Best Practices for Delivering Email Newsletters

Last week, I wrote about what your email newsletter should be about and gave some suggestions on formatting. This week, I’m going to focus on delivery and best practices.

I tout it so much that it should give me stock in the company, but I think a product called PostCast is the perfect solution for small-scale email campaigns. As I wrote last week, it is basically an email server attached to a Microsoft Access database. It lets you extract data from an email message, put that data into the right fields of a database, then lets you do mailings against that database.

If you have a DSL line and an available desktop computer and can read the book “Access 2000 for Windows for Dummies.,” you have the makings of a cheap but powerful email marketing system.

No solution is perfect, and so my recommendation that you use PostCast comes with the following caveat: The software can send only about 3,000 messages per hour on a 256K DSL line. That means it is feasible to send email to 19,000 to 24,000 subscribers in an eight-hour period. But despite this downside, it is still a good deal at $300 for the full version. And you can try it for free.

So now that you have a way to deliver the email messages in a timely manner, we should focus on the best practices you should use while running an email-based marketing effort. And despite what the industry is trying to do to police itself, I think the best efforts to date have come from the MAPS folks — that’s Mail Abuse Prevention System — and their Realtime Blackhole List.

The Realtime Blackhole List is a list of known spammer domains. The MAPS folks maintain this list and offer free copies to ISPs, which then use it at a basis for their spam-filtering efforts. Many ISPs use it, including America Online. So that means if your domain gets on this list, your messages will likely be filtered out of the mailboxes of most of the people on your mailing list. This is what happened to over the summer, and it led to a lawsuit that was settled out of court.

Now I am certainly no fan of spam. But I am a little nervous about an organization that can just shut down another without any sort of adjudication process. I’ve been running various email lists for a long time now, and I can tell you that subscribers aren’t always right. They sometimes have short memories and can forget that they joined your list of their own free will. And when you show them evidence of this, they back down. (This is a good reason to keep all records of each subscription request!)

The MAPS folks have come up with a list of best practices that I recommend you follow:

Rule 1: The email addresses of new subscribers must be confirmed or verified before mailings commence.

This is know in industry parlance as “double opt-in.” No one is added to the list until he or she has replied to an email message confirming sign-up. This prevents someone from signing up an email address without the owner’s knowledge.

Rule 2: Mailing list administrators must provide a simple method for subscribers to terminate their subscriptions.

This is pretty self-explanatory: Make it easy to unsubscribe.

Rule 3: Mailing list administrators should make an “out of band” procedure.

All this means is that subscribers need alternative ways to contact you other than email or a web site. Giving your phone number, fax number, and/or physical address on each mailing will suffice.

Rule 4: Mailing list administrators must ensure that the effect of their mailings on the networks and hosts of others is minimized by proper list management procedures.

Basically this means keep your list clean of bad email addresses. Every time you send an email out, whether it makes it to its destination or not, you are using someone else’s computer. So be kind and use only the resources necessary.

Rule 5: Mailing list administrators must take adequate steps to ensure that their lists are not used for abusive purposes.

This means protect your mailing list with your life. Limit who has access to it.

Rule 6: Mailing list administrators must make adequate disclosures about how subscriber addresses will be used.

Tell your subscribers up-front how you intend to use their information.

Rule 7: Mailing list administrators should make adequate disclosures about the nature of their mailing lists, including the subject matter of the lists and anticipated frequency of messages.

This is related to rule six. Tell subscribers what the mailings will be about and how frequently you will send them.

If you ever are accused of spamming and you are following these rules, your accusers won’t be able to make the charges stick.

I’m out of space again. Next week, let’s dissect an actual newsletter so you can see how all we’ve discussed is applied.

Type at you then!

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