It's not a sexy topic lately, but email is far from irrelevant as a marketing tool for media companies ― especially when paired with new channels like social media and mobile. Whether you're using email to drive traffic or sell products, those emails are only as valuable as the list you're sending them to. Have you cleaned up your email list lately?
It's a tough decision to let go of inactive email addresses from your list ― high subscriber numbers matter to advertisers for publishers of e-newsletters. But are inactive users worth keeping on your list?
Dormant email addresses can lower the vital stats of a newsletter, such as open rates and click rates ― also important stats to show advertisers ― noted John Murphy, president of ReachMail, an email marketing solutions provider, in a phone interview. It's better to have a clean list of valued subscribers. If nothing else, the first step is to make sure you get rid of email addresses that aren't even working anymore.
Monitor active and inactive users
Before throwing inactive subscribers to the curb, however, you should monitor their activity and offer them opportunities to rengage, said Catherine Magoffin, senior strategic consultant at Responsys, an email marketing solutions provider.
First you have to separate the active email users from the inactive users, which requires deciding what is considered an “active” user for your campaign (e.g. not opening or clicking on content), she said in a phone interview.
Then publishers should monitor the response rates of both active and inactive user segments over time, making sure to attempt to communicate with inactive users. Murphy suggests looking at a six-month period before removing the inactive users from a list.
Provide more subscription options
One way to revive inactive users is to offer them more options, Murphy said. Is a link to update preferences and unsubscribe clear on the email? If you don't make it easy to update preferences or unsubscribe, users might just mark it as spam. Murphy also suggests giving users the option to communicate via other channels, such as social media, rather than losing them as customers altogether.
Some users might be active only during a certain part of the year, such as a conference season (another reason to monitor users over a period of months), Magoffin noted. Publishers might consider creating more options to communicate only for those special events.
"There might be a portion of your list that might not pay attention for a good part of the year,” she said. "Before you phase them out completely you might want to check in with them."
Engage email users from the start
It's worth examining why your inactive users got that way in the first place. In order to keep a healthy list, Magoffin said publishers need to engage users early on and continue checking in. For instance, media companies might want to look at the welcome process as a series of customized messages (e.g. “here's some other areas you might be interested in”).
If users begin to drop off, it's be time to ramp up efforts and examine their previous activities ― have they been reading the website or have they signed up for the newsletter and not gone anywhere?
Magoffin recommends trying to tap into the increasingly social nature of the Web and encourage dialogue with consumers, asking for feedback and thanking users for subscribing. “Treat it like a conversation,” she said.
The best way to keep email subscribers active is simply “making sure people have a good relationship up front and making sure they expand on it,” she said.
Turn data into revenue
Many publishers are successfully leveraging the user profiles on their email lists to help drive marketing activities with data. For example, you can segment lists based on purchaser data and Web analytics.
A rising data point of value is social media activity. While some believe that social media is replacing email, the reality is that both can work in tandem. Magoffin suggests integrating social media as part of user profiles, which means finding an email provider that can align your social data (fans and followers) with an email list. She also suggests looking at which users share the most and tapping into that relationship with email.
"I think very few marketers are actually doing this but I think the technology is there now,” she said.
Once profiles of your lists are built out, it's possible to test all sorts of data points and monitor how different variables perform (subject lines, content types etc.). You might even discover a whole new newsletter or email marketing opportunity.