A practical "how-to" list for email marketing success, from small to large business.
Email marketing is easy (--ponder--) if you know how to do it. Wow, you have heard that one before, I'm sure. Is that not always the case - with almost anything? So, why even say it?
Because - in this case it is really true.
However, so many small businesses make it more complex than it is; they don't fully understand or grasp the impact of list building, what tools, services and techniques are available, and don't recognize what a successful campaign and its results can and will mean for their businesses.
We believe that a) simplicity of application, b) knowledge - and c) immediate action are the first steps to success. And, everything done in an ethical way - you got permission based marketing. Full speed ahead!
1. Get the legalities out of the way.
So, you should write and always provide a link to your privacy page. Starter text can be obtained from links below - and always make sure to review with your legal counsel for a final review. You will then include a link to it from your outgoing email campaigns.
2. Your site must capture user via first name (last name) & email address.
Burn this into your head - make it your site requirement - day one. There are too many online businesses that forget this simple rule. It's a must. If you are reading this article, then you probably already realize the importance of mailing lists.
Your audience is looking for good (relevant!) materials to solve problems in their life and business. Capture these visitors, and continue to provide this information and free information, you can grow your business by 1000% or more almost overnight, in some cases in any future mailing. It's super-important to have - and build a quality mailing list.
On your 'landing page' (sometimes called a sales page, gateway page, squeeze page, splash page) you should try to include this capture form on the "top of the fold" of your webpage. (Think of this as single sheet of paper, folded in half. The visitors will read the top portion first, from left to right - almost in an F-shaped order).
Therefore, make sure you:
Place this input form in a strategic location, "above the fold"
Make this coding your first priority for implementation - don't make it the last - or never (which many companies do)
3. Example Signup forms.
Search the internet for example sign up forms. A great technique is to look for companies that have this in their URL. Try this in Google (type into search box): allinurl: "free newsletter" (it will search any site that has this contained in the TITLE of the page).
Some examples of successful forms:
http://www.redhotcopy.com/workshop.htm - using interesting "slanted" pop-under and image (a black/white banana)
Note that you should always apply "up selling" techniques: links to other complimentary tools, software, articles & e-books.
In other words, give something away for free.
4. Popups, popunders, popup blockers & search engines.
Traditional popups (yes, the annoying ones) are banned from search engines like Google.
Therefore, smart marketers have come up with other means. They are called "popunders".
As of writing, you should use a pop-up box, and capture first name, last name & email. Don't make it an intrusive one though (it needs to follow your style sheet guidelines, in other words).
Another way to go is to use what's called 'house-banners' -- ads that display compelling graphics, text - and uses your own local advertising system (example: double-click).
Here's what to do to capture interested visitors:
Apply a page that "slides" onto your page, and have it appear after 5 seconds.
Display this email form capture on all pages.
Only show it once, and only repeat 2-3 days later (assuming they come back). Many of the email marketing systems include this feature for you.
Annoying, but it works. I went from 5% signups a day a 75% increase overnight - only a few weeks back.
Tip: Make a note that the popup is from your site- not a partner site. (sometimes popups are thought to be from sponsors, make a note to your visitor that it's from you).
5. Do you have a newsletter you are trying to promote? Up-sell is the answer!
If you are promoting a newsletter, outside of just getting visitors to sign up, there are 3rd parties vendors that can help you publish and sell your newsletter. Throughout all campaigns, you must make sure to provide useful, relevant and unique content.
Some options for you:
Coregcomplete.com - get signups on thank you pages of other subscription forms this is a great way to promote your wares
Partner with companies you find, and call them up. Search for 'newsletter publishers' in Google.
When you write articles (yes, you should) - make sure to make a note in the "About Author" that you publish or have newsletters available.
TIP/Warning: Beware of commercial co-regs -- they typically have poor quality names and offers.
6. Get the best and highest performing email service.
Don't skimp here. A few extra dollars a month can really save you a lot of headaches. We worked with one company that went from about 1,000 emails on their list, down to about 100 in 24 hours, (when they switched providers). They quickly realized that they had made a bad choice.
Here's what to consider initially:
ASP hosted solutions are now connected with ISPs to ensure uptime/deliverability
Desktop applications can work well for you, for example, Gamma Dyne Mailer: http://www.soft32.com/download_4469.html
Autoresponse Plus, GetResponse, Aweber are a good place to start reviewing options.
You can also add monitoring services to make sure that emails get delivered, and keep the highest integrity of your emails via tracking.
Here are a few companies that work with monitoring:
Other email marketing services to review are:
1stshoppingcart (shopping cart, affiliate programs and autoresponder)
You also need to understand and read the updated laws about email marketing and spam. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2004 is FTC governed, and the they will pursue any SPAM artist to the fullest extent of the law.
Make sure you have:
Be careful where you get the lists
Avoid fraudulent subject lines
Porn must be identified in subject line (SEXUALLY EXPLICIT)
Opt-out lists, including 'double-opt-in' (user must click to approve the email)
Tip: It's important to have a strict and trusted email service. Reputable email marketing companies will upload a few emails from your list and test your list to verify. Then, they'll approve or deny you.
7. Test, test & track, track.
No MBA student, no computer scientist, web braniac or 30 year veteran of marketing, both online and off - can predict what visitors will click on, and why. We can all make really great educated guesses, but they are only that. So, you really need to test your campaigns. Online marketing compared to traditional marketing (print, media) is vastly different.
Here's how to do it:
Test the campaigns with A/B Split test tactics - specifically on subject line and ad copy, it can help improve newsletter and pages immensely. (A/B refers to capability of serving up different content or ads, or headlines, sections on your page and campaign - that can be tracked)
Got campaigner and topica are high-end products, aweber is doing split-testing now (we use this - with great success)
Good reporting and database segmentation to section off to demographics, recency, frequency, sales totals
Use relevant and powerful headlines. Use wordtracker.com and keyworddiscovery.com to get keywords to back up your headline in content. (Ed Note: The site http://los-angeles.microsaw.com is dedicated to copywriting for the Internet)
8. Formatting and send options.
Formatting is an important element of any newsletter or mailing. Unfortunately, a love of companies go wild on graphics, sound, multi-media to present "their" branding or look/feel. It's important to have a clean mailer.
What are the options? See a few below:
combination of the above & multi-part MIME
Key facts to consider:
Text more easily can penetrate spam filters, gets through company firewalls, but only preferred by 15% to 25%.
HTML has more advantages, will double or triple the click-through on text, nicer, pretty graphics, tracking better. It can also track opens, click-thrus and conversions. If the email marketing system supports it (most do) - send both.
Tip 1: Send Multi-part MIME, not just straight HTML
Tip 2: Place a URL reference in email to actual content on your website
Tip 3: Microsoft Outlook "Preview" mode: make sure it looks ok. Many will have this "on" by default - and it may reflect your email poorly (try it!). MarketingSherpa.com has a great article on this and how it can affect "opens". Graphics are often blocked too, so your intended "pretty" newsletter may not look the way you planned under these circumstances.
Tip 4: Make sure font is large enough for "older" folks and the smaller monitors
9. How often to send? How about text size?
In company marketing strategy meetings, where all the 'masters' will create their online strategies -- do not seem to agree. We'll outline a few scenarios below.
Daily if you have a good "alert" system (ex: Google alerts) - this will not make sense for most companies. CNN news alerts are OK though.
Once a week.
Weekly OK if you have a strong listener base, and compelling content.
Once a month.
Monthly probably best for most small businesses. Overall - you want to retain "mindshare" - so they don't forget you, but still not too much "in their face".
How long should the text be?
Short, with longer description on website. People "scan", not read
Keep it tight, focused on brief -- "read here for more" (link to full page) …
Tip 1: Archive URL's on your site, and allow it to be searched later. It's "spider-food", and you get recognized as an expert as well.
Tip 2: Also, a link to "send to friend" ('found this article, thought you'd be interested')
Tip 3: Use personalization (Dear Bob, Hello Cathy, etc.) - increases opening and reading by 50-60%. Work on the relationship -- build trust and credibility. Note: Don't overuse in the newsletter! Better to be a little conservative, than too friendly.
10. Campaigns and newsletters take time. How-to get it done in your workweek.
Unless you have a dedicated staff, you must do this yourself. Add this task to your calendar (with a recurring reminder), and consider this your "must-do" work.
Tips that work well:
Allocate some time your calendar, book it - and execute, don't delay
Use it as a marketing expense, track it in the books
Hire a writer (guru.com, elance.com) - and use search for 'copywriters' (in your niche)
Test with innovative audio and video options, outsource if necessary
Make sure to include testimonials
Auto responders are a fantastic and simple way to turn your business on automated 24x7 attendance. Use them, learn them and build your list and responsiveness from this feature alone. Your list will grow, which you will use for future mailings and offers. Auto-responders are software systems that allow for total automation of messaging.
Here are another few tips for you to help build your list and credibility:
Follow up for an e-Book (example: 3 days after first mailing, send "did you get the email?" In that mailing, provide a link to a free download e-book, offers, etc)
Follow up to the subscription - 'thank you'
Training series ("5-day SEO email course") -- see example on http://www.microsaw.com seo email course
Create free email courses, courses send every 1-2 days for a short period (less than a week).
12. Isn't use of email as a business tool dead?
Answer: No it is not. It's part of our lives, and email is still very effective. It's accepted, and with filters and advanced software solutions, it is managed.
Here are some tips and tools:
Many programs use filtering (ISP)
Bounces can be recorded: soft, hard (to edit/maintenance your list)
Cloudmark Desktop (report spam) - helps the community at large
Amazon does a lot of things with email. They have applied a cool system with personalization. They have supposedly as high as a 14% conversion rate!
Tip: Do you need to check your email for SPAM? Try sending your campaign or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=TEST -- you'll get an email response back with a rating of 0 through 5.
13. Wave of the future - "white-listing".
Email marketing is not going away, as some have alluded to. The key is to stay within the form and function of the email marketing community. Newer options exist for creating "white lists" (universally accepted lists) - a few of these new services are listed here:
Sender Certification is an important change which has been used for a while already.
Here are a few companies:
Sender Score Certified
Habeas is expensive at $15,000 a year, and only recommended for serious, large email marketing companies. Goodmailsystems (used by AOL and Yahoo) is also another high-end product. Search on Google for 'email sender certification'.
Tip: Definitely a "future" thing, and growing in use today. You get a (good) reputation for being an email sender, and can build a strong business around this as well.
14. What other technical issues should I review?
Check spelling, graphics, relative links, use the free software XENU to get amazingly detailed reports. The Webmaster reports at the bottom of one of their reports provide a lot of good detail, perfect for executive overview.
Make sure to use http://, not just [http://www..]. in your LINK references. Your link may not work without it.
Research shows that Tue, Wed, Thu works well for B2B (but, make sure to test!)
Some B2C lists are better on the weekends (personal feeling about this)
15. Landing pages.
We've talked about this topic in several places in the article. It's so important, we dedicate a special section here.
A landing page is a strategically developed (content and visuals) page that you bring your potential customers to. It's a call-to-action page. Many just bring their prospective customers to a home page where other non-related items may appear, including no specific instructions. You only have a few seconds to get him or her to react.
If you are not great at writing, you can hire a copywriter, check elance.com and guru.com, sometimes as low as 30-40 bucks for a pretty good writer.
Test, test, test and location, location, location.
You must test and track (metrics) your pages and run A/B splits (change a few things like color, title, subhead, etc - and not too much at the same time). You can use a free service Google analytics to get started.
More expensive ones are clicktracks, omniture, hitbox, hitlens - and the ultimate wholly grail testing, tuning and tracking system is the taguchi models (multi-variant optimizers).
The human eye scans from top left to right in a downstream manner.
The call-to-action items (like "sign up for my newsletter") would get optimal viewing if placed here, in this F-shaped Golden Triangle. Also, as we mentioned - above the fold!
Make sure you have some free downloads and give-aways, surfers love quizzes and mini-tests, including email courses, using autoresponders for immediate follow-up and tracking.
Your email campaigns should take them to a landing page for more / better conversion.
Tip: Add a "Special Message" block on your page and in your email text and allow users to discuss on your forum or in your blog link.
Jon Rognerud is a recognized authority on the subject of SEO and Online Marketing, and has spent over 10 years developing websites and marketing solutions for companies like Overture, Yahoo and Expedia.
His website, Los Angeles Search Marketing at [http://www.microsaw.com], provides a wealth of informative articles, resources and complimentary email courses on everything you will ever need to know about SEO and Search Marketing. He lives with his family in Southern California.