10 Mar

Three Fast Email Marketing Tips

1) Clean up your list.
Some email marketing services don’t automatically remove bounces. Other times, people email you to unsubscribe instead of using the handy-dandy “unsubscribe” link in your emails (crazy, I know). Take the time to go in and make sure that your list is up-to-date. Remove any bounces or unsubscribed email addresses, and add or update any new email addresses.

2) Make your links say “click here.”
Copyblogger published a short post about the results of a Marketing Sherpa study on hyperlink wording and email clickthrough rates. The verdict? Telling your readers “click to continue” resulted in an 8 percent increase in clickthrough rates.

When it comes to business writing, you need to tell your customers exactly what you want them to do. Tell them where to click, and you may be surprised at how your clickthrough rates increase.

3) Put your name in the subject line.
Not your name, personally (unless you’re an A-lister), but your company name or the name of that particular mailing list. People may forget that they signed up for your list, and the name will help jog their memory.

It also helps to save a newsletter that gets buried in a busy inbox: customers will know that your email always has “Acme’s Weekly Widget!” at the beginning, and they can easily search for it or send it to its own folder.

Bonus Tip!Send your newsletter out at the same time every week.
Pick a time to send out your newsletter every week (or every month, however you’re swinging it) and make sure you send it out at that time EVERY week. If you send it out at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, send it out every Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. If you send it out the last Thursday of the month, send it out the last Thursday of every month. Consistency is your friend.

Are there any email marketing tips that have worked for you? Share them below!

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23 Feb

What Our First President Can Teach You About Marketing

For most Americans, George Washington is one of our most admirable founding fathers. As the general for our army during the American Revolution and our first President, he led a long and distinguished life and helped to shape our country in those first years.

Considering yesterday was George Washington’s birthday, here are some words of wisdom from our first President.

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

George WashingtonIt can be tempting to use less-than-honest marketing practices, like black-hat SEO techniques or Twitter link spam, for quick results. However, you could find yourself in trouble with Google and other search engines faster than you can say, “Hey, where’d my site ranking go?”

As the Internet evolves, those “old ways” are getting pushed out. Honesty always wins out in the long term. If you have the firmness and virtue to maintain honest marketing practices, you’ll reap the rewards with happy customers.

“Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.”

Even George Washington was a fan of keeping things simple. Sometimes it’s tempting to flavor marketing copy with big words and technical jargon to show off expertise.

It’s best to resist this urge. People who can’t understand your copy aren’t going to buy from you. They’ll go looking for something they can understand. Keep your writing clear and concise, and you’ll bring more people into the fold.

“Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. It is better be alone than in bad company.”

It’s something that we apply to the people we associate with personally, but how about to the people that we do business with? If you work with a company that has questionable ethical practices, how long do you think it will be before people start to assume you condone those practices?

Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful marketing tools around. Project your company as an honest and upstanding one, and walk the walk. Do your business with other honest businesses, and you’ll maintain the reputation to attract the kind of customer you want.

And one more quote that goes for more than just marketing:

“Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.”

How often do you say “thank you” in the business world? Do you thank the clients who have chosen to do business with you? Have you given a trusted business partner a recommendation on LinkedIn? Have you reviewed a business you appreciate on Google Local?

Express your gratitude regularly to everybody. Let them all know how much you appreciate their business. If they’re happy with your company, ask if they’d be willing to leave a review for you online. You’d be surprised just how far a little “thank you” can go.

And on that note, thank you for reading! We’re glad you stopped by.

Do you have a favorite George Washington quote, or a mantra that defines how you do business? Share it in the comments!

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12 Feb

Does Your Website Answer These Five Questions?

Question markAll first-year journalism students have this fact drilled into their heads: Every story you write must answer the following questions within the first paragraph, if not the first sentence:

Who? What? Where? When? Why?

We’re trained to answer all the major questions readers will have in the shortest amount of space possible. Why? Because readers skim.

People also skim on the web. Does your website answer all the major questions they’ll have? Take a page out of the journalist’s book, and make sure you answer these questions on your home page:

Who?

Who are you? And more importantly, who do you do business with? If you create education products for K-12 instructors, then you don’t want copy that targets doctors and lawyers. Make it clear up-front who you are and who your audience is. You want your copy to target potential buyers, not “everybody.”

What?

What do you do? If people aren’t clear about what service or product it is that you provide, then how are they to know if they even need it? What’s in it for them?

This is one of the most important things for a website to answer, and it should be on the very front page, where it’s easiest for people to see.

Where?

Where are you located? Where do you do business? If you’re an exclusively local company based in Georgia, it’s not going to do you any good to attract clients in Timbuktu. Make sure people know where you operate.

When?

When are you open (if you have a brick-and-mortar store in addition to your website)? When can people contact you? Do you have special discounts, seasonal products, events, or training sessions coming up? All this information should be on your home page.

Why?

This question is the granddaddy of them all, because every person is going to ask it at least once. Why should they go with you? Why are you the perfect match for them?

Why are you so special?

Online, you’ve got a lot of competition. Make sure people know what it is that has you standing head and shoulders above everybody else, whether it’s your eco-consciousness, your obsessive attention to detail, your timeliness, or your sheer amount of experience in the industry.

Bonus Question: How?

How do you do what you do? Give people a little insight into your work process, and you’d be surprised at how that bit of transparency can make them feel more connected to you.

If you can answer these major questions effectively on your website, you’ll make a much greater impact on potential customers. They’ll know immediately if you’re the company for them.

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15 Jan

Three Quick Website Maintenance Tips

As the AVC editor-in-chief and word ninja, it’s my job to take care of all the little details.

Here are three quick tips that can 1) improve user experience and 2) will make it easier for search engines to read your site.

1. Fix dead links or remove them.

After your site’s been around awhile, it’s a good idea to go through and make sure that all the links are still pointing to the right pages. Sometimes you change domains and links get broken. Other times, you may have linked to a news story or a blog post that now no longer exists.

Regardless, people get sent to a 404 error page when they click on it. And that’s no good, right?

Go through and check your links. If you can, fix the link. If you can’t, then remove it entirely.

2. Proofread your copy and fix any mistakes.

Sometimes, little mistakes get through even the tightest of nets. That’s why it can’t hurt to take a little time to reread your copy and make sure everything’s spelled correctly, including employee names and titles. If you need help on whether or not something’s spelled right, check out our spelling and grammar guides.

3. Interlink your pages.

If you mention your services in your blog, link to your services page. If there’s a specific product you mention on your home page, link to your products page. If you have a series of blog posts, make sure that each post links to the entire series.

This practice helps search engines spider your site, and it adds a little bit of link juice. Not to mention it helps visitors navigate your site, since you have all those helpful links right there!

Bonus tip: Update your about page.

Things change in companies (adding people or losing people, been in business for 16 years now instead of 15, etc.), and your about page should reflect those changes. Seriously, when was the last time you updated it?

After the home page, the “about” page is typically the most visited page on your site. People want to know more about your company. Make sure it’s up-to-date!

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12 Jan

Seven Unbreakable Website Usability Rules

1. Thou shalt forgo happy talk and splash pages.

Happy talk is any text on your site that fills up space without actually saying anything. For example, “Welcome to our site! We’re so glad to have you.”

Splash pages are another archaic leftover from the early days of the web. These pages feature little more than a “click here to enter” button, and, like happy talk, they do little more than take up space.

Neither of these tells the visitor anything about what your company does. They just take up valuable home page real estate. Your site should be all about the problems you can help users solve. If something doesn’t do that, cut it out.

2. Thou shalt not overclutter.

It’s tempting to throw up everything you can onto your homepage. Pictures, videos, links, audio, text, your mother’s muffin recipe…

Be careful what you do, or else your site might end up looking like this:
Sites like this could give somebody a seizure.

Scary, huh? Your website exists to serve your customers. Don’t make it impossible for them to find what they need.

Remember this little maxim: Just because you can add it doesn’t mean you should.

3. Thou shalt label thy navigational tabs.

This is what Web Pages That Suck calls “Mystery Meat Navigation,” and it is not part of good, helpful web design. Who wants to waste time clicking around on little floating squares in the hopes that the next click will lead them to the page they want? It’s more likely that they’ll just get frustrated and go back to Google to search for something easier.

Unless your site is purely aesthetic (it’s art, or fashion, and you’re not trying to get people to buy anything), give people a road map so they know where to go. Again, don’t make it impossible for people to find what they need.

4. Thou shalt not intentionally obfuscate.

To quote Strunk and White, “Since writing is communication, clarity can only be a virtue.”

The same can be said for design. To keep your site usable, make sure that everything is clear and to-the-point: your copy, your design, and even your offers. Don’t make people guess at what you’re trying to tell them.

Use big buttons for calls-to-action. Keep technical jargon to a minimum. Let people know what you’d like them to do next, whether it’s read the blog or sign up for the newsletter or contact you.

5. Thou shalt not overstuff thy META tags.

We’ve already gone into the deprecation of the META keyword tag, but it’s still something we see people doing: stuffing keywords into their META description, keyword, and title tags.

First, the META keyword tag is utterly unhelpful with Google now, so even if you stuff it, it’s not going to do you any good. Second, the META description and title tags are what show up in search results. If you’re searching for information about widgets, which are you going to read: the result that says “widgets, widget building, widget history, widget manufacturing,” or the result that says “Everything You Need to Know About Widgets”?

6. Thou shalt not create a site entirely in Flash.

First, it’s difficult for search engines to read Flash (not impossible, as it used to be, but more difficult if you aren’t optimizing it the right way). Second, it has a load time of forever and a day (or at least thirty seconds, which is forever and a day on the web). Third, it lends itself to the aforementioned Mystery Meat Navigation.

Unless you have a darn good reason for it, keep your site in CSS and XHTML.

7. Thou shalt keep it simple, stupid.

In four to six seconds (depending on who you ask), somebody should be able to look at your website and figure out the name of your company, what you do, and how they can buy from you. By keeping your site simple and easy to navigate, your visitors can browse around and find what they’re looking for without any unwelcome surprises.

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05 Jan

Four Unbreakable Social Media Rules

The TED commandments of public speaking

1. Thou shalt be active.

In social media, you have to establish yourself as part of the community. Don’t just set up an account, make a couple of status updates or send a couple of tweets, and then decide that it’s not working. Social media marketing is not a magic bullet (nothing is). It takes time, and the most popular people online have been doing it for years.

Look at it as an investment. You’re investing in a community that will give you more informal access to your customers, to their hopes and dreams and disappointments. You can find out what they love and what they hate about you. It is easier than EVER to get feedback from people on how you’re doing, so that you can make your company into everything that your ideal customer would want.

Once you’re doing that, you can transform casual customers into hardcore fans. And hardcore fans are the ones who pimp you out to everybody they know.

2. Thou shalt be transparent—but not too transparent.

If you’re balancing work and personal stuff on sites like Twitter and Facebook, go for the 80/20 rule: 80 percent professional, 20 percent personal. That’s just enough to make people feel like they “know” you without giving up a ton of your privacy. And remember: people are more likely to buy from people they know than from people they don’t know.

Also, unless you’re plugging the awesome deli on the corner where you just had lunch, nobody cares about what kind of sandwich you’re eating. Even your personal posts need to have some guidelines.

3. Thou shalt not worry about making somebody angry.

Participating in any kind of back-and-forth with dozens—or hundreds—of anonymous people will eventually result in somebody getting ticked off. People don’t agree on everything. Heck, I can’t even get three people to agree on a radio station in my car. Just accept that sometimes, especially when you’re expressing an opinion, somebody’s going to take offense.

The only way to stop it is to make everything you write so utterly bland and flavorless that nobody would read it long enough to agree with you. And in social media, that’s more often worse than making people angry.

I’m not saying that you need to be deliberately antagonistic when you’re writing a post, or a Twitter update, or a bulletin. Just don’t completely neuter your point of view.

4. Thou shalt not post when angry.

And when somebody does get angry, as we discussed above, remember this rule. Never post when you’re angry. Don’t comment, don’t send an email, don’t interact with anybody. It’s so easy to spout off online when you’re angry, and engaging in a flame war will have very real, detrimental effects to both you and your business if you’re not careful.

Take some time to cool off before you post. Step away from the computer. Take a walk. Get some other work done. Eat some chocolate. Just make sure that you have to have control of yourself before you sit back down at the keyboard.

The thing to remember about the online world is that nobody has the benefit of hearing the tone or seeing the body language behind the words, and everything you do reflects on your company. Everything.

A poor reaction could cost you business. However, if you handle negative posts properly, you’ll earn a lot of esteem and respect in your community for doing so.

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Picture by dullhunk

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