7 Magic Ways to Maximize Otherwise Boring Fulfillment and Collateral Pieces for Profit

Sure, fulfillment and inserts aren’t as sexy as other forms of marketing, but they can be viable ways to bring in steady, ancillary revenues. I’ve seen some online publishers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars with a carefully thought-out insert program. For instance, taking a direct mail control piece and adding it in customer fulfillment packages as an insert. A no-brainer, right? Wrong! You’ll be surprised how many businesses are leaving money on the table by not doing this.

Sure, fulfillment and inserts aren’t as sexy as other forms of marketing, but they can be viable ways to bring in steady, ancillary revenues.

I’ve seen some online publishers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars with a carefully thought-out insert program. For instance, taking a direct mail control piece and adding it in customer fulfillment packages as an insert. A no-brainer, right?

Wrong! You’ll be surprised how many businesses are leaving money on the table by not doing this.

Are you leveraging your fulfillment kit? Do you have a strategy for your inserts?

Here are some simple ideas, when applicable, for print and electronic fulfillment that help encourage sales (cross-sells) and help customer lifetime value:

  1. Personal Welcome or Thank You Letter (whether it’s for newsletters, products or services. It could highlight all products OR current top sellers). This is the first thing a new customer will see. Make sure it is written in a personal, comfortable tone—welcoming the customers and reiterating what a good decision they just made and thanking them for their purchases. You can also add a little verbiage about your core values and what makes you unique in the marketplace. Be sure to reiterate any product guarantees you have, as well as customer service contact information.
  2. Cross-marketing Piece. This can be a current direct mail piece edited for insert purposes. A flier highlighting a current hot product OR a natural, synergistic upsell from the product ordered. Or a “customer favorites” catalog. This encourages continued purchases now and down the road.
  3. Coupon or special discount offer. (or if electronic, coupon/promo code for online ordering). Consider offering a special “thank you” coupon or a “share this with a friend/family member” coupon for additional sales and viral/word of mouth marketing.
  4. Free Sample. (Women may remember Avon used to include tiny little lipsticks or perfume with their order. This approach can be translated in most any business—it could be a small, economy/sample size product, a bonus report, or more. Customers love, love, love freebies!
  5. Renewal at Birth. This is a popular publishing term. If you’re selling a subscription service or continuity program, you can include a renewal order form with your first issue at a special early discount rate.
  6. Packing Slip. Many people overlook this fulfillment piece, but it can be used for more than printing out what is being sent to your customer. You can print your return policy/instruction on this piece of correspondence, as well as adding several product return reasons to help evaluate customer satisfaction and product refinement, going forward.
  7. Feedback/Testimonial Form. Have a form to solicit customers’ feedback and testimonials. This information could be priceless, as far as customer service, marketing, and new product development. Make sure your testimonial collection process is compliant so you can use stellar comments in future marketing efforts.

As most direct response marketers know, the first zero to 30 days is when a customer is red hot—as legendary entrepreneur and best-selling author of, “Ready Fire Aim,” Michael Masterson, would say—in their “buying frenzy.” So don’t leave ’em cold. Give them cross-sell and upsell options.

Leverage this timeframe with your communications and turn your fulfillment pieces into another way to increase sales and relationship-build with your customers.

You may just turn on an additional revenue stream for your business!

My 9 Insider Tips to Build Your Email List For Low or No Cost!

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel. 

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel.

A popular business model by many online publishers is to bring in leads at the “free” level (i.e. report, e-newsletter, webinar, white paper, etc.), add those names to their house list and typically over the course of 30 to 90 days (the bonding time) that lead will convert into a paying customer. This practice is known as lead generation, name collection or list-building efforts.

Today, I’m going to share with you some proven online marketing methods I’ve used and had great success with at some of the top publishers in America. And bonus … many of these tactics are low- or no-cost. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Power eAcquisition Polls. In my last blog post, I wrote about using polls for lead generation. Incorporating a poll on your website or having a poll on another site is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field, which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and a free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

Teleseminars or Webinars. This is a great way to collect qualified names. Promote a free, relevant and value-oriented teleseminar or webinar to targeted prospects. You can promote it through several organic (free) tactics, such as LinkedIn Groups/Events, Facebook Events, Twitter, online press releases, affiliate marketing/joint ventures. Remember, this is for lead generation, not bonding. So your goal is to cast a wide net outside of your existing list, create visibility and get new names. Your value proposition should be actionable, relevant information that your target audience would find useful and worth giving their email address for. The trick is to promote the event in as many places as possible without incurring advertising costs; then your only costs may be the set up of the conference call (multiple lines, 800#) or webinar platform. And, in case you were wondering, I have been involved with teleseminars with non-toll-free numbers and response rates were not greatly impacted.

Co-registration. Co-Reg is another way to collect names, but involves a nominal fee. Co-Reg is when you place a small ad on another publisher’s site after some sort of transaction (albeit a sales or lead-gen offer). So, for instance, after someone signs up to the AOL Travel eNewsletter, a Thank You page comes up with a list of sponsors the reader may find interesting, as well—other free e-newsletter offers. The text ad is usually accompanied by a small graphic image representing the sponsor. The key here is to pick publishers and Co-Reg placements that are synergistic to your own publication and offer. Another important note is to make sure you follow up quickly to these names so they don’t forget who you are and go cold quite fast. I suggest a dedicated auto responder series for bonding and monetization. Co-Reg efforts can cost you around $1 to $3 per valid email address.

Frienemy Marketing. This includes JVs (joint ventures), affiliate marketing, guest editorials, editorial contributions and reciprocal ad swaps (for leads generation or revenue sharing). This tactic is extremely effective and cost-efficient. The key here is having some kind of leverage, then approaching publishers who may want your content or a cross-marketing opportunity to your current list (note: This only works if you have a list of decent size that another publisher will find attractive). In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists, thereby sending a message to a targeted, relevant list for free. Well, if you agree on a rev share, it’s free as far as ad costs, but you are giving that publisher a split of your net revenues.

SONAR Marketing. I’ve written about this many times, but can’t stress it enough. Content is king and you can leverage it via what I call “SONAR.” It’s an organic (free) online strategy that works with the search engines. It’s a comprehensive method of repurposing, reusing, distributing and synchronizing the release of relevant, original content (albeit text, audio, video) to targeted online channels based on your audience. SONAR represents the following online distribution platforms:

S Syndicate partners, content syndication networks and user-generated content sites
O Online press releases
N Network (social) communities
A Article directories
R Relevant posts to blogs, forums and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM) and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

Search Engine Marketing. It’s a shame more marketers don’t see the value of SEO or SEM. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords and relevant, keyword-dense content, you need to make sure you have revised your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to your home page (and it’s static on all your subpages), relevant banners and obvious links to e-comm webpages. You don’t want to miss a single opportunity to turn traffic into leads or sales.

Smart Media Buying. To complement your free online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog ads or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. High-traffic blogs are a high-performing, low-cost way to test new creatives. I like BlogAds.com network and you can buy placements a la carte and search by genre.

Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. You must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management, which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have a content syndication blurb in your newsletter; this also encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish and share your content, as long as they give you author attribution and a back-link to your site (which helps in SEM).

The following, in my personal experience, doesn’t work for quality list building …

Sweepstakes and Giveaways. You’ve seen the offers: Win a free TV, iPhone or similar in exchange for your email address. This gets the volume, but the leads are usually poor quality or unqualified (irrelevant). The numbers may look good on the front end, but when you dig deeper, your list is likely compromised with deliverability issues (high bounce rates), inactives and bad emails. This is because the leads are not targeted. The offer wasn’t targeted or synergistic with the company. With lead generation efforts, it should be quality over quantity.

Email appends. According to Wikipedia, email appending, also known as e-appending, is a marketing practice that involves taking known customer data (first name, last name and postal address) and matching it against a vendor’s database to obtain email addresses. The purpose is to grow one’s email subscriber list with the intent of sending customers information via email instead of through traditional direct “snail” mail. The problem with this, in my direct experience, is that on the front end your list initially grows, but these names are not typically qualified or interested. At one company where I worked, we tracked a group of email append cohorts over the course of a year to see what percent would “convert” to a paying customer. Nearly 75 percent of the names dropped off the file during that year and never even converted. Email appending is a controversial tactic, with critics claiming that sending email to people who never explicitly opted-in is against best practices. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time and money.

List-building 2.0: 7 Tips for Using ‘Power’ Polls For Prospecting

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

Most people know Web 2.0 is simply the evolution of the Internet into an environment of interactivity, reader participation and usability. Web 2.0 opens up the dialog between user and website or blog. This connection can help generate traffic and a viral buzz.

But from a search engine marketing (SEM) standpoint, the benefits are clear and measurable: More traffic and frequent interactivity (or posts) equal better organic (free) rankings in search engine results. Getting good organic rankings is a powerful way to find qualified prospective customers.

So what online tactic encourages Web 2.0 principles as well as helps with search engine results page rank, visibility and listing-building efforts? Targeted online prospecting polls, also known as “acquisition” or “lead generation” polls.

Based on the specificity of your poll question, online acquisition polls can help you: collect relevant names and email addresses; gauge general market (or subscriber) sentiment; and generate sales (via a redirect to a synergistic promotional page). Polls also allow for interactivity, where participants can sound off about a hot topic.

I’ve been including strategic acquisition polls in my online marketing strategy for nearly a decade now and have rarely been disappointed with the results. Some websites, like surveymonkey.com, allow members to set up free or low-cost surveys and polls. However, it may not allow you to include a name-collection component or a redirect to a promotional or “thank you” webpage, which is essential for a success.

If that’s the case, either ask your Webmaster to build you a proprietary poll platform or use a poll script. You can find examples at hotscripts.com, ballot-box.net/faq.php, and micropoll.com.

Here are seven ways to help create a winning prospecting poll campaign:

1. Engage. Your poll question should engage the reader, encourage participation, pique interest and tie into a current event. And be sure to have a “comments” field where people can make additional remarks. Sample topics: politics, the economy, health, consumer breakthroughs, the stock market, foreign affairs.

2. Relevance. Your poll question should also be related to your product, free e-newsletter editorial, or free bonus report (which can be used as incentive). This will greatly improve your conversion rate. Let’s say your free offer is a sign-up to a stock market e-newsletter and the upsell is a redirect landing page promotion to a paid gold investment newsletter for $39/yr. In that case, your poll question should be tied with the editorial copy and product, something like “Where is gold headed in 2013?” Investors who favor gold (your target audience), will respond to this question … and engage. You are gaining these qualified prospects as leads and perhaps buying customers.

3. Incentive. After people take your poll, tell them that to thank them for their participation, you’re automatically signing them up for your quality, free e-newsletter or e-alerts … which they can opt out of at any time. To reduce the number of bogus email addresses you get, offer an extra incentive free “must-read” report, too. And assuming it’s your policy not to sell or rent email names to third parties (and it should be, based on email best practices), indicate your privacy/anti-spam policy next to the sign-up button on your email sign up form. This will immediately reassure people that it’s safe and worry-free to give you their email addresses.

4. Flag. Having your poll question somehow tie into your product makes the names you collect extremely qualified for future offers. Each name should be flagged by your database folks according to the answer they gave by topic category. You can create buckets for each product segment. Using our investing e-newsletter example, categories could be gold, oil, income, equities, etc. Segmenting the names into such categories will make it easier for you to send targeted offers later.

5. Results. Use the poll feedback for new initiatives. In addition to collecting names, online polls will help you gauge general market opinion—and could help you come up with new products.

6. Bonding. Strengthen your new relationships. You need to reinforce the connection between the poll people just participated in and your e-newsletter. So make sure each name that comes in gets an immediate “thank you” for taking the poll. This could be via autoresponder or redirect “thank you” page. On your “thank you” page/email, can be a link for the downloadable, free e-report you promised. Consider sending a series of informational, warm and fuzzy editorial autoresponders to help new subscribers get to know who you are, what you do and how your e-newsletter will benefit them. This will help improve their lifetime customer value.

7. Results. Gratify participants with the results. Don’t just leave poll participants hanging. Make sure you tell them the results will be published in your free e-newsletter or on your website (to encourage them to check it regularly), and then upload the results, as well as some of your best, most engaging comments. This is great editorial fodder, as well as helpful to increasing website readership and traffic.

Marketers have used polls internally (on their own company websites) for years. But now more than ever, with its cost effectiveness and efficiency, polls can be used to collect targeted leads and interact with prospects.

Polls aren’t just for finding leads, either. They are also great for measuring market sentiment, doing competitor analysis and new product development; which, in turn, can help customer retention, customer service and sales.

The 10 Rules of Social Media Marketing Engagement

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans. Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic. But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix. However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program.

As the social media landscape grows with both mainstream and specialized sites, so will the creative ways to communicate to friends, followers and fans.

Although the current social network behemoths are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, other venues like Pinterest and Google+ are also carving out a niche for themselves. And MySpace still has a strong foothold amongst the younger demographic.

But don’t forget that social marketing isn’t just for networks. Forums, chat rooms, message boards and blogs are the granddaddies of Web 2.0. These venues are where socializing and interacting in communities originated. Some call it old school, others an untapped resource when used correctly in your online marketing mix.

However, before you starting posting away, it’s a good idea to know the “best practices” that help make up a successful social marketing program:

1. Be Aware. Get to know each community’s rules. Each site (network, forum, blog, chat room and bulletin board) has its own set of rules—many you have to agree to, if you read the fine print, when you sign up for membership. If a site has a specific area for promotional or marketing messages, keep posts of this nature restricted to those areas. If rules dictate what type of messages are allowed (such as no overtly self-serving, defamatory, illegal, elicit or pornographic material), follow the rules. Any deviation will prompt a warning by the site’s moderator or immediate ban from the site.

2. Be Active. Don’t be a “hit and run” marketer. In other words, don’t just go in a few times and hit members with your marketing message then forget the site for weeks or months at a time. Get involved. Participate in discussions. Interact with members. Read and respond to engaging posts with no hidden agenda. Involvement encourages interactivity and interactivity solicits followers and reinforces credibility within the community.

3. Be Relevant. Some “rules” are not imposed, but is common sense if you’re a seasoned marketer. Targeting your message to the right, relevant audience will prompt better results. Make sure the community and site itself are synergistic with your goal, target audience and message. Also, ensure you’re posting in sub areas of the site that are relevant to the topic you’re discussing. Many forums have segmented subfolders by category and interest level. This granular dissection to your target audience helps the members easily find the topics they’re interested in and keeps you from muddying the waters in unrelated areas of the site.

4. Be Genuine. Posts that are contrived, unrelated and have a hidden agenda can be seen a mile away. Let the conversations flow organically. Contribute real, thought-provoking comments that members will find interesting. Talk to your audience, not at them. Not every post has to be a marketing message.

5. Be Useful. As a social community member, your goal is to participate in intelligent, useful discussions. Make sure you’re adding value to the site in some way. Your comments should also be valuable to the readers and not random posts. Nothing gets under members’ skin more than messages that are blatant spam.

6. Be Subtle. Many marketers embed their entire message with URLs to whatever page they’re trying to drive traffic to. If a community allows links in your post, use them sparingly. Less is more here. Some sites even have rules about not allowing links in the body copy of a post, but keeping them only in the auto signature field where your username is. Links should be relevant to the post (such as a great article that you want to share with members—then enclose the link so they can read for themselves).

7. Be Balanced. Mix up your messages. Not all your posts have to be promotional (and they shouldn’t be). Hang out in the community. Read other posts. Get to know the members and the site. See which areas have topics and discussions that vibe with you. Mix up your posts. Find balance with the editorial and marketing messages. The idea is to provide value and engage.

8. Be Informative. Be aware of what’s happening in your area of interest. Be able to have intelligent discussions about different news, events and publications under your subject matter. If you see other related articles that you think members would find interesting, even material from other publishers, share the knowledge. After all, that’s ultimately what social media is about.

9. Be Personable. Develop relationships with the community on both a “friend” and an “expert” level (for your area of specialty). Let your personality and credentials shine through with the information you share. Offer free expert advice. Share funny stories. Have witty discussions. Start to truly develop a memorable presence and bond with the community members. This helps your posts stand out in a whirlwind of background noise that passes readers each day in their news feeds.

10. Be Respectful. Don’t spam your fellow members. Some social communities allow users to post their email addresses on their Profile pages. This could lead to a flurry of unsolicited emails from social marketing barracudas who use this personal information for their own self-serving purposes. Remember, just because an email is posted on a user’s profile page doesn’t mean that person opted in to receive solicitations, promotions or similar email communications. Sending unwanted and unsolicited email is spam, plain and simple. Don’t exploit community members’ personal information.

Are You Buying ‘Smart Media?’

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Sadly, with most online advertising experiences, the lagging partner is typically the business owner by no real fault of his or her own … it’s simply from sheer lack of industry knowledge and media savoir-faire.

I’ve been buying online ad space for more than a decade. Here are my personal powerful and money saving tips to buying smart media. These are “must ask” questions that will help you get the most bang for your buck:

1. Competitive analysis—Find out what the typical industry rate is for that particular ad spot and placement in your niche. For instance, if you’re interested in running a 300×250 banner ad, do some research. Call some ad networks and find out what that ad unit costs on the home page and ‘”run of site” within your target niche. What ad units typically get the best clickthrough rates (also known as CTR)? Read some online e-zines or blogs and get an idea on average metrics so you have a benchmark to measure your campaign against.

2. Ad targeting—Find out if the publisher allows day parting (running ad during specific time periods). This can save you money on ad rates, especially using the CPM (cost per thousand) pricing model.

3. Dedicated email—Find out the size of the list you’re thinking of renting, the frequency the list goes out, and the average unit sale (AUS) per subscriber. Ask the publisher who’s mailing for you if there will there be a lift note (an introduction or implied endorsement). Lift notes help “warm up” the list (subscribers) and boost conversions.

4. Out clause—Ask your account executive if the media agreement has an out clause or termination right. This is important as if your campaign is not working, you don’t want to have to ride it out and waste money. You want the ability to end it and cut your losses. Also find out if you can pause your ad during a slow traffic times (i.e. summer, holidays) as not to waste impressions (CPM).

5. Reporting—Ask your account executive if you will be given daily/weekly reporting OR access to the online ad serving system. This will allow you real-time access to clickthrough rates and more to evaluate if creative (banner and landing page) is striking a chord with the target audience.

6. Seasonality—Each industry and niche has its highs and lows. But, generally speaking, it’s typical to see drops in website traffic during summer (June to Aug.) and around certain U.S. holidays. Research your industry and use consumer purchase behavior to your advantage. For instance, in some industries, the days around Thanksgiving are slower than usual. If you’re running a campaign that falls on this timeframe, ask about getting lower rates or pausing your ad during the slowdown. DoubleClick and ClickZ are great sources of information and often release quarterly consumer Web reports on buying patterns and traffic.

7. Exclusivity—Similar to economies of scale (where the more that’s produced, the cheaper the unit price), if your banner ad is sharing space with other advertisers for less “solo” time, you should be paying less. It’s important to ask whether your ad will get 100 percent of the rotations or sharing ad exposure. And if sharing, find out what percentage of exposure you are ultimately getting during your ad run. This is known as being “fixed ad placement” or “shared ad placement.” If you’re told you have shared placement, this is a great bartering tool to get a more competitive rate.

8. Site targeting—You’ve heard in real estate it’s always about location, location, location, right? Well, online real estate is no different. Find out if your ad will be run of site (ROS), run of channel (ROC) or on specific high-traffic pages. Typically, the further you drill down, the more you pay. It’s known as “site targeting.” Similarly, the higher you go up, the less you pay. ROS is the highest (most broad) level, so it’s usually the cheapest ad location. Next is usually ROC, whose ads appear on certain channels or sections of a website. Then there are also specific pages or demographic targeting. Your goals and budget will determine which placement is best for your needs.

9. Remnant space—Often the forgotten about query, remember to ask if remnant space is available. Remnant ads are those ad units that the publisher or ad network is having a difficult time selling for whatever reason. They can also be last-minute specials or units that are now available due to another deal falling through. With more popular, high-traffic websites, you can save a fortune buying remnant media. Just pay close attention to the terms and conditions in the insertion order, as with most special deals, there are usually restrictions and little leeway.

All of these factors will help determine the value of your ad space and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access that audience. Good luck!

4 Methods of Maximizing and Monetizing Mobile Marketing Efforts

A recent study by Google showed nearly 75 percent of consumers surveyed said they want to see mobile-friendly sites. And if you’re site isn’t one of them, you may be losing leads and sales. The fact that we’re a nation that is on-the-go and pretty much living on our smartphones or tablets means that your website should be adapted to these mediums to help monetize your business. It also means that thinking about mobile marketing and how to incorporate various forms of that into your marketing strategy should be high on your list for 2013.

A recent study by Google showed nearly 75 percent of consumers surveyed said they want to see mobile-friendly sites. And if you’re site isn’t one of them, you may be losing leads and sales.

The fact that we’re a nation that is on-the-go and pretty much living on our smartphones or tablets means that your website should be adapted to these mediums to help monetize your business.

It also means that thinking about mobile marketing and how to incorporate various forms of that into your marketing strategy should be high on your list for 2013.

Mobile-Friendly Must-Haves

There are certain “must-haves” that consumers noted they are looking for in a mobile-friendly website. Such features include:

1. Being fast. This means having a site that loads in around five seconds or less.

2. Being user-friendly. Having large buttons, easy search capabilities, limited scrolling or pinching are key, based on consumer feedback. Something to consider is having responsive templates that adjust accordingly based on the user’s device, albeit template, desktop or mobile phone. It’s also important to have quick access to company information, such as easy-to-find business directions, contact numbers, product and purchasing information. Even better, consider adding a “click to call” access button to contact a customer service rep to take an order via the phone, as well as an option for users to visit a non-mobile site.

3. Being social. To continue bonding and viral marketing, don’t forget links to your business’ social media profile page.

If you’re a smaller business that may not have the staff or resources to include these features into your website, there are some free and trial mobile conversion websites worth checking out. These include: http://www.ginwiz.com, http://www.dudamobile.com/ and http://www.mobilizetoday.com.

The App Attack

If you’re pondering if your business “app worthy” or how you can leverage apps for additional sales or leads, here’s some food for thought …

Paid apps could be a great way to add ancillary revenues to your business and free apps could be used for collecting important data (leads), which can be used for cross-selling. Some businesses even obtain revenues through ads that are built in the app from sponsorship partners.

Whichever business model you choose, you still have to decide what your app will feature. Typically, content is king. For instance if you’re a financial publisher, you may consider having an app that has stocks alerts and ideas, technical analysis, commentary and actionable data that your end-user (investors) would find beneficial. Know your audience and decide what kind of content is “app worthy.”

Then, of course, you need to market and distribute your app for increased visibility. You can promote your app though affiliate and joint venture emails, press releases, content marketing, online classifieds, and guerilla marketing in related forums and message boards. You can also include your app in various marketplaces including: Play/Apps Store (Droid and iPhone), BlackBerry Appworld, Apple Apps Store/iTunes, and Amazon Appstore for Android.

Of course, fees and commissions vary, but some are more cost-effective than you think. Here’s a great article with more information: “App Store Fees, Percentages and Payouts: What Developers Need to Know.” I also found a free service worth checking out called Freeappalert.com as an alternate distribution channel for your app.

QR Codes

You’ve seen ’em, those little square bar codes on just about everything these days. But not everyone is using them properly and not every business needs them. QR Codes, used the right way, can be a great way to take offline marketing leads online. For instance, consider putting these little guys on your business cards, collateral material, fulfillment kits, promotional fliers, press kits, brochures and other printed materials. Why? It’s a way for a consumer to “scan” the barcode and be redirected to your sign up/”squeeze page” or promotional webpage to provide further information and, more importantly, collect valuable data on them so you can follow up accordingly.

SMS Texting

Recent studies show that 97 percent of text messages are read within minutes of receiving them. SMS text message marketing allows you to communicate directly to your target market by sending a simple, quick text message. This permission-based program is perfect because your recipients have opted in to receive your messages. If you choose SMS texting for either bonding (editorial) or marketing (promotions), in addition to your standard anti-spam and privacy policy verbiage, make sure on your sign up form it’s clearly stated that subscribers who elect to be contacted this way will receive important messages and special offers from the publisher and select third-party partners, as well as may be subject to text messaging fees from the phone carrier. This article shows a good example of a text message disclaimer: “What Details to Include in a Mobile Marketing Call to Action.”

In my experience, this medium has been most effective with premium-type services where members rely on critical real-time alerts from the publisher that are pure editorial. The marketing aspect is ancillary.

So if you’re looking to be a leader in your industry and not a laggard, it pays to conduct some “due diligence” on your website and think about which mobile marketing strategies may be right for your biz and audience. With our social and communications landscape always changing, staying abreast of the latest tools, trends and is imperative for businesses to survive and thrive.

6 Insider Secrets to a Winning Affiliate Marketing Program

Affiliate marketing has been a viable way to help build ancillary revenues by having someone else market your products. It’s generally cost effective and could involve little work. You can go about this through affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, or simply start an affiliate program on your website and track sales and commissions with affiliate software, such as DirectTrack. Software costs could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars … depending on how robust you’d like your features.

Affiliate marketing has been a viable way to help build ancillary revenues by having someone else market your products. It’s generally cost effective and could involve little work.

You can go about this through affiliate networks, such as Commission Junction or LinkShare, or simply start an affiliate program on your website and track sales and commissions with affiliate software, such as DirectTrack. Software costs could range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars … depending on how robust you’d like your features.

But before you start, make sure you know the critical elements to help grow your affiliate program:

1. Promotion. This is where you’re promoting your actual program on targeted locations, as well as recruiting affiliates to market your program. You’ll want to make sure you list your program on all the top affiliate directories, networks, forums, associations, bulletin boards, websites, listings and blogs (and, by the way, many of these sites are free!). You’ll also want to leverage free classified sites such as Craig’s List, as well as social marketing sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. And, of course, don’t forget to create powerful online press releases (free or paid) promoting the program’s launch and any other noteworthy milestones. Some of my favorite paid and free distribution services are free-press-release.com, PRlog.org, PRWeb.com and PRBuzz.com. You can also distribute these press releases through social marketing and bookmarking sites, including the aforementioned as well as Digg and StumbleUpon. There are many more cost effective ways to promote your program. Just be a strategically creative thinker and the sky’s the limit!

2. Site Awareness. It will be hard to promote your program to a site that doesn’t have a decent Web traffic rank or Web traffic (visits). If your site has poor traffic, a professional affiliate marketer will look at it as a lost opportunity. It will only make his job harder. So make sure to deploy SEO/SEM tactics to improve your site’s presence and traffic before you launch your affiliate program.

3. Online Store. Make sure you know which are your best-selling and most universally appealing products. Those are the ones you’d want to have in your affiliate program. You should also have varied price points. You don’t want to pick prices too low as, after the affiliate split, there won’t be anything left for your own profit. And you don’t want to pick prices too high, as most of these leads are cold, it will be a harder sell. A good range is generally $69 to $300, depending on the product and benefits.

4. Affiliate Rewards. Decide if you’re going to pay out per lead (CPL) or per sale. Decide if you’re going to have a flat commission rate or a tiered system. Do your competitive research and see what other, similar affiliate programs are paying out. You want to be competitive, as that, besides brand recognition, will be your two strongest areas of appeal to a potential affiliate. Some of the best performing programs on the Web are offering a commission of 25 percent of the product price. So do your due diligence for commission rates.

5. Analytics. Make sure you have a robust reporting system. You’ll want the ability to track underperformers and super affiliates, and reward OR incent accordingly. You’ll also want to know which creatives are performing the best and worst and, of course, how many sales and leads are coming in, as well as how long the lead is staying on the file and their lifetime value (sales).

6. Keeping In Touch. Top affiliate programs often have a newsletter or ongoing communication to keep their affiliates engaged … up-to-date on latest products being offered, special sales incentives, updates to program terms, and other newsworthy notes.

Affiliate marketing can help with most all of your online marketing objectives … lead gen, sales conversions, Web traffic, branding and buzz. Not having one could be detrimental to your business.

Boost Your Website Sales: 8 Simple E-commerce Tips That Really Work

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert? This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert?

This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

Here are a few things you could do to boost online sales and gain loyal customers. These can be applied and refined for most any business, industry or niche:

1. Make Sure Your SSL Seal And Other Consumer-Trust Logos Are Prominent. SSL or secure socket layer is a sign that the site is encrypted … that the information consumers enter, such as personal and credit card information, is protected. Most e-commerce sites must file for an SSL certificate from vendors such as VeriSign, GoDaddy, eTrust, TRUSTe and others. It’s a good practice to display the vendor’s logo on your order page, as well as make sure in the browser window the “https” or image of a lock is present. This is a clear and comforting sign to consumers that they can order online with confidence. Other logos that are in plain view and are anchors on each page of your website can also instill confidence with potential buyers. Some may require membership or purchase, when applicable, and may include Better Business Bureau (“BBB”), PayPal Verified, Authorize.net Verified Merchant and virus protection software (i.e. “McAfee Secure”). Also, if you accept credit cards and have a money back guarantee, there’s nothing more powerful than strong, eye-catching graphic image icons, such as “100% Money Back Guarantee” or “We Accept All Major Credit Cards” (than have images of Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Discover).

2. Encourage Online Sales vs. Other Response Mechanisms. Offer special “Internet Only Pricing” to customers. It could be a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent if they order online versus by phone, fax or mail. This reduces any potential overhead costs for staffing fees, such as telesales or order entry personnel. These Web-only specials can be highlighted on your homepage via a banner ad, as well as on your product pages near qualified items.

3. Offer Free Shipping. Many e-tailers already factor all or a portion of shipping into the retail price of an item as part of their COGS (cost of goods sold). If you are truly offering free shipping, already factored shipping into the product’s cost, or are simply having a limited time free shipping special—if you’re offering it, mention it—big and bold on your home page. Free shipping offers have a huge psychological affect on consumers when they’re comparing competitor’s products and websites. In addition to product quality and value, offering free shipping can make all the difference regarding the final purchase decision.

4. Use Buyer Feedback To Your Advantage. Have an area on your website or indicate next to select items “Customer Favorite” or “Hot Item.” Also, have some glowing customer testimonials or reviews next to the product itself for potential prospects to see. Sites like Amazon, Babies”R”Us and others are pros at this strategy as well as using ratings and ‘Likes’ to convey a product’s popularity. Consumers like to feel good about the item they are about to purchase. as well as see that it’s popular with the masses. Seeing a great testimonial and knowing that others purchased the product provides validation and a feeling of comfort to a consumer. In addition to helping the conversion rate, this tactic also helps reduce buyer’s remorse and product returns.

5. Advertise Products in Google Shopping (formerly Google Product Search, and before that, Froogle). http://www.google.com/shopping is a free product information platform from Google where you can post a single item or submit a data feed. Your products will appear in Google Product search and may also appear in Google.com search results, depending on keywords used. This is simple and easy way to increase your product’s visibility and market share.

6. Make Sure Your Product Pages are Optimized for Search Engines. Sounds obvious, but many folks overlook their catalog and product pages. After doing some keyword research on actual search behavior for your product, refine your meta description, meta keywords and title tag of your product pages. This will help consumers find your product in the organic listing of search engine results.

7. Have a Special Coupon Code “Call Out” On Your Home Page. This is a best practice with online fashion retailers who typically have a banner ad or interstitial ad on their homepage stating something like, “Summer Blow Out Sale, Use Coupon Code 1234.” But this concept can be applied to virtually any industry. This is another great way to offer a special discount for your online customers that makes them feel good about the purchase. You can also encourage viral activity by having “forward to friend” or “share” create viral marketing. Make sure to have some great intro copy mentioning how customers should “pass on the great savings to friends, family and colleagues.”

8. Consider Payment Plans. For higher-ticket items, consider setting up extended payment plans that allow customers to pay for an item over a few payments. HSN.com and QVC.com have mastered this. If an item is, let’s say, $200, you might want to offer a flex pay option of “6 easy payments of $33.33” that is conveniently auto-billed to their credit card. Just be diligent when calculating your payment prices, as well as creating your return/refund policy for these items. The general rule is that your actual production costs/hard costs should be covered in the first one to three payments.

It’s all about being strategically creative and taking the consumer’s point of view into account regarding e-comm strategies. Remember to keep testing methods that help improve sales and drive prospects to your storefront.

Make note of when you implement new tactics and then after a month of being live. Compare sales results year-over-year to see if your efforts had made an improvement. I’m confident that you will see a positive difference in your online conversion rates.

Backlink Pruning: A Staple ‘Best’ Practice, Especially in Penguin’s Aftermath

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list. Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive. The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list.

Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive.

The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

It’s always a best practice, from a search engine hygiene standpoint, to monitor and “prune” your backlinks to make sure you don’t have spammy or irrelevant websites linking back to you.

And now more than ever, with Google’s latest update, it’s prudent to check your own website’s backlinks to ensure those who are linking to you are relevant and synergistic to your own site’s content.

Here’s what you need to know (and do!):

First, check out some free online tools that do this, known as “backlink checkers.” Some that I use are:

But there are many out there. You can simply type a search for “free backlink checker tool” and see which one appeals best to you.

Second, after you plug in your website’s URL in the backlink checker tool, go down the results list and see who’s linking back to you. Note: This is a laborious process, but well worth it; especially if you noticed your traffic and SERP placement dropped recently and you may have speculated that Penguin is to blame.

Next, identify the sites that appear to be irrelevant and non-related to your website—a site in a totally different industry or one that is blatantly spam. Then it’s simply the manual process of visiting the bad backlinks website and contacting them to remove the link going to your site.

If you happen to find dozens of irrelevant and potentially harmful websites, for the sake of time management, it’s best to create one form letter and send to each asking each site to remove its backlink to your site in an effort to avoid/recover from a Google penalty.

List the specifics about the irrelevant URL, such as where it can be found (its entire URL), where it links to (which page on your site), and any anchor text. Your goal is to give the other website as much useful information as possible so they can easily find the link and remove it from your site.

Sometimes, it’s easy to find contact information for the irrelevant backlink’s website owner. You simply visit the corresponding website link and search their site for contact information or a “Contact Us” page.

Other times it’s a bit harder, and you may need to do a bit of sleuthing and use some additional free tools to help determine the website’s owner. Such tools are:

  • Domaintools.com: If you want to find out who owns the site your link is on,
    visit domain tools or type “whois.sc” in front of a URL.
  • C-Class Checker: If you have a list of all the links you want to get rid of,
    you can run them through a bulk C-class checker to see how many of them
    are on the same C-class.
  • SpyonWeb: If you only have 1 URL to work with, this tool lets you find out

what other domains they are associated with. Just put in a website URL,
IP address or even the Google analytics or AdSense code and you can find
all of the websites that are connected to it. Keep a record of all efforts to
contact “bad links,” as it will show Google you’ve been making a good effort
to get rid of these irrelevant links.

If you received notification from Google or found that the Panda or Penguin updates have affected your website’s rank and SERP visibility and believe there may have been an error of some sort, there is some recourse …

Google has a quick and easy form you can fill out to pinpoint search terms that you believe you shouldn’t be penalized for.

Good luck!