10 ways to make better use of email and improve engagement

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show I share with 10 ways I personally use email to ensure I am the first supplier my users turn to when they need help.

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This weeks show is sponsored by Stockio and Gather Content.

This week on the Boagworld Show we talk about the power of email marketing and how to make it successful.

Paul: Hello and welcome to the Boagworld show the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag and joining me on this week’s show is the very wise and very lovely Marcus Lillington. Hello Marcus.

Marcus: Hello Paul. What’s going on?!

Paul: You are suspicious aren’t you?

Marcus: Yes, what’s going on here?

Paul: Well, you are paying for me and my wife to come for a lovely Christmas, Headscape Christmas party next week and putting us up in a very lovely hotel. So…

Marcus: So it’s all to do with the cash isn’t it? That’s all it is!

Paul: No, it’s just…

Marcus: It’s all lies!

Paul: No, I am simply being grateful. Why could that possibly be wrong, to be grateful?

Marcus: And festive, seasonal.

Paul: Well, yes, these things come and go. Sometimes you ask me to do a annoying things in which case I’m not going to like you so much. It is inevitable.

Marcus: True, I’m rather looking forward to next Friday.

Paul: It’s a very posh restaurant that we are going to. Are we staying at that hotel as well?

Marcus: Sadly not Paul, no. They don’t have enough rooms, for one…

Paul: Oh really?

Marcus: … But, they would but…

Paul: Too expensive and Chris wouldn’t let us!

Marcus: … I’m coming onto, even if they did have enough, well they do have enough rooms but they didn’t have enough rooms for all of us on that night.

Paul: Oh, okay, I see.

Marcus: But even then I think we would have probably said “Actually that’s a bit pricey.” We got a deal with The Royal around the corner where you will be staying.

Paul: Oh, okay. And The Royal is very nice, I have to say.

Marcus: Yes, it is. But yes, the Hotel du Vin. It is the original Hotel duVin. Can you remember it back from the Town Pages days when we first met Paul? 500 years ago.

Paul: No. Did we go to the Hotel du Vin then?

Marcus: I don’t know if I ever did but there were certain members of the Town Pages team that frequented it a lot.

Paul: Oh right, well I don’t think that was me, it might have been, who knows!

Marcus: Anyway, it will be lovely and we are eating early so we can then drink more!

Paul: Hey! Of course the question is whether I will make it that far. Do you know what I mean? It is like, the lead up to Christmas is just painful, it’s painful. It’s like every year I plan “Right, this year I am going to have a nice leisurely slide into Christmas.” Does it ever work? Never.

Marcus: No, this year, well I think I said last week, this year is probably one of the worst ever. Now I’m getting to the point where I am worrying about the things that I don’t need to worry about. That really is bad because you’re spinning so many plates, as like “Did I do that?” “Yes you did actually!” So, but nerr. But also what it’s… There near, I can’t talk! That’s another thing!

Paul: This is going to be a good show then!

Marcus: But I’m feeling a little bit uninspired because all I am doing is kind of checking lists, it feels like that sometimes. “Has this been done, have I done that, or has so and so done that?”

Paul: That is… essentially you have just described every project manager’s entire career path, so…

Marcus: Yeah, but as we know that’s not really my thing is it?

Paul: No! It’s not what you were put on the earth to do.

Marcus: No.

Paul: This is very true.

Marcus: But there is one thing… The one good thing, having deadlines focuses your mind and it does seem that we are getting things done so that’s good.

Paul: That’s good. Yeah, the quality on the other hand may be fairly ropey! (Laughter)

Marcus: Don’t say that! (Laughter) No, it’s superb and you know, multiplely tested and everything.

Paul: But I have to say often times a deadline, I think, actually helps the quality, if it’s not too ridiculous a deadline. Because I think sometimes you can pick and pick and pick over stuff and end up making it worse. Certainly with design you can do that. So yeah.

Marcus: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, it’s okay we just… I think, and touching wood when I say this, I think we are past the worst of the kind of worrying “Are we going to do this?” Now we are just getting on with it, and that is fine. So, yeah.

Paul: That’s good. So, I had a, do you remember, I don’t know, a few weeks back when we had Mike Kus on and we were talking about, I think it was Mike Kus… I don’t know, maybe perhaps it was another show… A while back we were talking about fiverr.

Marcus: I think it was the one that just you and I did.

Paul: Was it? I can’t remember.

Marcus: Yeah. Ooo, Have I said something I shouldn’t.

Paul: No, no, no, no, no. Well, you pulled me up because I mentioned fiverr and we got into a conversation about whether or not a service like fiverr is a good idea because you can get stuff done incredibly cheaply, disturbingly cheaply and you kind of go “Well, is that…” You felt a bit uncomfortable with it, whether it was a good idea. It turns out people agree with you and not me.

Marcus: (Laughter) okay!

Paul: Which I think is a first, for anything!

Marcus: Ahw.

Paul: No, we were talking about it in slack. Did you see the conversation?

Marcus: No, I occasionally dipped in over the last few weeks but I haven’t really been following much at all. It’s not surprising that the people in the Boagworld Slack channel would agree with me on this. I still think I am right.

Paul: It was more from a kind of ethical point of view rather than, you are going to end up with shitty design, which of course is true. It is was more of a “Is this ethically right for us to be using services where the person probably is earning below the minimum wage in order to be able to deliver at the price that they are talking about delivering?”

Marcus: Absolutely right.

Paul: And then of course that then gets into issues around, you know, so where are they? Are they in another country? And then you get into issues about… We were talking about globalisation, we were talking about the nature of capitalism. It was a really deep conversation we had on slack which is not the norm for us on slack! It tends to be bad jokes.

Marcus: Yes. Well, you… I don’t know, it tends to be more business focused but yes, it’s nice to talk about things that are a little bit weightier.

Paul: Yeah, it was really interesting and I have to say I think you and them in slack were probably right to pull me up on it. I was a bit, I kind of, I was dismissive I think. The line that really got everybody was I said “Well that’s capitalism” in this rather dismissive way.

Marcus: So shut up.

Paul: Yes, we live in a capitalist society so, you know, then you can screw people over! That’s perfectly legitimate in a capitalist society. Which wasn’t what I meant! But I can understand how it came across like that. What I was getting at is that actually it is a lot bigger than a platform like fiverr. Fiverr isn’t the problem. You know, capitalism is the problem. But then that gets really heavy.

Marcus: It does. Maybe we shouldn’t go there, I don’t know?! Capitalism…

Paul: It is interesting.

Marcus: Yeah, because nobody has found a better way yet.

Paul: Oh no, I’m not saying their… The trouble is that we are human beings aren’t we, we can screw up any system! On face value communism is a great idea. It is just when you actually practice it its goes shit! (Laughter)

Marcus: Yeah, communism goes wrong because it kind of ignores the competitive hunter nature of human beings. And capitalism goes wrong because of the competitive hunter nature of human beings. There needs to be some kind of balance. Capitalism with lots and lots of safeguards and checks. Things like the minimum wage, you know, that’s not capitalist is it?

Paul: Now you are sounding like an elitist Democrat. That is what you would be accused of. A nanny state, that’s what you are trying to create Marcus, nanny state. See, you can’t please anybody.

Marcus: I don’t mind a bit of nanny state, same thing.

Paul: Oh.

Marcus: Well it’s true though, in some ways. So we just leave it… Let’s just leave education to, kind of, up to parents only.

Paul: Well that’s what… That’s a very bad example to pick as I home school my child Marcus.

Marcus: Yeah, but would it work for everyone?

Paul: No.

Marcus: Exactly.

Paul: But there you go, but a little bit of politics in politics on the show.

Marcus: Phew, I feel faint!

Paul: I know!

Marcus: I need a holiday anyway, you’ve made it worse!

Paul: Anyway, the reason that I brought it up, partly because it was a bit of a half-hearted apology, that I was somewhat dismissive, but also to say that I am really enjoying the slack channel. I love it, because if you had that conversation on Twitter it would have just turned into a shit storm. But there’s something about Slack where, partly because I have filled it with… Whenever the page loads it comes up with some quip about you know, be nice to one another or if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all and silly things like that, and it’s just created this really lovely safe place where you can say what you want. And it is brilliant. It was a really good conversation. So if you fancy joining that you are more than welcome. You can go to Boagworld.com/slacking. Most of the time it is work-related but not always. We would love to have you in it because it is a good group.

Marcus: I agree.

Paul: Cool. So, this week we are going to be talking about email and not kind of work email but email within the context of kind of email marketing.

Marcus: Newsletters and stuff like that.

Paul: Yes, that kind of thing. The reason that I wanted to talk about it is because I actually feel like email is the poor child when it comes to marketing and promotion. You know, because email has been around a long time. I know, it is the Marcus Lillington of marketing, right? It used to be a massive star but these days, you know, is just considered a bit of a has been really. You don’t know how to respond…

Marcus: Email is massive. Everyone uses it, it’s huge. Huge. It’s also, I actually, think from a marketing point of view, that it is the most… What am I trying to say here, because it is personal to them rather than say a random thing out to Twitter or something like that. I think it is more direct.

Paul: Yes, absolutely because, well, the big thing is that for a start it comes to you rather than you having to go to it.

Marcus: Yes, that was it was what I was trying to say in a kind of rubbishy, I can’t talk any more, way. You see, I really can’t talk! You do the talking Paul, I’m just going to sit back and have a cup of tea!

Paul: No, don’t do that! Your opinion is valid too, in your own special way!

Marcus: Special, that’s me!

Paul: So, you are totally right. That’s why I like newsletters over a blog really, even though I spend most of my life blogging. Because you know, people get it in their inbox. It is sitting right in front of them, they don’t have to remember to go off to a site or to check social media or any of that kind of stuff, it is just there. So absolutely, I am a huge fan of email but I guess a lot of people look down on it because of all of the spam and the, you know, all the problems with it. I think used right and used sensibly is possibly one of the most powerful marketing tools in your arsenal. I think it could be useful both internally, sorry, if you work for, like, an agency like Headscape I think it can be very useful but also if you work internally within a digital team within an organisation I think it has got its place to play. You know, so obviously the uses of it for Headsscape are fairly obvious as a way of keeping in touch with your clients to make sure that they don’t forget about you. Because that is easy to do.

Marcus: I’m a little bit sceptical about whether our clients would ever really want that though. I mean this applies…

Paul: Well it depends what’s in it doesn’t it. It depends what you email about.

Marcus: Yes, well, we will come onto that I guess in a big way. I knew we were going to do this show and I thought to myself okay, I’m signed up to quite a lot of newsletters and I thought how do I, obviously this is a user test of one, but how do I respond to my newsletters? Nearly all of them that come in, even ones I like, I quite like Clearleft’s newsletter, they have kind of interesting… You can tell it is Jeremy Keith obviously in the sci-fi things and futurist stuff that I like. But I go “Oh, it’s the Clearleft newsletter, I’ll read that later.” And never do. The only one, sorry, so the only ones that I always click on are from two guitar shops, because I know that they will have pretty images and I can go “Oooo.”

Paul: Now, that’s very interesting because that’s going to totally contradict something I’m going to say later but let’s not worry about that for now.

Marcus: User test of one, I said.

Paul: Okay, this is going to sound weird but from a Headscape perspective does it actually matter if people never get around to reading it.

Marcus: I hadn’t thought of that. It is, as you said, the purpose of it is to just go “Hello, we are here, don’t forget about us!” So if it just pops up, if they’re not annoyed by it, and think “I must unsubscribe.” Then actually it is doing its job isn’t it.

Paul: Exactly.

Marcus: Hmmm.

Paul: So it’s, you know, I think it’s a really good way because if you take the Clearleft one for example next time someone comes around and they have a project that they need doing, because they are receiving regular emails from Clearleft they are going to think “Oh, yes, I’m subscribed to their newsletter we ought to make sure they are on the list of people we go out to.” That’s what it is really about from a kind of business development of an agency perspective.

Marcus: Yeah, there you go, I’ve learnt something… Writes note.

Paul: There you go. See, you should pay more attention to me Marcus. I have told you this so many times and it makes no difference. I think it is good for internal teams as well. I have started to do this a lot, right? Where I think a lot of projects go wrong internal within larger organisations is that people don’t feel included or engaged or listened to as part of the process, you know, so they suddenly get this “Here’s our new website, ta-da!” They look at it and go “Ah!” They’ve got no background and they weren’t engaged with it, et cetera. Now, there are a lot of internal teams that have blogs. But of course the problem is that someone has to go and look at the blog. While, sending out a regular newsletter to people when you are doing a project like a redesign of a big website for a large organisation is such a great way of keeping people in the loop and engaging with them. It’s a great opportunity to ask them questions and get feedback. But it’s also a great way of kind of gently educating them and preparing them for the final website that you then release. I am actually a huge fan of it. So what I will tend to do is at the beginning of a big project I will say “Okay, we are going to send an organisation wide email, just one to everyone, explaining that we are doing this big project or whatever and to sign up to it if they are interested in following along and seeing what happens with the project. You can sign up to this newsletter, you will get regular updates of everything that is happening.” Then essentially kind of take them, handhold them through the entire process with an email, you know, the end of every sprint or whatever is appropriate in that particular situation. It works really well. There is however one caveat because I gave a talk where I said about this technique and someone said at the end “Hmmm, we’ve been running an email newsletter for 25 years and nobody ever reads it!”

Marcus: Is that how they talk?

Paul: Yeah, they did talk like that as well. My kind of response to that is “Yeah, but is it any good?” Is it actually interesting, does it actually teach people stuff? Does it, you know, scratch them where they’re itching? Does it engage with them over the project that they care about or is it simply a “In our IT department this week we’ve been reviewing the latest CSS specs.” You know, which nobody cares about! So it has to be kind of related to the project and drawing people along, but I think it’s a really good technique personally.

Marcus: Also gives you some come back may be with some senior people said who said “Well, I didn’t know anything about this.”

Paul: Exactly. Yeah, which is why I send out the companywide email at the beginning so that everyone has an opportunity. If they don’t take it up then that is up to them but they are effectively then, they are relinquishing their right to have a say.

Marcus: Yes, you have no opinion anymore!

Paul: No, no, you are no longer a stakeholder in this project.

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Anyway, what I mainly want to concentrate on, mind, is the kind of external viewpoint of using email marketing in situations Like Headscape for example. I want to share… before we get into the actual… I’ve got 10 tips. I’m going to do a list this time. I haven’t done a list for a while so I’m going to do a list of my top 10 points. Before we get into that I just want to give you some reading suggestions. Because I have written about this quite a lot, okay? The first article I wanted to point to at is one entitled ‘ Newsletter signup; how to get subscribers without being annoying.’ Because let’s face it most email newsletter signup forms are bloody irritating.

Marcus: Quite a lot of them they just assume that you want to be part of it and you have to log out or opt out rather.

Paul: Oh, that’s even worse, yes.

Marcus: That’s changing though in the New Year with the GD whatever it is PR thing.

Paul: You want to know a confession?

Marcus: What Paul?

Paul: I haven’t looked at that yet. I know nothing about it.

Marcus: Well you as an Internet consultant, famous one as well, you really ought to know about that.

Paul: I know! This is why it is a confession and just between you and me.

Marcus: I have read a bit about it and yeah, basically it’s a lot clearer about things like opt in and opt out and what you can store of people’s content details. But let’s not go into that now in any detail but…

Paul: Is that all you’re going to give me?

Marcus: Yep.

Paul: You know how you say “How I keep up is by doing this podcast.” And basically that means that you get all of my knowledge and then on the one time I admit that I am weak on something and don’t know about it that’s all you give me?! That’s it!

Marcus: I’m kind of making out like I know a lot about it but I don’t either!

Paul: Okay. I think our Christmas reading is clear at this point.

Marcus: It certainly is. That is just something that really bugs me, being opted in to something I don’t want.

Paul: Yes, I totally agree that.

Marcus: Grrr.

Paul: So, newsletter signups, how to get subscribers without being annoying. So I decided the last few weeks I have been a bit lazy because I keep going “Oh yes, it’s going to be on show notes.” But I have got a URL now that I can read. So this one is going to be Boag.world/bws01. All right? Okay, so that’s the first. Definitely read it, lots of great advice in there, he says Humbly! The second one… So the first one is how not to be stupid really. There are lots of ways you can be really stupid with newsletter signup. The second one is how to successfully encourage newsletter signup with good design. So this is about calls to action and wording and all of those kinds of things. So, while the first one is things not to do the second one is things to do. So this one is at Boag.world/bws02 and then number three is one I wrote for smashing Magazine which is ‘How to use email to alienate your users.’ So again, it’s kind of reverse things, you know, it’s showing five bad examples. Yeah, that’s Boag.world/bws03.

So there we go, let’s quickly talk about our sponsor. Which is ResourceGuru. The last few weeks I have kind of, I’ve been very lazy with both of our sponsors, there is a re-occurring theme here, lazy with links, lazy with sponsors. I have just been reading the text that they give me but they always encourage me both ResourceGuru and GatherContent have both really encouraged me to share my own thoughts so I thought this episode that’s what I would do. So let’s talk about ResourceGuru for a minute. One of the hardest challenges I think of running a business is juggling the availability of your team because, you know, everybody has their processes and ways of working. It doesn’t matter what process you’ve got things never go smoothly do they? Clients never deliver on time, projects run over, someone gets sick or decides they want to go on holiday. Then you get an emergency request from a client’s, “Oh, my server has fallen over” or “There’s this new European union legislation that I need to comply with.” Those kinds of things, and it just throws everything out. So despite our best plans everything is constantly in flux. I think that’s my big problem with most PM tools, project management tools, is that they are really useless at dealing with that kind of dynamic changing environment. They just don’t adapt very well and that is why I really like ResourceGuru and why it really stands out to me is because it is very adaptive. You can make changes in a matter of moments and it is kind of very easy to go with the flow of what is going on in a business. Especially in like a small agency business, it is very, very easy to get kind of overwhelmed with all of these different clients wanting different things and trying to juggle multiple projects as Murcus can currently testify to.

Marcus: Yes, and we use ResourceGuru and it is very simple to follow, nice interface, easy to understand which is what you want from a tool really.

Paul: You did somewhat undermine it because at the beginning of the show you said “I am really stressed because I have got far too much on, I can’t cope with everything.” And now you’ve just said “Oh, we use ResourceGuru.” Do you see the problem?

Marcus: You are doing 2+2 = 5 there Paul.

Paul: Oh, am I? Different issue. So you can start your free trial by going to ResourceGuru.io/Boagworld. When you are ready to subscribe please use the coupon code Boag2017. I say please, I don’t need to say please because you are the one who will benefit from it, you’ll get 20% of the lifetime of the account. So it is definitely worth doing because that will save you quite a lot of money over the years. All right, so that is ResourceGuru.


Play Discussion at: 24:30

Paul: Now, let’s do my top 10 things about email. So these are… Look, I’ll be honest I am not an expert at this and I did have a guest lined up for this show but it didn’t happen for whatever reason. So I thought…

Marcus: You do do your own email though, you’ve done lots of email newsletters and things over the years.

Paul: I do, I have. I do email all the time but there’s a big difference between knowing it in theory and being an expert in it, you know? Or, yes, not theory because I do it in practice, but you know what I’m getting at, I’m not an expert. So, what I thought I would do for this show is just share with you 10 things that I have personally learnt, right? So I have built up an email newsletter of I don’t know, eight and a half thousand or something along those lines. I’m not sure quite of the number. So I have done all right, it’s not huge but, you know, for a little business like mine that’s pretty good, it kind of does the job and keeps me in contact with potential clients that might one day want to hire me. Obviously then I’ve worked with lots of other clients that have got more grown-up email marketing campaigns and I have been involved with those at various times so I know a little bit. So these are the 10 lessons that I’ve really learnt over the years, right? And is the first one is the one that Marcus has already said which is don’t trick your users into signing up, right? He was talking specifically about the check, uncheck the box thing that is just so irritating. And okay, we now know that that is soon going to be illegal but there are always ways, there are always ways and means of tricking someone into doing something that they don’t want to do. And not just tricking them in the sense of, you know, “Oh, I didn’t know I checked that box” kind of way but manipulating people, right? Through heavily persuasive techniques. So I was at a website once that was, you know, had a pop-up overlay for advice on running your own business, right? “Sign up for our newsletter for top advice on business running a business.” Then it had, it said “Yes! Subscribe me.” And then next to it it said “No, I want my business to fail.”

Marcus: Yeah, I’ve seen… I think I’ve seen that exact one! Which one is that? Oh…

Paul: I don’t know but it’s just, you know, don’t be a dick! All right?

Marcus: Sorry, there is another one I can think of. Going back to my guitar thing again, there is a site I occasionally go to get the cords or a tab on how to play something and it always comes up with this huge overlay which is “Sign up for this, sign up for this, sign up for this” and I’m thinking “I don’t want it.” And I can’t find… Then in tiny little letters right at the bottom it says something along the lines of “Oh, well you’re an idiot you don’t want it.” How does that make me feel about your brand?!

Paul: Let’s say… The truth is that people do it because it works. Right? It does actually increase conversion, right?

Marcus: Yeah, but does it… Increasing conversion is one thing but it might lose you customers.

Paul: Exactly. And also the problem is is that even if you manage to manipulate people, let’s say you did the checkbox thing, right? So a load of people sign up to your newsletter who don’t actually want it, okay? So now you’ve got a newsletter list, you’ve got a mailing list with no true perception of how many users are signed up to it legitimately, how many people actually want to hear from you? You’ve got this overly bloated list that looks very impressive if you just look at the top number but your conversion rate is going to be appallingly low because nobody actually wants it. So, the quality of your data is incredibly poor because you have manipulated people into signing things up. On top of which, right, it will damage the reputation of the list. I’m not talking about brand reputation I’m talking about how people like Google and various other email providers decide whether your email gets to get into someone’s inbox or not. One of the metrics they use is whether people mark it as spam, right? And if you’ve tricked people into signing up then they are going to mark it as span and therefore even those people that actually do want it are not going to see it as much because it is going to end up in spam folders. So it is just madness! Don’t get seduced, we mentioned this before, don’t get seduced by vanity metrics. You know, just because you’ve got a big number of people signed up for the newsletter doesn’t mean you should feel pleased with yourself, right? So if you take my email sign up of I don’t know, eight and a half thousand or whatever I said it was, if you look at my number of open rates and number of click rates compared to comparable other lists within my sector, that is incredibly high So although my list is relatively small my open rate and my click rate is very high because the people on my list actually want to be on my list, you know!

Marcus: Yep, it makes sense.

Paul: So, rant one over. Number two in my list is wait for the right moment to ask people to sign up. So the great example, the trouble is you know when you have these examples that you use all the time and you can’t remember which context you have used them in. So I have probably said this one before and and I apologise for it. To this day it makes me giggle. Well it doesn’t make me giggle, at the time it really annoyed me but now it makes me giggle. So, I went to a website, I was going to conference… I can’t remember the conference, but all the speakers decided they were all going to wear really geeky T-shirts, we were going to have a competition who could come up with the geekiest T-shirt. So I asked on Twitter where is really good to get geeky T-shirts?“ And loads of people suggested some. This one came up several times, don’t ask me what it is was can’t remember, anyway, I went to this website I arrive on this website and immediately it pops up an overlay, like you are describing saying ”Hey, sign up to our newsletter and get 20% off your first T-shirt." Right? Now, I hadn’t seen any T-shirts yet.

Marcus: (Laughter) yes!

Paul: So how do I know whether I want my 20% off, okay? And I’m certainly not going to give them my email address just on the off chance I might want a T-shirts because I know that they are going to email me for the rest of my life until I die. On top of which they felt this need to bribe me to get my email address, right? So that doesn’t bode very well for the quality of the newsletter that they are sending out, obviously it’s got no value in its own right and on top of that they have stopped me completing the call to action so that they can get me to sign up for something so they can encourage me to complete the call to action of purchasing a T-shirt. Do you see the madness of that?

Marcus: It’s all up the wrong way.

Paul: So anyway I immediately closed the pop-up window. I then went on and looked at the T-shirts, actually they had some really cool T-shirts there, lots of T-shirts I really liked, brilliant I’m going to have this one. I’ve gone through the process, looked at several, umm-ed and ahh-ed. Yes, this is my T-shirt! Right, how do I get my 20% discount? The pop-up overlay has gone.

Marcus: Hmmm. It should be part of the buying process.

Paul: I can’t see it, where is the overlay. Now I feel like I’m being charged 20% more for this T-shirt than it’s really worth. So I didn’t buy it! And I left the site.

Marcus: Never to return.

Paul: Exactly. So that’s why you’ve got to pick the right moment to ask people to sign up. So like you say, it should have been a part of the buying process. There you go. Number three, consider carefully how often you email people. Frequency is very good. We worked with one charity, I worked with one charity once, in fact Marcus you, I don’t know if you were involved with this conversation but it was when I was at Headscape. We were working for one charity and they were emailing, asking for donations and updating their clients, you know, their givers et cetera but none of it was managed centrally, okay? So we did a little bit of research into this and discovered that potentially their most committed donors, right? So the people that were most engaged with the charity, were signed up to multiple mailing lists, had ended up on multiple mailing lists across the organisation and they could be receiving multiple emails from the charity every day!

Marcus: Oh, I love that don’t you Paul! (Laughter)

Paul: I mean that’s just insane isn’t it. Because there had been no coordination or no thought put into “Well how many times do we need to be emailing people.”

Marcus: Yeah, that’s happened with an existing client as well, one of the law firms but they had so many different… You can sign up for so many different kind of practice related emails that the same thing could apply. They would have like a kind of… There might be something… I think it was related to the fact that if a particular practice had like a major thing on at the moment they would just keep pushing out these emails almost daily. Then if you are signed up for more than one, if the two of them were doing the same thing at the same time you would be getting multiple emails everyday.

Paul: Yes, you’ve got to put some thought into it.

Marcus: People are going to ignore that or unsubscribe you more than likely. Or, put you into their junk folder.

Paul: Yes, as for how often you send it out I think that is very dependent on the type of content that you are sending out, all the rest of it. I settled for eventually on once every other week in my case. But the fact is that you have got to consider what you can keep up regularly so, you know, it’s not wise to say “Oh yes, I’m going to send daily emails.” It’s like Jarrod Spool has got a UX thought the day. How he does it every day, blows my mind’s! It’s really good as well. But he writes an email every day it’s like a Poof, he’s got too much time on his hands! So… But yes, you need to think how often you can keep it up and then also how much is kind of reasonable from the users perspective.

Marcus: Yes, it’s about providing something that is useful as well isn’t it. In Jarrod Spools case he’s obviously managing to do that but most of us just couldn’t do that.

Paul: No, no. I certainly… I struggled to come up with content for a podcast every week, let alone every day! So that’s number three I think, I don’t even know anymore! Make sure your email provides value to the user. That goes back to what… Oh, you beautifully transitioned to that Marcus.

Marcus: I know, and I hadn’t even read it!

Paul: (Laughter) You just guessed. So you’ve got to offer more than that T-shirt place, the “Oh, we’re going to send you our cool products.” Although apparently that’s alright if it’s guitars.

Marcus: Yes, I think that there are some things that, you know, all of us love. If it’s shiny, whatever shiny means to you then you will accept that and you will open it and go “Ooo, can’t afford that.” And then shut it again.

Paul: But I do think a lot of us may be, those of us who are doing these emails, think people are more interested in our product than they actually are, you know? So, for example if you are emailing about insurance it has got to offer more value than “Oh, here’s a discount on our insurance.” Because nobody cares about it.

Marcus: I’m trying to think about what value could there possibly be in an insurance newsletter?

Paul: Well, I think that… Yes, this is where you’ve got to think around the product rather than just specifically about the product. Didn’t we touch on this a little bit that this when we when we were talking with Ellen last week? It’s the idea that if you are talking about insurance you have got to talk about, you know, it’s got to be a newsletter about planning for the future and it would touch on you know, financial planning and planning for your retirement and all of those kinds of things, presuming you are talking about life insurance. If you’re talking about pet insurance it would be all stuff about pets, you know? Looking after your pets and the pet’s well-being and that kind of stuff. So, there has got to be value in the newsletter in and of itself. So, for example… a bit of segmentation doesn’t go amiss either. So going back to your guitar example I think before somebody makes a purchase, yes, they want to see shiny guitars don’t they and “Oh, that’s sexy, let’s drool over it.” But once they have bought a guitar then maybe actually what they want is hints and tips about how to play it better or how to look after it or, you know, those kinds of things. Maybe your need changes a little bit so the value that you’ve got to provide is slightly different.

Marcus: Slightly annoyingly if you click on… One of the guitar shops is World Guitars down in the West Country somewhere. I will occasionally click through to the detail on one of these lovely instruments and then the first thing that comes up is a “Sign up for our newsletter.”

Paul: I mean, that’s just embarrassing isn’t it. You know, and it is so easy to fix something like that. Once somebody has signed up they should never see you again.

Marcus: Anyway. What’s next Paul?!

Paul: Right, number five, yes. Have some clear calls to action in every email but vary them. So one of the things that I… Well, you see two types of things, you see some emails where it is like “Oh, we are going to talk to you about X, Y, and Z” but it never actually asks you to act or respond at all which is obviously a bit shit because that’s why the email… that’s why you’re going to all this effort is to encourage people to take action. Then the other extreme I see calls to action which are the same every time they receive the email. I think people become almost blind to it then and they don’t see it and it doesn’t register in their head, so I think you’ve got to vary those calls to action. So, if you look at my newsletter for example often the call to action might be something as simple as “Hey, write back to me and tell me what you think about the newsletter.” Or I might ask a question or just try and get some kind of engagement out of them. While other times it will be “by my book.” or “Here is a course I’m running” or those kinds of things. So kind of varying the calls to action seems to work better from my personal experience anyway. Number six is spend a lot of time crafting your headlines because this is the big… You’ve got two barriers well, three barriers when it comes to emails. One is that you have got to get them to sign up in the first place then you have got to get them to open the email and then third you’ve got to get them to click on the call to action. Well, to get them to open the email you need a really compelling subject line. So I am going to mention a tool in a minute that will help with that a little bit. Although that co-schedule headline analyser will also help with it, that I mentioned in last weeks show.

Marcus: Free beer from Paul. That would work.

Paul: Free beer from Paul. Actually that one wouldn’t work very well.

Marcus: No?

Paul: No. And the reason being is the word free.

Marcus: Oh.

Paul: The word free is more likely to get you put into the spam folder or, you know, in something like Gmail or into one of those secondary folders, you know, the tabs that they have. So there are certain words that you have got to be careful about and free is actually one of them. Beer from Paul or get your beer from Paul. That would kind of work, but not free. Interesting that isn’t it so, there you go. That’s the tool that I am going to mention later helps with that kind of thing. Next one make unsubscribing easy… please. Please make it easy, please.

Marcus: Quite a lot of the time unsubscribing I’m just thinking… I don’t know whether it is something that I genuinely did sign up for or whether it is spam and unsubscribing me is actually subscribing me to other things.

Paul: Ah, that reminds me of something that I didn’t put on the list because I didn’t want more than 10, which was to remind people where the email has come from. Why they are getting because that deals with that problem. But when it comes to unsubscribing when someone clicks on that unsubscribe button or link that should be it. Right? So there are two cardinal sins on this. One don’t ask me to put in the email address I am unsubscribing for because you have just emailed me so you know the email address so attach it to the URL so that it will automatically do it because sometimes people receive emails from multiple addresses to the same inbox. So that is number one. Two, now this is even worse, don’t make me log in to something to unsubscribe. I am talking to all of you who create notification emails, right? So when you signed up… Web apps are bastards with this, they really are. Oh, I’ve signed up to a web app five years ago, right? And it’s like to this day I still receive an email from a SEO service that I used back in the day and it says "Your site has been crawled, re-crawled, we have re-crawled your site. That is all it says right? I get that once a week and whenever I click on the unsubscribe button it says log in. I can’t remember my login details. I really ought to add it to my spam folder. There you go, there’s the problem in that one sentence.

Marcus: The other one is “Select from our list of 10 points as to why you are unsubscribing.”

Paul: Yes. Or “Here’s a massive long list of different types of emails that we send you, which ones you wish to unsubscribe from?” And you have to go through the whole list and tick them. Bad.

Marcus: Yes, bad.

Paul: And also if you are going to make it easy say that upfront. When people subscribe say you can unsubscribe in a single click because that helps people and encourages them to sign up. Number eight is make it personal. So this is… I mean I’m not, I mean obviously the most logical, the most obvious example of that is “hello Marcus, thank you for signing up…”

Marcus: Hello Paul!

Paul: No, oh, (Laughter) it’s painful! So, personal greetings…

Marcus: I know where you live. That would make it personal wouldn’t it?

Paul: That would make it personal. That is very true. Yes, this is your address and we are sending someone round right now with a baseball bat. No, don’t make it that personal. Segmentation basically is what I am driving at here. So, if you have got a mailing list and for example you could segment it by people that haven’t actually clicked on a link in your email for the last six months. So maybe you want to say something a little bit different to them, all right? Or people that haven’t actually opened the email in the last six months maybe you want a different subject line for them. Or people that have signed up via this route compared to this route or people that have got a company domain name rather than Gmail or Hotmail or something like that. Or, people from a different certain geographic area. And so it goes on. I mean most of those examples were examples where you haven’t asked for anything more than their email address. But also obviously you could ask them what sector they work in or that kind of thing. But personally I’m not a fan of doing that with the initial sign up because it creates a bigger barrier to getting people to sign up. But, something I am considering doing, which I haven’t yet done, is actually sending out a little survey to my subscribers and saying “Hey, tell me a bit about yourself.” So that I can provide you with more relevant stuff.“ I was going to ask a single question to my subscribers which is ”Do you work for an external agency or do you work in-house?" If I can just get them to answer that single question then that will enable me to start tailoring more specific content to people. So it is useful to the end user.

Marcus: Makes sense.

Paul: Number nine is make sure it works across devices and platforms. By platforms I mean different email providers. So for example, you know, does it look good on a mobile device and that kind of thing. You need to test this kind of stuff it really does matter. In particular watch images. I’ve been using images for ages on my newsletter and recently I asked for some feedback on the newsletter from people. And people really nicely took the time to email me back and tell me how shit it is that I include so many images. So I have now cut down the number of images I use.

Marcus: Why? Why do they say that?

Paul: Well, if you think about it in my case most of my images are fillers. They are not shiny guitars, do you know what I mean?

Marcus: Oh, okay.

Paul: They don’t add value to the email and I think it is completely fair point. I just think also that they take longer to download. Sometimes the images don’t load because of the way they have got the client set up and so images are an interesting one. But that wasn’t really what I was getting at, what I was getting at is that you need to test across multiple platforms and devices.

Marcus: Yes, I get a newsletter which I can’t read on my phone and that is really annoying.

Paul: Exactly, yes. And then, the final point that I wanted to share is test when best to send it. This goes back to what you were saying right back at the introduction Marcus, which is, you know, the number of emails you get that you never open. Often times you never open them because… No, you go “Oh, you’ll go ”Oh I’ll read that later" and then never do. A lot of that can be down to when you receive the email so, often it is worth testing different times of the day and different days of the week to send out your newsletter. I feel hypocritical saying this because I have never done this and I really, really need to because I know it would make an enormous difference to my open rate if I could be arsed. Actually, the really ironic and stupid thing is that with MailChimp, which is the client I use, which I will talk about them in just a minute, it will actually work out the best time to send it for you and I haven’t ever bothered selecting that option. How lazy is that!

Marcus: Just tick the box Paul, is that it?

Paul: It is slightly more complicated because I send out my email on a Thursday where I reference a post that goes out on the Thursday which is the podcast. So I can’t send the newsletter out before that post has been released and the post isn’t released until lunchtime and if I click the send it out at the best time box it might send it out before that post has been released. It is very easily solved, I move the newsletter to Friday. But can I be bothered to work that out?!

Marcus: Anecdotally I think Friday afternoons at sort of four-ish would be the best time because that is when you might think, “You know, I can’t be bothered to do any more work I’m going to read some stuff in a newsletter.”

Paul: I don’t actually think that’s the case from the numbers that fly around but I would totally agree with that logic.

Marcus: Hmmm

Paul: But that’s not what I’ve read. But you can’t believe what you read on the Internet, or hear on podcasts either!

Featured Apps

Play Featured Apps at: 50:12

Right, let’s talk about our next sponsor. That is not a good segue into a sponsor. “You can’t trust what you hear on podcasts, now I’m going to recommend a product to you.” Yeah! Oops!

Marcus: Brilliant!

Paul: Sorry. Sorry GatherContent. Earlier I was talking about ResourceGuru wasn’t I. I said one of the problems with projects, one of the reasons that projects get delayed or there are problems with them is that the client fails to deliver the stuff that they should do when they should deliver it. Of course the biggest example of that is content. That is why I love GatherContent. You see, I think partly we are our own worst enemy when it comes to getting content out of clients. One is that we don’t give them enough guidance about creating that content and then two they end up giving it to us in all kinds of “Oh, here’s a word document and there’s this PowerPoint over here and there’s this over there and I’ve sent you a spreadsheet of how they all link together.” And you know, it’s like really!? I’ve got to work through all this crap? That’s why I think something like GatherContent can be so helpful because it can help with both of those problems. So, you can basically create these customisable or create these content templates that you can customise, right? So they are putting content into templates which obviously means that it is really then easy to… They are all organised in a consistent way that you can easily export out directly into your CMS of choice. But also you can decide what fields go into those templates. Now, obviously you are going to want to put in fields that will, that you will want to end up publishing to the site via the CMS. Fields like you know, body content, title, meta data, that kind of thing. But there is no reason why you can’t also includes fields in there that exist purely to get people writing great content, all right? So fields like… Ones that I like to put in are things like “who is the audience. Type into this box who the audience is.” Right? “What questions are you answering on this page and what is the call to action?” Because getting the client to write those things out gets them thinking about the right kind of things that they should be thinking about as they write content. So GatherContent totally… Really pleased they’re a sponsor because it is totally a product that I think is incredibly useful. So it is perfect for website redesigns, new websites, adding new sections to websites. But also, to be honest, it is great for even doing things like email when you have got multiple contributors all adding stuff together into emails and for planning out a series of emails and that kind of stuff. You can get a 30 day free trial, no credit card required just to go to GatherContent.com/boagworld

Right, I just want to wrap up with three different apps to check out. Two of which I have kind of vaguely mentioned already and a third one… I have a third one as well! Yes, one I haven’t! The first one, it’s a bit of a long URL that I am going to read it anyway, it’s sendcheckit.com/email–subject–line–tester. I really should have shortened that URL shouldn’t sign!.

Marcus: It really rolls off the tongue that doesn’t it.

Paul: It really does. Now this goes back to what I was saying earlier about testing your subject headlines, right? And it is so good for this. Let’s see what it says. What was it you said? Free beer from Paul. We’ll see how good a grade you get… From Paul… for your off-the-cuff subject line.

Marcus: (Laughter) Oh, my dogs are going mad.

Paul: Oh, oh dear I wonder who is breaking into your house. Are you being stolen from as we speak.

Marcus: Well my wife is downstairs. Maybe she is being stolen, I hope not.

Paul: I’m afraid Free beer from Paul only gets a C grade. You do very well on scanability, very scannable. Reading grade is very good because, you know, it doesn’t use any long words so that’s good. The character length and the word count is good.

Marcus: Okay.

Paul: So you are doing well so far. Your sentiment is a bit neutral. It’s not either very positive or very negative. Although I think free beer is very positive.

Marcus: I was going to say I think that’s just wrong! Automated things again! Tut-tut.

Paul: You don’t use… Yeah, yeah I know, it is. We talked about this a lot last week. So you don’t… But you’ve used the word free. And it’s the word free. Spammers and low rent marketers, you are a low rent marketer…

Marcus: I quite like that.

Paul: … Use the word free in subject lines so avoid it where possible. Only 2.34% of emails containing the world word free are opened. There you go.

Marcus: Well, again, I’ve learnt something.

Paul: Yes, erm. No spam. You’ve got no spamming words, you’ve got no bad tab words, you’ve got no exclamation marks, no all caps. But it’s not personalised. See, there is no question? Questions work really well.

Marcus: Would you like some economically favourable beer from Paul? There you go.

Paul: Inexpensive. May have worked better.

Marcus: Inexpensive! Yes, I couldn’t think of the right word.

Paul: Economically favourable! So anyway, there’s another little automator tool. Again, they are not perfect. As I said last week but they are good to get you thinking about the right kind of things. Now, obviously the big question is well what email tool are you going to use to send out all of these group emails? There are frigging hundreds of them out there and I am not going to claim that I have looked at all of them or that I am an expert in all of them but the one that I have been using for years and that I cannot fault his MailChimp.

Marcus: Yeah, they are popular.

Paul: It is very popular, yeah, it is very well known. Now, it is not the cheapest of the options that are out there but it has got so many features that I really like about it. From the fact that you can create very personalised campaigns, as we were talking about earlier. But you can also have trigger-based campaigns so if someone abandons their shopping basket or those kinds of things you. You can create automated emails based on RSS feeds. There are too many things to list all of them but it really has got a comprehensive toolkit. The other good thing is if you have got less than 2000 subscribers it’s absolutely free which I think it’s a blooming good deal to start you off down the road of, you know, email marketing if it’s not something that you have done before. I tell you, it works really well because I started off with less than 2000 and I am still going with them because, you know, they have been so good to use. However, if you want something that is much, much lighter weight something just creating an email, and emails really simply, may be even an email that you can throw together on a mobile device, you know, dead, dead simple stuff then MailChimp do also offer a kind of super, easy, free, straightforward, you know, experience called TinyLetter.com. It’s just brilliant for kind of writing almost, not quite plain text emails, but really basic really quick emails so you might want to check that out as well. All right, I think that is about it. Marcus do you have a joke for us?

Marcus: I do. This joke is one that my sons girlfriend told me and she is a nanny. So…

Paul: Do they call them nannies any more? Are they not called childcare professionals?

Marcus: Well, in my mind she is a nanny but maybe I am old-fashioned, whatever.

Paul: Probably. That’s probably very politically incorrect as well for some reason.

Marcus: Yes, it probably is isn’t it, oh well, I’ve said it now. The point is it’s a bit juvenile but that’s kind of where I am in my mind and it made me snigger. So here we go. How do you put a baby astronaut to sleep?

Paul: How do you put a baby astronaut to sleep?

Marcus: You Rocket. (Laughter)

Paul: That really is like a five year old’s joke isn’t it.

Marcus: I think even younger than that but yes.

Paul: No, that’s good. She found our level which is great.

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: Okay, so next week we are back for the last podcast in the season. To be honest guys I don’t think it’s going to be Christmassy, I just can’t be arsed. Have I failed, have I failed as a podcast host.?

Marcus: Just have an intro where we talk about things we want for Christmas.

Paul: Yeah, I like talking about what I want! (Laughter) But we are going to talk about the future of content marketing. So we are going to look at what comes next in this kind of world that we have covered in this season of the podcast because it is evolving incredibly rapidly and I think it is going to become quite hard to differentiate yourself from in the market and where things are going. I think we need to keep ahead don’t we so I’m going to share with you some of the thoughts about what I am going to do now. I have been content marketing for years and I wanted to talk to you a little bit about where I am intending to take things in the future. But until next week thank you very much for listening. Goodbye.