Email Address Updates: Make It Easy, Or Lose

You can expect to lose at least one third to one half of your email database every year due to list churn. For many marketers, a significant percentage of this churn results from a poorly implemented email-address-change procedure. Or worse yet, they have none at all.

When you don't help subscribers change addresses, not only will you lose more of them than you need to, but you also throw away the money you spent to acquire them, as well as significant potential revenue.

I'm confident my fellow Insider columnist David Baker would rather I talk about sophisticated email techniques, and I would like to. I will carry the "email marketing 101" torch, however, as long as so many marketers and publishers do such a poor job on these basic processes.

This came home to me yet again after I recently changed jobs and was going to lose the email address that I had used to subscribe to dozens of newsletters -- maybe even yours.

By the time I was done, I was pretty depressed that updating an email address was so laborious in a Web 2.0 world.

Equally depressing: These were mostly email- and marketing-industry newsletters. We're supposed to set the standard for managing the subscriber relationship. And yet, many of us are not getting it right.

Some results of my analysis:

  • For 11 of the 21 newsletters, I could not find a way via the Web site or email instructions to update my email address. I resubscribed to a few but said adios to the others.
  • I hate to bite the hand that publishes me, but even MediaPost provides only unsubscribe directions -- "If you'd rather not receive this newsletter in the future, click here." No reference to address changes or preference updates.
  • Only 11 of the 21 linked to a preference center, labeled "Manage Preferences," "Update Profile" or something similar. Another included the link "Click to change your e-mail address."
  • Only eight displayed my email address within the message (a good thing).

    That's the bad news. Now for the good news: If you have neglected this facet of your email program, you can fix it relatively easily.

    I recommend these best practices to get more subscribers to change their addresses instead of letting the relationship wither away:

  • Call out the change of address explicitly. Label a text link high up in your message body as "Update Preferences/Email Address" or "Change Email Address." If subscribers can change their addresses only by unsubscribing and then resubscribing, explain that clearly.
  • Link directly to the profile or preference page.
  • If your email technology enables it, pre-populate the Web site form with the current email address.
  • Remove as many barriers as possible. Subscribers often either forget or don't want to take the time to look up their log-ins or passwords, so make sure your password-recovery system delivers the info fast to their email.
  • At minimum, put the change-of-address/preference-update link in an administrative or footer area in the message.
  • Send a confirmation email to the new address to make sure it was entered correctly, and to confirm any other details the subscriber might have changed.
  • Acknowledge the change immediately. Post a thank-you page or send a confirmation email. If you can, include a link to a discount, whitepaper download or other relevant incentive.

    Most important, do something soon. Remember how much you spent to acquire that address. Don't waste either resource. Spend a few hours in the next few weeks to modify your email template and Web site -- and make my life easier, too, please!



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