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Top 5 Tips for Getting Your E-Mails Opened Keep customers from deleting your e-mails with these simple tips.

By Derek Gehl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the beginning, e-mail marketing was seen as the perfect marketing tool: cheap, fast and measurable. Click-through rates were the only numbers that mattered, and people were still excited to receive--and open--just about every e-mail in their inbox. Boy, how things have changed! The explosion of spam and the sheer volume of e-mail people receive has ruined the effectiveness of e-mail as a marketing tool. Even perfectly legitimate e-mails are being trapped by spam filters or deleted--unopened--by wary recipients.

Yet, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, e-mail remains the number-one online activity of Americans, and now that more and more people are able to receive e-mail on their cell phones and PDAs, the opportunities for creative e-mail marketing are only continuing to expand.

E-mail marketing can still deliver a higher return on investment (ROI) than methods such as direct mail and newspaper and radio advertising. So if anyone tries to tell you that e-mail marketing is dead, don't believe them!

The truth is, spam and volume didn't kill e-mail marketing, but they did manage to create a few hoops you now have to jump through to get your e-mails delivered and opened.

Here are my top five techniques for getting today's e-mails delivered, opened and acted on. Do these things right and you'll be able to profit from all of the new opportunities e-mail marketing provides.

Tip #1: Manage Your "Subscribe" and "Unsubscribe" Requests
One of the most important things you can do to minimize your headaches--and maximize your profits--is to stay on top of your "subscribe" and "unsubscribe" requests. This is especially important if you don't have an automated system for managing subscriptions to your opt-in list.

Always treat requests to unsubscribe from your list seriously. People who aren't promptly removed from your list after making an unsubscribe request can accuse you of spamming them, and you can quickly find yourself in trouble with your ISP.

Of course, it's just as important that people who ask to be added to your list are subscribed right away, since you never know which one of those subscription requests is going to end up being your best customer.

If your subscribe and unsubscribe requests aren't handled automatically, you should take care of them right before you send out a mailing. This ensures that your list is as current as possible, and it also means that you don't have to deal with this chore on a daily basis.

Tip #2: Remove Duplicate Addresses
Before you send any mailings, you'll want to make sure that you don't have any duplicate e-mail addresses in your list. There will always be some people (more than you might think) who'll opt in to your list and come back later and sign up again, forgetting that they've already joined.

Now, people are happy to get one copy of your e-mail, but start sending them multiple copies and just watch how fast they unsubscribe from your list--or worse yet, report you as a spammer!

This kind of spam complaint is relatively easy to clear up, but it's still a hassle, and instead of having a potential customer who was so excited about what you had to offer that they signed up twice, you now have nothing.

Tip #3: Clean Your List
Cleaning your list also means sifting through the messages that "bounce back" to you after a mailing, and deciding which ones should be removed from your list completely, and which ones you might want to try mailing again.

"Bounced" messages, for whatever reason, weren't successfully delivered to the intended recipient. Most can be categorized as either "soft" bounces or "hard" bounces.

  • Soft bounces: These are messages that couldn't be delivered at the time they were sent, but may be deliverable at some time in the future. These types of bounces are usually caused by the recipients' ISPs being busy or their inboxes being full.
  • Hard bounces: These are messages that can never be delivered. Hard bounces are usually caused by the user typing in an incorrect e-mail address when opting in to your list, or the subscriber no longer using the e-mail address they originally opted in with.

Delete hard bounces immediately. If you leave these addresses in your list, you'll just have to wade through unnecessary bounce messages every time you send a mailing, and that's a waste of your valuable time.

Plus, if you continue to send e-mail to an address that's invalid, you can get into real trouble. Dead addresses are used as spam traps, and if you're found to be repeatedly sending messages to one of these addresses, you could have a problem with the ISP receiving them.

E-mails that are returned as soft bounces, on the other hand, are the result of a temporary problem, so you'll want to re-send your promotions to all the soft bounce addresses a couple of days later. You'll be surprised how many messages get delivered on the second try. And since you've already written the e-mail, there's almost no extra work on your part.

Tip #4: Divide Your List to Conquer More Subscribers
Given the mountains of e-mail people receive these days, most only want to see what's relevant. And, unfair as it may seem, anything irrelevant could be considered spam, and reported as such.

If the people on your list know the message you're sending is something they want, they'll open it!

Using e-mail to target different segments of your audience is one of the single most effective ways to market products or services on the internet. A 2006 report by MarketingSherpa found that e-mail marketers using segmentation saw click-through rates that are 72% higher than e-mail marketers who aren't segmenting their opt-in lists.

You can segment them by whether or not they've bought from you, where they live, the brands they've bought, their age group, etc. There's no end of ways to segment your audience depending on the information you've collected--and e-mail automation makes it not only possible, but simple!

Try it and you can just about guarantee that the results of your e-mail marketing efforts will dramatically improve.

Tip #5: Snag Your Recipients' Attention by Using Their Names
If there's a "secret" to getting e-mail recipients' attention, it's this: Personalize the subject line. No other single technique will boost the response rate of your e-mails as much as personalization.

Have you ever noticed that a great salesperson will find out your name and then use it every so often while they talk to you? It's a way of establishing trust and building rapport. And the truth of the matter is that nothing gets a person's attention faster than hearing or seeing their own name!

By personalizing your subject lines, you also make your e-mail appear more authentic and safer to open, because recipients will be more likely to view your e-mail as coming from a trusted source.

Unfortunately, typing each individual recipient's name into the subject line of every e-mail you send is just not practical! Once you grow your list to more than 50 or 100 people, it becomes unmanageable. It's way too time consuming.

The good news is that there's great e-mail marketing software available these days that'll help you completely personalize your campaigns automatically, and save you tons of time and effort.

Final Thoughts
E-mail marketing remains a highly effective tool for any business, and the success of your campaigns rests largely on the percentage of your messages that get delivered and opened.

It's a little more of a challenge to make sure your e-mails get delivered and opened these days, but by keeping your list squeaky clean and sending highly relevant and personalized messages, you'll not only improve the likelihood of people opening your e-mails, you'll avoid being labeled a spammer.

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.

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