Optimize Small Business Email Lists to Get the Best Results!

Many businesses depend on email marketing to communicate with their customers and prospects. To get the results you want from your email marketing campaigns, it’s important to develop and maintain a distribution list that allows you to reach the right people with the right messages. Your list needs to be kept up to date, and you might also consider segmenting it so your messages can target specific people with customized messages.

Populating Your Distribution List

In pre-spam days, many businesses would buy lists of email addresses and use those to send out marketing messages. Others would “rent” lists; for example, a vendor would promise to send their message to 500 homeowners in a particular zip code, without providing the actual email list. As people’s email inboxes became flooded with unsolicited messages, the government stepped in with stringent anti-spam regulations. 

The best way to develop a list has always been to do it organically, contacting your customers and prospects and asking them to “opt in” to receive messages and special offers. It may take longer to develop, but it fulfills all the legal requirements and will get much better results.

Emails sent to people who have not opted in are likely to be reported as spam, and that could ruin your online reputation. Mail servers often check your Sender Score before deciding what to do with incoming emails. A low rating can cause your emails to be blocked before they ever reach the intended recipient’s inbox. 

A low Sender Score can result from reports of spamming, but it also takes into account other factors like what percentage of your emails are rejected and what percentage go to invalid addresses. These numbers could result from not maintaining your list regularly to weed out bad information. One way to improve your Sender Score is to include a request in each email to be added to the recipient’s “safe sender” or “white hat” list. This should increase the percentage of emails that are actually delivered. 

Don’t Go It Alone

These days, it’s best for a small business to contract with an email provider like Constant Contact or MailChimp to deliver bulk emails and make sure all the rules are followed. These companies can provide you with reports that you can use to view the results of your campaigns (how many emails were opened, etc.) and they can also help you maintain your distribution lists by weeding out bad addresses and keeping track of “unsubscribe” requests. 

Keep It Up to Date 

Industry averages show that about 30 percent of email addresses become outdated or invalid during the course of a year. If you continue to send emails to an address after it becomes invalid, your Sender Score will suffer, and if you’re paying your email provider according to volume, you’ll be paying for mail that wasn’t delivered. Your email provider can give you a list of addresses that were invalid, so you can remove them. 

It’s also smart to ask for a report on recipients who haven’t opened your messages recently. Chances are, if they haven’t opened your emails in the last 6 or 12 months, they’re no longer interested in your company. You might try to send a special offer to people on this list to see if it generates a response. If not, delete them and move on.

It’s important to follow the rules regarding the “unsubscribe” option. According to the government’s CAN-SPAM regulations, each of your emails must offer the recipient a chance to unsubscribe from your list. Once you receive a notice that they want to be removed from the list, you have only 10 business days to comply, and if they get another email in the meanwhile, you could get labeled as a spammer.

Segmenting for Success

Instead of sending a message to everyone on your list (the shotgun approach), you’ll get better results if you send targeted emails to a specific segment of your customer base. Assuming you have a database of information about your customers (where they live, their age, what they’ve purchased in the past, etc.) you can sort that information to create a list of people who would be especially interested in a particular offer. For example, if you’re opening a new store, you can target people who live in that neighborhood. If you’re selling sheets, announce that to people who recently purchased a bed. If you’re having a sale on skateboards, it would make sense not to include senior citizens on your list. 

Once you have segmented your email list and decided who you want to target, take another look at the message you’re planning to send. Targeting a particular segment gives you an opportunity to customize not only your message, but also graphic elements like images and fonts. If you’re targeting the skateboard crowd, you can make your message a lot more edgy and counterculture than if you’re sending it to everyone. 

Bottom Line: By keeping your email lists up to date and segmenting them to reach targeted groups, you’ll get better open rates, better marketing results and a healthier bottom line.