Social media advertising – top tips for small business ecommerce

social networks

If you’re a small online business or start-up, chances are you’ve already dipped your toe into social media. For example you’ve probably established a business presence across the social media platforms relevant to your target market. Social media has become an integral part of marketing and if you are looking to increase your reach across these networks, it may well be worth considering advertising your business on social media.

Social media advertising continues to be big business and has seen phenomenal growth over the last few years. Indeed, according to research;

What opportunities can social media advertising bring to small online businesses?

Most of the key social media platforms offer advertising options which, when executed well, can offer small business ecommerce a number of advantages. For example:

Targeted Audience. Social platforms enable you to drill down in terms of targeting. Allowing you to be specific about who you are looking to target, not only through basic demographics, but by purchase behaviour and interests. Facebook even enables you to target ‘Lookalike Audiences’ – opening the door to a wider, but still closely related audience.

Low cost of entry. Entry costs for social media advertising isn’t prohibitive to small businesses. You can set your budget on a daily or campaign basis – spending only what you can afford.

Immediacy. Social media advertising is immediate and offering you great flexibility. You can create, launch and tweak campaigns quickly and easily.

Brand awareness: Social media exposure amongst a wider, targeted audience will help increase your reach and build awareness of your brand.

Easily track performance: Most social networks offer insightful analytics to enable you to easily track your advertising campaigns’ performance and ROI.

social media advertising

Top tips for creating great social media ads

Before you embark on advertising on your chosen social media platform or platforms, here are a few tips to help ensure success.

Clear goals and objectives:  Be very clear about what you want your advertisement to achieve?  For example are you looking to drive traffic to your website, raise awareness of a new product, get more page likes, grow attendance at an event or is it a brand building exercise?   Establishing clear goals will help your focus advertising making it easier to create the right content .

When you create an ad within  Facebook you are given a list of advertising objectives – so match up your goal with the objective you select.

Create goals and objectives

Target your audience. Be very clear about who it is you are trying to target. For example, are you going to break it down by demographics, interests or purchasing behaviour. Different audiences will respond differently to particular content. An advertisement that may appeal to one segment may not be so successful with another. If you can focus on a specific audience you can adapt your ad to reflect the triggers of that particular group.

Set your budget. Have a clear idea about your budget before you start. Otherwise you run the risk of getting carried away and spending more than you can afford. Set a daily maximum spend or a maximum campaign limit. You can always adjust your budget at a later date once you’ve tested the water.

Use interesting visuals: Social media is becoming an increasingly visual medium. Use high-quality, creative images to make your advertisement stand out from the crowd.

Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images.

There are a number of excellent image libraries available online where you can source interesting and engaging images such as Shutterstock, istockphoto, freedigitalphotos and dreamstime. If you’re on a tight budget then check out Pixabay, they have a great library of images that are free to use even for commercial purposes. Facebook also allow you to select from hundreds of Shutterstock images at no cost when creating an ad.

Be mobile friendly:  Increasingly, people are more likely to access social networks via mobile. Keep this in mind when you are creating your ads; as chances are it will be viewed on a small screen.

mobile friendly

 

Call to action: Even when you have limited space to work with a clear call to action is essential. Ensure your audience is left in no doubt about what it is you are asking them to do. For example, when you are creating a Facebook advertisement you can select from some of the following call to action buttons:

  • Shop Now
  • Learn More
  • Sign Up
  • Use App
  • Book Now
  • Download

Landing page: Don’t undo a great ad by sending your audiences to a general page on your website. Create campaign specific landing pages that reflect the content  and reinforce the message of your advertisement. Campaign specific landing pages will provide a better conversion rate.

Track response: Keep on top of how you ads are performing – what ROI are they providing? Most social media networks enable you to closely monitor and measure the performance of your campaigns.  Analysing your campaign analytics will help you identify what is working well, or not so well, so you can amend your campaigns accordingly.

Advertising options for social media platforms.

Most social networks offer advertising options for businesses. For further information for individual platforms, check out the links below:

Facebook: Facebook Adverts

TwitterTwitter Ads

Pinterest: Promoted Pins

LinkedIn: LinkedIn Advertising

Instagram: Advertising on Instagram

Exploring the advertising options offered on the  social media platforms that you are already using as business, can help amplify your social media presence through creating specific, highly targeted adverts at a manageable cost. So if you haven’t already tried social media advertising then it’s worth testing the water with your business.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on social media advertising, so please do leave a comment.

9 ways small online businesses can generate website traffic without breaking the bank

 

Drive traffic to your website

We all know how tough it can be launching a small business online. More often than not we are constrained by a tight budget and lack of resources. Driving traffic to your website is essential in order to attract potential customers.

In this post we take a look at how to get visitors to your website when faced with a limited budget and when the only marketing resource is yourself.

9 straightforward and cost-effective ways to drive traffic to your website

We’ve outlined nine key actions to help you generate more traffic to your online business and grow your potential customer base. It will mean time and effort on your part but all the actions are straightforward to implement, will help in the long-term success of your business and won’t break the bank.

1. Content

We’ll kick off with content. Content is the linchpin to everything that you do and if you only take one thing away from this post then it should be the importance and value of having high quality content on your website. Your content should be;

Relevant: Your content should reflect the needs and interests of your audience.

Engaging: Does it read well? Is it interesting? Will it catch your reader’s eye with an easy to follow layout, supported by interesting images (try Pixabay for sourcing great images that are free for you to use).

Shareable: Your content should inspire people to share it with others. 94% of people who share posts do so because they think it might be helpful to others.  

Try enhancing the content of your site with visual content. Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images. Think about implementing:

  • Images and photos to support text
  • Videos
  • Infographics

2. Blogging

Following on from content, blogging is one of the best ways to ensure your website is being regularly updated with fresh, relevant content. This is key to driving traffic to your website. Every time you publish a post it provides additional opportunities for your business to appear in search engines results pages. As nicely put by Hubspot – “The only thing blogging costs you: your time.”

 

blogging

Blogging also has the added advantage of offering long-term benefits. Each post you publish will  continue to pull in traffic for months to come. Indeed, Hubspot notes that 70% of the traffic it receives each month to its blog comes from posts that weren’t published in the current month.

3. Referrals

The great thing about referral marketing for small businesses is it inexpensive  and effective. Essentially you are getting current customers to help drive traffic to your business by using word of mouth to promote your products and services to friends and acquaintances.

The key things when it comes to successful referrals is:

  1. Ask your customers. Interestingly, the majority of customers who have had a positive customer experience would be happy to refer a friend and yet only a small proportion do. So you need to actively encourage your customers to recommend your business to friends and family.
  2. Make it easy. You don’t want make your customer jump through hoops to make a referral, so make it as straightforward as possible for customers to refer a friends. Try introducing a refer a friend scheme that incentivises both the customer that provides the referral and the friend they refer.

4. Search Engine optimisation

44% of online shoppers begin by using a search engine. 

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) essentially involves making your website search engine friendly and people friendly. It involves researching the right keywords and phrases to generate traffic and improving your site structure to make it easy for search engines to find their way around. Much of it links right back to ensuring your content is relevant, engaging and shareable to your customers.

To find out more about getting starting with Search Engine Optimisation then checkout these two comprehensive guides to getting started with SEO.

  1. MOZ: SEO: The Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization 
  2. Google: Search Engine Optimization Guide

5. Pay-per-click advertising (PPC)

OK, PPC such as Google Adwords will involve you parting with some money however, with pay-per-click advertising you can set your budget to what you can afford to spend and you only pay when someone actually clicks via the advertisement to your website. The key to successful PPC advertising is spending time researching the best keywords for your business – they need to be specific and relevant. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great free tool to start with (you just need to create a Google Adwords Account). It will help you identify keywords and phrases and let you know approximate cost-per-click.

With a bit of playing around and practice Google AdWords is pretty easy to use. Checkout Google Adwords Support will help guide you through the basics of getting started.

 

6. Social Media

80% marketers felt social media increased website traffic 

social networks

 

Social media plays an integral, supporting role in driving traffic. It is a great way for you to promote your content with customers and in turn, makes it very easy for customers to go on and share that content on with their social media contacts.

It is a good idea to start out establishing your business profile on the main networks such as Facebook then concentrate your efforts on the key social networks used by your target audience. For example if you business is jewellery you may find your focus on more visual networks such as Pinterest or Instagram, whereas if you are professional services you may find more of your target audience using LinkedIn or Twitter.

Remember to add social media buttons to your website, blog posts and email communications. You want to make it as easy as possible for people to share your content with their friends.

7. Email

Email is one of your most cost-effective tools with a healthy ROI. Use email to stay and front of your customers and drive traffic to your site. Share content such as promoting your product and services, blog posts, news articles, infographics and events – all linking back to your website. Focus on building up a quality email list of relevant and permission based contacts as ithe quality of your data will reflect the effectiveness of your traffic :

  • Create a newsletter sign-up form on your website (think about incentivising sign-up to boost response).
  • Gather names through events you attend, run quizzes and contests offer promotions.

8. Mobile responsive

Ensuring your website is multi-device compatible is essential for getting more visitors to your website. Your website should display equally well whether it is being viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile.

responsive design

More and more people are using mobile devices to search the web. Indeed research shows that 60% of web searches in 2015 were conducted from a mobile phone or tablet. Put simply if your website doesn’t view well on a mobile device, people simply won’t take the time to engage with your website. Added to this, if your website is not responsive then it will effect your search engine ranking on mobile searches.

9. Share your URL

Finally make sure you share your website URL at every opportunity. It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how often it is overlooked. Display your website address wherever you can – no matter how insignificant it may first appear: For example;

  • Advertisements
  • Brochures
  • Flyers
  • Letterheads
  • business cards
  • Email signatures
  • Invoice and order acknowledgements
  • Promotional material
  • Packaging.

Of course everything we’ve mentioned in this post will entail time and ongoing effort on your part, however they are all effective and inexpensive ways to drive traffic to your website – with long-term, sustainable results.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experience of driving traffic to your website, so please do leave a comment.

Generate customers through refer-a-friend marketing: top tips for small business ecommerce

REFERRAL Marketing

Essentially refer a friend or referral marketing is using word of mouth to promote your product or service to generate new business.  It is about encouraging your existing clients to tell their friends and family about your business with the hope that their influence will create new customers.

The key to successful recommendations is to offer great customer experience and to actively persuade your current customers to spread the word about your products and services.

What are the benefits to small businesses?

Referral marketing  offers a number of benefits to small online business owners. Key to its power is the fact that the majority of people trust the opinion of friends, family and even other customers over most of the other forms of marketing that we generate.

74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth as a key influence in their purchasing decision”

Low cost: With word of mouth marketing, even if you are offering some sort of ‘refer a friend’ scheme, acquisition costs are usually low if not negligible.

Effective: Recommendations from friends are one of the most effective ways to influence the purchasing decision and generate new customers.

Trustworthy: People are far more likely to listen to the opinion of, and trust, people they know.

Targeted: Referral marketing is usually highly targeted. Most people recommending a particular product or service to a friend is doing so because they feel that their friend will be genuinely interested in what it is that they are recommending .

Healthy profit margin: Referred customers are great customers!

  • Referred customers bring 25% higher profit margin
  • Lifetime value is 16% higher for referred customers

How to increase referrals and recommendations

positive customer experience

So we’ve established that getting referral marketing up and running makes sense for your business. So where is a good starting point? Firstly, ensure that you have implemented all the things that will positively influence customers’ experience of your business. Only then look at active ways you can encourage your customers to refer and recommend.

Focus on getting the basics right first

It may sound obvious, but there is no point actively asking your customers to recommend you to their friends if your product, service or all-round customer experience is poor. Nobody is going to refer a friend or post a glowing review if they’ve had a less than positive encounter with a business. So focus first on getting the fundamentals right. For example:

  • Offer exemplary, personalised customer service.
  • Interact and engage with customers.  For example reply to comments posted by customers on social media or your blog posts.
  • Strengthen brand trust and build you business’ authority and credibility. For example create a resources page with industry relevant information, articles and blog posts, speak at relevant conferences and industry events, implement security logos and Trustmarks on your website.

Actively encourage your customers to recommend you

83% of satisfied customers are willing to recommend  products and services but only 29% do.

If you’re confident that your business is all that it should be, then look at how you can actively encourage customers to recommend you to their friends and colleagues. I say actively encourage because even if your customers absolutely love you, the chances are they will still need a bit of nudging in the right direction.

Sometimes, you just need to ask. If you find yourself coming off a particularly positive phone call with a customer then ask if they’d mind providing a review of your product or service. Try posting a request on social media for feedback. It is also a good idea to get bit more proactive with referrals. For example think about setting up a Refer a Friend programme and actively generating customer testimonials.

1.Run a Refer a Friend scheme

A refer a friend scheme is a great way to bring referrals in. Asking customers to provide you with the contact details of a friend who may be interested in your product is a great way to build up your referrals. Keep in mind you may need to incentivise your customers to boost response. In the Boden example below, if a current customer recommends a friend successfully then they receive a £10 Boden voucher and the friend receives 20% off her first order – appealing both to the customer and the friend they refer.

 

refers friend incentive

 

Offering some type of reward or incentive will improve your recommendation rate but it doesn’t necessarily follow that a monetary reward is the most effective. Research indicates that offering a reward increases referral likelihood, but the size of the reward does not matter  and that non-cash incentives are 24% more effective at boosting performance than cash incentives. Ultimately it will depend on your audience and it might  be worth you testing a few alternatives to see what pulls in the best results.

2. Implement customer reviews

Recommendations from friends come at the top of the list for people’s most trusted source of product information. But interestingly online opinions and reviews from other consumers rank pretty highly too.

Start collecting reviews and testimonials from customers to have visible on your website. Ask customers who have recently purchased a product or service for their feedback. You can also sign up to product review platforms  such as Trustpilot or Feefo who will help automate the process for you.

Customer testimonials

Make referrals easy

To help get a response to your requests for feedback, ensure you make it as easy as possible for your customers to refer their friends or leave a review. The more rings customers have to jump through to make a recommendation the lower your response rate. Here is a great example from Hello Fresh’s Refer a Friend scheme. A simple link takes current customers to a registration page where they can quickly and easily enter their friends email addresses – Hello Fresh does the rest.

 

make referrals easy

Referral marketing is a great way for small businesses to generate  new customers. The three key points to take away are:

  1. Make sure you get the basics right first such as excellent customer service.
  2. Actively ask your customers for referrals
  3. Make it is as easy as possible for them to refer their friends.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on Refer a Friend so please do leave a comment. 

5 top Instagram tips for small online businesses and start-ups

instagram-1007070_1920

How can Instagram benefit your ecommerce business?  Launched in 2010 and bought by Facebook in 2012, Instagram is a free photo sharing app. Like Pinterest, Instagram is primarily a visual platform. If you consider that images are the most popular type of content for social networks, it follows that you should at the very least investigate the benefits Instagram could bring to your small online business.

Instagram – did you know…

The growing success of visual platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest is rooted in our natural inclination towards all things visual. For example:

  • 65% of us are visual learners
  • 90% of information coming to the brain is visual
  • Content with relevant images gets 94% more views than content without relevant images
  • Visual content is more than 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content.

5 top tips to get the most out of Instagram for your business

1. Get off to a good start.

Take a look at Instagram for business. It has plenty of resources such as a business blog, inspirational case studies and helpful tips.

Creating an account:

  • Download and install the Instagram app (IOS App store), Android (Google Play Store) or Windows Phone (Windows Phone Store).
  • To sign up you can either use your Facebook account or tap sign up and enter your email address. You’ll need to create a username when you sign up. Bear in mind that this is what everyone will see so, if you can, try to include your businesses name. If it’s already taken you might have to get a bit more creative to incorporate it.
  • Complete your profile by tapping Edit Your Profile.  You only have 150 characters to play with so spend some time crafting your biography – remember anyone can see your Bio. You want it to be interesting and engaging. Don’t forget to include your URL and a profile picture. Your logo is probably the best image to choose.
  • From settings, link your account to your other active business social networks so you can share photos and videos across all your platforms.

Start following, sharing, liking and commenting on other people’s posts. Don’t forget to add your Instagram profile link to your website and email communications.

2. Have a plan in place

Before posting images here, there and everywhere. It is a good idea to have a clear plan of how you intend to approach your presence on Instagram. As a small business owner time and resources are likely to be limited. A clear strategy will ensure your efforts aren’t wasted and you are making the most effective use of your time. Think about what you are hoping to achieve and decide the most effective way of taking that forward. As a starting point:

Set objectives: Having in place some clear SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) objectives will help ensure you have focus and direction.

What are you competitors doing? Check out what your competitors are doing on Instagram. Who are their followers and who are they following. What are they doing well that you can learn from and what are they doing that’s not so great that you could do better?

Think about Brand: What kind of image do you want to convey to reflect your brand? The photos and images you post should support your brand personality. Instagram for business has some great examples of some creative brands that are well worth checking out for some inspiration.

How often? As part of your planning, think about putting together a schedule. You may have some fantastic ideas, but you need to be practical and think about how much time you realistically have available. Do you have any resources or will posting all be down to you? Like most social media posting regularly is advisable but equally quality will outweigh quantity.

using your camera on smarphone3. Be creative

You don’t need a state of the art, all singing, all dancing camera. Most of us have a pretty decent camera on our phones. With your smartphone you also have the added benefit of having a camera to hand at opportune moments. Saying that, do still take a sensible approach to taking pictures – you still want them to look professional. Checkout this link for some tips on taking better pictures with your smartphone.

Tip: On Instagram photos showing faces get 38% more likes than photos not showing faces

Instagram over 20 filters for you to play with to create the feel you want for your different photos. So let your creativity shine – even if you have rather uninspiring products there is no reason not to get creative. Take pictures of your colleagues, your office, your teams favourite lunch place, awards, celebrations and so on. It’s about projecting a lifestyle that reflects your brand and the personality behind it. It can be a good idea to involve other members of your team and get then snapping and posting.Just make sure you have clear brand guidelines on what is and isn’t appropriate to post.

4. Mix it up

Try to strike a balance between promoting your business and posting interesting and entertaining shots that engage your audience. As we mentioned earlier you can create fun and interesting images of your office, run competitions, post views from your desk, take pictures of colleagues, highlight your production process, charity events you support and attend, team birthdays, favourite products – anything that is relevant, interesting to your audience and supports your brand.

Tip: Scroll through the images Stella & Dot post on Instagram – there is a great mix of product shots (all nicely framed in real-life settings), inspirational text only images, team pictures and videos – all with a feel reflective of the Stella & Dot brand.

instagram stella and dot

 

Add text to images: Try livening up images with some captions or text. There are plenty of image editing tools available such as Canva or PicMonkey that allow you to easily add text to images and photos.

Video: Online video’s popularity continues to soar and now accounts for more than 50% of all mobile traffic. You can post videos of between 3-15 seconds on Instagram. Adding video is an excellent, and engaging way to mix up your Instagram content.

5. Engage to build an audience

Follow, share, like….Just like any other social media network engaging with your audience is key to a successful presence. Focus on building your community through actively following, sharing, liking and commenting on posts. If someone comments on your post then try to reply to their comment. It is a great way of engaging with your audience.

#Hashtags: To make it easier for people to discover your business make good use of hashtags. It will help put your content in the path of people searching for those particular keywords or phrases. Use hashtags that are relevant to the content you are posting. Try not to go overboard. Instagram allows you up to 30 hashtags, however if you look at the most successful brands you’ll notice they are usually using between 3 and 5.

To add a # to your photos and videos, just type in your hashtags in the Caption field. For example #silver #bracelet.

It is the very visual nature of Instagram that makes it such a useful addition to your social media toolkit. If you haven’t yet set up an Instagram account for your business, then at the very least it’s worth taking a moment to check out all its potential benefits.

 

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of Instagram so please do leave a comment.

 

 

Small business guide to successful content curation

contentcuration

 

We all know just how important creating unique, fresh and relevant content is for your online business. However for small business owners content marketing can be a real challenge due to time pressures and lack of resources.  Content curation can be a great way to support your overall content marketing strategy and help maintain a successful online presence.

What is Content Curation

In a nutshell content curation is the collating, organising and sharing of other people’s content. It  is usually third-party content  relevant to your audience’s interests. First things first, content curation is not the same as content marketing and in no way replaces it. Content curation should be looked at as a way to enhance your existing content as part of your overall content marketing strategy.

And don’t worry, by sharing other people’s content your audience won’t think you can’t create interesting content of your own. On the contrary, it shows you are relevant, understand the industry you are in and are confident enough in your own small business to share ideas and information from a third party.

How can Small Businesses Benefit from Content Curation?

Saves time. Content curation helps support and maintain an active online presence. Especially if you don’t have time to continuously create your own original content.

Helps establishes you as an expert.  Overtime content curation can help build trust and establish you and your business as an authoritative, go-to expert on a specific topic.

Offers value to your audience. If you are offering information that is interesting and of value to your audience, then they are more likely to opt-in to your newsletters and follow you on social media.

Supports SEO efforts.  65% of marketers use content curation to boost ranking. Lots of relevant links will help increase your visibility in SERPS (search engine results pages) 

Builds your brand. What you share is a direct reflection of your brand and can help build your credibility as a business.

How to introduce content curation to your small business:

The key to successful content curation is to put some organisation and strategy behind it rather than the ad-hoc retweet or share here and there. You may already do some basic content curation already, like I say I’m sure you’ve retweeted or shared posts on social media. However to really get the benefits you need to take it to the next level by including a personal touch.  Add value to what you are imparting.  For example include your own comments, insight and thoughts on the information you choose to share with your audience.

Social Mediasocial media content curation

76% of marketers use curated content on social media

Content curation is a great way to keep active on social media and provide your customers with links to information they may find interesting. Retweeting someone’s Tweet on Twitter, RePinning on Pinterest or sharing someone’s post on Facebook, Google+ or LinkedIn are examples of social media content curation. This is a great starting point and a good way to maintain an active online presence – especially when you’re pushed for time or lack resources.

However as we mentioned earlier content curation becomes even more effective when you bring in your own personal slant on what it is your sharing. For example if you are sharing someone else blog post on social media, add in a few words about what you are choosing to share and why you think you audience will be interested in it.

Newsletters

Content curation can work really well in your company’s newsletter. For example in addition to your own content, you could do a weekly round-blog posts you think your audience will like or a weekly round-up of industry news and views. By picking out the most interesting and entertaining articles and presenting them in a digestible format, you are saving your own audience from having to spend time searching around the web. And, if your audience know they can get great information direct from your newsletter then they are more likely to read it and stay subscribed.

Here is a great example of content curation from WriteMySite’s marketing newsletter.

content curation newsletter

Blog Post Curation

In a similar vein to your newsletters why not try posting a blog post that is a weekly or monthly round-up of useful articles, interesting trends or news relevant to your industry? Organise the content into a theme, add in a great headline,  your own supporting commentary, a call-to-action for your own business and you have a great post.

Look at curated blog posts as offering a valuable service. By collating the information yourself you are in short saving your audience time by negating the need for them to research out the information themselves. Always keep your customer in mind so all your hard work collecting and collating is focused on the right information – information that is of value to your target market.

Collecting and Organising Content

content curationSo where do you start? How do you go about sourcing interesting, high quality, relevant online content that fits the needs of your audience? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Sign-up to relevant content specific newsletters
  • Subscribe to industry relevant online publications
  • Follow related shared content on social media

If you are collating lots of different information from various sources then it will make your life easier if you can organise all the information in one place. There are a number of marketing tools that can help you collate,organise and publish content such as – Feedly, ScoopIt and Storify.

If your just starting out then Pocket is a great ‘save for later’ tool.  Connecting the Pocket button will enable you to save to your Pocket account straight from your computer. You can quickly collect links to interesting information with and group and tag articles  for easy reference.

In order for content curation to be successful always keep in mind that it’s about adding value. Ensure;

  • content is high quality and matches the needs and interests of your audience
  • post regularly
  • add a personal note,
  • remember you are sharing information not plagiarising – always give credit to the original source. 

 

We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences of content curation, so please do leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

10 indispensable small business tips for effective email marketing

email marketing tipsEmail remains one of my favourite marketing tools. If effectively implemented it offers a number of benefits that make it an indispensable part of any small business marketing plan. Email is low-cost, flexible, measurable and, perhaps most importantly, has a very healthy ROI. According to the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) 2015 Client Report in the UK the average ROI for email is £38 per £1 spent. An impressive growth of 53% year-on-year.

With email software becoming more advanced and accessible every year, it has opened the door for smaller online businesses to produce some excellent, innovative email campaigns – giving even big companies with hefty budgets a run for their money.

Of course, no matter how fantastic the possibilities of email, there are still some universal best practice guidelines that every business should take on board in order to make the most out of their email marketing efforts.  I’ve outlined below 10 tips that can make a real difference to how your businesses email communications perform.

1. Plan your email communications

“Clients are moving away from ‘spray and pray’ methods to a more considered approach.” DMA 2015

Before enthusiastically firing off emails left, right and centre, take a step back and look at your email communications as a whole. Spending some time putting together an email strategy for your business will be time well spent. Set some clear goals – what are you looking for your emails to achieve? For example:

  • Converting prospective customers into active customers
  • Building awareness of your brand
  • Growing your marketing prospects database
  • Customer retention through the provision of interesting and valuable information
  • Driving traffic to your website

Segmenting your audience and creating a clear plan of action for each customer group will help ensure that not only have you covered all your bases but you are creating the right balance of optimising conversion opportunities but not over-mailing. Creating a flow chart or table of your email communications is a great way to visually summarise all your activities in one place and enabling you to see the wood from the trees when you are contending with a sea of potential email interactions.

planning email campaigns

2. Purpose, message and CTA

Once you have your email strategy in place, think about the  purpose, message and call to action for your emails. Without these they are unlikely to perform as you would like. Think about:

  • What is the specific purpose of your email? What outcome are you looking for your email to achieve?
  • What message do you want to convey? Even if the desired outcome or  purpose of the emails are the same how will you tweak the message to reflect the particular audience segment you are targeting.
  • Do you have a clear call to action? Is it clear to the recipient of the email what it is you are asking them to do? And do you have a strong link to a relevant, supporting landing page?

3.Email marketing software

Advances in technology has meant small businesses can produce their own professional, visually exciting email campaigns without breaking the bank or requiring huge amounts of email expertise. Email marketing software just keeps getting better. Email marketing solutions such as MailChimp, GetResponse, AWeber, ActiveCampaign and MadMimi make it easy for complete novices to create exciting and effective campaigns.

Even better, if you are a start-up with a small number of subscribers you can get up and running for free. For example with MailChimp if you have under 2000 subscribers you can send out up to 12,000 emails a month at no cost.

4.Event triggered emails

According to the DMA marketing automation is growing and triggered emails are driving revenue growth. Indeed in their 2015 National Client Email Report, emails triggered by events or behavior were responsible for 30% of revenue.

We know that the customer journey is complex with a numerous touch points, so being able to trigger automated emails after specific identifiable events have taken place can have real impact on your success. For example identify and set-up automated  email responses to customer behaviour triggers such when someone registers on your website, enters a free prize draw, downloads a white paper, signs-up to your newsletter or even leaves their shopping cart abandoned will optimise the effectiveness of your email marketing.

A lot of this goes back to the importance of taking a considered and strategic approach to email marketing. Investing your precious time planning your email communications really can pay dividends in the end.

5. Data, data, data

Of course your emails are only as good as the data you have. Therefore good data is a premium asset for your business.  Actively building and continuously growing a ‘white hat’ marketing prospects database is essential. Research shows that Email addresses degrade naturally at about 2.1% per month equating to an annual rate of about 22.5%.

You may need to give people a bit of a nudge to impart their email address.   I know that with the amount of email communications I receive from different companies every day, makes me think twice before I hand over my personal details. Enticing people in with an incentive can be a good way to build and replenish your database. For example, competitions, free prize draws, downloadable white papers, newsletter sign-ups,  exclusive subscriber offers and giveaways are all ways to offer something valuable to potential customers in exchange for their precious contact information.

6. Newsletters

I’m a big fan of newsletters. They are a great vehicle for communicating all sorts of varied things to your audience. Focus on providing interesting, varied content aimed at engaging your audience. A good newsletter can help with brand awareness, brand building, customer retention, driving traffic and ‘soft sell’ conversions. When creating your newsletter content think about what information your audience is going to be interested in and keep it varied. A newsletter is not the environment for hard sales.

Content could include:

  • Links to your latest blog posts
  • Industry  news and trends
  • New product launches or sneak previews
  • Competitions and giveaways
  • Special offers and discounts
  • Case studies or client stories
  • Surveys and polls
  • Event calendars

Email newsletter

7. Digestible Content

Engaging content is essential. But even  the best copy in the world won’t be read if it has been presented in a indigestible and unappealing format. Carefully structure your email from subject line right through to a clear call to action.

Scannable: Break up text so a recipient as able to easily scan the email to pick up all the key messages. When laying out your email use headings, sub headings  and bullet points  to break up text in to more digestible and bite sized chunks.

Strong subject line: Your email content may be amazing but if your subject header doesn’t grab attention and stand out against all the other emails they are competing with then your hard work will be wasted.  Your email will remain unopened or in the bin. Spend a bit of time crafting a compelling subject line. News, tips, how to, offers, question and using numbers are all good opens. Try to keep it short and to the point (aim for under 10 words) but most importantly make sure it accurately reflects the actual content of your email.

Visually appealing: Including photos and  images is a great way to engage the audience. We are naturally visual learners so using images that support your content are a great way to capture your audience’s attention and conveying meaning instantly.

Proof read: Spelling and grammar mistakes can look sloppy and reflect badly on your business.  Always proof read everything a couple of times over prior to dispatch.

8.Personalisation

If you can, try to personalise your emails. Dear ‘Jane‘ will have a stronger impact and higher response rate than no greeting or a general hello. According to HubSpot personalised emails improve click-through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10%.

Most email software tools can happily add in automated personalisation so if possible personalise all your email communications. When you are building your database aim to collect first and last name fields from your prospects. This takes us back to point 5. Incentivising your data capture will help you get fuller contact details.

9. Cross promotion

Taking an integrated approach to your marketing should yield stronger results. Cross promoting across all your channels is a great way to reinforce your message and strengthen your brand – just ensure you remain consistent. Email newsletters are a particularly good tool for cross promotions. For example:

  • Provide links to your all social media platforms – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ etc.
  • Promote your blog posts.
  • Drive traffic back to your site with links to relevant content
  • Cross promote giveaways, offers and competitions

cross promote marketing channels10 . Legislation

And finally but most importantly, make sure you don’t fall foul of the law by keeping on top of  email legislation. If you are UK based then familiarise yourself with the Data Protection Act 1998 and Privacy and Electronic Communications regulations Act. Not only that most email marketing services like MailChimp won’t accept your data unless you can ensure it’s ‘white hat”.

Implemented effectively email marketing offers small businesses a number of tangible benefits. I hope taking onboard the 10 tips outlined above will help you on your way to successful and fruitful email communications.

We’d love to hear your own thought and experiences on email marketing, so please do leave a comment