VerticalResponse Marketing Blog

Subscribe to VerticalResponse Marketing Blog feed
Updated: 5 hours 44 min ago

Avoid These 5 SEO Faux Pas

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 06:00

You may have read our posts praising the virtues of creating engaging content, and heard us extol the importance of responding to reader or customer feedback and making appropriate adjustments. You may also know a bit about quality backlinks and using the correct header tags, sourcing images legally, and creating compelling headlines. Today we’re going to take a look at five thing your business should stop doing if you want to make sure you have killer Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Take a look at our list of faux pas and make sure to steer clear of these big mistakes.

1. Stop keyword stuffing
While it’s still important to include relevant search terms whenever it makes sense, remember that you’re writing for people, not just search engines. If your writing is filled with keywords just to attract search engines, will most likely turn off any real readers that make it to that content hoping for something of value. Make sure to avoid throwing in a phrase over and over again when it’s unnecessary, even if it’s a phrase you want to rank for. Google can penalize sites that have an inappropriately high number of keywords.

2. Don’t let your SEO expert run amok
If you have an agency, SEO expert or someone else, work closely with them on your SEO goals. Research SEO best practices, and make sure your expert is accountable.

Just as Google sometimes penalizes keyword stuffing, having too many low-quality backlinks get you in trouble with the search engine. Don’t outsource your SEO work without knowing what they are up to. A smaller amount of relevant, high-quality links leading to your site is better than many low-quality, irrelevant ones, so make sure your entire team is aware of what you’re looking for.

(And if you do end up with a Google penalty, check out our post on that topic to figure out how to bounce back).

3. Don’t steal content
Don’t scrape content, and use it word-for-word on your site or blog. Reposting other people’s information is tempting, but it’s important to both get permission and give source credit. And you’ll want to go beyond simply giving credit where credit is due. Add extra value to the information by adding your own angle to the information or sharing another point of view that provides context for your audience.

One shining example is the Muck Rack Daily, which includes masterful curation of trending topics among journalists, including tweet-worthy stories and what others are saying about them. The editors clearly put a ton of thought into creating a daily email that’s timely, relevant, crisp, and with a great narrative flow. 

4. Don’t use clickbait headlines
It may be tempting to ask cliffhanger questions in headlines in hopes that people will click through, or to even write misleading headlines that may draw more attention to your content. But although these types of headlines may work in the short term, they don’t build long-term trust with your readers, who are less likely to return if they don’t get value from what you post.

For some examples of clickbait headlines – with an explanation of what they cover intact – check out the twitter profiles, Saved You A Click and HuffPo Spoilers, and learn what not to do!

5. Stop being complacent
With all of the information on SEO best practices and strategies, updates and changes, it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed. Still, the worst move you can make is to become too complacent and do nothing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just take a look at our step-by-step beginner’s guide to SEO to get started.

Your turn
Have you engaged in any of the practices listed above and learned a hard lesson? What business success have you found as a result of newfound practices? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Subscribe to the weekly VR Buzz  for more marketing tips and tactics. 

© 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 Avoid These 5 SEO Faux Pas appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

A Handy Holiday Marketing Calendar

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 06:00

Once again, it’s time to plan your holiday marketing campaigns. To help you get organized and inspired, we’ve created this handy holiday marketing calendar and plan:

Before you plan out your holiday marketing campaigns, first decide which products, services, or calls to action (for service-based companies) you plan to highlight, promote or sell during the holiday season. Then, decide how and where you’d like to promote your products, services and sales: Email, social media, postcards, etc.

Next, determine what images, email templates, landing pages, postcards, or email, blog and social media copy you plan to use in your campaigns. This will give you an idea as to how much time you should set aside for each tactic.

Last, schedule all your marketing on a calendar as seen below:

Planning to send a holiday postcard? Here are some important “send by” dates you’ll want to remember for U.S. delivery: Postcard Deadline Dates

Halloween…………….. mail by: Oct. 17th
Thanksgiving………… mail by: Nov. 14th
Hanukkah……………… mail by: Dec. 3rd
Christmas…………….. mail by: Dec. 15th
Boxing Day…………… mail by: Dec. 15th
Kwanzaa………………. mail by: Dec. 15th
New Years……………. mail by: Dec. 19th


In October, snag early-bird shoppers and prime your customers for even more holiday emails to come. If you plan to change your mailing frequency over the holidays, now is the time to let your email subscribers know and inform them of what value they’ll get from increased mailing frequency.

Veterans Day, a federal holiday to honor veterans of the U.S. military, has also become a big retail sale day, and an early start to the holiday shopping frenzy. Celebrate the day by sending special deals, especially for those who may have served.

11/27: Thanksgiving Day (U.S.) – Thanksgiving, a national holiday and tradition in the United States which began in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1681 by English pilgrims who celebrated an especially good harvest following a terrible winter. Today, Thanksgiving is reminiscent of time with family, thankfulness, and of course, bargains and football. Be sure to send promo emails at least a week prior to this holiday, but also take this day as an opportunity to reach out one last time before Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Or, start a new tradition and send an email or a postcard by thanking your customers for being just that, customers.

11/28: Black Friday – Thanks to deep discounts from retailers, Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days of the year, officially kicking off the holiday shopping season. Whether you go the traditional discount route or try alternative promotions, be prepared because the competition for shoppers’ attention will be fierce.

Small Business Saturday started in 2010 by American Express. This small business focused holiday is all about encouraging people to support small businesses and keep it local during the holiday season. In 2011, 100 million customers decided to “shop small,” so don’t snooze on this great marketing opportunity. Learn more.

Cyber Monday, which was coined in 2005 by is the first Monday after Thanksgiving and is geared towards online sales and shoppers. Last year Cyber Monday had more total sales than Black Friday! Send emails specifically for your online shoppers.

Green Monday, the second Monday in December, is yet another large shopping date for online retailers. Green Monday represents a fantastic opportunity to remind your customers that the holidays are rapidly approaching. Send emails about sales you’re offering, special deals like free gift-wrapping, or any events you have coming up soon.

Hannukah, an 8-day observance known as the “Festival of Lights,” honors the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Get your customers in the Hanukkah spirit (and a shopping mood) with eight different gift ideas to their inbox or on your business’ social pages.

This is a one-day event that allows merchants to offer free shipping with delivery in time for Christmas Eve. The event was started a few years ago and has grown in popularity so that it’s now on par with Cyber Monday for generating sales. You can find more information at

There are plenty of procrastinators out there. Try targeting them with time-sensitive subject lines like “last chance,” “order by x date for December 23 delivery,” or “offer ends in 3 days.”

Festivus, popularized by the popular sitcom Seinfeld, is a fun alternative holiday tradition protesting the increasing commercialization of Christmas. As an alternative to a promotion, engage customers on your business’ social pages by asking them to share their family holiday traditions.

Christmas & Boxing Day – Christmas shopping is big – so big that two-thirds of all annual seasonal spending is for this one day.

While the December 25th may be all about giving and receiving, the day after Christmas is when customers make exchanges and redeem gift cards – a great opportunity to clear your inventory with specials!

Kwanzaa is a week long festival that celebrates African-American culture and heritage. Like other great festivals, it ends with gifts and a feast! Connect with African-American customers during this time with Kwanzaa-themed promotions and celebratory emails, tweets, pins, and Facebook posts.

The impending closure of another year is often used to give thanks, self-reflect, and of course, celebrate! Stay engaged with customers and host an early New Year’s Eve celebration and swap resolutions.

A new year, another opportunity to begin anew. With that in mind, try a little self-reflection on how you’ve communicated with customers up until now. Could your newsletters or marketing promos use a fresh start as well? If so, now’s your chance to try something new in 2015.




© 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 A Handy Holiday Marketing Calendar appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

7 Marketing Tips to Prep for the Holiday Rush

Thu, 10/02/2014 - 11:13

While Black Friday (November 28) and Cyber Monday (December 1) mark the traditional start of the holiday season, a successful email marketing plan starts long before then. Now is the time to review past holiday marketing efforts to determine what worked and to decide what products or services you want to promote this season.

As the holidays approach, we’ve created some tips will help your business have a happy – and successful – holiday season:

1. Check your list twice. Early fall is the ideal time to get your email lists in tip top shape. Purge inactive subscribers, or better yet, create a re-activation campaign. Segment your email lists based on recipient interests, purchase history, age, or other demographics if you have the information, to help better target holiday emails.

2. Go mobile. Make sure your website is mobile friendly. According to Nielsen’s Digital Consumer Report, 87% of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices for shopping. Don’t miss out on holiday sales because your site is not optimized for mobile devices. Check out our blog post for more tips: How to Optimize Your Business Website for the Mobile Era.

3. Check your reputation. Data from Nielson’s Digital Consumer Report also finds that up to 55% of mobile users check out reviews on their smartphones, and another 23% write reviews after their purchase. If you don’t know what your online reviews say about you, now is the time to check them out. Sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zagat can drive customers to your business or send them scurrying away. 

Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews. Monitor your reviews at least weekly. If there is a negative review and a site allows for a response, write a non-argumentative response that thanks the customer for the feedback, apologizes for any inconvenience and offers any brief explanation that might be necessary. And, if the option is available, be sure to claim your page, add business information, pictures and coupons.

4. Make sure you’re ready. Check your inventory levels, and place orders early to ensure product is on hand so there is no delay in fulfilling customer orders. Plan staffing and make sure your customer support staff is ready to handle increased phone calls and online orders.

5. Get ahead start with pre-holiday marketing. Even in October, you can and should send emails, write social posts, send postcards, and include flyers with every purchases including teasers about upcoming holiday specials. The example below shows a pre-holiday tweet from chef Jamie Oliver.

You might even plan a pre-holiday sale to catch early bird shoppers. Sweeten the deal by offering a “Black Friday Match” that promises to match the price if customers find a better deal on Black Friday.

6. Reward loyalty. Look for ways to generate repeat holiday business from existing customers. Offer special previews, secret sales, members-only pricing, or returning customer holiday discounts.

7. Get social. Use social media posts to highlight sales, encourage phone calls, or offer coupons and specials. Make posts shareable and fun. Consider sharing a short holiday video, a cute cartoon or a great offer. Post how-tos for your products or services, and include holiday season survival tips. If your business lends itself to images, consider some Pinterest posts. Create boards such as “Perfect Gifts for Dad’ or “Holiday Decorating” or “Ways to Celebrate the Season.” Tag pictures with a dollar amount and the pin will be automatically added to a gifts category.

For more useful holiday marketing tips, check out our Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing and get started with your email and social media for free using VerticalResponse.


This post contributed by Tonya McMurray, a freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. Her work includes news and feature articles for publications and websites in a variety of industries, including energy, education, marketing, healthcare and technology.

© 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 7 Marketing Tips to Prep for the Holiday Rush appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

20 Interesting Holiday Fun Facts to Share

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 09:42

In an effort to share some holiday cheer via social media, we’ve collected 20 interesting holiday fun facts for you to share. From how many billions of dollars will be spent on Halloween or Black Friday, or how many millions of turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving Day, to the number of users who  actively search for free shipping, there’s a holiday stat for everyone. Simply click to Tweet or copy and share on your social network of choice.

1) Over 25% of all emails are sent during the holidays. (  

2) $7 billion is spent annually for Halloween.  (

3) On Black Friday, 55% of parents check the availability of items on their smartphones prior to going to the store.  (

4) In 2013, organic search for inbound eCommerce websites was 32% more on Cyber Monday than during the Thanksgiving Week.   (

 5) In 2013, mobile sales accounted for nearly 40% of online traffic on Black Friday. (

6) Total Black Friday Spending in 2013: $57.4 billion.  (

7) The average consumer spent $407 on Black Friday last year. (

8) 51 million turkeys are eaten on Thanksgiving Day. (

9) 7.5 million barrels of cranberries are produced annually. (

10) 33 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year. (

11) 55% of Twitter users discuss gift ideas on Twitter. (

12) It takes an average of seven years to grow a Christmas tree. (

13) Small Business Saturday spending in 2013 totaled $5.7 Billion.  (

14) 62% of shoppers Tweet about holiday purchases they’ve made. (

15) 42% of holiday shoppers actively seek out free shipping deals. (

16) Smartphones and tablets drove a record $259 million in online sales on Black Friday last year. (

17) Smartphones and tablets drove $419 million in online sales on on Cyber Monday last year. (

18) PPC campaigns increase brand awareness by 63% when businesses use online advertising.(

19) 67% of consumers have purchased a gift they saw on social media. (

20) In the 1920s, Loft’s produced the first chocolate gelt, wrapped in gold or silver foil. (

Want to schedule these stats as social posts ahead of time? Find out how here and spend your time doing other festive holiday things like decorating, drinking eggnog and shopping for people on your nice list.

Get your own holiday email and social media marketing started with VerticalResponse today. It’s free!

© 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 20 Interesting Holiday Fun Facts to Share appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

The Top 20 Most Effective Holiday Subject Line Words [Infographic]

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 06:00

With the increased number of emails hitting everyone’s inboxes during the holidays, having a subject line that gets readers to open your email is more important than ever. To help make your emails stand out in busy inboxes and get acted upon, consider testing the inclusion of one or more of these top-performing words for your next holiday email.

For more holiday email marketing tips and ideas, grab our Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing and get started using VerticalResponse for all your email marketing today.

© 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.

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

The post The Top 20 Most Effective Holiday Subject Line Words [Infographic] appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 06:02

The holiday countdown is officially on and it’s important to get a head start on your holiday marketing efforts starting now. To help with all your email planning efforts, we’ve created this holiday email marketing guide. In it, you’ll find a pre-holiday checklist, a monthly schedule to keep you on track, and a list of emails that can be effective during the holiday season.

Pre-Holiday Checklist
With just a bit of prep, the messages you send to your subscribers this season can be even more effective at getting people to visit your location, make purchases or attend your holiday events. Here’s a quick checklist to help you think through what you want your holiday emails to accomplish:

1. Write Down Your Goals
What do you want to accomplish this holiday season? Are you looking to promote a new product? Do you want to see sales increase by a certain percent? Whatever you’re looking to get out of this holiday season, write it down. It doesn’t have to be a dissertation, just jot down a two-line goal so you have some direction to guide your efforts.

2. Evaluate Past Results
Before you start brainstorming new ideas (we’ll get to that in a moment), write down a quick list of marketing efforts that you’ve tried in the past. Take a few minutes to dissect this list. Which efforts were successful? Which campaigns lacked results? Now ask yourself why each of these campaigns fared the way they did.

For example, let’s say you ran a 20 percent off pre-Thanksgiving sale that you promoted via email and social media for two weeks leading up to the big one-day event. From this campaign, you probably learned that capturing shoppers early works for your company and that two weeks of pre-promotion was key.

Take the information you’ve learned and write down what was most successful so you can focus your efforts.

3. Brainstorm New Ideas
Start brainstorming some new holiday ideas – now. A lot of small businesses have a limited marketing staff (if at all), but every employee, whether they have marketing experience or not, can contribute. Host an all-company meeting about an hour before you open, bring in some coffee and donuts and ask everyone to come in with two marketing ideas for your business. Toss around the ideas and see which ones people are excited about. Make a list of possible ideas.

Here are a few fresh ideas:

  • Consider a ‘Thanks for Being a Customer’ sale right before Thanksgiving. You can connect the sale to the upcoming holiday while making your customers feel appreciated. Offer a discount or free shipping as a way to say thanks.
  • Take part in Small Business Saturday. American Express sponsors this “holiday” that always lands on the Saturday following Black Friday. Go to the American Express website, sign up for the event and get some promotional materials. Create an event around the day. Send an email to your customers letting them know you’ll have discounts, giveaways and goodies to snack on while they shop.
  • Host a ‘Try Our Product Day.’ Whether you just rolled out a new product or want to entice your customers to buy a popular item from your business, invite people to take the product for a test drive. Consider hosting this day in early December and invite people via email and social media.

4. Know the Holiday Calendar

The holiday season isn’t just post-Thanksgiving. You can and should start your marketing efforts well before that. In fact, you can use any of the holidays below to reach out via email.

  • Canadian Thanksgiving, October 13
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving (U.S.), November 27
  • Black Friday, November 28
  • Small Business, Saturday, November 29
  • Cyber Monday, December 1
  • Free Shipping Day, December 15
  • Hanukkah, December 16-24
  • Christmas, December 25
  • Boxing Day, December 26
  • New Year’s Eve, December 31

You don’t have to run a sale or send an email that focuses on each holiday, but it does give you a reason to reach out to your customers. 

5. Write Down a Plan
You’ve got all sorts of ideas flying around, now you need to figure out which ones you’ll take action on. Make sure you have the time and resources to take on each task. You don’t want to overextend yourself, or the campaign will be lackluster. Your plan should include names, deadlines, materials needed, a point person, social media reminders and send dates. Here’s an example.

We’re Thankful You’re a Customer Sale

  • Date of sale: November 24
  • Point Person: Joan Smith
  • Emails needed: 3; One to introduce the event on November 13, one that showcases discounted products on November 20, and one that mentions the sale and takes customers to the landing page on the day of the sale, November 24
  • Email sent to: Segmented list of loyal customers
  • Materials needed: New product pictures taken
  • Description of event: A sale that coincides with Thanksgiving and offers a 20 percent discount to customers and thanks them for being loyal
  • Social media notes: Posts start on November 13 and run through November 24

Each promotion or email that you intend to send during the holiday should have a similar outline. You can also take the important dates from each campaign and mark them on a company calendar so everyone is aware of the due dates.
6. Segment Your Email List
Now is a good time to take a look at your email list and segment it into special categories. For example, for the promotion above, you may only want to send the email to a segment of repeat customers.

You may want to create a special holiday email to reactivate dormant names on your list (also knows as a win-back). 

Wondering which groups to segment your list into? Here are a few suggestions. Segment your list by:

  • Interests
  • Gender
  • Buying frequency
  • Geography
  • Past purchases

7. Test Your Emails
One of the great advantages of planning ahead is that you have time to test and tweak your emails for optimum success. How do you test your emails? There are dozens of tests that you can try, but here are three of the most effective tests you can run to improve your holiday marketing.

  • Test the offer
    You might think that your promotion is the best deal in town, but your customers might not agree. Test your deal before you send it out to your entire list.
    Take a small portion of your list and split it in half. Send each group a variation of the deal. Maybe one group gets a free shipping deal and the other gets 30 percent off. See which deal is more effective and send the winning deal out to the rest of your list.
  • Test the subject line
    Using the same premise as the test above, you can test your subject line. A subject line can determine whether or not an email gets opened, so you need to make each one count. You need a subject line that explains what’s in the email, and yet creative enough to grab your reader’s attention.
    Split a small portion of your list in two. Each group gets the same email with the same offer, just varying subject lines. Whichever email gets higher open rates is the winner. Use that subject line to email the rest of your list.
  • Test the format of the email
    You can also test the format of your email. You can change the length of the email or the images that you use. Again, split the list as we’ve discussed, testing it on a small audience. Just make sure you only change one element or you won’t be able to see which one tested better.
    This kind of testing is called A/B split testing and it’s an effective tool in email marketing.

Holiday Marketing Schedule
Once you’ve figured out what you want to do you can set up an easy-to-follow schedule:

  • October: the create and test month.
    Use the first few weeks of October to create your plan and begin to execute on it. With a plan in place, you can segment your list and figure out who will receive your emails. However, before you start testing, you need to create the emails. Just because you plan to send an email out on November 10, doesn’t mean you create and send it on that day. You’ll want to work ahead so you can stay on schedule and set your campaigns up for success.
  • November: the social media month.
    Once November arrives, the season kicks into high gear. Hopefully, you’ll have the majority of your emails created, tested and ready to go. There will still be a few that you’ll need to work on, but hopefully you’ll be in a good position to focus some time and energy on social holiday posts. Promote each sale or event on relevant social media networks for your business.
  • December: the tracking month.
    As the sales roll in, you’ll want to keep track of each marketing tactic and see how well each one does. Make a few notes as the month unfolds so you can reference what worked and what didn’t for next year’s planning session.

You’ll also want to double-check your emails. If they were created back in October, it’s a good idea to go back and give them one final read before you send each one out.

6 Effective Holiday Emails to Send 
If you’re in need of a little holiday inspiration, we’ve outlined six emails that are popular and effective to send this time of year. 

1. Sale email
One of the most popular holiday emails to send is one promoting a sale. You can create a promotion around one of the holidays that we listed earlier like a Black Friday sale or come up with your own creative sale name like ‘Procrastinators Sale’ or ‘Skip the Crowds Sale.’ 

Here are a few examples. The Black Friday sale is clear and concise with easy-to-spot calls to action. The other example is a simple holiday sale, offering 25 percent off. Notice that the deal is the main focus of the email. 

2. Holiday gift guide email
Everyone is looking for a little gift-giving help around the holidays, so give people what they need with a holiday gift guide email (these are also very popular on social sites like Pinterest). Think of it as a mini digital flyer and highlight some of your best products. Group products into various categories such as, “Gifts under $25,” “Gifts for Her or Him,” “Gifts for Tech Lovers.” Get creative with how you group products together.

You can send several gift guides out throughout the season. Vary the title, showcase your products, and make sure the checkout process is a breeze on your site. Here are a few examples:

3. Holiday e-card
Consider creating an e-card and sending it to your customers, clients or donors. It’s a nice gesture that lets people on the other end know that you care. It helps build brand awareness and generates a sense of good will toward your business or nonprofit.

It can be something as simple as this:

If you want something a bit more lively, check out a few easy-to-use animation sites like JibJab or Blue Mountain. Or get creative and shoot a video yourself like this media company did. 

4. Email invites to a holiday event
You can host a small holiday event to attract holiday shoppers. Whether you create an event around Small Business Saturday, as we mentioned about above, or host a charity event, you can invite people via email. You can even add a charitable twist to your efforts by hosting a coat drive, or something similar in your location. As people drop off items, they can also browse for gifts. Here’s a clothing drive example from a well-known retailer: 

5. Last minute shopper email
Every holiday season there’s a group of people who wait until the last possible minute to buy a gift. It happens. The good news is there’s an opportunity here. Create an email that helps last-minute shoppers get the gift they need. Offer free expedited shipping, like the example below, or let customers pay for the item online and pick it up at your location at their convenience.

6. Thank you email 
After someone makes a purchase, confirm their order and consider suggesting a few other products that complement the purchase.

“Transaction receipts have some of the highest open rates of all email marketing messages,” says Wojciech Gryc, CEO of Canopy Labs, which specializes in personalizing the customer experience.

“Instead of just confirming that an order has been placed, use this opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell other products,” he says. “Offer accessories and products that customers might also be interested in buying.”

For example, in the email below, the customer bought a camera and the follow up email suggests related items for it. 

With this guide, your holiday email marketing plans should be in tip-top shape to help your business thrive all through the holiday season.

Get your holiday email marketing started now 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 The Complete Guide to Holiday Email Marketing appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

4 Ways to Banish Writer’s Block

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 06:00

Microsoft Word is open on your computer. You’re staring at the blank white screen. You type one sentence. You hit “delete.” You try again with a different sentence. “Delete.” You sigh. You stare. You bang out a few more words. Again, “delete.”

You’ve got nothing.

Writer’s block. We’ve all been there. When asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, Ernest Hemingway said, “A blank sheet of paper.”

Although it’s frustrating while you’re in the moment, writer’s block doesn’t have to be completely crippling. Here are a few strategies to try the next time you’re feeling stuck and those words just aren’t flowing freely.

1. Start Anywhere But the Beginning

“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph,” said novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Often you’re so caught up in writing the perfect first sentence or first paragraph that you’ve placed yourself in a rut right off the bat.

Who says you have to start from the beginning? Try starting in the middle of your article, or even the conclusion. Don’t worry about the perfect opening and go straight into the nitty gritty. Once you’ve got all the pieces and points of your article, email or even social post down, you’ll have likely found a groove and can go back to the introduction and transitions. (Case in point: When drafting this blog post, I started with this paragraph first, just because I use this approach all the time and I knew it would be the easiest point for me to write.)

2. Freeflow

If you know what you want to say but the words and sentences just aren’t coming to you, try capturing your ideas a different way – draw pictures or charts, organize with arrows or columns, or jot down major points and supporting points on index cards for easy rearranging. The goal is to get everything down first, organize and then wrap them with complete sentences.

3. Break It Down

Mark Twain famously said, “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” When it comes to writing, that white paper or how-to guide might seem formidable, but if you break it down into smaller parts, it won’t seem so huge and you’ll feel like you’re making progress faster.

For example, say you’re trying to write a guide about the top 10 ways to do something. An easier way to tackle it might be to first jot down the 10 things in list form, and then go back and add descriptions or explanations.

4. Take a Breather

Sometimes, the pressure to perform really does build up until it becomes almost paralyzing. If the above strategies to overcome writer’s block aren’t working, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break. But instead of logging onto Facebook or surfing the Web, step away from the screen; you want to clear your head instead of cluttering it with potentially distracting information. Make a cup of coffee or tea. Take a five minute walk. Stare out the window. Then try writing again. 

What do you do when you’ve got a case of writer’s block? Share your tips in the comments!

Get more marketing and small business tips by subscribing to the VR Buzz weekly newsletter

© 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 4 Ways to Banish Writer’s Block appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

3 Ways the iPhone 6 Affects Your Emails & What to Do About It

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 11:08

New records were set with the recent September 19 release of the new iPhone 6. Apple recently announced that in the first three days, it sold over 10 million new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus models, more than any other release. By the end of the year, the new phone will be available in 115 countries, and millions more will be sold.

Apple states the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus “are the biggest advancements in iPhone history” with one of the most notable advancements being an increase in screen size. The iPhone 6 dons a 4.7-inch display and the iPhone 6 Plus comes with a whopping 5.5-inch screen. The iPhone 5 now seems small in comparison with its 4-inch display, and the iPhone 4 trailing behind with a 3.5-inch screen. But what do these changes have to do with your email campaigns?

With bigger screens and millions of new iPhone 6 users, comes bigger opportunities and reasons to adjust and maximize your emails. After all, 65% of email is now being accessed via mobile devices in the U.S. according to VentureBeat reporting data from the Q4 2013 US Consumer Device Preference Report. Mobile-friendly emails (especially up-to-date ones) are a must, so with that, here are three ways in which the new iPhone 6 affects your emails, and what to do about it:

1. More Pre-Header/Preview Space
The larger screen sizes leave room for additional pre-header text to display in the inbox. The iPhone 5 currently displays around 11 characters (give or take) of pre-header text in the preview. The iPhone 6, however, displays 13+ characters or more. More real-estate gives you more of an opportunity to entice readers to open your email.

Note: People can adjust their settings to display additional pre-header/preview text (up to 5 lines), but for majority of those who use default settings, this is what they’ll see:

iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 5 inbox display

Now is the time to take your pre-header seriously. Long gone are the days in which the first line of your email reads, “Can’t read this message? Click here.” Treat your pre-header as secondary subject line and include even more info about the value readers will get inside the email.

Not sure where to put the pre-header in your email? Above everything else! The pre-header should be well thought-out, enticing and placed above images including your masthead or logo. In this Gap email, you’ll see the pre-header at the top of the email design, even before the logo, which translates nicely in the inbox:

Tip: If you do place an image at the very top of your email above everything else (which we do occasionally in our newsletter), Gmail commonly pulls the alt-text from your image into the pre-header. This brings up two very important points:

  1. You should always add clear, brief and enticing alt-text to your images.
  2. If you insist on placing an image in your email before the pre-header, you can remove the image’s alt-text (if it isn’t relevant) to avoid pulling it into the pre-header. However, if your first image is large, it doesn’t display in your reader’s email reader for whatever reason, and there isn’t any alt-text, there won’t be any context for that image, which can translate to a bad user experience. At the very least, add a pre-header immediately after your first image.

2. More Content Above the “Fold”
According to Tony Haile at Chartbeat, 55% of people spend fewer than 15 seconds reading a page online. Hence, you want readers to find your most important information as quickly as possible. Luckily, the new and larger iPhone 6 screens display even more of your email above the “fold” or cut off point on a phone.

While this works in everyone’s favor, now is the time to reassess your design and maximize valuable space. Trim up your mastheads, banner ads and/or logos at the top and move your most enticing information, events, promo codes, and call-to-actions higher.

In the example below, the red “Pre-order Now” call-to-action button in the email on the left (iPhone 6) appears, where as the button is pushed below the fold in the iPhone 5 on the right. You’ll also see, however, the text in the body of an email on an iPhone 6 appears smaller to accommodate for more email display. This means, you should increase the size of your email font, especially if you’re using anything under 12 or 14 pt.

Note: People can adjust their settings to increase the font size of subject lines and pre-headers, (which may affect how much of your email is displayed), but the text within the body of the email will still appear smaller as seen here:

iPhone 6 vs. iPhone 5 email display

3. Necessary Mobile-Friendly Design Changes
If you’re already using a responsive email design (one that adjusts to the screen size your reader is using), well done. If you’re an email designer, you will need to account for the screen size height and width changes when creating a responsive design. Our friends at Litmus wrote an extensive piece about these technical changes stating that “adjustments to media queries and breakpoints for responsive or adaptive emails will be necessary.” Find those necessary changes, and useful information here.

How will you be adjusting your emails for the new iPhone 6? Tell us in the comments.

Get more marketing and small business tips by subscribing to the VR Buzz weekly newsletter.

© 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 3 Ways the iPhone 6 Affects Your Emails & What to Do About It appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

5 Easy Ways to Ignite Your Customer Service

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 09:27

What new things are you doing to make your customers happy? Take some time now to drive value for your customers, and benefit from it all year long.

Know your customers

Know who they are, where they’re from, what products they’ve purchased, how much they’ve spent, or how they’ve interacted with your marketing. Then you can slice and dice that information and offer specials or information based on their interests. Where does all this information live? Think about your contact management system (if you have one), your e-commerce service, or even your email marketing company. No matter where it lives, having quick access is smart.

  • Identify customers who haven’t purchased in six months, and send them an email with a great deal.
  • Find people who have signed up for your newsletter but never purchased, and give them a first-time customer discount.
  • Get quick access to your loyal customers. Ask them to tell their friends about you. Speaking of …
Ask your customers to tell their friends

I was just at a hotel where I received amazing service. The general manager asked us for a recommendation on TripAdvisor, and we gave one! A site like TripAdvisor comes up pretty high in the search rankings when you search for travel plans, but your business may not. The more quality inbound links you have and positive mentions, the more people will find your business on search engines.

Answer them any way they want to talk to you

Any way customers can get ahold of you, let them! Whether it’s messaging you on Facebook or Twitter, or sending you an email or chat, you should have options open for customer contact. Years ago, when a fiber line was cut in the Bay Area and our service was interrupted, we turned to social media to let people know what was up and answer their questions. 

Surprise them

Starbucks gives coffee away during certain times, and Uber gives ice cream. Imagine how easy it is for your business to do something fun. If you’re a retailer, do a “happy hour” after work in which people can stop by for some wine and cheese while you show them a new line you’ve got. Online retailers can send a discount card in the mail to the best customers to show appreciation. B2B companies can give services away for a day. I once ran an e-commerce division of a company, and we emailed people at a random hour saying we’d refund whoever purchased from us during a certain time (and we didn’t pick 3 a.m.).

Go above and beyond

So many companies look at how much time employees spend on the phones with customers and prospects. Get them in, get them out, move on to the next seems to be the usual approach. When was the last time you were shocked that someone at a company you do business with spent a lot of time helping you with what you wanted instead of rushing you? This is a great opportunity for you to go above and beyond this year. If you listen to your customers, give them what they want, don’t waste their time, and be nice, they’ll talk you up for years to come.

Employ some of these easy ideas, and let us know how they work.

This article by VerticalResponse CEO and founder Janine Popick originally appeared on

© 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 Easy Ways to Ignite Your Customer Service appeared first on VerticalResponse Blog.

6 Handy Tools to Monitor Social Media Success

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 06:00

Every day, people are posting 500 million tweets, 55 million Facebook updates, 5 million pins on Pinterest, 60 million pictures on Instagram, and 114 million posts on Tumblr. How’s a business supposed to cut through all that social media noise to make an impact? And how do you know whether you’re actually reaching your target audience?

Many social media sites offer businesses tools to help you monitor your success – Are you taking advantage of them? Here’s a recap of the tools you can use to ensure your social media efforts are working:

Instagram Business Tools

Instagram recently rolled out a new suite of tools and real-time campaign data to help you understand how your content performs on the social network. The image-based social media site offers information on impressions, reach and frequency to help you evaluate engagement with your audience. With this information you’ll have the knowledge of what kinds of images are resonating with your followers so you can share more content like it in the future.

Image courtesy of Instagram

Twitter Analytics

Twitter also has an updated analytic dashboard for marketers, verified users and Twitter Card publishers. The dashboard shows the number of impressions, favorites and retweets for each tweet as well as how many times a site visitor has clicked on the tweeter’s profile. The tweet metrics are updated in real time. A CSV export tool will show data for up to 3,200 tweets and includes a breakdown of all tweet impressions. The new tool set allows you to identify in real time which tweets are attracting the most engagement with audiences so you can better determine which Twitter strategies are most effective.


Facebook Insights

Facebook Insights identifies page visits, likes, comments and shares. It also allows you to identify unlikes and hidden posts. We have a Definitive Guide to Using Facebook Insights for Your Business to maximize all those stats.


Crowdbooster combines analytics and recommendations to create a guide for social media optimization. The web-based application helps you understand how you’re performing on various social media networks, and how you can increase online influence and better connect with customers.

Recommendations allow you to schedule tweets or posts at the best time and to create more relevant content based on the performance of past content. You can also use the platform to respond to missed tweets and to cross post between social networks. Crowdbooster currently offers services to measure Twitter and Facebook use. Analytics measure impressions, retweets, clicks, mentions, replies, likes and comments. Crowdbooster can help businesses track follower and fan growth over time and identify key influencers or frequent commenter. 

Hootsuite Analytics/UberVu

Like Crowdbooster, Hootsuite combines analytics with social media optimization recommendations. Hootsuite offers a mobile app so you can analyze your social media reach from practically anywhere. Pricing starts at $9.99 per month.

In January, Hootsuite expanded its analytical offerings with the acquisition of UberVu. The UberVu tools allows you to see where your social profiles are growing and to monitor spikes in brand sentiment (based on social media posts). You can measure clicks, likes, retweets and other behavior to determine what content resonates best with your audience. UberVu also notifies you of spikes around keywords you’ve identified to help you respond quickly and effectively when a topic is trending. You can identify key influencers or customers as they’re engaging in conversations about your company or product and communicate directly with them.


Viralheat analyzes more than 600 data points to provide information on social media trends across the web, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, videos, blogs and websites. Viralheat offers engagement and influencer scoring, tracks relevant key words and filters results by channels (Facebook, the web, etc.)

The company also offers sentimental trend reporting so you know how particular issues are being received by your target audience. You can identify high activity times, track competition response times, and filter mentions and trends by geographic region. Viralheat allows you to identify trends for your brand and that of your competition and to filter them based on sentiment.

How do you track your social media success? Do you use third party tools, or simply what’s available on each social site? Let us know in the comment section below.

Written by By Tonya McMurray.

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 6 Handy Tools to Monitor Social Media Success appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

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!

Want more marketing tips and advice? Get the VR Buzz delivered weekly.

© 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.

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 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.

Get marketing tips delivered weekly with 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 New Changes Coming to Google Adwords appeared first on VR Marketing Blog.

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.