How to Make Email Work for You
I took a long hard look at email marketing while writing a series of articles for a client. I learned a few things that work and many more things that don't.
The experience made me want to up my email game. Using the client's system was out of the question. It's designed for 100,000+ monthly emails, has analytics and segmentation up the wazzoo and is priced well out of my budget.
Still, email is probably the best way for businesses to communicate with their customers. That's no surprise. Email's cheap. Its use is widespread. Done well, it's unintrusive.
As long as a business stays on the right side of the Spam Line, they do fine. That's one of the real tricks to this game.
Cross over the Spam Line and you're toast.
That doesn't just apply to businesses. It applies to each of us as well.
Opt-In versus Opt-Out
There are two types of email lists, opt-in and opt-out.
An opt-out email list means you just add emails and allow people to unsubscribe if they don't want the messages. It's more obtrusive, but not annoyingly so. That is it's not too obtrusive if the unsubscribe link is hassle-free. I just got one such message where I had to jump through 5 screens to confirm that I really, really, really, really, really wanted to unsubscribe.
If you thought that last sentence was annoying to read, imagine how I felt clicking through five screens of why I was an arse for wanting to unsubscribe! How could I possibly want to leave a mailing list that sent messages about a subject I had absolutely no interest in, was written as if translated directly from the original Aramaic, and that send two or three rather long emails a day?
Turns out the wanting-to was easy. The doing so -- not so much.
An opt-out list with no opt-out option is the worst type of spam there is. Some SOB adds you and you're stuck. It's those SOBs that prompted email programmers to create spam traps and junk mail folders. Having no unsubscribe option is illegal in most jurisdictions.
An opt-in email list means people add themselves. That means they actually want to read the stuff. It's up to you to continue holding their interest. It's up to you to stay on topic. Usually, that also means some sort of web-based input form.
They aren't without their drawbacks. Web crawlers may add bullshit emails. They can take an awfully long time to build. At least, the people who get your messages are mostly those that want to get your messages.
Which type is better?
If you look at two lists of the same size, the opt-in list will outperform the opt-out list by miles. The gotcha lies in the "of the same size" part. The balance point is at about 5 times if we can believe recent studies. A 1000-name opt-in list will perform as well as a 5000-name opt-out list.
It's much easier and faster to build an opt-out list, but unsubscribe rates are through the roof, open rates are in the crapper, and many email addresses will be inactive.
Opt-in lists take longer to build but are inherently more stable, messages get opened more often, and inactive email addresses are the exception.
I'm in Canada so I don't really have a choice. We have some seriously strict anti-spam legislation in place. We must use opt-in lists.
That's fine with me. It's the method I would choose anyway.
Opt-out is for quantity. Opt-In is for quality.
In Canada, we have the concept of implied consent. For example, someone who buys from you is implied to have an interest. They can be added to your list without their express consent, provided there is some way to unsubscribe easily.
This can get awfully tricky in an awful hurry.
If we connect on social media is that implied consent? How about replying or commenting on a post?
Where do we draw the line?
You can save yourself a lot of grief by making it very easy to join and even easier to leave.
It should be simple to join your List. Sure, you can use a simple web form. It would need to be super-short. Every input you ask for over 2 cuts sign-ups dramatically. That doesn't give you much leeway. That's just a name and an email.
How about no inputs? Wouldn't a one-button-click sign up be great?
It isn't a pipe dream. Allow people to join using their Twitter or LinkedIn credentials. They get a one-click subscription. You get enough info that analytics become possible.
Joining with Twitter gives you their twitter handle, their full name, their declared location, their offset from UTC (that's GMT without daylight savings, equivalent to a time zone), their language of choice, and, of course, their email.
Joining with LinkedIn gives you first and last names, the industry they work in, the country where they live, the more specific region within that country, and their email.
If email addresses are stored once and updated as people sign up for lists, no matter which list they join, eventually you'll get a pretty complete picture of your subscribers.
Charges based on Number of Email Addresses Stored. Huh?
Why? Server storage may not be free, but it's pretty darned cheap. Every system I looked at charged based on how many addresses they store. I guess it's so that they can charge even if you don't send any emails out. Come to think of it, since most systems use opt-out lists, all those inactive accounts count towards your total.
Not cool, but it gets worse.
Usually, if the same email address is on two lists, that counts as two emails.
That's seriously not cool.
Storing and sending emails is so cheap that we aren't even charging extra for it on myTweetPack.com. For now, we aren't even limiting its use either. We'll see how it goes. If things get nuts, we'll have to change that. I'd be surprised.
I've seen many things that will trigger the sending of emails to a list. Some platforms use an email to a special address. Others use a type of dashboard. Others use a type of timed trickle. Many of these methods cause issues.
Some are too complex. Some are too simplistic. Some even force you to learn HTML. No, you can't just write in Word and save as HTML. Word's HTML is so full of extra stuff that many emails won't even post.
Any system worth the while must have a variety of send triggers. You should be able to create one-offs, send via a simple method, automate sends based on content, and, probably most importantly, create timed drip email campaigns.
Timed drip campaigns run through a series of emails. The first goes out. The second goes out a specific interval after, etc. That's super handy. Every new subscriber starts with the first email. They will get them all unless they unsubscribe first.
Oh, there's something else. . .
Your emails must be in HTML format! Plain text won't cut it.
I kid thee not.
Why? I'm glad you asked. It's because of ...
The Fallacy of Open Rates
While I was researching my articles, I found many mentions of deplorable email open rates. Some studies pegged it at under 6% for opt-in lists and under 1% for opt-out lists. I started to question the viability of email marketing.
Maybe email really was dead? Maybe it's time to switch over to SMS (texting)?
Then I looked deeper.
You would think the Open Rate is how often someone actually opens an email you sent them.
Here's the thing. There are only two way to know if someone opens an email. Neither is foolproof.
One, you can ask for a Read Receipt. That's not very helpful. Let's face it. Everyone ignores those things.
Two, you can use an HTML formatted email that has an image in it. Then you track how often your server serves up that image.
That's better but still sub-optimal. Many, if not most, email programs don't load images by default. The recipient must expressly download them.
Some people do, many don't.
Let's call "Open Rates" what they really are, "Minimum Open Rates." The reality is more than reported, sometimes much more. Whatever your system says your open rate is, tack on about 50%. That will likely be closer to reality.
As you may have guessed. . .
We're just finishing up our email marketing modules on myTweetPack.com. We implemented everything I mentioned here. Here's an overview of what it does,
- Opt-in or Opt-out capability (Canadian members must use opt-in, but don't forget about implied consent)
- Built-in WYSIWYG HTML editor. You write formatted text, it stores HTML. For advanced users, you can even access code view to edit the HTML directly. I used that feature to convert a link to a download link. You can also include images in your emails. We have the capability of allowing video as well, but no one seemed interested in it. We can always add video later.
- Emails go out with your address as the reply to, or whichever you choose. You can even use a "noreply" address.
- Every message has an unsubscribe link. A message will go out quarterly (or monthly if people prefer) that shows all lists a subscriber subscribes to with unsubscribe and continue subscribing links.
- Unlimited Lists and stored email addresses (we reserve the right to impose limits if things get out of hand, but we doubt it)
- URLs to join Lists (working samples below). Add them anywhere: on websites, emails, blog posts, text messages, tweets, etc.
- Minimum Open Rates by list, specific email message, or specific subscriber. An analytics dashboard will follow.
- Multiple Triggers: Upon message creation, From tweeted hashtag (One such list per member account. Currently in development, will be active by Oct26, 2017), Fed by RSS/ATOM feeds (Take that LinkedIn notifications), and Drip campaigns (timed release)
- Bulk upload of email subscribers to follow. For now, contact support@myTweetPack.com. We'll upload them for you.
- Subscribe via Facebook is in process.
- You own your lists. That may sound obvious. I was surprised to learn that some services don't allow you to download the lists you built. That's so uncool, I thought I read wrong. You always have access to your lists. For now, we'll just do it for you and send you a CSV file. Soon, we'll make that self-serve.
Using links is easy.
Here are a few opt-in links. Knock yourself out. See how easy it is.
A List fed by an RSS feed: beBee Posts by Paul Croubalian. This post is really a test of this function. An email notification will go out whenever a new post is detected.
A Drip Campaign: How-Tos, Tips, and Tricks for New pack Members (and Old Hands). It's sort of like a user manual for myTweetPack (Judy Olbrych's idea. Duh, why didn't I think of that?), This is where the edited link into a download link is. Every message has a link to download a PDF version of all the messages.
A List triggered by the creation of a message: myTweetPack New Features and Pack Support. Eventually, I'll add all active myTweetPack members to this list. The implied consent is obvious.
A test list for triggering emails by a tweeted hashtag: Random Thoughts and Musings, a Tweet-Powered List. I'll add a few tweets just to test it later.