E-mail is simply the cheapest way to communicate with customers, and if you do it right, they'll look forward to receiving your messages. The important thing is to know that you're sending out something of interest to your customers, and should not do so more often than they want to receive it.
Let My People Go
Just in case you've guessed wrong about their interest in your newsletter, you must include a way to unsubscribe in your messages. People are very skeptical of unsubscribe information on messages, so ensure that whatever instructions you give work, and work in a visible way. For example, if your instructions say to send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, make sure that address works, and set it up in advance to send an automatic confirmation message stating that the unsubscribe request was successful. If you provide a Web form for readers to unsubscribe, don't make them click more than once or twice to get off your list. Your customers don't want to have to read the fine print to get off your list. We suggest you embed a link in every message that includes the e-mail address of the recipient so that one click removes it from your list.
Know What You Want
How to Send
There are three ways you can send e-mail to a group of people in such a way that each recipient doesn't see the addresses of the other recipients - absolutely essential for a reputable newsletter:
1.- Send a unique message to each recipient using your regular SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) server. If you have more than about 200 messages to send, this will be quite slow if you don't use an automated tool like MaxBulk Mailer. Some mail servers are configured to avoid unauthorized use and require you to check mail before sending. If yours is configured as such, then be sure to check mail on the outgoing account before you try to send the newsletter.
2.- Use SMTP server software to send a unique message to each recipient. Using SMTP server software circumvents your regular e-mail server, so it is much faster. In order to use SMTP server software, you have to have access to port 25, which most major ISPs don't allow. If you have a direct connection to the Internet, then make sure your firewall has port 25 open. If you can't get to port 25 for whatever reason, then make sure the tool you select permits you to send via your ISP's SMTP server.
3.- Send a message to all your recipients at once (or in groups of 50) by blind carbon copying (BCC) them. I strongly discourage you from sending mail this way. Busy people who receive a lot of mail often have filters set up on their inbox. It's pretty easy to send all BCC mail to a spam folder or even directly to the trash. Ninety-nine percent of all BCC mail is spam with the remainder being press releases from companies that don't realize that BCC spells amateur.
HTML Design Tool Built In?
Some tools offer newsletter design functionality. The alternative is to use an HTML design tool such as Golive, Dreamweaver, or Freeway. If you are going to use the same design as your Web site, or planning to send plain text, then you probably don't need the built-in tool.
If you're going to be sending HTML email, make sure you understand how to make the tool you're using set the MIME type to HTML/text, or else everyone will receive a copy of the HTML, rather than HTML that is rendered as your newsletter. This is where testing comes in.
The multipart/alternative content type, permits you to send one message to everyone in such a way that rich-mail capable e-mail clients will get the good version, but text-only e-mail clients will still be able to read the text. None of the software permits you to send multipart/alternative mail in a way that replaces the need to send two different versions.
Remove Blocked Senders
Depending on how you maintain your list of subscribed addresses, you might need to keep a separate list of people who have unsubscribed. The alternative is to remove people from your subscribed list as they unsubscribe. Some of the tools permit you to mark some addresses as blocked or do-not-mail. eMail Extractor even permits you to check your unsubscribe and bounced accounts and harvests addresses from those. If you're willing to manage your mailing entirely with one software package, then this ability can help you avoid ever sending a message again to someone who has unsubscribed from your list.
Reply-to vs. From Addresses
We like being able to specify a different REPLY-TO address than the FROM address. The FROM address is automatically used to return failed mail to you. If you are sending to more than 100 addresses, and you haven't verified addresses as mentioned in part three, then you probably want to set up a separate account to use as the FROM address, such as email@example.com. Bounced messages go to the FROM address, human replies go to the REPLY-TO address. You'll want to check the bounced account before you do the next mailing so you can clean up your list.
Embedding Unique Codes or Addresses into Messages
You can embed uniquely identifiable codes into the messages so that you can create unsubscribe links or track who opened the messages. This is an important feature, which you'll appreciate...
Before You Send ...
There's an old adage that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. While we generally subscribe to that philosophy, in this one case, we urge you to contact your ISP or whoever manages your e-mail server and/or domain before you do your first mailing, and explain what you're doing. If someone who receives your message really has it in for you, he can raise a fuss and potentially get your domain-hosting services cancelled. Some ISPs deal very harshly with what they perceive as spam. If you contact them ahead of time and talk to someone in a position of authority about what you're doing, how you got your list, your opt-out procedures, etc. before you mail, then any complaints from recipients will be seen in a more balanced light. Some recipients might be angry enough about having received an unsolicited message from you to really make trouble. Some might write to firstname.lastname@example.org, complaining of your message. Some might see who hosts your domain, which can be done via WHOIS on Network Solutions' site, and contact them directly to complain.
Chances are, no one will get that angry at your mailing - surely they can't waste this kind of outrage on every piece of spam they get. But the consequences of having your domain hosting cancelled are extremely severe. If you have a direct connection to the Web, you don't have to worry about this. If, however, you rely on another company to host your site or your e-mail, then by all means make them an ally before they hear about how unethical you are from someone who doesn't want to be on your list.
Test Before You Send
Start by importing (or creating) the message, then send it to yourself on two different accounts: for example, one Yahoo or Hotmail and account one that you check using Outlook Express or another standard e-mail client. Make sure they both look right and that all the links and graphics work. When you're sure it's perfect, send it off. While you wouldn't be the first person ever to send a newsletter only to have to re-send because the links don't work, you don't want to make a habit of it.
You can count how many people open your newsletter and even who opens your newsletter.
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