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9 Ways to Increase Solo Email Response Rates

The most effective solo email marketing campaigns I've seen typically make one simple offer in a few short words. When done right, it's the most cost effective form of Internet marketing I've witnessed.

Below are my top tactics for maximizing solo email marketing response rates. If you have some of your own, let me know about them, or post them to my Internet Direct Marketing Tip blog at http://www.wdfm.com/internetdirectmarketingtips/.

1. Timing is Everything

You may have heard this dictum before, but recently a colleague in retail told me exactly how vital timing is.

He usually sends out hot deals on high-fashion clothes Friday evening. Well, the hot deals went to an in-house employee list (by mistake) instead of his tens of thousands of subscribers. The subscribers are used to poring over those hot deals over the weekend, not at work.

So he sent the hot deals out first thing Monday morning. It laid an egg. The lesson: Learn what time is convenient for your readers and stick to it. Consumer goods often work better on weekends, while B2B emails are better suited to working hours. But also periodically test different times, as habits change.

2. Keep Subject Lines Short

I try to keep mine under 35 characters, but I don't always succeed. I spend significant amounts of time deciding whether each word is working hard enough, or if the reader can live without that word.

Hint 1: Go Shorter
Sometimes I don't even use up all 35 characters. A super short subject header telegraphs to the reader that I'm getting to the point fast, and what's inside will probably do likewise.

Hint 2: Numbers and Details
Readers love exactness. "9 Ways to Increase Solo Email Response Rates" gives the reader an exact expectation of what's inside the email. They're either going to be interested in what's inside or not. There's no reason to fool them, only to tick them off once it's opened.

3. What, No Scrolling?

I come from the "shorter is better" school of Internet marketing. Some will argue with me and prove that long solo email copy works like gangbusters, and in certain cases, I'm sure it does.

But, I notice that short copy does better than long copy. One of the best performing solo emails I've seen was so short it didn't even activate the vertical scroll bar.

4. Hello Testing 1,2,3

Many Internet marketers pay lip service to split testing their solo emails, but surprisingly few really do it.

Sending one subject line to part of the list and another subject line to another part of the list can have dramatic results. I've seen advertisers find that one gets more clickthroughs, but the other subject line that got fewer clicks actually resulted in more sales, even sales that took place months after the solo was sent out. This is diligent testing, and you owe it to your media budget to test.

I see advertisers test different landing pages to see how many fields are optimal. Some test the same white paper, but feature different attributes in the body copy.

Don't test too many things at once, or over an extended period of time. Seasonality affects most everything, even in B2B.

5. Use Your Competitor as a Pilot Fish

If you see your direct competition renting a third-party list again and again, the chances are good that list is pulling well for them. You might as well get in on the action and see how it performs for your firm.

Having said that, it's also a good idea to test lists where your competitor is not. Your solo email offer might be very unique to that list and you may enjoy a first-mover advantage before your competition catches on.

6. The List Owner is Your Friend

It is in the enlightened self-interest of the list owner to have your offer perform well so you (the advertiser) come back again. I work closely with many of my solo email clients.

Ask the list owner for examples of offers that have performed well recently. In fact, if I were you, I'd make sure I was on the email list to which you are considering sending your solo email well in advance of renting that list, so you can see exactly how the list "feels" to you.

Some of my solo email advertisers get me creative weeks in advance so layout and copy changes can be made and examined again before a test transmission is sent.

7. Get a Copywriter

Because creative materials for online ads and solo emails are faster and easier to create than print or TV ads, copywriters are often squeezed out of the process. Very often, the person who rents the list winds up writing the copy. I can't impress upon you enough how important it is to get a copywriter who knows what he or she is doing. Don't just hire someone who says he's a copywriter. Ask for samples and response rates to his best work.

Disclosure: I am a recovering copywriter from Madison Avenue.

Tip: Many branding copywriters can show you fancy awards given to them by awards shows. These shows are very political and only sometimes reflect real talent. I have a closet full of such awards. ;)

Get yourself a real direct response copywriter with experience in this medium. Or do it yourself and never stop researching what goes into a great solo email copy. The best copywriters of any stripe never sit on their laurels. They're insatiably curious about what works and why.

8. Beware of List Fatigue

I only allow one solo email mailing a week to my list. I don't want to fatigue the list. Subscribers to my list know they're not going to hear from me unless I think it's worth their time. The response rates to solo emails are every bit as good as the response rates to my newsletter, and sometimes better.

9. Ask Where New List Members Come From

Classic DM'ers will tell you that the most active responders on a list are usually the "hotliners" (those who are new to the list within the past 30 days). You want to make sure that list vitality is intact by understanding how new subscribers are recruited.

Obviously they need to be opt-in, if not double opt-in. Take a look at the home page of the list. How many inbound links are there? What is the quality of those inbound links? If a site has thousands of inbound links, but most sites linking into it are of questionable merit, the list is apt to be full of bottom-fishing tire-kickers who won't be worth a dime to you.

Bonus Tip: Top Link, Bottom Link

It's a no-brainer to put a call-to-action link at both the top of your solo email message and at the bottom. In fact, you might want to sprinkle a few links in between the top and the bottom, as different readers are ready at different times to take action, and you want to be most accommodative in providing an easy path for response.

I once tested a solo email that was rather long and it had no fewer than a dozen links throughout the copy. The top link and the bottom link had the most clickthroughs, hands down. But you know, every single link in that long piece of body copy had clickthroughs.