Service or Spam? How is Your Email Seen?

Larisa Thomason
Larisa Thomason

Effective email messages are a cost-effective and timely way to communicate with current customers and attract new ones. But customers are sick of junk email messages clogging their inboxes with useless information.

There are three different kinds of business emails:

  1. Messages people need
  2. Messages people want
  3. Messages people hate

What kind are you sending out?

Getting Them To Share

The first trick of email marketing is often to convince visitors to part with their email addresses. People are very protective of their inboxes now. Most aren’t willing to give you their address without a few benefits, as well as assurances that you won’t misuse the information.

Make them feel comfortable by clearly stating your site’s privacy policy. Don’t have one? You should -– it’s one of the 5 key components of a good Website. Include a link to your site’s privacy policy on every page. People want reassurance that you won’t sell, rent, or give away their email address.

All of your email should be opt-in –- which means that customers either specifically request or agree to receive emails from you. Also, give them the option to opt-out of additional mailings.

Once your have their email address, be very careful how you use it!

Messages People Need

This is a relatively small, but important category. Here’s the kind of information that people really need:

  • Order acknowledgements: Send an email confirming that the order has been received and is in process. If you have an expected ship date, note that too.
  • Shipping information: Send tracking data as soon as the package ships. Customers can then track shipments themselves instead of calling or emailing your company for information.
  • Renewal notices: Alert the customer if they’ve purchased a service or subscription from you that’s about to expire.
  • Customer service and tech support: It’s a lot cheaper to use email for this than it is to pay for a toll-free number and hire staff to answer calls. But make sure you provide timely answers -– within 24 hours if possible. If people have to wait days for answers to an email, they’ll bug you by phone instead.

Always include links to your frequently asked questions page, and to all your tutorial pages. Often, customers can find the answer without contacting you -– if they know where to look.

Manage these elements well and you’ll generate a lot of customer goodwill. Those warm feelings will make people more amenable to your other email messages.

Messages People Want

Since this isn’t information customers have specifically requested, nor is it related to a particular transaction, you have to convince recipients that they want it. Make it worth their while to spend a few seconds reading the message.

When someone signs up for a free trial of your product, registers for a contest, or subscribes to your newsletter, they haven’t purchased anything from you (yet!). Nevertheless, they’re interested enough to trust you with their email address. At that point, they’re halfway to being a paying customer!

Carefully target your messages to the particular product or service the visitor has expressed interest in. For instance, if someone registers for a free trial magazine subscription, offer them a full subscription at a 25% discount after they receive the trial issues.

Targeted email is the key to maintaining customer goodwill. When the recipient gives you their email address, make sure they understand that they will receive future mailings from you. Be sure to offer products and services they’ve previously expressed an interest in, purchased before, or may be interested in based on their previous purchases.

Otherwise, people will view your messages as spam -– and they’ll be right!

Messages People Hate

Spam. I shudder to even mention those messages that offer low-cost life insurance, restoratives for lost manhood, herbal supplements, and even cheap laser eye surgery (who would buy cut-rate eye surgery anyway?).

We hate these messages because they’re obviously not targeted. They’re from strangers and businesses we have no interest in, and may even find quite repulsive.

Even if people have given you their email address and permission to send them messages, you can still spam them. Suppose you signed up for the SitePoint newsletter and they started sending you email messages hawking online detective services? Those messages would be spam because obviously those weren’t your expectations when you subscribed.

Always give visitors the choice to opt-out of future mailings and remove them when they ask. Too much unwanted email from you, and visitors may just send future messages directly to their trash bins.

Email Is Just One Promotion Method

Even though email messages can be a great way to deliver targeted traffic to your site and increase your online business, it’s just one of the many promotion options you have available.

People can find your site by clicking on your URL in email messages, reading the URL on your paper stationery and business cards, or selecting a link from a related site. Still, offline promotion and link popularity will only take you so far. The majority of visitors still locate Websites using search engines, so search engine optimization needs to be an important part of your promotional strategy.

Good, targeted email messages sent to willing recipients will get you new and repeat customers. Spam email earns you the scorn of all legitimate online marketers and the wrath of your hapless victims.

Understand the difference, or it will cost you in the long run!