The fight against spam – unsolicited e-mail – has been receiving a great deal of media attention. Internet service providers, government institutions, advocacy groups, and private citizens are all engaged in an aggressive effort to clear our email boxes of these hated messages.
With some studies indicating spam constituting as much as 75% of all email traffic, it’s hardly a wonder Internet users loathe and detest it. Recipients are blocking it entirely, deleting spam emails before opening them, and even reporting spammers to their hosts and ISPs in order to get them and their sites shut down. If your intent is to reach your audience through email, it is vital your message avoids coming across as spam—unless you’re looking to put your business at risk, waste time and money, and alienate your audience.
If you’re promoting a product or service, you need to remember to target only users who have expressed interest in receiving marketing or promotional emails. Just because someone registered on your site or subscribed to your service does not mean they’ve given you permission to send them unlimited emails. Purchasing your product or interacting with you at some point in the past does not constitute granting permission, unless and until that user has expressly “opted in” to receive email. By offering your visitors and customers the option to open themselves up to future promotional emails, and by giving them specific choices as to what kinds of emails they want to receive (product releases, site updates, pricing changes, special offers), your messages are more likely to be welcome and read. Furthermore, give them the chance to opt-out at any point. Readily available newsletter management software (available online at eNewsletter Pro, Lyris, Download.com, to name a few) makes all this efficient and easy. Many Web development companies also perform such tasks.
Once a user has expressly given you permission to email them, continue to use discretion with what and when you send. Limit emails to covering substantial developments or offers that are unique and rare, lest your audience grow tired of your messages. Don’t drown your audience in reminders of your existence. They’ll notice that your promotional emails do offer something substantial on the rare occasion they receive them.
Wording and content are also vital in determining whether email gets read. Everyone loves free stuff, but users have been so conditioned by spam to distrust the word “free” that its presence in your subject line might prevent your email from ever being read. “Free” may even cause it to be filtered out before making it to their mailbox. A subject line that is simple and to the point, such as “Your Company.com’s Member News”, could serve you better than “Special offer for so and so!” The annoying nature of spam has bred a great deal of skepticism towards anything even remotely resembling it.
Once the user has been made willing to open and view your email, keep his attention by getting to the point. Already defensive and skeptical towards promotional emails, your audience will give you a very short amount of time and space to get your message across. Is the point of your email to direct the recipient to a specific page on your site? Let them know who you are, why they’re receiving this email, and what it offers quickly. Add a link to where you want them to go soon thereafter. Once the user clicks on that link, they’ve taken a significant step in opening themselves up to what it is you’re trying to say and will be much easier to work with from here on out.
Whereas traditional marketing carries with it certain luxuries – being able to place advertising almost anywhere at any time and assuming at least some of your audience will find it of interest – online marketing removes those luxuries and sets burdens in their place. Be ready and willing to work with those burdens and respect them, and your audience will be more ready and willing, perhaps even eager, to hear what it is you have to say.
An interactive marketing consultant for several years, Brian Dunlap is now the Online Marketing Director for Bionic Pixels