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Editor’s Note: Search Is for Acquisition, E-Mail Is for Retention

Some say e-mail marketing as we know it is doomed, but judging from the 40-plus articles in this guide I can safely say it is alive and well. Yes, search and new technology like Really Simple Syndication have knocked e-mail out of the spotlight. Yes, AOL has stopped using that phrase, “You’ve got mail,” in its ads since that joy just isn’t as joyful when you’re greeted with dozens of e-mails to slog through each morning.

Search may be the No. 1 online acquisition tool, but nothing beats e-mail for retention capabilities and cost-effectiveness. E-mail lets marketers create an ongoing, interactive dialogue with consumers. Each e-mail is a relationship opportunity that can help or hurt you. JupiterResearch’s David Daniels tells us that e-mail marketing is still in its infancy. It has become a mainstream marketing tactic, but the intelligent adoption of the channel is still quite low. Only 31 percent of marketers use previous click-through behavior to target subscribers in follow-up mailings. Daniels says this probably means that most marketers are using the blast mentality.

Here then are a few things I learned from this guide:

Be careful. Don’t send an e-mail just because you think you should, and don’t send irrelevant e-mails on topics not requested. According to Forrester Research, trust in e-mail has dropped 10 percent since 2002 because of phishing and spam. Yet Forrester found that one-third of online households still consider e-mail a great way to learn about products and offers, and only 10 percent find permissioned e-mail annoying compared with 31 percent for mail and 54 percent for banner ads.

Don’t overdo it. Some say you should ask your customers how many times they want e-mail from you, but just as with catalogs, it would be far fewer than you want and you could miss prime selling opportunities. Just ensure you honor your customers’ wishes. Most e-mail service providers will tell you to send no more than one e-mail a week. If so, what day? A study by ExactTarget found that e-mails sent Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays get the most opens, while users click most on weekend e-mail. But don’t take their word for it. Each company is different. Test different days and frequencies and see what gives you the best response.

Keep it short. EmailLabs research found that a typical reader spends 15-20 seconds on an e-mail. This means using short paragraphs, even shorter sentences, putting the call to action way-y-y up in the e-mail and using the subject line to its fullest. The subject line can make or break your campaign, so don’t be deceptive, keep it short. DoubleClick research has found that mentioning discount offers have the greatest influence in getting a message opened.

Missed opportunities. Since consumers expect confirming purchase and shipping notice e-mails, these are a great place to include a promotion for something else. Customer service e-mails present a similar opportunity. Just do it below the business at hand and be brief about it.

Search may be having its moment in the sun, but e-mail will be with us for a very long time.

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