Making Your Mailing List Work for You

It's far easier for a business to sell to existing customers than to new ones. But how can you keep your e-commerce business at the top of your customers' minds and ensure they know of your new products, services, and promotions?

There's no better way to remind your customers of the value your business can deliver than by sending a carefully crafted e-mail, such as an electronic newsletter with details of your new offerings and special sales. While mass e-mail has a bad rap due to its abuse by spammers, it can stimulate additional purchases from your loyal and receptive customer base. Just remind them to whitelist your e-mail address to ensure your messages don't get trapped in spam filters.

E-mail can be even more effective as a selling tool if you automatically personalize the message for each customer. However, you'll need to weigh the benefits of personalization against the cost and hassles that typically accompany a more sophisticated mailing list management solution.

Simple PC-Based Mailing List Management

You can create a simple mailing list in most e-mail clients. Microsoft Outlook Express calls it a group; Outlook tags it as a distribution list. A mailing list managed by your e-mail client is easy to set up, doesn't cost anything, and can work effectively for small lists of up to a few dozen or so e-mail addresses.

However, sending e-mail directly from your PC is not suitable for mailing lists with hundreds of recipients. Some ISPs limit the number of addresses in each message, or restrict the number of outgoing e-mail messages to as little as 200 per day. In addition, the larger your mailing list, the more time it will take to send your message, which will keep you from using your e-mail client. Inevitably, some mailing list messages will bounce back, clogging your inbox.

Mass Mailing Using a Server

A better approach to tackling mass e-mailings is to offload the processing from your PC to a server. You may be able to use your own e-mail server, which is often the same as your Web server if you use a Web hosting service. Alternatively, you can outsource your mailings to a third-party service that specializes in e-mail list management.

Using your own e-mail server can give you more control and may cost less than outsourcing to an e-mail list service. Mailing list managers Majordomo and Mailman are two free and popular solutions I've set up for clients who use Web hosting services, where a site typically shares server space with many others.

Majordomo is a tried and true mailing solution I've used for more than a decade. Unfortunately, Majordomo can be confusing for a non-techie to set up. Furthermore, its aging command-line-based user interface isn't intuitive for new mailing list administrators--though a Web-based interface add-on is available.

Mailman has a more polished look and a more accessible menu interface. It automatically processes bounced messages, with the ability to retain temporarily unavailable addresses while removing the truly dead addresses from your mailing list.

Both mailing list managers can work well in a shared hosting environment for lists of up to 500 or so addresses.

Firing off a message to thousands of e-mail addresses at once can bring a shared hosting server to its knees. So I recommend you check with your service provider to determine what size and configuration of mailing list your server can handle. You may be asked to stagger messages for larger lists, configuring the software to send a batch of ten messages every five seconds or so. You may need to upgrade your account to one with more bandwidth (data transmission capacity)--and a bigger price tag, most likely--in order to send frequent mailings to a large list.

Outsourcing E-Mail List Management

Specialty mailing services handle very large lists with a million or more addresses, and usually offer additional e-mail management capabilities, such as reports on how many of your messages have been opened or ignored.

Silicomm Corporation's JangoMail is a feature-rich mailing list management service with a clean Web interface designed specifically for businesses. For increased reliability, JangoMail sends messages using a distributed worldwide network of servers located at eight JangoMail data centers.

I like the way you can personalize JangoMail to match individual customer requirements. It goes far beyond the usual "insert FirstName LastName here" in outgoing e-mail.

You can personalize your messages using behavioral targeting (past actions such as purchases), or trigger the service to send a message when the customer takes specific actions. For example, if a recipient of your e-mail newsletter clicks on a link to your Web page selling widgets, JangoMail can follow up with an e-mail describing a special widget promotion.

JangoMail can retrieve data in real time from your local area network, such as a customer relationship management database, or from your Web site. Then it can use this data to send messages to customers or prospects using criteria that you specify. For example, you might schedule JangoMail to retrieve your Web site's registered user database every week and e-mail a special offer to all new registrants who haven't yet made an online purchase.

Check Your Spam Score

Jangomail offers a choice of 14 e-mail templates for composing your message.
Jangomail offers a choice of 14 e-mail templates for composing your message.
JangoMail provides 14 templates to help you design your outgoing message--or you can use the editor to develop a message from scratch. You should preview your message using the Spam Content Checker to see if Spam Assassin, a popular antispam application, scores your message as spam.

JangoMail prices start at $50 per month (with a three-month minimum) for up to 2500 e-mail messages. That's 2 cents per message. With higher volumes, the cost per message drops to as little as .04 cents if you send 5 million messages per month. Unfortunately, the hefty setup fee (regularly $500, though now $100 through May 1) may deter some small businesses.

You can evaluate the service using a free trial account that permits up to 50 messages per month.

The number of addresses, your e-mail management capabilities, and your budget should help you determine which e-mail list management system is right for your business.

Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer who can be reached via e-mail.
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