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October 2013

Blog Comments: Do’s and Don’ts to Drive Customer Engagement

 by zack on 26 Oct 2013 |
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  Blog commenting is an invaluable link building resource for your website. Interacting with blog followers allows you to form a sense of community among your readers, as well as improve your brand image. Working on a corporate blog, however, can be hazardous. Especially when interacting with negative commenters. Commenters can come in all kinds. You can meet the truly interested and impassioned customers who are genuinely interested about your brand, or you run into the jilted commenter who’s hell-bent on destroying your reputation. You can even run into the ever inflammatory internet trolls who are willing to say anything to get a rise out of you. The paths you must walk are narrow and the pitfalls are abundant. To successfully traverse these treacherous trails, you must be prepared. You should be able to predict the questions asked and have the answers in hand and at the ready. So let’s take a look at some of the basic guidelines to properly managing the comment section of a blog. General Guidelines The trick to correctly managing the comment section of your blog is not to lead but facilitate the conversation. You don’t actually need to do much talking, you’ve already presented them with the content, now your job is to keep interesting and constructive dialogue going. In order to do that you’ve got to keep a close watch on what’s being said. So first and foremost, you’re going to want to: Keep up with comments consistently This is big. Huge in fact. There’s no point in having a comment section if you aren’t paying attention to what your readers are saying. So make it a point to keep alert to the comment section’s activity. Without anyone to moderate it, it can become a chaotic playground for internet malcontents of all sorts. Don’t Ignore Comments This is a soft rule, the exception is for certain types of negative comments which we’ll cover in the section below. For the most part though, it’s not a good idea to ignore your commenters. If you have a high volume of comments it might be a bit of a strain, but try your best to keep up with the different questions or compliments, or declarations that are being tossed your way. The readers will appreciate your approachability, and be more likely to further engage if they believe you’ll respond to them. Respond to the Intriguing Comments This is a suggestion that you won’t have much trouble following, as it comes very naturally. People who have the most interesting points of view will often dominate the online conversation, and for good reason. It’s obviously a lot more fun to talk to someone with a unique spin on things. So whenever you see an especially thoughtful or compelling comment, make sure to do your due diligence in providing a proper response. Always Ask for More Feedback Even if every comment isn’t a jewel, all of the interaction that you get with your blog is still valuable. So whenever you enter into a conversation with a commenter, always conclude the conversation with a request for further feedback in the future. If you really enjoy the conversation, you can even ask the commenter to provide you with a guest post. Often they’ll be flattered, and oblige. Then you make an interesting new contact, and get some free content. It’s a win-win. Be Grateful In addition to asking for feedback, you should always adopt an attitude of gratitude in your interactions with commenters. It’s very nice of them to be reading your blog in the first place, and the fact that they’re engaged enough to ask a question or make a comment is more than worth a simple “thank you” on your part. Avoid a Flame War with Politeness This should be a no brainer, but as with any customer to business interface, your comment section is a lot like a customer service center. People are coming to you with an expectation of etiquette. If they get less than they expect in that regard, rest assured that they’ll remember you lack of tact and hold it against you. So always put your best foot forward, and try to be polite. Negative Comments Unfortunately, not all commenters are going to be friendly, understanding, and enthusiastically civilized folk with no bones to pick with you or your brand. In fact, some will be downright hostile. Such is the price we pay for mass exposure. The world is just full of critics. So what can we do to mitigate the damage that negative commenters can do? Be Like Water I always relish an opportunity to quote Bruce Lee, and in this case his famous mantra for martial artists applies perfectly. Water is cool, serene, and collected. It’s adaptable to whatever container it’s in. You put water in a cup it becomes the cup. So react to the situation you’re in malleably and appropriately. If your detractor brings up a valid complaint, then give ground where it’s due, but never alter your general congenially polite state of Zen-like patience. Avoid panic and fear at all costs. It’s alright to get upset, but don’t let it show on the page. Reassess the situation after you’ve calmed down and then respond. But remember that politely, directly, and genuinely engaging a critical commenter will often change the tone of your entire conversation. Find out who you’re dealing with. If you’re going back and forth with a commenter, you might want to know exactly who you’re talking to.  This can help you figure out whether you’ve got a truly disgruntled customer or a mischievous trouble maker out for laughs at your expense. It can also give you some insight as to their needs and what value your brand can bring to them. Possibly allowing you to defuse the situation much more easily. Don’t Forget About Email If this is indeed a legitimate complaint, you don’t have to address the problem in the public eye. If the conversation is starting to get too incendiary, then just PM your detractor in the same calm amiable manner that you would approach him or her with in the blog section. You might have a much easier time resolving the issue without the burden of being out in the open under public scrutiny. It also adds an element of intimacy between the two of you, which could allow the commenter to open up in a more humble or apologetic way. Now just occasionally, you will run into an unreasonable, inconsolable, and in all other ways undesirable commenter that has nothing positive to add to the conversation without even a semblance of a reason for being so combative. If you spot one of these ne’er-do-wells, you have but one directive: Do Not Feed the Trolls! Trolls thrive on attention, don’t give it to them. If you determine that the commenter is simply a bad apple looking to drag your name through the mud for kicks, then there’s no point in engaging with them. While the internet does open you up to criticism, it’s up to you what content to allow on your own domain. Which leads us to our next point and that is to… Keep Your Finger on the Delete Button Here’s some good news, you don’t have to keep every comment on the page. Here are just a few scenarios where it’s entirely appropriate to delete a comment: When a comment is irrelevant or off topic When a comment is obscene or offensive When an anonymous poster leaves comments When a comment is spam Or when a comment is determined to be intentionally incendiary for trolling purposes   So don’t be afraid to get involved with your own online community. You’re the moderator, and have ultimate control of all that goes on in your comment section. So don’t worry about the haters, and have fun talking to your fans about all the interest you’ve generated on the topic you chose.  

Undermining the Unsubscribes: How to Keep Access to your Contact’s Inbox

 by zack on 21 Oct 2013 |
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Business is booming. Sales are up, revenues are high, and life is good. Yep, it looks like another day in paradise, but what’s this? An ominous report crosses your desk: customers are unsubscribing to your email list in massive numbers! It’s like quicksand, your contact list is quickly approaching zero and you can’t figure out why. Panic sets in, chaos reigns, the building is on fire, and the devil himself laughs at your feeble attempts to douse the blaze with a squirt gun. It’s a scary scenario, albeit highly dramatized and not all that likely. Still, it’s an important point, and one that isn’t brought up nearly enough. What can you do to keep your email subscribers happy? How can you keep them interested? And above all, what can be done to minimize the number of people who click the “unsubscribe” button? Death, Taxes, and Unsubscribes First of all, it’s important to realize that no matter what you do, you are inevitably going to lose a few stragglers here and there. It’s like death and taxes. People just lose interest, and it’s nobody’s fault. You must simply accept this nihilistic axiom and move on. The real thing you have to worry about is if you see a big trend of people subscribing and immediately unsubscribing. This is indicative of subscriber considering their choice to receive your emails to be a mistake on their part. That simply will not do. You’ve got to get people to open up your emails and expose them to the content you’re providing. Otherwise you’re wasting a lot of time, effort, and resources on a completely ineffective distribution channel. That’s especially disappointing, because email marketing is supposed to be one of your biggest converters.   So what can you do to keep folks interested in what you have to say? Well, to do that you’ve got to know where you’re losing their interest. Let’s take a look at some of the most common problems with email marketing campaigns and some possible solutions. Email Marketing Problems and Solutions: We mentioned above that an immediate unsubscribe is a very negative trend, and a signal that something needs to change immediately. The first thing you need to implement, if you haven’t already, is a Welcome message. It’s very important to inform your subscribers of the major benefits of their subscription right off the bat. So after sending the confirmation message upon their initial signup, you also need to have a welcome message in place that will walk them through the value that you’ll provide them with in their subscription.     Assuming that you have this email marketing mainstay in place already and you subscriptions are still dropping off, you might have to get a bit more creative in your efforts. There are two major impetuses for unsubscribing, and both have to do with the frequency of your emails.  You can either flood an inbox with too many emails sent in short intervals, or you can lose subscriber interest by not sending out enough emails. Luckily, the answer to both of these problems lies in integrating a few extra options onto your unsubscribe page. Rather than having an unsubscribe button that immediately boots you from a customer’s inbox like an angry bouncer might toss an unruly nightclub patron, you should have the button redirect the clicker to an unsubscribe page where you present them with a few options before they decide to give you the final kiss goodbye. A lot of highly successful campaigns employ a well-known tactic referred to as Opting-down rather than opting-out. Opt-Downs There are a couple of types of opt-downs. The first is a frequency opt-down. These let your customers decide how often they want to receive your emails. This way you address the two major reasons a potential customer would unsubscribe from your emails at once. It also shows the user that you’re making an effort to help them feel in control of the content they receive. People appreciate this level of control, and it can often be enough to change their minds about receiving your messages. However, it might be that you simply aren’t sending out enough emails to meet your reader’s needs. They can’t increase the frequency of your messages beyond the maximum now can they? If this is the problem, then consider sending your messages out on a schedule. Consistency is very important. You need to let your subscribers know that you can dependably stick to a routine. The second type of opt-down is categorization. This can apply when you bundle too many types of content together in your emails. Maybe certain people are only interested in your newsletter, and don’t want to be bothered with your marketing videos. Or perhaps they only want to open messages carrying promises of special offers or promotions. You can add the category opt-down right below the frequency on your unsubscribe page, and segment your subscribers by content that way. Preventative Measures   Speaking of segmentation, that’s an excellent preventative measure to keep your subscribers from ever considering an opt-out. Proper targeting of your customers takes a lot of work, (examining metrics and studying browsing habits) but in the end it can boost conversion rates through the roof for specific campaigns. Even more importantly, it can keep your email content relevant in the eyes of the receiver. In fact, another of the biggest reasons people unsubscribe from marketing emails is because of irrelevant, boring, or repetitive content. Targeted emails tailored specifically to a consumer’s preferences will increase your value in that consumer’s eyes. Beyond targeting, you also need to be sure that you aren’t repeating yourself in your marketing messages. If people keep on getting the same messages from you on a consistent basis, it will quickly lower their opinion of you and your brand. So do try to keep it fresh. One final misstep that’s sure to drop a lot of email subscribers is readability. More specifically, readability on mobile devices. If your emails aren’t optimized for mobile, you’re automatically alienating a gigantic section of your perspective consumers. A great deal of people do the majority of their web surfing from either their smartphones or tablets, so you need to be certain that your emails appear clearly, cleanly, and without error in mobile format. Acquisition of a giant list of email contacts is no doubt important, but it should never overshadow the retention of those contacts. Keeping loyal customers is more likely to lead your brand to higher profits in the future than any other single ecommerce activity in which you can engage. So follow these guidelines, keep that unsubscribe rate to a minimum, and as always: keep checking the Ashop blog for updates on the best practices for your online store.    

Understanding Your Target Market

 by zack on 12 Oct 2013 |
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  One of the most oft repeated caveats in any ecommerce business plan, is to understand and engage with a target audience. This certainly sounds like common sense. Any self-respecting hunter has to understand the behavior of their prey. A fisherman needs to be able to differentiate between a marlin and a guppy, because they need a completely different set of equipment for each. So how is it any different when you're trying to sell your products online? The short answer is it’s not. The long answer is that it’s infinitely more complicated to convince a human being than it is to catch a fish or shoot a deer. Today, we’ll be talking about some of the key segments that a marketer should be targeting in a marketing campaign of any type, as well as some of the best practices to gather the necessary data to do your market analysis. First things first, let’s dispel some misconceptions. Targeting is about more than just demographic data. Demographics certainly have their place, but they’re only a part of the bigger picture. In addition to demographic data, aka who the people in your target audience actually are, you’ll need to know their browsing habits. You need to know their favorite sites to visit, which times of day they’re most active online, and what they spend most of their time doing. Gathering this information will inform you of the best ways, times, locations, and methods to use in your advertising approach. So let’s start with the basics: who is your audience? You need to know how old they are, what their marital status is, and their interests. Of the three qualifiers just listed, interests are by far the most important. Targeting Your Audience People have a funny way of regularly defying expectations. So rather than expecting a 45 year old married woman to be a soap opera fan, it’s important to look into her browsing habits. Once you do, you may just find out that she’s a huge NASCAR fan, and spends a great deal of time searching for Dale Earnhardt memorabilia. If you’re selling antique tea kettles, you now know to leave her out of your segment. The object of performing any amount of target market research is to keep yourself from making assumptions. Ideally, you want to have hard data backing up your hypotheses. This way you can more confidently push your products, and gain more conversions because you’ve targeted effectively. But how do you actually gather some of this data to build these target profiles? If you have a well-established site that attracts thousands of unique daily visitors, then you can just check your analytics, and gain a great deal of insight that way. If you’re just starting out though, you might need to get a bit more creative. There are several resources that can help you gain an immensely comprehensive picture of your target market.  Web analytics This is your first stop for target market information. These are the people who are actually visiting your site. Find out who they are, how many are regulars, which pages they’re spending the most time on, and what they’re buying. This data can also inform your web design and conversion optimization efforts. For more information on how to use your analytics check out some of the other Ashop Blog posts on interpreting and analyzing metrics. Cookies Cookies are an excellent resource for tracking customer behavior, not just on your site, but all over the internet. By incorporating cookies into your market strategy, you can find out what your target market members do on other sites, what their likes/dislikes may be, their interests, political or religious leanings, age, sex, and marital status, etc. Cookies work by automatically storing an encrypted text file on your visitor’s device or browser whenever they land on a web page. This essentially creates a record of their online activities that you can analyze and learn from. Social media Social media represents a more direct way of learning about your target audiences. While there are specific ways set up for merchants to learn about their audiences on major social platforms, you also have the opportunity to directly engage with your audience in conversations. You can actually request feedback, and ask how you can improve your website, products, and services. Surveys Surveys are a fun and easy method of data gathering. You can easily create surveys with online services such as Constant Contact or Survey Monkey. You can then promote these surveys with your newsletters, email marketing, social media posts or tweets, and so on. Use these surveys to gather demographic information about your audience, along with product preferences, and more subjective data. Quantcast Quantcast is an awesome website that lets you build a profile of the average visitors to any site around the web. Quantcast builds a comprehensive demographics report for the site's visitors that can be highly valuable to marketers. Use this website to check out your what kind of customers your competitors are attracting, and compare their optimization methods with your own. Google Display Planner What list of data gathering tools would be complete without Google making an appearance? Display Planner helps you target specific audiences in your brand’s campaigns by determining the best placements for your ads with demographic information that can be segmented by a number of filters such as age, gender, keywords, and topics. Build a Customer Profile Once you’ve gathered all of your relevant data, it’s time to build an ideal customer profile. Use the demographic information to determine the age, sex, income, and education level of your ideal customer. Narrow the profile down further with geographical information like location, climate, and whether they live in urban or rural environments. Take a look at this infographic describing the statistical averages amongst users of the Merry Maids Pet Service:   See how they’ve broken down all of the relevant categories of their target market? They know exactly who spends the most on the service they offer, and therefore: who to target. After determining the basic biographical information about your customers, find out what kind of technology they’re using to browse and purchase online. What browsers are they using? Are they surfing from a PC, a Mac, or a mobile device? It’s important that your site be compatible with your ideal customer’s method of choice for online shopping. Finally, try to determine what kind of potential for growth your brand has within the context of this ideal customer profile. How can you cross promote your products to them? Who are the other brands that are competing with you for their attention? How can you one-up this competition? All Systems Engage After you’ve gathered all of this data, it’s time to go out and engage your ideal customers. You’ve literally stacked the deck in your favor at this point, so you can confidently approach people on the individual level to have conversations about their needs, and discuss how your brand can provide for them. You also know exactly where to find these customers and which offers they’re most likely to respond to. If you’ve done your research correctly, nearly every variable will be playing to your strengths. So get out there and mix it up. Once you’ve began engaging, (this will be an ongoing process) measure your success. How did your efforts effect your bottom line? Keep track of the change in data, and start the process all over again. You need to be shaving down your sales strategy into a finely pointed spear. Ironically enough, the more narrowly you target your campaigns, the greater success you’ll find. Hopefully, you’ll be able to put this information to good use. Remember to check back next week for more helpful ecommerce advice on the Ashop blog.  

The Biggest Content Marketing Mishaps

 by zack on 05 Oct 2013 |
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  We all make mistakes. It's how we learn and grow. Still, if you can avoid messing up, it's certainly an advisable thing to do. One of the most common areas for ecommers misteps is in the arena of content marketing. Today, the Ashop blog endeavors to help you watch your step on the treacherous path of online store affluence by revealing some of the most common fallacies in content marketing.    There Are No Shortcuts Many marketers, and so called ecommerce gurus like to throw out maxims. They love to tell you how you can make millions overnight, and that anyone can do "such and such," or accomplish "so and so" in no time at all.  The harsh reality is, when it comes to content marketing, there is only one sure-fire way to make great content: hire proven and experienced content creators. Or look for talented up and comers to do the same. Either way, you should expect to pay top dollar for their services.   Sadly, there aren’t any Mario style warp zones that can take your pay grade to level 8 in a matter of seconds. You’ve got to scrape and scrounge for every conversion that you get. So don’t get caught in the standard trap of trying to get over on your customers with subpar content in great volumes. The only person that’s getting shortchanged is you. Don’t Aim for Virality Virality is often treated as the ultimate goal for content marketers. After all, it’s great having such an extreme level of distribution without paying for anything other than an initial investment for the content. However, virality doesn’t always translate directly to increased conversions. Probably the most surefire way to get a YouTube video with 100,000+ hits is to feature an attractive girl in skimpy clothes holding kittens and bunnies while telling bawdy jokes. What exactly does that message give to your customers about your company? That you’re desperate for their attention mostly, and maybe that you have a good sense of humor. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really convince them to empty their pockets for your products. Virality is great for increasing exposure, but it shouldn’t be the main focus of your content marketing campaigns. Instead, you should aim for targeted traffic that is likely to be high-converting. You want to build up a base of truly satisfied customers. Visitors who are genuinely appreciative of your brand and your products. These high value customers can be counted on to provide a base income while you look to reach out to other demographics and expand your prospects. The goal is not just to grab one time conversions, but instead to court long term return business. You don’t achieve that with viral content. You get it by offering quality products at reasonable prices and honestly advertising these benefits to your customers. Don’t Rely too Heavily on Video Video is awesome. We all love it. This blog has on several occasions espoused the power and popularity of video content, and its prominent position in content marketing. BUT it would certainly be foolish to hedge all of your bets on this one medium. Video offers a powerful and engaging way to interact with consumers, but guess what? Not everyone wants to sit and watch it.  You may have a fantastically effective marketing video, complete with artsy images, and persuasive arguments about your brand’s superiority. Unfortunately, if it’s more than a minute long, you lose half the internet right off the bat. This is a common reaction:   As counterintuitive as it might seem, it actually can take far less of that notoriously short attention span to read a short article, rather than watch a video. This is because a reader controls the pace of his or her consumption of your media, rather than being at the mercy of the unchangeable interval of time required to watch your video. That’s why effective writing, along with eye-catching imagery, still have an affluent place in any savvy content marketing strategy.   Aside from that, why would you want to limit yourself to visual learners only? There are a ton of other potential customers that prefer different types of media over video. Make sure you aren’t ignoring major sections of the buying population by sticking to one technique too stringently. Otherwise, you’ll be like a boxer who doesn’t know how to throw a right hand.  That jab will score points, but you’ll never put together a winning combination with only one punch. Don’t Treat Content as if it’s an Isolated Event Content shouldn’t be standalone, not in its message, nor in its delivery. You don’t send a single sailor out in a lifeboat to explore an island. You organize a plan, and send a detachment of veterans who are experienced and well supplied. Similarly, A piece of content shouldn’t simply be published in your newsletter, and then left to wither in obscurity. Wait a week, and redistribute that content on your social media channels. It’s also important that this piece of content make an impactful statement about one of your products, your company, your industry, your niche, or all of the above. Remember that effective content marketing isn’t traditional sales. You aren’t trying to get them to sign dotted lines. Instead, you’re telling a story, inw which your company is the protagonist. And if you have an attractive narrative, conversions will flow naturally from that. This isn’t to say that traditional sales tactics don’t have their place in your content. Every piece of content that you publish should include a CTA of some sort. It’s important to draw in as much attention and good will from your customers as possible, but not at the expense of alienating them with an excess of zeal for their pocket change.  Content marketing exists to inform and offer value. The ROI of offering this to your followers is trust first, and then revenue afterwards. Try not to lose sight of your content’s purpose, across all of your channels of distribution. The trick to avoiding these content marketing mishaps, is keeping common sense at the forefront of your mind. People are complex individuals who have to be romanced a little before they’re willing to offer up their attention--or their checkbooks. You have to approach them from multiple angles with a cohesive message that addresses their individual concerns.  Especially avoid coming at them with a single minded attitude of grabbing their value without offering them anything in return. You’ve got to give to get, and forgetting that is the quickest way to lose consumer interest. 
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