Michael Epstein

Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution by SEO

How to Handle Online Complaints

One of the worst fears business owners face is seeing a complaint or negative customer review posted online. Whether it’s on a review site such as Yelp or Ripoffreport, social media, or even a relatively unknown site that happens to show up near the top of the search results for anyone researching your business, it’s extraordinarily frustrating for entrepreneurs. So when small business resource site RabidOfficeMonkey asked me to help their readers understand how to handle this tricky situation, I was eager to contribute.  Here’s a brief summary of some of the key takeaways, but you can read the complete text at their site here.

How many times have customer reviews or online feedback influenced your purchasing decision? We all know how important these can be and how much a negative review can impact your business; studies have also been done confirming this. Yet, no matter how much you can try to provide excellent products and services and have no intention of ever disappointing a customer, it’s likely unavoidable that at some point during the life of your business, a customer will still post something unflattering online. The important thing is what you do next.

It’s tempting to engage the complainer, especially when it comes to defending your business, employees, and even yourself. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you, because your response is likely to also become public and can further escalate the situation if not handled properly. Alternatively, a great response can be an opportunity to demonstrate your customer service values and attract new customers as a result.

  1. Stay Calm: A calm, collected approach will help appease even the toughest critic and make you look good, should your response be made public. Often customers need to vent and want to be heard. Keep your emotions in check and don’t make the situation worse. 
  2. Acknowledge and Apologize: Express empathy for their situation, even if you don’t believe you are completely responsible. The customer feels that way for a reason. Don’t make the customer feel like you’re blowing them off. Show that you understand and respect their concern. Sincerely apologize and reassure them that you will help rectify it.
  3.  Explain, Solve, and Appreciate: If you can, explain how and why the customer experienced the issue without placing blame. Accept responsibility for whatever your role was in the situation or for their negative experience in general. Describe clearly the steps you will take to rectify the situation. Exceeding their expectations with your proposed solution can really delight the customer and convert them from angry to thrilled. Show appreciation for bringing the issue to your attention and mention how you might use their feedback to make improvements to your business. This can reinforce that their voice was heard and fosters the relationship with your brand.

Often the most vocal critics become the most enthusiastic brand proponents when you solve their problem. So look at online complaints as an opportunity to discover ways to improve your business and showcase your customer service skills. Your business and your mental state will reap the benefits.

9 Signs It’s Time to Update Your Website (and How to Fix It)

CIO Magazine recently published some great tips on how to tell if your website could use some updating, featuring input from yours truly. There are several relatively quick and inexpensive improvements you can make to improve the overall performance of your site, while others require more in-depth planning and development. Let’s sum up the nine signs that the article points out along with some added points from me:

  1. Your Traffic Isn’t Converting Into Sales – Or leads. If your website isn’t achieving your intended goals, you need to address it or you are wasting money and effort. Try split-testing to find updates that improve your website performance.
  2. Your Site Has High Bounce Rates – Customers aren’t finding what they are looking for. Your site may be hard to navigate, but you should also look at the sources of traffic and make sure you’re not advertising in places that don’t drive interested visitors.
  3. Your Site Takes Forever to Load – People are impatient and no one likes waiting around for pages to appear. Additionally, search engines take page load speed into consideration when ranking your site.
  4. It’s Difficult to Add Content or Update Your Site — Without Having to Pay Someone a Lot of Money to Do it for You- Content management systems such as WordPress or various ecommerce platforms should make it easy enough for someone non-technical to make basic updates to your site content if necessary. You shouldn’t need to pay a software engineer to change 3 words on a page.
  5. Your Website Isn’t Mobile Friendly – A responsive design allows your website to automatically resize to fit the device the user is on. With the drastic increase in mobile browsing, tablets, and other devices, you’re missing out if your site isn’t mobile friendly.
  6. No Way to Opt In/Sign Up to Receive News or Promotions – The vast majority of visitors leave your site without taking the intended action. You did the hard work of getting them there in the first place. Be sure to make every effort to capture their email address so you can continue to engage with them.
  7. Your Content is Stale – A store doesn’t carry the same products forever. Keep your products and your content fresh. Both your customers and search engines will find you more relevant.
  8. No Social Media Links – If you want people talking about your brand and products, include social following and sharing buttons to help get the conversation started.
  9. Your Buttons Look Dated – A quick and easy way to improve the overall look and performance of your page. Test more eye-catching colors or include graphical cues that help identify your conversion path to your customers and monitor your analytics to see how it impacts your goal conversion rates.

If you’ve got any more signs, be sure to leave a comment below!

What is Inbound Marketing?

Do you love getting interrupted? Cold-calls, unsolicited emails, and advertisements, all trying desperately to get your attention while you’re in the middle of something else that you actually care about.  I didn’t think so. If you’re using these as your primary marketing tactics, how do you think that makes your target customers feel? As anyone who has spent much time cold calling knows, less than thrilled.

How much better are your conversion rates when a visitor found you through a specific organic search or when a lead calls you as a result of a referral?

While there is a time and place for this kind of traditional (outbound) marketing where companies focus on finding customers, inbound marketing is focused on getting found by customers, especially in a manner that is timely and contextually relevant.

Instead of interrupting people with ads, inbound marketers might create videos or infographics that potential customers want to see.  They create their own business blog that people subscribe to and look forward to reading, create whitepapers that establish authority and help capture leads, and guest blog on other relevant sites to generate increased awareness. Instead of cold calling, they create and distribute useful content and tools to engage prospects who ultimately reach out to them for more information.

Instead of pushing a message out in hopes of convincing the audience to become interested, inbound marketing is intended to naturally attract highly qualified customers to the business.

Successful Inbound Marketing campaigns generally incorporate three key components:

  1. Content – Content creation is at the core of inbound marketing. It is the information or tool that attracts potential customers to your site or your business and feeds your overall marketing strategy.
  2. Search Engine Optimization – Search engine optimization makes it easier for potential customers to find your content. It is the practice of building and improving your site and earning inbound links to your site to increase your ranking in search engines, where many of your customers begin their buying process.
  3. Social Media – Social media is a great distribution channel and helps amplify your content. It helps reach people outside of your actual website in places where they may already be, and as your content spreads across social media channels, it inherits greater authenticity.

In the long run, these inbound tactics can be more cost effective than paying for traditional advertising and offer a longer lifespan. With paid advertising an d outbound marketing, when you stop paying for the ads and making calls, the leads stop coming in. When you invest in content, it lives on the internet indefinitely and can continue to get found and produce results long after it’s initially introduced. You’re also reaching people who are more targeted and receptive to your offer, because they would have likely found you as a result of searching for something relevant to your business or have demonstrated interest in your content. Compelling, thought-leadership content also helps pre-qualify the lead before you make contact by establishing trust and authority.

It’s important to note, generating results through inbound marketing is far from quick and easy. If you need immediate traffic or leads, outbound tactics like pay per click can be effective. However, inbound marketing should be an crucial part of your long-term marketing strategy and ultimately can be a very compelling, cost-effective way to grow your business.

 

Is Your Big Idea an Actual Business?

I recently had the opportunity to write for the Small Businesses Do it Better blog. Host and editor Carissa Dunphy interviews small business owners, entrepreneurs and industry experts, creating a site that offers valuable resources and insight to current and aspiring entrepreneurs. I’m often approached by people who may have an idea that they think could be a big hit on their hands, but want to get an understanding of what it takes to actually create a business around it. There’s a lot more to it than one might expect, and it’s critically important to get some clarity on this before you start investing significant time and resources into your idea. So when Carissa asked me to help answer the question, “Is Your Big Idea an Actual Business?” I was eager to contribute.

In this post, I discuss the following 6 questions you should be asking yourself:

  1. Is there a defined market? Every adult in America is not a defined market. You sound like you don’t understand your product.
  2. Does it solve a problem or fill a need? Understanding product/market fit. Better to find out sooner rather than later if you need to adjust your idea.
  3. Is someone willing to pay for it? There’s a big difference between nice to have and need to have. It takes a lot to get someone to open up their wallet.
  4. Have you gotten feedback? Keeping your idea a complete secret could mean missing out on valuable insight.
  5. Do you know how you will target and attract potential customers? Waiting for your product or company to go viral is not a marketing plan. Really.
  6. Are you ready to act? – When it comes down to it, are you prepared to commit the time and resources to really give your business a chance of success?

Check it out and find out if you are ready to take your idea to the next level!

Introduction to SEO

An Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

Everyone wants their business to appear at the top of the Google search results. However, most business owners don’t have the first clue about what it takes to achieve this. Google results are broken up into 2 sections – paid and organic. Paid vs Organic Search The most important part to recognize is there is no quick and easy way to get to the top of the organic (free) results – unless you want to risk getting penalized. It takes considerable planning, time, and effort.

Moz offers a comprehensive introduction to SEO, but for the sake of simplicity, here are the fundamentals you should understand.

1) Determine Your Target Keywords

Building a SEO strategy starts with selecting good target keywords. It’s important to make sure your keywords are highly relevant, not overly broad (as those will be more difficult to compete for), but popular enough that there is some interest in the terms.

Tip:  If you have existing traffic to your site, examine your analytics to find out how your visitors are finding you and look for keyword clues there.

2) Optimize Your Website For Your Target Keywords

With target keywords in mind, it’s time to begin implementing your SEO strategy throughout your website.  Each page on your website needs to include the various elements that help Google understand the relevancy of the page. Each website page should have the following elements focused around one of your keywords:

  • Page Title (under 70 characters)
  • Meta Description (under 155 characters)
  • H1 & H2 Title Text (break up main content by describing it with sub-headers)
  • Alt Text (every image needs a title)
  • Keyword in Content (a few times, naturally)

Tip: Write content for your users, not for search engines. Create useful, information rich, and original content for your website without “stuffing” it with keywords, and you’ll find that both users and search engines alike will benefit.

3) Develop An Ongoing Website Content Strategy

Once you build your site, it’s important to continuously create new content. This helps grow the amount and quality of pages that are relevant to your business, as well as ensures your site doesn’t get stale, which is something Google looks down upon.

Great content answers the questions your audience is asking in their minds (or out loud), informs and educates, exudes candor and authenticity, and is ultimately captivating. Google looks favorably upon this engaging content that serves the user well and keeps them on your site.

To further support your website content strategy, you can create a blog.

Companies that blog get 55% more web traffic and 70% more leads than those that don’t. – HubSpot (Inbound Marketing Company)

Every new post that you publish is an opportunity to target new keywords. These articles can also be promoted and distributed socially to drive additional traffic to your site and help you build authority.

The key to effective blogging is to write about the kinds of things your visitors are interested in learning about. Don’t be overly promotional about your own products or services. As mentioned, your content should be authentic and valuable.

Tip: You can create links to pages within your own site to help create connections between your content.

4) Obtain Quality Backlinks

Inbound links to your website, or backlinks, are created when other websites link back to your website as a relevant resource in support of their content. Obtaining links from vendors or other partners as well as authoritative sites within your industry can send great signals to search engines that your site is relevant.

Finding good distribution channels for your content is critical so that your target audience may discover it and ultimately link back to it. Be proactive about promoting your site and content through channels such as social media and engaging with your audience outside of your site and you can really speed up the process of search engines taking notice.

You can also contribute quality content to other relevant sites, typically in the form of guest blog posts.  The idea behind guest posts is that everyone wins.  The site posting your content gets quality content that benefits their audience, while you get to expose yourself to a new audience and position yourself as an authority in your industry.  A natural, properly placed link back to your website you also provide a quality inbound link that will benefit your search engine optimization efforts.

Tip: Backlinks are no longer about quantity as much as they are about quality. Focus on creating valuable content that earns you relevant backlinks from prestigious sources.

5) Analyze, Refine, and Repeat

It’s important to monitor your metrics to determine what tactics are most effective and uncover new opportunities. Give extra attention to keywords that aren’t moving enough and repeat the steps you took that brought results in the past. You’ll get better as you go and as you build momentum, you’ll see an exponentially increasing impact.

Tip: Without reviewing and understanding your metrics you’re working blindfolded. Use tools to help you plan your strategy, manage your tactics and monitor your results.

Conclusion

This should serve as a road map for your efforts and help you understand the time and resource commitment that you should expect.

What to Look for and Avoid When Hiring a Content Writer

Content is really the driving force behind most forms of marketing tactics including SEO, social media, and email marketing. It also is what leads to high converting web pages and helps define your brand. Content that answers the questions your audience is asking in their minds (or out loud). Content that informs and educates, so the audience feels that their time reading it was well spent. Content that tells a story, exudes candor and authenticity, and is ultimately captivating. However, the thought of constantly creating high quality content can be daunting to many business owners and even marketing departments who are pressed for time, or even experiencing writer’s block. And hiring a full time staff-writer often isn’t practical. Luckily, there are some great freelance writers that can help fill or supplement your ongoing need for great content. But how do you find a great content writer who can match the tone of your brand and deliver thought-leadership level quality pieces?

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I was recently interviewed by marketing software comparison company Software Advice on the topic of “How to Hire the Right Freelance Writers for Content Marketing.” This piece goes into great detail about what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to hiring a content writer and is worth reading in full. However, I’ll summarize a few key takeaways:

What to Look For

Find writers who have some familiarity with the subject matter, or who have experience writing at a high level on a variety of subjects. My tip was that if you’re on a tight budget or pressed for time, it helps to find someone who has at least some familiarity with the industry or concept. If you need content on topics that appeals to teenage girls, even a highly capable writer might find it difficult to accurately fit the tone and write authoritatively on the subject if they only have experience writing government policy pieces. Ideally, the content writer should be adaptable and able to cover a variety of topics in a persuasive and compelling way, so that you don’t have to look for different writers when you have new topics to cover. A great content writer should also understand the fundamental marketing and business concepts behind content marketing. They should have a strong grasp of how content is distributed and consumed online, how to craft engaging titles and copy and how to align the content with your specific business goals.

Red Flags

There are some telltale signs that you don’t have the right fit as well. A red flag is when there are spelling or grammatical mistakes in direct correspondence, or if they can’t put together a coherent thought. Additionally, like when hiring any freelancer, they should be highly responsive. If you have an ongoing need for content, you don’t want to be constantly chasing after your content writer as your brand suffers. And lastly, I discussed how it’s important to ensure they are not plagiarizing any of the content using simple tools like Google or Copyscape. While it’s perfectly acceptable and recommended to conduct research and reference facts and sources, it’s not acceptable to copy entire thoughts or sections verbatim from another article without attribution. If discovered, this not only damages your brand and credibility, but Google doesn’t give you any love for doing it, either. 

Getting Started

Whether you’ve selected a content writer or are still deciding between a few candidates, provide a couple options that can serve as test articles to do a final evaluation of their performance before committing to a longer term engagement. It’s important to communicate with your content writer because you know your business and the tone of your brand better than anyone. So don’t just hand them a topic and ask them to start writing. Clearly articulate the style and purpose so that the writer can understand the context and your expectations.

With content playing such an important role in your overall marketing strategy, finding a capable freelance content writer to support your efforts will allow you to increase engagement with your customers and potential customers, help define and elevate the authority of your brand, and ultimately should help you grow your business.

 

 

How to Set Up Google Analytics Goal Tracking

I’ve often written about the critical importance of goal tracking as it pertains to measuring and optimizing your website conversion rate. A goal is whatever action you are trying to get the website visitor to take on a page, I.E. submit a form, click a link, complete a purchase, or even stay on a page for a certain amount of time. By setting goals for your site and measuring them in Google Analytics, you can establish a baseline to iterate against, as well as measure the effectiveness of each source of traffic in achieving those goals. So you can gain insight into how your organic search traffic performs compared to your paid search, or how each email or social media post contributes to your goals. You can get very granular in how you segment this data and better understand where to focus your efforts.

So how do you actually set up Google Analytics goal tracking for your site?

To start:

  1. Go to Google Analytics
  2. Click on the “Admin” button in the top right
  3. Click on “Goals”
  4. From one of the Goal sets, click “+ Goal”

Then you have to decide what type of goal you want to measure. Google provides a few sample ideas of goals, but essentially they are just named variations of the 4 types:

 

Type

Description

Example

Destination

A specific location loads

Thank you for registering! web page or app screen (I.E. thanks.html)

Duration

Sessions that lasts a specific amount of time or longer

10 minutes of longer spent on a support site

Pages/Screens per session

A user views a specific number of pages or screens

5 pages or screens have been loaded

Event

An action defined as an Event is triggered

Social recommendation, video play, ad click, link click

 

Destination Goal

Google Analytics Destination Goal

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A destination goal is useful for tracking an objective that requires a specific page to load and one of the most commonly used types of goal tracking since it is often used for major activities like tracking leads generated or orders placed. .

Ex. If you would like to track the number of ‘contact us’ form fill-outs, you could use a URL destination goal to track the number of times the ‘thank you for contacting us’ page is loaded. Or if you’re tracking the number of orders placed, you can track the “order complete” page.

Funnel
Goal funnels allow you to see exactly how many people move through each step of the goal conversion process. For example, if your checkout process is split up into 3 pages (cart, shipping/payment details, and confirmation) you can add each of these URLs as steps in the  process. You will then be able to measure where visitors fall off once they start the process, if they do not complete it.

 

Duration Goal

A duration goal is used to track the amount of time that a user spends on your website.

Google Analytics Duration Goal

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Ex. If you would like to know when a user is engaged with your site and spends 3 minutes or more on your website, you could use a visit duration goal to track instances where this happens. If you have a customer support related site, perhaps you want to measure if visitors are easily finding what they need within 3 minutes of landing at your page. You can use duration goals to track this metric as well.

Pages per Visit Goal

The pages per visit goal is ideal for when you want to track a certain number of pageviews in a single visit.

Google Analytics Pages Goal

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Ex. If you would like to know when a user visits 5 pages or less in a single visit.

Similar to visit duration goals, instead of tracking how much time people spend on your site, this goal tracks the number of pages each visitor sees before they leave.

Event Goal

An event goal uses an event (clicking a link, playing a video, etc.) as the basis for a conversion

Google Analytics Event Goal

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Ex. An event goal is ideal for tracking conversions around objectives that require the user to take a specific action on the page.

Event goals are a little bit more complicated because you have to set up the events and you have to add a bit of JavaScript code to the element that you want to track. This tells Google Analytics when an event has occurred. For more details on how to do this, please refer to The Google Analytics Event Tracking Guide.

Goal Values

Wouldn’t you like to know how much money you make from organic search? Or the ROI of your individual marketing campaigns? Google Analytics Goals does a great job at telling you where customers came from but they don’t immediately calculate the value of that traffic.

Goal values allows you to define the worth for each of our goals and then cross references that data within your traffic reports so you can determine your sources of revenue. If you have an average value per lead or a single product website, it’s easy to plug in that amount as a goal conversion value. The exception is if you have a multi-product ecommerce retail site, there are dynamic ecommerce conversion and revenue tracking options that are much more suitable. I’ll explain those in a separate post. Remember to keep your goal values current based on your internal metrics.

By now it should be abundantly clear that goal tracking is essential to understanding how your website and marketing is performing. What goals are you tracking on your site? Tell me in the comments!

 

Top online marketing myths

Top 5 Online Marketing Myths

Jumping into online marketing with unrealistic expectations or a misunderstanding of what is required to position yourself for success is a surefire way to waste both time and money. So, I put together the top 5 online marketing myths and misconceptions that I’ve heard from friends and clients:

Online Marketing Myth #1:

My product is so good, I don’t need marketing

This is probably the #1 online marketing myth that many business owners and entrepreneurs still believe. “All I need to do is post my idea on social media, and it’s definitely going to go viral!” While the internet offers a great and (sometimes) inexpensive medium to get the word out about your company to a potentially large audience, you’re competing with the millions of other companies and websites all vying for attention, mind-share, and wallet-share. So while it absolutely helps to have an exceptional product/service and can even be critical to the long term success of your business, you still need to get the word out and then convert visitors into customers once they are at your site. Apple spent millions (and later billions) advertising the iPhone even though it was a game-changing product. And while it’s great to have viral, easily share-able elements in your marketing, the expectation of your business going viral, or even a reliance on that happening is simply not a marketing plan.

Online Marketing Myth #2:

People will buy my product because it’s cheaper than the competition

First, people have to actually know you exist. Offering a cheaper price than your big name competition doesn’t do any good if no one knows about you. Some of the products I offered through my sites were cheaper than what Amazon.com sold them for. Yet Amazon probably sold 10 times the amount of that product than my company did, because Amazon has far more customers and greater awareness. Cheap prices don’t automatically translate into massive word of mouth, PR and market share. You still have to create awareness using fundamental online marketing tactics and still have to convey a sense of trust and value that goes beyond just offering similar features to a competitor at a lower price. Incidentally, it’s wise to consider if can you still offer such low pricing once you factor in the time and expense associated with creating awareness for your site.

Second, the problem with focusing on price is that it leads to you getting the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers. [Tweet “Focusing on price gets you the type of customer you’re asking for: price shoppers.”] Alex Turbull from Groove (a customer service SAAS product) puts it well:

[Price shoppers are] higher maintenance, far less loyal, and gone at the drop of a hat when a cheaper option comes along. Plus, if you try to compete for customers on price, a bigger player can always lower their prices to bleed you out of business. We learned that we had to compete on other differentiators. Ones that actually made people want to do business with us because we were the best choice for them, not because we were the cheapest. We needed customers who were motivated by more than price.

Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos.com has said the same and even stopped offering to price match competitors for these same reasons.

Online Marketing Myth #3:

I want the most traffic possible to my website

There is a big difference between attracting traffic and the right kind of traffic.  Getting 100 highly qualified prospects to your website of which 15 become leads or customers is better than 1000 visitors of which 10 become leads or customers. The online marketing myth that says your goal should be to get as many eyeballs as possible on your site is simply not accurate. That’s likely to be expensive and ultimately unproductive. You goal is to create content that has value and appeals to your target audience to attract them to your site and to focus on marketing through channels that you believe will produce relevant prospects.

Online Marketing Myth #4:

I created a great site, so my work is done

You’ve hired great designers to create a beautiful website. Spent hours coming up with the copy for each page. It’s gone live and your friends and employees you showed it to think it looks great. You’re all set, right? Not even close. If you aren’t expecting to have to consistently create great content and find ways to engage your customer through a variety of channels outside of your site to build an audience, your investment in your attractive new site could be for nothing. It’s a lengthy, time consuming process to start generating meaningful traffic. Make sure you have allocated the time and budget to execute an ongoing online marketing plan. Your great new site will hopefully help convert those visitors into leads and customers, but even the site itself is always a work in progress.

Online Marketing Myth #5:

I don’t sell products online, so I don’t really need to do internet marketing

At the very least have a presence on the web so that customers, business partners and even potential employees can quickly and easily find out more about your business and the products or services you offer. Ensuring that your presence accurately and reflects your brand can help your business build a relationship with your customers that extends offline. Furthermore, it makes your brand more memorable next time they are in the market for your product or service or passing by your location. Even using your site for non-transactional purposes such as to generate leads or cultivate a mailing list allows you to locate customers online and drive them to your offline business. Finding new customers and engaging existing customers through online channels even for an offline business is critical to the success and growth of your business.

What others can you think of? Be sure to leave it in the comments!

Split Testing

What is Split Testing?

Split Testing Overview

Split testing (also referred to as A/B testing or multivariate testing) is a method of conducting automated and random experiments with the goal of improving a predetermined website metric, such as number of clicks on a specific element (I.E. add to cart button, register button, play a video, click for more info), form completions (I.E. registrations, opt-ins, contact requests), or purchases. Incoming traffic to the website is distributed between the original (control) and one or more variations. This is transparent to the visitor, who does not know they are part of an experiment. You, the tester, waits for a statistically significant difference in behavior to emerge. The more traffic the page gets, the faster you can obtain statistically relevant results. The results from each variation are then compared to determine which version showed the greatest improvement. If it is determined that there is a clear winner, you would likely update your site to incorporate the elements from your winning experiment. (And then start a new experiment to improve it further!)

What Types of Elements Can Be Split Tested?

Nearly any element can be varied for a split test. For example:

  • Visual elements: pictures, videos, and colors (Does a photo of a smiling man help convert better than a serious man? Does an orange button convert better than a green one?)
  • Text: headlines, calls to action, and page copy (Does “Get Your Free Quote” convert better than “Receive an Instant Quote?” Do bullet points convert better than a paragraph? Does adding a customer testimonial help increase conversions?)
  • Layout: arrangement and size of buttons, menus, and forms (Does a form with 3 fields convert better than one with 5? Does a register button on the left convert better than having it on the right?)
  • Traffic flow: how a user gets from point A to B (Does a 2 page checkout convert better than a 3 page checkout? Do more people sign up for a free trial on page 3 after visiting page 1, then 2, then 3? Or Page 1, then 4, then 3?)

ab split testing

Split Testing Email

Split testing isn’t only used for testing webpages. It can be very useful for testing your emails as well. You can answer questions such as, What’s the best day to send your email marketing campaign?  What time? What kind of subject line works best? Something promotional? (Save 10% on Widgets Today Only!) Or something more subtle and informative? (Find Out How Our New Widget Can Save You Time.) You can set goals such as opens, clicks, or ROI for each email variation. First, make sure you integrated analytics into your emails. Many email service providers such as Mailchimp and Aweber can do this for you automatically and also offer certain reporting capabilities such as the number of opens and clicks directly in their system. You can then set up segments of your email list, perhaps sending one version of an email to 10% of your list and then 10% to another version (or the same version, but at a different time.) You can then see which performed better and send the remaining 80% out using the winning version, or at the winning time.

A/B Split Testing

(Courtesy: Mailchimp.com)

Some Split Testing Best Practices

  • Simplify: generally, fewer page elements create less distractions from the conversion goal.
  • Don’t forget about the overall business goals: test with the overarching goal of the website in mind, not just the goals of individual pages. For example, one page might generate more clicks, but fewer checkout completions. Or, one version of an email might generate more opens, but less sales.
  • Test one element at a time: Testing one element at a time is called A/B testing, while testing multiple elements on a single page is called multivariate testing. Unless you have a testing tool capable of interpreting more complex multivariate results, it’s important to test one element at a time (although you can have multiple variations of this one element.) For example, just change the call to action, or an image on the page, or the position of your testimonials. Otherwise you can’t be sure which element had an impact, and by how much. If you test two elements and one results in an increase on performance of 10%, while the other results in a decrease of 10%, you might assume that the net benefit of your changes is zero; that there was no difference in page performance. In reality, if you only added the positive performing element, you would have seen a 10% increase which could be a big win.
  • It’s not all about drastic changes: Don’t be seduced by the idea that all variations in an A/B test have to be huge, obvious transformations. Even subtle changes can have a demonstrable effect, such as slightly editing a list of product features to persuade users to request more information, or phrasing a call to action differently to drive user engagement. It’s a gradual, granular process. Keep iterating until your conversion rate for that page is maxed out.
  • Don’t make assumptions: Just like a scientist tests a hypothesis, that should be your approach to split testing. Use hard A/B test data to make informed business decisions – no matter how much it surprises you.
  • Resist the temptation to jump to a conclusion: Even if you’re getting strong initial results, let the test run it’s course.  Economists and data scientists rely on a principle known as statistical significance to ensure that the data has a high probability of accuracy and this relies on a large data sample. Without it, you run the risk of making business decisions based on bad data.

Split testing doesn’t have to be complicated. Services such as Visual Website Optimizer, AB Tasty and Optimizely offer interfaces that allow you to create page variations without touching your website code. Conversion Rate Experts has a great breakdownof the numerous split testing tools and platforms that are available. With easy ways to do split testing of your website and emails, there is no excuse for settling for the status quo. There is always room for improvement throughout your site. So once you find improvements, don’t stop there. Keep testing!

Brand Storytelling

Online Brand Storytelling – Why Creating a Narrative is Critical

Nearly 15 years ago, when I started a company out of my college dorm room at 21 years old  (before upgrading to the basement of a townhouse), one of the first things I did was Photoshop our logo onto a stock photo of a big, fancy office building and stick that image on the “About Us” page of the website. The internet, and particularly ecommerce was still new and a bit scary, and most customers sure weren’t interested in handing their personal info over to a website run by some kid out of his apartment.

How things have changed. As the internet and its users (including myself) matured, I came to the realization that truth should be the cornerstone of your content. Customers are smart (not to mention resourceful) enough to sniff out a brand that doesn’t exude genuine authenticity, and relate more to ones that do. Furthermore, especially these days, the story of a lean start-up with humble beginnings run by young entrepreneurs can be on full display like a badge of honor. It was part of the history and identity of my brand. Every startup and small business has a story to tell; something that will connect potential customers to your brand. It helps create a relationship with your brand, expresses your core values, and makes you distinctive and  memorable…basically  the definition of branding.  Or as marketing guru Seth Godin puts it, “Brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Many entrepreneurs are so enthusiastic about their company, or are so close to it that they assume their audience understands it like they do and is just as interested as they are. Focusing on specifications or a “corporate” descriptions of what you do will be lost on most of your audience, not to mention can come off as self-indulgent and flat-out boring. On the other hand, a compelling and inspiring narrative about what you do, why you do it, and how it will make something better will help attract, captivate and motivate people.

What’s Your Story?

How is your product being created? What defines your corporate culture? Why do you do what you do? You’re looking for the things that your organization truly cares about and makes you unique and valuable to the world around you. If you’re having trouble figuring this out, get some insight from your employees and customers. These people interact with your brand; learning what makes your employees value your company and culture and what makes your customers value your products and brand can help you understand how your brand is positioned.

If Your Brand Was a Person, Who Would it Be?

Once you know why you matter and how to describe your value, you can create a persona that exemplifies this.  If your business was a human being, who would it be, how would it speak, and what would it care about? Are you quirky? Rugged? Analytical? That clarity leads to a real and relatable persona and humanized brand that helps you build a loyal customer base. This authenticity also helps convey openness, integrity and honesty; attributes that can pay big dividends for your business.

The tone your brand uses should reflect this persona and be consistent across all customer touch points. Some of these touch points include:

  • Your website
  • All social media channels
  • Your blog
  • Your newsletter
  • Videos
  • All transaction and service related inquiries

So it’s critical that all of your staff, particularly those that touch the customer, understand this persona and can accurately match the tone. If you have a strong company culture that is consistent with your brand, this persona should already resonate with the inherent personalities of your staff.

Take a hard look at your current content. Then think about how you can pull stories out of your organization and weave them into your content in a way that relates to your customer and ultimately builds your brand.

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