E-mail List Building Basics
When it comes to building your e-mail list through search engine marketing (SEM), say experts, a comprehensive plan of action is equally as important as the need for immediate action. Sadly, it’s in this area that marketers tend to put the cart before the horse.
“It’s more about Web site construction than Web site style,” says Frank Siano, vice president of SEM for eWayDirect, an e-messaging service provider based in Norwalk, Conn., that builds and supports Internet-based software applications designed to help marketers communicate with customers and prospects. “You really do have to start with the basics, and that means constructing the site with an eye toward marketing and functionality. The quality of your site, in the long run, is as important as any other factor when it comes to building your e-mail list.”
In an era when competition is fierce, and marketers are clawing and scratching for every mouse click, experts provide a few simple tips to help you stand out from the crowd. They boil down to three basic concepts: content, keywords and design.
Content Remains King
On the subject of making your Web site a magnet for future members of your e-mail list, content still is king. What you write about your product, and the photos or illustrations of your product on the Web site are the first opportunities to open the door to a sale. The more information about your product, its value and functionality that you provide on your site, the more prospective customers are likely to become actual customers.
“Write as much content as possible, fully explaining the value and benefits of the product or service. Not enough information is worse than too much,” says Siano.
Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, a Waltham, Mass.-based do-it-yourself permission e-mail service that boasts a customer base of more than 85,000, goes even further. Goodman says that by offering their expertise on the product or service category, marketers instantly can boost the quality of their Web site content, and add value for both the potential and returning customer. And this quality provides the perfect support for convincing site visitors to sign up to receive more of this valuable information from you via e-mail.
“We’ve found that informational newsletters and e-mail flyers test well,” Goodman says. “Share your information and expertise to keep customers entertained and engaged.”
If your site sells barbecue grills, for example, write a monthly newsletter featuring guides to choosing cuts of meat, barbecue recipes and grill maintenance tips. Even if some of the intended readership recently purchased a grill from you, or are just browsing and not ready to convert, by distributing an e-mail newsletter designed to inform and entertain the reader, rather than just sell your product, recipients will remember your company’s name when they decide to buy.
“E-mail marketing in general is a viral enabler,” Goodman explains. “If people like your e-mail newsletter, those people will spread the word.” Coupons, online discounts and incentives tied to a ‘tell-a-friend’ feature allow customers to reward themselves through linking your site to other relevant sites and forwarding your e-mail to friends.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) is one organization already putting that advice in practice. The USGA, the national governing body for golf since 1894, is a nonprofit that adds value to its e-mail newsletter by including golf tips and rules of the game in its announcements and tournament results. Fiona Dolan, director of the members program for the USGA, says that the added value equals added names on the e-mail distribution list.
“We evaluated all our e-mail communications, making sure [they’re] both relevant and interesting,” she says. Golfers love tips from professionals, explains Dolan, and really take them to heart. They trade these tips with each other on the course, on the driving range and via personal e-mails. And the Tip of the Week feature in the USGA newsletter has turned out to be exceedingly popular among its 380,000 recipients.
“We position the Tip of the Week as an added benefit,” says Dolan. “And our Rules of the Game feature has a high clickthrough rate as well.” Adding those features, she says, is the result of surveys conducted by the USGA asking its e-mail recipients what they’d like to see more of in their e-newsletter. The online channel offers a great opportunity for instant feedback, but the key is to respond quickly, giving customers what they want.
The Power of Keywords
Keywords, those words and phrases picked up by search engine spiders to identify your site, must be strategically written into the copy, including your Web site’s title and description. Carefully choosing and implementing the proper keywords can make a huge difference in your search rankings, and your potential customer’s ability to find you.
“Be as product-specific as you possibly can,” suggests Siano. “Clients typically know their product better than anyone, and most are aware of their niche in the marketplace. If ‘widgets’ is a popular product and keyword, you’ll want to try to use ‘custom widgets’ or ‘stainless steel widgets’ or some other way of separating your widgets from all the other widget companies out there.”
Test your keywords in a 90-day window traffic estimate, he says, to get a rough idea of your keyword success. Then begin the process of adjusting those keywords in preparation for ranking. The only truly accurate test, of course, is to get the words ranked by search engines and see where you fall. And here’s where Siano offers a word of caution: Because there’s no instant gratification—in fact, it can take months to optimize keywords for top rankings—some marketers question whether the time and expense of search engine optimization is worthwhile. Patience, and careful monitoring and tweaking, he says, will yield a bountiful crop for those with the planning and patience to seed, fertilize and water.
Design for Success
In designing your Web site to get sales as well as capture contact information from prospective customers, it’s important to remember that the purpose is not to feed your ego with the coolest looking site, full of bells and whistles, but to drive people to your site and get them to stay awhile.
“Customers are less likely these days to work hard trying to navigate your site, and they don’t have to,” Siano says. “Disorganization or difficulty is not tolerated, and they’ll move on in a hurry. Make sure all your pages are linkable, and that products are cross-referenced and easy to find, easy to understand and, most important, easy to order.”
A strong Web site also plays a crucial role in getting the maximum result out of communications to your e-mail file.
“People don’t have the time or patience to fight their way through a difficult landing page. If the potential customer can’t find what they’re looking for within three to five mouse clicks, they’re going to check out your competitor’s Web site, and they’re not coming back. So the best e-mail list in the world won’t help you if your site isn’t up to par, because no one on your list will stay on the site long enough to buy, and no one will come back,” he explains.
Using his three-to-five-click theory, Siano dispels the notion that the total number of views is the goal of search engine marketers. You can have a million people click on your Web site every day, he says, but if no one buys, or they get bored and move on, how have you benefitted? Better to have fewer eyes with a higher percentage of buyers.
Conversions, after all, are why you’re on the Web in the first place. Getting them to buy, then keeping them as loyal customers is the goal of every marketer. Tweak your Web site for information and functionality, and put some teeth into your list building efforts.