The Golden Rules of Email Marketing

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With  Q4 underway and everyone rushing to get out their email marketing campaigns and also a ton of new ecommerce merchants making obvious errors I wanted to go over some of the cardinal rules of email marketing.  With that said, these are only some number of the ones that I feel are the most important but definitely not all of the ones that you should take into consideration.  The most important thing is to test and see what works and doesn’t work for your email marketing campaigns and customers and then continue to test and build off of your own results.  You’ll find that depending on your niche, industry and customer base, some of these may change like time of day or best performing day, but for most of us these basic rules of email marketing do apply and should probably be followed or at least tested to see if you can make them work for you.

Don’t forget your text.

One thing that many new retailers and ecommerce sites, even smaller hotels or new email Affiliates do is send email campaigns that may or may not be in html and are only images.  The thing with image based emails that have no copy or content or have images that are large is that they not only tend to hit more spam filters than text emails but they also require extra clicks to get your message across.  Why make your customers click to unblock them then have to click something else to show your message when all you need to do is include a little bit of text towards the top or in the body so that before they have to click to show images they can see what your special, deal or theme actually is and you can further grab their interest.  The other things to remember with images are the file sizes, load time and most importantly that they aren’t to wide or long so that they can fit into the email readers like hotmail, outlook, gmail, aol, yahoo, etc…

No red letters or spam filter trigger words.

One thing which is superstition but is also sometimes true is that certain colors and certain words are more likely to hit spam filters than others.  One of those superstitious color and bold letter combinations is using red letters with bold lettering.  The superstition gets even stronger if you put all of your red letters in bold font and increase the size.   When testing this on the email deliverability tool some of them actually did give me a lower delivery rate but others didn’t seem to react as much.  As a rule of thumb though I usually avoid using red letters and bolding everything.  The other thing to watch out for with your text are spam filter trigger words like Free, Sex, certain well known medical supplements for men and women, some swear words and some words and nicknames for body parts.  Because of spammers sending these and parental controls and filters on other email readers, even if you are using these terms legitimately these words may trigger spam filters and prevent your message from being delivered.  Try using synonyms or fun spellings of the words and phrases.

Time of day.

For the most part sending emails between 8am and noon EST seem to be the best times to send your large email blasts.  With that said, this also depends on your niche and product.  Sometimes restaurants find better results by sending before dinner or seasonal products and weekend products can find better results by hitting people when they are thinking about the next weekend, at night after work when they are thinking about their trip or the next weekend, etc…   Some industries do best over the weekend and some do the best Mondays to remind people what they forgot over the weekend.  The important thing is to test the time of day by keeping a record of when you send, which day of the week and which week in the month it is.  With all of that said, there is one more option which I have found much more effective than guestimating the best time of day but it involves analytics and advanced technology and programming help.

If you are able to tag users and then find the median time that they are most active on your site or shop or even also tie in when they signed up for your newsletter list then if you can hit them 10 minutes to the exact median time before they are usually on your site or before the median time they usually complete a purchase you may be able to increase the effectiveness of your email marketing because you are sending them as the person is normally active on your site.  Not only are you playing into their shopping habits but you are also reaching them when there is a better chance that they may be in shopping mode because you know when they are normally active.

Split test your subject lines.

The first part of split testing your subject lines is to choose two or three subjects and email them out.  After 24 or 48 hours you test to see which one resulted in the most deliveries, opens, click throughs, least amount of unsubscribes and most importantly which had the most conversions.  The important things to remember are to weight each goal to your own companies needs as well as to keep your message consistent and then keep it matching your landing page.  If this is a regular email or a weekly or monthly then once you have a solid answer on which subject line works best and you can keep it and then you can then test landing pages, email creatives and really fine tune your regular emails.  You can also then start testing for seasonality and for each month or quarter and really maximize your email marketing.  If it is a one off then test two or three different designs with the subject lines and landing pages that carry the same message and keep track of the results so that you can mimic it again the next time you try a similar or the same promotion.  The amount of split tests you should or will be able to try will depend on how large your email database is.  Don’t split your list if it is to small or only run two splits instead of three if you don’t have a large enough database to send to.   The minimum I would say to split is 3,000 per split email if the total is at least 30K people.

Make sure you are CANSPAM compliant.

Its been years since the CANSPAM act passed and people had to start enforcing it.  Because it has been years many companies are getting sloppy or are forgetting some of the basics.  If you are not familiar with the CANSPAM act then you should probably get a refresher and read it again.  Its boring as heck but if you don’t follow it you may end up having to pay some ridiculous fines.  Its better to double check with your legal team or to read over the basics and then make sure you are following them in order to prevent getting fined.  You’ll thank me for reminding you to double check your emails for unsubscribe links, addresses, etc… and when you feel each is compliant then send it.

Email Marketing is one of the best and most reliable money makers for a company.  If you aren’t collecting an opt in list from your website visitors and are not using it to sell your products or cross sell products then you are missing out, especially during the Q4 shopping season when everyone is ready to spend.

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