I have been building and managing email delivery systems for over 11 years, and have worked on everything from CRM, acquisition marketing, to re-engagement systems. The one client question that I field all the time is, “How can we improve our inbox placement”?
The top 5 factors to consistent inbox placement are
Truly Opt-In Email Lists
List Hygiene and On-going Email Verification
Authenticated Email Delivery Infrastructure
Well targeted list segments
Relevant content with compelling call to actions
To achieve and sustain strong inbox placement, marketers must obtain a high level of recipient engagement. Marketers must make sure to pay special attention to the 5 factors stated above. First and foremost marketers must ensure that they have permission to communicate to their recipients. However there is a difference between “request” and “concede” opt-in. When a user signs up to receive a newsletter or fills out a form to request additional information about a company and its products, then they are “request” opt-in. On the other hand, when a user makes a purchase or registers on a site, they may not necessarily want to be inundated with marketing promotions from the site and or its third party affiliates. This is what is called “concede” opt-in. Request opt-in will rarely yield any spam complaints, and thus protect your sender reputation.
Another factor of significant importance is the quality of your list. I am not just referring to the email address, but to all the details of your customer or prospect. Ensure that you are performing on-going data hygiene and verification of your lists. When applicable, this includes but is not limited to email address verification, postal address validation (CASS certification, national change of address “NCOA”, and DPV validation), contact name completeness, gender, and age. A clean, complete, accurate and up to date list will ensure that you are targeting the appropriate geographic and demographic segment desired. Additionally, a verified email list will reduce the risk of your domain and IP reputation being penalized due to excessive hard bounces.
To ensure that the major free email providers accept your emails, your delivery infrastructure must conform to all current email authentication guidelines. Your email delivery system must be properly configured with rDNS “reverse DNS”, sender policy framework “SPF”, DomainKeys Identified Mail “DKIM”, and Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance “DMARC”. These authentication methods let the world know that you are who you say you are.
By taking care of the first 3 factors listed above, you will significantly increase your chances of getting your emails into the inbox. These factors are critical to maintaining a good sender reputation. However, the next two factors are critical to engagement and sustaining good inbox placement.
Well targeted list segmentation will help identify the best possible audience within your list. When you reach the correct audience you normally see higher open and click rates. This engagement is what will allow you to sustain strong inbox placement.
Last but not least, relevant content with a strong call to action will normally yield consistent engagement. Special attention must be placed to key words that should be used, and to spam flag words that shouldn’t be used.
In conclusion, permission, list hygiene, proper email infrastructure, good list segmentation, or relevant content alone, will not ensure consistent inbox placement. However, if you pay attention to these key factors, and follow email marketing best practices, you should be able to achieve and sustain good inbox placement.
An email marketing message usually has a call to action linking to some kind of landing page. But it doesn’t have to be that way if there’s a better way. In fact, it could be offering a different way to “respond” to your email marketing message might deliver better results. Below are six possible destinations your CTA can take your customers too, one tried-and-true and five outside-the-box…
Send them to a landing page Don’t ditch the landing page! It’s still a viable option for your call to action destination, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. I’m only saying don’t use that as your default time and time again until you’ve tried alternative CTAs to see if another option works better. So I kept it on the list, just to be on the safe side.
Ask them to call a phone number As old school as it sounds, people do still make phone calls, perhaps more so when viewing your email on a mobile phone that lends itself more to clicking on a phone number than clicking through to a website. Besides, Google claims phone calls have a higher value, stating calls to businesses are worth 3X more than clicks to websites. That’s something to consider when planning out your CTA! If you’re thinking people don’t make calls any more, the opposite is true. Consumers still like to make calls, especially when searching on their smartphones. One statistic says smartphone users are 9X more likely to place a call from the search engine results page on their mobile devices than when on a desktop computer.
Promise a Pinterest board If you’re a B2C business, Pinterest needs to be in your marketing toolbox, and especially now as the holidays approach: 67% of Pinners say Pinterest is important for planning holiday purchases. And if they’re using Pinterest when shopping for the holidays, whether for gifts, entertaining or décor, they are using Pinterest the rest of the year too. How about a call to action that takes your customer to a Pinterest board? A Pinterest board can function like an interactive online catalog, and each pin can link to a webpage.
Drive traffic to a brick-and-mortar location Yes, even in this digital age, online marketing can drive offline traffic. Think email coupons—and how many people sign up to get email coupons they use offline. In fact, they might have subscribed to your emails in the first place just to get coupons they can use in your physical stores. The call to action might link to a store finder or to coupons they can redeem in person, or perhaps the call to action is to attend an exclusive at the store.
Suggest they engage in dialog A call to action doesn’t have to lead directly to a sale. It can lead to deeper engagement instead—which ultimately increases the likelihood of a sale. You can do this by using your call to action to drive people to Facebook, Twitter or another popular social media platform to join in a dialog or at least follow it. Asking subscribers to share photos on Instagram or Flickr is another way to engage.
Which Alt-CTA might work for your business? Only testing will tell. It could be it’s a mix that generates the highest level of response (and ROI). Be careful with including too many calls to action in one email, however, as there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. One resource says emails with only one call to action performed better with increased clicks 371% and sales 1671%. But maybe a link to a landing page combined with a phone number works, or perhaps your email messages alternate their alternative CTAs. Testing will tell you what works and then you’ll have no alternative but to increase your ROI!
Ignoring Usability When Selecting an Email Service Provider is a Giant Waste of Money
In my years in the email marketing industry, I have seen and used a lot of different ESP interfaces, and I’ve watched them evolve over time into ever more capable technologies as email marketing has grown more sophisticated, but that hasn’t necessarily meant that they’ve grown easier to use.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true, that the more advanced the features, the more challenging the interface should be—or so people seem to think. They tend to think getting more advanced functionality means accepting poor usability, as a kind of trade-off.
Usability matters more than you think
Marketers want ESPs to be usable. In one study, nearly 80% of respondents rated “an interface that requires very little training” as a “must have” in an ESP.
Yet usability is often overlooked when choosing a new email service provider–usually by those who want fancy features and authorize the purchase but don’t actually use the product. However, usability is every bit as important as the price and features when evaluating an ESP.
Effective: Whether you’re running a mom-and-pop operation or an enterprise-size one, you’re making an investment in this email technology and you want it to work, by golly! And it only works when you or your employees can do what they set out to when using the platform.
Efficient: That said, you don’t want it to take forever for you or an employee to accomplish a task, so you need the platform interface to be efficient too, enabling a quick template build, for example, or almost instant reporting.
Engaging: Yes, usability includes an aspect of “enjoyable,” shall we say? If given the choice between doing a task using a technology that’s unpleasant vs. using a technology that’s actually kind of fun to use, wouldn’t you choose the latter? And that quality makes a platform more usable.
Error-tolerant: This is kind of a fancy way to say “make it hard to make mistakes,” because if it’s easy for you or an employee to err, you will.
Easy to learn: This characteristic could go to the top of the list because really, it all starts there, with learning the ESP interface and adapting to it quickly.
You lose money when ESP usability is poor
I sometimes think the bigger companies prefer the clunky, difficult-to-use ESP and marketing automation platforms because I see them making huge investments in these vendors without questioning the usability. Or is it because they’ve bought into the idea that fancy features must equal a challenging interface?
It doesn’t have to be that way, and putting up with poor usability is like throwing money away. Here’s why:
It takes time to learn it: When a company invests in a new ESP, time is of the essence! The faster the migration and implementation are complete, the better, and that includes getting employees trained and working with the platform independently. The longer that takes, the more money lost.
Errors are more likely: When an interface is hard to navigate and not usable, it can be easier to make mistakes. And mistakes almost always cost money!
The platform is not used to its full extent: Even if employees have been trained and they aren’t making mistakes, it could be that they are only using a few of the basic features of the platform. That means wasted money because that vendor is charging you for a full suite of features and if you’re only using A, B and C, you’re throwing money away.
People won’t like using it…and won’t: You can train people to your heart’s content, but if they don’t like using the interface, they are going to avoid doing so, which means more money down the drain.
You won’t get your money’s worth. Finally, and this is essentially the culmination of the four above, you just simply won’t get your money’s worth out of the ESP if the platform isn’t usable. You just won’t.
If you’re investing in an ESP, you’re spending money you hope to make back. Usability can play a big role in that return on investment. So consider it carefully. Don’t consider it a “would be nice to have.” Make usability a “must have,” even if you’re buying into a vendor with sophisticated and fancy features—because chances are you won’t end up using those features if they are a pain in the butt to figure out and master!
Copywriting Tricks Every Email Marketer Should Know
Technology is growing so fast in our little email marketing world that it’s easy to forget what an email is really about. Beyond the segmentation, timing, deliverability and design, an email is simply a collection of words. A message from you or your company to other human beings who have put their hands up and say ‘hey, what you do might just matter to me. Tell me more about it.’
Words are the heart and soul of every email message that you send. It makes sense to spend the time to get them right. Here are some ‘tricks of the trade’ that will help you write emails that hit home and get people to take action.
Get To Know Who They Really Are
As an email marketing professional you probably know the demographics of your list. You know their age, where they’re from, heck maybe even what breakfast cereal they eat. But I’m not talking about data here. I’m talking about them as a 3 dimensional human. Spend some time in the real world to meet, network and connect with the type of people who are on your list. Sure, you can’t meet with all 100,000, but even just a handful will be enough. Once you have a real, human being in your mind who represents your list to you, you’ll be able to write to them with more authenticity. Marketers that want to appeal to multiple groups of real people to help them the best way they can, might even create what we would call buyer persona’s. But first start with some real world one-on-one. You’ll be writing to a person, not just a number, and this difference will shine through in every single word you write.
Prove That You’re a Human Being Too
It’s OK to show personality when you write. People will love you for it and respond to it as one human being to another. Of course, your ‘persona’ should not only be authentic to you, it should also fit the tone of your brand and your target audience. Write to them in their language by highlighting the side of your personality which fits with your brand message. Remember that email marketing can be a strong branding tool. If you’re writing from your name, throw in some human details from your life. Sign off by saying ‘Ok, that’s all for today. I’m off to catch the Mets game, wish ‘em luck!’ Be genuine, human and real, and people will respond by trusting you more.
Write About Them, Not About You
You spend your whole life focused on your product, so when you sit down to write to your list telling them to go buy it, what are you going to talk about? Most people talk about their product. What you should be talking about is them. Enter into their world using the real human knowledge you’ve gained about them. Address the reader personally and directly, using ‘you’ instead of ‘we’ or ‘I.’
Tell Them Why They Should Care
So you’ve got the best product in the world. So what? People, fundamentally, at their simplest level, care about themselves. You already know this, of course, but it’s easy to forget. Constantly explain how your product benefits them, and you’ll find it easier to motivate your subscribers to buy. You’ll make more sales, have more money, and live forever. Ok, you can do it more subtly than that. But don’t be afraid to be obvious. An old copywriting trick tells you to imagine that everyone you are writing to is constantly asking “So why do I care?” to every sentence you say. So answer it. Tell them exactly why your product makes their life better.
Instead of dwelling on the features or the product this email from Sephora immediately states the benefits that you get when you buy, clearly answering the ‘Why Do I Care” question:
”This bevy of hair bestsellers gives you instant, effortless style that lasts up to 2x longer.”
Focus on both Pleasure and Pain
As a marketer you should know both what your subscribers want more of in their life, and what they want less of. If your product genuinely solves a problem for your audience then to make sales you need to briefly remind them of that problem, before offering them relief. Why do you think there are so many marketing automation tools out there? Many of your prospective clients will not be at the stage of awareness or consideration just yet. These platforms help you with lead scoring, timing the message and tailoring it to the best segment, but it all starts with knowing which Pleasure and Pain buttons to push.
Make Them Take Action Now
People are horrendous procrastinators. If you don’t give them a compelling reason to take action now, then they ain’t gonna – ever. Use real scarcity in your marketing messages to make your calls to action irresistible. Run a special offer that ends in 3 days, not one month. Create a special edition of your product that has only 1000 copies available. Offer a high value bonus or discount for only the first hundred customers. Make it real, just be sure to do it (before it’s too late!).
A well written, authentic email will make your subscribers think “wow, this company understands me” and then rush to find their credit card. No matter how beautiful your design or how precise your segmentation, however, a carelessly written email will not generate the results you want because people will not be sufficiently motivated or inspired to take action. Follow these tips to get the words right, and remember that at the end of the day, the email replaced the letter, and every letter is about the words.
About the Author:
Nathan’s first online business came out of a hobby and paid his way through university, growing a newsletter of over 20,000 subscribers and earning a mention in the New York Times. Since then Nathan has worked as a copywriter and digital marketing strategist for mission driven educators, authors and entrepreneurs in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and China. Read his thoughts on email marketing at NewsletterMarketing.io