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6 Tips to Whip Your Subject Lines into Shape for 2015

Mon, 12/29/2014 - 06:00

It’s almost a New Year and that means the inevitable New Year’s resolutions. One of the most common resolutions is getting into shape. We’re here to act as your personal email trainer and help you chisel your subject lines into lean, mean open inducing machines. 

Here are some tips to whip your subject lines into shape this year:

1. Trim the excess

Subject lines should be concise and punchy. Many people check their email on their phones, which means longer subject lines can be cut off. As we mentioned in “Successful Subject Lines Deconstructed,” most email programs limit the subject line to around 50 characters. If your subject line is too long or too wordy, trim it down.

2. Avoid fatigue

When you start a new workout regime, you want to mix it up with new things to avoid fatigue. When you’re creating stand out subject lines you also want to stay away from overused marketing terms.

Words like “money,” “deal,” “sign-up” and “gift” are used in subject lines often, however these cliché words may turn off your recipients.

We’ve got a list of “20 Powerful Marketing Words & Phrases That Sell or Repel” that can help you too.

3. Strengthen your marketing muscles

We’ve covered marketing words to avoid, so let’s talk about marketing words you should use. Think about emotions. People want to be in on something new, but they also want a great deal. That’s why power words like “new” and “sneak peek” and “off” (as in $100 off your first dental exam) can work well.

Check out our post, “Psst! Want to Write Irresistible Subject Lines?” to learn the power of negative and positive emotional response subject lines.

4. Motivate with urgent calls to action

Everyone needs motivation. When it comes to subject lines, create a sense of urgency. Tell your customers what you want them to do with a call to action.

For example, “Only 4 spots left for the cooking class! Reserve yours today!” or “Call today to get your sprinkler deal before temps drop!” This sense of urgency tells your recipient what your email is about and what immediate action they should take.

5. Mix up your routine

Have you hit a marketing plateau in terms of open rates? Try something different each time you send and then check your email analytics. Here are a few ideas to experiment with:

  1. Pique their curiosity. Try a joke or a can’t-resist deal in your subject line.
  2. Be ironic. Ryan Hughes, co-owner of Port Crossfit, spotted an article that fit his business, so he shared it with his clients. The article, “The Top 5 Ways to Gain a TON of Holiday Weight” made for the perfect segue into his call to action in the body of his email: “Today is the last day to sign up for our New Year Transformation Challenge at the early bird rate. You will have until 12 p.m. tomorrow to sign up for just $99 and then it will go up to $149. So what are you waiting for? Click here to sign up.”
  3. Make recipients feel good about themselves. Say thanks or promote a cause in your subject line. For example, a non-profit could thank supporters for recent donations.
  4. Give them an incentive. Offer deals to customers if they refer a friend or share your content on social media.
  5. Personalize it. For example, an auto repair shop could send out a reminder email with this subject line: “Jessica’s car is thirsty for its 3,000-mile oil change.”

6. Get a spotter

Just as you have a partner at the gym, get an email partner. Have a second set of eyes review your email before it goes out. Still, mistakes happen. If you accidentally send the wrong discount, date or even the wrong name, don’t worry. Follow our advice and make a correction. Your subject line can say, ” Oops – We made a mistake. Please accept this coupon.”  

Once you get your subject lines in shape, it’s only a question of maintaining a steady pace of creativity. For more extensive personal training, check out our blog for additional tips.

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with four books and thousands of published articles to her credit. Contact Wendy at

Send emails with strong subject lines by using VerticalResponse.

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

The post 6 Tips to Whip Your Subject Lines into Shape for 2015 appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Image File Cheat Sheet: When to Use JPEG, GIF, & PNG

Fri, 12/26/2014 - 06:00

When it comes to formatting your images, is there really much of a difference between a JPEG, GIF, or PNG? Turns out, there is! Luckily, created a handy infographic explaining the differences. Learn each image file type’s history, pronunciation, best usage, and capabilities. Never get caught pronouncing GIF with a hard “G,” or using a JPEG in place of a PNG again.

Want to know what kind of images you should share? Check out our post: 12 Images You Should Share on Social Media

Learn anything new? Tell us in the comments section below.

Use VerticalResposne to send emails filled with beautiful JPGs!

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Image File Cheat Sheet: When to Use JPEG, GIF, & PNG appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

The 10 Best Time-Saving Tools of 2014

Wed, 12/24/2014 - 06:00

Every business owner wants to save time. After all, time is money. In this modern world, apps and other online tools can help you get the most out of your workday. However, there are more than 1.3 million apps in Apple’s App Store and another 1.3 million in Google’s Play store. Who has time to find time-saving tools?

To help cut through the clutter, we asked dozens of small business owners to suggest an app or a tool that boosts productivity and saves time. Here’s a list of the apps that business owners say they couldn’t live without in 2014:

10. FastCustomer

Don’t wait on hold anymore. FastCustomer will make a call for you and alert you when someone else picks up on the other end. It’s one pet peeve you can cut out of your workday.

  • Cost: Free

9. Sortly

If your business deals with a lot of inventory, Sortly is the app for you. It’s a free iPhone app that helps you keep track of your stuff. You can snap photos of boxes that are in your storage room, or make a list of what’s in your overstock area.

  • Cost: Free

8. Toggl

Do you wrap up your day and wonder, “Where did my time go?” If you’re nodding in agreement, you should check out Toggl. Several owners suggest this online tool that works as a time tracker. With this tool you can see exactly where you spend your time and make the proper adjustments.

  • Cost: Free and paid packages available. Advanced tracking is $5 per month/person.

7. Slack

Tired of sifting through a mile long email thread to figure out what’s going on with a project? If so, try Slack. This tool is meant to make communication easier. You can create a project and keep all of your shared notes in one searchable spot.

“It’s much better than sifting through emails to figure out who is doing what and who owes what to whom,” says Josh Inglis, with PR firm Propllr.

  • Cost: Free

6. TimeTrade

If your business schedules customer appointments, you’ll want to check out TimeTrade. Customers can see your calendar and set up a date and time that accommodates their schedule.

“It saves a lot of time in the back and forth of attempting to find a mutually available time,” Linda Pophal, owner of Strategic Communications says.

  • Cost: Free and paid versions. Paid packages start at $49.

5. Pocket

How many times have you come across a blog post or a guide that you want to read, but don’t have the time to devote to it immediately? Rather than bookmarking the website or writing a reminder on a Post-it, use Pocket. With this tool you can save articles or videos that you want to check out later on.

It’s a time-saving tool for Sherry Holub, owner of design agency, JVM Design

“I save links as I’m surfing or researching,” she says. “This has really boosted productivity and saved tons of time over my old way of blocking off dedicated time just to search for articles.”

  • Cost: Free

4. Boomerang

Are you a Gmail user? If so, this handy tool can help you wade through the sea of email in your inbox. Boomerang allows you to schedule emails to send, set up email reminders and track your correspondence. 

David Waring with says it’s a tool he can’t go without. 

“This is an awesome tool that helps keep your inbox clean and makes following up on things super easy,” he says.

  • Cost: Free and paid versions. Paid packages range from $5 to $49.

3. Trello

This handy app is a checklist and project management tool. Small businesses can prioritize a to-do list, set deadlines, reorder tasks and share the list with others.

“Every small business should be using this. It has replaced the pad and pen to-do list for me,” says Jay Staniforth, owner of workout clothing business Bear Aesthetics.

  • Cost: Free

2. 1Password

Another popular suggestion is 1Password. Remembering all of your online passwords can be a hassle. You don’t have to write them down on a notebook or keep a mini spreadsheet on your computer anymore. With 1Password all you have to do is remember one “master password” and the app will do the rest. 

  • Cost: Free for Androids and $7.99 for iPhone users.

1. ZenPayroll

One of the most recommended time-saving tools is ZenPayroll. About a dozen small business owners suggested it, which is why we’ve put it at the top of our list.

Small business owners say this tool takes the hassle out of payroll with an easy-to-use platform and affordable pricing options. It comes with direct deposit, tax forms, employee accounts and reports.

  • Cost: $25 per month + $4 per employee. 


What time-saving tools do you rely on? Share your knowledge with others who are looking to maximize their time by listing your go-to app or tool in the comments.

Get more tips by subscribing to our weekly blog updates.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 The 10 Best Time-Saving Tools of 2014 appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Facebook Releases Smart Content Tools & Improves Analytics

Tue, 12/23/2014 - 06:00

Facebook just introduced a new set of “publisher” tools that could help get your content in front of the right people.

Based on feedback from users, the social media giant released four new tools to allow business pages to reach specific people, interpret social media metrics and find content to share.

“Essentially, these tools make it easier for small businesses to run social media campaigns and maximize performance with less effort,” says Anna Hutson with Anvil, a company that offers social media marketing to clients.

Here’s a look at what these new tools can do for you:

Interest targeting

The key to marketing is to get your message in front of the right people. Facebook is making that easier by allowing Facebook page owners to share a post with targeted group of followers within their fan base.

Let’s say you run an online baby boutique that sells toys for newborns to preschoolers, and you just created a blog post that talks about the best educational toys for newborns. When you share the link on Facebook you now have the ability to target that message specifically to parents of newborns. How? You enter keywords like “newborns” and “new parents” and Facebook’s algorithm is going to find followers that have liked similar content and deliver it to their News Feed.

It’s a lot like segmenting your email list. You’ll be able to target a specific group within your social media audience, which is a huge win for small businesses, says Hutson.

“Rather than creating content and hoping it will resonate well with an entire audience, small business owners will now have greater flexibility and control to create tailored, custom messages that will better connect with subsets of their audience,” she says.

To use: You must enable the Target and Privacy setting. Currently, this function is only available on the desktop version of Facebook.  

Here’s what the function looks like in Facebook:

Post end date

Now you can put an end date on a post to stop it from showing up in News Feeds – This is especially helpful for removing timely posts (such as events or sales) so they don’t appear in people’s News Feeds after it’s ended. The post will remain on your page, but it won’t appear in feeds past the date and time that you set.

It gives you more control over your posts. It might also encourage you to post timelier content knowing that you can dictate when a post disappears from a feed.

To use: You must enable the Target and Privacy setting. Currently, this function is only available on the desktop version of Facebook.

Facebook offers this picture to show what the tool looks like:

Improvements to Insights

Facebook has also beefed up its analytics page, Insights. This page hosts a variety of metrics and charts to help small business owners understand how their content is performing. The newest addition to Insights is a Top URLs section, which allows you to see how many clicks a specific link has received. This section also shows you who shared your links.

Additional improvements include better sorting features and improved analytics from social media plugins.

To use: Go to your Insights page and new data should be available.

Smart publishing tool

Facebook is also working on what it calls a “smart publishing tool.” The tool is only available to a limited number of users right now, but its purpose is to identify stories that your audience cares about and publish those stories for you in your News Feed. This automation tool is optional, so you’ll be able to turn it on or off, but the idea is to help small business owners find relevant content to share. You won’t have to sift through posts and figure out which ones to share, Facebook will handle it for you.

Again, this tool is still in the testing phase so just a handful of media outlets have access to it, but if it’s a hit Facebook says it will become “more broadly available in the coming months.”

Have you tried any of the new tools? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Get more social media updates by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, the VR Buzz.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Releases Smart Content Tools & Improves Analytics appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

VerticalResponse’s Top 50 Marketing Blog Posts of 2014

Mon, 12/22/2014 - 09:43

Creating valuable content is a consistent mission for us here at VerticalResponse. In 2014 (so far), we published and produced more than 315 pieces of original content. This includes 18 videos, 5 infographics, 12 guides, and 280 blog posts. We gave tips, ideas, and actionable takeaways for a wide variety of marketing topics, tailoring our content to you.

Hard work also pays off. The VerticalResponse blog won “best web writing/content” at the American Business Awards. Sites including Fast Company, Mediabistro, Yahoo! Small Business Advisor, Small Business Computing, and Marking Land also highlighted our content. And, most recently, included us in their dynamic, “Top 50 Marketing Blogs On the Web” list.

But enough about us! To wrap up this busy year of content creation and consumption, we’ve compiled a list of the 50 most popular blog posts according to you, our readers. We divided the list into two sections: Most viewed and most shared on social media. You’ll notice some overlap between the two lists, but only by a handful! With that, enjoy this list and thank you, as always for reading, sharing, retweeting, liking, and letting us know what you think!

25 top blog posts by sessions/pageviews:

  1. The 30 Magic Marketing Words You Should Be Using
  2. The Top 20 Places Your Business Needs to Be Listed Online
  3. Busted: The Worst Email Subject Lines, Ever!
  4. The 9 Emails Your Business Should Be Sending
  5. How to Use Instagram to Sell Products
  6. The 8 Most Overused Words in PR and Marketing
  7. Tips to Creating an Engaging Internal Newsletter
  8. 50 Unique Ideas for Your Next Email
  9. The Best Ways to Promote Your Small Business Event
  10. 5 Easy (and Affordable) Ways to Show Customer Appreciation
  11. 12 Tips to Running a Winning Social Media Contest
  12. 20 Powerful Marketing Words and Phrases That Sell or Repel
  13. Facebook or Twitter – Which is Better for Your Small Business?
  14. Get the Most Bang for Your Buck: Google Adwords vs. Facebook Ads
  15. How to Handle a Crisis on Social Media
  16. Heartbleed Bug: What You Need to Know
  17. 3 Reasons Why Emails Don’t Get Opened
  18. 5 Elements of an Effective Call to Action Button
  19. How Email Marketing Helps Your Small Business
  20. 20 Interesting Holiday Fun Facts to Share
  21. 3 Ways the iPhone 6 Affects Your Emails and What to Do About it
  22. The Top 20 Most Effective Holiday Subject Line Words [Infographic]
  23. A Definitive Guide to using Facebook Insights for Your Business
  24. Avoid These 5 SEO Faux Pas
  25. 50 Inspiring Retail, B2B and Non-Profit Email Subject Lines


25 top blog posts by social media shares

  1. The 30 Magic Marketing Words You Should Be Using
  2. The Top 20 Most Effective Holiday Subject Line Words [Infographic]
  3. 5 Time-Saving Business Tools You Need to Know
  4. Psst! Want to Know How to Write Irresistible Subject Lines?
  5. How to Handle a Crisis on Social Media
  6. 5 Tips to Get Your Video Marketing Efforts off the Ground in 2014
  7. Are You Making These 5 Common Content Marketing Mistakes?
  8. Busted: The Worst Email Subject Lines, Ever!
  9. 7 Tips to a Stellar Welcome Email
  10. 5 Easy Ways to Blog in Less Time
  11. 7 Key Steps to Facebook Growth
  12. 10 Reasons Social Logins Could Be a Game Changer
  13. How to Survive the Winter Marketing Slump
  14. 7 SEO Myths Demystified
  15. 5 Easy (and Affordable) Ways to Show Customer Appreciation
  16. 3 Email Marketing Tips for the New Year
  17. 9 Must-Attend Retail Trade Shows for 2015
  18. 3 Emails Your Non-Profit Should be Sending
  19. 5 Terrific Tips for Stellar Holiday Service on Social Media
  20. Enhance Customer Engagement with Online Hangouts
  21. More Accurate Updates to Google Webmaster Tools
  22. Camera Shy & Short on Time? Try Screencasting to Create video Content
  23. Guidelines for Getting Awesome Guest Blog Posts
  24. Tips to Creating an Engaging Internal Newsletter
  25. How to Keep Your Email Newsletter Clicks & Readers on the Rise

Which blog post was your favorite and what topics would you like to hear more about? Let us know in the comments.

Stay up-to-date with our marketing tips and tactics by subscribing to our weekly blog updates.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 VerticalResponse’s Top 50 Marketing Blog Posts of 2014 appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Facebook Introduces New Search Feature – Should Google Be Worried?

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 06:00

Facebook is making changes once again. But unlike other changes they’ve made recently, this one will be much more welcome by Facebook’s 1.3 billion monthly active customers. Facebook introduced an improvement to their search functionality that will now allow customers to search their past posts. So if you’re trying to find that new restaurant your friend told you about, or that link to the “best chocolate chip cookies” ever that your mom posted, you can do it quickly and easily using this new search functionality.

And it doesn’t end there; some news outlets such as Time are stating that “Facebook’s new search feature is a thinly-veiled shot at Google.” While Facebook’s search has been limited up to this point, this one improvement is unlikely to supplant Google’s stranglehold on search. Privacy settings may inhibit a robust social search experience for Facebook. Because users can’t search the entire platform like Twitter, or the entire Internet like Google, it’s hard to imagine any real volume of search migrating to Facebook in the short term.

Facebook’s new search functionality is currently only available for US English on iPhone and desktop.

For a quick explanation of Facebook’s new search functionality, check out our latest episode of Tips in 2 below.

To get more specific information about how the new search works with your Facebook privacy settings, check out Facebook’s search page for details. 

Sign up for our weekly blog updates to get more digital marketing tips and how-to’s. 

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

The post Facebook Introduces New Search Feature – Should Google Be Worried? appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Email Marketing Helps S&S Brand Whet Its Customers’ Appetites

Thu, 12/18/2014 - 06:00

From reality TV (“BBQ Pitmasters”) to cooking shows (“Barbecue U with Steve Raichlan”), to say America is a bit obsessed with barbecue might be an understatement. In San Francisco, S&S Brand is fanning the flames with its regionally influenced, handcrafted barbecue sauces, spice rubs and brine mixes for meats and seafood. 

Founders Sarah Burchard and Spencer O’Meara together have more than 30 years of restaurant experience working as chefs at some of the most acclaimed restaurants in San Francisco. S&S Brand sauces, rubs and mixes are available for purchase on their website, at dozens of specialty food and grocery stores across the Bay Area, and at food festivals, artisan markets and pop-up shops. (Check out the video below!)

A VerticalResponse customer since 2011, S&S Brand has organically grown their email list from zero to hundreds of subscribers who’ve sign up for their emails on the S&S Brand website and at events. The company sends at least one newsletter per month that includes a calendar of events, recipes, product news, discounts and links to new posts on Sarah’s barbecue blog, City Que

We recently caught up with Sarah and Spencer during one of their “bottling days,” where they hand-poured fresh-off-the-stove barbecue sauce into hundreds of jars in anticipation for the holiday retail rush. (The smells were amazing!)

Check out even more customers who use email to grow their business, like The Epicurean Connection.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Email Marketing Helps S&S Brand Whet Its Customers’ Appetites appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

5 Tips to Improve Your Non-Profit Emails

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 06:01

Email marketing isn’t just a successful marketing tool for retailers and service-based businesses, it can yield impressive results for non-profits too.

A study from M+R Benchmarks, an organization that tracks online fundraising and advocacy for non-profits, shows 35% of online donations are connected to email marketing.

To maximize your marketing efforts, here are five tips to improve your emails:

1. Send a variety of emails

Non-profits need donations and volunteers, but that doesn’t mean every email you send has to ask for support. You should send a variety of emails. From newsletters to gratitude emails, you want to engage with your audience. We asked Katie Chapman, a philanthropic advisor and CEO of Fullanthropy, to help us create a list of emails that you should send throughout the year:

  • Welcome email. When a new contact signs up for your email list, greet him or her with a welcome email. Here’s an example:

  • Gratitude email. When donations are received, make sure to thank each supporter with a gratitude email.
  • Stewardship email. At the end of a campaign, tell donors how it went. For example, tell donors that as a result of their contributions 50 kids now have winter coats.
  • Explainer video. Show your supporters what you’re working on by sending a link to a video that explains a new project or your mission. Here’s an example:

  • Newsletter. On a regular basis, keep your followers up-to-date with a newsletter.

2. Vary your calls to action

Inevitably, you will send emails that ask for donations or support of some kind. Many non-profits use “Donate Now” as the go-to call to action, but there are other phrases you can use that sound less like a plea for money. The next time you create a donation-based email, consider using a call to action from this list:

  • Join Us Now
  • Take Action
  • Get Involved Today
  • Join the Fight
  • Help a Family in Need Now
  • Support Your Animal Humane Society (change to your non-profit’s name)
  • Give the Gift of Food (alter to fit the service you provide)
  • Send a Military Care Package Now (alter to fit a specific package you provide)

3. Add an attention-grabbing image

As a non-profit, one of the best ways to encourage your audience to get involved is to show them how they can help. Take a look at the example below from World View. The picture of the 9-year-old girl who was injured in an earthquake is what grabs your attention. That image alone propels readers to act.

Supporters are more likely to help your cause if they can relate to it on a human level, says Chapman.

“Pictures always tell the story better than words and make your emails more interesting,” she says.

Try to include an image that shows the need that your non-profit meets or showcases what your organization has accomplished.

4. Select two readable fonts

When you create an email, you have a multitude of fonts to select from. To ensure your audience can read your email, select clear fonts. You should stay away from odd fonts that use symbols or hard-to-read cursive letters. You’ll also want to limit the number of fonts you use. Don’t use more than two fonts in an email. Here’s a quick list of go-to fonts:

  • Tahoma
  • Times New Roman
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Arial
  • Rockwell
  • Gil Sans
  • Cambria

5. Pick a color scheme

Think of an email as an outfit. When you get dressed in the morning, you select colors that match or complement each other. The same is true for your email color scheme. Pick two (maybe three) colors to use throughout the email.

For more design tips, check out our post, Don’t Let Your Email Look Defeated – 3 Essential Design Elements.

Get more email tips tailored for non-profits in this guide: A Fundamental Guide to Email and Social Media Marketing for Non-Profits.

Send your non-profit emails with VerticalResponse - we have a very special non-profit program including 10,000 free emails per month. 

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

The post 5 Tips to Improve Your Non-Profit Emails appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Get Recognized: 10 Small Business Awards You Should Enter

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 06:00

Whether your company has been around for decades or is just getting off the ground, getting a business award under your belt is a great way to build credibility and generate positive PR. Winning an award tells customers that you’ve been vetted by a third party and bested other companies to come out on top – no easy feat!

Awards programs run the gamut. Some are free to enter, while others can cost hundreds of dollars per submission. Some have simple entry procedures, and others can rival an Ivy League college application. Still, others are inexpensive to enter but will cost an arm and a leg if you want to buy a certificate, trophy or rights to use their logo. It’s a good idea to do some research before diving right into the application.

To get you started, here are 10 small business awards programs and ideas to consider:

1. National Small Business Week Awards

The National Small Business Week Awards are organized by the U.S. Small Business Administration and have several categories, including Small Business Person of the Year. Submission deadline: Jan. 5, 2015. Cost*: Free.

2. DREAM BIG Blue Ribbon/Small Business of the Year Award

The DREAM BIG Awards are organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There is one winner, seven regional finalists and 100 Blue Ribbon honorees. Prizes include $10,000 cash. Submission deadline: Jan. 7, 2015. Cost: $25 for U.S. Chamber members; $150 for nonmembers.

3. SCORE Awards

The annual SCORE Awards are organized by SCORE, a non-profit association that has been supporting small businesses across the country for nearly 50 years. Submissions for the 2015 program will open in January. Cost: Free.

4. Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Recognition for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year is given on both a national and regional level. Submissions for the 2015 program will open in January. Cost: Free.

5. American Business Stevie Awards

The American Business Stevie Awards feature an impressive array of categories in management, marketing, customer service, human resources, information technology, new product/service and more. Submission deadline: March 25, 2015. Cost: Some categories are free; the rest are $215 to $470 per entry.

6. Small Business Influencer Awards

The Small Business Influencer Awards are produced by Ramon Ray (founder of and Anita Campbell (founder of Small Business Trends), two big names in the small business community. There is a public-voting component. Submissions for the 2015 program will open in July. Cost: Free.

7. Indie Awards

The Indie Awards are a part of Independent We Stand, an effort to get consumers to shop locally at independently owned and operated businesses. Submissions for the 2015 program will open in September. Cost: Free.

8. Best in Biz Awards

Entries for the Best in Biz Awards are judged by press and industry analysts. There are 60 categories across five focus areas: company, department or team, executive, product, and PR and media. Submissions for the 2015 program will open in September. Cost: $350 per entry.

9. Local Chamber of Commerce

Check your local Chamber of Commerce and find out if they have any recognition programs; many of them do. (Take a look at this one organized by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.)

10. Local “Reader’s Choice” Lists

Many regional magazines, newspapers and websites have annual lists where readers can nominate and vote for the area’s best coffee shop, best mechanic, best veterinarian, etc. (Here’s one for the San Francisco Bay Area.) 

Did an award win give your business a boost? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

* Costs listed are accurate at time of publication.

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© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Get Recognized: 10 Small Business Awards You Should Enter appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Three Ways to Rock Organic Search Results

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 06:00

Every business could benefit from more website or brick and mortar visits. To achieve either of these things, a solid and organic online presence is vital, especially when it comes to search results.

When someone conducts a search online and uses keywords related to your business, or searches branded terms (like the name of your company), it’s important your business appears high on the SERP (search engine results page). After all, results that appear on the first page enjoy a whopping 95% of all search traffic.

In addition, the very first organic result on the SERP (not including ads) receives about 32.5% of overall search traffic in terms of clicks. The second search result or domain receives 17.6%, while the seventh only gets 3.5% of search traffic. However, the total click through rate average for the top 10 queries is 208%, meaning, users click more than twice on the first result page, according to Digital Synopsis

In this post, we spotlight three ways your business can rock organic search results, as opposed to paid search efforts (SEM), which largely depend on budgets that may not be realistic for a small business.

Organic vs Paid – A Quick Explanation
When someone conducts a search using keywords or branded terms, search engines return what they determine to be the most well matched results based on their algorithms. These results are called SERPs. When looking at SERPs, the results at the very top and on the upper right-hand side of the page are paid search results (you’ll see a small “ad” next to these results so you can tell the difference).

The results that appear directly below paid ads are unpaid, or organic. These results are served up by search engines based on what they determine to be the best match for the entered search terms. In the example below, we illustrate this based on the keyword terms “email marketing services.” The purple box on the right highlights paid results (display and pay per click), and the results in the purple box on the left display organic results.

When your business appears in organic search results, you directly benefit from increased brand awareness, as well as more website and in store visits with no associated cost, as we discussed above.

Three Ways to Rock Organic Search Results
Before you get started, take a look at where your business currently appears on SERPs. Do a simple search based on your best business or industry-related keywords. Log out of your browser of choice, and make sure you’re in incognito mode. Search results are also based on your own personal and prior searches or browsing history. Logging out of your browser and removing prior history will ensure results aren’t affected by your own online behavior.

Now that you know where your business currently appears, let’s look at three simple and free ways you can rock organic search:

1. Optimize your website – We recently discovered a cool SEO tool called WooRank, which provides a comprehensive overview of your website. It also gives you actionable tips to better optimize your site for search. WooRank provides a checklist that doesn’t require heaps of technical expertise to execute.

For instance, when we did a scan of VerticalResponse, it recommended 79 action items to improve upon ranging from mobile load time to text to HTML ratio. Improving any of these items will help us appear higher in the organic SERPs.


You can pick and choose which items you want or need to change at your own pace. WooRank provides this information during a free 7-day trial, and for a small fee, you can get other features. 

2. Link to success – Search engines look for signals when recommending your site to searchers. One of these signals includes quality inbound links from sites like yours that have authority in your industry or space. When your site or blog has valuable information on it, other sites will want to link to it as a resource or source of information.

A page on your sight containing frequently asked questions and answers is an excellent example of valuable information. If these FAQs answer wider industry questions as well, other sites may also link to them, and your site gains more authority. Google and other search engines like Bing, look to sites with authority and rank them higher in SERPs.

3. Create killer content – Like having a site with authority, having a site chock-full of killer content that provides value and benefit to searchers can help your site rule SERPs. How? When your content provides useful information, searchers gain value from it and spend more time consuming your content. This is also a signal that search engines use to assign value to your site, which determines where you rank in SERPs.

Do some quick research to determine which content on your site may be lacking. Then, use services like BuzzSumo or TrackMaven to garner ideas for adding more valuable content to your site. These services allow you to see popular content (based on social media shares and likes) from your business, as well as other businesses. Having this information provides valuable insight into current content you may be able to capitalize.

Say you have a popular blog post – turn it into an infographic or a video that can be shared on different channels to reach a whole new set of people. We did this with a post about how to compel, not repel customers on Facebook

None of these tactics is guaranteed to get your business to the top of SERPs, but all three can certainly help your biz rock its way up the organic search results without having to spend a dime, and that’s always a good thing.

What other tips would you add to our organic search advice? Share in the comments.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Three Ways to Rock Organic Search Results appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

30 Spot-on Holiday Subject Lines, Plus Tips!

Fri, 12/12/2014 - 06:00

When you’re trying to reach consumers through email during the holiday season, your messages need to stand out, inspire and engage. Why? Consumers are busy. Between work, time with family and endless shopping lists, online audiences are slammed.

How do you rise above the inbox chaos to capture attention? It all starts with a captivating holiday subject line.

To deliver the most impactful message possible, we’ve created a list of tips to help you reach your target audience with spot-on holiday subject lines. We’ll also showcase 30 examples to get your creative juices flowing.

Tip 1: Encourage the act of giving

Instead trying to simply drive sales in your email subject lines, focus on the giving aspect of the holidays, rather than getting (or a little of both!). Here are some prime examples:

  • ( Save big for Cyber Monday – give the gift of family
  • (Everyland) This Year, Give Color
  • (SFMOMA) Perfect the Art of Giving
  • (SXSW) Give thanks! These announcements are as sweet as pie!
  • (7×7 Magazine) Gifts That Give Back, Peppermint Fudge Recipe, Guide to Monterey, & More
  • (JetBlue Airways) Up to 50% bonus – ’tis better to give AND receive!
  • (Salvation Army) Just in Time for Thanksgiving. Remind audiences that the holidays are about giving rather than getting
  • (Groupon) #GivingTuesday – Give Back & Shop Local Deals
  • (Just Give) Gifts that do good… and feel good
  • (Women Helping Women) Support WHW as You Shop Online this Black Friday

Tip 2: Help your customers

During the holidays, consumers are strapped for time, looking for gift ideas and seeking out recommendations for what to give their friends and family. Email marketing plays a significant role in delivering inspiration. Offer help in the form of gift guides, gift suggestions and more.

Here are some examples of email subject lines that help customers get their shop on:

  • (Gap) Want stress-FREE gifting?
  • (Real Simple) Inexpensive Stocking Stuffer Ideas
  • (Alternative Apparel) Gifting made easy | Shop by price
  • (Uncommon Goods) Holiday Helpers Day 3: For Mom & Dad
  • (Folica) It’s Here! Shop our Gift Guide and Get 15% Off
  • (The Stationary Studio) Superfast Personalized Gifts – Guaranteed Ground Delivery by Christmas
  • (Nightlife at the California Academy of Sciences) Shop a Holiday Bazaar Thursday at Nightlife
  • (Workshop SF) The Holiday Indie Mart is tomorrow at The Independent! Plus, we’ve got a ton of holiday classes to make unique gifts and decorations on the cheap
  • (Groupon) Groupon’s Most Wanted This Holiday Season
  • (Rue La La) Your Tree à Tres Chic: Get All The Trimmings For Your Holiday

Tip 3: Engage, educate and entertain with content 

The holidays aren’t just about shopping. Educate and engage your customers with helpful, fun, entertaining and compelling content for the holiday season. The more knowledgeable info you give to your readers, the more you’ll remain top of mind when they do decide to purchase or donate. Include tips, “best of” lists, how-tos, and more. Here are some subject lines to guide you:

  • (VerticalResponse) Tips to Creating Stellar Online Gift Guides + Are Infographics Right for Your Biz?
  • (Red Tricycle SF) Where to Have a Snow Day in the Bay
  • (Airport Watchdog) The 10 Busiest Airports This Holiday Season
  • (Flavorwire) This Year’s Most Beautiful and Interesting Art Books
  • (Pinterest Partner Team) This week: Create holiday boards and plan Pinteresty events
  • (Travel Channel) Where to Get the Best Drink of Your Life
  • (7×7 Magazine) Where to Buy the Best Turkey, How Not to Get Sick, & More!
  • (Airbnb) Share the Air – News, travel ideas, tips from Airbnb
  • (Hipcamp) A Guide to Winter Camping and Hot Springs
  • (Retrofit) What NOT to Eat This Thanksgiving.

Final thoughts

Celebrate the season. Connect with your audience. Be inspiring. Human to human connections are crucial to your holiday marketing efforts, so remember to keep the energy high. Your subject lines represent the first points of connection with your audiences, so make them count.

For more holiday marketing tips and free resources, visit our Everything Holiday site

Send your holiday emails for free with VerticalResponse.

Ritika Puri is an entrepreneur, marketing consultant and startup advisor. She writes for Forbes, The Next Web, Business Insider and Entrepreneur.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 30 Spot-on Holiday Subject Lines, Plus Tips! appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Boost Holiday Sales with These Six Tips

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 06:00

We’re in the thick of the holiday season. That means businesses are cranking out marketing efforts faster than toy-making elves. To make sure you’re taking advantage of the season’s opportunities, we’ve created a list of six tips to boost your holiday sales.

1. Conduct email housekeeping

Before you fire up your marketing engine, you need to do a little maintenance to maximize your holiday efforts, says Deborah Hanamura with marketing agency, Metia. Here’s a quick to-do list:

  • Clean up your email list. Review your segmented lists and make sure they work for the holiday season, Hanamura says.
  • Pick a different email template. It’s okay to use a different email template for the holidays.
  • Collect email addresses. Make sure your website has a visible sign up form to collect email addresses for future email campaigns.

2. Send a series of emails

Rather than sending one email to promote a sale or a holiday service, send several. Let’s say you own a small cleaning business and want to offer homeowners a deal on a top-to-bottom cleaning service before the in-laws arrive for the holidays. Rather than promoting the sale once via email, send four emails about it. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Email #1: Teaser. Tell customers about the upcoming deal. Give them specific dates, times and prices.
  • Email #2: The sale. When the sale takes place, send an email to everyone so they know they can take advantage of the deal now.
  • Email #3: Refer a friend. Keep track of those who sign up for the deal and send them an email that offers an incentive to refer a friend.
  • Email #4: Last chance. Remind customers one last time to get in on the deal while they still can.

Think of ways to send multiple emails for each holiday promotion or event that you host. You’ll get more bang for your buck.

3. Check your website for ease of use

Between holiday shopping and family gatherings, time is short and stress can be high. As a business or non-profit, it’s your job to ease the burden of the holiday season. If your website is difficult to use, your customers or donors may go elsewhere. Check your website and make sure it’s easy to navigate and make a purchase or donation, if applicable. 

Have a friend act as a customer or donor and try to buy a product or make a donation through your site. How many clicks does it take? Is the process quick? Do you have self-explanatory call to action buttons in place to guide your audience through the checkout? If you notice problems, try to fix it ASAP.

4. Get out your decorations

Get your audience in the holiday spirit by breaking out your holly wreaths and snowflakes. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, hang some decorations up. Don’t forget your digital decorations. Change your cover art on Facebook to a festive image like Best Buy did.

Add a holiday-appropriate image to your logo or frame your homepage with a set of digital lights. Think of creative ways to show your audience that your business or non-profit is ready to celebrate.

5. Offer an incentive

To give your holiday sales that extra boost, consider offering an incentive. An extra “little something” is sometimes enough to get a customer to make a purchase. Here are a few incentive ideas:

  • Free shipping. Shipping costs can keep customers from making a purchase, so remove this hurdle by offering free shipping.
  • Donate to charity. For every purchase made, donate some of the proceeds to a local cause.
  • Gift with purchase. Reward your customers with a gift when they make a purchase.
  • Giveaways. Everyone who makes a purchase is entered into a giveaway. The giveaway should pertain to your business or non-profit.

Tell your audience about the incentive via email and social media channels.

6. Boost product awareness

A hot holiday sale or an incentive is a surefire way to woo your audience, but you should also focus on product awareness. You want customers and donors to know about your products, services or cause. Here are a few ways to increase awareness:

  • Share a review. When your customers or supporters praise your product or cause on a review site like Yelp or Google+, share that testimonial on your website and social media channels. You’ll drum up more interest by sharing positive reviews.
  • Educational email. Make a point to send several emails that teach your audience something about your business. For instance, tell recipients about your partnership with a local non-profit, explain your commitment to send holiday presents on time or explain how one of your products or services became a popular holiday gift.

For additional free holiday tips, check out our “Everything Holiday” site.

Send your holiday emails today using VerticalResponse.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Boost Holiday Sales with These Six Tips appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

How Cookies & Website Tracking Tags Can Help Grow Your Biz

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 06:00

Have you ever looked at a product online, or visited a particular website and then later saw ads for that same product or website elsewhere online, almost as if it was following you? This is done with the help of tracking pixels, tags and cookies. You can also easily use them to track users to your site, monitor specific actions taken on your site or app, or track different types of marketing programs. In this post, we explain how to use pixels, tags, and cookies to help boost your own sales, without getting any crumbs in your keyboard.

What is a pixel?

A pixel or a tag is a form of code that’s added to your website. This code is generally in HTML or JavaScript and it allows for data about visitors to be captured. The pixel is a 1×1 transparent image pixel invisible to visitors that fires when a particular “event” occurs on a website or application. After the event occurs, the tag generates a record of that event or visit in the form of a “cookie.” Additionally, there are “super tags” that can house and fire multiple tags within them to consolidate the actual number of tags on a given web page.

What is a cookie?

A cookie or a web cookie is a small piece of information that a website sends to your browser and stores it there for a certain length of time. It acts as an anonymous tag that identifies your computer’s browsing history (not you personally). These cookies store information about previous web pages visited, products or services viewed, and any advertisements viewed or clicked on from your computer. Companies then use this information to tailor messaging and experiences specific to what you were interested in.

Example of a tag and cookie in action

You visit an online retailer in the hopes of finding a new winter coat. You browse around clicking on different items and even go as far as putting something in your cart. You ultimately decide you don’t want to make a purchase at the time, leave the website and proceed to surf the web. Since a cookie was placed on your computer after a tag fired, that retailer can then use that information to show you the item you left in the cart or show you complimentary items to a recent purchase, if you had made one. Some might find this a bit creepy, but in the online world, it provides advertisers with a unique ability to tailor relevant messages to visitors, which helps to drive more conversions and sales.

Image courtesy of Signal

Why Use Pixels, Tags & Cookies?

There are several upsides to using tracking pixels. The main benefit? Gaining insider knowledge about your website visitors and their behavior with your site. You can serve more targeted messaging based on a particular visitor’s previous engagement or behavior with your site. The information saved in the cookie can be used to show the visitor specific landing pages, as well as to use retargeting ads to get a visitor to perform a desired action.

Tags also properly attribute advertising programs and increase advertising effectiveness. By helping you attribute things like sign ups, button clicks and sales to a specific ad, you can better optimize your advertising for the best performers.

Lastly, you can use and place tags in a variety of different ways and places. Websites, blogs, emails, and applications are all places where tags can be used, allowing for a more flexible way to send tailored messages. This also allows you to gain a more holistic view of how your users interact across your properties.

How to Implement

Implementation is fairly easy. A company, advertiser, or third party generates a pixel or snippet of code for your site. Your or your website admin would add the code to your site. When a user visits your site, that pixel drops a cookie. Depending on what you’re using or tracking, different creative would then show to the visitor based on his or her previous history with your site.

Tools to help

Because you’ll most likely have to place multiple tags on your website to track for different events, vendors, etc., there are many tools out there to help you manage and track all of your tags. Below are some helpful tools.

  • Google Analytics – The most important tool for not only tracking tags, but your general website traffic as well.
  • Google Tag Assistant – Helps you track and troubleshoot tags that are currently firing on your website.
  • Google Tag Manager – Helps you to manage multiple tags by placing one super tag on your website.
  • DFA – (DoubleClick for Advertisers) – Advertising tool to help manage your online advertising efforts. Tags placed on your website would feed information into the platform to help track creative performance.

Before you get started, plan what you want to track with your pixels and what information you need for your cookies to be most effective. With just a few online tools, and you can start tracking what people like on your site and determine which ads are effective in no time.

Send emails, newsletters, offers and invitations for free with VerticalResponse.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Cookies & Website Tracking Tags Can Help Grow Your Biz appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

What Facebook’s Crackdown on ‘Overly Promotional’ Page Posts Means for Your Business

Mon, 12/08/2014 - 06:00

There’s never a dull moment in the social media world. Just when you thought your social media strategy was set, Facebook goes and makes changes.

At the beginning of the year, Facebook will crackdown on any brand that posts “overly promotional” Page posts. 

In a recent survey, Facebook users said they were fed up with the amount of ads clogging their News Feeds. Add to this new social media platforms like Ello that promise user’s an ad-free experience, and it’s no wonder why the social media giant has decided to make changes.

Of course, this adjustment raises a lot of questions. We’ll review what the changes are and how your business can avoid running Page posts that would be affected. 

What is an “overly promotional” Page post?

According to Facebook, “overly promotional” Page posts are: 

  • Posts that solely push people to buy a product or install an app
  • Posts that push people to enter promotions and sweepstakes with no real context
  • Posts that reuse the exact same content from ads

Facebook gives these two posts as examples:

What happens if a brand continues to post “overly promotional” Page posts?

Facebook plans to make changes to its algorithm to detect these Page posts and limit their reach. In other words, the number of people who see posts like this will drop significantly.

NOTE: If you want to post an ad like this, you can do so without ruffling Facebook feathers by using Facebook’s advertising platform.

How should a small business deal with the changes?

The change is meant to raise the bar on Facebook content. Users won’t be bogged down by ads anymore, but that will require small businesses to take a slightly different approach with their posts, says Alfredo Ramos, general manager of social media business, Pagemodo.

“Let’s face it – you don’t come to Facebook to be marketed to all the time; you come to learn about cool things that are happening in your world,” he says. “In response, small businesses will need to be more strategic about how they engage with their fans on Facebook.”

Here are a few tips: 

Treat your fans like friends

If you’re hanging out with friends, your conversation isn’t dominated by a sales pitch, is it? Of course not. Think of your Facebook posts as a steady conversation with friends, Ramos suggests. Use the platform to engage with one another and build a relationship.

Review your site for vital information

Given Facebook’s changes, you don’t want to miss any opportunity to turn fans into customers. That’s why you should take a minute and make sure your company’s Facebook page has vital customer information, Ramos says. Make sure your page has:

  • A link to your website
  • Your contact information
  • Business hours 
  • A company overview
  • Your logo
  • Appropriate cover art

Offer content rather than a promotion

For businesses that use Facebook to post free ads and promotions, you’ll want to turn your attention to more useful content. Offer helpful resources like how-to articles or guides that build a relationship with your audience. These posts will build trust and can equate to sales down the road.

Watch your words

Facebook’s new algorithm will likely pick up on popular sales words and jargon, so when you’re creating posts stay away from phrases like “Buy Now!!” Keep common sales terms to a minimum and watch your punctuation. Over zealous exclamation points could trip the “overly promotional” alarm.  

Use Facebook ads

Facebook ads aren’t banned. If you want to pay for an ad you certainly can. This change will inevitably push more businesses to utilize Facebook’s advertising platform.

Use email

If you want to promote a sale, turn to email. Create a one-of-kind email that tells your audience about an upcoming deal or a cool new product that you’re about to introduce at a discounted rate. With email, you have the control.

For more tips, Facebook has published a guide to help businesses utilize its social channel.

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

The post What Facebook’s Crackdown on ‘Overly Promotional’ Page Posts Means for Your Business appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

How to Easily Edit Your Twitter Profile

Fri, 12/05/2014 - 06:00

Having a sharp profile with eye-catching photos is key to standing out on Twitter. In our latest episode of Tips in 2, we tell you how to easily edit your Twitter profile information including header photo, profile photo, name, bio, location, website link and theme color.

Important tip: Your header photo should be 1500 x 1500 pixels and your profile photo should be 400 x 400 pixels. Happy editing.

Get more helpful marketing tips and advice in the weekly VR Buzz.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Easily Edit Your Twitter Profile appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

2014 Thanksgiving Weekend Email Marketing Findings

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 17:43

The 2014 Thanksgiving holiday weekend was a busy one for VerticalResponse customers, and we’re not just talking about sales and donations. Our customers sent over 350,000,000 emails from Monday, November 24 through Tuesday, December 2 (Giving Tuesday).

We tallied these specific dates to identify a trend in email volume leading up to Thanksgiving holiday weekend, as well as the number of non-profit customers participating in Giving Tuesday (December 2).

Here’s a breakdown of this data by day, campaign, and the number of emails sent:


Many people also assume high email volume or campaigns revolve purely around Black Friday, however, interestingly for VerticalResponse customers, that wasn’t entirely the case:

  • Giving Tuesday (December 2) was the largest day for the number of email campaigns sent (7, 626). VerticalResponse non-profits sought to raise end-of-year donations and sent a whopping 48 million emails. The peak time for email sends on this day was 9 am PST or 12 pm EST.
  • VerticalResponse small business customers embraced Cyber Monday as evidenced by the 54 million emails sent. The peak time for emails being sent on this day was 10 am PST or 1 pm EST. 
  • The third most popular day for email sends (45,515,870 total) amongst our customers was Tuesday, November 25 – two days before Thanksgiving. This indicates proactive Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday promotions and events. Peak mailing time this day was at 8 am PST or 11 am EST. 
  • Compared to last year, VerticalResponse customers sent 5% more email from Wednesday, November 26 through Cyber Monday. The biggest increase in email sends occurred on Wednesday and Saturday, likely due to increased Small Business Saturday promotion and prep for Cyber Monday.

Find any of these numbers surprising? How do they size up to your own emailing efforts?

For more holiday email inspiration, check out these ideas, tips and free goodies.  Plus, check out these 25 holiday email subject lines that shine!

Send your emails for free using VerticalResponse

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 2014 Thanksgiving Weekend Email Marketing Findings appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Tips to Creating an Online Gift Guide That Delivers the Goods

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 06:00

One of the best marketing tools your small business or non-profit can create during the holiday season is a gift guide. Everyone needs a little inspiration this time of year, so why not showcase your products and services in an easy-to-buy format?

To help you create a gift guide, we turned to Tom Fallenstein, CEO of, a website that utilizes online guides to sell gifts and costumes to customers.

“People still window shop online,” he says. “Like store windows, digital gift guides can catch shoppers’ eyes and pull them in.”

In this post, we’ll show you examples of gift guides and explain why they work, plus we’ll give you some actionable tips to create your own.

J. Crew: Gifts for Her

J. Crew created a gift guide that offers inspiration for those shopping for that special woman in their life.

Why it works:

  • Clean and simple design and layout
  • Products all have a similar color scheme
  • Prices are front and center
  • Eye catching pictures of each gift
  • Call to action buttons for each gift of “Quickshop”

Regina Humane Society: Gift Catalog for Supporters

Non-profits like Regina Humane Society can create a gift catalog that allows supporters to purchase products or services for those in need.

Why it works:

  • It gives meaning to each donation
  • It highlights specific services and products that supporters might not think of
  • The images draw the reader in
  • The description of each gift is in-depth

Leanhart Plumbing: Bathroom Gadget Gift Guide

This plumber thought out-of-the-box and created a gift guide that his clients could use. The items on the list aren’t necessarily products that he expects people to buy from his company, but later on when clients are in need of plumbing services Leanhart Plumbing will spring to mind.

Why it works:

  • A creative gift guide that’s not self serving
  • Ideas pertain to the business

Unclutterer: Gift Ideas That Won’t Clutter the House

Unclutterer, an e-commerce site that helps its audience get organized, created a list full of gifts that won’t take up space in your home.

Why it works:

  • Clever ideas that can be used in any location
  • Ideas fit the business Cheap Gift Ideas

Fallentstein’s has a variety of gift guides on its site. This particular guide showcases affordable gifts.

Why it works:

  • Affordability is something everyone is looking for
  • Great images of gifts

Tips to creating a gift guide

With the guides above as inspiration, you’re ready to create your own gift guide. To get started, here are a few tips to captivate your audience and increase holiday sales:

1. Pick a specific category

Keep it simple. Create gift guides that cover a specific topic or group. For example:

  • Gifts for Him
  • Gifts under $25
  • Top 5 Gifts to Give from Bob’s Auto Repair
  • 3 Homemade Gifts to Give via Sarah’s Etsy Store

Fallenstein says categories are crucial. “Create categories by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and cater to how they shop,” he suggests.

2. Highlight 3-7 items

You don’t want to overwhelm your viewers, so don’t try to highlight every product or service that you offer in one guide. Remember, you can create and send more than one guide during the holiday season. It’s better to send several smaller guides than it is to send one big one.

3. Use visuals

Your gift guide should showcase the items or services that you want people to buy. For retailers, that means taking some high-resolution photos of your products. Service-based businesses and non-profits can take a picture of their staff offering a service, or check out sites like iStock or Shutterstock to find images that represent your business or organization.

4. Host the guide on your website or blog & email it

Your gift guide should live on your website or blog. Then, email the guide to your audience linking back to your hosted gift guide. Use that same link to promote it on your social media channels. Pinterest is a hot spot for gift guides. Here’s an example.

5. Promote your guide

To make sure your guide gets maximum exposure, you’ll want to promote it. Your social media channels are a natural platform for promotion, but get creative with your posts.

Let’s say your guide highlights five items. Most small businesses will send out a tweet that says, “Check out our gift guide.” That’s fine. However, you can get more mileage out of your guide by breaking its contents into five posts. Each day for five days tweet a picture of one item, write a creative description and share the link.

6. Make checkout easy

If someone is interested in making a purchase, the process should be ridiculously easy. Make sure that links from your guide take the consumer to the checkout quickly.

“The easier their decision is from picking their gifts to checking out, the better,” Fallenstein says. “It leaves the customer feeling good about their purchase.”

Too many steps will keep consumers from following through.

Does your business or non-profit create gift guides? If so, share in the comments section below.

Send your holiday emails for free using VerticalResponse.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Tips to Creating an Online Gift Guide That Delivers the Goods appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Clickbait Can Hook Readers … But Is It Worth It?

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 06:00

You read an intriguing headline; it has you on the edge of your seat, and “you’ll never believe what comes next!” … You have to click to read more, and oftentimes, the content just doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Content like this falls into the category of so-called “clickbait.” These posts generate significant attention – and higher click-through rates. The problem, however, is that they could create a negative customer experience.

Clickbait is exactly that – bait. It’s a ploy used to generate more eyeballs on one’s content. While there is clear short-term value in the form of visibility – and potential ad revenue – the user experience is often poor over the long haul, with audiences feeling duped by content quality that’s oftentimes sub-par. But there’s more to the story.

“People are attracted to quick sound bites,” says Danny Wong, marketer and growth manager at marketing technology company Shareaholic.

“Sensational headlines will always captivate readers – often at the expense of article quality,” he says. “Long term, what matters most, though, is the substance behind the headline. Clickbait can be a force of good or evil – depending on the quality of what’s being shared.”

Facebook digs deeper
Despite the negativity associated with clickbait in the marketing world, the tough reality is that it works. For some reason, audiences find themselves clicking on these links – over and over.

But this performance, according to Facebook’s research, is surface-level at best, as audiences would prefer to see a detailed and accurate description about the content they’re about to consume.

“When we asked people in an initial survey what type of content they preferred to see in their News Feeds, 80% of the time people preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through,” said Khalid El-Arini and Joyce Tang from Facebook’s product and research team in a recent post. 

That’s why Facebook has decided to reduce the amount of attention that clickbait receives in users’ feeds. In coming months, publishers posting clickbait headlines will see a decrease in traffic. Facebook will be evaluating the following audience signals:

  • Whether audiences who clicked through an article spent time reading it
  • The ratio of people clicking on content compared to those discussing and sharing it
  • The relative number of clicks compared to likes on the News Feed post

In other words, it will be up to marketers’ audiences to decide what clickbait is and what it isn’t.

Content is still king
Sometimes, the line between what is and isn’t clickbait is tough to distinguish – especially when the topic of conversation revolves around websites like BuzzFeed and UpWorthy, two of the Internet’s most popular publishing destinations.

These sites are known for posting attention-grabbing, compelling and emotional headlines. But do these headlines fall into Facebook’s definition of clickbait?

The answer is highly subjective.

“Your audience is the ultimate judge of whether something is ‘clickbait’ or not,” says Wong ”Look for user experience cues of how audiences are engaging with your content. Are they dropping off after a few seconds? Are they sharing your content with their own networks?”

Wong adds: ”In reality, original content, even in list format, is something people are likely to read and share and comment on, which means Facebook is probably fine with it.”

Audiences love great content – so long as the headline describes it accurately. It’s possible to have the best of both worlds – high click-through rates and strong user engagement.

Lessons learned
The one takeaway: be authentic. While it’s important to generate high click-through rates with compelling content titles, it’s equally important to keep user engagement strong. Not sure where to get started? Just listen to your audience.

Ritika Puri is an entrepreneur, marketing consultant and startup advisor. She writes for Forbes, The Next Web, Business Insider and Entrepreneur.

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Clickbait Can Hook Readers … But Is It Worth It? appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Are Infographics Right for Your Business? The Pros, Cons + Tips

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 09:31

Infographics are creative, educational, attention-grabbing and can be a powerful marketing tool, but are they right for your small business? To help you answer that question, we explain the pros and cons. and have actionable tips to get started.

The pros

Infographics serve as great pieces of content marketing. They can relay otherwise dry statistics in a more compelling way, are super shareable and can help readers visualize information and relationships. Take a look at the example below. Statistics come to life. They’re easy to interpret, explains Carla Mattioli, a creative consultant with IM Design.

“As a graphic designer, it’s my job to produce layouts that will capture a reader’s attention,”she explains. “In this world of instant gratification, infographics allow me to display facts and figures in a way that satisfies an audience’s need for quick and easy-to-read information.”

Infographics also:

  • Diversify your marketing tools
  • Appeal to visual learners in your audience
  • Increase social engagement as your followers share your infographic

The cons

In most cases, good infographics require a bit of design experience. After all, there’s an art to relaying a lot of information in a small space. It’s not just about choosing precise wording or statistics; it’s also about placement, color choices, font size, style and images.

We know that a lot of small business owners may not have an in-house graphics or creative team, or the resources to hire a specialist. For a lot of small businesses, that’s the major downside to creating infographics. However, there are DIY tools that can help.

DIY infographics tools

If you’d like to try creating infographics yourself, there here are a few tools to use.

  • Piktochart allows you to pick themes from its gallery, customize your infographic with intuitive editing tools and share it on social media or export it to SlideShare or Evernote.
  • is a free web-based tool that allows you to choose from infographic templates, then customize them in an easy-to-understand format.
  • Venngage not only offers tools for creating and publishing infographics, but it also allows you to animate them.

Types of infographics

To create an infographic doesn’t mean you must only use stats and data. So what should or can you create infographics about? Here are some angles:

  • Educational: Educate your audience. For example, non-profits can create a timeline that explains how the organization got its start. Service-based businesses can showcase information from a survey that highlights customer satisfaction. We’ve created several educational infographics portraying a variety of digital marketing best practices.
  • Statistics: Any time you have a glut of numbers, make them easy to digest in an infographic. For example, non-profits can breakdown donation statistics. Small businesses can highlight common problems like this plumbing company does.
  • Comparison: Compare statistics. A non-profit, for example, could compare the level of need in the community today versus five years ago. A small business could compare the cost of materials to help customers make an informed decision.
  • Guides: Create a visual guide. Consider making a beginner’s guide to a topic that’s relevant to your business or nonprofit. Here’s a Beginner’s Guide to Sushi.

Is your business or nonprofit creating infographics? If so, how? Tell us in the comments section below.

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with four books and thousands of published articles to her credit. Contact Wendy at

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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 Infographics Right for Your Business? The Pros, Cons + Tips appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

Good Password = Good Idea

Fri, 11/28/2014 - 08:50

This time of year, with all the online shopping, shipping, and marketing to be done, you might find yourself signing up for several web-based products or services (like VerticalResponse). While it’s tempting to rush through these sign up processes to place your order faster or start using the product more quickly, you want to use a strong password (or passwords) to keep your information and data secure.

With seemingly monthly data breaches of big companies like Home Depot and Target, data security is top of mind for more people. Aside from having a good password, we suggest setting up two-factor authentication (2FA), whenever possible.

You’ll want to set up 2FA on email accounts, online banking profiles, credit cards and even your social media  accounts. Two-factor authentication requires two steps of verification as an added layer of security. Entering your user name and password would be considered a single factor or layer of authentication. A PIN number (something you know), ATM card (something you have) or text message would be considered a second factor. 

Google makes 2FA easy by sending a random confirmation number to your preregistered mobile number to input into their sites before you are allowed to log in. The recently announced ApplePay is a also huge step forward for 2FA because it uses your fingerprint to authenticate your transaction. 

On the flip side of high security, Mashable unveiled its “25 Worst Passwords of the Year” from 2013, which highlights some of the worst and most hackable passwords. If you see your password on here, it might be time for a new one!

SplashData, the company behind all the data, compiled their list “from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online by hackers” and stated that “Hackers can easily break into many accounts just by repeatedly trying common passwords.” So when they say “worst,” they mean the most common, and therefore the most easily stolen.

Here’s the list:

  • 123456
  • password
  • 12345678
  • qwerty
  • abc123
  • 123456789
  • 111111
  • 1234567
  • iloveyou
  • adobe123
  • 123123
  • admin
  • 1234567890
  • letmein
  • photoshop
  • 1234
  • monkey
  • shadow
  • sunshine
  • 12345
  • password1
  • princess
  • azerty
  • trustno1
  • 000000

We are a little disappointed not to see “opensesame” on this list. Wait, we’ve said too much…

Google also provides some helpful dos and don’ts for creating stronger, more secure passwords including the following:

  • Use a unique password for each of your important accounts
  • Change your password often
  • Use a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols in your password
  • Don’t use personal information or common words as a password
  • Make sure your backup password options are up-to-date and secure
  • Keep your passwords secure

If you feel like you won’t be able to remember several different logins, use an online password manager to help you keep track. Hopefully this post is just a friendly refresher course on password and data security. But, if your password does happen to be “password,” go ahead and change it; we won’t tell anybody. 

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Post originally published December 12, 2011 – Updated November 28, 2014

© 2014, VerticalResponse 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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