Optimizing the “E-mail This” Marketing Opportunity

“E-mail this to a friend” is pretty standard Web site functionality. Whether your content consists of articles, product information, or something else, you want to make it easy for visitors to share it with others. It’s a form of viral marketing, yet even some of the biggest Web sites aren’t taking full advantage of the marketing part. Here are some tips even small sites can implement to get the most return from this functionality.

Make It Prominent

If visitors don’t see they can e-mail your content, they won’t. The best place to put the call to action is near the top of the page, by the title or headline (on this page, it’s just above my picture). Sometimes it’s placed with “print” and other utilities, which is fine. You might also consider a second call to action at the end of the article or bottom of the page.

Make It Visual

Words are great, but a visual can often get the point across faster and is easier for visitors to skim. The universal e-mail icon, the back of an envelope, is what most people use. This, combined with some form of “e-mail this,” gets the point across in a clear, concise manner.

Include Address Book Functionality

How many of your friends’ and colleagues’ e-mail addresses do you know by heart? Many of us rely heavily on our e-mail clients’ address books for this information. Letting visitors tap into their own address books to retrieve e-mail addresses overcomes the most common obstacle to sharing information. And it broadens the number of people your Web site visitors can forward your content to, increasing your potential viral marketing success.

Address Privacy and Copyright Concerns

Letting people know how you will and won’t use their e-mail addresses and the addresses they provide will increase their comfort level. A simple privacy statement like, “We will not share the information you provide on this page with third parties” and a link to your privacy policy accomplish this.

If the content being shared is copyrighted, also include language to support this legal protection. Briefly define “fair use” guidelines, and include a link to your permissions policy. Be sure it’s concise and not written in legalese, something like “Feel free to e-mail articles to friends and colleagues for their personal, non-commercial use. For article reprints and other commercial use please consult our permissions policy for guidance.”

Offer Senders Their Own Copy

If it’s interesting enough to share, there’s a good chance senders would like their own copy. Provide a box they can check to receive the same e-mail their friends and colleagues get.

Support Personalization

By personalization I mean a personal message the sender can include in the e-mail. Many organizations shy away from this from concern about what might be said about them, their product, or the recipient; they worry about guilt by association. While there’s always the potential for abuse, it needs to be balanced with the increased effectiveness a personal message can provide.

For instance, if it’s a product page that’s being sent, wouldn’t you want a message like “This looks like the solution to our space issue. See below.” to be included? Give senders some free-form space to work with.

But don’t overlook some hard-coded copy. Not all senders will want to include a personal message, and a link or an article with no introduction or context looks a bit lost. Be sure to include some copy to explain to the recipient what’s going on.

Promote Your Business Goals

Often companies look at “e-mail this” as a public service. In reality, it’s a great opportunity to further your Web site’s purpose.

If your revenue model is based on advertising, you should include advertising in your “e-mail this” program. It can be present on the page with the content that’s being forwarded. You might also include ad banners:

  • On the form page visitors use to personalize and send the content

  • On the thank-you/confirmation page they see telling them the e-mail has been sent
  • In the e-mail the recipient receives with a link to or full text of the content

If your Web site’s goal is lead generation, be sure to provide ample opportunities for the sender and the recipient to request more information. Add a note and a link to enable the sender and recipient to subscribe to your mailings. If you’re looking for direct sales, a coupon or other special promotion might entice these people, who are already somewhat engaged, to buy.

And don’t forget about e-mail! Every site should include a way for visitors to continue the relationship by opting in for e-mail. Be sure this gets included in the e-mail that’s sent and on your thank-you/confirmation page.

Pay Attention to the E-mail’s Look and Feel

Many “e-mail this” e-mail messages are sent in plain text format, without the benefit of professional copywriting or design. Don’t let your e-mail suffer this fate. This may be the recipient’s first introduction to your brand; you need to make a lasting, professional impression.

The best way to do this is with HTML, although you should send multipart MIME (define) so if a recipient can only read text that’s the version she’ll see. HTML allows you to:

  • Include your logo for instant brand recognition

  • Use columns to organize content
  • Incorporate color, boldfacing, and other formatting to aid in readability
  • Set the personal message apart from the hard-coded copy, so it’s more prominent and catches the reader’s eye
  • Hide the URL behind a text link, providing a cleaner look and feel

As a backup, you should also provide the full URL in the footer, just in case links aren’t live.

Encourage the Viral Continuum

Don’t overlook a second viral opportunity. Give the recipient an easy way to pass this article link on to other friends and colleagues. The take rate on this will probably be low, but it doesn’t cost much to include, and every additional person is a potential future Web site visitor.

Don’t Recreate the Wheel

There are a number of off-the-shelf solutions for “e-mail this article” functionality. While your IT team may relish the idea of building its own, do a cost/benefit analysis to determine which solution fits with your timeframe and budget. Boxed solutions are usually more expensive but can often be implemented more quickly than building the functionality in-house. One solution I like is Clickability’s imWare.

Try these tips with your site’s “e-mail this” functionality, and tell me how it goes!

Until next time,

Jeanne

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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