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Emailing Best Practices (Part 1)

David Sousa
Emailing Best Practices (Part 1) David Sousa

iMedia recently asked me about best practices for legitimate marketers to distinguish themselves from spammers.


To start with, if email subscribers give affirmative consent (actively opted in, rather than unchecking a pre-checked box, for example) to a sender, then they can usually distinguish that email from an unsolicited one. For true permission marketers, the challenges come when the first email received is many weeks after the opt-in date and when it arrives into a bulk folder or inbox overloaded with unsolicited emails.


That said, here are a few best practice tips to help subscribers easily find your wanted email in their inbox:


Get permission, affirmative consent. Permission is where it all starts. Have complete transparency in your subscription process and do not use pre-checked boxes. Provide a brief description of your email privacy policy and a link to your full policy.


Use the confirmed/double opt-in process. While you will see some drop off during the confirmation process, the second step ensures that only those people who truly want your emails will opt in. Subscribers from the double opt-in process are proven to be higher value and more active than from single opt in.


Manage expectations. Tell potential subscribers how often they will receive emails, what the content will be and show a sample of the email.


Send the most recent subscribers a welcome email. A challenge for marketers sending infrequently is that a month may pass from the time a subscriber opted in to when they receive their first email promotion or newsletter. The result is that many of these subscribers will forget they opted in and will assume you are spamming them. Send new subscribers a welcome email providing further information on your email program and value, links to resources and information on how to unsubscribe, update their preferences/profile, et cetera. Also consider sending them a survey email or your most recent newsletter so they can become familiar with the from, subject line and content approach.


"Add to address book" language. Include a phrase at the top of your email such as: “Add [email protected] to your address book.” While I’m not aware of any research on how effective this language is, it has become a standard best practice and is a continuous reminder to subscribers to take this step. The benefit of this step is that with many email clients this automatically enables images to load (many email clients disable images as a default) and will route the email to the inbox rather than bulk, spam or quarantine folder.


Design for preview pane and disabled images. Most marketers have yet to design the top of their emails for preview panes and the growing use of images being disabled. Include teaser text at the top of your email -- such as brief headlines of what is in the email. Consider developing a new masthead that is comprised of HTML colors and text, rather than one that is image based. Use descriptive alt tags on all your images, though with many email clients they too won’t appear if images are disabled. Test your email in a preview pane. Is anything there? Redo it so that it provides enough “teaser” information to help someone decide whether to open the email.


Use a consistent, plain English from or sender name. Use a logical and trusted name such as “CompanyX” or “iMediaConnection.” Also use a simple from address such as [email protected] as some email clients will only display “the from” address and not the from “name”. And unless an individual with your organization has a strong personal brand, avoid using a person’s name as “the from” name.


Brand subject lines. Email recipients utilize various means to scan their inbox for wanted emails. They may scan “the from” name or the subject lines or a combination of both, scan the preview panes, et cetera. So make it easier for them by providing secondary branding in your subject lines. If your from name is “CompanyX” then the subject line might include “{CompanyX News}” or “{Name of Newsletter}.” We like using brackets – { } – as they provide further distinction in your inbox and we’ve not yet seen spammers take this approach. We are not fans of the super safe approach of using the issue number (Volume 4, Issue 3) or month/date (June 2005) (iMediaConnection, May 23, 2005), et cetera in subject lines. While this approach makes the email simpler and cleaner, it does nothing to generate interest in the subscriber in actually opening the email -- which is after all the primary purpose of subject lines.


Don’t over email. A sure-fire way to have a recipient categorize your email as spam is to send them too many emails. If you tell subscribers they’ll receive three to four emails a month, then don’t send them seven. Also, for larger companies, make sure that divisions and departments are coordinated and aren’t emailing the same individual multiple times a day. Utilize frequency limiters. Many ESPs such as EmailLabs have frequency limiters that enable marketers to limit the number of emails that can be sent to individuals within a certain time period.


Include an administrative box in your emails. We’ve nicknamed this concept as “Email Admin Center,” but whatever you call it, include a box or area in your emails (in the same location every time) that includes: how to unsubscribe, link to update preferences, the email address being sent to, mailing address (CAN-SPAM requirement) and contact information, if possible how and when the recipient subscribed, a brief description of and link to your full privacy policy and more. What this “admin center” does is not only make it easier for your subscribers to update preferences and contact you, but it provides greater transparency and instills additional trust that the email received is in fact legitimate and one they asked to receive.


Take steps to get emails into the inbox and not the bulk folder. Obviously, emails that are routed to recipients’ bulk or spam folders have a significantly smaller chance of being recognized and opened. Take the necessary steps, such as those I'll outline tomorrow, to ensure your emails arrive in the inbox.


Tomorrow: .


As CEO of EmailLabs, David Sousa is focused on creating the acknowledged leader in providing ASP-based email marketing solutions for middle-market and large companies. Since launching EmailLabs as a division of Uptilt in May of 2001, Sousa has led the company to profitability in 18 months and an annual growth rate of nearly 100 percent. In May of 1999, Sousa co-founded Uptilt, Inc., an ASP solution providing web tools such as polling, message board, rating and survey engines. Previously, Sousa co-founded Nubis, Inc., one of the premiere movie information destinations on the internet, which he sold for more than 30 times invested capital to ETM.com, a leading movie and event-ticketing distributor.


Sousa became the director of internet technology at ETM where he was responsible for four departments: content, design, network and quality assurance. Among other projects, he led the development of the company’s internet ticketing standard for movies and events, and the integration of ticketing with site content. Before founding Nubis, Sousa served as a lead development engineer with Infoseek. He has a BS in Computer Engineering from Santa Clara University. Sousa is a frequent speaker on email marketing technology issues and is a member of the DMA Marketing Technology & Internet Council and Council for Responsible Email.

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