Building Your E-mail List
There are endless possibilities for building your e-mail list. The first and most obvious is to start with the people you already do business with: ask for their e-mail address. Another “must” is to include an e-zine sign-up option on every page of your website.
Other options are to collect e-mail addresses when doing public speaking or when your customer is conducting an online transaction. Send postcards to present and past customers. Include mention of your e-zine in all your print materials, including your business card. Forward a copy of your latest issue to influential publishers (whether print- or web-based)—but only do this if you’ve established a positive relationship with them first.
Include a call to action in the signature of your and all your employees’ outgoing e-mails. Include it in paid ads and sponsorship ads. If your e-zine is really good/unique/newsworthy, send a press release about it to the local paper and to any professional organizations of which you’re a member. Mention it when you’re networking if you think it would help the person you’re talking to (but don’t be pushy). Write articles for publication in print or on the Internet and include mention of the e-zine in your byline.
Offer something for free if people sign up for the e-newsletter. Add your e-zine to e-newsletter directories (a quick Web search will turn up thousands of these; focus only on the most reputable). In some cases, it may be worthwhile to purchase qualified e-mail lists and invite people to subscribe. It is never okay to purchase lists and automatically subscribe people.
Lastly, ask existing subscribers to forward the e-newsletter to friends. List management companies (see below) include this functionality automatically and even track it. This kind of “viral marketing” is very effective (think of how many e-mails you receive each day from friends or colleagues urging to check out an interesting article or, more likely, the latest hilarious video on YouTube).
E-mail List Management Companies
There are hundreds of reputable companies providing e-mail list management services. We polled a group of design firm principals from around the country for their top three recommendations:
- Emma: Consistently recommended for ease of use, excellent customer service, and the best pricing model for businesses with smaller lists
- Constant Contact: Also highly recommended for smaller lists. Has a different pricing structure than Emma; compare to see which provides better value.
- ExactTarget: This Indianapolis-based firm has rocketed to the top of the industry by offering a wide variety of sophisticated options. Good for larger lists or for companies who want more custom options.
Managing Your E-mail List
While you may begin with a small list cobbled together by hand, the tedium of list management will soon drive you to find a company specializing in e-mail list management. Here’s just a sampling of what these companies do:
- Automatically collect e-mail addresses and preferences. No more compiling email addresses by hand in an Excel sheet. Your provider will give you a few lines of code to insert on your website. When a visitor signs up for your e-zine, that information automatically goes into your provider’s database. That includes the date your visitor signed up, any information you requested on the sign-up form, whether they prefer to receive HTML or text emails, and more.
- Personalize your e-zine. Your provider will automatically send HTML versions of your message to your subscribers who indicated they want to receive HTML, and text-based versions to subscribers who said they want to receive text. They can also personalize your e-zine further, inserting the subscriber’s name automatically into the text of the e-zine itself.
- Help your e-zine get delivered! It’s extremely difficult to get e-newsletters past spam filters these days. People often have spam filters automatically set within their e-mail reading software (Outlook, Eudora, etc) as well as on the mail servers managed by their Internet Service Provider. Most people don’t bother changing these spam settings. Your e-newsletter management company can teach you best practices in order to help ensure your e-zine reaches the people who signed up for it.
- Keep you on the right side of the law. The CAN-SPAM Act, passed in 2004, governs email communications between businesses and consumers. Many businesses are unaware of the law and unknowingly break it. Your provider can explain the law to you, plus keep you abreast of more recent legal and brand-boosting developments in the industry.
- Track everything about your campaign. Your provider can give you real-time data on how many of your e-mails actually were delivered, how many and which ones were hard-bounced (address no longer valid) or soft-bounced (message undeliverable for other, temporary reason), how many were opened, how many people and who clicked on each link in your message, how many people and who forwarded your message to a friend, who unsubscribed and who subscribed.
- Keep you from being tagged as a spammer. This is one of the most important reasons for using a third-party provider. If you’re sending e-zines manually, you may unknowingly be engaging in practices that some servers identify as spam. Even though your customers signed up for your newsletter, it has to go through their mail server to get to them. If that mail server decides that you’re a spammer, it will blacklist you. That means any message from your domain name is automatically blocked by that mail server, in some cases permanently. A list management company will help prevent this. It will also help you get de-listed if, for whatever reason, you are unfairly tagged as a spammer. (Incidentally, one of the best ways to “keep clean” is to delete those hard-bouncing e-mail addresses from your database. If you continue to send to accounts that are closed, that mail server will assume you are a dastardly spammer.)
Obviously, the benefits of working with a list management company are worth every penny you invest. Do yourself a favor—sign up with a good one today.