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How E-Commerce Companies Can Compete in an Amazon-Dominated World

How E-Commerce Companies Can Compete in an Amazon-Dominated World

When it comes to e-commerce marketplace dominance, Amazon is at the top of the food chain.

Over 44% of all product searches begin in Amazon’s search bar, and Amazon owns almost half of all U.S. online retail sales.

And if CEO Jeff Bezos has anything to say about it, that’s just the beginning.

Even some of the other biggest retail giants in the world have a tough time competing against Amazon.

Companies like Walmart, Apple, Macy’s, and Costo still can’t stack up against the behemoth that is Amazon.

So how can anyone else even compete? How do you stand a chance?

Well, you don’t.

The simple truth of the matter is that you don’t really stand a chance of competing.

But the key is that you don’t actually have to compete.

You just have to learn how to co-exist.

DON’T compete with Amazon

The bottom line is that you won’t be able to invest the time and capital it takes to build anything close to what Amazon is offering.

In terms of infrastructure, scale, and sheer sales numbers, they’re killing it.

amazon statistics

They have a massive physical footprint as well, which is only growing with their recent launch of brick-and-mortar stores around the U.S.

But you probably already know that you can’t compete with their size.

Some may tell you that even if you can’t compete with their scale, you can compete in other ways, like offering competitive discounts and free shipping for your own customers.

But in terms of product pricing, you still probably can’t offer a better deal to your customers than the price they could find on Amazon.

And yes, free shipping is cool. But Amazon has and will probably always have better shipping deals simply because they can afford to have better shipping deals.

amazon shipping speed leads competitors

In these instances, you can’t beat them.

But there is one realm where you can live in the same relative sphere as Amazon: customer experience.

Amazon has a lot of the same problems that most retailers have when dealing with customer service. They still deal with customer complaints with varying degrees of success, just like everyone else.

And customer experience can play a big role in customer retention and loyalty.

why customers stop using your service

So while you might not have the means and motives of the largest retailer on the Internet, you can still offer something that customers want:


Here are a few ways to offer a comparable customer experience to Amazon’s without breaking the bank.

1. Create a solid product offering for your niche

As Neil Irwin once pointed out, Amazon has a “winner-takes-all” approach to sales.

They want to sell every product in every category. If you think about it, their “niche” is really a lack of a niche. They sell to everyone.

But you can’t do that. You simply can’t appeal to the wide audience that Amazon does with their vast selection of products.

So what can you do instead? Do just the opposite: sell within a niche.

Just like you can’t appeal to the wide audience that Amazon markets to, Amazon can’t satisfy every need in every niche. That’s where you have an opportunity to fill in the gaps.

If you already have a decent product offering and audience, start with what you have. Look at your existing products and find a way to fit them into a narrower niche.

This might mean that you focus on curating products that meet customer demands rather than trying to be ultra-competitive on product pricing.

Studies show that after customer experience, the second biggest reason a customer will ditch your brand is dissatisfaction with the product itself.

customers leave because of bad customer service survey

You can save yourself a few headaches by putting some extra effort into marketing and promoting your products and making sure they work for your audience.

But don’t be afraid to look for other smaller product categories and niches that might serve your audience, too.

The other way that you can go about niching is by using Amazon’s categories to find smaller, profitable niches that fit well with a current customer base and product line.

If you go to Amazon, you can find hundreds of niche ideas on their site directory.

amazon store directory

Clicking on any product category will also give you a list of dozens more niche and category ideas.

amazon niche product categories

This will give you a better idea of the types of products your customers may want from your brand.

When you can tailor the shopping experience to their specific tastes, you can “compete” with Amazon because you’re giving them what they want in a one-stop shop: your site.

2. Use customer data to inform your business

Amazon collects data on every single customer of their 300 million customers.

They collect information on all kinds of things: browsing details (IP addresses, operating system, etc.), search queries, wishlists, reviews and previous order history, and other datasets.

amazon you last purchased this item reminder

They do this to inform a lot of their marketing strategies and determine how to best serve their customers in other ways.

Some of the things they use customer data for include:

  • Product recommendations based on previous searches, wishlists, and order history
  • Kindle book recommendations based on data from Goodreads
  • One-click ordering based on user profiles
  • Anticipatory shipping (their patented model) based on user profiles
  • Supply chain optimization based on customer locations (user profiles)
  • Product pricing optimization based on search inquiries and competitive data
  • Cloud storage optimization (Amazon Web Services) based on user data

A former Amazon employee once said that Amazon “has the ability to track both what people are buying as well as what they search for and can’t find.”

This is part of what gives them the edge over competitors in a lot of ways.

But you can also use customer and competitive data to help improve your offerings in the same way that Amazon does.

One retailer, Spearmint LOVE, saw a year-over-year growth of 991% when they started using their customer data to create more targeted Facebook Ads, for example.

ecommerce advertising on Facebook

They were also able to use dynamic product ads to retarget shoppers who had visited their site, improving their reach by simply using basic data you can easily gather from Google Analytics.

According to research cited by McKinsey, companies that use customer data to inform their practices see 85% more sales and 25% more gross margins than those that ignore their data.

You can use the behavioral data you already have in your database (customer profiles and shopping history, etc.) to improve key areas of customer acquisition and retention.

customer acquisition vs customer retention

Just because you can’t shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire data like Amazon does, it doesn’t mean you can’t use the same strategies they use to propel your business forward.

It’s a matter of using the resources you do have to improve your offerings.

3. Consider adding subscription services

Convenience is something Amazon offers in abundance.

They do this by offering subscription services like Subscribe and Save, which offers customers the chance to receive specific products automatically every month.

subscribe and save product selection

An Amazon Prime membership also comes with some convenience perks like free two-day shipping and unlimited streaming and use of Amazon’s other services.

They now also offer Amazon Payments, which gives customers the additional convenience of being able to purchase items from other retailers using an Amazon account. (Amazon also tracks these purchases to fuel their data even further, of course.)

amazon payments

Adding something like a subscription service not only provides convenience for customers, but it also can help your own revenue.

Research shows that businesses with subscriptions increase revenue twice as fast as their competitors and see 2x the overall growth.

To take advantage of a subscription model like Amazon’s and consider offering renewable subscriptions for certain products that are likely to be repeat purchases.

Or, if few of your products lend themselves to repeat purchases, consider offering a curated box of specific items every month (the subscription box model) like Birchbox and Dollar Shave Club.

how birchbox works

Other ideas might include:

  • Subscription-based shipping plans
  • Offers from specific manufacturers
  • Product discounts for membership

This not only sets you up for more sales in the long run, but it also gives customers a chance to get products from you without sacrificing their convenience.

4. Improve your shipping

Now, you can’t directly compete with Amazon when it comes to shipping.

Technically, not even Amazon fulfillment can compete with Amazon.

amazon logistics cost growth

According to GeekWire, Amazon lost $7.2 billion from shipping in 2017 between what it cost them and what they charged. But they have more than enough revenue from other sources to make up for it.

You probably don’t.

The goal isn’t to compete, anyway. Your goal is to stay in the game.

To do that, there are plenty of ways you can improve your shipping to provide additional convenience and customer service.

First up, consider offering free or discounted shipping for a minimum threshold or for specific products.

most important options when checking out online

For example, REI offers free shipping on purchases over $50, but they include other caveats to the rule that allow them to maintain this offer without losing money. For example, the offer isn’t valid for special orders or prior purchases.

rei free shipping

Studies show that 48% of shoppers on average will add items to their carts if it means that they can qualify for free shipping. So, while it might come with some initial costs for you, you’re more likely to see a return in added purchases.

If you have specific products that are lightweight (cost effective to ship, for example), you can offer free shipping on ground delivery orders.

Most carriers have slower, low-cost shipping options.

USPS parcel post, for instance, is typically cheaper than priority mail, so you’ll spend less.

comparison of usps fedex and ups

Customers then have the option to pay to upgrade. But when they do they know it’s a choice rather than a requirement, so they’re less likely to be dissatisfied.

If you’re really in a bind financially but want to deliver products for no cost, you do have the option of including those shipping costs in the retail cost of the product.

Of course, you will have to tread carefully with this idea, as your product might appear less favorable on price comparison sites due to the markup.

Another option is to simply offer flat rates for your shipping.

flat rate shipping option

While it’s not free, it still offers customers cheaper shipping for varying products and encourages them to purchase more.

If they’ll pay the same shipping price for one item as they would for ten items, then why not just get ten products, right?

5. Make an effort with customer service

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the best way you can stay on par with Amazon is by offering outstanding customer service.

Amazon actually does fairly well at this. 67% of respondents to Amazon’s customer service report last year indicated that they were “very satisfied.”

how many people like amazon customer service

But what exactly makes customer service satisfying for the majority of consumers?

According to research by GetApp Lab, the most valuable component of good customer service is simply a real, knowledgeable human on the other end of the line.

what consumers value most in customer service

However, the study showed that it didn’t really matter if the customer service was offered through email, a phone call, or a chat service.

When the rep was perceived to be real (or the correspondence was personalized enough), customers were happier with the results.

So what does this mean for your customer service?

This means putting real people in charge of your customer service. If you already have a team of people who handle customer complaints, you can add automation to shorten response times.

important customer service factors

If you don’t have a large team of people who handle customer service requests, you can always outsource the job using a customer service software or apps like LiveChat, or Help Scout.

While it is a bit of an extra cost (though some services are free depending on your usage and the size of your company), it’s well worth it in terms of customer loyalty.

There are plenty of other ways that you can make sure you have responsive service, however.

You can set up automatic replies on social media or use notifications to alert you when customers ask questions over social media.

If you’re responsive enough, Facebook will actually tell customers how soon you typically reply to messages sent via Facebook Messenger.

facebook page response times

The more active you are, the more customers will tend to trust you. And automation cuts down on the time and energy for your customer service team.

You can also include SMS text updates or responses for mobile customers.

Whichever technology you choose, just make sure you’re keeping the human element alive.

Even when customer service reps can’t resolve an issue, responsiveness and friendliness will still improve your customer service rating.

what makes customers love a business

Even when you can’t compete with Amazon for things like competitive prices or shipping, you can always go above and beyond with customer service to set yourself up as a worthy alternative.

Who knows? At the end of the day, customers might prefer your store over Amazon simply due to your outstanding customer service.

That’s the goal, anyway.


While it would be nice to say that any store can compete with Amazon, it’s just not the case.

Even the biggest brands out there have a hard time slowing down Jeff Bezos and his master plan to take over the e-commerce universe.

But while we wait for that to happen, there’s plenty that e-commerce stores can do to keep their customers just as happy as Amazon’s customers.

First, focus on having a great product offering that targets your niche. Or consider reaching out to new niches to find customers who might not even be on Amazon. (And remember that you can actually use Amazon to do this.)

Next, use your data to your advantage. You have customer information sitting there. Find ways to offer product recommendations or improve your Facebook Ads using what you know.

Then it’s about finding ways to make customers happy.

Offer subscription services on repeatable products, include free shipping in as many ways as you can (no, it doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg like it does Amazon), and, most importantly, make customers happy.

If nothing else, you can have just as high of a satisfaction rate as Amazon by doing the little things that matter to customers.

How can non-Amazon marketers compete in an Amazon world?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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How the Customer Experience is Powering the Fastest Growing Brands

How the Customer Experience is Powering the Fastest Growing Brands

A form of this article originally appeared on Stitch Labs. Stitch Labs is a purpose-built inventory management software to help brands improve customer experience and scale efficiency. Download the original guide here.

When we talk about the future of retail, industry news is abuzz with the idea of brands creating experiences for their customers. Consumers want more than an email newsletter—they want easy tracking and personalization. They want more than a product—they want community. The experiences we read about in headlines are often grandiose and costly, like virtual fitting rooms and same-day shipping. So, how can small- to mid-sized brands keep up with this trend in a cost-effective, creative way? With the help of scrappy teams and technology to automate processes, these brands are not only keeping up with the trend, but also are redefining it and leveraging it to grow. In this guide, we’ll discuss different approaches for building a memorable customer experience and how successful brands are executing on these creative ideas.

Automated Personalization Isn’t a Contradiction

Most businesses under-invest in customer loyalty, even though establishing some type of loyalty program is one of the most obvious ways retailers enhance their customer experience. Instead, they often put all of their eggs in the new customer acquisition basket. While this approach may work well in the early days of a business, it can be detrimental for scaling later. In order to set your business up for future success, you’ll want to think early on about a backend system that will scale with you. You’ll also want to think about today’s first-time customers who you hope will become tomorrow’s loyal brand advocates. As you grow in resources, you can consider many types of loyalty programs that will help you track and analyze customer behaviors and reward repeat purchases. If you’re starting out, there are simpler—yet still scalable— ways to personalize the customer experience. Customizing gifts based on the product someone buys is a thoughtful—yet realistic—way to make a customer feel warm and fuzzy about your brand. Chubbies, a clothing brand with an emphasis on the weekend lifestyle known for their colorful shorts and hilariously quirky marketing campaigns, figured out a way to send gifts without breaking the bank.

Image Source

With their target customer in mind, they created add-on gifts like branded koozies, coasters, and baseball cards that fit within their lifestyle theme but are significantly less expensive than sending an additional item of clothing. The gifts can match the purchases, too. For example, sending sunscreen when someone buys a swimsuit, or golf tees when a customer purchases golf shorts. This program is able to delight the customer in a personalized way, without having to know personalized information about the customer. In automating this process, they can quickly swap out a gift that isn’t garnering excitement and track orders so customers don’t receive the same gift twice. Their customers are surprised and delighted to receive add-ons and their loyal social media followers will often post their latest gift, thus increasing brand awareness in addition to fostering loyalty.

Using Data To Improve Customer Experience

The previous section is all about personalising the offline experience with your brand, but what about improving the online one?

The better you know your customer, the better the experience you can deliver – on and off-line. Data from customer behavior on your eCommerce site allows you to better understand your customer and therefore engage with them in a way that is deeply personalized to their experiences with your brand. With customers being bombarded with emails and offers that have little relevance to how they’ve interacted with a brand, you can stand out with more targeted, personalized engagements.

To do this, a tool like Kissmetrics collects person-based behavioral data, defines and tracks key customer segments and then enables you to engage more effectively across email, facebook and more. You can segment by location, products purchased, time between events, etc. The more detailed you make your segmentation, the more easily you can personalize your messaging. Why does this matter? Because when you create refined segments of your many different customer types and tailor messaging uniquely toward just that segment you’re creating yet another delightful moment between your brand and your customer. Not to mention better suited engagements increase purchases and brand loyalty.

Collaborations: Combine Forces To Get New Customers

While brands obviously want customers to love their products enough to buy from them time and time again, we know no customer is 100 percent brand loyal. Even your most loyal customers have other brands they love and those are the very brands with whom you should consider working. Topo Designs, a Denver-based outdoor apparel and bag company, has partnered with brands like Woolrich and Chacos (not direct competitors, but other brands Topo’s target customer loves!) to create unique, limited-edition items that they then promote across both of their customer bases.

Image Source

Even if your brand doesn’t have the desire or resources to make physical products with another brand, there are many ways to collaborate with lower barriers to entry. Find brands with similar audiences and aesthetic and stock each other’s items in your brick and-mortar stores. Create a themed “swag bag” with several other brands and host an Instagram giveaway by having followers tag three friends for a chance to win. Similarly, host a giveaway where those who enter to win agree to sign up for your and your partners’ email lists.

Austin-based metallic tattoo and accessories company, Flash Tattoos is always finding ways to collaborate with brands who share target audiences. Entries can be as simple as tagging friends in an Instagram post or you could go so far as to have people fill out a form to ensure you’re capturing email addresses (and even additional information you can use to collect data). Keep in mind, the more involved the entry procedure, the more desirable you’ll want to make your prize.

Events: The Low Cost Way To Get Foot Traffic In Your Store

Want an even easier way to collaborate with other brands—without having to give away free product? Consider hosting an event at your store (or theirs). Modern Citizen, a San Francisco-based women’s apparel brand, hosts a series of events both with and without partners to foster a sense of community while getting people into their physical store. For one event, they teamed up with Fashion Incubator SF, a nonprofit that supports up and coming fashion designers. They hosted an open discussion with the two founders and answered questions from the audience—which was made up mainly of their exact target demographic. The total cost of the event was buying donuts and coffee for 30 people (who each purchased $10 tickets to attend, the proceeds of which were donated to Fashion Incubator SF) but they were able to establish themselves as thought leaders and make sales from the shopping attendees did after the talk. Additionally, they sent an email after the event thanking everyone who attended and included a 15 percent off coupon code that expires at the end of the month, encouraging further shopping as well as a sense of urgency and immediacy.

But what if you don’t have a physical store? Brands everywhere are using popups to boost awareness and collect data in a cost-effective way. Whether it’s renting a booth at a local fair or event or even creating a mobile trailer to determine the best location for your next (or first!) brick-and-mortar, temporary shops are great ways to gauge interest and build hype without breaking the bank.

Build a Community

Many brands are still at loss when it comes to Amazon. Is it better to adopt a, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach, or try to compete as best you can with the behemoth? Building a community is small to mid-sized brands leg up on Amazon. They may provide same day shipping and low costs, but they don’t provide the customer experience that’s only increasing in importance for today’s consumer. One team hyper-focused on building a community and showing their customers they’re much more than a shoe brand is Freda Salvador. Through their mobile shoe trailer, in-store events, and collaborations with other brands, Freda Salvador is everywhere their customer is.

Image Source

Similar to Modern Citizen, the Freda team hosts in-store events that both increase foot traffic and brand awareness while simultaneously creating a sense of community between customers and the brand. They often choose tangentially related concepts that their target customer is interested in—like a flower arrangement workshop, a skin care workshop, etc. Since they aren’t actually selling anything Freda-related at the event or even talking about their brand, this is a great way to foster a sense of community in an authentic way.

Have a Backend That Supports Your Initiatives

There are so many creative ways to enhance your consumer experience but even the most well-intentioned plan can have the opposite effect on customer retention if your backend can’t support it. These creative ideas are great ways to connect with your customer, but you first and foremost must master the most basic customer experience: getting the right product, to the right person, at the right time. If someone can’t count on your brand for clear and descriptive product pages, easy checkout, and speedy delivery, you’ve already fallen behind. So, before you begin creating the experience of your customers’ dreams, get organized and make sure you have the right systems and people in place. Stitch Labs provides brands with visibility into their inventory at all times and across all channels, allowing them to be more efficient with their inventory. Stitch connects to your eCommerce site, 3PL, and marketplaces to make sure inventory numbers are accurate and you know where a product is at all times. This level of control lets you not worry about inventory, so you can focus on what matters most—your customers.

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10 Accounting Basics You Need to Know to Run a Successful E-commerce Business

10 Accounting Basics You Need to Know to Run a Successful E-commerce Business

Accounting is a painful necessity.

It’s the boring side of the business. I don’t like dealing with it either.

But, if you want your business to grow, you can’t avoid it.

You could try tossing all your receipts into a shoebox and handing them to a stranger.

But you’ll be handing them financial control. That means risking the success of your business.

You’d be handing them a nice chunk of change to do it all for you too.

I promise it’s not as complex as you might fear, though.

And you shouldn’t need an accountant for day-to-day management.

Even if you do pay for help, you should still know the basics yourself.

This way you can understand and question what someone is telling you.

After all, it’s your business at stake.

The following ten accounting basics will cover everything you need to know to understand your money and ask the smart questions.

1. Get yourself accounting software

Don’t try to piece it all together using excel or a calculator.

Do yourself a favor and get accounting software. Freshbooks is marketed to customers who run e-commerce businesses.

Or if you use Shopify, there are a bunch of accounting software apps you can get right in their app store.

Not sure what you want? Test out a free one. Or pick one with a 30-day free trial.

The best option will depend on your business and preferences.

If you’re shopping through the app store, make sure you’re picking a bookkeeping system.

Look for an app that will track sales, costs, and inventory.

Avoid apps that only create invoices or just provide reports. You want a tool that can do it all for you.

Whether you pick software through Shopify or go with something else, pick one that will sync directly to your e-commerce store.

It will make life a whole lot easier.

2. Track your cash flows

Step two: watch your cash.

If you don’t have a separate bank account for your business yet, get one.

You need to know that your business is making money. And the easiest way to see this is to watch your cash flow.

If you have more coming in then going out, you’re probably doing well, right?

You also should be watching the timing of money going out and coming in.

After all, what if all your bills are due tomorrow?

It won’t matter a whole lot if you have $1 million coming in next month if you can’t pay your employees until then.

Keep in mind any holds you have on your accounts.

What payment methods do you offer your customers? Do any of them place a hold on the money?

Is there a five-day delay from the time a customer pays to the time the money is in your bank? You need to know this when you’re figuring out when you’ll have money to spend.

Shopify offers a free template for tracking cash. You can easily create your own in excel.

Track what you expect to spend each week. Track what money you expect to come in each week.

If what you need to spend is more than your current bank balance plus what’s coming in, you know you’re about to have a problem.

Follow these tips to help improve your cash flow:

  • Don’t pay anything earlier than you have to. If it’s due in 30 days, pay it in 30 days.
  • Consider offering monthly payment plans or subscriptions to customers to guarantee money coming in.
  • Keep a reserve in your business bank account ‘just in case.’
  • Don’t overcomplicate it. You don’t need huge technical cash flow statements.

3. Determine how to count inventory

If you’re selling a service, then ignore this step.

Inventory is the product you sell or all the materials you use to build that product.

Don’t forget to include any costs for wrapping or packaging your product.

Decide what minimum volume of inventory you want to have on hand, and make sure you are tracking inventory so you can reorder before you pass this point.

The last thing you want is to run out of inventory and lose sales.

Why is inventory part of accounting basics?

Inventory equals money.

It’s money you spent to buy the stuff. Money you won’t make back until you sell your product.

And the money tied to your inventory can change while it’s sitting in your warehouse (or store, or apartment).

If I buy 50 products at $100 each, and tomorrow the price shoots up to $150, my inventory is suddenly worth more.

But if the price drops tomorrow to $50, my inventory is worth less.

And watch out for ‘shrinkage’!

That’s when you suddenly have less inventory than what you’re supposed to.

You know you bought 50 products. You know you’ve sold and shipped 40.

You should have 10 left, right?

What if you only have 8 left?

That is ‘shrinkage.’

Maybe an item got lost, or stolen, or was ruined and had to be thrown out. There are lots of reasons it happens.

The good news is shrinkage is lower when you don’t have a physical retail store.

Warehouse shrinkage is actually pretty low. Typical shrinkage is less than 1% of your total inventory.

If you’re operating a business out of your home, it’s even less likely you will have shrinkage.

After all, you’re less likely to have someone steal inventory if you’re the only one around it.

It’s also a lot harder to lose inventory in an apartment compared to a huge warehouse.

That said, shrinkage can happen to anyone.

This is why it’s important to physically count inventory regularly. You need to know if you just ‘lost’ $100 worth of product and factor that into your accounting.

4. Understand your cost of goods sold

Cost of goods sold is the expense directly tied to the products you sold.

This is the inventory sold plus how much it cost to make that inventory.

Let’s say you sell one widget. Whatever it cost you for the parts plus whatever it cost to build it should be the cost of goods sold for that widget.

If the parts of the widget cost $50, packaging cost $10, and you paid someone $25 to put it together, your cost for that widget is $85.

This can get a lot more confusing to figure out if you bought a lot of widgets at different prices, and you’re paying different people different salaries to put them together.

Don’t overcomplicate things.

The easiest way to figure it out is to use a weighted average. Here’s an example of calculating a weighted average:

($440 divided by 5 is $88.)

Anything that is tied directly to your products and has a cost increase when you make more stuff should be in cost of goods sold.

If you pay employees per every widget they make, include their labor.

If you pay them a flat hourly rate even if they don’t make a single thing that day, don’t include their labor in the cost of goods sold.

The retail price of an item minus the cost of that item is your ‘gross margin.’

This is not your profit. It just tells you how much you’re making on each item before you add in all your other expenses.

Things can get pretty complicated here if you have different costs for different sales conditions.

For example, do you offer free shipping on all orders over $100?

This means your cost of goods sold is going to increase every time a customer buys more than $100 worth of stuff.

It will also change for each different location you ship to.

Some websites will tell you not to include shipping in costs of goods sold.

I disagree. ‘Freight out’ goes up or down with the volume you sell.

To simplify it, let your accounting system track your actual cost of goods sold. If it’s linked to your e-commerce site, it should be able to do this automatically.

For predicting your future cost of goods sold, save yourself a headache and just use an average.

If last month you sold $1,000 and paid $150 for shipping, that’s 15%.

So you can assume that if next month you sell $2,000 you will probably pay $300 (or 15%) for shipping.

It won’t be perfect, but it’s better than just leaving the cost out of planning.

Here’s a simple way to calculate your rough average cost of goods sold, including shipping, packaging and any other e-commerce fees:

5. Calculate all other expenses

Now you know your costs directly tied to sales volume.

Next, you need to understand how much everything else is costing you.

Any expenses that don’t increase when you sell more or decrease when you sell less are called ‘fixed expenses.’

For example, if you pay a monthly rent, the amount is fixed. It won’t change whether you sell one widget or one million.

These costs aren’t part of the cost of goods sold and aren’t factored into your gross margin.

They do affect your profit and your cash flow, though.

Common fixed expenses are:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Property Tax
  • Interest on loan payments
  • Salaries

These expenses are considered ‘fixed’ since you have to pay them even if you sell nothing next month.

Don’t get this confused with an expense being the exact same amount every month.

An expense like utilities might be more one month than the next. Or it might be more in the winter than in the summer.

It’s still a fixed expense in accounting terms.

If any expense changes month-to-month, you should use an average for budgeting.

6. Figure out your break-even sales requirement

Budgeting and planning are important parts of running a business.

After all, you’re not going to just want to know if you made a profit last month, you’re going to want to know if you expect to make one this month and next.

Your break-even sales amount is the amount of sales dollars you need to earn to cover all of your costs.

For example, let’s say all your ‘fixed costs’ add up to $5,000 per month.

This means you have to sell enough of your product to cover the cost of making them (including the labor) plus an additional $5,000 just to break-even (no profit and no loss).

Figure out your gross margin per unit (from the fourth basic).

Then divide your fixed costs by that amount to figure out the number of units you need to sell.

If your break-even number of units is 5,000 and you think you can only make or sell 3,000, you know you’re in trouble.

If break-even is 5,000 and you think you can make and sell at least 10,000 then you know you should be making money.

Remember that your fixed costs don’t easily change.

For example, if you’re in a five-year lease, you’re going to struggle to find a way to lower your rent.

This means if your break-even seems too high, you should first look at either raising your prices of trying to lower your costs of goods sold.

You could do this by charging more for shipping, using cheaper materials or finding cheaper labor.

Here’s a visual of break-even:

7. Track your sales and profits before tax

Now you know how many items you need to sell to break even.

Next, you need a way to track your sales.

This lets you know early on if you’re going to have an issue. It will also help you manage your money.

Let’s say you figured out you need to sell 5,000 units to break even.

It’s now the 15th of the month, and you’ve only sold 1500.

If you’re tracking your sales, you’re able to notice this. Now you have time to do something about it.

You still have two weeks left to try and drum up more business with some extra digital marketing efforts.

Just make sure that if it’s paid marketing, you figure the cost of that into your budget.

After all, if you spend $2000 to increase sales by $1000 then it wasn’t worth it, right?

One way to track your sales is by linking Google Analytics to your e-commerce site.

Google Analytics even has a plug-in for your e-commerce site to make it easier.

Log in to your Google Analytics and go to your Admin Settings.

Next, go to your e-commerce settings.

Then turn on the ‘Enable e-commerce’ switch and ‘submit.’

You can learn more about Google Analytics in some of my other posts, or check out my video.

But let’s get back to accounting.

Now that you know sales, cost of goods sold and all your other ‘fixed’ expenses, you know your earnings before tax as well.

Keep in mind profits don’t mean cash in hand!

Let’s say you sell a service worth $3,000, but you offer a three-month payment plan.

Your sales would show $3,000, but your bank account may only show $1,000.

That means even if your accounting software says you made a profit of $500 after all expenses, you won’t have an extra $500 in your bank account.

If all of your expenses are actually paid out this month, then your bank out could go into the red.

There are tons of accounting rules around when to recognize revenue.

The timing for when to recognize sales and expenses can get pretty complex.

Leave this for your accountant and tax time. It’s not important when it comes to the day-to-day management of your business.

If you ever go public, you’ll need to know the more advanced accounting reporting requirements, but they’re not needed for managing your business.

8. Set up the proper tax rates for customers

Here’s the part most people groan about: taxes.

Taxes are unavoidable, and they can get pretty complicated.

If you sell a lot of different products and services to a lot of people around the world, you may want to consult a professional at this point.

Thankfully, systems are pretty smart these days.

Your e-commerce software should take care of most of this for you.

As long as you flag a product as something that is taxable, once your customer puts in their address, it should calculate the tax payable.

If you use Shopify, you can set this up on the Tax settings:

And if you have tax exempt products or customers, you can set up exemptions directly in your e-commerce store.

The detailed instructions for Shopify exemptions can be found here.

9. Plan for your tax payments

Now that you’re properly set up to collect tax, you also need to make sure you’re ready to pay it.

Your tax rules will depend on where you’re physically located.

At a minimum, expect that you need to submit as much in tax as you’ve collected.

This means it’s important to recognize that money as tax and set it aside. If not, it could hurt when it comes time to file!

Some online shopping services, such as Shopify, allow you to include tax into your sales price.

This means that your product is always $40.00 whether you’re selling it to a customer who pays no tax or one who pays 15% tax.

The difference is that your sales price, and profit, are lower whenever your customer is in a region of higher tax.

I wouldn’t recommend using this function.

It can make it more difficult to plan actual sales dollars you expect to earn.

It can also make it easy to lose track of how much profit you collected and how much tax you collected (which you will then have to pay out).

If you do want to include tax in your prices, make sure you can run a tax report.

This should easily tell you how much you collected in taxes, so you can still identify it and put it aside.

For Shopify tax reports, go to Reports, then Finances.

Then, click on ‘Taxes,’ and it will bring you to the detailed tax report:

It’s a good idea to set aside any taxes you will need to pay out, so they don’t get lost in your bank balance or included in your cash flow.

Consider opening a separate account just for taxes.

10. Understand your balance sheet

We’ve now covered everything on your income statement, as well as cash flow.

The final thing to cover is the balance sheet.

This is what helps you track your company’s long-term health to see overall how your company is doing.

An income statement is a snapshot in time. A balance sheet is the bigger picture.

The balance sheet is made up of assets, liabilities, and equity.

Assets are things you have of value, like cash in the bank.

Liabilities are debts or payments you owe.

Equity is the difference between the two.

Let’s say your car is worth $50,000 and you have $30,000 you still owe on it.

That means your asset is $50,000, your liability is $30,000, and your equity is $20,000.

If you sold the car today, you’d get $50,000 in cash. Then you have to pay off the $30,000 in debt that you owe, and you’re left with $20,000 in your pocket.

This means you have equity and if you had to get rid of the car today, you’d make money.

This is how you want your business’ balance sheet to look.

Here’s a more common scenario:

Your car was worth $50,000 when you bought it. You took out a $50,000 loan to purchase it.

As soon as you drove it off the lot, it dropped in value and is now only worth $40,000. It’s depreciation, which means that things decrease in value as they get older.

If you need to sell it now, you will sell it for $40,000, and pay off $40,000 in debt.

You will be left with no car and still owe $10,000 in debt.

This is ‘negative equity.’ It means you owe more than you own.

This is a bad place to be.

If your business is in this state, it means you’re losing money.

If your income statement makes it look like you’re making a profit but your balance sheet is telling a different story, then you’re missing something in your expenses.

Things like interest payments on loans are an easy one to miss.

If you have a high-interest loan that keeps increasing your liability, it can easily kill your profits without you even realizing it.

That’s why the balance sheet is a good second look to make sure you don’t miss anything.

A simple check to make sure your balance sheet is right is to remember that assets = liabilities + equity.


I’ve now covered all the accounting basics you should be following day-to-day and month-to-month.

Start with a basic accounting software. It will make your life a lot simpler.

Then, remember ‘cash is king,’ and get a handle on your cash flow. You should be managing this on a weekly basis unless you have a big cash reserve built up.

Next, you need to understand your sales, expenses, and profits. This is your income statement, and lets you know if you’re making money each week, month, or year.

Don’t forget to plan for taxes. Set up your e-commerce site to collect them if you need to. Put the money aside to pay them when you need to.

Finally, build your balance sheet. Or let your accounting software do it for you.

This will let you know how ‘healthy’ your company is long term. It’s an easy way to tell if you have too much debt.

There are lots of additional accounting rules and tricks that can help you save money at tax time.

There are also reporting options that should be considered if you’re trying to get investors or a loan for expansion.

But for running your business, don’t get sucked into the complicated rules. It will just distract you from your critical day job of running your business.

An accountant can help you with everything above and beyond the basics if you need it.

What software do you currently use to handle your accounting needs?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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7 Lessons I’ve Learned from CRO Tests that Generate Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

7 Lessons I’ve Learned from CRO Tests that Generate Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

Conversion rate optimization is like the banana peel in those really cheesy video clips.

It’s pretty obvious it’s there.

We all see it.

But we all know it will trip you up when you get too close to it.

Because that’s the punchline, right?

Except tripping up on optimizing conversions for your business isn’t such a funny joke.

Not only is failure keeping you from growth, but it could also be pushing your business towards the red.

And while you might acknowledge conversion rate optimization (or CRO), it’s definitely not something you should be afraid of.

Instead, you should chase it just as much as you do anything else in digital marketing, if not more.

That’s why I want to share with you some of the hard lessons I’ve learned from my own failures with CRO.

I want to save you the silly slips that end up on your gag real.

And shortcut your way to the real money-making deals.

If it ain’t broke, do I need to fix it?

I sometimes have the question posed to me, in some form, whether I truly think conversion rate optimization is such an essential task.

In short, yes.

To elaborate, I believe that your business is built around conversions.

The more often a visitor to your website’s business completes a goal, like clicking through a landing page, the greater your chances are of making a sale.

And when you have someone convert by purchasing a product, you just made x amount of money because of a conversion.

Every click is an increase in the potential for your business to grow, so optimizing clicks is vital.

So calculating your current conversion rates is the first step every entrepreneur should take when discussing CRO, and thankfully it’s a pretty basic principle.

In this example, we have three page visits but only two conversions, which means our conversion rate is at a strong 66%.

It won’t likely stay there as page visits grow, but you see the basics of how we calculate conversion rates.

Actions divided by sessions equals conversion rate.

Optimization kicks in when you take the same page you’ve been tracking and start changing elements to see if you can get more conversions.

This illustration helps show the process.

Variation A has a healthy 23% conversion rate, while variation B dips to 11%.

This tells you that you’re better off going with variation A for this audience.

Your next step would be to find a new way to run this test with the same element, or change to a different area of the page and see what you can find.

The more you optimize and combine your winning elements, the better your conversion rate will become over time.

And the potential benefits of CRO, when done properly, are pretty astounding.

I don’t know about you, but a 49% increase in conversions would be a very impressive increase for my business.

And taking the average revenue per visitor up from $3 to $4.50 might not sound like much, but it’s a jaw-dropping increase when you start crunching numbers.

But let’s get to the meat of this issue.

What can you do to streamline your conversion rate optimization and start improving revenue?

I’ve worked on CRO projects that have generated hundreds of millions of dollars.

And to help you learn from my successes and failures, I’ve boiled down the basics to help you understand what to look for and why you should look for it.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned the hard way. so you don’t have to.

Lesson #1: Play for the long-term

Let’s get this out of the way now.

All of this advice can help you generate millions of dollars in revenue for your business.

But these results will not happen overnight.

Or maybe even this year.

The reason for this is that conversion rate optimization is all about long-term gains.

When I first started focusing on building my CRO strategies, I initially thought I would see conversion improvements all the time.

I was wrong.

While I did see small improvements from time to time, the drastic jumps I had hoped for came infrequently.

Even when I spent money on consultants, I would question whether my investment was worth the small gains I made.

But then I looked back through my years of data and realized that there were periods of drastic improvement.

And when I ran the numbers, I saw that my revenue more than made up for the price of my consultants.

That brought me to a realization.

This is all about long-term persuasion.

CRO is not a get rich quick scheme.

It’s a be patient, work hard, and get rich scheme.

It’s all a game of establishing lifetime value.

Lesson #2: Gut-testing will be gut-checking

I’m all for business owners following their gut when it makes sense.

Just not when you’re running tests.

I have good reasons for this too.

Mainly, you’ll likely just waste your time and money with unnecessary failures that could have been avoided by a little pre-test data gathering.

But perhaps more egregiously, you’ll be ignoring the insight of your existing and potential customers.

Alienating your customers is the last thing you want to do.

The big takeaway here is that more data is better.

If your ideas take less than five hours to test, there’s a good chance that you’re not devoting enough time to collecting the data that will give your testing direction.

Which means you may need to spend weeks on gathering information about relevant ideas before you make a change.

Remember how I said this was a long-term process?

So gather as much information as you can beforehand to give direction to testing.

One way you can do that is with a simple customer survey.

Using open-ended, multiple-choice questions like this in a survey of your existing customers can help pinpoint elements that contributed to their conversions.

You can then use that information to change the elements that your existing customers claim would have helped them.

For example, if you get significant feedback that your landing page’s headline wasn’t a big factor in conversion, you may not need to test it much.

But your gut reaction may have initially been to start with your headline.

See what I mean?

Don’t just jump in based on your gut. Gather data and move with precision.

And if you do want to start making changes immediately, I recommend using proven conversion optimization methods to optimize your conversions before you leap into testing.

Try conversion scent methods for example, like with this retargeting ad.

As you can see, this method maintains the “scent” of your digital marketing by creating and maintaining the same look and feel across all of your efforts.

You can use this stylistic approach to help conversions and improve the consistency of your optimization testing results without making gut decisions.

Then, when your data gathering is complete, you’ll be able to test new methods.

And you can even test the effect of a method like conversion scents as you branch out, too.

Because it may not work best for you.

The point is, you don’t know until you have enough data to tell the difference.

But for the beginning, my advice is to rely on best practice and gather data to inform your testing.

You’ll see more improvement faster by leaning on the successes of others and building your own methods on top of that.

Lesson #3: Performance is important

One of the elements I see slip a lot when businesses perform CRO tests is their overall site performance.

What they don’t know is that this can inadvertently skew their data and make their test results ultimately useless.

Why do I say that?

Take an element like load times, which are incredibly important for increasing conversion rates.

When you let a load time bump above four seconds, you’re already creating a huge spike in your bounce rate.

Or, an equally huge dip in your conversion rate.

And it’s a fairly common occurrence amongst marketers to inadvertently increase load times when adding imagery, copy, or any other new element to a page.

When Moz performed an extensive redesign of one of their landing pages, they noticed a significant increase in load time as well.

To help mitigate the effect they used a few tricks to make it easier to fully load their page even on a slow connection.

The results were pretty amazing.

They were able to shrink their load time by 40% and provide a 17% lift in the overall performance of their landing page.

All of this was based on one performance oriented element.

Pretty wild, right?

But load time isn’t the only thing you should consider.

I also see a lot of businesses ditch underperforming keywords and landing pages because they don’t see a reason to put effort into an inherently low performer.

That’s a million dollar mistake to my mind.

I think your underperformers are just showing red flags that call for a little extra attention.

Take AutopilotHQ for example.

They took their underperforming keywords and decided to revamp their approach completely.

They created individual landing pages and performed A/B tests for each.

When they spent some significant time with each, they saw drastic improvements.

The kicker here?

It only took a week, and they saw huge increases in conversions.

So don’t just abandon your poor performers.

Give them more attention, and make sure none of the technical elements of your website are working against you.

Lesson #4: Test your A/B testing software

There’s an assumption out there that all A/B tests are created equal, but this isn’t so

When I first started A/B testing, I had a few strange instances where I saw drastic increases in conversion but no additional revenue.

This wasn’t because my sales process was flawed, it was because I had inaccurate A/B test results.

How could that be?

To be honest, I’m not sure why any A/B tester would purposely try to skew a user’s results.

You rely on accurate data to make informed decisions, so getting unreliable data from a test will just persuade you to use a different A/B testing platform.

Either way, I always recommend testing the initial variation of your landing page as both elements of your A/B test to tell you if your A/B tester is telling you the truth.

I call this the A/A test.

If your results look even remotely different, like this graph:

You should probably switch testing software immediately.

Here’s how you could do this on a platform like Optimizely.

When you open up your dashboard on their site, you’ll want to start a new test.

Click on the Experiments tab, then create a new A/B test.

Now, you’ll need to fill in some basic information about your test and include the URL of the landing page you’ll be conducting your test on.

Once you input this information, you’ll be back on a dashboard that looks like this:

As you can see from my notes, you’ll want to leave both your original and variation #1 alone.

The idea is to test identical pages for their similarity, thus testing the accuracy of your actual testing software.

To get started, you’ll have to add a Metric.

You can choose one metric or many.

For now, let’s just test a metric related to general page visits.

You’ll be given the option to track an increase or decrease in total conversions, unique conversions, or a few other options.

Once you’ve added a metric to your experiment and saved it to the project, you’ll be able to fire up the actual testing.

Now, you’ll be able to track the performance of your single page using the two “variations” we’ve created.

Since they’re the same page, you should get very similar results from both.

They might not be exact, but as long as they’re close, you know you have an accurate testing tool.

And there are tons of A/B testing tools out there to choose from.

Use one that’s both helpful and accurate.

You’ll save time and money.

And you’ll be making informed decisions with the degree of certainty that only testing can give.

Lesson #5: Test one variable, and only one

When scientists run tests, they look for something called “causal relationships” in their data.

In simple terms, that means they look for how the piece of data related to or caused another in their experiment.

To control the flow of these relationships, they will only change one variable at a time while keeping a “control” variable the same.

But when it comes to digital marketing, I see the very common mistake of testing multiple variables all the time.

It’s even promoted as a winning feature by many testing platforms.

I’m not so sure they’re right.

This practice is known as multivariate testing, or the idea that testing multiple elements of a landing page, email, or anything else can help you increase your conversion rates.

My biggest grief with this is that it encourages businesses to test too many elements at once, thus nullifying any tangible results from the test.

Here’s an example from that shows how a multivariate test works.

Let’s say this is the original email.

You have a very clear understanding of your email, its performance, and the tendencies of your audience.

But on email B, you change both the time of day you send the email, the formatting of the email itself, and the subject line.

That’s three new elements.

Not surprisingly, the results are different.

It just so happens in this case that your open rate and click-through rate see a decline. Bummer.

But now what do you do?

In this case, they went with the original email for their final list of receivers.

And what a win, they got a better response across the board.

My issue here is that the final email is the exact same as the original email, but now you have a higher open and click-through rate.

What did you learn from email B?


Because you don’t know what caused the potential change.

For all you know, one of the two lists is a group of outliers, and you can’t trust your data to make a decision.

I see this problem every time I examine data from tests that contain multiple variable changes at the same time.

The data I got back was ultimately useless.

And the further you dig into the logic of this, the more my point makes sense.

If I change two elements and see a 15% increase, did element A cause the increase, or element B?

Was it a combination of both?

Instead of getting answers, your questions compound exponentially as time goes on with no actionable results.

Change one headline. Test.

Change one body of text. Test.

Use this data to your advantage, and don’t confuse yourself.

Lesson #6: Remember your ultimate goal is revenue

A lot of talk goes toward conversion rate optimization without acknowledging the fact that we’re really focused on revenue optimization.

You want more money because that keeps you in business and lets you achieve your goals.

And even though it might negatively affect conversions, sometimes revenue optimization takes you on a different path.

Like raising or lowering prices.

Let’s say you sell 100 products at $50 at a 5% conversion rate. That would make you $5000.

But if you put that same product on sale for $45 and sell an extra 50 products, you just made $6,750.

But you didn’t change a single element of your landing page or email. You just changed the price.

What I’m trying to convey (again) is that your overall focus needs to be on your long-term goal.

Incremental wins in conversion rates will eventually lead to big wins in revenue, like when I helped Adore Me boost their revenue by $5.6 million.

This means focusing on the big picture, or macro conversions over micro conversions.

A macro conversion is a big picture goal like buying a product.

Micro conversions are small wins like clicks and email address that don’t necessarily equal revenue.

If a test boosts micro conversions but not macro, find out why.

If it’s a permanent effect, drop your short-term gains for the long-term picture.

If you keep this in focus, you’ll stop your efforts from being bogged down in tiny details that are ultimately irrelevant.

Lesson #7: Drastic changes = drastic results

You’ll eventually hit a point where the low hanging fruit has been picked.

Congratulations, you’re now at a crossroads.

You can either keep trying to provide minuscule improvements to your conversion rate and maybe see some revenue increase.

Or you can start making drastic changes and take a jab at your own explosive growth hacks.

If you’ve hit a wall, consider adding elements you haven’t before, like video.

They’ve had success, with up to 20% increases in conversion rate.

This video from Mint is a great example of an “explainer video.”

Or like when I changed my contact page on Quicksprout into an infographic about my inbox.

These are the types of changes that get you noticed and can shake up your conversion rates when you’ve hit a dead end.

It’s where you can really input your own flair to help take your brand to the next level.


Conversion rate optimization is only hard if you make it hard.

If you can avoid the serious pitfalls that others experience, you’ll be well on your way to improved conversions and revenue in no time.

Just remember that this is a long-term endeavor. There are no overnight success stories here.

Don’t make gut decisions. Your data will beat your gut 99% of the time.

Optimize your site’s performance and take time to ensure your testing software is accurate and reliable.

Don’t fall prey to the quick-fix lure of multivariate testing. One variable at a time is the only way to get actionable feedback.

Above all else, remember that you’re here to improve revenue, not just conversions. The big picture always wins.

As long as you make incremental improvements over time, your conversion rates will turn into multi-million dollar improvements.

What tactics have you seen successfully improve your CRO tests?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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DIS Introduces New Program Director & Assistant Program Director

DIS Introduces New Program Director & Assistant Program Director

Andreas Brøgger earned a Master’s Degree in Modern Culture from the University of Copenhagen, where he later became a lecturer in the Art and Cultural Studies Department for three years. During this time, he also held a position as a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University. Outside of the academic sphere, he has worked as an Art Critic at Dagbladet Information, Art & Poetry Editor of Hvedekorn Magazine, Curator at Sorø Art Museum, and Curator and Director of Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center (Nikolaj Kunsthal).

Andreas shared his excitement about his new role as Program Director, saying, “I am thrilled to be part of this ambitious, lively, and international organization. I look forward to dedicating myself to the department and to bringing a high level of education to students studying the humanities.”

Anna Söderquist earned her Ph.D. and Master’s Degree in Philosophy from The New School in New York, and has been with DIS since 2015 as faculty member. She has been teaching and researching in the field of philosophy for over ten years, with a focus on the connections between philosophy, art, literature, and education. Anna’s interest in education has led her to work with students from diverse populations and various age groups in France, Denmark, and the U.S., always with a focus on experiential, site-specific learning, active student engagement, and student-centered teaching.

Anna reflected on her new position on the team:

“With my background in the philosophy of education, I am thrilled to be part of an institution that puts the love of learning at the center of everything. Continuing to teach philosophy and help my colleagues in the humanities reach their pedagogical goals is a great honor, affording me a chance each day to remember that everything we do centers around the student’s development and success.”

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6 Search Operator Commands To Steal Your Competition’s Ideas in Seconds

6 Search Operator Commands To Steal Your Competition’s Ideas in Seconds

What if there was a way for you to find your competitions most niche ideas without having to conduct an in-depth audit of their site?

Wouldn’t that be great?

Just think about what it could do for your own digital presence.

If you know what you’re up against quickly, you have a clear path to create more nuanced content.

So you’ll be doing your SEO a favor.

And that means more organic traffic and conversions.

Sounds good, right?

Hold on to your hats then.

Because I have a secret weapon that can let you steal your competitors’ ideas in seconds.

It’s 100% free to use too, which means anyone in any industry can use it.

In fact, you probably already know the basics.

There’s even a good chance that you use the platform every day.

That’s because my secret weapon is Google’s search operators.

And here’s why you should start using them immediately:

What are search operators?

Google search operators are commands and characters that you can input into your search bar that expand or limit your search.

They can be used for just about any purpose, including competitor research.

This really comes in handy when you have an abundance of information on Google, but you don’t want to see what particular people have to say on a topic.

If your competitors aren’t showing up immediately in your search results, a traditional search won’t be very helpful for research.

And scrolling through every search results would take way too long.

When nothing is showing up in search, and you don’t have time to wade through all the information that’s available, search operators are a lifesaver.

How do you use search operators to find your competitions ideas?

Search operators can be your friend for SEO, content marketing research, and many other reasons.

Unlike many of the specialized tools that are available, these are ready to be used immediately by anyone.

So to give you examples of how you can conduct research, I want to use a consistent hypothetical throughout this post.

Let’s imagine you’re a small web design firm that helps marketers and wants to take on DIY, low-cost or free online solutions like

How would you go about researching their content, marketing strategies, and audience?

Checking out their entire site would be a chore. So would simply Googling “Canva competitors.”

This might be helpful, but it’s going to send you on a wild goose chase as you click through other websites.

There are just too many search results. 185,000 to be precise.

You would be scrolling for hours to find the links that actually lead you to relevant and helpful information.

But what if you could simply pull up their best-performing pages in one go?

That’s where search operators help, and why I want to show you how to use them.

Just remember that this advice is to help you discover and innovate, not just copy.

Let’s get started.

When in doubt, use command chains

Actually, one word of advice before I get started.

The catch with Google search operators is that they can be tricky in application.

And they’re not always best without an additional operator or two to help them.

So with many of these examples, you may still have trouble narrowing down your competitor research if you’re using them alone.

Command chains allow you to use more than one search operator to sharpen your results.

These command chains will help you find an elusive page, or they could also act as shortcuts for the beginning of your search process.

Whichever way you decide to use them, chaining search operators will help you get the results you’re looking for in no time.

As I go through my advice below, I’ll show you powerful ways you can chain these commands and steal you competitions ideas.

Let’s start with a filter you can use pretty much universally.

Command #1: site:

Site: is a basic command you can use to find a page on your competition’s site without having to wade through everything else they’ve posted.

It restricts your search results so that they stay within the confines of a particular site, which means your results are hyper-focused.

It’s a great operator to use for when you want a quick list of actionable results instead of a laundry list of unusable sideshows.

So let’s say you’re researching Canva and want to see only pages on their website.

You can go to their site and click around, which might take a while.

Or, you can input site: into Google and let it work its magic.

Here’s what you’d get:

Notice all of these are specifically from

And you’ll also notice that even an absurd amount of searches in, it’s still all from

Which means no wading through ads, extra material you’re not ready for, or walkthroughs on how to use some obscure feature.

Just a concise list of pages from a single site.

By quickly browsing through this list of pages, you can develop a shortlist of ideas that you can use for your own designs.

But there’s a flaw with the example I just showed you.

In the example above you have design templates, infographics, a wireframe tool, and even more as your scroll.

You even have pages in different languages, as well as 1.2 million results.

That’s still not very helpful in the long run, which means you’ll need to start adding to your search.

Let’s say you specifically want to stand out in infographic creation. How would you research this?

Just add the phrase “infographic creation” to the search bar after you input the site: operator.

This is a much narrower pool of results at only 702.

Now, you can browse through and find relevant pages to your specific search topic.

By clicking on a post, you get a direct look at a few extra tidbits as well.

Let’s look at the top infographic post for example.

You immediately learn a few things and have ideas for how you can reach out to a competing target audience.

You also see how popular the article is in this case, and can get even more ideas by scrolling through the piece.

Now, just rinse and repeat with the other top-performing pages, and you’ve created a list of targets to aim your efforts at.

Simply putting the search terms “infographics” and “Canva” can lead you to the same results, but it can also leave you wading through tons of competitor content showing others how they can use Canva.

That type of search doesn’t provide insight into Canva’s digital marketing strategy, so including the site: operator narrows your search significantly and helps you get better results.

Command #2: intitle: or allintitle:

The second operator command you want to look at is actually two commands that do roughly the same thing.

The intitle: and allintitle: operator commands search for pages that have only your selected search terms in the title of the page.

They’re great for finding exact-match quotes or phrases that someone knowledgeable in your industry (like a competitor) might use as a headline for a blog post or landing page.

Here’s an example of how you can use the intitle: operator to get a narrower picture for your search results.

Let’s say you do a basic search for “infographic template.”

Congratulations, you now have over 24,100,000 results to sift through.

That should take roughly the rest of your life, right?

You don’t have time for that, so let’s narrow the results by using our intitle: operator.

That’s better. You now only have 925,000 results, which means you’ve already narrowed your search by 96%.

So you’re already seeing improvement.

The thing is, this still isn’t very specific.

And even though you won’t necessarily notice, this search operator is only modifying the word “infographic.”

If you include intitle:template, you’ll get a different and much narrower result.

Now you’re down to 244,000 results. That’s an almost 99% narrower field of results.

Impressive, right?

And you’ll also notice this is the same result as inputting our second operator allintitle: infographic template in favor of the more obtrusive intitle: infographics intitle:template.

That’s just hard to write anyways.

So you’ve significantly narrowed down your results to pages that only have your search term in the title.

You’ve weeded out 99% of the sites you don’t want to see, and can now browse through a specifically curated list of highly relevant results.

That makes this is a great tool for finding other high-performing pieces of content with your specific keywords.

It also gives you a benchmark for what you have to beat.

But there’s a way you can make the results even narrower.

How do you do this?

You add back in the site: operator.

Let’s get back to looking at our friends from Canva by inputting our first modifier.

You just knocked your results down to only four results.

There are too many decimal points in the percentage to share for that, but suffice it to say you’ve really narrowed things down.

But you now have specific results about infographic templates that are native to Canva’s website.

Now whether or not these exact examples are helpful, the principle applies when you’re doing your own research.

If you’re still getting too wide a pool of results with the intitle: or allintitle: operator command, drop the search down with an additional modifier.

It’s much more helpful for competitor research than a traditional Google search.

Cool, right?

Command #3: intext: or allintext:

The intext: or allintext: operators allow you to search for a word or phrase, but only in the body text of the page instead of in the title.

The allintext: operator, much like the allintitle: operator, will help pinpoint pages that have phrases or larger groups of text without having to type intext: a million times.

That means you’re getting a more specific look at copy and seeing where else they’re putting content that points toward your specific topic.

It’s especially helpful in researching your competition’s on-page SEO footprints and how Google categorizes them.

Once again you notice that without a site modification, you’re given a wide variety of high-performing posts you can pull from.

You can see that your results are now based entirely on specific words and phrases that are in the text body of the page, including hints towards your target audience of marketers.

Now, in this case, many of them are also in the title, but I’ll show you how you can still use this as a tool for narrowing down our search to find specific ideas.

Let’s go ahead and add the site: operator command back into the search for Canva.

You once again have a very narrow pool of search results, just 533 down from your starting point of 3.5 million.

You also have a promising looking article that I’ve highlighted that gives tips and inspiration for the Canva user.

When you click on the page, you don’t have to go far to find out that this post is indeed for marketers.

It’s also well-liked, so you know you can get some good ideas from this post.

Now all you have to do is scroll through, read the post, and take your competitor’s best ideas and make them better.

But notice that you didn’t see this page on our previous search.

If you hadn’t narrowed your search to look at the text, you might never have flagged this popular post that’s aimed at the marketing crowd.

It’s always possible you would find it, but with the right search operator input it was one of the top choices.

Which means you saved a lot of time that would have otherwise been spent in frustration.

Command #4: Exact search with quotation marks: “word”

Our next command is another method you can use to find exact matches to a word or phrase, which is especially helpful for competitor keyword research.

By using quotation marks around your keywords, you can find results that are an exact match as opposed to the broader spectrum you’ll see with a normal search.

It can be used as a more generalized method of finding sites that are targeting your exact word or phrase.

Or, it can lead you directly to specific words and phrases on a site of your choosing, like a specific competitor.

Let’s see how it works on a search for “infographics for marketers.”

These results are perfect because you can now see a smaller list of exact word matches in both the title and body of your search results.

This is especially useful when you compare it up against a non-exact match search of the exact same phrase.

The very first thing I noticed is that I was getting results for “marketing” vs. “marketers.”

While you might say this is semantics, I see a very big difference in a generalized page for marketing rather than a specific page for marketers.

My search results are already muddy, and I haven’t made it past the fourth-ranked post.

So I hope you can see just how useful an exact match for your search terms can be even for a more generalized search.

But let’s not stop there. You want to know if your competitors at Canva are targeting this keyword, so let’s add our site: operator into the search bar as well.

It seems that Canva might not be directly targeting this keyword, which means a few things.

It’s very likely that there’s nothing more you can learn from Canva on this keyword, which is a letdown.

Or, you can now see an opportunity to present yourself as a solution in opposition to Canva for your audience of marketer based on this keyword.

Do you think you would have reached that conclusion without an exact match keyword? Probably not.

You may have unintentionally ranked for a keyword like this, but now you have a clear decision on what otherwise would have been a shot in the dark.

So use this operator as a generalized method of finding how others have implemented a keyword or keyword in their SEO footprint.

Then go and attack the keywords you find with top-notch content.

Command #5: Exclude Words: (-) or Add words: (+)

Sometimes when you’re researching your competition, you’ll need to include or exclude certain search times to find the results you need.

In those cases, you can use the (-) or (+) symbol to add or remove specific words in your search that you absolutely want to see.

As you could probably guess, the minus symbol is exclusion.

Say you want to find information about Infographics but don’t want to see too many examples of infographics.

So you modify with -examples, and here’s what you could get:

You’re now given another potential source of infographic template sites, like Venngage and Choose MyPlate, which you can draw ideas from.

You also don’t have to search through an extensive list of example infographics that might dilute your search for more specific advice.

On the other hand, the plus sign is the symbol of inclusion.

Notice the difference it makes when you use it for infographics related to content marketing:

This is our basic search without the operator attached to it.

1.1 million search results isn’t too bad, but let’s see what happens when we add our inclusion modifier.

Now we’re cooking. Only 146 results, which means we’ve once again succeeded in narrowing our results into a very curated selection based on our unique search term.

If you feel like you’re still getting too many results, or if you want to add in an even stricter modifier, you can add you exclusive term back in like this:

You’re now down to just six highly specific results, just like we achieved with our other search operators.

By taking a look at this specific content, you can dive deep into your competitor’s ideas and then innovate as appropriate.

Command #6: Related:

The last search operator I want to look at will help you cast a wider net and find more resources to draw ideas from.

In other words, if you want to open up the playing field, use the related: operator.

Related: gives you sites that are similar to a specific target domain.

Instead of taking a hyper-focused approach, you can see who else is out there in your space trying to do what you are.

You may find a good idea that helps you stand out from the crowd.

So let’s return to Canva and see if Google can help us find sites that have a similar model.

Only nine results, which is a huge success.

You now have a fresh list of extra sites that you can repeat all of this research with.

Use the insights you steal from your competition to launch your own custom content and overpower your competition.

Then rinse, wash, and repeat, because you know they’ll be moving forward with you.


If you’re stuck in the idea generation phase of creating digital content, you need to get out and see what your competition is doing.

But as we’ve seen, sticking to traditional search methods can give you watered down search results that don’t give you an actionable path forward.

Instead of stumbling through these results, narrow your research by using Google search operator commands.

These commands will let you filter by site, title, text, or even find other sites that are related to your competitor’s.

You can customize your operators as much or as little as necessary to give you the best results.

They can take your search results from a list millions to a single, highly specific page of results.

Stop frustrating yourself with endless scrolling through your search results.

Start using search operators to save time and start stealing your competition’s best ideas.

Have you used operator commands to figure out what your competitor is up to?

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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The Benefits and Importance of Customer Satisfaction

The Benefits and Importance of Customer Satisfaction

I can’t get no satisfaction.

Aside from hearing it as the chorus in a rock n’ roll classic, it’s a phrase you never want to come from your customers. No customer satisfaction = no retention. No retention = shrinking customer base. And bad word-of-mouth. And plummeting profits.

Yes, you need a great product. Yes, you need a competitive price. But the future belongs to the experience around your product or service, through each stage of your sales funnel.

In fact, Walker Consulting predicts that experience will be the key differentiator by 2020. Not the price nor the product itself. It will first and foremost be about the experience – and customer satisfaction – you provide.

“It comes down to how your customer experiences the brand – and how that brand makes a person feel.” ~ Alex Allwood, The Holla Agency

In essence, their satisfaction with your brand, your product, your service, your messaging, and more, will make or break you. Are you ready for that?

In the 2018 Digital Trends report, Econsultancy asked which opportunity businesses were most excited about for the year ahead. The #1 response?

Customer experience (aka CX).

More than content marketing, more than mobile, more than personalization, and more than social. Experience – and by extension, satisfaction – beat out some very heavy hitters.

The good folks at Walker also discovered that 86% of consumers are willing to pay more for a better CX.

Businesses are going to focus on customer satisfaction and experience, and consumers are actively looking for those brands that deliver on the promise.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But of course, you may have more questions than answers: how do you achieve customer satisfaction? How do you increase customer satisfaction? How do you define customer satisfaction?

Let’s dig in.

What Is The Meaning Of Customer Satisfaction?

Before we explore it in more detail, we need to define customer satisfaction itself.

At its most basic, customer satisfaction measures how your product, service, and overall experience either falls short, meets, or exceeds customer expectations.

How you measure it varies from business to business. Some may base it entirely on retention and repeat customers, while others may create a numerical value based on data and/or customer feedback.

Regardless, it measures, rates, and attempts to manage how happy your customers are with you, your products, and your brand as a whole.

Happy = good. Not-so-happy = bad. It’s really that simple.

Why? Glad you asked.

The Importance of Customer Satisfaction in Business

It’s obvious that satisfied customers are a good thing. However, it may be a bit harder to articulate exactly why.

The short answer: companies that prioritize customer satisfaction grow and increase revenue. Those that do not, don’t.

So, are you prioritizing customer satisfaction and success? And if you’re nodding your head, are you absolutely sure? Less than half of surveyed consumers – only 48% – believe the brands and businesses they buy from are actually doing so.

Growth and revenue are key elements of a successful business. That goes without saying.


Beyond the growth correlation – if you actively work to increase customer satisfaction, you’re more likely to see an increase in revenue – there are plenty of other reasons to make it a top priority.

Take word-of-mouth, for example. It matters, especially in the ultra-connected and always-on digital world we call home. We can instantly share our experience with a brand with thousands of others on social media and review sites like Yelp.

And aside from that potential reach, we trust and seek out online recommendations:

That’s a lot of potential goodwill and positive publicity. But it works both ways. 60% of consumers share a bad experience with others – and they tell 3x as many people – compared to only 46% who share the good ones.

The takeaway? You’d better do your best to ensure each customer interaction is a positive one. If you don’t place a premium on relationship marketing and customer satisfaction, you won’t be aware of problems or complaints until it’s too late.

Once the word is out, it’s out. As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you prioritize keeping your customers happy, you’ll a) reduce the number of unhappy ones, and b) know about and work to resolve dissatisfaction that much faster.


But the benefits of a customer-first approach don’t stop there:

Brand loyalty
Why would a happy, satisfied customer ever look elsewhere or want to leave you? You’ll see lower churn, and higher retention. And a 5% increase in retention can increase profitability by as much as 25-95%. Let that sink in.

“Return customers tend to buy more from a company over time. As they do, your operating costs to serve them decline. What’s more, return customers refer others to your company. And they’ll often pay a premium to continue to do business with you rather than switch to a competitor with whom they’re neither familiar nor comfortable.” ~Fred Reichheld, Creator of Net Promoter

Brand buzz
A platoon of happy advocates and cheerleaders singing your praises on social media and review sites is the absolute best publicity that money can – or can’t – buy. Work to make it happen.

Brand trust
Consumers trust people – even strangers – more than they do advertising and marketing.

“Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.” ~H. James Harrington, CEO of Harrington Management Systems

Measure, understand, control, and improve.

Customer Satisfaction Goals

So, what should your customer satisfaction goals include? Hard to say. No one knows your business better than you. Your goals may not be my goals, and vice versa.

Generally speaking, you want to keep things simple. Use the SMART goal system (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-limited). Set only 1-2 at a time (otherwise they start competing with each other). Write them down (studies show you’re 2-3x more likely to follow-through). Keep them realistic.

Your first goal should be to start collecting customer satisfaction data if you haven’t already. That’s a no-brainer, and we’ll get into the how in a moment.

Identify the problem spots, the bottlenecks, and the frequent complaints.

After that, your goals may include reducing churn or increasing retention by X%, reducing the number of contact points with repeat customers, decreasing complaint response time, increasing the NPS by X%, experiment with different communication channels, boost the number of “completely satisfied” customer interactions, reduce shipping time, and so on.

What would most benefit your business and your customers? Go with that.

Learn How to Measure Your Customer Satisfaction

Now we get to the meat and potatoes. It’s all well and good to plan and promote customer satisfaction within your business, but how exactly does that play out in the world?

Hubspot recommends a simple acronym to remember the steps: OCCAM (as in Occam’s Razor, the idea that the simplest explanation or approach is usually the best one):

  1. Outline goals and plan.
  2. Create customer survey.
  3. Choose trigger or timing.
  4. Analyze the data.
  5. Make adjustments.

You can’t get much simpler than that.

Begin by asking yourself: Why? Why am I doing this? What do I hope to accomplish? What do I want to get out of this?

A customer satisfaction survey is one of the easiest and most reliable methods for getting a snapshot of satisfaction levels around a particular element of your business (your products, your complaint resolution, your customer service, and so on). Popular methods include:

  1. Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT), which measures their satisfaction on a particular interaction.
  2. Customer Effort Score (CES), which examines the ease with which they were able to have their issue successfully resolved or complete an action (like making a purchase).
  3. Net Promoter Score (NPS), which asks how likely they are to recommend your business to someone else.

Next, determine who will receive your survey, and when. Immediately after a purchase? At the end of an online chat? A week after a complaint was lodged? Look to your goals from the first step for guidance here, as the who and when is determined by what you’re trying to accomplish.

The cardinal sin of data collection is doing nothing with it. Once you have the data, make sure you analyze and use it to make improvements. Otherwise, you’ve wasted everyone’s time and effort.

Some methods are easy to analyze – NPS is simply the percentage of Detractors subtracted from the percentage of Promoters – while others are more complicated. Many customer satisfaction tools have built-in analysis as part of the service. If not, a quick online search can provide dozens of tutorials and how-to guides.

Surveys with a single question and a multiple-choice answer are typically best, but don’t be afraid of longer ones with open-ended questions. They require more effort in both creation and analysis, but they also provide deeper and more varied understanding. You get what you put in.

Once you have some insight, use it. Make adjustments. Unclog bottlenecks. Remove friction. Make it easy and convenient for your customers to get what they want and do what they need to do.

That’s the whole idea.

3 Customer Satisfaction Examples

Looking for some inspiration? Here are three examples of the satisfaction game done right:

In Action

Trader Joe’s is a popular chain of grocery stores with 470+ locations. They have a truly remarkable return policy that puts customers completely at ease and removes all friction, especially those thinking of trying a new product. They will literally take back any product – even if it’s open and/or partly consumed – without a receipt. No. Questions. Asked. The policy includes food, beverages, and alcohol. Don’t like that new wine or beer? Bring back what’s left, get a refund.

“Try it. We think you’ll like it. If you don’t, bring it back for a full refund.” ~Trader Joe’s

With a generous return policy like that, you can bet everyone is recommending them to their family, friends, and followers.

Read or Leave a Review
Amazon clearly knows what it’s doing. Every product on the site has a star-rating at the top of the page, and every customer is encouraged to leave their honest review.

Click the upside-down triangle, and you can select the star-rating that matters most to you, and instantly read the comments left by those consumers that rated it as such. What problems did people have that resulted in a 1-star rating? What pros motivated others to give it five stars?

Not only is Amazon collecting mountains of valuable data on customer satisfaction to answer those questions and more – allowing them to identify common complaints and issues – but they’re also leveraging that data immediately as testimonials – both positive and negative – for those thinking about making a purchase. One-click. One stop.

And that’s one of the many reasons why Amazon is the king of the e-commerce game.

Customer Satisfaction Survey
The humble customer survey performs outside its weight-class. Easy to create and execute, but delivers a powerful data punch.

Dashlane is a password vault and manager. Already one of the most popular in the niche, they’re not resting on their laurels.

This simple NPS survey was sent out via email to existing customers, literally takes just seconds to complete, but collects priceless data and makes their customer base feel warm, fuzzy, and appreciated (their opinion matters).

The Best Strategies to Improve Customer Satisfaction and Retention

Convinced yet? You should be, so let’s jump into some of the best strategies for better customer satisfaction and retention.

Net Promoter Score

The NPS is one of if not the most popular strategies for gauging customer satisfaction with and loyalty to a particular brand. It’s simple, easy to calculate, and boasts some excellent completion rates because it takes just a few seconds to complete.

One basic question (usually a straightforward one like “How likely are you to recommend us/this product to your friends and family?”), and a scale from 1 (least likely) to 10 (most likely). That’s it.

Anyone answering from 0-6 are called Detractors. They’re your unhappy customers, and they can do a lot of damage to your reputation if left to fester.

Passives are those that answer either 7 or 8. They’re satisfied, but not really enthusiastic.

Your Promoters are those customers responding 9 or 10. They’re happy, loyal, and frequently recommend your brand and products.

Your NPS is a quick calculation:

Percentage of Promoters – Percentage of Detractors = Net Promoter Score (a value ranging from a low of -100 to a high of 100).

Just knowing your score instantly tells you how your customers feel about you. But you can do so much more with it: segment your customers into promoters (reward and encourage them), passives (what can you do to increase their enthusiasm?), and detractors (what issues are making them so unhappy?), collect “reasons why” (most services allow for a follow-up open-ended question about why they responded as they did), drive reviews and improve retention.

The Likert scale survey can deliver most of the same benefits, too.

Social Media Monitoring

The internet is awash in people talking about, well, everything. It’s your job to keep abreast of what people are saying about you, your brand, and your products. You can’t sit back and assume everything is hunky-dory.

To that end, social media monitoring has become a keystone of digital existence. And there’s a long list of top quality tools and services that do it for you (more on that below).

Select one, set a few keywords and phrases, and start listening. The faster you “hear” that someone had a bad experience, the faster you can reach out and try to fix it. Likewise, the faster you “hear” someone had a great experience, the faster you can reach out and thank them, possibly offering some special reward or discount for their patronage.

Listen. Respond. React.

Ask for Feedback

Ask and ye shall receive. The simplest way to improve customer satisfaction and retention is to ask for feedback.

Consumers are ready, willing, and able to provide feedback and reviews…if you ask them. Far too many businesses don’t bother. What better way to find out exactly how they feel about everything and anything than asking them directly?

It might be a message on social media, a short email, a pop-up on your site, a push notification, a link at checkout or the end of a chat, or anything else you can think up. The method isn’t all that important. The asking is.

Customers want to feel appreciated and recognized as individuals, not just dollar signs. Asking for their opinion gives them that, and gives you the concrete data you need to make good business decisions.

They feel respected. They feel valued. And that’s half the satisfaction and retention battle right there.

Provide Solutions

Asking for feedback is one thing. But how do you use that to improve customer satisfaction?

You provide solutions. If they’re unsatisfied with some aspect of your product or service, it’s easy to offer excuses and get defensive.

That benefits no one. You need to provide solutions to their complaints.

Shipping takes too long? Offer an express option. Customer service not available at midnight on a Tuesday? Launch a chatbot or self-serve help center.

Their problems + your solutions = better satisfaction and retention.

Try implementing these four strategies to increase customer satisfaction today. Not tomorrow. Today. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it will kick start things and deliver some quick wins to motivate you and make you hungry for more.

Customer Satisfaction Tools And Methodologies

No matter what strategy or method you’re considering, the tools exist to make it fast, affordable, and convenient for businesses or any size or budget.

Net Promoter Score

Social Media Monitoring

Customer Feedback

Online Reviews

User Testing

Email Survey

No matter what you need, a Google or Bing search will find you dozens of tools and services to get the job done. Then, do it. Ask the right questions. Make the right decisions.

Are Customer Satisfaction Surveys Useful?

Ah, the $64,000 question. Is it worth it?

Short answer? Yes.

We’ve already seen the connection between prioritizing customer success and revenue growth. That alone makes it a worthwhile exercise.

Identifying satisfied customers allows you to nurture them into loyal customers using reward programs, special incentives, personalized content, and more.

A focus on customer satisfaction makes you stand out from the masses. Not everyone is doing it yet. Make an impression now.

Satisfaction surveys bridge the gap between what you think you’re doing, and what your customers believe you’re actually doing. For example, 80% of surveyed CEOs said they deliver an exceptional customer experience, but only 8% (!) of customers agreed. That’s a serious disconnect.

In 2018 and beyond, the customer experience and satisfaction is everything.

What is The Best Way to Deal With a Difficult Customer?

No matter how hard you try, you will encounter unhappy, upset, and difficult customers. How you deal with them will determine your overall success.

You can’t make everyone happy all the time. Don’t even try. When a difficult customer crosses your threshold – digital or otherwise – follow a few best practices:

  • Listen without interrupting. Let them rant and vent and get it all out. They want to be heard.
  • Apologize with empathy. Let them know you understand the issue, and appreciate how frustrating it must be.
  • Ask questions for clarification as necessary. Explicitly ask what they would like to see done in response.
  • Offer solutions. Never excuses. If you can’t give them exactly what they want, offer alternative solutions. Use positive language: instead of saying “I can’t do that”, try leading with “here’s what I can do…”
  • Remain calm. Some customers are unreasonable. Keep your emotions in check.
  • Follow-up later to determine if it was resolved to their complete satisfaction.
  • Learn from the experience.

Of course, they are other tips and tricks you could employ in the situation, including some psychological strategies if you want to get fancy, but the steps outlined above are the simplest way to turn a difficult customer into a satisfied one.

How To Treat Customers And Provide Them a Good Service

With respect.

It goes deeper than that, of course, but treating them with respect at all times goes a very long way in creating happy, satisfied, loyal customers.

In addition to that:

  • Have open lines of communication. Email, phone number, social media profiles, online chat, instant messaging, and more. Provide the channels they want.
  • Respond to communication – both positive and negative – in a timely manner. As a rule of thumb, people expect an online answer in well under and hour.
  • Under-promise and overdeliver.
  • Say “thank you”.
  • Train your staff in delivering spectacular customer service. It’s a skill. Don’t assume your employees have it already.
  • Listen. Respond. Ask for feedback. That’s the satisfaction loop to create.

We could devote an entire post to this subject. Suffice to say, follow the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated. You may be a business owner, but you’re also a customer at other times. What do you look for in exceptional customer service? Do that.

Common Questions About Customer Satisfaction

The quality of questions you ask determines the usefulness of the answers you get. You can – and should – ask questions about every aspect of your customer service:

  • The quality and quantity of offered products/services
  • Your commitment to customer success
  • Your pricing
  • Company transparency
  • Accessibility to both your customer service reps as well as your products/services themselves
  • Your consistency
  • Your business aesthetics, including your sites, physical stores, brand messaging, and corporate values and ethics

Ask how well a product meets their needs. Ask about the most important missing features. Ask which features are most important to them. Ask them what one thing they would change. Ask if they’d recommend your business or product to a friend. Ask if they’re likely to buy from you again. Ask about the ease in which they accomplished their purpose (make a purchase, make a complaint, resolve an issue). Ask about your competition. Ask, ask, ask.

Ask questions. Get answers. Then ask why they gave that answer. Keep it short. A multiple choice or scale question with a short input field to explain why is about all you need.


Customer satisfaction is your business, regardless of your product, industry, or niche. You must make it a priority. That’s true today, and will only increase in importance in the years to come.

Collect, analyze, and use data on customer satisfaction for every stage of your funnel, every interaction and touch-point, every product launch, and more. Pick and choose your moment, of course, as no one wants to be inundated with surveys all the time. But no area is off-limits for selectively surveying and asking for feedback.

That’s how you improve. That’s how you grow. And that’s how you turn customers into repeat customers and repeat customers into cheerleaders.

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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4 Old-School Marketing Tactics Making a Comeback in 2018

4 Old-School Marketing Tactics Making a Comeback in 2018

Online marketing promises a holy grail of customer acquisition where you can flip a switch and watch leads waltz through the door.

But that fairytale notion is becoming exceedingly rare and infinitely more difficult to achieve.

More than 60% of marketers say their Facebook Ads aren’t working.

So the try organic posting. But, Facebook organic reach is hovering at just 2%.

Social media traffic in general? It’s half of what it was just a few years back!

What about pay-per-click (PPC)? In 2018, the average display conversion rate is less than 1%.

Email marketing is great…

…if you can reach prospects through the noise of the 121 emails they get daily (not including promotional ones).

So, what’s left? Search engine optimization?

With 55% of marketers saying that growing their website traffic is their number one priority, it’s becoming more competitive than ever before.

More specifically, 61% stated SEO and building their organic presence as their top project.

Every single modern advertising method is going through the same cycle of conception, testing, success and inevitable saturation.

Meanwhile, we’ve completely ignored dozens of old-school marketing tactics, getting caught up in the inbound noise.

We’ve left them in the dust where “they belong.” But they’re making a resurgence.

Here are four old-school tactics that are making a comeback in this currently saturated landscape.

1. Direct mail produces massive average ROI

Did you know that the average American worker gets over 120 emails every single day? That’s just for work.

That’s not including the 49.7% of emails that people get, which is filed under their spam or promotional folders.

People are getting hundreds of them a day beyond just work.

And they’re sending 40+ business emails daily.

According to the Washington Post, the average person spends 4.1 hours every single day on their email account.

That adds up to more than 20 hours weekly.

Using their online calculator, you can plug in simple numbers and get estimates of how many hours you will write work emails for in your entire lifetime.

It’s safe to say the data is shocking.

Even 79% of people say that they check their work email on vacations.

I know I’m guilty. It’s hard not to.

So, why does all this matter for old-school marketing tactics?

Because it proves the point that email is more saturated than ever.

And it shows a clear distinction between work emails and promotional emails.

People are ignoring promotions because they are already spending 20+ hours weekly on just business emails.

So all of your outreach emails to land leads, prospects, and sales are barely getting noticed.

People aren’t checking them. Not when they have 120+ business emails to respond to.

Breaking through the noise is becoming harder and harder. A fool’s errand.

Sure, if you can do it, it can pay off big time.

But with the current amount of saturation, it’s time to think of different ways to get attention.

And with direct mail, you can do exactly that.

Direct mail? I know what you’re thinking, is this a joke?

Absolutely not. In fact, the statistics proving it’s worth will shock you.

Let me explain:

First, direct mail volume, as in the amount of direct mail sent, has declined heavily over the last decade:

Wait, Neil, I thought you were going to tell us good news?

While the decline in direct mail usage might seem like a negative, it’s the exact opposite.

Why? We’re trying to avoid saturation.

In fact, the fewer people sending direct mail, the better. It means less competition for you.

According to the DMA, direct mail is thriving still. Over 100 million adults made a catalog purchase in 2016.

And of those who receive catalogs, 42% read them. That’s a high open rate compared to emails.

Well, what about direct mail response rates? They average at 5.3%.

Compare that to email and PPC marketing that average at just 0.6%.

To add to its efficacy, 70% of people think that direct mail is more personalized than online interactions.

So, what about return on investment? The average ROI ranges from 15-17%.

You can bet that if you put hard work and effort into direct mail that you’d be seeing double that ROI, too.

Overall, the average response rate is 10-30x higher than digital efforts.

Don’t believe what people tell you about direct mail. It’s far from dead. While it may be outdated compared to online methods, the data proves it’s worth.

In a recent case study, Intronis, a cloud backup and data protection company, implemented direct mail efforts to reach big clients.

Why? Because Aaron Dun, the Chief Marketing Officer of the company was struggling with saturation.

He couldn’t reach the prospects he needed through typical marketing channels.

There was too much noise and too many competitors vying for attention.

Instead, he sent multiple direct mail pieces to each client in attempts to drive phone call engagements with his sales team.

Outlining his target prospects, he was able to ensure that his message was received.

The direct mail piece consisted of an Atari replicated unit, and a sticker saying “Intronis got game.”

Prospects who responded to the direct mail via phone or email outreach got pushed further down their funnel.

They were targeted for a second campaign, upgrading them to a new gaming system like a Playstation or Xbox.

Going even further, qualified prospects that were close to converting were sent $200 steakhouse gift cards.

It’s safe to say that they went all out.

But the result was worth the high cost of acquisition:

They generated a 35% conversion rate on their target outreach list.

With an initial group of 50 leads, they got 50% of them to schedule a 30-minute sales call with the sales team.

22% of the 50 target prospects converted into full-time customers.

Overall, their return on investment was 700%.

I know what you’re thinking: I can’t spend $10,000 on a direct mail campaign.

But let me ask you this: why not?

What if you generated a 35% conversion rate and those customers spent thousands with you over the course of a year?

Then your acquisition costs wouldn’t matter.

That’s exactly what happened to Intronis. Dun said:

“We’re willing to invest a little more in the acquisition of those customers because our expectation is that they are going to spend more with us. And, by and large, that has been the case.”

By focusing on lifetime value, they allowed themselves to spend more on acquisition, making a direct mail piece that would knock competitors out of the park.

And it clearly worked. Want to see the full story? Check it out:

This isn’t some one-off success, either. Conversion Fanatics, an SEO company, used direct mail to generate a 25% response rate and dozens of big-ticket clients.

Direct mail works and loads of companies are finding success with it.

You just have to get creative, think outside the box, and only focus on targeting big clients that would heavily impact your yearly revenue.

2. Use account-based marketing for big clients

Every marketer thinks they know “personalization.”

They slap a few [fname] brackets on their emails and call it a day.

But we all know that’s not real personalization.

Using someone’s name at scale is bottom of the barrel personalization. In fact, it’s just respect and common behavior.

It’s a weak attempt that customers see coming from a mile away.

Just because you’ve used their name doesn’t mean they will buy from you.

Not unless you use real personalization.

And data shows that the majority of customers prefer personalized offers.

Cookie-cutter marketing tactics won’t work in this saturated environment. And it’s definitely not going to stand out or build brand awareness.

Instead, you should be using account-based marketing. While it’s not directly old-school, it actually is:

Before the Internet, you had to talk individually to potential accounts. To woo them. To build real, one-on-one relationships.

And that’s what ABM is all about!

So, what exactly is it?

ABM flips the typical funnel on its head:

Where inbound marketing seeks to follow a buyer’s journey from awareness to purchase, ABM instead identifies targets beforehand.

You qualify prospects upfront, ensuring that you don’t waste money when your leads drop off further down the funnel.

You only target the best of the best and set yourself up for big wins and big clients.

ABM is a fundamentally different approach than standard inbound marketing campaigns.

With inbound, you are focusing on casting a massive net and roping in as many leads as possible.

With ABM, you focus on accounts as their own individual market.

This allows you to get extremely personal and build actual relationships with each prospect or target account.

Instead of blasting out email campaigns that aren’t personalized based on each prospect’s wants and needs, hoping to land a few percent, you send out individualized campaigns that directly tap into each account’s pain points for maximum impact.

Every marketing campaign you send is laser-focused on one account and their business.

Optimizely is a perfect example of this strategy in action. At a marketing conference, they unveiled their strategy of ABM and how they targeted 26 different accounts:

Using dynamic landing pages, they optimized each one for a different account. For example, in the image above, they targeted Microsoft as their own market.

Meaning Microsoft got a fully custom experience directly targeted to their specific wants and needs, rather than a generalized idea of those pain points.

Using that approach, they saw a 117% jump in account signups.

According to a survey, 97% said ABM had a higher ROI than other marketing mediums.

On top of high ROIs, 84% said it improved relationships between clients and their company:

While ABM isn’t exactly old-school, it’s built on old-school foundations of actually talking to clients and servicing their individual needs.

To the days when business lunches were key to success.

According to Marketo, the average returns for B2B ABM are huge. Using personalized campaigns for target accounts, you can expect 33% conversion rates.

Plus, your qualified lead gen rate will explode:

ABM is the go-to tactic that mimics old-school marketing with new-school efforts.

It follows a traditional model of a few key steps:

  1. Lay out your firmographics: what account demographics are most likely to buy from your business
  2. Find targets: identify businesses that could benefit from your product
  3. Produce content: create personalized content for each target account.

Once you’ve done those three steps, you can start to build real relationships that drive massive sales for your business.

Account-based marketing is thriving using old-school principles.

Combine it with direct mail and you’re on your way to building a huge business.

3. Attend a conference prepared for selling

Attending conferences used to be an amazing way to build connections that produced leads and sales.

It’s just like account-based marketing: you focus on a small list of people that you want to talk to in hopes of bringing in new business.

It’s old-school. It’s the classic way of business that’s all but been destroyed by inbound marketing.

But now when you bring up the idea, most people see it as a waste of time and money.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most people just don’t do conferences right. They don’t have a plan.

They don’t have specific goals, objectives, and ways of reaching them.

Or they see it as too expensive. But remember:

Nothing is too expensive if your potential ROI outpaces your acquisition costs.

Spending $10,000 on a conference and business dinners is a no-brainer if you are likely to land five new clients, each paying you thousands a month.

By using a combination of direct mail, events, and telemarketing, one company generated a 300% ROI, landing 140 new clients.

HubSpot’s “unbooth” at Dreamforce generated 2,300 new leads and 362 product demos.

Attending conferences works.

You just have to come in ready and with a plan.

To start, begin by looking for conferences in your area.

Simple Google searches can net instant results for events in your niche:

For example, the first link gives me an interactive map of where the upcoming marketing conferences are being held:

It even provides a direct list of information including costs, direct location, description info, date range and website links:

Next, click on a conference that you think you’d want to attend or could attend for cheap in your immediate area.

For example, I selected the IBM Think 2018 conference in Las Vegas:

Directly on their website, you can start to look for sponsors and partners, giving you a clear idea of what types of companies will be attending:

With the sponsor list, I found an entire goldmine of company data:

From premium sponsors to multiple level sponsors, I can see exactly what companies are attending.

This single conference has hundreds of sponsors:

From smaller companies to massive accounts like Salesforce.

Now that you know exactly who’s attending this conference based on sponsors alone, you can start to research each company individually, seeing which ones are a good fit for your business.

For example, let’s say you have a SaaS tool. You sell heat mapping technology and want to land some big-ticket clients at this event.

You could use a site like BuiltWith, to analyze what software each company on that list uses:

Maybe they are even using your competitor.

You can then leverage this information into a sales pitch, undercutting them and potentially landing yourself a game-changing client.

Repeating this process of research based on your own company and product, you can identify exact targets to make connections with at the conference for big returns.

4. Pick up the phone and start dialing

In October of 2016, mobile and tablet traffic online passed traffic from desktops:

This historical change to the way we thought about Internet traffic has some serious implications.

Currently, 51%+ of traffic is now mobile and tablet based.

More than 50% of Google searches are done on mobile phones.

Almost all Facebook browsing is done with mobile apps, too.

The fact of the matter is, mobile traffic is exploding. And mobile searches lead to phone calls.

A new report found that 75% of phone calls to a business come from smartphones.

Mobile search is the main driver of calls out of any medium or source:

Now is the time to start picking up the phone and start dialing.

The old-school medium of phone calls is making a resurgence. And the numbers are positive.

That same report found that calls have, on average, 30-50% conversion rates. That’s virtually unheard of in most other mediums.

And current marketing technology for phone calls is outstanding.

One of my favorite tools to use to integrate old-school efforts of phone calls to online efforts like landing pages is CallRail.

Using CallRail, I can track each visitor on my site individually, generating a diverse profile of information from their phone number to location and their exact web session:

Meaning I can tell what pages drove interest.

Which ones sparked a desire to browse more.

And most importantly: what products, services, or content topics kept them on my site.

All of that data is invaluable in marketing.

It helps you sell with ease as you can quickly address pain points without asking tiresome questions.

By using CallRail’s Keyword Pool feature, every visitor on your site gets their own phone number, tracking their page views, keywords and interest:

With a tracking number, users that call into your business will be recorded on your dashboard with all of their information, too:

Now all that’s left for you to do is pick up the phone and start dialing.

Contact your customers and reach them on a medium that converts well.

Use your data to your advantage.

Knowing their browsing history will give you clues into their interests and even their funnel stage.

For example, are they a return visitor? If so, how many times have they visited your site?

Data shows that on average, users take 7-13 touches to become a lead.

Next, look at their specific history. For example, are they just reading your blog posts?

If so, they are likely still at the top of your funnel. They are becoming more brand aware with each visit.

If they start to view product pages and pricing or click on lead magnets, you can tell they are further down your funnel, nearly ready to convert.

Phone calls are a great way to connect with prospects.

In fact, according to State of Inbound, the most successful channel to connect with prospects is via phone:

And that goes for every single level of seniority in your company.

Phone calls can help you drive tons of sales, even in 2018.


Online marketing promises the world at our fingertips.

We click a few buttons, flip a few virtual switches and campaigns are live, published to the masses.

But soon, the traffic stops. Or it simply “doesn’t work.”

Why? Saturation.

As tactics start to become commonplace, they produce diminishing returns.

What worked five years ago doesn’t work with as much efficiency today.

You can’t run a banner ad and expect everybody to click it.

Meanwhile, we’ve all but neglected old-school methods like direct mail, account-based marketing and more.

But that’s actually a good thing. With everybody focused on inbound tactics, old-school ones aren’t as saturated as they once were.

In fact, customers are more receptive than ever to them.

To get started, consider running direct mail campaigns. They produce a 15-17% ROI on average. The average response rates are 10-30x higher than digital efforts.

Combine that with account-based marketing and you’ll be landing big clients in no time.

Consider attending a conference. They are still alive and well.

If all else fails, pick up the phone and start dialing. And most importantly of all:

Tie back old-school methods with new-school efforts like landing pages.

Sometimes, the old, forgotten marketing tactics can produce the best results.

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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Using Email to Increase Repeat Purchases for your eCommerce Store

Using Email to Increase Repeat Purchases for your eCommerce Store

Getting prospects to convert to customers is one thing. But, how do you get customers to buy again and again after the first purchase? It’s more than just ‘nice to have’, consistent repeat purchases can be the difference between success and failure. This is where attentive, behavior based emails become important.

At Kissmetrics, we have a product that is built around the ability to powerfully segment your customers based on their behaviors so you can deliver the right engagement (ad, email, etc.) at the right time to the right customer and drive more repeat (and first time!) purchases. The better you align your messaging with actions your customers have taken, the more success you’ll have. This post focuses on email engagement, but check out our Connections feature which enables you to send Populations (segments) directly to Facebook and more.

So what kinds of emails should you send? How often should you send them, and what should they contain? Here are a few of the best examples of eCommerce follow-up emails and why they work so well.

One more thing – this is just a start. What are some of your most successful campaigns? Let us know below.

The Repurchase Reminder

Oftentimes, when you make a purchase on a website, they email you immediately after encouraging you to buy again. This marketing strategy is rooted in the idea that customers are likely to come back and purchase while your brand is still fresh in their mind. But oftentimes, companies send emails out immediately and when the customer (naturally) doesn’t respond, they no longer follow up.

If your repeat purchase numbers are flat-lining and your emails are stale, why not wait until more time has passed (depending on how often the customer uses the product) to remind them? Here’s a great example from Sephora, which reminds the customer to restock based on how much time has passed since their first purchase:

Sephora reminds the user to restock based on their past purchase. (Image Source)

Another creative spin on the restock email comes from Clinique. Since their data likely shows that women tend to shop online for beauty products more than men, they wouldn’t have as much luck sending a shaving gel refill reminder to men — so they advertised a refill reminder for him, to her. See how they did it:

An advertisement for men’s shaving gel — targeted to women, who are likely the ones shopping for beauty products. (Image Source)

We Miss You!

One alternative on the restock/repurchase follow-up email is tailored to the bargain hunter, like this email from Starbucks. There’s no better way to stay top-of-mind than with a coupon, and many customers actively wait to purchase until they get a deal. Knowing this, why not reach out with a discount?

This reminder from the Starbucks Store gets right to the point with a discount for customers that haven’t shopped in awhile. (Image Source)

Going Beyond “How Did We Do?”

For the customer who doesn’t have time to write up a huge review, but the company still needs their feedback data to work with, I present to you the Amazon 1-click review:

Amazon encourages busy customers to simply click to review the size of garments they’ve purchased online. (Image Source)

Of course, you’ve likely received plenty of emails asking for your feedback, and even some that go the extra mile by giving you a discount coupon, entering you into a contest and much more. But this one is noted for its pure simplicity plus its unobtrusive style. It doesn’t get in the way — one click and you’re done.

And speaking of Amazon, you already know that they’re the e-commerce leader simply because of how much they test, monitor, tweak and track everything about their site. One of the more famous changes was adding in the “Customers who bought X, also bought Y” feature. Now much more commonplace on e-commerce sites, this “Frequently purchased together” option often encourages greater purchase volume per customer.

But what happens when they don’t purchase all of the items together? Is emailing them about it a lost cause? Not exactly…

Frequently Purchased Together

Not all “Frequently Purchased Together” emails have to be a sales pitch. And if the customer didn’t buy them when they were originally presented, there must have been a reason.

Of course, the reasons why customers choose not to buy could be a whole other blog post in itself, but knowing what you know, why not steer the customer more toward educating them about the product add-ons or accessories rather than simply presenting them?

An example of a Thank You follow-up email from BabyFirst. (Image Source)

Since, in the example above, the customer is shopping for baby-friendly TV shows, the company naturally recommends a couple of DVDs that a baby or toddler might like, as well as a coupon and directions on how to get it for free.

The Window Shopper

With all of the email examples showcased so far, you’d need the appropriate data based on what the customer bought previously. But what if they haven’t bought yet, and are only looking? Are you out of luck? Not at all. Provided you have the prospect’s email address (a pop up that offers a discount emailed to them is a great way to collect more emails), you can still send them reminders, even if they haven’t added a product to their cart:

Recommendations on shirts and a reminder based on shirts and slacks previously looked at, from Calvin Klein. (Image Source)

Here’s another example that reminds the user of the products they browsed in case they want to take another look and don’t want to have to sift through their browser history:

An email reminding the user of the products they looked at. (Image Source)

*Major Tip*: Kissmetrics ties anonymous users to identified ones (aka: when you collect their email), so you can measure the average number of visits before someone makes a purchase and factor that into when you send them emails, serve them ads, etc.!

Use Demographics to Sell

As opposed to many of our other examples, these emails do not rely on previous purchases. They start fresh with new product recommendations based on the demographics.
For example – has it been raining in Minnesota for the past few days? Find all your prospects located in Minnesota and send them an email showcasing your umbrellas.

Many of your prospects are likely either searching for one because a) they don’t have one or b) the one they have is old, has holes, etc.

This is just a take on what we said earlier – good marketing is the right message at the right time to the right person.

This is a tactic used by some of Kissmetrics’ most successful customers – it might seem simple, but people in different regions shop differently and putting a little effort into making that obvious in your email campaigns will go a long way.

New Product Recommendations Based on Past Purchases

Finally, we have the “new product recommendations” email. Rather than always notifying customers every time you have new items in stock (and hoping they might like some of them), why not segment the new product announcement emails based on what the customer has purchased previously? They’re much more likely to buy, and they’ll welcome the added personalized attention!

Despite the different products and industries, all of these emails have one major thing in common — and that is a dedicated — almost fanatical attention to customer orders, browsing habits and preferences. And although you may be doing a great deal of e-commerce by email, there are still, as these emails demonstrate, new ideas and approaches that can be capitalized on.

About Kissmetrics

Kissmetrics is a data-driven segmentation and engagement solution built to provide marketers with deep behavioral insights to power more targeted emails and ads. If you’re an eCommerce brand looking to turn more window shoppers into repeat purchasers through better customer engagement, request a demo here.

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“Hey $FNAME” is Dead. Here’s How to Personalize Marketing

“Hey $FNAME” is Dead. Here’s How to Personalize Marketing

Nearly all marketers cite personalization as a critical factor in engaging customers.

That’s ‘cause 86% of consumers say it informs their purchases.

But there’s a problem.

Because the majority of marketers aren’t satisfied with their personalization efforts and results.

That’s because slapping on “Hey $FNAME” to an email before it heads out the door ain’t personalization. Those days of half-assing it are long gone.

In other words, the trends aren’t wrong. Our approach is.

Here’s how to truly personalize your marketing messages to cut through the clutter.

Trillions of Emails: Why Your One-Off Campaigns Aren’t Performing

Email marketing has long been the most cost-effective channel online, delivering $38 for every $1 spent and besting social channels by 40X in acquiring new customers.

That success hasn’t gone unnoticed. And now email is under siege and in danger of collapsing on itself; the very definition of killing the golden goose.

269 billion emails are sent daily, adding up to hundreds per person, per day. Most of it unwanted, and unasked for ‘graymail.’

Email’s gotten so tough and so competitive, that sending it isn’t the hard part: getting it delivered in the first place is.

Consumer behavior has also evolved.

Instead, consumers today bounce around across multiple channels on multiple devices. It isn’t linear, but sporadic and all over the map. That’s why people routinely require 7-13+ touches prior to purchase.

All of this means a few things.

First, the likelihood of a single email campaign generating a sale has decreased. Same goes for a single ad. Or a single direct mail piece.

Instead, think of those things and links in a chain. They gotta add up over time if they’re gonna work. The day’s of one-and-done promotion are history.

And second, it means that a broad trend like ‘personalization’ can’t be isolated to only email.

Instead, it needs to be applied across channels and devices, mirroring the exact actions your customers are already taking.

Case in point: look at what happens when you combine Facebook ads and email (only two channels, mind you).

Facebook and Salesforce performed an experiment, targeting ads and emails to 565,000 subscribers.

There was a group of people who only opened the emails. A group who only saw the ads. And then a ‘combined’ group that saw both.

Let’s take a wild guess about which of those three groups were more likely to purchase?


Unsurprisingly, the third ‘combined’ group that saw both emails and ads were 22% more likely to purchase.

That wasn’t the only benefit though.

Combining Facebook ads with email (by linking your CRM data) also helped, “extend email campaign reach by 77%.”


Facebook’s VP of Global Partnerships, Blake Chandlee, had this to say:

“The combination of CRM (customer relationship management) data and Facebook targeting truly powers targeted reach at scale to create effective marketing campaigns. We expect to see great results as marketers continue to pair Facebook custom audiences with both email marketing and direct-mail campaigns.”

Incredibly, the former Director of Content and Global Research at Salesforce Marketing Cloud (and winner of the longest-vague title award), Kyle Lacy, admitted that, “Targeting, messaging and measurement aren’t typically coordinated across email and advertising”.

It isn’t. But according to these stats, it should be.

So why isn’t it, then?

According to an Experian survey, the top challenges to executing personalization were “gaining insight quickly enough” and issues with “having enough data” or dealing with “inaccurate data”.


So let’s start there.

Because segmentation is the foundation for personalization.

Building the Foundation for the Future of Marketing

Wanna know what the future of marketing looks like?

  1. It’s an ever-evolving homepage based, with personalization navigation and calls-to-actions, based on who someone is or if they’ve been there before.
  2. It’s adding potential prospects to carefully crafted promotion sequences when they do something that signals intent.
  3. It’s changing or updating opt-in examples to better match the vertical and profession someone identifies with.

Sounds great in theory, right?

But how would you do it? Practically.

You could pull in which pages a visitor has seen recently. You can piece together information that someone’s given you (while filling out different forms or sales pages). And you can determine if (or what, specifically) people have purchased in the past.

This isn’t theory. It’s reality. It’s what savvy marketers like Brennan Dunn are already doing.

It’s segmentation 101. But applied across all customer touch points that you can influence. And it all stems from having a centralized, (organized) database.


Amber Kemmis from SmartBug Media likens advanced techniques like ‘progressive profiling’ to dating. It’s about gathering information, slowly at first to not appear pushy or overbearing, before eventually piecing together a bunch of feedback and information into one rich backstory of who that person is.

And more importantly, what they want.

Brennan’s been able to use these techniques to zero-in on not what someone’s background might be, but what type of solution they’re looking for (that you can turn around to sell them).


Image Source

So while some might be fine with basic tutorials, others desire hand-holding one-on-one help.

That’s how you know what to sell someone. That’s how you know what campaign they might be interested in receiving. That’s how you know what messaging should be used across your emails, ads, and on-site messages to them.

Along each-and-every “customer centric success milestone” you have. Each major activity inside of your app or on your website is instrumented and tailored for the individual.

Sounds great. Again, in theory. But how do you do it?

Start By Segmenting Your Audiences

Personalized marketing delivers the right message to the right person at the right time.

That means existing customers might see a discount to upsell a recommended product. Leads get educational content to nurture their trust and develop urgency. While brand new, first-time visitors get a simple overview video.

All of this ‘stuff’ is delivered intelligently, automatically, based on filters and criteria you’ve already set-in-motion.

That all starts with where, specifically, someone is coming from.

Funnel segmentation refers to creating unique pages and messaging for people based on the marketing campaign or traffic source that’s delivering them to your website.


There are a few reasons why you’d go to this extra effort.

The first is that different groups of people are looking for different things. ‘Cold’ traffic from an ad might be looking for generic information, while ‘warm’ visitors from your email newsletter might be looking to purchase.

Segmenting your audience, and therefore, what information they see on your site, better aligns with their own expectations (and more predictably delivers a good experience that encourages them to continue giving you a shot at their business).

There’s a second practical reason though. It costs less.

Jacob Baadsgaard from Disruptive Advertising found that a single point increase in your AdWords Quality Score can decrease Cost Per Conversions by 13%. The inverse is also true, where a decrease in your Quality Score raises your Cost Per Conversion.


One of the key ingredients behind your Quality Score is ‘message match’, or how well your ad text and landing pages line up with what visitors are looking for.

Guess what? Same thing happens over on Facebook too, where ad costs are driven up-or-down by your Relevance Score. A higher score just-so-happens to line up with a lower Cost Per Click (and better Click Through Rate).


And Facebook is now spreading its algorithm over to Instagram feeds. So guess what’s gonna happen there too?

So continuing the same messaging throughout a visitor’s site session doesn’t just deliver a better experience (increasing the likelihood of conversions), but also brings down ad costs as well.

Cohort analysis reports in Google Analytics lets you set specific audience segmentation rules based on the various metrics:

With a cohort analysis, you can analyze metrics like: goal completions, specific pageviews for segmentation, transactions, behavior and more.

Seeing how each groups reacts on site with given landing pages and return visits, you can use that data to segment content or buying suggestions based on common traffic and behaviors.

These factors will inform where your messaging style needs to change based on the objective and user group.

For example, Overstock uses a simple drop down at the top of the page to overcome possible objectives like unexpected shipping costs (which we’ll come back to in a second).


These messages differ depending on how many times you’ve visited their site or engaged previously with a product.

New users will often get free shipping banners, reducing any potential friction that could cause a fast bounce.

Returning users might be prompted with a discount to push them over the edge into a buying decision.

You can even A/B test messaging around different actions and events to quickly compare how these campaigns stack up.

Like, for example, triggered-events.

Now Tailor Activities Based on People’s Behavior

Average website conversions hover around a depressingly low single-digit rate.

One reason, is because the vast majority of people – nearly 75%! – routinely abandon shopping carts online.

Maybe they really were just browsing. Or maybe they were “presented with unexpected costs” like this Statista survey says.


Whatever the case, this person was so close to purchasing. They were at the finish line, products in cart, and then they just left.

So… don’t let them.

Sense what’s about to happen based on their action (or more accurately, inaction), and proactively engage them.

For example, if someone’s idle for 30 seconds you can bet they’ve already gotten distracted and are browsing another tab or site.

Using a tool like PushCrew, you can now use targeted messaging to regain their purchase momentum when someone’s lounging around idly at a checkout page with items waiting in their cart.

You can customize your messaging based on time on site, pages viewed and countless other factors to personalize messaging at scale:

There’s no shortage of tactics to try, which could range from:

  1. A discount or other incentive (that expires) to create urgency to purchase.
  2. Showcasing how there’s only a few items left of that product in stock to emphasize scarcity (before it’s too late).
  3. Reiterate testimonials and other customer reviews to leverage the power of social proof.

You spent all that money on ads. Not to mention, those high quality videos and product pages. Only for a bit of friction to pop up and derail your soon-to-be conversion.

So use on-site notifications, and combine those with ones in other channels too. For example, your standard shopping cart abandonment email (like this excellent example from FiftyThree):


A simple, well-timed email like this can generate a 54% open rate and 28% click rate. Not bad for a few minutes worth of work.

But don’t stop there. Retarget them with remarketing ads on other networks too.

Facebook’s Dynamic Product Ads will let you track when users hit certain events, like viewing specific products or adding them to their cart (but not purchase).


Then it will automatically update the ad creative for you (that’s the “dynamic” part), using a template you’ve already setup.


Image Source

These highly segmented, perfectly-timed ads have delivered a 34% higher click through rates for The Honest Company – in addition to a 38% drop in Cost per Conversion.

That’s no accident. No trick or gimmick. And no ninja, rockstar growth hack.

Just good marketing. And personalization.


You’ve heard all the stats. Read all the stories.

People are increasingly overwhelmed today by marketing messages. Inundated with more than ever before.

So ‘more’ is working less.

Instead, compile a rich view of who people are and what they’re doing on your site. Start with where they’re coming from, specifically the channels and sources. It helps clue you into what they’re looking for, and you can tailor on-site interactions accordingly.

From there, you can let a person’s behavior instruct what you should be doing next (and what you should be telling them to do). If a new visitor’s reading blog posts, recommend a new one or suggest that eBook.

Extend that knowledge to other channels too, including cart abandonment emails or perfect-tailored remarketing ads that show the exact product they were just viewing.

Personalization is the Holy Grail for the future of marketing. But “Hey $FNAME” is not personalization.

About the Author: Neil Patel is the cofounder of Neil Patel Digital.

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