THE BLOG

29
Jun

SEO Issues in Ecommerce Redesign

Nearly all ecommerce owners understand the value of SEO, but many overlook the impact that a site redesign can have.

We find that roughly ⅓ to ½ of all website relaunches do affect SEO negatively, at least initially. In some cases, a poorly-thought-out relaunch means the site can never recover its SEO!

The solution isn’t avoiding a needed redesign but rather considering SEO closely as part of the effort. By taking careful precautions and preparatory steps before a relaunch, you can guard against a painful downgrade.

In this article, we lay out some of the most common SEO issues we see ecommerce sites experience during redesigns, revamps and as well as an initial launch.

We’re taking it as a given that you know how important it is to build and preserve SEO “juice” (if not read this 3rd-party article). What you may not realize is just how impactful “slight” changes can be, particularly with URL’s:

  • Organic SEO rankings are inextricably linked to the specific URL of each page on your website.
  • Changing the taxonomy of a URL, or even a single character in the URL, makes Google see that page as a brand new page that has never been indexed.
  • Carefully following best practices for URLs is a baseline requirement for good SEO

Enough intro already! Let’s dive in.

Easy SEO Mistakes to Avoid and Beneficial Changes to Keep in Mind:

URL Structure Changes

Organic rankings are tied to the specific URL of each page.  Changing the taxonomy of a URL, or even a single character of it makes that a brand-new page that has never been seen by the search engines before.  Inbound links are associated with specific URL’s as well, meaning that when you create new version of that page, none of the link equity automatically follows.  If you’re changing platforms this is especially crucial as many ecommerce platforms create new directory pathways or alter URL extensions.  

What to Do About it

If your URL’s or page taxonomy is changing, ensure that you’re using 301 redirects to let search engines know that there is a new version of the page.  This will automatically redirect both visitors and search engine crawlers who access the old URL. Additionally, this will transfer most of your link equity from the old page to the new one.

The Wrong Redirect

Platforms (and developers) will often default to using a 302 (temporary) redirect rather than a 301 (permanent) redirect.  Both redirects will accomplish the same thing for a visitor, but Google looks at them differently.  The common belief is that a 301 redirect passes link equity while a 302 does not (because it’s temporary).  In all fairness, Google’s Gary Illyes came out last year and said that a 302 redirect passes the same equity as a 301 in a July 26th, 2016 Tweet.  Many in the SEO community don’t quite buy that yet.

What to Do About it

Check, check and double check.  Make the redirects work for a visitor and a search engine.  A tool like Redirect-Checker.org will show the actual request and tell you if a URL redirect is a 301 or 302.  Screaming Frog is another easy way to mass check URL’s for the redirect status code.  Even if Gary is right, why chance it?  Don’t set your redirects to 302 unless it really is a temporary situation.  

Top level and Footer Navigation Changes

Just like an inbound link from another website can add equity to your site, internal links in your site can play a similar role.  Think of your navigation in both the header and footer as the circulatory system of your site. Changing the navigation and internal linking structure is akin to changing the layout of your own veins and arteries.    

What to Do About it

Put in the time upfront and map out the current state of your site.  Look at where internal links are coming from for your pages if you’re changing the navigations.  Use Screaming Frog or your other favorite tool to check the crawl path report on URL’s if you really want to be diligent.  Know that pages losing a large portion of their internal links could have issues being crawled and indexed or lose some of their equity.  

Title Tag, Content and Data Migration

A redesign is hectic on any site, an ecommerce website exponentially complicates that process.  With so many moving parts it’s easy to sideline seemingly smaller things and tell yourself that you’ll worry about it once the site is live. Title tags, meta descriptions, headings, content and structured data shouldn’t be one of those things. Whatever SEO prowess the top level, category and product pages have right now is directly influenced by the meta data and content that’s present. Launching a redesigned site without the same data and information in place is a recipe to see organic rankings drop.

What to Do About it

Just like mapping redirects, put the time in up front.  Use something like a MOZ crawl test or Screaming Frog to get a full picture of all page titles, meta descriptions, H1’s and subheadings and structured data.  Make sure that you’re

Example 1, What Not to Do:

New Site Launch Date Dec 2016

This Google Analytics snapshot is of an online retailer in the software industry that redesigned their outdated site into a new platform.  The plan was to recreate the site exactly as it had always been, but move it to a new more user friendly platform.  

Eccomerce Redesign Issue 1

This is a textbook case of forgetting about 301 redirects completely in launching a new site.  Aside from the home page, every single URL of a 5,000+ page website changed, but Google couldn’t follow them.  To add fuel to the fire, category and product level title tags and meta descriptions weren’t moved to the new site either.   

Example 2, Make it Through Unscathed

New Site Launch Date: Feb 2017

A men’s online clothing retailer migrated from an outdated ecommerce platform into an enterprise CMS.  The site had far outgrown the outdated site built in Pearl and was ready for a more professional solution.  

Mitigating SEO in Ecommerce Redesign

The entire URL structure of this site changed as did the navigation, adding faceted search and eliminating several lower margin brands.  The client started prepping launch several months in advance and had established a solid redirect strategy, migrated meta data and structured a robots.txt file to address faceted search functions.  They experienced temporary dip in organic traffic due to the massive change in taxonomy but recovered almost fully within 60 days.  

 

Example 3: Slingshot

Nov 2016

This company sells and supports several thousand downloadable course products and had been operating for several years on a home-grown CMS that was non-mobile friendly and unable to scale with growth.

Eccomerce Redesign Issue 3

This company took 6 months to plan for the launch of the new site and in that time mapped out several thousand new redirects, redid the navigation to improve indexing and crawl budgeting and improved the load the speed.  At launch, they experienced a few weeks of minor instability, followed by a continual upward trend that has continued.

A redesign is an exciting time for an ecommerce business.  

Top 5 SEO considerations when launching or redesigning an ecommerce store:

 

  1. Get a 100% complete and clear picture of your current site as soon as you know you’ll doing a redesign.  On page elements, navigation, content and links.  Invest in some tools if you need to.

 

  1. Create a clear page structure and taxonomy for the new site.  Document what’s staying, what’s going and what will be new.

 

  1. Map out all your 301 redirects as soon as you can.  They’ll likely change the as the vision of the new site evolves and it’s better to alter the redirect mapping as you go rather than wait until things are solidified and then start.

 

  1. Get your tech straight.  Take all existing rel canonical tags, schemas and robots.txt get them documented and moved to the new site.  Take into account changes in internal search or new navigations that might require alterations.  

 

  1. Whether you’ve hired an agency or area completing the process in house, insist on making SEO a priority.  The project should be a collaborative effort and, if SEO isn’t at the forefront of mind, there won’t be anyone coming to the site to experience the new UX.  

 

Conclusion

Redesigning any website, particularly an ecommerce site, is perhaps the single biggest threat to the site’s successful SEO. This article lays out common issues and how to resolve them, to avoid a dangerous and potentially deadly downgrade in SEO following your next relaunch.

 

19
Jun

Engage Customers as Creators to Improve Brand Perception and CLV

Co-written by Michael Bower and David Booth

Appeal to customers’ creative identity is one way to increase brand value

In a competitive marketplace, it’s important to consider all strategies that might lead to a meaningful connection with your audience. One way of reaching potential customers is to appeal to their social identity: the groups and tribes they believe they belong to.

When people feel that a product aligns with their own vision of themselves and their ideals, they are primed to be loyal, enthusiastic customers. This has real-world application for companies, especially for ecommerce companies.

In this paper we’ll examine:

  • Studies that illustrate the importance of social identity in marketing
  • The Creative social identity and why it can be effective when used in marketing
  • Three types of creative social identities—the Maker, the Aficionado, and the Iconoclast—and real-world examples of how these have been successfully used in branding and marketing

The creative social identity

Social identity can be defined as the part of a person’s self-concept that stems from their perceived membership in a group. And there are many studies that show social identity has a substantial impact on consumers’ purchasing behaviors. People have multiple social identities that shift over time, even over the course of a day. For example, someone’s dominant social identity might switch from “mother” to “runner” to “baseball fan” to “environmentalist,” as context demands.

Savvy marketing can appeal to these social identities in various ways. This is a common strategy. For obvious examples: Nike and Gatorade strive to appeal to the athletic and competitive social identities of their customers.

Marketers can also build social identities around their own products. One example: Harley Davidson’s Harley Owner’s Group, where group members get invited to events and receive special offers.

Research also suggests that desired behaviors can be primed by the right framing of expectations. In the article linked previously, a study was done by the authors that showed that just placing people into a “Creative”-titled group resulted in more creative behaviors from those participants.   

Creative Ideas

In a 2012 study of attitudes and beliefs about creativity, nearly two-thirds of adults indicated that being creative was valuable to society and key to economic growth. Many respondents (Americans especially) agreed that creativity “defines a person and enables them to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.” But only one in four felt they were living up to their creative potential.

Clearly, creativity is a highly valued trait. At the same time, people struggle to find ways to express creativity in their lives. This is where the marketing connection comes in:

By aiming your product or service at your audience’s desire to be creative, it’s possible to make a strong connection to your product.

Associating your product or service with the right social identity could enhance affinity for your product, build a community around your brand, and drive customer behaviors aligned with your overall strategy.

Now let’s look at three types of creative social identities and how they’ve been used by other companies.

The Maker

Given the popularity of the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) culture, the Maker movement, and other similar trends, it’s not surprising that some people have an increased valuation for self-assembled products. This is known in behavioral economics as “the IKEA effect.”

The Maker

This is a seemingly irrational phenomenon: people are willing to pay a premium for products that they must spend time and effort assembling themselves. How is this explained?

Even amongst people that claim no intrinsic interest in DIY projects, when their labor results in a successfully completed project, be it a Build-A-Bear or a bedside table, they tend to value their creations as on par with those of experts. Researchers posit that this increased valuation results from the positive feelings of productivity, enjoyment of the assembly task itself, and in some cases the ability to create products that reflect personal taste.

In essence, the customers have become Creators, or Makers. They’ve put their own labor into something and therefore have a greater connection to it.

There are many ways to harness the power of this IKEA effect to enhance your product’s value. Ecommerce marketing is particularly well-suited for this application.

Perhaps the most straightforward way for customers to imbue a product with their own labor is through customization. A Bain & Company survey of online shoppers showed that those who had customized a product engaged more with the company by:

  • Visiting its website more frequently
  • Spending more time in its online store
  • Remaining more loyal to the brand

Offering targeted customization options can shift the customer’s mindset from passive to interactive, changing the shopping experience from one of mere transaction to one of creation. Reimagining your ecommerce interface as an arena for creativity may appeal to customers who highly value creativity.

Dan Ariely, co-author of the IKEA Effect paper, emphasizes the importance of customers’ desire for this sort of interactive consumption. Where consumers might once have been content just to absorb information while reading or watching television, they now crave “constrained creativity.” Constrained creativity gives consumers the freedom to express themselves while also providing the structure by which they can measure their success— think paint-by-numbers, or a service like Blue Apron.

Indeed, Blue Apron provides a great deal of structure—they develop the recipes, portion and deliver the ingredients, and provide step-by-step instructions—while simultaneously encouraging subscribers’ creative expression, inviting them to customize their meal plan and execute the actual cookery. Their content marketing strategy, which led to 500% growth in 2015, relies on a similar combination of structure and self-expression: the team creates articles about the dish, its history, and new cooking techniques in order to engage subscribers and make them more likely to share their cooking results on social media networks.

The trend toward constrained creativity is in line with survey results indicating a sense of frustrated creative potential: if a customer feels that he lacks an outlet for his creative identity, he might place great value in products and services that allow him to express it. Brands that wish to appeal to would-be makers can use this knowledge to enhance the connection between product and customer.

Some ideas for appealing to customers in this way:

  • Offering online opportunities to customize products
  • Offering content that teaches the customer how to use your product for DIY projects
  • Offering brick-and-mortar experiences, like workshops or cooking classes

Other real-world examples:

  • Nike has a division called NikeiD, which allows users to design their own shoes.
  • Zazzle and CafePress are both companies that allow you to add your own custom artwork to a diverse array of clothing and household items.

The Aficionado

Another key driver of consumer choice is a consumer’s identification with a connoisseur social group. This form of creative consumption, which involves immersing oneself in a single product category, such as craft beer or vintage bicycles, illustrates the extent to which customers seek self-expression and community through the things they purchase. The purchasing experience itself becomes a form of self-expression, less about shopping than about going on a mission to learn and explore an interest.

One unsurprising but powerful example of the relationship between consumption and social identity comes from the music industry: a 2013 Nielsen study revealed that the 40% of consumers who identity as “fans” are responsible for 75% of total spending. These “Aficionado fans” spend across the category, not just listening to and exploring new music, but spending on artist merchandise, concerts, and online streaming services.

To appeal to the Aficionado, one approach is to present your storefront as a carefully curated collection of products, services, and stories central to your category. By connecting to the aficionado’s twin motivators, immersion and expertise, a brand can present itself as an essential resource for the aspiring connoisseur.

The Blue Apron strategy is again instructive here. Not only do they offer their customers an opportunity for structured self-expression, they also position their brand as a one-stop shop for the subscriber who wishes to become knowledgeable about food culture. The company’s foray into ecommerce, the Blue Apron Market, primes shoppers for purchase by creating and reinforcing the social identity of creative connoisseur. Product categories for product include headings like: “Uncork like a sommelier, sip with style,” “Smart Seasonings,” and “Cook Like A Pro!”

Aficionado

By connecting their products to connoisseurship, intelligence, and expertise, Blue Apron invites its readers into a social group of discerning “foodies” and frames its brand as an essential avenue for one type of creative expression. This association may be a factor in customers valuing the product highly.

Evidence also suggests that merely changing the price of a given product can lead the motivated customer to overvalue it and, crucially, derive more pleasure from it. A 2008 Stanford study involved subjects being told they were tasting two different wines, one that cost $5 and the other $45. In fact, both wines were the same. The study showed that the part of the brain that experiences pleasure became more active when the drinker was consuming the more expensive wine. Price can change, and perhaps heighten, experiences.

In contexts where would-be aficionados lack the actual skillset to discern the difference between products, they rely on price to indicate comparative value. This is why it can be a good strategy to present customers with products at multiple price points: the selection of a higher-value product can be a substitute for actual connoisseurship.

Other real-world examples:

  • Most car companies let you select some custom options when picking out a new car. One example is Cadillac, which has a “Build your own Cadillac” section of their site.
  • A Williams-Sonoma breadmaking machine was a failure until the company released a closely-priced higher-end model, which caused people to more highly value the lower-cost machine.

The Iconoclast

In a landscape where consumers are armed with more information than ever before and are provided seemingly endless opportunities for comparison and evaluation, some argue that an appeal to connoisseurs is insufficient.

In her book Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd, Harvard Business School professor Youngme Moon suggests that some of the most effective brands appeal to consumers using creative destruction. She argues that for “idea brands,” the most effective way to increase product value for consumers is through singularity, difference, polarization, and even hostility.

To return to the example of IKEA, Moon sees the store as having built its brand around a set of apparent negatives, including:

  • Inconvenient locations
  • Self-assembly
  • Limited delivery options
  • Rather low-quality products

However, IKEA embraced and enhanced its status as a “reverse brand,” presenting itself as a “retailtainment” experience. IKEA fans do not shop at the store for its quality products; they shop there for the singularity of the experience it offers—one that appeals to a customer’s sense of themselves as adventurous and willing to buck the culture of luxury, convenience, and pretension associated with other furniture stores.

The Iconoclast
Iconoclasm, or the practice of rejecting widely shared beliefs and practices, is also associated with individualism and creative vision. Brands that make an unconventional appeal, or demand their loyalists to take a stand, seek to activate this social identity. Creative destruction may seem a paradoxical form of self-expression, but it can be a powerful motivator for customers who wish to set themselves apart from the herd.

Establishing your brand as one that bucks trends, that creates a customer experience that doesn’t have wide appeal, or that polarizes its user base, can create unique opportunities for customer interest and loyalty.

Other real-world examples:

  • Apple’s “1984” commercial and similar Apple campaigns were aimed at attracting unorthodox, iconoclastic creative people who would be attracted by the independence and power allowed with the personal computer.
  • Soylent is a meal-replacement beverage popular amongst entrepreneurs and tech workers. Their branding is aimed at creative people who are so busy they don’t have time to waste on meals. Also, the product’s name is reminiscent of Soylent Green, a fictitious food product made from human beings: another indicator that they’re trying to appeal to iconoclasts who don’t mind dark humor.  

Find applications to your marketing efforts

Some of your customers will be seeking outlets for their creative social identity. Presenting your product or service as an appeal to their identities as makers, aficionados, or iconoclasts can be a powerful tool for increasing the perceived value of your offerings and increasing brand loyalty.

Would your products or services be a good fit for creative social identity messaging, or perhaps for targeting other social identities? Here are some suggestions for trying to find real-world applications to your company:

  • Read this paper again, thinking about how the concepts and examples mentioned might have an application to your company’s offerings.
  • Read the articles and studies linked in this paper, which have other real-world examples.
  • Conduct a brainstorming session where you come up with new ideas for social identity marketing.
  • Reach out to experienced business strategy companies (like our company, Sellry) for consultation on ways to implement these ideas.

For any questions about this white paper or about ecommerce strategy in general, please feel free to reach out to us. Our company is Sellry; we specialize in all things ecommerce—from user experience strategy and interface design to high-end hosting optimization; from custom module development to data integration.

01
Jun

5 Merchandising Tips for Your eCommerce Store

Online shopping is at an all-time high, and retailers should be doing everything in their power to ensure their online stores are at the highest standards of the consumer. Competition out there is fierce, and to succeed in today’s eCommerce world, online stores need to be functional, easy to navigate, and offer as much convenience as possible. Below are a few simple and effective tips to help increase conversions on your eCommerce store.

1. Site Navigation

Implementing site navigation on your eCommerce site allows customers to filter their search and find exactly what they are looking for in a fast and precise manner. Shoppers can select various filters such as, price, color, size, brand, etc. This strategy allows consumers to find exactly what they are looking for without having to scroll through pages of products, which can get frustrating. Site navigation has been proven to result in higher conversion rates, increased customer satisfaction and is an excellent strategy to implement for all retail ecommerce stores.

Site Navigation

2. Product Recommendations

Product recommendations gives customers an above satisfactory shopping experience by tapping into consumers’ cravings through “You Might Like” suggestions. Through these suggestion pages, retailers can enhance the consumer purchase experience, promote popular items, and increase product discovery and conversions.

3. Geo Targeting

Keeping in mind a consumer’s geographic location is a critical factor that many retailers forget about. A consumer in California, will have different shopping needs than a consumer in Toronto. That’s why it’s important to tailor your website accordingly. Geo merchandising allows your eCommerce site to be tailored to customer’s specific needs and wants, providing a sense of personalization. Nextopia’s geo target solution allows specific regions to be targeted with certain product promotions and recommendations.

Geotarget

4. Autocomplete

Autocomplete is one of the most powerful tools to implement on an eCommerce site. It allows consumers to type in a few letters to generate suggestions in a quick and accurate manner. This solution not only leads to customer satisfaction, but also increases conversions and overall sales. When choosing an autocomplete tool, make sure to choose a robust solution that is also able to detect and correct spelling errors. Some solutions even allow retailers to promote certain products as recommendations into the search bar.

autocomplete

5. Redirect from “No Results Found” Page

Retailers should be taking action to prevent consumers from reaching the dreaded “No Results Found” page. Simple tools can be implemented to avoid this, such as redirects. If a customer searches for a product that you don’t carry, this tool will redirect them to another product that they might be interested in based on their search. This will result in more sales than a “No Results Found” page, which may lead the consumer to search for the product on another site.

Conclusion

In order to get ahead of the competition in the eCommerce world, it is vital for retailers to invest in smart merchandising tools. The above tips are some of the easiest and most effective ways to improve the customer shopping experience, and all together, increasing online revenue.

This article was written by Jessalyn Rafalovich, on the partner marketing team at Nextopia. Nextopia provides powerful site search, navigation and merchandising solutions for internet retailers.

05
May

Powering Conversational E-commerce With Instant Messaging

From its humble beginnings as a limited business-to-business phenomenon in the early years of the internet more than forty years ago, e-commerce leaped quickly beyond the stodginess of brick-and-mortar stores after the dawning World Wide Web gained widespread public popularity in the mid-1990s. After two decades of expansion that drove past at least one cycle of frenzied speculative investments, modern e-commerce looks on track to consume an even bigger share of global economic activity. An extensive report from The Wall Street Journal reports among other things that Activate, a leading industry research group, sees global e-commerce revenues soaring to $2.1 trillion annually by 2021.

Still, classic e-commerce has always suffered from a few shortcomings. Whether or not most people are consciously aware of it, face-to-face encounters with other human beings soothe our social natures. The brick-and-mortar experience inherently includes such encounters even if many shoppers skip speaking with anyone but the cashier and perhaps one or two other customers.

Enter conversational e-commerce.

Text messaging has become the de rigueur method for quick communications, eclipsing email. Instead of showcasing a jumble of goods and services with little or no direct interaction with other human beings, savvy e-commerce websites offer customers the ability to instantly discuss their needs or place direct requests for their desired goods or services. Then a friendly store staffer fulfills the order without fuss.

That some store staffers are no more than sophisticated chatbots is beside the point. The comforting illusion of human contact is maintained. The nature of texting makes this tactic an easy ploy for reducing costs and conserving limited staff resources for complicated orders and especially demanding customers.

An explosion in mobile computing.

Mobile computing has exploded in popularity over the past decade. Busy people increasingly want to do their shopping on the run. They don’t want to be tied to a desktop for renting automobiles, buying new clothes, making restaurant reservations, and everything else imaginable. While mobile computing is undeniably convenient, smaller screens can be limiting when trying to wade through screen after screen of information.

Conversational e-commerce largely bypasses this problem. Instead of endlessly scrolling around within the limited visual scope of smartphones or tablets, customers can simply describe their desired outcomes and leave it up to the e-commerce company to figure it out. Company website resources serve in this context as guides rather than exact catalogs.

Better branding and profitability.

Some people think chatting is inherently frivolous. Far from being frivolous, instant e-commerce messaging is an opportunity to listen closely to customers’ needs and concerns and persuade them that the company’s brand naturally means friendly, helpful staffers. It’s an opportunity to slip personalized upselling into the conversation. It’s an opportunity to build loyalty and generate positive buzz on social networks. Above all, it’s an opportunity to exploit the worldwide Messenger communications network for every possible avenue to greater profits and stronger branding.

A powerful tool for marketing.

E-commerce messaging has joined email marketing, search engine optimization, content marketing, and social media marketing as another powerful tool for attracting customers, building loyalty, and increasing profits. Instant chat boxes can help make your customers happy with their shopping experience. They’ll feel as if your company has been paying personal attention to their needs.

Happy customers leave complimentary reviews and mentions on social media. E-commerce messaging support creates goodwill, builds your brand, and strengthens your company’s reputation for superior goods and services.

E-commerce platforms everywhere.

A complete e-commerce website has clickable buttons to pay for orders, to support customer feedback loops, and to fulfill other e-commerce functions. Now, that indispensable toolkit includes built-in functionality or plug-in buttons for starting live chats between consumers and e-commerce staff members. Messaging plug-ins are available for a growing number of e-commerce platforms. If you’re already using a major e-commerce platform, the chances are good that you can immediately install a plugin to start having real-time conversations with your customers. Easy solutions to your messaging support needs include Shopify Messenger, Zendesk Chat, among others.

Rampant growth in messaging.

The greater messaging environment promises only to grow. As Business Insider’s BI Intelligence research branch reports, the four leading mobile messaging apps now rival the four leading social media networks in monthly users. In 2016, Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp chat applications, twin giants of the American chat marketplace, saw upward of a billion monthly users. Chinese chat colossus WeChat reached a staggering 697 million active users monthly by the end of 2015. Other popular chat applications such as Japan-based Line have contributed still further to meeting the enormous global appetite for live chat networks.

Many industry experts expect the number of regular users of chat apps to reach 3.6 billion by 2018, representing 90 percent of all people with internet access. In the face of such growth in the popularity of chat apps, the majority of professional marketers view on-site live chat with Messenger compatibility as a mandatory tool for e-commerce websites.

March into the future with on-site Messenger support.

The sooner you upgrade your e-commerce website with the capability for live Messenger chats, the sooner you can reap the benefits of instant customer support, such as upselling opportunities across a global marketplace for your goods and services.

28
Apr

7 Free Tools to Craft a Brag-Worthy Email Campaign

You know the names — Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram. You’ve likely heard the tales — viral posts, exploding marketing campaigns. Still, when the rubber meets the road, 140 characters doesn’t always cut it. When you have a longer message to send, you need an email.

Email may not be as flashy as a Tweet, but it can be remarkably effective. Question: How can you harness the magic of an old-fashioned email marketing campaign? Answer: With the right tools. Here are some of the best (free) email marketing tools that will help you convert leads into sales.

Benchmark Email

With the Free for Life plan, subscribers can send up to 10,000 emails per month, an amount far higher than what’s available with most free programs. By signing up, you have access to a huge array of features, including email templates for nearly every occasion and industry, photo editing, message tracking, and a code editor for users who are more HTML savvy. As your email list expands to an international market, Benchmark Email also translates your email footers and unsubscribe pages into a variety of languages, including Chinese.

Mail Chimp

With 15 million customers, Mail Chimp must be doing something right. The program allows you to build on your e-commerce marketing strategy by connecting with your online store. It also has integrated Facebook advertising, marketing automation, tracking analysis, and customization features.

Litmus

While there are a plethora of paid features that are worth consideration on Litmus, there are some spectacular free options as well. In case you’ve ever wanted to know how other marketing geniuses pull it off, Litmus’ free program Scope will give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse. It also lets you review and share mobile and desktop previews of your own emails. A little apprehensive about sending an email without first previewing it? Putsmail lets you do just that. Simply enter your desired recipient list, subject line, and HTML to view a fully functional perspective of your marketing campaign. Though online forums usually have about as much information as your refrigerator, Litmus’ Community betrays the odds. There, you can communicate with other marketers who are tech-savvy and willing to help each other overcome the challenges of Outlook and Gmail.

Vertical Response

VerticalResponse’s free plan allows subscribers to store up to 1,000 contacts and send up to 4,000 emails every month. While this number is much less than what other programs provide, it is a solid option for businesses that don’t have a wide circulation. Choose from a library of professionally designed mobile-friendly email templates, automatic email welcome messages to new subscribers, and analytics so that you know who opened the email and what links they clicked on in the email.

Mad Mimi

For people who appreciate simplicity, Mad Mimi delivers. It offers a free newsletter plan and simple email templates with a straightforward interface that makes email marketing very doable. Through an ‘Add Things’ feature, you can engage in RSS marketing, create web forms, and more… but it’s completely functional (and not overwhelming) if you choose not to as well. The program allows you to deliver up to five emails a month to 2,500 recipients at no cost.

ReachMail

Another user-friendly option that is intuitive for people who don’t necessarily know how (or want) to code, ReachMail lets you create an email marketing campaign within minutes. There is a myriad of reporting features to help you analyze what’s working in your efforts, as well as automated social media sharing, a spam checker, email list cleaning, and free email templates.

Sendloop

Sendloop is unique in that it allows you to send drip campaigns — that is, automated emails that go out whenever people buy a product, sign up to a list, or anything else — for free. It also provides detailed stats about your efforts so that you know when to stay the course or change direction. Similar to Mad Mimi, you’re granted five emails per month to a maximum of 2,000 people.

Selecting the right tool to craft your email marketing is just the beginning of the journey. You still need to create your emails, learn the apps, and build your list of contacts. It’s a lot of work, to be sure, but worth every minute if you use the right approach.

21
Apr

Why Strong Customer Feedback Loops Are a Top Priority

In the humdrum routine of daily operations, it’s easy to miss warning signs of trouble ahead. Failing to notice customer dissatisfaction is like missing oncoming shark fins while you’re surfing the waves. If you don’t respond in time, your profits could disappear into the toothy mouths of hungry competitors.

The horror … the horror.

An influential 2011 report from Oracle goes into chilling detail. A devastating 89 percent of the consumers surveyed said they’d jump ship to a competitor after having had a bad experience with a company. Fully 86 percent indicated they’d willingly pay more for a better experience, and half said having to wait a week for an answer to their question was enough to drive them away.

That’s disturbing enough, but it gets worse. The report discloses that a startling 79 percent of the surveyed consumers saw absolutely no response to complaints they posted online about poor customer experiences. Snubbing unhappy customers doesn’t sound like a recipe for roaring success, does it?

A wonderful opportunity.

With eCommerce competitors a mere mouse click away and social networks ready to pounce on the smallest scandals, paying attention to rumbles of discontent is mandatory. It’s not all gnashing teeth and frothing mouths, though. Widespread consumer dissatisfaction with non-responsive brands is an opportunity for your own company to eat the profits of inattentive competitors.

Listening to your customers.

Ironically, initial success at many companies is itself the problem. Procedures meant for a smaller operation may not scale well. Customer experiences begin to get lost in a welter of bureaucratic inertia. Uncaring or undertrained line employees start to routinely blow off consumer complaints while telling out-of-touch managers that everything is peachy.

Fortunately, fixing this problem isn’t hard. Instead of relying on random observations, you can set up strategic customer feedback loops wherever they make sense. eCommerce websites lend themselves perfectly to such feedback mechanisms.

What’s a customer feedback loop, anyway?

It’s as simple as discovering what customers think of how your company is treating them and then reacting to that feedback with thoughtful improvements. Setting up a customer feedback loop could be as easy as putting a clearly marked button on a sales page that pops up a quick form for gathering comments on the sales process, which then go straight to the sales manager. The button might be accompanied by the following text: “Did you have a good experience? Please tell us how we’re doing!”

The sales manager or whoever else is responsible for customer care might have a detailed manual of responses or maybe just a few Post-it notes stuck to the wall, but the reaction is always the same. Learn why a customer is unhappy and make that customer happy. Change the company’s procedures so that other customers will be happy too. Ask line employees what other improvements would boost customer satisfaction. The same logic applies to shipping speed, product quality, service quality, and every other company operation that directly affects your customers.

An expansive toolkit for all needs.

Truth to tell, the toolkit for smart businesspeople is expansive. Surveys, community forums, social media reviews, feedback forms, follow-up calls, personalized after-sale emails — the list goes on and on. You’ll have no trouble finding the right tools for creating customer feedback loops that work for your own business.

Smooth sailing ahead.

Having effective mechanisms in place for tracking and responding to customer concerns and questions isn’t the whole story, but it’s a big part of it. Listening closely to your customers means the difference between merely keeping your head above water and surfing huge waves of profit. The presence of strong customer feedback loops at all levels of your eCommerce company will lead to smiling faces, rising profits, and smooth sailing!

14
Apr

4 Common SEO mistakes that are easy to avoid

Imagine you’re playing soccer. Tensed but ready for a shot at the goal, you strategize as sweat trickles down to the small of your back. Bouncing off your foot, the ball’s trajectory seems right; you’re pretty sure you’ve nailed this one. Excitement builds. Yet, in the fractions of a second before the ball is supposed to meet the back of the net, the whole goal shifts—just an inch to the left. Nevertheless, that inch is enough to make the ball hit the side post and careen off the pitch. No goal, no point.

You feel completely deflated.

When you’re trying to optimize your website for search engine hits, that sinking feeling you get may feel very similar because the game keeps changing. Google and other search engines keep growing smarter. Tactics that worked a mere three years ago seem outdated by today’s standards. The challenge, then, is to simultaneously keep up with website maintenance while also updating for SEO purposes.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the most common SEO mistakes that even the most seasoned among us make. The good news is that each of them is easy to circumvent. Hint: That’s where we come in.

1. Only Focusing on the Numbers

When it comes to website traffic, quality matters far more than quantity. While it’s nice to see the number of visitors increase, it’s rather meaningless unless those numbers become conversions. Keep in mind that lower-traffic phrases will convert better because they’re more targeted to your ideal customer. Obtaining first-page search engine results with just a few of those key phrases can propel sales.

To find out what’s working, use an analytics package to establish conversion tracking for keyword phrases. Then, compare them against one another to see what’s benefitting the budget.

2. Keyword Cannibalism

Overstuffing your website with keywords and adding more content just to add more keywords is not useful. Though it may have worked years ago, Google has become privy to this practice and now favors quality over quantity. It also causes your pages to compete with one another. Instead, add a canonical to competing pages, create content that prompts people to share, and generate worthwhile inbound links.

3. Neglecting Meta Descriptions

Sure, the meta descriptions may not be as sexy as keywords, but they are nearly as important. Craft thoughtful meta descriptions to improve click-through rates from the SERPS and lessen bounce-through visits. Both of these are crucial elements to rankings on search engines.

4. Forgetting the Outside World

While you want to establish yourself as an authority, it’s important to link to authoritative outside sources as well. All too often people expend tremendous energy on linking within their site and neglecting to build credibility with outside authorities.

24
Mar

How to Maintain Motivation

When you first started your business, it was probably a roller coaster of ups and downs…good, bad, terrible and bad again. Honestly, it can feel crazy–we know. But it can also give that adrenaline rush that makes you so productive, and it’s new. The whole process is challenging and exhausting, but also exciting!

You most likely sailed through all of this due to your adrenaline pumping; due to the novelty, and due to your determination that your work would produce profitable results. However, once your business was up and running and on track for steady profitability, you may have found your motivation and drive fading away.

Why is it that once we “get the ball rolling”–I.E. the money is coming in–that we become bored, less than passionate, stale?  While you have the money, more than money needs to be in place to keep up your love of the work.

Here are some ways to get your motivation up and running:

People

You probably talked to many advisers, peers and industry experts when you were in the dreamy early phase of setting up your company. If you’re like most business founders, you got busy and stopped having the time to interact with these early influencers. Those who have been down the path you are on are not only invaluable for  their wisdom gained through experience but also their encouragement.  They are a shoulder to lean on, a friend who gets the crap you’re going through and stream of new perspective and ideas.

Clarity

If you don’t come up for air you will sink. Stop and really assess how you are spending your work time.  Identify or ask for help identifying time saps; tasks you can delegate and activities you can drop — even if it’s only one. And make sure not to jump on other new difficult tasks that could be delegated. Instead look for creative outlets. Studies find that having a creative outlet is correlated to boosted work performance.

Pacing

If you’re too tired to think, too booked to enjoy, money alone is not going to do much for you.  Delegate, drop, or streamline any process, system, to-do list, task etc that is in your power to simplify. If you need help doing so, get it.

We recommend outsourcing processes that do not need your direct involvement–this can also save cash as it can be less expensive than hiring an employee. Other time savers you can include are using Amazon for your product fulfillment, signing up for automated book – keeping or getting a virtual assistant.  Note that it is the tedious, repetitive tasks that are ideally delegated or outsourced; you do not want to hand over the reins of your business to someone else.

Celebration

Remember when you first started how every achievement called for a celebration? Acknowledging and getting excited about what you accomplish revs you up to produce more and better.  Take larger goals for your business and break them down into smaller daily or weekly tasks that you can and will actually do. Then, as you complete them, acknowledge that you are making progress and enjoy that– maybe even throw a party.

Newness

Day in day out same-o same-o.  Bored to death? Any innovation in your business can bring back the same zeal and enthusiasm you had when you first started out.  It is your business– go for it!  Try a new product line, shake things up a bit. Have fun! Why not go one step further and identify a new niche? If you have a clothing business, try including fashion accessories. If you have web design firm, you may want to branch out into social media management.

The Clincher: Take Responsibility for Your Experience

Treat yourself as an employee

Employees have a pay check to look forward to, they are also expected to work for the hours originally agreed upon and are often compensated for over time. While being a business owner does not always allow the same perks, it is your job to set in place rewards and boundaries for yourself.

Cultivate Joy!

Take some time and engage in the components of your company that actually interest you: Hang with your team or even your customers.  Test a trending marketing tactic.  Vamp up one of your products. Take time to remember why you started in the first place and remember how far you have come.  Most importantly take some time for yourself.  Pick up that hobby you dropped, do something crazy.  Catch up on sleep– chill.  Tending ourselves recharges us and goes a long way in producing momentum and results in our companies.
Yes, maintaining your books and going through employee performance reports is important. However, doing nothing but the daily grind is sure to leave you disinterested– just like in a relationship. Want your engine to rev? Take the time to fuel up.

17
Mar

Customer “Lifecycle” Emails

As their name implies, customer lifecycle emails are sent out during the ‘lifetime’ of the customer – not his natural lifespan, but the period for which he is a customer, or a prospective one. You may already be sending out welcome emails when they sign up, transactional emails like order confirmation and shipping notifications, and even marketing email in the form of newsletters. What you are probably not doing is sending out other types of emails that have the potential to increase sales, such as educational/informational emails centered around one of your products/services.

1. Shopping cart abandonment emails

If you are not sending them out yet, you should – 67.45% of all shoppers on e-commerce sites abandon their carts before checkout. The frequently cited reasons are ‘Website crashed’ and ‘Website timed out’. While these are technical factors that you may have no control over, you could win them back with shopping cart abandonment emails. These save them the hassle of not having to select the same items all over again and add them to their shopping cart. Interestingly, 44.1% of all shopping cart abandonment emails are opened and read. For some, it is the final price that is preventing them from making a purchase. They might have been enticed by the offer price, but shipping and taxes may have pushed it to an unacceptable level. A discount is all it takes to get them to complete the purchase.

2. Personalized emails

Notice how many eCommerce kings are using “Recommended For You” sections on their site? These add a personal element to return shoppers and translate perfectly into lifecycle emails. They should contain information regarding related products to your customer’s search and purchase habits. If your customers have had a great shopping experience with you, they are more than likely to buy from you again. Sometimes they just don’t know that you have that other product they’ve been looking for. A small nudge in the right direction does a lot more than a shot in the dark with general products.

3. Customer re-engagement emails

If there are customers who have purchased from your site, but it has been some time since their last purchase, you could win them back with emails that tell them they are valued customers. Emails with “Hello, how are you?” in the subject line with a personal message in the body mentioning how they haven’t shopped with you recently can prove effective in bringing these customers back. Add coupons and attractive discounts that compel them to make their next purchase. Try not to include product images or specific product discounts in the email body for personal re-engagement emails. These tend to de-personalize the first message. But general coupons with simple imagery can work well to add return incentive in a personal email.

4. How to do it correctly

The first step is to get the tone of the email right. This is best learned from experience, as what may work for one customer base may not work for another. You need to manually write emails to your customers using a variety of styles and see which ones work the best, or rather, which styles are the most suited for the types of emails mentioned above. A good trick to start writing personal emails to start testing what works better is by imagining the customer you’re writing to. Start with a name and determine little things about them that help you imagine who they are. By doing this, you’ll unintentionally write much more relationally and have a better chance of coming across as personal. Try multiple styles with separate customer blocks and test which ones have better results.

Now that you know what strikes a chord with your customers, you need to come up with email templates that still sound like they were written by a real person. These can then be programmed into an email software. You could have one that handles all your mailing, or you could choose specific software for certain types of emails.

5. The shortcut: email software

It’s really good to work through all of the above steps yourself, but that doesn’t make the tools I’m about to list any less helpful in the execution. Here are some of my favorite options for lifecycle email software:

Carthook

Carthook is an email software that specializes in cart abandonment emails. It’s a one-trick pony, and it does that trick exceptionally well.

Windsor Circle

Geared towards customer retention, Windsor Circle is a platform for sending out re-engagement emails. The cost of acquiring a new customer works out to be five times as retaining one, and so it makes financial sense to get you existing customers to buy from you again. For three of their clients, Windsor Circle manages to deliver revenues of $1.03 per email.

MailChimp

It can be used for all types of emails, including welcome emails and transactional emails. They have added product recommendations and shopping cart abandonment emails to their repertoire of features, and that makes MailChimp all the more attractive as a one-stop solution for all your needs.

Custora

This software suite takes care of all your emailing requirements. Custora makes sense when you have at least 200,000 email list subscribers already.

Drip

Drip does more than send out marketing email. It studies which visitors are most engrossed with the content on your pages, identifies them as the strongest possible leads, and then sends out email. This intelligent approach has landed their clients many new customers, and the lightweight software comes at a tenth of the price of comparable products.

Klaviyo

Klaviyo is built specifically for e-commerce sites. Klaviyo’s email templates are responsive. More and more people are accessing the internet on their mobile devices, and the number of mobile-only internet users has exceeded the number of PC-only internet users. Make sure that when your emails are sent, the ‘From’ email address is something that recipients can respond to. It should appear to have been sent from the account of a real person, not something like ‘sales@company.com’ or ‘care@company.com’. It only puts customers off when they read ‘This is a system-generated email, please do not reply’. You could even try adding ‘Sent from my iPhone’ at the end to give it a personal feel, as long as the emails sound like they were written specifically for the recipient.

Crafting a customer lifecycle email timeline takes work and time to perfect, but I think it’s the best customer-to-sales retention method out there and well worth the time and effort to setup. Let us know if you have any lifecycle email secrets that have changed the way you sell and don’t hesitate to call us if you want to talk to us about setting up a strategy that works best for you.

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10
Mar

Increase Organic Search Traffic

Organic traffic to your website is what comes in naturally, as opposed to ‘inorganic’ where you pay for it. For increasing organic search traffic, there is only one way – you need to rank higher. And this is how it can be done:

Does your website have all the right keywords?

You might think you do, but there might be terms that you have missed out on entirely. The best way to find out is look for what other terms or keywords users search for, in addition to those that you already have on your website. For instance, your site might be optimized for ‘marketing agency’, but this kind of keyword research might also throw light on the fact that those who search for this term also tend to search for ‘digital media agency’ and ‘online marketing agency’.

After you figure this out, your website needs to be optimized for them. Keyword stuffing is a strict no-no, so you would have to insert them subtly, as if there occur naturally in the copy on your pages – Google rewards a natural style of writing. A good content writer can help you out with this.

Long-tail keywords: Apart from making the most use of your keyword research, long-tail keywords like ‘marketing agency in San Francisco, California’ helps. Google doesn’t make a note of the preposition, but it does record ‘marketing agency’ and ‘San Francisco’. Too much repetition of a single long-tail keyword is a dead giveaway, so also try ‘marketing agency in the Bay Area’. It also helps if you can manage to insert other location-based long-tail keywords like ‘marketing agencies in the United States’. This could be part of a longer sentence, such as ‘Sea Green Marketing Solutions has grown to become one of the best marketing agencies in the United States.’

Regular Articles

Every change you make on the internet is noticed by Google. The search engine constantly crawls the web looking for fresh content. It would be hard to keep changing the design/content of your website regularly, so what you could do is have a blog section and post an article every now and then. Although the recommended frequency is once a week, it could also be once in two weeks, once in three weeks; or once in a month, depending on the industry sector you are in.

What you should absolutely take care to ensure is that everything you post adds value in some way. It doesn’t have to be about your product as long as it’s relevant to your buyers. There is no point in putting up articles that read like advertisements for your organization or service. Try to have ‘informational’ blog articles – these also generate a lot of traffic when they are shared on social media (people love experts who share their knowledge for free), and because Google also looks at social media activity, your web site is bound to be ranked higher, bringing in even more visitors.

Have a video

Video is the most consumed form of content online. Websites with videos tend to be ranked higher, because people stay longer on the pages to watch the video, which is an indicator of the website being ‘more interesting’. The world’s premier search engine is increasingly becoming more human-like, and so it would be wise to have a video. A well-shot promotional video is good – and you needn’t hire a camera crew, it could be done on your iPhone and edited down. If the video is too long, people lose interest midway – the average attention span for humans is only eight seconds.

A longer video is great, but only if it is a ‘how-to’ video that explains how users can do something themselves. This too contributes to a higher search engine ranking because of its informational content (users stay longer on your page to watch it). Just try not to have this on your homepage. Once people are committed to exploring your website they’re much more likely to invest time in watching a longer form video.

Say no to black hat SEO

These are techniques that are intended to fool Google into giving you a higher ranking. They might be temporarily successful, but Google constantly keeps updating its search algorithm, so once you are ‘blacklisted’, it might be hard to climb out of the hole, no matter what you do.

Too many websites shoot only to please Google. Including crucial keywords and attractive content to rank higher is essential for good organic traffic generation, but focusing on your customer’s experience is most important. Google’s algorithm is constantly updated in attempt to favor the consumer more and more. If you create good content for your consumers with a mindfulness of Google’s current trends, you’re sure to grow your organic traffic.

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