August 30, 2013

The Best Mailing List Ever

photo by kreg.steppe

Do you have subscribers who jump on every email you send? Do they open and read immediately, eagerly anticipating interesting and useful information?

The best kind of mailing list is full of responsive subscribers. These are people who have:
  1. asked for your newsletter
  2. replied with positive feedback
  3. clicked on links in your newsletter
  4. shared your newsletter via email and social media
How many of those people do you have on your mailing list? The answer should always be: not as many as I want to have.

Once you have the basics in place, you can work to build your list into the best list. Concentrate on those areas of interaction listed above and think about tactics that will improve on your current performance in each. Take little steps and work steadily at improvement. A blitz approach will be surprising, and perhaps unnerving, to your regular readers.

August 26, 2013

Spam is coming off the Menu in Canada

Did you hear the one about the guy who protested the new Canadian anti-spam regulations? He started an email campaign and spammed thousands. No word of lie - you can read all about it here.

Spamhaus responded via their Block Listing for the fellow’s IP address:
IP is sending spam to scraped email addresses or purchased list. Spam asks recipient to sign petition against Canadian antispam law FISA. Is OK to protest law--even law we at Spamhaus think is good law. Is not OK to spam to protest law, or for any other reason.
Spamhaus is an international non-profit that tracks the Internet's spam sources, provides real time anti-spam protection for Internet networks, works with Law Enforcement Agencies to identify and pursue spam and malware gangs, and lobbies governments for effective anti-spam legislation.

Those of us who are doing legitimate business by email in Canada have no need to be concerned at all about the new regulations. If you have been following email marketing best practices, and using a bulk email service provider, you are most likely already compliant.

The great thing about the new regulations is that it will slowly weed out those who are giving the industry a bad name. Those doing legitimate business will no longer have to compete with those who aren't.

photo by isNoOp

August 23, 2013

Here's How to Get Inspired

I often say, “Write when you’re inspired... and take the time to get inspired.” This week I’m taking my own medicine because inspiration has been lacking. Thinking about getting inspired, with my newsletter deadline looming, led me to create this list of things that I sometimes do when I'm stumped. I can even do most of them without leaving my desk!
  • Read other people’s articles. I may learn something new that I can share. I may agree or disagree with the author. Either way, I've got something to write about.
  • Call a friend or client. You may want to prepare a couple of questions in advance, such as “What puzzles you most about what I do?” or “What’s the biggest benefit you get from working with us?” Or you might just wing it.
  • Think about processes. Write step-by-step instructions that are simple and easy to follow. Use screenshots or images if it makes sense.
  • Review old blog posts and articles. I often find ideas that I can expand on or tangents I haven’t explored.
  • Recall recent experiences. What happened this week that you can write about? What conversations did you have? Who did you meet? What did you learn or read? What did you start or accomplish?
  • Take a hot shower. I don’t know why but, for me, this really works. The problem is that I haven’t figured out a way to take notes in the shower!

August 13, 2013

How to Send an Error-Free Newsletter

If you want to publish a superior newsletter, you need a quality control process. There are so many ways in which a newsletter can have errors so it’s difficult to create an issue with no mistakes at all. That’s why it’s so important to check everything and assume nothing.

Below is a checklist similar to our own quality control process. I’m sure it will also work for you if you are using a bulk email service provider. If you aren't, you should seriously consider getting one.

Once you've finished assembling your newsletter, save it and make a copy to proof and edit.

Run the spell checker. Edit appropriately, noting if the software uses an American or Canadian dictionary.

Run the spam checker. Again, edit if necessary.

Send a test message to yourself.

When you receive that test email:
  • Scan the formatting and overall look. Is text spaced from borders and images? Are fonts used consistently throughout? Are the colours, images, borders and fills congruent with your brand?
  • Click on every hyperlink, including linked images. Wait till they load fully. Don’t get complacent – check them all even if they repeat from issue to issue.
  • Read and proof all the text for errors, including headlines and sidebar/footer content. Read it all, even the parts you don’t change from issue to issue. We strongly recommend you find someone else to do this step for you.
  • Double check things like dates, addresses and numbers for accuracy. They are so easy to muck up and so embarrassing to correct after the fact.
  • Proof your subject line too. I've seen lots of mistakes in subject lines and am guilty of it myself. An obvious error in your subject line will guarantee that your email gets deleted unopened.
After you have made all your edits, send yourself another test message. Give it a quick scan to proof all the changes you made during editing.

View your test message in different browsers. Sometimes there are differences that may cause formatting to look wonky in one and not others. (A message viewed in Internet Explorer will have small differences from Chrome and Firefox.)

All of this should only take you 15-45 minutes depending on the length and complexity of your newsletter. It’s definitely time well spent, especially following the time you've already invested to assemble the newsletter. People won't notice that it has no mistakes, but they'll sure take note if it does!

August 1, 2013

Test your Process

Do you know what happens when someone signs up for your newsletter? When they click that little SUBMIT button, where do they go? If you don't know, now is a good time to find out.

Your sign-up process is a critical piece of your newsletter strategy. Plan it from your potential subscriber's perspective. Of course, you need a prominent, simple form and a clear call to action with an explanation of what they'll get by subscribing. But what happens once that button is pushed? Test it yourself, start to finish.

Likewise, your unsubscribe process is something you should understand as well. Do your subscribers have an option to be on some lists but not all? Is your unsubscribe process simple or does it require entering information? Is it a 2-click process?

Caution: Don't unsubscribe yourself from your own newsletter to test this process. Use an alternate email address.

These processes will vary greatly depending on the bulk email service provider (ESP) you use. Here is a screen shot from iContact: