Why your website must look like your visitors

People who land on your website expect it to say “this is for me”. They need to identify with your site in a second. New research confirms this is the case for word of mouth too.

Different kinds of people

When people land on a web page they take fractions of seconds to decide whether or not “this is for me”. Indeed, some studies have shown that this decision is made in around half a second, that’s before a visitor is even consciously aware of what is on the page.

What people appear to be doing is trying to confirm whether the page they are visiting is a “good fit”. Does the page offer what is wanted and does it offer it to the same people as me?

An example I often use to explain this is the problem faced by a hotel website. Hotels service a wide range of clients – business people, wedding guests, party-goers, conference organisers and so on. A few years ago my new neighbour was chatting about her forthcoming wedding and, being new to the area, wanted to know of suitable venues. I mentioned one to her which is a highly popular country house wedding venue. She picked up her iPad, went to the website and said, “Oh no, I’m not going there, it’s a business hotel”. She had been put off within one second by the image on the front page of the hotel’s website which was of a man walking into the door, whilst carrying a business briefcase.

The hotel is not just for business people; it hosts many weddings and corporate events. Even though my neighbour’s dream venue for her wedding was a country house, she dismissed a nearby hotel simply because of the first image she saw. In less than a couple of seconds, she had decided not go there – and she didn’t…! Instead, she went to a venue almost 100 miles away. When I went to their website I could see why. The first image on this wedding venue website was of a woman, aged about 30, clearly taken on an Autumn day. My neighbour was in her mid-30s and her wedding was going to be in October. Bingo. Perfect match. The image meant she could easily see herself there.

But the problem for the venue is that not everyone is in their mid-30s nor do they all want a wedding in the Autumn. Therefore to match each visitor you would need thousands of combinations of ages and situations so that the visitor could go “that’s me”.

Therein lies the problem for website owners. If you are to show people who visit your site that this is “for them”, how can you do so when there are so many different “thems”? In the real world, you would do this by picking up on the conversation and feeding back only the material that matched. For instance, if you were sitting with a hotel owner talking about your wedding in the Autumn, they’d quickly flick through a photo album to other Autumn weddings and you would think “this is the place for me” because you could see yourself in that situation. Doing that kind of reflecting on what the individual is saying and then feeding back the relevant material so that you match your offer to the individual is almost impossible online.

Now, new research from the USA confirms this problem is probably going to get worse. That’s because for many website owners they rely on social media to help produce the “this is for people like me” effect. Yet the new study shows that people only believe electronic word of mouth through social media if the website has “homophily” (the technical name for “this is like me”). In other words, people are becoming more sceptical about reviews and recommendations unless the particular website demonstrates homophily. That means if a company is using social media for recommendations it is going to be increasingly vital that the website mentioned in such reviews demonstrates that it is precisely like the visitor. Far from making homophily less necessary (through social proof), it appears that electronic word of mouth is making it even more important that you show your website is like your visitor.

This now means that multiple landing pages targeted at specific types of individuals are essential. That also means that you need separate marketing campaigns for each kind of individual. Plus it means you need multiple persona analysis to make it all work.

This is what you do in the real world, by listening to people and responding in a way that is personalised to them. Most websites don’t do anything like that and as a result lose considerable amounts of custom because there is little “fit” with the variety of individuals visiting.

It’s time to stop thinking of websites, but of web pages aimed at tiny, tiny, tiny groups of individuals – and you’ll therefore probably need hundreds of such pages. It’s either that, or continue to lose business from thousands of people within seconds.

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Mobile is not as important as we think

Mobile is increasingly important for search and for the initial discovery of things to buy. But the desktop is where most purchases are made.

People buying online

With Black Friday and CyberMonday upon us and the start of the Christmas shopping season, it’s no wonder there are all sorts of articles about how to use the Internet to sell more. Much of that information is focusing on the power of the smartphone. Indeed, one study has shown that mobile-driven purchasing is now behind 52% of all online sales.

Google has adjusted its algorithm to favour of mobile devices because over 50% of search is through a mobile device.

Everywhere you look, you find further emphasis that mobile is the way ahead.

Except it isn’t.

Statistics can be misleading. And we are being misled. If you want to sell more online, you have to take mobile into account, that’s true. But it is the context of the use of mobile in the purchasing pathway that is important.

Recently, I completed a small piece of research and found that 100% of the people involved in the study did the same thing. They all used the mobile devices to see potential purchases. Some used their mobile all the time for this; others did so occasionally. But everyone in the study (20 people) then went home and made the actual purchase using a desktop computer.

The reasons for doing this included security concerns of mobile devices and the poor implementation of online shops on small screens.

Now, more in-depth research has shown much the same. Almost two-thirds of purchases are made on desktops, even though most searches for suitable things to buy are done on a mobile. The study which discovered this is substantial, looking at more than 140 million purchases.

Apart from being the place where most sales take place, the desktop computer is where customers are more loyal. In other words, if you want to sell more and make more money online rather than focusing on mobile (which is the current advice you see in many places) what you really need to do is drive people to the desktop. Not only will you sell more, but you will gain more loyal purchasers.

The reasons why the desktop is responsible for more sales include:

  • Security concerns of mobiles
  • Better visual impact of large screen shops
  • Familiarity with desktop shopping
  • Increased ability to comparison shop on a desktop
  • Ability to take more time to make a purchase decision

There are plenty of reasons why mobiles are of benefit to online sellers, but all the brouhaha over mobiles is focusing website owners in the wrong direction. It isn’t about making sales on the mobile, but about using the smartphone to get people to your desktop site.

Online advertisers are failing to make the most of mobile

Advertisers are spending money for almost no return. Mobile users are abandoning websites having clicked on a pay per click advert.

Mobile shopping basket

One in every four visitors to an online mobile shop arrives there as a result of clicking on a Google advert. Yet, a whopping 83% of those people who have clicked on the advert disappear from the resulting page, mostly without venturing any further into the shop. In other words, the vast majority of advertisers are paying for people to visit their site for a second or two and then disappear.

A study of more than 60m shopping sessions found that even though people are relatively happy to click on a mobile advert, they are distinctly unhappy with what they see as a result. In other words, advertisers are just throwing money away almost every time someone clicks on one of their adverts.

This isn’t new, of course. Previous studies have found that three-quarters of people who click on an advert never buy anything. Other research has shown that 94% of people simply ignore online advertising.

The latest study of the impact of mobile advertising shows, once again, that advertisers are failing to achieve anything significant because they are not providing what their markets actually want.

There is a hint in the study which shows that desktop users tend to stay longer on sites having clicked an advert and buy more.

What this suggests is that advertisers have been better at engaging people on desktops than on mobiles. Could it be that the adverts on mobiles are leading people to sites that are built for desktops and not for mobiles?

Many websites are “responsive” in that they adapt their design to the size of the screen being used. But that is only half the battle. People use mobiles differently to the way they use desktops. In other words, it is not just mobile design that needs to be different, but mobile functionality. Delivering a responsive version of the desktop site is not going to help people who want to use their mobiles in a different way.

What this really means is that if advertisers want to improve their return from mobile advertising, then they need to produce mobile-specific websites that function the way mobile users want.

However, the chances of that happening are slim if research on marketing measurement is anything to go by. This study of 2,000 marketers found that measurement of supposed success of advertising is somewhat basic, such as the number of impressions, or click through rate. Bounce rates – the people who click on an advert and then disappear – are pretty low down the list of measurement tools. Equally, attribution modelling is hardly used in comparison with the rather weak measures of things like “reach”.

Attribution modelling looks at the whole story of how someone gets to buy a product or service. The model looks at the way in which people go from one marketing point to another and eventually to purchase. If advertisers were to use attribution modelling in the mobile sector they would more easily realise what is going on and what they can do about the high level of lack of engagement.

These two studies taken together reveal one thing. Advertisers and marketers are finding it tough to provide what people really want – but largely that’s because those marketers are measuring the wrong things.

Are marketers going down the wrong road?

More and more businesses are using a greater number of channels. That means much of what they do is becoming invisible as it is ubiquitous.

Internet marketing concept

Each day you are bombarded with marketing messages. Before the arrival of the Internet, it used to be held true in the marketing world that an individual needed to see a message seven times before they reacted. That’s why coordinated marketing campaigns were produced so that people could see a marketing message in several different places and would then register it in their mind. Nowadays, studies suggest that the “seven messages” notion is way out of date and that people now need to see a marketing message more than 22 times before they notice it.

It now looks like that number is going to increase. With the widespread availability of more and more possible marketing channels, marketers appear intent on using them all. Indeed, a study by Salesforce suggests that over the next couple of years, marketers are intending to use every available channel to get their messages seen.

Salesforce marketing chart

There is, though, a problem with that. The human brain is finely tuned to filter out repetitive information. The more we see something, the more we perceive it as normal, as part of the everyday and mundane. Such things are not a threat to our existence. So our brain focuses on finding the unusual, the things that are not there every day, the things that stand out. This is part of our survival instinct. Our brains focus on threats and minimising them.

Think of it this way. You are an antelope, and you are going about your everyday business in an African grassland. The gentle movement of the grass you see every day, that’s not a bother. Neither is the herd of zebra a few hundred yards away. Nor is it a problem that birds fly past your nose every few minutes. It is all normal. So, you have no need to worry about it. But that unusual twitch in the grass, off to your side, well that’s not normal. The grass doesn’t usually shudder like that. And that’s because it is a careless lion, stalking you for lunch. The antelope’s brain sees the strange twitching of the grass but doesn’t notice the mundane all around it. If it saw the normal everyday things, there would be so much cognitive power required, the unusual wouldn’t get spotted and – bingo – a lion has its lunch.

Your brain is pretty much the same. It doesn’t spot the normal, everyday things, but notices the unusual, the stuff that isn’t normal. You can try this for yourself in your office. Spend a few moments noting down some of the things that are present in the room that are what you might call “normal”, such as electrical outlets, books, labels on filing cabinets and so on. Then invite a few people to tell you (without looking) where such things are, what books you have in your room and what the labels on the filing cabinets say. They won’t be able to answer, even if they have been into your office hundreds of times. That’s because all of these things are normal.

On another day, repeat your experiment, but this time place something on your desk that isn’t normally there. It might be a bunch of flowers, a bowl of fruit or a new laptop. It doesn’t matter what it is. When you invite people into your room, it won’t be long before they mention the new thing. They will have spotted the unusual, before the mundane.

This is now the basis of the problem with modern marketing. With more and more channels being used and marketing messages becoming ubiquitous they are appearing as part of the furniture. They are so normal, we don’t notice them. The more channels marketers use, the more they are making their messages invisible. Humans are very good at avoiding paying attention to things that do not matter. The more often we see something, the less it means to us.

Marketers argue back

Marketers, of course, say that all they are doing is aligning their work with the “customer journey”.  This is what is apparent in the Salesforce study, which included more than 3,500 marketing leaders in its research. But therein lies the problem, the modern “customer journey” is confused, unstructured and random. People visit stores, they go to websites, they check social media, they use email, they chat on Snapchat, and they read newspapers, watch TV and increasingly listen to the radio, podcasts and streaming audio programmes. The “customer journey” is no longer straightforward. If you follow that, you are also using a confused and rather random approach, it would seem.

If you want to follow the “customer journey” it inevitably leads to making marketing decisions which get your message everywhere that people go. That, in turn, means your marketing message becomes part of the background, it is ordinary and everyday and, thereby, is no longer noticed by the brain that focuses on the unusual.

Overcoming the marketing conundrum

Is there a way out of this problem? One method, of course, is to be even more creative. Make your marketing so unique and different that it stands out amongst the noise. That can be expensive and time-consuming, though.

Another alternative method is one adopted by Wetherspoons recently. They have just deleted their entire email marketing database as they have declared they will no longer be sending out marketing messages via email. The company has decided that it no longer wants to send out email newsletter which, according to their message to customers, “many consider intrusive”.

What is clear is that Wetherspoons is telling customers there are only three places where you will see their marketing messages – on the company website, on Twitter and on Facebook. Rather than following the “customer journey”, Wetherspoons is telling customers what journey they need to be on. Instead of following, they are leading.

Perhaps many marketers are not as “brave” as Wetherspoons. These marketers instinctively know that creating more and more noise on more and more channels just reduces their visibility. However, in spite of knowing this they carry one because that is what everyone else is doing and to do anything different would be “unsafe”. Wetherspoons apparently disagree. So do I.

Improved brand loyalty comes from content, not advertising

Brand loyalty is at an all-time low. New research points to a way in which you can boost customer loyalty to very high levels.

Brand Loyalty Puzzle Showing Trustworthy Products And Clients Satisfaction

Brand loyalty is taking something of a hit as a result of the Internet. People are looking for a good deal; they use comparison sites, and they can search for exactly what they want. No longer are people sticking to a tried and tested brand. Various studies show that brand loyalty used to be important for around 40% of consumers. Nowadays it is less than half that. Most shoppers are no longer loyal to a particular brand. More than eight out of every ten people don’t care about the brand, as long as they get what they want.

That doesn’t stop brand owners trying a range of tricks and techniques to make us stick to their particular company. Increasingly, though, it looks like that brands are choosing the wrong route to success. They are often using rather old-fashioned ways of trying to get people to be loyal to their brand, such as loyalty cards, points schemes and so on. You’ve probably lost count of the loyalty schemes you are signed up with – and no longer use.

However, new research from the team at Nielsen suggests a way forward. Their study of people who saw either advertisements from brands or content from brands showed clearly that it was content that won the greatest affinity. Helpful content produced almost twice the amount of brand affinity than an advert for the particular product. Similarly, there as a 30% uplift in purchase intent as a result of content. The likelihood of recommending a brand was also significantly higher for the content than for the advert. In addition, the study found that there was a substantial increase in recall of the brand from the content than from the advert.

So, what does this study tell us? It shows that advertising is only of limited help in making people want your brand. The study demonstrated clearly that educational videos, for instance, as well as stories about brands and products, are the kind of content that lead to increased brand affinity.

In other words, you are more likely to make people loyal to your brand when you talk less about the brand and more about the users and what they can achieve or get out of the products and services your brand produces.

This should not really be much of a surprise. A study earlier this year found that most people were fed up with brands “shouting at them” through adverts, for instance.

How to increase the interest in your brand

So, how can you be sure to increase the interest in your brand online? Here are three things you can do:

  1. Take an editorial approach, rather than an advertising approach; think stories, articles, blogs, video programmes and so on
  2. Promote your editorial content through social media
  3. Be seen as the experts in your field

There are also five more ways you can increase customer loyalty in this earlier blog post.

You can also discover how to improve brand loyalty in my book Click.ology.

How to grab people with fantastically stunning titles

You need fantastically stunning titles on all your digital content if you are to engage people in an information-rich world.

Woman surrounded by headlines Every day you see literally thousands of different headings and titles. These include email subject lines, search engine results listings, blog titles and newspaper headlines, amongst many others. Almost all of the titles that you see, you ignore. Can you remember any titles you saw yesterday, out of the thousands that you read? Most of the titles we read are bland, boring and basic, to say the least.

However, the title of your blog post, or the subject line of your email, or the headline of your web page are amongst the first things people see. They are the handful of words that need to grab attention in a world of information overload. The titles you use are the most important aspect of your digital content. So, the question is, do you give them the amount of time, care and attention they deserve?

Learn from expert headline writers

Tabloid newspapers understand the importance of headlines. About a quarter of sales of newspapers are from “promiscuous readers” – these are people who swap and change newspapers depending on the headlines on the front page. They are attracted to buy a newspaper simply because of the front page headlines. As a result, getting the right headline has a considerable financial impact for the newspaper. You’ll find that a typical newspaper has one person who spent a couple of hours writing the front page story, but there was a team of people who spent more time on the headline than was invested in the article beneath it.  Some tabloid newspapers employ individuals whose sole job is to spend the entire day coming up with the three or four words that will be the “splash” headline on the front. The newspaper owners know that investing significant resources in headline writing is money and time well-spent, as it pays off in attracting those “promiscuous readers”.

Online, though, we are all “promiscuous readers”. We search for something and click on any of the headings that attract us. Similarly, we scroll down our email inbox and pick out the things that entice us the most. Also, we flit from blog to blog, depending on the headings that we see.

Rather like newspaper headline writers, website owners and bloggers really ought to invest more time and trouble in writing the headings of their content, than on producing the material itself in the first place. Research shows that readers spend more time on the headlines than they do on the articles beneath them, so it makes sense to devote more of your efforts to writing titles than to the text beneath them. When you fire off an email, do you pay attention to the subject line as much as you should? After all, it is the only thing that people see in their inbox. Similarly, when you produce a new web page do you spend a long time crafting the right heading? That is what people will see in the search results listing, and if they are not attracted by those words, they will not click on them. Indeed, as the data integration company Bedrock Data recently demonstrated, you can even get people to focus on data by using the right report titles. Similarly, in a world when we are constantly bombarded with messages, we need to think about the wording we use in text messages, as shown in the article “Tips to make your texts more appealing than your customers.”

Three steps to great titles

The first thing to do in writing headlines or email subject lines is to devote the time you need. The more time you can spend on your titles, the better. Indeed, if you spend more time on the heading than on the content beneath it, you’ll get real benefits. You are not wasting time in doing this. So the first step is about attitude – realising that the heading or title of your content is more important than the content itself.

The second step is to consider all the words you might use. You will need your keywords, of course, but also those emotional words and the unusual words that are not common in everyday language. They stand out and make your heading more visible in an information-rich world. Emotional wording is also important – you need to trigger emotions in order to get engagement. Take a look at newspaper headlines and they will make you angry, happy, sad, titillated or fearful, for example; newspaper headline writers know instinctively how to trigger your emotions using the right words.

The third thing to do is to evaluate your headline. In newspaper offices, you will find the sub-editors constantly chatting to each other about their headline ideas, testing them out with each other. Talking to people around you can help, but there are also tools you can use to test out your titles to make sure they work well. One is the Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer from the Advanced Marketing Institute. The other is the Headline Analyzer from CoSchedule. These tools give you a percentage score showing how effective your headline or subject line is going to be. (If you are interested, the heading on this article scores 37.5% as “emotional value”, which makes it the same kind of level as a top advertising copywriter. The title also scores 77% on overall analysis – putting it into the A+ category for web-based headings.)

You should not skimp on title creation and headline writing. It is probably now the most important aspect of digital marketing and content marketing because people spend most of their time skimming headlines. You need to stop them in their tracks and get them to engage with your content. That’s why you need to put at least as much time and effort into writing the titles as you do to producing the content.

Star rating or customer review? Which is best?

Should your website have individual customer reviews or overall star ratings? One is better than the other. But which?

Five-star review Websites are littered with “star ratings” these days; but are they worth it? Do visitors take any notice of them? With so many websites including such star ratings, surely they must be worthwhile? After all, if everybody is doing it, then it must be good – right? Well, perhaps not.

Rating stars do appear to have some value, but they are not as good as written reviews. Indeed, according to research from the University of Mainz, a single written review can be more influential than a cumulative rating. The study found that aggregated star ratings are much less of an influence on a website visitor than a written review. Indeed, the researchers were able to demonstrate that a written review had more impact on potential purchasers even if they accepted that the reviewer was not typical. In other words, people who visit your website trust the words more than they trust the stars.

Other studies have found, for instance, that it is not the “average” that matters, but the extremes. It appears that people tend to look at the highly negative reviews and the entirely positive ones, making their own assessment of what those extremes mean. Such research was recently highlighted in the article, “3 Psychological Tips to Make Customer Reviews Work“.

So, what do these studies mean for your website?

They suggest that you need to garner written reviews and testimonials, rather than just ask people to rate you. Indeed, according to the German research, the star ratings are influenced entirely by what you think of the company’s customer service anyway. So if you perceive the company as having poor customer service, the five-star rating is less likely to be worthwhile. That suggests that a business needs excellent customer service if it is to benefit from online star ratings. Otherwise, they are too open to influence from what people think about you.

That is not the case for written reviews, it seems. So, the more written reviews and testimonials you can gain, the better for your business. However, yet more research from Germany shows that the key to the effectiveness of written reviews online is the strength of the brand. The study found that the responses to written reviews influenced the likelihood of purchase, when such reviews were negative. One of the most important factors affecting the impact of such responses to negative reviews was the strength of the brand itself. In other words, if you want to benefit from written reviews, you need to establish your business as a reliable brand.

Combined with the fact that earlier studies have found that what influences star rating value is what people already think about your company, a clear message is coming through from the research. Star ratings and online reviews are only really worthwhile if you run a good business. Concentrate on providing quality products and excellent service and your ratings and reviews will have value. But avoid providing the best you can, and those online reviews will be of little real value to you.

Is Facebook advertising misleading you?

Facebook’s advertising system does not appear to be entirely accurate in what it reports to potential advertisers.

Advertising on Facebook is hugely popular. Between 2013 and 2014 there was a 61% increase in take-up of Facebook adverts. In the first quarter of 2015 there was further 42% rise. In the past 12 months, advertisers have spent over $40 billion on advertising with Facebook. Meanwhile, growth in advertising on Google is a comparative low 12%. It appears that advertisers are favouring Facebook ads.

Facebook advertising

It is not difficult to see why. Google advertising allows you to target keywords that people type in. You can exert some geographical control so that your advertisement only appears to people within your local business area. But you cannot do much more than that.

Meanwhile, over at Facebook, you can much more precisely target your advertising to more specific geographical areas, as well as age groups, gender and specific personal interests. Consequently, Facebook advertising means you can get your advert where it is more likely to have an effect.

Businesses that advertise on Facebook and who know the system well and use it effectively report a good degree of success. Indeed, an analysis of companies that between them spend $6bn on Facebook adverts shows that Google is less effective in gaining click-throughs most of the time. This is in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Facebook advertising clicks come from desktop computers, whilst most Facebook activity itself is on mobiles. In other words, most Facebook users are not clicking on an advert.

PC Pro MagazineAdvertisers, of course, know that the click through rates are going to be low. Few of us are that bothered or interested in advertising. However, is it possible that Facebook is making potential advertisers think that the system is better than it is? That is the subject of an article in the October edition of PC Pro Magazine. This reveals that one advertiser was told that in the selected area for which they were targeting their adverts there were 620,000 Facebook users. That is rather hard to understand, given the entire population of the region is only 232,000 individuals. After complaining, Facebook agreed there was some kind of problem and revised the potential reach of the proposed advert to 80,000. Hugely different to the original.

So I decided to put this to the test. I live in an area which has a total population of 1,015 people. That is the entire Parish population; the parish itself is 13.4 square kilometres.  I decided to set up a Facebook advert for just one kilometre of this parish. According to Facebook, my advert will reach 2,500 people – more than double the population of the entire area, much of which is elderly and less likely to be using Facebook anyway.

Faecbook reachThese are only anecdotal reports, I know, but experienced digital marketers point out that you need to do your research first, understand the actual size of your target population and take the Facebook information with a pinch of salt. After all, Facebook itself does say it is only an “estimate”. It appears, though, that their powers of estimation are not that good.

What this means in reality is that people could be fooled into believing that their advertising will be more effective than is actually possible.

And it is not just Facebook that seems to do this. When I tried to set up an advert on Google, it told me that there were 22,000 people who would be searching within my parish. That’s 20 times the actual population…!

What’s the moral in this?

Don’t believe what online advertising systems tell you about the potential for your adverts. Do your own research and work it out yourself.

Are marketers making the best of behavioural research?

Marketers claim to use behavioural research to help them make decisions. But evidence suggests they are ignoring the psychology studies.

Words of Consumer Behavior with Chalk on Blackboard

Increasing numbers of marketers claim that behavioural research is fundamental to their work. Indeed, the latest study from MillwardBrown suggests that over two-thirds of marketers believe that understanding the psychology of their customers is their most important tool.

The research also found that in spite of this, marketers are really unsure as to whether they are providing the right mix of methods of reaching people. Only 25% of people were confident they had got things right.

Chart showing behavioural research data

Looking at the details of this research you can see that marketers put a great deal of effort into online methods. The most popular is a website, but 31% of all marketing activity is still advertising, split between online and offline. It seems as though the marketers are ignoring the information they get from their behavioural studies.

Research shows that people do not like adverts. Online advertising is highly attractive for marketers because it is much easier to track and monitor its effect. Therefore marketers can produce reports and graphs showing impact and usage of the advertising – showing their efforts have been working. Except it hasn’t. Over 90% of online advertising is ignored. How much offline advertising is ignored is hard to judge, but probably most of it. Behavioural studies confirm time and time again that advertising is the least liked form of marketing – yet in this latest research, advertising is being used for about one third of all marketing activity. And that’s from people who claim that they are basing their decisions on behavioural studies.

Further indication that the behavioural research is being ignored is the proportion of the amount of email marketing compared with website marketing. For several years studies have shown that email marketing is better than web marketing – people respond more favourably to email marketing than to websites. So why are marketers who claim to use behavioural studies only using email marketing 7% of the time compared with 18% of the time for websites? Surely, if they used behavioural research they would be much closer together, perhaps even with email marketing being used more than web marketing?

Meanwhile evidence is mounting that social media is actually ineffective for most business in terms of gaining clients or purchases. The proportion of customers who arise via social media is actually very tiny. Yet the marketers are using social media for 13% of their activity – way out of proportion to the financial gains it brings. Sure, social media marketing can help produce lots of activity and wonderful charts that impress bosses, but in terms of the bottom-line the impact for most businesses is negligible. That’s because the behavioural studies show that consumers are using social media in a frame of mind that does not lead to purchasing.

So you have to wonder – if marketers are claiming to base their work on behavioural studies, why are they missing out on using some of the most obvious findings?

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Do your product pages really need pictures?

Visualisation rather than visuals appear to work better if you want people to focus on something

Every marketer you speak with is bound to tell you that you sell benefits, not features. Most online stores are lists of features, rather than benefits. Amazon, for instance, doesn’t tell you the benefits of buying its products. Instead, it shows all of the technical details, lists of features and several images so you can see every aspect of what you intend to buy.

The world’s most successful online consumer retail store is clearly going against centuries of marketing advice. So how come Amazon sells billions of dollars of goods by focusing on features, not benefits?

The answer to that was in a blog post I wrote nearly three years ago about the confidence levels of consumers. People with lower levels of confidence tend to focus on features, rather than benefits.

From a marketing perspective that is important. If your customers are confident kind of people, they’ll focus more on the benefits. And therein lies another issue – the kind of pictures you use, or indeed whether or not you should use pictures at all.

The parade of pictures on Amazon are feature-based; they do not sell the benefits. So what kind of pictures might you need if your website has to sell benefits instead of features?

New research suggests you should not have pictures at all. A study conducted at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, found that people can focus their attention much more accurately when they visualise than when they are shown images. In other words, your attention is better focused when you create the images in your head rather than seeing those images.

Several years ago I worked with a group of Olympic athletes preparing for the Games in Sydney, Australia. I remember asking a leading sprinter “what do you look at when you are at the start?” He was completely clear with his answer – “nothing”. He looked at nothing – he was oblivious to everything going on around him. All he was doing was visualising his finish, breaking through the finishing line in the next 10 seconds or so. All successful athletes I have met do the same thing; they do not look at anything – they visualise the finish.

This suggests that the new research has a point. When people visualise, they appear to be able to focus better and pay more attention to what is important. You can use that principle in your product pages. All you need to do is to use word pictures or stories of the benefits, rather than showing pictures of the products you sell. That way, people will translate those stories and word pictures into images inside their heads, visualising those benefits. In turn, that means they will be more focused on buying.

[Tweet “You don’t always need pictures of products to make people want to by them”]

Traditional public relations is better than online activity

Traditional print public relations more trusted than online activity and advertising. Want to boost your online business? Use traditional PR

A 3D newspaperThe last two days have seen two entirely different stories emerging about banks part-owned by the British taxpayers. Yesterday, the Royal Bank of Scotland announced whopping great losses and promised more to come. Meanwhile, today, Lloyds Bank posted significant profits, confirming the taxpayers will be getting share dividends.

Both banks, however, went into PR overdrive. The CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland was on TV, radio and looks like he spent the day being interviewed, trying to get his message across that they were on the road to recovery, but it was a long road. Today, the CEO of Lloyds Bank has been saying how pleased he is that at last the company is paying dividends again after a long break.

But who do you believe in all the coverage of these divergent banking stories?

  • Do you believe the banks themselves? Are you sure that the CEOs have given you a balanced and fair assessment of the situation?
  • Or do you believe what you have read online in places like Google New, which is awash with material about these banking results?
  • Alternatively, have you bought a printed newspaper today and read the coverage of the banks, putting more faith in this media?

What is the most trusted source of information on these banking stories – the banks themselves, online media or printed media?

Hold on to your hat if you are an online PR practitioner…..it turns out that PRINT is the most trusted source of information about a company.

Well – at least it is amongst the PR industry. A study published in the Public Relations Journal from the Public Relations Society of America has found that people in the PR industry value traditional media much more highly than they do new media.

But before you say this is all rather biased, consider some of the most famous companies on the interweb. Think about Google, Facebook and Amazon and wonder how did they get to be so big. Students of corporate history will know that all of these companies began with relatively small budgets and turned to low-cost public relations, getting articles about their businesses published in newspapers, magazines and journals. In “The Google Story“, author David A. Vise points out that a chance inclusion of Google in a listing in PC Magazine in 1998 led to the fledgling company understanding the benefit of free publicity in mainstream media – something the company continues to benefit from. Similarly, in “The Facebook Effect“, David Kirkpatrick reveals the intense media interest in the early days of Facebook and how this stimulated the growth in the use of the social network.

People flocked to Facebook and Google, for instance, because they trusted the independent coverage these technology firms were getting in the print media.

Even though much of what we do these days is digital, the degree of trust we give to things in printed form is still very high. Indeed, this taps into our psychological need to touch and feel things to establish their reality.

The Public Relations Journal article might be biased because of who it studied, but it does help make us think. In these digital and virtual days should we concentrate on online activity, or is there still a place for real world, print-based public relations?

On the basis of this study and on fundamental psychological principles, if you want people to trust your business you need to get yourself into printed newspapers and magazines.

If the banks had realised that seven years ago – when they often would ignore the media – perhaps they wouldn’t in the state they are in now.

Small businesses confused by online marketing

Survey reveals contradictory ideas from small business owners who appear confused by internet marketing options.

Hand pointing at a Internet Marketing illustration on blue background.What are the most important things to small businesses in terms of marketing? The answer is revealed in a study of more than 700 small and medium sized businesses in America and Europe. The most important things are “word of mouth” and “telephone calls”.

So guess what those small business owners plan to spend more time and money on during 2015…? You guessed it, Internet marketing.


The very people who value offline marketing the most are going to spend more money with online marketing, especially search engine optimisation. Indeed, four out of ten small businesses in the survey spent the majority of their marketing budget on Internet marketing, yet only a third of the businesses felt that such activity was really effective. A quarter of businesses said that Internet marketing was not at all effective.

Clearly there is confusion within the small business community. At one stage they are singing the praises of online marketing whilst also saying that offline activity is the most productive for them.

So what is going on?

The situation is due to  the psychological impact of “ease of use”. When we find something easy to use we tend to do more of it and we also tend to be positive towards it. A recent survey on email marketing found a similar effect.

It is relatively easy to find some keywords online, create some content using those keywords and then see our pages shoot up the search engines. It feels like success. So we believe it is valuable. It is easy to do, easy to get some kind of results and therefore we value it.

However, generating word of mouth recommendations that lead to appropriate phone calls is not easy. Besides which it can take a long time to achieve anything. As a result, we tend to feel this is tedious and difficult, so we avoid it.

Yet, in their hearts, small business owners clearly know the value of word of mouth and phone calls to their company. After all, they see the financial results of such activities.

But they also find Internet marketing relatively easy to do – often much easier than traditional marketing. Researching keywords, producing content, promoting things on social media all feels like activity and it can produce instant gratification. Consequently, small business owners believe they are achieving.

The problem is, they are not. Activity for activity’s sake is not the same as producing profit.

Small businesses are going to invest more time and money into Internet marketing this year at the same time as saying they value offline marketing. That contradictory and confusing position comes from the fact that online marketing tools produce a sense of achievement.

But the real sense of achievement for businesses should come when the bank balance increases. Some small business owners need to refocus, perhaps…?


Your website sharing statistics are fibbing

Most people do not share using social media. Almost all sharing online is via the “dark” web.

Analytics misses out most of what is shared

Some business people spend hours trawling through analytics data in a bid to find out exactly how people are using their online presence. The idea is that by understanding this information a business can tailor-make a more precise web experience for visitors, thereby increasing the likelihood of sales. It makes sense.

Well, it makes sense if the data you get from analytics is true. A lot of the time it is not.

As anyone who has used dual analytics systems in a bid to compare things will tell you, the data from one system is often at complete odds to the information coming from the other. Most people trust Google Analytics – even though there are 14 reasons why Google Analytics could be wrong.

Much of the data businesses are analysing is false – either because they haven’t set things up correctly, or because the system is failing them.

New research now shows up another potential failure.

Businesses are keen to know how their material is shared, where it is shared, who shares it and when. Several studies have shown that most material is socially shared on Facebook, hence businesses are piling in their resources to get more of their content shared on that social network. The problem is, that for businesses on Facebook the company limits your potential reach to just 9% of the people who have liked you – their aim is that if you want to reach the other 91% you have to pay for it through a sponsored post.

All around the world, businesses are looking at their potentially false Google Analytics reports, getting amazed at the amount of sharing via Facebook and then spending hours on producing Facebook content for a mere 9% of their target market. Madness.

New research shows that three-quarters of everything that is shared is done in the “dark social” sector – sharing that is hidden from analytics, such as email or instant messaging.

Chart showing amount of social sharing

It means that if you are trawling through your analytics to see how you can get more stuff shared you are only looking at a quarter of your information – and then you are probably using that 25% of data to feed just 9% of your potential market.

What this data really suggests is that we need to find ways of ensuring that people can share our content using email. You might have sharing buttons on your website for Twitter or Facebook, but it looks like you’ll do much better as a business if you have an email sharing button too.

Personalisation is not working

Personalisation only provides a return on investment if it is truly personal. First names are not enough. Deep personalisation is required.

Businesses are using the wrong kind of personalisation

Dear First Name…..you’ve had an email like that, I am sure. Some hapless email marketer fails to enter the right data and you end up being called “First Name” or some such bland tag.

The trouble for most internet marketers is that they haven’t got much to go on. Often, all they collect is your name and your email address. The only thing they can use to make any emails personal is your name. However, even though we all love being called by our own name, it turns out that it is not perceived as “personal”.

The fact is, we expect to be called by our own name when someone is writing to us. So it isn’t “personalisation”. Indeed, new research shows that in terms of return on investment using a person’s first name is towards the bottom of the list of effectiveness.

Chart showing effectiveness of different kinds of personalisation

Indeed, the research shows that using someone’s name is the most popular method of personalisation, but it is one of the least effective methods of achieving a return.

Much better at gaining business is using purchase history or personal preferences. In other words, you make more money out of deeply personalising than you do if you are merely superficial.

What this research implies is that you have to collect more data about your website visitors and then use it to provide them with something that is centred upon their personal interests. Amazon is a great example of this. Log in and what you see will be different to every other person who has logged in. Amazon uses your behaviour, your purchase history, your wishlists and other expressions of interest to deliver something much more personal than merely saying “Hello First Name”.

It all points to the need to collect more data about people other than just their name.  However, if you are collecting information using an online form, the more fields you have the less likely people are to fill it in. So you need to be able to collect information in other ways.

You can:

  • Manually add data after phone calls or face-to-face meetings
  • Integrate CRM data with your web data
  • Track logged in people using analytics

Alternatively, you can narrow your niche so tightly that everything you provide is already deeply personalised to a subset of people sharing the same interests. Frankly, this is the easiest way to go for many businesses. Plus it has search engine benefits too.

For instance, if you provide accountancy services to small businesses a website describing what you do is of general interest but not personalised enough to attract people. But what if you have a website for accountancy services for independent florists? That is much more personalised to their needs. Those florists won’t even care that you have a pretty similar site on accountancy services for independent shoe shops, or another for independent funeral directors.

There are two ways to achieve deep personalisation:

  1. Sophisticated and complex data systems
  2. Highly specific niche websites

For many businesses the niche route is going to be the easiest and the most cost effective.

What this new research shows, however, is that you cannot ignore the personalisation route. The more you make what you deliver focused on the precise interests of your visitors and email recipients, the more you will get a return.


Online publishers told to STOP running adverts

Online advertising is not good for website owners. Research shows visitors have negative views of sites with annoying ads.

Annoying advertisements costs websites more money than they bring in

Online AdvertisingOnline advertising is a feature of many websites. They are a cost-effective way for companies to sell their wares because they do not pay for the advert until someone clicks, or until they reach a certain number of views. Unlike print advertising, where your advert may never be seen, online advertising can be much more easily measured. As a result, advertisers are keen to use digital advertising as they can see the impact of their campaigns as well as target people more individually.

The problem for advertisers is that most online advertising is ignored. Even if we are aware of it, we don’t usually act on it. Less than 10% of users of Google, for instance, click on a sponsored link. Several studies of online display advertising have shown that the average click-through rate is less than half a percent of all visitors. The fact is, almost all of us ignore online advertising most of the time.

But the advertisers are not worried. Firstly, they are not paying if we do not click. Secondly, even if we do not click we have awareness of their brand or product. Advertisers are perfectly happy if we do not click because they are increasing their brand awareness – for free…! What could be better than that?

Well, what an advertiser really wants is an advert that is seen and acted upon and which boosts their brand all at the same time. They also want their advert to have an air of respectability – they spend a long time selecting the right outlets for their adverts, making sure that the website has the right target visitors, for instance.

But new research shows that this is the crux of the problem. It appears that people are failing to recall websites when they contain annoying adverts. The very thing that advertisers are seeking – positive association with good websites – is being destroyed by those adverts.

Worse than this, the authors of the research, published by the American Marketing Association, are suggesting that website publishers which run annoying adverts run the risk of reducing their income overall. The money raised from publishing the adverts does not outweigh the loss of income from annoyed readers. In other words, it is more costly to run adverts than not to run them.

Coming from such a major and respected organisation that is a powerful message. Being told that as publishers you run a massive financial risk if you carry annoying adverts is going to mean that many will stop carrying such material. And that will mean an issue for brands and the advertising industry.

The research does define “annoying”, though. It suggests that animated adverts, those from companies with a poor reputation and adverts with  poor design were all annoying. But if you ask people they find most advertising annoying.

What does this mean for website owners? It means you are likely to make more money overall if you stop carrying adverts. Besides, almost none of your visitors look at them anyway.


Customers want to hear from you by email, not by phone

People are happy to hear from brands by email, but dislike offers of contact by phone. This suggests phones are strictly personal.

Businesses should avoid wasting their time communicating on mobiles

We live in a mobile world – indeed you may be reading this on your phone or tablet device. But what if I now offered to call you on that very same device? The chances are you would prefer it if I did not. You’d more likely want me to send you an email.

Research is increasingly showing that we are now dividing our communications equipment and methods into categories. Categorisation is a natural thing we do to help us make sense of the world. When we only had the ability  to write letters and send phone calls we couldn’t easily divide up different kinds of communication. Now with phones, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook. Instagram and email we can decide to use each particular method for one specific kind of communication. For instance, many people now believe email is for business communications, Facebook is for chatting to friends and text messaging is for family. You will probably have similar divisions between the different communications methods you use.

Now a new study shows this happening in terms of how people want brands to communicate with them.

Graphs showing brand communication preferences

The research shows that the most disliked kind of communication from brands is when they offer or actually do send material to our mobile phones. We are quite happy to have the companies update us via email, but we clearly believe our mobile phones are much more personal. We don’t want any random person calling us or sending us text messages.

There is a huge wave of advice on how businesses can market to their customers using telephones and how the mobile revolution will mean that handheld devices are going to be the most important tool for brands to keep in touch with their customers. But that is all based on the theory that we are all switching from desktops to mobiles.

The evidence is much more complex. Indeed, it seems we are not switching but using mobile devices in addition to our desktops – again we are dividing up what we do with each piece of technology into categories that make sense to us. The chances are you have a desktop, a laptop, a tablet and a smartphone. You haven’t ditched anything – just changed what you do with each device.

What this new study suggests – once again – is that email is the number one way of communicating with your customers. Indeed, they prefer that. They are even generally happy to receive well-targeted offers via email. But try and contact them on their phone, which they deem to be their personal territory, and you are likely to find their feelings about your business become more negative.

The mobile device may not be the fantastic answer to marketing it is assumed.

What are the two top online methods for generating leads?

Generating sales leads is best done using offline methods, according to research. But there are two standout methods of online lead generation that work.

Face-to-face marketing better than digital

Lead generation. Keyboard

Business tends to fall into one of two main camps – you either sell something straight away, or you generate a lead to which you sell something later. Lead generation is really important.

Research consistently shows that the number one way of lead generation is referrals. Getting other people to recommend you is essential. This is because it provides “social proof”, a significant psychological factor in persuading people to do something. If you want people to want to buy from you, then generating social proof through referrals is a great start. The latest annual survey of lead generation in the business-to-business sector confirms the value of referrals demonstrating that this kind of marketing is more than five times better than social media activity.

Indeed, rather like other studies this research shows that real world, face-to-face marketing activities are superior to most digital marketing.

Graph of lead generation data

However, as you can see from the chart there are two digital marketing activities which are clearly much more beneficial than other activities. The study suggests that you can relegate search engine marketing and social media marketing to the “nice to have” category. But the study confirms two areas of online marketing that are the best things you can do.

Email marketing still tops the list

In spite of the fact that we all now receive several hundred emails per day, email marketing remains the top digital method of generating sales leads. If you are not using email marketing you are clearly losing out. Email marketing consistently comes out on top in a wide range of studies. It is the out front winner in terms of getting business. Yet, many firms appear to believe that search engine marketing and optimisation is where they should focus their activity. Whilst search is useful, it is six times LESS effective than email marketing, according to this research.

Write Reports

The second most valuable digital marketing activity is the production of white papers and reports which can be downloaded. This taps into another psychological feature of persuasion which is “authority”. People buy from companies they perceive as the “experts”. You can establish your level of expertise with regular reports and downloadable documents, but make sure you use lead generation devices within them, such as clickable links to detailed information about your products and services.

Indeed, if you demonstrate your expertise through reports, live events and email newsletters, you will be at the “top of the tree” in terms of lead generation. Sure, you can also generate leads from social media or search engines. But this latest study confirms the findings of dozens of other surveys; such things are a useful part of your marketing mix, but they are not the essential parts.

If you want to generate sales leads, it is time to relegate search and social media to “also rans”.

Don’t be fooled by the trend for advertising

Major web companies are switching to advertising instead of subscription models. But that only works if you have hundreds of millions of users.

Highway Signpost "Freemium"Freemium subscription model under attack

Back in May of this year SlideShare stopped accepting any new “pro” accounts. For several years SlideShare has operated the “freemium” model of business – free users get a basic service whereas higher levels of capability have to be paid for in a premium service. You see this throughout the web; many services are completely free of charge, but if you want the extras you have to stump up some cash.

The fact that SlideShare – now owned by LinkedIn – stopped taking orders for its Pro account was curious. After all, LinkedIn itself has a successful freemium model with around 25% of the company’s revenues coming from people who upgrade from the free service to a premium account. So why did LinkedIn abandon the same business model on SlideShare?

All was revealed last week when they announced that almost all the “pro” features would now be available free of charge, including analytics, the possibility to make slide decks private and the ability to brand your SlideShare profiles. Previously you had to pay a fee to do all that; now it is going to be free.

So how can SlideShare afford to run? The answer is the site is now going to introduce advertising. Just when you thought everyone had realised the online advertising is increasingly annoying to users, a major firm like LinkedIn is upping the game.

Advertising only works when you are big

The problem for SlideShare is that it only has around 60m users, compared with the 300m over on LinkedIn. At LinkedIn about 30% of the revenues come from advertising – yet, just as on almost every other online advertising platform, most adverts do not get clicked on. In a world where pay-per-click advertising dominates, most of us ignore the adverts. But if you have 300m people who log into your site and if a mere 1% of them click on an advert, that’s still a hefty 3m people.

In order for SlideShare to make money from advertising it needs to grow its user base – 1% of 60m is only 600,000 clicks, which is tiny in comparison. But how can you grow your user base when the features you offer have to be paid for? Answer, says LinkedIn, is to make them free.

When you have a massive user base you can make some real money online. Facebook, for instance, has almost 1.5bn users and generates a whopping $6bn or so a year – which means each user is worth about one cent per day to the business. Most of those users ignore the adverts. Most of us get annoyed by them, but move on, realising they are the price we pay for using the service.

Expect even more online advertising

The trend is for big firms to adopt an advertising route. They have toyed with the freemium world, only to conclude that they can make more money by getting higher numbers of users and delivering just a small proportion of them to click on an advert. SoundCloud, for instance, also announced the other day that it will be introducing advertising to its audio system. Meanwhile, Facebook is coming up with more ways of injecting sponsored items in to your timeline and getting you to see more advertising.

It seems that big online firms have concluded that the freemium model has limitations. As a result, they are going to find ways of adding more and more advertising to our “user experience”. Which can only mean they can expect the click-through rate to drop, meaning they need more and more millions of users to deliver value to their advertisers.

What will happen when we all get thoroughly fed up with advertising and we rebel against these services? Well, then you can expect competitors to arise which do not carry advertising and which offer some services free with subscriptions for others. We will come full circle.

Fast and fresh content is what websites visitors value most

Study reveals the top two requirements for your website

Every week I sit in meetings with business owners who talk for ages about the design of their website. They are concerned about the colours, the typography and the overall look and feel. And every week in those meetings I say the same thing: “Design is not your primary consideration; that comes later after you have worked out the content you will offer and how you will manage to produce fresh content every day if possible.” Then I get blank looks and the business owner says: “But if we are going to be spending all our time on creating new web content, when are we going to do our work?” The discussion reveals they have failed to understand what people want from their website.

The reason that so many business websites fail to make any tangible benefits for the firm is because the site is something you “do” and then get on with your work, leaving the website alone after the initial design.

Websites are living things. People expect your website to be alive, frequently and regularly updated with fresh new content.

This is confirmed in a new study by Limelight Networks which found that fresh content was the first or second requirement of websites by 68% of people. That’s almost seven in every ten of your website visitors who reckon that fresh content is vital.

Chart showing requirements of websites

The number one need for a website though was performance – making it load quickly and do what it says it will do. In psychological terms this is “convenience” – demonstrating that a site can function so well that the user does not have to think about it. People subconsciously expect to be able to use the website without distraction. So if it does not do well this allows the subconscious to suggest that the site is difficult to use. In turn this makes people less inclined to want to use your site.

There is a great deal of discussion these days about personalising websites or making the mobile experience consistent with the desktop site. But this study found that these issues were really much less important. Only a little more than one in ten people really want a personalised website.

So what does this study tell us? It suggests that if you do nothing else with your website, you will benefit most from working out what content you will offer and how you will do that. Focus on content, delivered fast.

Focus your website on who writes it not the content itself

Research shows that website visitors come back for the writers, not the content itself. You need star writers to get return visits.

Readers are highly interested in web content writers

I know this is going to be tough to believe, but there are people all over the world who go to every movie Tom Cruise makes, regardless of the subject matter. They love Tom Cruise so much, they want to see him in everything he does. Similarly, there are people who visit London’s West End theatre-land to see their TV idol in some musical show – yet these people would not normally be seen within 500 yards of a theatre. Why do these things happen? Because people find certain stars attractive to them in many ways and do not want to miss out on anything they do.

Person pointing to sign saying "News"

Now it seems that the same syndrome happens with journalists. Strange but true. A study from the University of Oxford has found that the number one reason people signed up for an online newspaper subscription was that they wanted to read the writing of particular journalists. The subscribers loved the work of these “star journalists” so much, they were ready to pay a subscription for the entire newspaper, much of which they might not be interested in. It is the same as the star-struck theatre-goers in London – they are not interested in the musical, or the other performers, but they will pay to see them because they really want to watch their hero on stage.

It is time to make your writers stars

The Oxford research is an important consideration for website owners. It suggests that making some of your content writers “star” could well increase the return visit rate to your website. People will come back to read what those individuals said, simply because they like their writing.

Many business websites have fairly anonymous content production. It is the “voice of the company”. Mmmm. How many people want to read the “voice of Amazon” instead of the “voice of Jeff Bezos”? How many people want to hear what Virgin Media is saying instead of what Sir Richard Branson says?

In fact, this study tells us nothing new. All it confirms is that people are people-centric. We love other people. We cannot help it.

Newspaper editors and broadcasters know that human interest is what drives their business. Goodness me, programmes like The X-Factor or Dancing With The Stars thrive on the “back story” of each of their contestants. It is the emotional pull of these human interest stories that brings in large numbers of viewers.

Now, this new research shows there is another twist to the human interest element; the writer themselves. What it means is that your website needs to highlight your top writers, to make them “stars” in your sector, so that people keep coming back.

[quote]If you want more web traffic, then focus on who writes your site.[/quote]