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Catch and Release Tips for E-Mail Marketing

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Posted July 9, 2007 By Vangie Beal     Feedback

E-mail marketing is an affordable way to turn browsers into buyers. We outline tips for building a subscriber list and creating a newsletter that's not only profitable, but fun to read.

Article courtesy of

E-mail marketing is an affordable way for small Web shop owners to build a customer database. The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) lists the median return-on-investment for e-mail marketing at $51 for every $1 spent, so you almost can't afford not to try it.

And, since a business can expect to have six to seven interactions with a person before he or she makes a purchase, it's prudent to use a newsletter as a way to encourage trust and gain customers. However, a stand-out newsletter that will be popular with your subscribers requires some planning. Here we provide tips for building an e-mail database that you can mine for successful e-mail marketing campaigns such as newsletters and other promotions.

Tips to Grow Your Subscriber List
When building your reader database, the obvious starting place is to include a form on your Web site where visitors can subscribe to your newsletter. You will also want to promote it everywhere that you promote your business. For example, you can add details to your business cards, or offer printed versions with sign-up information at industry trade shows and events you attend.

Eric Groves, senior vice president of sales and business development at Constant Contact, says businesses need to communicate to customers the value of subscribing to their newsletter. "Keep a sign-up form on the Web site, but also remember to take advantage of every opportunity to gain a subscriber and grow your list. Talk to your employees and customer service representatives and ensure they are plugging your newsletter at every opportunity."

Another way to encourage new subscribers is to keep archives of your mailings on your Web site. People may find this content through Web searches and decide to sign up.

And, according to EmailLabs, a company offering e-mail marketing solutions, Web versions of the newsletter are also important because some subscribers may not be able to read the content correctly in their e-mail client. Providing a Web or text option ensures recipients can view the e-mail as it was intended, so you should always make Web versions available.

Creating Consistent Headers and Quality Content
Once you have a list of readers, you naturally have to decide what you want to communicate to them in your newsletter. Groves says that you need to consider several key issues when writing your e-mail marketing piece.

"The first hurdle is getting the newsletter read by the subscriber, which makes both the "From" and subject lines of your e-mail more important than you might think. The "From" line needs to answer the subscriber's question of 'Do I know you?,' and you can expect around 60 percent of your subscribers to decide whether to read the e-mail based on that answer. If subscribers recognize you, they may move on to the subject line before opening the e-mail to immediately determine 'Do I care about this e-mail?'"

One suggestion is to use your domain name as the "From" name. For instance, could read from "Ecommerce-Guide." Or, if you are a part of a company engaged in sales or support where you build your own customer list, it is perfectly appropriate to use your own name as it would be recognized by those you have personally dealt with. The most important thing to remember is to be consistent and always use the same name address on every mail out.

The subject line should be engaging and allude to the content contained in the e-mail. For example, a garden center may use something like "Three Tips to Attract Butterflies," letting the reader know it is an informative quick tip list. Though it seems counter-intuitive, for newsletters, less is more, meaning you should edit content down to a digestible format that won't put off busy readers. The same garden center e-mail with 40 tips instead of three would not be as effective, according to marketers.

Groves also said that the best content is not necessarily about you — it's more about what you know. "Knowledge will encourage sales, and also build your subscription list at a zero cost of acquisition. The knowledge content will be more likely to be forwarded on to others by a subscriber, which broadens your audience and grows your list virally."

Another thing to keep in mind: People like newsletters that are entertaining, so you should avoid being too verbose and professional in tone. The best results are produced when you keep the voice of the newsletter light but knowledgeable, with of course, promotional content mixed in. Using the example above, your garden center could also offer special deals on butterfly-attracting plants and garden accessories with the sale period coinciding with the e-mail campaign. This would create the right mix of knowledge and promotion in one mailing.

Tracking Results and Readers Using Software or Services
After the newsletter has been sent, it is important to track each campaign's results. Using a service, such as Constant Contact, will provide you with the data needed to help you with your list building. One feature to look for is a system that will enable you to see e-mail bounces and find out why they were returned. Reasons for this could be that the recipient's mailbox is full, an invalid e-mail address and so on.

Another feature to look for in list management software is data on how many and which subscribers actually open the e-mail. This can be tracked when the subscriber's e-mail client downloads images placed in your e-mail. Other features worth looking for include being able to track the click-through rate on hyperlinks, and seeing which subscribers clicked them. This may open up future opportunities to send more targeted mailings to subscribers that clicked certain topic-specific links from your missive.

Fortunately, using an e-mail marketing service is not as expensive as one might think. Constant Contact, for instance, starts at $15 per month for up to a 500-user subscriber list, or $30 for 500 to 2,500 subscribers. E-mail marketing software from Mailworkz offers a choice of different editions (Business, Commerce or Marketing) with different features starting at $299 for up to 5,000 e-mail addresses. Also, just this month OpenEMM, a professional open source e-mail marketing software program, was upgraded as well.

Avoid Spamming with Permission-Based Lists
One big issue facing businesses wanting to maintain a mailing list is spam. When creating your subscription list and sending e-mails you need to ensure that what you send is not categorized as spam. (You also need to obtain e-mail addresses for your list through legitimate and honest means.) A "double opt-in" list is seen as being the most privacy conscious way of handling e-mail subscriptions. In this case, a site visitor would request to join the list, and then receive an automated e-mail with a link they would need to click to join the mailing list. Not only does this ensure the address belongs to a person who really wants to subscribe, but it also provides you with a confirmation file that you can use to refute any potential spam complaints.

Regardless of how you set up your opt-in feature, before starting your subscription list, you should familiarize yourself with the regulations of the CAN-SPAM Act, which clearly outlines what will keep e-mail marketers off of spam lists. Some key rules here include honoring all opt-out requests within 10 business days and including your postal mailing address on all commercial e-mails.

Lastly, it is no longer acceptable to use pre-checked boxes on your Web site for e-mail sign-up, so be sure to leave those "join mailing lists" boxes unchecked to allow the subscriber to check the box to consent for themselves.

Quick Tips: Five Dos and Don'ts
Using other newsletters that you admire as a resource for ideas is one way to get going, but to keep on track with designing your list for the best results, we leave you with five quick tips:

  1. Never put the subscriber e-mail addresses in the CC or BCC fields. This exposes the addresses to everyone on the list and looks unprofessional.
  2. Always have a person not involved in any way with the actual writing of the content spell-check and proofread the newsletter before sending.
  3. Test by sending the e-mail to yourself. Verify that every single link in the e-mail works.
  4. Make sure that you have included unsubscribe links and provide your mailing address in every mail out.
  5. Remember that shorter is better. Break content such as alerts and tips into a one-minute delivery.

Vangie Beal is a frequent contributor to She is also managing editor of Webopedia.

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