Top Five E-mail Marketing Best Practices

Next week, I’ll present a session at the Online Marketing Workshop called “Building an Email Program Your Customers Will Love.” As part of that session, I’ll give the audience a top 10 list of e-mail marketing best practices compiled by myself and Larry Joseloff,’s senior director of content. Today, I’ll share five of them. If you’re going to the conference, please stop by and say “hi”!

Make Registration Easy

Place as few barriers to entry as possible during the registration. Many companies still require users to sign up for a full account before allowing them to opt in to e-mail lists. Smart companies require only an e-mail address. Place contextually relevant sign-up boxes throughout your site.

Let’s say you are a sports site and have several newsletters: baseball, football, soccer, and tennis. Make sure users can easily sign up for the baseball newsletter in the baseball section, the football newsletter in the football section, and so on. This seems obvious, yet most companies relegate newsletter choices like these to a second-tier site page.

Create an Effective Promotional Strategy

E-mail doesn’t exist just so you can send coupons to your customers, so stop using e-mail only to distribute them. Create a promotional strategy that includes content and other information tailored to your audiences. If you’re going to create promotions and coupons, understand the science behind promotions. If you send too many promotions and coupons, you train your customers to hold off making purchases until they get a coupon. Additionally, you harm your brand integrity if your online brand becomes synonymous with discounts — unless that’s all your brand is about. In that case, you have other problems, because your loyal customers will happily be just as loyal to the next company if it gives larger discounts.

Be Actionable

Many companies still send out e-mail without clear calls to action. Before you send an e-mail, make sure the action you want the user to take is extremely clear. I have a “rule of three” I use for my clients. Each e-mail should have three levels of calls to action. The most specific level is the actual reason for the e-mail (promotion, store opening, product recommendation, etc.). The most general is a link to your home page. In between those two is whatever is one level up from your specific call to action.

For instance, if the e-mail is a product recommendation of new mystery books the user might like based on past purchases, the most granular calls to action are links to the specific books. The second-level call to action is a link to the bookstore’s mystery section. The most general call to action is a link to the bookstore’s home page. That way, if your recommendations are wrong, there are more generalized, but still targeted, links the user can click on.

Offer Opt-Out Alternatives

Tired of people opting out of your e-mail list? Provide more options than simply opting out. Allow people to elect to receive your e-mail less frequently. Allow them to select more highly targeted versions of your e-mail. Allow them to easily give you feedback that will help you make your e-mail more relevant. Use e-mail as a dialogue with your users, not a monologue. If people are clicking “this is spam” instead of changing their settings, ensure they can change their settings (including opting out) easily.

Be More Than Relevant: Be Timely

E-mail relevancy isn’t just about segmenting your house list and sending users a weekly e-mail targeted to their interests. Smart companies create dynamic e-mail marketing campaigns centered on a user’s clickstream behavior. For example, Travelocity sends users e-mail based on their last action on the site, whether it was saving a trip itinerary for possible future purchase or making a purchase. The e-mail campaigns aren’t only relevant (containing information about your destination), but also become part of the sales or post-sales cycle. During the sales cycle, Travelocity sends you information about the best prices to get you there. After you’ve made a purchase, its messages try to extend the share of wallet by offering hotels (if you booked a flight) and giving you details on what to do at your location.

Questions, thoughts, comments? Let me know!

Until next time…


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