Connecting with Your Customers Online

Customer Feedback

Building a successful presence online today requires much more than simply publishing web pages about your products and expecting orders to roll in. Whether your ultimate goal is to sell services or products or simply build brand equity for offline business, it is critical that you take the time to connect with your customers. This strategy can help you build business relationships that can keep your customers coming back for years in the future. These tips will help you connect with customers online in a meaningful way:

1) Listen to (and Act on) Feedback

Many business owners complain that it is difficult to find out what customers truly want. Discovering your customers’ needs and desires, though, does not have to be a complicated task. Your buyers provide valuable feedback every day via blog comments, email, live customer chat sessions, and posts on your social media pages. You can also use Google Alerts to discover customer opinions and feedback on blogs, forums, review sites, and social media pages that you do not own. Pay attention to these comments and opinions, and act on them as you are able – this feedback can help shape your company and make it a more attractive resource for your customers.

2) Reach out to Customers Online

Some customers post their feedback freely via social media and other online content; however, others might be hesitant to do so unless invited. Actively seeking feedback by asking questions and posting polls can compel customers to share their experiences and needs with you. You can use this strategy on your company website and blog, as well as on your Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn pages and Twitter feeds. Their willingness to offer their thoughts and insights might surprise you.

3) Contact Key Customers Directly

In some cases, it might be appropriate to interact with customers publicly. In other cases, though, it might be better to reach out to individual customers in a private manner. This can be a particularly effective strategy for resolving customer concerns about your products, services, and company business practices. Responding to a complaint by contacting a customer via private message or email shows the customer that you care about her experience, and that you respect her enough not to conduct a sensitive conversation on a public forum. Similarly, responding to positive customer feedback can be appropriate – it lets the individual customer know that you appreciate his comments without singling him out for the Internet world to see.

In a time when it’s easy for customers to feel lost among the enormous amount of data published online, connecting with your customers on a personal level can do wonders for your business. It makes them feel special and can encourage not only future positive feedback, but also referrals – both online and offline.

 

 

Knocking Out Basic ORM Tasks

business online teamWhether you’re a sole proprietor running a one-person freelancing operation or a business with 5000 employees, you can’t afford to ignore online reputation management. The awe-inspiring reach of the internet, while opening the door to a global network of potential clients, can also turn be turned against you with negative commentary on social media, review sites or even more traditional publications, such as online magazines and newspapers. While some of the more advanced work of ORM might require professional assistance, there are a number of basic ORM tasks you can knock out on your own.

Search for Yourself

There are several ways to handle this task. The most straightforward is simply to enter your own name, the name of your business, or the name of your brand as a keyword in search engines. See what turns up on the first few pages and note any negative information you see. This can be time consuming and tools like Google Alerts and Yahoo Alerts can keep you in the loop. Searches for the same keywords on social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest should be part of your self-search strategy, as much negative news that goes viral does so on social media.

Update Profiles and Content

Keeping all of your profiles on social media sites regularly updated keeps your own profiles as authority links in search engines. Updating content on your website also goes a long way to making it the top result for any searches related to you.

Address Negative Feedback

When negative comments or feedback do appear, don’t let it linger. Craft a response as soon as possible. This may mean asking the person making the comments for clarification or addressing a real complaint internally and with the person making the complaint. Nothing robs negative content of its power like a swift and reasonable response. If someone is out there burning your company because they think it’s funny, don’t let it stand. Ask them to remove the content and issue a correction.

Keep It Sane and Set a Schedule

While you should actively pursue online reputations management, you need to limit the amount of time you spend on it the way you do other business activities. Plan your approach to reputation management. Block out specific times to handle ORM and stick to them. If you find that the basic ORM tasks are demanding more time than you can reasonably devote to the project, then it may be time to begin outsourcing the work to a company, such as Tier3 Marketing, that specializes in reputation management.

Content Marketing: Back to Basics

Content Marketing: Getting Back to Basics

While hundreds of online marketing strategies have come and gone, content marketing has remained an effective marketing tool for more than a decade. As the Internet becomes an indispensable part of life for more and more people, content marketing will likely continue to serve online business owners well.

It is important, though, to approach content marketing correctly. Many marketers spend so much time analyzing keywords, building inbound links, and monitoring traffic patterns that they forget the real reason behind content marketing’s power: It provides value for consumers. Whether you’re building content for the first time or overhauling your marketing efforts, it is critical that you get back to basics.

Value, Not Selling, Generates Sales

It can be tempting to use your content to pitch your products and services in an effort to generate quick sales. While it’s perfectly fine to mention your offerings, though, you need to take a step back and look at content marketing from your readers’ point of view. Would you return to a site that contained only endless product pitches? Neither would your visitors.

No matter what industry you do business in, there are thousands of competitors online who want the same customers you are targeting. That’s why it’s important to build relationships with your prospects. Offering valuable, actionable information builds a sense of trust and makes visitors more likely to do business with you. Your value as a company is gauged by the extent to which you can improve your prospects’ lives. For this reason, you need to focus on publishing that is interesting, engaging, and most of all, useful to your readers. When your content effectively builds relationships, you don’t need to aggressively “sell” to make money.

People Care About Benefits, Not Facts

So your company has been in business for 40 years, and you’ve increased sales by 21.4 percent over the past 24 months. Your CEO has more than 20 years of experience and has contributed to the success of a dozen companies. That’s great. But no one cares. Prospects care about what you can do for them. When you’re writing about your products and services, look at them from the perspective of your customers. What needs do they have that your offerings can meet? How do your services and products meet those needs better than your competitors’ products and services? Answering these questions through online content builds interest, trust, and sales.

Speak Your Prospects’ Language

If you’re targeting neuroscientists or IT professionals, you can probably get away with industry jargon. For the rest of your prospects, though, acronyms and technical terms probably won’t mean much. It’s important to understand that, as an expert, you know far more about your field than your prospects do. That’s why they come to you for solutions. In order to connect with potential customers and build trust in your company, you need to communicate in terms they can readily understand. Build relationships with everyday language instead of trying to impress prospects with your vast technical knowledge.

Getting back to basics can feel awkward and even counterproductive. The time you spend refining your content marketing strategy, though, can pay off in terms of increased sales and improved customer retention.

Direct Mail and Design

Direct mail offers a number of benefits. It’s something tangible that the recipient can see and touch, which lends it a kind a bit of gravity in the mind. It is a lot harder to ignore something in your hands than something on the screen. People take more time with their mail. There is a moment of evaluation that goes on when a person decides what to do with their mail that just doesn’t apply to something they see on TV. Even with these benefits, it is easy to lose a person with poor design.

Design encompasses a number of factors ranging from the exact typeface you use, to color selection, images and the written content. An effective piece of direct mail must draw together these disparate elements and create a whole that captures attention and interest in a matter of seconds. Making all of the necessary choices can tax the abilities of a business owner, who may have little or no background in the arts.

For the do-it-yourself types, an effective piece of direct mail needs a few key elements. It must include a simple, bold and easy-to-grasp headline. A great example of a headline is the now iconic “Got Milk?” It is short, simple and asks a direct question. Even in our over-communicated world, most people will take the time to stop and read two words in bold. A question is even better because, whether the customer realizes it or not, it gets them to engage with the piece mentally.

The typeface needs to be easy to read. The more bizarre or unusual the typeface, the more difficult it will be to read and more likely someone will be to ignore it. A good test is to take the piece and glance over it. If you got stuck on a word or couldn’t immediately read something, there is a good chance the piece needs a different typeface.

The actual content on the page, envelope or postcard should follow a natural flow from top to bottom or left to right. Again, glance over the written content. If you need to think about where to move your eye next or have to search for the next word, the layout needs work.

In most cases, the headline should segue to a subheading, followed by a few lines of content and the offer. Much like the headline, the offer should be crystal clear and the customer should know exactly how to claim it. Something along the lines of, “Bring this card in today for 30% off” or “Call today for your free consultation,” communicate the offer and the action needed. The business name and logo should also appear on the piece, though generally not directly below the offer, as the brain will perceive the last line as the most relevant and focus on the business name, rather than the offer as the most relevant information.

In terms of images, no image is better than the wrong image. If you’re going to use an image it must be relevant to the message and the offer. A kitten, no matter how cute, probably isn’t going to help you sell your lawn care services to a customer, but definitely belongs on the card of a vet or pet sitting service. Use the image to contextualize your offer. Related to image choice is color choice. Color will always be a judgment call, but blue tends to be the go-to color when in doubt. It is usually perceived as a soothing or calming color.

Employing basic design best practices can help you avoid the worst blunders made by many businesses, but there really is no substitute for professional design and delivery. If you want to bring in an outside party, Tier 3 Marketing brings years of direct mail design and delivery experience to the table.

Building Brand Equity

One of the major challenges for businesses is establishing brand equity. Brand equity, like most things brand-related, can be defined in multiple ways. Perhaps the simplest explanation, as put forth by Mike O’Toole on the MarketingProfs website, is that brand equity consists of the way in which customers distinguish the difference between you and competitor and what makes you a better choice. Achieving this, however, requires a sustained marketing effort directed at consumers.

To begin, the business must generate simple awareness of the brand in the mind of consumers and, ideally, tying that brand to a specific kind of product, need, or want. Achieving this can and should take multiple contacts with customers in a variety of ways. Various kinds of advertising can be employed, as well as the establishment of a dedicated content outlet, such as website and integrated blog. At this stage of the game, every piece of content should reinforce the existence of the brand and the associated product, need or want.

Group of people looking at blueprints

Once an acceptable level of awareness is generated, which can be tested with a variety of methods, such as phone surveys and focus groups, the business needs to move into building meaning. Meaning moves along an axis of visuals and an axis of product function. The business must deliver a solid set of visuals which reinforce the values a brand stands for, as well as demonstrating the functional quality of the product. In essence, does the product appear to perform at a level that is consistent with the value claims of the brand? You might think of this stage as building and delivering a brand story.

The third stage calls for helping to manage customers’ cognitive and emotive responses to the brand. Do customers view the brand as a reliable source of information? If the product actually performs as claimed and lives into the broader set of values, the brand should be perceived as a reliable information source. The emotive element or how customers react emotionally to brand depends on the brand story and values, to some extent, but also to how the brand reacts to customers.

If the brand claims it is a brand for the people, but only hires elitist managers that look down their noses at customers, the emotional response will be at odds with the story and the cognitive perception of the brand as reliable. If there is a disconnect between the intended cognitive and emotive messaging at any level, creating secure brand equity demands that problem be rectified in a readily identifiable way.

The final stage and the one over which businesses have the least real control is the transition from simple customer to brand advocate. Brand advocates do not merely use a product; they herald it to friends and families. The brand is part of their private and public identity. Businesses can help the process along by creating community building opportunities and investing in strong customer relationship management that is heavy on non-sales contact.

Some businesses even go so far as to publish brand-oriented magazines to encourage the integration of the brand as an element of lifestyle and identity. The sustained, multi-front marketing effort to build brand identity can call for a variety of marketing skills that Tier 3 Marketing can help to provide you.

Choosing an Affiliate Program for Your Products

The Internet provides a global marketplace that gives you an enormous opportunity to sell products and build substantial revenues. By promoting your products on your blog or website, you can attract targeted buyers who will be happy to purchase from you again and again. If you limit yourself to this selling strategy, though, you are missing out on an opportunity to dramatically increase your sales.

Affiliate programs

Allowing affiliates to promote products for you allows you to reach a wider customer base, which means that you will sell a greater number of products. Over time, the number of affiliates promoting your products will grow and allow you to increase sales even more. Of course, you will have to pay a portion of sales revenues to affiliates as sales commissions; however, as long as you price your products appropriately, you can still increase your business profits.

Although you can start and maintain your own affiliate program, this requires a tremendous expenditure of time and effort. Attracting affiliates, tracking sales, issuing affiliate payments, and responding to questions and requests can all take significant time away from your primary business functions.

Fortunately, there are several major affiliate programs that can handle these tasks for you. After you sign up for one of these programs, you will have the ability to put your products in front of thousands of talented Internet marketers. An affiliate marketer can then choose to promote your products through blogging, website content, forum posting, social media, and other marketing strategies. The affiliate program tracks sales and commissions, issues payments, and fields questions and requests.

Choosing the right affiliate program can maximize your opportunity for online success. When looking for an affiliate program, there are several things you should consider:

Affiliate success rates

Not all affiliate programs attract the same caliber of marketers. Some use a fairly extensive screening process when accepting affiliates and making offers available to them. This means that the program’s members are more likely to have the experience to effectively market your products. Other programs accept members without even reviewing their blogs, websites, or other marketing vehicles.

Before signing up to promote your products through an affiliate program, ask about the program’s screening process. Also, ask for sales data. This can give you an idea of how successfully the program’s members can sell for you.

Commission expectations

In order to attract affiliates and motivate them to promote your products, you will have to offer competitive commissions. If you offer a commission percentage lower than those offered by other marketers, few affiliates will be willing to spend time promoting you. Take the time to browse products offered by marketers on an affiliate program site and take note of the commission percentages.

Keep in mind that digital products such as software and ebooks typically involve higher commission percentages than physical products. It is common for affiliates to earn 50 percent or more of the price of a digital product. Physical product commissions typically range between 2 and 15 percent.

Types of products

Some affiliate programs focus on services and others focus on physical products. Still others are designed for affiliates who want to sell digital products. Make sure that the affiliate program you choose attracts the types of affiliate marketers who will be interested in what you want to sell. This can make the difference between lackluster sales and dramatic revenue growth.

By carefully choosing your affiliate program, you can optimize your opportunities for success. The right affiliate program can provide you with a virtual army of marketers who can aggressively promote your products, maximize conversions, and substantially increase your profits.

Creating Webinars that Attract Paying Customers

Interactive online content can help you engage visitors and increase the interest of potential customers in your business. Many online entrepreneurs struggle with developing ways to create interactive content to attract and retain customers. One effective strategy can be promoting and hosting webinars for your audience.

Interactive marketing through webinars

A webinar is a scheduled production in which marketers can use slides, desktop screenshots, video, and audio to present information to attendees. They typically range from 30 to 120 minutes in length, depending on the volume and complexity of the material being presented.

In most cases, webinars are primarily informational in nature. Marketers commonly offer products or services; however, the sales pitch typically occurs near the end of the webinar.

These tips can help you create powerful webinars that will educate attendees and turn some participants into paying customers:

1) Purchase an online webinar creation and hosting package. Hosting webinars yourself can be expensive, time-consuming, and difficult for most marketers. Even seasoned online entrepreneurs use services such as GoToWebinar to meet their needs. These services take the hassles out of allowing attendees to log in and managing the flow of webinar content. They also offer a variety of features to promote interaction and improve user experience.

2) Plan webinar content carefully. Create a detailed outline containing all of the major and minor points you want to cover in your webinar content. Avoid writing your content word-for-word, though. This can make you sound as though you are reading from a script, which can reduce the impact of your content.

Keep in mind that if you permit user interaction during your webinar, you will likely have to address topics you had not planned for. Having an outline helps you get back on track after answering a question or addressing a user’s concerns.

3) When appropriate, find a fellow marketer to host the webinar with you. Listing to a single person’s voice can become monotonous for viewers regardless of how important your content might be. Having a co-host encourages dialogue and can make your webinar content substantially more engaging. Also, a co-host will bring unique expertise to your webinar and might be able to address questions that you cannot effectively answer.

4) Vary the visual content of your webinar. Attendees won’t stay interested for very long if you simply stand and talk throughout the program. Try adding slides and graphics to emphasize critical points and illustrate complex concepts. You can also use software such as Camtasia to provide a real-time view of your desktop. This can be particularly useful if you are using your webinar to demonstrate software or show users how to complete a task online.

5) Consider using the mute function to reduce background noise, feedback, and other distractions. You can turn the mute function on and off as it suits your needs and the needs of your attendees. Remember that when you turn the mute function off, all attendees can hear a user’s questions and comments.

6) Devote a portion of your webinar to questions and answers. This usually comes after your product pitch at the end of the session. This helps make the webinar more interactive and makes attendees feel like you value them. You can turn off the mute function to hear questions from attendees. If you want more control over your question and answer session, you can also ask users to submit questions via the text feature and answer them via voice.

Creating webinars that sell is an art form that requires practice and planning. After you have conducted a few webinars, you will be able to easily create streamlined productions that significantly increase buyer interest.

How to Create and Sell Websites

The Internet has presented entrepreneurs with hundreds of new ways to make money. One of the most popular ways involves launching and building websites, then selling the sites at a profit. At first glance, selling websites might seem like an easy way to earn a living; however, it takes careful planning and hard work.

Building a website

Here are some tips to help you get started in your website selling venture:

1) Understand that selling websites is not a “get rich quick” business. It can take months or even years to develop a site and attract enough customers to make a buyer want to purchase it. If you have visions of simply purchasing a domain name and putting up a template, you will inevitably be disappointed.

2) Make sure that each website you build is visually attractive. Avoid using cheap or free templates that offer little room for customization. Premium templates are better choices because they allow you to customize the site’s layout, color scheme, fonts, and other elements. If you plan to take your business seriously, it can be worth the cost to hire a professional web designer to create a unique look and feel.

3) Take the time to ensure that visitors can easily navigate your site. A potential buyer will be turned off by a site that contains broken links, browser incompatibility, or dead pages. A professional programmer can help identify and correct navigation problems that can diminish the value of your website.

4) In order to sell a website, it has to generate revenue. In other words, the person who buys the site needs to know that she will recoup her investment. Essentially, you have to build a successful business within each site. Of course, some entrepreneurs enjoy building and selling businesses. If you are one of these people, selling websites might be a good fit for you.

5) Value each site fairly. You might hope to get hundreds of thousands of dollars out of a site sale, but this is unlikely if the site only earns a few hundred dollars per month. As a rule of thumb, most sites are worth about two to three times annual revenues minus operating expenses, taxes, and other fees and expenses. People buy websites because they want to make money, not because they simply dream of owning their own sites.

6) Plan your marketing strategy carefully. Marketing a website can be a lengthy and frustrating process. You should identify they types of buyers who will most likely want to purchase a site and determine how to put your offer in front of them. This might involve scanning online forums to locate qualified, targeted buyers. You can also network online and offline, promote your offer on your main website and blog, and spread the word about your site on your social media page to attract the right kinds of buyers.

7) Consider using an auction service such as Flippa to market your sites. Auction services can quickly put your sites in front of interested buyers, which can help you generate sales more quickly. Keep in mind, though, that many people who monitor auction sites are looking for bargains. They might not be willing to pay full price for your website. For this reason, you should be flexible in your pricing approach. Also, auction sites typically charge a percentage of each sale. You need to consider these fees when evaluating a buyer’s offer.

Although selling websites is a difficult process, it can be lucrative if you take a realistic approach. Think about what you would look for if you wanted to purchase a site and exceed these expectations when offering websites for sale.

Top Five Keyword Mistakes to Avoid

If you have been running a website or blog for very long, you have probably realized that search engine optimization is essential for bringing in traffic and finding customers. One of the main methods of search engine optimization involves the selection and inclusion of keywords in site or blog content.

Pic of keywords, SEO and much more.

Although keywords are important for achieving high positioning in search results ans attracting visitors, many website owners do not know how to use keywords properly. At best, improper keyword usage limits your ability to rank highly in search engine results. At worst, it can actually hurt your rankings or compel search engines to delist your site.

Here are the top five keyword mistakes website and blog owners make:

1) Targeting keywords at the expense of quality content

Some website owners focus so heavily on keyword usage that they neglect to provide valuable, high-quality content for their readers. This strategy is usually obvious to human readers because the content is thin, poorly written, and contains awkward sentences written just to include a particular keyword.

Quality content is more important than keywords. Make sure that your articles and posts flow naturally and only use keywords where they fit in without altering the content. Awkward phrasing and poorly written content frustrates readers and compels them to navigate away from your site.

2) Overuse of keywords

Including keywords in your posts and articles can help search engine rankings; however, overuse has the opposite effect. A particular keyword should make up no more than 1 to 3 percent of an article or blog post. Search engines easily detect overuse and might downgrade or delist your site for “keyword stuffing.”

Overuse of keywords also makes your writing seem unprofessional and redundant. Human visitors want carefully crafted content and have little patience for posts and articles that contain the same phrases over and over.

3) Underuse of keywords

Just as overuse can hurt your site, approaching keyword usage with excessive caution can also diminish your chances of attracting visitors. This is because keyword density is an important factor in search engine ranking algorithms. If a keyword only appears once in a 1,000 word article, your page will not likely rank highly for that keyword.

4) Targeting only short-tail keywords

Website and blog owners commonly target short, highly competitive keywords. It can be extremely difficult to rank for these words and phrases. For example, a pizza shop that targets the keyword “pizza” will likely never show up on the first page of search results for that keyword.

Instead, target long-tail keywords that can help you cut through the clutter and bring in traffic for years to come. A pizza shop might target long-tail keywords such as “wood fired pizza in Topeka” or “Cleveland Sicilian style pizza.” There are typically fewer searches for long-tail keywords; however, few competitors target them.

5) Forgetting ALT tags

Text-based articles and posts are not the only places you can use keywords to build traffic. You can also place keywords in image ALT tags to help boost your rankings. An ALT tag is simply a short description that tells search engine spiders what an image is about. You should include at least one keyword in each image ALT tag; however, you should make sure that the keyword is relevant to your image. Also, if you include more than one image in a post or article, use different keywords in the ALT tag of each image.

Avoiding these five mistakes can help improve search engine rankings, which gives you an edge over your competitors. It also creates a more enjoyable experience for your visitors. This can keep them coming back to your site instead of searching for information elsewhere.

How to Build an Effective Squeeze Page

Email marketing can be an effective tool for promoting products and services, connecting with your potential customers, and making people excited about your business. For many online business owners, though, building an email list can be a challenging task. If you want to grow your email audience, you can use squeeze pages to entice potential customers to join.

A squeeze page is simply a page of your site designed to encourage visitors to sign up for updates, a newsletter, or other content via email. Many website overs confuse squeeze pages with sales pages, which are primarily designed to sell products or services. Squeeze pages do not sell; instead, they give visitors an opportunity to find out more about you and your company.

The beauty of squeeze pages lies in their ability to allow you to segment your list. You can create multiple squeeze pages that focus on different topics and segment your lists based on which page each visitor responds to. If you sell different types of services or products, this can help ensure that you do not annoy list members by providing them with content about products they don’t want or need.

Keep it Simple

Building a squeeze page is not like building a website or blog. It should not contain advertisements that can distract visitors from your message. Also, your squeeze pages should not contain links to other pages on your websites or blogs.

Your squeeze page design should be clean and simple. Although it can retain the color scheme of your main site or blog, you should avoid having a website-style layout. You can find dozens of squeeze page generators with a simple search engine query. Although some are free, the paid squeeze page generators typically produce cleaner, better-looking pages.

Get to the Point

One of the most critical mistakes people make when creating squeeze pages is loading them with reams of content. In many cases, most of the content is thinly veiled promotional copy. The “more is better” mentality might have worked a decade ago, but it is ineffective today. Busy squeeze page visitors do not have time to spend 15 minutes reading long-winded copy that promotes your company or products. They simply want to know what they will get out of joining your email list.

Use Video Content

Some of the most successful squeeze pages contain very little text. Instead, they feature videos. You can build an effective squeeze page by featuring a short video with an opt-in form below the video. The video should simply introduce your company, explain the benefits of joining your email list, and give a “call to action.” Remember, the call to action should direct the visitor to opt-in to your list, not to buy your products.

Video content can be more effective than text-based squeeze page content because visitors are more likely to pay attention. When most people read text online, they typically skim the content, which means that they may miss important points of your message.

Offer Added Value

Internet users are often hesitant to sign up for email newsletters because they already receive dozens of emails each day. Your squeeze page should offer a bonus, such as access to premium video content, to people who opt in to your list. This gives squeeze page visitors an incentive to allow you to contact them via email. Make sure the bonus is relevant to the information you provide in your squeeze page content.

Although creating squeeze pages is an extra task that adds to your marketing workload, it can pay off in terms of a larger email audience you can use to generate future sales.