Edinburgh Web Development

Successful email marketing

by Iain Wilson

18 November 2008

Email marketing can be one of the most effective online marketing activities. It doesn't cost much either - just a little of your time and maybe a monthly fee to a email marketing service.

We do a fair bit of email marketing consultancy and over time have come across quite a few of the pitfalls when companies just haven't done it right, so here are a few pointers to make sure you get the right foundation down.

Why are you doing this?

This is perhaps blindingly obvious, but you need to be sure you know what you are trying to achieve. What that will be will depend on your business and your market. For instance, a retail company may well be aiming to generate direct sales from their email, while that may be totally unrealistic for a business-to-business service company. Some potential reasons:

  • Increased sales, bookings etc
  • Providing useful information to clients and prospects
  • Gaining credibility from customers, prospects, peer group
  • Keeping company name in front of clients, prospects
  • Promoting a product or service

Just knowing what your explicit reason for doing this will help you decide how much time you should be committing to it and how to prioritise it in the general scheme of things.

Keep it legal

Make sure you're obeying all the legislation relating to email marketing. Number 1 rule is you cannot send an unsolicited email to someone who has not opted in to receive this from you, or with whom you don't have some sort of acknowledged business relationship. Obviously, the content of your email must be above board, too. If you're in doubt, contact an IT solicitor.

The discipline of regularity

If you want to do email marketing well, you must do it regularly. In many ways, email marketing very like traditional direct mail advertising and there is a classic staged process to a success

  1. very few people buy the first time they see an advert - it's vaguely registered by the potential buyer, if at all
  2. The second time they might think 'yes, I must get in touch with this company'
  3. maybe the third or fourth time, they eventually pick up the phone to make the purchase

With this in mind, if you want to be successful with email marketing, you MUST get into a discipline where your emails are always sent out to the schedule you decided is right for your business. Nothing must get in the way of this. That might be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly - whatever is appropriate, but don't, please don't, send out your first email and then find excuses for not sending out the subsequent ones.

Use a service

In theory, you could send out your email using your Outlook program, but if you are serious about email marketing, forget it. The best way to send out email marketing messages is through a professional email marketing service. Why? Well here are a few reasons:

  • It's their business, that's what they do 24/7, so they know it inside out
  • They adhere to all the legal requirements (if you don't, they will drop you), including things like unsubscribe invitations
  • It's ridiculously cheap, for $15 a month, you can send unlimited emails to a subscriber base of 500
  • They handle all the spam and blacklisting issues that would take you forever to sort out yourself
  • Technically, the email you sent through them will be read by just about any email program, both text and HTML
  • Aesthetically, they will provide you with a range of attractive, customisable email templates, or allow your designer to create bespoke email designs if you require it
  • Most of these services will let you store images used in the email on their servers, otherwise you'd have to hold them on your own webserver somewhere
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, they will provide you with a fantastic range of tracking and statistical marketing information about how your email and its contents was received by your subscribers

HTML or text

Should you use HTML or text in your emails? The answer is 'yes'! Your email should be in both formats - a multipart type of email that will have an HTML and a text version. Why? So that it can be read by as many email programs as possible.

An HTML email gives you the opportunity to make the email visually attractive, with colour, graphics, font sizes etc. But some email programs (webmail email clients are a good example of this) are not able to render HTML, so clients with this type of email program will at best be presented with HTML source code, and at worst with nothing at all. With a multipart email though, the email program will present the format that best suits it - text if that is all it can display or HTML if it can show that. Another good reason to use an email marketing service - most will allow you to create the two different versions - try doing that with Outlook!

Bespoke designs

If you want to have your own design layout created for the email, you will need to get your designer to create the HTML in very much exactly the same way for a web page. Well, not quite exactly, because email programs are not nearly as clever as web browsers in interpreting HTML. In fact, most only support a subset of HTML. So what might look great when viewed in the browser might fail miserably when viewed in Outlook or similar. So make sure your designer knows what code to use when creating your email design.

Email content and layout

Obviously, you have something you want to tell people, but you should think carefully about how your email will be laid out. Here's a few things to think about

  • Keep it simple - don't put too much into your email - people only have so much time and they will get bored if there is too much
  • 3-4 stories are usually about right
  • Link the stories to more expansive information on websites
  • Make the text links blue and underlined
  • In our experience, the two stories that appear physically first in the email are always the most popular, so make sure your priority items come first
  • In addition to the story narratives, include quick links to other items that might be of interest
  • Always include photos, logos with your stories

Articles on your website

If your email has say, four items, you will only have 40-50 words about each item. Those words have a simple role to play

  1. Get the reader interested
  2. Get the reader to do something

A lot of the time, your aim will be to get the reader to your website, where you can promote yourself and company a little more. To do this you need an area on the website where you can add your own webpages that perhaps explain more about items in the email or amplify certain services you provide. To do this, you will need some sort of Content Management System or blog.

Once you have this facility, you can write articles about any appropriate subjects and use them in your email marketing campaigns. In the email of course, you create a link (blue and underlined!) to the article in your news/article system. You will be able to see how popular the link is from the email tracking statistics - providing you with invaluable marketing information for the future.

When to send?

Experience shows that the day and time you send your email can make a difference to the success of the email. For example, if your email goes out on Monday morning, people are far too busy catching up on things (or maybe in a foul mood at being back at work) to read your email, so if you send your emails out then, you will consistently get the worst results. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally considered to be the best days, with early afternoon considered the best time. That said, we've also found that Friday mornings at around 9:15am (after people have cleaned out their initial email) is also a good time.

Subject matters

Again, the email subject can make a big difference to how many people open your email. It's logical enough, most people will scan their emails for the subject and/or who it is from. If the subject is interesting and strikes a chord with the recipient, there is a better chance it will be opened. We've also found that different segments of the subscriber base will open the email when the subject is varied. Make sure your subject line is short and to the point. People won't bother to open the email if they can't grasp the content with a quick scan of the subject.

In summary then, if you want to use email marketing, make it professional, interesting, legal and REGULAR!

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