Digital Vs. Traditional Advertising

Driven by consumer behavior, emerging platforms, and intent, digital advertising connects you with the right people, in the right places, and with the most effective content.

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Paid Search

With over 4 billion searches per day, paid search ads are one of the most cost effective ways to secure ‘first-in-line’ status for those intentionally searching for your product or service – 90% of searchers never make it past the first results page.

With relevant, value-driven ad copy and a user-friendly landing page, you are in control of guiding your target audience through a content-driven, memorable experience. The best part? You only pay when someone clicks on your ad. Combine effective search ads with proper SEO practices (ranking your site organically) and you secure prime real estate on search results pages – all while providing unmatched value.

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Social Media

When it comes to traditional advertising methods, the vast majority of your efforts fall on people with no interest, or need, for your product or service. It’s simply throwing mud against the wall and hoping some of it sticks.

Social media advertising is powerful. Powerful in its ability to specifically target your audience members and powerful in its ability to engage your audience with relevent and memorable content. For example, if you want a campaign to specifically target 28- to 45-year-old female homeowners, with household incomes of $75K or greater, and interest in home decor and home renovation shows, social media advertising allows you to focus your resources on this specific audience.

More importantly, social media advertising allows for the use of relevant and engaging content. From video campaigns to lead form submissions, you connect with your audience through unique, engaging, and memorable experiences.

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Retargeting

It’s the age of the empowered consumer. With a willingness to conduct thorough research before committing to a brand, it’s important to continually add value and remain top-of-mind. Through effective retargeting, you maintain your presence, without being disruptive, throughout a searcher’s research journey.

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Data

As the lifeblood of effective marketing and branding, in-depth and intuitive data allows marketers to continually improve strategy, lead numbers, and ROI.

Traditional advertising data is based on pure speculation. With the data generated through social, search, and website analytics, we are provided detailed insight into who is engaging, when they are engaging, how they are engaging, whether or not they are converting, and what we can do to improve. The access to, and use of, this data is becoming increasingly crucial to an organization’s marketing success.

While we understand it may still be in your best interest to allocate a portion of your budget to traditional advertising, the unparalleled versatility possessed by digital advertising is your opportunity to engage with your audience on the most effective level.

If you are interested in learning more, we would love to chat. Take a quick second to fill out the form below or just give us a ring.

5 Digital Marketing Trends You Need To Prepare For

As a marketer, my ability to anticipate digital marketing trends, and effectively utilize those trends, are skills I must continually grade myself on. Not to satisfy my ego, but to provide clients with the most effective means of interacting and communicating with their target audience(s).

Just as your business evolves, so do the ways in which your audience interacts with you, and your competitors. More importantly, each target audience is unique. Unique in their expectations, their purchasing behaviors, and the ways in which they connect with you. That being said, not all digital marketing trends will align with your marketing needs, but it is important to be aware of their existence.

The Age of Video Content

From social media ads to high-quality tutorial videos, it is increasingly essential to satisfy the population’s ever-decreasing, goldfish-mimicking attention spans. Video is the most interactive and engaging type of content available today. It is also the most dominant, and of these digital marketing trends, possibly the most important. According to the marketing experts at Brafton, online video will account for 74% of all online marketing content by the end of 2017.

What does this mean?

If you don’t have, or have failed to even begin planning, a video marketing strategy, you are missing out on a massive opportunity. An opportunity to dramatically increase brand awareness, online engagement, and lead generation. Google has even started ranking companies higher based on the amount of quality video content published on their website and social media channels.

But before you start uploading videos like it’s going out of style, it’s crucial to understand the importance of producing quality over quantity. While Google possesses the intelligence to decipher the difference between low and high quality, it’s the overwhelming amount of content your customers are being fed each day that should dictate your focus on quality.

Cutting Through The Noise

As the endless scrolls of content continue to consumer our digital lives, becoming terminally desensitized is becoming a road most traveled. It has become essential to create engaging narratives for your audience to follow and experience. Each touchpoint, whether it’s social media, your website, or a Youtube video, should stay true to your unique offering, while simultaneously adding value and relevance. Many brands today fail because of their unbreakable gaze on selling, and not on providing genuine and unique value to their followers.

GoPro is an amazing example of breaking the traditional route and embracing experience-based branding and marketing. By leveraging the viral power of video filmed on its cameras, nearly all of GoPro’s content is user-generated. They allowed followers to build their brand, as well as their ever growing ecosystem of content. By living vicariously through adventurous GoPro users, observers yearn to be adventurous GoPro users themselves. Users have become GoPro’s greatest branding, marketing, and sales team.

Intuitive Data

Regardless of the business you are in, data should be your lifeblood. Not only has technology reached the point of being able to organize and manage vast amounts of data (amounts not human has the capability of processing), it now has the ability to interpret this data. Intuitive data tells us who’s buying what, when, and why. It also helps paint a picture of what type of messaging is most effective for acquiring new customers and strengthening the loyalty of current customers.

As these tools continue to evolve and more companies take advantage, not utilizing the same tools will leave you at a significant disadvantage.

Immersive Content

With the rise of video, our culture has become increasingly visual. So much so, that many are demanding more from their visual experiences. High-quality video content is extremely effective, and will continue to be, but is simply viewing something enough?

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are nothing new. However, past efforts were primarily focused on the digitization of random, and often irrelevant, activities. Now that successful applications, such as 360° video and Pokemon Go, have narrowed in on entwining users seamlessly into their everyday activities and environments, these technologies are becoming human and empathetic. They are going beyond what other technologies offer, while simultaneously providing meaningful content.

From a marketing and design standpoint, it is crucial to gain an understanding of which areas of your target audience’s lives can be visually enhanced.

Native Advertising

Although native advertising is nothing new, it continues to increase in popularity and continues to push conventional advertising into the realm of irrelevance. When is the last time you clicked on, let alone directed any attention towards, a banner ad showcased on a site you were navigating?

By fusing form with function, native ads – such as Adwords, Facebook, and Instagram – match the visual design of the experience they live within and flow seamlessly with the native user experience. This form of advertising looks and behaves like natural content, whereas conventional advertising behaves as disruptive and spammy.

As I mentioned above, cutting through the noise is becoming as difficult as choosing a new show to watch on Netflix. Because this form of advertising ‘blends’ in with the user’s feed, creative and unique content is essential to generating engagement. Marry this uniqueness with unmatched value and proper targeting, and you have yourself quite the experience.

It’s important to note that advertising should never be used as a standalone strategy. Advertising can’t build a brand on its own and should be viewed as a single part of a larger machine.

As you reevaluate your current marketing strategies and budget, it is crucial to allow these digital marketing trends to influence your decisions moving forward. Adapting to the ever changing landscape of digital and online marketing may seem daunting, but it is truly necessary.

 

If you would like to discuss your current, and future, digital marketing practices and branding efforts, we would love to sit down and Hash It Out. Set up a meeting with the Hash team today.

Chasing Shiny Objects

If you haven’t heard, we live in a world dependent on technology. We chase technology as if our lives depends on it – and sometimes it does. For some, it’s a requirement. For others, it’s a vice. Regardless of which realm you exist in – maybe it’s both – technology will forever surround us and new innovations will continually be revealed. Technology is used to make our lives easier, extend our life expectancy, save someone we love, and give us time back through streamlining and automating processes.

Why wouldn’t we chase something that adds so much value to our life?

Unfortunately, not all technology provides the aforementioned value. If used improperly, it can be truly detrimental to your quality of life. Technology is meant to improve the world, not consume it.

Let’s use the analogy of a grocery store.  If you were placed in the middle of the grocery store with unlimited options and unlimited budget, would you make the right decisions as what to buy? Surely, you can find the healthiest, most nutritious items your store has to offer – sorry for calling you, Surely.These items will improve your quality of life, increase your life expectancy, and give you more energy.  But would you find yourself migrating to the processed, high-glycemic carbohydrates and foods? As with food choices, it’s not always easy to make the best decisions on how and where we spend our valuable time and energy on technology.

Compound that with the constant barrage of emails, texts, push notifications, Facebook likes/pokes/instant messages, etc., and technology is slowly becoming more of a detriment to productivity, time, and energy than it’s original intent.
So what can we do, right now, to stop the punishment and build better habits?  Here are some recommended solutions:

Problem:
We want to immediately respond to emails, especially with clients/bosses, to show that we are “Johnny-on-the-Spot” – available to serve at a moment’s notice (urgent or not).

Solution:
“Pause” or block your email for certain times of the day. I recommend doing this during business hours, i.e. between 10am and 2pm.  And yes, I can already hear the critics – “My business survives off emails, I could never do that.” I can tell you right now, if your business survives off emails, outside of being a MailChimp or Constant Contact service, you have bigger problems than technology and productivity. I recommend you stop reading this article and realign your values.
A wise man once said, “Meditate for 20 minutes a day. If you don’t have 20 minutes a day to meditate than meditate for an hour.”  This isn’t an article about self actualization. It’s about protecting your time and energy.

Inbox Pause – http://inboxpause.com/ – is a Gmail extension that let’s you pause your email. You could also set a simple auto responder to recur on the schedule you set.
*Tip: Try spending less than 2 hours per day with your inbox unpaused. Only allow yourself a 2 hour window (maybe one hour in the morning & one hour in the evening) to check and respond to emails. Once you have mastered that, cut it down to 1 hour.  You will thank me later.

Problem:
We lack a sense of time spent on technological nonsense everyday. Therefore, we have no way to audit if we are being detrimental to our precious energy. That which can be measured can be evaluated and improved upon.

Solution:
While working, use time-tracking applications/processes that run seamlessly in the background of your computer. These applications will help to audit your time spent on daily tasks. “Big Brother!” you scream. This is for your eyes only, so you know where you stand. Just like losing weight, calories in must be less than calories out – but you first need to know how many calories you are consuming.

Use a tracking application like Rescue Time – https://www.rescuetime.com/ – to get a baseline of how and where you are spending your time.
* Tip: Take the time that the report gives you and multiply by 1.2 to compensate for the time on your phone or mobile device between Instagram, emails and other nonsense.

Problem:
Technology burnout. Remember the last day without your phone or computer? Me neither. Technology impairment is not much different than drinking impairment. If you spent half your day bellied up to the bar, wouldn’t your friends and family be a little concerned. Sadly, society has accepted technology impairment as the norm, not the exception.

Solution:
Ditch the computer or phone for an extended time, preferably a week or longer, once every 6 months. Disconnecting can truly give you a greater appreciation for your life and the people and places around you. It will also prove that the world is going to keep spinning with, or without, our Twitter rants. ‘Stopping to smell the roses’ will only help refine your perspective on why you’re here on Earth and what your purpose is – not to mention save your sanity.

The greatest minds in the world are the ones who are successful at stepping back and observing the world for what it is, not what they are fed. Stimulus addiction is blinding. Try being the minority among those around you. Step back and detox. You might be surprised by what you find.

The Battle for Competitive Local Search Ranking in Google just Got Real

Google Local (formerly known as Google My Business) has made a recent change to their display “pack” from 7 local business listings down to 3 local business listings (see attachment). This means that the competition to get into the first 3 local search results just increased over 200%. I don’t think we have to delve into details about the importance in showing up in this prime real estate for your business.  As we know with organic search results, over 90% of users don’t go to the second page of Google, so they most certainly won’t go to the “second page” of google local search listings (ie. click the “More Search Query Keyword“). As with organic search results, local search listings are evaluated on an ongoing basis and require continual attention to ensure your placement. In fact, organic search factors such as domain authority and backlink profile certainly play a factor in the local search algorithm. There are a few other factors Google considers in the local placement that contribute to your ranking such as consistent NAP, Google+ (Google Plus) Reviews and Behavioral Signals on your local listing. Let’s get a quick overview of each of these factors:

1. Consistent NAP

NAP stand for Name, Address, Phone.  Since so many people are using Google as the modern day Yellowpages, Google wants to ensure that the information in the SERPs (search results pages) are consistent and accurate.  This means that all of the other directories around the web: Bing Local, Yelp, Manta, Yellowpages.com etc all have the same information about your business NAP.  If you move or get a new phone number, Google expects you to update all your directory listings to ensure users are finding the correct business. This makes sense both from a user perspective and a business perspective as Google’s job in local listings is to connect users with the businesses around them.

2. Google Plus Reviews

Reviews are a critical factor in determining local placement because it is social proof that your business is engaging it’s consumers/clients and ensuring a good experience.  Google reviews have a two fold benefit.  One, they give your business social proof that others are using your product/service and are having a good customer experience (assuming that you are getting good reviews, and yes you should be getting good reviews). If all else is equal in the local listings and one company has ten 5 star reviews vs another company who has one or two 4 star reviews, which one are you most likely to click on or call or go to their website?  Two, the reviews and quality of the reviews play an important factor in your Google local ranking (and even in your organic ranking as well because google uses brand reputation as a determining factor in it’s organic results).

3. Behavior Signals

Behavior signals are just what they sound like: signals that Google measures as users interact (or behave) with your local listing.  One major behavior signal is click through rate (CTR) or your local listing.  Obviously having a Google+ page is an important factor in CTR (and yes you can show up in local listings without a Google+ page, but it’s not recommended) since you can define your industry category, put your hours of operation, put your website and phone number and did I mention the importance of Google plus reviews? Behavioral click through rate just increased the importance of being in the first three positions in the listings since it just became a positive feedback loop in the local algorithm.  Think about it, if only the first three positions are shown (as opposed to seven) which listings are naturally going to get more CTR? When they do get a higher CTR they will maintain their position because of the user behavioral signals factor.  Google does play around with moving other companies into the first three local listings to see if they are getting a higher CTR, but they don’t do it very often and in most cases the search volume for a local product/service is not high enough to get enough feedback on behavioral signals.

There are a lot of other factors that play into the local search algorithm but these are a few important metrics that help determine local rankings. It takes quite a bit of time and resources to keep your position in both organic and local listings, not to mention the algorithms and ranking factors continually change.  Considering there are over 70,000 searches per second in Google, your investment in local and organic rankings is well worth your time and money.

The Balance of UX Design vs Content for SEO

As website designers we are in a constant struggle between user experience (UX) design and content for indexing in search engines.  Traditional SEO has always preached that “content is king” and up until recent innovations in technology content was the only real indexable asset on a website.  If you reflect upon the evolution of the web you can see why there is a struggle between content and design.

The web started out as a “static” resource for educational and communication purposes with the majority of digital assets being white papers and/or articles.  You can imagine this being much like the Library of Congress where the search engines main goal was (and still is) to point out the relevant books and articles related to a users search inquiries for a particular topic.  After all, there millions of books in a library so where does one being to look for a particular topic?

However, over the last 20 years the internet has changed from a “static” resource pool to a dynamic user experience.  For example, users can watch videos on YouTube, Skype with their friends, chat on Facebook, post pictures to Instagram, Play music through Spotify and perform hundreds of other tasks outside of just looking for content.  This evolution has forced a change in user experience and design for web sites/web applications.  Design has transformed from a “heavy” content centric layout to a more minimalistic, image driven experience.

So which side of the line do we stand on between design/UX and content focused web pages?  The answer is “that depends on the use case scenario”.  For example, if the ultimate goal of the website is to engage users and readership through quality content and establish authority for knowledge in an industry than we are going to focus more on content than on the “wow” factor of design.  After all, if you are going to a library to read a book and increase your understanding of a topic you are less impressed if all the books on that topic where “high level” overviews filled with impressive pictures and glamour. If however, you are going to a movie theater to experience impressive video animations you would be left feeling let down if you had to read the prelude for the video for a half an hour before the show started.

As most situations in life it comes down to situational awareness, understanding of what the end goal is and using common sense in your design and digital approach.

How do you approach and plan for user experience and balance content vs design on your website?

Is Your Company Telling the Right Story?

Recently I was reading: “Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits” by Debbie Millman which offers a great look into brand identity and thinking from a designers perspective. Each chapter of the book is a dialogue between Millman and a respected leader in the graphic design world lending their expertise. One particular chapter the notion of customers buying items at garage sales came up. Why do people enjoy purchasing items at garage sales? My first thought was, “Well it’s cheap!” However that was not where this was going. According to the author and her colleague people enjoy going to garage sales because they like to find items that have a story behind them.

People like a good story. How true this is. So this got me thinking, every business is selling something right? Whether it is a product, a service, a promise, a dream, but is the story enticing enough to get people to buy it. Does the story supersede the price? Does the story supersede the quality? These are great questions to start asking yourself if you are in business. In addition to is my company telling the story I want it to? Is it clear? Is it concise? Is it consistent?

Think about your favorite companies for a minute. What is their story? What do they stand for? What is it about them that makes you go back? Chances are they have a wonderful story, and it is very clear on what they stand for. The message is so clear in fact that you know exactly what you are getting and their values align with your own values to some extent.

It is vital that your company has a definitive message. What do we do? What do we deliver? How do we deliver it? Outline these key factors, and make your story consistent across all avenues where your business is viewed.

People are like a good story, its your job to tell it.

Reasons Google Could be Penalizing Your Website

Google does an excellent job making sure only content of the highest quality shows up in their search results. To do this Google is constantly updating their algorithms so that only the best results are show in the first positions of a search. Along with these constant updates come penalties. Many practices that were once considered good link building or SEO strategies could now end up punishing you with Google’s constantly changing algorithms.

If your page has started to plummet in the search ranking for your major keywords it might be worth checking out some of these eight common reasons that your website could be getting penalized by Google.

  1. Poor Mobile Website – This is an extremely common issue that can cause your website’s rankings to fall. Google has a great tool that you can use to see exactly how it’s web scrapers view your content on mobile. https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ If your website does not do well in this test it means that your site will rank lower when users search your keywords on mobile phones.
  2. Purchasing Links – Buying links in bulk from directory websites or websites that have tons of outgoing links could serve as a red flag for search engines. If you are taking part in any of these black hat link building strategies then it is best to stop immediately. Even having old links in some of these directories can negatively impact your search engine rank. Some instances of this can be hard to track. If you were to pay a popular blogger to give you a high quality link on your site it would be very difficult if not impossible for Google to track this. The link would need to flow and fit well with the content around it though, if the blog writer is just throwing links in unrelated content even this purchased link it not going to help you.
  3. Little to No Outbound Links – Search engines want to see that your website is contributing to the web. A website that has both a healthy amount of inbound links and a healthy amount of outbound links is paramount for good results in search engine rankings.
  4. Speed Issues – If a site has slow speeds not only does it lead to a worse user experience, but it can cause you to rank worse as well. If your site does have speed issues make sure you are taking advantage of caching, image optimization, or possibly making use a CDN. These precautions can help your websites speed along with increasing your SEO.
  5. Overly Targeting Keywords – Having a blog post that targets a certain keyword is an excellent way to improve your website’s SEO. Overdoing it however is a great way to get your site penalized. Keyword stuffed articles are easy for Google to find and just as easy for them to penalize. As a rule of thumb: write high quality content designed for real people. If you are doing this you are on the right track. Be careful not to over-optimize content on your website.
  6. Rapid Link Building – As with anything in life doing too much of something can often be just as bad as doing nothing at all. When first starting an SEO campaign it is important to start small and consistent. Improving your websites search ranking is a process that takes time. Trying to expedite the process too much can have negative implications for you. Consistency if better than generating large amounts of links at breakneck speeds. If tons of inbound links start popping up all over the web targeting the exact same targeted keyword it can be a red flag to Google.
  7. Links the Wrong Places – If unscrupulous websites have links pointing to your site it a surefire way to hurt your search engine rankings. You should be very careful who you associate yourself with on the web. Links are essentially recommendations from other sites to yours. Links coming in from unethical or malicious sites serve as negative recommendations and effect your SEO accordingly.
  8. Hidden Links – All links on your site should serve a purpose for visitors. One common black hat link building tactic is hidden links on your site. If links on a website are set to have a display: hidden; in CSS it is a red flag for search engines. This also goes for links that are set to the same color as the background of your site. If you have any of this links on your site delete them immediately.

If there is any one thing to take away from this is Google incentives high quality content that has links from naturally occurring sources. If your article or blog is beneficial to real people, then real people will be more inclined to share it and create back-links for you in the most beneficial way possible.

Digital Strategy in Fargo

What is a Digital Strategy?  Many companies in Fargo are behind the curve when it comes to digital strategy but they don’t have to be.   At Hash we have spent a lot of time considering how to best explain this to our clients.   When we boiled it down digital strategy comes down to 3 main areas: technical functionality, design/aesthetics and marketing.  If one piece is missing the whole strategy is compromised. They’re all dependent on one another and none can exist alone. Hash Interactive was founded based on the need in the community for the first two: functionality and aesthetics, but in our early stages we forgot about the 3rd quintessential piece: marketing. We now feel confident that we are bringing all three together with our new approach and thus providing a better product/service to clients. Having experienced these initial struggles have made us more capable to help businesses in Fargo going through similar issues.  When explaining digital strategy to our clients we take a look at the three categories individually and then explain to them that if they exist independently from one another the formula always breaks.

Functionality

To have a worthwhile user experience you need functionality – people demand the latest trends in technology and expect advanced interfaces with AI like intelligence. This has been forced by the large website/companies that people are use to (Amazon, Facebook, YouTubes etc). For instance my dad always complains to me when he comes across a mobile site on his tablet that sucks. Why? Because he expects the same experience that he just had on amazon. Websites/applications need the latest and greatest because others are pushing the standards.

Design/Aesthetics

We’ve been talking about branding a lot lately in our client meetings. First impressions, consumer confidence, user’s perception about you and your company. People judge, that’s what they do. It’s a primal instinct. You see someone and you already have preconceived notions about who they are, what they do. Same for websites/your brand. It just so happens that in today’s world your users/customers will see your website before they see you or walk in your store.  Companies can live or die by their outward appearance to the world. It’s a test that all their customers and potential customers put them through before they earn their trust.

Marketing

Up until recently we have neglected the importance of marketing. I knew it was always there and was always important but never embraced it as a quintessential piece of digital strategy. Maybe because the demand for it hasn’t been as apparent or noticeable mainly because of my own ignorance and the ignorance of our clients. What they don’t know, they don’t know to ask for. I have concluded that we are setting clients up for failure if we neglect this piece. The Internet is the most competitive landscape you’ll ever find – Billions upon billions of sites – making marketing that much more important. It’s the limiting factor in your strategy. You can only go as far as you invest into it. I’ve determined a couple subcategories of digital marketing: organic, paid and virality. We’re more familiar with the first too but the third is a little more obscure and actually contributes to the misconception that you need marketing on the web at all. For instance, look at Facebook, never have “marketed” once in their existence – not at least traditionally. So people assume that it’s popularity has been derived solely on its functionality/ingenuity. However, I believe it is a falsity and an outlier. Whether they meant to or not they stumbled upon the third subcategory of digital marketing: virality. Virality is the most eluding of the three subcategories but can be the biggest payoff in the end. It’s hard for people to justify the expense of virality because it’s so far out of the traditional realm of marketing that it’s not understood. Again, people misconceive virality as a happenstance; but actually can be studied, broken down, replicated and implemented into a digital approach. However, takes time (and therefore money) to introduce virality into your digital marketing approach. Marketing is not everything, but without it your digital strategy (and thus the investment in the other two categories: functionality and design) is nothing.

At Hash Interactive we feel that it’s have all or have none. Try as you may you can contort your strategy and try to force success with only one or two but you will inevitably discover what’s taken us years to realize your digital strategy is supported by a tripod of functionality, design and marketing and will crumble without one of the three.