Current trends and updates in the digital marketing industry.

What is new in the Penguin 4.0 update?

Penguin 4.0 Update: What You Need To Know

What is Penguin?

In a nutshell, Penguin is a specific signal of Google’s algorithms for their search engine that looks over backlinks that are linking to your page. Penguin was initially launched in 2012 while making various updates throughout the years. Penguin was essentially created to promote or demote a web page in Google’s search results based on the quality of the links that are pointing to that page or site (backlinks). This check was put into place when spammy sites would link out to more credible ones to increase their authority, all while providing no substance for or relevance to the site they are linking to.

What is new in Penguin 4.0?

The largest part of the update in Penguin 4.0 is that the crawl will now be updated in real time. Previously, the backlink scan would update or refresh sites at the same time periodically. Now with 4.0, sites will be crawled and updated in real time allowing for a much faster change in rankings.

The other change to Penguin is that it has become more granular. This means that the rankings affected from spam are only issued to single pages themselves, rather than the overall site authority. So if a spam site is linking to a particular blog on your page, the penalty will only be in the form of that blog web page ranking lower as opposed to the entire site decreasing in authority.

What does it mean for you?

Pretty much what you should keep in mind as a site owner, marketer, or SEO specialist is to do backlink checks for your site regularly. As soon as you detect any poor quality backlinks, be sure to immediately disavow or remove them. Aim to stay up-to-date on this screening as often as possible.

Lastly, keep in mind that the Penguin crawler is just one of many (about 200) signals used to determine the ranking factor from Google. While it is important to stay current on your backlink analysis, it is not the only, or even most crucial aspect of where your site will rank in search engines.

hashtags in social media marketing

6 Tips for Getting the most out of your Hashtags

New to the whole hashtag thing? Well, the answer to your first question is, Yes, hashtags DO matter. They can actually be pretty powerful for attracting new followers and attaching your content to other brands and relevant topics. Don’t fret, it’s less complex than you might think, but there are some tactics and tips that will help you understand the reasons social media platforms use hashtags and how best to use them to your benefit.  

That said, we wanted to offer up a few simple suggestions for new hashtaggers. So, this is for you. You newbie hashtagger you!


Did you know that twitter didn’t even use hashtags originally? It wasn’t until 2007 that the hashtag was added to their repertoire of social media offerings. It was suggested by a user to help categorize posts in a better way for ease of contributing and following specific topics.

Hashtags link your posts to all other posts with the same hashtags. They will show up in feeds with the same hashtags you use, which has the potential to get your posts in front of more eyeballs than it otherwise would.

Hashtags have become so popular that every other mainstream social media platform has jumped on board with them.


  1. Keep it simple. #DontUseAHashtagThatsHardToReadAndWayTooLong. Make sure your hashtags are relevant to whatever your post is about, and that they’re simple to read. Think of hashtags in two ways:
    1. A quick joke you might mumble under your breath. #CoughCough
    2. An easy way to add your post to a conversation. #GreatAdvice
  2. Keep it relevant. You might know that there’s a trending hashtag like #PumpkinLatte, but it doesn’t make any sense to add it to your post about building a house. You’ll look like a spammer and lose credibility. Which leads us to…
  3. Control yourself. Yes, the more tags the more eyeballs our post may get to, but it can actually work against you too. If you have a bunch of hashtags at the end of your post, you’re likely to come off as desperate, unknowledgeable, and the eyeballs will scroll right on. Keep it to no more than three hashtags per post. The more you have, the more you look like a spammer. The more specific and to-the-point you are, the more professional you’ll look.


  1. Keep an eye out for what’s trending. You can use twitter, google, or a plethora of other websites to check on trending hashtags. That means those that are being followed by the most people. If there’s one that is relevant to your business, your post, your life, feel free to hop on and add to the conversation! #MoreEyeballs
  2. In your post (that’s using no more than 2 – 3 hashtags), use one hashtag that’s trending, and one that relates to your brand. The third is probably unnecessary, but I’m sure you can get creative! #MakeItUp
  3. Be creative and specific. You want to hop on tags that are relevant, but you don’t want to be too generic. #Wood #Building #SEO #Hashtag… these are too broad and you’ll get lost in the mix. Try being clever and just a bit more specific. Experts say the more targeted your audience is, the better your engagement will be anyway.
  4. Don’t use a hashtag when responding to someone, or trying to specifically call someone out in your post. That’s what the @ symbol is for. Everyone has a handle (screen name) with an @ symbol in front of it. Find out what your friends’ are, and use them in your post rather than #JohnnyJohnson.
  5. Don’t hashtag in the comments sections. It just doesn’t make sense.
  6. You might be eager to make up and take over hashtags that call out your specific brand names, but followers tend not to like this. Rather than putting #MyNameBrand at the end of your posts, think about who your brand is and what you represent. You may notice that we use #RethinkingConnection on some of our posts rather than #SWELL.


Now that you have a bit more information on how it works, test it out! Let us know how these suggestions work for you, and if you’d have any more to add.

Woman scrolling through content online on her tablet showing native advertising

5 of the Most Crucial Digital Marketing Tactics for Fall 2016

We work with marketing managers of all types. Some marketers tasked with digital marketing are classically trained. Some were brought into the position because they showed a propensity for digital marketing, still others because their company recognized a need. But the fact is, every marketing manager, coordinator, or even CMO has a unique set of challenges based on their available resources, budgets, and of course their company’s goals. Many companies get stuck in the rut of “what they’ve always done”, while other marketers know they need to shift, having trouble convincing their counterparts of the needed marketing alterations.

Whatever your situation may be, no matter how big or small your company might be, we’ve found that there is always at least one area that every digital marketing strategy can improve upon. Often by the time you wrap your mind around a complex digital marketing principle or strategy, there is something new and more effective available. In the digital world, you must constantly be staying up to date and ahead of the curve. Very few marketers have the time to react to everything that’s possible with digital marketing, let alone be proactive in seeing and affecting change. Even if you are incredible at digital marketing, my guess is there is something else you know you could be doing to make your digital marketing strategy a more effective revenue generator.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help. Since it seems like there are SO MANY things you could be doing these days to implement effective digital marketing, we’ve put together a list of the top five most effective things to take your strategy to get the most out of your digital marketing this fall. Of course, we could always list more than five, but these will have the most significant impact to your digital marketing right now.  

Be Mobile, or Be Nothing

To be frank, if your website isn’t mobile responsive, you’re a dinosaur. Mobile responsive websites are imperative and the need to be mobile can no longer be ignored. Not only is Google giving preferential treatment to mobile responsive websites, users now expect it.  Also, Google Adwords is moving to a new ad system (in October of 2016) and to be a part of it, your site will need to be responsive.

Customize Your Digital Marketing Strategy

Face it, even your direct competitors have different digital marketing goals than you. Yes, the overarching goal might be to increase market share and revenue, just like you. But you have a different brand with different values and different ways of marketing yourself that they don’t. Own those differences. You might find success in places they haven’t even tried. Don’t be afraid to try something new because even if it doesn’t work, you’ve probably taught yourself important lessons along the way. Don’t try to keep up with the “Jones’”, do your own thing – and do it well. Your customers have their own unique needs, and each has their own journey they take to buy. I suggest spending a lot of time outlining your customer segments and then, even more time meeting them where they are at on their buyer’s journey.

Establish Measurements & Analytics

75% of marketers think their company’s performance is good in terms of creating brand intimacy or engagement with customers. But research suggests only about one-third of consumers feel they have an intimate connection with that brand. This suggests that marketers are not measuring their brand’s success properly. Marketers too often underestimate the challenges in creating true brand engagement. What blog posts are doing well? What searches are you showing up for? What searches are you NOT showing up for that you’d like to be? What social media posts get the most reach? The most clicks? Are you looking at your engagement from and setting goals for improvement? If not, you should be. Translating this data into actionable digital marketing strategy improvements will separate you from the pack – quickly.  

Secure Your Website’s Content

Do you know what an SSL certificate is? It is signified by an httpS:// at the beginning of a URL, as opposed to a http:// . Google has been pushing for SSL since 2014 and essentially telling the world that it’s related to a website’s trustworthiness, and therefore is a search ranking factor. In other words, it’s not just for eCommerce or sensitive data anymore. Even if you don’t think you have anything that needs it, it’s time to secure your content.  

Content: Quality > Quantity

Content and its delivery is getting more diverse. Instead of just text in your blog posts, you should consider multimedia posts including elements such as custom photos, infographics, other graphics, and video. Yes, this means spending more time on each content piece, but Google is measuring the value your content provides. So quality will always outweigh quantity when it comes to content.


A great (responsive) website, social media and content marketing, as well as digital presence beyond your domain, and quality over quantity are proven digital marketing trends that won’t be going away anytime soon. Which is why they’re perfect to be starting right now, in Fall 2016.


Woman scrolling through content online on her tablet showing native advertising

Native Advertising vs. Display Advertising

As marketers (especially digital marketers) there is a constant battle being waged over how to effectively win the favor of their targeted audience. Just as in any medium for advertising, it seems that marketers are walking a tightrope, balancing enough face value to be recognized but not enough to annoy and turn off those solicited. Two popular ways of advertising online are display and native. When comparing the two methods and their general effect on audience members, there are some points to consider.

What is A Native Ad, What is a Display Ad?

Many of you reading this post may not even understand the difference between a native ad and a display ad. While both advertisements are digital and found on your web page, the placement of each is what varies. A display advertisement is what you are probably used to seeing. When scrolling through facebook or a blog of some sort, you probably can spot quite easily the ads on the sides of the webpage surrounding the content. These are considered display or banner advertisements. Comparatively, native ads (which are becoming increasingly popular,) are advertisements that are found within the content feed.    

            An example of banner advertising                         An example of a native advertisement on mobile

The Consumer Experience

Since it’s becoming more apparent to digital marketers that banner ads are going the way of the dodo, ads have strategically been placed within online content where viewers are looking anyway. This is to increase the likelihood of reaching consumers even without getting an interactive click. Studies have confirmed that consumers look at native ads 52% more often than banner ads which has created a lot more attention for the native ad platform in marketing.

Brand Lift

Because the nature of native advertising is to blend in with actual content, it makes sense that more consumers would take the time to view these targeted ads if the content pertains to their lifestyle. For instance, Consumer A is really into a particular sport. They follow or subscribe to team or athlete social media pages and some of their favorite brands that also promote this athletic lifestyle. By monitoring Consumer A’s behavior online with who and what they pay attention to, placing the native ad for a related product (e.g. sports equipment, nutritional supplements, performance clothing/wearables) seems much more natural to interact with, even if it’s not a purchase right away.

Let’s say consumer A didn’t buy anything from the native ad, but they did “Like” it on social media or better yet, they shared it with their network. This both promotes the ad to (assumingly) other targeted audience individuals, and keeps the brand fresh in Consumer A’s mind if they continue to subscribe to their social content. Viewing through a social media filter makes the brand much more relatable and appealing to the consumer. Therefore native advertising both increases brand affinity, and funnels consumers through the buyer’s journey to eventually making a sale with their audience.

Consider This:

  • Native ads came in 9% higher lift for brand affinity and 18% higher purchase intent compared to traditional digital banner ads.  
  • When comparing the likelihood of social sharing of ads, 32% of people surveyed said they would be likely to share the native ad compared to 19% sharing the banner ad.
  • 71% of existing customers of brands said they personally identify with the brand after viewing their native ad compared to 50% of those identifying with the banner ad after purchase.

The Future of Banner Ads

So with all the above hype for native advertising, the question remains: are display ads dead? Not necessarily. Are they as effective? It all depends on your numbers. Analytics are so important to advertising campaigns because they are able to show the amount of interactions and impressions an ad gets. You may find that with paid display advertising your click through rate (CTR) is high, but may be decreasing each time you pay for a banner ad campaign. It’s important to realize that at some point paying for paid banner ads may not worth their cost with a poor return on investment.

One positive thing to keep in mind about banner ads though is that they work in the same way that billboards do. This counts as a number of “impressions” the advertisement has on a given audience (how many eyes it’s reached). There is no “true” way to measure the impact of a billboard or really know how many people driving by actually looked at it well enough to register what it is for, and the same goes for a display ad on a content page.

People will always adapt to avoiding or ignoring a medium of advertisements when they become mundane. That’s why the role of marketing and advertising is constantly changing and evolving with the consumer population’s interests. It also explains why native advertising is proving to be much more effective and relatable to an online audience.  

Nudge marketing and dual process theory in consumer decisions

Nudge Marketing & 4 Tips for “Nudging” Customers Effectively

If you know anything about nudge theory, you know it’s a bit controversial. If you don’t know anything about nudge theory, let’s start by thinking about all the little decisions you make throughout your day. How many decisions do you control? You might be quick to say “all of them”, but I would suggest you consider the autonomous act of breathing. Did you make a conscious decision to breathe today when you woke up this morning?  

In Psychology, the phenomenon where actions and decisions we make seem to happen outside our conscious control, though still fully aware of others, is known as Dual Process Theory (DPT). DPT is the foundation of nudge theory. DPT explains what happens when we act, unaware that we are doing so. It also explains how we are equipped with the tools to make an otherwise unconscious act conscious to us, or even change the context so we can choose another, possibly better path without thinking about it.

Think about what happened when I asked you if you chose to breathe this morning or not. Did you immediately become aware of your breath? Did you begin to breathe a bit deeper? Is it possible you began to breathe deeper and didn’t even realize it? That is DPT in action.

Dual Process Theory in the Brain

Our brain works in two different ways. Those two ways happen simultaneously and are handled by separate parts of the brain. One is called the automatic system and the other is called the reflective system. These two systems reflect different ways of handling information and forming responses.

It has been eight years since the book Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, was published. Since then, “nudges” have become a widely used marketing and consumer influence strategy. Nudge marketing refers to deliberately manipulating how choices are presented to consumers in order to steer them toward only the options you WANT them to take or with the simple goal of stimulating purchases.

The double cheeseburger in dual process theory and marketing

Here are a couple examples. A burger place has a single patty burger that looks rather small on the menu, and a triple patty burger that looks excessive. These two are there as decoys for the choice they REALLY want you to make; the DOUBLE patty burger, which is most likely a profit center for them. A grocery store places plastic mats with large arrows marked “Follow the green arrow for your health…” directing shoppers to the produce. Within two weeks, produce sales increase by 10%. Maybe a company automatically enrolls new employees in its retirement savings plan with the option for the employee to opt-out if they want. Enrollment obviously rises from 60% to 95%.   

Now, if you ARE aware of nudge marketing (and now all of you should be), you know that doing it poorly can backfire. As marketers, we should have some fundamental concerns about the practice. Improperly planned and thought out nudges can hurt a company’s credibility and tarnish its reputation.

For instance, nudging can come off as condescending. By its nature, a nudge is intended to make a buyer’s current behavior seem inferior to the behavior you want them to take. In other words, “unless you accept my nudge, you’ll be doing it wrong.” Whatever “it” is. In other words, a nudge assumes if the grocery store didn’t put a literal “path to health” on their floor – their customers wouldn’t buy produce.

Many argue that if nudging runs the risk of being condescending, the better option would be motivating and empowering your customers to make decisions for themselves. Encouraging your customers to set goals and implement processes with your products or services works far better to build lasting relationships than manipulation.

However, if you know anything about sales and marketing – indecisiveness is a huge barrier to conversion. And there are ways to nudge your online customers into making a choice by making it easy for them to take another look. Sending someone a personalized email about a new feature/benefit of a product they talked to you about last month, or having an ad pop up in their sidebar about an item left in their cart, can mean the difference between your customer engaging in the buying process again, or leaving it altogether.

Arrow representing nudge marketing and dual process theory

Guide them, don’t manipulate them

Nobody likes an aggressive salesperson. By leaving “arrows” to guide your customer down a path and allowing them to choose to walk down it, you help customers follow their own interests, make their own decisions, making the purchase their own idea. If you nudge in little steps, proving slowly over time that you have quality and consistency, your customers will come to you.

Don’t condescend, inflate their ego.

Find what motivates your audience and appeal to THAT. If your goal is to help your customers be healthier, then instead of guilting them into better health by saying “Right now you’re not eating enough fruits and vegetables. You should be eating more.” try saying “You want to eat healthy, and we have the best produce in town to help you do that (what you ALREADY want).”  

produce in the grocery store representing good habits in nudge marketing

A nudge + motivation = the BEST combination

When using nudging to influence customer behavior, we must fully understand its proper applications as well as its limitations. The benefits of nudges are likely to be amplified, while at the same time neutralizing their dangers, when nudges are used in combination with effective motivational psychology tools as well. We shouldn’t just put a path to the produce aisle on the floor; we should place guides to eating healthier, easy to make recipes including fruits and veggies, and tips on how to get your kids to eat more vegetables throughout the produce area to help our customers form those habits long-term (therefore selling more produce long-term as well).

Nudges aren’t for everyone. BAD nudges aren’t for anyone.

Good marketing is relational marketing. Effective relational marketing is placing the marketer (or company) on the same level as the customer. If marketers employ a nudge to influence customers, they run the risk of claiming superiority over them. Motivational psychology shows us that differentiation is unnecessary and entirely less effective. Know your audience and how they’ll respond to different marketing techniques. Any goal can be achieved (and probably at more significant returns) by treating customers as equals and empowering them. We need to equip them with motivational tools while using them alongside well-designed nudges.

If you don’t know how to nudge effectively, seek help, or just don’t. The risks you’re taking by doing it poorly are too great. In other words, are you helping your customers to be great, or are you telling them they’re not great if they don’t choose your product? Happy nudging!

Woman working to local SEO for her small business on her laptop.

Enhancing Local SEO for your Small Business

For most digitally educated businesses, it’s no surprise that search engine optimization is essential for any size company, even when it comes to locally owned and operated businesses. Not only does Google make adjustments to its algorithms regularly, but local SEO and non-local SEO has become increasingly complicated. Having an in-house marketing team or agency partnership who understands these effects is crucial to navigating online territory. To figure out which adjustments to make, however, you’ll need to know where you want to be. Once you know where you want to be, you then can make a list of your company goals.

Make a List of Goals

Not all businesses have the same goals. But when it comes to wanting website visits from the same target audience and selling in the same industry, that’s where the competition begins. Setting up basic SEO is pretty much a requirement for launching any website today. The question then becomes, how can you continue to optimize your site to increase viewership? If everyone is doing the minimum, then the standards raise. That’s where the work and the reward of SEO come into play. Even local businesses are now at a point where they need to realize the importance of the effects of local search.

Going for Gold Doesn’t Always Mean Ranking #1

Considering your goals, try not to get caught up in the expectation of ranking #1 on Google for your industry or service. If every consumer based their buying decision on what ranks first in Google search results, there wouldn’t be any other online leads for any of the other number of businesses that follow, and that just isn’t the case. Why not? Because human behavior differs and human behavior evolves. Because consumers are so well adapted to the changes in advertisement online, they then adjust their search process to avoid it. Banner ads and paid search rankings are two significant examples of this. Research shows that online shoppers spend the majority of their time looking away from displayed ads on a page, and skip over the paid search results listed at the top of their browser.

It’s important to understand that there isn’t a “secret formula” anymore for attracting online customers. People respond to genuine company listings because they want the truth about that professional service or product. Even having a 5-star rating on Google reviews can scare away searchers because of their distrust of a perfect score. That’s why a lot of people will check out the reviews on business review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor in the quest for authenticity. The point is there isn’t one way to search, and a lot of users won’t click on the first result that pops up. And that’s why you have to stay focused on your list of goals.

Some Ingredients in a Successful Local Ranking

In a study conducted this past June on Local SEO, several listed ranking factors were identified. The top 5 factors from the study were:

1. Local businesses with more Google reviews tend to rank higher.

2. Higher Google My Business profile views rank higher.

(This is probably correlated because if your site is ranking higher, it’s more likely that you will get more page views.)

3. Sites that obtain a higher Majestic AC Rank are ranked higher in Google.

(Although even Alex Chudnovsky, creator of has admittedly stated AC rank is not as trustworthy as Google’s PageRank (now discontinued)… which is why Majestic is switching their domain check system to “Trust and Citation Flow” scores.) Note that there are several backlink checkers out there for you to use, this particular study only compared Moz and Majestic’s tools.

4. Referring subnets have a higher correlation with local rankings.

Referring subnets are essentially the server a website is hosted on. In other words, if all of the websites linking to your website are hosted on the same server, Google might think you are creating a bunch of websites and just having each of them link to your site, making them not as “high quality” as those on other servers. Large companies that have multiple related business units often host each site on a separate subnet so the links between will have a high-quality rank. (The third set of numbers from an IP address are the C-subnet. Having different websites with varying IP addresses containing different C-subnets are important for determining quality referral sites.)

5. Going off of the above ranking factor, having a higher number of referring IP addresses were correlated with higher rankings.

There are so many other factors that go into ranking local sites, and I suggest you check out the rest of those. The top 5, however, can give you a good indication of what to aim for when setting up your website. But let’s get back to setting up for success without having your top priority as hitting #1 in Google…

Before You Begin

To become a successful local business in the online sphere, there are some things you can do to increase your competitive advantage. Before diving into the “tips” it’s crucial that your business has first created and optimized its Google My Business listing and to have been ranking organically for its targeted keywords. Once those two things are in order – you can move onto the complex stuff. When we talk about ranking organically – we mean that you are ranking organically within the top 20 local search results.

Another thing to note is that you shouldn’t treat your search strategy separately with local and non-local. If you are ranking well in non-local, you are sure to rank well in local. So don’t stress too heavy on that form of optimization and keyword targeting.


If both your keyword strategy and GMB page are optimized, it’s time to focus on other tactics that can increase your online presence for local search. Having online reviews for your company shows the legitimacy of your business. Even if reviews are not in the high marks, it at least indicates that you have been in business long enough to support a healthy customer base. Millennials especially are attracted to and critically analyze online reviews of businesses before making a buyer decision. Again, having a bigger number of reviews on Google for your business page will add to its ranking factor. Reviews will assist you in building trust in your business.

Consider User Experience

So a lot of local and small-sized businesses may look at SEO and think “I don’t need to pop up in the top results of search engines as long as I’m an option.” Well, the other side of this philosophy is that if you do put effort into optimizing your site for listings, you will benefit from it. It’s wrong to assume that buyers will end up choosing you when shopping online compared to another business that does put in the work to make their site look great and be functional.

For instance, let’s say someone does come across your website from a local search and clicks to enter. Once they enter though, they find that the load speed is so slow that they instantly click out and go to another site. If there are other options (and there are more than enough options online), users will gladly see what else is out there. This is why it is important to consider usability when thinking about your customer’s experience while searching online.

If your shopper is coming to your site and immediately bounces out to another, it’s probably for one of these three reasons:

1. The information they were looking for was too difficult to find.
2. The site took too long to load.
3. There were major usability problems like poor site navigation.

The truth is, every one of Google’s famed (and often feared) “algorithm changes” is intended to measure websites closer to how human users intuitively measure them. Which means, even if you show up well in search engines with a less than stellar user experience now, as Google’s algorithm continues to catch up to human behavior, your poor user experience will undoubtedly cause you to lose search presence.

Correcting and Adding Citations

One factor that probably gets overlooked by a lot of businesses new to digital marketing is the influence of citations on their site traffic. Citations (mentions of your business online with a listing of your basic company information) can affect your site in two ways.

1. Citations of your business can affect your ranking.
2. Citations from popular 3rd party sites can refer you traffic.

While I understand that it was already warned not to get too focused on your Google ranking, it is important to remain consistent with your basic business information. Having inconsistencies in address, phone number, business hours, etc. will alert Google and affect your rank negatively. This usually occurs when a company has moved to a new location or has rebranded. On the other hand, adding your business info to third party citation sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc. will increase your referral traffic (so making sure people are seeing an up-to-date listing is important). Just don’t spend too much time adding your info to every referral site, focus only on the top citations that your customers are going to.

Get Some Quality Referral Links

At the end of the day, perhaps the most influential thing you can do for your online website (whether local or not) is to obtain quality backlinks. This is also probably the most difficult achievement for any site to obtain, and especially difficult for sites that are just starting out. Some advice for local business websites that want to focus on increasing their referring links:

  1. Get signed up with HRAO

    HRAO (short for Help A Reporter Out) is a digital space at for reporters to find or look for stories to cover in their area. Getting connected with these journalists through email and pitching coverage of your business to them is one way to get a link back to your site from a local and credible source.

  2. Sponsor a Local Event in your area

    Finding an organization or cause that you believe in and sponsoring an event for it is another way to get your site featured. You will probably get listed on your community’s informational page and the organization’s page as well.

  3. Find Local Business Directories

    Again with citations, finding local directories that can point visitors in the right direction may not bring you a ton of traffic, but at least it will build your backlinks up.

  4. Give Back to the Community

    Finding a way to give back to your local community through volunteering or creating a community initiative can get backlinks. Even if these sorts of programs are not directly attributed to your business, it shows that you are active in your community and can generate great press and successful marketing both on and offline.

If you make it a priority to stay on top of your website’s maintenance and growth, you will gradually find more success and more leads out of your site.

Woman setting up email marketing and rethinking connection with personalization in emails.

Rethinking Connection with Email Marketing

When it comes to email marketing – relevance is key.

You’re a marketer and your job is to communicate with customers and potential customers about your product or service. But to do this on a mass scale can become tricky. What tends to occur is by not having that face-to-face interaction with end users, you can quickly lose sight of who you are actually communicating with. Sending mass emails starts to feel like blasting general flyers targeted towards (in your mind) faceless people. So the question then becomes how can we, as marketers, rethink connection with those end users? We need to think of those on the receiving end of our emails. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and understand their journey in relationship to us as a company.

“Personalization” Doesn’t Work Anymore

Personalization in email marketing

Let’s talk about these emails, shall we? If you’ve been in the business of email marketing, you know the basic process. You start with a list of contacts’ general information, draft your email, and set its scheduled time of delivery. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So does “personalizing” your email with their first name inserted into the greeting help? Sure… but does it “do the trick”? Does it give a personalized touch? Not by itself. Back in 2007, using personalization tokens to craft your “special offer” was incredibly appealing and distinctive against the mobs of promotional emails sent. This could increase your click through rate by 100% – but people eventually wised-up to advertisement gimmicks and that’s where we as marketers are, once again, today.

If personalization isn’t enough – then what is? Remember, you’re writing for humans and to humans. And this is the first step in rethinking connection for the successful implementation of email marketing.

Marketing Automation to the Rescue

marketing automation software

This is where marketing automation comes into play. Going back to our theme that relevance is key – using a marketing automation platform allows you to get to know where your customers are in their buyer’s journey individually. Using that information like products or pages visited, purchase history, and buying cycle, you are then able to craft a relevant email to them. Marketing automation gives you the ability to really hone in on what your customer actually wants. So rather than saying “Check out our latest additions” you can suggest “based on your interest in ___, we think you’d like ___.” giving it much more of a one-on-one feel rather than a wide-cast spammy message. One size does not fit all in the case of email marketing.

Segmenting Messages for a Better Connection

Split train tracks representing customer segmentation

But to get one thing straight – I’m not against the use of automated emails. I’m against the lazy drafting of them and the sloppy, minimal segmentation of email marketing. Because consumers don’t want to sift through the junk to get to the point. This is how segmented coupons work; I enjoy when Meijer grocery store knows I buy a particular brand of food, or laundry detergent, or toothpaste because then they know to send me discounts for those exact products. Marketing automation is a tool that, when used properly, benefits both the consumer and the business, and saves time for everyone in the process.

This is the way we, as marketers, can rethink connection with the help of new technology. Because when a user receives a well-crafted message from a company based on their actions or interests, they feel listened to. So let’s use our digital tools to become better connected to our customers in the process.

Professional photographer capturing images for marketing materials.

Photography in Marketing: Three Elements to Enhance Your Brand

Pictures speak louder than words. Images can evoke emotion that text can’t. And photography is a visual representation of a story. To most businesses, content equals text, but quality pictures and professional photography is essential if you want to attract more customers. Regardless if some individuals are visual learners or not, it’s been proven that people are drawn to pictures much more than text. This is why having a solid mix of text and photo content is essential for your marketing material.

So how can you judge what would be known as quality photography? How can you incorporate that quality photography into your marketing strategy? Three main elements will help you stay on course with that.


Steel worker loading delivery truck for a photography shot.

Authentic photography can evoke powerful emotion regardless of industry subject matter.

High-end cameras are available to the general public pretty easily these days. Even smartphone cameras now possess the capability to capture high-resolution images. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make whoever is holding the camera an expert in “capturing the moment.” When representing your company, you want truly authentic visual images. Images evoke emotion in viewers, so it’s important that you are displaying photography that will create the feeling you want your viewers to feel in order to attract customers. Hiring professional photographers or art directors to capture those types of images is worth the cost if you want a well designed website or well designed print content.  

Hiring an art director or professional photographer can be very helpful in evolving your brand. It’s pretty easy to tell which businesses use stock photos for their marketing. Although stock photography isn’t a distasteful means of content and certainly should be utilized at times, it does at times give off a “cheesy” feel. Website viewers may be turned off by inorganic and inauthentic photos being used to convey the actual business or product. Professionals will know how to capture the story of your business and use those pictures to develop your brand in a visual way.


Machinery cutting wood with sawdust flying off.

Photography can capture the uniqueness of your brand with the simplest details.

Expanding on the idea of stock photography as a replacement for your personalized images is that stock photos are available to the rest of the online public as well. After a while, it becomes easier to identify certain stock images because they quickly become overused. The tighter niche your business is in, the more difficult it will be to find stock photos that represent what you offer. You may even find yourself asking “have we used this one before?”.

Having a cache of photography offers your marketing department a much wider array of options for marketing material. Not only that but the collection of photos that you will have will be unique to your business only. They will highlight your performance as a company, and be representative of what you specifically offer your clientele. Your own photography then becomes an extension of your brand.


High angle imagery of a steel cutting machine in a steel production warehouse.

Professional photographers use lighting and camera placement to capture quality imagery for marketing.

Because online customers are more likely to look at images as opposed to text, it’s important that quality remains central to your photography. Remember, photography is an extension of your brand, so you need to make sure your images are sending out the right messages, and that they are representing your business in the best light possible. This is why good photography is vital to a successful brand.

If you’re thinking about when you will have the opportunity to showcase these images, you must realize that there is endless amounts of possibilities to use and reuse your professional photos. Professional photography is truly an investment for your marketing efforts because the images that come from it can be used in print resources, website pages, and even social media posts. Keeping your content fresh and appealing will help build a stronger following of brand advocates and customer base.

Girl camping showing good use of customer segmentation in the outdoor retail industry.

Customer Segmentation Rules

Do you know your customer well? How do you define them? Is your target customer base women, ages 40-65 or men, ages 21-27? Is your customer a homeowner? A fisherman? A fisherman wealthy enough to own a home? In today’s evolving marketplaces, are demographics like these offering a worthy enough definition of your customer? Depending on your business, I’d argue probably not.

Demographics like those above describe who your customer is, but psychographics defines why they buy. The truth is, you need both to grasp your customer’s persona adequately.

Easier access to options and well, MORE options in general, have given significantly more power to buyers to pick and choose the option that works best for them. And what might work for the “fisherman wealthy enough to own a home” that has been fishing every weekend for ten years, may not work for the “fisherman wealthy enough to own a home” that has just begun to learn how to fish.

In today’s customer-driven markets, you must understand the power of customer segmentation to capitalize on the opportunity you have.

For an example of actual customer segmentations, let’s stick with our analogy of the outdoors-person. But let’s go a bit more broad to define potential customer segmentation within the outdoor retail space and discuss four possible personas.

1. The Native

The Native outdoorsperson doesn’t understand what the word “outdoorsperson” even means. To them, the outdoors is life. Just, life. In fact, the majority portion of their life has been spent in the outdoors. They camp regularly, backpack all the time, climb peaks, start campfires with barely anything, most likely know how to tie a figure 8 into a harness, and they are no stranger to the “squat and squeeze” maneuver (if you don’t know, don’t ask).

The Native comprises about 12% of the US population, but closer to 16% of spending in the outdoor retail space according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

When it comes to buying gear, The Native trusts only the opinion of someone with at least as many hours logged in the backcountry as them. And they won’t even venture outside of the most time-tested brands like Patagonia, Arcteryx, Osprey, Outdoor Research & Smartwool. To speak to a Native, you have to speak LIKE a Native. And good luck trying to fake it.  

2. The Weekender

If The Weekender didn’t have their damn day job, they’d be in the mountains or on the river every day. But sadly, they do. So instead, The Weekender goes hard on weekends. Nevermind the couch or Netflix for relaxation. They live for spending time in nature, even if that means hucking a 35 lb pack for 25 miles through rocky terrain in a thunderstorm. If it’s outside, they’re in.

The Weekender accounts for 10% of the population, according to OIA and 17% of outdoor retail spending.

When it comes to buying gear, The Weekender pays attention to publications like Outside Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, and buys the durable, yet affordable stuff: Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Marmot, & REI. To speak to a weekender, give advice. But stay away from the basics. They’re way beyond that.

3. The Urbanite

The Urbanite is purposefully not TOO outdoorsy. But they buy A LOT of outdoor gear for specific activities like CrossFit, or a Malibu day hike. They are intent on training for, and maybe competing in, say, an urban triathlon or running a 5k+. They may just be buying that climbing brand to look legit at the climbing gym, while they’re getting in a good workout.

Still, The Urbanite represents a HUGE Market. 20% of the population and  a whopping 33% of the buying power in the outdoor industry.

So even if your target market is the seasoned climber, you can’t ignore The Urbanite. They look to fitness magazines like Men’s Health & Shape and they appreciate gear that isn’t “too outdoorsy”.  They pay attention to brands like: Under Armour, Nike, FiveTen, & North Face. To speak to The Urbanite, point out function – and don’t ignore fit. After all, The Urbanite’s gotta look good.

4. The Leisurist

The Leisurist is the gardener, the backyard bbq’er, the weekend bike rider, the once-a-week yoga’er. In other words, The Leisurist is immersed in the outdoors, but not in a way that requires peak-level performance – literally like performance for climbing the peaks.

The Leisurist is 20% of the population and 12% of outdoor industry spending – again, according to OIA.

If you can appeal to practicality, you’ll have The Leisurist. They appreciate brands like L.L. Bean, Coleman, Teva, & Deuter. Look for an emphasis on comfort and forget everything technical you know about anything. They don’t care that much.

Why Customer Segmentation is Key

We talk so much about our “target customer” and try to fit them neatly into a single persona. By doing so, however, we’re ignoring potential customers and leaving products and services on the proverbial shelf. Break your entire customer base down not only by demographics but by psychographics as well. It may even help to create profiles similar to those I outlined above for the outdoor retail industry.

No matter what market you’re a part of, you’re a part of a buyer-driven market, and they have the power. Be sure to understand who your customer segments are, and define each one – not only with your marketing efforts but with your product/service offerings.

Knowing more about your customers’ interests and hobbies will help you know what prize to choose for your next contest, what content to write, and what images to use in your next ad. Before you know it, you’ll have embraced a whole new customer base you didn’t even realize existed.

Pokemon Go is now used as a technique for local business marketing

The Evolution of Pokémon Go in Local Business Marketing

Maybe you’ve been so geeked from the release of the Pokémon Go app that you haven’t slept, showered, or fed yourself in days. Or maybe you’re so sick of hearing and reading about this digital craze that you put warning signs outside of your yard to deter the hardcore gamers from your home or office. Or even still, you could be a closet nerd who plays in secret but hopes that everyone thinks they are texting on their phone and definitely not catching a Vulpix.

Regardless of who you are or how you feel about it, this cultural phenomenon is changing the technological world in more ways than one. Even if Pokémon Go itself proves to be just another fad, it’s shaping how businesses will be marketing to users of augmented reality for years to come.

In case you’ve been living under a rock the past few weeks, Pokémon Go is an in-app game for smartphones that allows users to interact with the public world around them based off of geographical location. This is probably why you’ve seen more mobs of phone zombies downtown than usual.

So how can a game with currently zero option for display advertisement possibly be the ticket for local business marketing? As a digital strategist for SWELL, I’ve already come across clients asking the same question; “How can we jump onto this thing and make it work for us?” Understanding how the game operates, who is participating, and what motivates players is the key to answering that. If you’re a local business the following is for you.


If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

The most basic thing you can do right away is to work with the popularity of the game, not fight against it. The first thing I would suggest doing is either joining the game yourself or having an employee join. This will give you a good layout of how the game works and what other game users (your potential customers) are experiencing.

You’ll notice that there are marks called “Pokéstops” on the game map highlighting real life areas around your town. These are important for businesses and you should look to see if your business is either one of these marks or if there are any in close proximity to your location. If either is the case – that is excellent news for you.

Dropping Lures

Assuming you’re a business that either is a Pokéstop or has one near them, you can use this feature to your advantage. Using your own pokémon go account you can then offer to drop what are known as “lures” for players nearby. This creates a 30 minute window for making rare collectable pokémon to appear. Active lures are visible from far distances to surrounding players which attracts them to that location.

Grand Rapids Public Library pokestop

In our city of Grand Rapids, Michigan the local public library uses this marketing tactic by blasting their social media with an announcement of dropping a lure at a certain time of day. The idea behind it is to attract visitors to the location in the hopes that while players are there they check out books or bring others along with them who will.  

Offer Discounts or Swag

Another popular tactic that is not dependent upon geographical location of your storefront is to offer discounts to players or free merchandise or swag (stuff we all get). I’ve seen local shops put signs out either advertising as “pokémon go friendly” or offering discounts on orders for certain team members. You could also find out what types of pokémon are available to “catch” outside your location and offer giveaways after showing proof of capture. The whole idea is to motivate gamers to play near you so when they are ready to make a purchase they are already near you. (Great tactic for restaurants!)

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Make Your Business A Part of the Conversation

Don’t make the mistake of turning your nose up at the “Go-ers”. While the franchise was popular in the late 90s to early 2000’s, it doesn’t mean the app is downloaded by only the millennial generation. 40% of adult pokémon go players are 25 or above and 60% of all app users are playing daily. This is important to understand because the demographic of players is cross-generational and often younger players are escorted around the city by their parents or guardians.  

Even if giving away free items or playing the game yourself doesn’t sound like a route you’re willing to take, just being a participant in the conversation online to show your awareness of the overnight sensation can benefit your local business. Social media, outdoor signage, or other marketing material can be the difference maker of where players may choose to do business.

What the Future Holds

The reason the augmented reality app is a game changer for local businesses is because it doesn’t solely cater to big businesses with display advertising. The game itself is literally tied to real life locations in every consumer’s daily life – motivating them to get out in the public world (near you) and “catch them all”.

As updates continue to release with the mobile application and further development occurs with the game, there will be many more options for local business to market with. I’m sure features much like the “lure” will come about to work with. So try to consider this gaming style an opportunity rather than an annoyance.