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.

How Much Should You Spend on Google AdWords?

One of the most frequent questions I receive about Google AdWords is, “How much should I be spending on my AdWords campaign?” That’s a great question, and the short answer is, “It depends.”

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Phil Frost’s upcoming webinar “Old School SEO Is Dead: What you can do to adapt to Google and the new world of search marketing,” live on February 25. Click here to register.

One of the most frequent questions I receive about Google AdWords is, “How much should I be spending on my AdWords campaign?” That’s a great question, and the short answer is, “It depends.” One of the great things about AdWords is that it is highly customizable, allowing you to make the decisions that best fit your business needs. The downside is that it is not easy to see at a glance how best to manage your AdWords budget.

Fortunately, we have developed a formula that allows you to plug in your numbers and calculate a realistic budget. It breaks down into two phases: Testing and ROI.

Phase 1: Testing

When you begin your Google AdWords campaign, you will need to test several ideas to see what works for you and what doesn’t. While some campaigns are profitable right out of the gate, many others are not. Consider your testing phase to be a form of market research, and plan to invest those dollars without the expectation of getting them back.

Before you begin, gather the following information:

  • Target Keywords Cost Per Click (CPC): Google AdWords follows a pay per click (PPC) model. No matter how many times your ad appears, you only pay when a prospect actually clicks on it. For each keyword, you will pay a different amount of money for that click. This is known as the CPC, or cost per click. For example, Google estimates that “coffee shop” costs $2.90 per click, while “mortgage broker” costs $13.76.

Make a list of the keywords that you want to test, and then use the Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool to estimate the CPC for each of those keywords. Remember that this is just an estimate, so your actual cost may be higher or lower.

  • Time Frame: How long can you spend in the testing phase before you need to see your results? This is partly dependent on your industry and the keywords you choose. Some keywords have a higher search volume than others, making it easier to get results in a shorter time frame. Also consider your normal sales cycle. Do customers tend to purchase in one day, or does it take months for them to make up their minds? The lower your search volume and the longer your sales cycle, the longer it will take for you to obtain accurate data.
  • Sales Conversion Rates: As a general rule of thumb it’s safe to estimate that 1 in 100 people (1 percent) who view an AdWords ad will click on it, and 1 in 100 clicks (1 percent) will convert into a paying customer. These are estimates, and your ads might drive more or less traffic, but they work for planning purposes in the testing phase.

Now you are ready to put together your testing budget:

  • Per Keyword Cost to Test: If you can turn 1 in 100 clicks into a customer, then the estimated cost per sale is the cost per click (CPC) divided by 1 percent. For example, a keyword that costs $3 per click will cost you an estimated $300 for one sale. Go through the same process for each keyword you want to test, and add up the results to get your total budget.
  • Monthly Testing Budget: To generate a per-month Google AdWords budget, divide your total keyword costs to test by the number of months you want to allot to the testing phase. For example, if your total costs calculated earlier are $2,000, then you could budget $500 per month for 4 months. Or if you wanted to test faster, then $1,000 per month for 2 months.

Phase 2: ROI

Once your testing phase is complete, and you have generated a handful of sales from your ads, then it’s time to move into the ROI phase. The goal here is obviously to maximize return on investment from AdWords.

What should your budget be in the ROI phase? If your ads are profitable, then the answer is you should ditch your budget altogether! If every dollar you spend nets you more than a dollar in sales, it only makes sense to invest as many dollars as possible.

While many businesses focus on writing better ads, which improves the AdWords quality score and reduces the cost per click (CPC), that’s only half of the equation. The real magic comes from the EPC, or earnings per click.

To find your EPC, just multiply your customer value times your conversion rate. Your Customer Value is the average amount that one customer spends on your product or service minus your fulfillment costs. Your conversion rate is the percentage of clicks that become paying customers. So if the customer value is $100 and you have a 1 percent conversion rate, your EPC is $1.00.

Why Is EPC so important?

Well, it tells you exactly how much you can afford to pay per click for every single keyword in your account! If you pay more than your EPC, then you’ll be unprofitable. If you pay less, then you’re profitable. It’s as simple as that.

That means the key to AdWords success is to maximize your EPC by increasing both your customer value and your conversion rates.

Google AdWords is a highly customizable and extremely powerful advertising network, but it can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers. That’s why I put together an AdWords checklist to help you get your campaigns set up for success. Click here to get my Google AdWords checklist.

The Problem With A/B Testing

This week we set up an elaborate A/B test on subject lines. I liked “How 1.75 Billion Mobile Users See Your Website” and my client manager liked “Business Cards are No Longer the First Impression.” We learned long ago not to be a focus group of two, but our testing also proves something else I’ve been saying for years—A/B tests do not stand alone.

This week we set up an elaborate A/B test on subject lines. I liked “How 1.75 Billion Mobile Users See Your Website” and my client manager liked “Business Cards are No Longer the First Impression.” We learned long ago not to be a focus group of two, but our testing also proves something else I’ve been saying for years—A/B tests do not stand alone.

For our Mobile Users campaign, we dropped in an actual screenshot of every recipient’s website as viewed on an iPhone 6 (see image), because we knew this level of personalization could add a sizeable bump to engagement. It’s one thing to tell a recipient their website looks awful on a mobile device; it’s another thing to show them.

At the end of the campaign, we will have sent under 10,000 emails, but before we get to the balance, we felt it was important to know which of the two subject lines would perform better. All of us want to have the very best chance of success, so this was a necessary step. Ensure our subject line would foster a higher open rate.

For our initial test, we sent 600 emails, half to each subject line. One subject line performed best with opens, the other subject line performed best for clicks to the form. What that means is we now have a new question: is it better for us to get more people to open and see the message, or is it better to get fewer people to open, but to have accurately set their expectation about what was inside so they would click?

The open rate differed by more than 10 percent, and the CTR by about 2 percent.

Should I stop my analysis here and answer the only question I started with (which subject line should we use), or would it be better to take a look at other factors and try to improve the overall success in any way we can? For me, the problem I see with many marketers’ A/B tests is they ask one question, answer it, and then move on. In fact, many email automation systems are set up in precisely this manner: send an A/B test of two subject lines, and whichever performs better, use it to send the balance. What about the open rate and the CTR combined? Isn’t that far more important in this case (and many others)? Let’s take it one step further: what about the open rate, CTR and form completion rate combined? Now we’re on to something.

There are many factors at work here: time of day, past engagement, lifecycle and more. The subject line is a good place to start, but I can’t afford to ignore what we’ve gleaned from other campaigns.

This then becomes the hardest part of testing—be that A/B or multivariate—isolating what we’ve actually learned, and that usually means I cannot analyze just this one campaign. It must be an aggregate.

For our campaign, I took our test results and put those into a spreadsheet of 2014 campaign results and started to look for patterns. We’ve all read Thursday mornings are good (as an example), but does that hold true for my list? Were my open rates affected by time of day, by date, by day, by business type, by B-to-C vs. B-to-B? These are all analytics we track because we’ve found each of these does, in fact, influence open rate.

So, yes, we did learn which of the two subject lines performed better for opens, but what we also learned is that a repeat of the test to another 600 recipients on Tuesday morning instead of Thursday morning resulted in almost exactly opposite performance.

A/B tests can be hard. If they were easy, everyone would do them. Our simple one-time test was not enough information to make decisions about our campaign. It took more testing to either prove or disprove our theories, and it took aggregating the data with other results to paint the full picture.

We did find a winner: an email with a good subject line to get it opened, good presentation of supporting information inside, that led recipients to a form they actually completed, and all sent on the right day at the right time, from the right sender,

While you’re not privy to all of the data we have, on the top of the subject lines alone, which do you prefer?

Focus Group of One

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

If you’re sending your marketing campaigns without benefit of A/B or multi-variant testing—most companies admit to fewer than five tests per month—you are effectively acting as a focus group of one. You are assuming all of your constituents feel the same way about your campaign as you do. Big mistake.

Most of us have a least a bit of familiarity with A/B testing and have integrated it into some of our deployments. Testing subject line A against subject line B is likely the most common test, but with A/B testing you can go so much further—both simple and complex—for instance:

  • Best time of day for sending each of your email types (e.g., newsletter, offers)
  • Best day for sending each type of email
  • Frequency of sending each type of email
  • Length of subject line
  • Personalization within the subject line
  • Personalization within the message
  • Squeeze page vs. landing page
  • Conversion lift when video, demo or meeting booking are included
  • Diagnosing content errors
  • Challenging long-held behavior assumptions
  • Calls to action
  • Color
  • Format and design
  • Writing style (casual, conversational, sensational, business)
  • From name and email address (business vs. personal)

A/B and multi-variant testing enable you to learn what makes your prospects, leads, subscribers and customers tick. When you adopt a consistent testing process, your accumulative results will provide you with the knowledge to implement dramatic changes producing a measurable impact across campaigns, landing pages, websites and all other inbound and outbound initiatives.

We have a client whose singular call to action in every email is to discount their product, and each offer is more valuable than the last. When I asked how well this worked, they admitted, the bigger the discount, the more they sold. When pressed, however, they could not tell me the ROI of this approach. Sure, they sold more widgets, but at the discount level they offered, they also made far less profit.

I suggested an A/B-laden drip campaign offering no discounts, and instead providing links to testimonials, case studies, demos of their product, book-a-meeting links, and other inbound content. In this way, we were changing their position from asking for the business to earning the business. While I admit this usually lengthens the sales cycle, it also means money is not being left on the table unnecessarily.

For this client, the change in approach was simply too dramatic and they found they couldn’t stick with it long enough to gather the data needed to make long-term business decisions. The limited of data they were able to collect in the first few emails did show, however, an inbound approach deserved strong consideration by their organization.

Not all A/B testing need be this dramatic—we could have started them off with a less-committed approach. My takeaway was: You don’t have to learn it all now; A/B testing can be integrated in a small way. Whether you go all out or an occasional test, A/B data is useless if you do not set measurable goals. Measurable goals mean you will establish:

  • Required return on investment
  • Vehicle (email, direct mail, other)
  • What to test
  • Audience
  • Time frame
  • Testing protocol
  • How to integrate what you’ve learned into future campaigns

If your email application does not support A/B testing, you can use a more automated approach. Simply create two versions of your marketing campaign and divide your list randomly in half—unless, of course, what you’re testing is something within your list, such as gender or locale.

I often am in search of information well beyond opens, clicks and visits, so I turn to Email on Acid for email heat maps and Crazy Egg for landing page and website heat maps. While these are effective on live pages and campaigns, it’s not required you deploy A/B testing to a live audience. Testing can be just as effective with a small focus group, just be sure it’s not a focus group of one.

Fresh Insights in Selling to SMBs

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company

Despite the attention given to large enterprise marketing, it’s small and medium businesses (SMB) where the bulk of marketing investments go. SMB is where there’s enough volume to do plenty of testing. Plus, you’ve got a tighter decision-making unit and shorter sales cycles. And you’ve got a lot of company. Plenty of agencies, research firms, and other marketers are focused on SMB, and willing to share their insights. One new set comes from Bredin, Inc., a Boston-based agency that just published a new study on how SMBs buy today.

Kudos to Bredin for figuring out how to persuade 532 busy business owners to take a 15-minute survey online, in May 2014. Respondents were asked all kinds of questions about their buying, influences, media preferences, resources, the works. Here are the nuggets that were most revealing to me.

  • These buyers trust their peers more than any other information source, across the spectrum from awareness to researching product details to the buying decision.
  • They still rely on trade shows and events for product information. Second only to peers and colleagues.
  • They like print materials, for brochures, checklists, handbooks, case studies. When it comes to tablets, they expect to see quotes, order confirmations, videos, interactive tools, and presentations.
  • They want to hear from their vendors, regularly. Not just when they are ready to make a purchase. Encouraging, isn’t it?
  • They welcome email, phone and face-to-face contact from vendors in the period when they are researching, but not ready to buy-what we marketers call “nurturing.” But the number of nurturing contacts they want varies widely, from weekly, to monthly, to every six months.
  • Most of the time (74 percent), the business owner himself or herself is the person investigating the new products and solutions. And this is among businesses with up to 500 employees.
  • The vendor website is a top resource when conducting product research and honing in on a purchase decision.

What should marketers take away from these observations?

Thought Leadership: Establishing your executives and your company as trusted advisers in your field is hugely important in this market. This means networking, content marketing, PR outreach, speaking engagements, and trade/industry professional activities.

Block and Tackle: There are always shiny objects out there, but make sure you have the basics covered. A well-trained sales force, enabled with informative materials, both digital and print, email, phone and trade show support.

Content-rich Website: Intuitive navigation, clarity of design, benefit-oriented copy, loaded with explanatory tools, like case studies, product comparisons, testimonials, how-to guides, video demonstrations-this is how to attract and serve the SMB buyer.

This fresh data confirms my long-held view that business owners value the help they get from their vendors. Ours is a relationship of mutual benefit, as long as we do our part to help them solve their business problems.

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

PPC Shockers and Secrets

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales. I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now. Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales.

I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now.

Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

First, I’d like to clear the air about a big shocker … or actually a fallacy … that you need a big budget to run an effective PPC campaign.

You don’t. If you happen to have a large budget, your ads will be shown more and you can spread out your ad groups and test different types. With a smaller budget, you do need to be more judicious with your efforts. But if you market smarter, not broader, your campaigns can still produce positive results.

I have run PPC campaigns with total monthly budgets of $1,000. I have run campaigns with total daily maximum budgets ranging from $25 to $50. These campaigns brought in both sales and leads, despite their limited spending. But they do require active management, strategic thinking, deep PPC knowledge and refinement/optimization.

The PPC Tri-Pod
What is going to determine the cost and return of your campaign are three simple things I call the “PPC Tri-pod”, as it supports your entire PPC efforts:

  1. Keywords
  2. Creative (or banner ad, if it’s running on the display network)
  3. Redirect URL

So in order for you to get the most bang for your buck with PPC, you should be aware of a few things regarding the PPC Tri-pod:

Keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more cost per click (CPC) it’s going to have. So it’s very important to do your keyword research before you start selecting your keywords as you’re setting up your campaign.

I like to use Keywordspy.com. The “lite” version is free, but you can also upgrade to the full version and see more results and have more capabilities for a monthly fee. Google used to have its Keyword External Tool, which has since morphed into Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You need a Gmail account to access this free tool.

Either of these tools will allow you to enter keywords or keyword phrases and then view popularity (actual search results), as well as what the average CPCs are. This is important for your keyword selection and bidding. You can also type in your “core” or focus keywords and get additional ad group/keyword ideas. To help refine your search terms, you can also choose broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, exact match and negative match.

If you pick a word that is too vague or too under-searched, your ad will not see much (or any) action. Impressions will either not be served, or if they are served (in the case of a vague word), it may cost you a high CPC. In addition, a vague keyword may not be relevant enough to get you a good conversion rate. Because you pay by the click, your goal is to monetize that click by getting an instant conversion. And conversions, my friends, will be the role of the landing page. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

Creative. This is your text ad (or banner ad, if you’re running in AdWords’ display network). For Google to rank your ad favorably, and more importantly, for you to get the best conversion results possible—there needs to be a relevancy and synergy between your keyword, text ad and landing page. Google will let you know if you’re not passing muster by your ad’s page position and quality score. Once you’ve carefully researched and selected your ad group keywords, you’ll want to make sure those keywords are consistent across the board with your ad and landing page. Your text ad has four visible lines with limited character count:

  1. Headline (25 Characters)
  2. Description Line 1 (35 Characters)
  3. Description Line 2 (35 Characters)
  4. Display URL (35 Characters)

Your keyword must appear in your text ad, as well as follow through and appear in the content of your landing page.

This will give you a good quality rank with Google, but also help qualify the prospect and carry the relevancy of the ad through to the landing page. Why is this important? It helps maintain consistency of the message and also set expectations with the end user. You don’t want to present one ad, and then have a completely different landing page come up.

Not only is that a “bait and switch,” but it’s costly. Because you’re paying for clicks, a great ad that is compelling and keyword rich, but not cohesive to your landing page, will not convert as well as one that is. And your campaign will actually lose conversions.

Redirect URL. This is your landing page. Different goals and different industries will have different formats. A lead generation campaign, which is just looking to collect email addresses to build an opt-in email list, will be a “squeeze page.” This is simply a landing page with a form asking for first name and email address in return for giving something away for free—albeit a bonus report, free newsletter subscription or similar. It got its name because it’s “squeezing” an email address from the prospect. Some retail campaigns will direct prospects directly to e-commerce sites or catalog pages (as opposed to a sales page). Direct response online marketers will drive their traffic to a targeted promotional landing page where it’s not typically a Web page where there’s other navigation or distractions that will take the prospect away from the main goal. It’s more streamlined and focused. The copy is not technical, it’s compelling and emotional, like promotional copy you would see in a sales letter. The anatomy of your redirect URL will vary on your goal and offer. It will take optimization and testing to see what’s working and what’s not. And that’s par for the course. If you’re testing, I suggest elements that scream and not whisper, such as long copy vs. short copy, or headlines and leads that are different themes. However, no matter what your goal, whether it’s going for the sale or the email address, you still need keyword consistency between all creative elements.

Tips And Tricks For Maximum ROI
Whether you have a big or small budget, there are a few things I’ve learned during the years that help the overall performance of a PPC campaign. Some of these are anecdotal, so if you’ve seen otherwise, I suggest testing to see if it makes a difference to your particular industry.

Ad and Landing Page. In general, I have noticed that shorter, to the point, landing pages produce better results. And the rationale is quite obvious. People searching the Web are looking for quick solutions to a problem. This means your creatives have to not only be keyword rich, but compelling and eye-caching. You have seconds to grab a Web surfer’s attention and get them to click. In the same sense, the landing page has to be equally relevant and persuasive, and typically shorter in copy. Keep in mind Google has many rules surrounding ad copy development. So write your text ads in accordance to its advertising policy.

Price Point. Again, in my personal experience, most Web surfers have a price threshold. And that’s items under about $79. When running a PPC campaign, think about price points that are more tolerable to “cold” prospects; that is, people who haven’t built a relationship with you or know anything about you. They have no brand loyalty. They don’t know you from Adam. So getting a sale at a lower price point is an easier sell than a product you have that costs hundreds of dollars. Luxury items or items with strong recognition and brand loyalty are the exception to that rule. As a direct response marketer, I urge you to price test and see for yourself.

Campaign Set-up. There are a few tactics I notice that help with ad exposure, clicks and saving money. When you’re setting up your campaign you can day-part, frequency cap and run ad extensions. Day parting allows you to select the hours of the day you’d like your campaign to run; ad extensions allow you to add components to your text ad to help visibility and call to action—such as location, site links, reviews and more; And frequency capping lets you set a threshold on how many times you’d like a given person to see your ad (based on impressions).

PPC Networks. It’s smart not to put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to Google AdWords, try running campaigns on other PPC networks, such as Bing/Yahoo, Adroll (retargeting through Facebook), Advertising.com/AdSonar.com, SiteScout.com (formerly Adbrite.com), and Kanoodle.com. Then see where you get the best cost per click, cost per conversion and overall results.

I’ve only touched the surface here. There are more tactics and features that can help a PPC campaign’s performance. So get yourself familiar with it, read up on the best practices, and don’t be afraid to put your toe in the water. As with any marketing tactic, some channels will work for your business, and some won’t. But you won’t know unless you test. Just remember the foundation of success hinges on the PPC Tri-Pod. The possibilities are endless.

When to Squeeze

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should

A marketing email should not ever be an isolated interaction between you and the recipient—it should be a player in a concert designed to delight, woo and convert. Other players in this concert include forms, links, content, assets, and, importantly, landing pages or squeeze pages. For your recipients, these pages should:

  • Provide a clear, concise path to becoming a customer.
  • Enable them to become customers.
  • Resolve any concerns they may have about becoming customers.

Let’s cover the basics:

A “landing page” is a web page, either on your site or hosted within your ESP or other site, that details the offer of your call to action (CTA). A landing page provides the visitor with several or numerous information sources or paths to engagement. For instance, you might link to white papers and videos that support your message (see Figure 1 int he media player at right), provide social media icons for connecting, or even reviewing options for feedback. In short, there is no limit to the amount of information you may include on a landing page—but more is not always better.

When more is not better, a squeeze page provides an ideal solution. A “squeeze page” is a Web page with a singular focus on the conversion (see Figure 2). Similarly designed to a landing page, it is without the myriad options one might find on a targeted landing page. On this page you’ll have no social icons, no links to your website, and only one option for engagement. As a mnemonic, think of a squeeze page as putting the squeeze on the visitor to do just one thing: complete the call to action referenced in your email.

Landing and squeeze pages provide you with ample opportunities for A/B and multivariate testing. Creating multiple versions of your pages, you can test messaging, buttons, images, color, formats (responsive or static) and much more. What’s more, combined with analytics monitoring, you can discern who’s visiting, for how long, what they did, where they go and so much more.

We have many clients who at the outset were performing some marketing (either direct mail or email), but in most cases were sending recipients to their home page—and without benefit of a tracking URL. There are two primary reasons you should never, never send your marketing traffic to your home page, 1) your home page should provide information appropriate for your general audience and, as such, does not specifically engage the marketing-message recipient; and 2) it is difficult or impossible to discern—even through analytics—which visitors came to your home page through other promotions, and which specifically visited your home page after having received your marketing campaign. These analytics are critical to understanding the behavior of your recipients, so don’t miss this opportunity to collect it, analyze it and act on it.

As you design your landing or squeeze page, use your email or direct mail piece as the guideline. Be sure you are directing clickthroughs to a page using the same art, same messaging and consistent branding. This similarity of design is comforting to the visitor and ensures they’ve come to the right place. Given they found the design of the email compelling enough to click, why spoil the moment? You already found what works, give them more.

If, however, you find that you’re simply not getting the conversions you expected, check the number of visitors first. You must have visits to gain conversions. If not, back up and take a closer look at the initial engagement and consider first things first. No matter how wonderfully written, artfully designed, and programmatically perfect a landing or squeeze page is, if your message does not drive your recipient to visit the page, your conversion rate will suffer. Ensure your message drives the visit before you give angst an audience over conversion disappointments.

If number of visits is within your acceptable range (but when is it ever enough?), work on the other players within your campaign, such as:

  • Form length
  • Form questions
  • Button design and placement
  • Text content
  • Links
  • Downloads
  • Supporting resources
  • Design
  • Programming errors

All of these elements can and should be tested and tracked through A/B and multivariate testing combined with analytics and heat-mapping. Using landing and squeeze pages makes this testing process easier and more reliable than trying to root through or make drastic changes to your site’s home page.

Taking this discussion just one step further, if a landing page simply doesn’t provide you adequate real estate, consider a “microsite,” a series of linked landing pages that spotlights your offer.

Sometimes integrated email means the integrated components within your campaign and rather than the components of the initiative. As you develop your emails, think beyond the inbox and give consideration to the end-to-end experience and what you can provide to your visitor in order to attain that elusive conversion.

Email Segementation: Make Your List More Than the Sum of Its Parts

Segmentation is also one of the most powerful and often under-utilized features of email automation applications. Though automation makes the process simpler, many marketers are put off by overhead in the form of upfront work required to develop and deploy rules and testing scenarios that result in more effective targeting and conversion. Should they bother?

Segmentation is the process of grouping names within your list into like interests, position in the buying cycle, demographics or other criteria relevant to your business.

Segmentation is also one of the most powerful and often under-utilized features of email automation applications. Though automation makes the process simpler, many marketers are put off by overhead in the form of upfront work required to develop and deploy rules and testing scenarios that result in more effective targeting and conversion. Should they bother?

Simply put: The answer is a resounding yes.

Using forms and engagement tracking, marketers can collect more information than ever before, and advanced data collection—progressive profiling—lowers form abandonment while acquiring new data through the querying of only data that has not yet been collected. When forms alone are not enough, email messages can be designed to A/B or multivariate test whole groups in order to garner specificity that leads to segmentation.

Segmenting lists using all of this type of data means you can selectively choose your most active (or profitable) groups, deselect the inactive, and develop campaigns designed to specifically reengage those who still hold promise. Data combined with automation means we benefit from better conversions and our prospects and leads benefit from messages in which they are truly interested. Targeted emails translate to better ROI in virtually every study.

Not only does segmentation make money through higher conversions, it saves money, too. When audiences are not separated into segments and are sent generic messages, open rates are lower. According to a study from MarketingSherpa, segmented emails get 50 percent more clicks than their untargeted counterparts.

Despite all the benefits of segmentation, not all marketers are onboard. For instance, Experian found that even though targeted email campaigns have a 40 percent higher open rate, 80 percent of marketers email the same content to an entire group.

Are businesses and marketers overcomplicating the process? Segmentation can be as simple or as complex as fits your needs, but customizing the process and making it unique to your business can give you the edge over competitors.

6 Steps to Segmentation

  1. Set a quantifiable and measurable goal for your campaign.
  2. Ensure your list contains enough names that it will still result in meaningful data, even after segmentation.
  3. Create segments using any data important to your business, such as: behavior, demographics, position in the sales funnel, and so on.
  4. Identify the most valuable segments—those that present the greatest opportunities.
  5. Create targeted messaging specifically designed to engage each segment.
  6. Track and measure results.
  7. When you treat new and current subscribers in the same manner and send them the same messages, you are missing one of the most important ways to nurture your lead to purchase. Segmentation can be as simple as dividing your list into new and current leads, but other ideas include:
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Presence of children
  • Owner vs. renter
  • Length of residence
  • Lifestyle segmentation
  • Past purchase
  • Last visit to website
  • Pages visited at website
  • Resources downloaded

Explicit data are demographics such as company size, industry segment, job title and geographic location.

Implicit data are the recipient’s actions or interactions, such as those who open, click, download a resource, watch a video, visit your website, share your content, and so on.

For some businesses, even though they have a large list, the list does not contain enough data to enable meaningful segments—but all is not lost. Many companies provide list-append services that allow you to add data to your current list by matching on a unique bit of data you do have, such as the email address.

Another segmentation idea is to identify those within your list who are returning customers and those with the highest value order. These two groups are generally the most valuable to your company and therefore warrant especially targeted messaging and hand-holding.

Segments can even be divided further into sub-segments, and those sub-segments divided again, and so on. However, creating relevant content for each segment is not without effort, so it’s best to not subdivide your list to the point where there are not enough names in the sub-segment to justify the work required.

With segmentation; you can greatly improve message relevance; set up better A/B and multivariate testing; target your audience with subject lines, designs, and images that resonate with the individual; and acquire higher click-thru and sales rates.

Only Trust Professionals – and Other Lessons From the NFL

I’m not even a big football fan, but I could certainly relate to the pain felt by the Saints when that last minute touchdown call was ruled against them. Of course the problem was with the inexperienced referees, called in when the professionals went out on strike. The same blame game is used when a direct marketing campaign goes awry. The client’s pointing its finger at the agency for its work/ideas, while the agency’s pointing its finger at the client for its direction/changes.

I’m not even a big football fan, but I could certainly relate to the pain felt by the Saints when that last minute touchdown call was ruled against them. Of course the problem was with the inexperienced referees, called in when the professionals went out on strike.

The same blame game is used when a direct marketing campaign goes awry. The client’s pointing its finger at the agency for its work/ideas, while the agency’s pointing its finger at the client for its direction/changes.

A successful direct marketing campaign is comprised of many complex facets—and it takes knowledge, experience and expertise to execute it flawlessly.

Despite the fact that many agencies claim complete integration and global knowledge, the reality is they often talk a good strategic game, but when handed a DM assignment, the executional details are left to the inexperienced.

I’ve received several calls recently from colleagues who want me to “help their agency” with the direct mail portion of a campaign. Not the strategy or the creative (their agency won’t let anyone touch that golden egg), but the list. It seems the agency doesn’t know the first thing about lists … and had been trying to sell the client something found on the internet from an unknown supplier.

That’s like asking the NFL referee to make the call on the Saints interference, but not on the Seahawks touchdown. The two are inexplicably entwined.

So I am asking, no begging, that clients identify and leverage agency partners based on their specialty. Spend your time understanding what skills are truly in the agency’s wheelhouse—and not a “sure, we can do that too!” skill. If the agency specializes in branding, then that’s what they’re probably very, very good at … and if it specializes in digital marketing (kind of a broad skill, but whatever), then ask them for help with your digital needs.

Good direct marketing agencies understand how to step back and think about your marketing needs based on your business goals and objectives. They delve deep into target audience research, trying to understand the audience mindset and identify key messages that will resonate and motivate a response. They may, in fact, recommend that you don’t use email (horrors!) or direct mail (gasp!) in your campaign mix for a variety of reasons, including the inability to find blue-eyed, left handed crane operators in any meaningful quantity that would make sense.

Good direct marketing agencies know how to source lists that are compiled from reputable sources. And they know how to evaluate those lists, identify the potential winners, and set up an unbiased test matrix to test and learn from a statistically valid sample size.

Good direct marketing agencies know how to design a campaign that will yield the desired response from the target. They’ll have solid rationale as to why a #10 package makes sense instead of a postcard, or why a three-panel self-mailer doesn’t make sense—even though your brand agency designed one that was “cool.” Or why an email shouldn’t consist of product images, or have a Subject line that’s longer than 40 characters.

Good direct marketing agencies know how to write compelling teasers, headlines, subheads, Johnson Boxes, P.S.’s and body copy based on years of testing and experience. They know how to leverage customer quotes, and the difference between a brochure, a buckslip, and a lift note.

Good direct marketing agencies don’t pick an offer because it sounds like fun, or because the client wants to get rid of the pile of chachkies in the warehouse. Their recommendations for offers is based on a deep understanding of what can motivate a target, an evaluation of the ROI model, and in-depth experience based on years of testing.

So if you view direct marketing as a skill set that can be handled by the temporary ref, then let your branding agency take charge. But if you want real results, bring in the pros.