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Index: Website Promotion

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Resource Guide To - Designing & Maintaining Your Website

Index 4: Email Promotion: Advice


Creating & Managing Your Op-in List
Here's the simple truth: If your site isn't collecting opt-in e-mail addresses from your visitors, you're losing money. I'm always blown away by the number of sites I visit that don't have a place for visitors to leave their e-mail addresses, but I think I've finally discovered the reason why every site doesn't take advantage of this essential marketing strategy: People are convinced that the process of adding this function to their site is complicated. It's not! Getting set up is quick and easy: You don't have to be a programmer to do it--and your opt-in list will quickly become your most valuable sales vehicle.

Of course, once you've started collecting opt-in e-mail addresses, the process of managing them can get scary pretty fast if you don't know what you're doing. So take it from me: The best way to approach the job of managing your lists is to learn from someone who's been doing it successfully for a while.

Here are a few tips and techniques that I use to keep my opt-in list under control...strategies that helped my company generate $2.4 million from e-mail marketing last year alone! These techniques can easily be applied to any business, so even if you're already collecting opt-in e-mail addresses, I think you'll find the following list management tips highly valuable.

Getting Started With Your Own Opt-in List
Don't have your own opt-in list yet? Don't worry. Getting started is much easier than you might think, and once it's up and running, the process of collecting opt-ins will be on autopilot for good.

First things first: You need to put a Web form on your site so you can collect e-mail addresses from your visitors. (A Web form simply provides a place for your visitors to enter their name, e-mail address and any other information you want to ask them for.) This form contains a script that will automatically send you an e-mail every time someone opts in to your list, telling you their name, e-mail address and any other information you asked them to provide.

You can easily set this up with any HTML editing program, like FrontPage or Dreamweaver, and if you're looking for a free resource that shows you how to do it, visit, www.htmlgoodies.com/tutors/fm.html. Of course, if you don't feel like doing it yourself, a Web designer could take care of it for you in less than an hour.

It's up to you to decide how you want to store, manage and use this information. Many people simply store their opt-in lists in a spreadsheet or text file, but there are also some great programs available to help you manage this information more easily.

Once you've started collecting opt-ins, there are a few things you'll need to know to effectively manage them and guarantee the highest possible response from any mailing you send. I've boiled them down to four simple strategies that will have you managing your lists like a pro in no time.

List Management Tip #1: Be diligent about managing your subscribes and unsubscribes.
One of the most important things you can do to keep your profits maximized--and your headaches minimized--is to stay on top of your subscribe and unsubscribe requests. For those of you who don't have an automated system for managing subscriptions to your newsletters and promotional mailings, this is especially important.

Requests to unsubscribe from your list should always be taken seriously. If someone asks to be removed from your list and you neglect to do so and continue to send them e-mail, you're spamming them, plain and simple. And nothing will get you in hot water faster than a few spam complaints. You'll find yourself wasting hours of time explaining yourself to the "spam police," and your ISP might even terminate your account!

Of course, it's just as important to ensure that the people who ask to be added to your list are added immediately since you never know which one of those subscription requests is going to represent your best customer. If you aren't ensuring that your mailing is being delivered to each and every person who signed up, you're literally throwing money away.

If your subscribe and unsubscribe requests aren't handled automatically, you should take care of this right before sending out a mailing. This ensures that your list is as current as possible; it also means you don't have to deal with this chore every single day. Just make it a part of your routine before you press "Send" on any mailing.

List Management Tip #2: Keep your list clean.
Keeping your list clean means more than just removing unsubscribes. It means sifting through the messages that "bounce back" to you after a mailing and deciding which ones should be removed from your list altogether and which ones you might want to try mailing again.

Bounced messages, also referred to as "undeliverable" messages, are those messages that, for whatever reason, were not successfully received by the intended recipient. Before we go any further, you should know that there are two main categories that bounced messages can fall into:

 

  • Fatal Bounces: These represent messages that can never be delivered. Fatal bounces are usually caused by the user typing in an incorrect e-mail address when opting in to your list or the subscriber no longer using the e-mail address they originally opted-in with.

     

  • Nonfatal Bounces: These are messages that could not be delivered at the time the server tried to deliver them but may be deliverable at some time in the future. These types of bounces are usually caused by the recipient's mailbox being full or their mail server being too busy at the time your message was sent.

When reviewing your bounced messages, you'll want to separate them into these two categories. You'll have to go into each returned message and take a look at the reason why it bounced. These messages can be a little tough to decipher, but the two most common reasons for fatal errors are "Unknown User" and "Domain Not Found."

When you come across these error messages, the first thing you'll want to do is take a quick look at the e-mail address that the message was being sent to. You'll often find that people will type an "n" instead of an "m" in the ".com" part of their e-mail address. You can easily correct this by changing the ".con" to ".com."

If there's no obvious problem with the subscriber's e-mail address, then this usually means they entered it incorrectly when they opted-in to your list or that it's no longer in use. Unfortunately, there's nothing that you can do about these type of errors, except delete those subscribers from your list. (Just in case you're thinking "Why go through the trouble of removing these addresses from my list if they can't be delivered anyway," think again! If you continue to send e-mail to an address that's invalid, you can get into real trouble. This is one of the common methods used to identify spammers, and if you're reported as someone who repeatedly sends messages to "dead" e-mail addresses, you can get into trouble with your ISP.)

For nonfatal errors--the most common are "Mailbox Is Full" or "Server Too Busy"--you'll want to try mailing your promotion to these people again. I suggest waiting a few days and then trying to resend your message to all the addresses that returned nonfatal errors in your initial mailout. You'll be surprised by how many get delivered on the second try.

List Management Tip #3: Create exclude lists.
Are you subscribed to your competitors' mailing lists? You should be! A big part of keeping tabs on your competitors is monitoring what products or services they're actively promoting and how much they are selling them for. If your competitors are smart, I can just about guarantee that they're subscribed to your mailing list, too. So in order to stay one step ahead of your competitors, you might want to think about excluding them from certain mailouts. Let's suppose you're planning a big promotion that's going to offer a product at a price 30 percent below what your competition is offering it for. Wouldn't you want to keep that information out of your competitors' hands as long as possible?

Just about the only step you can take to stay ahead of your competition in this respect is to go through your opt-in list and exclude addresses that you know belong to your competition. If your competitor runs a site called joes-widget-world.com, then you can be sure that the e-mail address susan@joes-widget-world.com belongs to someone who's keeping tabs on you.

Simply exclude that e-mail address from your promotion, and your competitors won't know what hit them . . . until well after you've dominated the market!

List Management Tip #4: Store and manage your subscriber data correctly.
As your list grows, it will become more important to ensure that you're storing your subscriber data in a format that's convenient and easy to work with. The biggest problem that people run into when they start trying to manage and optimize their opt-in lists is that they quickly find themselves with dozens of small lists instead of one big one. List "A" might contain people who've purchased your product in the past three months, List "D" might contain subscribers who've downloaded your free e-book but have never bought your product, List "W" might contain people who've bought five or more of your products, and so on.

While this means that you're able to easily target different segments of your customer and subscriber base, it also means you could spend hours preparing your various lists for each promotion you send. Those of you who are doing this already know how frustrating and time-consuming these kinds of tasks can be. And once you have your lists ready, importing them into whatever e-mail application you're using can be even more maddening!

Luckily, there are some pretty powerful products out there designed to help e-mail marketers develop, manage and segment their lists easily, from one user-friendly interface. The right software can literally save you hundreds of hours of frustration. Keep your eyes open, because we're going to be talking about some of these products in future features.

Once you get your lists under control, you'll be amazed at how much extra time you'll suddenly have on your hands. And if you're like me, you'll want to spend it working on other, more profitable aspects of your business.

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