How organizations build email lists is no small issue. Many groups are investing significant resources in staff, consulting, advertising, events and vendor contracts (in particular partnering with Care2, Change.org and similar communities) to increase their list size.
An issue that often comes up as these programs take off is do we use “opt-in” or “opt-out?” What does this mean? Opt-in means that a new subscriber must make a proactive decision to join an email list by clicking a checkbox, filling out a form or, in the case of double opt-in by replying to a confirmation email and essentially telling you twice that they want to be on your email list. Opt-out happens when someone is added to an email list without clear prior acknowledgment and must actively opt-out if they want off the list.
Opt-out is cheaper than opt-in. You may put money up-front to rent/buy an email list or run an email append against your mailing list or other house file. But dollar for dollar it costs less than opt-in. Generally, the more subscribers need to do to indicate their interest in subscribing the less likely they are to subscribe. Continue reading “Building email lists one opt-in address at a time”→
December means the end of the year is upon us and for nonprofits (or, more notably their members and email subscribers) it’s high season for email traffic. The end of the year is a critical time for fundraising. By some measures, up to 30% of donations (online, at least) come at the end of the year. For example, Network for Good has reported that over 30% of their annual online donation processing happens in December. Online gifts in December tend to be larger. These are just a couple stats in Network for Good’s recent Holiday Guide for companies partnering with organizations (worth the read – PDF).
You will see more email than ever this December, especially the last couple weeks of the month, as organizations try to cover all their bases and leave no stone unturned. It can be overwhelming for subscribers but, like political ads on TV, lots of email works. People give to organizations they love AND know about. If they don’t think of you when making those year-end donations, even if they like what you do, you will miss out.
How do we build awareness (and passion), increase the tempo of messages and make people happy, not grumpy, about all this email?
Would you want your email subscribers to see this in their inbox?
This message is a big Thanksgiving thank you from Frontier Airlines to its frequent fliers. How much gratitude would you feel upon seeing this? Not much. (Hate to pick on Frontier…as airlines go they’re pretty good. Could use some help with email, though.)
We’ll skip the diatribe against image only emails. They’re rarely useful as they bump up against problems displaying content all the time.
The thing is, this is an easy problem to fix. Adding alt tag values to the primary images would help. An alt tag for the main body image that says “Frontier Airlines wishes you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!” would show that text in place of the main image for those with images turned off. A simple “Frontier eSpecials” alt tag for the header image would be simple to add to the template and cover needs in every message.
Basically, this comes off as lazy. Add an interesting and informative alt tag for your primary images. Move on.
Is there a place for image only emails? Perhaps. If the message is dependent upon visuals then perhaps it’s worth an image-only message. Fashion retailers or photographers could fit into this category. Even those senders could use alt tags, however.
How does this email look with images turned on? It’s okay but furthering the irony is that most of the image is text. It would have been easy to create this message with a mix of text and images.
Nonprofits and small businesses that count on communicating with members, donors and customers with their website and email list (which would be, yeah, pretty much all organizations) are trying to figure out if, how and why they should focus on mobile platforms.
A recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project titled Smartphone Adoption and Usage provides data that makes a strong case that organizations should be working smartphone platforms into their communications resource and strategy plans. Now.
About 40% of American adults own a smartphone
We all recognize that cell phone use is pervasive. But there are dozens if not hundreds of varieties of phones and the majority do not readily access the internet.
This is changing quickly, however. The Pew report found that 35% of adults surveyed said they own a smartphone while 39% say they have a phone that operates on a smartphone platform (Blackberry, Android, iPhone, Windows, Palm). Forty-two percent answered yes to one of the two questions (do you use a smartphone and/or does your phone use a smartphone platform).
Smartphones most highly used by audiences critical to nonprofits
Smartphones are highly used in age groups that most nonprofits try hard to reach: people 30 to 50 years old, middle or upper income and well-educated. A couple relevant nuggets of data:
45% of 30 to 49 year olds have a smartphone (and 52% of 18-29 year olds);
Smartphones are used by 59% of Americans with household incomes of $75,000 or more (use drops as income drops: 22% of Americans w/ household income under $30k use smartphone); and
48% of college grads have smartphone.
We suspect that smartphone use in typically white-collar demographics may be driven by people using employer-provided phones but this wasn’t covered in the Pew report.
Smartphone use strong amongst minorities
Lest one think that smartphones are the domain of wealthy white guys, 44% of black and latino adults are smartphone owners compared with 30% of whites. This tracks, perhaps, with a general trend of smartphone adoption being highest in urban and suburban areas. In some cases, minorities have been earlier adopters of text messaging and relied upon cell phones (and now smartphones) for general phone communications and internet access.
Smartphone users are checking email and browsing the web
Not surprisingly, people are doing much more than making phone calls with their smartphones. Organizations should consider, however, the frequency with which users access the web and check email on their phones. As smartphones become a more fundamental way for people to perform online tasks, the organizations that provide the best user experience with mobile web and email will be best able to communicate.
In typical day, 68% of all smartphone users go online with their phone (access internet or check email). Amongst 30-49 year old smartphone owners, 71% access the internet daily with their phone (meaning that about 1/3 of all 30-49 year old Americans check email or access the internet on a smartphone each day). Interesting to note that a full quarter of smartphone users do most of the online work with their phone:
25% of all smartphone owners (regardless of whether or not they use the internet on their device) do most of their online browsing on their mobile phone.
Of all smartphone users, younger and lower income users are more likely to access the internet mostly with their phone. These people, especially low income users, are less likely to have other computers and/or broadband at home.
Next steps for organizations
This report is far from the only one indicating that mobile web and email use is rising to the point of being a standard way that people get online. Recent articles from ReturnPath, Campaign Monitor, Comscore and Nielsen are worth a look.
Many organizations look at mobile and start thinking about SMS/text messaging and apps. Both cool and have their place but the place to start might be where most people, as data indicates, are already at: browsing the web and checking email on their phones.
Start by optimizing your email for mobile devices. We took a look at that a couple weeks back with some tips and resources. If your organization is working on or looking ahead to a website redesign then work mobile into the mix. It’s not necessary to create a separate mobile site though that’s possible. Minimally, work with a team that understands how to optimize code so that it presents well on mobile devices. Make it a point of discussion in the project.
It’s time to get going, though. The opportunity costs are rising. Don’t assume that your audience will just wait until they get home to read your email or check out your web pages.
You get little time to make an impression when a reader sees your subject line in their mobile email program. Make it clear, inviting, snappy. Enough to give the reader a reason to open it (or at least not delete it).
Clear text, link and call to action early in the message body. Make it easy for the reader to get the point, act and move toward conversion.
Landing pages should be mobile-friendly. This may take the most work for many nonprofits. If a form, think simple layout.
For most organizations, the heart and soul of communications is the email list. Email is the 800 pound gorilla, the elephant in the room, the big kahuna. Email goes direct to the inbox, our online strategy metrics are led by terms like open rate and clickthroughs, and online fundraising campaigns depend on email marketing. Moreover, email is growing and generally has a strong return on investment.
Today, “mobile” is receiving lots of attention. And for good reason. It was recently reported that one in three Americans owns a smartphone. Some sources are indicating that more people will own smartphones than traditional cellphones by 2012. Add tablets into the mix and its clear that people are quickly adopting mobile computing.
A recent post in the blog emailmonday provides a solidly thorough rundown of mobile email stats including this one: right now about 10% of email opens are happening on a mobile device.
I’ll argue, though, that the quickest and most cost-effective place to focus your mobile strategy is your email.
Your email? What? That’s not mobile? Mobile is apps. Right? Angry Birds on your iPhone or getting people to read your Facebook page updates on their phone. Maybe mobile is a version of your website that looks good on mobile devices (which it is to some extent and we’ll get to that below but much or most mobile traffic is coming from your emails).
A bit has been written here and there about Gmail’s Priority Inbox. In online terms, the feature is hardly new, having been unveiled in August, 2010.
For a while now, email marketers have been discussing the value of segmentation, relevance and only sending subscribers what they want. Word to the Wise, which blogs on email deliverability issues, recently had a great quote on the “perfect” email:
The perfect email is no longer measured in how perfectly correct the technology is. The perfect email is now measured by how perfect it is for the recipient.
Nonprofits have largely steered clear of the conversation. But Priority Inbox and other systems are entering your recipient’s inboxes and may radically change the way subscribers interact with your messages.
As inbox placement becomes increasingly complicated (going way beyond a reverse chronological list) with spam filters and both automated and manual “priority” filters largely driven by relevance, organizations can’t assume that delivered email is being shown to the recipient.
In the last couple years I’ve had many conversations about email campaign strategy that invariably veer towards the oft-dreaded topic of “email newsletters.” In most cases staff hate their newsletter, have trouble defining why they put together the newsletter (which is often a heavy lift internally) and report open and clickthrough and other action rates that are headed nowhere but down. The 2011 E-Benchmarks report from M+R and NTEN report an average clickthrough rate of 2% for email newsletters.
Done with intention and skill, email newsletters are a good opportunity to provide a consistent drumbeat of conversation about your work and people that is needed to consistently engage and build relationships. Notice use of the word “conversation” above. Most email newsletters are mimicking old print brochures, magazines and newsletters that couldn’t be interactive, responsive or timely. This is most often boring. Take some time to play around with interaction. Ask people questions, work in a poll or quiz, have an action opportunity but make it unique to the newsletter – something special the reader can look forward to each month.
Let’s first define email newsletter. A newsletter is the regularly scheduled informational piece. Usually it goes out monthly but could be weekly or bi-weekly or some other at least sorta regular pace. The newsletter is distinct from time-sensitive action alerts, fundraising appeals and similar communications. This doesn’t mean that a newsletter shouldn’t be timely and responsive to current events but that isn’t typically its role.
I don’t know about you but just the word newsletter screams out “blah, blah, blah.” Dull. Mundane. Filler. The sort of thing that if it came to me via paper would go straight to the recycling bin. And consider the fact that it is 100 times easier to click delete or just ignore an email than it is to bring a piece of mail all the way from the mailbox to the recycling.
So you’re sitting there lamenting the somewhat lethargic results of recent email campaigns and wondering if a little tweak to your email or landing page would improve results. Maybe change up the subject line – add or remove the organization. Maybe add a photo or two to the message. Maybe change the placement of a link or form or call to action on a landing page. Would that get more conversions you wonder? There has to be an easy way to bump this up, you think to yourself.
So you post an email to a handy helpful email list largely made up of folks doing similar work asking if a subject line change would help. The feedback is extensive but largely anecdotal. Hardly anyone offers up actual data and most of the stories are second or third hand… “well, a group I used to work with put the name of the organization in the subject line and it helped a little, I think.”
And you think, “well, that good but it’s not exactly the same situation I’m dealing with here. It’s a good story but doesn’t exactly apply to my list.”
My god, man… then why not test it on your list!
The thing is, testing on one’s own list and pages is pretty darn easy (though we can make it quite complicated and involved, sometimes for good reason and other times not) but rarely done.
Okay, so the ease of testing depends on the tools at hand. If your email system/online CRM is pretty unwieldy or you just don’t know how to use it then little tweaks here and there can be massive potholes in the road, not small bumps. If you don’t know how to move things around on your site – or have the staff to do so – then little changes can be tough.
Yet what I’ve found is more often a lack of interest or curiosity about testing. More often, folks are resigned to the results they get or, if not sure, just don’t know how to proceed. What to test? How to set it up? Is it worth the time?
The data is telling us that a whole heck of a lot of email is going unread. The amount spurring action – at least measured as a “response” – is even smaller.
This is no small matter as email providers like Google make efforts to more actively manage email for users. For a few years now web and desktop email providers have made it simpler for users to mark email as spam and many provide ISPs with feedback loops that let them tap this info to better manage spam.
But Gmail’s Priority Inbox and other services are changing the game and looking at whether or not email is read by users. If a sender is delivering to your inbox but you’re not reading the messages then, well, that email may fall below the fold in the inbox. In other words, if subscribers aren’t reading your email then it’s less likely to be presented to the reader at all. Add this to user filtering/folders and you have more hurdles than ever.
So we’re left with BACON (did somebody say bacon?). Yes. Bacon. That’s email that people asked for but don’t really read. Facebook pushes email out every time someone comments on a status update you commented on or a photo you’re in. Nearly every online retailer has an email list. If you’re remotely involved in politics you’ve likely been subscribed without permission to every candidate email list under the sun. And nonprofits are pushing out emails about events, issues and fundraising with reckless abandon.
It’s crowded out there. And little or none of this email qualifies as or is marked as spam. It is (many political emails aside) requested email.
Recent data put together by unsubscribe.com indicates that it takes, on average, one minute to unsubscribe to an email list (assuming the unsubscribe process works or is even offered to the user). That doesn’t seem like much until you realize that almost 28 BILLION bacon emails are sent each day.
As someone who is a prolific email subscriber and also aids and abets in the sending of vast quantities of email I can tell you that while email works to deliver advocacy messages and raise funds it is an increasingly, and painfully, crowded inbox out there. And your emails are probably suffering. And as email providers react to the bacon age I predict that more and more “requested” email is going to be hidden from users – even while being delivered. And it may not be delivered at all.
How to save your bacon without getting fried
A place to start is by culling your email list. Think honestly about dead wood and getting rid of it.Your boss and board may not like this but your email list isn’t nearly as big (in real usable terms) as the number of “deliverable” email addresses indicates. Get better at identifying and trying to reactivate inactive subscribers. And if they don’t get back in the game then cut them loose. If they want to find you again they will.
Get better at segmentation. Give people what they want.
Better subject lines and better content overall. Test subject lines. Frequently. Don’t rest.
Think hard about the value of an email address. If someone is on the list for five years but has never donated or taken an action (and not opened an email) what does that mean? Chances are there might be more of those on your list than you think.
Make it easier to unsubscribe.
You don’t want people on the list that don’t want to be there. And that’s more true when your inbox placement is based on user interaction.
This is just a start. Be creative. I’d argue that social networks and mobile are throwing a wrench in the works (though probably not yet at a level that will be noticeable for most). Some subscribers are moving towards interacting in other channels, like Facebook, but it’s still somewhere between hard and impossible for organizations to connect email and social network data. Integrating that data is going to help.