Internet direct mail has a much lower cost per order than traditional print direct mail, but success in both is largely determined by the quality of the mailing lists you use — and how well they reach your target prospects.
The following six factors can help you determine which lists can produce profitable results on the Internet for your product or service and are, therefore, worth testing.
Prefer opt-in e-lists. Many of the “cheap” e-lists being promoted on the Internet are simply collections of IP addresses from people who have visited random Web sites or newsgroups. This is like targeting printed direct mail to anyone who owns a letter opener.
The true definition of “opt-in” is that people on an e-list have filled out a registration page on the Web site — or completed another electronic or paper form — on which they have checked the option saying they want to receive e-mail from other companies.
If prospects opt-in, the probability that they will respond positively to your e-mail is greatly enhanced. On the other hand, sending e-mail to lists where prospects have not opted in risks spamming and the resultant flaming.
Of the 250 e-lists on the market, only 60 are opt-in. How can you find out what opt-in means to the e-list you are considering testing? Ask for its opt-in language. Or go to its Web site and register. If you are not presented with the choice to opt-in, question the integrity of the list. Make sure the language explains clearly that other companies will be e-mailing you.
Look for Web site “fans,” not random hits. The most responsive e-lists have ongoing relationships between sites and visitors. Whether they are receiving a monthly magazine, weekly newsletter, or are purchasing products from the company, look for lists of people who are enthusiastically using the site and are not just random surfers. You want to know how often the people are returning to the site, how often the site is contacting them, and the last contact date.
Make sure e-lists are clean and current. Well-maintained lists add new names, match e-list names to e-mail preference files, update address corrections, and remove bounce backs and opt outs. Thanks to the speed of the Internet, there is a lot of activity on e-lists. A dirty file can decrease response and increase flaming, bounce backs and costs. Look for e-lists that are updated monthly or more frequently and guarantee 100 percent delivery.
Look for list integrity. Owners of top quality e-lists maintain strict control of their files. The list does not leave the owner's computer; your e-mail message is transmitted to the Internet addresses by the owner. This prevents tampering or sending of unapproved e-mail messages. It also prevents spamming and flaming by ensuring that your e-mail only goes to interested parties who have agreed to receive it.
Use appropriate selects. Selections are essential for target marketing. E-lists have two types of selections: Web site data and individual data.
Site data is generated from log reports, and a “quality” e-list will have them available. Examples of site data are original registration date, last time visited, and number of times visited.
Individual data is gathered directly from the registrant or by enhancement. Examples of individual data are consumer vs. business, age, gender, job title, industry and special interests. Selections allow you to target only those Internet prospects most likely to respond to your offer.
Work with e-list owners and managers who go the extra mile to help promote your offer to their audiences. Some e-lists offer value-added services that can increase the effectiveness of your marketing. You can turn your message into a personalized offer by putting the person's name in the body of your copy. Immediate “click through” reports show how many people took the next action by clicking through to your Web site.
Other value-added services to look for include split tests for multiple messages, list owner endorsements, address corrections, e-mail address appending, data enhancements and e-mail with graphics, to name a few. All of these services can increase response and reduce cost per order.
Michelle Feit is vice president of the Internet division at Edith Roman Associates, a firm providing list brokerage, list management and database and Internet marketing services. She can be reached toll-free at 800/409-4443.