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Send search, Web site or e-mail marketing problems to mmorrison@crain.com


Problem: Enabling users to find information quickly and easily in a content-rich site.

Solution: Many companies are finding that their Web site serves users not just as a sales and marketing tool or online store but as a repository for large volumes of information accessed frequently by expert users such as researchers. Though clear and concise navigation is essential to the ease of use of any Web site, a customized search tool that assists with rapid drill-down can significantly enhance the site experience for such expert users, who are often a company's most loyal customers.

A customized search tool can be structured to target the search to a specific section of the site, a particular type of information (a product manual, for example) or content that was created in a particular date range, file format or language. In the past, this type of customized search would have required either an extremely complex programming foundation or expensive custom programming overlaid on an existing Web site.

Today's powerful and more affordable—or, in the case of open-source, free—content management systems provide a solid foundation for this type of search. Many have a built-in basic search function that allows for a broad set of results, typically sorted by relevance to the search terms. Additional specialized customization can often be added to this basic framework with a relatively modest programming cost.

A good customized search, just like good navigation, is best designed by investigating and testing with typical end users.

It is still considered good practice to put a general search box on all pages of a Web site. The customized search can be made visible only in relevant sections of the site or on all pages.

Siobhan Kelleher is director of client services and digital media at Sametz Blackstone Associates (www.sametz.com), a Boston-based strategic communications consulting firm.

Problem: Making paid search creative stand out from the crowd.

Solution: Good paid search creative must both attract your audience and qualify prospective visitors. But most marketers become so focused on the attraction part that they forget about the second element entirely.

Before you can start to develop creative that reaches both goals, you first need to determine your unique value proposition. Is it, for instance, your pricing, superior service, customization or innovation? Once you have identified this, you are ready to begin the process of improving your creative.

Begin by more clearly defining products or services. For example, if you have minimum order sizes, unusual payment options, long delivery delays or sell only to a few types of businesses, then it would behoove you to specify this in your creative. Yes, fewer people will click on your ads, but you are better off being aggressive in qualifying potential visitors.

The whole key to the differentiation piece is to emphasize offers and a solid call to action. Draw users in by noting special offers such as free shipping, sale prices or exclusives in the creative. Also, when warranted, make sure to use a time frame—such as "today only" or "limited time only"—to give potential customers a sense of urgency. Be sure to play up your company's unique value proposition by featuring your differentiators in the creative. Last, understand that it will take a bit of testing until you perfect the message.

Remember, good creative both attracts and qualifies. If you don't qualify your audience, your click-through rate can be too high. If you don't stand out from the crowd, you'll never catch the eye of potential customers.

Brian Kaminski is managing director of the San Francisco office of iProspect (www.iprospect.com), a search engine marketing provider.

Problem: Correcting a "black hole" listing.

Solution: "Black hole" lists are basically databases run by individuals or corporations concerned with fighting unsolicited bulk e-mail. Mail servers that are identified as sending spam can be reported and listed, and Internet service providers (ISPs) or corporations can subscribe to these lists to help reduce spam to their customers. And a mail server appearing on such a list can have its e-mail messages blocked or quarantined, hence the nickname.

Being placed on a black hole list is relatively easy in today's recipient-focused e-mail client environment. There are several black hole lists out there, and an ISP can subscribe to one or all of them if it wishes. If enough people make a complaint against a server, the typical reaction is to report the server to a black hole list. If you find a sudden increase in bounced e-mail, hard or soft, or a corresponding drop in open and click-through rates, it could be the result of the mail server being placed on a black hole list.

Other reasons e-mail servers get reported are: poor bounce management, not honoring unsubscribe requests and bad sending habits, such as sending e-mail blasts too frequently or not sending what was promised. If these underlying issues are never addressed, the server will likely be listed in one place or another.

When a spike in the bounce rate occurs, it's a good idea to try to capture a bounced message or two. A professional e-mail marketing solution worth its weight usually has a debug feature that, when enabled, archives the conversation with the bounce account and logs the reason for the bounce. Another investigation option is to copy all bounced e-mail messages and forward them to a separate e-mail account, just long enough to identify in more detail the reason they bounced. You can also quickly reference black hole list check tools such as DNSstuff.com or Email Tools Blacklist check.

Typically, when there is a bounced e-mail message related to a black hole listing, the message will provide you with a link to the list. This link can explain why the server is listed. Many of the black hole lists have procedures to help an e-mailer remove a server from their lists, mostly involving providing proof that you really are not spamming. Subscription dates, e-mail policies or other data may be required before a computer can be successfully removed.

If you find that your server has made it onto a list, don't panic. Examine your e-mail behavior carefully and correct the underlying reasons that you were put there in the first place. Then contact the list managers and work with them to get the server delisted.

Jim Kinkade is the technical support supervisor at Arial Software (www.arialsoftware.com), a provider of e-mail marketing software.

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