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Most businesses start out their email marketing efforts by sending the same message to all their subscribers. It’s easy, and it often gets great results. The next step beyond a one-size-fits-all approach is to be smarter about what content you send to each person. Today I received an email that is a great example of targeted newsletters. The email was from FontShop, an independent font retailer and Campaign Monitor customer. FontShop sent me as a registered user the first edition of their Web & Interactive Design newsletter. The idea is to discuss fonts as they relate specifically to the web — what works well on screen, for example. So how did FontShop decide I should receive this particular email? When I created a free account, I was given the chance to fill out a profile and select my professional areas of expertise and interest. That information is obviously used to segment the total subscriber base into smaller chunks that can then be sent more targeted content. In Campaign Monitor, you can use our segmenting feature combined with some custom fields to do exactly this. FontShop don’t force everyone who creates an account to receive emails from them (or any form of marketing). My account also contains a subscription settings page, where I can select to opt-in or opt-out of emails and print brochures at any time. This is a well considered setup, and should make a significant difference to the response rates that FontShop sees from their campaigns. I know I was very interested in what a web specific newsletter would cover. Now that they are sending out these targeted emails, Fontshop will be able to take advantage of the report comparisons feature to easily compare opens, clicks and unsubscribes for each segment. How could you make your emails more valuable to your subscribers? How can your subscribers be split into smaller groups? Related information: Watch a video walkthrough on working with custom fields and segments Use the preference center to let people self-segment Signup for a free FontShop account
Jakob Nielsen ruled the web design world back in the 1990s, and he ruled it using long pages of text and default blue links. A lot of things have changed since those days, but Mr Nielsen is still producing some really helpful research and guidelines. In his October 20th column, “Transactional Email and Confirmation Messages“, he comes to the same conclusion we did recently, that emails are often a last minute add on to a website or web application. Judging by many of the messages we tested, email design often seems to be a side effect of the software implementation and consists of copy written by the programmer late at night. The Nielsen Norman Group tested 92 different transactional email messages, mostly order confirmations, shipment notifications and the like. Overall, usability was judged as very low, with the messages poorly designed and confusing. Some key points from the full report: The subject line is crucial: “Participants deleted email with subject lines that seemed too much like spam” Your from address matters too: “People simply don’t open messages that don’t have recognizable sender information” Prioritize information: “Email that begins with marketing messages or other seemingly irrelevant information runs a major risk of being deleted” Jakob closes out his article with an excellent point that is too often forgotten: “Email is a user interface”. We need to design our email just as much as our websites. You can purchase the report to see the full results of this study, but you’ll probably find plenty to work on before you even need to read it.
Following on from yesterday’s post about the relative popularity of RSS and email, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has released a study on internet use by Australians. The report, Telecommunications Today Report 6: Internet Activity and Content, examines consumer adoption of the internet and the impact this is having on the growth of the digital economy in Australia. With 73 per cent of Australian households now having access to the internet, the report found that, overall, household internet users are accessing the internet more frequently, with an increasing number recording ‘heavy’ use (8 or more times per week) There is plenty of interesting information to be gleaned from the report. Most obvious is how dominant email is as the primary internet activity. Source: Nielsen Online (2008) The Australian Internet and Technology Report, February 98% of people in the study used email in the last 4 weeks, beating out all other activities by a big margin. Compare that to ‘reading blogs’ which was way down at 16%. Email newsletters look like a pretty good option for reaching Australians (at least the over 16 population). As well as general usage, 36% of people had subscribed to a newsletter in the last month. Add that to your arsenal of reasons that your clients should consider sending an email newsletter! Check out the full list of 6 communication services reports for more details. p.s. Did you notice the amusing gender difference chart? More men than women use the internet for maps and directions… is that easier to handle than asking a person?
For web designers and developers, email can seem a dreadfully old fashioned way to spread information. I’ve spoken to plenty of people who tell me that RSS is going to take over and email will be dead soon. There is no doubt that for some types of information, an RSS feed is a much better way to keep up to date. It’s also obvious that lots of people are struggling with too much email. However, outside of the techy world, RSS has a very long way to go. Via Steve Rubel we came across a Forrester research paper on the state of RSS. Nearly half of interactive marketers use RSS, but consumer adoption has only reached 11%. Of the consumers who haven’t adopted RSS, most don’t understand how RSS is relevant to their lives and the way they seek information. If marketers expect to reach a critical mass of consumers by using content syndication, then they must take on the burden of education. Why does this matter to you? This really is important to remember. While you and your immediate circle keep up with your favourite topics, products and companies via RSS, the great mass of people are not doing that. In fact, even most Campaign Monitor customers do not subscribe to the RSS feed, and we always see a huge boost in traffic to the blog after our newsletters go out. So when you next design a blog for a client, take some time to explain this to them. Clients are rightfully concerned about how to keep people coming back to their site. An RSS feed is simple and useful, but it won’t reach most of their audience. Email newsletters, on the other hand, appeal to a much greater potential audience. You can offer a well designed newsletter layout to your clients, and help them get that attention. It’s a nice additional source of income for your business as well as for your client’s business. Email may be old, but it’s got plenty of years left in it still!
One of the spam filters in our design and spam testing tool is Postini. This filter is now owned by Google, and is notoriously difficult to get past. Postini is like a bouncer at a nightclub who not only won’t let you in, but won’t even tell you if it is because of your shoes, or because you don’t have enough women in your group (not that it ever happened to us of course). Recently a Campaign Monitor customer, Dave Green, ran into this problem with his campaign, and was able to do some testing to find out why Postini was blocking his email. His results in the end were useful, but surprising: What I have found (8 tests later) is that I had to chop up the larger images into a much smaller sizes both in dimensions and also in byte size . The largest kb is 14.3 and found I had to chop files into physically smaller dimensions for Postini to pass it. Basically it boiled down to trial and error, chopping images up trying to optimise them without causing major loss of image quality and re-testing. Spam filters (understandably) don’t reveal exactly how they work, but it seems clear that Postini is placing a lot of importance on the balance between images and text (or HTML) in an email. Dave also pointed out that our simian friends at MailChimp have made the same finding. Given how prevalent image blocking is in email clients, it makes sense not to rely on big images in your emails, but this is one more reason to be cautious. We can add image dimensions and image file size to our list of factors impacting spam filtering. Here’s a reminder of some other things to watch out for: Avoid repeatedly sending messages to full or invalid mailboxes. You can do this by tweaking your bounce handling settings for each subscriber list. Minimize the use of these words and phrases in the subject line, message body, sender address, and reply-to address: Use of the word Free (although “free” tends to have more leeway than most other trigger words), $$, XXX, sex or !!! (any excessive punctuation) Subject contains “Double Your”, “?”, “For Only” or “Free Instant”. TOO MANY CAPS IN THE SUBJECT LINE Email contains at least 70 percent blank lines The from field appears to not contain a real name, ends in numbers or contains the word friend. The email claims not to be spam Monitor new subscribers in your lists. Set suspicious “spamflag” addresses such as “abuse@” or “spam@” as Inactive subscribers unless you know the subscriber is legitimate. There are no shortcuts or certain ways to avoid spam filtering, but these guidelines can help reduce the risk factors. Filter providers are less and less likely to provide helpful information about their products, so we will be relying on trial and error even more. Thanks to Dave for his great work in this case! More important than any of these tip, tricks and tests is understanding that spam filters are not the biggest issue. The key to modern email marketing is understanding that relevance beats permission. Even if your email is being delivered into the inbox, you can still get spam complaints if you are not ensuring relevance.
Thanks to the work of long time friend and Campaign Monitor user Grant Young, there is now an implementation of the most common Campaign Monitor API methods in Python. Subscriber.Add Subscriber.AddWithCustomFields Subscriber.AddAndResubscribe Subscriber.AddAndResubscribeWithCustomFields Subscriber.Unsubscribe Subscribers.GetIsSubscribed Visit the campaign-monitor-api-python page on Google Code to download it and get started. Also check out the quick sample code for help. We’re starting to build up a great collection of API implementations, extensions, plugins and modules for Campaign Monitor, and if you have one you’d like us to mention, or a request for a module you’d like to see, just let us know.
The second day of Web Directions began (for the Freshview team at least) at a more reasonable hour. The opening speaker Jeffrey Veen drew plenty of applause we heard loudly from outside in the expo hall. During the breaks, we spoke to tons of existing customers, interested newcomers and the occasional person yet to work out they were in the wrong part of the convention centre. During day 2 attendees also had their last chances to grab a code word to win the sweet MacBook Air we were giving away, and there was a rush of entries after the talks by Jina Bolton (shown below) and Laurel Papworth. The entry bucket was soon stuffed to overflowing. Before the closing talk, the draw took place on the main stage, revealing University of Technology, Sydney lead designer Andrew Francois to be the lucky winner. Andrew taunted the rest of the crowd briefly, before realising his peril and coming down to to collect his prize! From an exhibitor’s point of view, Web Directions was again an excellent use of our time. We met face to face with some of you guys and girls, and we got some great live feedback about our upcoming improvements to Campaign Monitor and MailBuild. So a big ‘well done’ to the Web Directions team of John and Maxine, and thanks to everyone who came up and said hello. Finally, a extra special congratulations to our friends and Campaign Monitor customers Propeller Global for taking out the McFarlane Prize against strong competition.
Over on Signal vs. Noise, Jamie Dihiansan has written about his approach in evolving the email marketing and triggered messaging design for 37signals’ products. Often the job of designing emails is seen as a one-off task- build it once and it is triggered off and sent for ever more. Taking this approach can mean you miss out on a great opportunity to improve the way your company and products are seen by your customers. After the signup process, triggered emails like signup confirmations and welcome messages can be the ‘last chance to make a first impression’. So it makes sense to revisit them regularly to look for ways to improve them. In the case of the Basecamp Max welcome message, the 37signals team thought they could make the messages less confusing, and ultimately split the emails content into two separate messages for clarity. Here at Freshview, we’ve gone through a similar process with our request for feedback emails, and the changes we made improved our results dramatically. Here are a few areas you might like to look at in your messaging and newsletters: Is the content still up to date? It is common to make changes to features in your application, but forget to update your welcome message to accurately reflect the change. Are the important parts obvious enough? You might want to mention all the cool stuff people can do with their accounts, but what do they really need to know to get started? Do those things stand out at a glance? Are you using the right format? Would using some HTML let the important content stand out better? Or, might you be scaring people off with an over designed email, and do you need to simplify? Don’t let your recurring emails stagnate while your website is continually refreshed. Although they might be out of your mind, for your customers, email is just the opposite. It’s an ongoing reminder of what your company does and how it does it. Personally, I loved receiving the Moo order confirmation email. Have you received a great ‘triggered’ email?
Here at Campaign Monitor we’re all big RSS users. Personally I love NetNewsWire and have a ton of feeds I review on different schedules, depending on their content. Web designers and techies in general have really taken hold of the idea of RSS, even though so far it has not spread much into the general public. Still, I’m not 100% RSS only, there is still some information I prefer to get via email. The canonical example for me is Threadless, who pump out a newsletter every week, sometimes more. Seeing the new shirts in my inbox is a thrill, and it’s one email I always open. There are other emails I have stuck with too: tidbits and Catch of the Day are two favourites. I’m interested to know whether you also have a few core favourites that you stick with. It seems clear that a lot of what is currently filling up inboxes actually belong in a different medium, like RSS, or even SMS alerts. When those things get out of our way, there will be more space for the truly valuable, the really funny, the most worthwhile emails. I’d love to hear from you all on this topic: What makes an email newsletter worth subscribing to in 2008? Answer purely from your own perspective, or think about the content your clients are sending. Will the best newsletters be the really personal ones? Short, to the point value? Content not available anywhere else? We’ve got Campaign Monitor t-shirts to give away for the three best comments, so have a think and leave us your thoughts.
You’ve sent out that latest newsletter on behalf of your client, and excitedly they login, watching their pie chart change colours as people open the email. Everybody loves the reporting and statistics you can get from using Campaign Monitor, because it makes it so easy to see what is working, and what is not. In fact, it can become quite addictive! So it is easy to forget that your subscribers might not feel quite the same way about being tracked and recorded. While many people have some understanding about click tracking (and things like Outlook’s read receipts), they can be understandably uncomfortable with the idea of someone watching everything they do. Recently Neville Hobson wrote on his blog about an email he received from Dell Computers. The email was targetted at people who had not opened Dell’s previous campaigns. … I was taken aback when I read the text alongside the ‘Shock, horror!’ title: Can we take a minute of your time? It’s just that it seems you haven’t opened any of our recent emails. Wtf? I thought to myself. How does Dell know I haven’t opened an email? Leaving aside the fact that not all opens can be recorded, clearly Neville was surprised and shocked that the information was known about him. Neville later goes on to clarify the core of his feelings: Maybe it’s the approach in Dell’s email that offends me, the wording that in one way or another says “We’re watching you and what you do on your computer, and you won’t know about it – unless you don’t open our emails, and then we’re gonna jump on you.” It’s a timely reminder that privacy and the ownership of their own activity is very important to most people. Even though the open and click tracking is available, we should treat it very carefully. That means not being too aggressive in your phrasing, and not assuming that the small amount of information you have about someone’s activity means you understand what they want and need. Most of your subscribers won’t be upset if you use your reports to decide what content is not as interesting to them, and drop it from the emails they see. They would probably be happy to see the improvement! They don’t need to have shoved into their face how you worked that out though. You could end up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, gleaning more and more information each campaign until it gets you into big trouble. So tread carefully, be respectful of people’s inbox, their privacy and the complex balance between making an email useful, and abusing personal information. If you are dealing with particularly sensitive topics, like health, then you probably need to be even more cautious. How do you think your subscribers would feel if they understood exactly what was being recorded when they read your emails?
In just 3 weeks it will be time once again for the always excellent Web Directions conference in Sydney. Like last year, we’ll have a stand in the expo hall, where you can come up and lobby for your favourite feature request, ask questions or just say ‘hi’. If you are going to be there, then make sure you drop by, because we love to see people face to face. In 2007 we gave away an iMac — this year we also have a prize, to be revealed later. I can tell you right now that wearing a Campaign Monitor shirt will get you an extra entry into the competiton, so buy, borrow or steal one before you go! Speaking of shirts, the fun new Web Directions shirt is now available too, as is the artwork for remixing. Here’s a Campaign Monitor version: Don’t come to Web Directions just for the shirt, or just to see us! Come for the awesome (that was for you Dean;) line-up of speakers including Jeffrey Veen, Jina Bolton and Mark Pesce. See you there!
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