When it comes to marketing, the ability to stay agile is key. A strong modern marketer must follow industry trends, focus on where people are spending most of their time, and experiment with how to get and keep customers to stay competitive.
It’s not unusual for a communication platform that was popular yesterday to be obsolete today but, over the years, one channel has stood the test of time: email. Although there are certainly newer and shinier marketing channels out there, when done right, email marketing can be central to your relationships with your customers.
Why Should I Invest in Email Marketing?
Email Produces Excellent ROI
Unlike paid social media or search engine ads where each click and view comes at a cost, email marketing is known for its low operating cost and high return on investment. In fact according to WordStream, “In the UK, every one pound spent on email marketing has an ROI of 38 pounds; in the US, it’s $44.” With a “median ROI of 122% – over 4x higher than other marketing formats including social media, direct mail, and paid search,” email marketing is a safe and effective way to reach and develop relationships with customers and leads.
The Number of Email Users Is Growing
Even decades after its invention in the 1970s, email is continuing to grow in popularity today. According to Email Monks, “In 2017, global email users amounted to 3.7 billion users. This figure is set to grow to 4.1 billion users in 2021.” And unsurprisingly, mobile email popularity is also on the rise with a predicted 2.2 billion worldwide users by the end of 2018.
Email Builds and Strengthens Customer Relationships
Sending email creates a direct and personal line of communication between you and your contact list, making it the best way to strengthen relationships with your leads and customers at every stage of the customer lifecycle. From initial outreach to curious prospects to messaging to loyal, long-term customers, Forbes Agency Council author and BrightWave Founder Simms Jenkins says, “email is the hub of the customer journey.”
Customers Prefer to Be Reached Via Email
Perhaps the most important reason to consider email marketing for your business is that customers — especially millennials — prefer to communicate via email. With 89% of millennials preferring email over other communication methods because emails are “less urgent and provide more space than text messages,” adding it to your marketing strategy is a no-brainer.
How We Got Here
After over 10 years of sending billions of emails on behalf of our clients, we’ve learned a lot about the importance of email marketing and what goes into a successful email marketing strategy. From funnel strategy to successful delivery practices, we’ve compiled a treasure trove of valuable email marketing best practices. You’ll find everything you need to run an effective email marketing campaign from start to finish.
To get the most out of your email marketing campaigns, it’s important to align them with your business goals and audiences. Is it your goal to grow by 20 percent over the next 12 months? Or to gather 25% more leads than last year? Let your goals guide your email strategy.
Starting with your goals and audience will also lead you to selecting the types of emails that are right for you. Businesses with goals centered around growth and conversions may want to focus on offer emails, while those who want more leads may want to focus on a lead magnet campaign.
Understanding and Segmenting Your Target Markets
An important factor to consider when starting your email campaigns is your audience. Knowing who you’re talking to and why is key to sending effective emails. Poorly targeted marketing is an expensive mistake that not only wastes your time and resources as a marketer, but can also make your list feel like they’re one of a million instead of one in a million (you want them to feel like you’re talking directly to them).
To see valuable returns on your campaigns, you need to know who your customers are and what they care about, so that you can tailor your email messages to them and also avoid unsubscribes and complaints. In order to do so, divide your customer base into small, highly-targeted segments.
Three Common Methods of Segmenting Your Audience
Stage of the Buying Cycle
Segmenting contacts by where they’re at in your buying cycle ensures that you’re reaching out to the right people at the right time. Buyers in the early stage of research have different informational needs than those ready to purchase. Create and deliver content for each step in the buying cycle in order to ensure you’re not missing an opportunity for a sale.
If you want to appeal to different character types, consider creating customer personas based on traits, goals and attributes.
Segmenting customers based on which of your products they’re interested in (or potentially interested in) is one way to ensure you’re personalizing your messages to them.
Selecting Your Email Service Provider
Email service providers, called “ESPs,” are the delivery engine behind email marketing communication. TotalSend describes ESPs as “a platform for managing and segmenting your contact lists, building email templates, and sending and tracking your campaigns on a larger scale than personal software allows.” In short, ESPs are your way of creating and launching email marketing campaigns, then gauging their effectiveness through analytics.
When choosing which software provider you want to send your emails, it is important that you have a bit of information about the “fine print” of the ESPs. While it is basically a requirement that the items discussed below are already in order when mass mailing, it’s a good practice to ensure that your provider has them covered before getting started. In this section, we’ve included a list of things to assess when you’re comparing ESPs, along with a brief description of each.
Emailing from an ESP with poor deliverability rates is like trying to fill a bucket with holes in it. You can choose to keep using it, but you’re ultimately losing out. Before you select your ESP, do some research on their deliverability rates: Do they have a reputation for making it straight to the inbox? Or are people complaining about their customers not receiving important messages? The more you know, the better you’ll be able to make an educated choice on the most effective ESP for your business.
Mobile Responsiveness CapabilitiesWith mobile usage on the rise, it’s more important now than ever that your marketing emails are mobile responsive. After all, you wouldn’t want your leads and customers unsubscribing because your messages look distorted or disproportionate on mobile, would you? Before committing to an ESP, check to make sure their emails are automatically mobile responsive. This will save you the headache of trying to custom code responsiveness into your emails, and your customers the frustration of opening messages that don’t look right.
Database Segmentation Capabilities
Your contacts all have interests and traits that make them unique, so your ESP should provide you with a dynamic database to keep track of them all. Database-based segmentation systems like ONTRAPORT allow you to group contacts dynamically into multiple segments, which is essential for personalizing emails.
The other, less desirable option is list-based systems. These are static systems that are less complex than database systems and also far less powerful — they only allow you to put each contact into one segment. These systems may work for smaller businesses that only have one or two segments but can quickly become complicated when businesses try to scale.
Tracking CapabilitiesEmail tracking and reporting can give you important insight into your campaigns’ biggest successes and failures. Are messages with emojis in the subject line earning considerably more opens than those without? Are your CTAs costing you or earning you link clicks? Before you select your ESP, make sure its tracking capabilities are strong enough to report on this information for you.
Ability to Use a Private IP
Think of an IP address as the address of your house: It tells people where to send mail and, if someone wants to visit you, they can look up your address to find out where you are located. Internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast and AT&T identify you via your IP address.
IPs earn reputations just like people and places earn reputations. To keep track of spammers, ISPs associate IP addresses with sender reputation. Over time they determine if “good mail,” “gray mail” or spam is leaving the IP. When spam or “gray mail” is seen leaving an IP, that IP will start to develop a poor reputation, and less and less mail will reach the inbox if that activity continues.
Our personal computer has its own IP address, but your marketing emails come from the IP address your ESP uses to send messages from you and all your other clients. ESPs may have thousands of clients, and they typically use one or a few shared, or public, IPs to send mail for all of them. This means that whenever a client sends out mail that gets marked as spam, every one of that ESP’s clients suffers because it negatively affects the entire IP’s reputation.
For that reason, it’s incredibly important that the ESP you choose offers the option to set up your own private IP or that they uphold strong standards for their shared IPs.
According to ONTRAPORT CEO and Founder Landon Ray, “It doesn’t matter what your ESP’s marketing and sales pitch says: if you’re sending from a shared IP address, you’re placing yourself at a disadvantage.”
Understanding Email Automation
Manually sending one-off emails to each customer and lead can easily become exhausting and inefficient. This is where automation comes into play. With email automation, you can write and design your welcome emails, weekly or monthly newsletters, promotional campaigns, and any other marketing email in advance, and schedule them to send at any time you want.
In addition to scheduling emails, many ESPs give you the option to set up triggers that start campaigns based on leads’ and customers’ actions or inaction. For example, if a lead opts in for a free piece of content on your site, you can set an email to automatically deliver that content to their inbox. Conversely, if a lead doesn’t take any actions with your business for an extended amount of time, you can set their inaction to trigger a cold lead re-engagement campaign.
Scheduling out your email content with automation ensures that all of your campaigns will run on autopilot, allowing you to focus on tasks other than sending one-off emails. And perhaps even better, these messages can all be written in a personal tone and delivered to a highly targeted audience to give your list relevant experiences instead of robotic ones.
Build Your List
Before you can effectively market, you need to have an audience to market to. Building your email list before spending hours creating detailed funnels is essential, because no matter how well-written or beautifully designed they are, if there’s nobody on the receiving end it won’t get the results you desire.
Whether you already have a list of email addresses that you can import into your new ESP or not, a tried and true way to accelerate your list-building is through offering something of value for free.
Free value offers are a piece of content, such as an ebook, webinar or video, that you offer to potential leads for free in exchange for their email address. The idea is to provide content or discounts that are so valuable that your lead will be shocked you provided it for free, and also to establish your brand as a go-to for your particular industry.
To attract leads to this free content or discounts, you can employ a variety of marketing tactics including paid ads, social media posts, pop-up forms on articles, and more.
Email marketing is about trust, so it’s important that when you capture email addresses from leads, that you ask their permission and are clear about what they can expect from you. This means letting them know what they’ll receive after giving you their email address, how often you plan on emailing them and whether there are any additional perks that come with being on your email list.
Not only does this permission-based approach to email marketing make you compliant with spam laws, but it also increases your deliverability rate.
Marketers put countless hours of work into writing great email copy, perfecting their templates, and designing detailed and targeted funnels — but what’s it worth if the emails don’t actually get to contacts? To reach your full email marketing potential (and the inbox), there are some factors and best practices to consider.
Email Deliverability: The Key to Your Success
Email deliverability is the art and science of consistently getting one’s email into the inbox — an increasingly difficult task in today’s marketing landscape. Even when you’re emailing contacts who have opted in to receive emails from you, it’s likely that your emails still aren’t getting through to everyone. In fact, according to Return Path, only 79% of permission-based emails actually reach the inbox, while 5% are sent straight to the spam folder and 16% are outright blocked.
You may be wondering why delivery rates are so poor, even when you’re emailing a list of people who opted in? Unfortunately, while many marketers are playing by the rules, there are also a lot of spammers out there. According to Statista, more than 50% of monthly email traffic is spam. With so many illegitimate email senders trying to convince people to wire money to a “Nigerian Prince” in need, waste their money on phony male enhancement supplements or participate in shady investment schemes, email service providers (ESPs) have had to set stringent parameters to flag emails that look like they could be spam, making it more difficult for non-spammers to make it to the inbox.
You’re not a spammer, but how can your contacts’ email service providers tell the difference?
Your sender reputation is what ISPs use to judge whether or not to deliver the mail you send directly to your contact’s inbox. Your email deliverability is almost completely dependent on your sender reputation which is determined by a variety of factors, the largest of which is how frequently recipients mark your message as spam.
How exactly does sender reputation affect deliverability? Return Path keeps track of a metric known as “sender score,” a numeric indicator of the quality of a sender’s reputation (Check out the email delivery tools later in this guide to find out how to establish your Sender Score). According to Return Path’s 2017 Sender Score Benchmark, on a scale of 1-100, “In 2016, senders scoring above 90 managed to get, on average, 92 percent of their messages past the gateway filter. Meanwhile, senders with scores of 80 or below saw more than half of their messages rejected by the gateway filter.”
These successful email senders had one thing in common: an extremely low complaint rate. Return Path says, “Most mailbox providers recommend no higher than a 0.2 percent complaint rate.” In order to achieve the lowest possible complaint rates on your email marketing, there are several best practices to consider when putting together your emails. Below is a breakdown of different parts of an email, with deliverability tips for each one.
Factors Impacting Email Deliverability
To the naked eye, it may seem that an email has only the subject line and body. However, it’s important to know that there are many other factors, including hidden email headers and footers, that affect your delivery and open rates.
Here are some factors to consider to set yourself up for better email delivery:
"From" Name and Address
Upon an email’s arrival in your subscribers’ inbox, your “From” name and address is one of the first things they see. When selecting yours, it’s important to make your identity obvious and to keep it consistent across all communications a contact may receive from you.
Your “From” address is key, because along with your “From” name, it provides your identity to both the ESPs and your readers. Because your readers are looking for identity markers via the “From” address when they sift through their emails, it’s important that yours is consistent and immediately recognizable so your message doesn’t get trashed.
If your contacts don’t know who they’re getting mail from, they’re a lot more likely to delete your message. It can be helpful to include the name of your company or organization in your “From” name to make it clear who you are.
Just like the “From” name, the “From” address also needs to stay consistent to avoid misleading contacts. If at all possible, send from an email address that’s actually from your own domain. Many lower-end email service providers can make it look like email is coming from your own URL while they really send it from a domain of their own.
As Landon Ray says, “The problem with this is that your reputation is partially determined by that “From” address, and if you’re sharing it with thousands of other clients … well, it’s a lot like sharing a toothbrush. You could, but do you want to?”
“Reply To” Address
Your “Reply To” email address may be different from your “From” address, especially if you send from an address like “email@example.com.” Be sure the reply address is an active mailbox where you will actually see message replies, and be careful to make your “Reply To” inbox as clearly related to your business as possible so that your subscribers recognize you.
If you do get a reply to your “Reply To” address, treat each reply you receive as an opportunity to build connections with your customers. The more messages you have between you and your subscriber, the more likely their inbox is to automatically whitelist you, so make sure to answer them and send them to your sales team, customer support or the correct contact as needed.
Hyperlinks and Redirects
Make sure to never include a raw URL, especially if your ESP tracks link clicks. You should avoid doing this because the way your ESP actually tracks link clicks is by redirecting your contacts to another URL to count them before sending them to your intended link. When you use a raw URL, spam filters can see that the URL it’s pointing to is actually different from what you’re showing in the message body. In order to protect consumers from being misled, ESPs associate these raw URLS with phishing attacks and block these messages.
Also avoid using links from public URL shorteners like Bit.ly in your email messages. Link shorteners also work using a redirect, so they send everyone first to their domain before they finally end up at your intended destination. When you include these links, your email sending reputation gets lumped in along with every other sender who sends links to these domains, spammers included.
A much better alternative is to use a hyperlink with anchor text that describes the destination of the link. (It’s also a much more visually attractive option.)
Aside from being a CAN-SPAM requirement to give subscribers a way to opt out of receiving your messages, believe it or not, the unsubscribe button is an email marketer’s best friend. Why? Because when a contact clicks the unsubscribe button, they’re telling you that they are not interested in what you’re sending. With them off the list, your average email engagement rate will improve. On top of that, the unsubscribe button gives them an alternative to clicking the “this is spam” button, which is far more damaging for you.
Depending on how your ESP handles unsubscribes, you can also make it possible for email recipients to unsubscribe only from certain funnels while remaining subscribed to others. Allowing recipients to control their email preferences is a great way to avoid losing people from your list. Some contacts will be interested in your weekly roundup of news and deals; others might only want to hear from you occasionally. Let them tell you what they’re comfortable with, and respect that to build a relationship based on trust.
Subject Lines and Preheaders
When writing your email subject lines and preheaders, choice of words is key. In fact, there are over 450 spam-trigger words that can affect your email delivery. Some are obvious, like “Score with babes,” or “$$$,” but it’s becoming increasingly common for more seemingly harmless words like “Call now,” and “Amazing” to catch the spam filter.
While your email footer will typically remain the same across the board on your marketing emails, there are some legal requirements that should be a part of each one. According to Comm100, CAN-SPAM “requires that your email template include a physical, postal mailing address where your subscribers can reach you (a phone number is not required).” If your email is an advertisement, CAN-SPAM also requires that you disclose that information within your email.
It’s also important (but not legally required) to double check that the hyperlinks within your footer aren’t broken or outdated, as broken links are a fast track to the spam folder.
Another great way to make sure your customers and prospects don’t mistake your email messages for spam is to include a permission reminder — adding a note near the beginning about why they are receiving emails from you. Including a permission reminder is especially important because it can prevent contacts from reporting your message as spam, and remind them why they signed up in the first place.
In addition to the more visible and obvious parts of an email, there is also hidden information in each message that your ESP takes care of for you — the header. Email headers are comprised of information regarding routing and authentication such as SPF/DKIM/DMARC keys, unique identifiers, unsubscribe messages and sometimes more depending on the mailer.
HTML and Text
A great way to make sure that your customers can view your email is to insert a “View this email online” link right at the top of your message.
This allows readers who are unable to see the graphics or formatting in your text email to follow the link and view the email as a web page — just in case your email doesn’t display correctly in their inbox.
Whatever you do, always make sure your plain text matches the HTML version of your emails. ISPs scan the plain text version of emails for signs of spam. If your email does not include a plain text version or if the plain text version does not match the HTML body of your message, most ISPs will assume that you are trying to slip something past their filters.
To make this process easier, instead of choosing to create your messages in either plain text or HTML format, always use Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension messages (MIMEs). MIMEs can be used as a container for both plain text and HTML.
When your email is complete, it should contain at least 500 characters of text. A spam email often consists of one to three sentences with a single link within it, so anything far below 500 characters will likely be caught by the spam filter.
Spam filters do not like a lot of formatting such as bolding, italics, highlighting or changes in font (color, size, etc.). To get the best delivery possible, keep your use of formatting (especially on hyperlinks) to a minimum.
Encouraging subscribers to whitelist your address, which tells their email service to accept your emails and not send them to spam, is one of the best things you can do to boost engagement. The best time to do this is in your welcome email after they subscribe to your list.
Avoid using “swipe copy,” which is email copy that some affiliate programs and marketing gurus provide in mass to their followers. While their goal is to provide consistent and high-converting messaging to partners, when there are hundreds of people using the same copy and methods to promote the same product, it triggers spam filters.
Spam Law Basics
Now that you’re familiar with how email delivery works and how to select the email service provider that works best for your business, you’ll need to understand the spam laws surrounding email marketing.
CASL (Canada’s Anti Spam Law) and CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act) are the major laws that control email delivery within Canada and the United States. The laws are in place to ensure that inboxes are not inundated with unwanted and unsolicited mail. The sections below outline the specifics of CASL and CAN-SPAM to help you determine if your emails are compliant.
CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003)
The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 was meant to make sending unsolicited email illegal. Under this act you’re still, however, allowed to send unsolicited mail if you have your physical address listed in the footer of messages, you don’t use confusing or misleading subject lines, and you have a clear and accurate “From Name” and “Reply To” address. Because a lot of spammers can fulfill these requirements, these laws do not entirely eliminate spammers. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that while permission may not be required by CAN-SPAM, it’s a requirement for regularly reaching the inbox.
CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Law)
Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is significantly more restrictive than CAN-SPAM — it actually requires email senders to obtain explicit affirmative consent to send mail to their recipients. This rules out pre-checked opt-in boxes on forms with an email field.
CASL applies to you if you send any commercial electronic messages — SMS, email, social media or instant messages — from or to Canadian computers or devices. It does not, however, apply to senders who have a reasonable assumption that there are no Canadian residents on their email list — for example, if they market only within the U.S.
If you’re sending bulk marketing email, it’s important all of the messages you send are in compliance with the law. The easiest way to ensure you’re in compliance with the law is by getting permission to email each contact before sending anything. When you get permission, not only do you protect yourself from legal consequences, but you also drastically decrease your chances of getting marked as spam or racking up unsubscribes.
Writing and designing emails that convert takes a great deal of skill. An email that works well for one audience might tank with another. In this chapter, you will learn how understanding and catering to your target market’s wants and needs can give your email marketing the edge it needs to succeed.
Think Like a Copywriter
Do you ever worry that your contacts don’t actually read your emails? Getting an ROI you can be proud of from your email marketing efforts hinges on sending messages that your recipients find engaging — and strong copy is the key. According to expert copywriter Liston Witherill, “Copy can boost your sales by almost 20 times on the same offer.” Great inbox placement and a beautiful template will take you far, but great email copy will grab hold of your readers’ attention and pull them all the way through your message, compelling them to respond to your call to action.
Use these copywriting best practices to write engaging emails:
Make It About Them
Writing great copy really isn’t about talking about yourself, your product, or your business. Copywriting is about getting into your customers’ minds, figuring out what matters to them, and bridging the gap between their pain points and the solution/benefit your product provides. Here’s how to write copy that speaks loudly and clearly to your ideal customer.
Put Yourself in the Customers’ Shoes
Try to look at the world from your customers’ perspective. What do they want more than anything? What is their life like on an average day? What are the biggest problems and pain points they are dealing with?
Give Them the Perfect Solution to Their ProblemOnce you have a sense of your customers’ biggest problems, make a bridge and connect your product or service as the solution to these problems. Show them exactly how your product or service will help them get rid of certain pain points. Try to really focus on the benefits your product or service provides, and break down how those features will impact their everyday experiences.
Explain Exactly What They Have to Do
After you’ve successfully made the connection between their problem and your solution, it’s important to tell readers exactly what is necessary for them to reap the benefits you advertised. Keep it as simple as possible — what is the next step you want them to take? Maybe you want them to click a link to view a product or register for a webinar. Isolate one single action you want them to take after reading your email. Everything in the body of the email should be moving the reader to take this action.
One of the most useful, yet difficult, copywriting tips is to write copy the same way you talk. One step further — write the way your audience talks. Aim to create a conversational tone that makes your audience feel as though they are reading a personal email from a good friend. You can amplify this effect by personalizing your message with merge fields to include their name.
Keep It Brief
Don’t count on holding your readers’ attention for too long, even if your copy hits the nail on the head. There are likely dozens of other emails sitting there waiting for them to read, so make sure not to beat around the bush. Don’t make your emails any longer than they need to be — create concise copy to convey the information or offer you’re sending.
Craft Effective Subject Lines
No matter how great your email’s body copy is, your recipients may never see it if your email subject line doesn’t compel them to open it. Here are a few tips to writing subject lines that will spark readers’ curiosity and make them want to click through.
Offer a Reward
Give the reader a reason to click. Are you providing valuable info, a special offer or a unique opportunity? Let them know what they stand to gain.
We’ll teach you to do search marketing in your sleep - MarketingProfs
A Gift for Dad, a Bonus for You - Birchbox
What’s free and saves you money? - Zulily
Be Honest and StraightforwardPeople can sniff out deceptive headlines, so don’t promise them something you can’t deliver on. You’re better off telling them exactly what your email is about, while also showcasing the value it offers them.
Create a Sense of Urgency
Everyone suffers from F.O.M.O. — Fear of Missing Out. If your offer expires in a limited time or has limited availability, mention it in the subject line, but don’t create fake scarcity that doesn’t accurately reflect your offer. That could cause your readers’ spam radars to go off.
Eek — something you like is almost sold out! - ModCloth
Just hours left to win $5k! - Weebly
Time is running out to claim your $50 - Lyft
Trigger EmotionUse your audience’s emotional reactions to grab their attention quickly. Instead of framing the value of your message in a purely logical way, try framing it in a way that shows them what they’d gain on a personal level from opening it. Think about what your audience values, what they hold dear, and what they desire most.
Use Unique and Intriguing Language
Another great way to arouse your readers’ curiosity is to use words that they wouldn’t expect to see in their inbox. Don’t be overly silly or outrageous, but do choose words and phrases that are colorful, descriptive, and a bit unusual. It adds a sense of mystery and intrigue.
Fireworks and darts and models and swim trunks – UrbanDaddy
Chocolate dipper + pretzel = nom – Graze
For hustlers only – AppSumo
Create a Strong Call to Action
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or the Mozart of copywriting, if you don’t spell out a single, clear call to action, you won’t be satisfied with your email marketing ROI.
Remember the reason you’re writing email copy: to get readers to take action. Do you want them to download a piece of content, respond to a specific offer, or sign up for your free webinar?
No matter what action you want your readers to take, you have to make it crystal clear, then tell them to do it. Don’t ask too politely or beat around the bush. Spell it out in black and white, and tell them exactly what will happen once they take the action.
Here are a few good examples:
By focusing on your audience, writing in a clear and concise manner, and giving your readers actionable solutions they can use right away, you’ll be able to write email messages that capture your readers’ attention every time.
How to Make Sure Your Email Looks Good in Every Inbox
Now that you’re familiar with email copywriting best practices, it’s time to design your email. With nearly 105 billion emails sent each day, it’s essential that your brand’s emails have all the right bells and whistles to get noticed and opened in the inbox. Here’s how to get started:
Design Your Emails to Be Responsive
As more people worldwide browse the web using their smartphones and tablets, mobile responsivity has become more important than ever. Making sure that your emails are accessible and attractive on tiny and large screens alike is essential to improve conversions. Send preview emails to yourself and use a tool like Litmus to see how your email displays on different screens.
Email width goes hand-in-hand with responsiveness. People view email on such a wide variety of devices, and having to scroll horizontally when trying to read an email is a hassle. Create a fixed email width so that no matter what screen size or device people are reading your emails from, they look the same.
Ideal Fixed Email Width: 600px is the sweet spot — big enough for recipients to easily view your content and small enough to display correctly on most devices.
As the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Adding images to your emails is a great way to engage recipients, boost conversions and make your emails look even more professional.
Like the templates of your emails themselves, your email images should be fixed at 600px or less to ensure your recipients view your email how you designed it. Image height doesn’t matter as much as width, because email responsiveness solely relies on width as it scales; although, it’s still important to take image height into consideration. For example, a very tall image may look aesthetically displeasing or confuse your email subscribers.
Image File SizeImages that are too large will inevitably take forever to load, creating an unpleasant experience for your subscribers. Use a tool like compressor.io to compress your photos and boost email loading speeds.
Where to find images
Generic stock photography can make a brand look dull. Instead of vague photos of smiling people or generic clip art graphics, choose images that are relevant to your product or offer and show off what makes your product unique. If you haven’t already, consider investing in a few professional images of your product or business.
If you don’t have image resources readily available, you can try using sites like Death to the Stock Photo, StockSnap, Gratisography or Unsplash for free, high-quality, anti-stock photos and graphics.
Different colors create different impressions on your customers, meaning they can either help or hurt conversions based on how well they resonate with your brand, offer and audience. In general, visitors will subconsciously associate different ideas and feelings with different colors. For example, Shutterstock says blue is peaceful, trustworthy and honest, while red is exciting, passionate and sometimes aggressive.
Each color carries its own meaning, so try using them to make your emails stand out and influence your recipients’ decisions — while sticking to your brand’s design standards, of course.
Text: Web-Safe Fonts
When it comes to email fonts, there are many limitations. While some platforms may support your super sleek, on-brand font, others might not, and it’s for this reason you need to send emails using web-safe fonts.
Because not all operating systems feature the same fonts, web-safe fonts are universal fonts that almost all systems support. To see which web-safe fonts match together nicely, check out this post by W3 Schools. And if you want to get into the nitty gritty, check out Litmus’ post about web-safe fonts.
Rather than just telling your audience all about your product’s compelling features and benefits, why not show them with an attention-grabbing video?
While you can usually embed video in emails, there are some instances — if you’re trying to drive traffic to your YouTube channel or a video link on your website — where linking to the video is a better option for you.
Create your email.
Adding the play button on top of your image will drastically increase your click-through rate and drive more people to your video page where you can then focus on converting them.
GIFs, or Graphics Interchange Format, are moving image files that capture subscribers’ attention, can be easily embedded into emails and are supported by most email clients. A perfectly timed GIF can turn a decent email into a great one. For example, check out this “Thanks for subscribing” email from Help Scout. They use a funny GIF to not only break the ice but also add movement and humor to the email.
To create your own GIFs to add to your marketing emails, you can either use a free online tool like Giphy, or for a more sophisticated, animated GIF, you can use the designers’ go-to — Adobe Photoshop. According to Litmus, in Photoshop, you can create GIFs in a number of ways, “including frame-by-frame animation, timeline animation and importing video frames. More importantly, designers have the full power of Photoshop’s graphics tools at their disposal when crafting their next great GIF.”
If design isn’t your forté, or you would rather use a GIF that’s already created, there are plenty of free-to-use options available on Giphy, Imgur and Gifsoup.
Using Pre-Designed Email Templates
ESPs typically offer pre-designed templates where all you have to do is customize the images, links and copy to your brand. These are a great, time-saving option that also helps ensure your emails are professionally designed.
Email marketing isn’t a single mode of communication. It’s a way to send timely information based on your subscribers’ and customers’ behaviors. While the specific types of emails you send will depend on how you market and interact with your list, here’s a helpful model to consider:
When sending targeted emails, think about these four triggers:
Emails to Send After Initial Opt-in
Getting a subscriber to opt in to your list is no easy task. With over a billion sites on the web, leads have a lot of options and the number is only growing.
So, when people find your site, spend enough time on it to stumble onto an opt-in opportunity, and are interested enough to give their email address, you should take the time to follow up with them. Here are a few ideas:
Email #1: Your Challenges and Wants
The more you understand your leads’ and customers’ needs, the better your business will be able to cater to them. Immediately after opt-in, send an email asking readers what their biggest challenges and wants are related to your business.
Want to get straight to the point? You can also simply segment your contacts by directly asking which of your products or services they’re most interested in receiving.
Email #2: Introduce Your Company
People have so many choices these days. They can perform a five-second Google search and find millions of results for just about anything. So, when you get an opt-in to your list, one of the first things you should do is send an email to welcome them, thank them, set expectations and reaffirm some basics about your company.
Is there something special about your business that makes it a better choice over your competitors? If a portion of your profits go towards a charity, your products are responsibly sourced, or you personally hand-make each item, this is the place to say it.
Email #3: Content Follow-Up
You spend hours on your content, and people who download it have a specific reason for doing so. If you receive email addresses through a content download, ask them what they thought about it. This not only keeps your brand top-of-mind with subscribers, but also prompts them to engage with your brand and start a conversation.
Email #4: Overcome Objections With an Educational Drip Campaign
Your prospects have a surprisingly small number of predictable sales objections. Here’s a pro tip: Collect common objections and come up with a response for each. Translate those objections and responses into educational emails. These emails anticipate your prospects’ thought process and deliver information to them in the order they need it.
Here are a few common objections that might apply to your business:
Email #5: Thank You / Delivery Email
Immediately after customers purchase from you, send an email thanking them for their business, but don’t stop there. Let them know what will happen next and what their purchase means to you.
Walk them through your fulfillment process so they know exactly what to expect. Tell them how to contact you if they have a problem. They’re unlikely to require any support at all, particularly if you do a great job in this step.
If you have a digital product or service, this would also act as your product delivery email. For example, if you’re a digital personal trainer and a customer just purchased one of your video courses, this email will contain the download link or login to their new course.
Email #6: Receipt Email
The receipt email should be separate from the thank you email and easily searchable. That means you should add the word “receipt” to the subject line of the email to make it easier to retrieve later. You can also upsell, cross-sell or tell customers more about your company right on the receipt.
Email #7: Satisfaction Survey
There’s no better way to improve your customer service and marketing than asking your customers about their experience with you. A few days after purchase, send an email asking for feedback through a survey.
This will do two things: show that you’re serious about customer service and allow you to collect valuable feedback about your fulfillment process. If you’d like to take it a step further, ask for a referral from people who rate you highly, and contact the people who had a negative experience to find out how you can improve.
Email #8: Referral Request
You should always ask for referrals. Focus on the people who had a good experience with you.
When requesting referrals from your existing customers, consider including the following persuasive elements:
Email #9: Upsell Email
An upsell is selling a higher-level version of the same product, a package containing the product and related items, or another related product that’s more of an investment. If you have a good-better-best product line, that is, a basic product without all of the features and a version or two with more or better features, the upsell email is a natural fit for your business.
Email #10: Cross-Sell Email
A cross-sell is suggesting products related to a purchase. For example, if you buy a camera you might need a memory card. If you buy a new television, you might need a warranty.
If you have an ecommerce business, this is an absolute no-brainer. Whatever you’re selling, identify related products, and be sure to tell your customers about them.
Email #11: Discount Emails
According to Business.com, “Acquiring new customers costs 5 to 10 times more than selling to a current customer — and current customers spend 67% more on average than those who are new to your business.” So, once you have a customer, giving discounts to incentivize another purchase is worth the investment.
A few discount ideas include:
Email #12: Seasonal and Date-Specific Emails
Seasonal and date-specific offers are a great way to use the calendar to increase customer value. There are four main ways you can use seasonal offers.
The important point is that seasonal and date-specific offers are predictable and repeatable.
Whenever you have new content, share it. If you have segments that receive different pieces of content, email them whatever makes the most sense for their interests. Here are a few examples of the types of content you can share:
Planning and Email Marketing/Promotional Calendar
Successful email marketing requires tact, and the best way to start is by introducing an email calendar to your email strategy. An email marketing calendar acts as a framework from which — when executed properly — you can draw measurable results. Essentially you’re building a plan of action and plugging relevant emails into that plan to deliver your value.
With an email marketing calendar you can:
Regardless of the size of your business, adding an email calendar acts as an anchor for promotion and dissemination of your content. To get started, Outbound Engine recommends following the following steps:
Email Tracking and Reporting
When coming up with the email management strategy that works best for you, one of your key ways of optimizing over time is through email tracking and reporting. The more you know your data, the easier it will be for you to spot a spike or dip in performance.
For example, you may notice in your weekly tracking and reporting that engagement is dropping off and unsubscribes are through the roof. This could tell you a few things: It could mean your send frequency needs to slow down, your messaging is mismatched with the segment, or even that your copy and design need to be revamped. On the other hand, a spike in those same stats could mean that the message you sent out resonated particularly well with that audience, that your design and copy were solid, or that you reached them at a great time.
While there is no limit to the stats you could be monitoring within your email campaigns, there are a few you don’t want to live without:
5 Basic Email Stats to Track
Each split test teaches you something and leads you closer to reaching your marketing goals. ONTRAPORT CEO Landon Ray says, “If you haven’t been split testing, you’re probably leaving money on the table.” No matter how fine-tuned your marketing instincts are, you can never know with certainty what’s going to work best until you test it out.
Getting Started With Split Testing
Marketers have learned to split test everything, as there are very few limits to what can be tested. Now let’s get down to the best things to test in your email campaigns.
For many audiences, short and sweet subjects lines (no more than five words) drive more opens. Meanwhile, others may prefer an in-depth description of what’s inside before opening. Test the punctuation and verbiage of your subject lines. Does your audience engage more when they see a subject line ending with an exclamation mark? Maybe they prefer funny copy?
Day/Time of Send
It’s important to test what time of day gets the best open rates because different people check their inboxes at different times of the day. For example, a stay-at-home mom likely checks her email at a different time than a full-time lawyer. Think about your target customers and what time they most likely check their email. Schedule an email to go out to half of your list at that time, then choose another time (maybe even another day) to send the same email to the other half of your list. Continue testing this until you find a sweet spot.
Calls to Action
Opens are great, but clicks drive purchases. Split test your calls to action by using unique language in each version and placing them in different areas of your emails. Once you hone in on some copy and a location that works, try driving traffic to different sources and see what converts the best.
Some Additional Elements To Test:
Keeping Your List CleanOver time, contacts on your list will inevitably begin to decay. As people’s email inboxes fill, addresses change and engagement drops off, it is your job to scrub your list for inactive and invalid email addresses. Here are some of the most common things to look for:
BouncesBounces are inevitable and come in two main forms — hard and soft. The important thing is to be aware of how to properly handle bounces. If you’re using an ESP like ONTRAPORT, it should keep up-to-date on bounce-handling protocols and definitions, meaning you don’t have to worry about it.
A hard bounce is when you send an email message to an address that no longer exists. Hard bounces will usually be associated with an SMTP 554 error. If you receive such an error, it is important that you unsubscribe from that email address immediately. Continuing to mail to it could cause you to hit “graved” spam traps and will cause your hard bounce rate to rise — both of which have very detrimental effects on your emails’ deliverability and reputation.
Unlike hard bounces, SiftRock says a soft bounce is when an email address is valid, but the message didn’t reach the inbox because the recipient’s mailbox was full, or the message was too large. It could also mean that the recipient has a “spam protector” autoresponder set up that requires senders to respond to a verification email in order to make it to the inbox, or that the ESP is temporarily down.
Since late April 2017, hackers have been attacking email service providers by automating submissions to their forms, resulting in hundreds of thousands of bogus contacts being added across many accounts.
This is called list bombing, and the supposed goal is to hurt email deliverability by making ESPs send emails to bad addresses. In order to save their deliverability, ESPs must remove these names from their lists as thoroughly and quickly as possible. Of course, the spammers try hard to get the fake contacts to blend in, making it sometimes pretty challenging to separate wheat from chaff.
For any growing online business, most leads and prospects who enter the sales process won't become customers overnight ‒ it takes due diligence in the form of strategic lead nurturing to prime someone to buy from you. After expressing interest in your business by filling out a form on your website or opting in to your list through some other medium, a good portion of your leads will drop off in engagement over time, resulting in inactive leads.
Cold Lead Re-Engagement
While these inactive leads are on your list, they no longer express interest in your business; they haven’t been clicking on your email links or opening your messages, and they’ve likely forgotten about your brand. The cold lead re-engagement campaign automatically identifies your cold leads and gradually re-engages them through a series of personalized, nurturing emails. Targeted to appropriate segments of your list, cold-lead nurturing ensures that you stay top-of-mind with your leads, pulling them back into your sales funnel with content marketing and other strategic calls to action until they’re ready to buy.
This also boosts engagement in your emails and overall promotes better email marketing ROI.