Today’s special

I just noticed something about the ubiquitous sign at every diner.

On one hand, it means, “the special that was assigned to today.” It’s possessive.

But on the other hand, it could simply mean, “today is special.”

Because both are true.

Plan accordingly.


Post-COVID Re-Entry Strategies for Digital Marketers

There are plenty of studies out there showing how COVID has impacted PPC, SEO, and Social Media across various industries. Most of the news is pretty dire, particularly in entertainment, hospitality, leisure, restaurant, and travel verticals. Even some industries that have been deemed essential services and have been able to keep their doors open through shelter-in-place orders have seen declines too: automotive, construction, and elective medical, to name a few.

So what can we do as digital marketers, working with in-house stakeholders and consulting clients, during this dark time? Start planning for how and when to re-emerge.

We don’t know how consumers of our clients’ products and services will choose to re-enter public life once governments relax quarantine restrictions. But there are some indicators we can keep an eye on that will signify that business is returning to normal, or whatever new normal looks like.

Leading Indicators for a Post-COVID “Normal”

We’re keeping an eye on a few specific things for our clients that will show us that people are starting to return to pre-lockdown life (once government restrictions are lifted). Most of them revolve around transportation and travel, but some of them are unique to the businesses we’re working with and the industries they operate in.

So what’s a framework for the things that you look for in a leading indicator? Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What are the signs people are comfortable being in public again?
  2. What are the prerequisites for people using your products or services, and how are those things trending?
  3. What are the non-brand category searches that people use when they are starting to research your products or services?

From there, you can extrapolate specific phrases or ideas to monitor on Google Trends. Here are some tangible examples of a few things to focus on.

Commute Times

When’s the last time you looked at the traffic report for your metro area? Probably not very recently, right? If you did, you would find average commute times are down incredibly. Here in Seattle, even with all the delivery drivers and essential personnel on the roads, today’s commute times are down 27% from the average. Commutes were even faster a few weeks ago when the shelter-in-place orders were first instituted. We anticipate that an increase in commute time will indicate that people are becoming more comfortable being out and about and in need of products or services.

trends.embed.renderExploreWidget(“TIMESERIES”, {“comparisonItem”:[{“keyword”:”commute time”,”geo”:”US”,”time”:”2019-04-24 2020-04-24″}],”category”:0,”property”:””}, {“exploreQuery”:”geo=US&q=commute%20time&date=today 12-m”,”guestPath”:”https://trends.google.com:443/trends/embed/”});


Let’s face it: We’re all gonna need a vacation after this virus runs its course. The index on “vacation” searches is down 42% year-over-year compared to last April, according to Google Trends. Folks may be hesitant to go on a trip, even after broad travel and public assembly restrictions are lifted. But once we see an uptick here, it will be a promising sign.

trends.embed.renderExploreWidget(“TIMESERIES”, {“comparisonItem”:[{“keyword”:”vacation”,”geo”:”US”,”time”:”2019-04-24 2020-04-24″}],”category”:0,”property”:””}, {“exploreQuery”:”geo=US&q=vacation&date=today 12-m”,”guestPath”:”https://trends.google.com:443/trends/embed/”});

Air Travel

One of the hardest-hit industries were airlines. In early March, there was a huge wave of “flights” and “flight prices” searches as people were afraid they weren’t going to be able to travel out of state or out of the country. After that, volume on air travel terms is down almost 60% for what’s usual for this time last year.

trends.embed.renderExploreWidget(“TIMESERIES”, {“comparisonItem”:[{“keyword”:”flights”,”geo”:”US”,”time”:”2019-04-24 2020-04-24″}],”category”:0,”property”:””}, {“exploreQuery”:”geo=US&q=flights&date=today 12-m”,”guestPath”:”https://trends.google.com:443/trends/embed/”});

Brand Names

Our companies’ and clients’ brand searches will be another key indicator. We don’t work with TGI Friday’s, but like most dine-in restaurants, they were hit really hard by quarantine. Watching searches for their brand name climb back up will be a good indicator that folks are out shopping and needing places to eat that aren’t geared for delivery.

trends.embed.renderExploreWidget(“TIMESERIES”, {“comparisonItem”:[{“keyword”:”tgi fridays”,”geo”:”US”,”time”:”2019-04-24 2020-04-24″}],”category”:0,”property”:””}, {“exploreQuery”:”geo=US&q=tgi%20fridays&date=today 12-m”,”guestPath”:”https://trends.google.com:443/trends/embed/”});

Product and Service Searches

Similarly, demand for products and services over search will be another indicator that people are researching with intent to buy after the COVID lull. Even essential services like “auto repair” that have remained open have seen declines. More recently, in April, driven by stimulus checks arriving from the government, we’re noticing a slight uptick to indicate demand for those services again.

trends.embed.renderExploreWidget(“TIMESERIES”, {“comparisonItem”:[{“keyword”:”auto repair”,”geo”:”US”,”time”:”2019-04-24 2020-04-24″}],”category”:0,”property”:””}, {“exploreQuery”:”geo=US&q=auto%20repair&date=today 12-m”,”guestPath”:”https://trends.google.com:443/trends/embed/”});

Re-Entering the Post-COVID Marketplace in Phases

With leading indicators in place, the next step is deciding when and where to relaunch marketing campaigns. A lot of advertisers have pulled back budgets in the last 60 days, and understanding how to re-approach those in phases is important.

Another consideration here is that local governments are talking about re-opening certain aspects of the economy in waves. So what’s right for one business may not be right for another. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a real return to business-as-usual until a viable COVID vaccine exists, but some verticals will get a temporary head-start.

Phase 1: Brand

The no-brainer is bringing brand campaigns back first. Be there when people need you and are seeking you out specifically. Start with paid search branded keywords (I would argue that you should’ve never turned these off, but some businesses might not have had a choice) and paid social messages targeting only true categorical intent for your brand or industry.

Phase 2: Essential Services

First responders, medical professionals, grocery store workers, and delivery drivers come to mind here, but essential service folks are busier than ever. If you can find an elegant way to target campaigns to these folks and to offer them truly helpful products and services while they’re risking their lives to keep the lights on in our society, do it. You can do this with clever content marketing on your site and through email campaigns, regardless of the inbound channel.

Phase 3: Subtle Remarketing

If you have people continuing to filter into retargeting campaigns in search, social, and display, again, be there for them when they need you. Make sure you keep the frequency of these ads low so as not to be annoying or insensitive and think about making the pool expiration shorter than you would normally.

Phase 4: Non-Brand

With a close on product and service searches as leading indicators, ensure those have recovered first before you start buying non-brand advertising in search or doing any prospecting campaigns in paid social or display channels. Demand has to be there, or else companies and clients will see very poor ROI on these efforts.

Phase 5: Sales and Promotions

Nothing reads more tone-deaf during a crisis like this than touting a doorbuster or one-day-only markdown campaigns. If you had a big sale initiative planned for the 4th of July this weekend, maybe skip it this year. Make this the last type of advertising message you bring back until COVID is well and truly a thing of the past.

Use Your Judgement

There is no playbook for how to be a good marketer in a global pandemic. But we can use our empathy as humans to think about what feels right for our clients and customers and go with our gut as we plan.

If you’re not sure how a new campaign would be received, maybe send out a quick survey to some of your most loyal customers with an incentive and get a read on it before you bring back a big component of your marketing budget.

When in doubt, wait it out. Like all the people who hoarded toilet paper in March, our first response in a time like this is to panic and follow our lizard brain. That, historically, doesn’t make for great marketing and could land you in more hot water PR and public sentiment-wise than the campaign is worth.

Above all, stay safe and be smart out there, people. If you do, there will be a lot of great case studies for us marketers when this is all over.

The post Post-COVID Re-Entry Strategies for Digital Marketers appeared first on Portent.


Self, community and motivation

Me & Now


Us & Later

This is the conflict every culture lives with. Modern industrialism has embraced the extraordinary power of instant gratification and has amplified it by reminding us that only you know what you want and need.

Fast food plus the me generation. What you want, when you want it.

Years ago, I co-authored a paper that, if implemented would probably have solved our shameful shortage of available organs for donation. In prioritizing people who need a donation, we’d settle a tie by sorting people by how long they’d been on the donor registry. If you’re not willing to sign up to give (one day far in the future) then you don’t get priority to get (when you need it). The self-focused need to be on the list early would essentially eliminate the need for a ranking at all, because humans have been taught to do what helps them now before worrying about later or everyone else. Enough people would panic and race to be on the registry that the shortage would soon disappear.

In our culture, turning the “us and later” narrative (you should sign up for the registry to help a stranger one day) into “me and now” (better sign up today or you’ll regret it) is a generous hack. We shouldn’t have to do it, it’s less resilient, but it would work.

How then, did the media respond to public health officials to flatten the curve on the epidemic virus (not perfectly, not soon enough, but they did)? They didn’t appeal to, “you should do this to protect strangers from getting sick.” They tried but it didn’t work well enough.

They did it by implying, “if you touch someone, you will die almost instantly and quite horribly.” And people, already frightened, embraced the feeling.

People generally aren’t wearing masks and socially distancing out of long-term philanthropy and insight about resources and epidemiology. It’s happening because of the panic of self-preservation.

A rational, generous, community mindset was effectively replaced by an immediate and self-focused desire to be safe. A generous hack.

The selfish dolts on spring break or in bouncy castles didn’t get that memo: they feel fine, why bother being careful?

A narrative of “save yourself right now’ is effective in this culture. In other cultures, less industrialized but hardly less sophisticated, an alternative could be a focus on “us” before “me.”

Without a doubt, short-term market needs are often efficiently filled by short-term selfish behavior. Resilience comes from a longer-term and more community-focused outlook.

The question is: Once people catch the virus and get through it (as most people will) and recover (as more than 9 out of 10 will), what will replace the selfish panic?

Cultural pressure is the sometimes unseen force that allows us to maintain civility. It helps us decide what to choose. People like us, do things like this.

As we face the need to pay for our recovery, for a new and more resilient safety net and for the shifts that our culture demands, will we have to resort to the short-term and the selfish yet again?

Pick your heroes. Whoever you look up to, my hunch is that it’s someone who took a longer and more inclusive view.

We can be those heroes.


How to Measure the Impact of Zero-Click on Your Digital Marketing Strategy

In June of 2019, there was a fundamental shift in the way Google SERPs operate, which had been in motion for some years beforehand. For the first time, the majority of searches on Google resulted in a paid search click, or no click at all. In other words, search results that facilitated an organic click through to a website were in the minority.

As Rand Fishkin outlines in his widely-shared analysis of this shift, the implication is that Google is prioritizing Google. It’s building ways to keep people within the SERP, and prioritizes paid search results when it can’t, so they have a higher chance of getting monetary value from the click-through.

From Rand Fishkin’s analysis: desktop searches resulting in zero clicks, paid search clicks, and organic clicks.

An early sign of this shift was when Google introduced “position zero.” By pulling information and content from other websites and highlighting it directly in the Google SERP, it reduced the need for people to click through to any given website. When people do a Google search, get their information from the SERP, and do not click through to a website, this is what is known as a “zero-click” search.

Here is what you can expect as a result of this shift, and what trends to look for in your digital marketing reports. I also highly recommend reading Portent Senior SEO Strategist Evan Hall’s explanation of zero-click as a primer to this post.

Symptoms of Zero-Click

To set the stage, it’s important to remember that because this shift has happened within the Google SERPs, it will primarily affect two channels: organic search and paid search.

It’s also important to keep in mind that what you experience may vary depending on your activity within these two channels; these reporting observations are not one-size-fits-all. You may see variations of how these metrics have been impacted depending on the number of visitors to your website, your participation in either of these channels, and your industry.

Organic Search

A big symptom of the zero-click phenomenon is a gradual decrease in organic traffic to your website. This is measurable in both Google Analytics and Google Search Console, represented as users in GA, and clicks from Search Console.

From Rand Fishkin’s analysis: organic searches that result in a click have decreased over time.

Your visibility on the Google SERPs (i.e., impressions) has likely remained steady or has even improved. If you’re optimizing your website for Google rankings, you will continue to rank well, and still appear high on the SERPs. Your organic search impressions are likely not impacted.

If that is the case, Google may have recognized that your website is ranking well and is relevant to users, and may tap your website for SERP “position zero” content. Alternatively, they could be surfacing “position zero” information from related businesses, or even your competitors, and people do not need to click through to a website.

From a usability perspective, it saves users a click if Google can scrape information that they are searching for. However, from a website reporting perspective, there will be a downward trend of organic users who visit your website.

In this sample client data, we observed that impression trends are similar YoY, but clicks decreased over time.

As a result, impressions remain similar or have even improved, depending on the level of your SEO work, and your organic users have slowly declined.

Paid Search

After zero-click searches, paid search results have been increasingly prioritized to come after the position zero answer boxes. It is beneficial for Google to prioritize paid search to maximize clicks that result in revenue.

From Rand Fishkin’s analysis: between 2016 and 2019, searches resulting in paid search clicks increased from 4% to 6.85% on desktop.

Although the budget drives Google Ads, and rankings may vary depending on the effectiveness of your strategy, if Google is beginning to prioritize paid search rankings, they may show higher in the SERPs.

We’ve seen this phenomenon reflected in client data where clicks increase at a higher rate than both impressions and cost. With a relatively consistent YoY budget, and no major optimizations or campaign restructures, we can attribute this click increase in part to SERP result behavior.

In this client example, paid search clicks have increased at a higher rate than impressions and cost.

Metrics You Can Measure

With these changes in the SERP in mind, following are several metrics to help you gauge the impact of zero-click on your reporting, and on your digital strategy.

“Off-Site” Metrics

The following are metrics you can measure in the Google SERP with Google programs and third-party marketing tools. These will help you identify SERP trends for your own business outside of your website data.

Google Ads

Impressions and Clicks. As we have illustrated with client data, look to see if the number of “clicks” from paid search ads has increased over time, and at a faster rate than impressions or budget increases. This implies that the CTR is increasing, and people are clicking through paid ads at a higher rate.

Phone Calls. Google Ads recently added a reporting metric that allows you to track phone calls placed from a paid search call extension. This is another opportunity for a user to forgo a click and interact with your brand directly.

In this screenshot of Google Ads, you can find phone call data under the ads & extensions section.In this screenshot of Google Ads, you can find phone call data under the ads & extensions section.

Google Search Console

Impressions and Clicks. Similar to Google Ads, if you’re optimizing your website to rank well on Google, your organic impressions should have a similar YoY trend, depending on the seasonality of your business. With Google placing “position zero” boxes in the SERPs, your organic click-through rate may have gone down. Both metrics are important to monitor as you evaluate the impact on your organic traffic.

Google My Business

Phone Calls and Directions. Google has highlighted the visibility of local businesses in the SERP with Google My Business profiles. To measure whether your off-site activity has increased, monitor the number of people who request directions to your business, or call you directly from your Google listing.

Two GMB metrics to measure off-site activity are requesting directions to your business and phone calls.


Keywords Ranking in Position Zero. STAT is an SEO-focused tool that helps evaluate your rankings on the Google SERP. With this tool, you can define which keywords you want to track data for, and how they appear in the SERP. The most common types of ways a keyword can show in position zero are:

  • Featured Snippets
  • Knowledge Graphs
  • Answer Boxes

By creating a dynamic tag in STAT, you can aggregate the keywords showing for any of the above SERP features, and have a clear idea of which keywords, and how many, rank in position zero. If you compare this value against the number of searches for those keywords, you can get an idea of the percentage of searches your tracked keywords are ranking for.


On-Site Metrics

These metrics are all measured through Google Analytics based on your website data. After getting an off-site idea of how your business appears in the SERPs, it’s valuable to measure user activity down the marketing funnel to determine the impact on your conversion and sales metrics.

Google Analytics

Paid Search Visitors. As you’re tracking the increase of clicks in your paid search activities from Google Ads, there should be a corresponding increase in paid search visitors to your site. There will always be some discrepancy between the values. However, they should be in the same ballpark. You should take note if there is a large difference between Google Ads clicks and Google Analytics users and sessions from Google Ads. This could indicate a separate tracking issue or functionality problems with the paid search landing pages.

Organic Search Visitors. Similar to paid search, there should be a ballpark similarity between organic clicks from Search Console, and organic users in Google Analytics. You can also expect them to trend in similar directions, so if your overall Search Console organic clicks have been decreasing, organic search visitors in GA should follow suit.

Your Primary Web Conversions. Be sure to monitor your website conversions (purchases, form fills, etc.) and compare them against internal leads and sales. Has there been a major shift? With client data, we have seen that despite the overall drop in visitor traffic to a website, the conversion rates have actually improved. Despite a seemingly scary impact of zero-click reducing organic searches, we have also seen that it can improve and optimize the user journey. Although fewer people are arriving at your website, the users who do tend to be more qualified.

This client data represents an overall decrease in organic users and an increase in conversions.

Has Zero-Click Impacted Your Business?

While these are examples of trends you may see in your reporting, it’s important to add a caveat that the results of your website will differ depending on your industry, size of business, level of participation in paid search, and how attentive you are with optimizing your website to rank well on Google SERPs.

Two valuable takeaways from this ongoing shift are:

  1. Paid search is of increasing importance. Google continues to prioritize clicks, which will result in a paid click through, over a free organic click. Paid search is always of some importance, because where you aren’t paying to play, your competitors likely are.
  2. Organic search still matters. We can’t stress this enough! Despite fewer click-throughs to your website, it still has to be optimized to rank well to be tapped for position zero, and to rank competitively against paid search.

Based on the metrics we’ve outlined, this should give you an idea of how your business has been impacted by zero-click, and where you have opportunities to optimize. The Google SERP changes on an ongoing basis, and understanding ranking preferences will help you stay at the top of search results.

The post How to Measure the Impact of Zero-Click on Your Digital Marketing Strategy appeared first on Portent.


What’s the New Narrative? Habit-Forming Approaches to Resilience

Last year I created a website to encourage people to put life back into lifestyle. I was hearing a general disenchantment with the polished image of lifestyle influencers. Many colleagues and friends loved to hear my stories about the Made in Italy, and couldn’t find anything resembling that genuine spirit of Italian style. So I took the plunge and added the publication to my writing rotation. I was channeling a general sense of malaise with the perfect portrayals that left no room for real persons with family life and budgets to juggle to see themselves in the picture. Then my…


Thoughts on “I’m bored”

If you’re under 14: “Good.”

It’s good that you’re feeling bored. Bored is an actual feeling. Bored can prompt forward motion. Bored is the thing that happens before you choose to entertain yourself. Bored is what empty space feels like, and you can use that empty space to go do something important. Bored means that you’re paying attention (no one is bored when they’re asleep.)

If you’re over 14: “That’s on you.”

As soon as you’re tired of being bored at work, at home, on lockdown, wherever, you’ll go find a challenge. You don’t have to quit your day job to be challenged, but you do have to be willing to leap, to take some responsibility, to find something that might not work.

Being challenged at work is a privilege. It means that you have a chance, on someone else’s nickel, to grow. It means you can choose to matter.

I’m glad you’re feeling bored, and now we’re excited to see what you’re going to go do about it.


A Sunday book reading

Save With Stories is a community-driven fundraiser on Instagram. It features authors and others reading their books for kids on camera, all to raise money for @savethechildren and @nokidhungry.

Yesterday, they posted me reading V is For Vulnerable. You can find the video here.

It’s a book for adults, but it’s okay to share it with your kids as well.

This book was beautifully illustrated by the extraordinary @hughcards.

I hope it resonates. I still remember how powerful story time can be. And thanks for what you’re doing to contribute.


And now, what’s next?

The last eight weeks have been like no other. An unfolding tragedy, unevenly distributed. An economic freeze. A media frenzy.

It’s easy to be exhausted, especially since there’s still quite a lot of slog left to go.

Is it too soon to wonder what’s next? And at the heart of it: how can you contribute?

Average work for average people is going to be worth less than ever before.

Typical employees doing typical work are going to be less respected and valued than ever before.

And just as expectations are being shifted, new opportunities will arise. They always do.

So what’s next? A commitment to learning and to possibility.

The pandemic demonstrated, among other things, that we all have access to each other digitally. That if you want to learn something, the chance is there. That internet connections can be powerful, and that leadership is priceless.

The industrial era, struggling for the last decade or two, is now officially being replaced by one based on connection and leadership and the opportunity to show up and make a difference.

That’s why we’ve run 40 sessions of the altMBA and why we’re going to run another one this summer. We’re not going to wait for everything to be back to normal, because it never will, and because the best time to contribute is right now.

When I launched this four years ago, I had no idea that the world would shift in this way and we’d need new voices and new leadership so much right now.

I hope you’ll check it out. Today’s the very best chance to level up.


A Sunday book reading

Save With Stories is a community-driven fundraiser on Instagram. It features authors and others reading their books for kids on camera, all to raise money for @savethechildren and @nokidhungry.

Yesterday, they posted me reading V is For Vulnerable. You can find the video here.

It’s a book for adults, but it’s okay to share it with your kids as well.

This book was beautifully illustrated by the extraordinary @hughcards.

I hope it resonates. I still remember how powerful story time can be. And thanks for what you’re doing to contribute.