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Autoresponders: What, Why and How

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Autoresponders offer a different way of making your blog’s list more valuable. Autoresponders – mailings that send predefined content on a schedule – allow you to interact with your list beyond the traditional content-driven approach bloggers typically used. You end up with more opportunities to interact with, sell to and learn from your audience.

With a little imagination and a look through your archives, autoresponders are a great way to get closer to your subscribers and increase their financial value to you.

In this issue of List Building for Bloggers you will learn
  • What is an autoresponder
  • How subscribers can join an autoresponder
  • Planning your autoresponder content
  • Delivering Incentives
  • Multi-Step Autoresponders
  • Using Autoresponders to Sell: Drip Marketing
  • Serializing eBooks
  • Testing
As usual, at the end of the article is a set of action items for you to put into practice right now.

[This is the eighth article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the #LBB posts]

What is an Autoresponder?

As mentioned above, an autoresponder is merely a fixed sequence of one or more emails that is sent to a subscriber once she joins the autoresponder’s mailing list. Once the sequence has been sent to the recipient, they no longer receive further mailings from that list. There’s a detailed explanation, with examples, of how an autoresponder differs from a typical blog-powered mailing list here at the FeedBlitz Knowledge Base.

Autoresponders are called “autoresponders” because they’re most often started automatically in response to an event, such as a subscriber joining your main mailing list. In a sense, when an autoresponder starts up for a new subscriber, their single activation adds them to two distinct lists: the mailing list they’re opting in to, and the autoresponder that is spawned as a result of that activation.

Autoresponders can be single emails (e.g. “thank you for subscribing”) or complex multi-step sequences, such as email courses. They’re often used for what’s called “drip marketing.” No matter what you use an autoresponder for, you must treat it like your main blog’s mailings. Content should be relevant, calls to action direct, subject lines compelling etc. Having got your subscriber onto the autoresponder, don’t flub it!

How Subscribers Join an Autoresponder

The majority of autoresponders are event-based; subscribers are added to the responder after some other automated action takes place. These events could be:
  • Activating a subscription
  • Completing a registration form (e.g. for a product, site, webcast, contest, survey or download)
  • Buying a product or service from you.
Don’t just think online: An “event” can also be a real-world event, such as attending a seminar, conference or course. As long as you have explicit permission from offline event attendees, an autoresponder is a great way to thank them for showing up.

More sophisticated marketers can also use the lack of an event to trigger targeted autoresponders. So the lack of the desired event taking place, such as abandoning a shopping cart, not completing a payment form, failing to download the software, not making that donation, can trigger an autoresponder to encourage the visitor to finish the play.

Finally, subscribers can join an autoresponder just like they do your mailing list: via an online form. This is ideal if you’re promoting a serialized email-based course, for example. The subscriber simply signs up and receives lesson one immediately!

Planning your Autoresponder Content

Since there are many different uses for autoresponders, the content can vary greatly. Remember, though, no matter what, each mailing should feature these two items:
  • Relevant content
  • Direct call to action
Even if your autoresponder is a simple, single “thank you for subscribing” message, make it work for you. Tell the recipient to visit your list of most popular posts, or follow you on Twitter, or friend you on Facebook. Got an app? Tell them to download it. You get the idea!

Delivering Incentives

In an earlier List Building for Bloggers article I discussed using incentives as a way to help grow your list faster. An autoresponder is the way to deliver that sign up reward to new subscribers. Place the incentive, such as your coupon, discount code or link to a download, into the autoresponder’s first article and you deliver instant gratification to your new subscriber, proving you can be trusted. Don’t forget to add a call to action!

Multi-Step Autoresponders

Autoresponders can have more than one email in their sequence. So once they start, they keep sending to the recipient until the sequence completes. As you plan your sequence, make sure that it matches your subscriber’s expectations. If they are signing up for a 13-week email course on (say) becoming a better photographer, send them their next lesson once a week. Daily would be overwhelming. On the other hand, if your pitch is “ten days to be a better rose gardener” then a daily mailing is clearly appropriate.

If your multi-step autoresponder isn’t directly signed up for but is instead triggered by an external event, a daily send might be too much (leading to higher than necessary unsubscribe rates) if you are also sending a more-or-less daily mailing from your blog. Pace the autoresponder appropriately based on the other mailings you’d typically expect to send during the autoresponder’s sequence.

For bloggers, a great way to set up a multi-step responder is to mix and match content once every 3-7 days as the sequence unfolds. You might, for example:
  1. Start with a “thank you” and send the incentive to the new subscriber
  2. Send a list of your most popular posts and invite them to browse
  3. Send the outline of your eBook and invite them to download / buy the whole thing
  4. Send a survey about your site and offerings – how can you improve?
  5. Send a hints and tips article from the archives on a relevant subject
  6. Got other sites or more than one mailing list? Invite them to take a look.
  7. Any archived videos, webcasts? These are great for autoresponders
  8. Send an affiliate link to a relevant product or vendor
  9. Another survey – would they recommend you to a friend? Why? Why not?
  10. Testimonials and recommendations
  11. Useful third party resources
  12. ... etc.
If you have strong content (and you do – you’re a blogger), multi-step autoresponders are great ways to repurpose older editorial as long as it’s still relevant.

Finally, here’s a great multi-step tip: Reward someone for sticking with the sequence. So every mailing might have a post script hinting that there’s an even better reward for staying with the program – and then, in the last mailing in the sequence, you deliver it.

Using Autoresponders to Sell

In the above example sequence we presented two direct opportunities to sell directly from the autoresponder itself – an eBook and an affiliate link.

You can also use them for “Drip Marketing” – a term beloved by internet marketers everywhere. Basically, the idea is that it takes about 7 interactions (say 3 to 10) with a new contact before they’ll buy from you. So having got them onto a list, you can use your autoresponder to repeatedly market to them and ask them to buy.

Use your responder to displace competitors and promote your self with a buying tips guide, for example. If you’re more a consumer-based sale, consider offering an increasing discount the further into the sequence you get to see if you can push them over the edge and get them to buy. This last approach – increasingly powerful offers as time goes by, along with other incentives such as free shipping – works particularly well if your autoresponder is being initiated by an “event” such as shopping cart abandonment.

Ideal content for drip marketing autoresponders includes:
  • Sample videos and other collateral
  • Testimonials and case studies
  • Getting started tips
  • Links to user groups
  • Sample products
  • Increasing discounts
  • Bundling products
  • Price beaks on shipping etc.
The great thing about using drip marketing for sales is that your autoresponder can start to function as a mini-ATM machine, giving you cash 24x7 while all you do is blog. It's doing the heavy lifting for you!

Author, Author!

Finally, a great use for autoresponders is content serialization. If you have an eBook –and they’re increasingly popular these days – deliver a section a day or a chapter a week (hmm, just like List Building for Bloggers!) – to reward new subscribers. Or, send the first three chapters as part of your drip marketing campaign to get the recipient to buy the whole book.

Testing the Results

Not sure what’s going to work best? Test. For incentive autoresponders, mix up your offer every week or every month and see what happens. For multi-step drip marketing autoresponders, try mixing up the order of your offers and see if that affects take up. Examine the results, optimize, and reap the rewards.

Your Action Items

  • Establish a simple “Thank You Autoresponder” NOW
  • Create a reward for subscribing and deliver it on your autoresponder
  • Build a multi-step autoresponder from repurposed content / eBooks
  • If you use a shopping cart see if you can implement abandonment mailings
  • Measure, optimize, repeat!

For FeedBlitz Users

  • Create a simple one-step “Thank You for Subscribing” autoresponder for your mailing at Newsletters | Settings | Content Settings | Autoresponder and Subscriber Activation Settings
  • For all other autoresponder needs, use the Responders tab, where you can create multi-step autoresponders, define branding, import subscribers, link them to mailing lists and more.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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One Less Thing to Do, by Scott Howard

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

One Less Thing to Do

It was supposed to be a paperless society.

It was supposed to save us time.

"It" was the personal computer.

Then the Internet.

Followed by Email, and social media which includes Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and about 40 to 400 more options that will come and go.

Each new advancement in communication is supposed to make us more money and/or save us time.

But there is a tipping point, a point where you might feel that it is all pointless?

Your email marketing campaign, your blog posts, your tweets, status updates, all take time and who is reading them anyway?

So you contemplate dropping one, two, or three of them, not really sure which ones to keep doing.

There is another option that I discovered a few years ago, and you are reading it right now.


I write 36 blog posts every single week, on three different blogs. Plus about 4 other posts a month on a couple more blogs.

I do this in my free time along with working 50+ hours a week in advertising and marketing for a group of radio stations, serving on a few local boards and advisory committees and having family time and a weekly date night with my wife.

Each blog covers different subject material, and appeal to different people.

Instead of me composing a newletter, FeedBlitz does it for me. Readers can subscribe to any and all or just the one that most suits their interest. FeedBlitz pulls my blog posts and sends them via e-mail to subscribers.

One Less Thing to do, thanks to Feedblitz.

About the Author

Scott Howard adopted the name ScLoHo several years ago so he would not be confused with the Michael J. Fox charater in the 1985 movie "Teenwolf".

His 25 years of advertising and marketing business includes radio, print and a variety of social media outlets.

He is most active on Twitter @ScLoHo and his blogs which can be found at http://www.scloho.net/; or simply Google ScLoHo and you'll find him.

He can be contacted at 260-710-7078 and Scott@ScLoHo.net

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Mailing List Underperforming? Optimize it with these Tips!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tips and Strategies for Bloggers for Mailing List Optimization

Make the most of your blog's current mailing list by optimizing key elements of your posts and your emails to subscribers.

In this article you will learn about:
  • Prioritizing your Optimization Efforts
  • Subject Line Tips
    • The Short Attention-Span Inbox
    • Keeping It Short
    • Going Negative
    • The Benefits of Keywords
    • Numbers and Counts
    • Actionable Subjects
    • The Importance of Now
  • Avoiding Attention Drains
  • Your Email has been Opened – So What?
  • Full or Partial Posts
  • Measuring and Testing
At the end of the article is a set of action items for you to put into practice right now to improve your list's performance.

[This is the seventh article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the #LBB posts]

On List Optimization: Priorities

The next few sections of our List Building for Bloggers series are about maximizing the value you get from your list. Optimizing can yield great benefits for you and your readers, and can greatly increase both the value of the list to you as well as the value of your mailings to your subscribers.

But First, Back to Basics

That said, it is largely futile to start optimizing a list if you don't have the basics working properly. Or, more bluntly, there's no point worrying about writing the right subject line if your site visitors can't fund the subscription form on your site!

So if you're just starting with the series, or haven't yet take the actions recommended earlier in the series, please stop reading this article and get the basics in place first. These earlier articles in the List Building for Bloggers series are for you to read, mark and put into practice before you start an optimization effort:
  1. Why aren't Email Lists Dead in the Age of Social Media?
  2. Lists, Email Marketing and Your Blog
  3. Five Key Steps to Grow Your Blog's Mailing List
  4. Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth
  5. Growing Your List: Improving Engagement
  6. Avoiding the Spam Trap
Again, if you haven't got the basics in place any investment you're making in optimization won't yield the returns you want. It's essential to get the fundamentals right before you invest time and energy in optimization, testing and analytics.

Start Here

Still with me? Good. You're ready to take your list to the next level.

What you will NOT find out

The keys to successfully optimizing your mailing list (actually, pretty much optimizing anything) is to focus on the big wins first – the items that will give you the most bank for the buck. This means getting the basics right (see above) and then moving to the next level. At this point in the program, it does not mean worrying about what day or time your mailings go out, for example. You can optimize that too, to be sure – it's just not as big a win as the items I'm covering in this post.

Subject Line Optimization

Obviously, your email is no good if it doesn't get opened. So what you have to do is get the visitor to be so excited (or at least intrigued) by your email's subject line that they have no choice but to open it and read.

How do you do that? Well, by following good email copywriting rules, that's how. Here's what works:
  • Short subjects
  • Controversial headlines
  • Keywords
  • Numbers and counts
  • Actionable subjects
  • Timely or urgent posts
So an email entitled "Three tips to fix your awful subject lines now" is a good one – short, contains a number, is actionable ("tips to fix"), is controversial ("your awful subject lines"), elicits a sense of urgency ("now") and, for an email marketing blog, is keyword rich.

Since any decent blogger email system will automate the creation of your subject lines for you, and the subject line is likely to be your blog post's title, what this basically implies is that you need to think much harder about post titles.

The good news is that, if you think about punching up your subject lines, this will benefit all your automated marketing and social media activities. Short is sweet for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn headings too, and the casual readers there have the same attention span within which you have to seize their attention. Keyword rich post headlines are also great for SEO, so it's a discipline well worth building.

The Short Attention-Span Inbox

While I don't think that attention spans are declining globally, clearly to what and to whom we give our attention is changing. In particular, deciding whether to read an email from your blog is decided in the time it takes to read and (mis)understand your headline. Use that time wisely to hook your reader. All you have is a second or two, tops. Make the most of it.

Given this constraint, let's look at each of these subject line tips in a bit more detail.

Keep It Short

Not only do you have a short attention span reader, you have to contend with the width of the subject line in their inbox. If you "bury the lead" by having the meat of your subject line over at the far end then it is more likely not to fit in the column, which means that it is less likely your email will be read.

This is especially true if your readership is increasingly using mobile devices to read email first – and whose isn't? You have even less space there for the subject. On my BlackBerry, for example, there are only about 35 characters visible when I'm holding it in portrait mode. That isn't much. Get to the point quickly!

Go Negative: Embrace Controversy

Controversial or negative headlines do better than sweet happy subjects. It's the way we're wired. Like a newspaper, it's excitement – and perhaps a little shock value – that sells. So don't invite subscribers to improve or get better; that's too soft. Tell them they're failing and that you're here to help. Or lead with a negative statistic.

I'm not necessarily advocating being all doom and gloom all the time; that can be tiresome. By all means throw in a little positive attitude in there from time to time to mix it up. But controversy, like sex, sells. Open up your headlines to your inner dark side and enjoy!

SEO your Subject Lines: Use Keywords

The title tag is the most important part of any web page as far as search engines are concerned. So invest a minute in making it count. If you build your headline with SEO in mind it should become both short and keyword rich, perfect for effective email subject lines. Better for the bots, better for your readership.

Get Attention: Numbers and Counts

People love lists. And you might have noticed that many of the top bloggers and tweeters (?) use lists a lot. Three tips for this. Top ten techniques for that. Five ways to the other.

It isn't coincidence. Lists work. Especially short lists with a compelling result. Who wants to read 937 ways to improve their scrabble score? Nobody, that's who. Three surefire tricks to doubling your scrabble tally? Sign me up!

Be Imperative: Actionable Subjects

Firstly, subject lines that clearly show how the reader can benefit with real results are great, especially in this DIY age if you can make it quick or easy.

Secondly, don't ask for the order. Tell them to give it to you. So, although it may pain Ms. Manners, don't say please. Don't say if. Do not equivocate. Instead, tell the reader what you want them to do, and be assertive. So short verbs ("go", "fix", "click", "make", "find") using the imperative work really well. Don't be shy in your subject lines; compel the reader to open your email.

Avoid Procrastination: The Importance of Now

If you're writing time sensitive email, or your linking to an event, make that clear. If there's a deadline (e.g. "Ends tomorrow", "only 24 hours left") make it obvious.

If there isn't, you can make the email more likely to be opened if you can help the reader not be lazy and get back to you later (because, more than likely, they won't). So if you have tips, can they take your advice right now? Yes! Can opening this email make a difference immediately? Absolutely. Can you help them today? You bet!

Subject Line Attention Drains

On the other side of the equation, there are things that can easily drain attention, especially for bloggers using automated email subscription services like FeedBlitz. Some of these are the obvious opposites of the things you should be doing, such as:
  • Write long, boring titles
  • Bury the lead
  • Always being nice
  • Being too wordy
  • Always asking (if at all) instead of telling
  • Not being timely
There are other traps for the unwary, though. Here are some traps to avoid, especially for bloggers:

Don't repeat your blog's title or tagline in the subject line. Your readers know who you are and you don't do this in your blog posts. Don't do it to your email readership. Make sure the name the email is from identifies you instead and use your subject line more effectively.

Don't get cute. Some bloggers take pride in their "cute" headlines. This may be great for your blog (especially if you're less interested in SEO), but "cute" can easily be misinterpreted or ignored when your email is being scanned in the inbox. Unless your fans are so avid they open anything from you, try and keep your subject lines clear. If you really, really like cute but also want to goose your list's response rate, write your blog post with a subject-line friendly title, mail it, then change the title back to "cute" once the mailing's gone out.

Your Email's Been Opened – So What?

Again, good copy writing guidelines apply here. You want your emails to be easily read, appropriate for the audience, and match the subject line. If you paid attention in high school English you're probably going to do fine. Tune appropriately.

Three Times is The Charm

Your mailing should also be focused. The old presentation adage works fine here:
  1. Tell ‘em what you're going to tell ‘em
  2. Tell ‘em
  3. Tell ‘em what you just told ‘em.
Repetition works. Which is why, for example, most of the List Building for Bloggers #LBB posts have a "What you will learn" section at the top, and an "Action items" section at the bottom.

Don't Overwhelm your Readers with Choices

In sales, too many choices can deter a result - buyers get confused and don't know what to buy, so in the end they don't. Back when I was a fledgling VP at a previous firm, my CEO would always say that I should pick the one to three things I wanted the Board members to take away from my presentation. It was - and is - good advice. The same is true for your blog posts and emails you send. Too many choices or calls to action can have the opposite effect to what you want and actively reduce engagement.

Make Sure you Have Compelling Calls to Action

Make your calls to action like your subject lines – short, imperative, timely. Like the different classes of reader discussed here, calls to action should also accommodate scanners, readers and the picture-centric. Try placing your call to action into a big graphic button, for example. And if you're just writing editorial, at least ask them to retweet, like on Facebook or forward to a friend.

Don't Put the Milk in the Back Corner of the Store

Obviously, don't fib with your subject. But what I mean by this is that you shouldn't make your subject all about X, and then make your readers read about A, B and C before they get to X. That's like the grocery store which puts the milk at the back – they want you to pass all that yummy food on the way and make a couple of impulse purchases.

You don't need to do that (remember, you're limiting your calls to action); you'll lose your readership en route. Having hooked the reader with your subject line, deliver the goods up front. It's disrespectful to your readers to do anything else.

Full or Partial Posts

One way to increase engagement (at the risk of aggravating a portion of your readership) is to limit the content in your blog's email updates to partial posts.

You should see an increase in click throughs. You may also see a rash of unsubscribes from those who will only tolerate full content. If you do choose partial posts, make sure that you do the following:
  • Include enough post content in the email to hook the reader
  • Use an email app like FeedBlitz that retains formatting, links and images in partial posts
  • Use compelling calls to action to encourage click throughs

Measuring Results – Test, Baby, Test!

Rome wasn't built in a day – and nor will your results be. Your audience's interactions with your content will vary by season, the weather, holidays and – yes – by what you write. So collect engagement metrics – opens and click throughs, primarily – over several previous mailings. Try to get a baseline with at least 7 mailings; the more the better to reduce the effects of variations in any one mailing.

Then make ONE change (e.g. focusing on the subject line) – that way you isolate any effects to the change you're testing. You may see a difference immediately, but you should look at the engagement trend over a series of posts. See how your audience is starting to react and tune. Rinse and repeat for other optimization steps as the hard data comes in.

As you improve, you should also see improvements in softer, more anecdotal metrics: Retweets of your posts, greater comment activity or more Facebook likes, for example. See what works for your audience and engage back!

Your Action Items

  • Make sure you have the basics covered first
  • Establish your current open and click through metrics baseline
  • Change one factor at a time when testing
  • Keep subject lines imperative, short, and to the point
  • Keep your content focused
  • Make compelling calls to action…
  • … but not too many!

Next Up

Autoresponders, drip marketing and lead nurturing for your blog.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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Simplify Technology and Increase Readership

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Guest post by Juli Camarin.

I have issues. I want to publish my written work to the world only to find out that I am limited in time, money and, some might argue, talent. After a little R and D, I found a great solution called RSS, really simple syndication. When I built my RSS feed first, I thought I was living the high life. Imagine... a tool that allows you to publish to your blog once and then replicate the information seamlessly in multiple ways... Bloglines, Google Reader, other websites and yes, even the ever popular iTunes. I thought I had it made! After all, everyone knows that 'if you build it, they will come'... right?

Wrong! Although RSS feeds have made my life as a writer easier, unfortunately society as a whole doesn't understand them and people's eyes tend to glaze over once you mention subscribing this way. The problem isn't in the technology; the problem is that subscription can be cumbersome if you don't intuitively understand this technology. Because of it, less tech savvy individuals are reluctant to implement them for daily use. So, I was back where I began...tons a great information and minimal readership. There had to be an easier way!

I realized that if I was having this constant problem with RSS feeds, then chances were that millions of other bloggers were experiencing this issue as well. So then, the question became how could I utilize this amazing tool and make it easy for my readers at the same time? What I found was FeedBlitz. I realized I could let technology do the grunt work while I sat back and enjoyed the pure pleasure of writing. Sounds simple and easy right? Well with the right tools, it is just that...simple and easy!

FeedBlitz creates a delivery method for my feed that millions of users are familiar with... email. Simply put; this tool translates RSS feeds into email. What is beautiful about this application is by enabling a simple and easy sign up form on my website; users can subscribe and unsubscribe themselves to my feed without any additional work. And after the initial 3 minute setup, you can let this tool go to work and then forget about it. Your blog post comes into their inbox and looks just like a typical message. Since it takes no configuration on their part, it takes the guess work out of the subscription process.

Since implementing this tool my subscribers list has multiplied eight times. I have been able to connect with my readers on a proven platform instead of hoping they come back occasionally to read my posts. I’ve also noticed an increased amount of conversation and reposting on Facebook. This was none existent before but by adding the ever popular 'like’ button to my email, readers effortlessly promote my blog. The result was my fan page jumped from 50 fans to over 200 in a matter of one month without any additional marketing on my part.

Another great thing about this tool is that it dynamically lists past article titles, with links, in each email it sends. They neatly display under your current post. This is a great way to catch the skimmer's eye, converting to readership. Perhaps they didn't have time to read yesterday's article so simply reminding them it is there may bring them to the site to read it. A total win in my book!

Equally important is that this tool converts your posts to tweets without ever having to login into Twitter through the website or your smart phone, it does this automatically for you. It is important it is to keep presenting your information to your followers, and by connecting your RSS feed to your Twitter account this tool does the work for you. One reason I love this is that I am constantly forgetting to tweet. Twittering is quick and easy either way you do it, but why not automate the process when possible?

Along with the amazing features I have already described, FeedBlitz also gives the ability to do newsletters, surveys, subscriptions and advertisements. These can all be geared to making money in the process. All for one low monthly fee, based on the number of subscribers, it amounts to mere pocket change. This tool lets you buy in for cheap and costs only increase as readership grows, which fits nicely into my long term plans. Plus, it offers a dynamic analytics package, so tracking opens and click through is a breeze. If you haven’t used it yet or are thinking about trying it out, I give it two thumbs up! Try it today to start building your readership while simplifying technology!

About the Author

Juli Camarin writes a daily blog that explores the Bible and gives insight into scripture. She is currently blogging verse by verse through the book of Hebrews. After serving on a pastoral teaching team for over five years, she felt called to focus on writing down and sharing what the Lord constantly reveals to her. A teacher at heart, her passion is to teach the word of God as it comes alive trusting that it will also come alive to her readers. You will find her daily thoughts and inspiration at jcblog.net.

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Launch Week! Weekly wrap up 12/11/10

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Launched this week: A rocket that can reinvent the space industry, a project that can reinvent publishing, and a book that can reinvent the way you do business.

Seth Godin, well known marketing author, inspirational speaker and general all around business guru launched The Domino Project this week to reinvent publishing, partnering with Amazon. Read the FAQs and subscribe for updates here.

SpaceX became the first private sector organization to launch and retrieve a space capsule on the second flight of their Falcon 9 rocket. With just 1200 people in the firm they have done more with less more quickly than the governments and government agencies that are the only entities to have matched this feat. Watch this week's launch video:

So, smarter, faster, cheaper? Yes! And that happens to be the title of David Siteman Garland's new business book, also launched this week. Click here to read more about it.

And in other news...



Are You Getting to the Inbox and Avoiding the Spam Trap?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Learn how to avoid being labeled a spammer,  plus tips and tricks on ensuring your mail is delivered to the inbox.

[This is the sixth article in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series]

In this article you will learn about:
  • What is spam
  • What it takes to be labeled a spammer
  • What happens if you are labeled a spammer
  • Getting to the Inbox every time
    • Permission
    • Respect
    • Relevance
    • Compliance
  • Improving the odds
    • White listing
    • Proactive subscriber management

What is Spam?

Spam. We all hate it. It is frustrating and wastes everybody’s time. As a result, the technologies that have evolved to try and stop spam from getting to the inbox are imperfect, causing desired emails to be misrouted to junk or simply deleted altogether.

As bloggers using trusted services and valuing our subscribers – they’re not just a "list" to be "blasted" – we know that our emails should reach the inbox. But sometimes they don’t, and this post is my attempt to help you understand why and how you can influence inbox placement.

What Happens if you are Labeled a Spammer?

The good news is that one person screaming "spam" when you mail them won’t affect anything. But the ISPs take note. If many people start screaming "spam," however, or you do other bad things (like persistently sending email to deleted accounts), then your email will be routed to junk, or your email might not even be accepted by the recipient’s email servers at all. All of the recipient’s on that domain or domains will go dark for you. You might even be black listed, and it takes just one black list entry on a major black list provider to effectively shut down your entire list.

So avoiding being called a spammer is very, very important.

What does it Take to be Labeled a Spammer?

Now you can’t stop complaints. People are lazy – they will hit spam sometimes instead of clicking unsubscribe. People are also error-prone – they might have your email selected when they click "spam" when they meant to flag the email just above it.

So the question is: What does it take to be labeled a spammer? For complaints, industry norms say well managed lists should well be under 0.3%. AOL takes notice at complaint rates over 0.1%. If your mailings consistently generate complaint rates greater than one in a thousand, you risk being labeled a spammer. This is why list quality is so very important.

Email service providers (ESPs) like FeedBlitz also monitor your complaint rates to ensure greatest deliverability. For example, FeedBlitz can and does automatically shut down any list that exceeds conservative industry norms for complaint rates for any single mailing – we’re that zealous about ensuing the best deliverability for our clients. So keeping complaint rates (i.e. people clicking "spam" in their email app) down is essential to getting your word into the subscriber's inbox.

Getting to the Inbox Every Time

The keys to consistently landing in the inbox are pretty basic:
  1. You must have the recipient’s permission to mail them
  2. You must treat that permission with respect
  3. Your mailings must be relevant
  4. Your mailings must comply with ISP best practice and technical rules
Just because the keys are basic, though, doesn’t mean they are necessarily easy. And failing on any one of these will quickly get your emails routed to junk and dramatically increase the risk of your being labeled a spammer.

On the other hand, do all of these and your email will land in the inbox pretty much all the time.

It’s important to note one item that is not on this list: Legality.

While your emails should be legal (i.e. in the US, they should be CAN-SPAM compliant), simply being legal is not nearly enough (think about it – the law isn’t called CANT-SPAM). It’s also the case that many emails sent by reputable providers are, unfortunately, not compliant with CAN-SPAM, and will nonetheless make it to your inbox. Here’s an example from hot hyper-local news site patch.com, funded by AOL no less, and AOL has very stringent email policies. And yet, this:

It violates CAN-SPAM because there is no physical address to send written unsubscribe requests.

So even the big guys can make mistakes. Not that that excuses you, but it goes to show that compliance with the law is fundamentally irrelevant in determining whether or not an email is going to make it to the recipient’s inbox. Compliance is still required to avoid legal jeopardy of course.  

Who Decides What is Spam?

Not you.

Got that?

I’ll say it again. Not you.

Ultimately, only the recipient of your emails gets to decide whether your email is spam or not. That said, however, the ISPs (internet service providers) also get in on the act. When enough of their customers declare your email to be spam (and also for other reasons; I’ll get to them later), they will decide that what you are sending is spam before it ever reaches the subscriber. Your email may not even make it onto their networks, let alone the recipient’s junk folder, and less likely their inbox.

To get to where you want your email to go, you have to get past various ISP filters, servers, blacklists and filtering technologies. And then you have to get through the recipient’s personal email app’s settings, filters and local security tools. It’s quite the gauntlet your blog’s message has to run through.

Most importantly, it does not matter AT ALL that you believe that you have permission to email the recipient and you believe that your message is not spam. Spam is the recipient’s call only.

So let’s look at the four keys to avoiding the spam trap and how you as a blogger can succeed with your mailings. 

You Must Have the Recipient’s Permission to Email Them.

Always use confirmed dual opt in for new registrations where a recipient must click a link in an email to activate a subscription. Do not settle for less if you want to lower your risk of being junked.

Do not buy or rent lists. Permission must be granted to you directly and explicitly. Bought or rented lists often contain “spam trap” addresses which are, basically, fake addresses that have never been used by a real human being but are visible on the web to be “discovered” by spam bots. Mailing a trap proves that you have not got permission (because that address could never have given you permission) and that you’ve bought the list from a spambot source, which marks you out as a spammer by definition. Don’t take that risk with your blog.

Do not add subscribers to a list they didn’t sign up for. So if a subscriber signed up for your world-leading blog on widgets, don’t add them to your list about fine French wine simply because that’s what your other blog is about. You don’t have permission to mail them about your taste in claret.

Tip: Stay on topic and always, always use confirmed dual opt in. 

You Must Treat Permission with Respect

When someone grants you permission to email them, they are effectively inviting you into their inbox. So be a good guest; don’t abuse the privilege and their attention.

For bloggers this is fairly easy to do; as long as we’re mailing posts out. Our subscribers know how often we post and therefore how often they should expect to get a mail from us (although it absolutely helps to tell them that they should expect to hear from you once a day or weekly or whatever is appropriate for you).

When you deviate from the norm – by increasing your mailing frequency, for example – then you risk upsetting your readers. The more upset they become, the more likely they’re going to complain (i.e. hit the spam button). This is also true if you start blasting them with less relevant content, so be careful with, say, dedicated sponsor mailings. If you do up your mailing rate, offer a "slower" alternative for those who feel overwhelmed, such as a weekly summary.

There is also great risk in mailing too little. If you start to collect subscribers for your blog, offer or whatever, but don’t start mailing them until weeks or months later, they will likely have forgotten they signed up or simply lost interest in the interim. Result: spam complaints. So if you don’t plan on mailing people for a while once they sign up, send an autoresponder and set their expectations. If you can, send a brief weekly update, even if it’s a variation on “hey, we’re making great progress, you’ll hear from us as soon as we’re ready.” It keeps you in their mind and doesn’t waste the attention and permission they granted you when they were excited enough to join your list.

Tip: Stay in front of your audience regularly.
Tip: Use guest posts if you can’t fill the content yourself at the expected rate. 

Your Mailings must be Relevant

Permission and relevance are key to email list building success. Both are necessary; having only one is not enough.

So your emails must be relevant; again for bloggers that’s easy to do since we write about our passions. But if your blog changes course and goes from, say, widgets to French wine, by changing topic you’ve effectively transitioned them to a new list. You don’t have permission for that topic and so spam complaints will rise. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go off-topic for a post or two at times; after all, a blogger’s audience likes the blogger and is by definition interested in what she has to say. But say your piece and then return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Now there is some debate in some aspects of the email marketing industry about whether relevance trumps permission. And in the case of a personal email which you craft by hand to a specific individual addressing a specific need, I’d say ok, yes. As long as you’re timely, relevant and are responding to the recipient’s articulated need, then you can mail them. But it has to be a personal email from your email app, and not a bulk email or mail merge or similar – even if that mail merge runs through your desktop email software. It’s much like the approach I promote here, here and here for using Twitter to deliver real-time sales and customer service. And I think that’s OK.

But for bulk emailing – where you send email to multiple subscribers at once, automated or otherwise – the answer is emphatically NO. You MUST have permission to deliver automated mailings from a blog (or any other source) to a list.

Tip: By all means detour – it can keep things interesting – but be quick about it. 

Your Mailings must Comply with ISP Best Practice and Technical Rules

Without going into too much technical detail here, the major ISPs (in most markets the cable, phone and satellite providers) and the major email account providers (e.g. gmail, hotmail, yahoo) all have very similar technical rules about bulk email (which is what you’re sending as you build your blog’s list).

ISPs track reputation, spam traps, sending behavior (e.g. persistently emailing accounts that bounce), complaint rates, email structure, black lists and more to determine whether your email should even be allowed onto their networks, and then whether the mail should be sent to junk or the inbox. If some of these terms are unclear, revisit the “terms and terminology” section on the second article in the List Building for Bloggers series “Lists, Email Marketing and your Blog” here http://blog.feedblitz.com/2010/11/lists-email-marketing-and-your-blog-lbb.html

How you send email from your blog to your subscribers can greatly affect how your emails are treated by the receiving ISP networks. In order of increasing risk (i.e. best to worst):
  • Best: Use a reputable third party email service provider (ESP), such as FeedBlitz (of course!)
  • Maybe: Using your own dedicated email server
  • Worst: Using a shared email server or an email server on a shared web host
Reputable email service providers (ESPs) are the best solution unless you are a simply massive corporation with excess IT resources. Why? Because we structure the emails properly (e.g. adding authentication, text alternatives); we use a small number of high reputation IP addresses to send mail (using things like feedback loops and whitelisting to maintain that reputation); and we manage the lists in our charge properly (e.g. tracking metrics, logging subscriber activity, bounce rates and legal compliance) to comply with ISP policies. It’s best practice, and best practice gives the best results. Bloggers are typically not large corporations wth money to spare, so outsourcing to a dedicated expert service is absolutely the way to go.

For a dedicated email server on your own domain you can probably get access to feedback loop data as long as you own the public IP or the domain it’s on. So you can – with a lot of effort - get some of the quality data that ESPs do. Of course, you have to use that data, and have someone or something manage your lists and processes. Most bloggers don’t have the time or technical skills necessary, and failure to keep up can get your messages sent to the penalty box. Also, if you do get into trouble, it’s really hard to get out without an ESP’s resources to help. If you’re an email guru (or have one on staff) you can take this path. Since you’re a blogger, though, you aren’t and you don’t. Once your list gets to be any reasonable size this option gets to be a lot of work very quickly.

Email sent from a shared web server (or a shared email server) carries great risk. For starters, you can't get at the quality or feedback loop data from the ISPs: It's like driving in the dark wearing sunglasses with your eyes closed. As touched on in an earlier LBB post, just one badly behaved (or virus-infected) app using that web or email server will trash that machine’s reputation and get all your email blocked. You also risk incurring the wrath of your hosting service, which risks having your site taken down. Don’t do it.

Tip: Use a reputable provider for your bulk mailing, blog-driven or otherwise. 

Content Filtering

If your email has been accepted by the ISP and is coming from a reputable source your message is really likely to end up in the inbox no matter what you write about. Reputation and trust trump the content filters the vast majority of the time.

That said, some links or behaviors can be picked up by content filters and skew your otherwise bon mots into junk despite everything. If that happens, figure out why (your email provider should be able to help you with this, but you may have to pay for the privilege).

In my experience, the only content that will consistently override a reputation filter is when there is a link in the mail to a site the receiving ISP feels can’t be trusted. So, for example, if you’re linking to a known source of stolen audio files (or a site that looks like it might be), expect to be junked. If you're on a shared server and another site on that server is hosting "bad" content, expect to be junked. If you're hosting "bad" content, well.... you get the idea.

True story. We (FeedBlitz) had a client whose emails were being consistently routed to an ISP’s junk folder despite our being on that ISP’s white list. It turned out to be the fault of one link in one part of the mail. It was a legitimate link, but the domain’s URL just fell the wrong side of the "this link looks spammy" filter it was enough to route the mail to junk.

Remember that the ISPs are doing this to prevent malware running on otherwise trusted sources from getting spam to their users. It’s their job. If it happens to you engage you’re your email service provider to find out why, and (crucial, this) for crying out loud take their advice. When you find the root cause it’s usually a simple matter for a blogger to overcome it, which it was in this case.

Tip: Worry less about content, more about reputation, relevance and permission.  

Avoiding the Spam Trap

So, let’s review. Permission, respect, relevance, compliance are key. You’re a blogger and are putting all of these into practice. Can you do more? You bet! Two key areas are:
  • White listing
  • Proactive subscriber management


The #1 thing you can ask your subscribers to do is have them white list you when they subscribe. This not only guarantees that the email will get to their inbox if the mail is accepted for delivery by their service, it can also positively influence the ISP’s global filters.

When you ask your subscriber to add you to their white list they may have to remember there are two locations where they should update their white lists: 

On their email service’s / ISP’s web mail portal.

Why: It ensures that the ISP knows the email is solicited and should go to your inbox at the ISP.

On their email app’s white list

Why: If the email is downloaded from the subscriber’s inbox at their email service to a dedicated email app (e.g. Outlook, Apple Mail, Entourage) then the email app will apply its filters too, (i.e. after the email service’s filters). Whitelisting here will ensure the proper routing of your mail to the inbox in the app once it gets there.

Your subscriber should add your and your service's email addresses to both white lists for the best results. 

Proactive List Management

Your email service will manage your subscribers as best it can, filtering out bounces and complaints. But you can help pre-empt complaints by proactively managing your list too. Some subscribers won’t hit unsubscribe or complain at first – they will reply to your mailing and say "remove" or "unsubscribe." As and when you get that email, go to the list and remove the subscriber. If you don’t and your blog’s mailing system reaches out to them again that subscriber is likely to complain. So help yourself by acting promptly to remove folks who don’t want your mailings from your list if they contact you directly. 

Next Up

Tips on optimizing your mailings for better response rates.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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9 Tips to Managing a Growing, Successful Facebook Community

Monday, December 06, 2010

A year or two ago (decades in social media years), I was all about ‘the Twitter.’ (Betty White reference) I concentrated my social media efforts and time on growing my Twitter followers to be a large community of women. My blog, Girlfriendology.com is about female friendship, hence the gender focus. Hours of following, unfollowing, tweeting, RT-ing, #FF-ing led to a decent Twitter following - around 20,000+ and primarily women. Just what I was hoping for.

Personally, I enjoy Twitter, I love my Twitter friends and would rather get my news from strangers on Twitter than spend an hour watching the news. But, I had to ask: was our Girlfriendology community on Twitter?

Mashable reported that as many as one-third of women 25-34 check Facebook first thing in the morning (many before even getting out of bed) – it’s that important/interesting to them. Forbes said: “Facebook, the largest social networking tool in the world, is dominated by women,” with 57% of members female and women being more active (aka: social) on Facebook.

IRL, my BFF’s are on Facebook – a lot! Many will never attempt to tweet or be interested in Twitter. Their friends are on Facebook, so they are too. For example: in my friend Colleen’s office of all women, every day they grab their lunches and eat at their desks – while they’re surfing Facebook!

So to Facebook I went, to grow my community for my blog, and I have, putting in a lot of time and learning a lot of lessons along the way. Here’s a few of the tips I’ve learned in growing my community -currently 12,000+ females and growing - on Facebook:

1. Survey your Community – How well do you know your community/readers? I ran an online survey to research my readers, find out insights into the community and source content ideas/material, etc. I asked my community what social media sites they use. Over 90% of the survey respondents indicated they were either ‘addicted to,’ or on Facebook several times a day. Over 90%! I also asked them where they interact with Girlfriendology most often – on our blog, our Facebook page, Twitter, our online community, etc. Again, the top answer was on Facebook. The survey findings confirmed – I need to put time and energy into my Facebook marketing and community building. TIP: Ask your community about their social media preferences and then go where they are!

2. Plan your Updates to fit their Schedule and ‘Likes’ – Based on research (online information and observed among friends), I know that women check in on Facebook before and after work, as well as during lunch time. Women also visit Facebook frequently on weekends – you can tell by when comments are made, or from your insights (stats on Facebook pages) on how many impressions are generated at different times. Taking a hint from my friend Colleen and her office-mates, I post a daily ‘girlfriend video lunch break’ with a female-friendly funny or inspiring YouTube video every day. Women like inspiring quotes, so I also post one or two daily. I take note of what they ‘like’ and comment on, and respond with more of the same based on their engagement. TIP: Know your audience, their schedules and be consistent with your Facebook updates.

3. Schedule Your Updates – I know exactly what you’re thinking: I don’t have that much time, right? I agree, it can be overwhelming but it’s worth putting some effort into your community on Facebook. To be honest, I can’t imagine any audience who isn’t on Facebook. Use tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite to pre-schedule your updates. Set-up your Facebook updates to then tweet them. I put in a couple hours over the weekend to load my Facebook updates for the coming week. I created a simple grid of the daily updates (and days of the week) I want to pre-schedule - inspirational quotes, the lunchtime video, a ‘Girlfriendology Classic’ (a link to an ‘old blog post’ that is evergreen and that I want to generate new traffic for) and, especially at the holidays, a ‘girlfriend gift recommendation’ which incorporates an affiliate link. This way, during the week I only have to add occasional updates and links to new blog posts, etc. TIP: Plan ahead, create a schedule then pre-load your Facebook updates.

4. Use Facebook to Grow your Mailing List – As I mentioned, a lot of my Facebook traffic never makes it to my website. I also know that they people come and go on Facebook. My goal is to engage them in my community so they do visit the blog, comment on it, visit the Facebook page and through the experience feel part of Girlfriendology. To stay in touch with my followers, I encourage them to sign up for the weekly newsletter – it’s easily accessible on my Facebook page. (Check out this blog post on growing your newsletter list.) I have posted my ‘Sign Up’ form on Facebook (on a tab) and remind them to do this every Wednesday (see below). TIP: Make it easy for your friends and fans to join your mailing list.

5. Create a Promotional Calendar – We all have lots of social media communities and promotional opportunities. So I created a promotional schedule for my social media communities that’s not overly promotional. On Mondays, I post a ‘FRIENDly’ reminder to share Facebook.com/Girlfriendology with their girlfriends – it goes onto my Facebook page and Twitter updates (as do all of these). On Tuesdays, I ask women to follow us on Twitter.com/Girlfriendology. Wednesdays are my ‘sign up for our newsletter!’ day. Thursdays, I promote our girlfriend gifts/products and Fridays are a great day to remind them of our upcoming Girlfriend cruise. I make it a short and hopefully ‘sweet’ reminder of how they can engage in the community. TIP: Create a Promotional Calendar with your different social media sites and opportunities for monetization (like affiliate links or products that you sell).

6. Ask them to ‘Suggest to Friends’ – The first ‘obvious’ first step isn’t always obvious! Start with your own friends. Build your online Facebook community by suggesting your site to your current connections. Ask them to share your page with their friends. Make it obvious that you want/encourage/LOVE referrals to your Facebook page. Tweet about your page and link to it. In my page description (on the left column, under the logo on my Facebook fan page), I start the copy with “Suggest to Friends” (right under the ‘Suggest to Friends’ link Facebook provides) to make sure they don’t miss that request. Recently I added the ‘Suggest This’ free Facebook app to my Facebook page. It creates an additional tab at the top that says ‘Suggest This’ to make it easy for your fans to share your site with their friends. (Just search for ‘Suggest This’ in your Facebook apps.) I believe in having several reminders and ways to grow your Facebook community. TIP: Ask your community to share your Facebook site with their friends, then make it easy to ‘suggest your site.’

7. Every Blog Post, Interview, Guest Blogs, etc. … SHARE! – Don’t be shy, you have good things to share on your blog and in your community, right? Your Facebook community ‘liked’ your page and expects to know what is going on with your blog. Every time I post a new blog post, it automatically becomes a Facebook update (and Twitter tweet) with a link to the blog. (This is set up in my FeedBlitz settings so I never have to worry about it. It also updates my LinkedIn page.) Any other newsworthy updates – like you’ve guest blogger on a site, interviewed someone on your BlogTalkRadio show or posted a new YouTube video, update your Facebook page and remember to include any links back to your site. TIP: Share your updates and links.

8. Add the Facebook LIKE button on your Blog – Does your blog also promote your Facebook community? We’re all competing with social media, other blogs/web sites and every other online distraction. So, our goal should be to engage our community and connect with them in various ways. I highly recommend adding the Facebook ‘LIKE’ button on your blog posts – both at the top and bottom of the posts. As readers click it, it puts an update on their Facebook page/friend stream with a link to your site – spreading the word on your blog to your fans’ friends. TIP: Use Facebook to build your blog community, and your blog community to build your Facebook ‘friends.’ Make it easy for them to help promote your community!

9. Create a Conversation – That’s what social media is about, right? Use your Facebook updates to get your friends’ input, ask their opinion, look at things a different way. I try to add questions sometimes that are ‘female friendly’ (topics women love to discuss). For example, I posted the question: “What’s your favorite ‘chick flick?’” once on Facebook/Girlfriendology. That question generated over a hundred responses and a blog post that now gets a lot of traffic – just by asking a fun question to discuss. Keep in mind - every update should not be just about you/your blog. Promote other blogs or sites your readers would benefit from, acknowledge members of the community who participate and add to the conversation, and add content/updates that make your readers’ lives better – they’ll love you for it. TIP: Ask questions, listen to their response and don’t hog the conversation!

Wow, that’s a lot to do, I know! But I think as you grow your friends/fans/followers you’ll find ways to manage your Facebook contacts and updates, as well as the techniques that work for you in engaging and growing your community. Go for it! If your readers/fans are there, you should be too!

About the Author
Debba Haupert founded Girlfriendology.com in 2006 as a community of women based on inspiration, appreciation and celebration of female friendship. She speaks on friendship and social media and has worked with ConAgra, Healthy Choice, Frito-Lay, Kroger, Biz detergent, Crystal Light, etc. You can find her at Girlfriendology.com, on Twitter @Girlfriendology and Facebook.com/Girlfriendology.



Growing Your List: Improving Engagement

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Make your blog's mailing list more effective with this entry in the "List Building for Bloggers" series. See all the LBB posts here.

In this article you will learn about:
  • Quality vs. quantity.
  • Measuring engagement.
  • The human and technical factors that affect engagement.
  • The role of branding.
  • Subject lines.
  • Focusing your list.
  • Custom fields, segmentation and personalization.
As always, there's a set of action items at the end you can apply now to improve your next mailing’s effectiveness.

Quality and Quantity

In the prior article, while I focused on increasing your list’s subscriber count (quantity), I also wrote that quality beats quantity any day. It’s absolutely true – if your list has a bajillion subscribers but only your Mom reads what you send, what’s the point? All the extra readers don’t matter.

In other words, quality counts. And really what matters is engagement – how many readers are opening your mailings and, more importantly, how many are doing something you want them to based on that mailing.

Measuring Engagement

The basic metrics to use here are the open rate and the click through rate. While any one mailing will vary from the next, the overall trend over several mailings for these metrics should be flat or rising (flat is OK if you’re growing your list’s volume). If your engagement rate trends start to fall, try to figure out why and take corrective action. Bear in mind that some metrics may appear to be low, such as click through rate, if you send full posts. It is the trend that matters the most, not the absolute value.

The Human Factor

What you want your list to do is be engaged with you and your content, whether that content is editorial (most blog posts) or some kind of sales pitch (the dreaded "email blast"). The key content driver for engagement is relevance – writing to your list with what they expect to hear from you.

But there are also human factors – as described in a CopyBlogger post only this week – that can really help you drive engagement up.

In particular:
  1. Have a call to action – Tell them what you want them to do (but don’t have 10 actions – just one, clearly articulated, is a Good Thing).
  2. Be direct – Tell them (as opposed to asking them) what you want them to do.
Even if it’s just "Retweet this!" you should ask for the reader to engage. If you don't ask, you don't get.

The other thing to bear in mind is that different people interact with posts in different ways. Some gravitate to images first. Some will skim first. Some will read your post line by line immediately. The detail readers are easy, because they’re going to read anyway. But to get the most engagement from the other types of subscriber you should:
  • Have one or more images or illustrations in your post for the visual reader.
  • Use short headlines and selective bolding to attract skimmers.


An email that doesn’t appear correctly to a subscriber simply won’t drive engagement. If it doesn’t render properly or isn't easily recognized then it is as if it was never sent in the first place.

Display problems can happen for these reasons:
  • Inappropriate graphic design choices.
  • Form factor and bandwidth problems.
  • Videos and active content.
  • No branding.

Inappropriate Graphic Design

One example and, frankly, a pet peeve: White text on a black background. It’s so dark and broody; beloved of Goth students and heavy metal bands everywhere. And it just stinks for email, because many email systems don’t display backgrounds (especially if your background is an image, not just a plain color). So if the background doesn’t display, your hapless reader is left with white text on a white background. In other words, it’s invisible.

There are other places where graphic designs that work great on the web can just go horribly, horribly wrong when used in email:

Excessive use of external CSS, floating content and scripts. Some email systems won’t pull in styles from your web server. So your font and color choices aren’t used, which can really foul up your email’s display.

Using div tags and CSS to lay out content. Your designer should be working this way for your web site, but the HTML capabilities of many popular email clients are just awful. For best coverage you should use tables to layout multi-column or more sophisticated designs. Your web designer will want to throw up all over this one, but persist. It’s the only way to get the most consistent renderings across the widest possible range of email platforms.

In fact, for the best appearance across the board, apply the KISS principle.
  • Use simple dark colors on light background for your text.
  • Stick with small image sizes, simple layouts, and very basic HTML.
  • Always have alt or title tags for your images.
To see what I mean with the last bullet, try looking at one of your emails with images disabled. You'll get the idea. Plus using alt tags is good for SEO too!

When Size Really Matters: Phones

Images are essential for readbility and more, but if your reader tries to download your multi-megabyte promotional image on their phone’s email app, the odds are they’ll give up waiting for it. It will be too slow to download and, again, you’ve wasted your time sending it.

Secondly, if the majority of your audience is on a mobile device, don’t send emails with wide pictures or other content that can't easily fit on the phone’s display. You’re making extra work for them to read as they have to continually scroll or peer at teeny weeny text on their mobile device. The harder you make it to interact with - or simply read - your content, the less likely you’re going to get the engagement you’re looking for. If you have a mix of mobile and desktop subscribers, use an "auto-flow" layout (instead of a fixed-width one) that automatially fits to the size of the screen.

Videos and Active Content

Videos, scripts, flash, forms – none of these will work consistently in email. In fact, scripts and embedded video players will be regarded as hostile by a receiving email system and not shown, mangling your layout and eliminating the interactivity you were after. Now FeedBlitz can help compensate for some of these issues; for example we’ll create a thumbnail image of your video from your video service if we can. But if you’re relying on an embedded video to get your point across in your email, think again.

Easy Steps to Improve Engagement

Having focused on what can bring engagement down, let’s look at what can bring it up.


One aspect often neglected by bloggers is branding their emails - all that work on the site design and then no effort for the email subscriber. Such a wasted opportunity! Use your logo or masthead banner in your mailings. Make the effort and finish the play. Let readers who select your email in a preview pane know it’s from you in the first few seconds. It’s appalling, to be honest, how many bloggers offer email subscriptions but haven’t gone to the effort of doing something as basic as a logo into the email. What a waste.

Secondly, set the envelope settings to identify yourself or your company as the sender. Use the name that your reader would know you or your blog by. For example, use "Crochet Corner" instead of "Phyllis Q. Knitting-Needle" if your subscribers know they’re subscribing to the "Crochet Corner" blog.

Thirdly, make sure that the email address you use to send from and get replies sent to is real and read by a human. Yes, you will have to filter out of office replies that come in, but you are looking for engagement here. If someone replies to your email and it disappears into the ether what are they going to think of you? It’s not only a missed opportunity to start a conversation, they probably now think you’re kinda rude. Who wants that?

The Subject Line

A compelling subject line is invaluable. So don’t clutter it up with, for example, the name of your blog, especially if you’re using the name of the blog as the sender. They don’t need the redundancy and you’re wasting space. Your subject line - usually your blog post’s title - should be catchy and well under 100 characters if possible. Remember, you are not your audience, and your message has to stand out and hook the reader quickly. If the point of your email subject line is too wide for the inbox’s subject line column, it’s done you no good. Be brief and to the point in your blog post titles. If your mailing system can’t change subject lines, get that fixed.

Subscribe to your own mailings

I know you don’t want to read what you just wrote, but you should subscribe to your own mailings. That way you experience what your subscribers experience. If you don’t like it, dollars to donuts they won’t either. Fix it!

Focusing Your List

Custom Fields

Counter-intuitively, one of the ways to improve engagement is to reduce the size of your list. You can do this up front, by requiring extra data from the new subscriber, such as demographics (city, state, zip, gender, name etc). Most email services like FeedBlitz call this extra data "Custom fields."

Requiring custom fields adds "friction" to the sign-up process, but it also means that those who complete it are more committed to you and your content. You sacrifice some list quantity growth for a more engaged audience that you know much more about.


When you mail, most automated mailings go to all the readers, and for bloggers that’s fine. But with demographics you can segment your list, targeting a subset of your readers for the offer or invitation. For example, suppose you’re speaking at an event in Texas. You want to invite folks who live in Texas and maybe Oklahoma, say, but there’s very little point inviting anyone from the north east. In fact, you’ll probably annoy them. Segmentation solves this problem, as long as you have the data.

Only mailing a small portion of the list, i.e. sending the email only to those for whom it might be relevant, is a great way to get increased engagement from that section of the audience. It will also reduce complaints and unsubscribes all around. If you have a CRM (customer relationship management) system you can import data from your CRM and link it to your mailing list, so you can tie data you already know about the user to your mailing system. For bloggers, you can automate this to a degree by offering multiple lists from your blog and applying tag filters.


With data you know about the user comes the ability to turn a bland, cookie-cutter mailing into a special, personalized one. You could insert the recipient’s name, for example, or switch what you send them based on custom field data. This is pretty advanced for most bloggers, to be fair, and so if you’re interested in figuring this out in FeedBlitz terms, see this knowledge base article.

Your Action Items

  • Subscribe to your own list.
  • Check your sender name is appropriate.
  • Make sure the sending / reply-to emails are real.
  • Graphic design checks.
    • Verify your logo, banner and other branding are in the emails.
    • Ensure your email design works without images (foreground and background).
    • Determine whether your email template need simplifying.
  • Post content changes.
    • Keep subject lines crisp.
    • Add direct calls to action in each post.
    • If you use video a lot, check how it appears in your emails.
    • Don’t use scripts or forms.
  • Consider and plan any custom fields.

For FeedBlitz Users

  • Subscription forms are at Newsletters - Forms Subscription Forms.
  • Set sender name and email addresses at Newsletters - Settings - Envelope Settings.
  • If you don’t have a template now, set one up quickly at Newsletters - Settings - Easy Email Design Editor.
  • Then set up more complex designs (or simplify them!) at Newsletters - Settings - Advanced Email Design Editor.
  • Custom fields are managed at Newsletters - Custom Fields.
  • Tag filters are at Newsletters - Settings - Content Settings - Tag Filters.

Next Up

Here Be Dragons: Spam. What it is and how to get your emails delivered properly.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. Like this post? Retweet it on Twitter or "Like" it on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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Five Tips for Loving Your List this Holiday Season

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

1. Stay Relevant

You'll probably find yourself writing - and therefore mailing - more, especially if your blog can find a holiday angle. Just ensure that your writing and email volume doesn't go so far off-piste that your piste-off your readers (sorry, couldn't resist that one).

2. Break the News

If you've just discovered a great online offer, or it's about to expire, a Newsflash is a great way to get the word out ahead of a typical overnight mailing. Newsletters - Mailings - Newsflash

3. Reward your subscribers

In last week's "List Building for Bloggers" #LBB post I discussed using incentives on an ongoing basis to help keep subscribers engaged. One way is to mail them a special offer - maybe an extra discount on your products - or holiday tip before it gets on the blog (if at all). FeedBlitz users can send a special offer to just the list via Newsletters - Mailings - Newsflash.

4. Winterize your template

Got a seasonal logo? Affiliate code you want to embed in your mailings? Then grab your iSleigh and slide over to the Advanced Template Editor under Newsletters - Settings. Upload your seasonal graphics, or (for affiliate code) switch to the source view and paste in the HTML from your affiliate program.

5. Don't overdo it

Writing an extra post or two each week is great - but if you overload our list with holiday mailings or offers you also risk inducing reader-fatigue. Watch the open, click through and unsubscribe rates in your delivery metrics report; if they start to decline then try backing off a little.


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