Is an Email List the Right Solution?

A formal email list clearly isn’t always the right solution: you don’t need to create a formal list at an Email Service Provider to send the occasional joke to a group of friends. But beyond that, what are the determining factors between just mailing a group from your desktop, and creating a formal, hosted list? What is the line that separates the two?

The line may not be clear at first, but it’s definitely there. Some factors to consider:

I’d suggest keeping things in your personal email software if…

  • Mailings are irregular and infrequent.
  • You personally know everyone you’re mailing.
  • The list is small — no more than 50 people.
  • All the recipients work for your organization.
  • The subject of the mails is personal, or relating to a very small organization.
  • You’re quite sure that they don’t mind getting the emails from you.
  • There is a need for recipients to “Reply All” so that everyone on the list gets the replies (though then, you may want to consider a hosted Discussion List — which I’ll go into later).

I’d suggest using an Email Service Provider if…

  • Mailings are regular — like every week or month.
  • The list is larger than 50 recipients, and/or you intend for the list to grow.
  • Anyone with interest is welcome to subscribe to the mailings.
  • There’s a need to be able to easily unsubscribe from the mailings.
  • The subject of the mails is business-related, and the recipients don’t all work for you.
  • You don’t want to have to spend time on list maintenance chores (such as changing addresses for the subscribers).

There are certainly other factors, so feel free to ask questions in the comments (and I’ll update these lists). The point is to get you thinking about the issue so you can make an intelligent decision. But if you intend for the list to grow, and include “strangers,” it’s definitely best to start with an ESP-hosted list right from the outset.

For example, I set up the list for Emalified as one of the first things after putting up the web site, and long before I even announced the site’s existence. It was part of my plan right from the beginning to speak to as many entrepreneurs as possible, from restaurant owners to Internet marketers. It would be foolish to try to do that from my desktop mail program; I didn’t want to have to manually fuss with list maintenance, I wanted to write articles to educate my readers on my subject of expertise. So if anyone tripped over the site and was interested, or I wanted to tell a friend or colleague about it before I was ready to go public, they could sign up for the list and be there when I was ready to roll. And sure enough, a few of them did.

The list’s growth shows the wisdom of this: when I started Emailified’s newsletters, my wife and I were fully 40 percent of the list members. That’s right, there were five whole subscribers for the first issue! No big deal, though: I hadn’t announced it yet! For the next issue a week later, I had announced it to my paid clients list, so it jumped up. Then I noted it in my main free newsletter, This is True. I didn’t expect a huge mass of subscribers, since that’s an entertainment newsletter, not something specifically in the entrepreneur demographic. And, as Emailified readers posted links to articles and told friends or colleagues about it, it started to grow outside of my own circle. Here’s what happened those first four weeks:

Growth of the first four weeks in Emailified’s newsletter. Where it goes in the future is unknown, but an ESP can handle the numbers when your desktop mailer can’t.

And here’s the point: I wouldn’t want to have to deal with manually maintaining a list of 250 people even if my ISP didn’t have a problem with my sending that much mail at one time. More importantly, I expect the list to grow much more over time, so why not let my Email Service Provider do the list maintenance and sending for me, so I can concentrate on the more important tasks of creating content and conducting business? When they’ll let me send unlimited messages to that size list for just $19/month, well, it’s a no-brainer for me, whether that slope continues or flattens out.

And beyond that…

Beyond what’s discussed earlier in the article Defining Your List’s Audience, one of my thoughts when I’m thinking of starting a new list — which generally means I’m starting a new project — is, “Do I have to have something to say on a regular basis?” That is, will I want to say something to the subscribers regularly — at minimum, every month? If not, I rethink the project or, at the very least, rethink whether I want or need a list. Because if you promise to communicate regularly with an audience (or else, why create a list?), they need to hear from you. And if they don’t hear from you for months or a year, and suddenly get a mailing from you, your busy, forgetful audience could well have no idea why you’re mailing them, and are much more likely to mark your mail as spam — and see last week’s article on the ramifications of that; it can turn into a disaster.


3 thoughts on “Is an Email List the Right Solution?”

  1. Every one of your articles has been enormously helpful. I am a volunteer with an organization comprised mostly of volunteers, with a few paid staff. We, the volunteers, have struggled with communicating. We need for several people to be able to send messages since the same person may not always be available — being volunteers there can be other, higher priorities. Having an up to date list and allowing people to opt in to the list have be our perennial problems. An ESP is the answer and you got us to that. I cannot say thank you enough.

  2. Besides the advantages mentioned in the article, an ESP often provides useful metrics such as information about opens, clickthroughs, spam reports, unsubscribes, and bounces. They may also report on email clients, operating systems, devices, and geographic locations of individuals reading the emails.

    The ESP solution I use can tag recipients based on links they click in the emails (to aid in future list segmentation), score individuals based on their activity over time, or trigger additional actions such as email drip campaigns. I also use the ESP system to track which pages my list subscribers visit on my web site.

    • Absolutely — and more. I’ll be getting into this later, but the strategic insights you can get are amazing.

Comments are closed.