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Opt-in to E-mail marketing

E-mail marketing is one of the most effective ways to increase sales, but if you haven't started yet, where do you begin? The most common use of e-mail marketing is the sending of newsletters and offers by e-mail to pre-qualified leads. One of the more difficult aspects of e-mail marketing is where and how to find these leads. A number of possibilities exist, including purchasing opt-in e-mail lists, using co-registration and building your own list through your Web site. Each has advantages but should also be treated cautiously to maximize your effort. Here we'll outline how to obtain and manage a list, as well as how to use it to bolster sales and brand-recognition.

Purchasing Opt-In Leads

Purchasing opt-in email lists sounds like the easiest route to take, but be warned that you have to vet them. List builders offer extensive rosters of contacts, usually including a number of personal details. These lists can be purchased through a Web site or offline service, generally at affordable prices for small business. However, you should always check the source of these lists or the plan will backfire. Having your e-store flagged as a spammer would be a huge mistake, and this is a real danger unless you are certain the leads you purchase are opt-in leads.

You should also always ask how the lists are generated. The legitimate list builders tend to collect information using their own Web sites and these lists usually contain genuine contact details from people that are truly interested in the type of product you offer. On the other hand, some unscrupulous services offer nothing more than a list of e-mail addresses that have been scraped from forums and Web sites all over the Internet. These are not genuine opt-in lists and should be avoided because they can cause more harm than good.

Co-Registration Lead Generation

Co-registration is proving to be an effective form of list building. Rather than hosting your own registration form, other sites include an option on their registration page that enables that site to forward those details to you. This kind of joint venture can be arranged so that both parties reciprocate sending leads back and forth.

It's also possible to pay another site for one-way co-registration. This arrangement assures that all of your list members have opted in when completing the sign-up procedure.

Generating Your Own List

You may also consider offering a free newsletter or free e-mail updates to acquire leads. Most e-stores are able to offer an appealing newsletter of some variety and this provides an excellent opportunity to build a collection of addresses. Alternatively, a tactic that affiliate sites have used for some time is to offer a free e-book or other product in exchange for the required details.

List Management

It is essential that you carefully maintain your e-mail marketing list. Every piece of marketing correspondence you send should have an option to unsubscribe and it should be easy for your recipients to do so. When you receive an "unsubscribe" notice, you should act promptly.

One cautionary note, especially important for anyone who purchases lists or uses several sources to generate lists, is that you must cross-reference those who opt out. If you purchase a list and a person from that group chooses to unsubscribe, it is imperative that you make sure the individual is not still active on another roster or else you are in danger of becoming known as a spammer.

What Next?

Once you build your list, there's still work to be done. A list of leads is useless unless you leverage it well. Newsletters are a highly effective way to use your new leads. They provide e-store owners with a forum in which to promote new products, inform customers of special offers, and more.

An important factor of newsletter management is offering preferences to your subscribers. Often, the receiver will want to change or add e-mail addresses, or may want to get just promotional offers or just news. If you give them a way to let you know what their preferences are, they're more likely to remain active members of your list. If all you have is an unsubscribe option, you've left them no choice. Companies such as eROI offer tools, such as emailROI, that feature a preference link in each e-mail, and are worth checking out.

Persistence Equals Success

How often you send e-mails and newsletters is another aspect to consider. Newsletters can be produced and sent every week, every other week, or every month. Remember that if your recipients receive too much correspondence, they will opt out. On the other hand, if they don't receive enough then they will forget who you are. So be careful about the timing of your missives and remember to reintroduce your Web site and your products every time.

And, to avoid e-mail fatigue, it's best to be concise and direct with your subject headings. Most readers receive a large amount of material on a daily basis and tend to scan through the subject lines to find only the ones that are most relevant, as well as the most interesting. This means that unless you have strong brand recognition, it's necessary to come up with alluring and appealing subject lines, and not recycle the same types of offers and catch-phrases.

Speaking to Your Readers

Personality in e-mail marketing is important. Be friendly and use names. "Dear Subscriber" or "Dear Reader" may get the job done, but creating e-mails that incorporate first names is much more personal and will make your leads more likely to read the entire message and more likely to click on your links.

Also, consider using platforms such as CoolerEmail that will let you see who is reading your newsletter and who isn't. That way, you can more precisely address the needs of the non-responsive readers, among other things.

Resources for Getting to the In-Box

And, as important as content is, your reputation also plays a major role, according to the e-mail performance company Return Path.

"Most marketers believe that they can tweak content and see deliverability rates increase, that by taking out the words 'free' or '10 percent off,' their e-mails will suddenly make it into the inbox," says George Bilbrey, vice president and general manager of Return Path's Delivery Assurance division. "We have long held that a marketer's reputation with receivers is the reason for poor results."

Receivers use factors such as e-mail volume, e-mail infrastructure (including authentication), unknown user rates, complaint rates, spam trap hits and listings on public blacklists and whitelists when assessing a sender's reputation. In a recent study of 550 email messages with poor delivery rates, Return Path saw that 77.3 percent of problems were directly due to the sender's reputation.

Return Path recently conducted the study with its newly-launched tool, Sender Score Resender, that enables clients to automatically test delivery failure root-causes by resending the same message to test accounts via clean IP addresses (newer IP addresses without negative or positive reputation data associated with them).

Resender allows you to send e-mail messages that showed poor delivery rates a second time through a clean IP address to a series of test e-mail accounts at most major global ISPs.

If the messages are delivered to the inbox on this second send, it shows that the originating IP's reputation, not message content, was the source of the delivery problem. Coupled with data in the company's Sender Score Reputation Monitor, this provides marketers with enough data to start solving reputation-based delivery problems.

And, if you're interested in some basic principles of e-mail marketing, Silverpop CEO Bill Nussey in his blog last week said: Internet security site Dark Reading has a great article about seven common mistakes legitimate companies make when sending marketing e-mail that can lead to their messages being falsely labeled as spam. Whether you're a new or experienced sender, I encourage you to check it out."

Finally, to learn about trends, new testing tools and other best practices, the Email Experience Council is a great resource.

The Bottom Line

Buying an opt-in list can be a good way to start your own marketing e-mail list. However, care should always be taken to ensure that the lists you purchase are genuine rosters filled with legitimate opt-in leads. You can also generate your own leads through your site by offering an engaging newsletter or a free digital product. Once you have a subscriber base, it is essential that you oversee it effectively, including managing an unsubscribe list and cross-referencing the two. Make every aspect of your e-mails intriguing, alluring and personal to gain the greatest benefit and avoid e-mail fatigue.

Matt Jackson is a regular contributor to the ECommerce-Guide and is also a content writer for WebWiseWords.