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Best of the Web In Focus

Posted on 12.13.2012

No Web worker sets off down the virtual road to digital success with the expectation that their Internet presence will be mediocre at best.

Instead, you’d be hard pressed to find one who doesn’t anticipate becoming a premier digital destination — one that controls a majority share of voice or is a well-known and dominant market provider. Although those who expect this overnight are in for a wakeup call, there are plenty of enterprises who have achieved this level of success. These companies provide an experience that meets or exceeds the expectations of companies and consumers alike, which isn’t an easy feat.

Fortunately, for the Web savvy, there are proven tactics and techniques that can lead a company to eventually accept its virtual trophy. It starts (and ends) with the Digital Trinity: Acquisition (and retention), Analysis (and optimization) and Reliability.

Take a look at your own industry vertical. The top-10 digital companies in it undoubtedly provide a reliable infrastructure and maintain a high level of performance within their software applications, they are also masters of customer acquisition and retention through a variety of promotional channels, and they continually work to understand the user experience in order to optimize conversions. In other words they, knowingly or not, understand and implement the Digital Trinity. AT&T certainly does, and in 2012, they proved it.

“We’ve made several enhancements to att.com as part of our continual improvement of the online experience for our customers,” said Phil Bienert, Senior Vice President, Consumer Digital Experience for AT&T. “Upgrades to the site design and technology have made it easier and faster for customers to get what they need, whether they’re shopping, managing their account or needing help.”

Take AT&T’s upgrade to its content management platform, which allows the company to make faster updates. It not only revolutionized how AT&T launches new services and offers, but also helps them stay ahead of the competition (e.g. for a recent device launch, it was the first of its competitors to have its merchandising online).

AT&T also uses every promotional opportunity at its disposal to retain its 100 million-plus users. “We have a dedicated team who responds to customer questions or issues on Facebook, Twitter (@attcustomercare), in forums or any other social site,” said Bienert. “We want to be where our customers are and help them in whatever mode of communication they prefer. We also listen to what our customers are saying in social media. We look for trending issues or feedback, and we immediately make adjustments.”

As for acquiring new customers, AT&T has a sophisticated lead-generation program, using both paid and organic traffic channels and specific tools ranging from social media to CRM.

“In designing and purchasing media to drive traffic, we apply data to make the message relevant, optimize the message and campaigns regularly, and balance our spending to be in market when the customer is (seasonality) and on the device they choose to use (PC, mobile or tablet),” said Bienert.

There’s clearly much work that needs to be done to reach AT&T’s level. Is it out of reach? It isn’t if you focus on acquisition and retention, analysis and optimization and reliability.

Customer Acquisition & Retention

The Web’s top brands understand that customers lay at the heart of their business, which is why these companies are constantly developing and testing new strategies to satisfy their existing clientele and bring in new prospects. While this is a task easier said than done, staying up to date with the ’Net’s evolving technologies, channel-specific developments and emerging destinations can help marketers ensure that their brands are easily — and nearly always —found by their current and prospective digital customers.

The only way to obtain a larger customer base, of course, is by increasing or enhancing visibility. This can be achieved in a variety of ways (many of which you’re likely currently using) including search engine optimization, email marketing (more on that later) and, of course, paid search advertising.

Paid Search Matters

Launching a paid search campaign through platforms like Google AdWords or Bing Ads (or through one of the numerous other second-tier providers, including 7Search and Bidvertiser) ensures that a brand receives a prime spot on the search engine result pages (or in the case of the second-tier providers, where Google and Bing are not) without all the virtual back-breaking work required with organic optimization.

Paid search advertising isn’t only for digital enterprises. It’s also a valuable tactic for local brick-and-mortar stores, as the growing popularity of mobile devices has resulted in more consumers leveraging their smartphones to search for, and find, nearby businesses while on the go. Businesses that are being found in the local SERPs are, undoubtedly, a step ahead of the competition.

The Art of Display

Although staying atop the search results is certainly one of the best ways to acquire new customers, the Web’s most successful brands also gain visibility through a variety of other tactics, including display ads. These promotional campaigns not only attract consumers’ attention, but can also bring previous visitors back to their Web properties.

For example, Website Magazine’s Web 100 features beauty commerce provider Ulta, which leverages the services of Rise Interactive for its digital marketing initiatives. One of the most impressive services that Rise Interactive provides Ulta is a display retargeting campaign that includes look-a-like retargeting. This type of retargeting strategy identifies what the profile of a typical buyer looks like and then displays targeted ads to similar people around the ’Net. This helps Rise Interactive get better traffic to Ulta’s website, according to Rise Interactive CEO Jon Morris.

“What we are really doing is making sure the ads that the consumers are seeing are extremely relevant to them and are exactly what they want to see,” said Morris. “So we have a much higher conversion rate.”

Social Advertising & Acquisition

Many businesses have also found success in launching display campaigns on Facebook. In fact, an early 2012 comScore study revealed Facebook as the largest publisher of U.S. display ad impressions, which is undoubtedly the result of an easy-to-use platform leveraged by small and large businesses alike. Facebook’s ad offerings enable marketers to reach consumers through a variety of formats and segmenting options, which include demographic and interest-based targeting options.

Aside from using Facebook to launch ad campaigns, the world’s most popular social network is also a valuable tool for retaining current customers. This is because businesses can leverage Facebook, as well as other social sites, such as Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, to connect with their fans. While it is easy to get caught up in posting promotional status updates on these sites, it is important for brands to keep their social profiles conversational, because fostering relationships with customers is the best way to create brand advocates.

Never Miss an Email Opportunity

While the aforementioned customer acquisition and retention strategies are valuable, businesses should not overlook reaching their customers via email. Email can be leveraged to deliver promotional messages, as well as to advance customer relationships by moving them (over time) through the purchase funnel. For example, an e-commerce retailer can create an email campaign to target customers who abandoned their shopping carts or reach out to those that have repeatedly visited, yet never purchased. These tactics not only increases the retailer’s chance of gaining conversions, but also creates a personal relationship with that buyer. In fact, email marketers can boost their engagement and conversion metrics by simply segmenting their campaigns so that the addresses on their lists are receiving personalized and relevant messages.

The acquisition side of the Digital Trinity is what generates the most discussion, typically, but if you’re looking to improve the digital experience for your brand and its customers, look no further than analytics.

Analytics & Optimization

Analytics tools have come a long way. As the Web rapidly changes, these solutions add more features, capabilities and, in some cases, entirely new categories of metrics to help companies receive a more complete picture of their performance and, hopefully, to identify better methods for improving their marketing practices to increase profits.

Generally speaking, marketing and analysis are the front and back engines, respectively, that run a business, but it’s safe to say that the marketing teams tend to get the most credit. After all, they’re the ones responsible for bringing in customers and creating the “brand identity” that makes the company recognizable. However, while marketing may be sexier than the more behind-thescenes work of analyzing and optimizing campaigns and programs, it is definitely the latter that provides the most value to a Web business.

Close the Loop with Analytics

When everything is said and done, the absolute best companies are those that are able to objectively monitor their performance and adjust their practices accordingly. This allows businesses to “close the loop” of their campaign cycle by optimizing their initial approach and marketing efforts based on the insights they are able to draw from analysis. And though this is not exclusive to the Web, thanks to a wide array of available tools, studying your successes (and failures) on the ’Net is a relatively simple task.

Primarily, these tools or platforms are beneficial because they allow companies to build analysis right into their digital strategies. This means that the information gleaned from their examination can be used to make realtime alterations with immediate impact. They can establish which aspects of their campaigns they want to monitor and utilize their analytics solutions to focus on those particular areas and metrics. This is near perfectly exemplified in the industry excitement around marketing automation platforms, which provide a unified solution for marketing departments to understand results in a holistic manner (learn more in Website Magazine’s “Marketing Automation in the Digital Enterprise” from the July 2012 issue).

Metrics & KPIs

In recent years, the sheer number of different page elements and metrics that website owners can test (and eventually optimize) has grown considerably. Of course, there are always some that have consistently remained important, such as call-to-action buttons, navigational menus and sign-up forms (among others). Common metrics like click-through rates, time-on-site, page views and bounce rates are also (likely) future proof.

With the addition of numerous new channels and ways for users to interact with a company and its website, those options have expanded and now include mobile, local and social media-related metrics, and a handful of others, as well. For instance, it is now necessary for brands to test the performance of their mobile websites across a variety of unique devices. To do this, find an analytics solution that can segment the analysis of a mobile site by device type. It also means adjusting to incorporate social media traffic and the myriad benefits those channels bring. You can read more about studying social traffic at http://wsm.co/QXXINS.

As with all forms of evolution, the next step is always unpredictable and will likely come as a surprise to even the most seasoned of veterans. You can always count on the best Web analytics solutions to be those that are able to adapt to the new metrics and insights that these new channels present.

In your personal quest to become one of the Web’s best, it would serve you well to pay attention to those solutions that many of the businesses profiled in the Web 100 are using. You’ll find that many of these companies are using either the wildly popular (and free) Google Analytics platform or Omniture SiteCatalyst, but that doesn’t mean you should rule out other worthy services like Woopra, ClickTale, KISSmetrics, etc.

Infrastructure & Reliability

Most Web workers don’t often consider the role that a reliable infrastructure plays in their digital success. Yet, few things matter more to a Web businesses’ long-term sustainability than accessibility and reliability. The role that an “intelligent infrastructure” (meaning one with redundancies built in) plays simply can’t be overstated. So, what should a Web business consider when analyzing the reliability of a hosting provider?

When selecting a hosting partner, online professionals must consider and analyze the reliability of the provider’s infrastructure, which is largely dependent on the technology as a whole, as well as the organization and management of the datacenter. According to 1&1 Internet’s Kelly Meenaghan, “If either of these parts is unreliable or insufficient, the infrastructure in its entirety would have a drastic, negative impact on a website professional’s online success. It is important to evaluate everything a Web host has to offer when it comes to choosing an online solution. A thorough investigation into each element will provide confidence in the security of their work on the Web.”

Meenaghan suggests that one of the most effective elements of a dependable infrastructure is redundancy technology, which houses website data on two separate servers. Redundancy can even be taken further with dual-server technology, which places the two servers in separate geographical locations. Under this scenario, the hosting of data and applications immediately switches to the backup server mirrored in another location (should there be necessary maintenance or unexpected downtime). Once the dominion of large companies, smaller companies can now afford the security of this innovative next step in data-loss protection.

Data security and stable uptime should be priorities for all Web workers and hosts. If a Web host is taking the necessary steps to provide a highly secure, intelligent infrastructure, its users can rest assured knowing their online work will be optimally supported, uninterrupted and consistent. 1&1 has recently released a new product in SnapShot, which confirms the company’s commitment to providing a reliable and accessible infrastructure for its clients. Snapshot enables customers to take a virtual “snapshot” of their server configuration and database, which can be restored at any time and proves quite useful for those testing new software.

Best of the Web

Hopefully, you believe in the Digital Trinity. It’s not only the foundation of Website Magazine’s upcoming Web 100 Guide, but also why the biggest and most successful brands have earned their respective positions. It’s not an oversimplification of what it takes to excel on the Web, but rather a guiding principle for information publishers, service providers and Internet retailers to live by in today’s highly competitive digital landscape.

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