In the world of email marketing, you are only as good as your latest mailing. It’s not just about the quality of content you are sending out, or even the engagement… it’s the value and response from your subscribers that matter most. Many list owners have no idea what to send out to their lists, and should they start seeing unsubscribes, then they really start to get terrified.
No matter what you think you are doing right or wrong with email marketing, there is always more to learn. To help with this learning process, we are continually seeking out the advice and business models from different email marketing experts around the world. This week’s featured expert is Tabitha Naylor, who is the founder of SuccessfulStartup101.com. Over the years, Tabitha has worked with numerous brands and helped them portray the best messaging and branding for their audiences. This includes offline, online and of course, email marketing. Through her years of experience, education, and certifications, Tabitha Naylor is a name you should be paying attention to.
Now let’s see what Tabitha had to say about email marketing in the world today.
Is email still the most effective marketing platform today… and how has it changed over the years with the addition of social media and mobile?
Yes, without a doubt. Even though some other methods, such as social media, can put up impressive numbers, email marketing still holds the top spot for generating leads and converting to sales. There’s simply no better way to reach someone and form a relationship than speaking directly, one-on-one.
In some ways marketing through email has changed drastically, and in other ways it hasn’t changed at all. The basics are still the same. Your messages have to be genuine. They have to offer something valuable, something useful, to the reader. If you’re going to achieve success, you can’t just blast out messages full of sales material, unless of course, that’s what someone has asked for. If you give your readers something they can really use, they’ll stick with you, and trust you. Then when they decide they need something, you’ll be the one they call (or email), when they’re ready to buy.
The technical side of email marketing is what has changed the most. There are many more channels available now for gaining subscribers. Aside from asking for a signup on your own website or blog, you can take advantage of any number of social media sites as well. As far as sending out the emails, with the growth in mobile devices, it’s important to make sure things like fonts, images and formatting will be easy to read on a tablet or phone. And of course, spam filters have become much more sophisticated and aggressive, so you not only need to be careful of doing things like adding too many links, you really need to emphasize to your readers that they should whitelist your address to make sure your messages get through.
With so many different email platforms to choose from, what should marketers specifically be looking for?
I think the first thing anyone should look for is the chance to try the platform for free. There are a few basic components that are important in an email platform, but most service providers will have them all, so in the end what makes one better is most likely going to be how comfortable or intuitive it is to use. If you can try a few systems out for free, you’ll be able to see what’s going to work best for you personally. With many digital products, it’s the user experience that really makes the difference.
As far as making sure you’ve got all your bases covered, you’ll want to be sure that any platform you consider will have all of the following as a minimum:
- CAN-SPAM Compliance – The system should have everything you need to stay compliant with the CAN-SPAM act. This should be something that is prominently stated on any reputable service provider’s site.
- Easy email development – Obviously, it shouldn’t be any harder than writing a normal email when you want to send something out to your list(s). The email creation interface should be simple and intuitive.
- Workflow management – If you’ve got more than one person working on your list, it’s important to be able to set up the proper workflow so things are put together, approved and sent out as they should be.
- Bounce handling – The system should be set up, or allow you to set it up, to automatically handle bad email addresses. Bounced messages should automatically trigger the removal of that address from your list.
- Recipient subscribe/unsubscribe control – Recipients should be able to subscribe or unsubscribe at will and without your intervention.
- Understandable analytics – Of course, you want to be able to track as much as you can. A good provider should give you plenty of metrics to allow you to track how your campaigns are going.
What is your preferred method of collecting emails and building your list?
I’d have to say that my favorite method is any method that works well. Exactly how you can collect addresses is going to depend on how you have your online presence set up, but I would take advantage of any method that will work. Every page on your website should either have a box where people can sign up directly, or a link going to one. Aside from that, any method that generates sign ups without killing the user experience is a good one. Pop-ups, content upgrades (extra content in exchange for an email address), full page entrance ads and scroll boxes can all increase subscription rates.
What are your best tips for writing effective email titles/content that get opens and clicks?
Crafting the perfect subject line is really a lot easier than most people think. It’s one of those things that’s so simple we tend to overthink it, make it too complicated, and then blow it.
One of the major email service providers conducted a study of over 40 million sent emails and compared the subject lines. Those with the highest open rates, some reaching nearly 90%, had amazingly simple and straightforward titles. The subjects that tried to create mystery and leave the reader hanging were among the least opened.
I think there are two components that generate good open rates. The first is trust. Your readers have to trust you and believe that you are going to send them something that will be useful to them. It’s up to you to create and keep that trust intact. The second part is a subject line that gets right to the point and tells the reader what they are going to get if they open the message. If you think you need to somehow sensationalize things and trick a reader into opening your message, you’re doing something wrong.
Based off your own experience, is it better to send long form or short form written content in emails to your mailing list?
While long form content certainly has its place, I don’t think email is that place. In general, most email messages are very short. How many emails do you get that are more than a few sentences? Whether a message is personal or professional, people are accustomed to checking their email quickly, especially with mobile devices. Nobody is opening up their email client because they’re in the mood to read a book.
Including informative articles is fine if it fits your business and your audience, but they should be short. They should be something people can read or scan quickly, with a link to get more long form content if and when they want to read it.
The idea behind email marketing is to get people back to your website anyway, not to give them all the content in the email. It doesn’t serve you or your readers to send out messages as long as a blog post.
What is the best way to setup an effective autoresponder series?
I think this is going to depend a lot on your business and your audience. While some general guidelines might work for just about anyone, I think the best thing to do is break lists down, run tests and ask for feedback to see what works best for your particular situation. There is no, one-size-fits-all answer.
As far as content goes, I’ll stick with what I’ve already said, it has to be useful. If you’re not giving the readers anything useful, it won’t matter if you send something once a month or every day, nobody is going to want to stay subscribed.
Deciding when to send content out to your list can be tricky, but I think once a week is a good starting point if you don’t have any data on your audience yet. Weekly is often enough to keep your name fresh in their mind, but not so much that it’s going to start to seem like spam and cause annoyance. From there, you can ask for feedback directly to see what your readers think, and/or segment your list into groups and test different frequencies.
When it comes to a call to action, I firmly believe that if you want someone to do something, you have to ask them or tell them to do it. There have been studies done on everything from email to blog posts and print advertisements, and they all show that results improve when you simply tell the reader exactly what you want them to do. I think a well-written call to action can do wonders for any kind of marketing media.
If you had to start over from scratch and only had $1,000 to start a new mailing list, how would you spend it?
If you’re going to spend money on a mailing list, I think the best place to spend it is on content and promotion. Trying to buy email addresses directly is a bad idea. You don’t know where any of the addresses come from and it’s all too easy to get yourself pigeonholed as a spammer.
The key to a successful email marketing campaign is gathering targeted email addresses by promoting your list, whether it’s on your own site, social media, or somewhere else. And once you’ve got a targeted audience, you need to have good content to keep them interested and build the relationships that will turn into profits.
Those things hold true regardless of whether you’re hustling to build your list yourself on a shoestring or you’ve got money to spend to speed things up. If you know how to do these things yourself, that’s where I’d recommend putting the money. If you don’t have the knowledge to do it yourself, I’d recommend doing your research and paying a good marketing agency that can do it for you.
Lots of site owners and marketers have mailing lists, but they aren’t making money with them. What are they doing wrong?
I think too many companies translate an email subscription into permission to spam. Just from signing up to various email lists myself, I’ve seen countless examples of people and businesses who do a great job using content marketing on their website or blog, but when they send out email it turns into nothing but a sales pitch. Even worse, it turns into one sales pitch after another until I finally unsubscribe.
Some people do subscribe because they’ve already decided to buy something, but they certainly aren’t the majority. Most people want more information. They want to be kept up to date and form a closer relationship. When they get nothing but thinly veiled advertisements, they lose interest, and they lose it fast.
Too many people jump the gun and think they have to close the sale as soon as they get that email address. When a visitor converts into a subscriber, it certainly brings them a lot closer to that point, but most of the time they aren’t quite there yet. It’s as if the waiter brings your check and he never even bothered to ask if you wanted desert. You feel like you’re being rushed. You’re even a little offended. It’s not a feeling that makes you want to come back.
If you could tell online marketers and brand one thing that could improve their email marketing and list growth, what would it be?
I would have to say that the answer here would be the same for most areas of online marketing — give your audience real value.
In the age of the Internet, consumers have access to more information than they’ve ever had before. They do their research, and they know what they want. If you don’t give them something that adds value to their lives in some way, they are going to move right past you and find someone who will. Your reputation and the trust you are able to cultivate with your audience are your biggest assets. If you provide real value in everything you do, your list, your open rates, your conversions — and everything else you do online — will grow beyond what you thought was possible.
Special thanks to Tabitha for taking the time to share his email marketing tips and expertise. Check back weekly for a new interview in our Email Marketing Experts series!