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Email Marketing Best Practices

Did you know that 93 percent of U.S. Internet users count email as their top online activity? *At a time when many people seem concerned about the volume of email reaching their inboxes, legitimate marketers are relying more and more on email communications to reach their target audience.

Does this make sense? The answer is a resounding YES. Email is a fast, inexpensive and extremely effective way to target and address disparate audiences. Does this mean you should just go ahead and email to your hearts delight? The answer is a resounding NO. We have compiled a list of some email marketing best practices both from our own experiences, and those of other industry experts to help you make the most of your in-house email marketing strategy.

Grow your opt in list
When it comes to lists, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Targeted, permission-based lists will serve you best in the long run. There are many ways to build a permission-based list. You can gather email addresses from your website, trade show booths, customer service departments, sales representatives, event registrations, and sweepstakes. Show your customers and prospects the value of what they are signing up for by offering them samples of your newsletter, white papers and other communications. Offer targeted subscriptions by tailoring your opt-outs by category of communication. By doing this, you offer your subscribers a choice of communications that most interests them.

Test, test, test
You don’t want to display a ‘less-than-professional’ image by sending email messages that display with broken code or missing graphics. You can avoid this by testing. Remember, your layout may look great displayed on your computer, but not so perfect on another email client. You may choose to set up several free email accounts to view your message on various readers.

Smart marketers understand that everything from delivery date, time, call to action, pricing and content may effect response rates. So, don’t stop your testing at format. Test all aspects of your message from your offer, subject line, and content to the delivery dates/times. Email campaigns (unlike their snail mail counterparts), with their automatic reporting capabilities, provide the perfect vehicle for trying different offers, in order to best optimize response rates.

HTML/Text
HTML emails are more interesting to read. The graphics, images, colors and format, when done correctly, increase the reader’s ability to process the content of the message, and make a better brand impression. However, if not executed properly, too much visual stimulation can backfire, and obscure the reader’s ability to process the content of the message. In addition, some corporate email servers withhold graphics, and many people on their home computers still have dial up connections which could make the load times on large HTML messages frustrating. The answer is to keep your messages simple and relevant. And, when creating your messages, create a text only and HTML version, and give your audience the choice of which they would rather receive.

Relevancy
Getting rid of ‘unwanted’ postal mail requires you to expend some energy – a trip to the mailbox, opening the communication, walking to the trash can, and finally, discarding the envelope and it’s contents. Discarding unwanted email, on the other hand, requires almost no effort. At the click of a button, someone can unsubscribe from your communications. The trick is to make your communications so valuable, that they won’t want to. Try to personalize your communication, whenever possible. Use your Web site’s registration page, or include a subscription management link in your email communications to ask subscribers what they want to see. Also, track which links are clicked to determine what interests your readers, and target your future communications accordingly.

Frequency
Sometimes too much is enough to make someone unsubscribe. How often have you signed up for a newsletter or special store promotion by email, only to be inundated by offers from that vendor on a daily basis. It’s difficult to answer the question, ‘how often should I communicate with my customers and prospects’. It varies by industry and type of offer. A newsletter should come on a regular basis. But, keep in mind that a special offer is no longer ‘special’ if you’re offering it constantly. As you build your email communications program, ask your subscribers how often they would like to hear from you, and then listen to what they have to say.

Technology and the Internet have opened new doors for direct marketers, allowing for cost effective communication, targeting and information gathering on customers and prospects. By following some simple, commonsense rules, you can reap the benefits that email marketing technology has to offer.

* Source: Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corporation.

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