You probably know Jay Baer from his award-winning blog, ConvinceandConvert.com. (And if you don’t, be sure to visit and bookmark the site today.)
After attending Jay’s “12 Imperative Must Dos for the Serious Blogger” session at Blog World NYC, I caught up with him about several takeaway ideas for marketers and bloggers.
Later on, while reviewing my session notes, I noticed a number of Jay’s ideas applied just as well to email. So with all due credit to Jay, here’s my remixed version – “Six Crucial Criteria for Email Marketers” – drawn from his 12 imperatives.
1. Be Specific
Just like blogging, email is an overcrowded field. The novelty factor wore off years ago, email has reputation issues thanks to years of spam, and let’s face it, our tastes evolve rapidly, so the emails we wanted two years or nine months ago aren’t always relevant today.
Which is more valuable, a smaller but more passionate audience, or a large list of indifferent subscribers? To increase engagement rates and enthusiasm, you need to have a clear sense of who your audience is and what resonates with them. And a broad-brush approach of trying to please everyone won’t cultivate die-hard fans.
Instead, brainstorm 50 subject lines based on common questions and challenges your readers face, then use those to create profiles and back stories of your target readers. This will help keep your emails laser-focused on those people and their needs.
2. Embrace Variety
It’s easy to fall into a rut with publishing. We use certain frameworks to create our emails, then we rarely stray from them. And while that familiarity is good for setting expectations among our readers, without mixing things up now and then, it can get stale and repetitive.
Take a fresh look at your recent email content. Is it all text and images, or have you started to incorporate video? How about podcasts or other multimedia? If it’s a newsletter, do the same content slots get filled with the same style of piece, in the same slots, over and over?
Here’s a tip: If putting together your newsletter feels like a chore, test some significant changes. More audience interaction – polls, contests, awards, reader interviews, links to Twitter chats – is a great place to start if it’s not a regular feature. Another option: altering the tone and voice; for instance, if the same person writes every email, bring on a special guest author for an issue or two and see how your readers respond.
3. Be a YOUtility
Most organizations cringe at the thought of giving away too much of the “secret sauce” online.
Guess what? Sharing what you know educates and attracts prospects, increases customer loyalty and is smart for business. Example: In the very competitive venture capital sector, OpenView Venture Partners uses a steady stream of blog posts, video and other content marketing to help all startup owners, not just customers, because what benefits their industry is good for them, too.
Another example Jay cited: TheSalesLion.com, where Marcus Sheridan takes real questions and answers them in podcasts and blog posts, to create content that’s transparent and tailored to his audience. Sheridan also compiled months of blog posts into a free 200+ page ebook and shows family photos on his site. This may not work for every company, but you know you’re dealing with a real person – and the emails reflect that same, authentic personality. (More on his Blog World NYC session in a future post.) That’s what your readers want and expect today.
4. Have a Clear Call To Action
Of course, for email this one seems like a no-brainer. And for most emails, it is. Yet there are countless examples of emails making readers work too hard.
Do you ever see links that are squeezed into a sidebar, or tucked into body copy way below the fold with a similar font color and no underlining? How about images that look like active links but aren’t? These quirks annoy readers and hurt clickthrough and conversion rates.
To paraphrase one of Jay’s key questions, ask yourself this before every send: After my readers open this email, I want them to do ______. Second best is to do ______. And at a minimum, they should do _______.
5. Be Shareable, Get Shared
This isn’t so much about social media sharing buttons (although for email, it might not make sense to fill your masthead with enough social icons to resemble a pack of Skittles).
It’s more about sharing the spotlight with others, and passing the mic to your own audience. How often do you feature the success stories of your customers and strategic partners, or even people you’ve met at an industry event? If they’re having an event, or published an insightful blog post, pointed you to a new resource, do you pass it along? Is that the rule or an exception?
From promotional and sales emails to informative newsletters, it’s easy to get in the habit of talking about ourselves and our organization – and stop there. Remember the “what’s in it for me” and look for ways to share your audience’s wins, too. This also increases the chances of your readers contacting you, engaging with your emails and sharing them with their circles.
6. Keep Score With the Right Metrics
When it comes to email, we know the usual suspects – opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes, conversions. However, much like social metrics (likes, followers), in the aggregate, they don’t always tell the full story as well as ratios and percentages.
Linking email metrics to on-site behaviors is where things can get tricky. For instance, blog or article pages aren’t always a direct funnel to conversions, so you need the bounce rates, pages viewed and site paths to see where readers are going next or dropping off. If they’re one-and-done, you should find new ways to guide them to related content, other offers or social sharing opportunities – and establish those actions as related conversion goals where appropriate.
These extra steps will provide you with a clearer picture of engagement beyond the open and initial clicks, which is invaluable for optimizing your site, content and offers as well as your emails. Even if it takes some time to set this up, you can hardly afford to overlook this data.
The views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Marketing Pilgrim.
Hunter Boyle is a content marketer, speaker and blogger. He’s helped SMBs and nonprofits optimize their marketing efforts since 1996, and now leads business development for AWeber, a top email/social tools provider. Follow Hunter on Twitter at @hunterboyle or on Google+.