Archive for category Online Marketing Best Practices

Constant Contact Replacement Recommendation: What is Your Favorite Email Marketing Application?

I have used Constant Contact as my preferred email service for medium to small scale mailings for several years. Throughout this time, Constant Contact has served me well with is basic feature set.  However, the product development has not kept pace with the changes of Internet communications and I am investigating alternative solutions.

The items Constant Contact lacks that are present in most competitive packages are:

  • Multiple levels of list views and segmentation.  Constant Contact provides for a simple set of email lists without any segmentation or cross list management capabilities.  This is the largest issue in that this requires numerous lists instead of one list with multiple parameters in a recipient profile.
  • A varying range of metrics beyond the simple sent, open, click thru and bounce rates.
  • A set of comparative trend charts and other metrics for presenting performance comparatively across campaigns.  No such metrics are available from Constant Contact.
  • Easy removal of the vendor brand.  The Constant Contact logo must be requested to be removed from each email and is discouraged.
  • Automated click thru tracking of links in email.  (Constant Contact requires manual coding to track links in custom HTML emails).
  • Ability to create your own email templates.  Constant Contact charges a fee and must create such templates themselves.
  • Integrated A/B testing of email subject lines and bodies.
  • Built-in preview of email layout in email clients. A simple HTML preview is all that is available in Constant Contact.
  • Unified billing.  Constant Contact charges come to a credit card with little if any detail. 
  • Cobranded interface.  We do not take advantage of the Constant Contact co-branding opportunity because it is cumbersome to setup and manage this brand.
  • Google Analytics integration.  Constant Contact offers no integration into Google analytics or other statistical packages,
  • Free archive and image hosting.  Constant Contact charges for the live archive of images and emails.  Other packages do not.
  • Unlimited custom fields.  Constant Contact has a limit of four custom fields.
  • Forms integration. Constant Contact offers no form builder or any service to easily create payment gateways for items such as donations.
  • Spam filter testing.  Constant Contact does not offer an easy test system to check if the emails will violate spam filters.
  • CMS integration is unavailable or limited.  Constant Contact does not offer or manage plug-ins to common CMS.  The few that are available come from third parties.
  • API restricted to list management.  The Constant Contact API is solely for list import and export.
  • Integration with third party tools such as WuFoo for forms, payment gateways, CRM and other technologies without API involvement on the user side.

 For a replacement I reviewed numerous packages and selected the following for side-by-side comparisons.  (HTML | PDF)

  • Constant Contact
  • mailChimp
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Benchmark Email
  • Fusemail
  • Mad Mimi
  • Bronto
  • Vertical Response
  • Stream Send
  • Myemma
  • Campaigner
  • iContact
  • sendloop

Click on the links (HTML | PDF) to see a product comparison table that includes the following vendors.  Right now, I am favoring mailChimp and Campaign Monitor. Let me know what you think of these or other vendors. And Constant Contact folks, when you find this, I am by all means open to your suggestions as well.

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Best Practice: Set redirects for a redesign launch

When we redesign and relaunch a Web site we change the URL for every page, image and other asset. Other sites that reference the base domain such as www.sitename.org will see no difference.  However, many sites code in an links to either internal pages or other assets.  It is then a good idea to utilize the built in functions in the Web server (and sometimes CMS) to redirect key URLs from the old site directly to new pages.

For example, a redirect statement make be placed in the Apache confirmation to direct traffic to https://www.simename.org/Intro.php to the new home page.

Besides these redirects, it is also important to have a custom 404 (file not found) error page.  This error page should have the regular site wrapper with a statement that the content has moved.  Be sure to have WebTrends, Hitbox or Google Analytics tracking code on this page to capture these errors.

The combination of these items can help reduce disruptions with the relaunch.

Further Tips

1. Before the site is launched, register for Google Webmaster Tools.  Then when the site is launched place in the proper verification code from Google.  Then you will be able to push Google to index the site faster and have it you will be able to more easily set Google to remove references to old pages.

2. Once the new site is launched, have a look at the error logs to see which pages generate 404 (page not found) errors.  Such a function is built into Drupal and other CMS’.  Otherwise you may need access to a log file analyzer as HitBox, WebTrends and Google Analytics do an okay job, but not a great job on trapping these errors. Once you do find these errors, set the redirects in Apache to push the requests to the pages that have replaced the old content.

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Why I prefer packaged solutions

When building a site, campaign or environment there is always the temptation to develop custom code or suites of services that can be provided for multiple clients.  In most instances, this is not the best solution. Here is why I often like to use packaged solutions to provide functionality where such offerings are available from third-parties.

  • Solution is provided by a company with the service as their core product with thousands of sites using the tested technology support with an ongoing product roadmap and dedicated product management, development and support teams. This is really the core difference that I think should drive such a decision.
  • Frees up agency/company technology teams for more specialized and important tasks to provide solutions that truly require custom services.
  • The real cost in the longer term is usually lower for the client and the agency.
  • Setup can usually be completed by less expensive generalists thus freeing technical staff for projects requiring their specialties.
  • Technical issues can be resolved by a dedicated product service team with own set of monitoring and alerting tools across thousands of campaigns.
  • The services can be based upon and evolve from best practices and needs from a larger pool of users.
  • The services are clearly packaged and productized including complete easy-to-understand setup documentation and details.
  • Setup and adjustments are usually much quicker (and less expensive)than with custom in-house development.
  • Reduces agency/company overhead as no longer the requirement to maintain code base and service long after the solution is a focus.

Am I right, wrong or have anything else to say?  Let me know in the comments.

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Increase petition reach with free sites

Working with numerous advocacy we are always looking for effective methods to rally support and provide opportunities to take action on behalf of the campaign.  Whether targeting congress, candidates or simply gathering supporters, petitions are certainly a mainstay of these campaigns actions.

I have used a variety of tools such as Convio, Kintera, The Soft Edge, CapWiz and others for such petitions and letter campaigns.  These are important tool sets that enable the organizations to have a great deal of control and to capture contact details to build a database of constituents.  These are great methods to activate current contacts and grow a list of supporters.  However, it still calls upon the need to direct people to the organization’s Web site. 

An addition of services from free petition sites can be used to add a broader reach. Certainly, this is not the best method for the core value of build a constituent database.  However, using these variety of services can help extend the ability to reach many people beyond that your own Web site marketing efforts.  You might not obtain registrations from all of these petition senders – but you will activate more people on behalf your cause.  Certainly, offer a signup to your information stream via these services – but do not expect many signups. Do expect more petitions to be distributed.

Here is a list of free petition services I have found.  I have not used all of them so please investigate each before you use the services.

Facebook
Of course you should place your petition on this and other social networks to deliver your message right where people play. The following Facebook applications help you create petitions very quickly and easily.

Dedicated Sites
The following sites offer free petition services.  They appear to be quite popular.  I have not tried these out.  Let me know if you have and how effective they have been for you.

Have others? Think I am nuts.  Drop me a line in the comments.

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Why MediaWiki is not the right Wiki product for my clients?

I have been working with MediaWiki for a couple of years.  I even have my own best practices Wiki running on MediaWiki.  This experience matched with reviewing most client capabilities has led me to the belief that MediaWiki requires far too much technical awareness to recommend as a platform for clients. I have found applications such as SocialText to be a far more attractive package.

Why not MediaWiki for my clients?

  • While a fabulous Open Source package, the benefits of commercial package with its support, product roadmap and dedicated team to fix issues is probably the most important reason to go with an alternate solution.
  • My clients are all non-technical and have little if any knowledge of any markup language. Even with the best WYSIWYG and other helpful extensions I have found that the users need to know Wikitext. This really kills the popularity of the Wiki. For example, creating and managing categories is a dog in MediaWiki.  My clients expect a far more sophisticated taxonomy solution that is simple for a non-technical user.
  • MediaWiki out-of-the-box does not offer features that most clients desire.  We then need to install numerous extensions.  This is fine.  However, we then get into a maintenance cycle that requires upkeep of these extensions.  Going with a commercial (or open source alternative) package that has integrated items for this functionality removes this overhead. For example, one of the constants in my clients’ needs is to upload files to articles.  MediaWiki without extensions expects you to host files someplace else and to link to them.  The preferred method is one where you can browse and upload files easily right when you work on the page.
  • MediaWiki templates are a bear.  Compared to SocialText or other Wiki products MediaWiki requires a higher level of skills.  Others that are available build more off of the more common HTML and CSS skill sets.

So, think I am off base.  Please let me know and comment away.

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