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Permission-Based Email Marketing 101

permission based email marketing

A truly 'permission-based' email marketing program involves two very important and complimentary aspects. The first is the process by which you obtain your recipients' permission to send email. There are some reasonably black-and-white means for how to gain this permission properly and how rigorous you choose to be in doing so.

The second aspect of permission-based marketing has less to do with the steps and processes you use to collect names and more to do with the relationship you have with your customers and how you communicate to and with them. For example, when you ask for a customer's email address, how do you do it? What details do you give this person about why they should sign up for your email list and what they should expect from you as a result?

To Use Double Opt-In Or Not - THAT Is The Question!

One of the key leading practices to which all email marketers should adhere to as part of their permission-based marketing involves the method in which they create and build their email lists. Permission-based marketing means mailing to recipients only after they've given their explicit permission to do so. However, there are different ways to obtain this permission from the very rigorous double opt-in process, to the less favored single (or 'confirmed') opt-in process.

The highest subscription standard today is referred to as 'double opt-in' and requires your prospective subscribers to actively confirm their inclusion on your list before receiving your next broadcast email. In this process, your prospective subscriber submits their email address and other information and then receives from you a confirmation request with which they must interact (such as clicking a link) to verify their subscription in order to be added to your list.

When you make your list double opt-in, be sure your prospective readers expect the confirmation email and understand that they must open it and follow the instructions to complete their opt-in process. Explain why this practice protects them and why you require this extra step.

This extra step in the subscription process offers many benefits:

You'll be remembered. Those who confirm their subscriptions are more likely to remember they did so when they receive your email thus making it less likely they will forget and report your email as spam.

Eliminates Email Typos: At signup, if the prospective subscriber mistyped their email address, the bad email address can't be added to your list without confirmation.

Helps Prevent Spamming: Some folks find it funny to, as a joke, sign their friends up for all sorts of stuff on the web. Requiring a double opt-in prevents this.

Builds An Audience That Wants To Hear From You: These folks have joined your list because they believe you're going to send them something of value.

Increases Email Delivery Rates: Since these lists are inherently comprised of valid, deliverable email addresses you should experience improved deliverability.

Keeps Your List(s) Clean: Emails are delivered faster since the list server isn't bogged down trying to resend to bad addresses.

Helps Keep You Off Blacklists: By maintaining a clean list, most of your emails will be delivered successfully. If you send large quantities of emails to bad addresses, email providers may blacklist you and block all of your email.

Increases Response Rates: A double opt-in list not only confirms a recipient's email address, but also confirms the recipient's interest in what you have to offer.

So why wouldn't you want to collect names in this manner? Well, some perspective readers will not confirm their subscriptions. Perhaps this isn't all bad, though. If they can't be bothered to complete their subscription with you, how likely are they to buy something from you? Another relatively small downside to the double opt-in technique - it may take longer than you'd like to grow your list. It can be very tempting to take a shortcut and rent or purchase a list of email addresses, however, in the long run, the double opt-in process will help you to develop a list of much more engaged readers than any other means.

A Less Rigorous Alternative: The 'Single' Or 'Confirmed Opt-In' Process

The single opt-in method consists of one basic step: a subscriber provides his/her email address to you and then receives your next broadcast mailing with no further administrative steps. A slight variation on this is the confirmed opt-in method that sends the new subscriber a one-time confirmation email (such as 'thank you for signing up').

You must decide which method - double, single, or confirmed - is best for your organization. If the chances for abuse are remote, then a single or confirmed opt-in method may be sufficient for you.

KNOW that the 'Opt-Out' Subscription Process is a Real NO NO. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. Websites that make the user UNCHECK a box to ensure they don't get added to various mailing lists is a terrible list-building practice. This subscription approach may lead to a larger list initially, but may also lead to complaints. If your recipients don't remember asking to receive your email (because they DIDN'T), they may consider the receipt of your emails an intrusion into their inboxes and a breach of trust.

I've had more than a few clients that wanted to simply dump their entire list of contacts and prospects into their email list reasoning that anyone on the list should 1) still be interested in hearing from them or 2) they can always opt out if they don't. We can't ever assume that these folks wish to continue having contact with us in the future.

dos and don'ts of email marketing

Keeping these newly opted-in subscribers on your list:

Now your email list is growing by the day with truly engaged subscribers, so let's explore some techniques you can use to KEEP these new opt-ins on your list.

Communicate Expectations And Then Meet (or Exceed) Them.

One of the most prevalent mistakes list owners make is sending content that their readers aren't expecting to receive from them. This happens most often when subscriber expectations aren't well understood from the start. If the signup form doesn't describe what type(s) of information you'll be sending out, readers will jump to their own conclusions of what your emails will and won't contain. When you don't set expectations clearly or meet those that are set, marketers inadvertently cause people to delete their emails, unsubscribe from their lists, or report their emails as spam.

Spell out the Timeline, Topics, and Type of Email you'll be Sending.

The time to communicate the type of email or promotion you will be sharing with your prospective subscribers is when you ask for their opt-in. As part of the sign up form, consider including some brief text that describes the topics you'll cover, the format(s) you offer, and frequency readers should expect.

If you are clear about what's in it for your readers (and assuming this is value-added content of interest), you're list should grow even faster. These days, you have to work even harder to get prospects to let you into their inboxes and being crystal clear on what they should expect to receive will help. Another technique that has proven to increase response rates is including copies of prior newsletters to SHOW readers what they can expect.

Engage your Readers by Giving them Options.

Whether your email topics are very broad or more narrowly focused, your readers will welcome a choice of exactly what they receive from you, the format in which it is sent, as well as how often. As an example, perhaps you send out a short, quickly-read email with tips and techniques as well as a second, more in-depth monthly publication. Personal preference, free time, and level of interest will drive which of your publications (or both, perhaps) your readers will opt to receive from you. This technique goes a long way as you build a solid relationship with your readers and helps to prevent list fatigue and churn.

Deliver Only What is Expected.

If your readers signed up to receive tips and techniques and all you send are advertisements, know that your readers will likely stop opening your emails, mark them as spam, or unsubscribe from your list altogether. Your ability to gain their trust is now gone.

Treat Your Readers as you'd Want to be Treated (and respect their privacy).

Make your company's privacy policy (and if you don't have one, write one) readily available to both prospective as well as current readers. Be crystal clear about what you intend to do (and not do) with email addresses and other personal information your readers share with you. Do you intend to use these email addresses for internal use only, share them with trusted affiliates, or sell/rent them to 3rd parties (of course, I hope none of you do this last one!)? Whatever your policy is, do let readers know what they can expect.

Don't Forget to Stay in Compliance with the Law. According to the January 1, 2004 CAN-Spam Act, you must offer an unsubscribe mechanism and honor all unsubscribe requests within 10 business days. Today, even the most basic commercially-available email applications offer an automated unsubscribe mechanism (e.g. 'click here to be removed from this list'), but if this isn't available in the email system you're using, offer your readers options for removal such as replying to the email with the word 'REMOVE' in the subject line and then be sure to do so in a timely manner.

Final Words

Naturally, the goal of most marketers is to get your company's image and/or offerings in front of as many of the right prospects and customers as possible and as efficiently and effectively as you can. However, if you work to build relationships with your readers, provide the value you say you will, and respect them along the way, you'll likely reach your goals in the long run.

To your success,

Jonny Tyson

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