Leisa Miller is a marketing coordinator at FEE. She's the one who emails you about the eBooks you've downloaded on FEE.org, and tracks you down with Facebook and Google ads. In her free time, Leisa enjoys listening to 20th century classical music, learning languages, preparing Gongfu style tea, and swing dancing.
Strategies for Fostering Long-Term Engagement with Your Audience
In marketing, it’s essential to get in the habit of measuring the results of your efforts. Most digital marketers choose to track page views or number of followers on social media to determine if their marketing is effective. But while those numbers are useful, they’re not great at telling you how effective you are at engaging your users in the long run.
The key to measuring long-term effectiveness is measuring conversions.
For FEE, conversion happens when a visitor provides contact information such as email or phone number. An email address or phone number is different from a social media page like because it opens up an opportunity for two-way communication.
Conversions give you, as an organization, the opportunity to make a more meaningful connection with your visitors, and that in turn gives your visitors an opportunity to delve deeper into the value you can provide for them.
This article is about how we at FEE delight and ultimately convert our users, and how we gauge our effectiveness in delighting and converting our users. We hope this will be especially useful for marketers at other non-profits in the liberty space.
Use CTAs to Engage Users Over the Long Term
CTAs or Calls-to-Action are images, lines of text, or ads that encourage your visitors to take an action. They’re the key to engaging your customers or users in the long-term. Coming up with a CTA is simple: just ask yourself, “What do I want my users to do after they watch my video or read my article?”
Possible CTAs include subscribing to your channel or liking your page, sharing the content they just viewed, opting into your email newsletter, or buying a product from your store. Remember: the goal of CTAs is to keep users engaged with your content.
Here at FEE, our favorite CTA tactic is recommending a related piece of content, and then asking for an email address to access the new piece of content. See below for an example.
As you can see, we published a video about market solutions to environmental protection. Then, we encouraged viewers to check out our free eBook, FEE’s Essential Guide to Protecting the Environment, to learn more about the topic. Users give us their email address to access the eBook.
Collecting emails (also called “lead generation” or “lead gen” in marketing speak) is a major part of our strategy to identify users and engage them in the long run.
We’ve experimented with collecting leads on landing pages, directly through Facebook ads, and through pop-ups on our website. Currently, our most powerful channel of lead generation is through pop-ups on FEE.org.
Read on to get a look at our strategy past and present, as well as some tips and tricks to make sure you and your visitors are getting the most out of your interactions.
Past FEE Lead Generation and Nurture Strategies
Using Facebook Ads to Collect Leads
There’s a type of ad in Facebook ads manager called “lead generation.” This ad type lets you collect an email address directly from anyone who views your ad without directing them to another page. It looks like this:
When you click the “Download” button, this window pops up:
This pop-up window pre-populates the fields with your information. So as the user, you wouldn’t have to type in your email address or name. You just click “download” and then “submit” without wasting any time. This process is effortless for both us and our users, the only downside is the cost.
Facebook ads used to be our most important lead gen channel—until Facebook made some changes to its algorithm. Those changes have caused the price per lead to increase by 475 percent, and ultimately exceed what we believe it’s worth. So we’ve stopped using it as of 2018 and decided to focus on other channels.
Using Landing Pages to Collect Leads
Bringing back the example from the Overview section, directing users from a new piece of content to a landing page with related content is another way we do lead gen at FEE.
This flow works well in theory, but the actual conversion rate (the ratio of total visitors to visitors who download the related content) is quite low. Let’s take a look at the flow and results:
Step 1: A user sees our new video about market environmentalism. In the description of the video, there’s a link to download our free eBook on the topic:
Step 2: User clicks the link and comes to the landing page to download the free eBook. They put their email in the form and submit it.
Results: Out of the 106,000 times the video was viewed, 226 people ended up clicking the link to the landing page, and 60 ended up downloading the eBook.
There’s a lot we can do to try to get more of those 226 landing page visitors to convert (download the book and give us their email address). We can try to optimize the page layout or the book copy. We can also experiment with the copy for the link in the video, and the placement of the link, in order to increase the number of people visit the landing page.
But while using this landing page strategy is better than not doing it, a 0.06 percent conversion rate (60 downloads out of 106,000 opportunities to download) isn’t promising. So before optimizing the process of driving and converting leads on landing pages, we decided to go after lower-hanging fruit and focus on what turned out to be a monolith of lead generation: pop-ups.
Using Pop-Ups to Collect Leads
Our original strategy (before February 2018) was to offer an eBook in a pop-up in exchange for an email address. We showed this offer to every website visitor. Every two weeks, we’d change the pop-up to offer a different eBook to keep things fresh.
Example of a popup
Using pop-ups to collect email addresses from site visitors turned out to be very effective for us because we have a large library of eBooks that we’re able to give away at no charge. We also have the skillset and manpower in-house to create custom eBooks specifically for generating leads. So, over time, we’ve expanded on this strategy and improved it significantly. We’ll talk about exactly what tweaks we made in the ”Current Lead Gen Strategy” section.
Nurture Your Leads to Build Relationships
We’ve talked about some strategies we used in the past for collecting email addresses, but what did we do with the emails we collected?
Like we said in the Overview, the purpose of having CTAs and doing lead gen is to foster long-term engagement. “Building relationships” is called “nurturing your leads” in marketing speak. Nurturing your leads is an irreplaceable part of fostering long-term engagement.
Before February 2018, we didn’t think much about how we interacted with the people who gave us their email. We dumped each new lead on both our Weekly and Daily newsletters.
Real-life footage of everyone we dumped on our email list.
Spoiler alert: This was not good for us or our users. People unsubscribed from our emails in droves, and our email sender reputation started tanking.
Problems with Our Old Strategy for Email List Growth
It took us a while, but we finally realized that collecting emails and dumping them on our daily newsletter is an aggressive, counter-productive strategy. The strategy made our email list huge, but it annoyed many of the people on the list. We could measure the annoyance quantitatively in our open rates: a very small percentage of the list was opening the emails.
The worst part of this strategy was that it was very tricky for us to know exactly who was on our daily newsletter email list. Were these subscribers mostly college kids? Parents? Teachers? Retired econ nerds? We had no clue.
So, we changed up our strategy. And since then, our results have changed a lot too.
Take a look at the change in open and click rates of our daily newsletter, comparing our old strategy to our new one:
Now take a look at the volume of unsubscribes:
It’s like night and day. The daily newsletter email list itself is smaller nowadays, but it’s much healthier, and our users are way happier.
We achieved these new successes by:
- Properly “nurturing” the leads we collect. This involves sending them content and products that are relevant to them. We’ll talk this more in the next section (“Current Lead Gen Strategy”).
- Using more specific, targeted offers to attract more leads and widen the top of the funnel. Since not everyone wants to join a daily newsletter, we realized we need to attract a wider audience to keep up some form of list growth. We’ll also talk about this more in the next section.
By taking the time and care to nurture our leads, we came up with a way to figure out who these people are and what their stations in life are.
Keep reading to learn exactly how we saved our sender reputation, widened our new lead funnel, nurtured those leads, discovered who precisely we’re nurturing, and started the process of turning our users’ fright into delight.
Current FEE Lead Generation Strategy: Targeted Pop-Ups and Nurture Campaigns
Our current strategy for pop-ups looks similar to the past strategy, but we’ve made three tweaks that have refined our whole process—and results.
The gist of “Give us your email and we’ll send you this free eBook” is the same as before. But instead of running one pop-up at a time sitewide, we’re running 14 targeted pop-ups and 1 untargeted pop-up at a time. We’ve also added a step to the opt-in form: after users give us their email, we ask them if they are a student, young professional, parent, or teacher. Finally, we’ve stopped dumping users on our daily and weekly newsletters and, instead, enter them into a specially curated sequence of nurture emails. They have the option to opt-in to the daily and weekly newsletters at the end of the sequence.
We have a series of Essential Guides on topics ranging from health care reform to not letting politics get in the way of your friendships to poverty alleviation. Each book is very specific, and we publish content on the topics frequently on FEE.org.
Trigger Pop-Ups with URL Keywords
We’ve created a pop-up for each Essential Guide and set special conditions for it to display. For example, the eBook FEE’s Essential Guide to Health Care Reform will only be displayed on pages whose URLs contain at least one of these words: “health, hospital, medical, medicine, Medicaid, Obamacare,” or “doctor.”
We’ve set similar conditions for 14 different pop-ups that offer eBooks.
Setting URL keyword-based conditions is a common feature in pop-up management platforms. We highly recommend targeting your pop-ups like this if you have the content. It will boost your conversion rates.
But there’s also another option if you want to be even more thorough. Not all pop-up management platforms will have this capability. Ours didn’t, but we’re fortunate to have a web developer who could make this work for us.
BONUS: Trigger Pop-Ups with Metadata Keywords
The better trick is to trigger your pop-ups based on metadata keywords. That is, trigger pop-ups based on the topics or tags associated with your articles. We had our developer set us up so that whenever someone visits an article with the tag “Entrepreneurship,” a pop-up with our eBook FEE’s Essential Guide to Entrepreneurship would be triggered.
This was helpful because we like to have freedom in titling our articles whatever is appropriate and not being limited to what our pop-ups need. But if you’re using a pop-up platform that doesn’t let you trigger your pop-ups based on metadata keywords, then using URL keywords will work just fine.
Every Page View Should Trigger a Conversion Opportunity
To cover all our bases, we also run 1 untargeted pop-up at the same time as the 14 targeted ones. On the pages that don’t trigger a targeted pop-up, the untargeted pop-up will display. This untargeted pop-up is usually a classic eBook like Ludwig von Mises’s Liberalism or a bundle of 4 or 5 eBooks (e.g. The 5 Essential Liberty Philosophers).
The goal is to make sure every website visitor has an opportunity to convert when they visit our site. We want each user to see one pop-up when they visit an article, and only one.
Don’t Annoy Users; Set Display Limitations
You might be thinking, “You’re running 15 pop-ups at one time? That’s got to be annoying for your users!” But another important display condition we set is “do not display this pop-up for 60 days after users close it.” This type of display condition is a feature in every pop-up management platform.
We knew that targeting pop-ups worked when we saw the difference in our conversion rates.
Old strategy conversion stats
New strategy conversion stats
Higher conversion rates are an indication that the content is more relevant or useful, which means that our users are happier. So we prioritize conversion rates over volume of conversions.
And still, our 14 targeted pop-ups consistently outperform our one untargeted pop-up:
Targeted popup from new strategy
Untargeted popup from new strategy
Gather Persona Data
After creating all the targeted pop-ups, we set out to solve the problem of not knowing who any of our subscribers are.
We got lucky with this part. The first thing we tried ended up working really well.
We added a step in the pop-up, in between collecting the user’s email and letting the user download the eBook, asking if they are a student, young professional, parent of a student, etc.
Old Strategy Pop-Up Step-Through
New Strategy Pop-Up Step-Through
We designed this so that Step 2 is not required. Users only need to complete Step 1 in order to receive the promised eBook and be entered in the nurture workflow. So not all users complete Step 2 and tell us who they are, as we expected. However, it turns out that 98.5 percent do, in fact, complete Step 2.
After spending just a few extra minutes creating pop-ups to include Step 2, we can identify the station in life of 98.5 percent of all new opt-ins. This small change has been instrumental in helping us assess our effectiveness in engaging with millennials.
So, we widened our funnel by increasing the number of pop-ups on the site and setting targeted triggers, and we now know the stage in life of 98.5 percent of the people who convert on a pop-up. Next, we set up a series of email campaigns to give our new users content we think they’ll enjoy and to give them an opportunity to learn more about the products and programs FEE has to offer.
What Is a Nurture Campaign?
A nurture campaign is a series of emails designed to educate and provide value to leads who don’t know much about you or your organization.
After someone downloads an eBook from one of our pop-ups, they’re automatically enrolled in a nurture campaign. Our nurture campaigns consist of 5 emails:
- User is sent Email #1, containing the download link for the book they requested. This email also contains information about who FEE is and what we do.
- User is sent Email #2, containing 3-4 articles related to the eBook they downloaded.
- If the user did not complete Step 2 of the pop-up and tell us their persona data, they’re sent Email #3, which contains a survey to learn what their persona is. (If the user completed Step 2 and their persona is known, they skip this step.)
- If the user’s persona data is known (they completed Step 2 in the pop-up or they completed the survey in Email #3), they’re sent Email #4, containing links and descriptions of all the programs FEE has that they might be interested in. (If the user’s persona data is unknown, they skip this step.)
- User is sent Email #5, containing links to our social media pages and daily and weekly newsletters. We ask them to follow us and subscribe.
We want all users to interact with us to think, “Hey, these resources are pretty interesting, and this FEE organization is helpful!” We want to educate everyone on our lists about what we do, of course, and we want them to subscribe and follow us across the web. But first and foremost we want to take a customer-first approach and provide value to the people who interact with us.
Opportunities for Insights
Classifying our leads by personas and running email nurture campaigns means we can track exactly which resources are valuable to millennials. After making the above adjustments to our lead generation strategy, we discovered that 15 percent of all visitors who download an eBook from a pop-up are students or young professionals. According to Google Analytics, 47 percent of our website visitors are students or young professionals.
This 47 percent potential engagement vs 15 percent actual engagement discrepancy seems to be an indication that older audiences are disproportionately attracted to our pop-up eBook offers. This is something we will be testing in the future, and as always, we will continue to look for ways to improve how we interact with our younger audiences.
Conclusions and Questions Looking Forward
Our most important takeaways from our CTA research thus far are as follows:
Do Use Pop-Ups and Freebies to Collect Leads
The greater your website traffic, the more you have to gain from doing pop-ups and freebie offers to grow your lead funnel. When Facebook changed its algorithms at the start of 2018, pop-ups became our most cost-effective channel for lead generation.
Don’t Dump Your New Leads onto Your Newsletter Lists
We dumped leads onto our newsletters for several months. As we noted, our open and click rates fell, and our unsubscribe and spam complaints rose. Our sender reputation took a hit. And worst of all, we frustrated our site visitors.
All newsletter subscribers should directly subscribe to your newsletter. Not everyone will subscribe, and that’s okay. Weekly and daily newsletters should be seen as products, just like your eBooks or student programs or T-shirts. Not everyone will buy a T-shirt from you. In the same way, not everyone will subscribe to your newsletter. As a marketer, your job is to discover which product is most valuable to your visitors.
Do Collect Information Needed to Classify Your Visitors into Personas
If you don’t know who you’re emailing, you don’t know what products best suit them. It took us a while to come up with a way to sort our leads into personas. It turns out the easiest way to find out if someone is a student or teacher is to ask in a survey (which can be in a pop-up or an email). Once you know who someone is, you can run tests to find out which products or services are most valuable to them.
Do Make Your Offers as Targeted as Possible
When we started doing topic-targeting with our pop-ups (making a pop-up with an eBook about health care reform display after someone reads an article about health care), we saw a huge improvement in our pop-up conversion rates.
It might be easier to make a single pop-up with a single eBook offer display sitewide, but it’s better for both you and your users if you try to provide what’s most useful or relevant to your users.
How can we connect better with the younger portion of our audience?
According to Google Analytics, 47 percent of our website traffic is under the age of 35, but only 15 percent of the people who download an eBook from a pop-up identify themselves as students or young professionals (under the age of 35). So it appears that eBooks disproportionately attract established working professionals and retired folks. We’ll be experimenting with products and freebies to learn what might better attract students and young professionals.
How can we employ progressive profiling to learn more about visitors as they continue to visit FEE.org?
We learned that the more you know about your audience, the better you can help them. In the coming months, we’re going to explore ways that we can build more thorough profiles of our site visitors. One idea is to use surveys in pop-ups to see if we can get more information about our visitors.
Overall, the goal is to discover what products and topics are most valuable to our users and see if there are any trends among certain personas (e.g. Are students more likely to read long-form articles or short op-eds? Are teachers more likely to read an article than listen to a podcast? Etc.).
How can we better tailor CTAs to what a user is viewing?
We’ve created pop-ups that are triggered based on URL keywords and page metadata to display content that’s relevant to the page that the user is viewing. Looking forward, we’ll be looking for more ways to better tailor CTAs to what a user is viewing.
Overview In marketing, it’s essential to get in the habit of measuring the results of...
Overview In marketing, it’s essential to get in the habit of measuring the results of...
Overview In marketing, it’s essential to get in the habit of measuring the results of...