Thursday, April 20, 2006

e-Mail Newsletter Subscription Policies

Creating a professional and appropriate e-mail newsletter policy:

If I sent you an e-mail, met you at a trade show, or downloaded something off of your web site - should I automatically start receiving your newsletter?

I think not.

Yet this seems to be the policy of many businesses with an e-mail newsletter. It's an easy trap to fall into because there are compelling reasons to do it this way:

  1. You'll have far more subscribers, and grow your subscriber list faster if you simply subscribe everyone you ever have and ever will come in contact with - whether they know it or not.
  2. It's just easier. If you have downloads on your web site then you'll have to create an extra checkbox for the newsletter and ensure that contacts choices are enforced in all future mailings.
Bigger and easier is not always better
At a recent conference I was chatting with a group of professionals who were lamenting about the frequency to which they were subscribed to companies newsletters just because they exchanged cards at a trade show. The general feeling was that a newsletter that arrived unexpectedly was considered both spam and unprofessional - even though they knew the company it was coming from.

It is far better to ask each person if they would like to receive the newsletter. Yes, it is more work, and yes, it requires procedures and policy enforcement - but the arrival of the newsletter in the recipients inbox is welcomed instead of being considered a breach of relationship.

What policies should be in place?

  • Opt-in on your forms:
    First - for every form on your web site - have a check box for the newsletter. Ask your visitors if they would also like to receive your newsletter. The box should be unchecked if you want a true opt-in newsletter.

    Some choose to have the box pre-checked to get more sign-ups, but that is what we call an opt-out newsletter. It's because you have to uncheck the box in order to opt-out of receiving the newsletter. Interesting, not asking people if they want the newsletter at all but still sending it to them is also considered an opt-out newsletter.

  • Opt-in in person:
    Ask people you meet if they would like to receive your newsletter. At a trade show you could have a newsletter sign up sheet for people to write their name and e-mail. If you are collecting business cards for a draw, have the sign up sheet next to the draw box.

    Why not also ASK each person if they would like to be on your newsletter as their card in the box? Always have a compelling reason to sign up for your newsletter, a free gift or some valuable information to maximize subscriptions.

  • Opt-in on the phone:
    Ask each person you speak to if they would like to receive your newsletter and make sure the e-mail is entered in your e-mail marketing system. Give your sales reps an easy way to do so.

  • Manual e-mail entry:
    Every person that manually enters contacts into your marketing database needs to be made aware that only people with the newsletter option 'checked' will receive the newsletter. A decision needs to be made for each contact being entered whether they should be receiving the newsletter or not.

  • e-Mail imports:
    Same goes for mass import. A decision needs to be made for each list imported - or perhaps even each contact on each list, whether or not the contact should be subscribed to receive the newsletter.

  • Sending Policy:
    Only send to those that have expressed their desire to receive your newsletter.
Benefits of having a newsletter policy
  • In future people can choose to unsubscribe from the newsletter, but still remain subscribed to the database to receive other important information like special announcements.

    This is a way that you can actually help retain people on your list (reduce churn). For example, a contact goes to unsubscribe from the newsletter and they see a couple of options - newsletter, special announcements, press releases, etc. And they can manage their preferences without completely unsubscribing. If you do not have a newsletter subscription option they can only either be subscribed or unsubscribed.

  • Giving people the option doesn't risk diminishing the trusting relationship. If someone downloads a whitepaper and then starts receiving the newsletter they might be put off by it.
Permission policies pay off Being professional in your communications and practicing good permission habits pays off in your relationship with prospects and customers alike.

Some areas of privacy are fuzzy and you may get away with lax policies that maximize your subscriptions or save work, but if you do it the way you'd expect to be treated yourself you will gain trust and guarantee you are on the right side of the law.


If you would like more information on e-mail marketing best practices, e-mail marketing ideas, or services that can help you gain maximum value from your e-mail marketing campaigns, please visit the web site of our Toronto e-mail marketing company.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The White Hat Vs. Black Hat Search Engine Optimization Debate is BS

That's the word from the CAC2006 conference in Amsterdam.

Rasmus Srrensson from, a 25 person search engine optimization firm in Denmark, proclaimed "there is no black hat or white hat search engine optimization. It is all just risk assessment", in his presentation to the audience of affiliates and sponsor companies.

Rasmus suggested you ask yourself: "are willing to have your site dropped? If no, maybe you shouldn't even be trying to rank in search engines... Search engine spamming and black hat SEO techniques are not illegal."

The CAC is the Casino Affiliate Conference. It is held twice annually, once in Las Vegas and once in Amsterdam. Over 600 affiliates and sponsor online gaming companies congregate to share information and make new business deals.

I feel that to be best the field of search engine optimization, one needs to be understand be able to apply the techniques of the best search optimizers in the world. The decision to go to the CAC2006 in Amsterdam was not a mistake.

By far the hottest topic this year is search engine optimization. The companies and affiliates that manage to secure the top positions for the most trafficked phrases are scoring the biggest new customers wins. With the worldwide online gaming market estimated to be somewhere between 15 and 30 billion dollars (USD) annually, the competition for search engine rankings is among the highest in the world.

Search optimization is all grey hat
Clearly, if so called "black hat search engine optimization techniques" are not illegal, then the option is available to all competitors in any industry. The most aggressive will likely use it and probably dominate the search engine results.

Rasmus has a good point. If you are concerned about your search engine rankings, and especially if you are in an already highly competitive online category, you need to be aware of the options available to you and your competitors to compete in the search engines.

Black and white are far too polarized terms to describe search engine optimization techniques. In reality, everything is a shade of grey. Often it's not what you do, but how you do it that makes it lighter or darker in the spectrum.

Take content for example. Increasing site content is an important factor in search engine optimization. The kind of content that you create, or how you create it, makes it black hat or white hat. Pure white hat would be adding relevant articles that you created from company resources. Pure black hat would be creating portals by scraping content off of other sites and mixing it up with other content so as to be unique.

The realist, the grey hat SEO, understands that in order to provide quality content for the user, and compete with the pure black hat optimizers, it must take a more aggressive approach to search engine optimization.

The grey hat SEO asks himself:
Where can I find quality content of interest to my audience?

  • Quality on topic blogs with RSS feeds?
  • News feeds?
  • Press release feeds?
  • Articles from other sites?
  • Partners: customers, suppliers, friends?

How can I create a page, or whole sections of content, targeted specifically at a two, three or four word phrase that I am most interested in?

How can I maximize the use of this content? Can I reuse bits and pieces of different content sources randomly to increase the uniqueness of each page? This is important if you have hundreds or thousands of pages targeting very specific, but similar phrases.

Can I create geographically targeted content? For example, can I build a separate page for each town and city that you sell in (taking care to have unique content on each page), and linking them all up through the site map for the search engines to find?

Should I create a portal for my industry? Can I create enough content to make a valuable industry resource, and then use it as both an advertising vehicle for my own site and a search optimization playground?

Does having a portal - or multiple portals - allow me to better take on the "black hat" seo competition without risking my own site's reputation?

These are just a few of the options for content alone. Then there is the actual optimization and linking strategies to consider. What about blogspam, linkspam, logspam and hijacking? What do you need to know about these activities?

What everyone needs to know:
  • the competitive landscape for your industry
  • the options available and potential rewards of each option
  • and costs and the risks of each option

To know these you will likely need a competent search engine optimization company. Not just a web design firm that knows how to make the meta tags correctly, submit your site to a bunch of search engines and make a monthly report. You need a company that understands the whole search engine optimization landscape.

My company, Agito Internet Marketing, specializes in SEO for small and medium mainstream businesses for the purposes of lead generation and online sales. If you are looking for a Toronto search engine optimization company, please contact me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

4 P's of Internet Marketing for Affiliates

A new cottage industry has been spawned by the Internet. It's called affiliate marketing.

It's the marketing of other companies products and services via specially tagged links on the Internet. When a link is clicked through to a store, and something is purchased by that person, the company pays a commission to the affiliate (typically an individual, or small group).

Affiliates can find customers through paid search engine marketing (PPC, or pay per click), search engine optimization, SEO, banner ads, purchased links on other sites, email and more. All of this is perfectly legal and legitimate - and both sides win.

The company receives new customers and pays only a percentage of each sale or a pre-defined flat fee. The affiliate receives this commission for create thinking and marketing of the companies products or services a new audience.

Affiliate programs, in addition to providing excellent exposure to new markets, also provide an important boost to search engine visibility and traffic because of the large number of links to the sponsor company web site created by the affiliates. Special care has to be taken by the company in choosing an affiliate program to ensure that the links are created properly - or the links will have no value.

How do affiliates find new customers?
Online Portals and SEO:
The best method by many measurements is the operation of online portals. These are information rich web sites about a particular topic that provide links and sometimes reviews to companies for which they have an affiliate relationship. These web sites are highly optimized for search and capture many clicks from potential customers from the search engines. The best web sites have high quality information and provide value to visitors that have an interest in the topic.

Affiliates may build large opt-in e-mail lists where they provide current information and advertising or recommendations for products.PPC:Affiliates are often experts in Pay Per Click marketing. They bid on clicks from certain search terms and send those clicks directly to their sponsors web sites with their special tracking code. Affiliates can often be far more effective in pay per click campaign management than the sponsor company, so there can be a large margin for profit for the affiliate. The sponsor company typically pays a flat fee or percentage per sale, so the affiliate takes all of the risk and work in attempting to purchase customers through efficient targeting of ads in search engines.

Banner and Link Advertising:
Affiliates buy banners or links on popular web sites targeting a specific audience and send the traffic to their portals or to the sponsors web site directly. Affiliates become knowledgeable in the places to buy advertising efficiently and can purchase links on thousands of web sites the sponsor would not know of.

Affiliate Marketing: An established industry
A large affiliate industry has grown up. There are affiliate networks like Commission Junction and LinkShare that provide the affiliate programs for thousands of companies. They provide the merchants with tracking and payment services, and provide affiliates with consolidated reporting and a convenient way to sign up for many programs. There are many smaller vendors that provide easy to set up and inexpensive affiliate program options as well.What are the industries that are benefiting the most?

There are businesses in virtually every industry using affiliate programs to provide a strong channel of online sales through their websites. One look at the Kolimbo Network (requires free affiliate account) will give you an idea of the breadth of this industry.

The most obvious choices for affiliate program adoption are the companies already selling a product or service online, but their are opportunities for way of selling in almost every industry - and the first coveted first-to-market positions in every industry are rapidly being filled.

One industry of note is online content, estimated to be worth $50 Billion Annually.The big money in affiliate marketing, however, are in the markets with the most online activity. The barriers to entry are as large as the profits. Interestingly, the industries that are most active amongst affiliates share something in common. I call these:

The four P's of Internet marketing for affiliates:

Of course there are many others, but these seem to shine amongst affiliates, these industries have even spawed largely attended trade shows and conferences such as the CAC - Casino Affiliate Conference, iDate - Internet Dating Conference, COPHARM, Online Pharmaceuticals Conference and others.

The affiliate industry is maturing
The four P's aside, 'mainstream' businesses in every industry are creating online stores or lead generating web sites that are trackable with affiliate software and reaping the benefits of an affiliate program.

As this industry matures, I see larger affiliate networks, larger affiliates, and more business partnerships. Businesses like my Toronto Internet marketing company are forming partnerships with companies in different industries to bring their products to market online through the use of search engine optimization, pay per click marketing, text link purchases, corporate blogging, e-mail marketing, web analytics speclialties and resources that are difficult and inefficient to maintain inhouse.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is your web site invisible to search engines?

I just reviewed a web site for a client that is completely invisible on the Internet.

While there are several hundred links to the site (measured by Google, Yahoo and MSN), none of these major search engines have indexed a single page of the site, which means the site will not come up in a search for anything - except perhaps the domain name.

If you want a quick check to see if the search engines have indexed your pages you can check it out with our free search engine visibility analysis tool here:
Free search engine visibility analysis tool

After you have run the report take a look at the search engine saturation score. This is the number of pages that each of the search engines have indexed. If it is zero - then you have a problem. The site I am looking at today has that problem.

The site in question today has a good amount of information on it, and could do very well in the search engines if it was properly structured. The structure as it stands now, however, is difficult to use from a user perspective, and impossible to index by the search engines. The indexing problem is caused by use of dynamic URL's like this:

The bolded part of the URL above is what is known as a robot "stop". Once the search engines sees this dynamic URL structure it just stops and doesn't follow the link.

The moral? Before you spend any time thinking about search engine optimization you first need to make sure that your site is built in such a way that the search engines can actually see it.
So what if my site is indexed by the search engines?
Well that's great. Now you can optimize. The site I looked at today had not been optimized for search engines at all. The meta tags are incorrect and there is no use of proper title or headline tags. A good search engine optimization program on this site will make a huge difference to the search engine visibility.

My recommendations for the badly built site:

Phase One:

First and foremost, the site structure needs to be fixed for the search engines and the users. This can be done with existing content and new HTML while preserving many aspects of the existing design. The entire site should be re-built in search engine friendly manner. Once this is done, the new search engine visibility can be used as a benchmark for a phase two rebuild for a much better site.

Products required:
- Search engine optimization
- Site re-development in search friendly html (priced per page, standard web design fees)
- WebTrends integration. Basic is included in SEO package, advanced configuration includes training and configuring web trends to understand the site structure so reports can be viewed on most interesting key performance indicators for the site.

Phase Two:
Redesign look and feel of web site. (May or may not include a complete rebranding)
Write new content, edit, revise and update existing content.
Update existing web site templates build in phase one, and modify and add new content as created in phase two.
Create whitepapers, etc for downloads and other sign in forms to collect contact information.

This two phased approach is my best recommendation on taking an old site with a lot of good content and making it quickly visible, and then measuring and building on that visibility. Step two would focus on making the site a selling web site, and converting those visitors to leads.

Learn more about our search engine optimization services here:
Agito Internet Marketing. A Toronto search engine optimization company