Monday, February 8, 2010

Email Personalization/Testing

Nice article today from Jeanne Jennings at ClickZ regarding email best practices and testing. She comments on the use of click-stream data and other analytics to personalize and customize email messages.

She talks about the fine line between the importance and effectiveness of personalization and message relevance and 'hyper-personalization', or a 'big brother-ish' feeling one gets from knowing a company may have too much information about the recipient, where they surfed on a website and how that can be a turn-off. Couldn't agree more.

I will say however that striking the right balance between personalization and intrusiveness is a very important element to test and get right. How much likely are you to respond to an email with your name in the subject line, or with an offer or content from someone or something that you know you recently looked at? Can have a huge affect on conversions.

On the topic -- I've recently received an email from a company (that I've opted in to) that nevertheless went directly into my spam folder in Yahoo. Couple things jumped out at me -- it's important to make certain you have some copy at the top of your emails to ask the recipient to either include your address in their address book/list of accepted email senders or to provide them the option to opt out of future messages (in fact a clear and prompt opt-out procedure is a CAN SPAM requirement).

A quick review of the email also pointed out some potential spam folder issues - it had 'FREE' in the subject line and had quite a few images in the email body. These elements might not automatically doom you, but they don't help.

Many ESP's (definition) have built in spam filters that allow you to test and score your emails to see how likely they are to make it through spam filters and become deliverable into in-boxes. If yours doesn't there are many free spam filters available (SpamAssassin and SpamCheck to name but two) for you to use, I heartily recommend.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Website's Influence on Buying Decisions

On Wednesday Hubspot put up a blog post/chart (below) about a new survey released by 97% of survey respondents (which included more than 200 buyers of professional services) stated that websites had at least some measure of influence over their ultimate buying decisions. 97%.

This hopefully tells you something you've known for some time, that nearly all confirmed buyers will eventually make their way to your website (or your competitors) to gather information to help inform their buying decision. And that's not just product-specific data.

We know from analysis of the marketing and sales funnels that at the beginning of this journey, these prospects are first looking for educational content and thought leadership that first speaks to an understanding of business challenges, how that relates to their specific needs and then provides answers that help solve these challenges. Not until those questions have been satisfied do these prospects seek specific information on the vendor solutions that support these ideas.

This blog has spoken often about the need to have a website that provides compelling (and easily obtainable) content to prospects for each stage of the funnel they are in, as well as for their specific roles/pain points relative to their responsibilities to the overall decision chain. This only further supports that.

If you feel your website is not sufficiently content-optimized, it's not too big an elephant to start the changes needed right now. I'm sure you have sufficient content already in your site copy, your campaign offers and assets, etc. The keys are to get that content organized, updated and targeted, and get it on the site (and searchable). Simple SEO, such as keyword development and creating meta tags for your page titles, descriptions and keywords can be done in a few days. Paid search that supports those keywords can be done in minutes. Create a landing page/s that provide a path for prospects to gain further information from you while exchanging some of their personal data. Ensure that your blog is liked to your site and pump a steady stream of your brilliance into it. Link those posts to your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. It's not difficult. There are prospects who are waiting to hear from you right now...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Search Strategies in 2010

Three new articles out this week each underscore the evolution (and importance of) search as we go into 2010. Each article I felt raised some interesting issues pertaining to how an organization should consider constructing their search strategies in driving traffic to their websites.

At HubSpot they took a survey of existing clients to find that of the three primary methods to drive search traffic (organic, paid, referral sites), organic drives more traffic than both paid and referral combined. Considering the added credibility (and increased conversion) of organic search vs paid, how much of your search budget is devoted to SEO vs strictly paid?

On the Google Blog, they provided a very brief summary of some stats from 2009 -- all are interesting factoids, but one especially stood out for me w/respect to driving traffic:
Number of search quality improvements made by Google in 2009: 540, ~1.5 each day

What this tells me is the importance of having a dynamic SEO strategy, and not just staying pat w/the hand you have. It's a daily fight to stay abreast of Google's changing algorithm's, keeping your keywords in the top echelon and beating your competitors to the punch to get the best terms and results.

In ClickZ's 2010 online marketing trends for 2010 the article mentions the increased use (and increased competitiveness) of broad key terms that are used earlier in the purchase process due to their limited supply. It's critical that you identify (and make ROI-based decisions) on your broad term keywords as they are highly sought after and expensive. Create sufficient metrics to see which of those terms best move the needle with regards to the ultimate purchase decision.

The article also reminds us of the ever-expanding use of YouTube (the world's 2nd largest search engine btw). How much content are you preparing for video share sites like YouTube? Translating as much of your content and making it suitable for various channels (digital, video, podcast, print, personal) should be an important consideration of your content development strategy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Forrester Wave Report on ESP's

Forrester Research recently came out with their Wave report reviewing 15 top Email Service Providers (ESPs). Summary here, full report can be downloaded from ExactTarget here.

The report has both ExactTarget and Responsys as being ranked at the top, with both being cited for providing robust and comprehensive offerings, excellent functionality and very good service to support their platforms. I've worked with both solutions and can attest to their power and flexibility.

Other notable ESPs mentioned include Yesmail, e-Dialog, Acxiom, Experian and Epsilon. Not ranking quite as high is Lyris, which I've also worked with. I feel Lyris is an up-and-comer in the space due to their solid analytics package, simple content creation, PPC management and burgeoning social media capabilities.

Some other interesting notes include that 92% of those surveyed for the report say they are actively using email marketing as part of their marketing mix and agree that spending on email marketing will be increasing in the next 3 years. So much for the death of email as a marketing tool.

Enhancing the business case for ESPs includes marketers offsetting staffing losses with the increased productivity and efficiency that ESPs provide, and an increased relevance in marketing programs.

I believe a great deal of that increased relevance is (and will continue to be) due to more and more companies embracing lead nurturing and a mutual value exchange in their interactions with new prospects. Email has become the de facto communications channel for timely, compelling and relevant interactions between company and prospects. As the ROI for email marketing for cold lists (list rental) continues to decline, the ROI on house lists/marketing databases should rise as marketers seek to build relationships through their communication by providing thoughtful, educational and targeted content that prospects seek out and come to expect.