Live from DMDNY: Tips for Building Your E-mail List

Jun 13, 2008 5:19 AM  By

New York–What’s the best way to build your e-mail list?

“Ask!” says Austin Bliss, president of e-mail database service company FreshAddress.

During his session entitled “Proven Techniques to Build an Engaged E-mail List” at the DMDays New York Conference and Expo Wednesday, Bliss outlined strategies marketers can use to build a responsive e-mail file and avoid the pitfalls of using a third party vendor for e-mail appending.

Bliss suggests marketers try to build their lists organically by simply asking prospects to opt-in before turning to other alternatives such as buying lists or e-mail appending. He points out that marketers who don’t use clean lists run the risk of being blacklisted by their service providers for being spammers, “which could destroy your ability to send e-mail.”

Although the number one way to collect addresses is via the Web, Bliss says there’s a lot more places marketers could be asking for people’s e-mails. For instance on the telephone each time a customer calls in to place an order, or on all paper correspondence, such as package inserts.

CVS, for example, makes offers on its store receipts, which require a customer to visit its Website and give their e-mail address in order to get the offer. “Marketers should take every opportunity to ask their customers for their address,” he says.

But every time you ask for someone’s e-mail address, “you should explain why you’re asking for it, and how you are going to use it,” he says.

“What’s in it for them? There has to be some value exchange – offer them a discount, free item, newsletter, etc.,” he says. “And you have to give some assurance that you will protect the customer’s privacy.”

Bliss says merchants should make these three things clear right in the information box where they collect e-mail addresses. They should also make sure the fields are large enough to hold longer addresses – so the address isn’t partially blocked after the customer types it. This can lead to typos.

Bliss covered common design errors in the collection stage which cause bad addresses make their way into the database. He suggests merchants also build intelligence into their Websites to spot bogus addresses and typos as they are being typed. He also suggests that if marketers use “default text” in the e-mail field, to do occasional tests to make sure it isn’t entering their lists.

Bliss also advises against using double entry, in which the e-mail address needs to be entered twice (second time for confirmation), because “most people simply copy and paste the first address they typed — which means sometimes I get the bad address twice.” But he is a fan of the “Is everything correct?” page just before checkout — though he points out that it is useful only if the information can be edited.

He also suggests sending a confirmation e-mail right after collecting a customer’s address. He says it’s a good idea to test all addresses as soon as they’re collected, to make sure they’re correct (and take the opportunity to introduce yourself).

And embrace the double opt-in, in which a confirmation e-mail is sent with a link, and the customer must click on the link in order to be added to the list. This, he says, is “a brilliant way to be absolutely positively certain that you’re only going to get people who are determined.”

Other ways to build your e-mail list include affiliate programs (which consists of hiring or “incentivizing” others to help you grow your e-mail address), co-registration (where you join up with someone else to collect e-mails mutually), list rental and e-mail appending.

E-mail appending – which is basically matching e-mail addresses to postal addresses – is alluring because it “seems easy and costs nothing,” plus it is repeatable, “but it’s trickier to use than most people think.” He suggests marketers “learn how to make money from e-mail — and prove the ROI of e-mail, first” before jumping into it. He says marketers should always give their customers the opportunity to volunteer their e-mail addresses before adopting e-mail appending.

“Remember that the appends should really only be appropriate for your customer list,” he says. If not you’ll get a high complaint rate.

In addition, marketers should “make sure the vendor’s list was opt-in. Then your vendor should run a bunch of suppressions and those suppressions should pull out those people who said they don’t want to hear from you.” They also need to clean out all addresses with mobile domains.

“Then the vendor should send a welcoming e-mail, on your behalf,” he says. “This verifies the address and verifies that the customer wants to hear from you.” Match rates for e-mail appending range from 5% to 25%, he says.