Reach customers using email marketing
Sending email is fast, free and far-reaching. This is why email marketing has become a popular way for businesses to communicate with existing and potential customers. The advantages of email marketing make it a natural addition to your company's Internet marketing program:
- Fast. Email marketing allows you to communicate immediately with customers. This makes it an ideal method for time-sensitive offerings. For example, a hotel or restaurant can boost their occupancy on short notice by sending local customers a special offer that may only be valid for a 48-hour period.
- Free. You can use an existing email account to implement email marketing tactics. This means that you can communicate more often with customers at no additional cost. Also, when you extend discounts or special offers, you can do so without incurring related printing or media costs.
- Far-reaching. Email is an effective way to get the word out to all of your customers simultaneously. You can reach international customers at the same time as local customers.
E-newsletters and special email offers can build strong relationships with your current customers that increase customer loyalty and result in repeat sales. The same tools can also attract new customers by increasing the awareness of your company and providing a platform for offering prospects additional incentives to buy your products.
Viewing email marketing solely as a low-cost alternative to direct mail is a common mistake. If your company relies solely on email campaigns, you will have to constantly increase the volume of email addresses collected and messages sent. This is a no-win situation over the long-run. You will run out of fresh addresses and you run the risk of sending so many emails you annoy your customers.
Reputable businesses avoid spam like the plague
The first rule of ethical email marketing is never send unsolicited commercial email. (Not only does sending spam violate good business ethics, it also violates the law.) This means you should only send emails to customers that have willingly provided their email addresses and have given you permission to send commercial messages.
Sending unsolicited commercial messages is called "spamming." Spamming angers potential customers. Also, it is not tolerated by the companies that provide customers with email accounts. Businesses that have a reputation of sending spam are blacklisted. Blacklisting means the email address is placed on a shared list of banned senders, and none of the outgoing messages will be delivered to recipients. The process of being removed from a blacklist is difficult, time-consuming and avoidable by following best practices when building your email list
Spamming can also expose you to civil and criminal penalties under the CAN-SPAM Act.
Never purchase or trade email addresses. Email addresses should never be bought or traded. Protect the privacy of your customers. If another company wants to extend a special offer to your email subscribers, send the offer yourself. Email "harvesting" from websites is a crime.
All Email Must Comply with the CAN-SPAM Act
If you operate a business and you plan on sending any email, then you need to know and obey the rules contained in the CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing.) The reach of CAN-SPAM Act is broad—virtually every email sent by your business is affected. CAN-SPAM also prohibits acts of "harvesting" email addresses from websites.
The penalties for violating the law are severe. Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000. In addition, criminal penalties can apply to certain types of conduct, such as harvesting email addresses from a website or using fictitious domain names.
What Constitutes "Commercial" Email
CAN-SPAM classifies business email into three types:
The primary purpose of the message determines its classification.
Commercial email is any email that's primary purpose is "the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service.” Commercial email is the most strictly regulated and must comply with all the CAN-SPAM requirements.
A transactional/relationship email consists only of content that:
- facilitates or confirms a commercial transaction that the recipient already has agreed to;
- gives warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a product or service;
- gives information about a change in terms or features or account balance information regarding a membership, subscription, account, loan or other ongoing commercial relationship;
- provides information about an employment relationship or employee benefits; or
- delivers goods or services as part of a transaction that the recipient already has agreed to.
Remember, the classification depends upon the primary purpose of the email. It's okay to slip in a brief mention of other products you have available—provided that the transaction information appears first and it far more significant and constitutes the bulk of the message. Transactional/relational messages are exempt from all CAN-SPAM requirements except that it must not contain false or misleading information. If an email is neither commercial nor transactional, then it is considered to be "other" email and need not comply with the CAN-SPAM requirements.
Under the law, every commercial email, whether sent in bulk to a mailing list or to an individual customer, must meet the following requirements:
- Header information must be accurate and must clearly identify the sender. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information—including the originating domain name and email address—must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
- Subject lines must be truthful and relevant. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
- Commercial email must be clearly labeled as advertising. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
- A valid, physical postal address must be included. It's not enough to have an email "reply to" in your message. You need to have a street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency.
- A opt-out tool must be provided. You must include a clear and conspicuous notice of how to stop emails from your company using either a return email address or an internet opt-out page. The opt-out process must not require any more than a reply email or visit to the web page. In addition, the opt-out address must be valid for at least thirty days from the date you sent the email.
- Opt-out requests must be processed within 10 business days.
You Are Liable for Messages Sent on Your Behalf
All email newsletters and all other promotional emails are governed by the law. Businesses are responsible for all email they send, even if they outsource the marketing. If you have an affiliate program, you could also be held responsible for the emails sent by your affiliates to market your goods. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.
Compliance seems simple if you rely on best practices for email marketing:
- Test your unsubscribe system to make sure it works.
- Keep a current list of everyone who opts-out to ensure they don't get added to your list again through other sources.
- Make sure your email list is obtained legitimately.
- Remind individuals receiving the email how they opted-in.
- Keep the email short, clear and readable.
- Don't send too many messages—only send email when you have something valuable to share.
Build Your Email List Using Opt-In Strategies
Because sending unsolicited email is illegal, you need to develop and implement effective "opt-in" strategies in order to grow your mailing list. It is important to let potential subscribers know how your company will use email to communicate. This means that you should describe how often you will send emails and what information will be be sent. You might want to provide samples of your email newsletter for people to review prior to subscribing. This can be done by making the most recent edition available on your website.
Many small businesses simply ask for permission to send emails: if the customer provides an email address that is considered granting permission. This unconfirmed, or single, opt-in is generally sufficient, and meets the minimum privacy law requirements. However, if you plan to send a significant volume of email, such as a daily deal offer or the daily specials, you may want to use a double opt-in.
The double opt-in requires that the customers affirmatively respond to an email asking them to confirm that they wish to receive email from your business. The process works as follows:
- Customer provides his/her email address to your company.
- Your company sends an invitation to the email address provided by the customer requesting confirmation to be added to your email list by clicking on a link.
- Customers that respond to the second invitation are added to your list. Customers that do not respond to the second invitation are not added to your list.
Double opt-in is the best method for building your email list because it verifies that customers are providing accurate email addresses and provides customers with opportunity to initiate their own subscription to your list.
For most small business owners the logistics of setting up a double-opt-in (confirmed) email subscription system is probably not worth tackling as a do-it-yourself programming project. Your web hosting company may offer an email solution that provides for double-opt-in. If you are working with an Internet marketing company, such as Constant Contact they will have the necessary software and procedures already in place. Another option would be to work with an email marketing company, such as AWeber Communications or Get Response.
Offer Many Opt-In Opportunities
Your goal should be to collect email addresses (and permission to send email) from as many sources, using as many methods as possible. Here are some methods that many businesses use.
- Use your website. A well-designed website will provide numerous opportunities for a visitor to subscribe to email promotions or your e-newsletter. Ideally, there should be a email sign-up option on every page. Additionally, integrate the ability to subscribe with your shopping cart, so that each new customer is invited to subscribe. Offline, provide an opportunity for in-store customers to subscribe to your e-newsletter and email-based promotions at checkout. Ask store clerks to extend an invitation to customers.
- Use print marketing. Make sure that every print communication that you have directs the reader to your website and alerts them to the option to sign-up for emails.
- Use your bricks-and-mortar location. Have an email sign-up listing available in your store or place of business. Train your employees to routinely ask customers if they wish to provide an email address in order to receive news of special events and promotions.
Offer an Opt-Out
Remember, the law requires that individuals receiving email from your company should be able to remove themselves from your list easily and at any time. This is best achieved by including the ability to unsubscribe on every email your company sends. Opt-out ensures that individuals are removed promptly from your list when they no longer want to receive email from your company.
Using Email Promotions Effectively
Email promotions are intended to have immediate results. Because email promotions are fast and low-cost, they are an ideal tool for boosting short-term performance. For example, a restaurant can send an email offering a two-for-one special for notoriously slow evenings. Email promotions should result in an immediate increase in purchases, sign-ups, downloads or registrations. As a result, one of the best measures for success of an email promotional campaign is the conversion rate (the percentage of email recipients that take the desired action) rather than its open rate.
To induce recipients toward immediate conversion, email promotions need to be more compelling than in-store offers. Test several offers to determine what works best for your target market. Common incentives include free shipping, reduced prices or complimentary gifts. Studies show flat-out dollar amount discounts generate more conversions than percentages off discounts do. However, results vary based on the target market and the perceived value of the offer. For example, free shipping on small, lightweight items isn't as compelling as for large items where the shipping cost may rival the purchase price.
Including Deadlines Boosts Conversion Rate
While every marketing message regardless of media should contain a "call to action," deadlines and time-sensitive offers are especially important for an email campaign. A deadline encourages immediate action. Deadlines also provide a time period for measuring results.
Leverage "natural deadlines" to make your communication more engaging and to tap into your customer's conditioned responses. For example, consider "tax break" specials around tax filing time. Or, a "Christmas in July" promotion can shake customers out of the summer doldrums. Other deadlines aren't time-driven, but are response-driving. For example, consider limiting the number of offers that can be redeemed. For example, on peak shopping days, retail stores offer incentives to the first 100 or 200 customers to boost early in-store sales.
Make Sure the Email Looks Good
The format of an outgoing email can influence the success of an email promotion as much as the offer itself. It is also plays a critical role in avoiding spam filters. Prior to sending an email, ensure that you are using the following best practices.
Don't Neglect the Text-Only Version
It may seem that plain text email is out-of-date, but most email marketing experts still believe that sending "multi-part" email is a best practice. In a multi-part email, there are two versions of the same content packaged together: one is a jazzy looking HTML version and the other is a drab plain text version. Many mobile devices and many email systems default to plain text. In addition, many people prefer the text-only version. Having two versions, tells the spam filter that you have taken the time to consider your customers' needs and preferences--which spammers would not bother to do. Not only should you use multi-part emails, the text of the two versions should be identical. Again, spammers would not bother with this nicety.
Leverage the Subject Line
CAN-SPAM requires that you have a truthful and accurate subject line. Smart marketing requires that you have a captivating and compelling subject line. Remember, if the subject line doesn't grab the recipients attention and give them a reason to read your email, you don't stand a chance of getting a "conversion" from that email. You have a maximum of 50 characters to get your message across. Avoid the use of words, phrase or punctuation that will trigger the recipient's spam filter to consign your message to junk-mail oblivion.
Remember: This is Business Communication
You wouldn't show up to a client meeting in a filthy tee-shirt with unkempt hair, so don't project a slovenly, disreputable image in your email. Similarly,you wouldn't use poor grammar and spelling in a print brochure. Don't think the speed and apparent informality of email gives you a free pass from careful writing and rigorous proofreading. Not only does sloppy writing annoy your readers and reflect poorly on your business, more and more spam filters consider bad grammar and spelling red flags.
Unless you are very certain that it is acceptable to your target demographic (and it almost never will be), don't be "cute." Emoticons, slang, trendy abbreviations are likely to backfire in nearly all target markets.
Avoid Spam Words
Certain words are red flags to the spam filters. Some of them are obvious: references to sex, drugs (especially any marketed for anxiety or sexual dysfunction), body parts (particularly the enlarging, improving or enhancing thereof), and easy money. Others can trip up an honest business person. For example, "free" and "guarantee" are words that could easily appear in a legitimate email message. In this case, if you have no other spam filter violations, it is likely that your email will still be delivered. Take care not to use excessive punctuation or capitalization in the message. (If you are using an email marketing company, run your message through their spam evaluation program to be safe.) Spam words are continually less problematic as spam-blockers concentrate on other factors before relegating emails to the junk folder.
Not only is brevity the soul of wit, it is also the most effective way to communicate in email. Concisely convey the value of the offer/promotion to the reader. Make sure to include a clear call to action. Writing concisely also will minimize the risk of running afoul of the spam filter.
E-Newsletters Can Build Goodwill and Revenue
Due to their low cost, flexible designs and quick production time, e-newsletters have become the most effective email marketing tool for businesses of every size. E-newsletters are a great way to build strong, long-term relationships by communicating with prospective and ongoing customers each month. For many companies, it may be more effective to create separate multiple newsletters targeted at unique audiences in order to provide the most relevant content possible. For example, an e-newsletter focused at prospective customers may be very different than a newsletter for existing customers.
Consider working with an email marketing company that can provide templates for you to customize for your business.
Crafting Your E-newsletter
E-newsletters are often designed around a lead article (the longest and most detailed in the issue) that relates to an important aspect of your business. Good topics for lead articles include the announcement of a new product or service, industry trends, or problem-solving tips. In addition to a lead article, e-newsletters generally include a handful of headlines with a hyperlink and short descriptions. These generally promote larger topics that can be explored in more detail on your website or a recommended website.
Here are some tips for a launching a successful e-newsletter:
- E-newsletters are delivered via email. While this point seems obvious, it is essential that you follow all of the best practices for creating emails that avoids spam filters. This means paying attention to your addressing, your subject line and the body of your message.
- Keep articles brief. Online readers are typically looking for information that is quick and easy to read. If you want to provide articles with more than 8 to 10 paragraphs, consider a shorter article that can be used as a teaser that links to longer articles on your website. Subscribers receiving electronic newsletters are typically looking for material that is quick and easy to read. Or consider the longer article for a printed newsletter, since it's easier to read long content offline.
- Serve the subscriber. E-newsletters are meant to provide useful information to the recipients—they are not sales brochures. E-newsletters should demonstrate your broad understanding of the customer's needs and issues. True, it is also appropriate to suggest how you can meet those needs and solve those problems. However, the focus is on the customer, not your company.
- Subscribe to e-newsletters in your industry. Nearly all successful authors are avid readers of the genre in which they write. In the same way, you are more likely to create a compelling e-newsletter if you are familiar with the writing style and format of e-newsletters. And, you are more likely to deliver the content your customers want if you are paying attention to your industry and your competitors. So, subscribe to e-newsletters related to your interests, your company's industry and related industries. Make note of e-newsletter designs, features, topics and formats that you like and apply these lessons to your own e-newsletter.
- Don't send an e-newsletter as an email attachment. Internet service providers often block e-newsletters delivered as attachments—particularly if the file size of the attachment is large. In addition, good internet marketing means using as few clicks as possible to deliver your message to your customer. Requiring that the customer click and download an attachment violates this principle.
- Evaluate the open rate. If you are using an internet marketing company to send your newsletter, leverage the analytics that they can provide. One of these is the "open rate" for individual articles. By paying attention to what articles appeal more to your subscribers, you can make sure that you provide content that meets their interests.
- Survey readers. Survey your subscribers regularly. Make sure that they find the newsletter interesting and readable. However, you should see to do more than just find out if they are satisfied with your newsletter. You want to take advantage of "free market research." By asking your readers to suggest newsletter topics and features, you can find out what is on their minds.
Reaching Your Customers Requires Avoiding Spam Filters
With the increasing prevalence of spam filters, there is often no guarantee that your email or your e-newsletter will reach the intended inbox. Spam filters are rules used by most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and email software programs to reject and remove unwanted email messages. Because the filters rely upon rules to distinguish spam email from legitimate messages, they sometimes block legitimate emails sent by your company. The more aggressive or sophisticated a spam filter is, the less likely it is to deliver legitimate messages that don't comply with best practices.
Most internet and email marketing companies are well-versed in how to get their messages through the wide variety of spam filters. In fact, many of the better companies have programs that you can run against your intended message to ensure that it is filter friendly. When investigating internet or email marketing companies, you should specifically ask about the support that they offer to help your messages get through to the intended recipients.
If you obey the CAN-SPAM rules, you are already off to a good start in avoiding spam filters. Spam filters apply rules to evaluate both the sender and the content of the email. The rules of effective email discussed earlier address issues that can arise with the content of the message. The following discussion focuses on how to avoid being a "suspicious sender."
Make Sure Your Messages Are Sent Properly
Email providers attempt to screen out senders that:
- generate too many customer complaints to the Internet Service Provider;
- send mail from suspicious addresses; use poorly configured servers
- send too many mail messages;
- send too many undeliverable messages;
- use "CC:" and "BCC:" to send the messages.
Don't Generate Too Many Customer Complaints
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and email providers want happy customers. Every time you get a message that you don't want to receive, you are an unhappy customer. If you register this unhappiness by clicking a button that flags the message as "Junk Mail" or "This is SPAM," then the provider takes notice. If enough customers disapprove of messages that you send, the provider will blacklist your address or will block your mail from the customer's in-box. And, it can take as few a 1 in 1,000 messages to land you in trouble.
Don't Send Mail from Suspicious Addresses or Poorly Configured Servers
If you are using a reputable web hosting service, you should not have to work about these issues. (If you have no idea what these issues even are, then you should be using a reputable mail or internet marketing company for your email campaigns.) In order to avoid the spam filters, you must make sure that you have valid DNS (Domain Name System) entries for your domain. Ensure your ISP has proper DNS entries for your domain. ISPs receiving your mail often check your DNS record to ensure that your DNS entry is configured properly and isn't identified as a known spammer.
Although it's not required, most spam filters give you "brownie points" if your message comes from a domain with additional authentication protection. This protection, which uses one of two protocols, Sender Policy Framework (SPF) or Sender ID, prevents bad guys from impersonating you to send SPAM. Your web hosting company should be able to provide you with additional information.
Although there is nothing "suspicious" about free email providers like Hotmail, Yahoo or Google when you are sending personal messages to friends, large volumes of emails coming from these addresses often look like spam. If you are sending very few emails each month, the free addresses may work. However, as your mailing list grows, you should consider using an email service designed for small business needs.
Don't Send Too Many Email Messages
"Too many" means more than sheer volume: it also means don't ramp up your email campaign to quickly and don't send too many messages in a month. When ISPs identify a large volume of incoming/outgoing messages from the same sender, it looks like spam. For this reason, you should send email in batches of 10 miles every 10 to 15 minutes. This is particularly true if your have not been sending bulk email from that email address. You need to gradually increase the number of emails that you send from a new address. Contact your ISP before sending emails in large batches to ensure they will be supported. Otherwise, your messages may be rejected or flagged as spam.
Don't Send Emails from
Practice good list management. In addition to immediately removing anyone that asks to be "unsubscribed," remove those emails that are consistently undeliverable. Undeliverable email due to a bad recipient address is less likely to be a problem if you are using a double opt-in to build your list, but it can still happen. Make sure that your emails include a suggestion that the recipient add your email address to their "safe senders" list. Most email services provide a simple way to put someone on a safe sender list.
Don't Use "CC:" and "BCC:" for Email Campaign Addressees
Outgoing messages should be addressed individually "to" each recipient. Use a bulk email program or service that can send individual, personalized messages. While you should make sure that each email is send to an individual address on the "to" line, make sure that you do not include the person's name in the subject line. Most spam filters take a dim view of that. Instead, include the person's name (along with a reminder that they requested email from you) in the body of the email.
Take Steps to Increase Your Email's Open Rate
An email marketing campaign can only be effective if individuals read your messages and act upon them. The success of an email campaign is often measured by its open rate (the percentage of delivered emails that are opened).
The open rate is measured by sending emails in HTML format with a snippet of code that triggers a counter when messages are rendered by a recipients email reader. As a result, the open rate can only be measured for individuals who read your email in HTML format and by those whose email programs pass HTML content through to the customer. Nevertheless, open rate is one important indicator of the success of an email marketing campaign.
A number of factors influence the open rate:
- Subject line. Subject lines should invite recipients to open your email. Subject lines should be creative and action-oriented. For e-newsletters, relate the subject line to the content within each issue. If possible, make the subject timely by relating to upcoming events, weather or current trends.
- Time of day/day of week. Test different days and times until you find what works best. Performance will vary depending on your recipients and the content of your email. For example, you may find that your e-newsletter has a peak open rate at a different time than the peak open rate for email promotional offers. Consider sending email to free email accounts during non-business hours, since individuals checking their personal email account from work may be less likely to read incoming messages while at the office.
- Persistence. Within 8-10 days, resend the message to individuals who didn't open it the first time. An open rate of 20 percent for the second delivery will increase the overall effectiveness of the email marketing campaign.
- Time of year/seasonality. Summer months generally produce lower open rates due to vacation schedules. Holiday seasons may raise open rates for e-commerce retailers, but may produce lower open rates for e-newsletters.
- Frequency. Sending email too infrequently may cause recipients to forget why they subscribed to your information (lower awareness). Sending emails too frequently (oversaturation) can also drive open rates down. It can also get you flagged as a spammer.
- Recipients' email providers. Recipients who use free email accounts provided by HotMail, Yahoo and Google typically don't access their email as often as recipients using business or personal domains. Also, many email providers.