26 Social Listening Tools to Infuse Your eCommerce Marketing with Awesome Intelligence

When you start off in eCommerce (or if you’ve been doing it for a while), you will realize how important quality marketing is to keep the pipeline of traffic going to your site. It is very likely that initially you will be relying mostly on organic, unpaid media to keep it afloat. Thus, most of your efforts might be around blogging, Facebook & Twitter posts, video and all other kinds of content marketing.

This comes with 3 main challenges:

  1. Being creative on demand.
  2. Coming up with topics for your marketing campaigns often.
  3. Do so at a volume that makes a difference and works for an ecommerce business. It has to be scalable in volume to bring home the bacon, so to speak.

Like any quality marketing endeavour, yours should be based on quality market research. It should be done before you try to acquire traffic and truly engage people who are looking for your products and services. This can be done easily if you have a number of tools handy, have a good process in place, and know what to do with the insights you’ll gather.

Here is a set of 26 social listing tools that I like to use when I start my research. You can use these regardless if you work for a big company or if you are running a startup. I grouped them into 5 categories based on the key set of functionalities: competitive analysis, content/influencer discovery, campaign management, publishing automation and conversation listening.

Competitive Analysis to dig up on all you need to know (and then some):

1. Rival IQ

Rival IQ is perfect for getting full intelligence coverage on what your market is about. You can setup landscapes (up to 30 sites in the pro version) in your category or content publishing niche, find the hottest and most engaged (hello conversion possibility) topics and channels. You can spot gaps where your competition is not present and mine the top 100 SEO keywords for search volume, traffic share and search rank positions.

You can go deeper and map up the entire editorial flow for each channel (YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus) and get topic ideas for your marketing. You can also see what changes RivalIQ does to titles, meta descriptions and social bios and even track web site changes (design and mostly home page). Finally, you can also discover similar sites and companies to add to your monitoring. Check RivalIQ out, they have a 14-day trial period with up to 5 sites to get a scoop on. Also, if you like it in trial and wish to get a discount, use my special promo (25% off the normal subscription) to save the hard bootstrapped cash.

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Why you should use it: If you are new to a niche or a customer segment, you can get a clear picture of what works for your competition in terms of engaging and converting online audiences on social channels. You pretty much get to gain other entrepreneurs’ successes based on the data the tool mines on reach and engagement. You can see what channels are not taken, what specific topic perform best and even create a list of the most engaging posts.

How I use it for eCommerce intelligence: For example, let’s take this blog itself and compare it to a set of related sites with similar topics and audiences. Below, I have a list of posts for 90 days from the list of sites (TechCrunch, Shopify, BigCommerce, Mashable and KISSmetrics), I see high level engagement stats, export it all in excel and uncover more nuggets via pivots.

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Pretty sleek? Where else can you get this data? If you know a tool, let me know, otherwise – you are welcome 🙂

So, being a happy customer, I also covered more of RivalIQ reports on their blog lately Yulia’s detailed RivalIQ post, if you want to go deeper.

2. Site Alerts

Site Alerts is another great tool for looking under the hood to see what your competitors are using technology-wise (which ecommerce platform, mail provider, plugins, tech enhancements). It’s great for seeing what social referrals work best for them and what percentage of traffic they represent. Additionally, you can see what other traffic sources they get (and the share for each) and a list of referral sites, related sites, and organic keywords.

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Why you should use it: You can learn where the traffic comes from for the sites you’re spying on. You also gauge what technology they use on their backend: ecommerce platforms, marketing tools, analytics and when those were implemented.

How I use it for eCommerce intelligence: I look at a number of sites, pull the data, massage them in excel in charts and pivots. Sometimes I can see the reasons why some traffic kind of surged and what campaign led to it. You still have to go and look at the site and monitor its marketing to connect the dots, as not all answers are in the reports.

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3. BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo is good for finding the top performing topics and influencers on social channels for your specific niche. It is keyword based, so you need to know what to search for as a start. Yet, you can get tons of data (up to 6 months), and you can filter the content by article, infographics, guest posts, giveaways, interviews and videos and see what engages people most on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Google +. Then, you can flip your search to find the top contributors and influencers on those channels and filter the searches by bloggers, influencers, companies, journalists and regular people. It even allows you to ignore broadcasters. You can sort them by average retweets, domain authority, the number of followers, which can tell you who to follow & engage with your content. The tool is free for now, yet the team will offer a pro version soon.

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Why you should use it: You can learn what people are talking about and who are your influencers. It also tells you what top bloggers to watch.

How I use it for ecommerce intelligence: Get the intel on who is who, create profiles for your top segment (stalk them for a while to get those details) and then go and court them – you are more likely to get lucky and create a partnership.

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4. Keyhole.co

Keyhole.co is useful for identifying what hashtags, topics (and keywords) are discussed in real-time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by your prospective audience and which folks are true influencers on those channels (how many followers they have, bios, retweets, likes and platforms they are seen on). You can see how many posts have been dedicated to a topic over a period of time (from 90 days to last 1 day), how many users engaged, what was the reach and impression level, and stats like retweets, Klout score and recent posts. You can get ideas on what influencers have affinity towards your products and see what they are saying about your competitors. Plus, with a bit of creativity you can mine a lot of keywords that real people use. The tool has a free day trial and is mostly built for agencies, and publishers. Yet you can benefit from the professional plan right away even if you are doing it for a month.

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Why you should use it: You can see what topics of interest are a high priority for your audience, who engages best with which hashtags (from your set of competitors) and even get some sense of placement where this traffic originates from.

How I use it for ecommerce intelligence: If I want to get more detail on certain themes, topics and conversations that are happening. Of course, I will do my analysis starting with a given set of visualizations and mine for diamonds in excel through pivots and my own charts.

5. Compete

Compete is not exactly considered to be a social listening tool or anything associated with social, yet I use it a lot to get benchmarking stats on competitive traffic, referral sources, subdomains, technology, affiliates, related sites, and outgoing sites for the last 2 years (I love historical data, because it is like a lifestyle/or a criminal profile of an ecommerce suspect).

I can get the insights for 2 years worth of data, isolate seasonality and internal events and really see what works for each new niche. I can see if the site is doing paid search and how much, I can see which marketing programs work best for them and even get a sense of the conversion rate if their store is set up as a subdomain. The tool ranges from $ 5000 to 7000 per year and also offers a monthly plan for $ 299. They also have a free trial version that is worthwhile to play with.

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Why you should use it: You know who is who in terms of size of traffic, types of traffic and what the site is all about. I am yet to find a tool that gives a better view on online traffic. Quantcast, I heard, does similar for more money. I even tried Alexa, but in no way does it compare.

How I use it for ecommerce intelligence: If I want to get more detail on seasonal changes, new kinds of sites, traffic patterns and insights on the marketing initiatives. For example, I love doing year over year comparisons, sometimes I even take more granular data and add control limits. In minutes I have a masterpiece of insights that would get any data geek’s heart pumping with love 🙂

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Content Discovery that comes to you, while you do something else:

6. Scoop.it

Scoop.it allows you to have up to 15 topics tracked online (business account) for $ 79 per month (or 2 only as a free version). You will get daily emails with articles on target topics as a scoop, delivered to your inbox. You can curate the content as a team & publish your own newsletters and schedule those in advance. From my experience, the quality of content collected by their algorithm is very good.

Why you should use it:

Even in a free version, you can pick 2 topics, let’s say, “skin care and hair products”, load 5 keywords for each category and start getting articles on the topic. It is a good, easy way to create a content library that starts building itself daily or weekly. In addition, you can also select some topics of your choice from the pre-set categories or again name your own.

How I use it for ecommerce intelligence:

I have emails from Scoopit forwarded to a specific folder. Then you can search when you need content on a specific topic to publish. What a better place to find what works for you but your own-curated collection of related articles?

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7. Swayy

Swayy is similar to Scoop, yet works a bit different. Though, primarily developed as a social sharing tool for interesting content, I like the curating functionality the most.

Why you should use it:

It is perfect for discovering upcoming sites that cover your topics for future partnerships, seeing topics that are trending and building your library of creative ideas from other people’s posts.

How I use it for ecommerce intelligence:

You can sign up with your Facebook or Twitter account and the tool will analyze your content and suggest topics. Or you can create your own dashboards with seemingly more keywords than Scoop allows and start getting articles on your topics. I like Swayy better for more flexibility with keywords and topics since you can refine your content niche really well (and more accurately). You can create several dashboards, thus cataloging your content themes. The more you use it and start sharing some content and acquiring followers on Twitter and Facebook, the more related articles the algorithm will bring to you, expanding your selected topics into suggestions from your community.

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8. Feedly

Feedly is more for searching and finding sites on the topics of your interest and creating a bookmarked page with all of them in one place. It’s very handy to discover sites that cover your stories and its easy UX allows you to create your own collections of stories to spin your content from. Plus, it is free and accessible from iOS or android devices via apps.

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Why you should use it:

It is a one-stop shop where you can keep the radar spying on your competitors (or related sites and partners’ content). You can read it on any device and has a nice UX.

How I use it for ecommerce intelligence:

I prefer Newsblur – yet I still use Feedly to create specific subscriptions for my marketing team. A perfect library always keeps the pipeline fresh.

Pinterest Specific: Analysis & Discovery tools that rock:

9. Tailwind

Tailwind is a free Pinterest analytics tool that will open your mind about the possibilities of your Pinterest marketing. If you have an account, you can see how your brand page performs (how many followers, pins, repins and likes you’ve got), your virality score (repins/per pin) and engagement score (repins/pin/per follower) and engagement rate (% of pins w/at least 1 repin). It gives you data on your boards’ performance, shows likes, hashtags and comments in the paid “lite” version for $ 149 per month.

Why you should use it:

You get deeper into your Pinterest potential. I’d suggest that people who sell furniture, fashion or other image/design merchandise use it.

How To Use It for eCommerce: You can see heat maps for specific categories, peak days and times, trending pins and inspect each individual one if you have a hit. You can also see how you stack up against competitors and who refers traffic over a period of time. Professional plans start at $ 399 per month.

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10. Piqora

Piqora is bit pricier, offers full analytics, including that of your competitors for about $ 5,000 per year. It also includes campaign management and setup within for another extra $ 20,000 (where the analytics piece is included). It is for Pinterest, Tumbler and Instagram mostly.

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Why you should use it:

It works best if you have a reason to optimize your Pinterest, Tumbler and Instagram campaigns. Especially if you have rising levels of referrals from these channels.

How I use it for eCommerce:

You can see how much organic and paid traffic you get from product pins to your site, what products and categories are trending, who pins what and at what times, plus source pages, transactions and revenue. If you sell furniture, beauty or fashion products and Pinterest is one of your top traffic sources, by all means invest in this tool.

11. Curalate

Curalate also focuses on Pinterest, Instagram and Tumbler and offers similar stats, yet it also has image-recognition technology that allows you to follow your brand as people post pictures across social web and get a full view on what people say, what they notice and how they share it with their close circles.

Why you should use it: It’s very similar to Piqora, yet it also bring image tagging intelligence (that track images across the web), which results in more concrete & different kind of customer specific insights.

How I would use it for eCommerce:

You can also tag your images and get a more sophisticated look into your campaigns. The full suite has community management features that go beyond the analytics of your campaigns. Again, it is perfect for apparel, fashion, jewelry and premium products that visually engage the shoppers.

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Facebook Specific: Analysis & Campaigns Management, which deliver at scale:

12. Shoutlet

Shoutlet is good for ecommerce companies making more than 15M a year or catalog-style sites with thousands or millions of products. The platform allows creating sales-driven campaigns at scale, monitoring conversations, and layering tons of 3rd party data from interests, groups and activities to measure your campaigns across other social channels. It also integrates with Kenshoo, Google Analytics and your CRM system. This would be a power tool for high paid marketing spenders, yet making their organic marketing work even better.

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Why & how I use it for eCommerce: To do high ROI contests, social paid and organic campaigns at scale if I have thousands of products.

13. Qwaya

Qwaya is a Facebook marketing platform for smaller online stores and also allows you to manage Facebook campaigns with more ease and at a scale, starting at $ 149 per month. If you do any Facebook marketing, you know you need power tools to really run it efficiently and optimize with ease, and using Facebook tools leaves much to be desired (actually a big pain in a bottom), hence it makes perfect sense to save time with this ads tool. Very simple and straightforward to use.

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Why & How Use It for eCommerce: To manage Facebook ads at scale and make the most of the reporting vs. relying on out of the box Facebook tools (which actually suck and confuse marketers).

14. SocialApps HQ

SocialApps HQ is good for running contests or lead-generation campaigns on Facebook. It allows you to set campaigns up through forms, tabs, and features within the channel (which makes your Facebook assets more interactive). It also allows you to collect the data and offers post-campaign reporting. I would test it for a few experiments with the free trial and then choose the plan that works for you (they start at $ 14 per month to $ 299).

Why & how I use it for eCommerce: To experiment with social contests on the cheap, and learn what is required to run good campaigns to engage my kind of shoppers.

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Twitter Specific: Analysis & Content Discovery that makes your Twitter posts sell more:

15. Ritetag

Ritetag is awesome to gain insights on what hashtags to use (which ones are visible, high, moderate and overused). This makes a big difference if you sell via Twitter posts, as the right tags bring more retweets, follows and sales. I like their browser plugins for Twitter and HooteSuite, which allows you to explore highly visible tags via grading them. Go try it now and see if all your prior hashtags were optimized for reach. I simply love it.

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Why & how I use it for eCommerce: To tweet smart and use the hashtags that reach my audience with every post vs. crossing fingers and hoping I get noticed.

16. Tagboard

Tagboard can be used well to create custom boards or landing pages for special events and launches that you do via engaging your social audiences. You can organize the entire campaign around a specific hashtag, pulling posts from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It is also good to do a quick glance at the competitor campaign running at a given time and see what responses the site or a given brand is getting from its fans. See how Dove’s hashtag worked so far #Beautyls.

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Why & how I use it for eCommerce: I get a one-page view of a given campaign that I’m studying. I’ll notice what is trending and bringing in traffic to a site of interest or a brand of interest. That way I can spot and learn the details behind the execution.

17. Trendsmap

Trendsmap is simply a good tool to see what tags are trending around the globe with top users, cities, videos and links. You can see if you can ride the arising conversations too with your content. It is also perfect to get a sense what works on Twitter in other countries or how your campaign performs across regions. For $ 19 per month, it is a decent enough spy tool to make your regional Twitter expertise more on target.

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Why & how I use it for eCommerce:: I get a sense of geographical differences and engagement peculiarities for trending topics related to my products.

18. Topsy

Topsy is my other secret tool to navigate Twitterverse. It brings you photos, links, videos, and influencers for your specific topic in many languages. It slightly resembles BuzzSumo and is also free, yet offers a capability to compare 3 terms at a time (and over time), and very much focuses on the content that lives on Twitter.

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Why & how I use it for eCommerce: I get some insights on topic’s virality and popularity in the Twitterverse in one place.

Publishing Automation in one place:

19. HooteSuite

HooteSuite works best to automate your social posts on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn if you just starting out. I love its scheduling feature, which I use myself to setup posts two weeks ahead, thus freeing up my creative energy and time during the week when the real work needs to be done. For $ 10 per month, it is a time-saver that allows you to schedule up to 50 posts at a time. It has great analytics reports and many extra apps as add-on features to explore if you find the time to do so.

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Why you should use it: To set my social posts on auto-pilot and move on to the marketing activities that require more creative energy and bring more profit, yet still keeping the presence alive.

20. Sprout Social

Sprout Social costs more ($ 39) and is for a much heavier user. For example, you might be having a team or an outsourced person do your social posts and you’re doing more than 50 times per week. In this case SproutSocial is a better choice, as its best functionality is scheduling in bulk and at different times of the day.

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Why you should use it: To enable my marketing team to set posts on auto-pilot and manage it all in one place. It also allows you to move on to the marketing activities that require more creative energy and bring more profit, yet still keeping the presence lively.

21. Social Annex

Social Annex is more of an enterprise level platform that offers scalable publishing of your social and user generated content on your site, which could be Q&As, reviews, ratings and comments. It will range within $ 1500-4000, plus a $ 5000 one-time installation cost. Here, you pay for integrating your Instagram or Pinterest/other social campaign assets (a curated product gallery as an example) into your site as recommendation modules (products curated on Instagram, or mostly shared etc.).

Why you should use it:

To integrate user-generated content and social proof into eCommerce pages and explore the conversion benefits of each kind, while selling your goods.

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Conversation Listening, Topics Analysis, Brand Mentions and free (almost):

22. Trackur

Trackur is good for keywords, brand mention monitoring and tracking across the web. Yet the most effective feature I see is in creating saved searches as RSS, subscribing to those and finding stories this way. The tool comes both with free and paid options and is very much-designed around keyword mining, discovery and expansion.

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Why you should use it:

To do keyword research exercises from a given set of keywords or to mine more combinations and gauge against the volume of conversations which occur on the web around the topic.

23. Social Mention

Social Mention is a real time search tool for your brand, or keywords of your choice across blogs, questions, videos, bookmarks and images. Free and great for some conversations mining, some reports did not work for me (like hashtags or sentiment exports), but some came off handy (users and keywords). Plus, most insights are visible within the first page of results and the tool is free. What more do you want?

Why you should use it:

To get a quick view of a set of keywords, hashtags and topics for free for my new campaign.

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24. IceRocket

IceRocket is another free search tool for content across social channels like Twitter, Facebook and blogs that generates plenty of searches to look through (on average over 3000) and can be used as a site discovery tool. You can see trends for specific terms like seasonality and subscribe to your searches via RSS.

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Why you should use it:

To find new bloggers related to my topic who can become affiliates, partners or customers.

25. TalkWalker

TalkWalker is great as both a free and a paid tool (from $ 500) to see what people are saying on the web (even across continents) about your brand and it even does sentiment analysis marking for you already. You can see insights up to 1 year and trending. You can find influencers, segment conversations by themes, demographics and results. I found it super handy to spot some geographic and themed conversations, which is great for retailers selling in multiple countries.

Why you should use it:

To get more details on social organic campaigns my competitors run, to gauge the themes for my editorial calendar and spot some spikes (successes) in PR a given site had.

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26. Newsblur

Newsblur is the last, yet not the least useful tool. I use it as a big content library in one place for all the subscriptions that I have on the web, including the KISSmetrics blog. Newsblur allows me to come in, subscribe to a new publication and see what content (topics titles, kind) the site is doing and lets me see in a few seconds if this could be a potential partner.

If I’m having a creative stoop, I can see what is trending and come up with my own topics. I can also see the topic popularity (qualitatively) and search my library for relevant sources. For ecommerce it works best if you subscribe to a number of magazines and publishing sites that cater to your audience and want to work on better content placement opportunities. It is not free, I think I paid a $ 20 one time fee.

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Why you should use it:

To have all the posts of my tracked sites in one place, to get a snapshot of the editorial calendar, cadence and frequency for a given competitor to assess themes, collect titles and see what can be applied for my business.

Now, getting all the data about your competition can be super empowering and exciting (every time I do it, I feel like a KGB agent or a FBI spy that just dug up some decent confidential material to disarm the enemy).

Yet, it is all how you interpret it and what you do with it in your marketing that makes a difference. Do your own magic from what I shared above or if you want to get even more advanced education on how to use those tools (let’s say: uncover which day of the week brings the most traffic for a given site or blog based on what they sell or blog about), let me know ([email protected]).

For bootstrappers, some of these ideas, tips and tools (and special discounted offers like I shared above for RivalIQ in #1) are also in my book “Grow & Scale Your Online Store To Profit.”

Did you like my super handy tools list? Let me know in comments below, ask for more and share the love 🙂

– Yulia

About the Author: Yulia V Smirnova is an ecommerce entrepreneur, who made ecommerce profitable for eBay, Walmart.com and Texas Instruments in the past life & now helps ecommerce startups. She is also an author of “Grow & Scale Your Online Store To Profit”, a book written for ecommerce sites with over 200 tools, strategies and tips from folks who did it.


The KISSmetrics Marketing Blog

Millennials are changing the way we shop for cars

Thinking about buying a new car? A generation ago, you would have influenced by a TV commercial, then you’d spread out the newspaper to help you hone in on the right car at the right price. Final step – it’s off to the local dealership to buy the car of your dreams.

That last step is still the same, but a new survey from AutoTrader says that the new generation – the Millennials – have abandoned TV ads and newspapers in favor of the internet.

AutoTrader Infographic

What’s really interesting is that 70% of Millennials begin the car shopping process without a clue as to what make or style of car they want. They go online and start the process and spend an average of 17.6 hours “shopping”. That’s two hours longer than the average car buyer.

Once they’ve narrowed down their choices they’re “significantly less likely” to change their minds when they get to the dealership.

Think about that. What they saw on the internet took them from “I have no idea what I want” to “I know and you can’t make me change my mind” in 17 hours. That’s power and I imagine this behavior isn’t exclusive to car buyers. Millennials are researchers. They know how to find the information they want and they know better than to trust the first site they hit. They look at reviews. They compare features and prices. The one thing they don’t do is consult social media.

Only 5% of Millennials and only 1% of all buyers consult social sites when shopping for a car. 78% even went so far as to say that it wouldn’t matter to them if a brand didn’t even have a social media presence.

The Mobile Millennial

The AutoTrader survey shows a huge shift toward multiple device shopping. A year ago, only 23% of car buyers said they use 2 or more devices to shop for a car. In 2014, that rose to 32%. This is mostly due to the fact that Millennials are replacing Boomers as the largest car buying contingent. And Millennials, as well know, see their mobile phones as an extension of their arms.

AutoTrader Infographic 2

Because of the Millennials, PC usage is on the decline. Now, half of all Millennials use a smartphone to shop for a new car this is up from only 34% a year ago. At this rate, the PC will be out of the picture by 2017.

My prediction, by 2020 we’ll be buying our cars on Amazon.Auto.com. I’ll take that blue Ferrari, please. And can you ship it  fast and free with Amazon Prime? I’ll be waiting.

 

Marketing Pilgrim – Internet News and Opinion

The Complete Guide to Online Customer Research

How well do you know your customer? Do you know where they spend their time online, their average annual income or revenue and their biggest problems relevant to your solution? How about how they take their coffee?

(Ok, maybe that last one is a little excessive.)

If you answered “pretty well” or “not so well”, then take a moment and let this statistic sink in: 34% of 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed by Responsys broke up with a brand because they were receiving “poor, disruptive or irrelevant marketing messages.” That’s a lot of lost customers simply because a company didn’t do its research properly.

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(Image via this Responsys slideshare)

If you answered “I know my customer inside-out”, that’s great! But keep in mind that this isn’t a guessing game; simply putting yourself in your customer’s shoes for a few minutes and imagining how they think and feel isn’t enough. The only way to truly understand them is through deep, ongoing research. One-on-one conversations––whether over the phone, on Skype or over coffee––are often the most effective ways to get inside your target market’s head, and if you’re just getting started with customer research I recommend they be your first step.

Unfortunately, this method is time-consuming and not very scalable if you want to collect data from lots of people. That’s where online research comes in; it can help you round out the information you’ve collected during your one-on-one’s, and it’s a great way to flush out your customer personas. It can also help product managers get the feedback they need in order to create better products.

So where can you go online to learn about your customers? While this will be unique to each company––it depends largely on where your customers spend their time online––I’m going to go over the websites, tools and techniques that have proven most effective for me when conducting online research about a target market.

Quora

Quora is a great place for research because it revolves around people holding in-depth conversations about a broad range of topics, from social media to startups and ethnic junk food. Type a keyword or phrase related to your product in the search box and you’ll be served a long list of conversations, at least some of which will reveal how your target market is thinking about things related to your business.

For example, let’s say you’re building a social media marketing tool and you want to find out more about what’s on community managers’ minds. You can search “social media” and immediately see a list of questions related to your product.

A quick glance at the list of questions tells you a lot: the post about measuring ROI from social media has been upvoted 61 times and answered 84 times, so it’s clear this topic is on people’s minds (same with improving your social media presence in general).

quora-social-media

Click on one of the topics and you’ll see rich dialogue and input from people who represent your target market.

quora-social-response

The thread above teaches you that measuring the ROI of social media is a major pain point for professionals in the space, that very few people can agree on how to do it and that some people think it’s pointless. Good to know; maybe you should write a blog post about it, publish an ebook or host a webinar. Also, Leon Benjamin seems pretty smart; you can research him a bit more and see if you should invite him to write a guest post on your blog. 

Keyword Research

As Copyblogger points out in their guide, keyword research isn’t just about SEO. At its essence, it’s market research––”It tells you what people are interested in, and in what relative numbers”, and “it reveals the actual language people are using when they think about those topics, which provides you with insight on how to converse with them via your blog.”

Page 14 of their guide breaks down exactly how you can interpret keyword research to better understand your niche, identify which kind of business/product/service/blog would generate traffic or money and determine what kinds of content would get the attention of your audience.

Whenever I do interviews with people representing a specific target market I like to ask them what terms they would put in Google to find information related to the industry, product or service. This gives me a few keywords and phrases (that I might not have thought of before) to start playing with in my keyword research.

Blog Comments

There are a couple ways to use blog comments for research. If you have a successful blog that gets a number of comments per post, reading through the comments can give you insights into your target market’s key pain points.

Entrepreneur and super-successful blogger Ramit Sethi often gets hundreds of comments on his blog posts, and he encourages people to make these comments useful and meaningful by ending his articles with a prompt for the reader to respond to.

For example, the prompt below garnered 247 responses in the comments section.

ramit-sethi-prompt

Comments such as the one below offer a wealth of information about what’s on the minds of Ramit’s readers; now he can look to see if a better-paying job and more prestigious title are something other commenters want and then start to think about content or products that he can build around this (in Ramit’s case, he’s already done this).

ramit-comment

You can also browse comments on popular industry blogs, articles relevant to your field or on your competitions’ blogs and look for common threads. Let’s say I’m building a course on finding a dream job (say you work or operate an online recruitment site) and Ramit is one of my main competitors––his blog comments are a gold mine of insights into my target customer’s psychology.

Surveys

Long-form surveys with a survey tool like SurveyMonkey are another great option for online customer research. Once you’ve created your survey, you can send the link to your mailing list subscribers, post it on your blog and share it in social media. Keep in mind that the response rate for surveys like these tends to be pretty low, so companies with larger audiences are more likely to get enough information to formulate meaningful insights.

In order to increase your response rate you can offer incentives, like a free Starbucks gift card or a chance to win an iPad. You can also pay people to take your surveys––some survey software companies such as SurveyGizmo and SurveyMonkey offer to find people to take your survey based on your specified demographics.

Another increasingly-popular survey tactic is to place a short pop-up survey at the bottom of your website with an app like Quaraloo. This is great for testing product improvement ideas or confirming a hypothesis you have about your target market. Remember to keep it short––these pop-up surveys are most successful when you stick to one question.

tomtom_survey

(Image via the Quaraloo website)

This article talks about how to implement both kinds of surveys in more detail.

Progressive Profiling On Your Forms

If you have a solid content marketing strategy in place and people are repeatedly visiting your site to download content, then you might as well take advantage of progressive profiling. Uh, what’s that? As Hubspot explains:

“Progressive profiling allows you to set up iterative forms that enable you to designate which questions appear based on what you already know about a particular lead. That way, every time a lead fills out a form, you are progressively collecting valuable new information about them while keeping your forms short and easy to complete.”

Over time you will collect enough data to paint a detailed picture of your subscriber or customer, focusing on information that helps you connect with them in a more meaningful way. Let’s revisit the social media marketing tool example––in this case, you can ask questions like, “What’s your biggest social media challenge?” or “What’s the one thing you most want to get out of your social media efforts?” and give a few possible answers in a multiple choice format.

Your Competition’s Website

Studying your competition’s web copy and blog content is another great way to identify what matters to your target market. Granted, there’s no guarantee that your competition’s messaging is based off of thorough research, but common threads found in the copy and blog content across your competitors’ websites will point you in the direction of things your audience cares about.

This Copy Hackers ebook bundle includes a table for organizing your competitions’ messaging and pulling out similarities in the language and messaging.

Pay for Research & Data

There are many ways to conduct online research without paying a cent, but sometimes you’ll want to fork over a little cash to save time and get a more robust data set. GutCheck recruits people from a company’s target market to help them validate new product ideas, discover customer segments and test advertising concepts.

If you’re looking for people to conduct usability testing, UserTesting.com & UsabilityHub allow you to get feedback from real people as they use your website or mobile app. This helps you cut down on the time it takes to find people to test and then get them set up in your office.

Free Market Research Tools

Last but not least, there are several free market research tools that can help with your online market research. Consumer Barometer is a beautiful, interactive tool that gives you data on how consumers research items before purchasing, while FedStats publishes government statistics such as demographic data for individual cities, states and countries.

consumer-barometer

You can also access census data on the Census Bureau’s website, and the Census Bureau’s Quick Facts micro site gives you key demographic statistics pertaining to all fifty states.

—–

Customer research shouldn’t be a one-time thing you do when you first create your marketing plan; ideally, it will be an integral part of your marketing strategy and product development process. The websites, communities and resources above are just a few of the many places you can go to learn more about your target market.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Where do you go online to research your customers, and how often do you do it?

About the Author: Chloe Mason Gray specializes in digital marketing and growth strategy for startups and intrepid entrepreneurs. Be sure to say hi to her on Twitter. You can also follow her on Google+.


The KISSmetrics Marketing Blog

How to Prepare Yourself for the Next Penguin Update

Algorithm updates from Google are like thunderstorms; they always begin with visible brewing and hit with force. Just recently, Google revealed the latest Panda 4.0 update, and now there is a buzz about the next update brewing on the horizon: Penguin 3.0.

Algorithm updates tend to loom and twirl as a tornado in the minds of Webmasters and SEOs alike. They can cause many a sleepless night. Nevertheless, the best defense to any future impact is preparation. With experts chattering about a Penguin update, now is the time to prepare your business and have a system in place to soften the storm’s hit. Yes, some things are inevitable, but you can take steps that will protect your business from the chill of the next Penguin update.

However, before even contemplating preparation efforts, one must understand Penguin. Obviously, we aren’t talking about a lovable, tuxedo-wearing Arctic dweller. But if we had to compare it to a live penguin, we’d be talking about a bird with a ravenous appetite for bad fish. The trick to surviving this fowl is as simple as being a good fish.

A Little Bit of History Before we Dive in

Penguin was first announced on April 24, 2012 and the update was tasked with one primary goal: decreasing the search engine rankings of websites that violated Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (aka the bad fish) by using unscrupulous, spammy, and downright dirty techniques. We’re talking about artificial rank inflation through manipulation, which can include buying links or acquiring them via link networks specifically designed to boost Google rankings. We all know these methods as black-hat SEO. Simply put, Penguin is all about link spam, which includes:

  • Low quality backlinks
  • Having too many links with optimized anchor text
  • Text advertisements passing PageRank
  • Link schemes, such as excessive link exchanges, link velocity, etc.

Each time Google drops an algorithm update, every website on the net runs the risk of penalty. When it comes to Penguin, incurring a penalty will result in the loss of ranking. The penalty can be incurred by a single page or an entire website. Severity will be determined by your overall link profile. Therefore, the most effective means of gauging a penalty is to match up your traffic and ranking decline with the times of the updates. If you spot a significant decline, chances are you’ve been hit.

Assessing Your Status

The first step before formulating a plan of action is to assess your current state. Think of this as assessing your supplies before building a storm kit; you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Your first step should be looking back how you weathered previous updates. How did your company fair? What aspects of your business suffered or flourished during this time (especially traffic wise)?

Many will contact me for the link removal service thinking their website dropped in rankings due to a bad link profile. It’s important to understand that many websites are being devaluated due to other various reasons such as bad coding, poor content, server side issues, etc. and simply assume it’s Penguin. So here you go, this is my disclaimer to make sure you know that this post is not the silver bullet, rather a specific solution to a problem. A thorough analysis is required in order to determine the real cause and treat it accordingly. Anything else is merely shooting in the dark and a waste of your time.

Going back to Penguin recovery…Various factors will need to be measured, compared, and analyzed, such as traffic fluctuations, acceptable anchor diversity percentage, review of the back link profile, follow versus nofollow links, link velocity, and authority and trust flow. All of these dynamics are probable triggers that could put your website at immediate risk for devaluation when the next update goes live.

A Step-By-Step Preparation and Action Guide

In an effort to avoid the ravenous appetite of Google’s Penguin, your goal is to always stay away from shady tactics. Google is actively on a mission to provide the best user experience, which means every website that climbs the rankings needs to give the user what they want: quality and value. How can you deliver and prep for an inevitable update? Let’s see:

Step 1: Traffic Fluctuation Analysis

Back in July of 2013, Search Engine Roundtable published an article about traffic and Penguin 2.0. It presented an interesting scenario. Right after the update released, a webmaster noticed a sharp decline in traffic. Immediately deciding it was a byproduct of the release, they hit up the Google Webmaster Help forums to ask for recovery pointers. The discussion soon turned to an interesting inquiry; was the fluctuation truly caused by a penalty?

This scenario cements an important point: Regular checkups of your traffic may seem arbitrary and unnecessary actually very important to keep your website healthy. In order to spot a penalty definitively, you must first establish a baseline. If you don’t know what normal inbound traffic and fluctuations look like, you won’t know if you’ve angered the Penguin.

Luckily, you don’t need an analytical mind to gather and analyze traffic data. Many websites are available to monitor web traffic and generate other relevant information. Here are five of the most trusted:

  1. Google Analytics: If you want the best of the best in web analytics, this is it. Google designed these services with the marketer and business owner in mind. They break down where traffic comes from and can analyze the success of an ad campaign, sales activity, transactions, and revenue.
  2. Alexa: Owned by Amazon, Alexa is geared less toward precision and more of the big picture. The downside is that it doesn’t log actual page views per month. Instead, it estimates the percentage of Internet user visits within a given amount of time. However, it does hand you a ton of useful information, such as traffic rank, the average length of time each visitor spends on your site per day, the number of other sites linking to your site, and other helpful tidbits about activity.
  3. Compete.com: Designed for businesses targeting a US audience, Compete tallies the number of visitors received from the United States. Not only does it provide current month analytics, but it also creates a line graph illustrating the number of visitors who have come and gone over several months. International traffic is not tracked.
  4. BizInformation: This handy service taps into Compete’s line graph to calculate visitation. BizInfo also offers an evaluation of your website’s overall worth. It tells you the number of submissions your website has had on social networking and news sites, including Digg, Reddit, and Stumbleupon.
  5. Quantcast: If graphs are easy for you to understand, Quantcast is for you. This service offers the ability to produce multiple graphics displaying daily, weekly, monthly, and cumulative traffic fluctuations. It also logs potentially helpful visitor demographics, such as age, sex, children, income, and income earned.

Note: all the service above are great, however, in order to have full accurate analysis, historical data is crucial for obvious reasons. Most free historical data is not accurate unless you are suing Google analytics.

Step 2: Anchor Diversity

Even before Penguin, Google was slapping penalties on websites that used aggressive anchor text for keywords in backlinks. Analysis of previous updates has revealed the critical importance of anchor text diversity and link relevancy. Here’s what we know:

  • Websites that suffered a ranking decrease usually had a money keyword in their anchor text 65 percent or more of the time.
  • Websites that avoided penalties had a more natural-looking backlink profile, and they had money keyword anchor text less than 50 percent of the time.

What does this mean for you? Think of your anchors as accessories; they’re there to add value, not overtake in a godly display. Your goal is to avoid over-optimization. The anchor text you choose and the diversity it has in your profile plays a big part in your performance. This is where overdoing things might cause you in the opposite result.

Years ago, search engine optimization was all about keyword stuffing. You would research popular keywords and phrases, and then jam them into text as repetitively as possible. It didn’t matter if the copy was atrocious to read. Understandably, users hated it! Thanks to Google’s crackdown on low quality, practices like this one are frowned upon, and websites using them will lose search rankings.

In much the same way, anchor diversity is about creating a natural flow. Instead of optimizing like crazy, focus instead on crafting natural flow. Penguin won’t peck at you if you do.

What if your states indicate over-optimization? Dial back on keyword usage in anchor text in favor of a more natural approach. It will benefit you now and later on when an update drops.

Step 3: Back Link Profile Review

Search Engine Watch interviewed veteran SEO Bruce Clay regarding anchor text diversity and back link profiles. He recommends regular evaluation of your link profile—at least once per month. Here’s what you want to observe and maintain:

  • Look for low quality links and prune them back. Removing a link is twice as difficult as successfully requesting one. In the event that you’re either unable to remove a spammy link or unable to add enough good links to counter the bad, you do have recourse. Clay recommends sending a list of links you’ve attempted to remove to Google and ask them to discount, showing you’re at least making the effort (this is the disavow file).
  • Advocate links from similar niche sites. Previous updates have hit sites with few incoming links from websites and domains in the same or similar niche. Link quality and relevance are key. Work to attract quality links from recognized, authoritative domains in the same niche. Ahrefs can assist if you are planning on spying after your competition to analyze their link profile.
  • Scrub your site and ditch duplicate content. While this is not related directly to Penguin, I see more often than not websites with serious devaluation due to duplicate content. Cleaning up your links provides a good site scrub, but it may not be enough to weather an update (or recover from one). Duplicate content can be as insidious and choking as weeds. For example, if an unfavorable website has scraped your content and either linked to you with a “credit” or failed to remove an internal link to your site from inside the copy text, you’ve got a problem. A link from a bad neighborhood is pointing straight at you. What’s the best plan of action? Search for duplicate content via Copyscape. If you find stolen content, use Google’s page for submitting a DMCA report. Request the removal of the duplicate content. Also, spring clean your website with a SEO audit to ensure you’re not duplicating content yourself.
  • Remove any links from guest blogging networks. Matt Cutts has already proven this to be true and google will be cracking down even harder on this. Many SEO’s have put guest blogging in hot water by being too greedy. To play it safe and if you are not sure when you can link, make guest blogging links nofollow.
  • Avoid sitewidget links, these are an obvious signal of advertorial link
  • Remove exact match Anchor links or at least tune it down to have a more diverse profile
  • Remove all links from spam sites.

Step 4: Follow vs. NoFollow Links

No one can deny that the follow versus no follow link battle has been heated. One thing is clear, though. You need to use a combination of both links to promote good SEO, but you must avoid spamming either type to appease Penguin.

If you have no idea regarding how many follow versus no follow links are in your ranks, it’s time to conduct an inventory. There’s no quick wizard to simplify this task, but it’s worth every bit of your time. Here’s why:

  • Too many follow links will flag you as spammy or attempting to inflate your rankings artificially. If Penguin hasn’t caught on yet, it just might in a future update. Regardless, you risk a penalty.
  • Too many nofollow links apparently don’t exist. According to industry expert Matt Cutts, an abundance of nofollow links “cannot hurt your site.” However, if you spam comments or grow annoying to users who opt to report you as spam, Google will likely take manual action against you.

Inventory your links. Ensure your follow links are not spammy or artificial. Your focus should be on choosing solid links that are relevant to your brand or business. In this case, worry far less about optimization and far more about promoting and displaying quality.

Step 5: Link Velocity

Link velocity is the speed at which links are posted to your website. A sudden, artificial increase in link velocity can leave you susceptible to penalization. A common misconception is that any inflation in traffic will entice Google to issue a penalty, but this is not the case.

The source of an increase in traffic largely determines how Penguin sees it. For example, organic sites see natural spikes in link velocity. They don’t get flagged. Why? Because things like relevancy and trends are taken into consideration.

Another example is when a website receives outstanding press. New sites often launch in a flurry of press, leading to tons of outstanding links. Google is smart enough to know when a press storm has inflated velocity due to news, seasonal traffic, or material going viral.

In contrast, sites that purchase velocity or attempt to use a flood of low quality or irrelevant links to boost rankings are in the hot zone. Firstly, they risk penalty under the current version of Penguin. Secondly, Google has made it no secret that their goal is to improve recognition of artificial and spammy SEO boosters. As such, should you dabble, if only for a brief moment, you run the risk of a hard to recover from penalization when the next update releases.

What’s the solution? Instead of making a concise effort to increase traffic rapidly via links, focus instead on producing high quality. This means investing time, effort, and even money into creating copy, images, and links that are of stellar quality. Any gained velocity will be the direct result of everything Google is promoting, thus creating a natural spike that won’t make the Penguin bite.

Step 6: Authority and Trust Flow

Have you ever stopped to contemplate why trusted links are better for SEO than untrusted links? It’s all about the company you keep. Let’s face it; most of us wouldn’t befriend an individual who made no secret of their association with shady characters. The same applies online. Trusted links are beneficial because they show we keep good online company.

Penguin takes note of authority and trust flow. You might say that trust flow builds authority while authority builds trust; the two go hand in hand. How can you determine your website authority and trust? MozBar is a reputable tool. The free version offers analysis tools and has the ability to report on sites you’re thinking about linking to.

What can you do if your domain authority (DA) is low? You can ever so meticulously begin building trusted links. Research the trust ratio of every link before using it. The higher your authority and trust flow, the less likely this will cause an issue when an algorithm update hits.

Step 7: Continual Monitoring

Preparation and an action plan are just the beginning. To truly guard against a nasty impact from any algorithm update, Penguin or otherwise, you have to have a monitoring system in place. Tools like Ahrefs, Webmaster tools, and Majestic SEO are all worthy of your time and attention. They can help you keep an eagle eye trained on your backlinks, which is the most important part of preventative work.

The truth is, proper SEO in today’s industry focuses on a natural approach. High quality is the ultimate Holy Grail. The days of stuffing and artificial inflation tactics are dead and gone. As such, black-hat SEO is more voodoo than taboo; it’s just not meant to be messed with. The risk of penalty far outweighs any possible short-term benefits.

Your Course of Action

Pulling out a magnifying glass and taking a good hard look at your website is absolutely worth the time and effort. When the next update storm hits, you’ll be thankful you were prepared. Ongoing monitoring will help you discover problems when they first arise, and this is what every website owner should do to avoid costly repairs.

About the Author: Asher Elran is a practical software engineer and a marketing specialist, CEO at Dynamic Search, and founder of Web Ethics.


The KISSmetrics Marketing Blog

Friday Round-Up: YouTube on TV, Square makes an appointment and more

cowboy_clipart_lassoIt’s round-up time! Let’s see what the internet has been up to this week.

YouTube Updates the TV App

If you use a streaming or gaming device to watch YouTube videos on TV, you’re in for a treat. YouTube is rolling out an app update that will make it easier to find new videos from your favorite channels or watch all the vids in a playlist. They’ve also updated the search function so it’s actually useable.

This means more people will be watching more YouTube videos on the big screen. If you’re turning out high quality content, this is great news. If you’re not. . . why not? YouTube is a moneymaker. Get on it.

Make an Appointment with Square

Earlier this week, Amazon released their version of Square’s point-of-sale card reader while Square branched out into a new area – appointments. Square Appointments is an online calendar app that allows your customers to book online any time of the day or night. You can embed the widget on your website or in an email and get notified by email when a booking occurs. Beats stopping to answer the phone in the middle of that dye job.

Zofari screenZofari Seals a Deal with Yahoo

Yahoo just acquired travel app Zofari: the fastest way to find places you’ll love. You tell the app which bars, hotels, and restaurants you love and the app suggests new places you should visit. Zofari is all about discovery and love so they should be more careful about the screengrabs they use to advertise their app.

He Liked Not Too Wisely but Too Well

My favorite article of the week is all about a Facebook experiment. Mat Honan of Wired spent two days liking everything he saw in his news feed just to see what would happen. As we all know, Facebook doesn’t serve up everything from everyone and every page you follow. Instead, it curates your news feed based on your actions. That’s the theory, anyway.

Mat put it to the test and then wrote about his results in an article appropriately titled “I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What It Did to Me“.

Two things became clear right away. If you like something, Facebook will offer you related options and it’s a never ending loop from which you might never return. Second, he realized that “sometimes likeing is counterintuitive.” For example, when his friend posted a picture of her little girl’s bruised face after a collision with concrete. Ouch.

Did his news feed change? You bet it did and quickly.

By the end of day one, I noticed that on mobile, my feed was almost completely devoid of human content. I was only presented with the chance to like stories from various websites, and various other ads. Yet on the desktop—while it’s still mostly branded content—I continue to see things from my friends. On that little bitty screen, where real-estate is so valuable, Facebook’s robots decided that the way to keep my attention is by hiding the people and only showing me the stuff that other machines have pumped out. Weird.

I won’t spoil the rest of it for you. Go read the article. It’s a fascinating look at how Facebook controls the way we see the world.

That’s it for me. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you back here Monday.

Marketing Pilgrim – Internet News and Opinion

What is Customer Analytics?

Tracking your customers step-by-step as they use your website or mobile app allows you to gather extremely important information about your online business.

If you run a SaaS, e-commerce, or any other website that requires member signup or login, you’ll be able to understand the path each person took to sign up, how long it took them to sign up, what pages they viewed, what devices they used, and how they are using your product.

You’ll be able to see everything from pre- to post-purchase activities. This is at the core of customer analytics, and it gives you a deep understanding of how each person interacts on your website.

Let’s run through two use cases where customer analytics can provide invaluable insights.

You’ll Know Where Your Customers Are Coming From

Origination data about your customers is nothing new, but knowing which source creates the best customers for you is very powerful information. With a KISSmetrics funnel report, you can see where your customers came from and which channels are your most popular, as well as which ones are the most profitable.

Here is a common funnel report for a SaaS company:

channel origin of funnel reports

This is a KISSmetrics conversion funnel. We are tracking the number of people who convert to paying customers.

We’re tracking the number of people who come to our site, sign up for a trial, and then convert to paying for the product. Here are a few of our immediate takeaways from this report:

  • The top of our funnel is doing great. Over 800,000 visitors in 2 months is spectacular.
  • There are not a lot of people who sign up for our service. Less than 1 out of every 100 visitors sign up for a trial.
  • Once people sign up for a trial, few actually convert to paying for our service.
  • A lot of those who sign up for our service come from a Google search or simply type our web address into their browser.

This funnel report tells us we don’t need to focus on the top of the funnel. We already get loads of traffic. Instead, we should focus on converting the traffic we already have. And, once we get people to sign up for a trial, we need to get them to convert to paying customers.

So, what are the next steps we need to take?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Run A/B tests on our website to try to find ways to get more visitors to sign up for a trial.
  • Find reasons trial users don’t convert to paying customers. We can do this by asking our trial users what prevented them from converting. We can view these people simply by clicking on our “Signed Up” bar.

sign up funnel

We have the option to view the people who have not converted to signing up for a trial, as well as the people who have signed up for a trial.

We then select people who have signed up for a trial:

funnel step

We simply click on one of the two options.

And we get a big list of people who have signed up for a trial:

kissmetrics people search

This is a list of people who have signed up for a trial.

We get a long list of email addresses. We can filter these users by event or property, but for now, we’ll just click on a user:

view person data in KISSmetrics

A person report. You’ll get this with every person who has come to your site. You’ll know the exact actions they’ve taken, as well as their contact information (if they have provided it via signing up for your service).

Our timeline tells us that the user signed up on June 12. They last visited our website just a few days ago, only two days after cancelling their trial:

people report timeline

A list of events the user did on a specific day. The bigger the bubble, the more events (and thus more engagement) on your website.

We can send the user an email (or telephone them) asking what prevented them from converting to a paying customer. We know we’re still top of mind with them since they visited our site just a couple of days ago.

After gathering enough feedback from enough people, we can prioritize what we need to work on. Then, we can go forward with this feedback and work on projects that will convert more of our trial users into paying customers.

This is part of customer analytics: understanding how each user and customer interacted with your website and product. You can look at aggregate data, break it down to each person, and then work to improve your business.

The above is an example of how customer analytics can help you improve your marketing and sales. Now, we’ll look at how customer analytics can help you build a better product.

Understanding Customer Engagement on a Feature

Let’s say you released a new feature last month and you want to see how many customers have used it. To do this, we can use the KISSmetrics People Report.

We’ll need to set up event tracking on the feature. After we do that, we can run a people search to find the customers who have used the new feature:

people search kissmetrics

The form for the KISSmetrics People Search. You can search by finding a group of people who have done a specific activity or search for a specific person via an identity such as an email address.

total time and date range in people search

When tracking by event (in this case, searching for people who have used our feature), we can search how many times people have done the event, and many other options. In this case, we want People Search to tell us the total number of times a customer has used our feature within the last 30 days.

We then get a list of people who have used our new feature at least one time in the last 30 days:

people search

After we hit search, our report runs, and we get a list of people under our specified search criteria.

This can be great for finding the power users of this particular feature. We also can find the ones who use it less often and get some feedback from them about why they used it only once or a few times.

Use Customer Analytics to Understand and Optimize How Each Person Uses Your Product

When you understand your customers, you understand what you need to do to build a better product. KISSmetrics is one tool that helps you understand how people use your product. We integrate with many external tools to help you get a more complete view of your customers.

To get started using people data, login or sign up for a KISSmetrics account now.


The KISSmetrics Marketing Blog