Why Search Agencies Should Embrace the Adjacency of Email Marketing

Posted by davidmihm

As someone who’s spent virtually his entire career in local search, I’m by no means an early proponent of email. But in my interactions at marketing conferences, studies of industry research, and social media conversations, I get the feeling that many of my peers are even further down the adoption curve than I’ve been.

With this post, I encourage you to take a hard look at email marketing for yourselves, or an even harder look if you’ve already done so. If you’ve focused exclusively on offering SEO and SEM services to clients in the past, I hope I’ll convince you that email should be a natural and profitable complement to those offerings.

And if you’re a local business reading this post, I hope many of these points convince you to take a look at email marketing yourselves!

Making the case for email

High ROI

With a return on investment (ROI) of 44:1, marketers consistently rate email as the top-performing channel. According to Campaign Monitor, that ROI has actually increased since 2015, and it’s particularly true for B2B companies. Despite the supposed unpopularity of email among millennials, it remains far and away the most-preferred channel by which to receive communication from a business.

Just plain cheap

The fact that email’s so cheap helps the denominator of that 44:1 stat a bunch. Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers, as are MailerLite and SendinBlue, and many other providers offer plans under $ 10/month depending on your number of subscribers.

It’s also cheap in terms of time cost. Unlike social media where daily or even hourly presence performs best, email allows you to duck in and duck out as you have time.

As far as the numerator, average open rates far exceed social media reach on most platforms. And even if they don’t open, ⅓ of people report purchasing based on an email they received from a brand (!). Search provides better purchase intent, but the top-of-mind awareness and referral potential from email is unmatched.

Makes other channels more effective

Gathering customer email addresses is essential for other critical forms of local business marketing already — you need an email address to ask for a review, build lookalike audiences, and make customer intelligence solutions like FullContact most effective.

Actually offering something of value, whether that’s a discount code, loyalty program, whitepaper, or newsletter subscription, increases the odds of earning that email address for all of those purposes.

Last best option?

Frankly, the number of organic digital channels available to small businesses is shrinking. Facebook’s latest announcement signals a tough road ahead there for businesses without the budget to Boost posts, and Google’s expansion of its Local Service Ad program to verticals and locales across the United States in the next couple of years seems inevitable to me. Now is the time to start building an email program as these monetization pressures intensify.

Why agencies should offer email

Your customers know it works.

Local businesses might be more aware of email’s potency than some of the agencies that are serving them. Email consistently rates among the top three marketing channels in industry surveys by the Local Search Association, StreetFight, Clutch, and more.

At the very least, email requires barely any client education. Unlike the black box of SEO or the complexity of PPC, by and large, small businesses inherently understand email marketing. They know they should be sending emails to their customers, but many of them just aren’t yet doing it, or are doing it poorly.

It’s a concrete deliverable.

Unlike so much of the behind-the-scenes work that leads to success in SEO, clients can actually see an email campaign delivered to their inbox, as well as the results of that campaign: every major Email Service Provider tracks opens and clicks by default.

It leverages existing offerings.

I already mentioned some of the ways that email marketing complements other channels above. But it can tie in even more closely to an agency’s existing content offering: many of you are already developing full content calendars, or at the very least social content.

<pitch>(For those clients whom you’re helping with social media, their newsletter can be built using Tidings with no additional effort on your part.)</pitch>

Building email into your client content strategy can help their content reach a deeper audience, and possibly even a different audience.

It’s predictable.

Though you could argue that the Gmail and Apple Mail interface configurations are algorithms of a kind, generally speaking, email marketing is not subject to wild algorithmic changes or inexplicable ranking fluctuations.

And unlike Google’s unrealistic link building axiom that great content will naturally attract inbound links, great content actually does naturally attract more subscribers and more customers as they receive forwarded emails.

You can expand it over time.

Unlike SEO for local businesses, which generally includes relatively easy wins up front and gets progressively harder to deliver the same value over time, email marketing offers numerous opportunities to expand the scope of your engagement with a client.

Beyond fulfilling the emails themselves, there are plenty of other email-related services to offer, including managing and optimizing list sign-up, welcome emails and drip campaigns, A/B testing subject lines and content, and ongoing customer intelligence.

Tactical ingredients for success with email

Use a reputable Email Service Provider.

Running an email marketing program through Gmail or Outlook is an easy way to get your primary address blacklisted. You also won’t have access to open rate or click rate, nor an easy way to automate signups onto specific lists or segments.

Be consistent.

Setting expectations for your subscribers and then following through on those expectations is a particularly important practice for email newsletters, but also holds true for explicitly commercial emails and automated emails.

You should be generally consistent with the day on which you send weekly specials, appointment reminders, or service follow-ups. Consistency helps form a habit among your subscribers.

Consistency also applies to branding. It’s fine to A/B test subject lines and content types over time, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot from a brand perspective by designing every email you send from scratch. Leave that kind of advanced development to big brands with full in-house email teams.

The other reason to be consistent is that designing for email is really, really difficult — a lesson I learned the hard way last year prior to launching Tidings. Complex email clients like Microsoft Outlook use their own markup languages to render emails, and older email clients can’t interpret a lot of modern HTML or CSS declarations.

Choose a mobile-first template.

Make sure your layout renders well on phones, since that’s where more than 2/3 of email gets opened. Two- or three-column layouts that force pinching and zooming on mobile devices are a no-no, and at this point, most subscribers are used to scrolling a bit to see content.

As long as your template reflects your brand accurately, the content of that layout is far more important than its design. Look no further than the simple email layouts chosen by some of the most successful companies in their respective industries, including Amazon, Kayak, and Fast Company.

Pick a layout that’s proven to work on phones and stick with it.

Include an email signup button or form prominently on your website.

It’s become a best practice to include social icons in the header and/or footer of your website. But there’s an obvious icon missing from so many sites!

An email icon should be the first one in the lineup, since it’s the channel where your audience is most likely to see your content.

Also consider using Privy or Mailmunch to embed a signup banner or popover on your website with minimal code.

The specific place of newsletters

Plenty of people way smarter than me are on the newsletter bandwagon (and joined it much earlier than I did). Moz has been sending a popular “Top 10” newsletter for years, Kick Point sends an excellent weekly synopsis, and StreetFight puts out a great daily roundup, just to name a few. As a subscriber, those companies are always top-of-mind for me as thought leaders with their fingers on the pulse of digital marketing.

But newsletters work far beyond the digital marketing industry, too.

Sam Dolnick, the man in charge of the New York Times’ digital initiatives, puts a lot of stock in newsletters as a cornerstone channel, calling them “a lo-fi way to form a deep relationship with readers.”

I love that description. I think of a newsletter as a more personalized social channel. In the ideal world it’s halfway between a 1:1 email and a broadcast on Facebook or Twitter.

Granted, a newsletter may not be right for every local business, and it’s far from the only kind of email marketing you should be doing. But it’s also one of the easiest ways to get started with email marketing, and as Sam Dolnick said, an easy-to-understand way to start building relationships with customers.

For more newsletter best practices, this ancient (1992!) article actually covers print newsletters but almost all of its advice applies equally well to digital versions!

A great option or a strategic imperative?

Facebook’s ongoing reduction in organic visibility, Google’s ongoing evolution of the local SERP, and the shift to voice search will combine to create an existential threat to agencies that serve smaller-budget local businesses over the next 2–3 years.

Agencies simply can’t charge the margin to place paid ads that they can charge for organic work, particularly as Google and Facebook do a better and better job of optimizing low-budget campaigns. More ads, more Knowledge Panels, and more voice searches mean fewer organic winners at Google than ever before (though because overall search volume won’t decline, the winners will win bigger than ever).

Basic SEO blocking-and-tackling such as site architecture, title tags, and citation building will always be important services, but their impact for local businesses has declined over the past decade, due to algorithmic sophistication, increased competition, and decreased organic real estate.

To grow or even maintain your client base, it’ll be critical for you as an agency to offer additional services that are just as effective and scalable as these techniques were a decade ago.

As a concrete, high-margin, high-ROI deliverable, email should be a centerpiece of those additional services. And if it just doesn’t feel like something you’re ready to take on right now, Tidings is happy to handle your referrals :D!

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Digital Marketing News: Email vs. SMS, Twitter Trolls Itself and Google’s AI Wizard

Email vs. SMS: Battle of the Heavyweights [Infographic] In a battle of email vs. SMS, who is the winner? This infographic shows the differences between the two tactics in terms of volume, engagement, preferences and effectiveness by medium. MarketingProfs Twitter trolls itself on new 280 character limit As you may have heard via everyone’s favorite venting platform, Twitter has increased their allotted character count to 280. While many are happy with this change, some are disappointed or even concerned that it will ruin the value of the platform. CNN Tech Google’s AI Wizard Unveils A New Twist on Neural Networks This is a story 40 years in the making. Geoff Hinton (the man behind AI) published two new papers that offers a new twist on neural networks that enable machines to better understand the world via images and video. Wired Study: Longer Videos Mean Higher Engagement Even in the age of decreased attention spans, it seems that audiences prefer long-form video over short-form video. In fact, videos over 90 seconds receive 78% more shares and 74% more views. MediaPost Instagram Stories and WhatsApp Status hit 300M users, nearly 2X Snapchat When it comes to features, it’s hard to tell the difference between Instagram Stories and Snapchat these days. Now that Instagram Stories has a solid user base, it’s time for Facebook to innovate and move away from copycatting Snapchat. TechCrunch Facebook Registers Soaring Ad Revenues, Mobile Dominates. Facebook experienced amazing third-quarter results with almost a 50% increase in advertising revenue. Additionally, 88% of that revenue is represented by mobile advertising. MediaPost New Salesforce And Google Partnership Shakes Up The Cloud Race The chocolate and peanut butter of marketing and sales analytics are finally coming together, as Google and Salesforce announce a new joint venture. Salesforce is committing to using Google’s G Suite, while Google Analytics will be fully integrated with Salesforce’s core platform. Salesforce has committed to using Google’s cloud storage as well, but will maintain multiple cloud vendors for the time being. Forbes Older Photos and Videos Can Now Be Added to Instagram Stories Instagram is now allowing users to add older photos from their camera rolls into their Instagram Stories. According to AdWeek, “Instagram said it will automatically suggest a new sticker to add context on when older photos or videos were taken, and users can choose to rotate, resize or remove the new sticker altogether before sharing their Stories.” AdWeek What were your top digital marketing news stories this week? We’ll be back next week with more digital marketing news! In the meantime, if you have something to share Tweet us @toprank or @Tiffani_Allen.

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Digital Marketing News: Predictive Analytics, Blockchain and Email Marketing Industry Report

Predictive Analytics: Predicting Customer Behavior to Improve ROI As marketers, we’re always trying to stay ahead of the curve. But, does that curve factor in what customers or clients are looking for? This infographic shows us how predictive analytics can help do just that. Business 2 Community IAB sets up Blockchain Working Group for advertising Does blockchain have a place in marketing? According to recent reports, blockchain is no longer only for those trading bitcoin, it can provide a highly secure and transparent way to manage funds. MarketingLand 2017 Email Marketing Industry Report Marketers are feeling overwhelmed. They don’t have the resources needed to do the marketing they’d like to do. This is evident in email marketing particularly because many marketers surveyed say email marketing drives ROI but it’s not integrated with their marketing strategy overall. Digital Marketing Depot [REPORT] The State of Social Video 2017: Marketing in a Video-First World “According to Cisco, video will make up 80% of consumer online traffic by 2020, and Mark Zuckerberg said he sees video ‘as a mega trend on the same order as mobile.’ Animoto set out to shed light on the video-first landscape.” Animoto Apple’s New Animojis Are the Latest Sign That Brands Need to Embrace Augmented Reality Tailing on the news of the release of Apple’s new iPhones, there is an exciting new development. What happens when you mix artificial intelligence and a leading technology company? You get, animojis! Apple’s version of the Snapchat’s Lens, this feature enables brands to connect with younger audiences in a meaningful way. AdWeek Email Marketing To Total $ 22.2 Billion In 2025: Study MediaPost reports: “The total dollar volume of email marketing will hit roughly $ 22.2 billion by the end of 2025, for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.60%, according to a study by Transparency Market Research. Last year, the annual total was U.S. $ 4.5 billion.” MediaPost Google Offers Olive Branch to Publishers by Relaxing Policy on Subscription Sites According to The Wall Street Journal – but not yet confirmed by Google – Google is ending their ‘First Click Free’ policy on paywall gated articles through SERPs. This could reportedly help publishers boost subscriptions. The Wall Street Journal Google Search App to Suggest Related Content Content creators rejoice! Google is reportedly now showing related content in Google searches based on what content other searchers have viewed based on their related searches. Search Engine Journal What were your top digital marketing news stories this week? We’ll be back next week with more top news! Need more in the meantime? Follow @toprank for daily updates.

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Digital Marketing News: Data by the Minute, Email in 2017 & New Instagram Features

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Digital Marketing News: Email Marketing Facts, Gen Z Media Usage & Snap Publisher Tool

119 Facts About Email Marketing [Infographic] Discover 119 facts you didn’t know about email marketing including, why email marketing works, biggest email trends for 2017, most common types of emails, most used email marketing tactics, segmentation and personalization, mobile email statistics and more. (MarketingProfs) Gen Z is The Largest, Most Diverse Group of Media Users, According to a New Report From Nielsen A new report from Nielsen’s Total Audience Report for the first quarter of 2017 highlights how unique and diverse Gen Z is in media consumption. This report shows a device ownership and other technology breakdown by generation, and why Gen Z is more able to adapt to new technologies than other generations. (AdWeek) Snap Inc. Launches ‘Snap Publisher’ Ad Creation Tool Snap Inc. recently launched a new self-serve ad tool to encourage more advertising spend, which is now global, instead of limited to certain regions. A new creation platform was also announced to launch soon called Snap Publisher. This new platform offers templates to create ads and simply upload your brand logo, tagline, content and video. (Social Media Today) Ask A Question, Get an Answer in Google Analytics If you know what data you need, and want it quickly, just ask Google Analytics and get your answer. This new voice feature uses the same natural language processing technology as other Google products like Android and Search, and will be available in English to all Google Analytics users over the next few weeks. (Google Analytics Solutions Blog) Work Smarter and Stay Connected with the New LinkedIn App for Windows 10 The new LinkedIn app for Windows 10 gives LinkedIn members more options for how they connect with their professional network. The app is for desktop users and includes many features to make it easier to connect and full control to customize your experience while using the app. (LinkedIn Official Blog) Google News Feed Now With Machine Learning & Follow Buttons Google Search is now making it easier to discover, explore and stay connected to what matters most to you. You can follow topics based on search queries that helps Google understand what you’re interested in, and your news feed will be based on your interactions with Google. (Search Engine Roundtable) Facebook Always Wins: Data Shows Publishers Are Buying Far More Facebook Traffic Publishers are buying more traffic from the platform despite declining organic reach and monetization issues. The average number of paid monthly impressions from Facebook over the last 18 months has doubled, and publishers are using Facebook to distribute content profitably to achieve their business goals. (DigiDay) Google Expands Home Service Ads to More Markets, More Business Categories Google’s Home Services ad product is now available for more business categories in more cities than before. As a customer of this service, your ads can be featured at the top of SERPs with added trust and prestige due to the strict qualifying criteria that advertisers must meet to publish their ads. (Search Engine Journal) What were your top online marketing news stories this week? We’ll be back next week with more news! Need more in the meantime? Follow @toprank on Twitter.

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What’s Your Open Rate? How to Write Compelling Intros for Mobile Email Marketing

How many of your current marketing tactics are over five years old? Marketing is a fast-paced profession; even if you’re still using the same channels, odds are your strategy has changed. How about ten years old? Twenty? Thirty?

It’s surprising, then, that a marketing channel nearly forty years old is still one of the most relevant for digital marketing. Email marketing has been a steadily effective channel for decades, and advances in technology only make it easier to track, personalize, and optimize your campaigns.

Ever-increasing mobile device use has helped keep email marketing relevant, too. One study suggests 20-75% of your email opens will be on mobile. The younger your target audience, the more likely they are to use their phone as a primary email-reading device. Combine a self-selected audience with new ways to deliver the content they opted into, and it’s easy to see why email remains popular. How popular? A recent study from Salesforce found that email marketing has grown 83% in the last two years, across B2B and B2C.

However, the more valuable a marketing channel is, the more crowded it will become. More brands sending emails means more competition for your audience’s limited attention span.

Your email has to do more than provide value—it has to compel a click within a very limited character count. Here’s how to write subject lines and preview text that make your email more likely to get read.

Subject Lines – Every Character Counts

Counting up characters for email subject lines wouldn’t have made sense in a desktop-only world. There’s a virtual acre of screen real estate for your beautiful subject line to sprawl across. On mobile, though, there’s precious little space to make your case.

The exact character count varies by device, and whether it’s held in portrait or landscape mode. You could have as little as 33 characters – or about a quarter of a tweet.

You don’t have to completely limit your subject line to that short, of course. Just put your most persuasive language at the beginning. Which of the following truncated subject lines is more enticing?

  • Happy 4th of July! Enjoy the weath…
  • We miss you! Are you ready to get…
  • Free shipping today only + disco…

Personally, I’m only clicking on the last one. Even if only to find out if it’s “discounts” or an actual disco.

Basically, skip the pleasantries, the cutesiness, and the bizarre assertion that your brand “misses” someone. You can include all that in your preview text (more on that later). Instead, get down to:

  1. The Offer: “50% off sock puppets this Friday!”
  2. The Mystery: “Why do CEOs hate sock puppets?”
  3. The Thought Provoker: “How do you feel about sock puppets?”
  4. The Joke: “Every sock can be a sock puppet.”

Keep it all about the reader, and you’re far more likely to get an open.

Preview Text – Undervalued Real Estate

A great deal of marketing emails start with “housekeeping” stuff – a standard header that doesn’t have much to do with the subject at hand. That means the preview text displayed on a mobile device won’t give the reader more reasons to read it.

For example:

“How do you feel about sock puppets? Download this message as a pdf. Check out our sock puppet YouTube Channel.

Versus:

How do you feel about sock puppets? Senator Kelly wants to outlaw sock puppets.”

If your email starts with “click here to view on the website,” “view plain text version,” or a set of hyperlinks to navigate your site, you’re missing an opportunity for engagement.

Generally, you have about 90 characters for your preview text. So make your first couple of sentence irresistible. If you’re personalizing your emails (and you should be), make sure the preview text will demonstrate that personalization.

A Personal Email Marketing Success Story

I have an email subscription that sends daily emails. It’s pretty much the only one left that I still allow that frequency of access. And I open every single one and click through.

The email comes from online store meh.com. They have a different deal every day, and the email is just to let me know what’s on sale. But they don’t just say “Hi Josh, we have sock puppets today. Click to buy one.”

Here’s a screenshot of the email in my Gmail app:

I didn’t censor the subject line—meh are masters at introducing mystery in their subject line. They don’t tell me what’s for sale. They invite me to guess. The email body includes a few similarly redacted comments, inviting me to play along before clicking the link to see if I guessed right.

Mysterious subject line, compelling preview text, and an interactive element, delivered to my inbox daily. For me, that earns a 100% open rate (and several purchases).

Keep Them in the Know on the Go

It’s possible (though unlikely) that you have been sending marketing emails for forty years now. But you likely have a few years of experience. While email is more relevant than ever, it’s time for us to refresh our approach to grab the attention of mobile users. Keep your subject lines short and hyper-relevant, make your case in the preview text, and you can earn a tap on your message.

Just make sure that email leads to a mobile-optimized website, too.


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