In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob is joined by Jordan Gal and Tracy Osborn for a roundtable discussion. Some of the topics in this episode including Basecamp reinventing email with Hey.com, Leadpages being acquired by Redbrick, the growing popularity of subscription based pricing and how many active subscriptions a person or business has nowadays.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- Bootstrapped Web Podcast
- Leadpages acquired by Redbrick
- How a 2 person startup already uses 28 other tools
- Tracy Osborn
Intro: Welcome to this week’s episode of Startups for the Rest of Us. I’m your host Rob Walling. Each week on this show we cover topics relating to building and growing startups using an ambitious yet a sane approach. We’re not willing to sacrifice our health or our relationships to grow our company.
I’m excited about this week. I’m diving into this idea of a startup roundtable or a news discussion show. I discussed a few topics with Derek Rhymer a couple weeks ago, but going a little deeper, this is the first essentially roundtable where I invite two guests on and we talk through topics that are relevant to us in the MicroConf, the Startups for the Rest of Us, the self-funded, the indie funded community. I hope you enjoy the show and without further ado let’s dive right in.
Rob: Here we are at Startups for the Rest of Us inaugural startup roundtable discussion. I have some pretty interesting stories to discuss today. Before that, I have two interesting guests I’d like to introduce. First on my right, as no one can see, but we’re in a camera is Jordan Gal, he’s hosted the Bootstrapped Web podcast, as well as founder and CEO of CartHook.
Jordan: Thanks for having me on, Rob. I’m excited for this interesting new format. Let’s see where it goes.
Rob: I’m excited too. Above Jordan in my view is Tracy Osborn, founder of WeddingMarketplace, WeddingLovely that she shut down about a year or two ago, now the TinySeed Program Manager. How are you doing today, Tracy?
Tracy: Doing well, happy to be back. Always excited to join the podcast when I can.
Rob: That’s the cool part is each of you have been on the show now several times: interviews, Q&A episodes, all that kind of stuff. Hopefully, folks are familiar enough with where you come from. That’s what I wanted to do with the show is get different perspectives from different people coming from different directions. I’m pretty stoked to talk through a few of these things.
As you listen to this episode, if you have thoughts on whether I should do it again in a couple of months—what was interesting is I went back to a month’s worth of startup news and tried to pick out stuff that I think is interesting to our little space, kind of the MicroConf Startups for the Rest of Us community. There just aren’t that many stories that are interesting to talk about, and I think we can get going on.
Every month or two, or even two or three months, is what I consider doing. If you like the show, if you don’t like the show, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our first story is about Basecamp watching Hey, it’s at hey.com. They’re essentially reinventing email, they are saying they’re not going to allow tracking pixels so people can track opens. I’m curious, Jordan, have you been following this? Is Basecamp basically potentially taking it too far by blocking tracking pixels? D and J said they’re going to shame people who send with tracking pixels.
Jordan: I have been following it. I think it’s very interesting. We saw Superhuman come out of the gate on fire. Everyone’s talking about how they’re going to be the biggest thing ever. I think that excitement has waned a little bit, they’re not that obsessed with it anymore. Then Basecamp taking on emails is super interesting, but like most things with Basecamp it’s very difficult to separate the people, and Basecamp, and the controversy they create from the actual product. They’re really close to the edge of making themselves too much of the story right now.
These guys are very clever. It’s starting to feel a touch manipulative on what they’re doing with Twitter to get attention. I love their ideological approach. I love that they are unique in their opinions. They take it strongly and they’re not afraid to say it. That’s all awesome, but I think they almost need to chill a little bit and then let the product speak for itself because there’s a lot of talk and it’s constant controversy. It’s a little bit grating.
The latest tweet that Jason put out, I forgot exactly what the context was, but he kind of felt that it went a little too far. I think he was making a comment on another company. People are starting to push back on it where they really have a huge halo effect to their products, but I think they’re right on the edge. Now it’s time to let the products start to speak for itself. I’m definitely interested, I want to see what they do. Because my email, that landing page and the copy that they wrote resonated. My email is an unhappy place. It didn’t used to be, but it’s been so long you forgot that it used to be this cool thing that you communicated with people on and it’s no longer that. They definitely nailed that part of it for me.
Rob: If you go to hey.com, you can read their manifesto where they say exactly that. I’m a big fan of their products, they’re genius product builders, they’re great content marketers. They wouldn’t call themselves that but they are exceptional, some of the best there are. They have this massive audience. It’s been fascinating to watch. What are your thoughts on this, Tracy?
Tracy: I find it funny that you mentioned the Twitter stuff. I feel like they’re using Twitter effectively. It’s how Twitter is meant to be used nowadays, which is annoying. It’s one of the reasons why I’m not on Twitter very often, but I feel like I can’t hate on them for doing this kind of launch because that’s marketing. That’s the way that they’re going to differentiate themselves from say Superhuman or these other ones that are very email marketer focused where Superhuman’s like, “Oh, you’re going to see the location. You’re going to see the tracking pixel. You’re going to track the people that open and close it. We’re giving you all those rates and data and whatnot.” They’re at the opposite end of the spectrum to Superhuman.
I’m personally very excited for it because I think that we do need to have more privacy-focused email clients. Gmail was the king for so long. The average user would use Gmail at a default. We’ve had, as email marketers, this superpower that we were able to see when people open their emails, we were able to see those open rates. I want to say it’s great for email marketers, but for the average person and privacy and whatnot, I want to give people more choice. I think that Basecamp is doing that.
It’s funny to think about email and the superpower and all this data that we had and how it’s hard to give up that data. If you look back to just paper marketing, pay per mail marketing, you didn’t know how many people opened up that envelope that you sent or how many people threw it right into the recycling. I agree that it’s going to hurt email marketers, but for the average user or at least the privacy focusing technologists who need those privacy features, I think it’s something that’s necessary. Basecamp is simply using Twitter the way it’s meant to be used.
Rob: I signed up when I first heard about hey.com. I am curious to use it. They have a list of 25 things that they are saying is wrong with email. I don’t understand how they could possibly fix all those things, but that would tend to be—it’s all these problems with email. You screen your calls, you can’t screen your emails. Some emails are worth your immediate attention, most are not. Files are attached to email rather than the other way around. You don’t need to be told to check your email. I don’t even know, that’s like 5 of the 25. I don’t even know how you go about fixing that. Like you said, Jordan, that’s when it’s time to think about getting into the product and watching it speak for itself.
My take on it, I built Drip. I like the idea and I’m going to be a user of the product, I assume, if it works and has unified inbox and has all the stuff I need, but I feel like railing against the open tracking is taking it a little too far. I like open rates, I think having aggregated open rates of an email is something that is just fine for a marketer to have. Knowing when and where and how many times people open an email could be taking it a little too far, I would admit.
Here’s the thing, they can come out and say, “We don’t use any tracking. We don’t use Google Analytics. We don’t track open rates.” If you have $100 million business throwing off tens of million a year in net profit with 50 employees you can do that too, but if you’re a bootstrap startup and you’re trying to get to $10,000 or $50,000 or just trying to pay the bills, like you’re in such a different position that I would caution against taking that as advice or as something you should do as a business person because I think it can be dangerous.
You’ve heard the mentality of like, “Hey, you build a great product. That’s what we did.” and everyone uses it. I’m not saying Basecamp has said that but there are people who come out and say, “Look, I just built a great product and never marketed it and magic.” Everyone wants that to be the case and it almost never is, it’s the exception. That’s potential danger with coming out against that kind of stuff.
Jordan: We may be looking at it backwards because we are business people, and we build technology products, and we are looking at it from that point of view. In reality, it matters a lot less what is right for a business, and it matters a lot more to give the choice to the actual consumer, to the user. That’s really their perspective on it. I have an Amazon Alexa in my house, I have three of them. I have made the choice. I know what’s happening and I have made the decision that in the balance between privacy and convenience, that’s where I land on that product.
What they’re looking at in email is taking it back to the user’s control and saying, “If I don’t want tracking pixels, this is my inbox, not yours marketer. If I choose to degrade the experience of email with your company by blocking pixels, that’s my choice.” What Basecamp is kind of yelling about is it’s not okay that you don’t have the choice. It’s not okay that someone else decides what happens in your inbox because that’s not normally what happens other places in your life. In your home, you get to decide if you want an Alexa or not. People can make that choice once their right journalist do that work to uncover what was happening there. If looked at that perspective and it’s not a black and white tracking no tracking, it’s simply giving people the option, that’s tough to argue with.
Rob: That’s a good perspective. Tracy, do you feel like this blocking of tracking pixels will become a trend? Do you think it should become a trend?
Tracy: I think privacy, in general, is becoming a trend. I find it interesting you brought up Alexa because I feel like that was the start when people started realizing that this really great convenience in their homes could potentially be used for other reasons. I feel like those stories happened and then it evolved and some other internet communities are very privacy focused, almost to the extreme side of railing against all the things that are happening.
I personally had an Alexa and I ended up removing them from my house. That tells you a little bit about my own perspective. I want one, I want to have all these privacy tools but I personally have decided that the convenience is not worth it for me. I’m happy to see that it’s becoming a trend.
As the Internet has grown, I’m going to refer back to that word I used before, we have these superpowers. We start adding all these superpowers, all this technology, and all these things we could do. Now it’s like okay cool, we’ve reached this point where we need a lot of people to draw back a little bit and decide if it’s convenient for them.
Rob: Like a pendulum swinging different directions. That’s a good perspective.
Jordan: I was going to say you can see the email market has been around a long time and it’s mature. It’s gotten to the point that it’s so mature that this type of option makes sense. The in-home robot assistant isn’t very mature, but you can see how if someone came out with an Alexa-like device that you had more control over the privacy, that would be attractive.
It’s the same thing with the iPhone. People started freaking out where I just had a conversation in person about this topic and now I’m seeing ads on it, that’s creepy. The pendulum swung all the way toward maximum freedom and then we all realized, “Oh, I guess we’re the business model.” Now it’s coming back and that’s a healthy thing.
Rob: For the record, I have five Alexas in my house, maybe six. I think it’s hilarious that if you go to thisishey.com, it’s a business I presume has been around for a while. It’s an influencer marketplace, which is something I’m sure Basecamp would hate. What are the folks at This is Hey thinking right now? Where it’s like, “They just took our name and they have the dot-com.”
Let’s swing into our second story. Leadpages was acquired by Redbrick. By the way, all of these stories we will link up in the show notes. To clarify, because I actually had some people asking this, Leadpages was sold to Redbrick, which is like a software—it’s a holding company. I would almost phrase it as private equity, I don’t think they said that in the news story. You know with these private equity funds, they get together then they buy software companies and manage them. Leadpages was sold, Drip was not. In fact, to say that Leadpages acquired Drip is actually not technically accurate.
Leadpages and Drip are two products: Leadpages Landing Pages, and Drip is an ESP marketing automation. They were owned by a single holding company called The Avenue 81. Avenue 81, that’s the company that raised funding and stuff. It was synonymous with Leadpages but then it is what acquired Drip. Essentially, they’ve sold Leadpages. A quote from the CEO of Drip, John Tedesco, who I know personally, I actually worked for him before I left Drip a couple of years ago. He said, “The acquisition is allowing us to now ruthlessly focus on pursuing our markets. We have a clear capital base in which to execute. We’re flush with capital, so we’re going to use it with discretion. Use it intelligently.”
Obviously, the play here was to put dry powder in the coffers. If you have an asset, you can sell it in lieu of say raising a round of funding. It gives you not only the focus—I am conjecturing here, I will admit. I have not worked at Drip for two years and I have very, very little inside information at this point. If I were in Drip’s shoes, and I really see this marketing automation as a multi, many, many billion-dollar opportunity in the landing page market, it’s not; it’s a very small market.
That just kind of gives folks background. The first question I’d have for Tracy is MailChimp has launched free landing pages, in essence, with your email account. I know a few other providers that are making them very free or very cheap. Does it seem to you the landing page space is becoming commoditized?
Tracy: That’s an excellent question. The more options the better. I’m happy to hear that MailChimp is doing this. MailChimp has a really, really huge reach. Happy to hear that they’re making this stride because they also did—I can’t remember what happened with MailChimp but they had a controversy where they raised the prices or they took away their free tier. Do you recall what happened about a few months ago, six months ago?
Rob: I think it was if you unsubscribed, you were still charged for those subscribers because they’re moving a little more towards commerce.
Tracy: That came out and I think that kind of have hurt a lot of people’s usage of MailChimp. Now they have these free landing pages. You see that in ConvertKit as well. They have a whole landing page system and whatnot. It’s kind of a silly thing to say but I’m like, “I’m a fan.” Would love to hear what you guys say.
Rob: What do you think about this, Jordan?
Jordan: I think they’re commoditized. I think they’re lead gen. The business model is subscribers, so if landing pages help you get more subscribers, then the company whose pricing is based on the number of subscribers you have has a very vested interest in giving you the ability to add more subscribers. It makes sense with the business model, it’s also been commoditized. Just to clarify, the statement that you just quoted from the CEO, that’s the CEO of Avenue 81, the company that’s still-
Jordan: Okay, cool. Just want to make sure of that.
I love this corporate-level strategy stuff. It’s my favorite. A lot of people are going to look at it and say, “Oh, Leadpages failed,” or, “It wasn’t able to do what it wanted to.” I think this is brilliant. This is an asset that will only decrease in value moving forward. They’re able to effectively raise money for their email marketing product, which is Drip. They don’t need to sell equity in it because they had this other asset. It’s great.
They basically just raised, I don’t know how much they’ve sold it for but my assumption is they raised tens of millions of dollars in non-dilutive capital to go after a much bigger email marketing. It’ll be interesting to see what they do and which playbook they run. Are they going to run upmarket and hire salespeople and go after the Marketo version of things, or are they going to go with quantity and long tail and go after MailChimp?
I’m going to assume they’re going to go high-end with an enterprise sales team and run that playbook. They have the money to do it. They didn’t need to sell any equity in it. It’s great. Acquiring Drip was a very smart move, it worked out nicely for you. It looks like it might work out really nicely for them also. Especially if they thought this through over the past few years, then it was brilliantly executed. Let’s bring in a product, let’s make it the focus of the company, let’s sell-off this asset then we have our coffers ready. Now we can go after a much bigger market. That’s an optimistic view of it, but that’s an exciting version of things.
Tracy: The CEO that gave that quote, that’s the new CEO because the one that was around when Drip was acquired, that was a different person, right?
Rob: Yeah. Clay Collins was around when we were acquired. About a year after we were acquired, he stepped down and John Tedesco, who was the COO at the time, took over as CEO.
Jordan: I was going to ask if we’d look at John Tedesco’s history and what playbook he has been able to run successfully in the past, that’s going to tell us a lot about the future. Because it was an internal hire, it’s less clear.
Rob: He’s been part of multiple startups. I would say they are in line with the enterprise approach that you’re talking about, very much sales folks and that type of stuff.
Tracy: When I was looking at this announcement and the change in CEO, it seems like they had a certain strategy when they had Leadpages and they acquired Drip. From what I was reading into it, it sounded like things would work a little more together, but the strategy changed. The new CEO came on and they’re making this change because the strategy changed. It seems like it all makes sense in terms of the direction of Avenue 81.
Rob: I’m curious, Tracy, when you hear about a SaaS app like this being sold, so the original owner doesn’t have it, it’s now a holding company. Would you be more or less likely to use a product that’s been sold like that or does it matter to you? Do you even care?
Tracy: Interesting. Do you even hear about it too?
Rob: We’ve heard about this now. If you were looking for landing pages, there’s obviously a bunch of competitors to Leadpages. I’m curious if that would impact your decision to sign up as a customer or not?
Tracy: I’m thinking of the average user of how much they follow acquisition news. I’m assuming that Leadpages is going to continue to grow under the company that acquired it. If I was thinking as an average user I would suspect a) they wouldn’t know about it, b) if they did know about it, it sounds like instead of Leadpages being sold, it sounds like Leadpages was acquired. It could be spun in that way. Leadpages is acquired by someone who is going to spend more time and effort or more focus on it, both of those things are positive to me.
Rob: I want to wrap this up with just a funny little story that involves Best Buy and Geek Squad. I don’t know if you guys recall but Best Buy acquired Geek Squad, which is the tech support people who run around in the cars to fix stuff at your home. Geek Squad is now the vast majority of their revenue and profit. They are one of the big drivers that has kept them in business. When Circuit City and everybody else went under, they had this thing.
The CEO of Geek Squad, the founder who sold it, when he does stand up in front and does talks now, he’ll say things like, “When Geek Squad acquired Best Buy,” and everyone laughs. That’s the first thing I thought of with this is like did Leadpages acquire Drip five years or four years ago or did Drip acquire Leadpages? It kind of struck me as funny.
Jordan: Sounds like Avenue 81 is making the best of their situation.
Tracy: Leadpages wasn’t shut down. They spun it out and it still continues to live. It sounds like a win-win situation for everybody.
Rob: Yeah, for sure.
Our next story is about how a two-person start-up already uses 28 other tools. This is from acrossapp.com, it’s from their blog. They’re basically a tiny little two-person startup and they have 28 different subscriptions. I’m curious, ten years ago we may have had one or two subscriptions. You paid for Photoshop as a big package, everything was you buy it once and then you get the upgrades every couple of years. Now, most of us have 20, 30, 40 subscriptions. Tracy, do you feel like this whole movement towards the SaaS subscription economy is a good thing or do you feel like it’s cumbersome and we’re potentially paying more now but than we would have 10 years ago?
Tracy: I have to laugh because this is kind of a Tiny Seeds thesis, right? We’re betting on these business-to-business SaaS apps. We love to see people building things for other businesses to use. We’re part of this trend that’s happening right now. There are lots of little apps that are doing lots of little things for you that you can pay for individually.
Overall, I love it. I love it. I love anything that helps me save time. Ideally, that subscription cost is going to save me as much time and hopefully money that it makes it totally worth it. I love that there’s people out there that are building lots of little things to support themselves as they can create their startup and maybe get into Tiny Seed and all that. Huge fan of the system. I have no problem paying for subscriptions. I just want to make sure I don’t forget which ones I’m paying for because that’s the problem.
Rob: Something you pointed out there is that there are so many tools that could not exist in a non-subscription economy. These tiny little utilities you pay $10 a month for, I just think it’s changed the game. You can’t look at it as, “Oh, I have too many subscriptions or I don’t,” or “I wish there weren’t subscriptions that we just paid one time,” because it’s a completely different system now. All these apps that we use and that we build wouldn’t exist under a non-subscription economy. What are your thoughts, Jordan?
Jordan: I see an analogy to what happened with television. We don’t pay less for television now. Between all the different streaming services: Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Amazon, everything; I’m paying about the same but the service is far better because I’m in control and I get to choose. I don’t think it’s any cheaper to pay for all these different pieces of software, but you do get a lot better service overall because you’re getting very specific needs for your business addressed.
I have the Google Doc open right now that we just went through a pruning exercise. Every two-three months I ask my assistant, “Okay, give me all the recurring subscriptions that we have in the business.” My CTO and I look at them. I have it in front of me, it is 61 rows long and maybe 10 or 15 of those are not traditional SaaS. It’s a good 40-50 services, if you’ll just excuse me for a minute if I read through a few of them. They’re all very specific and very necessary.
Adobe Creative Cloud, AWS, Atlassian, Atlassian Statuspage, BrowserStack, Calendly, Canva, ClickFunnels, Cloudflare, DigitalOcean, Docker, Drip, Dropbox, Figma. That’s alphabetic order. I could just keep going down to Z. It’s a Frankenstein but it’s a beautiful one. It does ebb and flow in frustration depending on where the market is and where your business is.
At some point last year we said, “Okay, that’s enough of these different systems, let’s go to HubSpot. Let’s go all-in-one.” But in other areas, that doesn’t make sense. For bootstrappers, for people building businesses, it’s a great thing to be able to address one specific need, but you may be caught in that ebb and flow of a larger all-in-one or you might need to go there. I love it as long as the individual services are good. The nice thing about the subscription version of things is if they’re not good, you just leave them.
Rob: That’s a big difference. It’s not like you drop $300 on a piece of software and then you get two months and you stop using it. You still paid the $300 versus the monthly. I’ve also found that the all-in-ones tend to be, it’s like you said, it combines, everything works together. I don’t know if it’s a little more expensive but the tools aren’t as good, the individual pieces aren’t as good. It is what it is. I’m obviously a big fan of this world. Having been around long enough to have several of my early software products were not subscription, they were one-time download. I remember the struggles of the first day of each month, I had zero dollars in revenue for that month. It wasn’t like I had that baseline that I had last time. That’s the big difference that you forget if you’ve never run a non-subscription business is you’re just grinding it out.
In fact, during the financial crisis of 2008/2009, I had one product. It was doing maybe $4000 a month but it was part of my income, it was a chunk of it. Sales dropped 80% overnight, one month to the next. That’s the kind of business that’s going to be—I mean imagine if we were doing $4 million a month and had a bunch of employees and it dropped 80%. That’s where you start laying people off. It’s just such a big difference that the subscription is from our perspective as the business I think they are a safety net. I’m like you two, I don’t mind paying for subscriptions because I like not having to install software and maintain it and do all that. That’s the benefit we get from it.
Jordan: I want to add something. If this is a bit of a news show about things that are relevant right now, I just saw last week a company launched named pipe.com. I jumped on a call with the founder. The reason for bringing it up is because the downside of the subscription economy, and being a developer, and running a company based on subscriptions is that that lifetime value is stretched out. We’re all familiar with Gail Goodman’s Slow SaaS Ramp of Death and the math behind paying to acquire and then collecting over a longer period of time.
This company pipe.com that just launched, what they do is they take MRR, they take your monthly payments, and they will pay you annually. If I have a customer that pays us $500 a month, Pipe will look at that and say, “Okay, we understand your churn rate. We think this is a good bet. You can choose to sell us this customer, we will give you the whole annual amount of money upfront, then you just continue collecting monthly from them.”
The subscription economy is great in a lot of these ways but one of the tricky parts is cash flow, especially for younger companies that aren’t in the only annual, you must pay as an annual contract or you could do business with us. That strength comes later. It is tricky on cash flow but there are additional financing options like pipe.com that are starting to address that. We’ve seen revenue-based finance, we’ve seen other things. Pipe.com is not debt. It’s kind of like factoring but for SaaS. They charge you 15%, which is basically what you would charge people anyway because you would give them two months free. That’s kind of the default.
Rob: If the customer cancels in six months, they eat it, so they have a risk model.
Jordan: No. You pay back the remaining portion.
Rob: Got it. Okay.
Jordan: There’s literally an online portal and you can choose an individual customer. “I know that customer. They’ve been around for two years. They’re not going anywhere. I’ll sell that to you because I’m very confident that they’ll stick around.”
Jordan: It’s fascinating. Or you can sign an annual contract, which is something that we do. Our annual contracts are paid monthly. We have annual contracts but we don’t have this big, large chunk so they sign it. That is even less risk. This is an annual contract, they’re paying monthly, and I’ll just choose. I’ll click that and hit sell. I’ll get the money for that entire thing upfront, minus the 15%.
Rob: I love the innovation, all the innovation that’s happening in the financial models around SaaS. You’re right, that is the biggest Achilles heel is the long slow ramp of death.
Jordan: It’s awesome. It’s just the relationship with you and your billing software.
Tracy: When you say sell the customer, is that they’re acquiring the customers’ information for use?
Jordan: They’re still in your Stripe account, you’re collecting money, and you’re charging their card every month like normal. But then they will see, “Oh, that customer paid in Stripe. Cool. We’ll take that much amount from your bank account.”
Rob: Pretty interesting if you need money in the short term. I know folks looking at raising around or doing debt kind of financing their SaaS revenue.
Jordan: I’m looking at the same thing. I looked at them and I’m like, “Oh, that’s basically just taking your MRR and creating a line of revenue off of the MRR, and then not actually putting any debt on the balance sheet and also not selling like equity.” I was like, “What is the catch here because that’s very attractive.”
Rob: I think the catch is like when you think about—
Rob: There is some risk but I also think you’re basically spending future earnings. It’s almost like when you put money on a credit card now that’s technically debt and this is not. When you put money on a credit card, you basically are spending future earnings before you have them. That’s what this is in essence. There is some danger. If you’re prudent at managing cash and you know where that cash is going to go or you’re in a spot where you do think you need some dry powder in the coffers, I think it’s certainly an interesting avenue to look at.
Wrapping us up for today, I’m curious from each of you what is your favorite podcast right now? I mean right now because sometimes I have a favorite podcast for two months and I binge them all and then I move on. Tracy, you want to go first?
Tracy: Gosh. Don’t go pick me first. I’m the worst at podcasts because I have a hard time with podcasts. I know some people are able to play something at 2x speed and then go through all their backlog. Then for me, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I only have a certain amount of time. I can only do 1X.”
That said and it’s a dorky one, I’m still a big fan of Adventure Zone. It’s by My Brother, My Brother and Me. It’s their D&D podcast. Also, My Brother, My Brother and Me is another one I listen to. It’s just because I need to turn my brain off from work. I listen to a lot of work when I podcast, Startups for the Rest of Us, Out of Beta, a lot of other ones. It’s really nice to have something that’s just a bunch of people just in a room together having fun. I would say that my answer is the Adventure Zone and by extension My Brother, My Brother and Me.
Rob: How about you, Jordan?
Jordan: I’m just going to reject your premise entirely and mention several of my favorite podcasts.
Rob: I’m not picking five favorites, that’s cool.
Jordan: I need to be generic. I absolutely love the Joe Rogan podcast. It’s interesting, it is just really interesting. It challenges a lot of your thoughts, and assumptions, and is entertaining, it’s funny. There’s so much of it. You don’t have to listen to everyone and you’re fully entertained.
I also love the Dave Chang Show. Chef Dave Chang from Momofuku has a great podcast that is about food but also about creativity. He brings people on from his network in the Bill Simmons world. That’s a very interesting one. I like Brian Koppelman, The Moment. I absolutely love The Story Pirates. That podcast is so good, it’s for kids.
Rob: My kid knows about that.
Jordan: Oh my God. Look, I drive my four-year-old to school every day and it’s about a 20-minute ride. That’s what she wants to listen to and we just laugh our butt off about it. It is these extremely talented actors that take stories that were written by kids and dramatize them and turn them into a story and song and so on. It’s so brilliant and so entertaining. The kids all love it. You don’t mind listening to it. I don’t know how many more times I listen to the Descendants 3 soundtrack before I bang my head up against the wall. Story Pirates, big thumbs up.
Rob: Me as well. They’ve written books that my kids have. We actually saw them live. They came to Minneapolis and performed at the Parkway Theater. We went and saw them in there. They do a bunch of improv. They’re really talented improv actors.
Jordan: You saw Lee, Nimene, and Rachel?
Rob: Oh my gosh, we totally did.
For me, I listen to 40 podcasts so I’m not going to read through them. The one that I’m really digging right now is Reply All from Gimlet Media. You know you have a good podcast when every time I look at the title, typically I’m like, “That sounds totally not interesting. I don’t care about that.” I’ll read the description and by the time I’m three minutes in I’m like, “I care so much about this.” I’m sitting in my driveway waiting for it to finish before I walk in the house type thing. That’s been a big one. I’ve actually been listening—there’s an old D&D podcast that’s been around for 10 years. It’s not actual play. I can’t listen to people playing D&D. I can play it and I like it, but I cannot listen. I can’t do Adventure Zone. I tried and I just, I can’t get into.
There’s one where they talk about the lore and the history and they talk about the books and they talk about rules and how to be a better DM. Just all the stuff around at the meadow, which of course I’m always interested in the meadow. You can’t just start a company, you have to talk about starting companies. I can’t just play guitar I have to learn how they’re made. I can’t play D&D, I have to learn how to create it. Save or Die and Save for Half are the two that I’m really into. One has been around 10 years.
That’s going to wrap us up for today. If folks want to catch up with you, Jordan, you are @JordanGal on Twitter. Hey, do I pronounce your last name right? Is it Gal?
Jordan: It is Gal. Yes.
Rob: I used to call you Jordan Gal, but that’s not. That’s how it’s spelled, right?
Jordan: That’s right.
Rob: I heard you pronounce it differently. @JordanGal on Twitter and Tracy is @tracymakes on Twitter. Her website is tracyosborn.com.
Tracy: If I could get @tracyosborn on Twitter I would, but I did not. Some people might know my old Twitter username and that was a terrible idea and @tracymakes is better than what I had before. That’s what I have.
Rob: It’s all there. If you’re interested in podcasts, check out Jordan on Bootstrapped Web. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Jordan: Thank you, Rob.
Rob: I have to be honest, it was a fun show to prep for and record. I hope you enjoyed it. Certainly feel free to reach out. You can reach out privately: email@example.com. If you have constructive feedback, if you want to give some accolades, a thumbs up, hit me up on Twitter, @robwalling. I look forward to hearing from you.
If you have a question for us, you can leave a voicemail at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit startupsfortherestofus.com for full show notes, transcripts of each episode, all the links that we mentioned in each show. Of course, if you’re not subscribed, go into your podcatcher, search for startups. We should be in the top three or four. Thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you next week.
In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about content promotion tactics. Breaking the tactics down in three categories (Social Media, SEO, and E-mail Marketing), the guys share thoughts and expand based on some previously written articles on the topic.
Items mentioned in this episode:
Mike: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and I talk are going to be talking about content promotion tactics. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us 414.
Welcome to Startups For The Rest Of Us. The podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing software products whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Rob: I’m Rob. You know, I’ve been thinking about my next act for a while.
Mike: Have you now?
Rob: I have.
Mike: Is this where people start cashing in on the pool?
Rob: Totally, yeah. What is Rob’s next startup going to be, right? This has been a question for a while.
Mike: I think it was my timing, actually. Not just what it was going to be.
Rob: Oh, was it?
Rob: Because Rob said I’m never going to do this again. Who put money on never? I think…
Mike: Probably nobody.
Rob: …no one. My wife definitely did not put money on never. Well, my next act is not a startup. It is an accelerator for bootstrappers. It’s actually a small fund and an accelerator for bootstrappers. It’s called TinySeed. You can check more info at tinyseedfund.com. But it’s really the first startup accelerator designed for bootstrappers, so startup accelerators is something like Y Combinator, TechStars, and as you and I have talked many times, those are geared around people who have these unicorn ideas, who are going to move to a location for three months, work the 80 hours for little pay and little sleep, and that doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of us. I mean, the name of our podcast is Startups For The Rest of Us, right? You did this after Y Combinator came out.
Rob: That’s what this accelerator is. It’s designed for folks like you, me, listeners of the podcast, attendees of MicroConf–kind of the people in our ecosystem and our community where building $1 million SaaS app, $5 million, $10 million annual SaaS app, is actually quite lucrative and there are so few funding sources for folks like us. The idea is, to put more money where my mouth has been for the past several years.
I’ve made a dozen angel investments, half of those have been in these businesses that only want to raise a single round of funding. Often $100,000, $250,000, maybe $400,000, whatever some small-ish amount, and then they want to get to profitability and never do that institutional money. The idea is, we know a lot of founders, I know a lot of founders, who are somewhere between idea and $10k a month MRR–is the sweet spot. Because most of these folks are unable to work full-time on their business and that’s kind of the value prop of TinySeed is it gives you runway for a year.
It basically provides you with a small amount of capital but it’s going to be enough capital to basically live on for a year and keep you from having the nights and weekends stuff, to be able to focus full-time, and you don’t have to relocate so it’s remote. It’s going to be in a cohort model […] maybe it’s 10 in the first cohort, and weekly Zoom calls, and I’m assuming like a Slack or chat group, and then weekly office hours. Basically, all the things you hear about in an accelerator except that it’s designed for us, by us; it is remote and it’s just another option.
I think the other thing is, it’s longer term. You and I both know, I don’t think we could’ve built and launched Drip or Bluetick in three months. It’s just not long enough. The idea is to get longer runway to get more traction and since people are remote, it winds up being easier. Because Y Combinator couldn’t be a one-year thing because you’re not going to relocate to a place for a year. There’re different elements to it but that’s the basic gist.
Mike: We’ll have to talk about it. I almost think that we might want to talk about it for either longer period of time and it’s part of a direct episode on funding. I think there’s different ways that it could work. Obviously, you guys have to talk internally about what you are going to publicly disclose now versus things that you’re just talking about or ruminated on for ideas. But I do think we should definitely revisit it as a part of a longer discussion topic as part of Startups For The Rest Of Us.
Rob: Yeah, that sounds like fun. I would say, at this point, we’re about probably 80% locked down on terms and ideas, and curriculum and thoughts, and all that. But definitely more than happy to talk about it. The wee of it is, myself and Einar Volsett, who has been at MicroConf many times, he’s a YC Y Combinator alum, he’s had a couple of exits, and right now, he’s a Micro-Cap M&A advisor, which I think, he’s like a scout for private equities; he works with private equity companies. But you know him. I think you’ve talked a bunch of times.
Mike: Yeah. I’ve had dinner with him a couple of times at MicroConf. He’s a super sharp guy. He used to teach at Cornell, I think.
Rob: Yeah, he was a CS Professor at Cornell for a couple of years.
Mike: Right. He’s got a Ph.D. in computer science but he also knows a lot about the business side of things. What was the startup that he ran? It was inbox spelled backwards, it’s xobni, something like that?
Rob: It wasn’t xobni, it was something else. There was one called AppAftercare which he exited in 2016.
Mike: Oh, ReMail
Rob: Yep, ReMail, that was it. Y Combinator and it was acquired by Google in 2010. He has some experience and that’s where he has more of the fundraising and the private equity venture capital, more knowledge of that and the terms, so he’s good at figuring out models and running IRR calculations. If you don’t know what those are, you don’t need to unless you’re going to run a fund but that’s one of the reasons that I’ve never wanted to get into this is I didn’t want to do all that side of things.
Mike: Well, like I said, it will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out. I think that you guys are the first ones that are doing this in this particular space. We used to talk about why Y Combinator was aimed at people who are just going straight for funding versus like, “Hey, let me build a product. Let me get a little bit of traction for it and then go out for some funding, but I still want to not have to grow it into his giant thing.”
Rob: That’s right. I, of course, did a bunch of market research on accelerators and incubators and remote accelerators, they’re really–you can find a list of remote accelerators, but almost of them, they’re rather defunct now or it’s like a remote accelerator tied to like a city government launch or a university and it just kind of feels like a ghost town. No one has nailed this model. That of course could be a risk if you have no competition. Are you first or is it not going to work? Are you going down a wrong path? That’s always the question but I personally believe I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think that it was going to work.
Mike: I think every single entrepreneur […] of doing business. If I’m first, it’s like I’m seeing things that other people aren’t seeing. But it’s one of those things that you have to let it play out to find out whether history will remember you for being right or wrong.
Rob: Absolutely. That’s the game of being a founder, I think. If you’re listening to this and you’re just interested in hearing more whether it’s from the founder side, whether you are experienced, interested in being a mentor, somehow being involved, or just wanting to hear more about it, tinyseedfund.com. There, of course, is an email opt-in form in there. We’ll be communicating with that list as more details come out.
Mike: Awesome. On my end, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to schedule a personal retreat in the very near future just to straighten out where my marketing efforts are going to go for Bluetick. Because I’ve had things all over the place for several months now and I haven’t really had a solid thought on what the direction should be and where, strategically, I should be going with the marketing efforts.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to take that time right now just because my wife teaches on Saturdays, and my son has soccer games on Saturdays. For the next three or four weeks, he’s got those games. It’s just like she can’t be in both places at the same time, so I kind of have to wait, push off on that a little bit, but that is on my short-term road map, I’ll say.
Rob: That’s always a good idea. Frankly, since I started doing retreats, there always comes this time where you just don’t know what to do next, you don’t know what to try next, and you need some distance in order to do that. Because if you sit around at your laptop, at your home office, you’re just going to write code, you’re going to respond to fires and support requests and all that stuff and getting away for a couple of days–super valuable.
Do you have Sherry’s retreat guide, The Zen Founder Guide to Founder Retreats?
Mike: I’m not sure. I think I might. I’m not sure if I have it or not.
Rob: It’s just a very good guide to revisit. Every time I go on a retreat, I’d pull it up. If you’re listening to this, haven’t heard of it, go to zenfounder.com. I think there’s a products link in there. It’s $19 or something and it’s 30, 40-page e-book, in essence, but it’s kind of everything. Because Sherry introduced me to Founder Retreats and I talked about it on this podcast and it’s kind of spread from there which I think is a great thing. I’ve always found them so valuable. Sherry put together the guide and had me add as much as fill-in-the-gaps basically on it, and so it’s really, in my opinion, kind of the definitive guide for things you should think about as you go into your retreat.
I hope you’re able to do that soon. It’s a bummer to have schedule be the issue. Is there a way—just to throw out ideas—like he has soccer game on Saturday, could you leave Saturday evening and come back, basically 48 hours, come back Monday evening or Monday afternoon before the kids get home from school?
Mike: Probably. Last week was a holiday so I could not have done it that week. Then this coming week, I can’t leave on Saturday night because we’re basically going out to dinner for our wedding anniversary to celebrate that. Then the following week I leave for MicroConf.
Rob: You just cancel.
Mike: Oh, yeah. Sure. I’ll just cancel that.
Rob: Oh, for Pete’s sake.
Mike: I’ll cancel either our anniversary dinner or MicroConf. One or the other. It’s going to be several weeks no matter what at this point. There’s no way around it, I think.
Rob: I have a great idea. Do your retreat in Croatia. Just extend your trip a couple of extra days. Be like, “Hey, Ally, I’ll be back. Peace out. Have fun with the kids. I’ll be back.”
Mike: If I were leaving early, I can’t though. Just because she teaches during the week […] like Sundays.
Rob: I’m joking.
Mike: I know.
Rob: Yeah, man. It’s hard. I totally get it.
Mike: Oh, well, moving on. I guess we’re going to move on to our actual topic for today. We’re going to talk about content promotion tactics.
Rob: I am digging it. We’re revisiting a topic that we covered in 2010.
Mike: Yes. This is a little bit from episode six. In episode six, it was all about how to get traffic to your website. I went back, and I took a look at that, some of the links that we had in there like seobuilding.com just totally defunct at this point. You can buy that domain if you’re really interested for like $3500. If anyone’s interested…
Rob: You’ll at least be getting graphic from us at this point. No, not some of the links, Mike. I think, 40% of the links that we listed, and the approaches are just completely, they either don’t work anymore, they’re just gone, but this was eight years ago. It’s an eternity.
Mike: Yes. But I went back, and I looked at it. I was kind of inspired by, I was reading the SaaS mag article that’s put out by FE International. They launched it at MicroConf. You can go to saasmag.com, we’ll link that up in the show notes, and sign-up, and start getting issues of that. It’s aimed at SaaS founders. It talks about various things that are related to the industry and they interview experts from different fields on what they’re doing and kind of what the future looks like, and how they got to where they are, etc.
Most recent one I saw has interviews from Patrick Campbell from Price Intelligently, Brennan Dunn from Double Your Freelancing and RightMessage, also David Cancel from Drip. There’s a bunch of different people they’ve interviewed. But on one of the pages they had, it was kind of a poll that they have taken inside of a Facebook group called SaaS Growth Hacks. They asked the question, “What are the best marketing channels for SaaS companies?” and people voted on different things. Content, by far, was the highest voted thing. Below that you have forums, and Quora posts–answering questions there, and then cold email, and paid ads ranks about the same. Then below that was partnerships, word-of-mouth. Below that, free tools, and then the last couple of ones on the list were Twitter, conferences, and LinkedIn messaging.
The way that that shook out does not necessarily surprise me, but the fact the content was still so far up above, I felt like that was a little surprising.
Rob: I find that really interesting too, actually. I think, as you mentioned, it’s from basically marketers, so whether it’s founders or growth marketers or whatever, it’s what they are doing these days. I wonder if they’re doing these because they’re measuring, and it works or they’re doing it because this is kind of the current wave. The current mindset is, content is king, and it’s the thing that you should start with.
I don’t know that that’s worth even diving into, going down that rabbit trail. But it is something that comes to mind is, is there a group thing going on and zigging when everyone else is zagging, is the best way to go or is this really right now with social and the fact email marketing is so powerful in with the SEO benefits of content that content really is where it’s at and that’s why everyone’s there.
Mike: I think it’s partially because of the fact that with content, you can create an article through your website and it’s going to continue drawing traffic in versus if you do cold calling or a joint venture with somebody, I call them one-off activities even though you can do them repeatedly, but you don’t continue to reap rewards if you’re not picking-up the phone and cold calling, for example. You have to keep doing it versus if you go through the effort to creating an article, put it on your site, and you do well enough with the SEO, you will continue to get traffic much further down the road. You can also promote that piece of content multiple times.
It’s not about that content is king so much as this that content is reusable and it allows you to put it in front of people, not just multiple times, but put it in front of new people because you’re creating this asset of some kind that other people could find useful. You can’t really point somebody to an empty page on your website and expect that it’s going to continue to drive clicks.
Rob: Right. That’s the thing. We’ve talked in the past about how if you’re in super early stage, you’ve pre-product market fit or pre-product then content’s probably not the right play for you because content is a long game. But once you’ve found your audience, your product is something people want, and you’re scaling, that’s when I think, in general, content is going to be a really good play for you to get you that 5K or 10K MRR that you’ve just scratched and clawed and manually done maybe cold email, whatever it is to get your first 100 customers. But once you want to go from there, I think you need more scalable things and content is one of those avenues, and that’s why we’re talking about it today.
Mike: I think what we’re going to focus on is, we have a couple of resources that we’ll link to in the show notes. One if from orbitmedia.com and the other one is from neilpattel.com. one of the things that this really points to is the fact that when you are promoting content there are three essential pieces or channels you can look at. There’s SEO, then there’s sending out emails to drive people on your mailing list back to your site, and there’s social sharing. Where those intersect is you can promote your content into each of those places but depending on what your needs are, you’re going to put more effort into one versus the other.
The whole idea of this is, if you do it through social media, you’re going to try and get additional shares or followers. If you’re trying to get additional subscriptions to your mailing list, it’s going to help you grow your list for email marketing. If a visitor comes in and they link to your content from someplace else, you’re going to rank higher in search engines. The idea is to create this feedback loop, of you doing all of those three things in order to amplify your traffic and from that, you essentially end up with leads on the other side of it. It’s really just an engine that you’re creating.
If you have a ton of people on your mailing list, you can start asking them in trying to help promote on other things. You can say, “Hey, can you promote this on social media?” You can leverage them back and forth between each other to amplify the entire system.
Rob: Content does have this unique advantage which is one of the reasons that marketers like it so much is, it really has this trifecta of value that it brings, these three uses. I’ll step to another example; let’s say I’m running Facebook ads and I’m getting that to work. Facebook ads send typically cold traffic to a page, you might get trial sign-ups, you might have to retarget them, you might have to get them on an email list, but those ads you’re paying for—and they really have one purpose—and it’s to drive some traffic one time.
Content on the other hand has three uses, maybe it has more, but the three main ones that I’ve seen, and I’ve used, and it worked really well. The first one is social media. It’s getting that buzz because you put out a new article or essay or e-book or video or whatever, but you get people to talk about you on Twitter and LinkedIn, Facebook or wherever else your folks reside, and you can get that quick social media bump of, “Hey, everyone’s talking about this cool new thing that came out.” Then it dies down and that would be one use.
But another use for this exact same content is you email your whole list. That can help with the social media aspect. It helps if more people know about it then more people talk about. But it gives you an excuse to contact your email list. Every time you contact your email list, you’re probably going to get more trials, more interests in your product.
The third use is this long play of SEO. If you put out good content and it hits the right keywords, and you do have links back or you have social shares that are pointing back, it rises in the ranks. Long-term, people searching for these terms in Google, come back to it.
I haven’t given it a ton of thought, but I don’t know, off hand, of another marketing approach that has that many solid benefits, this super short-term bump, the email list bump, and then the long-term paly of SEO. I believe it’s pretty unique in that respect.
Mike: Let’s dive into the first section which is social media. What we’re going to do is we’re going to throw in, just very briefly, highlight some of the different tactics that are listed on a couple of these reference articles that we pointed to earlier.
The first one is to mention people who are going to like your article, they liked the content of it or directly reference people who are quoted in the article. One example of how well this would work is if you’ve interviewed somebody and they are relatively high-profile in the industry that you serve, for example. If you’ve mentioned them in the social media posts, they are more likely to share it than if you were to email them directly and then say, “Hey, can you tweet this out for me?” Because then you’re asking them, “Hey, can you create a tweet and then post this?” versus they see it in their social media feed and they can just literally hit retweet and they don’t have to do any work. It’s just a matter of what your ask is of them.
If I see something where it has referenced me for example and I’ve commented on an article or was on a podcast, I’m almost certain to retweet that and like it just to give it more of a visibility.
Rob: That’s a nice tactic. I’ve definitely seen that. At a minimum, I’m going to like something if I click through and it’s like, “Oh, yeah. That was that quote I gave you two months ago.” Then like you said, if it’s a legit post, because sometimes you’ll get asked for a quote or a comment on, what’s the hardest thing about validating product or what are the market approaches that are working today or whatever, and they’re doing an expert roundup and I’m just cool to participate in those. Some of them are really, really good and really well put together and others are kind of someone doing a halfway job or maybe they’re new or whatever. But the best ones, when I get a mention like that, it’s pretty certain I’m going to click through and then based on the quality of it, decent likelihood that I will retweet that.
Mike: Another one is to tweet quotes from the content. The nice things about this is you can create multiple tweets and schedule them using Buffer, a variety of other tools, and get them out there in such a way that you’re not repeating yourself. Different quotes are going to attract different types of people. There’s a quote about, I don’t know, a search engine marketing for example, you could put that in there, and then there could be something else which is optimizing search engine marketing. One is very broad and then the other one is a little bit more specific, depending on the person who sees it, if they’re more interested in one or the other, they’re going to click on it.
Rob: Another approach is you’re not just going to tweet this once especially if it’s a big piece of content because the longer form, frankly, more expensive, whether it’s time-expense or actual cost in paying someone to build it. The longer form more expensive pieces of content are the ones that are winning today and the ones that are getting the tweets. You’re not just going to tweet this once and be done. A good strategy is to tweet it once and then schedule some near future and distant future tweets because, if you think about it, in three months, the buzz from this e-book or audio piece or whatever, blog post, will have died off but it’s probably still relevant and valuable. It’s something not to bother people with but to bring back up and remind them, “Hey, this is still is valuable and legitimate.” Obviously, even within the first week, I forgot what the number is, but isn’t it like 5% of your followers see any of your individual tweets?
Mike: That’s not a per day basis, I think.
Rob: Yeah. One approach is to, as we’ve said in the past, kind of have a once a day tweet this out for the first three, four, five days, so that people more people see it especially if it’s a really big piece of content. It can be worth it. You can also irritate people and they’ll unfollow you if you’re just spamming them with the same links over and over. You have to use your head here, like any other strategy, but this is definitely something I’ve seen marketers are doing.
Mike: It’s offshoot is that is to share a short video on Twitter, Facebook, whether it’s Facebook groups or one of your Facebook page or inside of LinkedIn. The idea of the short video is to more or less give a very quick overview or summary of what the piece of content you have is not to talk about the entire content. It’s not that you’re trying to drive people to watch the video. What you’re really just trying to do is help get those people who prefer a different medium. Some people like to skim things and read it, and then there’s people out there who like to watch a video. But you also don’t want to overwhelm them with, “Oh, I just popped on to Twitter and I’m expecting to be here for a couple of minutes.” They’re not going to have time for a 30-minute video. But they may sit down and watch a 30-second video or a 15-second video that just talks about like, “Hey, if you’re interested in this, come over and check it out.” You just want to be sensitive to the fact that some people like to consume that information in different formats. The other nice benefit of sharing it like that is that you tend to get the videos will be shared on Twitter, on Facebook, and LinkedIn as your face and there’s a very different type of algorithms that those companies use in order to highlight those types of posts.
Rob: Another approach is to syndicate your content on LinkedIn, Medium, and other avenues. Syndication is just a fancy word for either reposted there or taking excerpt from it and repost there. You can imagine if you’ve written this 100-page e-book, the definitive guide to social media marketing or email marketing or whatever, you don’t post that whole thing on LinkedIn. But maybe you take, because you can put LinkedIn kind of blog post-ish, you take a really great 1000-words from that, and you post it on LinkedIn and then you link out the book.
You can do same with Medium although you can go longer form there. You can post an entire chapter from that book, so maybe you do 5000, 3000, 5000-words on Medium. Again, say, “This is an excerpt from this book.” Or if it’s a video, maybe you’d do a transcript part of.
These are ways that if you have built a following, or if you think that those networks with be intrigued by the title and the content and stuff, then reusing this content is a nice way to reuse that effort because if you spent a month or two writing this e-book or making this amazing tutorial video or whatever, you want to get it out in as many forms as possible. That’s what syndication is.
Mike: The next section we’re going to talk about is email marketing. Many of these, I think, are probably going to be pretty familiar to most people listening to this, but we’re going to go through them anyway because this is kind of a major section of the, as Rob talked about the trifecta here of content marketing.
The first one is sending out the links to it through your email list. One thing you definitely want to make sure that you’re doing here is you’re putting calls to action in there. I have mixed feeling on whether or not you should post the entire piece of content in the email versus having it on your website. Because there’s advantages and disadvantages to both. I think you just need to make a judgement call about whether you want it on your website where people can go to it versus, you’re just trying to make sure that you get it in front of people on your email list. If it’s something that you want exclusively for people on your mailing list, obviously, you’d put it in there. But people also have a somewhat limited attention span if it comes to something in their email. I do think it’s worth being cautious and making some measurements around, “Are people actually reading that and then taking action on it?” But again, that’s a judgement call.
Rob: Yeah. My default rule of thumb for this is if you’re doing personal brand stuff, if it’s Patrick Mackenzie or Brennan Dunn or Rob Walling blogging, and then sending it to their list, it’s probably fine if you post the entire article in the email. Because people are engaged with you and the content is really gripping and they tend to want to—or hopefully, it’s really gripping—and they tend to want to read the whole thing and they could read it on their phone or whatever. That’s my general rule.
If you’re doing it as a business, when Dripping was sending it out or if Bluetick were sending out a post, I would probably do a teaser and a really snazzy excerpt with an image, and then say, “Click through to read the full thing.” Some people will click, and some people won’t, but it will get you traffic. The end goal there is to get traffic to your site. Hopefully, get people to share it from there, and sign-up for a trial or whatever.
Again, that’s my general rule, how I link. But I think you can certainly break those rules if you know your audience better or as you said, if you look at the numbers, it’s telling you that that’s not the best way to do it.
Mike: If you had an email course for example, a lot of times you’re going to put the course directly in the email, and you may not want that course directly on your website. You may want to reserve it just for people on your mailing list, and maybe that’s because they don’t get to the mailing list until there’s certain amount of trust gained, or maybe the purpose of that email sequence is to establish trust, and then you send them shorter emails later on with the links back to the articles. But again, as you said, there’s lots of different ways to do it.
Rob: Right. This particular point, of whether to include all the content in an email, is really only relevant for probably blog posts because if you’re putting out an e-book it’s going to be too long. If you’re putting out a video course or one video, you can’t embed that in email, you can certainly embed an image that links out somewhere. If you create any kind of downloadable content, you’re not going to be able to put that in email anyways. It’s only if you’re doing kind of the blog content engine or short essays.
Mike: As kind of an addendum to this, you can send out, “In case you missed it,” follow-up emails. Obviously, you can put those directly into the email campaigns and it works really well because I’ve seen Drip actually put this in their directive and specifically for that reason. But you get anywhere from 20%-40% lift in opens just by resending an email with a different subject line for the exact same emails. If somebody didn’t open it, you basically resend them that email.
Rob: We did that. It’s quite successful. Another tactic you can do is, let’s say you’ve put out three blog posts a week, you can recap either at the end of the week or at the end of the month, and just have a separate email that you pull up, “Hey, in case you missed it, here are all the posts from the past week or the month,” or, “Here are our top picks or the most popular five from the past month.” and it’s just one more way to reach out to the audience, provide them with additional content, and you didn’t have to produce that content. It’s just linking back to stuff that they’ve probably missed because they probably didn’t read every article.
Mike: Next on the list is you can also send those notifications directly to some of your high-value contacts. You can either do this as personal emails instead of broadcast emails or you can find people that are on your list, who may not necessarily be subscribed to a particular campaign or they’re tagged in a certain way or segmented somehow and you say, “Hey, I think that these people would be really great candidate to receive this particular piece of content.” Maybe it they opted-in to a particular lead magnet, then you would send the content to them. But it’s really about being a lot more targeted about who you’re sending it to.
Again, this is where personal emails to people can really shine just because if they do see an email coming in and it’s from your company versus from you personally, they’re probably a little less likely to treat it as, “Hey, this person took the time to really reach out to me, so I’m going to pay a little bit more attention to it.” But sometimes the emails that are coming in from a general newsletter email address, sometimes people have rules or filters set-up so that they go into a certain place. By sending it directly, a lot of times, it will bypass those defaults because they just didn’t think to set them up.
Rob: There are 50 content promotion ideas in the Orbit Media post alone, but another one that you pulled out is to notify your source of a new post. I think this is similar to doing it on social media but emailing people directly, “Hey, do you remember the article where I interviewed you for? That’s live. If you’d like to share it, it’d be great. Here’s a link.” Or, if there’s 10 people because it’s a roundup, you do the same thing. You notify them all and certainly a few people will likely help promote that for you.
Mike: If you give them a short snippet or a summary, you can also ask them to promote it to their own email list, and then you’re essentially amplifying the efforts there.
Rob: Let’s dive into SEO.
Mike: When you’re looking at SEO, obviously, what you want to do is you want to align the content of those posts with key phrases that you have pulled out after doing some keyword research. There’s a lot of different tools that you can use for that. We’ve talked about them in the past. But the other thing that you can do is when you take that phrase and you plug it into Google, scroll all the way to the bottom, and there’s a place where it says, “Related phrases.” Those are things that Google also recognizes that people are searching for. It doesn’t tell you numbers or how many people are searching for them but there’s a good chance that if you were to take those and put them into the article and sprinkle them around, you’re also going to pick up additional SEO benefit and additional traffic by using those phrases and it’s going to end up in front of more people.
Rob: SEO is such a–it’s a large and ever more complex subject than eight years ago, we could probably give you the five things you have to do to rank. These days, the list is just longer and longer and it’s more complicated. I don’t think we can do a full treatment of, “How to SEO your blog post or your e-books.” It’s probably, not only an entire podcast, but at this point, probably an entire e-book or book. You need a way to get it down.
But another tactic is to crosslink from other posts you have or other resources or other websites you have because obviously, while links are slightly less valuable than they used to be, you could just build links in the old days and rank for everything, links are still very valuable especially from authority sites. If you have control of an authority site or authority sites, you can crosslink from relevant posts or relevant sites and help that new content rank higher in Google.
Mike: Previously, you had mentioned that you can create a short video and post it on various social media sites, you can also use the video there to embed into the website itself just to give people the top of a brief intro to what they’re going to be reading about. The nice benefit is that when people are doing searches inside of Google, they have a tendency to show videos very, very high up in the list because most people aren’t creating videos that they’re using directly for content. They’re really trying to push people in that direction. I do see a lot of videos get posted or show up in the search results even though I’m not personally looking specifically for videos, but there is a significant benefit that I’ve seen for posts that included video in them.
Rob: Of course, they’re submitting to the–there are social platforms, there is Reddit, Hacker News, Product Hunt, even Digg, although I’m not sure that’s worth doing at this point. You and I were just looking at it before this episode, but those are the things and that whole list shifts based on what your content is and who your content is. You can also do paid promotion on StumbleUpon, Outbrain, LinkWithin, Tabula, they’re often lower quality and they’re more consumer-oriented and its people just kind of skipping from one thing to the next, so if you’re a true B2B enterprise SaaS, it’s probably not worth doing any of these. I would look more at LinkedIn paid promotion or something like that. But there’s this whole world of both these social new platform, social discovery platforms, and these kinds of paid ways to get in front of them. Getting on those, if you can get a backlink, if you can get voted up, it will help in the short-term with the social media bump because more people know about it, but then in the longer term, it’s going to link back to you.
With that, I think we’re wrapped up for the day.
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In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Rob and Mike talk about the six biggest email marketing myths. The episode is put together around an unbounce.com blog post. Rob and Mike discuss whether they agree or disagree with the myths mentioned in this article.
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Rob [00:00]: In this episode of Startups for The Rest of Us, Mike and I discuss the six biggest email marketing myths. This is Startups for The Rest of Us Episode 293.
Welcome to Startups for The Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at building, launching, and growing cell phone products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.
Mike [00:28]: And I’m Mike.
Rob [00:28]: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, sir?
Mike [00:33]: I talked a little bit about it last week, but we’re finally putting the finishing touches and final testing on the huge code overhaul that we’ve been doing over the past several weeks. It’s been a long trying process at best, I’ll say, but it’s finally almost done. We’ll be able to go live with it in a couple of days. It’s prevented us from pushing new code live just because of the way that we did things. And we too had a couple of missteps along the way, but we didn’t push anything live to the production servers because we went through the testing process and it’s like, “Oh, this just doesn’t work,” or, “It’s broken in this way,” so we held off on some of that. But hopefully another 24-48 hours and that’ll be over with and then we can start moving ahead.
Rob [01:07]: Those are always super trying processes, man, trying to get all the code up to speed. Now why did you have such an overhaul this early? Typically, I’d imagine you get technical debt and then you’d wait a year and you really run into it, and then you come back and revamp. But why only you’re kind of still in early access at this point and a few months into development?
Mike [01:26]: So it had more to do with how things were interacting with the database, and the fact that it was just not easy to write unit tests. So we basically skipped a bunch of things early on in the development. And the things that we skipped made it really, really difficult to put automated tests in place. And we made the conscious decision to not do some of those tests, but we took a step back and there were bugs that were getting into production and things that were being broken. So, I took a look at it and we went through and tried to figure out, “Okay, well how can we write unit tests and make sure that this doesn’t happen again?” and it was actually not possible to write those unit tests because of the way that some of the code was structured. So, in an effort to get us to the point where we’re not incurring more technical debt every single time we had a feature, we did a code overhaul of some of the way that stuff accesses the databases and external resources and things like that, because we interact with the mailboxes and we’re heavily dependent upon the current time. So, because of those things you have to have an abstraction layer in the place that essentially mocks those things up and says, “Oh well, if you were to access this thing, this is what that would return.” But because we didn’t have any of those abstractions in place, you literally can’t test them.
So, there was just a lot of…it wasn’t really spaghetti code, it was just a lot of internal dependencies on things that we don’t really have control over and they were embedded in the code. So, just made it very difficult, like I said, bordering on impossible to test some of those things in an automated fashion. We bit the bullet now to go through that to get us to the point where we can do that. And it’s not to say that we’ll do it in every single case moving forward, but any time we come across a bug, I want to be able to be sure that we can write a test that will make it easier to filter those things out. So, when we run into things in production, we can get rid of them and test it locally and make sure that we’re not going to run into that again.
Rob [03:14]: Very cool. It’s always a bummer to have to do that upfront. It kills time but I think it’s probably the right choice if it’s allowing you to write unit test. Because I think I’ve said several times over the past couple of years that I will never build an app or work on an app again that doesn’t have extensive unit tests, because it has saved our bacon so many times with Drip. Obviously, it takes longer to build the feature. It’s incrementally longer especially in the early days, but over the long run, it will save you time. So, I think you’re making a good call there.
Mike [03:43]: Like I said, it wasn’t so much about writing the unit tests, it was having the ability to. So, when we do run into something, we need the ability to write those so that we can test it and say, “Okay, this is what’s happening in production.” And then we need to be able to replicate it locally and we couldn’t do that. So, there was one bug we run into, and I talked about it last week, where I literally could not replicate it locally because I couldn’t get everything set up and mocked up in a way that it was in production. So, I was just guessing at different things to say, “Okay, will this work? Will that work?” And I had to push several different variations of the code in order to ‘fix it’, so that was really the issue. It was just when we run into something; we need to be able to test it locally to make sure that we’re fixing it.
So how about you? What’s up this week?
Rob [04:28]: Things have been pretty good. They’re kind of busy and chaotic right now. With school ending, I’m sure you ran into having a lot of end-of-the-year presentations and awards ceremonies and plays and parties. And just so happens both of our kids have birthdays around this time. So, I’ve just felt like we’ve gone to a lot of performances and a lot of events recently. Which is fun to go to, but it does kind of fill up the time and mean we have less of our evenings and weekends free right now.
Mike [004:52]: My kids had a half-day of school yesterday, which you’d think with two weeks left that they would still have full days of school. But for whatever reason, they had a half-day of school yesterday. So, you have to deal with it.
Rob [05:01]: Right. And then we’ve had a transition. We had a friend of ours, a nanny in essence, watching one of our sons, and she transitioned into doing yoga instruction full-time. So, we’ve had to transition him on that as well as he’s now done with school as of last week. So, we’re really just rushing around, getting stuff done, in addition to some other chaos going on.
So, today we’re talking about the six biggest email marketing myths. And I put together the outline for this episode around an unbounced blog post. And it was published in mid-May, so it was a couple of weeks ago, and it’s called The Six Biggest Email Marketing Myths Debunked. I wanted to talk through it, because some of them I do think are pretty good points that we should discuss that people should or should not do. And then some of them I just don’t think are actually myths. They may be some light rules of thumb, but I don’t think they’re things that everyone proclaims are rules and the truth and going against them is a terrible thing. But that’s the fun part, is that we’re going to be able to look through this.
So, the article kicks off and it talks about how there’s over 205 billion emails sent and received through the Internet. And it talks about that one McKenzie study suggests that email marketing is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Twitter and Facebook combined. And we’ve talked about that on this show here, right? I typically say it’s a 20:1; I didn’t think about 40:1. But this goes back to when I had an RSS feed on my blog with 20,000 people and I had an email list of about 1,000 and when I launched both of them, the email sold as much as the RSS feed did. Which was surprising to me, because I thought that a lot of people were reading the blog. But it turns out they were reading it amidst a bunch of other blogs, and so they didn’t really know whose blog was who, because in an RSS reader it kind of all blends together.
And then, of course, the whole thing of having 20,000 Twitter followers versus even 1,000 or 2,000 email addresses I would say still holds true. So, it’s neat to see that someone has actually studied that. That’s why so many people – like we had a question last week of a founder who is saying, “It seems like all the advice I see -” which I think is a bit of an exaggeration, but he said, “I think all the advice I see it starts with the presupposition that you have an email address. And I think the reason is because email addresses they just work so well. And so it’s basically everyone encouraging you to go start building your list.”
And so let’s dive into the first myth here. And again, it’s the myth according to this article. I think, Mike, you and I want to discuss whether or not we think these are myths, in fact. But the first one is that Tuesday is the best day to send marketing emails. The article says, you’ve almost certainly heard this one and from my rule of thumb, Mondays and Fridays are typically not very good days to send email because on Monday people are just getting back from the weekend and their inboxes are often filled with three days of email. And on Fridays, a lot of people wind up – they either take Fridays off, so then stuff would fall to Monday. Or people are just starting to check out for the weekend. And so Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, for me, have always been my rule of thumb. And I wouldn’t say these are hard and fast, but in general, that’s kind of what I lean towards.
Mike [07:55]: I think that for this you really need to figure out what your audience is like. Because I would suspect that there’s a huge difference between B2C versus B2B communication here. I think on the weekends, your B2Bcommunication is probably going to drop off a cliff. But depending on your audience in that B2B space, it might be appropriate to send them. So, if you’re sending emails to entrepreneurs or small businesses, your chances are probably decent of being heard above the crowd. Especially among entrepreneurs because they’re probably checking their email on the weekend or at least to some extent. Versus if you’re sending the emails to people who work at Oracle or Microsoft or any of the larger businesses, they’re probably not going to be checking their email on the weekends. I think that you have to take some of these data points with a little bit of a grain of salt and just understand that it is highly dependent upon who your target audience is. It’s not just that Tuesday is the best or worst day. It’s really relative to who it is that you’re communicating with.
Rob [08:51]: That’s a good point, and in fact I had a B2C eBook at one point. This is probably seven, eight years ago, and the emails on the weekends converted better. And I just guess because that’s what people were thinking about at the time. I never figured out why, I just knew that they did get higher click through rates on the weekends.
The other interesting thing or an interesting exception is when I still had our apprenticelinemanjobs.com, which was a job board, I would see big traffic spikes on Sunday. And so I started sending more emails on Sunday, and it definitely made a big difference. Because, you know, on Friday or even during the week, folks aren’t necessarily thinking about trying to find a new job, but when Sunday comes, they’re starting to dread the next day’s work, and they’re thinking about how they can get into another line of work. It was crazy to see the traffic spikes. The biggest day of the week every week was Sunday and it was like Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening. So, that’s good thing to keep in mind.
What the blog post here talks about is there’s a HubSpot science of email report and they looked at the impact of the day of the week had on email open rates – so it’s only open rates – and what they found is that it’s crazy how smaller lists versus larger lists, there was a different impact. So, for smaller lists, Tuesday was actually the worst day of the week to send. And it wasn’t until you get to the larger list which is more than 10,000, so it’s not that big. But then Tuesday was a reasonable day. But to be honest, it seems like the article concludes here that if you send on Tuesday, you’re probably getting lost in the noise of the other email marketers who are also using this best practice of sending on Tuesday.
So, that’s the problem with a lot of advice, is that once everyone starts taking it, it doesn’t work as well anymore. The same is true with any of the marketing approaches that you hear about or any of like a blueprint or a roadmap to starting a startup or doing the marketing tactic. It’s like once everybody is doing it, then it doesn’t stand out anymore. It’s not remarkable and so it just kind of blends in to the background and you have to find that next thing. And so, I could see this one – we see big spikes Monday and Tuesday at Drip with our sending, in terms of our customers wanting to send email. I could see maybe thinking about shifting to Wednesday morning, Thursday morning sends.
But number two is that you can only send a particular email once. And this blog post talks about how you wouldn’t want to send the same email to the same people. But they talk about the tactic that Noah Kagan of AppSumo and SumoMe, and it says it was actually taught to him by Neal Taparia from EasyBib. It’s a tactic that Noah popularized where you take the same email that you have already sent to a list, and you change the subject line and you resend it only to your non-opens, right? So it’s people who didn’t open the first one and you change the subject line. And we’ve actually found this to be so powerful that we implemented it in Drip as a feature. When you’re sending a broadcast, there’s a single checkbox you check. And if you checked to resend to unopened, and then you can just say how many days you want to wait and what’s the new subject line. And it’s just all built in and it happens automatically, and it’s linked back to the original. And we have consistently seen increases of more than – well, between let’s say 25 to 35%, so in the 30% range. And that is what Noah had mentioned too, is that they were getting greater than 30% increase in opens from this tactic.
Mike [11:58]: I was going to mention exactly that when you guys added that into Drip and made it easy to do. You look through if you send out a bunch of campaigns; you can look back through them and look at the stats for those people who have been resent a particular email. And it’s astonishing how many of those people who didn’t open it the first time will open it the second time and it’s the exact same email. The only thing that’s different is the subject. So it’s pretty amazing that this little hack works and gets such significant results out of it.
Rob [12:25]: And you might think that you’re going to get complaints, and we have never gotten complaints in our use of it, and as far as I know other customers haven’t as well. The only time that I got complaints, I think I sent to my Software by Rob list and I accidentally – this was before we had this. This made us put some code in place to prevent this, but I had scheduled a broadcast with a resend to unopen and then I unscheduled it to make a change, and then I sent it through again with resend unopen. So I resent it twice. And I’m pretty sure the second two I didn’t differ the subject line between the two, and so then people said, “Why did you resend this email to me?”
But aside from that, which again is now not possible with Drip, right. We eliminated that because I did it to my own list accidentally. But even that one, I only got – it was literally three or four people who said, “Hey, how come you sent this?” and didn’t seem that big of a deal. So this tactic, I’m a big fan of it and we’ve only seen positive results from it.
The third myth we’ll talk about is keep your marketing emails short. And this is one that I’m not so sure that I’ve heard this as like a hard and fast rule. I guess I’ve heard enough people talk about the exact opposite. Like Patrick McKenzie often talks about how he sends out these very long emails and that his audience likes it. And same thing, Joanna Wiebe is actually – I’ve heard her say this, but she’s quoted in this article about how it’s not about picking one length or one style out of a hat, because it’s going to depend so much on your visitors and your prospects. And I’ve often heard in the Internet marketing spaces – especially 10 years ago – the sales pitch thing was: the longer the better. The longer you make your sales page, the more you’re going to convert. And I have found the opposite to be true.
We have a long forms page on the home page of Drip right now as an example, and we’ve done split tests with shorter versions of it. And the shorter versions appear to be having more traction. And so we’re looking at making changes there, and this happened remember the Microprenuer website, the home page used to be a lot longer. That’s over at Micropreneur.com. And I ran several split tests and I had a long, a short, and a medium, and the medium one just cleaned house both times and the content was generally the same. Like the headlines weren’t different. It really was just the length and it was cutting some stuff out. So, I think the same applies to email here. I certainly don’t disagree with it. I just wonder if it is really a hardcore rule. I haven’t heard that many people talk about it, so I question if it’s really a myth.
Mike [14:34]: And I guess it goes back to what I had said before about knowing who your audience is and what it is that you’re offering them, and at what point in the sales process. There are certain times where a much longer email is going to be warranted, and then there are sometimes where you just want to send a quick one.
And I think I remember one time – and it’s kind of a little bit of an aside, but we made a mistake when we were talking about MicroConf in one of our emails that we’d sent out to the list, and we accidentally put in an unsubscribe link right up at the top and the subject was MicroConf and people saw it. And as soon as they saw the email, they just clicked on the first link that they saw because it said MicroConf. And had we obviously put that that the bottom or made it a longer email with stuff at the bottom, then they would have had to scroll a little bit. But I think that knowing what it is that you’re sending them and why it is that you’re sending them that email makes a huge difference in whether or not your emails should be short or should it be long. Are you trying to explain something to them? Are you trying to educate them about a particular topic? Are you trying to get them to buy something? If you’re trying to redirect them to another location, then chances are good you probably want a shorter email. But if it’s just an education email, then there’s no reason that I know of, to go with a short one. You couldn’t certainly embed all that information there.
The other thing that you have to think about, I think, is the reusability of that information. So, if you have a series of blog articles and you embed them directly into an email sequence, then that’s perfectly appropriated to do. But just keep in mind that it’s probably going to be a little bit unwise to be sending people who are in your email list links back to that blog post if the reason they ended up on your email list was because they read that blog post. So, just be a little bit aware of contextually where those people are in the sales funnel, and how they ended up on your list, and what the content is that you’re sending.
Rob [16:20]: You make a good point about really the purpose of the emails. Because well, what I’ve seen with our up front email mini-course – which is Why Marketing Automation is the Future of Email Marketing – we’ve seen really good read rates and comment rates and reply rates on that course. And I think one of the reasons is that the posts are very palatable, and you can read them – I say the posts. It was originally a blog post and we turned it into an email mini-course. The emails are short enough, but they’re super palatable. I do think like in this case, having shorter emails that aren’t impossible to read on mobile or just take forever to read – if Patrick McKenzie gets away with giving people 15 to 20 minutes to read because his stuff is – he’s got a warm audience who really likes him and they know he’s going to give really valuable stuff, when you’re first engaging with someone, they may not give you that much time. In fact, most of them are not. And so being able to pack some really powerful actionable stuff into a short email, I think, is a good way to get acquainted with someone. And then once you get deeper into your courses, I think having longer emails can work. But keep in mind that just trying to throw 5,000 words in that first email – a lot of people they aren’t going to be up for reading all that.
The fourth myth is to keep your subject line short. And in this blog post, they reference a return path blog post that talks about how a typical desktop inbox displays about 60 characters of a subject line, while mobile devices show just 25 to 30 characters. And so there’s been some general advice in the past few years of keeping your subject lines under 30 characters. But what the return path found is that the highest open rate – well, they call it read rate. But I mean I’m not exactly sure they would know that. It’s really more open rate – is between 61 and 70 characters. It’s 17% at that point.
Now, it’s a bit of an anomaly because they go in 10 character blocks, and like the one below it is 14 and then the three above it are 14. And so the 61 to 70 really is this funky anomaly that bumps up 3 percentage points and not exactly sure why that is, but what that’s indicating is potentially there’s some magic. You know, they did look at 2 million email subscribers from over 3,000 retail centers for the month of February. And so there’s a non-trivial sample size. We’re doing this with 10,000 people or something. I would say that this could be more of an anomaly, but it seems like they’ve actually done some reasonable research here to point out that you don’t necessarily have to be super short. I don’t think 61 to 70 is a magical number, but I do think this points out that maybe short email subject lines are not the end all be all that some folks recommend.
Mike [18:43]: I don’t know very much about this one way or the other. I think that you have to have a minimum number of characters just to convey what the email is about. That’s the purpose of a subject line. But you also don’t want to run a War in Peace book in the middle of the subject line either, because there are going to be things that are cut off. And if it’s cut off, then it’s interesting looking at the data and the graph here that they have. It says they grab the average read rate and then the messages with this subject line length. And there’s not really a drop-off in terms of the read rate after a certain point. But if the email client cuts it off at 60 characters, then it almost doesn’t matter whether you have 60 characters or 60 million in the subject line, because they’re not being read anyway. So, people are judging it based on those first 60 characters. It seems to me like the data itself is a little misleading because you really have to take those types of things into account.
Rob [19:36]: Our fifth myth is that unsubscribes are bad. And in essence, the writer of this post talks about how people who brag about not having many unsubscribes are incorrect. And that unsubscribes are good because they remove people from your list who are unlikely to buy from you. And I would say in general, I agree with that. If you are emailing on a reasonable schedule and giving good content and someone unsubscribes, then okay, they probably weren’t going to buy from you.
However, I have seen some people who literally email every day, seven days a week, and have let’s say an autoresponder sequence of 60 or 70 emails long. And maybe when people unsubscribe from that list, it’s not that they don’t want to buy from you, it’s that they don’t want to hear from you 70 days in a row.
I’m not saying that that’s a bad tactic by the way. I think for the approach that this person was using, it was actually a reasonable thing for the goal they were trying to achieve. But what I’m saying is that I think unsubscribes are fine. I think that if you’re getting half percent of your list or 1% of your list to unsubscribe within any given send, that’s not a red flag, in my opinion, because are just going to come in and out of your list. The two things to keep in mind are one, if you do get an unsubscribe rate higher than that, why is that? What have you been doing or what did you do in this email that is encouraging people to leave your list? And two, make sure that you’re building your list fast enough. That having a reasonable unsubscribe rate, an expected unsubscribe rate, is something that you can overcome because you’re gaining more people than you’re churning out, basically.
Mike [21:02]: I think there’s a big difference in viewpoint here in terms of looking at the fact that you have people unsubscribing versus having an unsubscribe rate that is sort of out of control. And you talked a little bit about it where the number of people that you’re adding to your list is not overcoming the number of people that are unsubscribing, then you probably have an issue there. You are sending out an email every single day and your email unsubscribe rates are pretty high but you’re still adding a number of people in that are going to overcome that, that’s not necessarily a good thing either.
I do agree with you that I think that having unsubscribes is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s going to be people who opt out, and you do want those people to opt out if they’re not a good fit. I’ve seen marketers out there who will tell you flat out, “Hey, if you’re not interested, click here,” and they will actively make efforts to prune their lists to some extent to get people off of their email lists. And there’s a number of advantages to that. One is that it helps them to not be inundated with data from people that are just not interested and are never going to buy. The last thing you want is an email list of 20,000 people where 15,000 of them just don’t want to buy from you and are never going to. And then you’ve only got this group of 5,000 people. Well, three-quarters of your list is crap at that point. So what happens then is you end up with a lot of misleading data about what you think people want versus what they actually want. And three-quarters of those people you should not be listening to. The problem is which three-quarters of them is it, and you don’t know.
So, taking steps at that point to get rid of those people at that point is a good idea, but it comes down a lot more to segmentation than anything else. So, unsubscribes are not necessarily bad, but you also have to take into account the context of where people are unsubscribing and why.
Rob [22:42]: And I take it a step further with pretty much all of my marketing lists, and we use the feature in Drip called List Pruning. And this actually will remove people who are not opening or clicking or engaging with your emails, because even if they haven’t unsubscribed, if it’s just going into their empty inbox, that’s not good. It’s not good for some of these could be honeypots, Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail. A lot of these mail providers will look at – and this is all black box stuff. So it’s rumored that they look at if you’re sending domains or your IPs are sending a bunch of emails and none of them are getting opened or it’s a very low open rate, then they consider your list lower quality. And so, it can hurt your deliverability long term.
And so, we do list pruning pretty regularly, and this is why it’s so funny. Like our lists are smaller than they would be if we weren’t pruning, but our open rates are way, way higher as a result. Because we keep our deliverability up and we only keep engaged people on the list. We do some joint ventures and we’ll partner up on an integration or something and people will tell us they have a list of x-thousand and the first question is asking is, “What’s your average open rate on a broadcast?” Because that’s way, way more important, because we’ve literally had people say, “I have a 40,000-person list, and their open rate is like 10 or 11% on a broadcast. Whereas bottom end you want to be above 20, in my opinion, and you’re solid and have a really healthy list if you’re between 25 and 35 for the broader lists.
And it depends about the age and the size and a bunch of stuff. But when you first start out and someone first stops in, that very first email, you want to see especially if they’re opting in to get some information. I want to see like a 70% open rate on that first email and then 60% at the low end. I have seen some that are up around the 80% range. And then over time as someone receives 20, 30 emails from me, that’ll slowly tick down, right. And so if you get 10 or 20 emails into an auto responder campaign, you’ll see it drop down into the 50s and the 40s. And then when it gets in the 30s, it should typically level out in that range, assuming you have a decent quality list. But if you continue to drop and you drop into the 20s and the teens, you have an issue. And so, not even just unsubscribes here, but I think just getting rid of people from your list who aren’t engaging, it serves a lot of positive purposes.
And our sixth and final myth is that marketing emails should be branded and polished. And frankly, this is something that I’ve been reeling against for years, is the big glossy fix with email newsletters thing with the drag and drop builder that you build this big Microsoft FrontPage looking thing and then you send that out to people. I’ve just found, in my experience, that having really nice plain text looking emails that are responsive. And they’re not actually plain text because you need to have the image in there to see if people will open, and you want to be able to rewrite your lengths and stuff. So it’s an HTML email, but it looks like plain text. I’ve been doing that for 10 years and I think that is the way to go with few exceptions. I think ecommerce is one exception where the visual element really helps. I think if you’re a recipe website where the visuals of the food, that’s where you can have something formatted. But to do this multi-column newsletter-type thing if you’re just communicating with your audience and you want to build a relationship with them, or even if it’s your customers and you want to have a relationship with them, I really have not been a fan of that approach.
Mike [25:49]: Did you really just reference a product that was discontinued in 2003 to send emails?
Rob [25:54]: What did I say?
Mike [25:55]: FrontPage.
Rob [25:57]: I did, because you know why I was using it as an example, we all know that using Microsoft FrontPage, you just build crappy web pages. And that’s what I see coming out of these drag and drop email builders is unless you know what you’re doing, you’re going to build a crappy looking email. So yes, I did. I hope it put the image in your head of exactly what I was saying.
Mike [26:17]: Yes. No, it did, but it also points back to – I remember using FrontPage as well and I was like, “Wait a second. FrontPage, is that even around?” I didn’t think that it was, and I looked back and it was discontinued in 2003, so that’s kind of scary that we both remember that and both have used it in the past.
Rob [26:32]: Totally. Totally.
Mike [26:33]: I do generally agree with this. I’ve seen lots of emails that come in. Some of them are branded and some of them are not. And to me it means more that the content itself is decent and that the source that it’s coming from is somebody that I trust versus how good it looks or how polished it is. That stuff to me doesn’t matter nearly as much as it does that the source of the email itself is somebody that I actually want to hear from, because if I don’t want to hear from them, then I don’t care how polished the email is. I just don’t want to.
If you look at a lot of the marketing emails that come from the Fortune 500 companies, they’re very well branded. And it’s not to say that the branding doesn’t help them, because it certainly does – it makes them recognizable, but they’re in a position where that matters to them. Versus if you’re sending your own emails, the chances are good that having a lot of that additional branding probably has very little effect on your business and it’s more about are you optimizing for the right things in your emails.
One of the contention points that I have about this particular item here is that some of the data they give is about plain text emails versus having HTML emails that have gif embedded into them. And they claim that there’s a 37% decrease in opens if you’re adding images into them. And I question whether or not that is a valid data point, because how would you even measure the open rate if you’re not including some sort of a tracking pixel of some kind in there?
Rob [27:54]: Right. And you can’t include that in a plain text email. And that’s what I was saying earlier, that when I say plain text, I mean an HTML email that looks like plain text, so that it allows you to rewrite the links so you can track clicks, and it allows you to embed the image so you can track opens.
Mike [28:07]: I think what’s probably more important is trying to figure out whether or not having a lot of brand and polish in there makes a difference. But even something like that, you’re not going to know until you get a fairly massive email list and have the ability to do some split testing on it. And at that point, it’s not so much about the open rates as it is about what the conversion rates are and the action that you’re trying to get them to take inside of the email. So if you just want to get your emails open, that’s one thing, but if you want them to go into the email, read it, and then take some sort of an action after they get the email, that’s a completely different story.
Rob [28:41]: Wow, this HubSpot study is pretty intense. They say with statistical significance specifically that they tested it with such broad, or I guess a higher number of emails that it is true. They come to a lot of conclusions like it says people say they prefer HTML, so if you give them a choice they’ll choose that. But over and over in every AB test they ran, they preferred plain text emails. They said that the HMTL emails reduced open rates versus the plain text looking ones I’m assuming. They said HTML emails have reduced click through rates. And they don’t just mean HTML. I think they actually mean – they have these big design emails with a lot of – there’s a lot of flair in there basically. And images and formatting, and the fix with type stuff I was referencing earlier with my FrontPage comment.
This is why, to be honest, the one template built into Drip is an HTML template that looks like plain text, and you can of course embed an image in it or something, but we have not encouraged people to do the big fancy templates. Although some people do bring them in, and I’m sure if they’ve run tests, they might find out with your specific audience that they do like some particular branding. We do have people who have elegant – they’re nice well designed, elegant templates, and those, I think, can help keep your brand in people’s minds. And I think they’re tasteful, they work with your audience. But I think just going with big fancy HTML by default is a really bad choice.
Mike [30:00]: And looking through at the emails that they have in here, some of the ones that they have side-by-side, they’re not terribly long, and if your email has five or eight lines of content in it and two or three massive images in it, to me it seems like that’s a very different story than if you have a longer post or you are using those images to help convey some sort of a story. Because I think if you a thousand-word email or something like that with a bunch of images in there for illustrative purposes, I think that’s very different than if you have three or four lines of text that have these massive images in it. And the main content or main focus of that email is to show you an image. To me those emails don’t really resonate. I would rather see some content along with it. But again, it depends on what the purpose of those emails is.
Rob [30:45]: I agree. And as I said before, I think if you’re Pinterest or you’re recipe or food site or a real estate site, there are reasons where visuals really can light it up and they should be the focus of something. But I think in general, if people are consuming your content and they want to read your content, you should stick more towards plaint text looking and then have images as needed in the email to break up the text.
Mike [31:06]: So, I think the bottom line with most of this stuff is to whenever you see some sort of a best practice or a guide about, “This is the best day to do this,” or, “This is the best way to do that,” take it with a grain of salt and think about what it means for you and what it means for your audience. Because by the time something becomes a best practice, it is not going to stand out anymore. And that’s something that you have to keep in mind, and figure out whether or not it’s still relative for our audience.
Well, I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question or comment for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or you can email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Outta Control by MoOt used under creative commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups and visit StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com for full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.
In the episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, Mike interviews Matthew Paulson, founder of marketbeat.com, about email marketing. They also discuss his upcoming book “Email Marketing Demystified”.
Items mentioned in this episode:
- GoGo Photo Contest
- Email Marketing Demystified Book
Mike [00:00]: In this episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us, I’m going to be talking to Matthew Paulson about Email Marketing Demystified. This is Startups For The Rest Of Us 251.
Mike [00:16]: Welcome to Startups For the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers, and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product, or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.
Matthew Paulson [00:24]: And I’m Matt.
Mike [00:25]: And we’re here to share our experience to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. How you’re doing this week, Matt?
Matthew Paulson [00:29]: I’m doing well. How are you Mike?
Mike [00:30]: Pretty good, pretty good. So, I want to introduce Matt to the audience. Matt is the founder of MarketBeat.com. He’s also the co-founder of Go Go Photo Contest and he’s a partner at US Golf TV. He’s also the author of 40 Rules for Internet Business Success. And we’re going to be talking to him today about a book he’s writing called Email Marketing Demystified and that comes out in a couple of months but that’s kind of the main focus for our topic today. Is there anything else you want to add to that? Did I miss anything?
Matthew Paulson [00:58]: The book called Email Marketing Demystified, it’s coming out October. We’ll get the details at the end but it’s myemailmarketingbook.com to get a free copy when it comes out.
Mike [1:05]: Matt, could you tell listeners a little bit about MarketBeat.com because I think this is one of the interesting reasons why I wanted to have you on the show because of the size of the email list that you have and that you manage on a monthly basis and the sheer volume of emails that you sent. It’s not just about oh, you’re writing this book on email market. It’s like you’ve got a lot of serious experience to back this up as well.
Matthew Paulson [01:25]: Yeah, so we published and invest newsletter to about 242,000 stock investor as of the data we’re recording this. Today, the newsletter we sent out, it’s freemium so most of the people sign up for the free list and we have 3,000 or 4,000 people that pay us 15 bucks a month to get the freemium version of the newsletter but it’s basically away for stock investor to keep track of the companies they own and kind of what’s going on with them. We send out probably about 10 million emails a month but I think we’re on track to do about 2 and a half million in revenue in 2015. We’ve been doing it for about five years now. It’s grown over time and figured out it’s a marketing channels that have really worked well for us and we’ve really been able to just kind of blow up the size of the list in the last 18 months.
Mike [02:05]: Yeah, I mean that’s an incredible size list, I mean not just in the sheer number of email addresses that you have and that you send emails too but like 10 million emails a month is a massive amount and I don’t think that most people can even kind of wrap their heads for.
Matthew Paulson [02:17]: Yeah, I think that’s a big, big number and then I go to the trafficking version concerts in February and Ryan Dice goes on stage and says, “Yeah, we sent out about a billion emails a month.” And it’s like, “Oh, crap. I got a whole another level to be at.”
Mike [2:30]: So, I wanted to talk to you about this because I think the email marketing itself is one of those marketing channels that people look at and they say, “Oh, yeah. I should do that but they don’t necessarily do it.” And, I think part of the problem is that email marketing, they don’t necessarily realize the ROI on it or they don’t realize the benefits and they start looking at all these other things and it kind of gloss over the fact that that is probably going to be the single biggest differentiator in their business long-term. So, can you talk a little bit about why is email such a compelling marketing channel over a lot of the other options that are out there.
Matthew Paulson [03:04]: Yeah. You see people today talking a lot about Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter, if you add up the user base of all of those combined, it might be 1.4 billion people. Twice as many people use email marketing as all of the biggest social networks combined. So we got 1.4 billion people on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. You’ve got 2.8 billion people on email. So it’s just a massive channel and people just don’t realize how big it is.
Mike [03:27]: So just because of the size of it is different though doesn’t necessarily mean that like if you spend $10 on email marketing, what about the same $10 spent on social media advertising either Facebook or Twitter or various other avenues, I mean is there a different between the email marketing versus the social advertising?
Matthew Paulson [03:43]: I think there is. I’ve seen a few studies. Some of them say that have query marketers and the responses that they got say that about 75% of people are happy with the results they get from email marketing and only about 60% are happy with what they get from social media marketing. There is a lot of data out there, there’s a McKenzie study that said email is 40 times more effective at getting customers and Facebook and Twitter just in terms of total volume. So the direct marketing association said that business were earned in an average of $43 for every dollar invested in email marketing, I don’t know what the logic behind that study was but if that number is anywhere close to crack, it’s a pretty great ROI compared to just about anything else that you can do.
Mike [04:21]: Yeah. And I think the tendency for a lot of entrepreneurs is to look at studies like that and be extremely skeptical of them because they depend on so many different factors, I mean I’ve done my own stuff where I’ve done advertise on Twitter and Facebook and tried to get those people to either buy directly or to get onto an mailing list and then have them buy after joining the mailing list, and what I found is that you can acquire Twitter followers for example relatively straightforward fashion. There’s documented processes that you can go through and follow to get those people onto your Twitter following. But to get those people to buy from you is a completely different ball game than sending email because you can send those emails week after week, month after month but it’s a little bit more difficult to get directly in front of them on Twitter because they may be following 5,000 people or 10,000 people and them seeing your message, it’s kind of hitting mess. I mean just by raw numbers for the first 24 hours in the day, how long is that message going to be in their feed? It depends a little bit on how many people they’re following but for my initial estimates is like five to ten minutes, it’s not very long.
Matthew Paulson [05:29]: Yeah, I think if you look at the [?] that Twitter has, maybe 2%, 3%, 4% of the people will actually see any given twit if that and on email you’re going to get an open rate if you have an engaged list of somewhere between your 20% and 40% so you could send 3 emails and make sure that everyone sees that or you could send 3 Twitter messages or Twitter post and maybe 5% or 10% your followers will actually see it.
Mike [05:52]: Yeah, so that makes it a little difficult so like compare those things because it’s no longer an apple to apple comparison. Email becomes a much better channel. One of the things that write in your book was it was such a profound quote that I have to call it out. You said every now and then I’ll hear someone that runs a website say something like I hate pops out and I hate marketing email. I would never use them in my business. What they’re really saying is I hate making money because email marketing is an incredibly effective marketing strategy and it’s so funny because you look at that quote and it stands and start contrast to like the raw numbers that we pointed out earlier to kind of justify what the ROI is. Why is that you think that entrepreneurs are so resistant to using email marketing?
Matthew Paulson [6:31]: Sure. I think tech people and entrepreneurs and kind of people in the communities that we hang out with, we kind of think we’re immune to marketing and we also think that kind of marketing is annoying, I mean how many of us are on a million email list from a million of different things and we get email, we don’t remember what it was and we just want off the list and we want to receiving email from people. So we think that our customers are just like us. We think that our customers hate email marketing just as much as we do. We think that they also think they are immune to marketing and it turns that we are not our customers. Our customers might actually want to get email from us because they are interested in our product and want to hear from us. You can’t assume that your customers are just like you are and your customers may behave in a very different way than you do with email. Like we might be inbox zero people and want to clear the inbox everyday but if you look at the email of my wife or a lot of other people there’s just a ton of different messages from ton of different brands and it’s more of a stream and they’re okay with having just content from a variety of people in there.
Mike [07:26]: You know, I know exactly what you mean. I mean I tried to maintain inbox zero as close as I possibly can so anything that goes in there is a little bit of extra stuff that I have to deal with but I’ve also seen people where I kind of glance at their phones and the little icon over there email says that they got 14,000 emails in there. I’m just like how do you even deal with that? And of course you think to yourself, well they just must not read any of it but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to receive those emails either.
Matthew Paulson [07:51]: Yeah, yeah, I mean if you have a business and you provide helpful information to people and you send out over email, you’re going to have to assume that people want it because they’re not going to sign up for your email list if they don’t want it. If they sign up for your email list, that means hey, I want to receive email from you so you should probably send them some email if they want it.
Mike [08:08]: So seems like that’s one of those helpful hands I guess for getting over the fear of clicking on that send button when you got whether it’s a 100 or a 100,000 people on your mailing list because that’s one of those things that I think that a lot of people get hung up on is they get everything ready. They write the email and then there’s just like, “Ah, I don’t know if I should send this. Maybe I should wait. Maybe I should think about this a little bit more. Maybe it could be worded better.” And so they either delay on hitting that send button or they just don’t put it on their system yet. I feel that’s a very helpful hint for that, I mean there are other things that you can think of that would help people through that.
Matthew Paulson [08:42]: Yeah. I think that the two keys are one is to understand that no email is going to be perfect because not everyone all respond to in marketing email or a piece educational content in the same way. Every email will interest some of your subscribers but not necessarily all of them. So, you just have to know that depending on who the subscriber is and email is going to be hit or miss and you’re not going to hit everyone with every email and that’s totally okay. The second thing you can do to mitigate some of these fears is just to have systems in place. So before we ever send out a broadcast email that says I write my assistant has an SOP to follow so she checks the spelling and the grammar, she make sure how the links work, she checks all the prices and the numbers to make sure everything is correct in that email before we sent it out so that way we don’t have to go back later and say ops we made a mistake or anything like that, we know that an email is correct in the first time because there’s more than one set of eyes on it.
Mike [09:32]: Now that brings up another objection that I hear from people where they’re tracking the analytics behind some of their emails and once you go through and you click on every single one of those links, what it does is it starts adding numbers to every single one of those. It seems to like if you have a mailing list of 100,000 people then those 1 or 2 clicks may almost no difference in the analytics but when you only have a mailing list of say 100, those 1 or 2 clicks make a big difference I mean it’s a couple of percent. What are some strategies you can think of to kind of get around that particular fear?
Matthew Paulson [10:02]: Okay. So, I think a lot of entrepreneurs and marketers think that the emails that they send have to be perfect and I don’t really think that’s the case because a good email now is going to be better than a great email never and you just kind have to get over that and decide hey, every day or every week that I’m not sending out any email is the day that I’m losing sales. So even if your first message or your first several messages aren’t perfect, mostly your first messages are going to probably be pretty terrible that’s okay. Sending out an okay email is much better than sending out no email at all.
Mike [10:33]: Right. It’s about improvement over time versus getting things perfect.
Matthew Paulson [10:37]: Absolutely. I mean if you’ll look at some of my first emails or probably my first seven emails Mike sent out about Audit Shark forever ago, they’re probably not going to be anywhere nearly as good as anything he would write or I would write today.
Mike [10:47]: Right. Okay. So, let’s talk a little bit about like the basic email marketing strategy and I think the first step to that is talking about email service providers themselves and there’s kind of three different categories that they breakdown into is the transactional emails, the bulk emails, and then kind of true marketing automation and there’s different service providers who kind of addressed each of those different needs. Can you talk a little bit about what situations you would use each of those in and why?
Matthew Paulson [11:13]: Yeah, so transactional is just for brought email delivery. You connected them via an API and sent say, “Here’s my message. Please deliver it for me.” So that’s like [?] Amazon SPS, those are great if you’re writing custom software and have to do like a notification email, a welcome email, or anything like that. If you have a SAS app, you’ll probably need a transactional email service provider in there somewhere. It might not be the main thing you have but it’s way for people who are writing custom software and have account notification emails and stuff like that. Bulk emails are the mail chimps of the world, stuff like that. They’re really for managing an email list and sending out messages to that list. They’re weaker in some of the more advanced stuff like marketing automation and auto responders and some of those things. They’re okay for some types of list that are small and/or even big but just don’t have a lot of custom functionality that’s needed. They don’t need marketing automation, any fancy emails or anything like that if you’re just going to send a single email to your list or to check if things are okay. So the marketing automation platform, I think it’s really worth that right now. These are the companies like [?] and Fusion Software and a few others but these really have some advanced functionality that allow you to send specific types of messages to specific people at the right times. So if somebody buys a product, you could create a custom auto responder, send them email to on-board them or if they send for a lead magnet, you could to a special auto responder series just to them and there’s just so much that you can do with the marketing automation platform. If you’re really going to down to the road of – if you need to do email marketing, I think you are better off to starting off with point infusion software or something like that from day one because you hate to sign up for something simple and then have to switch ESPs later, that can be a big pain in the butt to do. So, I recommend start up with something of high level of functionality even if you’re not going to use it right away, it’s good to have down the line.
Mike [12:57]: And I think that’s one of those things where people look at that and say, “Well, I don’t want to pay for that now. Let me do what I have to do with this other provider and then grow into it.” But the reality is they’re just basically creating work for themselves down the road when they are successful with their products.
Matthew Paulson [13:11]: Yeah, and if you look like what a starting Drip account costs, 50 bucks a month or something like that, in any business that makes any amount of money, that’s just a very tiny business expense and I think it’s worth forking the money for that.
Mike [13:23]: Yeah, and I think to differentiate here a little bit more between a bulk email provider and something that does true marketing automation, I think one of the things that people don’t realize is that they look like for example Mail Chimp and what you just talked about there was the idea of oh they signed up for this and then they get a series of email, well, Mail Chimp does that and I think the differentiating factor is that with marketing automation software, things are event driven, so when somebody takes an action of some kind, then it is essentially an event in the system and that event triggers a series of other emails that it is essentially a sequence of emails but it is based on that event and you can kind of do it in Mail Chimp but I think those marketing automation platforms make it significantly easier to do and their designs to operate off of those of that.
Matthew Paulson [14:10]: Yeah, and if you look at Infusion Software or anything like that, you can have just kind of a nice visuals [?] how it actually works kind of tell them do this better than others but just nice to be able to see like what the different processes or if somebody does this lead magnet and then they get this email series and then they buy this and then they get this email series. It’s nice to have a more visual way of representing that.
Mike [14:30]: Right. And I’m in a complete agreement with you in terms of email marketing, if you’re going to do anything around email marketing, you really should invest in marketing automation platform of some kind. I’m hesitant to even recommend Mail Chimp at this point I mean not because they don’t do well with what they do but because email marketing can be such a critical component of the business that it almost seems like you have to have that in placed as opposed to trying to do with something like a free or $15 Mail Chimp account now only to have to switch over later.
Matthew Paulson [15:00]: Yeah, I absolutely agree with that.
Mike [15:02]: Well, the other thing that you can kind of add to it is that once you get involved in a marketing automation platform, your eyes are open to all the different possibilities where if you’re in Mail Chimp, you don’t necessarily see all the different options that are available to you because they don’t exist, but once you get into an email marketing automation platform like all of a sudden you see all this different possibilities that were just never there before.
Matthew Paulson [15:23]: Yeah, and if email marketing is going to be a big part of your business, these things aren’t really optional. You would really need to have good marketing automation in place and have different series and campaigns driven by events and you might be able to get away with that 10 or 15 years ago but email marketing has just gotten so much more advanced. You need to have the technology stacked in place that will let you do those kinds of things.
Mike [15:43]: So, now let’s talk about the different email service providers. Let’s talk about collecting email addresses and we’ve talked about this a few different times on this podcast but what are the different ways that people can go about collecting email addresses on their website?
Matthew Paulson [15:56]: Yeah, so obviously you need some opt-in form, you need some kind of offer and then a sign up box. So it’s typically a title, a subtitle, a textbox and a button and to sign up. There are different types of opt-in forms you can do. You can do an entry popup, an exit popup, a welcome gate, something in your sidebars, something below the post. I’ve tried a lot of different opt-in forms on my websites and I found that nothing comes close to doing the popup form welcome gate, just having something that people can’t miss right away. It tends to work very well to get email opt-ins. If you only show the people once a week, they’re really not that annoying so I think if you have scoop those box, it’s not easy to pop up on your website, I think it’s time to just maybe get over that and put it on your website anyway and see how it works. And then another good place I found is pretty one directly below the post of an article, so if you’re reading article, typically you’re looking for the next step to do. And if your email opt-in form is right there, it’s a really good way to get opt-ins. I like to use a combination of both the popup, like an entry popup and an entry form below the post and that does pretty well with opt-in rates.
Mike [16:56]: And I think that’s interesting what you said about getting over in the idea of putting in that welcome popup because personally, I’m not a big fan of those type of things and I don’t tend to put my email address in them but there’s also times where I’ll go to a website where even if I close it three or four times, if I find myself going back to them, I have a tendency to put my email address [crosstalk]
Matthew Paulson [17:14]: Yup, and again, that’s just a matter of we aren’t your customers so if even though we might not prefer our email address into a popup form, that doesn’t mean our customers won’t. So, it’s really a matter of trying it out and saying, “Hey, how many opt-ins am I getting from this versus whatever I’ll say and do from getting a lot more than maybe it’s just worth to leave it there even if you think it’s a little bit annoying.”
Mike [17:34]: Yeah, and that’s something you can even just try for a week. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? The people who came to your site are not going to come back? That’s not the end of the world, I mean your business is still going to keep going.
Matthew Paulson [17:43]: Yeah, there is a local coding boutique that does e-convert that is helping out a while back and they had email list and they have a list of maybe 500 people and their email stuff was so hard to find and I just – hey try popup for a weekend and see what happens. The guy was pretty resistant to it but when they did it, they went from having 500 emails on their list total to adding 500 emails every month and the popup is still there a couple of months later so clearly, it’s working for them well enough that they want to keep it even though the guy thought it was a little annoying to begin with.
Mike [18:13]: So let’s talk a little bit about how to entice people to actually sign up. In episode 248, we talked about 14 different ideas for high impact lead magnets. Are there lead magnets that either appeared on that list or that you can think of that worked really well or do you think a lead magnet is not necessary?
Matthew Paulson [18:30]: I think the lead magnet is absolutely necessary. You can’t just say, “Hey, give me your email address so I can send you email.” Nobody cares. You need to give them something to care about in order to get them to give you their email address. I think the format of the lead magnet matters less than the content in the format. So like, I don’t care if it’s a video, a guy, the PDF, whatever, but it should just be very relevant to the content on the page so that might mean that if you have five or six different topics that you talked about in your website, you might have five or six different opt-ins or a lead magnet that show up on each page based on the category that it’s in. So to me relevance is a lot more important than just the medium of whether it’s video, audio, or text whatever. It just is the content in your offer relevant to the content on the page.
Mike [19:13]: And I think that’s probably an important distinction to make for people because there are different types of lead magnets that take different amounts of time and effort to create. So, something that is very simple even though it’s relevant and it’s very quick to create, it can have just the same impact to something that takes 10 or 15 hours to build in terms of getting people onto your [crosstalk]
Matthew Paulson [19:33]: I absolutely agree with that. I don’t think that your lead magnet is something you should spend a lot of time on when you’re first getting started. Don’t let that be something maybe comes a 10-hour ordeal, just take some content you already have and make it into a nice format that’s makes for a nice PDF or something like that and makes it a nice download but I would spend a whole bunch of time doing the original content for your lead magnet.
Mike [19:52]: Yeah, that kind of brings up the idea of premature optimization if you’re spending too much time trying to figure out what is the best thing to do here, you are wasting time and you’re not actually building something to click through.
Matthew Paulson [20:02]: Yeah, I mean if you’re not getting many opt-ins every month, like if you have 100 opt-ins on a monthly basis, you’re not going to have enough people coming and to create a statistically valid split test anyway. So, it doesn’t really matter if you to think that the lead magnet that you have now wasn’t perfect because you couldn’t even test something else out to know whether or not it’s better or not. You just need to do something that’s good enough for an hour than once you start getting a ton of opt-ins every month then you can test out something better.
Mike [20:26]: Right. And it’s about optimizing down the road instead of now. So now that we have somebody on your email list, how do you go about marketing to them? What types of emails should you be sending to them and at what times should you be thinking about sending those emails?
Matthew Paulson [20:38]: Yup. So the first email that you send is probably the most important, that’s called your welcome email. And inside your welcome email you want to accomplish a few different things. First you want to set expectations about what kind of emails you’re going to receives, you might say, “Hey, I send an email every Monday about SAS news and applications or whatever. You can chat us.” And say, “This is what we do. This is what to expect.” The second thing you should do is try to get people to whitelist you or add to your their contact list. So if somebody replies you a message and adds you to the contact list, whitelist you in whatever way that you can, your messages are almost always going to automatically go to the inbox. So you want to ask them to do that right away and then at the bottom of your welcome email, like the PS of your message, you can do some kind of promotion for a product if you want to. So you can say, “PS, hey, do you want to learn more about whatever I do? Check out our cool product here so you could do that in your welcome email as well.” There are two other types of emails you send, one is that auto responder series. So that is 30 to 60 to 90 days the first however many days somebody is on your mailing list, you send them a series of emails, one every other day, one every third day, whatever you want to do. Those emails are designed just to get somebody familiar with your content and familiar with your products and services. So you might have say 15 emails in your auto responder series 1 every 3 days for 45 days, 7 of those might be sales emails for your product and either those just might be contact emails that teach people how to do things or provide people information that isn’t trying to sell something to them but just trying to help them out and establish a relationship and finally there’s broadcast emails so after someone is done with your auto responder series, don’t need to email them so you make a broad cast count every month and you send a mix of content whether that’s just new blog post, new podcast episodes or more product ads or this content whatever you want to do, you still need to send out. You need to keep email in people that are done with your auto responder series because if you stop emailing somebody, then they’re just going to forget about you and forget that they opted and did it in the first place.
Mike [22:29]: Now, one of the things that you just brought up there is that during the auto responders, not every email is essentially a sales emails. You’re not always pitching them a product. Can you talk a little bit about the contrast between establishing a balance of engagement versus generated revenue because obviously there are certain types of emails that are designed to engaged the user and essentially provide value to them and then there’s others that you send them that you’re essentially giving them a sales pitch, you want them to buy something from.
Matthew Paulson [22:57]: Yeah, it’s a lot like somebody that’s a fan of a podcast, person listening to the podcast thinks they have a relationship with the host of the podcast even though they don’t just because you hear them all the time, the same is true for email list. If I’m sending you email all the time and you’re reading it, like I might think that I have a relationship with Kathleen because I get her email all the time even though we’ve never meet. So, you have to think about it like you’re starting a relationship with somebody. You can’t just sell them all the time where you’re going to make them mad at you and they’ll go away and unsubscribe or report your messages and spam, you can’t do that all the time. So you really need to have a mix of content that is relevant to your audience or a stuff that’s entertaining, educational, helpful and stuff that generates revenue as well because that’s the point of being the business. So, a good balance I think is ever other or some people are more conservative than that they might do two content email for every sales email or and it kind of depends on the makeup of your mailing list.
Mike [23:48]: Now, in terms of the sales offers themselves, what are the different ways that you can use an email list to generate revenue for the business? What types of products can you offer? Obviously, there’s your own products if you have them, but what are the other ways that people can generate revenue from their list?
Matthew Paulson [24:03]: Sure. Obviously, you sell your own products and then you can sell other people’s products, through affiliate marketing kind of like what Kathleen does with his mailing this. He promotes a lot of other people’s products and gets a large commission check from [?] and lots of other places every month, people can do that. There are some other ways. There are advertising companies and networks and agencies that work with people that have email lists. I work for [?] investing media solutions that’s specific to finance but they will sell our newsletter ads in my newsletter so people will pay or advertisers will pay on a cost-perfect basis to getting them a newsletter. I’ll get revenue from that. They also sell [?] but they rent it so somebody can pay $50 APM or something like that to email my list, and that’s pretty good money if you can get it. That’s kind of the advertising method for the advertising strategy. That’s also on your thank you page, you can place ads called co-registration ads. So if somebody signs up for your mailing list, they might see offers for somebody else’s product and then if they check those, you might get a couple of bucks for whenever somebody checks those and signs up for a product. Co-registration advertising can be a good revenue source that people don’t realize exist that we do about 40 grand a month in [?] and your thank you page is just a very valuable, a place to monetize because somebody is just taking action and then they’re very likely to take another action if you give them an opportunity to take an action. So, if your thank you page says thank you, you should change it and put it in a co-reg ad, an adsense ad or just even try to sell one of your products in your thank you page because people are very willing to take action right after they signed up for your mailing list.
Mike [25:33]: And I think that this an area where people are also very averse to kind of sharing the fruits of their labor in terms of the emails that they’ve acquired but at the same time these are people who – they’re the ones making the decision about whether or not they’re going to sign up for one of these co-registration ads and I think that the other thing that you mentioned which I thought was very interesting was putting advertisements in your own emails to your own list, can you talk a little bit more about it because I think you very briefly mentioned it about sharing your email list itself, but I don’t think that it was probably clear the specifics of what that really means?
Matthew Paulson [26:06]: Yeah, so you don’t ever give out your email address or your email list to anybody else, that’s a big no, no, but what you can do is talk to an advertiser and say, “Hey, what’s an email from our list for what your product for the set amount of money. They might want to email 100,000 people they’ll pay $50 APM, that’s 5 grand they would pay me to send the email out. I usually work with an advertising agency that sells out stuff for us so I don’t have to really worry about it too much but it can be a good money when the advertisers are available and in season and that kind of stuff. Newsletter ads, that’s also I think the same agency but those are typically done on a cost perfect basis, so there are other financial publishers that people start talking on financial products that have ads they want to get eyeballs for they all put that in my newsletter and they’ll pay me a dollar or two for a products just to get somebody to go to their landing page. So much of that though is you worry about handling over your email to somebody else and a lot of that depends on the industry that you’re in, in the financial industry, people sign up for a lot of different crap. So I don’t care if somebody signs up for my stuff and then I get them to sign of two other stuff. If you’re a co-reg ad or through an email ad or anything like that but if you’re Ruben and you have got BidSketch, you’re only going to use BidSketch or you’re going to use somebody else. So in that case, you probably don’t want to do that, so it just kind of depends on what industry you’re in and if it’s a zero some game or not.
Mike [27:20]: Interesting, so let’s talk a little more about after the person has made a purchase from you. So you generated revenue of some kind from a specifically through these direct product sales or through the affiliate marketing or co-reg ads or the newsletter ads or anything like that, but after somebody has actually purchased a product from you, what sorts of things you do? How do you interact with them after you’ve made the sale? Because I’ve purchased products from people before where I’m getting all this email marketing and then I make a purchase and then I never hear from them again. What are the best practices with that?
Matthew Paulson [27:52]: Yeah, some of it depends on your business model. If you have a SAS app, you need to get them to keep buying every single month or every year. So you have a strong incentive for them to keep using your service array of program or whatever it is. After somebody buys, you should have some kind of consider an event in your marketing automation system and then you have a sequence that goes after that that really helps people use your products or you should remind them that they bought the product, remind them what’s your name, give them the link to go access it, just have two or three weeks’ worth of content that shows them how to use a product, how to get the best value out of it, all of that kind of stuff so that people will actually use your product because if they used their product, then they are more likely to buy a stuff from you in the future. If it’s a SAS app, they’re more likely to go up. The goal is to get people to engage with your product and actually use them because people that buys something and never use it which happens a lot more than you think, they’re going to bounce and they’re going to be somewhere else and never think about you again.
Mike [28:42]: So let’s circle back a little bit. We’ve talked to about how to choose an email service provider and collecting the emails and using lead magnets and then generated revenue from these people and kind of what to do after you’ve made the sale to them but what about the sales funnel itself, so there’s always different pieces that you kind of string together. How do you look at this from the kind of global standpoint. You’ve got this top level view and you want to say, “Okay. Over here we’re going to do this. Over there, we’re going to do that.” Are there any general strategies you have for kind of mapping out what this looks like? In the past I’ve used graph papering, you draw little boxes and point little arrows to different things. But are there other strategies you’ve used or seen people use that could help with this?
Matthew Paulson [29:22]: Yeah, I mean you really have to start what’s the end goal that I want people to buy my product? Do I want them to do who knows what and then you work backwards from there. So what needs to happen for people to want to buy my product, they have to become familiar with it, they have to learn about it, they have to understand why it’s better than anyone else and here I’ve done all these steps and then you have to convert them into an email sequence of some kind. You can do pen and paper like you do with graph paper or you can use [?] to make some fancy parts. Some ESPs has some of that stuff. I just work it out on the Word document of what kind of emails I need to send. I figure out okay, what’s in a welcome email that leads to this? What needs to happen in the auto responder series? Let’s say they get to the end of the auto responder series and then they don’t buy then, what do I need to do in my broadcast emails every month to try to get them to buy after that fact? So, it’s more about knowing the steps and less about knowing the specific emails right away. You have the steps and then you try to figure out how do those steps translates into the specific emails that will help people get down to fact?
Mike [30:20]: I find it interesting that you use a Word document because for me I’m much more of a visual person so having kind of like I said a graph paper map kind of helps me with that, is that depending upon the type of person that you are or is it just are there certain techniques that you think work better?
Matthew Paulson [30:34]: Yeah, I’m a pretty left-brain person. So I think it’s just how I think about things and how things connect together in my mind. For me, that’s how I do an auto responder series and then a broadcast team around, I print out a monthly calendar on paper and then just kind of fill in what emails I think I should send and what they so that it’s based on appropriately and there’s a good mix of everything but there’s not a whole lot that goes in. It’s not as complicated of a process as it might seem.
Mike [31:01]: It’s not that it’s complicated, there’s a lot of steps though, at least there can be and I think that that’s where people get hung up is, “Oh, I have all this work to do.” And then they just don’t it.
Matthew Paulson [31:09]: Yes, that does happen, because I think people will expect results from email marketing right away or results from email marketing right away and then they look at all of the stuff they have to do and then they get overwhelmed by it and just don’t do it.
Mike [31:20]: With the email marketing, it’s not just one or two emails that you need to send, I mean there are cases where you need to send 15 or 20 or 30 emails before you convert somebody to a custody, right?
Matthew Paulson [31:28]: Well, absolutely, I’ve got people that subscribed my free newsletter for two years before they finally upgrade whenever we sent out like a sale email. It can take a long time for somebody to finally get a sign that they want to buy you product.
Mike [31:39]: And maybe that’s part of the hesitation for some people to kind of invest in this is a channel because they look at that and they say, “Well, I sent out three or four emails and I only get a handful of sales.” So, email marketing isn’t working and they kind of [crosstalk]
Matthew Paulson [31:52]: Yeah, it’s a ramp, I mean it takes a long time to build up a list and to start figuring out how to actually make emails at sales because we print opt-in form in your website, you get 1,000 emails for a month even which would be good for a lot of people. At first month you only have a 1,000 people to email and that’s not a very big list to generate sales from because if you think, if I get open rates of 20% that means 200 people open an email and out of that, if 5%, buy it, 5% buy the thing. That’s maybe 10 sales I will get in the first month and that’s probably optimistic even, but once you get down to 2, 3, 4, 5, when you get 2,000 emails next month, 3,000 on your list for third month and so on down the line, then it only starts to get bigger and you start to get more results as it grows over time.
Mike [32:37]: So it’s more about the iteration process and the incremental improvements or the month over month improvements that you’re getting from it?
Matthew Paulson [32:44]: Yeah, I mean my first month that I did the freemium newsletter, I sold maybe 10 premium subscriptions. So I made $1500 that first month then I made nothing for like the next two months because I didn’t send out any emails to promote the product, so it was not just a matter of time to learn and try stuff and see how it works and not to list grow. The results aren’t going to happen overnight but 2 or 3 years down the line, the results are going to be probably a lot bigger than you could imagine right now.
Mike [33:08]: Well, this has been great so far. Where can people find out more about the book that you’re writing called Email Marketing Demystified?
Matthew Paulson [33:14]: Yup, so the book is going to come out October 1st, 2015. It will be available in Kendo, Paperback, and AudioBook formats. It will be in Kendo version for the first week, so if you want to be notified about that, I’ll go to my myemailmarketingbook.com, again that’s myemailmarketingbook.com. Type in your email and I’ll send you an email when the comes out and you can get a free copy. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, my user ID is MathewDP and you can follow my personal blog at mattpaulson.com and Paulson is P-A-U-L-S-O-N.
Mike [33:43]: Or if you got a chance to go to MicroConf, you’ve been attending to get MicroConf.
Matthew Paulson [33:46]: Yeah, so I went to MicroConf for this year in Vegas. I had a great time. I’m going to go back next year. I’m going to try to do an attendee talk so if you guys see that in the voting, actually vote for it if you’re going to come to MicroConf this year, I did one last year but nobody voted for it so we’ll hope I get in next year.
Mike [34:00]: Okay. Well, great. I just wanted to say thanks for coming on the show.
Matthew Paulson [34:04]: Thanks, Mike.
Mike [34:05]: If you have a question for us, you can call it into our voicemail number at 1-888-801-9690 or email us to us at email@example.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from We’re Out of Control by Moot used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for startups and visit startupsfortherestofus.com for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.