It’s a little ironic, in a world where search engines can learn and social media is transforming communication, to say that an “old” technology like email can be the most powerful and cost-effective marketing channel around. But, facts are facts. While email newsletters might not be as flashy as some newer marketing methods, successful mailings deliver the biggest payoff, earn a return almost instantly, and cost next to nothing.
But the way smart business owners are utilizing email has changed recently. That’s because it’s not quite as simple as typing up a quick message and hitting “send” anymore. Customers have become overwhelmed with messages. More and more, they are choosing to unsubscribe from newsletters they don’t see as being worth their time. Or even worse, they are simply ignoring the emails they get without bothering to remove themselves from the distribution list – giving marketers the false impression that progress is being made.
As with the realities facing business owners on every other front, there are pieces of good and bad news in all of this. The bad news is that it’s harder to use email marketing effectively than it has ever been in the past. The good news is that if you can develop a committed readership and following, subscribers will pay attention to your offers and tune out your competitors.
So how do you get into the inner circle of trusted marketers and get people to read your email newsletters and act on them? To answer that question, I’m going to share lots of quick tips you can use to modernize your approach to email…
Raise Eyebrows, Not Suspicions
The first thing a subscriber is going to notice about your email newsletter is the subject line you give it. That makes it imperative that you use the first few words to grab their attention. However, you need to do so without raising their suspicions that your message isn’t genuine or triggering the increasingly sensitive spam filters most email providers use.
There is both an art and science to writing great email newsletter subject lines. Asking questions and providing numbered lists are popular tactics. Either one incites curiosity on the part of the recipient. In the same way, hitting on a time-sensitive topic is a tested and proven strategy, particularly when there is a need for news or insight.
For the most part, though, writing great email subject lines isn’t about following rules or templates. Instead, it’s about thinking of the clearest and direct way to get your recipient interested. Without good email subject lines, your newsletters will never be opened or considered. Go too far, though, and your message will look like an over-the-top advertisement that will be ignored.
Keep Your Emails to a Manageable Length
Most of us don’t have as much time in our daily schedules as we’d like, or the attention span to focus on all the things that ask for our attention at any given moment. It’s not all that surprising, then, that we are prone to skimming or ignoring pieces of content that look like they’re going to take up more time than they are worth. We’ll glance at a meme but pass up a white paper; we’re happy to watch a 15-second video clip, but not one that stretches five minutes long.
There are exceptions to these rules, of course, particularly when we are very invested in a topic or motivated to find an answer. In general, though, you’ll get a much bigger response from your emails if they run a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.
The obvious advice here, then, is to slim your messages down to the bare essentials of headlines, openings, bullet points, and calls to action whenever possible. If you have more to say, consider whether your email could link to a longer blog post or report.
There’s certainly a risk in editing your newsletter to the point that the biggest ideas are lost. What happens a lot more frequently, though, is that an email isn’t read because the subscriber sees it’s too long and decides to move on to the next item in their inbox.
Put Important Information Above the Fold
Speaking of what your subscribers see when a message first pops up in their inbox, it’s a good idea to follow an inverted pyramid approach to your newsletter content. That is, put the most important and compelling ideas at the top, where they can grab attention.
This is important for the sake of pulling your reader into the points you want to make, but it also matters in a purely visual and technical sense. In many cases, a subscriber might not open your email to view it. Instead, they’ll click on it in their inbox and see what’s presented in the preview pane. That paragraph or two might be as much of their attention as you get.
If you can do a good job of showing them why they should care, they may decide to give your newsletter a closer look. And even if they don’t, you’ll have gotten the opportunity to make a point or let them know about a sale, special, or event even without having them read your whole message.
Mix Informative Articles With Irresistible Offers
Have you ever turned on your television with the intention of watching nothing but commercials? Neither have any of your subscribers. And yet, a lot of business owners send out email newsletters that are nothing but offers to “click here” or “buy this.”
Naturally, you’re going to judge the success or failure of your email marketing campaigns by the responses they generate. However, you need interest and attention before you can generate action. In other words, subscribers have to tune in before they’ll do what you want them to. That’s why TV networks give you shows interspersed with ads.
You should follow their example and give a mixture that looks something like two-thirds informative and insightful content, one-third direct appeals for sales activities. You might be pleasantly surprised at how often the “informational” emails result in conversions, and how much more receptive subscribers will be to your calls to action when they’ve been softened up with articles.
A few marketers who can get away with emailing nothing but offers, but the offers themselves have to be incredibly strong (big discounts, limited availability, etc.). Unless you have the kind of customer base that’s always in buying mode, it’s best to add in some tips and advice with your marketing appeals.
Remember Your Mobile Customers
While it’s difficult to measure analytics across every market, surveys suggest that well over half of all emails are initially viewed on phones and tablets. So what happens if your message can’t be previewed and displayed on a mobile device? The obvious answer is “not much.”
Luckily, there’s no shortage of templates and tools you can use to make your email newsletters every bit as responsive as your web pages are. But if you ignore them or put off upgrades, you’re going to see your response rates dip pretty heavily.
Look back through your recent email analytics to see how many subscribers are opening your messages through mobile devices. You might be surprised at just how many there are. Whatever the exact figure looks like, know that the specific proportion is growing, so it’s important to remember your mobile customers.
Divide Your Subscriber Lists Into Segments
Earlier in this book, I advised you to know who your customers and prospects are, not just regarding demographics, but also their needs and motivations.
If you follow that advice, you may have determined that you have more than one type of buyer who is important to your business. In fact, there might be several. If that’s the case and you can identify them distinctly, then you should consider creating separate segments of your email marketing list.
Segments can be created by geography, device, account history, order size, or some other criteria. The logical barriers are going to depend on your business. What matters, though, is that you have the ability to make targeted offers to each group of customers, particularly if they respond to different kinds of messages.
In most cases, keeping separate segmented lists requires nothing more than a bit of extra setup. And you can tweak an email newsletter template in just a few minutes so that the subject line, for example, can be changed for one audience or another. That small bit of effort could yield you many more opens and conversions. Why not communicate with your subscribers with as much focus as possible?
Test Email Delivery Time and Days
Once upon a time, everyone “knew” that Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons were the best time to send email messages. Then, Thursdays were added to the list, and occasionally mornings. Now some marketers claim that Friday afternoon is the magic window of opportunity, or that weekends outperform weekdays.
Rather than asking who is right, it’s better to recognize that every market and situation is different. In fact, it’s only by testing different email delivery times and days that you can see what will be most effective for your small business.
Keep in mind that you may have some segments or audiences that are more responsive at certain times than others. That’s particularly true if your buyers are spread out over a large geographic area or several countries. What’s convenient for one subscriber might be annoying for another.
If you followed all of the advice I’ve given to this point, it’s probably safe to say that a lot of subscribers are going to open your messages at some point regardless of when you send them. Still, internet marketing is all about improving at the edges and margins. If you can test different times to send your newsletters, you may find there are response gains to be made.
Cross-Promote Your Emails and Offer Something Special
Although many business owners treat email marketing as its activity, separate from things like search engine optimization and social media, the reality is that success in one area can lead to improvements in another. For example, you can get more views on every one of your email newsletters by promoting their release (and headline topics) through social media.
If someone sees that you’ve put out an interesting article on your Facebook fan page, they may be more apt to visit your website and sign up for your next message. Or they could contact you directly to see how they end up on your distribution list. The same with Twitter, Google+, and other social outlets.
Traffic can move in the other direction, as well. Someone who has agreed to hear from you regularly over email is also likely to follow you on their favorite social network (and possibly on more than one of them). Include links to your profiles within each message, and you’ll see your contact network start to grow.
One of the keys to making these dynamics work in your favor is always to be offering something valuable. Just as you can have social media-only offers and events, it’s not a bad idea to throw in a few promotions that are exclusive to your email clients. The real goal should be to have your customers and subscribers engaging you in many different ways. That’s how you form relationships, build awareness of your brand, and create a foundation for sales that extends beyond any one means of communication.
Don’t Give Up on the Power of the Inbox
While all of the quick tips I’ve shared in this chapter can help you boost your response rates and get more from email, the overall point I want to leave you with is that the power of the inbox is as strong as ever. Don’t become so distracted by all the different marketing channels that you forget about the single most cost-effective, tried-and-true way of reaching out to customers there is, EMAIL MARKETING.
While it’s true that email marketing is getting harder, it’s also true that it’s still nearly instant and incredibly low cost. With just a few minutes of time, you can reach out to your subscriber list, send personalized and highly targeted messages, reinforce all of your other marketing, and generate a fast response. If you try to do that over the phone or social media, you would likely give up pretty quickly.
Business owners tend to take email for granted, but it’s a great tool for growing and maintaining your business online. Make this the year you use it to its fullest potential.
10-Point Strategy Guide to Small Business Website Design and Internet Marketing is a ten part Blog series by Founder and Owner of WebWize, Inc., Glenn Brooks.
Glenn has been part of the website design and development industry since 1994, over two decades. Before WebWize he spent more than 15 years in the Advertising, Marketing, and Print Industries. Don't miss this opportunity!
10 Part Strategy Series TOC
Strategy #1: Give Your Website a Job
Strategy #2: Emphasize Website Performance and UX
Strategy #3: Build a Sales Funnel for Bottom-Line Growth
Strategy #4: Understand the New Age of Search Engine Optimization
Strategy #5: Make Your PPC Campaigns as Efficient as Possible
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About Glenn Brooks
Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.