Choosing an Email Marketing Agency

Email marketing plays an important role in most marketing campaigns nowadays due to its relatively cheap cost and potential for reaching millions of customers. However, we've all experienced the arrival of a new message in our inbox, only to delete it unopened after deciding it is junk. The last thing you want to do is turn off potential customers simply because you are sending out the wrong sort of mail, or sending out the right sort of mail, but to the wrong people. As such, it is worth spending some time looking around for a reliable email marketing company who will manage this for you.

Before you do this it is worth establishing what you want your email marketing campaign to achieve. Will it be to retain old customers by alerting them about any promotions you are running or notifying them about new services or products you are offering, in which case you'll probably be using databases that have been developed in-house? Or will it be to increase sales by attracting new customers, in which case you will be using opt-in databases of consumers who have chosen to receive promotional advertising? If you are seeking to increase sales, ask yourself how focused the databases are towards a specific demographic, and whether the email marketing company owns them or not, because this will determine how impartial their advice is about which database to use.

Email Marketing Company Checklist

Regardless of your marketing campaign goals, there are a few basic areas that you should investigate to determine how proficient your prospective email marketing agency is:

  • The ability to write good, clear, readable copy in the tone of voice most appropriate for your product. Nothing is less appealing than opening your mail and being confronted by blocks of badly written copy. Check the samples of previous email marketing campaigns the company has been involved in. Ideally the copy should be simple, have clear links to a website or email address, and condensed so that all vital information appears on one screen.
  • Equally, nothing is more appealing than receiving emails that are easy on the eye and structured so you can easily navigate them and understand what they are about. Your potential customer might be opening your message at home, and the last thing they want is anything resembling a work email. This is nothing that a professional HTML designer can't handle, so check that the email marketing organisation has one on their books.
  • Mail should be a personal thing, so ask for ways that your mail can be personalised for individual recipients and particular demographic categories, like people who have chosen a certain clothing brand or leisure activity. Once again, look at the company's previous email marketing campaigns to assess how generic or customised they can be.
  • The first thing we notice of any new message in our inbox is who sent it and what the subject line is. Ask the email marketing company whether any research has been done to identify which subject lines work better than others. Ideally, the subject line should be intriguing and not too salesman-like.
  • Beating the spam blockers isn't just a question of presenting yourself in the right way, but also of hanging out in the right places. For instance, if ISP administrators receive a number of complaints about unwanted emails coming from your address or if they see you consistently send out undeliverable emails, you will be blacklisted as a spammer. Make sure the email marketing company takes the necessary measures so this never happens.
  • Keeping your mailing lists as up to date as possible is also very important, so make sure that the agency has a system for adding email addresses and deleting them if they are returned to sender, sent out in duplicate or invalid. And if people choose to unsubscribe, make sure they stay unsubscribed.
  • Response Handling and Email Tracking Capability

    The previous points have focused on the presentation and form of the emails you send out, but what about the response? In order to ensure that your email campaign is run as professionally and profitably as it can be, you'll want to check that the email marketing agency also has these bases covered:

  • Response handling. Will there be an automated version of your entire sales process attached to the email that includes the necessary legal documentation, response forwarding and auto-response facilities? Will there be somebody at the end of the line if the customer wishes to call up with a query or to make an order?
  • Feedback analysis. Will the email marketing company be able to provide you with comprehensive feedback reports to help you target your marketing more effectively in future campaigns? Can a click tracking programme be implemented that identifies who clicked what, when, and how many times? Has the company enough experience to give advice about the frequency and optimum time that the emails should be sent out? And how broad is the company's customer service support when you wish to contact them regarding a particular issue?
  • Covering the above points should put you in a good position to make an informed decision about which email marketing company you want to hire to help you with your marketing campaign. And remember, if you are blacklisted one too many times, or aren't getting the level of response you feel you should be, you can always start the process again and look for a different agency to work with!

    Email Marketing Software Leverages Limited Marketing Budgets

    In an era when giant retailers and mega-corporations are pouring millions of dollars into Internet marketing and advertising, owners of small- and medium-sized can become easily discouraged. With limited marketing budgets, can smaller businesses compete in the high-cost world of Internet marketing and advertising?

    The answer is a definitive "yes." Indeed, one of the best ways to leverage limited marketing budgets is to use email marketing, which can be used to streamline, organize, and enhance customer relationships and communications. Email marketing is the perfect vehicle for distributing a company newsletter, contacting potential clients, sending offers to existing customers, or simply keeping in touch with an audience about updates and changes to the business.

    At first glance, it may seem that email marketing is a good idea in theory, but difficult to execute in practice. Compiling and maintaining email lists, composing and keeping track of email messages and offers, and sending out the emails manually or using rudimentary email blast software is difficult and time-consuming. It's also a gamble, since so many blast emails are caught in spam filters and are never delivered to the recipients. The only way to truly get the message to the customer is through sophisticated email marketing software.

    Historically, email list management software has had limited features, was unreliable in terms of assuring delivery of emails, and has been cost prohibitive to all but the largest companies. The good news is that new products have entered the marketplace that not only overcome these limitations, but that also offer enhanced affordability.

    As a small or medium-sized business, shopping for email list management software can be tricky. Look for the following features:

    * Affordability - Email list management software should allow you to send up to 50,000 emails a month for under $100. There are even some email list management software systems that periodically offer introductory rates of $1 for the first month.

    * An intuitive, Web-based interface - Web-based software is the wave of the future; a Web-based email list management system means you never have to worry about software maintenance or upgrades.

    * Limitless email lists - You should be able to maintain as many addresses as you wish and as many lists as you want without incurring extra expense. Beware of companies that charge based on the number of database entries you have!

    * Rollover credits - If you don't use your allotted number of emails during a given month, a good email marketing package will allow you to roll unused credits over into the next month, or to purchase additional credits on the fly, in real time.

    * Importing lists - You should be able to import entire mailing lists into the online system with a few clicks of your mouse. You should also be able to rent or buy opt-in email lists and migrate them into the system.

    * Sequential mailings - The best email marketing software systems allow you to import a series of messages and set up sequential mailings to be sent at the day and time you desire. In other words, you should be able to implement a six-month email marketing campaign in one sitting.

    * Flexibility - Look for software that allows you to edit your lists and messages right up to the minute your mailing is scheduled to be sent.

    * Automated list management - Email marketing software should automatically handle bounced emails, bad addresses, and requests for removal. It should also allow you to remove any blacklisted addresses and build opt-in email lists.

    Great email marketing software can be the great equalizer, allowing small- and medium-sized businesses to compete with the corporate giants in the world of Internet marketing and advertising.

    Do you Control Your Email Marketing Deliverability? You May be Surprised!

    You play by the rules. Your list is confirmed opt-in. You have spent time writing a compelling message and an inspiring call to action. Your graphic designers have designed a stunning custom email.

    You then send the email to your list but find that deliverability rates are lower than you planned. This is mostly because none of your recipients at a major Internet Service Provider (ISP) received your email. This is a disappointing outcome to say the least, and you decide to look into the matter further in order to avoid low email delivery rates in the future.

    Why did this ISP block your emails? You learn that the ISP has blacklisted the IP address that you share with numerous other customers of your Email Service Provider (ESP). Another email marketing customer sharing your IP address sent out an email
    blast and got too many spam complaints. As a result the ISP blacklisted the IP from which the email blast came. The problem is that this IP address is yours also.

    Your email delivery rates were lower than normal because of the actions of someone else. This problem was caused by factors completely out of your control.

    Problem and Solution

    You may be surprised to learn that most ESP's have a very small pool of IP addresses that nearly all of their customers share. Their large customers, however, do get a private IP address. Small businesses and non-profits typically have to share an IP or pay extra for a private one. Consider requesting a private IP address from your current ESP or even switching to an ESP that offers a private IP as a standard feature.

    Alternatively, if your deliverability numbers are consistently high, it probably means that your ESP is already offering private IP addresses or they are doing a good job of managing relationships with the major ISP's. If they offer mostly shared IP addresses, good delivery rates mean they are doing a good job of insuring CAN SPAM compliance in their customers and-when your shared IP address blacklisting happens-they are able to get it removed relatively quickly. This is where good relationships with the ISP's is important.

    What is an IP Address and Why Should I Care?

    Every machine connected to the Internet has a unique number called an IP address. A good analogy would be cell phone numbers.

    The big difference is that you do not share your cell phone number with a large group of people. You have a unique cell phone number through which people can reliably reach you and only you. They know it is you calling, and not some prank caller who happens to share your phone number.

    With a shared IP address, you share your IP address with other customers of the ISP. With some ESP's, each customer shares an IP address with thousands of other

    When you send out an email campaign, your emails are stamped as coming from a specific IP address-similar to how caller ID shows who is calling you. It is kind of like "caller ID" for emails but you are lumped together with everyone else who shares your IP address.

    The result of this situation is that ESP's are fighting a constant battle to keep their pool of IP addresses in the good graces of the ISP's, corporate networks, etc. While high
    quality ESP's make sure their customers are CAN SPAM compliant, recipients still can and will file spam complaints. If above a certain threshold of your recipients file spam complaints (it varies by the ISP or corporate network), the ISP or network administrator adds the IP address to a blacklist and block all email originating from that IP address.

    It is worth mentioning again that the better ESP's have relationships with the ISP's and do a good job of keeping their IP addresses off the blacklists. If the IP address does get
    blacklisted, they are usually fairly effective at getting the IP address removed from the blacklist. This process does not always go smoothly though.

    The Next Step: Whitelisting Your IP Address

    If you decide to get a private IP address, follow guidelines to avoid the spam filters, and stay CAN SPAM compliant, your deliverability rates should be excellent.

    You could achieve even better deliverability by getting on the whitelists of the major ISP's and even some corporate networks to which you send a lot of email. If you do this you will enter the realm of email senders the ISP's trust to send permission-based
    emails that will not annoy their customers.

    A whitelist is a list of IP addresses that have proven to be used for permission-based email only. The ISP lets emails from that IP through and they are much less likely to be blocked by spam filters. To get your IP address on their whitelist you have to establish a track record through a couple of months of sending legitimate email. Once you have done that, you apply for whitelisting and the ISP adds you to their whitelist. Since
    nobody else shares your IP address, nobody else can cause you to be removed from this whitelist or cause the ISP to add your IP to their blacklist.

    How Specifically Do I Whitelist My IP Address?

    To be whitelisted, you just have to establish a track record as a permission-based email marketer. This is essentially complying with the CAN SPAM regulations, meaning that you do things like include a valid From address, send to confirmed opt-in email lists, and provide your recipients a clear opt-out link; you do not do things like write deceptive subject lines or try to hide the intent of your emails. There is more to CAN SPAM and I
    recommend doing a Google search and reading the summary of CAN SPAM. You can read it in a few minutes, and will help you make sure your email campaigns comply. The rules are simple.

    To qualify for whitelisting status, you have to have a good but not a perfect track record in terms of spam complaints. As all who do email marketing know, sending email to an opt-in list can still result in some spam complaints. People forget they opted in originally or they grow irritated with the emails and file a quick spam complaint rather than finding the opt-out link at the bottom of the email. The ISP's recognize that there will always be some spam complaints with permission-based email marketing. However, as long as the complaints fall below a certain threshold, you can pass the criteria for whitelisting. The ISP's know that real spammers receive a higher level of complaints than
    permission-based email marketers.

    Each major ISP maintains its own whitelist, so you will need to visit their respective websites and submit their forms. Your email ESP should be able to provide you links to the whitelist application forms for the major ISP's and email address providers. They should also be able to provide you assistance, if needed.

    For additional ISP's and corporate whitelists, you will have to do a Web search or contact them directly for more information. It might be worth it to request whitelisting on selected corporate networks if a number of your list members have email addresses on
    these corporate networks.

    Watch Email Deliverability Like a Hawk

    The important point to remember is that deliverability is key to email marketing success so watch your email deliverability like a hawk. If your ESP is not performing for you then find out why and remedy the situation quickly. Try to make changes using your current ESP first. If nothing changes, then it might be time to consider a change.

    Direct Email Marketing Software

    Direct email marketing software is software that enables you to
    handle your very own bulk email marketing campaign rather than
    paying per piece to use online bulk emailing services or paying a
    marketing firm to do your bulk email promotions.

    Bulk email marketing is certainly one of the most cost-effective
    strategies in internet marketing, especially if you do not have
    to pay a set price for every email that is sent out.

    The pricing structure associated with your method of
    accomplishing bulk email marketing has an impact on the cost-
    effectiveness of your email marketing campaign.

    Using software can save money if you have the time to put into
    developing and managing your own email marketing.

    There is a number of direct email marketing software packages
    available on the market. Some are even shareware programs that
    don't require an initial investment or ongoing costs.

    They don't generally have the value-added features that come with
    software packages that you purchase; however, if you aren't
    running a large email marketing campaign, they may suit your
    needs for accomplishing specific tasks just fine.

    A good, comprehensive email marketing software package should
    provide some basic features that will enable you to effectively
    develop and manage your email marketing campaign.

    Some of the features to look for include templates, list
    management capabilities, and a tracking system.

    With these basic features, you will be able to build your mailing
    list, craft your email marketing message and analyze the results
    from your email marketing campaign to determine what is and what
    is not effective.

    The ability to send both text and HTML messages can be important,
    especially if you want to personalize your email messages

    HTML templates that are pre-designed are available with some
    direct email marketing software.

    With such templates, you simply fill in the blanks and you don't
    have to worry about knowing how to write HTML code to accomplish

    The flexibility of the templates in regard to being able to alter
    them to suit your company's image or to devise your own
    customized design is something to consider as well.

    List management features of direct email marketing software
    should provide you with the capability of building an opt-in list
    as well as providing automated management of opt-outs which
    enable recipients of the email to unsubscribe or to be removed
    from your mailing list.

    Manual management of the task of opt-ins and opt-outs can be
    incredibly time consuming and if you use email marketing on a
    large scale, it can even be impossible.

    You should also be able to categorize the addresses on your email
    lists so that you can send relevant information to interested

    Tracking features in direct email marketing software are highly

    Software packages with tools that provide you with a statistical
    breakdown that tells you whether or not your email messages are
    being read and which links in your messages are being followed
    will help you to better manage your email marketing campaign and
    to improve its effectiveness.

    There is no sense in sending marketing messages that don't draw
    results, so tracking the results of your messages and making
    changes as needed is essential.

    The capability of setting up auto responders for the purpose of
    follow-up or to answer subscribers' questions is also a value-
    added benefit of some email marketing programs.

    Reviewing a large number of email marketing software options is
    definitely in your best interest.

    Features of the software programs as well as costs are something
    to consider when choosing software for your email marketing

    Compatibility with the hardware you are using is also something
    to consider. With a good email marketing software program you
    can stay in contact with your customers and leads, save money on
    marketing and simplify your email marketing campaign so it won't
    be too time consuming for you.

    Email Marketing the Easy Way

    What is email marketing?

    Basically, in plain English, email marketing is a targeted mass mailing done via email. The purpose of email marketing could be advertising in order to recruit new clients, introducing a new set of products or services to an existing client base, keeping your clients informed by means of a newsletter, etc. All of the before mentioned activities are very legitimate business efforts, as long as you respect some unwritten rules and as long as the list of emails you use is what is called 'targeted', in other words the names came from a database generated by your marketing division and represents your existing client base, a carefully selected list of potential prospects or a list of people who opted in to receive your messages.

    If instead of the above you use a list that you bought (you know, "25 million guaranteed AOL email addresses for only 19.95 - plus shipping"), or are doing it without warning the people on your list, or using other shady methods, then you are considered a spammer and what you are sending is spam, bulk mail, unsolicited email, basically, the main enemy of all things virtue and life in general. Yes folks, it is that easy to be labeled as a spammer, and very hard to get out of it.

    Once your message is considered unsolicited, you will immediately be put on zillions of black lists, side by side with those who promise inches and inches of extra extremities and hours and hours of ecstatic pleasures (for only 3 easy payments and some handling fees).

    Sound pretty risky, so why bother?

    Obviously, opt-in email advertising is far more cost effective than direct marketing via regular mail, door-to-door sales, or telemarketing. Paper, printing, envelopes, and postage can add up quickly. Door to door sales require paying out commissions. Telemarketing results in high long distance bills, often without great results, as people become more and more blood thirsty toward the people on the other end of the so called cold call.

    So why not just use my personal email or my company's mail server and some mailing software?

    In the early days of email marketing (that is, before the art of penile enlargement was crafted), that's exactly what people did. They would gather all their emails into some primitive version of a spreadsheet, fire up some mail merging program, hook it up to their corporate mail system and voila, thousands of emails were flying away.

    Today, the scenario is certainly possible, but let me tell you in a simple set of scenarios what can happen:

    One of the many not-for-profit groups that decided to police the internet will intercept that a large number of emails were generated and sent by a server near you (yep, they can do that). In order to protect the civilized world from those who spread spam, viruses and other vermin, they will put you on a list of threats to humanity. Those other nice corporate folks who were your indented recipients, have an IT department that gets constantly yelled at by angry users who get emails with naked people. Well - Mel, their IT guy decides to put up an anti-spam system that links to that not-for-profit's database of known spammers (oh yeah, did I mention you are now a 'known spammer'?) and block your emails. Your emails might actually be blocked so well that your company will have a real trouble communicating via email and your IT folks will all go nuts and/or get fired.

    Basically, not so good. Other things that can happen are: you'll have to build some opt-in / opt-out system, in some states there are laws that require that you make it very easy for your audience to unsubscribe, you'll have a hard time formatting your emails in a decent, eye pleasing way, etc.

    Lastly, the process of sending thousands of emails and managing lists, subscribing and unsubscribing people is tedious and just plain annoying. The only way to do it is with a maximum degree of automation, or, the better solution - to outsource to a company that does it professionally.

    Folks, I am known for promoting the "do it in house" concept, and am not that big on outsourcing. But when it comes to mass mailing... I say stay away from it and let the professionals do what they do.

    If you are worried about cost, know that the fee you pay for email marketing services, will still cost less than the continued overhead and expenses of the traditional options, not to mention the great possibilities of reaching a much larger audience, much faster (practically instantly).

    What to look for in an email marketing company?

    1. Automating Your Subscribe and Unsubscribe Requests

    Many email marketing companies will provide you with exact HTML code you need to paste to your site to have a subscription form on your web site. The better services also provide a link at the bottom of each email that enables subscribers to update their information or unsubscribe from a list, automating everything for you.

    2. Personalization of Emails

    Another powerful feature of many email marketing services is the ability to use mail merge capabilities to personalize each email that you send. The better services allow to have custom fields, additional to the standard first name and last name.

    3. Bounceback email handling

    Bouncebacks are emails that are sent to email accounts that no longer exist or are full, blocked, etc. Essentially, you'll get a response stating that your message did not make it. All email list management software programs are able to manage subscribe and unsubscribe requests and send out messages, however without integrated bounceback email handling all the non-deliverable emails will be sent back to you, a rather big nuisance if your list is large. Ideally, the email software you use will be able to manage your bouncebacks for you. Whenever a bounceback is received, the software makes a note of the address and if another bounceback is received the email address will be sent to a list of dead addresses.

    This remove capability is extremely important since if you continuously send out emails with many bouncebacks you may be blacklisted as a spammer. This is something you really want to avoid at all cost.

    4. HTML email

    The ability to send out HTML emails has been around for quite some time. Most email marketing companies support the ability to send out messages that include graphics and formatted text. This is surely something you'll want to look for.

    However, not all of your users have the ability to view email messages in HTML format. This percentage is usually between 10-20%. Instead of seeing your aesthetically pleasing email they might see a string of meaningless code. Using most email list management programs, these 10-20% of users will open up emails from you and be very inclined to call you a spammer.

    To avoid this, look for companies that use multi-part MIME to send out messages. When you send an HTML email in multi-part MIME, users who do not have the ability to view HTML messages will receive the email in the usual text format.

    So who should you use?

    Do your homework, read reviews, eventually, make use of a trial account and see if it fits your needs. I currently use Intellicontact (Owned by Broadwick Corporation, a company specialized in software that improves communication efficiency for businesses) - check them out at [] - they do everything I told you about in this article, plus more.