When Email Addresses Go Stale
Email addresses go stale really fast. When someone opts in to your list, you've probably got 6 months before the email address is bad, and maybe 3 months or so before their permission goes cold. Wait too long before emailing them, and you'll not only get tons of bouncebacks---you're going to get some really nasty spam complaints...
Hell hath no fury like a recipient that forgot she subscribed to your list. Do you think that after 6 months, someone will actually remember opting in to your list? Come on, after 6 months they'll have received 17.3 googillian emails, 99% of which was spam.
It's not that hard for recipients to report you, either. They just click a little "this is spam" button, and that sends an automatic email to their ISP. If enough of these pile up at the ISP, your emails will be blocked from then on. And you don't want that ISP to be AOL, either (yikes).
So if you've been collecting emails for a few years, and are only just now getting around to emailing them, you need to re-invite them to your list. Send a quick email asking people if they still want to be on your list. Ask them to click a link to confirm. If they don't respond, take them off the list. They obviously don't want to hear from you.
Here's a great article with tips on this very topic.
It's old, but not stale:
How to Freshen Up Stale Permission at Clickz.com
We love the idea of sending a survey asking for feedback. If you want to try it, we recommend SurveyMonkey.com (no relation to our monkey, but we love it nonetheless). Build your survey on SurveyMonkey, then send links to it via MailChimp. It's like having a whole team of helper monkeys doing all your work for you.
Are you going to lose a few people in this process? Absolutely. Probably about 30%-50% of them. But think of it as spring cleaning. No sense in sending (and paying for) your email marketing to people who aren't there, or who aren't listening.
MailChimp's 4 Years Old!
Woo-hooooooo MailChimp just turned 4. That's like, 21 in monkey years,
so we deserve a beer. The team had a quick celebration yesterday, then
got back to programming the next point release (and stuffing our faces with cookies). Back to work we go. Just for fun (and just to see if anyone actually reads this blog), we're giving away this MailChimp Messenger Bag to the 1st person that sends us an HTML email birthday greeting using MailChimp. Bonus points if it includes pics of monkeys, bananas, beer, or any combination of the above. Send to our info-at address.
How To Survive the Inbox Whack-a-Mole Game
See that button to the right? That's the "Junk" button. Everytime you send your email campaigns, that's what you're competing with. Your recipients hover their mouse over that button and play "whack-a-mole" as spam fills their inbox. You have a fraction of a second to convince people that your email is worth NOT junking.
Take my inbox, for instance. On a recent day, this is what came in. I'm sitting at my desk sipping coffee, with one finger on the junk button. Which messages should I keep, and which ones should I trash?
Can you tell, in the blink of an eye, which ones AREN'T junk?
In the example above, 4 of them are emails that I actually opted-in for, so I didn't junk them.
Truth be told, I only actually read one of them.
How are you going to convince people not only to keep your email out of the spam folder, but to actually open and read your email, too?
- Write a better subject line. Use something familiar to your recipients, like your company or publication name. Something they saw when they first opted in. Remember, relevance trumps wit, when it comes to subject lines. Don't be too catchy, and don't use ALL CAPS. Avoid "spammy" words, like "free, limited time, open now, your reply is needed, and enlargement."
- Make it clear where it's from. Put your company name in the "From" field of your emails. Don't change it, because your recipients might have added that name to their address book to "whitelist" it from their spam filters.
- Send something actually worth reading. Fill your emails with useful info, funny stories, and fascinating how-tos. If you can't think of something worth reading every month, send your newsletters once a year. Don't "train" people to junk your emails every time they get it.
Opt-in vs. Confirmed Opt-in vs. Double Opt-in
If you're new to email marketing, you might not understand the difference between opt-in, opt-out, double opt-in, and confirmed opt-in lists, or all their pros and cons...
Here's a quick run-down of how each one works, plus some pros and cons...
Opt-out: This is an old-fashioned way of building your email list where you'd typically have some form for people to fill out (like to receive a free whitepaper or something). Hidden at the bottom of the page would be a little pre-checked box, with something like, "Yes, please sign me up for your email newsletter!" It's sort of a scummy way of doing it, but technically it's legal. We highly recommend against it, because you'll end up with tons of people who don't understand how they got on your list, who won't read your emails, and who will send complaints to the anti-spam authorities to get your server blacklisted. It's yucky, so stay away from it.
Opt-in: Sometimes referred to as "single opt-in," this method basically means people are never automatically signed up for any email lists. They are only added to an email list if they actually fill out your registration form. While this is much better than opt-out, it's still got its problems. People can sign up friends or family members to lists without their permission. They you end up sending emails to people who've never heard of you. Those people tend to get pretty angry.
Confirmed Opt-in: This is similar to the opt-in method, but after someone signs up for your email list, you'd send them a "thank you" confirmation email that contains a link to unsubscribe from your list (just in case they were signed up by someone else without their permission). On the surface, this method looks a lot better than single opt-in, since it gives people a way out if they never signed up for your list. But think about it. If someone signed you up for an email list that you've never heard of, and you got the confirmation email out of the blue, would you trust the unsubscribe link? Would you have even read the email in the first place?
Double Opt-in: Someone signs up for your email list. You send a confirmation email with a link that they must click before they're added to your list. If they don't click the link, they don't get added to the list. When users confirm that they want on your list, you should store their IP address, and confirmation date and time in your records. This is, in our opinion, the best way to handle your email list. Advantages to this approach include:
- Only people who are truly interested in hearing from you will double opt-in, so your response rates will be much higher (we've seen differences up to 20% higher with double opt-in).
- Since your audience truly wants to hear from you, you can charge more for any advertising that you sell within your email.
- Your competition won't be able to sign up for your email newsletter, then report you for spamming them to the blackhole lists, because you'll have proof they double opted in. Yes, this happens quite a lot.
Disadvantages? Some marketers worry that a lot of people will never follow through with the confirmation link. But we have to ask: if someone's too lazy or unwilling (or incompetent) to click your simple little confirmation link, do you think they're really going to read your emails, or respond to them in any way?
Make Your Email Newsletters Longer
Seth Godin, (you know, the dude that peeks out from the bottom of all those marketing books) thinks your email newsletters should be long, but your blogs short (see his post, "Two Kinds of Writing"). We concur. Sorta. More specifically, we think email newsletters should be chock full of personality. Be funny. Be dorky. Share a funny story. Whatever. Show your customers your human side. When else do you get a chance to sit down with a customer, one-on-one?
Common Email Marketing Mistakes
Over the years, we've noticed some common mistakes that new email marketers make, so we thought it would be good to post them here...
If you're new to email marketing, look out for these common mistakes that people make when sending their first email newsletters:
- Mistake #1: Not testing enough. Before you send to your entire list, you should have sent at least 3 or 4 tests to yourself, and to all your test accounts (such as HotMail, Yahoo!Mail, Gmail, AOL, etc). Check that your images aren't broken, each and every hyperlink works, and that your unsubscribe link works.
- Mistake #2: Did we mention not testing enough? Test, test test! Remember, once you hit send, there's no "undo."
- Mistake #4: CSS in the wrong place. Normally, when you code a web page, you put the CSS code in between your <HEAD> tags. But lots of email applications (especially browser based ones) strip out the HEAD and BODY tags of your HTML, so your CSS will get stripped too. Embed your CSS just above the content, below your BODY tag. It'll work fine there.
- Mistake #5: Over-ambitious CSS. Don't even try to use CSS for positioning. Sorry, but with HTML email, you're still stuck using a lot of tables and shim.gif's (for now). Don't try to link to an external CSS, either. Use embedded and inline CSS. If you're not an HTML coding pro, and you're letting an application generate your code for you, just be sure to look through the code and check to make sure CSS is done according to these guidelines.
- Mistake #6: Writing like a spammer. We all get spam. You know what it looks like. The subject lines are IN ALL CAPS, letters are highlighted bright red or bright blue, they SCREAM by using lots! of! exclamation! points!!!! and they use phrases like, "viagra, hottest, best, click now! limited time only!, and act now!" Don't be like that. Keep your subject lines brief and to the point. Keep your content relevant. Don't try to use gimmicky catch phrases. Avoid spammy words.
- Mistake #7: Forgetting to track clicks and opens. Don't forget to click the "track clicks" and "track opens" checkboxes in MailChimp, if you want to get campaign reports. Once you've sent the campaign, it's too late to go back.
- Mistake #8: Not including an unsubscribe link. Never forget to include an opt-out link in your emails. It's the law. In fact, we highly recommend you place it near the top of your email, so that people don't get lazy and click the "this is spam" button instead.
- Mistake #9: Sending emails "out of the blue." Say you've been collecting email addresses through an opt-in form on your website for years, but you've never had the time to send them anything. One day, you finally find the time to code your beautiful email newsletter, and you're ready to "blast it out to your list." Don't do it. If this is your very first email campaign, and these people haven't heard from you via email before, you need to send a quick "warmup" or "reminder" campaign, to tell recipients, "We're really excited about our new monthly e-letter, and we just wanted to confirm your email address before we start sending. Click here to subscribe." If people haven't heard from you in years, and you suddenly start sending them emails, they've probably forgotten who you are, nevermind that they opted in. To avoid getting reported for spamming, send a preliminary warmup email to "cold lists" to re-confirm their permission.
- Mistake #10: Not using full paths in your images and hyperlinks. With HTML email, you need to host all your images on your server, then use absolute paths that point back to your server. So, instead of coding an image like this:
You would code it like this:
Same goes for hyperlinks. Instead of a link like this:
<a href="index.html">Click here</a>
You'd code the link like this:
<a href="http://www.mysite.com/index.html">Click here</a>
So there you have it. Hope we've helped save someone out there from making some really embarassing mistakes. Speaking of embarassing mistakes, I'll share a couple we've made over the years (if you promise not to use these against us). Once---many, many years ago---I sent a Christmas campaign for a client to about 1,500 recipients, and put "Happy Thanksgiving" in the subject line by mistake (I was re-using old code). Once, Mark (our head of technology) sent a campaign for a client's huge corporate event, and placed his own email address in the reply-to field by mistake. He had to forward every single response to the client. And then there was the time Dan (head of customer service) sent a test campaign to an old buddy of his, and jokingly put "here's your email, sucka" in the subject line. The friend logged in, and sent the campaign to his list without checking it first (for the record, that one got a fantastic open rate). What would have prevented all these mistakes? Test, test, test.
If you're new to email marketing, we've also got a free "Getting Started" guidebook on our website at:
It's full of HTML email design and coding tips, best practices, and links to more resources.
When Plain-text Emails Are Better
I recently signed up to receive the TechSoup.org email newsletter, and was pleasantly surprised at how well-designed their plain-text email is. It's easy to get caught up in the razzle-dazzle-jazzy-fun of HTML email, but plain-text is often just as good; sometimes better.
Our favorite feature of "By The Cup" is their "Off The Cup" section, which highlights member-submitted soup recipes. It's fun, interesting, and brings some personality to the newsletter. TechSoup also includes helpful hints and resources, plus links to active discussions on their site.
If you're sending very frequent emails, such as for breaking industry news, or special offers to customers, you should strongly consider going with plain-text, because it's less "weighty" and easier to skim and scan through. Think daily newspaper (black and white, fewer pictures) versus monthly magazine (slick paper, lots of photos and ads).
The only downside (for marketers) of plain-text email is that you can't track open rates like you can with HTML email. You can track clicks with plain-text email, but be aware that tracking clicks usually means your URLs will be altered with tracking code, so test before you track. Why not shoot for the best of both worlds? Design an HTML email that looks like a plain-text email, is easy to scan, "lite" on graphics, and has all the tracking you need?
MailChimp on NewsForge
It all started when we had to build a very customized, browser-based content management tool for one of our clients. The tool had to manage hundreds of pages of medical information, in English and Spanish. It really, really sucked that most of the WYSIWYGs out there are PC + IE only.
So we got in touch with the creator of FCK-Editor (Frederico Caldeira Knabben, working from his home in Poland), who is working on building a Mac + Safari compatible version of his WYSIWYG. One of his obstacles was that he doesn't own a Mac. Oh, the humanity.
To speed things up, we offered to buy him a Mac Mini. But to get the funds over, and to try to get even more people involved, we all decided to use Fundable.org.
In 2 days, the Mac and open source community donated enough money for Frederico to buy a shiny new iBook, and word got around about Fundable.org (oh, and MailChimp!).
This turned out to be some pretty decent word-of-mouth for us. I guess in the nerd world, no good deed goes unpublished.
HTML Objects NOT Supported by AOL
Straight from the AOL Postmaster's HTML Email support page, here's a list of HTML objects that are NOT supported by the AOL client. If you're coding HTML email, make sure your code doesn't have any of these items in it, or it just won't work in AOL:
- ActiveX (sometimes used to detect the Flash plugin)
- Audio (no cheesy background music, please)
- External Style Sheets (embed your CSS instead, and do it within the content, not the HEAD)
- Frames and IFrames (make sure no banner ads in your HTML email are using these)
- Java (Probably won't work in browsers either, for that matter---joking)
- Meta Refresh
- Tooltips (ALT tags for images and TITLE tags for links worked fine in AOL9)
CSS in HTML Email, AOL
If you'd like an ultra-quick summary, here goes:
- Just avoid positioning with CSS in HTML Email. It probably won't work.
- Lots of email applications chop off the <HEAD> and <BODY> areas of your HTML email. So don't put your CSS there. Put it under the BODY tag, with your content. It'll still work there.
- Don't link to external style sheets. You've got to use embedded or inline CSS