How Rapid Audience Layer Can Help Retailers

What is Rapid Audience Layer?

Rapid Audience Layer (RAL) is a cloud-based data management solution that is quickly onboarded to allow for analysis, insights, and visualization of your data. It’s a B2C and B2B solution that integrates first-, second-, …

What is Rapid Audience Layer?

Rapid Audience Layer (RAL) is a cloud-based data management solution that is quickly onboarded to allow for analysis, insights, and visualization of your data. It’s a B2C and B2B solution that integrates first-, second-, and third-party data. It enables advanced analytics and insights into audiences. RAL was introduced to help unleash client dependency on IT because it can ingest data in most common formats.

Best Small Business Loans

Need cash for your business? Startups and established companies alike can benefit from a small business loan. There are hundreds of different lenders out there that provide funding to small business owners for a wide range of purposes. But it’s importa…

Need cash for your business? Startups and established companies alike can benefit from a small business loan. There are hundreds of different lenders out there that provide funding to small business owners for a wide range of purposes. But it’s important to shop around to find the best loan for your unique situation. Factors like […]

The post Best Small Business Loans appeared first on The Daily Egg.

Microsoft Ads 101: Get Up and Running in Minutes

Google is the biggest search engine ad platform in the world. But Microsoft Advertising has potential advantages, including lower CPCs and less competition on Bing. It’s worth a look, and this article shows you how to get started. I’ll walk through the step-by-step process to set up Microsoft Ads as well as best practices for […]

The post Microsoft Ads 101: Get Up and Running in Minutes appeared first on CXL.

Google is the biggest search engine ad platform in the world. But Microsoft Advertising has potential advantages, including lower CPCs and less competition on Bing.

It’s worth a look, and this article shows you how to get started. I’ll walk through the step-by-step process to set up Microsoft Ads as well as best practices for running campaigns. 

How to set up your Microsoft Ads account

The first step is to create an account on Microsoft Advertising.

microsoft ads homepage.

When first creating your Microsoft Advertising account, you have the option of importing campaigns from Google. If you don’t currently have any Google campaigns or simply want to start fresh, proceed with “Create a new campaign.”

import google ads account into bing.

You can create an ad campaign during the account creation process, but I recommend skipping for now. 

skip campaign creation when creating microsoft ads account.

Next, add your billing information. There are two ways to pay for ads:

  • Prepay allows you to add funds to your account and have charges deducted from those funds. You have the option to pay with PayPal, check/bank transfer, or credit/debit card.
  • Postpay option allows you to pay after charges accrue. You must use a credit/debit card for the postpay option.

If you want to skip the add payment option, you can come back to it later. 

payment options selection screen in microsoft ads.
skip payment in microsoft ads setup.

That’s it. You just created your account.

How to set up a Microsoft Ads campaign

First, go to the “Campaigns” tab and click on the “Create campaign” button:

Campaign goals

You have six options for your campaign goal:

  1. Visits to my website. Choose this option if your main goal is to drive traffic to your website.
  2. Visits to my business location. Select this goal if you have a brick-and-mortar business, and you want people to visit your store, office, or event.
  3. Conversions. Pick this option if you want to track the actions people take on your website, such as purchasing a product or signing up for your email list.
  4. Phone calls. Use this option to drive more phone calls to your business.
  5. Dynamic Search Ads. With dynamic search ads, your ads are automatically customized based on the content of your site; you don’t even choose keywords for your campaign. Check out this article to learn when dynamic search ads may make sense.
  6. Sell products from your catalog. Showcase your inventory with product images on the search results page. This feature is equivalent to Google Shopping.
product ads on bing.

Campaign settings

Next, it’s time to define your campaign settings. 

  1. Campaign name. It’s important to name your campaigns sensibly, especially if you’ll be running a large number of campaigns within your account. Here’s an excellent guide that covers best practices for naming your campaigns.
  2. Campaign budget. Here, you can set how much money you’re willing to spend per day on your ads. Learn more about how your budget is calculated here
  3. Location. You can set locations for your ads based on a country or you choose states, cities, coordinates, or zip codes you want to target. Additionally, you can exclude locations you don’t want to target.
location targeting in bing ads.
  1. Who should see your ads. If you want to show ads to people who live in your target location, check “People in your targeted location.” In most cases, you wouldn’t check “People searching for or viewing pages about your targeted location,” although there are exceptions (e.g., tour business).
  2. Language. Select a language consistent with your location targeting.

Ad groups and keywords

The next step is to name your ad group and choose the right keywords for your ads. 

example of broad match modified keywords in bing ads.

You probably noticed the plus sign in front of each word in the image above. That’s called a broad match modifier, and it’s one of four match types:

  1. Broad match. With a broad match type, someone could type your keywords out of order in the search bar, and your ads will still display. Your ads also show if the searched words are loosely related to your keywords, even if they don’t exactly match (hence “broad” match). Broad match will generally generate the most traffic, but your ads will be less targeted.
  2. Broad match modifier. When you use broad match modifier keywords, your keywords must be in the search query, although the order can differ. You will get less, but more relevant, traffic.
  3. Phrase match. Phrase match keywords generally bring highly targeted traffic to your website since the search query has to contain all of your keywords in the exact order they’re written. You also get exposure to new audiences who type in long-tail keywords that contain your keywords.
  4. Exact match. The exact match requires the search query to match your keywords with no deviation, and the search query can contain no other words. Exact match is the most targeted but will provide the least traffic. 
table showing various keyword match types.

To learn more about each match type, here’s a great guide.

example of keyword ideas for core topic on bing ads.

If you need inspiration for keyword ideas, use tools such as Wordtracker, SEMrush, Adzooma, or Moz.

table with searches and estimated CPC on bing ads.

Once you’ve chosen your keywords, click “Save.” Next, we’ll get into the ad creation process. 

Ads

Click on “Create ad.”

creating an ad with microsoft ads.

Next, fill in the following information:

  1. Ad type. Choose between expanded text ads and responsive search ads. If you go with expanded text ads, you have to write your own headline and description for each ad you create. With responsive search ads, Microsoft Advertising automatically combines headlines and descriptions.
  2. Final URL. Enter the URL of your landing page.
  3. Title part 1. People usually notice your title first to decide if your ad is relevant. It’s a good idea to include keywords in your title.
  4. Title part 2. This is a subheading for your ad, separated from the first title by a vertical bar.
  5. Title part 3. The last title is less important and may not appear in your ad at all, but it still provides helpful context.
  6. Path. Name your path with relevant keywords. For example, if you’re a dentist, you may name your first path as “teeth” and the second path as “whitening,” so the path is relevant to the search query. Your display URL will show as “domain.com/teeth/whitening.” Each path comes with a 15-character limit.
  7. Ad text 1. Include important information with your first ad tex. If you want examples of good PPC ad copy (with explanations), check out this article.
  8. Ad text 2. The second ad text is not guaranteed to show in your ads. 
  9. Mobile URL. This should be the same as your final URL unless you have a different URL for mobile users.
example of ad creation in microsoft ads.

This is how your ad appears to search users.

dissection of ad components on bing ads.

How to use dynamic keyword insertion

If you type “{“ into any of the title boxes, you have the option to choose “Keyword insertion.”

example of dynamic keyword insertion.

The keyword insertion function matches the exact keyword someone typed in. For example, say you have keywords that include teeth whitening and dental bleaching, and you set your title as “Book Your {keyword: dental} Appointment Today.”

When someone types in “dental bleaching,” your ad displays as “Book Your Dental Bleaching Appointment today.” When the searcher’s keyword cannot be displayed in ads, your ad automatically displays default text (e.g., “Book Your Dental Appointment Today”).

(For your default text, choose something general that works for multiple scenarios.)

choosing default text for dynamic search ads.

Ad Extensions

There are nine core ad extensions, some of which are unique to Microsoft Ads. (There’s also a tenth extension to promote app downloads, if you have an app.)

1. Action extensions

These allow you to embed a call-to-action button to your ads, which can help increase the click-through-rate of your ads. 

action extension on microsoft ads.
example of "compare" button on bing ads.

2. Price extensions

With price extensions, people can see sample prices before they click. Price extensions help can increase the relevance and improve conversions of your ads. 

price extensions example bing ads.

3. Sitelink extensions 

Sitelink extensions allow you to include additional links to specific products or offers. They significantly increase the surface area of your ads, which can drive more clicks. 

sitelink extensions on bing ads.

4. Callout extensions

Callout extensions also increase the screen space of your ads. You can use them to highlight product features or benefits. But, unlike sitelink extensions, callout extensions don’t add additional links to your ads.

example of callout extensions on bing ads.

5. Structured snippet extensions

With structured snippet extensions, you can highlight aspects of your product or service. A structured snippet contains a header and a list of 2–10 words that relate to the header. For example, if your header is “services,” then the words that relate to your header may be “oil change” and “brake repair.”

example of structured snippet extension on bing ads.

6. Review extensions

Review extensions allow you to display customer reviews on your ads “from reliable, well-established and trusted sources.” For more information on Microsoft’s review extension policies, click here.

example of barcode extension on bing ads.

7. Location extensions

These are useful if you own a brick-and-mortar business. With location extensions, you can add the physical location of your business for easy reference (instead of forcing potential customers to click your ad just to find your address). 

example of location extension on microsoft ads.

8. Call extensions

Call extensions display your phone number on your ads. Your phone number can be displayed on all devices, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. On PCs and tablets, people can make calls by using a free Skype call, which is an exclusive feature of Microsoft Ads.

On smartphones, people can make calls by tapping on your number. According to Microsoft, ads with call extensions have a 3–6% higher click rate than ads that don’t.

example of location extensions on bing ads.

9. Image extensions

With image extensions, your search ads have a chance to appear on non-search placements.

There are a few requirements for images that you can use in ads:

  • Minimum image dimensions: 760 x 400 pixels;
  • Maximum image dimensions: 1,900 x 1,000 pixels;
  • Required aspect ratio: 16:9;
  • File types eligible: .jpeg, .png, and .gif.

The next step is to set your budget and bids.

Budget

Your budget comes down to how much you’re comfortable spending and the industry you’re in. Know what kind of CPC you’re looking at before you commit to a paid strategy.

example of budget setting in microsoft ads.

To help get you started, Microsoft Advertising provides suggested bids when choosing keywords. It’s their estimate of how much you’ll have to spend to show up on the front page of Bing.

This bid is just an estimate. Keep a close eye on how your campaign performs and adjust your bids accordingly.

estimated clicks and spends based on bids in microsoft ads.
campaign performance in microsoft ads.

Bid strategy

There are three main bid strategies:

  1. Manual: With a manual bid, you set bids for your ad groups and keywords, and these bids are set in stone unless you change them.
  2. Enhanced CPC: With Enhanced CPC, you set your bid manually, and Microsoft Ads automatically increases or decreases your bid when the conversion is more likely. Enhanced CPC ads come with certain geographic restrictions.
  3. Maximize clicks: Your bid is set automatically to a number that maximizes clicks while staying within your set budget. (You have an option to set a maximum CPC.)

While automated ads can save time, the tradeoff is you have much less control. And despite their potential, PPC automation isn’t guaranteed to outperform manual bids. 

bidding strategy choices on bing ads.

Conversion Tracking

You can only optimize what you measure, but conversion tracking is also vital to automation. Many Microsoft Ads features depend on the volume and quality of data from conversion tracking

How to set up conversion tracking 

Click on “Conversion Tracking.”

conversion tracking setup within bing ads.

Then, click “Get started.”

setting up uet tag with bing ads.

Next, click on “Create UET Tag.”

creating uet tag for bing ads.

Fill in the “UET tag name” section. For your description, it’s recommended to either write the name of your page or page URL. 

naming conventions for uet tags.

In the following steps, I’ll set up a UET tag using Google Tag Manager (GTM), though there are other ways to implement the tag on your site.

Go into your GTM container and click on “New Tag.”

creating new tag on gtm.

Next, click on the pencil icon in the Tag Configuration.

tag configuration in gtm.

Scroll down and click on “Bing Ads Universal Event Tracking.”

choosing bing tag in gtm.

Go to your Microsoft Ads account and click on “UET Tags” under “Conversion Tracking.” Copy the Tag ID from your UET Tag.

tag id for bing to add to gtm.

Go back to GTM and paste the Tag ID into the “Bing Ads UET Tag ID” section.

adding bing uet to gtm tag.

Click the pencil icon in the triggering pane.

setting up triggering for microsoft ads tag.

Select All Pages and click Add

add a trigger for a gtm tag.

Enter a tag name and click Save.

saving a gtm tag.

Click on Submit.

submitting tag changes in gtm.

Finally, click on Publish.

publishing tag in gtm.

You should see your tag verified under the UET tags pane in your Microsoft Advertising account within 24 hours.

confirming active tag in bing ads.

Conversion goals

After you’ve added conversion tracking for your website, create conversion goals

How To Set Up Conversion Goals

Go to “Conversion goals” and click on “Create conversion goal”:

creating conversion goal in bing ads.

Name the conversion goal and select a goal that best describes the measure you want to track. 

We’ll walk through an example based on a destination URL (e.g., “thank you” page). 

destination url conversion for micrsoft ads.

Add the destination URL to ensure your conversion gets recorded when the customer reaches, in this example, your thank you page.

defining destination url in bing ads.

For destination URLs, you have four options, similar to what you see in Google Analytics Goals: 

  1. Equals to. The URL that users visit has to exactly match your destination URL to count as a conversion.
  2. Begins with. Any visit to a page that begins with your URL will count as a conversion. For example, “abc.com/example/abcd” will be recorded as the conversion if your destination URL is set to “abc.com/example/.”
  3. Contains. Any visit to a site that contains your URL or keywords will count as a conversion. For example, if you set your destination URL to “thank-you,” then both “abc.com/thank-you” and “abc.com/example/thank-you” will count as conversions.
  4. Regular expression. This is a useful option if you’re trying to track a purchase for a specific product. For in-depth details, check out this page.

Once you set your destination URL, you can fill in the rest of the information, and click on save to complete the process. If you need additional help, check out Microsoft’s guide on creating conversion goals

Remarketing with Microsoft Ads

Remarketing can substantially increase your conversion rate for paid search marketing. It’s a way to re-engage website visitors who have visited your site but not yet converted.

How to create a remarketing list in Microsoft Ads

To create a remarketing list, go to “Shared Library” and click on “Audiences.”

shared library in bing ads for remarketing.

Click on “Create remarketing list.”

creating a remarketing list on microsoft ads.

Fill in the following sections:

  1. Remarketing list name. Write the name that best describes your remarketing list.
  2. Who to add to your audience. Pick one of the four rules.
defining who gets added to a remarketing list.

For example, if you set the rule to “URL contains welcome,” your remarketing ad will target unconverted users who visited a page on your site that had “welcome” in the URL.

url-based rules for remarketing lists.
  1. Membership duration: Type in how many days you’re willing to wait before you give up on people who didn’t convert. Nick Supapol from SearchEnginePeople recommends using a time lag report to match the membership duration to your sales cycle (e.g., 14 days).
  2. Tag name. Select the tag name that you verified during the conversion tracking step.
remarketing campaign ui.

Microsoft Ads: Exclusive features and benefits 

While Google Ads and Microsoft Ads share a lot of similarities, there are features unique to Microsoft Ads. Additionally, you get access to Bing traffic, which owns close to 26% of the search market share for desktop searches in the United States (and its traffic is on the rise).

The following are some key features for Microsoft Ads.

Competition Tab

Inside the competition tab, you can peek at some of the key advertising performance metrics of your competitors, such as impression share, average position, and many more.

Additionally, you can view how your competitors perform across devices and over time.

Linkedin profile targeting

With LinkedIn profile targeting, you can target users based on their: 

  1. Industry. Ex. Finance, health care, agriculture.
  2. Company. Ex. Microsoft, Google, Facebook.
  3. Job functions. Ex. Operations, real estate, administrative.

For example, say you sell PPC software and you want to reach decision-makers. Linkedin targeting can help you reach a director of digital marketing instead of a PPC analyst. 

Importing campaigns from Google Ads

If you import campaigns from Google Ads into your Microsoft account, double-check location targets, as there are differences in supported cities and countries. 

In most cases, you’ll be fine if your targeting is based on the state and country level. But things can get tricky when you get down to DMAs and MSAs. Check out a detailed guide on how to import Google Ads here.

How to import Merchant Center from Google

You can also import Google Merchant Center to Microsoft Ads if you have shopping ads set up in Google. First, go to Microsoft Ads and select “Tools.” Next, click on “Microsoft Merchant Center”:

microsoft merchant center in bing ads.

If you haven’t created your store yet, click on “Create store.” If you get stuck on the domain verification stage, follow the steps outlined in the conversion tracking section to copy and paste the UET code onto your website. Next select, “Validated via UET tag” from the destination URL.

validated uet tag in bing ads.

The next step is to import a merchant store from Google. You can access the tutorial with the entire process here.

Conclusion

If you’ve primarily relied on Google Ads for your advertising efforts, Microsoft Advertising is a great alternative to add to your mix. With so many marketers and organizations advertising only (or primarily) with Google, there’s plenty of opportunity for those willing to learn a new platform. 

With useful features such as Linkedin profile targeting and a variety of ad extensions, Microsoft Advertising has exclusive opportunities, too. Even if you’re setting up your Microsoft Ads from scratch, it should take only a few hours to go from nothing to a live campaign. 

The post Microsoft Ads 101: Get Up and Running in Minutes appeared first on CXL.

Best Credit Card Processing Companies

Every business that accepts credit cards needs to have a processing company to facilitate these transactions. Whether you’re selling online, in-person, over the phone, or on-the-go, businesses across all industries must use a payment processing service…

Every business that accepts credit cards needs to have a processing company to facilitate these transactions. Whether you’re selling online, in-person, over the phone, or on-the-go, businesses across all industries must use a payment processing service.  There are hundreds of different payment processors on the market today. This can make it challenging to find the […]

The post Best Credit Card Processing Companies appeared first on The Daily Egg.

The Fastest Navigation Layout for a Three-Level Menu

When users navigate an interface, there’s a need for speed. The faster it is for them to find what they’re looking for, the more time they’ll save on their task.

When users navigate an interface, there’s a need for speed. The faster it is for them to find what they’re looking for, the more time they’ll save on their task.

Speed is essential for menus that contain multiple levels. The more levels a menu has, the longer it takes to navigate. A common navigation pattern is a three-level menu. You’ll often find it on dashboard interfaces and desktop applications. The easiest way to optimize the navigation speed of a three-level menu is to design for the fastest layout.

A research study (A comparison of three-level menu navigation structures for web design) has shed some light on which layout is fastest to navigate. They evaluated various three-level menu layouts based on several criteria categories.

The navigation layouts include top-top-top, top-left-left, top-top-left, top-left-top, left-left-left, left-top-top, left-left-top, and left-top-left. The level notations are ordered by priority and hierarchy (i.e., primary[1]-secondary[2]-tertiary[3]). The criteria categories include navigation time, user hesitation, cursor movement, selection errors, and user preference.

Navigation Time

The study discovered that a left primary is faster to navigate than a top primary. This effect also applies to left secondary menu levels. It also found that navigation is faster when the primary level is separate from the secondary and tertiary levels. Overall, left-top-top and top-left-left were the fastest, and top-top-top and top-top-left were the slowest.

User Hesitation

A hesitation is when the user hesitates to move their cursor from one menu level to another. The left-top-top had the least hesitation out of all the layouts, and the top-left-left had the most. There was a significant decrease in hesitation when the secondary and tertiary levels were on the same plane.

Cursor Movement

The frequency of cursor movements to the incorrect plane represented a cursor movement. There were fewer cursor movements when the primary menu was on the left. Fewer cursor movements also occurred when the secondary level was split from the primary. Many cursor movements occurred when secondary and tertiary menus were on different planes. But when they were on the same plane, users performed better.

Left-left-left and top-top-top had the fewest cursor movements, while top-top-left and top-left-top had the most. This effect makes sense because when all menu levels are on the same plane, it’s harder for users to move their cursor to the wrong plane.

Selection Errors

The number of excessive clicks represented a selection error. When the primary level was on the left plane, the least amount of selection errors occurred. A left primary reduced selection errors by 80% compared to a top primary.

A significant number of selection errors occurred when both the primary and secondary were on the top plane. Top-top-top and top-top-left performed the worst. Fewer selection errors occurred when the secondary and tertiary levels were on a separate plane from the primary. Left-top-left and left-left-left performed the best.

User Preference

The majority of users preferred using a left primary than a top one. Left-top-top and left-left-left were most preferred. There was a strong preference for grouping the primary and secondary levels and secondary and tertiary levels. Top-left-top and left-top-left were the least preferred. This effect implies that users don’t like jumping back and forth between planes.

Best vs. Worst Overall Performance

An overall score was given to each layout based on their performance for all criteria categories combined. The best performing navigation layout was left-top-top, followed by left-left-left. The two worst-performing ones were top-top-left and top-left-top. Out of the two best, left-top-top was faster than left-left-left by approximately 17 seconds.

Left-left-left is slower than left-top-top because when all the menus are on the left, it requires users to scroll through the list of items. As the levels expand and go deeper, users have to scroll more and can no longer view all the primary items on a single screen. However, the benefit left-left-left has is that users can consume more content per screen view. Users spend less time navigating the content screen, but it’s a tradeoff for more time navigating the menu.

The screen view advantage for left-top-top allows users to view more primary items at a time no matter how deep they navigate. However, they see less content per screen due to the top navigation bars. As a result, users experience less menu scrolling but more content scrolling.

Author’s Recommendation

No matter which navigation layout you choose, left-left-left and left-top-top are both winners. There are give-and-takes between screen view and scrolling, so it’s important to evaluate what’s more important for your UX.

If your users navigate between different primary categories a lot, go with left-top-top to minimize menu scrolling, and maximize menu viewing. If your interface displays a lot of content with large and heavy visuals (e.g., photos, videos, graphics), go with left-left-left to minimize content scrolling and maximize screen view.

There’s a possible way you can increase the content screen view for left-top-top and still reap the benefits of less menu scrolling. By temporarily hiding the top navigation bar when users scroll down the screen, they can get a full content view. When they scroll up the screen, the bar will reappear. The assumption here is that users aren’t using the navigation bar when they’re scrolling down, but are viewing content. However, when they scroll up, their intention to navigate is more likely.

In my opinion, left-top-top is the winning navigation layout. Not only is it a few seconds faster than left-left-left, but it allows users to recognize which primary category they’re on. When you have multiple menu levels expanded in the left sidebar, it takes more effort to recognize which level you’re on. It’s also easier to mix up secondary and tertiary items since they’re so near each other.

A left-top-top layout makes scanning primary categories easy. It distinguishes secondary and tertiary categories from primary and places them on different vertical levels. Therefore, users are less likely to mix up secondary and tertiary items when scanning horizontally.

Of course, left-top-top isn’t the best choice for every use case and interface context because there are exceptions to every rule. But overall, it appears to perform superiorly to all other three-level menus.

UX Design Implications

There are three significant design implications from this study that will dramatically optimize the navigation speed of your three-level menu.

1: The primary menu should be on the left instead of the top. (~17 seconds saved)

This conclusion makes sense because organizing menu items in the form of a columned list makes them easier to scan. The user can see a cluster of items in a single view when they’re in a column instead of a row. With a top primary, the user can only view items individually as they scan across the row.

2: The primary menu should be on a different plane than the secondary and tertiary menus. (~23 seconds saved)

This conclusion makes sense because the primary menu is the parent category, which has higher priority over child categories. When the secondary and tertiary levels are separate from the primary, it clearly distinguishes the hierarchy and prevents visual clutter on the same plane.

3: Secondary and tertiary menus should be on the same plane. (~9 seconds saved)

This conclusion makes sense because the secondary and tertiary levels are both child categories of the parent category, making them more related. Placing them on the same plane makes navigating from child to child more intuitive and easier to follow.

If you’re designing a three-level menu for a desktop application, keep these UX insights in mind. They’ll especially apply to dashboard interfaces where efficiency is crucial. If you currently have a three-level menu that uses a slow navigation layout, consider redesigning it. A fast navigation layout will give your users the speed they need to accomplish tasks with greater satisfaction.

The Role of Marketing in the All-Digital World

How demand generation strategies have pivoted during these challenging times.

The post The Role of Marketing in the All-Digital World appeared first on Marketing Land.

Marketers exist to create demand and that is not easy in the current situation. As many tactics, channels and budgets are all changing, many of us are facing the greatest challenge of our careers. Especially for small and growing businesses, marketing is the tip of the sphere for growth. How do we make ourselves relevant during a period of uncertainty?

Join Meghan Gendelman, VP of Marketing at Salesforce and Dr. Ann Marie Sastry, CEO of Amesite for a special webinar on how to make your marketing relevant in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world.

Don’t miss this webinar! Register today for “The Role of Marketing in the All-Digital World,” presented by Salesforce.

The post The Role of Marketing in the All-Digital World appeared first on Marketing Land.

Where Does Pinterest Fit in Your Marketing Mix?

When thinking about organic or paid traffic, Google and Facebook often come to mind. Pinterest, for most, does not. And yet, Pinterest is the third-most popular social network, with over 322 million monthly active users, nearly 50% of whom are in the United States. Some 70% of users are adults between the ages of 30 […]

The post Where Does Pinterest Fit in Your Marketing Mix? appeared first on CXL.

When thinking about organic or paid traffic, Google and Facebook often come to mind. Pinterest, for most, does not.

And yet, Pinterest is the third-most popular social network, with over 322 million monthly active users, nearly 50% of whom are in the United States. Some 70% of users are adults between the ages of 30 and 49, and 41% have household incomes over $75,000 per year. 

If you’re looking for an alternative way to drive traffic, leads, and sales, Pinterest is an opportunity. 

How to get organic traffic on Pinterest

One of the great things about Pinterest is that you don’t have to jump straight into paid ads to see results.

That said, company promotion is indirect—don’t plan a hard sell. Instead, think of Pinterest as a way to build an audience or an additional distribution channel for your content.

Google requires on-page SEO, technical SEO, outreach, link building, and a months- (or years-) long wait—just to discover if it works or not. With Pinterest, however, you can start seeing results in just a few days. 

Niches that work well on Pinterest

Because Pinterest is a visual platform, niches such as recipes, travel, fashion, parenting, home decor, and fitness do incredibly well (similar to Instagram).

If your products are visual in nature, you’ve won half the battle. But you can succeed with a broader range of topics, like “productivity”: 

pinterest pin on productivity.

While that design seems pretty simple, the image gathered 25k impressions in roughly 30 days. 

Here’s another simple execution that got close to 200 clicks in 25 days:

pin about clean homes.

Keep in mind that both Pins were done in a couple of minutes and started driving traffic from the day they were posted.

A major benefit of Pinterest is that it allows you to test multiple titles for one pin, helping you discover which headline for your content performs best. In my experience running multiple Pinterest pages for brands, five pins per post is enough for you to determine the winner. 

Even industries like finance can gain traction on Pinterest. Since finance is one of the most competitive and expensive niches on Google Ads, it’s a unique—if challenging—opportunity on Pinterest. But it can be done.

For example, Dollarsprout.com runs an active Pinterest page with over 1.1 million monthly viewers. They did it by:

  1. Focusing on personal finance, which allows them to showcase moving stories of individuals.
  2. Positioning their solutions to these financial challenges effectively. 

Dollarsprout offers financial services, investing, and support for those making money on the side. But their Pinterest profile doesn’t promote basic, overused content on topics such as “How to invest”, “Money management apps,” etc. 

Instead, they tailor their Pinterest content for the platform’s audience:

  • “5 Tips To Make Money From Home”;
  • “Can You Really Make Money On The Side With ABC Service?”;
  • “7 Saving Tips Stay-At-Home Moms Should Know!”

Over-the-top and borderline clickbait titles may work elsewhere, but Pinterest copy should be much more relatable (e.g., “One Tool That Helped Me Pay For My Vacation”).  

Here are some examples of their pins: 

example of pins from dollarsprout.

By combining personal finance with daily problems, Dollarsprout was able to drive 1 million views a month. The added benefit is that Pins are 100x more “viral” than tweets, so you continue to gain traffic months after someone pins your content. 

For some of my personal Pinterest pages, the pins that I reuse I have an average click-through rate (CTR) of 2%. Based on that experience, Dollarsprout could be looking at up to 20,000 clicks a month.  

So how do you get that type of visibility for your site?

1. Research Pinterest trends.

Pinterest recently launched Pinterest Trends, which is very similar to Google Trends. Although it currently shares only U.S. trends, it can help spot relevant content opportunities that transcend national boundaries. 

For example, here are some of the trends they highlighted in June: 

pinterest trends screenshot.

Seasonality is big on Pinterest—holidays and in-the-moment fashion trends draw high search volume. For example, pins related to fall clothing peak in October:

example of seasonality of pinterest trend on fall fashion.

You may be surprised to discover, however, that the trend begins to uptick in June. (It also differs from the peak interest on Google Trends, which occurs in September.)

This presents a huge opportunity to create content related to established trends before the competition increases. Cosmopolitan is already creating content around fashion in the fall, and we’re only in July:

example of july pin from cosmo about fall fashion.

If you’re planning a campaign related to a particular day or season, start creating pins at least two months in advance. Why? 

  1. Pins are going to “settle” in search results.
  2. You’ll have time to see which pin/content/title combination works best. (You can promote the most successful pins heavily.)

Don’t publish all 10 pins at once. Schedule them (with a tool such as Tailwind). Ten pins on 10 boards (your own or group boards) is 100 pins, which is a good amount of volume when getting started. 

2. Analyze your competition.

Company or product research

Let’s say you’re selling insurance, a highly competitive product. If you search for “insurance” on Pinterest, you get pins such as these:

example of popular pins about insurance.

Say that these have about a 1% CTR. The challenge, if you’re in the industry, is that the overall search volume is low—Pinterest trends doesn’t even have a trend graph for it. 

While the populated search suggestions give you an idea of the long-tail interests of Pinterest users, they don’t tell the full story.

search suggestions on pinterest about insurance.

For example, the Progressive Insurance Pinterest profile continues to dominate insurance search terms, with more than 10 million monthly viewers.

They undoubtedly benefit from huge brand awareness, but they focus on indirect promotion, creating relevant content around topics related to insurance. That content includes Life Lanes, where they share tips on travel, household, adventures, and life’s turning points—tying it all back to travel, home, and life insurance.

sample pins from progressive.

It’s a similar pattern to other content marketing plays. Start by adding value on relevant topics, then encourage future clicks to product-focused content:

  1. Create a Pinterest friendly pin to get clicks on the site. In the case of Progressive Insurance, they walk backward from a product (e.g., car insurance) to where they can provide related value (e.g., “how to wash a classic car”).
  2. Engage users with related content. If you click on the “classic car” pin, you get an in-depth article describing how to take care of your vehicle. 
  3. Sell the product. At the end of the article, there’s a call to action, “And the cleanest of cars still needs coverage. Check out more here,” which takes you to classic car insurance products. 

When researching competitors, always check where a particular pin leads. The most successful pins rarely link to a specific product or service page. In some cases, however, it does make sense.

Lowe’s has a variety of boards centered on home upkeep and gardening. They can get promotional—Pinterest and home decorating go hand-in-hand, so featuring attractive products can link Pinterest users straight to a product page:

product pins by lowes.

But while Lowe’s promotes their products directly, they don’t neglect more “Pinterest friendly” pins, partnering with Bobby Berk (a TV host and interior designer) to give Pinterest audience tips on how to create a successful backyard, DIY wedding:

pins with tips for backyard weddings from lowes.

DIY is one of the hottest topics on Pinterest, and when combined with a wedding (especially backyard wedding) and properly pinned before the summer season, Lowe’s taps into native interest.

Those backyard weddings and similar content—not the overtly promotional product pins—are key sources of their 10 million+ monthly audience (and, of course, their strong brand). But they provide a pathway for users to discover the relevant Lowe’s products to help realize their vision.

Here’s how the flow looks on Pinterest:

  • When you click on the link, you’re taken to Lowe’s Stories, where they give you tips on how to plan a backyard wedding. They also go over several styles and do’s and don’ts. Again, throughout the entire process, they offer value. 
  • Then, in the middle of the post is a product placement directly connected to the styles they’re promoting:
example of lowe's cta to products in article.

Pins research

Chasing Foxes is a lifestyle blog that generates over 10 million monthly views from their Pinterest content. There’s plenty to learn from their success. 

Because they generate most of their revenue from ads with Mediavine, their main objective is article views; Pinterest helps distribute their content. It’s no surprise then, that Chasing Foxes pins over 50 times a day. 

example of pins from chasing foxes.

They post a similar design over and over again—many times each day. Take note: If a Pinterest account with over 10 million monthly views is posting a particular pin (design and title) repeatedly, it probably means that the design is working for them. 

You shouldn’t copy the designs, but they can be a useful starting point if you’re not familiar with Pinterest. Even after you’ve run campaigns, keep an eye on what your direct and indirect competition does. 

3. Design engaging pins.

This simple yet effective design got nearly 400 clicks in one day. Total impressions reached 95,000 in 30 days, adding another 600 or so clicks.

pin on healthy habits.

What made it successful? Four things.

  1. Lots of users searching for the topic. As with Google, auto-populated search suggestions can give you a good idea of what users search for. That said, there’s plenty of successful content ideas that don’t auto populate in search. This piece likely did well because it was one of the most common “habits of…” searches. 
"habits of" search suggestion on pinterest.
  1. Tailored title as pin name. Pinterest reads the title and places you in search results accordingly.
  2. Keyword title on the pin itself. Pinterest also reads the text on the pin—the pin title and actual keywords in the pin matter.
  3. Pin description. The title matters most, but never ignore the description. Add keywords both in text and hashtags. Pinterest’s own research of 21,000 users found that clear wording significantly increases conversions. That applies to the text on the pin, the title, and the description. 
  4. Colorful design. Most of the results for the “habits of healthy people” are comparatively bland and easy to ignore. 
example of pins that are too busy or blend in.

Use bright colors or notable contrast—make sure that the title “pops.” Colors that fade into the background image or titles that are difficult to read will have a much lower CTR (as with any other visual ad). 

Another thing to consider: Pinterest is a predominantly mobile search platform (85% use Pinterest from their mobile devices), so your pins should be 1000 x 1500 pixels (2:3 aspect ratio). 

Experiment with different designs. Changing a couple of words is not enough. Pinterest values new content—variety is key.

Create 5–10 pins per post to promote on Pinterest. Switch titles, colors, pictures, etc. Usually, one or two of those 10 will be a clear winner. (This should also be the pin you use if you run paid ads.)

4. Start with best practices, then adjust.

How many pins per day? While Chasing Foxes pins 50 times a day, you probably won’t reach that volume. That’s fine. Pinning too much can actually hurt your reach.

But you should try to hit at least 10 pins per day; I usually pin 15–25 times, depending on the amount of content available.

When to pin? Evenings and nights (from 7 p.m. to midnight) are usually the best times to pin. But add a couple of pins before everyone goes to work in the morning and a few pins around lunch

See what works for your audience—keep timezones in mind if you have international reach. 

How to pin? Posting high volumes of pins manually is incredibly time consuming, which is why tools like Tailwind can be helpful. Tailwind is an official Pinterest content marketing partner and can provide actionable data on how to improve your Pinterest efforts.

While automation is helpful, it may not get the same results that thoughtful, manual pinning can achieve (as with other social platforms). 

Should you pin exclusively your own content? No. Pinterest is about sharing. While Elle, Vogue, or BMW won’t repin a random pin from somebody else, you should do it from time to time.

Pinterest has hinted that pinning only your own content may reduce how it scores your content. Make sure to share the content of others, but always prioritize your own. 

How do you design pins? Any picture editor will do. I use Adobe Photoshop, but Canva and Picmonkey are popular tools among Pinterest users. They have all the templates you’ll ever need, and you can create pins with a couple of clicks.

Don’t neglect font choice—for visual impact or readability.  Many are accessible in Canva, or you can download them to Adobe.

5. Get started—and rank—quickly. 

Three things can help you get more visibility and traffic:

  1. Make sure you have a business profile with rich pins enabled. Your domain must be verified. Fill out all the profile details with the core keywords you’re going for. 
  2. Create 10 boards. Fill the boards with keyword-rich descriptions. Make sure that the boards are relevant to your topic and that the names of the boards match search suggestions in Pinterest. Fill each board with 10 relevant pins.
  3. Join quality group boards. Search for group boards in your niche with a healthy ratio of followers to saves/repin. Per 1,000 followers, 10–20 repins is a great number. Join the group boards and build a relationship with their owners. 

The Golden Rule of Pinterest is “quality pins on quality boards.” Check the performance of your boards every month. Quit boards with a low virality score (which you can check in Tailwind).

A good pin can’t rescue a bad board. The more of your pins that are ignored, the less Pinterest will promote your other pins. For more detailed information, check out this video.

The goal is to have your pins (as many as possible) saved, clicked for close-up, and repined. High engagement and virality of your pins will increase the quality of your profile, which will result in more virality of your pins, and so on.  

Should you pay for Pinterest ads?

Pinterest can drive a lot of organic traffic. Paid ads can supplement it. 

Price comparison

Let’s take a couple of campaigns I did for a web hosting company, traditionally a fiercely competitive and expensive niche for ads. 

After testing a few creative options, the resulting CPC was as low as $0.597. (To put things into perspective, I had a campaign on fashion and leadership that generated clicks for as little as $0.10.) These three ads were the best performers:

example of pinterest ads.

At the same time, I had a campaign running on Google Ads. For the purpose of this (very small and non-scientific) experiment, the title on the Google Ads was nearly the same: “30+ Web Hosting Services, Guide, Pricing, and Comparison.” After some refinement, the CPC was $0.881, about 48% higher than clicks on Pinterest. 

However, on Pinterest, the CTR averaged around 1%; on Google Ads, it was up to 4.56%. So, yes, clicks were cheaper, but they were harder to come by. Nor are all clicks created equal—Pinterest can help increase awareness, but don’t expect clicks to be as close to conversion.

Your results will certainly vary—perhaps for the better, perhaps not. Pinterest ads, do, however, have other benefits. 

Paid pins, repins, and shares 

On Google, you create an ad, and that ad is seen when you pay for it. After you stop paying for it, it disappears. 

Pinterest offers an additional incentive. A percentage of the total clicks on your ad will be “saves,” when someone saves your pin to one of their Pinterest boards. 

One of the pins from the hosting campaign above had 120% more saves than clicks. You pay only for clicks, but users who like your design and content and save your pin expose it to their followers—giving you the chance for repins and additional saves at no cost. 

As a quick test, I ran a campaign on a post on “leadership qualities.” After two days and a $5 daily budget, I got 108 clicks and 42 saves. In the next three days, I won an additional 25 clicks without repining the pin—simply as a result of the sharing that occurred during the paid campaign.

You may also gain followers as a result of the paid exposure, increasing your organic reach. For every 10 clicks on my web hosting campaign, I averaged 1 new follower. That symbiotic relationship between paid and organic reach doesn’t exist on every platform. 

Pinterest limitations

Keep in mind that Pinterest’s audience is narrower than on other platforms. It skews female (71%) and “young professional” (83% between 25 and 54). If you’re trying to reach college-age men, it won’t be a primary source of leads or sales.

In the past, Pinterest has also faced massive spam issues, which have since been resolved. As a result of those changes, Pinterest won’t promote the same pins that have been posted several times per day.

Conclusion

On Pinterest, organic opportunities are available from Day 1—without any need for technical SEO, link building, or lengthy wait times compared to search. When using Pinterest ads, you’re getting cheaper but less conversion-focused traffic than other channels.

What may take longer is figuring out how to turn visibility on Pinterest into leads and sales. But the opportunities on Pinterest are open to more than just B2C fashion and food brands. Regardless of your industry, Pinterest warrants a thorough look. 

The post Where Does Pinterest Fit in Your Marketing Mix? appeared first on CXL.

How to Future-Proof Your Media Strategy

COVID-19 has forced advertisers to think ahead and future-proof their media strategy. In particular, brands are asking themselves if they are doing enough to take advantage of their first-party data. Here are some suggestions for advertisers if their o…

COVID-19 has forced advertisers to think ahead and future-proof their media strategy. In particular, brands are asking themselves if they are doing enough to take advantage of their first-party data. Here are some suggestions for advertisers if their organization’s identity and CRM efforts are still early stages:

Survey: 734 Marketing Professionals Share How They’re Hiring in the 2020 Recession

If you’re a marketing student about to graduate, a job-seeker considering the field of marketing, or someone who’s looking to advance in their marketing career, this report is for you. Marketing is an immense, growing, and well-paid field, …

If you’re a marketing student about to graduate, a job-seeker considering the field of marketing, or someone who’s looking to advance in their marketing career, this report is for you. Marketing is an immense, growing, and well-paid field, and is one of the few where credentials and alma mater mean far less than quality of work and level of knowledge.…

Paywalls, SEO, and the Need for a Damn Good Brand

Think it’s tough to earn links or shares for your content? Try earning money. For publishers, doing so is a push-pull between discoverability and monetization. News sites have long been at the forefront, but plenty of speciality sites (e.g., The Athletic, Cook’s Illustrated, Adweek) have paywalls, too.  Search engines are vital for discoverability. But, historically, […]

The post Paywalls, SEO, and the Need for a Damn Good Brand appeared first on CXL.

Think it’s tough to earn links or shares for your content? Try earning money.

For publishers, doing so is a push-pull between discoverability and monetization. News sites have long been at the forefront, but plenty of speciality sites (e.g., The Athletic, Cook’s Illustrated, Adweek) have paywalls, too. 

Search engines are vital for discoverability. But, historically, they’ve undermined monetization—requiring crawler access that savvy users exploit and demanding free clicks for searchers.   

The hard part isn’t making it functional but profitable. Indeed, if you want to find out whether anyone really cares about your content, just put up a paywall.

How we got here

Google’s guidelines have changed over time, but they’re built around the needs of news publishers and hold fast to a central tenet: Google cares more about providing the best information than whether that information is behind a paywall.

Google’s Public Search Liaison Danny Sullivan has openly pushed back against those who want subscription-only content flagged in search results:

Experiments run by Dan Smullen, who manages technical SEO for Independent News & Media, demonstrate that Google isn’t biased against paywalled content: 

Before launching our paywall in February, we implemented a soft wall—a registration wall. We tested this on two completely temporary replicas of our sites for Canada (independent.ie/ca/) and Australia (independent.ie/au/).

For users in those countries, we put all content behind a registration wall. We saw less than a 5% drop in traffic over a six-month period but a considerable amount of new registrations.

We also tested putting a randomised 50% of all pages in our travel section (with an average position of 1–5 in Google Search Console over a 3-month period) behind a registration wall. The travel section on Independent.ie was selected due to its ranking for evergreen queries, such as “things to do in Canada.”

We saw no significant decrease in average ranking. Currently, Independent.ie is still #1 on Google.ie in Ireland—despite being behind a paywall.

Still, as Barry Adams of Polemic Digital told me: 

If Google has to choose between a gated piece of content and a free piece of content that have roughly the same quality signals, Google is always going to rank the free content first—because it’s a better user experience.

In addition to those underlying principles, there have been two seismic shifts: First Click Free and Flexible Sampling.

First Click Free (2008)

Google announced its First Click Free (FCF) policy in 2008, requiring publishers to:

allow all users who find your page through Google search to see the full text of the document that the user found in Google’s search results and that Google’s crawler found on the web without requiring them to register or subscribe to see that content.

For publishers, the policy didn’t work. Anyone who accessed an article via a Google search enjoyed Infinite Clicks Free. In 2009, Google allowed publishers to cap FCF views at five articles per day; in 2015, the cap tightened to three articles.

The changes didn’t solve the issue. Access to three articles per day—still as many as 93 articles per month—sated most users. Additional devices were a multiplier: A phone, tablet, work computer, and home computer meant 12 articles per day, or 372 per month.

By early 2017, some publishers had had enough. The Wall Street Journal opted out of FCF in February after a partial opt-out in January “result[ed] in subscription growth driven directly from content.”

(An alternative to participating in FCF, a “subscription designation,” allowed Googlebot to crawl an 80-word snippet of an article, which served as the sole source of ranking material.)

Other publishers had similar issues, as Taneth Evans, Head of Audience Development at The Times in London, detailed:

There were too many flaws with the model to participate, so the business opted out. As such, Google continued to get stopped at our paywall during crawls, and we became virtually non-existent in its search engine results pages.

Google ended FCF in October 2017, shifting the responsibility of metering and experimentation back to publishers.

Flexible Sampling (2017)

Even as Google dismantled FCF, it contended that publishers should provide some free content. What changed was who was in charge of defining those limits:

We found that while FCF is a reasonable sampling model, publishers are in a better position to determine what specific sampling strategy works best for them [. . . ] we encourage publishers to experiment with different free sampling schemes, as long as they stay within the updated webmaster guidelines.

Flexible Sampling, still in place today, offers publishers two options:

  1. Metering. “Provides users with a quota of free articles to consume, after which paywalls will start appearing”;
  2. Lead-in. “Offers a portion of an article’s content without it being shown in full.”

In both instances, search engines have access to the full article content—either in the HTML or within structured data—while user access is restricted.

For sites like The Times, the change resurrected their participation in search:

From those two core variations—metering and lead-in—come an array of hybrid possibilities (e.g., showing users lead-ins after metering expires, making some content fully free and other content lead-in only, etc.).

A third option, of course, is a hard paywall—denying all access to searchers or searchers and crawlers. Which system—or any system at all—makes sense is up for debate, and experimentation.  

Metering vs. lead-in

Paywalls, by default, are a barrier to organic acquisition—they stop some users from accessing some content. Many sites adjust that barrier with metering.

Metering

“As far as Google’s concerned,” explained Adams, “metered sites are free websites. Googlebot looks with a clean session, so Google is perfectly fine as long as the first click is freely visible.”

While publishers ultimately control how many free clicks a user gets before hitting a metered paywall, Google has recommendations:

  • Use monthly (rather than daily) metering.
  • Start with 10 monthly clicks.

Publishers are free to experiment, as, historically, WSJ aggressively has.

Google’s own research, done “in cooperation with our publishing partners,” showed that “even minor changes to the current sampling levels could degrade user experience and, as user access is restricted, unintentionally impact article ranking in Google Search.”

Google offers a relative threshold for that “degraded” user experience:

Our analysis shows that general user satisfaction starts to degrade significantly when paywalls are shown more than 10% of the time (which generally means that about 3% of the audience has been exposed to the paywall).

So, in theory, a pile-up of users hitting your paywall could affect rankings. But is Google carefully monitoring (notoriously noisy) clickstream data to paywalled sites

Probably not, according to Matthew Brown, a consultant who previously managed SEO for The New York Times:

You’d have to get really aggressive with metering to see a significant negative ranking impact. But you can imagine a scenario with limited metering (e.g., one click per month) in which most users pogostick after hitting a paywall—a bad user experience that, it’s hard to imagine, helps rankings.

Metering does allow sites to segment users who hit your paywall—a key audience for conversion optimization. Google endorses that strategy of variable, user-specific metering:

By identifying users who consistently use up the monthly allotment, publishers could then target them by reducing the sample allowance for that audience specifically, and, by allowing more liberal free consumption for other users, reduce the risk that overall user behavior and satisfaction is degraded.

For sites that rely on a lead-in, it’s a different conversation.

Lead-ins

Metering and lead-ins aren’t mutually exclusive. Google even recommends using lead-ins for users who’ve hit a metered paywall:

By exposing the article lede, publishers can let users experience the value of the content and so provide more value to the user than a page with completely blocked content.

Lead-ins can also restrict access immediately or restrict access to a subset of site content (i.e. a freemium model). 

site with some freemium content, some paywalled content.
On ChefSteps, users must sign up for a “Studio Pass” to access a subset of recipes—otherwise, only the lead-in is visible. 

From a technical standpoint, metering is simpler—search engines can always access the full content of the article in the HTML. Lead-ins must provide search engines access while also keeping freeloaders from exploiting loopholes. 

Smullen identifies two types of lead-in models:

  1. Lead-ins with content in HTML or structured data for Google and users;
  2. Lead-ins with content in HTML or structured data for Google only.

1. Lead-ins with content in HTML or structured data for users and Google

A standard lead-in offers a short paragraph followed by a subscription form:

example of a lead in.

If you load that article into Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool, however, the entire article is in the body copy of the Article schema. This method helps Google crawl paywalled content that users can’t see.

For example, in that article, this sentence is present only in the structured data: “The Longstaffs have given hope, but only if they stay, only if more follow in their promising footsteps.”

That text can’t be found in the HTML using an HTML viewer:

example of paywalled content not found in the html.

But if you perform a site: search for it, Google has no issues indexing content found only within the structured data:

example of google indexing content from structured data.

That content, controversially, can even show up in a featured snippet, as this example does for the query “should newcastle’s new owners hire Alan Shearer”:

example of content within structured data showing up as the featured snippet.

The upside of this approach—from a non-SEO point-of-view—is that URLs can’t be loaded with HTML viewers, making content less vulnerable to scrapers.

However, as just shown, anyone willing to go the extra step of extracting content from the structured data can do so—hence the second method below.

2. Lead-ins with content in HTML or structured data for Google only

If you take a random article on The Washington Post and load it into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test, you can see that Google has no issue crawling or rendering the content:

example of how the real googlebot has no problem crawling paywalled articles.

That’s because the Google Mobile-Friendly Test uses the real Googlebot user agent and IP.

If you try to replicate that with a crawler, such as Screaming Frog, you’ll get a 403 Forbidden response code because Screaming Frog only spoofs Googlebot. (You can verify the real Googlebot for your site.)

demonstration of how spoofing googlebot doesn't allow access to paywalled content.

So, yes, if someone really wants to read the article for free, they can copy the HTML from the Mobile-Friendly Test and load it into an HTML viewer.

But this method better protects publishers against scrapers since the Mobile-Friendly Test would limit the volume of requests. Unless a requester is the real Googlebot, the content isn’t scrapable en masse. 

The downside of this method—if you use AMP—is that the article can be read on Google’s AMP cache.

example of ability to read paywalled article on google amp cache.

Indeed, there’s no shortage of ways to bypass paywalls.  

So how do you keep the freeloaders out?

“If someone wants to circumvent a paywall,” says Adams, “they’ll find a way.” He continues:

Don’t make it too technically complex. For maximum adoption, make it a little more difficult. But, more importantly, make sure that it’s frictionless to sign up, and once you’re signed up, it stays entirely frictionless—so people never feel bothered anymore.

Complexity adds more risk than benefit. “You might be able to squeeze another 1–2% of freeloaders into paid subscribers,” suggests Adams, “but how much will you piss off everyone else?”

Most of us have, at some point, cleared our cache or cookies to reset our metering on a site. And metered sites with “sophisticated” systems to keep out freeloaders (e.g., The New York Times) can be undone simply by disabling JavaScript.

Chrome developers continue to play cat-and-mouse with publishers on Incognito mode. Each time they publish an update to fix the “bug” that lets publishers block Incognito users, someone finds another workaround.

Your time is better spent making sure search engines can crawl your content.

Technical SEO implementation for paywalled content

paywall setups of major news publishers.
Dan Smullen has cataloged the paywall setups of major news publishers.

Search engines have to crawl your content to index it. Paywalls, of course, restrict access—to humans and, potentially, crawlers. 

On top of that, if you show different content to humans and crawlers (to help crawlers index your full page while restricting visible access) without a proper SEO setup, your site may get flagged for cloaking

Avoiding cloaking

Google worries about cloaking because it causes Google to index your content for what you show it (e.g., healthy living guide), but users see other information (e.g., hard sell for diet pills).

The March 2017 Fred update unintentionally demoted some legitimate paywalled sites as Google cracked down on cloaking. As a result, Google developed structured data to denote paywalled content.

Structured data for paywalled content

Google has clear guidelines on structured data for paywalled content:

  • JSON-LD and microdata formats are accepted methods.
  • Don’t nest content sections.
  • Only use .class selectors for the cssSelector property.

This markup is supported for the CreativeWork type and subtypes:

  • Article;
  • NewsArticle;
  • Blog;
  • Comment;
  • Course;
  • HowTo;
  • Message;
  • Review;
  • WebPage.

Multiple schema.org types are allowed (e.g., “@type”: [“CreativeWork”,”Article”,”Person”]).

div class paywall example.
css selector paywall example.

To keep Google from showing the cached link for your page, which allows freeloaders access, add the “noarchive” robots meta tag.

Accommodating AMP

In May 2020, Google announced that publishers no longer had to use AMP to appear in the Top Stories section, starting in 2021.

For many news publishers, the Top Stories carousel accounts for the bulk of organic traffic—as much as 80–90%, according to Adams—making AMP accommodation essential.

Because timeliness is paramount—stories have a maximum shelf life of 48 hours—Google doesn’t have time, Brown explains, for more in-depth analysis:

News-specific ranking algorithms are considerably less sophisticated than general web ranking algorithms, so they’ll use simplified things like drastically lower CTRs, increased bounce-backs to search, and lower dwell times.

These are things they can measure simply and use significant outliers to identify user satisfaction issues.

Documentation for AMP is based on the amp-subscriptions component, which adds features on top of amp-access, notably:

  1. The amp-subscriptions entitlements response is similar to the amp-access authorization, but it’s strictly defined and standardized.
  2. The amp-subscriptions extension allows multiple services to be configured for the page to participate in access/paywall decisions. Services are executed concurrently and prioritized based on which service returns the positive response.
  3. AMP viewers are allowed to provide amp-subscriptions a signed authorization response based on an independent agreement with publishers as a proof of access.
  4. In amp-subscriptions content markup is standardized allowing apps and crawlers to easily detect premium content sections.
structured data example for paywalled content with amp.

AMP adds a challenge for publishers who want to show content only to logged-in users because “AMP can’t pre-fetch whether someone is a subscriber or not,” explains Smullen, “which is probably why they’re very interested in offering their own subscribe with Google product.”

If you publish AMP content and want to appear on Google search, you must allow Googlebot in, note Google’s AMP guidelines: “Make sure that your authorization endpoint grants access to content to the appropriate bots from Google and others.”

As Smullen discovered, this led The Irish Times to deploy an interesting paywall method. A snapshot of their split of paywalled articles shows that about 10% (7/71) of homepage articles are “subscriber only” or use a hard paywall, which suggests that their primary method to encourage subscriptions is metering (since 90% of articles are openly available).

But they also use a hard lead-in approach for their subscriber-only articles. When viewing these articles on desktop or mobile, the article body text is removed from the HTML. They use a temporary redirect to push users into a hard paywall:

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/critical-essays-on-richard-murphy-a-poet-s-lifelong-quest-for-identity-1.4246452

302s to 

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/critical-essays-on-richard-murphy-a-poet-s-lifelong-quest-for-identity-1.4246452?mode=sample&auth-failed=1&pw-origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.irishtimes.com%2Fculture%2Fbooks%2Fcritical-essays-on-richard-murphy-a-poet-s-lifelong-quest-for-identity-1.4246452
example of irish times lead-in and paywall.

However, if you inspect the source and identify the AMP alternate…

<link rel="amphtml" href="https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/critical-essays-on-richard-murphy-a-poet-s-lifelong-quest-for-identity-1.4246452?mode=amp">

…then load that page into the Mobile-Friendly Test and, finally, paste the HTML into an HTML viewer, you can access the full article. The HTML is in the HTML page source for the real Googlebot.

So, subscriber-only articles restrict the content in the HTML and structured data for everyone except Googlebot—even within AMP content.

Smullen sees their strategy as a clever stretching of Google’s recommendations. Their hybrid model allows them to encourage subscriptions from metering but also restrict Incognito users, HTML viewers, AMP users, and scrapers from their subscriber-only content.

The only downside is error warnings of content mismatch in Google Search Console.

QA’ing your implementation

Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool shows if your structured data implementation is correct, but you may also want to see the render—if your implementation, while error free, also displays what you expect.

You can do that using:

  • Google Search Console;
  • Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
example of qa'ing content in google search console.

“Technically,” Adams told me, “there’s always a way to build it. It’s more about whether it makes business sense.”

How to make a paywall profitable

“The websites I’ve seen work,” Adams said, “either focus on quality or quality and a specific niche.”

Smullen agrees: “Real stories, fact checking politicians, investigative journalism, exclusive interviews, and explainers on what the headlines mean is what people are willing to pay for.”

Editorial behavior lags behind that realization. Smullen again: “Most broadsheets and tabloids are free because online, traditionally, was a ‘digital dumping ground’—an afterthought.”

The long-term impact of that neglect has become more costly as it’s gotten harder to monetize pageviews.

Monetizing pageviews isn’t enough

As popular as news sites may seem, Smullen explains, they’re small fish in search:

Mel Silva, Google’s managing director for Australia, said that news accounts for barely 1% of actions on Google search in Australia, and that Google earned only AU$10 million in revenue from clicks on ads next to news-related queries.

In addition, good journalism, such as fact checking politicians in an election, might not always be what drives pageviews—and also not what advertisers want to bid on—but is massively important for our society.

As Smullen concludes, “the fall of Buzzfeed and the rise of The New York Times suggests that the news subscription model is the only sustainable model left to publishers.”

It helps if you’re starting with a powerful brand.

Where are you starting from?

the athletic homepage.

Building a brand new brand behind a paywall is tough, admits Brown:

The Athletic managed it by capitalizing on well-known local writers in each market who would bring an audience with them and meet the open-my-wallet criteria. It’s much tougher to try that without bringing an audience with you from the outset.

I doubt we’ll see a ton of current publishers adopt a new paywall strategy, even with Google’s efforts to relax guidelines. Too much of what they’re covering is still a commodity for most users, and unwinding the ad-supported model has a lot of friction.

You’re rewriting your business on speculation.

A speculative strategy can end in catastrophe, as Adams saw when he came in to rescue The Sun:

Paywalls can work for news sites, just not news sites that don’t necessarily have a strong USP in terms of the quality and type of reporting they do, which is why The Sun’s paywall was such a failure [. . . ] their content was very interchangeable with other websites.

If you go behind that paywall, you have to be fairly confident that you’ve built those quality signals over time—that Google can’t just throw out your website. If another website can pick up the slack, that’s going to happen.

the sun's drop in organic traffic after paywall implementation.

News is an especially challenging vertical since no site owns a newsworthy event. The facts you publish may quickly become the source material for dozens of competing articles, something Smullen laments:

I see daily evidence, even for free stories, that regional publishers swipe the content and story from us, giving it a different headline and ranking in front due to their published time being more recent.

At the same time, organic traffic, for many news sites, isn’t the primary acquisition source, in part because most news-related queries are new and never searched before.

Smullen estimates that SEO accounts for 25% of sessions, some 70% of which are brand queries; his colleague at a Belgian news site reports organic traffic to be less than 10% of total sessions.

SEO requires backend considerations but doesn’t, in many cases, drive editorial strategy, says Smullen:

If someone were to build a paywall-worthy brand from scratch and get bogged down by domain authority metrics and traffic stats, they would never produce award-winning content.

Tapping into a niche, being subscription only, and getting in front of the audience you want—instead of the mass audience—may be a better way to get started than concerning yourself too much with the online authority of the big players.

Maintaining a balance between discoverability and monetization requires getting everyone onboard, as Brown explains:

One crucial strategy is to model out organic decline to the most severe point to gauge how comfortable everybody is with risking that traffic.

More often than not, this gives decision-makers serious pause, and in some cases has led to scrapping the paywall idea altogether. That’s probably for the best, as the worst paywall decisions are ones where half-measures and unrealistic expectations are in play.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that some trends have shifted back in publishers’ favor.

Trends that just might help your paywall succeed

As Adams argues:

  1. People are increasingly willing to pay for quality information;
  2. Online payments are easier to process.

The New York Times, which passed 5 million subscribers in February and cleared $800 million in revenue last year, supports that opinion.

Since launching a paywall on Independent.ie in February, Smullen has seen strong, consistent subscription growth—from zero to 22,000 in three months:

growth in subscribers with paywall implementation.

Smullen’s experience—recent and over the long haul—has made him an advocate of a hybrid approach to paywall implementation. His strategy is specific to the news industry but has obvious parallels for other niches:

1. Free access for major news stories (e.g., a country announcing a lockdown) or free news, such as press releases or unessential news that every other publisher has (e.g., a fast-food company giving away free fries for the next 24 hours).

That type of content, Smullen says, gets great traction on social media and helps publishers monetize pageviews with ads.

2. Lead-in with a registration or subscription wall and an app conversion strategy. From a technical perspective, content isn’t visible to the user or random bots in the HTML or structured data.

When a specific search engine (e.g., Googlebot) accesses the content with a valid IP, however, it’s presented with the content in the HTML and has correct paywall structured data.

The strategy also allows publishers to deploy a “soft wall” to capture an email address from search and encourage users to download the app. After a certain number of articles per month, you apply a hard paywall.

App users are the most loyal users, according to Smullen. They also give publishers direct marketing potential with push notifications and newsletter subscriptions, all while secreting users away in a walled garden.

Finally, a deep-linking strategy can ensure that when a user discovers content via a search engine, they’re directed back to the app (similar to how The Guardian app works). 

Conclusion

“It always boils down to the same conversation,” said Adams. “Are people going to pay for this? Are you unique enough or confident enough in your service offering that you want to put a paywall on it?”

Those are questions about your editorial and brand strength. If you don’t have the content to do it, you’re in trouble. The technical side, in comparison, is straightforward.

On the whole, the future of the publishing industry may not be as dire as it seemed a few years ago, when search engines gave away the store, consumers balked at paying for online content, and ad blockers ate away at revenue.

But it’s not easy. The Athletic recently laid off 8% of its staff. Whether that’s a sign of a dysfunctional model, insufficiently valuable content, or the current economic times is up for debate. 

“If you’d asked me four or five years ago if a paywall was a good idea,” said Adams, taking it all in, “I would’ve said, ‘No.’”

But, he concluded, like any good SEO, “Now I’d say, ‘It depends.’”

The post Paywalls, SEO, and the Need for a Damn Good Brand appeared first on CXL.