Email Marketing Guide

According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing delivers the highest ROI of any marketing program with a return of 21–23% for every dollar invested. That’s an amazing return. Imagine if your bank gave you an interest rate of 22% for every dollar you invested with them. How much would you invest? As much as you possibly can! The big caveat here is that you need to do email marketing well in order to get this ROI. In practice, an email campaign is limited by the size and quality of your email list, and because of this, you should use the strategies here to get the most out of every campaign.

An effective email marketer is great at building the audience, creating fantastic emails, getting the emails delivered, achieving high open rates, creating calls-to-action that work, and optimizing campaign metrics.

When you do all of this well, people respond and your email campaign works. If you don’t do all of this well, it can be very quiet after you hit “send,” and it might seem like tens of thousands or millions of your emails went into a big void.

Email Strategy

To create a high-performance email program, it’s very important to focus on email campaign optimization techniques that will get more of your emails delivered, opened, and acted upon. When developing an email campaign, the most critical elements you can use to achieve these goals are using a good list, featuring a strong offer, and presenting a powerful creative.

Once you have your email strategy in place, it’s important to execute the campaign well by using a high-quality email tool and paying close attention to all of the details that make a program work, such as lowering your SPAM score to improve your deliverability.

As you send your email, you should test different elements of the campaign, such as the subject line, in order to improve your results. To make your email program even more effective, you can also integrate it with other online marketing activities such as search and social media marketing.

A high-performance email program will use the strongest email tools and best practices available to deliver the best results possible. By using the techniques described here, you’ll no longer be satisfied with just getting higher open rates and lower opt-out rates. You’ll be focused on getting more leads and sales, and with every email sent you’ll be learning more and more about what drives results.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take create a powerful email program:

Email Marketing Goals

When you start an email marketing campaign, it’s critical to have clear goals in mind. Do you want to simply inform your audience? Do you want them to click to your website to read content? Do you want them to watch a video, download a trial, or even buy something?

Your goals for the campaign will directly influence the design, frequency, and messaging of the email program. It will also determine the reporting metrics you put in place during the campaign setup process to help you see if you are accomplishing your goals.

The Email Audience

It’s critical to clearly understand your audience when you begin your email program. Several different groups you may consider creating email programs for are:

  • Your top customers
  • All existing customers
  • Partners
  • Potential customers who have opted in to get information from you
  • Other potential customers in your target market

You should plan to communicate with each of these groups using email in a different way. Your best customers may receive a personalized email from the CEO and be invited to special events or to provide product or service feedback.

All existing customers may receive a regular email newsletter with updates on the company, products and services, or other important announcements. They may also receive emails with special offers to encourage them to buy other products or services from you.

Partners may be interested in some of the same content as your best customers, but you need to speak to them as part of the team, not as potential buyers. A partner email newsletter can be an effective tool for this audience.

Potential customers who have “raised their hand” and opted in to receive your content may receive a stream of content designed to move them through the buying process. If this is a B2B audience, this content may include offers for white papers, webinars, demos, case studies, product information, or the opportunity to evaluate the product. A B2C audience may get special offers, discounts, or advance notice on promotions.

While some companies only send email to existing customers and people who have opted in, many organizations send email to potential customers. These emails may be highly promotional with strong offers that encourage the user to opt in to get deeper content.

It’s important to design an email campaign strategy that takes the specific needs of different audience types into account and then communicates to them in a personalized way based on their relationship with the company.

Email List

A strong email list is critical to any email campaign. When I say a “strong” list, what I really mean is one that is large, highly targeted, and with complete data. I’ve been involved in several campaigns where the client invests a lot of time, energy, and money into developing a beautiful email creative, but then only sends it to a few hundred people because they do not have a good list. This is obviously a waste of time and effort since it costs very little to extend a good campaign to a larger email list.

When you do the math, you can see why this can be a problem. If you spend $5,000 developing an email campaign (offer, email creative, landing page, etc.) and then send it to only 500 people, you may only get 5 people to respond if you get a 1% response rate.

Your cost in this case is a whopping $1,000/lead. If you have a list of 100,000 people, and you get a 1% response rate, you can yield 1,000 leads and drop your cost to $5 per lead. That’s a very powerful change in the effectiveness of the campaign, simply by leveraging the email campaign across a larger audience.

In a perfect world, your list should include everyone in your target audience. Yes, everyone! Your list database should also include information beyond their email address, such as whether or not they’ve opted in to receive your content, and their relationship to your company (customer, partner, potential customer, etc.). This will allow you to do some basic targeting.

Ideally, it should also have other data that will allow you to segment emails to them more effectively. This may include their name, company, location, industry, past purchases, how frequently they’d like to hear from you, preferences, and other variables that will allow you to personalize and customize your email.

Most organizations do not have anywhere close to this type of list, but if you do, it’s a powerful competitive advantage, since you can easily and inexpensively reach your target market.

You can build your list by collecting email addresses from trusted sources. First, make sure you get the emails of your existing customers and partners. Since these are your best contacts, it’s worth the time to contact them directly to make sure the information is accurate and complete. If you have offers and landing pages on your website, inbound leads can also be an effective source. If you have a sales team, they can also be a significant source of email addresses if they are using a CRM system to manage customer and prospect data. Your partners can also be a source of emails if they are willing to share them with you.

It can take a long time to build your list using the techniques above, so you may be tempted to buy a list to get faster results. There are many places where you can buy a list, but be careful. Even the best lists I’ve purchased have a significant number of bad email addresses. If you buy a list, make sure you only send emails to small batches of the list over a long period of time so that you can manage the opt-outs properly and don’t get tagged as a spammer and blacklisted by the Internet Service Providers.

Once you have a list, it’s very important to keep it clean and up-to-date. In some markets, 10% of the people change jobs or their email address every year and need to be removed from the list. Also, people will opt out from receiving your emails and will need to be removed from your list.

People will also change their relationship with your company and their records will need to be updated when they move from prospect to customer, or from customer to “important customer” so you can send appropriate messages to them.

From time to time, you may also want to remove people from the list who do not respond to your email programs at all. These non-responders lower your response rates and may cost you money to mail to. Continuing to send mail to inactive records over time can also get you labeled as a spammer and lower the response rates of your entire campaign. Rather than deleting these records, you may want to break them out into a different segment for occasional important promotions to see if you can reengage them with strong offers.

Once you have built a strong list, it will become a powerful asset for your company and must be protected and managed to keep it working effectively.

The Offer

Email campaigns should be designed around an offer. The offer is something special that you are giving to your audience in order to get them to respond. The offer should be strong enough that it gets people to open the email, read it, click through, and take the action you want them to take. The stronger and more relevant the offer, the better the response rate for the campaign.

When you are designing an email campaign, it is often helpful to think about how you react to receiving emails yourself. If you get an email that features an update on a company’s executive team, you’re less likely to respond than if you get one that features a free industry analyst paper, free software, a coupon, or the chance to win a valuable prize. Always try to put yourself in the shoes of the recipient when you design your offer strategy, and feature the strongest offer you can in each email campaign.

Email Creative Design

Although the design of the email won’t make as much difference to the success of the campaign as the list and the offer do, it’s still very important to design an email thatrepresents your brand well, clearly communicates your message and offer, and makes it easy to respond.

The best emails feature a clean, compelling design and engaging copy. The email should not be too long and easyto read, since people read emails very quickly to see whether or not they contain something of value for them.

The copy should be engaging and short, and it should be very easy to see the call to action or what to do next.As you write the copy for the email, make sure you include compelling headlines, strong copy, and a clear call to action to motivate people to take the action you want.

As you design the email, pay special attention to the call to action. If you want the user to do something, design it so that the action stands out with a special color or other design treatment to make it easy for them to see what to do.

It’s also critical to put the action above the fold at the top of the email so that the user does not need to scroll down in order to take the next step. You may also consider putting the call to action in multiple places, such as a button on the top right of the email and a text link within the body copy in case the recipient has images disabled.

A critical part of any email is the subject line. This is the headline that will determine if the email gets opened or not. Many people get dozens or even hundreds of emails each day, and if your email subject line is not compelling, it won’t even get opened and all of the work you put into the design and copy of the email and landing page will be wasted. Consider testing your emails by sending them to a small subset of your list using different subject lines to optimize open response rates.

After the email is designed and written, it must be turned into HTML in order to get ready to be sent. During this production phase, make sure you thoroughly test the email to see how it renders in various emails and browsers, since there is no way to know the environment in which the user will read the email.

Today, most emails are read on mobile devices, so it’s also very important to test the email on various mobile platforms such as iPhone, iPad, and Android devices to ensure that the email is readable and easy to use. It’s also important to think about how you want users to respond from their mobile devices.

Filling out a long form to get a white paper or download a free software offer is much more difficult on an iPhone than a PC or Mac. Consider reducing the amount of form fields to be filled out and making call-to-action buttons larger when you are designing for mobile devices.

Personalization and Customization by Segment

People naturally respond better to emails that are created personally for them. If I receive an email that is addressed, “Dear David,” I’m much more likely to pay attention than if it says, “Dear Sir.” Worse still are emails that are addressed to “dreske,” since it sounds like they just scrapped that from the first part of my email address.

If you have the names of your contacts in your list, definitely use them to personalize your emails. You can also use other information you have to personalize the email with their company name or the town they live in. Crafting a personalized email message will improve your results compared to generic messages.

Customization is when you send different emails to different users in your target audience. In order to do this, you first need to define your segments and then personalize your content accordingly in order to address their specific preferences.

In B2B markets, people commonly segment their audience based on industry and job function. This means that if you know that someone works in the financial services industry and is in sales, you’ll use this information to customize the email for them in order to get a better response rate. You can do this by either creating separate emails for each segment, or by creating dynamic emails that are assembled as the emails are sent based on variables you set up in each email.

If you do this well, you’ll create an email that is personalized and customized to the individual so that it’s more relevant and you get a higher return on your email investment.

Social Sharing  and Email

Social media is a very important tool to reach your audience and can be integrated into your email campaign in order to make each tool more effective. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn are powerful ways to attract an audience and encourage the sharing of your content. here I’ll share several ways that you can integrate your email and social media programs.

Social sharing tags are links that you can put in each of your emails that allow people to easily share your content with their followers on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. With one click, each of your readers can easily share your email with thousands of other people, so it’s critical to make these links easy to see and encourage your readers to use them. Many email programs can track how many people share your email with their social media fans so that you can see the impact that these links have.

You can also send an email explicitly asking your email readers to follow you on your social media properties. This is like sending an email asking people to join another list, so include some kind of incentive if you can. This can take the form of a contest or small gift if they are willing to follow you. If you make this sound easy and fun, you’ll be more successful in getting people to respond.

Integrating your Email Campaign with Search Marketing

Search marketing and web marketing are important tools that can help you build your email audience. The first step in integrating these two programs is to put a strong call to action on your website, similar to the types of offers you are using in your email campaigns. Then use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make your website more popular with the search engines to get more organic traffic.

You can also use paid search marketing (PPC) to drive traffic to your website and landing pages. This traffic will respond to your offers, convert on your landing pages, and build the audience for your email campaigns.

Email Execution—Software, Deliverability, Quality, Testing

Once your email is designed and written, it’s time to send it. At this point it’s tempting to feel that your job is done and you just need to hit the “send” button, but it’s critical to work very carefully during this last phase of the email production process to ensure a high-quality campaign.

Once you send an email, there is no guarantee that it will be received by the user. Almost all organizations have spam filters that are designed to keep out unwanted email, but may also keep out your email.

All of the major Internet service providers (ISPs) also filter email. In the United States, the CAN SPAM law tried to define what spam is, but in practice, spam is whatever the Internet service providers stop from being sent to their users.

In order to ensure high email deliverability, you need to take several important steps. First, make sure your email is in compliance with the CAN SPAM law. This law has many provisions, but the most important provisions are that the subject line should not be deceptive, you must identify yourself with your company name and physical address in the email, and you need to give the user the option to opt-out of future emails.

Another key to high deliverability is to manage the quality of your list. If you have a very low open rate or response rate, the ISPs will consider your email to be spam. To keep this from happening, periodically purge from your list people who never respond. Why keep sending emails to people if they have not responded to any of your emails in the past year or two? This will also help boost your response rates in future email blasts.

A third key to ensuring high deliverability is to stay away from words and techniques which the spam filters looks for when deciding if email is spam or not. Some of these techniques include not using the word “free” in your email subject line, not using other phrases like “special offer” or “click here” or many words that are associated with sex or drugs. You should also avoid the use of all CAPS in your subject line. By staying away from this language, you’ll be more likely to get your email delivered and read.

Email Is a Relationship

When you are building an email program it’s important to remember that you are not shouting at your audience, you are building a relationship with them. As part of this relationship, you are giving them content and offers and asking them if they want to get more information or buy something that meets their needs.

This type of relationship works best when you give the recipient control over how often they hear from you, and what type of messages they will receive. One way to build this relationship is to use a “preference center” to let the user opt-out of some types of emails or get more or less frequent emails from you. If you don’t let the user control the relationship, you risk losing them altogether when they get fed up and optout.

Email Testing and Optimization

In every campaign, it’s critical to test your emails in order to improve your results. Fortunately, there are many ways to test and optimize your email program.

The first step is to test your subject line. Each email you send should be randomly split into at least two subsets of your full list so that you can A/B test them against each other. Since the subject line determines if your recipient will open and read the email, use the open rate to evaluate the effectiveness of your subject line.

Just because one subject line gets a higher open rate than another doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a winner. It’s important to test the result to see if it’s statistically significant. Even if you don’t have a master’s degree in statistics, you can use online tools to make sure you are getting good results in order to make a decision.

The variables you’ll need to include are the number of impressions and the clicks or click-through rate of each of the tests. Once you have this, you’ll be able to use an online calculator to get the degree of confidence that the winner is actually the winner.

You should look for 90–95% confidence using a statistical analysis tool before you can declare a winner.8If there is a winner, use it and create a new test to see if you can improve the results. If there is no clear winner, you may need to retest with a larger sample size or a different creative in order to get a winner.

Tracking Email Campaign Performance

Once you have your campaign running, you’ll want to track and report on the results in order to make informed decisions about how effective the campaign is. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are data about the campaign that you collect over time to decide if your campaign is on track. Some of the data you should track for in each campaign are:

  • Email Sent—Your list should be growing over time with new people opting in.
  • Open Rate—If your subject line is effective and relevant, your open rate will stay strong.
  • Opt-out Rate—A high-quality list with strong emails will have a low opt-out rate.
  • Click-through Rate—Well-designed emails with strong offers will have a high click-through rate because people will want to get more information.
  • Conversion Rate—The conversion rate will tell you if your landing page and offers are strong.

It’s critical to collect this data over time and make decisions regularly to improve and optimize the results. You won’t always be right, but at least you’ll have very clear feedback on your decisions.

Email Marketing Summary

High-performance email marketing campaigns can be optimized to build your audience, improve deliverability, and get good engagement through email opens and conversions in order to drive good business results. By using the techniques described in this chapter, you can develop a strong and effective email marketing program.

Need Help Improving Your Digital Marketing?

Need Help Improving Your Digital Marketing?