Marketing Turnaround - 2017

Why You Still Need a Website and a Newsletter

By Gail Z. Martin

Your website is your permanent home on the internet. As wonderful as it is to have a strong presence on social media sites and as gratifying as it might be to have thousands of friends and followers on Facebook and Twitter, your website is your homestead on the electronic frontier.

Likewise, your newsletter subscriber list is an asset you own, unlike the friends and followers you amass on social media platforms. If Facebook or Twitter shut down tomorrow, you would have no way to reconnect with the people who have followed and liked you. But your permission-based opt-in email list is one of your most valuable business assets.

Websites in a Social Media World

I talked earlier about the choice between having a traditional HTML-based website that requires expert help to update and having a Wordpress-based blog site that you can largely update yourself. That's an important choice, but equally important is what you make of your own little corner of the internet with the content you share.

You may or may not sell products and services from your website, but you most definitely are selling 'you'. Your website should be the nexus of your brand, a place that builds, reinforces and showcases your credibility, and a one-stop display of all you offer. If someone has heard your name and wants to know who you are, what you do and what's so special about you, your website should answer those questions and more in a compelling manner.

First things first. Choose the URL for your site carefully. While options have broadened for the extension at the end of your URL (.com, .biz, .tv, .net), most people ae used to typing in .com by default, so if you chose something else, you're likely to get some lost traffic and confusion. Try to buy the URL closest to your own name as well as the name of your company. That's easy if you've got an unusual name, and harder if you don't, but even if you have to use a middle initial, you really want to own your name online. (The same is true for you Twitter handle and other online sites, even if you don't intend to be active right away. Lock up your name before someone else grabs it.)

You can own multiple URLs and have them redirect to the same site. So you can have a main URL that is your name, plus URLs for your products, company, brand, event, etc. Domain names are relatively cheap, so it's better to own ones that apply to your current and future products than put off securing them only to find someone else has taken ones you want.

Landing page is the first page people see when they come to your site when they follow or type in ''. Make it conversational and compelling. Video is great, because it's like a warm welcome to your online home. Offer a gift for signing up for your e-newsletter. Make it clear what your brand is and what outcome you provide. Identify your target audience. Make it easy for people to realize they're in the right place.

Two important but underrated pages for your site are your 'About Me' page and your 'Contact Me' page. Your About Me page should be a quick recap of the experience, education, and achievements that prove your credibility, served up in a concise, conversational style. Don't make people search to find verification of your expert status. Your Contact Me page should give an email address, phone number and social media links to help people connect with you. I'm leery of just having an email form for people to fill out. Many people balk at those form-emails, and if your site isn't working well for some reason, you could be missing out on leads. If you provide an email address, even as an alternate, people who really want to reach you have a way to do so.

Group your pages to make content easy to find. If you serve multiple audiences, group the related products and services by audience to direct users to the right set of items. Look for natural groupings such as 'events', 'products', 'coaching services', 'books', etc. If you are selling from your website, that entails a whole different level of expertise than we can delve into here, so be sure to work with a web design professional who is experienced with ecommerce.

Likewise, 'squeeze' pages (direct sales pages designed to provoke an emotional response and build tension culminating in a sale) are also a specialized art. A growing number of 'squeeze page generator' software packages are available that help you create and customize templates from proven squeeze page designs. Some programs even work with Wordpress.

Your Newsletter List is Gold

There's a saying in the online world: “Your list is your retirement." Meaning that your opt-in, permission-based mailing list is an asset from which you can generate lifelong earnings if built well and handled correctly.

While you own your URL, even websites age and need to be replaced. But your mailing list is one thing which is 100% your own. Building a list comes down to two key elements: Having an attractive incentive and having a good email program.

An incentive is what gets people to hand over their email address and give you permission to remain in touch with them. Just collecting email addresses isn't enough; in fact, doing that without express permission to remain in contact can lead to hefty fines and big legal trouble. The CAN SPAM Act is a law attempting to cut down on spam email, and it requires that a user give permission before being added to a mailing list. (The Canadian and European laws about email are even more stringent about privacy than U.S. law, so if you do business there, make sure you know the rules.)

How do you get permission? You tell people up front what they're agreeing to when they fill out an email form. So whether you're offering a freebie, enrolling them in a program, signing them up for an event or having them respond to a poll or drop their card in a fishbowl for a contest, make sure you clearly say that their email address will be added to your mailing list, but they can always unsubscribe at a later date. The 'unsubscribe' language is important, because it's illegal to add someone and not make it possible for them to leave the list. Don't play games with the disclaimer. Make it very clear that to get what they want, they are agreeing to give you what you want.

Next up is a good email program. There are plenty to choose from: AWeber, MailChimp, Constant Contact. Programs vary in cost and services, but at the least good programs provide templates to make it easy to create a professional-looking newsletter, subscriber lists to manage your contacts, and metrics to measure effectiveness. You do not want to send out a newsletter to a slew of names typed into your Outlook email. Not only is that unprofessional, it violates privacy laws and it can get you kicked off your internet hosting servers.

If you want to go a step further, use an additional program like ConvertKit to create a sales funnel with autoresponders to make it easy to reward subscribers. 'Autoresponders' are a sequence of pre-programmed emails that provide content to recipients over a set period of time. They're a set-it-and-forget-it way to offer something like a free download of a book or article in exchange for subscribing, and then follow up over the next few weeks with additional downloadable 'thank you' gifts to rapidly build the like-know-trust element. You can use a program like ConvertKit to provide fulfillment and then export the subscriber email addresses periodically and upload them to your main mailing program.

Make it easy for people to join your newsletter. Have a sign-up on every page of your website, on your Facebook page, on your blog. Use your event registration and event prize drawings to add to your list (with proper clear notice). Use gamification to make it fun. Use Rafflecopter to run contests that collect new email names for your list. Do random drawings from new and long-time subscribers for prizes. Run polls on social media and do a random drawing from those who answer and provide an email address.

Use your newsletter to give your readers useful content. That can mean repurposing articles or blog posts on your expert topics, sharing excerpts from your speeches or books, or original musings designed to be of value to your audience. Tell them about upcoming events you're attending, share new products or services, include new testimonials and event photos. Don't be afraid to share the spotlight. Add interest and value by highlighting news about colleagues that might be valuable to your readership. Generosity always pays dividends.

Consider cross-promoting with colleagues who offer products/services that complement but do not compete with your own. Host them for a guest article in your newsletter, and ask them to return the favor. You'll gain exposure to their list, and if your guest post includes an incentive for readers to subscribe to your newsletter, you might pick up some new people. Have a regular section in your newsletter where you give a shout-out to new products/books/programs, and let the people you've highlighted know about it. One good turn deserves another!

Here's where you use the power of the social media echo chamber. Post a link to your newest newsletter edition on Facebook and Twitter, just like you do with your blog posts, and encourage your friends/followers to subscribe. Have links in your newsletter to your blog, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, and encourage subscribers to friend, like, and follow you. Separately, each venue is likely to miss some potential readers. Using them to echo each other, you're much more likely to reach a wider audience.

Excerpted from The Essential Social Media Handbook: A New Roadmap for Maximizing Your Brand, Influence, and Credibility.