Where to start my site’s SEO?

by Gert Mellak on March 16, 2010

Everybody is talking about search engine optimization, in short: SEO. While most of the discussion is focussed on special areas, I would like to slowly drag you into the topic and give an overview about different aspects in SEO.

SEO Basics

In case you’re already familiar with how search engines get their information, skip this paragraph. But if you’ve got the slightest doubt about it, keep reading, since this one is crucial for everything related with search engine optimization work.

Search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo send out small applications called robots or spiders that read entire websites and store the data in their database. Once the information is stored, it is analyzed, different algorythms are applied, in short: some really complicated stuff is performed. The result of all this complicated stuff is an index that’s used to present the SERPs (search engine ranking positions). This index also reflects, among tons of other things, the linking structure of the pages indexed, which means, which site links on which page to which other website, etc.

So you wanna …

… show up in the SERPs for a very important keyword (search expression), but are not even among the top 100? Don’t worry, only pages in very small niches usually show up without any optimization work done. But I’m sure your web project has the necessary potential, just let’s make sure you approach your site’s SEO the right way.

Start at home!

Before investing any Dollars, Euros or whatever currency applies into search engine optimization, start tidying up your website. Search engines might visit your site every day already, but maybe you are not presenting your content the right way. I’m going to write another post on on-page seo soon, just want to leave you with some of this topic’s most important keywords:

  • title tags
  • headlines h1, h2, h3
  • url structure
  • image alt texts
  • filenames
  • navigation structure

Make sure your website is all set before heading to the next step. Also check out the top 10 websites showing up for your search expression and see how they handle these topics.

Visit your neighbour!

Having a look at what successful webmasters and SEOs are doing to show up first is one of the basic skills and tasks in any optimization job. Hardly anybody will rely only on their own personal strategies; there are tons of common optimization tasks every SEO will use.

Divide and Conquer

Another step on the way to your seo success is to divide up the tasks. In general, there are on-page and off-page seo tasks to handle. On-page tasks were already briefly mentioned above. Separating these two areas and having people separately working on both of them will certainly increase your seo efficiency.

One of the most important off-page tasks is called linkbuilding and is far more diverse and tricky as beginners might think. The aim is to continiously grow the number of high-quality incoming links, which are links on other websites pointing to your pages. You will want these links to have useful and diverse anchor texts, be followed links (and not nofollows), have them on a varied collection of site types (blogs, company websites, social media sites, etc.), not appear as paid links, etc. etc.

Directories are good for a start

When looking for link sources, don’t underestimate the power of followed link directories. For many low competitive search expressions you can already land on Google’s first page with a bunch of backlinks coming mostly from some good link directories. I like to tell my clients that a few new links each month coming from web directories are a good basis for further linkbuilding work.

Higher positions through creativity

In order to reach higher positions in the SERPs, an SEO has to get creative. Think partner programs, badge campagins, banner exchanges, etc. and you know what I’m talking about, just that these things don’t work very well any more. The more competitive the search expression you would like to rank for, the higher the demand on your creativity.

Approach SEO step by step

This post is intended to give you a brief overview about the bits and pieces that can make up an seo strategy. Maybe the most important thing to note down is that, before going out messing with your competitors, make sure your own website is perfectly prepared to be indexed and ranked for relevant terms by the big known search engines. Once that’s done, try to make it a habit to get a few new backlinks each week and have some rank checker monitor your website’s rankings to wach the improvements achieved.

What do you think about this seo overview? Something I’ve missed and you’d like to add? Let me know your thoughts in this post’s comments section.

{ 1 comment }

Web Analytics for every website

by Gert Mellak on January 24, 2010

On the way to work when I see companies promoting their URL on promotions on their trucks, billboards, etc. very often I save their domains on my cell phone to check out their websites – call it a hobby or a silly habit – it’s just something I like doing.

When I then have a minute or two I have a glance at their websites and, thanks to the Wappalyzer addon for firefox, I can see in an instant whether they have statistics software installed  and, believe it or not – there are tons of website who seem to not having any type of tracking on their websites.

Get the data!

I’m absolutely sure a free statistics tool like Google Analytics provides average websites with much more data than they could possibly imagine and/or appreciate, but I do think that site owners who are not making good use of this free tool are missing out on something.

Just by installing an analytics tool today you could be storing valuable information on which products or product group especially interest people during the summer months, or during which time of the year more people are searching online for the services you offer. There are endless ways of how your business could improve using effectively the data you collect!

In case you don’t know how to install Google Analytics or a similar tool, have a web analytics consultant assist you – it won’t them take longer than an hour to do a basic GA setup for your site, and you will greatly benefit by the data this tool collects.

Don’t be shocked if your analytics tool tells you your site doesn’t get almost any visitors – that’s a very useful information, especially when deciding on which company should be creating your new website, or which seo consultant you might hire. Numerous website owners don’t even know their site isn’t visited by anybody and think they are already doing well online.

If you have any questions towards how tools like Google Analytics could help your online success, feel free to ask them below this post in the comments section.

{ 0 comments }

Sidewiki: Embrace it or Hate it?

by Gert Mellak on September 29, 2009

Since its launch, there has been quite a lively discussion about Google’s new product Sidewiki. This small piece of software can be installed with the new Google Toolbar in Firefox and Internet Explorer and basically lets you comment on any web page you want. All a page’s comments will show up to other Sidewiki users and can be voted up or down by other users. What at first sight looks like a big chance for the social web movements, at closer examination turns out to represent a potentially serious threat for site owners.

Comments – no, thank you!?

Up to now, many websites, especially blogs have offered features to have users participate and comment on articles and entries. It was up to the sites’ owners to decide whether they wanted to allow comments or preferred users’ participation in other ways. They had the chance to kick out spammers, delete or modify comments containing inappropriate language, or could even restrict the comment feature to registered users.

Since the launch of Sidewiki, things have changed from one day to the other: With average Internet users certainly embracing this new feature and less Internet savy users installing Google’s toolbar without knowing Sidewiki, basically the whole web has gone social. You don’t have to be a prophet to predict that a huge share of users are going to use Sidewiki within the next months. Comments on your website will therefore become something you have to deal with – whether you like it or not.

Everybody can do what they like

While Google claims there’s a great anti spam feature included filtering out the typical “This site sucks” messages, you can be sure your competitors are going to sign up for fake Google accounts, just to leave a few messages on your site claiming to have had problems with your customer service or to be unsatisfied with the products you offer. jatinmahindra.com described Sidewiki like this:

This software feature is the online equivalent of people suddenly being allowed to post graffiti, flyers and posters all over the front of your building (Source)

Those running websites in a serious way are used to comments in forums or blogs about their products or services. The big difference Sidewiki brings up is that everybody will read the comments right on your website. In other words, exactly those people interested in your products and services will read comments of others who, behind a fake identity, try to draw a questionable image around your brand.

Technical aspects

At the moment there’s just Sidewiki and an API nobody seems to be using yet … – right now, if you are running a web store with 20.000 pages, you should better take a week or two off if you want to know if someone has left a comment on one of your product pages – you will have to have a look at each and every one of them. Obviously, this won’t be the case after a few weeks have passed – I expect developers launching apps that inform site owners about Sidewiki posts made on different parts of a site.

Strategies?

A few days after Sidewiki’s launch, Jeremiah Owyang was one of the first people to share some thoughts on what might turn out as one of the biggest problems site owners have to tackle within the next months. He correctly states that “control is shifting to the customers” and gives the following three pieces of advice:

  • Shift your thinking: recognize that you don’t own your corporate website – your customers do.
  • Develop a social strategy with dedicated resources.
  • Don’t be reactive to negative content – embrace social content now.

Whatever strategy you might adopt – get going soon! You really want to get a grip on Sidewiki before your customers competitors do. Maybe it’s the right time to invite your web consultant to talk about the activities planned for next months.

Effects on the Web

As most of Google’s products, Sidewiki will definitely have an effect on the web. It’s pretty early to make predictions, but one could imagine many site owners, in case they don’t heavily depend on it, reducing the amount of content offering online. I could even imagine companies running two versions of their website – one for people using Sidewiki (in case there’ll be a way to detect that) and people not using it. Whatever happens, I’m sure site owners will have to react – otherwise their websites won’t continue to be useful at the long run.

What do you think about sidewiki? How are you going to change your strategies? Is your company going social now because of Sidewiki?

{ 4 comments }

Blog Theme Quality Check

by Gert Mellak on September 20, 2009

In this post I would like to talk a little bit about what makes a good wordpress theme. Do you think your blog’s theme is good? Check out the following list of characteristics I’ve created to see if there’s an idea on how your theme could get even better:

Layout

Before thinking of a theme, you should already have your blog’s concept ready and at least know the answers to the following questions:

  • How many categories do you want to show?
  • Are you going to put banners or other ads on your blog?
  • How should your front page look like?
  • Are you planning to integrate a search feature on your blog?
  • How about combining your blog with your twitter account, e. g. via a “latest tweets” section?
  • Are you looking for a free theme or do you prefer a more advanced theme and are willing to pay a small amount of money?
  • Do you usually incorporate a lot of pictures in your blog posts, or are you going to maintain your blog rather text-based?
  • Would you like to offer a newsletter to complement your blog?
  • Where is the RSS subscribe button going to be?

As you can see, you really should have your concept clear before starting out to look for a suitable blog theme. If you’re not sure about the answer to one or more of the questions above, relax! Sit down, get a piece of paper and a pencil, and start drafting what your blog should look like.

Customizability

Althouth you might have a clear concept of your blog now, I’m absolutely sure the concept will change. Not only due to your focus slightly shifting, but also because your audience might suggest some ideas that cause you rethink your concept. That’s no problem at all, as long as your theme allows these changes.

Many free themes expect you to have in-depth knowledge on web development with HTML or Java Script. Other, slightly more advanced (and commercial) themes will allow you to do a great number of customizations right via the wordpress user interface.

Have this aspect in mind when comparing different themes and theme authors, and ask for possibilities to customize the themes’ behaviour so it better fits into your blog’s concept.

Thesis

It was my fault, I admit it! I’m going to take the entire responsibility for one of my biggest failings since I began dabbling in the world of blogs: I didn’t use the Thesis Theme right away. I used one of those free themes you can download everywhere … just to find out a couple of days after installing them that they just didn’t meet my expectations. It’s more … I spent hours and hours trying to adapt them, later writing my own themes from scratch, but I’ve never accomplished a blog theme as great and flexible as Thesis.

In case you there is the remote possibility of you taking your blog seriously throughout some time, invest the few dollars and get your own Thesis theme – it’s well worth it! Apart from complying with current web standards, there is no other wordpress theme as flexible and customizable as Thesis. It comes with several layouts and easy ways to adapt them so they suit your needs, so instead of spending some days creating your own theme from scratch, start off with Thesis Theme and later adapt it in case you’re not 100% satisfied!

Web Standards

Following the standards is really important, especially when trying to accomplish decent search engine rankings, or creating barrier free web sites. For these reason, when choosing a theme for your blog, try to consider using of the available XHTML syntax checks, like W3C’s validator, for example. Thesis Theme comes with a 100% valid HTML code, so that right from the beginning your blog will be technically optimized for search engines and other standard-sensitive front-ends like mobile phones, etc.

Search

Never underestimate the importance of having a good search function on your blog. People might come across your blog and want to know what you wrote about tuning on your blog about BMWs. I recommend trying your blog’s search function once in a while to have an idea about what people are going to see when searching for certain expressions.

Of course, the search function must be fully integrated in the blog’s design and supported by the theme you choose. As you can see on my blog, Thesis offers a smooth integration facilitating a blog’s usability.

Which blog themes do you use? Have you considered using a commercial theme? Which other aspects are important at the moment of choosing a blog theme?

{ 0 comments }

10 thoughts why using twitter is highly beneficial

by Gert Mellak on September 8, 2009

Some time ago, I briefly explained the concept of twitter, the biggest, meanwhile pretty well-known microblogging service. Although I had my doubts at the beginning, I’m absolutely sure that spending some time every day using twitter greatly pays off on the long run. In the following post I’d like to briefly talk about 10 reasons why you should really get going and tweet regularly:

1. Get known online

No matter whether your main target audience currently comes from fields not related to the internet, in the future it will be more and more important for business people and their companies to be known on the web. While at the moment corporate blogs are still something hardly seen, in the future having a blog won’t be anything that especially attracts your potential clients. Twitter is a great way to gradually get known on the web, increase the amount of followers you have publishing useful content frequently.

2. Find people who share the same interests

In order to use the web’s full potential it’s crucial to find people sharing your interests. It’s only via communication among people sharing the same interests how you can get the word out and have others recommending your blog, twitter account or website and … ultimately, your business.

3. Strengthen your brand

Try to strenghen your brand wherever possible. If you’re a cook, tweet useful and intelligent content about cooking. If you’re running a woodshop, tweet about furniture and timber joints. If you’re a software developer, tweet relevant content for other software developers and people interested in your profession.

When briefly looking at your 10 recent tweets,
everybody should immediately know what your brand is all about!

Have a look at my twitter page – I guess it’s difficult not to notice what’s my profession … ;-)

4. Interact with your target audience

The internet is a place of interaction - maybe it appeared to be something rather static 10-15 years ago, but today the web can hardly get more dynamic. The web is a place where you have the unique opportunity to talk to your target audience on an easy and informal basis. Follow users among your target audience on twitter, and get tons of users following you – you will be surprised how easy it gets to contact with your audience and exchange highly useful information.

5. Share your thoughts

You have tons of ideas but nobody listens? Use twitter to share your thoughts with people interested in similar subjects as you are and discuss your ideas with them. Your followers will generously tell you whether your idea has real potential or whether you’d better think it alll over again.

6. Ask for help

In a situation where you really need an expert’s advice, have a look at your followers list and contact some of your followers directly via twitter or send a general tweet to all of your followers to see if someone can help you. Twitter users are usually really helpful and provide fellow users with lots of links and information.

7. Create a community

The other day I recommended one of my clients to start using twitter for their e-commerce website in order to create some kind of online community. Using twitter appropriately there is no need to install forums or community software on your servers – just gradually grow your online community using twitter and interacting with your target audience.

8. Promote your stuff

Once you have a decent number of followers on twitter you can promote some of your products, articles, tutorials etc. – just send a quick tweet including a link and if you’re lucky, some of your followers will re-tweet it to their followers, enlarging this way not only your target audience, but also the number of your followers.

9. Make friends … and stay in touch!

Twitter is not for online usage only – there are frequently events where people who know each other from twitter conversations meet in person and sometimes get friends in real life as well. Twitter is also a great way to maintain friendships exchanging thoughts or sending brief “hello, how are you” tweets, just to stay in touch!

10. Give it a try, twitter is free!

Using twitter is absolutely free, so in case you’re not sure whether twitter can really bring some benefits for your business, give it a try!

As you can see there are quite a few reasons why you should start using twitter in case you haven’t done so already … Can you think of any other aspects which speak in favour of twitter? What are you using twitter for?

{ 1 comment }

Why I’m in love with Online Marketing

by Gert Mellak on February 6, 2009

One of the downsides of traditional marketing and advertisement is, that the success of certain campaigns or events can hardly be measured. While you sometimes might be able to relate a sudden increase in sales with a recent tv ad or direct mailing, in general you will be unable to sort out which of your various campaigns over the year really did bring up results. Fortunately, on the web we don’t have these problems.

I have never done “offline marketing” because I have always been working online. The problems mentioned have therefore never been an issue for me. I could tell in a second which adsense campaigns bring most of my clients, and which partner sites contribute most to my access statistics.

Every single one of my clients has the necessary tools to see whether the campaigns I planned for them produce results or not, which practically does away with one of the greatest doubts clients use to have towards marketing measures.

Low budget

What’s also great online is that you don’t have to spend 500 euros to reach a few thousand people of your town among whom maybe 50 are interested in your product. As long as your target group frequently uses online search, you could get much more visibility and target interested users directly while spending only 5-10 euros.

Having in mind the low budget necessary for online campaigns, imagine how much your marketing potential explodes if you just spend a small part of your marketing budget in online campaigns!

Very fast

Another advantage of online marketing is the time it takes to launch a campaign. Since the necessary interfaces are already there, once the campaign’s concept is done it shouldn’t take too long to start the first campaigns. Compare this with the time it takes for professional designers to create “offline ads” ;-)

Targeting

I’m sure you have seen on blogs or web portals ads that very often contain content related to the article you are reading. This is due to aplications like AdSense, who analyze the text on a website and come up with related ads, so that users see ads they are likely to be interested in.

Great flexibility

Everybody makes mistakes. What’s good online is that mistakes will never cost you a fortune, since you will see right away whether a campaign does bring results or not. In case it doesn’t, it can be either optimized in terms of text, images, or location, or cancelled and substituted by another one on another site.

Ready, steady, go!

If you’re interested now, don’t hesitate and get in touch with an online marketing professional or a web consultant to get specific information on the online potential for your product or service.

{ 0 comments }

Get known on the Web

by Gert Mellak on January 26, 2009

Last month Maria, a Spanish friend of mine, asked me how she could start selling products on the web. She is working in the direct sales cosmetics sector, where her main focus lies on selling to people who further distribute her products. Apart from that she also frequently sells to end customers.

My friend’s business activity is usually on a rather personal level, which is why I recommended to start building up a personal reputation on the web. Until the day we talked she hadn’t made any efforts to get the word out there online, so I suggested it was high time to start off.

Get started

My idea was to start using her knowledge about natural cosmetics in order to create a blog as a basis of operations. On this blog she could present herself and frequently publish posts on natural cosmetics.This blog should be available under a personal domain name or even include the term cosmética and her name in order to do something for seo (search engine optimization) right from the beginning.

Get known

After having published quite a few informative and interesting posts on her blog I advised her to start searching for forums and blogs in her fields of interest, like forums on natural cosmetics, natural products, etc. and start to participate actively in discussions and making valueable contributions.

What’s great about this is that you can always leave a link or even a short text promoting your work or your blog in a footer below your message.

Get social

In order to further develop her reputation I recommended her to graduallz start using social media tools like xing, facebook and – if she had some time left – twitter. Already creating a profile on these sites can get you followers or “friends”.

Since natural cosmetics is something that might interest a lot of people, I thought trying to also promote her work with these tools could be a worthwile task.

Get in touch

After spending a few weeks on the tasks mentioned above, my friend would automatically get in touch with people interested in natural cosmetics. Once some online contacts have been established, further measures should be taken to intensify these contacts and try to gradually use them for business. Writing e-mails, chatting via skype or msn, or even meet for a coffee in case they didn’t live too far away could be an option.

Everything else I preferred to leave up to her – I’m not a salesperson.

What do you think of this strategy?

{ 0 comments }

Internet users going local

by Gert Mellak on January 24, 2009

The other day I was talking to a client who is a retailer in a small town of about 8000 citizens. He was telling me that he had stopped to spend money on his website because he had spent quite a lot of money 6 years ago, but didn’t really see any considerable results.

While we were having coffee I was trying to explain that in the last 6 years many things have changed on the web. Just the fact that a one-time inversion of a few years ago didn’t result in a huge success doesn’t mean that small stores can’t have success online today.

Since this topic seems to be an issue that needs clarifying, I will focus on explaining the web’s potential for local businesses in today’s post.

Let me ask you three questions in order to help you understand how you can appreciate the web’s true potential for your local businesses:

1. Are your clients online?

First and foremost you have to know how many of your clients are online frequently. There still might be a certain niche business that only sells to grandmothers, but you can be quite sure that most of your clients do have direct access to the Internet, or at least know someone who can find information for them online within seconds.

I remember my family asking me to search for handymen near my home town, or Italian restaurants in Graz (Austria) at a time when they hadn’t already been familiar with the Internet. Luckily, now it’s no problem for anybody of them to find their stuff on their own ;-)

It’s important to see the fact that most of your potential clients have direct or indirect access to the Internet, and most of them will know how to search something in Google – your business, for example.

2. What’s your business’ Community Potential?

“Online Communities” or “Social media” are probably two of the emerging trends coming up in the last years. I like to think of an online community as a group of people interested in the same subject, that use certain tools to get in touch with each other, interchange photos, videos, links and messages. 

From a business related point of view, the idea of communities is to gather potential customers around your business and your main fields of competence. Just think of tuning shops trying to form a community with car freaks, or model aircraft pilots getting together on a model plane retailer’s website.

There are certain businesses that are more likely to be successful with building up an informal, community-based relationship with their potential clients than others. While a dentist should definitely have a website to be found on the web, I guess it’s quite unlikely that patients or “potential patients” are keen on getting in touch with each other talking about their inlays.

3. Are you ready to give it a true chance?

Tons of people thought like my client some years ago. They thought that having a website with two photos and publishing the company’s address and opening times would be enough to get people coming in – well, it definitely was, 10 or 15 years ago.

Today, things don’t work like this any longer. Nowadays, in order to have success on the web one must be willing to spend a certain time and budget on their online marketing strategies. The more complex the Internet gets, the higher the demand for professional help with your Internet related stuff.

When I started doing business online, almost everybody knew a teenager who could create a website with some free software. Now, having a presentable website still is of high importance, but the website has become just one single part of a fast-growing complex network of online marketing tools.

While locally operating companies very often spend huge amounts of money on flyers and newspaper ads, very few of them consider the Internet as a real option to get the word out there. That’s a shame, because after doing an online marketing campaign for you, I could tell you exactly what was the outcome. With your latest flyer campaign, in contrast, you will hardly have a chance to know anything about its results.

Let’s have some Pizza!

I’ve written this post because I would like more local businesses to use the Internet’s true potential. On most Google websites after searching for “pizza” you will get an input box asking you for your zip code. Why? Because Google knows that if you’re looking for pizza, you most probably want to find an Italian restaurant near the place where you live. 

Today, users even sometimes use the Internet to see if their neighbours have got a hidden swimming pool behind the fence in their garden – using the web to find local restaurants, clubs, car studios or hairdressers is something nearly everybody knows how to do, and almost everybody does.

Your neighbours are online, and this is why your business needs to be there as well.

What do you think about the web’s potential on local markets?

{ 0 comments }

What the heck is twitter?

by Gert Mellak on January 18, 2009

Have you heard of twitter? Yes, although for many internet users twitter has become part of their life, I still dare to ask because I know that there are still millions of internet users who do not have the slightest idea.

So what is twitter?

Basically …

… I’d say twitter is just another tool to communicate with other people. You can “follow” other people and this way the messages they write will show up on your home page and their profile will be added to your list of “tweeters”. By using @ in your messages you can direct messages to another tweeter. For example, writing @gertmellak hi gert would send the message “hi gert” to my twitter account @gertmellak. Every message sent this way will show up on your twitter home page. In case you want to contact a tweeter who is following you directly, you can send them direct messages.

In order to start using twitter, you should at least be familiar with the usage of the following commands:

  • DM – to send a direct message to a tweeter
  • @<username> responds to a user (e. g. @gertmellak hi gert)
  • RT – retweet (forward a tweet of another tweeter)

Technically …

… twitter is a microblogging platform and consists of a text field where twitter users (tweeters) can write their messages (tweets), a “follow” button (you will see the messages of people you’re following on your home page on twitter), and the home page where your messages and the messages of people you’re following will show up.

Theoretically …

… when writing tweets you are answering the question “What are you doing?” – maybe therefore there are people really tweeting about when they’re going for coffee or walking the dog. It’s like opening your window at home and screaming “I’m going to have coffee now”, so that your neighbours know about it.

Practically …

… twitter is what you make of it. I’ve seen fellows like @chrisbrogan live-tweeting at press conferences using twitter as some sort of “twournalist” (twitter journalist), others use it as a notebook to have links they find interesting available on the web.There is even a group of people using twitter to lose weight tweeting everything they eat and this way manage to eat less things that are unhealthy.

It’s all about the community

I believe that the main purpose of twitter is to allow you to find people interested in the same things you are – almost instantly, following them and getting in touch. You would like to get in touch with people interested in football? Search for “football” on search.twitter.com and you will find lots of tweeters who frequently talk about it. Follow them and you will be able to start growing your community almost instantly.

Update:

Just in case you’re getting interested and want to know more about twitter now, have a look at the Twitter Dummy Guide written by @duoblogger.

{ 9 comments }

10 Requirements for modern Newsletter Systems

by Gert Mellak on January 16, 2009

I’ve done some research recently and tested different newsletter systems in order to check for alternative newsletter solutions to my favourite one,  AWeber.

Before starting to test various different platforms this afternoon , I created the following list of my 10 basic requirements I expect to have covered by any professional newsletter platform:

1. Whitelisting / Positive listing

There are numerous newsletter systems available on the web. In order to do a first preselection, I usually look for information on whether the system has active whitelisting or positive listing. This means that the sending server’s ip is recognized as a trusted server, which makes it less likely that your newsletter might end up as spam.

2. Write newsletters in html and text version

While until a few years ago text-only newsletters were completely acceptable, nowadays newsletters must be sent as html. However, many client applications, especially web mail clients, do not show the html version of your newsletter right away and the user must do one or two clicks in order to view it properly.

Since very often users aren’t used to that, many newsletters will never be read. Adding a plain-text version of your newsletter can be very helpful since it allows you to also send the basic information along with the links as plain text, so that mail clients not capable of showing the html version can first show the text only version.

3. Intuitive user interface

Let’s face it: sending a newsletter is an additional task that – if done properly – already requires a lot of time and effort. There is no need to any further complicate the task by providing hundreds of different options – I’m in favour of straight simple user interfaces able to lead the user through the necessary tasks step by step. It’s great to have an additional admin mode for advanced settings, but for the average user I need a simple interface.

4. Planning newsletters

When using newsletters professionally, they’re usually not written right before sending them – especially for holidays or special events you might plan several e-mail campaigns a long time ahead. A professional newsletter system therefore should let you plan the date and time when you want to have your newsletters sent.

5. Import and Export contact lists

Although you might have found your favourite newsletter solution, keep in mind that tomorrow another one might come up that suits you even more. Importing and exporting contact lists (also for backup purposes) should therefore be one of the standard features of every mailing application (and it is, in fact, even available in free (open source) applications)

6. Planning follow-up e-mails

One of the reasons why I really love AWeber is the possibility of planning follow-up e-mails. This means that if you register for my newsletter today, I can plan ahead that 2 days after your initial subscription you will receive e-mail X, 15 days after subscribing you’ll be sent e-mail Y, and 2 months later e-mail Z, and so on.

This not only guarantees that your subscribers are reminded regularly of your website automatically with a one-time-effort of writing the follow-up e-mails, but also means that your follow-up e-mails you write today will still get you visits month and in theory years ahead.

Just make sure these follow-up e-mails contain what I like to call “sustainable information” – tips and advice that will still come in handy in two years.

7. Click rates

It’s not realistic to expect that the first newsletter you send will already create perfect results. Like with every application, it takes some time until you know which type of links, link texts, images, etc. really attract your newsletter’s target audience.

In order to evaluate, for example, which links in your e-mail get most of the clicks, professional solutions offer click-tracking where the url of your link is redirected and so clicks can be counted and later checked in the statistics. This way you might find out that the text “Buy now“  next to a product gets much more clicks than “Visit our web store to buy this product“.

8. Target groups

Users are different – even users belonging to the same target group. For this reason, although you might have one general mailing list for general broadcasts, it’s convenient to also use more specialized lists and let people opt for the lists they’re interested in.

This way, you could send out product offers on cars to the “average” subscriber, but information on trucks only to those users subscribed to the “trucks” list.

9. High deliverability

If your e-mails aren’t delivered, people won’t get them – sounds logical, but many companies offering newsletter services are still not concentrating their efforts on deliverability. AWeber is one of the companies that really focuses on this issue and therefore has a very high deliverability rate.

10. Newsletter Web Analytics

I don’t like the thought of spending time regularly on things I cannot evaluate afterwards, which is why I would never use a newsletter system that doesn’t tell me how many of my newsletter recipients actually open the newsletters.

You should always be aware of the fact that opening rates only include html newsletters, since at the moment there is no other technical solution than integrating an image tag which, at loading the transparent image, handles the tracking.

But apart from opening statistics there are other important figures, for example, related to the signup forms you’re using, or your recipients’ geographic location. You should also get detailed statistics about how many new subscribes you have each day and how many decide to unsubscribe, and much more. The statistics tool is the most decisive tool when it comes to evaluating whether your efforts pay off or not.

After having spend an entire afternoon testing and comparing different newsletter systems, at least for English newsletters I’ll stick to AWeber.

If you would like to see AWeber in action, sign up for my personal newsletter.

{ 4 comments }