Syed Balkhi is the co-founder of OptinMonster, a conversion rate optimization software that helps you recover abandoning website visitors and turn them into subscribers and customers. On his blog he writes about his business experiences and lessons learned along the way.

Digital marketing is in a constant state of transformation. What was standard practice last month may very well be outdated this month, and the techniques used today could be obsolete in 12 months' time. With that said, it's important to stay on top of new trends while understanding when the time is right to do away with old practices. As the co-founder of a lead generation software business for marketers, I see the state of email marketing and lead generation as being characterized by four major industry trends:

1. Exit Intent Popups and Overlays

You've probably heard the phrase "exit intent" thrown around in recent years, but odds are that you haven't yet made an investment. In most cases, this is because businesses--and the key decision-makers within these businesses--don't fully understand what exit intent technology is or what value it provides.

Basically, exit intent software works with a user's browser to track their mouse movements and display a targeted offer, or opt-in form, when they show signs of leaving the page. By delivering this timely information in a unique overlay, the hope is that you can (a) encourage them to stay on the site and follow through with a conversion, and/or (b) opt in to your email subscriber list.

There is a handful of different types of exit-intent popups and overlays, which makes this technology extremely flexible and adaptable. Here are two of the most commonly used ones:

  • Shopping cart abandonment. From an e-commerce perspective, nothing's more frustrating than shopping cart abandonment. The customer put the item in the cart, so they obviously have some interest. By offering a simple popup that reads, "Don't Go! Here's a Code for 10% Off Any One Item in Your Cart," you can facilitate more conversions.
  • Ongoing promotions. These popups don't always have to be related to exit intent. Sometimes, websites simply present overlays with ongoing promotions to keep customers engaged while on-site. This could look like delivering a popup that says, "Subscribe to Our Email List Now and Receive Access to Special Deals And Promotions."

Currently, large publications like The Washington Post and high-traffic e-commerce sites such as Amazon are experiencing tremendous results from exit-intent popups and overlays. It's passed the test on the "big stages," so it's reasonable to expect thousands of smaller businesses and e-commerce sites to begin adopting these techniques in 2016.

2. Action-Based Personalized Emails

Email personalization has evolved leaps and bounds from where it once was: it's now possible to personalize even the finest details of an email in order to encourage the recipient to follow through with targeted actions.

While companies like Pardot and Infusionsoft developed this robust technology years ago, it's just now catching on. By tweaking details like the following, you can personalize email communications in a way that makes the user feel pursued and cared for.

  • Timing. Have you ever received an email at 3:00 a.m. and wondered, "Why is this person working in the middle of the night?" With these platforms, you can schedule emails so they only send during the recipient's business hours.
  • Behavioral triggers. One of the most effective methods of email personalization involves setting up automated, behavior-triggered emails. These are emails that say something like, "You haven't logged on in seven days--come back and see what's changed!"

Because an investment in action-based personalized emails can require a decent amount of capital and legwork on the front end, small business owners and entrepreneurs have been in a sort of hold pattern for the past few years. However, it appears that the technology is finally cost-effective enough to encourage mass adoption. Moving forward into 2016, it's easy to see tremendous growth in this email automation space--particularly among smaller businesses.

3. Use of Retargeting Pixels

While industry professionals and their customers could argue all day about whether or not retargeting is creepy, the reality is that it works. Retargeting is effective, and most customers are becoming conditioned to it.

Moving forward, the use of retargeting pixels to engage existing customers and keep your brand in front of them will increase. Retargeting technology builds loyalty and reduces churn, so don't be surprised when it becomes a bigger part of marketing automation in 2016.

If you haven't yet considered how a retargeting strategy would look in conjunction with your existing content marketing or PPC campaigns, now's a good time to reevaluate. In most cases, retargeting technology fits seamlessly with existing marketing and advertising strategies and does little to disrupt what you're already doing.

Any time the biggest brands within your industry are ferociously pursuing a technology, it's probably a good sign that it works. In 2016 and beyond, expect more and more businesses to adopt advanced retargeting strategies.

4. Built-In Analytics and Advanced On-Site Tracking

Google's URL builder is a start, but most platforms are adding built-in analytics that allow for much better data collection and insights. Companies like Kissmetrics and Mixpanel are leading the charge, while many marketing automation tools are letting customers create segments based on what users click.

It's this action-based marketing angle that's attracting many Fortune 500 companies and global brands -- and it'll continue to do so moving forward. To give you a better idea of how remarketing through segmentation works, check out the following examples:

  • For users who viewed certain product pages but never added those items to their carts, you can deliver ads for those items.
  • For users who purchased one of your core products, you can deliver ads for a complementary product.
  • For users who added items to their cart but never completed the transaction, you can deliver ads for those products.

What sticks out is how much value you can extract from an individual user or customer. Shopping cart abandonment or bounces from product pages no longer represent the end of the road. Big businesses have gained a lot from advanced on-site tracking in 2015. My prediction is that small businesses will also enjoy these benefits in 2016 and beyond.

Chase the Right Trends Into 2016

Not only are the above trends here to stay, but all signs indicate they'll attract much more attention from smaller businesses in 2016. As an entrepreneur or small business owner, now is the time to get a head start on your industry research by learning as much as possible about these trends and how they impact your email marketing and lead generation strategies.

Published on: Dec 4, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.