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Common Misconceptions With Email Marketing

October 30th, 2012
In terms of digital marketing routes, email marketing is one of the oldest. More than a decade counts as a long time in digital marketing, you know. That means it’s had more than its fair share of time to accumulate plenty of misconceptions and myths about how it works. But the times, they are a’ changin’, guys. Some of these myths make sense — perhaps they were once grounded in truth, but over time best practices have changed, yet the myths persisted. The other myths? They’re just a bunch of hulabaloo! But they’re the kind of misconceptions that, if promoters believe them, can really impact the success of email marketing campaigns. And nobody wants that. So, this blog post will cover all of the common myths and misconceptions that plague the email marketing world, and debunk them once and for all. And of course, if you have any myths of your own you’d like debunked, submit them in the comments — perhaps we’ll even need a part two to this post!

1) Trigger Words Land You in the Spam Filter

There are a ton of words that email marketers have been trained to avoid like the plague in their email messages — particularly the subject line. Words like “Free,” “Cash,” “Quote,” and “Save.” These warnings come from the days when email inboxes were inundated by crap messages from email spammers. While the days of email spammers certainly aren’t over, spam filters have gotten far more advanced at identifying what kinds of messages — and more importantly, what kinds of email senders — are genuine. Spam filters look at way, way, way more than just your email subject line to identify if your message is spam. In fact, we performed a test of our own to see if the word “Free” affected deliverability of our email message. The verdict? The addition of the word “Free” raised a red flag, but did not in fact end up impacting the deliverability of the email message. That makes total sense — because it’s just one very minor indication that you may (or may not) be a spammer. Nowadays, if you’re a legitimate email sender with a great sender reputation, telling someone you have a free ebook for them in your email subject line isn’t going to shoot you into someone’s spam folder.

2) People on Your Opt-in List Want to Hear From You

You generate all of your email contacts through legitimate opt-ins. Good for you! That means individuals raised their hand and said, “Hey! You! I want you to email me!” That’s true … ish. Not everybody that opts in to your emails actually wants to receive your emails. Two scenarios may occur after an opt-in: Someone opted in thinking your emails would be something they aren’t. As a result, they see your first couple of emails, end up frustrated, but don’t necessarily get around to unsubscribing. The contact reads your emails for a while, but gradually becomes disengaged. Perhaps they change jobs, move, get busy, abandon that email address, or just plain lose interest in your content. Whatever the reason, they don’t take the time to unsubscribe from your emails. In both of these circumstances, you have people on your opt-in list who, at one time or another, thought they wanted your content, but eventually decided they didn’t … and didn’t tell you, either. That’s why you can’t rely on unsubscribes as the only way to tell if your email contacts want to hear from you; you should look at email involvement too. That’s why it’s important to periodically monitor email engagement, attempt to re-engage those who have become dis-engaged, and then cleanse your list of those who don’t respond to your re-engagement campaign. We’ve written a blog post that walks you through that whole process in a way that will keep your sender popularity sterling — read it here.

3) Unsubscribes Are Negative

Unsubscribes are an sign that someone doesn’t want to receive email from you. Bad, right? Not so fast. When people unsubscribe from your emails, it acts as a normal list cleanser. Like we just included, there are plenty of people on your list who don’t really want to hear from you … they’re just not going to the trouble of opening your message and unsubscribing. If you have a healthy unsubscribe rate — under 1% — then don’t think of unsubscribes as a bad thing. Think of it as natural list cleaning that every email marketer needs to do to keep a healthy list, so you don’t end up with frustrated subscriberswho huff and puff and, out of frustration, just mark you as spam (when you really aren’t).

4)Email Isn’t a Lead Generator

Email is a nurturing tool — it helps to transform leads into marketing qualified leads, but it doesn’t actually generate net new leads. Right? Wrong. Thinking of email as just a nurturing tool is only half the story. First, remember that emails are heavily distributed to people not already on your email list. That means if you have a lead generating call-to-action in your email, and that email is forwarded to or shared with someone who’s not on your list, you have the possibility to generate a brand new lead. So if you don’t already have forward and social sharing buttons in your email messages, add them stat!

The second scenario in which email is a lead creator is kind of a mashup between lead generation and nurturing — because you’re nurturing subscribers (sometimes referred to as prospects, depending on your internal nomenclature) into leads. For instance, if someone registers to our blog, they’re only subscribing to receive email notifications when we publish new blog posts. They are not signing up to receive, say, invites to our next webinar. But when you send an email alerting these subscribers to a new blog post being published, that email could include a lead generating call-to-action, too. All the sudden, email has helped you update subscribers to a lead in your database!

5) Emails Have to Be Highly Designed

Not at all. In fact, often it’s better that your emails are really plain — like, so plain that they’re plain text, even. There are a couple potential benefits to sending plain text, or almost plain text emails: The receiver doesn’t feel like he or she is being marketed to. A plain text email is what they’d receive from a friend or colleague, and it’s free from distracting bells and whistles. You’re free to just say what you want to say, and the reader can just … read it. This may not work for everyone, mind you. We’ve tested this on certain segments of our email list, and there are still some that response better to HTML messages. Like many email tests, your results will certainly vary, as well.

It’s easier for the email message to render. Emails with tons of design elements — big images or video, for example — could experience more hiccups than your basic HTML email with just a logo in the header and a small picture of, say, the product you’re promoting. Some of your recipients might have images turned off by default, so your email looks totally whacky when the meaning of the email rests on all of the images displaying. Or maybe your recipients are reading the message on their mobile devices — are they really going to wait for that giant email to load? If they do, will it still look as great as it looked when you designed it on your desktop computer? It’s a long shot, to be sure. Just because you have the ability to do some epic design work in your email marketing, doesn’t mean you should. Err on the side of simplicity, and test out more sophisticated design elements gradually to see if they impact your conversion rates.

6) If You Abide by CAN-SPAM Laws, You’re Toast

Nuh uh. If you abide by CAN-SPAM laws, it means you’re legally compliant. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get into inboxes, though. There’s simply a greater correlation between people who get into inboxes that are CAN-SPAM compliant because, well, spammers don’t get into inboxes as often as legit email marketers, and spammers aren’t CAN-SPAM compliant. If you want to increase the chances that you get into inboxes, you have way more to work on — namely your sender reputation. I’d recommend reviewing this post, “How Marketers Can Avoid Those Dreaded Email Spam Traps” as a start. And, of course, remain CAN-SPAM compliant!
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