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Lesson 49: Assessing your options for creating landing pages & email campaigns
All about finding the right platform
Depending where you’re at, you may or may not need any help with setting up landing pages and email campaigns. But if you don’t currently have anything set up, or if you’re thinking about finding better options, this lesson is for you. I am going to offer some thoughts on choosing email service providers and landing page builders.
My advice here is strictly limited to principles. This is because:
I obviously cannot try every platform available
Even if I could, my research would be out of date within weeks
Even if it weren’t, everyone’s situation and needs are different.
I am therefore going to take the same approach to assessing platforms as I take to teaching in general: rely on principles rather than rote tactics.
In this case, that means building a set of criteria to help you quickly evaluate any given platform. My job here is not to tell you which platform to use, but rather to give you clarity in understanding your options, so you can effectively research and choose a good solution your particular situation.
General criteria for choosing a platform
Does it offer good templates? Most email and landing page platforms offer many templates; unfortunately, most look rather unlike the kinds of emails and pages I suggest creating — ones that present information as readably as possible. They are typically based on trendy marketing designs and “brochure”-style layouts which reflect a Madison Avenue mindset rather than a direct-response one. A client once observed that there is something “timeless” about the designs I use. This isn’t because I am a better designer than most, but rather because I base my designs around the text, around the content Sam wants, and I employ timeless principles of psychology for presenting that content in a highly readable way. My designs are actually very unoriginal; they are based quite largely on print ads created by David Ogilvy half a century ago. They worked then, and they work now, because human psychology doesn’t change like marketing fads do.
Are the templates customizable? Some platforms give you a lot of options for adapting their templates or creating your own; some are very inflexible. Obviously platforms with better templates need less customization, but it’s still nice to be able to freely modify your pages and emails to suit your needs.
Is it nice to use? You don’t want to be mucking about with clumsy interfaces, or trying to wrangle complicated editors. You also don’t want them to be ugly — it might seem snobbish, but it’s not. To successfully use a tool a lot, you must enjoy using it. So you want something fairly self-explanatory that ideally allows both drag-and-drop, and more advanced editing, in an attractive interface.
Does it integrate with the other tools you need? This is the make-or-break question in most cases. For example, in choosing between two quite good email platforms for my own use, I had my hand forced by the fact that one of them did not integrate with the shopping cart I was using. I’m assuming that you are already selling something, and that you already have a shopping cart set up for that. Obviously it’s a hassle to change, and an even worse hassle to have to use two cart systems. So if a platform doesn’t integrate with the cart you’re currently using, I’d consider that a deal-breaker. Or, if a landing page system doesn’t integrate with the email service you want, that is probably a deal-breaker too. This is one reason that you probably want to choose a service that does both emails and langing pages in a single platform.
Is the support actually supportive? This can be hard to evaluate, but you can usually get a sense of it just from reviews. Poor support is often one of the big complaints people have about various platforms — and it’s something you want to avoid very much.
Extra considerations for email providers
In addition to these general principles, there are a few others that are worth thinking about in regards to email providers specifically.
There are many very established email service providers, but if you aren’t already with one of them, I can discount nearly every one with a single, all-important criterion:
Do they use an “exclusive” list-based subscriber model?
This needs a bit of explaining, so here goes: When email service providers first emerged in the market, they mostly worked off a list-based paradigm. The opt-in forms they created for you were linked to a particular list. When someone signed up using a given form, they were automatically added to the list that form correlated with.
This forced you to segment your subscribers in a very artificial way, based entirely on what form they used to subscribe. And if you wanted to create more than one micro-course, you were forced to create a separate list for each, because you could only have one autoresponder sequence per list.
Many email service providers have abandoned this model because it sucks. But some haven’t — and you want to avoid them.
Here’s an example of how nasty this gets: suppose I have a micro-course that people sign up for, just like I’ve taught you. And then, what I’m selling on the back end is another email-based course, for $29. This is, in fact, exactly what I have done in the past, so I speak from experience here.
Using a list-based system, the micro-course autoresponder sequence has to be attached to a single list. Let’s call this the Leads List. And the paid course autoresponder sequence also has to be attached to a single list. Exclusive list-based systems won’t let you attach it to the same list, nor activate it only when Sam buys — so you have to create a second list. Let’s call this the Buyers List.
So here’s the problem: Sam signs up for the micro-course and is added to the Leads List. He gets the micro-course emails, and starts receiving the sales emails afterwards. After three days he buys. He is then added to the Buyers List. So he exists now twice in the database — once on the Leads List, and once on the Buyers List.
Moreover, he now starts receiving the paid course by email — but because the two lists are separate, there is often no way to trigger the first autoresponder sequence to stop sending. So he keeps getting offered the product he has already bought.
Not only is this clunky and stupid, but if you have a lot of buyers, you start developing massive lists full of all the same subscribers. Say you have 10,000 people on your leads list, and 2,000 on your buyers list. You’re paying for 12,000 subscribers — even though 2,000 of them are duplicates! And the problem is compounded if you have several products. If you have five products, you could have 5,000 subscribers spread across those five lists, yet only have 1,000 actual buyers. That’s an awful lot of pointless duplication that makes life very miserable when you want to actually do anything intelligent with those names. And just as miserable when it comes time to pay for the email service, which is almost always based on how many subscribers you have!
What should happen is that you have an opt-in form associated with your micro-course autoresponder sequence — rather than a list. This is usually called a “tag-based” subscriber model, rather than a list-based one. When Sam subscribes, he goes into your database and is tagged for that micro-course sequence. Then, when he buys the paid course (for example), his profile is updated to show what he purchased; and based on this, the autoresponder tag can be removed, and a new tag added instead so he can receive the paid course.
This way, you can have multiple micro-courses selling the same thing, or selling different things, and you only ever have one database, one “list,” and Sam appears on it once. He is sent emails based on his behavior, rather than what lists he gets put on.
Determining where any given email service provider stands on this issue is beyond what I can do here, aside from warning you that MailChimp appears permanently committed to the hideous list-based model. Fortunately there is an excellent website devoted to comparing the top platforms:
Are they free-speech friendly?
This is not necessarily a major consideration if you’re just doing general business, but certainly if you are following my thinking about controversy, it could be. Moreover, woke platforms tend to devour even their friends in time, so it would be highly unwise to trust your business to a company that is committed to an unstable SJW ideology. It only takes one complaint from one troublemaker, and they will shut down your account without warning or recourse.
Can you send emails that look like emails?
This goes back to your template options, which I mentioned under general principles above. You want to ensure that you can send emails that look as much like a normal email as possible.
In other words, can you make your marketing emails look like they were sent by someone who just opened their email client and flicked a message off?
If not, I would go elsewhere. The power of email largely lies in its everyday and relational character, so if you can only send messages that look like brochure ads, what is the point?
Extra considerations for landing page providers
Since I first started teaching copywriting and landing page design, a plethora of landing page builders have exploded onto the internet. In some ways that’s good, but it also makes your job a lot harder.
I have, in the past, tested at least a dozen of these builders. Nearly all of them were terrible. The ones that weren’t were often overkill for most people.
It is possible that things have improved since then. But more recent experience with Squarespace suggests not.
My general advice for the average person, therefore, is this:
Don’t bother with a separating landing page provider.
Find a decent email service provider that bundles a landing page builder with their platform.
This will allow you to create landing pages well enough without the extra overhead of a whole builder different platform — which honestly will probably be very similar anyway.
Once you have developed your trunkline and are making sales, you can re-invest some of that money in hiring a web designer to create a bespoke landing page. Just take things one step at a time. Yes, builders are limited, and it will be frustrating not being able to create the exact page you wanted. But the perfect is the enemy of the good-enough-for-now. Better to make sales and create something better later than to not make sales at all.
Your homework for today is simple: if you do not currently have a way to send emails and/or create landing pages, or you’re not happy with what you have, investigate your options, and pick a solution. You’re going to need it to implement your trunkline this week. Start with Email Tool Tester, and hit the search engine of your choice for further research.