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Email Marketing Best Practices

The Catch-22 of Email List Building
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The boss may not like it, or understand it, but the best way to improve email performance could be as simple as (gasp!) decreasing the size of your email list.

Subscribing to an email list is easy?so easy in fact, it leads some subscribers to request emails in which they have only a passing interest. As the weeks and months go by, that once half-hearted interest can dwindle and become non-existent. Meanwhile, your emails keep pouring in, putting a dent in your metrics with each new delivery.

The Impact of "Dead Weight Subscribers" on Your Email Performance

It's the email version of the classic Catch-22; marketers work hard to build larger mailing lists, but by doing so they can adversely affect the very data used to reflect campaign success. SubscriberMail research has shown Conversion Rate, Open Rate and Click-through Rate to be the metrics most valued by marketers when assessing email performance. "Dead weight subscribers" who receive, but rarely or never engage with your emails, have a negative impact on these key metrics simply by remaining on your recipient list. They also make it more difficult to accurately test the success of different email strategies (e.g. subject line testing), as these types of subscribers can skew your results.

Even more damaging, these subscribers can eventually tire of deleting your emails without opening them, and may inaccurately mark your message as SPAM even though they opted-in to your list. The easily-accessible "Report as SPAM" tools on popular email clients can be viewed as more convenient than the unsubscribe process, and uninterested recipients are more likely than anyone to take this path of least resistance-which can harm your reputation as a sender.

In light of this, it stands to reason that dead weight subscribers do more harm than good when counted amongst the ranks of your subscribers. Still, marketers who make the argument in favor of a smaller mailing list are often met with resistance for a number of reasons: large lists are more attractive to advertisers; every subscriber is a possible conversion; large lists equal a greater opportunity for brand awareness, etc. Whatever their reasons for opting-in, a line of communication has been opened with every subscriber on your email list, and the idea of voluntarily severing those important ties is contrary to the principles of most CRM strategies.

A smaller list made up of actively engaged subscribers should deliver improved email metrics, and can be attained without taking the ultimate step of deleting addresses.

Steps to Take Before Deleting

Another approach to dead weight subscribers is reaching out via email to discover what can be done to make your emails more appealing to them. Send an open-ended survey to your subscribers who have not opened and/or clicked a link within an email in the past six months, asking for feedback as to what content they would like to see in future emails. Make sure the subject line (e.g., "Help Improve Our Newsletter") makes it clear this is not just another typical email communication to these subscribers; this will help produce greater feedback. Not only will this feedback provide valuable insight into areas where your emails may be lacking, but being spoken to directly can re-engage these subscribers with your email. If certain subscribers continue to show no response to your emails even after special effort has been made to target them, it is likely they have no interest in receiving further communications, and they can be removed with no regrets.

Understandably, many email administrators are hesitant to delete any addresses from their database unless an explicit unsubscribe request has been made. With this in mind, a less permanent approach would be to filter the email addresses of all dead weight subscribers into a separate list. This way, the overall number of subscribers stays the same and the same content can be delivered to all subscribers, but the segmented list of dead weight subscribers will have its metrics reported separately from the main list. You can also leverage this separation to test various tactics to increase engagement with these subscribers, such as differing subject lines and offers.

Avoid Sending to Subscribers You Don't Want

In order to avoid the extra time and resources involved in cleansing your list of dead weight subscribers, consider the methods being used to build up your email list(s). Adding addresses from a list that was purchased from a third party will not only result in increased SPAM complaints, it is a surefire way to add subscribers who have limited or no interest in the content of your emails.

Another mistake often made in the name of list building is including a pre-checked email opt-in box on web site forms being used to access other site content. Giving site users the option to register for emails at the same time they are registering to download a white paper is fine, but making the opt-in decision for them is not.

By identifying and removing dead weight subscribers from your email list and making sure all subscribers meet the true definition of an opt-in subscriber, you can ensure only the recipients most likely to engage with your emails are receiving them.

The boss might not like the idea of sending to a smaller list, but will enjoy the improved results.

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