A special post, by our emfluence Marketing Maven, Jessica Best

Last week, I got a great question from one of our savviest email marketing clients: "How are you advising your clients to prepare for the changes with Hotmail? Should we be versioning or quarantining our Hotmail lists and watching them more closely?"

For those who haven't heard about the upcoming changes to MSN's Hotmail services, they've announced that in order to provide a better inbox for the user, they're adding features that will help users keep noise out and relevant messages in. Changes include things like a Highlights page that shows users an overview of new messages from those on their contacts list or their social media updates and Filtered Views and Quick Views in the actual Inbox, using similar categories. Note that there isn't a category for special offers from the email marketing lists the user may subscribe to. The Highlights feature is similar to what Yahoo! did when they rolled from Yahoo! Classic to their newer platform awhile back. For me, anecdotally, it just means one more click before I hit the actual Inbox in its pure form.

Perhaps more concerning are the other new features. User-level filtering improvements, for example, will actually prompt a user to unsubscribe from a marketing list if the user frequently deletes the messages unread. I'll explain why I think that's actually a good thing later.

Another new functionality will allow users to "sweep" incoming emails either into folders or straight into permanent deletion. This is a functionality that Outlook has offered for the last few releases, but a major web-based email client offering it seems to be a bit scarier.

In the case of Sweeping, the main concern is that users will automatically file emails… and then never visit the folder to read them. I can admit to that travesty myself. I actually wish I could read all my incoming email newsletters, but have seldom found the time. The answer, as I pointed out to our client, is to provide really interesting, valuable emails. Segment your offers and test new methods. Give your subscribers a reason not to sweep you under the file folder (aka the land of the “never opened”).

Also in light of all of these changes, there will be an increased importance on subscribers adding your sending email address to their contacts list – since that seems to be a step in staying “safe” – and in adding marketing messaging to transactional emails, which have a category assignment in the Highlights, Filtered Views and Quick Views arenas.

For me, the good news is the prompted unsubscribe. If your subscribers aren’t reading your emails, don’t risk your reputation and waste time and money emailing them. This feature is like having Hotmail run a re-permission campaign on your behalf all the time. And by honoring the unsubscribe, we email marketers keep our lists clean. Plus, hopefully, this will mean fewer “this is spam” button clicks.

As for the question about versioning your emails for Hotmail, it is certainly an option as email clients make changes. But as we talked through it, I thought, if there’s a way to make your email more relevant for a better chance at the Inbox, wouldn’t you offer that optimized version to all your subscribers? Absolutely, you would.

I definitely wouldn’t suggest quarantining Hotmail or Yahoo!. For most marketers, this would mean significantly cutting your list size based on the fear that some people will delete you and I don’t think that’s the way to go. Things change at the major email clients (aka ISPs) all the time as they fight to be the best Inbox out there. The best we can do is stick to doing honest, valid, valuable marketing to those that asked to receive it. Nothing in these changes should change that main goal for us as email marketers.

Yes, it is a bit scary and we should definitely be paying close attention, but not just to Hotmail and not just when they make changes. We should be paying close attention to our subscribers across all email clients, just like we monitor our email performance all the time. Good thing we are, right?

UPDATE 7/27/10: Previews of the new Hotmail


 

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