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Feed Me: Turn your blog into an automated email newslettern

08/10/2010 Leave a comment

Developing content for your email newsletter can sometimes be a challenge. If you already maintain a blog to promote your business, however, you can easily leverage it to produce an automated email newsletter that will help attract new fans, create repeat customers, and drive traffic back to your blog or website.

Here are some of the benefits to delivering your blog updates as an email newsletter:

New subscribers. When you publish useful and interesting content on your blog your readers will be motivated to share it. Receiving your blog post in an email form could encourage them to forward it to others who may be interested, and you could gain new readers.  (Make sure to insert links in your email that track back to both your blog and your website.)

It’s free. You can avoid paying fees to an email service provider by taking advantage of free blog-to-email applications (more on that in a sec).

You own the email list and can export it at any time. If in the future you decide to produce a more elaborate email marketing campaign using an email service provider, you’ll have a list of readers’ email addresses at your fingertips to re-launch your campaign.

Email drives people back to your blog. Readers can explore other posts, visit your website and engage with you.

Effortless: With a blog-to-newsletter conversion application, you only have to write your blog (as you already do) and the RSS feed automatically populates a professionally designed and permanent email template. No additional work on your end.

How does this work? First, a little background: With the creation of blogs came the evolution of RSS, which allows followers to receive immediate updates to their RSS readers (e.g. GoogleReader, iGoogle, Bloglines, MyYahoo!, FeedDemon, iTunes, etc.) without having to physically visit the blog. RSS has been around since 2006, but it hasn’t really caught on in a major way and most internet users still prefer email communication. According to HubSpot, business blogs average 12 times more subscribers via email than by RSS and other industries reflect similar user preference.

So how can you create your own automated email newsletter? Here are two tools that will convert your blog posts into emails and automatically deliver them:
Feedburner: FeedBurner email is a service that allows publishers to deliver their feed content to subscribers via email for free. Visit this page for more information.

FeedBlitz: FeedBlitz is similar to Feedburner but offers a few extra features to enhance delivery and tracking. You don’t have to have a blog to use FeedBlitz and sending out emails is not all it does; it also lets you use automatic email marketing with RSS feeds and social media. Note: Feedblitz isn’t free. The fee for 100 to 499 subscribers is currently listed as $9.98 USD per month.

WordPress – WordPress has its own email subscription tool, called Subscribe2, that’s built-in to the system. If you have a WordPress blog all you have to do is implement this plugin.  If you want to send HTML emails then you’ll need to upgrade to Subscribe2 HTML which costs $40 USD.

MailChimp – Unlike Feedburner and Feedblitz, with MailChimp’s RSS-to-email tool you can use your own customized HTML email templates. Open rate and click tracking, bounce management, list cleaning, and spam filter check are also included.

Do you use an RSS-to-email tool? How is it affecting your marketing efforts?

How to leverage free image hosting for your email campaign

06/16/2010 Leave a comment

If you’re relying on your email service provider (ESP) to store the images you use in your emails, pretty soon you’ll use up all the free storage space available to you. Instead of paying your ESP for more storage, I recommend posting your photos on a free photo hosting site, such as Picasa or Flickr. Once a photo is posted on one of these sites, you can easily link to it through your email.

Picasa and Flickr are my two favorites, but there are many others. Picasa organizes your images locally on your computer’s hard drive, hosts your images online, and also offers tools to edit your images.

If you’ve never used a photo sharing site before, these instructions will show you how to post your photos on Picasa Web Albums.

Whenever you insert an image into your email, remember to title it in the “Description” field. Give it a name that will be meaningful to your readers, or perhaps an invitation to click through to your site, for example, “Learn more about the company” and link it to your “About Us” page. This will ensure that text will appear even if the image fails to load in recipients’ inboxes. It’s considered a best practice.

Measuring your Campaign

06/11/2010 1 comment

If you’re using an email service provider (ESP) to manage your email campaign, you’ll receive loads of data about the success of each email you deliver, kind of like a score. Lately there’s been lots of discussion about standardization of these metrics, because the truth is, not everyone agrees on the definitions. You’ll need to understand what this data means in order to put it to good use to improve future campaigns. Below is a list of the main metrics you’ll typically see in your analysis report.

Delivery Rate: The number of emails that are successfully delivered (not blocked by spam filters or bounced) as a percentage of the total number of emails sent.

Open Rate: How many recipients opened the message. Open rates can be misleading (if recipients preview messages that could be an open) and should be used as a relative measurement. Unique opens measures the number of individuals who open a message, not the total number of times a message was opened.

Click-through Rate (CTR): The number of recipients who clicked on a link or image within an email which led them to content on a website.

Pass-alongs: The number of recipients who forward the message along to a friend or colleague.

Unsubscribes (opt-outs): The number of recipients who ask to have their email address removed from the mailing list.

Bounces: The number of emails that did not reach their destination and were “bounced back” to the sender. Technically, information is included with the returned message that allows the sender to know why the message was undeliverable. These are generally categorized as “hard bounces” and “soft bounces.”

Hard bounces: The failed delivery of an email due to a permanent reason like a non-existent address. (It’s best to retire hard bounces immediately by removing the email address from your mailing list.)

Soft bounces: An email which bounces back due to a fault or unavailability of space in the user’s inbox. (It’s best to continue to send emails to soft bounces over 3 or 4 separate campaigns and retire the email addresses that continue to bounce.)

Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR):
An important measure of the effectiveness of your email message. This metric is the ratio of unique clicks as a percentage of unique opens. Essentially, it’s a measure of how effective your message is in motivating the recipient to click a link once they have opened the message. This measure demonstrates the involvement and engagement of your recipients.

Take a look at these industry benchmarks and compare the metrics of your own campaign.

Choosing the right email service provider

05/25/2010 Leave a comment

Find the right fitOnce you’ve decided to begin an email marketing campaign the first step is to pick an email service provider, right? Wrong. Think of selecting an ESP like buying a car. Before you show up at a dealership, you have to decide what you’ll be using it for. Will you be driving it every day? What’s your budget? Do you plan to use it to transport bulky or heavy loads? Answering these questions will help you to quickly narrow down your options and eventually find the best fit for your needs.

Before you begin shopping, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Frequency: How often will I deliver messages?
2. Size: How many subscribers do I want or think I can acquire?
3. Tools: Do I need special customization and graphics?
4. Resources: What level of customer support am I looking for?
5. Cost: What’s my budget?

Once you’ve answered these questions to the best of your abilities, you’ll be able to whittle down your choices. Just like the process of buying a car, most email marketing services will allow you to take their product for a test drive, some for up to two months. This gives you time to use the tools, ask questions, even send out a few real campaigns completely for free.

Here’s a list of criteria you can use to judge the services while you’re testing them out.

1. Ease of Use: Is the dashboard intuitive, especially when it comes to adding, deleting, and editing recipient addresses?
2. Feature set: Do the available templates work for you? Does it matter to you if readers recognize the same format from other newsletters? Does the service offer forward-to-a-friend, segmentation, and other abilities your campaign will require?
3. Email Campaign Creation: How easy is it to actually create and format the newsletter?
4. Campaign Reporting: Is the data the reporting tools provide valuable to you?
5. Help & Support: How easy is it to access customer support and have your questions answered? Is there a customer forum?

When choosing a provider, small business owners must determine the feature set and pricing model that works best for their business. In the past, most small businesses “blasted” the same message to their entire list. Most email service providers offer the basics to enable this type of communication. But businesses and consumers have become more sophisticated and more demanding. They want only specific types of information and offers and promotions at specific times. This is where the more advanced features such as segmentation and email automation play a role. Small businesses who want to ensure their email gets delivered and opened should look for more advanced features to help them improve overall campaign performance.

I already have an email account. Why do I need an email marketing service?

05/13/2010 Leave a comment

The first question that arises at the onset of any type of project is usually what tools are needed to get started. If you’re undertaking an email marketing campaign your instinct might be to simply use the tools you already have: your personal email account. But there are several reasons why your email account is not only inadequate for the job, but also a risky choice.

An email marketing service (EMS) offers email Standard email programs are not designed for email marektingmarketing and bulk email services. Unlike your regular email account, EMSes are intended to send email to large recipient lists, accommodate custom graphic design, and track all actions taken by recipients. Sending an email to a large recipient list from your personal email account may trigger spam filters to categorize your email as junk. EMSes maintain relationships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to ensure that all your emails sent through their systems are not blocked by spam filters.

The major EMSes comply by the CAN-SPAM Act, which is imperative to avoid becoming blacklisted. Everything you need to do in order to be a legal email marketer is already built-in to the system as well as time-tested best practices. If you choose to use your personal email account to deliver marketing messages, you run the risk of becoming blacklisted by the major ISPs. Protect your personal and corporate IP addresses by not using them to send “bulk” email.