Big rollouts, the future of link building, the effectiveness of images and charts, the power of digital on in-store shopping, tips for creating a marketing hook, and lots more treats in this month’s digital marketing recap.

You Got Rid of the Company’s Facebook Page, Why?

That’s the question answered in a blog post by Alex Turnbull, CEO and founder of Groove. As the customer support entrepreneur explains, there were two clear reasons why the Groove Facebook page had to go: it was embarrassing with only 200 “likes” and a waste of time updating the page and not getting worthwhile results.

After much discussion, the Groove folks realized that the only reason why they had a company Facebook page was because everybody else had one. But they came to the conclusion that such reasoning was not good enough anymore.

With limited resources, Groove decided to develop its 12-month growth strategy on efforts that would best utilize the time and talents of each team member and deliver results for Groove. So down came the Facebook page and the additional resources were shifted to the company’s blog and customer development, both of which deliver growth revenue.

Turnbull reminds businesses to step back every so often and evaluate what they’re doing because they could be wasting time and resources on one particular effort and robbing another successful initiative of those resources without even knowing it. In a nutshell: take the time to do the math to determine the costs of doing things that aren’t working.

Groove also found that businesses, start-ups in particular, shouldn’t be swayed by these must-do lists of growth strategies because they don’t all work for all businesses. Instead, evaluate and analyze what works for your business and focus resources on those efforts.

Google AdWords Rolls Out Custom Affinity, Dynamic Remarketing

It’s been a busy October for Google AdWords as it launched a new affinity audience and rolled out dynamic remarketing.

Custom affinity audiences is the newest addition to the suite of audiences that also includes affinity and in-market, according to an announcement made in the Google’s Inside AdWords blog.

Custom affinity audiences give advertisers even greater flexibility in reaching consumers who would be receptive to their ad messages by allowing advertisers to define that audience themselves.

Advertisers can use an audience’s ongoing interests or most recent passions to define who they want to reach with their ads. Custom affinity works across the Web and AdWords provides immediate insights as to the number of people your customizations will reach, including a breakdown of demographics and their most relevant affinities.

The dynamic remarketing rollout encompasses all advertisers across all industries, according to the Google AdWords announcement. Retailers who have been testing dynamic remarketing are reporting better results and more profits.

Dynamic remarketing allows advertisers to build dynamic ads that display tailored messages to site visitors that show products they previously viewed on the website, or related products of interest to them.

The dynamic remarketing display ad templates are optimized for mobile targeting and automated bidding is provided for calculating real-time optimal bids per each impression.

A Peek into the Future of Link Building

Paddy Moogan, author of The Link Building Book, takes out his crystal ball and tells us what the future holds for link building in The Moz Blog.

Although building links that will grow your organic search traffic is getting harder and Google will always be on the lookout for more signals, data, and indicators to improve its search engine results, Moogan says links will remain a ranking factor in some form in the future.

As Google continues to understand the Web and its users better, links will become symptomatic of awesome marketing. Therefore, Moogan’s predictions for the future of link building are:

  • Deep links will have less significance as Google gets more sophisticated in understanding subtle differences in users’ queries.
  • Anchor text won’t matter much anymore and Google won’t be needing it as a ranking signal.
  • Small companies with fewer links will be able to beat big companies in search results by better matching the searcher's intent (We've been writing about this quite a bit lately here, here, here, and here, and believe this believe this will eventually become the most important ranking factor).

Google Releases Video Series for Local Businesses

Search Engine Land provides a compilation of the six new videos Google released to help local businesses with their online presence.

Each video is about 30 minutes and hosted and published by Maile Ohye, developer programs tech lead at Google.

The video topics are:

  • An introductory video on why a custom website is not necessary when Google+, Facebook, and Yelp offer good online presence options, and other basic topics.
  • Determine Your Business’ Value-Add and Online Goal.
  • Find Potential Customers.
  • Basic Implementation and Best Practices.
  • Differentiate Your Business from the Competition.
  • Engage Customers with a Holistic Online Identity.

How Good Is Your Hook?

No, we’re not talking left hooks in boxing here, but rather a marketing hook, which MineThatData's Kevin Hillstrom says is essential in getting the attention of your key audience.

As Hillstrom points out, the insurance industry gets the importance of the hook, as Progressive Insurance and Nationwide demonstrate.

Marketing hooks can be just about anything: unmatched customer service, a spokesperson, deep discounting, free shipping and free returns, a cartoon character, etc. But whatever the hook may be, it shouldn’t be one used by a lot of companies because its effectiveness becomes diluted.

Without a marketing hook, Hillstrom points out, a business will not be as great as those with one, and the company’s bottom line will suffer.

BrightLocal Curates 1,000 Niche Citation Sites

After spending 200 plus man-hours over eight-weeks on curating a comprehensive list of niche citation sites on the Web, the BrightLocal marketing and citation team created a massive list of over 1,000 genuine niche citation sites.

The list, posted on the BrightLocal blog is nicely categorized into 41 business categories, with each category further broken down into subcategories.

According to BrightLocal Myles Anderson, his team used numerous sources to develop the list, including existing resources on the Internet, its own citation databases, and manual research.

While there are numerous resources and posts that list common sites for categories or specific niches, this is the first comprehensive guide that puts all those sites in one place.

Over 10,000 citation sites were compiled, which the BrightLocal team reviewed using established criteria and narrowed the listing to the top 20 to 40 citations for each business category. From there, additional useful data was gathered on the remaining sites and categorized accordingly.

Anderson said the list will be refreshed regularly and the BrightLocal team welcomes additions, updates and feedback.

Case Study Analyzes Stock Images vs. Real People

The latest case study from MarketingExperiments tested the effectiveness of generic stock images versus an image of a real person.

The experiment involved the website of a consumer credit counseling service. One banner image featured a stock image of a smiling, attractive woman wearing a headset ready to take your call. The other banner image featured the well-known and popular founder of the company.

The image of the company’s founder won out over the smiling, anonymous woman. The reason, according to the case study’s results, is that the average consumer knows the woman is a paid model who doesn’t work for the company. These types of stock images have become overused, hold no meaning for consumers, and do not deepen trust with a company.

On the other hand, the winning image was that of an actual person with credentials linked to the company. As the case study concludes, familiarity results in conversions.

But that’s not to say all stock images are useless. The case study found that the generic stock image was not the problem, but rather its irrelevance. The takeaway from the study is to choose images, as well as other graphics, based on the relevant value they communicate.

When considering images for a website, keep these questions in mind: Is the image related to your core value proposition? Is the image relevant to the current situation of your site’s visitors? Does the image bring a reality to your offer that words cannot?

Facebook Takes On Google with Atlas Advertising Platform

In what many are viewing as a move by Facebook to compete for some of Google’s lucrative advertising business, the social networking service giant has launched its Atlas advertising platform, according to SocialMediaToday.

With Atlas, acquired last year from Microsoft, Facebook is expected to surpass Google in its remarketing capabilities. Unlike the Google Display Network, Atlas is capable of deeper targeting. For example, Atlas tracks users logged into Facebook as they surf around the Web, so advertisers can target specific individuals based on those actions.

Currently, Google relies on cookies for its remarketing targeting, whereas Facebook is tracking user behavior, both on desktop and mobile devices.

In addition, whereas Google offers remarketing opportunities to users based on the sites visited and some demographic data on its Google Display Network, Atlas offers advertisers people-based marketing, with highly specific demographics based on the information in Facebook profiles.

It’s expected that social-based user tracking will raise privacy concerns. It is also expected that Google will counter the competition with a new enhanced offering. So stay tuned.

Google Updates Third-Party Policy

Here’s a heads-up to digital marketers. Google has posted a preview of its revised third-party policy that goes into effect in November 2014.

The policy pertains to third parties that purchase or manage advertising from Google for their customers. With accountability at its core, the updated third-party policy addresses the areas of transparency requirements, prohibited practices, and account setup requirements.

The changes from the current third-party policy include:

  • Two new requirements, management fees and providing customers with their AdWords or AdWords Express customer IDs, both designed to increase accountability and transparency of third-party partners.
  • Greater transparency about what happens if the policy is violated.
  • More detailed information in each section of the policy.
  • A more defined view of what Google expects from third parties.

Third-party partners that currently comply with Google’s third-party policy will be in compliance with the new one as soon as they meet the two new transparency requirements.

A Look into Malware in Action

Marketing Land has posted a video that shows what malware looks like running on undetected users’ computers.

For the demonstration, Forensiq, a fraud detection service, infected a virtual computer with botnet malware to measure how much digital ad fraud can occur from an infected computer. The process shows the malware generating thousands of fake ad impressions by loading invisible pages in the computer’s background with a headless browser.

In only 24 hours, the bot generated more than 10,000 impressions of both display and video ads for major companies from that one single computer.

Because ad networks would register these ads as being viewable impressions, advertisers would be charged for them since the botnet simulates a maximized browser window and user mouse trails.

The video screenshots show how advertisers can pay millions for impressions no one ever saw, such as what occurred last year when the Chameleon botnet was discovered.

Google Makes Design Changes to Text Ads

The Google AdSense blog announces enhancements to the design of its text ads on the Google Display Network.

The purpose behind the design changes is to make the text ads more mobile-friendly in terms of appearance and readability.

The design enhancements include more readable text ad titles and descriptions, more prominent placement of the ad description, and a greater interactive experience with swipe or click options to access the advertiser’s web address.

Study Looks at Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping

Google released the results of its research study that looked at how smartphones and online information are impacting the in-store experience. The Inside AdWords blog provides a summary of the study’s findings.

Conducted with Ipsos MediaCT and Sterling Brands, the study confirmed that consumers seek out information throughout the shopping process and often use their smartphone to find it.

The study also found that search results are more likely to lead people to visit a local store, and that shoppers go to a brick-and-mortar store for an informed, customized experience, not just to buy something they saw online.

In addition, the study revealed that shoppers who look at their smartphone while in the store are actually looking for more information from that retailer, not for a better price from a competitor. As such, it’s an opportunity for in-store staff to help the shopper make a decision.

The study concludes that retailers should look at smartphones and online information as avenues that draw shoppers into their stores and begin devising opportunities to customize the in-store experience for consumers.

3 Tiny PPC Optimizations Deliver Big on Campaign Performance

Writing a guest column for Search Engine Land, Larry Kim explains how three small paid search optimizations can result in big improvements to a marketing campaign.

The three small PPC optimizations are:

  1. Direct ad traffic to call your business phone number so you can immediately convert that lead. Kim says instead of sending ad traffic to your website, choose click to call in your mobile PPC ads.
  2. Target the needs of the people searching, not just the keywords. Kim says the new way of thinking should be on getting to know why people are searching for information on a particular topic and where they are when performing such searches.
  3. Be the first to adopt the latest ad formats. Those who do have a definite advantage in their niche. Keep track of the big ad platforms and their rollouts of new features.

According to Kim, very few PPC marketers are using these tactics to gain an advantage over the competition.

Apple Announces New Local Listing Portal

Apple has launched Maps Connect, a self-service portal that can be used to add or edit local business information, Search Engine Land reports.

The tool allows small business owners or their authorized representatives to directly add content to Apple Maps. The updated information appears on Apple Maps in about a week, pending verification.

Access to the free portal requires an Apple ID and password. Although currently available in the U.S. only for desktop and mobile devices, Apple plans on adding other countries soon.

Bing Ads Introduces Universal Event Tracking

Calling it a new and improved way to define and track goals for ad campaigns, Bing Ads has unveiled Universal Event Tracking (EUT).

Available to advertisers worldwide, EUT gives advertisers key information across campaigns, accounts, and devices. Information includes:

  • The most effective ad campaigns based on conversion goals;
  • Keywords that had better conversions and lower bounce rates;
  • The type of engagement the keywords had on the website;
  • Customer segment with better conversion rates;
  • The return on investment of advertising dollars.

Bing also announced that UET replaces its current Campaign Analytics conversion tracking tool and lays the groundwork for its upcoming audience-based remarketing feature.

Gmail Sponsored Promotions Hit E-Mail In-Boxes

Marketing Land deciphers the new Gmail Sponsored Promotions ads, which seem to have caused some confusion.

The Gmail ads look like regular e-mails listed under the Promotions tab, but many have mistaken them for AdSense ads. Still in limited beta, the Gmail Sponsored Promotions typically display a small price tag icon to distinguish them from AdSense ads.

While AdSense ads lead directly to a landing page, the Gmail ads open like an e-mail message. Advertisers are charged the first time the ad is clicked and not for other actions made within the message.

Interested advertisers who want to be part of the beta program can contact their Google representative.

Hotels.com Cited for Buying Links

Wordstream reports that Hotels.com tried to distance itself from a link buying scheme by offering a weak apology.

The situation came to light when numerous influential travel bloggers received an e-mail from an unnamed SEO manager for Hotels.com asking them to do some brand promotion for their hotels. The e-mail was sent from a Hotels.com e-mail address.

Towards the end of the e-mail message, the SEO manager asked bloggers what their fee would be for helping to get backlinks for Hotels.com.

In responding to the e-mail, Hotels.com said it was an internal misunderstanding that has been rectified.

The situation brings to light that major brands still try to buy backlinks, despite the risks, and that Google’s spam algorithms still aren’t there yet in cleaning up its search engine results pages.

Treat Content as a User Experience

A posting in The Moz Blog emphasizes how important it is to change the approach to content by treating it as part of the user’s experience on a website.

Rather than treating content as a separate entity, like SEO content or content marketing, it should be viewed as anything that communicates a message to viewers. This includes images, product descriptions, videos, and the company’s story.

To treat it as part of the user experience, content should be integrated into a website in a way that enhances the user’s experience and fosters long-term customer relationships, while increasing conversions and referrals for the business.

Some ways to do this include interlinking related information, such as informational with promotional, or linking to relevant social content or blog posts from the product pages.

The easiest way to enhance the content user experience is to optimize what you already have on the site. Be sure there are killer descriptions, text sizes that are comfortable to read, and a site environment that people want to stick around and explore.

The Power of Charts

New research shows that charts are effective in making a claim more credible, even when the data might not be that solid, Mic reports.

The study, conducted by Cornell University researchers, compared the effectiveness of information presented in a chart versus regular text form. The results show that viewers consider the information in charts as having a scientific basis, even if the information is completely wrong.

According to the study, if facts need to be presented, a chart or graph is the best means of communicating them. That’s because consumers don’t take the time to critically think about the data in terms of its accuracy.

Website owners and digital marketers might consider the power of charts when presenting valuable information. As the research shows, no matter what the data is actually saying, if it’s presented in a chart form, consumers automatically consider it to be trustworthy.

Google Sued Over Illegal Search Results Listings

A Northern Virginia locksmith is suing Google, as well as Ziplocal and Yellowbook, for allowing hundreds of illegal locksmiths to be listed in their search results, reports Marketing Land.

The lawsuit was filed by Baldino’s Lock and Key Service, which operates in Virginia and Maryland where it is illegal for a locksmith to do business without a license. The lawsuit states that Google, Ziplocal and Yellowbook do not screen out unlicensed locksmiths in its search engine results. In addition, unlicensed locksmiths were advertisers in their services.

Baldino’s Lock and Key Service claims that allowing fraudulent locksmith listings to display in search results cost its business $8.4 million in lost earnings and profits. The business adds that Google, Ziplocal and Yellowbook allowed the illegal listings, despite having prior knowledge of the law, in an effort to boost competition for SEO/SEM placement. This action led legal locksmiths to pay a premium to appear in search results.

The lawsuit, which is demanding that fraudulent locksmith listings be removed from the search results of the search engines named in the suit, is similar to the Canadian pharmacy case where Google paid a $500 million settlement to the U.S. Justice Department.

The lawsuit cites numerous state and federal laws, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).