SEO Basics: The 6 Most Important Things Marketers Need to Know [Infographic]

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Search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t all about focusing on keywords anymore. Search engines are getting smarter and better at understanding a searcher’s intent and how they can provide them with meaningful content.

Over the past few years, marketers have lived through everything from changes in search behavior (like the serious increase in mobile search queries) to search engine algorithm updates (like Google’s rewarding more secure websites). Nowadays, following and adapting to these changes has been a big key to a business’ success.

If you’re struggling to keep up with the changes in SEO and what you as a marketer need to do as a result, you’re in the right place. Check out the infographic below from Digital Marketing Philippines for a crash course in the most important parts of SEO marketers need to know to be successful in 2016 and beyond.

You’ll learn which ranking factors are the most and least important, how to optimize your website for mobile search, how to figure out what searchers are looking for, how to optimize for local search, the content length that’s best for search, the place website security has in good SEO, and more.

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The SEO Myth of Going Viral

Posted by EarnedMarketing

If you’ve been to any SEO conferences over the past few years, you’ve likely heard something along the lines of this:

“Links are still really important for organic search rankings. But the way we go about getting those links has changed… it’s now all about content marketing.”

The general premise is that great, “rank-worthy” content gets links, which in turn builds up your site’s authority, which subsequently gives a boost to the search rankings of both that specific content piece and the domain as a whole. And following the same logic, content that does spectacularly well in earning links ought to have spectacular and lasting SEO results.

Sounds great on paper, and it even makes sense when you think about it logically. You build better content that readers enjoy, so the quality of your site goes up, and Google rewards your ever-improving site with better rankings.

Except that’s not what I’m seeing. Not by a long way.

Today I’m going to put across the hypothesis that viral content, at least in certain scenarios, has little to no benefit for domain-wide search engine rankings. Specifically, we’ll be taking a look at some websites that have absolutely smashed it with viral content, including:

  • Amplifon
  • Simply Business
  • Concert Hotels
  • JustPark

Amplifon: What do links from 222 websites do for SEO?

Our first case study is from a hearing aid manufacturer called Amplifon. Back in August 2014, working with the renowned digital marketing agency Epiphany, they created an interactive piece called Sounds of Streetview. Originally hosted on the amplifon.co.uk domain (which has since been redirected over to amplifon.com), this rather nifty piece of content marketing was meant to bring an explorative 3D sound experience to Google Streetview — and the Internet loved it.

According to Majestic, this piece secured 685 backlinks from 222 referring domains. And the results for their organic search rankings? Let’s take a look…

At first glance, there does indeed seem to be a sharp jump in Amplifon’s overall search visibility after the release of the “Sounds of Streetview” on both SearchMetrics and SEMRush. However, upon deeper inspection of SearchMetrics’ keyword-level data (available here), we can see that almost all of this jump has come from new keywords directly related to the “Sounds of Streetview” content piece. Ranking increases and extra traffic from keywords like “street view” and “make your own google” are hardly the kinds of outcomes that businesses yearn for when signing off on large content marketing projects.

Looking at “Money Making” keywords alone, we only see around a 10% jump in SearchMetrics’ Traffic Index for Amplifon SERPs. Moreover, all of that jump comes from a single, very popular keyword (“hearing aids”) which moved up by one position. The Traffic Index for all of Amplifon’s other “Money Making” keywords has actually gone down by -76 between July 31 2014 and August 28 2014.

SearchMetrics Organic Visibility Graph for Amplifon.co.uk

SearchMetrics Traffic Index by keyword type for Amplifon.co.uk

SEMRush Organic Traffic Graph for Amplifon.co.uk

SEMRush Number of Ranking Keywords Graph for Amplifon.co.uk.*


*SEMRush expanded their tracked keyword set for UK in February 2016, but this jump in keywords does not relate to improved real-life traffic for the website.

Simply Business: The perennial content marketing case study

Let’s take a look at the second case study examining Simply Business, a large business insurance broker here in the UK. They’ve been included in almost every conference speech and blog post covering content marketing in the last year. So much so, in fact, that a search on Google for “Simply Business” + “link building” returns 168,000 results.

Released in February 2014, their viral content success came in the shape of Hungry Tech Giants, an interactive guide on how the “big five” tech giants have acquired smaller companies over the past 15 years. According to Majestic, this piece obtained 588 links from 167 linking root domains.

Simply Business has also produced a very successful (in link acquisition terms) suite of business tech guides. Out of a grand total of 20 guides, the two stand-out performers were WordPress for Small Businesses — released in August 2012, which attracted 1,897 links from 169 linking root domains — and The Small Business Guide to Google Analytics, published in January 2013 and which garnered 3,463 links from 243 sites.

That’s a lot of links!

SearchMetrics Organic Visibility Graph for SimplyBusiness.co.uk

SearchMetrics hasn’t picked up any spikes in boosts in Simply Business’ visibility within a reasonable timeframe after the launch of these three pieces.

SEMRush Organic Traffic Graph for SimplyBusiness.co.uk

SEMRush Number of Ranking Keywords Graph for SimplyBusiness.co.uk.*

SEMRush has observed a rankings increase of 10% to 15% around January 2013, but no associated change to the organic traffic. Other than that, no clear signs of growth are coming from the content marketing successes.

There haven’t been any new guides added to Simply Business’ guides section since August 2015.

Concert Hotels: But what if you “make it” really big, thrice?

Our final case study is Concert Hotels, a hotel booking website. Back in November 2013 they released the first of their mega-successful content pieces: 100 Years of Rock. This piece brought in a hugely impressive 8,358 links from 521 linking root domains (Majestic).

In May 2014 they released the second big hitter: Vocal Ranges of the World’s Greatest Singers. According to Majestic, this piece managed to procure 2,839 backlinks from a whopping 590 linking root domains. Not bad going!

The company followed this up with a piece called Got Rhythm in June 2015. Although not as successful as its predecessors, it still managed to accumulate 899 backlinks from 236 linking root domains (source: Majestic). Still not half bad.

So in total that’s over 12,096 backlinks from over 1,347 linking root domains. And the impact on organic search traffic?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

SearchMetrics Organic Visibility Graph for ConcertHotels.com

SEMRush Organic Traffic Graph for ConcertHotels.com

SEMRush Number of Ranking Keywords Graph for ConcertHotels.com.*

JustPark: 5 million visits aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

Disclaimer: I was in charge of JustPark’s digital marketing when we kicked off our content marketing effects, and hopefully I can give you some insider insight on what we saw (or, more accurately, didn’t see) on the back of our activities.

Back in spring 2015 we identified domain authority as a clear SEO priority for JustPark, the UK’s largest parking marketplace. Domain-level linking root domains of the top competitors were 3 to 6 times higher than ours and correlated very well with their organic visibility.

Seeing the big authority building challenge ahead of us and knowing that we don’t want to engage in any risky, shady activities, we decided to invest in content marketing-led link building. Deep inside we all harbored the hope of striking content marketing gold and having one of our pieces going viral.

We selected Distilled as our partner for producing 5 “big content” pieces, and alongside this we also planned out multiple smaller interactive projects to be developed in-house.

After releasing 5 content marketing projects with average success over September and October, we kicked off on the piece that was going beat all of our expectations: Emergency Stop Game.

Rollout

After a quiet launch and a few small spikes of traffic, we decided to seed the content on Reddit in early November. All of a sudden its popularity started snowballing, with traffic (and referrals!) going up by the hour. Coverage started coming in from top-tier news publications around the world, and when the piece appeared on IFLScience (and took our servers down) we knew we were on to a big one.

By the time all of this madness had died down, the piece had accumulated 400k+ Facebook shares and 5 million+ visits. But what was all that worth?

SEO impact

As domain authority was our overall goal, we watched the build-up of linking root domains — many of them of very high quality — with great excitement. In total, Emergency Stop Game attracted links from more than 600 sites (by now 1,141 links from 389 linking root domains are left in Majestic’s fresh index), which doubled the total link profile of the whole JustPark website. Suffice to say, we expected to see a big change in our SEO performance.

The big surprise came when, week after week, we were looking at the SEO traffic to the core product side of the website (excluding the viral piece itself) and there was no boost to be seen.

SearchMetrics Organic Visibility Graph for JustPark.com

SEMRush Organic Traffic Graph for JustPark.com

SEMRush Number of Ranking Keywords Graph for JustPark.com.*

Here are the graphs from SEMRush and SearchMetrics. They do report improvements in Traffic and Visibility that dissipate over time, but the improvements that they’ve picked up likely have more to do with the gained visibility in (surprisingly popular) “reaction time testing” searches, rather than money-making keywords that drive traffic to the core website.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see how an underwhelming boost to the SEO bottom line by otherwise successful marketing projects might be kept under wraps. Nobody wants to be the one to rain on the parade, especially when those projects have earned visibility and kudos from the community at large. I invite anyone with contradicting (or reaffirming) case studies to openly share their learnings and help inform our industry.

In the meantime, I will take the liberty of making some generalizations as to what these case studies might imply.

Large amounts of links to a single page (with the possible exclusion of the homepage) might not pass that much SEO value to the rest of the website, especially if:

  • …the single page is not particularly on-topic
  • …many of the links have appeared within a short period of time
  • …most of the links are from news websites, as opposed to sites focused on your product / service / industry
  • …many links are from international sources whilst the website is nationally focused
  • …the single page uses different page structure (headers, footer, menus, etc.) from the rest of the site
  • …the single page is not well-interlinked with the rest of the site

My main aim in writing this article was to spark a conversation and critical evaluation of the current industry-wide assumptions on content marketing. If you agree with the above, great. If you disagree — even better! Come forth with your observations and let’s see what learnings we can extract from them.

A special thanks to Ben Johnson — a former colleague and now a freelance SEO and PPC consultant — for his help with this article.


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SEO basics: What does Google do?

How does Google work? What does Google actually do? For many of you this will be fairly old news. But for all the SEO newbies: let me explain (in easy to understand prose) what Google actually does. Understanding Google could really help you create an SEO strategy that works!

How does Google work?

Search engines like Google follow links. They follow links from one web page to another. Google consists of a crawler, an index and an algorithm. Google’s crawler follows the links on the web. It goes around the internet 24/7 and saves the HTML- version of all pages in a gigantic database, called the index. This index is updated if the Google crawler comes by your website again and finds new or revised web pages. The new version of this page is saved. Depending on the traffic on your site and the amount of changes you make on your website, Google crawlers come around more or less often.

For Google to know of the existence of your site, there first has to be a link from another site – one that is already in the index – to your site. If crawlers follow that link it will lead to the first crawler-session and the first time your site is saved in the index. From then on, your website could appear in Google’s search results.

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Google’s secret algorithm

After indexing your website, Google can show it in the search results. Google tries to match a certain search query with web pages that it has indexed. To do so Google has a specific algorithm that decides which pages are shown in which order. How this algorithm works is a secret. Nobody knows exactly which factors decide the ordering of the search results.

Google’s algorithm isn’t static. It changes regularly. The factors that determine the ordering and the importance of the different factors change very often. Although the algorithm is secret, Google does tell us which things are important. We don’t know how important though, and we don’t know whether Google communicates about all factors. Testing and experimenting gives us a relatively good feel for the important factors and changes in these factors. We incorporate these factors in our SEO plugin and tell you about it in our many blog posts.

Google’s results page

Google’s results page – also known as an SERP– shows about 7 or 10 links to sites which fit your search the best (according to Google). We refer to these results as the organic search results. If you click to the second page of the result page, more results are shown. The further down the results you are, the less likely someone is going to find your site.
Above the 10 links on the first page are paid links, most of the time. These links are ads; people have paid Google to put these links at the top of the site when people search for a specific term. Prices for these ads vary greatly, depending on the competitiveness of the search term.

The value of links for search engines

It’s very important to have a basic understanding of how Google and most other search engines use links. The number of links pointing to a page is used to determine how important that page is. So, the more links a specific site has, the more important search engines think it is. Both internal links (coming from the same website) as well as external links (from other websites) could help in the ranking of a webpage in Google. Some links are more important than others, though. Links from websites that have a lot of incoming links themselves are generally more important than links from small websites with only a few incoming links.

The importance of links actually was something that lead to active link building. As long as you are collecting links that are useful and logical, link building can be a good SEO strategy. But if you are collecting (or worse buying) shady links, Google may punish you for that. Read more about the dangers of link building in this article.

Learn how to set up a keyword strategy for your site in our Keyword research training »

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SEO and Google

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing sites to (attempt to) make them appear in a high position in the organic search results. In order to do so, SEO tries to shape a website according to Google’s algorithm. Although Google’s algorithm remains secret, over a decade of experience in SEO has resulted in a pretty good idea about the important factors.

We monitor all communications by Google about (changes in) the algorithm and we test what actually works in the search engines. At Yoast, we advocate holistic SEO. Your SEO strategy should never feel like a trick. Google wants to show the user the result that fits his or her search query best. If you want to appear high in the results for that specific search term, make sure your website fits that search term.

Read more: ‘How to write a high quality and SEO friendly blog post’ »

5 Ways You Can Use Visual Content to Increase Conversion Rates

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I was ready to buy. My finger hovered over the “Add to Cart” button. But I still wasn’t sure.

While all the images on the site were professional and inspiring, not one of them was user-generated or showed an outfit on an average-sized human being. If I’m spending a couple hundred dollars on a dress, I want to know it will be flattering on my body (and I’m not a size zero — who is?). That conversion didn’t happen. I’m shopping elsewhere.

The wrong visual content can kill conversions as quickly as the right visual content can increase them.

In fact, conversion rates for brands that use custom visual content are seven times higher than those that don’t. And there are so many ways visual content can increase conversion rates. Since they’re so sharable, you can use them as social proof, and you can use them to quickly explain your product’s benefits and features. Essentially, all the functions you’d like your content to offer can be done — often better — with images.

It’s no wonder that the right visual content increases conversions, but only when used the right way. We compiled five of our favorite methods of doing just that.

5 Ways You Can Use Visual Content to Increase Conversion Rates

1) Experiment with video.

Videos & Product Pages

Product videos have been shown to improve conversion rates — 73% of U.S. adults, for example, are more likely to purchase a product or service after watching a video that explains it. That’s way up from the 20% conversion increase reported on Unbounce in 2012, and there’s a reason for that — the internet has gotten faster. Loading these videos used to be a pain in the router, if you will, but with faster speeds, it’s quickly becoming the favorite way to get information. After all, Google didn’t acquire YouTube for fun.

But it’s not as simple as “Video = Conversions.” Videos only work this well when placed in the hottest areas of your product page, like next to product images or “Buy” buttons. When you give your videos prominent positions — above the fold, top and center — visitors stay longer, engage more, and buy more.

But what should these videos be about? Consider what your customers (don’t) want. They probably don’t want to read a lengthy product description — most web visitors only read 25% of text. Instead, show how the product works and how real people are using it. And remember, features are nice, but what they really need to know is how your product will improve their lives.

Make sure these videos are accurate and will lead to more realistic expectations. That way, it can help reduce product returns, since a video shows how products are used day-to-day. It’s worked for Zappos — and other brands, like ASOS, have estimated that a 1% fall in returns would add $16 million in profit.

Videos & Landing Pages

When Dropbox first put a video on their homepage six years ago, conversions went up by 33%. That impact has only increased over time, especially since there have been a few improvements and innovations in video marketing that can improve those digits.

Now, we have access to user data, which marketers can use to personalize experiences at scale. Below, Lowe’s leverages user data to customize its video based on:

  • Whether the viewer had purchased from Lowe’s in the past.
  • Location of the nearest Lowe’s store to viewer.
  • On-sale items that were most relevant to the viewer based on their location and past purchases.
  • Weather conditions, and weekday vs. weekend timing.

Lowe’s ultimately had more than 180,000 variations on the video, each of which was personalized to the individual viewer.

On the lower-tech end of the spectrum, you can improve conversion rates by simply placing the video you use front and center, above the fold. We also recommend using a text call-to-action, like “click to play.”

2) Show people how to use your product or service.

Pre-Purchase Product Tours

There are a number of ways to show how a product works — even without video. Virtual product tours can serve the same function, but if done incorrectly, they can be clunky, boring, and overwhelming.

Most product tours become available after a product has been purchased, as part of the onboarding process. But pre-purchase product tours can act as powerful conversion enhancers, too. Take Visme’s product tour, for example. It’s cleverly designed for the early stages of the buyer’s journey, the visuals are large and simple, and the copy is concise. Not to mention, benefits are stated front and center, with “here’s how it works” displayed with an arrow below the top image, acting as a CTA to scroll down.

Visme product tour

From there, you can see templates for infographics, presentations, and other visual content. With a couple of clicks, you can also see how to use Visme for social and web graphics. But what really makes it work is the “What others are creating” section, which shows the product in action.

3) Use Pinterest to your advantage.

It might not work for everybody, but if your target client is female, listen up — Pinterest is where they are.

SmartMarketer Founder Ezra Firestone knew that, which might be how he managed to generate over $40,000 in ecommerce sales from a $775 Pinterest ad spend.

“At that point, I’d already had my eye on [Pinterest] for quite some time,” he explained. “With warp-speed growth, a user base of 70% women, and an average user household income of over $100,000, Pinterest was shaping up to be an ecommerce marketer’s dream.”

But here’s the thing — you don’t need a visually appealing product to get attention on Pinterest. You just need visually appealing, genuinely useful marketing. Depending on your product and audience, Pinterest could be a game changer for your conversion — about 19% of active users say they make a Pinterest-inspired purchase monthly (or more). But that doesn’t mean that you have to restrict your pins to visuals of products only.

Have a strategic look at the most popular category — in the U.S. and Canada, for example, that’s Food & Drink. So, if your product is, say, a grocery store list app, you have an amazing opportunity here to post something like a link to a recipe on your site. If the recipe has a call-to-action to download your app and add the ingredients to your grocery list — see how that works? — you have your conversion.

Yes, you have to think a little outside of the box with Pinterest, but you will be rewarded.

4) Integrate your social content with the rest of it.

Curate Social Proof with Twitter & Instagram

Few marketing tools are as persuasive as social proof – other consumers talking about your product or service. It’s why almost 40% of Twitter users say they’ve made a purchase because of a tweet from an influencer.

The trick is to curate the tweets about your brand. Save the good ones, and make sure to include the entire body of it — otherwise, it won’t seem authentic. That can be done by clicking on the three dots below a tweet, clicking “copy link to tweet,” and bookmarking that URL. You can retweet them, or if they’re product-specific, embed them on your site next to product photos of the “buy” button.

Why does social proof work? Consumers are more likely to believe the reports of other consumers, like themselves, rather than marketers — hence that fancy statistic above about influencers. Seeing other people report favorably on a product removes fears and doubts, leading to more conversions.

Similarly, adding user-generated Instagram photos to product pages can increase conversions thanks to social proof. Vanity Planet increased conversions by 24% by adding customers’ Instagram pictures to popular product pages, just above the reviews:

Vanity Planet user generated

Still not sure you should hop on the Instagram bandwagon? Here’s a fun Instagram fact for you: Engagement rates for brands on Instagram are more than 10X higher than those on Facebook. (Want more Instagram inspiration? Check out these accounts.)

5) Not Selling Sweaters or Makeup? This Still Applies to SaaS.

Your product may or may not live in the Cloud, but these rules still apply:

  1. Prominently-placed videos sell products. Make them fun and benefits-driven. Show people how your product works with a pre-purchase product tour early in the sales funnel — don’t wait for the demo.
  2. Use social media – but do it cleverly. (Check out how some unconventional brands use Twitter here.)
  3. Remember: Pinterest leads to your site pages, which can lead to conversions, as per the app download example above.
  4. Twitter and Instagram give you social proof, which reduces fears and — you guessed it — can also lead to conversions.
  5. Instagram produces much higher user engagement than Facebook, so make sure you’re investing the right amount of resources in each social network. Pew Research Center’s Demographics of Social Media Users might help, and once you know which networks to leverage, you can plan your social media posts with a calendar.
  6. All visual content should deliver real value for the user.

Picture This

Fundamentally, people want information, and they want it as fast and fun as possible. One of the most effective ways to give them what they want is through visual marketing. And when you give the people what they want, they’re more likely to give it right back to you, with increased conversions and positive feedback.

How has visual content benefitted your conversion rates? Let us know in the comments.

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How Can Schools Incorporate Video into Their Admissions Marketing

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Everyone loves online videos. People in every age group are shifting their viewing habits to online video and away from television. Unsurprisingly, Americans between the ages of 18 – 24 watch the least amount of television and drive online video consumption rates with their phones.

Using video boosts engagement and conversion rates in pretty much every type of marketing content, from landing pages to emails. We also know that 86% of universities and colleges already have a YouTube presence. So if you’re not using video marketing yet, your competitor schools are, that means you’re falling behind.

Frankly, YouTube is only the jumping-off point. All your video content should make its way to your YouTube channel, but if you’re putting all your video focus solely on YouTube, you’re missing out on opportunities.

Here are some ways you can effectively incorporate video into your admissions marketing.

Video is All Over Social Media

From Facebook’s Live Stream feature to Snapchat’s Story Playlists, you have a ton of social media video options. Start with clarifying which social media platforms are most popular with your different personas. Parents with young kids are on Facebook. Those in or close to college are also big users of Instagram and Snapchat. These, of course, are the generalities, but they’re good to understand when picking where to place your efforts. Your specific target community may show different preferences, so do some research and focus on whatever they are.

Your content options are endless on social media. You can broadcast live, from sporting events to on-campus speakers. Your students are already publishing their own video content about life at your school. Encourage their efforts with a specific user-generated content (UGC) campaign. Say, a quick hello from their favorite class sharing why it is so. Or post their favorite ways to take a break while studying.

Professors are also video content machines. They can broadcast (live or not) full lectures or put together short videos digging into a particular aspect of their field that makes the subject interesting for everyone. 

Put together a short guide to helps staff and faculty create, publish and promote their own content. Include practical how-to tips, as well as content ideas.

The focus of your video content for admissions should be all about helping students see themselves loving life at your school. What their days would be like, the educational and social opportunities. Video content geared towards parents should give them confidence that this school is a place where their child will really flourish.

Webinars Educate and Connect

Webinars are potent tools for presenting a human face for your school to a large group of people at once, while still sparking that personal connection. Use webinars to educate and inform prospects about your school. You can have an admissions counselor hold a live webinar about the application process and best practices. Each program can run webinars with different faculty that talk about their program. Include current students by having Q&A webinars about student life.

Continue to run live webinars on common, popular topics so new people can have a chance to have their live questions answered. But you can also take advantage of your growing library of recorded webinars. Make the best ones available on demand on your website and various social media video channels so people who can’t make a live one can still watch. Create clips of the best soundbites so you can embed them into relevant emails or landing pages. 

Create email nurture campaigns building towards inviting people to a webinar targeted to their persona and stage on the enrollment journey. You don’t need a live webinar coming up. Invite registrants who didn’t attend the live webinar and other prospective students to watch a recorded webinar.

Using Video to Boost Conversions

Just as you don’t send out emails merely so people can read them, videos aren’t only for the watching. They’re conversion tools.

Gate some video content behind a form so you can get people into your prospect database. The form can be a registration to attend a live webinar or to access a recorded one, or to access a live streaming event.

On the back end, insert appropriate calls-to-action (CTAs) within and at the end of your video content. If the video is a Facebook Live Stream of the tailgating before a school football game, make sure your host peppers her narration with CTAs and hashtags to share and like the live stream so more people can join. Embed a CTA to schedule a call with an admissions counselor or schedule a campus tour at the end of program information webinar. 

Identify what phase in the enrollment journey the specific piece of video content is for and where you want to take people next. Build the CTA you include around whatever that next step should be.

Don’t Let the Word “Video” Intimidate You

Video sounds expensive and involved, doesn’t it? It doesn’t have to be. Phone and desktop video recorders do a pretty good job. You can invest (or borrow from another department) in more sophisticated video equipment for your more sophisticated videos. Not all your videos need to be award-worthy.

Treat your video content as you do your other text-based content. Some videos are blog posts, some are glossy graphics, or comprehensive reports. Allocate your resources accordingly. Start building your video library now. Your prospects are eager for it.

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150 Years of the Best Holiday Marketing Campaigns [Infographic]

150 Years of Holiday Marketing Campaigns.jpg

Despite changing demographics and consumer behaviors, the holiday season remains one of the more influential times of year to launch a campaign and seal it into holiday memory for years to come.

To do that, though, your brand needs to come up with something seriously innovative, engaging, and interesting — something that’ll resonate with your customers. This usually means lights, emotions, and celebrating family and friends.

Of course, there’s no harm is looking to the past to see which other brands and campaigns have made their way to the holiday retail hall of fame. Here, we look back on 150 years of inspirational ads and campaigns that many consumers say the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without.

What can your brand do this year to stand out?

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free ebook: holiday marketing campaign ideas

14 Offbeat, Extreme, and Downright Unusual Ways Brands Have Promoted Their Products

If you’re a marketer of any kind, this phrase is probably lurking somewhere in the back of your mind when you start a new project:

“How do we make this brand really stand out?”

The constant battle to differentiate a brand in a crowded playing field is challenging, and it’s pushing some marketers to the extreme.

We’ve rounded up 14 creative campaigns and promotions that rely on unconventional mediums to spread brand messaging to consumers. Check them out below for some unique inspiration for your next big campaign. Subscribe to HubSpot's Agency newsletter today.

14 Unusual Brand Promotions

1) Nivea Kids Sunscreen

This marketing stunt from Nivea made for some interesting headlines when it debuted at Cannes in 2016: Seagull drone poops sunscreen…uh, thanks (CNET), Nivea’s Drone Bird Poops Sunscreen on Your Kids (Dronelife), How Bad Was This Nivea Bird Poop Sunscreen Project, Really? (AgencySpy). The list goes on. 

The folks at German agency Jung von Matt/Elbe designed this seagull drone to squirt Nivea Kids Sunscreen onto unsuspecting children on the beach. In the case study video below, they explain how the drone can be used to make sure all kids are protected from the sun, even when they refuse to apply sunscreen themselves. It may seem like a parody at first, but make no mistake: This drone is 100% real.

Say what you will about the taste level of the pooping seagull concept — it definitely generated a lot of attention for Nivea and left an undeniably memorable impression. Cannes Lion jury president Sir John Hegarty told a group of journalists, “It’s the most stupid thing I think I’ve seen in my whole life. I actually thought the Monty Python team had gotten together and entered it into [Cannes], to see if we would vote for it.”

Spoiler alert: They didn’t vote for it. Nivea’s well-intentioned pooping seagull flapped away from Cannes without any awards. 

2) Milka Chocolate

When Swiss chocolate company Milka launched in France, they turned to Paris-based agency Buzzman to devise a unique way to introduce their product to the French people. The chocolatiers ended up removing a small square from 13 million of their classic milk chocolate bars, and giving consumers a choice: Do you want the “last square” sent back to you, or do you want to send it to a loved one?

Consumers who received a Milka bar with a missing square were given a code they could enter online, where they could either send a small piece of chocolate — along with a personalized message — to a friend or family member, or enter their own address to have the missing piece returned to them. 

3) Cub Cadet PRO Z Riding Lawnmower

Who says the physical press release is completely dead? To promote industrial brand Cub Cadet’s newest riding lawnmower, agency Colle+McVoy came up with a steel alternative to the classic 8.5-by-11 inch paper document. 

The press release — which weighed in at a hefty 14 pounds, 13 ounces — was made entirely of Cub Cadet’s signature Triple 7-gauge steel, the same material used in their rugged lawnmowers. Outfitted with bolts and shipped to media outlets in a custom crate, the press release also came with a free crowbar (because why not?). 

Image Credit: Adweek

4) The Art Institute of Chicago and Airbnb

Have you even dreamed of walking into one of your favorite paintings? How about staying the night? In this creative campaign to generate publicity for the Art Institute of Chicago’s Van Gogh exhibit in 2016, agency Leo Burnett partnered with Airbnb to create a unique, immersive experience for art lovers.

The agency worked with designers and museum curators to meticulously transform a simple studio apartment in Chicago into one of the Dutch artist’s most recognizable paintings, Bedroom in Arles

As part of the campaign, posters advertising a room to rent and resembling vintage newspaper classified ads were plastered around Chicago, inviting passersby to text “Van Gogh” — aka, Leo Burnett’s clever social media team, who fielded all messages in character. A few lucky early respondents were able to rent the room via Airbnb for only $10 a night.

The campaign was a massive success for the Art Institute, leading to the museum’s largest daily exhibition attendance in 15 years, and earning them national media attention. 

Image Credit: AdAge

5) Tiger Beer’s Air-Ink

Tiger Beer — an American-owned company that operates out of Singapore — wanted to find a way to turn air pollution into something useful and positive. Enter the talented team at Graviky Labs, who devised a scientific process to capture pollution and transform it into Air-Ink — a fluid black paint. The brand then worked with Australian agency Marcel Sydney to put the ink in the hands of influential street artists and film the results. 

It turns out just 40-50 minutes of diesel car pollution can produce a rich shade of black ink, and artists were more than willing to incorporate the paint into their work for the project. 

6) Adobe Stock Apparel

If you’re a marketer, you’ve experienced the pain of sorting through seemingly endless pages of bad stock photos in search of one that just isn’t too awful. To promote their new stock photo service Adobe Stock, Adobe partnered with Swedish agency Abby Priest to develop a tongue-in-cheek fashion line that features outdated, overused stock photos.

“Some stock images have earned their place in the history books,” said Abby Priest’s Creative Director, Oskar Hellqvist, in a Q&A on Adobe’s blog. “Classic motifs that have been overused and established as hilarious clichés, known, loved and/or hated by all … Turning them into a limited edition clothing line is our way to salute them and an attempt to create something disruptive and unconventional in the genre.

You can see the full Adobe Stock Apparel lookbook here.


Image Credit: Adobe

7) UberPOOL

As part of a major advertising push in Latin America, Uber’s in-house marketing team launched a guerrilla campaign in Mexico City, sending out a small army of drones equipped with cheeky signs promoting UberPOOL. Drivers were confronted with the small aircrafts and their mini-billboards while waiting in stagnant rush hour traffic. 

Although they don’t plan to replicate the stunt in other markets (since doing something similar in the U.S. or Europe would require some major bureaucratic hoop-jumping), the stunt gained significant earned media attention for the car service app. 

Image Credit: MIT Technology Review

8) KMFA-FM Austin

How do you get millennials interested in a classical radio station? This Twitter-powered metronome is a good start. Developed by agency Archer Malmo for Austin’s classical music station KMFA-FM, this metronome ticks at a tempo determined by the number of Tweets sent in the Texan city.

“We want people to give KMFA a try — it’s not a stereotypical, stodgy classical music station,” Archer Malmo executive creative director Matt Rand told AdWeek. “That audience happens to be younger and use Twitter more, so basing our ‘heartbeat of the city’ off Twitter volume is a fitting way to connect with them.”

Image Credit: Adweek

9) Laphroaig

Most ads run for 30 seconds. This spot from Laphroaig Whiskey clocks in at three and a half hours — and it was all filmed in a single take.

U.K. agency Multiply was behind the video, which features comedian Andy Daly reading real reviews of Laphroaig in a filibuster-style speech. Ranging from glowing to downright disgusted, the strongly worded and ultimately mixed reviews are intended to highlight the polarizing nature of Laphroaig — you either love it, or you hate it. But the brand wants to hear about it.

10) Lipton Green Tea

To encourage consumers to make healthier choices while shopping for groceries, Lipton Green Tea partnered with agency Wunderman MENA to create a shopping cart that tracks your steps, calories burned, and time spent moving at the grocery store.

Aimed at people too busy for regular exercise, the cart is intended to show consumers how many calories they can burn just by walking around at the grocery store. The hope is that they’ll also think twice about what they put in their shopping cart if they can see the calories they’re burning in real time.

11) Burger King

Burger King and McDonald’s have always had a rivalry, and on Halloween 2016, the home of the Whopper played a prank on the Golden Arches.

A Burger King location in Queens, NY dressed up the entire restaurant as “The Ghost of McDonald’s”, sweeping a massive white ghost costume over the building and adding a saucy message to their sign: “”Booooooo! Just kidding, we still flame grill our burgers. Happy Halloween.”

Although only one location participated in the spooky prank, Adweek revealed that it was a stunt pulled off by ad agency David Miami.

Image Credit: Burger King

12) Paqui

To drum up some buzz for their gourmet tortilla chip brand, Paqui released a fiery chip spiced with Carolina Reaper peppers — the world’s hottest variety according to Guinness World Records. The Carolina Reaper Madness chips are so dangerously spicy, they’re packaged individually and sold for $4.99 each.

So why would you ever want to eat this thing? It’s part of a challenge, naturally. Following in the footsteps of other viral internet food-based challenges — like the cinnamon challenge, which never, ever ended badly for anyone — Paqui’s marketing team launched the #OneChipChallenge.

The premise is simple: eat the the Carolina Reaper Madness chip, post your reaction online. The brand offered prizes to select participants, including a year’s supply of their less-spicy chips.

Image Credit: Forbes

13) South Park Video Game

Add this one to the list of things no one ever asked for, but somebody made anyway: A virtual reality mask that lets you smell farts.

To promote the South Park video game, Ubisoft worked with agency Buzzman to concoct an odor that perfectly mimicked the smell of someone passing gas. It was actually a lot harder than you’d think. Buzzman consulted multiple chemists and perfumers to get the smell right, and worked with a team of software engineers and industrial designers to develop the VR nose mask. They named it — what else? — Nosulus Rift.

The mask (thankfully) isn’t for sale, but Ubisoft uses it at promotional events to build hype for the South Park game, which features a particularly flatulent character.

Image Credit: Buzzman via AdAge

14) Virgin America

Have you ever looked at your shoes and thought, “Man, I really wish they had a phone charger and WiFi capabilities?” Virgin America has heard your very first world cries, and developed these almost comically tricked-out shoes to promote their first class flying experience.

California-based agency Eleven, Inc. designed these extravagant kicks over the course of eight months to mimic the look and feel of Virgin America’s first class cabins. The final product includes mood lighting, WiFi, a USB phone charger, and a small video screen — you know, in case you feel compelled to watch some Netflix on your shoes.

The sneakers sold for $97,877.77 on eBay, and all proceeds were donated to Soles 4 Souls, a charity.

Image Credit: Adweek

Feature image from Air-Ink

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