Sending out emails is one thing; getting them to the users’ in-boxes and making sure that your marketing emails are opened are entirely different things. Many small business marketers think that email marketing is just about sending the emails. Actually, there are several components to think about email marketing:
- Creating and sending the email
- Getting the email into the user inbox
- Getting the recipient to actually open the email
The deluge of spam has affected the legitimate marketers’ goal of reaching their customers’ email boxes. Email filters are becoming more sophisticated, even to the point of being excessive. The firewalls and email guardians filter out even permission emails –which the customer has signed up for and agreed to receive. Studies in fact show that as much as a third of permission emails that customers have indicated they want to receive are being blocked by email filters and corporate firewalls.
The challenge for Internet marketers includes, not just enticing customers to open their emails, but to make sure that the email reaches the inbox in the first place. Sending emails is no longer a matter of just hitting the “Send” button; the marketer needs to carefully think how to craft every element of the email to make sure that it reaches the inbox.
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How you say your message and craft your email will help you get through to your customers’ email inbox. Filters and firewalls commonly work on points system to test an email message: an email that reaches a set threshold will be immediately junked.
Knowing what trips the filters, however, is a constant challenge given that spam filters are continuously moving targets. The rules and threshold scores of firewalls and filters are constantly changing as spammers continue to circumvent them. More so with the passing of the Can-Spam Law: while the effectiveness of the law in stopping spammers remains to be seen, the law has started to make its presence felt with filings of a few lawsuits against well-known spammers.
Emails tagged as spam result in increased bounce rates in addition to decreased open rates, basically reducing the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. Below are some tips to get your marketing emails pass through the filters and have them opened by the customer:
1. Make sure that the recipient agreed to receive your emails.
Before sending your marketing emails or newsletters, make sure that you have verifiable opt-in records showing the affirmative consent of the customer. Keep the emails or form submissions that you’ve received (even how many years old!) showing proof that the customer actually agreed to receive your mailings. At the very least, you need to have implied consent such as proof of customer history or failure to opt out. Remember: if you don’t have the expressed permission of your recipients to market to them, then your emails are considered spamming (and applies to most purchased or rented lists).
Watch Your Language. Spam filters penalize marketers with a penchant for words that spammers use with greater frequency. Avoid “spammy”-sounding words and phrases, such as “free,” “opportunity,” “money back,” “incredible,” “targeted,” and “offer.” Even “home business” can trip the filter sometimes! It’s difficult to totally avoid using these phrases, particularly given that they have been very effective in the past (the word “free” for example), but use them sparingly. Consider it a chance to show your creativity and add personality to your e-mail by avoiding standard sales phraseology.
Be aware that ISPs look at the amount of emails that you send to their recipients, and they check the percentage of those who hit the Spam button on your email. The more reports from their users that your emails are spam, the tighter the controls the ISP will force on you. This means that they will block more of your emails, thus preventing your customers from seeing your messages. If you are using rented lists, carefully monitor your delivered rate (and if your email marketing provider shows it, your spam block numbers).
ISPs also maintain spam traps, or sets of email addresses are not ever used to opt in to mail. When they get your mail into those email addresses, they know that your email is not opt-in and that you did not have the permission to send mails to that email address. This also results in your being blacklisted by the ISPs.
2. Know the Don’ts to Avoid.
There are a number of things that you need to avoid in your email message (which are the common techniques employed by spammers) as these often call attention to the spam filters, such as:
- Don’t mention that the recipient was on an opt-in list and/or you obtained the email address legitimately (if you have, you won’t even declare it)
- Don’t claim that the recipient was registered with one of your marketing partners, especially if you do not mention who that marketing partner is.
- Don’t claim that you comply with various regulations/House bills/Senate bills, whether enacted or pending.
- Never suggest that the recipient might have received the email by mistake (only shows that you do not have any proof that the person actually agreed to receive your email)
- Avoid using “click here” for links.
- Don’t claim that you respect all removal requests or link “remove me” to an email address when you just added them to your list without their permission.
- Avoid having too much HTML or graphics (whether correct or not, the assumption is that HTML = spam).
- Don’t use the CC or BCC lines in your email
- No attachments
3. The “From” line is your initial attention-getter.
The “from” line is an extremely important element to get your e-mail opened. Avoid using lower case characters or all-caps, and ending it with a number. Put your website or company name in the “From” Line, and not just an e-mail address – and stick with it. Email users are more likely to open communication from companies and businesses they trust. Hence, emails from top companies make sure that their company’s name is in the “From” line such as Amazon.com, Gap.com while the maker of children’s toys Fischer Price uses “Fisher Price Family.”
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Unless you have established your name as a brand, avoid using your personnel name lest you be mistaken as one of the spammers. As you may have noticed, spammers are now using a “real name” in the “From” line in the hopes of misleading the email recipients into thinking that they know the spammer. However, if you are confident that your audiences know you, and you have worked to increase visibility in your industry, you can use your name in the From line.
The best approach, though, is to test your email list to see which ones get the higher open rate: the company/brand name or the name of the person in the “From” line.
4. Run your emails with spam analyzer tools.
Before sending your emails, check with spam analyzer tools to know how your email trips the spam filters. Some email deployment software provides this type of feature; but if not, you can use free spam-scoring tools such as Gravity Mail www.gravitymail.com/spamscore.php. Spam scoring tools can help ensure that your email can actually go through to your customer’s inbox by alerting you to factors that will trigger in the filters (e.g. “free” in the subject line; and extensive use of HTML). You can then tweak your copy or change the overall layout of your emails if they will simply not pass through the spam filters.
5. Test your emails.
In addition to your current recipient list, have a separate “test list” which can consist of email accounts from various free email providers (Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) or email addresses from your ISP. Before sending out your emails to your main list, send them first to your test list and check if they are tagged as spam, or if they can actually go through.
The challenge for marketers nowadays is to balance the need to ensure that emails can pass through spam filters while using what we know is otherwise effective direct marketing copy. The tricky part is that what we know works (the word “free” and HTML emails) are often at odds with the spam filters. The key is to carefully review the results of your email campaign and see whether the positives outweigh the negatives.
6. Test Your Subject Lines
What are the types of subject lines bring you the highest open rates? Take the time to look at your email performance for the past 2-6 months (a year of data is even better). Classify your subject lines according to the different configurations you use, including but not limited, to:
- Time sensitive vs. non-time sensitive
- With the word “free” vs. without “free”
- Question vs. non-question
- Personalized vs. non-personalized
- Free shipping vs. without free shipping
- With “percentage discount” vs. without “percentage discount”
- With exclamation mark vs. without exclamation mark
There are many other possible classifications you can make depending on your business. Put your data in an excel spreadsheet (or however way you best look at data), and filter your data to find the best combinations of subject line that will improve your open rates. The key is to understand and set benchmarks for the possible response of your audiences.