What is legitimate email marketing?
The reason there is so much spam mail and so many spam messages is because too many marketers treat email as a bullhorn to scream at an audience instead of as an invitation to engage. For email marketing to be legitimate, it needs to be something greater than just squeaking past the spam checkers. You don’t simply want to avoid being labeled as spam mail, you should want to have your recipients desire and look forward to your messages. However, even with that mindset it is important to know the laws, monitor your metrics, test your messages and mind your list.
Change Your Mindset – Add Value
The first rule of modern, legit, email marketing is to “get past the blast”. If your focus is blasting messages out to a huge audience, you are sending spam mail. “But, my product or service is great and people really need to hear about it” is not a reason to disrespect and inundate your customers and potential customers with spam messages.
The new mindset is engagement. The thinking changes to, “if I were in my customer’s shoes, what critical thing would I want to know?” It is a change from “what do we want to tell them?” to “what do they want to hear?”. While a call to action is always recommended, the call should not always be “sale – sale – sale – buy now – buy now.” You can see the contrast in this approach to spam mail and spam messages that blast and shout.
Next is segment and personalization. Odds are that your prospects and customers are not one big identical group. Instead, they have differing tastes and interests, they are at different stages of life, they have different needs and different levels of funds to spend. The closer you can come to matching your message to these individuals, the more value you add and the less spam mail like you become. This doesn’t mean each individual gets a totally unique message, but, it does mean you break down your list and customize the message to segments. If you are sending 10,000 people the exact same message, many of them are going to consider it to be spam.
Know the law
In the USA, in 2003, Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing also known as CAN-SPAM which, by law, is regulated and enforced by the FTC. According to FTC.gov, there are 7 primary things to watch for and to avoid the fines and penalties up to $42,530!
- Don’t use false or misleading header information – your from address needs to be legit and work
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines – the subject needs to reflect the content and vice versa
- Identify the message as an advertisement – there is a lot of leeway, but do not attempt to deceive people
- Tell recipients where you are located. The law requires a physical address on every commercial email for the promotion of a commercial product or service. In other words, always include your physical address on your emails
- Tell recipients how to opt-out. It has to be clear, simple, and make sure your own spam filters don’t block these requests!
- Honor opt-outs. You have 10 days max to clean up your lists.
- Monitor what others do on your behalf. You can outsource management of email marketing, but you can’t outsource compliance. If they do something wrong, you pay the fine.
Three Metrics of email marketing
To avoid the appearance of sending spam mail and spam messages to your recipients it is important to pay attention to three metrics provided by your email marketing provider. First, it is important to use an email marketing provider rather than sending scores of emails yourself. Sending multiple batch emails from your regular account would likely put you in conflict with the CAN-SPAM act and label your account as sending spam mail and spam messages. This will get your email and probably your entire domain blacklisted, meaning every spam checker will start blocking all your emails.
The first metric to watch is your non-bounce rate or it’s inverse, the bounce rate. To not be labeled as a sender of spam mail and spam messages and to avoid being flagged by spam checkers you want a very low bounce rate. Bounced emails are basically undeliverable emails. The receiving server for the domain extension on the email (the part following the @ symbol) is reporting back that it cannot deliver the message to the address you specified. Normally, this is because it is a bad email address. It might be a typo or it may be a company address and the person has left the company or just closed their account. The service will tell you which emails bounce and you should go through and remove those emails from your list. Continuing to send email after email to an undeliverable address flags the spam checkers that you are sending spam mail and you will begin being blocked on sending to the legitimate email addresses.
The second metric is the open rate. The open rate are the number of recipients who opened your email to view it. This does not mean they read the entire email, but they went one step further than seeing the subject. In traditional bulk-mailings using the postal service, you would expect a low open rate (if it could be tracked). The vast majority of people toss the mail in the trash and 2% or 3% was considered a good return. That would mean 97%+ were unwanted mail or what would be called spam mail or spam messages in the electronic world. With email marketing, you would want a minimum of 15% of your recipients to open the message to avoid being labeled as spam mail. The industry average is currently running about 18%. If they desire to receive the message, i.e., it is not spam mail, then people should open it.
The third metric is the click-through rate. Each email marketing message should have some sort of call to action. Most commonly this is a link in the email to click-through to get to more information. Again, you are not desiring to blast your customers but to engage with them. Industry average is about 3% but you should shoot for 10% or higher. This cannot be achieved by sending spam messages. This is a strategy that narrows your communication to loyal fans and followers who actively engage with you and your products and services.
Mind your List
The philosophy of growing a massive email marketing list of marginally or non-interested prospects is a path to spam mail and being labeled as spam messages. The new approach of engagement is all about narrowing your list to you loyal followers and fans. The top email marketers now add layers to the signup process to increase the difficulty in signing up by adding steps so they only get the people who are truly interested. They will also periodically ask their list to confirm their desire to continue receiving messages or to narrow their focus to only receive certain categories of messages and then remove any that do not respond.
The fact is, any recipient can now press a button and label your message to them as a spam message. It only takes a handful of these (often less than 10) for you to end up on a spam mail list and it can immediately lead to your account being blocked and possibly your email or domain being blocked. Unfortunately, some recipients don’t understand that when they label your message as spam mail, they are reporting it to the email provider and it is going against your record. They substitute the button as an unsubscribe link. It is better to self-regulate and focus your communication than to try to recover after being labeled as someone who sends spam mail.
As a final word of caution: never, ever, use someone else’s list. By default, this is sending spam mail. Also, many of the lists you can buy or download contain email addresses owned by spam message protection companies, the spam checkers, and these email addresses have never opted-in to any email marketing. These are called “honey-pots” and they will sting you. One email to a honey-pot address will immediately cause your account to be blocked and the providers will force each of your recipients to re-opt-in to receive any future emails. With a message coming from the email marketing provider, most will not and those will be treated as an opt-out and you will be prohibited from sending to them again in the future.