Archive for February, 2012

Interview with Frank Donatone, co-author of ‘Audience, Relevance and Search’


Frank, you’ve been working to drive natural search rankings on IBM.com for key terms. Can you talk about your overall strategy & some of the tips you give to webmasters when building out their web presence?

The key to SEO is capturing prospects in all phases of the sales cycle — essentially it’s all about getting the right content at the right time to the right audience.  You need to focus on freshness, relevance and engagement of your audience. I have a few general rules that are critical to a winning strategy:

1.   Do the proper keyword research. Find the epicenter of organic interest. The first thing to do if you want to optimize your pages for search is to find out what keywords, related to your theme or topic, are searched for most often by your audience. These keywords become your site’s nomenclature. If you place these words and semantically related terms prominently on pages in your site, you will have a better chance to get higher ranking pages in search engines and qualified traffic.  

2.   Use relevant content to capture prospects in the awareness phase. Your web landing page experience needs to tap into the interest of the searcher using keywords that are relevant to that searcher. Think of it like searching for a mate on ‘match.com’; the more you have in common, the more likely you will get asked for a first date. Remember traffic volume is not the end game — the end game is targeted qualified traffic.

3.   Focus on long-tail search more specific to your product. The idea is to develop a set of 3-4 related keywords, or a “keyword cloud”, which are searched by your target audience frequently. Then you need to develop pages that use the words in this cloud. For example, use “supply chain for retail” instead of “supply chain”. Sure, you will get less traffic, however the traffic you get will be targeted and create a lower bounce rate, therefore, better results for your search marketing efforts.

4.   Maximize your “findability” on social media sites.  Social media is critical for success since social sites have their own internal search engines and are also ranking factors and integrated into the results of external search engines like Google and Bing. Take Google for instance, it has integrated its new Google+ social network and its +1’s feature within Google search results, creating ways to be found through social media and influencing search ranking position. When you use keywords in social profiles, Tweets and Facebook updates, you are making yourself “findable”. Images and video content are also becoming increasingly important factors to be relevant in social media and external search engines.

5.   Continuously measure web effectiveness. First, you need to look at page ranking; second, the volume of visitors you get from Google and other external search engines. Web analytics tools, such as IBM Coremetrics Web Analytics, can help you find out where your visitors are coming from and then filter the results to show only those who come from external search engines. You can also run reports in modern web analytics tools that show what keywords brought users to your pages, and in what volume. You can also measure performance by looking at metrics like visits, bounce rate, time on page and conversions.

Thanks Frank. This is great advice for Marketers. I’ll try to think of SEO as a dating game — make yourself attractive to those prospects and engage in their social circles to find your match!

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I’m in love…

I often find myself wondering, what is it that drives brand loyalty? I have a theory that falling in love with a brand is only two steps removed from actually falling in love. I came to this realization not just because Valentine’s Day is around the corner, but because I’m currently having a torrid love affair with several brands: Apple, Gilt Groupe, Michael Kors, among my top 3.

So, what is it about these lurid brands that has attracted me? As a society we’ve become so brand focused, it’s second nature. Where does Apple leave off and I step in?  At some point I lost track of the boundaries, and somewhere here within lies the magic!  There appeal is an allure I can’t resist — I’m in Love.

The innovation that is Apple. The classic style that is Michael Kors. The decadence that is Gilt Groupe.



Each of these admired brands has unlocked a secret ingredient. It would seem to me they have managed to exude brand at every touch point, every interaction… whether in store, on the web, or over mobile… in their packaging, in the store, and certainly in their advertising. Creating this ‘persona’ of a brand is an almost impossible task for today’s corporations, but one well worth the effort to build fans and loyal customers who will fall in love with (and hopefully remain faithful to)  your brand. 

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I spent the day at the #SocialCommerce Summit in New York City today. It was a packed agenda filled with ruminations and theory on the intersection of Social Media and Commerce. The discussion has me pondering the enormity of the social phenomenon which is touted as just as revolutionary as the emergence of the web a decade ago. Interestingly, it occurred to me, that the broader story isn’t about technology at all but about the basic human need for human connection.

I learned today that the oneset of Facebook has changed the rule from 6 degrees of separation to a norm of now 4.9 degrees of separation. That’s why we,  as marketers,  have moved from mass advertising to micro-location based targeting within communities of users. This social shift has changed the very dynamics of commerce. We are now living in a liquid economy where 100s of users can be a relevant, targeted customer base. Hence the rise of location- based, community-based social communities all geared to making relevant human connections.

For today’s consumer, the WHY matters as much as the WHAT. For example, if I have tickets to a concert, I can sell to the highest bidder on Craigslist, but I would rather sell to a friend. There is more being exchanged than money in this transaction. In today’s economy, you need to think about the full economics of the transaction beyond the dollar value. To today’s digital buyer, the connection matters more than the end service or product and therein lies the secret to these new business models.

In fact, the contextual relevance matters so much that communities are developing story-based engagement models. I want to engage, learn, buy from others I trust in my circle. A story is formed around me and those who ‘like’ me. They matter to me more than commerce, more than material ‘things’.

Do I want to go to that ‘Kings of Leon’ concert? Buy that new ‘Chloe’ bag? Drink your brand of ‘Starbucks’ coffee? It depends:  are you my Friend?

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It’s remarkable what you can do with technology in the area of digital targeting these days. After recently completing a pilot on ibm.com, retargeting proved to be a cost-effective solution that generated impressive results in click through, conversion, and sales rates. Amazingly, when comparing ad-retargeting sites to a control group, they were 5x more effective.

Over the course of the entire campaign, performance averages were $7 per conversion for retargeting vs. $710 per conversion for standard run-of-site banner advertising — Pretty impressive in my book.

For those of you not aware, retargeting is the practice of using targeted display ads and personalized emails to re-engage visitors who left your web site without purchase or conversion. These ads will essentially ‘follow you’ across your favorite web sites, intending to remind you of the interest you originally had in the site or shopping cart that was abandoned.

A secondary benefit of the ad-retargeting pilot was gaining the knowledge of where my target audience is on web and how they use it. I sat fascinated as I learned my prospects tend to read trade magazines like e-commerce weekly and Business network news, they live in Seattle & NY and are more likely to respond to an offer on Friday afternoons. Now, I can use these details to boost my next media buy or campaign or event…

As competition for a finite universe of shoppers intensifies, retargeting has emerged as an indispensable tool in a marketer’s online kit. I feel better about no longer sitting back with my fingers crossed, hoping my prospects will return. Not to mention that getting to know my customer more closely is a fantastic secondary benefit. Now how cool is that?

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Since IBM’s CMO study came out a few months ago, we have received many requests to tell IBM’s marketing story. What are we doing differently today? How are we managing the data explosion? How are we using analytics to determine the best way to connect with empowered customers?

As a marketer, it can be difficult to find the right asset, the right tactic, the right campaign to tap a nerve with your prospects. Given the changing landscape of media, advertising, social, and multi-channel, this exercise is becoming increasingly complex… so what’s a marketer to do? What’s the magic equation for driving leads in an era when the funnel frankly seems to be an outdated paradigm? In my marketing role at IBM, I’ve realized that technologies like marketing automation, Web analytics, ad attribution, and re-targeting are some of the key drivers that can help to close the equation. The transformation from manual to automated, from guessing to analyzing, is taking root.

The first major breakthrough was implementing a marketing automation platform. I have to admit I’ve done my share of spray-and-pray campaigns. With the acquisitions of Cognos and Unica, we’ve learned a ton about the value of scientific, automated campaigns that can target customers in a more sophisticated manner. There was a learning curve, but one well worth the effort. We now have prospects queued into much more sophisticated “conversations” based on their preferences and buying behaviors, which has produced up to sixfold response improvements for our nurture campaigns.

The second major breakthrough has been the use of targeted Web analytics, which are, in my humble opinion, among the most powerful tools a marketer can utilize. Knowing who your prospects are on the Web and why and how they are using your Website is priceless in tapping into that precious organic interest. The capability now exists to retain live profiles of our prospects and customers. This profile provides us with the insight to run campaigns based on how/why/what to target based on past behavior. We can now strategically determine the “next best offer” based on this past behavior. This type of scientific targeting is priceless when it comes to driving digital lead conversions.

Another favorite tool of mine is Media Attribution. You know you are guilty. Expensive media buy. Boss is happy. Media Ad is gorgeous. But who were the interested customers? How did it perform on relative target audiences? OK, guilty. In the past, I’d sometimes get very busy and forget to check back on my media buy. Big mistake, as media optimization can double media spend efficiency. This goes hand in glove with ad re-targeting, which is a technology that can also goose conversion rates by following customers where they live on the Web and essentially reminding them of what a great offer you have for them.

I’ve always been inclined to the creative, the creative versus the scientific… but these days, at IBM, I realize that marketing can be more science than art, more mathematical than ethereal. I’m learning to live with it and to use technology to raise my game, and the great part about it is that my conversion rates are starting to prove it!

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