Here’s a Website Performance Checklist to Kick 2020 Off Right

Reviewing your website’s security practices, privacy policies, accessibility, and analytics can help improve performance over the course of the year. You can still pledge to get the most from your website. This website performance checklist can help.

No need to abandon all hope if your New Year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. You can still pledge to get the most from your website in 2020. This website performance checklist can help.

None of these topics are particularly sexy. Nor are they likely to have the kind of top-line impact (read: massive increases in revenue) that lead to promotions and bonuses. But they can save you a ton of pain and regret throughout the year. And without a doubt, they will make those revenue-spiking initiatives that much more successful.

Security Review

Having your domain blacklisted is nobody’s idea of fun. Because there’s no “Undo” button, once you’re in trouble, it’s time-consuming to get out. So, it is well worth reviewing your site’s security to ensure that no evil lurks in the heart of your coding.

Check your traffic logs and firewall settings to make sure you’re still keeping as much malicious activity off your site as possible.

If your site is custom coded, confirm with your developers that the code base is being updated regularly to guard against malware and other attacks. (Even fully customized sites generally rely on code libraries or frameworks that can be the target of attacks.)

If you use a commercial CMS, do a similar check with the vendor. It can be helpful to also do a web search for “[my CMS name] vulnerabilities” and other phrases to find reports of attacks.

An open-source CMS requires a similar review:

  • Do you have the most recent version installed?
  • Are all of the plugins, modules, widgets, and other helper programs up to date?

In all of these cases, you should be on a regularly scheduled maintenance plan with your development team. Now is the time to make sure you have the most appropriate level of protection.

Don’t forget the basics. A quick review is all that should be required to make sure that your registrar and hosting accounts are secure and your domain name and SSL certificate are in order and not at risk of cancellation. If you host internally, review server access to eliminate the chance of former employees making mischief.

Privacy Review

If GDPR and CCPA sound like alphabet soup to you, it’s definitely time to review your site’s privacy policy and things like data retention. This is now true even for non-transactional sites. GDPR may apply only to those of us who work with E.U. residents, but CCPA applies to most firms who interact with California residents. The Shield law applies to every firm in New York State.

That’s a lot to keep track of and understanding your responsibilities can be overwhelming. Given the potential fines involved, this is not an area where you want to take all of your advice from a marketer, coder, or (ahem) digital strategist. Be sure to have a knowledgeable lawyer review your privacy policies and practices.

Accessibility Review

Making websites accessible to people with disabilities is an area that has grown in importance over the past 18 months or so because of an increase in legal actions, even though the relevant regulations aren’t new.

The good news is that building new websites to be accessible isn’t particularly difficult, nor is maintaining that accessibility as new content is added. Both require an understanding of the requirements and a shift in approach.

The story is not quite as rosy for bringing existing sites into compliance, which tends to be more labor-intensive. Adjustments may include changes to branding and in-depth review of content (image alt tags, for example), as well as less visible coding changes.

There are a number of excellent assessment tools that can help you get an understanding of the effort required to make the site compliant. But a deeper, manual scan will also be required to uncover everything.

Analytics Review

Finally, don’t forget to review your analytics. This is one area that just may uncover insights that can lead to revenue growth that and a move closer to the corner office, though more likely those improvements will be incremental.

  • Compare statistics year-over-year to see where you’ve improved and where performance has fallen off.
  • Determine whether your mobile audience is growing or holding steady. (It’s probably not shrinking.)
  • Review traffic sources to see how visitors are finding you. That can guide adjustments to your marketing efforts.

You may be doing quite a bit of this on a monthly or quarterly basis as part of your marketing efforts. Still, it’s worth it to expand beyond that scope to look at broader performance and strive for continual improvement throughout 2020 and beyond.

3 Martech Tools to Optimize Direct Mail Campaigns

The powerful targeting of direct mail can help you punch through all the marketing noise people are exposed to each day. Martech tools provide ways to make an even greater impact with your campaigns by cross-pollinating between channels.

The powerful targeting of direct mail can help you punch through all the marketing noise people are exposed to each day. Martech tools provide ways to make an even greater impact with your campaigns by cross-pollinating between channels.

Many marketers find this to be cumbersome and expensive, but what if there is a better way? Check out these statistics:

  • Companies that use multichannel marketing experience three-times higher effectiveness rates than those that use non-integrated campaigns (source).
  • 23X higher rates of customer satisfaction are experienced by companies with omni-channel strategies (Aberdeen Group)
  • 89% of customers are retained by companies with omnichannel engagement strategies (Invesp)
  • 45% of marketers feel they lack the necessary talent, technology, and processes to master omnichannel brand marketing (CMO Council)

So how can you harness these stats to improve your direct mail response rates? You know that on average it takes eight to 10 touches with a prospect to convince them to buy from you. So when you create campaigns using multiple channels, you make a bigger impact and provide more opportunities to convert them. You want your marketing to create engagement that leads to sales. Direct mail is a key component in your marketing strategy, but it is not the only one. So how can you easily pull together a multichannel campaign? Here are some options.

3 Platforms to Enhance Your Direct Mail

  • DirectMail.io: They offer an integrated omnichannel marketing program. Their services include data management, direct mail, email, live call center, SMS solutions, social media, and Amazon and Google voice assistant integration. This platform has flexible software that combines data, marketing, communications, and analytics, all in one place. DirectMail.io provides a simple solution that seamlessly integrates over 12 inbound and outbound marketing channels, allowing advertisers to launch, manage, and track all of their marketing efforts in one place.
  • SnailWorks: SnailWorks tracks mail using Informed Visibility from the Postal Service, which allows them to track each individual piece of mail to delivery, and then uses that delivery to trigger other marketing efforts, such as email, telemarketing, web advertising, and more. They take all of these disparate channels and tie them into a single campaign along with a web-based dashboard that shows real-time results and distributes leads for the campaign. Recently, SnailWorks added Direct2Digital ID to its service offerings. Direct2Digital ID provides mailers with an easy way to participate in the new Postal Service Informed Delivery program.
  • DirectMail2.0DirectMail2.0 suite uses seven different technologies, timed in such a way as to result in the best possible lift in a direct mail campaign. These seven technologies seamlessly track, enhance, and prove attribution on any direct mail campaign. It does this through incorporating Mail Tracking, Informed Delivery, Call Tracking, Online Follow-up, Social Media Follow-up, Social Match, and LeadMatch technologies. No need to be an expert in multiple types of digital technology. Just upload a processed mailing list with an ad or two and the platform does the rest.

As you can see, there are great platforms to choose from to enhance the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns. In 2019, your customers and prospects expect to engage with you on multiple channels. Create more powerful direct mail campaigns by integrating them into a multichannel experience. Become one of the statistics above. Marketing experiences really matter and can make the difference between an okay campaign and a fabulous one. Are you ready to be fabulous? Get started on integrating your direct mail with other channels.

3 Things SEOs Should Be Thankful For

The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving and ending on Jan. 1, are a time for reflection on what SEOs have accomplished over the year and for gratitude for all of our blessings. From my grub’s eye view, the working SEO should be thankful for many things.

The holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving and ending on Jan. 1, are a time for reflection on what SEOs have accomplished over the year and for gratitude for all of our blessings. From my grub’s eye view, the working SEO should be thankful for many things.

  • Most notably, we should be thankful that we work in a changing industry, which is filled with challenges and requires constant learning.
  • Those of us who work as consultants, should be particularly grateful for the clients who seek our advice and trust us with their success.
  • Third, from a more personal view, a debt of gratitude is owed to our industry colleagues who willingly and broadly share their knowledge and insights.

The list of what SEOs should be thankful for is actually much longer; but these are, in my opinion, the highlights.

SEO Is Reported Dead – It Just Plays Possum

For years, decades even, pundits and authors have proclaimed that SEO is dead. Each time an obituary is written, or a eulogy delivered, SEO has evolved or morphed to meet the ever-changing environment.

SEO does not die, it just plays possum — until the talented and innovative individuals working in SEO make changes to their tactics to make sure that their sites or their client’s sites are still visible in search engines. The tactics used are constantly changing in response to each new turn or twist in the search technology.

Because the goal remains the same — making useful content visible to users — all that changes is how we accomplish the goal. Responding to change requires constant learning and innovation. For many SEOs, meeting the challenges presented by the constant change makes the job interesting.

SEO is a job that is never boring and will never become mundane or routine. For this, I am personally thankful and eagerly await what the next year of change will bring.

Revere Client Trust

The marketing power of SEO is well-established.

Most companies consider search marketing an integral part of their marketing efforts. When a client engages an SEO consultant, the client is entrusting a key to their business success to the consultant. Not all consultants are created equal. Most are ethical and vary in competence; however, some use unethical practices and work harm to their clients’ sites and, by extension, to their businesses.

Yes! One could argue that “caveat emptor” applies to buying SEO services. The problem is that executives are not sure what evaluation criteria to use.

As an SEO, I like to treat my clients’ sites by the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This means following ethical search guidelines to the letter and advising clients when they are about to stray into trouble. They do not always take the advice, but it would be unconscionable not to provide such advice.

My gratitude is to those who think enough of my skills and respect my values to take my advice. There would be no livelihood for SEO consultants without clients willing to take the risk of seeking our advice. For this, I am grateful.

Industry Colleagues — A Treasure

Without the wealth of information that flows across the industry daily, it would be impossible to do this job.

Although there are many training programs and courses, SEO is not a discipline that can be learned in school. It is constantly changing, and practitioners are always passing information along about the changes or how to address them.

Industry conferences — like PubCon and SMX — bubble with ideas. Even after more than 15 years as an SEO, I still learn from my colleagues. Without their willingness to share their ideas, my own learning would be stunted and my practice less dynamic.

For this, I am grateful.

As the new year begins, I will be looking for what changes are afoot in the industry and will share my own ideas for how to make search more profitable for my readers.

8 Maids a-Milking, 7 Marketing Efforts a-Marketing

With the holidays just days away, every email in my inbox and website in my browser has donned its ugly sweater and draped itself in tinsel. As always, I’m eager to get into the spirit too. Here are a few pieces of seasonal marketing I thought were particularly worthy of the Nice list.

With the holidays just days away, every email in my inbox and website in my browser has donned its ugly sweater and draped itself in tinsel. As always, I’m eager to get into the spirit too. Here are a few pieces of seasonal marketing I thought were particularly worthy of the Nice list.

Take a break from decking those halls and check them out!

Subject Line: No-paper-necessary gifts (Because you’re wrapped up in other things)

First up, Sephora. Proof you don’t need the red-green-white combo to bring the holiday cheer. Bright, colorful, and a clever subject line.And hey — two “wrap”-related puns.

sephora

Subject Line: A Bigger, Better Holiday Sale – 30% Off More Holiday Treats!

My next pick is this email from Paper Source. You can see there’s a little more content I cropped off, but the real star (as it should be) was the sale graphic in the top half. Eye-catching sale copy and clean, bright design, and a good choice of product (the “for _________” plate) to represent the goodies. If I have one slight criticism, it’s that at first open, I didn’t realize the writing was part of the plate and tried to click each cookie as if they were separate links! Perhaps a design oversight, but then again, it still got me to click.

papersource

Subject Line: A Gift For You: The Limited Edition Sophisticated Marketer’s Holiday Box Set

Because retailers can’t have all the holiday fun! Of course over at LinkedIn they’ve got good campaigns figured out. This email is short and sweet with fun copy (elf-approved!!!) and even better downloadable content. This really is a great gift for any marketer. And look at that elf! He’s just hangin’ out, doin’ Christmas. Aww.

linkedin

Subject Line: Open for Christmas glow + EXTRA $10 off!

Bath & Body Works has a handle on pretty much every season. What got me on this one is their little advent-calendar Christmas delivery countdown on top (this has actually been a consistent addition since the holiday season started), the coupon code (PEARTREE), and the animation in the graphic, also included below.

bath-body-works1212_10off30_v5

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 1: Email

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

I’m continually stunned when a client, art director, copywriter or any other strategist in the marketing industry insists on using a design or copy technique that directly contradicts proven best practices.

Over the years, I’ve absorbed studies about the ventricles of the brain and how it performs distinctly different cognitive processes. I’ve read color studies, the anatomy of eye movement, how words and numbers trigger comprehension and reaction, fonts and their role in evoking an emotional reaction, persuasion psychology and unconscious motivation—the list goes on and on—all in an effort to apply these learnings in order to help our clients get the maximum response to their marketing efforts.

While I have a laundry list of “must-do’s” for every medium, I thought I’d share a few digital best practices as Part 1 in a series, and I’d love to hear why you’re NOT following these proven techniques:

  • Test Your Subject Lines: According to a 2014 poll by Howling Mad’s Parry Malm, marketers ranked subject lines among the top variable that affected email response rates however 25% ever conducted any testing. Parry (one of the leading experts on email subject lines) has learned that ‘Sale’ delivers 23.2% opens while ‘Save’ only gets 3.4%. He also found that if the subject line is personalized but the email content isn’t, you gain opens but don’t drive clicks. I put that insight in my ‘Duh!’ file.
  • Buttons Will Get More Clicks Than Text Links: Many have tested this theory (myself included) and the answer seems to always conclude that buttons will outperform text links. AWeber conducted a series of button/text links, and their findings are fascinating as they determined that, over time, text links outperformed the buttons—but they also concluded that what works today, may not work tomorrow. Again, test and keep testing.
  • Text Links Should Be in Color: While this might seem like a ‘Duh!’ I’m always surprised when I accidently hover my finger or mouse over a block of text and discover “there’s a hyperlink in them there hills!” If you want me to take an action (like clicking on something) then lead my horse to the water.
  • A Button Needs to Look Like a Button: Neil Patel, the co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, owns the button testing world hands down and he concludes that the digital button that gets the most clicks is shaped like a button (rounded corners, slight drop shadow) and is colored (or at least in contrast to the rest of the page of copy in order to stand out—duh). Try NOT to match the color of your button to other call-out boxes on the page as the distraction prevents the action.
  • Button Copy Should Be in First Person: Try this test yourself. If your action button is written in third person (“Start now” or “Try Product X Free”) try testing it against copy in the 1st person (“Help Me Work Faster” or “End My Headaches”). It’s highly likely you’ll see a lift of at least 25% in clicks, at least according to Ashtyn Douglas and Joanna Wiebe who conducted similar tests.
  • Fonts Matter: While many designers will argue this topic endlessly, the current consensus is that sans serif fonts are superior for body text and serif fonts are best for headlines. Of course if you have a newer display, it doesn’t make much difference. But not everyone has the newest technology and some work on displays that are 10+ years old, so if you target a senior audience (yes, that includes senior managers in small companies who cannot afford to regularly upgrade their hardware), you may want to design for maximum legibility. Make sure your font is a system font (most likely to be supported by the majority of email clients and web browsers) like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Geneva or Trebuchet MS, and large enough for people to read without any effort—at least 10 if not 12 pt. Even though Google is now providing supposedly supported modern web fonts, it’s a little too early to tell whether every email client and web browser will be able to properly display them.

In summary, if all of these marketers have already done all the testing for you, why wouldn’t you at least consider these insights and apply them to your own email marketing efforts? Tell me. I’m all ears.

DM 101: A Small Business Primer

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall of Spider Trainers. Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall, of Spider Trainers.

Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier.

There’s not enough room on this page to cover everything I’d like to say, but based on the questions, here are my top five pieces of direct marketing advice:

1. Before You Begin Any Marketing Program, Decide Where You’re Going
Start with your company’s business objectives (Grow revenue? I certainly hope so!), and work backwards.

There are really two key marketing strategies to achieving this objective: Retain existing customers (i.e. retain existing sources of revenue), and add new customers. Duh. But retaining existing customers should include measurable marketing objectives like increasing average order size, increasing number of transactions per customer, and increasing frequency of purchases. Marketing to cold prospects might include metrics like increasing the number of qualified leads into the sales pipeline, or driving more traffic to your web store. Depending on your objective, different marketing strategies and tactics will be utilized.

2. Know Who Your Existing Customers Are
If you can’t profile them by the data you collect, you can append data from a reliable third-party data provider—and many of them offer analytic services so you can get a good handle on your buyer profiles.

Another option is to think about your product/service and how you might market it differently if you knew your customers better. For example, if you knew your customers had toddlers, would that drive a different set of messages than, say, parents of teens? Do a survey and ask your customers to share key information with you. (An incentive to fill out a SHORT survey often works; make sure you only ask questions you can use the insights from in future marketing efforts.)

On the B-to-B side, do your customers tend to come from a handful of industries only? Then you have a better chance of selling to more customers in those industries than in a brand new industry. Knowledge is power, so it’s difficult to plan and execute successful marketing efforts if you don’t understand your customer base.

Don’t forget about taking a deeper dive into your data to find your “best” customers. Chances are 20 percent of your base is driving 80 percent of your revenue. Better know who they are—and fast—so you can make plans to protect and incent them to stay loyal.

3. Clean Up Your Act Before You Try to Make More Friends
Since most customers will visit your website first, make sure it’s optimized for site visitors … and for smart phone users (yes, the future is NOW). On the B-to-B side, you better have your LinkedIn profile updated with a professional picture and solid bio, because, yes, people do judge a book by its cover.

4. Choose the Right Media Channels
This is probably the hardest one to get right. Do magazine ads work? Yes, if your audience reads a particular publication. Does cold prospecting work? No. End of statement. Does direct mail work? Yes, if you spend time identifying who your best customers are, profiling them, then overlaying that profile on a list to find look-alikes, and you combine a meaningful offer in an appropriate format. There are lots and lots of nuances in direct mail, and most folks get it wrong. So how do you make the right media decisions? If you know who your best customers are, find out where they congregate—that’s where you want to have a presence.

In the B-to-B world, this can be made a little easier as business people get together at industry events, join industry associations, read industry publications, etc., etc. It’s a little easier to figure out ways to get your message in front of them.

In the B-to-C world, you need to be much more analytical. Go back to the profile of your best customers. What do they have in common? In what context would your product/service appeal to them? Instead of trying to “interrupt” their behavior by placing an ad where they’re not even thinking about your solution, try to place your ad in an appropriate context. For example, if you’re a nonprofit trying to reach high net-worth prospects for charitable giving, use your PR skills to try and get a story placed about your efforts. Then, purchase banner ads on the publication’s site so they run next to the article about you—or place an ad within their publication when the article runs. Use Google Analytics and AdWords to understand the most popular search terms for products/services like yours. See what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can differentiate yourself with your message.

5. Format Matters
I’m often asked if postcards work. Or is a #10 package better than a self mailer. And what about Three-Dimensional packages—are they worth it? The answer is yes, yes and yes … but here are a few things to consider:

  • Postcards work best when you have a single, simple message to convey. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
  • Self-mailers work better if you need a little more real estate to tell your story. Plus, they can be quite “promotional” in nature, so they’re not taken as serious communication.
  • Envelope packages work best if you have a more complex message. A letter (with subheads, please, as we’re all scanners of content), order form, brochure and business reply envelope (yes, they still work like a charm), can all work if your audience is older. (Here’s a hint: Not everybody wants to go to your web site, fill out a form and give you a credit card number if they can check a box on your form, add a check and mail it back to you on your dime.)
  • 3D packages can work like gangbusters if the item inside is engaging and makes sense as it relates to your brand/message. Inexpensive tchotchkes don’t usually work very well—they don’t garner attention and they don’t make your brand look smart.

Net-net, marketing is a skill. And, considering you will invest to get financial gain for your business, you really shouldn’t try to do it without professional help.

How ‘Frienemy Marketing’ Can Save Your Online (and Offline) Business

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads. One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

With the economic climate as crazy as it’s been, now more than ever businesses large and small are looking for creative ways to increase visibility, sales and leads.

One effective way is to leverage the relationships with your ‘friendly’ competition. By friendly, I mean synergistic and respected formidable adversaries with a like-minded community of followers to your own.

You can look to this niche for opportunities to help grow your list and add extra revenues to your bottom line. Even better, this can be done for virtually no out-of-pocket cost.

This is a great way to leverage your content and increase market share, enhance brand awareness, grow sales and leads, and establish credibility with a new, yet synergistic list.

As a consultant, and even back in the days when I was leading the marketing efforts at top publishers, it’s important for me to be “strategically creative” and deploy as many no-cost online marketing tactics as possible for greater return on investment (ROI).

I like to concentrate on the marketing and editorial relationships I have forged with fellow publishers and aggressively pursue ad swaps, guest editorials and joint ventures (JV). I’ll explain a little more about these three opportunities in a moment.

With “frienemy marketing,” the idea is to develop synergistic relationships that are mutually beneficial—to look for areas of deficiency in your competitors and think of ways your company can fill the void.

One potential partner may have a great front-end product (e.g., a low cost e-book) but no up-sell (e.g., a higher-priced related kit containing DVDs, CDs and workbooks). Another potential partner may have an innovative back-end product but no cost-effective front-end product to bring new customers in the door. Still others may have large, qualified lists but need editorial to bond with their lists.

Some tips to keep in mind when looking for partnerships with friendly competitors:

Do your homework. Find out, in advance, who will be at industry events that you’ll be attending. (Check the program for speakers, vendors and participants.) Sign up for their e-newsletters. Read their promotional emails. Maybe even purchase some of their products.

Look at EVERY opportunity as a way to maximize your company’s brand during presentation breaks, lunch time and cocktail parties. When you go to industry events, don’t eat dinner alone in your hotel room. Go to functions. Mingle. Network. Have a genuine conversation with a potential partner … then, if there’s a synergy between your two companies, exchange business cards.

Before you contact a potential partner, get familiar with his products and target audience and figure out how your company may be able to dovetail with his product line or marketing efforts.

So, once you’ve made the connection, now what? You need to look at potential marketing and editorial opportunities …

Ad swaps are a form of revenue sharing. Typically, this can be a text or graphic ad two publishers place in each other’s e-newsletters and each keep 100 percent of the sales they get from their respective ads, no strings attached. Other things to know: Both list sizes should be close in circulation size, hence the reciprocity. You both keep any sales or email addresses collected, and call it a day. Know your “opportunity cost”—the “cost” you will incur for running an outside ad to your list instead of your own ad. If you normally sell ad space in your e-newsletter, this cost could simply be the flat rate fee you typically charge. Or, if you know the average revenues an issue brings in, you could calculate the potential “missed opportunity” of letting another ad run to your list on a given day. You should also agree to share important information with your partner. Before his ad runs in your e-newsletter, point out any creative issues. Provide your partner with your e-newsletter’s sent and deliverability sizes, open rate and ad click rate. Exchanging performance data is critical to a long and mutually beneficial relationship. It has to be a win/win situation for the partnership to work.

Guest editorials are offering content (editorial) that is relevant and targeted for an external publication and reciprocate. This is a great way to get introduced to a new list with the “implied” endorsement of the publisher. His endorsement gives you credibility. And if you provide his readers with good, solid, useful information, they will bond with you quickly.

This is a soft-sell approach that may or may not yield results on its own. At the end or beginning of the article is an Editorial Note or Byline, which can have author attribution, back-link to your website and short sentence for cross-selling, which help with sales, traffic generation and link-building efforts.

Joint ventures are similar to affiliate relationships, with the difference that instead of an affiliate program that is openly marketed, this relationship is more personal—it’s usually a company that you’ve built and cultivated a relationship with and are looking forward to a variety of ongoing business ventures down the road. There’s more of a vested interest. This is a quick and cost-effective way to make money with your list even if you have not yet developed any products.

To determine the viability of a potential JV product, there are several strategic marketing variables to consider. I like to think of them as “PPPGS”:

P = Product quality
P = Price point
P = Performance (when promoted to your potential partner’s house list, as well as to outside lists)
G = General market demand
S = Subscriber interest (when promoted to your list, as determined by feedback, surveys, etc.)

Remember, with “frienemy marketing” you’re looking for long-term partners, not one-hit-wonders. So carefully select the people you approach, making sure their products, brand and message make sense to your business … and, together, you can reap the unlimited profit potential of this underutilized business builder.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part One

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

[Editor’s note: This is Part One of a two-part series.]

OK, so 2011 was a tough year for a lot of business owners. Perhaps you got caught in the maelstrom of economic uncertainty and your business paid the price. Maybe you neglected your business by cutting down or eliminating marketing efforts. Or maybe you got duped by so-called “online gurus” who promise the world with their wonder products, all to fall short of their promises.

Boosting your business doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or money. Certain marketing tactics are tried and true because they work year after year, decade after decade. They’re proven. And they get results. Best of all, I’m going to reveal them to you … all for free.

Today, I going to go over some proven winners to help create visibility, drive website traffic, increase sales, generate leads and produce buzz. These are low-to-no cost tactics that fit most any budget and most any business niche. All you really need is the manpower to implement them. And the few that do involve a budget are extremely cost effective. So, without further ado, here’s numbers one through six:

1. Affiliate Partnerships/Affiliate Marketing Plan. (Includes joint ventures, also known as ‘JVs). This tactic is having other people market (promote) for you in exchange for a commission. It’s extremely effective and cost efficient. On the JV site, the key is having some kind of leverage when approaching publishers with a similar list size and interest as your own list. 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 for cross-marketing purposes. You have an agreed upon, competitive affiliate split (net commission on each sale) and forward payment either monthly or quarterly. Or, you can agree to reciprocate efforts and both agree to promote to each others’ lists and keep whatever sales (or leads) you each get from the efforts. It’s also a best practice to advise deliverability and performance stats. On the affiliate marketing side, many online affiliate programs are robust and offer real-time access to a control panel where affiliates can download creatives, check status of payments, and view campaign stats. Creating an affiliate program and marketing plan for that program can be turn-key. There are several off-the-shelf programs and softwares, such as DirectTrack and WordPress; as well as online networks such as CJ.com (Commission Junction), Clickbank.com, Linkshare.com. What’s most important as with any affiliate marketing plan is the PR. That is, getting the news out and marketing the program itself to as many targeted locations as possible. If you have a product to sell, not having an affiliate program is simply leaving money on the table.

2. Content Syndication Plus. A recent article by Forbes, which was actually featured here on TargetMarketingMag.com, mentioned 2012 was going to be the year of content and social marketing. Content is king and you can leverage it via the SONAR Content Distribution Model:

  • (S) Syndicate partners, content syndication networks, and user generate 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. If you have original content … you can do SONAR marketing!

3. Search Engine Optimization. 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 alt attributes/alt tags, you need to make sure you enhanced your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to the home page; relevant cross-marketing banners; obvious links to get to product pages; keyword-dense, search-friendly and consumer-friendly content pages; a site map; and more. You don’t want to downplay the importance of SEO. Site already optimized? Great. But remember that you need to review your analytics and visitor usage patterns and keywords on a timely basis, as algorithms and search behavior are always changing.

4. Online Lead Generation Polls. Incorporating a lead gen poll on your website, or having a poll on another site or e-newsletter (via a media buy or ad swap) 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 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.

5. 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 what I call a “content syndication blurb”—both on your website and in your e-newsletter. This blurb simply states that anyone can republish your free content, as long as they give attribution to the author and publication, as well as provide a back-link to the original article. This encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish—creating buzz and back-links, both of which help SEO. You can set Google Alerts for your articles (buy using keywords of article title, author, topic) and then see when the article has been picked up by another site. You can also look at your site’s back-links, as well as referring traffic sources, to see which sites you didn’t push the article out to, but republished it from a viral standpoint.

6. Cost-Effective 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 networks/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. Blog ad networks and online ad networks are a great, cheap alternative and they have a wider reach. Networks to consider: BlogAds.com, Advertising.com, ValueClick.com, BurstMedia.com, and FastClick.com. You can also find a full list of sites. Make sure you’re savvy as to what comparable rates are (CPMs, CPCs) and try never to pay rate card. It’s all about the power of negotiation.

Stay tuned for the next article which will feature more tips (#7—#13!)

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.

Getting the Most Out of Back-to-School Marketing

So, how should marketers redefine their back-to-school efforts to capitalize this time of year? To capture peoples’ interests during the active summer season, marketers must incorporate multichannel efforts to facilitate on- and offline engagement. Search continues to be a proven marketing channel, while implementing social and mobile marketing efforts has shown extensive promise, particularly for back-to-school retailers offering special deals and promotions.

As summer hits its peak, shoppers begin to think about heading back to school and retailers attempt to redefine the back-to-school season. Staples recently declared that the “official” back-to-school season starts on July 14, for example.

However, this time of year is less about defining specific dates and more about redefining ways to reach the right audience at the right connection points. Earlier this month, for example, Google reported that back-to-school queries increased 15 percent compared to the same period in 2008, and that searches on back-to-school shopping usually uptick in June with search activity lasting through late September.

The expanse in the back-to-school shopping season can be attributed in part to the 49 percent of back-to-school shoppers planning to spread out their purchases in order to distribute the cost over a longer period of time, according to a survey by PriceGrabber.

So, how should marketers redefine their back-to-school efforts to capitalize this time of year? To capture peoples’ interests during the active summer season, marketers must incorporate multichannel efforts to facilitate on- and offline engagement. Search continues to be a proven marketing channel, while implementing social and mobile marketing efforts has shown extensive promise, particularly for back-to-school retailers offering special deals and promotions.

In “S-Net (The Impact of Social Media),” a recent report from ROI Research, sponsored by my firm, Performics, when asked which types of content respondents would be interested in receiving from companies on social networks, 49 percent said they look for printable coupons on Facebook while 50 percent of those on Twitter seek notification of sales or special deals.

With these findings in mind, marketers should consider using social networks like Facebook and Twitter to promote special offers on back-to-school items to drive people in-store. Mobile marketing is another effective channel for back-to-school offers. It provides marketers with a more direct way to ensure purchase consideration through the use of text alerts or mobile coupons, in addition to complementary efforts in search and social marketing.

Performics helps clients prepare their back-to-school multichannel marketing efforts on a variety of levels. We recently teamed with one leading technology company to roll out its back-to-school marketing campaigns in early June, using some innovative tactics to capture audiences. For the first time, we implemented vanity display URLs and Google sitelinks in search campaigns to draw shoppers to the client’s back-to-school offerings. Our team also built a list of seasonal keywords around coupons, deals and discounts, supplemented by heavy social marketing campaigns promoting back-to-school products.

Another client, a popular apparel retailer, launched its back-to-school promotions in early July in anticipation of sales increases peaking at the end of this month. It offered shoppers the chance to receive a free smartphone if they purchased online or tried on featured clothes in-store. Advertising online via Facebook campaigns and paid search during back-to-school season, the retailer is coordinating on- and offline efforts by also offering free shipping and 30 percent off on back-to-school items.

Overall, marketers that successfully integrate multichannel efforts stand the best chance of getting the most bang out of their back-to-school buck. Marketers should look to engage back-to-school shoppers through various touchpoints throughout the season, not just at the end of August. Most importantly, manage expectations accordingly and measure marketing efforts often to reap the most reward.

Determining how shoppers respond to back-to-school campaigns and following trends throughout the season can also help brands set successful strategies for the upcoming winter holiday season. — Special thanks to contributing authors Andrea Vannucci and Maren Wesley.