Enjoy today’s guest post from David Mihm.
Thanks to John’s generous promotion of my content over the years, many of you probably know I’ve spent most of my career in search engine optimization.
Although many of my colleagues in the SEO world were surprised when I transitioned into the adjacent world of email marketing a year ago and launched Tidings, I hope you’ll understand why after reading this column.
For a variety of reasons, some of which I’ll detail at the end of this post, I see SEO as an increasingly difficult proposition for both small business owners and agencies serving them. Meanwhile, small business owners consistently rate email marketing as one of the top three performing channels, and unlike SEO, it’s not a black box and isn’t subject to algorithmic fluctuations.
I‘d never really paid much attention to it since I didn’t offer it as a service in my consulting days, nor does my previous employer (Moz) offer it as a product. But from first-hand experience, I can tell you that neither of those is a good reason to ignore its effectiveness!
My own experience sending a newsletter has been eye-opening, and while social media garners most of the mainstream headlines these days, email remains as powerful as ever, and it’s well-positioned to be an effective offering into the foreseeable future.
Here’s just a sampling of the many reasons I’m bullish on email.
Minimal Hard Costs
We all love low-cost, high-value service offerings. Costs don’t get any lower than free, which, conveniently, is exactly the monthly price of a number of email service providers.
Mailchimp, MailerLite and SendinBlue offer free plans, and many other providers charge under $10/month, depending on your number of subscribers.
The minimal hard costs of email are a big contributing factor to its high margin as a service offering.
Minimal Technical Costs
Email has four main technical prongs: capturing email addresses, managing lists and campaigns, “designing” your campaign, and delivering your campaign–all of which are usually included in your Email Service Provider plan.
CANSPAM-compliant address capture and list management are probably the two biggest reasons to use an ESP in the first place.
Address acquisition products like Privy and MailMunch make it incredibly easy to tie your website, landing pages, and social campaigns directly to your email lists at your ESP. The management interface provided by most ESPs is more than adequate. And all major ESPs place a premium on deliverability.
Campaign “design” is potentially the most technical aspect of the bunch. (As an aside, a personal pet peeve is the industry’s use of the verb “design” in conjunction with “campaign.” I see so many businesses of all sizes getting hung up on a campaign’s design and not focusing enough on its content, which is what really drives campaign success. But I digress.)
Given that more than 2/3 of email gets opened on phones, using a responsive email template in your campaigns is essential, and I don’t mean to downplay the technical difficulty behind creating that template. It’s incredibly challenging to account for dozens of widely-used but outmoded email clients like Microsoft Outlook. And there are a range of new dynamic and interactive technologies that larger brands are using to great effect.
Generally speaking, however, each major ESP offers at least one effective, responsive template (including ours at Tidings), so it’s another zero or near-nil cost.
Minimal Time Costs
Email is also relatively cheap in terms of time cost. Unlike social media where daily or even hourly presence performs best, email allows you to duck in and duck out as you have time.
For most small businesses, a weekly or even monthly newsletter helps you stay top of mind with your customers and drive engagement with events happening around your business or important topics in your industry.
As simple as that sounds, sending a newsletter is intimidating for a lot of businesses! We surveyed 300 U.S. business owners last fall and found that 50% of small business owners aren’t yet sending one, and for the ones that are, 63% of them spend more than an hour to do so.
While the complexity of the ESP campaign interface is a contributing factor, the biggest hurdle for most businesses is coming up with content.
Regular newsletters are a great opportunity for agencies to solve this problem for small businesses. Chances are that many of you are already doing social media and content creation for your clients. And even if you’re not, many clients are probably doing a solid job with their own social accounts.
But organic reach continues to shrink on major social channels, and fewer and fewer people are seeing that content unless you’re paying to put it in front of people. Newsletters offer an easy way to extend the reach of those efforts on an organic basis.
Tidings’ whitelabel platform offers you a turnkey solution to extend the reach of your social campaigns to email, as well as one-click RSS integrations with any public feed. More people seeing your work or your clients’ work with no additional effort is as easy a win as they come!
Predictable and Concrete
Back in my SEO days, one of the hardest parts of my job as a consultant was convincing a client to be patient as their search results gradually improved, and proving how successful my efforts were. More businesses today understand the value of SEO, but most best practices are still hard to feel paying off at a gut level, it still takes time for them to work, and it’s still difficult to attribute success to any specific tactic or set of tactics.
Clients still appreciate seeing themselves rank #1 for a vanity keyword, but it can take years to get them there (if you get them there at all) and with Google’s increasing personalization and monetization of the search results, ranking #1 organically ain’t what it used to be.
Seeing their own newsletter — and the conversations and leads that it generates — resonates instantly that you are delivering a valuable service. In fact, for many clients, it could be your “foot in the door” on top of which you sell other less concrete services like SEO.
Synergy with Other Services
It’s low-cost. It’s concrete. But the other reason email makes such a great foot-in-the-door offering is that it helps make so many other marketing services more effective.
An email address is the cornerstone of customer intelligence services like FullContact, not to mention more robust CRM programs like Hubspot. Retargeting and remarketing via customer email addresses stretch a client’s paid ad budget as far as it’ll go. And an email address is essential to unlock lookalike audiences as an additional paid acquisition channel.
As I hopefully convinced you above, many of your clients don’t have time or wherewithal to create something of value on a consistent basis, which is where your agency or consultancy comes in!
With the two major platforms becoming largely pay-to-play for local businesses, email offers one of the best remaining opportunities for organic visibility — and actually makes paid visibility cheaper and more effective. Both of which help your client’s ROI and your bottom line as an agency.
Enables Future Upsell Opportunities
Regular newsletter content is a high-value deliverable in its own right. But it’s just the first step in building a complete email marketing program over time — with many more opportunities for deeper client engagement.
Helping your clients craft a welcome email sequence for subscribers, or a drip campaign for prospects, are no-brainer opportunities.
Segmentation and personalization are emerging as two of the easiest ways to improve the effectiveness of content delivered to existing subscribers.
And deeper analysis around which content is most effective and which subscribers are deserving of extra attention or personal follow-ups (our free Email Intelligence Briefing can help with these questions) can lead to even more profitable email programs.
Your Last Best Option?
As I mentioned earlier, Facebook’s ongoing reduction in organic visibility, Google’s evolution of the local SERP, and the shift to voice search will combine to create an existential threat to agencies that serve smaller-budget local businesses over the next 2-3 years.
Agencies simply can’t charge the margin to place paid ads that they can charge for organic work, and while basic SEO blocking-and-tackling such as site architecture, Title Tags, and citation building will always be important services, their impact for local businesses has declined over the past decade, due to algorithmic sophistication, increased competition, and decreased organic real estate.
To grow or even maintain your client base, it’ll be critical for you as an agency to offer additional services that are just as effective and scalable as these techniques were a decade ago.
Email, meanwhile, is not going away as a top-performing channel. In fact, with a Return-On-Investment of 44:1, marketers consistently rate it as THE top performing channel. That ROI has actually increased since 2015 according to Campaign Monitor, and it’s particularly true for B2B companies.
Email remains a powerful driver of new business and one of the best ways to encourage referrals. But the time it takes to put together an engaging, mobile-optimized email campaign makes it difficult to pull off for many small businesses. If you’re not already doing so, I hope your agency or consultancy decides to step into this arena, help your small business clients take advantage of the power of email, and grow your business at the same time.
To learn more about how email can help to benefit your business, be sure to visit Tidings. (Yes, I believe so strongly in Tidings that I’ve used an affiliate link!)
If you liked this post, check out our Guide to Customer Relationship Management.
About the Author
David Mihm is first and foremost an advocate for sustainable digital marketing techniques for small businesses. In 2012, he sold his former company GetListed.org to Moz, helping over 3 million businesses get better visibility in the local search engines. He’s a co-founder of the Local University conference series. David now runs Tidings and his weekly newsletter, Minutive.