Email Marketing: More Than Just Email

A lot of time is spent talking about how to effectively design an email marketing campaign. Unfortunately, most people spend too much time thinking about the actual email and not enough about the user experience surrounding email marketing. I want to discuss two specific parts of the email experience: the sign-up page and the landing page. Not so coincidentally, I’m speaking at ClickZ’s Email Marketing Conference next week in San Francisco (plug plug plug). Stop by and say “hi” if you’re attending!

When Is an Email Not Just an Email (or, Ceci n’est pas un email)?

If you are following email marketing columnists’ great advice, you undoubtedly have some form of (hopefully) opt-in email. It’s also my hope these “opt-in” people signed up for your emails directly and weren’t victims of an opt-in list purchase by your company.

If you’re still with me, then you’ve already exposed your users to the first part of their “email marketing experience” — the sign-up page. Sign-up is, quite simply, the place where your users sign up! But it isn’t that simple. Many companies’ email initiatives fail before they get out of the gate because users don’t sign up. Much of the fault lies with your sign-up page.

When assessing the effectiveness of your sign-up page, ask these questions:

  • How easy is it for users to sign up? Can they do it on the home page, or is sign-up buried somewhere within the site?
  • Do you require lots of extraneous information (such as gender and Zip Code) before you let them sign up?
  • Do you require they create an account at your site before allowing them to check “send me your newsletter”?
  • Do you have an easy-to-find sign-up box requiring only an email address?
  • Have you properly set users’ expectations as to what your email will contain?
  • Do they think they’ll receive a personalized, “just for me” newsletter when in fact they won’t?
  • Did you request their interests at sign-up but lack the follow-through to personalize newsletters based on those interests (see my previous column on this)?
  • Have you set proper expectations and explained exactly what subscribers will get and how relevant the information will be to them? Is it clear why you asked the sign-up questions you did?

If you built an easy-to-use, easy-to-find sign-up page, you’re better than 80 percent of the companies out there. If your sign-up page sets realistic expectations about the content of your email, you won’t have people unsubscribing because they receive something other than what they anticipated.

Where Does Your Email Land?

A lot has been written about microsites. Put simply, a microsite is the online world a user enters after clicking through an email. Although there’s no set size for a microsite, this area is more than just one page. Instead of telling you why one is important (you can check out Kathleen Goodwin’s and Martin Lindstrom’s columns on the subject), I’ll give you my checklist for what constitutes good user experience between an email and its microsite.

Here are the questions to ask yourself when designing emails and their microsites:

  • Do the email and microsite carry the same branding and voice? If two different departments were involved (e.g., email marketing and creative development), the answer is likely to be a resounding “no.”
  • Do the email and microsite represent the beginning and a continuation of a fluid narrative that entices your audience to want to know more (see my narrative device series)?
  • Does the microsite make the user feel special? This is supposed to be a special section, accessible only to those having a relationship with you (and who receive your email). If your microsite is impersonal, you’ll waste any personalization efforts you put into the email itself. In fact, you will hinder more than help. By providing a personalized email then a nonpersonalized microsite, you’re basically saying to the user, “Hi, Jack! This offer (and these links) were sent to you because we know you would like them! But once you click on a link, you’ll see what everyone else sees. Our relationship ends the second you click out of this message.”
  • What’s the shelf life of your microsite? Many companies create microsites for specific, event-driven email (such as Christmas shopping). What happens to the microsite (or its URL) when the promotion’s over? People save email and bookmark pages they like. Don’t alienate users by returning a 404 error if they bookmark your microsite. Either keep the microsite up, redirect the URL to the most current microsite, or provide an interstitial transition page telling the user what happened.

Takeoff and Landing Are Not All

The sign-up and landing pages are only part of what surrounds the “email” part of email marketing. There’s lots more to email marketing than email. If there’s enough interest, I’ll follow up with more email marketing strategies. Let me know if this is something you want.

Does Everyone Watch TV at 2 am?

On a different subject entirely, I got a ton of responses to my TiVo column. Thanks to all who wrote, and be on the lookout for more about Internet appliances and their implications for direct marketing, privacy, and personalization.

Until next time…

Jack

Jack will speak at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.

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