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What They Are, How to Create One & Submit it to Google

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What They Are, How to Create One & Submit it to Google

Sitemaps are one of SEO’s oldies but goodies.

In fact, they’re one of the most important elements of SEO, because they help Google and other search engines find the pages on your website.

Not to mention they also help you rank better, because Google is able to locate new pages and identify updates to old pages much more quickly.

In a nutshell: you can’t live without ’em.

I’ve often heard that they can feel overwhelming and quite technical to understand.

But don’t let the frustration of their technicality make you throw your computer out the window — I’ve got your back!

I will show you what sitemaps are, how to create one, how to submit them to Google, and all the essential best practices.

→ Download Now: SEO Starter Pack [Free Kit]

What is a sitemap?

To start off with the basics, a sitemap is a file that provides information about the pages, videos, images, and other files on your website. It’s important for various reasons, including:

  • Acting as a roadmap for Google and other search engines to find and better understand your content.
  • Leading search engines through your website to crawl and index the essential pages.
  • Helping search identify when new pages and updates to old pages are available.
  • Helping search engines find alternate language versions of your page.

But before I go further, you must know that there are two types of sitemap formats: HTML and XML. Here’s the basic difference:

HTML sitemaps: This is more like your content sitemap that users can see and use to navigate your site. They’re also commonly referred to as your “website archive.” Some marketers view HTML sitemaps as outdated or even entirely unnecessary.

XML sitemaps: This is the sitemap that’s purely used for indexing and crawling your website and is manually submitted. It’s the more modern form of handling how all your content is stored across your website.

While HTML sitemaps might help users find pages on your site, as John Mueller said, your internal linking should take care of that anyways. So the focus from an SEO perspective should be on XML sitemaps.

Types of Sitemaps

From these two types of sitemaps described above, there are also subsections within them. I’ll now go over these in more detail.

1. Page Sitemap

A page sitemap or regular sitemap improves the indexations of pages and posts. For sites that are not image-focused or video-focused, like photography and videography sites, a page sitemap can also include the images and videos on each page.

A page sitemap without an image would look like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ >

  <url>

    <loc>https://example.com/</loc>

    <lastmod>2020-09-17</lastmod>

    <changefreq>daily</changefreq>

    <priority>0.9</priority>

   </url>

</urlset>

Include your URLs in <loc> tags. <lastmod> indicates when the page was last edited. <changefreq> indicates how often the page is edited and <priority> indicates how important the page is to other pages on the website as a whole. You can take a look at Sitemaps XML format for more information on these parameters.

2. Video Sitemap

An XML video sitemap is similar to a page sitemap, but of course focuses largely on video content, which means they are only necessary if videos are critical to your business. If they aren’t, save your crawl budget (the finite amount of crawlable pages and resources across your site) and add the video link to your page sitemap.

But if you do need a video sitemap, it would look like this:

What They Are How to Create One Submit it

Note: This is what a video sitemap looks like. Implement it only if videos are critical to your business.

3. News Sitemap

If you publish news and want to get those news articles featured on top stories and Google News, you need a news sitemap. There’s a crucial rule here: do not include articles that were published longer than the last two days in the file.

Google News sitemaps aren’t favored in regular ranking results, so make sure you only add news articles. Also, they do not support image links, so Google recommends you use structured data to specify your article thumbnail.

4. Image Sitemap

Like the video sitemaps, image sitemaps are only necessary if images are critical to your business, such as a photography or stock photo site. If they aren’t, you can leave them in your page sitemap and mark them up with the image object schema, and they will be crawled along with the page content/URL.

If you believe an image sitemap is needed, it will look like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>

<urlset xmlns=”http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9″ xmlns:image=”http://www.google.com/schemas/sitemap-image/1.1″ >

  <url>

    <loc>https://example.com/</loc>

       <image:image>

<image:loc>https://example.com/image-url.png</image:loc>

       </image:image>

      <image:image>

<image:loc>https://example.com/second-image-url.png</image:loc>

      </image:image>

  </url>

</urlset>

5. Sitemap Index

There are a few limitations you’ll want to keep in mind for sitemaps:

  • Having too many URLs will only lead to no indexation of some of your pages.
  • All sitemaps, except the news sitemap, should have a maximum of 50,000 URLs.
  • News sitemaps should have a maximum of 1000 URLs.
  • A sitemap should be a maximum of 50MB in uncompressed file size.

As a result of those limitations, you might need to have more than one sitemap. When you use more than one sitemap file, you need an index file that lists all of those sitemaps. It’s the index file that you submit in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. That file should look like this:

1680823544 156 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

Build a Sitemap With HubSpot’s Free CMS

You can easily make a sitemap using HubSpot’s free CMS. After building your sitemap, you can easily make edits as needed.

1680823544 513 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

Image Source: HubSpot

  • Add child pages to a menu
    1680823544 848 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

Image Source: HubSpot

  • Create a secondary menu
    add%20secondary%20menu

Image Source: HubSpot

  • View revisions to your menu
    view-revisions-1

Image Source: HubSpot

For more information, visit this how-to guide.

XML Sitemap Example

So far, you have seen each sitemap’s structure. Most websites will only need the page sitemap that includes the images on each page. That looks like this:

1680823544 662 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

Sitemap Priorities

Adding priorities to your sitemap is one of the things many people do to differentiate between how important different pages are, but Google’s Gary Illyes mentioned that Google ignores these priorities. In his exact words:

1680823544 687 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

Generally speaking, as long as you are honest about when your content was actually modified, include it in your sitemap so that Google and other search engines know to re-crawl the modified page and index the new content.

How to Create a Sitemap

In this section, I will show you how to create a sitemap without using any generator or plugin. If your website is on WordPress or you’d rather use a generator (which makes this easy), skip to the next section.

These are the exact steps to follow to create a sitemap manually:

1. Decide which pages on your site should be crawled by Google, and determine the canonical version of each page.

Canonical versions are necessary when you have duplicate pages. For example, suppose you serve an international community and have pages for each location with the same language and content, like example.com/us/page and example.com/ca/page for US and Canada visitors, respectively.

In that case, it’s important that you point to the original, which might be example.com/page or one of the two as the canonical. If you’d like to learn more about how this works, this post explains canonicalization in depth.

Furthermore, do not include URLs that are blocked by robots.txt files, require a login to access, or are password-protected, as search bots can’t crawl them. You’ll only get coverage errors in GSC if you add them.

2. Determine if you need more than one sitemap.

Several websites use separate files for pages, posts, and categories. Remember that if you have more than 50,000 URLs, you need multiple sitemaps.

3. Code all your URLs in XML tags to look like the type of sitemap you want to create.

This page explains how to use XML tags in further detail.

4. If you have multiple sitemap files, create a sitemap index file and include the links to the individual sitemaps you created.

This one is already described in the section titled “Sitemap Index”.

Sitemap Generators

Most of us marketers do not have a web development background, so we can’t code to save our lives. If the thought of manually crafting a sitemap gives you a headache, use a sitemap generator and save yourself 12 days of looking through complex coding.

There are several sitemap generators that you can use:

  • TechnicalSEO by Merkle has one where you can upload a CSV file with your URLs. It’s especially great if you have different language versions of your pages (hreflang tags).If your website is custom-coded and is not on any CMS or builder that generates a sitemap, you need to use a generator like TechnicalSEO.
  • Screaming Frog SEO Spider also has one that I like to use with simple custom-built sites. In Screaming Frog, ensure you are using the spider mode. You can do that by clicking on “Mode” and selecting “spider”. Then type the URL of your home page and let it crawl. When it’s done, click on “Sitemaps.”

For clarification on how to use Screaming Frog, take a look at the image below:

1680823544 900 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

In order to save the XML file to your computer, tick all the options that matter to your site and click on “export”. Then, upload that file to your server in the root directory.

Both tools do not automatically update the sitemap file. Some tools do but are premium, so you pay for the service.

However, you won’t need to deal with any of the above if your website is on WordPress or an ecommerce platform like Shopify.

For WordPress sites, Yoast and Rank Math are popular SEO plugins that generate sitemaps and update them when you edit your posts and pages and Shopify even generates sitemaps automatically.

How to Submit Your Sitemap to Google

The best way to submit your sitemap to Google is through Google Search Console (GSC). There are other ways and additional steps as well, but I will start with GSC, because it’s the most common method.

Follow these steps:

1. Go to Google Search Console and click on “sitemap.”

1680823544 461 What They Are How to Create One Submit it

2. Type your sitemap URL and click Submit. If you have multiple sitemaps with a sitemap index file, you only need to type the URL for the index file.

As an alternative, if you haven’t submitted it to GSC, there is another way to let Google know you have one by adding this line in your robots.txt:

Sitemap: http://example.com/sitemap.xml

But of course the URL here with the one you actually have. And if you have an index file, include only your index file here.

If (for some weird reason) you aren’t using GSC, use the ping service to let Google know it should crawl your file. To do that, type the URL below in your browser:

http://www.google.com/ping?sitemap=https://example.com/sitemap.xml

Replace https://example.com/sitemap.xml with your sitemap URL.

And it’s done!

Sitemap Best Practices

Now that you understand the importance of sitemaps, how they work, and your options for submitting them, let’s make sure the final one you create is in tip-top shape by following these best practices.

1. Use tools to generate automatic sitemaps.

Manually creating and updating an XML sitemap will cost you a lot of time (and is unnecessarily complex). To save time so you can focus on other things like your next Netflix binge, it’s best to use an automatic sitemap generator.

The ones mentioned for WordPress above come with that feature for free. For custom-built sites, you will have to pay, but in my opinion it’s absolutely something worth paying for.

2. Do regular sitemap maintenance checks and updates.

All parts of SEO are an ongoing effort, so check your sitemaps regularly. Search console does an excellent job of letting you know if your submitted URLs have issues with crawling or indexing.

Check the ‘Coverage’ section in GSC regularly and update your site or sitemap when there are errors. The great thing about this is that it tells you what the exact error is with suggestions on how to fix it.

You can also use Screaming Frog for sitemap maintenance. After crawling your website or sitemap URL, check the response code tab for 404 or 5xx errors.

If you are using an automatic sitemap generator tool or plugin, update it when updates are available. Furthermore, periodically view the sitemap by going to your sitemap URL and checking if any page is missing or the last updated time is incorrect.

3. Prioritize high-quality pages in your sitemap.

Although Google no longer pays attention to the priority tag (or so they say), you can still add it because there’s more than Google out there (yes, as an SEO I will admit it). Bing might pay attention to that tag, so it’s still good practice to prioritize high-quality pages in your sitemap.

Sitemap priority shows which pages to crawl and index faster, so you can set priorities using values ranging from 0.00 to 1.00. But make sure not to use the same value for all pages or else Google won’t be able to tell which is most important.

For values, you can go with something like this:

  • Homepage – 1.00
  • Main landing pages – 0.90
  • Other landing pages – 0.85
  • Main links on navigation bar – 0.80
  • Other pages on site – 0.75
  • Top articles/blog posts like hub pages – 0.80
  • Blog category pages – 0.75
  • Other posts – 0.64

4. Include only canonical versions of URLs in your sitemap.

Your sitemap should only contain URLs that you want search engines to index. That means if a URL points to another as its canonical version, you shouldn’t include it, as it’s a statement to Google and other search engines that you don’t wish for that URL to be indexed.

Ignoring that and including that URL in your sitemap provides conflicting information to Google. The unintended URL might get indexed, or you will get coverage errors in GSC. So, only include the canonical versions, so you can consolidate your position in search engine results.

5. Split up your large sitemaps.

I mentioned this above already that you need to split your sitemap into multiple files if it exceeds 50MB or has more than 50,000 URLs. Never submit large XML files to Google, otherwise some of your URLs will not be indexed – and you know well that every URL matters!

One quick tip here is to save each file with easy to understand names (for you) like page_sitemap1.xml and page_sitemap2.xml.

And with that, I wish you happy sitemapping!

 

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The marketing lifecycle: An overview

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The marketing lifecycle: An overview

Remember when digital marketing was simple? Create content, throw it over the wall, hope for the best.

Note that we said “simple,” not effective.

To be effective is more complicated, and this keeps accelerating. There are so many options, so many channels, and so many audiences, that effective digital marketing requires a term to which people often react strongly—

Process.

Very few people inherently like the idea of “process.” It brings forth visions of rigidity and inertia.

But there simply has to be a framework in which to produce and publish effective marketing assets. Without this, you have nothing but chaos from which productive work gets done accidentally, at best.

How did it get this way for the enterprise? How did things become so interconnected?

  • Marketing isn’t a point in time, it’s an activity stream. It’s a line of dominoes you need to knock over, roughly in order. Lots of organizations do well at some, but fail on others, and thus break the chain of what could be an effective process.
  • Marketing activities overlap. It’d be great if we could do one thing at a time, but the marketing pipeline is never empty. Campaigns target different audiences at the same time, and new campaigns are being prepared as existing campaigns are closing.
  • Marketing involves a lot of actors at vastly different levels. There’s your content team, of course, reviewers, external agencies and contractors, designers, developers, and—of course—stakeholders and executives. Each group has different needs for collaboration, input, and reporting.

Some of the best business advice boils down to this: “Always understand the big picture.” You might be asked to do one specific thing in a process, but make sure you understand the context of that specific thing—where does it fit in the larger framework? Where does it get input from? How are its outputs used?

In this article, we’re going to zoom out for an overhead view of how Optimizely One helps you juggle the complete marketing lifecycle, from start to finish, without letting anything drop.

1. Intake 

Ideas are born everywhere—maybe with you, maybe with your staff, maybe with someone who has no connection with marketing at all, and maybe from an external source, like an ad agency or PR firm. Leading organizations have found a way to widen the top end of their pipeline—the start of their content marketing funnel—and take in more ideas from more sources.

Good ideas combine. Someone has one half of an idea, and someone else has the other half. The goal of effective collaboration is to get those two pieces together. One plus one can sometimes equal three, and more ideas mean better ideas overall. Creativity is about getting more puzzle pieces on the table so you can figure out which ones fit your strategy.

How do you manage the flow of ideas? How do you make sure good ideas don’t get dropped, but rather become great content? The only way to publish great content is to get ideas into the top end of the pipe. 

 

Optimizely One can streamline and accelerate your content intake using templated intake forms mapped to intelligent routing rules and shared queues. Everyone in your organization can know where content is developed and how to contribute to ideas, content, and campaigns currently in-process. Your content team can easily manage and collaborate on requests, meaning content development can become focused, rather than spread out across the organization. 

2. Plan

Campaigns don’t exist in a vacuum. They share the stage with other campaigns—both in terms of audience attention and employee workload. Leading organizations ensure that their campaigns are coordinated, for maximum audience effect and efficiency of workload.

Pick a time scale and plan it from overhead. What campaigns will you execute during this period? In what order? How do they overlap? Then, break each campaign down—what tasks are required to complete and launch? Who owns them? In what stage of completion are they in? What resources are required to complete them? 

Good marketing campaigns aren’t run in isolation. They’re a closely aligned part of an evolving body of work, carefully planned and executed.

 

Optimizely One provides comprehensive editorial calendaring and scheduling. Every marketing activity can have an easily accessible strategic brief and dedicated workspaces in which to collaborate. Your content team and your stakeholders can know, at a glance, what marketing activities are in-process, when they’re scheduled to launch, who is assigned to what, and what’s remaining on the calendar.  

3. Create 

Good content takes fingers on keyboards, but that’s not all. 

Content creators need frameworks in which to generate effective content. They need the tools to share, collaborate, structure, stage, and approve their work. Good content comes in part from tooling designed to empower content creators. 

Your content team needs a home base—the digital equivalent of an artist’s studio. They need a platform which is authoritative for all their marketing assets; a place that everyone on the team knows is going to have the latest schedules, the latest drafts, the official assets, and every task on the road to publication. 

Content creation isn’t magic—it doesn’t just appear out of the ether. It comes from intentional teams working in structured frameworks. 

 

Optimizely One gives your editors the tools they need for the content creation process, AI-enabled editing environments for fingers-on-keyboards, all the way through intelligent workflows for collaboration and approvals. Authors can write, designers can upload and organize, project managers can combine and coordinate, stakeholders can review, and external teams can collaborate. All within a framework centered around moving your campaigns forward. 

4. Store 

Leading organizations look at content beyond its immediate utility. Everything your content teams do becomes an incremental part of an evolving body of work. Content doesn’t appear and disappear; rather, it continually enlarges and refines a body of work that represents your organization over time. 

Good creative teams remix and transform old ideas into new ones. They can locate content assets quickly and easily to evolve them into new campaigns quickly. They don’t reinvent the wheel every time, because they lean on a deep reservoir of prior art and existing creative components. 

Digital asset and content management should store content in a structured, atomic format, allowing your organization to store, retrieve, organize, and re-use marketing assets quickly and easily. 

 

Optimizely One gives your content team a place to store their content assets, from text and rich media. Content can be archived and organized, either manually, or by using AI to automatically extract tags. Content can be stored as pure data, free from presentation, which makes it easy to re-use. Your content team will always know where to find work in progress, media to support emerging campaigns, or assets from past campaigns. Brand portals make it easy to share assets with external organizations.

5. Globalize 

Business happens all over the world in every language. To effectively compete around the world, your content needs to be globalized. 

Globalization of content is a holistic practice that affects every part of the content lifecycle. Words need to be translated, of course, but you also need to consider cultural globalization—images and symbols that might change—as well as globalization for numbers, currency, and time zones. Going even deeper, you might have to make design changes to accommodate things like differing word lengths and the flow of text. 

Beyond simply changing content, your work process is affected. When does translation happen? Who is authorized to order it? Who can perform it? How do you bring external translation companies into your internal processes, and how does this affect the flow of content through your organization?  

 

Optimizely One helps you manage the entire globalization process, whether it’s done in-house or automatically via one of our translation partners. Your customers can be served content in their language and culture, and you can carefully control the alternate, “fallback” experience for languages not yet available, or when you’re not translating all of your content.  

6. Layout 

Some experiences need to be visually composed from a palette of content and design components. Designers and marketers want to see exactly what their content looks like before they publish. 

In some cases, this is easy—everyone should be able to see what a web page looks like before it goes live. But what about your mobile app? What about display advertising? A social media update? 

And what happens when you’re modifying content based on behavior and demographics? If you want to see how your web page will look for someone from California who has visited your site before and already downloaded your whitepaper on their iPhone…can you? 

Content no longer leaves your organization on a single channel. Composition and preview is always contextual—there is no single, default experience. Leading organizations want full control over their visual presentation and they know that they need to see their content through the eyes of their customers.  

 

Optimizely One provides the tools to visually compose experiences across multiple channels and can preview that experience when viewed through the personalization lens of whatever demographic and behavioral data you can dream up. And this works regardless of channel: web, email, display advertising—everything can be previewed in real-time. 

7. Deliver 

Content can’t do any good unless it can reach your customers. You need to publish your content to them, wherever they are, which means having the flexibility to push content into multiple channels, in multiple formats. 

A consumable piece of media is an “artifact.” Your content is the idea and message that make up that artifact. Leading organizations develop their content separate from any concept of an artifact, then transform it into different formats to fit the channel that will spread their message most effectively. 

Sure, make a web page—but also push that content to your mobile app, and into your social networks. Broadcast a text message, and an email. While you’re at it, push the information into the display panel in the elevators. Let’s be bold and broadcast it on the TV screens that play while your customers fill up with gas. 

The key is delivery flexibility. The world of content delivery has changed remarkably in just the last few years. It will no-doubt change more in the future. No platform can anticipate what’s coming, so you just need the flexibility to be ready to adapt to what happens. 

 

Optimizely One provides complete delivery flexibility. Our systems store your content separate from presentation, and allow multiple ways to access it, from traditional websites to headless APIs to connect your content to mobile apps or other decoupled experiences. Your content can be combined with internally-stored content or third-party content to provide a seamless “content reservoir” to draw on from all of your channels. 

8. Personalize 

Throughout this lifecycle, we’ve moved from content, to artifacts, and now on to “experiences.” 

One person consuming an artifact—reading a web page, listening to a podcast, watching a video—is an experience. Just like one piece of content can generate more than one artifact, one artifact should enable thousands of experiences. 

Technology has advanced to the point where all of those experiences can be managed. Instead of every customer getting the same experience, it can be personalized to that specific customer in that specific moment. 

You can do this using simple demographic or technographic data—perhaps you cut down the information and make your content more task-oriented when you detect someone is on a mobile device. However, the real power comes when you begin tracking behavior, consolidating information about your customers, and giving them specific content based on what you’ve observed. 

Leading organizations have a single location to track customer behavior and data. For every experience, they know exactly what this customer has done, how they’ve interacted with the organization, and they can predict what they’ll do next. Content and artifacts will morph themselves to fit each individual experience. 

 

Optimizely One connects both customer behavior and demographics along with the tools to activate that data to affect your customers’ experiences. Our platform allows you to track customer behavior and match that with customer demographics—this includes behavior tracking for customers you can’t even identify yet. Based on that behavior and stored data, editors can modify experiences in real-time, changing content and design to match to what each individual customer is most likely to respond. Or let the machine do the work, with personalized content and product recommendations. 

9. Experiment 

No matter how much you know, customers will always surprise you. The right answer to persuading your customer to take an action might be something you’re not even thinking of. Or, you might have an idea, but you’re not confident enough to bank on it. And let’s face it—sometimes, you just love two different ideas. 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could publish more than one thing? 

You absolutely can. And you absolutely should.

Leading organizations let go of the idea that an experience is bound to one version of an artifact. Don’t just write one title for that blog post—write three. Publish them all and show them randomly. Let your customers tell you—by their next action—which one was the right one to use. 

Experimentation allows you to try new things without the inertia of re-considering and re-drafting all your content. Ideas can go from your mind to pixels on the screen quickly and easily, and you can see what works and what doesn’t. Try a new title, or next text on a button. Does it give you better results? If so, great, keep it. If not, throw it away and try something else.

Refine, refine, refine. The idea that you publish content in one form and just hope it’s the right one is a set of handcuffs that can be tough to shake. But the results can be impressive.

 

Optimizely One allows you to quickly create and publish multiple variations of content and content elements to any channel. You can separate your content into elements and try different combinations to see which one drives your customers to move forward in their journey, then automatically route more traffic through winning combinations. You can manage feature rollouts and soft-launches, enabling specific functionality for specific audiences in any channel. 

10. Analyze 

The key to a learning and evolving content team is a transparent and unflinching look into what happens to your content after it’s published.

Analytics need to be considered in the context of the entire content domain. What content performs well but has low traffic? What content is consumed often but never moves customers down their buying journey? Customer behavior needs to be tracked carefully, then used to segment customers into audiences, based on both your content team’s observations and insights provided by AI. 

 

Optimizely One offers complete behavior tracking and content analysis, showing you what content works, what content doesn’t, and what your customers are doing during every step of their relationship with your entire digital estate. 

Juggle the entire lifecycle 

“Publishing myopia” prevents most organizations from truly benefiting from the power of their content and marketing technology. Too many ideas are undercut by an obsession with the publish button. We rush content out the door and just throw it over the wall and hope it lands. 

Within that mode of thinking, great ideas get trapped under the surface. Great content is delivered to only one channel in one language. Great experiences never see the light of day because content exists in only one form. And every customer sees the same thing, no matter how their own experience might benefit from something else. 

Remember: the marketing lifecycle is a series of stages

Each stage builds on the last and allows content to grow from a random idea your team takes in from the field and turns it into a spectacular multi-channel experience which rearranges and modifies itself to fit each customer. 

Juggling all of the steps in the marketing lifecycle can be done, but it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees and get too myopic about individual steps in this process. Leading organizations step back, consider the entire cycle from start to finish, and make sure their ideas, their products, and their messages are enhanced and strengthened in every step. 

 

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Comparing Credibility of Custom Chatbots & Live Chat

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Building Customer Trust: Comparing Credibility of Custom Chatbots & Live Chat

Addressing customer issues quickly is not merely a strategy to distinguish your brand; it’s an imperative for survival in today’s fiercely competitive marketplace.

Customer frustration can lead to customer churn. That’s precisely why organizations employ various support methods to ensure clients receive timely and adequate assistance whenever they require it.

Nevertheless, selecting the most suitable support channel isn’t always straightforward. Support teams often grapple with the choice between live chat and chatbots.

The automation landscape has transformed how businesses engage with customers, elevating chatbots as a widely embraced support solution. As more companies embrace technology to enhance their customer service, the debate over the credibility of chatbots versus live chat support has gained prominence.

However, customizable chatbot continue to offer a broader scope for personalization and creating their own chatbots.

In this article, we will delve into the world of customer support, exploring the advantages and disadvantages of both chatbots and live chat and how they can influence customer trust. By the end, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of which option may be the best fit for your business.

The Rise of Chatbots

Chatbots have become increasingly prevalent in customer support due to their ability to provide instant responses and cost-effective solutions. These automated systems use artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) to engage with customers in real-time, making them a valuable resource for businesses looking to streamline their customer service operations.

Advantages of Chatbots

24/7 Availability

One of the most significant advantages of custom chatbots is their round-the-clock availability. They can respond to customer inquiries at any time, ensuring that customers receive support even outside regular business hours.

Consistency

Custom Chatbots provide consistent responses to frequently asked questions, eliminating the risk of human error or inconsistency in service quality.

Cost-Efficiency

Implementing chatbots can reduce operational costs by automating routine inquiries and allowing human agents to focus on more complex issues.

Scalability

Chatbots can handle multiple customer interactions simultaneously, making them highly scalable as your business grows.

Disadvantages of Chatbots

Limited Understanding

Chatbots may struggle to understand complex or nuanced inquiries, leading to frustration for customers seeking detailed information or support.

Lack of Empathy

Chatbots lack the emotional intelligence and empathy that human agents can provide, making them less suitable for handling sensitive or emotionally charged issues.

Initial Setup Costs

Developing and implementing chatbot technology can be costly, especially for small businesses.

The Role of Live Chat Support

Live chat support, on the other hand, involves real human agents who engage with customers in real-time through text-based conversations. While it may not offer the same level of automation as custom chatbots, live chat support excels in areas where human interaction and empathy are crucial.

Advantages of Live Chat

Human Touch

Live chat support provides a personal touch that chatbots cannot replicate. Human agents can empathize with customers, building a stronger emotional connection.

Complex Issues

For inquiries that require a nuanced understanding or involve complex problem-solving, human agents are better equipped to provide in-depth assistance.

Trust Building

Customers often trust human agents more readily, especially when dealing with sensitive matters or making important decisions.

Adaptability

Human agents can adapt to various customer personalities and communication styles, ensuring a positive experience for diverse customers.

Disadvantages of Live Chat

Limited Availability

Live chat support operates within specified business hours, which may not align with all customer needs, potentially leading to frustration.

Response Time

The speed of response in live chat support can vary depending on agent availability and workload, leading to potential delays in customer assistance.

Costly

Maintaining a live chat support team with trained agents can be expensive, especially for smaller businesses strategically.

Building Customer Trust: The Credibility Factor

When it comes to building customer trust, credibility is paramount. Customers want to feel that they are dealing with a reliable and knowledgeable source. Both customziable chatbots and live chat support can contribute to credibility, but their effectiveness varies in different contexts.

Building Trust with Chatbots

Chatbots can build trust in various ways:

Consistency

Chatbots provide consistent responses, ensuring that customers receive accurate information every time they interact with them.

Quick Responses

Chatbots offer instant responses, which can convey a sense of efficiency and attentiveness.

Data Security

Chatbots can assure customers of their data security through automated privacy policies and compliance statements.

However, custom chatbots may face credibility challenges when dealing with complex issues or highly emotional situations. In such cases, the lack of human empathy and understanding can hinder trust-building efforts.

Building Trust with Live Chat Support

Live chat support, with its human touch, excels at building trust in several ways:

Empathy

Human agents can show empathy by actively listening to customers’ concerns and providing emotional support.

Tailored Solutions

Live chat agents can tailor solutions to individual customer needs, demonstrating a commitment to solving their problems.

Flexibility

Human agents can adapt to changing customer requirements, ensuring a personalized and satisfying experience.

However, live chat support’s limitations, such as availability and potential response times, can sometimes hinder trust-building efforts, especially when customers require immediate assistance.

Finding the Right Balance

The choice between custom chatbots and live chat support is not always binary. Many businesses find success by integrating both options strategically:

Initial Interaction

Use chatbots for initial inquiries, providing quick responses, and gathering essential information. This frees up human agents to handle more complex cases.

Escalation to Live Chat

Implement a seamless escalation process from custom chatbots to live chat support when customer inquiries require a higher level of expertise or personal interaction.

Continuous Improvement

Regularly analyze customer interactions and feedback to refine your custom chatbot’s responses and improve the overall support experience.

Conclusion

In the quest to build customer trust, both chatbots and live chat support have their roles to play. Customizable Chatbots offer efficiency, consistency, and round-the-clock availability, while live chat support provides the human touch, empathy, and adaptability. The key is to strike the right balance, leveraging the strengths of each to create a credible and trustworthy customer support experience. By understanding the unique advantages and disadvantages of both options, businesses can make informed decisions to enhance customer trust and satisfaction in the digital era.

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MARKETING

The Rise in Retail Media Networks

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A shopping cart holding the Amazon logo to represent the rise in retail media network advertising.

As LL Cool J might say, “Don’t call it a comeback. It’s been here for years.”

Paid advertising is alive and growing faster in different forms than any other marketing method.

Magna, a media research firm, and GroupM, a media agency, wrapped the year with their ad industry predictions – expect big growth for digital advertising in 2024, especially with the pending US presidential political season.

But the bigger, more unexpected news comes from the rise in retail media networks – a relative newcomer in the industry.

Watch CMI’s chief strategy advisor Robert Rose explain how these trends could affect marketers or keep reading for his thoughts:

GroupM expects digital advertising revenue in 2023 to conclude with a 5.8% or $889 billion increase – excluding political advertising. Magna believes ad revenue will tick up 5.5% this year and jump 7.2% in 2024. GroupM and Zenith say 2024 will see a more modest 4.8% growth.

Robert says that the feeling of an ad slump and other predictions of advertising’s demise in the modern economy don’t seem to be coming to pass, as paid advertising not only survived 2023 but will thrive in 2024.

What’s a retail media network?

On to the bigger news – the rise of retail media networks. Retail media networks, the smallest segment in these agencies’ and research firms’ evaluation, will be one of the fastest-growing and truly important digital advertising formats in 2024.

GroupM suggests the $119 billion expected to be spent in the networks this year and should grow by a whopping 8.3% in the coming year.  Magna estimates $124 billion in ad revenue from retail media networks this year.

“Think about this for a moment. Retail media is now almost a quarter of the total spent on search advertising outside of China,” Robert points out.

You’re not alone if you aren’t familiar with retail media networks. A familiar vernacular in the B2C world, especially the consumer-packaged goods industry, retail media networks are an advertising segment you should now pay attention to.

Retail media networks are advertising platforms within the retailer’s network. It’s search advertising on retailers’ online stores. So, for example, if you spend money to advertise against product keywords on Amazon, Walmart, or Instacart, you use a retail media network.

But these ad-buying networks also exist on other digital media properties, from mini-sites to videos to content marketing hubs. They also exist on location through interactive kiosks and in-store screens. New formats are rising every day.

Retail media networks make sense. Retailers take advantage of their knowledge of customers, where and why they shop, and present offers and content relevant to their interests. The retailer uses their content as a media company would, knowing their customers trust them to provide valuable information.

Think about these 2 things in 2024

That brings Robert to two things he wants you to consider for 2024 and beyond. The first is a question: Why should you consider retail media networks for your products or services?   

Advertising works because it connects to the idea of a brand. Retail media networks work deep into the buyer’s journey. They use the consumer’s presence in a store (online or brick-and-mortar) to cross-sell merchandise or become the chosen provider.

For example, Robert might advertise his Content Marketing Strategy book on Amazon’s retail network because he knows his customers seek business books. When they search for “content marketing,” his book would appear first.

However, retail media networks also work well because they create a brand halo effect. Robert might buy an ad for his book in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal because he knows their readers view those media outlets as reputable sources of information. He gains some trust by connecting his book to their media properties.

Smart marketing teams will recognize the power of the halo effect and create brand-level experiences on retail media networks. They will do so not because they seek an immediate customer but because they can connect their brand content experience to a trusted media network like Amazon, Nordstrom, eBay, etc.

The second thing Robert wants you to think about relates to the B2B opportunity. More retail media network opportunities for B2B brands are coming.

You can already buy into content syndication networks such as Netline, Business2Community, and others. But given the astronomical growth, for example, of Amazon’s B2B marketplace ($35 billion in 2023), Robert expects a similar trend of retail media networks to emerge on these types of platforms.   

“If I were Adobe, Microsoft, Salesforce, HubSpot, or any brand with big content platforms, I’d look to monetize them by selling paid sponsorship of content (as advertising or sponsored content) on them,” Robert says.

As you think about creative ways to use your paid advertising spend, consider the retail media networks in 2024.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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