Reaching the inbox - simple practices to make the most out of you email marketing.
Sending email is easy, getting email to a subscriber's inbox is a bit harder, but it doesn't have to be. In this guide we'll break down some simple steps that you can take to insure the long term success of your email marketing efforts. We won't spend a lot of time talking about sending infrastructure, etc.; Reachmail takes care of all the behind-the-scenes details for you, instead we'll focus on what you can do to get the most out of your email efforts.
Getting the most from your lists
The key component in long-term delivery success is the health of your subscriber list. It's not enough to get a list, send some messages to it and sit back and relax. Lists require maintenance to reach their full potential. The ultimate goal is to continually refine your lists so that they contain only the most active and engaged subscribers. Free mail providers such as Aol, Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail place a premium on subscriber engagement. Senders who email active recipients, who open messages, click on links, spend time reading the message, etc. are more likely to be delivered to the inbox than those who don't. All of the steps we recommend are designed to improve the number of engaged subscribers in your list.
Building your list
Reachmail recommends building your list through a double-opt-in process (sometimes called a confirmed opt-in). In the double-opt-in process, a subscriber fills out a form on a website, receives a confirmation message with a unique opt-in link and is only added to the list after clicking that link to confirm their subscription. If that sounds hard to implement, don't worry, Reachmail has done the hard work for you and creating a double-opt-in form in the user interface is simple.
Double-opt-in lists bounce less than single-opt-in lists (wherein form submission signifies the opt-in) and generally capture your most engaged customers.
Offer a choice, segment your list
Message relevance is important in keeping subscribers engaged and avoiding early opt-outs and spam complaints. Irrelevant messages annoy subscribers leading them to opt-out or worse, report the message as spam. If you send messages of varying types or of varying subject matter, offer a choice to your subscribers.
For example, if your company typically sends out a monthly newsletter, occasional press releases and updates about new product features, allow subscribers the choice on the sign-up or preference forms to choose some or all of those messages.
Set clear expectations
Whether on the sign-up form itself, the thank you page or in the confirmation message, provide some details about the content and frequency of the messages the subscriber will be receiving.
For example: The Acme, Inc. newsletter is a monthly summary of our recent and upcoming projects, a client spotlight and a brief article on how to get the most out of your Acme, Inc. widget.
Offer ongoing incentives
Subscribers should be appreciated, after all they've welcomed you into their inbox. Aside from a sign-up reward, consider offering ongoing rewards. Your monthly newsletter might include a coupon for 5% off their next purchase. If you collect birthday information send a special birthday promotion. Run a contest for subscribers. Etc., etc., etc.
Reengage or remove inactive subscribers
If a subscriber doesn't open your messages or click on any links they rapidly become a drag on your reputation. Subscriber lifetime will vary inversely with the frequency of messages (i.e. the more messages sent, the shorter subscriber lifetime expectancy). Periodically pull unresponsive subscribers from your lists. It can be sometimes be effective to attempt to reengage these subscribers with a custom campaign and incentive but often it's better to just let them go.
Don't hide the opt-in
It's not a good plan to add people to your list when they're signing up for something else. For example, if users are signing up for a contest on your website don't bury the opt-in consent at the bottom of the contest terms and conditions. Those users will just report subsequent messages as spam. It's fine to include email signup as an option that the user can choose as part of entering the contest but don't automatically add them to your list or otherwise force messages on them as a side effect of some other action they took.
Don't fatigue your lists
Subscribers quickly tire of getting more messages than they want, especially if they signed up for a monthly newsletter and are getting weekly newsletters. Resist the temptation to send messages constantly and stick to the frequency expectations you set at the opt-in moment.
Getting the most from your messages
Once we get past the various list considerations, it's time to consider the message itself and how it can help your delivery.
Separate channels by email address
If you send distinct types of messages (e.g. newsletters, press releases, product notifications) give each channel a distinct email address to send from. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc., etc. This helps subscribers and mail providers identify messages. Make sure that the email addresses is active and that the mailbox is monitored; subscribers occasionally respond to messages and they are turned off when their message bounces or is never responded to.
Use clear, enticing but not deceptive subjects
Subjects should entice the subscriber to open the message but should also give a clear preview of what's inside. Deceiving subscribers is a short-cut to a spam report. Also, avoid using the ALL CAPS subject, using bangs (!) or posing a question in the subject (e.g. Do you want MILLIONS!!??).
Make sure your message can be read with images off
A reality of modern email communications is that most messages are initially displayed with all images suppressed and the subscriber is required to enable them. Your message should be formatted so that it still makes sense without the images. This includes setting the 'alt' attribute for each image (the 'alt' attribute of the HTML IMG tag is a brief text description of the image) and setting a specific width and height for the image so that suppression doesn't affect the whole layout of the email.
Include a plain text version
It's true that most modern mail programs can display HTML emails but it doesn't hurt to include a plain text version of your message. Some subscribers may prefer the plain text version and have set up their mail programs to only read plain text. The plain text version is also a great fallback if the subscriber is viewing the message on a mobile device which has trouble with HTML. Note: The plain text version is not a second email, it's sent as a second part to the HTML version and the receiving mail program decides which to display.
Avoid information overload in newsletters
Don't try to cram too much into the message, the inbox is a very busy place and subscribers won't always take the time to read a 750 word essay. Consider editing your articles down to a brief synopsis and including a 'read more' link that directs subscribers to your website.
Get your point across quickly
If your message has a specific call-to-action (e.g. 'Our new album is on sale today, click here to buy!') it should be at the top of your message and make sure it's visible with images off.
Sustaining long-term delivery success isn't as difficult as some would make it out. The key is to send relevant messages to engaged subscribers. It's best achieved through careful attention to list sourcing and maintenance and carefully crafted messages.
If you have any questions feel free to contact Reachmail support.