This is the first in a two-part series exploring the fundamentals of creating a successful email marketing campaign. The series will cover everything from the quality of your lead source to the technical aspects of your send setup and feedback loops through your Email Service Provider (ESP).
When it comes to email marketing, there’s a lot to consider. It’s safe to say that, at the end of the day, the biggest factor in the success of your email marketing campaign is the value of your product. That being said, there are a handful of critical best practices you can follow to guarantee the success of your campaign.
A successful email marketing campaign, though, can be gauged by just one metric: Deliverability.
While this post won’t walk you through writing your email content, it will describe techniques used to maximize your deliverability and thus maximize your reach.
So, here are my first four best practices:
1. Lead Sourcing: You Get What You Pay For
These days people use the term leads loosely. The first thing to consider when developing your email marketing campaign is your audience. Do the people to whom you are sending emails want to receive them? If the answer is no, you have problems. If you downloaded your lead list from the Yellow Pages, you don’t have leads. Low quality email leads result in high spam reports, lower lead engagement, and a diminished sending reputation. This will lead to lower deliverability and can even have legal consequences (for example, under Canada’s CASL act that went into effect last year).
The best quality email leads you will come across are leads you generate yourself through networking, conferences, your web page, and word of mouth. If you are going to buy leads, compare lead source providers. Research the quality of your lead source providers. Track internal metrics on which lead sources bring you the best return on investment. Look for particularly high spam and bounce rates and eliminate those lead providers from your mix.
Don’t fall victim to cheap lead lists! They will do more harm than good. I guarantee it.
2. Content: The Importance of A/B Testing
This one is important. There exist hundreds of spam detection systems floating around the Internet. Spam detection is a living organism that no single algorithm can just “figure out.” It is not a code that can be cracked, it’s constantly changing, and everyone does it a little differently. There is no single definitive answer for passing through a spam filter, but here are some checks you can perform:
- If your marketing emails sound spammy, they will go to the spam folder.
- Run your content through third-party analysis services such as Litmus (see part two, best practices #5).
- Run A/B tests on various forms of your content.
- Track changes in spam rate and open rate among different variations of your content.
- Test different subject lines.
- Be careful not to include malformed HTML or fishy links in your emails.
- Give yourself plenty of time. If you have to get that webinar promotion email out tomorrow, you won’t be able to test.
For more information on spam filter development, I highly recommend reading Modern Anti-Spam and E2E Crypto by former Google employee Mike Hearn.
3. Response Handling: No Means No
Understand when a lead is dead. Persistence pays off and, surprisingly enough, is often even appreciated by legitimate leads. However, if a lead clicks spam, hits an unsubscribe link, or simply tells you to shove off, just let it go. Cut your losses. Mark the lead in your CRM, remove them from your marketing campaign, and move on to the next one.
Remember, whether your campaign prompts the lead for a response or simply sends out an ad for an upcoming sale, you always want to watch for responses, unsubscribes, bounces, and spam complaints! Failure to act on a request for unsubscribe, a bounce, or spam complaint from a lead will continue to harm your sending reputation if you continue to contact that lead.
4. Always Handle Your Feedback Loops
Which leads me to my last best practice in part one: always, always, always handle your feedback loops. A feedback loop, in the formal sense, is a service most email service providers will offer allowing a sender to receive contact when a recipient clicks a spam button. If you continue to email the recipient, the recipient will likely continue to click spam. This will severely hinder your sending reputation.
My informal definition of a feedback loop is any action that is directly triggered by an email you sent: a response, an unsubscribe, a bounce, or a spam complaint.
If a lead responds positively, contact the lead. If a lead responds negatively, discontinue the conversation. If a lead clicks spam, never contact the lead again (at least via email). If an email bounces with a warning that the email address does not exist, you should probably stop emailing that address. Common sense, right? You would be amazed how many people mess it up.
In part 2, we’ll cover useful third-party services, internal metrics, authentication records, and reputation management for your sending domains and IP addresses.
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