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How to improve your email marketing campaigns

Posted on 2009-09-07 under Articles

Start at the beginning - your subject line

I've read a lot of material on what to do with your subject line, and indeed, it's the first point of contact with your recipient. It's important to make sure that you get your subscriber's attention. I've seen shock tactics, often also referred to as link bait where senders would use a thought provocing or controversial headline. For example something like 'Why banks charge exhorbitant admin fees' - everyone can identify with such a headline, so it catches your recipient's attention, or 'Want to reduce your banking admin fees?' - a question is often an interesting lure to get users to open the email. Think about your topic, and make sure that it's relevant to your recipients. That brings me to my next point.

Have an objective

Why are you sending out your promotional email or newsletter? What do you want subscribers to do after reading your email? Make sure that you are clear on your campaign objectives and that you have measurements in place to determine how effective you are meeting those objectives. Most bulk mail providers have link tracking where you can see how many people clicked on particular topics and this is a way to measure how effective your email campaigns are (more about this later).

Typical goals could be:

  • Drive more visitors to your website.
  • Increase brand awareness.
  • Introduce a new product or service.
  • Drive sales.
  • Invite discussion on topics.
  • Update subscribers with your latest news.

Always ask permission

Make sure that your subscribers have asked to receive your emails. Don't blindly add anyone you meet to your mailing list without asking them permission first. That's why it's called opt-in or permission based emailing. To increase sign up rates, add a sign up form on your website, to your email signature and everywhere else where it's appropriate.

Know your subscriber and implement segmentation

Segmentation is the process of dividing your database into segments of particular interest. Eg according to the newsletter signup form that you might have you ask a person's age, location or have a list of particular interests. By segmenting your database into areas of particular interest, your response rates will increase as you are targeting content to users that are interested in the specific topic. You would for instance choose subscribers that are of a particular age, to market a product that would appeal more to that specific age segment.

If you haven't got any segmentation fields in your database, it might be time to expand that list of fields and try to get your subscribers to complete their 'profiles'. Segmentation is a highly important part of quality email marketing campaigns with high return value. Also keep in mind that too many sign-up fields can discourage users from signing up, so it might be good to not make all fields compulsory. This is once again a good aspect to test out.

Personalise

By personalising the email (eg use the subscriber's name or any of their segmentation variable fields within the body), you also increase the conversation level that you might have with your subscriber. They see their own name and feel that your newsletters have a personal touch, and that you're talking to them directly. This improves response rates as subscribers are much more likely to engage. Take care however not to overdo it, as there are many mailers flying around the net that reeks of a typical template feel.

Always keep it natural, as if a normal conversation with one person.

Use of images

By using images you are stimulating multiple sense in your reader and it improves clickthrough. Make sure to add links on your images as well the typical read more's, as users tend to like to click on images as well.

The current standards require there to be a good balance between images and HTML text. Don't design a flyer and use an entire image as your mailer, as the chance of it being seen as SPAM is much higher (more on spam later).

HTML & styling standards

With so many different email clients to cater for designing email newsletters is any person's worst nightmare if they don't know what they are doing. By adhering to email designs standards, you ensure that your emails display suitable on most email clients, and therefor you ensure maximum response, because if you receive a trashy email what's the chance of you trying to make out what someone wrote?

People don't have time to try and decipher emails, as most people receive many emails a day. Have a look at this email styling guide for some tips on what works on which clients.

Remember that the majority of users use Microsoft related products, so those are probably the most important to cater for at the moment, but test, test and test again to make sure that your other users can also adequately read your mails.

About your layouts

Don't over complicate your layouts. Users don't have time to find content, it must be clear and to the point, and make sure that your above the fold content (eg up to around 400px - which can be seen in the preview window) contains enough information for users to want to read more. This is a fine balance and testing over time will reveal what suits your subscribers best.

Remember, less is more, so Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS principles)!

Most bulk mail providers allow you to have a text as well as HTML version of your mailer. Rather invest time into doing both, but also remember a third layout, and that's your email displaying without images (as many email clients block images until the user clicks to show).

Remember to add alt information on your images, so that users will have an idea of what the image is about before clicking to show images. Another tip: most email clients automatically show images once the FROM address is added to their address book, so encourage your users to whitelist your sending email address and add it to their address books.

Timing

There has been a lot of debate around the timing of your newsletters. Generally mid to late morning seems to generate best results, but experiment with different days of the week and times of day to get best results. It also depends on your target demographic. See these test results from eMarketer.

Don't overload your database with emails. Manage your subscribers' expectations by telling them up front how often they can expect emails from you.

Frequencey widely differs depending on the topic and what users expect, so whether it's daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly, tell your users up front!

About your content

Keep your email relevant. Let your content adress your campaign goals for the email and keep it on topic. Don't give users too many different options or diverse topics. Give them at least 3 different (but relevant) options to click on (e.g. your 3 latest news articles) and keep it short and sweet, with the option for users to click through to more content on your website. This way you'll also be able to measure response rates and see what the more popular topics are. Write your content in a familiar, warm manner. Don't hard sell, but engage your reader and get them to think about what you're discussing. Your response rates will improve as you test different options and then focus on high yield methods.

Make sure that you tie in the landing pages (pages users click through to) with the article intro properly. Your design and branding should be reflected consistently and be familiar to the reader.

Use Social Media

Lately I'm seeing more and more people integrating social media with their email campaigns. It's possible to integrate Twitter with your email campaigns by adding 'retweet' buttons (see Tweetmeme.com) and possible 'social bookmarking' icons (like 'Share on Facebook, Digg, MySpace, LinkedIn' etc). This is slightly more complicated to integrate, but could increase your readership exponentially by getting relevant additional exposure online to your linked articles or landing page content. Users will also automatically see which topics are more popular and this also provides you with even more stats on clickthrough and retweeting.

Growing your database

There are several ways to grow your database. Firstly, ask your readers to share! This is often the most overlooked method of increasing your database size, but there's nothing like word of mouth marketing. As mentioned before, add your signup link to your website as well as your email signature and share it where you deem fit.

Secondly, think about the landing pages (e.g. news articles) on your website. If you generate quality search traffic on your website, users might not immediately know that you offer a newsletter, so adding some call to action like 'Like this article? Why not subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here' could increase your subsriptions nicely.

There are also various types of email campaigns. PERONii for instance offers a viral campaign system, where users can invite friends who also receive the intial emails. Viral campaigns require a slightly different approach and I won't go into detail, but virals are a good way to also increase your database.

Stay relevant! If you offer your readers good value, they will share, so remember to make it as easy as possible!

List renting is also an option, but make sure that the source is a reputable opt-in database that is well targeted. List rentals will require you to invite users to your online campaign or newsletter signup and it could be a high quality but costly excersize.

Getting through and avoiding SPAM traps

To ensure that your emails get to your readers, there are several important things to remember when creating your email campaigns. Try and avoid certain stop words, that are obviously spammy. Here are a few tips on how to avoid spam words and some lists. The Spam Assasin tools are also particularly effective for testing up front, but most bulk email providers also provide related tools to test up front.

As mentioned before, ask your readers to whitelist your FROM email address with their ISP and to add to their address book.

Further make sure you use a trusted send server. Sending emails from your desktop can often result in getting boxed as spam, especially with your conventional email clients.

Talk to your ISP and ask them what their recommendations are for best practises if you're sending from your web server, or from your email client. Also ask them to whitelist your FROM email address. They would be more willing to help you if you're open up front with them and they know that you're running a opt-in list.

Measuring response (stats)

Most bulk mail providers offer opening rates, click through stats and much more. Make sure that you keep track of response rates to see trending topics that are popular, and offer your readers more of the same! If you see high unsubscribe rates, you are surely doing something wrong, or sending unsolicited emails! Give it at least 3-4 days for your stats to settle. Sometimes readers aren't available or they are out of office.

Maintain your list

Remember to remove manual unsubscribe requests. By law if a user replies and users words like STOP, or Unsubscribe in their reply subject or body, you are obliged to remove them. Generally bulk providers also supply one click SPAM complaint buttons, so beware not to send unwanted emails.

Also remove emails that come back as undeliverable. Analyse to see if there might be a miss type or spelling mistake in the email and rectify, but remove if it's an apparent non existing domain or email, because you will waste bandwidth and lower your % response rates by sending emails that will bounce.

Keep it professional!

Lastly, always keep it professional. Remember your emails are an extension of your company brand image, so don't skimp on doing it cheap and nasty, as you will damage your reputation more this way. If you need help, there are always email marketing companies that can help you out, and with proper managed campaigns you can only look forward!

Need help? Contact PERONii Solutions now for an in depth analysis of your online marketing needs.