Category Archives: Deliverability

Successful Social Media Tactics

This is the first of a two-part series on social media and digital marketing. In this series, we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages of using social media, and how to ensure your social media efforts don’t interfere with your email marketing efforts.

Facebook and email

Every day, it seems, a new channel pops up for marketers to use to get their messages out to the public. Many now use Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (when video is applicable) to promote their products and services. Other sites such as Pinterest, Google+, and Foursquare are also gaining traction. Too often, though, marketers treat these various channels like baseball cards, trying convince the public to “collect ’em all.” To achieve this, marketers will use a teaser process to get people to connect to them on every channel. An email with a link to a coupon takes the recipient to the company’s Facebook page, where the person has to click the “Like” button to receive the coupon, and on the Facebook page, there is an announcement that you’ll have to follow them on Twitter to get special daily discounts.

There are, no doubt, a few people who enjoy this sort of scavenger hunt, but most people find it annoying. “Why can’t you just give me the coupon?” They wonder. The end result is frustration for the recipient and the potential to lose a customer you have worked hard to get. If they get a communication that says they should now sign up for a different channel to get what was offered in the first email, many people will feel frustrated, wondering why their chosen channel isn’t good enough. In our experience, emails sent to customers telling them to sign up on Facebook can lead to poor deliverability. They have higher complaint and unsubscribe rates, which leads the ISPs to direct more of your email to the junk folder. We’ve seen such a significant hit on deliverability that it can take several more engaging emails before the deliverability rates recover.

The customer that does sign up for all your social channels can also turn out to be more of a burden than a boon. If you are sending the same message in several channels, recipients may read the message in one channel, and not bother to look at it in the other channels. In the case of email, this means an email may get deleted without being opened, which the ISPs take as a sign that the recipient is not interested in receiving that email. If this continues long enough, the ISPs will take notice and start sending any new email from you directly to the junk folder. Additionally, many people will feel exhausted if the same message is delivered multiple times. Research indicates that most recipients don’t want frequent emails with the same basic content, but what if that message is magnified multiple times when the persons gets the email, but also one or more social sites, plus Twitter or other direct SMS? Clearly this will lead people to start tuning out on your message.

Different users like to be communicated with in different ways. Some people love social sites and don’t use email as much anymore. Others resist social sites and prefer the one-to-one communications of email. Whenever possible it is better to let the customers decide which channels works best for them. Communicate with people in the way they request, and don’t coerce them into changing channels or signing up for multiple channels.

Part Two: I Want You, Not Facebook!

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Of Senders and Subject Lines

Good email practices start with the sender and subject lines. If you don’t have these in order, nothing else matters. Here are some ideas for improving your deliverability.

dynamic content in subject line

Try this little experiment: Go to your email software, be it Gmail, Outlook, or whatever, and open it. Quick, what do you see? The first thing you’ll notice is the sender. It is usually the first item on the left, or appears above the subject line, often in bolder type than the subject line. Given this fact, it is safe to say that nothing is more important than a good-looking sender address, especially when one looks at the statistics: 64 percent of small businesses executives said they decide whether or not to open an email newsletter based on the sender,1 and over 50 percent of respondents cited knowing and trusting the sender as the primary reason for opening an email in the first place.2 Even more disturbing, 73 percent of people decide to click on the “report spam” or “junk” button based on the sender’s email address alone!3 Ideally, your sender information should be personalized enough so that they see either a name or company, or some other title that has meaning to them (“Advanced Widgets Weekly Newsletter”). Ideally, your Sender name should make sense to the recipient. If the mail is a newsletter, a sender name that contains the company name and the word “news,” or “newsletter” is helpful. If your company is large enough to have different branches with different branding, then it’s a good idea make sure the domain matches the sender information.

The second thing they notice, obviously enough, is the subject line. If the sender’s address has done its job, the subject line won’t have to work quite as hard to catch the reader’s attention, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. 35 percent of email users open messages because of the subject line. A relevant subject line is going to have a better open rate than a generic one, naturally, but what does “relevant” mean exactly? In one sense, it means a subject line that is personalized for the recipient, but when most people think of a personalized subject, the first thing that comes to mind is the dreaded “[First_Name], have we got a deal for you.” The ability to insert merge tags into subject lines has been so thoroughly overused by spammers that doing it at all is a risky proposition. It might be okay for a triggered email, such as a birthday greeting or anniversary, but even here, we caution against making a first name merge tag the first element in the subject line. Several studies report that people react more favorably to this tactic when the name is inserted at the end of the message (e.g., “Here’s a birthday coupon for you, Jim”). Others studies suggest that using the first name in a subject line at all is the kiss of death.

Dynamic Subject Line

A far better approach to subject line personalization is to use dynamic content instead of merge tags. So what’s the difference? A merge tag is simply a piece of information stored in a recipient’s demographics. First and last name, address, city, state, membership level, most recent purchase, age, gender, etc. are all examples of merge tags. Even the most basic email marketing application can insert one of these at any point in the email and the subject line. Dynamic content, on the other hand, is not a fixed piece of information, but is a form of request based on one or several variables. It is often represented in an “If/Then” format (if x is true, then do this). It can take the information in the demographics and break it down further (into age groups for instance), or combine two or more demographics to yield different results (women in California, for example).

Dynamic content requires a bit more advanced planning, but it pays off in the end. For example, if you want to offer people different discount rates based on their membership levels, you could create a logic condition that says if the customer’s membership level is gold, the subject line should read, “Here’s your 20% Gold Member only discount coupon,” while for everyone else it should read, “Here’s your 10% discount coupon for our store.” It is also possible to use more than one block of dynamic content in a subject line, so that, if you wanted to steer people to certain departments based on past purchasing patterns, or other demographics, such as age or gender, you can add these conditionals to the subject line as well. Clever combinations of dynamic content can make a subject line appear hand-typed specifically for a recipient.

Dynamic Sender

An even more powerful feature for email marketing is the ability to change the sender dynamically. As previously mentioned, the sender is the first thing anyone sees. With dynamic content, you could, for example, change the sender based on where a recipient lives. In that case, the mail could come from your West Coast representative for anyone residing in California, Oregon, or Washington; or a department store may want to assign reply duties to whichever department a recipient shops in the most.

Not all email marketing software offers the ability to add dynamic content to the sender and subject lines, but it is a feature you shouldn’t overlook. Marketers are moving away from simple email blasting, and beyond social media connectivity, with a trend toward using data to provide a unique experience for each email recipient. The business that is already doing this is ahead of the game.

To learn more about the dynamic content capabilities available in Goolara Symphonie, click here to visit the Features section of our website.

1Bredin Business Information
2ReturnPath
3Email Sender and Provider Coalition

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The Great Unsubscribe Myth

Spam from Unsubscribing

A few months back, computer maven David Pogue wrote an article about finally getting over the fear of clicking the “Unsubscribe” button. “[T]he rule, for 15 years, has been: Never respond. Don’t even try to unsubscribe,” he wrote. “…You’ll wind up getting put on even more spam lists as a result.”

Pogue is one of the smartest journalists in the technology field. The fact that he would think that responding to an unsubscribe link might cause you to get more email just goes to show how pervasive this myth is. And make no mistake about it: it is a myth.

Just to make it clear, I’m not talking about the obviously questionable messages that continue to fill our junk folders every day. There is no profit in sending any kind of message back to someone who is trying to sell you Viagra or nude pictures of  Russian models. You shouldn’t respond to one of these anymore than you should engage in conversation with the guy selling “Rolex” watches on the street. I’m talking about the email you receive as the result of some online action, be that purchasing a laptop, or signing up to receive a whitepaper. Painting these emails with the same broad strokes does a disservice to them, and, in the era of the CAN-SPAM Act, is patently wrong.

The story started in the early days of email, when, every time you tried to unsubscribe from an email, twenty more unwanted emails showed up in your inbox. “Don’t ask to be removed from a junk-mail list,” wrote Amy Harmon in the New York Times back in 1998. “…Some of them may actually remove you. But many more appear to simply take the reply as confirmation that they can continue to reach you there.” Ms. Harmon doesn’t really explain what she means by “junk-mail list,” nor does she attempt to distinguish between legitimate business email (those ones that honored the request to be removed from a list, I suspect), and the spammers. Back then, unsubscribes were accomplished by replying with “unsubscribe” in the subject line. While there may be a few legitimate businesses that still handle unsubscribes in this fashion—although, frankly, I’d be suspicious of any that do—most email marketing today uses an unsubscribe link that takes you to a page where you can opt to stop receiving email from that source.

The different email marketing service providers handle unsubscribes in their own ways. Some require a double opt-out. As a rule, we don’t recommend this technique. A double opt-in is put in place to make sure the recipient really wants to receive that email from you and the recipient knows it. A double opt-out, on the other hand, is seen as a nuisance, and actually may qualify as a violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. Others require the recipient to re-enter their information, even though all of this information could easily be included in the link. Some go to the other extreme, automating the entire unsubscribe process so that clicking the link  is all it takes. We don’t recommend this approach either. It is too easy to accidentally unsubscribe, and people might not bother resubscribing after that. The best approach is to take the recipient to an email page where they can unsubscribe with one click. If they accidentally clicked the link (or, the person to whom they forwarded the email clicked it in error), they have the opportunity to leave the page without changing anything. Some sites includes short surveys to help them understand the cause of the unsubscribe. This is fine as long as it is optional. Force a recipient to wade through a survey and they will simply go back to their inbox and mark that email as spam.

In 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act made it a law that clicking on those unsubscribe links will actually do what they say, and yet, the Unsubscribe Myth persists. Many people will tag email as spam—even though they agreed to receive it—simply to stop getting it. There is a misperception that tagging an email as junk is a better way to stop receiving unwanted email than clicking the unsubscribe link; that somehow this bypasses notifying the sender. If that were true, it would be very easy for anyone to scuttle another company’s email efforts with just a few clicks. If a recipient tags an email as spam, any ESP worth its salt will know about it immediately and will take steps to ensure that that this doesn’t affect a company’s email deliverability. Nonetheless, clicking Unsubscribe is still the preferred way to eliminate email you no longer want. Flagging an email as spam if best done only if the sender doesn’t respect an unsubscribe request. It’s nice to see that David Pogue finally realizes this. Hopefully, others will follow.

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