MozCon 2015 Recap, Part 2: Remarketing, Communities, and Analytics

Tips from MozCon 2015 on how to improve remarketing without being annoying, building online communities, and digging deeper into your analytics.

In part 1 of the MozCon 2015 recap, I wrote about how Google is slowly killing SEO, and how that has led to a resurgence of on-site strategy and tactics that can help get you more traffic. SEO is dead. Long live SEO!

Talks touching on that topic were the most interesting and exciting of the conference. The other three topics that are worthy of note, however, offered practical advice that can be acted on immediately. Like before, I have given some highlights of the talks followed by my personal takeaways.


Duane Brown talked about delightful remarketing. Those aren’t two words that normally go together, but he made me a believer. This mainly consisted of some best practices to not annoy potential customers.

  • Set up a burn pixel, so you don’t keep marketing to someone who has already bought that product.
  • Look back window - how long will you continue to retarget them? He recommends no more than 3 days. That seems kind of short to me, but it’s something that warrants testing, as I’m sure it depends on target audience and product/service type.

He also mentioned Adwords Customizer, which was something new to me. You can set up a countdown, embedded right in your ad. This becomes more powerful when combined with remarketing.

Cara Harshman talked about online personalization and much of it relates to remarketing. How do you do it without being creepy?

She listed three parts of a framework to use as a guide when personalizing copy:

  1. Who to target
    • Contextual personalization - changing the text to match ad copy.
    • Demographic personalization - this is not just typical stuff like age and gender, but also where they are in the funnel. Enterprise or small business? Pre-sale or post sale? Adroll, for example, gives one a phone number and the other a link to a customer support site.
    • Behavioral personalization - what are they doing, or what are they more likely to do? Past purchasers are more likely to buy again, so perhaps show them higher margin items?
  2. What to show them - don’t get too detailed, or it just gets creepy.
  3. How to prioritize what to implement. Ask these questions:
    • What is the potential business impact?
    • What would be the technical effort to execute?
    • What are the requirements to sustain it?

Action Items for Remarketing

  1. Implement a burn pixel if you haven’t already.
  2. Limit how long you remarket to visitors. Begin some tests to see how long it typically takes customers to convert after the first visit. When there is a massive dropoff, that is probably your limit. Anything longer and you risk causing some burn out and bad will toward your brand.
  3. Segment your audience, but don’t slice them too thin. Use the personalization framework to help start the conversation.
  4. Start looking for additional ways to personalize that could have a big impact. Start with simple text changes with an aim to eventually go bigger. What is Code? gives a certificate of completion at the end.

Building and Maintaining Communities

Rich Millington offered some advice on building (or reinvigorating) online communities, even for brands with boring and mundane products. Many go the route of the big launch, which leads to nothing but a quick plummet. It pays off to think smaller and grow more organically. Often, all you need is 150 active members to reach critical mass, something that is self-sustaining.

Finding Your First Community Members

Where to start? Start small. Like any network, you start with your friends and people you already know. To get them to join, however, you need credibility or a founder who has that credibility. If you don’t have that credibility, don’t waste your time trying to start a community. Build your credibility instead. Create content, host events, interview experts - the typical things you would expect to do if you want to be known as a thought leader.

There are four ways to ensure people want to become involved in your community:

  1. Solve a problem they already know exists - one company targeted toward teachers could never get them engaged. Turns out, teachers just didn’t have the time, so instead they created a community for teachers to swap time-saving tips, and activity exploded.
  2. Seize an opportunity they are aware of - if your product is boring, like washing machines, come up with a new angle. Housework tips and hacks.
  3. Explore a passion they are curious about.
  4. Increase their status among their friends - exclusive clubs are popular for a reason.

Don’t focus so much on aesthetics and polish. Some of the most active communities are ugly and super simple. Just look at Reddit and HackerNews.

Onboarding New Members

Most platforms for communities encourage lurking. How do you break out of that and get people to participate faster? Most communities introduce new members the worst way possible: asking them to introduce themselves in some long thread, and asking them to complete their profile. Boring.

Instead persuade them to share their experience, opinion, or problem. One community sends new members an intro email where the main thrust is this: “Hi, glad you are here. We’d love your opinion on this discussion here:” Every few days, they rotate out the name and link they recommend to keep up with popular and interesting discussions.

Keep these starter questions in mind when onboarding new members:

  1. What are they doing? (Yammer)
  2. What are they thinking? (Facebook)
  3. What have they recently learned?
  4. What do they need help with?

Keeping Members Active and Engaged

After getting new members involved with their first thread, however, you need to keep them engaged. The speed of the response to the first thread is important. If new members get a response in the first 15 minutes to their question or opinion, they have an 87% chance of posting again. That number goes down the longer it stretches out. This is one reason why Ubercart, an ecommerce platform for Drupal, got so popular. The people behind it were very active on their support forums and made sure to answer every question quickly, even if they didn’t know the answer right away.

Gamify participation and show progress. Provide the sense that they are accomplishing something. Communities also need a clear map that members can follow that leads to them getting more autonomy and responsibility. You need moderators you can trust, and you need to show how people can grow into that position.

Finally, encourage friendships. Introduce them to similar people. These relationships they build will be the main reason they stay for the long term.

And whatever you do, don’t use a Facebook page for your community.

Action Items for Building Communities

  1. Do you have proper credibility in your sphere? If not, start making a plan on building that credibility, or make a list of people who could be your founding members that provides that credibility.
  2. Craft a welcome page and email that makes new members feel important.
  3. Make sure you set up a system so you are alerted when new people post their first topic, and make sure those people get a response as soon as possible.


Correcting for Dark Traffic

Marshall Simmonds discussed dark search and dark social, the traffic you get that had no referral strings or information. His people work with a vast network of publishers and can pull large amounts of traffic data. 160 sites in 68 categories, totaling 226 billion page views. What they found is that at least 18% of what gets labeled as “direct traffic” is not actually direct traffic. That’s just the bucket analytics providers throw stuff into when they can’t classify it any other way.

How do they know this? By looking closer at some of this so-called “direct traffic.” A lot of the pages had URLs three levels deep. Did someone really type that URL in by hand? They most likely were sent from somewhere. Either:

  • From a secure site
  • From inside an app
  • From incognito or private browsing
  • From somewhere with a new referrer string that isn’t recognized yet

He offered some simple heuristics to discover your dark traffic. First, finding direct visits that were actually sent from social networks.

  1. Aggregate everything classified as direct traffic
  2. Remove your homepage and major section fronts that might be bookmarked from the data set
  3. What you have left is probably dark social
  4. Filter for just new users
  5. Verify links against social campaigns
  6. What you have left is probably dark search

This is important for measuring ROI and having a true sense of where your traffic is coming from. You don’t want to be deceived into thinking something isn’t working.

Software updates also affect these numbers. When iOS/Android puts out an update, sometimes someone forgets to flip the referral string switch or something. Organic traffic drops. They did better with iOS 8, so they are learning. But whenever there are major software updates to an OS and browsers, monitor your analytics for major changes. That spike in direct traffic probably isn’t direct traffic.

Paid Search Informing Organic

Stephanie Wallace makes the argument that paid search and organic teams should not be so siloed. The separation happens because they often have some different goals and different skill set requirements, but there are some good benefits in bringing them together.

Organic traffic is more of a long term strategy, and as a result, it's hard to react to results. If you make any changes, you have to wait. And wait. And wait some more. But this is where paid search can be a great partner and fill in these gaps. It specializes in faster results. Some ways you can leverage paid campaigns to help your organic efforts are:

  1. Testing article titles and descriptions. A paid campaign can give you quick results on what title gets the highest CTR. This can be useful for content you have invested heavily in, and want to be sure you don’t sabotage your changes with some weak metadata. Also a good way to test content ideas before you start spinning your wheels.
  2. Identify content gaps that convert. Get a list of your content that was part of a conversion funnel, part of the path that turned a visitor into a customer. Add a secondary dimension of Paid Search to discover which keywords led people through that content. Do you have anything ranking for those keywords? If not, you now have a targeted list to focus your efforts on, one that you know has a high chance of increasing revenue.
  3. Conversion optimization. This may seem obvious, but your paid search landing pages aren’t the only pages that need optimization. Use a paid campaign to build up some data quickly for some of your organic landing pages, and act accordingly.

Beyond the Pageview

Adrian Vender argues that pageviews are not enough. We’re not good at tracking what the user is doing, how they are interacting with the content. A pageview does not equal a “success.” But event tracking is difficult and requires lots of javascript. And then when you’re tracking all this data, it goes into a big black hole where reports are confusing and hard to digest. So how do we do better?

First, use Google Tag Manager (or Tealium) to manage all the javascript. You won’t have to depend on your IT department or a developer to place your new code on the right page.

Second, start tracking more events. Don’t just track the pageview, but also fire an event when someone gets done reading the page. Fire an event for important navigation elements. Track outbound URLs. Track video views and progress. For really important interactions, you can even define user segments and build reports for just those users who, for example, clicked on that call-to-action button in your sidebar. Wouldn’t it be great to quantify that 20% of people, who read this one particular article to the very end, signed up for your email list?

And finally, learn more about your analytics package. You’re going to need to stretch your muscles to deal with all of this new data. He offers a good list to get you started if you’re using Google Analytics.

Action Items for Analytics

  1. Quantify your real direct traffic. Try and measure your dark traffic to ensure your decisions are made with more accurate data, and put measures in place to watch for sudden spikes in “direct traffic” whenever there are major software updates.
  2. If you run paid campaigns, use the paid keyword data to identify valuable content gaps that you aren’t ranking for.
  3. For cornerstone content, consider using paid campaigns to test headlines and descriptions for maximum impact.
  4. Implement Google Tag Manager, or an equivalent. Start tracking events.
  5. Segment your visitors based on critical interactions.
  6. Learn more about Google Analytics event tracking and building reports. Create shortcuts and custom dashboards for quick reference.

Wrapping Up

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The importance of on-site SEO has come back in a big way, and will continue to grow in importance. The influence of mobile cannot be overlooked. Google is disrupting themselves, accepting large cuts in revenue (mobile ad clicks are far less than desktop), to cater to mobile users. Smart marketers will pay attention.

That being said, Google has been wrong before, and they aren’t afraid to disseminate misinformation to accomplish an objective. For example, no one really saw a gain in traffic after switching to HTTPS, even though we were assured by Google that it would be a ranking signal. So be aware. Take things with a grain of salt. Do your own testing and research.

I’ll end with a final reading recommendation that will help you start to think more about the future. With Apple and Google set to release search APIs for their respective mobile operating systems, where apps can potentially serve their deep content to a device’s native search results, the target for marketers may be shifting faster than we think. So go read Emily Grossman’s article titled App Indexing & The New Frontier of SEO, and start preparing for new ways to reach people.

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