Smart marketers know that email is one of the most powerful customer acquisition, engagement, and retention channels out there. Companies with highly robust email lists are able to drive high performance in terms of revenue and long-term customer relationships - in fact, according to The Direct Marketing Association email marketing generates $38 for every dollar invested.
From day one of your marketing program - even before you launch your core product and website, you need to make sure that you have the infrastructure in place to (1) generate sign-ups, (2) keep audiences engaged, and (3) keep your email list growing.
This process is easier said than done.
Advertisers, regardless of whether they realize it, may sometimes overwhelm their subscribers with the number of marketing messages they are targeting them with. This is why, some programs observe higher than expected unsubscribe rates or low open and click-through rates.
Marketers need to realize that today's consumers are self-directed, driven, and information hungry - qualities that the most successful email marketing programs support.
The key to succeeding with email marketing is simple - based around the following goals:
- The ability to reach audiences with the right marketing message at exactly the right time.
- The opportunity to delight and engage consumers, with relevant marketing materials, over the long-term.
- The ability to successfully marry your brand's value proposition with precise user intent.
- The ability to stand apart from the marketing noise out there.
A high quality email marketing strategy needs a healthy mix of these four goals. That's where your list-building process comes in.
When you've built an email list of highly engaged, qualified prospects, your job as a marketer becomes much easier. Open rates will increase, and audiences will be more likely to share your brand's content. Your email marketing program will be exponentially more valuable than, say, if you downloaded a random list of users and immediately started sending them messages.
So how do you build an email list of highly qualified subscribers?
One potentially powerful channel that only a few marketers harness is organic search - audiences who discover your site through Google and Bing, when they're actively seeking information related to your company. The rest of this guide is positioned to (1) help you understand why and (2) empower you with a set of list-building tactics to ensure that you're succeeding in connecting with an audience that is likely to convert.
Why SEO is More Important Than Ever
SEO, as an audience building landscape, has significantly shifted over the last several years.
Some marketing experts have gone so far to assert that SEO is dead, citing Google and Bing's aggressive algorithm changes are key reasons to focus on user experience rather than search rankings.
While it's true that user experience is probably the single most important variable affecting rankings in the search landscape, it's only a part of the marketing equation. SEO still requires careful technical analyses and strategic long-term planning to ensure that your site is fully optimized for the core user experience needs.
The days of only chasing keywords, however, are over. Users are most likely to discover your website, products, and services organically, through referral networks and word of mouth. Websites with strong reputations - signified by strong backlink portfolios - are likely to rank higher in search.
Some website pages rank higher in search than others - and will be responsible for driving most of your traffic. These audiences may not necessarily be ready to buy; rather, they are interested in learning more about your business and what your company has to offer. That's a strong win.
Many companies ignore this intent-driven traffic source, measuring success by direct transactions only. If users aren't buying more of your product - or signing up for your service - immediately, it's easy to call SEO an inefficient traffic source.
But there's more to the story.
The fact is that these audiences need more time to decide whether your business is the right fit and whether the price points are worth it - especially if they've just discovered your company for the very first time.
That's why email marketing is so important - newsletters and email campaigns provide low-hanging opportunities to keep the conversation going after the "introductory handshake" that the search engine helped originally facilitate.
Don't let this mid-funnel web traffic fall through the cracks.
The following steps will teach you how to do two main things. First, how to increase your web traffic and SEO ranking. Secondly, you'll find out how to lift up your conversions from the users that have already entered your website, and thus improve your list building processes.
The Action Plan
Step O - Make Your Website SEO-friendly
Let's start with the initial phase i.e. the "introductory handshake". Your first task is to make sure that your target audience reaches and stays on your website. To do so, apart from giving them the direct URL to your site, you need to rank high in the Search Engines. Unfortunately, search engines aren't as sophisticated when it comes to crawling as real users surfing the web. What you need to do is to design your website for both the readers and the search engines.
Rule 1 - Know your keywords
Before you even start optimizing your website you should specify what keywords you will be targeting. Thanks to them, your audience will be able to find your site when typing up queries in the search engine, and search engines will know how to index your page.
If you're unsure what keywords you should be using (other than the brand name), think of how your target audience may want to search for your services. Use your own gut feeling, experience and keyword research tools like Wordtracker, Bing Keyword Research Tool or Google AdWords Keyword Planner. These should give you some insight into how users may encounter your brand and in consequence, what keywords you may want to target.
Word of caution: There are different theories as to how frequently one can use a particular keyword on their page. It's not a best practice to put it everywhere on your page, as both humans and crawlers - will realize that the content doesn't seem natural. Also, you should be targeting keywords that are truly related to what you're doing. Targeting every single keyword in the world isn't probably going to make sense and is not likely to generate high results.
Rule 2 - Place your keywords strategically
It's not only about knowing your keywords but also using them the right way. Using the same keyword in various parts of your website may have a different effect on its strength and chance of ranking high in the search engine results. According to a very useful resource - The MOZ Beginner's Guide to SEO -you should use the keyword phrase in the following parts of your site:
- In the title tag at least once. Try to keep the keyword phrase as close to the beginning of the title tag as possible.
- Once prominently near the top of the page.
- At least two or three times, including variations, in the body copy on the page. Perhaps a few more times if there's a lot of text content. You may find additional value in using the keyword or variations more than this, but in our experience adding more instances of a term or phrase tends to have little or no impact on rankings.
- At least once in the alt attribute of an image on the page. This not only helps with web search, but also image search, which can occasionally bring valuable traffic.
- Once in the URL. Additional rules for URLs and keywords are discussed later on in this section.
- At least once in the meta description tag. Note that the meta description tag does not get used by the engines for rankings, but rather helps to attract clicks by searchers reading the results page, as the meta description becomes the snippet of text used by the search engines.
Rule 3 - Adjust your Title tag
Your title tag is meant to be a description of your page and the content that it holds. Showing a title tag to search engine bots is like shaking hands for the first time. Just as you have about 7 seconds to make a good first impression on a human being, you have maximum 70 characters to make a good first impression on a search engine spider.
Don't be shy and put your main keyword in your title tag, so the poor creature will know the subject of your landing page right away. If you still have some space left, you can throw some additional keywords there, too. Just don't exceed 70 characters. In fact, it's better not to cross 65 characters line (5th point) and your landing page should be fine.
Rule 4 - Don't forget the Meta description
Don't forget about the meta description tag - it's a free sign board for SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) alley shown usually right below a website title and the URL. Although search engines will display whatever they want within their results instead of your meta (for example part of text from your website), a good written description has a fair chance to appear before users' eyeballs.
Keep it simple - describe the page subject with 150 - 160 characters. Include your main keyword (search engines can put it in bold type making it more conspicuous) and end your description with a carefully crafted call to action, so that the user is tempted to see your landing page. Bear in mind that you are writing the meta description rather for the user (a living person) than the bot.
Rule 5 - Tune up your URL
Just like a cherry on top can make a cake look more attractive (and more tasty as we eat with our eyes), a page URL containing a keyword can be more alluring for search engines. Put your main keyword in the landing page's URL if possible - you don't want it to look too long and spammy as this will harm the user experience, so don't push it.
What you have to do is to make sure you're designing the URL for humans.
What this means is that you may want to avoid using long ID numbers and stick to the readable words instead. On top of that, using punctuation between words (tip: use hyphens instead of underscores as Google prefers them) may prove useful as well.
If you want to find out more about the proper link structure, check out this explanation from Google.
Rule 6 - Give visitors the information they're looking for
Google puts a big emphasis on the quality of the content on your website.
What you include there has to be valuable and helpful to your visitors. And this refers to all pages - especially your homepage. There are no dirty tricks or ways around - only information-rich sites get the chance to rank high in the search engine results.
Rule 7 - Make the content indexable and crawlable
Every piece of content you place on your site should ideally be in HTML text format. That's because images, videos, Flash files, and other non-text content are often ignored by search engine crawlers.
Step 1: Learn What Your Audiences Want
Having made your website more SEO-friendly, you can now proceed and focus on forming a relationship with your newly acquired audience. But before you launch an email marketing program, you need to determine what your users want. It may be the case, for instance, that a newsletter campaign will have no value to your audience. You'll simply waste time - and valuable screen space - setting up a signup form that drives zero conversions.
Don't make this mistake.
Instead, take a step back to learn what your audience cares about. Would they enjoy receiving your emails? What are the qualities of the email campaigns they love? This process begins with an open dialogue. Talk to some of your existing customers and prospects. Talk to your target audience. You may even consider launching a Qualaroo survey to get some useful feedback:
The research and discovery phase should be short-lived and to the point. Instead of looking for a minimum, statistically significant set of responses, look for patterns that are related to what your company is seeking to achieve.
If you launched an email marketing program, would audiences want to sign up?
At this point, you may decide to run an A/B test on your landing page, showing a newsletter sign-up form to a small portion of your website traffic. Analyze test results and create different variations of your messages to see what resonates more with your audience.
What you need to know about list building through SEO is that the majority of your users are entering your website with a specific search intent in mind. Pay attention to these contextual details. What blog posts are driving the most organic search traffic?
This user intent will influence how and why the audience responds to your email marketing program.
Step 2: Identify Incentives for Driving Sign-Ups
Virtually every company has an email list. What makes yours different? What is your company's unique value proposition that would make people want to sign up? The more you speak to your prospects' exact needs, the more likely they are to sign up. To that end, you will want to create a set of incentives to inspire sign-ups. Here are a few examples:
No matter what incentive you choose, make sure that the value proposition clearly speaks to the research that you did in Step 1.
If you're not sure where to get started, take a look at what similar companies are doing. Read between the lines to see which blog posts and content topics are driving the most SEO volume. Chances are - especially in SEO - that if someone is researching a particular topic, he or she will want even more content to keep learning and be likely to sign up.
Which brings us to Step 3.
Step 3: Align Incentives with Audience Intent
Organic search, as a marketing channel, is just as powerful for research as it is for traffic acquisition. That's because audiences who find your business through search engines are seeking out a very specific piece of information about a particular topic.
If you start to notice that a few of your blog posts are generating significant traffic and ranking well in search results you can try experimenting with targeted offers. Test out content related to your top SEO drivers.
For instance, people who read the "Are You Making These 9 Unforgivable Mistakes On Your About Page" post are also likely to be interested in landing page design and conversion.
Depending on the SEO traffic volumes, it may be worthwhile to give readers the option to sign up for a related e-book or to participate in a relevant course.
If you're new to content marketing or running a website with very little web traffic, targeted content may not be worth the extra effort (because you'll be investing in personalization technologies without corresponding data or meaningful ROI). The key to getting started is to build a simple forecasting model based on your business's unique goal. This analysis can help you decide whether personalization is worthwhile.
Step 4: Make It Insanely Easy for People to Sign Up
Human attention span is getting shorter and shorter. If email list building is part of your company's conversion optimization engine, you'll need to make it ridiculously easy for people to sign up.
- Not requiring people to fill out a complex form
- Asking for fewer rather than "just enough" details
- Making your sign-up calls to action extremely obvious and visible (but without being overbearing)
- Consistently analyzing your heatmaps to fully understand where your audience's attention is going
Put yourself in your customers' shoes instead of following the "traditional" marketing practices. Take yourself back to the research you did in Step 1 to make sure your value proposition is more than just clearly defined - it needs to be obvious.
Notice the short and easy-to-follow email sign-up design that Social Media Examiner has put together: all that the user needs to do is enter their first name and email address. The barrier to sign-up is extremely low and the absolute bare minimum that's needed to reach audiences.
An additional tip: make sure that your email sign-up flows are optimized for mobile. When people browse your content on a small screen, they absolutely do not want to fumble with lengthy forms. The less information they have to provide the more likely they are to sign up for your email list.
Remember that mobile viewing space is limited. Did you notice an extremely low subscriber rate on your homepage? Don't sweat it, reserve that limited real estate for a value proposition that is more likely to speak to your mobile users' needs.
Step 5: Target Exit Intent
We mentioned previously that human attention spans are fleeting. That's an understatement. It may be the case that audiences are leaving your blog or website before they even have a chance to notice your email marketing efforts. That's where exit intent notifications come in.
Using tools like OptinMonster or Evergage (or other custom-built solutions), you can target audiences with a "last but not least" value proposition.
Keep in mind, however, that when it comes to pop-ups, there's a fine line between effective and spammy. Prepare your popup messaging with respect. Understand the user behavior so that you don't target your audiences with aggressive messaging.
Even with pop-ups targeting exit intent, you need to make sure that your audiences are fully empowered (like in the example from Clarity.fm below).
Step 6: Optimize Your Post Conversion Messaging and Flow
Honestly, this step deserves a separate e-book. Conversion optimization and marketing automation are individual fields of study. We'll take a crack at explaining the basics and if you're hungry for more, please reach out!
Traffic acquisition is not the only part of the marketing equation. In addition to encouraging sign-ups to your mailing lists, you need to make sure that your audiences have the resources that they need to take the desired action.
That's where your email marketing automation software comes in to deliver the right messaging at exactly the right time throughout your audience's buying journey. It will help you respond to the specific patterns and drive sales without being annoying or salesy.
Marketing automation is one of the most precise customer acquisition and engagement tactics out there. As your business's presence grows, you can refine your marketing funnels to target very specific user intents.
Long story short, don't leave your audience hanging. You're building your lists in order to generate repeat engagement. In addition to adding people to your list, figure out a way to track where they are coming from (e.g. by tracking email list sign-ups by traffic source in Google Analytics).
The fact that your audiences are trickling in through organic search may provide insight into what your follow-up messaging should be. For instance, if your website visitors are looking for B2B SaaS analytics software, you'll want your follow-up messaging to address that very specific need.
Step 7: Ensure that Your Analytics Is Spot On
Your analytics strategy is something that you will build in tandem with your growth strategy. In addition to piecing your list building strategy together, you'll need to make sure that your analytics is optimized to support your goals.
Especially when working with organic search traffic, you'll need to keep tabs on specific topics and articles that are driving traffic to your website. This information will help you determine where to invest your time and attention in building an effective conversion optimization and marketing automation plan.
The more you understand your users, the more effective your messaging and incentives will be. But don't let analytics deceive you with potentially misleading data.
For instance, you may notice that your audience is spending a long time on your site. You're likely to feel excited by these engagement levels until you realize that the users are lingering because they're confused and unsure what step they should take next.
In addition to capturing analytics, make sure to place equal emphasis on contextual information through (1) consistent user feedback and (2) tools that help you read between the lines (e.g. heat mapping software).
This analytical process will help you tie your SEO back to your organization's bottom line revenue metrics. And as a result, you'll be a few steps closer towards your goal.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this guide, SEO is a powerful marketing channel because it is user-intent-driven. Think about it from a user experience perspective - if a website visitor has a question or is looking for a specific piece of information, he or she is likely to use a search engine.
The opportunities for list building and marketing automation, as a result, is that you will be well positioned to create a highly focused, incentive-driven email marketing program. The more you understand your audience's search intent, the better you are prepared to share compelling ideas for solutions.
If you're running a high traffic company blog, you could start building your list with SEO right away. So what are you waiting for? Let's get to it!