Is Data Collection Ever Ethical?


By Brittany Vernon



With the help of technology, data collection has become easier and more efficient than ever. Gone are the days where physical surveys and census forms are needed for marketers to collect information. Through analytics, tracking pixels and beacons, as well as data mining, digital marketers have access to an abundance of specific information about their target audience and potential customers.


However, easier data collection creates a greater chance for the collected data to be misused.

In the digital age, data collection has become more automated and implicit than earlier forms of collection. The average smartphone user is unconsciously sending companies large amounts of data during every moment of their day. Whether you are watching cat videos online or visiting your favorite restaurant, records of your data and browsing habits are constantly being traced through technological devices. This creates an ethical issue because data buyers and sellers  are everywhere and have the potential to impact all aspects of life.


Information is valuable

One of a business’ most valuable assets is their access to their customers’ and potential customer’s data. Establishing patterns and consumer behaviour can help you better understand their interests, wants and needs. It also helps sell more by advertising more accurately and targeting users based on their online persona and browsing habits. 


Methods to collect data


There are several ways to collect data from customers. However, we’ll narrow the focus to implicit data; data collected and received from website user tracking with analytics.


Online Tracking

This is an effective method applicable to websites and apps. Accessing this data allows you to collect quantitative data on users visiting your site. Online tracking allows you to see how many people visited your site, how long they were on it, what they clicked on and more.


Marketing Analytics

Keeping track of marketing analytics is a great way to gauge the success of your online campaigns. Marketing analytics, similar to online tracking, involves collecting data based on ads a business runs. Ads through email, website, social media or search engines can be traced to give you data about who clicked on your ads, what times they clicked and which devices they used.



Social Media Tracking

This is perhaps the most common way to collect online data. Social media provides a rich source of information about users’ location, interests and demographic statistics, for example (location, age and gender). Using this data, businesses can determine who their target demographic is, where they are, and how users are interacting with the business’s content. Post engagements and shares are monitored to determine the post’s performance as well as searching the brand’s name often, setting up notifications or using third-party social media monitoring software.


Customers expect Trust

A Canadian survey determined that 90% of consumers would cut ties with a company if they found out a company is using their data unethically. This survey also determined that 79% of Canadians inherently trust healthcare organizations to uphold their ethical obligations when it comes to their data. This means that securing users’ data is connected to consumer retention. Consumer trust stems from privacy and transparency practiced by the business. Consumers want to be informed where their information is going, what it is being used for, and they expect their information will be protected from data breaches.


What should Marketers know?

Ethics and socially responsible marketing go hand in hand. Socially responsible marketing entails a brand advertising their marketing, charitable efforts, or ethical practices. It is important that businesses are transparent with their customers to avoid loss of trust and credibility. To better understand what ethical methods of data collection marketers should know what qualifies as unethical data collection. The following are tactics marketers should avoid.


Avoid Deceptive Practices

The ease of data collection may lead a business to downplay how much information they are actually gathering from customers and what it’s being used for. Sugging is defined as the practice of selling data under the guise of research. User data is often sold to other companies for their own target marketing purposes, advertising to people that have never actually engaged with their brand or searched for their product. To maintain customer trust, businesses should always tell customers when their information is being collected and for which specific reason. For example, a pop-up on a website to inform customers that information is stored when they visit their website.


Avoid Privacy Invasion

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) applies to the entirety of Canada and states fair information principles for businesses when collecting data. Incompliance with this act includes:


  • collecting, using or disclosing personal information in ways that are unlawful

  • profiling or categorizing individuals in a way that leads to unfair, unethical or discriminatory treatment

  • collecting, using or disclosing personal information for purposes that may cause significant harm to someone


A rule of thumb for businesses to avoid invasion of privacy deception is to keep the data collected within the context that it was collected for. Businesses should identify and document their purposes for collecting personal information prior to collecting the data. In addition, identify which specific personal information to collect in order to fulfill the determined purposes.


Digital data collection is the present and the future for marketers and businesses to build a loyal consumer base. Ethical data collection connects to customer retention as it fosters trust between businesses and customers. Ethical data collection cannot exist without transparency from the business. Always inform customers about your intentions and purposes for collecting their data. 


For more information about socially responsible marketing,  check out this article.


TikTok Marketing 101: Benefits of TikTok and Why You Need It


By Le Dan Pham 


A Force to be Reckoned With: The TikTok Takeover


TikTok started as a karaoke app called Musical.ly, until ByteDance Ltd. bought the app in 2017 to merge it with TikTok. It is now enjoyed by over 800 million active users around the globe. Before, users used to create sing-along videos to their favorite tunes where people could like/comment, share and recreate their own versions to other online platforms. Now, it is a platform to share curated videos from dancing and singing to dogs and tricks. TikTok has accelerated its growth at an exponential rate. In Google Play and the App Store, TikTok has been downloaded over 2 billion times. TikTok and parent company ByteDance are still finalizing their deal and need the go-ahead from both the U.S. and Chinese governments. Microsoft's negotiations to buy TikTok for U.S. users were compromised after China imposed export restrictions on the software that TikTok uses to recommend videos to users - the app's secret algorithm that Microsoft insisted on controlling. Terms of the current deal state that Oracle and Walmart will own 20% of a new U.S.-based TikTok.


Over 2 billion downloads in Google Play and App Store.

A goldmine for engagement, TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes a day browsing the app. Users’ feeds are constantly filled with new curated clips, so they don’t have to follow their favorite creators in order to be sucked into the action. To appear in the main feed your content needs to stand out, have relevant hashtags and high engagement statistics. TikTok’s powerful algorithm makes recommendations on the user’s personalized “for you” page. Content creators usually need to shoot, minimum, one video a day to try and fit into the algorithm. There are a variety of options that you can choose for your content creation that will be covered in this article, however, you should be careful that you remember your target audience, so your ad will be shown on their page. 


Who is On TikTok? Is Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat not enough?


The majority of users on TikTok are Generation Z (41% are between the age of 16 and 24), and amongst the 41%, the majority of these users are female, approximately a 2:1 ratio between female and male.  So how does this compare to other social media platforms? Rather than being a threat, TikTok represents a completely different platform. Instagram and Facebook allow for users to post original video and content onto their stories and pages and offers different filters as well to add to them. But what sets TikTok apart is that it is an app purely made for social entertainment. Rather than using it as a platform to share elements of someone’s day, it is about remaking and inventing new characters based on existing media or sounds that others have created. Facebook has attempted to recreate a spin-off to TikTok called “Lasso”, however, this project failed since it had to work as a standalone app and rebuild its purpose from scratch. Lasso was downloaded approximately 425,000 times since it’s release in 2018 in comparison to TikTok’s 2 billion downloads. 


In comparison, Snapchat shares similar traits with TikTok. Both of these apps main users are Gen-Z /millennial audiences and are popular globally. These platforms are more ideal for midsize to large companies due to their campaign price plans. If you are interested in experimenting with content, TikTok would be a safer bet. This is because it is still a newer platform and you will be able to create free content to see how it is received by the viewers, before opting to run a paid ad campaign. On the other hand, Snapchat is still lacking free content creation marketing opportunities, since users would have to either follow/subscribe to your profile in order to see free videos. Another important point to consider: TikTok videos have the ability to be shared and potentially go viral whilst Snapchat videos only last for the 24 hours designated. 


You can read more about Snapchat marketing benefits on our blog to decide which platform might be more beneficial for your business.


Many brands, musicians, and celebrities have also found their way onto TikTok and have used it  to incorporate it into their branding. For instance, Lil Nas X, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jimmy Kimmel have all made a variation of videos to promote their brand (snippets of music videos, hashtag challenges and more). 


“Jimmy Fallon’s #tumbleweedchallenge had over 8,000 submissions and more than 10.4 million engagements.” - (Viner, medium.com)



How Does TikTok Work?


Users can shoot videos between 15-60 seconds long, longer videos that have been recorded outside the app itself can also be posted on the platform. Other functionalities can be added before and after shooting. A user can add effects such as interactive, green screen, beautify and AR filters, and/or they can add music, edit, and make cuts all within the app. There are two pages on a user’s app that can be swiped back and forth: the “Following page” and the “For You page”. “For You” is the main focus as it contains videos tailored to fit what the user likes to watch. For example, if a user likes cats and dogs videos, TikTok will start showing the viewers more videos that feature pets.


Even though TikTok is still considered a rather new platform for businesses, with ample amounts of analytics to support its success, businesses can be positive that TikTok is here to stay. Especially with its sudden burst of users in 2019, competition will start to grow as more businesses are learning and experimenting with using TikTok more effectively. 


How Can TikTok Benefit Me?


What better way to engage and bring awareness to your business than sharing original content that inspires them? The Return on Investment (ROI) that your company can get from TikTok will convert user loyalty eventually into sales. The app’s ease of use allows for your content to be downloaded and shared to different social media platforms. In a previous post, we have discussed how to strategize marketing to Gen Z. The rules still apply to TikTok, as we dive deeper into the benefits of using TikTok as a standout app for future marketing campaigns.


“At the end of the day, the relationship with TikTok is more important than asking them to pay me for a record. It’s giving us exposure, and that’s what we need to push the brand forward.” - (Qtd. in Alexander, The Verge)

You can develop your own strategy based on your marketing goals. Some of these can be: 


  1. Through a hashtag/challenge campaign

As mentioned, Jimmy Fallon’s #tumbleweedchallenge demonstrates a successful awareness campaign that was fun and captivating for a younger audience. By creating a campaign that users can share with a hashtag allows for more people to join in the unique experience that is dedicated to your brand. By challenging your audience with something that involves a product/service that you offer, they will likely want to participate and be involved. 


  1. Influencers

Another way that you can use TikTok is to partner with relevant influencers that can elevate your brand. For example, Crocs partnered with Post Malone to create a #ThousandDollarCrocs challenge where users were encouraged to design a pair of Crocs if they were to cost $1,000. As a result, Crocs saw an 18% boost in their followers. This campaign was inspired by a lyric in one of Post Malone’s songs. It is important to know which influencers make the most sense for the campaign that you are building. Who is their audience? What kind of content are they creating? Why should they be a spokesperson for your brand? How can they benefit you and vice versa?


  1. Scarcity: “Act Now!” “Contest ends in 3 days”



Another way to engage with your audience on TikTok is to give them a sense of urgency. You can do this through paid advertisements, or earned media on your platform that will drive them to take action. TikTok users want to be part of trends, and by giving them a time limit on participating in a campaign, they will feel obliged to be a part of the experience. For instance, GUESS denim did a campaign called “#InMyDenim” that ran from Sept 1st 2018 to Sept 6th 2018, where users could show off their GUESS denim in creative ways. Starting off with influencers, the campaign generated around 37.4 million views on videos using their hashtag. 


Paid Ad Content vs. General Content

Before you decide to jump on board with the TikTok trend, or if you are having second thoughts about whether TikTok is the right platform for you, keep in mind that many trends are started by youths before they are trickled down to an older demographic. Furthermore, if you decide to use TikTok, TikTok ad campaigns can be expensive for small businesses, as investment starts with a minimum of $500. Be prepared to pay between $50k-$100k to run ads on this platform! You can always create content on a platform curated to your business, but if you want your content to be seen by millions of users, it can come at a cost. If you believe this is the path for you, here are some tips on how to get started! 


  1. Create a TikTok Ad Campaign

To begin, you must create a TikTok Ad Campaign on their webpage. It will ask you to fill out some details to set up your account and may take up to 48 hours until you hear back from a representative to confirm your eligibility. Once your ad campaign has been approved, you are set and ready to go!


  1. Choose the Right Objective

The next step is to choose the right objective that matches your campaign’s goals. The categories that TikTok provides are awareness, consideration, and conversion. It’s important to determine what you are trying to achieve at the end of your marketing campaign to reach the users that fit your criteria the most.


An awareness objective is to get users familiar with your brand or company. This objective could be, for example, to reach a maximum number of people in a set period of time. The end result would be to get others to recognize and build trust with your brand.


A consideration objective is to get users to think and  seek out more information about your brand or company. This objective is best if users already know about your brand and your goal is to have a higher click-through rate, whether it is through website traffic (blog post, website landing page etc.) or to download an app. The end result is to get users to learn more about your brand’s mission and offers. 


A conversion objective encourages the user to use/buy your product or service. You want users to take a specific action on your website or app. This step could include downloading your app, adding items to a cart, registering for your service/product or making a purchase. 


TikTok also offers an option called ‘Optimization Preference’. This option allows for the algorithm to optimize the delivery based on the event you set. For instance, asking the user to make a landing page purchase. The system will then deliver your ads to other users who share a similar profile to those who have converted.


  1. Choose a Campaign Name and Budget

The budget will allow for you to set an amount that you’re willing to spend on an ad campaign and it is adjustable if you change your mind on the amount. There are three budget choices: no limit, daily budget, and lifetime budget. This will help control your ad delivery and measure its performance. Which budget you choose depends on what you are looking for, no limit allows for you to spend as much as you’d like on a campaign level and daily/lifetime budget determines how much you are spending per day versus how much you are spending in the length of the campaign. 


TikTok is here to stay!

America has lifted their ban of TikTok after the company agreed to sell 20% of their ownership to Oracle (12.5%) and Walmart (7.5%). Before Oracle and Walmart’s investment in TikTok, TikTok was scheduled to be removed from the App and Google Play Store. U.S. TikTok user data  will now be moved to Oracle’s cloud infrastructure.


Currently only 4% of U.S. social media marketers use the platform - and these numbers will continue to grow. Why wait when you can take the lead amongst your competitors? 


Have a question on how to get started on TikTok? Speak with an UpOnline representative today!



Can Pop-Ups Ruin Your SEO Efforts?


By: Le Dan Pham



Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be difficult to grasp. Visitors may find your website at the top of search rankings, but might find your website difficult to navigate or it’s not enough to convert them into a new customer. Their experience may be negatively affected by the elements you have implemented to help convert and retain customers, mainly pop-ups. Since 2017, Google has devalued the use of intrusive pop-ups and other interstitials that might have a negative effect on users' experience, especially users’ on their mobile devices. However, pop-ups are still considered valuable to help increase conversion rates. The best pop-ups can reach up to a 50% conversion rate


In this blog post, we will cover:

 

  1. Types of pop-ups / intrusive Interstitials 

  2. Factors that affect SEO 

  3. How to use pop-ups mindfully and what mistakes to avoid 


It is important to remember that not all pop-ups are equal. Their effects vary accordingly depending on your content, the timing, the size of the pop-up and so forth. The top-performing pop-ups such as those with a 40% conversion rate appeared on pages with corresponding, relevant content and only 8% of the top 10% of pop-ups appeared for less than 4 seconds. With this in mind, you can determine whether pop-ups are worth the risks for your business and if it does, how to do it effectively without annoying your visitors and potential clients. 


Types of Pop-Ups / Intrusive Interstitials


Overlay Pop-Ups


These pop-ups are most popular as they are SEO-friendly and are great for displaying important messages to their users such as subscription services, on-demand chat help, discounts or free download offers. These types of pop-ups are opened in the same browser and can be layered on top of the current page’s content. They can be placed on different parts of the screen such as along the side, centered or “triggered” when a cursor hovers over it (although, we don’t recommend “trigger” pop-ups as the user can accidentally hover or click on it without meaning to).


Overlays are generally favored over other types of pop-ups since they are effective at capturing emails/leads, are context-dependent on the page that the user is on and, if used correctly, are not distracting or disruptive to the user’s experience.


On the other hand, consider how these pop-ups are affecting users visiting on their mobile devices. Is it showing valuable information? How large is the pop-up on their screens? “If you are hurting visitor interaction by a few seconds on average per visit, but you are getting 5% of your visitors to give you an email address, that's probably worth it. If it's more like 30 seconds and 1%, maybe not as good. This will be discussed further but in general, as long as overlay pop-ups are easy to close/exit and do not open up on a new page if the user accidentally clicks on it, it remains an effective conversion method. 


Modal Pop-Ups


Similar to overlay pop-ups, these pop-ups are also shown on the screen partially; however, the user must interact with them before they can fully access the website. For example, The New York Times would have a modal pop-up after a certain number of articles have been read. The user has to sign up either through their social media accounts or email in order to access more articles. 


Modal pop-ups are mostly effective unless they are disrupting the user’s experience. This includes spam and advertising. Modal pop-ups prompt the user to take action and are usually used for news sites and blogs that need to understand their audience to build their content. In the example above, The New York Times can make a profit from their content, improve their CTAs, encourage engagement and build an email list to cater to their audience more effectively. 


New Window Pop-Ups


These pop-ups are highly regarded as being disruptive to the user experience. Not only are they annoying to users who are on their mobile phones, this type of pop-up stays open even when the web user goes to a different website on the main window. Likewise, Google really dislikes these pop-ups, so there’s a higher chance they will be penalized and are ineffective at retaining potential clients. They tend to distract the user from your main content page and are often hard to close. There are not many effective uses of these types of pop-ups and they should be avoided if possible. 


Intrusive Interstitials


Users spend the vast majority of their time on mobile devices rather than larger screens, hence, pop-ups can come at a huge expense to your marketing strategy if not used correctly. Google describes intrusive interstitial as anything that blocks the user from seeing the content after entering the site directly from search engine result pages (SERPs). In other words, pop-ups that cover the content and force the user to close it to continue reading, standalone interstitials that show up before the user can access the content or having the upper portion of a website look like an interstitial. If it is disruptive to the user, there is a high chance that it is an intrusive interstitial. 


Overall, pop-ups should take less than 15% of the page’s area and should enhance the content that you are trying to display rather than take away from the user’s experience. It should be used effectively, such as to show an age restriction guideline before accessing the site. The main focus of Google’s pop-up restrictions is on what users view the minute they enter your website from the SERP. However, if they have been browsing your website for a while or start scrolling and clicking on items on your site, these pop-ups are considered relative to that action and are not penalized.


 



Factors that Affect SEO


Now that you have a grasp on the different types of pop-ups, let’s focus on how they can impact your SEO and what you can do to take advantage of using them on your website. Rand Fishkin defines these factors through these points:


Timing


Timing is everything. When will the pop-up appear and for how long? Can the user easily exit the pop-up and does it relate to what they have been reading? As mentioned, these pop-ups may not be penalized by Google but may affect how the users respond to it. The benefit of waiting until the visitor has at least read more than 80% of your content is that they will be more willing to share their email address with you.


The options you can use, rather than having immediate pop-ups include: displaying the pop-up after a delay, having a scroll option (ie. near the end of the article/page) or use exit-intent pop-ups. Exit-intent pop-ups track the users’ mouse movement, thus, if it moves outside the upper page boundary it can trigger the pop-up. Another way is to limit the time a pop-up appears on a page. If there is inactivity on the page for around 3 seconds, the pop-up will close automatically. In this scenario, make sure you are making note of how often this occurs, since this may be a problem with your content (pop-up or page) rather than a timing issue. 


Similarly, pop-ups can impact loading time, which is a minor inconvenience and can have an impact on your conversion rate. Using tools such as Google Page Speed Insights, you can evaluate the impact of your pop-up on your website’s loading time. You can reduce the loading time by compressing/replacing images or using scripts/pop-up code that optimizes for performance. 


Content 


What is the purpose of your pop-up? What kind of information are you telling or asking of your visitors? Certain content will not be penalized by Google if it’s purpose is to inform the user of something before they enter your site. For instance, overlay/modal pop-ups that ask for a user’s age, legal consent or cookies are permitted whilst advertisements can be more troublesome if they aren’t part of the user’s experience. The content of your pop-up should be relevant and valuable to the user, something that you can offer to their experience, such as a discount code before they make a purchase or a free session of your webinar. 


Google’s aim is to improve the user experience, so as long as you are following proper guidelines and having your user in mind, this can help improve your ranking and conversions.


Engagement Impact


If your users are entering your website but immediately exiting or clicking the back button, Google will perceive your site as having poor user experience. It’s a bad sign if users are not willing to complete the tasks that you are asking for in pop-ups and are not willing to join to access your account. This will ultimately hurt your overall SEO.


How To Use Pop-Ups Mindfully and What Mistakes to Avoid


User Experience (UX) Metrics

If you feel uncertain about whether you are making the right choices with your pop-ups and if they are effective or not, you should consider looking at these metrics: 

  1. Bounce rate: bounce rate is the percentage of single interaction visits to your website. It is recommended that bounce rates should be between 26-50 percent, anything above should be looked into to figure out the cause; if it is your pop-up - is it doing more harm than good? 

  2. Browse rate: browse rate shows, depending on the entry-page in which the user enters the site, how many pages they browse on average.

  3. Return visitors: this shows the percentage of visitors who have returned to your site over and over again

  4. Time on site after element appears: how long the visitors stay on your page after interacting or seeing the pop-up/interstitial 


Make sure you are constantly checking the performance of your site to understand how interstitials might be benefitting or hindering your SEO. To avoid having pop-ups have a negative affect on your SEO campaign, you should play it safe and keep a close eye on your statistics. Some pop-ups to look out for include sticky sidebar, live chat boxes, share buttons, coupon pop-ups. 


On the other hand, intrusive ads are still allowed on desktop, some people may choose to hide it from their mobile viewers. But with constant Google updates and new regulations being put in place, you should consider more permanent solutions rather than temporarily hiding mobile pop-ups to avoid being penalized in the future. 



Final Thoughts:


Google is iteratively updating their algorithms guidance. We recommend that you stay up-to-date and informed to avoid ambiguous pop-ups whenever possible. Be aware of how to use interstitials and pop-ups effectively and always have the user’s experience in mind. Consider why you believe pop-ups are the most effective method - as long as you are following the steps above, being penalized by Google can be avoided. 


Google’s guidelines are concerned with how user-friendly your website is, as well as the relevance of the content. When pop-ups are used correctly, it will not be a threat to your SEO strategy. In addition, pop-ups can be helpful to optimize your website conversion and using them wisely can also help your SERP ranking.


Keep up with trends and check out our review of Google’s January 2020 core update for more fundamentals and best practices.