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Spring Is Here: Time to Unclutter Your Email Marketing

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"February" comes from the Latin word februum, which means purification, and is named after Februa, a Roman cleansing festival held each year on the 15th of the month. No wonder spring cleaning is an annual ritual come March. 

There has certainly been plenty of "purification" happening out there. Whether it's in the form of company bankruptcies, general detox, or corporate housecleaning, systems as well as and organizations are restructuring and, in some cases, undergoing seismic change.

What does it mean? It means challenge, certainly, but also opportunity. For email marketers, it means now is the perfect time to critically re-examine our programs, campaign processes, and messages with a fresh, unbiased eye. Time to sweep away the cobwebs of inefficiency or neglect that might have accumulated in less-scrutinized times.

Yet with teams and budgets shrinking, or at least holding steady, the problem remains the same: Do more (often, with less). Your very survival depends on maintaining or increasing revenue and performance.

The burning question: How—without taking undue risks? The answer: Improve what you have already.


Start from the ground up, making sure your fundamentals are sound. There's no point building on a shaky foundation; now more than ever is the time to shore up. Clearing the clutter in your email marketing not only ensures short-term gains in performance but also strengthens long-term value.

Here are five essential areas of any email marketing program that are worth poking around in. Turn over some rocks, and don't hesitate to dump anything you discover underneath that shouldn't be there. In the spirit of spring, let's do some email cleanup:

1. Permission

If you're like the majority of email marketers, a wide variety of sources contributes subscribers to your list using more than one degree of permission (prechecked box, unchecked box, double opt-in, or even opt-out). There's no time like the present to put a stake in the ground and make your preferred method the new standard. At the very least, audit the sources of new names. Are contributors abiding by the rules?

The greater the degree of permission you use, the stronger your subscriber engagement will be. The consensus at the Email Evolution Conference (EEC) this year was loud and clear. Survey and conference participants voted, and the majority agreed:

  • The opt-in box should be unchecked rather than prechecked.
  • Double opt-in is favored over single opt-in.

The findings don't necessarily mean there aren't justifiable exceptions to the majority opinion, but they do suggest that email marketers have gained an appreciation for subscriber quality over quantity.

2. Your List

Good email-list hygiene directly affects your deliverability. If you haven't done so before, you should...

  • Attempt email-address correction on undeliverable soft bounces after the third failure, and on all hard bounces after the first failed delivery attempt
  • Audit both your subscribe and unsubscribe processes to ensure they are working as intended and legally required
  • Attempt to reactivate nonresponders at least once every six months for a year before suppressing them from future mailings
  • Ensure hard bounces are flagged, added to your opt-out suppression file, and never remailed unless those recipients re-opt-in

Services like those provided by FreshAddress and Return Path are helpful in this area. Do suppress inactive subscribers; but as the EEC survey results also indicate, try at least once a year to get them back in the boat. If they still don't engage, then it's time to say goodbye.

3. Your Messages

When is the last time you gave the messages you send a thorough critique? That goes for both marketing and transactional email.

Have you optimized your design for good deliverability and rendering? Are embedded links leading to live pages—or dead ends? Have you avoided building HTML emails as a single image? What about the legally required elements like your company's address and unsubscribe link—are they present and visible? And, most of all, does the design of your email match what responders will find on your Web site and what they recognize when they think of your brand?

4. Sender Identity

You can't be too careful here. Are you using best practices like authenticating your commercial email with SenderID or DKIM? Sending from a shared or dedicated IP address?

Beware of sending from a shared IP, or at least know who you're sharing it with. If their email sender reputation is suspect or tarnished, yours will be, too.

5. Sequence, Cadence, Overall Volume

Email volume growth remains a consumer challenge. It's a problem not because of the still-increasing number of email marketers, but because more and more email is irrelevant and repetitive. If every email message were wanted, there would be no complaints about quantity, as there would never be "too much."

As the final step in your email cleanup, examine your typical message flow and review it for overload, redundancy, logical progression, and a lack of proper segmentation. Tightly segmented, smaller lists not only achieve better deliverability than large broadcasts but also don't usually run the risk of being slowed (or "throttled" back) in reaching the inbox.

Look critically at your offer sequence and customer acceleration strategies: Are you pushing too hard or not hard enough? Do offers and content make sense in the order in which you convey them? After subscribers respond, do they understand what you want them to do next?

Be conscious of your overall sending volume, and be intentional about sending speed as well as the frequency of continuity programs like e-newsletters or alerts. Are you providing frequency alternatives where they make sense—such as a weekly or monthly digest in lieu of daily or weekly messages? For most email marketers, these areas are fertile ground for improvement.

* * *

Removing clutter delivers the dual benefits of making everything run smoother and freeing space for the new and improved. Remember, you don't have to analyze the garbage before you throw it out!

Want to create solid, targeted email campaigns that are legally compliant, have good deliverability, and achieve fast results? Karen Talavera has helped MarketingProfs create SmartTools: Email Campaign Planner, online tools to help you rapidly create email campaigns that deliver the results you need. Coming May 1—learn more.


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Karen Talavera heads Synchronicity Marketing and writes about how to successfully use email, social, and content marketing on the Enlightened Emarketing blog. You can also follow Karen on Twitter (@SyncMarketing) and Facebook for daily tips and links to emerging email and social media marketing trends, facts, and research.

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