Just had a great conversation with SendGrid – we’re already using their API for sending in-app messanging transactionally, at work. The API is easy to use, and you have great reporting on email deliverability through the web interface. Just chatted with two representatives at Women2.0′s Startup Weekend event- they’re sponsoring some prizes.
I’m also a fan of MailChimp- and have setup various clients on them. The Flash/UI interface is really great, and the reporting on the various email campaigns is also easy. They, like SendGrid, have a very communicative and readily available customer service – for engineering and design.
This list was inspired by a good friend who had to do a quick 101 class in email marketing when his Web2.0 company had some email hiccups the other day.
Throttling, it is your friend.
Despite how much you think you customer base wants to hear from every little social activity on the web site, make sure you’re really only sending one email a day, if that. Digest the notifications (or provide the option).
Allow your users to manage the frequency and notification by use of a web page that allows them to check and uncheck the various ways you can email them. Offer RSS as well as Email.
Frequency Control… nuances
Check on history, and consider rolling out “tastings” of each communication, just once, in the cycle of their engagement with the site. So for certain kind of notifications, the customer/member gets it once, until they select that form of notification in the preference center.
Sharing, FTAF in the footer
Include viral pass-along options in every communication. FTAF = Forward To A Friend.
Test your emails in SpamAssassin
Check the content of every notification against a SPAM filter to make sure it’s not triggering some odd rules. Even Though you’ve convinced yourself you’re not a spammer, that means very little to the consumer. It’s in the eye of the beholder, and luckily, we can test that.
Despite your audience loving you, and you not being a spammer, still provide one-click, easy, non-sign-in unsubscriptions. Provide a link to the notification preferences center, but a one-click will save you a lot of grief.
The reality is that it’s a very cheap campaign. Basically, take your email, and send it again a few days later. Heck, send it a third time.
You can see that list fatigue sets in pretty quickly. For this, you have some options:
- change subject line
- suppress openers and clickers, or those that act on the email contents
- change header text on top of creative (the text right before the main message, called different things now, by various folks.)
Some demographics will support this more than others. I’ve heard from B2Bs that rarely have any negative feedback, but they re-pitch only with conference registrations, and other once-a-year or twice-a-year notifications.
For consumer and retail, it’s been spotty. Basically consumers really need the slightest excuse to unsubscribe, and once that happens you don’t get them back. Some of my clients use this rule- only do the re-engage campaign occasionally. Then, a significant portion of your base won’t consider this as a regular technique. You don’t want them to say “stop hammering me,” essentially. But the occasional re-issue is tolerated.
It’s a great way to increase response and repurpose creative. There are also other more effective ways without the negatives:
- lifecycle campaigns. Make one creative and email according to the consumer’s lifecycle, not your marketing calendar.
- re-activation campaigns. Re-use the most popular creative to bring back lapsed viewer/engagers. Send this out after no contact in 3/6/9 months, for example.
I got a great question a few weeks ago (so sorry for the lag!) regarding this:
We’re installing a new commerce server, and recently discovered it has no ability to throttle outgoing emails. A stand-alone server outside of this platform has been configured to distribute our marketing emails, but we have been unable to find a throttling solution for the transactional email server.
Kate, at SuppliesGuys
Frequency control is managed by some tools using business logic that determines exceptions- “only email this person once per day” or “never email this person with a similar promotion for the last 6 months.” The frequency control software I’ve seen has been either manual SQL scripts filtering each outgoing campaign, or part and parcel of an email marketing software solution.
For transactional emails that are triggered by the customer’s activity, it’s not really recommended to introduce a frequency control. Basically because the numbers are rather low, and real-time triggered emails are more appropriate than scheduled marketing emails. If you do have special events- I’ve seen systems support live pay per view wrestling matches that resulted in a very high volume of traffic, and usually launches, releases, or other time-based online traffic generate unusual loads- then throttling is a great idea.
One thing that is a little bit of a fly in the ointment, is that transactional emails and promotional emails have different CAN-SPAM requirements. So I’ve seen these split up in a few different organizations. One system sends the transactional, another sends the opt-in, “once-a-week” promotional emails.
Strongmail is an inhouse solution that is expensive, but I usually point to it to clients if they do want to have real control over transactional & promotional emails in one system, by one IP. There are issues with SM and it’s not the solution for everyone. You can optionally offput those transactional emails to your ESP, and then they control the frequency and throttle for some domains like AOL. The benefit to this is that you have one IP that your client base whitelists. The downside is that it’s a point of risk for any failure, and transactional emails are usually very key to the operational income to your site.
As for freeware that does throttling, I’m not aware of any. I’d actually recommend that as the best solution- keep it inhouse, and setup a “ticker” to count the number of outgoing transactional emails. when it reaches a recommended threshold, setup a delay mechanism.
Thanks and good luck!
Questions from the overflowing mailbag…
Changes in requests from different people in our team means different database structure (and this tidbit: Salesforce doesn’t allow outer joins!).- friend at dinner tonight
That sucks. Beyond a redesign (on MySql) and an ad-hoc query software, I don’t know what to tell you but this is the 4th non-profit I’ve heard of who has taken advantage of Salesforce’s 10K free-to-non-profits deal, and subsequently been bitten somewhere in the a$$ by restrictions. Note, negotiating is not dead with some of the smaller end ESPs, and it’s never too late to relocate your mail services.
Why doesn’t anyone write about trigger/transactional emails anymore? – Ben at MailChimp
Personally, I’ve never understood those fickle bloggers. Is it not discussed because it’s not sexy? Because its old news? Because nobody asks (I really don’t think most marketing departments use them- prove me wrong). I think, for the audience, this is a battle in their workplace they are just tired of fighting (promotional vs. lifecycle). So, in arguing for more at your place of work, make the conversation about ‘lowering costs’ versus ‘revenue’ and you will win that argument.
How can I share this cool article about fundraising with email marketers…
From this twitter, started a covnersation with Tyler of Involver about how their tool works- you embed a little image of the video- but more importantly, there is a follow-up call to action after it plays, and deep links to the video for sharing, plus a little chiclet to share it out. Case study by a client at Stanford regarding its relevance to non-profit spheres, too. He saw a 23% lift in fundraising over the year, and 51% of it was online. Interesting (if long- scroll to end) post.
I taught a quick session on “Don’t Spam: Lifecycle Email Marketing Strategies” at She’s Geeky, an un-conference. I went over some basic studies on email marketing behavior, common intervals, and the common life-cycle vs. promotional arguments. I asked folks what was going on in their organization. It seems that, due to the economy, email vendors are turning off free services to their non-profit and other “Cinderella Deal” clients.
For one of my audience members, the choice was to simply go to another vendor. I told her about a few (Constant Contact, MailChimp, MyEmma), and we discussed improvements to her current fundraising schedule. Her non-profit would have to pull in more funds to cover the cost, so it was an unpleasant reality.
For another audience member, the email was so tied in with the online services, that it would be a fundamental shift to change vendors. For a struggling start-up that uses email as a functional part of their application, not just as a marketing channel, I can see the frustration.
What to do? For many Web 2.0 companies and start-ups, start with keeping a fully tested suite of templates that degrade properly across email clients, and hosting your own IP for sending mail (note: with a clean bill of health). In my experience few outsourced email providers (ESP) can handle the demands of truly robust online service company. This is beyond transactional and lifecycle emails, and should be managed by web developers that understand email and can work with the functionality of email. Especially if it’s core to the business, it shouldn’t be outsourced, and not for a fee. I have a suspicion that the “free” was used to reel in the client just so at this point in time the client would have no other option but to continue for a steep fee.
With the fun social events of the holiday season comes the annoyance that is Evite. They’re an old company that has cornered the event and calendar market. Their notification emails, though, remind me of 2004. Basically, early Web2.0 sites tend to send “teaser” notification emails, to make you log back into the site. They don’t tell you the basic information (where/when/who) in the email. Yes, it forces you to log into the site, laden with advertising. Unfortunately for me, I am always forgetting my password, it doesn’t cache right, or I’ve been invited by another obscure email address. These are examples of Evite’s information-free invitations:
What prevents them from including the information? I’m guessing getting higher traffic on site and services. If they did post the relevant logistics, people would still click through to RSVP or view other attendees. These informal holiday events highlight the increasing importance of putting relevant information in the above-the-fold area of the email, and in the inbox (not in a link out to a site.) Especially not to a link outside the site that requires a password. Some savvy hosts include the logistics by hand. And evite emails those logistics once you RSVP that you are attending. Still questionable practices, in my mind.
You could argue that the centralization of information on a web site is easier for users than in an email account. I would contend that having information in both places is best- both on the site and searchable, and in the inbox and searchable (and ideally in the subject line).
Not to only pick on Evite, Friendster, another granddaddy of the social networking world also does this annoying teasing thing:
(Why do I refuse to turn on images? Because I test this feature a lot. And it’s good to let companies know, if they’re reading this, that a lot of their audience sees their emails with images off.)
Sites That Do It Right
Qwitter gives you the guts in the email!
.. and WordPress comments:
Trolling through the Feedback room on Friendfeed, I noticed a post and a very nice feature, that again sets apart Friendfeed from their competitors. Consumer marketing systems could also learn something from this.
When you start following someone in Friendfeed, their core functionality of subscribing to someone’s various RSS feeds and comments, they get a notification by email.
The best part is when you reply:
Just joined Social Median, a social network news clipping service, and got a few transactional emails thanking me for my “first time” behaviors- adding a news source, clipping an article, etc. Reminds me of very effective email campaign of “first purchase.” Thanks for your first purchase, what did you think of your first purchase, etc. Asking for feedback and generally welcoming someone into the fold. Also, these kind of emails set up a method of communication- verifying the email address, and reaching out to the customer, providing a feedback loop. It’s really effective, and glad to see Social Median doing this right at the launch.
If you’re on FaceBook, you’ve probably noticed the application SuperPoke. Well, I’ve been superpoke’d-spammed for a while now. Other members can send you a superpoke, and you get notified by email each time. I tried to disable the email notifications a few months ago, but it didn’t work. I tried to block that specific user- didn’t work. Today, I got a new SuperPoke from a new person and before it snowballed, decided to tackle this issue.
That’s straightforward enough. So I finally decide to go back to Facebook and solve this problem. The “settings” page of the Slide.com and SuperPoke page looks like the following. When you put your cursor in the email field, it has a pop-up with the privacy issues.
Well, now I’m just confused. For one, why are they requesting my email again? I’m responding to an email they sent me. Second, it’s unclear if I’m adding the email to unsubscribe, as some settings pages do, or if it’s for signing up for more announcements (the last thing I want). I appreciate the small explanation pane, but it’s far from clear.
So, do I enter in my email, and click the box? Or just click the box? This reminds me of other issues Facebook (& applications on the platform) have had with email.