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There's so much buzz about social media, web 2.0, online PR, Twitter and Facebook at the moment that it's easy to overlook how powerful Email Marketing can be. Which is surprising when you realise that for many of your customers email is still the primary communication tool they use when online.

And judging from the record turn-out we had for the Econsultancy session I ran, I thought it would be useful to share 10 top tips for improving your email campaigns....

1. Only send useful content

The key word in email marketing is, 'relevancy'. Your subscribers will only open and read your emails if the content you send them is relevant and has some value to them.

For example, think about where they are in the buying cycle and only send content that is useful for them at that stage. If you don't think it's relevant content then don't send it!

2. Segment for success

In order to personalise your emails, you need to be able to segment your subscriber base. In order to do this you will need to gather information about your subscribers. Do this as early on in the relationship with (soon after sign-up ideally) and keep asking.

Remember though, if someone is going to give you their personal information - where they live for example - then you had better keep it private and use it!

3. Design your emails carefully

Think how your emails will look in the preview pane of the most common email clients (such as Outlook). You need to design your emails to be effective within that confined screen area with your most powerful calls to action and images displayed.

And on the subject of images, many of your subscribers will have 'images off' as the default setting in their email clients too. So make sure your emails work without images by balancing the text you use against the images (try a ratio of 30% image and 70% text).

4. Increase your open rates

Your emails won't work if they're not opened and read by your targets. Putting aside the fact that your open rates may be skewed by your emails being opened in the preview pane (see above) you can improve your chances by experimenting with the 'From' field. Why? Well, if your subscribers aren't sure where the email has come from, they're less likely to open it.

Have a look at your 'From' field in your emails and change them to be more helpful. Include your brand name for example or even try using a real person's name as the person sending the email (this has been shown to improve Open Rates).

5. Improve your Subject Lines

After the From field, the quality of your Subject Line is crucial to improving your Open Rates. Many email marketers struggle to come up with clever and witty Subject Lines. Don't. What you should do instead is to simply use the Subject Line to explain what the email is about. Don't confuse or baffle your subscribers. They won't thank you for it.

The best Subjects 'tell' what the email is about rather than, 'Sell it'!

6. Add Zest to your copy

OK - so you've got them to open your precious email and to read more of it than just in the preview pane. Well done you! But don't spoil this special chance you've got by boring your customers to death with dull, dull, dull copy!

Work hard at your email copy and give it some life! Employ a professional copywriter if you have to but make your emails read as though they've been written by a human being and not a corporate robot. You don't need to win the Pulitzer Prize but at least make the email interesting and engaging.

What's the best way to do this? As with many things online, less is more. Follow Jacob Nielsen's (Link to Writing for the Web pages) suggestions and cut your copy by 50%. Make your email copy scannable with clear benefit focused headings and sub-headings.

One very important, no crucial element, is to make sure your Calls to Action are highly visible and obvious. If you don't ask your subscribers to do something then you won't get will you?

7. Improve your delivery rates

Improving delivery rates should be a strategic decision. It starts by signing up the right people in the right way (setting expectations at the start, asking people to add you to their 'Safe Sender' lists and so on).

Something you must do is to cleanse your email lists on a regular basis. Get rid of addresses that bounce permanently and have never responded to you. The more times you send to bad email address the more chance you have of the ISPs classing you as a spammer. You wouldn't want that would you?!

Monitor your delivery rates and badger your Email Service Provider to give you guarantees that your emails are actually getting through. As with Open Rates, if your emails are being delivered then they not doing you much good are they?

8. Are you a spammer?

Well, are you?

Of course not. You don't send people anything that isn't useful, relevant and targeted do you? That's good. Because in addition to the boolean filters and corporate firewalls you have to get through,  the toughest and easiest to trigger spam filter is the mind(s) of your subscribers. They'll give you, at best, 3 chances. If your emails start to become irrelevant and boring then they'll hit that 'Spam' button on their Inboxes quicker than you can say, 'bounce rate'!

9. Measure, test and tweak

Every single email campaign you send is a chance to improve. But improve you won't unless you're learning. The way you learn online is by monitoring all that lovely data that digital gives you.

Track your open rates, delivery rates, forwards, bounces and clickthroughs. Establish your benchmarks and move forward from there.

You should also establish a regular email test routine. Do this by organising simple A/B testing of your emails from the Subject Lines through to the images you use, layouts and length of copy.

10. Stay within the law

The UK email marketing laws are clear and simple to understand. In order to send emails to people, organisations must have explicit permission from the subscriber. They must also make it clear who they are and provide a reliable method for the subscriber to opt-out of the mailings in future.

Of course, different laws operate in different lands. There's also the requirements of the Data Protection Act to comply with. Obviously, you're all OK with this because this is covered in your up-to-date Privacy Policy. Isn't it?

A regular review of these policies by a lawyer with specialist knowledge of Internet law is ALWAYS a good idea...

Email as part of your 'touch strategy'

To be truly effective, your emails have to be integrated into your wider customer communication strategy. Think how you're going to use email to stay in touch with your targets and provide them with relevant, useful and valuable communications and you too may go to the Ball!

The next Email Marketing Training course from Econsultancy will take place on June 4, while we have an advanced email training course on June 30. More information on our Breakfast Briefings can be found here.

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Published 21 May, 2009 by Andrew Gordon

Andrew Gordon is a independant digital consultanct and trainer for Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

1 more post from this author

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Greg

On the subject of increasing your open rates, I find asking a question can often help.

I've also started including an unsubscribe link at the top, because ultimately I'd rather lose subscribers than have people hit the spam button (obviously we know how important domain reputation is)

Also even with segmentation, make sure you still vary your content to some degree! What use is having a high open rate if nobody clicks anything on it?

over 7 years ago

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John abbott

That may well be true - but it is essential to spell the words right nonetheless - Cinderella please !!

Sorry but this is constructive.

Cheers

John

over 7 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Hi John, 

Good spot and thanks - I've changed this in the title and URL. 

Best, 

Aliya 

over 7 years ago

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Andy Xhignesse

Timely article Andrew, email is probably the most effective tool that business can use to help a prospective client along a decision path when a campaign is well executed.  The chatter that surrounds social media is, in my view, relevant but will generate a different outcome along the lines of branding, traffic development or other awareness releated outcomes which may lead to, surprise...increased email opt-in rates!  Now the work of conversion can truly begin.  In this context it's important to recognize that email forms an important element of the overall client development process, as does social network participation among so many other actions.  

Do you think that if the social campaign planning discussion is coming down to ROI (it presumably will), that email opt-in can be a useful measure of success?  If conversion rates for email campaigns are known, then increased volume of email subscribers leads to increased conversion and...all is well. 

We're at the edge of the future!

Andy

over 7 years ago

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Dale from www.marketingemailsoftware.com

Great article, I agree that email marketing is of the upmost importance.

over 7 years ago

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Vincent

Good advice.

Can you also add the missing link please?

"Follow Jacob Nielsen's (Link to Writing for the Web pages) "

over 7 years ago

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Marty

Thanks for all the great information. I am at present setting up my email campaign and need all the tips and help I can find. Thanks agian for the great quality content.

Happy Days, Marty

over 7 years ago

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richard beck

Hi, I went to this site and I think it is good to MAKE MONEY BY HOSTING VIDEOS, any doubt can check in the flash pie. www.vismomedia.com

about 7 years ago

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MN

Measure, test and tweak is good advice.

Simple to make design changes can give 10%+ improvement in click rates, such as changing position and size of text, adding a strong call to action to a graphic.

Testing must be fact based, analytical and scientific in approach. These means checking that results are not random chance but statistically significant. The calculator here can be used to check this in a few seconds http://www.emarketingdynamics.com/resultcalc.asp

about 7 years ago

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