Put the Reader First or Risk Losing Them

Write for your audience, and don’t try to impress others with your skill

Put the Reader First or Risk Losing ThemI recently read a nonfiction book. My assessment was that the author wrote to impress more than to educate. Though I did learn from her words, I’d have gained much more had she gotten out of the way and put me, the reader, first. I didn’t care how educated she was or about her sometimes sassy style. I wanted her to teach me.

Regardless if we’re writing a book, article, or blog post, we need to put the reader first. Our words need to serve them, not call attention to ourselves with our clever use of words or the way we weave a phrase. The same applies to sales copy and marketing efforts for our books.

Whatever our promotional activities, we must carefully consider each campaign from the perspective of the prospect. Before we launch our promotion, even before the test marketing, we should take a step back and look at our creation as if we were the prospect.

Consider an email I received. It was set up like an email newsletter. The first item caught my attention. The email only provided a two-line teaser, so I clicked on “more” to read the rest.

That took me to a website (as opposed to the full text, lower in the email). Unfortunately, that page only provided the first four lines of the text, so I couldn’t read further until I clicked on “read full article.” I was six lines into it when the screen grayed out and an ad popped up, covering the entire piece. Then I had to “skip” the commercial so I could close the ad.

As this happened an intriguing video played to the right. My curiosity was piqued, and I wanted to hear the audio, but there was no volume control or “on” button. Incredible!

By then I had lost interest in the article and was peeved by the entire ordeal. I closed the window and opted-out from receiving further messages from the company.

I doubt that was their intent.

What steps can we take to put the reader first? What do we need to do to get out of the way of our message? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

How Not to Design an Email Newsletter

I receive many email newsletters and would like to read them, but usually I don’t. The reason is they aren’t user-friendly. Here’s how they frustrate me.

  • How Not to Design an Email NewsletterThe email contains the headline (which is generally interesting) and a couple of teaser lines. I need to click on “more.”
  • I’m then taken to a webpage. I see the headline again and a few additional lines of text, but it’s still not enough to satisfy my curiosity. So I need to click on “read more.”
  • Now I’m taken to a second page for this specific item.
  • About half the time, a pop-up covers what I’m trying to read. I’m not interested in an ad, and I don’t want to sign-up for anything or login. Sometimes it’s challenging to figure out how to even close the pop-up.
  • By now I’ve lost interest and am frustrated. I close the webpages and delete the email. If I’m really irritated, I’ll also unsubscribe – and if I didn’t sign up for it, I mark it as spam.

But there are newsletters I will read – assuming they have relevant information that interests me.

Good email newsletters are self-contained within the email. This might mean they can be read straight through or that the headlines are at the beginning of the email with the linked text further down the page.

This means no clicking – or only one click. I don’t have to leave my email program, and I’m not subjected to popups. Then I will take time to read it. And if we are cultivating an audience and building a platform for our books, isn’t that the goal?

What irritates you about email newsletters? What should you change in your newsletter? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Analyzing Email Bounce Rate Statistics

A few years ago I came across some statistics in DM News that puzzled me. They shared some numbers on email bounce rates, courtesy of MailerMailer. But they did so without explanation. I jotted them down for future consideration.

Analyzing Email Bounce Rate StatisticsThey noted that when delivering an email message to our list less than once a month, the bounce rate is 5 percent. However, when sending an email message at least daily, the bounce rate drops to 0.4 percent.

When it comes to random statistics we need to be careful about how we react. If we jump to unwarranted conclusions, we could end up making bad decisions. The truth is that some reporters don’t understand math, and they present statistics out of context – or out of ignorance.

In this case the numbers seem to imply that mailings that are more frequent enjoy a lower bounce rate. However, this may be a bad assumption. Is the bounce rate per month or per email?

I suspect it is per email. So, if you send one email message per day for a month, the compounded monthly bounce rate becomes 12.4 percent. This is much higher than when sending only one email a month.

What might be the cause of this? I’m not sure, but I do know that less frequent is better, which is why I am careful not to email my lists too often. Once a month is my goal and certainly not more than once a week. I think this is key in building a audience.

Plus less frequent emailing minimizes the chance of irritating readers. I prefer my audience look forward to receiving my message, not dread it.

How frequently do you email your list? For emails you receive, how often is too much? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Three Tips to Increase Email Success

As part of my publishing business I send email messages to magazine subscribers on behalf of our advertisers. This is one of the services we provide. It’s commonly called e-blasts, but it’s just a different twist on email marketing.

I’ve done this for several years and have tracked vastly different response rates depending on the type and tone of the message. Consider:

1) Offer a Free Resource: An email for a free whitepaper enjoys a 20 percent higher open rate and a 400 percent greater click rate than does a straight ad. The lesson is to give people something of value. Help them; don’t sell them.

2) Invite Them to a Free Webinar: Emails promoting free webinars also enjoy higher open rates and much higher click rates. However, these are usually not as good as emails offering a free resource. If you’ve ever watched a free webinar, you’re conditioned to expect a sales pitch at the end, but you also know you will learn valuable information before they try to sell you something.

3) Avoid Straight Ads: Emails that try to sell something are the worst performing of all, sometimes earning only single digit open rates. If you must send this type of email, spend a great deal of time on your message and even more on your subject line. Though this is critical for every email message, it is even more important when doing straight marketing.

Three Tips to Increase Email SuccessThe subject line is key, affecting open rates by as much as 30 percent. In writing your subject line, remember that to meet CAN-SPAM regulations, the subject line must not be deceptive or misleading. I have also heard that the ideal subject line length is six to nine words.

Consider these factors when designing a message for maximum effectiveness. If you’re doing email marketing to communicate with your followers or to promote your books but not getting the reaction you desire, it might be that your message is getting in the way of their response.

What is your experience in doing email marketing? What do you think about attending free webinars? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Understanding Email Bounce Rate

A third important metric in email marketing is bounce rate. (The first two measurements are open rate and click-through rate.) The bounce rate is the percentage of email messages that bounce back, meaning that they’re not delivered.

Understanding Email Bounce RateA message can bounce for a number of reasons, including it being blocked at some point along its delivery path, the recipient’s email box being full, the email server being down, an unexpected glitch, or a non-working email address. There are many other possible causes as well. Sometimes an email message may bounce back for no apparent reason.

There are two types of bounces: a hard bounce and a soft bounce.

A hard bounce results from a major problem, such as the email address not existing, the domain name not existing, or the recipient’s email server completely blocking the message. For a hard bounce, the problem is deemed to be permanent – though sometimes that may not be the case.

A soft bounce is a less severe problem, and it is likely temporary. Reasons for a soft bounce include the recipient’s mailbox being full, their email server is down, or the message is too large.

All email marketing platforms track bounce rates. For some that’s all they do, and the list owner must decide which addresses to remove and which to keep. Failure to properly remove bounced email addresses results in a drop in the overall quality of the email list, which increases the likelihood of other email messages not being delivered.

Other platforms remove bounces automatically, deleting hard bounces immediately and tracking soft bounces to see if the bounce is a one-time issue or a reoccurring problem. Then it acts accordingly.

It’s important to understand how email marketing platform tracks and treats bounces. The more bounces, the fewer people who see our messages and the greater the chance that certain email providers will block all of our messages to their customers. Bouncing is bad for the individual subscriber and the entire list.

Lower bounce rates means that more messages get through and are indicative of good email mailing list practices. Good bounce rates are in the low single digits, preferably 2 percent or lower.

How does your email marketing program handle bounces? What is your bounce rate? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

When is Email Click-through Rate Important?

Earlier this year, I blogged about email open rates. Once an email message is opened, another important metric is the “click-through rate.” The click-through rate is the percent of opened messages where the reader clicks on a link in the email message.

Depending on the type of email message, the click-through rate can be critically important or not at all meaningful. For example, if the goal of the message is to get the recipient to respond by clicking on a link, then the click through rate is of paramount importance. However, if the email message is self-contained, presenting all the needed information without needing to take action, then who cares about click-through rate?

Some of the email messages I send out include all the information within the message. Any link a reader clicks on, such as to go to my website, is secondary to them reading the message. Other emails that I send out contain essential links. I am notifying them that information is available, but the recipient needs to click on a link to read it. In this case, click-through rate means a great deal. A third option is in between, with some information included and additional information only a click away.

However, if an email message is a marketing piece, then the call to action is to click on a link. This link will take the person to a landing page where they can request more information, signup for a course, or buy a book. In this case, the click-through rate is critical. It measures the success of the email pitch. A low click-through rate automatically means poor results from the campaign.

If you are using email to market your book, track the click-through rate. Tweak your message to maximize your click-through rate. If your email marketing program allows for split testing, use it. Higher click-through rates should equate to higher books sales. Isn’t that the goal?

Do you use email marketing to let your audience know about your book? What are your click-through rates? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

What Email Open Rates Mean

One effective way to market our books is via email marketing, often in the form of a regular email newsletter. This, of course, assumes we have an email list, which is a different discussion for another time.

When we do email marketing, the email software we use, such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, or AWeber, will track open rates. Open rate is the percentage of opened email messages, compared to the number sent.

However, open rate tracking is not an exact science. Some messages can be counted as “opened” even though they were never actually read, while others were read in the preview mode but never counted as “opened.” (Generally, when the images in the email are downloaded, it counts as being opened, so people who don’t routinely download images and only read the text of the message, do not trip the “opened” counter. Sometimes I do that.)

Given these limitations, what is a good open rate? The open rate varies by industry, relevant to their audience’s interest in the sender’s content. Some groups enjoy high open rates around 25 percent, while other categories can be half of that. I can’t find an overall average open rate for all email messages, but given such large variations between different types, it wouldn’t be helpful anyway. One thing is certain: everyone wants his or her open rates to be higher.

Here are some ways to increase the open rate of our email newsletters:

  • Provide Valuable Content: When we provide good, useful content, people will anticipate our email messages and look forward to reading them. We need to give them value.
  • Meet Recipient Needs: We need to survey readers to find out what they like and don’t like about our email newsletter. Also, ask what else the might like to read from us, how often they want to hear from us, and how long our messages should be. Then give them what they want.
  • Connect With Readers: Our writing needs to be accessible; we need to let our personalities come through. We need to be honest and open; allow our vulnerabilities to show. If we are real, readers will connect with us.

If we provide value to meet the needs of readers in a way that connects with them, they will look forward to our newsletters and read them. Our open rate will increase and our audience engagement will soar.

If you have an email newsletter, what is a typical open rate? What do you do to engage readers? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Public Relations and Promoting Your Book

Book publishing is more than just writing and producing books; it is also about selling them. Selling books requires a host of skills, including marketing, promotion, and public relations. Yes, public relations – PR for short.

At its most basic level, public relations is managing the flow of information from an entity (a company, organization, or an individual) to the public. As in the case of authors, the goal of this flow of information is to increase awareness of a book, both published and soon to be published. The intent is to produce interest for the ultimate purpose of generating sales. In between awareness and sales, lies intermediary goals such as sparking dialogue, fueling a buzz, encouraging word-of-mouth promotion, and even the hope of the campaign going viral, all of which is publicity.

When people think of PR, they think of the time-honored press release. But a press release is just that: it’s the start; it’s not the end. There is also advertising, interviews, email marketing, influencing the influencers, networking, book signings, book tours, and so on.

Though selling books and PR is more the concern of the self-published author, it also comes into play with traditionally published books. Publishers expect authors to promote their books, and often the publisher’s PR department’s budget for the book allows little more than sending out a press release.

Here are some general articles about public relations. Though many are geared to business, the principles apply to individuals, including authors and their books. When considering these articles, remember: being an author is a business, your book is your product, and you are a brand.

While most authors will not master the art of public relations, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way.

Capture Email Addresses

A key to using your website as a book-selling, platform-building tool is to capture email addresses. You will use these email addresses to regularly communicate with your followers, such as through a monthly newsletter. Keep them up-to-date on your writing and share interesting or helpful content. Then, when your book is ready, let them know. They will be more likely to read your email because you have been in regular contact with them.

Offer Them Something: You can just ask for email addresses, but most people won’t share this information without receiving something in return, such as a free e-book or a subscription to your newsletter.

Provide Assurance: For those who may waiver, assure them you won’t misuse their email address. Let them know you will not share it in any way with anyone else, that you will not spam them with irrelevant content, and that they can unsubscribe at any time.

Follow Through: Provide what you promised (a free book or newsletter), when you promised (either right away or each month), and do what you promised (don’t share their email address or spam them; honor unsubscribes).

Logistics: When they give you their email address, have them sign up directly through your email platform. (I use MailChimp.) It will automatically handle the verification (that is, the double opt-in procedure), handle unsubscribes, and maintain the database. Use the final step in the sign-up process to provide a link to your e-book or incentive.

Example: You may have noticed, that I’m not following my own advice on this site, but I am doing it on my main website and blog. So check that out as an example – and feel free to sign-up for my newsletter and get my free e-book!

Peter DeHaan Publishing Named a Constant Contact 2011 All-Star

For the second year in a row, Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc is recognized for achieving exemplary marketing results

Peter DeHaan Publishing IncMattawan, Michigan – Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc, publisher of Connections Magazine, AnswerStat magazine, Medical Call Center News, and TAS Trader, has received the 2011 All Star Award from Constant Contact® Inc, the trusted marketing advisor to more than half a million small organizations worldwide. Each year, a select group of Constant Contact customers are honored with the All Star Award for their exemplary marketing results. Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc’s results ranked among the top 10% of Constant Contact’s customer base.

“We are truly honored to have been recognized as an email marketing All Star for 2011. This is our second year in a row, which makes this award doubly exciting,” stated Peter DeHaan, president of Peter DeHaan Publishing. “We work hard to follow — and exceed — industry standards and expectations with our email programs. We strive to reduce our bounce rate and increase our open and click rates. Offering messages that are relevant, valuable, and appreciated by our subscribers helps with this. Once again, Constant Contact has seen those efforts and rewarded us as a result.”

Peter DeHaan Publishing, which publishes Connections Magazine, AnswerStat, Medical Call Center News, and TAS Trader, makes extensive use of email to connect with readers and disseminate critical and timely information.

“There is nothing we like more than to see our customers finding success. It’s the reason Constant Contact was founded, and it’s a thrill to see the fantastic results that our All Stars are achieving,” said Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact. “This group is really leading the charge when it comes to delivering relevant, engaging content that drives real business results. We salute this year’s All Stars for their success, and are honored to have played a part in their achievements.”

[Posted by Peter DeHaan, president of Peter DeHaan Publishing Inc.]