Gregg Murray is a web marketing strategist and Google SEO expert who heads up Website Blueprint, a firm that helps small businesses design and improve their presence on the web. Below, he offers tips on choosing the right email marketing service and implementing an effective strategy.
Why should small business owners be interested in email marketing?
Murray: Having an effective and easy-to-use email marketing service is a critical element for nearly every small business website. Incorporating email marketing into your site provides an opportunity to turn website visitors into subscribers and prospect and eventually into customers. The problem for business owners is how to choose the right email marketing provider, how to maximize its effectiveness, and how to integrate email marketing into today's social media platforms.
How do you get started with email marketing?
Murray: The process of email marketing begins with having a form, or a prominent image link to a form, on every page of your website. This allows your website visitors to signup for you eNewsletter or eTips. Once someone fills out that form, they are added to your email database. Then, anytime in the future, you can send out a mass email to all your subscribers at one time.
Which are the major email marketing providers, and how do you choose?
Murray: I've used Aweber for years and have been completely happy with them. Their service is simple enough that you can do-it-yourself and they have helpful phone support, which is very important for small business owner. Another reason I like Aweber is that your blog posts can be emailed to your subscribers automatically, often referred to as "RSS-to-Email." That's a great feature, because you don't have to do the work twice by creating the blog post, then sending out the eBlast.
Another very popular option is Constant Contact. They have the same benefits of Aweber, but they do not have the blog-to-email option right now. However, Constant Contact does offer many other options to take advantage of as your business grows and many people use it. That means there is a large community of users that you can communicate with via their forum.
Another option being used by small businesses is Mail Chimp. Many people like its ease-of-use and deliverability rates, which measure how well they get through SPAM filters. And like Aweber and Constant Contact, Mail Chimp also has very good video tutorials.
What other decision criteria are important for selecting a provider?
Murray: Base your decision not only on price, but also ease-of-use and support that is offered. Pricing of email marketing services are an on-going monthly subscription. There is no reason why you should need to pay more than $25 a month for your email marketing service.
Before you make a final decision, visit the websites of the providers you are considering and also pick up the phone and ask them some questions. It's a good idea to get a feel for their quality of service.
Once you have a provider, what are some best practices?
Murray:You need a persuasive invitation. Rarely does just having a form on your Web site that says: Sign-up for our e-Newsletter produce maximum subscribers, or as I call them, potential customers. You need to offer something of value in exchange for a visitor to give you their email address, and that usually means a special report or article relevant to your business with helpful information they would like to read. Another helpful giveaway is a coupon or special offer.
Another important rule is: Don't abuse your relationship with subscribers. Once a potential customer has filled out your web form and given you their email address, pay attention to how often you're seen in their inbox. I recommend one or twice per month. Anything more may get them thinking about unsubscribing or clicking their spam button. Either way, you've lost a potential customer.
Also, don't oversell -- be helpful. It is appropriate to inform your subscribers about an upcoming promotion or sales event; it's even more important to provide special tips and advice that makes your business a source of helpful information. You can opt for one sales pitch and one tip each month, or you can include both the sales pitch and a special tip in each of your eblasts. Just make sure you never send two sales-only emails in a row.
It's really important to understand CAN-SPAM rules and regulations. Don't use false or misleading header information, no deceptive subject lines and remind recipients how to opt-out of receiving future emails from you. Be sure to get a copy of all the rules and regulations. There's a link to the complete "CAN-SPAM Compliance Guide" at our site.
You also want to extend your brand to your email messages.The look, feel and content of your email messages should complement the rest of your business and marketing persona. When subscribers receive an email from you, be sure that your brand is recognized in an inbox, just as it is on your Web site or your traditional marketing.
Finally, grab your subscribers' attention in your subject line, otherwise your chance of them opening and reading your email drops dramatically. Avoid hype, and opt for creative or straight-forward subject lines that not only grab attention, but also describe what they can expect from your message.