The 3 Habits of Successful Social Publishers

Publishers who represent non-fiction authors and experts can use social media to drive sales of books and information products by following the three habits of successful social publishers. Successful publishers who know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it rely on developing three habits.

Publishers who represent non-fiction authors and experts can use social media to drive sales of books and information products by following the three habits of successful social publishers.

Successful publishers who know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it rely on developing three habits. These are:

  1. Getting back to basics by solving readers’ problems on social media.
  2. Designing to sell, provoking responses from prospective buyers in ways that connect with authors’ books, coaching and other products.
  3. Translating, discovering customers’ evolving needs and desires, using them to induce sales transactions.

You can immediately begin selling books and other info products on social media platforms by applying these three success principles. Let’s look at each more closely and make them actionable in your everyday work life—let’s make them habits.

Habit No. 1: Solve Problems and Create Experiences
Here’s how the idea of solving problems to create sales works for non-fiction books, reference kits and informational products like webinars, DVD collections, etc. The main idea is to use social media platforms to:

  1. Provide answers to potential buyers’ most common questions in ways that provoke more questions (that your books answer!);
  2. Make it easy for the prospect to take action—to actually do something that puts them on the path to understanding why your book/product features THE hands-down expert/knowledge; and
  3. Give prospects a chance to actually begin to experience the power of your publications’ wisdom/method/solution through a small sample of the real product.

This is the best way to effectively coax or nurture prospects toward buying books, webinars or any kind of published information products. The objective with social media is to convert visitors to a lead. Then it’s up to you to nurture this lead into becoming a buyer of your books and information products.

But good news: This is easy work if you follow the formula.

Habit No. 2: Provoke Response and Earn a Lead
Blogging using this technique helps buyers discover answers to specific problems in search engines and make subtle yet direct, controllable connections with what you want to sell them. You see, when readers type specific questions into Google or Bing, your blog (or your authors’ blog, assuming you’ve coached him/her on this technique) will pop up and direct them to experts and authors with terrifically useful answers—yours.

The trick is to supply prospects with answers (within the blog post) in limited, short-form ways that provoke them to interact more with you/your author… so they can more clearly understand the thought you just provoked.

The key to selling more books and products is to answer potential buyers’ questions in ways that allow distribution of small samples of the more comprehensive solutions your books or products provide. To accomplish this, simply give prospects a clear pathway to “get more of that kind of thinking” into their heads/companies; give prospects something to sign-up for.

Help prospects act on their impulses by giving them a way to “get more” of what you just sampled. Mix in a direct response marketing element—a clear, irresistible call to action.

Habit No. 3: Begin a Courtship, Not a Drive-By
It is best to not ask prospects to trade their email for a whitepaper or access to a single video. Yes, most B-to-B marketers do this, but please don’t do it yourself. Don’t do a drive-by!

Grabbing at email addresses (just because you can) will reduce both the take and conversion rates. Ultimately, prospects likely will not connect taking the offer with your lead follow-up routine. They will feel spammed and unsubscribe.

Think about it in your own experience. Ever download a paper only to become part of an irrelevant sales follow-up call? Compare this to opting-in to a series of logical email messages that helped you get clear on something or learn a new skill.

Bottom line: You don’t need prospects’ email addresses to deliver a single piece of knowledge. Instead, when you give prospective buyers a way to act on their impulses, just be sure to set the context.

This (action your prospect takes) begins an educational process or journey for them. This approach will make it easier to connect your ultimate product pitch to that journey in ways that create more conversions.

Don’t Quit!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed join the club but don’t quit. Social media marketing is heaping on more work—and you’ve already got too many to-do’s on your list, I know. You may even be skeptical that social media can help publishing companies create sales. It’s tough moving beyond being liked, followed or re-tweeted.

Successful publishers know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it relies on developing three habits. These are solving readers’ problems on social media, designing it to sell (by provoking responses from prospective buyers in ways that connect with books, coaching and other relevant products) and translatin—discovering customers’ evolving needs & desires, using them to induce sales transactions.

To Gate or Not to Gate, That Is the B-to-B Content Marketing Question

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (aka “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

There’s a spirited debate in B-to-B marketing about whether it’s best to give away information (AKA “content,” like white papers and research reports) to all comers, versus requiring Web visitors to provide some information in exchange for a content download. In other words, to gate your content or not to gate. The debate involves aspects of both ROI and philosophy. Here’s why.

I know that plenty of very smart and well-respected Internet marketing experts line up with dear old Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who famously said in 1984 that information “wants to be free.” The underlying assumption there is that people buy from companies that they trust—a valid point, to be sure. Casting a net through free—unimpeded—distribution of content encourages both trust and, perhaps more importantly, wide dispersal and sharing of information. You’ll get to a much bigger audience, who will be educated on the solutions to their business problems, will be grateful for the free info and, one hopes, will think of you when they’re ready to buy. So far, so good.

The problem is that this model—which lives under the umbrella concept known as “inbound marketing”—leaves marketers in a serious quandary. We don’t have any way of knowing who is reading our informative, educational and helpful content. We are left sitting on our thumbs, unable to take any proactive steps toward building relationships with these potential prospects. All we can do is wait for them to contact us and, we hope, ask us to participate in an RFP process, or, more likely, give them more info and more answers to their questions. Is that any way to sustain and grow a business relationship—not to mention meet a revenue target? In my view, it leaves too much to chance.

Let’s look at the numbers. The ROI model for inbound marketing says that distributing the content to a wide audience will eventually result in more sales than gating the content and marketing proactively to a smaller universe. Let’s look at how these numbers might actually work:

To start the conversation, say that wide distribution would put your content in front of 10,000 prospects, via free downloads and pass-along.

In contrast, we might similarly assume that by gating, and requiring some contact information in exchange for the content download, we would only get 1 percent of that distribution: 100 prospects. These are now legitimate inquirers, and we can conduct outbound communications to them. By applying typical campaign conversion rates, we could predict that of 100 inquiries, 20 percent will qualify—producing 20 qualified leads. Of those, we’ll be able to contact 50 percent (or 10), and of them 20 percent will convert, resulting in 2 sales.

But how many sales will we get from the 10,000 with whom have no direct connection? It’s hard to say. When inquiries come in, we can ask where they heard of us, and certainly some will say they read the white paper, or whatever content we put into circulation. But this data tends to be unreliable. Inquirers usually don’t remember how they heard of you, or they just make up an answer to get the question out of the way.

This is exactly why business marketers debate the subject with such vigor. We have data, and thus proof, on the gating side. But we only have conjecture on the other. So it boils down to which side you believe. It’s tough to do sustainable marketing on faith.

Myself, I grew up as a marketer in the world of measurable direct and database marketing. So it’s no surprise that I favor the gating side of the fence. I like marketing campaigns that provide predictable results. Where I can stand up in court and show a history of my campaign response rates, conversion rates, and cost-per-lead numbers. And most important, where I can reasonably expect to deliver a steady stream of qualified leads to my sales counterparts, who are relying on me to help them meet their quotas.

So that’s my argument for gating content in B-to-B marketing. I understand the logic of the other side. And I see clearly situations where it makes sense to let the information run free-as a teaser, for example, to persuade prospects to come and get the richer information that is so useful that they’ll be falling all over themselves to give me their name, title, company name and email address. But what about you? Where do you sit in this debate? It’s a biggie.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

How to Craft a Compelling Offer for Search Engine Marketing

The best way to motivate a click online is to make a compelling offer and provide an urgent call to action. This is not news to Internet marketers. But when it comes to search engine advertising, like Google AdWords, you need to think about your offer and call to action a bit differently. The secret is coming up with an offer that attracts qualified prospects, to maintain conversion rates—instead of bringing in tire-kickers who are only interested in getting a quick deal, and won’t actually buy.

The best way to motivate a click online is to make a compelling offer and provide an urgent call to action. This is not news to Internet marketers. But when it comes to search engine advertising, like Google AdWords, you need to think about your offer and call to action a bit differently. The secret is coming up with an offer that attracts qualified prospects, to maintain conversion rates—instead of bringing in tire-kickers who are only interested in getting a quick deal, and won’t actually buy.

Two important considerations undergird this point:

  1. You only have 95 characters, spread over four lines of type, to play with.
  2. Since you are paying for each click, your ROI depends more on quality than on quantity.

In direct marketing offer theory, this is called managing the “offer equation,” which says that response quality is inversely related to response quantity. In other words, the sweeter the offer, the higher the response, and the less likely the respondents are to become profitable customers. Conversely, a lower response brings in a more committed prospect, one who is likely to prove more valuable over time—just costlier to acquire.

So the ideal in search engine advertising is to identify an attractive offer that also qualifies. And, it needs to be very simple, so it can be communicated with minimal investment of your precious 95 characters.

Here are some excellent offers that serve both purposes: simplicity and quality control:

  • Free shipping. A great way to differentiate yourself in a highly competitive environment. Free shipping is very appealing to prospective buyers, but because it is only redeemed on purchase, it’s successful in the equation management game.
  • Free trial. Another classic equation management tactic. Only people who are serious about your product will be likely to take it on trial. But you still get the power of the word “free.” In the tech world, a free software download has been a proven winner of this type.
  • Free gift with purchase. Another way to motivate conversion, versus mere click-through, and easy to explain. But it does take up a bit more real estate than free shipping or free trial.
  • Free information. Always a popular and productive offer in business markets, where buyers need detailed information as part of their purchase process. Examples include a free case study, research report, or white paper. Qualifies beautifully.

To be avoided are generous offers that motivate high response but poor quality. A free mug or t-shirt, with no strings attached, for example. Unless you can otherwise qualify the target with a highly selective keyword or phrase.

Have you come up with a compelling offer to motivate quality responses in B-to-B search engine advertising? Let’s share ideas.

A version of this post appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

An ABC Introduction to Data Mining for Dollars: Slicing and Dicing Your In-House List for Profit (Part 2 of 2)

In my last post, I introduced the RFM method, an effective direct response strategy to slice and dice your list for better conversion rates. The “R” represented recency—how long your customers have been with you. Today, I’m going to talk about the other components of frequency and monetary.

In my last post, I introduced the RFM method, an effective direct response strategy to slice and dice your list for better conversion rates.

The “R” represented recency—how long your customers have been with you.

Today, I’m going to talk about the other components of frequency and monetary:

Frequency
This segmentation tactic is another way to break down your house list: by how frequently customers have bought from you. So once you’ve divided your list based on recency, you look at it in terms of your customers’ purchase behavior. First, you identify your multi-buyers—customers who’ve purchased more than one product from you. You then split this list further, segmenting out two-time, three-time, four-time (and more) buyers. Those who have bought from you most often have proven their loyalty and obviously like the products and services they’ve been getting from you.

So if, for example, you’re considering launching a new product with a high price point, these would be your best prospects.

Monetary
Finally, you look at your list in terms of money. One way to do this is to divide your list by the amount of money each customer has spent with you. You might, for example, assign a benchmark dollar amount, such as $5,000, $10,000 or more. Customers at that level make up your “premium buyers.” This is the group that has the most favorable LTV for your company. These are your “VIPs.” Once you discover who your VIPs are, you can design products or offers specifically for them. Let’s say you have some kind of exclusive—and expensive—lifetime membership club. You would market this to multi-buyers who also fall into your “premium buyer” category.

If you offer payment options to your customers, another monetary way to divide your list is according to the payment options they have chosen: monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc. This will help you determine the initial purchase tolerance of each group of customers and which ones may respond best to future price points. As you can see, by looking at your customers’ purchasing habits—recency, frequency and monetary—you can identify the best customers for certain products. And by offering a product to customers who are likely to want it, you can improve your conversion rates.

By using the proven RFM method and other data-mining techniques, I’ve seen conversion rates double and triple. I’ve also seen inactive subscribers’ open rates surge from 0 percent to more than 30 percent.

However, many companies that send emails don’t have the capacity for data mining.
Unfortunately, some smaller businesses or start-up companies typically cut robust email features and analytics for cost savings. Oftentimes, these companies save money using online email service providers that can certainly get the job done, but don’t offer segmentation tools that allow for list analysis, where you can dissect your database into subgroups or “buckets.”

So when you’re searching for an email service provider, try to project what your segmentation needs may be going forward and if data mining is a strategy that you’ll want to deploy.

Hot Tip! When looking at email marketing companies, make sure you ask if there’s a list segmentation or data mining feature that can easily be done through their email platform. Find out the level of segmentation capacity (how far the segmentation of data can be drilled down to); if certain segmentation features are a standard feature or an upgrade; and what those costs may be on a monthly basis. Sometimes it may be an additional fee, but will certainly pay for itself over time.

An ABC Introduction to Data Mining for Dollars: Slicing and Dicing Your In-House List for Profit (Part 1 of 2)

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

Today, I’ll show you how you can segment your database of names to boost sales, increase bonding and shorten conversion time. Data mining, list segmentation or strategic database marketing is basically the art of slicing and dicing your own in-house list of names for optimal performance. You do this to help increase the response of your promotional and conversion efforts.

You see, once you divide your list of names into smaller groups (known as segmentation), you can target your product offers and promotional messages to each of those groups. By customizing your marketing messages based on specific customer needs, you’ll be promoting products to people who are more likely to buy them. You increase your customers’ satisfaction rate as well as your potential conversion rates. And higher conversion rates mean more money for your company.

One data-mining model is the RFM method. It’s practiced by direct response marketers all over the world. “R” stands for Recency—how recently a customer has made a purchase. “F” stands for Frequency—how often the customer makes a purchase. And “M” stands for Monetary—how much the customer spends. Here’s how you can use the RFM method to help lift your sales.

Recency
Whether your house list is made up of people who signed up to receive your free e-zine or people who paid for a subscription, you can segment your database according to how long your subscribers have been with you. For instance, you can create categories such as: 0-6 months, 6-12 months, and 12-plus months. You would look at these groups as your hot subs (newest subscribers 0-3 months), warm subs (mid-point subscribers) and cool subs (those who have been subscribing to your e-zine the longest, 12-plus months).

Here’s one way you can put that data to use …

Let’s say some of your “cool subs” have lost their initial enthusiasm for your e-zine. You could cross-reference those names with their open rates. If most of these subscribers haven’t been opening your e-zine in six, nine or 12 months, you may consider sending them a special message asking to reengage them. These “inactive” subscribers are a great group on which to test new marketing approaches, new prices and new subject lines. Since this group is not responding to your current emails, why not use this as a platform to reengage AND test? Your “hot subs” are your newest, most enthusiastic subscribers. They are ripe to learn more about you, your products and your services. If you handle this group properly, you can cultivate them into cross-sell and up-sell customers.

For example, send your “hot subs” a special introductory series of emails (also known as auto responder series). This special series would encourage bonding and introduce readers to your e-zine’s contributors and overall philosophy. It could also tempt readers with specially priced offers. Sending an introductory series like this can not only increase the number of subscribers who convert to paying customers, it also increases their lifetime value (LTV)—the amount they spend with you over their lifetime as your customer. Hot Tip! Make sure to suppress the recipients of your auto responders from any promotional efforts until the series is complete to ensure more effective bonding.

If, instead of subscribers to a free e-zine, your house list is made up of people who paid for their subscription, the same segmentation process applies. You break your active subscribers into hot subs, warm subs and cool subs. You also break out “expires” (those who allowed their subscription to run out) and “cancels” (those who cancelled their subscription).

Cross-marketing to these lists is usually effective. The expires oftentimes simply forget to renew and need a reminder. And just because someone cancelled one subscription doesn’t mean they may not be ideal for another service or product that you provide. If they’re still willing to receive email messages from you, add these folks to your promotional lists. Once you’ve gotten these cancelled subscribes to open your messages, turning them into paying customers is just a matter of time. Most Internet marketers would have written these people off. So any revenue you get from them is ancillary.

Next time, I’ll go into Frequency and Monetary, the two other components of the RFM model. So stay tuned!

7 Customer Survey Tips, or How to Know Your Customer For Increased Leads & Profits

Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you, one of the most important rules of thumb is “know thy customer” (KTC). For many years, I’ve found the best way to KTC is implementing periodic customer surveys, then creating a “customer profile” sheet. 

Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you, one of the most important rules of thumb is “know thy customer” (KTC).

Knowing who your customers are—not just on a superficial level, but also on a deeper level—is fundamental for business longevity. It can help your business with most any targeted marketing efforts such as social media marketing (communities with like-minded interests), direct mail and email list selection, copywriting, media buying, affiliate marketing and more. It can also help with bottom-line goals such as bonding, lead generation and sales.

For many years, I’ve found the best way to KTC is implementing periodic customer surveys, then creating a “customer profile” sheet. Ideally, you want to survey at least two times per year, especially after large attrition or list growth.

The profile sheet is important, as it’s a quick reference of your “Joe and Jane” customers, as well as your ideal ‘target’ lead. After all, your prospecting efforts should be a reflection of your current customer base.

But surprisingly enough, not every business knows how to effectively implement and data-mine its online surveys and the respective results.

Here are some quick tips to get the best performance from your customer surveys for business growth and retention:

1. Keep surveys easy and short. The ideal length should be no longer than 10 to 20 questions and questions should be easy to answer. That means thinking of typical questions and having pre-populated multiple choice answers that only need a mouse click.

2. Go 360. Questions should cover demographics, geographics and psychographics. Also, for potential joint venture or advertising opportunities, it’s smart to also ask some competitor and purchase-behavioral type questions.

3. Segmentation is key. Send at least two separate emails to your list. One survey to paying customers and one survey to non-paying customers (leads). It will help later to have these two segments separated when you review response results. If one segment is less responsive than another, you can isolate future “bonding” strategies.

4. Offer incentives. I like to offer free, immediate and easily accessible gifts for survey participation after completion of a survey. Once users submit their last response they are redirected to a download page to free reports or similar. People are taking time out of their schedule and should be “rewarded” accordingly.

5. Be creative with the email subject line. I’ve found that response is greater if the focus of the subject line is more on the reward, rather than the goal. Readers respond better to the mention of freebies and gifts (the “what’s in it for me”), than asking for survey completion. Survey subject lines are viewed as clinical and boring, thus glared over in the inbox.

6. Embrace online tools. Use an easy, cost-effective online survey, such as SurveyMonkey.com. There’s different options and price points, varying on need and robustness. But ideally, you’d want to be able to collect emails and tie responses down to the user (email) level.

7. Allow feedback. Always have an “other” field for open comments. People like to either vent or add praise, so don’t limit them with only having all multiple choice. I tend to make this option the last question.

If you’ve set up your survey correctly where you can drill down responses to the user (email) level, you can then created “buckets” (categories) of common themes. For example, buckets could be based on RFM (recency, frequency or monetary) or on other categories such as interests.

You can then use this information for database marketing efforts and send more personalized messages to your list by group (or “bucket”). This targeted marketing approach has been proven to increase open, click, response and conversion rates by more than double!

Not surveying your list is really doing a disservice. You are not really getting to know your customers; thereby, aren’t offering your best editorial or promotional messages, or creating the best products.

If you’re truly looking for better retention, more customer engagement, and increased sales or leads, then make the time to survey your list.

If you’ve never done this before, then you’re truly leaving money on the table, my friend.

Maximize Holiday Sales

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

Community tagging. Tag existing offline marketing efforts with Facebook/Twitter tags. Integrate “Like” opportunities at key touchpoints, such as your homepage and product pages. A recent study from Syncapse and Hotspex found the lifetime value of a Facebook fan is about $136 to top brands. Consider offering an incentive to encourage consumers to become a fan of your brand, such as making a donation to a cause/charity for each sign-up. And remember to stress the value of being a fan or follower. Adding a “Like” button or “Join the Community” call to action only makes return on investment sense if you have a strategy and communication framework established to engage the community once you’ve converted them.

Belly up to barcodes. It’s estimated as much as 70 percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of sale (POS). Therefore, it’s critical to stand out on store shelves and to offer some extra value. How about integrating new 2-D barcodes, which enables consumers to use their smartphones to “Like” your brand or product at the POS? Also, pay close attention to mobile applications like Foursquare, which now boasts more than 4 million users. Mobile will increasingly become a critical channel to not only acquire new customers, but grow the community and drive sales via the serving of location-based offers.

Segment and socialize. Implement sharing capabilities on banner ads and email marketing efforts. For existing email efforts, segment your audience based on engagement and social profiles. By targeting best customers and testing various incentives, you can encourage your best customers to get actively involved in the promotion of your brand, thus extending your marketing efforts’ reach and effectiveness. Remember to not only identify who shared the information, but flag them as an influencer for future campaigns.

Email, social and loyalty. Lots has been written about the integration of email and social media. But the importance of coordinating efforts across channels cannot be underestimated. Coordinate socialized email deployments with Facebook and Twitter posts. Furthermore, for those of you with established loyalty programs and sites, don’t forget to sweeten the deal for loyalty members.

The old rule still applies: With proper pampering, your best customers will become your best advocates. Studies and data also show that they buy more products and purchase more often, so remember to treat them extra special. Integrate offers into loyalty websites and statements, and highlight additional benefits for your best customers.

Remarketing/targeting. If you’re a direct response marketer, you likely have access to lots of data. Start with the basics this holiday season by implementing a remarketing strategy for key efforts. With average open rates hovering around 20 percent, look closely at open/click activity and resend offers based on observed behaviors and actions. Consider sweetening offers when and where appropriate. Implementation of a remarketing strategy can lift overall conversion rates anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent.

However, be careful not to annoy your customers. Be conscious of the law of diminishing returns. Also, look closely at website data and leverage cookie/pixel technologies to target users both onsite and offsite via ad networks with relevant, targeted offers based on their profiles and behaviors. Don’t forget to review your privacy policy, always be transparent and offer users the opportunity to opt out.

Search and destroy. Search remains an effective and efficient vehicle to drive desired behaviors as consumers are actively in the market for your products/services. But search remains underleveraged. Think carefully about corresponding landing pages, and look to integrate data-capture opportunities that offer relevant value to encourage subscriptions. Doing so will allow you to continue the conversation. Also, pump up your search marketing efforts by adding social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and “Likes” for your social efforts.

Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation forecasted holiday sales to increase 2.3 percent, slightly lower than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. While this year’s estimate represents a significant improvement over last year, marketers must continue to look for operational and marketing efficiencies. That means working smarter, not harder. While paying close attention to supply chain management, inventory control and minimizing markdowns is a must, marketing must overdeliver as well. Marketers must learn to better leverage data, their best customers and emerging/efficient channels like mobile, social media and email to drive sales in today’s difficult market.

Affiliates: Redefining the Original Performance Marketing Channel

As the original performance marketing channel, affiliate marketing has been effectively driving performance-based sales since the mid-90s. But the characteristics of an effective affiliate program have changed dramatically over the years. Whether marketers choose a closed or open affiliate program, or optimize their program monthly or annually, they should view affiliates differently today than they have in the past.

As the original performance marketing channel, affiliate marketing has been effectively driving performance-based sales since the mid-90s. But the characteristics of an effective affiliate program have changed dramatically over the years. Whether marketers choose a closed or open affiliate program, or optimize their program monthly or annually, they should view affiliates differently today than they have in the past.

When evaluating the worth of any affiliate in any given program, ask yourself questions that consider the increasingly mobile, social and local reality of today’s online world. A few starting point questions include the following:

  • Do your affiliates actively work for you?
  • Do your affiliates develop content around your products/categories to improve natural search exposure?
  • Do they generate new traffic/users to your site, both online and offline?
  • Do they use social networks like Facebook or Twitter to encourage brand interaction?

In some cases, the onus falls on marketers to do more to empower affiliates — i.e., arming them with vital brand information to help them drive high-quality sales and more volume. That includes the following:

  • insights on what the best-selling products are;
  • seasonal issues to be aware of, including holidays;
  • dates of catalog drops;
  • seasonal product lines;
  • anything unique about the marketer’s products;
  • proven tactics that have worked with customers; and
  • the type of conversion rates typically experienced.

Marketers should proactively provide affiliates with this critical merchandising information to help them work effectively for their brands.

Give affiliates relevant and timely content, such as how-to articles, important/relevant trends and customer reviews. Provide affiliates with compelling creative assets, including valuable promotions and special offers. Offering great resources for content can help affiliates perform better on natural search and/or increase the clickthrough rate of an advertiser’s promotions by establishing credibility with prospects.

Likely the most substantial change affiliates have had to deal with in recent years is the emergence of social media. Social media has opened up many new opportunities for affiliates. Marketers should seek out affiliate partners that add value by actively embracing this new medium.

Social media offers affiliates an additional distribution channel to interact with consumers. Similar to brands, affiliates use social media to gain followers, generate traffic, distribute offers and promotions, and drive conversions for retailers. Social media enables affiliates to engage more with consumers than ever before, creating deeper relationships with consumers who opt in as brand advocates by becoming fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Seek out affiliate partners with loyal user bases; social media prowess often provides a good indication of this loyalty.

Careful consideration to these crucial questions will help marketers better understand which affiliates are their best channel partners and which might have the most untapped potential. After all, the original performance marketing channel is here to stay. Updating one’s view of the channel will help you remain strong and keep a competitive edge.

* Special thanks to contributing authors Leo Dalakos and Megan Halscheid of Performics.

6 Questions to Ask Your SEO Copywriter

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post on how and when to outsource your SEO.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

SEO copywriting professionals can have a wide variety of skill sets, from the newbie who is just getting her virtual feet wet to the uber-experienced direct response professional who is also a whiz at SEO. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are six questions to ask any prospective SEO copywriter.

1. What kind of experience do you have?
SEO copywriting is different. Someone may be a fantastic direct response copywriter. But if he doesn’t have SEO copywriting experience, he may not be your best choice. Why? Because SEO copywriting is part geeky knowledge, part creative brilliance. Not only will your new hire have to have “normal” copywriting skills, but he’ll also need to know how to choose keyphrases, set a strategy and weave keyphrases into your copy the right way. Some folks are self-taught, but the best SEO copywriters have had some hands-on training. A combination of solid experience plus additional training (for instance, being Certified in SEO copywriting) ensures that you have a quality candidate.

2. What do you charge, and what’s included in the price?
You may think that a writer’s price is incredibly inexpensive, but make sure that you know what’s included in the rate. Just like when you buy a plane ticket, some writers charge a low per-page rate, but then add on “extras” like keyphrase research, a per-page keyphrase strategy, and creating titles and meta descriptions. That’s great for some clients. But if you need lots of extras (such as when you don’t have a per-page keyphrase strategy in place), know that you’ll be paying more per page.

3. How has your writing boosted your clients’ revenues?
Yes, we all want top-10 search engine rankings, and your SEO copywriter plays a huge part in making that happen. However, there’s a bigger question to ask: Will your copywriter make you money? Ask your copywriter how her writing has helped to increase conversion rates. She may tell a story about how one landing page generated $25,000 in almost instant revenue. Or how SEO copywriting training helped to increase revenues by 27 percent. If a copywriter can’t give you specifics, dig deeper. Sometimes, the copywriter doesn’t have access to analytics, so his non-specific answer isn’t his fault. At the same time, he should have one heck of a testimonial portfolio and other street-cred to make up for it.

4. Do you outsource to other copywriters?
You may have felt an instant connection when you chatted with the copywriting agency. But will the outgoing and whip-smart woman you spoke with on the phone be the same person writing your copy? Maybe. Ask your copywriter if she outsources. If she says “yes,” ask for a writing sample from the person who will be doing the writing. Outsourcing isn’t a bad thing. But as the client, you have a right to know the players and the process. (Side note: If you don’t hear the “main” copywriter discuss how she evaluates every piece of copy before a client sees it, run away fast.)

5. What kind of ongoing education do you receive?
SEO copywriting is not a “set it and forget it” kind of skill set. The search engines are ever-changing and what worked six months ago may not work today. Plus, new neuromarketing, eye-tracking and information-processing research is changing the way copywriters write content. Ask what kind of sites, conferences and research your copywriter is tracking. If she says, “I don’t keep up with techie stuff,” she still may be an awesome copywriter … but she may not have the necessary SEO skills to really do the job (depending on the skill level you need).

6. What other skills do you bring to the table?
Some SEO copywriters can take on a full-scale SEO campaign and thrive, replacing your need for another SEO company (this is especially true for small businesses.) Other SEO copywriters can train your team, build links and even write that e-book that’s been on your “to-do” list for years. Once you love and trust your new writer, explore how else she can help you. You may find that your SEO copywriter can help you grow your business in many additional ways—and you’ll have a trusted marketing partner who can create killer, high-converting (and positioning) copy.

10 Ways to Boost Your Conversion Rates

When I was at the eTail East conference in Baltimore earlier this month, I noticed one presentation was repeatedly discussed by attendees and other presenters after the fact.

It was a presentation by Megan Burns, senior analyst of customer experience at Forrester Research. In her presentation, Burns listed 10 ways marketers can boost conversion rates without breaking the bank.

When I was at the eTail East conference in Baltimore earlier this month, I noticed one presentation was repeatedly discussed by attendees and other presenters after the fact.

It was a presentation by Megan Burns, senior analyst of customer experience at Forrester Research. In her presentation, Burns listed 10 ways marketers can boost conversion rates without breaking the bank.

Since the list was so popular, I thought I’d share it with you, dear readers. Read it; print it out; and tape it to your computer, office door or wall. Just having it around will inspire you — and hopefully increase your conversion rates.

1. Give buyers the content they need to move forward.

2. Get rid of unnecessary content.

3. Prevent “no results” site searches.

4. Use language site visitors will understand.

5. Remove unnecessary steps in the task flow.

6. Don’t require registration to complete a purchase.

7. Tweak the location and appearance of buttons.

8. Provide clear feedback in response to user actions.

9. Help users avoid and recover from errors.

10. Make sure the order review page doesn’t look like a confirmation page.

There you go. What do you think of the list? Care to add anything to it? If so, please do it here.