What is Email Marketing and how can I use it in my business?

Email marketing is exactly what it sounds like: marketing delivered via email.  Email allows you to stay in touch with your customers, clients, and prospects regularly and inexpensively.  This regular communication can help you grow your business by educating your prospects and customers about what you offer.  This also helps keep your business “top-of-mind” so that when someone needs what you offer, they will automatically think of you.

What is the difference between Email Marketing and spam?

Spam is defined as Unsolicited Bulk Email.  The content of the message is irrelevant to the legal definition of spam; it is only the delivery that matters.

So, to be defined as spam, the message must be unsolicited AND sent in bulk.  If it is unsolicited but sent as an individual email with unique content it is not considered spam.

Email Marketing, then, can also be spam if sent to people who have not expressly signed up to receive it.  For this reason, you always want to be transparent in what you do with email addresses you receive.  If someone receives a subscription to your ezine (electronic newsletter) when they purchase a product, say so.  Don’t hide this fact.  If all of your clients are automatically signed up for your newsletter, put this in your contract.  And make sure that you always give people the option to not sign up for this additional communication from you (ideally at the time of ordering).

How do I build a list?

Only build a list with the names and email addresses of people who have given you permission to email them.  Do not be tempted to purchase lists of email addresses; these lists are often full of inaccurate email addresses and can contain addresses used specifically to catch spammers.

I belong to an association and I want to add the members to my list.  Can I do this?

Short answer: no.  The people on your list must have given YOU permission to email them (and you must have proof they gave their permission).  If you strongly believe that the association members would benefit from the information you want to send them, you can email them ONCE and invite them to sign up for your list.   You may only mail them the one time; if they do not respond to your initial offer, you may not contact them again.  And make sure you use a double opt-in so that you have proof they did give permission.

I have been collecting email addresses for a long time and am about to send out my first newsletter.  I am so excited!  Since all of the emails were given with permission, is there any problem sending my newsletter to them?

If the permission was given more than six months ago and you haven’t been in contact with them since, the permissions don’t count.  People have surprising short memories so will likely not remember giving permission.  What you can do with your carefully gathered email addresses is this: create an announcement about your new newsletter and include an invitation to sign up to receive it.  Send this invitation to all of your email addresses.  Many won’t respond; don’t be tempted to email them again, just let them go.  This process will allow you to keep only those currently interested in what you offer and provide you with proof that they opted in.

If the recipient is given a choice to opt-out, can’t I just add them to the list myself?

The Internet would be a much safer place if no one ever clicked a link contained in an email from someone they don’t know.  Many spammers’ and criminals out to scam innocent people out of their money’ would just go out of business.  And when you ask your recipients to click a link to unsubscribe, you are asking them to break this rule.

But most importantly, remember that spam is defined as Unsolicited Bulk Email, so if the recipient didn’t ask for the communication, it is by definition spam.  Don’t be tempted to make your behavior acceptable with cleaver semantics.  Spam is spam.

But isn’t spam just like postal junk mail?

While there are some similarities between spam and the junk mail in your mailbox, there is one big difference:  postal junk mail costs money to send while email is practically free.  This simple truth keeps the amount of postal junk mail you receive to a minimum – no business can afford to send as much direct mail as it would like.  And opting out is as simple as contacting dmachoice.org.

But without some kind of limit on the amount of spam you receive, your inbox would quickly fill up to its limit and become overwhelming.  Permission-based marketing (asking first) is the only way to control the amount of email any one person receives.

How often should I email my list?

Many businesses embark on an email marketing program that consists only of a monthly newsletter.  While this is a good place to start as it can get you in the habit of thinking about your list and writing to them, it really isn’t often enough to have an impact on your business.  Plus, you actually risk your recipients forgetting about you between issues.

For best results, email at least twice a month: the email doesn’t have to be the same each time.  If doing a newsletter every other week sounds like too much work, supplement your monthly newsletter with a couple of short offers during the rest of the month.  Get creative.  There is no real “right” way; find a publishing schedule that works for you and your business.

There is one thing that you should keep in mind: when you are sending valuable content, there is no such thing as sending too often.  It is only when we receive mail that we don’t actually want that it is annoying.  So, send more often (just make sure it’s to people who REALLY want it)!

What should I say in my email marketing?  I don’t know if it should be “valuable content” or “marketing messages.”

There is no universal answer to this question that applies to all businesses.  Many Internet marketers are successfully using email marketing by sending newsletters full of useful, “valuable content” that doesn’t contain any direct marketing messages, while other businesses never include “valuable content” in their communications and are very successful.

The right answer comes down to this: your content should be what you subscribers expected when they signed up.  It’s really that simple.  Tell them what they are getting – useful information or sales notices or early notice of your class schedule, whatever – and then give it to them.

What is an Email Service Provider (ESP)?

An Email Service Provider is a company that hosts your email list and sends out your emails for you.  Most of these companies charge a monthly fee for access to their platform that you use to create your email.

There are many reasons why you should use an ESP, rather than simply sending your bulk emails from your regular email account.  Here are the two most important: 1. If you send a single email to more than 12 recipients from your regular account, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) will likely block your message from going out.  You can work around this by creating smaller lists that you mail to, but the extra time involved will cost you more than the low monthly fee associated with an ESP. 2. Your ESP will manage your unsubscribes, bounces, and double opt-in system for you.

Some of the most user friendly ESPs are:  iContact, Constant Contact, aweber, and Mailchimp.   Prices and options are similar so choose the one that suits you and your business needs the best.  Personally, I love MailChimp.

What is a double opt-in (sometimes called a confirmed opt-in)?

Let’s look at a basic opt-in and compare.  In a basic opt-in, someone would visit your website and enter their name and email in a form.  They would then be immediately subscribed to your list and would begin receiving emails from you.

There are three problems with this system: 1. Anyone can enter an email address, even when it doesn’t belong to them, 2. There is no check to determine if the email address is valid, and 3. There is no proof retained that the opt-in occurred.

In a double opt-in, the same form is filled out on your website, but instead of being added directly to your list, an email is sent to the email address entered.  Included in this email is a link that must be clicked in order to “confirm your interest”.  Once this link is clicked, the email is added to your list.  Invalid email addresses never get added and the double opt-in creates a record that you can use to prove someone actually opted in.

Why do I care if the emails are valid?

There is a lot of what is called email address churn, where email addresses are simply abandoned or closed.  Over time, churn will invalidate a lot of previously valid email addresses.  For this reason, it is important to keep your email list as up to date as possible.

Spammers send to email lists indiscriminately.  They don’t care if the emails are valid or not; they are looking for the lowest hanging fruit.

Therefore, any list that contains a lot of invalid email addresses looks like it belongs to a spammer, even when you are not engaged in other spamming behavior.  Keep invalid email addresses off your list and periodically delete emails that bounce or are otherwise undeliverable.

What is a spam complaint?

Most email viewers contain a button marked “this is spam” or simply “spam” .  Using this button will move the email to your spam folder and create what is known as a “spam complaint.”  The offending email is marked as spam and a copy is sent to the ISP so that the ISP’s spam protection can better learn what is, and what is not, spam.   The spammers get more and more creative all the time and try to get past the spam filters so ISPs rely on individuals to help identify what they consider spam.

If you are using an ESP, the spam complaint will also be sent to them.  If you get too many complaints in a short period, your account may be suspended.  Since most spam complaints result from a lack of education, your ESP will likely have a process by which you can get your account reinstated.  This usually involves proving that you’ve learned your lesson and won’t engage in spam-like behavior again.

If you are not using an ESP and your domain receives a lot of spam complaints, your domain could be blocked by Spamhaus.  Spamhaus is an international non-profit organization dedicated to protecting computer networks from spam.  They maintain a database of known spammers that ISPs use to filter incoming mail.  Getting listed as a spammer in their database is serious business.

If you find that your domain or IP address has been blocked, go to Spamhaus.org and use their lookup tool.  If you are listed, they will tell you exactly what database you are in and how to go about getting unblocked.  In general, you will have to clean your list in order to get unblocked.

You can’t completely prevent spam complaints; they come with the territory when you engage in Email Marketing.  The goal s to do what you can to prevent them (following the other guidelines outlined here is a good start).

How do I clean my list?

A clean list is composed of only double opt-in emails that you have communicated with recently.  A lack of communication for an extended period of time can dirty an otherwise clean list (people have surprisingly short memories!).  Emails added without consent are obviously dirty, but so are emails that have been undeliverable but not removed from the list.

In order to clean the list of these undesirable addresses, it is necessary to send an email that instructs everyone on your list to re-subscribe to the list.  You are only allowed to send one email asking for the re-subscription; if they don’t respond, you have to remove them.

This process will likely cull 50% to 90% of your list.  A smaller list of more interested people is better for your business than a large list of people who don’t care, so don’t see this process as a backward step, but rather as making room for more people who love what you offer.