Small business digital advertising bakeoff

What’s working today for small budget advertising? For my book, the biggest social network of all: Facebook.

leading-innovation-cspenn-portrait-book-cover.pngOver the last week and a half, I’ve been busy launching my new book, Leading Innovation. In my normal duties at SHIFT Communications, I have access to budgets in the thousands of dollars or more for clients who have objectives other than pure direct-sales ROI.

When I’m doing my own work, I pay as I go; pre-orders fund the first round of advertising, and I only add budget as I earn it. Why? This methodology keeps me laser-focused on ROI. Neutral or negative ROI gets the ax; like many small businesses, I can’t pay for more advertising with money I don’t have. This is a key point: my strategy is to sell as many books as possible at the highest margins achievable. Not every author has the same strategy or goals, nor should they.

What did I do to launch my book? I had earned enough in pre-orders to sustain a week-long ad campaign on three different ad networks: Google’s AdWords, Twitter, and Facebook.

  • To maximize ROI, I focused my ad campaigns on all three networks to my existing audiences only.
  • I’ve had retargeting tracking bugs on my website for several years, tagging every visitor for inclusion in product launch campaigns.
  • I also used Customer Match on AdWords, Tailored Audiences on Twitter, and Custom Audiences on Facebook, using my email newsletter list as the data source.
  • I used the same copy and/or images for all three networks. Facebook’s campaign also included Instagram.
  • I also included email marketing for comparison, since I’m an avid user of WhatCounts Publicaster, still the greatest email marketing software on the planet.

How did the testing go? Which service did the best? The results:

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Of the ad networks, Facebook thus far has done the best – but still has negative ROI. Twitter did the worst by far, with incredibly high costs and lackluster performance.

Some caveats:

All campaigns capped their budgets daily. It’s entirely possible that they could have performed better with additional upfront investment; whenever an ad campaign caps its budget, you’ve left audience on the table. However, like any other small business, I could afford what I could afford.

Email isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison because it’s a monthly fee, rather than a media buy. Keep that in mind.

AdWords was search plus display retargeting only.

None of these campaigns did any kind of outreach or brand building to net new audiences. These campaigns only focused on monetizing existing audiences. For larger brands, net new audiences and brand building matters. For the small business / sole proprietor, we rely on organic methods to grow our audiences and paid methods to monetize them.

What should you take away from my testing?

The most important lesson you can take away is to run a similar test. My audience is unique to me. My results will be unique to me.

Set up a similar test for your own marketing with the budget you have, with the audience you have, with the copy and creative you have.

Find out what works best for you. Keep an eagle eye on ROI. Do more of what works, less of what doesn’t work.


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2015 Year in Review: A Few Words from Colleagues

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Nothing says the New Year’s season like looking back at the year that was. This week, I’ll be taking you on a tour of the year that was, 2015. Sit back, relax, and let’s see what you liked.

Top Posts from Around Marketing

I chose to look at colleagues’ 2015; what follows is a short list of marketing-related tweets from 2015. The criteria I looked at was a tweet had to be retweeted 50 times or more, and it had to be marketing/marketing technology-related.

Ann Handley, MarketingProfs:

Avinash Kaushik, Google:

Chris Brogan:

The Official Google Analytics account:

IBM Watson:

Jay Baer, Convince and Convert:

Matt Cutts:

Scott Monty:

Reflecting on 2015

2015 was analytics and content; content marketers struggled to be heard in an ever-noisier landscape, while marketing stakeholders asked for more and better data.

What will 2016 bring? That’s for next week. For now, thank you for being here. Thank you for reading, for being a part of my community. I wish you health, happiness, safety, and prosperity in the year to come.


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2015 Year in Review: Social Posts You Liked

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Nothing says the New Year’s season like looking back at the year that was. This week, I’ll be taking you on a tour of the year that was, 2015. Sit back, relax, and let’s see what you liked.

Top 10 Social Posts of 2015

#10: Rand Fishkin’s post on creating valuable content:

#9: A rough guide to spotting bad science:

#8: Side by side pictures of GTA V and the real life locations:

#7: How to normalize and stack rank Google Analytics data for traffic analysis:

#6: Bruised woman on this billboard heals as people pay attention to her:

#5: Justin Cutroni of Google announces cohort analysis added to Google Analytics:

#4: How to structure links for maximum SEO benefit:

#3: How SEO can define your brand for you:

#2: Why Google may no longer announce major algorithm updates:

and the #1 social post of the year:

Google Tag Manager course now available for free from Google Analytics Academy:

What I find fascinating in this analysis is SEO is such a prominent part of what you liked most about what I shared this year. SEO, despite being two decades old, is still such an important part of every digital marketer’s job. With Accelerated Mobile Pages, in-app search, and many other innovations coming, I have no doubt that SEO will continue to be top of mind in 2016.

Tomorrow, a look at what other marketers shared that really resonated.


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