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      Web Accessibility Guide for Designers (6 Key Tips)


      As a website designer, you play a significant role in a website’s accessibility and inclusiveness.  Many design elements, from typography to media, can create barriers for those with disabilities. With so many items that need to be addressed, it may feel like an impossible task.

      Fortunately, there’s a lot of guidance available for designing a website that’s accessible to all. By giving careful attention to a few key areas, you should be able to include accessibility in your design process without breaking stride.

      In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the concept of web accessibility and its importance. Then we’ll cover six key areas to keep in mind when designing an accessible website. Let’s get started!

      An Introduction to Web Accessibility

      Web accessibility means that all aspects of a website are usable by people with disabilities. Without it, much of the information on the internet would be inaccessible to a large percentage of the population. For online business owners, this would also equate to losing out on potential sales.

      As of 2019, nearly 60% of the United States population with disabilities lived in a home with internet access. That translates to a lot of people who rely on accessible design to use the web fully. People with disabilities also tend to adopt technology at lower rates, meaning they may not have an option for which device to use when accessing a website.

      The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed the Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WACG) to provide a set of standards to developers, designers, and others responsible for creating and maintaining content on the web.

      The accessibility guidelines are organized into four principles, sometimes referred to by the acronym POUR:

      1. Perceivable: Website components must be presented in a way that users can perceive, regardless of disability.
      2. Operable: Navigation and operation must not require input actions that a user cannot perform.
      3. Understandable: Users must understand how to use and navigate a website and the content on it.
      4. Robust: Content needs to be compatible with current and future assistive technology.

      These principles can seem overwhelming and even somewhat vague. However, there are concrete steps you can take to ensure that your website is accessible to everyone.

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      Web Accessibility Guide for Designers (6 Key Tips)

      Having touched on how vital web accessibility is, let’s look at six areas to consider when designing an accessible website.

      1. Make Visual Design Elements Readable

      Typography is a fun area to showcase your creative flair, but the primary purpose of your website’s text is to convey information. There are a few guidelines to be mindful of when working with typography.

      First, you’ll want to think about the contrast between the text and the background. Contrast is expressed as a ratio, and per WCAG guidelines, the minimum contrast is 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.

      There are several tools you can use to test color combinations. WebAIM’s Contrast Checker is one of these.

      WebAIM’s contrast checker tool.

      Line height and letter spacing also come into play where accessibility is concerned. To keep text readable, W3C provides the following guidance:

      • Line height must be at least 1.5 times the font size.
      • Spacing between paragraphs should be two times the font size.
      • Spacing between letters must be at least .12 times the font size.
      • Word space should be at least .16 times the font size.

      Graphs are another way to present a lot of information in an easily understood format. However, if you’re only differentiating the elements by color, you could be shortchanging many people. In fact, there are about 3 million colorblind people worldwide who could be struggling with your content.

      To be certain visual elements are understandable, consider using patterns as well as color in your graphs. When selecting designs, we recommend choosing ones that are different enough from each other. For example, lines or dots are easily discerned, whereas lines of varying thickness may not be.

      2. Organize Content for Easy Understanding

      No matter what type of website you’re designing, chances are there is a lot of text. You can improve accessibility by structuring content in a way that’s easy to skim and understand.

      First, most users will appreciate you breaking your text up into short paragraphs. People often aren’t reading deeply on the web, and shorter sections are easier to scan through.

      Headings are also crucial to scannability. Each heading should accurately describe the content beneath it and follow a logical hierarchy. This means using larger headings first and progressively smaller ones as you cover more specific information.

      Using appropriate markup for your headings can make it easier for screen readers to read and navigate your content. In HyperText Markup Language (HTML), you’ll use tags <h1> down to <h6> to create hierarchical headings to break up your text.

      Headings arranged hierarchically from one to six.

      When adding links to your content, be sure the anchor text is descriptive enough that readers will know where clicking on it will take them. Also, it’s smart to mention if the link will open in a new window. A window opening unexpectedly can cause issues for screen readers and confuse the user.

      You should also let your users skip through the content without using a scroll wheel or repeatedly pressing an arrow key. This can be as simple as including a table of contents at the start of a blog post. You can also have a button that skips right to the main content of the page.

      A ‘skip to main content’ button.

      Next, we’ll explore some ways you can make interacting with your website easier.

      3. Keep User Interface (UI) Elements Intuitive and Device-Independent

      User Interface (UI) elements are anything on a website that visitors need to interact with to navigate, and they play a major role in the overall User Experience (UX). UI elements can include scrollbars, dropdown menus, and notifications.

      For a website to be considered accessible, people using different devices need to be able to interact with these UI elements successfully. This means that device-independent design is crucial.

      For example, some people are only able to use keyboards. To make it possible for them to navigate a webpage, you can include focus indicators to highlight buttons, links, and text fields when a user tabs through a page.

      Anything on your website that can be interacted with should have a corresponding focus indicator. The appearance can vary from one browser to another, but they typically show up as a blue or white outline depending on the background color.

      A focus indicator on the Google search page.

      When adding focus indicators, you’ll need to define tab order. This order should be similar to how you read: top to bottom and left to right. You can test this by tabbing through your site.

      Try to keep navigation and other menus in a consistent order throughout the website. These elements should also appear in roughly the same locations on each page because it makes them easier to memorize and quicker to use.

      Touch targets are the areas a user taps when using a touchscreen device. When defining touch targets, you’ll want to be sure they’re large enough to be easily tapped by anyone. For example, people with neuromuscular disorders may lack the fine motor control needed to interact with a tiny target.

      However, you also don’t want to create targets so large that they overlap with nearby elements. Tapping one button when you were aiming for another is enough to frustrate anybody.

      Some users rely heavily on keyboard shortcuts. While you can define shortcuts for your website, it may not be the best course of action. Keyboard shortcuts are not standardized across the web, and any you create may conflict with the device someone is using. If you decide to add custom shortcuts, be sure to make this clear and provide guidance for using them.

      There are some types of interactions that aren’t available on every device. For example, while pinch-to-zoom is convenient for mobile phones, it’s impossible on any computer without a touchscreen. Be sure content isn’t locked behind actions your users may not be able to perform. Provide multiple avenues to your information.

      UX is a highly involved area of web design with a lot of moving parts. Therefore, you might consider adding a section to your style guide to help maintain consistency for all UI elements across your website.

      4. Make Input Controls User-Friendly

      Input controls are a subset of UI elements intended to accept input from a user. Examples include text fields, checkboxes, and radio buttons.

      Forms can be tricky to design with accessibility in mind, but there are some guidelines to follow. You can start by labeling each field of your form. You might also include some example text in the field itself.

      A lead generation form with labels and example text.

      When laying out forms, we suggest using a vertical structure and placing each field on its own line. This makes navigating the form easier for keyboard-only users. On a related note, ensure that focus indicators are placed throughout the form.

      You might break long forms into multiple sections as they can be overwhelming. You could also add a progress bar for people to know where they are in the process; this is likely to be appreciated by your users.

      Finally, be sure to provide error messages that are clear and easy to understand. If possible, don’t clear the entire form when an error is made. It’s a good idea to include instructions for how to fix the mistake as well.

      5. Include Multiple Ways to Enjoy Media

      Media can add a lot to a website, but there are accessibility issues to be mindful of. Fortunately, you can ensure that any media you use is enjoyed by everyone.

      First, some types of media are best avoided altogether. Flashing animation or pop-ups can potentially trigger seizures in some people. You may also want to skip scrolling text or animated content that can’t be paused. It can be difficult or even impossible for some users to absorb.

      If you feel the need to include scrolling or animation, there are ways to make these elements more accessible. Be sure text moves slowly enough that visitors can read it easily. In addition, make it possible for users to pause the content and be clear about how to do so.

      When you create video content for your website, you can include closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing. You should also add a text transcript of the video’s content for those using a screen reader.

      Visitors who use screen readers can sometimes have a difficult time with images on a site as well. To make it possible for these people to see what is happening in a picture, you can include alt text.

      Adding alt text to an image of a person playing guitar.

      Alt text is a description intended to show up when an image fails to load. However, screen readers also speak this text, so those with visual impairments don’t miss out.

      When you’re writing alt text, you’ll want to be as descriptive as possible. You can base your description on what is featured in the image and the context of the surrounding content. Also, there’s no need to include the words “Picture of…” at the start of your alt text, as the screen reader will add that automatically.

      6. Perform User Research and Testing

      User research and testing probably aren’t as exciting to you as the design process, but they’re crucial for nailing accessibility. User research is best done early in the process to get a handle on who your users are and what they expect from you. You can do testing throughout the design process to help keep you heading in the right direction.

      Thorough research ensures that none of your users will fall through the cracks and will help you develop a plan for designing your website. You might use focus groups or surveys to determine what users need from your website and how they intend to use it.

      You’ll likely want to do some testing throughout the site-building process. You might try A/B testing at the wireframing stage when there’s still time to pivot. Once your site goes live, you could observe people using your website and ask for their thoughts as they accomplish specific tasks.

      During research and testing, it’s best to gather a diverse group of participants. Including those of all abilities gives you a better chance of designing a site that works for everyone.

      You can also perform testing yourself, such as trying to navigate your website using only your keyboard. For other elements of accessibility, you might want to try a plugin such as WP Accessibility.

      The WP Accessibility plugin.

      This plugin is free to use. It can help you correct a variety of accessibility issues.

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      Let’s Make Accessibility Standard

      Focusing on accessibility during the design process can result in a website that’s accessible to everyone. While it may seem like a lot to keep track of, the payoff is well worth the extra effort.

      Keep the following in mind when you’re designing your website:

      1. Make visual design elements readable.
      2. Organize web content for easy understanding.
      3. Keep User Interface (UI) elements intuitive and device-independent.
      4. Make input controls user-friendly.
      5. Include multiple ways to enjoy media.
      6. Perform user research and accessibility testing.

      Building an accessible website is a lot easier with the right web host in your corner. DreamHost’s Shared Unlimited hosting can ensure that you get off to a great start with a fast and reliable website!



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      Pinterest Marketing Guide: How to Promote Your Business in 2021


       

      If you run an online business, chances are you spend a lot of time on your social media marketing. If you’re not including Pinterest in your marketing plan, you could be missing out.

      Pinterest is a highly visual platform that functions more like a search engine than a social network. As a result, you can reach new audiences, drive more traffic to your site, and access detailed analytics to help you achieve your goals. Even better, Pinterest is a fairly easy platform to get started with.

      In this guide, we’ll discuss why you might want to get your business on Pinterest. Then we’ll share six steps to help you set up an account, create shareable Pins, and build your presence on this platform. Let’s get started on your Pinterest marketing strategy!

      Why You Might Want to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Business

      Pinterest is so much more than a social media platform. It’s actually a visual search engine, which comes with a unique set of advantages for businesses. For one, content lasts much longer than on other platforms, meaning your Pins can continue to yield results for you months after you post them.

      Something else that makes Pinterest attractive is its user base. The platform boasts approximately 459 million monthly users, most of whom are adults. If this is a demographic you’d like to target, it’s smart to put your business on this platform.

      Finally, 80% of Pinners discover new brands or products on Pinterest. This makes it an excellent tool for putting yourself on the radar of new audiences.

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      Pinterest Marketing Guide: How to Promote Your Business in 2021 (In 6 Steps)

      Now that you’ve seen that Pinterest can be a valuable addition to your marketing strategy, let’s have a look at six steps for getting started.

      Step 1: Set Up a Pinterest Business Account

      Your first step will be to set up a Pinterest business account. This account type differs from a personal account in a few key ways. First, you’ll be able to claim your website and other social platforms, so your profile information will show up on every Pinterest Pin that includes your content.

      You’ll also be able to build ads and use them alongside your organic Pins to help drive traffic and conversions. If you’d like some additional guidance, you can sign up for a free ads consultation.

      Finally, a business account will grant you access to detailed analytics. You can pull valuable insights from this data to improve your Pinterest strategy.

      To set up your business account, head to Pinterest Business and click on the Sign Up button. First, you’ll be asked to create an account or log in to an existing one. Next, you’ll be brought to this screen where you can begin building your profile.

      Adding basic profile information to Pinterest Business.

      You can include as much or as little information as you like. You’ll probably want to include a profile picture, as well as a few ways for customers to reach you. If you have a physical location, you can add that information as well. Remember to click on the Save button at the bottom of the screen if you make updates.

      Step 2: Create Popular Pins

      Once you have your Pinterest business account ready to go, it’s time to create some Pins. Before you get started, you’ll want to identify some of the popular trends in your niche. Fortunately, Pinterest provides you with a few tools to accomplish this.

      First, you might want to have a look at Pinterest Predicts. This highly visual report is full of advice for what topics will soon be trending in several niches.

      The Pinterest Predicts tool.

      You can also narrow your search by category or audience. Alternatively, you can download the report in PDF format.

      You might also want to check out Pinterest Trends. This tool is a bit more focused on the present, so you can use it to discover what’s currently trending on Pinterest in different categories.

      Current trends on Pinterest.

      Click on any keyword to see a graph of searches over time. You’ll also see the most popular Pins for the search term, as well as a selection of related trends.

      A graph showing searches over time.

      These tools provide powerful insights that can help you plan the content of your Pins. However, there is also a strong visual component that you’ll want to keep in mind.

      As we said, Pinterest is a highly visual platform, so you’ll want to be sure the images you’re using for your Pins are top-notch. Of course, you’ll want to choose high-quality images, but you’ll also need to pay attention to the size.

      The best Pins are longer than they are wide. While the ideal image size is 735 by 1102 pixels, it’s more important to be mindful of the aspect ratio, which is 2:3. This will prevent the images in your Pins from being truncated in users’ feeds. You’ll also want to add alt text to your Pins, just as you would on your website, to make them accessible.

      Like with your other social media channels, it’s best to keep your Pins aligned with your brand aesthetic. For example, you may want to include a branded logo on your images or just adhere to a specific style when you’re creating content.

      You can make it a bit easier to follow these guidelines by using a tool like Canva.

      Canva, an online photo editing tool.

      With Canva, you’ll have access to various templates for Pins, so you’ll always have the ideal dimensions. Canva also provides some powerful collaboration tools in case you’ll be working with a team. Finally, the Brand Kit feature will make it easy for you to keep your logo, colors, and fonts consistent across all of your social media platforms.

      Pinterest also lets you create video Pins. These play automatically as users scroll through their feeds, so they are more engaging than other Pins.

      When creating a video Pin, keep in mind that users won’t necessarily have their volume on as they scroll through the page. So don’t be afraid to include plenty of text, both to grab attention and to get your message across.

      Once you’ve created some brilliant Pins, the next step is to make sure they’re found. Similar to how you would handle Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your website, you’ll rely heavily on keywords to rank high in search results. Therefore, you may want to include them in your Pinterest board names and descriptions. You can also add keywords to your image filenames.

      Step 3: Optimize Your Pins for Maximum Traffic

      So far, we’ve discussed how you can use SEO to be sure your Pins show up in search results. However, there are some other tactics you can try to help drive visitors to your website.

      First, some days and times are better than others for getting eyes on your Pins. While you’ll want to do some experimentation to discover when is best for your content, CoSchedule found that 8-11 p.m., 2-4 a.m., 2-4 p.m., and 1-3 p.m. are the best times to post. Additionally, you may want to publish your content on Fridays and Saturdays.

      You’ll also want other people to Pin your content to their own boards to help widen your reach. You can start by adding a Pinterest button to your website. The Easy Social Share Buttons plugin enables you to do this quickly.

      The Easy Social Share Buttons plugin.

      Of course, you’ll want to be sure you’re including Pin-worthy images with your content and placing them strategically throughout your website. While you’ll likely include a Pin It button with your social share icons, there are a few other places you may want to have one.

      If you have a blog, you can try optimizing your featured image for Pinterest to be sure it looks great when pinned. You might also want the button to appear when a user hovers over your photos or other shareable elements on your site.

      If you have an email newsletter, try including some of your Pins in it. Use this opportunity to show off some of your best content and urge readers to visit your Pinterest page.

      You might also try using a Pin’s Call To Action (CTA) to encourage people to pin your content to their own boards. The more popular a Pin is, the more likely it is to appear in search results and help solidify your reputation as an expert, which can also increase traffic to your site.

      Finally, you might want to connect your Pinterest profile with other social platforms and your website. You can do this by claiming your other accounts.

      From your Pinterest account settings, click on Claim in the menu at the left of the screen. You’ll have the opportunity to claim your website, Instagram, YouTube, Etsy, and Shopify stores. Simply click on the Claim button, log in to your account, and grant Pinterest the required permissions.

      Claiming a social media account on Pinterest.

      Now, any Pins created from your connected platforms will be attributed to you. You’ll also get credit for any Pins you made before you connected other accounts, but this may take a few days.

      Step 4: Build Relationships and Gain Followers

      Like other social media platforms, Pinterest is all about building relationships with your followers. One of the easiest ways to achieve this is by posting frequently and consistently.

      Unlike some other social media platforms, overposting isn’t much of a concern with Pinterest. However, you don’t want to publish an entire day’s worth of Pins at one time. So instead, spread them out, keeping the optimal posting times in mind.

      You’ll also want to include a mix of content in your Pinterest strategy. Don’t be afraid to have plenty of content from other accounts if you think your followers will find it interesting. Providing value is essential to creating loyalty among your customers.

      Additionally, remember to respond to any comments left on your Pins. You can also leave friendly, helpful comments on your followers’ Pins to help build connections.

      While communicating with your audience is crucial, you might also want to engage with popular boards outside your immediate network. This tactic can be especially effective if you want to build relationships with influencers. If you decide to reach out this way, you can do some research to ensure that the creators and their content align with your brand values.

      To find popular boards in your niche, start by typing a relevant keyword into the search bar. To narrow your search to boards, use the drop-down menu on the right.

      How to search for boards on Pinterest.

      Once you click on a board, you’ll be able to see the follower count. If you’d like to follow the board, click on the three dots next to the name and select Follow.

      How to follow a board on Pinterest.

      You might also want to try inviting others to Pin on your boards. This can add some diversity to your content. To create a group board, click on the plus sign under the board’s name.

      How to create a group board on Pinterest.

      You’ll be able to set permissions for your collaborators. Choose whether they can change existing Pins or just add their own.

      Collaborator settings for group boards on Pinterest.

      You can also allow them to invite others to the board.

      Collaborator settings for group boards on Pinterest.

      Now, you can search for collaborators by name and invite them to your board. Alternatively, you can copy a link to the board and share it directly with them.

      How to invite collaborators to a shared board.

      You can find people on Pinterest the same way you find boards. After typing the user’s name into the search box, select People from the drop-down menu.

      How to search for people on Pinterest.

      You might want to connect with people you already know, such as friends and family, as well as bloggers or brands that you follow on other platforms. This can help you build a decent following more quickly.

      Step 5: Promote Your Brand

      When it comes to promoting your brand on Pinterest, Rich Pins are one of the most valuable tools you have at your disposal. Rich Pins include additional, real-time information and more ways to direct people to your website.

      Product Rich Pins display the price and availability of your products in real-time. When shoppers click on your Pin, they’ll be brought directly to your website, where they can complete their purchase.

      Meanwhile, Recipe Rich Pins can include ratings, cooking time, a list of ingredients, and whatever other information you might want to include. If you make changes to the recipe on your website, the corresponding Rich Pin will update automatically.

      A Recipe Rich Pin featuring ingredients and cooking time.

      If you’re a blogger, you may want to consider using Article Rich Pins, which display the title, pin description, and author of the piece. Like Recipe Rich Pins, this type of Pin will automatically update when you edit the article.

      Remember to include a relevant link to your website in every one of your Pins. As your content travels across Pinterest, you’ll want to ensure that users can quickly get to the source.

      While you do want to promote your products and services, your followers may get bored if that’s all they see from you. You can mix up your content by regularly pinning from other sources in your niche. While searching for other brands to follow, you can also save interesting Pins to a secret board to share later.

      If you have a blog on your website, you may want to create a board exclusively for your blog posts. This will be especially helpful for those who find you through Pinterest rather than your website, as they’ll quickly see the kind of content you publish.

      Additionally, you might want to put some thought into how you arrange your boards on your profile page. Keeping your most active and popular boards at the top can give a Pinterest user a sense of what your brand is all about. However, save some of this space for your blog posts and product boards as well.

      Pinterest boards on a user’s profile.

      Finally, you can take advantage of holidays, just as you would with blogs and other social media content. Try to have event-based Pins ready at least a month in advance, so you won’t feel rushed to publish content at the last minute. This way, when users are searching for Christmas gift ideas or Thanksgiving recipes on Pinterest, your content is more likely to appear in their feeds.

      Step 6: Track Your Success With Pinterest Analytics

      When you set up a business account, you’ll have access to Pinterest Analytics. You’ll want to get this feature set up as soon as possible so you can begin gathering valuable data, including your audience demographics and click-through rates.

      While you’ll have access to some information right away, to take full advantage, you’ll need to claim your domain. From your Business Hub, you can navigate to Analytics > Conversion Insights. Then click on the Claim domain button, followed by the Claim button next to Websites.

      Claiming a domain on Pinterest.

      You’ll have the option to claim via HTML tag, HTML file, or text record. Finally, enter your website’s URL and click on the Verify button.

      Verifying a website on Pinterest.

      Once you’ve claimed your website, you may also want to join the Verified Merchant Program. You’ll have badging on your profile that can help you generate trust, as well as a Shop tab where Pinterest users can make purchases without going to your website.

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      e

      Get Some Pinterest Followers

      While the thought of getting involved with another social media platform may not be appealing, the potential benefits of using Pinterest will likely make your effort worthwhile. Long-lasting, highly visual content can do a lot to help spread the word about your business.

      Let’s recap the steps we shared for getting your business on Pinterest:

      1. Set up a Pinterest Business account.
      2. Create popular Pins.
      3. Optimize your Pins for maximum traffic.
      4. Build relationships and gain followers.
      5. Promote your brand.
      6. Track your success with Pinterest Analytics.

      Do you need some help with your Pinterest strategy? We can handle social marketing for you! Learn more about our social media marketing services and how we can help you grow your business.



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      The Website Owner’s Guide to Email Marketing


      Email is the sharpest tool in the box for building relationships, generating new customers, and increasing sales on your website. Here’s how to get started.

      Remember in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan‘s character waits impatiently for her dial-up internet to connect before typing an email to her virtual pen pal on a simple dialog box? Watch it now and cringe; we’ve come a long way, baby. 

      But while dial-up and AOL instant messaging are stuck in the stone ages of the internet, email isn’t, especially for you website owners out there — and here’s why.

      Email still has a very real place in society, with more than four billion email users worldwide, a number predicted to rise to 4.5 billion by 2024.

      New Email.jpeg

      Even though we tend to dread the sight of an overstuffed inbox, the reality is this: Email triumphs as a powerful tool of communication and persuasion for website owners and businesses. 

      And marketers understand this. 

      In fact, 89% of marketers say that email is their primary channel for lead generation. This seemingly-archaic medium is increasingly relevant — unlike screen names or Myspace pages — for website owners looking to build customer relationships and augment sales. 

      Marketers consistently rank email as the single-most-effective tactic for meeting their awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention goals. They’ve branded it, fittingly, “the workhorse” and prove your marketing budget should include more $$$ allotted for an invested email strategy.

      And they’re not the only ones waving virtual foam fingers for email practices; more than half of consumers say they enjoy receiving emails from brands.

      But understand this: You don’t have to be a big-shot marketer to create and send email campaigns. Even beginners can use emails to generate slam-dunk sales or build a loyal blog following.

      So what exactly is email marketing? How can you encourage customers to sign up for your emails in the first place? Then, how do you craft sparkling newsletter copy while avoiding the spam folder? 

      Well, you’re in luck. We developed the Website Owner’s Guide to Email Marketing to help you understand and implement the fundamentals of email marketing. Read on and learn the ins-and-outs of segmentation, automation, sequencing, bounce rates, and how to craft that email your visitors are anxious to open:

      We promise it’s easier than dial-up.

      1. Email Marketing: Ground Level

      If you’re like 58% of adults, after waking up and resisting the urge to hit the snooze button, you’re rolling over groggily to grab your phone. Within seconds, you’re scanning your email inbox before your eyelids have even fully opened. 

      Checking Email.jpeg

      And now, with the increased usage of everything mobile, people are “always on” in terms of their inboxes: whether on commutes, in the bathroom (germy, but true), or in almost every social situation, they’re one micro-click away from checking their email.

      Email marketing capitalizes on habits like this in a major way. 

      At its most basic, email marketing involves acquiring the email addresses of potential customers as a way to share content with them and build business-to-customer relationships. And there’s a reason that this strategy is tried-and-true; it’s a good investment — for every dollar spent, email marketing averages an ROI of $38. Cha-ching!

      The numbers don’t lie: 66% of consumers have made a purchase online as a direct result of an email marketing message. 

      Still not convinced that you need an email marketing strategy? Consider these stats:

      • You are six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. Bonus: you get more than 140 characters to do it.
      • 90% of email gets delivered to the intended recipient’s inbox, whereas only 2% of your Facebook fans see your posts in their News Feed (they’re probably watching cat videos).
      • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter and achieves 174% more conversions.
      • More people use email than social platforms
      • Email is a direct line of communication you have with website visitors that explicitly said they want to hear from you!
      • Some social media platforms cater to specific age groups — and not others (hello, Snapchat). Biting your nails over catering to millennials, baby boomers, or Gen Xers, respectively? Email marketing crosses age groups in terms of effectiveness. Email is the preferred means of business communications across all age groups.
      • Once you have their email address, you can continue to market to your subscribers for mere pennies (unless they unsubscribe). A budget-friendly marketing gift that keeps on giving!

      Consider a basketball analogy: Email marketing is like shooting a layup, versus a shot from half-court . . . blindfolded. One is targeted and direct — an almost guaranteed score — while the other is haphazard hit-or-miss. 

      Basketball Layup.jpeg

      Point made, yes?

      So, let’s get down to it.

      What You Need to Get Started

      If you’re a business owner, you’ve probably got a snazzy website up and running. If not, follow this guide to building a WordPress website in five minutes and then rejoin us. 

      Don’t worry. We’ll wait.

      All setup? OK, now it’s time to market your content and products to loyal followers.

      First, it’s smart to set some goals and make a plan for what you want to accomplish through your email marketing efforts. This will guide the type of messages you sent and how you target your subscribers.

      Second, you’ll need a reliable Email Service Provider (ESP). This kind of provider is different than your basic Gmail account — an ESP allows you to send messages in bulk.

      The most popular of these is probably MailChimp. Still, many ESPs offer various features — like security reports and levels of automation — so do your research and choose a service that provides the tools you want at the price your budget allows.

      MailChimp.png

      Next: Building a list of subscribers.

      Successful email marketing works like visiting someone’s house — you have to be invited first. Email marketing begins when a potential or current customer gives you their permission to send them emails. 

      Just say “Nooooooo!” to buying email lists or firing off spammy messages to those who haven’t granted you their permission. You want to nurture relationships that lead to sales, not alienate and annoy potential customers. (We’ll address this more in the “Slam That Spam” section below).

      For your website, you accomplish this with an opt-in form. You’ve probably seen a handful of different versions of these on nearly every web page you visit. 

      Optin Sidebar.png
      A sidebar opt-in widget on food blog How Sweet Eats.
      Optin Popup.png
      A pop-up email subscription form on craft site Thimblepress.
      Optin Popup 2.png
      A creative pop-up subscription option from Chronicle Books.

      Just as there is with crafting your email content itself, there’s an art to creating a winning opt-in message, like incorporating appealing visuals, a persuasive description — that offers subscribers some kind of additional benefit — and a compelling subscribe button (among other things). 

      OptinMonster is a simple — and effective — way to set up lead capture forms on WordPress (and other websites and e-commerce sites) that integrate with many ESPs. Easy peasy!

      optinmonster.png

      2. The Nitty Gritty

      Just as there is with crafting your email content itself, there’s an art to creating a winning opt-in message, like incorporating appealing visuals, a persuasive description — that offers subscribers some kind of additional benefit — and a compelling subscribe button (among other things). 

      OptinMonster is a simple — and effective — way to set up lead capture forms on WordPress (and other websites and e-commerce sites) that integrate with many ESPs. Easy peasy!

      Email Segmentation

      According to OptinMonster

      “Email list segmentation is the process of breaking your subscribers into smaller groups based on specific criteria so that you can send them more personalized and relevant emails.”

      Emails that are more targeted will help you get the right content to the people who will be most interested in reading it, resulting in higher click-through rates and conversions (not to mention a decrease in the number of those hitting the “unsubscribe” button or sending your mail to spam). By segmenting, you can vary the content, like sending your newsletter or promotional content to the most receptive audience.

      So, what kinds of groups can you segment subscribers into? Here are a few examples:

      • Location — Having an upcoming event or pop-up sale? Notify subscribers who are local to the area.=
      • New Subscribers — Welcome the newbies and let them know how glad you are to have them as a part of your following.
      • Items Remaining in Shopping Cart — Give a call to action to those hesitant or forgetful shoppers. Remind subscribers with yet-to-be-purchased products in their online carts to complete their check-out.
      • Preferences — Segment your emails based on certain types of emails. Some subscribers may only want to be notified about upcoming sales or discounts; others may want news of every just-launched blog post. 
      • Open Rate — Call it a “frequent-reader” perk: lavish your engaged subscribers with unique content or premiums.
      • Survey or Quiz Results — Group customers based on how they respond to your prompts for feedback.

      Online Shopper.jpeg

      Those are just a few ideas on the ways you can segment your email list (and there are tons more). 

      The goal of segmentation is personalization; each subscriber receives content relevant to them and will, therefore, interact with the content more. Picture it: fewer spam designations, more engagement, more successful email campaigns, more conversions, etc.

      This can also be accomplished with OptinMonster as it integrates with your ESP.

      Sequencing

      Along with segmentation is sequencing, a tactic in which a series of emails are generated based on set intervals or subscriber behavior-triggered automations

      Sequencing helps you automate (less work for you) and get the right messages to your subscribers — the groups you’ve segmented — when they will be most effective. (More details here.) 

      Types of sequences may include a series of emails targeted at reactivating disengaged subscribers, encouraging them to attend a local event, or following up on a recent purchase.

      And it works; after one year of using automation, 32% of businesses reported increased revenue.

      3. Slam That Spam

      A major — repeat, major — part of your email marketing success (aka increased conversions, killer content, and a growing readership) is understanding — and avoiding — the spam folder. 

      So what is spam exactly? Well, in short, it’s unsolicited messages (meaning, no consent was given to receive them) sent in bulk. While sometimes amusing to read, spam is ultimately annoying to consumers, and no business wants their carefully crafted copy relegated to the black hole abyss of email spam holes. 

      Spam.png

      It’s true: Consumers are deleting fewer promotional emails without looking than in years past.

      But with this, there’s good news and bad news. 

      • The good: As people are sending fewer email communications to the trash (or spam) bin, it’s a sign that perhaps email marketers are refining their craft so that email messages are more useful to consumers.
      • The bad: Spam filters are better and more aggressive than ever before, so it’s important to take care that your emails don’t lead to a negative brand association. 

      So let’s consider a few (OK, several) roadblocks that can stall you from reaching your consumers’ inboxes.

      Understand the How of Spam Filters

      An important key is understanding how the filters work in the first place. While there are many triggers, here are some things they look for:

      • Relationship with subscriber
      • Reputation of IP address and sender domain (read more on this here)
      • Quality of email subject line, teaser, and content
      • Quality and safety of included links
      • Presence or absence of images
      • Inclusion of text version of the email

      Additionally, spam filters monitor subscriber behavior to improve their filtering formulas, tracking actions like the opening of emails, time spent reading the email, enabling of images, spam flagging, folders applied to email by the subscriber, forwarding of emails, etc. 

      And because these behaviors vary from subscriber to subscriber, a unique “email spam score” is given to each email sent to every individual subscriber. Sounds complicated, but there are things you can do to significantly improve your chances that your message will arrive successfully to your subscriber.

      Spam filters are smart. Some other instant red flags: over-the-top font colors (consumers don’t like this either), font color tags that aren’t formatted correctly, misspellings, overstuffing keywords, and risky word choices (best to avoid “free,” “prize,” “promo,” “no obligation,” and “buy”). 

      In addition, be conservative with punctuation and capitalization. Aside from the resulting in red-flagging, it’s just . . . ANNOYING!!!!! 

      See? We told you.

      Lastly, don’t play dirty. Attempting to outsmart spam filters (like inserting random characters and numbers into your content or subject lines or concealing text in an image) or tricking your subscribers by starting the subject line with “Re:” or “Fwd:” to suggest an ongoing communication with you just eats away at your credibility.

      Instead, put your efforts into building a quality email list and sending out content that customers want to see pop up in their inbox.

      Build Your Own In-House Email List

      The permission-based approach is best. Make sure that the recipients of your messages have provided explicit consent to receive your communications through a sign-up or opt-in form. Encourage them to add your email to their address book.

      Resist the temptation to purchase an email list or scrape sites for addresses. This is often your message’s one-way ticket to the spam folder. Build your list ethically.

      Make Unsubscribing Easy

      No one wants a dwindling email list, but the reality is this: 50% of consumers branded a company’s email as spam because they couldn’t easily figure out how to unsubscribe to the messages. 

      Make it easy for your subscribers to part ways; it’ll save you the spam label and leave you with the most invested subscribers — plus, it’s the law!

      Don’t Send Lackluster or Irrelevant Content

      Consistency is the rule for creating content on your website. This make-it-or-break-it principle is critical for your email communications too. If your blog channels a friendly-neighbor tone, you should have an email voice to match. Keep your messaging consistent, so you don’t give your readers branding whiplash. 

      Secondly, honor your subscribers’ time. As it has been aptly said, minutes of your customers’ time are like dog years on the internet — woof. 

      Our digital diets are only programmed for rapid-fire “tastes” of virtual content, so your subscribers’ time reading your content should be well-spent. Honor their minutes by making your emails worth reading. Otherwise, it’s “Email, meet Trash Bin.”

      Also, understand that you really only have a few seconds to grab their attention in the first place. Research shows that most people have a group of “trusted advisers” from whom they will almost always open emails — secure this spot and your customers’ attention is yours. 

      Using a Reliable Email Service Provider (ESP)

      In addition to checking your domain name for blacklisting (you might also hear this referred to as a denylist), you should use a reputable ESP. Need help choosing the right provider? Check here. You could also consider getting third-party accreditation, which can help deliverability. 

      Understand the Rules

      More than just staying clear of boring or unrelated content, you need to be aware of the rules surrounding email marketing and how your content could potentially be violating established spam laws. With most — if not all — email providers, you will need to verify that you are abiding by the law.

      CAN-SPAM Act applies to “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” Simply put, all emails must comply. Each email in violation can incur a fee of upwards of $40,000! Gulp.

      Here are the must-dos and don’t-even-think-about-its for staying on the right side of the law.

      1. Don’t Deceive or Mislead

      Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” routing info (the domain name and email address), and subject line must all accurately reflect the correct information, including the business the message is originating from and the content of the message. Be truthful and clear. 

      2. Identify Ad Content

      You must communicate clearly and visibly that your message is an advertisement. 

      3. Give Your Location

      In your email, you must include the physical address of your business (whether that be a street address, P.O. box, or private mailbox you’ve registered under Postal Service regulations).

      4. Tell Subscribers How to Opt-Out

      It’s not just a good idea to have an easy unsubscribe method. Letting your subscribers know, clearly and conspicuously, how to opt out of future messages is the law. You must give subscribers the choice to stop emails, and you must explain how (by using a clear, contrasting font to distinguish it on your email, by giving a return address to reply to — which should be a human reply-to address — or providing another internet-based way). 

      Unsubscribe.png

      Additionally, make certain that your own spam filter does not block opt-requests from subscribers. Another element of the law is honoring these requests swiftly (within 10 business days) and not requiring additional demands from the subscriber, like fees, personal information, or other actions besides visiting a single page or sending a reply email. You cannot transfer or sell the former subscriber’s email address.

      5. Understand Your Personal Obligation

      Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re working on improving (or starting) your business’s email marketing strategy. But, on the off chance that you’re merely reading this for fun (totally understandable) and you’ve hired someone else to manage your email marketing, understand that you still possess the legal responsibility to comply with the law. Even if it’s just your product promoted in the email messages, you could be held legally responsible for violations. You can read up on more details here.

      6. Keep Your Email List Updated

      It’s important to stay connected with your subscribers and keep your email list as up-to-date as possible, as email addresses change often. Hey, that young professional doesn’t want to use their “starwarslover6785@aol.com” address forever. A stale list can lead to too many hard bounces (emails rejected for permanent reasons like invalid or inoperable email addresses) and raise your spam score.

      7. Think Timing

      Sure, your subscribers might not like a lengthy email every day, but sending out a rare email every few months could hurt. When your messages do show up, your readers might not recognize the “From:” designation and send you straight to spam or delete your message quickly, damaging your stats and credibility. 

      8. Consider Size

      If your email content is too large, it could result in a soft bounce, a temporary delivery issue that signifies that your content got as far as your subscriber’s mail server but was then bounced back. Reasons for soft bounces may also include full inboxes or an offline server. The email provider you use should attempt to resend your email over a period of days, but be on the lookout for repeat bounces and remove them from your list. (Read more about bounce rates in the Metrics section below).

      9. Be Wary of Inserts

      Videos, embedded forms, and attachments aren’t smart things to include in your email messages. Forms and videos often aren’t supported for security and compatibility reasons. Plus, there’s mobile to think about (more than that later). If you have an additional PDF or worksheet you want to share, upload it to your site and provide a link in the email you send out. 

      10. Test Before You Send

      Lastly, it’s smart to use a service like IsNotSpam.com to test your email for possible spam triggers.

      Not Spam.png

      And for the record, we’re web hosting experts, so talk with a legit attorney if you really want to get into the minutiae of spam law.

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      Whatever your online goals, we’ll be right there with you, making sure your site is fast, secure, and always up. Plans start at $2.59/mo.

      4. Putting Pen to (Virtual) Paper

      It’s time to decide the type of content you want to send out. A good tip is to analyze your email reports and website analytics to see what content did best — and get writing more of that. Here are some email communication best practices that will earn you more opens, more engagement, and more satisfied subscribers. 

      Be a Stickler for Good Grammar

      This isn’t seventh-grade English class, but it’s important to put in the work to make sure your content is error-free and professional. You want your subscribers to trust you and keep returning to read. Get a second pair of eyes and use an editing checklist to help you spot mistakes. Nothing turns off a subscriber more than a misplaced comma or spelling error. Can you say amatuer amateur?

      Write Like a Friend

      While you still need to be professional, it’s also important to write conversationally and not like a robot. Add personal touches that help show your personality and approachability. Also, use the word “you.” Turns out it’s pretty convincing.

      Promptly Journals.png
      The emails from Promptly Journals make you feel like a VIP, not just a subscriber.

      Learn From the Pros

      There are a lot of companies out there who are doing email marketing well. Here are a few. Learn from the best and adapt your content to adhere to winning principles and make your emails — dare we say it — fun to read! 

      Make it Visually Appealing

      If your subscribers wanted to slog through dense copy, they’d read a textbook. Remember, they’re “snacking,” so avoid clutter and make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for with text breakups, visual cues, and a clean design. 

      Invite Readers to Take Action

      Just like a good story needs a good ending, don’t leave your email with a blah finish. Give a clear call-to-action prompt that engages your subscriber to do more. I mean, that’s why you’re sending the email in the first place, right?

      Take Your Subject Line Seriously

      Subscribers decide whether your emails are worth their time and attention in 0 to 3 seconds. One, two, done. Another scary fact: 70% of emails get flagged as spam based solely on the subject line! So make it enticing and relevant. Again, learn from the pros.

      Some important things to keep in mind when writing subject lines:

      • Personalize, personalize, personalize. The more you can make your message seem tailored to each subscriber, the more they’ll keep reading — and buying.
      • Rise above clickbait. Readers will quickly ditch if promises are left unfulfilled.
      • Keep it short and sweet. 
      • Take it easy on punctuation and caps, OKAY?!?!?!
      • Offer hints at what’s inside — discount, you say? I’m enticed. Bonus points if you can make the reader feel part of an exclusive club or create a sense of urgency to act.
      • Follow an enticing sub headline with a complementary preheader. If the two play well together, you’ll have committed subscribers that anxiously await your messages.

      Subject Line.png

      5. Think Mobile

      You’re already aware that your website needs to be geared toward mobile users — the same goes for your emails. 

      But why?

      Many consumers are now reading email exclusively on mobile devices and are pretty picky about how your messages look on their devices: more than 80% of people reported that they will delete an email if it looks wonky on their phones. Yikes.

      Mobile.jpeg

      You know the principles of optimizing your site; here’s how to optimize your messages for mobile.

      • Make Sure Your Templates Are Mobile-Ready — Regardless of which ESP you use, ensure that your message is formatted for every mobile device. Use readable fonts, a single-column layout, and touch-friendly buttons (mobile screens are small!)
      • Be Conscious of the Length of Your Subject Line — Too long, and it will get cut off on a mobile screen.
      • Resize Your Images — Make sure images and text are balanced in relation to each other.
      • Make Sure Your Links are Mobile — Verify that the pages you link to are also mobile-friendly so subscribers can successfully answer your call to action.
      • Create a Browser Version — Offer a browser version of the email so readers can open it outside of their email client.
      • Do a Practice Run — One of the best ways to assure that all content is ready to hit your subscribers’ inboxes is to send yourself a test email. Check all links, images, and subject lines in your own personal inbox. 

      6. Gauging Success

      You’ve crafted your winning email and sent it out into the interwebs — now what? How can you judge the success or failure of your email marketing campaign? What should you look for? Like any marketing effort, it’s important to analyze your results and improve any needed efforts, but what metrics are most important?

      Metrics.png

      Here is a quick-guide glossary of metrics you should keep an eye on in coordination with your personal goals.

      Bounce Rate

      As we mentioned before, bounce rate (both hard and soft) indicates the percentage of total emails that were undeliverable — permanently or temporarily — measured by the total number of bounced emails divided by the number of emails sent. Sometimes this is a server issue, sometimes it’s a spam issue. 

      Unsubscribe Rate

      This number — the rate at which people remove themselves from your email list — is a good correction tool; it can help you know which emails were causing subscribers to ditch your list and correct those issues in future communications.

      Open Rate

      The percentage of email subscribers who open a given email. But this can sometimes be misleading, as an “open” is counting as a subscriber who receives the images embedded in a particular message. But it can clue you into what subject lines are most effective, which days your emails are opened, and the average percentage of your email list responding to your messages.

      Click Rate

      The number of times links in your message are clicked on. This is important for understanding your subscribers’ level of engagement and how they are interacting with you — and acting on your invitations to buy, visit, or give feedback. 

      Action Over Time

      A timeline of engagement with your emails; this stat can assist you in planning when is the best time to send campaigns.

      Spam Score

      Not all email marketing service providers will provide you this number, but it’s worth thinking about if you can get your hands on it. Before you hit send, it can indicate the likelihood of your message getting slammed by spam filters. A Spam Complaint metric can also be used to correct past errors that caused your subscribers to designate a certain message as spam. Based on these numbers, you can adjust your content format.

      It might also be important to keep track of email client data; with this, you can see how successfully or unsuccessfully messages might be appearing on different client types. Also, encourage your subscribers to give you feedback so you can learn and improve your communications the next time around.

      Lastly, here are some tools that can help you keep track (if your service provider doesn’t already) and benchmarks that help you see how you stack up in your industry.

      The Last Word

      Take a breath. Email overload, we get it. You can always bookmark this guide and refer back to it when you’re ready to take the next step in improving your communications with subscribers. 

      And in case you scrolled all the way down here looking for the TL;DR, we’ve got you covered. Here are the key takeaways for starting your own email marketing program. 

      • Test, Test, Test — Whether it’s spot spelling mistakes or checking for possible spam triggers, test your emails before sending them. It’s an investment worth the extra few minutes.
      • Keep Your Email List Healthy — A fresh list will help you avoid a lot of issues, including spam and legal concerns, not to mention depressing analytics. Consider running a re-engagement campaign every six months or so to maintain your list.
      • Be Consistent — Not only in the type of content you share but the frequency in which you send it. Your subscribers will come to know — and trust — you and anticipate your messages.
      • Focus on Quality — Spend time on both the writing and design of your emails. These elements will not only increase your stats but help build solid relationships with subscribers. 
      • Add a Call-to-Action Button — Make that CTA easy to find and use. You want to turn those readers into customers!
      • Make It Personal — Send segmented messages to get the most relevant content to each subscriber. Personalized email subject lines are more likely to be opened.

      Now, back to that inbox.

      Ready to Create an Email Newsletter?

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      RE: Your Feedback

      How have these email best practices gained you more subscribers or sales? What’s helped you successfully stay out of spam folders? Forward us your ideas (see what we did there?) on Twitter or join our Facebook group for site owners.





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