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Direct Email For Dummies          Print the current page
by Brian D. Chmielewski

Sitting down to write this week's feature article, I wanted to focus on something that every web site publisher, regardless of budget or product/service could both afford and effect results with. Direct email has become arguably the most popular way to reach audiences on the Web. But, because of its popularity, the end recipient must now sort through ( three times ) more email than they would have only one year ago. This statistic is a reflection of the popularity of this avenue of promotion. Everyone receives unsolicited email (UCE)or spam. My preferred method for liberating my inbox of this vermin is to hit the delete button. No stressful segues into a rancorous response, no mail bombing, just the tap of one button. It seems that the more you use your email address to register for free or fee-based services, the more UCE you get. So, how do you protect against this as a consumer and how can you set yourself apart as a purveyor?

Read the Fine Print
Any time you register for a service, scroll the entire page or pages leading to the enrollment form. Keep an eye out for pre-checked radio buttons or checkboxes. I recently created a new email address with one of the free services on the Web only to find three pre-checked boxes requesting future contact. One box asked me if I would approve receiving future updates - a useful request that I obliged. The second pre-checked box would have subscribed me to a newsletter that I am not interested in receiving. The third box said that periodically the vendor might sell their lists to other companies and they wanted to know if I would open the floodgates.

These are typical requests that almost any good marketer will put in place as customer satisfaction vehicles and to build their subscriber base. It is logical to presume that a client or customer will appreciate product or service updates or that they are willing to subscribe to an Opt-In email newsletter. Yet, with privacy and security remaining intense issues with netizens, it is surprising to see a request to sell my information. How do you feel about pre-checked options? Do you consider it a service to have these boxes pre-checked? Does it take too much energy to navigate your mouse and check them yourself? Of course it doesn't.

Some Web publishers are counting on unsuspecting people to neglect their responsibilities to their Inbox. While this tactic will certainly encourage a burst in your subscriber base, it will also increase the amount of list maintenance required to unsubscribe those who were mislead by the fine print. While this arrangement still allows users to unsubscribe from the email, it does not abide by the standards for true Opt-In mailing lists. Looking at raw numbers, it is remarkable to have your message in front of huge audiences. It is also nice to offer these numbers to advertisers who want the greatest return on their investment via sponsorship opportunities. But, invoking the strategy of the pre-checked box does not insure that you are getting interested subscribers or that your subscribers are targeted to the voice of your message or your advertisers. I wonder how many people follow my lead and just hit delete, rather than legitimately unsubscribing themselves from a list? Defunct email addresses can accumulate quickly, skewing the number of qualified subscribers to a list.

Write Right
As a list owner or web site owner beginning a list, you should take steps to maintain the integrity your subscriber base. Whether you choose to correspond via web site or email to subscribers, you should be perfectly clear with them about what they are subscribing to. Do not wield a deceptive pen. You will damage your reputation, tie up your technology and labor, and misrepresent potential results to advertisers. If your product or service presents a solution or satisfies a need and you are targeting your communication via message and Web location, you should be generating worthwhile leads.

Here are some additional pointers for manufacturing consent via direct email.

  • Ferret through your email, concentrating solely on the subject lines. Can you distinguish those words that induce action in you versus those that exude insincerity? Either copy the subject lines into a text file or save all of the emails in an "effective subject line" folder. Saving this information for easy access will come in handy the next time you want to write concise copy that performs.

  • Do not send long email messages on initial contact. Leave something to be desired based on a snapshot of what you are offering. Get to the point immediately. Focus on driving people back to your web site for details. You are unlikely to sell anything directly through an email message without gaining confidence from the recipient that you have a valid Web and geographic presence. If an email message has over 150 words, it better be presenting multiple products or something awfully special.

  • Read and review your messages. The first two sentences should tell who you are and what you want from the recipient. These phrases better count, since they may be the only thing that is read.

  • Respect your recipients by only honoring Opt-In direct email distributors. Since Opt-In systems require subscriptions and allow easy removal from lists, you have a greater chance at converting your message into a sale, while protecting your reputation. If you are sending your own mail via Eudora or another software package, be certain to offer a method to unsubscribe. Something like, "to be removed from this list, send an email to xyz@yourdomain.com with the word "REMOVE" in the subject line." Too often these procedures are made difficult by the list owner. Make it simple.

First published in WebPromote's August 1998, Vol. 3 newsletter.