Blog >> SEO – Search Engine Optimization

Darcy Grabenstein Feb 1

How to Shorten the EMBA Decision-Making Process & Increase Your Program’s Bottom Line

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The decision-making process for a prospect to enroll in an Executive MBA program is painfully long. Statistics show that this process can take up to two years. So what can you do to speed up the process? Develop —  and implement —  a pull-through digital enrollment marketing strategy.

EMBA Decision-Making Timeline

                      Source: GMAC Prospective Students Survey 2014

Audience targeting is a key component of any successful marketing strategy, online or offline. Don’t throw a wide net; targeting will produce better results. Why? Because you will be delivering relevant content. If you bid on keywords that are too broad, you may be wasting your online advertising dollars. To promote a Healthcare EMBA program, for instance, both the keywords and the ad messaging must be specific. Otherwise, you may receive a great quantity of leads but not quality leads. Quality leads will be more interested in your EMBA program and, therefore, more likely to commit sooner.

Timing is everything. While you want your online ads to appear prior to your program deadlines, you also want prospects to see them at key stages in their decision-making process. Keep in mind that, although these two timelines may intersect at certain points, the overlap may be minimal. That’s why you should schedule ads throughout the calendar year, not just based on the academic calendar.

So what are some of the stages that prospects will go through on their path to enrolling? Here are a few common stages:

1. Considering an EMBA
2. Deciding what type of EMBA program
3. Seeking information
4. Applying
5. Enrolling

The Adult Audience Journey

Just because you get a prospect into the funnel, that doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing. Bottlenecks can pop up anywhere:

• Cost of program (more important to self-financed than employer-sponsored prospects)
• Concerns regarding work-life balance
• Questioning ROI of EMBA degree

Your program positioning and digital marketing strategy must address and overcome these and other obstacles. You can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, by offering incentives for early enrollment. First, financial incentives will help to bring down the overall cost of an EMBA. Second, incentives can help shorten the decision-making process.

What kinds of incentives can you offer? That depends on your program’s pricing and operations budget. Some programs offer scholarships, waive application or GMAT fees (some programs waive the GMAT altogether), or pay for textbooks. Other programs offer incentives to specific groups, such as military veterans.

If you find that work-life balance is an issue for prospects, take a look at your program format. EMBA programs must be willing to rethink traditional models in order to appeal to professionals with limited bandwidth. Programs with flexible scheduling will have an advantage over those with rigid formats, and may prompt commitments earlier in the decision-making process.

Your digital marketing strategy must demonstrate program ROI. How? Include testimonials on ROI from current students and alumni. If favorable, compare your tuition to that of other EMBA programs. Survey your alumni to find out how they moved up the career ladder (and how quickly) and how much their salaries increased post-graduation. Collect stats, and then use them to your advantage.

Digital enrollment marketing is more than just “setting and forgetting” a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign. Your strategy should be made up of many components: keyword optimization, banner and search ads, landing pages, search engine optimized (SEO) web content, social media advertising, retargeting campaigns and more. Your online campaign also should be consistent in visuals and messaging with offline marketing.

Don’t forget to monitor your campaigns. Tracking results will reveal which components worked best, and which fell flat. Then tweak your campaigns for optimal results.

A coordinated, consistent, ongoing marketing effort will produce the best results and, ultimately, shorten the prospect’s decision-making timeline.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Darcy Grabenstein Jan 26

A marketing must: Make a good first impression

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When we think about first impressions, it’s usually in the context of a job interview or a first date. As the saying goes, “First impressions are lasting impressions.”

Make a good first impression

This holds true for marketing as well. Here, we’ll look at the importance of first impressions in digital marketing.

Unless the prospect knows your organization’s URL or enters your organization’s name directly into a search engine, chances are the first online impression will be a banner ad or search ad. It’s not only the ad itself that will impact that first impression, but how that ad is served up and who sees it.

Who sees your ads depends on how you target your audience. For example, you can target your audience via different demographics. Want to attract a diverse audience? Serve up ads, with appropriate imagery and messaging, to women and minorities. Want to drive traffic to a brick-and-mortar location? Target your audience geographically. Looking to hire someone with X years of experience? Target your audience by age.

Why bother targeting, you ask? Why not try to reach the largest possible audience? When you target, you will attract quality leads. You also will be delivering relevant content to viewers.

Digital marketing is both an art and a science. If you’re doing it right, when prospects click on a banner or search ad, they won’t go to the home page of your website. Instead, they’ll be taken to a carefully crafted landing page. You should have a separate landing page for each ad campaign. That way, there won’t be a disconnect between the ad and your site. Again, think relevant content. Make that your marketing mantra.

Keep in mind that the landing page cannot — and should not — include every single aspect of your product or service. It should include just enough information to pique the prospect’s interest. A key component of your landing page is the form capturing prospect data. To minimize distraction and encourage form completion, your landing page should have no other outbound links besides the form itself. You need enough form fields to capture data but not so many that the prospect is overwhelmed. A lengthy form can create an unfavorable first impression among prospects. And a strong call to action (CTA) will boost form completions.

For those who do go directly to your website by entering the URL or searching for you by name, your home page will make the all-important first impression. You want an attractive home page, but you shouldn’t sacrifice content for aesthetics. Make your site “sticky”; that is, include content and links that will keep visitors on your site longer.

Your entire website should include keywords that you (and your competitors) are bidding on in search marketing campaigns. If you’re not sure what keywords to use, free online tools such as Wordtracker can help you get started.

Timing is everything. Your sales cycle may or may not coincide with the buying pattern of prospects. There certainly will be overlap, such as at Christmastime for a gift retailer, but this will vary among your prospects. That’s why you should schedule ads throughout the calendar year. And that’s why you should constantly refresh your creative. If you have outdated ads, that first impression won’t be a positive one.

The first impression is just the first step in terms of marketing. While first impressions are important, it’s the continuing dialogue with your prospects and customers that will build your brand — and your business.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.


Marisa Albanese Jul 23

In Search of a More Perfect Algorithm…

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Today, we’re going to discuss erroneous algorithms in machine learning (this term is used to describe computer-based predictive analytics). To set up the context, I’m going to share a little something I learned back in my political science days as an undergrad. OK, something I learned besides where on campus was the best place to take a nap. (For any Temple University students — SAC, upper level, near the conference rooms. You’re welcome.) There is a central question nearly everyone has asked within the poli sci realm: Is there a perfect form of government? Short answer: No. I will not bore everyone to tears by detailing why not but there is a very simplistic way to understand this dilemma: Government was created by people, people are flawed and, therefore, government will naturally be flawed. Side note: Please do not turn the comments section into a political thunderdome over this proclamation.

This brings me back to the topic of algorithms. Recently, The New York Times published an article that pulled from various studies completed about bias in online marketing ads based on algorithms. An algorithm is a formula. It’s what Google uses when a person types in “best running shoes for beginners” to produce search results. A person creates algorithms, using the principles of predictive analytics, usually some calculus and a dash of black magic. Machines, however, learn from human behavior and adjust algorithms over time. This is known as a learned algorithm.

The Times article gives a great example. When you type into Google or Bing “best running shoes” it auto-completes the thought. But the crux of the article was how search results are being corrupted by the negative, and deeply stereotypical, side of society. For instance, ads targeting applicants for high-paying executive jobs appeared in the search results for men over double the rate as they did for women. A separate study revealed ads for arrest records appearing in searches for African-American-centric names.

People are leaning on machine learning data and calculations because we see this way as the ultimate truth. Machines have no prejudice and will just report the facts. But if they are implanted with bad search algorithms, not necessary created with malice but lack of social understanding, this is like building a house on a cracked foundation.

This sets up the discussion “Oh my God, this is how Skynet started” (this is a reference to the storyline for the “Terminator” series). The machines are learning without us! Artificial intelligence! Before you start building that underground bunker, keep in mind a few things. For starters, data scientists are still trying to understand this phenomenon. It has been suggested if an algorithm shows signs of this behavior to rewrite it. These signs would be present during testing. Ah, yes! That magical thing I suggested a few blogs ago: Always create a test plan.

Test your algorithms. Then test them again. Also, I’m going to drop some additional poli sci knowledge. Niccolo Machiavelli, who wrote The Prince, did not fake his own death. He simply wrote about it. So to everyone who thinks Tupac Shakur faked his own death because he named one of his posthumous albums Machiavelli, this is wrong. But “California Love” is still an awesome song.


This cat is re-creating my most common activity during college.

 Marisa Albanese is database marketing analyst at Annodyne.

Diana Altobelli Mar 17

Google Deadline This April – Benefits Mobile Friendly

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Starting April 21, the friendly search giant Google decided to add another important factor to its algorithm. Surprise, surprise. Well, I can’t say I hate this update, considering most people use their mobile devices to search nowadays. So, Google will be using mobile-friendly sites as a factor when it comes to search results, along with ranking mobile apps.

Google always tries to make things better for us, right? Sometimes, I believe Google makes the lives of agencies more difficult to keep us all in business. Maybe it’s a part of the big master plan… hmmm. Anyway, Google will now be labeling your site whether it is mobile-friendly or not. So what does this mean? Well, this algorithm update has the potential to increase your organic rankings based on its mobile-friendly ability. This will also allow end users to see, prior to clicking through, whether they will be able to navigate through the site easily on their mobile devices.

It is said that this update will have a significant impact on mobile search. Not only will we be able to find relevant search results on the go, but they will be fit to screen. No more pinching and zooming. That is still a thing?

I am sure we have all seen the signs throughout the past years and months that mobile was going to gain some significance and it has already started.

 mobile friendly search results


Can you tell I’m getting married? Search results examples clearly gave it away.

So you are probably wondering why hasn’t this change already taken place? It seems as if Google has been testing the algorithm factor for quite some time, and now it is here and ready. But it looks as if Google is giving a chance for those to catch up if they don’t already have a mobile-friendly site.

Give this mobile-friendly testing tool a shot to see if you’re A-OK.

What specific factors will determine these changes we are unsure yet; however, webmaster trends analyst Gary Illyes did share a few details in the latest Q & A. The most notable are:

Responsive design does not have a ranking benefit.

Googlebot must be allowed to crawl CSS & Javascript to pass the “mobile-friendly” test.

Mobile friendliness is determined at the page level, not sitewide.

Tablets will not be affected by this update.

Google is currently working on a dedicated mobile index.

Now that we have time, we can prepare for the Mobilegeddon. Update your site if needed to be sure you have the opportunity to rank in Google organic search!

Diana Altobelli is a search marketing coordinator at Annodyne. 

Darcy Grabenstein Jan 20

Is Copywriting an Art or a Science?

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Lab with beakers

From character development to character counts, I’d argue that it’s both.

Well-written copy, like a fine portrait, creates a visual impression for the viewer. A skilled copywriter tells a story, weaving in details that paint a complete picture. Through careful placement of words, the writer can evoke emotion. In advertising/marketing, the writer spurs the audience to buy a product, to buy in to a concept or to want more details.

The art of copywriting is the same whether you’re writing for print or the web. However, writing digital content has become more of a science.

This is nothing new. Online writing is simply direct marketing via a different channel. The direct-response industry has it down to a science. There’s a proven formula, if you will, and it works. Every piece of a DM kit — from the envelope teaser to the letter and brochure to the response card — is written to certain specifications. Even the DM letter itself is dissected into the headline, the Johnson box, the body and the postscript.

Online copywriting takes copy-fitting concepts from the world of print to a whole new level, with not only word counts but character counts as well. Twitter, with its 140-character Tweet limit, is king of the character count. However, if you’re sticking to 140 characters, you’re selling yourself short (or is that long?). Tweets should be 100-120 characters, to allow for retweeting.

If Twitter is king, email marketing is probably the queen. Email subject line length is a topic that has been hotly debated throughout the industry. I think the jury’s still out on this. According to an article on the DMA Email Marketing Council Blog, subject line lengths can be categorized as short: <25 characters, medium: 25-50 characters and long: >50 characters. For mobile, subject lines should be 30 characters or less.

As with any marketing channel, you’ve got to test so you can determine what works best for your audiences. Since we’re talking subject lines, the open rate is the metric you should be looking at. When conducting your testing, try to keep all the other aspects (day/time sent, tone, segmentation, etc.) constant so as not to skew your results.

SEO is another area that puts the science into copywriting. Luckily for us copywriters, keyword density is an outdated SEO technique. Keywords as a whole are being downplayed these days. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can ignore keywords and keyword phrases altogether. It does mean that we can’t resort to keyword stuffing. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: You must write for people, not the search engines. Write your content first, then go back and tweak it by inserting keywords where they would naturally occur.

Some SEO experts recommend a minimum of 300 words on web pages for Google indexing and ranking. Truth is, Google has no minimum word count. Google wants relevant, quality content. Period. You can write your little heart out, but if the content is not up to snuff, Google will snub you.

When it comes to page title tags and page descriptions, however, size matters. In Google search results, most title tags will be cut off around 42 to 68 characters. I know, that’s a huge range. According to The Moz Blog, 55 characters is a safe bet, but it pays to test. The same goes for page descriptions.

Social media also has hopped on the character count bandwagon. For Facebook ads, the headline is limited to 25 characters and the body to 90 characters. For posts, a study by Jeff Bullas revealed that brand posts of 40 characters had the highest levels of engagement.

What about Google+? A study by Copyblogger shows that 60 characters is the suggested max for headlines. Google+ posts average 156 characters, according to Qunitly Research.

The rule of thumb for blog posts is that they should be a minimum of 1500-1600 words. That’s if your goal is to boost search engine traffic. Personally, I don’t have the time or patience to read posts that long. I’d rather that someone actually read my post, and get something out of it, than to start reading it and become disengaged. And, according to a Kissmetrics post, since headlines usually are scanned by readers they are most effective when they’re six words or less. (Phew! And, if you’re wondering, I already had written the headline for this post before I got to this part of my research.)

Let’s not forget the role of data in all of this. Findings based on data analysis must be incorporated into content to optimize conversions. While the data collection and analysis is the scientific part, it definitely impacts the content.

In short, copy cannot be written in a silo. It must take into account the audience, analytics, the goal, the channel and other factors. A writer cannot simply wax poetic and expect results.

I rest my case. Copywriting is both an art and a science.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

photo credit: cwangdom via photopin cc

Darcy Grabenstein Nov 24

Why Keyword Stuffing Can Work Against You in Terms of Search Results

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According to Google, keyword stuffing is defined as the practice of loading a web page with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate the site’s ranking in search results. This is considered a black-hat SEO tactic and a definite no-no.

If you’re guilty of keyword stuffing, now’s the time to go cold turkey. This practice can actually have the reverse of the desired effect, as Google and other search engines are likely to penalize your site, pushing it further down in the rankings.

From a copy standpoint, keyword stuffing makes for stilted copy. Here’s an example of a paragraph plagued by keyword stuffing:

This article is about best practices related to keyword stuffing. If you’re not sure what keyword stuffing is, read on. Keyword stuffing is content that is stuffed with keywords and keyword phrases, and usually the keywords are out of context. In keyword stuffing, sometimes the keywords or keyword phrases appear in a list or a grouping.

You get the idea.

That doesn’t mean you should steer clear of keywords altogether. As part of your SEO strategy, you need to conduct keyword research, then include those words and phrases into your content. However (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again), you need to write for people, not for the search engines.

So what is the optimal percentage of keywords to overall content? I’m referring to keyword density, an SEO metric that has pretty much gone by the wayside. To determine keyword density, you’d divide the number of a certain keyword by the total number of words on the page. Instead of focusing on your math skills, focus on your writing skills and figure out how you can insert keywords in a manner that makes sense to the reader.

One way to avoid overstuffing is to use synonyms. That is, find other words with similar meaning to substitute for your precious keywords. For example, you might replace “keyword stuffing” in the offending (and offensive) paragraph above with “this practice.” By replacing some of the keywords in your copy, you’ll avoid awkward repetition (and the wrath of the search engine gods).

Another way to insert keywords without overdoing it is to use long-tail keywords. For example, instead of just saying “farm produce,” you could say “organically grown farm produce” or “farm produce from the Lehigh Valley.” When it comes to SEO, more specific keywords produce more specific search results.

Don’t be a turkey. Avoid keyword stuffing, and you’ll keep from ruffling the feathers of the search engine powers that be.

Darcy Grabenstein is senior copywriter at Annodyne.

Photo credit: Turkey image by ericksonkee is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ashlee Hall Nov 7

Keeping Your Site Afloat — Navigating Google Algorithms

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Google’s ever-changing algorithms ebb and flow with both SEO challenges and benefits. With Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and an estimated 500-600 lesser-known changes each year, it’s difficult to tread water and stay on top of each update. If you’re not a webmaster, it’s not essential for you to stay informed of each modification (that’s why we’re here), but you want to be aware of the larger-scale changes.

When it comes to taking the helm of your online marketing strategy, your tactical direction should be heavily impacted by these larger-scale Google algorithm changes. In 2013, Google’s search engine market share continues to hover close to 70 percent, even with Microsoft Bing users increasing. Maintaining and improving your site’s SEO position is crucial to succeeding in today’s primary online marketplace. To quickly get up to speed on the current status of the leading search engine, let’s sail through the major algorithm changes that occurred since 2011.

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Justin Frame Oct 24

Universal Google Analytics

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Classic Google Analytics has been the keystone to understanding how users engage with your website for the memorable past. The ga.js version, which can be identified by taking a quick look at the onsite code snippet, and seeing the _gaq object and the .push function, will soon be replaced by Universal Google Analytics tracking. The Universal Google Analytics tracking code, or analytics.js, can be identified by viewing your onsite analytics snippet and seeing the ga(‘create’, ‘UA-xxxx-y’); configuration.

The new Universal Google Analytics will introduce a set of features that change the way user data is collected from your website. This adjustment in data collection will allow you to better understand how visitors interact with your website — what pages they are viewing, how long they are staying on individual pages, what sources they are coming from, how they are contributing to your revenue, etc.

Universal Google Analytics was in beta, available to only a select few online marketing bigwigs, but is now going to be the new operating standard. All advertisers that use Google Analytics to track their websites and advertising will be required to switch over to Universal Analytics, by way of the DIY tool, or an automatic switch performed by Google. The DIY upgrade tool will be rolling out to accounts over the coming weeks and will allow users to transfer their profiles to the new-and-improved Google Analytics. When the upgrade hits your account, you will notice a blue transfer button under the Property heading in the admin panel of your Analytics account.

Universal Google Analytics
Clicking the transfer button will initiate a 24-to-48-hour process that, when completed, will require a manual upgrade of the code snippet on your site (swapping your ga.js to analytics.js). Once you have initiated the sequence and swapped your code snippet, you will have full access to all of the new features that Universal Google Analytics offers. For more information:

Staying abreast of these recent Google changes is becoming difficult for SEM/PPC practitioners, but stay tuned to the AnnoBlog for updates and opinions from top industry professionals!

Justin Frame Sep 26

Life After Google Encrypts All Organic Search Keywords

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Google is finally implementing 100 percent safe search SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption for all searches on So, regardless of whether users are logged into their Google accounts, the search terms they use to find your brand will no longer be visible to your web marketing team through web analytics platforms. This will affect your online marketing and the positioning of your brand on the web in an adverse way, unless you understand the ramifications of this new hurdle and are able to develop new solutions to overcome yet another Sandy Koufax-like, Google curveball.

After negative feedback in 2011, Google added SSL encryption for signed-in search users. With this addition, terms these signed-in users search for were made invisible to marketers. After this initial implementation, approximately 10 percent of all search traffic was registered as (not-provided), or invisible to brands. This trend of (not-provided) organic search keywords continued to rise when Google added this feature to searches performed from the Chrome omnibox in early 2013. Once Google added SSL-encrypted search to omnibox users, the amount of (not-provided) traffic shot up to more than 50 percent for some brands.

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