5 Steps for Modernizing Press Releases

Stack of newspapers.

In a time where technology allows for instant access to content, journalists and bloggers are always looking for a new story. For many years, press releases were a solid channel for sharing company news and receiving free publicity. Nowadays, the chances of small businesses gaining coverage through press releases are dwindling. According to a report conducted by Muck Rack and Zeno Group in 2018, approximately 53% of journalists surveyed in the United States don’t look to use press releases as new story topics. However, just because the reported numbers are down doesn’t mean your business should nix the channel of press releases completely. The way we look at it, these numbers tell us that journalists are bored and that there is an opportunity to revolutionize the tired, traditional process of writing press releases. 

So how can your business capitalize on this opportunity? Mix in the new with the old.

Step 1. Establish the goal of the press release.

Press releases need to be drafted with a goal in mind. What news are you trying to spread? Are you actually sharing something newsworthy or are you writing just for the sake of writing? Take the time to plan out what you want the press release to achieve and then determine whether it makes sense to push it to media outlets or if should it only live on social media or your website.

Step 2. Write with your audience in mind and provide value.

Targeting the right audience can make or break your marketing efforts, and press releases are no exception Keep your audience in mind when writing. Consider their language, the value they will receive from your business – or highlight it if they are not aware of it! – and make it known that your business cares. To take targeting one step further, segment press releases based on your audiences when considering what media outlets or platforms to share with. Writing a press release for the launch of new tech? Push to technology-focused bloggers and post on LinkedIn targeting users you know would benefit from your services.

Step 3. Tell a story.

Out with the bland, in with the storytelling. While there will be some releases that need to be “just the facts”, take the time to get a little creative with your writing. Think of how social media is used to share the news but in an engaging manner and try replicating a similar narrative for the release. Readers will retain the message – and your brand – better when they can associate a feeling with the content.

Step 4. Include infographics or media assets.

It’s no surprise that attention spans are changing in the age of technology. According to Wyzowl’s descriptive infographic, the attention span of an average person lasts about 8 seconds. When it comes to information, humans are gravitating more toward descriptive visualizations in a clean-looking format or watching short videos. To mix in new with the old, consider infographics or adding media assets to the press release. Capture the focus of the readers and entice them to continue by offering more than just black and white text. 

Step 5. Maximize your efforts.

Don’t be disheartened if the media does not pick up your press release. It will happen. We all can empathize seeing our efforts not live up to our expectations. However, take advantage of this channel and incorporate SEO and keywords into press releases. Just because the media didn’t run with your release doesn’t mean you can’t still drive awareness of your brand. Align these methods with the goal and audience of the press release and strive to push traffic to your brand. Two birds, one stone.

Bonus Step. Build relationships with media. 

Pitching press releases can be rough. Try to make meaningful connections with the journalists and bloggers you want to reach. Nothing frustrates a journalist more than receiving bland pitches of equally boring content. Check out this Twitter account for real-life examples to avoid. Be thoughtful with the narrative of your pitches, but keep them short and simple. Avoid gimmicky subject lines and keep it respectful. Make the effort to meet journalists in your community.

For more insights on getting the most out of publicity, check out our podcast about press release strategies and this video about publicity in the digital world.

Email Marketing: Improve Your Campaigns by Integrating More Channels

Gmail loading on a laptop.

Digital marketing is noisy. For those with little to no marketing experience, trying to market your business efficiently and affordably can be a difficult and frustrating process. How can one stand out to prospective customers amongst the seemingly endless onslaught of advertising? In email marketing especially, it’s easy to overwhelm both yourself and your audience. How many emails do you send to subscribers? What kind of content connects most with subscribers? Are email-only campaigns successful on its own?

In our Cutting Through the Noise series – delivered through podcasts, videos, and blogs – we’re here to help you navigate the nuances of digital marketing on a higher level. Even the most novice users to marketing understand that there is more than one way to reach and connect with customers. These methods, commonly referred to as traction channels, vary across mediums and when used smartly, can help you find what tactics grow your business most effectively. This series will cover the 19 traction channels defined by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares in their book Traction, starting with email marketing.


Traction Channel #1: Email Marketing

As discussed in our first Cutting Through the Noise video, email marketing is a powerful channel for any business to take advantage of. At Pintler Group, we believe that combining email strategies with other channels often leads to more successful campaigns and results for our clients.

For example, let’s walk through our Golf Giveaway campaign we ran for our retail client UPTOP back in May.


UPTOP Case Study

UPTOP, a retail company based in Montana, has a pretty devoted following. Ranging from those who proudly wear gear showing their school, state or country pride to those who support the brand as a lifestyle culture, UPTOP has carved out for itself a nice market in the western states. This past quarter, we set out to reach a goal of increasing total email subscribers for this client, with a focus on reaching new customers on a national level. When brainstorming strategies for this goal, our team noted that quite a few UPTOP followers are avid golfers. This sparked the idea of creating a campaign designed to attract golfers across the United States in hopes of increasing the existing list of email subscribers. Thus, our team at Pintler Group racked their brains together and devised a strategy uniting platforms to seamlessly achieve this goal.

Leveraging Facebook Lead Generation Ads

It shouldn’t be surprising that Facebook is a powerful tool in the world of advertising. Given that there are 2.38 billion monthly active users on Facebook, marketers have a great advantage in using this platform to reach relevant audiences. We started off this campaign by designing both a video and still image creative to test through a lead generation focused the campaign on Facebook, with a simple message: “We’re giving away more than $100 in UPTOP golf apparel.” Once a user clicks on the “Sign Up” call-to-action button, they’re taken directly to a form prompting them to provide their name and email address. Simple as that!


Automated Integrations

So, we’ve got the ads up enticing users to sign up for the chance to win UPTOP gear. Now what? Manually download and organize the data gathered from the lead forms? Talk about a tedious and boring process…lucky for us, automation exists! Zapier, our preferred integration platform, allows for you to set up “zaps”, or a set of rules, to connect multiple platforms based on actions taken by a user. For this campaign, we activated a zap that gathered the form data from Facebook to feed straight into our Mailchimp master list for UPTOP, then sent us an email notifying us of any leads submitted. Once entered into our master list, we could now start developing a relationship by sending predesigned automated emails through Mailchimp.

Automated Emails

Email marketing is a channel designed to be personalized and designed with the customer in mind. You need to think like an email receiver, not a sender. At what frequency do you get exhausted with your subscribed emails? What type of language turns you away? The point of getting email subscribers is to build a long term relationship with your customers, not a “get to this number quick, then lose them after a week.” It’s a delicate balance testing how your audience will respond, but that’s what makes email marketing powerful: the ability to optimize and test different strategies to make each email relevant and engaging to the subscriber, which allows for relationships between a customer and a brand to develop.

With this campaign, we kept our automated emails light. We knew part of this audience would only want free stuff, and too many emails upfront may scare them off. After a user submitted a form, our Mailchimp campaign would activate following the Zapier trigger and send only one email welcoming the user to the UPTOP community. After the golf giveaway completed, a scheduled email was sent informing the subscriber that it was over but included a gentle reminder that there was a 30% off the entire store using a special code – promising the receiver future perks as a subscriber.


Moving Forward

Following the end of this campaign, we now have a new audience to learn and engage with – an audience of 355 unique users! Tagged in MailChimp as our Golf Giveaway subscribers, we can target these subscribers in other platforms and connect through more engaging content. With Zapier integrations, we can continue to automate processes between ads and emails to improve the efficiency of our tracking. Through Facebook, we can implement the email addresses collected and show ads relevant to their interests, such as announcements of new golf gear, future giveaways, and sales. Email marketing is more than sending mass emails to a passive audience. It’s an opportunity to provide value to your customers and strengthen the brand perception. It’s noticing trends in customer behavior and sending emails at the right moment after actions are taken. 

Be sure to check out our Slideshare deck on Email Marketing and our podcast discussing Email Automation, and this video on Email Marketing Framework to dive deeper into strategies to try for yourself!

Improve Search Position With Google Search Console

First place trophy.

Google Search Console for Non Technical SEOs

I continue to be impressed with the changes Google has made to Search Console in the last year. From an easier to manage user-interface to more robust data points for digital marketers to work with, any growing business looking to win on organic search should be taking advantage of this free software. Check out the video below for a quick screenshare of our favorite Search Console tactics. 

If you’re not a career technical search engine optimization (SEO) professional, you might have logged into Search Console a couple years ago and thought: what the hell am I looking at? You’re not alone. While the platform held some truly powerful data like search position, ranking and trends, it was tough to find, difficult to decipher and riddled with industry acronyms. Though Having spent the last six years bouncing in and out of the different Google marketing products, Search Console remained an enigma. Until this year. It was too easy to glance at “organic traffic” referral in Analytics and see it improving month over month. I didn’t need to ask a ton of questions because there was always something more important to do. 

Here’s a quick snapshot at the high level helicopter view metrics Google Search console can provide. Different than analytics (at least before connecting with Google Search Console), these metrics can give you info on interest before users ever reach your site. Imagine 50 fish swimming around your hook, Google Analytics tells you which fish you caught. Search Console lets you know which fish got away.

Google Search Console Data

Google Search Console Investment:

The good news is, the application is free. The bad news, you’re going to need to put in some effort to like what you see on the dashboard. When the software side of our business, website personalization software GeoFli, started to get more and more leads from our website, it quickly became clear this was a result of our haphazard SEO efforts. Whoa. What if we spent time actually honing that effort and better understanding what keywords were driving the most qualified traffic. More importantly, what keywords are we ranking for in position 5, 6, 7 that we might  be able to at.

If your customer acquisition looks like the flowchart below, SEO might be a good investment of time and resources. You can’t get users to your site, and they’re not converting once they’re there. But when you do acquire a customer, they stay for life. The key here is to use the early acquisition and activation strategies of content writing, SEO and other early marketing traction channels to acquire qualified traffic to your site.

startup marketing for pirates

Search Engine Optimization:

Where should SEO rank as a traction channel for your business? If you have $5,000 to spend on marketing, should you spend it on Facebook Ads, pitching at trade-shows or producing content to help your website rank? Our team loves investing in content that has a long lifespan. We call it evergreen. This includes simple video, articles and photos that add value to your customers’ lives. Remember, people go on the internet for one of two reasons: information or entertainment. If your content can do one of those two things, you’re leagues ahead. 

Adjacent Traction Channels:

Blog Outreach:

If you’re not getting a lot of site traffic, find someone that is. Now, it’s not going to work to reach out and beg: that’s kind of sad. Instead, find ways to add value (notice the trend here). We did this with our personalization software, GeoFli. We reached out to platforms we used like Mailchimp, Trello, MaxMind and Zapier and gave them a quick pitch about how their service really helped our company grow. We used some data, some flattering testimonials and some screenshots. Oh, and we included a back-link to our site in our paragraph. We were picked up by Trello and MaxMind and featured on their sites! To this day, those two back-links still refer traffic our way. 

The reason this traction channel is adjacent to SEO is because inbound links are an important piece of any SEO strategy. Even if you don’t have a “strategy” but just want to climb the mountain to organic search one step at a time, targeting blogs with valuable insights and education on your area of expertise is a great way to do it. 

Using Search Console to Select a Content Topic

As described in the video below, Google Search Console is a gold mine for figuring out what articles to spend time writing, and which ones to avoid. Unless you’re starting from a completely blank slate, you’ll be able to look at the queries your website is ranking for most often and tackle head on. 

Pro Tip:

We like to look specifically at impressions compared to page position. In the screenshot below, our in-house personalization software, GeoFli, allows anyone to change website content based on location. There are a few things a user must understand before taking steps to purchasing a starter subscription. One is understanding their website traffic. “how to measure website traffic” is a great example of a keywords with a lot of impressions (500/month) that we’d like to own. And we’re currently ranking in position 13. I think we can improve that by writing some valuable content that meets user intent. See video for more info on how to navigate these screens.

Pro Tip # 2:

Improve organic click-through-rates by testing language. Phew, that’s a lot of marketing jargon. Take a look at the screenshot below. Both are in position 1.8 in search results (nice!) but one has a 32% click through rate (percentage of people that see the search result vs. click) and one has a 3.6% click-through-rate (CTR). The far right is position, green is CTR. 

Use this opportunity to test the meta descriptions of the blog posts driving traffic. If you get 1,000 impressions and go from a 10% to a 20% click-through-rate simply by improving the title and meta description of your article, that’s an increase of 100 free website visitors a month!

Test out Google Search Console:

I’d highly recommend checking out Google Search Console for your business. The insights are extremely valuable and there are dashboards through Data Studio you can build, integrations with Analytics of course and you’ll be able to quickly see what users are searching for to land on your site. 

Next Steps:

If you’re looking to glean some of these insights, head to Google Search Console. Warning, verifying your site can sometimes be a headache. If you use Tag Manager, great. You’ll see the verification tag live on your site and it still will tell you it’s not added yet. You can verify with Analytics and that works about 25% of the time. Frustrating? As always we’re here to help. And as always, we hope you learned something. 

Montana Digital Marketing

Silo standing tall in Butte, Montana.

Montana Digital Marketing Agency

When it comes to marketing firms in Montana, the options can feel a bit overwhelming. Then there’s companies calling themselves marketing tech, then there’s specific PR firms, creative agencies and design firms to choose from. What are the differences? Do you need all? None? We’re here to help you navigate the landscape of digital marketing firms in Montana.


This is how I got my start. You pick up some work writing website copy, designing Google Ad campaigns or helping an entrepreneur articulate their value proposition. Sometimes it’s a specific task like building a five page website or setting up email automations. Other times it’s consistent work like 20 hours a month focused on Google Ads.

Pros: The benefit here is expertise in a specific channel. Hiring an individual that knows search-engine-optimization inside and out is a good example. They can make recommendations on meta-tags, use programs like Screaming Frog to identify opportunities in organic search results and deliver reports from Google Search Console that you didn’t know existed. A local freelancer is in your time-zone, can be at your place of work and you can meet them face-to-face. They can see your business and meet the team.

Drawbacks: Freelancer have over time gained a reputation for being a little unreliable. Need that SSL certificate updated? Sorry, traveling to the Dominican this week. Design drafts stuck in drafts? Sorry, it’s conference week and I’m swamped! Without the power of a team, it can feel like the freelancer is working on an opposite time-zone … and sometimes they are.

Agile Digital Marketing Team (3-6 people):

Montana Marketing Firm
Pintler Group looking at Product Hunt promotions for a software client.

If you’ve ever seen a pitcher in the major leagues step up to the plate, it’s pretty hilarious. Sure they can throw a 95 mph fastball, but that doesn’t mean they can hit one. That’s what designated hitters are for. Imagine a freelancer as an all-star pitcher. That’s only one piece of the team. Marketing teams with 3-5 people should compliment one another. Analytics, design, strategy, paid search and email. These digital marketing firms move fast and often act as a full-time marketing team for a company that wants to simply outsource these services.

Pros: These teams move fast and work best when each person on the team contributes to your marketing needs. Perhaps your firm has a marketing director responsible for promotion, events and communication. That’s a huge role. These firms are perfect for the marketing director that wants to keep the ball moving forward when their own plate is full. Too often marketing directors are responsible for a couple big events which suck up resources, time and energy. That’s where the agile marketing teams assist in keeping momentum.

Drawbacks: There are times when a freelancer is a better fit. Just need a simple design for a flyer? That’s a freelancer or an UpWork assignment. A rule of thumb to think about when looking for a marketing firm in Montana: you don’t want to be their smallest client, and you don’t want to be their largest. Get a good understanding of the work from the agency. Do they have experience with video? What is their belief on content?

Large Marketing and Creative Agency: 6+ people.

Large Marketing Agency

These firms traditionally exist in Montana for some of the larger brands and promotions. These are the marketing firms you might imagine on television: brick walls, glass walled conference room and post-it-notes on brand-boards. They tackle large branding projects spanning months and sometimes years.

Pros: The power of a team is real. With 20+ people, you might have a specific account rep or marketing director responsible for your account. Experience is a plus here with some firms existing for 20+ years or longer. They’ve seen the transition from TV and flyers to digital.

Cons: Whether they’ve adapted to that transition is another story. With 20+ people and brick walls comes a lot of overhead. Overhead that you pay for when you hire them. Sometimes the ideas generated from post-it-note sessions can be million dollar ideas, but who is responsible for executing on them? Your team? Their team? Is that included in the scope?

Programmatic Advertising Firms:

Programmatic Advertising
Programmatic flowchart.

There is a difference between marketing firms and media buying. We wrote an entire article about whether or not programmatic advertising is right for you. These firms can throw a lot of complicated language and fancy acronyms at you quickly. CPMs, DSPs, Third Party Inventory, CTR and CPA. The business model is predicated on the more you spend as a marketing team, the more money they make. Typically charging $25 cost-per-thousand impressions online, these firms charge a specific amount and usually have a minimum ad-buy. This means you might be in for $5,000 a month in advertising. At the end of the month, you get a report showing results.

Pros: The invoicing is actually pretty simple. In the awareness stage, programmatic advertising can be powerful but expensive. These companies experience rapid growth and you’ll have your own account executive helping determine where you’d like to place ads. The targeting capabilities are impressive.

Cons: There are a few. First, the effectiveness of display ads (those ads you see on your local newspaper website) have unbelievably low click-through-rates which corresponds to unbelievably high cost-per-conversion (sales, lead, booking). As Google and Facebook compete for ad-dollars, the targeting capabilities within each platform continue to improve. Google’s custom-intent-audiences, for example, are extremely powerful and cost-per-thousand impressions come in closer to $2.50. Just understand that ad-tech, marketing tech and programmatic advertising firms don’t (or shouldn’t) call themselves marketing agencies.

How to Find a Great Digital Marketing Firm:

Digital Marketing Agency Montana
Video conference.

Unlike lawyers, doctors, teachers and nurses, the marketing profession doesn’t have a “bar exam” equivalent. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, email marketing, and search-engine-optimization management come with trainings and “onboarding completion certificates” but nothing that couldn’t be achieved on a rainy and disciplined weekend.

Should there be a certificate? I think back on my time as a marketing and recruitment associate at Missoula College (then the COT). I remember talking with the nursing faculty about Anatomy and Physiology (A&P). If anyone you know is a nurse, they just shuddered a little bit. Doesn’t matter where they are, they shivered with fear. That’s because it was coined as a “weed out course”. A course meant to thin the herd or aspiring nurses. If that sounds harsh, it is. It should be. Competency is pretty important when it comes to that IV in your arm and if that means the ability to ace A&P, I’m okay with it.

When looking for a Dentist, you’re not first concerned with their certification. You trust that someone somewhere gave them a license to practice dentistry. Then the market decides which dentist is best. For me, that’s which dentist has the best magazine selection in the waiting room. “Whoa, Carnival Ride Rodeo May 2017?!”

Lawyers study for months only to potentially fail the Bar exam. To interview for a job as a teacher in a school district, you need a teaching license. That’s not a controversial topic.

In all of these scenarios, there’s a barrier to entry. Perhaps that’s what makes finding and choosing the right marketing team so difficult. Sometimes you’re making a decision based on experience, but not all experience is created equal. Do you count, for example, 20 years of printing brochures and business cards as marketing experience?

Questions to Ask A Digital Marketing

Marketing Questions
Nick and Kyle answering questions about marketing software.

We put together a quick list of questions to ask your digital marketing firm in Montana, or anywhere for that matter.

What is your process for getting started with someone new?

This helps filter the cookie-cutter approach. The plan should most certainly include understanding and potentially honing the value proposition early and often.

Describe how you think about goals and conversions?


There are media buying companies, and then there are marketers. Understanding the (really vast) differences will help you make an educated decision. When you hear experts talk about media, typically what they’re describing are display ads and large advertising purchases. These are usually priced at a CPM level (cost-per-thousand-impressions). So 1,000 people see an ad online, how much should it cost? To media buyers, the answer is usually around $25. To marketers, 1,000 impressions doesn’t mean much because we like to measure based on conversions. Sales, inquiries, applications, phone calls, and revenue. We think about goals and conversions internally as well as with our clients when we market our website personalization software, GeoFli.

What type of communication can I expect?

Digital Marketing
Inbound Marketing Communication

This is one of the most important questions to ask a potential online marketing firm in Montana or anywhere. There’s a spectrum of answers here. One includes a monthly dashboard that automates to your inbox. The other end of the pendulum is a digital marketing extension of your existing operations. It depends on what you want to focus on and what your budget can afford. Just make sure you’re not paying high dollar for a monthly PDF (but it’s interactive!) and if you’re looking for more of a team, meet the players on the team.

The last thing to consider when searching for a digital marketing agency in Montana is access. Can you sit across the table from them if you need to? Is that something important to you? We see tremendous value in being able to talk through campaigns, marketing spend and quarterly goals.

Note: You Should be Doing Most of The Talking.

If it seems like the marketing team you’re meeting with is doing a lot of the talking, it’s an early indicator they won’t be great listeners. Marketing is about communicating to the world what your super-power is. How are you different from everyone else doing what you do? What is your value proposition? If a marketing firm isn’t curious enough to dive into your value proposition in the first conversation, the mark has been missed.

What do Montana Digital Marketing Firms Do?

Understand that when condensed, there are roughly 19 different traction channels businesses can use to acquire new customers to their product or service. Sometimes these tasks are performed in-house. Sometimes firms contract one or two of them out. Increasingly, firms are looking at digital marketing as a good opportunity for some expert assistance and coaching on the some of the strategies below. This comes from the book “Traction” by Gabriel Weinberg (a book we keep in our HQ at all times). These include:

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg

Viral Marketing: Share this uber-code, refer a friend, get $200 Visa gift card when a friend signs up. In campaigns I’ve run using the “my friend jumped off a bridge, maybe I should too!” approach, I’m always amazed at how well they perform. Hotmail, while not too prevalent these days, owned the world of electronic mail (yup, I called it that) by a simple viral marketing statement to “share with a friend” at the bottom of every email.

Public Relations: media coverage and publicity. There are firms specializing in this space. You could be on Oprah. You get a conversion! You get a conversion! But it’s tough to track the immediate return on investment and can fall sideways.

Unconventional PR: I always think of Redbull. Certainly jumping from space with a parachute on is unconventional. Did it sell more energy drinks? Probably. Was it really cool to watch? Most definitely yes.

Search Engine Marketing: Google is a search engine … and an advertising platform. Purchasing keywords and display inventory comes with the promise of sales, but it can be illusive. Best practice in our experience is a simple exact match – phrase match – broad match modified system to setting up search campaigns.

Social Ads: Mark Zuckerberg didn’t volunteer his way into that Lake Tahoe Estate. Facebook is a staple in the digital marketers toolbox. Though easy to initially launch, there are becoming more and more toggles and tactics to be aware of to efficiently target your budget and measure return-on-ad-spend.

Email Marketing: teach an old dog new tricks like automation, triggered retargeting email and growing your email list through other traction channels. Email can be extremely effective and you have complete control over the content. For example, Facebook can’t update an algorithm that removes 5,000 emails from your subscriber list. Your email list is your email list. Ask us about how to show messages to your email subscribers and friends of your email subscribers.

Search Engine Optimization:

Google has 200 ranking factors. There are people that study all of them and dream about them. Literally there is a periodic table of ranking factors! We believe it’s important to be updated on new algorithms, but ultimately great content (maybe like this article) will rank. Provide real value and think about user intent. That has withstood the test of time … at least the last few years or so.

Targeting Blogs:

This is a strategy that has evolved since Gabriel Weinberg wrote Traction. I would also include Q&A sites like Quara, Facebook Groups and Influencer marketing in this category. Ultimately, targeting blogs includes defining a really clear persona, and spending time getting in front of them digitally. People go on the internet for education or entertainment. How can you help educate your target audience on your product in a non-spammy way. Sometimes it’s guest posting or contributing value to a Facebook Group.

Content Marketing:

If digital marketing was the royal family, content marketing would king. Yes, content is indeed king. Today, the bar is high: video, podcasts, articles, photo: there’s a lot to keep track of. Producing content in-house can be an extremely effective way to communicate to specific personas. For example, if you’re a sporting goods store, you could write articles about lacrosse and you could write articles about women’s soccer. Then you could promote those articles specifically to those demographics.

Marketing as Engineering:

One of our favorite traction channels because it’s one of the least used. Think about a time when you’ve downloaded an interactive how-to guide or submitted a mortgage calculator. In exchange for something of value, maybe they collected your email address or phone number. Sometimes called Engineering as marketing. We’ve built calculators, degree finders and choose-your-own-adventure style business finders for companies that want something better than a “subscribe to our email” form. And example of marketing as engineering might be the subscription box calculator we build for Big Sky Fulfillment.

Montana is full of great marketers

digital marketing icon

The Kauffman Index has ranked Montana the No. 1 state for startup activity for four straight years. So what do entrepreneurs have to do with sales and digital marketing? Everything. Entrepreneurs inherently see opportunity where others might have missed. They understand their key demographics, personas, and target market even if sometimes those aren’t the words they use. They market and brand their product. Just here in Missoula, the examples of world-class marketing is everywhere. From the music scene retargeting live-performance aficionados to software companies like Submittable and OnX building global brands acquiring customers all over the world.

What Marketing Firm is Right For You:

Fortunately, the state of Missoula marketing is strong. If you’re looking for a Missoula or a Montana marketing agency, digital or traditional, it’s important to keep in mind a couple things.

If you’re just getting started, it might mean you don’t need a marketing firm at all, you need some hustle! Paul Graham of Y-Combinator recommends businesses starting out going from zero customers to one customer, from one to ten and ten to 100 do things that don’t scale. What does that mean: do things that don’t scale. We take that a step further: do things that don’t scale until you reach product market fit. Basically you should look at growing your business without marketing dollars and instead recruit customers that would make zero sense if you had 500 customers. For example, the AirBnB team sold cereal at the Democratic National Convention in 2008: Obama O’s to help fund their growing startup. Stripe recruited users early by physically showing up and installing the system at your business, sitting in your chair behind your cash register.

Product Market Fit

When you’re ready to sit down with a Montana marketing agency, if you’re a growing business, we recommend making sure you’ve achieved product market fit. We think of that based on Casey Winters from GrubHub, Pinterest and now Graylock Partners when he says “you’ve reached product market fit if your customers would be pissed you went away.”

If you aren’t there yet, keep doing things that don’t scale. Talk to customers.

When Hiring a Montana Marketing Agency is right for you:

We find the most successful companies that bring on an agency have a marketing team in place with some expertise in specific traction channels but not all. Specialists in areas like Google Ads, reporting, search-engine-optimization and content can be really difficult to find. It can also be difficult to find them 40 hours of work with such a narrow skill-set. Find a marketing firm with a track-record of managing large accounts. I sometimes advise individuals looking to hire a marketing agency in Montana that you don’t want to be the firm’s largest client and you don’t want to be the firm’s smallest client.

Montana Marketing Analytics Graduates:

While there is a lot of creativity that goes into marketing, the trend toward marketing as a science continues to increase. Data analytics, website conversion tracking, page-rank algorithms and impression share are just the tip of the marketing metric iceberg. With Masters in Business Analytics and digital marketing certificates being awarded by the University of Montana, the caliber of students graduating with proficiency not only in designing a beautiful marketing handout, but graduating with the ability to perform regression analysis on Montana tourism data is rapidly increasing. Find a firm with these skill sets under the umbrella and it will serve you well.

Digital Marketing Flowchart
We had too much empty space on our whiteboard.

Digital Marketing Coaching:

Unsure still if hiring a Montana digital marketing agency is right for you? Consider taking some simple courses online. They’re free and they’ll arm you with the knowledge to either tackle steps 1-3 yourself, or at least ask the right questions of a potential freelancer or marketing agency. Here are a few of our favorites:

Have questions about digital marketing? Contact us today. We’ll fire up the video-conference and do a lot of listening. Jumping into digital marketing can be a little frightening. We’re here to help.

Email Marketing Metric Most Missed and Why It Matters

Gmail window displayed on laptop.

The beauty of digital marketing is that it affords immediacy, a form of instant gratification. Gone are the days of sending a magazine ad to print or waiting for the scaffolding to slowly climb up to the empty billboard you purchased for the next month. Now it’s digital display ads, segmented email marketing, geotargeted messaging, streaming video, and all the other fancy tools as marketers we use all the time.

Instead of waiting around for something to happen and then wondering if it did anything at all, digital marketing is instant execution and instant results. But in a point and click world it’s important to remember there is action needed after the click. We recently talked about the necessity of data analysis, even at its most basic level. We discussed the three questions you need to be asking before you execute as a way to inform your analytics review:

Who is the audience I’m trying to reach?

What are my most important marketing channels?

What are my objectives?

Once you’ve accomplished this step it’s time to dive in. If you’ve made it this far into the marketing process, you probably know the key metrics to look at: clicks, engagement, bounce rate, opens, time on your platform, etc. But in almost every medium there is that one key metric that is so often ignored, often to the detriment of the marketing campaign. Over the next few weeks we’ll be identifying what the metric most missed is on each platform. Today we’ll tackle email.

The Ones That Got Away

Spam: An Email Marketing Red Flag

It’s hard to not obsess over the size of your list and how many people open it. And once you start following the breadcrumbs, especially if your conversion metric is sales based, you could be spending a lot of time looking at a lot of data. And while that’s a necessity (and the point of this series of articles!) the metric most often missed is disengagement rate.

To calculate your email marketing disengagement rate, add up the total unsubscribes and spam complaints from a single campaign and divide by the number of unique opens. It’s one thing to not interact with an email, or even just not open it. Those are still newsletter subscribers that can be activated. But someone taking the effort to unsubscribe clearly is not connecting with your messaging and you’ve lost them as a lead. Even worse, offending or annoying someone to such a degree that they complain to the world wide web is a sign something just isn’t right.

Obviously you’re going to lose email subscribes, that’s just the name of the game. For example, say you gathered a chunk of addresses from a sweepstakes. That’s going to drive up your unsubscribe rate over the next newsletter or two. And that’s ok, because the net is going to be positive. In other cases, someone might just be getting too much email. That’s ok too. It’s why so many smart marketers segment out or even manually unsubscribe people who aren’t opening their emails. A good cleanse of an email marketing list never did anyone any harm. And your open rate will thank you.

But if you disengagement rate is consistently hovering at 0.2% or above it’s incredibly likely you’re just not connecting with your audience. And if a high percentage of your disengagement rate is spam complaints, you might be on the road to losing them altogether.

Don’t Leave Yet, Just Give My Email Marketing One More Chance

So, you’re losing subscribers at a pace you’re not comfortable with and it’s in your head. Maybe you’re even questioning your skills. Rather than sulk, let’s get this turned around. (Remember, there is NO crying in marketing). As you can imagine, a surefire way to get to the bottom of the problem is through testing. It’s forgotten sometimes that studying your email marketing analytics isn’t just about finding what works; it’s about finding out what doesn’t.

Here are three areas to consider:



Think like an email receiver, and not an email sender. At what point do you say enough is enough? This could very well be the issue. Take a look at your emails over the course of a set period of time, say a month. Is your disengagement rate higher at the end of the month than the beginning? If so, at what point during the month is the increase in disengagement no longer linear? Identifying the point where it’s just too many emails can pinpoint the frequency your audience wants to hear from you. So if you’re sending out six emails a month and after the third the disengagement rate starts to increase exponentially, try testing only three emails a month. Sometimes people’s inboxes just get too full.



Sure, it seems simplistic to just say, maybe your content is the problem. But it’s about more than just what’s in the email, it’s about how it’s presented and what other content it’s paired with. Every good email marketer knows that sales email after sales email after sales email is just not going to get the job done. Even if your company isn’t in the business of creating original content, there have to be times when your soft side comes out.

Test an email, even on a segment of your list, that starts with content or imagery related to your brand but with no call to action to buy. Make the call to action something completely different. Be conversational. Add the sales stuff in below the fold. A consumer is less likely to unsubscribe or complain if they’ve gotten something useful from the email before getting to the stuff that might turn them off. If you have the guts (and content) try sending an email every now and then doesn’t have the words “buy” or “order” in it.

Subject Line

A good A/B test can help you pinpoint the type of subject line that increases your open rate. But what kind of subject line increases your disengagement rate? The most likely is one that overpromises an email that under delivers. Or doesn’t deliver on the promise at all. This is going to be a huger driver of spam complaints. Crafting a good subject line is absolutely necessary, but don’t take it too far or get too cute with it. Sometimes simple is best, just done right.

Looking at these three areas and applying the findings to your email marketing initiatives will not only increase the positives and decrease the negatives, it might just help you sleep better. Remember, as long as you engage with your disengagers, you’re going to be ok.

Google Ads: Everything You Need to Know About Call Tracking

Woman with red gloves holding rotary phone.

Whether your customers primarily purchase by phone or you’re simply trying to strengthen your business’s online profile, adding a phone number (i.e., a call extension) to your Google Ads campaigns may be an effective way to drive leads and conversions.

Google Ads desktop preview of search text ad featuring call extension

How do extensions drive leads and conversions?

First, let’s review what’s going on behind the scenes: Google Ads runs an auction each time a user searches on Google to determine which ads to show. This auction takes into account three main ad components (expected CTR, ad relevance and landing page experience), as well as the strength of the bid, to identify the ad that will be most interesting for the user based on their search term. There are quite a few adjustments you can make to improve these components and achieve a better ad rank; featuring ad extensions happens to be one of those adjustments.

Ad extensions come in all shapes and sizes, but the one we’d like to focus on today is the call extension — and we’ll show you what to do with the data, too!

Alright, so how do I add a call extension?

Call extensions can be featured on search ads at the account, campaign or ad group level. When you pick a campaign from the navigation panel, choose “Ads & extensions” on the page menu; from there, you can navigate to “Extensions” and find a list of all extensions in the selected campaign. You can add a new extension by clicking that fun little blue button with a plus sign.

Creating call extension on Google Ads

One notable feature you’ll see while creating a call extension is extension scheduling, located in the advanced options of the “Add call extension” window; this allows you to choose specific time frames in which you’d like your ad to run. Especially for physical stores with limited operating hours, scheduling a call extension can be a great way to encourage phone traffic when there is someone available to help.

Like most things in Google Ads, creating call extensions is easy — it’s the logic and strategy behind tracking that differentiates pro marketers from novice account managers. The most important step when setting up your call extensions is to enable Call Reporting. Without Call Reporting, Google can’t collect valuable information about calls, including when they are received, the duration and the caller’s area code. (Update: as of September 2018, Call Reporting is “moving from ad level to account level”, according to a Google Ads notification. All users will migrate to the new setting in early 2019.)

One more note: extensions don’t show every time your ad does, so keep that in mind as you start sifting through data.

Creating new call extension on Google Ads campaign, enabling call tracking and featuring a mobile preview

How does Google track this information?

When Call Reporting is enabled, Google will assign your account a unique forwarding phone number, which will display on your ad. If someone calls this number, the call will be redirected to the number you provided in your extension — but because it goes through Google first, Ads can generate detailed reports on every call.

Once your first call goes through, Ads will create a conversion action (found under Conversions in the toolbox), which will count each call lasting over a minute as a conversion by default. Depending on whether you’d rather track leads or conversions, you can track every call or just each unique one.

One more tidbit that Google buried in their Ads Helps pages: if you have a location extension set up, Ads “may direct calls to the phone numbers that are associated with those locations rather than the phone numbers set with your call extensions” — just check that Ads is using the right phone number to ensure your conversion data is being tracked correctly.

Which metrics should I look at once I have call data?

When you look at the extension data, there will be information about clicks, impressions and conversions — all data that’s not too scary or unfamiliar. However, it’s important to recognize that these clicks are not necessarily on the call extension itself; they are just clicks earned when the extension was shown as part of the ad (meaning the recorded click could’ve been on the ad headline or another extension, thus not producing a call conversion).

Call extension data on Google Ads search campaign

With that in mind, you can add columns that feature data on your call extension, including phone impressions, phone calls or the phone-through rate (how many times someone called you divided by how many times your call extension was shown).

Of course, here at GeoFli, we’re especially interested in identifying where the users are coming from based on area code. You can find these metrics by navigating to the predefined reports; then, under “Extensions”, select “Call details”. There, you can find the area code of all calls in any given period.

What am I going to do with all this area code data?

We saved the best news for last: we’ll take care of this part for you (for free!). With our tool ZipMap, you can input lists of area and zip codes to create detailed heat maps of the data, making regional clusters obvious and geotargeting that much simpler.

Next step? Website personalization based on location to optimize conversions… and, don’t worry, we can help with that, too.

Heat map of area codes in the US, provided by ZipMap feature on GeoFli.com
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Programmatic Advertising? Maybe Not For You.

Wrong way construction sign

This article explores the business model of display and programmatic companies. As our team executes digital campaigns, it became clear there was a growing and lucrative vertical that we wanted to learn more about. And so did potential clients. A question we get quite often is, what is programmatic advertising and does it make sense for my business? 

If you want the answer now to save some time: probably not.

First: What is Programmatic Advertising:

Defined by the Display Trading Council as “the use of automation in buying and selling of media”.

Is Programmatic Display and Bid Management Right for My Business?

The root of the question is this: will I get a return on my investment in targeted display ads? To answer that, you want to understand (quickly) how online ads are bought and sold. You also want to identify what’s really going on behind the fancy diagrams, flashy websites and “superior value”. 

The language on ad-tech and programmatic company websites is confusing at best and deceiving at worst. In writing this article, we found a lot of strange ambiguity and “behind the curtain” terms that, coming from a background in digital marketing, didn’t add up. Most of the programmatic advertising websites we visited  had confusing visuals like the ones below to try and represent what they do.


The above diagrams look like something out of the Da Vinci Code. The left is programmatic ad delivery company Amobee and the right is AdTaxi. We’ll break down what the terms in the diagram mean in a minute.  

How Much Do Display Ads Cost? You Should Know:

In the movie “The Big Short” the character played by Ryan Gosling is a lovable blood-thirsty capitalist. Basically, his firm offers swaps which is insurance on insurance on … well, it’s confusing. When asked what he gets out of offering this special mortgage swap to potential buyers, Gosling replies “Sure – swaps are a dark market so … I set the price, whatever price I want.” It seems that when working with programmatic bid management companies,  the cost of online advertising is a dark market, and programmatic ad-exchanges are setting the price: whatever they want. 

If you don’t know what a “fair” price is to pay for online ads, you’re certainly not alone. In fact, most programmatic ad-tech company employees don’t have a straight answer to this question . It’s nobody’s fault, but putting a benchmark in place will allow you to make a more informed decision.

Some Quick Definitions Before Diving in Head First:

Bid Management: When purchasing ads online, it’s the automated system set up to win the bid depending on the ad placement in the digital marketing campaign.

Cost Per Thousand Impressions: CPM: A standard measurement for how much online advertising costs. How much will it cost to show your ad to 1,000 people? You can easily break down your ad spend.

Display Ads: The ads you either see next to the article on your favorite newspaper website, or the ads you need to find the “x” to get out of.

DSP: Domain Side Platform: An automated buying platform used by programmatic ad-tech companies. This is the platform the company uses to purchase display ads from publishers (Google, Bing, third party). Banner ads = ads on websites, mobile ads on apps and mobile web and in-stream video.

Inventory: Total impressions online. Think of inventory like a billboard for a website. Your business can purchase 10,000 eyeballs. Once those are used up, the billboard changes to someone else’s message. How you select those 10,000 eyeballs is up to you. Perhaps you want your ad to appear in inventory only targeting males, ages 35-45 that are interested in tennis.

Questions To Ask of Programmatic Companies:

What should 1,000 impressions online cost? 

According to HubSpot: the average cost for 1,000 impressions on display (if you see an ad, or an ad loads on your screen even if you don’t see it: that’s an impression), is $2.25. We’ve seen ad-tech companies charge anywhere from $15-$20 CPM. The next question you need to ask, is it worth it?

The $1,000 challenge: Would would happen if you bought direct? That means if you buy direct or through an agency that purchases direct and spend $1,000, you’ll deliver your ad  444,000 times. Let’s say you spent that same $1,000 with an ad-tech company, your ad would be served only 66,000 times. That’s a difference of 378,000 impressions. Is programmatic worth the cost?

What’s your cost-per-thousand-impressions online?

Again, CPM = what it costs you to show your display ad to 1,000 people online. After their surprise that you know what CPM is, they should give you a straightforward answer. If they don’t, be cautious. Programmatic advertising companies make it simple to bundle all of your advertising under one roof. Spoiler alert: it’s a very expensive roof. If the metric is readily available on their website, it’s a good sign of a transparent business model. If the number is not: you should find out what it is.

Purchasing direct (in-house) or with a digital marketing expert will cost around $2.25 per thousand impressions. Programmatic costs $15 per thousand impressions. About an 800% mark-up.

How do Programmatic Advertising Companies Make Money?

They charge a $15.00 CPM for for inventory they get at a discount. It’s a highly lucrative business model. It works because there’s not a lot of knowledge on exactly how much an online impression is worth. 

Educate yourself: how much of a markup am I paying programmatic vs. buying direct through a marketing expert or through Google Ads? Or not using display ads at all? If you’re aware of the upcharge and it makes sense for your business: great.

Understand how much you’re willing to pay for 1,000 impressions and you’ll become a smart digital ad buyer. And no, Google Ads doesn’t own all the online inventory on the internet, but they can serve billions of impressions a day if you want them to. 

Many programmatic advertisers are buzz-word heavy and marketing tactic poor. Words like “Premium Inventory” or “Ad Exchange Platform” are using inventory in platforms you can purchase direct like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, YouTube and Bing. Put the reporting in one place using Google Data Studio and you’ve potentially just saved tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Programmatic Ad Tech Business Model: Spend More Money.

Programmatic advertising companies make money when they sell more of their display, search, video and social ads at $15 CPM. If your YouTube ads are costing you $5 CPM direct, bundling that under the programmatic umbrella just bumped it up to $15. Is the “cross channel optimization” worth the mark-up?

The more CPMs they sell, the more money they make. The incentives for this model are so clearly backwards. The recommendation will always be to spend more money.

If you’re working with a team of marketing experts in a performance marketing firm, their answer to more sales, more inbound and more website visitors might not be more ad-spend. It might be public relations, content marketing or any of the other marketing traction channels that might yield higher results.

Below: Order for 334,000 programmatic display ad impressions at $4,850. The result, lots of impressions, zero landing page leads. Purchasing the same 334,000 through Google Ads would cost around $1,000.

programmatic advertising costs

Is My Programmatic Ad Team Also My Marketing Team?

No. Programmatic display ad firms are not marketing agencies: The individual managing your bid (where your ad is served) automation isn’t a trained marketing expert. Think of an Ad-Tech company the same way you’d think of the local television network selling you ad-space. You purchase a commercial, they deploy it strategically during shows and times they see valuable. If you bought a newspaper ad, would you say the newspaper ad salesman and the publisher handles your marketing? Programmatic tackles one small vertical of digital marketing: display.

Does Programmatic Advertising Work?

You’re going to be hard pressed to see a transparent return on ad-spend. Though, this is a question best answered by results and one you should be monitoring if you’re currently paying $15 CPMs. If you’re paying for programmatic and not measuring conversions. Stop. You’re donating money. Google announced Custom Intent Audiences at the end of 2017. As far as we’re concerned, this gives companies all the targeting capabilities they could ever need.

We’ve tested programmatic advertising at a cost of $15 CPM driving traffic to a landing page. The result? Programmatic spent $5,000 in automated display ads without a single form-completion while in-house paid social and paid search drove leads at around $11 cost-per-acquisition.

Here’s an article published by the Wall-Street-Journal describing a case-study with Proctor and Gamble. They cut millions of dollars from their programmatic budget. The result? “Little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.” Check out the article below:

“P&G Cuts More Than $100 Million In Largely Ineffective Ads”


“Proctor and Gamble, one of the largest advertisers in the country said that its move to cut more than $100 million in digital marketing spend in the June quarter (2017) had little impact on its business, proving that those digital ads were largely ineffective.

Chief Executive David Taylor said in an interview that the digital spending cuts are part of a bigger push by the company to more quickly halt spending on items — from ad campaigns to product development programs — that aren’t working.

“We shut it down. We’re not going to follow a formula of how much you spend or share of voice. We want every dollar to add value for the consumer or add value for our stakeholders.”

Bid Management Tools:

Programmatic Ad Tech companies will talk extensively about bid management and real-time bidding. These tactics haven’t proven (at least in tests we’ve done) to be more or less impactful for generating leads or sales. You may have heard of Marin Software. They are a bid management tool that claims to have cross channel premium inventory for advertisers to purchase. Here’s a look at their video:

Below: Display bid-management companies and ad-tech companies have a way of making bid management seem just ambiguous enough to work.


But … Marin Display Bid Management Stock: Yikes.

Display Dismay:

At the core of programmatic is display advertising. Banner ads, in-stream video and in-app advertisements. Do they actually result in sales? According to HubSpot, the average click-through-rate for a display ad is .35%. That means if 100 people in your hyper-targeted audience see your ad, you’re doing exceptionally well if you can get one person to show interest and click. Spending money on display if you have a fixed or performance based marketing budget is not where we would start.   

I’m a Marketing Agency, Should I Partner With Programmatic Advertising Companies?

If you want full control over your ad message, landing page content and analytics, we’d strive for in-house management. Get familiar with purchasing direct and then decide if programmatic is something you want to explore. Plus having the in-house expertise to manage, contribute and grow your online acquisition channels would be highly valuable.

Run a Simple Test:

The easiest way to see if your programmatic partner is worth the high margins on ad-inventory is to test. Spend $5k in programmatic and run a $5k campaign internally. See what the cost-per-lead comes out to be. See how they track conversions and see the return. Does the money deployed toward hiring marketing professionals outperform the money deployed programmatically?

Below: DIY Google Ads makes it simple to deploy highly targeted display ads.

Who Makes Money on Display Ads?

Google AdSense is a pretty straightforward exchange. Let’s pretend you have a blog. You write content about roasting your own coffee beans. 1,000 people per day visit your website. You decide to rent a banner ad (inventory) from Google. You tell Google what your website is about. Google turns around and sells that banner ad space to advertisers. Starbucks, your local coffee shop and Folgers all want to show ads on websites for people interested in coffee. The blogger (you!) gets some money every time your ad is shown, and every time your ad is clicked.

That’s Google’s inventory, you can log-in to Google Ads or hire an expert in paid search to help build those campaigns. Programmatic Advertisers use a few different ad-exchanges, not just Google, to purchase ad-inventory and bid on when your ad appears. But as mentioned earlier, Google has a huge market share of ad inventory and an 800% mark-up to reach the remaining display ad placements and publishers is likely not worth it for your business. 

Test Direct Vs. Programmatic Bid Management:

It could potentially save you thousands of dollars a month. Talk with a marketing agency and see how they would approach spending ad dollars: here’s a quick presentation I gave as part of an opening class to 50 seniors this spring at the University of Montana Marketing Analytics 440.

Testing Traction Channels > Programmatic Display

Below are the the 19 traction channels as described in the book “Traction” by Gabriele Weinberg. When working with a talented marketing agency, the goal is going to be testing traction channels. The incentive is to reach your goal, whether that’s through display ads or through blog and influencer outreach.

Programmatic Advertising lives in the display traction chanel: (No. 5 above). But that leaves a lot of other channels and gaps to test. 

What Should We Do?

If you’re a small or mid-level business, we would not recommend your introduction to online advertising be with programmatic display. Paying for advanced bid-management tools is going to burn your potential marketing spend early. There are performance-based marketing firms you can hire that will help identify the three traction channels to focus on. If display ads are one of them, it might be time to entertain a conversation with programmatic. Perhaps there’s on-page website personalization to turn visitors into leads that might be more worth your time. Start at the center of your bullseye and figure out where your existing happy customers came from.

Hopefully after reading this article, you recognize the costs, the opportunity, and the risks of using programmatic ad-tech companies and also how to spot large CPMs behind ambiguous ad-tech diagrams.