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Friday, March 07, 2008


Over the years, I have found email marketing to be one of the most productive marketing tools when it comes to acquiring and retaining customers. In today's post, Matt Jackson gives his ten step plan for creating effective email marketing campaigns.

When website owners and marketers talk about online marketing, they often refer to SEO and PPC. Email marketing can sometimes be overlooked despite being one of the most powerful methods to reach potential customers and to keep existing customers coming back for more. Perhaps a factor in this is that direct email campaigns are commonly associated with spam emails, but careful list management ensures that this need not be a problem.

There are a number of stages to a successful email marketing campaign and by nailing as many as possible you can improve your results. The key to success, though, most commonly lies in the planning stage. If this is your first foray into email marketing then be prepared to treat it as a test run. The more direct email marketing campaigns you run, the more opportunity you have to optimize the process and improve your results. Here are ten of the most important steps to an effective email campaign.

1. Determine Your Ultimate Goal

This might sound obvious, but having a clear goal in mind will help to concentrate your efforts. There are many effective uses of an email marketing campaign from increasing brand awareness to pushing a new product or seasonal promotion. Each of these uses typically demands a different campaign with its own style and its own components.

Increasing traffic to your website is not usually a bottom line target. The reason for increasing traffic to a website is normally to improve sales and increase profits. In the majority of cases, it is more desirable to attain greater sales through fewer visitors, than having a site awash with visitors but with a poor conversion rate.

A prolonged and careful email marketing campaign will naturally help to improve brand awareness. Your readers will naturally remember your name and the products or services that you sell as they gain more and more exposure to your marketing emails. Similarly, as long as you produce relevant and useful emails, your potential customers will grow to trust you making it more likely that they will purchase from you now or in the future.

2. Your Opt-In Email List

There are a couple of key aspects to this section. Your opt-in list will generate better results than the use of somebody else's list. If you have taken the time and put in the effort to grow your own list, then the members of that list will already have some degree of awareness for you, your products, and your website.

Developing your own list can take time and money. To get a head start it is possible to buy or rent email lists from others. In these cases it is particularly important to pay attention to the second important factor - the list MUST be an opt-in list. Every member of that list must have opted in to receive marketing communication from you and they MUST be given adequate opportunity to opt out of future communication.

Particular care needs to be taken with your list management techniques to ensure that you are not deemed as being spam. If you purchase lists or partial lists then members that opt out need to be recorded separately. If you purchase another list that includes the same name and you subsequently email that person without their express request to be re-included in your list then you face the very real possibility of being flagged as sending spam email.

3. Establish Performance Tracking Techniques

Tracking the performance of any advertising campaign should be foremost in your mind. This is the only true method of determining its worth and is the only way you can optimize your advertising to generate the best possible results. Web analytics are an absolute must-have, and with the wealth of affordable and even free choices available today there is no reason not to have a good analytic package in place.

Tracking code can also be placed into an HTML email. You need to operate a degree of caution when implementing code into HTML emails, because it could lead to your email being blocked by over zealous spam filters. If you can use hyperlinks that include tracking code, and your analytics package includes referral data, then this can generate the majority of the information you require.

The more information you can gleam from an advertising campaign, the better. You will be using these results to fine tune future advertising campaigns, so too much information is better than too little. If in any doubt then consider using an email marketing management service to conduct the tracking on your behalf.

4. Ready Your Website

Directing visitors to your website is only a portion of the battle ahead. Once a reader clicks through the links in your email, you then need to be confident that your web pages are optimized to complete the sale. Conversion rates need to be high on the pages you direct traffic to, but you also need to target the traffic to the most appropriate pages and vice versa.

Consider the anchor text, or link text, that you will be using in your email. If you are encouraging readers to learn more about a product then don't direct them straight to the purchase page unless that page includes the inferred information. Similarly, if you have pre-sold your readers so that they are poised and ready to buy, and your CTA (Call To Action) indicates that this is the next step then you can navigate readers through to a more direct sales page.

Introducing a new product or a new concept will usually take more information than you can provide in a single marketing email. If necessary, add a page or multiple complementary pages, to your website. Direct readers to these pages so that you can combine the use of your email marketing and your optimized and informative content to really persuade and hammer the message home hard.

5. An Effective Subject Line

The subject line of your email is the first thing your readers will read, and you need to ensure that it won't be the last. Human spam filters can be just as difficult to avoid as software spam filters, even for genuine email. You should certainly avoid the use of typically spammy subject lines and opt for a more effective approach.

There are many ways to write an appealing subject line. A newsworthy subject line will often grab the attention but only works effectively in limited cases. Otherwise, try to evoke an emotive response from the reader. The strongest emotions include greed, love, and even hatred or controversy. With these latter two it is again important that you exercise appropriate caution otherwise you may alienate your readers against this and future marketing emails.

Intrigue and appeal work very well. An intriguing headline will draw your readers into the main body of the content and the subject line will have then done its job effectively. Never mislead in the subject of your email but do try to peak your reader's curiosity to the extent that they can't help but open the email and read it fully.

6. Email Body Content

Finally we reach the main body content of the email. That it's taken to point six to do so is an indication of how important the planning and preparation stages are. The subject line has hopefully driven a good portion of your list to open the email, and those readers should be intrigued enough to want to read more.

Research shows that the more personalized the message, the more likely it will be to succeed. Start with a personalized greeting and use a friendly, even conversational tone, throughout the message. Inform readers of what they need to know but do so informally and in as friendly a manner as is possible by email.

The email absolutely has to be grammatically and factually correct, and must not contain typos. These types of errors can be an instant turn off for readers. Run a spell check. Twice. And then check it manually and have somebody else check it again for you. At the same time check the links and ensure that they do indeed direct to the proper pages.

Include a Call To Action, or CTA, rather than just a link. A CTA is a direction that points your visitors to perform your desired action. This could be to click a link, make a purchase, or even forward the email to friends. The CTA needs to be clearly defined an, obviously, as effective and accurate as possible.

7. Hyperlinks To Your Site

The entire point (although probably not your ultimate goal) of your email is to get readers to click on links and visit your website. Include two or three links in the body of your email and make sure they are relevant without being too obvious. Lead readers to click the links rather than directly point it out and find something more effective than "click here" to use as your anchor text.

Two to three links is the ideal number. Too few links and your email won't prove effective at driving traffic, while too many links will detract from the actual content of the email. If your email is very short then offer two links, or offer three links within longer messages. Contextual links (that is, those that appear within the body of the email rather than at the end) are usually significantly more effective.

Check and double check that links work and direct to the correct page. Once you've done this, have somebody else check them too. The number of marketing emails that have failed because of broken or incorrect links is alarmingly high and this is not a trap that you want to fall into.

8. Choose The Best Time To Send Your Email

The time you send your email can have a significant impact on its effectiveness. During the night, most people's emails fill up. In a lot of cases, this can mean that your reader will be faced with tens of emails in the morning, many of them rubbish. This leaves a very real chance that they will simply ignore or delete your email without noticing who sent it, what it is about, or whether they have any interest in reading it.

Consider your target market and when they are most likely to be sat in front of their email. Those with a global market may find this more difficult because of the time difference, but otherwise bear this in mind too. Not every website or marketing email is geared towards residents from the same country.

9 . Test Email

Initially, send a test email to yourself, friends, family, or colleagues. This is more to determine that it arrives looking as expected. Once you have done this and are happy with how your email looks, you should then move on to send a second test email to a small selection of your list. This gives you ample opportunity to make any last minutes changes or tweaks according to how this small test run performs.

You might even consider sending several tests out to different groups, if you have a large enough list. This enables you to test the subject line, content, and product price, by making alterations before each test run. Be sure to test the different components separately, though, so that you can determine what needs changing and what works well.

A test email also gives you chance to check that you are set up and able to track the results and any other information you want to track. A good email marketing service will do this by default, because the test email can prove to be one of the single most effective ways to improve the performance of a one-off email shot.

10. Monitor, Optimize, And Start Again

Being careful not to send emails too frequently, you should send regular communication to your list. An unloved list will be more likely to unsubscribe and readers become most responsive after approximately seven items of communication from you. Monitor results, check bounce rates, and look for ways that your campaign could be improved.

Once you've found the best ways to improve a campaign make the improvements and begin the procedure again from the beginning. This process of monitoring, optimizing, and starting again will help to increase exposure, improve brand awareness, and generally improve results and profit levels.

Why Your List Is So Important

A list can last you a lifetime and it is possible to continue selling to the same list members over and over again. In fact, once a list member purchases from you, and presuming that everything goes smoothly during and after the sale, they will be more inclined to purchase from you in the future. You will have won their trust, gained their favor, and they can be relied upon to help you with extra sales in the future.

Look after your list and your list will look after your profits.


About the Author: Matt Jackson, founder of WebWiseWords, offers SEO copywriting and a range of other web content writing services to increase traffic and improve conversions for your website.


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