Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Using Free Online Marketing Tools to Create an Immersive Internet Marketing Course Project

This month we again invite Jeanine Morber from Stevenson University in Maryland as a guest blogger, this time to talk about an integrated project in her Internet Marketing class.  This project is similar to one I have used and that I talked about last month at the Academy of Marketing Science.  I will include more information on that activity next month.  ---Dr. Debra Zahay

Jeanine says the following. 

"I was a corporate digital marketing strategist and trainer for almost ten years, I taught countless sessions on web design best practices, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, search engine optimization (SEO), email marketing, social media marketing, and online advertising. When I became a marketing lecturer for Stevenson University in Maryland, I had the opportunity to teach all of these together in a three credit E-Marketing course to a class of twenty-five budding digital marketing strategists.

At first, I planned to teach each topic as a separate unit but quickly abandoned that idea when I realized how disjointed it would seem to students, whose only experiences with these concepts, were from a consumer’s perspective and not from a marketer’s perspective.

I decided to create a semester-long project that would incorporate each of the components of E-Marketing in a way that would be meaningful to them, but also resemble a real-world online digital marketing campaign. I also wanted students to use as many online tools as possible to manage and monitor their work, and also analyze their results. I compiled a list of tools that had either free versions or trial versions and set out creating an outline of the entire project and all of its components.  (The complete list of tool used can be found at the end of this post.)

The main component of the project was a niche topic blog created using Google’s Blogger. Although students can create wonderful blogs on sites such as WordPress, Tumblr, Wix, or Weebly, in order to incorporate Google Analytics into those sites, they would have had to pay a fee. My goal was to create a project using many of the same tools as professionals but using free versions only. By using Blogger, students could incorporate Google Analytics for traffic monitoring and analysis and Google Search Console to check the status of Google indexing and troubleshoot any indexing issues.

Once I realized I would be using Blogger, I made the first step of the project creating a Gmail email address to be used for the course.  Using Gmail solved many problems; 1) Google requires a Gmail email address to use many of its tools and 2) The Gmail email address could also be used for students to sign up for other free or free trial tools without leaving them with an inbox full of sales emails on their “real” email accounts and 3) Not having students use their university email address to sign up for so many tools will be blessing to your IT department, trust me!
Blogger blog
Sample Student Blog

Once I knew they would be creating a niche blog in groups of two or three, I broke the project down into three main stages: Acquisition, Conversion, and Retention.

Acquisition: Getting visitor traffic to the blog. I had the students research their potential audience and competitors, and create a Buyer Persona using Xtensio which has a great persona template. I then had the students create a few blog posts before I taught them the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This way they could go back and optimize their previous posts. I had them use the Hubspot Website Grader (https://website.grader.com/) before and after they implemented SEO techniques to analyze the effectiveness of their SEO skills.

Hubspot website grader
Hubspot Website Grader identifies areas of improvement

For content, in addition to writing, I had them use various graphics and video tools, such as Canva, Animoto, and Soapbox. They also used social media to send traffic to their blog – mostly Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook - and used Hootsuite, Sprout Social, TweetDeck, and SumAll to monitor and manage all social media platforms.

For all blog links used in social media, students uses Bit.Ly Link Shortner which gives a great report on how, where, and when links are clicked. 

Conversion:  Getting site visitors to take a desired action. In the real world, conversions are most often sales but for the purpose of this course, we considered conversions subscribing to the blog, commenting on a post, participate in a poll, or sharing a post to social media.  I also had them create goals in Google Analytics based on number of website pages viewed and time on site. They would monitor their Google Analytics goals weekly to determine how well (or not so well) they were doing on conversions.
Google Analytics
Google Analytics Tracking

Retention: Turning new site visitors into repeat visitors. We used email marketing with both Mail Chimp and Constant Contact. Students created a sign up box for their email list on their blog and students subscribed to each other’s lists using the Gmail address they created for the class. They experimented with different email marketing designs and used A/B testing to determine the most effective verbiage and design. They were fascinated that they could not only see how many people opened their email, but actually who opened what and when, and which links they clicked.

Also for retention, they created their own mobile apps using Appy Pie. Appy Pie has a fairly easy to use mobile app maker with a free version. Students were able to create their apps, and post links to their blog for readers to download them and install them on their phones. I downloaded all of them and installed them on my phone without an issue.
mobile app maker
Mobile App Maker

For assessments, the students wrote two progress reports using a template I provided them, and did a final presentation. The final presentation included strategies and tactics they used throughout the semester and the results of their project as far as visitor count, page views, link clicks, downloads, etc… They also had to include their (now expert) opinion on what they would do differently if they had the opportunity to do the project again.    

The feedback from the students regarding this project was overwhelmingly positive. Most commented on the value of first-hand experience implementing strategies and using many of the same tools used by digital marketing agencies. After adding the tools they used to their resumes, students commented that potential employers were impressed with their extensive list of skills and experience with the numerous applications and tools.  

Some final tips:
·         Schedule the class in a computer lab
·         Be sure to require a minimum of two students per group – doing this project alone is too much work
·         Require one blog post per week per student
·         If possible, share the blogs with internal school publications to help students get traction for their blogs

And finally, enjoy the semester – your definitely students will!"

Thanks Jeannine.  This sounds like a wonderful project and I will be sharing some other ideas for this type of project in the next post!