Email Marketing/ SEO for Small Business

So, in case you would like a whole quasi-lecture on book marketing in general, head on over to Rachel Thompson’s excellent website, where I wrote a guest post for her last Friday.   It covers the “secret” to book marketing (spoiler alert—the secret is hard work) and tells my “overnight success” story of getting my first book published. (where “overnight” takes four years and I cry a bunch of times).

Today I noticed something that I think should be very heartening to anyone who is trying to manage their email marketing or generally maintain a website for their business.  Small business people especially seem to have the impression that big corporations have it all together, like the small business people should not even bother trying because the big companies got there first, the small business is never going to be able to succeed, and so on.

I bring this up because I get a fairly large volume of email every day.  Today I happened to get one “sale” type email from a big corporation, only to find that the “shopping cart” function of their site was pretty much not functioning at all.  I buy a lot of stuff online, so it is not unheard of for me to respond to an email notice from a store, especially if they have a decent sale going on.  In fact, I have stuff sitting in my shopping cart of the big company and was excited to save money with a reward redemption/ promotion they sent out, so as soon as I received the email, I tried to go over there and do just that.  I was dismayed (that might be too strong a word, I was more amused) by the fact that this site’s entire shopping cart system seemed to be down, directly following the sending of an email to a list that I would guess is at least several million people on it.

So, in case you are following along in your head, that is not a great day for that company.  It is not cheap to send an email to a list that big, and every time they do that, they do it with the knowledge that they are going to make a certain return on the investment they are putting out by hitting “Send” on that email.

As it turned out, several things were going on with this website.  For one, I in fact did NOT have any rewards left, so I should not have received that email in the first place.  This is the same functionality failure that you can observe in this silly email I received from Rite Aid & American Express’ weird “Plenti” collab, which looked like this:

img_0126-2

 

Yeah, there was no need to send that email, and it would have been so easy to just code a simple “opt out” script that would have eliminated any user that had zero points.   Rite Aid/ Plenti isn’t sweating it, though.   They send plenty (pun intended) of emails, and a mistake like that is not going to stop them.

The email I got today was the same idea, only it went one step further—not only did I have no points (so, by that logic, I should never have received an email that I had “Three Days Left to Use My Points!”), but in fact, the entire ecommerce portion of the site was down, so I was unable to check the status of other orders, unable to see how much of an old gift card I had left, unable to see when my payment was due, and so on.  Basically a “Fail, Fail, Fail” scenario for that store.

Here is why big stores don’t care about stuff like this—they send out so many emails and make so much money, they can afford to screw up like that and have it barely impact their average ROI.  If you are a small business and you rarely email your list, the stakes are MUCH higher for you, and you cannot afford to have this happen.

My overall point is this—that moment, while far from ideal, is probably a rounding error for a big online retailer like that.    They are constantly adding to their list and their website, testing new content and sending out emails about promotions.  They sell so much product, they are probably going to have one meeting about today’s bad email/ ecommerce coincidence, and then send out two more emails first thing tomorrow.     Their strategy is to constantly be adding people to their list (they do this by providing a discount code for your first order when you sign up), having a lot of sales, and mailing the list frequently.  Did they hit this one out of the park?  No, they most certainly did not.  Will they get back in there and start swinging again tomorrow?  Yes, they absolutely will.

You may be waiting to regularly email your list when you get more people in there, or you may be resisting incentivizing growing the list, or you may not even have a list (if that last one is the case, please stop what you are doing, go sign up for an email capture service, put the code in your website, and start collecting those user emails.  It really is that important), but in order to become one of the “big guys,” you are going to have to start acting like them.  That big company was not mortified that their website didn’t work.  They have probably already fixed it and moved on.

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