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December 14, 2015

The developer's guide to marketing & promotion: email

Welcome to our blog series, The Developer’s Guide to Marketing and Promotion. Throughout this series we’ll be looking at ways to promote yourself and your skills with minimal time and effort but measurable results. If you missed the first parts in this series you can check them out here: The Developer’s Guide to Social Media and The Developer’s Guide to Blog Posts.

Welcome to our blog series, The Developer’s Guide to Marketing and Promotion. Throughout this series we’ll be looking at ways to promote yourself and your skills with minimal time and effort but measurable results. If you missed the first parts in this series you can check them out here: The Developer’s Guide to Social Media and The Developer’s Guide to Blog Posts.

In this installment, we’ll be covering:

  • The benefits of email marketing for developers
  • Different types of emails
  • Tools of the trade
  • Building a mailing list
  • What to talk about and how to talk about it
  • Testing, tracking and improving
  • Next steps

Email has a bit of a reputation as a dinosaur purely due to its age. In fact, many people swear by it as the most effective aspect of their promotional toolkit. It’s still possible to create a very successful business when email is literally your only method of marketing. Statistics shown that email is 40 times more successful for new client acquisition than Facebook or Twitter (see 20 Email Marketing Statistics for more fun facts).

Why do email marketing as a developer?

Unless you have a business, email marketing might not be something you’ve considered before. So why should you do it as a developer? Like any other form of marketing, it’s a way to get your name and reputation out there. Your reasons could be anything from finding freelance clients to selling side projects to promoting your event to simply sharing stuff you love with like-minded people.

In addition to the reasons above, it’s also an accepted, ‘traditional’ means of digital communication that most people use. There’s no need to rely on finding your audience in the right place or run the risk that you’re investing your time in a new trend that may fizzle out.

Despite the age of the medium, emails can be a lot more flexible than many other types of promotion…particularly in comparison to things like social media. You can easily create an email strategy that fits in with your time, website, and needs. It could be as simple as a couple of sentences and a link, or as complex as a multi-part newsletter series. As with anything else, a large chunk of the work lies in planning and preparation to enable consistently timed communication. You don’t have to write a lot. You just have to care what you’re writing about.

Different types of emails

There’s a huge range of types of emails to choose from. You could send newsletters, concise one-point mailshots, link lists, articles, and so on.

What type(s) of emails to choose depends on three things: 1) you 2) your audience and 3) your aims. There’s no point forcing yourself to write emails you’re not interested in, and your audience isn’t going to engage with emails they’re not interested in. You’ll also need to consider what the purpose of your email is – there’s no point sending a long newsletter if all you really want to do is direct people to a new download as you’re increasing the likelihood they will get bored or click a different link.

Emails broadly fall under two categories: those that you choose to send, and those that the recipient automatically triggers themselves. If you send a newsletter every month, you’ve deliberately made the choice to contact your list. If you set up trigger emails, then a recipient will only ever receive them when they fulfil the requirements of the trigger. For example, an email may automatically be sent when someone subscribes to your list, or be used to remind them about you if they haven’t logged into their account for a while, or to send them best wishes on their birthday.

Bitesize newsletter Distrosnack

Unlike an ecommerce website or other business, it’s likely that you’ll only be sending trigger emails to confirm an email subscription. If that’s not the case (for example, you run a community of some kind or sell services), you’ll want to list all the emails and what triggers them, along with when your newsletters and other emails are sent. This ensures that you space them evenly so that your subscribers aren’t inundated with emails.

The Moz Top 10 – an SEO email comprising useful (mostly third party) links

Tools of the trade

The key tool for email marketing is a service that will send the emails for you. There are plenty of options out there, but one of the most popular is Mailchimp. It has a free version, and it’s really easy to create beautiful emails even if you’re not a designer.

You don’t have to use a mailing list service, but I’d strongly recommend you do to avoid potential mailserver blacklisting, make testing and data collection a lot easier, and so you don’t have to worry about coding responsive emails yourself.

Other optional but useful tools include:

  • Your choice of word processing software (so you can plan, keep back ups of content and spellcheck easily)
  • Your choice of spreadsheet software (for tracking testing results).
  • A reliable image source, such as pexels.com (free).
  • A thesaurus (e.g. thesaurus.com), for when built-in ones just don’t cut it.
  • A calendar or reminder system of some description (so you can plan emails, track sends, and review results).

Building a mailing list

The next step is to start building your mailing list. It’s unlikely that you’ll build a huge mailing list overnight unless your website is already very popular, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t instantly have hundreds of subscribers.

However, you can boost your mailing list subscribers in a number of different ways. Here’s a quick checklist of the main things to consider:

Add obvious subscription prompts to your website
You may want to try adding a form to your sidebar, using lightbox pop ups or a bar at the top of the screen, and including a subscribe option at the end of articles.

Promote your mailing list via your social media accounts
Make a ‘launch’ post to promote your new mailing list and share browser versions of newsletters a few days after sending your original ones.

Offer incentives
Give people a reason to subscribe to your mailing list by offering them something they can’t get anywhere else. For example, you could create an exclusive download, example snippets, or a series of articles or tutorials and use them as a hook.

Cross-promote with other people
Partner up with a friend or other contact, and offer them something in return for being featured in their newsletter. This could be a mutual swap or you could offer something else that they want. Just make sure that their subscriber base is likely to be interested in your offering.

If you write guest articles or take part in interviews, mention your mailing list and tell people how (and, briefly, why) to subscribe to it. The same goes for your email signature, talks, workshops, and any other opportunities you can think of both online and offline.

What to talk about and how to talk about it

When it comes to creating email content, your main focus should always be ‘What’s in it for them?’ Always prioritize adding value for your reader above everything else.

If you naturally gravitate towards talking about yourself or you’re sending a newsletter, this can be tricky. Plan your content in advance so you can link to something your visitors will find useful. For example, in the Cronofy newsletter we always try link to at least one blog post that contains human interest advice (e.g. Stop apologizing for your work) and one that contains something new/useful from a technical perspective (e.g. Introducing the new .NET SDK).

Need more help? Try these questions to keep you on track:

  • Is it easy to read?
  • How many times is ‘you’ used? How many times is ‘I’/’me’/’us’ used?
  • Would someone else find this interesting?
  • Would someone else find this useful?
  • If someone didn’t know about me or my website, would they still read this email and gain something from it?

Keep your sentences and paragraphs short and succinct, and avoid bad language that may offend or trip spam filters. Match the tone to your reader base and their culture, and be natural. For example, bloggers tend to favor a more informal approach with quick, impactful sentences while developers tend to appreciate direct, specific language with more complexities. Don’t feel like you have to be hilarious or that your writing must be revolutionary. Communicating your message successfully is more than enough. At the end of each main point, include a link and a call to action, e.g. ‘Read the full post’ or ‘Download the docs’.

For more on writing emails, check out the ‘Next steps’ section at the bottom of this post.

Testing, tracking and improving

If you’ve been reading this guide and feeling a bit scared, don’t worry. No one else knows what’s going on either…at least until they have stats to work with. As a developer, testing is naturally a key component of your workflow, and using data is the key to creating successful emails. Yay!

Unlike many other areas of marketing, it’s possible to track emails in fine detail. You can monitor opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and many other metrics. If you have Google Analytics set up on your website, you can track whole journeys very easily, from email open to length of time on site to exit page. This is generally handled within whatever mailing service you’re using, although you can add your own Google Analytics tracking to URLs if you’re using a service that doesn’t offer that feature.

A/B testing, also known as split testing, allows you to send slightly different emails to different people so you can see what’s more successful. Most industry standard mailing list services, like Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor, offer built-in tools to set up split testing and organize the results for you in a logical way.

You don’t want to change too many things between the two emails or you’ll find it impossible to draw conclusive results. Any tests you run should also be repeated over a considerable length of time to avoid novelty playing a part. If you’re new to A/B testing, I’d recommend starting by running one simple test (like two different subject lines) so you get a feel for how it works and the impact it has.

For a great walkthrough, take a look at Kissmetrics’ Beginner’s Guide to A/B Testing.

Once you’ve sent a few emails out, you can start building up a bigger picture of what interests your subscribers. Depending on how seriously you take your email marketing, this could be in your head as, ‘My subscribers prefer specific calls to action’, or a spreadsheet documenting the individual details of email length, tone used, subject lines, and so on.

A few days after sending your email, take a look at your stats and see how they compare to the last email you sent. From here you can begin to create theories and experiment with further tests. To judge your success, always compare your own emails to your own emails rather than using industry benchmark data or comparing yourself to someone else.

Next steps

Hungry for more email marketing advice? Check out these excellent websites and articles:

Have any questions or something to add? Get in touch on Twitter.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to the Cronofy blog for more developer- and business-themed content!

Jeremy is the Head of Marketing at Cronofy with over a decade of experience in the tech industry.

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