Like most people in business, you’ve probably heard the phrase “permission-based email marketing”. But do you know what it means?
There are two types of email that a business can send. The first is solicited email, email to those who have given you permission to contact them using their email address. The second is, of course, “spam” email – unsolicited contact. Sending spam can quickly ruin any organization’s reputation and brand.
When permission-based email marketing is done right, it is very effective. There’s a reason why it’s used every day by hundreds of thousands of organizations to build value, trust, and sales – and to improve the relationships with their clients.
Many email marketers have different definitions of what exactly constitutes permission-based marketing. Before you hire any firm, or do your own email marketing, it’s important to understand what is and is not acceptable. All of this starts from your methods of collecting consumer email addresses.
Why Should You Always Get Permission?
Asking for an email address can be a tricky thing. Consumers want to know why you are collecting their email address, what you are going to use it before, and how frequently you are going to be contacting them.
They also want to be sure that you’re not going to share your contact list with any other businesses. Remember that because of all the annoying spam, potential customers protect their email address even more closely than their phone number.
As an organization, the biggest mistake you can make is to assume that a customer is automatically giving you permission to subscribe them to a newsletter when they provide their email address to you.
Unless you are specifically asking them the question “may we sign you up for our company newsletter?”, this is not considered permission, so it’s not acceptable to subscribe them to your monthly newsletter without them answering this question.
Many businesses don’t seem to understand this, and some even choose to ignore it. Everyone has experienced companies that do exactly this. You sign up to obtain information on the company’s services, or to get a coupon deal, or for some other reason; the next thing you know you’re on a regular mailing list that you didn’t sign up for.
As a company, using such practices should be avoided at all costs. Not only can you alienate potential customers, but it creates a weak email marketing list that can be subject to unsubscribing and marking as spam by hundreds of users. These are definitely things you want to avoid.
Always ask for permission. Don’t assume it’s okay to add the customer to your marketing list unless they have clearly agreed to it.
So how do you build your mailing list the right and honest way?
Tips for Gathering Email Addresses
- Reassure your customers right on the signup sheet or website that you will not sell their information.
- If you have established a marketing plan for your organization, include how often you will be sending out your newsletter.
- Send a welcome email, to say thank you and welcome customers to your list.
- Remind customers to add your newsletter’s email address to their safe list.
- Ensure your email newsletter has an unsubscribe link/area that makes it easy to unsubscribe or change the email address.
- Make sure you’re following the relevant policies such as the CAN-SPAM Act when you’re sending letters (more on that later on).
These guidelines should help you to inform your prospective subscribers about your intentions and increase your subscription rate. But where should you look for people who would like to receive your letters?
How to Grow Your Mailing List
93% of your potential customers use email, so email marketing is definitely among the easiest and most cost-effective ways to reach your audience and increase sales. Email retains its position as an excellent marketing technique and allows you to reach more people than Facebook and Twitter combined.
So whether you’re just starting out or already have a few hundred subscribers, constantly growing your mailing list is essential for long-term success.
After spending some time marketing your business through email, you’ll notice that the process can be rather challenging. Contacts change their email addresses, opt out of your lists, or even decide not to share their email in the first place.
Think about it – how many times has a store asked for your email address, but you declined to give it away if you had the chance?
Therefore, businesses need to become creative in how they gather customer email addresses and how they maintain their relationships with the customers already on their list. It’s important to keep customers engaged and signed up, making sure they’ll update their contact information whenever it changes.
Building up your email list begins with your own website – how you position your sign-up code will determine how many actual email sign-ups your business will gather. It needs to be visible and well-placed, not just an afterthought.
Ideally, it should round out every page, not just your website’s front page. Actually including the sign-up in your footer can be a good idea, because if your visitors have read enough to get through to the footer, they were clearly interested in your product or service.
You shouldn’t forget about social media as well. While you can promote your newsletters from time to time via Facebook posts or tweets, we’d recommend using special tools to make the process easier for the user. There are quite a lot of options here, including Woobox, Heyo, and ShortStack.
Either way, it’s important to tell users what they are getting in return and how often they will hear from you – for example, it’s a good idea to label the subscribe link “Sign Up for Our Monthly Newsletter”. Potential customers want to know that you won’t be bombarding them with messages every day or even every week.
Compelling offers might be necessary as well. A birthday club, 10% off your next purchase, or even a promise to keep customers updated on future promotions can all help to ensure that potential customers will give you their email addresses.
Don’t forget to thank your customers with a great welcome email. They’re easy to set up in most email marketing platforms and are great at confirming the subscription to the customer in addition to showing that you’ve gone the extra mile and appreciated the sign-up.
Whatever you do, don’t take any of your existing subscribers lightly. Treat the email list as if it were golden, because this marketing list is worth much more than just phone numbers would be. After all – this is a group of people who have voluntarily signed up to hear from you on a regular basis, which makes them your strongest supporters and purchasers.
Even though it might look tempting, don’t buy an email marketing list from another company. It’s much like buying a telemarketing list, and the list will never be worth the money you paid for it.
Although it may take a while to build your own list, there are many creative ways of doing so that will provide you with strong leads and help you to grow your business – most of the time, you won’t be getting any of that from a purchased email list.
Here are some more tips on growing your mailing list:
- Make sure you bring a clipboard to trade shows, and ask people who stop by to talk if they’d like to sign up.
- Add an offer to your business card, pointing users to the signup on your website.
- Have a newsletter sign-up link on all of your outgoing emails.
- Advertise sign-up-related contests on social media.
- Try a birthday club for newsletter subscribers with special deals.
- Include discounts that are only available to newsletter subscribers, and promote these discounts in store, online and in print.
- Offer incentives to your employees who obtain email signups.
So what do you do with the email addresses you’ve gathered? Sure, you can send out your newsletters by hand through your email program, but we don’t live in the Stone Age anymore – there are easier ways to manage your mailing list and tailor your letters.
Choosing an Email Marketing Platform
There are loads of available email platforms, all of which allow you to store your mailing lists and send out emails designed with the help of templates. However, some of them are more reliable than others. Here are five email marketing platforms which you should consider choosing for your business:
This platform offers ready-made free templates to make your newsletters look snazzy and appealing to your customers, so the whole process of designing emails is a breeze. It’s also very reasonably priced with packages starting as low as $9 a month.
MailChimp integrates easily with most content management systems such as WordPress and Blogger and makes it easy for your customers to get connected with the site. MailChimp is also free until you hit the 2,000 email mark, so it’s a great way to go for small businesses or sites just starting up.
Considered one of the top email marketing service providers, iContact allows customers to send, track and create HTML-based emails and social media messages. The platform is slightly more expensive than MailChimp and Campaign Monitor (their packages start at $14), but their reputation seems to be worth it.
This platform offers email marketing, social media marketing, online surveys, event marketing, digital storefronts, and local deals tools, so it’s a great option if you’d like to keep as much of your online marketing in a single place as possible. The platform offers a free trial for most of their features.
AWeber is a more advanced option for those looking for true email automation. If you want to send out ebooks and PDF’s this is truly the solution for you. Starts at $19.95 per month for 500 subscribers and goes up from there.
All of these platforms are solid options, but you might find another one which suits your needs even better. Either way, using an email marketing platform is essential to getting your online business off the ground.
Once you have your preferred system up and running, it’s time to start designing your emails and filling them up with content.
Newsletter Design Tips
Even if you use one of the thousands (or hundreds, or a few – it all depends on your chosen email platform) available templates, you’ll still have to put some work into personalizing the newsletter so it presents your business in the best way possible.
Here are a few tips which should help you along the way:
- Understand your audience. What you like might be totally different from what your subscribers like. Your newsletter can range from simple and conservative to stylish and cutting-edge, so it’s essential to find the kind of emails which is liked by the largest part of your audience.
- Be consistent. Every time one of your subscribers opens your letters, they should recognize the colors, the structure, the fonts, and the overall feeling of the letter. Sure, you might want to try out a few different options at first, but once you’ve decide on the best one, don’t do any overhauls unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Make sure it looks good on any device. Your newsletter should be great on a huger computer screen, a smaller tablet, or an even more compact smartphone. The design will usually be slightly different depending on the user’s device, so you should test out different variations before sending the actual letter.
- Don’t overload it with images. Although some images is always a great idea as it helps you to make the newsletter more lively, converting all the text into image files might cause some problems on some older email clients or mobile devices. Either way, you should always include a “View in browser” link at the top of the email.
- Provide your emails with a clear structure. You usually have just a few seconds to capture the user’s attention, so use clever and engaging headings and titles to ensure more people read through the smaller text as well. Make your main idea or offer stand out by using images or brighter colors – that’s the reason you’re sending the letter after all.
Designing the newsletter should be fairly easy if you’re using one of the top email marketing platforms. You’ll probably have a much harder time deciding on the contents of each and every email you send out.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Newsletter Content
An email newsletter doesn’t really have any boundaries in terms of content you could include. The main thing you should consider, just like in the area of design, is the expectations of your audience and the promises you’ve made them.
If you mentioned that the customers will receive special offers in their inbox, you should include one in each and every email you send. If the main value you presented was the ability to be the first to hear about new products, you should never forget to include this information as well.
Otherwise, your emails can include a recap on latest blog posts, survey invitations and results, important letters from the head of the company, relevant tips and advice, announcements of future events, interesting resources, reviews of your products, instructional articles or videos, answers to customers’ emails, case studies, personal stories – the list goes on and on.
The key to any successful newsletter is its ability to keep the user reading and a clear call to action – watch a video, subscribe to social media profiles, use a coupon code in the store, or be the first to buy a limited edition of the product. It can be anything which generates sales for your business or increases your brand awareness.
Whatever you decide to include, you should always follow the policies which are applicable in your state or country. For the US, it’s the CAN-SPAM Act. The full guidelines can be found here, but you’ll find all the basics below:
- Customer email addresses cannot be shared or sold for marketing purposes.
- An opt-out option must be available to recipients for at least 30 days after they receive a commercial email.
- Opt-out requests must be handled within 10 business days.
- Opt-out methods must be available either via an email option or a single web page option.
- Header information (From:, To:, and Reply-To:) must be correct and legitimate.
- The subject line cannot mislead email recipients about the content within the email.
- Email addresses cannot be harvested, and automated means cannot be used to create email addresses.
- The address of a person who unsubscribed can’t be shared with any other entity seeking to send that party an email.
- All your emails must include a postal address.
Even if you comply with this act, it doesn’t mean that your emails won’t find their way into the subscribers’ spam folders. In addition to the contents of the email, crafting an engaging title is essential if you’d like your emails to be opened instead of deleted or, even worse, reported to the customer’s email provider.
There are quite a lot of words you should avoid at all costs – instead of stressing the value of your email’s contents, they’ll put off any user from opening it in the first place. Here are a few examples:
Free, Act Now, All New, 50% Off, Call Now, Subscribe Now, Earn Money, Discount, Double Your Income, You’re A Winner!, Opportunity, Compare, Collect, Amazing, Cash Bonus, Promise, Credit, Loans, As Seen On, Buy Direct, Get Paid, Order Now, Please Read, Don’t Delete, Time Limited, While Supplies Last, Why Pay More, Special Promotion, Information You Requested, Stop, No Cost, No Fees, Satisfaction Guaranteed, Serious Cash, Search Engine Listings, Join Millions, Save Up To, All Natural, You’ve Been Selected
Excessive use of currency symbols, exclamation marks, and question marks is also not recommended. In addition to that, you should never write the title in ALL-CAPS. Capitalizing Each Word is usually the best way to go.
So both the looks and the contents of your newsletters are taken care of. Let’s move on to the questions related to time – the frequency of your emails and the best time to send them out.
The Optimal Sending Frequency
When sending emails to list subscribers, there’s one question that’s very important to ask yourself: how often should you contact them? Too often could lead to people unsubscribing, but not often enough and you risk being forgotten by your customers.
Depending on your business and services, the best email marketing strategy is to contact your subscribers on a monthly basis. It’s not hard to execute this plan, and if you get your staff involved when coming up with content and ideas, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to meet this goal every month.
Newsletters sent monthly are like a reminder note, a way of saying “Hi, we’re still here if you need us.” It also allows your organization more time to develop a compelling and captivating newsletter with a strong call to action, something that can initiate sales even in the slow times while keeping your customers involved and coming back for more.
Naturally, monthly newsletters might not work in some fields of business, especially those with very close competition. So the only way of learning the best sending frequency is testing your own audience.
You can add an extra letter for a few months for, let’s say, a half of your subscribers and see how it works out – if it results in increased click-through rate and sales (even if the unsubscribe rate is higher as well), you should definitely try sending your emails more often to the rest of your customers.
We’re sure you can do the math yourself – just remember what you promised your subscribers in the first place. If they agreed to receive a single email every month, you should never contact them more frequently than that.
Now that you know how often you’ll send your newsletter, you’ll need to decide what day and time you should send it on to get the type of response you’re looking for.
The Best Time to Send Your Emails
Once again, it might vary depending on the area you’re doing business in, but typically the best times to contact people by email (and attain a reaction) are Tuesday through Thursday from 9am to 10am or, if you prefer the afternoon, between 2pm and 4pm.
These are the times when people at work are usually focusing on email and checking their inboxes regularly, so they are much more likely to see your email, open it, and make a decision on your offers and content.
Mondays and Fridays aren’t among the best days to contact people, as the number of distractions these days is pretty high. Monday mornings are used by most people to catch up on coworkers’ weekends, create to-do lists, schedule the week’s meetings, and just generally get prepared.
Fridays are even worse – everyone is getting ready for the weekend and any information won’t be digested before people head off for their weekends. Consumers’ mindsets and goals are all focused around their plans with family and friends. In fact, not holding press conferences or sending press releases on Fridays is one of the most important rules of marketing and PR.
As far as the times go, the worst times you could send an email are between 11:30pm and 1:30pm or after 4:30 in the afternoon. In the middle of the day, people are already focusing on their lunch break or might even be out of the office.
If they do see your email, either on their computer or on their smartphone, there’s a high chance they’ll ignore it in favour of whatever else they have going on during their lunch break. If they don’t come back to it later (they usually won’t), you’ve lost their attention for good.
Things are similar at the end of the day as well: an email sent after 4:30pm has a very, very slim chance of being read. People are focusing on the leftover work they have to do, their trip home, or their evening plans – your email will rarely make that list.
You should avoid weekends as a time to send your message to customers as well, especially a few days before a long weekend (bank holidays). Use this rule for sending: if a long weekend falls on a Friday, avoid emailing on Thursday. If a long weekend falls on a Monday, avoid Tuesday. This will help to ensure that your newsletter is seen by your customers.
The last thing to consider when scheduling your emails is time zones. If you have customers in different time zones, even if the difference is only one or two hours, you will need to pick a good time to catch the largest audience.
If you are reaching a global audience, it can be a struggle to choose an appropriate time to send it. After all, at 9am MST in Canada, it’s already 5pm in London, England. The clear way to avoid time zone conflicts is, if at all possible, to segment your list by users and where they live in order to contact different customers at different times.
We hope our guide to permission-based email marketing made the concept look just a little simpler and easier to do in practice. Let’s go through the most important things to remember once again:
- Getting permission to email your customers is the first step you should take when you’re asking for their email address.
- Letters sent without permission can hurt the image of your company or your brand. In addition to that, sending unsolicited emails can result in huge penalties.
- Building a mailing list yourself is always a better option than buying one. Some of the best places to do that are your website and your business profiles on social media.
- Incentives to sign up are very important if you want to attract more customers to subscribe to your newsletter.
- Using a email marketing platform can make it much easier to manage your contacts in addition to designing and sending out your newsletters.
- The design of your emails should be crafted to your audience, but you should always ensure it looks great on any type of device. Maintaining a consistent look and feel is also recommended.
- The contents of your letter should depend on the expectations of your audience, but you should always deliver on the promises you made during the sign-up process.
- Sending a newsletter on a monthly basis is the best practice for most businesses out there, but it’s a good idea to try and send the emails more frequently (as long as you have enough great content).
- It’s usually best to send the newsletter in the middle of the working week in late morning or after lunch.