Building an attribution strategy – Search Engine Land

Building an attribution strategy - Search Engine Land

Customer journeys are complex.

Gaining an accurate and complete picture of your marketing attribution—which channels are producing leads and conversions—is crucial to getting the biggest return on your marketing dollars.

In this guide, CallTrackingMetrics presents a variety of channel attribution strategies, and describe how CallTrackingMetrics can help you finally gain a complete picture of the marketing journey.

Visit Digital Marketing Depot to download “Finding Success With Attribution and Call Tracking.”

About The Author

Digital Marketing Depot is a resource center for digital marketing strategies and tactics. We feature hosted white papers and E-Books, original research, and webcasts on digital marketing topics — from advertising to analytics, SEO and PPC campaign management tools to social media management software, e-commerce to e-mail marketing, and much more about internet marketing. Digital Marketing Depot is a division of Third Door Media, publisher of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, and producer of the conference series Search Marketing Expo and MarTech. Visit us at http://digitalmarketingdepot.com.

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Equity funds see biggest weekly inflows in a year: BAML

BlueMountain names slate for PG&E board

LONDON (Reuters) – Investors plowed $14.2 billion into global equity funds this week, the largest amount in a year as investors jumped on to 2019’s stock market rally, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said on Friday, citing flow data provider EPFR.

An index of global stocks is up more than 16 percent since the end of 2018 as falling market volatility and a renewed dovishness from global central banks, led by the U.S. Federal Reserve has boosted risk appetite across the board.

BAML said most of the inflows went into exchange traded funds while mutual funds saw net outflows.

U.S. equity funds were the biggest beneficiaries with net inflows of $25.5 billion while emerging markets saw net outflows.

European funds also saw $4.6 billion of outflows after the European Central Bank slashed its growth forecasts and signaled a cautious economic outlook at its latest policy meeting.

The appetite for risk spilled over into bond markets as well with investment grade debt notching up the eighth consecutive week of inflows.

Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee; Editing by Tommy Wilkes

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Effortless 404 and site migration redirects Search Engine Watch

Effortless 404 and site migration redirects with Fuzzy Lookup

Effortless 404 and site migration redirects with Fuzzy Lookup

In recent years, the nature of SEO has become more and more data-driven, paving the way for innovative trends such as AI or natural language processing.

This has also created opportunities for smart marketers, keen to use everyday tools such as Google Sheets or Excel to automate time-consuming tasks such as redirect mapping.

Thanks to the contribution of Liam White, an SEO colleague of mine always keen on improving efficiency through automation, I started testing and experimenting with the clever Fuzzy Lookup add-in for Excel.

The tool, which allows fuzzy matching of pretty much any set of data, represents a flexible solution for cutting down manual redirects for 404 not-found pages and website migrations.

In this post, we’ll go over the setup instructions and hands-on applications to make the most of the Excel Fuzzy Lookup for SEO.

1. Setting up Excel Fuzzy Lookup

Getting started with Fuzzy Lookup couldn’t be easier — just visit the Fuzzy Lookup download page and install the add-in onto your machine. System requirements are quite basic. However, the tool is specifically designed for Windows users — so no Mac support for the moment.

Unlike the not-exact match with Vlookup (which matches a set of data with the first result), Fuzzy Lookup operates in a more comprehensive way, scanning all the data first, and then providing a fuzzy matching based on a similarity score.

The score itself is easy to grasp, with a score of one being a perfect match, for instance. This score then decreases with the matching accuracy down to a score of zero where there is no match. Regarding this, it’s advisable not to venture below the 0.5 to 0.6 similarity threshold in the settings, as the results are not consistent enough for a site migration or 404 redirects purpose below that limit.

Example of accuracy score

For greater accuracy, it’s also desirable to trim the domain (or staging site equivalent) from the URLs, making sure that the similarity score is not altered by too many commonalities. For more information about the setup, you can also refer to this Fuzzy Lookup guide.

2. Redirect mapping automation and its benefits

Considering the time necessary to familiarize with the site, categories and products/services, it’s safe to assume that a person would manually match two URLs roughly every thirty seconds. If that doesn’t sound too bad, consider that it would take between five to eight hours for a website of 1,000 URLs. This would make it quite a tedious and time-consuming task.

Bearing in mind that Fuzzy Lookup can provide nearly immediate results with a reliable fuzzy matching for at least 30 to 40 percent of the URLs, then this approach starts to appear interesting. If we consider the savings in terms of time as well, this would translate to about three hours for a small site or over ten hours for large ecommerce site.

3. Dealing with site migration redirects

If you are changing the structure of a site, consolidating more domains into one, or simply switching to a new platform, then redirect mapping for a website migration is definitely a priority task on your list. Assuming that you already have a list of existing pages plus the new site URLs, then you are all set to go with Fuzzy Lookup for site migrations.

Once you have set up the two URL lists in two separate tables, you can fire up the Fuzzy Lookup and order the matched URLs by the similarity score. In my tests, this has proven to be an effective, time-saving solution, helping in cutting down the manual work by several hours.

As displayed in the screenshot below, the fuzzy matching excelled with product codes and services/goods (such as 20600 and corner-sofas, for example). This allows the matching of IDs with IDs, and the URL with the parent category, in the case where an identical ID is not available.

Example of site migration redirects

4. 404 error redirects

Pages with a 404 status code are part of the web and no website is immune, hosting at least a few of them. Having said that, 404 errors have the potential of creating problems, hurting the user experience and SEO. Fuzzy Lookup can help with that, requiring just one simple addition a recent crawl of your site to extract the list of live pages, like the example below:

Example of 404 redirects

The fuzzy matching works pretty well in this instance too, matching IDs with IDs, and leaving the match to the most relevant category if a similar product/service is not live on the site. As per the site migrations, the manual work is not completely wiped out, but it’s made a whole lot easier than before.

5. Bonus: Finding gap/similarities in the blog

Another interesting application for Excel Fuzzy Lookup can be found in analyzing the blog section. Why? Simply because if you’re not in charge of the blog then you are not likely to be aware of what’s in it now, and what has been written in the past.

This solution works in two ways as well, because if a similarity is found, then you have the confirmation that the topic has been already covered. If not, this means that there’s still room for creating relevant content that can be linked to the service/product category to improve organic reach as well.

Example of finding gaps and similarities in the blog

Wrapping up

Time is money, and when it comes to dealing with large numbers of URLs that need to be redirected, a solution like Fuzzy Lookup can help you in cutting down the tedious manual redirect mapping. Thus, why not embrace fuzzy automation and save time for more exciting SEO tasks?

Marco Bonomo is an SEO & CRO Expert at MediaCom London. He can be found on Twitter .

Related reading

marketing automation for SEOs, five time-saving strategies
A primer to forecasting the value of SEO
How can brands utilize SEO to capture new users and markets
A quick guide to SEO in 2019

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Ways to Boost Your B2B Marketing Content Readership

How to Use Customer Testimonials in B2B Marketing

Forestville: March 7, 2019


A father bear, mother bear, and their baby bear arrived home yesterday afternoon to find that a young girl had broken into their home and was sleeping in the baby bear’s bed. Investigators said the girl, whose name they disclosed is Goldilocks, was last seen running from the site of the break-in after jumping out a bedroom window after having been awakened by the bears. Prior to falling asleep, Goldilocks ate all of the baby bear’s porridge and broke his chair, authorities alleged.

An elective course Allen took in college was an introduction to news journalism. Among the assignments in courses like this is to write a lead paragraph (the “lead” or “lede”) using a well-known children’s tale as the news item. Lead paragraphs are written to provide the reader a preview of the story to come, summarizing it with only basic facts—the “who, what, when, and where.” The objective of the lead is to prompt readers to continue on to get the details.

We led this article with that thought to make the point that if you want your business-to-business (B2B) marketing content to gain readership, the first thing you must do is think like a news journalist.


In this age of information overload, it’s critical to be able to quickly grab your reader’s attention with the key points you want them to take away. That way, even if they read only the first few lines of your marketing message, they’ll immediately grasp the most critical things you want to communicate. And, hopefully, if you’ve done a good job setting the stage, they’ll continue reading to pick up more of the specifics in your marketing content.

Content marketing is used by over 91% of B2B marketers; but only 37% of marketing organizations have a documented content marketing strategy and only 20% describe their approach to content marketing as “very successful,” according to a survey by MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute.

That’s because, as the survey noted, over 83% of those on the receiving end of online marketing messages reported being overwhelmed by both the amount and the length of communications. They want the content shorter, to the point, and prescriptive—as in “just give me a solution.”

Solution in mind, and aside from thinking like a news journalist as you take on marketing content initiatives, what are four other surefire ways to optimize your efforts?

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Investor group calls on Lyft to scrap dual-class share structure plan: FT

Investor group calls on Lyft to scrap dual-class share structure plan: FT

An electric scooter from the ride sharing company Lyft is shown on a downtown sidewalk in San Diego, California, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – A group of investors has called on Lyft Inc’s board to scrap a proposed dual-class share structure, as the ride hailing company pitches its initial public offering to investors next week, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.

San Francisco-based Lyft’s planned IPO includes a dual-class stock structure, with one class of shareholders getting 20 votes per share and another getting one vote per share.

The investor group, in a letter addressed to the company’s directors, said it should stick with its single class of shares with one vote each, the report said.

If the company’s board fails to resolve the issue, it should adopt a “sunset” provision to phase out the extra voting rights within seven years, the letter said, according to the newspaper.

The letter was signed by investors from Britain’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, BNP Paribas Asset Management, pension funds representing public employees in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Ohio, the Teamsters union and United Auto Workers union retirees, the newspaper said.

Lyft did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

“With a dual-class structure, Lyft is basically shielding itself and company insiders against shareholders who deserve a voice. Outsized control among an unaccountable few is an unnecessary risk — and Lyft should go back to the drawing board,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, according to the Financial Times. Stringer oversees the city’s pension funds.

Reporting by Akshay Balan in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Experimentation in product development: How you can maximize the customer experience

Experimentation in product development: How you can maximize the customer experience

Are you a product builder or a maximizer?

Hila Qu, Vice President of Growth at Acorns, has a theory.

She says there are two kinds of product managers: the builders and the maximizers.

Ideally, on your product team, you have both: the builders who conceptualize a solution in product development, from the ideation stage all the way until the customer roll-out.

WiderFunnel Product Teams as Builders
Product Builders are essential to organizations because they conceive the product that provides value to the customer in the first place.

They’re very important because, without them, there’s nothing; they are building the value from zero to one,” Hila explains.

And then, there are those that can maximize the customer’s value through experimentation in product development.

The bulk of the product value is already created, but how can you maximize that value? The maximizers help customers understand the product better when a new product or feature is launched because we often assume people will know how to use it.

Hila Qu

VP of Growth at Acorns

WiderFunnel Product Teams Maximing the Value of Customer Experience
Product Maximizers build upon the value of the product through experimentation.

It’s an interesting distinction—between developing and experimentation.

Product development is all about making your product solve your customer’s real-world problem, and the builders aim to make the process frictionless so they will create a habit out of returning.

But product development teams might not know if they were successful. Or how they could improve the experience for the users.

Experimentation enables the maximizers to improve upon the value that is already developed, to make the customer experience more delightful.

Actually, your product team can leverage experimentation where ever they are in the product development cycle: They can test an idea before launch; Or they can improve your feature after it’s rolled out to your customers.

Experimentation is iterative; your product team learns and develops as they gain insights about your business and your customers.

If you are exploring the possibilities of product experimentation at your organization; if you are a marketing leader looking to evangelize experimentation throughout the business—this post is for you.

In this post, we’re tackling the essentials of experimentation in product development. Essentials like:

  • The breadth and depth of experimentation in product development so you can start dreaming up the possibilities.
  • An understanding of the stakes when experimenting within the product development cycle, especially when those hard-earned customers are interacting with your brand.
  • And why experimentation in product development is a leap toward a customer-centric organization, a strategy for growth.

But we also wanted to show you examples. So, we talked to product managers at Optimizely, Acorns, RVShare and Stitch Fix about the opportunities for product experimentation in reaching business goals.

And they are clearly seeing results.

You might be thinking: what is product experimentation?

Client-side experimentation is based on the premise that what-you-see-is-what-you-get. It’s about visual changes to the content hierarchy of the website.

Innovative marketers have been doing this form of optimization for years, and they’ve seen the success. So what’s next?

Product experimentation is often top of mind when it comes to expanding an optimization program internally. That’s because there are more possibilities.

The product life cycle is usually more elongated than the marketing lifecycle,” explains Giannis Psaroudakis, Director, Product at Optimizely.

In the marketing lifecycle, you have a campaign and you have a very specific goal, which is sometimes short-lived – you want to increase your leads, for instance.

If you are optimizing your website to get a customer to convert, only to have a product that does not live up to the customer’s expectations—those hard-to-win customers are going to look elsewhere.

But it can be tricky.

Product managers don’t always get it right the first time, and that’s why it’s important to have a feedback loop with your customers.

It’s important to maximize the value of your product. Understanding how your customers are finding value and optimizing their journey so that they can find that value faster.

“Even well-researched products can suffer due to the gap between what customers think they want and what their behaviors reveal they actually want.

By testing a new feature or even a variation of that feature, your product team can see if it is improving the customer experience, or actually making it worse.

The experimentation mindset aligned with the premise of a minimum viable product, seeing how your customers react through a gradual or even incremental roll-out. It allows you to test new ideas before a full launch.

Don’t frame it as a product launch. Just frame it as an experiment.

Dan Siroker

Optimizely Co-Founder and Executive Chairman

If you crave that buzz of a big launch, experimentation after-the-fact enables you to get the most out of those ideas—and your organization’s investment.

By the time something this big has been built, the launch is very, very unlikely to be permanently rolled back no matter what the metrics say.

Rather, the randomized experiment, in this case, is for visibility, and to provide information that might help with making future decisions.

Announcing a feature or product through an official launch can inspire adoption—particularly if you have a large customer base to which you can communicate.

But once your product is rolled out, you can start to understand how your customers are interacting with the features at every touchpoint through experimentation.

Product experimentation should make the job of the end user easier or more helpful. If that’s not the goal in your company than you might be running it the wrong way.

Martijn Scheijbeler

Vice President of Marketing at RVShare

Those learnings can be brought forth into future product evolutions—whether that’s changing copy to highlight your value proposition, or smoothing out the funnel flow to reduce friction.

And you can even experiment after your customer logs into your experience, especially when confidentiality is essential for your business.

Do what your customer wants: A painted door experiment example from Optimizely

We created a painted door experiment informing customers we intend to give you this feature, sign up to get early access. We wanted to test if its value proposition resonated with our users,” explains Giannis Psaroudakis of Optimizely.

For those that don’t know–a painted door or a fake door experiment is a way of gauging customer interest in a feature, service or product without building anything.

When the customer clicks a call-to-action button or a link, or even registers with their information, they are notified that it has yet to exist. And they might see something like:

Hey! We haven’t actually built this feature yet, but are you interested?

Of course, you have to know if your customers would be open to this type of experience. You would have to make the experience intriguing enough so that it doesn’t cause frustration.

But you get the data to see if customers find that appealing. Or at least made them curious enough to click or register. And for Optimizely, this worked:

We had several customers enthusiastically send us feedback. It was overwhelming—we received dozens and dozens of requests which is quite uncommon and we even had a customer send us a photo of a thumbs up.

WiderFunnel Experimentation in Product Development Optimizely painted door experiment example
Experimentation is a feedback loop with your customers, but in Optimizely’s painted door experiment, they were able to delight their users with the hope of a new feature.

A painted door experiment, like this, truly exemplifies the power of running a cheap form of experiment as a gauge for the next step.

It gives you the confidence that you’re moving in the right direction, without a single line of code or effort by an engineer.

But more importantly, it’s that feedback loop with your customers.

Relevant resources

The scientific method of product experimentation

Let me first clarify: you don’t test features in product experimentation, you test hypotheses.

Product experimentation takes an optimizer’s brain: It takes an analytical mind to be able to see the opportunities for product experimentation. It also needs the scientific method to turn ideas into measurable hypotheses.

Move away from the mental model of thinking of new products and new features you want to build, in the form of a list of requirements, and instead, think of them as hypotheses.

Giannis Psaroudakis

Director, Product at Optimizely

Rather than saying, “we need to build feature X that has this requirement and that requirement, because customers asked us to”, you start with presenting these same requirements in the form of if/then statements.

This is so important because it sidesteps any HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion), and it persuades you to think about your product—how you’re building the product—in the form of experiments. In other words, hypotheses that you can validate with data.

Making data-driven decisions is important in product experimentation because the stakes are higher.

You are experimenting within your product experience on your many already acquired customers so you need to have high quality assurance and more guard rails to what makes it to the experimentation stage.

We have a more rigorous review process for product experiment hypotheses,” recalls Giannis Psaroudakis.

We have an experiment review, which is more of an advisory process that allows us to surface new product experimentation ideas and specifically review our hypotheses.

Anyone in the organization can submit their “experiment briefs”—customer challenge, hypotheses, and metrics of success—through Optimizely’s Program Management platform.

And we revise these experiment briefs in the weekly experiment reviews to make sure that whoever is planning to run a product experiment has carefully thought about the hypothesis and the metrics of success.

The scientific method ensures that you can make the data-driven decisions on how your product—and the customer experience—should evolve.

Free Worksheet

Identify opportunities for maximizing your product’s value.

When you use the scientific method in experimentation, you don’t test features; you test hypotheses. Start planning your first product experiment with our hypothesis worksheet.

Digging deep into data to find that first product experiment opportunity at Acorns

When I joined two years ago, my goal was to improve customer retention,” recalls Hila Qu. “But it is a very broad goal: What do we mean by improving customer retention?

Hila described how she talked to her co-workers—those stakeholders who have been exploring the problem. She asked them the reasons people left their app and their opinions as to what might improve customer engagement.

But she didn’t stop there.

I also worked with our data analytics team to do a quantitative analysis. Basically, I was trying to identify which customer behavior encouraged people to stay.

For example, I looked at the retention curve after a customer completed action A in the product, and compared that to the retention curve of people who didn’t complete action A in the product within their first month.

Using that methodology, I was able to compare different behaviors, because for any digital product, there are a lot of actions user can take.

I was able to narrow down to one particular user behavior where I saw that if the user completes that action, their retention is much better that if the user doesn’t. I also saw that many customers weren’t actually completing that action.

Through her analysis, Hila identified that if a new customer completed action A at the onset of their journey, it had an influence on the customer’s future behavior.

It had a much bigger impact because at that moment, we had people’s attention and they were excited. They wanted to get started with the product.

Hila then mapped out the journey, considering the many paths that a customer could take to complete action A. And there were several:

“For example, you can go to the menu, click that menu item and use that feature; Or, you can basically send them an email with that call-to-action to use that feature. I identified all of the paths so I could understand which one I could focus on first.

So, my hypothesis was based on the data; it seems like if we can get more people to complete action A, the retention will be better. I narrowed down to new customers and if I could get more of them to complete action A, it would be most impactful and easier to influence people’s behavior.

Her first experiment was simple. She didn’t have the development or engineering resources since she was only initiating a product experimentation program.

She hadn’t yet proven experimentation’s value internally, so she needed to identify an opportunity where she could show business impact from a small investment of resources.

We already had a modal in our registration flow that asked people to take action A, but the modal was at the very end of the flow. And you only see the modal if you completed another action. So, I narrowed down to this particular area.

I wanted to test copy. That experiment had the potential for a very high ROI. If it worked, it could have a big impact, but also the effort required was relatively small. It was really just changing the copy and testing different copy against each other.

And it worked.

We launched it and saw over 60% improvement in conversion rate.

Simple or complex—product experimentation can have a big impact.

Further resources

Experimenting broadly and deeply in product development

When it comes to experimentation in product development, you have more opportunity to optimize your experience. That’s because you can experiment broadly and deeply into the product development cycle.

WiderFunnel Experimentation in Product Development Cycle

There are plenty of opportunities to experiment in the product development cycle.

Share the insight:

Consider the stages of product development:

First, you have the Discovery stage where you ideate new features or products and this is particularly relevant when you ideate in the form of hypotheses.

According to Meg Watson, Product Manager at Stitch Fix, her team also conducts an analysis to determine if they should proceed into product development.

Next, you move into the Design stage, according to Giannis Psaroudakis, where you can evaluate your hypotheses through early user studies or rapid prototyping. This prototyping is where experimentation begins in terms of usability.

Then, you go on to the Development stage where you dive into coding or testing your actual code.

And afterward, you have the Roll-out stage, when you make sure your hypotheses still stand after launch and there’s nothing negatively affecting the quality of the final product or the customer experience.

In traditional product development, this is where you might stop. Your ideas might win, but they also might fail. And there’s no defined evaluation for where you can improve.

That’s why in product experimentation, you also have the Maximizing stage, that Hila Qu described: What can be improved? What can we evolve? What can make the customer experience frictionless, more delightful?

When I’ve looked at some of the things we’ve started with and usability testing, and then compare that to the product that ships, X months later, a lot happens in between those stages. We start with sending a prototype through usability and then we have all the different optimization tests that run after something goes live.” confirms Meg Watson.

Throughout the product development cycle, with the experimentation mindset, you are constantly exploring and validating the possibilities for new features or products by generating that feedback loop with your customers.

But perhaps more importantly, experimentation in product development means you can test deep in your stack.

Unlike client-side experimentation, with its what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach, you can test what you can’t see. Product experimentation incorporates server-side testing:

You can test changes on your server side and improve the performance of your back-end systems,” Giannis Psaroudakis affirms.

If you’re running any machine learning models that give recommendations to customers, you can experiment with those, for instance.

In client-side experimentation, a variation is run through the web browser or mobile app using a visual editor and a single JavaScript line. Once the variation is proven, you can build it out by implementing a code pack.

But in server-side experimentation, the variation is coded on servers. So, it can be more resource intensive because you build up-front.

WiderFunnel Experimentation in product development client-side server-side
You can see that server-side experimentation requires that you build upfront. (Source: “Why Experiment Server-Side?” by Optimizely)

That way, you can experiment with how a product functions, like the machine learning algorithms that enables you to deliver a personalized experience.

And that’s why product experimentation has so much potential.

Learn more from these innovative organizations

When it comes to experimentation, it’s all about the customer experience.

Ultimately the goal of all this, the reason we’re doing this, is to give the customer a better experience with Stitch Fix and to make sure that it’s effortless. It’s fun. it’s delightful. And that they truly have a good experience with all of our products.

Experimentation in product development allows you to get deeper into the stack, deeper into your customer’s experience so that you are delivering the best possible solution and a delightful one at that.

For many organizations, it’s an untapped source of growth.

The gap between product and marketing teams is becoming smaller and smaller, and from a customer experience perspective, it’s blended.

The customer experience has to be consistent and compelling, and work seamlessly between the pieces that are controlled by the two teams, in order to have the customer finish that journey from a random visit or from your ads, to the point where they use the product for the first time and they know the value, they see the benefit.

WiderFunnel Product and Marketing Customer Experience
If the customer doesn’t view marketing and product as separate parts of their journey, organizations shouldn’t either.

But we need to stop siloing product and marketing.

With an experimentation mindset, organizations need to unite internally to spread those insights throughout every customer touchpoint.

That means experimenting constantly—both client-side and server-side—and sharing the insights across both marketing and product development teams.

Because your customers don’t see your landing page or your product funnel as distinct experiences. Instead, you need to focus on the entire customer journey.

What are your burning product experimentation questions? We’d love to hear them below.

Author

Lindsay Kwan

Marketing Communications Specialist

Benchmark your experimentation maturity with our new 7-minute maturity assessment and get proven strategies to develop an insight-driving growth machine.

Get started

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What martech challenges are keeping you up at night?

What martech challenges are keeping you up at night?

Ask a digital marketer what their biggest challenges are tied to marketing technology, and it may change given the time of day (or your last conference call). But we’re asking you to help us compile the mother of all lists.

The survey below should take just a few minutes. Just list the big challenges you face, and we’ll come back later to share the full list of what you and your peers had to say.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today. For more on marketing technology, click here.

https://martechtoday.com/what-martech-challenges-are-keeping-you-up-at-night-231869


About The Author

Henry Powderly is vice president of content for Third Door Media, publishers of Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than a decade in editorial leadership positions, he is responsible for content strategy and event programming for the organization.

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Mutual funds start to put their mouth where their money is

Mutual funds start to put their mouth where their money is

(Reuters) – Corporate America’s biggest shareholders have traditionally been content with sharing their views on a company’s strategy privately with management.

FILE PHOTO: Logo of global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb is pictured at the headquarters in Le Passage, near Agen, France March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

But now some mutual funds are beginning to rethink their stance, amid pressure from investors for them to justify the fees they charge and a push to boost the performance of their holdings.

Wellington Management Company LLP’s decision last month to speak out against drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co’s proposed $74 billion acquisition of Celgene Corp, calling what would be the largest-ever pharmaceutical takeover too risky and expensive, sent ripples across the investment world.

This is because these tactics have typically been the purview of activist hedge funds like Starboard Value LP and Elliott Management Corp, not a large institutional money manager like Wellington, with $1 trillion in assets under management.

But in the case of Bristol-Myers, Starboard spoke out publicly against the deal one day after Wellington unveiled its stance publicly.

Wellington’s vocal opposition to the deal is the culmination of some mutual funds gradually feeling more emboldened to publicly challenge a company’s strategy, asset management executives and corporate governance experts say.

“There has been a growing chorus among investors who want these firms to speak up. With Wellington speaking up, it is going to put pressure on the others to do the same,” said Lawrence Glazer, managing partner at Mayflower Advisors, which invests with Wellington funds.

In January, chemicals company Ashland Global Holdings Inc agreed to changes to its board after pressure from asset manager Neuberger Berman Group LLC, which has about $300 billion in assets under management.

T. Rowe Price Group Inc, which manages close to $1 trillion in assets, has opposed several acquisitions, including Michael Dell’s offer to take his eponymous computer maker private, because it felt the proposed deal undervalued the company.

Spurring on these funds to challenge companies publicly is the need to show their worth as so-called active money managers, picking stocks rather than just betting on indexes.

At a time their performance has been lackluster and many have struggled to keep up with their benchmark index, they are under pressure from index-tracking funds who are gaining more market share in asset management. These “passive” money managers charge investors far less, in part because they do not need the army of analysts and portfolio managers to make investments.

“More funds are willing to agitate in search of returns,” Mark Shafir, Citigroup Inc’s co-head of global mergers and acquisitions, said on Thursday at the corporate law institute conference organized in New Orleans by the Tulane School of Law.

RAMPING UP PRESSURE

Despite their deep pockets, taking a public stance on corporate strategy does not come easily to many of these funds, in part because they are unaccustomed to readying the kind of presentations aimed at swaying other shareholders.

For example, Wellington’s statement on Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Celgene deal was just four sentences long. By contrast, Bristol-Myers published a 46-page document defending its deal.

The world’s biggest active mutual fund managers, including Fidelity Investments and Capital Group, have preferred to use their influence discretely, taking advantage of their access to management to gain insight into a company’s strategy and offer feedback behind closed doors.

To stay on good terms with corporate management, large mutual funds have often been happy letting activist hedge funds agitate over a company’s perceived problems.

To be sure, even passive investors have started to pressure companies behind the scenes, especially on social, governance or climate change issues that a younger generation of investors cares more about.

For example, BlackRock Inc and Vanguard Group voted against management at oil major Exxon Mobil Corp in 2017 over its reluctance to disclose the risks it faced from climate change, and pressured weapons manufacturer Sturm Ruger last year over its refusal to publish a report about the safety of its products.

“Corporate America had better take note because the folks who actually pick stocks have finally decided to flex their muscles,” wrote Don Bilson, head of Event Driven Research at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston and Mike Erman in New York; Editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Matthew Lewis

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