The Right Mail List Technology

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There are several ways that you can manage your mail list:

  • Use your email program (not recommended).
  • Use mail list software.
  • Outsource your mail list management.

Using Your Email Program

Although managing your mail list through your email program might look like a great option in that it doesn’t cost you anything and is run from your desktop, giving you ultimate control, there are severe limitations.

Your email program doesn’t easily afford you the opportunity to segment your mail list—those who asked to receive your newsletter versus those who asked to receive notification when you update your What’s New section, for example.

Your email program doesn’t generally provide the technology to quickly and easily personalize your communication—that is, insert the recipient’s first name in designated areas within the email. Email programs do not provide much in the way of tracking information, either.

It would be nice to be able to track such things as how many people opened your email, how many sent a copy to a friend, and how many clicked through and visited your Web site. The tracking technology is generally available only
through mail list software or from the third party that manages your mail list marketing if you choose to outsource this activity.

Another drawback is the administrative headache of manually managing all the “Subscribes,” “Unsubscribes,” and “Changes of Email Address,” particularly when you have multiple sign-up opportunities on your Web site— for example, someone wants to unsubscribe from your e-specials but still wants to receive your newsletter and coupons. The time really has come when you need to invest in mail list software or outsource if you want to take this element of online marketing seriously.

Using Mail List Software

There are numerous mail list management software programs available to help you organize your list distribution. (See Internet Resources at http://www.SusanSweeney.com for links to mail list software programs.) This software enables you to easily add or remove subscribers. Mail list management software enables you to draft and send properly formatted html and text messages directly from within the software, and it generally allows you to personalize your emails quickly and easily.

Most of these programs can be integrated with your Web site so that people can add themselves to your list right from the site. You can also use this software to set up notification mechanisms to reply to subscribers, confirming that they have been added to the list. This makes running your mail list less time-consuming, as the software does most of the work for you.

Using your own mail list software requires an initial investment to purchase the program or an ongoing cost if you use an application service provider (ASP)—a company that develops the mail list software and provides it to you as a monthly or annual service rather than as a product. The major advantage to this model is that as new bells and whistles are introduced, they are immediately available to all users of the software.

The cost to purchase software can range from an entry-level program at $99 to a robust, full-featured program at $2,500. The ASP model could cost you from $30 a month to several thousand dollars if you use an application that charges you per email sent and you have a very large database.

Some of these programs run from your desktop; others have to be run from your server or through your Internet service provider. Many of the ASP model programs are run from the ASP’s server. Most of these programs are sophisticated enough to allow you to segment the email addresses in your database so you know who has asked to receive what from your Web site.

Most of these programs have the personalization capability to allow you to insert a recipient’s first name throughout the correspondence and in the subject line of the message as well. For this to work, you have to capture the first names for each email address in your database. Keep this in mind when asking people if they’d like to give you permission to send them email for whatever reason—in addition to their email address, have a mandatory field for their first name.

More and more of these programs are incorporating tracking features to let you know what’s working and what’s not. From an administrative perspective, many of these programs do a great job of adding new “Subscribes,” deleting
“Unsubscribes,” and managing undeliverable addresses. This feature alone is worth its weight in gold.

Features to look for in mail list software include:

  • Personalization capability—You want to be able to personalize each email by inserting the recipient’s first name in the subject line, in the salutation, and throughout the body of your message.
  • HTML capability—You want to be able to send HTML email (email that looks like a Web page rather than text), which gets much higher readership than text email.
  • Message editor—You want to be able to bring up a past email, edit it, and resend it to a group.
  • Previews—You want to be able to preview your message before you send it to make sure the formatting is correct, the personalization is working, and the message looks great.
  • Spam checker—The spam checker is a valuable tool to ensure that your message has the best chance of being received and not being rejected as spam. You want to be able to run your message through the spam checker to see how you score before you send any message. Today, if you score 5.0 or higher in the spam checker, you will want to edit your message to reduce your score before you send.
  • Dynamic personalization—Each message is personalized based on the individual’s priorities and preferences.
  • Filtering—This feature allows you to send specific messages to parts of your list. You could send a message only to those individuals in a specific state by filtering on the name of the state. You could send a message only to those interested in football if you have that information in a field in your database.
  • Scheduling—This allows you to prearrange to send your email at a specific future time and date. Great if you want to set up all of your “Tips of the Week” in advance, or if you are going to be traveling when you want your newsletter to be sent out.
  • Autoresponders—Some mail list software applications have autoresponders built in. See Chapter 10 for details on their uses.
  • Web site integration—You want your mail list software to work with your Web site so when someone subscribes from your site, his or her contact information is automatically included in your mail list software. If someone wants to unsubscribe or change contact information, this can be taken care of through your site or through the emails you have sent. This really cuts down on the administration you have to deal with.
  • Reporting and tracking—Some mail list software provides reports on messages sent (audience selected, date sent, clicks, total sent, number of bounces), subscriber activity (subscribes, unsubscribes, emails opened), link tracking, and bounce activity (number of undeliverables, hard bounces, soft bounces).

Outsourcing Your Mail List

A third option is to outsource your mail list management to a third party. There are companies that specialize in this service that have a great depth of experience. One such company that we have had the pleasure to work with is Inbox360.com (http://www.inbox360.com).

When you outsource this activity, of course you have a monthly service fee. The software is run from the outsource company’s server or its ISP’s server.

Virtually all of the mail list service providers have the latest software, allowing you to personalize your messages, segment your lists, and get great tracking reports. Generally, administrative issues like adding the “Subscribes,” deleting “Unsubscribes,” and managing the undeliverables are handled by software used by the outsource company.

On the down side, you might lose some control—over content, over your customer, and over timing of your message release. It is imperative to have a clearly laid-out contract with the outsource company, addressing:

  • Ownership of email addresses
  • Use of email addresses
  • Timing of correspondence
  • Final approval of content
  • Responsibility and timelines for replies to subscribers.

It is important that you retain ownership of all email addresses and that the contract clearly states that all subscribers’ names and email addresses are the property of your company. Also include in the contract that you are provided with the current list in digital format every month. This way, if you decide to change service providers, your list goes with you. It takes a lot of effort to build your list, and it is a very valuable asset. Make sure you protect it.

Make sure that your contract clearly states that your email addresses are not to be used by anyone else or provided to anyone else for any purpose whatsoever. People on your list have given you their email addresses in confidence. They
trust that you will not abuse the relationship. Make sure it is in your power to live up to that expectation.

Make sure that you have final control over the timing of your communications. It is important that your messages be delivered when you want them delivered. Timing is everything.

Make sure that your contract has a clause that permits you to approve the final content going out to your list. You want to see and approve everything. You want to make sure the formatting is the way you want it; you want to be sure the personalization is working as it should; and you want to make sure there is no problem with graphics or word wrap.

You want to have a clear understanding with the outsource company regarding replies from messages going out to your list. Often the “From” field, although it looks like it is coming from you, is actually an address that resides with the outsource company. Discuss and agree on what happens when a recipient replies to your communication. Where does it go? When does it go? To receive a batch of replies three weeks after your communication went out is not acceptable.

There are certain benefits to outsourcing this activity to a third party that specializes in mail list marketing. This is their core responsibility. Often the outsource company has been involved in many campaigns—gaining expertise in what works and what doesn’t. Often they can help you tweak your content or format to help achieve your objectives. Also, outsourcing this activity to a competent third party frees up your time and allows you to focus on other priorities.