Targeting your email
Email marketing has become a mainstay in advertising. With opt-in links on sites, webmasters aim to persuade users of that site to become members. The largest lure that websites offer is free newsletters (ezines). There are some sites that are simply not ezine friendly, in the sense that getting content for such sites on a regular basis would be tantamount to making gooey stuff look lively. What kind of information would a power tools company offer in an ezine that would be interesting enough to actually read, and relevant enough to enable the power tool company to sell and resell its products till the subscriber clicks on their secure site and places his/her order?
Yet all companies need to have an opt-in email database; you simply have to ensure that you are in the face of your potential customers without looking like George Orwell’s “Big Brother.” There are so many other adverts out there, on and off line, that to trust that a favorable first impression is all you need to ensure the return of an interested customer is a bit naive. You need a means of continually selling yourself to an interested customer.
To return to the example of the power tools company, a machine tool buff or do-it-yourselfer is most likely to go to a hardware store, or type ”Black and Decker” into Google (the brands win again). So how does our power tool company target its email strategy in such a way that it will ensure that a reasonable proportion of users subscribe to its opt-in database so it can presell its offers to them? Keep in mind that the company needs to keep from being a victim of the “report spam” button, provide relevant information, and not commit a silly error until the subscriber (inevitably) buys their product.
Just in case you are one of those people (like myself) who consider graders, grinders, drills and saws exciting material, drool at rev per minute and power consumption rates, and therefore believe that power tools are sufficiently interesting to merit a once a week ezine, let me give you a trickier example. I was asked to provide content tips for a company’s web site that provides pool safety equipment and I was stumped at where to begin. I mean nobody likes to read about dying in water. There seemed to be no possibility for attractive content. Or was there?
In part, that depends on where you stand. To have an effective email campaign, your email must be targeted to a specific market. Just as you can’t have products for “everybody,” you can’t have an email campaign directed at “everybody.” An email campaign for a power tools company must be focused; you must know who your audience is, where they come from, what interests them, what doesn’t interest them, what pages they stay on and which ones they click away from.
A good way to know from where your traffic is being referred is by using the metrics tool offered by Google, Google Analytics. It is available for free (AdWord subscribers have more leeway in its use) and it analyzes how traffic gets to your site. Another way to analyze your traffic is through your server logs. A good rule of thumb is that one out of ten web surfers who come to your site should perform a desired outcome.
The desired outcome may be any of the following: placing an order, clicking on an ad or referral, or giving you their information so you can lure them back to your site to do one of the other two actions. If the numbers are not working for you, then you can either redesign your site or improve your email strategy.
Once you know where your traffic is coming from, you can build an opt-in offer that is specifically designed for your traffic. Note that an opt-in list is not an option for a web site that is serious about its business; it’s a necessity. A large business is not only good for advertising companies; if you want to boost the resale value of your web site, then the number of addresses on your opt-in email list matters.
Your user is here, from a search engine or directory, looking for information or an item to buy. The last thing on his/her mind is to fill in your form asking for a name and an email address. S/he wants content; if you don’t deliver content, the red x button (or the next web site) is just a click away. The second worst position to be in now is to not have a subscription form at all. The third worst thing is to have it in an obscure place, such as the bottom of a long page (the top right or left is always ideal).
But the absolute worst thing is to have a blandly worded opt-in offer. If it simply says “Subscribe to our free newsletter,” the first thing on the user’s mind would be ”Why? So that you can waste my time?” Instead the offer has to be worded strongly, and must address a need, preferably emotional. Looking at our power tool company, what do tool buffs want? They want new, cutting edge tools! So to get tool buffs to sign up, try “Reduce time spent on tedious tasks, with futuristic tools. Sign up for free report now” or “15 ways to reduce tool maintenance costs, request your free report now.”
Let me give you an example. I was on a music site once that simply said ”Get our headlines sent to your email, sign up now.” I was not interested in their headlines. A more strongly worded, emotionally appealing call to action, such as ”Get hot music news now” could have motivated me.
Your wording must promise joy, or removal of pain. The user will not give you personal information simply because your site is lively. S/he must believe you have something unique to offer.
Not only a newsletter
When I first got into website marketing, and I started building opt-in databases for clients, the only option I considered was ezines. For a hotel site I designed an ezine based on the locality of the hotel. It was located in a lush tropical setting, and I offered a monthly ezine talking about tourist attractions. It was basically composed of short write-ups and an interesting picture. Naturally it included links back to the hotel site, and encouragement was given to viewers to email the page to a friend.
As time went on, I discovered that it was not only newsletters that attracted users to subscribe. Forums are even bigger lodestones, if your site has an interesting and well-rated forum. While getting pleasure out of discussing relevant topics, a lot of people will register. These registered users convert to daily or weekly hits, and a large database to which you can market your products.
Another option that has often tempted me to sign up is tutorials. You offer a free training program, for a specified duration at a specific rate (daily tutorials, or weekly tutorial). This gets the user to sign up, and voila. Another lead generated.
Offer programs, games or useful custom-built software for the user to download. Ask for the email address to send the download link to, and you have somebody to whom you can present your products and link back to your site on a continual basis. This is a good way to get people who want every piece of new software that they can find on the Internet, and who seemingly spend all their time browsing. Included on this list are programmers and computer buffs.
You have targeted the user, your opt-in database is getting nicely crowded; it is time to send your weekly free report or newsletter. This is where the numbers are your enemy again. Statistics prove that only 20-36% of emails sent get opened (these are the ones that make it past the spam filters). The rest sit forever unopened in your subscriber’s in box. You have to get past the spam filters that email providers have set up, then catch the subscriber’s eye, and motivate her to open it, all in less time than it takes to shake a fist.
First, get past the filters. This can be done by obeying CAN-SPAM rules. They’re pretty basic; they include providing an unsubscribe link in your message, and putting in the street address of the business on the email. This does not guarantee that you will get past the filters, but I believe it helps.
Also avoid the word “free,” endless exclamation marks, colons and semi colons. This may help after you make it past the first spam blocker. The reason so many people have multiple spam blockers, is to make it harder for your email to be delivered.
Getting your emails delivered is soon going to be similar to rocket science, as email accreditation and the sender’s reputation become factors that spam blockers consider. Email deliverability alone is worthy of another topic. But once the basics are satisfied, all that is left is for the user to read your offers.
Again, this comes into play. If you simply put “Power tools weekly report” in the title, it looks sufficiently boring to be put off, and maybe not read at all. Put “Keep your tool maintenance costs below zero” is sufficiently lively to merit a click; a little imagination will generate lively topics. Think “potential life partner” or “I could win a million dollars if s/he opens it,” and you will find that emotion comes easy.
Content, content, content
Once opened, the demographics of your user come into play. There are various ways to convince your subscribers to stay, but make sure that you work in a sales offer. If you don’t include one in the email itself, work in a link back to an offer on your site.
Content can be interactive; it may be a short quiz with the response linking back to an offer. A quiz such as (a) have you ever used a power drill? “Yes” takes them to a page listing your new power tool, which does literally “everything,” while ”no” takes them to a page listing things they must know before getting their first power drill.
Your content may just be headlines linking back to your site, but it must be sufficiently interesting. Otherwise you may become a victim of the unsubscribe button, or in a fit of desperation, the “report spam” button.
The eye of the master
Who is in charge of your email strategy? This person can make or mar the response rate for your emails. To risk hurting your campaign, s/he does not even have to write bad copy; considering the amount of email which is competing for your subscribers’ attention, average copy is still half as bad as poor copy.
Everything else can be under one office, but everybody in decision making should review email strategy as often as possible.
Subscribers, to whom you can consistently send emails which link back to your site, will consistently ensure large traffic to your site. This is the strategy that large content providers such as about.com use. It lets about.com boast of 30 million users, and Yahoo! enjoy the attention of 130 million subscribers. An acceptable ballpark number of subscribers for a large customer database is five figures. This is a sufficiently-sized field for your marketing efforts.