1-Click Emails Make Sales and Donations Easy

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Emails have nano-seconds to capture the recipients’ attention long enough to get them opened. Once open, the offer has to be compelling to move people into the buying process. Every click along the way provides an opportunity to abandon the process. Providing one-click links shortens the path from email receipt to order completion reducing opportunities for people to become distracted or change their mind.

When it comes to service, people prefer easy to exceptional. They want to complete their transactions and resolve any issues in the most efficient manner possible. According to a study by the “Harvard Business Review” and Corporate Executive Board, 57 percent of the people who called customer care departments tried to resolve their issues online before making the call. Customers who reported ease in making transactions were four times more likely to be loyal. This is good information for the service team, but how could it apply to the email marketing strategy?

Attention spans are getting shorter every day. Emails have nano-seconds to capture the recipients’ attention long enough to get them opened. Once open, the offer has to be compelling to move people into the buying process. Every click along the way provides an opportunity to abandon the process. Providing one-click links shortens the path from email receipt to order completion reducing opportunities for people to become distracted or change their mind.

The first image in the media player at right is an example of a one-click fundraising email for a political candidate. It began with a salutation followed by a short story and call to action. The email provides five suggested amounts and the option to donate another amount. A click sends the donor to a confirmation page (the second image) to confirm the donation or choose a different amount.

Amazon offers a similar process with their wish list click, which you can see in the third image in the media player. Instead of an option for the one-click buy, the recipient can add the item to a personal wish list. This is the next best thing to a buy because it provides additional information so the recipient can be better targeted for future promotions. The email is crafted to be personal and well-targeted. A brief look at the anatomy reveals:

  1. The recommendations are chosen specifically for the recipient. Having my name in the first line shows that it isn’t a phishing email.
  2. Personalizing the message increases responsiveness. The letter begins by asking if I am looking for something in the fountains department. I chuckled when I read it because they know for a fact that I was looking for an automatic watering bowl. Two weeks earlier I spent an hour searching their site for one.
  3. Clicking on the “Learn More” button opens the item page so you can review it in more depth. Interestingly, the first item presented in the email is the one where I spent the most time in my search.
  4. The “Wish List” button opens a confirmation page (the fourth image) to verify that you want the item added to your wish list.
  5. The item title is clickable. It opens the same page as the “Learn More” button.

The Amazon email provides multiple ways to enter the buying process. Adding a “1-Click” option to buy would make it even easier to complete the transaction.

Making things easier for your customers or donors may improve their responsiveness. Here are some tips for testing it:

  • Count the number of clicks required from the initial click-through link to completion of order. Redefine the path to eliminate any extraneous steps. (This should be done for every email.)
  • Provide enough details in the email for recipients to make a decision.
  • Follow Amazon’s lead and offer multiple options so people are choosing between more information and buy now instead of buy now or not at all.
  • When reviewing results pay close attention to where people are abandoning the buying process. Test different options to find the best ones for moving them forward.
  • Always provide a custom confirmation page.

Death by Whitepaper

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

As a B-to-B marketer, you should be very familiar with the strategy of whitepapers. But that doesn’t mean you are designing or using them appropriately for your business. I should know, as I’ve seen, read, created, written and rewritten literally hundreds of them. And I’ve often been so bored after the first paragraph that I wonder why I bothered to download the document.

According to Wikipedia, a whitepaper is an authoritative report or guide that helps solve a problem. They are typically used to educate readers and help them make a decision.

In the early 1990’s, marketers started to leverage whitepapers as a way to present information about a particular topic that was of interest to a marketer’s target audience, but written in a voice that sounded like a third-party, subject matter authority. It may or may not have even mentioned the marketer’s product or service. Instead, it provided in-depth, useful information that helped readers solve a problem or expand their understanding of an issue.

In 2012, whitepapers have often been used as the lazy marketer’s brochure-ware: A forum where the product/service attributes are extolled, at length.

Sometimes they are poorly designed, or not designed at all—just pages upon pages of text (“because,” as one client informed me, “they’re supposed to be white papers”). She wasn’t kidding.

I particularly hate it when a marketer designs a whitepaper with a full-color, full-bleed, front cover (thanks for soaking up all my printer toner!). As a result, I carefully print beginning on page 2, which often means the contact information for the company which was on the front cover (website, sales contact, phone number and email address) are not included with my whitepaper when printed.

It seems that whitepapers are a lost art. So here are a few tips on whitepaper best practices that every good B-to-B marketer should follow:

  1. Start planning a whitepaper topic by identifying your target’s pain point, or determine a timely issue that would interest your target. It should NOT be focused on your company’s product/service benefits, however those could be woven into your story as a support to your point-of-view, or to demonstrate a solution to an issue.
  2. Make sure it’s well researched, with footnoted facts and figures that support the point you’re making. Include the most current data to keep your topic timely.
  3. Your writer should be an experienced whitepaper writer, not necessarily a copy writer or the named author. It’s most important that the paper is well written, well presented and interesting. It should NOT include sensational headlines, exclamation points or product demos.
  4. Include an Executive Summary: A pithy, 100-word-or-less overview that allows readers to scan and determine if they’re interested in reading more.
  5. Break up reader monotony by including well-crafted subheads, large call-outs (interesting statistics or quotes), visuals (that support the copy), charts/graphs or even icons. Eyes need a resting place when they read a long document and visuals help retain interest.
  6. Number your pages please (so much easier when the reader forwards it up the food chain and includes a note that says to the CEO, “some interesting insights on page 4, 2nd paragraph”). After all, isn’t that your ideal scenario?
  7. At the end of the paper, include an “About the Author” to provide credibility. Your author credentials don’t need to include the name of a high school or favorite pet, but they should include years of experience, where/how they gained their knowledge, the names of articles/books they’ve written, etc.
  8. Include a short paragraph about your company, positioning it in the most relevant light as it relates to the topic. Include a link to a relevant page on your website to learn more (i.e., www.xyzcompany/resources), and an 800 number and email address. You’d be surprised how many people actually want to learn more after reading a helpful whitepaper.
  9. Make sure it’s easily navigable when viewed digitally, but can also be easily printed. And, please don’t bleed my toner dry by including lots of black or lots of bleeds.

6 Steps to Building the Perfect Landing Page

Today, I’ve decided to go back to basics. And in the world of direct response marketing, nothing is more basic than the landing page. Having worked in the industry for many years, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that no campaign can succeed without a Landing Page that converts. This is an indisputable fact. Try launching an email or direct mail campaign with a kick-ass creative that sends people back to the homepage of your wesbsite and see what happens. Inevitably, almost all of your hard-fought leads will evaporate into cyberspace, lost forever, destroying any chance of achieving ROI.

Today I’ve decided to go back to basics. And in the world of direct response marketing, nothing is more basic than the landing page. Having worked in the industry for many years, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that no campaign can succeed without a landing page that converts. This is an indisputable fact. Try launching an email or direct mail campaign with a kick-ass creative that sends people back to the homepage of your wesbsite and see what happens. Inevitably, almost all of your hard-fought leads will evaporate into cyberspace, lost forever, destroying any chance of achieving ROI.

Don’t believe me? Want to know how big of a difference a kick-ass landing page makes? Huge. Think about it like this. I’ve seen top-performing landing pages convert upwards of 10 percent to 20 percent of visitors into leads or sales. By contrast, a generic Contact Us page on a plain-vanilla website will typically convert anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent. I’ll save you the time by doing the math for you: This means you’ll covert anywhere from three to 20 times more visitors. Do those numbers turn your head? If so, read on for some tips on how to build a landing page that kicks butt.

  1. KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid—Generally, when it comes to landing pages less is more. Essentially, keeping visitors focused on the key message is the name of the game. This means eliminating all extraneous details not directly related to the campaign at hand. Links to other pages? Delete them. Fancy and distracting design. Change it. Lots of extra content about your firm? Gone.
  2. Headline—When visitors arrive on your landing page, you’ve got at most 15 seconds (and probably a lot less) to grab their attention. And nothing grabs someone’s attention better than a catchy and hard-hitting headline. According to Jeff Ginsberg (@mktgexperiments), landing page headlines should “emphasize what the customer gets rather than does and be customer-focused.” Couldn’t agree more. If you’re new to the headline game, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Check out successful campaigns and see what they used. Get a sense of what other marketers are doing, and remember that imitation is sometimes the sincerest form of flattery.
  3. Call-to-action—If you spent your hard-earned marketing bucks to drive someone to your landing page in the first place, bet your bottom dollar it’s because you want them to do something—express interest in your products or services by filling out a Web form, buy your product by whipping out a credit card and clicking submit on a shopping cart, etc. With that in mind, make sure your landing page contains a clear, concise and effective call-to-action that encourages the prospect to follow through and close the loop.
  4. Form—Unless you’re running a branding campaign—in which case you wouldn’t even need a landing page, right?—at the end of the user-engagement process you want to visitor to fill out some sort of Web form. Call it what you will—lead form, shopping cart and so on—but the act of filling out or not filling out this one vital page element is what will ultimately be used as a Key (if not the Key) Performance Indicator (KPI) that determines how well your campaign performed. When it comes to Web forms, the shorter the better. Fact is, nothing turns off or scares away Web visitors more than a long and imposing Web form. So make it short, sweet and to the point. Oh, and if possible, using technology such as Personalized URLs (PURLs) that pre-fills as many of the form fields as possible. Remember, the less there is to do, the greater the chance it gets filled out in the first place.
  5. Advertise security—Nobody likes to submit information on a website they don’t trust. In other words, flaunt your security credentials. If your page is secure and encrypted (SSL), make sure the security certificate is displayed prominently on the landing page. And if there are other security features your firm follows, darn right you should display them, too.
  6. Build credibility—Similarly to the last point, prospects fill out forms on landing pages because they trust the vendor. This means that it’s your job to tell your brand’s story in a clear, concise and compelling manner. The trick to this point is that because we’re talking about a landing page, you don’t have too much real estate in which to tell your story. In other words, talk about what make your firms and its products unique, but don’t waste too much space or verbiage doing so. If you want to tell a customer testimonial or testimonials, make them short and to the point.

Okay, I guess those are my best tips for landing pages. So go out and build some good ones. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

The Nuances of Promoting Your Video via Email and Landing Pages

Email best practices suggest some nuance from the norm when you’re offering a video to be viewed. And the same goes for a landing page. A few changes to both can make a difference in your success. In this educational video, we discuss how to make email and landing pages more effective for online video viewing, and we share with you an example of a campaign using these best practices, along with the results

Email best practices suggest some nuance from the norm when you’re offering a video to be viewed. And the same goes for a landing page. A few changes to both can make a difference in your success. In this educational video, we discuss how to make email and landing pages more effective for online video viewing, and we share with you an example of a campaign using these best practices, along with the results it produced.

In today’s edition, we review how your email and landing page can be presented when promoting a video, how a screen grab of a video with text in an email improves clickthroughs, and a technique to maximize impact for your call-to-action when it appears on a landing page sequenced with your video call-to-action.

As a bonus, we share with you examples along with the results of a campaign using these best practices we’ve described (watch the video to find out how to get access to the case study examples for yourself).

Which Costs More: Video or Direct Mail?

What are the economics of producing and distributing a direct marketing video? And, how does it line up with costs for direct mail? If you’re a traditional direct marketer who has lived and breathed marketing costs, then running the numbers should come naturally. For this discussion, we’ll use direct mail as the comparison because historically it’s the distribution channel of choice

What are the economics of producing and distributing a direct marketing video? And, how does it line up with costs for direct mail? If you’re a traditional direct marketer who has lived and breathed marketing costs, then running the numbers should come naturally. For this discussion, we’ll use direct mail as the comparison because historically it’s the distribution channel of choice for direct marketers.

We’ve created a “Video Budget Checklist” that helps you itemize cost comparisons of creative, production and distribution between video and direct mail. If you’d like a copy, email me using the link in the left column. It’s free for our readers.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it)

Direct mail can come in all sorts of configurations. Low-cost postcards. A simple package of a letter and flyer inside an envelope. Or more expensive with multiple enclosures such as a letter, fold-out four-color brochure, lift note, order form, reply envelope and outer envelope. Sometimes the outer envelope is a custom size or has an oversize window, or there are expensive die-cuts on cards or tip-on elements that are outside of typical print configuration.

The fixed costs to create each of these packages by employees, agencies or freelance creative teams are pretty broad, from several hundred dollars to well into the five-figures when using proven, top-flight direct response creative professionals.

A wide range of configurations can apply to video production, just as it can to direct mail.

You can pop out a 45-second video using your Webcam or flip-camera and post it on YouTube. You just have to ask yourself if the poorly lit, distracting background, muffled or echoey sound of that presentation exemplifies your organization. Alternatively, the video could be purely voice-over with words scrolling along on the screen. Or you can make it visually more alive with photography images or stock video footage. At a more costly level, you might shoot testimonials or interviews in a studio or shoot on location to demonstrate your product. Of course, length impacts cost (just as the number of components impacts cost in direct mail). There are a lot of variables that go into video production, just as there are for direct mail.

The point is this: Start with a budget you’re comfortable with, talk with writers (ideally writers experienced in both direct response print, online and video), develop a video script and storyboard, and work with a skilled video editor. Don’t just be wowed by special effects on someone’s demo reel. Dig in and learn what results were produced from some samples or case studies. You might just want voice-over with images on screen. (See our last blog post for an example of a 3-minute video and details of how we adapted it from a direct mail package.)

If your personality is a draw, you can record yourself on a small camera that can fit in a pocket with a lav microphone for under $200, total. Make sure you have good lighting and background. Or spring $500 or so and get a green screen and lights. That’s the equipment we use to shoot our video for this blog. Be aware, assembling the right equipment and editing software is the easy part. Knowing how to use it all to your best advantage comes from training and practice—or hiring a pro.

Distribution Costs
For direct mail, you have list costs if you’re renting names, data processing, printing, lettershop and postage. The cost can range widely. If you’re testing in small quantities, you’ll pay more per piece.

Knowing the volume of prospects or prior customers to mail, the marketer calculates how many responses are needed to make a specific profit (or break-even) objective. Translate that number into a required response rate to meet your objectives—your allowable marketing cost—and presto, you can use the test of reasonableness to see if the numbers pan out.

For video, your distribution cost is driving viewers to your landing page. You might email your customer file, or rent a list, and give the reader a compelling reason to click to your landing page to watch the video, possibly opt-in for more information, or attempt to convert to a buyer then. You will need to include the cost to set-up the landing page and related items.

We suggest you begin with a budget where your objective is to create a video for the amount of money it would cost to produce a moderate to elaborate direct mail package (although video production on the cheap is possible—and might work).

Then compare the cost to print and mail a direct mail package versus that of emailing (whether it’s to customers at a low cost to email, or rent an email list at a higher cost). And add in the cost for developing your landing page. Chances are your cost per contact will be less for email and the landing page, but as we all know, it all comes down to the cost per sale or lead so bring your focus back to this metric.

One example worth mentioning is that of the Dollar Shave Club. Perhaps you’ve read about it. A big success for a 1:34 video that reportedly cost $4,500 and after a few days generated over 12,000 orders. The video has now been viewed over 4.6 million times.

Bottom line: just as you’d run the numbers to see if it makes financial sense to use direct mail, you need to run the numbers for video, too. And you just might be surprised how favorable the numbers look to reach out and explore video.

P.S.: Just out: comScore has released its April 2012 online video rankings data with a few notable metrics:

  1. 181 million U.S. Internet users watched nearly 37 billion online content videos in April.
  2. 85.5 percent of U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  3. The duration of the average online content video was 6.4 minutes.

Facebook’s Timeline for Brands: A Facebook Performance Opportunity

Facebook’s new Timeline for Brands enables marketers to foster engagement with participants. This engagement can equal Facebook performance. Brands can separate themselves from the competition by using real-time Facebook engagement data and insights to optimize their brand pages for performance.  

Facebook recently announced the launch of Facebook Timeline for Brands, or new profile pages for brands on the social networking site. New features of brand pages include the following:

  • pages are much more visual as brands have the opportunity to use large cover photos and videos to promote themselves;
  • brands can now prominently feature their most important tabs at the top of their pages;
  • brands can pin key posts to the top of their pages for up to seven days (i.e., they can highlight important posts for a longer time period); and
  • similar to Twitter, brands can privately message fans (and vice versa), helping Facebook become a more powerful customer service tool

The new pages are the hub for your brand on Facebook. All of your brand’s Facebook activities, ads and posts originate from your brand page. The brand page is also the key place for you and your fans to communicate, enabling you to foster stronger customer relationships.

Brands now have a platform on Facebook for complete experience optimization — i.e., engaging participants through sights, sounds, words, interactions, ads, games and apps, all in one easy-to-find place. Facebook noted that it wants Timeline for Brands to bring back the relationship between the customer and shopkeeper. The updated brand pages provide a platform for brands to engage with customers on a more personal and relevant level than probably any other platform, including the brand’s own website.

The same day Facebook launched Timeline for Brands, it also announced its new real-time Page Insights. Real-time insights are a game changer as marketers used to have to wait 48 hours for Facebook data.

Facebook Product Manager David Baser recently talked to AdAge about what real-time insights means for brands seeking performance through Facebook pages. Baser maintained that engagement can equal performance if brands are able to leverage real-time participant data to quickly optimize brand pages. For instance, if a brand knows that a certain post is driving a significant number of likes, comments or shares, that brand can quickly pin that post to the top of its brand page.

The new brand pages and real-time insights give brands the opportunity to understand how well they’re interacting with their users and how responsive customers are to the brand. These engagement metrics don’t necessarily directly equate to performance (i.e., sales and leads), but they can help a brand understand its ability to increase the likelihood of performance — e.g., conversions, new customers, improved customer loyalty and increased average order size.

The like button isn’t the only Facebook engagement metric of interest to marketers. Facebook also now reports on various engagement metrics centered on actions. These include the “People Talking About This” metric, which incorporates likes, comments, shares, tags, check-ins and event RSVPs, and the “Engaged Users” metric, which incorporates clicks on links, photos and video views. Performance marketers are focused on collecting and analyzing this engagement data to inform brand page content, make real-time brand page optimization decisions and increase the chance of performance. Brands should consider the following when analyzing their Facebook marketing strategy:

  1. Test specific posts (videos, polls, etc.) around new products, promotions and events.
  2. Collect engagement data.
  3. Measure changes in customer behavior (e.g., sales, leads, new-to-file customers, order size, etc.) based on the data.

Facebook’s new Timeline for Brands enables marketers to foster engagement with participants. This engagement can equal Facebook performance. Brands can separate themselves from the competition by using real-time Facebook engagement data and insights to optimize their brand pages for performance.

Myths and Misconceptions: The Real Truth About Content Marketing and the Search Engines: Part II

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.” I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

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

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things such as: “Google doesn’t like content or article marketing since they changed their algorithms” and “article directories are not useful for search engine marketing and link-building efforts anymore.”

I like to remind people of a few fundamental rules of online marketing, specifically involving content, that virtually never changes and is extremely helpful to know (and do!) … Previously, I provided the first three rules, here are the last three:

4. Targeted Link-Building. Links, whether it’s a one way back link or a reciprocal back link, are still links. Quality links help SEO, and that is indisputable. But, again, there’s some ground rules to do it right within best practices … and do it wrong. Links should be quality links, and by that I mean on sites that have relevant content and a synergistic audience to your own. It should also be a site with a good traffic rank. I prefer to do linkbuilding manually and do it strategically. I research sites that are synergistic in all ways to the site I’m working with (albeit one-way or reciprocal links). Doing it manually allows more targeted selection and control over where you want your links to go. Manual selection and distribution can also lead to other opportunities down the road with those sites you’re building relationships with, including cross-marketing or editorial efforts such as editorial contributions, revenue shares and more. In my view, this approach is both linkbuilding and relationship building.

5. Location, Location, Location. Where you link to is important. When doing SONAR or content marketing, I always tell clients to deep link—that is, not just link to their home page—which, to me, doesn’t make any sense anyway, as there’s too many distractions on a home page. Readers need a simple, direct call to action. Keep them focused. It’s always smarter to link to your source article, which should be on one of your subpages, such as the newsletter archive page or press release page. Now you have a connection. The article/content excerpt you pushed out is appearing in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and its redirect links to the full version on your archive or press page. You’ve satisfied the searcher’s expectations by not doing a “bait and switch.” There’s relevance and continuity. And to help monetize that traffic, that newsletter archive or press Web page (which you’re driving the traffic to), the background should contain fixed elements to “harness” the traffic it will be getting for list growth and cross-selling, such as fixed lead gen boxes, text ads, banner ads, editorial notes and more. These elements should blend with your overall format, not being to obnoxious, but being easily seen.

6. Catalyst Content. It’s always important to make sure you publish the content on your website first … I call this your “catalyst content.” This is the driving source which all other inbound marketing will occur and be focused around. Your website articles should be dated and be formatted similar to a news feed or blog. Also, posting timely press releases will work favorably, as they will be viewed by Google and human readers as the latest news (again favorable to Google’s latest “freshness” update). At the same time, send your content out via email (i.e. ezine) to your in-house list before external marketing channels see it. This helps from an SEO standpoint, but also helps with credibility and bonding with your subscribers and regular website visitors, as they should get your information before the masses.

There you go. My best practices for marketing with content. I don’t practice nor condone “black hat” marketing tactics. I’ve always been lucky enough to work for top publishers and clients who put out great, original content.

It really does all boil down to the quality of the content when you talk about any form of article and search engine marketing. Content is king, and when you have strong editorial, along with being a “creatively strategic” thinker, you don’t need to engage in “black hat” or questionable SEO/SEM.

Algorithms are always changing. It’s good to be aware of the latest news, trends and techniques, but also not to put your your eggs in one basket and build your entire online marketing strategy based on the “current” algorithms. Using solid content, analyzing your website’s visitor and usage patterns and keeping general best practices in mind are staple components that will always play an important role in content marketing.

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!)

Successfully Bring Your SEO Copywriting In-House

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

The marketing manager of a large e-commerce site recently filled me in on a challenge she was having. She knew her content needed an SEO copywriting intervention—but she didn’t have the budget for a keyphrase editing or rewrite campaign.

So I asked her, “Have you ever thought of bringing your SEO copywriting in-house?”

And I could almost hear the light bulb flickering on above her head.

The reality is, SEO copywriting is one task that can often be brought in-house. With the right people and a little training, your existing team members can produce your content—and your company will save money on your search marketing campaign.

If this is the direction you want your company to go, here are some things to consider:

Decide who does the writing. This may seem like a no-brainer, as it’s easy to think, “Well, we have five people in our marketing department, plus all of our sales staff. They can all write copy.” However, some folks are more qualified to write than others—and choosing the best writers will help make your campaign much more successful.

Try to pinpoint possible in-house SEO copywriters by:

  1. Experience: Print/online copywriters and journalists are the easiest to train.
  2. Being realistic: Just because someone is an awesome salesperson doesn’t mean he knows how to write. Review a person’s past writing and be very, very honest about his capabilities. You can train a good writer in SEO copywriting. But you can’t train a naturally bad writer to write better copy—at least, not without putting in some major effort.
  3. Interest: Some folks don’t like to write. Period. They’ll do it when they’re forced to, but the results are less than stellar. Giving writing tasks to these folks won’t help you a bit.

You may decide that you have to hire someone on a full or part-time basis to handle some of the writing. That’s OK. Better to hire someone with experience to fill in the gaps, then transform people into writers who, well, really shouldn’t be the ones writing content for your brand.

Make sure your writers have time to write. SEO copywriting is not an “other duties as assigned” gig. I’ve seen the best campaigns go bad because the SEO copywriters had other tasks to complete—and those duties took precedence over creating content. If you want your SEO copywriters to churn out premium content, that means they need the time to write. And that means good, uninterrupted time-free from meetings, phone calls and e-mail. If you honestly can’t give your writers space to write, you may see better (and faster) results from outsourcing.

Get the right training for your team. This step is crucial. Yes, it is possible to train your writers in SEO copywriting best practices. Yes, you can train folks to write benefit-rich copy that converts like crazy. But the operable word is training. I’ve seen too many companies send their writers to a conference with the task of “learning everything they can about SEO copywriting.” Guess what? I’m usually speaking at those conferences, and the information panelists can provide in 60 minutes or less is basic at best—and it’s certainly not customized for a company’s unique situation.

The right training depends on how much copywriting knowledge your writing team already has. If they are experienced online writers and strategists who just need to understand the SEO copywriting nuances, reading some books and taking a course like my SEO Copywriting Certification training should get them up to speed. If your company currently doesn’t have an in-house SEO copywriting strategy and your writers aren’t experienced online writers, a customized training that discusses copywriting theory as well as SEO copywriting is probably your best bet.

Whatever your company chooses, remember that it’s not fair to push someone into SEO copywriting who has no experience and no training. Not only will it be frustrating for your writer, it’s bad for your business—who wants Web pages written by someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Determine your content marketing opportunities. It’s one thing to task people with handling your online content. It’s another to tell them exactly what they should be writing. I’ve trained a lot of in-house copywriters, and the key to success (other than training) is having a clear action plan. What initially seems easy, “We’ll just send out some tweets, create a Facebook page and start editing pages,” is actually much more complex. Questions to ask are:

  1. What are our analytics telling us about our current content? What keyphrases are working?
  2. Do we need additional keyphrase research?
  3. What do we expect to gain from (insert content marketing strategy here)? For instance, if Twitter is part of your strategy, make sure you know how you’ll actually measure success.
  4. What pages can be edited for keyphrases (some folks call this “on-site optimization”)? Which pages should be completely rewritten?
  5. Is the tone, feel and benefit statement focus still appropriate for today’s marketplace?

If your company doesn’t have a content marketing strategy in place, I would highly recommend hiring a content strategist who can help you determine your content marketing opportunities and figure out next steps. This person doesn’t have to be a permanent member of your team; bringing on an outsourced vendor is fine. But as I mentioned in a previous post on my business blog, these folks will “see” opportunities that a technical SEO person won’t (which makes sense—technical SEO folks focus on code, not marketing.) Yes, this will cost some money, but much, much less than outsourcing your content. Plus, you’ll have a step-by-step plan for how to proceed.

Create an editorial calendar. The best-laid plans mean nothing without implementation. It’s one thing to know what to do. It’s another to actually do it. Determine who is writing what and the deadlines, then work with IT to figure out when new/edited content will be uploaded. A monthly editorial calendar is a great way to stay on track—plus, having everything written down makes everyone accountable.

Keep the momentum going. I know how hard it is to keep the content marketing momentum going when business is booming and everyone is swamped. Even if you have more business than you can handle right now, I encourage you to stay the course and keep cranking out quality content—even a few pages a month is good. And if your business is going through a natural slow time, using that time to build content is a powerful way to prepare for the upswing. Think about it: There is a high probability you’re getting the business you are because of your content marketing strategy. If you start to pull back and push content to the back burner, you’ll lose momentum—and possibly allow a competitor to “catch up” with you. Just remember the formula Momentum = Money, and you’ll be fine.