Skip navigation
SEO Website Audit

A Simple Strategy for Building Smart Email Lists

March 21, 2012

By Matthew Coers

We've all heard the cliché "The money is in the list." And it's true, the more email addresses you have, the greater your ability to market your products and bring in sales.

But how smart is your list?

How much do you know about your prospects? For example, if you sell shoes on your website, do you know the gender of the individuals on your email list? Do you know which ones like to buy running shoes? If not, wouldn't it make sense to figure that out?
Image Credit: derrickkwa
For many companies, most of their email list is just that – emails. They might have first and last names, a few phone numbers here and there, but not much else. It's a shame, because we can collect huge amounts of information and use it to great profit by just following a few simple steps.

All this information is available if we can just get creative with our offers and click tracking, and then make sure to record user behavior as it happens.

Getting started is easy:

1. First, make a list of the kinds of attributes you would like to know about your customers.

2. Prioritize the list so that you can focus on the most important attributes first. In the case of the shoe company, we might decide that gender is the most important attribute.

3. Develop an email campaign that allows people to click on qualifying links (for example, "Shop for Men's Shoes," or "Ladies' Shoes"). Those links allow people to self-qualify for one gender versus another.

Three days after you send out your first qualification email you will have 97% of the clicks you will ultimately get, and so now it's time to look at the data.

All email service providers will provide you a list of the people who clicked the various links in your emails, and they all also enable you to export those records to a spreadsheet. So here's what you do:

1. Export the clicks from your email system and bring them into Excel (or Numbers, or whatever spreadsheet you use).

2. Filter and sort your clicks by link so that you can easily group the links (for example, people who clicked the link to the "Ladies' Shoes" department should all be together).

3. Add a field to hold the new data (in this case we might add a "gender" field, and then add the values to the new field based on the link the user clicked.

At this point you should have a spreadsheet that looks like this:


Almost all email marketing platforms allow you to create custom fields for your recipients and append data by uploading spreadsheets. The instructions for each system will vary, but the bottom line is that you'll want to add the new attribute field to your email system, and then follow the instructions on how to append the data from your spreadsheet.

Assuming everything imports correctly, you now have appended some additional valuable information to some of your customer records. Using this same system, you can easily add more attributes and qualification data, or continue to reinforce those you have with future mailings.

For example, after you've established the gender of your recipients, you might send additional qualification emails that determine which of your prospects prefer shoes designed for tennis versus running versus cross-training. Some people like boots, while others are more interested in sandals.

You might also send email to differentiate prospects who prefer product discounts versus free shipping. Some people might prefer product combos, while others like offers that give them "free gifts" with their orders. There are many types of things you can test – some having to do with product attributes, others focusing on the types of offers that customers might prefer.

There are a few things to keep in mind:

1. It is usually best to test one attribute at a time, maybe adding two or three options. Otherwise you can muddy up your response.

2. Normally you will have to send multiple emails to an individual before you will collect the information you need because only a small percentage of your list actually clicks through on any given email.

3. The example of the shoe site points out an important issue: Just because someone clicks a link doesn't mean the attribute is accurate. Many women buy shoes for their spouses and sons. And sometimes men might click on ladies' shoes because...well, errr... Anyway, you get the point.

So, what can you do with the information?

Well, now that we know which of our customers is male and female (or like to play tennis or wear cowboy boots), we can target our email blasts to feature products that appeal to their varied interests or demographic profiles.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you build a "smart email list."

Matthew Coers Free Book
Matthew Coers is an Internet Marketing Consultant who helps businesses build and market their websites. He is the author of "Artificial Intelligence Strategies for Internet Marketing," which you can download for free here. Matthew has built hundreds of websites and email marketing campaigns.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!