Customisation and featuresIt goes without saying that you need to be able to personalise your emails to fit with your company’s branding and make them interesting to readers. Fortunately, most email services these days come with many customisation options as standard. Here are some absolute must-haves:
Hyperlinks and imagesThe whole point of email marketing is to direct people to your website, social media pages or affiliate links. To make it easy for your readers to click through, you need to be able to insert hyperlinks in your body of content. Also make sure you can insert images wherever you want to, as visuals make your email more attractive and interesting to readers.
TemplatesLook for software that comes with pre-made templates and, ideally, lets you upload your own customised HTML template. This will ensure consistency in formatting and branding from one email to the next, and across all your marketing channels. Without templates you’ll end up wasting a lot of time just formatting your emails, and they may end up looking unprofessional despite your best efforts.
User experienceMake sure you choose an email marketing provider that performs a double opt-in for new subscribers (meaning it sends them an email asking them to verify that they want to subscribe). Also make it easy for people to unsubscribe with a clearly marked button in every email. Aside from the fact that this is a legal requirement, it also avoids any damage to your reputation, which might arise if readers had a difficult time unsubscribing.
And these…Although not essential, these are all things that might come in handy or make your life easier, depending on the kind of campaign you want to run:
- HTML message creation
- Email footer
- Web forms
- Auto scheduling for emails
- Auto responders
- Group email contacts
- RSS integration
User interface and customer supportThe last thing you need to be worrying about when you’re implementing your email marketing campaign is actually using the software itself. Choosing a program that’s intuitive and user-friendly will save you a ton of time and stress. A good way to assess ease of use is to request access to a provider’s demo version – most reputable vendors have one that you can use for a week or two with no obligations. Play around with it, compose a few emails, and take note of the number of times you have to consult the ‘help’ section to find out how to do something. Your sense of frustration or achievement at this stage should be a good guide as to how the rest of your team will find it. Also check out the company’s training materials and find out what their customer support is like. Live chat or phone access to a customer service representative will make a life a lot easier if you do run into problems. Finally, find out how many individual users can access your account and how much control you have over what they do (if, say, you want someone to be able to review and edit an email but not send it).
Integration with Existing SystemsEmail marketing software does not stand alone; it needs to be able to integrate with any other channels and systems you already have in place. For example, if you want to have a sign-up form on your website (and it will be difficult to build your mailing list if you don’t), your email marketing software must integrate with that. If you’re selling a product or service through your emails, you must be able to link to your shopping cart of choice. And then there’s the matter of social media. In order for your readers to like your page, follow you or share your content, they need the buttons to do it. That means more integration. It might sound like a lot to think about, but if your software isn’t fully compatible it will hamper your marketing efforts.
ExpansionWith any luck, all this hard work will pay off and you’ll find your subscriber list growing. Your email marketing software should be able to adapt to and accommodate your growing readership as time goes on. You may have to upgrade to more data storage, although if you choose a cloud-based platform you should have almost unlimited capacity. Avoid committing to long contracts as you may find yourself stuck with a provider that no longer meets your needs or hasn’t kept up with new technologies. Many vendors, thankfully, offer monthly contracts with tiered payment options according to the volume you need to send.
Robust analyticsDon’t think that your work is done as soon as you’ve clicked ‘send’. If you don’t have access to metrics (or choose not to look at them), how will you know whether your campaign is working? At the very least, you should receive the following statistics from your provider:
- Open rate
- Forward rate
- Click-through tracking