There’s a lot to love about email marketing. It “pushes” your message out to prospective customers or stakeholders. Its carrying capacity is virtually unlimited, so it can convey relatively complex messages. And it’s relatively inexpensive.
But it has one big downside: Everybody hates it. Even though the spam filters have done a good job of filtering out most the scams, the bad taste from the old days still lingers. But the usefulness of email marketing remains if you use it correctly. So here are some very basic guidelines for doing it right.
- Make it useful. Assuming you know things that others would find helpful, make this the focus of your newsletter. Let’s say you have a bicycle shop and you’d like to get people to buy more bikes. Instead of advertising a special on a particular bicycle, you might offer advice on maintaining the bicycle one already has. Tell the reader what needs lubrication, what type of oil to use, and how often to oil it. Give tips for getting the gears back on track when the chain slips. Talk about when and how to replace brake pads. Give suggestions for bicycle safety in special conditions, such as rain. This will make your newsletter more welcome and position you as an expert on quality bicycles, making your store the first one people think about when it’s time to buy.
- Use a third-party service. Using a service like Constant Contact or MailChimp ensures that your message contains the necessary “unsubscribe” links and blocks email from going to people who’ve unsubscribed. For example, if firstname.lastname@example.org has unsubscribed, most services won’t let you send email to him even if you try to add his address to the database again. A third-party service also protects your IP address from getting labeled as a spammer, which can result in entire companies blocking all email from your company.
- Keep the graphics to a minimum. The commercial email services typically offer lots of templates. Before you use one of them and load in a bunch of images, take a look at the graphic below. That’s a screenshot of an image-heavy email in my email client, which (like an increasing number of others) has the graphics turned off. Some communications professionals now argue that email newsletters should be exclusively plain text, with no HTML or graphics. I’m not willing to go there yet, because a small amount of HTML enables you to track who opens an email and clicks on your links. This can be powerful information. But I am now sending out some email with no visible graphics at all.
- Don’t overdo it. You can quickly wear out your welcome if you send out an email blast every couple of days. If you have an established audience of people who have asked to receive your mailings, you can get away with one a week, but that’s about the limit. In most cases, anything over a couple per month will start annoying readers.
- Study the provisions of the CAN-SPAM act and make sure you’re in compliance. For example, it requires that you include your address in each email – a requirement a lot of senders overlook.