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E-mail Do’s and Don’ts

October 7, 2009 

As I write this essay, the founder of Email Data Source is telling the audience at the Inbound Marketing Summit, that email marketing has a return on investment of 44:1. I believe that, and Bill McCloskey’s words remind me that it’s been a while since I sang the praises of this venerable but highly useful marketing tool.

E-mail should be central to your online marketing plan.  It’s how you turn casual passersby into steady customers. It gives you permission on a regular basis to contact your constituents. It’s your best tool for driving website traffic and business results.

As a practitioner of e-mail marketing going back nearly a decade, I’ve learned a few simple do’s and don’ts. Fortunately, there aren’t a lot of rules. The most important ones are to be useful and to respect the access that your subscribers have granted you.

Do give visitors to your websites every chance to subscribe to your e-mails. Put a signup form on every page. If you can manage it, squeeze a promo into your e-mail signature. Remember, a Web contact is casual but an e-mail subscription is a relationship.

Do give your subscribers special treatment. Offer them exclusive offers and discounts. Some software companies now give newsletter publishers free promotional licenses to products that are one release out of date. Look for these offers and ask if you can adapt them for your subscribers.

Do use an e-mail service provider. I use iContact, but there are many others, including Constant Contact, Benchmark Email and Lyris. There are even free options. For a nominal cost, you’ll get reporting, tracking and list management you’d never be able to duplicate yourself.

Don’t deceive your subscribers. If you tell them they’re signing up for a newsletter, don’t send them promotional messages. If you say you won’t contact them more than once a month, then don’t do that. Monitor your unsubscribes. If a lot of people are leaving, they’re trying to tell you something.

Do provide a Web version of your newsletter. Mine is here. This makes it easy for people to share your content on social bookmarking sites, Twitter and Facebook. It also makes you discoverable by search engines.  Finally, it’s a way for people to respond to you.

Which reminds me: do invite response to that Web version you just created. Email is boring when it’s one way. Start a discussion.

Do sweat the subject line. Make it provocative or intriguing. However, don’t mislead people into opening the newsletter if you can’t deliver the goods.

Do keep messages brief and varied. Provide several “points of entry” to engage your audience’s different interests. Have fun. The most well-read item in my newsletter is the short “Just for Fun” blurb at the end. Do you think I don’t know that?

Do provide alternative delivery in text format. All service providers support this option. Not all subscribers prefer HTML and they shouldn’t have it forced on them.

Don’t add subscribers without their permission. There’s nothing wrong with renting an opt-in list, but scraping addresses off websites or borrowing other people’s lists can get you in legal trouble.

Don’t underestimate the value of e-mail marketing. This newsletter consumes three to four hours of my time every week. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was important.

And Speaking of Great Offers…

The nice folks at HubSpot have extended an offer to my subscribers that I think deserves your attention. It’s a complete text and video course that educates you in the art and science of using social media in general – and Twitter in particular – for marketing. And it’s entirely free to my subscribers. What does HubSpot get out of it? Well, you have to fill out a contact form to download the information, but there’s no obligation and you will learn a lot from the basic program.

Here’s what you get:

  • Video: Twitter for Marketing and PR – Learn how to use Twitter to spread news about your company (1 hour)
  • Video: Getting Found Online using Social Media – Learn the ins and outs of using social media for business (1 hour)
  • EBook: How to Use Twitter for Business (25 pages)
  • EBook: State of the TwitterSphere Report

HubSpot understands the value of providing high-quality information as a way to generate leads. So take them up on this offer and let me know what you think. Download the course here.

Tip of the Week: AutoPager

I find and discard a lot of Firefox add-ons, but AutoPager will be with me for a long time. This wonderfully useful little utility addresses one of the most frustrating time-wasters of Internet research: clicking through to new pages. Any Google user knows the syndrome: when you get to the bottom of a page of search results, you have to click a link to view the next page and then wait while that page loads. AutoPager automatically loads the next page in any sequence when you scroll to the bottom of the preceding page. When you’re performing a lot of Internet research, it can be a huge time-saver. Like all open source utilities, it’s free.

Just for Fun: Those Silly Tech Support People

It’s a humbling truth in life that even the smartest person among us sometimes needs help, especially when it comes to the intricate workings of computers. But what happens when the people who are supposed to know more than we do in fact know very little? We’ve found this amusing collection of tech support stories to brighten your day. The stories are dated, but still very funny. You’re very welcome.

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