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Learn From HootSuite’s Mistake and Check Your Email Merge Tags

Email merge tags are a great way to personalize a message so that it is far more customized to the recipient.

Personally, I like getting emails that say “Hi Robert” instead of just “Hello Newsletter Subscriber”. I also think that having some degree of personalization helps distinguish legitimate emails that I’ve signed up for (since those organizations have more information about me) versus the spam that never has anything about me aside from knowing my email address.

There is some recent research that says merge tags or personalization do not particularly boost results, but from what I have seen during our internal studies is that it certainly does not hurt.

That being said, definitely do not go overboard with merge tags. I once got an email that said “Hello Robert”, then “Robert, we’ve got a deal for you”, then “We know you’ll love this, Robert, then “I bet there are friends of Robert who could use this”, etc, etc. I don’t even know what they were trying to sell because my only thought was that they were so excited to call me by my first name!

Definitely don’t go merge tag crazy, but certainly when they are used properly it can give your email a nice added touch.

The number one rule of email merge tags is to make sure that you implement them properly to ensure a positive experience from the people who receive your emails.

What actually got me thinking about this was an email I received today from Hootsuite. We use Hootsuite internally and I’m personally a big fan of their application. Now, Hootsuite uses another email service provider who I won’t name… and I hope they don’t mind me using them as an example for a key learning lesson to everyone else.

This is the email I received today (Note; I added the highlighting):

Hootsuite Merge Tag Mistake
Merge tags gone wrong...

It’s possible that the folks at Hootsuite are trying to give me a nickname. Although, I would have preferred something a little cooler than “FNAME”. 🙂

But, in actuality, this is just a key example of where merge tags can really let you down. Here Hootsuite had intended for their email to say “Hello Robert”. But, for whatever reason, that did not pan out for them as planned. I suspect the issue is that they did not have my name in their database and then their email service provider wasn’t sure how to handle that so it just sent out the raw merge tag.

I should mention that with Elite Email, our merge tag system is designed so that if the personalized data does not exist (ie. you are missing the first name) then we let you specify a backup option. This way you never end up sending out the raw merge tag.

Anyway, the key learning lesson here is to check your merge tags and make sure it is fetching the correct information from your database (since you don’t want to think you’re putting the name, but instead put the city and end up writing “Hello New York”) and test it to ensure the result is actually what you want.

About Robert Burko

Robert Burko is CEO and Founder of Elite Digital, a leading digital marketing agency. As one of Canada's chief digital marketing specialists, Burko has appeared on national television, radio, podcasts, and in countless print publications and blogs across North America. Burko is also a professor of Digital Marketing & Social Media at Seneca College in Toronto. Recognized as a thought leader in his industry, Robert is often invited to speak as an expert in his field at high-profile events across North America.

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