All About Email - The Last Word in Email Publishing

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't change the subject

Right now there's a lot of talk about subject lines, maybe too much talk, to misquote Bono. But it is an important issue, and one where opinion is sharply divided between the email cognoscenti, and your average corporate email marketer.

Industry advisers urge a conservative approach - be exciting and engaging without being spammy, yet users seem determined to "win free double your money" in the subject line wherever possible.

This week ASB, after much internal huffing and puffing, relaunched their email marketing programme with a new, and when you dug it out of the spam file, quite interesting newsletter.

But it did go straight into the spam folder.

Their subject line was: Celebrate 10 grand years with $10,000.

Now spam filters, especially here in NZ, are not known for their sophistication, so matching up a spammy subject line with a domain which had not sent anything for a while and coming up with Spam was a simple move.

How badly this will impact upon ASB we have yet to see - being a good citizen (even though they declined to use our services) I replied with some advice about subject lines, but of course it was sent from one of those Oh-so-clever noreply@ addresses.

When you are launching or relaunching a newsletter, initial audience engagement is a worry. Using a really exciting and enticing subject line is tempting - because getting recipients to open that all important first message is crucial. In fact, I predict that shortly we will see the arrival of a new type of email sub-specialist - the subject line writer!

Subject lines are another component of the design / delivery compromise equation - is it better to get sexy and compelling marketing to 50% of your audience of good solid marketing to 95% of them? (more on this soon).

To my mind, delivery into the inbox is crucial - so rein back a little with those subject lines.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some words won't work

There are some words you just cannot use in email. No, not the rude ones (although they are a problem too), but words that appear perfectly normal - in fact ones that truly reflect what your message is about.

This post is not about subject lines - that's an entirely separate topic we will deal with shortly. No, this is about the body content of your message.

Most filters are based on the Bayesian principle - examining the content of a message and deciding if it is spam based on the percentage of known spam words.

Imagine you are a Life Insurance company. You have a legitimate list of your own policy holders that you regularly email. You decide to have a marketing push and organise a sale, combined with a totally free, no hidden clauses assessment of insurance needs.

Your email says: "Take advantage of our 100% free offer - click here to see more details. Apply now to receive a 25% discount on all new policies - double your Life Insurance cover with the lowest insurance rates around. Take better care of your family."

Although this is a true reflection of your marketing thrust, many filters will block your message - most of the words and phrases in that snippet are absolute no-nos for email.

So yet another challenge for emailers - to write persuasive copy which truly reflects your marketing message that engages readers, but does not fall foul of spam filters!

Yet another reason to call in the professionals if you are serious about email.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The other side of spam

We all get spam, some more than others. Upcoming legislation in NZ, originally aimed at preventing spam, will simply prevent spammers from operating in NZ - it will not diminish the volume of spam we receive.

So what will?

For legitimate email marketers and publishers, spam is a problem in that due to ISP and desktop filtering practices, quite often our emails get blocked or filtered even when the recipient is dying to receive it. So we have a commercial and conceptual interest in diminishing spam.

In the USA, where email is a sophisticated and specialist discipline, Authentication is catching on. 44% of all emails are sent using either Sender ID or Domain Keys, the two main standards of authentication.

Put simply, Authentication ties the senders IP address to the domain name used - thus preventing spammers from pretending to be or whichever well known name they hide behind. So this would enable ISPs to eliminate a great deal of spam, and all phishing emails at source.

Then there is the perspective of legitimate email marketers and publishers; using authentication, ISPs can whitelist proper email senders - so that all legitimate emails get as far as the desktop.

Senders of bulk email who were not whitelisted could be identified and encouraged to demonstrate their legitimacy so that they could be whitelisted too. After a while, any bulk sendouts which were not authenticated and whitelisted could also be blocked at source until such time as they either stopped emailing, or adhered to the ISP standards.

The Unsolicited Commercial Messages Act states that it is merely one of a number of measures that will fight spam, and stresses the importance of self regulation amongst the email industry.

Authentication is a relatively cheap and simple solution to implement, yet when asked Xtra, Ihug and Clear all said it was "too hard".

So next time you miss a really important email because your ISP guessed it might be spam, remember, ask them to adopt authentication.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Choose me, I'm best (part 1)

Most companies who publish an email newsletter do not develop or own their own email platform - they either contract out or buy in.

Smart move - it costs a lot less, and avoids having to acquire in-house expertise.

So what do you look for when making a decision about vendors? There are lots of companies competing for your email business, all with glossy websites that promise a great deal, and often obfuscate in order to avoid real issue.

Here are some of the key issues:

1. Do they develop their technology in-house? This is important, because if you want changes or developments made to suit your requirements, you do not want to be dealing with an intermediary.

2. Do they have (and what is) a deliverability strategy? This requires advanced deliverability tools, and constant strategic monitoring and management. Without this, you may find 50% of your emails fail to make their intended destination.

3. Do they overbrand your messages? Many people prefer this not to happen - it can confuse recipients, A good ESP will want to overbrand, but will make this optional.

4. How do they track? With so many desktop and ISP filters in operation, a new degree of sophistication is required to obtain all encompassing and meaningful stats

5. Do they provide integrated web form solutions? With new laws, opt-in is more important than ever. A good ESP will be able to create and host these so they are seamlessly integrated.

As with all things, it is only during the pursuit of excellence that these factors are important. If you want to set the standards, in terms of deliverability, best practice and impact, then a good ESP is essential - and worth every penny.

Monday, August 6, 2007

More on delivery

A recent ClickZ white paper discussed “how to ruin deliverability in 10 easy steps”!
Deliverability is the single most important issue facing emailers, because if you cant get the message through, the rest really doesn’t matter.
In NZ we do not face the same challenges as those in the developed world – our incredibly unsophisticated email framework does not make delivery the issue it is in the USA, for example, but we have to assume that we will one day upgrade the wood-burning technology which currently manages email in this country, and plan that concepts such as authentication will eventually reach us.
Ruining deliverability is something most novice emailers do without trying. Sending out bulk emails with attachments, Html emails with a file size of 500k, sending to an uncleansed list with over 50% dead recipient addresses, that sort of thing.
Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to look at ClickZ’s 10 easy steps and see which applied in NZ.
Top of the list is Authentication – we don’t have that – too hard, according to Xtra and Ihug when we suggested it to them.
Then it’s a list of general design and best practice factors – dirty lists, poorly rendering content, spammy subject lines, unrecognizable sender Ids, untested links and messages etc – all the things that non-expert emailers do all the time.
So it’s good to know that the problems I see every day here in NZ exist elsewhere.