Four steps for improving your 2009 e-mail results

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Improving your e-mail marketing results doesn't have to cost thousands of dollars. When every penny counts, basic, low- cost optimization techniques can yield significant improvements. Here are a few tricks of the trade:

First, run a capture audit. We all lose track of the countless places we gather e-mail addresses. It's time to take a good, hard look at correcting this problem. Audit each of your online and offline e-mail capture methods. Create a matrix with column headings that refer to each source (search engine landing page, Web site, point of sale). Complete the matrix by pulling e-mail metrics from the past six months and segmenting the results based on source of e-mail capture. Then, determine where your most profitable e-mail acquisition occurs. Focus optimization efforts there and lessen efforts in the least profitable categories.

Next, be sure to optimize your capture forms to capture only the most profitable subscribers. Sign up for Google analytics and run it on every form page. You need to know your completion rate vs. impressions. What do people click on and what do they ignore? After evaluating the data, it's time to test: Test copy, both its tone and length. If subscribers feel they have either insufficient or too much information, they'll leave. Test the number of fields. Fewer are better. Test imagery. The addition of e-mail examples (expandable in a pop-up screen) could alleviate subscribers' fears about content and relevancy. Test layout. Many researchers concur that a one-column design brings the highest number of conversions.

Next, look for remarketing opportunities. Before you dream up a new and costly campaign, examine previous campaigns and see where you might harvest new opportunities. Market to individuals who opened but didn't click and to individuals who clicked but didn't convert. Market to “loiterers” — those who opened or clicked on eight of your past 10 campaigns but still haven't purchased.

Finally, optimize e-mail creative. With mobile rendering now the biggest concern, it's time to face the problem of unreadable e-mails. Reduce the imagery in the top three inches of your design and set the heights and widths on all images. If your call to action is an image, provide viewable text links. Forget open rates. Readers should be able to get the message without having to download images or click on a web version. Make your imagery complement, not carry, the message. Focus on conversions instead. Don't pay for a complete redesign to spice up your template. Instead, test the addition or placement of one element and discover how it can impact your click-through rate. Here's to optimization, and to a higher ROI in 2009.

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