In the pursuit of more knowledge about marketing with real estate newsletters, I attended an SEO meeting last night in San Diego. Four specialists conducted a panel discussion about the issues of personalization, deliverability, and content in email marketing.
The perspective was refreshingly practical, coming from experts in the trenches who are charged with doing email marketing for their consumer-facing companies, each with a list of over a million subscribers.
The gist of the discussion was broad and data-driven: “What emails are getting opened, why, and and how do we use that knowledge to increase engagement and sales?” Below are some of the more interesting ideas that I think apply to online real estate marketing, including the use of real estate newsletters, lead follow-up emails, and referral marketing strategies.
15 Email Marketing Lessons Learned by the Panel
- An internal survey of more than 5,000 email recipients showed that customers expect to see one email per week once they subscribe, meaning that one email per week might be a best practice to follow when someone joins your list, either by subscribing to your blog, requesting more information, participating in a survey, or downloading a gift. Test if your open rates rise or fall with frequency.
- Not surprisingly, another survey showed that recipients show less interest over time, and that non-open, unsubscribe, and spam rates rise over time. That might mean sending fewer emails over time. Again, test on your subscribers.
- Let people unsubscribe easily so they don’t identify you as spam. Keep your email unsubscribe link very prominent. If your emails are identified as spam, your email gets a black mark, which affects deliverability of your other email. When people want to stop getting your emails, you want them to unsubscribe, not assign you to spam.
- Mobile reading habits are different than desktop habits. People using mobile will open, glance at your email, then close it again. Then open it again later when they have a spare moment. This is especially true with your real estate newsletters.
- Alternatively, mobile readers may open, then delete your email without reading it. This will affect your open rates, making them seem higher than they really are.
- Images affect spam score. Include compressed images relevant to your content. Also, do not use text-only content without images. Both overlarge and no images might trigger spam filters. Sigh.
- Getting through spam filters is getting harder than ever. Make sure your email passes filter tests before sending it. That is still no guarantee that it won’t get caught by some arcane algorithm having nothing to do with you. If you notice a lot of your emails bouncing, or simply disappearing when sent to particular ESPs (like gmail or yahoo), you may need to go through a process of whitelisting. If you want to go down this path, here is a guide to improving deliverability.
- Consumers expect emails to be relevant to them, rather than generic seasonal content. Example: A generic Father’s Day ad vs. a Father’s Day ad targeted to new fathers. Relevance means identifying as much information as possible about them at or just after signing up, so that you can direct them into a particular series of emails. Another example: Real estate agents would send a different series of emails to first time buyer leads, seller leads, and seasoned buyer leads. To get this information, consider asking in the welcome email what kind of content they’d like to get, so that they self-select an email series. Real estate newsletters should be customized to a local area to be more relevant. (For 7 simple ways to make pre-written real estate newsletters more relevant, see this post.)
- The context of the email must be relevant, too. Your first time buyer leads are more likely to open an email at the end of the month that says “3 Things to Do at the End of the Month to Improve Your Credit Score Dramatically.” Another: “About Your Upcoming Real Estate Purchase.”
- You can use .gifs in your emails to draw attention, but too much motion or jerky motion is distracting. Here is what one panelist considered to be a good example of using .gif:
- A top factor in open rates continues to be creative subject lines. It’s important to spend time on subject lines. Be sure the line states exactly what someone will find in the email, but then add a “sexiness” to it or a spin. The title to this post could have been “15 Things to Know about Email Marketing,” but by spinning it into a challenge, “15 Things You Might Not Know…” I’ve made it just a bit more interesting.
- It’s also important to see exactly how your email looks in the most popular inboxes, so you can fix any problems before you hit send. A service that allows you to do that was recommended: Emailonacid.com
- The best time/day to send emails is based on your subscriber behaviors, not a generic “best time to send” metric from your email service provider. Think about your audience and when they’re likely to interested in your emails. Test different delivery times and days.
- Make a clear call-to-action in each email. It does not need to be a sales call. If you’re sending an eduction series, your call to action might be something they do. But don’t forget to invite them to contact you directly for more help.
- The appropriate word-count depends on the purpose of the email. Shorter emails (70-150 words) are preferred for marketing messages. Somewhat longer for blog posts (300 to 900 words). Posts can be somewhat longer for educational content (900 to 1,400 words). Newsletter length varies depending on the industry. Some industries prefer a single-page with no clicking required to read an article; other industries prefer a digest, where consumers click a summary link to read a full article that interests them.
Ultimately, all the panelists agreed that you need to test, test, test. The goal of email marketing is to gain eventual customers. Some of these tactics will work better when following up with online leads, others are practical for following up with your past clients and sphere of influence. Ideally you will have two systems for following up with each–your before group and your after group.