Today’s question is, do I really need a blog? It comes from Stacy in Naperville, Illinois. I do not have any detail about her specific business challenge, so I will answer this in kind. A vague question. I can give a fairly detailed yet vague answer because I’m just that good. Just kidding you.
The big caveat I want to add here, Stacy, is, if you’re talking about doing this for yourself, you’re going to blog and you’re going to write and produce the content for your blog, versus are you asking this question because you’re thinking about hiring somebody or a marketing firm has suggested that they produce a blog for you, the answers are basically the same.
Now, as far as time is concerned, you’ll hear me talk about that a lot during this answer. As long as you understand that if someone else is doing it for you, it’s obviously not your time, that needs to be considered. However, your money and your resources then have to be considered.
The other part of that is, can they represent you properly? Can a third party represent you properly in a blog even if you are paying the money? Is the money that you would spend on a marketing firm providing that service to you worth the value of having a blog? If you really wanted an answer for your specific situation, I would want that little piece of information there.
When you hear my answer from here on out, just take that into consideration, that if you’re doing it for yourself, it’s your time and your talent that would go into creating your blog. If you’re paying someone else to do it, you need to consider, “Can they do it in my brand likeness or essence well enough?”
Anyway, do I really need a blog? The short answer is, it would be ideal if you did have a blog. The reason I say that is because there are situations where given your day-to-day business operations, it could be difficult to keep up with a blog in a meaningful manner. If that’s the case, there may be other things you can do and spend your time or money on that would be more beneficial.
Also, can you do a good job at managing a blog? That is not just a matter of time, but can you write in a fashion that would be aligned with your customers?
Now, people who are running small businesses, oftentimes, have very intimate relationships with their customers. That means that they can speak their language and that they do understand their audience. Therefore, they can speak directly to what it is that their customers are looking to learn from them or understand from them.
Where I draw the line on some of these things is, A, if it’s going to take away from you being able to actually conduct business, then I would say no. B, if there are other ways that you can acquire new business that are either less expensive, less time consuming or what have you, I would also recommend that you could do those things instead of a blog.
Here’s the thing about a blog, a blog has a lot of prongs to it. When I say that, what I’m talking about specifically is that you do one blog post, and it can do an awful lot of work for you. If you put a blog post out that addresses one of the more common questions or one of the more common concerns a potential customer may have, that blog post, not only answers that question for your most common customer, it answers it for anybody who’s got that same question. There’s a high likelihood that your company and your blog post could be found when somebody is searching in your area for that same information.
A blog post gives you more content on your website, which boosts Google rankings. It also splits out your information in a manner that the more specific the content of your blog is per topic, for example, if you have a dog grooming website and you did a blog post on one specific service. In fact, you could break that even down further. A dog grooming service that you do that maybe there’s a specific type of dog that’s a particular challenge. If you did that, or you knew that there was a lot of a certain type of dog in your area, you could kill it with a single blog post or two. You can do one generally on that particular service. Then you could do another blog post on that service specific to that dog. Those things will rank really well in Google when somebody is looking for something that specific.
Yes, you should be doing a blog if you can, and if there aren’t better ways for you to acquire new business or to inform your customers.
Let’s talk a little bit about your blog post. You can check out an episode that we have, it’s just 10 minutes long. It’s on SEO. It describes how you can set up a page so that you get better rankings in Google, Yahoo, and Bing. If you follow that 10 minutes’ worth of information, you’ll just do better and every blog post you have will actually serve some purpose in being found when people are looking for your product or service.
Now, the other thing that you can do that is spectacular, it also generates content, also gets SEO, is there are all kinds of different ways that you can do a blog. You can write one, meaning you can type one up and add it to your website as a new post or new page or you can do things like what I’m doing right now. You can do a podcast if there’s not a ton of visual to what you need to do or you can do a quick video on what this service is like or what your product is like.
If you do a video, imagine that you can have great compelling content on your website in the form of a video that is SEO relevant, it is relevant to what your customers want. An extra boost in SEO is compelling content. The search engines deem video as compelling content. If you just have video on a topic, you’re going to get bonus points from the search engines. People will be able to find that content a little bit easier.
There’s a great story in a podcast that I have with Robert Rose, who’s a content marketing expert. He talks about a construction worker who does remodeling and things of that nature. He always has to report back to his clients at the end of the day. He just started doing videos. He just started walking around the house saying, “I did this, I did this,” and showing them the work, show them how he did the work if that was necessary. In just a few minutes, he was done doing this thing that he didn’t like doing before, which was writing up an email to tell them all the work that he’d done. I think the same could be true for a lot of businesses.
Some of this is going to boil down to your level of creativity, your level of comfort, and doing it the way that would best suit whatever it is you’re trying to sell: your content, your product, your service. One way or the other, I would try to figure out how to do a blog. Again, not in a manner that then negatively impacts your business, but if you can put the content out there and figure out a way to do it, I would say that a blog’s benefit far outweighs the pain in the butt that it is to maintain one and to keep adding content to it.
If you have any other questions, Stacy in Naperville, feel free to further explain, go to the website, you can email me directly at [email protected] You can go to the website and fill out forms. Thank you again for your question.
Cale Guin: As I’ve worked through the marketing industry, I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people. My goal is to bring you the small business market or operator the cream of the crop through this podcast, the best experts and authentic approachable providers so what types of marketers are out there? Today’s guest is one of those marketers that’s both an undisputed expert and an authentic approachable provider. His name is Andy Crestodina, a co-founder at Orbit Media Studios. Today we’re going to discuss website analytics and what to pay most attention to. First, let’s get to know Andy.
Andy Crestodina: My name is Andy Crestodina, I’m one of the co-founders of Orbit Media Studios, a web development company started 20 years ago here in Chicago. We build all kinds of sites, B2B B2C for some great brands here locally and companies all over the country, actually. It’s a team of 40 and I’m basically a digital strategist.
Cale Guin: Great. You’re listed as the CML, but you guys focus specifically on websites. Is it fair to ask you questions and to get real marketing goop from you as well?
Andy Crestodina: Please, yes. That’s what most people want to talk to me about.
Cale Guin: Oh, great. All right. How did you get to this point in your career? Talk about high school. When did you get interested in tech and all that stuff?
Right after launching the very first sites we did, I realized I need to better understand the analytics. I need to understand search optimization. I’ve done 20 years of website planning, SEO, and analytics going back to the precursors prior to Google Analytics. I’ve done 15 years in content strategy, blogging, email marketing, social media, influencer marketing, all that good stuff.
Andy Crestodina: Good for you. I remember it was like websites had a skip intro button, there was
connecting flash to a database, give you superpowers. It was like it’s so rare and so cool. You could do anything. We made CD-ROMs stuff, we made museum kiosk stuff. It was all like lots of training stuff. Today obviously it’s just search-optimized, conversion-optimized, lead generation B2B sites.
Cale Guin: I got to be honest with you, this what I’m about to say may not make it into this podcast, but there’s so many things that I want to talk to you about because your background and some of the videos that I’ve seen you in there’s other topics. Website analytics is a very important thing and a lot of small businesses really struggle with that so I want to focus on that today. There are definitely some content marketing things and some SEO things. Your company seems to do a great job, very well, very buttoned up. At least you look like, what you’re doing, and quite frankly, everything that I’ve seen and read, it seems you absolutely know what you’re talking about.
Andy Crestodina: That’s the idea.
I’m learning every day but I’m certainly trying.
Cale Guin: If people were out looking for someone who does what you do, why should they choose you over all of the other options that they might have?
Andy Crestodina: There’s so many options too. The barrier to entry to do what we do is virtually zero. We build websites, websites are free, depending on how you’re doing, websites can be built. I built a website once while drinking, with one hand, while drinking a beer. A friend had sent me a Word document and asked me to put together a site. I used Wix. The range of costs and complexity varies widely. The range of expectations and features in what’s possible varies wildly. It’s a really fun and challenging industry to be in. We have a reputation and a pipeline and partly from SEO for ourselves. People contact us all the time. Last year we generated 900 leads. A lot of these are people that just know us as being able to build sites that will, for example, preserve their current rankings. It’s not hard to imagine how a website redesign can actually tank a site’s rankings, you move things or you miss pages or you rewrite content in a way that makes it less relevant for search. They know that we’re very, very good at visitor psychology. Our process for interviewing our clients, clients, understand their buying triggers, why they do buy, why they don’t buy that where we can construct pages that have higher conversion rates.
Our job is to build sites that attract visitors, qualified visitors that convert a greater percentage of visitors into leads. The people that find us, there’s lots of banks, lots of software companies, lots of associations who need and can afford and get great ROI from 50,000 plus projects, we do 50 to 60 of those a year.
Cale Guin: Nice. I’ll say there’s a couple of key components for people who are going to be listening to this, that they should pay attention to. Not just the conversion part but this idea that you guys only do websites is a very key thing here because I think that it seems attractive that I can go to this marketing company, and they can do everything for me. As a person who has worked with probably 50 marketing companies throughout my career. Very closely, I can assure you that of those things, there’s not many that they’re excellent at. The website, in my opinion, is an overlooked thing today because of social media and all these things that they think that they can be seen on. Why do I need a website? The fact of the matter is, all of that should go there, the website should be your center cog. We’re going to talk about that a little bit more as far as analytics are concerned but those are some key points that I think people need to take away that you are absolutely right. You’re different in that regard because everyone, in fact, in the recession, one of the reasons why I became a consultant was, geez, everybody can do this stuff now. It’s all free. It’s all right there, you can click a button and have all these things that we used to have to build by hand.
Andy Crestodina: That’s right.
Cale Guin: It really is a great answer. What do you strongly like about your job or industry? What do you strongly dislike about your industry?
Andy Crestodina: I grew up working in restaurants. I’m a service industry guy. I got educated in college to be a teacher. I love teaching. Those are things that I just like to do, I like to work with people, I like to listen, I like to help. I like to be hands-on and jump in– This morning, I was in two different analytics accounts, helping two different companies with major issues. That was fun. I’ve had a great day just because of those two calls. Every day is different, and every day is a challenge. Every problem involves people. I really enjoy that. I think one of the hard things about this and makes it and eventually, I think people risk burnout is that there’s always another person that you have to go back and explain the same things to it. If you’re on the agency side or on the service provider side, we’re not really like an agency to your point, we’re a web design company. As a service provider, every project has a new team member, that’s the client. The things that you explained the last time, you have to come back and understand where they are and bring them up to speed on this thinking again.
For example, the benefits of using descriptive navigation labels, the importance of a keyword-focused h1 tag, the risk of having colorful social media icons, the fact that visitors don’t mind tall scrolling pages. There’s so many little things that you have to keep going back to the research, understanding where they’re coming from but going back to the research and helping bring that next person along. I think the brands had marketers don’t have to deal with that as much because their teams advanced in their skills move up the learning curve. Now everyone around them is that that next level. When you’re a service provider, you have to make sure you bring each client along with you through the thinking. Which, if you don’t love teaching, it’s a problem. One of the things that you said before too, that you teach your clients about their audience. I heard you say that you interview their customers. I have to say that in my experience right now, so I’ve been working for a company almost exclusively for about the last four years. They were a client of mine, and I just jumped right in as almost an employee. What I’ve noticed over the years is the real marketing part of what we do is gone by the wayside. Nobody’s really paying attention to market research and what are the customers really think. We think we know, we think that if we go to where everyone is there, there’ll be. To hear you say that you interview those people and that you’re bringing your customers along through helping them, you manage things as they go forward is key.
I can’t believe that the examples you brought up because those are far more complex than I would have thought. One of my struggles back, when we used to develop websites, was once you turn it over to the client, this beautiful web design. After time, doesn’t look so beautiful anymore because they’re adding images and they’re adding things and they don’t know aspect ratios and all those types of things. A year into it, it’s like, “No, I don’t really want anybody to know that we did that website,” but you’re going in and explaining to them the real functionality of getting people to buy in when they’re there, regardless of what the aesthetic looks like. Kudos to you.
Andy Crestodina: That is the game. If you think about, in one word, what must a website do? Answer. The visitor comes gets the truth. One way to think about it is this, there’s a true story in the life of every visitor, to every webpage. That visitor arrives, they have information needs. The job is to first meet their expectations by satisfying those information needs. What questions do they have? What is the order of the questions that they have? Now, without understanding that, how do you even make a webpage? It’s a crazy idea. You’re just like, “Make it all just like we love us. We’re number one.” That’s not why the visitor came. The job of a great webpage is to emulate a sales conversation. When you interview the reps and you interview the audience, you end up understanding, these are the objections that must be addressed, these are the questions that must be answered. Now, while they’re there, we want to inject into their field of vision, evidence, and proof, and reasons to believe otherwise we just have a bunch of unsupported marketing claims, but if you don’t do that qualitative research, I don’t know how to make a webpage, a website or a homepage or any page.
Cale Guin: I find even marketing companies don’t really do the research. They should do the research and they’re just out there going, “Oh, you need an app and you need to be on social media.” It’s confounding and very troubling to a certain extent, however, I will say that over since I’ve been doing the podcast and interviewing good marketers, I’m finding that many of them are in a good spot. You still know where the tough spots are, but there does seem to be more of a wave toward genuine help for the consumer and that’s great.
Andy Crestodina: Glad to hear that. Empathy, data-driven empathy, that’s the job. Empathy based on data. If you’re doing that, if you embrace that, that perspective you are poised to get great results from marketing.
Cale Guin: We’re going to get deep into that in a minute, but I’m just going to ask you one more of these questions about you. Tell us about your favorite professional experience, maybe a wild success, or a failure that you overcame? Looking back over the 20 years that you’ve been doing this or longer, give me a favorite?
Andy Crestodina: This is a challenging time because we’re still in the COVID era for a little while longer, at least. I always wanted to have video testimonials on my site. I’ve said many times that video is the ultimate format and that testimonials are the ultimate type of content. To combine those two things and get those on the site always felt like a missing thing for me. During COVID I still set the goal of trying to get some video testimonials and during the process of reaching out to clients post-launch, I found that many of them are happy, even in an era when they’re worried about masks. Many of them are happy to sit down with a video producer and actually– my friend, Tony he’s from Milwaukee, he goes and meets with them. People saying yes, to do video testimonials from us during COVID. I am honored by that. That is a career highlight for me to go back, to see the video that they made, just to talk about their experience with us.
That has been one of my greatest professional, most rewarding moments and professional triumphs is to have people willing to sit down with someone in front of a camera with no mask right now and speak about us in that way it’s humbling.
Cale Guin: That’s great. Great answer. I’m really impressed by that. Let’s start talking about analytics. We touched on it just a minute ago when you’re answering some of the questions about yourself, but when we’re talking about analytics, one of the most attractive things about analytics is that you can track just about anything and most people are looking to track their ad performance and those types of things, but there’s a lot more to it. If you’re a small business, what’s in your opinion, the most beneficial part of analytics and we’re going to get into right after that, and how can they take advantage of that?
Andy Crestodina: Yes. People should really ask this more because most businesses are small. If you’ve got a low-traffic website, there’s still your insights you can find analytics very quickly. One of them is hiding in plain sight. It’s called the navigation summary. If you go to the– The reports are organized ABC, acquisition, behavior, conversion. That middle section is the behavior reports, which is what people did while they were there. The behavior site content, all pages, you’ll find all the pages on your website that have been visited during that date range.
Cale Guin: We’re talking specifically about Google Analytics here?
Andy Crestodina: Google Analytics, yes. Capitol A. If you go to a page like your homepage and you click on the navigation summary tab, which people often miss, you can see exactly where people went from your homepage. In other words, you can see the performance of your website navigation.
Cale Guin: Right. That’s key. I think people miss that, there’s this idea of let’s put this most important thing here, and then fill in the blanks with a bunch of other stuff. It really does come down to walking them through a journey. Right now, as I talk to you and as I was researching some of the things prior to doing this, I’m realizing that I’m the cobbler’s kids with no shoes. I haven’t paid attention to any of my own stuff. I put some things up there’s for credibility sake, and I knew what I wanted to do, but I don’t have any content yet. I got to start building everything back up again. At some level to hear somebody say, “Yes, don’t forget to walk them through the whole–” Basically, the sales funnel of getting to know that you have some information that they need all the way through.
Andy Crestodina: Yes, just the very common, big things that don’t get clicked, little tiny things that get clicked by everybody. You can design what you want to design and you could just pick the navigation labels that you want and you can write a call to action. In the end, every idea that you had was really just a hypothesis. Until you go in and look, you don’t know if it matters, if you called it services or if you called it something else, what page in which section it’s super common for the top click from someone’s homepage to, in fact, be some small hidden click, like in the third drop-down halfway. Check the navigation summary. Even if you have a low-traffic site, you’re a small business, you will probably immediately get ideas about things to remove or things to change, things to make more prominent.
Cale Guin: Really, the decision is this. When you see that, is this what you want to have happening? Is this what a customer would really want to be experiencing, and then make adjustments based on that. As you say, that’s the job and people don’t you’re right. Google Analytics, when you go in there, it’s so wonderful. It’s like your kid in a candy shop. All these great, but by the same token, on the other side of that, it’s overwhelming. Even today I just set up a Google Analytics account and it’s completely different than it was even six months ago.
Andy Crestodina: Oh, yes.
Cale Guin: When you go in there, it can be a little overwhelming. What are the basics? Tell us the navigation summary is something that you say to pay attention to, but if I’m looking to say, am I doing a good job of providing a service or selling my product? Give me the top three? Like navigation summary, what are two and three?
Andy Crestodina: Well, probably just the acquisition channels report. You can see which of your channels, which source of traffic is bringing the most visitors, and the visitors who are most likely to be engaged with the content. That is probably one of the top. Those two reports, the behavior site content, all pages report and the acquisition channels, all channels report. Those two are– If I was going to be trapped on a desert island with only two reports with me, I’d bring those two, almost everybody. I think what helps it be less overwhelming, you can jump right to those and you don’t have to click around. There’s like 100, there’s so many reports in there.
Cale Guin: Then they’re all drillable. [crosstalk]
Andy Crestodina: Yes, you just keep going down this endless rabbit hole. I would say that one of the most useful perspectives to bring with you when you open analytics is to think, “I’m here to get an answer to a question about marketing performance or about visitor behavior or about the effectiveness of a campaign or something.” That way you’re not just clicking around. I rarely do any reporting. I don’t think reporting is necessarily very useful. In fact, reporting doesn’t affect marketing outcomes. It doesn’t affect business outcomes or impact. Reporting is just chart analysis and action affects marketing, affect outcomes, and the impact. Go in there with a question. I’ll give you some questions you can quickly answer with a few clicks in analytics. Our visitors from social media, more likely to be on phones, yes or no? How much more likely? Visitors from which traffic source are most likely to become a lead? Which of my pages is the most likely page from which people leave? What percentage of my visitors are taking action and filling out the contact form?
Do those tend to be visitors with certain attributes, as in, are they coming from a certain place or coming through a certain page? Which of my ad groups is the biggest waste of money? If my goal is traffic, should I even be using Instagram? You can answer each of these questions. I’m going to say, five clicks max for the answer to each of those questions. Now, go take an action. Now, go adapt your marketing. Now, go reallocate budgets. That’s how we’re supposed to be using it for analysis.
Cale Guin: You make a great point with, “Look, Instagram is not really doing much for me.” There’s two ways to look at that. It currently is not doing much for me. Is it something I’m doing wrong with Instagram? It does open up a few questions there, but it is an important aspect of deciding what you should be spending your time on.
Andy Crestodina: If something’s not working, you got two options. You can quit or improve.
It’s not like you should quit those things. Not necessarily, to your point. Thank you.
Cale Guin: It’s funny because I’ve gone over this with a number of clients, that you can’t be everywhere. You literally can’t and the likelihood is you probably shouldn’t. You should be really good in the areas where your customers are most comfortable and where they should be. That offers you the tools. Twitter, a lot of people complain about Twitter because it’s so limiting with the characters and what you can put in there and it’s fast. The cycle of Twitter is just a million miles a second. A lot of people complain about that. However, the people who are there are the people who are there and those people do that. They’re used to that rhythm and they’re used to that whole thing. Certain types of people, NASCAR fans, which is an odd group of people, but to call out, not that they’re odd, but as a group of people, they’re all on Twitter. It’s a weird thing, but there they are.
Andy Crestodina: There’s great reasons to use social media or to be active on a network beyond website traffic. Social media is not the best channel, generally, for attracting visitors. Conversion rates from visitors into lead from social media tend to be low. I can give you, social media is great for networking. How do you do PR without social media? Social media creates social proof. Social media is a listening tool. Social media is a content promotion platform. It builds relevance. You can become influential. There’s definitely more to life than website traffic and analytics, and there’s lots of reasons to use social beyond dumping clicks into a social stream. It’s more than just that.
Cale Guin: I feel like I’m always the guy trying to talk people out of social media. I know that people are looking at me like, “Don’t you like social media? What’s wrong with you? Are you old or what?” No. It’s just like you said. It has its purpose. It can inform people at a top level, but it is usually a top-level marketing process. You’re informing them of a thing but that thing isn’t probably going to be, “Sign up to buy my widget.” It’s usually a bit more complex than that.
Andy Crestodina: It almost always is. I’m active on social media. I work hard there. We put a big research piece out yesterday, and I didn’t want to miss the chance to promote it the best I could because we spent 40 hours making this giant, research, blogpost survey. I decided I’m going to promote this thing on social media. What’s the best way to do that? Well, Linkedin is where I get the most traction. What type of posts would give me the best results? I’m going to make a video? What helps the video get better traction? Adding captions.
I’m taking 20 minutes to make a video, a one-minute commercial, basically, for people to try to come, see this research piece I put out. You can bet, I’m going to add a campaign tracking code, which is another gap. People fail to add campaign tracking code to measure the performance of a link. I haven’t checked it yet but I can come in here and look and tell you exactly how much traffic was generated from that one social post and what the engagement was.
In its ability to attract visitors, this one here brought in 118 visitors. How many newsletter subscribers? Zero. [laughs] That was the effort. I spent 20 minutes. I drove 118 visitors to the website, and none of those visitors happened to convert into subscribers, but I measured that. I know the impact. I can accurately weigh the pros and cons of that kind of time investment.
Cale Guin: There is a likelihood that those 118 people may not have known about you before. There’s value there, but you didn’t get to the goods right there.
Andy Crestodina: What you find, it’s a long funnel.
Cale Guin: It is a long funnel. One thing that I read in your book that I was so excited to see was you and I being in complete alignment about how analytics are not this exacting science. You shouldn’t really pay attention to it like that. It’s a gauge, it’s a benchmark. It’s how are we doing today? I’m pretty sure that there should be four of those, not three of those. Why does Google Analytics say something different than Google Ads? There’s a bunch of those types of things. I like to joke, just recently with the CEO, I said– By the way, dogs might bark right now because somebody is coming to the door. I joked with him, I said, do you want me to troubleshoot your inbox because you didn’t get an email from a lead that you thought should come to you? Do you want me to troubleshoot Google Analytics? I’m not really sure how I can answer your question. Maybe they went to the website through the link, but then came back later and didn’t use the link, and I can do that.
Andy Crestodina: Messy, yes.
Cale Guin: It feels a little bit like I’m doing the wrong thing. That being the case, talk about that in your experience a little bit and how we can avoid that trap of looking so minutely at?
Andy Crestodina: A time I find myself saying a lot when talking to clients about analytics is the point of diminishing returns. One of my calls this morning, it’s like, “Okay, COVID era begins, all their people are at home. We need to filter out traffic from our home addresses now the same way we used to filter out traffic from our office. We need to make IP address filters for everyone’s house.” I’m in their account, and they had 31 IP filters. They were set up in a pretty– there were some ranges. They were trying to like filter out ranges of IP addresses for certain people. It brought the point, there’s a point of diminishing returns trying to get ever more accurate data in here. You know of course that you’ve got a cookie consent button now because of GDPR and that not everyone wants to be tracked anyway. You can always use a cookie list like an incognito window if you want to test your site. In the end, just keep in mind, 100% of the numbers in analytics are wrong. There isn’t one single accurate number in there because some people don’t accept cookies. We’re not looking for 100% accurate data.
We are looking for accurate data in so far as we want to make a good marketing decision. That’s the point of it. I think there’s a personality type on a disc test if you’re familiar with, like the High C. They’re like data hoarders. They just want lots and lots of information before they’re comfortable enough to move. It’s a frustrating personality type for analytics because you’ll never ever get there. The point is not perfect accuracy. It’s sufficient accuracy to support a hypothesis, take an action, run a test, and make a decision.
Cale Guin: Even with the blocking of IPS. To me, that’s almost a useless thing anyway. They’re on there anyway. It’s just part of the analytic, so what? If you take them all off today, 30 people aren’t going to be registering on the thing, but if know they’re there–
Andy Crestodina: I know, they had 5,000 page views a day. It’s like, “How much are you– Is it 1,000 of those you guys?” You’re not doing anything like that. Having said that, we build websites for banks, as I mentioned. It’s true that a lot of visitors who go to bank home pages, just click to log in to their bank, online banking. That’s 80% of your visitors, [laughs] which is a problem. In those cases, to get accurate data about what your prospects, your potential customers are doing, not the current customers, but potential customers. Then you need to make a segment to exclude people who touch that button. Once you take out that 80%, suddenly, the conversion rate becomes meaningful when it wasn’t before. The bounce rate on the homepage becomes meaningful when it wasn’t before. There are definitely times in places where you take action to improve the quality of your data, but don’t make 30 filters to filter out each person who’s worked at your company because they’re on the site twice a day. You’d have to be an ultra-low traffic website.
Cale Guin: 80% of your traffic is your people.
Andy Crestodina: Yes, in which case, you’ve got bigger problems.
Cale Guin: I’m really glad I asked that question right now. I have to say too, when you do build a segment, which by the way, just to fill people in on that. It’s an ability to say that, don’t track or do track this group of people meeting some criteria. What I love about that is I get to look at the analytics both ways. I can see it. Okay. We know that this 80% are going there just to log in. Then another thing that we should fill in the blank on is when somebody logs in on a bank website they’re typically going to a different website once they’ve logged in. They’re not trackable anymore. You’re not watching through those analytics. I like to see, well, let’s just look at just the 80% that click the button, and did they do anything else? How long did it take for them to find– those are all really interesting things to look at too and am I making the login too difficult, too easy? Whatever are– I would also like to then compare that to the login success rate. Anyway, there’s all kinds of things that you can look at there, but segments are awesome and they’re fairly simple to set up for just about anybody.
Andy Crestodina: I’m glad you zeroed in on that because I spent 10 years in analytics before I ever even clicked on that thing. It’s the easiest click. It’s just right at the top of every report. It’s fun to experiment with. There’s prebuilt segments, for example, mobile. I can often look at an account I know their advertising, they told me they have a big budget for advertising. Just go to the– Add a segment for mobile and then go to the ad groups and see if the ad groups have drastically lower conversion rates from mobile. If so, you can save thousands of dollars in three minutes per month just by turning off the ads for mobile users. There’s so many easy wins that just the insight it’s not that common actually, but there are examples where the insight just leaps out of the analytics right into your face and you just know exactly what you need to do.
Cale Guin: Early on I think that that’s usually the case too. When you’re learning a lot more and when you made that point too and again, we’re not going to get to half of my questions today because you’re leading me in a lot of cool directions here. When it comes to building a website or doing any of those things, one of the things is that the job’s not done. The day the site launches-
Andy Crestodina: If it’s not.
Cale Guin: -the job is not done. I think people make that mistake a lot. We just did an episode on the failure rate of digital projects. Some people will say it’s in the 90 percentile and I’m like, “That’s because you’re looking at the wrong thing. You think that when your ad went out that’s the end of the project. It isn’t.” You have to test that. You don’t know how it’s going to– There’s a lot of work left to be done there. If you did all of that work and you got to the end of that you probably have a successful project, but it’s successful. “Hey, look, we’ve got a great new website.” Then a month later it’s like, “We’re not getting any more phone calls. We’re not getting any more leads. We’re not– .” Now it’s a failure. In my opinion that’s both on the project stakeholders and on whoever’s providing the service. That’s a project set up incorrectly in my opinion. In my opinion, it goes for a while, at least a while if not for the term of the website.
Andy Crestodina: I often tell people digital link is never drying. There’s no such thing as a finished website. Whatever it is that you made. It was all just as I said earlier like every idea is really just a hypothesis. Web design you’re making 100 tiny decisions. They’re all really just testable hypotheses. Let’s say you wrote a call to action. It said, get in touch and 1% of people on that page actually click it. I’m going to try something different. I’m going to say, “Ask us a question.” Try that as a call to action. Check the before and after, any difference in the click-through rate? No. That’s fine. Only one in four by tests tend to work anyway. What’s my next idea. You keep trying, keep experimenting. It’s not finished. Keep working on it.
Every action you take has an impact in the data. You know where to find that data. In that case, it was the navigation summary from that page shows the click-through rate on your CTA.
Just keep iterating because you’re going to hit a home run once in a while and then it’s not weird. What if your website is started generating 20% more leads. You’d have one of two options. This is not that uncommon. You have to either hire people or raise your prices because you’ve got way more demand now. What are you going to do? This is growth. It happens everyday brands all over doing exactly the things that you and I are discussing right now. You will hit a home run and you’ll see a 20% lift on either the traffic, also known as cheese, or conversions, also known as the mousetrap and you’re going to suddenly have more demand. What are you going to do? You’re going to grow. That’s the outcome [chuckles] we’re talking– That’s why we do all this stuff.
Cale Guin: It’s great that you bring that up because even in– I’m going to tee one up here before you when I’m done making this comment. The idea of testing all those little things like that is really important, but let’s just say I’m testing a thing. How many things should I try to test at one time given that one thing? Go ahead and you can answer that. This way it should be fun.
Andy Crestodina: You’re asking a web design company person and inevitably we redesigned a site and we changed everything. The URL structure changed, the design changed. Sometimes the brand got updated, all the headlines, all the calls to action, all the colors, all the faces, all the video, all the images, the copy is all new. We just changed everything. That was not a test. [crosstalk] That was resetting the baseline. A test according to like the tools would say, a test you have a specific variable, you’re changing one thing. Google optimize. You’re not going to be changing the whole page around. You’re changing an element of the page. We’re unbounced. You’re not making drastically two different layouts, two different calls to action, two different creatives. If you’re looking for the truth you should be testing one thing at a time. If you’re just trying to get a lift it’s not necessarily wrong to go change a whole bunch of things at once because you’re not an academic researcher, you’re not maybe going to be publishing your results. You’re just trying to make a difference. Go change whatever you want and measure the difference before and after, if you change more than one thing you might not know which made the difference.
Cale Guin: That’s always the trap. Of those things is that, if I didn’t do these, would it have been better? There’s a lot of unwinding you may have to do a few either knock it out of the park or nothing happens. It is just, test one thing at a time. It’s a daunting thing for people. I don’t think people like that answer, but it is, it’s a process. We really want to be good. It’s a process and you have to keep walking through it. I’m going to ask this next question and if you can answer this question for me this will be of the most successful podcast episodes I have ever done. The reason is, is because I nobody’s ever had a simple or concise answer that’s easy to understand.
Andy Crestodina: I’m really excited for whatever you’re about to ask. This is going to be great. I welcome it.
Cale Guin: A lot of what we do with analytics, even in Google Analytics is measuring our ad performance. We have emails that go out. We have digital ads that are out there. We have pay-per-click, we have SEO and social media. We have all of these platforms driving. Even if they’re driving traffic to our website, what if I now have TV? What if I’m having an awareness campaign versus a campaign to drive leads? How can I– Is there an easy way that you know over there that you can think of, or have done before to aggregate all of that stuff in a meaningful way to create a dashboard that a small business guy can take a look at weekly, monthly or what have you to just say, “How am I doing.”
Andy Crestodina: No. [laughs] Ultimately, no, because you mixed in some offline things which aren’t really trackable. There are inherent issues with the way that default channel groupings work in analytics. This is the acquisition all traffic channels report. In theory, it should work beautifully for this because that report will show you your default channel groupings which are the big buckets, search, social email, direct referral and show you the traffic levels and the conversion rates for each. When you do things like out like outdoor TV radio– Let’s say you do a successful TV campaign. Which traffic sources that affect? Direct. You don’t know anything about those visitors. When you add offline it all becomes very much an imprecise science because the internet is so open. People can type anything into a browser and just learn. That’s a big challenge.
Cale Guin: Let’s look at even just an awareness campaign where your conversions you’re just letting people know that there’s something there. There’s probably some analytic there anyway, but I guess I’m trying to say that it’s not as tidy as measuring a conversion. It’s hard to say that, what did this awareness campaign bring to me? You’re not going to know for a while. Do you have any ways of managing the lag and the things that aren’t an immediate win?
Andy Crestodina: Well, what I tell people who are looking for perfect attribution, that’s one way to describe it. People who want really exact attribution numbers and to know which effort led to which exact outcome, which lead that I get from which from which email I said, that’s really hard to tie back. Their standard for attribution digital is high and it should be high, but what were these people doing before the internet? They expect it to know the exact conversion rate from every direct mail piece, every outdoor billboard, every cold call, every radio ad. There’s no way. I think it’s an unfair standard to say that, even though that, now that it’s digital we should have perfect attribution. That will never be the case. How do you measure word of mouth from my most important sources of leads? I can’t tell you what the total number of people in society that have my company as top of mind and would refer, I can measure net promoter score. Sure. That’s helped. There are proxy metrics in these cases, one of the best ways to improve the reporting on this though for attribution is to make sure you’re using campaign tracking code. You send an email or like that one I mentioned I made a video for LinkedIn yesterday, and I know how many visitors it brought that’s because I had a campaign tracking code, use a URL builder, please for every campaign and every discreet specific action you use to drive people to the site, definitely put it through the URL builder, add some parameters, use that campaign tracking code link.
Cale Guin: If people don’t know what a URL builder is, it creates what’s called a UTM code at the end of your URL. It’s basically specifying what campaign, what source there’ll be a number of parameters in there. If you just answered like four or five questions in a form very quickly it just generates the link for you. Then you use that and that starts to track things for you and in Google Analytics, we’ll break that all out separately for you. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that answer. Now, when you say, tracking code, there are ways of saying on TV or in radio, go to our website/TV radio, or whatever the thing might be and that can show you something. What about in circumstances where I see an ad in, I see a pay-per-click ad. I click on it, I go to the website and I don’t do anything then a few weeks later I come back, I’m like, “Hey, I’m going to go back to that website.” I go direct this time and I now purchase a widget. How’s that track?
Andy Crestodina: Are you on the same device and that second visit? Then there are ways to track that there are reporting tools, Google Analytics doesn’t really do that, except it shows that you were returning visitor, but there are marketing automation tools who are famous for this. The day the visitor does take action. It will connect their tiny attributes of their visit, their fingerprints in a way. It knows that that person from that browser, that IP address visited the site in the past and that will connect to that back. In the reports, it will show you a Marketo or HubSpot or Pardot or something. It will show you that that person who took action that day, not just for purchase, but for downloading something or subscribing filling out a contact form. It now appends to that, all those previous visits, every, all the information they put into that form field. It will show, so there are ways to do that and that does give some insights, how actionable is that is a different question. How much do you need to know about how many times your visitors came before they subscribed?
If you have great marketing ideas that based on using that information awesome. Most people it’s even when you do have that information, it’s not necessarily as practical as you might think.
Cale Guin: Let’s talk about Marketo and HubSpot and those types of things. Are you a proponent of any one of them? Are you a proponent of just marketing automation in general? Where do you land on?
Andy Crestodina: My normal counter con counter-intuitive answer is that people tend to overbuy marketing technology. People spend too much money. People think that it’s about the tool. My friend, great speaker, Jay Baer says it’s about the wizard, not the wand. It really isn’t buying a marketing automation tool is not sufficient to getting great results. That should be obvious. Some of these tools will cost you $1,000 a month. People will get excited about the let’s take like content marketing, content marketing is the future. This is great, it’s the only marketing left, according to South Dakota, and I needed to do this. Therefore, I’m going to go start signing up for HubSpot paying $1,000 a month and then begin to write some blog posts like, “Wow, you weren’t ready for this at all.” Don’t automate anything until you’ve done it manually for a while. We generated, I might’ve mentioned, we generated 900 leads last year. I don’t use any marketing automation. I don’t get any content.
You don’t have to, if they’re not necessary, the risk is that you pay a bunch of money and then you start using it as if it was MailChimp thousands. People all the time, they pay $1,000 a month to HubSpot and they basically use it like MailChimp. You could save yourself $950 a month. [laughs]It’s just by canceling that and going back to MailChimp.
Cale Guin: I can’t even begin to tell you how refreshing it is to hear that. Now, when you talk to marketing companies, a lot of marketing companies have invested in HubSpot and Marketo or what have you. That’s what they push because it provides them all of that. Those resellers, they make money. They’re affiliates. I tell people all the time, you can do everything that those things are doing almost for free. You use something like MailChimp or what have you, you’re going to pay for the MailChimp part of it. You’re going to pay for that, just to do your email marketing anyway. Then there’s all the stuff that you get because you did that and it is very difficult. Again one of my challenges, this is the thing that I’m facing this all-new venture that I’m on is to– The podcast is called Totally Hyped in a sarcastic way because at some level they’re overhyping all of the things they sell. We have to stop looking at what we have to sell versus what’s going to work for your situation. In a lot of cases when we’ve touched on them a number of times in this episode you do’t know no right upfront.
There’s some work that needs to get done and some time that needs to get spent understanding exactly what’s going to work for your specific situations. Man thank you very much for that answer. That was-
Andy Crestodina: Well, I appreciate that. You didn’t drink the Kool-Aid but let’s stay objective. I think it’s– There were plenty of companies that get a huge value from it. One of the features people are enamored by is that idea of tracking back. Now you got to lead how many times do they visit but I don’t have an idea for that day. I don’t want to track anything that isn’t practical for me.
Cale Guin: You really want to know what you’re doing and what’s working, what’s not working, and if it is working or not working what do you do about it? That’s really at the end of the day, that’s where marketing starts to play a role. Not everybody can answer those questions right away.
Andy Crestodina: Right, last-click attribution is sufficient for most of us, knowing the last time they visited, where do they come from. That’s still helpful but to get more than that you might have spent 10 or 100X what you would have had to spend out of pocket from a marketing tool.
Cale Guin: I’m going to end on this one question. You were guiding, now small businesses don’t mean, no money. It’s just there’s either a few employees which is the stupid thing that a lot of people measure the size of business based on rather than income but regardless they’re going to have probably a small budget. They’re certainly not going to have all the expertise and access to all the resources. What would you say if you were talking to a group of small businesses start here and this is where you hope to get to?
Andy Crestodina: I wrote a post about this and it has a little diagram that says the number one thing to focus on first is your contact page because there were probably visitors on that today and if it stinks that’s the last link in the chain. Fix that one first. The next step, go backwards to the chain to calls to action that bring people to your contact page. The next step would be previous step behind that. It’s the sales pages that build enough trust and clarity through answers and evidence we talked about to give people the click to call to action on the contact page. Go backwards upwards through the funnel. This post has, it’s a little chat-
Cale Guin: Did you know I was going to ask this question because–
Andy Crestodina: No it’s been top of mind because it’s a really common thing, what should I do now. I said number one, contact page, number two, calls to action, number three, the service pages, number four the homepage. Then the above page I prioritize is the fifth. For number six go search for your brand in Google, that’s another one of your homepages, like give reputation issues in there. You don’t even get to click if you’re failing at that. That’s a link in the back that you’ll never see. Now start blogging. Write articles that support the sales funnel, write articles that salespeople will share with prospects. Then you go up to content strategy and you’re doing things like research recent times too. I think the very bottom of the funnel first because maybe people are on those pages today. Make a contact form sparkle your calls to action and your top service pages. Efforts there are literally 100 times more valuable to your brand than many of the other things that you can do on any given day.
Cale Guin: I don’t think that people listening to this are going to understand the brilliance of the simplicity of that answer. The reason I say that is because it’s never what you hear. You never hear that from typical marketers. You hear, “Oh you got to do this huge project,” and it really isn’t that. It really is taking care of the most immediate things first. Then go about your business. I cannot tell you how much I thank you for your time, Andy. I hope we can do this again because there are other topics that I want to cover. Analytics is something that I’m hot on right now but definitely content marketing which you have a great book out. Is there anything you would like to tell people about yourself that they could take advantage of or any events that are coming up, anything that we should be aware of?
Andy Crestodina: We have a bi-weekly virtual event called wine and web. It was a live event for 10 years and now it’s virtual but it’s still at 5:00 PM. It’s a wide event actually [laughs] but we get great speakers and I teach usually every other, so if you’re interested in that, that’s every other Tuesday, and I write an article every other Thursday. That’s my frequency, that’s all I do. Anyone that signs up, orbitmedia.com. If you want my best advice every two weeks. I send one email every two weeks. You can find it at Orbit Media.
Cale Guin: Well, thank you again for your time. It’s been great talking to you. I’m very, very glad that we got connected and we were able to do this.
Andy Crestodina: I loved this. Thanks, Cale. This was super fun.
The Original War of the Worlds radio broadcast
I wish I could have experienced War of the Worlds in 1938. I would have been fooled and probably peeved that I bought in, but something like this will probably never happen again. There was a lot of backlash for this Mercury Theater on the Air radio episode, but it solidified Orson Welles (Born in Kenosha, WI) as a star. I love radio, and listening to this is about as nostalgic as it gets. While it originally aired on October 30th as a Halloween episode, April Fools day seems like a great day to revisit. Enjoy.
Henry Ford once said, “Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.” When you have been in business for over a quarter-century, you have heard every possible way for prospects and customers to say – “I don’t have the budget,” or “I can’t afford that.” Heck, anyone who has ever started a business has said, “I don’t have the budget.” Or “I can’t afford that.” And everyone who has said it believes it.
The thing is, it is impossible to meet your goals or grow or even maintain your business if you don’t get the word out. Getting the word out – which requires both marketing and advertising – costs something. It will either cost money, time, or allocating employee’s productivity toward getting the word out – one could argue the latter costs time, money, and productivity. But, no matter how you cut it, even if you don’t hire a marketing firm, a social media specialist, a content creator, or even an uber-attractive marketing consultant, like me, your business will pay the price one way or another to get the word out.
There is an episode dedicated to the difference between marketing and advertising at Totally Hyped dot com. To sum it up for the purpose of this episode, let’s simply say that Marketing is the understanding of your marketplace – who your customers are, what they want, who your competition is, and where they are positioned. Marketing shows how you can fit into the marketplace – product/service, placement (where will people find it?), how your product, service, or information should be priced, and finally, how should you promote your product, service, or information – and that understanding ends in a plan or strategy on how you should present your business in that marketplace.
Again, I am over-simplifying, but advertising is using that information to promote your business. Everyone calls advertising marketing, and marketing rarely gets done by today’s standards. However, I can assure you that if you have no budget, your social media efforts, your word-of-mouth efforts – well, any effort you make toward promoting your business – will be less effective than if you had an unshakable understanding of your market and how your business should fit into it.
When advertising is done properly, you have a lot of experimenting and testing to do. That basically means, for the best results, you can do the market research upfront, or it will just take more time and more experimentation until you find the magic formula… either way, if you want the best results, you’re going to pay for this understanding with money, time or productivity.
Another thing I want to note here is that one company’s no budget can be wildly different from another company. Not having $50k of budget but having $20k is different than a business owner saying, “If I spend $100, I will lose my home.” Neither company can afford to promote their business the way they want, but one literally has no budget. Believe it or not, both are very similar challenges. The primary difference is the speed at which they will be able to achieve results.
Most marketing companies will shy away from either scenario, but I love this challenge and would gladly work with either company. We would simply work out details on how I can get paid when the company achieves the results.
So to recap before we jump in:
- There is no way to improve your business without promoting it
- Promoting your business is the advertising part of marketing and advertising
- Marketing is the plan that comes from understanding your company’s marketplace
- You must gain an understanding of your marketplace to be successful in promoting your business
- You will pay for that understanding before you start or as part of the process
- The challenge between not enough budget and no budget – is primarily in the time it takes to achieve results
Alright, enough of the setup. Let’s get into the meat of this episode.
There is this huge misnomer in today’s marketing industry. Over the last decade or so, there started a debate between two made-up terms that are quite misleading—inbound and outbound marketing. Inbound marketing is a technique where content is set up to build awareness and attract prospects when they are looking. The tactics used here are social media posts, SEO, Content Marketing, PPC, and such.
Outbound marketing is pushing your message out to where prospects might be, such as Trade Shows, cold calling, TV, Radio, or print.
Here’s why this debate is bullshit – inbound and outbound are advertising tactics that can be used in executing a marketing plan. The marketing plan should determine which tactics would be most effective, given businesses’ goals. The best marketing plans do not care about inbound versus outbound and may contain tactics that fall into both categories.
I can assure you that if you are a company that does business at a brick and mortar with local customers, I can outperform any social media campaign with someone dancing around in a gorilla suit outside your business. Great signage for local businesses can have the same impact.
I was working with a nationwide auto repair company—one of the locations put up a digital sign outside the shop that was on a busy intersection. I recommended running a message to “get a Free Oil Change for the next 10 minutes” a few times per week and let local media know a shop is giving away free oil changes – all you have to do is pay attention to the sign.
In short, to pit inbound marketing against outbound marketing is a complete misunderstanding of marketing. If marketers throw that BS at you, one quick way to save money is to fire or not hire them. But if you’re marketing in-house or marketing on your own – just know that your specific situation/marketplace, your specific goals determine the right tactic, not a marketer’s specialties or list of services.
The goal of marketing on a shoestring is to get results whether you don’t have enough marketing budget or you have no marketing budget.
Here are some advertising tactics that can be free, how to use them, and the pros and cons
If you have time, you are in a good place for marketing on a shoestring. You can set up foundational assets that will make promoting your business less expensive, no matter how much budget you have and no matter how aggressive you want to get. Here are the assets every business should have:
Online and offline businesses must-haves
- Easy to navigate and easy to maintain/add content website
- An organic email marketing list
- Networking capabilities – online or in-person
- Appropriate means of communication – phone, email, text, Zoom, for example
Physical location businesses must-haves
- Good signage
- Clean aesthetic offices, showroom, dining area etc.
- Good location
With the items above, almost any business can thrive in 3-6 months. As you build this foundation, it will pay bigger and bigger dividends with less and less effort. With the right plan, you’ll be working each step of the funnel
If your business is a local business with a physical location, fast turnaround is do-able. If you’re an online-only business, fast turn around is tougher.
Conversely, getting consistent results over time is more sustainable for online businesses than it is for the quicker tactics that a local, brick-and-mortar business can take advantage of.
If you’re in dire need of promoting your business to generate business – like yesterday, let’s start by remembering the life lesson haste makes waste. Like everything in life, if you need to take a shortcut, your options are limited. Of course, I cannot know each listener’s sales cycle, nor can I know what marketing assets you have, but let’s look at an easy example and make just a few assumptions.
First, I will assume you have a list of people that have done business before, and that list has email addresses or phone numbers.
I will also assume your product, service, or information is ready to sell.
Finally, I will assume our conversion is a lead, not a completed sale. Either your sale is completed online without human interaction, or salespeople are handling the closing process. Basically, I will get you good leads, but it is either on your salespeople or your store’s user interface to close the deals.
In this example of 100% free marketing – strike that – advertising, we’re going to increase sales, increase our reach and provide value to our existing customers in a manner that will drive sales immediately.
First, we’ll write a script that we can either use on a call or in an email. Include:
- Personalization: use their name and any reference throughout
- The story of what you’re selling and why
- The story of why it benefits them
- Call to action – Save now, Buy now
- Ask for referrals and incentivize. I like giving away things I would give away anyway or give away something of fair value for the lead.
Wait… what!? Send an email, make a phone call – what about social media? This isn’t marketing. This is a sales call.
This is exactly what marketing is! You can do the exact same thing on social media if you have the right audience.
I was once a guest speaker in a marketing class at a local university. The school partnered with one of the country’s largest supply company’s who leveraged the marketing department for a project or two each year. The company’s pallet recycling business was looking to increase market share. I asked what they were planning to do. They thought they would do some social media outreach and digital ads in trade magazines.
I asked if they had considered reaching out to the world’s largest Amazon distribution plant that just opened about an hour away. Call the facility manager and ask what they do with their pallets. The look on their faces was like – we don’t call people. We’re marketers.
Sales departments usually do cold calling. However, cold calling is a somewhat old marketing – strike that – advertising technique. If you think it doesn’t work, explain all the spam and scam calls you get on your cell phone. It has a negative vibe to it, but you can be sure it works, or no one would do it.
Plus, the caller had credibility from the company and from the university.
Just like you will have credibility with past customers.
If your goal is to sell stuff fast, this will work. I promise. If your goal is to feel awesome that you use social media, you don’t need my help. You can just keep reading all the over-hyped marketing BS and do that.
In the next episode of marketing on a shoestring we will look at building the best foundation for super efficiency and savings.
Another quick question today. We have Ahmed in Denver, Colorado. Ahmed’s question today is about social media. He wants to know, should I really be on social media? Now, this is a question that gets asked all the time. First of all, I want to make sure that I preface this answer by saying, if you do it on your own, it’s one thing, if you hire someone else to do it, there are other things to take into consideration.
I’ll just briefly say about hiring another company or hiring someone else to do your social media for you. The questions that you should ask yourself are; will they know my product or my service well enough? Will they take on my brand and my essence the way I want them to? Will they represent me the way I want to be represented? Can they answer questions when they come up? Can they be a resource for the people that reach out via social media? Those are all things to consider.
Now, I’m not going to get into that too much today, I’ll have future episodes where we actually talk to social media people who will handle social media for you. In my answer that follows, just be aware that there are basically two ways to do it; do it yourself, and to have someone else do it for you. Then make sure you’re taking that into consideration as you listen to my answers because when I talk about time and resources, it’s either yours or someone else’s time.
When it comes to resources, you may be paying someone else to do it for you. Those need to be considered when you hear the rest of my answer here. The simple answer is, it’s a great free tool, but it is time-consuming and it is much harder to break through than one would imagine. Given those barriers, I would say that it’s beneficial for most companies to be on social media. However, that comes with a huge set of caveats.
First of all, you have to be prepared to spend the time. In order to produce the content that will break through on social media, it’s going to be graphical, it’s going to be written word, it’s going to be a number of things. It’s also going to require a good deal of frequency, which means that you have to be consistent, you have to do it time and time again, you have to always be there. Some small businesses just can’t handle the workload.
Now, I’m not saying then just throw your hands up in the air and don’t do it. Your job is to figure out a way to do it, recording quick videos, recording a podcast like this, doing whatever it is that you can so that you can get that content out there without really disrupting your day or sitting down and writing. The writing process can take a while, you have to be a good writer. There’s a number of things there that you have to be prepared for and understand in order to decide whether social media is right for you.
Now, the social media landscape is littered with all kinds of abandoned accounts. How many times have you gone to somebody’s Facebook page or to their Twitter page or whatever the case may be, their Instagram page, and you see that they haven’t updated anything in a super long time. That just means that they tried it out and it didn’t work out the way they expected, there’s a lot of work, and they wound up just not doing it.
You have to come up with a process to be able to generate that content. This is going to be a recurring theme. Whenever it comes to content generation, you have to be prepared for what it takes to generate that content and it’s not easy. The idea that you can do a good job at creating images that people will look at and that will drive them to click and pay attention to you is difficult in and of itself.
Can you write? Do you know what the topics are? Do you know what a headline looks like? These are all things that you have to take into consideration. Again, I don’t want to talk you out of this, I just want you to be prepared that it is not as easy as it looks. You hear the stories of all these successes, but those are rare and it is a lot harder. There are a lot more failures than there are successes.
You have to be prepared. You have to stick to it. I’ll promise you that a lot of those people that gave it the old college try, that abandoned their accounts at some point in time, they may have been on the verge of breaking through and getting some sustainable action on their accounts, but they gave up because it just was too hard and it took too much time. Yes, you should be on social media. I don’t know enough about your business, Ahmed, but should you be on social media? The short answer is probably. The longer answer is you need to be prepared for what social media entails in order to be successful. One other note on social media; if you are B2B, there is another large caveat. B2B social media is very difficult. Everybody’s a marketer and there’s really only one or two great ways to reach the B2B audiences that you need to reach. LinkedIn is one. Oh, we have a podcast from Wayne Breitbarth that is fantastic.
We also have other LinkedIn podcast episodes coming up so pay attention to that. The other thing that you can do is Facebook groups. That is something that can do a lot of good for a lot of companies. Again, you have to build the audience, there’s a whole science and art to that. Again, we’ll just recap by saying that yes, you probably should be on social media. The caveats are you have the time, the talent, and the resources to be able to do it and do it well.
The other caveat would be if you’re B2B, your platforms are a little bit more limited that way. Again, Ahmed, thank you for your question. We look forward to hearing more from you at totallyhyped.com.
When it comes to B2B marketing and networking, LinkedIn is the place to be. Like many social media platforms, it can be tough to find your way to consistent success. If I were to borrow an analogy from my guest, AJ Wilcox, LinkedIn advertising is a sniper shot, where other digital advertising platforms are shotgun blasts. If you want to target specific types of businesspeople or even people at a specific company, you’re going to want to get to know this episode’s guest.
The question for this episode is how can we improve our marketing and advertising performance? It comes from Anna in Lincoln, Nebraska. Thank you for your question, Anna.
Again, the more detail you can give us about your business, the more specific we can get in our answers. Up and to that point, we can answer in general. I’m only taking questions right now that I can answer in general because all of my answers would be, “Well, it depends on your business.” When we ask, “How can we improve our marketing and advertising performance?” there is some very baseline information I can give you on this, and it is never going to be an answer that you really want to hear.
Marketing and advertising and doing it well and doing it well consistently requires a lot more time and effort than people want to imagine. They think they produce a commercial or they produce a post or they produce a piece of content and suddenly, they’re off and running. That is just not true. It almost always requires some level of testing, modifying, retesting, modifying, until you can dial it in. This isn’t something that you can just do, “Well, I’ll try it out today, see what happens today. Then I’ll try something different tomorrow.”
This is something you need to be able to do and get an audience in front of for a period of time to see if the A of your AB test is working, or your B of your AB test is working.
It takes time. I have seen results from an AB test on, let’s just say, a form. The structure of a form is really important. I’ll just give you a little background information on here. When somebody fills out a form online, on a website or in a social media post, they’re only comfortable with giving you an amount of information that is in line with what they’re going to get out of you from filling out that form.
If you want somebody to sign up for a newsletter, you’re probably looking at maybe a first name and an email address. Sometimes, just an email address would be better. I can’t ask first name, last name, phone number, address, gender. You can’t do that. No one will ever fill out that form. You might want to AB test a form that says, “Provide your first name, last name, email address,” versus, “Provide name and email address,” versus, “Provide an email address.” You will see over a period of time which one is going to cause more people or at least invite more people to fill out that form.
The idea is to get more people to fill out the form in this example. After time, once we have those people on board, we can get more information from them in a very mutually beneficial way. For something like a newsletter, get them on board and prove to them that you’re going to give them a lot of value, and then maybe you can creep the amount of information up a little bit. I shouldn’t have used the word creep because sometimes, getting information from people and giving people information is a little creepy.
What I’m just saying is you’re going to inch up this idea of, “I want a little more, I want a little more, I want a little more.” You never want to be inappropriate. Let me just say that while personalization, and I’m getting way off-topic here, but while personalization is very important now, that I can go to a website and it says, “Hey, Kale,” the “Hey, Kale” part is not nearly as important as is the idea that you’re providing me the content that’s important to me. You knowing my name doesn’t mean anything.
Marketers really need to get out of this habit that, “I need everybody’s first and last name.” You don’t. You just do not. Of course, the more information we have on people, the better, but knowing their first and last name is only important if ever we’re going to meet with them and I want to know who I’m talking to. Other than that, if I’m sending you information, I don’t care what your name is. I’m not saying that I don’t want to get to know you. It’s just that you don’t need to provide me personalized information in order for me to provide you value.
Stop thinking the more information you get, the better things are for you because the worst things are for them and they’re probably not going to give you information. Collecting just an email address for a newsletter is fine. We can get more information from them down the road if we need it. Now, as far as marketing performance is concerned, let’s be clear on marketing versus advertising performance. Real quick, mostly we’re talking about advertising performance. We interchange the words marketing and advertising all the time. I’m not going to get into that right now, but we’re talking about advertising.
If I put out an email, for an example, how am I performing and how can I improve upon that? That’s what we’re talking about here. In that regard, you have to always be testing. In almost every situation, the other thing that kind of sucks is that the amount of things that you can and probably should test is a lot. I hate to say this and it sounds daunting and a lot of people are going to throw their hands up in the air, but I’m sorry, it’s a lot. Everything from the artwork you use, to the headlines, to the call to actions, there’s room for them to all be tested and they probably all should be tested if you really want to dial in.
A great episode I did with Robert Rose who is a guru in content marketing, will tell you that there’s no magic formula that says that when you put a piece of content out, no matter how awesome you think it is, that it’s going to work. Now, a different headline on that piece of content that you wanted to work might have done the trick, different artwork, the time of day you sent it might have some impact on how that thing is going to work.
The general answer is you can improve your performance by testing and by dialing things in. Really, the bottom line to me is you can improve your performance by omitting your expectations right upfront and just adding in as part of the process this idea that you’re going to put the piece out there, be it an email, be it an ad, a display ad, whatever it might be. You’re going to put that out there, you’re going to have to test it, test via digital and test maybe even via social media where the platform itself is free. When you can dial that in overtime, then go to print, then go to TV, then go to your bigger mediums where it’s more difficult to change the content.
In short, the best way to improve performance, period, is to be prepared for the amount of time and effort it takes to test and dial things in. Thank you, Anna in Lincoln, Nebraska for your question. If you have a question, stop by totallyhyped.com and fill out the question form.
You have to love the smell of a fresh new campaign launch. Or how about the excitement when you hit the launch button on your new website? And the anticipation of your trophy set of keywords getting a great ranking in Google.
Now fast forward a day, two days, a week, a month, a quarter, or a year. Why is it that those successes don’t feel as successful?
There are all kinds of articles about poor performance in digital marketing and all kinds of marketing firms trying to debunk this random 90%+ fail rate. I am proud to say I am a consultant, not a salesperson. Not that there’s anything wrong with salespeople. But there is a huge difference between a real consultant and a salesperson. And that difference is precisely why I am in a better position to discuss failure rates in digital marketing than a marketing firm, for example.
I don’t believe anyone has published a study with enough supporting data to nail down a defendable percentage of failures versus successes. I am certain that more digital marketing projects fail than succeed when asking a small business owner or operator. I am also 100% certain that the percentage of successes is much greater when you ask a digital marketer or a marketing firm.
I am hoping it does not require much explanation to point out that a small business owner/operator and a marketer have different biases when defining success or failure.
Therein lies the rub. As a consultant, I can tell you that both the small business owner/operator and the marketers are wrong, in general. It may be that in either of their experiences, they can tout some number of successes and some number of failures. However, their experiences do not equal the ability to generalize the whole industry.
As a consultant, I am bit of an outsider. I devise strategies and help an organization guide those strategies into reality. I can tell you with certainty; I am usually brought in because the business has experienced failure in the past. If I talked to the marketing firm or team working on the “failure,” they will typically say the failure was not a failure or that the client made some mistake. The business’s decision-makers are certain the marketers were at fault or whatever tactic doesn’t work.
The crappy thing about this scenario is everyone might be right, or everyone might be wrong, or some combination of right and wrong on both parties. This does shine a light on two things, 1. There is a lot of perceived failure to go around AND 2. The biggest failure is the way digital marketing projects are setup.
Since I am talking to business decision-makers (of course, marketers will get as much out of this, but they are not the intended audience), let’s be clear that the project must be set up properly. I am going to tell you how to do that, in brief. No more excuses; from here on out, you will have the knowledge to make sure your projects succeed consistently.
The first issue that needs resolving is you need to lead. One might wonder how they can lead when they have not trained marketers. It’s easy; you lead by stating what you are trying to accomplish. Do not mince words. Be clear. You must understand the galactic difference between telling a marketing firm you want to improve your online presence and telling them that you need to generate more high-quality leads. It’s the difference between success and failure – all by itself.
The fact of the matter is marketing companies are amazing at producing things – commercials, websites, campaigns, online presence, and so on. But the problem is, if you’re a marketer, cover your ears. You’re not going to like what I am about to say – marketers want to serve their customers. Because of that, they become order takers. If you start your conversation by saying you want to improve your online presence – your likelihood of getting more high-quality leads just dropped – a lot. Really good marketers will ask you why you want to improve your online presence, but most will respond with – yeah, we noticed you’re not keeping up with your social media, and you are not very visible in search results.
Congratulations! You just bought SEO and social media services. I know I will get some kickback from this but, depending on your business, there is nothing that says social media presence or better rankings in Google will help you achieve more high-quality leads. On the day of the launching social and pay-per-click campaigns, you’re jacked up, excited to see your company all over Facebook, and great placement in Google search results. But what happens in a week when the number of high-quality leads actually declines?
In 30 days, you notice there has not been any measurable difference in the number of high-quality leads. This is a disaster! But, the marketers delivered exactly what you wanted.
In my experience, the number one reason why projects are considered failures by stakeholders is because the objectives were not clear. Be clear in what you are trying to achieve and work with the marketer as a partner in achieving that result, not the creator of some nicely wrapped deliverable.
In one of my most-listened-to podcast episodes called “The One Thing,” I discuss this point as the most important thing at which a small business person in charge of directing marketing efforts must become adept. When it comes to marketing, you must buy a result, not a service. The marketer must draw a direct line between the service they provide and achieving that result, and this is huge, they must be accountable as part of the agreement in achieving the objective.
That brings us to the next way to ensure you don’t become part of the digital marketing failure statistics, no matter what they are.
A marketing project must be set up so that the end of the project is when the objective is met, not when the service is in place. That means the business and the marker must agree on how to measure when a project is complete. This would mean that in our “more high-quality leads” scenario, the business and marketer must agree on a measurable increase in high-quality leads and how that will be measured transparently.
In one article I read where the author, from a digital marketing company, was attempting to debunk the super-high failure rate of digital marketing projects, his supporting data on how they were successful were not always helpful. The author cited increased in traffic to the client’s website, an increase in page-views, and an increase in conversions – which could be anything, including an increase in horrible leads. The other thing that was concerning was the author depicted 4 examples of success. Anyway, I am sure they are a fine firm, but the defense was not supported very well.
So here is a suer simple recap on how to avoid digital marketing failure. As the small business person in charge of marketing, you must make sure you clearly define the objective. It is also on you that the business and marketing firm or marketer’s agreement is designed to conclude when the measurable objective is met. This will significantly reduce your odds of failure and ensure your odds of success.
In almost all situations, this is NOT the case.
Let’s do something amazing together. If you’re a small business and want to up your marketing game, give me a call at 262-528-2858 or drop me a line at Cale at totallyhyped dot com. The call won’t cost a penny.
The question for this episode comes from Ogden, Utah.
I’m asked not to use a name on this, so we will oblige. This is a great question that has an awful lot of answer to it. These answers are very quick and short, and if we get more detail from some of the questions about the questioner’s business, we can do an even more detailed response, but this is a great question and it brings up a lot of information. The question is; how often should our website be redesigned?
This is a great question in particular because small businesses are not using their websites to their fullest. It’s a crime because your website is the place where you get to do everything you could possibly want to do. Social media sounds great, and it is great as a marketing tactic. However, you are limited in your ability to brand yourself. You’re limited in the amount of content you can provide, even the amount of verbiage, and the size of images, and everything.
It’s all very limited as where on your website, you can do whatever you want. Just as an example, if you’re a restaurant that hasn’t had a website redesign in a while, or you don’t have a website, over the last year with the pandemic, you’re a dinosaur. You lost more business than you can possibly imagine. That even goes for people who say, “I have a website, people are ordering off my website,” but it hasn’t been redesigned and made current so that it’s easy to do things like order online and do business with you.
You are a dinosaur and you are absolutely losing money. I guarantee it. How often should your website be redesigned? In my opinion, a redesign should occur every 12-18 months. Now, of course, you can Google all of these questions and you’re going to get a myriad of answers. Here’s the thing, be careful of who’s giving you the answer.
If it’s a website design company, which I have owned by the way, then you might think, or have to assume, or at least consider that the website design company is saying, “You need to have this done more often than you might need it done,” because that’s the service that they sell. Now, the reason I say every 12-18 months is because over time, if you are using your website to its fullest, first of all, it’ll be one of the most effective and most cost-efficient marketing tools you have.
Investing in it should not be difficult. That doesn’t mean go break the bank every year, but what it does mean is the reason I say that every year, year and a half, someone needs to redesign their website is because of this; technology changes so fast. There are always new tools and throughout the course of a year or 18 months, there are going to be new needs and you’re going to shoehorn them into your website.
Your website is going to start having content that isn’t formatted all that well, and it just doesn’t look as great as you’d want it to. It’s not going to be the representation of your brand, the way you want it to be the reputation of your brand over time. It happens to everybody happens to me. It happens to me. It happens to every business I have ever worked for, so don’t think that you’re going to escape it.
Now, if you’re a designer and a website designer, of course, you can redesign your website whenever you want. Now, that’s not very many people in this question and answer is not for you, but at the end of the day, you have to realize that this is the center hub. When you’re on social media, for the most part, you’re sending them to your website. When you’re advertising in any other way, shape, or form, you are sending people to your website.
Your website is the center cog in people finding you through search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. It is a vital component to marketing. If you are struggling with marketing and you have a crap website, or you have no website, I can tell you that’s where you need to start. It makes advertising a million times easier. I can give you my story in one sentence and say, “Read more here at my website where I can tell you the whole story ad nauseum.”
In my opinion, every 12 to 18 months, some companies, if a website isn’t your primary thing, and let me just say that that’s not up to you, whether it’s your primary thing. It is up to your customers and your prospects as to whether your website should be your primary vehicle. Not up to you at all. Stop thinking if your customers need to access a website in order to do business with you. Then you need a website, and you need to maintain it. If you have lower traffic, and there aren’t a ton of people coming to your website all the time, then I would say you can go two years. More than that, you’re going to start looking dated and more than that, you will have things crammed into your website that don’t fit anymore, that don’t look good that are going to make it look like junk. You don’t want to look like junk.
Answer to the question, how often should I redesign a website? In my opinion, if I’m giving a broad based answer across the board, I would say every 12-18 months. Thank you for your question, and if you have a question, you’re welcome to go to totallyhype.com and fill out our question form and I will answer your question as well.
Cale Guin: I am with Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll. Hello, Kathy. How are you today?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: I’m good, Cale. Thank you so much for having me. How are you doing?
Cale Guin: I’m doing great. It’s more my honor, I’m sure, than it is yours, coming from the prestigious or prestigious, however you want to say the word, The Harris Poll company. What is your role there?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: I’m vice president on a team that specializes in research for public release.
Cale Guin: I’ve worked with Harris Poll in the past. Fantastic teams. Some of the things that we’re going to talk about today, I’m super excited that people get to hear about some of these services that I think we might have mostly thought that they were out of reach or not for small business and what have you. I think that you have some great options there, so we’ll talk about that.
The big question I think that everybody has, including myself prior to working with Harris Poll, is when we do research or when we think about doing research, it seems expensive. It seems like, “Ugh, how am I going to– It’s probably just going to sit on the shelf. Do I really want to do this? What’s the value?” How do we make it worth it at the end of the day? How do we make sure it doesn’t sit on the shelf collecting dust?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: That’s a really good question. Of course, for any small business, any money that you spend has to be worth the investment. Before you decide to do research, it’s really important to be very clear about what the goals are and what you hope to get out of it. I think if you go into research with very clear goals and objectives, then that reduces the likelihood that it’s going to sit on the shelf.
If you know what you want to do, you have ideas, you have strategies in mind, that’s one way to make sure the data will get used. In terms of research being out of reach, again, it really depends on what you want to do. A lot of research companies offer a wide range of services. Depending on who you want to talk to and what you want to do, yes, research can be quite expensive, but it can also be really cheap. We have a research platform that starts as little as 1,100 per question. You could get a lot of bang for your bucks if you can be flexible and creative once you figure out your goals and objectives.
Cale Guin: What do you see typically as the reasons companies are doing research? A lot of what you do, especially in your department I’m guessing, is, “I want a headline, whatever the goal is there,” but what other types of research are people looking for, typically, from Harris Poll?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: We do all kinds of research. As I mentioned, the research that I specialize in is anything that’s intended for public release. Any kind of research that is going to be distributed outside the coffers of the organization that sponsored it. That can mean anything from earned media and trying to get a headline, publication in a peer-reviewed journal, presentation at a conference, for businesses, for B2B. We see a lot of our data being incorporated into white papers that are then distributed to customers or prospects. We also work with businesses to do research that is not intended for public release.
If you want to figure out who to target, what kinds of customers to try to reach out to, traditional brand tracking, communication, testing. We can test messages and ads. We can do a wide range of things. Research can be used in a lot of different ways to help make decisions strategically and internally, as well as to communicate with external stakeholders by using the results publicly in a lot of different ways.
Cale Guin: Content is king. That’s what everybody is trying for right now. They want more and more content. Even just in the small amount of work that I have done with Harris Poll, which was a series of questions in a specific vertical that was just trying to dig into a little bit of the consumers’ opinion on that particular industry. You get a lot of data. You’re not just getting a single answer to a question, you’re getting a single answer to a question broken out by age demographics, location, all kinds of things. Talk to us about that a little bit. When I call Harris, how do you determine what kind of format this is all going to take and what I’m going to get in return?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: When we work with clients, depending on what you’re interested in doing, we know that we are the research experts. We’re going to consult on how to make the most of your investment, how to ask the best question. We’re going to start backwards from your objectives. For example, if the research is designed for public release, if you know that you want to release the results publicly, maybe develop an infographic or drive some earned media coverage, we’re going to ask you for your dream headline. You may have some of the question ideas, you may have drafted some questions, we’ll take those as well, but really, we want to know what is it that you hope to get out of the data? Imagine you get the data tables back, the results are exactly as you hoped they would be, what would the headline of your press release be?
Then we work backwards from there and we come up with a few question ideas. Survey design is often a very collaborative process, lots of back and forth, several iterations of questions. We may get a list started for you, but then really rely on you to help us build out the list of responses. Make sure that we are asking the questions in the right way. For example, if it’s a technical survey, like if we’re surveying IT decision-makers, we’re going to really lean on you pretty heavily to make sure that we’re using the appropriate level of industry or technical jargon so that we don’t rub survey respondents the wrong way and to ensure that it’s accurate to whatever product it is that we’re talking about.
Cale Guin: Goods thing you’re working with a dope like me in certain circumstances where the bar is not that high. You’re not going to need to lean or you probably don’t even want to lean on me for much. The great thing is the breadth of data that you get. Talk about that a little bit. Is it the same all the time? I’m always getting the demographics and the different tabs? Talk about that because most people aren’t going to understand or even know that that kind of thing exists. Help us understand that.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: That’s also a part of the value of the research investment. If you are thinking about doing research and you’re talking to multiple vendors, it’s always important to ask what you’re getting for the price that they’re giving you. Are data tables included, how many banners have crosstabs? We have an omnibus platform that surveys a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults, 1,100 per question. For that investment, you get standard data tables with two pages of demographic crosstabs: age, gender, income, education. Our sample size is 2,000, which may be larger than some of our competitors.
It’s really important to understand what you’re getting for your investment. If you’re talking to multiple research partners, make sure that you’re comparing apple to apple. The platform that I know you’ve used, and we’ve been talking about this, this omnibus vehicle includes two banners of standard demographic crosstabs. If we’re doing custom research for you, a lot of that would be customized. We would work with you to understand what is it that you’re most interested in?
In our omnibus platform, we have a certain set of age breaks that we use: 18 to 34, 35 to 44, and so forth. If we’re doing a custom survey, it may be that we’re only surveying adults ages 50 plus, so we’ll have different demographic breaks there. Then, of course, we can provide a range of services, including full-service reporting. We can deliver analysis, as in an executive summary, do a full-blown PowerPoint if you need. We can assist with infographics or white papers. It really depends on what you need, what the goals are, and we can itemize all those things for you.
Cale Guin: I’ll say this, that when somebody like me gets that data, my eyes light up like it’s Christmas morning and, “Oh my God, I didn’t know I was getting all this and all of that. Then my head spins with, “Every one of these categories is something that I can use.” For the average person, one of the things that we’re going to be dealing with in this series of podcasts is going to be specifically that they don’t know all of these things could be things for them.
At the same token, they just need to know, “I just need to know this. I just need to know that. I get all of this data.” You guys will help them break it down. What you did for me, just a quick personal note, was the team I was working with was great. I told them what my suspicions were, and this is why I wanted to get the information. My suspicions were that in this industry, when they were reaching out to their consumers, that price was not probably as big of a hurdle for the consumer as they were thinking.
I wanted to go back to them and say, “See, it’s not that big of a hurdle. Let’s concentrate on some of these other things.” That’s where my angle was coming from. Your team comes back and they said, “Here’s your headline and here’s a potential headline.” They were fantastic. I felt like I could write my email, I could write whatever my sales piece was going to be and there it was. I love that. That was great. The other thing that I loved, and maybe you could talk about this a little bit because you have a number of different services, that omnibus platform, I think we put the poll out or the survey out on a Tuesday or a Monday or something and we had the information on Thursday or Friday. That is fantastic.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Very turnkey and fast turnaround. The platform you use that surveyed 2,000 adults, ages 18 plus, one of our most popular research vehicles. We are in the field for only two business days. If we start on a Tuesday, data tables are available on a Thursday. Our consulting is included in the price per question. We can schedule a debriefing call with you for Friday and actually talk you through the headlines, answer questions about how to read the data tables.
Actually, in response to the pandemic, about a year ago, we launched an even faster turnaround vehicle. If you need results faster than two business days, which can be the case nowadays, we have something called Flash. It’s an overnight poll, one business day, and you get 1,000 complete for a nationally representative sample.
Cale Guin: That is fantastic. One thing that you and I talked about the other day, and I probably shouldn’t give away the fact that you and I have had all of these conversations already and I already know all the answers. I don’t know all of the answers. Let me just say this, that you had mentioned to me the other day that there are tools that you have that are free, and there’s information that you have already out there that people can go and look at the headlines in the data you’ve already collected. Where does that come from? How and why is that information there? How does one find it?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Harris has a rich and long history of conducting research for public release. The Harris Poll was founded in 1963 as a barometer of public opinion research. We have been conducting public opinion polls for decades and all of that data has always been publicly available on our website, anywhere that you can find a press release, basically, as well if you just do a Google search. Additionally, in response to the pandemic, we launched what we call the COVID Tracker. I think, actually, this week is week 52.
It’s a survey that is conducted every week. It started pretty focused on awareness and attitudes around the pandemic, then about the vaccine as that started to hit the landscape. We’ve been adding to it as other events have evolved. It’s not just about COVID, we’ve also asked questions about the racial equality protests that happened last May and June. We’ve been asking questions about the election. That data is publicly available.
It’s on our website. There’s a section of our website called the COVID Tracker. If you go there along the right-hand side, you can scroll through and the data tables from each wave can be downloaded. That can be a bit overwhelming, especially to somebody who’s not familiar with looking at data. Especially if you look at the latest wave, we show the results for each wave. You can see a page with 26 columns. I think we can only fit 26 on a page. They roll over. We also have a newsletter with highlights. That really focuses on some key headlines and takeaways from that particular week’s tracker.
Cale Guin: How do you guys determine which topics you’re going to cover in those polls? If you go to the front page of your website, and maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m missing that there’s a theme there, it seems like a wide variety of information and topics that, “Here’s the headline. Here’s the headline. Here’s the headline.” They seem wide-ranging. How do you guys determine those headlines? Why are you doing that?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Partly, as a social good. We see ourselves as social scientists and serving a purpose for the media, for public policy decision-makers. Our research over the decades that we’ve been doing it has been presented to Congress as part of lobbying efforts and actually helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, so we know the power of data. We recognize the value that data can bring to helping a lot of different stakeholders understand the opinions of the public.
In terms of the topics that are decided upon for each wave, a lot of it is just organic brainstorming within Harris, among the people who work on the poll, and then laddering up what they’re hearing from clients, from the people that we talk to and work with, as well as various media partnerships that we have. I know that we have a partnership with Crain’s Business Chicago, and we do some very targeted surveys there. We partner with Axios on some research. I personally lead our media partnership with HealthDay, which tracks American public opinion on various health-related issues. We try to cover what we think the public and the media will be interested in.
Cale Guin: You brought up the fact that you guys have been involved in even some political lobbying-type data gathering and what have you. This brings up a very important question. Of course, I’m going to use politics to exacerbate the crap of this particular question. It happens to all of us and including myself. I did a poll with you guys, and I was looking for an answer. Then I get these answers. Anybody can look at any data and twist it any way they want, and they can make it say whatever they want. How do you, given those political polls, and how do we avoid that bias that we have? We’re looking for this data, therefore, somehow we’re going to find it even if it’s not in there.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: That’s a really good question. When I said earlier that we ask you for dream headlines and we’re going to help you design questions, working backwards from those, it’s not just that we work backwards to get you the answer that you want. We’re going to try and we’re going to work with you to ask that question in a balanced way, in an objective way so that it doesn’t get accused of being biased, or leading, or cherry-picking. We take a really strong stance on that throughout a project, during the design phase, in terms of coming up with the right way to ask the question using balanced scales, making sure that our list of responses is comprehensive, and that we’re not prioritizing just the one response that we know you’re looking for.
Then on the back end, when you get the data, we also make sure that you’re positioning the results in a way that is valid. When you do this type of research for public release, there are industry associations that have very specific guidelines and best practices for releasing data. That means, when you release survey results, you need to include a method statement that says, “How many people were surveyed? When was the data collection conducted? Who did the research? Who sponsored it?”
You also need to make the survey results available upon request. That means the complete questionnaire and the complete data tables. If you do something and put a data point out there, that means that once your competitor sees this, they have the right to see the complete survey results and make sure that you’re not misleading in any way.
Cale Guin: A government agency can’t just pay you enough money to, “Give us this answer? We’re looking to say this, help us prove it”?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: No. The short answer is no. We’re here to be a third-party, independent, objective research partner, and to make sure that research done is in a credible way, using the best methods available and the highest level of rigor that is needed. We’re not just here to give you the data you’re looking for.
Cale Guin: Very good. Let me just say that I get to see you when nobody else gets to see you, and you were damn serious in that answer. You were like, “No, our reputation is not for sale.” It was great. It’s appreciated. As consumers, and even as business people, we don’t know. I’m convinced in my own life that no matter how much we think we know, we don’t really know. We only know what we’re being told. There’s this whole realm of things that we don’t know about that given topic that tomorrow we could be like, “Oh, well, if I would have known that, I wouldn’t have formed my opinion yesterday.” I always feel like that. It does conjure up this, “Who paid for it?” There’s always this skepticism about the results. It’s good to hear that somebody is going to definitively say, “We’re not for sale that way. No, you just get data.” Now, the way they twist that and the way they put that out there is probably up to them and their own moral compass, I suppose. The other thing that we talked about the other day, which I loved, was some of the interesting polls that you’ve been a part of over the years. I’ll let you tell your own story. Then, if you don’t tell the one I think you’re going to tell, I’ll ask you about the one that I want you to tell.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Oh, I’m so curious because we talked about it with you and I’m so curious which one it is that you’re thinking of.
Cale Guin: No, you go first.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Let’s see. Some fun polls I’ve worked on over the years? I personally specialize and have done a lot of research in the healthcare space, which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a lot of fun surveys. A lot of it is highly technical. We deal with patients with very low-incidence conditions. It’s important to be very sensitive when you’re talking about chronic health conditions. Every once in a while, I get to take a break from those types of studies and do some more fun things. I did a study with Chevy a few years ago about pickup trucks. We surveyed pickup truck owners across the country about how much they love their trucks, why they like to drive a pickup? We had a nationally representative sample, but we also had larger samples in certain states where we know there’s a higher incidence of truck drivers, like California, Texas, and Florida.
This survey was a quantitative survey. Most of the questions were closed-ended. We also had some open-ended fields. We don’t often ask these types of questions in research intended for public release because, when we asked for dream headlines, typically what we get is, you’re looking for a big percentage, you’re looking for a number or some big number. With open-ends, you’re not going to get a number or a big number if you code the data. We asked pickup truck drivers if they’ve ever named their trucks and what their trucks’ name was.
Then they put together a word cloud depicting the results. The word cloud was in the shape of a pickup truck. A lot of the names actually had some color in it, like big blue, or black Betty, or big red. Big red was actually a pretty popular one. That was what the word cloud looked like. The word cloud was a red-tinged pickup truck. The words in it were representative of the number of people who said it. You saw a lot of Bettys and a few Joes. That was one of the more fun surveys that I got to work on recently.
Cale Guin: You won the set of steak knives because that is the one that I was thinking of. I loved it so much because one of the things that I thought of was that, I don’t know to ask that question. I would never have thought to ask that question. When you told me about it, I’m like, as a marketing guy, I’d like to design a whole campaign out of just that information. TV would have somebody padding blue Betty or whatever, and just talking about their love for their vehicle and how that vehicle got them through the hard times and whatever the thing was. It’s just so awesome. I don’t know it. I might be overreaching when I ask this, but can you help us find those kinds of questions like that because, to me, it’s never anything I would have thought of. I very seriously need this specific type of information. Hey, while we’re in here, why don’t we ask this irreverent, fun question and see what happens. That to me is fantastic.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: That’s exactly the stuff that tends to come out of the conversations that we have with clients during the design phase. I’m not sure if that was a question that the client came to us with. I don’t think that that was included among the dream headlines or the draft questions that we started with. I think it’s something that just organically came out of the conversations that we had during the design phase. We were reviewing the second draft questionnaire. We decided to cut one question. We decided we really like this other question and, “Can we go down this road a little bit deeper?” As you have three or four or five people on a conference call brainstorming, that’s where the magic happens in survey design, not to sound overly hokey about it
Cale Guin: [laughs] I’m all about hokey. Let me just say that that’s the kind of thing where you’re getting information that you probably wouldn’t have seen coming, but then what can happen with that? You mentioned infographics and things of that nature, white papers. You’re only providing the data. Did you mention that you also maybe help with infographics and things of that nature? Did you say that before?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: We could, yes. That could be a deliverable that’s included within the scope. It’s something that we can provide for a fee. Whenever we do research for public release, we consider it part of our due diligence to review any publicly released materials that contain that survey data. If you develop an infographic, or you write a press release, or there’s a white paper that you put together, we would also review that for you. That’s both a QC process. We’re going to check the numbers, make sure that the data is accurate. That’s another place where we can also add value and give you some advice on. “Okay, you’ve chosen to highlight this stat in your headline. Consider including this additional stat as a subhead to strengthen it.” We’ll give you some advice there as well.
Cale Guin: Oh, that’s great. Talk to me a little bit about the value that when I say, “Here’s my headline world,” and you’re okay with putting the Harris Poll name on that. What is that QC process like and what does it all involve?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: We recognize that, over the course of our many decades conducting this research, we’ve earned tremendous trust with the media and our name does carry a lot of weight. We don’t just put it on anything. When we’ve partnered to conduct research, when we work with clients who commissioned research, we have to be involved throughout. We’re not just going to take a set of questions that you provide to us and program them, and fill them, and deliver data to you and say, “Here you go. Have at it. Do whatever you want.”
We will always review your questions to make sure that we feel comfortable that you’re not asking anything biased or misleading. If you put out anything that talks about the data, we want to review it. That’s part of the process. The guidelines I mentioned earlier for releasing data publicly, include having the research company review and to see those materials. When you see a press release that says, “A survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of so and so,” you know that that was designed together, that there was a lot of work that went into it, that the research was done with care and rigor, that the results are representative.
Obviously, it depends on exactly what was done. If we’re doing a gen pop survey, the omnibus platform that we mentioned, that’s a nationally representative sample where raw data are weighted. All of that information is typically included in public release methods. One of the other things that’s included in our services is, if your research is intended for public release, and you go out there with your data and you get questions from the media about the research, we are available to answer those questions on your behalf.
The researchers who conduct this research have all been media-trained. We can work with you however you like. If you get a question from a recorder about the research method that you don’t know how to answer, we can either answer that question for you, you can send the reporter our way, or we can draft a response, share it with you. You can pass it along to the journalist however you prefer.
Cale Guin: I like washing my hands of those things.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: I do want to clarify, though, in the release that goes out, the study is owned by the sponsor of the research. If you commission the study, it’s yours. The media contact on a press release should be usually whoever the PR contact is for that company. That should be the first line of defense for the media. We don’t typically like to have our names as the contact people on clients’ press releases, but you can always send direct questions our way behind the scenes.
Cale Guin: Fair enough. One of the questions that I really wanted to get into was this idea of the flexibility of Harris Poll. I’m not sure if all polling companies, or all survey companies, or research companies are like this. If I have my own list of people that I want to reach out to, how does that impact the working relationship with you? Do I send that to my people? Does Harris Poll send that to those people? Is there savings to me because it’s my list and you don’t have to field them to whatever people you can find? How does all that work?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: The short answer is, it depends. It really depends on your willingness to share your list. If you want to share your list with us, turn it over to us and we can then treat it the same way we would our own sample. I think that would be preferred, because then, we have a lot of control over the data quality, and how to recruit respondents, and when to send emails, and when to send reminders, assuming this is all done online. We can also be flexible. If you don’t want to turn your list over to us, we can provide you with an Excel spreadsheet of however many links you need.
That also depends on the capabilities. If you have a member database of 2,000 people and you have a platform, and you’re able to do a mail merge that sends customized emails to all those 2,000 contacts, we’ll give you an Excel spreadsheet with 2,000 unique email addresses and then you would have to do that mail merge. If you have that capability and you have the time and effort to do that, that certainly means you’re spending less with us, but there’s a trade-off there.
There’s another option. If you’re not able to send customized emails, we can provide public links. You can recruit people just by sending an email blast to your whole database. Or maybe there’s a private Facebook group, and you can post the link to that group. Another example of our flexibility. You tell us what you want and what you’re willing to do, and we can give you a few options. We can absolutely work with client-supplied list.
We would want to discuss the implications of doing so. There’s not only the logistical implications that I’ve already mentioned, but there’s also data implications. We know that, depending on what we’re talking about, a member organization or a list may have bias associated with it. If you’re looking for a representative sample of something, then a list that you own may not be representative of what you’re looking for.
If you’re looking to survey your own customers, then that makes sense. That’s part of the consulting that we can offer. We can give you feedback on the pros and cons of using that list versus a different sample source.
Cale Guin: I’m going to flip that on its head and ask you, is there any world in which– Is omnibus all online? Can I just ask that? Is that all 100% online respondents in the omnibus platform?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Yes, our entire suite of omnibus surveys is all online.
Cale Guin: The gen pop survey through omnibus is online? Is there a world in which there could be a question and opt-in? Can I get email addresses and names from that if they opt in? Would you ever entertain something like that?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: That would really depend on the type of respondent and the goals for that data. There’s a lot of privacy issues involved there. We would need to understand, how do you plan to use that information? I think it would depend on what type of sample it is. Are these physician respondents? Are these B2B, C-suite executives? Are these just consumers that we’ve recruited from a gen pop survey and they happen to answer questions a certain way and you want to follow up with them on something? There’s different rules and different questions, depending on how you want to use that information. Generally speaking, we tend to stay away from sharing respondent data because that is considered personal and private information.
Cale Guin: I really want to know, as small business people, we’re always looking for an opportunity to be in front of people. If I’m asking 2,000 people a question, is there any room in there that can say that, “If you want more information on this, go here”? Can that happen at all in there? Advertising. I know that sounds so cheap, but it’s my survey. We’re asking questions about what I want. Is there any way to do something like that? I will absolutely edit this question out if you think this is the most ridiculous thing anybody’s ever asked.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: No, it’s not ridiculous. It’s certainly a valid question. I personally have not worked on any study that did anything like that, certainly not for promotional purposes. I’m fairly certain that the panels that we use to actually reach these respondents, they promise these panelists that they will not use their names for promotional purposes. That’s why they agree to participate in survey research.
The few instances where we have included like, “For more information, contact this,” as part of a survey question, the few times that I’ve done that, it’s only been in the healthcare space and for patients’ health reasons. For example, I’ve done a couple of surveys on suicide prevention. At the beginning and end of that survey, we include a link to the suicide prevention hotline and that phone number. We have included links to resources, but I don’t think we would do something like what you described, where it’s, “For more information on this product–” I don’t think we would feel comfortable with that.
Cale Guin: I’m all about the cheap. I really don’t want to make it sound like I’m cheaping out. We’re always looking for those types of opportunities. If you’re reaching out to 2,000 people like that, is there an opportunity in there for us to– Maybe you can do, I suppose, name recognition-type things and what have you.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: You absolutely can do surveys about the brand or the product. If you want to understand brand awareness, or brand usage, or likelihood to purchase, or purchase intent of your product versus a competitor’s product, we can absolutely do that. That is a different type of study. That’s research that would not be publicly released. You wouldn’t share those results publicly.
Then you can absolutely ask for deep dives about the brand and questions like, “What would make you more likely to buy this product? Which of these features is most appealing to you?” There are ways that we can ask the questions to get strategic and helpful insights in a less salesy-sounding way.
Cale Guin: So diplomatically put. Do you have any information that you think would be super helpful to a small business looking to potentially do some research in ways that maybe they haven’t even thought of? Do you see any common themes where people are always looking for this kind of information? What would you have to bring to the table that maybe a dope like me hasn’t thought of?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: You’ve probably already thought of it. I want to give you more credit than you give yourself. One thing we hear from small businesses and even not so small businesses, especially in the B2B space, if you want to survey a highly specific audience, a targeted audience like C-suite decision-makers, or IT decision-makers or something like that, we can’t do that on an omnibus platform. Certain audiences require a custom approach, custom recruitment. Some audiences require financial incentive. When we talk to consumers, they’ve opted into panels, where they’re happy to take surveys, and they usually don’t require cash incentives. If you’re trying to get an IT decision-maker to take a survey for 10 minutes, that usually warrants a $10 or $15 incentive. That starts to add up. That goes up even higher if it’s a C-suite executive or if it’s a longer survey. That type of research can be quite expensive if you’re trying to reach a highly niche audience.
One thing that businesses can keep in mind is that, even if your target messaging, if your communications are targeted for this audience, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the sample you should survey. In one of my presentation decks, I have on a slide something that says, “Target audience does not equal sample definition.” I think that’s an opportunity to get creative.
If you can’t afford to do a custom survey of decision-makers, then maybe you could leverage an omnibus platform to survey the end user of the platform. An example would be, in the IT space, let’s say you have some enterprise software product that support HR benefit management or something and you really want to reach HR decision-makers, that’s a specialized sample. That’s expensive to survey. HR decision-makers serve the needs of employees, employed adults. That’s a much bigger pool.
We could do a survey using our omnibus platform. Out of 2,000 adults, depending on how you define employed, you’re going to get at least 1,000, maybe smaller if you’re looking for, let’s say, employed adults who work in an office setting. Even that is a big enough group of the American population, that we can use an omnibus platform and get 500, 800 interviews. You can do a slightly more customized survey leveraging an omnibus as the data collection vehicle.
Cale Guin: Two things. First of all, that is a great idea. I think that we should always be thinking of that. Sometimes we think that we want the C-suite opinion on something, but it’s, we want that for a reason. The reason might rest below that level and you could then be saying, “What do you think your bosses think of this?” That can be then the survey. That’s brilliant. You’re right, I thought of all of those things. [chuckles] I didn’t [crosstalk].
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: I knew it.
Cale Guin: Anyway, are there guidelines for how big a sampling needs to be in order to get reliable data? Do I always have to do at least 2,000? Can I do 50? How does that break down? Tell us how we should consider that?
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: I think anyone who’s watched TV at some point has seen on the news a recent survey of 1,000 adults, fine. From a consumer survey perspective, 1,000 tends to be considered the gold standard. If you’re talking about US adults ages 18 plus, 1,000 is sufficient. We offer 2,000 with our omnibus. It’s more robust and you just get a lot more room to do subgroup analysis. If you want to a screen for employed adults, if you want to a screen for office workers, we just have more wiggle room to do that. On the lower end of the spectrum, we do tend to think of 100 as the minimum sample size for quantitative analysis, to be able to talk about data-using percentages.
When the media thinks about survey data, I think most reporters are smart and savvy enough that they understand the difference between a consumer survey and a C-suite survey. If you’re trying to talk to C-suite executives, no one’s going to expect you to have a sample of 1,000. You can still get quite a bit of interest if you talk to just 150 CEOs or whatever. If you try to pitch a survey to the media where you surveyed 150 US adults, you’re going to get laughed at.
Cale Guin: That’s funny that you say that, because as soon as you say 150 consumers, then you’re right. That just sounds like, “Why only 150? Were these the only 150 that answered the way you wanted them to?” We always joke in marketing, too. Three out of four dentists surveyed say that this is the best toothpaste in the world.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: Even four.
Cale Guin: Yes, but we had to survey 8,000 people to find a group of three out of four. All that stuff seems like it could be BS. I do appreciate the answer because it makes sense. As soon as somebody smart like you says, 150 consumers compared to 150 CEOs, it’s a wildly different prospect. I appreciate that very much. If there’s anything else you have, right now is the time to give it out. Otherwise, I can’t even begin to thank you for your time.
Kathy Steinberg – Harris Poll: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for this opportunity. I’m just looking down at my notes and I think I’ve hit the high marks of everything that I wanted to mention. I just really appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts and ideas with your audience.