Posted June 15, 2011 12:05 am by with 4 comments

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You know what I love about performance marketing? The way it builds on itself. It’s a pretty stable beast if managed correctly. You set things in motion, you give them some time and some love and they grow. They grow into these well optimized, highly efficient, and (hopefully) lucrative marketing channels that earn you all sorts of good things like more money, more customers, better brand sentiment, so on and so forth.

Performance marketing is a predictable science most of the time. Then enter “web-based promotions.” Talk about throwing a wrench in things. They are anything but predictable. More commonly, they involve things like difficult tracking challenges, missed launch dates, social media chaos, and let’s not forget the scariest possibility – utter failure.

Web-based promotions can very likely end in utter failure. Sounds awesome huh? Sign me up.

But with all of those unknowns and long hours of work comes the potential to succeed on a grand scale. That’s why companies have been doing promotions for years. With these huge projects come the potential for huge wins to your bottom-line revenues, your customer base, and more. Let’s face it…you can hit your quarter’s goals with the right promo.

In my experience, the most successful companies have both (1) gradual acquisition efforts gaining momentum and (2) rolling calendars of promotions in play. But how? How do you do that without a team of ten people at your service? There are a lot of pieces to a successful web-based promotion, and most of them you only learn by messing them up first-hand. I thought I’d save you all some time (and money) by sharing the lessons I’ve learned over years of pushing out web-based promotions.

So how does one make sure their upcoming web-based promotion is a success? Here are some questions to ask yourself as you get started…

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#1 Does the promotion meet the company’s primary business objective?
You laugh, but believe me when I say, this is often overlooked. It’s great if a promotion gets you a ton of members, but not if the current goal of the company is retention. Your promotion should be timely given the company’s primary goals. This will make the acquiring of resources and assistance in getting it just right, that much easier.

#2 Have you set reasonable goals for the success of the promotion?
When you are considering which promotion to go after, make sure that you have communicated the right expectations with the higher ups. Don’t just pitch the best case scenario. Instead I like to give three ranges of success – if we win huge, we will get {X}, if we are moderately successful we will get {X}, and if we fall flat on our faces, at least we were able to {X}. Side note: if you can’t fill out this last bucket, this isn’t a promo you should be doing.

#3 What sort of design and technical resources are required?
You should know this going in and you should touch base with each team to better understand their upcoming queue. The truth is promotions tend to be larger projects that live outside the everyday queue of projects. You are basically asking teams to work overtime, so it’s best to butter them up as early on in the process as you can. I find free coffees work well for this.

#4 What can you do prior to launch to increase your chance of success?
This is often something as simple as letting other teams know its going out and to be on the look out for issues. I also usually send the promo to an outside party to make sure the concept is easy to understand, and all their big questions are answered. Other things include: putting together a contingency plan and making sure your marketing team is fully aware of all the dates and deadlines involved.

#5 What are the launch day assignments?
Does everyone know what part they play? I like to make sure my community manager and the help team is aware on launch day that it just went out. It’s also worth letting your analyst know so they can keep an eye on the bigger numbers, and site metrics. These are the watchdog roles, and they are crucial to promotional sanity.

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#6 Have you outlined your post-launch and during promo plans?
Soooo many people forget about this. While it’s crucial to have a smooth launch day, don’t forget that promos can last anywhere from a few days to a few months. What do you have planned to keep up the hype? What sort of channels can you leverage? For us we often use Promoted tweets, Facebook ad buys, social media messaging, and email marketing to keep the hype growing for any promo we launch. This long tail buzz can be crucial to a successful promotion.

#7 What happens when the promo ends?
So while it’s a nice to conclude a promo and pat yourself on the back, there is still more work to do! You need to make sure winner selection is nailed down, communication with winners is organized, and the posting of the winners is in the works. Other questions may be – what will happen to the assets when it’s concluded? What happens to the page it lived on? What about late entries? You should have plans for each of these use cases. It makes the promo conclusion consistent and far more successful to have that worked out ahead of time.

#8 How can you leverage that promo for more gains?
Whether it was incredibly successful or a huge flop, there is always more to be gained from a web-based promotion. For instance, you could write a blog post about how it went, and what you learned (much like I am here) or you can hold a post-mortem internally and better organize your plan for next time. You can often leverage the buzz around a promo for future promos by listening to what your users wanted to get but didn’t with this effort. This should all be put aside and used again some other day in the future.

#9 How can you report on the promo most effectively?
I like to let things sit a little while. I usually wait a week or two before I start reporting on the success or lack thereof in regards to a promotional contest or giveaway. Often when the chaos settles you start to see gains in your site traffic, brand mentions, signups, etc. It’s up to us to report these wins to the company. Oftentimes an email is best. It can be a great way to highlight people that helped and thank them publically, which only makes them more willing to help you again in the future.

#10 How long do you wait before the next one?
I put this in because in the past I’ve had clients run web promotions too close together and lose out on possible gains because they have saturated their listeners with hyped up messaging. When it comes to finding the optimal time to run a web-based promotion, just remember that it should have an added value for some users, but not ever cannibalize another user type. I could probably write an entire post on this alone, but as a best practice you should wait a few months between promotions, as it gives your service or product time to regain its usual perception of value.

Not to mention, it also gives you time to conceptualize your next promo…and start this crazy race all over again. I hope this gave you some great questions to tackle prior to your next web-based promotion.

The value of these marketing efforts can be huge for your company. I would love to hear other things you have learned from your experiences that could help all of us succeed in pushing out effective promotional campaigns for our companies. What has worked for you?

About the Author

Joanna Lord is the Director of Customer Acquisition at, a leading SEO software company out of Seattle, WA. While she currently heads up SEOmoz’s paid search, affiliate, and acquisition marketing efforts, she is also a well-known social media enthusiast and frequent conference speaker. Her diverse experience in data analysis, paid search marketing, search engine optimization and content creation enables her to provide tactical acquisition strategies that work.

  • Joanna Lord’s posts always are very interesting. All points are good discovered. Thanks for post

  • Dang lady! Great information here.

    My favorite point: #1 Does the promotion meet the company’s primary business objective?

    Anyone can build and launch a promotion, but if it doesn’t line up with the company’s primary business objective, then you’re most likely wasting your time.

  • Vaibhav Jain

    I have very needful that’s like post, awesome article about web promotion. latest Google update demote the various website from search, so the post can help us to improve it.

  • Thanks Joanna for such a nice article. I read it and enjoy. I am going to prepare a promotion for one company and these tips are useful.