The First Commandment of Ezines: Respect thy subscribers

It seems like every time I turn on the news these days, there’s some legal controversy over the Ten Commandments.  One of our state Supreme Court justices lost his job over them.  Another state judge has them embroidered on his robe.  And now I hear the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing cases from Texas and Kentucky on the subject this month.

So I started thinking – if I could impart ten pieces of wisdom about ezine marketing to my readers, what would they be?  We’ll be looking at one of my suggested “commandments” each month for the rest of 2005.

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Given rising concerns about electronic privacy, it was only a matter of time before Congress stepped in to regulate the email marketing industry. The result? The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, effective January 1, 2004.

Want to use email in your marketing mix? Then be sure that your messages meet these four basic CAN-SPAM guidelines:

1) The header must be accurate. This includes the “To,” “From,” and all header information — in short, anything which identifies the sender and the originating domain and email address.

2) Subject lines must not be deceptive or misleading. The information in the “Subject” or “Re:” lines must accurately reflect the content of the email.

3) Emails must provide an “opt-out” mechanism. The message must include either a return email address or another electronic mechanism that allows recipients to request removal from your mailing list. You can allow recipients to opt-out of certain types of communications (if you have multiple ezines, for example), but they must also include the option to stop all commercial messages from you.

4) Commercial messages must be identified as such and include the sender’s valid postal address.

Most commercial e-marketing services have features that help their customers meet CAN-SPAM requirements. But no matter which service you use, complying with CAN-SPAM will not only keep you out of trouble, it’ll boost your credibility with your recipients.

As with any legal issue, the above guidelines are a general overview and not a substitute for qualified legal advice. For more information on CAN-SPAM, visit the FTC’s website at h

Text rules!

Remember the catchphrase of the ’92 Presidential campaign? Those four words – “It’s the economy, stupid!” – became the Democrats’ rallying cry and, many say, won Bill Clinton the Presidency.

I think about that phrase every time I visit an especially graphics-heavy website. You know the ones I’m talking about – Flash intro, pictures galore, and all the bells and whistles some hotshot programmer could squeeze onto a page.

It makes me want to scream: “It’s the content, stupid!”

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Why your business needs a website

You see them everywhere – on billboards, on everyone’s business cards, even on the sides of delivery vans. What are they? Website addresses! It’s almost as if you can’t do business without one.

But it’s like your mother used to tell you: just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to. For your website to have maximum impact, you have to be clear on what you expect it to do for your business.

Three ways your business benefits from a well-written website

While every business is unique, many use websites in similar ways. Before you engage a copywriter (like me) and a web designer to develop your business’s website, take a few
minutes to write down what you want a website to do for your business.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

A great website boosts your visibility and credibility. For a relatively small up-front investment (compared to hard-copy marketing materials or advertising), a well-designed and well-written website immediately communicates a high level of professionalism. But a cheap hack job of a website makes you look amateurish and can actually drive away business.

If you want your website to attract new business, it pays to plan your website carefully with the help of skilled professionals, including copywriters and web designers. It’s a good investment.

A great website gets you more referrals. If you’re got one or more referral sources – ideally, people in related businesses who see your target market on a regular basis – you may be reaping the benefits of high-level networking. But how accurately do they really represent your business?

Give those referral sources a comprehensive go-to place to refer serious prospects for more information (after they’ve praised you profusely, of course). Make your referral source’s job easier, and you’ll get more referral business.

A great website shortens the sales cycle. How many times have you spoken to a sales prospect and been asked, “Have you got any materials you can send me on that?”

Yes, sometimes it’s a stall tactic. But often it’s the start of the presentation phase of the sales cycle. Having work samples, white papers, testimonials, and other tangible results of your work available online keeps you from having to snail mail these materials out.
(And with postage rates going up periodically, putting up your website now will save you even more money!)

Just give those prospects a link to the relevant pages on yourwebsite. That way, you can follow up with them within a day or two while their interest is still high (and their memory hasn’t faded).

And who knows? If your website is well-written enough, maybe you’ll hear those magic words during your follow-up call: “When can you start?”

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list of benefits from a great website. And you’ll no doubt come up with ideas that are unique to your own business.

But careful planning up front will help ensure your new website is a hard-working piece of your overall marketing plan, not a haphazard waste of your precious marketing dollars.

Beat the stuffing out of your website!

I’m a woman on a mission: I want to stamp out unclear, unproductive, “stuffy” language on business websites! And I’m doing it, one client at a time.

Take, for example, one of my clients, a real estate-related firm preparing for a new marketing push. The company was under new ownership, and one of the first things they wanted overhauled was their website.

They recognized, intuitively, that the old copy didn’t really speak to the three distinct audiences they wanted to reach. So they asked me for help.

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