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Updated: 29 min 31 sec ago

4 Picture-Perfect Photo Editing Tools

7 hours 7 min ago

Nothing makes an email, social or blog post, or any marketing materials pop like a picture. To promote your business, you want images that stand out. You want pizzazz. To achieve that, you need to add some stunning images.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer to take and edit your own pictures. With the right editing software, you can turn a so-so photo into a poppin’ picture that’s fit for your audience.

We asked Tom Clarke, a commercial product photographer, to help us come up with a list of picture-perfect photo editing tools. We’ll start with the most simplistic tools and work our way to the more advanced options.

1. Paint.NET
If this is your first crack at editing pictures, try Paint.NET It’s easy-to-understand software that helps you do basic editing functions like crop, rotate, adjust color and add effects. The interface is self-explanatory, which is helpful if you’re not an editing pro. Plus, there are a bunch of tutorials to guide you along. You’ll need a PC to use this software, however, since it’s a window-based program.

2. PhoXo
PhoXo is easy to navigate and offers the standard editing tools along with 50 special effects, which makes it a perfect option for beginners. Like Paint.NET, the design and layout look a lot like Microsoft Word, so there shouldn’t be a steep learning curve.

You can add basic text or clipart to photos, improve the quality of the image, and check out tutorials to guide you through the editing process.

And, did we mention, it’s free?

3. GIMP
If you have some editing knowledge, GIMP could be the right fit for you. This tool is often compared to Photoshop except for one very big difference – it’s free. Clarke says it can do 75 percent of what Photoshop does, which means you can do some fairly advanced editing.

It’s also a portable app, which means you can store it on a thumb drive and only use it when you need it. Other photo editors can take up a lot of storage space.

4. Photoshop Elements
Whether you’re a PC or Mac user, Photoshop Elements is another option for the editing professional. Photoshop has a lot of name recognition, so it’s no surprise that it’s on our list. Photoshop Elements is a simpler and cheaper version of the full Photoshop package. It runs about $100.

You can do all sorts of advanced editing with this software. From teeth whitening to removing an object from a picture, the options are endless. For those with a little photo savvy, this could be a great addition to your editing toolbox.

Once you pick editing software, play around with it. The best way to learn is through experimentation. When it comes to editing images for emails, there are a few tools that you’ll want to know how to use. While you’re learning the editing ropes, familiarize yourself with these specific tools:

  • Crop
  • Exposure
  • Saturation
  • Contrast
  • Text
  • Straighten
  • Red eye
  • Effects

Do you have a favorite photo editing tool that we didn’t list? Share it in the comment section below.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 4 Picture-Perfect Photo Editing Tools appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Facebook Introduces “Buy” Button – What It Means for Your Biz

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 13:37

Facebook is trying to take the e-commerce bull by the horns by introducing and testing its new “buy” button. With the release, Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is determining whether it can help businesses drive sales. The new button, which will be seen in the news feed and on business pages, will allow people on a desktop or mobile device to easily purchase a product directly from a business with a click of a button. And without ever leaving Facebook. Here’s how the new advertising product will appear on Facebook:

Image courtesy of the Facebook blog

According to Facebook’s blog, the buy button is currently just a test and is, “limited to a few small and medium-sized businesses in the U.S.” They plan to share more information as they gather feedback from the test.

Facebook knows there may be concerns with security and privacy, and released the following statement via their blog to address these fears:

“We’ve built this feature with privacy in mind, and have taken steps to help make the payment experience safe and secure. None of the credit or debit card information people share with Facebook when completing a transaction will be shared with other advertisers, and people can select whether or not they’d like to save payment information for future purchases.”

This new Facebook feature comes on the heels of an announcement from Twitter about three weeks ago, in which they introduced their own “Buy Now” button. With two of the largest social networks jumping into the e-commerce space, could this provide some unwelcome competition to e-commerce juggernaut, Amazon? We’d love to hear your thoughts and wonder if you’ll try these new social “buy buttons” for your products or services?  

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Facebook Introduces “Buy” Button – What It Means for Your Biz appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Pinterest Tactics + Back-to-School = A+ Sales

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 06:01

Think it’s too early to utter the words, “back-to-school”? I’m with you, but guess what? Shoppers aren’t.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Back-to-School survey, 22.5% of consumers will begin shopping for school items at least 2 months in advance – That’s right now! Almost half (44.5%) of consumers shop one month before school starts (which could be right now for some), and 25.4% shop two weeks ahead of schedule.

The NRF states total back-to-school and college spending is expected to reach $74.9 billion this year – Talk about opportunities! Looks like it’s time to jump on the back-to-school bandwagon, right now.

And what better way to reach those back-to-school consumers than by using the “visual discovery tool” known as Pinterest. Stats from ShareThis show that Pinterest has now become the third most popular shared social channel. The NRF’s survey also found that one-third (33%) of consumers will do more comparative shopping online, and nearly six in 10 (57.8%) will use their smartphone in some fashion as they shop for college items. According to new data by Gigya, Pinterest is also the number one sharing destination for ecommerce – A playground for all things back-to-school.

With that, here are 5 Pinterest tactics, ideas and inspiration for anyone wanting a slice of those back-to-school sales:

1. Create Back-to-School-Specific Boards (from your business account)

First, ensure you have a business Pinterest account. Then, do a simple search on Pinterest for anything back-to-school-related. The search functionality is similar to Google in that it’ll automatically populate popular searches including the following:

  • back-to-school
  • back to school bulletin boards (for teachers)
  • back to school gifts
  • back to school outfits
  • back to school activities
  • back to school crafts
  • back to school college fashion
  • back to school lunch ideas
  • back to school gadgets
  • school organization
  • school supplies
  • school hairstyles
  • college dorm life
  • college DIY
  • college organization
  • college tips, and the list goes on.

These results should give you an idea as to what people are searching for, and how often. Create your boards and pin ideas around these topics, and be sure to include these keywords in your descriptions when applicable. Create and pin your own content around these topics, any of your own related products or services, and/or any useful third party content.

The NRF also states that Millennials are playing a major role in back-to-school spending, as families with high school students plan to spend the most. According to the survey, teenagers also plan to spend an additional $913 million of their own money on school items. A surprising find: Man plan to outspend women – So keep these audiences in mind as well!

Have several other Pinterest boards? Rearrange them so your back-to-school boards are up top and above the fold like Bed Bath & Beyond does here:

Not a retailer? Think outside the box. Back-to-school can be stressful for parents and kids, so businesses like spas, wineries, travel companies, and acupuncturists can create stress-free back-to-school boards. College and/or high school kids may need tune-ups and auto repairs. An automobile repair shop can create back-to-school auto safety and preparedness boards. Food companies and/or bloggers have an endless number of options: Quick and easy breakfasts for kids, Top Ramen 10 ways, eating healthy on-the-run, creative school lunches, etc. A dance studio could create and promote after-school extra curricular activity boards for both kids and parents, emphasizing the importance of exercise.

Browse other back-to-school Pinterest boards for inspiration. Below are examples from various businesses utilizing back-to-school boards. They range from photo publishing services, product inventors, education unions, food brands, blogs, to children’s services, craft stores, crayon brands, TV shows, auto associations, historical societies and comedy sites.

2. Include valuable Pin descriptions

Pin descriptions are some of the most important, yet overlooked aspects to a successful, traffic-driving pin. Here’s what you should include:

  • A concise pin description in 200 characters or less. According to research from Dan Zarella, “The Social Media Scientist,” pins with descriptions written in 200 characters or less receive the most repins.
  • Hashtags (occasionally) but don’t go #crazy.
  • A link! Yes, the image links back to the original source, but that also requires 2 clicks of the image. Including the URL directly in the pin description requires just one click. You can also now add UTM tracking codes to your URLs, as they were previously stripped out, to monitor your traffic in Google Analytics.

3. Post Rich Pins

Rich Pins include additional information on the pin itself such as item pricing, availability, ingredients, movie ratings, and even maps. There are five different types of Rich Pins: movie, recipe, article, product and place. According to Shopify, Rich pins with prices get 36% more likes than those without. And, according to Brandon Gaille, pins including recipes get 42% more clicks.

In order to post Rich Pins, however, you must place meta tags on your website, test your Rich Pins and apply to get them on Pinterest. Pinterest has all the details on their website.

4. Create Your Own Images/Visuals

You don’t have to purely rely on product or stock images to reel people in on Pinterest. Creating your own images or visuals is especially helpful for anyone with a service, rather than a product-based company, or anyone trying to promote a blog post, article, guide, video, how-to tutorial, checklist, free trial, and more. Keep it simple, clean but still visually appealing. Your visuals don’t need to be complicated, and you can create any of these on a free, easy-to-use photo editor like:

  • Aviary – A free photo editor you can use on iOS or Android
  • PicMonkey – A free online photo editor
  • Pixlr – A free online photo editor (I made the featured image for this blog post using Pixlr)
  • Box Shot King – Allows you to upload images and project them onto eBook covers – No design experience necessary!
  • Placeit  – Allows you to insert images, videos, checklists, etc. onto images of computer screens, mobile phones, iPads, etc.

Below are two simple but effective examples of visuals including checklists that link back to blog posts. Note: They have several repins and likes; yet don’t include any pictures of products.

5. Collaborate!

The great thing about Pinterest is that you don’t have to go it alone. If you noticed, some of the boards up top aren’t just created by one company. Several companies have either collaborated with multiple related companies, popular bloggers or even personal employee accounts to contribute to their back-to-school boards. This allows for more widespread visibility, new audiences and a robust board.

The Food Network’s “Let’s Go Back to School” Pinterest board has 22 contributors ranging from websites like CNN’s food blog, Eatocracy, the Cooking Channel, various chefs, cookbook authors, to local food bloggers/photographers, gluten and dairy free websites, and more.

Check with local small businesses, bloggers within your industry, and even your employees to see who can help contribute to building valuable back-to-school boards.

Are you using or planning to use Pinterest for back-to-school? If so, share a link to your boards with us below!

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 5 Pinterest Tactics + Back-to-School = A+ Sales appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Listen Up: 9 Amusing, Info-Packed Business Podcasts You Should Hear

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 06:00

You face unique challenges and opportunities as a small business owner, so why not tune into a podcast to help you navigate the waters and learn from other people’s successes and challenges? Tuning in to the right ones can make all the difference in the world in how you address challenges, grow your business or keep up with industry trends. Here are nine podcasts we think can help. 

1. Accidental Creative: Creativity, Innovation, and Doing Brilliant Work

The Accidental Creative podcast is hosted by Todd Henry, author of Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day and the Accidental Creative. He’s also a speaker and consultant. Episodes include interviews with artists and industry leaders, and delve into the stickier aspects of living in a create-on-demand world. The show is thoughtful yet practical, providing useful information on ways to stay creatively engaged and thrive despite real-world issues. Episodes are on the shorter side, often only around 20 minutes or so.

2. Back to Work

Back to Work is an award-winning talk show hosted by Dan Benjamin, a developer, UX designer and writer; and Merlin Mann, a writer, speaker and broadcaster. In each episode they discuss productivity, barriers and constraints at work, communication, tools, and more. Episodes typically last over an hour and include a lot of humor.

3. Duct Tape Marketing

Each week, the Duct Tape Marketing podcast features interviews with thought leaders, authors and creative entrepreneurs. It’s hosted by author John Jantsch, author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, the Referral Engine and the Commitment Engine. Podcasts are usually about a half hour long and include a guest.

4. HBR IdeaCast

Harvard Business News hosts a weekly podcast with analysis and advice from the leading minds in management. Episodes, including interviews, typically last around 20 minutes or less. Guests have included the likes of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Recent topics have included decision-making, risk management, motivation, management and even gender. While the podcast is always professionally produced, HBR IdeaCast explores sticky and sometimes controversial topics.

5. The Lede

The Lede is a short-form broadcast hosted by Jerod Morris, the director of Content for Copyblogger Media. (Disclosure: I also write for Copyblogger.) In true Copyblogger fashion, topics include copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, and more. The show features special guests as well as a rotating lineup of Copyblogger staff. Recent topics include finding ideas, link building, content curation, and so forth.

6. Mixergy

Not only does Mixergy provide a virtual who’s who among successful tech entrepreneurs, Andrew Warner is the best interviewer in the industry. His probing, insightful questions and genuine curiosity turns what could be a podcast where guests simply promote themselves to one that provides value to the listener. Interviews are posted multiple times a week. Some are available free of charge, but a premium (paid) membership includes access to all 1,028 interviews as well as 138 courses designed to help you in various aspects of marketing, sales, copywriting and more. Yearly memberships also allow readers to download interviews instead of simply listening or viewing online.

7. Six Pixels of Separation

Six Pixels of Separation is put on by Mitch Joel, author of Ctrl Alt Delete and president of Twist Image. He’s a master of digital marketing. In his long-running (more than 400) podcast, Joel presents key insights about the state of marketing through interviews with industry leaders. His podcasts run about 45 minutes.

8. Social Media Marketing

This podcast, hosted by Social Media Examiner, is created for busy marketers and business owners who want to know what works best with social media marketing. They are hosted by Michael Stelzner, the author of Launch & Writing White Papers (as well as Social Media Examiner). Each episode has one specific theme, such as social media mistakes or Instagram marketing, discussed with a guest.

9. Social Triggers Insider

Derek Halpern’s podcast, Social Triggers Insider, is intermittent, but definitely worth the wait. He is a voracious reader, has an excellent grasp of psychology and human behavior, and uses that knowledge to help entrepreneurs learn how to attract leads and make sales through cutting edge research and insights about life and business. Halpern’s also highly energetic and shoots from the hip, so his podcast provides instant insight without skirting around the issues. His guests include New York Times best-selling authors, researchers, professors and more. Halpern plans to podcast more frequently, but for now, you can catch up with the 21 episodes he has already broadcast.

Have a favorite podcast of your own? Tell us about it in the comments.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Listen Up: 9 Amusing, Info-Packed Business Podcasts You Should Hear appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: Are Facebook Promoted Posts Valuable? [VIDEO]

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 07:00

In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” our video series where experts answer small business social media questions, we sit down with Tim McDonald, Director of Community at Huffington Post. He is also on the social council of No Kid Hungry and is the Co-founder of CreatingIs. McDonald shares his perspective on Facebook promoted posts and the value they can bring to small businesses.

A key takeaway that McDonald shares: Small businesses should focus more on listening to their customers rather than talking to/at them on social, especially if your business is new to social media. 

Get more fresh marketing tips and advice delivered daily with the VR Buzz. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Advice from a Social Pro: Are Facebook Promoted Posts Valuable? [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

25 Effective B2B, B2C and Non-Profit Email Sign up Forms

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 06:01

Email sign up forms (aka web forms or opt-in forms) are one of the most powerful tools you can use to continually grow your email list with engaged subscribers. We recently shared everything you’d want to know about sign up forms and how to grow your list using them. In today’s post, we’ve scoured the Internet for examples of effective email sign up forms from business-to-consumer, business-to-business and non-profits to inspire you. 

As we collected examples, we noted a few takeaways:

1. Make it Obvious

Don’t make people search for your form. If they want to subscribe to your newsletter or email list, make it super simple. On many sites, we had to hunt to find what we were looking for. Not many people take the effort to do this, so place your form, or a link to it, in a prominent place on your website or blog. Off the Grid makes it extremely easy to find their sign up form by placing it front and center at the top of every page of their website.

Conduct a homepage takeover test once in a while, in which the sign up form is the first thing that appears on your sight. J. Crew does this, as does Gap, Inc.

2. Include: What’s in it for Me?

In many of the examples below, you’ll note they share the benefit of subscribing, ex: Receive special fares, be the first to know about special sales, find out about events first, etc. Include a brief statement about what the subscriber will get such as special offers, news, promotions or sneak previews.

3. Only Ask for What You Need

You’ll notice that most examples of sign up forms in this post only ask for an email address, or perhaps an email address and a first name. We were surprised to see Tory Burch ask for 10 pieces of information. In most cases you should only ask for what you need, as the more fields you add, the less likely someone is to fill it out.

Ready to see some real-life examples from B2B, B2C and non-profits? Scroll, enjoy and be inspired.

B2C Examples 

Virgin America

Cottonseed Oil

Alternative Apparel

Emerson Fry

Taylor Stitch

 Tory Burch

J. Crew

Gap

B.R. Cohn Winery

Cliche Noe

Off the Grid

Heartland Brewery

B2B Examples

VerticalResponse VR Buzz newsletter

Dasheroo

TRUSTe

Copyblogger

Deluxe Blog

Email on Acid

Non-Profit Examples

JustGive.org

Marine Mammal Center

National Down Syndrome Society

Humane Society of the United States

RED

The Nature Conservancy

United Way

Do you plan to add an email sign up form to your site or make any changes to the one you have? Share in the comments.

Sign up for VerticalResponse and get email sign up forms with your free account. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 25 Effective B2B, B2C and Non-Profit Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Build Your Email List [GUIDE]

Thu, 07/17/2014 - 06:00

Building a quality, responsive email list is one of the most crucial steps for effective email marketing. So, VerticalResponse is here with some ideas to help you create an effective and engaged email list. We’ll run you through the best ways to get started, recommend some tips and tactics, and show you how to avoid a few pitfalls.

Got a mailing list for snail mail?

If you’ve already compiled a list of mailing addresses, you’ve got a bit of a head start. Send postcards to people on your list, inviting them to sign up for your email list on your website or blog. Just make sure to give them a reason to sign up, whether it’s monthly updates or exclusive online discounts. You should provide them something of value in exchange for their email address. 

If your business involves physical products that are shipped, you can even include an insert in each package with instructions on how to subscribe to your email list.

Collect email addresses offline

If you’ve got a brick-and-mortar store, set up a fishbowl to collect business cards for special offers available by signing up for your email list. You can also have a simple clipboard or sign-up book to collect email addresses. (If you’ve got an iPad, you can use that for people to enter their email addresses directly.) Once a week, enter any new email addresses you’ve collected in your content management system or ESP. Voila! 

Events are a great place to get email addresses as well, whether you’re collecting business cards or having people fill out a form to join your list, or simply displaying a sign-up book during an event you host yourself.

S&S Brand sells barbecue sauces and spice rubs. The owners collect email addresses at the frequent appearances they make at cooking demonstrations, fundraisers, food and drink festivals, artisan markets, and private parties. “Every time we have an event, we’ll put out a pad of paper and ask people to leave their email addresses,” says co-owner Sarah Bruchard. “We’ll usually get a handful or so from that.” Those email addresses add up over time.

On your website  The easiest way for your readers to join your email list is through a sign up form or opt-in form, like our widget. You can even have multiple forms on different sections of your site, if you want to track where people are signing up. We recommend putting a link or sign-up box on multiple pages within your site. (It can be tempting to ask readers to fill out many details about themselves, but it’s best at first to simply collect their name and email address).

In addition to your opt-in page, consider using a pop-up window when people leave your site. It can ask them to sign up for your offers or newsletter, which many of your readers are likely to do on their way out if your information is compelling.

Don’t Buy a List

Building an email list can seem difficult and time-consuming, but it’s well worth the effort to collect email addresses from people who love your brand and are willing to sign up for information from you in their inbox. They’re choosing to engage with your company, so you’re building a relationship and gaining trust. Purchasing a list can feel invasive to those you email, and therefore often leads to a very high number of complaints, bounced addresses and unsubscribes. Plus, any reputable ESP will not allow you to mail to a purchased, rented or scraped list. It can hurt their reputation and yours. This is one area where it’s worth it to do things the right way, even if it’s slower.

Survey your friends 

You can’t just add people to your email list willy nilly, but there’s nothing to stop you from sending personal emails to your friends and colleagues, letting them know about your list and sending a link to an opt-in form.

Bruchard also uses word of mouth. “I’ll be somewhere talking to someone, and they’ll ask to hear about our next popup [store] or our sauces, so I’ll take down their email address and put it on my email list,” she says.

But Bruchard doesn’t just use the list to sell products. Readers can easily feel bombarded if too many sales pitches are sent their way. That’s why Bruchard sometimes sends emails that are “just about fun things like barbecue and events that are coming up, so it’s not just about our product and trying to sell our product all the time,” she says. She’ll include information like recipes and cooking tips, and keep her readers informed about any popup, or temporary restaurants.

Leverage online sales You don’t want to add every customer who has made an online purchase to your email list without their permission. However, you can direct them to a page with your sign-up form after they’ve bought something.

“Every time somebody buys something on my website, it asks them at the end, ‘Would you like to sign up for a newsletter or receive emails from us?’ You can either click yes or no. Most people who buy, sign up for the list, and we capture a lot of emails that way,” says Bruchard.

A percentage of people who have had a great experience buying from you will want to hear from you via email about special offers, how-tos and tips, or other news. You can even include a link to your sign-up page on each of the invoices sent out.

Use social media 

Add an opt-in/sign-up form to your Facebook page, or include a link to your hosted opt-in form and write a Facebook status to your fans every now and again, asking them to join your email list. Promoting your status will also ensure that the post is seen by more people. Add information about subscribing directly onto the page as well, with a link to your opt-in form. Use discounts or other offers as an incentive. Follow up with new subscribers by sending them a coupon by email, or send them to a page with an offer or coupon code.

Feel free to message your friends from your personal Facebook account as well to notify them of the email list. Creating Facebook ads around an offer or incentive, or simply your newsletter is also an excellent way to grow your email list. Link people back to your opt-in form/sign up landing from that ad. Here’s a step-by-step process.

Tweet out a link to your opt-in form as well, and post it on LinkedIn. If you have a blog, include a link or embed your opt-in form at the top, side and/or bottom of each page. And, last but not least, create a compelling image with a call to cation (to sign up for your email list) and an incentive, and post the image on Pinterest and Instagram. Here’s more information about growing your email list on Pinterest.

Update your email signature

Include a link to your opt-in page in your email signature, so people emailing with questions can learn about your list.

Get started today. It’s free!

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post How to Build Your Email List [GUIDE] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

21 Decoded SEO Terms Everyone Should Know

Wed, 07/16/2014 - 06:00

Do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) terms have you confused? Are you lost in a sea of inexplicable acronyms? Fear not! With the assistance of our SEO manager Chipper Nicodemus, we’ve hooked you up with a glossary of the most oft-used words and their definitions.

301 redirect
A 301 redirect is a permanent redirect of one webpage to another, passing along a majority of the link “juice” or ranking with it. 301 stands for the HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) status code.

ALT text
ALT text is a description of an image in your site’s HTML code. Spiders or bots (which we’ll define shortly) crawl around your site to see what’s in it, but they can’t read images. Instead, they read the ALT text. Having a description of the image will help spiders and bots identify the image.

Anchor text
Anchor text is copy or text that has been hyperlinked like this. It’s typically dark blue and underlined. If someone links to your site with specific anchor text, it helps search engines know what your site is about.

Black hat tactics
Black hat tactics, or black hat SEO, is the practice of using aggressive or unethical strategies, manipulation and techniques to obtain higher search rankings. Common techniques include keyword stuffing, duplicate content, unrelated backlinks and more. These tactics can lead to a penalty (defined below).

Bot/spider
“A spider or bot is a program that Google runs that goes out and crawls the Internet. When it comes to your site, it goes on and explores your articles, videos, pictures, comments, etc.,” Nicodemus explains.

Google Panda
Panda is the name of a series of changes Google makes to its search results ranking algorithm. The first change was released in February 2011 with the purpose of lowering the rank of “low-quality sites,” and raising higher-quality sites to the top of search results.

Google Penguin
Penguin is the name of a Google algorithm update, which was released in April 2012. It was released with the aim to decrease search engine rankings for sites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Heading
A heading on your site is text that’s placed inside of a heading tag, such as H1 or H2. It typically shows up in a larger or stronger font than the other text on your page. However, simply increasing the font size or putting a phrase in bold doesn’t create a heading per se as far as search engines are concerned. You have to actually use the tags H1 or H2 around each heading. In the HTML section of your WordPress page, simply start with <h1> before and after the phrase; or just click on H1 or H2 as a header.

Inbound links
Inbound links also known as backlinks are incoming links from another website or page that direct or point back to your own site or page.

Indexed page
A page on your website that has been “crawled” or read by search engine bots and stored. 

Link building
“Link building is when you earn highly relevant and valuable links that point back to your site,” Nicodemus says. If you own a coffee shop and get a link back from a coffee grinder company, a coffee bean manufacturer and a place selling coffee mugs, those would be more relevant and valuable compared to, say, a sporting good shop that sells basketballs.

Long tail keyword
A long tail keyword is a phrase rather than just a single term. To use Nicodemus’ example, a short tail keyword could be “coffee,” and “coffee shop” would be a bit longer. A long tail keyword would be “coffee shops in San Francisco.” Using a long-tail keyword can make it much easier for small businesses to rank in search, whereas a short tail keyword like coffee may have much more competition. It can also help ensure that readers who find you, are looking for your specific offer. “It’s very specific, and if you have relevant content on the page, people are more likely to find it,” Nicodemus says.

Metadata
Metadata is data that tells search engines what your site is about.

Meta description
This is a description of what a specific page is about, written in 160 characters or less. This shows up on the search engine results page (SERP – defined below) below your title. “There are a lot of easy tools to use on your blog, such as Yoast,” Nicodemus points out. These tools can help take the guesswork out of writing meta descriptions.

MozRank
MozRank is a link ranking tool provided by SEO marketing software company, Moz. Its algorithm looks at the number of inbound links you have, as well as their quality, and assigns you a number from zero to 10.

PageRank
PageRank is a number from zero to 10 assigned by Google that lets you know your overall SEO. The higher the number, the better.

Penalty
A penalty is a negative impact on your site’s rankings based on a search engine’s algorithms. There are two types of penalties: Manual and algorithm. Read our post: “Google Penalties – All You Need to Know” for more info.

Rel: nofollow
A rel: nofollow is a tag you can put on your blog or site before a link. “If you add that tag, when a bot goes to crawl, it won’t give any credit or juice to that link,” Nicodemus says. All press releases should have rel: nofollow tags, according to Google. Many sites also use the tags for guest posts.

SEM
SEM stands for search engine marketing. One type of SEM, pay-per-click, is abbreviated as PPC. The important thing to note is that SEM is paid and SEO is organic. SEO does not cost a dime; you’re not paying for links or sponsored ads or bidding on keywords or search terms to drive traffic back to your site. Your site shows up organically because of the quality of your content, the quality of sites linking to it, and proper use of site maps.

SERP
SERP, which stands for search engine results page, is exactly what you see when you search for a term or phrase on Google. It is the term you were looking for, a list of pages with the title, URL and a short two-line description, and “sponsored links” or paid SERP listings on the side of the page. 

Sitemap
A site map tells bots exactly where to look on your site, and how information is organized. It’s very valuable for bigger websites with several pages. When the spiders come crawling across your site to look at the content you display, a sitemap is a valuable thing. “It’s like saying, ‘hey, look at this map we built for you of our site,’” Nicodemus explains. Create one here.

Have any terms you’d like to add to the list, or want us to decode for you? Let us know!

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily. 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 21 Decoded SEO Terms Everyone Should Know appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Business Cards: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 06:01

Handing out business cards is essential for networking, building brand-awareness and gaining potential new customers. At VerticalResponse, we consistently attend trade shows all over the country, so we see a lot of business cards. But get this: Around 75% of the people we chatted with at the last trade show didn’t have business cards on them at all. What gives? Business cards can be one of your best marketing tools, so having one to begin with is vital.

Once you’ve got a card in hand, use these aspects from the good, the bad, and the ugly business cards we’ve come across to spruce yours up or tone it down. All sample business cards are innocent until proven guilty and certain images have been withheld to protect the identity of the individuals and businesses. 

The Good

The basics to creating a good business card includes readability, valuable content, and what sets you apart from other businesses. There should be a hierarchy of information and the most important information should be the largest.

What are some business card must-haves?

  • Logo
  • Business name (if it isn’t clear in your logo)
  • Your name
  • Your title
  • Phone number
  • Company website
  • Email address
  • Social media handles
  • A design element that makes you stand out from a stack of other business cards, like a unique color, or specific font.

Check out Mark’s card below that I received recently. It’s a very simple design, but it contains all of the information you need to reach him. His logo is largest with his name highlighted in a larger, blue font. He even used his twitter handle as an added bonus. The one thing I would add, is what SIGNAL does or is as a business.

This business card comes from our sister company, PSPrint. It’s a piece of artwork. Can you tell she’s an artist and illustrator?

You should also consider what type of paper weight and finish to use. There are several choices, so take a trip into your local printer and feel the paper. If you’re using an online printer, or website service, you can request a sample packet (which are usually free) to make sure you’re picking the paper you like.

The example I also received below is very simple, however, it was printed on beautiful, matte heavy weight card stock that felt luxurious. There’s also a fair amount of white space that helps direct your eye to the important info, or even allows you to write notes.

Which kind of paper represents you and your business without going over budget? Check out these cool designs from PSPrint that are “hot off the press.” It might give you some new and exciting ideas for your next business card.

The Bad

The worst business cards that have landed in our trade show fish bowl have contained one or more of the following no-nos, but we tell you how to fix ‘em too.

  • Zero contact information – Make sure to include at least your business name, your personal name, phone number, and email address.
  • Unreadable fonts – Here are the top 10 notoriously hated fonts that you should try to not use. The fonts on this list are either over used or hard to read. 
  • Too many font choices/sizes – Limit yourself to 2 fonts and 3 font sizes. Most printers have templates that you can use. While it’s nice to have this as a starting point, make sure to add your own flare. 
  • Unprofessional head shots or pictures – If you want to include your image on a business card, get a professional head shot taken and ask a friend if it represents you as your business. 
  • Information overload or too busy - Allow some room for white space (please see Lisa’s card above).
  • Boring – This is all relative, but you should make your business stand out. Even simple designs (please see Mark’s card above) can be interesting if you use the proper font choices and font sizes for your business. 
  • Typos – Use spell check and have your card double checked by a friend or colleague to make sure there aren’t any errors you might have missed. 
  • Low quality printing – Finding a printer you like is half the battle. If you like someone else’s business card, ask where they had them printed and what their experience was like. Local printers are usually more expensive but have better customer serves while online printers like Greenprinter, moo.com, and PsPrint are more economical and have templates available.

The Ugly

Not having or forgetting your business card is one of the biggest faux pas. It’s the one item that you can (and should) carry around at all times to promote your business. You’re representing your business at all times and you never know what customers, current or potential, you might run into. If you’re attending a business event, bring more than you think you need. It gets “ugly” when you run out! 

*Bonus design Note: After designing your business card, ask for a sample before you take the plunge and print them all. This will add a week or more onto your timeline, but you you’ll ensure make sure it’s the look and feel that you want.

What’s the best business card you’ve ever received? What’s the worst? Comment below and let us know!

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Business Cards: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Smokin’ Hot Emails & Subject Lines for Summer

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 06:00

It’s summer, baby, which means it’s time to break out the bathing suit and soak up a little sun, (unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere or San Francisco, of course). While you’re planning backyard barbeques and pool parties, you’ll also want to send out a summer-themed email or two.

To make sure your emails and subject lines are just as hot as the temperatures outside, we’ve got a few tips to keep the open rates rolling.

Promote a summer sale
One of the easiest ways to tie your email to the season is to promote a summer sale. Remember, you want to create a short, attention-grabbing subject line that encourages recipients to open the email immediately. Tell them exactly what they’ll get when they open it.
 
For instance, Travelocity entices readers with: Big summer savings – Promo codes inside – Don’t miss out. When the recipient opens the email, that’s exactly what they’ll find. Take a look at the email:


You can also promote summer holiday sales like a Labor Day sale. Here are a few other summer sale examples:

  • Summer sale! Up to 60% off (Dockers)
  • Must-have summer prints on sale now (Coach)
  • Take up to 50% off our red, white and denim sale (Lucky Brand) 
  • Last day – Labor Day sale (Travelocity)

Make a summer reference
You don’t have to have a sale, or even use the word “summer” in your subject line. You can still create a seasonal email by referencing a summer activity or theme. For example, online office supply store Shoplet sent an email to promote Margaritaville headphones. Margaritaville is certainly synonymous with summer. The subject line read: Margaritaville headphones are here. Take a look. 

Try connecting your product to an activity. Check out the examples below. Notice none of them use the word “summer” or promote a sale.

  • Fire up the grill! (Chronicle Books)
  • Frisbee and Fun – Great camps for kids (City of Brooklyn Park)
  • Here comes the sun – Sassy seasonal styles (Webzine)

Create a local summer events calendar
Everyone loves to know where the hottest summer events are. From local fireworks to homegrown veggie markets, consider creating a list of summer events for your recipients. The Messina Group, a staffing and consulting agency, does this every season. This year the subject line was: It’s here! Our 2014 summer calendar.

The Messina Group’s Michelle Comer says the email gets a great response. “You don’t have to sell or promote anything; you can just provide a friendly service,” she says. 

Try creating a list of summer events in your area and send it out to your recipients with a descriptive subject line.

Create educational lists
People love lists; so use that to your advantage. Create a summer-themed list that educates your recipients in some way. For instance, if you’re a clothing retailer, create a list of the top 10 summer fashions. If you run an auto repair shop, create a list of the five most common summer car problems. The list should include a connection to your company.

Here are few other examples:

  • School’s out – 10 great camps for kids (City of Brooklyn Park)
  • 10 things to love about summer (Dogeared)
  • 5 things to remember on your next hike (American Hiking Society)

Got another hot subject line tip? Share it with us in the comment box below.

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Smokin’ Hot Emails & Subject Lines for Summer appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: Integrating LinkedIn Sponsored Updates [VIDEO]

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 06:01

In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” our video series where experts answer small business social media questions, we sit down with Jason Miller, Sr. Content Marketing Manager at LinkedIn. He’s also a blogger and photographer for Rock ‘N Roll Cocktail. Miller provides excellent tips for small businesses on why using Sponsored Updates in LinkedIn as part of your social media strategy is a good idea.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Advice from a Social Pro: Integrating LinkedIn Sponsored Updates [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

3 Easy (and Cheap) Storefront Marketing Tactics

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 06:00

Here in San Francisco, the Haight-Ashbury district is probably most famous for being the birthplace of the hippie counterculture movement in the ’60s. These days, the bell bottoms and peasant blouses are long gone (mostly), but the neighborhood remains home to dozens of locally owned retail shops, eateries and bars welcoming both residents and the streams of tourists that flock to the famous intersection every day.

But the creative spirit hasn’t completely left Haight-Ashbury. A stroll down Haight Street reveals some clever storefront marketing tactics that shops and restaurants are using to bring foot traffic through their doors. The best part? They’re easy for anyone to implement, and practically free. Check them out.

1. Free Treats

Kids Only, a shop that sells unique kids toys, clothes and gear, knows just how to attract its core customer – by offering free treats, like mini cupcakes and cookies, just inside the store entrance. Who can resist? Certainly not tots with their parents in tow.

Similarly, several retailers along Haight Street offer doggie bowls filled with water right outside their doors – fitting, since San Francisco is home to more dogs than children. While Fido is taking a water break, chances are his human mom or dad is checking out the storefront. One shop takes it a step further by posting a sign right above the water bowl that says, “Free Dog Treats Inside at the Register!”

Think about what you can offer that’s simple and free to entice passersby to give your shop a second look. If you’re in the food business, the easy option would be to dish out samples of your best-selling products. But any type of business can make this storefront marketing tactic work; a pitcher of cold lemonade on a sweltering day, for example, is a welcoming treat regardless of what you’re actually selling.

2. Unusual Distractions

“Whoa, where are those bubbles coming from?!”

The Bubble Guy is a well-known fixture in Haight-Ashbury. Every so often, he’ll park his bubble-making stroller in front of a business and let ‘er rip, covering the street with thick clouds of kaleidoscopic bubbles. It’s quite a sight, and attracts a ton of people to whatever store happens to be nearby.

Whether it’s installing a bubble-making machine in front of your shop or blanketing the sidewalk with creative chalk art, one of the keys is to think outside the box. (Just make sure you’re not breaking any city rules.)

3. Creative Sandwich Boards

A sandwich board set up on the sidewalk is a tried-and-true storefront marketing tactic to promote sales or specials. But some creative businesses use it to communicate memorable messages that are unusual enough to attract a second look from passersby.

Taking a scene out of the opening credits of “The Simpsons,” locally owned Shoe Biz on Haight Street often sets out a sandwich board with a drawing of Bart Simpson writing, “I will not buy from Zappos, I will not buy from Zappos” over and over on the blackboard. Lately, Goorin Bros. Hat Shop has been showing off a board with the word “Pharrell who?!” in reference to the music artist’s scene-stealing Grammy hat. Pretty clever, right?

Have you seen any creative ways retailers are enticing passersby to step inside their stores? We’d love to hear them in the comments below.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 3 Easy (and Cheap) Storefront Marketing Tactics appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Use These Email Newsletter Topics, You Must

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 06:00

Your newsletter is like the light saber of marketing tools. It’s powerful, potent and just plain cool.

An effective newsletter keeps you in front of customers, allows you to showcase your knowledge, nurtures customers and attracts new ones. No, that’s not a Jedi mind trick, it’s the truth.

While newsletters are a valuable part of your email marketing strategy, it takes time to brainstorm good topics to keep them interesting. To help you create newsletters that even the wise Obi-Wan Kenobi would be proud of, we put together a list of possible newsletter topics.

Highlight blog content
Since your small business is creating must-read content (you are, right?), why not promote it in your newsletter? We do. At VerticalResponse, we take pride in offering high quality blog content that’s chock-full of tips. You can do it, too. Or as Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” (and, yes, we promise that’s our last Star Wars reference.) If you don’t have blog content, include any videos and even pictures you’ve taken; these count as content too.

Take a look at our newsletter, VR Buzz. You can see we tease our readers with just enough information to encourage them to read the whole post on our blog. 

Tell your company story/history
Even if you just opened your doors a year ago, your small business has a history. In each newsletter, you can offer recipients a little history lesson. Coca-Cola does this in its monthly newsletter. Take a look at the last article, “Checking In at a Former Coca-Cola Plant.” The “Learn More” button takes readers back in time to an old Coke plant that’s now a hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Try offering snippets of your company’s history in your newsletter.

Use creative events
Did you know June is National Candy Month? Hershey’s does. The candy maker used this little-known event to promote sales in its newsletter. You can do the same thing. There are hundreds of odd “holidays” like this. From ‘Bring Your Pet to Work Day’ to ‘Iced Tea Day,’ you can certainly find an event that reflects your business. Tie this event to your own company and write a blog post, create a video, take pictures, or create a landing page around that topic and mention in your newsletter just like Hershey’s.

Industry news
When there’s something going on in your industry, share it with your readers. If you run a sporting goods store, for example, you could create a piece about the gear used during the National Hockey League’s playoffs. If you run a shipping company and are faced with new state-mandated regulations, you could write about that. Including third party content that isn’t your own, but would be of interest to your readers is also great. Just make sure you give proper source credit.

Royce Leather, a New Jersey-based company that sells leather products, wrote about a leather trade show taking place in Pakistan. Since the company works with manufactures in that country, it’s impacted by leather trade shows and other events like this and shared the information with readers. 

“Telling our customers about events like this shows that we’re engaged and forward thinking,” says Andrew Bauer, CEO of Royce Leather.

You, too, can look like a thought leader by keeping an eye on industry news and when something pops up, take a minute to tell readers how the information impacts the industry and your business.

Etc.
Of course, these are just four examples, but there are plenty more. Here are a few additional topics you can include in your newsletter:

  • New product or service arrivals
  • Recent business awards
  • Employee of the month
  • Behind-the-scenes pictures
  • Upcoming events
  • Changes to your website
  • How-to videos
  • Upcoming sales
  • Holiday gift ideas
  • Product tips

Have any more topics to add to this list? Share some of your best ideas in the comment section below.

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily to your inbox.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Use These Email Newsletter Topics, You Must appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Damage Control: 3 Steps to Handling a Company Mishap

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 09:00

In a world rife with technological glitches – and one in which simply clicking a button can have far-reaching impact – making mistakes is inevitable. In the digital age, those gaffes can be dramatically amplified and have impact on your bottom line – unless you take the right steps.

Before the crisis
Crisis management expert Melissa Agnes recommends determining all of your stakeholders in the event of a mishap before it even takes place. Start by making a list of all the different stakeholder groups: your customers, email list subscribers, employees or contractors, and so forth. Then determine which social channels these groups use the most. 

“Odds are, social media may not even be the best means of communication for all of your stakeholder groups,” says Agnes. “Often, email is still the best way to communicate.” So, she adds, don’t forget about sending a personalized email or text message, or even picking up the phone. 

Determining who to contact and the best ways to reach them before something goes awry is crucial, especially because news has a tendency to spread quickly through social media. And in the midst of a crisis, it can be difficult to juggle all of the tasks that need to be completed while also working to find a list of stakeholders and the best way to reach them. Getting it done ahead of time is a great measure to save you time and ensure you are ready should you ever need it. 

We teamed up with Agnes to put together the following steps to take in the event of a company mishap: 

1. Immediately publish an explanation of what has happened and the steps you’re taking to address it. In addition, consider reaching out to the customers affected.
This is exactly what AppFirst CEO and co-founder David Roth did when the accounts of customers using the free level of their products were accidentally deleted. 

“Immediately, we published a blog explaining in detail the mistake we made, followed by an apologetic email to every impacted customer and, finally, I personally called each one, clarifying what happened,” Roth explained in an interview

It took him four consecutive days to reach every customer. “A key takeaway is that people are most forgiving if you step up promptly, admit that ‘we made a mistake,’ and then swiftly show them that improving their negative experience matters greatly,” says Roth. 

Buffer Founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne swiftly took steps to keep users informed when the company’s site was hacked, publishing a post to chronicle the hack, and adding new update a total of 11 times! The continual updates were also posted on Facebook and Twitter, including both steps to take and updates on progress being made on the company’s end. 

2. Make sure your apology is sincere and the amount of information you share is adequate.
GitHub learned this the hard way in the aftermath of a crisis in which a former employee spoke publicly about negative experiences at the company that led to her resignation. The company began a full investigation and explained it publicly, but then wrote an inadequate post discussing the results of the investigation. 

GitHub realized through a wide swath of blog posts, tweets and emails that this post was inadequate, and followed up with an apology

“Last Monday I published the least open and least transparent blog post GitHub has ever written. We failed to admit and own up to our mistakes, and for that I’m sorry,” said GitHub Co-founder Chris Wanstrath. “GitHub has a reputation for being transparent and taking responsibility for our actions, but last week we did neither. There’s no excuse. We can do a lot better.” The post continued, providing the information GitHub users were originally looking for. 

3. Follow up with meaningful action.
Weeks after the dust had begun to settle from the GitHub debacle, the company posted an update on new initiatives launched at the company to support diversity and respond to feedback. And even after Buffer found the source of its security breach and closed the vulnerability, the company published a follow-up blog post with steps being taken to increase security

Actions speak louder than words, so make sure to follow up any promises you’ve made with information about specific actions you are taking to address the issue that was the original cause of the crisis.

Want even more info about handling a company mishap? Check out Melissa Agnes’ infographic: The 10 New Rules of Crisis Communications

 

Have any examples of smooth or poorly handled company mishaps? Share in the comments. 

Want more marketing tips? Get the VR Buzz delivered. 

 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Damage Control: 3 Steps to Handling a Company Mishap appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Grow Your List with Email Sign up Forms

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 06:00

A sign up form is one of the single most powerful tools you can use to grow your email list. We recently wrote a post about everything you’d want to know about sign up forms. Need a refresher? Sign up forms are hosted webpages or embedded forms you can easily add to your website, blog and social networks to collect email subscribers. You may also hear them referred to as web forms, or opt-in forms.

In today’s post, we’ll focus on how to use a sign up form to grow your email list. So let’s get to it!

Email sign up forms build quality lists

When someone visits your company website, blog or one of your social media pages and chooses to sign up for your email list, they’re actively agreeing to receive your content. They’re telling you they’re interested and want to hear from you! This makes these subscribers most likely to engage with the content you send. 

Check out the simple sign up form we use on our VR Marketing Blog to collect sign ups for our VR Buzz newsletter:

Example of email sign up form from VerticalResponse

As you can see, we have more than 500K subscribers, so it works pretty well.

Where should I put an email sign up form?

Have your email sign up form and links to the form on all pages of your website, blog and other channels where your customers and prospects can interact with your business. Where exactly should you place forms and links to forms? Here are some suggestions:

  • The top side bar of your website or blog (link and/or form)
  • In the top navigation bar (link and/or form)
  • The footer of your site (link and/or form)
  • A tab on your Facebook page (link and/or form)
  • At the end of every blog post (link)
  • On your “About Us” page (link and/or form)
  • All of your social sites (link)

It may seem like overkill, but the more places you share your form, the more likely someone will see it. This way, while you’re busy running your business, your email sign up form can easily collect new subscribers. Your email service provider, like VerticalResponse, will add the new subscribers to your email lists so you don’t have to do anything.

You should frequently share the link to your email sign up form on social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook page. We recently wrote about how you can grow your email list using Pinterest, too. 

VerticalResponse customer and San Francisco-based “roaming mobile food extravaganza,” Off the Grid, uses a prominent email sign up form at the top of every page of their website near the main navigation bar. This tactic has collected nearly 40K+ subscribers.

Local SF retailer, Cliche Noe uses a large and simple email sign up form to collect subscribers and keep them informed about events and deals:

What information should I collect?

Less is more. Keep your forms visually simple and only include only a few fields. Many sign up forms only ask for an email address, however you may want to collect a first name, or a bit more data to segment your list, such as location. Be aware, however, the more fields you add, the less likely someone is to fill it out. Once you include 3-4 or more fields, your conversion rates (the number of people who fill out your form, sign up, etc.) will drop off. 

No technical skills required

If you’re not using an email sign up form because you don’t know where to start, begin with your email service provider. Most have email sign up form tools that are easy to use and customize for your needs.

Where can I find sign up forms?

In VerticalResponse Classic, you can find customizable, embedded signup forms in your account under Lists > Opt-in Forms.

In the new VerticalResponse, you can find our new, hosted sign up form web pages under Contacts.

Want more marketing tips and advice to grow your business? Get the VR Buzz delivered daily! 

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post How to Grow Your List with Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Top 4 Reasons People Unsubscribe from Your Emails & How to Keep Them

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 06:00

Wonder why people unsubscribe from your email list? You’re not alone.

First, let’s talk stats. According to MarketingProfs, the average unsubscribe rate for most small businesses is below one percent. In fact, the average unsubscribe rate is about .25 percent. But what makes that .25 percent jump from your email ship? With the help of marketer Randy Aimone from Leading Results, we’ll count down the top four reasons why recipients unsubscribe your email, David Letterman style; saving the most popular reason for last. And, we’ll include some quick tips on how to keep them from leaving in the first place.

4. Sending to anyone and everyone
You don’t want to send emails to people that were never interested in what you’re sending. To avoid this common mistake, grow your list organically, always ask for permission to add each recipient to your list and only send your recipients the information you said you would (as explained on your signup page). In other words, you shouldn’t bolster your list with names of friends and family, or add a colleague to your list just because you exchanged business cards at a meeting. And you shouldn’t start sending daily promo emails to those who signed up for a monthly event email.

You want a list that’s full of people who are interested; otherwise you may see an uptick in unsubscribes.
 
To grow your list, make it extremely easy for people to opt in. If you’re in need of a few creative places to include email sign up forms, check out a recent post on this topic.

3. Sending irrelevant emails
If your emails are irrelevant to recipients, your unsubscribe rate will increase. Make sure that every email you send offers valuable content that your target audience wants to read.

Aside from creating high quality, niche-specific content, you should also segment your email list. By splitting your list into different pieces, you’ll be able to send a more targeted message to these groups of people.

If you’re emailing everyone on your list, it’s hard to tailor your message. For instance, this email that was sent by an amusement park and promotes a discount package, but if the recipient already has the gold pass, the email becomes irrelevant.

2. It’s not you! Changing interests
People’s interests change. Email preferences do, too. Maybe a recipient no longer needs your product or service, or maybe he or she found what they were looking for somewhere else. It happens. In some cases, the unsubscribe rate isn’t caused by something you did wrong; it’s just a natural progression.

1. Flooding inboxes
If you’re emailing recipients too much, they may unsubscribe. In fact, that’s the number one reason people leave email lists, Aimone says.

How many emails should you send on a weekly basis? The answer isn’t set in stone but take a look at the example below. Some people would consider five emails in three days a bit much.

Every business is different, but a simple lesson you learned in grade school is actually helpful here: “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it at all.” In other words, if you don’t have a good reason to send an email, don’t. Stay true to the frequency that you promised on your email sign up page and if you need to change it, let your audience know and allow them to choose if they want to stay or go. The key is to let them know what value they receive in getting more frequent emails from your company.

Keep in mind that unsubscribes aren’t all bad. If you aren’t living up to your recipient’s expectations, that’s a problem; however, if a recipient opts out for reasons that aren’t connected to quality or frequency, then it’s best to let those people go and make it easy for them to do so. Here are 9 things to never do with an email unsubscribe.

How do you handle email unsubscribes? Share in the comments. 

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post Top 4 Reasons People Unsubscribe from Your Emails & How to Keep Them appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Tips for Top-Notch Images in Every Email

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 07:00

Images can make or break your email. The right image can draw a recipient’s attention and increase the likelihood of clicking on your call to action.

“Images are critical to emails,” says Russell Cragun, the marketing manager at Doba, a Utah-based shipping company.  To make sure you’re getting the most bang for your visual buck, we put together a few tips to utilize email images well.

1. Use crisp images
Now is not the time for amateur photography. You want eye-catching images that make your email recipient take notice, Cragun suggests. Check out the email below. EBay uses one simple image to promote its “Dress to the 9s” sale. The image is simple, yet gets your attention; the colors pop; it’s not pixilated or blurry; and it relates to the content. That’s the kind of image you want. Tip: Use 72dpi images for emails and always size down an image (larger to smaller), never try to size up (smaller to larger) – This will prevent blurriness and pixilation.

2. Showcase your product well
When showcasing your products via email; you want your products to look good. If you’re not well versed in photography, consider hiring a professional to take some glamor shots of your products. Take a look at the email below from Coach. The products are nicely and clearly displayed. There aren’t any distracting backgrounds or colors, which allows the products to steal the show.

3. Stock photo sites are always a possibility
If you’re in need of a few general images, you can always go to a stock site like iStock or Shutterstock. When you’re searching for images, try to use specific search terms so you get a unique list of options. Sift through a few pages and see what fits your content needs and what catches your eye. Ensure you follow usage rights for any images you select.

4. Graphics or artwork can work, too
Are you trying to showcase something that’s less than visual? Solve the problem by creating graphics or some sort of artwork. The email below, for example, is to encourage recipients to nominate someone for a content marketing award. That’s could be a tough one to find a visual for. However, the strip of artwork on the top adds some dimension to the email, don’t you think? You don’t always have to use a picture.

5. Don’t go overboard
You can use more than one image, but if you use too many, you may run the risk of overwhelming your subscriber. Fortunately, if you’re using VerticalResponse to send out emails, there are plenty of templates to pick from. With the right template, you can use multiple images without making the email look cluttered.

The email below uses five pictures, which sounds like a lot, but this email design works. The placement of the pictures draws your attention to the text and call-to-action buttons in the middle.

How do you find and use pictures for your emails?

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The post 5 Tips for Top-Notch Images in Every Email appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: The Best Content to Share on Social [VIDEO]

Fri, 07/04/2014 - 06:00

In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” our video series where experts answer small business social media questions, we sit down with Jessica Gioglio, Social Media Manager at Dunkin’ Brands. She’s also the co-author of The Power of Visual Storytelling. Gioglio provides great tips to small businesses about using visuals to engage with their community.

© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Back-to-Basics: 5 Email Marketing Fundamentals You Should Revisit

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 06:00

While summer may be in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere, back-to-school and the back-half of the year will be here before you know it. Before you ramp up your emails, there are some key email marketing fundamentals you should revisit:

1. Always keep a goal in mind

There are several reasons to send email: To share news, build loyalty, educate, invite people to events, drive traffic to your site, sell your product or service, etc. But what is your specific purpose? Before you create an email, think about the outcome you want. Are you trying to grow your business or email list? Sell a product or get more donations?

Have a goal in mind and tailor your email’s information and call-to-action to that idea or plan. Are you trying to establish yourself or brand as an industry expert? Send a frequent email newsletter with educational information, tips, how-tos, and industry news. There are many types of emails you can send; keep them all on track to your specific goal.

2. Follow these basic email tips

  • Mail regularly – You want your email subscribers to think of your business when they need the product or service you offer, so remind them of your presence with email. Mail at the least, once per month.
  • Send what you promised at sign-up. If subscribers signed up for tips and tactics delivered twice a week, that’s what you should deliver. Part of keeping your email readers engaged is sending the information they actually wanted.
  • Use images and links - Always include a mix of images and text, and include links back to your website, products or services.
  • Make it readable – At every step of the email creation process, think of your readers. Use a sans serif (no curlicues or swishes on the letters) font such as Verdana, Arial or Times New Roman in black or dark grey for easy reading.
  • Include a postal address and unsubscribe link – A postal address and unsubscribe link is required by CAN-SPAM.

3. Understand delivery

Getting your email to your subscriber’s inbox is important – if it ends up in a SPAM folder, all that hard work you put into it won’t be seen by anyone. Do you understand the basics of email delivery, and more importantly, how you can affect it?

Most business emails are made up of HTML; there’s usually a template involved, which includes images and links. HTML emails are multi-part MIME, which means there’s the nice HTML version, and a just-in-case backup that’s only text. If you’re using an email service provider, like VerticalResponse, you don’t need to think about this, we take care of it for you. Once you’ve created your email and hit send, the email moves through the Internet ether and through a number of authentication gates until it gets to your reader’s ISP (internet service provider). This is where your email gets a thumbs up (or down) and then moves on to your reader’s inbox, hopefully. The ISP gate is where the content of your email in part determines where your email will end up. Working with an ESP like VerticalResponse helps your email get to this gate; we make sure all the tech stuff you need is there, but you need to make sure the content is relevant and valuable. A few things to keep in mind when creating your email to ensure top-notch delivery:

  • Have a good balance of text and images, and make sure your important information is listed in the text just in case images are blocked.
  • Use links in your emails, but make sure you only link to trusted sites. Bad links can cause delivery issues.
  • Keep your HTML code clean, or use a pre-designed template from your ESP.
  • Send what you promised at sign up to keep your readers engaged. ISPs look at many things, and engagement is part of that.
  • Mail only to people who have requested your emails.

For more help and information on email delivery, here’s our free guide To the Inbox and Beyond – The Ultimate Guide to Email Delivery.

4. Build quality lists

The better quality your email lists are, the more likely your email will get delivered. Only use “opted in” email addresses for your marketing – Those who have agreed to receive emails from you. You’ll see higher engagement, better inbox placement and fewer unsubscribes and spam complaints. Once you’ve been mailing for a while, segment your lists. Never consider buying a list – It goes against the rules for most ESPs and spam laws, plus it’s not the best way to start a relationship with your potential customers. Slow and steady list growth wins the race every time.

5. Use an ESP

An email service provider (ESP) can help your small business generate and send emails that are targeted to your customer niche, and provide results. We’re here to make it easy. We’ve put together a list of criteria you’ll want to look for in your search for the right ESP.

Have any email fundamentals you think are important to add to the list? Let us know below.

 

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© 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Google Knocks out Authorship Photos

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 07:00

Google is making big changes to its Authorship program that are stirring up mixed feelings amongst content creators.

Many small businesses with a penchant for producing quality content flocked to Google Authorship. With a little work, this handy tool added some unique information to your content when it popped up in search results, including your picture and the number of followers in your Google+ community. It looked like this: 

Now, Google has done away with the author’s photo and follower count in searches. Your name will still be included in the search results, but no picture or social stat. Now, it looks like this:

What’s behind the changes?
John Mueller, the Webmaster Trends analyst for Google, briefly explained the reason for the change on – where else – his Google+ page. He says Google is trying to “clean up its look” and enhance the overall appearance of search results on mobile devices. In other words, pictures and follower counts were cluttering up prime real estate on Google searches.

Were pictures and social stats important?
Research indicated that a reader’s eye was drawn to those small profile pictures. Not only did they attract attention, but content with a profile picture had higher clickthrough rates, says JoAnne Funch, owner of Marketing Dish.

However, Mueller says that recent Google research shows clickthrough behavior isn’t much different with or without the picture.

Is Google Authorship still worth it?
Google Authorship isn’t going away, but it’s safe to say that one of the main reasons that people signed up for it was to get their picture in search results. With that feature gone, marketers think fewer people will take the time to set it up.

However, your byline will still appear in the results, and while that’s not as attention-grabbing, it can still make a difference in your website traffic, Funch says.

Plus, Authorship is a good way to let Google know that you exist. Google has touted the importance of businesses showcasing their authority on certain topics, and Authorship is still a viable way to say, ‘Hey Google, my business knows its stuff.’ 

What else should you know?
There are a lot of questions about this new change and details are still developing, but here are a few other pieces of information you should know:

  • Your Google search rankings won’t change
  • Your picture and stats are gone but it won’t have any effect on where your site lands in a search.
  • Pictures will be offered with Google News
    • Content that lands within Google News will have a smaller profile picture next to the company’s logo, like this:

    • Most content written by a small business owner, however, won’t make it to Google News.
    • Tracking is still available.
    • If you’re a metrics nut, you can still see how your authored content is doing via Google Webmaster Tools.

    Despite the changes, it’s best for companies to keep creating quality content, says Scott Rodgers, co-founder of marketing company Tier10.

    “Stay the course,” he says. “Create relevant, unique content. It seems that kind of content will survive past, current and future changes.”

    What do you think of the new changes? How do you think the elimination of photos will affect clickthrough rates? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.

    © 2014, VR Marketing Blog. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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