Matthias Galica is CEO of ShareSquare, the leading platform for connecting offline audiences to the brands they love via QR codes and custom HTML5 mobile web apps with real-time analytics.
Consumer-facing QR codes are hitting mainstream America hard this summer. Despite the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats, many well-intentioned marketers are crippling their campaigns with simple mistakes.
This is a big reason why QR codes still get a bad rap from some folks. QR codes by themselves are fundamentally neither good nor bad, they’re just a means to an end: an offline-to-online delivery mechanism. It’s what’s beyond the code that usually determines whether the experience will delight or disappoint.
Unfortunately, many early adopter marketers aren’t yet fully versed in the best practices or optimal use cases. It’s the adventurous consumer that suffers from the growing pains.
Since I’ve spent the past 18 months waist-deep in this fast-developing market, I’m compelled to offer up my short list of basic mistakes to avoid at all costs. While heeding all these rules won’t make your QR code marketing great by itself, they will likely save you from some embarrassment.
Mistake 1: Not Testing the Code
Common sense right? Until you’re able to read a QR code just by looking at it, you should always test the proofs with a variety of smartphones and scanning apps before you release a campaign.
This is the simplest way to spot scanning problems. For instance, a small placement (less than an inch) will often be too dense to scan if you’ve encoded a longer URL, but using bit.ly or goo.gl to automatically generate a short URL QR code is an easy fix.
Since QR codes feature up to a 30% error correction rate, there’s flexibility for creative branding and tweaks. But if the designer accidentally overdid it, test-scanning is an easy path to being the office hero that day.
For example, the above image is taken from “15 Beautiful and Creative QR codes.” While visually interesting, I’m fairly confident this isn’t scanable.
Mistake 2: Getting Too Fancy With Text
If your goal is to get people to a mobile web experience, you should only ever encode a short URL. Don’t include any plain text, since many barcode scanners (even gold standards like ShopSavvy) won’t tease out the link. If you’re hoping a user will copy/paste on a mobile device, don’t bet on it.
Think of the QR code as a physical hyperlink that every barcode scanner should be able to immediately “click.” If your QR code requires the user to do much more than point and scan to arrive at the intended content, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Take the image above. I love the Olsen twins as much as the next guy, but these QR codes result in the oft-problematic text string + link combo. Fail bonus: The site consistently turns up invalid security certificate errors.
Mistake 3: Serving up Non-Mobile Pages
Your QR code scans successfully but you’ve pointed the user to a standard desktop website, when 99.9% of QR codes are scanned by a mobile device. Fail.
Get acquainted with HTML5 to give your mobile web app that native app feel. You can either hire a developer to build your mobile site or use a non-technical modular CMS (content management system) like Paperlinks if it suits your campaign objectives.
This Coca-Cola QR code’s heart is in the right place (the MyCokeRewards program) but the resulting non-mobile website is all but impossible to navigate.
Mistake 4: Putting QR Codes Where There’s No Data Signal
Where your ad will run is just as important as how you implement it.
Tesco’s recent QR code “grocery store” in a Korean subway worked great because those platforms have Wi-Fi. This is not the case in the U.S. Placing QR codes in locations without Internet access is a sure way to make your audience upset. Make sure you know where the ads will be, and if possible, run tests to make sure they are visible and will still work.
For example, the Red Bull campaign QR code above was in a New York City subway, so I have no idea what it does.
Mistake 5: Not Offering Enough Value
This point is highly subjective but also probably the most important. The proper mindset is to reward the user for scanning your QR code. This “reward,” however, will change depending on what you’re trying to promote.
Try to avoid redundancy (a digital copy of your flyer), irrelevance or dullness (your company’s street address). Take the above image. The U.S. Marine Corps. QR code promises a cool experience but instead leads to a wallpaper download and a commercial.
When coupled with a clearly articulated call-to-action near the QR code, we’ve found the most compelling campaigns tend to offer one or more of the following:
- Exclusive rich media, videos and photos
- Exclusive or time-sensitive access
- Free downloads or swag
- “Instant Win” contests
- Special offers, coupons or gifts
- “Secret” information
- Deep integration with social media to activate viral loops
The best advice is to put yourself in the shoes of your target fan. Would you bother pulling out the phone for your campaign? Would you be happy with the pay off? A little bit of time and thought can create a truly successful QR campaign.
One of the practical opportunities for companies that acquire and engage customers through a sales force, is through social media content and participation. In fact, many corporate marketing departments have found their field sales reps active on sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even YouTube before headquarters has. Such “rogue” social media activity might be proactive, but can also create issues without adherence to corporate standards and provide conflicting experiences for customers.
A salesforce that functions as educators, consultants and in some ways “subject matter experts”, can be a formidable asset for corporate social media efforts towards engagement and customer acquisition. Rather than shutting down individual sales reps blogs and Facebook accounts until corporate gets their social strategy in place, companies should consider how to coordinate and empower sales teams as social media ambassadors of the brand to their individual circles of influence and social networks.
Those same sales people are already maintaining contact with prospects and customers through other communication channels like email, phone, snail mail and newsletters. Why not social networking and media sites?
As business managers decide how to best leverage sales people for social media objectives, here are a few ideas on tactics they may decide to implement:
1. Create a Destination – Whether it’s a blog, tumblr, posterous site, YouTube or even Facebook Fan page, a destination for social participation can serve as the hub for a salesperson’s social media activity. This is where social content is published, aggregated and curated. It’s also where calls to action, offers and invitations to engage on a more business level can be posted. The social hub scan serve as a destination for other publishers and bloggers to link to and appear within search results.
2. Monitor for Leads & Engagement – As more consumer and B2B buyers participate on the social web during the discovery and consideration phases of the buying cycle, sales people can monitor for comments and conversations that indicate engagement opportunities. IBM’s Listen for Leads program has uncovered millions of dollars in sales by monitoring social media sites for keywords that indicate prospects with questions or in the search phase.
Simple tools like search.twitter.com, board reader or a variety of Facebook search enginescan provide access to discussions. Free social search engines like socialmention.com ortopsy can also be used along with Google Alerts. Ideally, a robust social media monitoring tool would be used that includes advanced filtering options. It takes some refinement of search queries to make this kind of monitoring work, but can be very effective at identifying prospect conversation opportunities at their greatest moment of need.
3. Create, Curate & Repurpose – Most Sales Reps, Account Executives and Business Development people that I know are pretty busy, so efficiency with social media and content is essential. With an understanding of relevant search keywords and social topics that matter to prospective customers, salespeople can create a content plan as a guide.
However, creating new content on a regular basis while maintaining high quality can become a challenge, so it’s important to think about where content can be repurposed.
For example, salespeople might each maintain their own blogs that they publish to once a week. But they might also share portions or customized versions of their blog posts with other industry blogs, online publications and industry newsletters. They could compile blog posts into ebooks or could be used within corporate content marketing materials.
An effective way to become a “go to destination” for information on a particular topic is to aggregate or curate news from different sources on the web to the salesperson’s hub. Subscribe to other industry news sites, newsletter and setup Google Alerts for topics of interest to collect news. Collect the most interesting and/or themed news of the week and add short comments. The same curation tactic can be used to create a newsletter. With some practice, the process of scanning headlines and putting together a weekly news roundup can be done in only a few minutes a day, resulting in one beefy blog post per week.
4. Participate – In the course of researching useful industry news to aggregate or to cite in original blog posts, salespeople will undoubtedly find other blogs and online publications that allow commenting. They’ll also find others discussing topics of interest on sites like LinkedIn, Groups & Forums, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others. Searching or monitoring for prospects also reveals these kinds of interaction opportunities.
Answering questions, sharing useful resources and asking questions on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ helps communicate personal characteristics and thought leadership for the salesperson. Corporate marketing might be able to use their resources with social media monitoring tools to identify social channels, groups or individuals that are most influential and relevant. Salespeople could also use tools like Klout to find others with influence to engage with.
This can seem like a very time consuming task, but many salespeople who are the most productive with lead generation through social media make a consistent effort to participate on a frequent basis. Setup a recurring reminder in Outlook to spend 15 minutes each morning to ask/answer questions, collect, aggregate and share useful links. Spreading this activity over several days using a consistent amount of time is very productive. Schedule Tweets and Facebook updates during the day in advance using a tool like Hootsuite.
5. Collaborate – Corporate sales and marketing leadership can keep tabs on the most effective uses of social media and networking sites by their sales teams and create best practices for the benefit of all. Continuously improved processes, new social tool evaluations and tactics evolution can improve salesforce social media effectiveness and overall ability to create value and engage prospects.
In the end, it’s about empowerment, not control.
Companies can provide sales teams with templates, process and training plus regular internal networking opportunities to share best practices in order to help salesforce social media efforts succeed. It’s also important to provide ongoing education so salespeople know what it looks like to be overzealous and forward with their social participation efforts.
As with all social media marketing efforts, mileage varies according to the target audience, industry, resources and sales teams capabilities. There’s no doubt that strategy alone doesn’t sustain long term social media marketing success. Ongoing training and feedback mechanisms are essential to improve skills and identify both productive and non-productive behaviors.
Has your organization had to deal with “rogue sales reps” initiating social media marketing efforts? How did you handle them? Have you implemented or observed other companies effectively incorporating sales teams social media participation as part of corporate social strategy?
The trend towards “brands as publishers” over the past year has an increasing number of businesses entering the world of content in ways that are creating new opportunities for online marketing. The notion of brands publishing editorial is nothing new of course and has been known as Custom Media or Custom Publishing for years.
For example, P&G‘s “invention” of the radio and TV Soap Opera or both “Food and Wine” and “Travel and Leisure” magazines published by American Express. Interestingly, corporate editorial content publishing often overlooks the value of SEO as a way to extend reach and grow readership.
Publishers on the other hand, are becoming much better marketers. While online and offline media have always been reliant on growing distribution and readership to warrant advertising based business models, the changing nature of media, shifts in consumer behaviors and increased competition has warranted even more marketing savvy to capture, maintain and grow readership.
For example, it’s become pretty standard for more progressive media companies likeTribune Company, Turner Broadcasting and Hearst Magazines to have their reporters and writers employ SEO best practices to drive more search traffic to stories on newspaper and other media websites. Tactics like writing story headlines as literal, keyword rich title tags for search engines and using irony, puns or metaphors for on-page titles that consumers can read has become quite common.
It just makes sense to package content in a way that makes it easy for the target audience to find. Such insight and best practices shouldn’t be left to marketers alone. Any entity that is publishing searchable content online should consider optimization of content for search “findability” and social sharing.
An extension of that SEO savvy includes leveraging real time social media tools (like chartbeat or Newsbeat) to identify content opportunities. Search and social media marketers have been using social media monitoring and trend tools for this purpose over the past few years or more. This is particularly common with information marketers that want to leverage growing bursts of consumer interest in topics that are trending. They’ll monitor for topics and create content that matches the boost in search queries, resulting in an influx of traffic from an audience actively looking.
Publishers are doing the same kind of monitoring because after all, they’re information marketers too, no? They may not be selling a product, but they are selling stories that attract readers who may click on ads and possibly subscriptions.
The Online Marketing opportunity here is for brands that decide to go the custom content and/or content marketing route, to be thoughtful and smart about connecting target audiences with their investment. Make sure content and digital assets are optimized for keywords and topics that people care about. Think of topics in terms of the customer, not marketing language and you’ll find more search traffic as well as social sharing.
As brand publishing efforts mature and they find the need to feed a hungry readership, real time monitoring for story ideas, topics and trends will become increasingly important. As a SEO professional does research on search keywords for SEO, the publisher would do well to research topics flowing in the social information stream that match their editorial plans for real-time content opportunities.
Is your business publishing custom media? Do you leverage SEO with those content assets? If you’re a journalist, have you been trained on SEO best practices? Does your organization value the impact of SEO and social media for promoting news?
There’s no question the difference between a successful search marketing campaign and one that fails is very rarely due to a lack of creativity or a naive strategy. Far more frequently it’s down to inefficiencies or wasted resources.
So what can you do to reduce those problems? Try and constantly improve things. Those changes are very rarely revolutions in your process, but just small refinements.
What follows are eight of those small refinements and improvements that I’ve made recently which I think have made me a better link builder.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who keeps much closer tabs on Twitter than my email inbox. The sad truth is if you want me to get my attention an @ message or DM on Twitter can often be much more effective than emailing me.
This is equally true in any link building outreach efforts. This logic is the similar trend that link building can be more effective if your pitch is made over the phone than by email.
Though Qwerly is intended to be an API which tries to make the connections between social profiles, it can be a great way to try and make the connections between different ways of contacting someone, i.e. “I have your email address. What’s your Twitter username?”
It’s far from perfect but it has helped me track down the social media contact details of people I was hoping to build a relationship with.
Ultimately though it’s about understanding who you’re talking to, some people are going to be much happier having a phone conversation than an email, but some people prefer email to Twitter.
If you don’t have that type of knowledge/information about the person you’re trying to get in touch with, you’ve not done enough research on them. Your mode of communication should be determined by what works best for them, not you.
I’m such a big advocate of Toluna that I think some people are beginning to suspect that I’m on their payroll. That’s not the case and my obsession with their service stems entirely from my love of their product.
I’ve found over the years the success of a link building campaign is entirely dependent on the quality of the piece of content you’re using to attract the link. This content can be something like a voucher code, a viral game, infographic or a great statistic and research.
It’s never been a secret that research data can help build some great links; what used to be the challenge was how you got that information.
It was easy if you had a huge customer base as you could send them a survey by email, give them a nice prize and you were sorted. However it wasn’t so easy for the people who didn’t have those circumstances.
This is where Toluna has made my life easier. I can quickly (and fortunately cheaply) survey segments of the population. Proper marketing research, this is not; however for quick straw polls that make some great link bait, the service is perfect.
3. Finding more guest posts with advanced search operators
Guest posts are one of the mainstays of many link building campaigns, however the time and effort of guest posting is skewed in the direction of finding and contacting potential publishers rather than on developing outstanding content.
I’d rather spend the time on the post rather than researching potential partners, so anything that can make that process easier is helpful. I’ve had some good success with two particular Google searches using their advanced operators which allowed me to track down the opportunities with less effort.
The first is inurl:category/guest your keywords. This will return a series of blog posts (typically on WordPress) which have been categorised as a guest post and that also contain the keyword relevant to the site your building links to.
I have found some amazing guest opportunities using exactly this method. However, it depends on the blogger putting all their guest posts in a separate category, which doesn’t always happen.
There is another advanced search query which can help you track down guest post opportunities. Search for inpostauthor:guest your keyword this will find the blog posts where there is an author called guest, guest post, guest contributor etc (Hat tip to Yoast on this one).
By covering off these variations you’ll very easily be able to find people publishing guest posts around your keywords. Because they’ve already publish similar content before you saved yourself pitching to people who aren’t keen on guest posts.
I often have to remind myself my job as a search marketer isn’t to ‘beat Google’: it’s just to do better than my competitors in the factors that Google appreciates.
The most important part of that statement is better than your competitors and without a thorough understanding of the competitors you’re up against you can’t create an effective strategy.
Extensive competitor research is a vital element to any SEO project but often I want a quick assessment of the relative strengths of a number of websites. Backlinks.in allows you to get the link count of a list of different websites.
In the world of super duper SEO tools this may sound a bit basic but it’s a simple and quick tool that just works. In my quest for efficiency it’s not about using a tool that can do everything; I want one that can do precisely what I need as quickly as possible.
5. Custom Search Engines
I love Google custom search engines; they allow you to build your own little Google based on a list of websites you’ve specified.
This saves you times in lots of different ways; I have a custom search engine of the websites whose RSS feeds I subscribe to, which means that if I’m trying to track down an old blog post I’ve remembered I can do it much more easily as well.
You can be a lot more inventive than that. Perhaps you want to take all the websites which link to your top fifty competitors, create a customer search engine including them, then carry out the guest post advanced query discuss above?
The potential to make your life easier is only limited by your imagination.
6. Trade associations
As link builders we sometimes let ourselves believe that high quality links are hard to track down, and often that’s simply not the case. Nearly every trade body or organisation list all their members in a directory, if your client or employer are a business operating in that sector, why aren’t you listed in that directory?
And unlike most directory submission theirs a tangible business benefit to being listed. You can find a directory of trade associations here.
7. Crowd Flower
When people ‘outsource’ link building it ends in tears, either with work that has no impact or that is ill-advised. This doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from a worldwide flexible work resources; you just need the right work being carried out by the right people.
Anything that is about building a relationship or insight isn’t appropriate, as the chaps at Distilled put it, “you can’t outsource giving a s**t”.
In terms of tracking down the contact details of a journalist you’ve been following or carrying out repetitive research tasks you may be wise to consider services like Crowd Flower or Mechanical Turk.
I’ve only begun to scrape the surface of these services. It’s important to note that they can be used in a positive way that’s about delegation and efficiency not spam and deception.
8. Sponsor and do some good
I can honestly say I’ve personally never bought a link in my life, but I’m not naive about the fact money often changes hands, the thing that makes me most sad about the whole process is the number of low quality websites that only exist to sell links which add nothing to the web.
Part of me wishes that some of that money could be spent in a way that benefits society and the internet as whole.
Sponsoring worthy causes can be a great way to do that. We’ve had a client who wanted to outreach to the amateur sporting community. Sponsoring small teams like those listed on UKsponsorship.com enabled them to do that.
The most important ranking factors for local businesses – This is a post from Moz (f.k.a. SeoMoz.org) and learns you how to rank high and show on top of the lists for local businesses.
Google plus importance and SEO efffects (http://moz.com/blog/google-plus-correlations)
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