Posted by on Aug 2, 2013 in Marketing Your Website

Knowing all your customers on a personal level is clearly the best form of relationship but this isn’t realistic for 99% of businesses or websites. So what is the best method of communication to keep that relationship alive?

It may come as a surprise to many of you that email is more powerful than any other form of digital communication. Blogs, Facebook or Twitter posts might get read but none of them will demand as much attention as an email – that’s assuming you follow a few golden rules.

What is an email list?

The clearest definition of an email list, is simply ‘a list of email addresses’, and possibly names, of those people that have visited your website or expressed an interest in your product or service. Maybe they purchase something from you or maybe they just dropped by your site to take a look, either way you should capture their email address.

How to collect email addresses

The easiest way to collect email addresses is to have a form on your website, that allows people to enter their email, and address and possibly name, then hit a button and those details are sent directly to an email list. If you are hoping to get lots of visitors to your site, and therefore capture lots of new contacts, then automating this process will save you lots of time.

If you are using a common CMS (content management system) such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, they all have modules/plugins available to capture email addresses. These plugins will allow you to change a few settings and hey presto you are collecting email addresses.

If you have a basic website that consists of a few HTML pages then you can get the HTML code for the data capture form directly from your email gateway. Before I explain this I should just give a quick definition of an ‘email gateway’.

Where do I store my email list?

An ‘email gateway’ is a company that will look after your email list for you. The company we use because of its unrivalled customer service, feature set and the fact that it can be free to most, is Mailchimp. They will also manage the sending of mass emails, so if you wanted to send an email to everyone on your list then you wouldn’t do this in the way you normally send an email to a friend. If you did try to send one email to more than 50 recipients then the majority of your emails would get caught by spam filters and wouldn’t even be seen by the recipient. Using an email gateway to send your emails is the best way to ensure your emails arrive in their intended spot – the Inbox.

Not all gateways are created equal – without going into too much technical detail, Im just going to say that you may find some cheaper services out there but these probably won’t have the delivery rates of the big players in the market. If less of your emails are arriving with your customers then it’s false economy.

Just trust me on this one, I have been involved with the sending of millions of emails over my years in the business and know that using a trusted gateway such as Mailchimp will be the most effective and ultimately will make/save you more money in the long run.

At the moment, Mailchimp offer a free plan to anyone with under 2,000 subscribers and that allows you to send up to 12,000 emails per month.

Here on Clictu I use Drupal and you will see the email collection form at the top of the right bar. Although this is not a Drupal module, it is created with code from Mailchimp, I just had to copy and paste the code into my website – simple!

What information should I ask for?

This is entirely up to you, although I should point out that the saying ‘less is more’ has never had a better association than with this topic. The less information you ask for, the more likely people are to give you their info. Countless studies have shown that each additional piece of information you ask for will reduce the amount of people actually completing the form and hitting the button to send the data.

Taking the above into account, I would recommend only capturing the data you really need, in my case for Clictu, just ‘email address’ is enough. There may be situations where you do need to capture other information, if your business covers 2 or 3 very specific audiences then you might want to capture their interest area. If you do this, please keep it as simple as possible.

What are the benefits of having an email list

The main benefit is clearly your path to their attention, as I mentioned above, assuming your email actually arrives in their inbox then you have a much better chance of them reading your email than you do of them reading your latest blog post or checking your Facebook/Twitter posts.

If you send regular emails (weekly is good) then you are also keeping your brand fresh in their head, so when they are ready to make a purchase or decision about a service, then you will hopefully still be on their mind. You should only send an email if you have something of interest for them though, don’t send an email for the sake of it if you have nothing to say.

Once your list grows big enough then it can also act as a revenue stream. I would never recommend selling this list directly (that’s a dirty business), but you can charge other companies to have some form of inclusion in your email, they may have an offer that you promote for them. I would only recommend you doing this if it is of interest to your contacts otherwise you risk alienating them and losing them from your list.

Email list etiquette

Welcome your members to the list

most email gateways will allow you to setup a ‘welcome email’ or ‘autoresponder’ that will be sent to them automatically once they have been added to your list. This will reinforce your brand and give you another chance to push (gently) your message.

Let them unsubscribe

most email gateways will insist you include an unsubscribe link in your email or the emails won’t get sent. If they are not mandatory then its a good idea to add it anyway, you obviously don’t want it to be used, but its another way to gain trust. Don’t forget, this is a relationship and you need to convince them you are worthy of their time and attention – just like any relationship!

What’s in it for them

Possibly the most important piece of advice I can give you is make sure there are benefits to them joining the list in the first place but then also with every email you send them be certain to highlight any benefits.

I receive so many email newsletters myself and am often appalled at how some big-brand household names can get things so wrong. If you are selling a product or service then its easy to understand, give them an offer or a reduced price or even a free trial. If you are promoting a band, let them jump the queue. If you are a charity say how them reading your email with help those people/animals you are representing. I’m sure you get the picture.

If your emails are of no benefit or interest to the subscriber then you can be certain they will soon tire of reading or even opening your emails and they will either go straight to the ‘trash’ or they will unsubscribe from the list.

The importance of a subject line

When you receive an email from a friend, the first thing you look at is the subject line to see what the email is about, if you are at work you may decide whether to read it straight away or wait until you have finished the piece of work.

When someone receives an email from someone they don’t know, this subject line is even more important, it can be the difference between your email being read and just getting ignored or going straight to the trash.

Once again, you need to highlight the benefits here as succinctly as possible. You also need to be careful not to use certain words in your subject line, spam filters can vary dramatically and some will be stricter than others. If you used a subject line like ‘Guaranteed fast weight loss or your $$$s back’ then you can be fairly certain that the majority of people won’t even see your email, let alone open it, it would probably get stopped before it even reaches your account and if it does get to you it would probably go straight to your ‘spam’ folder.

There are far too many words for me to list here, but try to avoid the salesy words. Mailchimp offer a great tool that allows you to test a subject line, you tell them what you are thinking of using and they will give you a rating of the words/phrases you’ve used.

It’s never too late, start collecting email addresses now…

Regardless of what stage you are at with your website project, whether it’s at the planning stage or you’ve been live for 6 months, if you are not collecting email addresses from your customers or visitors, you should be thinking about it and doing whatever is required to start building that list.