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What Is Marketing Automation: How Does It Work?

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What Is Marketing Automation: How Does It Work?

​​Want to boost the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, create more efficient team processes, and upgrade your customer experience?

You need marketing automation.

Marketing automation has become popular over the past decade, and for good reason.

As marketers face an ever-growing number of channels and platforms where they need to meet their customers, marketing automation presents a helpful opportunity to save time. It allows them to offload manual tasks so they can focus on high-priority projects.

In this article, we’ll look into what marketing automation is and how it works, highlight some popular marketing automation tools, and cover a few examples of what it looks like in the real world.

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What Is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation is a catch-all term for software and tools that manage marketing tasks, processes, and workflows without needing human touch.

Marketers have busy schedules and must accomplish many tasks on any given day. By leveraging marketing automation software to handle simple, repetitive activities, marketers can free up their time to focus on more important and time-consuming priorities.

This doesn’t just benefit individual marketers or marketing teams; it also helps maximize efficiency across an entire organization and, ultimately, boost your business’s bottom line.

Marketing automation can help businesses in several ways, including:

  • Speeding up marketing team processes and saving time.
  • Improving team and individual productivity.
  • Generating and nurturing relationships with leads.
  • Improving customer experience and retention.
  • Reducing operating costs.

From email marketing campaigns to prospect segmentation, marketing automation simplifies business processes to deliver a better customer experience.

Is Marketing Automation The Same As A CRM?

While marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM) software are closely related, they are not the same thing.

The two serve different purposes – though, when used together correctly, they can be extremely complementary tools that supercharge your customer journey.

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So, how exactly are marketing automation and CRM different?

While marketing automation is focused on automating and optimizing marketing-related tasks, CRM software is primarily used to bolster the efforts of your sales and customer service teams.

Your CRM provides a home for your customer and prospect data, such as information about them, their purchase activity, and notes from any interactions or sales calls. It provides a single source of truth for your sales, service, and marketing teams to oversee customer relationships across the sales funnel.

This is separate from marketing automation workflows – but both can be integrated to optimize your marketing efforts based on customer data.

Often, CRM companies will also offer marketing automation tools, as they are designed to work hand-in-hand.

What Does Marketing Automation Do?

Marketing automation enables businesses to optimize their marketing strategies and campaigns and contributes to lead generation and nurturing by automating marketing workflows.

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With a marketing automation platform, you can create a more personalized customer experience without all the manual effort.

How?

You can set up the software to gather information about every lead or prospect and use that data to serve each individual the right content at the right time.

You simply tell your marketing automation tool what data to gather and how to put that data to good use.

A few common things you can do with marketing automation:

  • Boost your email marketing by automating your email campaigns. You can set up workflows where customers or prospects are sent timely, personalized emails based on particular actions they take. For example, if you go to a website and put an item in your cart and then leave, that business could use marketing automation workflows to trigger an email to you saying, “Don’t forget about that item in your cart!”
  • Optimize your marketing campaigns through workflows that serve leads with specific messaging based on where they are in their journey with your business and what channel you’re meeting them on – be it social media, email, in-app, or elsewhere.
  • Gather insightful analytics on the performance of your marketing campaigns and how effectively you’re generating and converting leads. Marketing automation can provide deeper insights into how well you’re engaging your customers, and where the gaps you need to fill are.

How Does Marketing Automation Work?

So marketing automation sounds great, but how does it actually work?

Every interaction you have with customers or prospective leads – whether it be an email exchange, a website visit, or a social media engagement – provides you with data on that person.

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Marketing automation platforms don’t just store that data; they analyze it and then put it to good use.

With marketing automation software, you can segment your leads based on specific criteria such as interest or behavior.

Then, you can set up campaigns to automatically serve tailored messaging to these leads based on different trigger events, actions, or customer journey stages.

You can create workflows based on pre-configured templates or build them from scratch based on your specific needs.

Once you have set up the workflows you need, you can rely on your marketing automation software to do the rest. All you have to do is check on the analytics and reporting regularly to make sure you’re getting the most out of your workflows.

Marketing Automation Platforms

There are a variety of different marketing automation platforms that exist, offering a range of different functionalities and features.

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For the sake of this article, we will highlight just a few.

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign is a popular marketing automation tool that lets you pull data from channels like social media, live chat, landing pages, SMS, and more.

Some key features include:

  • Advanced reporting to discover which marketing campaign automation is working best for you.
  • Sign-up forms. With custom forms and landing pages, you can collect emails, segment your audience, and trigger automation.
  • Notification emails let you know when to follow up with your leads.

Klaviyo

With Klaviyo’s marketing automation capabilities, you can deliver personalized messaging to your customers at the right time.

Key features include:

  • Behavior-based automation that initializes messages based on specific data and events.
  • Advanced segmentation that allows you to target people based on a specific demographic profile.
  • AI-driven optimization that uses data prediction to help you proactively reach out to customers.

Customer.io

Customer.io helps you improve your messaging workflows by automating them for you across emails, push notifications, SMS, and more. Some key features include:

  • In-app message automation that can be combined with email, push, and text.
  • A visual workflow builder to help you design a better customer experience.
  • Ad audience sync that tracks your ad audiences across platforms and syncs them with your segments without any need for CSV files.

Mailchimp

Best known as an email marketing platform, Mailchimp also offers a number of different marketing automation tools, including:

  • Retargeting ads which are designed to re-engage people who have visited your site and encourage them to return.
  • A customer journey builder where you can create automation workflows that work best for your customers and your goals.
  • Transactional emails to communicate with your customers when they take a specific action.

Examples Of Marketing Automation

Now that we understand more about what marketing automation is and how it works, let’s cover a few quick examples of different marketing automation workflows.

Reminder And Re-Engagement Emails

You buy a skincare product from a brand. Based on customer data, the company knows that most customers will run out of the product within three months.

So, it uses marketing automation to automatically send you an email around three months after your purchase to encourage you to buy a new product.

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Feedback Surveys

You attend a webinar hosted by a tech brand.

Once the webinar is over, you receive an automated email with a survey asking you to rate your experience and provide any feedback. This data is then submitted to the company.

Offers And Deals

You sign up for a loyalty program through a brand. You immediately receive an SMS with an offer for 15% off as a new customer.

Onboarding Information

You sign up for a new service. Within a few days, you receive an email offering tips for how to best use the service as a new user.

Enhance Your Marketing Strategy With Automation Tools

We could all use more time in the day, and this is especially true for marketers. With so many simultaneous responsibilities and tasks to attend to, marketers can use all the help they can get to streamline their day.

It’s no surprise, then, that marketing automation has become such a powerful and beneficial tool for businesses across industries.

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With marketing automation, you can optimize your marketing efforts and give your team time back.

But more importantly, marketing automation can help you create a seamless, delightful customer experience that will turn prospects into leads, and leads into loyal customers.

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Featured Image: Andrey Suslov/Shutterstock



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WordPress Releases A Performance Plugin For “Near-Instant Load Times”

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WordPress speculative loading plugin

WordPress released an official plugin that adds support for a cutting edge technology called speculative loading that can help boost site performance and improve the user experience for site visitors.

Speculative Loading

Rendering means constructing the entire webpage so that it instantly displays (rendering). When your browser downloads the HTML, images, and other resources and puts it together into a webpage, that’s rendering. Prerendering is putting that webpage together (rendering it) in the background.

What this plugin does is to enable the browser to prerender the entire webpage that a user might navigate to next. The plugin does that by anticipating which webpage the user might navigate to based on where they are hovering.

Chrome lists a preference for only prerendering when there is an at least 80% probability of a user navigating to another webpage. The official Chrome support page for prerendering explains:

“Pages should only be prerendered when there is a high probability the page will be loaded by the user. This is why the Chrome address bar prerendering options only happen when there is such a high probability (greater than 80% of the time).

There is also a caveat in that same developer page that prerendering may not happen based on user settings, memory usage and other scenarios (more details below about how analytics handles prerendering).

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The Speculative Loading API solves a problem that previous solutions could not because in the past they were simply prefetching resources like JavaScript and CSS but not actually prerendering the entire webpage.

The official WordPress announcement explains it like this:

Introducing the Speculation Rules API
The Speculation Rules API is a new web API that solves the above problems. It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation. This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them.”

The official WordPress page about this new functionality describes it:

“The Speculation Rules API is a new web API… It allows defining rules to dynamically prefetch and/or prerender URLs of certain structure based on user interaction, in JSON syntax—or in other words, speculatively preload those URLs before the navigation.

This API can be used, for example, to prerender any links on a page whenever the user hovers over them. Also, with the Speculation Rules API, “prerender” actually means to prerender the entire page, including running JavaScript. This can lead to near-instant load times once the user clicks on the link as the page would have most likely already been loaded in its entirety. However that is only one of the possible configurations.”

The new WordPress plugin adds support for the Speculation Rules API. The Mozilla developer pages, a great resource for HTML technical understanding describes it like this:

“The Speculation Rules API is designed to improve performance for future navigations. It targets document URLs rather than specific resource files, and so makes sense for multi-page applications (MPAs) rather than single-page applications (SPAs).

The Speculation Rules API provides an alternative to the widely-available <link rel=”prefetch”> feature and is designed to supersede the Chrome-only deprecated <link rel=”prerender”> feature. It provides many improvements over these technologies, along with a more expressive, configurable syntax for specifying which documents should be prefetched or prerendered.”

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See also: Are Websites Getting Faster? New Data Reveals Mixed Results

Performance Lab Plugin

The new plugin was developed by the official WordPress performance team which occasionally rolls out new plugins for users to test ahead of possible inclusion into the actual WordPress core. So it’s a good opportunity to be first to try out new performance technologies.

The new WordPress plugin is by default set to prerender “WordPress frontend URLs” which are pages, posts, and archive pages. How it works can be fine-tuned under the settings:

Settings > Reading > Speculative Loading

Browser Compatibility

The Speculative API is supported by Chrome 108 however the specific rules used by the new plugin require Chrome 121 or higher. Chrome 121 was released in early 2024.

Browsers that do not support will simply ignore the plugin and will have no effect on the user experience.

Check out the new Speculative Loading WordPress plugin developed by the official core WordPress performance team.

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How Analytics Handles Prerendering

A WordPress developer commented with a question asking how Analytics would handle prerendering and someone else answered that it’s up to the Analytics provider to detect a prerender and not count it as a page load or site visit.

Fortunately both Google Analytics and Google Publisher Tags (GPT) both are able to handle prerenders. The Chrome developers support page has a note about how analytics handles prerendering:

“Google Analytics handles prerender by delaying until activation by default as of September 2023, and Google Publisher Tag (GPT) made a similar change to delay triggering advertisements until activation as of November 2023.”

Possible Conflict With Ad Blocker Extensions

There are a couple things to be aware of about this plugin, aside from the fact that it’s an experimental feature that requires Chrome 121 or higher.

A comment by a WordPress plugin developer that this feature may not work with browsers that are using the uBlock Origin ad blocking browser extension.

Download the plugin:
Speculative Loading Plugin by the WordPress Performance Team

Read the announcement at WordPress
Speculative Loading in WordPress

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See also: WordPress, Wix & Squarespace Show Best CWV Rate Of Improvement

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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Featured Image: Vanatchanan/Shutterstock

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Google Limits News Links In California Over Proposed ‘Link Tax’ Law

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A brown cardboard price tag with a twine string and a black dollar sign symbol, influenced by the Link Tax Law, set against a dark gray background.

Google announced that it plans to reduce access to California news websites for a portion of users in the state.

The decision comes as Google prepares for the potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill requiring online platforms like Google to pay news publishers for linking to their content.

What Is The California Journalism Preservation Act?

The CJPA, introduced in the California State Legislature, aims to support local journalism by creating what Google refers to as a “link tax.”

If passed, the Act would force companies like Google to pay media outlets when sending readers to news articles.

However, Google believes this approach needs to be revised and could harm rather than help the news industry.

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Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s VP of Global News Partnerships, stated in a blog post:

“It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

Google’s Response

To assess the potential impact of the CJPA on its services, Google is running a test with a percentage of California users.

During this test, Google will remove links to California news websites that the proposed legislation could cover.

Zaidi states:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

Google Claims Only 2% of Search Queries Are News-Related

Zaidi highlighted peoples’ changing news consumption habits and its effect on Google search queries (emphasis mine):

“It’s well known that people are getting news from sources like short-form videos, topical newsletters, social media, and curated podcasts, and many are avoiding the news entirely. In line with those trends, just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related.”

Despite the low percentage of news queries, Google wants to continue helping news publishers gain visibility on its platforms.

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However, the “CJPA as currently constructed would end these investments,” Zaidi says.

A Call For A Different Approach

In its current form, Google maintains that the CJPA undermines news in California and could leave all parties worse off.

The company urges lawmakers to consider alternative approaches supporting the news industry without harming smaller local outlets.

Google argues that, over the past two decades, it’s done plenty to help news publishers innovate:

“We’ve rolled out Google News Showcase, which operates in 26 countries, including the U.S., and has more than 2,500 participating publications. Through the Google News Initiative we’ve partnered with more than 7,000 news publishers around the world, including 200 news organizations and 6,000 journalists in California alone.”

Zaidi suggested that a healthy news industry in California requires support from the state government and a broad base of private companies.

As the legislative process continues, Google is willing to cooperate with California publishers and lawmakers to explore alternative paths that would allow it to continue linking to news.

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Featured Image:Ismael Juan/Shutterstock

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