Nine Tips to Boost E-Mail Response

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It's fast. It's cheap. And if done correctly, it is incredibly effective. E-mail marketing is still in its infancy, but over the past few years we have started to discover how to make this exciting new medium work.


Here are nine tactics for boosting response:


• Don't forget the "from" line. What is one of the first things you do when you get a letter by snail mail? You look at the upper-left corner of the envelope to see who sent it.


Likewise, when people get e-mail, they look at the "from" line to see who sent it. You can use a company name (From: SharperImage), personal name (From: Richard Thalheimer), e-mail address (From: Richard@sharperimage.com), department address (From: SpecialOffers@sharperimage.com), anonymous address (From: 23456@si.com) or just about anything you want. Generally, however, people pay more attention to messages from people they know.


• Write an attention-grabbing "subject" line. You can state your offer (Get 600,000 pieces of clip art for only $69.95!), offer something free (Free Dow Jones Video Just for Asking), announce exciting news (Russian scientist discovers biological secret of love), appeal to the how-to instinct (How to find out anything about anyone!) or ask a question (Want an easy way out of debt?).


The subject line is like teaser copy on an envelope. Its only purpose is to get people interested enough to want to know more.


• Get creative with your subject line. Arouse curiosity by ending your line in midsentence (To cut your travel costs in half just ...). Establish a personal feel with the "forward" abbreviation (FW: Here's something I think you'll like). Create excitement with a "nuts" line (We're going nuts trying to reach you!). Create familiarity with a "whoops" line (Whoops! Important correction to my last e-mail). The possibilities are endless.


• Get to the point quickly. Expand on your subject line in the headline or first paragraph of your e-mail letter. Telegraph your offer clearly and completely.


If your subject line says, "Get $100 off your utility bills," your first paragraph could say, "Sign up now for a Risk-Free 30-day trial of Shopper's Discount and you can get $100 in Free Utilities! We will send you $100 in Utility Cash-Back Certificates - good for gas, electric, cable TV, phone - absolutely Free."


• Include a salutation. Many e-mail letters work fine without a salutation - they are more like short advertisements. But if you want your letter to look like a letter, you will need a salutation at the top or after a headline.


You can make it generic (Dear Friend, Dear Pet Lover, Dear Homeowner), but a personalized salutation is better whenever that is an option. You can personalize your body text in the same way with names, places, locations and various bits of information. Do not overdo it, though, or you will raise privacy concerns.


• Include at least three links. Unless you are trying to sell something directly from your e-mail, you will be sending your reader to an HTML page to complete the transaction. That means including a link that the reader can click on or cut and paste into a browser's address window.


This link should appear at least three times: after the offer in your first paragraph, somewhere in the middle of the letter and again at the end. I have seen statistics that claim 95 percent of click-throughs are from the first two links, which is why it is important to get them upfront as well as at the end. For newsletters, you can break your copy into several short items, each on a different subject with its own link.


• Keep it short ... usually. Prevailing wisdom is that a prospect letter should be from 200 to 500 words and a newsletter from 500 words to 1,500 words. But do not rely on that. I have seen successful letters with anywhere from a few sentences to thousands of words. In general, if you want to sell right from the letter, you need more copy. If you want people to go to another location, keep it short and say just enough to get the click-through.


• Don't look like a spammer. Keep your tone friendly and informative. Avoid overblown language. Keep the exclamation points to a minimum. Avoid lots of all-cap lines, which is akin to screaming in cyberspace.


• Test everything. This includes "from" lines, subject lines, personalization, plain text vs. HTML, offers and length. And do not forget to test the page to which you are sending people. Every little improvement translates into more revenue for each subsequent mailing.
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