Working at the Local Search Association has allowed me the privilege of meeting and working with some of the best and brightest minds in the marketing and advertising industries. From Fortune 500 companies to startups, this monthly column, “3 Dos and 3 Don’ts,” offers some practical tips for small businesses to improve their marketing efforts.

This week’s topic is Email Marketing.

Dave Charest, Constant Contact

DO: Collect Email Addresses.

Make sure you’re collecting email addresses in all the places potential customers interact with your business. That’s face-to-face interactions, on print materials, and online. Here’s a simple list growth checklist to make sure you’re set up to gather email addresses in every situation.

DON’T: Ask people if they want to join your email list.

Wait, what? I know, I know. But think about it. No one ever wakes up saying, “I can’t wait to get more email today!” So never ask, “Would you like to join our email list?” Instead, emphasize the value someone should expect to receive in exchange for giving you their email address. If you’re unsure what to say, here’s where you can find a simple script on how to ask for email addresses.

Mike Wilson, Zenreach

DO: Leverage Automation.

For the same reasons that small businesses leverage automation and outsourcing for other marketing and advertising services, automation in email marketing is essential for local business owners because doing it effectively is in-and-of-itself a full-time and very specialized activity. Automation is an often over-used and loosely defined term, but the basics for email marketing automation include the automatic scheduling, triggering, tracking and conversion/performance reporting, etc. of messages to your customers. These are the ‘must-haves’ and typically included in most leading, high-quality email marketing platforms and services.

DON’T: Don’t be homogenous.

Research consistently shows that non-personal messages (one size fits all), sent over time, will erode users interest (Business2Community). A user continually presented with generic messages or untargeted offers will increase unsubscribe-rates and lower conversion. Moreover, broad, poorly planned (or impulsively sent) messages frequently annoy users causing them to, at-best, ignore your messages or at-worst send them to spam. In the end, this results in a disservice to their customers and, of potentially greater consequence, wastes time, money and produces poor local advertising ROI for your small business.

Jack Jostes, Ramblin Jackson

DO: Send from a professional email account.

When you’re sending out marketing emails to your clients and/or prospective customers, you’re likely one of dozens of marketing “blasts” they’re getting. Send your emails from an email ending in @yourdomain.com to make sure people take you seriously and recognize you instantly so you don’t end up in their spam folder. Sending from a professional account will contribute to better open rates, click-thru rates and overall response to your email campaigns.

DON’T: Send from free email accounts.

Don’t send your email marketing content from an email address ending in @gmail.com, @comcast.net, @aol.com, etc. Sending email from a free email account like @yahoo.com makes you look unprofessional. You can’t even afford to pay for email hosting? You must not be serious about your business.

Bonus: Alex Rafter, Square

Do: Send actionable content.

With each email you send, think about the action you want your customers to take when they open it. Include one actionable link (this is commonly referred to as the call to action, or CTA) as the centerpiece of your email. Some examples include “Shop the sale,” or “RSVP here.” Square Customer Engagement has beautiful, ready-to-go templates for promotions, announcements, or event invitations that make it easy to plug in your CTA.

Don’t: flood people’s inboxes.

Think of all the email you get in your personal account — and how quickly it adds up. You want to show your customers’ inboxes the same respect you expect other businesses to show yours. A general rule of thumb is to only send an email when the content is truly engaging and actionable to avoid losing subscribers.

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