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Small Business Websites That Work newsletter, September 2002

Making email newsletters work for you

It's cheap and it's fast, but is email really an effective communication means for you? Most people who have been online for a while are buried in email messages every time they go online. With junk emails (often called 'spam') and viruses making up a huge proportion of many people's mailboxes, the medium is losing its impact and any messages that don't look interesting on receipt don't even get opened.

Sure, your customers might have asked to sign up to your newsletter, but they probably subscribed to lots of others too and they're busy people. So how can you make sure that your messages get through? Here are some tips on making email effective for you.

  • Don't buy in mailing lists and don't automatically subscribe people to your newsletter. You'll lose all credibility if you're perceived to be spamming people. If you need to broaden your newsletter promotions, look at placing adverts in content-led newsletters instead. Some people say that buying in addresses works because people don't ask to be removed. In truth, they don't ask to be removed because they don't trust you not to send them more spam once they've confirmed their email address works. You can't build a business on distrust.
  • Think of your newsletter like a magazine or newspaper: give it distinct sections so people can build up a relationship with it and skim read it easily. Use headlines, introductions and keep text snappy. Read these articles for advice on writing for the web and advice on writing words that sell.
  • Don't just email adverts unless that's what people have signed up for, and even then give them something special like a discount or a pre-release product order. Emails should be useful or entertaining, and always worthwhile. If you're on the hard sell all the time, people will soon lose interest. Deliver on the promise you made that persuaded people to give you their email addresses.
  • Make sure that the sender's name is your website or company name and not the name of an individual in the company who sends or edits the newsletter. First-time readers will recognise your company and respond to it but might dismiss an email apparently from a stranger as junk mail.
  • Have a subject that makes it clear what the email is about and where it's come from. Don't have a subject like 'Great news for September!' which could hide anything from the typical dodgy sex, drugs and finance realms of spam. Instead, have a title like 'Sean.co.uk - Business book information'.
  • Protect your customers' privacy. If you're using a standard email program to send your newsletter, always use the BCC feature which will stop all the recipients from getting the whole list of email addresses the message was sent to. Even if your mailing list members are trustworthy, you can't be sure that their computers won't get infected with a virus and then spread it to all your customers once they find the addresses in your newsletter. And while you might trust all your customers, the customers might not trust each other and you'll get the flak for leaking personal information to strangers.
  • Protect your computers with anti-virus software and keep it updated. Would it surprise you to know that most viruses in the wild can be stopped by antivirus software now? That means that it's laziness in updating software that allows computer viruses to spread. If you send someone a long-defeated virus, you'll lose all credibility.
  • Make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your mailing lists. Just because you're losing a mailing list member, it doesn't mean you're losing a customer, yet. But make it hard for people to change their subscription options and they'll take their custom elsewhere.

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