A new study by the email marketing firm Return Path shows that nearly a quarter of the permission-based email sent to Gmail never gets there.
No, I’m not saying it goes to a junk box. Most of it doesn’t get delivered at all. No bounce message. No spam folder. Just . . . gone.
(This is not spam I’m talking about, either. It’s email you asked to get, which Gmail decided not to give to you.)
This is why people think email marketing is dead. Hotmail, MSN, Comcast, and AOL all have similar practices. They decide what their subscribers should be allowed to request, and delete material that they don’t think you should have asked for in the first place.
A lot of what gets deleted mentions taboo subjects like, say, how to find more customers. How to make money online. How to attract targeted traffic to a web site.
Stuff that, as it happens, I write about all the time in my email newsletter.
But my open rates are great, usually around 75-80%. (I got 96.4% one time, which was neat.)
Not only are my messages getting delivered, they’re getting opened, read, and people are acting on what they read. What makes the difference?
Most bulk email is selfish
Most marketing is self-centered, bragging about how terrific the business is instead of focusing obsessively on what the customer feels, wants, and needs.
My email content (like my blog content, my Twitter content, and any white papers, special reports, or autoresponders I create) is all about the reader. I give lots of advice, links (and not only to my own stuff), and useful information. Once I sent my readers a recipe for chocolate cream pie.
Do I promote? Absolutely. And when I do, it’s effective. But promotion is about 5% of what I do. The other 95% of the time, I’m giving value and solid information.
Most bulk email is boring
This is really the same issue as the previous one.
Self-centered content is dull. It’s like getting cornered by that awful friend of a friend at a party. You know the guy.
“But enough about me. What do you think about me?”
It’s hard to ditch the guy at the party. It’s very, very easy not to read or open an email.
I get dozens of messages every day that are so boring and self-centered I can’t be bothered to unsubscribe. I just set up a rule to automatically throw them in the trash as they come in. Or I let them pile up in the spam filter until I feel like deleting 20 or 30 at a time without looking at them.
And I’m one of the nice ones. Many people will just mark you as a spammer for the crime of being boring.
And my guess is that those are the folks who are getting caught in Gmail limbo — people who failed one too many times to engage their readers, and got unfairly marked as spam.
Now that’s pathetic.
Why you don’t want to give up on email
For awhile, it looked like email was old-fashioned anyway. RSS was where it was at. We were going to create amazing connections with our blogs. Not only could we have terrific conversations, but our content was linkable, findable via search engines, and part of a global dialogue. Who needs boring old email?
But here’s the secret that smart online marketers know: When you want to move from conversation to commerce, email just works better.
Email lists are more responsive than RSS subscribers. They’re more engaged. They’re less likely to drift away and forget you. And they’re more profitable.
Email is a more intimate medium than RSS. If RSS is a networking event, permission-based email is a dinner party. (As opposed to mailing to an email list you purchased, which is some jackass cold-calling you to sell life insurance during your dinner party. Don’t do that.)
The Direct Marketing Association consistently reports that the ROI on email marketing remains far above that of search or other marketing channels. That’s in line with what I see and hear in online business.
And guess what? Smarter email marketing = better results.
Be so good you can’t be stopped
If people have trouble receiving my email, I hear about it.
They use the contact form on my blog. They Tweet me. They try signing up with another email address. They send a carrier pigeon if they have to.
My readers really, really want what I’ve got to send them, because they know it’s going to give them something they desire, and fix problems that are painful to them.
They trust me to send them good stuff. And if they don’t receive it, they’ll do whatever they have to do to fix the problem.
That is the way to address deliverability in 2009. Not with a technology solution or going with a great email provider or avoiding certain words. I use “forbidden” words all the time. (Like “free” and “make money.” Yes, I like to live dangerously.)
Sure, it makes sense to give yourself the best possible shot of getting through the first time. Rewrite a little to make spam filters happier. Use the excellent email service Brian, Jon and I use: Aweber (that’s the Copyblogger affiliate link if you’re interested in signing up).
But if you leave it at that, you’ll probably conclude that email marketing is dead. And you’ll leave a lot of money on the table.
Next week I’m going to share my best content tip for email (or any other form of content marketing). Hint: it involves treating your readers like dogs.
Check out the rest of the Email Marketing 101 series.