Check out Trada’s other posts in our online marketing series: How to Market Your Business on Twitter, How to Market Your Business on Facebook, How to Market Your Business with a Blog, and How to Market Your Business with Video. Leave us a tip of your own on marketing with email, and the best comment will win a $25 Amazon gift card. Comments must be made by Sunday, January 29 at 11pm ET.
E-mail marketing is an extremely effective tool — if used correctly. I learned from the lessons of hard knocks on what to do and what not to do. As with everything, it’s always better to ask the experts. This time we asked experts from Marketo, SendGrid and social media agency Room 214 for their thoughts on how to use email marketing, understanding regulations and how to create email marketing lists.
Meet the Experts:
Email marketing is one of the most heavily regulated online marketing components. What do companies need to know before getting started with email marketing?
Ingrid Getzan: Companies need to know the very basics; go with a trusted email software company, don’t buy lists, don’t use certain words in the subject line that will be marked as spam, know an acceptable frequency to send emails, and most importantly, know your plan.
Too many businesses send out emails because they think they should, without having a clear agenda of what they would like to communicate. There is no better way to get blacklisted then sending out irrelevant or spammy emails – a sure way to kill your email marketing efforts immediately. Sit down and figure out at least a 6 month plan of what you want to tell to your subscribers. Figure out why they want to receive your email and make the information within your email valuable to them. Don’t just pick a template or extend promotional offers to them – make it exclusive and worth their time.
Maria Pergolino: Get familiar with Can-Spam Laws – this goes far beyond the laws in your country, extending to anywhere you market. Just because you are in the US, doesn’t mean can ignore laws in other countries you sell your goods. To learn about Can-Spam Laws, check out this great guide by the FTC.
Remember that regulations should not be your only motivator for following email best practices. Companies who go beyond regulations and implement best practices including sending relevant information, personalizing content, and creating list growth through quality content will improve deliverability ensuring better ROI from email marketing programs.
Tim Falls: Establish a foundation of understanding:
Familiarize yourself with the “best practices” by…
– following the most reputable blogs out there (deliverability.com, returnpath.net, blogs of the leading companies in the space)
– reading the legalese and introduce yourself to the the technical requirements – CAN SPAM Act of 2003, DKIM, SPF. You don’t have to memorize or be an expert in it all (the ESPs do that for you), but be aware of it all!
At a fundamental level, you must understand what email receivers expect from email senders. By email receivers, I mean ISPs (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, Verizon, Comcast, etc) and end recipients (consumers/individuals, companies/organizations).
ISPs are watching – know what they’re watching for, such as sending rates, content characteristics, sender identification/verification, recognized IP addresses, etc.
End recipients are your critics – once your email makes it past an ISP’s gates, you still have to pass the tests of the recipient. Did they opt in (or do they remember doing so) – i.e., are they expecting an email from you? Is your content interesting/valuable? Even if they opted in and have never attempted to unsubscribe from your email, there’s nothing stopping them from clicking that “Report SPAM” button! It’s always good to simply ‘put yourself in their shoes’, as the old adage goes, and ask yourself, “would I want to find this email in my inbox?”
What techniques can a company use to assemble an email marketing list?
Maria Pergolino: I believe the least effective way to grow a list is through list purchases. Instead, grow your list with quality thought leadership promoted through your website, social media, and paid programs (both online and offline). Starting small is okay if you don’t have a big budget or lots of resources. What you’ll see is list growth that turns to pipeline and ultimately revenue, allowing your budget to grow. This will allow you to continue to grow your list at the rate you need to provide demand, ensuring a ‘well fed’ sales team.
Tim Falls: In my opinion, you should only assemble a list by collecting email addresses in a very deliberate and transparent manner. Examples of email-gathering practices that I would deem acceptable: when a new customer creates and account or signs up for your service, when a customer makes a purchase, when a person subscribes to your newsletter or RSS, when a visitor to your site downloads a white paper or case study, when a prospect fills in a “contact me” form, when a person registers and/or attends an event you’ve hosted or sponsored…and the list goes on.
Note: In any of these cases, the person providing his/her email address should be unmistakably certain that he/she has “opted in” to receiving future email communications from your company.
There are tons of ways to purchase lists, partial lists or single email addresses. Some seem more legit than others. I advise marketers to lean toward the extreme side of caution – as I alluded to in the previous answer, I only want to send to someone that is expecting my email.
Ingrid Getzan: Begin with the basics – a sign up form on your website in a noticeable position that is accessible from every page, such as in the header or footer, asking just for the visitor’s email address (use a follow-up email or other opportunities to gather information from your subscribers at a later time). Also, make sure to have a sign-up landing page that can be linked from updates on Facebook and Twitter. A company can also design a tab on Facebook exclusive to signing-up for their email newsletter.
Other strategies include a link to sign up in email signatures (for everyone in the company), a call to action on printed materials and running a PPC campaign.
What metrics should a company look at to determine the success of their email marketing program?
Ingrid Getzan: I really don’t think it’s that necessary to move past the basics, unless you’ve already mastered them, which may actually be nearly impossible as there is always room for improvement. Open rate, click-through rate, bounce rate, and conversion rate for ecommerce companies (or non-ecommerce if goals are set-up in Google Analytics). It’s always fun to play around and figure out more detailed stats such as subscriber retention rate and click-to-deliver rates, but again, it’s the main four that really should be the focus.
Maria Pergolino: Many companies use email marketing as a way to engage those already in their database, so measuring results by lead source doesn’t work in this case. Instead, look at which emails drove those in your database to take next steps like asking for a demo, signing up for a trial, or emailing a sales rep. And definitely don’t rely on unsubscribes or open rates to determine if emails are working. These stats only help you improve the quality of your emails, but don’t determine if your emails drove revenue for your organization.
Tim Falls: Delivery first – did it make it to the inbox?! In order to determine this, you’ll want to be aware of any bounces, blocks, invalid email addresses, IP (or, eventually, domain) blacklistings, etc. If none of these things are occurring, you’re probably in there!
Once you’re confident that your messages are landing in the inbox, examine your open and click rates. If those aren’t looking so hot, check out your rates of unsubscribes and spam report. If these are high, go back to the drawing board and evaluate your list hygiene and quality of content.
What suggestions do you have for a company looking to improve their open and click-through rates?
Maria Pergolino: Poor open rates are typically caused by poor deliverability, bad lists or uninteresting subject lines. Poor click-through rates are typically caused poor segmentation or bad content and design. Try to isolate each of these to determine the culprit, and then implement best practices to improve results.
Tim Falls: Open rates: Subject lines are big – they should be appropriately worded, informational and concise.
Click rates: Content should be valuable, compelling and of interest to the audience. Make your calls to action clear and recognizable.
Open & Click rates: Target your messages – segment your audience into smaller, distinct groups, based on whatever demographic information you have available and that is relevant to your efforts. After segmentation, you can tailor your messages to those segments much easier. Higher levels of relevance lead to better results!
Ingrid Getzan: The key is to find out what works for your business. This sounds basic, but many businesses follow the ‘Tuesday – Thursday morning’ rule when sending out an email. Just because a larger business has reported they get the most open rates at that time, doesn’t mean your business will. You may even come to find that Saturday or Sunday morning works best. A good baseline to start is to figure out through your analytics what time of day most purchases are made or when you have the most traffic to your site. Secondly, figure out the day of the week. It’s a little tricky to navigate these stats in Google Analytics, but once you know the formula, it can be done easily.
After you know the most popular day and time for your business, begin by sending emails exactly at that time. Then, begin to A/B test other times, with the same subject and same email, to determine what produces the most successful open rates. Once you figure that out (and you’ll want to revisit every 6 months or so), then move to testing subject lines. The next stop, tackling click-throughs, in which the options really are limitless. Test your call to action, your layout, your landing pages – everything. Test, test and retest is really the only way to improve. It’s a never ending spiral, but just remember you can always improve.
What matters more? The design of the email or the content in it?
Ingrid Getzan: Can I say both? Pretty please? Okay, then, both! Depending on what your message is, one month the design could be more important and the next, the content (think newsletter versus promotional email if you send both). Play with it and figure out the best balance for your subscribers, and what the best balance is for what you’re attempting to convey. You may find this changes, constantly.
Tim Falls: Both are important. But you should focus on creating good content first. Once you have that nailed, then you can make it pretty. Plain text emails aren’t all that bad, and, by following best practices, you will always include a plain text version of any HTML email you send.
Maria Pergolino: I believe the content is more important than design. Often our best converting and revenue driving emails are text only, proving to us it’s the content that is key!
Anything else you think marketers should know about email marketing?
Tim Falls: Reiteration: put yourself in their shoes! Before you send an email to thousands of people, look at that same email from the perspective of one of the PEOPLE on the list. Would you invite it into the friendly confines of your inbox?
Maria Pergolino: We didn’t talk much about deliverability. Email deliverability is often seen as something that should be left to the email service provider, but the majority of your deliverability is caused by who you email to or what is in the email. Make sure you brush up on your deliverability know-how to ensure your efforts in email marketing don’t go wasted because your email doesn’t make it into the inbox.
Ingrid Getzan: It’s still extremely powerful – and fun. Always test, and always improve.
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