We’ve mentioned before in previous posts that despite its age in terms of the Internet, email is still one of the most widely used forms of online communication. Email marketing also remains an effective means of putting your message out to prospects. It’s also really easy to do it wrong, so check out these tips for developing a solid email marketing strategy.
Email List Building
Crafting an email marketing campaign is very time-consuming, and you don’t want that time wasted on people who don’t care about your message, or who didn’t even want to receive it in the first place. Does anyone like email solicitations? Most of the time, no. You can, however, ensure that those receiving emails from you or your company are at peace with the fact that they are receiving correspondence from you. When you collect emails to build a list, do it in an honest way. No matter how you go about collecting information, make sure people know that they could potentially receive other unrelated emails from you in the future. There is nothing more aggravating than receiving an email from a company, knowing that they acquired your address an unethical manner. It won’t matter how well-constructed the message is if someone doesn’t want it in the first place.
Email Tracking Systems
Most online and offline marketing tasks are iterative by nature. You build, implement, analyze and tweak until you get a satisfactory result. The bonus with online marketing is that metrics are much more measurable. If you are going it alone without third party email software, make sure you use tracking software to measure your effectiveness. Google Analytics is a great alternative. You can use the URL builder to place custom URLs into your messages and see which recipients clicked on a link in your email. If you have a specific landing page, you can create goals in analytics to measure how many people clicked through to your page and did what you wanted them to do. Even if you don’t have access to sophisticated tracking, make sure you have at least something in place to measure your activities.
Email marketing isn’t a one-shot deal. To be successful at selling things through email, you have to keep tapping your contact list over a long period of time. There are a few keys to making this work, one of which is consistency. You should study your target market and decide on a time that is most effective to send email messages. Then, create an editorial calendar of when you will send your messages over the next month, the next couple of months or even throughout the year. It’s best to have your messages constructed beforehand. At the very least, you should construct the themes of each message. Scrambling at the last minute to get things out the door is stressful, and it creates a greater chance for error.
Create a Compelling Subject Line
Assuming your message makes it past the mine field of spam filters and the barbed-wire fence of a prospect’s personal account filters, you only have so many characters to entice them to open your message. This is the subject line of your email, and a few factors affect its success.
- Length: Obviously, this needs to be short; however, there is debate as to how short it should be. It has long been thought that a subject line of 50 characters or less (about five words) is optimal. Other studies have shown that shorter subject lines have higher open rates, but longer ones (70 to 100 characters) have better conversion rates. So what do you do? Continue to keep your subject short, and if the text you want to use in the subject is essential for getting recipients to open the message, you can feel comfortable about using more. If you are sending emails to a highly targeted audience, longer subject lines lend themselves well here. Otherwise, stick to the 50-characters-or-less rule.
- Message: Your message must be tailored to your audience, and it must give a hint as to the value proposition contained within. Avoid using spammy words and phrases like “free,” “apply now,” “save,” “mortgage rates,” “dear friend” or “word from home.” Some of these words are also known as “red flag” words that are commonly used by spammers. Undoubtedly, there are many reputable people out there selling similar products and services that are really trying to connect with their prospects. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of phrases that will send your message straight to the spam folder.
- Be Clear: The subject line is sort of like an ad for the main content of your email. It must reflect the content contained within the email and be sort of a summary or teaser to the body of the email. The subject is also only the first step in getting someone’s attention, and if you do not deliver on what was hinted at in the subject, you will lose the person. Make sure these two elements (subject and body) are consistent.
The Body of your Email
Now we are on to the meat of the whole thing. You sent 3,000 emails. 90% of your recipients actually received the message in their inboxes. Another 20% actually opened it. This is the moment you have been waiting for, but several things can kill your dream of getting your message across to the recipient.
- Long emails: Unless you are a publisher and your strategy is to send samples of new titles to prospects, don’t make a long email. It’s painfully clear these days that people are busy. They have a gazillion things going on, and the fact that they actually opened your email means two things — they are interested in what you have to say, and they have a couple seconds to spare. Whether your email has one paragraph or blocks and blocks of text, they are only reading the first sentence to decide if this is something they really want to commit to. A shorter email increases the chance that they will read the whole thing, and might actually do what you want them to do. Even if they are only marginally interested after the first one or two sentences, if they see that the whole thing isn’t that long, they will continue. By contrast, if the whole email is a page long, they quickly realize that they only had a second of spare time to begin with, and you have lost them.
- Actions: Most emails sent by marketers these days have some sort of link that they want you to follow. Many of the same principles that apply to landing pages also apply to email messages. The action that you want recipients to perform should be the most obvious thing in the email. It should also be easy, and you should let them know it’s easy. Don’t bury your action under mounds of text or put it at the end of an email. Don’t make it too small or drown it out with tons of graphics and design work. Make the layout simple, and offer your recipients one choice, which is the action you want them to perform.
- Bad copy: People lose faith in a web page that has poorly written content, and the same is true for emails. If your copy is filled with grammar and spelling errors, people subconsciously start thinking, “what else does this person screw up?” Poorly written copy screams carelessness and/or incompetence; two things you do not want a prospect to think of you. Yes, everyone makes mistakes (I am guilty of this, as well), but there are tactics you can use to prevent it from happening. Have a colleague, friend, employee or some other set of eyes read your message before it goes out to the masses. It’s very easy for the best writers to miss mistakes that are right in front of them simply because they have been looking at the copy for too long.
- Call to action: Every email should have a call to action. Like the action you want recipients to perform, this text should be highly visible. Use a command verb that relates to what you are offering as a start. This could be “download,” “sign up,” “buy,” “order,” “start,” “compare,” or “subscribe.” You should also provide a reason why your recipient should take the call to action. Tell them what’s in it for them. Adding a sense of urgency is also effective; however, you shouldn’t be too overbearing. If your call to action is weak or nonexistent, readers may not feel enticed to take the next step.
Here are some examples of companies that are constructing their emails effectively:
Jetsetter does a nice job of simply using images to entice recipients to click on their offers. The action is very obvious, and it is contrasted against other elements of the message (the big, orange button under each image).
While I can’t speak highly of the frequency practices of Groupon, they do have a very appealing layout to their emails. There isn’t a lot of clutter, and it’s very clear about how to take advantage of the offers contained within.
Use Images Sparingly
This is one of the most challenging parts of email marketing. One of the best ways to make your message visually appealing is with images. Most web- and desktop-based email clients, however, do not support automatic download of images for security reasons. Even trusted senders identified by some of the most widely used email applications still have images blocked by default. If you use a third-party email provider, take advantage of templates that utilize HTML and CSS for construction and styling of your emails. If you are designing your own emails, use programming languages as opposed to images. Ultimately, the use of images is unavoidable, but you should try to use programming for style wherever possible. Just realize that there is a greater chance that fewer people will see your message as it was meant to be seen if you have crucial elements as images instead of text or programming. You should never make the content (i.e. body of your email) an image. Also, if you have an image made into a link in your email, be sure to place alternate text that is descriptive enough for someone to follow should the image not appear.
What’s in it for Recipients?
Whatever the reason for your email to prospects, make sure it is worth the while to open and read. Provide value in some way, whether it’s a free download or an offer of some kind like a discount. Don’t just send emails promoting yourself and your business — no one will care. Unless they are sitting at their computer thinking, “wow I really wish someone would send me an email about how they are the best office-supplies retailer in the Midwest,” your message will not be well-received. There needs to be something in it for the recipient. Examples include a free download, important or compelling news, special offers and other things of that nature.
Use Real Senders
Along with your subject line, you also have the opportunity to customize the sender that appears for the recipient. Whether you are a large corporation or a small business, the temptation to look professional is the same. People often want to input some arbitrary email handle like “firstname.lastname@example.org” or the company name. This may seem like a good idea, but in reality, people automatically avoid messages from senders that are not a person, but an entity. Who wants to talk to a business? People want to hear from real people, and personalizing your sender with a real name is much more enticing to people. When you see a personal name in your inbox, you might think it’s from someone you know. Once you realize it’s not someone you know, you may still be intrigued as to why this person you don’t know is emailing you. When we see company names, we automatically equate that with selling.
Don’t Overwhelm your List
It’s tempting to blast a list of contacts with emails all throughout the week. Some marketers even do it a couple times a day. Unless you have clear data that your target audience wants to hear from you this much, this is a sure-fire way to receive a ton of opt-outs and maybe even angry phone calls. The frequency for communication is different for every niche and once you have a good idea of what that is, stick to it. People don’t mind receiving email correspondence from companies that have permission to do so as long as the correspondence is not annoying. Sending messages that are poorly written and offer nothing to the recipient are irritating enough. Sending even the most well-designed emails too frequently will destroy your email list.
Optimize your Conversion Funnel
This strategy has less to do with your email and more to do with what happens once someone takes the next step past your email correspondence. Having a well-constructed and written email message is only the first step in the process to convert someone to a customer or sell more things to current customers. You have to make sure your conversion funnel (whether that be a video, an opt-in form, a product page or some other landing page) also needs to be well-built. It needs to be clear and easy to complete. There must be as few steps as possible, and messaging must be consistent with your email.
Use Third-Party Software
If you are serious about email marketing, the use of third-party vendors who do it well is recommended highly. Companies like iContact, Constanct Contact or Mail Chimp offer easy-to-use interfaces and great tracking features. Marketers are able to see open rates, click through rates, and other metrics. Most mainstream programs allow you to easily manage opt-outs and other elements of contact lists. They also have tons of templates that make inserting and organizing images, links and text a snap. In general, they make the entire process of managing email campaigns and the caveats associated with them all that much easier. Of course, many of these programs are paid, but the prices are reasonable compared with the lost opportunity costs of designing your own email templates, managing contact lists in clunky spreadsheets and, in general, making a poor impression on prospects if your process is not professional.
Hopefully, these tips can point you in the direction of having a successful email marketing campaign. What strategies have you used for marketing through email? Do you like using third-party services or doing things on your own?