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Email marketing: hitting the target

Dartboard: email marketingHow do you ensure your email newsletters are reaching everyone on your database and getting read? Lucy Whittington reveals some tricks to improve email deliverability and open rates

If there’s one media that’s incredibly noisy, it’s email — everyone’s email inboxes are over-crowded. So if you want people to respond to your emails, you have to send them something they want to receive. But how do you ensure your emails arrive in the first place and get opened?

Your email database

Your email list is one of the most valuable parts of your business. Your list should be full of well-qualified prospects and customers that have opted in to hearing from you via email. If you need to build a list, you can start with your own customers — sending them relevant offers is perfectly acceptable. Make sure you and your staff ask for email addresses at every opportunity. If you want to get going quickly, try a joint venture, asking other people to mail on your behalf to their own email lists to make the first contact and then adding those that respond to your own database.

Maximising delivery

It’s not really practical to send an email newsletter manually (say using Outlook) unless you literally have a handful of contacts. Dedicated email systems, such as MailChimp and AWeber, make the whole process much more efficient and will improve your deliverability and open rates. They are very affordable — for instance, MailChimp allows you to store up to 2,000 subscribers and send 12,000 emails per month for free.

Alternatively, your existing business software or CRM system may well be able to manage your email marketing campaigns.

Dedicated systems make sending marketing emails very simple, they save a lot of time and they are designed to provide maximum deliverability. If you use a recognised system you are less likely to be seen as a spammer, whereas if you send hundreds of emails from your own IP address, your messages are more likely to be blocked.

With a dedicated email system, you can build your newsletter from a template and automate a lot of the tasks so you will look a lot more professional. The system can also manage your database, send out in bulk, send out automated emails and handle unsubscribers. You can also segment your lists, and run tests with email systems which give you a lot of control and feedback on your emails.

Best practice email marketing

Many small firms are wary of using email marketing because of the fear of being perceived a spammer or breaking the law. The rules are simple:

  1. Sending un-asked for marketing emails is spam and breaches the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations if you do not have 'prior consent'
  2. You can contact customers and prospects that have agreed to receive information from you in the past. The important thing is that they must actively opt in. And you must always offer an opt-out.
  3. Anyone that has registered with the Direct Marketing Association's Email Preference Service should be removed from your contact list.
  4. Send all your emails out so each person only sees their contact data. You can’t show a list of other recipients on the email.
  5. You must not conceal your own identity when you send a marketing email.

More tips for getting your emails through

Above and beyond best practice, you’ll increase your deliverability and open rates if you do the following:

  1. Do a double opt-in so if someone signs up to your email newsletter, you then contact them automatically to ask them to verify that they want to receive mailings from you. It’s good practice as it makes sure people don’t get signed up without their knowledge.
  2. Include a sentence in your newsletter explaining why the recipient is on the list. It reminds people why they are getting the email.
  3. Always include an easy to spot unsubscribe option.

Getting your emails opened

Many people delete emails without even opening them. All they’ve got to go on is the subject line and who sent it. In order to get opened, you have to build the trust of recipients by always sending relevant, targeted messages with a strong offer. Don’t hide your identity with a cryptic email address.

You’ve also got to come up with an enticing subject line to make them want to find out more. Subject lines are the headlines of your email. Be compelling and explain quickly what you are offering. Make sure all your emails are personalised and targeted.

Testing and tracking your email campaigns

Testing and tracking is vital to improve your open rates. For instance, you can test subject line headings: divide your newsletter into two groups randomly, give each half a different heading and then compare response levels to see what works. With many email systems, this is a built in tool called A/B split testing.

Finally, you should always look at your email stats and measure everything to work out what works best with YOUR list. Many different aspects can affect the success of your campaign so compare subject lines, content, offers, landing pages, times of day emails sent, days of the week emails sent, number of emails in a series, length of emails, HTML versus text only. Over time you will be able to fine tune what works best for you and your recipients.

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