How Google’s Evolution is Forcing Marketers to Invest in Loyal Audiences – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Given Google’s recent changes to SERPs and their April 21 mobile deadline, does SEO still come first? In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand walks you through tactics you can use to build a loyal audience before you need to do SEO.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard.

How Google's Evolution is Forcing Marketers to Invest in Loyal Audiences Whiteboard

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Video transcription

Howdy Moz fans and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re chatting on some of the changes that Google has made that are forcing marketers to invest more and more in building loyal audiences before they do SEO. This is kind of a reverse of years past where we could use SEO as that initial channel where we attracted visits who would become our customers, our email subscribers, our social media fans and followers. All of these things have kind of switched direction.

Why move SEO later in the process?

There are some reasons why. First off, Google has for a lot of broad, head of the demand curve queries, they’ve taken some of the value and equity away from those with things like instant answers and Knowledge Graph, along with lots and lots of other verticals.

Knowledge Graph

I do a search for “plaid shirts” and I get this instant answer showing me what a plaid shirt looks like and a Knowledge Graph. This is a fake example. I don’t think they actually do this for plaid shirts yet, but they will.


Personalization by history, we’re seeing a ton of personalization. I think history is one of the biggest influencers on personalization. Google+ still is a little bit, but your search history and what you’ve clicked on in the past tends to be big predictors of this. You can see this in two areas, not just in the results that Google shows, but also in what they’re suggesting to you in your Search Suggest as you type.

Now, where Google is trying to predictively say, “Hey, we think you’re going to want coffee right now because we see that you stepped out of your office and you live in Seattle, and you are a human being. So you must want coffee.” They have these ranking signals, that are relatively new over the past few years and certainly much stronger than in years past around user and usage data, around search volume and what you searched for using quality raters and human and manual controls. Signals that are heavily correlated with brand, even if brand itself isn’t necessarily a ranking factor.

Fewer results

Of course, there are fewer results now. I don’t know if you guys caught this, but I thought one of the most fascinating things that Dr. Pete showed off recently in his MozCast data set was that it used to be the case that Google would show 10 results even if they had a set of images, a news result, and a local pack. Now basically these count as individual results. So you’re not getting 10 results on a page. If you’ve got images and a couple of news things, you’re getting seven results that are web results. Ten domains appear, ten big domains, powerful domains, places like Amazon and Yelp and those kinds of things, at least for U.S. search results, appear on 17% of all page one queries. There are a little fewer results to work with and more results biased to these bigger, better-known sites.

All of these things are contributing to this world in which doing SEO first and then earning loyalty through two other channels through SEO is really, really hard. It’s making the value of having a loyal audience before you need to do SEO that much more valuable, which is why I figured we’d run through some of the tactics that you can use to build a loyal audience.

This is actually a question from one of our Whiteboard Friday loyal audience members. Thank you very much. Much appreciated.

How to build a loyal audience

Some tactics to build loyalty, we talked about a few of these, but creating an expectation that you can consistently deliver upon is a huge part of how loyalty is created. Humans love to form habits. Thankfully for marketers, we’re terrible at breaking those habits.


If you can form a habit, you can create a loyal member of your audience, but this is very challenging unless you deliver consistency. That consistency needs to be created through an expectation. That could be when you publish. That could be what you’re going to do. That could be the format of the content that you’re providing. That could be how your solution or problem or product is delivered. But it needs to create those things in order to build that loyal audience.

Reach your audience where they are

Secondly, provide your content through the channels, the apps, the accounts, the formats that your audience is already using. If I say, “Hey, in order to get Whiteboard Friday, you need to sign up for a Moz account first,” the viewability of Whiteboard Friday is going to go down. If on the other hand, which we don’t have this but we really should have it, there was a subscribe on iTunes and you could get each Whiteboard Friday as a podcast, gosh, that is something that many Whiteboard Friday viewers, in fact, many people in the technology and marketing worlds already have access to. Therefore it reduces the friction of subscribing to Whiteboard Friday. We might build more people into our loyal audience.

This is definitely something to think about. You need to be able to identify those channels and then be there.

Where SEO fits

I’m saying don’t start with SEO as your primary web marketing tactic anymore. I think we have to build into it. These challenges are too great. Not only are they too great, I think they could be overcome today, but they are growing. All of them are growing so substantially, instant answers and Knowledge Graph are becoming a bigger and bigger part of search results. Google Now is something that Google is pushing on so incredibly hard. I think they’re going to be pushing it with new devices. They’re clearly pushing it with app results inside of search results. I think these ranking signals are only going to get stronger. I think there’s going to be more personalization. I think every one of these you can see an up and to the right trend.

Therefore, when we do SEO, we have to think about it as, “How do I earn a loyal audience and then use their amplification to help me perform in search?” Rather than, “How do I do SEO for my website to earn visitors that I can convert into a loyal audience?” That’s a new a challenge, a new paradigm for us.

Be unique and memorable

Craft a stylistically unique and memorable approach to solving your audience’s problem. One of the things that I find is challenging in a lot of businesses that we talk to, that I get to interact with is that they think, “Hey, we’re the best player in this field. We’re the best at doing this. Therefore, we should be able to earn a great customer audience.” I think this ignores why marketing exists and ignores the power that marketing has and the power of influencing human beings overall.

The best really is not necessarily enough. We are not perfectly logical creatures where we go, “Hey, I am thinking about a new social media monitoring solution. I need to watch Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Instagram for my business. Therefore I’m going to create my criteria. I’m going to evaluate all 716 providers that are in the market today that fit my price range and those criteria. Then I’m going to choose effectively the best one. No, we’re biased by the ones we’ve heard of, the ones our friends recommend, the ones we stumble across versus don’t stumble across, the ones that have a loud voice, the ones that have a credible voice. These things bias us. Therefore, being stylistically unique and memorable have outsized power to determine whether people will become part of your loyal audience.

More isn’t necessarily better

I’ve talked about this a few times, but I’m strongly of the opinion, especially when it comes to loyalty, that more content may actually be worse than better content. Moz publishes between 7 and 10 blog posts a week. That’s a lot of content. I think there are weeks where we published 12 blog posts. For me to say this is a little odd. But the challenge here is prior to building a loyal audience. Once you have a loyal audience, you can start to expand that audience by reaching out and broadening the spectrum of content that you create, and you can afford to be a little more risk taking in that. When you are trying to build loyalty early on, you need to have that consistency of quality.

People are going to return because you keep delivering great stuff again and again. When that suffers, your audience will suffer as well. If I watch my first three Whiteboard Fridays and then the fourth one is not great, I expect to lose a ton of those viewers. But if I have tens of thousands of people who are watching Whiteboard Friday and I deliver one bad one out of twenty, maybe I have a little more room to play there.

Focus your efforts

Focus. This is a big challenge because I think a lot of us think very broadly about who we want to appeal to, the types of content we want to create, the types of marketing we want to do. This is very challenging from a loyalty perspective because passionate fans tend to congregate around very, very focused causes and very focused creators of content or focused brands or focused organizations. Its much tougher to build that passion into a group of users if you’re trying to appeal to a very broad set. That’s just how it is.

Don’t forget engagement

Lastly, but not least, this is very tactical, but I found it extremely powerful when a brand is starting out, when a project is starting out, to engage and respond as much as possible with your customers. That could be over social channels, that could be in comments, that could be in emails, that could be directly in outreach, whatever it is. But if you see someone who you can reach out to engaging with you, replying to them, talking to them, conversing with them in some way, forming a connection is extremely powerful. It especially is important for first interactions.

I’m not going to say, “You need to respond to everything all the time, always.” If you can identify, “This is the first interaction that we’ve had with this person,” if you interact and if that interaction is positive, it can create loyalty just on its own. That’s a lovely way to start scaling up from a small starting point.

All right everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We’ll see you again next week. Take care.

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April 17, 2015  Tags: , , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How Fractl Leveraged Content Marketing to Increase its Referral Traffic 6,718%

Posted by KelseyLibert

In October 2013, Fractl published a study on viral emotions on the Harvard Business Review. The research was picked up by several high-authority publishers, catapulted our brand’s authority, increased our brand awareness, and drove dozens of qualified leads. To our expectation, we proved that our client-facing, research-driven content marketing strategy could have the same long-term impact on our own brand. Then, we were off to the races. 

link velocity graph

In early 2014, we launched a survey of more than
500 top-tier publishers. Then, we released a study analyzing 2.6 billion social shares. By November 2014, we joined forces with influencer marketing tool BuzzStream. To date, we’ve launched more than 10 industry research–driven marketing campaigns, earning more than 180 pickups and 45,000 social shares.

social media dashboard

The bottom-line impact? Fractl’s 
referral traffic grew 6,718%, its total site traffic grew 4,396%, and its contact list grew 1,900%.

traffic referral data

Of course, this strategy wasn’t launched without lessons along the way; here is what I learned:

I. Don’t limit large-scale campaigns with narrow-scope ideas

Content marketing can be leveraged in every stage of the buying cycle.
The biggest mistake most marketers make is choosing a single idea that is too narrow and therefore limits their reach. The second mistake marketers make is thinking that a single campaign will be the silver bullet that increases every KPI they’re tracking. The third mistake they make is not developing a diverse content strategy that educates consumers in different stages of the buying cycle. 

Leveraged Content Marketing strategy.png

The best content marketing strategies focus on developing a long-term strategy for both on-site and off-site content with a diverse content calendar that includes a variety of campaigns to target every stage of the buying cycle:

  • Viral Campaigns – The idea is tangentially related to a brand, has a broad reach, and leverages a strong emotional hook to encourage hyper-accelerated sharing and traffic.
  • Conversion-Driven Campaigns – The idea is hyper-targeted to a specific audience that is ready or nearly ready to purchase.
  • Awareness Campaigns – The broad-scope idea designed to increase exposure to the brand and attract and engage consumers who are at the top of the sales funnel.
  • On-Site Content – The multipurpose content is designed to build the brand and engage with the target market.

When we first launched our co-branded strategy with BuzzStream, their tool was widely known as an
influencer marketing CRM. Naturally, the team wanted to focus on ideas that would help educate their user base in influencer marketing tactics. Thus, the following campaigns were born:

  • 21 Tips for Pitching Publishers and Writing Exceptional Subject Lines – ProBlogger
  • Publisher Pet Peeves – PR Daily
  • The PR Guide to Media & Blogger Personalities – Social Media Explorer

These narrow-scope ideas spoke to a highly targeted audience, allowing us to secure pickups on authoritative niche marketing blogs. However, by focusing on a narrow idea (e.g. pitching publishers), we also limited our ability to reach larger top-tier publishers who prefer to cover digital marketing as a whole (e.g. content creation and consumption).

By limiting our outreach to niche industry blogs, we also limited our ability to reach c-suite executives who were not yet aware of the benefits of influencer marketing and likely read the larger sites (e.g. Adweek) that spoke to the strategies they’re currently using (e.g. traditional PR).

In January 2015, we revamped our co-branded strategy to speak to a larger audience:

  • Why People Unfollow Brands on Social Media – Adweek
  • The Emotion of Sound – The Next Web
  • Social Popularity by Content Type – HubSpot

In doing so, we further developed our content calendar by creating
conversion-driven on-site content while simultaneously leveraging our large-scope awareness campaigns to speak to a broad audience of marketers. After we had enough data to go off of, we reevaluated our co-branded marketing mix and came up with the following options for our content calendar: 

content strategy evaluation matrix

Several months into our partnership, we found that our optional content mix was Option 1, which allowed us to:

  1. Build one awareness campaign and one large-scope campaign, which enabled us to secure both top-tier placements and niche-industry placements
  2. Offer a gated asset that created the opportunity to convert people into future costumers
  3. Create on-site content that served to improve keyword rankings and offered evergreen content for people to engage with

Your content mix may be different depending on the KPIs you’re hoping to achieve and how aggressive you want to be with your marketing. 

PRO TIP: If you’re a new brand looking for significant growth, develop an aggressive viral content strategy like If you’re an established brand looking to grow loyalty and engagement, develop awareness campaigns, conversion campaigns, and an on-site content strategy like

II. Heavy research earns more press than knowledge curation

Now that you understand the importance of a diverse content strategy, how do you develop campaigns that earn highly coveted top-tier pickups? You give publishers what they want. When we surveyed 500 top-tier publishers, we found a whopping 39% want campaigns that feature exclusive research.

characteristics of good content marketing

In the beginning of our co-branded strategy, we cast a wide net of ideas that centered around heavy research, data curation, and knowledge curation. As new campaigns launched, we tracked their performance by the number of pickups, domain authority, and social shares. Three months into production, we were able to analyze our results and continue to refine our strategy.

evaluating data research curation

The pie chart on the right shows all of our campaigns divided into a category of heavy research, data curation, and knowledge curation. The chart on the left sorts all of our campaigns based on performance by social engagement, which has a high correlation to links. Lo and behold, our publisher survey results rung true: The level of success of our co-branded campaigns had a high correlation with heavy research–based ideas.


  • Heavy research-based campaigns have the highest engagement and syndication, because they bring something new to the table.
  • Data curation has medium engagement, because it’s an even split between unearthing new findings and publishing data that might be assumed.
  • Knowledge curation has the lowest engagement, because this data can become widely known as the industry ages and becomes more saturated.

So, now that we know publishers and audiences want more research, how do we give it to them?

III. Primary research can be either qualitative or quantitative, but we’ve found more success with quantitative research

In our publisher survey, writers wanted to see more data-driven articles, infographics, and mixed-media pieces, followed closely by data visualizations, images, videos, and interactive maps. What did publishers want the least of? Press releases, interactive projects, quizzes, flipbooks, widgets, and badges.

survey on desired types of content

While articles might do well with qualitative results, most of the other top-ranked content formats require a type of data visualization that is most valuable when it features quantifiable results.

PRO TIP: Before you begin campaign production, base your ideation on the specific publishers you want your campaigns to be published on. Find out what resonates with those publishers using tools like Buzzsumo, and then pitch those ideas to those editors before you ever develop your campaign. Having publisher buy-in early on in the process guarantees a placement for your campaign, and it allows you to work with the publisher to give them exactly what they want. What better way to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship?

Now, before you run off to generate campaign ideas, it’s important to leverage certain tools to evaluate topic engagement on the sites you want to target. Some of my favorite tools include:

When it comes to developing primary research, a survey can be one of the easiest and quickest ways to garner new data.,, and Amazon Mechanical Turk are some of the most popular survey tools for developing your primary research. Average survey payments range from 20–50 cents, based on the length of the survey. Always time yourself taking the survey, and then try offering 5 cents per minute.

PRO TIP: An authoritative sample size is no less than 300 respondents, though most top-tier sites prefer a sample size greater than 1,000 respondents. Submit surveys to for additional hits.

If you’re running a survey, the majority of your questions should have responses based on a scale, versus straight “yes/no” answers. This allows you to curate more data to analyze and achieve a more accurate response.

survey response scales

If you want to go the route of data curation, there are dozens of public and paid APIs that allow you to unearth data in your field. Some of our favorite data sources include:

Think outside the box when coming up with your data visualizations; static infographics are quickly becoming saturated. Try a new format, like any of these examples I pulled from Fractl’s portfolio:

Now that you’ve finalized your perfect research-based campaign, how else can you optimize it to increase your core metrics?

IV. Gated assets create a value-add and incentivize people to give you their information

When we launched our first marketing campaign, we didn’t have a formal strategy for capturing our engagement and converting it in our sales funnel. While we’d get a mention for Fractl in all of our write-ups, we weren’t offering any incentive for people to actually visit our website.

PRO TIP: Read our content marketing strategy guide to learn how to use SEO and content to increase your customers.

See what I did there?

Creating a white paper, eBook, list, or any other gated asset that adds value to your original research creates an incentive for people to go back to your website and continue engaging with your brand. By gating the asset, you enable your team to capture the contact’s information and further nurture them in your sales funnel. 

If you’re conducting research, a best practice is to save at least a quarter of your findings to be featured in your gated asset. Make it explicit in your guest posts that there is more information for people to learn about if they click through. For example, below you’ll see the call to action in our
Contently post, which led to the gated asset for our research on 2.6 billion shares.

article excerpt

While you should include a call to action for your gated asset in the intro text, you should also include it on all of your graphic assets that could potentially be further syndicated without proper attribution.

Word of caution: By putting your content behind a gate, you’re asking your audience to trust you with their personal information. If you betray a users trust, the damage to your brand can be severe and lasting.

Be smart about how you use gated content and what you collect:

  • Beneath your form, create a subscription box that allows people to opt-in to receive your future research. Only email the people who opt in, and only email them with what they opted into. 
  • Get granular with your options allowing people to choose the specific research topics they want to receive from your brand.
  • Email frequency and engagement are negatively correlated, so limit your number of email blasts based on individual campaign engagement and overall audience engagement.
  • Collect the bare minimum information you need on your forms, such as name and email address. Then, use smart fields to collect more data from people who are consistently engaging with your brand. 
  • Simplify your landing page to tell the user within the first five seconds: what the offer is; the value and why they want to download it; exactly what you want them to do. 

As you set up your landing pages, another thing you need to consider is
optimizing the permalink structure for Google rankings. Matt Cutts says it’s best to use 3–5 words in the slug of your permalink, for example:

  • Bad:
  • Good:

Since your word count is limited, you’ll want to cut any superfluous words such as “and.” Don’t forget to do some
keyword research to determine which 3–5 words you should use based on traffic data. Obviously you want to go after the words that have the largest traffic, but also evaluate for long-tail opportunities.

V. Learning which publishers drive the most qualified lead flow is critical to your success

While our coverage on the Harvard Business Review built our authority, the website’s visit-to-contact-conversion ratio hovered at a low 9%. Meanwhile, targeted industry sites converted at an average rate of 25-45%, with some gold stars in the 60-90% range. 

PRO TIP: While top-tier pickups expand your brand’s reach and build its authority, niche marketing blogs have a higher contact conversion ratio since their audience is already primed with the benefits of content marketing. 

So, how do you ensure that your publisher pickups drive brand awareness
and convert leads? You develop audience personas. 

Audience personas are a characterization of your businesses ideal customer. Creating these personas forces you to consider what your customers value, what they hope to achieve, what they fear, and much more. By putting yourself in the shoes of your prospects, you can begin to get a sense for where they get their news and which blogs they might read—allowing you to improve your pitch targeting for brand awareness and conversions.

Most people recommend creating 
3-5 audience personas, which should outline an individual’s: 

  • Job Title 
  • Roles 
  • Goals 
  • Challenges 
  • Age 
  • Gender
  • Income 
  • Education 
  • Location 
  • Story 
  • Common objections 
  • Elevator pitch

You can start to create these personas by: 

  1. Evaluating your current customers and their differences and commonalities 
  2. Vetting your social media following for your average or most engaged followers 
  3. Assessing your past customer inquires and what made a qualified lead versus an unqualified lead  
  4. Discussing the ideal client with your sales team or other qualified team members 

Once you have a list of your customer personas, you can begin evaluating where these people might hang out online. Use 
Buzzsumo’s influencer tool to search for people in similar job functions to your audience personas. Then, use the “view links shared” option to get a sense of where your personas might be hanging out, too: 

influencer interest research


PRO TIP: Don’t limit yourself by only developing personas for your ideal client. Developing personas for unqualified leads allows you to determine which people and publishers you want to avoid, as well.

If you want to increase your traffic, leads, and conversions, content marketing is one of the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective methods to organically earn your core metrics. What other tips do you have for leveraging content marketing for sales?

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April 16, 2015  Tags: , , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

Using Term Frequency Analysis to Measure Your Content Quality

Posted by EricEnge

It’s time to look at your content differently—time to start understanding just how good it really is. I am not simply talking about titles, keyword usage, and meta descriptions. I am talking about the entire page experience. In today’s post, I am going to introduce the general concept of content quality analysis, why it should matter to you, and how to use term frequency (TF) analysis to gather ideas on how to improve your content.

TF analysis is usually combined with inverse document frequency analysis (collectively TF-IDF analysis). TF-IDF analysis has been a staple concept for information retrieval science for a long time. You can read more about TF-IDF and other search science concepts in Cyrus Shepard’s
excellent article here.

For purposes of today’s post, I am going to show you how you can use TF analysis to get clues as to what Google is valuing in the content of sites that currently outrank you. But first, let’s get oriented.

Conceptualizing page quality

Start by asking yourself if your page provides a quality experience to people who visit it. For example, if a search engine sends 100 people to your page, how many of them will be happy? Seventy percent? Thirty percent? Less? What if your competitor’s page gets a higher percentage of happy users than yours does? Does that feel like an “uh-oh”?

Let’s think about this with a specific example in mind. What if you ran a golf club site, and 100 people come to your page after searching on a phrase like “golf clubs.” What are the kinds of things they may be looking for?

Here are some things they might want:

  1. A way to buy golf clubs on your site (you would need to see a shopping cart of some sort).
  2. The ability to select specific brands, perhaps by links to other pages about those brands of golf clubs.
  3. Information on how to pick the club that is best for them.
  4. The ability to select specific types of clubs (drivers, putters, irons, etc.). Again, this may be via links to other pages.
  5. A site search box.
  6. Pricing info.
  7. Info on shipping costs.
  8. Expert analysis comparing different golf club brands.
  9. End user reviews of your company so they can determine if they want to do business with you.
  10. How your return policy works.
  11. How they can file a complaint.
  12. Information about your company. Perhaps an “about us” page.
  13. A link to a privacy policy page.
  14. Whether or not you have been “in the news” recently.
  15. Trust symbols that show that you are a reputable organization.
  16. A way to access pages to buy different products, such as golf balls or tees.
  17. Information about specific golf courses.
  18. Tips on how to improve their golf game.

This is really only a partial list, and the specifics of your site can certainly vary for any number of reasons from what I laid out above. So how do you figure out what it is that people really want? You could pull in data from a number of sources. For example, using data from your site search box can be invaluable. You can do user testing on your site. You can conduct surveys. These are all good sources of data.

You can also look at your analytics data to see what pages get visited the most. Just be careful how you use that data. For example, if most of your traffic is from search, this data will be biased by incoming search traffic, and hence what Google chooses to rank. In addition, you may only have a small percentage of the visitors to your site going to your privacy policy, but chances are good that there are significantly more users than that who notice whether or not you have a privacy policy. Many of these will be satisfied just to see that you have one and won’t actually go check it out.

Whatever you do, it’s worth using many of these methods to determine what users want from the pages of your site and then using the resulting information to improve your overall site experience.

Is Google using this type of info as a ranking factor?

At some level, they clearly are. Clearly Google and Bing have evolved far beyond the initial TF-IDF concepts, but we can still use them to better understand our own content.

The first major indication we had that Google was performing content quality analysis was with the release of the
Panda algorithm in February of 2011. More recently, we know that on April 21 Google will release an algorithm that makes the mobile friendliness of a web site a ranking factor. Pure and simple, this algo is about the user experience with a page.

Exactly how Google is performing these measurements is not known, but
what we do know is their intent. They want to make their search engine look good, largely because it helps them make more money. Sending users to pages that make them happy will do that. Google has every incentive to improve the quality of their search results in as many ways as they can.

Ultimately, we don’t actually know what Google is measuring and using. It may be that the only SEO impact of providing pages that satisfy a very high percentage of users is an indirect one. I.e., so many people like your site that it gets written about more, linked to more, has tons of social shares, gets great engagement, that Google sees other signals that it uses as ranking factors, and this is why your rankings improve.

But, do I care if the impact is a direct one or an indirect one? Well, NO.

Using TF analysis to evaluate your page

TF-IDF analysis is more about relevance than content quality, but we can still use various precepts from it to help us understand our own content quality. One way to do this is to compare the results of a TF analysis of all the keywords on your page with those pages that currently outrank you in the search results. In this section, I am going to outline the basic concepts for how you can do this. In the next section I will show you a process that you can use with publicly available tools and a spreadsheet.

The simplest form of TF analysis is to count the number of uses of each keyword on a page. However, the problem with that is that a page using a keyword 10 times will be seen as 10 times more valuable than a page that uses a keyword only once. For that reason, we dampen the calculations. I have seen two methods for doing this, as follows:

term frequency calculation

The first method relies on dividing the number of repetitions of a keyword by the count for the most popular word on the entire page. Basically, what this does is eliminate the inherent advantage that longer documents might otherwise have over shorter ones. The second method dampens the total impact in a different way, by taking the log base 10 for the actual keyword count. Both of these achieve the effect of still valuing incremental uses of a keyword, but dampening it substantially. I prefer to use method 1, but you can use either method for our purposes here.

Once you have the TF calculated for every different keyword found on your page, you can then start to do the same analysis for pages that outrank you for a given search term. If you were to do this for five competing pages, the result might look something like this:

term frequency spreadsheet

I will show you how to set up the spreadsheet later, but for now, let’s do the fun part, which is to figure out how to analyze the results. Here are some of the things to look for:

  1. Are there any highly related words that all or most of your competitors are using that you don’t use at all?
  2. Are there any such words that you use significantly less, on average, than your competitors?
  3. Also look for words that you use significantly more than competitors.

You can then tag these words for further analysis. Once you are done, your spreadsheet may now look like this:

second stage term frequency analysis spreadsheet

In order to make this fit into this screen shot above and keep it legibly, I eliminated some columns you saw in my first spreadsheet. However, I did a sample analysis for the movie “Woman in Gold”. You can see the
full spreadsheet of calculations here. Note that we used an automated approach to marking some items at “Low Ratio,” “High Ratio,” or “All Competitors Have, Client Does Not.”

None of these flags by themselves have meaning, so you now need to put all of this into context. In our example, the following words probably have no significance at all: “get”, “you”, “top”, “see”, “we”, “all”, “but”, and other words of this type. These are just very basic English language words.

But, we can see other things of note relating to the target page (a.k.a. the client page):

  1. It’s missing any mention of actor ryan reynolds
  2. It’s missing any mention of actor helen mirren
  3. The page has no reviews
  4. Words like “family” and “story” are not mentioned
  5. “Austrian” and “maria altmann” are not used at all
  6. The phrase “woman in gold” and words “billing” and “info” are used proportionally more than they are with the other pages

Note that the last item is only visible if you open
the spreadsheet. The issues above could well be significant, as the lead actors, reviews, and other indications that the page has in-depth content. We see that competing pages that rank have details of the story, so that’s an indication that this is what Google (and users) are looking for. The fact that the main key phrase, and the word “billing”, are used to a proportionally high degree also makes it seem a bit spammy.

In fact, if you look at the information closely, you can see that the target page is quite thin in overall content. So much so, that it almost looks like a doorway page. In fact, it looks like it was put together by the movie studio itself, just not very well, as it presents little in the way of a home page experience that would cause it to rank for the name of the movie!

In the many different times I have done an analysis using these methods, I’ve been able to make many different types of observations about pages. A few of the more interesting ones include:

  1. A page that had no privacy policy, yet was taking personally identifiable info from users.
  2. A major lack of important synonyms that would indicate a real depth of available content.
  3. Comparatively low Domain Authority competitors ranking with in-depth content.

These types of observations are interesting and valuable, but it’s important to stress that you shouldn’t be overly mechanical about this. The value in this type of analysis is that it gives you a technical way to compare the content on your page with that of your competitors. This type of analysis should be used in combination with other methods that you use for evaluating that same page. I’ll address this some more in the summary section of this below.

How do you execute this for yourself?

full spreadsheet contains all the formulas so all you need to do is link in the keyword count data. I have tried this with two different keyword density tools, the one from Searchmetrics, and this one from

I am not endorsing these tools, and I have no financial interest in either one—they just seemed to work fairly well for the process I outlined above. To provide the data in the right format, please do the following:

  1. Run all the URLs you are testing through the keyword density tool.
  2. Copy and paste all the one word, two word, and three word results into a tab on the spreadsheet.
  3. Sort them all so you get total word counts aligned by position as I have shown in the linked spreadsheet.
  4. Set up the formulas as I did in the demo spreadsheet (you can just use the demo spreadsheet).
  5. Then do your analysis!

This may sound a bit tedious (and it is), but it has worked very well for us at STC.


You can also use usability groups and a number of other methods to figure out what users are really looking for on your site. However, what this does is give us a look at what Google has chosen to rank the highest in its search results. Don’t treat this as some sort of magic formula where you mechanically tweak the content to get better metrics in this analysis.

Instead, use this as a method for slicing into your content to better see it the way a machine might see it. It can yield some surprising (and wonderful) insights!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Moz Blog

April 15, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

​Inbound Lead Generation: eCommerce Marketing’s Missing Link

Posted by Everett

If eCommerce businesses hope to remain competitive with Amazon, eBay, big box brands, and other online retail juggernauts, they’ll need to learn how to conduct content marketing, lead generation, and contact nurturing as part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

First, I will discuss some of the ways most online retailers are approaching email from the bottom of the funnel upward, and why this needs to be turned around. Then we can explore how to go about doing this within the framework of “Inbound Marketing” for eCommerce businesses. Lastly, popular marketing automation and email marketing solutions are discussed in the context of inbound marketing for eCommerce.

Key differences between eCommerce and lead generation approaches to email

Different list growth strategies

Email acquisition sources differ greatly between lead gen. sites and online stores. The biggest driver of email acquisition for most eCommerce businesses are their shoppers, especially when the business doesn’t collect an email address for their contact database until the shopper provides it during the check-out process—possibly, not until the very end.

With most B2B/B2C lead gen. websites, the entire purpose of every landing page is to get visitors to submit a contact form or pick up the phone. Often, the price tag for their products or services is much higher than those of an eCommerce site or involves recurring payments. In other words, what they’re selling is more difficult to sell. People take longer to make those purchasing decisions. For this reason, leads—in the form of contact names and email addresses—are typically acquired and nurtured without having first become a customer.

Contacts vs. leads

Whether it is a B2B or B2C website, lead gen. contacts (called leads) are thought of as potential customers (clients, subscribers, patients) who need to be nurtured to the point of becoming “sales qualified,” meaning they’ll eventually get a sales call or email that attempts to convert them into a customer.

On the other hand, eCommerce contacts are often thought of primarily as existing customers to whom the marketing team can blast coupons and other offers by email.

Retail sites typically don’t capture leads at the top or middle of the funnel. Only once a shopper has checked out do they get added to the list. Historically, the buying cycle has been short enough that eCommerce sites could move many first-time visitors directly to customers in a single visit.
But this has changed.

Unless your brand is very strong—possibly a luxury brand or one with an offline retail presence—it is probably getting more difficult (i.e. expensive) to acquire new customers. At the same time, attrition rates are rising. Conversion optimization helps by converting more bottom of the funnel visitors. SEO helps drive more traffic into the site, but mostly for middle-of-funnel (category page) and bottom-of-funnel (product page) visitors who may not also be price/feature comparison shopping, or are unable to convert right away because of device or time limitations.

Even savvy retailers publishing content for shoppers higher up in the funnel, such as buyer guides and reviews, aren’t getting an email address and are missing a lot of opportunities because of it.


Here’s a thought. If your eCommerce site has a 10 percent conversion rate, you’re doing pretty good by most standards. But what happened to the other 90 percent of those visitors? Will you have the opportunity to connect with them again? Even if you bump that up a few percentage points with retargeting, a lot of potential revenue has seeped out of your funnel without a trace.

I don’t mean to bash the eCommerce marketing community with generalizations. Most lead gen. sites aren’t doing anything spectacular either, and a lot of opportunity is missed all around.

There are many eCommerce brands doing great things marketing-wise. I’m a big fan of
Crutchfield for their educational resources targeting early-funnel traffic, and Neman Tools, Saddleback Leather and Feltraiger for the stories they tell. Amazon is hard to beat when it comes to scalability, product suggestions and user-generated reviews.

Sadly, most eCommerce sites (including many of the major household brands) still approach marketing in this way…

The ol’ bait n’ switch: promising value and delivering spam

Established eCommerce brands have gigantic mailing lists (compared with lead gen. counterparts), to whom they typically send out at least one email each week with “offers” like free shipping, $ off, buy-one-get-one, or % off their next purchase. The lists are minimally segmented, if at all. For example, there might be lists for repeat customers, best customers, unresponsive contacts, recent purchasers, shoppers with abandoned carts, purchases by category, etc.

The missing points of segmentation include which campaign resulted in the initial contact (sometimes referred to as a cohort) and—most importantly—the persona and buying cycle stage that best applies to each contact.

Online retailers often send frequent “blasts” to their entire list or to a few of the large segments mentioned above. Lack of segmentation means contacts aren’t receiving emails based on their interests, problems, or buying cycle stage, but instead, are receiving what they perceive as “generic” emails.

The result of these missing segments and the lack of overarching strategy looks something like this:

My, What a Big LIST You Have!


TIME reported in 2012 on stats from Responsys that the average online retailer sent out between five and six emails the week after Thanksgiving. Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the top 100 online retailers sent an average of 177 emails apiece to each of their contacts in 2011. Averaged out, that’s somewhere between three and four emails each week that the contact is receiving from these retailers.

The better to SPAM you with!


A 2014 whitepaper from SimpleRelevance titled
Email Fail: An In-Depth Evaluation of Top 20 Internet Retailer’s Email Personalization Capabilities (
PDF) found that, while 70 percent of marketing executives believed personalization was of “utmost importance” to their business…

“Only 17 percent of marketing leaders are going beyond basic transactional data to deliver personalized messages to consumers.”

Speaking of email overload, the same report found that some major online retailers sent ten or more emails per week!


The result?

All too often, the eCommerce business will carry around big, dead lists of contacts who don’t even bother reading their emails anymore. They end up scrambling toward other channels to “drive more demand,” but because the real problems were never addressed, this ends up increasing new customer acquisition costs.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Spend a fortune driving in unqualified traffic from top-of-the-funnel channels
  2. Ignore the majority of those visitors who aren’t ready to purchase
  3. Capture email addresses only for the few visitors who made a purchase
  4. Spam the hell out of those people until they unsubscribe
  5. Spend a bunch more money trying to fill the top of the funnel with even more traffic

It’s like trying to fill your funnel with a bucket full of holes, some of them patched with band-aids.

The real problems

  1. Lack of a cohesive strategy across marketing channels
  2. Lack of a cohesive content strategy throughout all stages of the buying cycle
  3. Lack of persona, buying cycle stage, and cohort-based list segmentation to nurture contacts
  4. Lack of tracking across customer touchpoints and devices
  5. Lack of gated content that provides enough value to early-funnel visitors to get them to provide their email address

So, what’s the answer?

Inbound marketing allows online retailers to stop competing with Amazon and other “price focused” competitors with leaky funnels, and to instead focus on:

  1. Persona-based content marketing campaigns designed to acquire email addresses from high-quality leads (potential customers) by offering them the right content for each stage in their buyer’s journey
  2. A robust marketing automation system that makes true personalization scalable
  3. Automated contact nurturing emails triggered by certain events, such as viewing specific content, abandoning their shopping cart, adding items to their wish list or performing micro-conversions like downloading a look book
  4. Intelligent SMM campaigns that match visitors and customers with social accounts by email addresses, interests and demographics—as well as social monitoring
  5. Hyper-segmented email contact lists to support the marketing automation described above, as well as to provide highly-customized email and shopping experiences
  6. Cross-channel, closed loop reporting to provide a complete “omnichannel” view of online marketing efforts and how they assist offline conversions, if applicable

Each of these areas will be covered in more detail below. First, let’s take a quick step back and define what it is we’re talking about here.

Inbound marketing: a primer

A lot of people think “inbound marketing” is just a way some SEO agencies are re-cloaking themselves to avoid negative associations with search engine optimization. Others think it’s synonymous with “internet marketing.” I think it goes more like this:

Inbound marketing is to Internet marketing as SEO is to inbound marketing: One piece of a larger whole.

There are many ways to define inbound marketing. A cursory review of definitions from several trusted sources reveals some fundamental similarities :

Rand Fishkin


“Inbound Marketing is the practice of earning traffic and attention for your business on the web rather than buying it or interrupting people to get it. Inbound channels include organic search, social media, community-building content, opt-in email, word of mouth, and many others. Inbound marketing is particularly powerful because it appeals to what people are looking for and what they want, rather than trying to get between them and what they’re trying to do with advertising. Inbound’s also powerful due to the flywheel-effect it creates. The more you invest in Inbound and the more success you have, the less effort required to earn additional benefit.”

Mike King


“Inbound Marketing is a collection of marketing activities that leverage remarkable content to penetrate earned media channels such as Organic Search, Social Media, Email, News and the Blogosphere with the goal of engaging prospects when they are specifically interested in what the brand has to offer.”

This quote is from 2012, and is still just as accurate today. It’s from an comment thread where you can also see many other takes on it from the likes of Ian Lurie, Jonathon Colman, and Larry Kim.



“Inbound Marketing is a multi-channel, buyer-centric approach to online marketing that involves attracting, engaging, nurturing and converting potential customers from wherever they are in the buying cycle.”

From Inflow’s
Inbound Services page.



“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

Inbound Marketing – Wikipedia.


Larry Kim

“Inbound marketing” refers to marketing activities that bring leads and customers in when they’re ready, rather than you having to go out and wave your arms to try to get people’s attention.”

Marketing Land in 2013. You can also read more of Larry Kim’s interpretation, along with many others, on


“Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be.”

Hubspot, a marketing automation platform for inbound marketing.

When everyone has their own definition of something, it helps to think about what they have in common, as opposed to how they differ. In the case of inbound, this includes concepts such as:

  • Pull (inbound) vs. push (interruption) marketing
  • “Earning” media coverage, search engine rankings, visitors and customers with outstanding content
  • Marketing across channels
  • Meeting potential customers where they are in their buyer’s journey

Running your first eCommerce inbound marketing campaign

Audience personas—priority no. 1

The magic happens when retailers begin to hyper-segment their list based on buyer personas and other relevant information (i.e. what they’ve downloaded, what they’ve purchased, if they abandoned their cart…). This all starts with audience research to develop personas. If you need more information on persona development, try these resources:

Once personas are developed, retailers should choose one on which to focus. A complete campaign strategy should be developed around this persona, with the aim of providing the “right value” to them at the “right time” in their buyer’s journey.

noble path of online marketing

Ready to get started?

We’ve developed a quick-start guide in the form of a checklist for eCommerce marketers who want to get started with inbound marketing, which you can access below.

inbound ecommerce checklist

Hands-on experience running one campaign will teach you more about inbound marketing than a dozen articles. My advice: Just do one. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and get better each time.

Example inbound marketing campaign

Below is an example of how a hypothetical inbound marketing campaign might play out, assuming you have completed all of the steps in the checklist above. Imagine you handle marketing for an online retailer of high-end sporting goods.

AT Hiker Tommy campaign: From awareness to purchase

When segmenting visitors and customers for a “high-end sporting goods / camping retailer” based on the East Coast, you identified a segment of “Trail Hikers.” These are people with disposable income who care about high-quality gear, and will pay top dollar if they know it is tested and reliable. The top trail on their list of destinations is the
Appalachian Trail (AT).

Top of the Funnel: SEO & Strategic Content Marketing


Tommy’s first action is to do “top of the funnel” research from search engines (one reason why SEO is still so important to a complete inbound marketing strategy).

A search for “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” turns up your article titled “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which lists common items that are bulky/heavy, and highlights slimmer, lighter alternatives from your online catalog.

It also highlights the difference between cheap gear and the kind that won’t let you down on your 2,181 mile journey through the wilderness of Appalachia, something you learned was important to Tommy when developing his persona. This allows you to get the company’s value proposition of “tested, high-end, quality gear only” in front of readers very early in their buyer’s journey—important if you want to differentiate your site from all of the retailers racing Amazon to the bottom of their profit margins.

So far you have yet to make “contact” with AT Hiker Tommy. The key to “acquiring” a contact before the potential customer is ready to make a purchase is to provide something of value to that specific type of person (i.e. their persona) at that specific point in time (i.e. their buying cycle stage).

In this case, we need to provide value to AT Hiker Tommy while he is getting started on his research about hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has an idea of what gear not to bring, as well as some lighter, higher-end options sold on your site. At this point, however, he is not ready to buy anything without researching the trail more. This is where retailers lose most of their potential customers. But not you. Not this time…

Middle of the funnel: Content offers, personalization, social & email nurturing


On the “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail” article (and probably several others), you have placed a call-to-action (CTA) in the form of a button that offers something like:

Download our Free 122-page Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This takes Tommy to a landing page showcasing some of the quotes from the book, and highlighting things like:

“We interviewed over 50 ‘thru-hikers’ who completed the AT and have curated and organized the best first-hand tips, along with our own significant research to develop a free eBook that should answer most of your questions about the trail.”

By entering their email address potential customers agree to allow you to send them the free PDF downloadable guide to hiking the AT, and other relevant information about hiking.

An automated email is sent with a link to the downloadable PDF guide, and several other useful content links, such as “The AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear for the Appalachian Trail”—content designed to move Tommy further toward the purchase of hiking gear.

If Tommy still has not made a purchase within the next two weeks, another automated email is sent asking for feedback about the PDF guide (providing the link again), and to again provide the link to the “AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear…” along with a compelling offer just for him, perhaps “Get 20% off your first hiking gear purchase, and a free wall map of the AT!”

Having Tommy’s email address also allows you to hyper-target him on social channels, while also leveraging his initial visit to initiate retargeting efforts.

Bottom of the funnel: Email nurturing & strategic, segmented offers

Eventually Tommy makes a purchase, and he may or may not receive further emails related to this campaign, such as post-purchase emails for reviews, up-sells and cross-sells.

Upon checkout, Tommy checked the box to opt-in to weekly promotional emails. He is now on multiple lists. Your marketing automation system will automatically update Tommy’s status from “Contact” or lead, to “Customer” and potentially remove or deactivate him from the marketing automation system database. This is accomplished either by default integration features, or with the help of integration tools like
Zapier and IFTTT.

You have now nurtured Tommy from his initial research on Google all the way to his first purchase without ever having sent a spammy newsletter email full of irrelevant coupons and other offers. However, now that he is a loyal customer, Tommy finds value in these bottom-of-funnel email offers.

And this is just the start

Every inbound marketing campaign will have its own mix of appropriate channels. This post has focused mostly on email because acquiring the initial permission to contact the person is what fuels most of the other features offered by marketing automation systems, including:

  • Personalization of offers and other content on the site.
  • Knowing exactly which visitors are interacting on social media
  • Knowing where visitors and social followers are in the buying cycle and which persona best represents them, among other things.
  • Smart forms that don’t require visitors to put in the same information twice and allow you to build out more detailed profiles of them over time.
  • Blogging platforms that tie into email and marketing automation systems
  • Analytics data that isn’t blocked by Google and is tied directly to real people.
  • Closed-loop reporting that integrates with call-tracking and Google’s Data Import tool
  • Up-sell, cross-sell, and abandoned cart reclamation features
Three more things…
  1. If you can figure out a way to get Tommy to “log in” when he comes to your site, the personalization possibilities are nearly limitless.
  2. The persona above is based on a real customer segment. I named it after my friend Tommy Bailey, who actually did write the eBook
    Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail, featured in the image above.
  3. This Moz post is part of an inbound marketing campaign targeting eCommerce marketers, a segment Inflow identified while building out our own personas. Our hope, and the whole point of inbound marketing, is that it provides value to you.

Current state of the inbound marketing industry

Inbound has, for the the most part, been applied to businesses in which the website objective is to generate leads for a sales team to follow-up with and close the deal. An examination of various marketing automation platforms—a key component of scalable inbound marketing programs—highlights this issue.

Popular marketing automation systems

Most of the major marketing automation systems can be be used very effectively as the backbone of an inbound marketing program for eCommerce businesses. However, only one of them (Silverpop) has made significant efforts to court the eCommerce market with content and out-of-box features. The next closest thing is Hubspot, so let’s start with those two:

Silverpop – an IBMⓇ Company


Unlike the other platforms below, right out of the box Silverpop allows marketers to tap into very specific behaviors, including the items purchased or left in the cart.

You can easily segment based on metrics like the Recency, Frequency and Monetary Value (RFM) of purchases:

silverpop triggered campaigns

You can automate personalized shopping cart abandonment recovery emails:

silverpop cart abandonment recovery

You can integrate with many leading brands offering complementary services, including: couponing, CRM, analytics, email deliverability enhancement, social and most major eCommerce platforms.

What you can’t do with Silverpop is blog, find pricing info on their website, get a free trial on their website or have a modern-looking user experience. Sounds like an IBMⓇ company, doesn’t it?


Out of all the marketing automation platforms on this list, HubSpot is the most capable of handling “inbound marketing” campaigns from start to finish. This should come as no surprise, given the phrase is credited to
Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO.

While they don’t specifically cater to eCommerce marketing needs with the same gusto they give to lead gen. marketing, HubSpot does have
an eCommerce landing page and a demo landing page for eCommerce leads, which suggests that their own personas include eCommerce marketers. Additionally, there is some good content on their blog written specifically for eCommerce.

HubSpot has allowed some key partners to develop plug-ins that integrate with leading eCommerce platforms. This approach works well with curation, and is not dissimilar to how Google handles Android or Apple handles their approved apps.

magento and hubspot

Magento Connector for HubSpot, which costs per month, was developed by EYEMAGiNE, a creative design firm for eCommerce websites. A similar HubSpot-approved third-party integration is on the way for Bigcommerce.

Another eCommerce integration for Hubspot is a Shopify plug-in called
HubShoply, which was developed by Groove Commerce and costs 0 per month.

You can also use HubSpot’s native integration capabilities with
Zapier to sync data between HubSpot and most major eCommerce SaaS vendors, including the ones above, as well as WooCommerce, Shopify, PayPal, Infusionsoft and more. However, the same could be said of some of the other marketing automation platforms, and using these third-party solutions can sometimes feel like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

HubSpot can and does handle inbound marketing for eCommerce websites. All of the features are there, or easy enough to integrate. But let’s put some pressure on them to up their eCommerce game even more. The least they can do is put an eCommerce link in the footer:

hubspot menus

Despite the lack of clear navigation to their eCommerce content, HubSpot seems to be paying more attention to the needs of eCommerce businesses than the rest of the platforms below.


Nothing about Marketo’s in-house marketing strategy suggests “Ecommerce Director Bob” might be one of their personas. The description for each of
their marketing automation packages (from Spark to Enterprise) mentions that it is “for B2B” websites.

marketo screenshot

Driving Sales could apply to a retail business so I clicked on the link. Nope. Clearly, this is for lead generation.

marketo marketing automation

Passing “purchase-ready leads” over to your “sales reps” is a good example of the type of language used throughout the site.

Make no mistake, Marketo is a top-notch marketing automation platform. Powerful and clean, it’s a shame they don’t launch a full-scale eCommerce version of their core product. In the meantime, there’s the
Magento Integration for Marketo Plug-in developed by an agency out of Australia called Hoosh Marketing.

magento marketo integration

I’ve never used this integration, but it’s part of Marketo’s
LaunchPoint directory, which I imagine is vetted, and Hoosh seems like a reputable agency.

pricing page is blurred and gated, which is annoying, but perhaps they’ll come on here and tell everyone how much they charge.

marketo pricing page

As with all others except Silverpop, the Marketo navigation provides no easy paths to landing pages that would appeal to “Ecommerce Director Bob.”


This option is a
SalesForce product, so—though I’ve never had the opportunity to use it—I can imagine Pardot is heavy on B2B/Sales and very light on B2C marketing for retail sites.

The hero image on their homepage says as much.

pardot tagline

pardot marketing automationAgain, no mention of eCommerce or retail, but clear navigation to lead gen and sales.

Eloqua / OMC


Eloqua, now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC), has a landing page
for the retail industry, on which they proclaim:

“Retail marketers know that the path to lifelong loyalty and increased revenue goes through building and growing deep client relationships.”

Since when did retail marketers start calling customers clients?

eloqua integration

The Integration tab on OMC’s “…Retail.html” page helpfully informs eCommerce marketers that their sales teams can continue using CRM systems like SalesForce and Microsoft Dynamics but doesn’t mention anything about eCommerce platforms and other SaaS solutions for eCommerce businesses.


There are many other players in this arena. Though I haven’t used them yet, three I would love to try out are
SharpSpring, Hatchbuck and Act-On. But none of them appear to be any better suited to handle the concerns of eCommerce websites.

Where there’s a gap, there’s opportunity

The purpose of the section above wasn’t to highlight deficiencies in the tools themselves, but to illustrate a gap in who they are being marketed to and developed for.

So far, most of your eCommerce competitors probably aren’t using tools like these because they are not marketed to by the platforms, and don’t know how to apply the technology to online retail in a way that would justify the expense.

The thing is, a tool is just a tool

key concepts behind inbound marketing apply just as much to online retail as they do to lead generation.

In order to “do inbound marketing,” a marketing automation system isn’t even strictly necessary (in theory). They just help make the activities scalable for most businesses.

They also bring a lot of different marketing activities under one roof, which saves time and allows data to be moved and utilized between channels and systems. For example, what a customer is doing on social could influence the emails they receive, or content they see on your site. Here are some potential uses for most of the platforms above:

Automated marketing uses

  • Personalized abandoned cart emails
  • Post-purchase nurturing/reorder marketing
  • Welcome campaigns for the newsletter (other free offer) signups
  • Winback campaigns
  • Lead-nurturing email campaigns for cohorts and persona-based segments

Content marketing uses

  • Optimized, strategic blogging platforms, and frameworks
  • Landing pages for pre-transactional/educational offers or contests
  • Social media reporting, monitoring, and publishing
  • Personalization of content and user experience

Reporting uses

  • Revenue reporting (by segment or marketing action)
  • Attribution reporting (by campaign or content)

Assuming you don’t have the budget for a marketing automation system, but already have a good email marketing platform, you can still get started with inbound marketing. Eventually, however, you may want to graduate to a dedicated marketing automation solution to reap the full benefits.

Email marketing platforms

Most of the marketing automation systems claim to replace your email marketing platform, while many email marketing platforms claim to be marketing automation systems. Neither statement is completely accurate.

Marketing automation systems, especially those created specifically for the type of “inbound” campaigns described above, provide a powerful suite of tools all in one place. On the other hand, dedicated email platforms tend to offer “email marketing” features that are better, and more robust, than those offered by marketing automation systems. Some of them are also considerably cheaper—such as
MailChimp—but those are often light on even the email-specific features for eCommerce.

A different type of campaign

Email “blasts” in the form of B.O.G.O., off or free shipping offers can still be very successful in generating incremental revenue boosts — especially for existing customers and seasonal campaigns.

The conversion rate on a 20% off coupon sent to existing customers, for instance, would likely pulverize the conversion rate of an email going out to middle-of-funnel contacts with a link to content (at least with how CR is currently being calculated by email platforms).

Inbound marketing campaigns can also offer quick wins, but they tend to focus mostly on non-customers after the first segmentation campaign (a campaign for the purpose of segmenting your list, such as an incentivised survey). This means lower initial conversion rates, but long-term success with the growth of new customers.

Here’s a good bet if works with your budget: Rely on a marketing automation system for inbound marketing to drive new customer acquisition from initial visit to first purchase, while using a good email marketing platform to run your “promotional email” campaigns to existing customers.

If you have to choose one or the other, I’d go with a robust marketing automation system.

Some of the most popular email platforms used by eCommerce businesses, with a focus on how they handle various Inbound Marketing activities, include:



This platform builds in features like abandoned cart recovery, advanced email list segmentation and automated email workflows that nurture contacts over time.

They also offer a host of eCommerce-related
features that you just don’t get with marketing automation systems like Hubspot and Marketo. This includes easy integration with a variety of eCommerce platforms like ATG, Demandware, Magento, Miva Merchant, Mozu and MarketLive, not to mention apps for coupons, product recommendations, social shopping and more. Integration with enterprise eCommerce platforms is one reason why Bronto is seen over and over again when browsing the Internet Retailer Top 500 reports.

On the other hand, Bronto—like the rest of these email platforms—doesn’t have many of the features that assist with content marketing outside of emails. As an “inbound” marketing automation system, it is incomplete because it focuses almost solely on one channel: email.

Vertical Response


Another juggernaut in eCommerce email marketing platforms, Vertical Response, has even fewer inbound-related features than Bronto, though it is a good email platform with a free version that includes up to 1,000 contacts and 4,000 emails per month (i.e. 4 emails to a full list of 1,000).

Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC)

Responsys (the email platform), like Eloqua (the marketing automation system) was gobbled up by Oracle and is now part of their “Marketing Cloud.”

It has been my experience that when a big technology firm like IBM or Oracle buys a great product, it isn’t “great” for the users. Time will tell.



Out of the established email platforms for eCommerce, Listrak may do the best job at positioning themselves as a full inbound marketing platform.

Listrak’s value proposition is that they’re an “Omnichannel” solution. Everything is all in one “Single, Integrated Digital Marketing Platform for Retailers.” The homepage image promises solutions for Email, Mobile, Social, Web and In-Store channels.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Listrak yet, but would love to hear feedback in the comments on whether they could handle the kind of persona-based content marketing and automated email nurturing campaigns described in the example campaign above.

Key takeaways

Congratulations for making this far! Here are a few things I hope you’ll take away from this post:

  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for eCommerce sites to take advantage of marketing automation systems and robust email marketing platforms as the infrastructure to run comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns.
  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for marketing automation systems to develop content and build in eCommerce-specific features to lure eCommerce marketers.
  • Inbound marketing isn’t email marketing, although email is an important piece to inbound because it allows you to begin forming lasting relationships with potential customers much earlier in the buying cycle.
  • To see the full benefits of inbound marketing, you should focus on getting the right content to the right person at the right time in their shopping journey. This necessarily involves several different channels, including search, social and email. One of the many benefits of marketing automation systems is their ability to track your efforts here across marketing channels, devices and touch-points.

Tools, resources, and further reading

There is a lot of great content on the topic of Inbound marketing, some of which has greatly informed my own understanding and approach. Here are a few resources you may find useful as well.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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April 14, 2015  Tags: , , , , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

How to Keep your Site Fast for Mobile-Friendly

Posted by Zoompf

Cindy Krum recently published a must-read primer on the upcoming Mobile-Friendly changes which I highly recommend checking out before proceeding. Got it? Good. With the mad rush to optimize mobile sites prior to April 21st, it can be very easy to sacrifice performance in the process. Lest we forget, Google has mentioned on multiple occasions that website performance is also a factor in search ranking, first in 2010 for desktop sites and again in 2013 for mobile sites.

In this post I’m going to cover a few high-level best practices to keep in mind during your mobile site (re)design efforts. In addition, I suggest you also peruse Google’s excellent documentation on mobile-friendly websites.

Measuring your mobile site performance

The first step to improving your mobile performance is to measure where you’re starting. There are a number of excellent free and paid resources to do so, but two of my favorites are Google Chrome’s built-in Developer Tools and WebPageTest. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be using Chrome Developer Tools in this article.

Not a developer? Don’t worry, using the Chrome tools are real easy:

  1. Open up Chrome (install if necessary)
  2. Hit the little “hamburger” menu (3 stacked lines) in the top-right corner
  3. Select More Tools, then Developer Tools

You’ll see a nifty screen with lots of juicy info. Most importantly, at the top there’s a drop-down with many different mobile and tablet emulators. Pretty cool.

Now, select a device of interest, say Apple iPhone 6. Enter your site address in the address bar, hit enter and voila! You’re now seeing your site rendered as an iPhone 6 would see it. Scroll down to the bottom to see some interesting performance stats like total page load time, size of the page, and the total number of requests. Hit the “Network” tab for a particularly helpful waterfall diagram view, as shown below:


Now let’s get started…

Optimize those images for mobile

According to the HTTP Archive, images on average account for over 60% of your total page content. Pretty intuitive, images rule the web. Go ahead and check your own page with Chrome Developer Tools and you’ll likely see similar numbers. When downloading over relatively slow mobile connections speeds, the impact of large images on your site performance can be even more severe.

While it’s always a best practice to optimize your site using lossless and lossy image optimization techniques, there’s another consideration for mobile: Should you even be downloading that image to begin with? That big, beautiful 1600px wide “hero” image you use on your desktop site might be completely wasted on the smaller display of a phone or tablet, even if that tablet as a high resolution or “retina” screen.

The solution? Consider loading a smaller image just for your mobile users. Be careful, though; there’s a “right” and “wrong” way of doing this.

Quick aside: for this example, and your mobile site in general, make sure you’re specifying the viewport meta tag in the head section of your page. Basically, this tells the mobile browser you have a responsive mobile site, and not to try to auto-scale a large desktop site down to mobile resolution (ugly!). Additionally if this tag is not present, you will get different results in your Chrome tests below.

<meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" />

The “wrong” way

Responsive design makes heavy use of CSS media queries to style your site differently at the smaller viewport sizes used by mobile devices, so an obvious approach to swap out your images might go something like this:

<!-- DON'T DO THIS -->
    @media (min-width:376px) {
        .mobile_image {
            display: none;
        .desktop_image {
            display: inline;
    @media (max-width:375px) {
        .mobile_image {
            display: inline;
        .desktop_image {
            display: none;
<img src="mobile.png" class="mobile_image" />
<img src="desktop.png" class="desktop_image" />

This code displays one image when the screen resolution is wide, and a different/smaller image when the resolution is smaller.

This looks just fine on the rendered page, but there’s a big problem: both images get downloaded! To verify, load this sample in Chrome and you’ll see something like this:


Well that’s not good; in fact that’s even worse! You are wasting time and bandwidth downloading an image that won’t even be shown!

The right way

Instead, consider using the background-image style on a DIV to achieve the same effect, for example:

<!-- DO THIS -->
    @media (min-width:376px) {
        .myimage {
            background-image: url("desktop.png");
            width: 700px;
            height: 550px;
    @media (max-width:375px) {
        .myimage {
            background-image: url("mobile.png");
            width: 350px;
            height: 130px;
<div class="myimage"></div>

Loading in Chrome tools, you’ll now see this:


Only the mobile image was loaded… much better! Of course, there is one caveat: to use background-image with a DIV, you need to supply the image width and height in the CSS for that class. This can be cumbersome for a lot of images, or images that change size frequently, but if your “hero” images are relatively static in nature, strategic use of this technique could make a significant improvement to your mobile site performance.

Takeaway: Where possible, use the CSS media queries and the background-image style to conditionally render mobile images. This may only make sense for your largest images.

Consider ditching jQuery

What? Did you read that correctly? jQuery is THE library of choice for writing JavaScript, how can you live without it?

jQuery is indeed quite useful, but recall one if its original design goals was to provide a consistent interface that matches the W3C recommended API across wildly diverse browsers with different (and often broken) standards implementations. jQuery let’s you avoid writing “if Internet Explorer do this, else do that” code.

BUT, jQuery’s unifying interface is much less necessary on mobile. Mobile is dominated by WebKit-derived browsers such as Safari or Chrome, so there are fewer issues to abstract away. And weighing in at a hefty 200 KB, jQuery is still a significant library to download, even with liberal use of caching. Even after you compress and minify jQuery, you are dealing with around 30KB.

But wait, you say; you still want the simplified JavaScript interface jQuery provides? It is pretty nice – so consider Zeptojs instead. While not as fully featured as jQuery, it weighs in at a mere 5 KB in size compressed, roughly 6 times smaller! Since Zepto is largely API compatible with jQuery you shouldn’t have to rewrite any code to use it. For most basic JavaScript sites, Zepto is more than sufficient.

Takeaway: Minimize the third party libraries you include, and consider using Zeptojs as an alternative to jQuery if your JavaScript needs are basic.

Review your caching settings

Smart web developers reduce the size of their resources to minimize page load times. Really smart web developers avoid the need to download those resources in the first place. This is where browser caching comes in. If your images, CSS, or JavaScript rarely change, consider caching them. This way your users only download the resource once, and the next time they hit your site the link is already sitting their on their local machine (or phone or tablet), just waiting to be used.

Mobify has a nice primer on setting caching headers, and there are many great free tools that can test your caching settings including the super cool REDbot, WooRank, and our own Zoompf. If you’re running an Apache or nginx webserver, consider enabling mod_pagespeed to simplify your caching configuration. If you have a WordPress site, the W3 Total Cache plugin is excellent.

Takeaway: Caching is one of the most effective performance optimizations you can make, and matters more then ever for mobile sites. Review your caching policies and apply caching to your large, infrequently changing libraries and images.

Love animated GIFs? Your browser doesn’t!

Animated GIFs have seen quite the resurgence of late, but the format is dated and showing its age. Dating back almost 30 years, animated GIFs are bloated and cumbersome to download, especially when your animated GIF is a short movie clip. Consider using HTML5 video instead of an animated film GIF. All modern browsers support it, and HTML5 videos are typically 10% or less the size of an equivalent animated GIF.

Another option is Imgur. When you upload animated GIFs to Imgur, they will automatically convert the animation into a format they call GIFV. GIFV is essentially just an HTML5 video, but with a significantly optimized size. Imgur manages the hosting of your videos, and optionally serves the file up at GIFV or GIF depending on the capabilities of your users’ browser (although most all modern browsers support HTML5 video).

Takeaway: Try and avoid animated GIFs for movie clips or complex animations. Modern video protocols used by HTML5 video and GIFV offer significant performance boosts and reduced download times for your users.

The future: HTTP/2

The web is slowly evolving towards HTTP/2, and not a moment too soon. HTTP/1.1 is over 15 years old and showing signs of its age, especially when it comes to unreliable/intermittent connectivity in mobile devices. HTTP/2 already enjoys widespread browser and server support. While I wouldn’t recommend rushing into an HTTP/2 adoption for the April 21st Mobile-Friendly change, future support for this protocol should definitely be on your roadmap. You can read more about HTTP/2 and its future impact on SEO and web performance in my earlier post.

Takeaway: Plan to adopt HTTP/2 on your future roadmap, it’s coming!

In closing

Building a responsive, mobile-friendly website is more than tweaking styles and tags to please the Google crawler. There are nuanced, mobile specific considerations that, if ignored, can significantly slow down your mobile site and kill your user experience. Fortunately there are numerous free tools to help you evaluate your mobile site performance, including WebPageTest, Chrome Developer Tools, Google PageSpeed Insights, and Zoompf’s Free Report. And of course, make sure to test with Google’s own mobile-friendly test tool.

Now…go forth and start optimizing!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

Moz Blog

April 13, 2015  Tags: , , ,   Posted in: SEO / Traffic / Marketing  No Comments

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