Email Marketing Best Practices 101

Email has been around a while, so you’d think marketing people would understand best practices by now. But recent experience proves otherwise.

A company started sending me emails I did not subscribe to. When I tried to unsubscribe, the form said I would be removed from “list 1.” The next day, I continued to receive emails from the company and when I again tried to unsubscribe, the form said I would be removed from “list 2.” This went on for some time. When it ended, I began getting emails from a dozen other sources.

I purchased a product from a consultant and opted in to the newsletter. This consultant began sending me a relentless stream of emails, often multiple times a day, which is not what I signed up for. Fortunately, I had used a utility Yahoo address rather than one of my primary addresses, so I just abandoned the address.

Around Christmas, I purchased a book of hockey game tickets for a family member from a well-known ticket vendor. You know who I mean. They began sending me emails and when I tried to opt out, discovered that they called these “administrative” emails and that I could not not opt out. That’s right. They refused to allow me to opt out. I had to block the address to make the emails stop.

These are just three examples of bad email marketing. They display deep ignorance about how email works, what consumers want, and the best practices that can make it successful.

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Huh? Is your e-mail advertising confusing?

E-mail advertising has always been a simple and economical way to advertise. And now that economies all over the world are in the tank, there’s more incentive than ever to use e-mail to sell products and services.

But simple and cheap doesn’t always translate into “successful.” Sometimes I receive an e-mail that makes me say, “Huh?”confusing email

This recently happened when I received the e-mail ad pictured to the right.

First, I can’t read the copy. Maybe that makes me unsophisticated, but sorry, I don’t speak or read French.

Second, what exactly does “Air Email” mean? It appears to be the name of the company but, huh? Is this supposed to be like Air Mail? That used to mean mail transported by plane, signifying that it was delivered fast. Today Air Mail is a trademark of the United States Postal Service and refers to international mail.

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4 subject line tricks to boost e-mail open rates

Subject lines are to e-mail as teaser copy is to direct mail.

The subject line is the first thing people see when they receive your e-mail message. If it grabs their attention and creates curiosity, your message gets opened and read. Otherwise, your message gets deleted.

Everyone has their own ideas about what makes for good subject lines, but MarketingSherpa recently crunched the numbers on a year’s worth of newsletter data. The results produced four key strategies.

1. “Show value in the first two words”

You can’t be clever or mysterious. People get way too much e-mail to waste time on anything that doesn’t convey an immediate benefit. Take a look at the subject lines from Sherpa’s top 10 newsletter performers:

Top 12 Email Newsletter Mistakes
Simple Email Link Change Lifts Clicks
CAN-SPAM – Must-Know Updates
Best Time to Send Email: Test Results
6 Actions to Lift Clickthroughs: New Data
Your Copy of Annual Email Study Results Enclosed
HTML vs Text: Which Works Better?
Newsletter Design Exclusive Data
Email Audit PDF: How-to & Checklist
How to Conduct Email Surveys

I’m not sure where they get the idea that it’s specifically the first two words that make a difference, but it’s clear that all of the subject lines convey a benefit quickly and clearly, with relevant words near the beginning. Read more

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FTC approves new anti-spam rules

If you thought CAN-SPAM was the end of e-mail spam rules, you’ve been fooling yourself. The Federal Trade Commission recently issued four new rules to tighten CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003). The rules are meant to fine-tune existing rules and best practices.

1. An e-mail recipient cannot be required to pay a fee, provide information other than his or her e-mail address and opt-out preferences, or take any steps other than sending a reply e-mail message or visiting a single Internet Web page to opt out of receiving future e-mail from a sender.

2. The definition of “sender” has been modified to make it easier to determine which of multiple parties advertising in a single e-mail message is responsible for complying with the Act’s opt-out requirements.

3. A “sender” of commercial e-mail can include an accurately-registered post office box or private mailbox established under United States Postal Service regulations to satisfy the Act’s requirement that a commercial e-mail display a “valid physical postal address.”

4. A definition of the term “person” has been added to clarify that CAN-SPAM’s obligations are not limited to natural persons.

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E-mail marketing tips from the pros

Recently, I attended a webinar on e-mail marketing sponsored by Target Marketing. There were no big surprises. The experts discussed a few tactical principles that generally help improve effectiveness. Here’s a summary with some of my own thoughts thrown in:

1. Keep your copy short. E-mail is not as much a reader medium as a scanner medium. People get a lot of e-mail and want to breeze through it. If you have a big pitch, link to a page where you can expand on your topic.

2. Keep the design simple. Yes, many people have high-speed connections. But as bandwidth has increased so has volume. Simple designs with small, optimized images load quickly. Text-only messages loads even faster and may have the added benefit of avoiding spam filters, since a lot of spam is now image-based.

3. Give people several clicks. There may be some debate on how many, but from what the gurus said in this webinar and from my own experience, I’d say from 3 to 7 links on average. However, the experts didn’t talk much about text e-mails which can work quite well with a couple sentences and one link. Then there are e-mail newsletter formats that could have dozens. So as always, rules of thumb are not really rules. Read more

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The e-mail marketing problem you never knew you had (and why you can’t fix it)

If you’ve been doing e-mail marketing for more than a week, you know about some of the problems with this exciting new medium.

Lists filled with undeliverable addresses, wildly inconsistent spam filtering rules across e-mail servers, and inconsistent rendering of design by different e-mail readers are some of the most common issues that will plague you.

But there’s one pernicious problem you probably don’t know about. It’s lurking behind every e-mail marketing campaign you launch. And it can cause you enormous grief.

The worst part? You can’t do a darn thing about it.

I’m talking about the system administrators who sit in front of computer screens and make on-the-fly decisions about your e-mail.

The politically correct line is that marketers and Internet tech guys are on the same side, both wanting to block spam and assure the delivery of properly conceived e-mail marketing. The reality is that many system administrators are antagonistic to the commercialization of the Internet. And they’re not at all happy about your using e-mail to sell things.

One such system administrator recently told me, “CAN-SPAM isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. What you have to watch out for are system administrators having a bad week.” In his opinion, ANY e-mail you send that isn’t specifically requested is spam. Period. End of discussion.

That probably strikes you as extreme. But it’s not uncommon. For some, spam has come to mean just about any e-mail that people don’t want, whether the sender follows the rules or not. Read more

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