Thanks to anti-SPAM laws and ongoing efforts by vendors and marketers who have worked to ensure credibility, consumers can trust their email. However, it’s critical that email marketers stay abreast of evolving trends and technologies because what worked before may not work today.
One important trend is that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have emerged as a kind of meta-audience, which email marketers must understand and with whom they must cultivate relationships. ISPs serve as gatekeepers who decide which emails get through and which do not.
Once you’ve gotten your message through, you still combat the email overload your recipient may be experiencing. Permission-based marketing offers guidelines for opt-in programs based on the simple and proven premise that people will read what they ask for, and tend to delete or flag as SPAM what they have not requested.
Understand How to Build Reputation
Since ISPs act as gatekeepers, it’s critical to build your reputation by establishing the credibility of your domain name and the deliverability of your recipients’ addresses. You’ll want to test your email to smaller audiences before you execute a major campaign.
To establish your company as a legitimate email marketer with ISPs, follow these eight guidelines:
- Establish email accounts with the free email providers. Use Yahoo, Gmail, etc. to start building your deliverability rating and to test sample lists.
Create seed lists to test mailings. Try before you fly. What you are after prior to an actual email campaign is a well-vetted list of people who have opted-in to receive your information. You may have “warm leads” from other marketing initiatives, if not, you will have to build your own list.
Warm up your IP address. This builds your reputation with ISPs. The process involves sending small amounts of email through a new-unused IP address in order to establish a positive deliverability reputation. This takes several weeks, so plan ahead. If you want to warm your own IP, don’t send to your entire mailing at once. Break it into smaller groups. Give ISPs a chance to see the types of messages that are coming through and let them establish a sending reputation. If you give the ISPs a chance to get to know you and the types of email you are sending, it will give them a chance to gradually establish a sender reputation for you, which will work to your advantage.
Honor abuse reports. Treat them like unsubscribe requests. Set up and monitor accounts such as email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be aware of ISPs’ acceptable use policies. Stay up-to-date with the various ISP policies to ensure your emails get delivered now and in the future.
Implement a thorough SPAM complaint, bounce, or reply emails resolution process. To ensure clean contact lists and prompt follow-up of legitimate customer replies, implement a process to handle “out of office” replies, unsubscribe requests, SPAM complaints, and general replies.
If you plan to use a branded domain (e.g. @yourcompanyname.com), publish your authentication. This practice helps ensure good delivery rates and reputation. Authentication does require some action by your IT staff to implement.
Do not attach Word or other documents. Many ISPs now identify attachments as SPAM. And if they haven’t, some users have blocked it from their inboxes to save storage. Include links to sites where people can download information instead.
Acquire Email Addresses the Right Way
Rates of return on email campaigns correspond directly to the quality of email recipients. If your organization harbors any old notions of buying mass mailing lists and sending out vast, indiscriminate marketing pitches via email, blow those notions up now!
In this era of permission-based marketing, it’s critical that your audience opt-in to receive the information from you. Make opting-in very easy with highly visible single-click options, and unsubscribing should be that easy too.
To make sure you’re acquiring email addresses the right way, follow these three guidelines:
- Send email only to those who have opted-in. Again, the idea is simple; people are overloaded but they will generally read what they’ve asked for.
Obtain opt-in permission via common methods. These include single opt-in, double opt-in, or confirmed opt-in (see glossary for detail on these terms). Be sure your marketing automation provider delivers the tools to easily track who asked for what and when. Not only is this critical to communicate effectively with customers, but you can learn a lot about how to influence them by noticing their communication preferences.
Always be up-front. State clearly what the contact is opting-in for. After gaining their permission, the credibility of your brand and the quality of their customer experience hinges in part on giving them what they thought they were receiving. Do not be misleading.
Do the Internal Work and Align with Sales
Marketers do not work alone. Define the internal dependencies on which the success of your email campaign depends. Ensure that all customer touch points within your organization, such as customer support or sales, know about upcoming campaigns.
Remember, many customers are touching or being touched by other facets of your organization, maybe even within marketing, increase your success by being consistent across all channels.
Using CRM applications, many marketers today make it a standard practice to check whether there’s an open customer support incident before sending out proactive emails. Similarly, some customer support organizations share incident information with marketing so they can follow-up with timely emails regarding upgrades or new programs.
To make sure you’re doing the inside work, follow these three guidelines:
- Ensure cross-organizational support for and knowledge of email campaigns.
Make sure you have the reporting tools in place to support campaign goals. This means you need a marketing automation application that tracks intended action completion, such as a form submittal, form download, or purchase. Integration between your web and email marketing tools is vital here.
Review invalid contact reports. Stand by the integrity of your mailing list at all times. Be aware of how many contacts are invalidated with each mailing. Undeliverable email is inevitable, but a high volume suggests the need to reevaluate or clean up your list.
Content is King
Once you’ve followed these best practices to ensure that your messages get through, it’s time to work on the most important part, content.
Remember that content is king…
Here are some content guidelines:
- Remind the contact why they are receiving this email. Include a link to opt-out and to update their profile information. Have both of these at the top of the email.
- Ask contacts to add the “From” address to their address book. This ensures consistent delivery.
- Allow contacts to easily update their profiles. Have information already filled in, so contacts can simply enter a cursor to type in a new address, information about their internet connection, and so on.
- Ensure the “from” and “reply-to” addresses make sense to your contacts. A clear “from” address increases recognition of the message to recipients and ISPs.
- Make the “subject” line and body copy sensible and intuitive. State up-front any terms or special conditions, such as with an offer or promotion.
- AVOID special characters or jumbles of letters and numbers as these can identify your mail as SPAM. Consider that commonly known acronyms in your industry may be senseless jumble to an ISP.
- Ensure your content is internally approved by all necessary stakeholders, including the legal department.
- Target your campaign to specific audiences. The narrower the better. By tracking demographics, previous campaign history, offer acceptance, and interests stated in the customer’s profile, over time you should be able to deliver increasingly timely messages demonstrating ever-greater levels of specificity.
- Balance images and text.
- Use test cells to optimize mailings. Test randomly selected segments of your audience to try out different approaches. For example, try different subject lines or body copy to different groups of the same or very similar audiences.
- Test email content for SPAM identification.
- Include the physical postal address of your organization within your email. All emails governed by CAN-SPAM must contain a physical address or valid P.O. Box of your organization.