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9 Ways to Improve Your E-Mail Marketing

by Keesha Bullock
April 19, 2012

Gaining access to someone’s e-mail inbox is one of the most important things you can do to help achieve the goals of your organization. Whether it’s securing new donors, educating on a particular issue, or spreading the word about an upcoming event, e-mail can be an effective and low-cost way to get your message out. Yet, for many, e-mail marketing is an insufferable task that yields low results and requires a lot of time. So, how do you gain new subscribers, keep the ones you have, and avoid being relegated to the spam folder? Here are nine ways to improve your e-mail marketing program.

1. Use an E-Mail Service Provider. If you are still sending e-mails from Microsoft Outlook, you have lost the battle. Partner with an e-mail service provider who will ensure that your e-mails are properly delivered, lower the risk of your e-mails being flagged as spam, provide metrics on the performance of your e-mail newsletters and other messages, and help you keep your lists organized. At The Heritage Foundation, we work with Paramount Communications, but there are a number of terrific e-mail vendors out there.

2. Tell Your Prospective Subscribers What’s in it for Them. Always remind yourself that nobody really cares about your product, your event, your organization; they care about themselves. That’s not meant to be flippant. It’s an important reminder that people need a compelling reason to give you their e-mail address. Our lives, not to mention our e-mail inboxes, are cluttered with many offers, ads, and general noise and distraction. Yet many organizations include tiny little forms on their Web sites inviting people to receive “the latest” or “news and updates” and then expect results. In our marketing at Heritage, we’ve found significant increases in subscribers when we offer a free report, download, or “e-product” for signing up. That provides a compelling reason for many to offer up a valuable asset to us: their e-mail addresses. So always start by asking what’s in it for your subscribers and then make sure you have a great answer.

3. Make a Good Visual Impression. Don’t sabotage your great written content with poor design. Make sure your e-mail templates have a balanced mix of images and text. Remember that Gmail and Microsoft Outlook don’t support background images, so it’s essential to have your template coded so readers can see the full message. Like a magazine cover, the header of your e-mail is important; make sure yours is striking and distinctive. Check to make sure your templates translate to a mobile device. How does your e-mail template render on different devices? Take a look on a range of devices.

4. Write Good Copy. Your copy is what gets the job done for your subscribers, so spend most of your time developing content that sings. When writing effective e-mail copy, stay focused: E-mails should have a cohesive message with a clear call to action. And when it comes to writing your call to action, be specific. There’s nothing worse than asking your readers to do nothing more than “learn more.” Speak directly to your readers and be sure to vary the way you display your copy. There is no bigger turn-off for readers than a wall of text in your e-mail. Use bullets, different paragraph lengths, bold headings and sub-headings, and embedded links to create variety and increase scanability. Test long-form copy against short-form copy to see what works with your audience. And finally, hard copy proofread all of your content. Typos and other grammatical mistakes are the death knell for your brand and for any e-mail marketing program.

5. Test Your Content. If you really want to amplify your response and grow your e-mail lists, testing is a powerful way to get results. First, segment your list into two groups and then decide what particular issue you want to test. Put everything on the table for consideration: subject lines, to and from lines, images and graphics, buttons, send dates and times, frequency, and length. But be sure to test each element one at a time. The data you gain from these tests will uncover insights to strengthen your overall program, make your content interesting and rock solid, and keep your subscribers engaged.

6. Lay Out the E-mail Welcome Mat. If you want to keep your e-mail subscribers in the long term, make a great first impression with a welcome message. Your welcome message should be one of your very best by being straightforward in telling subscribers what they will receive and when, and will receive a preview of the content they can expect in the future. Be diligent about sending a welcome e-mail to new subscribers as quickly as you can after receiving a new e-mail address. If you are using a good e-mail service provider, you can automate your welcome message so that as soon as you receive a new e-mail address, a welcome message is instantly sent. Numerous marketing studies show a welcome message is one of the most underused yet most effective tactics in e-mail programs. Think of it as the e-mail equivalent of making a good first impression when meeting someone in person.

7. Incorporate Social Media into Your Marketing. Your Facebook and Twitter followers are already an engaged audience. Consider making an offer to them to subscribe to your e-newsletters and be sure to include links to your social media outlets in your e-mail template.

8. Follow the Rules. The CAN-SPAM Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2003, establishes standards for sending mass e-mail in the United States. Your e-mail service provider should manage compliance for you, but always double check and make sure any templates you create have a clear way for readers to unsubscribe for all e-mails and consider using a double opt-in process, where a confirmation email is sent to new e-mail subscribers and only after they click on a link contained within that e-mail are they added to your list.

9. Study the Data and Segment Your Lists. If you are working with a good e-mail service provider, you’ll have access to valuable data on how many people opened your e-mail, what links they clicked on, how many e-mail addresses bounced back, and much more. Pay careful attention to these data and adjust your activities accordingly. Is a portion of your list not opening e-mails? Isolate those names and send them a special message to encourage activity. See a lot of people unsubscribing? It’s a warning sign that you have some soft spots in your program. Go into testing mode to understand what is and isn’t working.

Following these guidelines will give you an e-mail program that can efficiently get your message out to millions in minutes.


Ms. Bullock is Director of Strategic Marketing at The Heritage Foundation.


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