Today, there’s a lot of emphasis on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to drive traffic to one’s website. SEO is important to successful Internet marketing; equally important is the email list. Every organization that wants to be in greater control of their Internet marketing must pay careful attention to how they are capturing email addresses, to building a better relationship with their email list subscribers, and motivating those individuals to respond to their marketing offers. Effective email lists begin with a critical process: the opt in.
In the earlier stages of email marketing, SPAM became so problematic that legislation was initiated to help remedy the problem. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was passed after Congress found that unsolicited commercial email represented half of all electronic mail traffic. The law is clear: it prohibits false or misleading header information and deceptive subject lines, requires senders to identify their messages as an advertisement, requires senders to convey their location, requires senders to provide an “opt-out” for future emails for recipients and prompt (within 10 days) respect of that request, and requires senders to monitor their email marketing activities even if they are outsourced to a third-party. So, the first rule of effective email marketing is to follow the law. From this point on, building an effective email list requires a certain discipline and strategy.
From the start, build your email list by asking those in your database to provide their email addresses so that you can provide them with valuable information and/or offers periodically. With this communication, you are asking them to “opt in” to your future email marketing. Another way to capture email addresses is on your website. Every website should have a sign-up area that lets visitors know that by providing their contact information, they will periodically receive email messages from the company. It should incorporate a mandatory double entry of the email address to assure accuracy and be promptly followed by a confirmation/validation email. Once these steps have been completed, the information can be automatically linked to the organization’s contact mail system for easy, efficient email marketing.
Brick-and-mortar organizations can also capture email addresses and other relevant information at the point of sale. Sales clerks and/or front desk staff should be trained to ask customers if they would like to receive information on sales, special promotions, special events, etc., and if so, to obtain this information at that time. Similarly, personnel working in a customer service call center also should be trained to let the caller know that by providing their email address they can receive special offers, information, etc. Likewise, nonprofits can ask guests to their events to sign a guest book which captures their postal and email addresses.
Another strategy for building an opt-in email list is to provide an incentive. For example, you can offer individuals who provide their email addresses a discount coupon on a future purchase, a free guide, entry for the chance to win one or more prizes, or free entry to an upcoming event.
Let’s go back to the organization’s website and its additional role in capturing and building an effective email list. Beyond the sign-up box, the website content is a definite factor in determining traffic compelled to a website and, equally important, will remain on the website long enough to consider signing up/registering for future communications, including emails, from the organization. If the content does not draw the right target markets, the emails collected may be of little value. Therefore, the content of the website and in particular, the home page must be designed and presented to immediately resonate with the intended target markets. No organization wants a list of email addresses for individuals who are not representative of the audience it is trying to reach, regardless if the organization is a for-profit or nonprofit organization, a business or school, church or hospital, charity or trade association, etc.
Even with opt-in email subscribers, a good practice is to include in every email the option for the recipient to opt-out of future email communications. Not only is this considered good form, it also serves to retain the integrity of the email list in that those receiving future emails remain receptive. In this same spirit, it is wise to occasionally canvas email list subscribers to gain feedback as to whether they find the number of emails being sent from the organization acceptable or too many, and/or whether they find the information and/or offers relevant.
By following these basics, email marketing can become an integral tool in an organization’s overall marketing. Owing to its relative low cost when compared with traditional marketing genres such as advertising and direct mail, email marketing can play a major role in building brand awareness, customer loyalty and retention, new customers, e-commerce and online giving.