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Saucy Tips to Boost Sales via Pinterest

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 06:00

Lea Richards has a unique title and a unique business. She’s the “Head Hog” at Pig of Month BBQ, an LA and Ohio-based business that ships must-eat barbecue meats to a customer’s door.

The business was inspired by her family’s quest to find the perfect barbecue. After dozens of trips, Richards decided her taste buds were primed to make the best barbecue in her own home. And so, in 2010, she began a barbecue business. With a unique business like this, it’s no wonder Richards turns to Pinterest to boost her sales.

“We chose Pinterest because it has been proven to convert the most people to customers,” she says. “It’s been quite successful for us in terms of conversions and introducing people to our brand.”

Ready to learn how to use Pinterest to boost your sales like Richards? With her help we’ve created some saucy tips to help you reach a bigger audience, showcase your products and sell, baby, sell.

1. Set up a Pinterest Business Account
If you don’t have a business account, you’ll need to create one. Go to Pinterest to get started. This handy guide can help you hit the ground running. 

2. Get Pining 
You’ll want to “pin” images, articles and products to your digital bulletin boards that are relevant to your business. Keep these pins organized, updated and create several different boards. For example, Richards has summer grilling recipes, Pig of the Month products and Labor Day party ideas as a few of her boards. 

Organization is key. Create specific boards and make sure each item you pin makes sense for that particular topic.

3. Install Buttons
To make selling a snap, you’ll want to install several buttons.

Pin it buttonWith this handy button, your customers can pin your images, articles and products to their own board.

Follow button – Just like every other social media site, you want people to follow you. To make that happen, install the “Follow” button on your site.

There are a number of nifty Pinterest tools that you can check out in one of our other popular posts, “Pinterest Tools That Can Help Your Business.”

4. Install Rich Pins
Pinterest has a specific tool to help you sell your products online; it’s called Rich Pins. Right now, there are five kinds of Rich Pins: movie, recipe, article, product and place.

For most small businesses looking to sell items on Pinterest, the product pin is the most important.

With a product pin, your audience can see real time information about a particular product like its price and whether or not it’s in stock. When a customer clicks on it, they are taken straight to a purchase page for that item on your site. Here’s what it looks like:

As a nice bonus, if the price of your product decreases by more than 10 percent, Pinterest will send an automatic email to any customer who pinned your product to let them know about the deal. Cool!

How to set up Rich Pins

While Richards doesn’t use Rich Pins yet, they are a useful tool to increase sales. Setting up Rich Pins does take a little time and some coding experience. To start, visit the Rich Pins site to get the process moving. You’ll need to add certain metatags to your website and then copy your website address into the Pinterest validator to make sure everything is legit. Once that’s done, you’ll need to apply to use the pins. Pinterest will review your site and products and get back to you via email in a few days.

Once Rich Pins are in place, you can start pinning your ready-to-sell products to your boards.

Tips to Make Sales
To get your sales train moving, here are a few tips to maximize sales on Pinterest.

  • Don’t Just Pin Your Products - As with any social media channel, customers don’t want to feel pressured to buy. Your boards should contain a variety of interesting posts and products to purchase. For example, Richards uses a variety of barbecue-related topics. Only one of the boards, the Pig of the Month Product board, showcases items to purchase. The other boards are full of fun and useful ideas that barbecue lovers will enjoy.

  • Pick Killer Images - Pinterest is a visual arena. If you plan to sell products, you need killer images that are vertically shot, Richards says. How can you go wrong with mouth-watering images? If you’re good with a camera, snap away. If you need a little help, it might not be a bad idea to enlist a professional photographer.
  • Pin Business Info - Give your customers a little extra information about you, your company and your products on Pinterest. Richards has a Behind the Scenes board that showcases her employees on the job.

  • Boost Your Following with a Contest
    To make sales, you need an audience. Whether you have five followers or 5,000, you should always work to grow your digital customer base. One way to drum up more fans is to host a contest, Richards says. For example, run a “Pin It to Win It” contest where customers pin their favorite products to their boards. 

Need some other contest ideas? Butterball has a contest going on right now and so does Blue Nile Jewelry. Check them out for a little contest inspiration. Note: Always consult Pinterest for the latest contest rules and terms to ensure you abide by their guidelines. 

Pinterest continues to grow at a rapid pace with more than 70 million pinners worldwide. It has the customer base and the functionality to help you increase your sales. How will you use these saucy tips to fire up your sales? 

Grab our Small Business Guide to Pinterest to get more tips for using Pinterest for your business. 

Score more marketing tips like this by subscribing 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 Saucy Tips to Boost Sales via Pinterest appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Unique Ways to Build Your Email List

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 06:00

Many of you may already be growing your email lists through sign up forms on your website, or printed sign up sheets near your register. You may even ask folks if they want to be added to your email list when you meet them at a trade show or event. So far, so good. But, you might also want to try a few out-of-the-ordinary techniques to entice even more sign ups.

Unique ways to collect email addresses:

Sign up page – Including your sign up form on multiple pages of your website is a must, but having a nicely designed landing page specifically for sign ups is also a nice touch! Don’t know how to create one? Melanie Duncan, owner of Entrepreneuress Academy highly recommends using Leadpages to create opt-in or landing pages to gain sign ups, as it doesn’t require design or coding experience. VerticalResponse also has web hosted sign up forms available. On your landing page, make sure you include a number of reasons as to why someone should sign up for your email list and include some archived emails to give them an understanding of what to expect.

Receipts -  Have you noticed that some stores offer you the option to have your receipt emailed to you? It’s one less thing for customers to keep track of, and as a business owner, you also have the opportunity to capture an email sign up by including a link to your sign up form on the receipt. Big box retailers like Macy’s offer this service, but some local restaurants have also started offering it as well. Here are a few services that provide this technology: Transaction Tree and yReceipts. As an easy solution, you can simply include a link (if it’s too long, use a URL shortener like to your sign up form on all of your printed receipts.

VideosVideos are a great way to show off your products, service or company, give advice, and attract new visitors in various ways. At the end of every video you create, include a slide at the beginning and/or end that contains a URL to your sign up form. On every YouTube video you upload, include a note, box, speech bubble, etc. that includes a link – This can done under “Annotations.” By default, YouTube gives you the option to link to another video, playlist, YouTube channel, or Google+ profile. If you’d like to link to your sign up form or website outside of YouTube, follow these steps. In your video, ask people to subscribe to your channel and include a link to your sign up form on your YouTube page. Also, create a specific video about why your mailing list should be the list someone signs up for.

Email signature – Think about how many emails you send on a daily basis, and how many different people you interact with in those emails. Including a link to your sign up form in your personal email signature is an easy way to get the word out there to each and every one of those people, and on a consistent basis.

Pinterest – With 70 million+ users, Pinterest can help you attract new subscribers faster than you can bake a batch of brownies from a recipe found on the popular social network. Due to the visual nature of Pinterest, it’s a great place to attract potential subscribers with an enticing Pin, which then leads to your sign up form. We crafted an entire post all about how you can grow your email list using Pinterest

Social media profile – Your social media pages may include links to your sign up form, but do you also have it in your profile? All social accounts have a profile or “about” section, so make sure you include a sign up link to your email list along with what value people will get for joining it. And for an added boost, include a link in your personal social accounts and spread the word about your business. Just make it clear the sign up is for your business, so you don’t cause any confusion.

Transactional emails – If you send transactional emails like order information, receipts or shipping updates, include a link to your email sign up. 

Use a smart phone/tablet at events – While a sign up form is great, what happens when you’re out in the real world? This is where smart phones or tablets come in! If you attend networking events, trade shows or conferences, use a smart phone or tablet to collect email addresses, with permission of course. This way, you can easily walk around and mingle with people, yet still collect email sign ups. Instead of collecting a business card, get an email sign up right then and there.

Unique ways to promote your email sign up form:

Alert social followers to special email deals – Before you hit send on your email, share something about the email and entice social followers (as seen in the Punk Domestics example below). Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are good places to start with this kind of teaser. Let people know what they’re missing out on by not receiving your email. A couple of days before Punk Domestics send out their email, they post a link for people to sign up.

Share after the email is sent – After you’ve sent your email, let your social followers know and write a “Did you miss our email?” post. Similar to the previous suggestion, share something that only subscribers can get by signing up for the email list.

Additional tips:

Make it easy to sign up!Using a sign up form is the best way to grow your email list, but make sure it’s easy to find and use. Don’t ask for too much information, or you’ll actually discourage sign ups. Instead, ask for an email address and maybe a first name. You can always ask for more info later if you need it. Make your sign up form easy to find by placing it prominently on each page of your website.

Send great content  – One of the easiest ways to quickly grow your email list is by creating and sending helpful content. People who already read your email are more likely to share with others if your content is on the mark. Make sure it’s relevant to your readers by segmenting your email lists to accommodate different interests your customers may have.

Survey readers – Survey your current email subscribers about what they like best about your emails, or what made them sign up in the first place. Use that data to create more effective email content and up front value propositions to join your list. 

Get more ways to grow your email list in our How to Build Your Email List guide.

VerticalResponse can help you keep your customers coming back again and again. Get started today! 

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

The post Unique Ways to Build Your Email List appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Are You Guilty of These Marketing Word Crimes?

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 06:00

We’ve all done it. In an effort to craft a quick email, we commit a marketing word crime. You know what we’re talking about. From using trendy words like “epic” too often or writing redundant phrases like “extra bonus” – we’ve all innocently broken a marketing law or two.

This post was inspired by a song released by Weird Al Yankovic called “Word Crimes,” which pokes fun at the many grammatical errors we all commit. so we created a list of word crimes you should try to avoid. 

1. Check out these epic styles

Sound the alarms. We’re declaring the use of the word “epic” illegal. We know it’s trendy and all the lots of us are saying it, but there comes a time when a word can get over-used and played out. Have you noticed how “epic” everything is?

“Millions of un-epic things are now being described as epic,” says Peter Dawyot, managing director of Publicus Community, a marketing and advertising agency. Take this shoe sale, for example. Apparently, it’s epic.

The next time your fingers type this word, try another and let this word rest in epic peace.

2. Get a free gift
If you give a gift, would you expect the recipient to pay for it? Of course not. Gifts are free, so there is no need to say “free gift.” It’s redundant, Dawyot says.

Have you committed this word crime before? No worries. Plenty of big brands use it; just look at the example below:

3. Preview our new arrivals in advance
A lot of businesses try to build hype around a new product. We get it. You want people excited and ready to buy. There’s nothing wrong with sending an email to prime your recipients about something new, but before you break out the pom-poms and rev up the email band, make sure you don’t repeat yourself.

Refrain from saying “advanced preview” or “preview our new arrivals in advance.” A preview, by definition, takes place in advance of an event. Instead, say something like “Check out our new fall purses before they go on sale.”

4. Get a sneak peak of our summer sale
Can anyone spot the marketing crime in the statement above? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Peak is spelled wrong. A peak is a mountaintop, not a secret look at something. You want to use the phrase “sneak peek.” Don’t worry; if you’ve committed this crime, we won’t slap the handcuffs on you just yet, even veteran journalists sometimes get it wrong. 

5. Come to our 1st annual event
Here’s a question for you, how can you have a first annual event if it’s never happened before? Even though you plan to have this event annually, you can’t break out that term until the event has actually taken place.

“The phrase seems correct when you first read it, but it doesn’t make sense,” Dawyot says. Try using words like “inaugural” or “launch” in place of annual.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our 1st annual list of epic marketing crimes. To those who read this article, please consider it our free gift to you. Next time we create a list of this nature, we’ll be sure to offer you a sneak peak or a preview in advance so you can contribute to our growing list of marketing crimes.

Ready to whip up your next email? Get started 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 Are You Guilty of These Marketing Word Crimes? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

8 Tips to Cultivating a Successful API Program

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 10:28

Last week, we attended Apigee’s ‘I Love APIs’ conference at Fort Mason here in San Francisco. ‘I Love APIs’ is Apigee’s annual API (application programming interface) conference full of informative keynotes, workshops, and many opportunities to network with the API and developer community.

One of the most valuable sessions we attended focused on internal, partner, and developer programs. Leading the session was Michael Leppitsch, Head of Digital Transformation Strategies at Apigee. The panel consisted of Adam Fitzgerald, Amazon Web Services’ Developer Marketing Head, Matt Makai, Developer Evangelist for Twilio, Kay Lummitsch, Developer Evangelist for Swisscom, and Joe Rago, Senior Product Manager for Walgreens.

Below are some highlights from the talk, and some of the useful tips they shared for creating and managing both a successful internal and external developer program:

1. Segment Your Developer Community: It’s important to segment your developer community, both internally and externally, to appeal to their different motivations and generate faith in the API. For external developers, trust is key. You want to build trust with external developers so they believe in the quality of your API and its ability to solve their problems and address their development needs. This can be achieved not only through quality support and collaborative development, but also in the general way in which your API is built. Internally you still want to treat your developers as if they were external partners. Cater to and appeal to their unique motivations in the same way. Events such as internal hackathons and API “kitchens” can help your internal developers buy into the program.

2. Build and Consume: When it comes to your internal API development, you want to make sure you’re doing just as much consuming as you are building. Your developers should be using the APIs as much as they’re developing them. It’s important for your dev team to see what an external developer’s experience will be when using your API. Knowing what that experience is will help your support and outreach efforts as you work to inspire and equip your external developers through faith-building and education.

3. Develop for Everyone: Adam Fuchs of AWS (Amazon Web Services) made note that he doesn’t make any distinction between internal and external developers, as you need to build your APIs for both audiences. No group should get preferential treatment, and you should use what your customers will use. This helps inspire quality in the APIs you build. Your API is your contract with the customer. It’s imperative to listen to customer requests and feedback and allow that to drive development. Treat your developer community as a democracy, and get your internal developers in front of the external ones to create a powerful relationship that can pay huge dividends as your program grows.

4. Allow for Easy Access: Self-service API keys are essential. You must have a low barrier entry to your API. Once developers have access, use forums or applications such as Basecamp to guide conversations. Partner with your external developers through their development process. Look to your developers for guidance: track GitHub activity, Stack Overflow, blogs, and forums for feedback and issues. A free tier to access your API is also crucial. Let developers learn and test your API without having to absorb a cost.

6. Engage the Community: Have a hands-on approach to your platform and interacting with the dev community. Attend meetups and hackathons, and send your developers to them as well. Make sure your documentation and support channels are well-indexed in search engines and keep the dev community engaged. API walkthroughs, reference guides, and white papers are all ways to do this. Twitter is also a great way to reach the community.

7. Know Your KPIs: Make sure you’re measuring your successes in the right ways. Develop the KPIs around your program, and reevaluate them constantly. For example, it’s not enough to just measure call volumes, but you must tie those volumes to billing metrics and overhead. What did it cost to execute on that volume? What portion of the calls to your API are actually making an impact on revenue?

8. Cultivate an API Ecosystem: It is important to build an API ecosystem and not just a sales channel. Rather than simply touting your platform and selling the API, become a respected and trusted agent in the developer and API community by supporting and contributing to it. When external developers have success with your API, let the world know! Every developer learning and using your API is making an investment in it. If it doesn’t work well, they will abandon it. Respect that investment and recognize that your developers are the key to your program’s success.

Have any tips to add? Share in the comments.

Build big apps for small businesses with the VerticalResponse API

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

The post 8 Tips to Cultivating a Successful API Program appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 SEO Link-Building Changes You Need to Know

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 06:00

Search engine optimization (SEO) is constantly evolving, and unless you work in the industry, it can be hard to keep track of all of the changes. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. If you’re trying to figure out how to keep abreast of – and navigate – SEO changes, read on.

1. Willy-nilly link-building is no longer effective
Back when people were first trying to determine the best way to draw traffic to their sites, they’d try to rack up as many links as possible. Some small business owners would pay to be listed on obscure directories, and others would even pay for links on sites that weren’t widely visited in an attempt to game search engines into thinking their site was more widely valuable than it actually was.

But things have changed since then, as Google and other search engines have become wise to these tricks and set up checks and balances to negate the effects of them – all in order to create a better experience for real people looking for information online.

Old school SEO agencies used to charge hefty fees in exchange for a large quantity of links built each week, and small businesses would try to replicate these results on their own. This may have been effective several years ago, but these days engaging in this strategy is likely to find you serving time in the Google penalty box.

Instead of focusing on quantity, work on quality, recommends our SEO Manager, Chipper Nicodemus. That means that the sites linking to you are ones you’d be proud of being associated with. You also want to make sure your links are highly relevant to your industry. So if you’re trying to build links for your coffee shop, for example, your coffee bean distributor may be a good source. A curated list of top local coffee shops in a credible food blog would also be a good bet.

2. Guest blogging is dead
When I first started doing SEO writing in 2009, I often got paid to write guest posts for blogs in exchange for – you guessed it – a link to the site that paid me. Guest posting was considered an effective way to build links.

But Google is less forgiving than it used to be, and has really cracked down on this practice if it’s done specifically for SEO purposes. As Nicodemus explained in a recent post, guest blogging doesn’t give you the results that it used to. Instead, he recommends spending the same time and energy you would’ve spent on guest blog posts to create engaging and relevant YouTube videos, become a valued member of online communities, or create great content for your own blog. This may mean your posts get shared in resource directories, but the process will be organic and, ultimately, more effective.

3. The changes keep coming
It can be a full-time job to stay up-to-date on search engine optimization, and the speed in which updates are made is dizzying. Luckily, the VerticalResponse team works hard to do the heavy lifting for you right on this very blog. “We make it easy for you by sifting through all rumors and only writing on actual topics that Google has said they’ve updated,” says Nicodemus. Finding just a handful of blogs to help you break down the details into actionable steps can be incredibly helpful.

4. Social media is more important than ever
Obsessing over the specific number of links you’ve built is out. Focusing on the actual effects of it – by paying attention to referral traffic, for example – is far more effective. Nicodemus believes that tweeting and sharing information about events at a local store, for example, is similar to link building in that it draws attention to your site and business.

Will search engines take notice? It’s not likely. Although Bing uses social signals as part of its algorithm, few people use Bing as a search engine. Google says it looks into social signals, but doesn’t take them into account in search rankings, Nicodemus explains. Google does have tools in place, though, to determine whether a tweet is widely shared.

Your Turn
What strategies have you tried that used to be effective but no longer work for you and your business? Is there anything that’s working for you now that didn’t work in the past? Share your stories 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 4 SEO Link-Building Changes You Need to Know appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Sharing Isn’t Always Caring – People Don’t Read What They Share Online

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 06:00

This blog post is off to a good start because you’re currently reading it. Many folks may have already liked it, tweeted it and shared it with their social networks without even reading the first sentence. Shocked? It’s more common than you might think. You may have even done it yourself.

If you have a blog or site that you regularly update with quality content, you probably look at a number of metrics to measure success including unique visits, time spent on page and of course, social sharing. Many blogs and sites feature social sharing icons prominently to encourage the behavior of sharing, and some include counters to display how many times that post or article has been shared. While studies have shown that sharing content via social carries the same weight as an in-person recommendation, it may be surprising to learn that many people are sharing content without ever even reading it. 

Here are a few examples of common social sharing widgets, as seen on VerticalResponse, Business 2 Community and Mashable:

Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, a company that measures real-time traffic, blew the roof off this topic earlier this year when he tweeted, “…We’ve found effectively no correlation between social shares and people actually reading.” At VerticalResponse, we experience this for ourselves, as many of our blog posts garner engagement on social in the form of likes, tweets and shares, but when we dig into how many people actually click on the post, the numbers don’t match up; effectively proving that people are engaging with our content without reading it. You can see in the following example that only about half of the people who liked the post actually clicked on it. 

Facebook Post Engagement Stats

Why Do People Share?
So why would people share content that they’ve either never read, or have just merely skimmed? It’s a question that the folks at The New York Times were interested in as well. So interested in fact, that they partnered with Latitude Research to do a study called The Psychology Of Sharing: Why Do People Share Online? The study had three phases including in-person interviews, a one-week sharing panel and a survey of 2,500 medium/heavy online sharers and explored the motivations behind why people share.

The study revealed that sharing is not new, it’s just evolved from face-to-face and verbal sharing, to information age sharing with more up-to-the-minute information via Twitter, Facebook, Instant Messenger, texts and email. And according to the study, people who are sharing are doing it for different reasons:

  1. To bring valuable and entertaining content to others – 94 percent of shares responded that they carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to the recipient. 
  2. To define ourselves to others – 68 percent share to give a better sense of who they are and what they care about. 
  3. To grow and nourish relationships – 78 percent share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  4. Self-fulfillment – 69 percent share information because it allows them to feel more involved with the world
  5. To get the word out about causes and brands – 84 percent share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about.

How to Get Your Content Shared and Read
With so much content being produced and shared every minute of every day, how do you get yours to stand out and get read? A few simple factors can help including the following:

  1. Appeal to people’s desire to connect with each other, not just your brand or cause. Look at the recent Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS. Friends and family could nominate each other (making it about each other and the cause) via social media to take the challenge and raise awareness. It went viral and you were hard pressed to find someone in your network that hadn’t taken the challenge or made a donation. 
  2. Establish trust: How can you expect people to read and share your content if they don’t know who you are or what you represent? If you want to become a thought leader in your industry or field, you need to nurture a loyal following by producing relevant, reliable information that is valuable for your intended audience. You can’t be credible if you publish inaccurate posts that are totally self-serving. Helping, not selling, has become the mantra of content marketers far and wide. 
  3. Keep it simple: “One Simple Story” is a method many marketers practice and for good reason. By clearing away distractions and unnecessary fluff, your content won’t get muddled and your reader will better understand and connect with your intention.

You’ve made it to the end of this post! Now you can share away knowing you’ve read it top to bottom!

Do you share content without reading it entirely? Tells us why in the comments.

Get more marketing news, tips and tactics in the Weekly 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 Sharing Isn’t Always Caring – People Don’t Read What They Share Online appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 Cool Employee Contests to Help Boost Sales

Mon, 09/15/2014 - 06:00

Remember back in high school when there was a pep rally before the big game? The whole school turned out to show their team spirit and support for the team. What if you could pump that kind of enthusiasm into your business to boost sales? We can help you do just that, and you don’t even need a marching band. All you need is a little healthy competition.

We’re sharing four contests that we think will help get your employees, including sales and non-sales staff, excited about their jobs while sparking some team spirit to light up your sales scoreboard.

1. Women vs. men
To inspire your team to boost sales, consider a women versus men competition. Break your staff into small groups of gals and guys and set sales rules. For example, the team who brings in the most new revenue in a month wins. You can have non-sales staff participate, too. They can always suggest new clients for the sales staff to approach. The team that pulls in the highest new revenue at the end of 30 days gets to take an additional day off over a holiday weekend, or a reward that’s appropriate for your business. 

Gio Pascucci, who handles marketing and business development for Premier Trust, has participated in a contest just like this.

“Men against women can lead to some great wars,” he says. “It’s amazing how a little team competition can spark sales.”

2. Customer revival
Every sales crew has a list of inactive clients. For whatever reason, the client decided to take a break and isn’t buying from you at the moment. Well, this contest is designed to turn that list of inactive customers into active ones yet again, Pascucci says. Over the course of two months, see which sales person can revive the most inactive clients. The winner gets a reward like a cash bonus or tickets to an event of their choice. 

3. New customer pitch
For this competition, you’ll split your staff into small teams and ask them to come up with a creative pitch to bring on a new, high-end client. This contest should include all staff members. From administrative assistants to accountants, bringing in non-sales staff is a great way to break out of the typical sales pitch rut.

Have the boss create a list of dream clients and give one name to each team. Give each team time to work on these pitches during work over the course of a week or so. Clear everyone’s schedule on a Friday and have each team give their sales presentation as if they were giving it to the client.

Have a panel of judges that offer immediate feedback and score each presentation. Give a prize to the top two presentations, and then work with those teams to refine the pitches and allow them to actually go pitch the client.

4. Team trip
Does your company have offices in various locations? If so, consider hosting a competition between offices. Over the course of one month, see which office can make the biggest increase in sales.

Keep a dry erase board in the office with the competitors total to keep everyone focused on the goal.

We’ve hosted competitions like this in our own organization, with the winning office receiving a foosball table. Fun!

Have you had success with a sales contest? Share it in the comment section below.

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get 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 4 Cool Employee Contests to Help Boost Sales appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Facebook Boosted Posts: 3 Ways to Target Your Audience

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 06:00

You may have noticed that getting organic engagement (unpaid) via your Facebook page isn’t as easy as it used to be. When Facebook made their latest algorithm change, they did so with the intention of encouraging businesses to boost or pay for posts to gain more visibility. If you want your Facebook posts to be seen these days, boosting them may be your best bet. Now, Facebook allows you to garner more engagement with your boosted posts by providing three audience targeting options. Here’s a breakdown of all three options:

Originally, you could only boost a post and push it to people who like your page and their friends. This option is still available and can be effective for content specific to your business. But, this option has been joined by two additional and powerful options that can get your content seen by people who may be unfamiliar with your business:

  • People you choose through targeting
  • People similar to people who like your Page

New option: People you choose through targeting

The targeting option is very similar to Facebook’s traditional banner and news feed advertising. You can choose the people you want to show your boosted post to based on their location, age, gender and interests. You can also create a specific name for this audience and use it in the future if you write about similar subject matters. This has been very beneficial for the team here at VerticalResponse, as we tend to write about similar subjects on a consistent basis.

New option: People similar to people who like your Page

More recently, Facebook introduced the option to target people similar to people who already like your page. If you choose this option, your boosted post will be visible to those who fall into this category based on things like their demographics, interests and activities.

Which option is best? 

Each situation is unique, but here are some guidelines based on our own experience:

If you’re boosting a post that’s very specific to your product or service, like an update about your product, it’s probably best to focus on people who are already familiar with your company – choosing “people who like your page and their friends” may be your best option in this case.

If you’re talking about your company on a broader scale and trying to get more new customers, then you may want to focus on “people similar to people who like your page.” This way, you know they have similar characteristics to your existing audience, but they may be unfamiliar with your products or services. You can also choose “people through targeting,” but it may be more challenging to find interests that match your business’ offering.

We also use the targeting option when we’re writing about very specific subjects outside of our own direct services (email marketing) such as SEO, social media and advertising.

Have you used either of these additional audience targeting options? We’d love to learn what’s working for your business.

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

The post Facebook Boosted Posts: 3 Ways to Target Your Audience appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

New Changes Coming to Google Adwords

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 06:00

Just as the seasons are changing, Google Adwords is changing, too. This month, Google Adwords is rolling out some new and exciting changes. Below is a recap to get you up to speed.

Upgraded Campaigns for Search Network and Display

A big update comes in the way of forced, “upgraded” campaigns for Search Network and Display Select. Starting September 16th, Google will be upgrading all Search Network and Display campaigns to this new enhanced “Select” version. According to Google, the basic difference between the regular and the “Select” version is that when “compared with the existing “Search & Display Network” campaigns, “Search Network with Display Select” uses new methods to determine when and where your ads are likely to perform best on the Display Network, setting a higher bar for when to show them. That means your ads will be shown to a smaller number of potential customers who are most likely to be interested in the products and services you’re advertising.” Google claims that many customers who have upgraded have already seen higher Click-Through-Rates (CTRs) and lower Cost-Per-Acquisition (CPAs). Read more about the changes here, and how you can set up your campaigns in time for the upgrade. 

Google Announces Changes to Exact Match

Google has also announced that coming in late September, campaigns will now include close and variant matches, previously only “exact” keyword matches were offered. Currently, you can choose to opt out of variant matches, but that will no longer be the case after this change. For those who aren’t familiar, close variants include misspellings and other close iterations of your selected keyword or phrase. For most advertisers it shouldn’t be too big of a change but it’s still important because you’re losing some ability to control keyword targeting for your campaigns. It’s also good to know because you may start to see a larger influx of traffic coming from your exact match keywords. Additionally, because slight variations of words can have very different meanings and can signal different intent, advertisers may see a rise in marketing costs. To get your campaigns prepared, revisit your negative keyword list and see if things need to be added in order to maintain more search query control. Here’s additional background information and steps you can take to get your account ready for the change.

Google Introduces Website Call Conversions

One of our new favorite changes was announced back in mid August when Google unveiled a new conversion type that uses Google forwarding numbers to track calls generated from a website. In other words, Google can now track calls from users after they visited your website from an ad click and recognize it as a conversion. This is especially helpful for advertisers currently using the click to call extensions in their ads.

By simply adding a little bit of code to your website, Google will add a Google forwarding number to your site which will keep track of the calls. You can determine what’s considered a conversion by selecting how long the duration of the phone call must be in order to be considered a “conversion.” You’ll also now be able to use flexible bid strategies in conjunction with the call tracking. Check out Search Engine Land and the Adwords Blog to learn more.

There are many exciting things coming from Google Adwords that will ultimately expand and broaden advertisers’ overall marketing reach, while helping you keep better track of your ad spend and conversions. It’s important to stay on top of these new changes before they become automatic. Visit our SEM blog category to stay on top of the newest trends, as well as gain additional information.

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

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VR Customer Spotlight: The Epicurean Connection

Wed, 09/10/2014 - 06:00

The Epicurean Connection, located in the heart of Sonoma, Calif., has all the ingredients for a good time. The spacious café attracts both locals and visitors stopping by on their way to or from the many famous wineries in Sonoma wine country.

But the Epicurean Connection is more than just a resting stop – it’s a specialty foods purveyor, cheese shop, and beer and wine bar specializing in artisanal, locally produced products. From gourmet jams and hard-to-find olive oils to house-made pasta sauces, the shop is a foodie’s dream. Owner and caterer Sheana Davis, who has supported the artisan and farmstead cheese movement for more than 20 years, also holds regular events at the Epicurean Connection, including “meet the cheese maker” days, live music nights and cheese-making classes.

A happy VerticalResponse customer since 2010, Sheana relies on email marketing to promote her many events and any distinctive new products she carries at the shop. The Epicurean Connection also maintains a very active social media presence, with daily updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Sheana recently took a few minutes out of her busy day to share some insights into her thriving small biz. (Check out the video below!)

  • When did you launch your company? I started my catering business in 1992, and opened the retail shop in 2001.
  • How many employees do you have? Six part-time.
  • What types of marketing do you do? E-newsletter, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We also run print ads in four magazines and head up the annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference.
  • How did you hear about VR? We signed up after the New York Fancy Food Show presentation in 2010.
  • What do you like best about VR? The consistency!
  • What is your schedule for a typical day, including any non-work activities? Up around 6 a.m., no Facebook or email at home. Head to work at 9 a.m. – shop, catering, cheese, office – and hope to be off by 5 p.m. Some nights we have to bartend at the wine bar from 8 to 10 p.m.
  • What is the best thing about owning a small business? Building your dream.
  • What is the biggest challenge for you as a small business owner? Some of the long days.
  • If there were one magical power you could have, what would it be? Duplicate my skills to a manager within the shop.
  • What’s one piece of marketing advice you’d give to another small business that’s just starting out? Be part of your community. Volunteer, donate and be present. In general: Be positive even through hard times.

© 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 VR Customer Spotlight: The Epicurean Connection appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Apple Debuts Two New iPhones, Unveils the Apple Watch, iOS8 and ApplePay

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 17:07

Apple’s at it again. In the weeks leading up to the big announcement event this morning, several speculations circulated regarding Apple’s new debuts. Today, most of those rumors were confirmed.

Instead of geeking out on specs of each new product, we’ve created a recap of the big picture to get you up to speed. We’ve also included images to give you a good visual of what these new products look like. Let’s jump in:

The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

(Picture courtesy of Apple)

The latest iPhone additions (6 and 6 Plus) are the most advanced in the line. The major difference is screen size. The iPhone 6 has a screen size of 4.7″ and the iPhone 6 Plus comes in at a whopping 5.5″ – the biggest iPhone yet. This puts iPhone in the same league size-wise as some of the larger Samsung phones.

(Picture courtesy of Mashable)

Other features/improvements found on the new iPhones include:

  • New A8 processor chip, which Apple says is up to 50 times faster than the original iPhone
  • Longer battery life
  • More than 200 LTE networks world-wide
  • Built-in Wi-Fi calling that will hand off calls from Wi-Fi to cellular network and back while on the same call
  • A new technology called “Focus Pixels,” which will allow the 8-megapixel camera to focus almost twice as fast
  • Super slow motion video that can be taken at 240 frames per second

When and How Much?

In the US, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will go on sale September 19 with pre-orders starting September 12th. The iPhone 6 prices will be $199 for a 16GB model, $299 for 64GB and $399 for 128GB (all with a two-year contract from your service provider). The iPhone 6 Plus will be $100 more for each model under the same two-year contract. Both phones will come in Apple’s now standard gold, white and space gray.

The Apple Watch

(Picture courtesy of Apple)

The Apple Watch has been, by far, the most speculated gadget, as patent documents filed by Apple have been floating around for years (and it’s pretty darn cool). However, all this cool new technology won’t be available until sometime in 2015, and you’re required to have an iPhone 5 or newer.

At a whopping $349 per watch, you’d expect a ton of features, and you’d be right. Even Apple CEO, Tim Cook, said there were too many features to cover in the lengthy presentation. Once again, we’ll focus on the top-level features which include:

  • A sapphire display with 11 watch faces that include traditional analog options, a contemporary sundial and an interactive, real-time 3D model of the earth, sun, moon and planets – Some faces are highly customizable
  • Four sensors on the back that connect with new fitness and workout apps – sensors monitor and measure your movement and heart rate
  • Near field communications or NFC that will work hand-in-hand with ApplePay (see below)
  • A choice of six straps that use a proprietary connecting mechanism
  • Accuracy to 50ms


The overhauled and updated mobile operating system that was announced at WWDC earlier this summer will finally be available to download starting on Wednesday, Sept. 17. iOS 8 will work with all 4S iPhones and newer, second-generation iPad and newer (including both the iPad mini and iPad mini with Retina display) and the fifth-generation iPod Touch. Apple’s new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will come loaded with iOS8 when they begin to ship on Sept. 19.

(Picture courtesy of Apple)


Apple is finally integrating near field communications or NFC into the latest iPhones, as well as the Apple Watch. This short-range wireless technology has been touted as the answer to the archaic card reader system that we have known for years. With this NFC technology integrated into their products, Apple is now jumping into the payments business with the introduction of a new digital wallet called ApplePay.

To make sure this new initiative gets off the ground quickly, Apple is partnering with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express along with several issuing banks to allow iPhone users to securely store their credit card accounts on their phones. Apple Pay will be available in 220,000 US merchant locations that already take mobile payments via the NFC’s short range, secure wireless capabilities. Apple is also working with high-profile retailers, including Macy’s, Walgreens, Staples, Subway, McDonald’s, Disney, and Whole Foods, among others to bring Apple Pay to physical store locations everywhere. This might have a huge impact on the more that $12 billion in credit and debit card transactions that take place each and every day.

(Picture courtesy of Apple)

There you have it – A brief recap of the news of the day, which belongs to Apple. Are you excited about these new releases? What do you think of the new iPhone screen sizes? Would you buy and/or wear an Apple Watch? Let us know below if you’re going to purchase any of these products once they’re available, especially the Apple Watch!

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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 Apple Debuts Two New iPhones, Unveils the Apple Watch, iOS8 and ApplePay appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

Backlinks: Why They Still Matter and How to Build Them

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 06:11

Links are still the backbone of Google’s algorithms, which determine where your site ranks in Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages). This is why having quality links pointing to your site can help you gain more visitors organically versus relying on paid efforts.

A backlink, also known as an inbound link or just a link, is an incoming link from another website or page that directs or points back to your own site or page. Unfortunately, too many bad backlinks can get your site in big trouble with Google in the form of a penalty. It can be hard to know what constitutes a good link versus a link that could spell trouble for your site. Google is the final judge of your backlinks and you have to play by their rules.

Today, we break down what natural backlinks are, why you need them, and how to gain them while staying within Google’s guidelines. Before we discuss natural backlinks, it’s a good idea to explain how links have evolved over the years. Here’s a brief history of links:

Wild West Times (pre 2012): This was a wild time for SEO, when nearly any tactic was fair game and Google didn’t enforce many of their regulations. Only the most flagrant of practices would get you penalized by Google. Reciprocal linking, directories, link farms and three-way linking were just some of the tactics used with reckless abandon and they worked.

Companies charged money to provide a link from their low ranking site, and people would pay for these types of links. It also was very common for sites to have a “reciprocal links” page where they would make trades with other sites for links. These linking relationships provided very little value to Google and searchers, so Google eventually stepped up their enforcement and changed their algorithms to provide a better search experience. Google’s biggest weapon in the battle against bad backlinks came in the form of the Penguin Algorithm in April of 2012

Relationships & Quality Links (post Penguin): After the Penguin update leveled many sites that were playing cowboys in the “wild west days of SEO,” most people changed their way of thinking. The painful realization (for some) that these tactics were no longer beneficial for clients and companies provided a much needed reality check to the SEO industry. There has been a shift from trying to get as many links as possible, to getting higher quality links. 

What is a natural link? 

A natural link isn’t something you ask for, especially for SEO purposes. A natural link is earned because someone finds value in your site, page, products or content. Gone are the days of reaching out to webmasters asking for a link back because it’ll help your SEO efforts. If you think about the movie, Field of Dreams and the famous scene in which Kevin Costner is told “if you build it, he will come,” that’s how you should think about obtaining natural links. If you build it (content), he (links) will come. It’s a simple concept, but one that helps illustrate why you need quality links.

Why do you want links?

Backlinks still signal to Google that sites are relevant and are going to be useful for searchers. It was only a few months ago that Google’s Matt Cutts said “links still have many, many years left in them.” So for a long-term SEO strategy, link building is a good idea. The more good quality, natural links you have, the better your rankings in Google can be. Just keep in mind, if you’re going to build links, ensure they’re quality.

How to build quality links

As we outlined above, the “Wild West Times of SEO” are long gone, and link building is no longer fast and furious. The new buzz word/phrase to remember is “link earning,” which means earning links over time. Producing great content is a foolproof way to build natural links. Examples include in-depth, well researched blog posts, informative videos, which entice people to subscribe to your YouTube channel, and images that make people want to pin, tweet and Like their hearts out. You want to produce content that people will love to share and link back to.

Here are some small businesses that are nailing it on the link building front (and they probably don’t even realize it): 

Stumptown: We really love coffee in San Francisco and Stumptown out of Portland, Oregon is among our favorites. Stumptown Coffee often writes blog posts and links back to various coffee shops that use their beans and cold brews – Talk about a link with some juice java! Here’s a perfect example below in which Stumpton writes about Ace Hotel in LA. Not only does Ace Hotel get a link from Stumptown, but they also gain exposure to a new audience. 

Taylor Stitch: Looking like a million bucks isn’t hard with some handsome threads from Taylor Stitch. Their blog features stunning real world product photos, weekend plans, and even a weekly playlist. All of these features are ripe for linking, Pinning, Liking and more. Each new product they release gets its own blog post with 8-10 beautifully shot photos, which are always hot on Pinterest, and often get write ups on fashion blogs and even GQ – Now that’s a good looking link!

Off the Grid: This San Francisco food truck gathering is always the talk of the office come Monday morning. Maybe it’s the Bloody Mary cart, Mimosa bar or the tofu tacos, but Off the Grid is the place to be for Sunday Funday. You want a link from Off the Grid? Better fire up your food truck, because they are more than happy to link to your site, menus and everything else if you serve food or drinks at their events. They even include a link to book your truck for catering. Now wouldn’t that be a tasty link to get?


If you have some good examples of how you gain quality links, please share in the comments. We also recommend keeping up with Google’s ever-changing rules. Luckily, Google is kind enough to provide a rule book of sorts called Google Webmaster Guidelines, so keep it bookmarked.

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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 Backlinks: Why They Still Matter and How to Build Them appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

4 Motivational Melodies to Help You Communicate on Social Media

Mon, 09/08/2014 - 06:11

Decades ago, Marvin Gaye crooned about hearing news through the grapevine. This 1968 hit was around long before the likes of social media, but let’s be honest – social media is the digital grapevine of our time.

Drawing on the inspiration of singers like Gaye, we’ve created a musically inspired list of tips to help you communicate on social media. After all, social media is about more than status updates, hashtags and selfies. It’s about having a conversation with new and loyal customers. Not to mention, it’s a great way to show off your customer service skills. Here’s how to improve your social media skills:

1. Don’t just “Shout it Out Loud”
KISS is a big fan of shouting, but shouting is just a loud, one-sided conversation. You don’t want that on your social media feeds. Make sure your posts do more than just tell customers something. If that’s all you do, it’s very one-sided. Mix up the kinds of posts you share, including product or service updates, but be sure you’re engaged in the conversation by answering questions or comments.

Sure, you should let customers know about an upcoming sale or tell subscribers about a new service that you’re about to add, but make sure these informational posts aren’t the only think you’re posting. What else should you post? Bonnie Raitt has a few ideas.

2. “Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About”
Raitt’s got the right idea. When it comes to posting messages on social media, try to give people something to talk about.

“Questions are great conversation starters,” Derek Overbey, our Senior Social Media Manager says. “They can be general life questions or more business-focused, depending on your type of company.”

Take a look at the example below from the San Francisco Ballet, which garnered 40+ comments:

Other types of content like humorous photos, memes and videos can also spark conversation.

3. Be sure to “Answer Me”
Nat King Cole wanted an answer, and so do your social media followers. When a customer responds to a question, asks a question, retweets something you posted, comments on a photo, or signs up for a social contest, respond in a timely manner.

“If someone takes the time to like, comment or share, you should do everything in your power to publicly thank them for that effort,” Overbey says.

“This will help you build a tighter relationship and can go a long way to building a team of advocates that can spread the word about your company,” he adds.

Monitor your social channels often to keep the conversation going.

4. You should “Talk The Talk”
You know your product or service inside and out. Share that knowledge to help your customers use your product or service better. In other words, “Talk the Talk” as Mr. Mister’s 80s song title suggests.

For example, if you own a photography business, share a link to help your customers care for their camera after taking pictures in bad weather.

Make sure the article is written in a conversational tone, avoid sales pitches, and offer your customers value. It should be information that helps your customer in some way. Take this tweet for example. We offer some creative help for our customers. 

The bottom line:  Make sure you post engaging content, respond to comments and work to have a two-way conversation with your followers. If you do this, they’ll “Thank You for Being a Friend.”

Have another suggestion? Please share it. We can all improve “With a Little Help From Our Friends.”

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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 Motivational Melodies to Help You Communicate on Social Media appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

How to Prep Your Business Now for the Holiday Season

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 06:00

For many small businesses, the holiday season accounts for a large percentage of annual sales, and the holiday train seems to pull out of the station earlier every year. Before Halloween has even passed, snowflakes, lights and all other manner of holiday-oriented decorations pop up in both stores and on e-commerce websites.

With a huge chunk of annual revenue at stake, and the fast-approaching deadline to promote, it’s time to start prepping for your holiday selling season now. Here’s how you should prepare:

Use What You Already Know

Think about what you did last holiday season. What worked? What didn’t? Apply what you learned from that experience to this year’s marketing strategy. You also know what’s worked this year thus far – product types, advertising, social media campaigns. Leverage what’s been working for you and apply it to your holiday marketing activities.

Determine Your Holiday Product Promotions

Which products will be your hot sellers? If you know, consider applying heavier discounts now on your least popular items to make room for those more popular later in the year. Once you zero in on those products, consider the following:

  • Make sure you have enough inventory of hot sellers. Forecast what you need based on last year’s holiday season or what the most popular items have been year-to-date. 
  • Order early so you’re not left scrambling to fill your shelves. 
  • What discounts or incentives (if any) will you offer for these products? Percentage off, free shipping, buy one, get one XX% off another item? 

Plan Out Your Holiday Marketing Activities

Once you know which products you want to focus on, start thinking about how you want to spend your advertising dollars and where you want to expend your marketing efforts. What’s going to create the biggest bang for the buck? Here’s an example of how one retailer can promote their Black Friday sale (the day after Thanksgiving) which is Nov 28th of this year. 

What’s effective about all these marketing activities is that each one can be prepped now. You could create your landing page, email and social posts and have them ready to launch in November. This work can be done up front and then edited, if needed, closer to launch date. You can get these marketing steps done in advance so you can focus on all of the other things you need to do to get ready for this heavy buying season.  

Other marketing campaigns that may need a special holiday touch include:

  • Paid Search – If you’re doing paid search now, like Google AdWords, take a look at your keywords. Do they need to be updated to highlight a specific product, holiday name (e.g., “Black Friday Special”)  or other?
  • Marketing Collateral – Make sure you’re stocked up on your marketing collateral – business cards, brochures, flyers, etc.  
  • Holiday Cards – Whether you send an email or an actual post card, customers always appreciate a note wishing holiday cheer. Send your holiday greetings early to stay top of mind when customers are getting geared up for their gift shopping. 
  • Gift Suggestions – Help your customers out by offering gift suggestions or a holiday bundle for that hard-to-shop-for relative. 
  • Coupons – As we learned earlier from Vouchercloud, “66 million digital coupons were redeemed industry-wide” last year – They work, and they’re popular. Drive users to your website or to your physical location on specific days with, “Good on Black Friday only,” or “Valid only Dec 26th through Jan 2nd” offers.

Get Your Website and/or Retail Location in the Holiday Spirit

For those who have retail locations, determine which seasonal touches you’re going to use to amp up the holiday vibe. If you need decorations, make sure you order or purchase them ahead of time. Get shoppers in the mood with some holiday music. Pick a Pandora station, Spotify playlist or a popular CD and pipe in that music to get customers in the holiday frame of mind.  

For business owners who rely upon online sales, you can get in the holiday spirit, too. Update your logo to match the season. Check out how this company updated their logo for Thanksgiving:

If you don’t have a graphic designer to help you out with “holiday-izing” your logo, we can help.

One overarching strategy for your e-commerce website that’s especially important during the busy holiday season is to make your website mobile friendly. More and more shoppers are buying via smartphones or tablet devices. According to Nielsen’s Digital Consumer Report, “mobile shopping is gaining momentum among U.S. consumers, as more than four in five (87%) smartphone and tablet owners say they use these devices for shopping activities, up 8 percentage points from 2012.” Don’t miss out on sales because you don’t have a mobile optimized site. 

Besides buying online, many mobile users (up to 55%) are using their smartphones  to read reviews and 23% are writing reviews after their purchases.  If you haven’t checked out your online reviews lately (on sites like Yelp), make sure to do so now. Get actively involved in responding to reviews – whether positive or negative. Shoppers will be more likely to visit you if you’re engaged and proactive in your business. 

The holidays are a busy time for small business owners, both professionally and personally. By planning your marketing activities now, you’ll have more time to help your business be a success during the holiday season.

When do you prep for the holiday season? Have any other ideas to share? Let us know in the comments below. 

Get your holiday marketing started now 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 How to Prep Your Business Now for the Holiday Season appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

A 5-Step Recipe to Snag Subscribers’ Attention

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 06:01

You want your emails to stand out, grab attention and make your readers take action. To do that takes a dose of creativity, a pinch of time and a heaping-helping of tips from your favorite email service provider, VerticalResponse.

We’ve created a recipe of sorts, so the next time you sit down to whip up a batch of sweet emails you’ll have all the ingredients you need to grab readers’ attention.

1. Create a killer subject line from scratch
When you bake chocolate chip cookies your whole house smells great, right? That smell grab’s attention and motivates your family to head to the kitchen for a treat. Think of your subject line as that mouth-watering, cookie-induced aroma.

“Your subject line needs one fantastic lure to get people to open and check out your email,” says our Community Education and Training Manager Jill Bastian.

To create a killer subject line you should:

  • Be creative. You can use a play on words, a little humor or create a fun title for an upcoming sale that’s mentioned in the subject line. Fabletics, an online shop that sells women’s workout clothes, had an effective play on words with their subject line: Stop meshing around. Their pre-header continued with: stay cool in brand-new mesh styles
  • Tell readers what to expect. If the email contains a discount code, say so in your subject line.
  • Intrigue your readers.

2. Add an incentive
One of the best ways to get recipients to notice your emails is to offer an incentive. Who doesn’t love a good deal? Consider sending an email with a discount code or free shipping. Maybe your loyal customers receive a free gift with their purchase, or a gift card when referring a friend. has a great example. 

Of course, promotional emails like this should be sent as part of a varied email diet. In other words, these emails should be sent once in a while, not every day.

3. Add a pinch of inspiration
An email that advertises a sale is great, but providing inspiration is even better, Bastian says. Take a look at the example below. Bastian, who loves to knit in her spare time, says the email below inspires her to get her needles moving.

“What I really want is content to inspire me to create something new with the yarn I have,” she says. “Those are the emails that I spend time looking at, or clicking to check out a pattern on their website.”

When you’re creating your next email, inspire your customers. Help them use your product in new and fun ways.

4. Stir in a call-to-action
One of the biggest eye-catching ingredients in your email should be a call-to-action. When a recipient opens an email, he or she should know exactly what you want them to do. If you want them to email you, there should a call-to-action button that says “Contact Us.” If you want them to make a purchase, there should be a call to action that says, “Start Shopping.”

These buttons should be visibly different than the rest of your email. Take a look at the example below. The call-to-action grabs your attention. It’s a different color than the text, its size draws your eye, and it’s in a prominent location. 

5. Presentation counts
If a dessert looks tempting, it will sell. It’s the same with emails. Your emails need to have a professional, modern look to catch people’s attention. Fortunately, we have a bunch of vibrant, easy-to-use templates already set up for you.

How do you make sure your emails grab attention? We’d love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them in the comment section below to fuel everyone’s email appetite.

Ready to whip up your next email? Get started 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 A 5-Step Recipe to Snag Subscribers’ Attention appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

The Dos and Don’ts of Email Delivery [Infographic]

Wed, 09/03/2014 - 06:00

When you send an email for your business, you expect it to simply appear in your subscribers’ inboxes, right? Well, there’s a lot more to getting email delivered than you may expect. Email Service Providers (ESP), like VerticalResponse, do a lot to ensure your email makes it to the inbox, but you play a part in delivery, too. This infographic outlines dos and don’ts you should follow to help your emails make it into the inbox, rather than the dreaded Spam folder.


Learn more about email delivery in our Ultimate Guide to Email Delivery – To the Inbox & Beyond. 

Start emailing with VerticalResponse now. 

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

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5 Time-Saving Business Tools You Need to Know

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 06:01

Running a small business involves wearing many hats, and you may find yourself wishing you had an extra set of helping hands. Luckily, Using online apps and business tools can help run your business more efficiently.

We’ve found five business tools which can help you boost your favorite pages or profiles in search engines; monitor online reviews; track down specific individuals you’d like to reach out to; and even see what stories and blog posts your friends and colleagues are discussing while you’re busy running your business. Pick and choose the tools specific to your goals and industry, and voila! All the results in a fraction of the time.

1. Nuzzel
If you need to keep tabs on the latest news and opinion pieces online, Nuzzel can keep you in the loop in substantially less time. Nuzzel is a free app for iPhones that allows you to see just what people posted while you were working. You can look at news by people you’re connected to on social media, as well as stories you may have missed. You can even read what your friends and colleagues are saying about each post – which is useful whether you were away from your desk or just need a refresher. Another option is to look at featured feeds or your friends’ feeds. Nuzzel is also a good complement to your favorite news sources. Getting too many or too few alerts? You can set the max number of alerts per day, as well as decide how many shares from friends you’d like before receiving an alert.

2. Reputology
What people say about your business on Yelp, Google+, TripAdvisor, and other review sites can impact on your bottom line. Reputology helps you monitor incoming reviews, making it easier to build loyalty by responding to both positive and negative reviews. Reputology can cut down your response time and make sure you’re monitoring reviews on various sites where people share their opinion.

Reputology costs $25 a month, though a limited free version is available as well.

3. BrandYourself
If poor reviews affect your business, or you just want to make sure to push up the positive results found on Google and de-prioritize the ones that are either negative or irrelevant, BrandYourself can help. It offers a free service that can help you boost up to three links – and if you’re a relatively new business and not well known yet, it can help get your name out there. Paid version options are more robust, allowing you to boost additional pages as well as profiles in sites such as Pinterest, WordPress, Flickr, FourSquare and more.

4. Google My Business
If you’re interested in increasing your visibility in Google (including Google Maps, search and Google+), use this site to access all of your applications in one place. This is particularly important if you’d like to correct any inaccurate information on your website URL, address, phone number, and so forth. It also allows you to look at Google reviews, share information on Google+ directly from the page, look at analytics, and even gain insights on your site’s engagement, audience and visibility. And, it’s free.

5. Reachable
Meeting the right people can absolutely make a difference in your business, but building connections and forming relationships takes time. Reachable doesn’t turn an ongoing process into one you can complete overnight, but it does point you in the right direction. By linking into your social media networks – and, ideally, those of your teammates as well – Reachable helps you see the degrees of separation between you and an influencer you wish to meet. Reachable helps you see the path, so you can leverage personal and group connections for specific introductions you want.

What are some of  your favorite business tools/ Share away 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.

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Google Retires Google Authorship

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:22

Google announced yesterday that after three years, the company has retired Google Authorship. Authorship joins other retired Google products like Google Reader to face an early Google grave. We saw the writing on the wall a few months ago when we shared that Google reduced the appearance of Authorship photos in search engine results pages (SERPs). 

John Muller of Google Webmaster Tools announced in a Google+ post that the Authorship project has been put to rest after continuous updating, tweaking and honing. “Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results,” says Muller.

Google’s primary reasons for ending the project: Low adoption rates by authors and webmasters, and very little change in “click behavior.” John Mueller stated back in June when they decided to remove author photos that, “our experiments indicate that click-through behavior on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.”

SearchEngineLand found that “about 70% of authors from 150 different major media websites did not make any attempt to connect authorship.” This isn’t shocking because majority of Authorship implementation was done by SEOs and marketers who were trying to get a leg up on the competition.

SearchEngineLand suggests the project failed due to a lack of Google Authorship promotion and a complicated set up. “We realize authorship wasn’t always easy to implement, and we greatly appreciate the effort you put into continually improving your sites for your users,” says Muller.

Muller also mentioned that Search users will still continue to see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to the query.

There also isn’t any reason to remove the code from your site, if you did implement it.

Did you use Google Authorship? Why or why not? Share away 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.

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Are You Committing Content and Social Media Sabotage?

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 06:00

Recently, I had a music journalist and friend conduct an interview with one of our favorite artists. The day the interview went live, I was beaming with pride for my writer pal and couldn’t wait to share his article with the rest of the world. When I finished reading the interview, I enthusiastically searched the bottom of the article for a sign of those social sharing buttons, but I couldn’t find them? “Maybe they’re at the top!” I thought. So I quickly scrolled to the beginning of the article, and found nothing. Astonishment began to sink in.

Was this very well known website (which shall remain nameless) really making me work this hard to share its content? Sure, I could copy and paste the URL of the post into my various social accounts, but I’d also have to log into Twitter, Facebook and my email individually to do so – which is also more difficult and time consuming to do on a mobile phone. I wanted to share this content ASAP with one click, but I couldn’t. So guess what I did? Nothing. I didn’t share the article at all.

You may not realize it, but making it difficult for readers to share your content is committing content and social media sabotage. You’re obstructing eager readers who, might I add, are helping you with your social media marketing efforts for free, and getting your word out. It can also give the impression that you don’t care.

Am I making a big deal over a few missing or hard-to-find social sharing buttons? Who even notices them, right? Well, according to new research from ShareThis, “the sharing of content through social media and email consistently outperforms both consumer ratings and consumer reviews. And, surprisingly, online sharing carries essentially the same weight as in-person recommendations.”

Plus, according to the study, “positive online shares generate a 9.5% increase in purchase intent.”

New research from AddThis also shows that clicking the “share to Facebook” button is more popular (26%) than copying and pasting the URL (21%), when it comes to sharing content. For certain topics or industries, such as entertainment and sports, the tendency to “share to Facebook” is even more popular, reaching heights of 36 percent. When it comes to food-related content, clicking the “Pin it” icon sweeps the competition with a popularity of 46 percent.

If you don’t have social sharing buttons, if they’re hard to locate or they’re hidden, if you don’t have enough, too many, and/or they’re not located in just the right place, you, my friend, could be sabotaging your very own content and social media marketing efforts! Here’s how to recover:

1. Get the right social sharing buttons ASAP

If you don’t have social sharing buttons on your blog, website, or in your email, add them ASAP. If do have them, but they’re hard to find (ask someone who’s never seen your site before), make them visible STAT.

You can easily grab social sharing buttons directly from each social network, which you can embed on your site. There are also several third-party social sharing widgets and applications you can choose from such as AddThis, ShareThis, or WordPress plugins like Digg Digg. Most of these third-party applications are free, easy-to-implement, customizable, and even provide you analytics.

2. Find the right mix

So how many social sites should you include, and which ones? If it wasn’t obvious from above, Facebook should absolutely be your number one social sharing site to include in your sharing widget.

There’s a lot of conflicting data about how many you should offer, but according to a recent article by Rebecca Watson and research from the Content Marketing Institute, audiences are continuously shifting to various social channels. Only offering a limited number of social sharing options such as Facebook and Twitter, limits page views. “Our data — based on access to share and click-back data for hundreds of thousands of websites — indicate that websites giving users a minimum of five choices generate the largest volume of sharing,” Watson says. However, don’t let loose with that stat just yet.

Neil Patel at Quicksprout did a social sharing button study in which he added two more social network options in addition to his current three. What did he discover? He received a decrease in overall shares by 29 percent.

Bottom line: Test this out with your own content. Some social sharing button applications/widgets even include logic (like the one we use here at VR via AddThis), in which they only display the social networks that are commonly used amongst your individual reader – Pretty neat.

Bonus tip: Don’t go crazy! Including several social sharing buttons/options can slow down a blog or website big time. Page load time and speed should be a major priority for your website or blog. According to Kissmetrics, 40 percent of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load. Choose just a handful of main social sites to display, and use an additional button that has the capability to roll up several social sites into one such as this example:

3. Get strategic with your placements

Anywhere you have content (blog posts, email, videos, pictures, case studies, press releases), you should also have social sharing buttons. But where exactly should they be located? It all depends on your visitors, the length of your content, the type of engagement you’re trying to achieve, or already have, etc. Here are the pros and cons of each placement:

Pros: People see your social sharing buttons immediately, and they also know exactly what they’re sharing, as your buttons are most likely located near your headline, video or image. If you choose social sharing buttons with counters (the number of times your content has been shared on a particular social site), and you’ve got big numbers, readers will see the post is popular, may be more enticed to share it, and/or will also associate your post with even more authority/validity.

Cons: People have to scroll back up to the top to share your post and may get distracted in the process, especially if you have enticing related articles at the bottom.

Pros: If you have lengthy blog posts, a hovering social plugin that follows readers along the side of the article will ensure a reader knows where your social sharing buttons are at all times. Chances are, not everyone will make it to the bottom of your post.

Cons: Depending on the screen size, a floating sidebar can sometimes cover up your content, which can result in an irritating user experience.

Pros: Once people have made it to the bottom of your post, they can share it immediately.

Cons: People may not make it all the way to the bottom, and if they don’t get there, your opportunity may be lost.

Bottom line: Try a combination of no more than two placement, and again, test.

Bonus tip: Don’t place your social sharing buttons in the navigation bar of your site. No one will look for them or expect to find them there.
4. Write Relevant Content

The inclusion and strategic placement of your social sharing buttons doesn’t mean much if your content is blasé – the biggest sabotage of all. Take the time to write valuable, educational, inspiring, and/or relevant content first, and the shares will follow.

Have a favorite social sharing application? Share it with us!

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

The post Are You Committing Content and Social Media Sabotage? appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

3 Highly Effective Word-of-Mouth Marketing Tactics

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 06:00

Despite the rise of social media, many recommendations still happen offline, with people sharing their experiences with friends over the phone or face-to-face.

On the surface, word-of-mouth marketing may seem more geared towards large companies, but this isn’t entirely accurate.

“Small businesses have a huge advantage over large companies in word-of-mouth marketing because the distance between company owner and customers is much closer,” says Brad Fay, chief operating officer of Keller Fay Group, an award-winning word-of-mouth research and consulting company, and chairman of the board of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. “There’s an opportunity for customers to have a relationship with management, and so it’s easier to customize offers, to give personal attention, and these are things that tend to raise the level of satisfaction that the customers have and their willingness to advocate [on behalf of the businesses],” he adds.

For example, Fay points out that, typically, local banks have stronger customer satisfaction scores than big banks.

“The reason is that the smaller banks are closer to their customers,” he says. “The customer feels like the bank is more committed to the local community, they feel like they’re getting more personal attention, and they’re more likely to be recognized when they walk into the bank, so that more personalized service is absolutely more likely to lead to advocacy.” Because people want to recommend the companies and brands that they know and trust, small businesses have a huge advantage.

While there are no prototypical word-of-mouth marketing campaigns, the options are limitless. Here are a few that Fay mentioned:

  • An email campaign where you encourage your subscribers to forward a message to their friends
  • A referral campaign where your readers can send new customers your way, perhaps with a discount or perk
  • Creating shareable content on your website
  • Producing event marketing with the intention of having your best customers or clients bring their friends
  • An ad campaign designed to generate conversation

“What all word-of-mouth campaigns have in common is a strategy of encouraging customer recommendations and conversation,” Fay explains.

Here are three highly effective word-of-mouth strategies.

1. Have a good founding story. “When people recommend a company they like to explain the background, the reason the company was started, and so forth. You want to feel a personal connection, and if there’s a story you can relate to, you’re more likely to recommend them.” For more information on creating a compelling brand story, see our post on finding your brand’s content marketing narrative.

2. Treat your customers like gold. Although some businesses like to offer great deals for new customers or clients – offering better rates than they do for their regular, established clients, for example – Fay warns against the practice of sacrificing current customers to try to gain future ones. This can make it more difficult to get referrals from those who are satisfied with your business. Keep current customers extremely satisfied, and it will encourage them to spread the word.

3. Find ways to show that you care for your current customers or clients. Even small gestures can have a big effect. A recent example: I stayed at Magnolia Hotel in Denver, and was thrilled that they offered free milk and cookies before bedtime – to the point that I mentioned it on social media and even texted my husband to let him know my options: regular milk, chocolate milk or strawberry milk.

Fay’s example: a local wine shop called the Princeton Corkscrew. “They keep a record of my past purchases and my credit card number, and it makes it incredibly easy for me to call them up and say, ‘can you please send me a case of wine I got last time?’ and they’ll deliver it,” he explains. “The way they manage the information and the service they have in delivering the wine makes me incredibly loyal, and I advocate them to everybody. Sometimes it’s just providing a really good service and being convenient.”

This is in addition to the personal touch referenced earlier. When Fay walks into the store, they recognize him and give him advice on new wines to try. This personal touch can have a greater effect than social media marketing. “The owner of the shop is very visible. He does have a LinkedIn profile and a LinkedIn group, but I’ve never engaged with them on LinkedIn,” Fay explains.

People are likely to tell everyone they know about a bad experience with a business, but they’re usually thrilled to pass on information about good experiences, too. And that’s what word-of-mouth marketing is all about.

Your Turn: Which small businesses do you recommend to your friends? What did they do that stood out?

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

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