Email: From Hotmale.com to Honeypots
Whether your business is B-to-B, B-to-C or both, building an opt-in email database of your customers and prospects is of paramount importance. In the early days of the Internet, gaining opt-in email addresses was easy—people were excited to receive email. Unfortunately, that novelty has worn off. Just look at the meteoric growth and market valuation of Google and you'll see that acquiring new prospects and email addresses has become a very costly game.
Marketers should employ the following seven strategies to ensure their email database growth initiatives will result in the highest conversion rates with the most accurate email addresses.
1. What's In It for Them?
Make sure you give your customers a good reason to sign up. Offer a coupon, a sweepstakes entry or membership in an insider's club. Provide value and your customers will return the favor. Beyond your initial bribe, make sure every email you send offers subscribers a reason to continue opening your emails.
2. Reassure Customers
To get your customers' primary email addresses, they need to feel you're not going to abuse the privilege they're granting you. Explain how you're going to use their email addresses and how you'll protect their privacy. Have preference center choices on your sign-up page so people know they can manage frequency or opt-out of your list at any time. Finally, provide a sample visual so subscribers will recognize your email when they receive it.
3. Test Your Email
Play with your site's email sign-up form wherever it appears. Don't use your real email address—insert bogus or misspelled addresses. Experience it as a consumer. Check regularly to see if your form is easy to complete, makes your customers feel reassured, and whether it catches and corrects problematic and inadvertent entry errors in real time.
4. Help Customers
Look at the text box on your sign-up page. Is it long enough? If your customers can't see their entire email addresses when they're typing, they can't tell if they've made a typo. Help them self-proof so they make fewer mistakes. At FreshAddress, we frequently see legitimate, deliverable email addresses that are over 50 characters long—remember that when you're designing your sign-up page.
Make sure the text in the entry box is legible. The font should be large enough to read easily and the font color should stand out.
Look at the error message your site generates. Does it help customers understand what they've done wrong so they can fix the problem(s)?
Some sites use a double-entry process: "Enter Your Email Address," then "Verify Your Email Address." You want to encourage people to type carefully, not force them to type twice. Many people simply cut and paste the faulty email addresses from one box to the other, so double-entry registration rarely solves the problem.
The best method of self-proofing is a confirmation page or a pop-up. Show what they typed again and they will probably notice typos or mistakes and go back and fix them.
5. Reward Accuracy
Tell your subscribers that if they enter their email addresses, they'll get an email back from you with a $5 off coupon or an offer of 10 percent off their next order. This encourages users to accurately enter their primary email addresses, not ones they rarely check.
6. Use Back-end Technology
Real-time email hygiene technology can scrutinize email registrations, enforce standard request for comments (RFC) codes, block problematic addresses, and catch and correct the millions of inadvertent email address entry errors people make every day.
There are official standards of what an email address must structurally contain. It has to have an @ sign and a period. It cannot have commas, quotation marks or spaces. Most sites check that each email address has an @ sign, a period and a couple other basics. Think about how you can go beyond the rules, checking beyond RFC standards, and start using technology to notice more obscure—yet still common—types of errors. These include:
- Closed domains (...@mediaone.net)
- Bad domains (...@test.com)
- Bad handles (nobody@...)
- Bogus and malicious email addresses (abuse@...)
- Common typos with corrections (..@hotmial.com vs. ...@hotmail.com)
Technology can correct problems that no amount of special offers can. But don't count on your tech team to handle this for you. Have them focus on the areas where their experience and expertise lie, and leave your email address hygiene and correction needs to providers who specialize in this field.
7. Do Not Ignore Offline Collection Methods
Ask for email addresses at every touchpoint possible: through your call and customer service centers, in your stores, at your kiosks, in your newsletters and at marketing events. On the phone, encourage client service reps to repeat the email address back to callers to make sure the spelling is right. To collect email addresses correctly on paper, make sure you've allowed sufficient space to enter an entire address.
If you're looking to incentivize email address collection, be sure to reward only addresses that prove to be deliverable; not simply any email address entered or scribbled onto a card. And be sure to review and correct these entries prior to entering them into your online database. Error rates for call entry, in-store collection and paper methods can exceed 20 percent, which will surely result in blocking or blacklisting issues if not prevented.
Survey Says ...
At FreshAddress, we conduct a study of the email registration practices of the 50 leading online retailers every two years. In our 2010 study, we attempted to register 14 different incorrect email addresses on the websites of these e-tailers. Unfortunately, 64 percent of the basic invalid email addresses were accepted by the websites as "ready to mail." Some email address errors we tested included:
- Syntax errors: mrstacook_cna@yahoolcom;
- Misspelling: email@example.com;
- Transposed characters: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Missing characters: email@example.com;
- Extra characters: firstname.lastname@example.org;
- Bogus: NONE@GMAIL.COM;
- Disposable domains: temporarybut email@example.com;
- Malicious: abuse@bankof america.com.
Typical Email Entry Error Rates
Inaccurate or bogus email addresses are typed 2 percent to more than 20 percent of the time. Plenty of bad email addresses are still deliverable. For example, disposable domains, many closed domains, spamtrap and honeypot addresses—email addresses set up to simply attract and trap spam—will all appear to be legitimate email addresses. Thus, you can't just judge list performance by your bounce rate from your first mailing.
Deliverability Is the Key to Driving Revenue
If you deploy an email message to a spam trap or you exceed ISPs' bounce or "this is spam" thresholds, your routine email messages will start to bounce or simply disappear. If your messages never reach your subscribers, all of your best marketing strategies, offers and creative will be wasted.
With 80 percent to 90-plus percent of all deliverability issues stemming from hygiene problems with the underlying list, the quality of your email database is what separates the winners from the also-rans. If you are unable to reach your customers due to inaccurate email addresses or poor deliverability, your competitors will happily step in to fill the void.
The Bottom Line
Implement the strategies above and you will see more than 25 percent lift in accurate email address registrations without having to pay Google a penny more. Moreover, by blocking problematic email addresses from ever getting into your marketing database, your deliverability rates will rise, as will all of your email marketing performance metrics—the most important one being your revenues.