Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Search Engine Land + A Decade of SEO

There is no doubt that Search, specifically SEO, was my first love and entry to digital marketing. When I started my MBA thesis in 2006 the 1998 Tim Berners-Lee concept of the semantic web caused me to view it as a disrupter to replace to the Yellow Pages. I saw this as being accomplished by semantic programming language on websites aided by emerging mobile phone technology fascinated me.

What seemed like sci-fi marketing tech futurism at the time, is possible now. Through advancing in content tagging (rich snippets) and artificial intelligence, we're seeing a preview of of a different type of marketing. A smarter type of marketing.

Keith Hanks MBA Thesis (2007) Cover Providence College. Thesis titled, "Non-Traditional Marketing Impacting Multi Collaborative Networks"

Recently Search Engine Land featured an article, 8 ways SEO has changed in the past 10 years. It was a trip down memory lane and caused me to dust off the old thesis remembering an example, about how local search for pizza restaurants, would look in the future.

  1. The rise of content
  2. The death of link schemes
  3. The reshaping of local
  4. SERP overhauls
  5. The rise of the Knowledge Graph
  6. Mobile prioritization
  7. The soft death of keywords
  8. Update pacing and impact

#3, "Local Search" as a vocab term was not listed in the thesis, and would not become common terminology with marketers for several more years. This was just as much triggered by advances in algorithm sophistication, new taxonomy portals to document local listings online, and arguably by a decline in traditional Yellow Page industry revenue.

Source: Keith Hanks 2007 MBA Thesis (pg 58)

What's the next decade hold? In my opinion the innovation will have challenges duplicating the last decade. Instead of pure technology advances I predict we'll see growth focused around HOW the tech advances of today, or rather, the last few years, will be applied and democratized from big budget brands down to the SMB markets.

While that sounds exciting, there's a catch... sophistication. For upwards of two decades we've enjoyed the prospects of a high school student, and at times, a middle school student, being able to help a mom and pop business with digital technologies such as websites, and other marketing disciplines. While technical emersion will happen at a much younger age the idea of being able to 'read a few books and blogs, then create something' is going to have a much stiffer barrier.

Search is a much more mature industry today, and it appears to be shifting into two directions. The first is an integration with more traditional copyrighting and content disciplines. The second, is much more technical and programmatic. The later is white collar today, but very easily can become more vocational, the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians of our generation.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ready for AI Marketing 1.0? Mapping Out Programmatic Basics

Many marketers find themselves 'chasing' the next thing, when really, the ingredients for a satisfying frittata are right in front of them. (image:

Those close to me know I love metaphors. For all my marketing friends that are also foodies (aka lots of them), this post is for you!

Dish: "Keith's Programmatic Marketing Frittata"

Overview: Inventory the media in your 'marcom fridge' -- preheat the oven to 350 -- ready a prep board and a few oven skillets.

Serves: Several hundred - to - several million guests

Directions: on a clean surface lay out your ingredients. Since each frittata has different ingredients use the following guidelines to prepare.

  • Wash and tenderize in-house SMEs.
  • Using your analytics team, apply ROI effective vendors to a "customer journey mixing bowl." 
  • From your strategy team, take marketing architecture, including APIs and connect them into the same mixing bowl. Don't be nervous if it looks like a mess right now, we'll fix that in a second. 
  • For the right color and texture, consult with your creative team. Don't be surprised if they are little busy and suggesting not just "A" list of ingredients, but also want to test a "B," "C," or even "D" for a multi variant culinary experience. 
  • Lead nurture with a whisk until ingredients blend. If e-commerce, don't be afraid to add a dash of cart abandonment -- the recipe will have a better chance of converting your audience, in addition to having them often returning for a second helping (or more). 
  • Brush a thin layer of butter into the "executive sponsor cooking pan." When buttering up the pan, you don't want to be too greasy, or use too little and risk burning. 
  • Plate & Serve **
** Don't forget the mobile app experience! When serving the frittata each guest might want to eat it differently. Some will eat at their desktop, others on the run and prefer a mobile experience.

Takeaways for AI: Marketing tech continues to grow in complexity, often at a much faster pace annually than what teams can implement. Like a frittata, look for items (techniques, media, etc) that compliment each other. For a frittata to be great you don't need an entire serving of each ingredient, you just need to connect the ingredients together. 

What did this recipe do? Essentially it mapped out by hand, programatic marketing could look like if automation was applied. That's the key lesson, there's no one recipe. Before you can think AI, you'll want to test the recipe out, make sure the tastes blend, and the guest experience is great whether eating at a traditional table (desktop), or on the run (mobile web and/or mobile app experience). 

As always, play to your strengths as a 1.0 baseline. Not all the ingredients will make sense together; some may be almost lost sitting in a pantry, where others might be fresh, but perishable. Within your SMEs, vendors, and data, seek additional ways to get more. Look for overlaps in how data is captured, stored, queried and usable for actionable messages. 

What do you think? Any other recipes, marketing, or else wise, you'd like to share?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Black Friday for Political Email Marketing

A post about balancing 1st amendment rights, ISPs and direct mail ROI.

Fun exercise. Look at your personal email(s) this morning + later today. Because today is 9/30, thus the last day of the month and quarter, many of your are going to get a spike in political emails. 

Question is, will you see them in your inbox or will they be sitting in your spam folder?
I'm referring today as "Black Friday for Political Email Marketing," because political campaigns FEC fundraising data they'll need to report on, and the race to 11:59pm is both a sign of a campaign's strength, and much needed infusion of cashflow needed for the remaining weeks before the November election. 

Inbox vs. Spam: For campaigns having an email go to a person's inbox versus spam is a night and day difference. A message not being delivered, or being delivered to spam could be an indication of an individual's preferences and past email behavior with the sender. Read on...

Balancing 1st Amendment Rights; Email vs Classic Direct Mail:
Like many communication teams when done correctly email has a tremendous ROI. This is especially true when compared to expensive mail pieces physically mailed to homes (even factoring in bulk mailing cost reductions). Direct mail does have one advantage, if you send it, the USPS will very likely deliver to a person's mailbox. Doesn't matter if you're sending to as many people as possible, or if the content is mudslinging, the 1st Amendment protects you. 

While the 1st Amendment allows you to do the same in email, the guarantee it will end up in an inbox is not guaranteed. It may end up in a spam folder. Unlike residential mail, there is not second mailbox the USPS sorts your mail into that acts as the equivalent of spam folder for emails. 

Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL Treat All Marketing Emails Equally:
This is a blessing and a curse. For the consumer, this provides protection. For starters they can hit the spam button on any message. This is bad for marketers. For example if a person with a email address hits "spam" other messages that marketer is sending to other email addresses have a lower chance of being delivered. Send a message that doesn't resonate, or is unsolicited, and the odds of this activity occurring grows. There's no option like this with physical mail, and no repercussions if the consumer wants to stop receiving such messages. 

Because ISPs such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc treat messages the same, the rules other marketers must abide by also apply. Doesn't matter if you're a bank sending monthly statements, a retailer sending weekly sales, or an online casino. For political campaigns this means the same best practices need to be followed. Examples include, ensuring the recipient has opted into your email (wants to receive messages), has an ability to unsubscribe (typically a link in the email's footer), and the frequency of emails is active enough to keep the political campaign's sender reputation strong, but not so frequent that a ISP flags messages as spam. 

Challenge for Campaigns: Email is about balance. Think of a high performance engine, you can increase the RPMs and power to a point. With some enhancements to the engine, you can push the RPMs further. Eventually you're going to either add on some additional engine enhancements, else you risk blowing the engine if the RPMs go to high. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road, and campaigns do not want crucial emails for fundraising and local appearances ended up in spam. 

Bigger is Not Always Better:
The size of a large email database only has value if it was grown organically. These recipients signed up, and gave approval to get messages. However, not everyone interested in a candidate signs up, and communications a campaign might want to send to a person's physical home may not have an email address associated with it for follow ups. Two ways additional names are typically emails, list rentals and what I'll call "mysterious thumbnail drives"
  • List Rentals: These recipients may or may not have opted into your list. Often these emails are sent third party, about your candidate, on behalf of another respected politician. The benefit is these lists, in theory, are well-maintained and have an existing relationship with the email recipient. Assuming the message is on point, and the recipient likes both the sender and your candidate (subject of the email), effective results will follow
  • Mysterious Thumbnail Drives: Remember the 2014 election? What about 2008? Injecting old names (variety of sources) that align with your candidates party is a tactic that occurs often. In situations where a campaign has a 3-5 month window before a primary, getting large organic lists where people opt in is a challenge. Here's the problem, besides the fact an opt-in didn't occur (protected by the 1st Amendment to email, but not typically allowed within an ESP's Terms of Use), that thumbnail drive isn't likely current. The emails on there might have been valid in the past, but there is no certainty they are valid today. If you send emails to accounts that haven't been opened in significant time (ex person abandoned the account, died, etc), the ISP may view you as a "spammer" and penalize other sends. The way you combat this is having enough opens and clicks elsewhere in the list to balance. 
^^ going into a bit of a gray area in the above, but that's the pragmatic answer that balance 1st Amendment rights, Terms of Use of ESPs, and quality expectations by ISPs.

Running email for a political campaign is hard. It's often a several month contract through a primary with an opportunity to continue if the candidate wins. That's not a lot of time for innovation or sophistication at the candidate level. Think back to the engine RPM example. Grow the program, find the upper limits, don't overheat the engine, and make enhancements when appropriate.

Back to the original scenario. Last day of the month. You're going to get a lot of email from candidates. Did you get the email in your inbox or did it go to spam?

If spam, do you know why, or how to fix it? 

I do :)

Follow Me: @KeithHanks

Keith Hanks has an extensive digital marketing background with lead generation and e-commerce websites. He regularly presents to various V-level and C-level executives. He has worked with retail, professional services, home services, financial services, legal, hospitality, healthcare, technology, and entertainment. Keith has an MBA from Providence College and a Bachelors from Bryant University with dual majors in Marketing and Computer Information Systems. All opinions expressed are his own.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Post 140 Twitter World

Will lifting the 140 character limit allow for more robust user experiences? Yes. Will it be the type of move that shifts significant ad dollars to Twitter? Maybe.

Via theverge.comBeginning September 19th, the company will cut down on exactly which types of content count toward the platform's 140-character limit. Media attachments (images, GIFs, videos, polls, etc.) and quoted tweets will no longer reduce the count. The extra room for text will give users more flexibility in composing their messages.

If you hold Twitter stock, the news has your attention. If you're a marketers, you're wondering what to do next.

In Time for the Holidays: 
While those aren't months away, this is one of the busiest periods for marketers. Media plans, strategic approaches for the 2016 holiday season and budgets for 2017 calendar year are being discussed. Twitter could win big if it can shift juuuuuust few dollars from current social media into Twitter, or tap discretionary marketing budgets in reserve.

Personally I like this move. As Twitter has matured, enhancing a tweet has been challenging because of the characters absorbed from incorporating such functionality. This update, in theory, should make Twitter more compelling, true to the initial mission of micro blogging and able to stay ahead of the times enhanced media within social posts. Helping further will be trend towards larger screens to consume content.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Hillary Clinton's 9/11 Health Scare United the Country

Sunday 9/11/16 started with a very divided country, by evening the country was united. It wasn't the memory the day -- it wasn't a particular speech -- it was the images of Hillary Clinton, in obvious distress, being rushed in a van pulling up. 

On a 9/11 the country seemed the least united in memory, the politics were put away for legitimate concern towards Secretary Clinton's health. Previously health concerns and rumors had been brushed aside. Depending on which ideological you held that would be the likely a predictor of how you felt about the topic. In the moment many saw that video ideologies ceased and the country was perhaps one of the most united in recent 9/11 memory.

The seconds in that short video are very humanizing. Most of us will never know how hard it truly is to be part of these 24x7 campaigns; the minute by minute timing, the list of obligations, and the challenge to connect with as many people as possible. What we saw here is what it looks like what that limit is reached, then crossed. 

This reminds me a bit of the 1914 'Christmas Truce' during WWI. For those not familiar this was an unofficial ceasefire on the western front of The Great War. French, British and German troops put down their arms, crossed the 'no man's land area' of the trenches where they spoke to each other, shared food, and even by soccer. 

In the hours after that video predictable pundits salivating for 'gotcha moments' didn't treat it as that. They treated it as legitimate concern towards an advocacy. While often clashing politically they want to win on the field of ideas, not see their opponent rushed away like that. Maybe for these pundits it was a reminder of there own health challenges. 

An Opportunity for a Lesson
If there's a reason I'm particular empathic is because I watched the news clips that day from bed. I had been pushing myself in the days and weeks prior, nothing that I felt was a gray zone. 

My social media post on Saturday, 9/10/16. 
Spent 9/11 laying down. To say I could relate to Secretary Clinton is an understatement. 
Maybe had a few warning signs, but still thought I was safe. I wasn't. Things escalated in the hours after posting this. It took me a few days to bounce back. 

If I was advising Secretary Clinton, I would humanize the video of her getting into the van as much as possible. Almost everyone has had a situation like hers, but not everyone had it seen by millions of people. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

3 Business Lessons from the Start of WWI

WWI is an interesting war. Fought between 1914 - 1918, its somewhat glanced over in U.S. History classes. Maybe this is because we didn't join the fight until April of 1917 with the war ending 1.5 years later in November of 1918. Maybe its because the war itself is just so darn confusing.

Got 7-min? Check out The Outbreak of WWI on YouTube.

Seriously, through a series of alliances of "who has whose back," WWI is a power play of countries using this backup to take things too far.  As promised, here' those 3 Business Lessons from the Start of WWI.

1) What 'Team' Are You Aligning With?: Business can get highly political at times. It can be hard to stay neutral, and sometimes you're pushed to pick a side. Like a high school lunch table, having such an alliance can be beneficial. It can also cause problems (see #3). It's important in business to not only know IF you want to align with someone, but ALSO whom else that person is aligned with. Is it someone that you would also align with? Are they the exception to the alliance, or are you?

2) Consider Bias In Opinions Speaking: German generals were nervous about the growth of Russia's rail system. Given a few years, a strong rail system combined with Russia's endless population of potential soldiers could cause trouble. These generals wanted a proactive war in 1914, thinking not doing so would cause doom in coming years. The population of Germany disagreed and generally didn't want war -- life was good at the time, a good portion of the population was socialist and anti-war. Germany was an industrial powerhouse and the center of learning for Europe. In the coming years London would take over this position.

3) Sometimes You Need to Call Out Your Friends: Austria wanted war baaaaad. They tried 20+ times prior to the assassination of Assassination of Franz Ferdinand. This is why the outbreak of war likely is confusing, Franz Ferdinand is a scapegoat. Post assassination Austria-Hungry gave Serbia a list of demands -- total of 15 -- some that made sense, others designed to provoke the situation further. An example being Austria-Hungry demanding trials in Serbia (their land) with Austria-Hungry overseeing. Lunatic request. Not agreeing to this gave Austria-Hungry a reason to declare war. Demands were easier to make because they knew Germany would have their back. Ironically an hour before war was declared, Germany expected the issue resolved without war because of what Serbia agreed to. The lesson, Austria-Hungry knew it could be unrealistic and extended itself because Germany would have it's back. We've all got friends like Austria-Hungry... sometimes blind alliance is a dangerous thing. Good reason to require a 'heads up' from your friends before pulling you into something like that.

What is so fascinating is the domino effect that alliances can have and what happens when friends call in favors you never thought possible.

Alright, back to business lessons from WWI. Reflect on someone you don't always get along with professionally. Is it a different of opinion, or are they your Franz Ferdinand?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Email Marketing Budgeting Cheat Sheet

For most companies there's hidden ROI waiting to be found in 2017 Email Marketing Budget Allocations.

Innovative. Game Changing. Transitional.

^^ These are all terms that should come to mind when you think about your 2017 Email Marketing Budget. I've long written the tools available to marketers are years ahead of how they are being used. That's a good thing. 

For most companies there's hidden ROI waiting to be found in how they allocate their 2017 email marketing budgets. Here's a cheat sheet of items to review and consider.
  • Current KPIs vs. Future KPIs: YoY stats are a marketers friend. It makes for a nice visual to senior management and provides logic for email campaign decisions. There's a problem, what if some of those KPIs are outdated to measure success? 
Easy litmus test, if your organization places a premium on email database list size, pause. Pause because the names at the top of the list need to be cherished, and understood. The names at the bottom of the list, beyond pumping up the size of the email list, may provide no incremental value -- and in some cases might even create challenges delivering your message to the high value names at the top of the list.
  • Campaign Effectiveness: Invest in understanding how your email program functions in the current state. From email acquisition paths, to segmentation, to automated email messages designed to 1) improve customer journey, and 2) provide a lift to your KPIs. Consider allocating a percentage of your budget (and team's time) to email campaign audits, strategy development and testing email creative.
  • Integrations (in-house): Related to personalization consider what data you have in-house on an individual. How is it keyed? Example would include email address, customer ID, etc. Now think back to your full email list... How is this in-house data being used with the high value top of the list email addresses? How can it be used better? When possible make this data bi-directional. Yes, we want to have this data incorporated into the email campaign -- we also want the meta data associated with email interaction being shared back to these in-house data sources. Invest in strategy and whiteboarding customer journey enhancements with various stakeholders. 
  • Integrations (3rd party): Whether you call it omni-channel or multi-channel, today's Email Service Providers have a wealth of flexibility with integrating with 3rd party programs. If there isn't a widget, plugin, or application available to configure between the 3rd party and your ESP, there is likely an opportunity to use the ESP's API functionality to architect such connections. The term "API" makes some people nervous, don't let it. These integrations will bring your data to a new level and allow for better client brand interactions. It can also take a process that is burning lots of $$$ and/or manual hours to complete and make it automated -- both a great long term investment, and a chance to free up time in the day-to-day to focus on other performance opportunities within the campaign.
  • Deliverability: You sent X-number of emails, Y-number opened it, and Z-number converted. Many organizations are too weighted on X and Z. Worse, many are taking on more risk than they may be comfortable with, boosting X-number of sends up knowing it'll produce a higher Z-number of conversions (though with diminishing returns on the additional emails sent). What's missing, Y-number opened. Invest in auditing and understanding Y-number opens. Understand not only who is opening (automated + personalization opportunity), but how the opens are performing across the various ISPs such as Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft (Hotmail, MSN, Outlook, etc). This is the least sexy part of email marketing (see 2016 Email Deliverability Trends We Can't Ignore). View it like an insurance policy -- allocate budget here to hedge for a rainy day. If you have pressure to send a massive email to X-number of people, fight for this type of insurance. That big email a month from now could cause people the following week with a Gmail address to not get your email (not good for Z-number of conversions for those emails). Invest in auditing your email lists, confirming email authentication is present and proper DNS records are in place. Also confirm the leading spam filter companies not blacklisting your emails (whether for past sending reasons or false positives). Again this more like insurance, think ROI hedge -- heck in certain cases this can be viewed as an IT / Security budgeting item and not a marketing budget item.