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Building high quality email subcription lists

11 June, 2012

Building a subscribers list is something that takes a lot of time and focus. Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels and 77% of online consumers prefer email over any other channel for recieving promotional material. Instead of buying lists, you can build your list organically and get high quality leads interested in your product – This means better traffic and increased sales.

In March 2010, Hurtigruten.com sent out a newsletter to 14 subscribers – To deliver on a promise for those who signed up for monthly promotional emails. Today, the list has grown to a lot more but by building the list and keeping it personal we have seen our email marketing open rates and click-through rates improve by as much as 400%.

Make it easy for visitors to sign up

Up until 2011, Hurtigruten was much more focused on local markets so in in 2010, Hurtigruten.com launched a newsletter sign up page in a bid to build up its own subscriber list.

We kept the sign up process very simple and only requested information that would improve the email experience for our subscribers such as email address and interests (Norway, explorer, special offers).

Emphasize why users should sign up to your newsletter
Since launching the webform we have continually tested copy and email fields as we look to make it easy to subscribe. One of the most recent improvements we made to the page was to emphasize the benefits of signing up, which lead to a huge increase in sign ups and we now have a 30% conversion rate on the page. Here is what you can expect when signing up to receive monthly newsletters:

  • Promotions and discounts for early booking offers
  • No invoicing fee (when booking online)
  • Last minute deals for short distance departures
  • Be the first to know about brochure and catalogue launches
  • Invitations to Hurtigruten events and travel fairs

Highlighting the benefits for the user has been very successful at Hutigruten as we saw initiated orders increase by 193%. In addition to improving copy, we also moved the page placement of the sign up form further into the site, a move that goes against best practice for e-commerce – Yet, by doing this we found the number of visitors to the page increased by 75%:

Web traffic

Send personalized real time welcome emails to subscribers

After launching our sign up form, we quickly found users signing up to receive emails. Our „thank you“ page was not ideal so in an attempt to improve the experience, I sent a personal thank you email to each subscriber. Below is a copy of the email sent from my Hurtigruten email address:

Remarketing

The email thanks the user for subscribing a d informs them how often they will receive promotional emails from Hurtigruten. The email also includes links to our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

We have improved the copy within the email as well as the signup page. The personalized newsletter now contains a link to the exclusive online excursion brochure, which is not available in print format. We’ll also be adding links to our Pinterest page and online booking system.

The results for Hurtigruten’s email marketing activity

According the MailChimp’s industry benchmark report, the average open rate in the travel industry is 14% and click-through rate is 2.7%. The results of building an organic list froms scratch have been staggering as Hurtigruten.com continually see open rates of 45% and click-through rates of 18%. And over the course of two years, we have seen less than 15 people unsubscribe from our list!

One on one marketing is here to stay and as the web becomes more personal, building organic lists is a great opportunity to build relationships and increase sales.

Have you seen success from building your organic lists? Is there anything I have missed that is a key element in increase subscription rate? Comments and suggestions are welcome below.

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Inbound marketing in a post-penguin world

31 May, 2012

Do the words over-optimization, link-warnings, penguin and panda make you feel nautious? During the past 12 months, have you been scrambling around after each Google update as you try to ensure your sites do not become de-indexed or fall off the first page SERPs (also known as Search Engine Results Page)? If so, you are not on your own as Google has severely stepped up its algorithms to put the user first, and our SEO, well… far behind.

Since February 2011, Google has been on the offensive and penalizing sites that overly-optimize to rank on the first page of the SERPs. Although not entirely due to the NY Times article that exposed JCPenney, the focus on better content for the user has increased since the article was published. What JCPenney did was purchase thousands of low quality links that helped them rank high in SERPs for general terms and thus, increased both traffic and sales. These tactics provided a short-term impact for sites to rank high in Google – You can read the list of changes during the last 12 months (courtesy of SEOmoz).

Google’s update and SEO tricks that no longer work

In short, SEO’s have had to deal with a total of 17 updates in the last year. However, these updates have not only affected black-hat SEO tactics but on the opposite end of the scale, as the updates also penalize extensive white-hat SEO – Meaning SEO’s have had to change the way we may work. Here is an outline of what has been affected with the updates and what activity will be penalized by Google:

  • Article marketing
  • Over optimization and keyword stuffing
  • Below the fold content/high bounce rates
  • Link spam/ link farms
  • Excessive exact match anchor text
  • Use of blog and content networks

Any attempts of SEO spam and to cheat the Google algorithms will be penalized. Hurtigruten has been slow to adopt a global SEO strategy and so far, we have been fortunate to not be affected by the Google updates. However, this is not an anti-black hat or pro-white hat post and the reason why we have not been affected by the Panda/ Penguin updates is largely due to pure luck!

An area that has impacted Hurtigruten more than we had anticipated was the update in October 2011  to make search more secure. Although the impact was not immediate, we have seen an increase in (not provided) keywords in Google Analytics since the Venice update.

Venice keyword update

The update has affected more than 35,000 visits, which is 5% of total search traffic. However, it’s safe to assume that the traffic came from brand related search terms as the top 15 keywords in 2011 were all brand related.

Avoid the Google penalty and focus on user experience

Many of the sites that have been hit are subject to black hat tactics. If you have always maintained a long-term vision for your SEO, then chances are your sites have been largely unaffected. Inbound marketing now has senior management focus at Hurtigruten. Some of the ways to avoid being hit by Google are as follows:

Keep your content fresh

Combine SEO with social

Improve the user experience

  • Deep linking the top landing pages and improving navigation to reduce bounce rates
  • Get the basics right with page titles, meta descriptions and headers

Hurtigruten have a long way to go if we want to compete with the best cruises in the world in the SERPs. We now have a healthy view on SEO and are in the process of an SEO audit. Being in the travel industry, we are always going to be content rich and as Google continues to focus on the user experience, this may give us a slight advantage. However, as Google continues to update it’s algorithyms (including the new knowledge graph), I’m not sure how long this slight advantage will last.

How have your sites reacted since the launch of Panda in 2011? What are you working on to avoid being penalised by Google? Comments and suggestions are welcome below.

Learning points from leading Facebook-pages

21 May, 2012
by

Facebook went public last week and there is alot of hype around the social utility company. At the same time companies are discovering how they can use Facebook to engage customers and increase sales!

Alot of people see Facebook as an ad free service where you can communicate with friends and family! Going forward, Facebook needs to find a balance between being a useful service to users and to make money for investors. Google has managed to do this. It remains to see if Facebook can do the same!

Background: The Norwegian case

The Retail chain Enklere Liv has during the last eight months acquired more than 100,000 fans on Facebook. In September 2011, they had approx. 1700 fans and in May 2012 they passed 100,000 fans combined in Norway and Sweden . This places Enklere Liv on the top 25 list of brands on Facebook in Norway .

When you have 100,000 fans, you quickly discover that Facebook is becoming a key marketing channel. Each post on Facebook means sales. Small adjustments can have an enormous impact on response rates. The experience with the retail chain made me interested in learning more about what companies should post on Facebook to engage fans!

Research & Conclusions

To avoid having to reinvent the wheel, I found research on the topic. Momentus Media has studied the 20,000 leading Facebook pages. Here is a summary of their “discoveries”

  1. When should you publish on Facebook?
    Short answer: Weekends and off-peak times provide the highest engagement rates
  2. How often should you publish on Facebook?
    Short answer: Publish as often as you want! (According to Facebook, each status update is only seen by approx. 16% of your fans).
  3. What kind of content engages the most?
    Short answer: Pictures engage most.
  4. Should I actively ask fans to do something (like, comment, share)?
    Short answer: YES! Asking people to like a post increases the engagement level by 216%
  5. Should I ask questions to my fans?
    Short answer: Questions do not increase the engagement levels, but it increases the number of comments.
  6. How long should my status updates be?
    Short answer: Long messages generate more engagement than short status updates.
  7. How long does  a status update last in Facebook feed?
    Short answer: 50% of clicks occur within 1 hour. 90% occurs within nine hours

Click “like” below and tell us your best tips regarding status updates on Facebook?

 

This is a guest post by Karl Philip Lund. KP works with Enklere Liv.

How to avoid losing traffic when moving to a new domain

15 May, 2012

I was fortunate enough to work with a website earlier this year that was in the process of moving to a new domain and the complexities involved. If you are about to rebrand or are thinking of moving to a new site at some point later this year, the following best describes how to move domain and minimize traffic loss during the process.

1. Upload a „coming soon“ page for the new domain
By uploading a page on your new domain with relevant keywords weeks before you officially move, you allow Google to crawl and index the site – You’re telling search engines that your new site is a real site and not just a parked site. This should usually be completed 6-8 weeks prior to the launch.

2- Map website with current URLs on old site and new site
One easy-to-manage process that allows you to track each page is to use a simple spreadsheet that shows all the old page URLs in one column and the corresponding new page URLs in a second column. Every page on your old site should have a corresponding new page on your new site and you can smoothen the process by taking control over the correlation process, instead of the resuting 404 errors.

3. Uploading new pages to your new site
The next step is to upload pages, images and files to your new site. Any changes in structure, folders and paths should be noted in the mapping of URL spreadsheet (Step 2).

4. Redirecting your old site to your new site
Once the content has been uploaded from your old site to your new site, we will need to place 301 redirects at page level, meaning that each page on your old site should be redirected to the URL of the new page on your new site. For example, myoldsite.com/folder to mynewsite.com/folder.

Start with part of the site first with a 301 redirect (best to use low traffic content) so you can review if the move went as planned. If not, then you will need to pause the move and find out what went wrong. 301 redirects are used as they pass on 90-95% of pagerank, values and links.

5.  “Change Address” in Google Webmaster Tools and XML Sitemaps
After registering your new site in Google Webmaster Tools, you will need specify the change at site level under “change of address”. This way, you are explicitly telling Google that the transition has taken place for the entire site and not just for specific pages. In addition, new XML sitemaps will be need to be submitted. XML-sitemaps.com is a great tool for doing so.

6. Search Marketing Campaigns
Google Adwords will play an important role during the rebrand and support the transition to help minimize search traffic loss. When you move your new site might not entirely be indexed, meaning high ranking keywords may drop below the first page. Google Adwords is the fastest and most reliable method of being visible for keywords that may take longer to re-rank. Ensure you allocate a budget pre-rebranding move to cover the costs.

7. Inbound linking to your old site
Review the most important links (80% of traffic) using Google Analytics and Google webmaster tools and ask webmasters to point to your new site. These can be found under Traffic Sources and Referral in Google Analyitcs, and Inbound Links in Google Webmaster Tools.  Once your new site has content, use a tool such as Xenu to make sure you don’t have any broken links.

In addition, you can contact directories that your old site was submitted to and update inbound links. However, do make sure these directories have not been any part of the recent Google updates. And although not as common practice as they once used to be, it might be worth submitting your new site to Yahoo, Business.com and DMOZ.

8. Notify your customer base
At least one-two weeks before the rebrand, you should notify customers and vendors through the website, email marketing and automated welcome emails. This allows enough time for customers to understand the move, and perhaps why the move is necessary. Being transparent is a great way to increase customer loyalty.

9. Post- rebranding your new site
Matt Cutts (of Google) suggests waiting until both Googlebot and your web visitors have found the new site before turning off your old site (if you turn it off at all). This process can take up to 6 months and it highly recommended to revisit Google Webmaster Tools after 180 days to re-confirm the change of address.

Changing domain is among the biggest updates you can do to a website. You will need to ensure thorough testing is done at each level and if you have any concerns, pause the move and analyze the issues. It’s better to pause and identify these issues than risk going live and then see your traffic disappear from search.

Have you moved to a new domain lately? Is there anything I may have missed that you found was an important step in the process? Suggestions are welome in the comments section below.

Boost your AdWords click-through rates and increase web traffic

7 May, 2012

There comes a time when each Google AdWords campaign needs a boost in click-through rate (CTR). An improved click-through rate will not only increase traffic but also results in improved quality scores and a higher ad ranking. In the last 90 days, Hurtigruten’s click through rate has increased by more than 700%, we are now paying 5 NOK less per click and the search conversion rate has increased by 160%.

Here are three immediate changes you can apply to your campaign to improve your click-through rate.

Sitelink extensions

Sitelinks apply to ads within the top three positions in Google. They support the main ad and link with a series of 3,4 or 6 text links. These links can differ from your main landing page and can provide additional benefits or navigation into your site.

Ensure sitelinks are an integral part of your search marketing efforts. Sitelinks will attract more clicks for your campaign and each text link should have different link to its own unique landing page. When using site links, the description can compliment your ad or be used to cross-sell offers. The key is to be as creative as possible within 35 characters or less.

An example of a Hurtigruten ad with site links

Hurtigruten Ad with site links

To add sitelinks, click on the Ad Extensions tab in your Ad campaigns and click „new extension“.

Descriptive Display URLs

When creating ads, the display URL entered is usually your root domain. Ie www.hurtigruten.com. With 35 characters, you are free to experiment by varying the display URL. Perry Marshall, one of the worlds leading search marketing experts, recommends dropping the www. prefix. This will most llikely leave you with approximately 20 characters to be creative with. Here are sonme examples Hurtigruten currently use in ads.

  • Hurtigruten.com/DailyDeals
  • Summer.Hurtigruten.com
  • Special-Offers.Hurtigruten.com

Once your headline has grabbed the searchers attention, use of a great descriptin and supportive display URL will get the user to click.

Dynamic Keyword Insertion

Dynamic keyword insertion is a little-know function in Google AdWords that automatically inserts the searchers keyword into the sponsored ad. It’s easy to use, but you need to understand what you are getting before you use this feature. Dynamic keyword insertion can become very embarrassing if you get it wrong – One of the worlds largetst auctions sites are famous for dynamic keyword misteps.

An example of incorrect use of DKI

eBay DKI

An example of correct use of DKI

Hurtigruten DKI

If a searcher types in „Norway Sailings“, the headline will replace {KeyWord:Hurtigruten}with „Norway Sailings“. But if a searcher types in a phrase that is not in your keyword list, „Hurtigruten“ would display instead. By using dynamic keyword insertion, you can save significant time and increase the relevance of your ad.

Don’t forget that conversion is still your key metric

If you need to increase your click-through rates, following the above will help you get started and increase your PPC traffic. However, always be sure to test for yourself and remember, an increase in click-through rate does not always mean an increase in sales.

Do you have any tips to increase your AdWords click-through rate? Share your suggestions in the comments below

Booking engine update April 2012

17 April, 2012

During the winter of 2011/12, the focus for Hurtigruten was to improve the back-end reservation systems. This meant front end development was limited and our last improvement announcement was in October 2011. However, now that the back-end systems are launched and it is possible to book 2013 online, a new release for our online booking engine will go live tomorrow (18.04.2012). The focus for tomorrows release is increased functionality for the 2013 season and improved usability to make it easy to buy.

Fixes set for today’s release (B2X version 3.1) are as follows;

  • Options for Cabin selection
  • Booking of Excursions for 2013
  • User-friendly error messages
  • Retrieve/ Find booking in B2B
  • Missing text translations for France and Germany
  • Usability/ navigational improvements in B2C
  • Bug fixes since the launch of the new back-end system (55 fixes!)
  • Launch of 2013 sailings in Germany for booking online

The next release is scheduled for early May and during the next three months, Hurtigruten will adopt a more aggressive roll out plan as we look to catch up on lost time due to the back-end development. New features in the pipeline consist of explorer tours, ability to update fixed reservations and the booking of arrival/ departure packages online.

Is there anything we missed in the latest release that would improve your booking experience? Share your suggestions in the comments below

Is email marketing still relevant in a world full of social networks?

10 April, 2012

According to the latest social media statistics, Twitter now has more than 300 million users and Facebook is close to reaching one billion active accounts. They have both exploded onto the scene, and if you combine Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest into this channel mix, it’s hard to imagine that email marketing will remain the primary source of customer communication in the coming years.

With Facebook being the world’s largest social network, this blog will address the future of email marketing and why social media is becoming more important.

Email’s reputation continues to fall

According to a July 2010 report by marketingSherpa.com, the average open rate of emails in the US dropped from 14% in 2007 to 11.2% in 2009. The fall in reputation is mainly due to huge amounts of spam, unwanted newsletters and promotions.  In fact, 69% of consumers unsubscribe to a mailing list due to over-communicating and 56% due to irrelevant content.

Marketing email by day

Marketing email by day
Consumers can expect to receive promotional material from brands during the weekdays. On average, US Internet users engage with 11.8 brands via email. The following data provides a deeper insight of email usage:

  • 21% of email recipients report email as Spam, even if they know it isn’t
  • 43% of email recipients click the Spam button based on the email “from” name or email address
  • 69% of email recipients report email as Spam based solely on the subject line
  • 30% of subscribers change email addresses annually
  • Subscribers below age 25 prefer SMS to email

Better value per facebook fan

Leading experts have advised that email marketing is still a more dominant force than social media but as we move towards a more social online experience, we care able to draw our own conclusion. The following data supports the increasing value in Facebook fans:

And while unwanted newsletters are often refered to as „spam“, Facebook fans will often „Like“ a brand’s Facebook page and volunteer to receive messages directly.

Online marketing strategies often begin by identifying the audience. In order to be successful, marketers need to focus on where their audience is and the world’s audience is now in social networks.

Facebook has a wider reach and revenue is 240% higher

In December 2009, Hurtigruten launched a newsletter sign up page on http://www.hurtigruten.com. As of April 4th, 2012 the number of subscribers has grown to 1421, an average of 1.6 new signups per day. With an average open rate of 45%, we are reaching an audience of approximately 700 people per month.

The Hurtigrtuen ASA Facebook fan page has 22,000+ fans. According to Business Insider, 16% of Facebook fans will see a Hurtigruten post – That’s an audience of 3520 , per day.

Daily referal traffic to the Hurtigruten web for Q1 2012

Daily referal traffic to the Hurtigruten web for Q1 2012

The referal traffic from Facebook was 238% higher than traffic sent from email marketing. The incremental sales value in 2012 from Facebook compared with email marketing is approx. 2.2 million NOK. Including blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest, the social media sales value is approx 3 million NOK.

For many of online marketers, we are able to remember declaring snail mail dead. Email is the past, Facebook and Instant Messaging are the future, and the future is now.

Is email marketing officialy dead? Are you investing more time in social media? Share your suggestions in the comments below or join the discussions on LinkedIn.

References and sources