Marketing by email, commonly referred to as ‘e-shots’, has grown hugely in popularity over the past few years. Windowbase data can be used to send e-shots and we also offer a full E-shot service  to regular subscribers to our data and customers who prefer to buy one-off labels.

It’s part science – part ‘Black Art’!

If you are used to doing postal mailshots, the process of marketing by email may come as a bit of a surprise. With postal direct marketing you design your letter, postcard or brochure to look exactly as you want. Usually images are the main focus, as they say so much more than words ever can. Every printed copy looks exactly the same. You post items out and know they will be delivered. Unfortunately, marketing by email is not like that.

The way you set up copy makes a big difference

Most peoples’ email systems prevent images being displayed when emails are first delivered. And the vast majority of people (commonly over 80%) do not click to view the images – especially where emails come from unfamiliar sources. The way your copy is set up needs to reflect this and fundamentally changes how e-shots need to be designed. Unless you know the tricks of the trade, emails may look quite different when delivered (especially on mobiles) from the way you designed them, with images and text being in different places. This is because emails use a stripped-down version of HTML (the language behind web page design) hence what works on a web page may not work in an email.

Evading spam filters – it’s a cat and mouse game!

The next stage is making sure your email is delivered to inboxes, not junk folders or, worse still, rejected altogether. Peoples’ email systems are constantly looking to filter out ‘spam’ – unsolicited commercial or otherwise unwanted email (such as your unknown friend in a far-off land that needs your help to move a forgotten £1 million from their bank!). Every email is filtered on receipt and there are several factors that can result in your message failing to reach inboxes:

  • Does it contain too many ‘spam words’, such as: free; sale; special offer; new; buy now etc. Each word is given a score and if the total exceeds the threshold, your email will be junked or rejected.
  • Is the ratio of images to text acceptable? Having too little text or too many images will stop your email reaching inboxes.
  • Is the email too big? File sizes exceeding 100kb (excluding images) will attract unwanted attention from spam filters.
  • Are there too many external links – and are links set up correctly? The more links you include, the higher the spam rating will be. It’s also better to include hyperlinks (eg. ‘Visit our website’) rather than displaying URLs (eg ‘Visit our website www.windowbase.info’)
  • Don’t forget that subject lines can be major sources of spam words – so make sure you write them carefully.
  • Avoid using a ‘cloaked’ email address. Some commercial software for sending bulk emails allows you to send e-shots that appear to have been sent from your normal email address. The problem is that recipients’ software is getting increasingly clever at spotting this – and junking or rejecting these emails. The reason is that every email includes a hidden ‘header’ that includes the IP address of the server that sent it. If an email address has been ‘cloaked’ there will be a disparity between the expected IP address and the one that actually sent it.

What is a ‘bounce’?

Emails that are not delivered are described as having ‘bounced’. There are two distinct forms of bounce, although the lines between them are blurring. ‘Soft bounce’: is where a recipient’s mail system believes the email contains spam – or where it breaches their defined email protocols (eg file size too large, contains attachments or has image paths containing more than one full stop). ‘Hard bounce’: also referred to as ‘bad addresses’. These are email addresses where either the mailbox (eg paul@) or domain (windowbase.info) do not exist.

A good e-shot system will identify whether a bounce was hard or soft and if a hard bounce, which was the problem part of the email address. However increasingly sophisticated anti-spam systems are reporting hard bounces even where the address was good. This is because most e-shot systems will automatically suppress hard-bounced addresses and will not attempt to send to them again – so it’s seen as a way of permanently cutting down spam.

How many people read my email?

That’s a tough question! Commercial e-shot systems can track recipient activity – but only to an extent. For example, they can report delivery rates by subtracting bounced emails from the total sent – but they can’t tell you whether the delivered ones went to people’s inboxes or junk folders. It’s impossible to tell whether someone has ‘opened’ your email unless they download the images (assuming your e-shot includes images) or clicking any links. However if they do, it is possible to not only count these people but identify exactly who they are. It’s for this reason you often see the message ‘Images have been withheld to protect your privacy’.

‘Open’ rates vary considerably and will depend on how much people are encouraged to view images or follow links – but should ideally be 20% or more. People who simply read the text content (which is always visible) but don’t click any images or links cannot be counted (or identified).

Other statistics

As mentioned above, it’s possible to track whether users downloaded images or followed links – and which links they clicked. Analysis of these figures over time can help to identify styles of copy and types of offers that result in greater interaction.

If you have an analytics package on your website you can also track what happened to people who clicked through from an e-shot. Did they visit other pages – and if so, what products or services did they view – or did they leave your site without drilling down any further.

How effective is email marketing?

As with all forms of marketing, it depends on whether you targeted the right people, with the right products, at the right time and in the right way. However, the added challenges of getting your message into peoples’ inboxes does make the results of email marketing more difficult to predict. Emails are also somewhat easier to disregard than other forms of direct marketing, such as letters, postcards or brochures. It’s generally accepted that postal marketing achieves a bigger response than email marketing – but with its lower costs, email marketing can be a very cost-effective medium.

Where budgets allow, the ideal solution is to use a mix of postal and email marketing, as each complements the other. Postal marketing adds credibility to e-shots, driving up ‘open’ rates – and email marketing enables you to contact people more often and gives recipients response options that require the least effort.

Why can’t I just copy and paste lots of email addresses into Outlook?

There are two reasons. Firstly, displaying other peoples’ email addresses in the ‘to’ field would breach the Data Protection Act. You could paste them into the ‘Bcc’ field but that only solves one problem! The second reason is that spam filters will immediately spot all those addresses and either junk or reject the email. To maximise delivery success rates, each email needs to be individually addressed.

Where can I get help with email marketing?

Windowbase offers free advice on email marketing to its subscribers. We also provide a full E-shot service, which takes all of the work off you – leaving you free to handle the response!

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