One of the most appealing aspects about email marketing is the ready accessibility of metrics and analytics. Every day we can see exactly how our program is doing, and how well each message is performing. But performance insight is a double-edged sword. While it reassures us that we’re on the right track, it reminds us every day that there’s room for improvement. When we do make gains, they normally emerge slowly, visible only through trending reports covering weeks or even months. Wouldn’t it be great if there were ways to get a year’s worth of improvement in a week, and enjoy powerful email performance without all the work?
As it turns out, there are no shortage of email hacks, cheats and shortcuts, each of which promises your email program the equivalent of losing 20 pounds of fat and building rippling and lean muscles in only 5 minutes a day, for 2 weeks. You don’t believe those informercials for miraculous exercise equipment or diet pills, so you should be equally suspect of any email initiative that looks like it will yield huge results with little work. The lure is great, but the payoff is short-lived. Individual results will definitely vary.
Here are a few of the most common email hacks, cheats and shortcuts, and why they do more harm to your email program than good:
1. Renting or trading for a list: If emailing to your house list works, emailing to even more people must produce even more results, right? List brokers will always certify that their lists are 100% opt-in, and are compliant with CAN-SPAM, and most will help you justify the expense by showing the impressive ROI if only a few names on that list convert. Similarly, vendors and partners will offer to trade their house lists to you, either for the right to mail to your house list or for some other asset (such as event sponsorship or another partnership opportunity). In either case, you’ve got thousands of brand new names to mail to.
Why it doesn’t work: There are two main problems that arise from mailing to a list you have not earned permission for yourself (outside of the fact that it’s hard enough to get the inbox attention of someone who knows and likes you, must less someone who has never heard of you). The first is that despite all insistence to the contrary, there is no way you can be sure that the names you are mailing to have opted in to receive offers from third parties (which is what you are if it is not your own house list). So you risk running afoul of CAN-SPAM every time you mail to a list whose chain of custody you haven’t maintained yourself. Second and more importantly, if the people on the list do not remember opting in to receive messages from third parties, it really doesn’t matter that you’re CAN-SPAM compliant. They’ll see a message from a brand in their inbox (yours) that they don’t know anything about, and are as likely to mark it as spam as messages reaching their inbox through less legitimate avenues. Your sender reputation is not a trial by jury. It is compromised by spam complaints, not actual spam offenses. Mailing to a list that is not your own can result in a short-term lift in results, but the damage to your sender reputation will make it harder in the future to reach your own house list, that you have spent years earning permission to contact.
2. Subject line teasers and tricks: Once your message is delivered, the next big obstacle is getting it opened. Emailers try all manner of subject lines to accomplish the task, like a sensational headline that might not exactly be about the message content but is nevertheless intriguing, or beginning a subject line with “RE:” or “FW:” to make it look like a personal conversation the recipient has already been a part of, or should be. Testing and analytics allow the emailer to find a subject line strategy that really moves the needle on open rate.
Why it doesn’t work: The first tenet of email marketing is permission, and the foundation of permission is trust. Tricking your subscribers into opening an email is disingenuous and violates the trust you have worked hard to earn. Unless your Cosmo, your subject lines should accurately telegraph the message content, allowing your subscribers to determine if the inside deserves their attention. Luring them in under false pretenses is disrespectful of their time, and results in higher unsubscribe rates and an overall deterioration in trust. Your open rate for today’s message is not the objective; an email program that continues to drive your business forward is.
3. Appending email addresses: If you’re emailing several people within the same organizations, it is possible to determine the email addresses of the people you don’t know using the limited data you do have. For example, if your contact at Domain Corporation is Ginni Hendricks and her email address is email@example.com, then you can reasonably assume her boss Edie Halen is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her colleague Erica Clapton is email@example.com. Reconstructing the email addresses from the names of people you want to reach is called Email Appending, and there are many companies available to perform this service for you to grow your list within your target companies.
Why it doesn’t work: In the above example, you’ve earned permission to contact Ginni. But Edie and Erica may not know your company at all, or may know you well enough to know they have not yet subscribed to anything of yours. In either case, you risk a spam complaint (this time a legitimate one, since they have not opted in to your list or another you legally have access to). And compounding the process of an eroding sender reputation overall is the increased likelihood that multiple spam complaints within the same organization will trigger an internal control that could block ALL of your messages from reaching this domain, including the ones to Ginni, who is expecting to hear from you.
The inconvenient truth is that the only way to enjoy a successful, productive and sustainable email program is to build it over time. It takes dedicated effort, patience and strategy. The upside is that the same rules also apply to your competitors, who can’t hack, cheat and shortcut their way to the email fast lane any more than you can. When you see companies cutting corners for a quick lift in their email results, just remember that they’re sending their entire program back in the long-term. It looks like a shortcut, but they’ll soon find it’s a dead end.