What’s Ahead Online in 2012?

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Synopsis — For online marketers, 2012 is sure to be a year full of intriguing opportunities, but also repercussions. James Thompson of Clix Marketing takes a look back on online marketing in 2011 and gives us an in-depth analysis of the exciting and successful developments that took place. With his own unique list of New Year’s resolutions, James advises us on the changes we can make to bring lasting effects into our marketing strategies.

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What’s Ahead Online in 2012?

Many of us critique ourselves at the beginning of each year to provide a focus toward the future. We trot out terms like “fresh start,” “new birth,” “clean slate,” and plenty of other platitudes. However, if taken seriously, these New Year’s resolutions provide a way to start a fresh new perspective and move into the new year with a renewed vigor.

However, we never create resolutions in a vacuum — we generate them using 20/20 hindsight on the previous year. Most often than not, we document the parts of our lives that we neglected in the previous year, and form the gaps into a list to guide us into the upcoming year. And there is no reason to focus exclusively on our personal lives — our business lives require resolutions as well.

Today, we will look back on online marketing in 2011, focusing on some changes that bring lasting effects into 2012. Of course, it’s a certainty that many new and exciting developments will distract you from what happened in 2011. But at least five 2011 changes demand attention and inclusion in your overall 2012 online marketing strategies with realistic goals for the year.

Resolution No. 1 — Take Google+ and Google +1 seriously in 2012

Google’s first attempts to knock Facebook off its lofty social networking position failed. Undaunted, in 2011 Google tried again with Google+. Taking aim with an integrated approach, Google expects to challenge Facebook and the division between search and social online activities. Google’s foray is unlikely to topple Facebook’s dominance in 2012, but the product will begin to blur lines between search and social activities. This has the potential to create a more seamless way for people to share their interests, activities, and purchases to segmented groups of online relationships.

How could this new twist on social communication affect your overall online strategy? For one thing, start to think in degrees of separation. If you recommend a product from an existing client to a family member versus a friend, how would that interaction differ? Are you making the ability to recommend your products, services, or content easy for your visitors and not in a “one size fits all” model?

When someone recommends your site to their friends and family, you only have seconds to convince them of your value and worth, exactly as if they arrived through an online ad click or organic search. Fortunately, a recommended visit carries more potential value since it arrives with an increased level of trust. Although most of us create at least simple personas for our site visitors and advertising targets to better sharpen our marketing messages, how many of us think about recommendations and how they fit into our overall strategy? If our visitors think enough of us to recommend our products and services, we should take the time to tailor our

message to that visitor’s audience. Google+ and +1 might just bring the impetus to take a step closer to our visitors and their Google+ circles.

Resolution No. 2 — Embrace the coming avalanche of mobile marketing

Mobile advertising in all its forms will continue to increase in your marketing mix for the future. While people still primarily interact with applications inside their smartphones rather than traditional search, the mobile mix adds an element of client interactivity previously impossible when visitors were tethered to their PCs. The first step in any process related to mobile needs to be one of introspection. How are my visitors using mobile? Not just on my site, but within my industry or similar industries? Asking your clients and evaluating the competition are great starting points.

How do visitors interact with your mobile apps, products, and services compared with your traditional web presence? Try to finds ways to understand how individuals interact with all of your marketing efforts (web, email, mobile, and video) and which lend themselves to the mobile delivery method. Are people in similar industries using QR codes, mobile apps, focusing on PPC with click-to-call, mobile coupons, display ads, or social network check-ins?

No other area of online marketing has the long-term upside of mobile marketing, but it won’t supplant or surpass your existing efforts in 2012 or even the near future. However, mobile marketing’s relative size doesn’t mean it can be ignored either. If you have not done so already, begin drafting a strategy for engaging your customers in all aspects of their online lives, before your competition defines themselves as the leader in the mobile space and ultimately your industry.

Resolution No. 3 — Stop talking about attribution and take action

One of the most significant and complex aspects of any effort remains the interaction of each source to reach your desired customer action. At the risk of repeating myself, none of your online marketing efforts stand alone — they all interact in complex and hopefully complementary ways. Tools have existed for quite some time allowing you to visualize, quantify, and even automatically take action on attribution, but not everyone has taken the time to either understand or implement them on even a rudimentary level.

The addition of multi-channel funnel reports to Google Analytics gives everyone the ability to see some of the interaction of their channels, conversion paths, path lengths, etc. Resolve to at least understand the most frequent interactions between the channels, and consider how each channel works in cooperation to move your customers toward your goal activity. Do your email activities create a spike in PPC or organic conversions? Is the messaging of each subsequent channel in your most common paths leading toward your goal activity such as a sale, sign-up, demo, or download? Understanding pathways to success vastly improves your ability to understand and clear the path to conversion for your clients.

Resolution No. 4 — Learn, embrace, and implement Google AdWords extensions

Google’s ad delivery system grew up recently. The difficult limitations of getting your message out in a small space have become less difficult through the addition of multiple types of ad extensions. Ad extensions give you a significantly expanded set of ways to engage searchers. Each extension expands the capabilities — but also the footprint — of your ad. Most paid search tactics consume time through an iterative process of change, wait, report, analyze, and start over. However, many ad extensions dramatically increase your exposure, encourage activities that are difficult to express in standard ad sizes, and once implemented are “set it and forget it.”

Understanding each ad extension and their intent requires some effort on your part, but ignoring them hands competitors a huge advantage in reaching and influencing your customers. Local service companies and brick-and-mortar advertisers gain a lot of benefit from location and call extensions. Anyone serving different customer bases or multiple product categories or services would greatly benefit from product and ad sitelinks extensions. Social extensions add the capability for integration of Google+ and +1 to your ads. Since ad extensions benefit both Google and the advertiser, expect to see many more types of added functionality on existing extensions.

Resolution No. 5 — Understand adCenter’s Quality Score system

Microsoft’s implementation of a Quality Score system on adCenter in 2011 opens up a lot of opportunities for advertisers to understand how relevant their ads are to the keyword. Unlike Google’s similarly named feature, adCenter’s Quality Score relates the level of competiveness of the keyword relative to the marketplace. It does not directly affect your performance since ad rank on Bing is still determined by CTR, bid, and overall keyword relevance to the user search query. However, working to improve your Quality Score has the fortunate side effect of improving your CTR, by making keywords more closely related to your ad copy and landing page. Most importantly, it gives you an indication of where you need to focus your attention on — splitting up ad groups, writing more relevant ads triggered by your keywords, and making sure you have tightly associated your landing page copy to the keyword traffic you are driving.

And, Resolution No. 6 — Resolve to hold on to your resolutions

Everyone makes resolutions, but the secret rests with sticking to one’s goals. As your day-to-day business lives settle into this new year, it’s tempting to slide back into old habits, be distracted by the new and fresh, and lose track of the promises you made to yourself. The five resolutions defined here carry lasting effects into 2012 and beyond. Try to write these resolutions into your goals with pen and ink, so temptation doesn’t lead to erasing them from your memory.

About the Author

James is a technology-savvy executive with 18 years of experience merging technology and marketing to bring innovative products to market and reach new customer segments. In July 2011, he took over as President of Clix Marketing.

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