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The technology for cooking up email marketing campaigns is constantly becoming easier – and more automated. It’s never been simpler to power, distribute or analyze your efforts.
Unfortunately, like most things in business, that means it’s also easier to let an uninspiring dish leave the kitchen … and it’s much harder to produce the kind of five-star fare that produces desired results.
Email marketing is a powerful and high-impact way to regularly communicate with clients and stay top of mind with prospects. The end goals, of course, are to raise visibility, drive website traffic and provide a conduit for your thought leadership strategy.
If you consistently find yourself scrambling three days before you’re supposed to get out your next e-newsletter and wondering who’s going to write about what, you are destined to waste a lot of time and energy, fail to get the results you want — and maybe even end up with egg on your face.
The good news is that, with a hearty dose of planning and a side order of accountability, you can take the pain out of your email marketing efforts.
1. What does the editorial lineup look like?
The first step is to determine the type of information you want to share with your recipients. Take the “service journalism” route, where at least half of the content is either educational or thought-provoking. Just look at this article you are now reading. It’s full of hard-earned lessons you can deploy. With tips, techniques and advice, people will want to read and share what you send – and eventually will look forward to seeing your e-newsletter appear in their inbox.
Come up with a set number of “content buckets” – a general table of contents, if you will – that’s consistent issue-to-issue. Three or four buckets are usually sufficient.
For example, in the Altitude e-newsletter, I always write a tips-driven column, while Fred’s Corner shines a spotlight on something from the SEO world, like his recent post on the perfectly optimized page. Then we tend to feature a customer/client success story of the month, as well as a fourth bucket that highlights some aspect of the Altitude culture. Having a structure of buckets in place will help you think through what should be included in each issue, so you can plan months in advance.
2. Who will serve as managing editor for the newsletter?
Someone has to own the process. The managing editor is responsible for driving the development of, owning and keeping the editorial calendar up to date. This person is also responsible for keeping production and timeline on track — story assignments, deadlines and layout of the newsletter, as well as keeping recipient lists updated. These tasks may be delegated, but the managing editor is ultimately responsible for ensuring all this happens on time and on budget.
3. How frequently should it be sent?
This depends on a number of factors including the bandwidth of those writing articles, the individual serving as managing editor and the availability of new news that’s relevant to your audience. It’s important to set a date for sending the e-newsletter that is consistent. This mail date will help to dictate deadlines for articles and help ensure it gets out the door on time.
4. When should I send it?
There are a lot of opinions out there – and open rate is driven by a lot more than when you hit the send button. There is some degree of logic behind the general consensus that Tuesday-Thursday is way better than hitting send on Monday or Friday. Forget the weekends. Also, earlier in the morning – before the day gets away from people – is better than waiting until the end of the day.
5. What platform will be used to create and send the newsletter?
Much to my chagrin, I still get at least one mass email, sent via Outlook, each week where the recipients’ names are in the CC: line – a surefire way to get your e-blast caught up in spam filters. There are dozens of email marketing programs out there from which to choose, each offering a variety of options and pricing models. Most of the well-known ones have enough back-end analytics to give you the list management you need (unsubscribe, removal of bounced emails from the list) and analytics you want to see (open rates, click-throughs, shares and so on).
And yes, the managing editor should be looking at the analytics to gain insight into what’s working, what’s not, what topics people seem to read most and so on.
6. What does the production schedule look like?
Assign stories at least six weeks in advance of deadline. Each piece should be completed at least two days before the send date to allow for layout, posting to the website, addition of art assets, testing and so on. Each piece will go through at least two editing cycle once it leaves the writer’s hands, so buffer in time.
Also, the approval cycle needs to be factored in – so if your CEO needs to sign off on each article, build time into the schedule. In addition, it’s good to include a graphic or imagery with each story, so factor in time to collect the necessary art assets.
7. Where will the full content of each article live?
Best practices dictate that just the lead-in of stories be included in the newsletter template with links to the full story leading to your website. Someone needs to be assigned the task for posting the full content to your site.
8. What is the testing protocol?
The advances in technology make it easy to load up a story and hit send – accidently – to your entire email database. Always have a short-list of internal people on a separate segment on your list called “test.” Once you have the email built out, send it to these people to proofread, check the links, look for formatting issues on both PC and Mac, etc. Then, you can send to your entire list. Not before.
9. Where else can the content for the newsletter go – and vice versa?
The content used in the newsletter should be repurposed – that is, used elsewhere. For example, for this article, we’ll chop up the nine tips into a series of tweets and LinkedIn posts.
Submit your client success story to a leading trade magazine. If you’re including a new hire announcement in your most recent e-blast, send it to the local business journal.