Don’t Ignore Your Email Marketing Database

Do you have a list maintenance plan for your email marketing database?  There is a temptation that once an email marketing list is built to forget about it.  The only attention it receives is sporadic additions. Don’t neglect database maintenance as a clean list makes campaigns more effective and can save money

I was recently shocked by an example of blatant list maintenance disregard.  A client being onboarded supplied a list of roughly a thousand email addresses that they had been emailing to for a couple years.  When reviewing the reports, we found that the bounces were over 450, a 45% bounce rate!  That means that half the people they thought were on their list, were not.

Ideally, you’d like to see bounce rates at zero, but realistically, if you try to keep them to a minimum (1-2%), you should be OK. If you are 5% or more, and your list is in the thousands and/or you send emails frequently, you may be digging a hole for your email campaigns. 45% is massively high and likely getting the emails labeled as a spam.  This happens because large ISPs register the high percentage of repeatedly trying to send emails to non-existing (expired, mistyped, etc.) addresses.

So naturally the first step was cleaning up the list.  It turns out that just over 400 of the addresses were bad.  The email platform that the client was using charged by the amount of emails in the database.  Removing the bad addresses took them to a lower tier which saved a bit of money on the monthly payment.  More importantly it set the client up with a clean list to see how effective their campaign was with their true audience.
Make a database maintenance schedule. It’s more than just scrubbing bounces.  Have a regular routine for gathering and adding addresses, review opt-outs for trends, monitor automatic replies for address changes, and obviously manage your bounces so you’re not sending emails to bad addresses. Keeping your list lean and clean makes for more productive and efficient email campaigns.

When Do I need Online Marketing Help?

One of the most challenging questions for trainers, consultants, and professional coaches in regards to online and email marketing is knowing when they need to hire outside help.  There’s not a hard and fast rule but there are three guidelines of when to look for help:

  1. Don’t Have Time – This is an easy issue to identify.  If you or your staff does not have time to consistently do the online marketing activities, then hire outside help that will stay on top of it.  Online marketing typically isn’t effective when done sporadically.  If pieces of your marketing campaign aren’t getting done because it’s being forgotten or postponed, get some help.
  2. Lacking Quality – This is a guideline that’s harder to define as standards for quality can be subjective.  Sometimes this can be solved by upgrading you or your staff’s skills.  This is often the case if the person responsible for your online marketing wants to do the work but struggles. Before investing time, money, and/or energy into upgrading a skill set, make sure that you or your staff member is close enough to a professional quality to make the investment worthwhile.  Often times, if a person has a poor aptitude for online marketing, trying to train them is just a frustration that still results in sub-par quality.As a general rule if you find that the quality of the content comes off as unprofessional or get feedback that others do, then the person producing the work needs to improve the product or outside help needs brought in. An online campaign that looks home grown because the quality is lacking can often do more harm than good.
  3. No Results – An online campaign should produce results in either business leads or sales.  How many leads or sales depends on the campaign but some results should exist.  If you are producing high quality communications on a regular basis but getting nothing from it than the approach is probably flawed.  This can be the most difficult problem to solve and often warrants hiring outside help.

Trainers, consultants, and professional coaches can produce quality online marketing campaigns on their own but it takes effort and dedication.  If you find that you aren’t meeting the guidelines above, then it might be worth hiring outside help and invest those efforts elsewhere.

If you decide to hire outside help here are some things to look for . . .

Reasonable Next Steps in Online Marketing

Successful online marketing is part art, part science, and a big part common sense. However, when we work on our online marketing campaigns everything makes sense to us. We clearly see the value proposition and truly believe in the product, service, or offer being made. That zeal can blind us to common sense. The most common unreasonable expectation that crops up is how an audience will react to our call to action. Make sure that the call to action is suitable for what’s been communicated to the audience.

I recently had a conversation with a client who was frustrated by a lack of interest in a two day business event they run. We revued the email marketing metrics and my client stated, “See, we had 25 people click to the registration page and not one signed up. What’s going on? Our other offers consistently generate leads but marketing is not getting interest in this event.” So questions arose but 3 key questions told the tale.

How many people were ideal for the event?
About 20 was a good balance to make it a profitable event but small enough for personal interaction.

How many did they typically have register?
The events had averaged 10 people so they were operating at half the desired number.

If marketing was not filling seats how were people being registered?
On average 5 of the attendees came from personal invitations from the sales staff. The other half called in and after getting some more information about the event they would register.

So where did the call-ins come from? The assumption was that it was word of mouth or referrals but upon analyzing the dates it appeared that the call-ins were most prevalent when email communications were sent. The issue wasn’t that the emails weren’t working. It was that the audience was taking an unexpected next step by calling in.

Now correcting this situation can go down a lot of avenues. Was the landing page lacking enough information to convert interested parties? Was the sign up process unclear or cumbersome? Was the sign up process working technically? These are all valid questions but as is often the case the common sense questions are usually the most valuable.

The 2-day event this trainer was running was a $1500/person event. The email communications were largely being sent to prospects that were new to the list or only asked for basic information. The chances of converting an unengaged contact for a $1500 purchase on any online communication are slim to nil. However, the event might be of interest to them and they might want to call and ask questions. Some of the people that call to get information about the event will then decide they do want to attend, but they need that personal interaction. A promotional email just isn’t going to do it because it doesn’t intrinsically carry the necessary credibility for a purchase that size.

Any commitment over about $50 will meet with resistance unless the audience is already familiar with you or your company. My client’s future emails were sure to highlight their phone number so that interested prospects had a viable next step without having to commit to spending $1500. If you find that your conversions are performing well below expectations, it’s a good idea to review the call to action and make sure it’s a reasonable next step.

Set eMarketing Goals Now

Happy new year.  Like most business goals, now is the time to review your metrics and set goals.  And it can’t be a resolution that’s forgotten after January.  eMarketing is not a “set it and forget it” activity.  It’s an ongoing process of trial, error, and improvement.

Look over your email, social media, and website metrics and set target goals for the end of 2012.  Then break those target goals into quarters.  Finally break the first quarter into a monthly set.  In this way you can make a monthly plan that covers the year.  Each month should be assigned one enhancement that you believe will improve results.

After you set this plan you only need to track results.  Then at the end of the year you’ll have numbers that support or inform your plan of action.  So next year’s plan can be a bit more precise.  Over a few years time your eMarketing plan will be pinpoint accurate with reliable projections on what to expect.

But it all starts by setting goals now . . .

Open Rates to Expect from Your Email List

It’s a common question, “What’s a good open rate for my emails?”  While every email campaign is a little different and campaign goals can skew these numbers open rate often come down to one variable, email list building practices.

Double Opt-Ins are the most intensive way of building a list.  People have to opt-in and then confirm that opt-in via email.  Lists built in this way have a focused audience and usually subscriber fatigue or email address expiration causes non-opens.  Double opt-ins often have a high open rate, anywhere from 40% – 60%.

For email lists that are built on an opt-in basis open rates are usually around 18% to 20%.  Opt in is usually done online but offline additions can also be added from sign ups at events or gathered by the business development team.

Purchased or found lists often have the lowest open rates, typically 8 – 10%.  These are lists where the email marketer buys, rents, or finds addresses and the recipients have not specifically requested their particular communication.

So as a general rule that’s a breakdown on what to expect from open rates.  Open rate success often directly correlates to the quality of the list it’s being sent to.

Monitor Bounces: Email

Like websites, there’s a temptation to look at the positive metrics rather than improving negative ones.  Bounces from email is a great indicator of list health.

An email campaign that has a low bounce rate (under 10%) is often a well built list that is regularly maintained.  The benefit of this is that it usually reflects audience engagement.  Poorly built lists can see bounce rates approach 50%.  This is typically a sign of poorly compiled lists or a build up of bad addresses over an extended period.

Monitoring your bounce rate has a few benefits:

  • It let’s you know if your list quality is acceptable (going over 20% bounce rates is a sign of trouble).
  • It makes maintenance a recurring task so that bad email addresses can be removed.  This often saves money on your email list provider as the list or emails sent gets smaller.
  • It gives an idea of true audience so if your list begins to shrink then efforts to boost subscribers can be launched.

Don’t just focus on the positive metrics like opens and clicks.  Keeping an eye on who isn’t getting your email communications can be as informative as knowing who does.

Define Success: Email Marketing

Using generic metrics for gauging success is very common in email marketing.  Specifically the most common gauges are:

  • Open rate
  • Click rate

Don’t misunderstand, these metrics are important but for most email campaigns they should not be the defining factor in measuring success.  Success depends on the intent of the email.

Here’s an example, an email campaign that consists of one communication promoting an event and a second that offers informative tips.  The open rate matters in both cases as it is an indicator of subject line clarity and recipient loyalty.

In fact, for the informative tip the open rate is a good immediate indicator.  However, the rate of the email being forwarded might be a better gauge because it clearly indicates that recipients valued the content.  Even a fairly small percent of forwards is a major victory because this particular metric typically only records a fraction of actual forwarding activity.

For the event promotion opens are a good initial indicator and click through rates are important.  However drilling down to what was clicked on is typically more important.  Were people drawn to a video link, an image, a headline, or a particular hyperlink?  This information is a better gauge for success because it can be linked to who registered for the event as well as inform future communication on what draws the target audience.

Of course this is only a sample and other metrics would be more critical to success in other cases.  The point is that open and click rates are usually a starting point to evaluating a campaign.  They rarely are capable of being a stand-alone gauge for success.