The 10 Best Gmail Plugins for Busy Web Entrepreneurs

The 10 Best Gmail Plugins for Busy Web Entrepreneurs

The last article on the best apps for entrepreneurs seemed to be pretty well received, so I decided to put together a similar article on the best Gmail plugins for busy web entrepreneurs!

1. Rapportive

The 10 Best Gmail Plugins for Busy Web Entrepreneurs

Ever receive an email and were curious to know who sent it to you? Rapportive is a useful plugin that pulls the name, job description, and social profiles of your email contacts. It then replaces the ads on Gmail’s sidebar and displays the information it has collected. Depending on what it finds, this information may include links to a contact’s Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and Linkedin accounts. Upon your authorization you will also be able to one-click follow or connect with the contact and even see a list of connections shared in common. Download Rapportive and you’ll never go back, trust me.

2. mxHero

MX Hero Gmail App

Ever wish you could control and track your emails? mxHero allows you to do that, and much more. Once you add mxHero to your Gmail, you will be notified when a recipient opens your emails or attachments, or clicks on any links. The extension also allows you to schedule emails, self-destruct emails “x” amount of time after they’ve been opened, and choose to send certain files to specific recipients in group messages.

3. Streak

Streak Gmail

If you’re currently using (or even worse, paying for) a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, consider Streak. It is a built in CRM extension that integrates with Gmail, enabling you to manage sales, customer support, and bug fixes while keeping track of hiring processes, scheduling emails, and automatically creating/using email templates. Without a doubt, Streak is a great FREE alternative to any current subscription-based CRM that’s charging you on a monthly basis.

4. CloudMagic

Cloud Magic

If you love Google Drive, prepare to be driven into a whole new gear. CloudMagic is a nifty little plugin that integrates Gmail with any and all of your cloud-based softwares (ZenDesk, Evernote, Salesforce, etc..). You can access all those cloud tools without having to leave your inbox. CloudMagic gets even better by allowing you to integrate any cloud-based storage/photography websites, like Instagram, through their iPhone and Android apps.

5. Gmail Offline

Offline Gmail App

This is great for entrepreneurs who are always on the go. Gmail Offline allows you to sync your mailbox to your computer so you can read emails without having to be on Wifi or data. The sleek interface even allows you to instantly send a reply email once you connect back to Wifi or data.

6. WiseStamp

wisestamp_logo-help

We all know how boring and routine email signatures seem to be. WiseStamp took notice and created a great Gmail plugin that enables users to create custom email signatures. You can grab snippets of your website, photos from your social profiles, and even merge links to important updates. Not impressed? Well, WiseStamp also allows you to integrate Google Analytics so you can track and optimize your click-throughs.

7. FollowupThen

FollowupThen Gmail App

Here’s a great one for all you sales agents and customer service reps who send hundreds of emails a day. FollowUpThen is a handy Gmail extension that alerts you when it’s time to send a follow-up email, allows you to schedule future emails, sends you SMS alerts, and even allows you to remind co-workers/your team to send follow-ups. Awesome plugin to turnover more leads and impress them with your promptness.

8. AwayFind

Away Find Gmail App

Two-week paid vacations just got better. AwayFind is a must-have Gmail plugin that allows you to set priority to emails in your inbox so you are not being alerted of a new email every two seconds while on vacation. All jokes aside, it separates itself from a default vacation response in Gmail by giving you a breakdown of how often you communicate with each recipient in your inbox, and by allowing you to prioritize certain email addresses – so urgent emails can still get through.

9. Boomerang

Boomerang Gmail App

Most of the Gmail extensions mentioned above are capable of scheduling emails. Boomerang, however, takes that to a whole new level. Once installed, you can schedule emails to specific times, which is great if you work/communicate in different timezones. The Boomerang Gmail plugin also lets you archive old emails, set reminders, and automatically schedule passed emails to return to the top of your inbox so you can be reminded to read them.

10. Assistant.to

Assistant.to Gmail App

Hate going back and forth in email conversations about a good time to schedule a meeting? Assistant.to takes the hassle out of scheduling and rescheduling meetings by utilizing calendars of all the parties involved to make one-click changes. Once the Gmail plugin is installed, simply schedule a meeting in your calendar and send it out. The extension will send an email invite to all parties involved with multiple meeting times available for them to choose from. If you or anyone needs to reschedule, simply open the email invite, and select a different time – easy as that.

How to improve website speed: A five step guide

This article was written by Shawn Pfunder from GoDaddy. 

I’m a little obsessed with creating time-lapsed photos. You know what I’m talking about. Those scenes that make everything a motion blur. Scenes that make everything look fast. People flowing through Paris. Cars streaming down the 101, red lights on one side and white on the other. Water pouring over Niagara Falls. Pictures like that have depth. They’re beautiful. They say something about those places. But mostly, I think they say something about us.

We never stop moving. We go and go and go.

And the web, the technology that brings these words to you right now — in seconds — the web has become the pulse that pushes us forward.

Speed is king

Because of this, it is no wonder then that speed is online gold. Buy a domain, build a website, write copy, upload some pictures of speeding cars and rain clouds, develop a marketing plan, and hope for the best. But if your site doesn’t open the second I click on it, I’m gonna find speeding cars and rain clouds somewhere else. In 1996 we were willing to wait. It’s 2014. If your site is slow, we’re gonna go.

Don’t take my word for it. The Moz Blog and WordStream both cite studies on how your page-load time affects conversion and search engine rankings.

Here are five ways to speed up your site and increase your traffic and conversion in the process:

1. Compress your images

We covered this topic recently in our GoDaddy Blog and have a nearly hour-long webinar on the subject. Pictures on the web aren’t going anywhere; we’re visual creatures. But there are things you can do to compress your images without making them look like a Greek mosaic. Optimize every image on your website. It’s not as hard as you think. Those bytes add up and can be the difference between a half-second load time and a two-second load time. That’s money on the table.

2. Minimize add-ons

I know a lot of us use software like WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal to build and maintain our websites. That’s rad. These open-source content management systems have a small army of developers who code and re-code to make your site fast and secure. That is, it’s fast and secure out of the gate. Once you install three templates, a fade-in-fade-out gallery, and a plugin for playing Tetris on your website, things slow way down.

Take a hard look at which plugins you have installed on your website and keep the ones you absolutely must have. Ditch the rest. If you’re uncomfortable getting rid of a particular effect, test it. Remove it for a week and see if your traffic goes up or down. See if your conversions increase or decrease. Keep it simple.

3. Reduce redirects

Redirects happen all the time and for different reasons. Maybe your developer developed a separate, mobile version of your website. Something like mobile.yourwebsite.com. Every time someone opens up yourwebsite.com on an iPhone, it redirects them to mobile.yourwebsite.com instead. That’s okay. That’s one redirect. You can probably live with that. Even better, you can design a website that doesn’t redirect at all. It just resizes and adjusts depending on different computers or tablets or smartphones.

But sometimes redirects can get out of hand. Let’s say you get a new domain you love. You redirect yourwebsite.com to yourcoolnewwebsite.com and then that redirects to mobile.yourcoolnewwebsite.com on an iPhone. After a few weeks you decide to test out a new home page and redirect it once more to mobile.yourcoolnewwebsite.com/home2.

See what I mean? Redirects are useful. Just be careful about how far you take it. Each step down the rabbit hole will slow down your website.

4. Tighten up your CSS

Oh, how I love tight, organized CSS. These are the style sheets that dictate how your site looks. Done well, they keep the core content (code) of your website clean and ready for search engines. They should make your site faster. No more inline font-face tags or gigantic tables to format your layouts.

Here’s where things can get a little bloated. Designers, myself included, like to format and organize their CSS. We add spaces and notes. We make sure that every bracket is indented just the right amount. We sometimes split them up into different files: one for articles, one for pictures, one for inline elements. Basically, we make it easy to read and edit while we’re working on a website. But, once the website is done, it doesn’t really matter what the CSS file looks like.

We request a web page, it checks for a CSS file, scans the CSS, and then formats your content. If it has to check four CSS files and each of them are long with loads of white space, that takes time. Once your website is ready for primetime, combine your CSS files and tighten up all of that pretty white space. You don’t need it anymore. When it comes time to edit it, you can always add it back.

5. Get a fast host provider

In the end, all of our websites run on computers. I get that we call it the cloud and that makes it seem like there’s some kind of oh-so-heavenly magic happening, but it happens on a computer (a server) somewhere in the world. Make sure the place where you host your website cares about technology and serving up your stuff as fast as possible. Do your homework. There are lots of current, objective reports out there about host providers and how fast they are. Some sites will even show you real-time stats.

At GoDaddy, speed is a huge deal. We’re constantly testing and refining our hosting and services to make sure your website will load as quickly as possible. We were recently ranked No. 1 in performance when it came to WordPress hosting. Even if you don’t go with us, do a little digging before you buy.

Start measuring today

Want to check and see how your website might load in Sydney, Shanghai or London? There are resources online for that, too. Check out Dotcom-Monitor or GTmetrix for examples. Even better, go there, get your current results, clean up your site, and then go back. You’ll see progress. It’ll make you happy.

Author bio

Shawn’s been working in communications for more than 20 years. Fifteen years ago, he built his first website at a public library. Despite the miserable Internet connection, he was hooked and has been helping others get online ever since. Shawn’s passionate about teaching and is convinced that a good story is the best way to do it.

At GoDaddy, he’s led multiple creative teams and been a loud, positive voice for customer service and entrepreneurs. He currently runs the editorial department where he gets to put his creative writing degree to good use.

Is Buying A Website For Ad Revenue Still A Good Idea?

You’ve found a gem of a site. You literally lie awake at night thinking of the possibilities this website holds for you. However, with all of this excitement comes one question you can’t quite answer:

How am I going to monetize this website?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the possibilities of how you’re going to monetize your site, especially with so many “systems” that promise you quick profits with little to no work. But before you plunge into any system, especially a system based upon ad revenue, it’s important to understand the current state of ads in the online world.

Ad revenue can still be profitable and potentially lucrative, but you’ll need to understand the specific cases in which such an outcome will apply. The ad landscape has changed, especially if your thinking still lies back a couple of years ago.

You’ll leave this article with a greater understanding of how you can build a website based upon ad revenue, as well as the instances in which this will be a good business decision.

After The Auction: What Kind Of Business Are You Trying To Build?

If you’re anything like me, you have myriad new business and project ideas run through your mind every single day. Of course, there isn’t enough time to even think about executing all of them. That is where focus and the ability to effectively analyze profitable ideas becomes very useful.

Let’s begin with one question: what type of business are you trying to build?

Some people are trying to attain the passive income dream, while others are attempting to build a sustainable business that will last years, not just months. Regardless of the business model you choose, you need to have a definition of what you’re trying to build, who you are serving, and why your customers would choose you over your competitors.

Once you have this distilled, it makes sense to start thinking about monetization strategies and the role ads might play with your bottom line.

One thing to keep in mind when building your overall business strategy is to focus on sustainability and reliability – especially with regards to income sources. What would you rather have:

1. A few sources that bring in steady, predictable income every single month, or
2. A single source that could bring in a lot of revenue, but is unpredictable and/or volatile.

I’m guessing you’d choose the predicable sources every time.

When running your own business, the steady sources are worth it, as they’ll reduce a lot of stress and uncertainty about how you’re going to continue operations every month.

Why Would You Choose Ads In The First Place?

Now that you have a solid foundation to build upon, let’s dive into the ad conversation. In the “golden days” of internet advertising you used to be able to build a website, throw up a block of Google Adsense ads and see profits all the way to the bank. However, those days are long gone. Were in a new age of online advertising.

If you want long-term profitability, you’ll want to get this right. Ads can be a great choice, especially when first starting out, as they require no product development or time spent in consulting sessions or sales calls. In essence, they are very easy to set up and implement as long as you have an in-depth understanding of your target market.

Ads can still be a great source of revenue, but their effectiveness greatly depends upon the style of website you’re building. For instance, if you’re trying to build a small, dedicated audience, there may be a chance they could get offended by advertising.

On the other hand if you’re looking to build a site that you’re hoping will have massive amounts of traffic there’s a good chance that placing strategic ads on your site could be a great source of revenue.

What Works Today

In order to thrive with ads today you need one of two things:

1. Massive amounts of traffic, or
2. A very targeted audience.

If you’re planning on growing your site towards both of these things, ads might just fit into your game plan.

When you have a highly targeted website you can solicit advertising offers from businesses that are related to your niche. For instance, if you have a website targeted towards fishing enthusiasts, ads that display fishing poles and other accessories would potentially be helpful.

Some people bat an eye at advertising, but there are certain circumstances where you can even provide value to your readers through your ads.

In our other example, if you’re trying to build a highly trafficked website then using a platform such as Google Adsense could potentially bring you a good source of income. For example, the website Viral Nova – as well as a bunch of others – have managed to build substantial income solely based upon ad revenue.

Different Styles Of Ads

If you’ve decided to pursue the advertising route it’s important to decide what style of ads you’re going to display. The choices depend upon the style of advertising you’re looking for. Below you’ll find a few of the most common options.

1. Google Adsense

Google Adsense has been around for a long time. This makes them one of the most used and most profitable ad networks. However, since they’ve been around for so long they tend to be ignored quite frequently. After years of browsing the web, it becomes easier for people to simply filter out the ads.

However, even with this occurring psychologically, these ads still convert. If you’re looking for relevant sidebar ads then consider applying for a Google Adsense account. After all, you can test the ads, and if they don’t provide the results you’re looking for, you can always remove the.

2. Ad Network Alternatives

There are various ad networks that display ads similar to Google Adsense. If you’re using a general ad network, the ads will be very similar to Adsense, but the payout is usually a little lower (because these sites simply do not have as many bidders).

There are also more niche ad networks that allow you to run more custom ads suited to your niche. These have a tendency to convert at a much higher rate since they have such high niche overlap.

3. Custom Advertising

Another great option is simply opening the floor for advertisers to pitch you on your website. This may take a little more work on your part, as you may have to pitch companies yourself. However, the income you can generate from just a few companies can be much higher and steadier than the other platforms.

If your website tackles a very niche market and you’re building a passionate audience, this might be a great option for you.

Wrapping Up: It’s All About Adding Value

One last thing to note in regards to placement of advertising on your website is the idea of value. Sometimes we like the idea of being able to build a website about whatever we like, slap a few ads onto the sidebar and sit back and collect our paycheques. However, this is the wrong way to view advertising.

At the end of the day, if you’re looking to build a lasting business focus on adding value and the profits will come, you can use advertising in a legitimate way as long as providing value is at the core of your offering, instead of trying to game the system or make money off your readers.

If your business is something you can support and stand behind, is helping others and offers real tangible benefits, there’s no way you’re not going to succeed. If you can align the introduction of advertising into that, that’s a great balance that will help your business grow. However, if you can’t, a different model might be a better idea.

In the end, there’s still money to be made by using ads on your website. However, if you’re looking to build a long-term business that provides value, you’ll need to find a way to integrate your ads in a way that provides value to your readers and the internet as a whole.

Yay or nay? What are your thoughts on ad revenue for your website?

12 Smart SEO Tips for Your Ecommerce Website

If you own and operate an ecommerce site, smart SEO is all about increasing profits and giving your rankings a turbo boost.

Online businesses have a twofold priority when it comes to SEO: establish on-site tactics that Google and Bing applaud, and develop a loyal and reputable list of inbound and outbound links.

Ideally, ecommerce sites should carefully consider key SEO tactics like URL structure and usability long before they actually launch. If you do need to restructure an existing site, it’s trickier business for sure, but certainly not a lost cause. Regardless, the following tips can help your business vastly improve SEO results over time.

Remember: patience is needed as search engines don’t always pick up on changes right away.

Site Structure and Content

1) URLs

It’s beyond important that you choose a URL naming structure that is closely aligned with your keyword strategy. If you are targeting “discount shoes” as your primary keyword, and your URL lists something like “franksstore.com”, there is an immediate disconnect. The more concise and descriptive your URLs are, the better your SEO results. It’s still immensely important to land an appropriate domain.

2) Navigation

Just as your domain name is important, so too is the way you structure your navigation. Be very methodical about plotting out the most intuitive and descriptive site structure.

Categories need to be clear, with sub-categories equally descriptive when needed. If you don’t adapt naming structures and user-friendly navigation, your site pages will compete against each other and damage your rankings, rather than assist.

Remember that changing URL names and structures is incredibly difficult after you’ve launched, and the bots have crawled your site. It can take months to undo the damage inconsistent or poorly named URLs can cause, so the more you plan these out ahead of time, the happier you’ll be with your rankings.

On-Site Content

3) Keywords

These puppies are also hyper-critical to your SEO success! Don’t just go with your gut assumption, use resources like the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to validate the popularity of those you select. Then, use your keywords across your site’s content – in URLs, product descriptions, About Us pages, and meta-data galore.

Don’t go overboard on articles, descriptions, and blogs, but make sure you’ve committed to dispersing your keywords generously across your site.

4) Write Effective Product Text

Your products are the heart of your site’s success, so hire a writer to craft intelligent, concise, and highly polished descriptions for everything you sell. As mentioned above, you’ll also want to ensure keywords are used throughout!

5) Meta Data

Don’t forget to update your site’s meta data – components like your headline and title tag are still very applicable to a great ranking. Keywords are again necessary throughout, as is guaranteeing clarity, correct grammar, and descriptive text.

6) Duplicate Content

Content that’s duplicated anywhere on your site is considered a major no-no by search engines, and these mishaps will negatively affect your ranking. These occur when the site’s structure is confusing, and when no one is organizing the top-level architecture.

Big offenders include printer-friendly content versions, session IDs, and content published under multiple categories. If you absolutely need to include duplicate content, have your developer implement robot exclusions (i.e., tell search engine bots not to crawl these pages) for the less important duplicates.

7) Load Times

If you have a slow loading homepage or landing page, you may also feel your rankings sink. All your main pages should be well optimized, and that goes for mobile sites as well.

Off-Site SEO

8) Smart Link Building

As you amass your collection of link building partners, remember that who your partners link to is as critical as who you choose to link to as well. As an example, if you link to an otherwise reputable website or ecommerce destination that in turn links to sites Google has red-listed, you could very well be penalized. It’s therefore imperative you choose wisely when procuring inbound and outbound links.

9) Make Friends with the Media

Ecommerce site owners do well with smart content marketing strategies, and at the top of this list is befriending the best bloggers and news sites in your industry. Every niche has prominent authors, reviewers, and related experts. Reach out regularly to these folks with quality content and link requests. Make sure your correspondence is polite and polished, because these publications are worth their weight in SEO gold!

Fall in Love with Data

10) Analytics

Your Google Analytics account is another SEO gem. Understanding where your site is failing, and addressing those issues efficiently, can actually help you increase your ranking. For example, if a site has a monster bounce rate – meaning a high percentage of visitors that exit the site seconds after arriving – chances are SEO results are not optimal either. The better your analytics help you to convert customers, the more search engines will reward you too.

The data that’s most critical to monitor includes the aforementioned bounce rates, unique visitors, length of visits, page load times, and conversions.

Google Analytics also has special features specifically for ecommerce sites. Go here to make sure ecommerce tracking is triggered and correctly implemented. This can do wonders for helping you upgrade your site and adeptly track how well you are converting customers.

11) Respond to Trends Slowly

As you analyze your data, never be quick to make sweeping changes across your entire site, or you can easily do more harm than good. Test changes in sections of your site to confirm success rates whenever possible, and always publish changes in small batches. Never ever adopt a tactic sitewide unless you know it will be hugely advantageous.

12) Watch Your Competitors

If you don’t have your finger on the the pulse of your competitors’ SEO tactics, you’re missing out. They may very well be implementing some ideas better than you are currently, but that’s an easy fix if you’re watching their progress. Don’t let your competitors outdo you in SEO!

Over to You

Yes, it’s true that SEO is a comprehensive and challenging part of any ecommerce business, but it can literally be the awesome sauce that catapults you to ridiculous success.

Be methodical, analytical, and hyper-organized with your approach, and you can expect to see steadily higher rankings, and reap the related benefits. Good luck in your mission! And please let us you know your thoughts in the comments.

5 Key Metrics to Always Track in Your Web Analytics

5 Key Metrics to Always Track in Your Web Analytics

It can be daunting to sit down and decipher your website’s data. It’s challenging to know which metrics are most important and to unravel the story they are telling.

Numbers are meaningless without the intelligent interpretation of what they represent, so deciding what you track, and how to track it, remains a crucial task for any site owner. Below we list what we think are the 5 most important factors to study through both short and long term cycles, as they will tell you the most about the successes and failures of your site.

Setting Up Your Web Analytics

Have you set up your free Google Analytics account yet? All you need is a verifiable Google account (for example Gmail). You can follow the steps to activate tracking on your website through this incredibly powerful tool.

If you prefer to use one of the other metrics tracking tools in the market, you can try Coremetrics, Omniture, or WebTrends. These services incur various levels of fees but can offer immensely robust reporting systems and customer support, too.

Either way, here are the key metrics that you should always track on your site. Let’s dip our toes into the sea of information that is the world of analytics.

#1: Total Visits

Total visits are your most essential metric. This number reveals the amount of traffic your site is achieving each day. Pay attention to the trends in traffic over days and weeks, especially as they relate to your marketing campaigns. If you launch efforts to drive traffic and you’re seeing a spike, that’s perfect feedback communicating the effectiveness of your strategies. The reverse is obviously true too. When you see unusual dips in traffic, check things like your site’s stability to ensure there were no outages.

Check your total site visits daily. It’s like the heartbeat of your site, as it consistently reveals how healthy your business is on a fundamental level.

#2: New Visits

New visits show the segment of your total visit traffic that are attributed to unique views. This metric is a comparison of your unique visitors, versus those who are repeat customers. If you have unusually high percentages of new visitors (above 30%), that’s an indication that your site isn’t sticky enough to warrant repeat traffic. You’ll clearly want to optimize and address this trend by highlighting your most valuable content, so you encourage people to come back. Likewise, if you see very few new visits (in the single digits), and you’re doing significant marketing efforts to drive new traffic, you know other strategies are needed to meet your goals.

This metric should reflect a balance between your acquisition and retention attempts. A good target for repeat visits each day is around 15%.

#3: Traffic Sources by Segment

Traffic sources communicate the places that are sending visitors to your site. These include:

  • Direct traffic – Visitors that access you directly through your URL, either by typing the address into their browser, or by clicking on a bookmark. These could also be sourced by untagged links from emails.

  • Organic traffic – Links from an unpaid search engine listing.

  • Referral traffic – This is traffic that is linked to from other sites.

Traffic sources do more than just reveal segments. They also show you how successful your SEO efforts are. If, for example, your organic traffic is less than 40%, that’s an indication that you’re not ranking well on sites like Google. Referrals should track around 20-30%. This percentage is a healthy amount of traffic coming from link-building efforts.

It’s integral that you create a nice balance of all three segments. You don’t want to rely solely on links or SEO efforts because this hardly ever results in stable, long term growth. By keeping in the know about your traffic sources, you can clearly map out your next necessary marketing tactics.

#4: Conversions by Source

Next, you need to track conversions by source. This metric reveals your current conversion rate and your total conversions from all referring traffic sources. You’ll use the same segments as you did in Metric #3 – that is, looking at your direct, organic, and referral traffic. It may be that your overall conversion metrics match up with each segment and source, but it’s likely there will be a fluctuation. These discrepancies reveal successes and failures with regards to the traffic you are sourcing, and the effectiveness of your website to convert visitors.

For example, if your conversion rate is 3% for organic traffic and 12% for referrals, you can deduct a couple of key points. First, your search engine results are not performing well, which likely means your keyword strategies need to adjust to match what your audience is actually typing to search for your services. A healthy conversion rate for referrals indicates you’re selecting ideal linking partners with demographics that match yours enough to convert well.

Your website is the single most important factor to conversions. You need to constantly study and tweak the various paths to help visitors down your conversion belt. Be clear about what you want your visitors to do next. Do you want them to subscribe to your newsletter? Buy your latest services or products? Remember that a clear call to action will increase your conversion rate.

#5: Top Pages for New Traffic and Conversions

Throughout your website, there will be a handful of pages that receive the highest levels of incoming traffic. These often include your homepage, but they can also be landing pages your marketing team is using to drive campaigns and promotions. Additionally, popular content pieces that are linked to repeatedly by other sites may also be your top traffic generators.

The pages on your site that get the most traffic are obviously the pages you’ll spend the most amount of time perfecting. If they aren’t converting well for you, the rest doesn’t matter. Your metrics will reveal both the highest trafficked pages, and their respective conversion rates. Always aim to have double digit conversions for this suite of pages.

Over to You

Website analytics isn’t rocket science, but it does require an overall understanding and a commitment to consistent tracking and analyzing. As you make changes and watch how your traffic responds, it will get easier and easier to decipher what a dip or jump in traffic or conversions is actually communicating. Regardless, these metrics are your friends. Get to know them as well as possible, and they will point you to your greatest successes.

How do you use analytics to track your progress? Please share your tips in the comments.

Thanks to Wolfgang Staudt for the image!

How to Sell to Your Email List Without Spamming Them

How to Sell to Your Email List Without Spamming Them

Take a quick look at your spam folder. How many messages lurk out in there? How happy are you that these messages aren’t cluttering up your inbox? Spam is the bane of our online existence, and yet sales via email still haven’t slowed down. In fact, the use of email marketing is increasing at a faster rate than ever before.

What’s the difference between legitimate, useful email marketing and spam? The challenge marketers face is creating a campaign that won’t get them labeled as spam. It’s difficult and a lot of work, but it is possible — and the benefits are huge.

Know the Rules

If you’re going to sell in the online market, you need to know the rules. And like regular laws, different regions of the world have different ways of handling—or even defining—spam.

The challenge to website owners is that a successful online business often has global reach. If your customer is in a region with strong anti-spam laws, then you might be subject to them. Ignorance isn’t an excuse for breaking the law (and it’s certainly no protection when your email address gets blacklisted!), so the best thing you can do for your business is to read up on anti-spam laws before you start your email marketing campaign in earnest.

United States: CAN-SPAM ACT

Enacted in 2003, the CAN-SPAM act attempts to protect users in the United States from unsolicited emails, specifically those whose primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.

While the law doesn’t actually prohibit marketers from sending unsolicited commercial email, it does require emails to have three key elements:

  • Unsubscribe – Visible and functional unsubscribe procedures must be laid out in all emails, and must be acted upon within 10 days.
  • Clear content – Commercial emails must be clearly marked as such. Vague, misleading subject lines and “From” labels are not allowed, and the email must contain the actual physical address of the sender.
  • Responsible sending – Messages can’t be sent via an open relay, nor can they be sent to harvested email addresses.

If you want to read more, the full text of the CAN-SPAM Act is available online.

European Union: Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive

Known shorthand as the “E-Privacy Directive”, this European Union law focuses on data protection as well as privacy. It has a wider scope than the CAN-SPAM act, but the main difference can be boiled down to:

  • Opt-in – Unlike the CAN-SPAM law, the EU law only allows messages to be sent with the recipient’s prior approval. Any business collecting email addresses for marketing purposes needs to get the customer’s permission before anything can be sent.
  • Cookies – Websites need to ask permission before installing cookies on their visitor’s computers, and need to explicitly mention the purpose of those cookies, and whether they’re going to be used to create a mailing list for commercial emails. You might have noticed european websites explicitly stating their cookies policy on their websites in the last year: this is why.

Although this EU law sets a blanket standard for anti-spam laws in the region, the actual implementation is left to each individual country, and has to be taken on a case to case basis.

Canada: Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL)

Also known as Bill C-28, CASL is one of the strictest anti-spam laws in the world. Canadians: tougher than you expected!

It takes the basic elements of the CAN-SPAM law and expands the coverage, restrictions, and penalties to much higher and stricter levels. Notable provisions include:

  • Prior relationship – Any sender must have a prior business or non-business relationship with a recipient before sending over a commercial message. If there is no relationship, the sender needs to send a consent request clearly expressing the purpose of the message, and the recipient needs to actively reply.
  • Expanded coverage – The law covers any and all forms of electronic communication that are used to convey a commercial message, which may include instant messaging, mobile text messaging, and social media.
  • Location specific – Any message sent from or accessed in Canada is subject to CASL, even if it’s a foreign citizen who sent a spam message from within Canadian borders. Senders are expected to check for Canadian accounts in their contact lists and obtain consent prior to sending any messages.

These are a lot of practices to adopt at once, but don’t panic! This doesn’t mean the end of email marketing—in fact, many of these laws have already been out for years, and commercial emails are still a key marketing strategy for many businesses. In general, if your list is only made up of people who have specifically opted in to receive your emails, you’re good to go.

Familiarity with the rules is going to protect your business from litigation and, more importantly, guide you to creating emails that will sell, and not annoy.

Due Diligence

Even if your list is home-grown (and it should be) you have to do your due diligence and scan the list for anything that might get you in trouble:

  • Duplicate email addresses – You definitely need to watch out for this, because let’s face it: who wants to receive the same email twice or thrice in a row? If you’re sending via an email service like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, you’re covered: they automatically suppress duplicates.
  • Sensitive locations – You might want to remove emails from certain locations (e.g. Canada) or from a particular group (if you’re only selling to certain types of companies, for example) if you have any doubt about their opt-in status.
  • Blocked addresses – Don’t forget to remove blocked or old addresses from previous campaigns. It’ll clean up your list and make sending faster.
  • Opt-outs – Compare your mailing lists to your list of customers who’ve opted out. You need to make sure nobody’s slipped through the cracks.

Let Customers Say No

Email marketing is not a one-way conversation. You want customers to respond, even if the response is to say “thanks, but no thanks.”

Why? Well, compliance aside, you can get some valuable information from them. By tracking the amount of negative feedback, you might be able to learn what works for your market and what doesn’t. With “unresponsive” responses, you’re not even sure if the customer ever saw the email or not. Here’s a secret: at Flippa, every reply to our newsletter goes straight into my inbox — and I make sure to reply to every email.

Make it easy for your customers to opt out by making the instructions simple and prominent. If you want to go above and beyond, you can even add an optional suggestion box: “What about this email didn’t you like?”

Target Your Email Blasts

The most obvious and annoying spam emails are those that have totally nothing to do with the customer. I myself have received emails touting, ah, enhancement creams, even though I’m a woman. Shotgun email blasts are wasteful, expensive (because you probably paid to send those emails!), and bad for your business’ reputation.

If you want to avoid being summarily deleted as spam, you need to make sure you’re sending your emails to the right people. Not only is this responsible email marketing, it’s also the strategy that will get you the most customers.

Think about it: the only people who will buy your lawn mowers are people who have actual lawns. So don’t waste your time selling to people who live in apartments.

Class, Not Crass

All this talk about spam really boils down to one thing: bringing your customers value.

Spam is a symptom of lazy and apathetic marketing. Spammers don’t really care about the individual customer; they just want to make as much money as they can for the least amount of effort.

You, on the other hand, do care. Right? So you make sure your email benefits the customer in some way. An exclusive sale. An innovative new product. An informative newsletter. Stuff that a specific customer will actually see and find interesting, presented in a way that shows you really had them in mind when you put it together—even if it was created from a template.

If everyone sent messages like these, then we wouldn’t have a spam problem at all.

How important is email marketing to your web business? Did any of the above laws surprise you? Which kind of spam irritates you the most? Let’s chat about it in the comments!

Thanks to Gary for the photo!