Category: Data-driven marketing

You might have recently read quite a few articles summarising last year’s online marketing trends – but this article is not about summarising last year’s widely published and discussed news, but simply about what changes 2015 has brought to my professional life. Of course how someone sees this, heavily depends on what kind of marketing activities one pursues for clients and for own projects; therefore the below list will be neither objective nor definitive.

Facebook bigger than AdWords

While there are clients and there are certain kind of activities where it is still better to spend the vast majority of your budget on Google AdWords, but for me, 2015 was the first year when I was relying more on Facebook’s than Google’s advertising system. I have found myself spending my clients’ money more and more on Facebook and less and less on AdWords – even discontinuing advertising on Google Search for certain clients.

A few years ago AdWords was the one and only online ad system if you wanted to have a wide coverage and considerably grow your web site traffic by paid ads (I mean in Hungary and a handful of other markets outside the US), now it became just one – but still important – part of your marketing mix.

Facebook video bigger than YouTube

During the previous years, I just loved to advertise on YouTube with the TrueView video format: it was extremely cheap and fairly cost-effective.  Last year it turned out that advertising with videos was even more effective on Facebook. I don’t mean here differences like the video autoplay function, but the fact that Facebook facilitates a way more intensive discussion related to the promoted videos. While on YouTube only a small fraction of viewers are commenting, on Facebook it turned out in many cases that prospects would frequently start meaningful, interesting, many times enthusiastic discussions as a consequence of video promotions.

Prospects asking their friend’s opinion, including their names in comments to notify them about a certain promoted content – isn’t this what many marketers would even die for? 🙂

A bigger mess to tidy up

AdWords, Facebook, plus add a few more contenders like LinkedIN, Instagram, Twitter – you will be quickly messing around with complex multi-channel online marketing campaigns, sometimes even for quite small clients with very straightforward business models. So things have been getting more complicated, so chances are getting higher that you’ll get lost somewhere.

This is the reason why I have been spending quite some time with properly naming my campaigns, remarketing lists, conversion points, events, etc. I had to set up sometimes quite a sophisticated naming conversions so that I could effectively work with many channels and many campaigns. And it was just one side effect of having to manage ad spendings on more online channels.

Google Tag Manager – a marketing dashboard

When defining complex marketing funnels with multiple steps and multiple channels, you will most likely end up with a quite complex Google Tag Manager setup – again with a well-thought-out naming convention system labelling the different tracking codes for the interactions you would like to measure along the entire online marketing funnel.

Therefore Google Tag Manager became one of the most important places where I can administer and overview the whole set up for complex online marketing activities – sometimes even incorporating additional logic a CMS system would never be able to handle. So far ”only” the results are missing from this interface.

Google Analytics just not enough

As an obvious consequence of our shift towards data-driven marketing, even the most sophisticated traditional web traffic analytics solutions seemed to be getting more and more obsolete, and lacking many People Analytics-related features of great importance. Even if I fed relevant data into Analytics to anonymously identify visitors, quickly found myself downloading a series of weekly data reports one by one so that I could get precise reports for a bigger time interval – instead of the heavily sampled ones, which proved to be a useless when I wanted to found a needle in the haystack.

On the other hand, the Google Analytics Premium is clearly a no-go for the majority of clients – both for its price tag and its missing features to easily identify individual leads’ activities.

Big Data bigger than Marketing

Having delved into Big Data and BI, in general, I got to a conclusion that while many principles and methods are indeed applicable to 99% of us online marketers, but for almost the same high percentage of us Big Data solutions are just an overkill – with a fairly big price tag.

I think just a small fraction of us would generate gigabytes of data per day with their marketing activities – so there should be a term like ”Medium-sized Data”  coined for those online marketing professionals who would like to use complex systems to manage their data-driven marketing activities, without feeling forced to shell out a lot of money or hiring programmers for Big Data solutions that are eventually meant to handle huge data sets.

SEM more complex than SEO

At the beginning of this decade building up and running a complex system for my multilingual mass link building practice meant a much bigger intellectual challenge than I could ever imagine with paid search campaigns way back then. I think last year we got to the point where paid search and paid social media advertising together allowed us to create much more sophisticated processes and systems than the most complex search engine optimisation cases.

Managing various audiences – even beyond remarketing lists, see matching customers’ emails for instance – on multiple platforms proved to be more challenging for me than building links or content for getting better organic rankings.

Hosting is cheaper than ever

It might not be something last year brought to us, but I just realised it in 2015: I used to run the same virtual private server for more than nine years, just because I was too lazy to migrate all of the servers to a newer system or to an other VPS provider. But as the infrastructure of my old server was shut down without prior notice, I found myself forced to find an other hosting company – and ended up paying for the same service, four times less than before.

Other than that I could figure out how to host huge WordPress sites effectively on a bare minimum VPS setup. It was a long journey to find the best configuration, but the good news is that there is an almost-out-of-the-box solution for those who don’t want to pay the relatively high price of a managed WordPress hosting service but dare to mess around a little bit with Linux command line. WordPress is still not meant to host tens of thousands of posts, but you can find some workarounds to make that possible – without having to run it on a supercomputer.

…and a lot more

Of course last year I also started quite a few other new things – some of them will hopefully bear fruits this year, and some of them will define what and how I will work during this year. But one thing is for sure – we won’t be left being bored this year either…

Image credits – Photo by kazuend. Source:

Having read my previous post about how I found myself messing around with visual programming as an online marketer, you might have wondered: and what would be the everyday uses of those scripts when dealing with ad campaigns and web sites? Well, let me share some examples from the last few years I was working with these web automation tools to illustrate this:

Overcoming limitations of AdWords: finding more manual display network placements

Have you ever wondered whether AdWords will suggest you all the relevant display network placements, Youtube videos or Youtube playlists when you try to add them by entering relevant keywords? Well, the answer is that relying only on the ad management interface of AdWords, you will miss a lot of relevant placements. Fortunately, with some web automation skills, you can quickly build a script which finds even more relevant placements for instance by executing site searches on Youtube for a certain list of keywords, automatically pressing the next-next buttons and generating a simple list of URLs based on what has been displayed on the search result pages.

Analyzing your data the way you want: exporting external link data in a meaningful format

Although Google Webmaster Tools (a.k.a. Google Search Console) lets you browse through a huge list of web pages where a certain site of yours is linked, you cannot really export that data in a usable format, such as linking domain, linking web page, linked page in the same row. Although you could click through the list of linking domains, then the list of linking pages and export a bunch of tables based on this hierarchy, this sounds like a kind of repetitive task which can be fairly easily automated. Adding a few more steps like scraping the title of the linking page plus the anchor of the link, you can end up having a really informative list of your external links – at least of those which are displayed by Google.

Analyzing your data the way you want: obtain raw engagement data

While Facebook shows you some insights about how your pages or posts are performing, you cannot simply grab the raw data of these statistics: such as the number of visitors liked or shared certain posts in a given timeframe. But you can build a script which automatically scrolls and scrolls and scrolls – and extracts any data about the posts displayed. Having all the data in a spreadsheet format, you can visualize it the way you want. As a bonus: you can even do this with your competitors’ Facebook pages.

Automating repetitive tasks: checking link building results

Way back when we have been building tens of thousands of links on web directory sites, no link submission software could provide us with detailed and reliable data about which directories had accepted and published our link submissions and which had not. Without knowing how many links were eventually generated and where were those links located, we could not create detailed reports for our clients. On the other hand, the biggest problem of directory link building was that  you never knew at the time of submission where the submitted link would be displayed in the directory, so the challenge was not only going through a list of URLs and see whether our link was found on those pages or not, but you had to look through the entire directory to figure out where exactly that link was. All in all, this task was more complicated than curl or wget a list of URLs and grep the results. Before I knew how to automate this process with visual scripting, we had to do this highly repetitive task by hand – so scripting could save us a lot of manual work.

Process spreadsheet data: check and merge what’s common in two tables

When you have to work with email lists and related data coming from different sources, you could quickly diff or merge two .csv files with Unix command line tools. But sometimes not everyone in your organization possesses those “geeky” skills to fire up awk for that, and many times you are also too lazy to find the best solution on StackOverflow. In these cases, with automation software, you can even create an .exe file with an easy to use interface where two files and a few more parameters are asked, such as which column’s data should be matched in the other spreadsheet to merge a table with the unified rows based on those matches – or whatever you can achieve with regular expressions, if / then statements and loops.

Extracting structured data from unstructured source: list of products in a website

Unfortunately, still there are many web shop owners who are running their sites based on proprietary webs hop management systems, which are not prepared for simply exporting the list of products from, or not in the appropriate format, with all the desired data, etc. In these cases, it is very handy if you can quickly build a script which scrapes the entire webs hop and outputs a spreadsheet of every product, containing all the important attributes and product data. Based on the result, you can start working on either the on-site SEO or importing those lists to Google AdWords of Facebook Ads.

Migrating web sites: exporting and importing from/to any CMS

There are quite a few ways of importing data into WordPress, but still, you might miss some features which can be normally accessed only if you upload the content manually, such as attaching images to a certain post or set the featured images. Not to mention that before that, you’ll have to get to the point of already having the data extracted from the old web site to a structured format such as XML and CSV. As many older CMSes and proprietary content management systems do not have such data exporting features, this part of the job could be also quite complicated, if not impossible. On the other hand, with some web automation skills you can extract any data in any format from the original site and imitate a human being filling out the corresponding data simply automating the new site’s administration interface – you don’t have to rely on any export-import plugin’s features – and shortcomings.

Web spamming: black hat SEO, fake Facebook accounts…

The tools I’m using for automating the above tasks are originally meant for creating accounts, posting content to a wide range of sites: thus spamming the entire web — but this is something I have never used these tools for – believe it or not 🙂

Coming next:


No matter whether you are planning to create a new landing page or an entire web site, these websites/collections might be useful sources of inspiration, showing the latest and greatest in web design and data visualization.

Themeforest / latest WordPress themes

WordPress is a leading light in contemporary web design/web site building, and Themeforest provides the biggest collection of premium templates for it.

Since 2011, when I registered on this site, I have spent countless hours browsing its Wordpress theme collections, looking for nice stuff for both clients’ sites and for my own projects. …and sometimes just for the sake of seeing something new, nice and interesting. I must admit this is generally quite a conservative collection of web design ideas, as these templates were made for being sold to as many buyers as possible. This is the reason why the popular themes are many times adhering too much to a kind of standard taste, and this is why it takes some time to find really cutting edge designs or novel ideas among all of these ordinary themes. Some tips for finding the most inspiring designs faster at ThemeForest:

  • Start with the list of latest WordPress themes. The list of most popular themes might be interesting only if you are a newcomer, or not dealing with web development on a daily basis.
  • Restrict your searches with ”buzzwords”, that is keywords reflecting the latest trends and techniques, like masonry, isotope, megamenu, infograph, whatever. Keep in mind that as these words become mainstream, so they will become quite useless. Think about parallax (950 templates) or even the keyword: ”responsible” (more than 4000 templates).
  • Unfortunately, designers are generally concentrating on portfolio sites, fancy home pages, and one-page templates, so it is quite hard to find web designs with interesting ideas about organizing content and showcasing data. This is why whenever I open a template demo site, almost the first thing I do is to check out the Blog section and see what happens if the nice pictures included in the demo data set are not influencing that much the overall look and feel of the template.
  • If you have found a nice template, it’s usually worth checking out the other templates of the same developer too, they might have some more inspiring web design ideas showcased in their portfolio.

Some WP templates I really like

I discovered these templates a few years ago, and I think they have stood the test of time (and most importantly they are still sold at ThemeForest):

This template is rather about information than design, featuring a big search form as the centerpiece of this template:

And finally an other minimalistic theme never sold on Themeforest – this is just an evidence of the fact that there can be found inspiring template designs outside ThemeForest too (although they are much harder to be found on the interweb): / jQuery plugins

From a jQuery plugin which makes your browser fart when scrolling (NSFW), to algorithms generating nice backgrounds like the one you can see as the featured image of this posts, a wide range of different jQuery plugins are aggregated to – a tidy repository of jquery plugins. There are almost one thousand items listed on this site, like these ones which showcase:

… and many more jQuery plugins and functions to enrich your custom web designs or even create an entire landing page with. There are also a few better-known plugins gathered at this site, such as Isotope or Lettering.js, but the majority of the plugins are quite experimental – and therefore quite inspiring too.

Similarly to ThemeForest, Unheap also provides invaluable help with its easy-to-use interface to browse through the lists of many different plugins which have been gathered manually and listed in a uniform way. The demo links lead directly to the developers’ web page, and similarly to ThemeForest portfolios, it is also inspirational to browse through and see the other projects of these jQuery developers.

D3 Gallery

…or everything that is made with D3.js library, or made by Mike Bostock, a key developer of D3.js data visualization library, and also a former leader of complex data visualization projects and interactive storytelling articles at New York Times:

It is more about data visualization than web design, but for every web developer or online marketer who deals with visualizing information, the above examples can be very inspirational too. Not only when it is about building a web site but also when the data, we are working with, have to be presented in an outstandingly new way.

There might be a lot of other web sites showcasing the latest trends in mobile and web interactions. It’s sometimes just too hard to come across them, so I am quite sure that there are a ton of web sites out there I should be aware of.

At the age of twelve

My mother bought my first computer at times when everyone having a computer used to learn to code as well. Although I had been enthusiastic about both coding and playing with my Commodore +4, I was never able to see through many lines of code and not to make silly mistakes while transforming my ideas into Basic programming language. So I never got immersed to coding and didn’t become a programmer eventually.

Getting back to programming with web automation

Way back in 2012 when I was already doing all sorts of search engine marketing I started to code again. I was looking for effective tools to automate my mass link building tasks, and instead of sticking with yet another link submission software, I came across a wonderful generic web automation tool. It took me two weeks to write – and other two weeks to re-write – my first script which could do the tedious work of checking the status of our directory submissions one by one. I was just happy that this script was virtually replacing a half-time employee, and wasn’t really thinking about how important visual programming would become for me in the future.

Visual programming for online marketers

During that last three years, I had been spending more and more time with using these tools – originally built for web spamming. This experience has gradually transformed what I think about an online marketer could and should do when it comes to aggregating, processing and analyzing data – from the web, our own analytics or other internal data sources. Although I admit there are faster and more scalable ways of doing this, having a few easy-to-use software at hand makes me able to relatively quickly get insights from the data I’m working with or complete those tasks which have a highly repetitive nature – without being a programmer or employing one.