What Makes a Good Email List?

For the moment, put aside the question posed by our title. Instead, start with a different question, one that will add some perspective to the strategies, the tricks and the “secrets” of email marketing: Why would people avoid my list?

It only takes two words to answer the question: "spam" and "time."

With respect to spam, people in your potential audience are acutely aware of the problem. Mailing lists have the unfortunate reputation of being hotbeds of unsolicited, if not positively dangerous, email.

With respect to time, people are busy and have a host of communications competing for their attention. One more mailing list may not be worth the temporal investment.

How do you overcome these very real obstacles?

The answer comes into focus when you turn your attention to the fundamental concepts of all email marketing, the concepts of trust and value.

By now, it should be no secret that email marketing is permission marketing. The ideal mailing list is one that consists of subscribers who have all given explicit permission to receive your messages. They have affirmatively opted-in to your marketing. If you have rented or purchased a list, for example, and you are not operating in this best of all possible worlds, you can still cultivate trust.

Strangely enough, one of the better ways to convey trustworthiness is to make it transparently easy for your recipients to unsubscribe from you mailings. They get the message that you take them seriously enough to respect their wishes. If they have to hunt for a way out, your list starts to feel like a trap. Make it at least as easy to unsubscribe as it was to subscribe.

Start off on the right foot with your readers by doing what you can to avoid the spam folder. Keep a well-maintained list of live addresses. Adjust your content and your subject lines to avoid spam triggers.

The aim is not merely to insure delivery, important as that is. In the user’s mind, someone, or, more likely, some algorithm, has decided that your message is spam. As a result, that message starts life with a black mark against it, and you never get a chance to explain that it was all an automated mistake. Negative impressions can be hard to shake.

If you have tackled the spam problem, give some thought to timing and frequency. Save your ammunition for those times when you really have something to say. Seize those moments by sending messages that are timely and only as frequent as they have to be. If you overdo it, there comes a time when an otherwise contented subscriber starts to have second thoughts. Make sure that you are not abusing your subscribers’ patience with messages that never seem to stop.

A similar caution applies to the more general issue of value. People subscribe simply because they expect you to deliver something of value to them. Value can mean a special offer, a new product announcement or simply some useful information. Be sure that you have something meaningful to say.

All of this can be summed up in a Golden Rule of Email Lists: Give your subscribers the messages that you would like to receive if you were in their shoes. Bear that simple rule in mind and your list will be a happier place.

Understanding the request form...

  • What are you selling: Most email campaigns are selling a product or service. Name that product and/or service in this field. (for example: security services, accounting software)
  • Target Market: Name here who you see as the market or potential buyers of your product/service. (for example: home owners, accountants)
  • Size of your mailing: How many emails do you plan to send -- this will affect your potential revenue and cost. (for example: 100,000 to 250,000)
  • Your Time Frame: When do you plan to do your mailing? (for example: mailing within one month)
  • Campaign Details: Give a more complete description of what you are planning. (for example: I plan to do 3 sequential mailings to homeowners in New Jersey in order to sell a new security system.)
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