More to Come

Why Isn’t My Site on the First Page of Google?

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It’s the question anyone responsible for a school’s online presence dreads: “Why isn’t our site on the first page of Google?”

From page headlines and site navigation to social signals and relationships with other websites, there are hundreds of factors at play in Google’s search algorithm. Getting your site to the top of search rankings and keeping it there over time can be a long, frustrating, labor-intensive effort. And even if those efforts are successful, SEO focused on keywords that are too broad, too specific or out of sync with how target families search won’t drive an increase in site traffic, inquiries or applications.

The first step to increasing online visibility in a way that contributes to your school’s enrollment goals is defining the role your website plays in your larger communication strategy. From there, optimization efforts depend on:

  • Benchmarking your current site’s performance and identifying opportunities for improvement
  • Understanding the online behaviors and search habits of prospective families so you can hone in on the best keywords for your site
  • Following best practices for keyword use site content
  • Building reciprocal relationships with trusted websites
  • Establishing geographic cues that help Google place your site in the right location searches

Search engine optimization is not a one-time effort or a quick fix. It can take weeks – or even months – for search rankings to reflect your efforts. Understanding what organic search rankings can and can’t do for you in terms of site traffic and qualified inquiries can help you determine where best to invest your time and budget, and arm you to answer the inevitable, “Why isn’t our site on the first page of Google yet?” questions that are sure to follow an optimization project.

Want to know more about search ranking factors and how they impact your site traffic? Join True’s SEO experts on March 31 for a one-hour webinar. We’ll cover:

  • The role search plays in the potential student families’ decision-making process
  • SEO factors that do (and don’t) influence your site’s visibility in online search
  • Ways to identify “low hanging fruit” – the immediate improvements you can make to improve your site’s search ranking
  • How to set expectations for the time and effort needed to drive lasting improvement in your site’s online visibility

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Navigating the Influencer Triangle with the PESO Model

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Have you heard of Doug the Pug? Did you know Doug has 5.3 million Facebook friends and 2.3 million Instagram followers? Doug the Pug along with many others have become influencers in the world of social media and marketing. Chris Baldwin, our fearless leader at True, recently spoke at PRSA Akron on navigating the influencer triangle with paid, earned, shared and owned channels. Chris spoke about the importance of these influencers in marketing and created examples for the audience. According to the PESO model all aspects work in different ways but are all successful. Below are the examples he shared with the audience:

Paid media involves posting sponsored ads and posts on Facebook and Twitter, fan acquisition and lead generation. Chris discussed how Arizona Expedition used paid media by selecting five millennial social media influencers in different topics to do a five-day shoot around Arizona. The topics these millennials specialized in were golf, cooking and wine, photography and adventure sports. These millennials shared how they “Let Go” for Arizona Expedition’s “Let Yourself Go” project with great success.

Earned media includes publicity, media relations, influencer relations and partnerships. A good example of a company who uses earned media is Duck Brand Duct Tape. The brand has had many influencers because of its involvement with the community. Duct Brand Duct Tape has found many people who create DIY projects share them on blogs, websites and social media channels. Since they already had Duct Tape enthusiasts, Duct Brand Duct Tape created a Stuck at Prom Scholarship contest where teens created prom dresses out of the material. This created thousands of media stories for the company and also named Duck Brand Duct Tape the #1 selling brand in the world.

Shared media involves many one-to-one interviews and engaging with your customers, advocates, employees and partners to review the brand and company. Some companies that partake in shared media are Amazon, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Places, Yahoo! and Facebook reviews. Reviews are a huge aspect of shared media. Chris shared an example of a review on Amazon for the Three Wolf Moon T-shirt. This T-shirt had a 5-star rating and great reviews from an Amazon customer. This influencer was not paid but still had a strong effect on the product. From the review the T-shirt became the top selling item in Amazon’s clothing store and a virtual hit.

Owned media includes all of the communications channels within a company’s control such as the website, blog, social media and email. This contains content from the experts, employee stories, customer stories, user generated content, reviews and multimedia posts. Having a Facebook page and other sharing sites available for your company or brand helps with owned media. As a company, you get to control the conversation but it also has a personal touch.

Key Takeaways

  • Find the best way to influence your target audiences whether it is one of these four ways or a combination of all.
  • 2017 is the year of influencers and it is important for your company/ brand to find its influencers and create a bond with them.
  • As a company you must nudge your influencers to share information in a positive way. To achieve that you must help them out and ask them questions throughout the process and make sure the communication is clear.

How to Make Instagram Albums Work for Your School

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If there’s one thing that is constant with social media, it’s that social channels will constantly change. From new features to updated layouts, you’ll find that as soon as you get used to a channel being a certain way- it’ll change. Yesterday, Instagram released a huge update to its platform with the introduction of Instagram Albums- a feature that allows an Instagram account to post up to 10 photos and videos in one post. Followers can then swipe through the post, viewing the grouping of photos and/or videos.

What Does This Mean for Schools?

If you’re an independent school and Instagram is a channel that is part of your social strategy- then Instagram Albums can be a powerful way to continue to tell your school’s story. However, make sure that whatever photos or videos you’re sharing stays on brand and has an intention. Take a moment to revisit your Instagram strategy and update accordingly.

Where Do I Start?

While the rollout of this feature won’t happen all at once, check your App Store to see if the update is there. From there, you’ll see a little icon of stacked photos when you go to post as you normally would. That’s where you get to select the photos you’d like to be featured and you can select which order the photos will be in. You can then batch edit the photos so they remain consistent and on brand. After you type in your caption and select your appropriate hashtags, hit post and voila! You now have an Instagram Album.

Ideas for Integrating Albums Into Your Online Presence

Since this feature is a game changer for the platform, this is a great time to sit down with your marketing team and brainstorm ideas for albums. Think through how you can tell your school’s story to potential and current students, as well as parents and alumni. A few ideas may look something like this:

  1. A tour of your campus featuring buildings and landmarks
  2. Introduce faculty and staff
  3. Showcase a day in the life of students
  4. Announce campus news/promote events
  5. Share photos/videos of sporting events

So there you have it, a quick look at Instagram Albums and several ideas for getting started with this exciting new feature. As long as you create albums with intention and have a strategy behind it, you’re sure to see the engagement on this channel increase.

If you have any questions about albums or Instagram strategy for schools, we’d love to chat!

The ROI Equation for Building Products Marketers

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In recent years, our ability to analyze user behavior and determine how Facebook, SEO, email and other tactics affect the purchase decision has improved. However, the challenges of two-step distribution make determining ROI especially difficult for most building products manufacturers. It can seem impossible to account for all the variables that result in purchase when you have little insight at the dealer or contractor level.

With the exception of reduced visibility, the funnel isn’t much different than it is for other marketers. The challenge is connecting marketing metrics to sales metrics. At True, we use three tactics to bridge the gap.

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Determine a non-sales marketing metric that indicates purchase

You can start to bridge the marketing ROI gap by focusing on what can be quantified, rather than what can’t. When a direct connection can’t be made between marketing efforts and offline sales, an intermediate, online conversion can help connect the dots. Examples of these include:

  • Requests for more information
  • Free product samples
  • Visiting a dealer
  • Downloading an online resource

Web experience planning is crucial at this point to figure out how users engage with your site and what they want to learn. Focus on finding one relevant, measurable action for each objective.

Determine the cost for your non-sales marketing conversion

The calculation is simple:

Cost of the program / Non-sales marketing conversion = Cost per conversion

The first question at this point is always, “What’s a good cost per conversion?” The better question is, “What’s a profitable cost per conversion?” The building products industry has a wide range of price points for a unit or an entire job. The drywall for a new construction build may be roughly $500. New siding is likely to cost upwards of $10,000. The siding company can afford a much higher cost per conversion and still be profitable.

Simple calculations for online conversions are the next step toward demystifying ROI. Determining front-end marketing costs and outcomes based on online conversion points is easier.

Determine the value of your non-sales marketing conversion

In a two-step distribution model, it’s nearly impossible to track every sale at the end-user level. What’s important is identifying trends to learn how different audiences buy. Rather than track every sale, use trends and averages to start to unmask ROI. There are three pieces to uncovering these trends:

  • Organized data – Whether you have a spreadsheet or a CRM, knowing where your customers come from, what audience segments they belong to and which sales rep closed the deal is important. The more information you have about your customers, the more reliable your assumptions about revenue per sale.
  • Open communications with sales reps – It’s important to get the right feedback from your reps. They know how many architects, builders and contractors they call on in a month. They can also tell you how many they feel ended in a sale. Depending on the rep and relationship, they may be able to shed insight on one-time customers vs. customers likely to repeat purchase.
  • Patience – Because two-step distribution is so fragmented, it’s important to remember this is an ongoing process. The more you learn about your audience and test your model, the smarter you become. Once you have a clear model you can test your inputs. Shift marketing dollars regionally, refocus audiences and change marketing messages. As long as you have a wealth of customer data, you will learn how these variable affect sales.

When you lose visibility at the point of sales, ROI is always going to be elusive, but we have the tools to audit our marketing efforts and track trends with sales.

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Meet True’s Newest Intern

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Meet Bailey, True’s new content intern. In this blog post, she tells us more about her PR experience so far, what she likes to do in her free time and where she sees herself in the future!

Name: Bailey Purpura

School: Kent State University

Major: Public Relations

Year: Senior

Other internship experience: Social media manager for NEO Allstars.

Do you have any hobbies?: I love to travel and I am usually somewhere different every weekend. I love taking and editing pictures and I also enjoy playing board games with my cousins.

What are 3 fun facts about you: 1. I am a competitive cheerleading coach 2. I LOVE Harry Potter and I had the chance to visit where they filmed the movies in London 3. I play the ukulele!

What’s your favorite snack: GRILLED CHEESE (I know that’s a big snack but I would eat it every day)

What do you hope to gain from your internship at True?: I hope to walk away with a better understanding of all aspects of a PR agency setting. I hope to take what I have learned beyond just PR and apply it to every job in my future.

What made you interested in an internship at True? I love how everyone is so passionate about their role at True. I think it’s awesome and beneficial that everyone here has a different specialty, and I feel like I learn something new every day! I love the atmosphere in the office and the variety of clients and projects True works on.

Where do you want to be in ten years? I would love to be working at an international PR agency in Cleveland or Chicago that allows me to travel and work with partners all over the world.

Welcome, Bailey! We’re so happy to have you on the team!

 

Google Shopping Certification: What You Need To Know

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In the past, I’ve given you the run down for how to pass the Google Adwords and Analytics certification exams, but today I wanted to you give an in-depth look into one of the Google shopping exams for the Google Adwords certification. The Google Shopping exam was the easier of the two exams I chose (the other being search), however it did present its own set of unique challenges.

As stated in my previous blog posts, before you can take the exams, you are required to sign up for Google Partners. Google Partners is Google’s free program for agencies and other digital professionals designed to give you access to special events, Adwords and Analytics updates and free certification exams. Once you have registered, you will have access to all of the study materials for the Google Shopping exam under the Google Adwords certification.

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In order to become certified in Google Adwords you must pass two of the six possible exams with the Shopping exam as one of your options. The Google Shopping exam is 63 questions in 90 minutes and places heavy emphasis on the various feed specifications required to participate in Product Listing Ads (PLAs). There are plenty of supplemental materials on the web to help prepare yourself for the exam, but I found Google’s study guides to be the most helpful. Pay close attention to the specific requirements that each product must include to be approved for shopping and note that some requirements are specific to the product category. For instance, apparel and accessories may have different requirements than home goods and tools. Luckily, many of the requirements seem to be common sense, such as you can’t advertise a product through PLAs without an accurate photo and size and color information must be provided for apparel products. The majority of the exam’s questions focus on setting up the product feed and the fundamentals of the program.

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Since taking my Google Shopping exam last year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on accounts with Shopping campaigns and have developed a list of key takeaways from the exam that have helped me manage my accounts:

  • Products must include two of the three possible unique product identifiers in the feed: Global Trade Identification Number (GTIN), Manufacturer Parts Number (MPN) or the brand name.
  • GTINs are unique to every SKU of every product. Each variation should have a unique number.
  • Apparel and accessories must include the GTIN and the brand.
  • For apparel products, images must be at least 250 x 250 pixels and all other products must be at least 100 x 100 pixels.

Let’s review the facts before you take the exam:

  • You have 90 minutes to answer 63 questions.
  • You will not be able to return to any previous question once submitted.
  • Multiple choice answers, with the occasional multiple answer.
  • The passing score is 80%.
  • If you do not pass, you may retake the test in 7 days.
  • Your passing score is good for 12 months.

Remember to study the Google-provided materials before the exam because you will run out of time if you have to look up every answer to every question. Good luck!

5 Fun Ways to Use Snapchat and Instagram

It’s no secret that Generation Z (ages 13-19) use social media constantly. But where do they spend the majority of their time? Two newer channels are Instagram and Snapchat, and that’s where you’ll find the kids.

Neither has been around as long as Facebook and Twitter, but both are rapidly evolving and are drawing huge numbers of users. Snapchat and Instagram offer users the ability to use video to create stories, furthering user engagement, and beginning to change the course of social media generally.

Instagram: The photo-centric platform allows users to share photos with friends. It’s the number one social media channel for more than 32 percent of teenagers, according to Hubspot. Sharing photos and adding filters provides instant gratification for the Gen Z user whenever his or her followers like or comment.

Snapchat: The disappearing photo platform is growing in popularity, with 28 percent of its users falling into the 13-19 age range. With Gen Z’s average attention span being 8 seconds, Snapchat reinforces that nicely, as the platform carries a 10-second maximum video length. Once the followers view the “snap,” it disappears. Snapchat is changing how users interact on social media, with geolocation, filters and stickers that enable more creativity and reinforce a sense of urgency that’s missing from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. According to research from Snapchat, the average user spends 25-30 minutes per day on the platform.

A rule of thumb is that you’ve always got to be where your customers are, so independent schools need to pay attention to both of these social channels. You need to talk to your current and prospective students–to meet them on the platforms they’re using. If your 2017 marketing strategy doesn’t include either Snapchat or Instagram, it’s time to reevaluate your plans and create strategies for both. Given the highly visual nature of Instagram and Snapchat, it’s a perfect opportunity to share school life and connect with students.

Here are five ways to use these tools effectively:

  1. Student life: Showcase student life on both channels using great imagery and appropriate hashtags. Provide value for the students that follow you on these channels by doing fun giveaways, scavenger hunts and sneak peaks to help engage them.
  2. Architecture: Whether your campus is modern or vintage, your spaces inside and out can make for compelling visuals. Do a “story” about the buildings and common spaces to help people know your campus better.
  3. Faculty: The people who teach these children all have interesting stories to tell. Go and find them and share them.
  4. The arts: All art can lend itself to interesting stories. What are yours?
  5. Tours: Think of a viewbook, but live. Use the social posts to show people around and tell them about the school.

The key for both Snapchat and Instagram is to plan your visuals. Before you start, develop a strategy of how the imagery will be used, where and when, and then make a “shot list” to be sure you get what you need. That way, when it’s time to post, you’ll have a clear idea of what goes where and when.

This “content calendar” need not be limited to Snaps and Instagram posts – you can use the same process to feed your website, other social tools, and even the agendas for campus meetings and events. An integrated content calendar should be a feature of your school’s communication strategy.

There have never been more opportunities and tools to help you share what’s great about your school. Make it happen!

Independent Schools Need A Strategy for Marketing

I know. Obvious statement, right? But not exactly obvious, if the initial findings of a survey of independent schools on marketing are correct.

Schools seem to be embracing a wide range of communication activities, including digital and social, but the investment in these media looks to be catch-all. There’s no clear trend in investment — as a percentage of overall marketing/communication spend, as many are spending less than 20 percent on digital as are spending more than 50 percent. Digital is starting to, well, dominate isn’t really the right word… But print is not the overwhelming choice any more.

Overall marketing spend? Nearly 60 percent are spending less than $80,000 annually — and compared with earlier research, that’s a fairly large increase. But when the average annual tuition at a boarding school is more than $50,000, and about half that for day, $80,000 is a tiny fraction of revenue, and most schools aren’t spending even that.

Think of it – if your school has 400 students paying say, $30,000 per year (a little over half-pay in boarding school), that’s $12 million in annual revenue. By most measures in other industries, a “maintenance” budget would be more like $1 million a year just to maintain the current enrollment (about 8 percent of revenue). If you’re in growth mode, that number should be closer to 10 percent or 11 percent.

Using the figures above, you’d need just 33 students to break even on that investment. Even if you merely doubled your budget from $80,000, you’d only need, what, six students to earn a small profit on the spend. This is what we mean when we talk about strategic marketing.

It’s all more complicated than that, of course, with net tuition targets changing throughout the budget cycle, and the desire to fill seats/beds in the school affecting financial aid spend, international recruiting, and much else.

Let’s just say, however, that the reason schools don’t spend anywhere near what other organizations do on marketing is that they aren’t articulating what should be done with it. They typically throw dollars at the wall and see what happens. No one will give you $1 million to just try stuff out.

What’s essential is a strategy — what initiatives are going to move the admission needle, by how much and over what time period, at what cost. A comprehensive, integrated plan moves the school forward and answers the questions the business office and board ask. Executing on that plan brings results.

Where’s your plan?

 

3 Alternatives To Working From Home

The last time I wrote a blog post about working from home I discussed my tips for staying productive in your home setting. More than a year and a half later, I thought it would be a good idea to discuss all of the available options when working remotely. When cabin fever sets in while working from home for an extended period of time, it’s challenging to be productive even when a lot of work is coming down the pipeline. Luckily, there are many alternatives to your home office or couch that you can take advantage of.

  1. Starbucks Coffee: I’m assuming everyone who’s anyone already knows Starbucks provides free Wi-Fi to paying patrons. Leave the house for a few days during the week and post-up at a local Starbucks. From personal experience, getting to know my local baristas has been very beneficial; they even know my order when I walk through the door. A drawback to this option is table availability. Most locations are steaming with patrons consistently throughout the day, so you may have to sacrifice a spot next to an outlet for a few hours.
  2. Food establishments: When Starbucks is packed, I’ll sometimes head over to a local Panera and hop on its Wi-Fi. Since Wi-Fi rules the working world, many local eateries around town offer free Internet connection as well. McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Applebee’s, Bob Evan’s and even Buffalo Wild Wings all offer Wi-Fi. Essentially, you could go to a different restaurant every day of the week to work and eat depending on your preference. Need to pick up some groceries while you’re out? Whole Foods also offers free Wi-Fi to make your day even more convenient. A good rule of thumb, if the establishment sells coffee, they more than likely have Wi-Fi.
  3. Co-Working Spaces: There are many spaces around Columbus that offer a co-working environment for people who work remotely. These spaces have the look and feel of an advertising agency and are made up of remote workers, free-lancers and entrepreneurs. You can choose different monthly plans depending on how many days a week you want to occupy a space. These spaces provide your own desk, conference rooms, ideation spaces and plenty of opportunities to network.

Working remotely does not have to mean working from home. There are plenty of options to get over your cabin fever and get you out into the work force. Find what suits your productivity needs most and switch it up from time-to-time to stay in a good mind-set.

 

Audience Segments & Persona Development in the Building Industry

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It’s no secret that builders and architects speak different languages. They, along with other audiences in the building industry, have different values. Tools like email, advertising and other content marketing tactics give us the ability to efficiently tailor messages and value propositions to individual audiences. The hard part? Figuring out the best way to segment and develop personas to communicate with each audience. Will all builders respond to the same messaging? Do commercial and residential architects have vastly different opinions?

Understanding how to target and talk to the decision makers in your industry is key. The more you learn about your audience, the more you can influence ROI on your marketing.

Understanding your audience segments

The power to understand audience segments starts with the data you have available. Common sources of information include your website, sales data competitors and sales reps.

Website audits – Search behavior and site usage tell us what content customers value. What questions are they trying to answer? What problems are they trying to solve? Looking at how each audience finds you can tell you a lot about how to position your brand.

Content on a website is often designed for specific audiences. If you have an architectural resource, take a look at pages viewed before and after that page to get and idea of what else resonates with architects.

Sales data – If you are already on a CRM, you probably have a wealth of information about your customers. Data points like company size, job title, region or construction type can be great ways to slice segments along very meaningful lines. For example, you may find time-to-close is much longer for commercial audiences. Your content marketing can accommodate the audience with more touchpoints.

Competitive intelligence – The building products industry is rife with competition. You may not currently segment audiences and tailor messaging, but your competitors likely are. Reviewing their websites, blogs and social media is a great way to see what resonates with an audience.

Sales rep interviews – Once you’ve done your homework, you can go to sales reps with a list of informed questions. By now, you should have several assumptions about the best way to segment customers and build your personas. These interviews can either confirm suspicions or help you redefine and reposition certain segments.

Building Segments

Once you have a clear picture of your universe, it’s time to build your segments. You should have the information you need to make decisions about primary and secondary factors used to create your segments.

Remember your personas can be as broad or narrow as they need to be. This can depend on:

  • The content you have to support a persona – It’s always good to know more about your customers, but your marketing has to support your data. If you don’t have the content, start small, and build your personas as you build your content.
  • The marketing technology supporting your marketing – The narrower your audiences, the more analytics are necessary. The use of marketing automation, a CRM and clear communication between the two are important as you build out your plan.
  • The range of information available – Sometimes there’s only so much so say. Especially when it comes to highly regulated products, there’s often little variance across the industry. Sometimes it’s more effective to keep it simple.

Learn more about True’s approach to content marketing and persona development.

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