Feb 7, 2011

Email Basics: Start Out Right

You can find out right away if your email newsletter is a smash or a dud. Bulk email services (Vertical Response, Constant Contact, etc.) give you instant gratification — statistics on how many people are opening your message and clicking through to your website. But wait, those open and click-through rates don’t tell the whole story. The numbers only allow you to compare this month’s newsletter with last month’s. How about if you could see where your statistics stand in relation to others in your industry? For example, let’s say 20% of recipients opened the most recent issue of your email newsletter. And 16% of those readers followed a link to your website to find out more. Would you consider your efforts successful? If you’re promoting an accounting firm, you can give yourself a gold star because you beat the curve. But if you’re in the crafts field … uh-oh, you fell below the average of 27% opens and 22% clicks. Basically, you got some ’splainin’ to do.

Find email response benchmarks for your industry
How do we know response rates are different for accounting and crafts firms? Because email marketing service Constant Contact tracked 200 million of their clients’ emails and established a list of industry benchmarks. Granted, these benchmarks can’t take every variable into account and are just a guideline, but they’re a great way to put your results in context. Once you have a feel for the kind of response you can reasonably expect, look for ways to improve your newsletter statistics. Which, of course, will increase the number of inquiries, leads and sales you generate.

Start your newsletter overhaul by refining each of these critical elements:

Recognizability - Does your “from” line includes your company name to tell the receiver the message is not spam? If not, you’re spam on toast.

Content - A constant sales pitch is the worst sort of “me-me-me-ism.” What’s in it for the reader? Include relevant, usable information and suddenly you’re a resource, not a pushy salesperson.

Subject line - Short, straightforward and clear. No need for sassy puns or clever twists. You have about 45 characters to get your point across, so … just the facts, ma’am.

Email list - Your list is golden if everyone on it expects to hear from you and is looking forward to your next email. Make sure all the people on it have opted in and know what they’ll be getting from you. Don’t promise tips and send ads.

Timing - Are you delivering your message at the optimal time and day? In general, midweek and either early morning or later in the afternoon are best. Mid-day is peak email time, so try to avoid being buried in an overflowing inbox.

Links - Give readers a choice of links and topics to follow onto your site and you give them more opportunities to act.

Purpose - Is it clear why you’re sending the email? Successful mailings focus on a single topic and provide clear instructions so readers can easily take the next step.

No question, the ideal time to put these best practices into play is when you send out your first newsletter. That way you’re training your readers to expect something of value from you. If you’ve already made a few mistakes, make the switch now to a newsletter that consistently and clearly serves your customers interests.