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Design Beautiful Email and Landing Page Images with Canva and AWeber

One of the biggest marketing challenges small businesses face is creating beautiful, custom images that don’t break the budget. But if you’re not a designer by trade, whipping up beautiful, custom images for your marketing can feel impossible. 

Without tools like Photoshop, and skills to make Picasso green with envy, it can feel like a waste of precious hours designing something from scratch. 

But here’s the truth: Anyone can create beautiful images in a snap. You just need the right tools. 

That’s why AWeber partnered with Canva — the world’s fastest growing online design platform — to give you easy-to-use design tools right at your fingertips. 

But first, should I use images in emails?

Including images in your emails can be a great way to showcase your product or service, highlight a testimonial, show off an important stat, or evoke an emotional response in your audience.

In fact, research shows that visuals increase a person’s willingness to read text content by 80%. Visuals are powerful. But including an image for the sake of including an image is rarely a good idea. 

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself to determine whether you should use images in your emails:

  1. What are your email marketing goals? Do you want more engagement? Want more brand visibility? Then an image could be a great thing to test. 
  2. Does this image provide value and support my company branding? One of the main reasons to use images in your emails is to create a visual brand connection with your audience. Use your brand colors, fonts, and other standards to make sure your email is associated with your brand.
  3. Does this image promote the feeling I want my recipients to have? They say an image is worth a thousand words. There’s no wonder considering the powerful emotional connection images have the power to evoke. 

As with everything in marketing, you’ll want to test images in your emails to see if it leads to more click throughs and engagement. You can test:

  • Images vs. no images
  • Image vs. GIF (or video)
  • Image A vs. image B

Every audience is different. Do more of what leads to more engagement in your split tests.

Why should I use images on my landing pages?

Human brains process visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Including images on your landing page can help your visitors more easily understand, process, and take the action you want them to take.

Here are five tips for using images on your landing page to drive more sign ups, purchases, or subscribers. 

  1. Convey the emotion you want your audience to feel. Images are a powerful way to show emotion. Use them to give your visitors a positive feeling. To figure out the right emotional connection, you may want to conduct customer interviews and find out what your product or service helped them accomplish and what feeling it gave them. 
  2. Highlight the transformation you help them achieve. People don’t buy products or services. They buy transformation. Show them how you can help them accomplish their end goal and achieve success. For instance, if you’re a health coach selling weight loss services, you could show a before/after photo highlighting the transformation you help clients achieve.
  3. Eye-catching colors and fonts. Colorful images and bold fonts help draw the visitors’ attention where you want it to go. 
  4. Highlight a testimonial in a call out box. Testimonials are a powerful form of social proof — which is a psychological tactic to show that other people have had success with your product or service. Draw the eye to your testimonial by turning it into a colorful image, or including your a headshot or logo with it
  5. Show off data or stats. Back up the point you want to make with numbers. Include graphs, stats or charts that support your claims and give proof that what you are promoting is valuable. 

The right visuals can lead to more conversions and sales on your landing page. But don’t spend hours or money on professional designers to do the work for you.

How to Create graphics and design with Canva and AWeber

Design custom images with Canva directly inside the AWeber message editor and landing page builder with the Canva Button.

The process couldn’t be simpler. When creating a new email or landing page, drag the image element into the draft. 

Then, click “Design on Canva” to trigger a pop-up window that allows you to create a custom design within Canva, without leaving AWeber.

When you’re happy with your creation, click “Save to AWeber” and the image will automatically populate with your design.

GIF showing how Canva and AWeber work together

Want to edit the image once you see it in your draft? No problem. Your image will be in your Canva account and easily editable. 

Create with the Canva Button in AWeber today

The Canva Button is now available in the AWeber message editor and landing page builder. All you need is an active AWeber and Canva account to get started. 

Click here to learn more about Canva and AWeber, and start creating beautiful designs for your emails and landing pages.

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Reblogged 3 days ago from blog.aweber.com

10 Tips for Better User Feedback

It takes a village to grow a successful business. And that village includes not just the people who build and sustain your brand, but the people who benefit from it as well — your customers. Getting customer feedback via email outreach can be integral to helping your company improve customer experience in several key areas,…

The post 10 Tips for Better User Feedback appeared first on Benchmarkemail.

Reblogged 3 days ago from www.benchmarkemail.com


Account-Based Podcasting: The New ABM

You know about account-based marketing. Now it’s time for account-based podcasting: delivering personalized audio content directly to target customers. Learn more here. Read the full article at MarketingProfs

Reblogged 3 days ago from www.marketingprofs.com


Adapting Brands and Thought Leadership: Afiya Addison of the B2B Institute at LinkedIn on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Afiya Addison, global program manager at the B2B Institute at LinkedIn, discusses why some brands adapt and excel while others struggle just to hold on. Read the full article at MarketingProfs

Reblogged 3 days ago from www.marketingprofs.com


19 Best Practices for Webinars or Webcasts

Webinars are a highly effective tool for moving prospects along the sales funnel.

After you’ve loaded them with product and industry knowledge, your prospects become warm leads who can then have fruitful conversations with your sales team. But here’s the thing: the content and execution of the webinar affect prospects’ experience and will impact the quality of the leads you generate.

If the information is misaligned with your prospects’ needs, you risk deterring them from doing further business with you. If the webinar is boring or too long, you may lose prospects before you deliver your final product pitch at the end.

If you don’t place the appropriate calls-to-action at the right time, you may not get enough attendees or fail to prove the ROI to your company’s leadership team.

When creating a webinar, the stakes are high. That’s why using a webinar planning list and following best practices is essential. Below, I go over the best practices for creating webinar invites and share top tips for hosting webcasts.

Webinar Invite Best Practices

In some ways, inviting people to come to your webinar is the toughest part.

Typically, you’ll send a formal invitation over email. You can promote the webinar via your company’s social media profiles, your LinkedIn, your website, and even your blog — but the webinar invite will be delivered over email.

With this email, you have one goal: to communicate your event’s value so that prospects have no choice but to sign up.

Let’s go over how you can do that.

1. Create a short sentence with your value proposition.

Before ever sitting down to write your webinar invitation email, you should sum up what your attendees will get out of your event in one short sentence. This will be your guidepost as you write the invitation.

2. Craft a subject line that shows the value of the event.

Next, it’s time to write a subject line that showcases the skills and tools attendees will walk away with. Don’t forget to include the word “webinar” in the subject line.

Here are some good examples:

  • [Webinar] Grow Your Brand 3X with This Proven Method by [Industry Leader]
  • [Webinar] Learn How to Close More Deals with [Industry Leader]
  • [Webinar] Want Your Company to Become the Next Apple?

Here are some so-so webinar subject lines you should avoid using:

  • You’re Invited to a Can’t-Miss Customer Service Webinar
  • Come to Our Marketing Webinar on February 15
  • Don’t Miss Our Next Webinar About Social Media Strategies

3. Include an engaging banner image.

Your banner image should include the title of the webinar and a clear call-to-action. You could also include the date and time, but that’s optional. Keep it light on text.

Here’s an excellent example from Elementor, a WordPress plugin.

Elementor webinar invite header

This is a great example because it features high-contrast lettering and the word “webinar” in the upper right-hand corner. Most importantly, it has a call-to-action button that says “Save Your Seat.” Every webinar invite should include a CTA.

4. Include a header that makes your event’s value clear.

In an email, the header acts as a title that comes right after the banner. The header can be the title of your webinar or be the same as the subject line. Either way, it should communicate the value of the event. What will people learn? How will they grow?

Your invitees should immediately be able to tell based on the header alone.

Here are some great examples:

  • Webinar: Learn How to Boost Sales with 5 Simple Tricks
  • Want to Double Your Organic Traffic? Find Out How in This Webinar
  • These Proven Strategies Will Triple Your Conversion Rates

Here are some so-so examples:

  • Join Our SEO Webinar on May 15th
  • Sales Training Seminar by [Company]
  • Leadership Innovation Summit with [Industry Leader]

5. Include a brief description of the event.

Right after the header, include two to three sentences describing the event. The description should briefly outline a challenge and establish the insights and tips that will help attendees surmount those challenges. Alternatively, you can identify a goal, then tell attendees how the webinar will help them achieve those goals.

Remember: value is the name of the game here. People won’t spend an hour on just anything, so make it clear why your webinar is worth their while.

Here’s a great example from HubSpot:

“Creating an outstanding customer journey is a challenge felt by many marketing, sales, and customer service teams. A great experience is always the end goal, but the path to success isn’t always clear. On March 2nd, join CX Spotlight and learn how to better market, sell, and service your audience.”

This example is great because it tells attendees, in no uncertain terms, the insights they’ll walk away with.

Here’s a so-so example:

“Come to our exclusive webinar on February 5th, where we discuss everything in the industry, including email marketing, SEO, and social media. Your host, XYZ, is an industry veteran with 20 years of experience. The presentation will cover key topics and trends happening in marketing today. Don’t miss it.”

This is a poor example because of three reasons. First, it’s too general; second, it doesn’t identify a challenge or a goal (such as growing organic traffic or creating a great customer experience); and third, it doesn’t tell attendees the skills they’ll gain from the event.

6. Include a list of bullet points telling people what they’ll learn.

Now that you’ve provided an overview of the event, feel free to include more detail about what attendees will learn throughout the webinar.

Here’s a great example from HubSpot:

“In this webinar, we’re focusing on the data that really matters when it comes to business growth. Our panel will discuss:

  • What info you should be gathering across your web, chat, and email assets
  • How to stay organized with this new influx of data
  • Best practices for personalizing the buying experience”

Notice how the bullet points address the attendee directly, telling them what they’ll learn and how they can apply it in their role.

7. Seal the deal with a call-to-action button.

All throughout the email, you’ve constantly communicated the value of your event. Now, it’s time to invite your prospects to sign up with a clear, high-contrast call-to-action button.

Consider using the following phrases:

  • Save your seat
  • Register now
  • Register today
  • Claim your spot

Now that you know the best practices for webinar invites, let’s go over best practices for running your webinar. Use this webinar planning kit to make sure you’re following all the steps.

Featured Resource: Webinar Planning Kit

The Ultimate Webinar Planning Kit

Download Your Free Kit Now

1. Schedule your webinar for 60 minutes.

How long should your webinar be? The answer is one hour. It’s a well-known fact that 60 minutes is the optimal length of a webinar, with the average viewing time being 56 minutes (ON24).

2. Host it on Wednesday or Thursday at 10 AM or 11 AM.

Both ON24 and GoToWebinar report that Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days to deliver your event. As far as time, 10 AM and 11 AM have long been established as top performers in both attendee engagement and attendance rates.

3. Send reminder emails.

Leading up to the webinar, send a reminder email twice — one day before the event and one hour before the event. Your webinar platform should also offer the option to automatically send these reminders to those who’ve signed up.

4. Practice accessing the webinar with a teammate.

Two days before the webinar, have someone on your team access the event link to make sure it’s working for participants. Have this person send you a question, raise their hand, show you what the presentation looks like on the other end, and interact with the webinar interface.

5. Establish proceedings for the Q&A section.

Let the audience know in the introduction how you’ll be answering their questions — whether you’ll respond to select questions at the end or answer them as you go. Our recommendation is to schedule 15 minutes at the end for questions.

6. Move slowly through product demonstrations.

When doing a demo or showing software, try not to move too quickly or scroll up and down a web page too quickly. It might take 2 to 5 seconds every time you change your screen for everyone to see the change.

7. Create a clear stop to the presentation.

Have a definitive “stop” to the core material at around 50 to 55 minutes. It’s okay to extend beyond the end time as long as the “officially scheduled program” has a clean end, and those who need to leave can leave.

8. Keep your desktop and digital workspace clean.

Close all unnecessary applications, especially your email clients, file browser, and web browser. If possible, carry out the webinar on a separate desktop (both macOS and Windows OS allow you to create another desktop). You do not want any personal or confidential info displayed, and you just don’t want to interrupt the webinar with any notifications that pop up.

9. Start 2 minutes after the hour.

This gives people time to call in, but does not make those on time wait too long. It is tempting as a presenter to wait for more people to join, but the max you should wait is 2 minutes.

10. Enter the webinar room early.

Enter the event at least 15 minutes early. That will give you time to prepare, troubleshoot any issues, and double-check that your microphone and camera are working.

11. Use pre-webinar slides and announcements.

Put up a slide that introduces you and your company. Show links to your website, social media, and other pertinent sites.

12. Send out a recording and the slides to attendees (with a call-to-action).

Do this within 24 hours, and tell them during the webinar you will do this. A fast follow-up encourages attendees to continue engaging with your company (or convert) while the webinar is still on their mind. This follow-up should contain a clear call-to-action button.

Use Webinar Best Practices to Host a Great Webinar

Hosting a webinar is proven to be a great return on investment. By following the best practices we’ve shared in this post, you can make sure your event drives lead generation, establishes your brand as an authority, and grows your revenue.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in November 2007 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Reblogged 3 days ago from blog.hubspot.com


4 Ways Brands Can Gain Awareness on Clubhouse [+Examples]

If you’ve been on social media, marketing news sites, or the HubSpot Blog lately, you might have heard about Clubhouse.

The nearly one-year-old social media platform which allows users to drop into audio-only chat rooms has grown from 600,000 to 10 million active users in just a few short months.  Although the app is invite-only, more and more people are gaining access and tuning into discussions related to their industry, hobbies, and other interests each day.

Users also love Clubhouse for its entertainment factor. When surfing through Clubhouse, you might find celebrities, like Joe Rogan, chatting with fellow influencers; audio-only musical productions, comedy nights; or even standup comedy events.

But, when exploring Clubhouse’s vast and highly-creative audio rooms as a marketer, you might wonder if and how you can leverage it within your marketing strategy.

At this point, most Clubhouse content is still highly experimental. However, one major theme to note is that it’s users want to hear from people — not just brands.

Because Clubhouse’s users crave authentic human discussion, they’ll likely disengage from rooms that prioritize promotional content over a relatable conversation.

However, while building brand awareness on an ultra-personal app like Clubhouse takes time, energy, and lots of community management, we’re already starting to see brands begin to connect with the channel’s growing audience.

To help marketers who are just learning about Clubhouse, I spent the last few days surfing the app to learn how brands are reaching users. Below I’ll highlight four common brand awareness tactics and offer a few actual examples.

How Brands Leverage Clubhouse

1. Fireside Chats or Q&As

When I first heard about Clubhouse and explored the app, a lot of rooms I dropped into felt like audio-only video calls or webinars where only the hosts began with speaking privileges. To me, it’s not surprising that brand-affiliated room creators and moderators have begun to leverage Q&As, panels, and fireside-chat formats to create interactive — yet well-managed — discussions on the platform.

When watching a panel or interview affiliated with a brand, it’s often formatted in one of two ways:

  • The moderator — who works for the brand coordinating the room — asks thought leaders or influencers affiliated with their industry questions. This moderator might also permit audience members to ask questions or come to the stage to the speaker as well.
  • An employee or leader from a brand serves as an interviewee or panel member while an influencer that does not work for the brand asks questions or moderates questions from the audience.

Regardless of which role the brand member holds in the chat, these rooms have very similar formats. They usually begin with the moderator announcing who they are, who they’ll be talking to, and the topic of the room. From there, the moderator will either ask questions to the speakers or giving speaking privileges to other users who raise their hands.

Below I’ll highlight two examples of rooms I’ve seen. Because Clubhouse is still invite-only and positioned as a safe space for communities to discuss thoughts, topics, or ideas, I will only note key parts of the conversations and room formats. I also did not record these rooms.

Below are two recent fireside chat examples:

Coinbase

A recent Clubhouse room, shown below, featured an interview with Coinbase Co-Founder and CEO Brian Armstrong. During the room, Sriram Krishman, a moderator from the club Good Time, asked Armstrong questions about how he got started in bitcoin and grew his company. They also discussed the future of cyber currency. Krishman, also invited listeners to raise their hands and ask questions to Armstrong to create more discussion around the complex cyber topic.

Clubhouse Room description for an event where the CEO of Coinbase is interviewed by the Club Good Time

In rooms like the one above, users can learn more about a brand like Coinbase and ask its leader questions about the company or its industry. Through this experience, Coinbase and other brands could boost both company awareness and credibility with audiences who tune in to hear their canned, unedited discussion.

HubSpot

Recently, HubSpot also launched a fireside chat-styled room where our Chief Marketing Officer Kipp Bodnar, CTO and Co-Founder Dharmesh Shah, and Sr. VP of Marketing Kieran Flanagan invited prominent Clubhouse influencers including Bomani X to discuss “The Future of Marketing and Clubhouse.”

During the panel, Bodnar asked the Clubhouse influencers a few questions related to how they’ve grown their audiences on the platform; what they’ve done to optimize their profile, rooms, or clubs; and brand awareness etiquette. He also took similar questions or comments from a vast group of listeners including a weight-loss business founder, a scientist, and a Rubix cube enthusiast looking to build Clubhouse communities.

The Future of Marketing on Clubhouse Room hosted by HubSpot

While HubSpot’s leaders haven’t claimed to be Clubhouse experts yet, they created a room to highlight what they know so far and connect listeners with some of Clubhouse’s high-profile early-adopters of the app with millions of followers. This is a great example of how the brand positions itself as a marketing thought leader even when they’re experimenting with a new, unique platform.

2. Sponsoring Room Events

While people might not want to join a room that discusses a product or brand positively the entire time, they might enter an interesting conversation or Clubhouse event that is sponsored by a brand.

When you drop into a sponsored room, you might not hear speakers from the brand speak much — or at all. However, when reintroducing the room, a speaker might mention that the room or Clubhouse audio experience is paid for or sponsored by the brand. You might also see a sponsor listed in the room’s title or description.

Below is one interesting example:

Yummy

Below is an example of a scheduled event sponsored by Yummy, a California-based grocery delivery app. During the room-based event — scheduled for June 5 — contestants will compete for a $100 Yummy gift card by performing an audio talent, such as singing or playing music.

Clubhouse Talent Show Room Description noting that the event is sponsored by Yummy

By sponsoring an experimental performance contest on Clubhouse, Yummy not only gets to see how creative Clubhouse content could benefit their brand, but they also promote their delivery service to a large pool of Clubhouse users who are interested in audio entertainment or music.

3. Having team members participate in rooms related to your industry.

Another way brands can grow awareness is by having chief officers, leaders, or even general employees raise their hands and actively participate by speaking in rooms with large audiences.

When speaking in a room, brand representatives don’t necessarily need to talk all about their company. However, by adding to a conversation, talking about tactics they’ve tried at their role, and showing off their expertise, audience members learn to trust them and their company. As company members gain a following and fanbase, their brand might also gain a new audience.

Below are two examples of brands that are embracing room participation.

Tax Nation LLC.

In a recent room titled “Marketing That Works in 2021 (so far)”, moderators asked listeners to raise their hands and offer their best marketing tips.

Marketing That Works Clubhouse Room

During the room, Cory Hughes, Vice President and Managing Partner of the tax preparation business, Tax Nation LLC, was chosen to speak. He mentioned his company by name and explained that they create marketing content based on “stories” and positive feedback from “happy customers.”

After Hughes made his point, a few other listeners chimed in to agree with how important his tip was.

Not only did Hughes offer valuable advice to participants, but he naturally mentioned his company and its happy customers without sounding like he was trying to plug his tax preparation product.

Start Scale Sail

In another room, titled “Scale Your Business With Digital Products,” entrepreneurs, marketers, and consultants shared tips for growing brands based on their experience,

For example, Natasha O’Banion, CEO of Start Scale Sail, a business automation and consulting firm, explained that she was a big fan of quiz content and added that her team’s successfully generated leads through interactive content.

Scale Your Business with Digital Products Clubhouse Room

Although O’Banion didn’t plug her company by name, her explanation of how she’s used quizzes in her own strategy led to questions and more discussion from other attendees. Because she gave valuable input, listeners with similar interests in digital lead generation might be interested in following her or even learning more about her brand.

4. Hosting informal chats

Because Clubhouse is all about discussion and authenticity, many brands have also tried to show their human side and seem more accessible to audiences by hosting informal chats with no obvious goal or topic. This method is more casual, and potentially less intimidating, for listeners who might not raise their hand to speak in a fireside chat with a full agenda.

Below is one example:

DRK Beauty

One brand that hosts inviting, casual rooms is DRK Beauty, a website and commerce platform for people of color, which regularly publishes content around mental health, fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and culture.

At the end of each week, DRK’s team hosts “Weekly Wine Down” rooms aimed to feel like visiting a bar with colleagues or friends at the end of a long week.

While DRK rooms, often hosted by DRK Beauty CEO Wilma Mae Basta, don’t have a set topic or agenda, the team often introduces themselves as speakers, begins a casual conversation about whatever is on their minds, and allows other audience members to raise their hands and chime in at any time.

Weekly Wine Down description with hosts from DRK Beauty

While DRK Beauty rooms aren’t usually aimed to promote the brand’s site, DRK still enables its audience and prospective web visitors to learn about the people behind the company in a casual, authentic setting. This makes the brand seem accessible, authentic, and trustworthy, three things social media users value when researching brands in 2021.

The key to Clubhouse? Be human.

It’s key to remember that Clubhouse is all about authentic human connection, not branding or self-promotion.

While Clubhouse began as a platform where users could only hear from industry “elites,” the app’s now open to a wide range of creatives and every-day people who want to communicate or interact with others. Because of this, learning about a brand is likely not the first thing a user wants to do when logging on to the app.

Regardless of which strategy you use on Clubhouse, remember to embrace the human side of the app. For example, rather than hosting a room where you explain your brand or products to audiences, consider hosting a fireside chat with a thought leader in your industry or participate in a room that allows you to discuss your industry with others in it.

While focusing on natural conversation and valuable room participation won’t enable you to outright market your product all the time, leaning into the platform’s conversational and personal nature could help you grow a following that trusts your expertise — and eventually — your brand.

Want to learn more about the latest social media marketing trends? Check out the free resource below.

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Reblogged 3 days ago from blog.hubspot.com


Automatic, supersonic, hypnotic, funky fresh; Auto-applied recommendations; Thursday’s daily brief

Plus, the business imperative behind inclusion and diversity

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 3 days ago from feeds.searchengineland.com


Automation isn’t about what machines can do for you, it’s about what you can do together

Automation puts new capabilities at our fingertips, but success will remain out of reach if you don’t take an active role in guiding those advancements.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 3 days ago from feeds.searchengineland.com


Google Ads to roll out dynamic exclusion lists in coming weeks

Dynamic exclusion lists can make it easier for your brand to avoid showing near unwanted content while requiring less of the advertiser’s time and attention ongoing.

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

Reblogged 3 days ago from feeds.searchengineland.com


Brands vs Ads

Brand, Brand, Brand

About 7 years ago I wrote about how the search relevancy algorithms were placing heavy weighting on brand-related signals after Vince & Panda on the (half correct!) presumption that this would lead to excessive industry consolidation which in turn would force Google to turn the dials in the other direction.

My thesis was Google would need to increasingly promote some smaller niche sites to make general web search differentiated from other web channels & minimize the market power of vertical leading providers.

The reason my thesis was only half correct (and ultimately led to the absolutely wrong conclusion) is Google has the ability to provide the illusion of diversity while using sort of eye candy displacement efforts to shift an increasing share of searches from organic to paid results.

Shallow Verticals With a Shill Bid

As long as any market has at least 2 competitors in it Google can create a “me too” offering that they hard code front & center and force the other 2 players (along with other players along the value chain) to bid for marketshare. If competitors are likely to complain about the thinness of the me too offering & it being built upon scraping other websites, Google can buy out a brand like Zagat or a data supplier like ITA Software to undermine criticism until the artificially promoted vertical service has enough usage that it is nearly on par with other players in the ecosystem.

Google need not win every market. They only need to ensure there are at least 2 competing bids left in the marketplace while dialing back SEO exposure. They can then run other services to redirect user flow and force the ad buy. They can insert their own bid as a sort of shill floor bid in their auction. If you bid below that amount they’ll collect the profit through serving the customer directly, if you bid above that they’ll let you buy the customer vs doing a direct booking.

Adding Volatility to Economies of Scale

Where this gets more than a bit tricky is if you are a supplier of third party goods & services where you buy in bulk to get preferential pricing for resale. If you buy 100 rooms a night from a particular hotel based on the presumption of prior market performance & certain channels effectively disappear you have to bid above market to sell some portion of the rooms because getting anything for them is better than leaving them unsold.

“Well I am not in hotels, so thankfully this won’t impact me” is an incomplete thought. Google Ads now offer a lead generation extension.

Dipping a bit back into history here, but after Groupon said no to Google’s acquisition offer Google promptly partnered with players 2 through n to ensure Groupon did not have a lasting competitive advantage. In the fullness of time most those companies died, LivingSocial was acquired by Groupon for nothing & Groupon is today worth less than the amount they raised in VC & IPO funding.

Markets Naturally Evolve Toward Promoting Brands

When a vertical is new a player can compete just by showing up. Then over time as the verticals become established consumers develop habits, brands beat out generics & the markets get consolidated down to being heavily influenced & controlled by a couple strong players.

In the offline world of atoms there are real world costs tied to local regulations, shipping, sourcing, supply chains, inventory management, etc. The structure of the web & the lack of marginal distribution cost causes online markets to be even more consolidated than their offline analogs.

When Travelocity outsourced their backend infrastructure to Expedia most people visiting their website were unaware of the change. After Expedia acquired the site, longtime Travelocity customers likely remained unaware. In some businesses the only significant difference in the user experience is the logo at the top of the page.

Most large markets will ultimately consolidate down to a couple players (e.g. Booking vs Expedia) while smaller players lack the scale needed to have the economic leverage to pay Google’s increasing rents.

This sort of consolidation was happening even when the search results were mostly organic & relevancy was driven primarily by links. As Google has folded in usage data & increased ad load on the search results it becomes harder for a generically descriptive domain name to build brand-related signals.

Re-sorting the Markets Once More

It is not only generically descriptive sorts of sites that have faded though. Many brand investments turned out to be money losers after the search result set was displaced by more ads (& many brand-related search result pages also carry ads above the organic results).

The ill informed might write something like this:

Since the Motorola debacle, it was Google’s largest acquisition after the $676 million purchase of ITA Software, which became Google Flights. (Uh, remember that? Does anyone use that instead of Travelocity or one of the many others? Neither do I.)

The reality is brands lose value as the organic result set is displaced. To make the margins work they might desperately outsource just about everything but marketing to a competitor / partner, which will then latter acquire them for a song.

Travelocity had roughly 3,000 people on the payroll globally as recently as a couple of years ago, but the Travelocity workforce has been whittled to around 50 employees in North America with many based in the Dallas area.

The best relevancy algorithm in the world is trumped by preferential placement of inferior results which bypasses the algorithm. If inferior results are hard coded in placements which violate net neutrality for an extended period of time, they can starve other players in the market from the vital user data & revenues needed to reinvest into growth and differentiation.

Value plays see their stocks crash as growth slows or goes in reverse. With the exception of startups funded by Softbank, growth plays are locked out of receiving further investment rounds as their growth rate slides.

Startups like Hipmunk disappear. Even an Orbitz or Travelocity become bolt on acquisitions.

The viability of TripAdvisor as a stand alone business becomes questioned, leading them to partner with Ctrip.

TripAdvisor has one of the best link profiles of any commercially oriented website outside of perhaps Amazon.com. But ranking #1 doesn’t count for much if that #1 ranking is below the fold. Or, even worse, if Google literally hides the organic search results.

TripAdvisor shifted their business model to allow direct booking to better monetize mobile web users, but as Google has ate screen real estate and grew Google Travel into a $100 billion business other players have seen their stocks sag.

Top of The Funnel

Google sits at the top of the funnel & all other parts of the value chain are compliments to be commoditized.

  • Buy premium domain names? Google’s SERPs test replacing domain names with words & make the words associated with the domain name gray.
  • Improve conversion rates? Your competitor almost certainly did as well, now you both can bid more & hand over an increasing economic rent to Google.
  • Invest in brand awareness? Google shows ads for competitors on your brand terms, forcing you to buy to protect the brand equity you paid to build.

Search Metrics mentioned Hotels.com was one of the biggest losers during the recent algorithm updates: “I’m going to keep on this same theme there, and I’m not going to say overall numbers, the biggest loser, but for my loser I’m going to pick Hotels.com, because they were literally like neck and neck, like one and two with Booking, as far as how close together they were, and the last four weeks, they’ve really increased that separation.”

As Google ate the travel category the value of hotel-related domain names has fallen through the floor.

Most of the top selling hotel-related domain names were sold about a decade ago:

On August 8th HongKongHotels.com sold for $4,038. A decade ago that name likely would have sold for around $100,000.

And the new buyer may have overpaid for it!

Growing Faster Than the Market

Google consistently grows their ad revenues 20% a year in a global economy growing at under 4%.

There are only about 6 ways they can do that

  • growth of web usage (though many of those who are getting online today have a far lower disposable income than those who got on a decade or two ago did)
  • gain marketshare (very hard in search, given that they effectively are the market in most markets outside of a few countries like China & Russia)
  • create new inventory (new ad types on image search results, Google Maps & YouTube)
  • charge more for clicks
  • improve at targeting through better surveillance of web users (getting harder after GDPR & similar efforts from some states in the next year or two)
  • shift click streams away from organic toward paid channels (through larger ads, more interactive ad units, less appealing organic result formatting, pushing organic results below the fold, hiding organic results, etc.)

Six of One, Half-dozen of the Other

Wednesday both Expedia and TripAdvisor reported earnings after hours & both fell off a cliff: “Both Okerstrom and Kaufer complained that their organic, or free, links are ending up further down the page in Google search results as Google prioritizes its own travel businesses.”

Losing 20% to 25% of your market cap in a single day is an extreme move for a company worth billions of dollars.

Thursday Google hit fresh all time highs.

“Google’s old motto was ‘Don’t Be Evil’, but you can’t be this big and profitable and not be evil. Evil and all-time highs pretty much go hand in hand.” – Howard Lindzon

Booking held up much better than TripAdvisor & Expedia as they have a bigger footprint in Europe (where antitrust is a thing) and they have a higher reliance on paid search versus organic.

Frozen in Fear vs Fearless

The broader SEO industry is to some degree frozen by fear. Roughly half of SEOs claim to have not bought *ANY* links in a half-decade.

Long after most of the industry has stopped buying links some people still run the “paid links are a potential FTC violation guideline” line as though it is insightful and/or useful.

Ask the people carrying Google’s water what they think of the official FTC guidance on poor ad labeling in search results and you will hear the beautiful sound of crickets chirping.

Where is the ad labeling in this unit?

Does small gray text in the upper right corner stating “about these results” count as legitimate ad labeling?

And then when you scroll over that gray text and click on it you get “Some of these hotel search results may be personalized based on your browsing activity and recent searches on Google, as well as travel confirmations sent to your Gmail. Hotel prices come from Google’s partners.”

Ads, Scroll, Ads, Scroll, Ads…

Zooming out a bit further on the above ad unit to look at the entire search result page, we can now see the following:

  • 4 text ad units above the map
  • huge map which segments demand by price tier, current sales, luxury, average review, geographic location
  • organic results below the above wall of ads, and the number of organic search results has been reduced from 10 to 7

How many scrolls does one need to do to get past the above wall of ads?

If one clicks on one of the hotel prices the follow up page is … more ads.

Check out how the ad label is visually overwhelmed by a bright blue pop over.

Defund

It is worth noting Google Chrome has a built-in ad blocking feature which allows them to strip all ads from displaying on third party websites if they follow Google’s best practices layout used in the search results.

You won’t see ads on websites that have poor ad experiences, like:

  • Too many ads
  • Annoying ads with flashing graphics or autoplaying audio
  • Ad walls before you can see content

When these ads are blocked, you’ll see an “Intrusive ads blocked” message. Intrusive ads will be removed from the page.

The following 4 are all true:

And, as a bonus, to some paid links are a crime but Google can sponsor academic conferences for market regulators while requesting the payments not be disclosed.

Excessive Profits = Spam

Hotels have been at the forefront of SEO for many years. They drive massive revenues & were perhaps the only vertical ever referenced in the Google rater guidelines which explicitly stated all affiliate sites should be labeled as spam even if they are helpful to users.

Google has won most of the profits in the travel market & so they’ll need to eat other markets to continue their 20% annual growth.

As they grow, other markets disappear.

“It’s a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug.” – Googler John Rockway, January 31, 2012

Some people who market themselves as SEO experts not only recognize this trend but even encourage this sort of behavior:

Zoopla, Rightmove and On The Market are all dominant players in the industry, and many of their house and apartment listings are duplicated across the different property portals. This represents a very real reason for Google to step in and create a more streamlined service that will help users make a more informed decision. … The launch of Google Jobs should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should its potential foray into real estate. Google will want to diversify its revenue channels as much as possible, and any market that allows it to do so will be in its sights. It is no longer a matter of if they succeed, but when.

If nobody is serving a market that is justification for entering it. If a market has many diverse players that is justification for entering it. If a market is dominated by a few strong players that is justification for entering it. All roads lead to the pile of money. 🙂

Extracting information from the ecosystem & diverting attention from other players while charging rising rents does not make the ecosystem stronger. Doing so does not help users make a more informed decision.

Information as a Vertical

The dominance Google has in core profitable vertical markets also exists in the news & general publishing categories. Some publishers get more traffic from Google Discover than from Google search. Publishers which try to turn off Google’s programmatic ads find their display ad revenues fall off a cliff:

“Nexstar Media Group Inc., the largest local news company in the U.S., recently tested what would happen if it stopped using Google’s technology to place ads on its websites. Over several days, the company’s video ad sales plummeted. “That’s a huge revenue hit,” said Tony Katsur, senior vice president at Nexstar. After its brief test, Nexstar switched back to Google.” … “Regulators who approved that $3.1 billion deal warned they would step in if the company tied together its offerings in anticompetitive ways. In interviews, dozens of publishing and advertising executives said Google is doing just that with an array of interwoven products.”

News is operating like many other (broken) markets. The Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit organization.

Many local markets have been consolidated down to ownership by a couple private equity shop roll ups looking to further consolidate the market. Gatehouse Media acquired Gannett & has a $1.8 billion mountain of debt to pay off.

McClatchy – the second largest domestic newspaper chain – may soon file for bankruptcy:

there’s some nuance in this new drama — one of many to come from the past decade’s conversion of news companies into financial instruments stripped of civic responsibility by waves of outside money men. After all, when we talk about newspaper companies, we typically use their corporate names — Gannett, GateHouse, McClatchy, MNG, Lee. But it’s at least as appropriate to use the names of the hedge funds, private equity companies, and other investment vehicles that own and control them.

The Washington Post – owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – is creating an ad tech stack which serves other publishers & brands, though they also believe a reliance on advertiser & subscription revenue is unsustainable: “We are too beholden to just advertiser and subscriber revenue, and we’re completely out of our minds if we think that’s what’s going to be what carries us through the next generation of publishing. That’s very clear.”

Future Prospects

We are nearing inflection points in many markets where markets that seemed somewhat disconnected from search will still end up being dominated by Google. Gmail, Android, Web Analytics, Play Store, YouTube, Maps, Waze … are all additional points of leverage beyond the core search & ads products.

If all roads lead to money one can’t skip healthcare – now roughly 20% of the United States GDP.

Google scrubbed many alternative health sites from the search results. Some of them may have deserved it. Others were perhaps false positives.

Google wants to get into the healthcare market in a meaningful way. Google bought Fitbit and partnered with Ascension on a secret project gathering health information on over 50 million Americans.

Google is investing heavily in quantum computing. Google Fiber was a nothingburger to force competing ISPs into accelerating expensive network upgrades, but beaming in internet services from satellites will allow Google to bypass local politics, local regulations & heavy network infrastructure construction costs. A startup named Kepler recently provided high-bandwidth connectivity to the Arctic. When Google launches a free ISP there will be many knock on effects causing partners to long for the day where Google was only as predatory as they are today.

“Capitalism is an efficient system for surfacing and addressing the needs of consumers. But once it veers toward control over markets by a single entity, those benefits disappear.” – Seth Godin

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