Tips for Better Email Marketing

“Three hours of writing require 20 hours of preparation. Luckily I have learned to dream about the work, which saves me some working time.” – John Steinbeck (Steinbeck: A Life in Letters, 1975)

Inside Direct Mail recently published a list of 48 tips for better e-mail campaigns. Most of them were ordinary. A few — from what I know — were dead wrong. But the following were good enough to merit putting out as a checklist:

1. Understand your competition. Ask yourself (and your key marketing managers) the same questions you ask about your direct-snail-mail competition: “What are they doing differently from us?” “Do we know why?” “Who is building the biggest list?” “Whose is most productive?” “What new techniques are being used repeatedly?”

2. Integrate your e-mail marketing program and campaigns with other elements of your marketing mix for greater ROI (return on investment). For example, coordinate your e-mail efforts with your direct-mail programs.

3. Successful e-mail marketing requires dedicated marketing and IT (Information Technology — i.e., your computer people) resources. Involve and notify internal teams early in the process, so everyone knows about upcoming mailings. For example: Your customer-service reps need to anticipate inquiries, your IT people need to anticipate server loads, and your sales force needs to be ready to follow up appropriately.

4. Review your data-collection process. Audit all customer touch points to make sure that e-mail addresses and other customer data are being collected.

5. Plan for bounces, unsubscribes, and changes of address. At least 20% of your e-mail database will “disappear” each year. Match bounces against ECOA (e-mail change of address) databases to reclaim lost addresses.

6. Test long copy vs. short copy, modular content, offers, viral marketing functions (e.g., “refer a friend”), rich media vs. HTML vs. AOL vs. text. You may be surprised what performs best — often it will be the same kind of “contra-intuitive” stuff that works with direct snail mail.

7. Test your subject line. It’s the easiest item to change and has a huge impact on open rates. Subject lines are not like teaser copy in direct mail. Personalization pulls. Generally speaking, keep your subject lines short … but test to be sure.

8. For strong body copy:

(a) Generate interest in the top 2 inches of the e-mail.

(b) Clean up the clutter-summarized content and take a clean approach to facilitate scanning.

(c) Optimize for two types of readers: Those who read bullet points only and those who want details. Test your readers’ preferences and then split accordingly.

(d) The call to action should be placed above the fold in a prominent manner and also at the bottom.

9. For dynamic e-mails that can be read:

(a) Avoid white text on dark backgrounds. Sometimes, programs will default settings and delete background, leaving type “invisible.” Use images instead.

(b) Steer clear of cascading style sheets (CSS) and java scripts. Many e-mail clients will strip them out.

(c) When using Flash (a form of Web animation), be sure to use a static background image.

(d) When using rich media, design four levels of interaction: rich media, static with streaming audio, static HTML, and text.

(e) Test and optimize the “hot spots” in your e-mail layout. Generally, the top left quadrant is the best placement for logo/branding. Keep e-mail width to a maximum of 675 pixels.

10. To ensure your audience can open your e-mails, keep HTML file sizes to no more than 65K.

11. Test strong guarantees.

12. Test various offers.

13. Seed at the beginning, middle, and end of a campaign — and across the top 10 domains — to help verify delivery.

14. Expand your reach. Test “refer a friend” and other viral marketing functions as often as possible.

15. Unsubscribers are a great opportunity for market research. Provide a comment box and ask why the person has chosen to unsubscribe.

16. Track and analyze all available information: opens, bounces/undeliverables, clicks, responses, opt-outs. For example, tracking and analyzing metrics by domain often reveals dramatic differences and possible delivery issues.

17. Summarize what you have learned and communicate it to your entire team. Implement changes based on the results.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]