Ideal Web Technology

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The idea that the human body is a model of perfection has existed for millennia, originating in ancient Rome as an architectural concept and continuing to live on through numerous forms of art, mathematics, philosophy and religion. Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic drawing, The Vitruvian Man, is easily the most famous representation, as it illustrates how the human body fits neatly into the perfect geometric forms of a square and a circle to create an ideal whole.

This ancient theory has not been lost on history’s most successful business leaders, who have built their organizations out of a series of flexible, moving parts that work in sequence with one another. This holistic approach is particularly important to the success of today’s Web businesses, whose independent entities rely on the very latest technologies in order to achieve their goals.

While the rapid rate at which today’s Web technology is developing provides business owners with countless benefits, it also presents significant challenges. Built to make our lives easier and our businesses operate more efficiently, new Web technologies can be difficult to master and even harder to keep up with — sometimes counter-intuitively disrupting the synergy of an organization and sabotaging the overall goals of your Web business.

For that reason we have identified some of today’s ideal Web technologies. Over the next few pages we highlight some emerging technologies that Web workers should follow closely, as well as some of the evolving solutions to increase performance, lower costs and improve the efficiency of an organization.

Whether your Web business is a single-page website or a large corporation with dozens of sites, it is reasonable to assume that you are selling products to or providing a service for customers, and that the body of the organization can be divided into two parts: marketing and development. We can then separate the marketing unit into three additional parts: search marketing, email marketing and social media marketing — the three most effective Web business applications for marketing your product or service.

Now, with a clear objective and all of the individual parts out in the open to see, let’s take a look at some of today’s ideal technologies that may help drive your Web enterprise to perfection.

SEARCH MARKETING

No community of Web professionals has endured more upheaval during the past 18 months than search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) specialists. Google made over 500 changes to its search algorithm in 2010 and is on pace to surpass that in 2011, keeping the SEOs of the world on their toes if not pulling out their hair.

“This last year has been the most volatile in the history of search,” says Prashant Puri, co-founder of search marketing firm AdLift. “As users continue to go onto multiple platforms and not just the desktop anymore, the search engines have to adapt and make changes to provide for a better experience. Google alone has introduced personalized search, real-time search, the Panda update and Caffeine in just the last year — it’s the largest number of changes they’ve made in their history.”

And for the foreseeable future, at least, Google still sets the bar for the rest of the Web — especially when it comes to search. What the company has done over the past year and a half has set it very high from a technological standpoint as it strives to provide a better user experience and tries to claim some ownership of the social media space. The results thus far have been beneficial to the SEO community and the Web as a whole, continuing to drive new innovations in a number of areas.

One of the oldest but most important technologies that will be mentioned in this article is that of retargeting or remarketing —the ability to serve highly personalized, display advertising to past website visitors based on their very specific interactions. Though it has been around for several years, retargeting has not come close to reaching its potential and companies that offer the technology such as Criteo and Google promise forthcoming advancements that “will make remarketing even smarter, faster and more dynamic,” in the words of Google Ad- Words’ Dan Friedman.

As it applies to search, today’s marketers have the capability to retarget users who have previously searched for their company, brand, products or targeted keywords. They can do this not only for users who have visited their own sites but also for those using keywords on search engines. Google and Yahoo both offer retargeting capabilities for marketers, as do many advertising networks including Dotomi, FetchBack, ReTargeter and others. The value, of course, is that search retargeting allows marketers access to the most highly targeted and motivated consumers that have already shown interest in their product or service; and the future of retargeting looks to simplify and amplify that process.

Another Google technology that has been around for several years but is only beginning to impact the search marketing picture is voice recognition or voice search. In July 2011 the company added voice recognition to its Web searches for desktop users utilizing Google’s Chrome browser, and followed that up in August by adding it to Google Maps — also limited to Chrome users. These users now have the option of typing in their search queries or simply speaking into microphones on their desktop or Android devices.

Voice search is clearly a strong initiative for Google as the functionality aims to enhance the user experience — certainly for poor spellers and otherwise limited typists — for desktop and, perhaps most important, mobile queries. Forward-thinking marketers will want to prepare for a day when voice recognition becomes the standard method of mobile search, if it does not overtake the keyboard altogether.

Google has also been instrumental in the technological development of the real-time Web, creating demand for innovative SEO strategies from real-time marketing software companies such as Optify and others. Optify’s latest suite of technology allows Web businesses to access instantaneous analytical data so that they can know what keywords are generating the most leads, see what channels and activities their visitor traffic is focusing on and optimize their pages accordingly, all in real time.

EMAIL MARKETING

In a May 2011 report entitled “How” U.S. Marketers Use “Email,” vice president and principal analyst of Forrester Research Shar VanBoskirk concluded that, “To get more out of email programs, marketers should invest in analytics, implement device detection, focus on relevant content before employing rich media and incorporate social media into their email programs.”

Not surprisingly, much of the technological focus within the email marketing space is aimed at measurement and tracking, mobile communications, interactive email and social media marketing. After a wave of highly publicized data security breaches in the spring of 2011, the best-known of which involved multichannel marketing firm Epsilon, protecting subscribers’ personally identifiable information also sits high on the list.

With regard to email security, Proofpoint has emerged as an industry-leading provider by utilizing some of the latest technologies in spam and phishing detection, cloud deployment, advanced data-loss prevention and compliance capabilities. In August 2011, the company announced that it was receiving new email security customers who were leaving McAfee for Proofpoint at a rate of one per week. During the course of 30-day evaluations at a major university and retailer, the Proofpoint solution detected 2,000 phishing and 600,000 spam messages that slipped past McAfee’s Ironmail solution.

New analytics technologies are also becoming increasingly important to email marketers, and top firms such as MailChimp and Contactology offer integrations with both Google Analytics and Salesforce to provide extremely detailed reports on the number of opens, forwards, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes, top-performing links, spam and more.

With the influx of mobile users today, device detection is also becoming an increasingly important technology in which marketers can track their emails to the specific devices being used by subscribers, measure the recipients’ engagement and adjust their campaigns accordingly.

As email marketers strive to incorporate more social media into their campaigns, a few additional technological developments are gaining a lot of attention. Hotmail, the world’s largest Web-based email service, announced in July 2011 its support for HTML5 video. Video-in-email presents significant advantages for marketers in that it eliminates some of the steps in the conversion process and it gives the recipients more motivation to share the messages and less reason to abandon them.

Several email marketing firms are testing Hotmail’s support for HTML5 video, and it appears that video-in-email is headed for the mainstream — if not for another year or two. For marketers with products or services that depend on a platform such as video and want to act right away, video-in-email solutions provider Liveclicker has its own technology that detects the recipient’s browser and email client in real time and serves up a compatible version of the video — and that technology is being widely used right now.

A final email marketing technology to be aware of is burst email delivery, which in the case of email solutions vendor StrongMail and has found a nice niche serving many of the daily deals sites that rely on the high-speed delivery of millions of personalized emails. StrongMail’s high burst-rate systems are free from the performance limits often encountered with traditional email service provider platforms, allowing businesses to send that kind of volume in minutes rather than hours.

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

It has taken marketers several years to fully understand the importance of and opportunities within the social media landscape, but for the most part today’s Web businesses are all using it in some capacity. That landscape is changing, however, and while the earliest marketing technologies for the social Web were focused on sharing and helping businesses build their brands, we are entering a new phase of social media marketing.

“Fifteen years ago when we were all developing our first websites,” says Diane Buzzeo, CEO of Ability Commerce, “we were doing it so that people could find us and call our 1-800 numbers. Now we have social media to let people know who we are and engage with our brands, and the next step is turning social media into an actual revenue-producing shopping experience.”

Buzzeo’s company has one of the most innovative technologies to achieve that goal, having released its virtual Facebook shopping cart to a handful of e-commerce clients in August 2011. Unlike other Facebook shopping applications, Ability’s virtual “floating” cart allows users to place multiple items in their shopping carts without ever leaving Facebook, but if they do leave the site the items in the cart follow their movements from Facebook to the Web store and vice versa.

“The key is in making those products stay in the cart,” says Buzzeo. “We were adamant when we developed this that we did not want to interrupt that social experience when people are shopping. Facebook doesn’t have a shopping cart or a checkout, but this is a cart that follows you to Facebook and back while preserving all of the items you selected while on Facebook.”

The final piece to the puzzle, says Buzzeo, due for release in October 2011, is an analytics solution that will tell merchants using the cart exactly which placements were made while the user was on Facebook. This may be the second most pressing technological issue for social media marketers behind searching for viable revenue-producing social commerce solutions — measuring and analyzing the volume and ROI of a business’ social interaction with users. To date, no notable industry standards have emerged.

There are numerous players in the social media analytics space, with noticeable differences in technologies, pricing and service. Radian6 is one of the best-known solutions for larger enterprises, as are Buddy Media and Sprout Social, while Postling, HootSuite and Argyle Social are equally popular and worthy choices for smaller and mid-sized businesses.

Most feature analytics only as part of more comprehensive packages that include social media management, customer engagement, social customer relationship management and other services, which may be one reason why we have not yet seen a game-changing analytics technology rise from the pack. Of the most recent entries into the market, the 2011-launched TwentyFeet is a very affordable social statistics aggregator that allows users to monitor accounts from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Analytics and others to see how key performance indicators are developing over time.

Gigya is another strong option for enterprise-level organizations, though it has been around for some years. The Software as a Service technology integrates online businesses with the top social networks and optimizes each implementation to deliver some of the most measurable social media tracking available today. Gigya’s technology is the choice of corporations such as CBS, Fox Sports, Intuit, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Turner Networks.

“It’s a real gateway into the social media scene,” says Chris Hauca, vice president of commerce solutions for digital marketing firm Acquity Group. “If you want to plug into all the social sites, you build an integration into their API and they take much more of an activity-based approach to their analytics than other solutions. While others in the space are more concerned with measurement and monitoring, Gigya gives you a real ecommerce- ish, actionable view into the type of activities that are taking place.”

As in the areas of both search and email marketing, fierce competition within the social media marketing space will only serve to drive technology and foster innovation. As it stands right now, the next big breakthroughs are likely to be in the areas of social commerce and social analytics, so be watching those spaces particularly closely.

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