Email marketing via an e-newsletter has long been a cornerstone technique of many business’ online marketing strategies. While some people think of it as antiquated when compared to newer, sexier marketing techniques like social media and mobile, the fact is that it still gets amazing results.
Email marketing is also extremely cost effective. According to the Direct Marketing Association, “with an ROI of around 4,300% email practically pays for itself … and saves a tree or two. It’s what you use when you want to move from “conversation to commerce.” For more information about the value of an email list, see my article “How Valuable is an Email List?”
Running a successful email marketing campaign has several moving parts; one that’s often overlooked is the email marketing software that you provide. Here are some guidelines for choosing the right vendor for your business and a closer look at some of the big players on the market.
Customizing Your Newsletter with Features
When composing newsletters for your subscribers, it’s important that you’re able to customize the newsletter – from custom design templates to rich media. Otherwise, it may be difficult to captivate your audience when you’re stuck with a dull, boring format. While most features are available at the full range of software, from free to enterprise class, let’s take a quick look at the basics. For starters, it’s important to be able to insert images and hyperlinks into the body of content. Images are natural attention grabbers and are an easy way to add character to an email. For more information on the power of images in email, see my article “Email Marketing: Should I Embed Images in My Email Template?”
Hyperlinks are necessary for moving readers to their intended destination and are the centerpiece of your call to action. Whether it’s to your business’s main website or an affiliate link, hyperlinks are important for making conversions.
Dealing with formatting issues is annoying, so pre-made templates and basic formatting can save time while ensuring an aesthetically pleasing layout for readers. The best software also allows you to upload your own customized HTML template. This is always the best approach when possible, so that your visual branding is consistent across channels.
In case subscribers no longer wish to receive emails, you need an “opt out” or unsubscribe feature to make this process pain free. Otherwise, it could lead to resentment or other complications when people continue to receive unwanted emails. There are also federal marketing regulations that the FTC and other regulatory bodies take very seriously that you need to be in compliance with. Always choose an email provider that double-verifies any subscribers (that is, sends an email asking people that sign up to confirm). Taking these steps gives you an additional level of protection against running afoul of email marketing laws.
Here are some other features that are beneficial to have:
- Ability to create HTML messages
- Email footer
- Create web forms
- Email scheduling that automatically sends emails at a given time
- Auto responder set ups
- Group email contacts
- RSS integration
Access to key features shouldn’t come at the cost of needless complexity. Running a marketing campaign can be difficult enough, so it’s smart to choose email marketing software that’s intuitive and that can be learned easily. One of the best ways to determine a platform’s user friendliness is to try out the demo version. Most reputable vendors offer some sort of free trial for a week or two, which is a risk free way to see if a prospective software is a good fit for your business.
If you’re spending more time browsing through the “help section” than actually composing emails, you will probably want to look elsewhere. Another factor to consider is the quality of training materials, and how robust their help and customer service is. The ability to call or live chat with a customer service representative to resolve a problem goes a long way toward simplifying the process of learning new software.
Integration with Existing Systems
In most cases, business owners want to insert a sign-up form for their newsletter onto their website. This step is key for getting new subscribers and increasing your overall exposure. Consequently, the email marketing software you choose should integrate with the sign up module for your website. If you plan on directly selling a product or service through emails, the platform should integrate with the shopping cart you use.
Assuming your business is active on social media sites like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, it’s necessary for it to integrate with these as well. This is helpful because you can expect to receive more social shares (which helps improve your rankings in search engines) and a network can be established to connect both your email marketing along with your social media campaign. It may seem complex, but take the time to map out your software ecosystem; broad compatibility will save you significant time and trouble down the line.
Successful businesses experience perpetual growth and reach a larger audience as time goes on. That’s why effective email marketing software will provide an outlet for growth as your subscriber base increases. This might include the option to upgrade or more data storage as it’s needed. A cloud-based platform is ideal for scalability because there is a nearly unlimited capacity.
It’s also wise to avoid overly long contracts because they can leave you locked in and might not accommodate future growth or the speed at which technology evolves. Finally, the best solutions scale with your business: a sliding cost allows you to pay much less for lower subscriber counts as opposed to higher counts. Fortunately, many vendors allow month to month payments so a long-term contract isn’t needed.
You can only manage what you measure. This statement has never been truer than in the case of email marketing. That’s why a platform should offer some form of metrics that provide insights into what’s working and what’s not. For instance, this would include statistical data might include the open rate and forward rate to tell how many people are actually opening your emails and passing them along to others.
Click-through tracking will give you an idea of what percentage of readers are clicking on links. Also, displaying the number of unsubscribes will let you know how annoying or unwanted your overall campaign is, and if any changes need to be made. The best software also will have built-in functionality that allows you to A/B test with important factors such as headlines. Without fairly comprehensive metrics, it’s easy to make the same mistakes over and over, which can reduce your progress considerably.
Now that we know what to look for, here are some popular vendors that are worth considering:
MailChimp has gained a very positive reputation in the email marketing software industry. They offer a simple sign-up form to gain information from subscribers, so you can maximize the efficiency of your campaign. MailChimp offers multi-user access, which is ideal when several team members are working on your campaign. It’s also compatible with most mobile devices, so team members can complete tasks on smartphones and tablets while on the road, which can boost productivity. MailChimp has numerous templates to choose from and a drag and drop editor for streamlined email design. A/B testing and comprehensive reports also make it simple to track all aspects of a campaign.
This software prides itself on offering the best email designer in the industry. As a result, there’s a lot of leeway when designing the format of emails, which is perfect for brands that want a high level of control. According to company CEO Igor Polevoy, they “strive to reinvent the email marketing service by providing state-of-the-art newsletter creation tools and first-class email campaign reporting.”
If you have little or no programming knowledge, it’s an easy workaround because Express Pigeon makes it simple to personalize emails. However, for those who do have an understanding of HTML and CSS, it’s possible to upload your HTML for even more customizability. Some primary features of Express Pigeon include:
- Free live email templates
- Comprehensive analytics and reporting
- Audience segmentation and retargeting
- Copywriting and content creation consulting
- Easy access to help and phone support
Another popular option that’s received consistently high reviews is iContact. According to the company, “customers choose iContact because we offer email marketing features built around professional business needs. We pair our solutions with award-winning support and expertise, so our customers never feel like they’re alone.”
They offer all of the essential features, like hundreds of email templates, an easy-to-use email designer, and message coder to simplify the HTML process. In addition, iContact has a solid social media integration system which allows users to directly publish to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. There’s a sophisticated contact management system to track the interaction history with readers, and custom fields for extracting the most detailed information possible. Customer support is also available in case you run into any complications along the way.
Email marketing has significant advantages for your business. First and foremost, it allows you to connect directly with your customers and prospects. Choosing your software wisely will ensure that you avoid any technical issues and get better results for your efforts. What email marketing software are you using? Let us know in the comments below.