In Internet years, email is ancient. As such, social networking could be compared to a proud-but-slightly-stroppy teenager eager to get noticed.

And whilst this young upstart may have kept the fires of industry blogs burning for a good few years, it seems that email’s simple but steady approach still wins out.

Despite being four decades old (which equates to around 40 million years in online terms), email remains one of the most powerful tools for communication that the world has ever seen, easily eclipsing the reach of social networking giants.

Data published this year by the Radicati Group and cited in an interview with Ray Tomlinson shows that there are about 3.4 billion email accounts across the world.

When you compare this to the current user base of Facebook, which hit 1 billion at the last count, it’s clear that email remains far and away the most popular type of web communication – and thus a powerful internet marketing tool.

Mr Tomlinson, who is among a group of developers who helped create e-mail back in 1971, explained that one of the reasons email remains so popular is that, unlike other forms of online interaction, it does not require the immediacy of user response.

In fact, the big social networking sites are actually still using emails to pull in their users and get them engaged with the content and services they offer. Anyone with a Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account will have seen their inboxes flooded with messages from these sites if they haven’t deliberately opted out.

Even Google’s search site is becoming integrated with e-mail. The search giant recently trialed a service that allowed users to scour their Gmail folders from the comfort of the Google search bar – without having to click through and search within the webmail service itself.

And though spam emails are a much-maligned (and much-accepted) form of marketing, a considerately targeted email marketing campaign can still pay dividends for online businesses.

One benefit of using an email marketing campaign over a paid search advertising drive is that the promotional material may be particularly relevant to the target audience, particularly if they are part of a pre-existing mailing list and have used your firm in the past. This degree of relevance is likely to result in decent conversion rates, which is made all the more important when you consider that e-mails are free to send.

If you’re new to email marketing, don’t worry – you can teach this dinosaur new tricks.

PPC techniques can be applied when composing marketing e-mails because you still need to follow the same rules about quality of copy and relevance to ensure audience engagement. As email is increasingly absorbed and homogenised with existing online services, it is more important than ever to follow these rules-of-thumb across all areas of Internet marketing.

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About the author:

Alistair Harris is ClickThrough’s head of content. A double-award-winning senior journalist, Ali holds both the NCTJ and NCE qualifications and has more than ten years of experience in traditional press and PR. He has worked in digital marketing and SEO for the past three years and is passionate, enthusiastic and committed to quality.