Email Best Practices
5 Questions you should answer before beginning any email campaign.
1. Do Have a Clear Strategy? Define your goals in writing. Do you want to:
• Reinforce your brand
• Cross-sell or up-sell your current customers
• Educate and inform your customers
• Develop customer loyalty
• Convert confirmed “opt-in” prospects to customers
Once you decide what you want to accomplish, you can then assess whether you need to develop multiple e-mail campaigns or if a single integrated campaign is your best course of action. The highest response rates are often realized when an email campaign is combined with a direct mail campaign into one overall strategic marketing effort. Repetition is an effective tool in e-mail marketing just as it is in direct mail and space advertising.
A follow up email message sent to non-respondents can provide a significant boost to a campaign’s performance. E-mail surveys to customers about their usage of your products or as a way to solicit opinions on a wide variety of topics produce virtually instant results in a highly cost-effective manner.
2. How Will I Track Results?
Depending on the goals of your campaigns, there are many different measurement options to consider. For example, you could measure clicks on special URLs imbedded in your message. This will tell you how your message is driving Web traffic. You could also track attachments that are opened to determine how many times this information is being viewed.
As an isolated measure, open rates can be misleading due to preview panes, so it is best to use them in a comparative manner. Or you may choose to measure unsubscribe or “opt-out” rates, which can be an indicator of a problematic mailing. Typically, these should be roughly less than 1%. To aid in evaluating success, it’s helpful to know that the average cost per message for telemarketing is $1-$3; direct mail, $.75-$2; and e-mail, $.20-$.40.
3. Have I Created a Relevant Message?
Become knowledgeable about the information retained in your database and consider how you can utilize it to the fullest. The more detailed the information, the more personalized and better targeted your e-mail campaigns can be. Mining your database to understand and categorize your customers will help you send only relevant messages to both them and confirmed opt-in prospects that mirror your customers. It will help you to build one-on-one customer relationships for years to come.
4. Do I Have a Valuable Message?
Your marketing objectives and target audience should drive message content for an e-mail campaign. You also need to create a sense of value within the communication so that you grab the attention of your audience. Extend offers online that your customers can’t receive anywhere else—whether it’s information or special incentives, such as reduced pricing or free shipping. Resist the urge to make every message a hard-core sales pitch. Mix revenue-generating offers with relevant information, helpful advice, and requests for feedback.
The most popular message content is a product offer with a discount (41%), closely followed by a product offer with no discount (32%). The third most popular was some type of market research survey (16%). E-mail can be a powerful relationship-building medium. Keep market characteristics in mind as well. Sending a message to educators at school during the summer months is risky at best.
5. Am I Following E-Mail Best Practices?
To answer this question, you actually need to ask yourself these questions:
• Am I sending e-mails only to my customers or to those who have expressly agreed (i.e.,
opt-in) to receive e-mail messages?
• Have I obtained opt-in permission from all non-customers on my in-house list prior to
sending them e-mails?
• Do I provide a clear, opt-out option on every e-mail I send?
• Am I processing all opt-outs, including those that hit reply, quickly?
• Is my server equipped to handle opt-outs immediately?
If you did not answer “yes” to each question above, you may be, unknowingly or not, sending spam (unwanted, unasked-for e-mails) and need to seriously rethink the implementation of your e-mail campaigns. It is estimated that spam currently accounts for about 50% of all e-mails sent. Spam is indeed a critical issue, with many states already enacting laws to punish offenders.
Your Message Content and Beyond
• The “To:” line — Personalize with a name if possible, and at minimum, use the individual’s e-mail address as opposed to a general salutation, such as “subscriber.”
• The “From:” field — Identify who the e-mail is from; never leave this blank or use fabricated or contrived company names. It should be apparent to the recipient that the e-mail is from a reputable company.
• The “Subject:” line — Keep it brief. Some e-mail readers will not display more than 35 characters. Also, make it meaningful, benefit-oriented, and eye-catching to your audience. You may even consider identifying your company in this area as well. Avoid using popular spam terms and symbols, such as dollar signs ($); ALL CAPS; exclamation points (!); and the words “make money,” “important message,” “win,” and “free.” Test subject lines to determine the best-performing one prior to conducting the rollout of a campaign.
• Message size — The rule of thumb is to keep it short with approximately 500 words for customer messages and 250-500 words for messages to prospects. Roughly, a screen full of information (no scrolling) is ideal, and paragraphs should have only 3-4 lines total. If you need to say more, include a link to your Web site as well as copy that entices the reader to click on that link. Avoid many slow-loading graphics as they can drastically affect your response rates and, more importantly, your retention rates.
Generally, you should keep your text message below 10KB and your HTML message below 20KB. Also, perceived size is just as important as actual size. Avoid using a lot of symbols, such as TM and ®, as they may not be readable by all e-mail systems.
• Graphically rich format — Graphically rich HTML generally pulls 1.5 times higher response rates than plain text; however, not all browsers can read it. If the browser cannot read HTML, the message is delivered in text format.
• Tips for HTML messages — They should have a clean design as well as tight graphics—but not too many. Headlines should pop, preferably in a bold Sans Serif font, with the body of the text in easy-to-read Serif. You may want to use the more universal Arial and Times New Roman fonts for consistency across the board when designing text-embedded HTML. Text that is printed over a distracting background is not recommended, and white text on black or color backgrounds can be difficult to read online.
Make graphics clickable and use multiple call-to-action URLs. Emphasize with bold print rather than italics or underlining. Italics can be hard to read and underlined text can be mistaken for clickable links. Showcase key message points with bullets, numbers, or asterisks. Break up long strands of copy by using small paragraphs, and use plenty of white space between words, paragraphs, and columns. Make sure images are used for a good reason. HTML may enhance your response rate, but remember that not every audience wants to receive it.
• Remind your customers why they are receiving your e-mail — Say it right up front at or near the beginning of the message. Use wording such as “You are receiving this e-mail because you area valued customer of (your company name).” This reminds your customer of their relationship with you and the relevancy of your message and helps to eliminate any potential defensive reaction.
• Include a call to action. Use multiple clickable URL links within the message to drive your audience to a particular spot on your Web site. You need to tell readers exactly what you want them to do: Should they sign up for a newsletter or a free trial offer? Minimize the number of clicks it takes to respond with a purchase or feedback or to find additional related information. When setting up links, don’t just send people to your home page; create a customized “landing page” within your current site that is relevant to your message. This will lessen potential confusion and frustration.
• User-friendly unsubscribe options — Giving recipients the right to quickly and easily opt-out of future emails from you is an essential element of responsible e-mail marketing. An example of opt-out wording reads: “If you would prefer not to receive further messages from this sender, please click on the following email link.” Be sure you honor all opt-out requests from all sources.
• Test the message — Test your message internally; click on every link to ensure it is working properly. Have fresh eyes proofread the copy. Once the message passes the test to internal users, test it with a small subset of your customer base if possible. When sending the final message, include a good number of trackable seeds (internal employees who can review the message) in order to thoroughly check how well the message is getting through.
• Schedule the delivery of your message – Tuesday’s are often the most successful with a 35% click-through rate. This is closely followed by Wednesday’s with a 29% click-through rate. Consider testing the day you send your message and don’t rule out Mondays and Fridays. Testing the time of day your message is sent may also be fruitful. Some marketers report that messages sent during the day produce better results than those sent after-hours.
Make sure all departments in your company that are likely to be affected by the e-mail campaign have been notified that the message is ready to go. These might include sales, customer service, order fulfillment, and the Webmaster. Once the message is delivered, you should be prepared to monitor responses in a timely manner. Everything from opt-outs to click-to URLs and attachments pulled should be tracked.
What to Expect Guidelines
Responses to Your Message: Once the message content has been developed, it’s important to consider your response plans. In the consumer market, 80% of responses are typically received within 48 hours of a message being sent. Often there is a deluge within the first 10 minutes. Response times may prove longer in the education market. Answering these questions will help you determine your company’s response readiness:
• If you included clickable URLs within a message, is your Web server ready for the increased traffic?
Average click-through rates can range from 4 – 7%, so you need to make sure well in advance that your server can handle extra activity in a condensed period of time.
• Are you equipped to fulfill a flurry of Web purchases?
Again, making sure you are geared up ahead of time to respond to requests to purchase your product or service is imperative.
• Have you developed a process for handling responses quickly?
Online customers have come to expect timely confirmations of purchases, subscriptions, unsubscribes, changes in personal data, service requests, etc. Confirmations demonstrate your company’s responsiveness. You need to be prepared to deal with reply messages that request you to unsubscribe the recipient in cases where they do not follow the specified opt-out procedures. Be sure to have the staff and system in place to respond to all types of inquiries immediately.
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