First Class eMail

As performance marketers, our lives and livelihoods are based on information – the latest and greatest. I’ve been in a few different businesses, but this is the first one where even close friends will often tell you nothing that will give you an edge.

As it was told to me by one of my mentors, “Telling somebody these things is the same as giving away money.” True enough. So, to get that money, I had to learn the hard way. Lots of money spent on learning.

One of the most important things I learned was the importance of doing email marketing correctly from the start. People actually go to jail for sending emails the wrong way – illegal spam that is. So here’s a little free advice.

To do email marketing well, and legally, you need an email service provider (ESP). Using a script or program from your own computer or server to send emails is not recommended by any experienced affiliate marketer. The reasons you want to go with an ESP are many, but some of the most important are deliverability, tracking and scalability.

According to Alexa, some of the most widely used ESPs are Aweber, I-Contact, Constant Contact, Lyris, Get Response and Net Atlantic.

Each of these ESPs offer a very different level of cost, service and tracking. The highest-end companies, like Lyris and Net Atlantic offer granular email Web analytics, activity-based segmentation, geo-targeting, broadcast-split-testing and more.

The more basic services in the group – I-Contact, Get Response and Constant Contact – offer fundamental services that allow you to upload and send email messages to your prospects and clients quickly and easily. Which one you go with depends on where you are in your email marketing experience.

“I started out using Constant Contact which was fine for a while,” said Liam Bowers, an affiliate marketer in New York. “But when my list got up over 200,000 names I switched to Net Atlantic. They have a lot of features, and a lot of power, but they’re definitely not for beginners,” he said.

The purpose of email in the aggregate is to build relationships. To build relationships with your prospects until they become customers, and then grow those customers into lifetime clients.

Aweber is by far the top choice of many large performance marketers. Aweber works as a complete solution for anyone wishing to increase his or her email marketing efforts. Aweber has a simple, powerful interface that allows you to get up and running quickly, and offers lots of tracking features that allow you to measure and test which emails are getting opened, and which links are getting clicked on once an email is in front of your prospect.

The reason emails sent by an ESP gets past the spam filters is because they have relationships with different Internet service providers. The ESPs work to make sure that your message gets through, but in return they have policies about what you have to do to get an email sent by them.

Most providers have what is known as a “double opt-in” system. This means that after someone submits an email to your site, the user must then log into his or her email account and verify that they have actually requested to be on your email list.

This protects the ESP and all of the other of the ESP’s customers as well as you, because it helps keep spammers at bay and makes sure you are in compliance with the strict CAN-SPAM act that makes sending unsolicited email a crime.

Lyris, for example, claims a 99.34 percent delivery rate. That means that practically all of your emails will get into your intended recipients’ inbox. Whether or not they open them or click on them is up to you and your creative talents.

Most services offer scheduling and sequencing that make it easy to organize and launch strategically timed campaigns. You can send a message on a specific day, or send one out after a specified number of days, weeks or months. Again, this is a function of the service; the more functionality you get, the more you have to pay for it.

The average price for using an ESP to send emails to a list of 10,000 to 25,000 names is about $150 per month. Some services allow an unlimited number of emails to your list during the month and others charge by the amount of bandwidth you use. If you are going to be sending lots of graphic files in your emails be sure to choose a provider that does not charge by bandwidth.

Many ESPs offer a free trial. I suggest trying out a couple and see which one works best for you.

Ryan Pamplin of Ryactive, a super affiliate based in San Francisco, likes Aweber the best, “Most all of the email companies work well,” he told me. “The difference is in deliverability. Aweber has all kinds of white lists that they are on and they’re the best at getting mail to the inbox, from my experience. Email is a big part of my business. If the mail doesn’t get through, what good is it? It’s all about deliverability.”

“I’d never donated to a political campaign in my life,” Pamplin told me. “But the Obama campaign emails kept getting past my spam filters and into my in box. I thought if this guy is this good, then I’ll send him some money, and I did. I think it was because of Obama’s great email service that he actually won the election.”

It turns out Blue State Digital based in Washington, D.C., handled the Obama presidential email campaign. So there you have it, get a great email service provider and you too may soon become President of the United States.

Just remember that there are a lot of options to choose from when doing email marketing. The important thing is to just do it. Make sure to include email as a part of your overall Internet marketing strategy from the beginning. Start out small and simple, find what works and ramp it up, that is the performance marketer’s mantra.

Switch to larger and more powerful email service providers as your business grows. Doing this will always keep your email in the inbox – and keep you out of jail.