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Email Development

Merge Tags: What They Are & Creative Uses

Email On Acid

We get a lot of questions about what merge tags are, and how to use them. They're actually one of the most powerful tools in the email marketer's toolbox! This blog was written to help beginners understand what merge tags are and to suggest a few creative uses.

What is a merge tag?

A merge tag is a bit of ESP-specific code that allows you to insert unique user data from your mailing list into emails. Other names for merge tags are substitution strings, personalization fields or personalization tags. The most common example of this would be a tag like FNAME that allows you to insert the first name of the customer into an email. That name comes from a field called FNAME, where you have saved the relevant data (in this case, the customer's first name) in association with that particular customer.

Why use merge tags?

It's all about personalization! A reader is much more likely to open an email from you if you address them by name. This helps to grab their attention, and it also helps to build a personal relationship with the reader.

Merge tags and Email on Acid analytics

Our analytics can take advantage of merge tag technology to help you track individual user actions. Usually this is done using the tag connected to their email address, but we can use any tag that will uniquely identify users. A tag like FNAME would not work for this, as you may have twenty people on your list with the first name Bob.

For example, when a merge tag is used with our link tracking, we add that tag to every URL in your email. Then, if a user clicks on one of these links, we can see their email address (or other unique identifier) as part of the URL they clicked. We can then report to you that bob@example.com clicked three links and was using an iPhone, along with other data about that reader. You can use this to retarget readers who showed interest but didn't actually take the desired action (purchase, sign up, etc.).

Creative uses for merge tags

The most common use for merge tags is to add a recipient's first or last name to an email, but that's just the beginning of what you can do. Here are some ideas on other ways to make use of merge tags.

Personalize with a vehicle type, pet's name, company name or other information specific to your relationship.

  • "We haven't seen Rex in 6 months. It's time for a checkup!"
  • "Does your '97 Saturn SL2 need any repairs? Get a free oil change this weekend!"
  • "Hi Ben, we hope things at BriteInvestment are going well!"

Personalize with the date of a previous visit.

  • "It's been 3 months since your last oil change, on 5/18/2015. Come down today and get 20% off!"

Personalize with info from a survey.

  • "In February, you told us that you were interested in faster internets speeds. We've doubled our network's speed, and want a second chance!"

Personalize with info about their last purchase, to thank them for their patronage or to encourage feedback.

  • "We hope you love the 13-inch MacBook Air you purchased last week!"
  • "Are you happy with the 13-inch MacBook Air you purchased last week? Let us know in this survey."

Personalize with a count of interactions on your site or service.

  • "Hey James, you’ve listened to 3 songs during your first week on Spotify!"

Personalize to store and use a nickname, and use it rather than the FNAME if they filled it in.

  • "Hey Dozer, long time no see!"

You can also use merge tags that the customer will never see to enable you to do some simple automation. For example, when the customer downloads a whitepaper from your site, you assign them the merge tag "whitepaper1". Then you configure your ESP to send them a series of emails, starting with a link to the whitepaper they wanted to download. The rest of the emails in the series can promote products that they might be interested in, based on the white paper they chose.

How do you use merge tags?

These were just a few ideas that we had on how to use merge tags more creatively. What creative uses for merge tags have you found? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

About the Author

Geoff Phillips

Geoff Phillips

Half writer, half email builder/fixer and half customer support, Geoff is living his dream in a role that combines his many diverse interests. Code problem or tricky client got you down? Geoff's your man.

Join the Discussion

Geoff.

We think you missed another creative use for Merge tags, using them within an image. NiftyImages allows you to create an image with Merge Tags in it, then use it in any Email Service Provider. Very simple and completely customizable with any image, font or font characteristic that your marketing requires.

Adds another level of creativity for a marketers toolbox and will get a much better response than just text.

Example:
https://niftyimages.com/ex/7/4pr/spr?name=Dozer
NiftyImages
I did a campaign once which required a custom backgroundcolor for every email sent. The backgroundcolor needed to be the same as the color of the subscriber's company logo.
We created a database with a seperate field for the hex color and filled this hex color in all the bgcolor tags like this bgcolor="*|BGCOLOR|*". This worked great!

You can also use merge tags to prefill subscriber data in form fields. But beware these are personalized links. If you forward an email like this to a friend, he will see your data after clicking the link.
For example: http://www.companyname.com?ID=*|ACCOUNTID|*&email;=*|EMAIL|*&firstname;=*|FNAME|*
Pieterjan

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