’ve already made a decision about what’s truly important.
And the same goes for those moments when we’re inclined to be, just for a moment, a bully, a predator or a bad actor as well. Few people decide to be selfish for the long haul.
What makes it a principle is that we do it now, even though (especially though) it’s hard.
Being an advocate for my client is the starting point for what I do here at Portent. Sure, how I serve a client is probably formalized in some boilerplate paragraph in an SOW and quantified in an SLA. But that’s something for two legal teams to be happy with. For me, advocacy is striving to drive business for a client, ultimately becoming an integral part of their team. I relish building that relationship.
However, I also need to be an advocate for my internal team. I want my strategists to feel supported, like they are being set up for success, so they can have fun delivering on our promised goals. Achieving this balance, however, requires understanding what drives business impact for your client, and making sure your internal team feels empowered to apply their expertise to client goals.
In this post, I’ll share some successful account management strategies that keep both your client and team needs in mind.
1. Get to Know Each Other
The best way to start a business relationship off on the right foot is with mutual understanding. It’s important that you learn your client’s needs, pain points, and goals so you can build your strategy accordingly. It’s just as critical that your client is familiar with your internal team, their expertise, and how they will work together to execute on that strategy.
During a kickoff or onboarding call, It’s always a good idea to discuss why you’re all meeting for the first time. This is a good opportunity to dig into the initial sales process: Why were you hired? What is the customer promise here? From there, it’s time to discuss how everyone delivers on that promise.
Understanding Your Client
I’ve worked in some very disparate product verticals. Even if my team and I marketed a similar product before, it’s still wise to ask your client about their teams, products, and processes. During your kick-off meetings, inquire to see if you can get introduced to the heads of the other teams you might not interact with regularly (e.g., product managers, content creators, sales managers) who can provide valuable perspective on the business and impact of marketing campaigns.
If you’re working with the marketing team and your KPIs are MQLs, perhaps request a call with the sales team to understand how they define an SQL. That way, you know what the downstream/down funnel effects of your work are, and how to set expectations across teams. Get to know the product team, too, so you have insights into what’s important in their world. Understanding what a company believes about its products and features can only help as you prepare to market it to potential customers.
Of course, before you can go to market, you need to define those KPIs. In a world of BI, data visualizations, and enough metrics to drown in, coming to an agreement with your client on the most important data points to focus on will set a strong foundation for your relationship and ongoing collaboration. And with KPIs in hand, you can begin formulating your strategy.
Introduce Your Team, Company, and Philosophy
At Portent, we have a set of defined values (which we self-review on) and a marketing stack that defines how we approach our work. These are the foundation for guiding our ongoing client relationships, and we share this information with clients right off the bat.
This introduction provides a basic understanding of our approach to digital marketing and provides a benchmark to revisit throughout a client engagement to reinforce why we may recommend specific channels and pivots in strategy. It sets our entire team up for successful conversations with the client in the months ahead.
2. Set Expectations!
This one is pretty straightforward. Once your client contacts have told you all about their business, you should certainly let them know how your company works most efficiently. The best relationships are based on understanding and trust. So if you’re upfront with a client on when and how you will communicate, you’re setting yourself and your team members up for success. However, it’s a two-way street here. A frank discussion on how you can meld the rhythms of two companies early on will pay dividends later.
3. Proactively Communicate
As I just noted, if you’re proactive in setting communication expectations with your client, you’ll be better for it. Start with talking through what your SLA is for getting a response out to a client touchpoint. Is it four hours? Eight hours? A day?
More often than not, my team responds pretty quickly to client requests. However, I’ll always reach out to PPC, paid social, SEO, and content specialists to confirm when they will be available to respond to a client question or request. From there, one of us can reach back out, letting the client know when we’ll have an answer for them.
Talk to your client about expectations when an emergency happens. You should know what your internal team can do in these situations to ensure that the client’s expectations are realistic. If there’s a gap, be sure to find a way to bring both sides to a resolution. When an emergency does arise, it’s on the account manager to determine what work may need to be waylaid as this unexpected task gets prioritized and to communicate about any changes with the team and the client.
Empower Your Strategists
As an account manager, I strive to empower my strategists to answer questions as they come in without checking with me first. At Portent, we pride ourselves on hiring superior communicators; once that initial rapport has been established, individual strategists are encouraged to respond directly to client requests. This builds confidence and strengthens the relationship between the client and our marketing team.
Do You Speak Client?
Your client has a language all their own. To you, a sales qualified lead might be a form fill or a phone call. Your client, on the other hand, may have specific metrics they use. As an example, a customer phone call may only be valid to them if the call duration is over 60 seconds. When you do get confirmation from the client that they’re only interested in that subset, be sure that you’re not wasting their time and your credibility reporting on unnecessary metrics.
This holds true for your custom reporting dashboards as well. Sure, you’ve got a killer template that you can base your reporting on. However, it really should be tailored to the KPIs they gave you previously. And if they didn’t give you any? Then it’s time to dig in again to see what’s important to their business. You have the data and can likely find a few points that should clearly illustrate the health of their marketing channels.
Learning your client’s language, and adapting your communication style accordingly will help build trust in both your communication and your strategy.
4. Connect the Dots
As mentioned above, let’s say your client is interested in calls originating from their website that were greater than 60 seconds in duration. Let’s also assume that you’re running paid search to this site that features call tracking.
You should be able to tell a story for both the client and your internal marketing specialists that starts at the top of the funnel with impressions, or at the very least clicks to their site. You will likely talk about how your costs per are affecting site visits. From there, you can transition to speaking in greater detail about clicks to the site. What’s the conversion rate of their page? How many calls have your efforts generated? What’s the cost per call, and what’s the ROI (if you know the average revenue per sale)? All of these items are important when telling the story of the primary KPI!
Obviously, connecting the dots should be tied to what’s important to the client. But there’s another side to this coin. During your reporting or check-in calls, be sure to call out all of the work your team is doing to move these KPIs in the right direction: A fun conversation to have!
Managing KPIs: Win, Lose, or Pivot
What if key metrics aren’t moving in the direction you wanted or at the velocity you envisioned? Then it’s time to revisit the work you’re doing and take a look at your implementation recommendations. From there, you can collaborate with the channel specialists to frame the conversation and next steps with your client.
Are you solely responsible for fulfillment of the work? If so, let them know what you did, where it ties into the marketing stack, and the expected outcomes. If you fell short or failed to execute on time, explain why that may have happened.
Does your work involve client input or involvement? If this is the case, regularly thank them for their help. At Portent, we understand that our clients have their own work in addition to approving and executing digital marketing recommendations. When things are going great, we make sure the client is getting credit for all of the help they provided us.
When things get delayed or held up on their end, however, it’s time for a different conversation. We’re all accountable to someone. As a vendor, we’re accountable for the work and to the client. Our client contacts are responsible for ensuring our internal team has what we need to continue to work toward our goals.
If you’re not getting it, it’s on you to find a way to ensure you do… or to pivot. Regardless, be sure to document your decision(s) with the right people. This includes detailing what the impact you foresee will be. If a particular part of the marketing stack will be affected, call this out, as well as where you may potentially alter your strategy. This transparency and straightforward information will not only protect your internal team and reinforce their expertise, but provide the data needed to make a decision and move forward. Once you have agreed on next steps, it’s full steam ahead!
It’s About Building Trust
As you work through your campaigns, be sure to circle back and take time to see how it went. Perhaps it’s a simple retrospective. What worked? What didn’t? Maybe you can run a full quarterly business review to talk through your wins, challenges, and opportunities. Not every campaign is going to be a winner, but win or lose, there’s some valuable insight to be shared. Agree with your client and team on what you learned and how you’ll incorporate changes into the next campaign.
If you, your team, and your client can all respect the work to be done, and the impact that being open and honest can have, then you have a strong foundation for building and evolving a marketing program.