Thursday, 19 September 2013

The 4 c's of Google Adwords – content, context, clicks and conversions

By Alan Stanley

I manage Eldis – an online platform providing free access to international development research and policy documents. We’re a global service with roughly 45% of our users in developing countries and a strong emphasis on highlighting research produced by the smaller research organisations and networks based in the so-called global “South”. We get about half a million visitors per year.

Like most other online knowledge platforms Eldis relies heavily on Google as a source of traffic to our website (61% last year). And to do this we rely on getting our links into the listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to users search terms (referred to as natural or organic search).

Recently though, with the support of a small amount of funding from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, we’ve been exploring the use of Google Adwords (pay-per-click adverts appearing prominently on Google results pages) to help us achieve some of our marketing and promotion objectives. This short article highlights some of what we learned from this process and links to a longer draft learning paper we’ve produced which describes the process we went through in more detail. We’re not experts - we started from pretty much zero knowledge and still have many unanswered questions. So my hope is that this short article might prompt others to share their experience from which we can all learn.

Jargon alert

Working in both international development and knowledge brokering requires a certain natural tolerance (even a slight fondness) for jargon but the world of pay-per-click advertising takes this to a whole new level. Working across a small team of three to five people we discovered that it took a few weeks of meeting fairly regularly before we could even have a fairly straightforward conversation with each other about what we’d been doing! In the end we put together a basic glossary of terms to help us (see the learning paper for the full list).

Matching content to context is key

We experimented with Adwords campaigns promoting three different Eldis services:
We ran similar campaigns in 18 different countries. What clearly generated the most clicks in the most cost effective way was marketing our country specific content (e.g. Bangladesh Country Profile) to audiences in that country (Bangladesh).

This might seem obvious – Google users in Bangladesh interested in climate change are most likely to be interested in information about climate change in Bangladesh – but something called “quality score” also comes in to play. In determining how prominently your ads will be displayed, and what you pay for that position, Google looks at how closely the text on the web page you are promoting matches search terms you have chosen to target and the text of the ad that will be displayed in the search results. A strong match gives a higher quality score which will boost the prominence / reduce the cost of your ad. Our country profiles content clearly performed better in this regard.   

Concentrate on conversions and not clicks

We began our Adwords campaigns with two broad objectives – firstly to boost traffic to our site (overall but also specifically from our priority countries) and secondly to increase the number of regular users (return visitors) using our services.

We soon found that generating large numbers of clicks was relatively straightforward and, with some tweaking of keywords, budget and how much we were willing to pay for each ad, it was possible to steadily reduce the cost-per-click and improve the cost efficiency of the campaigns.

Success! Well, no because as we did this, we were also looking at the behaviour of our new users when they arrived at our site and found that the vast majority left again almost immediately and, worse, didn’t appear to ever come back. So in other words we were paying to bring new users to our site and then disappoint them – hardly good value for money!

This led us to rethink our strategy. Firstly we refocused our campaigns to emphasise quality over quantity - to try to make sure the people that clicked on our ads were likely to be interested in what we were offering rather than just focusing on getting as many as possible within the limits of our budget. Secondly we focused on what we wanted the users to do on our site once they arrived – and re-worked the wording and presentation of our pages to reflect this.

We’re sure we still have a long way to go with this. For example one of our targets is to get new visitors to subscribe to our email newsletter (in the jargon this is known as a goal conversion). By adjusting our keywords and re-writing and re-organising our subscribe page we’ve managed to double the conversion rate. Success! Well, yes but we’re still only getting 6% of new visitors to subscribe (up from 3%!).

Google Adwords - useful but complex and time-consuming

We’ve found Google Adwords to be a useful tool but complex and time-consuming to use effectively. It’s particularly helped us to reach new audiences in countries where, without active partners or contacts, we would have struggled to use more conventional marketing approaches. It isn’t cheap – either in the cost of advertising or the level of staff time required – but we have found it to be broadly cost-effective compared to other approaches we might use. Adwords is highly geared towards the commercial world where success is measured in sales so for a non-profit operation just engaging with it has challenged us to think very differently about our whole approach to producing web-based services – from content to target audiences. That thinking in itself has been valuable and I’m pretty sure we run a better service now as a result.

* Read more about this experiencing in the draft IDS Knowledge Services learning paper “Learning from Google AdWords Marketing” by Viivi Erkkil√§, Fatema Rajabali and Alan Stanley. This blog was originally published on the Knowledge Brokers Forum.

Alan Stanley is a Senior Thematic Convenor at the Institute of Development Studies, and manages the Eldis programme and services. 

Thursday, 12 September 2013

# Hashtags, likes, and maintaining followers and friends: what we have learnt using social media tools

By Fatema Rajabali

Social media has multiple recognised benefits: it not only enables the quick dissemination of information to a wide global audience, but it also encourages immediate feedback and engagement with other users. Many development-related institutions are present on these platforms and use them actively.

The Eldis Climate Change Resource Guide (CCRG) has been experimenting with social media tools in 2013, with the support of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). Viivi Erkkila captured our learning in a paper that we would like to share with the wider development community. Although the guide already has a wide global audience, social media presence is considered a valuable addition in broadening CCRG’s global outreach and directly engaging with its users. Our social media work focused on:

•    Twitter (@EldisClimate)
•    Facebook
•    LinkedIn 

We had two primary objectives in experimenting with these social media tools:

1.    Increase the outreach of Eldis content to new audiences
2.    Engage directly with Eldis users to become more demand driven

So what did we learn from this pilot project?

Define your target audiences and research how and why they use social media

Even when using social media, it is important to define your target audiences: Who and where are they? How do they prefer to receive information? Which social media tools do they use or do they use them at all? This does require a little of knowledge of how your user base seek and access knowledge.

Social media platforms are not all alike and people use them for different purposes: make sure you adjust your updates according to each medium used. For example, we found that facebook users respond more to visual content so interesting images with posts are important.

It is important to have adequate resources so that sufficient levels of activity take place within the social mediums being used – especially, if you want to build a profile and following which generally requires a reliable number of updates daily.

Define metrics for success

Define specific metrics for success: What does a certain number of followers or likes mean for you? Are you reaching you target audience? These metrics should not only include numbers of followers and likes, but also look at audience behaviour – for e.g. do they comment or share posted content?

If one of your aims is to bring social media users/followers to your website, it is worth looking at how much time users spend on your website vs. other users who may be directed to your content in other ways. Is social media contributing to an increase of return visits to your website?

Make sure you have a clear editorial policy

Define a clear editorial policy to ensure quality and consistency across platforms. If multiple people are using the accounts, make sure everyone knows these boundaries. Much of social media content is opinions and it is important to state disclaimers, if personal opinions are shared using an institutional social media accounts

Social media is a two way process: participating in discussions is more effective than simply disseminating your own material. Remember that your audience may be on different time zones.

Monitor activity and engagement

Monitor content posted by others and respond to comments in a  timely manner, because failure to reply may result in unfollows and/or unlikes.

Monitor current events and news to be able to offer relevant, engaging and well timed contributions
Set up M&E measures in the beginning and make sure you know how to use them. There are many online tools for tracking your posts and ‘influence’.

Positive impact

We’re continuing to use and explore these mediums – the impacts to-date on the Eldis Climate Resource Guide has been positive. Since April 2013, we have had over 600 unique page views to various climate change resource guide resources via Twitter, Facebook and linkedIn – and we are hoping this number will keep growing as we interact and engage with new and current users via social media.

Fatema Rajabali is the Climate Change Convenor at the Institute of Development Studies. This is an adapted version of a blog originally published on Eldis Communities.