Spinning Your Way to
Email Marketing Success
By Louis Chatoff
August 22, 2008 —When I take my weekly spin class at the local gym, the instructor is constantly reminding the class to breathe. So often we go as fast as we can, with all our effort expended toward rapid short-term gains, when instead we should relax, stay focused, and breathe.
Successful email marketing strategy is a lot like my spin class: We start with a predefined warm-up, slowly move into the heart of the workout (remembering to breathe), and finish with a focused, well deserved cool-down. I wonder if spin class should be a requirement for email marketers.
No email marketing campaign should be attempted without a warm-up phase, which includes verifying the integrity of your list: Did all the recipients opt in to receive your mailing? Did you set subscriber expectations during the opt-in process—e.g., type and frequency of your mailings?
Mailing lists with more than 10% undeliverable email addresses is a red flag to Internet service providers (ISP)s. Sending to recipients who previously unsubscribed will lead to spam complaints and ISP blocks. If you are unsure about the integrity of your list, don't send to it, or send to a small sample and analyze the results before using the entire list.
Use different Internet protocol (IP) addresses for your transactional mail and your marketing mail. And contact the ISPs about having your IP addresses added to their feedback loops and whitelists. Information is available at the ISP's postmaster site, or if you are using an email service provider (ESP), it should be able to assist you.
Finally, you need to stay current on authentication technologies. Having your Domain Name System (DNS) record in order with Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records, DomainKeys and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) will help ensure your warm-up is complete.
Now you are ready to work out.
Kick those email marketing best practices into high gear. Breathe!
Having a From address that properly identifies your organization and a subject line that properly identifies your content is key because you only get one chance to make a positive first impression.
Being tricky in order to get your message opened will only result in the recipient's hitting the Spam button. I like to remind marketers that even if the message is not opened, brand awareness can be achieved through the From address and Subject line.
Professional-looking content is also key to recipient action. Nothing pushes the recipient away like a message that resembles a public access commercial. Make sure that your brand is clearly visible and identifiable. Brand awareness should be among the goals of every email marketer.
Also remember that your content is being sent via email. It is not a Web page. And because there is no standard email client, keep your HTML code simple so that it can be properly rendered.
Take the time to write targeted copy, and send it only to the targeted group. Use demographic information to push relevant content to segmented groups.
Filtering companies are now frowning on messages that are primarily images, especially those that are just one big image. Add a short text piece for recipients who use hand-held devices—and tend to weed through messages with their mobile devices.
The best-kept secret in content design is adding a few short sentences to the very top of the message—right under your banner. Let the recipient know why they are receiving your message, ask them to add your From address to their address book, and let them know where the functional unsubscribe link is so if they no longer want your messages they use the unsubscribe link and not the Spam button.
Test your message. Send it to a small group of internal recipients. Send it to a small group of external recipients. Use A/B split testing on different subjects and content. And most important, if you are sending from a new IP address, send slowly! Nothing gets the ISP's attention like a huge volume of email coming from a new IP address.
We can now hit the Send button and start our cool down.
Cooling down is critical. Analyzing your delivery reports will allow you to make adjustments for your next send. Take a look at hard bounces—messages that are only attempted once due to the bounce code. Most hard bounces will include unknown recipients and domains. Make sure these addresses are not sent to again.
Also look through your hard bounces for ISP blocks. If you are being blocked, you will need to look closely at the bounce codes in order to take the appropriate action.
Soft bounces are messages that should be attempted more than once, based on the bounce code. Soft bounces generally include busy mail server and message deferral issues. Just like with hard bounces, soft bounces need to be analyzed for ISP delivery issues.
Look at your open rate. A falling open rate is a good sign that you might be over-mailing, sending to an audience that does not want your message, or sending to an ISP that is delivering your message to the bulk folder or filtering your message before it even gets to the mail server.
Another secret used by successful email marketers is analyzing the spam complaints. If you set up a feedback loop in your warm-up, you know who is clicking the Spam button because (they are likely doing so because they don't know who you are, didn't expect your message, or would rather hit the Spam button than use your unsubscribe link).
You need to know how many are hitting the Spam button and where these addresses came from. Spam complaints are now the number-one reason marketing messages are getting delivered to the bulk folder and being blocked.
Resolving ISP delivery issues is usually not too difficult. The hard part is making the necessary changes so that delivery issues do not become a permanent battle.
Your cool down is complete, so take one last breath and remember that just like a good work out you need to be in it for the long haul and not look for quick and easy gains. Take the time to research best practices so you are constantly building a positive reputation with your recipients and ISPs.
Here are some valuable links on email delivery and sender best practices:
- From ESPC (Email Sender and Provider Coalition), a great five-page must-read on best practices (pdf)
- The Marketers Guide to Accreditation, Reputation and Authentication Resources (pdf)
- From AOL, a short, to-the-point guide
- From Yahoo, some useful tips
- From MAAWG (Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group), this PDF offers a technical look at best practices.