Last month I attended Digital Summit Boston 2018 and—like many of the attendees—spent two days learning, networking, and furiously taking notes.
From the tactical to the existential—and from the analytical to the creative—marketing provides a beautifully bottomless pit for learning. But allowing ourselves the time and space to grow professionally is only part of the battle. The rubber really meets the road when we reflect on what we’ve learned and attempt to apply it to our everyday working lives.
So in that spirit, I’m packaging up seven of the key insights I gained from Digital Summit Boston for you—with additional context on how they might be applied to your business. If you’re a small business owner with a nascent understanding of marketing—or even an expert marketer in an enterprise corporation—this post is for you. I hope there is a little gem in here for everyone.
- SEO is king. No surprise here, but Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tips, hacks, and tools dominated most presentations and happy hour conversations. Matthew Capala from Alphametic is a true subject matter expert on SEO and was kind enough to share SEO quick wins that make a big impact. (Cheers to Matthew for being one of the best presentations at the event.) So here is what you need to know, in no particular order. Site structure is critical to SEO—think fat category and sub-category pages with a 1:1 keyword-to-web-page ratio. For B2B, rank on pages targeted to specific vertical industries by building content around transactional keywords that bring in revenue, and use language that is unique to that industry. In a similar model, build targeted pages for specific personas to improve not only SEO but also user experience. (After all, user experience and SEO go hand-in-hand.) Long-format content always wins over short-format for SEO. (The average length of content ranking on the first page of Google is almost 2000 words!) While keyword stuffing in meta descriptions is a hack of the past, remember that there is still a strong correlation between page title and ranking. And yes, you need a blog. There is no SEO without a blog. Make sure your blog lives on your domain (not a sub-domain) and then link from your blog to demand generation landing pages as appropriate. Finally, you will find SEO success when copywriting meets effective mobile-optimized design. Site speed, mobile usability, and especially site speed on mobile will make or break your ranking. If this was a lot to digest, it might be worth investing in an outside agency or consultant that can ensure you are building your site content to maximize your organic traffic.
- Martech has exploded. There are nearly 7000 marketing technology solutions on the market in 2018, reflecting a 27% YoY growth—and an endless sea of options for savvy marketers looking to optimize their stack. And yet according to HubSpot’s Scott Brinker, 66% of companies don’t believe they have the skills or talent to make the most use of marketing technology. So my advice is to start small. Write down and get agreement on your marketing objectives and goals for the next 6-12 months. What activities do you need to achieve these objectives? How will you measure your performance against your goals? Once you have clarity on strategy, tactics, and reporting, you can begin to build a list of technology requirements. Take this list of requirements into your research process and look for solutions that can help you both execute and report. Extra points for tools that easily integrate with your other systems and don’t create additional data silos, and tools that can scale with you as you grow. And by all means don’t forget to leverage free tools in your stack! For example, for keyword research and SEO strategy, I am currently loving free Google tools like Search Console, Keyword Planner, Correlate, and Trends. Even Moz offers some free tools and a generous 30-day trial if you’re not ready to commit to a paid subscription. Finally, I’ll say that if you’re a startup organization, less is more when it comes to your marketing and sales technology stack. Yes, you need tools that will scale with you as you grow, but you also need to focus on low-hanging fruit like simple marketing automation tools that will help you build communication hooks into your website and nurture leads—or at least route them effectively to sales. Don’t invest in shiny new products that lack alignment with your business objectives or result in too much administrative overhead to maintain.
- Email is not dead. Email is still the preferred channel for B2B and B2C communications. As such, optimization tips and tricks abound. Strategically speaking, ensure the email metrics you’re optimizing and measuring align to your business objectives. Why do you send email? Communicating with subscribers, leads, customers, advocates, and partners will all take a different flavor in terms of objectives and metrics that matter most. For example, lead communication might be primary inbound and focus on click-through-rates and landing page conversion rates. While advocate communication might be primarily outbound and focus on social sharing rates. With a vast number of metrics to measure and track over time, it’s important to focus on the metrics that matter most to your business objectives. Tactically speaking, always be testing. Test your subject lines, offers, Call-to-Action (CTA), design, and of course cadence. Add retargeting tags to email campaigns (not just web pages). Monitor email disengagement rates and scrub your database. Avoid all-image designs. Do not use link shorteners. According to Email on Acid data, you only have 8 seconds to engage a subscriber—so name, subject line, and preheader text must be especially impactful. Keep email content simple with a clear CTA, and save more robust copy for the landing page. While studies show that personalization may increase open rates by 25%, I recommend choosing personalization (both sender and recipient) with intention and testing this approach with your unique subscriber base. And finally, design for accessibility. I won’t go into great detail here, but if this is a topic you’re interested in, I highly recommend watching the webinar from Email on Acid’s John Thies.
- Creative SEM campaigns can yield big returns. There were some great presentations and discussions on how to get the most out of your paid search campaigns. Here are some of my favorite tricks, in no particular order. First of all, don’t under-estimate paid YouTube campaigns—they are less expensive than Google Ads and offer access to an engaged audience watching 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day. And please don’t forget about Bing. Like YouTube, Bing offers some great bargains compared to Google—some times at one third of the cost—providing an awesome testbed for keywords and campaigns. I recommend looking at the volume of organic traffic you’re already getting from Bing to determine if a paid program could offer a significant, cost-effective boost. Also, I love the idea of capturing more page-one Google shelf space by promoting multiple campaigns to different destinations off the same keyword. For example, you might run the table with organic results driving to your primary domain, and then add paid campaigns driving to YouTube, a dedicated landing page, or even earned PR coverage on a third-party domain. (It might seem crazy to pay to drive coverage to another site, but I think it’s a clever way to prolong media coverage and offer a less intrusive means of introducing your brand to potential customers.) You also might want to consider paid campaigns that leverage peaks in seasonal search volumes for third-party industry events. Simply promote a discount code if you’re exhibiting and then collect the user’s business email address to re-target/nurture the attendee up until the event. And finally, break up your Google Ads ROI calculations by early awareness keywords vs consideration/decision keywords. Look at impressions and CTRs for the former, and conversion/pipeline generation for the latter.
- LinkedIn success is no secret. LinkedIn’s Megan Golden offered a great presentation on optimizing your LinkedIn presence by sharing the secret sauce LinkedIn’s marketing team uses to engage their own users. I’ll share a few highlights here, but every social media marketer should check out LinkedIn’s Secret Sauce eBook for all the goodies. First of all, based on LinkedIn data, businesses should post between one and four times a day. Consistency is critical. Megan shared the concept that “a great visual is the new headline” and I agree. To put this mantra into motion, match your image with your headline and use original photography when possible. Based on LinkedIn data, images of people tend to perform better than images of objects. Also, every post should have a link; links drive engagement. And like all good marketing programs, you need to know your audience. Be helpful to your audience by understanding what’s important to them and offering content they find valuable. Look to your organic content performance to determine which pieces of content are worth future paid investment. According to LinkedIn data, using statistics or quotes and specifically calling out your target audience by name (“Hey, network engineers, we have a new helpful report for you”) may help boost engagement. Finally, if your company is using InMail to target prospects, it’s better that the message comes from a human (a real one!) rather than your company name.
- Get your attribution model right. The devil is in the details when it comes to reporting—and attribution is often at the center of the debate. Your attribution model will determine how credit for conversions, pipeline, and ultimately sourced revenue are assigned to particular marketing touch points in the customer journey. For example, a Last Interaction model will assign 100% of the credit to the final touchpoint that converted the lead to a qualified lead or a qualified lead to a customer. This model may make sense in theory, but can also lead to some irresponsible behavior. (“This Contact Me form drives all the marketing-sourced pipeline, so we should put a Contact Me form on every web page!”) Based on my own experience—and reiterated by several presenters at the event—I recommend using a multi-touch attribution model rather than a first or last touch only model. This model will encourage you to dig in to high-value wins, and then build out that particular customer’s journey before and after the sale. It will also expose other marketing and sales activities that had an impact on what it took for one account to become a customer. You might be surprised how many marketing touch-points and influencers are involved in the B2B sales journey. No matter the model you choose for your business, make sure all of the right stakeholders are involved in the decision. A friendly up-front debate with your VP of Sales on attribution models will save you from frustrating future arguments on how you’re spending your marketing budget.
- Rethink how you budget. No marketing list would be complete without a budget discussion. Love it or hate it, our budgets fuel the work we do and how we report our ROI contributions to the business. Especially for digital marketing, I highly recommend a Zero Budget exercise. (Kudos to Google’s Lorena Crowley Budgets for driving this concept home.) A Zero Budget exercise asks us to scope our digital programs without looking at historical budgets for reference. Instead, decide what you want to accomplish and what that program would cost without being clouded by past investments. Program budgets may fluctuate up or down with time, but will be an accurate reflection of what the business needs at that time to meet its goals.
I hope this list gave you some good food for thought about your own digital marketing campaigns. Any tips, tricks, or tools that I missed? Please share your thoughts by commenting below or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you!