Email Marketing: Best Practices

During times of a recession like we are experiencing now, many businesses have fewer marketing dollars to work with – and reduced budgets often lead to email based marketing campaigns to seek out new customers and increase sales from an existing customer base. There has been a recent surge in email marketing as an alternative to high cost pay-per-click advertising or other online advertising methods.

Those wishing to launch a successful campaign for their businesses are against many obstacles, from beating the spam filer to writing a quality subject line. Once they arrive, it an entirely different story to get them opened, viewed, clicked, and stand out from the countless other messages in your recipient's inbox. Below are a few key points to consider when undertaking your email marketing efforts.

 Provide Relevant Content

Relaying the right message to the right person at the appropriate moment of time is vital to the success of your email marketing campaign. Relevant content provides the recipient with engaging and resourceful material that brings the conversion you are looking for. The best emails are content-based and do not rely on complex graphic design. Keep your messages simple, original, and highly applicable to your business or industry.

 Design for the Preview Pane

More and more people are viewing their emails in the "preview pane", which is a feature of many email clients that allows them to hover over the email message before clicking it. This gives your email just a few seconds to pique the recipient's interest – and can occur a very small space (3-4") with which to do so for many mail clients. Often times (like in Outlook 2007), the images will not load, so it important to remember to use ALT tags in your code so the recipient is at least aware of what they may be seeing. Clear copy that grabs attention placed near the top of that message will be your best to raise a response in the recipient is vital for those who use the preview pane.

 Smart Use of HTML

What is the HTML version? That is another way to describe the graphic version of your email, as opposed to the text only version, which is also important to send. Not all recipients of your email marketing messages will want or have the ability to view the entire message without clicking. Be careful to limit the number of images in your message, as many email programs will just show them as red "x's" or broken image boxes entirely.

 Avoid Attachments

While it is tempting to include an attachment in your email marketing messages, it is not advisable. Because so many computer viruses are transmitted via attachments, many filters will block income emails that contain them before delivering them to the recipient. Instead, include a link to the content that you would like the recipient to see, which will also give you the ability to track whether the link is clicked as a referring URL in your site’s analytics.

 Keep up with Mobile Trends

It is likely that many of the people you are looking to reach with your email marketing messages are carrying a smart phone (iPhone, Black Berry, etc.) – and using it to read their email. In fact, some surveys say that over half of all emails sent are no longer being viewed in a traditional inbox. Design your emails so that they are just as readable on a handheld device or cell phone as they would be on a computer monitor screen.

As such, it is important to keep the subject line of your emails brief that contains as much information about what’s contained in the message as possible. This will allow somebody to preview the message (like a limited times offer) and act on opening it as they may not have otherwise.

 Avoid "Screaming" at Your Prospects

Remember your "netiquette". The use and overuse of capitalization (which portrays screaming in cyber space) and punctuation can cause your email messages to be sent to junk folders or even spam folders before the message even reaches the inbox. While you want your messages to be attention grabbing, temper your enthusiasm enough to avoid getting canned for spam by email filters.

 Keep the Subject Line Short and Informative

When determining the value of your message (and whether they should read it), email recipients look at who the message is from and the subject line of the message that is displaying in their inbox. Most email programs only show the first 30-35 characters of the email's subject line – which gives you a small number of characters to work with in order to appeal to the recipient to read your email. Choose your subject line text carefully for the most effective response and conversion rate.

 Always Ask Permission

One of the most important best practices for all email marketers is to always send permission based message to opt-in (preferably double opt-in) or phone verified prospects. This is part of building your sender reputation can be damaged. You'll also see higher conversion rates by only contacting recipients who have agreed to receive email from your site. You should also have a subscription page that allows your subscribers to set their preferences for receiving future emails. Make it easy for those who receive your marketing messages to opt out of future campaigns – irritated recipients of unwanted emails can lead to high spam complaints. These Spam complaints are buttons part of many email clients, especially web hosted ones like Yahoo and Gmail, that can monitor trends in spam activity. If a large enough number of recipients hit the spam button, it is an indication of spam activity, and often you will have a block put on your IP address on the server sending the emails.

 Be Truthful

Avoiding penalties under the CAN-SPAM Act means being an honest email marketer. Always supply truthful subject lines that are not deceptive of your email's true intent. Include your company's physical address somewhere in the email. Provide an easy to use opt out link for those who don't wish to be contacted or receive further email marketing messages.