Fifteen years ago, email was such an exciting concept that it inspired a movie. Millions of people watched Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love in “You’ve Got Mail”, and millions more fell in love with their inbox.
Today, the romance has faded. We dread our inbox and its overwhelming demands.
And yet, more people than ever use email. In 2012, 2.2 billion email users worldwide sent an average of 144 billion messages a day – and more than two-thirds of it spam, according to a Pingdom report.
The email oversaturation spawned a variety of email-filtering tools to help people better sort, sift and discard email. Kevin Smith, a writer for Business Insider, uses an email-sorting app called SaneBox. He’s effortlessly reduced his inbox from 1,200 messages to 200 in two weeks. Other people use email-filtering options like Google’s Priority and Apple’s VIP programs.
These email-filtering apps and programs are great news for busy business owners who are sick to death of endless email and who want only to read what’s important to them, like notes from clients.
But they’re terrible news for anyone who relies on email to reach and woo potential customers – like maybe you.
In fact, the growing ability of software to remove emails from inboxes — unread and unseen — portends trouble for almost every business.
Given how easy it is for people on your list to entirely ignore your emails, how do you get emails past filters, sorting programs, the trash or the spam button? How do you improve the open rate for your emails? And how do you get more readers to click through to your website or respond to your note?
Here are 4 ways to beat the email-filter odds and create compelling email campaigns.
1. Skip the Spam (No, Really.)
This seems too obvious to bother mentioning, but you’d be surprised how many smart, ethical and business-savvy people send unsolicited emails in bulk. They’ve heard that someone, somewhere, promised a “guaranteed method” of getting 10,000 emails a day into recipients’ mailboxes.
Case in point:
A former chief financial officer for several Fortune 500 companies decided to become a business consultant. He planned an email campaign as part of his strategy to win contracts.
The man – we’ll call him Dave – spent several months carefully crafting an email list. Then he started sending out emails at the rate of about 100 a day. His notes, though unsolicited, were well-received, and he started getting phone calls and interviews.
It worked! After six weeks, Dave’s website traffic averaged more visitors per day and his emails were being quoted in publications such as Business Insider and The New York Times.
But Dave decided he wanted bigger, better – faster – results.
So against the advice of a marketing and PR professional, Dave bought a list of 1 million names and hired a company to send out emails from multiple servers at a rate of about 10,000 a day.
He was sending 100 times as many emails as he had when he began his campaign. But the number of website visitors didn’t increase 100 times. Or even at all.
Dave’s traffic fell to 2 visitors a day.
Lesson to be learned: If you send out unsolicited emails, send them to a carefully defined audience and in small quantities. Bulk emails are considered spam, no matter who you are and no matter what you sell.
2. Write For, Not To your Readers
Understand your audience. Whether you’re sending emails to subscribers or people with whom you’ve had no previous communication, write about what interests them, not you.
If you’re sending unsolicited emails about herbal remedies for psoriasis, your messages might not make it past spam filters, much less sophisticated software. And if they do make it by, by some random stroke of luck, they won’t survive the delete button.
But if your emails contain helpful information, such as how to increase productivity or save money, they stand a far better chance of getting read.
You might, for example, send a note that points to research predicting that the average employee’s productivity could increase by 20 to 35 percent if they communicated more through social media and less through email, which wastes about 73 days a year in lost productivity, according to the McKinsey Global Institute.
That’s useful. That’s helpful. That’s interesting. And that gets read.
3. Write Compelling Subject Lines
We’ve all been fooled too many times by subject lines that turned out to be a bait-and-switch ploy to get us reading about something that doesn’t actually interest us. You see sneaky ones like that every day.
Here are two subject lines that always work to get your emails read – and please your readers: Lists and How-tos.
Someday we’ll stop being so click-happy when confronted with subject lines promising us “7 Ways to Slash Payroll Costs AND Keep Employees Happy” or “How to Get the Raise You Deserve.” But that day hasn’t arrived yet. We still love that kind of information.
So if you want people to read your emails, remember to appeal to your readers’ needs. If you’re in the auto repair business, your customers might want to read a message about how to change their car’s sparkplugs.
You could be smart, too, and include a coupon for customers who’d rather leave sparkplug replacement and other maintenance chores to a professional – you. This type of email both provides a service to your readers and promotes your business.
Whenever you can, send triggered messages. People open these more than any other kind of automated email.
What’s a triggered message? It’s an email that sends out when it’s prompted by an action, like a welcome note to someone who just signed up to your subscriber list or a follow-up note to someone who abandoned his shopping cart.
It’s worthwhile: triggered messages enjoy an open rate of more than 47 percent, according to Market Chart’s third quarter analysis for 2012.
4. Romance Your Clients
How do you keep your messages to clients and customers out of the unsubscribe black hole?
Don’t abuse your privileges.
You’ve probably had the experience of signing up to learn more about a company’s software or service, legitimately eager for more information. But then you get bombarded with emails of all sorts, and your interest turns to irritation.
Contact information is a gift. Don’t abuse it. Send notes that provide real information, and more importantly, relevant information, not just product pitches. And give recipients time to absorb the information. It’s easy for you to send an email a day. And it’s just as easy for your new readers to get overwhelmed and unsubscribe. Or worse, permanently block all emails from you.
Remember, email filters were created to cut down on how much email people get and show them only what they want to see. So make sure your email gets a golden pass.