By Margaret Farmakis, senior director, Response Consulting at Return Path.
Conducted correctly, email remains one of the most cost-effective marketing channels around. But it’s all too easy to forget about email best practice in the headlong rush to achieve return on investment (ROI).
Marketers who fail to follow email best practice risk generating complaints, unsubscribes, poor response and deliverability failures. Far from achieving great ROI, careless email marketing can seriously damage both your relationship with subscribers and the future deliverability of your marketing messages.
The good news is that email best practice is easy to do. Simply follow Return Path’s six recommendations and you’ll build better relationships with customers, experience better deliverability rates, drive more conversions and, ultimately, achieve maximum ROI.
Best Practice 1: Send a welcome message.
Isn’t this too obvious? Well, not to two fifths of UK firms, apparently. In Return Path’s recent study on the email marketing practices of major UK brands, 39% of firms failed to send a welcome message to new subscribers.
Welcome messages are a vital part of a well-run email marketing programme. With inbox clutter now at all time highs, they are an essential tool to keep your list clean, control complaint rates and establishing a great relationship with subscribers from the outset.
It’s best practice to send a message within 24 hours of a subscriber signing up. Wait any longer and they may forget about the brand and why they subscribed in the first place. As a result they’ll either unsubscribe or, worse, mark emails as spam.
A welcome message is a simple courtesy to subscribers to thank them for signing up. What’s even better is to show your appreciation by including a special offer – a small piece of politeness that gets the relationship off to a great start, and also drives conversions.
2: Keep your list clean
Out-of-date lists are one of the top five factors that can lead directly to deliverability failures. Bad addresses must be cleaned off your database on a regular basis to ensure list hygiene. Senders who generate high volumes of bounce backs risk having their messages blocked by Internet Services Providers (ISPs), thus damaging their “email reputation”.
Email marketers should also consider confirmed opt-in, where subscribers take an action – such as clicking a link – to confirm their subscription. This will result in a smaller, but much cleaner, list.
It’s also important to email your list regularly. The less often you send email, the more likely you are to see high bounce rates, though marketers should not swamp subscribers with daily emails, or exceed the frequency of messages promised during the sign-up process.
Authentication is simply confirming that email you send is actually coming from you. By confirming your identity, you help ISPs to weed out spoofing and phishing emails, thus improving the quality and security of the email channel.
Implementing an authentication method is a process that should be coordinated with your IT department at the earliest opportunity. They are likely to be familiar with the different technologies and can help in planning the process and choosing the right authentication system for your business.
4: Get your infrastructure in order
Your sender reputation is directly linked to the quality of your infrastructure. Any time that you make a major change, such as adding a server or changing content management systems, you need to double-check that everything is set up correctly.
Poorly configured servers present a real problem for the ISPs and other high-volume receivers.
Return Path’s research found that 34% of email servers are impossible to identify as legitimate servers, rather than harmful or spamming ones, so marketers must work closely with their IT team to ensure that all infrastructure is correctly configured.
5: Send relevant messages
Return Path’s investigation into the email marketing practices of UK firms found that 85% of firms that collected personal data on subscribers failed to use it.
When they collect personal data, email marketers should customise their messages, greeting subscribers by name and using personal data to target specific messages to particular demographics, locations and interests.
This immediately establishes a relationship between the company and the subscriber, and enhances the sender’s reputation with the receiver, thus ensuring that subsequent messages are not only delivered, but opened and acted on.
6: Know your sender score
Your Sender Score is an easy-to-understand metric that shows your email reputation. Sender Score aggregates information – such as the number of complaints and bounce backs you generate, and your inclusion on external whitelists and blacklists – from 85 million mailboxes at a variety of ISPs, spam filtering and security companies.
This information is then aggregated into a score from 0 to 100. Achieve 80 and above, and you’re doing well; get below 30 and you need to address your email practices urgently.
Learn how to achieve better email marketing on UTalkMarketing's Digital CRM Training - Skills Accelerator.
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