How NOT to screw up Email Marketing (if doing it yourself)

There are a lot of email service providers (ESP) that you can turn to that will gladly help you send out your mailings to a targeted list…all for a minimal fee. In most cases, it’s best for you to have them help you out, but if you feel that you are up to the task of sending out your own mailings by yourself, then here are a few tidbits that may help you avoid disasters and complaints:

Check out the differences between various D.I.Y. email providers.
There are a variety of email providers that allow you to do it yourself. Some are web-based and there are others that could potentially interact with your database system directly so everything is a little bit more automated. Or there are some that are custom-created which could wind up costing you tons of money. Just some to look into are: Constant Contact, Vertical Response, Email Labs, Real Magnet, etc.

Look at the fee structure and any limitations on list sizes (and any additional costs for more names), details on how to upload lists, custom templates, landing pages, survey capability, event management, reporting, etc.

Make sure you update your list everytime.
One of the main complaints that you’ll get is that people on your list will ask to be taken off the distribution list, but if you don’t comply and you send them another email (inadvertently or on purpose), then you will have a potential CAN-SPAM violation and your emails could be blocked not only by that individual but also by the ISP (@comcast.net, @verizon.com, @gmail.com, @aol.com, etc.) itself, thereby removing your ability to communicate with all those other subscribers who wanted to receive it, but are on the same ISP.

If your lists are all controlled within the individual email service provider, then your lists should be updated when someone decides to “opt-out”, but if you are managing your lists through an Excel, Access, or other database form, you will need to maintain that list constantly to make sure you don’t SPAM someone.

Do NOT send out emails with 100% images.
Not only is that probably a SPAM tactic, but it’s also bad marketing! With viruses appearing in images in emails, email inboxes are a lot smarter these days and ALL images are automatically blocked when they first appear. Background images will not appear either. So the best tactic is to make sure that a majority of your email is text.

Assume that your subscriber will be viewing this in an inbox with a white background – so don’t make your text white. Instead, choose a dark color…black is the perfect choice.

While webpages are probably better with images, stick with text for emails. Text is king.

Form a rapport with your subscriber & keep them informed.
Make sure that you put somewhere on the email you’re sending out something that let’s the recipient know why they are receiving this. I know when I receive an email long after I subscribe, it confuses the hell out of me and I don’t know why I’m receiving this nor how I subscribed. Reassure your subscriber that it is a valuable email they are receiving.

If your subscriber has subscribed but doesn’t receive your emails, then maybe it’s in their junk mail folder. That doesn’t do you any good, now does it? Your goal then is to help educate your audience to add your email to their address book which should guarantee that it’s appearance in their inbox 100% of the time.

Be aware of Murphy’s Law.
If you think that everything will go the way you want, then you’re mistaken. Always make sure that you account for any slight mishap, regardless of how insignificant it could be. When I send out emails, I always make sure to schedule them at least 30 minutes after I enter it into the system…that way if someone comes to me last minute with a change, I can go to the system and shut it off. It doesn’t help to double-check your information too to make sure you didn’t misspell anything or have a broken link. Believe me, it can (and does) happen more than you think.

Try and assign a database list later on in the process.
As one who’s been dealing with email marketing for a few years, I’ve run into a lot of worst-case scenarios. One of the worst things that you can do is send an email promoting something to a list that doesn’t want it or have any interest. Think about a time when you were sending out an email to someone in Outlook and accidentally hit send without realizing it wasn’t going to that person. Or, if you’re using a web email like Gmail or Yahoo when the browser automatically sends the email without you touching the button. It’s happened before…and nothing will prevent it from happening again. Unless…

You assign a default list to that email template before you start working. This default list can be your email so if anything bad happens, YOU are the only one affected, not the 30,000 names you would have sent the email too, along with your company’s reputation. This default list can also contain a variety of your email aliases so you can use it for testing to see how an email will look in different provider inboxes. Once you’re absolutely sure you want to send out the email, THEN insert the target list. Your stress level will thank you.

Track your efforts.
There’s a macro view of reporting. It’s not just looking at how the open rate or click rate of a particular email is. It can affect how you send out your emails in the future. Any smart email marketer will tell you to “TEST TEST TEST” your emails. If you see a pattern on specific emails doing better on a certain day, then pay attention to that. Look at the numbers and see if anything makes sense. Reporting is a powerful tool…it’s not there for decoration.

Want to know how your links in your email are converting? Don’t just rely on the reporting to show you which links clicked through. Implement some clickstream tracking using Google Analytics or some other third-party system. That way you can monitor where people go on your site, the behavior of their surfing, and much more. This is what your marketing higher-ups would like to see.

Keep it simple!
Remember that text is king with emails. Do not try and make your emails so graphic and flashy that when people get it in their inbox, it’s basically all white space. Use formatting of the text to your advantage but also make sure that it’s user-friendly and compatible with the way email systems are. Stick with the common fonts, but don’t forget that you can bold, underline and even italicize your copy. You want fancy? Let it stay with the landing page.

Have a Call to Action.
If you want someone to do something (e.g. buy your product, click to book, etc.), then TELL THEM. Don’t just have an email with nothing to do. It’s basically saying “Hi, how are you? I thought I’d just check in. Talk to you later.” What’s the point?

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."