Trending: Consumer Review Sites Leverage Content, Social, Search Marketing

If you’re an Internet marketer, you know there are several online channels you can leverage without paying upfront for advertising, such as some banner ads or pay per click. Three online channels that are super-hot and showing no signs of slowing down include content marketing, social marketing and search marketing (organic). Each of these online channels have one thing in common: They all maximize content.

If you’re an Internet marketer, you know there are several online channels you can leverage without paying upfront for advertising, such as some banner ads or pay per click.

Three online channels that are super-hot and showing no signs of slowing down include content marketing, social marketing and search marketing (organic).

Each of these online channels have one thing in common: They all maximize content.

Recent articles in Forbes hailed that “content is the new SEO …” and that “content is king.”

My view has always been that with relevant, useful, valuable and actionable original content, you can’t go wrong. It will always work with the search engines, despite constant algorithm updates.

This is the core philosophy of my “SONAR Content Distribution Model,” but also has become more commercial- and consumer-driven with the use of product review websites.

A recent study shows 47 percent of consumers indicate the Internet is their favorite place to shop, and U.S. e-tails are anticipated to hit around $370 billion by 2017.

With all this Web surfing and shopping, it’s no wonder consumers are becoming more savvy.

An emerging trend in digital marketing is consumer review sites. These sites are populated with pages and pages of unique, relevant content that’s beneficial to the consumer. It’s unbiased. And has the main focus of harnessing the power of its content with the search engines, as well as social marketing outlets.

The website’s pages are crafted with targeted keywords based on the products or services being reviewed—many well-known brands—and honest feedback. Then it’s good ‘ole inbound marketing tactics, such as online press releases, article marketing, content syndication, search marketing and social marketing that drive consumers to the product review website.

The pioneer of this ingenious online marketing tactic was Cnet.com, which was founded in 1994. They have been reviewing electronic and tech products for years.

Other well-known consumer review sites that have popped up recently include Epinions.com and ConsumerSearch.com, which reviews products. CitySearch.com and Yelp.com review hotels, restaurants, entertainment and more. And of course, AngiesList.com, which is a membership site that reviews local service providers.

But recently, there have been some new players in niche and specialty industries that are creating a buzz. One such new kid on the block is BuyerReview.com.

BuyerReview.com focuses on the health and beauty sectors. This includes cosmetics and cosmeceuticals, such as skincare products, vitamins and supplements—a most robust marketplace, to say the least …

… The U.S. cosmeceutical industry alone represents $6.5 billion with a growth forecast of 5.8 percent annually through 2015. And nutritional supplements generated $32 billion in 2012 and are projected to hit $60 billion by 2021.

I had the pleasure of interviewing one of BuyerReview.com’s editors, Peter Stockwell.

I asked him how he would describe the site, what makes it unique and to describe the overall business model.

According to Stockwell, “Buyerreview.com is more targeted than many of the behemoth product review sites on the Web today. Sometimes when you’re too big and review too many things, consumers get lost on your website. Our team of editors reviews specific products in the vertical of health and beauty. We give honest reviews, as well as health and beauty advice.”

Stockwell continues, “Content is the cornerstone of the website. It helps the consumers. And it works with the search engines. With social marketing, it increases our reach and visibility. It’s really a blueprint for online marketing success.”

Stockwell adds, “There are several things that make us stand out: One is our BuyerReview Seal of Approval, which means our experts have reviewed a product personally and found it acceptable. Two, our editors (which, in addition to reviews) provide expert advice on health and beauty, which is an added bonus to consumers. Three, our Top 10 lists, which takes the best of the best we review and rolls it up into an easy-to-read product grid. Four, we offer consumers the option of getting product reviews delivered directly to them wherever they are, via email. And lastly, we offer free, weekly giveaways of the products we review. We like to think of our website as a one-stop shop for consumer health and beauty product interest.”

Stockwell concludes, “Once you have traffic coming to your site based on superior content, the opportunities are endless. Similar product or service review websites have went the advertising model and sell banner ads on their site for revenue potential. Others charge monthly membership fees. There’s many ways to monetize the traffic.”

Bottom line: There’s a way smart online marketers have turned leveraging quality content into a win-win situation that benefits its target audience, as well as generating revenue.

And the vast space on the Web is wide-open for more to jump on the bandwagon and carve out their own slice.

Marketers in most any industry can take something away from this online strategy and see how the fundamental principle can be incorporated it into their online marketing mix … because content will always be king, and consumers will always be curious.

Please Move Over … You’re Blocking the Content

Have you ever clicked on a banner ad? According to Solve Media, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad—but yet they are still a major part of many marketers’ advertising budgets. Recently, we were hounded by a radio rep who wanted to know when we were going to take advantage of the “value added” bonus he was offering to our client. The value-add was in the form of a free digital banner on their site

Have you ever clicked on a banner ad?

According to Solve Media, you’re more likely to survive a plane crash than click on a banner ad—but yet they are still a major part of many marketers’ advertising budgets.

Recently, we were hounded by a radio rep who wanted to know when we were going to take advantage of the “value added” bonus he was offering to our client. The value-add was in the form of a free digital banner on their site.

I’ll admit that we were procrastinating since we (and the client) didn’t think that the time and energy it would take to design the banner ad would be worth it, since neither of us believed that their high net-worth target would be perusing this particular website. But here are the facts: Since January, our banner has delivered 288,278 unique impressions. 535 individuals clicked on the banner (0.19 percent).

Did it result in any visits to the clients’ retail store? More visits to their website? More sales? It doesn’t seem so because the offer on the landing page (mention this station and get X percent off your purchase) has never been leveraged. But stimulating interest in the clients’ brand among 535 people is a good thing … right?

My real issue with banner ads is how obnoxious many of them have become.

Often, you type in a URL to visit a website, but before you can see the page, you have to look at (or hopefully can bypass after 3 seconds) some form of advertising. It’s akin to waving your arms in front of me and shouting, “Hey! Toilet paper is on sale on aisle 4,” while I’m trying to look at the cheese choices in the dairy aisle.

Even worse is when the arm waver isn’t advertising anything relevant to my grocery store visit. Instead, they’re waving and shouting, “Hey! There’s a single guy in your area looking for a date!” Gosh, I hope he’s not stalking me while I select my cheese …

Of course, I realize that many websites accept advertising from a variety of advertisers, and generating revenue may be their No. 1 goal, but my reaction is often that I am reluctant to visit that website again if the advertising is so obnoxious that it distracts from my consumption of content.

Placing banner ads in a relevant environment makes total sense to me. Dog food ads on a website about pets … ads for tires on a website for car lovers … got it. But to optimize your clickthrough rates, I believe the choice of ad placement needs thoughtful consideration of the mindset of the Web visitor and the information they were seeking when they landed on that site in the first place.

Because the next guy that waves in front of my attempt to consume content on any site and shouts “Hey! Your opinion counts!” is going to get answers that will totally screw up their survey results. Just sayin’ …

Email Marketing: 5 Steps to Better Results

The biggest challenge with email marketing is that it is so easy to be successful marketers don’t reach for the next level. After all, when something isn’t broken, why invest time and energy in making it better? Most marketers don’t make the effort to optimize their strategy because “good enough” serves them well enough. For those who want more, optimizing emails delivers more than additional sales—it turns casual shoppers into long-term loyal customers by creating a better shopping experience.

This post is excerpted from the e-book “31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing.”

The biggest challenge with email marketing is that it is so easy to be successful marketers don’t reach for the next level. After all, when something isn’t broken, why invest time and energy in making it better? Most marketers don’t make the effort to optimize their strategy because “good enough” serves them well enough. For those who want more, optimizing emails delivers more than additional sales—it turns casual shoppers into long-term loyal customers by creating a better shopping experience.

There are four reasons to send emails to customers and prospects: Acquisition, retention, sales and service. Most companies are very good at generating sales with emails, but fail miserably at the other three objectives. People miss opportunities to acquire new customers, improve relationships and increase satisfaction because email marketing is so good at generating revenue. Simple changes to your email marketing strategy make a big difference in results.

The first step is to complete a mini review of your email marketing program to see how effective it is at acquisition, retention, sales and service. Make a list of the emails sent over the last year and place them into the appropriate category.

What percentage of the emails were designed to acquire new customers? This includes all emails sent to prospects and those that specifically ask customers to share the information with a friend. (Placing a “Tell a Friend” button in the email doesn’t count.) How effective were the acquisition emails at generating new prospects and customers? What changes made them better? How much did it cost to acquire new people?

How many of the emails were specifically designed to keep customers coming back? This question is often met with the response, “our promotional emails keep customers coming back.” If your company is Walmart or you can effectively compete with low price leaders, this response is right. If your company is like most, you don’t have the margins to guarantee the lowest prices and need to create loyalty-based customer relationships.

Do your sales emails consistently generate revenue, or are you seeing peaks and valleys? Email promotional programs are very predictable once you have enough historical data. Peaks and valleys that are not seasonal suggest that there may be underlying issues affecting your revenue. Subscriber fatigue is one such issue. It happens when people receive the same type of emails over an extended period of time.

The first sign of subscriber fatigue is a decline in open rates. If there is nothing new, then why open the email? The second sign is a higher click-through rate on opened emails. When people are ready to make a purchase, they look for a discount. The combination of lower open rates and higher click-throughs indicate that your emails may have become a coupon mecca.

Are your service emails a statement of facts or a conversation with your customers? Order and shipping confirmation emails can be much more than “here’s your information, thank you for your order” notices. They can be entertaining and sharable.

A good email marketing strategy increases sales. A great email marketing strategy increases sales, introduces the company to new people, and keeps customers’ happily coming back for more. The only way to move from good to great is to optimize every email sent to customers and prospects. Tips for making the move include:

  • Partner with non-competitive companies and organizations to connect with new prospects. Selective partnerships help grow your company’s prospect list exponentially. Allies from corporate and non-profit worlds can introduce your business to new people that are highly targeted. In turn, your participation provides reciprocal information or financial support.
  • Customize emails to buying behavior. There are three very good reasons to invest time and effort into modeling emails around buying behavior. They are response, revenue and retention. Carefully crafting individually customized emails improves results. You don’t have to have the analytics chops of a large company to do this well. Even small changes can make a difference.
  • Analyze email customers differently. People who choose to receive your emails are different from other customers. They order more often and spend more money when they buy, but this doesn’t automatically translate into more profitability. If subscribers are primarily buying at discounted prices, they generate higher revenue and lower profits.
  • Use reminders to help customers. Your customers are busy people. They don’t always remember that cars need servicing or they are about to run out of consumable goods. People tend to take the path of least resistance. When your company makes it easy for them to take care of maintenance and replacement issues, they seldom look elsewhere. Pricing is less of an issue because purchasing from your company becomes a habit they don’t want to break.
  • Send people to the right place. The Internet is a wonderland filled with rabbit holes that take people away from your marketing messages. Your customers and prospects will become distracted and venture off to other activities if they do not have a clear path to follow. The emails they receive from your company are the starting point of a map to the final objective. Anything that isn’t easily recognized as the next step or requires the traveler to stop and think is a diversion that needs to be eliminated.

For more, check out the full e-book “31 Ways to Supercharge Your Email Marketing.” The e-book shows how to make simple changes that improve email marketing results with examples of what works and doesn’t.

5 Things to Do Now to Prepare for the Next Stage of Email Marketing

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program. But the email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program.

And, they do. This is one of the reasons that spam continues to grow. Someone with access to thousands of addresses can fill his or her coffers by blanketing the list with promotional messages or scams. Those emails keep coming because they work. If people didn’t respond to them, the spammers would find a new source of income.

The minimal requirements for success also contribute to the cookie cutter emails sent by established brands. Subject lines, images and content change, but the layout and offers are strikingly similar. When asked why they do this, marketers claim that testing has proven that their subscribers respond best to this presentation and offers.

The problem is that they decided to stop testing once a solution was found. Any halfway decent direct marketer will tell you that testing shows what works best AT THAT TIME. The winner becomes the control that is used to gauge the effectiveness of future tests. Email marketing lulls marketers into complacency because it works so well at consistently generating revenue. Following the “don’t fix it if it’s not broke” theory keeps them from finding strategies that work better.

In fairness, the demands on marketing teams are continuously increasing. Participation in high maintenance, continuously changing channels requires time and effort that might have been dedicated to improving email campaigns if the world were different. Resources have to be allocated by need and email campaigns do not require much to be successful.

The email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king. That adaptation has to start now because it takes time to establish the relationships required for continued success. Waiting until campaigns start losing their effectiveness will be too late.

There are two shifts creating the need for change. The first is increased competition. According to the Radicati Group’s email statistics report for 2012 – 2016, 144.8 billion emails were sent in 2012. By 2016, that number is expected to increase to 192.2 billion. Business emails account for 61 percent of the emails today, increasing to 75 percent in 2016. Consumer emails are decreasing. In 2012, 55.8 billion emails were sent. By 2016, consumer emails will drop to 48.4 billion. More marketing messages mean that company emails have to fight harder for recipients’ attention.

The second shift is the ongoing effort to provide a personalized universal search experience. Google is the first search engine to test adding emails to results. It’s only a matter of time before the field trial rolls out and other search providers follow the lead. This changes the rules of engagement for the email marketing game.

Email campaigns will need to work overtime to deliver the best results. In addition to generating immediate cash flow, they need to have a “save for later” appeal that keeps recipients from deleting them. The saved emails will appear when people search the web for similar products or services.

Fortunately, preparing for increased competition and universal search has immediate benefits. The same tactics that position your emails for success in the future also make them work better today. To get started:

  1. Improve your customer relationships: Loyal customers are more likely to ignore increased competition and save your emails. Including emails that make it easier for people to use your products and services solidifies relationships and adds life to your messages.
  2. Optimize emails for search: Adding alternative text to images provides information that can be accessed by search bots. Balancing text and images makes your messages more readable by recipients and bots. It also improves deliverability.
  3. Use personalized trigger emails to improve the shopping and service experience: Trigger emails are a low cost way to keep customers informed about order status and new products or services.
  4. Customize emails by customer behavior: Sending everyone in your database the same marketing message works. Sending customized message to individuals based on their shopping and communication preferences works better.
  5. Keep everything simple and easy: The easier you make it for your customers, the more loyal they tend to be. Work to eliminate as many steps as possible between the marketing message and sale. People keep coming back when the process is simple.