TL;DR Users expect tailored experiences and instant results. (Chat Bots can help with this). Site Speed is a Huge Deal. Ad Fraud is Still a Big Problem. And you can still send actual paper mail!
For the past few years I’ve been attending Internet marketing conferences and writing my online advertising update based on some of what I’ve learned from these conferences. This year the conference I attended was a little bit later so I’m writing in March instead of January. I tried out a new event and found it to be a little more conservative than others that I have attended. Many of the attendants were from the insurance and finance sectors, and the services offered tended towards the more traditional – like e-mail, call centers and even direct mail. It was interesting to learn how some of these “traditional” marketing methods are being updated and reinvented to suit the digital age. It was equally interesting to learn how new methods of interacting with technology and newer devices are changing how marketers operate. I’ll touch on these items a little and also comment on my experiences with some of the more standard online marketing methods I use on a day-to-day basis.
These are my opinions as of March 2019. Your mileage may vary.
AI is more A than I
For the past few years, we’ve been endlessly hearing about AI. Depending on who you ask, advances in AI will either save us all or kill us all. I can’t say what’s going on in the halls of academia or the in great hidden tech lairs of Silicon Valley, but I can tell you that from I’ve seen AI is mostly smoke and mirrors. A few years ago marketers started using Cloud to describe anything that was stored or delivered via the Internet. Now those same marketers are using AI to describe any sort of software or software-related service. There is no doubt that some modern software offerings are super cool, they’re just not AI.
Regardless of actual advancements in intelligent systems, users have come to expect more intelligent responses to their queries and information that is automatically tailored to their needs. Consider the use of “near me” when making a web search. We have come to expect an answer specific to our exact location when appending those words to any search. If the result of that search does not apply to us, we immediately leave in frustration. For online marketers this means that your web experience must be quick and it must be smart. Visitors to your website must immediately know what you are offering them and how their request can be fulfilled.
Automated chat bots can be a useful tool for instantaneously addressing client requests, but these systems require a great deal of configuration and customization. I have been experimenting with chat bots for the past year and have had some great success in using them to field inquiries from the public. The problem is that they are not intelligent. You must tell the chat bot exactly how to respond to virtually every combination of keywords that a client might send it and use pre-configured menu choices to try and steer the conversation in a way that makes sense. It works well when it works, but a great deal of human input is required to get it to the point where it can effectively interact with real people. Despite the limitations, they provide instant responses to client inquiries 24/7 and with ongoing tweaking become increasingly more valuable tools. I’ll be continuing to use them and add new ones to my repertoire in 2019.
A New Approach to Old Methods
Remember mail? Actual paper delivered to your home? It can be hard to stand out in the crowd, especially in highly competitive or saturated markets. A number of companies are offering direct mail solutions specifically for online marketers. When you consider that people are receiving less mail than ever before, direct mail can be a great way of getting your customers attention and building a connection – even for internet-only companies. Direct mail vendors offer a host of clever presentations designed to get opened and viewed, including hand addressed personalized letters, regional and seasonal coupon-code mailers and personalized offers for past customers. Direct mail is no doubt more expensive than e-mail, but it can be markedly cheaper than acquiring customers through paid search.
Display Ad Fraud
If you go to the Google Play store and search for “paid to surf” you’ll instantly see what the problem is with display advertising: Fraud. There are hundreds of apps that literally pay users to go around clicking on ads. And those are just the apps. Add click farms and bots to the picture and you’ll quickly see how extensive the problem is. I encountered an issue this past year where users were clicking on Google Display Network ads and completing fake transactions in order to trick the system in to thinking the ads had a high conversion rate. In the end, the transactions were traced to a US-based VPN, which was porting traffic from Bangladesh through a “Get Paid to Surf App”. While the large ad networks are constantly combating ad fraud, it is still rampant and you’re likely to run into problems if you extend your online marketing “into the wild”.
If you’re planning to extend your campaigns beyond search and social media, you’ll need to monitor them closely and watch for fraud. You’ll likely still have trouble, but it might be worth it. I’m also planning to test a few fraud reduction services in 2019 to see how well they work.
Mobile Search, SEO and Google
As I’ve mentioned over the last few years, mobile search is becoming more and more valuable as users get accustomed to transacting on mobile devices and companies get up to speed in providing good mobile experiences. This trend has continued, but I wouldn’t say mobile traffic has fully matured. Desktop traffic is still measurably more valuable.
The increasing popularity of mobile search has raised a new challenge for developers: Speed. While mobile data speeds are increasing, mobile data networks are still markedly slower than wired networks. Despite this, users expect a quick response that is tailored to their needs. Site speed is such an important part of the user experience now that Google is ranking fast sites higher for organic search. If your site doesn’t load in a few seconds, your not only losing visitors, but you’re probably hurting your organic search rank. Site speed has been a top priority for me over the past year and it will continue to be in 2019. I’m looking to explore tools like AMP and some of the premium services offered by CDN’s like Cloudflare to help the cause.
Neep Help With Your Online Campaigns?
I’ve been running online ad campaigns full-time for more than a decade. I’d be happy to help your business find success online in the upcoming year. E-mail me at [email protected]