Mobile Email: Everything You Need To Know & Then Some….

I got a lot of emails about last week’s post, Five Low-Cost Things You Should Be Doing Today To Improve Your Email Program.  Most of the questions and comments were about mobile emails and if/how they are different.

First things first…

For many companies, the majority of mobile traffic is being generated because of email.  Thrust, trigger and ad hoc campaigns are being opened on handhelds.  When the customer clicks through the email, they get your site, whether it’s mobile-friendly or not.

If you do not want your email traffic to hit your site on a mobile device, send out your emails when your users are LESS likely to open them on a handheld.

Can you really do that?  Yes, of course.  You can send your thrust (aka spray-and-pray or blast) emails out whenever you’d like.  Some providers grumble about it.  Others make you pay extra for “preferred time of day blasts.”  But depending on the state of your mobile-readiness, it might be worth it for you.

With many providers, you can also segment your file based on which device your users are most likely to open your email on.  Please note: The providers who shun this are typically the ones who haven’t figured out a way (or can’t) do it.  Having an email provider who understands your business and doesn’t just dump you into their cookie-cutter mold is now more important than ever.

But I digress…

Time of day is important for other mobile-email stuff too.

Take your abandoned cart emails, for example.  Are you sending out your campaigns at a time of day when the user is most likely to convert over the phone or on the desktop?  Are you sending out a slightly different version of your email(s) when someone abandons on a handheld device vs your desktop site?  (Hint: You should be testing/doing both.)  Mobile abandons are skyhigh right now and that’s not likely to change dramatically anytime soon.  To get the biggest bang for your marketing buck, you should pay close attention to what you’re sending where – and when.

Another thing to consider?  One of the biggest issues with abandoned cart marketing is driving the user back to the exact place where they failed.  (One of the many reasons why I like to push people to the phone if you can.)  One of the newest (and even more annoying-to-the-consumer) issues is pushing abandoners to a device where their cart is “missing.”  And yes, this can happen even if you have a responsive site as this has more to do with cookies, security, and such.  Both issues are workaroundable but you’ve got to develop the strategy and then execute it.

What else do you need to know about mobile email?

Here are 16 proven tips to help you make your mobile email program a success.

Pay close attention to your subject lines. You have fewer characters (about 12-15ish is ideal even though 32-45ish fits) to make an impact.  Use them wisely.  You should also look at whether or not highly promotional subject lines work for you mobile-wise – are your immediate deletions increasing?  If so, it’s most likely because of what you’re doing in your From, Subject Line, and/or first line of your email.  (Please note: Your From Address is REALLY important too.)

Don’t underestimate your preheaders. A lot of marketers use preheaders as, well, an afterthought.  It’s unfortunate because preheaders can be very useful, especially when it comes to mobile.  Write them like a 70-character elevator pitch for the email you’re about to showcase.  Incidentally, there are many consultants who think preheaders are a waste of space and recommend you eliminate them on all mobile emails.  Preheaders are NOT for unsubscribe messaging nor are they going to work for weak-ass statements that mean little/nothing to the user.  In other words, use them aggressively or not at all.

Action directives are critical.  There should be one for every view.  If you have TMM (too much money), or are under the delusion that you’re Apple and only want to use one call-to-action per email, make sure you put it on the first view.  People scroll but we’re top heavy when it comes to where we put our attention.  (This is a brain thing.)  Make sure to leave extra wiggle room (at least 10 px) around ALL your action directives.  (This extra-space thing is key for all things mobile and too often underestimated.)

If you have a call center, promote the hell out of your phone number.  Let’s face it, right now it’s probably much easier for a user to push a click-to-call button than it is for them to maneuver your mobile checkout.  Not to mention you can upsell/cross-sell on the phone easily – it’s much more difficult to do it on a handheld device.  Get your folks to the phone where you can.

Less is more.  File size is important.  Period.  Gmail and other folks cut stuff off at specific file sizes (like 102 kb, for example) so you’ve really got to pay attention to your file sizes and how you prioritize your emails.  (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why I mentioned that you should be top-heavy – because if you save important stuff to the end, it may not ever get seen.)

Give some extra love to your visuals. The number of visuals, their size and how you present them is a key factor in your success.  Stick to images less than 250ish px wide.  Remember, a lot of devices default to “images off” so your email needs to make sense WITHOUT the images.  (Note: Yes, you can use 300 px wide but remember if you put a 300px+ image in your email(s) – especially at the top – you are likely going to end up with a frightening block of white space.)

Use your colors wisely.  What looks good on a desktop often doesn’t look the same on a handheld.  Rule of thumb: your emails should not look like the Easter Bunny’s basket.   

Fonts matter.  You can get away with a lot in the desktop world that you can’t on a handheld device.  Use simple, standards fonts.  Headline sizes should be 22 points (I prefer larger but large fonts can impact your deliverability so use them with caution) and body copy should be at 12 pts or greater.  Yes, some folks recommend 11 pts – having tested this a lot, I can say that 90% of the time I’ve seen 13 and 14 work better – it really has to do with how many emails your user is reading on their handhelds and what they’re doing when they are reading them.

Eleventy bazillion scrolls?  That won’t help you either.  Preview your emails on a handheld – don’t just dump them into a responsive template and think you’re done with it.  Determine how many scrolls your email is and where it loses efficacy (you can use link tracking to help you with this.)

Single column mobile emails usually work best.  Not always but most of the time. These days, most providers recommend you keep the width of your templates to 600 px or less.  (I concur with that and think you should keep another 20 px for clearance on each side.)  Again, this is highly dependent on your user and their ease/comfort with their mobile inbox.  One of the best things about single column templates is that they render well across most browsers.

Be careful with the social media icons.  Sometimes they are useful but often times, when tested in mobile emails, they decrease overall conversion and sales.  If you don’t want someone to get lost in their Facebook or Twitter accounts, you need to be careful.

Limit your links.  I recently heard a well-known industry consultant say that you should only have two links in mobile emails – one for the unsubscribe link and one for everything else.  I don’t agree with this whatsoever but I do recommend that you keep your links to a minimum on all emails.  That doesn’t mean you should only have 3, it means use your links as if your job depended on getting x number of clicks on each one.

Speaking of links, don’t stack them.  Chubby fingers need clearance.  I realize this sounds like a throwaway point but a lot of folks dump every link under the sun on the bottom of their emails and/or their sites.  It’s just NOT A GOOD IDEA on mobile anything.

Minimize the vomit.  Too often, companies let their Customer Service and Legal departments throw up all over sites and emails.  Sadly, this often results in a War and Peace puking of fine print all over the bottom of things – this is not good in the desktop world but it’s a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing in the mobile world.  Bottom line: keep the blithering to a minimum.

 “DO NOT REPLY” typically doesn’t work with mobile customers.  I know. I know. But there are a lot of companies who still use this in their “from” address and all over their emails so it needs to be said.

Keep the unsubscribe links/buttons away from anything else of value.  In the desktop world, over half the people unsubscribe by mistake (or because there aren’t other good choices for things like changing their email address.)  Unfortunately, that number is proving out to be much greater in the mobile world.  So put your unsubscribe and preference center links in there but keep them away from the valuable stuff.

Have a question or tip you’d like to add?  Email it to

Five Low–Cost Things You Should Be Doing Today: Email Edition

Check ALL Your From Addresses.  It amazes me how many companies still email from hideous email addresses.  Open Sky mails from Member Alert with subject lines like “look what we have found for you.”  (Hello Spam filter, let’s get cozy.)  Pomegranate mails from “contact us@” and Stonewall Kitchen mails from “content.”  I love Stonewall’s products but CONTENT?   What the hell has she done for me lately? Garnet Hill mails from “Customer Service” and Uno Allo Volta mails from “CustServ” as if they can’t be bothered.  Not to mention, I get dozens of emails each week from “community” (not to be confused with communicable.)

The majority of your email success happens outside the envelope: the “to” address, the “from” address, the subject line, the preview, the format, and the deliverability.  Nail them all and your success rates will increase.  Period.

Work Your Unsubscribes. It frosts my a** that so many companies try to bamboozle people into not unsubscribing with links that don’t work; unsubscribe pages that don’t load; no unsubscribe links at all; and so on.  I’m NOT at all a fan of the Vermont Teddy Bear way of putting their unsubscribe link at the top of their emails (in a HOT spot no less) but I also think it’s important (and legally sound) to give people a way to opt out of your emails whenever they want.  The key is to work your unsubscribe page.

What does that mean? It means offering a page that allows the user to change/update their email address (this is HUGE and not to be underestimated); change their frequency (if you can handle it); tell you the things that they are most interested in hearing about; and so on.  You don’t want to force users to answer a census-style survey with eleventy bazillion questions but three or four good questions is just fine.   Remember, a good unsubscribe page will save about half the people from bailing.  Yes, 50%.  So keep tweaking it.

Continue the Series. It floors me how many companies put their users through a 1-3 “series” email abandoned cart program and then just dump them.  I know.  I know.  Many vendors recommend you only mail abandoners x times but that’s typically because they are on some sort of commission deal and want to cherry pick the easiest-to-convert names off the list without impacting their cookie-cutter deliverability.  Here’s the thing.  It’s 2015.  People aren’t loading their carts because it’s a novelty like they were in the early 90’s. When a user adds something to their cart they are indicating interest and/or a propensity to buy.  So, instead of just dumping them after they haven’t responded to your x emails over a week, put them into a separate bucket and mail them once a month till they buy or die.  (You can mail them every 2 weeks, every 3 weeks, whatever.  The point here is to keep contacting them as long as it’s lucrative for you to do so.)  Incidentally, this “continue the series” advice is good for abandoned searches; PTP’s (page target programs); and so on.

Figure Out Your DTS (number of days to sale.)   My buddy, Bill LaPierre, frequently uses his blog to profess his undying love to the Co-ops.  (Just to be clear, he despises them.  With. A. Passion.) These days, I feel the same way about most email providers.  The thing about many (not all, but the majority) providers is that their recommendations about YOUR file are heavily influenced by their deliverability standards/issues/weaknesses.  So, they’ll commonly tell people that after xx days if the user hasn’t responded to your offerings, you should suppress/delete them.  (If you’re not immediately convinced, they’ll then use SPAM traps and all sort of other malarkey to scare you.)  The thing about deleting/suppressing names is that it often makes sense in theory but it can be the kiss of death in practice.

For example, say you sell personal tax forms.  The majority of your business will be done within a 4 month period.  Each individual customer will buy from you once a year and that’s it.  So, if someone has bought from you at the end of March or beginning of April (let’s face it, most people are last minute) and they don’t need to buy from you again till the following year, you have a year of “wasted” emails (unless, of course, you have something to sell them.)  If you don’t get opens or clicks for x months, your provider will likely tell you to get rid of the “bad” names.  This is NOT good.  The names aren’t bad – they just don’t have anything to buy from you at this time.  Suppressing them may make your stats look better but it’s not going to do anything for your sales long-term.  The better thing to do is to figure out what your DTS (number of days to sale — how long it takes to get someone to buy) is and market toward it.

And yes, I realize the above example is extreme but you get the idea.  Figuring out your DTS is important for all companies.  Maybe you’re a B2C gift company who gets an average of one purchase a year at Christmastime.  Perhaps you’re a B2B company and the majority of your business is government business, where there are intense fiscal buying cycles.  Maybe you sell training to teachers or vitamins to body builders.  It doesn’t really matter.  Knowing your DTS will help you become a better marketer.

Collect More Email Addresses.   I’ve written lots of tips and articles about how you can collect more email addresses using entrance and exit pops, catfishes, sidewinders, carthoppers and the like but today I’d like to talk to you about something else: all the ways that your prospects and customers are connecting with you that you are not keeping track of: live chat, customer service emails, inbound calls, surveys, old-school mail orders, and so on.

If you’re like most companies, chances are that you have lots of incoming email addresses (and fax numbers which are valuable if you’re in B2B – yes fax programs work!) that you’re not doing anything with.  Take a few minutes to figure out all the places you’re capturing – or more important, should be capturing — email names.  Then, develop a plan of attack.   No, you shouldn’t just dump them into your spray-and-pray program – I mean, you can, and sometimes companies do, but instead, I would suggests you consider a series of trigger emails to onboard them to your file. (I highly recommend you run the newfound names against your file first – and you definitely need to run them against your unsubscribes too.)

Have a question or want to add one of your own email ideas?  Feel free to contact me at


Secure Your Own Oxygen Masks Before You Help Others & More BS Concepts

My right hand was turning a weird shade of eggplant-blue. My seatmate (let’s affectionately call her 3F)  was clawing so hard and so fast, it wouldn’t be too long before her pointy nails laser-sharpened talons reached my wrist bone.

Like many others on the plane, she was praying out loud, hailing Mary, Maria and any other M she could think of.

Me?  Not. So. Much.

The odds of dying in a plane crash are in one in eleven million.  (About the same as me getting married. In other words: NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.)

I had exactly zero concerns about dying in a plane.  3F amputating my body parts before we stopped our turbulent freefall and leveled off?  90/10, in the scrappy grandmother’s favor.

To distract myself from the possibility of losing my right limb in battle, I looked around.  The seats in front of me were all filled with men.  My inner-Jack from Lord of the Flies noted there wasn’t an Alpha Male in the bunch.

If we do crash, I thought to myself, please let us all die because Lord love a duck, I don’t want to live a LOST-style-island life with any of these blustering yahoos. It’d be like a Shahs of Sunset Survivor. 

I looked to the back just as the oxygen masks fell.

Have you ever been on a plane when the oxygen masks come down like a swarm of jellyfish? (For those of you who haven’t been in the ocean, it’s sort of like the ceiling at the Bellagio after you’ve had a few too many cocktails.)

It’s fast, messy and disconcerting.

What I noticed though was interesting.


As in they completely ignored them.

I know. I know. That part wasn’t really a surprise – even the 80+ year old, perfectly-coiffed, impeccably-dressed gentlemen traveling in suits don’t pay attention to the flight attendants’ IMPORTANT SAFETY BRIEFINGS any longer instead preferring their Kindles set to 100-point font (one word per page.)

When I looked around, I saw a bunch of mothers & fathers (and a few abuelas too) putting on their kids/loved ones’ oxygen masks before they put on their own.

Apparently “SECURE YOUR OWN OXYGEN MASK before you help others” sounds very good in theory but just doesn’t turn out all that well in practice.

It’s, well, EXACTLY like marketing.  What people spout in theory is often completely meaningless (read: craptastic) in practice.

Here are a few of my favorite marketing things that sound smart but aren’t:


Fact: Users will scroll but with scrolling comes a loss in brain focus/attention.  The first view they see is HEAVILY weighted in their heads.  Use it wisely.

What Should You Do?  Make sure you have an action directive on every single view.  This is ESPECIALLY important in mobile.



Fact:  People do read copy but they read it the way they want to read it, not necessarily the way you want them to read it.  (Or the way Google reads it either.)

What Should You Do?  Focus on your headlines, subheads, and picture captions (very important and sadly underrated.)  Next, look at your BENEFITS – not the technical specifications, not the this-item-requires-batteries or you-can’t-get-this-if-you-live-internationally – the 4-5 things you would use to SELL the product.  There’s a lot more that a user reads but those are a very good start.  (If you’re in ecommerce, pay special attention to what you call (title) the item, where you present the pricing and the availability information as well.)



Fact:  The people who seem to be struggling the most with mobile are actually the millennials (aka the new homeless.)  Regardless, mobile is here whether you like it or not.  (Mostly because about half your users read their emails – including the spray-and-pray ones YOU SEND — on their phones.)

What Should You Do?  In 2015, the key to mobile, will be figuring out the very best place you need to sell the user and it’s likely NOT going to be on a handheld.  Get people ON the phone (as in calling your call center), use live chat, answer questions via text message, consider v-chat, use triggers to “carry their cart” over to your desktop site, or do all of the above – do whatever you can to get the order.  



Fact:  Remarketing can be one of the best tools in your arsenal.  I hate – and I mean, VEHEMENTLY DESPISE – remarketing ads – but they can really work ESPECIALLY for new PPC/PLA/syndicate-type traffic.

What Should You Do?  Build killer banner creative or get an outside freelancer to help you.  Develop lots and lots and lots of banners – not just one – you can rotate the ones that work in and out of your schedule but banner fatigue is a real thing.  Look at how you can use frequency capping.   Segment your target audience – it’s possible that not everyone on your file should be remarketed.  Work your landing pages – remember, if people left because they were struggling it’s often an exercise in futility to drop them back into the same situation. 

As an aside, I recently saw a funeral company’s remarketing ads. Even I would have trouble approving that campaign and I’m bad grown-up numero uno. Apparently they have definitive answers about whether or not there is a God.



Fact:   Sorry about your luck but that’s not at all the case.  Users consider a search to be successful ONLY if they find what they were looking for.

What Should You Do?  The easiest way to figure out whether or not you’re handling search well is to look at the subsequent page views, adoptions and completions you get from search. Another good exercise is to take the top 50 most popular searches in the last x months (x depends on your seasonality) and conduct them yourself.  Evaluate whether or not the search term was in (or should be) your navigation and what people get when they search for that term.  Make sure the search results are prioritized – the order in which the items are presented has a huge impact on whether or not they clicked.

What have you heard lately that sounds good in theory but sucks in practice?  Anything you want to add to the list?  Drop me a line at


P.S.  We didn’t crash.  After the oxygen masks came down there was about 4 minutes of sheer panic – mostly from the purser who didn’t shut the glasses/mugs door in the galley properly and had about 100 breakables smash at her very Frederick’s of Hollywood shoed feed.  Then, we stabled off and I untwisted my paw from 3F who went on to get completely crackerjacked off, you guessed it, Bloody Mary’s.

P.P.S.   I’m honored to be one of the featured keynotes at the Conversion Conference this year.  I am not speaking much any longer mostly because (a) I’m sick of hearing myself talk and (b) although orange IS my color, I am not interested in going to prison at this time.  Most conference speakers – especially the conversion ones – make me want to HULKSMASH.  Between the blatant sales pitches, the navel pontifications, and the sheer BS, I’m THISCLOSE to bopping one of these wackasses right in the nose.

The Conversion Conference is different though – Tim’s group (especially my buddy, Casey) puts on a solid show.  It’s packed with solid information and the majority of the presenters are folks I don’t want to bury in the desert. You can learn more about it here:


She’ll Have Tea. Hold the Water.

“I think I need to start drinking coffee.”  I told Barbara (formerly known as Cristina.)

“Nah, just drink tea.”  She wrote back.

It took every ounce of self-control I had to not remind her that the primary reason she is now a self-professed tea aficionado and pusher of all things herbal (which sounds deliciously illegal) is that she couldn’t say “no” to the yappy little Teavana chiquita in the mall and ended up with $600 worth of tea and a bunch of tea-cookery-things that, two years later, she still has no idea how to use.  (Barbara’s idea of “cooking” is sticking a bag of popcorn in the microwave or if she’s feeling really fancy, making tuna fish.  Julia Child she is not.)

She continued.  “Just have them hold the water.”


It was late and I’d had a long day (adding to my list of Bad Grown-Up stories with a not-fit-for-print movie theater incident) but tea without water is what?  Grass, leaves and twigs at the bottom of a cup?  At best, a cinnamon stick and a dried-up orange peel?  Not exactly numero uno on my Favorite Food/Drinks list.

Sensing I was confused by this whole waterless-tea equation, Barbara continued:  “Starbucks.  They water it down too much.  I am serious.  They have it in concentrate in the pitcher and add more water to serve it.  You can order No Water Green Tea.  Try it.”

I was imagining old-school, European-hotel tea in fancy grandmother-y china served alongside a tower of those tiny, crustless sandwiches in flavor combinations like shrimps (with an s) and butter or rocket and roastbeast.  (Incidentally, rocket is such a better name than arugula.)

Barbara was talking about tea from a box at Starbucks.

So close. Yet so far.

EXACTLY like mobile and traditional desktop marketing – yes, they’re both selling online but in the big scheme of things?  They’re lightyears (and white gloves and silver trays) apart.

I get it.

We want mobile marketing to be a division of ecommerce/traditional desktop marketing.   It would be a Hell of a lot easier that way.

Unfortunately, it’s just not.   Ecommerce marketing was never a division of Catalog Marketing (one of the many reasons why catalogers are failing miserably these days) and Mobile Marketing is not a division of Ecommerce/Online Marketing.

Not to mention, mobile stuff is just plain different.  The user sessions are different.  The average number of pages viewed is different.   The paths are different.  The number of distractions is different.   I could go on (and on) but you get the drill.

So, what do you do with mobile?  Where do you start?

Determine your origin source.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re new or seasoned when it comes to mobile marketing, you’ve got to assign origin sources to your leads.  Where did they come from?  What kind of leads are they?  Why is this important?  Because different traffic behaves VERY differently on a handheld.  People who are clicking on a link in your email often have a different propensity AND more important, CAPACITY to buy (or inquire if you’re a lead gen company) than someone who is coming from a Google search on their phone.   The more you know about where the user started/came from, the easier – and more effective — it will be for you to sell to them.  (Even if you separate email into a bucket, direct/no referrer into a bucket and everything else into a bucket and deal with them accordingly, you’ll be miles ahead of everyone else.)

Look at your user paths.  Yeah, I know.  This sounds like a tip from 1998 but more than three-quarters of your mobile success is going to come from your navigation (including your internal text search function.)   You’ve got to know where people are coming in and where they are leaving.  If you’re like most companies, there won’t be a ton of pages in the middle of your user experience, but you’ll want to know what those are too so you can see where you’re going wrong.

Where is the rat getting stuck in the snake?  Is it on your search results page?  Is it on your PDP (product detail page?)  Is it on a form page?  Figure out where people are bailing and then look at the two pages before that. (Three if you’re doing this exercise for your desktop site.) Hint: improving your navigation goes a long way to improving user experience.

Sell where the user wants to be sold.  One of the biggest mistakes I’m seeing in 2015 is companies trying to force folks to complete their transactions via handhelds. (Part of this problem stems from the fact that most folks still aren’t separating their handhelds from their tablets – which is a colossal mistake.  Tablets are conversion machines.  Phones?  Not. So. Much.)

Right now, mobile is like the web was in the mid-90’s and there are a lot of people who just aren’t good/comfortable/whatever with ordering via a handheld.  That’s why it’s important to give them alternatives – offer a click-to-call button on every view; use instigated chat in the areas people struggle the most like search and checkout; and work your transfer.

I’ll cover some more ideas this month.  If you have a mobile question/comment you’d like addressed here, please write

Now, how about some cocoa?

Bad Grown-Ups Say Hallelujah

“I’m too hot.

Hot damn.

Girls hit your hallelujah.

Cause I’m going to funkngiveittoya.”

The ladies’ gasps were audible.

While he danced and sang like nobody was watching (ahhh, the delicious irony), the other mothers stood fast and united behind their little ticket-peddling card tables.  With their dropped jaws and Restaylned lips, you could see the word bubbles forming over their heads as they looked at 3.0 (my youngest nephew) in abject horror:

“YOUR GROWN-UP IS BAD.  She is a terrible, horrible, no good, VERY bad grown-up.”

Apparently, none of them have heard the Bruno Mars Uptown Funk that plays NONFLIPPINGSTOP on the radio and/or can extrapolate the fact that most 3 year olds aren’t the best enunciators and it was FUNK with an –n, not with a –c.

That’s what happens, you know.

When a wee one does something, er, unfavorable, all empathy goes out the window and the adults in the room immediately look around to see who the tiny human’s grown-up is so they can be immediately (and permanently) labeled:


Very often I’m THAT grown-up.

The bad one.

…The one who is so busy fiddling around with the parking meter that she has to chase the mighty minion into a SEX SHOP because he reads the word “toys” off the sandwich board in front of it.  (I’ll spare you the details of what happened when the little sociopath yelled “this doesn’t look like much fun” while holding up a very large, er, device!)

…The one who spends $11.89 on a single cup of yogurt at one of those choose-your-own-toppings places. (The shop was suspiciously out of small cups.  Plus, there was far too much time spent keeping grubby lil’ paws out of the Rolos and gummi sharks, and the whipped cream from being squirted directly into a frothing mouth.)

…The one who knocked over an entire aisle, yes aisle, of bikes at Toys R Us because she thought it’d be ok to let the mini-monster test-drive the little Jeep and missed that it was TIED DOWN.  (Why put a battery in something that’s bolted to the wall? I mean really.)

…The one who goes back into the children’s restaurant for the 3rd time to score a free balloon because she can’t properly tie a balloon to a wrist. Yes, the same one that also had to bribe the balloon-animal-guy to make extras because she inadvertently decapitates 1 out of every 3 animals in either the door or lockdown (aka the carseat.)

The thing is that (a) what other people think of me is really none of my business and (b) I don’t particularly give a flying funk anyway.

My motto: Keep your eyes on your own paper. (And yes, I’m aware of the incongruity of that particular statement considering I appear to be incapable of watching a 3 year old but WHATEVER.)

What on earth does any of this have to do with web/mobile marketing?

Glad you asked.

I was at a conference recently and session-after-session of speakers touting individual case studies reminded me how DANGEROUS it is to look at someone else’s test results and think you know anything about their success… their business…. the test results in general…

I get it.  As a consultant, it looks super sexy to present that you executed X test for your client and it had 3476% lift.  If you tell the story right, it looks like you found a cure for cancer, solved the AIDS epidemic, guaranteed net neutrality for life and figured out once-and-for-all whether orange is better than green in just one test.  (Incidentally, testing button color ad nauseam?  Lock those suckers up in the broom closet for LIFE!)

Regarding one test as the be-all-end-all of civilization – with one set of test “results” (word used very loosely) – when you don’t really know how it was executed or tracked?  ABSOLUTELY FLIPPING INSANE.  Keep in mind that I see thousands of tests a year and the MAJORITY of folks call the results too early and don’t ever back-test against the control.  Nor do most folks separate their customers – especially their email customers – when looking at the results, which depending on the business can have a huge impact.  In other words, I review way more invalid tests than valid ones.

Right now, the web-world is like it was in the mid-90s.  Mobile has arrived but it’s not really in full-force yet – it’s way more pre-tween than teen.  Search is changing – voice and visual are both on the horizon of good use/adoption — but it’s not really there either.  Text messaging, especially triggered texts, are in their infancy.  More sophisticated versions of chats are being tested but they have a ways to go.  I could go on but you get the drill…  There’s a lot to do – many, many things to do and test.

So, while it’s fun to choose Version B over Version A on the latest and greatest test at one of the many sites that rate your intelligence (cough, cough, choke) as a marketer….

….and it can certainly be good to get fresh, new ideas of what to test from an entertaining speaker…

In the end, you’re the one who knows what’s right (and what’s wrong) for your business… and your uptown funkin’ kid.


Questions & Answers from the VT/NH Direct Marketing Group Event

Last week, I spoke at a VT/NH Direct Marketing Group event along with Kevin Hillstrom of Mine That Data and Bill LaPierre of Datamann.

At the end of the day, we took about an hour to answer questions that were sent in before the conference as well as some “live” audience questions.  Frankly, I thought most people would bail before this session – it had already been a long day — filled with rapid-fire information and teensy spreadsheets — and the weather outside was, well, not delightful. (Datamann did a fantastic job of hosting the Show but they did absolutely nothing about fixing the below-zero weather outside. They’re topnotch at merge-purge so I guess they spend more time talking to the Data Gods than Mother Nature. We all have to pick our battles, eh?)  Interestingly enough, the majority of attendees stayed and we just couldn’t get to all the questions.*

Here are some of the web-related ones people came up to me afterwards and asked. Even if you didn’t attend the Show, I hope you’ll find them useful.

“Do you really think search is going to change all that much?  I don’t see it happening in the next 10 years. You think it’s already happening.”

Hello Frog, how do you like your cozy little frying pan?  Getting hotter, is it?

Search is changing rapidly. Do I think you should dump your wife, er, current plan of attack, and hook up solely with Siri, Cortana or Alexa?  Not. So. Much.  But you should pay attention to what’s happening in the search world, especially with the 3 V’s (visual, video and voice search.)  Analytics are a wondrous thing – and looking at (and acting on) what words/phrases people are using in AND outside of your site can dramatically change your business. This applies to looking at mobile search strings too – which, depending on your demographics, can be drastically shorter.

And yes, I know, there are a lot of articles that say that Google has trained us all to be such great searchers (now there’s a laugh) in the traditional (desktop) world that we speak to Siri the same way we’d type a search string into the computer.  If you buy that (you shouldn’t, but if you do…), try using one of the voice searches for a week (without using anything else) and afterward, send me a note about how accurate you think that sounds-good-in-theory-but-it’s-not-like-that-at-all-in-practice concept is.  In related news, I believe there are far too many people using bath salts other than prescribed these days.


“You said that you don’t think my email provider is good. Who is better?”

Yeah so, I didn’t say that any one email provider was better/worse than the other, I said that I think you should be careful about what you listen to when it comes to ANY email provider.

Here’s why.

A lot – and I mean almost all – email providers are constantly begging/blackmailing/bribing you to whittle down your list.  They want you to mail only the freshest and most active names.  Why? Because it benefits them.  (In fairness, it benefits you too – it can be better/easier/more immediately lucrative to target the people who have the best chance of buying but long-term, constantly pruning your list to the bare minimum to fit someone else’s cookie-cutter rules is a waste of dough. No pun intended.)

Here’s an example from one of our clients….

They sell B2B supplies, mostly consumable products.  In one of their segments (based on SIC), they sell x pallets of their product every 14 months.

They have a lot of names and are using one of the big name email providers.

This provider insisted that they should not mail anyone who had not clicked on their emails in the past 6 months because “those names don’t perform.”  When my client really begged, the provider relented to 12 months.


You don’t need to be a math genius to figure out that the ESP is basically DESTROYING the entire segment with their recommendation.

Before you say that you’re not a B2B company or you have a more frequent buying cycle or whatever, consider this…  Using frequency and segmentation would be a MUCH better choice for you than just killing xx% of your names every month because they haven’t clicked or opened.

I totally get that you shouldn’t mail to names that have been toe-tagged for ten years, but…

Think about how many emails you get in your own personal inbox.  Do you open every single one?  Do you open all the stuff Gmail buries in your promotions folder or trash?  Do you click through all the stuff that’s in your Outlook SPAM folder?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

If you’re a small office and only need a box of copy paper every other month, you may not want/need to open CopyPapersRUs emails every single day they blast you with them but that doesn’t mean that you will never want/need copy paper again.  I mean really.

Bottom line: Develop and work your preferences page.  Build a solid circulation plan complete with triggers and a traffic cop. Segment your list as if your life depends on it (it does.) Mail responsibly (which includes not taking two weeks to opt out.)   Most important, don’t let anyone else’s grubby little paws on your file.


“Do you really hate social as much as you alluded?  We’ve never been successful at it but we do throw quite a bit of money at it, mostly because my boss is a Facebook addict and thinks everyone else is the same.”

Yes. Probably moreso.  (And chances are your boss is a narcissist but that’s another story.)

With that said, there are a few (read: a handful) of companies whose social media campaigns or practices impress me.  For example, regardless of what you think of the books (inspired by vampire fan fiction, God help me now), The Vermont Teddy Bear Company did a killer job with their Fifty Shades of Gray campaign.  If everyone executed on that level, I’d have more good things to say about it.  (Hey, I like results and let them speak for themselves — if your result is  ”2300 Twitter followers, 50% of whom are bots and 0 of whom purchase, I’ll vote you off the island and into the shark-infested waters right where you belong.)


“Kevin said that you’ll typically get 20% of Amazon customers to transfer over to your brand. You said 30%. Who is right?”

Both of us.  If you don’t work at getting the customers, you’ll typically get 1 out of 5 (sometimes less.)  If you do work at it, then you should get around 30%.  If your stuff arrives in plain-Jane packaging material with no branding whatsoever and there’s a bunch of crap inside (read: your regular package insert program with no thought to it whatsoever) instead of a solid campaign, chances are you’re not going to WOW! a lot of people into checking you out.  Something to take into consideration when you’re planning ALL your third-party campaigns, I might add.  (Important note: Please check your Terms of Service on anything – and everything — you do with Amazon.)


“I got the message that all cooperative databases are evil. Is that true for the web stuff? What about B2B?”

First, Kevin penned a great article on the Co-ops a few days ago, definitely worth taking the time to read.  My experience is that B2B Co-ops and Consumer Co-Ops are not at all the same thing – the B2B ones are set up differently and they share way more information amongst their mailers.

Is the new web cooperative stuff evil?  A lot of it.  But that’s mostly because a lot of the bigger players get their names in ways your mom/kid/dog would definitely not approve of.  (And the fact that I’m saying this – as a person who often steps over the line in web marketing just to find out where the line is – should tell you something.)  However, there are some things that are coming soon that could have enormous potential.  I didn’t talk about them during my session because there are eleventy bazillion privacy complications associated with the ones I’m most intrigued by and I just didn’t have the time. If you want to know more about them, feel free to shoot me an email at


*Well, technically I suppose we could have but by 4:30 Bill was rambling on about 18 US Code 2340A and other torture codes. I think he felt that people – including he and Kevin — had been subjected to me for long enough.

The Unholy Trinity Unites for the Can’t-Miss-Event of the Year!*

On February 19, 2015 Bill LaPierre, Kevin Hillstrom and yours truly will be hosting a seminar entitled “Who’s Looking Out For Your Interests?” in Concord, NH.**  This info-packed, day-long seminar focuses on where the catalog and ecommerce industries are going and the impact the future will have on your business.  You will get a realistic view of how we got to where we are, and what you’ll need to do to push, pull and carry your company along to survive in the future.

If you read Bill’s blog or are on his email list, you’ve likely already heard him wax poetically about Kevin. (Or seen him effortlessly compare me to a ruthless serial killer.)  But here’s what you should REALLY know about the event.

  1. IT’S SUPER AFFORDABLE.  This event is priced under $200 for the full-day and that includes food.  Have you seen my day rate?  I mean really.  When I say this thing is a STEAL, it’s not hyperbole.  It really is a heist.
  2. You’ll leave with DOZENS OF IDEAS YOU CAN USE WHEN YOU GET BACK TO WORK.  Look, I’ve been to a lot of events in my career.  Most of them are all-hat-and-no-cowboy.  This event you get TWO COWBOYS and one intact BULL.   (I’ll let you decide who’s who.)  The rock-solid content is unique and power-packed.  My two hour presentation is scheduled right after lunch (hello, naptime) so I’ve got oodles of new stuff prepared.  (Plus, I’m bringing Taser wands, just in case I need to serve as a Wake-Up Fairy.)
  3. It’s an intimate affair. The attendees list is like a Who’s Who of the direct marketing companies doing things right.  The attendance is limited (hey, we’re meeting in Concord, NH, not exactly Vegas) and we’re being purposeful with our marketing.  We’re not forcing our vendors to attend.  We’re not giving sponsors paid commercials throughout the day. Yes, there will be a few consultants and vendors there but most of the room will be filled with CEOs, VPs, and other folks from the end-user side.  It’s a no-selling, no-pitch event.
  4. Bill and Kevin.  They’re two of the most respected guys in the industry.  Period.  Do I always agree with them?  Yeah, no.  Do I respect and learn from both of them?  100%.  (Wise. Salt of the earth. Refreshingly honest.  No baloney.  They’re both Amy-tested and approved, which considering how fussy I’ve become says a lot!)


  1. THE SMACKDOWN.  Ok, so Bill calls it an open forum “where attendees can share their concerns, beliefs and questions” but the guy would sell a cookie as an “unhealthy biscuit.”  His copy is not exactly infomercial material.  In other words, if you’re not in the kumbaya mood, you’re welcome to pit us against each other for excitement.  WWF-style.


Here’s where you register (I could go on and on that the attendance is fantastic – it is – and you’d better register today before it’s too late — it will be — but you’re a marketer, you know the drill – click here now:

See you soon!

P.S. I know. I know.  Blue moons come more frequently than I post and now, today, for my first post of the year, I am using the space to promote something.   You’re welcome to throw something (preferably feathers) at me February 19th.  And yes, for some of you, that’s PLENTY of incentive to show up!  Heh.


*Well, technically you can miss it but frankly if you’re a cataloger, you’d be an idiot to skip it.  No, neither Bill nor Kevin would approve of me saying that but whatever.  I’m the bully-meanie-witch-bitch-Fuhrer-etc.-etc. of us three.  And to think, I’ve mellowed GREATLY over the past five years.  Oy vey.

**If you’re thinking WTFWITHTHELOCATION, I am TOTALLY with you.  Apparently this is Bill’s idea of a (rather unscientific) test to see whether or not people really do like us.



Duct Tape and Spit: Ideas To Improve Your Holiday Season Without Breaking the Bank, Part 1

For the past month or so, I’ve been getting a lot of emails from folks who are worried about the upcoming Holiday season.  Most of them are on “lockdown” (meaning no new projects till after Christmas) and are concerned that their plans aren’t enough.  Sales were soft for a lot of companies in August and September so I understand the anxiety – although the whole “IT gets  a three month vacation” baloney?  Not. A. Fan.  But I digress.

If you’re staying up at night wondering if your company’s Christmas business is going to be a hit or a miss this year or if you’re just someone who wants to improve their sales but doesn’t have a lot of time, resources or money, here are some tried-and-true Duct Tape and Spit ideas you can consider.

EMAIL ALL OUTSTANDING CARTS.  It blows my mind (and not in a good way) how many companies send their users a couple abandoned cart emails and then just delete them/leave them to rot.  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before: diminishing returns blah blah blah.  Putting that argument aside for right now (since it’s mostly based on vendor propaganda), let’s agree that the majority of people who put stuff in their baskets have propensity to buy it.  (This is NOT like 1995 where people were enchanted they could SHOP NAKED but didn’t have the cubes to lay their credit card numbers bare on that mysterious information super highway.)

Let’s also acknowledge that those people – who put your products in their baskets – may not have been ready to purchase it within YOUR cycle of abandoned cart emails – ESPECIALLY if it was a holiday item/gift – and that they may be susceptible to another gentle reminder.   Yes?  Fair?

If you agree (and you really should because this program works like gangbusters for most folks), consider taking all your outstanding abandoned carts who’ve gone through your current abandoned cart series and emailing them a solid “I was going through my records and noticed you still have stuff in your cart” email.  If you want to include an offer, that’s fantastic.  If you don’t, that’s okay, but please add a deadline to the email anyway  – deadlines create urgency and cause people to focus, which is extra important this time of year.

How far can you go back?  As long as you have the carts.  (And if you’re NOT keeping carts open indefinitely, you should be.  Yes, even if you have limited inventory.)

How far back is profitable?  You have to mail to figure that out.  It varies depending on the type of item(s) you’re selling and how comprehensive your contact plan is.   My experience is that if your creative is good (meaning the story about why you’re writing is tight and compelling) you can mail for as far back as you have carts.  However, if you’re feeling conservative or just want to put your toe in the water on this, mail the most recent outstanding carts first.

WORK YOUR REMARKETING FOR THE HOLIDAYS.   The Amy Africa Voodoo Doll has lost at least one limb – maybe two – solely from my oh-so-bullish stance on remarketing.  I get the vitriol – I personally hate remarketing too but that doesn’t change the fact that it works.  More importantly, it works even better if you work it.

There are lots of different types of remarketing (my personal favorite is competitive retargeting) but for now, while you’re trying to get the biggest bang for your buck, look closely at your existing program –  there are usually some simple tweaks you can do to maximize its efficiency.

The three things you should look at first are: your frequency (there is a magic formula for frequency and a lot of folks tank their programs because they overmarket in too short of a window/time period); your creative (creative makes a HUGE difference in remarketing success and most companies don’t test enough creative versions) and your timing.  The timing thing can be a big play at the holidays.  You might want to market more aggressively faster OR you might want to market longer.  (It doesn’t take long to test both and it’s definitely worthwhile.)

Best of all, like the abandoned cart email idea above, you can also test pulling from older universes (especially carts and searches.)  Using specific banners to feature HOT products and bestsellers that you want to promote also can work really well too.  However, if you can only choose a couple things to focus on, look at the carts (abandoned and adopted), searches and people who spent a boatload of time and/or looked at a bunch of pages on your site.  (Mileage may vary on the latter – if you’re confused as to where to start, look at people who stay 1.5x your average user session or look at 2x the average number of pages.)

CHANGE YOUR MOBILE SITES TO GET MORE PEOPLE TO CALL.  Look, chances are you’re like everyone else, and your mobile site leaves a little-something-something to be desired.   It’s a mistake but with all the other stuff you’ve got going on, these things happen.  Don’t beat yourself up about it. (Do put it on the plan for next year though – Mobile is NOT, I repeat NOT, a division of ecommerce, it’s a whole different beast and needs to be treated accordingly.)  Instead, do the best you can with what you have – and for a lot of you that means putting click-to-call buttons and phone numbers all over the place (read: every view.)  Will this save the world?  No.  Statistically though, if you’re uber-aggressive about getting people on the phone, you’ll capture about a third of them which is about THIRTY TIMES MORE than the 0-1% you are currently getting, right?

What else can you do with a little elbow grease when it comes to mobile?  Work your entry page(s).  It/they should be short, fast loading and have the essentials.  You don’t need 4 buttons for customer service and you certainly don’t need to spend half a screen asking the people who come from your emails to sign up for your emails.

Once you’re finished, streamlining your entry page(s), look at the next 5-10 most popular pages on your site and work on those.   It’s way easier – and more effective – if you break it down into small, bite-sized chunks.

Oh, and don’t forget to separate your tablet traffic from your phone traffic this Fall.  Chances are they’re going to be different and even though you may not be able to impact your phone sales that much, you’ll surely be able to improve your tablet conversion just by paying attention to the differences.

Have an idea you’d like to add?  Email it to and you might just see it in Part II of this article.

Mobile-Schmobile: 6 Sure-Fire Tips on How You Can Improve Your Mobile Strategy Today!

When I began my internet career, my first “legitimate” email address was a CompuServe number.

Back then, if you told someone you were doing work on the web (or the WWW as it was ever-so-fondly called), they’d often look at you quizzically, wondering whether or not you made a good porn star or how much money you had from trafficking whatever illegal things you were selling.  Allegedly.

These days, I get thousands of emails about mobile with the same sort of questions as folks had then. People want to know what to do, what not to do, and a lot of times they just want to tell me the eleventy bazillion reasons why it doesn’t/won’t work for them.  As if mobile marketing is a choice.  Ha!  I went through exactly the same battles when people told me the internet was like the CB radio.  Ah-em Bill LaPierre.

But I digress…

Here are some of my best tips to improve YOUR mobile journey.  (These come from the questions I am most commonly asked.)

1.     Look at what kind of traffic you’re getting…

Separate your handheld traffic from your tablet traffic.  Tablets and phones are NOT the same thing.  The industry experts like to group them together because tablet conversion is 2-3x that of most traditional sites and eleventy bazillion times better than most smartphone conversion. Grouping all mobile traffic together masks phone conversion problems but they need to be separated.

Experts say “oh, you can’t do that because is a Nexus a phone or a tablet?”  Look, it’s not rocket surgery. If you’re taking your primarily phone calls on it, it’s a phone. If you’re using it to play Candy Crush and watch Netflix, it’s a flipping tablet.

Why does it matter?  Mostly because email traffic is typically “phone” traffic and if you learn how to separate it properly, you’ll also figure out how to design to it; what kind of landing pages you need; how you can best use your selling space (selling on a 2×4 is often more challenging than one might think); what things you need to ask for and what you don’t (for example, you don’t need to dedicate an entire screen to asking for the email address of someone coming from email), and so on.

Plus, phone traffic is ON A PHONE.  I realize this is like stating “water is wet” but many marketers tend to forget that if the customer is ON THEIR PHONE and you have a call center it’s much easier – and usually far more lucrative – for the user to push a CLICK TO CALL button than it is to maneuver your shopping cart.

2.     Work your transfer.

If you only listen to one tip that I have this is it – if someone puts something in their mobile cart, show it in their regular cart.  You can use email and mobile numbers to help you do this.

3.     Use spreaders.

I like to think of the whole sales process as feeding a rat to a snake – and you really want to know where the rat is stuck in the snake so you can squeeze him out the end.

When you know where your rat is stuck in your snake, use a spreader to get them to the next level.  A spreader would be a pushpage, instigated chat, v-chat, sometimes even a text message.  Whatever you need to do to smooth the gap.

4.     Don’t get sucked up in the industry buzz.

Learn what’s best for you by trying it, tweaking it, and then perfecting it.   Do more of the stuff that makes you money and less of the stuff that doesn’t.  It’s that easy.

Test out triggered text messages.  A lot of “experts” will tell you that folks hate them.  Personally, I have to be willing to bear your child for you to get my phone numbers these days.  Triggered text for a lot of companies?  Life-changing.  Granted, very few people use triggered text messages properly but they are still one of the best marketing things I’ve ever seen.  In. My. Career.

Work your internal search.  There are hundreds of articles stating mobile search is exactly the same as regular search.  It’s not.  Searches are often shorter and more specific (or way longer and completely incomprehensible) and people tend to make a lot more mistakes.  Plus, mobile search is used more frequently and there is typically much more of a priority put to it.  (Meaning that showing 1,232,832 finds on something isn’t going to be useful to anyone on a mobile device. In fact, chances are they’ll struggle with 20 and look at less than 5.)

Don’t get caught up in the tools, the programming languages or the platforms.  Figure out what your users need.  Look at what features they’re using (or what they’re not); which device(s) they are using; whether or not they are buying or browsing; etc.  If 95% of your traffic is coming from YouTube, you’ll need something entirely different than a company where the majority of the traffic is coming from their email program.

I like responsive design and it’s not a silver bullet.  You can’t just “go responsive” and have all the evils of the world go away.   In fact, for some folks it makes things worse –  not just because it can be slow and pricey – but because it can make marketers really lazy and what you do on your tablet isn’t the same as what you do on your desktop.  Nor is it the same as what you do on your phone.  (Hint: no matter what you do – you are going to need to REALLY work your navigation as if your life depended on it.)

5.     Develop new contact strategies.  (Chances are good that your mobile efforts are going to need different contact strategies than your traditional efforts.)  

Because things happen much faster mobile-wise, your contact strategies should often happen much faster too.

With mobile, you’ll also have more contact methods in your arsenal and they’ll work differently.

So what does this mean?

It means that if you’re sending out an abandoned cart program – you’re going to want to mail it faster.  You also may want to add more emails to your plan – so if you normally send out 3 emails, test 5 or 7.  Try SMS as well.  Abandoned cart text messages work really well.  Remember, there’s a big chance that your mobile cart sucks – so don’t send them back to where they abandoned/struggled in the first place – try to get them on the phone or to your traditional site (if your cart is better.)

Store locator emails are another big thing.  When someone goes to your site, and searches to find a store, there’s a pretty big chance that they want to go to that store today.  On the page with the locator, collect their email address and send them a coupon.  Collect their mobile number and send them a text.  Do both.  (If you don’t do offers, send them a “grocery list” of things they should look at – stuff you don’t want them to miss when they visit.)

6.     Figure out the importance of your referring URL’s and market to your users accordingly.

So, here’s the thing…

In most cases…

If someone comes in from Facebook, they are not at all equivalent to someone who comes in direct/no referrer.

If someone comes in from a branded PPC search, they are typically lightyears ahead in terms of qualification than someone who came in from a Twitter link.

Social media can drive a ton of mobile traffic but if you’re like most folks, very little of it will immediately convert to a sale.  Customer service nightmares?  Yes.  Sales?  Don’t count on it to pay your bills.  (Hint: If you have to put all your eggs in one basket, put them in your direct/branded keyword strategy.   That’s where you will make the most money.  Period.)

What are YOUR best tips for mobile marketing?  Send ‘em to  I’ll publish the best ones in a future post.

The Biggest Mistakes Catalogers Make When It Comes to eCommerce… Part 1

Catalogers and other offline marketers have many advantages when it comes to eCommerce.  Unfortunately, most of them don’t leverage their benefits.  What’s even more demoralizing? They often turn their positives into BIG negatives.

No, I’m not being a Negative Nelly here.  Ass-y Amy? Perhaps. That’s always a fair assumption.

But I digress…

I started my direct marketing career in the mail order world and I will always have a soft-spot for catalog and two-step companies.  There was nothing like opening an envelope filled with cash – yes, cash — from some little old lady 38 states away wanting a pack of greeting cards and a refrigerator magnet from the stationery company I worked for at the time.

So yes, despite the somewhat obnoxious, linkbait-y title, if you’re a cataloger – or any legacy company, for that matter — here are some of the biggest mistakes I see AND more important, tried-and-true ways/solutions for you to fix them.*

Mistake #1: Underestimating the value of direct/no referrer/branded traffic.

Sure-Fix #1: The people who know you – the ones who are typing in your company name or branded keywords – are more valuable than the ones who aren’t.  Period.   The direct/no referrer/branded folks have the highest propensity to act.  Granted, sometimes the actions are customer service-related (tracking an order, for example) but still… The people who know you?  They’re your gold. The center of your bullseye.

Put them in their own bucket.  Study them.  See where they are exiting.  (Remember, people typically choose to exit within 3 pages BEFORE they actually exit.)  Look at what they’re searching for.  Find out what they’re doing.  What they’re using.  What they’re not.  If you’re like most companies, you should develop an entry page specifically for the direct/no referrer/branded folks.

I know.  I know.  This tip sounds easy but less than 1 out of every 10 companies I visit actually does this.

The interesting thing is that when you do it (separate them into the proper buckets), you’ll see a lot of trends.  You’ll find those are the folks who do things like type in item numbers, use your recommendation engine or go into their order history trying to find a quick and easy way to reorder.  You may also find that they’re the ones who are likely to use the phone as the ultimate ordering channel – they come from a catalog, snoop around for the best deals/promo codes, look at your new stuff and then call in and place their order.  If this happens with your business, make sure you put your phone number all over the place – especially the cart/checkout and search functions.  As always, I recommend using special 1800# numbers for this kind of stuff – they’re inexpensive and not only are they good for your tracking but they’re good at getting your customers to the right place faster.


Mistake #2: Basing your navigational structure around your catalog categories.

Sure-Fire Fix #2: Just today, I’ve seen first aid kids under “Children” (should I alert CPS?); socks under “Novelties” (from an apparel company that puts scarves and mittens under “Accessories” but socks elsewhere);  vibrators under “intimate solutions” (which, incidentally, was buried under Health and Beauty); candles under Outdoor (even though they only sell indoor candles, not a citronella in sight); and Jams under Preserves, which was under Favorites but not Food even though Jellies was under Food, not Favorites.  (Heaven knows where the marmalades are — I couldn’t find them and they are one of that particular store’s most popular items.)

Here’s the thing.  Users don’t want to search for anything.  THEY WANT TO FIND SOMETHING.  I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again, navigation (including your text search function) is one of THE biggest determinants of your online success.  Sure, you can say that nobody cares about navigation and everybody uses the text search – but you’ll be sorely mistaken.  In usability, you find that unless users know precisely what they are searching for and/or are sophisticated users, they’ll try using the navigation first ESPECIALLY if they are browsing/shopping or have had a bad experience with your search function or any of the half dozen or so they’ve used before it.  (Research shows that the site(s) immediately before the user came to yours has/have a direct impact on your success.)

My recommendation to you? Work your navigation but work it as if your sole goal was to sell the products and not to just put the catalog/offline products on the web.  Name the products what people are searching for – if they’re calling it a raincoat, don’t call it a poncho.  If they’re calling it a shirt, don’t call it a blouse.  If it’s a bestseller, don’t bury it under some innocuous category like “accoutrements” or “selected features.”  Also, be sure to make the categories indicative of what people are looking for – if you’re only selling PATIO FURNITURE, you needn’t bury it under GARAGE/OUTDOOR.  Be clear. Be specific.


Mistake #3: Not offering “Ordering from a Catalog?” tools.

Sure-Fix #3: Most companies do two things incorrectly when it comes to this valuable section.  First, they’ll call it QUICK SHOPPE or something equally useless when they should be showing a picture of their current catalog cover and saying “ORDERING FROM A CATALOG?”  Second, and even worse, they’ll take the whole section off the site altogether because “we tested it in 1998 and it didn’t work.”  Newsflash: 1998 was SIXTEEN YEARS ago, things are just a little different now.  Not to mention, your ORDERING FROM A CATALOG? section won’t work on all your traffic – it will ONLY work on potential catalog traffic.  So, if you know I’m coming in from a referral link on one of your affiliate sites, chances are you don’t need to show it.  For the record, your email sign-up should function the same way.  If you have my email address, you really don’t need to push a pop-up in my face asking for it again – you can use that space for something more valuable.


Mistake #4: Dumping all your new products on the web at the exact same time.

Sure-Fix #4: Yeah. I get it.  You put your new items in your new books x times a year in one big batch.  That’s cool.  FOR. THE. CATALOG.  But let’s be honest here, it’s a lot easier to promote stuff in a new book than it is on the web, right?  You give the item you want to bet your house on, the front cover; the item you’ll bet your car on, the back; maybe your smartphone (your kids?) on the inside front; and so on.  The web is different though – chances are, you’re more socialist on the web and probably a little lazier too – all the new stuff gets dumped in one fell swoop in a New section or put in your regular categories with dinky NEW bursts.  (The only thing more predictable than that particular pattern is the one where the majority of the products move directly from NEW to Clearance, eh?)

In a perfect world, you’ll use your web/email efforts to test new products and categories before they make it into your books.

In the not-perfect-but-still-great world, you’ll introduce the products to the web in small batches with precision.  The best products will get carousel frames and/or home page features; they’ll be shown in a thrust (batch-and-blast) email or two; and they’ll be introduced in your triggers; especially your Sneak Peeks, EBOPPs (Emails Based on Past Purchases) and EBOSIs (Emails Based on Selected Interest.)  The new products will get the time – and the space – they deserve.


Questions?  Comments?  An issue you’d like to see here?  Write me at


*(In the interest of full disclosure, I wrote all the sure-fire tips I could think of for catalogers and it turned out to be over 23,000 words, so I’m breaking the “mini book” up into smaller segments.  This is part 1 of the series.)