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How Businesses Must Change Tactics to Comply With the California Consumer Privacy Act

New Privacy Protocols Under the CCPA Are Changing How Businesses Operate and How They Can Approach Long-Used Approaches to Marketing 

In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect as a core part of Europe’s digital privacy legislation, and it was the talk of the town in the U.S. as companies that do business overseas readied themselves for compliance. At the onset of this new decade, however, there’s a new kid on the data privacy block: the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). 

A Short Introduction to the California Consumer Privacy Act

Don’t be fooled by the law’s geographic specificity – the CCPA applies to any company that employs or serves California residents.

Broadly, the CCPA establishes new consumer rights relating to the access, deletion, and sharing of personal information collected digitally by businesses. It also establishes procedures to facilitate consumers’ new rights under the law and guidance for business compliance. 

To trace the origins of the CCPA, we can point to the widely-known Cambridge Analytica scandal during the 2018 presidential election that shone a spotlight on the myriad ways consumer information was being used without consumer permission. 

Taking action to try and rectify these wrongs, California’s privacy act gives consumers more control over their data, including insight into what information companies have collected on them, whether companies have sold or are selling their personal information, and the option of removing their information from company databases. 

The CCPA is essentially the U.S. version of GDPR; incidentally, it was signed into law in 2018, but it officially went into effect in January 2020, which has companies scrambling to ensure compliance. 

Which Industries Will be Most Impacted by the CCPA?

The most important designation of the CCPA is that it only applies to businesses that earn more than $25 million in gross revenue, collect data on more than 50,000 people, and acquire more than 50% of their revenue from selling consumer data. 

Technology, telecom, and financial services companies may have a “leg up” since they’re already subject to a slew of regulations and are inherently more aware of and prepared for stricter privacy regulations in a post-Cambridge Analytica world (and with the threat of security breaches always looming). 

The CCPA will have a different impact on the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but all tech and telecom companies with customers or employees in California have had to take a series of actions to comply, including: 

  • updating their privacy policies
  • preparing communications to answer consumer questions about their data (such as a web page or special phone number)
  • putting the “Do not sell my information” button on their websites, which is a feature we can all expect to see on sites that enables consumers to enact their rights under the CCPA

Other companies, like retailers, have more work to do to comply with the CCPA because they weren’t subject to GDPR. Although data privacy is a key component of most organizations, compliance with the CCPA requires additional protections. 

Likely because of the large amount of work involved to meet the requirements of the CCPA, a lot of companies are choosing to apply the privacy protections to their entire operation – not just to their California contingent. This can also be viewed as a smart move given the likelihood that other privacy laws will be legislated in other U.S. states in the near future.

Will the CCPA Change Marketing and the Internet for Businesses and Consumers?

According to the law itself, the data it covers includes IP addresses, contact information, internet browsing history, biometrics such as facial recognition and fingerprint data, race, gender, purchasing behavior, and location. 

The law grants consumers several rights when it comes to their personal data:

  1. Knowing what data collection practices a business is exercising
  2. Knowing specifically what data on them is being collected
  3. Knowing how their data is being used; i.e., with whom is it being shared and for what purpose
  4. Seeing copies of their data to validate the company’s reports
  5. Requesting their information be deleted or that it not be sold to outside entities

The privacy protections that businesses now must offer under the CCPA can really only be achieved by essentially overhauling current data management practices. For most organizations, consumer data is collected in many different ways and in several different departments. For most businesses of the size specified by the CCPA, consumer data comes in through internet usage, social media, store purchases, payment card information; essentially any way in which consumers interact with a business.

We all know that “big brother”-esque feeling we get when an ad pops up for an item or topic we were just searching for. This occurrence, while mildly irritating at best for consumers, reflects a much larger online operation called “real-time bidding”, in which ad buyers bid on ad space based on user data so their ad can appear in front of that user.

Here’s the part that, under the CCPA, users have the ability to opt-out of. That user data is then stored so webpages have more specific user information to validate higher ad prices, and that data can also be purchased by companies looking for target audience information.

Because the CCPA grants consumers the right to essentially remove their information entirely from formerly robust databases, it could be seen as a pivotal change for marketing tactics as we know them.

Once the law has been in place for a time, it will be interesting to see how many users actually choose to opt-out of data-sharing practices; however, if enough do, the costs for ads – and thusly the revenue they pull in – could be drastically lower.  Companies may find themselves working from a smaller pool of data and may have to rely less on purchasing or selling information to beef up audience targeting or raise ad revenue.

However, while the CCPA does impact some keystone marketing tactics, the law is not a red herring for the end of the internet as we know it or anything sinister like that – but it does mean companies will have to adjust and reevaluate how they collect the data that drives many common marketing practices. 

Adapting to a Data Privacy-Conscious World

GDPR and the CCPA should be viewed as just the beginning of a more data privacy-conscious online and business environment. Other states will join California in leveling-up privacy protections for consumers; Maine and Nevada have recently passed privacy laws, and numerous other states are considering or have already tried to pass similar legislation.

The CCPA achieves something pretty big for the U.S. – putting consumers in the driver’s seat when it comes to their personal information. That being said, there is still an almost mindless ease with which we share private information, and it’s hard to know whether this law will make a marked difference in behavior, at least right away. After all, when’s the last time any of us read through a privacy policy on a website we visited?

Either way, privacy laws are here and more are coming. If nothing else, these legislative actions draw much-needed attention to the risks of data collection and sharing, and should at the very least prompt businesses not required to comply with the CCPA to voluntarily evaluate their privacy protections and security protocols. 

As businesses implement these protections, they’re sure to grapple with the aspects of their marketing strategies that rely on user data for advertising, marketing automation, and other targeting tactics. 

If your business is governed by the CCPA and you’re contemplating next steps for your marketing strategy this year or in 2021, we can help. Being well-versed in privacy rules and marketing means success for your business, even amid big changes. Contact us today!

5 Easy Ways to Improve Your SEO in 2020

Optimize Your Content Marketing Strategy in the New Year and Stand Up to Your Competition

As 2019 wraps up, you’re probably doing a year-end review of your website traffic and other content marketing metrics. Maybe the other reports you’ve generated during the year are showing the same dismal results; your website and content just aren’t getting found online.

Instead of blindly moving into 2020 with a promise to write more blog posts and post more often on social media, we have another idea: take a look at your search engine optimization (SEO) and see how it can be improved.

SEO is Critical for All Content Marketing

A solid content marketing strategy is important for any brand, but it takes purposeful SEO implementation to really hit a home run. 

Your audience is conducting web searches, voice searches, and reading related information that could direct them to your content through backlinks. 

Even if you’re diligently writing and publishing content, you’re likely handing top search results to your competition if SEO isn’t part of your strategy. And if it’s not, don’t worry! SEO implementation does take some dedicated work, and many companies face time and bandwidth challenges not just with implementation, but with knowing where to begin. 

That’s why a digital marketing agency can be your new best friend.

Simple SEO Tactics to Boost Your Content Marketing Strategy

SEO is a natural next step after the creation of any digital content, whether it be on your website, blog, or resource library. It plays a huge factor in driving traffic to your content and helping deliver on the performance metrics you’re after, like lead generation and conversions. 

It’s important to note that simply being a digital marketing agency doesn’t automatically mean SEO fluency. At Fishnet, we diligently keep up with any changes to Google’s ranking criteria, and we leverage SEO tools that provide deeper insights into critical aspects of SEO strategy. 

There are a few critical steps that will jump-start any SEO implementation. These include:

  • conducting keyword research
  • tracking the competition to see what keywords they’re using (and how they’re using them) 
  • identifying new content opportunities to improve SEO. 

With those baseline steps in mind, here are 5 easy ways to up your SEO game in 2020. 

1. Take stock of your website’s current performance.

Like anything, it’s important to know where you are before you can know where you need to go. Conduct an SEO audit of your website to see how much traffic you’re getting and to which pages, and where those users are coming from. Google has many rules in place for how it ranks content, so you should constantly monitor your ranking to be sure you’re continuing to show up on Google’s search results pages (SERPs). 

2. Conduct keyword research to identify the keywords and phrases you should be using, and uncover new keywords to add to your content. 

Your SEO strategy is rooted in keywords, and when you know which keywords will be most effective in driving traffic to a specific piece of content (whether it be a webpage or a blog post), you can optimize everything you produce. 

There are a few tools you can use that provide keyword analyses, such as Google’s Adwords platform. For the purposes of this example, we’re going to use our favorite SEO tool, SEMrush. 

Let’s say, for example, your business provides health care coverage for individuals and corporations. You may pepper your website with the keyword “health care provider”; but keyword research uncovers different ideas.  

The most commonly-searched queries are featured in the left column, while the “volume” column shows how often they have been searched within a 12 month period. The “KD” column displays the percentage difficulty to rank for that keyword against your competitors. The idea combination is a highly-searched keyword with low difficulty.

3. Analyze your competitors’ activity – which keywords are driving traffic to their content? 

The keyword difficulty percentage is important for amplifying your search performance, but you can go a step further and view the keywords your competition is using and the level of traffic those keywords are generating.

4. Discover topics for your blog that your audience actually wants to read, because they’re already searching for them.

We’ve all found ourselves staring at the computer screen, knowing we have to write a blog post but blanking on a good topic. You can use keywords to come up with a topic, and because it’s a keyword-driven idea, you know it’s something your audience is already searching for online. 

To use the health insurance company example again, if you were to enter the keyword “health insurance coverage”, for example, you’ll get a host of common, related search queries to fuel your content ideas. Here’s a sample content search using SEMrush:

You’ll want to choose topics with higher search volume as those are the most commonly-searched. 

It has never been easier to come up with content ideas, and the bonus is that they’re all proven to be highly-searched topics.

5. Increase backlinks to your content to increase inbound links to your content. 

A backlink strategy is an important part of any marketer’s overall content marketing strategy. Part of this effort includes gaining unique insight into where your competitors are getting their backlinks from. 

Once you’ve identified the websites that are linking to your competitors’ sites, you can incorporate those or similar sites into your own content strategy through tactics like guest blogging or offering your content as a resource for their website. You’ll be seeing more inbound traffic in no time. 

The end of the year is a perfect time to take stock of how your content marketing strategy has been performing and identify ways to improve it. 

Creating or boosting your SEO strategy doesn’t have to be a daunting task – with a digital marketing agency that knows its way around SEO, it’s easy to make the necessary improvements and begin reaping the rewards. 

Want help with your SEO efforts? Contact us to get pricing on an SEO audit and recommendations for improving your content marketing strategy in the new year.

User Experience Depends on Collaboration Between Content and Design

In the marketing world, the word “content” is used a lot. Content marketing, content strategy, website content, blog content – it often becomes almost synonymous with “copy”, but those are two very different things. 

Copy refers to the actual words that go on your website pages or make up blog posts.

Content, on the other hand, refers to everything contained within an asset and therefore is inclusive of both copy and all elements of design, such as videos and imagery. 

For this reason, it’s easy to see why content strategy and design must work together – what goes on a webpage or piece of collateral relies on both those functions to deliver a great user experience

Why Are We Even Talking About Aligning Content and Design?

It may seem obvious that two critical marketing departments would have to collaborate to ensure an effective final product, and for years these two functions have been doing just that. And the way digital technology is evolving has only emphasized the importance of establishing alignment between content and design.

Content is About More Than Content

Every brand is doing some form of content marketing today, which has put pressure on companies to churn out blog posts, email newsletters, thought leadership pieces or videos and podcasts, all with the goal of increasing searchability and driving traffic.  As a content strategist, I think this mindset is great – with one caveat. Brands must ensure that content isn’t just quality (i.e. it provides relevant information to the right audiences in the right way) but that it delivers a great user experience. 

Bad content won’t deliver a great user experience (or even a good one), but even excellent content won’t do your brand any favors if the user experience around that content is poor. 

We often get clients who are looking for content strategies, but the first thing we do when we get this request is to audit their website to see how that content strategy would be applied from a user experience perspective. If your website is hard to navigate, slow to load or includes broken links or confusing labeling, implementing any type of new content is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm–it’ll be visible, but it won’t help. 

Content is About the User

The trend toward cleaner designs with more white space and a minimal amount of copy is great from a UX perspective, but poor from a search engine optimization perspective – unless it’s done right. 

The first thing content strategists and UX designers should discuss is the user themselves. 

At Fishnet, we say, “give them what they want.” The final product is for the user, after all. You should fully understand your user persona: what information do they care about? What is the primary action they want to take when they get to your site? How do they like to get content – some users in your target audience might really like white papers, while others gravitate toward highly-visual information like videos or infographic-type content. 

Build the user experience for the user, and the content and design will come together to complement what that experience should be. 

Changes in User Behavior Require a Collaboration of Content Strategy and UX

User behavior has changed drastically as technology has evolved, specifically for mobile. 

People use their phones for everything. They want the most important information, but they want it quickly and in a way that is simple to understand and act upon. 

UX Magazine sums up this preference by saying that reading has been replaced with skimming, and skimming has been replaced with glancing. This news isn’t shocking – we all do it. So how should brands respond? The collaboration between content and UX becomes critical when considering these behavior trends. 

UX and content together influence behavior.

Many B2B websites for e-commerce really have to focus on how content and design work together because of both the quantity of information the site needs to contain and the various actions different users will want to take on the site. Grainger, which sells industrial supplies and safety products, consistently is ranked as one of the best B2B e-commerce sites. It helps users easily search for and find the items they’re looking for, and relevant information about that item. Users who move to purchase can act on a buying decision easily. Without a combination of UX design and content strategy, this experience would be much different and you (the customer) would likely lose interest and move on. 

UX and content together reinforce an idea.

The user experience isn’t just important for e-commerce. Imagine you’re looking into attending an event. An event webpage with a good user experience would contain important event information in an easily-navigable way, with visuals to not only illustrate the experience but help guide you through to purchasing tickets or signing up. We recently launched this event page for MIT’s AI and the Future of Work Congress. You can see how the combination of design and content draws users in and helps reaffirm their desire to attend.

UX and content together tell a better story.

If your brand has a unique story to tell, content and UX design can help you make a big impact with your audience. Apple, even though it has massive brand recognition, still offers a great website experience with bold visuals and minimal content, so users become immersed in the products and the aspirational world of Apple. Not every brand can get away with such minimal content, but when UX design is applied to content strategy, the brand story can come alive. Medline is a B2B medical supplier whose website tells a compelling story about the brand and its connection to the customer while offering a simple, efficient and user-friendly site experience.

User demands are high, and they should be. If people can’t get what they want with your brand, it’s not difficult for them to find it elsewhere. To attract leads, convert leads, and increase brand loyalty, the quality of your content needs to be high, but the quality of the experience around it needs to be high as well. 

Increase your brand’s performance with a website that offers effective content and a great user experience. Contact us today

How to Configure Google Analytics with Google Tag Manager

I’ve been placing the Google Analytics tracking code on websites since before I needed to shave. Seriously.

As a technically-savvy digital marketer, it may be the most common job function I’ve performed over the course of my career. Up until a few years ago, the process was fairly simple: create an account, copy the tracking code, and place on your website.

With the introduction of Google Tag Manager in 2012, the installation process became slightly more involved even though its purpose was to simplify tag management (which it does by consolidating tags with a single snippet of code that you can manage from a web app).

Before getting into the setup process, I want to provide a little bit more context and purpose to make sure you’re drinking the Kool-Aid.

What is a Web Tag?

Web tags are tiny bits of website code that help provide useful insights like behavior patterns or trends by gathering data on a website. They have many applications like third-party tracking, analytics, reporting, remarketing, conversions, live chat…the list goes on. Generally speaking, they are an important piece of an organization’s marketing technology.

Why Use Google Tag Manager?

Although you can still configure Google Analytics without Google Tag Manager (GTM), it’s recommended to configure both at the same time. There are plenty of advantages in setting up both, especially when you think beyond just Google Analytics.

Do you use Adwords Conversion Tracking, Adwords Remarketing, or the Facebook Pixel? These applications can all be set up in Tag Manager and you can determine when the tag should fire, when the tag shouldn’t fire, what pages the tag should fire on, and what the tag should do when it fires.

There are many advantages beyond managing many tags in the same place:

  • Place the GTM container code on your website once and eliminate the need to edit website code again.
  • Test and deploy tags quickly, without the assistance of an IT or web team. Remember, you only need to place the container code on your website once!
  • Many tags already built into GTM provide advanced analytics tracking. For example, globally add event tracking on external links or buttons without manually adding the code to individual links.
  • If one tag deploys asynchronously (loads more slowly), it won’t affect other tags being fired on the page.

See the benefit in configuring Tag Manager with Google Analytics?

How to Set Up Google Tag Manager

Setting up Google Tag Manager is quick and easy—you create an account, add one snippet of code to your site, then start managing tags.

Create an Account

This is pretty straightforward. Navigate to tagmanager.google.com and click “Create Account”. You should see a screen that looks like this:

Creating a Google Tag Manager account

Fill out relevant details related to your website and select “Web” for Target Platform. Next you’ll have to read and approve service terms to officially create the account.

Install Google Tag Manager Snippet

As soon as you create the account, a screen pops up with instructions on how to install the code snippet:

Google Tag Manager snippet

Send those instructions to whomever manages your website. Additionally, Google provides a quick start guide on their website.

You’ll want to test that the tracking code has been placed correctly. We recommend downloading the Google Tag Assistant off the Chrome web store. It’s really easy to use and it will be helpful later to test whether the Google Analytics tag is firing correctly.

At this point, you’re ready to start adding tags.

Deploy Google Analytics with Tag Manager

We’ve created our GTM account and placed our code successfully. Now, we’re going to install the Google Analytics tag.

First and foremost, if you already have Google Analytics installed on your site, you’ll want to have your web admin remove it. The reason for this action is if you use both, it’ll track everything twice and provide inaccurate data.

Once that’s squared away, follow the steps below.

1. Within the main GTM interface, you’ll want to click “Add a new tag”. You’ll be brought to a screen that looks like this:

Add a new tag in Google Tag Manager

2. Click on “Tag Configuration” and then select “Google Analytics: Universal Analytics”. You’ll see a bunch of other options, but let’s ignore those for now. You’ll be brought to another screen that looks like this:

Add Google Analytics tag to Google Tag Manager

3. Leave the Track Type field as “Page View”. Know that this is where you can configure items like link clicks and event tracking in the future. Remember, one of the benefits of GTM is advanced analytics tracking.

4. Next, you’ll want to select “New Variable” on the Google Analytics Settings picklist. Note that you may have a variable already created, in which case you can select the desired variable from the picklist.

You will be taken to a screen that looks like this:

Configure a variable in Google Tag Manager

a. In the Tracking ID field, enter your Google Analytics ID.

b. If you have no other Google Analytics tags deployed on your site via analytics.js or from Tag Manager, you should leave this value set to “auto”. If you have other Google Analytics tags set up on your site or in Tag Manager, you should confirm that the Cookie Domain value is consistent.

c. Let’s ignore the additional settings for now. Know that you can configure a bunch of other settings like custom fields, custom dimensions, custom metrics, content groups, display advertising features, cross domain measurement and much more.

d. Finally, name the variable and click “Save” to complete creating the variable.

5. We’re almost done. Click on “Triggering” and select the default option that comes up “All Pages”.

6. Name the tag and click “Save”. At this point, your screen should look similar to this:

Trigger Google Analytics on all pages

Finally, you’ll want to click “Submit” and then “Publish” to push your changes live.

You can test two different ways to see if the code is working. Either navigate to your website where the container is placed and use the Tag Assistant extension to confirm. Or, navigate to your website then login into Google Analytics and check Real-Time tracking to see if your pageview is being tracked.

That just about covers a basic Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager installation; however, there are a ton more configurations you can make to get more detailed tracking and analysis. I recommend setting up events next.

If you have any questions, we’re here to help! Click on the chat in the bottom right corner and we’ll guide you in the right direction.