Email marketing, whether it's a monthly newsletter or a one-time coupon, has become a staple of promotions. Sometimes called electronic direct mail, it has an average ROI of $38 for every $1 spent, according to a study in Email Monday. To secure a strong conversion rate, you need emails that are attractive, relevant to the reader, and read. First, you must create content that your readers will find useful. Next, you need a good email program that enables you to put that content in the best format to get past spam filters, attract the readers and entice them to the action you want.
You could design your own newsletter and send it through personal email, but many email programs limit the numbers you can send in a batch. Further, you are more likely to get counted as junk by other programs and blocked. Email marketing software companies have antispam safeguards in place so that you are more likely to create a newsletter that will get past the spam filters. These are some other advantages:
- Templates for building an attractive newsletter
- Ability to manage lists, including segmenting, creating groups and identifying bad addresses
- Analytics tools to measure campaign effectiveness
- Reports to analyze audience demographics
- Ability to save, automate, edit and repeat email campaigns
Email marketing programs have several ways they charge. Most offer different plans as well as the ability to move between plans without losing your past information, such as templates or lists.
List size: This is simply the number of subscribers you have. Plans by list size may also limit the number of campaigns you can send out in a month, while others allow unlimited emails.
Email volume: Some plans look at how many individual emails you send out in a month. Thus, it's a combination of list size and campaign. If you have a limit of 5,000, for example, you could send one campaign to a list of 5,000 recipients or five campaigns to a list of 1,000. Some may also specify a list limit per plan.
Pay as you go: In this case, you purchase blocks of credit to use as you need. This is a good plan for seasonal businesses that don't need to send emails year-round, as there's no monthly fee.
High volume: If you have a huge list or a rigorous email schedule, check for high-volume discount plans. Often, you need to contact the sales department about this. An advantage to this is that some services offer a unique IP address to high-volume customers.
Editor's Note: Looking for email marketing solutions for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:
Main features to look for
Most email programs are easy to use and have many of the same features. First, they offer templates that you can modify with your own images, photos and texts in order to make an attractive email that looks good on mobile devices as well as computer screens. Next, they offer tools to make online sign-up forms for people to register for your emails. They track which emails bounce so you can remove bad addresses. Finally, most offer tools that analyze campaigns: how many emails were successfully sent, how many were read, and how many people clicked on a link in the message. If the service does not offer these features, look elsewhere.
The best email marketing programs also offer advanced features. Before getting beguiled by the extras, consider your needs, your readers and how often you email.
Specialized responders: Autoresponders can send emails as soon as a person registers; this is great for introductory emails. Triggered responses send a predesigned email when a specific event happens, such as a recipient's birthday.
Segmenting and grouping: Targeting emails to your audience increases your chance of them being read. Segmenting lets you set up sublists according to demographics, such as "Mac user," "golfer," or by gender or shopping preference. This keeps the numbers on your lists lower while still sending out emails to specific people.
Advanced analytics: In addition to bounce and click rates, some email marketing programs can analyze the best time to send, audience demographics (sometimes via Google Analytics) and campaign effectiveness. Some programs also offer A/B testing so you can see which formats get the best results.
Integrations: Many programs will not only integrate with website programs like WordPress, but also customer relationship management software and e-commerce programs. Some offer an application programming interface (API) so you can create custom integrations as well.
No matter what program you consider, check out the support section. You should find a user manual, how-to articles or tutorial videos, as well as a convenient way to contact support if you have problems with the program. Check that the support hours match when you'll most likely call.
Ease of use
The best way to test ease of use is to try out the program. Fortunately, most email marketing programs have a free trial version. Use it to create a couple of newsletters in the styles you plan on sending: a monthly product shout-out and a special coupon, for example. Make a short list of friends or employees to send a test email so you can get feedback on how well it went through and how it looks on different screens.
In addition to how comfortable you are with the interface, look for these tools:
- HTML editor
- Template save
- Copy campaign so you can copy an old newsletter and edit it to resend
- Preview that lets you manipulate screen size or shows computer, tablet and mobile phone views
- Automatic pre-launch check to spot errors
- Ability to search contact lists, make changes and delete entries
A great email marketing program makes it easy to reach your customers with relevant information and deals that keep them returning to your store. As every business has its own needs, take some time to determine yours, then check out several programs based on that list. Try out your top choices to see which is easiest for you.
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