If your organization’s email communications was one of the three bowls of porridge from the Goldilocks story, which would it be?

Too hot – indigestible because it’s too frequent, too wordy, and burdened with attachments and overlarge graphics?

Too cold – unappetizing because it is infrequent, dull, and doesn’t offer calls to action or interactivity?

Or are your organization’s email communications just right – craved by subscribers because it delivers content they want when it’s most useful, provides them ways to learn more or get into action, and avoids the dreaded spam filters.

Before you hit send again, evaluate your email communications to make sure you’re delivering value every time you deliver an email to people on your list.

How do you determine the right email frequency?

  • Frequency is tied to value. What you send impacts how often you can send.
  • Frequency is tied to length. The more frequently you email the shorter each email should be.
  • Best practice. Send newsletters once a month. Send up to one other email per month for special announcements. Use social media for brief, more frequent, and more timely communication.
  • Test and measure. Test whether varying your email frequency will improve your open and click-through rates. Email a control group at the same frequency you’ve been using, and also vary the frequency (more and less) for test groups. Observe how the test groups’ behavior changes relative to the control.

How can you create email content that people will want to gobble up?

  • Be fresh. Make sure each email has something new to say. Create an Editorial Calendar to coordinate the content and timing of emails across your entire organization.
  • Be creative. Use simple graphics and formatting to make your email easier and more interesting to read.
  • Be brief. 2,000 word multi-column newsletters are a form of email torture.
  • Be organized. Grab their attention and make your email easy to scan. Use short intros in your email and link to the longer main stories on your website or blog.
  • Be interactive. When possible use polls and surveys or other means to allow readers to engage with the content.
  • Be linky. At the very least, link to your organization’s home page and social media channels. Better yet, link to interesting content by collaborators and partners.

How can you increase the odds that your email won’t languish in a spam folder?

  • Use an email marketing service. They’re cheap or free, and go a long way to getting your email past spam filters and into inboxes. They also track metrics — such as open rates and click-throughs—and help you manage unsubscribes. There’s no reason not to.
  • Opt-in, not opt-out. Only include people who have opted-in on your email list. Never email anyone who has not given you their explicit permission.
  • Follow the law. Provide an unsubscribe option, include your physical address, and follow other rules of The CAN-SPAM Act.
  • Optimize graphics. Improve loading time by using smaller images. Create them by choosing the right file format (jpg, gif, png) and quality settings. Get more information on saving images for the web here and here.
  • Say no to attachments. Just don’t do it. Attachments make it more likely you’ll get caught in the dreaded spam filter. Instead, post the file on your website and link to it.

What are some of your tips for finding that just right balance for your email communications?

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Lauren Girardin is LightBox Collaborative’s tactical curator. She thinks porridge tastes just right when served with lots of honey.

(image courtesy Flickr user Sam Klein, Creative Commons)