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Why Isn't My Email Marketing Working?

By Abbie Drew
Posted Thursday, September 2, 2004

Success with email is determined by 3 factors. If you fail to consider these 3 points in your email marketing efforts your results will suffer.

The first factor is building your own in-house permission list.

You will not find success with email marketing if you've purchased a list of generic opt^n or co-registration leads. In today's email environment, with spam filling our mailboxes, a message sent out to generic leads is only going to end up in the trash can.

To build your in-house permission email list you have to persuade people to sign-up to receive your specific information. What's more you also have to convince your new sign-ups to whitelist your "From" email address.

What is whitelisting?

Whitelisting means the new subscriber has to enter your "From" email address into their email program's trusted list of senders. Getting your email address whitelisted is becoming essential to having your email messages seen and read.


Up until recently only a minority of individuals have taken the time to put in place and use spam filtering software. According to a recent Double Click 2003 consumer email survey it has just been about a third of Internet users. Now, however, the new email software programs being released to the marketplace have built in spam filters. In these new programs, the default setting has the spam filters activated, making it unlikely that users will turn off the filters.

I reviewed in a previous article the difficulties with AOL's new 9.0 default email filters. (See - ( I recently learned that Microsoft's new Outlook 2003 has similar default settings.

Outlook is the predominant email software on the Internet. As people upgrade to the 2003 version your emails are going to be effected unless your subscribers have whitelisted your "From" address.

What are some of the new Outlook 2003 default settings?

It has a number of algorithms that evaluate the content of your message to determine whether your email belongs in the Junk Mail folder. It also prevents all external images and graphics from being displayed. As a result, if you're sending HTML emails the format may be distorted and you'll no longer be able to track open rates.

The only way to prevent the default settings in AOL 9.0 and Outlook 2003 from effecting your messages is to be whitelisted.

So how do you get your subscribers to whitelist your address?

The obvious step is to note on your subscription sign-up form your "From" email address. I also would encourage new sign-ups to whitelist your address. You may want to provide instruction on your web site on "how to" whitelist to assist newbies.

Listing out your "From" email address on your site has another benefit, recognition. The Double Click 2003 consumer email survey found the number one reason an individual opens an email is because they recognize who the message is "From". Therefore, making sure your new subscribers know your "From" address up front will increase readership.

A notice about your "From" address and a call to whitelist your email address, however, is not enough to ensure your email marketing success.

The second factor to email marketing success is delivering compelling content.

Your email messages have to provide the information your subscribers want. When subscribers are interested enough in your information they will sign-up, whitelist your address and read your messages.

What makes compelling content?

Relevant information! Your emails have to deliver material on a subject matter about which your subscribers are interested. If your subscribers sign-up for updates on shoes, you need to send shoe information. If your subscribers sign-up for updates on wine, you need to send wine information.

You may need to sub divide your lists further depending upon what you sell. Thus if you sell shoes to consumers as well as to retailers, you'll need 2 separate lists. As information for consumers is not relevant to retailers and vice versa.

Providing relevant information is the most important factor to getting a subscriber to read your emails. Variety is also a critical component to compelling content. Continually present different offers, different viewpoints, different interest items, while staying focused on the targeted subject matter and you'll keep your readers' attention.

Here are some ideas to spice up your email messages.

1) Discount sales offers.
In fact, I learned from the Double Clicks 2003 consumer email study, close to 60% of those surveyed said they open email with a discount offer in the subject.

2) Special coupons or certificates.
Why not occasional set-up deals for your subscribers with other vendors in your field and send out coupons for those products/services.

3) Run contests and games.
Everyone loves to play games and win free prizes! Give your subscribes the chance to have some fun.

4) Use varying visual images and graphics in your content. Add a regular cartoon, or new catchy photos or helpful charts to your emails. If your images are interesting people will open up your messages just to take a peak at what you've created this time around.

5) News and Information
While sales, special offers and pictures add depth to your emails, don't forget the importance of keeping your subscribers up to date on the latest findings in your industry. Again citing the Double Click 2003 consumer email study, close to 50% said compelling news and information will prompt them to open emails.

Use these ideas to make each of your emails different, while staying relevant and you'll increase your readership. As your readership improves so too will your email results.

The Double Clicks 2003 consumer email study also raises the third important factor to your success with email marketing - the necessity to avoid over delivery of your email.

Close to 2/3rds of those surveyed defined spam as email that comes too often, even though that email may have been permission based or from a company with whom they've done business.

If your subscribers are being overwhelmed by your email, because they think it comes too frequently, your email will be labeled spam. All your efforts to be whitelisted and deliver great content will be wasted and into the trash your email will go.

How do you prevent your email from being perceived as spam?

It's as simple as asking. Survey your current subscribers to find out how often they would like to receive your emailings. Take their suggestions and develop a handful of options for your readers. Set-up separate lists accordingly. You could have daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly mailed lists. Offer your subscribers their choice of frequency and then deliver on their preferred schedule.

If your email marketing results have been suffering recently, consider the 3 factors I've reviewed. Are you taking all of the steps you can to 1) make sure your email is whitelisted so it will get through, 2) make sure your email has relevant variety so it will be read and 3) make sure it's being sent only when your subscriber wants it?

When you follow these guidelines, you'll find email marketing really does work. Not only do I know email marketing works from my own experiences but studies show email works. The most recent study results being from Double Click's 2003 consumer email survey which noted that 67% of individuals had purchased from an email promotion they'd received.

Make sure your emails are on target and you too will have success from your email marketing.

About the Author
Double Click 2003 Consumer Email Study (


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