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Tim Peter Thinks

Tim Peter


March 24, 2013

The Surprising Marketing Benefit Now that Google Reader is Going Away

March 24, 2013 | By | No Comments

RSS logoLast week, Google announced it’s shutting down the much-loved Google Reader. As often occurs in these cases, the Internet—including me—lost its collective mind.


Well, without going into an overly detailed explanation of what RSS is, (you can check out Common Craft’s great introduction if you need it), RSS often brings “significant” traffic volumes to many blogs and other websites. And it’s an enormously helpful tool for knowledge management.

Except, you’ll notice I put “significant” in quotes up above.

Again, why?

Well, near as I can tell, Reader actually isn’t bringing me all that much traffic. Nor much to other sites I monitor regularly. And MG Siegler at TechCrunch notes that Reader is the #4 or #5 referrer to the site, accounting “…for a little over three percent of all visits.”

Um… what? 3%? That’s “significant”?

Now, as Siegler rightly notes, the folks using Reader may in fact represent a particularly influential category of users, far more likely to tweet and share and like and link. His “honeybee” metaphor underscores that the loss of this traffic may cause declines far out of proportion to the actual number of visits or visitors.

But, if your site’s traffic depends so heavily on only 3% of your total audience, I suspect you’ve got a much bigger problem.

I often talk about the value of developing an overall web presence, one that leverages your website, email marketing, and social channels to connect and communicate with your customers. In fact, I just dedicated a recent episode of Thinks Out Loud (our podcast), to building your web presence in detail and during that episode I noted the following three types of media:

  • Owned media
  • Paid media
  • Earned media

Owned media, of course, represents channels you actually own, such as your website or your email list. Paid media covers those channels you trade one thing for (usually money) in exchange for exposure. It includes such items as print and broadcast media, search engine marketing, banner ads, and similar efforts. And earned represents the likes and links and shares and tweets we all covet and work to build through our content marketing efforts.

Now, it’s common to think of RSS subscribers (and Facebook fans, Twitter followers, Google+ friends and the like), as “owned.” But they’re not. They’re “borrowed” or “rented” or “leased.” If any RSS reader decides to shut down (as Google’s doing with Reader), those subscribers, theoretically, go away. Forever. (The same is true for the folks following you on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, which is why I often argue against using these tools as the primary component of your web presence).

Your job in Internet marketing isn’t just to build your audience, but to build an audience you can keep over the long haul. Google shutting down Reader is a bummer, but it’s also an opportunity: to convert “borrowed” traffic to “owned.”

Over the next few months between now and July 1 (Google’s official shutdown date for Reader), create a few posts encouraging your Reader subscribers to subscribe to your email newsletter and to bookmark your site.

Additionally, now might be a good time to de-emphasize the importance of RSS subscriptions on your site and instead highlight your email newsletter (I’ve been doing the same for the last few months and will ramp up those efforts in the coming weeks).

In my experience, not only do these “owned” channels grant you more control, but visitors delivered via these media spend more time on site, view more pages, and convert at higher rates.

So, yes, Google Reader shutting down kind of sucks. Personally, I’m going to miss the value it provided me. And, yes, it’s possible that the potential loss of traffic from Reader could have downstream, “honeybee” implications. But you can take action to mitigate these risks by moving your customers from “borrowed” media channels to “owned” and by ensuring your web presence actively works to grow your email list. In the long run, a successful web presence cannot rely on channels it doesn’t control. Take this opportunity to improve the value of those “owned” channels to your business—and to your customers.

Interested in more? Sign up for our free newsletter and get more information on how to build your social, local, mobile marketing strategy. And, if you’ve got a minute, you might enjoy some past coverage on building a successful web presence:

Tim Peter


May 26, 2010

The forgotten social network

May 26, 2010 | By | No Comments

email-image courtesy of Fletcher Prince on FlickrFor all the talk about the importance of social media marketing – and social is important – there’s one social medium that connects you directly with your customers, produces above average results, is easily measured and gets all-around love from its practitioners: email.

Email is still one of the most productive forms of media around. According to the Datran Media Annual Marketing and Media Survey, 39% of marketing executives named email their strongest performing advertising channel last year, ahead of search, offline, affiliates, social and so on. Why is it so popular?

According the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 89% of internet users go online to send or read email. It’s also the most common online activity regardless of age (search is typically either tied for first or is #2). So you’re likely to be able to connect with your customers regardless of their demographic. Microsoft’s Hotmail and Yahoo! claim to have over 360 million and 275 million active accounts, respectively.

In my own experience, email marketing frequently outperforms other media in terms of conversion and revenue per sale. It’s even inspiring innovative thinking in terms of meaningful metrics, such as Loren McDonald’s recent “EmailGeekonomics” column.

(On a side note, I loved McDonald’s mention of “Moneyball” in talking about developing your metrics. That’s exactly the kind of creative thinking you can use in improving your business, too. You can read my review of “Moneyball” here.)

The only downside of email marketing is getting your customers to sign up for it. In fact, many businesses I know fail to measure email signup as a conversion action on their site. Lucky for you that you’re not one of them, right?

I know I don’t talk about email all that often. Yes, we’ve talked about how to increase your opt-in list. But I think I’ve taken it for granted all these years, this little channel that keeps on giving. So, as you move forward with your social media marketing and with search, make sure you’re not treating your email list as your “forgotten social network.”

Thanks and acknowledgements: Hat tip to Mark Brownlow for links to the Hotmail and Yahoo! email account numbers.

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

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And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

Image credit: Fletcher Prince via Flickr using Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Tim Peter


August 4, 2009

Should you increase email frequency?

August 4, 2009 | By | No Comments

I subscribe to email lists for many of the top converting sites, just to keep an eye on what they’re up to. And I’ve noticed an increasing trend towards more frequent email communications.

For instance, this is what I’ve gotten lately from ProFlowers:


And Office Depot:


And Victoria’s Secret:


Now apart from the fact that ProFlowers calls me “Timothy” – something I only used to hear from the priests at my high school and my dear Irish mother – this is a heavy increase from a year ago. MediaPost backs up my observation, noting an overall increase in email frequency across the industry.

The questions I have are:

  1. Is this a good thing? Are these retailers seeing a boost in conversion from the increased frequency?
  2. Is this a defensive tactic? Are retailers just trying to steal share from competitors in a down economy?
  3. Are these retailers risking customer attrition due to “spammy” behavior?

Obviously, these are some pretty smart folks. I assume they’re testing to see what works best. If you’re increasing your frequency, don’t forget to do the same.

What do you think? Are you testing frequency of communication? And how’s it working out for you? Tell us in the comments.

Hat tip: The more alert among you may notice the “ad-swipe-file” label attached to my Gmail messages. See Linda Bustos’ email swipe file post and do the same for your business.

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

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Tim Peter


June 9, 2009

Guest post: Build referrals for your small business

June 9, 2009 | By | No Comments

It’s no secret we here at thinks, um, think it’s important you gain traffic and business from a variety of sources besides search. This guest post from the fine folks at looks at one way to drive additional business: referrals. While Yodle offers these tips for offline marketing, don’t forget, you can offer the same opportunities to customers in your email marketing, post-conversion emails, and receipt pages. Check it out…

yodle-logo.pngReferrals are one of the most cost effective and simple ways to gain new business, and yet many small business owners don’t get nearly as many as they should. We thought these tips and ideas from online local advertiser might be useful for your readers. First, some myths about referrals:

  1. Great customer service alone will make your clients refer people to you. Unfortunately, most people expect great customer service these days (and you always provide great service) so they are not necessarily inclined to mention good service to others. In actuality, people are more likely to mention bad service to their friends than any good service they’ve had.
  2. People who are close to you are great people to refer business to you. You would assume that this would be the case, and it certainly can be, but you must always educate those close to you on how to look for referral opportunities so that they refer the type of customers you want.
  3. You should always ask for the referral at the end of a transaction with your client. You should constantly be asking for referrals! There is no set time to ask for a referral. You should ask any time the opportunity presents itself.
  4. Looking for referrals in an indirect manner reduces stress and is normally the best way to get referrals. Though this may work every once in a while, typically, if you don’t ask for it, you won’t get.

So…How do SMBs start getting referrals?

  1. ASK! Don’t be afraid to be direct about asking for referrals. Also, ask regularly to maximize the amount of referrals you can generate. A great technique is to view every client you work with as though your sole purpose is to get a referral. This will not only keep you cognizant about getting them, but it will make you more service-oriented as well.
  2. Create a referral program. Offer service credits as an incentive to your clients who send you new business. It can be as a discount on their next service or a credit to their account, or any other trigger that will help entice people to refer new customers to you
  3. Spread the word! Send a description of your referral program to all of your satisfied clients. It also doesn’t hurt to send it to all past clients; it’s not only a great way to get referrals, but you can also rekindle old relationships!
  4. Some other tips to think about:
    • Don’t ask for a referral when presenting a bill.
    • When asking for a referral, also ask for a testimonial from the client. It’s great for websites!
    • Ask people who perform complementary services to you. (i.e. If you are a contractor, why not ask an electrician or plumber who may be on the same site?)
    • Have some type of collateral handy to provide clients with that describes everything you do

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

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Tim Peter


April 21, 2009

Guest post: 8 easy tips to increase your opt-in email list

April 21, 2009 | By | No Comments

Guest post: 8 easy tips to increase your opt-in email list

One topic we don’t cover much here on thinks is email marketing. Given how effective it is to market to existing customers, email marketing should be one of the most valuable tools in your e-commerce arsenal. Of course, when you’re just starting out, you don’t have much of a list to talk to. That’s why I’m thrilled to have this excellent guest post from Brent Doud of offering 8 easy tips to build your email list. Brent is new to thinks. Please give him a warm welcome. And check out SD360’s new blog, too. Take it away, Brent…

About Brent DoudMost people want to build a loyal website following and one of the best ways to do that is to allow your visitors the ability to opt-in to your email list. I have stumbled upon some good ways to increase your conversion to signup rates over the years. Here are my top 8 favorite ways that you can really boost your list numbers:

  1. The most obvious tip would be to not hide your email signup form. Keep it above the fold and make it clear and easy for people to signup for your email messages.
  2. Less required fields = more signups. I have found that the less fields you ask for is directly related to the number of people that will actually signup. Instead of having a large signup form asking for Name, Email Address, Address and Other fields, try just asking for First Name and Email Address. After you have that you have these 2 fields you can trigger an auto-responder email at any time asking for more information.
  3. Offer incentives only available to people on your email list. This can be as simple as “Sign up and get valuable coupons or promotions via email before everyone else”. Sometimes this is all the incentive that a user needs to see in order to click the submit button and opt-in.
  4. Contests. Offer a contest for people that are on your list. Again this can be a simple giveaway “Everyone on our email list is eligible to win our monthly prizes” With a link to the details about the contest.
  5. Signup during the checkout process. Capturing opt-ins on the checkout page is one of the most important ways to get valuable subscribers onto your list. You must offer the customers the option of signing up during the checkout process. These are your most valuable customers and you need to keep in touch with them. If you are using BlueHornet, like I do, then you would use the BlueHornet API in order to pass the variables to the email database if the visitor checks the box to opt-in.
  6. Add a signup box while leaving a product review or a blog comment. This is a great way to get new subscribers. Just look at how many comments or product reviews you have on your site. If you had a simple checkbox in this form you could allow your visitors to subscribe while leaving a product review, blog comment or even filling out your contact form. Very valuable subscriber data that will add up fast!
  7. Ask for referrals in your email. Every once in a while promote the forward to a friend feature, in your email marketing software, and actually ask them to forward the email to friends. It never hurts to ask for help from your subscribers and most will like to help you. Make sure you have a link to subscribe to the email list in all the emails that you send out so people that get the message forwarded can easily find the opt-in information.
  8. Social Media. Set up a tab or a link on your Facebook page asking for fans to subscribe to your email newsletter. They like you enough to be a fan, so they are likely to signup for your email list if presented with the opportunity. And set up a specific Twitter landing page that thanks the users for clicking on the profile link and asks them to signup for the email list. Most Twitter users will visit your site using the Twitter profile link, so setup a special page for these Twitter users and greet them accordingly.

Finding creative ways to build your email mailing list can be fun and rewarding. Just put yourself in your customer’s shoes and make sure you are offering an easy way for all visitors to signup for your list. Capturing and using this valuable data should be a big part of your online marketing strategy.

One way to track the success of all these different capture points is to setup different groups in your email software, so you can track to see how many users are signing up from all the different places throughout your site.

Did I miss anything? How do you capture email subscribers? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Are you getting enough value out of your small business website? Want to make sure your business makes the most of the local, mobile, social web? thinks helps you understand how to grow your business via the web, every day. Get more than just news. Get understanding. Add thinks to your feed reader today.

Or subscribe via email.

And while you’re at it, don’t forget to follow Tim on Twitter.

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