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Email Newsletters - what to know before sending

May 3, 2018

The fastest way to keep everyone updated. And to get in trouble.

I see a lot of email newsletters from clients and partners. Quite a few are well formatted and contain exciting and useful looking information. Sadly a lot are poorly formatted and overwhelmed by nearly a Website-worth of content, which makes the message difficult to appreciate. To make matters worse for the sender, these newsletters hardly comply with Email Newsletter Rules set forth by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

Sending the occasional email newsletter can be a great way for any business to stay connected with potential and current customers. Not only can you build brand excitement by updating subscribers about services and products, but you can create advocates through something as simple as a usage tip for a product.

Problems begin when you either intentionally or accidentally leave out required elements, and this lack of compliance with legal requirements can get you in a lot of trouble. Yup, even if your intentions were innocent.

Email Newsletter Rules - FTC Requirements

There are a number of email newsletter rules that you have to be aware of before sending any mass message. Whether you're like me and build your own newsletter or you're using an email service that automatically addresses these rules, it's still important to know what the requirements are and why they're enforced. Here are my top five:

Most of the following information was taken from the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Website.

  • Easy opt-out: You must include an easy way for subscribers to unsubscribe. Once a subscriber opts out, you have 10 days to stop sending them your email newsletter, even though most people expect this to happen immediately. Furthermore, the unsubscribe option needs to be available for at least 30 days after the email is sent. Any reputable ESP (email service provider) will automatically and immediately remove that address from your subscription list however it's still your responsibility to monitor your list, not the ESP.
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  • Identify your topic: The subject line of your email must clearly and accurately identify the content of that email. Any misleading subject titles can be construed as SPAM.
  • Return address: You have to include a legitimate return email address, as well as a valid postal address. Some ESPs even require the inclusion of a phone number. Working from home? If you don’t want to broadcast that information, rent a post office box and get a Google Voice phone number.
  • Don't harvest email addresses: Collecting email addresses from chat rooms, discussion forums or blog comments will end in something other than profits. People must willingly opt-in by giving you permission to send something to them.
  • No rewards for forwarding: You can invite subscribers to “forward this newsletter to a friend,” but you can’t entice them with offers of money, coupons, discounts, awards or additional entries in a giveaway.

Remember, SPAM is taken seriously. Even if done unintentionally, it's bad form and can destroy your company's credibility. Worse yet, you can be held legally liable. More definitive guidelines can be found on the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) Website, including this great question and answer on the FTC Blog.

Using your Email Newsletter to sell your Website

While not required by any government agency, these two tips are no-brainers if you understand anything about marketing. Otherwise why even bother sending a newsletter?

  • Web version: Including a link to a Website version of your newsletter helps in two common situations - a subscriber receives your newsletter on their phone and you did a bad job of creating a mobile version or a subscriber receives your newsletter using an email client that mangles your otherwise super layout. Now your Web version has a chance to 'sell' other content on your Website, as it should!
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  • Appetizer not the meal: I emphasis this with print marketing, but it applies to all advertising materials (electronic or print) - your marketing material should be an appetizer, not the whole meal. Don't cram everything and a sink into small spaces, but instead use compelling headers and excerpts. The meal comes after that "Read More about XYZ" link, which should redirect subscribers to your Website. Once there they can not only consume your newsletter content, but other quality content on your Website. If your newsletter is always the meal, why would anyone bother looking at your Website?

Free tip!

If you are the DIY newsletter type, which in my opinion is more fulfilling than using a pay-to-use email service, you should be curious how your newsletter looks to recipients.

Google mail (Gmail), Outlook, Microsoft Live, Thunderbird, Opera, IncrediMail, Bluebird and on and on are all email clients. Some are Web browser based, other desktop clients. are operating system specific and mobile clients are of course stingy on screen real estate. So how do you ensure your creation looks good across all email clients, and still doesn't come off as spammy? Use an email newsletter checker of course!

My favorite and free tool for many years is "Mail Tester." This online tool just needs you to send your newsletter to a randomly generated email address, and thereafter the service will automagically scrutinize your layout and content, returning a really nice list of the good and the bad. From there, it's up to you to make any necessary changes.

Looking for an easier to manage e-mail marketing solution? I offer a sophisticated and mobile-ready tool that can be built into your new Website. Create, send and manage email newsletters directly from your Website, no monthly fees! Contact me for a free quote.

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