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12 More Tips For Writing Internet Direct Mail That Works

by Bob Bly

As we rapidly gain experience and test results from Internet direct mail, we are learning more every day about what works in this new medium. Here are some techniques that seem to be successful in increasing click-throughs and conversions.

1. Short statements that tease the reader, similar to 'fascinations' in printed direct mail (e.g., "What never to eat on an airplane"), work well as 'SUBJECT' lines in Internet direct mail. Example: "Advice from Bill Gates" is better than "Bill Gates on Innovation".

2. As with printed direct mail, offers that contain a 'bribe'—a discount, free gift, free shipping and handling, buy one and get one free—are extremely effective in e-mail marketing.

3. Free money is a powerful offer and, given the dynamics of online buying and the lifetime value of an Internet customer, it can often be profitable. Example: One marketer told potential registrants that one of them who signed up on the website during a specified period would win $500 in cash. A major national e-marketer offers an incredible $10 million drawing once a year as well as regular drawings with smaller cash prizes.

4. When you have a strong offer, put it in the subject line and the lead of your e-mail. Do not bury it midway in the text.

5. Do not make the offer exclusive to the recipient, as is sometimes done in traditional direct mail. Encourage the recipient to forward the e-mail—and the offer—to friends and colleagues. Example: "Give this special gift offer to your friends by forwarding them this e-mail now. They'll be glad you did!" E-marketers refer to this tactic as "viral marketing".

6. People on opt-in lists overwhelmingly prefer to respond to Internet direct mail online vs. calling a toll-free number or printing out a reply form that has to be faxed or mailed offline. That doesn't mean you shouldn't offer those other response options as an alternative. But you should always have a link to a Web-based response form embedded in your e-mail message. Example: A software marketer decided to offer an upgraded version only on CD-ROM with no option to download from their website. When they sent a direct mail with this offer, many recipients went to their website and downloaded the old version—that's how strong their preference was to conduct the entire transaction online.

7. Most people think of an e-mail marketing campaign as having only one part: the e-mail. But in reality it has 2 parts: The e-mail the prospect receives, plus the Web-based response form he goes to when he clicks on the link embedded in the message. The headline and copy at the top of the response page should carry the theme of the e-mail and motivate the reader to complete and submit the form.

8. Long copy often works best in certain segments of the direct marketing industry, particularly in the marketing of newsletters, magazines, and other information products. But initial testing seems to indicate that short copy works best in e-mail marketing. One solution is to use the e-mail to get the recipient to accept a free trial rather than pay for a subscription up front. A series of conversion e-mails then gives compelling reasons for the recipient to convert to a paid subscription. Another solution: Put more sell copy on the response form.

9. One marketing manager makes this wise observation: "People don't hate Internet direct mail, but they are often bored, indifferent, or annoyed by it." One way to overcome this is through personalization: adding customized information based on the prospect's previous buying habits, preferences, Web surfing, or other data. Example: suggests books you should buy based on books you have ordered in the past.

10. Always include an opt-out statement that makes it easy for recipients to prevent further promotional e-mails from being sent to them. Example: "We respect your online time and privacy, and pledge not to abuse this medium. If you prefer not to receive further e-mails from us of this type, please reply to this e-mail and type 'Remove' in the subject line." Most e-marketers put this at the end of the e-mail message; some place it at the top.

11. When e-mailing to a house file, an ideal frequency seems to be twice a month. Make one of these e-mails an informative e-zine (a brief online newsletter); the other can be a special offer or promotion. Space them 2 weeks apart. E-zines should be at least 80% news and useful information, with perhaps 20% of the content promotional.

12. Before you begin e-mailing to your house file, send them an e-mail notifying them of your intention and stating the benefits (e.g., they will get special discounts available only online). Tell them that if they'd rather not get these e-mails, they can click reply and type UNSUBSCRIBE, and you will take them off the e-mail list. On subsequent e-mails to those who agree to be on the e-list, always include the opt-out statement as outlined in top #10. Never send any e-mail marketing message without including an opt-out option.

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with 20 years experience in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has written direct mail packages for Phillips Publishing, Agora Publishing, KCI Communications, McGraw-Hill, Medical Economics, Reed Reference Publishing, A.F. Lewis, and numerous other publishers. Visit his site today at

Bob Bly
Copywriter, Consultant and Seminar Leader
22 East Quackenbush Avenue, 3rd Floor, Dumont, NJ 07628
Phone (201) 385-1220, Fax (201) 385-1138


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