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Productivity Secrets for Savvy Small Business Owners

Tue, 08/20/2013 - 06:00

As a small business owner, there are an unlimited number of tasks you could be doing at all times. How do you know which task to do first? How do you stay efficient while completing tasks? Check out these productivity secrets to help you work smarter, not harder.

1.  Stop multitasking

While this might seem counterproductive when you have a million things on your plate, you actually get more done if you focus on one task at a time. A study in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review found that only about 2.5% of people can multi-task and still keep the same level of success at every task. Completing one project at a time helps you keep your concentration and really delve into a single task. Don’t get sidetracked by jumping from one thing to another.

Doing bits and pieces of different projects also pushes the finish dates farther into the future. Finishing a task and then starting another staggers your end dates so you have more to show for your work, instead of going days without any results at all.

2.  Minimize interruptions

Always being accessible can hinder productivity. First things first: stop checking your email constantly. Instead, set aside five minutes every hour to check your inbox. Most emails can wait for a response; an immediate response is not worth your sanity (or your productivity).

Next, turn off things that go “ding.” When you’re not at the office, it’s great that your smartphone alerts you every time someone comments on Facebook or when you receive a new email. But when you’re at work, turn your electronics on silent to prevent them from distracting you from the task at hand. Make time for social media and smartphones the same way you make time to check your email (but maybe less frequently).

3.  Prioritize your upcoming tasks

When all of your projects seem equally urgent, it can be hard to decide which item on your to-do list should take priority. Don’t fret – we have a game plan to help you decide what task you should complete first.

Choose two items from your to-do list and pretend you can only complete one of them (even though we both know you’ll get both done). The task you choose to tackle first is the winner, and goes on to compete against another task on the list. Continue going through the list in this manner, and by the end of the match you’ll have a to-do list ranked by importance.

4.  Organize your office

It’s easier to get your work done when your workspace is neat and organized. Organization makes you feel better and allows you to find things when you need them – this one is a mental and physical productivity tip!

So schedule some time at the end of a workday to go through all the mess on your desk. Put loose items into drawers, desktop organizers and the trash. Can’t decide what to remove from your desk? If you haven’t used the item in one month, it may not need to be on your desk. When you’re done, you’ll have better physical and mental clarity.

What do you do to stay productive at work? Share in the comments.

This post contributed by Emily Farrar. Farrar is the Lead Customer Advocate at Shoeboxed, the fastest way to turn a pile of paper receipts into digital data for effortless expense reporting and bookkeeping.

© 2013, 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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8 Search Engine Optimization Tips Everyone Should Know

Mon, 08/19/2013 - 06:00

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Three words that can seem big and scary for most people, but SEO isn’t all the fire and brimstone it’s cracked up to be. There are a handful of easy-peasy SEO tips that everyone should know, especially when getting started, and luckily we’ve laid them down for you. The main over-arching theme here is not to overdo any “tactics” or “tricks,” but to make your site really awesome for your visitors. How? Let’s dive in, shall we?

1. First, you need to get into the right mindset and remember: Optimize for people NOT search engines. We know that sounds the opposite of what SEO stands for, but it’s what Google wants. Plus, if you think about it, if someone really enjoys your site, they’ll come back again and also share it with their friends. Oh boy, I see foreshadowing.

2. Quality content is king! This is a simple theory, but just keep in mind that it can take some time to get a backlog of quality content – Keep at it!

3. Have your “stuff” make sense. Here’s the deal; Meta data, URL structure and internal linking matter, so have them make sense to visitors. For meta data, when your site pops up into the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), you want it to grab someone’s attention, much like a good email subject line. Make your title short and sweet (under 70 characters) and the description a brief summary of no more than 160 characters. Have URLS that make sense. If your page is about coffee mugs then a URL like: makes the most sense. Something like, will confuse both the GoogleBot and the people searching. Neither is good. Have your internal linking make sense. If you’re talking about how to get started on Vine, the visitor would expect the link to lead to the Vine article, not your homepage or some unrelated page.

4. If a little of something on your site is great, then a ton must be amazing right? WRONG! This is the downfall of SEO. The SEO industry finds something that works, and then does it until Google has to step in. The newest culprit to be assaulted by Google is guest blogging. This was, and still is in some ways, a great way to earn a high quality link, but people have diluted the value of guest blogging by spinning articles, (taking an existing article and adding very little value to it, then reposting it), and allowing very low quality, keyword stuffed articles. Just keep optimization trends in moderation – Like everything!

5. Grab some free tools from this list of 100. Here’s a quick five: GetListedGoogle AnalyticsGoogle Webmaster ToolsMajestic SEO and Moz Analytics.

6. Use WordPress plug-ins to make your life easier. We aren’t masters at HTML code and nobody expects you to be either. Luckily, WordPress offers tons of plug-ins to help make running your site easier. For us, Yoast SEO for WordPress is the winner here.

7. Don’t leave mobile users in the cold. Make sure they’re getting some love by having a responsive template for your website. Nothing frustrates both visitors and the Googlebot more than when a site redirects a mobile user to the homepage rather than the article they wanted to see. Get responsive and give mobile users a big hug!

8. Don’t forget about social! Make sure you have social sharing buttons set up on your web pages, so that when your amazing content rocks readers’ socks off, they’ll share the heck out of it. Social signals are becoming more powerful, so you don’t want to miss that boat.

Boom! Eight tips and done. If you’re hungry for more, there are mountains of information to dig into, if you so choose. Check out The Complete Guide by Google  for all the “Google Approved” actions to take with your site. The cool cats over at Moz have a Beginner’s Guide to SEO, (and we do too)  which is a great resource as well, so give them a look through! Which tip did you find most useful?  Share in the comments.

© 2013, 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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What’s New Weekly: Emotiv Insight and Screen Color Control App f.lux

Sat, 08/17/2013 - 08:45

We’re back with another episode of “What’s New Weekly.” In this episode, we highlight a hot Kickstarter product called Emotiv Insight and a screen color control app called f.lux.

As always, look for a new episode every week.


© 2013, 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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11 Smart Content Marketing Tools for Every Budget

Fri, 08/16/2013 - 06:00

Content marketing is one of the best ways to engage and connect with your prospects and customers by giving them useful information. But how can you juggle running your business and creating and sharing useful content? Good news! There are plenty of free and low cost tools out there to help you not only manage, but succeed. Read on as we share some of our faves from getting ideas to creating, sharing and optimizing.

Get Ideas

  • Quora – Quora is super useful in that it’s a question-and-answer social media site/community, entirely made up of questions people have on a variety of topics. Search and follow topics that relate to your business, and discover what people are asking; You can then create content around these topics.  Cost: Free
  • Twitter – The popular social network is perfect for looking for content ideas as you can search for popular topics, or look at the Trends feature on the left side of the page, to see what’s peaking around the world or region. Also search hashtags (#) that are relevant to your industry or business to find what may interest your readers. Cost: Free
  • Pinterest – You can use Pinterest to organize your content ideas onto boards and search for ideas to inspire your own marketing. We use Pinterest often to discover infographics, which are chock full of statistics and useful information on a variety of topics – excellent starting points for a post. If you don’t want everyone to see what you’re pinning, use secret boards to manage and curate, or even invite co-workers or employees to collaborate on secret boards. Cost: Free


  • Google Calendar – Google has created lots of nifty tools for businesses, and this is a really useful one. Google Calendar lets you plan out when you’re going to share content, what the content is and even who’s responsible for it. We use this tool for a variety of purposes, including the management of our blog posts. And you can share the calendar with anyone who needs access. Cost: Free
  • Evernote – This is an app that allows you to organize just about anything, including storing documents. You can create notes, upload docs, save photos or even record your thoughts or ideas, and it’s all in one place. Plus, you can access and sync to it from any device, computer, tablet or mobile. Keep track of your content ideas, calendar or collaborate with others on your projects. Cost: Free and paid options.


  • Ebyline – Ebyline is a tool/service that helps publishers, or businesses find, hire, and manage freelance writers. They’ve got over 1,900 freelancers for hire, so if you’re short on time or knowledge and simply need another hand, Ebyline has you covered. Writers can create blog posts, guides, or any other content you need. You’ll need to create a brief outline of the project, include the deadline and the fee you will pay. You’ll receive responses from interested writers and you can accept or decline them as appropriate. Cost: Free and paid options
  •  Storify  – This tool lets you use info from social networks to build content. You simply add a headline, then drag and drop status updates, photos or videos to complete the story you’re creating. Plus, they make it easy to notify anyone quoted in your story, to help your content get shared. Cost: Free and paid options


  • Scribe – A handy content marketing WordPress plugin from Copyblogger Media, Scribe helps you with content, search and social. Before you start writing, use Scribe to do a keyword search to see what keyword terms are most popular, as well as how competitive they are. Scribe allows you to optimize your content for sharing. This is useful to see what conversations are happening around topics you’re creating content for, and ensure that it’s shareable. The optimize and connect features help you build your site authority and Google PageRank, and connects you with other sites that have authority so you can establish relationships with them. Cost: Ranges from $27-$97 per month based on plan.
  • Yoast- For you bloggers out there, this is another easy-to-use WordPress plugin that helps your content get found by search engines. Even if you aren’t quite up on the SEO lingo, Yoast will tell you exactly what the terms mean and what you need to do. In just a few seconds you can fill in fields and get an analysis on your content and any changes that need to be made to make it more optimized and SEO-friendly. Cost: Free


  • Slideshare – Often overlooked, Slideshare is an effective place to share PowerPoint (or another program) presentations with anyone who’s interested. Much like any social network, you create an account for your business and then upload your decks. Besides presentations, because not everyone does them, you can also share documents, PDFs, videos or webinars. You can use it drive traffic to your website or blog, and it’s a fantastic way to share your knowledge.  Cost: Free
  •  PRWeb – PRWeb may not be the first thing you think of when wanting to share content, but they’ve got reach. They’ll share your content with 30,000 journalists, 250,000 opt-in news subscribers and with the 3 million monthly visitors on If you have news to share about your business or organization they’ll walk you through a couple of steps to create a good write up and then share it for you.  Cost: Starts at $99 per release.
  • Social Networks –  It goes without saying, but social networks are an excellent place to share your content. From Facebook, to Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon and others. No matter what you’ve created or curated, you can share it with your followers to get more interest and traffic to your business. Cost: Free

There you have some super useful content marketing tools, all at a price even a small biz can swing. Do you have to use all these tools? Of course not! Just use the ones that make sense for your business, or your needs. If you’re just starting out, get your feet wet by using Quora, Google Calendar and then sharing your content on your social networks. As you get more experience, try out some of the other tools and see how they make creating content easier or give you a fresh approach. My favorite tool in this list? Yoast. I love the challenge of getting the content optimizer results to green – meaning my blog post is at its peak optimization.

This is just a small slice of the many tools available and everyone undoubtedly has their favorites, share in the comments the tools you can’t live without for your content marketing.

© 2013, 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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Go Beyond ‘Vanity Metrics’ with Your Marketing

Thu, 08/15/2013 - 06:00

Social media can be addictive given that it’s interactive and fun to use. Getting new Twitter followers or retweets, positive comments on a post, and receiving Facebook ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ provides a quick shot of marketing adrenaline and a little boost of confidence, too. The same goes for subscribers opening your email newsletter and downloading your newest e-book. But you may only be focusing on so-called vanity marketing metrics and if your business is in it for the long haul, it’s important to remember the real reason you’re putting time, effort and money into social media: to build brand loyalty and ultimately increase revenue. Those two goals often require looking beyond page views and social media shares to the numbers that really matter for your business’s long-term health.

List building: quality vs. quantity

One area many businesses focus on is building a big customer contact list. While large companies often flex their marketing muscles by hosting contests with big prizes, it’s crucial for small businesses to be more strategic. While big brands can get away with burning a lot of cash with untargeted giveaways and adding random people to their email lists, entrepreneurs and local brick-and-mortar shops can rarely afford that.

“Sometimes startups focus on big brand marketing, because they think that’s what will turn them into a big brand, but it’s not,” says Brant Cooper, co-author of New York Times bestseller The Lean Entrepreneur. Instead, it’s important to start small—and be very specific in the type of people you are trying to reach.

“Focus on the people who are most passionate about your product,” Cooper recommends, especially if they’re all in just one market segment. “If you’re not buying Super Bowl ads,” he quips, “you shouldn’t be worried about adding a million random people to your email list.” The size of your email list only matters if there is a high level of engagement in that base, so more gradual and refined growth is not just okay, it’s key to success. For example, an email campaign with the objective of getting recipients to click on a call-to-action actually suffers if it is sent to an unengaged group. We’ve always advised to build quality over quantity. Your subscribers have to want to hear from you to get any engagement.

Another reason to pursue slower list growth: a large subscriber group is more likely to be diverse in their interests and habits and thus far harder to market to than even a smaller group that shares similarities beyond simply using the same product. The former can lead to a large email list with subscribers who aren’t really invested. Many won’t read and share content, respond to prompts or buy what you’re selling.

Downloads versus users

One common marketing strategy is to provide a free tool or highly useful downloadable content such as a guide or e-book for users. It’s easy to focus on how many people download your product but what you really want are users, people who found your product compelling and continue to get utility out of it. Look at the bigger picture and think about converting prospective users into customers. Is your list targeted or diverse? Making sure your sales funnel can convert users is at least as important as creating that snazzy white paper. “Is your conversion rate high enough that the cost of producing the e-book, including labor, is made up for?” is the question Cooper recommends asking.

Look at the entire funnel

“You can even think of revenue as being a vanity metric,” Cooper says, if you’re simply focusing on short-term numbers. “You can hire someone who can go in and sell your product and get sales, but not necessarily get repeat sales. Are you selling to the right segment? Are you going to be able to scale that? Just getting a certain number of sales doesn’t necessarily tell you whether you’re on track,” he explains.

Figuring out which marketing metrics to target often means taking a step back, forgetting about process for a moment and taking the long view toward your ultimate marketing goals.

“If you’ve got a one percent conversion rate or a one percent click-through rate on an email you sent out to a million people,” Cooper explains, “increasing your list by 1,000 doesn’t really mean much to you.” In that situation, adding subscribers isn’t the best strategy. If, however, “you increase your conversion rate from 1 to 2 percent, you’ve actually done something pretty significant.”

Each business is different, and specific strategies are never wholly right or wrong. They just might not be useful for an overall objective. Being aware of what you’re actually trying to accomplish and coming up with the most efficient path to that end goal—and making sure everyone on your team is aware of their role towards this common objective and where it fits in your sales funnel—will help immensely in accomplishing your goals.

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at 

© 2013, 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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5 Copywriting Tips to Enhance User Experience

Wed, 08/14/2013 - 06:00

When it comes to copywriting and your business, you may have put a lot of thought into how you describe your product or service on your website or in ads, but have you considered how your copywriting impacts your user experience (aka UX)? Something as seemingly simple as the words you use can have a dramatic impact on how a visitor interacts with your site. In fact, Jeff Gothelf, author and UX guru, wrote in a post, The Secret Weapon of UX: Copywriting, that in the midst of a copywriting experiment, he found “just by changing words” on a website, he saw “an increase of paid sign-ups of nearly 30%.” Just by changing some words! “This was just one little experiment but if the power of words and copywriting can affect conversion dynamics so significantly, think about what words can do for progressing customers through a workflow and getting them to complete their tasks,” Gothelf says. “Copywriting is the secret weapon of UX.”

So what should you keep in mind when writing copy for your website? Here are five tips:

1) Identify your audience
Like many things in marketing, you need to start by knowing your target audience. Who are your website visitors, and why are they on your site? Are they looking for information? Making a purchase? Logging into an account? Most likely, you’ll have more than one type of visitor, so make sure the copy on your home page is relevant to who you’re trying to reach.

Google Analytics is a great way to know how people are interacting with your site. From which pages they visit, which keywords they searched to get there, to how long they stay, Google Analytics provides you tons of information. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics to help you get started.

2) Write simply and persuasively
No one wants to reach for a dictionary while reading your website. According to a Harvard study, the average adult in the United States reads between the 8th and 9th grade level, so write simply, clearly and in a natural way. Clarify when needed, use terms your visitors are familiar with, and avoid abbreviations, acronyms and jargon. Also, use Microcopy. What is it? According to Joshua Porter on the interface and product design blog Bokardo, “Microcopy is small yet powerful copy. It’s fast, light, and deadly. It’s a short sentence, a phrase, a few words. A single word. It’s the small copy that has the biggest impact. Don’t judge it on its size…judge it on its effectiveness.” Here’s an example given from his blog:


3) Pay attention to information flow
Does the order you present information make sense on your site? Having to jump around and hunt for information can result in a frustrating user experience.

Make it obvious what information your visitor will get if they click a link by using very clear language. For example, if I click a button to get more specific information about your scented candles, I might expect to see information about your selection, ingredients, price, how to buy, or maybe some customer testimonials. I wouldn’t expect to find a page that includes your assortment of soaps and lotions. Ask yourself, “If a visitor clicks my action button to get to another page, does the information on the next page logically follow?”

4) Make Call-to-Action buttons clear
Speaking of buttons, the text you use on them can impact your click through rate. Be as specific as possible about what action you want the person to take and what they can expect if they click.

For example, the following buttons, “Buy Now” and “Get a Quote” are both pretty specific and let the visitor know what to expect when they click.


isn’t a very informative button, and doesn’t give your visitor a very good idea of where they’ll “land.” (An exception is if there is a very well defined sequence of information your potential customers expect to see, for example, “next” takes you from step 3 to step 4).

Don’t be tempted to be vague to get more clicks – You’ll likely annoy your visitors. It’s easy to create buttons (try our free tool), so there’s really no reason to use a one-size-fits-all approach.

5) Test, test and test again

Have people in your target demographic read the copy you’ve written? Make sure they read it in context- What makes sense in a Word document might not be as clear when seen on your website mixed in with colors, images, navigation, etc. Ask them to perform a few basic tasks like finding your price list or store location. Also ask them to summarize the text on a page. If they can give you a quick and accurate summary without having to re-read or use their “back” button, your copywriting is doing its job in enhancing the user experience.

What tips and tactics do you use to ensure good a good user experience for your website visitors?

© 2013, 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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What You Need to Know About Using Google AdWords Content Campaigns

Tue, 08/13/2013 - 06:00

If you’re new to Search Engine Marketing and/or using Pay-Per-Click ads, you may not be familiar with Google’s Content Search Network also known as the Google Display Network. Google’s Content Search Network allows you to expand your reach and get your ad in front of new audiences with targeted placement ads. Here, we discuss what they are and how to use Google AdWords Content Campaigns within your search engine marketing (SEM) strategy.

What is Google’s Content Network?

According to Wordstream, Google’s Content Network is “a network of sites that provide content (text, videos, audio, etc.) and allow advertisers to show ads along side it. You pay for placement on these sites, on either a cost-per click (CPC) or cost-per impression (CPM) basis.” Content and Display campaigns work in very similar ways, where you place targeted ads around relevant content and information across different websites all within Google’s network of partners. The main difference between this and traditional display ads is that you can also use keywords just like you do within your Search Campaigns. Google searches through relevant content that matches a specific list of targeted keywords. There are, of course, pros and cons to content campaigns just like everything else.


The biggest pro to using content campaigns is that you have amazing opportunity to reach new customers. Not only that, but these customers also tend to be more in the information gathering stage, so you can reach them higher up in the funnel. These folks may not even be aware yet of what you offer, so being able to target them early can give you an advantage over your competitors. Additionally, if you take the time to fine tune your content campaigns, you can bring in lots of visitors and conversions to your site at lower cost than traditional display methods. In addition, being able to use targeted keywords allows for your placement ads to be even more effective.


The cons can outweigh the pros if you don’t take time to optimize your content campaigns. Since Display and Content work in a similar way, one of the drawbacks to the content network is the high number of clicks and impressions your ad is likely to receive. Because users are simply browsing certain pages, the impression volumes will be higher and you most likely will get a higher number of clicks that won’t convert. This could increase your spend, lower your click-through-rates and impact your bottom line. Also because Google is choosing these placements for you, they may not always pick the best placements for your business.

In order to combat this, keep bids lows and exclude lower performing placements. By targeting very specific placements or blocking placements that aren’t bringing in quality traffic, you’ll be able to spend your marketing dollars more effectively. When incorporating keywords, this can help you to be a lot more effective that traditional display advertising. When advertising on Google’s content network, you must keep all these things in mind and tailor your strategy accordingly.

Incorporating content campaigns into your overall SEM strategy is still good idea. If you’re interested in testing out content campaigns or just looking for more information; check out Google’s Getting Started Blog. They’ve got tips and best practices to get you started on the right track. You can also grab our Small Business Guide to Google Adwords here.

Have any tips to add to ours? Share in the comments!

© 2013, 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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5 Search-Savvy Secrets to Google Map Listings

Mon, 08/12/2013 - 06:00

A potential customer is looking for a brick-and-mortar business like yours, but you’ve got just a fraction of the marketing budget of that big-box competitor to reach them. Luckily, Google has helped level the playing field with Google map listings, at least as far as search results go. But if you want to pop up online when customers are searching for you nearby, you need to be SEO-savvy, popular with your customers and consistent across a slew of networks, sites and platforms.

That’s easier for a small marketer than it sounds, however, Allison Nuanes, local marketing manager at digital ad agency Booyah Online Advertising, says small location-based businesses have a built-in advantage these days: someone searching Google doesn’t even have to type in their city or state for Google’s search algorithm to trigger a local result for terms like “restaurant.”

“Even if you aren’t searching for ‘Denver,’ [Google maps will] infer that there’s local intent and start giving you results for restaurants nearest you,” points out Nuanes. Since results are triggered by geography based on the proximity of the person to your store or restaurant, this makes it easier for people close by to find you, meaning that you can compete with the big chain that’s five minutes further down the road.

In addition to a location advantage, more reviews of your business from happy customers can easily push you ahead of your competitors, says Nuanes. And because small businesses tend to focus on just one location (as opposed to multiple locations), you can have a bit of an edge. Here are five simple tips for making sure your Google map listing is working for you.

Tip #1: Integrate Google+ for better results

Google’s algorithm integrates Google+ into local results, so make sure to claim your Google+ listing, and that all of the categories are checked off correctly. (Check out our guide for getting started with Google+).

Tip #2: Make sure your address is consistent.

If Google displays your address with S. in front of the main street instead of South, keep it that way. “The way Google decides to display your address is the way you should do it in every other site if possible, including your website,” Nuanes explains. Consistent listings can help your biz appear higher on search engine results.

Tip #3: Claim or verify your business on other sites, too.

Foursquare and Yelp are clearly frontrunners, but “I would definitely also do Yahoo! and Bing as well,” Nuanes says.  “Yahoo! Local and Bing Local have their own platforms now. They have smaller numbers, but still quite a lot of people who use them. Bing’s map is feeding into Apple now for iPad and iPhones, and Yelp is also feeding into Apple systems for mobile search results, so it’s really important to hit all those big platforms.” Simply verify the listings or claim your business on all four sites to get started.

Tip #4: Seek engagement from your customers.

“Once you have claimed your business in all of those different places, take it to the next level by talking to your customers and putting up signs reminding them to check in on Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp,” Nuanes recommends. “Remind people to post reviews if they’re happy customers, whether that’s through signage, email footers, or talking to employees in your store to remind them to talk to customers.” A large number of positive reviews and check-ins help boost your search engine ranking.

Tip #5:  Be careful not to cross the line.

Don’t pay for reviews or incentivize them with prizes. “When Yelp has found out that someone is paying for reviews on Craigslist, or finding elite Yelpers and asking for reviews, they will completely remove the business from their site and put up a big sign saying that the business has paid for reviews. There are pretty big consequences for them,” Nuanes explains.

What’s next?

The biggest development in location-based apps is that Foursquare will be rolling out some advertising for small businesses. If someone checks into a bar, for example, a specific liquor brand can advertise to that user. In addition, Foursquare is rolling out ads to connect people looking for somewhere to go with businesses that want to drive foot traffic to their locations. Businesses will pay when people visit the listing on Foursquare or their location in person. These programs are still in the pilot phase, but businesses can sign up on Foursquare to get information as it becomes available.

Bottom line

The best way to compete with big businesses is to make sure your business profiles are claimed, your information is consistent and up-to-date, your listings are relevant and your customers are engaged. It doesn’t matter as much whether they check in on Foursquare or on Facebook, as long as they’re checking in with you. And getting good reviews from happy customers is always helpful, whether they’re posted on Yelp or Foursquare or Google or Facebook. That means you can outdraw your competition, no matter how big.

How are your Google map listings working for you? Share away in the comments!

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at 

© 2013, 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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What’s New Weekly: Peace out Facebook EdgeRank, Hello Trending Topics [Video]

Sat, 08/10/2013 - 07:00

We’re back with another episode of “What’s New Weekly.” In this episode, we highlight some Facebook updates. From changes in your News Feed to the introduction of Trending Topics on mobile.

As always, look for a new episode every week.


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Email Bloopers: Read This Before You Hit ‘Send’

Fri, 08/09/2013 - 06:00

We live in an ultra fast-paced world. Sending texts, IMs, and e-mails from our smartphones has become commonplace. But with all this speed, are we sacrificing quality business communications? Let’s look at a few examples.

After a phone conversation with a potential new partner, I agreed to connect the person with our internal contact. We got an e-mail from their contact and here’s an excerpt: “I lead of strategic alliances group and think there are some really interesting opportunities work together.”

Now, I’m not trying to be the grammar police here. Far from it. But what I’m trying to point out is that when you’re trying to cultivate a new business partnership with someone, you may want to slow down just enough to give your note a quick read-through before you hit send. Step away from the e-mail for a minute or two, then go back with a fresh set of eyes and read every single word one more time.

Here’s another cringe-worthy example of an e-mail subject line I got some time ago, but I’ve kept it in my inbox as a reminder that trying to be cheeky or funny can go too far: “Go South for VD–Fares from $9* each way!” Looks like they went south with their subject line. If you ever question yourself whether something is acceptable or not, it’s probably not. Better yet, do a gut-check and ask some of your co-workers if you are unsure.

Ready for another? Check out this example of an industry invitation to a conference (I’ve covered company details to protect the identity, which clearly fell victim to a copy and paste from Word error.

There’s an easy way not to fall victim to this: Just don’t copy and paste from a Word document directly into your e-mail. Instead, copy and paste your text into a simple text editor that strips out any extra formatting. Many content publishing tools out there (including e-mail service providers) will add erroneous characters that will make your message look like gobbledygook. Not cool.

Here’s one of my favorites, because the sender made a mistake in his first email, but immediately addressed it with humor and a dose of humility.

Here is the first e-mail excerpt with the error:

If you have a blog, web show or podcast and have been asking yourself that question: “How the heck do I make money from this in a really cool way that is sleazy?” this is going to be for you.

Then almost immediately I got another e-mail with this message:

Whoops worst typo ever in the last email I just sent.

Wow that was classic. This is what happens when caffeine wears off.

Here is the sentence I wrote in the last email:

“If you have a blog, web show or podcast and have been asking yourself that question: “How the heck do I make money from this in a really cool way that is sleazy?” this is going to be for you.” Of course, what I meant was…

“If you have a blog, web show or podcast and have been asking yourself that question: “How the heck do I make money from this in a really cool way that is non-sleazy?” this is going to be for you.

Sigh. Not to use a hash tag in an email but…. #holycrapwhatatypoIneedtogotobedsotomorrowIdontdosomethinglikethat.


What a great way to handle a mistake and leave your readers still loving you.

Have you made a business communication error and how did you handle it? Share in the comments.

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The Zen of an Awesome Demo Video

Thu, 08/08/2013 - 06:00

Not all products are as intuitive to use as the iPhone – The service or product you sell may have more than one button, brilliant but optional features or even a concept that is so revolutionary even your early adopters won’t get it the first time ’round. Explaining the full advantages of your product can take thousands of words — and you can’t be sure that prospective customers will make it past the first page, let alone digest it all.

What’s the alternative? Creating a great demo, or explanation, video. Just as a picture can be worth a thousand words, two minutes of video can be worth pages of written explanations. And the best demo videos don’t just explain or sell your product, they propel your business and become a valuable tool for email, social and other digital marketing channels: witness the phenomenal growth that online file storage startup Dropbox has attributed to a well-received demo video the company used to educate potential consumers.

Your company may not be the next Silicon Valley star, but the video format works just as well for many products and services. The trick is doing it right the first time.

Melinda Rainsberger, the founder of the Providence-based video agency They’re Using Tools!, says: “A great explainer video is like making breakfast on a workday: it should be fast, filling, but not full of junk. Folks need to know something, and they’ve turned to the Internet to pick up the knowledge they need in a quick manner.”

An explanation or demo doesn’t need to go viral or get passed around — most of the views it will receive will come from your company’s own website or marketing. Your video should be a clear walk-through of your product and it should be professionally edited and polished. It can be fun, but entertainment is not the most important factor for a successful explanation video.

Rather, the secret to creating a useful demo is offering an explanation that works for both complete beginners and more advanced users. You have one to two minutes to show off what your product or service does to the market you’re targeting. So before you create your demo, you need to look at where new users or customers struggle with your product. You may even need to go back to the beginning and track where and how you lose leads or prospects to find out if product features or complexity are to blame.

Rainsberger suggests answering the following questions before making your demo video:

  • How does your target market recognize the problems your product solves? How do they know they need what you’re selling?
  • What does your target market search for when looking for a product like yours? What industry jargon do they use?
  • How savvy are members of your target market when choosing solutions? How much education do they need before making a purchase decision?
  • What processes and platforms does your target market rely on? How does your product fit into those?

With answers to these questions you’ll have a better idea of what your video needs to address and what success looks like.

Make sure to test whether your video is having the right impact by measuring how viewers respond after watching, asking whether they have more questions, tracking purchase decisions and getting reactions from potential customers as they view your video so you can you improve it. If you test and tweak your video before releasing the final version, you’ll be able to improve the overall quality and impact.

One common problem businesses run into with explanation videos is that they try to answer every question, every possible customer might ask. After all, there can be big differences between two customer groups you’re marketing to, including the language and terminology they use when talking about your company. Creating a universally appealing video drives some companies crazy.

Rainsberger explains: “If your audience is ‘everyone’ go back to the start and try again. Your audience is never, ever everyone. Even if your product is pretty universal, the same product marketing that appeals to pregnant moms isn’t going to appeal to 13-year-old girls.”

You likely have a target market in mind to which you’re particularly interested in selling. Focus on answering the questions that people in that specific audience will have — at both beginner and advanced levels — and leave other audiences for future marketing campaigns. Your video needs to be easy for customers to connect with, which means you need to address the audience that you can connect with.

This post was contributed by guest author Thursday Bram. 

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5 Tips to Inject Humor into Your Social Media Mix

Wed, 08/07/2013 - 06:00

LOL, ROFL, HAHA. These are some of the reactions you might see on your social media networks when injecting humor into your tweets, posts and/or photos. The level of engagement that humor can bring you is incredible. You can even win awards for causing a chuckle or two on social. The Shorty Awards, which honors the best in social media, recognizes people and organizations producing real-time short content across the social web. One of their “best of” categories? Humor. But how should you handle humor with regards to your business social media efforts?

Some may be intimidated at the thought of sharing humor on their business social channels so we’ve compiled 5 tips that’ll get the giggles flowing and fans interacting like never before.

1. Use YouTube to find humor.
YouTube is a terrific place to find humorous videos to share with your audience. When the laugh-inducing “Ship My Pants” Kmart commercial was released on YouTube, several organizations including Time Magazine, Daily Finance, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and even ourselves, wrote quick posts including commentary, embedded the video, and shared it on Facebook or Twitter. We wrote a blog post, pushed it to our social networks, which then drove even more traffic to our blog. The key is to get it out fast to leverage the buzz. Perusing the main page of YouTube, as well as the “Popular” category can be a huge help in getting your humor train started.

2. Jump on the viral bandwagon.
Back in February of this year, the Harlem Shake video meme went viral. Multiple companies, organizations and people jumped on the meme bandwagon joining in on the fun. Notable performances include the staff of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, a squadron of the Norwegian Army, Facebook and Google employees, the staff of The Daily Show, University of Georgia swim team (whose video received at more than 37 million views) and so on. We also pulled the VR crew together and quickly made our own version. Not only was it fun for our employees, but it also generated more than 2,500 views on our YouTube channel. Staying on top of the latest pop culture hijinks is a great way to stay relevant and generate more than a few laughs and clicks.

3. Set a day you share a cartoon or funny picture.
Consistency is ideal for any social media strategy, and humor isn’t any different. Dedicate one day in which you give your fans a humorous freebie. We post something funny on Fridays to end the week on a fun note. Include a hashtag such as #FridayFunny on your Facebook Page and/or Twitter account so people can easily find all the humorous content you or others have shared. Here’s the funny we shared last Friday.

Try to find humor that will relate to a wide audience and not only bring a smile to your existing fan base, but also exposes your social accounts to a whole new audience.

4. Start or join a great meme.
You’ve probably seen a lot of memes even if you have no idea what they are. A meme is an “idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture” according to Wikipedia. You mainly see them in the form of funny photos with sayings on them. You may be familiar with various popular memes such as Grumpy Cat, First World Problems, Forever Alone, Haters Gonna Hate, and more. Several companies share and include memes into their marketing mix, such as blog posts (like we did here in our content marketing example), in advertisements and on social. Want more info on how to join the viral meme craze? Read our post, “Hey Girl, Wanna Go Viral? Learn from Memes.”


5. Share humor that your target audience can relate to.
We’re a marketing company and we help small businesses market their products and services. We know our particular audience is fairly familiar with marketing and will get a kick out of anything with some marketing humor. A fab place to start is always Dilbert.

This not only gets a chuckle out of our audience, but it helps build a tighter bond because we’re speaking the same humorous language.

The folks at Grammarly post content on a regular basis tapping into their large base of fans and followers that can relate to funny posts about typos, bad grammar and the like. They also encourage their fans to get in on the act and share post on the Grammarly wall. Here’s a recent example – Check out the wicked engagement it got with over 6K likes and over 2,500 comments!

BR Cohn is a winery in Glen Ellen, CA. They’ve created an Uncorked! board on Pinterest where they share wine-related humor. And Pinterest is a good match for the visual nature of fun-filled posts.


So there you have it, 5 quick and easy tips to get your audience smiling, laughing and engaging with your content. Use these tips to engage with your followers and fans on a level that can make your brand more human and more approachable. We’d love to hear your ideas on what funny things make your audience laugh.

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Pinterest to Send Email When Pins Drop in Price

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 11:46

Pinterest recently announced that it will now send users an email if a product they’ve pinned has dropped in price. According to the social media site, “You don’t have to do anything to get notified. Just keep pinning the things you’re into, and leave the price watching to us. We’ll try to keep your inbox clutter-free by grouping these notifications into a single email, but you can always adjust your settings if you need to.” The company plans to roll this out to users over the next few weeks.

Here’s an example from the Pinterest blog:

image courtesy of Pinterest

This functionality is a smart move for Pinterest, as it not only makes the site more useful for their end users, but will be an added incentive for more businesses to have a presence on the photo-social site. You can learn more about using Pinterest for your biz on their Business Blog and in our How Pinterest Works for Your Business guide.

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Benefits of LinkedIn Sponsored Updates for Small Businesses

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 11:39

Social media’s most professional site is joining the native advertising bandwagon. LinkedIn is rolling out sponsored updates as a way for users to reach an audience beyond their followers. The sponsored updates appear in members’ news feeds much like Facebook’s sponsored posts.

Misty Faucheux, who owns her own online marketing company, says her clients are already asking about the potential of LinkedIn’s new advertising platform.

“My clients are certainly curious,” Faucheux said, who has handled content creation and marketing for top companies like Century Link and Earth Fare. She expects small businesses to reap the rewards of this new feature, too.

LinkedIn’s sponsored updates are easy to use, according to Faucheux. Even people without advertising experience can create a successful sponsored ad.

“Literally anyone can do this,” she said. “You don’t need a design team or an ad agency, you can create a well-worded update that directs viewers to things like new products, upcoming webinars or recently-written white papers.”

LinkedIn members can select the group of people they want to see their sponsored update.

“Small businesses can really zero in on specific groups,” Faucheux says. “Your audience already exists, now with just a few clicks your message will end up on their homepage.”

Since the sponsored updates look just like normal updates, Faucheux says more people are apt to click on them.

“They’re not intrusive like a giant banner,” she says. “Viewers aren’t turned off by these updates, they’re tasteful, and so they’ll get more clicks.”

With 225 million members on LinkedIn, there’s huge potential for marketing success. If the Facebook news feed ads are any indication, this could be a potential boom for businesses looking to gain more followers, says Faucheux.

“The Facebook news feed ads have been providing nearly 50 [times] the clicks than right-hand side ads,” she says. “That can add up fast.”

If you’re looking to give LinkedIn’s updates a try, here’s how to get started:

1. Create a campaign

For starters, you’ll need an advertising account and a LinkedIn company page. Once you sign in, you can hit “Sponsor an update” from your company page. LinkedIn will also offer a list of your recent updates that could be sponsored.

To get the most out of your update, Faucheux says business owners should take some time to write a quality message.

“Remember to follow good content etiquette when creating a post,” Faucheux suggests. “Don’t put spam out there. Create a catchy title and make sure the linked content is of high caliber.”

2. Target your sponsored update

Once you’ve clicked “Sponsor an update,” click “Next” to select who will see your update. You can get as specific as you want. Choose a location, an industry, specific job titles and seniority levels.

“For most advertisers finding the right audience can be tough, but with a few clicks you can introduce a select group of people to your business, brand or product,” says Faucheux.

3. Set a budget

After targeting your message, you’ll need to decide how much money to invest. You can select between cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-impression (CPM). According to LinkedIn’s website, cost-per-impression is ideal for brand-oriented campaigns, while cost-per-click is ideal for performance-based campaigns. You’ll also need to set your budget and the duration of your campaign.

“To start, keep your budget modest and sponsor a few different kinds of updates to see which one has the best response for your business,” Faucheux said. “Don’t be afraid to try something new here, we’re all learning about this platform so there aren’t any right or wrong answers.”

Want more info on LinkedIn for your business? Grab our free guide, 5 Ways to Take Advantage of LinkedIn and Help Your Business Grow

This post contributed by guest author, Lisa Furgison. Furgison is a media maven with ten years of journalism experience and a passion for creating top-notch content.


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How to Go Out on a Vine for Social Media

Tue, 08/06/2013 - 06:00

Add Twitter’s Vine app to the growing list of social media marketing tools that businesses large and small are using to grow their brands. This app allows users to create six-second looping videos to share on social media. And it sure is popular—in April, Vine Creative Director and Co-founder Rus Yusupov tweeted that it had become the most popular app in the iTunes store, and after the video sharing platform became available on Android, MediaBistro reported that Vine had even surpassed Instagram by garnering 2.86 million shares (to Instagram’s 2.17 million.)

But its rising popularity doesn’t necessarily make Vine the best solution for everyone. For starters, businesses that don’t already have a full-fledged website, as well as an active social media presence, may want to work on developing those first, says Stephanie Schwab, CEO and founder of the digital and social media marketing firm Crackerjack Marketing. (Find her posts here.)

“You could have a Vine account on its own, but because the Vine network is still fairly small, I think putting your Vines out on Twitter is probably the best way to get them seen,” Schwab explains.

Posting Vines, as the short videos are known, on Facebook is also an option, but where Vine is likely to fail is as a replacement for these more-established social media networks. If you don’t have the basics in place first, Vine on its own will most likely be ineffective for your social media marketing needs.

The good news is that almost any business can find a way to use Vine, but those that are great at storytelling are the most likely to be successful. Communicating via video works best for brands that have already identified how their story connects with customers. And as always with video or images, visually appealing products or story lines win the day: the challenge is to fit a story into six seconds, say marketing experts, so some creativity is required.

That means moving beyond shooting quickie videos on your iPhone and thinking about who is watching and why. Schwab adds that talking for six seconds isn’t necessarily the best way to use up the entire length of a Vine. “There’s a lot of cool stop-motion, where people take a second or two of film or footage, stop and go somewhere else or do something else. You can put together great little stories that way.”

Schwab is quick to point out that Vine isn’t a one-way channel but can be used to solicit content from your audience, as well. For example, you can encourage your customers to shoot and upload Vines with a hashtag you create for a specific topic or experience. General Electric did that with the hashtag #6secondscience (check out some of the submissions here) and Tropicana did so with the cute #Valenvine hashtag.

All of these efforts share one thing in common, though: they go beyond simply pushing content out to thinking through the creative and participatory aspects of the medium. Like Twitter and Facebook, Vine works best for businesses when they generate real engagement, not just impressions or pageviews. And just like any social media marketing tool, it’s possible to get caught up in metrics and forget about the bottom line: your bottom line. The social media analytics business Simply Measured has a free reporting tool that can show you which Vines are being shared the most, and how the platform compares to other social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube.

However, “measurement is really dependent on the metrics that you can get outside of social,” Schwab points out. “It’s nice to know how many people are following you on Vine or how many likes or comments your Vine got, but it’s not a question of just amassing followers or figuring out who’s liked your Vines. What’s really important is what it’s doing for the rest of your business. For example, are you getting traffic from Vine to your website? Are you getting people coming into your business and saying they saw a Vine? Is that engendering additional loyalty from your customers?” (Home improvement chain Lowe’s series of home improvement tips generated offline loyalty, the whole point.)

Aside from listening closely to customers, Schwab recommends finding ways to directly track Vines back to sales, such as by offering a discount code only through Vine. It can even be used for generating buzz for products: Taco Bell announced their Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos on Vine, and Columbia Records used Vine to show off track titles on Big Time Rush’s new album prior to its release.

Get 4 tips for creating Vine videos here.

This post contributed by guest author, Yael Grauer. Grauer is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and editor. Find her online at 

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Google Says Links in Press Releases Should Be Nofollow

Mon, 08/05/2013 - 13:43

Google recently and quietly announced, (by updating their link schemes), that links contained within a press release for your business should be “nofollow” links. (For more info on what a nofollow is check out this info from Google). Otherwise, your links could be considered a violation of Google’s guidelines, which could negatively impact your site’s ranking. Google’s reasoning: A press release is similar to an advertisement or advertorial for your company.

In an article on Search Engine Roundtable, Barry Schwartz offers advice for press releases, “Press releases are still a great way to promote your services and products. In fact, the links you get indirectly from a press release, i.e. those people who find your press release and then write a story on their own and link to you, do not have to be nofollowed. But the links within press releases should be nofollowed.”

Schwartz interviewed John Mueller from Google and asked why Google decide to make this sudden change. According to Mueller, “SEOs were using these more and more in a way to promote their site [artificially in the Google search results] and Google needed to clarify their stance on them.” Schwartz offered up this final piece of advice as you go forward with press releases for your business, “If you are doing press releases, make sure not to stuff keyword rich anchor text links in those releases. Try to have all links nofollowed but especially any keyword rich anchor text. Do the press releases because the press reads them and they will hopefully pick up on your offering and write about it on their site with links to you that are followed naturally and without pay.”

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3 Simple Mistakes You Might be Making with Email Design

Mon, 08/05/2013 - 06:00

There’s an art to creating an email that your customers will want to open and read. With the ever increasing number of businesses using email marketing, it’s important that your email stands out. And while there are lots of great tips on best email practices, sometimes it’s the little design mistakes that can send your email straight to “unsubscribe prison.” Here are 3 key mistakes to avoid when designing your next email.

1. Hard to read font size, style or color

You want your customers to be able to read your email with ease. Though this seems obvious, it’s important to take into account that many customers are now reading emails on smart phones or tablets; increasing your font size is a good idea, however, you don’t want to get too big. Size 14 for body text tends to be a good rule. Also, keep your fonts simple, consistent and web-safe – not just within a single email, but also in all your follow-up emails. If you choose to use various fonts, stick to two max – one for headlines, the other for the body of your email. And, avoid script-like fonts, as they’re usually harder to read. The goal is for your marketing communications to be recognizable. With font color, avoid color on top of color; keep it simple and dark, such as black or dark grey against a white background. Lighter colors make for tough reading. Save your brighter, richer colors for your call-to-action buttons. Also avoid text on top of a patterned background

2. Complex or confusing images

Compelling imagery is an important aspect to grabbing your readers’ attention, but you don’t want to use an image that’s going to overpower your content or potentially distract or offend your customers. Keep your images simple, relevant and fun. It’s best to use basic, clear images that everyone will immediately associate with your message, and then move on to the content. Avoid images that could be puzzling or confusing. You don’t want your customers to stop and wonder why the image is there or what it means. Also, consider your audience when you’re choosing an image. If the image is referencing something specific, take a minute to make sure the majority of your audience will understand the reference. You’d hate to use an image that unintentionally alienates a potential customer.

3. Inconsistent messaging or templates

You want your emails to have a consistent look, style and voice. If you continually change the tone of voice or personality you use in your messages, the template structure, contact information location, etc. you also run a high risk of confusing customers and possibly having them unsubscribe. Without consistency, loyal customers may receive an email, glance at it, then unsubscribe from your mailing list without realizing it’s one of your emails, simply because it looked, at first glance, nothing like the last several emails they’d received. Certain things should remain the same from email to email. Your contact information should always be easy to find and in the same place. Your color schemes and template design can change somewhat (always make sure to test), but don’t make the change too drastic. Keep recognizable elements in each email and always stick to your company branding, your readers will know it right away. The main things that should change include subject line, headline, body copy and images. The rest should stay fairly the same. Own your style, make it yours and stay consistent.

Keeping these common mistakes in mind the next time you draft a marketing email will help decrease unsubscribes, and increase loyal customers who engage with your content. Oftentimes it’s the simpler emails that get read and the consistent styles that retain readers.

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What’s New Weekly: Starbuck’s WiFi Goes Google and SmugMug [Video]

Sat, 08/03/2013 - 06:00

We’re back with another episode of “What’s New Weekly.” In this episode, we highlight Google’s plans to take over AT&T’s WiFi at Starbucks, plus we share a photo service called SmugMug.

As always, look for a new episode every week.


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The DNA of a Small Business Owner [Infographic]

Fri, 08/02/2013 - 06:00

Most small business owners eat, breathe and live everything about their business on a day-to-day basis. But, does the motivation for being a small business owner come from a deeper place? Maybe even your DNA? Our parent company, Deluxe Corporation recently conducted an interesting study of 1,000 businesses to determine if what it takes to be a small business owner is truly “in your blood.” The results are eye-opening. Check them out in this informative infographic and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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100 Free Search Engine Optimization Tools for Your Biz

Thu, 08/01/2013 - 06:15

We’re big fans of helpful search engine optimization related content and the crew over at Moz (as seen in our recent recap of MozCon). When we laid eyes on their latest post about the Best 100 Free SEO Tools & Resources for Every Challenge, we knew we had to share with you, our VR Marketing Blog readers, pronto!

From tools for content, email, as well as infographics and more, this list has your needs covered from A-Z. So here are 100 Free SEO Tools for Every Challenge from Moz. Simply click the image and you’ll be taken to the tools.

Grab our free Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization for more helpful SEO info and sink your teeth into this tasty infographic.

Got any tools to add to their hyper-extensive list? Share in the comments below!

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