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How To Market Your Website Without Spam

Spam or mass email is any message that you send electronically to lots of people who have not specifically requested mail from you -- in other words, junk email. While sending spam may result in a sale or two in the short run, it will almost surely damage your reputation, so it's good advice to stay clear of it. There are many better ways to use email to keep in touch with current and potential customers. Here are a few of them:

  • Invite people to subscribe to an email newsletter instead of sending unsolicited emails. Have a sign-up form on your website and explain that you'll send only timely, informative email to subscribers.
  • Include late-breaking, useful information in the email you send to subscribers. Because it can be delivered so quickly, email is a perfect vehicle for alerting people who are already part of your community to new and interesting developments. Even a modestly self-serving message will go over well if you package it with enough truly unique and valuable content. Just keep the hype to a minimum.
  • Make it easy to quit receiving email. Every message should include brief, friendly instructions for getting off your mailing list. Even people who keep subscribing will appreciate knowing that you've made it easy for them to say, "Enough already!" when the time comes. 

Here are more tips to help you stay on the right side of the law.

1. Make it obvious why you are sending the message.

2. Make it very easy for the recipient to opt out or unsubscribe.

3. Provide a valid, working reply address in the "from" line.

4. Do not sell your e-mail lists to others. By all means, collaborate with other reputable organizations to provide your customers with valuable information. But, once again, make it clear to all recipients why they are receiving each and every message.

5. Always publish a privacy policy on your Web site, and then follow it. For some good examples of how to write a privacy policy, visit TRUSTe's site.

6. Whenever you receive a complaint from a recipient, respond quickly and courteously. If possible you should use an e-mail marketing provider, or e-mail server software, that allows you to view a user's database record and learn where and how his or her e-mail address was obtained. Complaints are usually quickly resolved when users are reminded where and how they opted in to the e-mail program, and are given help unsubscribing.

7. On your sign-up page, test "pre-checked" opt-in buttons vs. ones that need a user's explicit selection to opt in, to see which ones get a better response.

8. Keep an eye on your program's ongoing unsubscribe rates. A high, or growing, rate probably indicates that the recipients are not receiving much value from your messages. Conversely, a growing number of "pass-alongs" (whereby one subscriber recommends you to a new subscriber) likely shows that you are meeting a perceived need.

9. The more personalization and content customization options you can provide your subscribers, the better. Use a sign-up Web page to gather contact information (including names and e-mail addresses) and content preferences or subjects of interest. This will enable you to provide them with a personalized subject line and salutation, as well as relevant, targeted content, such as events in their locality and news, features, and tips about products they own -- or are interested in learning about.

10. Ask for an alternate e-mail address when users subscribe. This way you can continue to contact them if e-mail sent to their primary address bounces (for example, if they change jobs, and therefore e-mail accounts).

11. Provide a confirmation message whenever someone subscribes or unsubscribes. Not only is this a courtesy, but it also helps reduce "spoof" sign-ups. You can also use a two-part sign-up process that requires subscribers to click on a link in the confirmation e-mail to validate that the e-mail address is correct, and that they do indeed wish to receive future messages (and are not simply the victim of a prank sign-up).

12. All your e-mail marketing efforts should be built with the aim of growing a well-qualified database of high-value, loyal customers. This database can then be used to develop an e-mail-based dialogue that lets you learn about your individual customers' needs and interests, and provide them with a tailored (and profitable) offering that meets those needs. Although e-mail can play a valuable role in customer acquisition, it is in retention and loyalty marketing building that e-mail truly excels.

13. If you do not already have e-mail addresses for your existing customers, start gathering them now. Use your Web site and your "offline" media efforts to drive subscriptions. I have found that the most responsive customers (and those who are most likely to purchase) are those who have signed up at a company Web site to receive future information by e-mail -- very often in the form of an e-mail newsletter.

14. If you work with an opt-in e-mail provider, be sure that every message sent on your behalf generates subscriptions for your own e-mail marketing efforts. You can expect to pay about 25 cents to 45 cents (U.S.) per message delivered by these opt-in providers, vs. 10 cents or less for outsourced delivery using your own e-mail list.

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