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Psst! 3 Low-Cost Tools to Track What the Media is Saying About You

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 06:08

If you’ve ever worked with a PR agency or consultant, a standard offering is media monitoring – tracking your press placements on a regular basis. Typically you’d get a “clip report,” which is a compilation of all your press mentions during a given time period. PR agencies usually subscribe to a media monitoring service, such as Cision, Meltwater or Vocus, which can cost several thousands of dollars per year.

Media monitoring isn’t something that only PR pros can do. There are several inexpensive online tools that will alert you whenever you’re mentioned in the media, and some will even help you search, archive and organize your press coverage, too. (Tip: You can use them to keep tabs on your competitors, too.) While these tools aren’t as robust as the big guys who have PR agencies and corporations as customers, they’ll get the job done, especially if you’re a smaller business.

Here are three media monitoring tools to consider checking out. (Two of them are free!)

Google News Alerts

Even though here at VerticalResponse we use one of the paid services mentioned above to monitor our press coverage, I still have Google News Alerts set up to track our company name as well as all our competitors’ names, just in case. And guess what? Sometimes Google will pick up something that doesn’t come across the monitoring service’s radar until a day or two later.

You can customize how often you want to be alerted (as it happens, once a day or once a week), what sources (news, blogs, videos, etc.), even a preferred language and region. I personally prefer getting alerts as soon as Google finds a new piece of content, so we can react quickly if needed. Cost: Free

Newsle

Newsle is a media monitoring service that lets you know whenever you, your Facebook friends and/or LinkedIn connections are mentioned in the news or in press releases. (Newsle was acquired by LinkedIn in July.) It’s super easy to use and even has a leaderboard showing who’s mentioned the most. What I really like about Newsle, though, is the ability to see in one dashboard what my journalist connections have recently covered. Cost: Free

Trackur

Trackur isn’t free, but has some advanced options that might make it worth the price. You get features like archiving, bookmarking and collaboration tools, as well as deeper analysis on sentiment (i.e., if the coverage is favorable, negative or neutral) and overall influence (based on Klout scores). Cost: Starts at $97/month; free trial available

How do you uncover your press coverage? Have any favorite tools or tips of your own? Share ‘em with us.

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 Psst! 3 Low-Cost Tools to Track What the Media is Saying About You appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A Fundamental Guide to Email and Social Media Marketing for Non-Profits

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 06:08

As a non-profit, you work hard to offer unmatched services, promote a cause and improve your community. Like most non-profits, you’re probably doing all of this with limited staff and a tight budget. Fortunately, email and social media marketing are great ways to spread the word about your organization.

“Email and social media marketing is easy and inexpensive,” says Jill Bastian, our Community Education and Training manager. “It can bring much needed attention to a non-profit. The more attention you can get, the more donations, volunteers or supporters you can bring in.”

To help your non-profit thrive, we’ve put together the ultimate email and social media marketing guide. We’ll show you how to use these two marketing vehicles to maximize your reach, boost donations, recruit volunteers and increase awareness.

For starters, let’s talk about the five biggest benefits of email and social media marketing.

1. Solid return on investment
To reiterate, email and social media marketing is an affordable marketing option, which is especially attractive to non-profits working with donations and limited grant money. Did you know we have a generous non-profit discount

When it comes to email marketing, for every $1 you spend, you get a return of about $40, Bastian says. Social media marketing is free. Of course, there is a time commitment and you can choose to pay for some social advertising; other than that, there’s no cost.

2. Boost public awareness
It’s not always easy to let the public know what you’re up to, but email and social media can help. If you work to grow your email list and social media following, you’ll be able to reach your audience in real time. Awareness is a big piece of any marketing puzzle, and email and social media marketing are easy tools to use from the comfort of your office.

3. Increase involvement
At some point, every non-profit needs a helping hand. With email and social media marketing your non-profit can instantly engage with an audience of potential helpers. Whether you want to recruit volunteers or collect donations, an email and a tweet can go a long way to increase involvement in your organization.

4. Stay in front of supporters
By sending emails and being social, you can stay in front of your supporters. You’re competing for support, so it’s important to keep your non-profit’s name and mission out there for the public to see and hear. With continued communication you’re more likely to see supporters participate throughout the year.

5. Save time
Your time is valuable. That’s why when you use VerticalResponse, you’ll find it easy to create emails and post to your social media accounts. You can create an email and share that same content on your social sites. Plus, you can link your social media accounts to every email that you send through VerticalResponse. 

Now, let’s talk about the kinds of emails and social media messages you should send. We’ll start with the top five emails your non-profit should send and give you tips to make each email effective. Keep in mind all of the email content that you send can also be shared on social media. 

1. Newsletter
You can create a newsletter in a snap. A newsletter keeps your supporters in the loop. Talk about upcoming events, show pictures of recent projects, share the story of someone your organization has helped or highlight a volunteer of the month. The possibilities are endless. Here’s an example:

Tips:

  •  Like the example above, your newsletter should offer a variety of information.
  • Your newsletter should include images with captions to break up the content.

2. Invitations
Inviting people to your upcoming event couldn’t be easier through email. You can create a fun and sophisticated invitation to boost attendance at your next fundraiser. Check out the example below.

Tips:

  • Include all of the necessary details such as date, location and events offered. And get someone else to do a quick proof, sending the wrong date for your event will cause a lot headaches.
  • You should also include links to your social media accounts on the invitation.

3. Incentive email
A lot of businesses send discount codes as an incentive to buy, but you can get a little creative and offer incentives like free t-shirts to the first 15 volunteers who sign up for an event. Think of affordable and easy incentives to get people to participate like the animal shelter did in the example below. 

Tips:

  • Include the incentive in your subject line.
  • Get to the point. Tell recipients exactly what the incentive is and how it works.

4. Thank you email
You can create a professional thank you card and send it to your supporters, volunteers and donors. It’s important to show your appreciation, and an email is a quick and efficient way to do that. When a donor came through with a big donation for an animal shelter, the non-profit sent the email below.

Tips:

  • Highlight the reason for your gratitude.
  • Include links to the donor’s website or social media accounts as a way to promote them; it may boost their site traffic.
  • Include a call to action so others can donate too.

5. Welcome email
When someone new comes along, welcome him or her to the group with a nice email. This email makes a good first impression and shows your supporters that you’re excited to welcome them to the family. Here’s an example:

Tips:

  • Write a friendly letter in a conversational tone.
  • Include links to important pages on your site like the example above.
  • Give supporters a point of contact so they can reach out when they want.

Now, let’s chat about the social media posts your non-profit can use. Coming up with daily tweets and status updates can be tricky, so we’ve created a list of topics to keep your social media engine running. We’ll highlight each topic with a specific example and give you takeaway tips from each one. You’ll also notice tips that combine both email and social media marketing.

Here are six social media topics to post.

1. Ask for help
As a non-profit, you rely on the generosity of those around you. Social media is a non-intrusive way to ask for help. By posting a message or two about an upcoming fundraiser, event or collection, you can get the word out to your target audience. Take a look at this Facebook post from a Minnesota-based non-profit  that offers several support-based programs.

Tips:

  • Chose your words wisely. Explain the details without sounding pushy.
  • If more information is needed, include a link. In the example above, a link to a list of needed supplies is included.
  • Give people plenty of time to donate. Notice this post was sent on July 15, and the collection ends one month later.

Email + social tip

  • You could also create a Facebook event for an upcoming fundraiser and send an email with the invitation to the event.

2. Show volunteers in action
One of the great things about social media is that you can showcase events in real-time. When an event is going on, snap a few pictures or take video with your smartphone and post them to your social media accounts.

“In general, I would say people love pictures and videos, so put as much multimedia content as you can on your social channels,” says Sam Hartman with The Ecology Center of San Francisco, a non-profit that uses VerticalResponse to educate local residents about ecological awareness.

The Ecology Center created a quick video about a handmade oven it made for a community festival and shared it on its YouTube channel.

The point is to show the public what your organization is doing. Whether your volunteers are packing boxes of food for those in need, walking in a local parade, or attending a fundraising gala like those in the Facebook post below, show everyone what your employees, volunteers and donors are doing.

Tips:

  • Show people. A picture of a box of donated food may not be as captivating or encouraging as a picture with a donor in it. Make sure your pictures have faces that people can connect to.
  • Showcase multiple pictures by using apps like Photo Frames for Facebook
  • Add a location to your post.
  • You can also tag others in the picture.

Email + social tip

  • When the event is over, send a group email to share the pictures.

3. Show your recipients
In some cases, the recipients of your organization may not want to be photographed or even mentioned by name. That’s okay. However, if someone is willing to explain their story, or have their picture taken, social media is an excellent platform to share it.

People want to see their contributions at work and social media is a public way to do just that. Take, for example, the Instagram post below. This non-profit, Feed My Starving Children, sends nutritional meals to poverty-stricken areas. 

Tips:

  • Pictures are powerful. If you can, highlight those who benefit from your program often.
  • Offer a description or explanation of the picture along with the post.
  • Stay engaged. Monitor your posts and make sure you answer any questions that your fan base may have.

Email + social tip 

  • You can also turn that same post into an in-depth blog article and send a link to that article via email.

4. Share statistics about your cause
Pictures and video can tell a story, but statistics can pack a meaningful punch, too. Sometimes people don’t know the magnitude of a situation. The tweet below educates people about the prevalence of hunger. Statistics make your audience stop and think. Hopefully, it encourages them to do something to help.

Tips:

  • A statistic is an easy post, especially if you’re a little short on time or don’t have any pictures or videos to share.
  • Include a call to action. Like the example above, give people the option to learn more about that statistic or tell them how they can help.

Email + social tip:

  • Add that statistic to a larger group of important numbers and create a blog post out of it. Share the link to those must-read stats in an email.

5. Say thanks
Your organization wouldn’t be where it is without the help of great donors and volunteers, right? Social media gives you the opportunity to publicly thank your supporters for their generosity.

Check out the tweet below. When a big donation came in, the non-profit took a second to show its appreciation on Twitter. 

Tips:

  • Include the Twitter handle of the donor or volunteer in the post so it shows up on both your site and theirs.
  • Use hashtags. If you have a big event, give it its own hashtag, or try to consistently use your organization’s name as a hashtag. The public can search for you by hashtags, so they’re beneficial to use.

Email + social tip:

6. Promote other channels
If you’re using a variety of social media channels, you can cross-promote your non-profit. For instance, ask your Facebook fans to follow you on Twitter. Get your followers on Instagram to check out your Pinterest feed. The Animal Humane Society used a clever picture of a cat in a post to promote its Instagram feed. Check it out below.

Tips:

  • Cross-promoting can be done once in a while to boost your following on additional sites.
  • Be funny. The post above makes you chuckle. There’s no better way to encourage people to follow you than to use a little humor.
  • Include the link to the account that you’re promoting.

Advice on email and social media posts
To ensure your non-profit gets the most out of its email and social media marketing, here are a few pieces of advice.

  • Post and email frequently
  • Use your email and social media channels to communicate with your audience on a regular basis, Bastian says. If you post something to your social sites once a week for two weeks and then disappear for a month, your followers may be less engaged and less willing to help when you need it. The same rule applies for email.
  • Don’t just ask for help
    • You should vary your emails and posts by offering a good mix of content from the list above. One of the biggest turn offs for a non-profit audience is being asked to contribute too often, says Bastian.
    • “If the only thing you do is ask for money, people will lose interest,” she says. “It’s the same case for businesses. You can’t push people to buy something or donate money all of the time. Just be sure to vary your content.”
  • Watch others for inspiration
    • If you’re feeling a little out of sorts with social or email marketing, follow some of your fellow non-profits on social media and sign up for their emails. You’ll get an idea of how they use these marketing tools and can draw on that information to fuel your own campaigns, Bastian says.
  • Share other posts
    • You don’t have to write every tweet or status update, you can also share other posts from other sites. Let’s say your sister organization has a great blog post about the rising use of food shelves in the suburbs, it’s okay to share that information. In fact, it’s a good habit to get into. If you share their post, it’ll likely return the social media love later on.
  • Add social sites to your email signature
    • You can add your social media sites to emails that you send via VerticalResponse, but you should also include those links in your email signature. If it’s in every email you send, it’s easily accessible for those who want to check it out.
  • Add an opt-in form to your Facebook page
    • Combine your email and social media forces by putting an opt-in form on your Facebook page. That way, your social media audience has a quick and easy way to sign up for your emails, too.
  • Don’t take on too many social sites
    • If you’re strapped for time, don’t feel like you have to have a presence on every social media channel. Pick one or two and consistently post to them. It’s better to limit your channels than to be overwhelmed by a dozen social sites and post sporadically. 

    By combining your email and social media marketing, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of your efforts. Email and social media are such a big part of people’s lives that it makes sense to use them as marketing tools. Tell us what kinds of emails and posts you create at your non-profit in the comment section below.

    Sign up for VerticalResponse’s non-profit discount and get your email and social media marketing going in style!

    © 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 Fundamental Guide to Email and Social Media Marketing for Non-Profits appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Successful Subject Lines Deconstructed

    Fri, 08/15/2014 - 06:07

    Sentence diagramming is the bane of every school kid, and it’s promptly forgotten the moment class is over. You don’t need to delve into the darkness of your youth, but to help illustrate how to create a successful subject line we’re going to break it down, old school. 

    Subject lines are one of, if not, the most important parts of your email. If your subject line isn’t compelling, your readers won’t open your email, and all your compelling content will be missed. Wondering why you have a low open or click-through rate? The first culprit is your subject line. So, let’s deconstruct some recent subject lines and discuss five tips that’ll help you create engaging ones:

    1. Make it Short
    Most email programs limit the number of charters that show up in a subject line, which is usually around 50. This means, to ensure your readers see all of your compelling info, you also need to be short and succinct. Can you write a subject line longer than 50 characters? Sure, but keep the most important information in the beginning so it’ll have the most impact. Also, your company name is already listed in the “from label” of your email, so there’s no need to take up even more space by repeating it in the subject line.

    2. Use a call-to-action (CTA)
    Similar to the content inside your email, the subject line can be even more effective if you tell your readers what you want them to do. CTAs are important because they lead people to take action, such as open, click, sign up or buy. It may be difficult to work in a call-to-action every time, especially with limited characters, but try to do so occasionally.

    3. Be topical and have a sense of urgency
    Successful subject lines should catch your reader’s attention by being fun, catchy, surprising, and/or informative. A subject line that includes an idea, event or story in the news or pop culture may engage your readers quickly—Just ensure it relates to the content of your email. Use a sense of urgency as well, or a include a limited time frame in which the subscriber has to act on your email, such as “10 hours only” or “3 days left.”

    4. Get personal
    Try personalizing your subject line with a first name, location, past purchase, etc. to grab attention. A word of caution about using your reader’s name in the subject line: Some people like it and will gladly open your email, others will find it too Big Brother-ish (as if someone’s watching them) and may be turned off. Also be aware that not everyone signs up with his or her real name (ex: Queen of the land!), and that can result in some strange, funny and/or peculiar personalization.

    5. Use something other than “free” 
    The word “free,” and the phrase “free shipping” is one of the most commonly used phrases in subject lines. While “free” can be compelling, your email also needs to stand out amongst the other “free” subject lines. Use a variety of words, offers and promotions, and always include relevant content to hook your readers. The same can be said for using symbols in your subject lines; less is more. 

    With these guidelines in mind, let’s take a look at few subject lines that have shown up in our inboxes recently:

    As always, test your subject lines by including a variety of calls-to-action, personalization, or even symbols in your subject lines, and let us know what works best for you!

    Want to get started with email marketing and create your own compelling subject lines? Try VerticalResponse!

    © 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 Successful Subject Lines Deconstructed appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    6 Perfect Places for Your Email Sign up Forms

    Thu, 08/14/2014 - 06:07

    To keep your email list growing like crazy all year long, you need to make it easy for people to sign up. A healthy email list is one of the best ways to boost sales, says our Community Education and Training Manager, Jill Bastian.

    “An email list is vital to a business.” She adds, “It has the potential to dramatically increase sales. So, giving potential subscribers/clients/customers lots of options to sign up is important.”

    The good news is collecting email addresses isn’t hard. There are a dozens of places where you can set up an email sign up form. From your business website to a sign-up sheet near your cash register, we’ve created a list of six places to put your email sign-up form:

    1. Your homepage
    The most obvious place to put an email sign up form is on your homepage. This suggestion might not take you by surprise, but it’s worth mentioning because a lot of businesses don’t have a form on the main page.

    Having a sign up option on your blog or contact page is great, but customers might not make it past your main page, so you should capitalize on the opportunity. We’ve got a quick and easy email sign up form on our homepage. Check it out.

    2. Sidebar content offering
    People are more willing to sign up for your email list if they get something in return. You’ll notice that our sign up form above is for the VR Buzz, our newsletter. Our subscribers get some great marketing tips and advice delivered right to their inbox. You can also offer other high quality content. Take a look at the example below. Subscribers get access to a content offering. It’s set off to the side of the website, so it’s not distracting, yet it has a prominent place on the site. 

    3. Consider a pop-up form
    We know what you’re thinking; pop-up ads are annoying, right? Not if they’re done right. For example, Bastian spotted a humorous pop-up ad while she was surfing online. It made her chuckle, so she signed up for their list.

    “Even a jaded email marketer can be converted with some clever text,” she jokes. If you add a dose of humor to your pop ups, they’ll serve a purpose. You’ll grab attention and maybe some contacts, Bastian says.

    4. A sign-up form on Twitter
    Did you know that you could use Twitter to beef up your email list? By purchasing a lead generation card, you’ll attract a whole host of new customers. Think of it as a promotional tweet. You offer customers a deal of some sort in exchange for their email address. It’s an affordable way to add new names to your list. Here’s an example: 

    We’ve written a how-to article on this very topic. For more information, check out “Grow Your Email List Using Twitter Lead Generation Cards.”

    5. At the register
    A lot of retailers are asking for email addresses right at the register. When you’re ringing up a customer, you have their full attention, so why not ask if they’re interested in signing up? If you don’t want to enter it into your computer, you can always put a clipboard near the register and ask people to sign up. Remind customers the value they get for signing up. 

    6. A sign-up form for a drawing
    A creative VerticalResponse client, Cinquain Cellars, has a unique sign up system. The winery hosts a drawing. Customers can participate by entering their name and email address into an iPad that’s stationed right at the counter. And entrants are informed they are signing up for Cinquain’s email list when they enter.l 

    “This has proven to be very successful,” says owner Beth Nagengast. “It’s a win-win. We can build our list of prospective customers, and someone always wins a great prize.”

    How do you collect email addresses? Tell us the most creative spot that you have an email sign up/opt-in form in the comment section below.

    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 6 Perfect Places for Your Email Sign up Forms appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    An Eye-Opening Breakdown of Back-to-School Spending in 2014 [Infographic]

    Wed, 08/13/2014 - 06:00

    The National Retail Federation recently released its 2014 Back-to-School survey projecting and portraying just how big the scholastic shopping season is. From how much money will be spent – a whopping $74.9 billion – to where, what, who, and how people will be shopping this year, the stats are valuable for every business to note.

    Speaking of, we took notes for you and compiled the most interesting and useful stats from the back-to-school survey into this handy infographic. Here are some highlights:

    • Majority of people (44.5 percent) shop for school supplies one month before school starts.
    • 46 percent of people will shop for sales, and 26.6 percent will use coupons more often compared to last year.
    • 25-34 year-olds will be the highest spending age group this year, averaging $822 per person.
    • Back-to-school isn’t just for kiddos (see stat above): $20.15 billion will be spent on college gear, dorm items, food, personal care & gift cards.
    • 37 percent of people will research school items on their smartphones – going mobile’s more important than ever.
    • Shopping isn’t just for the ladies – Men will spend more than women this year, averaging $754 per guy, which is up 12 percent from last year.

    Want more marketing tips and how-tos? 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.

    Embed This Image On Your Site (copy code below):

    Courtesy of: VerticalResponse

    The post An Eye-Opening Breakdown of Back-to-School Spending in 2014 [Infographic] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    3 Simple Ways to Make Email Marketing Work for You

    Tue, 08/12/2014 - 06:04

    No matter what your business, email marketing can work for you. Whether you sell office widgets or offer a carpet-cleaning service, every business can benefit from this affordable marketing option.

    “The return on investment for email marketing is high, about $40 for every $1 spent,” says Jill Bastian, our Community Education and Training Manager.

    “This is not only a fantastic number to see, but it’s also held pretty steady over the years,” she adds. “Email marketing is very inexpensive, usually just pennies per email. It reaches lots of people and can bring in sales/donations very quickly.” 

    The return on investment is one of the main reasons so many businesses turn to email marketing, but how can you make it work for your business? Read on for three simple ways!

    1. Select from professionally designed templates
    When you’re ready to create and send an email, you can select from, for example, dozens of professionally designed templates. With just a few clicks, you can upload your company logo, add links to your website, and create a must-read message for your recipients.

    No need for graphic design or coding skills; these are drop-and-drag templates that are a snap for any business owner to create. Time is money. Great templates keep your time commitment to a minimum.

    2. Integrate your emails with social media channels
    Email and social media marketing can work together to boost your business. That’s why you should link your social media accounts to your email marketing campaigns. Every email you send out shouldn’t just have your logo and a call to action; it should also include a one-click link to your social channels like this:

    3. Send a variety of emails
    From coupons to product advice, you want to offer email recipients a variety of content. Keep your email marketing fresh and valuable. It’s one of the best ways to keep your customers opening, reading and engaging with your email content.

    “Keep sending interesting and beneficial info and your readers will in turn make a purchase, donation or attend an event,” Bastian says. “It’s one of the best ways to get customers to interact with your email.”

    If you need a little email inspiration, check out “Nine Emails Your Business Should Be Sending.” In fact, our blog is chock-full of great tips to help you send an array of great emails.

    A few tips to get you started
    Now that you know how you’ll integrate email marketing into your day, here are a few tips to get your email engine running:

    • Write creative, specific subject lines
      Your subject line should entice the reader to open your email. It should explain what’s inside. Give the reader an idea of what to expect.
    • Keep it short
      Your recipients get hundreds of emails, so make sure you write a short, captivating message.
    • Have a clear call to action
      Each email should have a clear call-to-action. What do you want the reader to do? Make a purchase, read a blog post? Whatever the desired action, make sure there is a link or a call-to-action button that takes the reader to the right spot on your website.
    • Have fun
      Have some fun when creating and sending emails. Recipients respond to humorous, out-of-the-box content.

    For more information, grab our free guides, How Email Marketing Helps Your Business and The Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing.

    How does email marketing work for you? Tell us in the comment section below.

    Want more marketing tips and tactics? Subscribe to the VR Buzz Newsletter and stay in the know!

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

    The post 3 Simple Ways to Make Email Marketing Work for You appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    4 Steps to Creating Advantageous Advertorials

    Mon, 08/11/2014 - 06:00

    If you’ve ever found your Internet browsing disturbed by a pop-up or flashing display ad, you already know that engaging content is much more likely to pique your interest than something that’s interruptive. But because only a small portion of your clients or prospects read your blog or visit your website, it sometimes takes a little bit more to reach them where they are.

    Enter advertorials, a type of content marketing that is seamlessly interwoven into the editorial content of news sites, or even print media. Although advertorials are clearly labeled as such, both for legal reasons – as mandated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – and ethical ones, research shows that readers are as engaged with native ads as with pure editorial content.

    Advertorials, also known as native ads, are viewed more than four times as often as banner ads, according to IPG Media Lab. Advertorials also build brand loyalty and improve purchase intent.

    Many people consider advertorials, native advertising and so-called “branded content” as synonymous, but according to Reuters’ Felix Salmon, there is a slight difference – “native content tends to aspire more to going viral” and to win social media shares by readers. Aside from occasional controversial ads, or particularly interesting super bowl ads, readers sharing ads is a rare phenomenon. Advertorials or native advertising, when done appropriately, has much more viral lift. Consider Virgin Mobile’s content on BuzzFeed, or Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” infographic in The New York Times. These native ad examples are both highly shareable.

    Ready to get started? Check out these four tips we’ve come up with to help you navigate the process.

    1. Find a good fit
    A sponsored post from the Church of Scientology in the Atlantic is one classic example of an advertorial gone wrong. On the other hand, IBM’s native content in the same magazine fared much better because it matched both the design and the type of editorial content typically seen in the magazine.

    Basically, the trick is to pick a publication that will resonate with the message you’d like to send out, or the type of content you’re interested in creating. Take a look at the types of newspapers, magazines and websites your prospects are already consuming. One of those may well be a great fit. Just make sure that readers know your content is paid, even if it’s very similar to the editorial content on the site … which brings us to the next tip.

    2. Make sure your ads are clearly labeled as such
    The FTC requires all content paid for by a business or brand to be disclosed as such. Of course, you’ll want your content to be well-written, engaging and similar in tone to the editorial articles surrounding it. However, it still needs to be clearly and conspicuously labeled as an advertisement.

    The International Advertising Bureau (IAB) has the following recommendations for native advertising: “Use language that conveys that the advertising has been paid for, thus making it an advertising unit, even if that unit does not contain traditional promotional advertising messages.” In addition, IAB states: “… be large and visible enough for a consumer to notice it in the context of a given page and/or relative to the device that the ad is being viewed on.” Native ads that don’t fit these stipulations can create distrust from readers.

    3. Stop selling
    It’s worth repeating that the purpose of native advertising is very different from that of a display or banner ad. Think of advertorials more like blog posts, where your goal is to actively engage readers and build brand recognition. Native ads should provide value to readers, whether they choose to purchase a product or service or not. The more they get out of it, the more favorably they will view your brand.

    Sometimes it’s best to work with a freelance writer rather than an on-staff copywriter who’s better versed in creating marketing copy rather than telling stories. However, versatile copywriters and marketers can oftentimes create an advertisement one day and what would read more like an article the next. Just make sure the focus is on creating highly remarkable content that’s valuable in its own right, rather than content with a call to action that’s similar to what would be a call to action in a bonafide advertisement.

    4. Consider promoting content on social media
    If you don’t have the budget to use native ads on a website or in a newspaper or magazine, or just want to tip your toe in before taking the plunge, consider reaching clients and prospects by promoting your own blog content on social media through services such as sponsored Tweets, promoted Facebook posts, Promoted Pins, or sponsored updates on LinkedIn.

    For best results, just make sure to follow the guidelines above, and provide truly valuable content rather than a pure advertisement. Readers are much more likely to click through to an article, blog post, infographic or video than to a storefront or landing page.

    Have you tried native advertising or paid content? How well does it work for you? Share with us below.

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

    The post 4 Steps to Creating Advantageous Advertorials appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Google Unleashes New Unsubscribe Feature for Gmail

    Fri, 08/08/2014 - 09:39

    Google has significantly simplified the unsubscribe process for Gmail users. In a recent Google+ post, Google announced that when you email a Promotions, Social or Forums message that includes an unsubscribe link, they’ll automatically place an unsubscribe link front and center next to the from address above your message.

    Image courtesy of Gmail

    What does this mean for your business?
    Gmail’s recent update shouldn’t be cause for panic. Google notes that “making the unsubscribe option easy to find is a win for everyone,” and we agree. If a recipient is interested in your content, this update shouldn’t matter. However, if someone does choose to unsubscribe (hey, it happens), he or she will be much more inclined to click an easy-to-find unsubscribe link rather than clicking that dreaded spam button. This improves your delivery rates and your email engagement.

    What do you think of Gmail’s new change? Is it the win-win Google says it is? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

    To get more marketing news, tips and advice delivered daily, subscribe to the VR Buzz.

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

    The post Google Unleashes New Unsubscribe Feature for Gmail appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Advice from a Social Pro: Is Twitter a Viable Small Biz Social Network? [VIDEO]

    Fri, 08/08/2014 - 06:00

    In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,” we sit down with Zena Weist, Strategy Director at Level Five Solutions. Weist shares her perspective on the viability of using Twitter as small business.

     

    A key takeaway that Weist shares: Twitter allows small businesses to listen and learn from their customers, then respond in real time.

    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 Advice from a Social Pro: Is Twitter a Viable Small Biz Social Network? [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    5 Tips to Get Social with Your Customer Serivce

    Thu, 08/07/2014 - 06:00

    Today, people want, love and expect businesses to have an active social media presence. This also means having an active social presence that can help satisfy customer service needs with real-time responses.

    If you’re not using social media to assist your customer service needs, or if you’re looking to make improvements, here are 5 tips to get your social customer service off the ground.

    1. Answer customer questions and concerns in a timely manner.

    We live in an instant gratification world and people desire quick responses. Check your social networks consistently to monitor and respond to questions and/or complaints, and build this into your daily routine. Responding quickly goes a long way when it comes to making people feel heard and valued.

    2. Don’t erase complaints.

    Often, issues will arise and someone will air their grievances on your social network for all to see. Your first inclination may be to erase. But, this can do more harm than good. If other people see this issue, but also see that you’re doing everything in your power to resolve it, the upside can be incredible. Most people understand that problems come up, and when you handle it in an open forum, it allows all your customers know that service is your top priority.

    3. Create a dedicated social channel on Twitter.

    Twitter has become a customer service mecca. People flock to Twitter to voice their concerns, ask questions, and gain resolutions to their issues. While you can and should have a single Twitter handle for your business, it’s also nice to have a dedicated support-only Twitter handle. List your support Twitter handle on your “contact us” or support page on your website, blog and/or Facebook, link to it from your main Twitter business handle, and link up both sites so you can monitor them equally. If you have a support person or team, give them access to manage that account specifically.

    At VerticalResponse, we implemented a support handle several years ago and it’s very effective for handling issues, which also keeps our main business Twitter feed open to share news, content, etc.

    4. Check your Facebook Messages and Posts to Page.

    Facebook has made a lot of changes to their page layout over the last several months, so it’s important to know where and how customers can contact you. Two features you need to stay on top of regarding customer service are Messages and Posts to Page. Anyone (whether they like your page or not) can reach out to your business with a question or concern via Messages. If you’re a page administrator, Facebook will notify you of any messages. You can also click on the messages link in the “This Week” box on the right-hand side of your page to access them. Any comments made in the Posts to Page section are public on business page. It’s important to note that these don’t show up in your news feed, so keep a close eye on them in the lower left-hand side of your page.

    5. Play nice.

    Playing nice sounds simple, but isn’t always followed. A good attitude and pleasant demeanor can turn around almost any situation. If you remain nice, and it’s clear you’re doing everything in your power to answer a question or get a resolution to a problem, most people will respond accordingly.

    Have any social media customer service tips to add? 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 5 Tips to Get Social with Your Customer Serivce appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Slapped with a Google Penalty? Here’s How to Bounce Back!

    Wed, 08/06/2014 - 06:00

    Your traffic has plummeted and your business website has been slapped with a manual penalty from Google. Well, you can quell your doomsday thoughts, as we have actionable tips to help your site bounce back.

    First, there are four major areas in which a penalty can be classified:

    1. Unnatural links penalty

    Majority of sites that receive a manual penalty (95%), receive an unnatural links penalty. It means you have a variety of links pointing back to your site that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. You’ll know you have one when you receive a notification in Google Webmaster Tools. It’ll look like this:

    2. Hacked site penalty

    This penalty is exactly what it sounds like: Your site has been hacked. Follow these tips from Google to help get your site back in your own hands. 

    3. User generated spam & other “black hat” tactics penalty

    If you have this penalty, you probably know you were doing some risky black hat SEO tactics. Most people who receive this penalty typically rebuild their website from scratch.

    4. Spam penalty

    There are three different types and reasons as to why you’d receive a spam penalty: A) If majority of the pages on your website are hosted by a spammy site, it’ll be labeled a spammy freehost. B) If you’re using deceptive or spammy markups, it’ll be labeled as a spammy markup, and C) If your site is pure spam, which is self explanatory. Spam is pretty high on Google’s “do not do” list. Most site penalties don’t fall into this category. 

    How to undo the past:
         
    The cause of the Google penalty needs to be unraveled in order to recover. This is tougher than untangling your iPhone headphones. It takes several months-to-a-year to do a full clean up job, and sometimes longer depending on the severity of the bad links. Go into the process with the right mindset, as there aren’t any short cuts. Here are the best recovery steps:

    Clean up unnatural links up using the Google Disavow Tool

    1. Download “Most Recent Links” from Google Webmaster Tools. You can use other backlink services, like Moz’s Open Site Explorer, but Google has stated their “Recent Links” should be good enough to get a penalty removed.
    2. Upload links to a Google Drive (online Excel like platform).
    3. Work some Excel magic to remove duplicates, sort by root domain and keyword.
    4. Label domains as “remove” or “keep.” Yes, label domains rather than individual links. You’re going to be disavowing the whole domain, so if you find one bad link, the whole domain will be disavowed.
    5. When labeling bad links, don’t worry about getting every single link, look for trends instead. For example, look for the same keyword linking to a specific landing page. 
    6. Email all web masters a link removal request and track the contact in your spreadsheet.
    7. Once you have your bad links identified, disavow them. We recommend disavowing the whole domain, not the individual links. Odds are, if you have one bad link from that site, you have more.

    *Pro Tip: If you have to validate if or why a link looks “ok-ish,” get rid of it.

    Note: The Google Disavow Tool can be dangerous. Here’s a great resource from Google about how to use it properly.

    Ask for Reconsideration
         
    After you’ve cleaned up your links, you’ll want to file a reconsideration request with Google. These requests are read by actual humans at Google. The biggest mistake many people make is not including enough information in the request. You can’t give Google too much information. Be sure to include your Excel/Google Drive spreadsheet in the request along with the number of links you removed and disavowed. Along with making SEO strategy changes for the better, we recommend saying “I’m sorry,” as it does go a long way. Powered by Search has a great example of a reconsideration request

    Rinse and Repeat

    Unfortunately, the reconsideration request process isn’t always a one and done deal. It may take a few attempts and requests to get everything cleaned up. Usually Google will also be kind enough to give you a few problematic link samples causing the penalty. Take these links and do the following analysis on them:

    • Do they have exact anchor text matching?
    • Are the links from an article directory or link farm? Determine what’s wrong with these links and that should help point you in the right direction for further clean up.

    We also recommend downloading more links from Google (and maybe even another source like Moz) to make sure you have the best data set. Once you label and reexamine the links, be sure to add that to your reconsideration request. Don’t delete anything from your first request because a new Googler might be looking at it without context regarding your situation. Even though you’ll be tempted to hustle through the “rinse and repeat” process, it doesn’t send the right message to Google. Leave a good chunk of time between requests as well, somewhere between 3 weeks to a month depending on how many backlinks you are dealing with. Also, be sure to continuously email webmasters to get your links removed from their sites. Google likes to see that you’re making an effort. 

    Recover

    Once you’ve filed your umpteenth reconsideration request, waited on pins and needles, and obsessively checked your Google Manual Action Viewer in hopes of some good news, the day you dreamed about will finally arrive. You’ll receive a message that reads, “No Manual Spam Actions Found!” You’ll jump for joy, pop the bubbly and rejoice that your efforts were successful!

    Not to burst any bubbles, but there are some realistic expectations that you should have after this experience. It would be safe to assume Google has a close eye on you, so don’t go back to your old ways! We can assure you the second penalty will be even more unpleasant. You should also not expect your keywords or site ranking to be back in its old position. Don’t forget, you removed or disavowed most of the links that were giving you those rankings, so it’ll take time to gain your rankings back the right way. 

    Getting through a manual penalty can be a frustrating process, but it’s certainly rewarding. Have you worked towards getting a Google penalty removed? We’d love to hear about your process in the comments.

    Now you can go back to high-fiving everyone in your office.

     

    Gif courtesy of Saturday Night Live

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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 Slapped with a Google Penalty? Here’s How to Bounce Back! appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    4 Reasons Email Marketing and Your Business Are Not like Oil and Vinegar

    Tue, 08/05/2014 - 06:07

    Image by David A. via Yelp

    On a recent Sunday, I was shopping and happened upon a store selling a huge variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I decided to go in because I’ve got to admit, I love a good olive oil. I was impressed by the massive variety of oils and vinegars on display, but what really blew me away was Mike, the owner of The Olive Crush.

    Mike immediately came over and asked me about my favorite oils and vinegars. Upon hearing my answers, he served up some incredible tastings. Mike also shared a simple but impressive recipe I could make with blueberry balsamic, and a marinade recipe made with Tuscan olive oil. He was brimming with ideas, recipes and tips. His excitement about his products was contagious, and before I knew it, I was lining up bottles on the cash wrap to purchase.

    Then I asked Mike this question: “You have such awesome products, and you’re a wealth of information, where can I sign up for your email list?” Here’s what I got in response: Crickets. Be still my beating heart. Say it ain’t so… That’s right, olive oil Mike doesn’t have an email list. He said he doesn’t “do” email marketing. I stood there flamboozled. I pleaded with Mike to start an email list so he could send out a newsletter to share all this good olive oil and vinegar mojo he had going. His response? “I’m too tired.” Little did Mike know, he was talking to an email marketing content marketer and advocate. I shared with Mike four simple reasons as to why he pour himself into email marketing, and reap the rewards. Now, I’ll share them with you:

    1. You Have Great Information

    Like Mike and his pairings, recipes and olive oil fun facts, your business, products and services have stories of their own and there are lots of people interested in hearing about it, but if you keep it all to yourself, how will they know? Email marketing gives you a quick and easy way to reach a broad audience and provide them relevant and targeted information they desire.

    2. Keep Your Biz Top of Mind

    Even though I bought a bunch of stuff at The Olive Crush, what’s going to keep the company at top of mind once my products are gone? I could forget them and move on to the next olive oil and vinegar that strikes my fancy. But, if I receive an email in my inbox once a month with some great recipes, tips, and maybe a coupon, I’m more likely to remember the shop the next time my oil and vinegar supplies run dry. I may also be more likely to recommend the shop to my friends and family.

    3. Invite People to Your Events

    Does your business host events, conferences or special invitation-only activities? Wouldn’t it be much easier to get people to attend your event if you told them about it, and even invited them to it? You could even offer people a special incentive or reward for attending. Email marketing makes this super simple and easy. Mike mentioned he was having a doctor from Stanford speak at his shop to discuss the medical benefits of olive oil. That’s super cool, but not if Mike’s the only one who shows up! Use email marketing to get the word out – It works.

    4. Keep People Coming Back

    Do you have a special offer or promotion that you use to keep your customers coming back? Mike gives customers one dollar off their next purchase when they return their glass bottles. Wouldn’t it be great to remind customers of this offer a month or so after their purchase, when they might start to run dry? By sending an email like this, Mike could keep those bottles, and his customers coming back again and again.

    I’m looking forward to getting my first email from The Olive Crush. Do you have any other reasons as to why or how email marketing has helped your business? Share away in the comments.

    Ready to get started with email marketing? You can do it free with VerticalResponse

    © 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 Reasons Email Marketing and Your Business Are Not like Oil and Vinegar appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    3 Easy Ways to Increase Site Conversions

    Mon, 08/04/2014 - 06:00

    Whether you’re looking to convert blog or website visitors to subscribers or prospects to clients, working to increase conversions on your site is never a wasted effort. Here are three easy ways to optimize your site in order to do just that.

    1. Make sure your content is targeted
    A common mistake is to create content that will appeal to your colleagues (read: competitors) rather than the people you most wish to serve. Not only does this mean that you’ll want to keep your tone accessible to all of your prospects, it could also impact the type of content you choose to create and share.

    For example, while your creative process as an artist may be interesting for people who want to buy paintings, a detailed critique of various types of paints may or may not be as riveting. And how-to videos may not convert as well as other types of content, since they’d be viewed by other artists who may not be in the market for your paintings since they are trying to sell their own.

    A good rule of thumb is to simply ask yourself if the person who would buy your product or service would be interested in the topic you’re considering for an upcoming blog post or series. Having someone in mind – a typical customer you speak with or may run into – can help you target them more specifically. Many companies create “personas” of the types of customers they are trying to attract and create content that will appeal to them. 

    2. Be useful
    We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The key to content marketing is to provide real value. Your posts may lead readers down the conversion funnel, but they should be useful enough to stand on their own. Once you’ve identified your audience, make sure to address their biggest issues. Writing about topics you know well in your industry can help you create good quality content.

    This isn’t to say that you need to be 100 percent focused on your industry. An occasional funny article or post you found online (cat videos, anyone?) can add a little personality and help your conversion a bit. It adds a human aspect and can encourage interaction with your readers. If you can tie it into your industry and what you’re trying to sell, all the better.

    It’s possible that humor won’t apply for your industry, so make sure to find out for yourself by experimenting on your own site, social networks or blog. This leads us to the next tip.

    3. Always remain in testing mode
    The web is awash in e-books and templates offering conversion secrets: the most profitable keyword combinations, best times to post, and so forth. But, as our Director of Marketing Communications, Alf Brand points out, this doesn’t negate the need for testing. You could follow these rules verbatim and get the opposite results of those you were expecting because every blog, industry and audience is different. “Everyone’s conversion would be 100 percent if there was a winning recipe that was going to work every time,” he says. “It’s a case-by-case type of thing.” 

    The only way to know if something will work is to test it.

    “You should always be testing,” Brand says. “You should never stop and say, ‘this is it.’”

    That’s because trends change, and people react to things differently over time.

    Trying to figure out what to test? Here are just a few options:

    • The length of your forms or blog posts
    • The color of call-to-action buttons
    • Various headline options
    • Different keywords or phrases
    • Human faces versus graphic design on your home page
    • Varying language for your call-to-action

    Determining which of these leads to higher conversions can help you come up with a conversion optimization strategy that is specific to your website and your readers. This is more valuable than following cookie-cutter solutions without analyzing the results.

    Want to get started with split testing? A couple of low-cost options are Optimizely, which starts as low as $17 to $19 a month, and Visual Website Optimizer, which costs $49 or $59 a month with a 30-day trial period.

    For a free option, you can set up Content Experiments directly in Google Analytics. (This is a little different than the A/B split test in that you can test as many as 10 versions of a single page, with each one being delivered to users from a different URL).

    Although testing conversion rates can at first seem a bit scary, Brand recommends getting past this obstacle. One way to mitigate your fears is to test just a small portion of your traffic. And if a test isn’t going well, ending it prematurely is always an option. Just remember that the benefits of testing outweigh the risks. “Even an incremental gain in conversions is huge over time,” Brand says.

    Have any additions of your own? Let us know 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 3 Easy Ways to Increase Site Conversions appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Advice from a Social Pro: How to Tie Social Media to Your Bottom Line [VIDEO]

    Fri, 08/01/2014 - 06:00

    In this episode of “The Magic @ Ball of Social Media,”we sit down with Scott Gulbransen, Vice President of Global Communications & Digital Marketing at DSI (Data Systems International, Inc.). Gulbransen shares his advice on how small businesses can tie social media efforts to the bottom line and ROI (return on investment).

    A key takeaway that Gulbransen shares: Instead of thinking about what you’re spending on social media, think about what savings you might be realizing due to your social media marketing.

    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 Advice from a Social Pro: How to Tie Social Media to Your Bottom Line [VIDEO] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Guest Blogging is (Really) Dead! 4 Things to Do Instead

    Thu, 07/31/2014 - 06:00

    It wasn’t too long ago, (a year or so) that nearly everyone working in the field of search engine optimization (SEO) would suggest using “high quality” guest blogging as part of a link building strategy. Well, in January of this year, Matt Cutts, Head of Webspam at Google, put a dagger in the heart of guest bloggers, calling it, “the decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO.

    In March, Google took action against several guest blogging sites in the form of a manual penalty. In June at SMX Advanced, Cutts said again, “some people still don’t get it [that guest blogging is dead] and we [Google] are willing to take action against that.” So if you didn’t see the clear writing on the wall back in January, and missed the huge penalties in March, listen to us now: Stop guest blogging. You could put your site(s) at risk of receiving a manual from Google. So what do you do instead? Here are some great ideas:

    1. Write awesome content for your own blog

    Why would you spend blood, sweat and tears writing content for someone else’s blog, just for one little link back? Seems kinda silly now that we look back on it. Spend that time writing some booty kicking content for your own site! Once you post it, don’t just let it sit there. Share your post on social media and get creative. If you have an awesome image in the post, try pinning it on Pinterest, while also repining similar content. You might get some repins for your own post.

    2. Create videos

    Before you start thinking that video creation is going to cost you some serious coin, check our post here (hint: you can get started for a few hundred bucks.) If you feel the content on your blog has been a bit stale, try mixing in some video to engage your audience with a different medium. Don’t forget that YouTube is the second biggest search engine, so if you aren’t sharing your videos there, you could missing out!

    Some quick tips: make the videos short and sweet, around 2-4 minutes with some actionable take-aways. Have a good outline of what you’re going to say beforehand so you can limit it to one take.

    3. Contribute to sites in your niche 

    Since you’re an expert in your niche, you should become a staple member of a few online communities. These could be a local online forums, monthly meet ups or even one of the many niche forums (which are called subreddits) on Reddit. Don’t just drop your most recent videos or blog posts in the community and leave; become an actual member. Leave valuable comments, help members with their questions, and contribute overtime. Once you get a feel of how it works, start submitting your own content. When you do post, it should function similarly to your expert level blog posts and videos.  

    4. Give Google+ the old college try

    By now you have a pretty good handle on Facebook and Twitter, but have you branched out to Google+ yet? If not, now might be a good time to dive in headfirst and join some of the awesome communities in Google+. We wrote a handy guide to help you get started. Try circling up with some thought leaders in your industry and interacting with them. Share some great content and start building relationships. Want to take it a step further? Use that new video equipment from above and host some Google Hangouts to answer some questions about your topic of choice. Google+ Hangouts are a great way to be an authority in your industry or niche.

    There you have it, 4 useful ways to spend your time now that you’ve stopped guest blogging. If you have any other great ideas, please 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 Guest Blogging is (Really) Dead! 4 Things to Do Instead appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    10 Winning Ways to Keep up with Industry Trends

    Wed, 07/30/2014 - 06:01

    Staying up to date in an industry that’s constantly shifting isn’t easy, but being aware of changes as they’re happening can keep you ahead of the curve. To help stay on the ball with industry challenges, opportunities and trends, check out our recommendations below.

    1. Subscribe to trade journals
    What better way to be in-the-know about specific issues in your industry than to subscribe to a journal that’s devoted to covering them? But subscribing alone isn’t enough; you have to actually read the thing – albeit in print or online. I prefer print. My monthly ritual is to take a stack of trade journals to a local cafe, turn off my phone, grab my highlighter and notepad, and read all of them at once. Others prefer to consume magazines and journals in bite-size chunks. Whatever your approach, make sure the information is getting in your brain rather than simply lining your shelves or taking up space in your inbox.

    2. Keep up with consumer magazines
    Even if you’re reading a magazine that’s not specific to your industry, you’ll be looking at it through a very different lens than other readers. And if you see something that’s very relevant to your line of work, you can get even more insight as to how your field is viewed from an outsider’s perspective.

    3. Scan and engage in forums and discussion boards
    Perhaps scanning an applicable subreddit each day is enough to pique your interest and get your brain buzzing about possible changes in your industry. Oftentimes, engaging in discussion in a relevant LinkedIn group or a private forum from a professional group can be more enlightening. Even though discussion boards can be difficult to sort through unless they’re heavily moderated, you can sort through the rubble for real gems of insight. Make sure to participate, rather than just standby and take in all that you are learning from others. You’ll get more out of it that way.

    4. Scour websites and blogs
    As a health writer, I look at SciDaily each morning to see if there are any new studies that might interest me. I then look at analyses on various blogs, which help me frame the information better and keep it in context. Although the quality of blogs can vary, many are a great source of current information. If you see the same topic on every site in your industry, such as the plethora of posts on making marketing mobile, then yes – it’s a trend you’ll want to follow closely. Blogs and news sites will also often analyze key statistics and research that’s relevant for your industry, and break it down into bite-size chunks, in a form you can understand.

    5. Read newspapers and news sites
    Although newspapers and news sites are sometimes overly simplistic, and journalists sometimes cover industries they’re not knowledgeable in, beat reporters can spot industry trends as well as anyone. My personal favorite news app is Circa, which is free in the App Store and on Google Play. The tech section, edited by the former Deputy Editor of The Daily, Nicholas Deleon, is one I scan regularly for industry news. Circa allows users to “follow” certain areas they find intriguing for regular updates.

    6. Listen to/watch podcasts and videos
    Listen to an hour-long podcast, or even a 20-minute one, and you’ll have a deeper understanding of the topic at hand. Video and audio interviews with industry leaders can be especially enlightening. Even if you find yourself disagreeing with the information being presented, having a common vocabulary can help you better communicate with others in your field, and express your reasoning in a way they’ll be able to understand. We recently wrote a post about 9 business podcasts we recommend giving a listen.

    7. Network
    Discussing your industry face-to-face with colleagues can be particularly enlightening. Get out to conferences or local events, and sign up for trainings. This is an easy way to keep up-to-date with what’s happening. Make sure to speak with colleagues as well as expert panelists. These two groups often have very different perspectives.

    8. Talk to your customers
    In the past few years, I’ve gotten phone calls from both FreshBooks and Basecamp to help their customer service or sales teams better understand how people are using their products. Although scanning social networks and sending out surveys can be insightful, talking to people one-on-one is invaluable. Discussing concerns with prospects can be equally enlightening.

    9. Observe your competitors
    Sometimes you’ll want to zig when others zag, but looking to see what your competitors are doing can sometimes help you figure out if they’re responding to what you see as an emerging trend. Though you may sometimes be unable to decipher the method to their madness, it can’t hurt to take a look.

    10. Track trends in your own business
    Got something that used to sell well that people are barely looking at now, let alone buying? Noticing clients and prospects asking specific questions that they never used to ask? Puzzling over these changes can help you predict potential threats – and opportunities.

    Have any other additions to add to this list? Let us know 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 10 Winning Ways to Keep up with Industry Trends appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    6 Tips to Creating an Ideal Landing Page

    Tue, 07/29/2014 - 06:00

    Having a well-designed landing page will go a long way when it comes to bringing in conversions. You could have the best product or service in the world, but if you don’t communicate that effectively, you could be missing out on new business. Follow these tips and best practices the create the ideal landing page for your business.

    When creating a landing page, one of the first things you need to take into account is your purpose. According to Wordstream, some of the questions you should ask yourself include, “What is my end goal? Who is my audience? Where are they coming from?” How you set up or structure your landing page will be largely directed by what you want it to accomplish, such as new subscribers, to sales, and everything in between. With your purpose in mind, let’s dive in:

    1) Keep it Short and Concise

    Regardless of what your end goal is, you’ll want to keep your landing pages brief and concise. In today’s Internet age, you have a very limited amount of time to keep users engaged. By eliminating clutter and keeping things brief, you have less of a chance for users to be turned off or distracted and there’s a higher chance of having them complete the action that you want. Make users focus on what you want them to focus on by using design principles to guide them through the process you want them to take.

    2) Stay Relevant

    Maintaining relevancy and message consistency throughout your ads, landing page, and/or website is important. A visitor wants to see messaging that’s relevant to what they were looking for. If a visitor comes to your page and sees something they’re not expecting, they’ll quickly move off your landing page, may possibly  search your site to find what they were looking for, but are much more likely to just leave your site all together. You’ll want to create a positive experience for anyone who comes and visits your site or landingpage.

    3) Catch Attention with Your Headlines

    You want your landing page to have a powerful headline or statement that gets a visitor’s attention. Generally, this is the first thing they see, and it should be used to draw them in. By stating your unique selling proposition, visitors should get a sense of what they can get out of your product or service. Additionally, you want to follow up that proposition with additional benefits as to why they should choose your product or service. If you choose to focus on features, describe the benefits versus just what your product does. 

    4) Make it Easy to Convert

    You’ve gotten a visitor to your landing page, they’ve read your unique selling proposition and like what you have to offer. Now you need to lead them down a path with your purpose in mind. This starts with a clear call-to-action. By making the call-to-action prominent, perhaps by using a button or certain colors, visitors will know exactly what you want them to do. Eliminate distractions by limiting the number of options or decisions a visitor has to take. For example, if you want a visitor to sign up for a free trial, have a clear and prominent call-to-action such as “Sign up for a Free Trial Now.” In addition, it may be a good idea to offer some kind of promotion to further entice them to take the action you want. Keep all your important information and calls-to-action above the fold.

    5) Be Mobile-Friendly

    Make your landing pages mobile-friendly. Everyone searches and browses the internet from their smart phones and tablets, so it’s essential to create a positive experience regardless of the device. Whether you choose to create two separate landing pages for both mobile and desktop, or one landing page that works well on both is up to you.

    6) Test!

    After all is said and done and you’ve created your landing page, it’s time to test. No tips or advice should be followed blindly, as what works for one business doesn’t always work for others. You know your customers best, and therefore, landing page creation should always be followed up with continual testing. Whether you only test specific parts of your landing page, like the call-to-action, or you test two very different messages, your landing page will be better for it. By testing, you’ll be able to maximize the effectiveness of your landing page and will hopefully bring in more conversions.

    Use tools like Optimizely to run a true A/B split test, or use a heat map product like Crazy Egg to get an idea as to what visitors are really focusing on.

    Extras:

    Trust – It’s important to build trust with your visitors. If you have positive testimonials or awards, it’s good to include them on your landing page so visitors can see that you have a reliable product or service.

    Videos – Also a nice thing to have to showcase your products or services, but be careful not to distract users from the end goal. Also, if your video isn’t getting much interaction, change it with something more valuable.

    Fast Load-Time - Make sure your landing page doesn’t take a long time to load. As mentioned, you have a limited time to get your visitor’s attention and if he/she has wait for your page to load, they may just leave.

    These are 6 tips and best practices to consider when building your landing page. If you’re looking for some great examples of landing pages, check out KissMetrics‘ “Anatomy of a Perfect Landing Page” as well as this Unbounce list.

    Have any other tips to add to our list? Share them with our readers 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 6 Tips to Creating an Ideal Landing Page appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    A 3-Step Plan for Writing Back-to-School Subject Lines that Get the Grade

    Mon, 07/28/2014 - 06:00

    Reading, writing and … subject lines. Yes, it’s time to start sending back-to-school emails, newsletters and offers. To brush up on school-themed subject lines, we’ve created a mini lesson plan just for you – So take notes.

    Here are three steps to capitalize on the back-to-school season along with examples and takeaway tips for the perfect email subject line.

    1. Offer savings
    Sending kids back to school isn’t cheap. Have you seen the list of school supplies that they need these days? Pencils and paper is only the tip of the supply iceberg; now kids need $100 geometry calculators and fancy laptops. And let’s not forget the stylish new clothes that go along with a new school year.

    In your emails, help parents out by offering a discount. Mention the savings right in the subject line. For example, JCPenney sent an email to its subscribers with a subject line, “Get Down With Our Low Prices-School Styles Starting at $6.99.” Any budget-savvy parent is going to jump at the chance to save money.

    Even if your business doesn’t sell back-to-school necessities, you can still have a school-themed sale. A car dealership did.

    Email marketing specialist Laura Baugh with Team Velocity Marketing specializes in automotive marketing. She says people expect back-to-school sales. To capitalize on the anticipation of the season, she created the email below with the subject line, “Back to School Specials This Weekend Only!” 

    Subject line takeaways:

    • Get to the point. Tell recipients that you’ve got a good deal for them.
    • Be specific. Don’t just tell recipients about an offer, tell them exactly how much they can save.
    • Mention back to school. In some way, you need to connect the school season with the deal.
    • Create a sense of urgency. You want recipients to open your email and act now; so use active language to get a reaction.

    2. Market to college students
    College students are headed back to dorm rooms, too, and they buy entirely different items than those in grade school. College students need small appliances, bedding, groceries, car supplies, electronics, etc. The email below, for example, works for college students. Tiger Direct’s subject line, “5 New Laptops Under $500” grabs attention and gives recipients several choices in one email. Try creating a shopping guide that highlights your college appropriate items. 

    Subject line takeaways:

    • Be creative. Think outside the text book and market items that are relevant to college students.
    • Offer deals.  Many college students have a shoestring budget, so appealing to their wallet won’t hurt.
    • Be hip. You’re marketing to a younger crowd, so make sure the words you use reflect that.
    • Mention college. Your subject line should mention a college buzzword like “campus” or “dorm.”

    3. Educate your recipients
    Promotional emails are a great way to capitalize on the back-to-school season, but you can do more than offer $10 off a purchase. You can also educate your recipients, by creating subject lines that promote stellar school-related content. For example, a craft site sent out an email with the subject line, “18 Dorm Décor Ideas.”

    It’s an easy way to educate your readers and promote various products without seeming overly salesy.

    Subject line takeaways:

    • Tease the title. If you create a “Top 5” list that’s connected to a back-to- school theme, you should mention the title of the post in your subject line.
    • Mention back to school. Again, you have to use the appropriate back-to-school buzzwords so the recipient knows the purpose of the email.
    • Keep it short. Tell recipients what the article is about without getting too wordy.

    What kind of subject lines are you planning to use this back-to-school season? Tell us in the comment box below.

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

    The post A 3-Step Plan for Writing Back-to-School Subject Lines that Get the Grade appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Back-to-School Shopping is Bigger Than You Think! [Video]

    Fri, 07/25/2014 - 06:00

    You may already be planning your upcoming holiday season sales, but don’t miss a big opportunity that could have a huge impact on your business. We’re talking about back-to-school, and the stats from the 2014 Back-to-School National Retail Federation Survey we share in this video may surprise you. Take a look:

    Some key highlights:

    • The average family with children in grades K-12 will spend $669.28 on apparel, shoes, supplies and electronics, up 5% from last year. 
    • Combined spending for back-to-school and college is expected to reach $74.9 billion.
    • For the first time, the National Retail Federation asked school shoppers about their plans to shop at local/small businesses for their needs: 17.4% will support local/small retailer to buy school items.
    • Millennials plan to spend $913 million of their own money on school items.

    Back-to-school has positioned itself as a prime shopping season that businesses need to pay attention to.

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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 Back-to-School Shopping is Bigger Than You Think! [Video] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

    Digital Coupons Drive Sales [Infographic]

    Thu, 07/24/2014 - 06:01

    Everyone loves a deal. This infographic from the folks at Vouchercloud outlines the growth in digital coupons, who’s using them and how they’re being used. Here are some highlights:

    • The use of coupons during a shopping experience has risen from 63% to 92% in just the past five years, and a lot of this growth has been driven by online coupons.
    • Consumers have greater access to online coupons through email, shared through social media, and online via a plethora of coupon-specific websites.
    • 93% of coupon users say they’ll be very likely to use a coupon they receive in an email.
    • Not only has their access to coupons grown significantly, but how they fulfill them has changed as well. It’s estimated that 74.1 million consumers will use their smartphone and 68.7 million will use their tablet to present their coupon to a business.
    • Who are these people that using are using coupons? It’s really not a specific group. It’s split almost 50/50 between men and women. The age of users doesn’t vary much whether they’re 18, 30, 40 or 60 years of age. However, there are some coupons that are more popular than others.
    • Groceries, personal care products, and dining are the most popular coupon searches, followed closely by clothing, entertainment, pets and electronics.

    So, we’ve got more people using coupons, using them in different ways, and across a variety of demographics, but do they work? The short answer is YES!

    • The vast majority of coupon users say that they’ll visit a retailer again because of being offered a coupon.
    • More than half said they would not have made that purchase unless they had a coupon.

    Check out this infographic that explains how digital coupons can attract new customers and encourage existing customers to return.

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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 Digital Coupons Drive Sales [Infographic] appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

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