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Feb 12, 2003
How To

Top 10 Checklist: What You Need to Do the Minute After You Switch List Hosts

SUMMARY: According to Forrester, this year more than 50% of email
newsletter publishers and marketers will desert their current
email list host (A.K.A. broadcast service) and switch to another
vendor.

If you are one of them, here is a handy checklist of what to do the
day after. Yes, it includes some tips we learned about the hard
way. Benefit from our hard knocks experience.
By Contributing Editor Mark Brownlow
markb@marketingsherpa.com

Congratulations, you have just chosen a new company or system to
handle your broadcast emailing. Here are our top 10 things to
watch out for when setting up and managing your list:


#1. Write & double-check all auto-messages

Although most people are aware of the importance of a well-
written "welcome to the list" message, too often they forget all
the other customizable list messages a hosting service displays
to your list members, such as:

- Confirmation requests for double opt-in subscriptions
- Unsubscribe confirmations
- Special welcome messages for particular name sources
- Auto-replies to the messages subscribers send you when they
click "reply" on your broadcast messages

Do not rely on the default messages provided by your host; they are
*not* optimized for your audience and needs, and they are usually
bland yawn-inducers that do nothing for your brand.


#2. Watching for potential multiple list conflicts

If you are running multiple newsletters or sub-lists off a single
account, keep alert to possible conflicts.

For example, sub-lists may share account templates (e.g. sign-up
confirmation pages). If your sub-lists have little in common,
then you will need a suitably generic design and wording for these
customized templates.

Otherwise it can look strange when new subscribers to your
"Teenage Monthly" see a "thank you for subscribing" page designed
for readers of "Cruise reviews for the over 70s."

When uploading copy and scheduling multiple newsletters or sub-
lists, watch out for those drop-down menus. It is SO easy to end
up clicking the wrong line, so the would-be vacationers get the
Xbox review, and the teenagers are invited to learn about the
archeological delights of the Mediterranean.


#3. Writing your headers, footers, and froms

Most hosts let you configure footers and headers which are
automatically appended to your outgoing messages. If you use that
feature, do not forget about them when designing and pasting up
the "body" of your mail.

List hosts also append their own information to the bottom of
outgoing mail, often identifying the recipient's email address
and giving unsubscribe instructions. Be aware of that if adding
your own information on the subject.

Plus, you will need to set a basic system default for the "from"
which will appear in your broadcast messages. Do not assume the
default your new host picks is the best one. This is an
important brand decision for you, and affects your open rates
significantly.


#4. Double-check message delivery timing

Whatever your host claims in terms of delivery rates, keep on eye
on the actual performance. You may need to take account of their
delivery pattern when planning and scheduling a campaign or
newsletter broadcast.

If you have a large list, a host may have to spread out
deliveries to certain address domains to prevent your message
being flagged as spam (many ISPs block mail when a source sends
too much email in too short a time).

If campaign timing is critical, you also need to keep an eye on
the system clock, too. We have seen scheduling "clocks" which are
out by 2 hours, so when you set a broadcast to begin at 9 A.M., it
might actually start at 11 A.M.

Last but not least, do not forget to check which time zone the
clock refers to. Often it does not tell you. You may think
you are scheduling a mailing to go out at 9 A.M. ET, which the system
will not send until 9 A.M. PT.

(We even worked with one list host whose clock was reset
occasionally so the time zone would change without warning.)


#5. Set your bounce limits

Your host should let you specify a bounce limit, this is the
number of times an address must bounce before it is automatically
removed or disabled from your list.

If you set the limit too high, you end up paying for messages
that never arrive. If you set it too low, you end up losing
subscribers who simply had an overflowing inbox for a few days
last month (a particular problem when mailing at-work addresses
during holidays).

Check how your host counts bounces, and whether the count is
reset once a successful delivery to that address is made. Then
talk with them to determine a suitable limit.

For example, if you have people subscribed to multiple lists,
it is important to know if each "rejected" newsletter counts
towards the total. If someone gets 3 of your daily newsletters
and your bounce limit is 6, then they could be unsubscribed after
just 2 days of connection problems.

Use the bounce and other delivery reports you get to identify
problems in this area.


#6. Double-check your metrics reports

Your host should provide you with numerous list metrics, such as
total subscriber numbers, new subscribers this week, lost
subscribers this week, delivery rates, open rates etc. You will
need to double-check them in three ways:

a. Double-check that you have your own system to download and
store the critical data for your own needs. If your host
has any tech problems, you do not want to lose your data.
Do not count on them to store it for you forever, provide
your own back-up.

b. Double-check that you are translating the metrics properly.
Many, many times marketers think their report is telling
them one thing, when it is telling them something else
entirely.

For example, when the system reports on unsubscribes does
it include bad addresses which were automatically dumped
from the list, or does it just include people who actively
asked to get off the list?

Or, when the system reports on clicks, what are they a
percent of (opens or sends) and are they unique per
recipient or double-counted if an individual clicks twice?

Or, are open rates calculated as a percentage of the email
sent or of the emails delivered?

When it comes to vendor metrics reports, never assume you
know what each item means. Ask.

c. Double-check that reported figures match reality.
Especially if you are switching an existing list from one
system to another. All sorts of data can be lost or
confused. Never ever optimistically assume it went
smoothly.


#7. Emergency Planning

Everyone says you should keep a fresh backed-up copy of your list
at your own location. But how many do it?

If your subscriber database is stored at the host, then make sure
you make a regular back-up copy for yourself. How often you do
this should be based on how often data on your list changes. If
you send mail frequently and thus get frequent unsubscribes,
you will need to equally frequently update back-ups.

Plus, make sure you can read (or convert) this databases in a
useful format.

Also, keep a back-up account open with an alternate host in case
you need to use it. What if your main host's server goes down or
something else unexpected goes wrong and you have a major
campaign to get out?

We have had this happen to us several times and were very grateful
to have planned ahead.


#8. Testing

When everyone starts using a list hosting service, the first
thing they do is test the system by joining, leaving a few
addresses, sending test messages etc.

What too few people do is to continue to test the system later
on. They just assume that what works once, works forever.

Test regularly and test often. Test all the different ways and
combinations people can sign-on to your list, sign-off it, or
manage their subscription. That way you also see all the various
list messages readers get to see.


#9. Note extra features

Just like many consumer electronics, list hosts often give you
all sorts of bells and whistles in addition to their basic
service. You may only need the basics now, but it's good to at
least be aware of what else the system could do for you.

Depending on your inclination, either read your hosts
documentation thoroughly, or schedule a meeting with your account
rep to have them take you verbally through the highlights of the
system.

Who knows? You may discover ways you can use the system that
will improve your marketing results that you had not even dreamed
of.


#10. Get to know people at your list host personally

Get communication onto a personal, human level as soon as you
can. The two biggest reasons are:

a. Having a good relationship with your host is particularly
important should you ever start getting spam accusations.

If you are "charged" with spamming, your host's IP addresses
may end up being blocked and their entire business could be
affected. They may not hesitate to disable a client at
the first sign of spam trouble.

If they know you and your permission practices well, then
you may be able to gain a long-enough reprieve to prove
your innocence.

b. You need multiple contacts in cases of emergency. If
something does go wrong either on your end or theirs, and
you need to reach someone quickly, relying on your account
rep's phone number may not be enough. You do not want to
end up in voicemail.

If you have personal relationships with multiple contacts
you can reach someone even when your rep is not in. That
can save the day.

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