More than a decade ago, back when the Internet was not being fully utilized for anything more than banner advertising, I found myself thinking of new and creative ways to leverage this exciting platform.

Although over the years I worked for top publishers, I didn’t always have a huge budget to help with list building efforts.

This turned out to be a good thing, as it helped me be ‘creatively strategic’ in terms of using old, cost-effective tactics in new ways.

You see, back then, I started using a powerful direct response tool (surveys and polls) on my employer’s website to help gauge investor insight, which in turn, could then be tapped into for product development and client retention efforts.

Fast forward seven or so years when a global phenomenon, known as ‘Web 2.0’, is all the rage. Web 2.0, is quite simply, the art of enhancing user experience, interactivity, and participation on the Internet through two-way dialogue. This was the birth of social media marketing.

From a search engine marketing standpoint, the benefits of Web 2.0 were clear and measurable: More traffic and frequent interactivity with visitors equates to better organic (free) rankings in search engine results listings. Getting good organic rankings is a powerful way to find qualified prospective customers.

Knowing this, I tweaked my online poll strategy now to be used on targeted, external websites for lead generation (acquisition) purposes.

Online acquisition polls can help collect names and e-mail addresses, gauge market sentiment, and generate sales via a redirect link to a promotional page. It also allows people to vent and sound off about a hot topic, controversial subject, or current event.

Some websites, like SurveyMonkey.com, can make the process seamless, allowing members to set up free or low-cost surveys (polls). Alternatively, you can ask a qualified web programmer to create a proprietary poll platform using a generic poll script. You can find some examples at hotscripts.com, bgpoll.com/, ballot-box.net/faq.php, micropoll.com, and 2enetworx.com. Just make sure the script has a lead generation component.

Here are eight ways to help make your online acquisition poll a success:

1. Make it engaging. Your poll question should engage the reader, encourage participation, generate interest, and tie into a current event. Remember to add a “comments” field so people can make additional remarks. Sample hot topics include: politics, the economy, health, consumer breakthroughs, the stock market, foreign affairs, trends or forecasts.

2. Be frugal. You can certainly add an online acquisition poll to your own website to capture email addresses from organic traffic. But also consider select, external locations such as high-traffic, synergistic blogs. Blog advertising is a great, inexpensive way to test online polls. There are dozens of health, financial, political, self improvement, and business opportunity blogs where I’ve personally ran ads (polls) paying anywhere from $25 – $300+ per week/per blog. You can contact blog owners directly or use networks such as blogads.com. Prices will vary based on duration and placement of ad as well as blog popularity.

3. Be relevant. Your poll question should be related to your content,that is, product, free e-zine topic, or free bonus report. This will greatly improve your conversion rate (the number of people who actually participate in your poll) and your up-sell rate. Let’s say your free offer is a sign-up for an investment e-zine and your up-sell is a redirect landing page promotion for a paid investment newsletter. In that case, your poll question should be market related, something like “Where is gold headed in 2012?”

4. Offer an incentive. After people take your poll, thank them for their participation by automatically signing them up for your free e-zine and bonus report. Mention clearly they can opt out at any time. And assuming it’s your policy not to sell or rent e-mail names to third parties (and it should be), indicate that next to the sign-up button. This will reassure people that it’s safe to give you their e-mail address.

5. Tag the responses
. Having your poll question somehow tie into your product line makes the names you collect extremely qualified for future offers. Each name should be “tagged” by your database folks or web programmer according to the answer they gave. Segmenting names by category will make it easier for you to send targeted offers later. Let’s say your product line includes an investment e-zine on equities. In that case, your poll question might ask people which investment product they think has the best returns: money market, gold, equities, or options. Those who answer “equities” will be prime candidates for a promotion for the e-zine.

6. Use the results for new initiatives. In addition to collecting names, online polls can gauge sentiment and be used for market research. If an overwhelming number of responders indicate a certain interest that pertains to your business, the result could be an ideal new product or service.

7. Strengthen your new relationships. You need to reinforce the connection between the poll people just participated in and your e-zine. So make sure each name that comes in gets an immediate ‘thank you’ (for taking the poll) redirect or email. Your ‘thank you’ message can include a link for the downloadable free e-book you promised. Also, consider sending a series of ‘bonding’ e-mails to poll takers – all to help them get to know who you are, what you do, and how your information will benefit them. This will help improve lifetime value and customer longevity.

8. Gratify participants with the results. Don’t just leave poll participants wondering … make sure you tell them that the results will be published in your free e-zine or on your website (to encourage repeat visits). This will help increase readership and website traffic.

Marketers have used internal polls for years. But now more than ever, with its cost effectiveness and efficiency, external acquisition polls can be used to help build a business and maintain its visibility.

[Ed note: Wendy Montes de Oca, MBA has nearly 20 years of marketing experience with Fortune 500 companies and top publishers. She is the President of Precision Marketing and Media, LLC, and author of the Amazon best-seller and formerly #1 Internet marketing book, Content Is Cash: Leveraging Great Content and the Web for Increased Traffic, Sales, Leads and Buzz [Que Publishing, Paperback]. To learn more free tactics to help grow your business, click here now! ]

Related Posts

WendyWendy Montes de Oca, MBA is President of Precision Marketing and Media, LLC and publisher of the popular marketing and business building newsletter, Precision Marketing. She is an online marketing and direct response expert with nearly 20 years of experience leading the marketing efforts for top publishers such as Agora/Early to Rise, Weiss Research, and NewsMax as well as Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric, Chase Manhattan Bank, CitiGroup, and Automatic Data Processing.

Her consulting clients (past and present) is like a "Who's Who" including top copywriters, anti-aging nutritionists, online publishers, supplement companies, travel service providers, political websites and more!

Her background includes multi-channel marketing (print, email, direct mail, radio, TV) with expertise in direct response marketing for the Web. Her marketing initiatives helped bring in millions of dollars in revenues for the companies she has worked for.

Wendy received a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John's University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Nova South Eastern University. Throughout her career, she has been recognized with various awards for quality, innovation, teamwork, and new product/new business development.

She is also a distinguished speaker at marketing conferences such as Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA) and author of several marketing and business articles for Early to Rise, Makepeace Total Package, and Target Marketing, just to name a few. Her blog, www.musclemarketing.blogspot.com  was named by marketing industry staple, Best of Web, as "top internet marketing blog." For more information visit www.precisionmarketingmedia.com.