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5 Ways to Launch an Effective Holiday Marketing Campaign

Written by Taylor Hawes

Monday, November 11th, 2013

BUSINESS TEAM PREPARING A PROPOSAL

For marketers, the holiday season truly can be “the most wonderful time of the year“. However, without a sound strategy, the holiday can offer as little to businesses as it does to sandal-makers. And considering the very specific nature of the holidays, a little knowledge can go a long way.

So what is it that makes the holidays tick? How can you as a marketer successfully market your product to consumers? Before even putting pen to paper, know that your strategy, your goals, your channels for engagement, and your tone will ultimately determine your potential for success.

 

1. Know Your Goal

At the risk of traipsing into philosophical territory, what is your reason for the season? Before doling out cash for advertising and social media resources, consider what it is your businesses would like to achieve during the holiday season. Is increased sales your top priority? Is customer engagement the focus? Do you simply wish to associate your brand image with the good-will and holiday cheer of the winter months? In any instance, know what your goal is and stick to it.

Base your goals around what would most benefit your organization. If your company delves into consumer goods, figure out how you can make lives easier during the busy and often hassle-filled holiday season. Financial planning? Engage your customers by associating your company with financial prudence and peace of mind in what are frequently fiscally tumultuous times. Tailor your content around the needs of your customers for the holidays and make your mark in the process.

 

2. Focus Your Efforts

The holidays present myriad opportunities for marketing themes and targeted campaigns. Aside from the occurrence of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Years, the commercial “holidays” of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday transpire through the season as well. Each instance presents its own distinct themes and opportunities for ambitious businesses, but losing focus can be a detriment.

Avoid spreading your resources and your image too thin. Focus on one event and tailor your efforts to it. Consider what characteristics your organization wishes to espouse and build association with the event that most clearly promotes them. Consider the circumstances of the event, be they travel, family gatherings, shopping, or general celebration and tap into those when building your campaign.

 

3. Harness the Internet

Even for small businesses, the Internet presents a powerful channel for customer engagement and dispersal of marketing materials, especially at a time when large swaths of the population are traveling. Social media’s ubiquity presents a chance to market to customers checking in with friends or browsing family photos. Email and advertising provide the opportunity to offer holiday-themed deals for budget conscious shoppers.

Build your media strategy around the unique circumstances of the season. Craft content for social networking including photos that are not only easily digested by busy consumers, but can quickly build a brand association that will drive sales during a commercial watershed. Email coupons to those on your mailing list and offer online deals for last-minute shoppers. In all things, consider the circumstances of the holidays and figure out how to best engage busy, mobile, and enthusiastic consumers.

 

4. Deck The Halls

With the visual and social identity of most holidays well established, your job as a marketer is to tie your company in with those virtues. Engage customers on this basis by including holiday themed content that promotes sharing, like eCards or photos of cozy settings. Focus on permeating the market by highlighting how your customers identify with and benefit from your products around this specific time of year.

Even commercial holidays can receive the same thematic treatment. Do you run a small business? Tap into the spirit of entrepreneurship for Small Business Saturday. An online retailer? Highlight the convenience and wide selection of your shop by tailoring your content and offers toward Cyber Monday. Each holiday event presents an opportunity to effectively market to the good-will and frugality of festive shoppers.

 

5. Be Delightful

Regardless of the specific religious observation (or lack thereof) of holiday consumers, the winter season is about cheer. Families travel for joyful gatherings, happiness is a pervasive theme in all endeavors, and warmth and cheer seek to shut the door on cold winds and hazardous drives. Knowing that this sentiment represents the cultural milieu of consumers can make hay in the snowy months.

Consider how your campaign inspires these same feelings. Focus on the happiness of the season and delight customers with a helping hand by any means necessary. Offer deep discounts, concierge services, loyalty bonuses, and customized thank-yous for holiday shoppers and spread some cheer of your own. Give generously of your holiday spirit, and be assured that that generosity will improve your image, your brand, and your sales.

With a little knowledge, the holiday season presents a real opportunity for success. Consider what your company’s priorities are during the holidays and focus your efforts around the event that best espouses the virtues of your brand. Capitalize on the ubiquity and affordability of the Internet and theme your materials and your message around your event of choice. But above all else, be delightful and tap into the cheerful nature of the winter season. With a little care and attention, you too can have a very happy holidays indeed.

Crowd-Sourcing Your Site’s Content Using Twitter

Written by Taylor Hawes

Friday, March 8th, 2013

crowd sourcing on twitter

In a recent article, we discussed how powerful the process of A/B split testing can be when it comes to making measurable, data-based improvements to your website.  However, there is a simpler way to get the feedback needed to make your website as effective as possible.  Instead of waiting weeks for your split test to gain statistical significance, why not take your website questions directly to your most loyal followers on Twitter?

As an example, instead of testing two different page versions with a split test, why not simply ask your followers which version they prefer?  This process – known colloquially as “crowd sourcing” – can provide a wealth of information on your followers’ interests and preferences that can ultimately be used to make your site more profitable.

Of course, the crowd-sourcing process isn’t an ideal solution for every website question (though, in many instances, you’ll be amazed at the caliber of information this practice can generate).  Read on to learn more about the situations in which crowd-sourcing is most effective, how to use this method to improve your own site and what you need to be aware of when utilizing information gleaned in this manner.

 

Types of information that can be generated via crowd sourcing

First of all, while it’s important to be aware that not all types of website information can be generated through crowd sourcing, there are actually many more opportunities than most webmasters are aware of.  You’ve probably already asked your Twitter followers to share your posts or re-tweet your messages, but why not ask them to provide any of the following types of information as well?

 

Future blog post topics

Running a successful blog can be a struggle, as the process of coming up with topic ideas that will resonate with your readers can be quite time-consuming.  So why not minimize the hassle of this initial brainstorming period by asking your followers what they’d like to read – rather than rely on your own haphazard guesses?

In this case, something as simple as a tweet that reads, “What topic would you like to see me cover next on the blog?” can generate a treasure trove of great ideas that’ll keep you flush with content for the weeks or months to come.

 

Future promotion/giveaway ideas

In many cases, the success of a promotion relies on crafting compelling enough terms to get website visitors to take action.  Even something as simple as offering customers a 20% off coupon rather than a free shipping voucher can make the difference between a successful campaign and a flop.

You can certainly test this type of promotion using A/B split testing (both on your website and in your email marketing campaigns), but why not just ask your followers which promotion or giveaway idea they’d prefer.  You might be surprised at the amount of valuable feedback you’ll receive by crowd-sourcing your site’s content in this way.

crowd sourcing promotion ideas

 

Future product/service offerings

In the past, deploying new product or service offerings was typically preceded by a period of expensive market research that included everything from personal surveys to in-person focus groups.  However, the immediacy of the contact that many businesses now have with their followers via social media has changed this process.  Instead of wasting time and money on lengthy market research campaigns, businesses can now take their questions directly to their customers and get valuable answers back in just a few days.

So if you’re thinking about launching a new product or service, why not try posing variants of any of the following questions to your Twitter followers?

  • What is the one “must have” feature you’d like to see on our next product?
  • If we offered [this particular type of service], what would you be willing to pay for it?
  • Would you be more interested in buying [proposed product A] or [proposed product B]?

Not only will this process save you time and money, it also increases feelings of ownership amongst respondents, making them more likely to purchase your products or services in the future.

 

Feedback on proposed website changes

Similarly, if you’re thinking of making major changes to the way your website looks or operates, you can get feedback from actual site visitors much more quickly using the crowd-sourcing approach on Twitter than you can using traditional A/B split testing (which typically requires a test period of at least two weeks in order to reach statistical significance).

To use this particular process, try posing any of the following questions to your Twitter followers:

  • What’s the one thing that’s missing from our website?
  • If we added [this new website feature], would you use it?
  • If we removed [some other feature], would you miss it?

Obviously, these are only a few of the different types of information you can generate using this method – though each of these options represents a great place to get your feet wet with the process.  Experiment with the specific types of content described above, and then expand your crowd-sourcing procedure to gather information on other subjects that are important to your business.

 

How to crowd-source your site’s content

No matter what type of information you decide to generate using the process of crowd-sourcing, there are a few basic guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind to make your queries as successful as possible:

  • Determine when your followers are most active – Unfortunately, given the amount of noise in the Twitterverse, it’s entirely possible that your crowd sourcing question will go unnoticed by the majority of your followers.  To minimize this problem, use the free tool Tweriod to determine when your followers are most active on this social site and then time your questions to go live during these periods.
  • Keep questions simple ­– Twitter is known as a micro-blogging platform for good reason.  Users don’t visit the site to write out lengthy updates or to contribute more than passing thoughts.  For this reason, it’s important to keep your questions simple in order to maximize the number of responses you receive.  You’re far more likely to get useful information if you ask for a single blog post idea or the answer to a “Yes/No” question than if you waste users’ time requesting extensive feedback.

 

requesting feedback through crowd sourcing

 

Crowd-sourcing caveats

As mentioned earlier, there are a few limitations to the crowd-sourcing process that you’ll want to be aware of.  While it is possible to generate tons of useful information using this approach, it’s also important to keep in mind that crowd-sourcing isn’t the “be all, end all” solution for every single market research need.

Specifically, you’ll want to be aware of the following crowd-sourcing weaknesses:

  • Users don’t always know what they want – In some situations, asking followers for their feedback can introduce a level of bias that isn’t present in randomized split testing.  Take, for example, the idea of using pop-ups to gather email newsletter opt-ins.  If you ask your users whether the like having pop-ups on your site, they’ll probably say “No” – even if this feature has proven to be your most effective opt-in generation strategy.  Consider this limitation carefully when deciding what to crowd-source and what to split test.
  • Don’t bombard users with questions – Your social profiles shouldn’t be looked at as nothing more than a wealth of market research data.  If you want people to respond to your queries, you’ve got to be an active, engaging part of your industry’s social sphere as well.  Participate on Twitter like a normal person and try to limit your crowd-sourcing questions to no more than 5-10% of your total updates.
  • Consider the statistical significance of information generated – It’s also important to keep in mind that your active Twitter followers represent only a small part of your total brand following (especially in industries where social site usage is limited).  For this reason, it’s important to use the information generated via Twitter crowd-sourcing as one piece of a much larger puzzle and to avoid making substantial business changes based on this limited data set.

That – in a nutshell – is the process of crowd sourcing your website’s content using Twitter.  When used correctly, this practice can be an incredibly powerful tool for shaping both your website’s content and the products and services you offer – so get out there and start gathering feedback today!

Top 10 Reasons to Power Your Website with WordPress

Written by Taylor Hawes

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

power your website with wordpress

These days, building a website doesn’t require that you launch Dreamweaver and spend hours poring over the raw HTML code that’ll ultimately form your website.  Instead, beginning and advanced webmasters alike can take advantage of a whole host of tools designed to make website creation and management as easy as possible – including everything from web host-specific site building tools to third-party content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

If you’re in the process of choosing between all these different site design options, one platform to consider is the popular WordPress system.  Although WordPress was once a simple blogging platform, it has very much become a one-stop shop for building virtually all types of websites.  To see how exactly this system can benefit webmasters, check out all of the following reasons to power your website with WordPress:

 

Reason #1 – WordPress sites are easy to build

HostGator provides a “one-click” installation of WordPress via QuickInstall, which takes roughly one minute to complete.  From there, everything from adding content to customizing the look and feel of your site can be done by even the greenest of webmasters – making WordPress a good solution for beginning and advanced site owners to manage.

 

Reason #2 – WordPress sites are easy to manage

One common complaint from webmasters whose sites are built on dated platforms or raw HTML code is how difficult it can be to make even minor changes to their sites.  In the worst cases, changing a single website sentence represents an undertaking that requires expensive service calls to marketing agencies and/or independent web developers.

WordPress, on the other hand, can be easily managed and updated.  Because the program has its roots in the blogging industry, WordPress posts and pages can be modified using an intuative interface that even non-technical staff members can navigate easily (though more technical modifications can be made to the site and theme code if desired).

 

Reason #3 – The WordPress platform is built for SEO

It’s widely known that optimizing your site for discovery and indexing by the search engines is a top priority for webmasters.  While standard HTML sites require extensive modifications in order to highlight the information search engine robots want to see, WordPress comes pre-built with many of these same features.

In addition, webmasters who want to go beyond the default WordPress SEO offerings will find a number of valuable plugins that serve to maximize natural search exposure.  These comprehensive SEO packages – including the popular All-in-One SEO Pack and SEO Ultimate plugins – take your site’s SEO to the next level with the inclusion of features that would otherwise require significant effort to code into standard HTML sites.

 

Reason #4 – WordPress sites allow you to manage different levels of user access

If several different people within your organization will be updating your website, there’s no need to worry about granting access to your full site to all contributors within WordPress.  This popular CMS program comes with five built-in user roles – administrator, editor, author, contributor and subscriber – that enable you to dole out access rights according to different security levels, minimizing the risk to your main site.

 

wordpress user access roles

Reason #5 – The tremendous number of WordPress themes available

One of the beautiful things about CMS systems in general is that your content is stored separately from your site’s design.  Tired of your site’s current look, but don’t want to pay a developer thousands of dollars to come up with something new?  Simply swap out your existing theme with a new one!

In this area, in particular, WordPress shines.  Because of the platform’s open source nature, thousands of different developers have created a huge range of WordPress design themes – including everything from simple-yet-effective site templates to more complex web destination designs.  Best of all, the fees associated with WordPress themes are quite modest, making design changes accessible to just about everyone running a site using this platform.

 

Reason #6 – WordPress is highly extensible

In addition to the number of WordPress themes that are available, WordPress plugins – small code snippets that add extra functionality to your site’s operation – are widely created and distributed as well.  Using plugins, you can take your site from simple blog to fully-fledged e-commerce provider with just a few mouse clicks (and for a much more reasonable fee than crafting your own custom shopping cart).

Of course, it’s worth noting that using too many of these plugins can bog down your site’s operation.  Before installing any plugin, ask yourself whether you really need the feature you’re about to add, as well as whether or not the same feature could be coded into your site’s theme in order to keep your load times low.

 

Reason #7 – WordPress makes mobile optimization easy

Mobile browsing is huge, with mobile internet usage expected to outpace desktop internet access as early as 2014.  Long story short – if your website isn’t mobile-optimized, you stand to lose a serious percentage of your traffic to competitors who have taken this necessary step.

Unfortunately, creating a mobile website version for standard HTML sites can be both complicated and expensive.  WordPress, on the other hand, makes the process easy through the deployment of responsive site themes (which automatically adjust display parameters to suit digital devices) and plugins like WP Touch, which create mobile website versions on the fly.

 

Reason #8 – Widespread WordPress support is available

Have a question about your WordPress site?  Never fear – the internet is here!

From WordPress user forums to developers who work exclusively with this platform, there are tons of different resources out there that can give you the support you need to both get your site up-and-running and to keep it performing at peak efficiency over time.

 

wordpress scheduling features

Reason #9 – WordPress site updates can be easily automated

Running a company blog can be a great way to connect with consumers, but finding the time to write and upload new posts can be challenging, given the packed-full days and overstuffed “to do” lists that many of us maintain.

For this reason, one of the WordPress features that users love most is the ability to schedule website updates in the future and then have them go live at specified times.  This feature alone can be a life-saver, allowing busy webmasters to sit down, write out a few posts at once and then have them deploy at given times over the next weeks or months.

 

Reason #10 – It’s free!

While you might wind up paying a small fee for professional themes or plugins (or a much larger fee, should you hire out for a custom WordPress theme), the basic WordPress installation is free to use – making this specific site design platform a great option for webmasters who are just beginning the process of creating their companies’ online presence.

Of course, WordPress isn’t right for everyone.  The system does have its limitations, and there are certain situations that require more advanced developments that WordPress can provide (as in the case of major e-commerce outlets and some online training courses).

However, for a large number of people, WordPress represents a quick and easy way to get a professional website created and uploaded with the smallest amount of hassle possible.  If the benefits described above appeal to you and your unique situation, go ahead and give this innovative and highly accessible platform a try!

Snappy’s ProTips, pt. III

Written by Sean Valant

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Today’s ProTip from Snappy is going to be the one-two punch of accessing your website via a “temporary” URL and then applying that knowledge to accessing your webmail as well.

snappys_protips03

What is a “temporary” URL, and why do we keep enclosing it in quotation marks?  Let’s answer the last part first: it’s not actually temporary, in fact it’s very much permanent.  We can elaborate on that by addressing what exactly is this thing to which we refer as a temporary URL.  First things first, here is the associated KnowledgeBase article: https://support.hostgator.com/articles/hosting-guide/lets-get-started/temporary-url

A temporary URL is simply a means to access your website’s files without invoking the use of an actual domain name.  There are multiple circumstances where this might be beneficial, one of which would be while your domain name is in propagation.  As you can see in the KB article, the actual syntax of a temporary URL varies dependent upon your hosting platform.  For our purposes, we’ll stick with cPanel for our lesson here today, but the same logic applies across all platforms.

Let’s use the following information:

Primary Domain – ninjas-are-awesome.com
Username – ninjas
Server – gator1337
IP address – 172.192.226.44

Assuming that my domain name is not yet propagated, I can still access my website via both of the following “temporary” URLs:

http://gator1337.hostgator.com/~ninjas

http://172.192.226.44/~ninjas

Note that in both instances, we simply declared a server (either by hostname or IP address) and then used a tilde (~) followed by our cpanel username, which then will deliver us to the contents of the primary domain on our account (logically this would simply be the public_html folder).

What if we want to access an addon domain, or a subdomain?  The same logic applies to both; simply continue down the file structure within your account in order to arrive at the desired location.  In other words, if we have an addon domain called pirates-are-awesome.com and it is located in /public_html/pirates-are-awesome.com, then we would access that website via either of these URLs:

http://gator1337.hostgator.com/~ninjas/pirates-are-awesome.com

http://172.192.226.44/~ninjas/pirates-are-awesome.com

We now see that “~username” will deliver us to our primary domain (or public_html) and we can then expand from there to literally access any file or website within our hosting account simply by exercising logic and following the file structure that we created anytime we upload a file or created an addon- or subdomain.

***

How does this then apply to accessing our webmail accounts?  Any email address created within your cPanel will result in a corresponding webmail account.  Before we proceed, here is the related KB article: https://support.hostgator.com/articles/specialized-help/email/how-to-log-into-webmail

Again, using cPanel as our example, the actual webmail service resides on port 2095.  Ports are accessed by using a colon in the URL, directly before the port number:

http://ninjas-are-awesome.com:2095

Instead of using the port, we can also simply use /webmail:

http://ninjas-are-awesome.com/webmail

We would use our email account credentials (including the full email address) in order to log in at the above URLs.

Let’s apply what we’ve learned about temporary URLs in order to access webmail via URLs other than those presented above.  Keep in mind that you can any domain pointed to your account in order to access webmail (or cPanel, for that matter), it does not have to be the primary domain, but it does have to be a domain that is pointed to  your hosting server.

Back to the question at hand.  Here are all the ways to access webmail, via temporary URL, using our same example account from above:

http://gator1337.hostgator.com:2095

http://172.192.226.44:2095

http://gator1337.hostgator.com/webmail

http://172.192.226.44/webmail

We now see that that there are a total of six unique URLs that can be used to access webmail, via domain name and temporary URL.  We also understand that “temporary” URLs are actually quite permanent, and only referred to as temporary because, generally speaking, you will only need to use them temporarily.  By and large, you will simply use your actual domain name to access your files.  It’s always good to understand the use of temporary URLs though, as they can be utilized for a broader scope of purposes than what we’ve covered in this article.

Just for fun, access your website via temporary URL.
Remember: http://servername_or_IPaddress/~cpanelunsername

As always, please leave a comment with any questions or suggestions.

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