FOUND: User Acquisition Strategies

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As someone responsible for the success of your website, you know what you need — you just need to go get it, right? Well, sort of.

Acquiring website visitors from the myriad available opportunities on the ‘Net, each with its own intricate rules and best practices to follow, is nearly always easier said — or suggested by others — than actually done.

If you’ve spent any time at all marketing or promoting a website, company or brand — even an “idea” applies here — on the Web for the purpose of acquiring visitors, you know this to be true. It is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of flipping the digital switch. Although, once you become skilled at generating website traffic, feel free to tell everyone you know that it indeed is actually that simple.

All kidding aside, acquiring website visits, for most, just isn’t an easy task. It can be expensive in some cases and time consuming in others. Getting your website in a position where it can be found and discovered by a user with an implicit interest in what your business provides — be it product or service or a combination of the two —requires creativity and diligence (and deep pockets never hurt). Nothing less will do.

The hard truth (even for the most resource rich and savvy enterprise), however, is that even if you have managed to follow all the rules and implement every best practice, you still may miss your mark. Your mark is the number of visitors your enterprise needs to remain sustainable in today’s highly competitive digital landscape. Fortunately, the view toward visitor acquisition on the Web has evolved and, at least from our perspective, dramatically improved.

All right, so what are these acquisition strategies? How can you improve the volume and quality of website visitors? You are likely already quite familiar with many of the destinations and channels available to find new visitors, but perhaps unfamiliar with actual tactics to make it all come together. In Website Magazine’s feature article this month, readers will find several practical suggestions to help websites position their digital properties for greater ‘Net success.

Just a quick note before you proceed: This isn’t your typical article on how to grow website traffic. There’s an important thread throughout that demands your attention; the secret to being found is to be worth finding and optimizing every discovery opportunity. How in the virtual world do you accomplish that? In a word, relationships.

Organic Search Objectives

In a perfect world, you’ll be found through the organic results of popular search engines, including Google and Bing, with little effort and as a natural extension of the fine products and services you provide and the natural brand virility that results from your organizational awesomeness. In the real world, you’ll need to be on good terms with the search engines, giving more than you take.

Search engines have changed over the past few years. They are more capable of assessing quality, more in tune with the mischievous behavior of spammers, and even better at providing resources to help the white hat and penalize those with no hat at all. So what does all this mean for those responsible for search engine optimization campaigns?

If there’s one trend that will shape and define the SEO landscape in 2013, it is undoubtedly microdata. By adding another layer of detail upon the information you create, distribute and make available on your website, Google and Bing (and yes, Yahoo too) will be able to understand not just what the page is about, but its context as well. That’s important as millions upon millions of new text documents, images and video are added to the Web each day. Your enterprise needs a way to stand out.

Fortunately, there’s a new tool available within Google Webmaster Tools, which makes marking up data far more accessible, meaning that enterprises won’t have to utilize expensive developers to hand code this information any longer.

The new Data Highlighter from Google, released in mid-Dec. 2012, allows Web workers to create structured markup/rich snippets using a far simpler point-and-click method rather than a traditional, error-prone method of HTML coding. The tool, which provides Google with information about the pattern of event-related data on a website, makes it easy to tag a page with rich snippets by highlighting data items including event name, date, and location or tagging a set of similar pages all at once. Expect additional forms of data to be added to the tool in the near future.

So what does that have to do with relationships? Quite a bit actually. When you consider the popular search engines as living, breathing digital entities, it’s simpler to understand how to treat them. In the case of being a good content partner to the search engines, the more relevant data the better. When you treat your friends well, they are sure to repay the favor and in some potentially lucrative ways.

It’s not just the search engines that need to be treated well, but also the customers of those search engines — the users. The best opportunity to do that? For millions of websites, it’s authorship markup.

Google’s author tag markup enables websites to publicly link from their site (within content) to author pages. Authorship markup uses the rel attribute (part of the open HTML5 standard) in links to indicate the relationships between a content page and an author page. While there may be little evidence to suggest that using authorship markup improves ranking, it does improve the user experience as listings featuring this additional layer of information are easier to spot (and click) on the search results. In essence, that’s how some publishers are being found more often.

Directing Direct Traffic

With all the technology available to Web-based enterprises, a brand may believe that their analytics account would always feature an actual source for every visitor, but that’s not always the case.

Often, users may type in your website URL directly. But those users need to be aware that your business exists to do so. For this reason, catering to the casual passer-by could prove beneficial. Business owners and marketing managers fortunate enough to have an actual physical location are positioned to drive substantially more direct traffic than their virtual counterparts do, because more opportunities exist.

Prominently featuring a website URL on every printed corporate brochure and every banner that hangs in front of your store, is an easy way to make potential customers aware of your brand and maybe even score a few website visits as well. Routinely auditing creative assets to ensure they are consistent and up to date are important elements of offline marketing, so don’t forget them.

There are other, far more visible methods to acquire traffic, however. Emerging from the least likely of places, the email signature line can serve as a strong catalyst to driving website visits. The best part? The responsibility can be spread out across your enterprise — from the sales team to customer service personnel, all the way up to the C-Suite.

Email signatures lines have been treated in the past as little more than an opportunity to showcase a social media profile, provide a direct phone number or maybe even casually include a personal quote. What would result if the website URL of the company was prominently displayed? Also, what would happen if each individual within your enterprise used a signature line with a trackable URL, that could be used to determine just how effective each person is at driving website visits through the use of email?

While it won’t move the proverbial needle much, traffic can add up.

Rethink Social Engagement

There were numerous developments in 2012 that will forever change brands approach to social media as an acquisition mechanism.

The first was a change to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm, which for most major brands, caused a reduction upward of 50 percent of the activity (likes, shares, visits) from their profile page. While some brands openly criticized Facebook, claiming the change was made to force those brands to pay their way through the social network, others changed course and started leveraging networks to bolster their social media engagement goals. That’s right — there’s been a notable increase in the number of platforms that, experimental or not, promise to shift the balance of power back to the brands (and compensate publishers for their advocacy).

Popular Q&A site ChaCha, for example, recently released its Social Reactor offering, which compensates influential bloggers and social media participants of the program for sharing advertisers’ messages. Yet, they (ChaCha) are not remotely the only vendor that is influencing social media discussions and helping advertisers drive awareness and website visits. Virurl and OneSpot are two other companies, with slightly different approaches, which offer the same acquisition opportunities for information publishers and advertisers.

But social media isn’t (at least theoretically) about “paying to play.” It’s a conversation, an engagement opportunity, and a meaningful way to connect with a prospective and existing audience, simultaneously. Hope remains among social media pundits that the broader channel of social media will remain an effective means to acquire visitors, but it may not come from the big four social networks. Rather, acquisition may come from smaller, yet more nimble, richer communities of likeminded and like-acting consumers. The evidence is in Pinterest’s popularity, the loyalty of Tumblr users and the sustainability of niche-focused forums.

Engagement opportunities are everywhere, don’t let them pass by.

Performance-Minded Affiliates

Should your enterprise’s search and social campaigns just not work out like what was initially planned, for whatever reason, or are simply taking too long to see results from, perhaps it’s time to explore the use of affiliates and performance-marketing networks to drive website visits.

The ability of a robust affiliate network is nearly unmatched as an acquisition strategy — it’s also cheaper and easier to manage (if you know what you’re doing). Regular Website Magazine readers should not be unfamiliar with performance marketing after the release of our book Affiliate 360 and the Website Magazine issues addressing performance marketing in general, yet so few merchants and service providers engage in any noteworthy level of the practice that the number of opportunities to drive traffic at a relatively modest cost are staggering.

Yet it is not enough just to have a program available for affiliate marketers. Websites must think strategically if the aim is to drive new visits and have affiliates maintain a certain level of activity

There are several methods that can be used immediately. Website Magazine’s Dec. 2012 issue, for example, published “Keeping Affiliate Tactics in Check” wherein it was suggested that much of one’s energy and resources should be spent developing programs that reward the highest performers through higher commissions, extending cookie durations and even adding special bonus payouts for those responsible for a predefined level of accomplishment.

The reason these tactics are useful when it comes to driving website visits is that affiliates tend to be attracted to promote individual programs based on a one-time interest. If you can find a way to encourage them to repeatedly promote a product or service, you can expect to receive a consistent level of new website visits, which is obviously something all Web workers are interested in.

Providing a virtual nudge through email, instant messaging or a phone call could be the catalyst required to have affiliates reenergize their marketing efforts (whether it be through paid search, content development for SEO or social media) on a merchant’s behalf. Further, adding a personal touch, making those hard-working affiliates feel valuable and fostering that relationship over time, is another lane in the fast track to Web success.

Media & Referrals

The trend that has all but captivated the attention of digital marketers over the past few years is content marketing.

The term itself, however, may be misleading. It’s not about marketing the content exclusively, it’s about thorough research, creative ideation, message distribution and analysis. Calling it “content marketing” does a disservice to anyone that consumes that information (in whatever form it may come), as well as the millions of Web workers that have leveraged “content” for years to promote their products and services, as well as those positioned to distribute it for your benefit.

The relationships you have with both traditional media and new media (bloggers and other Web-only information publishers) are as important as any in your professional career. Those enterprises with active (and accurate) media lists of bloggers and journalists who can and will regularly profile your company and its news is important to long-term success. The discovery of your enterprise by new visitors is arguably the most valuable form of traffic you’ll be able to acquire — better than search and social when done thoughtfully and effectively. Digital marketers must have content ready, a strategic plan in place and the resources to make it happen.

For example, if you’re looking to engage in guest posting on popular blogs, turn to services including MyBlogGuest.com, BlogSynergy.com or, the many other alternatives (which are referenced in Website Magazine’s Guide to Guest Blogging available at http://wsm.co/GuestBloggingGuide). Perhaps you’re looking for a more traditional citation, as in garnering a mention or appearance on television, radio or within a print magazine like this one. If so, using the HARO (HelpaReporter. com) service from Vocus or the Cision media database may be just what you need. Seeking to establish yourself as an expert and willing to speak at industry conferences? Platforms such as SpeakerFile or SpeakerMatch may just do the trick.

‘Net Advertising

There is certainly no shortage of opportunities to spend your advertising and marketing budget. Paid search, display, social — the list goes on and on. Advertising as a means of acquisition is expensive, but with the amount and depth of control over these paid promotional campaigns today, more and more digital businesses are considering digital advertising as a practical and measured approach to acquiring new website visits. And the savviest are thinking “mobile” first.

Kenshoo’s 2012 Global Online Retail Holiday Shopping Report indicated that the average paid search cost-per-click (CPC) rate increased 11 percent year-overyear (YoY) to $0.48. In many ways, advertisers are being effectively priced out of the market, but that doesn’t apply to mobile. Ad clicks through mobile devices have historically been far lower. This is good news for enterprises looking to acquire visitors with a local presence or larger organizations that can act locally. There is also a noticeable increase in mobile activity. According to Kenshoo, 2012 saw a rather sizable increase in the number of mobile clicks. Mobile phones, according to its analysis of 24 billion paid impressions, were responsible for 20 percent of all clicks. That’s impressive no matter what way you spin it.

E-commerce retailers specifically may be surprised to discover that some of the most valuable traffic they can receive comes not from traditional sources, such as comparison shopping engines or affiliate referrals (although both are undoubtedly effective), but also from coupon sites including RetailMeNot.com, Coupons.com or CouponFollow.com. What is compelling about using these networks as sources of traffic is that users have a specific intent in using them for saving money and discovering merchants and product sellers. The coupon vertical should not be left out of the traffic acquisition strategy and in some cases your brand may already be participating.

Will You Be Found?

More opportunities are present to promote your website and drive new visits today. Yet marketers today must consider the role their relationships play in each and every potential interaction, including adding a familiar face on the SERPs with the use of author tags, promoting a brand offline with non-digital consumers in mind, establishing connections with old and new media, leveraging affiliate/performance marketing, and even opening up your wallet now and again to consistently drive awareness and visits.

What’s unique about the Web of today is that the community of Web worker share the same opportunities to drive websites visits and have their enterprises found. Failure to look at the Web as an opportunity reliant on positive relationships will ensure you’re never found. Take the necessary steps, many of which are included here, and you will be found.

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:: Create a local presence wherever you want to do business. Get a local phone number. ::


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