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A Beginner’s Guide to Google Webmaster Tools

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 06:01

Your website is like a high-performance car. Similar to a Porsche, your website should grab attention, navigate easily and hit max speeds. To keep a fancy sports car in tip-top shape, you use a specialized mechanic. To keep your website in tip-top shape, you should use Google Webmaster Tools (GWMT).

Think of this Google feature like a toolbox full of fine-tuning agents that can help you improve your website. GWMT isn’t just about performance either; you can learn how customers find your site and use this information to tweak certain pages and boost website traffic.

“Google Webmaster Tools is a free resource that gives you a ton of useful information,” says Chipper Nicodemus, our Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Manager. “You don’t need to understand Google’s algorithms or have a vast Internet background to use it, either. It’s a user-friendly tool that business owners should dive into.”

At VerticalResponse, we want you to get the most out of your website. So, let’s follow Nicodemus’ advice and dive right in. We’ve created a guide to walk you through all that GWMT has to offer.

Set up and verification
First, you need to sign in to GWMT. If you have a Gmail account, you’ll need your Gmail password. From there, you’ll enter the URL of your website. You’ll also need to verify that you’re the owner of the site. There are a couple of ways to do this, and it varies depending on things like where you created your site. To figure out which process is right for your site, check out this link to the GWMT verification methods.

Familiarize yourself with the dashboard
Once you’ve set up and verified your account, you’ll be able to access the GWMT from one dashboard. Our guide will go through each one of the tabs on the left. We’ll explain what each feature does and tell you what you can learn from it.

Site messages
If Google wants to communicate with you, this is where they do it. For instance, Google will send you a message if there have been any attempts to hack your site, or if a new version of software is needed. It’s just like an inbox; you want to keep an eye on incoming messages.

Search appearance

Structured data

  • When you do a search, you’re presented with a list of relative links. Each link has a brief description under it, which helps users decide which link is best suited for their needs. For example, when you Google “Best Italian restaurant in Miami,” you get these results with snippets under each link. 

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if you could control what those snippets say about your business? You can do that by creating structured data, which is what Google uses to create your snippet.
  • To create this data requires some HTML knowledge. It does get a little technical, so if you’re a beginner, we suggest you check out the next option on the list, data highlighter, which is an easier tool to use that achieves similar results. However, if you’re up for a little challenge, GWMT has a step-by-step process on its website to help you create the snippet that appears in a web search.

Data highlighter

  • Think of the data highlighter as a tool to teach Google what’s important on your site. You don’t need any HTML experience, just go into your site, highlight certain types of data and categorize it. For instance, if a local hotel highlights text about its upcoming concert series and categorizes it under “event,” Google will showcase it in a search like this:

  • There are several kinds of data that you can highlight including: articles, events, local businesses, restaurants, products, software applications, movies, TV episodes and books.
  • Like the structured data tool, you’re telling Google what information should show up when your site is searched.

 HTML improvements

  • If there is something you can do to make your user’s experience better, Google will let you know in the HTML improvement section. Here’s a look at what might appear: 

  • You might see suggestions like “duplicate meta descriptions.” You’d fill out this field to describe a particular entry. For example, when you write a blog post, you’d put a brief description of the post in the Meta description field. You don’t want duplicates, so Google will warn you about something like that in the HTML improvement section.
  • You’ll also see title tag suggestions. These titles are what show up as links in the search. For example, when you search “VerticalResponse,” the purple text is the title tag and clickable link. These suggestions will help you fine tune your titles so searchers know what your site is all about.

Site links

  • You know those additional links that show up under the search results? They’re called site links. For instance, when you search “VerticalResponse” you not only get the link to the main page, you also get a series of other links, like the “Log In” and “Pricing” links that you see below. These are site links. 

  • Right now, Google selects these links for you, but through this tab on GWMT, you can demote a link if you don’t want it to appear in your search results. Just put in the URL of that particular page and click “demote.”

Search Traffic

Search queries

  • This is probably the most beneficial tab on the GWMT. Here you’ll find out how people get to your website.

  • You’ll see a list of search terms that led people to your site, which is a valuable tool, says Nicodemus. “As a business owner you assume you know which words people are using to find your site, but this list can reveal terms that you weren’t even thinking of,” he says.
  • Learning these search terms might persuade you to make some product adjustments, Nicodemus says. For instance, if you’re selling coffee mugs online and a lot of people find your site by searching “brown coffee mugs” and you’re only selling black mugs, you might consider adding brown mugs to your product line. “It’s a great way to find missed opportunities,” Nicodemus says. “Business owners can use this information to add products, remove under-performing products, and create relevant blog content that uses these keywords.” 
  • The search queries page will also show you a graph of impressions and clicks. Impressions are the number of times that your site showed up in search results. Clicks are the number of times people actually selected your website from the results, and the click through rate is the percentage of impressions that resulted in a click to your site.
  • How do you keep these stats high? One of the best ways is to keep your site updated regularly with high quality content.

Links to your site

  • This section tells you who links to your site and how. It’s organized in basic categories like “Who links the most” and “Your most linked content.” Why does this matter? The more quality sites that link to yours, the better your Google ranking. If you’re providing quality content, other sites will link to your content naturally.

Internal links

  • To improve navigation on your site, you’ll want to provide internal links. For instance, on this VerticalResponse page “Check it out” and “Apply now” are two internal links that take customers to another spot within the website.

  • Internal links make it easier for people to surf your site and tell Google the importance of a page. The more internal links that point to a page, the more Google assumes its significance. 

Manual Actions

Google Index

Index status

  • This tab shows you the total number of URLs that Google has recognized and will appear in search results. Google finds these URLs with a ton of computers that “crawl” through the Internet to look for new and updated pages online. Once a new page or an update is found, the Googlebot scans it for important information and indexes it so it can be found during a search. 
  • The index tab shows you the number of URLs the bot found. Why is this important information? You want to make sure that Google can find and index your site. A steady increase in the number of URLs is proof that Google can find your site and catalog the content on it. Here’s a good example.

  • If you see dramatic increases or decreases in the graph you might have a problem with your server, or something is blocking Google from crawling your site and you’ll want to investigate further. Again, a steady increase is all you really need to look for here.

Content Keywords

  • This is a list of the most significant keywords that are used throughout your site.

  • The keywords are listed in order of usage, with the most used keywords at the top. You can click on each word and see where it appears on your site. This information, along with the search queries information, can tell you how Google interprets your business site.
  • If you feel like the keywords that are listed aren’t accurately reflecting your site, it’s time to rethink your content strategy. You might consider making a list of keywords you want associated with your site, and add the keywords that people are using to find your site (found under the search queries tab) and create a master list of keywords. Use those keywords in your website content and blog topics.

Remove URLs

  • If Google has indexed a part of your website that contains confidential information, you can send a request to have that URL removed. This should only be used for emergency cases, like exposed confidential data.

Crawl

Crawl errors

  • As the Googlebot crawls through your site, it will list any errors it finds with your site. Here’s a look at a typical list of crawl errors.

  • The most common error is a 404, which means the page can’t be found. If you’ve redesigned your site, you might see this a lot if you didn’t redirect people to the right page. You’ll also see these error messages if you take down old content. If another website linked to that old content, you’ll get the 404 error message too. If that’s the case, send an email to the site manager and ask to have the link updated.

Crawl stats

  • This shows you how often Google is crawling your site. You’ll want to check this graph from time to time to make sure that Google is scanning through your content. If you think Google should be checking in more often, make sure you’re updating content regularly and you’ll keep the bot coming back for more.

Fetch as Google

  • This handy tool lets you see a webpage the way Google does. Just enter a URL and hit “Fetch.”

  • This option is particularly helpful if you’re trying to troubleshoot issues with your page. For instance, if you have crawl errors or HTML suggestions and you’re making attempts to fix those issues, you’ll be able to fetch the page and see if the problem is fixed in the eyes of Google.

       Blocked URLs

  • If you have content on your site that you’ve blocked from Google on purpose, you’ll see a list of those links here. Remember when we talked about confidential pages that you didn’t want Google to include in searches? You can keep track of them here.

       Sitemaps

  • A Sitemap is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a map that helps Google recognize all of the pages on your site. This isn’t something the Googlebot handles, you actually have to create an XML sitemap and submit it to Google. How do you do that? We suggest using XML-sitemaps.com. This site will walk you through the process and get the information to Google. It might sound techy, but it’s beneficial. If you can get Google to recognize all of the pages on your site, your searchability will increase.

       URL parameters

  • This section allows you dictate which URLs Google crawls, but unless you’re an Internet aficionado, you’ll probably want to stay away from this. If you enter the wrong URLs you can negatively affect your site. It’s best to leave this one to the pros. 

        Malware

  • If your site has fallen victim to hackers, Google will let you know. You can also request a malware review from Google to make sure all infected areas are clear.

       Security issues

  • This tab is another way for Google to get in touch with you should there be any security concerns. It’s just another inbox-like feature that you should monitor.

Additional tools

  • You’ll find some helpful resources in this section. We’ll go over the most important and easy-to-use tools.

Google Places

  • You want customers to be able to find your business, its location and contact information in a snap, right? Then you should check out Google Places. In a few simple steps you’ll get your business on the map – literally. A map with a pin showing your location will appear in search results. Other important information will also pop up in searches.

Google Merchant Center

  • When you Google “new shoes,” a list of relevant links come up along with several pictures of products. 

Page Speed Insights

  • If a customer has to wait for your page to load, they might get impatient and go to a competitor’s site. To avoid this, use the Page Speed Insights tab to see just how fast your page loads on both a desktop computer and a mobile device. Check out the report below.

  • You’ll get a rating. In this case, the desktop rating is 81/100. To improve the speed, it gives you a list of things you can change to make your page load faster.

Labs

Author stats

  • If you’re writing content for your site or for others, you can see a list of your top ranked articles. Of course, you’ll need to associate your articles with your Google profile for the posts to show up. You can learn more about that through the Google Authorship site. It’s worth your time. It shows you what articles are getting read so you can adjust your topics accordingly.

Instant preview

  • This option is a lot like Fetch as Google, it shows you a page as Google would see it. It also tells you if there are any errors as the bot works to preview the page. Again, it’s another way to learn about bugs in your system.

Hopefully, we’ve helped you learn your way around GWMT. It’s a powerful tool for business owners who want to improve their website performance and traffic without spending a dime.

Are you using GWMT? Which features do you find the most valuable?

Get started with VerticalResponse with a free account today! 

© 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 A Beginner’s Guide to Google Webmaster Tools appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Set up LinkedIn Sponsored Updates

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 06:01

LinkedIn has always focused on the professional audience from the very beginning. But in the past, you may have only visited the site when you had an update to your resume or were trying to find a connection for that perfect job. However, like other social networks, LinkedIn evolved.

Last year, LinkedIn began focusing on content marketing as a key piece of its growth strategy.

Around the same time, LinkedIn introduced a new marketing option called Sponsored Updates. This is an in-stream native ad unit that promotes content from a LinkedIn business page to the world’s largest professional network. But a lot of people are unfamiliar with these sponsored updates, so we thought we’d take a few moments to break them down. Let’s jump in.

When you add a piece of content to your LinkedIn business page, you’ll notice a sponsor update button toward the bottom of the post.

If you click the sponsor update button, you’ll be taken into the Campaign Manager where you can sponsor or promote this piece of content. If this is your first time sponsoring a piece of content, you’ll be prompted to enter a credit card into the system. For future sponsoring opportunities, you’ll bypass this step. 

You can now choose the sponsor content button, where a drop down will appear allowing you to name your campaign, choose the company this campaign is for (you will only have multiple options if you’re an administrator of multiple business pages) and click the update you want to sponsor.

Next, you’ll be provided with a preview of what your content will look like on various devices including a PC, smart phone and a tablet. This is a helpful feature that other social networks don’t currently offer.

Once you click the next button you’ll be moved over to the targeting section. Here you can target a location based on the area.  For example, you can’t target a specific city like San Francisco, but you can target the San Francisco Bay Area. You’re also given the opportunity to focus on specific companies and job titles if you want your content to be served up to those specific groups. One last thing to consider: The more LinkedIn members you target, the higher “per click” price you will pay. So getting more specific can make your budget go further.

With a final click of the next button, you’re taken to the budget page. You can choose pay per click (CPC), or cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM). In our experience, we’ve seen higher return on investment with the CPC option. You also choose the total budget you’re willing to spend on this sponsored update, as well as how long the campaign should run. With a click of the launch campaign button, your advertising is now in motion.

Once your sponsored update is running, you’ll see two different engagement metrics under the post. One is the organic traffic your post has seen, and the other is what your post has gained from sponsoring it. In this example, the difference is substantial: 92 organic impressions vs. 23,950 paid impressions.

You can also visit your campaign dashboard to see more detailed information about the posts you’ve chosen to sponsor. One thing to highlight: Tthe budget versus the total spent. LinkedIn provides additional value to your posts, especially if they’re popular with your targeted audience. So for the example above, you can see the budget was $50.00, but my total spend was $175.00. Even though you’ll never be charged more than the budget you set, sometimes you get additional exposure at no additional cost. In this case, I received an additional $125 worth of clicks for free. We can’t confirm why LinkedIn does this, but we confirmed with a LinkedIn sales representative that it does happen from time to time. Just note that this may not be available permanently. 

There you have it – A quick little walk through LinkedIn’s sponsored updates. We’d love to hear what you think of them, and if you’ve had any experience using them yourself. Just drop us a note 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 How to Set up LinkedIn Sponsored Updates appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

8 Components of an Effective Email [GUIDE]

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 06:00

Every email your business sends has the potential to build relationships and boost sales. VerticalResponse is here to help ensure each email you send is effective. So, we’ve created a guide that breaks down eight components of an email. With this handy information, you’ll be on your way to creating successful email campaigns in no time.

1. From label

We start with the “from” label. Everyone pays attention to where an email comes from, it’s the first thing a person sees when they scan their inbox. Since this is such an important piece of inbox real estate, you want to make sure that the from label matches your company name, or whoever your recipient signed up to hear from when they subscribed to your list. This helps easily identify an email’s source.

 2. Subject line

When an email lands in your inbox, you decide whether or not you’re going to open it in a matter of seconds, right? One of the things you base your decision on is the subject line. Your subscribers do the same. This is why subject lines are so important. You could offer your customers the best deal or information in the world, but if you have a poorly written subject line, your customers won’t get far enough to take advantage of that great deal.

Beth Nagengast, who uses VerticalResponse to promote Cinquain Cellars, a winery in Paso Robles, California, says subject lines should be straightforward. “Tell your customer what’s in it for them,” she says. It’s good advice. Take a look at the subject line examples below.

The email from VerticalResponse tells customers the information they can expect to read about. The email from the electronics giant offers a deal. Both subject lines tell readers why they should open the email.

Tips to creating subject lines:

  • Keep it short. Stick to 40-50 characters.
  • Don’t overuse punctuation (i.e. !!!) or symbols.
  • Don’t use all caps.
  • Don’t repeat the from label.

For more tips, check out our Savvy Subject Line guide.

3. Pre-header

The pre-header is like a subject line’s sidekick. It’s the first line of text in your email. Some email programs, like Gmail or mobile phones, include the pre-header after the subject line so the reader can get a little more information before opening the email. See the grey text after the subject line? That’s the pre-header.

It’s another way to grab attention. Whether it’s displayed next to the subject line or not, that first sentence in your email is vital. You want customers to keep reading. Try to write something that builds on the subject line and tells readers exactly what the email is about.

4. Content

Now it’s time to get to the meat of your email marketing: content. The message that you create should provide value to your customer. Teach them about your business, offer a promotional deal, or keep them informed about new products or services. Whatever your goal is, make sure the content is succinct and informative.

To set your emails apart from the rest, make a commitment to quality. Create content your customers want to read and then keep it coming. You want your customers to look forward to your emails. Importantly, every email should be error-free. You don’t want to sink your credibility with an email that’s riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors.

You’ll also want to vary the kind of content you send. You can’t fill your customers’ inbox with dozens of promotional emails. If you try to sell too hard, you’ll push customers away. Offer an array of content. A company newsletter is the go-to email marketing for Cinquain Cellars. It helps the company build a relationship with customers. From product tips to a company newsletter, the name of the content game is diversity.

5. Call to action

The point of every email is to get subscribers to take some kind of action. Whether you want them to make a purchase or take an online survey, a clear call to action makes it easy for the recipient to follow through.

When you’re creating an email, ask yourself, “What do I want the recipient to do?” If the answer is to make a purchase, you could include a “Shop Now” button in the email. If you want customers to take a survey, you would include a link that takes the recipient directly to the questionnaire.

The main thing to remember when creating the call to action is that it should be clear. We’re talking blatantly obvious. Take a look at this email.

The call to action is easy to identify. Recipients click on the “Shop now” button, which takes them directly to the online retail mecca in seconds.

One of the best ways to create a clear call to action is to use a clickable button. Check out our button creator to get a killer call to action button for your next email.

Tips to creating a strong call to action:

  • Keep it short: A call to action should be no more than five words; most are only two words. You want something that’s simple and effective. No need for flowery language here.
  • Use active language: You want customers to act now, not two days from now. Use active words to get your customers moving. Phrases like “Purchase now” or “Try our new service today” are good examples.
  • Create a sense of urgency: Give customers a reason to act now. For instance, put a limited time frame on deals so customers won’t wait.
6. Images

There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words, and it especially holds true in email marketing. Using an image in an email is a great way to appeal to your customer’s visual nature. One of the easiest ways to incorporate images is to highlight your product or service. Take a look at the example below.

This email wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the pictures of the product. The images give customers an idea of what the new product looks like. It’s invaluable information for customers and gives them a reason to shop.

If you’re trying to market something that isn’t product-related, such as a service, you have to think outside the box. For instance, think about whom your product or service helps and try to use an image that relates. Take a look at the example below.

This online university uses a picture of a mom and a child in its email to encourage adults to come back to school. Notice how the image complements the text. That should be your goal.

7. Social media buttons

Don’t forget to include social media buttons in your email. You want your customers to engage with your brand as much as possible, so make it easy for them to check out your feeds. Take a look at the email below. Notice the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube options near the bottom.

8. Unsubscribe option

You may not be aware of it, but there are laws regarding email marketing. The CAN-SPAM Act says your email must include a way for customers to opt out. You can go about this in a couple of ways. You can put the word “Unsubscribe” at the bottom of the email that is linked to an unsubscribe option so customers can click on it and remove their names from your list. Or your readers can hit reply and include Unsubscribe in the subject line. At VerticalResponse, we manage all your opt outs.

This guide is just the tip of the email iceberg. We have tons of resources for you. From our digital marketing blog, to our weekly newsletter packed with tips and trends, we’ve got you covered. VerticalResponse will help you make the most out of every email you send.

Get started today. It’s free!

© 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 8 Components of an Effective Email [GUIDE] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Sponsor an Update on LinkedIn [Video]

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 06:00

In this installment of Tips in 2, our video series of helpful, two-minute small business marketing tips, our senior social media manager, Derek Overbey shows you how to easily sponsor an update on your LinkedIn business page. Touching on the basics of getting a sponsored update off the ground, we’ll take you step-by-step through the process of leveraging the incredible reach of LinkedIn. 

Want more fresh 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 How to Sponsor an Update on LinkedIn [Video] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

The Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

Fri, 06/27/2014 - 06:00

So you’ve heard the buzz about how easy and cost effective email marketing can be for your business. But, you might not be sure where to start?  We’ve put together this handy guide to help you get started in a snap.

Build your email marketing list

If you’re just getting started with email marketing, your list might be fairly small. That’s okay. Everyone starts somewhere, and you’ll grow your list over time. Just make sure you’re collecting email addresses, and especially that you have an opt-in form on your website, blog and applicable social networks so new people can sign up to join your list.

We recommend including information along with your sign-up form to let your new subscribers know exactly how often you plan on emailing them (whether it’s once a month or twice a week, or another timeframe), and what type of information you’ll be sending. That way, people know right away what they’re signing up for when they sign up, and expectations are set, so there aren’t any surprises.

It also allows you to offer an incentive for subscribers, whether it’s special email-only discounts and deals, or information about new products and specials before they’re released on your website.

Start small

Not sure how often to send email? It’s better to start small, emailing subscribers once or twice a month, or more often if that is what you offered when they signed up. It’s important to only send what you promised. If you need to increase the frequency later, or during a busy season like the winter holidays, you can email your subscribers and let them know in advance what to expect. A word of warning: Don’t add anyone to your email list without their permission. If they’ve entered a contest or drawing or you’ve gotten their business card, make sure to drop them a line to ask if they want to be on your email list – instead of adding them directly.

If you need ideas of what to send, we’ve got 50 unique ideas for you here.

Segment your list

Even if you only have 20 or 30 people on your email list, it’s not too soon to start segmenting it based on the type of information people are looking for. Local customers interested in events or workshops may go on a different list than those who live out of town. You may offer three different products for three unique groups – in which case it’s a perfect time to begin tailoring your marketing to specific groups of people, offering information specific to them instead of a one-size-fits-all approach. Do what’s right for your subscribers

You may get emails from chain clothing stores each day, telling you what to buy and what’s on sale. “That’s how they do their marketing,” says Jill Bastian, our own Training and Education manager. “For them it’s pretty successful, but for small businesses, people have different expectations.”

If you try too hard to emulate big companies, you could get in trouble. People may get annoyed with a high volume of emails. “Pay attention to your stats,” Bastian advises. “If subscribers drop off, look at your content. Are you sending the right information? Are you sending too often? Too many messages saying ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ can be really off-putting to people,” so make sure to intersperse useful messages with informational content in your email marketing.

Find your voice

As a small business owner, your tone may be able to be a bit more conversational than an email sent from a big business (depending on your industry or type of business, of course). Spend some time finding your company’s voice to ensure your messages hit the mark.

Be consistent

A rookie email marketing mistake is to simply send an email when you have something to say. But it’s better to email on a regular basis. Disappearing for even a couple of months can confuse your readers, who may forget about your business before you hit send nine weeks later.

Quality content

Another common mistake is to only send sales pitches to your readers. “There’s more to sending out an email than putting some pictures of your product and saying, ‘okay, go buy it,’ because people won’t keep looking at the email if you don’t spend a little bit of time writing it,” says Bastian. Instead, post highly valuable content your readers are interested in and which they would benefit from, whether they use your product or not. Things like how-tos, tips and product help are popular types of content.

Make it readable

You’ll want your messages to be easy to read, no matter what device your readers are on, or how much time they have. Using bullets and subheadings makes your email easy to scan, even, for example, if someone’s quickly checking messages on their phone while taking the subway to work. Also, make sure to break up longer paragraphs into shorter ones to make your material more digestible.

Proof and edit

Have a co-worker glance at your message before hitting send to avoid typos, broken links or other errors after the emails hit your subscribers’ inbox.

Testing A simple web search on online marketing can present you with a dizzying array of often contradictory information on the best way to market to your readers. The thing is, there’s no one approach that works for every business, let alone each specific group of people. And since nobody can offer you the perfect blueprint for your unique email list, the most important thing is to test. You’ll want to analyze your data from time to time, with a special look at the following:
  • Subject matter. Are there specific topics people gravitate towards? Look at the open rate on your emails to see if there are any surprises. In some industries, people are always asking about a specific topic, but the open rate for emails addressing it is low. Sometimes people think they’re interested (or not interested) in reading information about certain topics, but the data shows otherwise. Keep an eye on which types of emails are read most often, and which aren’t, so you can modify the subjects you cover appropriately. Your readers may even change their interests and preferences over time.
  • Subject line. What does better for you, emails with lots of information in the subject line or those with just a bit? If you have 200 addresses or more on your email list, A/B split testing can help you analyze two different subject lines for the exact same post to see which one gets a better response. There may be specific subject lines for your list that you’d like to test as well.
  • Email length. There’s no cookie-cutter answer for what the best length is for your emails. It may vary by message depending if you are sending a newsletter, an offer, an invitation or another message. And you can also mix up your email length, if appropriate, with some short and sweet messages and some longer, more comprehensive reads.
  • How often. Sending to your list on a regular basis is the best recipe for success. Stick with what you promised when the subscriber signed up and change it as needed as your business dictates.
  • Counting clicks. Including links to products or areas of your website can help you see what your readers are interested in – just look at the number of clicks per link.

It’s tempting to feel like you’re done after the email you crafted is delivered to your email list, but it’s really just the beginning. Bottom line: Your email marketing campaign isn’t done when you hit send. Spend some time seeing what your customers or readers like and what they’re interested in – which products they look at or buy, which links they’re clicking on, which articles they’re reading, and so forth. Keep giving them the kind of information they want. If you’re not paying attention to the people reading your emails, then your email marketing won’t be successful.

Get started now with VerticalResponse. It’s free!

© 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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Off the Grid Serves up Sizzling Content Using Social, Mobile & Email Marketing

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 06:01

In June of 2010, Off the Grid (OtG), a popular San Francisco-based “roaming mobile food extravaganza” (and VerticalResponse customer!) opened their first three markets. They say the concept was created “with the simple idea that grouping street food vendors together, similar to an ‘Asian night market’ would create an experience that would allow neighbors to connect with friends and families to reconnect with each other.”

Fast forward to today, and Off the Grid now operate 23 weekly markets in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, with more than 150 food vendors.

This kind of rapid growth doesn’t happen by accident, but with a carefully orchestrated marketing plan involving social media, a mobile app, email marketing and word of mouth. Like a robust recipe, Off the Grid’s successful content strategy doesn’t contain just one single ingredient. It mixes a combination of content created by their own team, as well as user generated content from attendees and food truck vendors.

Take a look at OtG’s Twitter feed. It’s a consistent steam of updates, as well as retweets from vendors and attendees touting locations, menu options and pictures of delicious food.

Mosey on over to OtG’s Facebook page, which boasts over 64K likes. Here, you also get a taste of content being shared by the organization, vendors and the people who love them.

Off the Grid’s content is really smokin’ on their Instagram feed, and for good reason. They share mouthwatering pics that are easy to share, comment on and like. It’s not unusual for their posts to get hundreds of likes. They also share pictures before, during and after the events to attract attendees, as well as get current attendees to try even more of the delectable goods.

Off the Grid rounds out all their social media efforts with email marketing. They have a prominent opt-in form located on every page of their website, and they mail numerous times a week to keep their 40,000 subscribers coming back.

Off the Grid’s email marketing newsletter sign up form

Lastly, OtG serves up content to their followers and fans via their mobile app. The app provides foodies with information, schedules and updates about upcoming street food markets, and available vendors in their vicinity. App users can follow their favorite vendors or markets, and receive push updates with vendor lists, fun things to do in the area, and more.

  

By providing a variety of content, including events, food and vendors, Off the Grid continues to fuel their patrons appetites, and the company’s continued rapid growth. Have all these examples made you hungry to serve up some sizzling content of your own? We’d love to hear about what you decide to dish out in the comments section.

© 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 Off the Grid Serves up Sizzling Content Using Social, Mobile & Email Marketing appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

What’s All the Buzz about ‘Google My Business’?

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 07:00

A new user-friendly tool can help small businesses get a little love from Google. Using the new Google My Business, you can increase your visibility online, provide valuable business information to your customers and interact with your fans from your cell phone.

When a customer searches your business name, wouldn’t it be nice if a map of your business popped up followed by store hours and customer reviews? That’s just a few of the things you can accomplish with Google My Business. Let’s go over some of the most important features.

Getting started
This new tool brings together several other Google business platforms including Places for Business and the previous Google+ dashboard. If you were using either of these interfaces, you’ll be redirected to Google My Business.

“Before Google My Business, the interface was a bit clunky, but this new version is impressive,” says Todd Bailey, founder of online search marketing company pushStar Digital.

If you haven’t used the previous models, just go to Google My Business and click “Get on Google” to get started.

Create or claim your business listing
Whether your business is an actual brick-and-mortar store or an online business, you’ll be able to manage your business listing. If you’ve worked with the previous Google platforms, you’ll claim a business listing. If you’re new or have a business that’s online, you can create a listing.

Build a profile page
As you work your way through the prompted screens, you’ll create a Google+ profile for your business.

Here you can enter important business information like store hours, your phone number, a link to your business website and photos of your shop. Here’s a look at the profile page, which also serves as a dashboard.

Share content via Google+
From that same dashboard, you can share and engage with customers via Google+. If you look at the image above, you’ll see the G+ icon with “Share” under it. That’s where you can create a post. You can even post a message from your phone.

Not familiar with Google+? It’s another social media tool similar to Facebook. You add friends to your circle just as you’d add friends to your Facebook page. Sharing works the same way, too.

Access to metrics
As you can see from the image above, the dashboard also has an “Insights” section. This is where you can get all of your metrics. You can see how well posts are doing, get a look at the demographics of your followers and see helpful charts about your engagement rates.

“You’ll even be able to see how many people got directions to your business and see where they were when they requested the directions,” Bailey says. “This information will help owners see how far their reach is.”

Access to customer reviews
Word of mouth is a powerful thing. Now your customers can leave reviews right on your Google+ page.

“This is a key element for small businesses because now they have the ability to maintain their online reputation,” Bailey says.

If you take another look at the dashboard picture above, you’ll see the reviews section. As the business owner, you can read and respond to these reviews as needed.

Have you started using Google My Business yet? If so, what do you think of this new tool? Tell us 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 What’s All the Buzz about ‘Google My Business’? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 Time-Saving Tips for Managing Social Media Overload

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 06:00

Social media comes with a to-do list: Post to Facebook, craft an intriguing tweet, snap new pictures for Instagram, find a post to pin – Sound familiar? Social media is a great tool to promote your business and brand, but it can be intimidating and feel time consuming.

To help calm the overwhelming social media list, we’ve got a few tips for you.

1. Use social media management tools
If you’re logging into social media network and creating real time posts, you risk being on social sites all day. Make the social media hours that you log more efficient by using VerticalResponse to pre-schedule and post directly from your account, or a tool that manages multiple social channels like or HootSuite, TweetDeck or SproutSocial.

With these online tools, you can see and post to many of your social media networks from one central dashboard. Take a look at the HootSuite dashboard below. You can see all of your feeds side by side. In this case, you can see a Twitter feed and a LinkedIn feed.

You can also schedule posts ahead of time. Here’s what the function looks like in HootSuite.

 

If you want to go in on Monday morning and set up posts for the week, you can. Automating posts can save a lot of time. (Before you start scheduling, read this post on the dos and don’ts of social media automation.)

Overall, these kinds of “central command” tools can make your social to-do list easier to accomplish. Plus, you can get all of your metrics in one place.

2. Try Swayy
Of course, posting to your accounts is only part of the social puzzle. The other part is reading and sharing good content from your followers.

Most social media management tools allow you to see all of your feeds at once, but you still have to scroll through each feed and look at the content. The Swayy app compiles a list of content that you’re interested in based on keywords that you feed it. Basically, it serves up content that you’re likely to share on a silver platter. With one click, you can share it, too. Here’s what it looks like.

3. Cut back on the number of sites
A lot of small businesses feel obligated to have a social media presence on all of the channels. That’s a big commitment. You could be juggling six to eight accounts. Even with the tools mentioned above, that’s a lot to manage. If you’re struggling to keep up with all of them, it’s okay to cut back, says Christopher Penn, vice president at public relations firm SHIFT Communications.

“It’s better to do a few channels well than a lot poorly,” he says.

4. Pick sites to cut
Ask yourself how much time you have to devote to social media. Start by looking at the metrics to decide which accounts to cut. Look at clickthrough rates and conversions, and dump the accounts that aren’t contributing to your success, Penn suggests.

Try dropping just one account, and access your time commitment again. If you’re still going over your allotted social time, consider trimming another account.

Anyone with a social media account knows how easy it is to lose a lot of time posting and scrolling. Use the tips above to use your social time more efficiently.

Have another tip to help small business owners juggle multiple social media accounts? Feel free to share your tips or favorite social media app in the comments section. 

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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 Time-Saving Tips for Managing Social Media Overload appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

What’s New with Google? | June 2014 [VIDEO]

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 06:00

As the VerticalResponse SEO Manager, I recently attended and returned from a jam-packed week at Search Marketing Expo Advanced. I’ve also brought back the latest updates from everyone’s favorite search engine, Google. Matt Cutts, Head of Webspam at Google was the keynote speaker for a You & A session hosted by Danny Sullivan

Here are a few points Cutts touched on, which goes into more details in the video. 

  • There hasn’t been a Penguin Update since October 2013. As a reminder, Penguin is the Google algorithm update that goes after poor quality backlinks, so if you’ve been doing some clean up and haven’t seen results, you now know why.
  • Google is adding more information to their Reconsideration Requests when people are dealing with a manual penalty
  • There couldn’t be a Matt Cutts event without an algorithm update. As you may have heard, a few weeks ago Google released the Pay Day Loan 2.0 Algorithm, and it was announced that a third version was released last week.  

To learn more details about these announcements, check out the video below: 

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The post What’s New with Google? | June 2014 [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 Things You Should Know About Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

Tue, 06/24/2014 - 06:00

On July 1, 2014, Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) will go into effect. We sat down with Jennifer Noyes, Lead Delivery Specialist here at VerticalResponse to get the facts on how this legislation affects businesses that send emails. Here’s what you need to know:

1. What is Canada’s anti-spam legislation all about?

According to Canada’s anti-spam legislation website, “The Act will begin to take effect on July 1, 2014 when most of the Act comes into force. Once the law is in force, it will help to protect Canadians while ensuring that businesses can continue to compete in the global marketplace.” 

2. What do I have to do to comply with the legislation?

Noyes shared that The Act states your email must comply with these three elements:

  1. All email addresses you send to must be permission-based, meaning the subscribers specifically opted-in to receive your communications. If you are not currently doing this, you can use an email sign up form to collect permission-based subscribers on your website, blog or social media networks. [LINK TO SUP FORM post]
  2. All emails must contain an easy-to-find unsubscribe link that is valid for 90 days.
  3. Your subject line must pertain to the content in the email.

VerticalResponse is compliant with all three elements of The Act. Check with your email service provider if you have any questions about their compliance.

3. My business is not in Canada so I’m not affected, right?

Just because your business is located outside of Canada does not mean you are exempt from The Act. If you’re sending email to anyone who resides in Canada, your sending practices must abide by The Act. 

4. Where can I learn more?

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation site has all of the details and this presentation from the folks at Return Path helps you prepare for CASL. 

 

Note: The information in this post cannot be considered legal advice, and is not legally binding. 

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The post 4 Things You Should Know About Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

7 Ways to Avoid an Email Blunder

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 06:00

Have you ever quickly sent off an email and were mortified to discover an error after you’d hit send? We’ve all been there and in order to avoid that awful feeling, we’ve created an handy list of seven ways to avoid an email blunder. Here’s what to do before you hit send.

1. Get permission
If you’re sending an email with say, customer quotes, or a newsletter in which you’re writing about another person, have you gotten their permission first? Business relationships take work to build and maintain, and the loss of trust from sharing what was supposed to be a private story publicly without permission can be difficult to rebuild. Play it safe by asking first; there may be factors at play of which you are unaware.

2. Make sure your images are legal to use
Just because you have attribution and a back link to a site where you’ve obtained an image doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Unless you have permission to use an image, you could risk a fine or have your site shut down. Wikimedia Commons and morgueFile provide copyright-free images you can use in your blog posts and online articles. iStock Photo will sell them to you at a reasonable fee. If you’ve got a bit of a budget, you can get a subscription to ThinkStock, Getty Images or other similar services.

3. Double-check your hyperlinks
It’s easy to go in and fix a broken hyperlink in a blog post, but after you’ve hit send on an email, it’s often too late. Make sure to double-check all of your hyperlinks to ensure they work properly. Doing this as close to your send time as possible is preferable, so that you’re not linking to a YouTube video that’s already been privatized or removed due to copyright infringement.

4. Check your font and font size
Accidentally cutting and pasting from various sources sometimes leads to mismatched text. In general, it’s a good idea to type into a text editor rather than, say, a Word document, which sometimes adds unnecessary formatting. In any case, double-check your font and font size, and even font color, to make sure everything is consistent before hitting send.

5. Check for typos
News flash: It’s not easy proofreading your own writing, but there are a few strategies that can help. One involves taking some time away from the email or newsletter so that you’re a little more detached when viewing. Or, try reading your entire email out loud. This will help you find errors you may have missed. If you’ve got a co-worker with a good eye, ask them to proofread your message. Getting an extra set of eyes is priceless for avoiding unnecessary errors. And fortunately, there are multiple tools online that can help you with your proofreading efforts with a human eye (which is more effective than spellcheck). If you use the collaborative software program Draft to compose your messages, you can pay a small fee to have your work proofread under a strict NDA. Revision Fairy is another option.

6. Check your subject line
We’e discussed the importance of having a compelling, clickable subject line, but length is important, too. If your readers are checking their email on the way to work, or taking a quick glance at their smartphones on the way to a meeting, they’re not going to see your entire subject line unless you keep it short. If possible, stick to 30 characters or less. When you can’t do that, make sure that the first 30 characters make sense even when your subscribers can’t see the rest.

7. When scheduling an email, check your AMs and PMs
It’s always good to test various times of days to send your email, but make sure you’re doing it deliberately. Double-check your AMs and PMs when you’re scheduling your email, so you’re not inadvertently sending something at 2 in the morning when you were hoping to catch your readers in the early afternoon. Also be considerate of your time zone. If you’re sending an email at 5 pm Pacific time, your east coast friends may not engage with it like you want them to. 

Have any other things you like to check and double check before you hit send? Share with us.

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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 7 Ways to Avoid an Email Blunder appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A Definitive Guide to Using Facebook Insights for Your Business

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 06:00

Facebook has multiple metrics and analytics to help you with your marketing efforts. For example, Facebook Page Insights provides information about the content you share on your Facebook Page. It lets you see the demographics of those viewing your content, as well as user growth and how frequently a piece of content is consumed. The tool can help you better track the overall performance of your page.

Now, Facebook is rolling out its Audience Insights tool. Instead of solely looking at interactions with your own business page, Audience Insights looks at a swath of information about your followers and target audience, like demographics, lifestyles and interests. Audience Insights is slowly being introduced across the United States; it will be available in other countries in the coming months.

Who has access?
Facebook Audience Insights is slowly being rolled out for business pages (not personal accounts). Your page must also have 30 fans for the data to be available. It will be available under the “Ads Manager” tool.

To access your regular Facebook Insights, click on your business page, and then click on “Insights” in the Page Manager. 

What data is available?

Facebook Page Insights’ available data is divided into six sections.

1. Overview
This section shows how well your individual posts or pieces of content from the past week have resonated with your audience. You’ll see the total amount of ‘likes’ your page has received for the week (compared to the week prior), your posts’ reach broken down by day and compared to the week prior, engagement (likes, comments, shares and clicks), and some stats on your five most recent posts: the type of post, who you’re targeting, reach and engagement.

2. Likes
“Likes” analyzes the number of people who liked your page, and any changes. It can also break down organic ‘likes’ versus paid ‘likes’ (from campaigns designed to increase Facebook likes), as well as information on the number of times your page was ‘liked,’ broken out by where it happened.

3. Reach
Post reach shows the number of people your post was ‘served to’ – the ones who have seen the post, whether they clicked on it or not. You can compare organic versus paid reach here as well. The section also shows the number of people served any activity from your page – mentions, check-ins, ‘like’ ads and posts by other people in addition to your own posts. It also has charts for likes, comments and shares as well as the number of times your content was hidden or reported as spam, or your page was unliked.

4. Visits
This section shows you the number of times your various page tabs (including your photos tab, info tab, timeline, etc.) were viewed, actions people have taken involving your page (such as posting on it), and the number of times people came to your page from a website outside of Facebook.

5. Posts
Posts can be a very helpful tab. It shows you a breakdown of the days and times of day that your fans are online, the paid and organic reach of your posts, as well as interactions with them (comments or likes). 

It also allows you to compare the average reach and engagement for different types of posts (links, photos, status updates). And if you’d like to compare the performance of your Page and posts with that of your competitors, there’s a section for that as well.

6. People

“People” breaks down the demographics of your fan base, including their gender, country and city, and language. It provides additional data about the demographics of people who have seen a post within the past 30 days, and the demographics of those who engaged with it.

Facebook Audience Insights

Facebook Page Insights shows you information about people who have ‘liked’ your page, whereas Facebook Audience Insights lets you choose between three potential audiences. One very broad option is the entire Facebook audience: people on Facebook in general. Another option is people who are connected to your Page (or event). Lastly, Facebook allows you to create a “Custom Audience” comprised of your current customers.

Facebook Audience Insights is divided into five categories.

1. Demographics. Just like Page Insights, Audience Insights shows you the age and gender of your group, but adds additional information as well: lifestyle, education, relationship status, job role and household size. 

2. Page Likes shows you the top pages people in your group like in different categories. 

3. Location and language is similar to Page Insights, except information about where people live, and which languages they speak is for the specific group you choose rather than just those connected with your page. 

4. Facebook usage shows you how often people in your audience use Facebook, and with which devices. 

5. Purchases activity shows you past purchase behavior of your group (like if they are heavy buyers in a specific industry) and how they shop (in store, online, etc.). 

How do you use these tools?

 Facebook Page Insights

  • Analyze people. The demographic makeup of your viewers can help you better understand your audience: their age group, location, gender, etc. You can even see if there’s a variation between viewers on certain topics compared to others. This will help you further refine your content. 
  • Use Post types to see which kinds of posts have the most reach and engagement. If you see that photos (or links, or status updates) are wildly popular, you may want to add more of them, more often. You can also see which actions led to people unliking, hiding or reporting your page as spam. This may show you which types of post decrease your reach. 
  • Boost posts. If you decide you want to put a little bit of money into paying for posts to get more traffic, the data becomes more useful. “The insights on a boosted post tell me what activity was generated around the money that I spent, which is really important,” says Derek Overbey, VerticalResponse Senior Social Media Manager. If you decide to “Boost” a post, or pay money to increase its views, that’s when you’ll really want to take a close look at the reports to guide decisions for future posts. You may need to experiment a bit to determine the reason specific ‘boosted’ posts are more popular as it could be the type of post, the topic or some other factor. Looking at the data is a good starting point for hypothesizing. 
  • Stick to on-screen data. Facebook has a very robust analytics package, and allows you to download very detailed reports. Overbey recommends starting with on-screen data, which can be less overwhelming if you’re just starting out. The on-screen pictures and graphs, he says, will tell you just enough without going into too much detail. 
  • Keep it in context. It’s true that Audience Insights can give you a peek into what your audience thinks about a particular piece of content, but there are many different factors. Often times a post will resonate with a certain audience and get a lot of activity on Facebook, but won’t necessarily get a lot of clicks or activity from other social channels such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Just be aware that the data you see on Facebook Insights might not reflect a post’s overall performance on other social media channels.

Getting Started with Facebook Audience Insights

Facebook Audience Insights helps you learn more about the people you want to target both with content and ads.

Get started by going to Facebook Ads Manager and creating an audience. This will allow you to hone in on the particular audience and compare them to the overall population to see what is unique about them. You can create multiple audiences if you have segmented your list.

If Facebook Audience Insights has rolled out for you, you’ll be able to hone in on your new audience, to better understand their demographics and purchase behavior. Here’s how this could affect your marketing.

1. Demographics. Being able to compare the age and gender of your specific audience with a more general audience can show you who to target with your products. And that’s not all: You’ll have information on education, relationship status, job roles and household size as well. For example, there’s no use advertising your dating app to an audience where the demographic includes mostly married people.

Advertising to a target market is nothing new – Facebook has allowed filtering for ads for a while. But targeting a specific product to a list you already have is a new way to use Audience Insights.

2. Page Likes shows you the top pages people in your group like in different categories. This can be helpful both for scoping out potential competitors and for better understanding your audience and what makes them tick.

3. Location and language can help you hone in on specific areas. For example, if you have products targeting certain areas, you’ll be able to know this information about the audience you have selected.

4. Facebook usage shows you how often people in your audience use Facebook, and with which devices. This may help you understand your data on engagement and views.

5. Purchases activity shows you past purchase behavior of your group (like if they are heavy buyers in a specific industry) and how they shop (in store, online, etc.). This can affect your marketing strategy. If you have a brick-and-mortar store but your audience is far more likely to shop online than the general population, you’ll want to make sure that option is available.

It just goes to show you, sometimes the more you know about your audience, the better.

Do you have plans to use these new insights to learn about your audience on Facebook? 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 A Definitive Guide to Using Facebook Insights for Your Business appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

5 Takeaways from Search Marketing Expo Advanced 2014

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 07:00

The Search Marketing Expo (SMX) Advanced conference in Seattle, Washington wrapped up last week. A variety of search engine marketing experts including Brad Geddes, Chris Goward, Feras Alhou, Heather Coan and many more shared their unique and valuable insights. We covered the Paid Search sessions and brought back these 5 takeaways for your business.

1. Embrace Mobile

Whether you’re ready or not, mobile is here. You can no longer ignore the valuable traffic and conversions that come from mobile users. It’s important to have mobile optimized sites in order to give users the best possible shopping experience, and a higher chance to convert. Design your web pages to drive users to take the action that you want, whether it’s a sign up or a purchase.

2. Challenge Best Practices

Challenging best practices may seem like going against everything you’ve heard or learned, but there’s truth to it. Yes, many best practices are good to follow as general rules, but don’t assume that what works for some businesses, will work for yours. It’s important to test different hypothesis and strategies before blindly assuming a “best practice” is right for your business. Try different things out, especially when it comes to your landing page designs and calls-to-action. The results may surprise you. This leads to our next take away: testing.

3. Test! Test! Test!

One of the biggest and most important takeaways from this year’s SMX was the topic of testing. Businesses can always improve things and testing should never stop. It’s important not only to continually test and reiterate, but it’s important to form and establish a process for doing so in order to eliminate as many affecting factors as possible. Break your tests down to manageable pieces to make things easier and continually reiterate and improve those different aspects. Remember that factors like seasonality and running promotions that may skew results.

4. Analyze the Data

Okay, so you’ve run some tests, now what? Analyze the results. Whether it’s a simple A/B split test or multivariate testing, make sure to look at the data in more ways than one. Slice and dice your data a different ways to tell different stories about your customer base. What you assume about your customers may not always be correct, so it’s important to analyze your data to form “personas” for your customers. Different sets of your customers may behave differently depending where they are in the sales process. Additionally, there is a wealth of information available to website owners from various paid and free tools and sources that can be used to make valuable business decisions as well including:

5. Utilize Display and Search in Tandem

Display and search have different capabilities and unique characteristics, and each should be utilized appropriately in tandem to get people to convert. You should use display to build awareness and trust and use search to get people the information they’re looking for about your product or brand. People who search for your product tend to be more in the “learning” or “buying” stages, so your queries and ads should reflect that. After you’ve finally gotten the person to visit your site and hopefully convert, again use search and display for retargeting to cross sell, upsell, and make your spend more efficient.

For anyone thinking about attending SMX, it’s well worth the time and money. There are lots of informative speakers and workshops that share actionable insights for any business trying to drive online conversions. For more info on SMX, check out their site and be sure to look at slides from this year’s speakers.

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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 Takeaways from Search Marketing Expo Advanced 2014 appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Everything You Wanted to Know about Email Sign up Forms

Thu, 06/19/2014 - 06:01

Email sign up forms can help you grow your email list, but what exactly are they, and how do they work for your business? We’ll answer those questions now:

What’s an email sign up form?

An email sign up form is an embedded or hosted web form you can place or link to on your website, blog, or social media sites so that a visitor can sign up to receive a newsletter or email. Typically, it’s a small box that asks for few fields including an email address. They may also be referred to as email opt-in forms, web forms, webforms, or signup forms.

Example of an Email SIgn Up Form from VerticalResponse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the purpose of an email sign up form?

It’s a small, but a mighty tool used to collect permission-based email addresses. You may have noticed the emphasis on permission-based. That’s because when a visitor fills out a sign up form and asks to be added to an email list, they’re actively agreeing to be a part of your list and giving you permission to send them email. These contacts are priceless because they’ve specifically asked to hear from your business and are highly likely to open, read and click your messages. This results in more visits to your website, blog, brick and mortar location, and hopefully more sales.

Where should I put my email sign up form?

The more places you have sign up forms or links to them, the better. This includes all the pages of your website, blog, your business Facebook page and more. 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)

In the examples below from organic skincare company, Birdy Botanicals, you can see how they prominently feature an email sign up form on their website, blog and their Facebook page. 

Website email sign up form example from Birdy Botanicals

Blog email sign up form example from Birdy Botanicals

Facebook email sign up form from Birdy Botanicals

What information should my email sign up form ask for?

Less is more when it comes to your form. Often, just an email address is all you need. However, if you want to personalize your emails or do any segmenting of your list, you may want to add a field for first name, state or other relevant information. 

How do I get an email sign up form?

Most email service providers (ESPs), like VerticalResponse, offer either email sign up forms you can embed on your site or hosted web forms. In VerticalResponse Classic, you can find email sign up forms in your account in the Lists or Contacts section. You can quickly and easily customize your email sign up form and then post it wherever you like. And, once you have it on your website and other places, each time someone fills it out, their email address will be automatically added to your email list.

There you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about email sign up forms. You can create your own in VerticalResponse now and start growing your list today. 

Have a question we didn’t answer? Share it in the comments and we’ll get right on it.

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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 Everything You Wanted to Know about Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Grow Your Email List Using Twitter Lead Generation Cards

Wed, 06/18/2014 - 06:00

Want to grow your email list? Of course you do! Twitter’s lead generation cards are a great way to do just that. Outdoor apparel store, Rock/Creek, got 1,700 new email sign ups in a week by using this social media tool. Interested? We’ll show you how to set up an account and create your first lead generation card.

What is a lead generation card?
A lead generation card is a promoted tweet that helps your small business in two ways. First, it gets your business in front of a target audience for a small financial investment. Second, it can help boost your email list.

People scrolling through Twitter can click on the card, which usually has some sort of deal or offer, and their name, twitter handle, and email address gets pre-filled in the form. All the persohn has to do is submit it. Here are two examples.

What do I need to do before creating a lead generation card?
To create a lead generation card, follow these steps or watch our five-minute video to get started.

Create a Twitter Ads Account
Sign into your Twitter account and click on the sprocket in the top right corner. Select “Twitter Ads” from the drop down menu. You’ll need to answer a few questions about your company and you’ll be prompted to put in a credit card number.

• Set up a “collector”

Next, you’ll be prompted to select a company to collect the information. They’re called CRM (customer relationship management) companies. Once you pick, you’ll need to fill out a few business-related forms. 

What do I need to do to create a lead generation card?
Now you’ll move on to actually creating the card. Go to the advertising option and select “cards” and “create new card.” Here’s what it looks like along with a breakdown of the fields that you’ll need to fill in.

 

 

• Add a card image
Visuals are important. Take time to select a relative and intriguing picture. The dimensions are also unique. The picture should be 600×150 pixels with a 4:1 aspect ratio. You can use the preview button to make sure the picture looks right.

• Write a short description
Most lead generation cards promote a sale, offer a coupon, enter people in a giveaway, or let subscribers download something for free or sign up for a newsletter. You need an incentive, says marketer Grant Tilus, who markets colleges and universities through lead generation cards. Give the audience something of value.

• Include a call to action
Create a short call to action that’s in present tense and sounds urgent. For instance, “Join us today.”

• Link to a privacy policy
Create a page on your website that explains what your company’s privacy policies are and include a link to that page on the card. People take privacy seriously, Tilus says; so don’t skimp on the details.

• Fill out card details
This is an optional link that offers more information about your campaign.

Here’s an example of a simple Twitter lead gen card we created for the VR Buzz daily emails:

What else should I know?
Here are a few other tips we thought you should know about lead generation cards:

  • The cards aren’t free. You’ll need to decide how you want to pay for the promoted tweet. You can pay only when users engage or when you add a new follower.
  • Have a plan to deal with new leads. Now that you’ve got a list of people who are interested in your business or product, how will you engage with them? (A welcome email is a good first step.) Have a post-campaign plan in place.
  • Analyze the metrics. You’ll have access to a dashboard that will show you engagement statistics. Take some time to look them over and use the information to make your next campaign even better.

Want more marketing tips and tactics? Sign up for the free 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 Grow Your Email List Using Twitter Lead Generation Cards appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

6 Easy Ways to Keep Track of Your Competitors

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 06:00

You don’t have to be James Bond or Jason Bourne to find out what your competitors are up to. Competitive analysis for small businesses also doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or money. Differentiating yourself from the competition is something every business wants to do. However, you can’t reach that goal if you don’t get to know your competitors—what they offer, what their customers think about them, what their prices are and, most importantly, what action you can take to stand out.

Here are a few simple ways to understand out you compare to your competitors:

1. Check out their website and ask yourself:

  • Does their website look professional or render on a PC, tablet and mobile device? How does it compare to yours?
  • What key pieces of information are different between your website and theirs?
  • What products/services do they provide that you don’t?
  • How are they priced vs. your company?
  • Do they have a an email sign up? If so, sign up for it (HINT: use a generic email address so they don’t know it’s you! Some companies will remove or block mailings to an obvious competitor email address.)

2. Look at customer reviews

  • Check Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Reviews, Foursquare, etc. to see what customers are saying about your competition. Here are 20 online business listings to browse.
  • Are there any trends or common traits among the compliments or complaints?
  • How do your ratings compare to the competition?

3. Use search engines 

  • Do a generic search for your business type and location (e.g., “florist in San Francisco, CA” or “yoga studio in Minneapolis, MN”) on Google, Yahoo! and Bing.  
  • Which page does the competition show up on versus your company in organic results? If your competitors are showing up higher on the page, you probably need to focus on your SEO efforts.    
  • Are your competitors using Google Ads or pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns to drive traffic to their website?

4. Follow them on social media

  • Follow your competitors on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Facebook recently rolled out the ability to add competitor’s pages to your “Pages to Watch” section and compare their results with yours.
  • How is the competition communicating with customers via social media? What types of information are they sharing and how often?
  • How many followers do they have compared to you?

5. Set up a Google Alert

  • Find out the latest news that hits the web regarding your competitors by using a Google Alert
  • Set up the Google Alert once and any news stories related to your competitors will hit your inbox. You set the topics and frequency. 

6. Visit or buy from them

  • Do it the old-fashioned way. If they have a physical location or a storefront, go check it out in person. Talk to the employees. Get a sense of how they interact with customers. If your business and competitor offer software or a service, sign up for a free trial, or have a chat with a salesperson. 
  • If they have an online store, buy something online and note the process. Track how they communicate with customers before, during and after the shopping experience.

With the exception of your time, doing a competitive analysis won’t really cost a thing (well, unless you buy one of their products). It’s time well spent.

What other techniques have you used that have worked to find out what your competition is up to? Share in the comments.

Want to keep the marketing tips and advice flowing? Get the VR Buzz delivered to your inbox 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 6 Easy Ways to Keep Track of Your Competitors appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

12 Tips to Running a Winning Social Media Contest

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 06:01

Running a social media contest is a great way to drum up enthusiasm for your business, increase your list of email subscribers, get new Twitter followers and Facebook likes, and create a fun experience in the process. 

In this post, we share 12 recommendations, choices for you to consider, and options to keep in mind to run a successful social media contest of your own.

1. Know what you want
Are you trying to get newsletter subscriptions, expose certain products, gain brand recognition, or drive up Facebook fans? Knowing what your goals are will guide the process.

2. Choose the type of contest you want to have
Sweepstakes contests are the easiest to enter, with the lowest barrier of entry. Photo or video contests with fan votes get the most engagement. Caption contests or quiz contests are other options. Winners can be randomly selected, picked by you or a panel of judges you select, or voted on by other readers. Pinterest also has a wide variety of “Pin It to Win It” promotions you can peruse for ideas including this simple contest from Ally Bank Financial Inc.

3. Decide how long the contest will run
If you’re running a photo or video contest, stretch contests out longer by having several rounds of voting says Nicole Krug, owner and operator of brand marketing and social media company Social Light.

“If you don’t have a huge budget but just want to spur some engagement, you can also do a flash contest,” Krug says. These contests – often one-day contests done every week or two – brings small bursts of engagement without emptying your marketing budget. 

4. Choose a platform
Decide whether you want the contest to run on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Choose one and stick to it, though you can still cross-promote your contest on other social networks. Want an all encompassing campaign? Popular options for contests include Rafflecopter, Offerpop, Votigo, PunchTab, PromoSimple and Giveaway Tool. Many have free trial plans or versions that are free for up to a specified number of entries. Some have forms and templates. “If you’re on a budget and know how to code, Krug recommends Shortstack. 

5. Create a plan for artwork
Depending on which platform you use, you may need to set aside some time and resources to create artwork for the contest. Some images need to be customized for different platforms.

6. Make sure the contest is targeted
Many businesses ask contest entrants to join their email list as a prerequisite for contest entry. Mike Carroll, creative director at Equinox Design estimates that only about 10 percent to 20 percent of people drop off. Keep this number low by making sure the prize you’re giving away is closely related to what your business offers. Offering free iPads to people subscribed to emails from your cooking company may attract tech lovers rather than aspiring chefs. “If you can get people to show their loyalty to a brand, that’s going to get more targeted people,” Carroll explains. You can always include a prize from your business alongside a second prize that’s more generic.

Here’s an example from Monterey County, in which they asked people to share their favorite winery via Twitter for a chance to win a trip to Carmel.

We want to hear about your favorite Monterey County winery! You could win a trip to Carmel! http://t.co/f65DavFF

— SeeMonterey (@SeeMonterey) January 30, 2012

7. Make it sticky
You can provide motivation in the form of extra contest entries for those who share your contest on social media, but nobody wants to share a boring contest. Increase the “stickiness” by making it fun and engaging even for those who don’t win. An interesting contest gets shared more, whether you combine it with incentives in the form of added entries or not. 

8. Promote the contest
No matter how great the giveaway, your content won’t promote itself. Consider using paid options on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to help spread the word.

You can use a hashtag for the contest to tie it across various networks, but make it easy and fun. Krug recommends leveraging partnerships to get others to post and spread the word. 

9. Keep people’s attention with other content
No matter what the contest, some people will sign up for the prize and opt out as soon as the contest is over. However, if the contest is done well, they’ll be exposed to a bit of your brand throughout the process. “Yes, you want to promote the contest, but while you’re doing the contest you have their attention,” whether your contest has several rounds or people are viewing entries, says Krug. 

Use that opportunity, she says, to integrate your brand messages into the contest – whether it’s adding product information that may catch people’s attention into the contest itself or throwing other posts to your Facebook page with interesting information about your brand. 

10. Have clear contest rules

“The bigger the prize, the more people you’re going to have enter,” says Mike Carroll, creative director at Equinox Design. Carroll created a photo contest for Cathay Pacific’s 30th anniversary, as part of the airline’s “Spirit of Hong Kong” campaign.  People who had flown on Cathay Pacific submitted photos related to their trip, and voted on their favorites. Cathay Pacific offered a free premium economy round-trip ticket to Hong Kong as the prize. He also worked on a more recent Facebook user-generated photo caption contest for the airline. 

“One big takeaway is that some people will cheat,” Carroll says. “So really hone in on your contest rules.”

For example, if the contest is for the number of Facebook likes a photo receives, make sure to specify that multiple votes from the same IP address will be discounted. And if you’d like to reuse images submitted as part of a contest, be sure to clearly state that in the contest rules as well. It will save you a lot of time afterwards! 

11. Other legalese
To keep everything legal, you’ll also need to disclaim the platform that you’re on, stating that they don’t sponsor the contest. This will be found in the terms of service of whichever platform you’re posting on. “If you’re going to do anything related to kids, make sure you have something saying that the legal guardian is the one that’s entering, because there are some legalities around that,” Krug recommends. Always research the rules for individual social media platforms when designing your contest to make sure you meet all the requirements first. 

12. Moderate submission entries
Many platforms have built-in options for moderation. Make sure to approve all images for photo contests before they get posted, in case there is inappropriate material. “We’ve actually had that before with sweepstakes so we learned from our mistakes,” Carroll explains.

You can drive heaps of wild engagement with a social media contest. It just take a bit of planning and execution to make it a smashing success!

Do you have plans for a social media contest to help your business? Share any tips you have 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 12 Tips to Running a Winning Social Media Contest appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Advice from a Social Pro: Which Social Network Should You Concentrate On? [VIDEO]

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 09:16

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 Jess Ostroff, “Director of Calm” at Don’t Panic Management. Ostroff provides useful information about you should assess various social media networks for your business.

© 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: Which Social Network Should You Concentrate On? [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Online Banner Ads: Out with the Old, in with Interactive

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 06:00

The world of online advertising is evolving. Soon those rectangular display banner ads that sit at the top of your screen will disappear and new interactive ads will take their place.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which is made up of 600 media and technology companies and is responsible for selling 86% of the online ads in the United States, is leading the change-the-ads charge. After all, display banner ads have been around since the early 2000s. Considering how quickly things change in the digital world, banner ads like this are ancient.

What will replace display banner ads?
Online advertising will move toward interactive ads of all shapes and sizes with various placements throughout a webpage. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is introducing six new ad options, one of which is called the “Billboard” ad.

Like a banner ad, it sits at the top of the page, but it’s roughly double the size. It can serve as a mini movie screen to play video, or the space can be split into a static ad and a video ad. Watch this video for an example.

Another ad choice, called the “Filmstrip,” puts content into a scrollable window on the right side of the screen. In the example below, a car ad was created. You can check out pictures of the car and even customize the car by changing colors and interior options. Plus, you can see what people are saying about the car on Twitter. All of this information is in the ad and you don’t have to leave the site you’re on to see it.

What kind of results are the new ads getting?
According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, people are 2.5 times more likely to interact with these ads than with traditional options. Plus, people are viewing these ads for a longer amount of time, about 31% longer than traditional ad options.

How will the new ads impact small businesses?
Barney Garcia, our paid media manager says the new ads can set a business apart. Anytime you can differentiate yourself, it’s a win.

Increased customer engagement is also a bonus, but these ads might not be accessible to every small business.

“These new ad formats will be harder to produce, leaving small businesses without the expertise or budget to compete with bigger players … at least at the beginning,” Garcia comments.

Like every new trend, the big brands will try it out first. In time, the cost and resources needed to make these ads will come down and become more of a viable option for small businesses, Garcia predicts.

That doesn’t mean you should wait around and let the big boys do their thing. While the change won’t happen overnight, you can research the new ad options and start looking for people who have the skills to bring your ads into the next generation.

What do you think of the interactive ads trend? How will your small business prepare for the change? Tell us 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 Online Banner Ads: Out with the Old, in with Interactive appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

What Facebook’s New Pages Layout Means for Your Business

Wed, 06/11/2014 - 06:00

Facebook is at it again. Just a month after the social media giant changed its algorithm, it’s now tweaking the layout and design, adding a new feature and making page metrics more accessible.

The visual experts at Shutterstock, a site that specializes in stock photography, call the new look “visually appealing” with an “attention-grabbing layout that’s designed to delight viewers.”

Intrigued? We thought you might be. Here’s a breakdown of the new changes that are planned to roll out on June 13.

New page design
Instead of your posts showing up on both the right and left side of your feed, all of your posts will appear in a straight line down the right side like the picture below.

 

Derek Overbey, our senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse says, “The old layout is a bit a confusing. The linear feed will help viewers consume your content easier.”

On the left side, you’ll see your likes, an About tab, any apps that apply to your page, photos, videos, reviews, and posts to your page. If you’re a brick-and-mortar store, the left column will also show a map of your location, your phone number and hours of business. You can reorder these tabs to fit your needs.

“Having a spot to prominently display reviews could pay dividends for businesses,” Overbey says. “People love word-of-mouth reviews, and if they see a friend of theirs raving about your place on Facebook, they may be more likely to give it a try.”

Information on top of your cover picture
Your business name and category will sit on top of your cover photo now. The like, follow and share icons will also sit on top of your picture, so you’ll want to make sure the image looks right with this new addition. The dimensions of the cover photo aren’t changing.

Image courtesy of Facebook

 

Easier access to page stats
To see how your posts are doing with the current layout you have to click the Insights tab. That tab will still be there, but with the new design the most important Facebook stats will be listed on the top right side of your screen. It will look like the white highlighted block in the picture below.

 

Image courtesy of Facebook

At a glance, you can see if you have an ad running, the number of page likes, post reach, unread posts and the number of notifications that you have. 

New “Pages to Watch” feature
Ever wonder how your competitor’s Facebook page is doing? Now you can find out. You can add pages to your “Pages to Watch” section and compare their results with yours. If you add a competitor’s page to this list they are notified that they were added to a watch list, but they aren’t told who added them. Here’s what it will look like.

Image courtesy of Facebook

 

You’ll be able to see how many likes your competitor got that week, how many posts they published, and see how much engagement they got.

The new features are mostly for the desktop version of Facebook, although you’ll notice a lite version on the mobile Facebook. You won’t see these changes on the Facebook app.

What do you think of the new changes? Share in the comments.

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 What Facebook’s New Pages Layout Means for Your Business appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

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