How To: E-mail Mailing Lists 101

Helen Bradley explains why an e-mail mailing list is a must-have for your online store.

It’s an old marketing adage that it’s easier to sell more to someone who has already bought from you than it is to chase new customers for your products. A simple way to keep in contact with your customers is to e-mail them on a regular basis, which means you'll need to store their details in a mailing list database. In this article, I’ll explain how to set up a mailing list, what you may expect to find in a list manager and how to build the list itself.

Set Up Your System

There are a number of ways that you can set up your mailing list. One solution is to use a company such as ConstantContact or MyEmma, which charge a monthly fee depending on the number of contacts you have or the number of e-mails you send. These solutions are easy to set up and use, and they offer a point-and-click interface for creating your e-mail messages and managing your contacts. If you get into difficulties, there is a help desk to help you solve the problem.

ConstantContact.com
Sites like MyEmma.com and ConstantContact.com provide easy-to-use mailing list services that capture addresses and help you to set up and configure your e-mail mailings.
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Another solution is to use a Common Gateway Interface (CGI) or scripted option that you either host on your own server or pay to have hosted elsewhere. These solutions often require technical expertise to set up and, if anything goes wrong, chances are you'll be the person who has to sort it out.

It is also possible to gather e-mail details and manage a small list using your own e-mail software such as Outlook. This can work for a list of up to 100 people but it will become cumbersome to maintain beyond that.

Keep it Legal

When you’re implementing a mailing list for your store, you need to have regard to your legal obligations. In the U.S., the CAN-SPAM Act specifies the requirements for commercial e-mailers. and you can learn more about these here.

To protect yourself it is a good idea to use a system that requires confirmation to opt-in and that handles opt-out requests automatically. This means that when someone signs up for your mailing list, they receive an e-mail containing a link that they must click to add their name to your list. This ensures that the e-mail address is correct and belongs to them, and that they agree to receiving e-mails  from you. By law you are also required to add an opt-out link to your e-mails, so that a recipient can click to remove themselves from your list. You need to honor the request within 10 days of receiving it.

Gather E-mail Addresses

The Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission Web site provides details of your obligations in sending out commercial e-mails.
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The starting point for gathering e-mail addresses is typically adding an e-mail sign-up box to your Web site that visitors can click on to sign up for your mailing list. Make it clear what a person is signing up for and how frequently they should expect to receive e-mails from you.

If you use a service, it will provide you with a link that you can add to your store site. It is best to place the link on every page of your site or make it accessible from your navigation system. Make sure to add an e-mail sign-up in your shopping cart too, as that's a great place to gather e-mail addresses.

Build Your List

Quickly build your mailing list by considering creative ways of attracting sign-ups. You can, for example, offer something free on your Web site such as a short eBook, project sheet or tips sheet that visitors can download as a thank-you for signing up.

If you have a blog, advertise your e-mail list and giveaways there, and add an e-mail subscription link to your blog so visitors who find it before your Web site have a chance to sign up, too.

Honor Your Promises

Once you commit to building an e-mail list you must provide the content that you’ve promised your contacts. If you’ve said that you will be sending out monthly or weekly e-mails, then you should do this even if you have only a handful of people on your list.

It is important to do this because your contacts will expect to hear from you, and if you don't contact them regularly they may forget they signed up to join your list and mistake your e-mails  for spam.

The Federal Trade Commission
The Whistle Stop Quilt shop includes a mailing list sign-up link in its navigation bar making it easy for visitors to find and sign up for quilting news.
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Use the first months of building your list to also configure your e-mail template and to test your system. Do this with a small number of recipients so you can iron out any problems. Commercial e-mail services can provide you with details about who opened and read your e-mails and what links they clicked, so experiment with different arrangements of information in your e-mails to see what gives best results.

Format Your E-mail

Design your e-mails to look like your Web site so that you reinforce your site's branding and provide a strong visual link between your e-mails  and your Web site.

Make sure your e-mails include not only details about your products and any special offers you have, but also beneficial information such as tips and tricks for using your product and free items such as patterns or project sheets that add value to the e-mail.

When you build e-mails  that include a range of content in addition to product promotions recipients will be more likely to value your e-mails  value and actually open them.

A mailing list is an asset to your business in the same way that your stock is an asset. If you don't have a mailing list, it’s not too late to start building one and use it to help build your business.

Helen Bradley is a respected international journalist writing regularly for small business and computer publications in the USA, Canada, South Africa, UK and Australia. You can learn more about her at her Web site, HelenBradley.com

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