The basics of email marketing

Email marketing is a great tool to bind your audience to your website. It’s relatively easy to set up an email newsletter and send it to your audience. In this post, I’ll explain the basics of email marketing. Why is email marketing an important element of your growth and marketing strategy? Moreover, I’ll also give practical tips on how to set up an awesome newsletter.

The benefits of email marketing

People who sign up for a newsletter expect and want to receive your information. So this part of your audience is very committed. That’s the reason email marketing pays off. The people you’re sending your newsletters to actually want to read your stuff! As the costs of email marketing are very low, email marketing has a relatively high return-on-investment.

Email is a great way to increase your customers’ retention. What this means is that it will increase the amount of customers that purchase repeatedly, instead of just once. So this would help turn your clients into return customers. By emailing your customers on a regular basis, your brand will stay top of mind and they’ll return more quickly to buy something again. Of course, your emails would have to be interesting, enticing and engaging for this to really work.

A newsletter is relatively easy to set up through a service like MailChimp or TinyLetter. It’s also easy to target specific subgroups within your entire audience with a newsletter. It’s a great way to inform your readers that you have written new blogs and that they should come and visit your blog.

Pitfalls of email marketing

Creating content for a newsletter can be a lot of work. Work on top of writing those posts for your blog. And if you want to send out a newsletter on a regular basis, you’ll have to fill it with content that’s useful to your audience. That can be a challenge.

People won’t open your email or will unsubscribe from your newsletter if they don’t like your content. It’s important not to annoy people with content they don’t want, or have already seen.

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How to set up a newsletter?

1 Start with something important

Most people won’t read your entire newsletter. That’s why it’s crucial to start with the thing you really want people to know about. You could also choose something that people would like to read, something that will draw their attention and make them read the rest of your newsletter.

2 Make sure to choose a good subject line

Whether people actually open your newsletter depends on the subject of your newsletter. MailChimp makes it really easy to test open rates of newsletters with different subject lines and it really pays off to think about and test which subject lines work for your audience.

3 Clarity and focus

Make sure the layout of your newsletter is good and looks appealing, and that people are able to read your newsletter on mobile devices. Make sure you have clear calls-to-action, things you want people to do after they’ve read (part of) your newsletter. Give them enough opportunities to click through to your website (and buy your stuff or read your posts).

4 Tone of voice

The people who have signed up to receive your newsletter like your products, your blog or your company. So your tone of voice should be friendly and enthusiastic, not too aggressive or salesy. Your newsletter should make your audience even more fond of you and your products. You’re telling them something other people won’t hear. Make them feel special.

5 Make it visual

If a newsletter is just a wall of text it could become a bit boring. Illustrations and pictures can make the newsletter look much more attractive and pleasant to read.

Tips on making your newsletter that much more awesome!

1 MailChimp

There are a number of helpful tools that make sending out emails that much easier. At Yoast, we love MailChimp. MailChimp allows you to send out emails to 2,000 subscribers for free and has a great interface to write content and manage your subscriptions.

2 Test!

You should test which topics convert best into sales or new readers.  To do this you have to make sure that when people sign up for your newsletter, the thank-you page is hosted on your own site and has your Google Analytics code. Otherwise tracking the sign up is going to be hard. You should also look into the time and day of the week you’re sending your newsletter. For some blogs, the weekend could be a time to draw people to your site while for other (more company related or professional blogs) a weekday and an office hour would be most profitable.

3 Getting people to subscribe

In order to send people your newsletter, you have to convince them to subscribe to this newsletter first. Make sure you offer a subscribe field beneath your posts and on other visible places on your website. You can also use a pop-up to invite people to subscribe. At Yoast, we used to use OptinMonster for this.

4 Make sure your newsletter is mobile friendly

Many people check their email on their phone. You should really make sure your newsletter is as mobile-friendly as possible. A lot of the mailing services offer default templates that are mobile friendly and will scale down nicely. If you don’t want to spend too much time or money on your newsletter, this is a good option.

Another thing to consider for mobile is your subject line. Since mobile screens are obviously not as wide as desktop screens, your subject lines might not fit the screen. Perhaps this won’t be a problem at all, but it’s a good one to keep in mind, or even test.

Conclusion about email marketing

Email marketing is a great way to reach your audience. You can communicate with those clients that really want to be informed about your products, your website or your company. It’s relatively cheap and contributes to keep your audience coming back to your site. So get those subscriptions and make sure you create a newsletter with interesting content and an appealing design that works on mobile as well!

Read more: ‘Social Media Strategy: where to begin’ »

A/B testing your newsletters

a:b testing your newslettersEarlier this year, I’ve written a few posts on email marketing. In those posts I’ve also mentioned that doing A/B testing for your newsletters (or other forms of email marketing) are a must. However, there are a lot of things you can test, so what should you be focussing on?

In this post I’ll try to answer that question by explaining what you can test. I won’t go into detail of testing examples, but I will tell you what you should pay attention to when testing.

Subject line

With most email campaign tools, you’ll have the possibility to test the subject line. This means you’ll be able to give your newsletter a number of different subject lines. If you have 2 different subject lines, ordinarily 50% of your newsletter list gets the first variation, and the other 50% gets the other variation.

Testing your subject lines is really only good for testing your open rate and not your click rate. The subject line won’t affect your click rate, since it doesn’t affect anything within the body of the email you’re sending. That being said, testing your subject lines is still very important, as you actually want as much people as possible to read what you’ve sent them, right?

One set of rules that our friend Jordie van Rijn (a great email marketer) taught us and has helped us since is C.U.R.V.E:

  • Curiosity: try to pique the readers’ interest by asking them a question.
  • Urgency: create urgency by having limited time offers or offering things that need to be done now.
  • Relevance: Make sure you’re putting the content that’s most relevant to your audience in your subject.
  • Value: Convey the value of the newsletter by offering something exclusive (this can be an exclusive product offer, but also exclusive content).
  • Emotion: Use punctuation, such as exclamation marks, to elicit emotional responses from your readers.

From name

Another thing you can almost always test, is your from name. This is exactly what it says: the name that shows from whom the emails are coming:

Inbox – thijs yoast com

 

This is, again, something that will only have an effect on your open rate. However, this is one that people tend to forget about, because it’s such a small thing to change. However, the from name can actually be pretty important. This will be the first thing people will see when your email arrives, so it had better be good. Testing this will make sure it is.

Send time

I’m not sure whether all email campaign tools offer this A/B testing option, but MailChimp does. You can test what send time (MailChimp calls this “delivery time”) works best for your audience. You need to do some work here beforehand though, because you’ll be setting the time the variations go out yourself.

So try to find out when most of your emails are opened or at least when most of your audience is awake. Especially if your emails go to an international group of people, like ours, this might be a good thing to test. Sending your emails at the right time can actually make sure more people see it and pay attention to it.

Content

This is the big one. This is where you can go all-out and test basically anything you like. Everything within the content section of your email can be tested, and that’s a lot. You have to really think about what you want to test and treat these A/B tests as you would any other. I’ve written a post which will explain this: Hypothesize first, then test.

I always prefer to begin with this one, because this one is as late in the readers process as possible. This is my personal preference, because I just don’t like the idea of optimizing a part of the process (say, the subject) when what they see next (such as your email’s content) will undo all the optimization you did before.

Just a few ideas of what you could think about when wanting to test your email’s content:

  • Your email’s header;
  • An index summarizing your email;
  • More (or less) images;
  • Different tone of voice;
  • More buttons instead of text links;
  • More ideas on Jordie’s blog.

Before testing

When you start testing, most email campaign tools will offer you two options:

  • send your variations to your complete list, or
  • send your variations to a percentage of that list, declare a winner and then send the winner to the remaining people who haven’t received a newsletter yet.

I’d strongly urge you to use the first option. Let me tell you why. First of all, sending multiple variations to just a sample of your list means that you’re cutting down on “respondents”. You’ll have less data than when you send it to the complete list.

However, if your list is big enough, this probably won’t matter much. The reason I’d still choose the first option is that the winning variation gets sent out hours (or days) later. Especially for newsletters this can be quite crucial, because, well, then it’s not really “news” anymore. This also means you have less control over at what time the mail gets sent out. And as I’ve already said: send time can be quite important.

If timing is of less importance to the emails you’re sending out, then you could probably go for the second option, because then the remaining people in your list will always get the winner.

Results

So you’ve thought up some brilliant variations of your newsletter, its subject, from name or send time. Time to send out that newsletter. Once you’ve sent it out, there’s nothing you can do, you just have to wait until the first results come trickling (or flooding) in. Make sure you take notice of the differences in results. Which version got the highest open rate? Which version had the highest click rate?

In this, click rate always has my preference, because then they’ll probably end up on your site, where you have a lot more opportunities for selling, for example. However, we also always use custom campaigns on all the links in our newsletter. And since we’ve set up eCommerce tracking in Google Analytics, we can see which version of our newsletter actually got the most revenue. And if you have a business to run, that’s probably the metric that you want to see increasing.

And unless you’ve set up some kind of eCommerce tracking within your email campaign tool, this metric won’t be available in their results. So don’t value the results of these tools too much. Make sure you focus on what’s important for your business and check those metrics.

Also: don’t be too quick to judge. I usually wait for a few days up to a week before I draw my conclusions, because a lot of people will still be opening and engaging your email after a few days.

Happy testing!

What do you think of the steps and rules we’ve set for ourselves? Do you have similar ideas that you follow? Or maybe something completely different? Let us know in the comments!

This post first appeared as A/B testing your newsletters on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Email marketing for your online shop

Email marketing for your online shopWhile writing last week’s post about email marketing, I decided to also write a post about email marketing for ecommerce shops. This post will go into how you can leverage email in your ecommerce business to gain new, lost or recurring clients.

Every subscriber counts

It’s much easier for people to subscribe to your newsletter than it is to actually spend money and buy something at your online shop. So you’re probably getting a lot more newsletter subscriptions than you are getting sales. This is fine, of course, because you’re still able to reach out to these people. That’s why every subscriber counts: they’re all special and valuable to your business.

A few days ago I got this email from a Dutch webshop:

Newsletter email marketing for online shop

Email from Dutch webshop fonq.nl stating VIP discounts

They’re offering special “Exclusive VIP discounts” in this email. Basically they’re offering a discount to everyone, but as a newsletter subscriber you get ‘early access’ to those discounts. I’m not sure how legitimate this actually is, as I think the discount was available to everyone from the start. However, it is a nice idea to give your newsletter subscribers just that little edge.

You can even think about giving your newsletter subscribers a discount, but our preference is to leave perks such as this for your loyal customers. More on that later in this post.

Recovery

One great way to use emails in your ecommerce business  is by sending recovery emails. Recovery emails are emails that are sent when someone has abandoned their cart without finishing the transaction. You could email them reminding them there’s still something in their cart and they’re welcome to complete the purchase. Usually there’s a time limit to this, so do mention this. This will actually also create urgency, which can actually help. Some businesses even choose to give discounts after a cart is abandoned. We personally don’t like to use discounts this way, as it seems unfair to the rest of our customers. However, it does seem to work, so I’m just putting it out there!

bol com recovery email - email marketing for online shop

Email from Dutch webshop bol.com telling me I’ve left something in their shopping cart

It can be as simple as this. They’ve reminded me I’ve left something in the shopping cart. And just to make it a bit less pushy, they also tell me: “Maybe you wanted to save this item for another visit to our site. If that’s the case, please put it on your wish list and be sure it’s saved.” So apart from just telling you to go buy the stuff you’ve left, they also inform you on a helpful functionality. That makes it a lot less intrusive and you’re actually more likely to go to their site. And whether you end up buying that exact product; it got you back on their website.

Retention

Email is a great way to increase your customers’ retention. What this means is that it’ll increase the amount of customers that purchase repeatedly, instead of just once. So this would help make your clients recurring clients. By emailing your customers on a regular basis, your brand will stay top of mind and they’ll return more quickly to buy something again. Of course your emails would have to be interesting, enticing and engaging for this to really work:

Amazon retention email - Email marketing for online shop

Email from German Amazon asking to review the product you recently bought

Now as with a lot of things on Amazon, this is a stroke of genius. It gives you a good reason to go back to their site, without sounding salesy at all. You end up on their website and before you know it there’s another dvd, eBook or iPhone 6 in your cart.

Related products

There’s another way to get your customers back to your website and maybe ordering some things. My colleague Michiel got an email confirming his order at Wehkamp.nl. The confirmation email included this:

Related products in email marketing for online shop

Related products in email

He had ordered sweaters from this webshop and wehkamp.nl was smart enough to show related products in the confirmation email. The only thing that I’m thinking is that showing sweaters when you’ve just bought 3 sweaters might not be the best product group. T-shirts or maybe some pairs of pants would make more sense. But then again, it could just be me and other people might like 10 new sweaters.

Admittedly, this is a bit more aggressive than the Amazon example, but cross-selling items in your confirmation emails has been found to increase your transaction rates by 20%. The aggressiveness also comes down to where you place these related items. Wehkamp showed these related items quite close to the bottom of the email, so that makes it a bit less agressive. However, I can image that this also means less people will be enticed to buy something else. This comes down to what works best for your business and what you feel comfortable with.

Reward your loyal customers

A few months back I wrote a post about creating loyal customers. Email is a good tool to give something extra to your loyal customers. You can even make different segments of loyal customers and email these groups accordingly. This can start from people who bought just one product to people who have bought a multitude of items in your online shop.

By giving these customers something extra, you’re expressing your gratitude that they’re you customers. And, of course, in return you’ll get another nice revenue boost from your most loyal customers.

How’s your email marketing?

I’m really curious as to whether I bored you out of your skull or you’ve actually learned something. Do you think you’re doing a good job at your email marketing, or did this post just wake you up? Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared as Email marketing for your online shop on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

The basics of email marketing

The basics of email marketingLast year, Michiel has written a few posts about social media marketing and how you (and we) could improve on it. This gave me the idea to highlight one of the marketing techniques that’s working out pretty well for us: email marketing.

Today’s post will outline why you should start with email marketing, if you’re not doing it already, and how to make sure you’re getting the biggest impact from your emails.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing comes in many shapes and forms. However, it’s basically this: every email you send to (possible) customers with the hopes of gaining or continuing their business. Most of the times, this comes down to newsletter marketing. You’re trying to sell your products or services through your daily/weekly/monthly newsletter.

However, for a lot of webshops, that’s not all the email marketing there is to it. At Yoast, we also send out emails when a customer’s license is about to expire, for example. And quite often, our email support is also a place where marketing happens.

Why you should be doing email marketing

For those of you not doing anything in email marketing yet, this one’s for you:

Email Marketing Revenue

Email marketing revenue by source

These are the stats for this year so far. As you can see, 23.1% of this year’s revenue has come from either email or newsletter. The only portion that’s bigger is the organic portion, which means traffic from search engines.

To my mind, this should be more than enough to convince you to start doing email marketing. But if you feel it’s not, here’s some more to convince you:

Content SEO eBook Revenue - Email Marketing

Content SEO eBook sales

That’s the revenue for our new Content SEO eBook. And guess when we released it? That’s right, on February 3rd. We announced the release on Facebook, Twitter, our own website and in our newsletter. So what worked best? Since the release of that eBook, over 75% of the revenue of this eBook has come from our newsletters.

And to top it off: the Return on Investment (ROI) was over 22,000%, since we earned back over 221 times what we invested. This is the total ROI, since we sold a lot more than just our second eBook from those two newsletters.

So email really is a great marketing tool. It keeps your brand on the minds of your (potential) customers. On top of that, it makes sure your new product launches won’t go unnoticed; the release notice is actually sent to a whole bunch of people that have already expressed interest in your business.

How to do email marketing

Now that you’re convinced you need to be doing something with this email marketing thing, let me tell you how I think you should go about it. So I’ll try taking a ‘start-to-finish’ approach.

Building your email list

The first and foremost thing to building your email list is to make it as easy as possible to sign up. And as easy as possible means, for example, cutting down on the signup form fields:

newsletter signup example - email marketing

Real-life newsletter signup example

This is a real live example we’ve encountered in our Website Reviews a while back. This is simply not how you do this. You should ask for just the most necessary, which is just the email address to be honest. You really do not need anything else. On yoast.com we ask for just an email address and we’re getting over a 1000 new subscribers every week.

Next to keeping it simple, it also helps showing your signup form to people when they’re engaged on your website. We’ve done this by using a little box that slides up as the user scrolls past a threshold. If you’re using WordPress, there’s an awesome plugin by our friend Danny called Scroll Triggered Boxes that’ll make this easy as pie to set up. Other engaged visitors are people who actually buy your products, so be sure to have a signup in your checkout as well!

Of course there are a lot of other things you could try, such as a HelloBar, a static signup in your sidebar, a Twitter campaign for your email list. I do have to say though, the Twitter campaign wasn’t successful at all in our case. However, we try to keep it all as non-obtrusive as possible on yoast.com. We don’t want people to get annoyed by our signup forms, even though that would probably get us an even higher success rate.

Think about deliverability

Once your email list starts growing, you should really start thinking about deliverability. What I mean by this is the percentage of emails that are actually getting to the people in your email list. Simply sending your newsletter from your WordPress admin won’t cut it, most of the time. You have a good chance your emails are actually ending up in people’s spam folders. And that’s a real shame, because people won’t even know you sent an email in the first place!

If you’re using a service such as MailChimp it’s easy enough to increase your deliverability. MailChimp has a simple checkbox to authenticate your campaign. There are four types of authentication and checking this box in MailChimp will enable all four of them by default. So my advice is to really start using an email service such as this. It doesn’t have to be MailChimp, as long as you’re sure to check for such deliverability options.

Keep your email’s content engaging

One of the most important things to do is to keep your email’s content engaging. People should want to read your newsletters or other emails. This comes down to keeping a healthy balance between promotional and informational content. This can be a fine line to walk, but it’s well worth the effort. Let me give you some tips how you can keep your readers engaged:

  • Be personal; keeping a personal tone tends to resonate more with your following and seems to increase click ratios as well;
  • Interact with your following; you can do this by asking for feedback, give them special discounts or saying thanks to them (which can be combined with discounts);
  • Make announcements; whether this is about a new product or service, or about something noteworthy within your line of work (f.i. we usually highlight any big Google changes in our newsletter), keeping your following up to date and sharing news worthy items really helps increase their engagement;
  • Share your knowledge; I feel this is probably the most important one. Sharing your knowledge makes for worthwhile emails for your following, but it also shows them you know what you’re doing. So not only do they get more informed, their trust in your brand will increase.

Make your emails mobile friendly

Mobile is really growing in the email market, with almost 50% of all newsletters being opened on mobile. So you should really make sure your newsletter is as mobile friendly as possible. A lot of the mailing services offer default templates that are mobile friendly and will scale down nicely. If you don’t want to spend too much time or money on your newsletter at first, this is a good option.

Another thing to take into account with mobile emails, is your subject line. Since mobile screens are obviously not as wide as desktop screens, your subject lines might not actually fit the screen. This might not be a problem at all, but it’s a good one to keep in mind. It could be a good idea to test this.

A/B test your emails

Since every company is different and therefore your clients probably differ a lot from ours, or at least they expect something different, it’s important to test. Don’t just assume that what’s been working for others will work for you.

All of the mailing services I’ve checked out offer A/B testing on the subject. And that’s a great way to test which subject line gives you the highest open rate. That’s a great first step for optimization. However, not a lot of them offer A/B testing on the content (body) of an email. And that’s obviously the best way to know how to optimize your text for a higher click rate.

While you’re at it, it’s probably also a good idea to test how often you should ideally be sending emails to your customers. This is again a fine line to walk, since you’re in danger of sending it too often for at least a portion of your following. And while we’re talking timing, also think about the time you’re sending out your emails!

Tag your email links

Some mailing services offer this as well, but we still tag the links in our emails by hand, because we want to do it a particular way: custom campaigns. As I also explained in that post, custom campaigns are a way to “tag” your links so you can easily find them in your Google Analytics. This way you know exactly what traffic and sales came from your newsletters. This is also the way I could tell you our ROI on our newsletters earlier in this post.

To conclude

Next week I’ll be doing a post on email marketing for ecommerce websites. This will go into creating repeating customers and regaining lost customers using email.

For now, this is it! What do you think? Are you missing anything in here you think is really important? Let me know in the comments!

This post first appeared as The basics of email marketing on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Improving our (plugin) support

Improving our plugin supportAs you may know, most of the products and services we sell here at yoast.com come with support. In fact, the only product we sell that doesn’t come with support is our eBook. And even for the eBook you’re obviously welcome to ask us questions! And this post is about just that: our support. I’ll be showing you how we’ve improved our support in the past 2 years and how we’re planning on improving it even more!

The growth of Yoast’s support

In the beginning, when we were only selling our Video SEO plugin, we used to do two kinds of support. We offered support through our forums and email. After a few months we realized that the forum support was not working out for us, and we moved to just email support using HelpScout. This was a well thought out choice and we’ve not regretted it once since we made it.

The move to all email support was 3 days after the launch of our Local SEO plugin, which also meant a big increase in our support activity. That’s exactly why we hired Taco in August 2013, because until then, support had fallen mainly to me, Joost and Michiel. And we had a lot of other things on our plate as well. Taco soon bloomed into a real Support Engineer doing the majority of the work. However, the support kept growing. Let me give you an idea of how the support requests have grown over time:

The growth of Yoast's support

The growth of Yoast’s support from December 2012 to now

In 2013 we’ve helped 5220 customers and in 2014 this has already grown to 13726 customers. This was to be expected, since the release of Video SEO and Local SEO we’ve released 5 other premium WordPress plugins. And on top of that we’ve launched 4 WordPress themes, an eBook and completely overhauled our Website Reviews.

Splitting support up

The first thing we did to make our support more manageable was split it up to separate subjects. We created a support box for review support, plugin support, general support and later on also theme support. This meant that people weren’t wasting time reading support requests they couldn’t answer anyway.

However, over 75% of our total support is still just plugin support, so the rest of this post will be focused on just plugin support.

Yoast Knowledge Base

With the increase of support, we felt we had to do something. Optimization junkies as we are, we felt that we should optimize as soon in the process as possible. After all, what’s better than preventing a support requests being sent in the first place? Answer your customers’ questions before they’ve actually asked them.

And that’s where our Knowledge Base came in. We made a list of all the common questions people were asking and started answering those questions on our Knowledge Base. Before long it also included installation guides, setup guides and more general information on our plugins. We’re still updating our Knowledge Base as often as possible and analyze the search data. It seems to be working, because it’s actually being visited more and more:

Increase in Knowledge Base traffic

Increase in Knowledge Base traffic

Timezones and 24/7 support

However much we wanted it though, this didn’t solve all our issues. There was another problem: timezones. We’re in The Netherlands and most of our customers are actually not. In fact, the biggest portion of our customers aren’t even in the same timezone (f.i. USA and Australia).

And this presented us with the next problem: even though we’d work hard during the day to help everyone out, the support requests would just pile up during our nights. This meant we were busy doing support during all the mornings at the office and people had to wait a long time for their requests to get answered. And that’s when we started hiring people abroad. We currently have one support engineer in the Phillippines, one in Spain and two in the USA.

Having our support team located throughout the world like that, means we have almost full 24/7 support. We’re still improving a lot, but currently over 98% of the support requests get answered within 24 hours, weekend or not. Again, to give you an idea of how we’re improving:

Average time it takes the Yoast support team to reply to a first support request

Average time it takes the Yoast support team to reply to a first support request

 

As you can see, we’ve already improved this a lot. Currently we’re at an average of responding to your initial support request in 4 hours and 35 minutes. Our aim is to get this average under 1 hour.

Happiness reports

We’ve recently also started asking our customers for feedback on our support. This way, we can also improve the quality of the content of our responses on top of the response times. This feedback option looks like this at the moment:

Edit Mailbox Yoast Review Support

Clicking any of these icons will send a rating to our support system over at HelpScout. The smiley is a Great rating, the middle one is an Okay rating and the right one is a Not Good rating. This gives us insights like this:

Customer's happiness on our support

Customers’ happiness on Yoast support

This is the customers’ happiness on our support in the current month (January 2015). It’s based on 38 ratings though, so the percentages don’t mean a lot yet. However, this still gives us a lot of information. We can see exactly which support requests were rated with what rating and customers can even leave a description of why they gave a certain rating:

Customer's description of the great rating

Customer’s description of a great rating

This sort of feedback is invaluable to us, as it makes it transparent what kind of information we should and should not provide, how clear we should be and what kind of knowledge we can expect the customer has.

We’ll keep improving

As you’ve probably read way too much now, we’ll keep improving on our support continuously. We have aims and goals that might be ambitious, such as replying to your initial support request within 1 hour on average, but we won’t stop until we’ve met them.

We will also keep using the data we have and the feedback we get from customers to stay on top of our game. So we’d like to thank everyone using our products and especially the ones taking the time to give feedback on our support and/or products. Keep all of that feedback coming, and we’ll keep bringing (and improving) the awesomeness!

This post first appeared as Improving our (plugin) support on Yoast. Whoopity Doo!

Why we moved to all email support

When we started doing premium WordPress plugins, we also added a support forum to yoast.com. Many people liked this but I was, to be honest, skeptic. My experience with the WordPress.org forums are … Poor, at best. I just don’t think forums work very well, in large part because there is an ever continuing tendency for people to comment on someone else’s thread, saying they have the same issue, when in fact the two are entirely unrelated.

We gave it our best shot though, we used bbPress, combined it with several of Pippin’s fantastic plugins and used the EDD Product Support extension from the great guys at Webdevstudios. While these are all well built and stable plugins, I kept adding more plugins to fix tiny annoyances with bbPress, at some point I had 25 plugins running to make the forums “workable” for us.

Having support forums also meant forcing everyone to create an account at checkout. Something I found very disturbing myself and which lead to support issues on its own, with people not receiving emails or not being able to log in. We didn’t force them to make an account because it was easier for them, we thought it was easier for us. It wasn’t, but the entire premise was wrong there.

The alternative

At the same time, we also used HelpScout. Now if you’ve been following me on Twitter for a while, you might have seen me sing their praises. They have really changed the way I look at doing customer support and their blog continuously induces Thijs, who handles most of our support, and myself to, well, just do support better.

When comparing threads in the forums with threads in HelpScout, we found that people were happier when they got personalized email and we actually spent significantly less time answering questions through HelpScout than on the forums. And then came an even bigger improvement.

HelpScout Custom AppI’d been emailing with Nick Francis, the CEO there, from the very beginning since we started using HelpScout. He had mentioned they were going to do custom apps and I decided to chase them a bit on that. We got into the beta and within about an hour I had build a custom app that connects to Easy Digital Downloads and shows us, within the HelpScout interface, all the transactions for a user, their license keys, payment methods etc. It also has a button to check the payment at the payment provider and to re-send the purchase email for a purchase.

Where our average time per question had been 5 to 7 minutes, having all of our clients info easily at hand right in the HelpScout sidebar dropped that to 1.5 minutes. Forum threads were now taking more than 7 times longer and our client response times were much better on HelpScout. So we shut down the forums. We went through every thread and emailed every user with an answer, deleting threads one by one. Took us a couple of hours, but we’re very glad we did it.

You see, for us, HelpScout is an interface, for the client, it’s just email. No need for them to make an account to get support from us. That’s how it should be and that’s why we’re sticking with all email support. Would love to know what you all think!

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