Product Recommendation Technology in Email Marketing

This is a guest article from Ian Roderick, Communications Manager for email marketing software provider Newsletter2Go.

 The goal should be to make every email relevant to everyone who receives it.

You’re not going to fool anyone by sending mass email blasts to your entire list. Emails that aren’t relevant will be deleted without being opened. And if you do it too often, your contacts will start unsubscribing from your newsletter entirely.

The key is to get relevant content to the right people at the right time.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably already intuitively doing this by segmenting your contacts into lists, and sending separate emails to the different lists with different content, products, or offers.

The Future of Email Marketing

But the next big step in email marketing is coming onto the market, and will start being available to more and more small businesses and marketers.

I’m talking about automated product recommendation technology made specifically for email marketers.

Based on certain parameters – which products a customer has viewed, purchased, or what other customers have viewed and purchased – a product recommendation is automatically generated.

Big brands like Amazon have been doing this for a while already, but they use their own propriety recommendation engine, which aren’t available to the rest of us.

As the technology has developed, a number of recommendation engines technologies have come onto the market for small and medium sized businesses – those without the resources to develop their own technology.

In the email marketing world, this is really exciting. Why? Because in theory, you’ll be able to send every single one of your contacts a totally unique email.

The email marketing provider builds a recommendation technology into our software. This means you import contacts, create newsletters, and send them as normal – with the added option of including automatically generated product recommendations within the email.

The contact lists, the sending infrastructure – all that’s the same. The only change is that recipients receive a custom, targeted email recommendation.

How it Works in Email Marketing

Basically, the way it will work is this. A product recommendation engine will be embedded on your website. It will track user behavior – which products they’ve been looking at, which they’ve put in their shopping cart, which they’ve previously bought – and hold on to that data.

The newsletters that you send will all contain a product recommendation block. When the contact opens the email, the recommendation technology will fill that block with a custom recommendation based on that user’s behavior on your website.

Think about that. You’ve created one newsletter, but all of your 10,000 subscribers see a different one. The power of your communication has grown by orders of magnitude.

Leverage Product Recommendations to Send Better Emails

Use automated product recommendation engines to send effective newsletters that increase engagement and drive sales:

Shopping Cart Abandons – According to Nosto, around 70% of shopping carts are abandoned prior to checkout. This is frustrating, but also represents an opportunity.

You know your users are interested in the product, they just haven’t made that last step yet. Step in with an automated email including the products they’ve left in their carts, as well as a few releated products that they might be interested in.

Post-order follow-ups – Turn one-time purchasers into people who come back again and again. Send emails a day or two after they’ve ordered or had their package delivered with products that other people, who’ve bought that product, have also bought.

We miss you – use the browsing history to remind them of the products that they’ve looked at, and get them back onto your site.

Welcome emails – Use unique identifying information from customers or new registrants to send products that are likely to be interesting for them.

What To Watch Out For When Using Recommendation Technology

That being said, there are some things that you should keep in mind.

  • Smaller shops will find it more difficult to generate great recommendations because there are fewer data points. Consider using browsing history instead of purchase history.
  • The same products might be generated over and over again. If you don’t have a huge product selection, make sure that you leave enough time in between product newsletters
  • Because the recommendations are generated at the moment the email is opened, your platform needs to have enough server bandwidth to handle the requests instantaneously. Slow loading emails, or improperly loaded emails, will end up straight in the trash bin
  • Don’t embed product images in emails – this looks like spam and will be flagged
  • Don’t include product recommendations as attachments
  • Don’t make recommendations for gimmicky financial services or offers, as these will look spammy and won’t be delivered
  • Make sure the text in your email matches the product that you’re describing

In Summary

Automated product recommendation technology is a powerful tool for E-commerce platforms, and for email marketers. It’s never been easier to send relevant, useful products that are more likely to generate opens, clicks, and sales.

But like with any technology, there are challenges and potentially unforeseen limitations.

Over at Newsletter2Go, we’re working hard on seamlessly integrating a product recommendation technology into our email marketing software. We’ve entered testing phase and are really excited to start rolling it out.

I hope you found this article helpful and informative. Good luck, and happy emailing!

Mobilising your customers to sell for you

Hands down, word of mouth is by far the most powerful, and cost-effective form of marketing.

How powerful…?

84% of consumers say they either completely or somewhat trust recommendations from family and friends about products (making these recommendations the information source ranked highest for trustworthiness). [Nielson].

Additionally, Nielson found that 84% of consumers reported always or sometimes taking action based on personal recommendations. 70% said they did the same after reading online consumer opinions.

Our social media connections are also an important part of our lives. 81% of people admit to being influenced by what their friends share on social media. [Market Force]

In this post I will show you how to mobilise your customers in to an effective sales force, driving sales through word of mouth and positive online reviews.

Gaining control

There are countless ways for people to share negative and positive feedback about your business.

This makes it more critical than ever to have a proactive strategy in place to:

  • Make sure positive sentiment massively outweighs the negative
  • Ensure positive sentiment is left where your audience goes and trusts
  • Control your brand story

Waiting and hoping for customers to share positive reviews/comments is not an option.

Proactive businesses that understand the importance of this type of marketing are winning.

What motivates people to recommend a company?

The bad news is, there is no magic bullet.

Brands that inspire a higher emotional intensity receive up to threes times as much WOM as less emotionally-connected brands. [Keller Fay Group].

The same academic study that found these results, also found that highly differentiated brands have greater levels of WOM, as these brands allow consumers to share own sense of uniqueness.

However, more than 50% of respondents are more likely to give a referral if offered a direct incentive, social recognition or access to an exclusive loyalty program.

39% of respondents say monetary or material incentives such as discounts, free swag or gift cards greatly increase their chances of referring a brand. [Software Advice].

Whilst 72% say reading a positive customer reviews increase their trust in the business; it takes reading between 2-6 reviews to get 56% of them to this point. [BrightLocal]

The key take away points are:

  • Incentives do work, but they are far more likely to work if your customers are happy and feel connected to your brand.
  • One or two reviews won’t cut it, you need to be generating a lot of good quality, positive reviews across multiple channels.

Whether it is verbal recommendations or leaving a review on a website, you don’t have to sit and hope your customers share their positive experiences.

Putting it into practice

Here are some practical ways you can turn your customers into an active sales force:

Support customers’ micro-moments

Micro-moments are the want-to-know, want-to-go, want-to-do, want-to-buy moments that now dictate our search and purchase behaviour (check out a previous post where I looked at the range of ways you can support your customers’ micro-moments.)

As well as supporting your brand, and positioning yourself as a thought leader, this content also gives your brand fans something useful to share with friends or family, as well as linking to online in forums, email, blogs etc.

“I’m looking for a great Lamb shank recipe”

“Check out Knorr’s YouTube channel, they’ll have one…”

Mobilise customers who give high NPS ratings

If you are using NPS to measure customer sentiment, you have already taken a huge step to identifying those most likely to leave a positive review online.

Net Promoter Score

(Image source)

Pick out your NPS Promoters (those who left a score of 9 or 10) and contact them asking them to leave a review on your target website(s) e.g. TrustPilot etc.

Keep the approach email concise, and don’t ask them for any specific type of review, it is up to them.

Here as an example template I have used successfully in the past.

We Want To Know What You Think

Hi [Name]

Thank you for taking the time to rate us.

We are writing to ask if you would review us in more detail on [URL]’s website here [Link]?

It only takes a couple of minutes to do and you can review any aspect of our service you wish. We aren’t looking for biased reviews, just honest ones from our customers.

Kind regards

[Footer]

This has been in play for quite a few years now, and not once has anyone left a negative review.

Give customers something to physically pass on

At the end of your transaction/ correspondence with a customer, send them something tangible they can pass on to friends and family.

This can be as simple as a handful of business cards, a leaflet with your contact details or a full blown brochure.

For example, snack company Graze include a batch of discount codes with your snack box to pass on.

graze-referral-web

Incentivise them

You can encourage your customers to refer people through financial incentives that they also personally benefit from.

For example, give them access to coupon codes they can spread around, which in turn gives them money off their next order if someone then uses it.

For example, SKY TV run a ‘Introduce a friend’ program that (at the time of writing) rewards both the referrer and the new customer with £125 Mastercard credit.

Sky Rewards

In conclusion…

With so many ways available for your customers to consume media and marketing messages, the age of interruption marketing is quickly coming to an end for all but the biggest marketing budgets.

The new battlegrounds are customer sentiment and content marketing.

Make sure your business is at forefront of this shift, and put processes into place to direct customers to sell for you via positive online feedback, word of mouth and referrals.

A quick anecdote about Deliveroo’s wasted marketing budget

In marketing, if you get your targeting right, your communications/media plan should fall in to place beautifully.

Here is a personal anecdote that suggests deliveroo aren’t quite getting that quite right.

Right message, right person…wrong time

I love the idea of deliveroo; real restaurant food delivered to your door. The only problem is they don’t deliver to where I live, at least not until recently (or so I thought).

A deliveroo leaflet had been pushed through my letter box telling me they were now delivering to where I lived. That was that night’s meal sorted straight away!

The problem was when I went on to their website to start my order I was informed they didn’t deliver to my postcode. Gutted!

But I was also confused why they had posted their leaflet when they knew I couldn’t use them.

I assumed they’d messed up that particular leaflet drop. However, a couple of weeks later I got another leaflet as part of their follow up campaign.

I checked again. Still can’t use them.

I appreciate one leaflet isn’t going to break their budget, but how many other households around the country are getting this marketing they can’t act on?

Leaflet drops are targeted at the street level, so there is no reason why this should happen except for poor planning by their marketing team or poor execution by the agency they hired to fulfill the job.

Deliveroo’s poor targeting and execution all adds up to:

  • Wasted budget
  • Wasted opportunity
  • Wasted brand equity

Creating a targeted media plan

Whether you are advertising on a national or local level, they key component of your media plan has to be your target audience.

Where do they live, how old are they, what are their interests, what offers do they respond to, what media do they consume…etc?

Each one of these questions builds a profile of your target audience that enables you to deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time.

Better email marketing applying the scientific method

Email marketing should be every marketer’s dream. As well as requiring creative thought and strategic planning, you instantly know whether it is working or not. Every aspect of it is trackable, testable and reportable.

Rather than approaching making changes an ad-hoc or subjective basis, you can improve your email marketing performance consistently and iteratively by using the scientific method.

What is the scientific method?
The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge (source).

The steps of the scientific method

scientific method

Taken from https://moz.com/blog/campaign-tracking-without-going-crazy-keeping-order-adwords-optimization

For the purpose of this article, I will use the example an online portfolio creator for designers, photographers etc. to showcase their work, that offers a 14-day free trial. I will name the company ‘Pyxels’ (note: this is a totally made up company to illustrate my points).

Purpose: State the problem

Before you start making changes to your email marketing, take a step back and think about the end goal i.e. the problem you want to solve.

Email marketing is a means to an end, serving your business goals. It is not a goal in its own right.

For example, even if you want to to increase click-through rates, those clicks serve the purpose of increasing traffic to your website via email.

Your metrics should be serving a bigger purpose e.g. We want our email marketing to…

  • Reduce customer support phone calls
  • Increase basket size
  • increase referrals
  • Etc.

After reading this SaaS conversions benchmark study, Pyxel are unhappy with the number of customers converting from the 14-day free trial to a paid account. This currently stands at 2%.

Research: Find out about the topic

To make any changes, we need to work out what differentiates successful customers from ‘unsuccessful’ customers, and how our email marketing can help solve the problem.  

Try to use data to identify the characteristics of customers rather than anecdotal evidence. We want to know who…

  1. Converts into paying customers
  2. Spends a lot
  3. Buys frequently

Once you know who they are, you can start building mechanisms for new customers to perform those actions quickly and easily.

For example…

Free trial sign-ups

We have identified an area that splits active users and inactive users.

The next step is to review how we are currently addressing this problem (if at all), and  the best way to achieve that outcome.

Based on these figures above, Pyxels need to get more of their trial sign-ups to customise their default portfolio theme.

The logical place to start is how Pyxels are currently communicating the customisable portfolio feature to new sign-ups.

Here is their free account sign-up welcome email:

Welcome To Pyxel

Hi [Name],

Thanks for signing up to Pyxels, it is great to have you on board.

Pyxel makes it easy for you to showcase your amazing work and attract new clients, so let’s get started.

[Button] Login to your account [/Button links to account home page]

Kind regards,

The Pyxel Team

The email is short, friendly and comes with a very clear call to action to login.

However, based on our data we now know that it is not directing people to perform the action we want them to do.

With this in mind, we want to try a new welcome email that achieves that goal.

Welcome To Pyxel

Hi [Name],

Thanks for signing up to Pyxels, it is great to have you on board.

Pyxel makes it easy for you to showcase your amazing work and attract new clients, so let’s get started.

Getting started

Your first step to success is making your portfolio your own. Add your own unique style quickly and easily with our editor.

[Button] Customise your portfolio [/Button links to editor]

Kind regards,

The Pyxel Team

Hypothesis: Predict the outcome to the problem

What change are we expecting based on this change? By building a hypothesis before you start you can judge whether the change has been a success or not.

Additionally, although my example focuses on one change, it is more normal to have multiple areas/problem you want to improve upon.

Your hypothesis should also include the uplift you expect from your change, based on on quantifiable numbers such as

  • Revenue
  • Basket size
  • NPS
  • Support queries
  • Number of subscribers
  • Open rate
  • Click through rate
  • Social sharing
  • Etc.

This then allows you to prioritise your resources to focus on what you expect to have the biggest returns.

Our hypothesis is…

“Our new welcome email will make it easier for new customers to customise their portfolio, increasing our conversion rate from 2% to 3%”.

Experiment: Develop a procedure to test the hypothesis

The simplest way to test anything is run an A/B test and email marketing is perfect for this.

All we have to do is send 50% of new sign-ups the old version (the control group) and 50% the new version (the test group).

We can then see if there is an uplift in our key metric of free to paid conversions amongst the test group.

Analysis: Record the results of the experiment

This is the easiest part of the process. Your email marketing software will do all this for you. Tools such as MailChimp have this built in, and are very easy to set up.

mailchimpAB

Conclusion: Compare the hypothesis to the experiment’s conclusion

Now is the moment of truth. Has our new test version performed better than the control version?

For Pyxels, we identified a problem (low conversion rate), we stated what we wanted to achieve (free to paid conversions of 3%) and we researched the best way to do this (direct new users to customise their portfolio).

We can easily directly compare the data for both versions of emails.

Control

Test

Emails sent

5,000

5,000

Paid conversions

35

160

% conversion

1.4%

3.2%

These stats are all illustrative, and show a positive uplift. However, even if the change you makes has a negative impact, it is still a test worth running, because know you now.

Additionally, you only exposed a test sample to this version which means you can now roll back, and test a new idea/version.

What next?

We move on to the next test!

Assuming we have a list of goals we want to achieve, along with supporting hypothesise to test, we can now begin to systematically improve our email marketing.

By using the scientific method and applying values to each hypothesis to create your list of priorities, you will quickly see improvements you can measure and build upon.

How to find out why your customers are leaving

Do you fully understand why your customers cancel your service? Not when or how, but why?

Using time-based cancellation data to perform churn and cohort analysis will show you when they leave (and allow you to surmise why), but this alone can’t tell you the real reasons behind it.

2-retention-over-user-lifetime

(Image source)

“So I know my customers have a higher propensity to leave in the first month – if I only I knew why.”

To really understand why your customers are leaving, you need to go deeper.

In this post I will look at three way you can find out why your customers cancel:

  1. Post-cancellation survey
  2. Identifying on-site friction points
  3. What separates successful and churning customers

Don’t be afraid to ask – Post-cancellation survey

It may seem counter-intuitive to expect customers who cancel your service to answer some questions, but you’d be surprised how many will.

Set up an automated email (fired upon cancellation) that links to a very short survey, asking why they left, would they use you again and the opportunity to leave open feedback.

I have used this method myself, and got some great insights.

For example, I found:

  • They found getting set up difficult – Our onboarding upon initial login was not good enough, and we needed to hand hold a lot more when customers tried to use the service for the first time.
  • We were forcing them to contact support for basic questions – Our support database had out of date content and it was difficult to navigate.
  • We assumed customers would find products themselves if they needed them – Customers did not know about some key add-ons we sold.
  • It wasn’t all negative! – Half of the customers who cancelled did so because they didn’t need the product anymore. In fact they had a positive view of us, and would use us again. The way we would remarket to that group instantly changed.

Here is an example survey you can use. 

1. Which product did you cancel? (assuming you are multi-product and can’t automate this)

  • Your product list

2. Why did you cancel?

  • I no longer needed it
  • Poor documentation
  • It didn’t perform to my expectations
  • It was too difficult to use
  • Poor customer experience
  • I found a better price elsewhere
  • Other [Text field]

3. Would you use us again?

  • Yes
  • No

4. How do you think we can improve?

  • [Open text box]

The aim is to get as much information as you can, in as few questions as possible.

Don’t let yourself fall in to the trap of asking these questions and not using the information. Over time, as new projects grab everyone’s attention and energy, this is a real danger. The best way to prevent this, is to automate and formalise as much of the process as possible.

Ask > Collect > Catalogue > Store > Analyse > Act > Measure

There are six stages to using customer feedback to inform your product and brand marketing:

  1.     Collecting – Collection of the data (dealt with above)
  2.     Cataloguing – Putting the data into distinct groups
  3.     Storing – Where the feedback is stored to be retrieved
  4.     Analysing – The ability to analyse volume, trends and value
  5.     Acting – Putting the ideas into practice
  6.     Measuring – Are the changes having a positive impact?

Cataloguing

The way you structure your questions will have a huge impact on your ability to store the feedback and act on it. Closed questions and selectors make it easier to identify trends.

Storing

I would recommend bringing all the data into one single database/GUI, all linked to your customer accounts. This data can be used by the your customer services, sales and marketing team for their specific needs.

  • Using their characteristics: Market segments and persona data
  • Transactional behaviour: Customer segmentation
  • Their brand sentiment: Net Promoter Score
  • Value of that segment: No. customer accounts, Monthly Recurring Revenue, Life Time Value

Combining this data will allow you to tailor the messages you send, as well as track a customer’s metrics over time – including reactivations.

This also reduces the number of irrelevant emails going to those who have negative brand sentiment, and are unlikely to buy.

Acting

There is nothing worse than spending time giving feedback, only to feel like it has disappeared into a black hole.

Use the positive changes you make to customers’ products and services to curate positive brand sentiment, reactivate churned customers (“You spoke, we listened, we acted. Come back!”)

Identify the specific points of friction, not just the general page

Are there areas of your website/control panel that people find difficult to use?

Google Analytics will be able to tell you how long people stay on a page, and which pages see the most significant page exits, but it won’t be able to tell you why.

For this you will need to be able to report on how customers interact with a page’s components.

You can quickly and easily set-up heatmaps, funnel visualisation, user recordings and more using www.hotjar.com.

Here is an example of their visitor recording…

HotJar recording

How many of your customers are finding and clicking on the page’s primary action points?

I have used the free plan on a personal website and the data is a gold mine. It is also a very simple copy and paste job to get set-up.

What differentiates successful customers and churners?

The first month is traditionally the most critical for any SaaS product. Based on a multitude of public case studies/blog posts (and my own experiences), this is when customers are most likely to churn.

Your challenge is to give customers with the right tools, signposts and motivation to successfully use your product.

The first step is to identify the most important quick wins that customers who stay long-term perform, compared to those who leave. This is the ‘why’.

Generally this tends to be the “Aha!” moments – those moments that tip the customer over from a passive user to an active user.

To use my own personal experiences, with MailChimp it was:

  1. When I saw the first subscriber appear in my mailing list
  2. When I successfully sent out my first newsletter and saw the stats rolling in

You’ll notice there were two moments.

In some cases you may have one moment, and in others you may have multiple moments – there is no set rule.

If we assume my MailChimp subscriber moment is what divides customers who renew and customers who cancel, I would…

  • Focus my efforts on educating people how to add a subscription form to their website, and import any existing mailing lists.
  • Include a progress bar/ list in the control panel that includes this as one of the key steps to tick off.
  • Set up an automated email to accounts that haven’t added a subscriber within x days (where ‘x’ is the average number of days it takes a renewing customer to add their first subscriber).

How to get your customers to drive tons of traffic from Google (and love you for it)

In this post I will show you how to become a thought leader in your industry AND drive tons of traffic from Google.

Plus, you’ll get there by having your customers doing all the work for you (and they’ll love you for it)!

 I appreciate this sounds like a snake oil marketing promise, but it is so easy you’ll slap your forehead having not done this before. 

How do you become a thought-leader?

Thought leaders are the go-to sources of information and opinion. They set the standard by which all others are judged, and aspire to.

They get there by producing the most linked to, shared and discussed content in their industry.

Take a look at moz.com, a perfect case study of this in action. Their SEO blog was the catalyst that propelled them to being the de facto source of SEO news and ideas.

Their readers then coalesced into a community, which Moz were extremely quick to capitalise on, and to their credit, proactively develop.

The bad news is producing great content is extremely resource intensive. The internet is hungry for new content, and the shelf-life for many posts is extremely limited.

“Hey, great post today….what have you got tomorrow?”

Think long-term

What you need to produce is ‘evergreen content’.

This is content that is both awesome, and has an extremely limited time decay. This means it can be shared for a long time.

Here are some great examples of this:

Now, the problem here is, although they are one-offs, they also take a long time to write, and are they are expensive to have designed to a professional standard.

Quick Sprout’s Neil Patel has stated his content marketing guide cost him $10,000 to produce.

What we are looking for is content that:

  1. Positions you as a thought leader
  2. Google loves and ranks high
  3. Your customers love you for
  4. Your customers create

 The answer is a community written, industry-leading tutorial and support database (aka a ‘Knowledge Base’) 

Be THE place to go for help and guidance

Support databases are not as sexy as an infographic, or as satisfying to write as a quirky blog post, but they have the potential to be a huge deal for your business.

Take a look at this in action with leading hosting company Digital Ocean.

They dominate huge swathes of research-based and support-based search queries e.g.

how to secure my vps Google Search

Thanks to the number of people linking to those useful articles, they also rank high for incredibly competitive transactional searches.

ssd cloud server Google Search

This ticks off thought-leadership, Google love (through keyword optimised content and people sharing your super-useful tutorials/articles), and customer love (for being so helpful and authoritative).

 That’s all great, but I also promised that your customers would do all the work for you! Read on to find out how. 

The awesome thing is, Digital Ocean’s community helped write a large part of it for them: https://www.digitalocean.com/community/get-paid-to-write 

DO get paid to write

This meant they could scale their Knowledge Base much faster than they ever could have doing it all in-house (breadth and depth), and at a much cheaper rate compared to hiring a professional technical writer.

You can do exactly the same.

How to create and populate your own Knowledge Base

Step 1: The software/platform

I strongly recommend using purpose built software for this.

Simply adding pages to your website will make it extremely difficult to manage as you grow, and you won’t have access to the same reporting and user feedback tools (top searches, ratings, comments, idea submissions etc).

A lot of companies use software called PHPKB (http://www.knowledgebase-script.com/). The latest version hosted on your own webspace is currently a one off fee of $350. I have hands on experience of setting up a Knowledge Base with this, and it is all positive.

Alternatively, if you use WordPress, there are themes and plugins to integrate a Knowledge Base, one of the most popular being here http://codecanyon.net/item/knowledge-base-wiki-wordpress-plugin/5758910..

There are SaaS options out there, including ZenDesk, HelpJuice  and GrooveHQ.

However I haven’t used them, and they are all perpetual costs (i.e. monthly fees), plus you lose access if you cancel.

Step 2: Planning your structure and content

Start by creating a structure plan/hierarchy for your Knowledge Base. This will make your life much easier as the project develops, and it will also speed everything up.

An example:

  • Category: The top-level group, typically quite broad e.g. Databases
  • Sub-category: Sub-sections of the main category, getting more specific e.g. MySQL databases
  • Article: Have one article cover one topic to make it easy for people to find and read e.g. How to backup a MySQL database

In terms of deciding what content to write, start by researching the most common questions your target audience are looking for answers to.

Some ideas to get this information include:

  • Your own support team – What questions are they  repeatedly asked by your customers? What boilerplate answers have they got prepared because they have to answer that question so often?
  • Google keyword planner – A huge driver for doing this is attracting new traffic via Google. With this in mind, use search demand to guide your articles.
  • Ask your customers – Set up a form online or send an email asking what they would like help with.
  • Your competitors – What support content do they have that is linked to a lot? Use tools like Open Site Explorer.

Step 3: Getting your community involved

The quickest way to grow your Knowledge Base, with the least amount of effort, is through community submitted articles.

The danger here is being swamped by low quality, content thin articles.

You can put a stop to this before it starts by laying out very clear guidelines about what you expect. E.g. https://www.digitalocean.com/community/tutorials/how-to-write-an-article-for-the-digitalocean-community.

Some of your customers will do all this because they love you, and others because they love the topic in hand. However, these will be a relatively small pool.

The real motivator will come from being paid.

The mechanisms for receiving, reviewing and publishing the articles will vary based on your software choices and the size of your team.

You need to put in place a process that:

  • Stores and categorises the submitted articles ready for review
  • Has clear quality and tone of voice guidelines for the reviewer to follow
  • Allows for feedback and/or editing if necessary
  • Places the article in a queue to be published
  • Publishes the article at an agreed time
  • Gathers feedback on the article (page views, ratings, comments…)
  • Pays the author in a timely and accurate manner

If you choose to go with purpose made Knowledge Base software, this will come with features to accept and review submissions. PayPal can cover the payments.

Step 4: Writing/editing content

When writing and editing the content, always be thinking about a) Usability and b) SEO.

Usability comes from easy to read, focused articles. My tips are; keep your articles to a minimum (don’t fluff them out for fluff’s sake), don’t try to sell your products to the detriment of the content and stay focused on one topic per article.

On-site SEO is very easy. All you need to do is make sure your target keywords are being used in:

  • The article page’s <title>
  • The URL
  • The headline
  • The main body’s content
  • Internal linking to that page

Step 5: Open it up to the world (and Google) to see and share

The worst thing you can do is hide all of this great content behind a login where the public and Google can’t get to it.

Your instinct may be to restrict your support articles yo just your customers, but that would be a huge mistake.

Open access support databases actually increase sales, through traffic generated via informational searches performed by non-customers.

They find you, they love you, they buy from you, they share you (SEO bump)… and the wonderful cycle all starts all again with another visitor.