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Getting The Right E-mail Address

on Thu, 11/04/2010 - 14:30

A recent end-user survey found that over 60% of respondents had at least two email accounts.

Which one are they using to get your emails?

It's an important question because not all email addresses are created equal, even when the owner is the same person.

Some accounts are checked less often than others. Some are relatively free of clutter. Some contain so much commercial email that your message disappears into a black hole of unresponsiveness.

So how might you persuade would-be subscribers to give you the address they pay most attention to?

Build trust and value before they subscribe

One answer lies in understanding why people have multiple addresses. The same end-user survey reveals, for example, that two such reasons are:

1. "I use some accounts to receive emails that are of no or little interest to me"
2. "I use some accounts without my real name to protect my anonymity"

Clearly, anything you can do to build trust and highlight the benefits of a subscription is going to help persuade the would-be subscriber to give you their "best" email address.

Trust and value are heavily influenced by previous experiences with your website or organization. But your sign-up copy is also important. For example...

* Post up samples of your previous emails (pick out the ones that triggered the most interest)
* Display testimonials from happy subscribers
* Give control to the subscriber. For example, give them a preference center so they can choose the kind of content you send them
* Solicit subscriber information on a voluntary basis: require very basic information for the initial opt-in, then give people the opportunity to reveal more information only if they want (see How to get accurate subscriber information)
* Keep to high permission standards: make the opt-in very misleading text or pre-checked boxes
* Set content and frequency expectations: make it clear what they're going to get and how often
* Provide obvious access to clear privacy information

Another option is to decide what kind of domains make a "best" address and then incent the subscriber to hand over the appropriate one.

Find out what makes a "good" email address

A common split for end-users is a "work-based" email address and a "private" webmail or ISP address.

Some marketers still regard webmail addresses as undesirable and unresponsive, at least partly because of the days when they were throwaway email accounts commonly used much like disposable email addresses are today.

Those days are long gone, with the likes of Gmail and Yahoo! Mail offering feature-rich, robust webmail services that are now the premium address for many individuals.

Webmail and work domains still have their pros and cons, though. For example:

* If a webmail address is the user's main address, it will likely remain valid for a long time. "Work" addresses can die as people shift jobs
* Major webmail services offer users far more email storage space than typical corporate mail accounts
* Major ISPs and webmail services usually cooperate with one or more email certification services and offer feedback loops so you can monitor spam complaints. Deliverability management can be harder for work domains, since you can never know exactly what systems are processing your emails
* However, a greater number of independent domains on your list can spread the deliverability risk. If a significant proportion of your list are at one email address service, then a deliverability issue there hits you hard
* Webmail addresses are likely to be accessed throughout the week and day, perhaps with a bias to evenings and weekends, but may also only be checked infrequently. A "work" domain is likely to get checked more often during the working week from a working environment
* A webmail or ISP address rarely provides any insight on the origin or location of the subscriber. A "work" domain offers clues to the subscriber's organization and identity.

One interesting exercise might be to compare response metrics for the webmail/ISP addresses on your list with responses from "work"-based addresses to see if one is better for you. (For a list of free email address and webmail providers, see here.)

If - for whatever reason - you decide one kind of address is preferable to another, what are your options?

1. Force the email choice

Your first option is to decline subscriptions using unfavorable addresses, forcing the would-be subscriber to enter, for example, a work-related or more personal address.

There's a trade-off involved.

Any restrictions you place on the would-be subscriber or any action you force them to take lead to a lower conversion rate: less sign-ups.

So you need to be sure that the added value of your preferred address justifies this.

Online forms for one B2B company I've talked with, for example, reject sign-ups or registrations where the entered email address features one of the common webmail services.

They do so because they use the insights provided by the domain name to better prioritize leads. And they believe it dissuades the less-than-serious (and thus less valuable) leads from signing-up in the first place.

Not everyone agrees with such an approach, of course.

2. Influence the choice

A less drastic option is to work the sign-up copy to favor a particular kind of address. For example, instead of asking people to submit their "email address", you say something like:

* Submit your work email address
* Enter your main email address

I could even imagine "Don't miss out on our limited time offers: enter an email address you check regularly" as something worth trying out.

Anyone tried similar copy strategies?

3. Take what you can get

The final option is not to worry about it and leave it to the subscriber to decide for themselves, based on the trustworthy and high-value impression you project with your site, organization and sign-up copy...

So, what do you think? is it worth trying to get subscribers to submit certain types of email address?