This article appeared in the November/December 2009 issue of Writers’ Journal. It’s part 2 of a 2 part series.
The number one question I’m asked when teaching writers about building an email list is, “How often do I mail to them?” The answer is a definitive, “It depends.”
That’s not very helpful on the face of it, but how often you communicate with your mailing list is completely dependant on what they signed up for. Marketing research indicates that the average prospect has to see an advertisement three or more times before responding. This means that you have to keep your subscribers around long enough to plug your book at least three times.
If the offering you made to them was a one-shot deal, like a whitepaper or poster, and they agreed to also receive periodic updates from you, then they will expect a message from you between 1 and 4 times a month at the most—quarterly is more likely. On the other hand, if you’ve offered a “word of the day,” “picture of the day,” or daily news updates, then you’d better be sending them something useful once a day. If you contact them too frequently, they’ll get mad and unsubscribe. If you contact them too infrequently, they’ll unsubscribe. If all you ever put in your contact is the ad for your book, they’ll unsubscribe.
The key to keeping subscribers over the long haul is fulfilling their expectations and providing them with something of value. Put yourself in their shoes. This shouldn’t be too hard because chances are you’ve signed up for one or two email lists yourself. When someone contacts you via email, you appreciate seeing something attractive that provides information or a special offer, right? If you’ve signed up for information, you don’t mind seeing the product image and mention of the product in the correspondence, so long as that’s not the focus.
The ideal email correspondence should be sent as a two-part message with both a text-only version and an HTML pretty version. Your mass email service provider will have the appropriate boxes for you to fill out, so don’t panic. Stock templates that allow you to drop your message into an attractive layout with no coding experience necessary are also available from your email service.
But if you’ve gone to the trouble of branding yourself and want your emails to look like the rest of your project, then you’re going to need either an HTML program like Dreamweaver, or the help of a professional.
Here are a few examples of email layouts and what you should include in yours.
E-Tips and Advertisements
For short message emails like tips, think postcard. Use a smaller version of your website’s header or a graphic that looks similar to that. Use the same colors and fonts if possible, as well as your logo. Under that, you’ll include your message and a good quality, relevant, picture. The picture can be of you, of your book cover, or just a nice graphic, so long as it’s illustrative of whatever you’re trying to get across. Pictures are great, but they take up prime real estate—so don’t just throw any random image in there. Make every graphic work for you.
For example, your book is on orchids and your tips are on basic orchid care. Pictures of you caring for your orchids, various orchid varieties, orchid greenhouses, or tools are great ways to dress up your points, even if a specific picture for that point isn’t available.
If you’ve not used your book cover in the body of the message, put a thumbnail size version in the footer along with a one-line ad or a brief bio.
If you’re sending out an ad with a special offer, you may choose to lay out the whole thing in a photo editing program and make it one big graphic with stylized text that reinforces your brand identity by mirroring either your logo or book title. When doing this, it’s important to follow the photo rules described under Layout Basics below.
Letting people know what you’re up to is part of what they signed up for. Supplemental email announcements or news alerts are very acceptable so long as they aren’t sent constantly. Give people either a monthly summary with a two-day reminder notice, or a one week heads-up with a two-day reminder. Use a similar format to the E-Tips for announcements, putting the ad in the footer.
For longer news alerts, put a summary in the email and a link to the full article that will reside on your website or blog. News alerts and things of that nature should not include your marketing message. Instead, put the marketing message on your website.
Quarterly e-newsletters or anything with a lot of content should never be sent to a person in their entirety. The main reason is that the file size starts to get big and download times long, not to mention SPAM filters begin to kick in. The second reason is that if your marketing message is where it’s supposed to be—on your website or blog—you want the reader to see it. What better way than to send a teaser to their inbox and have them click through to read the full article?
Companies with e-newsletters see a 100% to 500% increase in website traffic after sending out a mailing. Those who include a “Forward to a Friend” link can also see a 1-2% increase in e-newsletter sign-ups after a blast. Increased traffic and increased sign-ups are the next best thing to a sale.
Another handy thing to do is make a printable version of your e-newsletter available for download. You can do this by importing it into Word or Open Office and then distilling it into a PDF. Make sure your branding is all over it and your web address is in the footer.
Outlook, Thunderbird, Blackberry, Palm—there are dozens of programs and devices out there that will be displaying your emails in their own special ways. That’s great for them and miserable for you because you can never be sure how the end user is looking at what you sent. There are a few steps you can take to help make sure they see what you do.
- Use the built-in multi-part messaging features from your bulk email provider. Having a text-only version available for those devices that want it is important.
- Don’t use obscure fonts. When you specify a font, you are relying on the recipient’s computer to already have that font loaded so that it can be displayed. Between Macs and PC’s, Linux, and Windows, you have the same fonts available for email as you do for the web. Stick with Verdana, Arial, Times, and Geneva to be safe. Anything else needs to be a graphic.
- Never send the images as attachments. You don’t want to make your recipient wait through long download times, and you don’t want to trip SPAM filters. Instead, upload your graphics to your mass email service provider and follow the instructions for inserting an image into your email. If you’re more familiar with HTML programming or have hired a professional, upload the images to your website and the email can access them from there.
- Always write something in the alt tag on your images. “Alt” is short for “alternative” and it’s text that displays in place of the picture when the image fails to load. If you’re using a template, filling in the “image name” field will put text where you need it. For security purposes, many people have their email browsers set so that images don’t automatically display. Having text in the alt tags means that they’ll be able to read what the image is and it might encourage them to load it. This is critical if you’ve done your entire email as a graphic like many retailers/e-tailers do.
- Limit the width of your HTML to 600px. It may seem narrow, but remember that not everyone will be reading your message on their desktop and not everyone in the world uses Outlook. To accommodate the variety of tools your audience might use to view your email, 600px wide is a good rule-of-thumb measurement. Don’t worry overly much about the height, until there’s the potential of scrolling down past more than four screens. At that point, you may have too much content.
- Also consider that your end user might access their email with a Blackberry or other hand-held device. Those displays range between 180px and 252px wide. While I don’t recommend formatting an email to an iPhone, (those devices are used to handling regular emails) it is something to keep in mind, especially if your target audience is heavily dependent on them.
- Always include a “Forward to a Friend” link option. Your email provider will have the proper code for that.
However you decide to format your correspondence, remember to be professional and to treat your subscribers as you’d wish to be treated.
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.