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An Update on FeedBlitz's Usability Project

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Since posting on September (yes, it was that long ago) on FeedBlitz's UI, we've been diligently beavering away to provide the basis for a whole new user experience for email and social media marketers. The process began in earnest in October, and has been on the go ever since.

So this is the first in an occasional series of posts that will highlight where we are in the process and give you clues about where we're going. As we get closer to release I'll be telling you more about the beta versions and how you can get a jump start on using the new service.

Now Tell Me, Who Are You?

The very first step in the process was to take a long hard look at the people who use the site and why. We thought about the people we'd like to use the site, and who aren't.  It's the intersection of current and future markets with the individuals who are in them. Obviously, we also added in the feedback we've received about what works about FeedBlitz as well as the parts that are tougher to use.

We eventually drew up a set of "personas" that we used to name and think about each of these users, the markets and organizations they represent. For example, there's "Bob the Blogger", "Sarah the Savvy" and "Tom the Technical" (yes, I have this tragic alliteration problem). We also have "Suzy Subscriber" representing the recipients of the content we distribute on your behalf. And ten others! Each persona has multiple attributes that cover technical sophistication, the role of social media in their online marketing, how long they've been at it and more. 

When the process wrapped up we had built fourteen distinct personas - too many - but they all represented a few different classes of user. Satisfying the needs of these major user categories at a high level (and deciding which ones we're NOT going to address right now), and ensuring that we meet the needs of the personas that they contain, have been the driving force behind the work on what has become FeedBlitz 4.

A New Navigational Architecture

It would have been really tempting to go the "lipstick on the pig" route and simply pretty up the site, move a few options around and declare victory. A short term win, perhaps.

Not for us, though.

The more we thought about the personas and how these people thought about their work, their blogging and our role in their ecosystem, we realized that we couldn't just tart things up and be done. Instead, we saw an opportunity to completely rethink and realign how FeedBlitz works to more closely match the way the personas thought about and worked in their online presence. Going back to square one with the personas was the key to generating the insights we needed.

I'm not going to give away much more at this stage, but the end result has not only yielded clearer, faster and more natural navigation, but also enabled significant other usability and productivity changes we can deliver to radically simplify common pain points like simply getting started effectively and integrating social media.

(We've shown a few friends of the firm an alpha version of the new UI. Everyone has found it to be easier to use and to find what they need; and everyone has pointed out ways we can make it even better yet. Thank you!)

Still, to give you a taste of what we're up to, here's a quick example of what the new approach and new UI now enable. Instead of all the screens you see in this tutorial to set up your mailing list: www.feedblitz.com/help/tour.asp, the new UI will have exactly one screen you need to complete to get started. That's not a typo: Just one. And it does SO. MUCH. MORE.

More Than This...

So yeah, it's a pretty big deal. By taking our time and thinking about what we offer you from a wholly new perspective is liberating. We have started to flesh out a fascinating new capability that has surprised and intrigued 100% of the people who've seen it. But more on our super secret WOW factor in a later post!

With FeedBlitz 4 we firmly believe we're more than meeting the needs of our current users; better yet, we will be able to more than meet the needs of the additional target markets - and their users - that we've identified. It's exceeding my expectations across the board.

When, When, When?!

OK, such a large rethink and reimplementation requires a lot of work; we're not done. It's going to be worth it, though, so hang in there.

We have a very functional alpha version and our plan is to have a private beta of FeedBlitz 4 running next month (March) with a public beta to follow when it's ready. So, in a sense, very, very soon. A matter of weeks.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for more occasional updates on FeedBlitz v4. As we get closer I'll let out some screenshots for you; I intend to make you all as excited as I am once you get to see it!


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Counterpoint: Why I WILL Follow you Back, by Debba Haupert

Monday, February 21, 2011

[Editor's note: Last week I posted about why I don't follow back everyone who follows me on Twitter. Debba, a.k.a. @Girlfriendology is here to share the other side. Debba has built online followings in the tens of thousands on Twitter and Facebook (see how here), so she really knows what she's talking about!]

As founder/manager of an online community for women (Girlfriendology.com with 21k+ Twitter followers - @Girlfriendology), I take a mixed, and somewhat unique, Twitter follower strategy. I also don't want some people to take this personally, but I intentionally stick to my brand of being 'female' and 'friendly.' Friendly to me means "I want to be in conversation with you;" so on Twitter, I’ll follow you back.

Going a step further, I am focused on female followers/followees. I typically follow back the females who follow me. I do look through my following list frequently which is somewhat time-consuming – but always interesting and I often find and reach out to women and companies I’d like to learn more about, interview on my BlogTalkRadio show or ask to contribute a guest blog on Girlfriendology.

I intentionally and diligently try to keep my followers female-oriented so I block most men (generally aside from friends, influencers or representatives of companies with whom I’d love to work). I also spend time (which to me is also very limited), but I think it is worthwhile to also block spam accounts. So, when a company asks me how many Twitter followers I have, I know they could look at my followers and see that it is a pretty pure list of primarily women. (Companies come to me to reach female potential consumers and that is what I want them to find when they look at my followers.)

And, because I focus on females and try to avoid spammers, I do not auto-follow.

I proactively follow women especially those who I believe might be interested in Girlfriendology - they are bloggers, moms, PR and Brand experts, women who tweet about friends/friendship (sometimes even 'shoes'!) and some are personal friends. I would like to grow my Twitter followers and believe it is worth the time I have to invest in keeping the list growing and relatively pure. Admittedly I’m sure some spam accounts are in there and possibly some businesses that might not be viable or strategic partners, but overall, I believe it’s a list I can own up to.

Admittedly, I do this to build exposure to my brand (of Girlfriendology) as well as, again admittedly, impress potential advertisers. I love that 21k+ Twitter followers can DM me if they’d like. (Yes, some DM me to ask me to RT their info or join the Mafia, but those are actually very rare.) I believe it shows my followers that I want to be able to have a conversation with them - I’m not just talking, but I’m listening to them as well.

Yes, it is time consuming to manage a large Twitter following but I’ve made some amazing connections with the women that I followed back on Twitter. One follower just gave me a great idea for a conference I’m speaking at. Others have DM’d me with ideas for guest blogs, interviews and blog post content. Many of my Twitter followers have RT’d me, followed Girlfriendology over to Facebook and, to be honest, have made my day just by saying something that inspired me.

So, to each his own Twitter strategy, right? I’m just glad we have options on how we manage access to this amazing community. Keep up the good work Phil! Thanks for letting me voice my opinion.

Debba Haupert, Girlfriendology.com

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Why I'm not going to follow you back (It's not personal)

Friday, February 18, 2011

[A little off topic, but this is something that's been on my mind lately.]

I'm an avid Twitter user. As such, I know that many people follow folk on Twitter in the hope - sometimes the expectation - that the followee will follow back; it's a fast and easy way to boost your follower count (for whatever reasons that makes these people happy).

Sometimes, said people will then unfollow in a huff a little later, as if the recipient of their follow has been somehow unspeakably rude by not returning their compliment by following back.

I don't get it.

Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps I am unspeakably rude (I'm sure I am, on occasion. Probably accidentally. Probably :-) ).

But I won't follow you back just because you are now following me.

Don't get me wrong. I am thrilled, thrilled, that you seem to want to listen to some of the things I write about. You're more than welcome; I hope I continue to keep thing interesting enough for you to stick around. I have an ego and I am flattered, believe me.

But following me is not a social contract. As far as I'm concerned, there is no moral imperative to follow back (again, perhaps that's my innate rudeness; you tell me). Twitter is not LinkedIn or Facebook, where relationships are reciprocal. Twitter is much more like a blog: the followed write; the followers read. We have conversations. Your subscribing to my blog doesn't create an obligation for me to subscribe to yours; that would be silly. I don't see why some people think Twitter should be different.

I do use Twitter as a conversational medium - it's fabulous for that. It's what I use it for most. But we don't have to be follower and followee for that.

The thing is, my attention is limited. I need to focus it on clients, prospects, industry news and the non-work stuff that floats my boat. So I am very, very discriminatory (in that, I make informed choices) about whom I follow, just as I choose carefully which blogs to subscribe to. There's more than enough noise in my Twitter stream as it is with the few people I do give my attention to; I am therefore very careful about whom I add. I also don't unfollow very much, precisely because I take care about the people I add in the first place. I'm not saying I'm a guru or super special and that if I follow your Twitter stream then somehow you are extra blessed; I'm just saying that when I do follow it's interesting enough for me to keep up with. That's it. Nothing more.

Now, this may come across as arrogant, conceited or pompous (I've been called worse!). But it really reflects on there being only 24 hours in the day and if I'm following you I want to give you my attention - else why bother?

So it isn't personal. It's pragmatic. But if you're following me in the hope I'll follow back, please don't. Go follow Lady Gaga or a politician or your favorite nationally-ranked sports club, they seem to follow back more than most. Grow your follower count that way, not that I understand why that's important or necessary.

But that's my 2c. Comment below if you auto-follow back; I'd welcome your perspective. Heck, I'll even give a guest post slot to someone with the opposite point of view.

What do you think? Chime in!

Update: Read the counterpoint in this guest post by successful online community-builder, Debba Haupert.



One Blog, Many Lists, Much Success

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to Increase Engagement with a Multi-List Strategy for Your Blog

In this issue of List Building for Bloggers you will learn:
  • How multiple lists can help you attract and retain subscribers;
  • The benefits of multiple delivery schedules;
  • Content focus;
  • A quick "how-to" for FeedBlitz users.
[This is the twelfth article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the recent #LBB posts]

Multiple lists from a single blog?  You bet! It's a great idea, and if you're using automation to send your mailings it won't cost you any more time and effort to manage once you're set up.

There are two core ways you can use multiple lists to increase engagement in your readership. These ways are:
  • Different mailing schedules;
  • Focused content.
Both will help you grow your and retain your audience, but they address different needs.

Multiple Mailing Schedules

When and how often to mail your readership can be the source of much angst in the email marketing community. Many people spend (and maybe waste) a lot of time and energy trying to find the right date and time to send out a blast to get the best results.

For content marketers (i.e. us, bloggers), I say that the best approach is not to get down to this level of detail. There are much more important and valuable things that you can do with your blog and your time. You will be more productive creating great content on your blog, building your community, doing some SEO, guest posting etc. rather than spending hours in reports worrying whether it's better to mail out Tuesdays at 10am or Friday evenings after work. Focus instead on getting better results from your mailings by writing better headlines, compelling calls to actions, or adding an autoresponder.

That said, though, what you can do (and should definitely consider) is have your subscribers tell you how often they want to be emailed. That way your mailing schedule best matches their expectations and you're more likely to keep them for longer. Corollary: you're also much less likely to lose them because they feel swamped by too many emails from your blog or updates that are too slow.

This is where having multiple lists, each with a different delivery schedule, comes in really handy. You can offer a "Fast" subscription, which sends out a mail every time you post. For some people that will be great. For others, though, this will be way too much information and aggravating. Enter the next list, powered by the same blog: A daily digest.  Same content, just delivered once a day.  You might even offer a weekly wrap as well for those who want to stay in touch but for whom even a daily missive would be burdensome. You could perhaps adjust the slower lists to use abridged content if you typically have a lot of posts each week, just to keep the email down to a reasonable size.

All you have to do is offer the subscriber the choice at sign up time. They self-select into the appropriate list and they're done. They get what they want when they want it; you get happy subscribers who don't become frustrated by too many updates, or news that isn't timely enough for them.

Focused Content

The other core use of multiple lists is to focus the content so that every mailing is relevant to the subscribers. Most blogging systems these days will offer category pages, where all the posts sharing the same category or tag can be viewed at once; it's great for search and its great for visitors to see all the related posts in a single place.

You can do the same with your mailing lists too. For example, Elise at Simply Recipes has a "recipes only" email list accessible here, as opposed to her main list which is all the posts - not just recipes - on her food blog. Like Elise, you can offer focused content based on what your readers want. There may be fewer updates going out to a more focused list, but you'll get better engagement with its subscribers with each mailing.

On the other end of the spectrum, Money Saving Mom has over a hundred lists. The site uses both content and scheduling differences. They're all powered by the same blog, but she gives her visitors a lot of choice in terms of choosing when they want an update and what they want to get. Result? Stellar list growth. See her subscription form page here; it's really quite the marvel.

Best Practice in Action

Since I'm drawing attention to Money Saving Mom, her site uses a combination of techniques to grow her mailing lists. It's a fantastic example of how to quickly fire up subscriber acquisition. Use it as inspiration for your list growth, no matter what field you're working in or how large (or small) your lists are now.

Let's take a look:
  • There's a financial incentive (sweepstakes) above the main banner for the main mailing list;
  • "Subscribe for free updates" call to action in the right side bar for a menu of all lists;
  • Autoresponders and custom landing pages driving traffic back to the site.

Dynamic and User Generated Lists

The challenge with offering different content lists have one disadvantage: They require you, the blogger, to know (or to make intelligent decisions about) the different content you should be offering. Sometimes that's hard to do, and as your site grows you may forget to update the mailing lists to include your new posts. What to do?

Well, with luck, your email service has an API that you can use to let the users create their own lists on the fly. You can then, with a little back end or client side scripting, have the subscription form on any one page offer an automatic subscription to that page's tags. You can do the same for search functions too. That way you can ensure that the content is always relevant - the subscriber picked it themselves!

For FeedBlitz Users

FeedBlitz makes creating additional mailing lists from a single source easy, so if you're also a FeedBlitz user read on to see how to set up multiple lists for your blog in just a few steps.

The easiest way to create multiple mailing lists is to start with your main list that you're happy with. Then go to Newsletters - Settings - Advanced Template Editor and make that template your Master Template. That means that all other lists you then make will use the same design as your main list by default, which gives you great brand consistency and saves a whole boat-load of time.

Then clone the list via Newsletters - Settings - Clone. It creates a copy of the list and its settings, but does not copy subscribers. If you're creating a new delivery schedule, pick the new schedule you want as part of the cloning process. It's that easy.

If you want to create focused content specific lists, again clone the mailing. Then go to Newsletters - Settings - Content Settings for your new clone, and either:

a) Add tag filters to include / exclude categories from the mailing; or
b) Change the article source URL to be the category RSS feed for the content.

Don't forget to change the title of the mailing to match the content, and you're done.

If you want to get all techie and use the API, head over here to the Knowledge Base for the documentation - you need to use the publisher ID parameter to link the subscription to your account.

Finally, freshly minted mailing lists in hand, you need to update your forms to offer your new alternatives. Since most sites are not offering hundreds of different choices, FeedBlitz can create a form for you that automatically updates itself as you add new lists. Go to Newsletters - Forms - Subscription Forms and, from the right hand side of options, choose "all public" as the lists to include. Update your site with the code and that's that. (If you want to exclude a list from the automatic form, mark it as private at Newsletters - Settings - Content Settings - The Basics).

Next Up

More advanced topics: Segmentation, personalization and custom fields.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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Reminder: FeedBlitz API Changes Tonight

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If you're using the FeedBlitz API remember to check that your integration is now using an API Key and the updated end point URL per this post.

The old API server will be taken down tonight, February 15th (US eastern time).

Everyone else: Hang tight! This won't affect you and your services at all; this message is just for developers and integrators.




Seth Godin Combines Innovative Incentives, Group Buying for Latest eBook

Monday, February 14, 2011

Seth Godin, the well-known marketing guru (and FeedBlitz client) is on an interesting seven day campaign to lower the price of his latest eBook (via the Domino Project) by tying it to the number of subscribers to his mailing list.

The more subscribers gained in the next seven days, the lower the price of the book. 

It's a group buying approach, but the final reduced price isn't known until next Monday (the start price is already down to $7.99 courtesy the list's initial subscriber count). Plus, instead of buying your groupon with money, Seth instead is trading your attention for the increasing discount. The discount costs you nothing financially. Go on later to tell your friends, tweet your followers and mention it to your associated hangers-on and the deal gets better. What's not to like?

Incentives work; group buying is popular. This is a fascinating way to combine the two into the relatively staid publishing industry with a typically Godin-esque twist.

Read Seth's announcement on his blog here.

See his video on the Domino Project here.

Lower the final price by subscribing to the Domino Project here.


Are you in the Three Danger Zones of Spamminess? #LBB

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Content Filters and Deliverability Traps for the Unwary

In this issue of List Building for Bloggers you will learn the content triggers that can lead to your mail being junked, even when you're using a high-reputation mailing service like FeedBlitz, and what to do about it.

[This is the eleventh article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the #LBB posts]

Blogs are Email Marketing Accidents Waiting to Happen

When you blog and send your words of wisdom out to your subscribers, you are not only a blogger but also a marketer. You may not like to think of yourself that way, but it's basically true.

The thing is, of course, is that most bloggers are untrained as marketers. Specifically, we're largely not trained as email marketers. We put up our subscription forms and hope for the best. Usually, that's fine.

But sometimes that lack of expertise can hurt, because it can lead us to create content that ends up setting off content filters. It's actually all too easy to do, in fact, because in social media we can easily add widgets and plugins that are designed for the web, but which can completely foul up your feed and eviscerate your mailings. Blogging and social media enable us to make the kind of "rookie" error that a professional, corporate email marketer would never let see the light of day.

There are also problems that can creep in because of design decisions that may render your email unreadable and therefore useless; although I've touched on these before I'll go over this ground again in a little more detail.

Hold On - Isn't Reputation King?

Ah yes, indeed it is (You have been paying attention! Thanks!). You're not going to get your blog's mailings anywhere without using an email provider like FeedBlitz with excellent sender reputation and low complaint rates. Having a good sender, especially one that's on white lists and feedback loops (again, you-know-who), does a lot to eliminate the risk of content rules routing the email to junk.

A lot, but not necessarily everything. Basically, when your email is run through the inbound ISP's content filters, a score of some sort is applied to it. Let's say that having a high score is a bad thing, and the higher your score the more likely your email is going to be flagged as junk. Worse, if your subscriber uses a separate email app (e.g. Outlook, Thunderbird etc.) to read her email, that app knows absolutely nothing about sender reputation. Your email is downloaded to your email app, and the only tool it can basically apply to that inbound mail to stop spam is content filtering. So it refilters your messages again, but this time you don't benefit from the trusted sender advantage.

How Content Filters Work

When your email arrives at the ISP from a sender with a great reputation, it benefits by having its score reduced somewhat from the get go. It might benefit a little; it might benefit a lot. Unsurprisingly, ISPs don't share their rules, but open source projects like Spam Assassin work this way. Anyway, using a service like FeedBlitz enables you to start with a reduced baseline spamminess score before the content filters go to work. They raise your score and finally, based on that score, your email is sent to the inbox - or to The Other Place.

Usually, reputation trumps content (i.e. your baseline benefit of using a reputable sender massively outweighs content analysis) unless you are, in fact, writing something spammy.  Our experience is that, even for our frugal deal bloggers, who are always talking about free this, 20% off that and sample the other (generally spammy content phrases), their email usually gets straight to the inbox, no problem.

So why fret about content then? Well, some kinds of content will greatly raise your spamminess score. Another is that the ISP's content filters aren't the only ones your email has to pass before it gets to the inbox; you need your email to be able to get past the desktop software filters I mentioned above too. Since trusted sender doesn't apply here, it's possible to lose the battle for the inbox at this very last stage.

To avoid that you need to steer clear of the Three Danger Zones of Spamminess. Grab your online GPS and read on! We have a map...

Danger Zone 1: The Subject Line

The first thing to realize is that your subject line will be scanned by content filters as well as the body of the email itself. A truly spammy subject line will get your mail junked just as much as talking about dodgy pills or offshore banking accounts where you can net bajillions o' bucks in the body of your email.

So as well as following the tips in an earlier LBB about keeping subject lines short, imperative and attention-grabbing, avoid these errors:
  • Especially don't shout FREE, SAMPLE and % OFF.
  • Don't over use exclamation points!!!!
  • Don't over-use other symbols $$ #!% in your subject line either.
  • Phil, don't personalize the subject line with the recipient's name.
The last one may seem counter-intuitive; after all personalization typically increases open and response rates. But mail whose subject line starts with "Yourname, blah blah blah" is almost always spam and will be treated as such by the filters. By all means personalize the subject if you can, e.g. "We recommend this zoom lens for your Nikon D40 camera" if your recipient bought a D40 from your store recently. Just don't use their name in the subject line.

Danger Zone 2: Accidentally Spammy Content

Here it gets more complicated. Not only are content filters (and I'm including your computer's anti-virus software in this category) looking for keywords, they're also looking to see whether your message might be malware (a virus). Sometimes the most innocent things can trigger alarms, leading to the junk folder or scary security alerts. (I'm not intending to cover all the ins and outs of content filters here - life's too short! Just the pertinent parts a blogger can easily foul up on).

A quick technical detour is in order for a moment. The vast majority of email today is HTML email; mini web pages, in effect. HTML is made up of tags that produce your text, break it into paragraphs etc. All handled by your blog automatically and then converted to email by services like FeedBlitz.

But some tags have been abused by viruses and other villainy to the point that email apps won't display them (see this knowledge base article on why video typically won't work in email, for example, and how FeedBlitz saves the day for video posts). This especially applies to tags for JavaScript, forms and what are called IFrames.

The reason why you need to care about this is that the vast majority of blogging widgets use - guess what! JavaScript, forms and IFrames. If those widgets live on your blog's sidebar and not in the post then you're fine. But if you do have these tags in your post (or they're added to the feed by a "helpful" plugin or widget on your blog) then they won't work in your email and they probably won't work for your RSS readers either. This is why blogs and bloggers are so much more likely to fall afoul of content rules than professional email marketers: it's simply too easy to break them with all the cool toys social media let's us add to our sites!

But script doesn't work in email, so ad networks and other active content won't work. A preponderance of script will damage your spamminess score badly. If you do insert a script-based object into your post (e.g. a survey), make sure that it has a noscript tag that will offer email and feed readers a useful alternative.  FeedBlitz will help here - it strips script from your content before it mails it out in an effort to increase deliverability and reduce risk for the reader.

IFrames can show up with some affiliate programs and other add ins. While they'll probably pass muster with a content filter, your reader's security software will probably be very unhappy seeing an iframe in your email if that iframe references a page that isn't on your web site. Some Amazon affiliate links for specific books are iframes and can fall into this category, leading to scary, scary security alerts (almost always false alarms, but that's life) when your email is scanned by the subscriber's anti-virus app. Use images or static inline code instead; just say "no" to iframes in your posts.

Then there's forms. Don't put whole forms in your email. They're unlikely to work in many email systems (but will probably display just fine, creating much subscriber frustration when they fail to work). If you want a subscriber to fill out a form, use the mail with a compelling call to action to drive them back to your site instead.

Remember: You're fine if your gidgets, gadgets and doohickeys are in side bars etc. It's when they get into the actual post content itself that you have to be careful.

Finally, there are bad neighborhoods. If you link to a bad neighborhood (or what the content filter thinks looks like it's going to be a bad place to send a reader), your email is going to be junked. This did, in fact, happen to one of our clients; Yahoo was sending their email to junk consistently whereas none of our other clients was having the same problem. The issue boiled down to exactly one link in their email. Sent without the link, the email landed in the inbox perfectly, every time. With the link, away to junk it went, every time. There was nothing wrong with the link (or the site it linked to) per se; it just happened to push Yahoo's content filter over the edge.

So sometimes you can simply be unlucky; it happens. But if you're using an ESP their support function or professional services group may be able to help.

Danger Zone 3: Graphic Design SNAFUs

Speaking too Softly and Shouting Too Loudly

Content filters look to see if they think you're trying to hide content from the user, because doing so is inherently suspect. So very small fonts, colors that are the same as - or very similar to - background colors are all flags on the play. Don't do it.

Ditto for very, very large fonts and over use of bright, attention grabbing colors are also flags. Anything SCREAMING FOR ATTENTION is going to bump your spamminess score heavily in the wrong direction, so nix the 72 point bold red font with the yellow background, OK? Keep the graphic design tone in a normal voice and everything in plain sight and you'll be fine.

Unfortunately, there are other ways graphic design can mess things up just by accidentally crippling readability, especially for older email clients and many webmail readers.

Dark Backgrounds

Some email apps won't display backgrounds, especially if the background is an image and not a solid background color. Since you have a dark background and therefore light text on it, without a dark background your light text is now displayed on a white background. It's illegible now! We recommend using a light background and dark fonts for your copy all the time; you can surround them with images and backgrounds that won't affect readability if they're not displayed, but will still look right when thy are.

Using Styles that Aren't There

Styles and stylesheets, a.k.a. CSS, allow graphic designers great control over how web pages display online. In email, though, not every email app supports all the CSS your designer puts in. Worse, if your post uses styles that are only mentioned in the web site but not defined in the post itself, your feed and emails are not going to render the way you intended at all. This is why, for example, may WordPress blogs specify floating images online, but in feeds and emails they don't wrap properly; the stylesheets aren't there to tell the subscriber's app how to display the image, so it uses the default. (That's why FeedBlitz has a set of template tags to force images to wrap the way you want, even if they don't start out that way.)

And that's the best that can happen. If your post inadvertently uses a style that's used by your subscriber's webmail or feed reader, your post is going to use that style. Results: who the heck knows! Probably something that will make your subscriber very unhappy. Ask your graphic designer not to use obvious CSS class names  like "header", "footer" or "style1", "style2" etc. - they're much more likely to conflict with a webmail reader's CSS namespace if you do. Make class names more specific to your site and you'll avoid this kind of naming collision.

Too Complex HTML and CSS

Finally, don't use overly complex HTML and CSS positioning within the post to manage your content. Keep post HTML really, really simple. The more complex it is, the less likely it will be faithfully rendered on subscriber email apps. Gmail, for example, is simply awful IMHO at rendering anything beyond trivial HTML content even with styles.

KISS, though, and you'll be fine!

The Good News on Graphic Design

Once you have a graphic design in place, test it. If problems occur, fix them before you go live with the design. When you have the design working and rendering acceptably across the board, the good news is that you'll have avoided the majority of graphic design risks mentioned above, permanently.

Whitelists Solve (Almost) Everything

If you are white listed in your subscriber's email systems (ISP and desktop app, if applicable) then you are going to pretty much avoid all of content filtering problems. Always ask to be whitelisted when your subscribers join your list or interact with a landing page.

Next Up

I've spent a lot of recent LBB posts on what you should not be doing with your blog's email marketing. Next week, back to how to make it better, faster, with some tips on how to use multiple lists to attract and retain subscribers.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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When did "Listening" become a Marketing Skill? by Ed Thompson

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

I remember my first copywriting class. One of our assignments was to write a 30-second radio spot. My teacher told us to use this rule of thumb when addressing the audience: Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them what you’re telling them. Then tell them what you’ve told them.

In marketing, we’re hired because we can “tell the story.” Whether it’s with words or pictures, we cleverly craft our messages and deliver them through a media outlet. If we want our message to get through, we tell it as loudly, frequently, and as cost-effectively as we can. Have you ever seen a Marketer’s resume that said “good listener”?

For me, the change happened slowly, I hardly knew it was happening. I began my career as a designer for advertising and print. The best shot we had of listening was whether the client was happy with how many coupons came back. Of course their goal is also to negotiate the best rates, so while I had many satisfied clients, I couldn’t be sure if it was the service or the results.

Shortly thereafter, I made a transition in my career and shifted my skills to the web and became a Webmaster. Few of my print colleagues were making this move, but clearly, this was the way things were moving. The first web analytics I ever saw were raw server logs. It was so cool to see how many people “hit” index.html or logo.gif. Of course things were pretty basic, but I was starting to listen. The challenge with web analytics is they are an aggregate view of a snapshot in time. It was listening, but it was like listening to a crowd – impossible to tell what any one person was saying.

Then email marketing started to hit its stride. Now here was a way to tie a specific person to a specific action. I could tell that so-and-so opened my email, clicked through the link, and went to my website. Awesome! Except that they were then lost in the crowd, unless I went through some crazy web gymnastics, I could not tell where that person went, or what they did. Still, I could identify who responded to my message and who did not.

With email, the process was faster, I could very quickly tell if people liked my story or didn’t. I also had to be content with knowing that on any given day 95% or more of the people would dislike or completely ignore my story.

When I was first introduced to Marketing Automation, the lights went on for me instantly. Now, I could finally take all that email activity, combine it with their web activity, AND (and it’s a huge AND) build a conditional response. Wow! I could listen and respond accordingly.

Marketing Automation, while attracting a lot of attention, is still very new in terms of adoption. According to a recent interview with Jeff Pedowitz, CEO of The Pedowitz Group, he estimates that only about 3,500 companies worldwide are using these systems. That amazes me.

It is the people, process, or technology that is getting in the way?

At first, I said it was the technology. Marketing Automation was brand new. The companies were small, you weren’t sure if the salesperson’s slides matched the available products or just the vision. Today, these companies are available as SaaS, they’re built on world-class hosting facilities, and the products do as promised – they’re mature.

Maybe it’s the process…

How many times have you sat in an uncomfortable chair in a hotel function room listening to the story of *cringe* Sales 2.0? (I’m not a fan of anything labeled 2.0) Inevitably the story illustrates how Marketing is “owning the conversation” longer, sales is no longer the controlling source of information for a buyer, the internet changed access to information, yadda, yadda, yadda. Depending on the speaker, some technologies are bolted on and whammo! Money pours out the end of the pipe. Awesome.

There are two valuable take-aways from this: First, the buyer is in control, and second, we (Marketing) think we “own the conversation.”

Why wouldn’t we think we own it? We have ramped up our publishing skills to push content out over a gazillion different channels; we can monitor everything; and we can automatically send responses based on those levers.

It’s got to be the people!

So as few of my colleagues at the time transitioned their skills from print to web, from web to email, how many were transitioning from email to Marketing Automation? After all, with all this great technology, someone still has to drive it, but more importantly they have to know where to drive it.

Marketing has to be listening on all channels in order to communicate on all channels. Simply telling the story isn’t good enough anymore. Which brings us to the latest development: Social Media.

Social Media accelerated the buyer’s control not just away from sales, but also away from marketing. Any illusion we had for “owning the conversation” quickly vanished as soon as it arrived. The individuals own the publishing space. Their content is as valued as ours, and they control how they interact with us.

But listening got easier.

It’s now our job to look at the whole picture, from web visits, email activity, survey responses, and social media activity. We need to listen across all channels in order to identify the right prospects, advocates, and even angry customers. Some clues are obvious, some are very subtle.

Ideally, I think marketing should be trying to hand over the story-telling responsibilities to our customers. Why not? We strive for the credibility they already have. Our time should be spent listening, being good brand stewards, and communicating based on the dialogue that’s taking place. Of course we can still tell the story, but our stories should not be mistaken for the voice of our brands, that exists, as it always has, in the minds of our customers.

About the Author

Ed Thompson is Director of Demand Generation for The Pedowitz Group (TPG), a burgeoning demand generation company focused marketing and sales solutions that drive topline revenue. TPG helps clients become successful Revenue Marketers® at http://www.pedowitzgroup.com/.

Contact Ed via email: ed@pedowitzgroup.com and Twitter: @edthewebguy.



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