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Advanced Email Marketing: Landing Page Monetization, Part 2

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the previous post I pointed out that there were three landing pages on everyone's web site that are typically ignored or forgotten about from a monetization perspective. They are the landing pages that appear in an email list's dual opt-in transaction cycle:
  • The "Check your inbox now" landing page;
  • The "Thank you for joining the list" landing page; and
  • The "You have been unsubscribed" landing page.
What, then, can you do with these pages to help boost earnings without messing up each page's core purpose, which is to guide / reassure the subscriber through the relevant step of the email opt-in and opt-out processes?

Don't Bury the Lead

Well, the first thing you should not do is build a salesy squeeze page that distracts or detracts or confuses the subscriber. Each landing page has a core mission. So make sure that the basic message of each page - check your inbox, congrats you're in, sorry to see you go - is front and center for each. You need to make sure that the messaging of each page matches the visitor's expectations. Don't hide that core message with flashy bling, confusing text or a barrage of popups.

That said, once your main headline and opening sentence get the relevant point across, you can work on leveraging the engaged reader into something more revenue-positive.

The "Check Your Inbox Now" Page

When the visitor reaches this page, they're about half-way through the dual opt-in process. They completed the form, filled in any squiggly letters in your CAPTCHA, and the activation email is on its way.

The first thing this page has to do is to reassure them of this, and to remind them that they should check their inbox to activate their subscription. What you don't want to do is have them not finish the play, so you do need to encourage them to check their inbox ... eventually.

But since they're here, now, on this page, you have their attention. As they haven't yet fully signed up, it isn't time to ask them to refer your site to their friends; save that for the successful activation landing page later on.

If you're offering an incentive for new subscribers, this page is a great place to remind them of it. Let them know that they will be rewarded somehow when they finish up. Perhaps a 10-30 second video from you would work too.

You can also use this page to promote further activity on your site. A variation on the "sneeze page" theme, this can be a "while you're here, check out our most popular posts" message. It can be two or three of your greatest hits, or a more comprehensive list if your site has enough quality content. It's also entirely appropriate to use ads and affiliate links on this page, provided that they don't distract the reader from figuring out quickly that a confirmation is required. If you have ebooks to sell, or some other service that helps build your earnings, you could provide a prefilled order form. You get the idea...

Finally, if you have partner sites where you earn referral fees, you can offer your nearly-subscriber a set of "we recommend" links or a form that invites them to do whatever your partner site needs. You can't force them into it - permission is required - but it is a way to get paid for leads if the visitor converts on the partner site's page.

When you're done defining the page, just make sure it isn't over done. If there's too much choice you'll end up confusing the visitor and they're more likely to do less, not more. Take time to edit.

Mission Accomplished - Welcome!

The visitor has activated their subscription. Thank or welcome them on this page, of course, and (if you can) set their expectations about how often they will be mailed.

If you offered some kind of reward for new subscribers, this is when it should be fulfilled. If the reward is they are part of a sweepstakes, say, instead of having access to a tangible deliverable, tell them that they've been entered (or whatever is appropriate). Let them know they've succeeded. If you are delivering an incentive, it's also a great idea to use an autoresponder here to deliver it as well as using the landing page.

Now, by getting to this point, the subscriber has completed the multi-step dual opt-in process. That's an achievement! They're pretty pumped. So NOW go ahead: Ask them for a referral. This is the perfect time to ask them to share your site or their new subscription with their social networks. Put big friendly sharing buttons on this page for that purpose, and place a good call to action around them. (FeedBlitz does this for the default landing page we serve, see this blog post).

Moreover, if you have a multiple list strategy in place at your blog, this activation page is a great place to offer additional subscriptions to your site. If most of your readers are joining your main list, then offering niche, category or other lists here is a great idea to bind the new subscriber deeper to you and your site. The deeper in with you they are, the more you can potentially earn. MoneySavingMom.com does this - when you activate a subscription, you're taken to her list of store-specific coupon mailings.

Finally, pretty much all of the ideas I mentioned for the "check your inbox" page will work here too. A little repetition won't hurt. Encouraging exploration - more time on site, more ads to be seen, more offers to view - will also boost your income.

Oh no! You're leaving.

Sooner or later, a subscriber is going to unsubscribe. Don't stand in their way.

But on the page that tells them they've been removed, what you can do is offer them alternative ways to reach you. Perhaps email isn't the way they want to follow you now. You can and should offer the ability to keep up via your favorite social networks on this page - you may lose a subscriber, but gain a Facebook Fan.

If you have multiple lists, perhaps the subscriber is unsubscribing because the list they were on is no longer working for them. Well, offer them your other ones - perhaps there's a better fit there that will keep them in the fold. Remember, people unsubscribe for a variety of reasons, so if all it is that they'd prefer to have a weekly wrap up and not a daily deluge, offer the weekly version here. You never know!

Wrapping It All Up

Next post will conclude this short series, along with a "how-to" implementation guide for FeedBlitz publishers.

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Advanced Email Marketing: Landing Page Monetization

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Landing pages. Generically, landing pages are the pages where a user starts to interact with your site in some way, usually after an search, or possibly clicking on an ad. One of the things that Internet Marketers (and any business online) spend a lot of time optimizing are their landing pages.

The landing page is your last best shot at converting the new visitor into something else: A buyer, perhaps. A lead. A subscriber. A donor. A voter. The point being that you want that new visitor to do something when they hit that landing page, and optimizing that landing page to improve its conversion rate typically leads to more success (however you define that) later on.

Landing pages can be short and sweet, or go all the way through to screenful after screenful of text, with embedded videos, highlighted text - "squeeze pages" in the industry jargon. Optimizing landing pages needs lots of testing. Even simple headline changes, a subtle change in the call to action, or adding a chevron to a button can dramatically affect how well a landing page converts.

Dollars to donuts, you have three highly visible, highly engaging landing pages that you haven't even thought about. And that means you're losing out on potential conversions, and therefore on downstream monetization.

Thinking Harder About Dual Opt-In

The tragedy of most bloggers - which is why I wrote the "List Building for Bloggers" series and subsequent ebook - is that email subscriptions are neglected, forgotten about and generally ignored. Not only is that in and of itself a tragic loss of potential engagement (and, again, monetization opportunities), it also means you're missing out on three critical landing page monetization opportunities.

What are they?  Well, think about the dual opt-in process. You probably haven't for a while, so here's a little diagram as a reminder:

See, after the subscription form is completed, there's the "Check your inbox now" page. It's a landing page.

After the subscriber activates their subscription, there's another "thank you for subscribing" landing page.

The third landing page I mentioned? Happens when a subscriber unsubscribes. They opt out of the list, and a "Sorry to see you go" landing page appears.

Three, very engaging, well-read, landing pages. Have you thought about how to make better use of them? Optimize them? Leverage them to help you monetize your site better? Because if you haven't, you're missing out on some great revenue opportunities.

More on what to do with the neglected landing pages hiding in your dual opt-in process in the next post.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Microsoft Word, part of the Microsoft Office suite, is a great word processor. I use it myself for documents, e-books; and I use the rest of the Office suite for email, spreadsheets etc. It's a great desktop app.

It's really easy to copy / paste from Word into a blog post to make creating pretty blog posts with good spell checking super easy. Which is fine, except that unless you have (and use) a special "Paste from Word" feature in your blog's post editor, lots of Microsoft Office-specific custom HTML comes along for the ride as well. You may not see it when you're editing, or even on your blog when it goes live, but it's there. When emails built from that post arrive at non-Office subscribers, and sometimes when Office-using subscribers do something like forward an email, much weirdness can result. Text changing size and / or typeface are common symptoms; or line spacing suddenly not being what you expect. 

The reasons why this happens relates to things called CSS classes and custom conditional HTML that nothing outside of Office and Internet Explorer recognize, and I'm not going into the gory details here. Suffice to say it's there, and it's frustrating to everyone when perfectly happy posts "suddenly" don't display correctly.

When things like this happen, my usual advice is "Don't paste from Word to create posts!"

But that's unrealistic. People are going to do it anyway, and that ought to be OK.

So, here at FeedBlitz, we're going to make it OK.  Tools should interoperate properly and your emails should work, consistently, for as many of your readers as possible. So, as of now, FeedBlitz will attempt to fixup Microsoft Office-related custom markup to minimize the sometimes bizarre effects that it can have; we call it "UnWord."  The results are more consistent rendering across the board, and your emails staying that way when your subscribers forward or reply to them.

There's nothing you need to do; it's automatic for everyone. Now you can use Word to create your posts and they will both look better and behave more consistently across the board. Although, honestly? I still recommend you draft your posts in your blog's post editor. You'll get the best results that way, no matter what.

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Advanced Email Marketing: Suppression Lists in FeedBlitz

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In my earlier post about using Suppression Lists in email marketing, I explained how suppression lists are used to restrict to whom a third party an send a mailing. They're important because selling a direct sponsored email blast to your list can be the best form of one-off email monetization available to you, so you need to be able to use them if and when you get the chance.

This post is the promised "how-to guide" for FeedBlitz users who've sold a dedicated sponsorship email and need to use our suppression list feature.

1) Setting Up - Use FeedBlitz v4

Suppression lists are only available in the new FeedBlitz user interface, so you'll need to try that out. Visit http://www.feedblitz.com/f?v4 to start.

Once you're in, Suppression Lists (along with Custom Fields and Surveys) are in the "Publisher Tools" section of the navigation, just under your Sites. Select "Suppression List Management" in the navigation.

2) Import your Suppression List File

You can import into a new suppression list or update an existing one. If you update an existing suppression list, FeedBlitz deduplicates, so that it's safe to re-add the same addresses if all you have is a single monolithic file from your vendor. There's no practical limit on imported list size, but if the upload is so large that it times out on you, you can split it into multiple parts, or ask FeedBlitz tech support to help you out.

As you import the file and further work on your list, you'll see your activity is recorded on that suppression list's page. You can use that information to prove to your provider how you used the list if you need to.

3) Use the list!

Suppression lists are designed for one-off mailings, so you can use them in either Newsflash ("email blast") or On Demand (manually selected posts from your site) mailings. Pick the suppression list you want to use at the foot of the on demand or newsflash page, just under the subscriber segment area.

And that's it; pretty easy. The mailing will use the suppression list to ensure that nobody on the suppression list gets the email, even of they're actively opted in to your mailing list. FeedBlitz won't mail anyone on the suppression list.

Your use of the suppression list is recorded in the list's activity log, and (for newsflash) saved along with the contents of your mailing. If you like to jump start later email broadcasts by picking one you used earlier, your suppression lists selection now comes along for the ride too.  If you want to use a different list (or none at all), simply change your selection in the newsflash email builder while you're editing your copy.

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Advanced Email Marketing: Suppression Lists

Monday, November 14, 2011

One of the great ways to raise extra revenues from your list is by selling advertising sponsorships. The more responsive your list, the better rate (usually expressed as a CPM, cost per thousand, value) you can expect to get. Higher response rates tend to accompany focused, targeted audiences, so if your site is the industry leader in couponing or IT security or antique french flange sprockets, then you can get a high CPM from sponsors wanting to target your list.

There are several ways to monetize a list via advertising and sponsorships.  These are:
  • Ads in your mailings;
  • Sponsored posts;
  • Direct email blasts.
Ads in your mailings can be included via your email template or the copy of your post; that's easy to understand. They'll typically earn relatively low amounts for you on a CPM basis, but function a little like an ATM machine: they're always working for you whenever you mail.

Sponsored posts are where you are paid a certain amount of money to review or promote a product or service. Again, fairly easy to understand (but don't forget to disclose!). Sponsored posts are one-offs, but will probably make you more money on a per-mailing basis than passive ads alone.

Direct email blasts are where you send an exclusive mailing to your list with just the sponsor's content. It's obviously an ad, it will perform much better than any other form of email list advertising, and is often of the "20% off, free shipping" variety.

Direct emails, like sponsored posts, are one-offs, but they will earn you much better rates than a simple sponsored post or passive ad. This is especially true if you blog often enough that a sponsored post ends up being just one of several in any day's mailing. By making the mailing dedicated to the sponsor, and it being much richer / up-front content-wise than a simple sponsored post, you ought to be able get 2x to 10x your standard sponsorship post rate on a CPM basis for a direct email broadcast. Direct mail on behalf of sponsors can be very lucrative!

Direct Broadcast Email Marketing Issues

Now direct emails come with a number of related issues. Most importantly, how will your audience react? They may object to your "using" them in this way. You can try mitigating that by warning them up front that there's a sponsored mailing coming (and actually spin that as a "bonus" mention to your advertiser). If they're forewarned they will be less likely to complain or unsubscribe, and instead stick around for your next content-related mailing.

Make sure that, if you're typically a blogger / content marketer, your dedicated email blasts are the exception not the rule. The more your list feels "bombarded" or "taken advantage of" then the higher your unsubscribe and complaint rates will become, which will be an unwelcome step on multiple fronts.

Assuming, though, that you can manage all of this, and you've sold a great package to an advertiser that includes one or more dedicated email blasts, what every reputable email advertiser should then offer you is their suppression list. And, if they don't, you should ask for it. Which begs the question...

What is a Suppression List?

A suppression list is basically all the people who have unsubscribed from your advertiser's mailings. If a subscriber is active on your list but has unsubscribed from your sponsor's mailings, then they should NOT receive an email blast from that sponsor via you. In other words, that particular email address is suppressed from your mailing. Your advertiser will provide you with a list of email addresses that you may not mail this way: the suppression list.

Now, you're never going to email people on your list that have unsubscribed from your mailings. Your email app or service won't let you do that; that's standard stuff. What you need to do is have a mechanism to apply the suppression list to your one-off mailings, so that once the sponsored mailing is done, people who are active on your main list but who are also on your sponsor's suppression list will continue to receive your regularly scheduled updates.

(Ab)Using Suppression Lists

Yes, as in many good things in life, there is also a dark side to suppression lists. Here's the thing: They're full of email addresses. It can be tempting to take a peek. For mailers that don't have any scruples, it can be tempting to mail this list anyway, once the email blast is done.

Obviously, anyone who does this would have the ethics of a sewer rat, and that isn't you, Gentle Reader. Equally obviously, though, the people providing suppression lists are aware of these risks because, would that it were different, there are in fact people with the moral values of sewer rats lurking on the Internet.

So you should know that the suppression list will contain emails that are owned by the sponsor, but won't be obvious by their address. They'll be buried in the list somewhere. Not only that, but these addresses will be unique to the suppression lists given to you (in other words, the same list given to somebody else will contain different traps). Bottom line: If any of those email addresses receives an email, they will know exactly where and whom it came from. These addresses are spam traps on steroids, in other words, and you will have no idea which addresses on your suppression lists are real and which ones are the gotchas. So you can't risk mailing any of them, because doing so risks your entire ability to mail anyone in the future.

It's really simple. Apply your suppression list to that sponsor's mailing, and then forget about them. Don't peek. And, for sure, never ever send email to an address that you took from a suppression list.

Suppression Lists - The Flip Side

The other side of suppression lists is when you are the sponsor, using a trusted third party to mail. Many industry journals and magazines have mailing lists that they open up to sponsors. In which case, you will be asked to provide your suppression list to the mailer. You should be able to export your unsubscribed reader list to a simple file format (email addresses, no need for demographics or other data), add some traps of your own if you wish, then send it on to the mailer.

What this means, though, is that if you ever plan on using a third party mailing service, such as an email marketing program run by an industry journal, you should never remove unsubscribed readers from your database. Why? Because you want your suppression list to be complete and accurate. And with a complete list your risk of complaints and unsubscribes is significantly reduced when using a third party service.

Now at FeedBlitz we don't charge for unsubscribed addresses (and you can't get rid of them either), so this risk doesn't apply to publishers using FeedBlitz for their email marketing solution. But other services (a.k.a. ESPs - Email Service Providers) do charge for such addresses, even though they're not going to mail them anymore for you. Crazy, I know. But if you are in that situation and you remove unsubscribed addresses from your list to keep your ESP's fees down, then you may risk higher complaint rates from your mailer when it comes to delivering your sponsorship. If you can, I recommend you keep unsubscribe information around.

Alright. So much for email marketing suppression list theory. Tomorrow, how to set up and use suppression lists in FeedBlitz.

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The Money's In The List: BlogWorld L.A. Monetization Video

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Here's the video of my BlogWorld L.A. presentation on email marketing and blog monetization, a.k.a. "The Money's In the List."

If you can't see the video, it's available on YouTube here: http://youtu.be/Wz0RGHbq9F4

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For the Fallen - We Will Remember Them

Friday, November 11, 2011

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From "For the Fallen" by Robert Laurence Binyon

For the benefit of my mostly US audience, in the UK and many other countries we buy paper poppies around the 11th to commemorate those who served and those who fell during the World Wars. The poppies specifically memorialize the killing fields in France and Belgium during WWI where the "lions led by donkeys" on both sides killed each other in unimaginable numbers. Day in, day out. Only the Spanish Flu of 1918 outkilled the machine guns, mustard gas and barbed wire.

Today, then, is a noteworthy day in Europe, where the slaughter of the horribly misnamed "Great War" mostly took place between 1914 and 1918. Today, entire countries largely fall silent at 11am on November 11th to remember the wars, their dead, the valor of those who served and the bravery those who still do. It's a day of respect, retrospect and introspection.

In churches and schools, at services, memorials and cenotaphs in the cities, towns and villages, the stanza from Binyon's poem, quoted above, is often spoken as part of memorial services and readings. The focus back in Britain is markedly different today - a day that's somber, one of mourning not celebration - than Veteran's Day is here in the US, my adopted home. It has always been this way: Armistice Day has never been a celebratory day off. It's not a day to celebrate the military like it is here in the States (which is not to say it is necessarily better; it's just a different perspective).

In that spirit then, no matter what your politics, no matter where you live today, no matter what else you are doing or celebrating this November 11th, I would ask only this: Please take a moment today to remember the Fallen and their sacrifices, no matter where they fell nor for what cause.

Let us make it so that, for today at least, we will remember them.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

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List Hygiene, or Cleaning Up Your List, on FeedBlitz

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The prior two posts have been talking about list hygiene - keeping your list's quality up by removing non-engaging subscribers - and described how to use a re-engagement campaign to do it. This post describes how to do it in FeedBlitz, everyone's favorite premium FeedBurner alternative.

New FeedBlitz Custom Fields

What you're going to need to do is cast your mind back to Monday (cue wavy time travel / flashback effects) where I described new date-based custom fields. I mentioned that there was a new set of "built in" or "system" custom fields now available in FeedBlitz - Joined, OptedIn, Opened and Clicked.

These are all date fields. They are there primarily to facilitate date-centric email marketing campaigns, such as list hygiene re-engagement programs. You can use them for much more than that, of course, and by the end of this post you'll know how.

The meaning of these fields is as follows:
  • Joined: The date the subscriber's email address was first entered onto the list (e.g. via s subscription form);
  • OptedIn: The mot recent date that subscription was activated (e.g. by clicking the link in the activation email);
  • Opened: The set of dates where an open was recorded for the subscriber;
  • Clicked: The set of dates where a click through on any link in a mailing was recorded.
So, if you imported a subscriber, the optedin date will typically be the same as the joined date. Otherwise, the optedin date will always be after the joined date.

The opened and clicked dates represent all the recorded values of an open and a click. How they're all used in segments is pretty easy easy, as you can see from the following examples:
  • joined<"2011-02-28" picks all subscribers added to a list before February 28th, 2011.
  • clicked>="2011-11-01" includes all subscribers who clicked on or after November first.
Using System Date Fields

One way to use these fields is as a loyalty program. Let's say that you started a promotion on November 1st, 2011 that rewards all new subscribers with sample chapters from your latest e-book. That's great! But somewhat unfair to your established subscriber base.  So you set up an email blast using the segment expression joined<"2011-11-01" and send subscribers meeting that criteria a link to the free chapters. Subscriber loyalty rewarded, trust reinforced. Nicely done!

Or, say you want to draw a random subscriber from the prior month as part of a giveaway. Copy active subscribers from your list to a new one using (say) joined>="2011-10-01" and joined>="2011-10-31" - then you can use FeedBlitz's "random subscriber" feature on this list to pick your winner.

Building a Re-Engagement Campaign in FeedBlitz

And this, then, is how you can build a re-engagement campaign. To keep things simple, we're going to assume that you want to remove all non-responding subscribers who haven't interacted with your mailings since April 1st, 2011.

The segment expression you need is:

optedin<"2011-04-01" and opened<"2011-04-01" and clicked<"2011-04-01"

Why these fields? Use optedin instead of joined because some people may have left your list and come back; optedin makes sure you limit things to people who've stayed subscribed the entire time. Then we add both opened and clicked criteria, since (as I explained yesterday) open rates are typically under-reported, so we smarten the expression up by referencing the click through data as well.

Set up the segment expression at the bottom of the Newsflash screen in v3, or create it directly in the sagments area in "Publisher Tools" in v4. Validate that you typed the expression correctly using the validator, then give it a name and save it: You're going to use it a lot during the re-engagement program.

What you're going to do is send each of the emails in your re-engagement criteria to this segment. In FeedBlitz, the segment is evaluated every time it is used. As and when subscribers that match this segment interact with you campaign or with your main mailings, they will no longer meet the opened and clicked criteria, so they won't be included in any subsequent re-engagement mailings. In other words, there's no need to worry that people who have ben encouraged to re-engage are going to get later messages in the program. They won't.

You send the initial email in your list hygiene program as a newsflash using this segment expression. Wait a while (1-3 days), and then send the next in the series, using the same expression. Repeat until you get to the final "See ya" message. Each mailing should be to a slightly smaller subscriber base than the one before, as people re-engage and take themselves out of the group the segment expression defines.

Finally, you're done. It's time to move the remaining people off your list. Here's how:
  1. Create an empty mailing list that's not blog or feed powered, just a simple list. Call it, say, "Non-engaged subscribers."
  2. Under Newsletters - Subscribers - Move / Transfer, move (not copy) subscribers from the list you ran the re-engagement campaign on into this list. Make sure you use the same segment expression you used in the newsflashes to select the people who didn't come back.
At this point, the non-engaged subscribers are OFF your list and now ON this new list. Your main list is now squeaky clean and much higher quality.

Fee Reduction with Effective List Hygiene

If you want to save a little on fees, delete this "non-engaged" list under Newsletters - Mailings - Delete.  It's worth pointing out that in FeedBlitz, deleted lists (and also deleted, unsubscribed and pending subscribers) do NOT count for fees. We believe that you're using FeedBlitz to send subscription updates; if there are addresses in your account we're not going to mail (e..g unsubscribed readers, bounces, people yet to complete the opt-in process) then we're not gong to charge you for them. It might save some money on fees; it might not. If you're not sure, contact FeedBlitz tech support to understand any impact it might have.

If you have any questions about FeedBlitz, custom fields, segments or our fee structure, please don't hesitate to contact tech support. Next week, a deep-dive into another more advanced area of email marketing automation.

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Advanced Email Marketing: List Hygiene, or Cleaning Up Your List - Part 2

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

In the first part of this mini-series on list hygiene I talked about why list hygiene was a good idea, and outlined a typical re-engagement program sequence that you would send to non-responding readers as part of the process.

Before you head off and do that first, though, a few tips on best practice.

How Many Non-Responding Readers Do You Really Have?

Say your open rate is, on average, 10% on any given mailing. If the same 10% open every email you send, then you will have a 90% non-responsive reader rate.

That's pretty unlikely, though. It's one extreme. The other extreme is that each mailing is opened by a different 10% each time. In that case, over 10 mailings, all your readers will have interacted with your messages and you're golden.

The truth lies somewhere in between, of course, and where that is depends greatly on your audience and how you engage with them.

You should find out, though.

Why? Because the total non-responsive number is the largest number you will actually force off your list. If you have 1,000 people on your list and a 10% response rate, worst case you could end up getting rid of 900 at the end of the process. Is your ego ready for that much of a hit? Is your manager / investor / partner going to be happy? Your advertisers and sponsors? If you use subscriber counts as part of providing "social proof" that your list is worth joining, what might the downstream effect be if that number is crushed at the end of the process?

See, you should occasionally clean up your list. But as well as gaining greater focus and engagement, you're going to end up with a lower subscriber count. Perhaps a LOT lower. Prepare your ego (and warn your associates!) before you begin.

Most email services, FeedBlitz included, will have the ability to tell you more-or-less how many subscribers are going to be affected by the process. If you need to explain, justify and prepare other stakeholders in the process, do so up front. It will help avoid, um, uncomfortable conversations further down the pike. You don't want to finish up with a nicely focused, effective list ... and end up having to prepare your resume because your boss didn't like losing a zero from the count.

One trick you can use is to move the relevant subscribers into a separate list just for the purposes of the re-engagement campaign. That way you know who many you're working with (and might therefore possibly lose) before you even start.

When to Stop the Re-Engagement Campaign

What you really want to avoid is to have your engagement campaign keep running for a subscriber if that subscriber has started to interact with your mailings again.  That's aggravating and likely to lead to a slew of unsubscribes from people whom you were *this close* to winning back as long-term readers.

As you work through the multi-step mailing, make sure that you remove all the subscribers from the campaign that have opened, clicked or otherwise done what you wanted them to do to stay on the list. Depending on the email application or service you're using, that might be handled automatically for you, or may require a little manual intervention. Make sure you know how to do this before you start!

How Often Should a List Hygiene Program be Run?

Well, it depends. If you have a relatively new or highly engaged list you can probably defer for a while. If your list has been around for some time, perhaps sooner rather than later would be a good thing.

What you don't need to do is run this on a daily or weekly basis. That's just silly. A four or five sequence re-engagement campaign will take the best part of a week or two to run if you space the emails out to every three days, so don't make yourself crazy this way.  Most bloggers could probably run a list hygiene campaign at most every quarter and you'll be fine. You can even do it annually.

Once you decide how often you're going to run the campaign, make sure that engagement time span is at least as long as the time between each re-engagement campaign. So, if you do list hygiene annually, I'd recommend that you include people who haven't interacted for at least that year.  If you run hygiene campaigns quarterly, I would say that your cut off time should be at least one quarter, and maybe two.

No matter what, once you have a list hygiene campaign under your belt, you'll be able to look at how well it did and adjust accordingly. So that's one last check box item: Give yourself the time to see how much better open and click through rates become after you run each campaign, so you can see that you're getting the results you wanted from it.

Essential Re-Engagement Prerequisites

If your email application makes tracking opens and click-throughs optional, then you can't run a re-engagement campaign if you haven't enabled those features (you need both, by the way; more on that in a moment). Further, you have to have had these features on for at least the "idle time" you are using as your non-responding criteria. For example, if your criteria is to filter out subscribers who haven't interacted in the last three months, then tracking must have been enabled for at least three months for that list. You can't switch it on today and then expect to have data miraculously "appear" for the last N months. It isn't going to happen. If you must, switch it on now, and set a note in your calendar to revisit list hygiene in a few months' time once you've got enough data safely gathered.

Secondly, as I said earlier, you need to have both open and click tracking enabled. That's because open tracking typically uses an image to track the activity. When the tracking image is served, the image server can note that the image HAS been served and that the email sent to that subscriber has therefore been opened.

The problem is, it's both tempting and easy to draw this conclusion: If the tracking image has not been served then the email has not been opened.

This is not true.

Images - specifically open tracking images - won't be served when they're explicitly disabled by users for privacy or security reasons (image serving is off by default in gmail, Outlook and many other email apps, so this is a very real risk); they may not be fetched in a timely manner by mobile devices or low-bandwidth connections; or the subscriber may be reading the plain text version of your email.

In all cases, the email may well have been opened by the subscriber, but it will remain untracked by your email service. The subscriber will appear to be non-responsive and not engaged with the list, even when they are.

So the reason you add link tracking is simple. If a user clicks a link in your email, then that email MUST have been opened, even if the tracking image itself hasn't been served. Once you click through, whether or not images have been served is immaterial. So link tracking - and using link tracking as a selection criteria - helps keep people off the list hygiene program who shouldn't be on it. Not all of them, mind you, but it's better than the alternative.

The bottom line, then, is this: Simple open tracking is at best only indicative of your true open rate. It will almost certainly be under-reporting the actual number of opens any one mailing is getting.

Re-Engagement: Full Circle

And, ultimately, this is why you need to run a multi-step re-engagement list hygiene campaign. Not only is it simply common sense to try to keep people on your list using multiple triggers and emotions; it takes into account that your non-responding subscriber count is probably over-estimated due to the challenges inherent in open tracking. You will include people in the program who are, in fact, engaging with your mailings, but are simply not being tracked. The multi-step list hygiene campaign will readily find these folks, and help ensure that you don't erroneously remove them.

All clear? Great! Now you know what to do to create an effective list hygiene campaign. Tomorrow, I bring this week's series full circle by linking the new FeedBlitz system fields mentioned on Monday into a how-to guide specifically for FeedBlitz users.

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Advanced Email Marketing: List Hygiene, or Cleaning Up Your List - Part 1

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Why You Should Clean Up Your List

Keeping a good quality list is important, because it means that you can get greater engagement from it, which in turn will enable you to derive greater revenues.

It's also important from a deliverability perspective. ISPs track how many emails of yours are opened, and one factor they use to determine inbox placement is how your list engages with your mailings. The more your emails are interacted with, the more likely they are to be safely routed to the inbox and the less likely to end up in the dreaded junk folder.

Finally, economics comes into play. You might be able to move your list into a lower pricing tier if you can cut some of the dead wood out.

List Hygiene - An Ookie Term for an Important Process

This is the essence of "list hygiene" - a term professional and corporate email marketers use to describe a process used to keep a list down to its most engaged, enthusiastic and committed members.

What you want to do is get rid of subscribers who haven't engaged recently. But what you don't want to do is lose subscribers who might engage soon, still want to hear from you, but have gotten a little lazy or switched off. That's why engagement date fields, as hinted at yesterday, are crucial. They help define the group of subscribers you're going to work with.

So a thorough list hygiene process is based on a "re-engagement campaign," where you try to convince, cajole and coerce apparently non-interacting subscribers into engaging with your content again. This ups the energy level, and means that you get to keep the relationship with subscribers who you can work with more in the future. Everyone else who isn't interested, you can safely clear out.

Elements of a Successful Re-engagement Campaign

So remember, you want to convince, cajole and coerce people into staying engaged. OK, so you can't really coerce them into doing much of anything, so the content plan is simple: Start out all sweetness and light; then ratchet up the intensity until you're done.

Your biggest decision is probably the amount of time you want to use as the non-engagement window. Let's say it's six months.  In that case, you know that there are two core criteria for recipients of the re-engagement campaign:
  1. The subscribers much have been on the list for more than six months; and
  2. The subscribers must not have engaged in the last six months.
The second criteria is obvious; the first one stops you from throwing out people who joined recently and haven't yet had the chance to engage in many - or perhaps any - of your mailings.

Now instead of throwing these folks off the list in a fit of social media pique, let's send them a sequence of emails, spaced a day or two apart, as we roll the campaign out.

Mail #1 - Hey, Haven't heard from you for a while, are we still friends?

See, I told you to start with sweetness and light (with a side of guilt thrown in - obviously tune the messaging to suit your audience). We just want to make it seem more personal and not a run of the mill blast to our list. If you have custom fields, this is a great campaign to use them in.

What you do in this list though, is set the stage. Tell  them that you really don't want to keep mailing them if they don't want to hear from you, and that's what's behind all this. This initial mailing is also a great place to showcase your popular posts - you want them to engage, so each mailing in this campaign must give them a reason to!

Mail #2 - A sweet deal for you!

As it turns out, many people are lazy, deadline-hugging procrastinators. Come on, we all do it.

It's actually unlikely that your first mailing will have brought many people back into the fold. That's OK - we have a ways to go yet.

With this mailing, then, you want to incent your laggard subscribers. Just as incentives work brilliantly to attract new subscribers to your list in the first place, they can work here too. That incentive could be a coupon, a freebie, a sample from your e-book, some of your time, a transcript of a webcast or an introductory membership in your coaching program. You have to do the work of finding the right incentive for your audience and your site, and that the incentive you use makes sense for you financially, operationally and personally.

Mail #3 - Time is running out.

Tick, tick, tick - Let's make your procrastinators aware that the deadline is starting to lurk offstage, even if it isn't looming directly overhead yet.  Again, you emphasize that you don't want to bother them, but if they want to keep hearing from you they need to act now to avoid being turfed off.  But don't be all stick and no carrot; find something you can offer them that's positive. For example, perhaps they can switch to a weekly version if the daily one is too much? Give them that link here.

Mail #4 - Action Required: Last Chance

Oh my. Now we're serious. The subject line is imperative. The content is short and to the point. You're off, this is it, fix this now! Since you actually don't want to lose someone who actually will engage, perhaps you can remind them of all the reasons to stay you delivered in emails 1-3. But this is the last chance. You mean it!

Mail #5 - Bye Bye, Baby

This is it. The subscriber hasn't responded, and you've had to let them go. Let them know to confirm you did this (it's OK, you chose to get rid of them; they didn't unsubscribe). And give them, like on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," a lifeline. Tell them how to get back onto the list, and perhaps you can leave them with a reason to do it, or a small gift to thank them for their long-standing subscription.

Moral: Don't burn your bridges when you run a re-engagement campaign.

Tomorrow: Setting expectations, protecting egos and list hygiene process implementation tips.

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New Date-Based Custom Field Options

Monday, November 07, 2011

Newly released into FeedBlitz, a new custom field type to hold dates. You can use this custom field like any other, such as making it public (so they enter, say, their birthday on your subscription form), or you can make it private (such as their last purchase date). Date custom fields have a handy little popup calendar to help make data entry easier, as in the screenshot below.

If you create a field for birthday, say, you can (for example) create a segment that pulls out people born before 1990 like this:


If you play with this or any custom field feature (Newsletters - Custom fields in version three, Publisher Tools in v4), you will notice that we've added some more "system" custom fields that - interestingly and not at all coincidentally - happen to be date fields. They are Opened, Clicked, Joined and OptedIn.

Intriguing, huh? More on these tomorrow.

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Engage, Grow, Monetize with your Blog's Secret Weapon

Saturday, November 05, 2011

I was delighted to be able to give a presentation at BlogWorld in Los Angeles a couple of days ago. It's about:

  • How to learn from social media leaders to help grow your list faster;
  • Some ideas to inspire the community on ways to make money from their otherwise free blog content;
  • Some tips and techniques for automating your email marketing to maximize your revenue potential.
I've now made my slides available online at slideshare for broader distribution. If you're interested in having me address your event or conference, please do get in touch!



Updated: Delayed Mailings, Nov 1st 2011

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

09:55 AM: Repairs are done; we are now catching up on missed mailings. If a scheduled email was missed please DO NOT force it out now; we will catch up and send it soon.

08:55 AM: A problem with a server has affected overnight mailings. We are fixing it now and will run the missed mailings as soon as we can.

The issue will also prevent on demand and newsflash updates until it is fixed.

We apologize for the inconvenience. Updates will be posted here and on the @phollows Twitter account.



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