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  • What We Learned From A/B Testing Over 300 Million Emails

    Thursday, August 18, 2016 by

    AB Testing Email Best Practices

    Take a look at the two emails below. Which one do you think performed better, the one on the left or the one on the right?

    Email Testing

    If you guessed the one on the left, you were right!

    We found the email with more text had a 11.83% lift in open rates and a 22.49% lift in click-thru rate.  The open rate is more of a red herring, as readers can't tell until they open the email what the contents look like. But the nearly 23% lift in click-thru rate makes a strong argument for readers preferring the email with more textual context for the images.

    Having more text that explains the images could help in cases where the HTML doesn't come through properly on an email reader, as it gives readers more information about the value they can hope to gain from the linked content.

    You can see that both emails have different formatting, as well, so that could also be contributing to the increase. We would need to test out more of the individual elements to narrow down how much of the increase was due to the heavier text.

    At HostGator we send millions of emails in a year. With each email comes a new opportunity to test something. The example above illustrates multivariate testing (which involves testing multiple variables), but today we're going to focus on A/B testing.

    What Is A/B Testing?

    The A/B test is a simple tool that businesses of all sizes use to make their email marketing more effective. If you’re not familiar with A/B testing, we’ve put together this guide to show you why A/B tests are so useful and how to get started.

    A/B email tests are real-world experiments you create to see how changing one element in an email – such as the subject line, graphics, or timing – affects the way recipients respond. Each test compares only one variable (A) to only one other variable (B) to keep the results clear and easy to interpret.

    For example, a café owner might create two different subject lines for the same email newsletter and then send version A to one part of her list and version B to another part. If subject line A gets noticeably more opens and click-throughs than B, the café owner knows subject line A is the best choice to send to the rest of her list and to serve as a template for future subject lines.

    Speaking of subject lines, it's time for another test. Take a look at the subject lines below. Which one do you think resulted in higher open rates - the one on the left or the one on the right?

    Subject Line Test

    In this test we tested subject lines that highlighted different aspects of our cloud hosting product launch. We wondered, which is more important to users - the value add/features of the product or the discount?

    We found that the features won! With 99% statistical significance, the subject line focused on features ("double your speed") had a 7% lift in opens and a huge 46% lift in click-through rate.

    We've rerun similar subject line tests, and again and again, the subject lines that promote features outperform the discount.

    What's the takeaway here? Consumers first need to be interested in what you're selling, before they'll care about getting a discount.

    We've learned a lot from testing subject lines over the years. Here's what we found works for us. Let us know in the comments if something different works for your brand!

    • Encouraging a sense of intrigue and hinting at content drives more opens
    • Spelling out the discount consistently suppresses response, both in subject lines and email content
    • Positioning offers as $ off seems to work better than % off
    • Using personalization - real or even implied (“you”, “your”) - is more engaging
    • Presenting an offer at the right time matters - response can be nearly double if you time it right
    • Subject lines influence clicks as well as opens, so work to get them right!

    How A/B testing boosts your marketing efforts

    A/B testing provides information beyond individual email elements. It can also give you:

    • Insight into what your audience cares about and responds to
    • Long-term, gradual improvement to your email metrics
    • A road map to build future campaigns
    • A proving ground for new ideas and offers
    • A test lab for design changes, such as new colors and templates, layout changes, and more
    • Data for tracking your overall marketing progress and share with your leadership team

    You can also test other elements of your marketing campaigns. Social media posts, web page design, paid ads, and more can be A/B tested to improve results.

    How do you run an A/B test?

    Careful planning, execution, and analysis will give you the most value from your A/B tests. Here are things to consider at each step. First, decide what one thing you want to test. The subject line is a common example, and it’s one of the simplest elements to test. Other basic elements to test include the email’s pre-header copy, button copy, button visual design elements like color or size, button placement in the email, and the number of links you include.

    Beyond that, the sky’s the limit. You can test for responses at different times of day or days of the week, the effect of including a discount offer, different images, and much more. Just remember to stick to one element per test. Additional variables can make it impossible to get useful results.

    Give yourself a pre-test

    You also need to examine your goals. Take the time to answer these pre-test questions.

    What do you want to learn from this test? For example, do you want to know if button shape influences click-through rates

    What question will this test answer? For the example above, the question is, “Which button shape, round or square, generates a higher CTR?”

    How will you use the test results in the future? This test may settle the issue of which button shape to use in future campaigns so the designer can focus on refining other elements.

    Can you generalize the test results? “Round versus square” is easy to repeat with another test if you’d like to verify your button-shape results. If you compare round versus heart-shaped buttons for a Valentine’s Day campaign, the results won’t help you with non-Valentine’s Day campaigns.

    Will the information you learn be meaningful? How much value will the test add to your brand over time? If you’re trying to raise overall CTR for your email newsletters, testing variables such as button shape makes sense. If your emails have high CTRs but low conversion rates, you’re probably better off focusing on a different variable.

    Once you’ve thought about what you want to test, think about how you’ll measure it.

    Choose your metrics. For a subject line test, open and click-through rates are the metrics you’ll probably want to watch. For our hypothetical round-versus-square button test, CTRs and conversion rates make the most sense.

    Schedule your test. Choose a time when seasonal fluctuations like summer slowdowns and pre-holiday peaks, concurrent sales, or current events won’t skew the results.

    Choose your test audience. Select audiences that should respond in similar ways. Don’t run your test on different audience segments, because they won’t behave in comparable ways. Run your test with a large enough group that your results can be statistically significant.

    Analyze your results. To be valid, the test must generate statistically significant results with a 95% or better level of confidence. What that means, in simple terms, is that if you keep repeating the same test, you’ll get the same results at least 95% of the time.

    If you’re comfortable calculating statistics, you can find the p-value of your test results to determine the level of confidence. If you’re not as skilled in statistics, there are plenty of A/B test calculators online to help. This one, from Dr. Pete of Moz, is easy to use. It will also tell you how many more visitors or audience members your test needs if it falls short of the 95% level-of-confidence threshold. That’s helpful because the required size may vary depending on other factors.

    An A/B email test checklist

    Email Test Planning Checklist

    Here’s a quick list to jumpstart your A/B test planning.

    • Name your test.
    • Answer the pre-test questions:
      1. What do you want to learn from this test?
      2. What question will this test answer?
      3. How will you use the test results in the future?
      4. Can you generalize the test results?
      5. Will the information you learn be meaningful?
    • Identify the metrics to observe (for example, open rate, CTR, or something else).
    • Schedule your test at an optimal time for valid results.
    • Choose test audience groups that will exhibit similar behavior.
    • Choose a test audience large enough to give you statistically significant results.
    • Review to see if you have you run this test before.
    • If this is a repeat test, clarify the reason and what, if anything, you’ll do differently this time.
    • Analyze your results.
    • Log and track your test results.

    A solid library of A/B test data is a valuable marketing resource you can build for your business, one variable at a time.

    What have you found in your A/B testing efforts? Share your results in the comments!

  • Webinar: Optimize Your Landing Pages for Conversions and SEO!

    Tuesday, August 16, 2016 by
    Webinar Optimize Landing Pages for Conversions and SEO Landing pages are a key part of any online marketing strategy. They're the perfect spot to send customers to drive sales, generate leads, or build your subscriber list. With typical average conversion rates of 3%, it makes sense that less than a quarter of business owners are satisfied with their conversion rates. You don't have to settle for a 3% conversion rate, though, and you don't need to toil for months over your computer screen in order to improve it. Wishpond has made a science out of optimizing landing pages, and their methods work. They've been able to help their clients achieve average conversion rates from 9.87% (B2C) to over 13% (B2B). That's why we've partnered with them for a free webinar. Please join us for a half-hour where we'll show you just how easy it is to set up landing pages on your website, and how to optimize them for SEO and conversions. If you've ever found yourself asking any of the questions below, you'll want to join us Tuesday, September 20th, at 1pm Central.
    • What is a landing page?
    • How do I optimize my landing pages for SEO to reach more customers for free? 
    • How can I set up my website and create landing pages?
    • What are the best practices for a successful landing page that drives conversions?
    By the end of the webinar, you’ll be armed with the knowledge to set up a basic website, optimize your landing pages for SEO and conversions, and be excited to see the leads start rolling in. Presented by Bree Nakatani, Customer Success Manager for Wishpond and Amelia Willson, Content Marketing Manager for HostGator.

    Register Now!

    Once you register, be sure to enter our contest to win a year of free hosting from HostGator and a year of Wishpond's Pro Plan! Click here to enter.

  • No Motivation to Blog? These 4 Habits Will Keep You On Track

    Tuesday, August 16, 2016 by

    No Motivation to Blog

    Blogging can be incredibly valuable, whether you’re writing for yourself, or trying to bring additional traffic to your business. However, it’s easy for the initial burst of inspiration to die off, and you’re left with the long work of building a popular blog all on your own.

    It can be very hard to stay motivated, especially in the early stages when your blog is getting little to no traffic. But, sustaining motivation is one of the only ways to actually build a blog worth reading. Below we dive into a few tips for how you can stay motivated when you’re feeling discouraged.

     

    1. Set a Consistent Time

    Blogging might seem easy enough on the surface. You write a post and press publish. However, blogging is a craft that takes time to master.

    No one is going to read your blog if it isn’t well written. Plus, you need to learn the difference between using your blog for something like a personal journal, and writing things that actually benefit the reader.

    Becoming a better blogger is all about consistently writing and publishing content. Over time you’ll start to learn the craft and the quality of your work will improve.

     

    2. Remember Why You’re Doing It

    It can become easy to get disconnected from your why. So ask yourself, why are you blogging in the first place?

    • Is it to share personal stories to make the world a better place?

    • Is it educating people about a tough subject?

    • Is it to get new leads for your business, so you can continue impacting the world in your own unique way?

    It’s important to find and regularly connect to your core motivation for actually doing this thing. 

     

    3. Learn About New Approaches and Strategies

    If you truly want to build a blog that provides a lot of value, then you have a lot to learn. Blogging is like any craft and takes a while to master.

    Beyond things like learning how to write for the web, you’ll need to learn skills like post promotion, post formatting, and even how to handle technical issues, like what to do when a plugin conflicts with your theme.

    The best way to consistently move forward is to set aside an hour or two in your schedule every single day where you’ll do nothing but learn new things to move your blog forward.

     

    4. Track Wins (No Matter How Small)

    Since blogging is such a long journey, it’s easy to get caught up in all the steps you need to take in the future. Your end goal can be very far away, but it might actually be closer than you think. Sometimes all it takes for your blog to see a surge in traffic is a feature or mention from a popular blogger.

    But, the only way you’re going to get there is by consistently putting in the work every single day. Reward yourself for every milestone you’ve crossed, whether it's something big like your blogiversary, or even if it’s very small, like gaining 100 new visitors to your blog. Even the largest blogs in the world had to start somewhere.

    Besides traffic hurdles you can view successes as things like, sticking to your publishing schedule, gaining a certain number of shares on social media, or getting a positive email from a reader.

    Staying motivated is a tough task, but by keeping the above in mind you’ll be able to push through the rough spots and eventually reach your goal.

    Starting a blog is the easy part. Staying motivated to see your vision through until the very end is a lot of work. The tips above will help to sustain your motivation whenever you see it waning.

    Now over to you, what are your favorite motivation hacks and tips? Please share in the comments below.

  • 6 Surprising Ways You Can Use Snapchat For Business

    Monday, August 15, 2016 by

    Use Snapchat for Business

    Here’s an important stat: There are over 100 million daily active Snapchat users.

    One-hundred million (that’s a really BIG number) of people making weird little doodles, creating snaps, chats, and stories to share with friends, customers, and the world.

    [bctt tweet="There are over 100 million daily active Snapchat users, according to a report by @craigpsmith." username="hostgator"]

    With a growing number like this, it’s no wonder that many top corporate brands are working hard to monetize a piece of this Snapchat activity.

    Big brand names like Amazon, General Electric, The New York Times, and Taco Bell are among the most popular accounts. Plus celebrity personalities ranging from Kylie Jenner to Arnold Schwarzenegger have harnessed an abundance of followers.

    You might be thinking to yourself, “Self, you are not Justin Bieber or Marriott Hotels. Maybe there’s no place for you on Snapchat.”

    A reasonable question might be: Is Snapchat a real source of income, brand awareness, and customer engagement for smaller brands or individuals?

    Let’s take a closer look to find out how the average Jane and Joe business owner can use Snapchat.

     

    1. Qualify your audience.

    Be logical. Make sure that your target audience is on Snapchat before investing time in a social channel that can’t deliver. If you’re catering to the 55+ crowd, move along. Snapchat is a predominantly millennial platform with ages 18-24 being the highest user demographic in 2016.

    Snapchat users

     

    2. Watch & learn.

    One of these social media platforms is not like the others, and that’s Snapchat. Because it’s different from the Facebooks and the Twitters, the learning curve might be a little more steep, so get the app, set up an account, look around, and add your favorite brands and icons. Watch their stories; marvel at their artwork and creativity. Learn from the best.

    Here’s a few top accounts you can add when getting started:

    • Gary Vaynerchuk (garyvee)

    Vaynerchuk, a down and dirty roll-up-your-sleeves business mogul is fond of recording even the most seemingly mundane moments of his day. His snaps present him as a real entrepreneur struggling through his workday like the rest of us. He offers inspiration through his tough love, no nonsense approach and authentically raw messaging.

    • Mike Platco (mplatco)

    Platco started out by creating what he dubs snapterpieces. By following his artistic bliss (often referencing Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Hunger Games) he’s now a top influencer who’s partnered up with GrubHub, Disney, Marriott Hotels, T-Mobile, and more.

    Snapterpieces

    Want to follow more? Here’s a seriously comprehensive list of top user accounts.

     

    3. Add nearby friends.

    If you’re a brick and mortar store owner, a cool way to grab snapchat followers is to encourage them to open their Snapchat app and click on “Add Friends” followed by “Add Nearby.” As long as your business’ Snapchat app is open you’ll be automatically added to their feed. This means they can see whatever stories you post. (Hint: a Snapchat story is any blend of quick images and videos you put together with or without additional text/fonts/colors/drawings).

    Snapchat Add Nearby

     

    4. Encourage user-generated content. 

    Ask your users to snap themselves with your product or in a particular location (at the office, on vacation). This will depend upon what it is you’re selling, but the idea is that content begets content and the more of it you have out in the ether about your brand, the better.

    For more on this idea, check out our article on influencer marketing for small business.

     

    5. Show ‘em how the sausage is made.

    Snapchat provides and cool and casual way to show your audience a behind-the-scenes look at what your company and team are up to. Some ideas to share may include company outings, happy customers, new products, conferences -- really any goofy thing that humanizes you and your business.

     

    6. Add a geofilter.

    If you’re aiming to reach a target audience in a specific location, you can pay to add a geofilter that uses a pre-made image/text template to your messaging. This is useful if you’re working to get the word out about a new product launch, sale, or big event.

    The HostGator team was recently in New York City for a marketing conference. We set up a geofilter in Times Square to run for two days from 8am to 8pm. It was used 131 times!

    HostGator Snapchat

    Is your business using Snapchat? Let us know in the comments!

  • Track URLs With Our Free UTM Builder For Small Business

    Thursday, August 11, 2016 by

    UTM Builder

    What if we told you that with just a few tricks, you can track not only the origin of your web traffic, but connect how visitors behave on your website back to the link from which they found it? It's easily possible, completely free, and available regardless of the size of your business.

    Small businesses are often not familiar with the potential capabilities of UTM tracking parameters, which are small tags added to URLs that feed information to Google Analytics. That information includes every variable available for tracking in the platform, ranging from initial visits to bounce rate, time on page, and even conversions.

    Strategically utilizing these UTM tags allows small business marketers to understand exactly where their web traffic is coming from, and how it behaves. For example, you may discover that Facebook generates many more web visits than Google, but that visitors who find you on the search engine stay for longer and convert more frequently. Now, you can use that information to inform and improve your digital marketing efforts.

    All of that sounds technical. But in reality, you can build out your system with little to no HTML knowledge. Thanks to easily available, free tools, you can create unique URLs that you can attach to any individual marketing efforts.

    Keep reading to understand how UTM tracking works, or click here to go directly to our free UTM builder.

    Understanding UTM Tracking Parameters

    As we alluded to in the intro to this post, understanding where your traffic comes from - and how it performs once on your website - is crucial in prioritizing and improving your marketing efforts. As the world's largest free web analytics platform, Google Analytics has found a way to allow marketers to do just that through adding tags to individual URLs.

    The concept is deceptively simple: anything following a '?' in a URL will not be used by your web browser to determine the actual destination of the URL. That allows services like Google Analytics to use it for additional intelligence gathering. Using that functionality, Google has developed UTM tags, so that any tag that begins with utm_ automatically feeds into the platform.

    To keep things simple for marketers, the service has opened this integration to 5 individual, distinguishing parameters:

    • The URL itself. Naturally, this is the most obvious variable: the actual URL to which you want your link to lead. It can be your homepage or a page deeper in the navigation of your website, but has to be a page on your domain to be trackable.
    • The Medium. This is the general area from which your traffic comes. For example, you may want to track links from Social-Media, Email, or CPC (cost-per-click ads).
    • The Source. More specific than the medium, this denotes the exact source of the traffic such as Facebook, Newsletter, or SearchEngine.
    • The Campaign Name. If you run multiple efforts within the same campaign, this parameter allows you to group them together under a single denominator. If, for example, your business is running a Holiday Campaign, you can tag all related marketing efforts under the same campaign name.
    • The Term or Product. As the name suggests, this one is somewhat of a wildcard. Use it either to denote which specific keywords you are running ads for, or which product your marketing effort is targeted on.

    When determining your UTM parameters, you have just a few things to keep in mind: individual parameters cannot contain spaces, and they are case sensitive - meaning that if you use Email in one URL, and email in another, they will register as separate entities within Google Analytics.

    How Small Businesses Can Benefit from UTM Tracking

    Thanks to the five individual variables above, the possibilities for tracking your URLs become almost limitless. Anywhere you use a URL, you can tag it in order to track its success.

    Compare the success of your emails, social media efforts, and any other digital effort seamlessly, using advanced Google Analytics metrics. You can even build in manual URL redirects to use UTM tracking within your printed efforts. For example, the www.sample.com/Test could lead to the actual webpage

    www.sample.comblog-post-on-topic?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social_media&utm_campaign=summer-2016&utm_term=test

    Once your links are tagged, you can use Google Analytics' reporting feature to view the overall success of your marketing efforts, and benchmark it against individual media, sources, or campaigns. If you are taking advantage of the platform's goal tracking capabilities, you can even view how individual variables are converting your visitors.

    Introducing HostGator's Free UTM Builder

    Even we have to admit: the above sounds suspiciously technical. But before you begin to think that you need to have a programming background to take advantage of UTM tagging, don't worry; thanks to easily available, free tools, you can create your own tagged URLs and measure your digital marketing success easily.

    Take, for example, our free UTM Builder for Small Business. Simply enter the variables into the appropriate form, and watch the Google Sheets spreadsheet automatically generate a tagged URL for you. Anytime you use that URL anywhere on the web, the intelligence connected to it will automatically flow into your Google Analytics account.

    Free UTM Builder

    To take full advantage of the UTM Builder, you will have to copy the above link into its own, Google Sheets document. You can do that by clicking File on the top left, and selecting Make a Copy. Simply name the new document, and it will automatically be stored in your Google Sheets directory. From now on, you can locate it easily anytime you need it by navigating to sheets.google.com.

    In short, a UTM tracker can enable even the smallest of businesses to evaluate and benchmark their marketing efforts. Using a simple UTM builder, you can begin tagging your URLs in order to achieve the maximum possible success.

     

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