A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing
“Having 1,000 engaged subscribers is far more valuable than having 10,000 if most of them simply ignore your newsletters.”
Email continues to be the preferred method of communication between businesses and consumers, despite the constantly growing presence of social media. Most businesses already have an email newsletter strategy in place and, according to the 2015 State of Internet Marketing Report by Salesforce, 73% of marketers considered it a critical part of the digital marketing mix. Contrary to popular belief, email is not being overtaken by social media and instant messaging, particularly in the business world. In fact, recent years have seen email continue to grow, a trend that is largely associated with the increasing ubiquity of mobile Internet.
Unfortunately, the medium is constantly associated with spam, and of some 3-million emails sent every second around the world, around 90% is spam. As spam filters get ever more efficient and consumers become increasingly impatient and wary when receiving sales letters, it is critical for both your reputation and conversion rate that your newsletters don’t end up being a part of that 90%. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to appeal to your target audience and build up an opt-in mailing list of people who actually look forward to hearing you. However, through close examination of your email newsletter strategy against the key elements that characterize a sustainable campaign, you’ll be able to get a lot more out of it. This guide takes a closer examination of the key elements of a successful email marketing strategy.
1 – Layout and Content
Without a suitable layout combined with excellent content that people actually want to read, you’re wasting your time and money, and you risk harming your brand’s reputation. By far the hardest thing to get right, you’ll need to conduct extensive research to determine the most suitable content to write but, it is very much worth the time and effort involved.
People are surrounded by promotional content everywhere they look, both offline and online and, unless an email newsletter provides something your target audience actually wants, people will simply unsubscribe or, worse still, flag it as spam. Your newsletters need to deliver on their promises and be presented in such a way that they keep subscribers’ attention and provide an easy reading experience on all devices.
First and foremost, a newsletter must have an excellent title and subject line if you’re to have any hope of your subscribers opening it. While there’s plenty of space for a bit of creativity, a great subject line must meet the following criteria:
- Free of words that are frequently overused or excessively promotional in tone.
- Personalized to the recipient or a clearly defined segment of your target audience.
- Short enough for the most important information to be displayed clearly.
- Relevant to the content within the newsletter itself.
- Engaging enough to attract attention and encourage people to open the email.
- Free of characteristics commonly associated with spam, such as excessive use of capital letters or symbols.
There’s a lot to be said for minimalist subject lines, since clarity and relevancy are among the top priorities. However, you’ll also want to take your brand’s distinct style into account. For example, some brands use a humorous tone while others like to spark controversy or stick to a professional and business-like tone. You’ll want to reflect your brand’s voice throughout your marketing strategy, and email newsletters are no exception.
The content of your emails should deliver upon the expectations people have from seeing the subject line. However, it is also important not to write too much. Short and to-the-point often works best, since your goal should be to direct your subscribers to a particular landing page on your website and take a preferred action. For this reason, you’ll also want a clear call to action, which must always be kept close to the top of the email so that your readers (including those on mobile devices) never have to scroll down to see it.
Personalization is another very important characteristic of any successful newsletter content, since it helps to show your recipients that you are in-touch with their needs. Here are some of the most effective possibilities for personalizing your content:
- Address the recipient by name.
- Provide content related to past purchases or browsing habits.
- Offer location-relevant content if you’re a high-street venue.
- Base your content on what you know, if anything, about the recipient’s hobbies and preferences.
- Make it local whenever appropriate
You can personalize your newsletters based on what you learn about your customers through the initial sign-up process as well as their activities on your website if they have a user account. For example, you can use things like past purchases, product views and wish lists to garner insights into your subscribers’ spending habits, hobbies, needs and preferences. After all, there’s no point in sending a promotional email featuring products far out of the recipient’s budget range or announcements about new high-street stores that are hundreds of miles away from them.
As far as the layout of your newsletter is concerned, be sure to take the full range of Internet-enabled devices into account, including smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. For a professional, scalable look that offers an excellent user experience, you should consider investing in responsive HTML templates that look great on any screen size. However, it is also important to provide a plain-text version of your email newsletters for easy viewing in certain mobile email clients. You should also include a link that allows these users to view the full version of the newsletter in their browsers. After all, many email clients don’t render your newsletter precisely as intended.
2 – Timing and Sending
Any email marketing campaign starts with a list of contacts, and a high-quality mailing list of engaged subscribers is one of the most valuable digital assets that any modern business can have. It will take time to build one, but you shouldn’t be taking any shortcuts in this department. Both for legal purposes and to avoid annoying people and hurting your brand’s reputation, having an opt-in mailing list is mandatory. In other words, you should have people’s express permission before sending them any promotional emails. Following are some effective ways to build a quality mailing list:
- Add email newsletter signup boxes to your website.
- Ask for as little information as possible to encourage more signups.
- Provide a newsletter signup option with your ecommerce and account registrations forms.
- Offer small incentives to new subscribers.
- Ask for email addresses at offline events, such as trade fairs and business meetings.
You’ll want to make the signup process as quick and simple as possible, particularly for the sake of mobile users who have a relatively limited set of input and navigation options. Your priority should be quality rather than quantity: having 1,000 engaged subscribers is far more valuable than having 10,000 if most of them simply ignore your newsletters. A carefully sorted mailing list will also allow you to segment your audience so you can send more personalized content to the right people.
Aside from sending your newsletters to the right people, you’ll also need to send them at the right time. Many businesses send out far too many emails, while others don’t send enough. While there is not really any one-size-fits-all approach that you can use, it is important to carefully monitor and regulate the sending process. Sending too many will increase your unsubscribe rate and spam complaints, but sending too few can lead to reduced recognition for your efforts. The best time to send your newsletter depends a great deal on your niche, but here are some tips to help you start off on the right track:
- Sending emails during off-peak hours tends to lead to lower open rates.
- Emails promoting an event should typically be sent 3-5 days in advance.
- According to MailChimp, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the most popular.
- Be wary of sending emails on Mondays when people tend to be too busy.
- The best times of day are typically between 9-11 AM and 1-3 PM.
It is important to stress that the above can only be taken as vague guidelines, and you will need to adapt them to your particular niche and target audience. As always, you’ll also need to test and experiment quite a lot. For example, if your business is in the entertainment industry, Friday afternoons might be the best time of the week to send out email newsletters, since many people will be thinking about what to do for the weekend. On a final note, you’ll also need to segment your audience based on their time zones to improve your chances of reaching them.
3 – Engagement and Analytics
Novice marketers often pay far too much attention to email open rates, even though they provide little or no insight into subscriber engagement and goal fulfillment. How your subscribers interact with your newsletters is much more important. A successful newsletter should bring more traffic to your landing pages and get forwarded and shared. Simply opening the email might be the first step, but it isn’t the most important metric to track.
Although great content should help to improve subscriber engagement significantly, it is also important that you take your goals into account throughout every step of your newsletter campaign. Most importantly, it must be possible for readers to complete your call to action in no more than two clicks. It needs to be precise and relevant to such an extent that it guides the recipient to the next stage of the process defined by your newsletter’s goal, whether it is a purchase, an application download or anything else. In other words, you want to minimize the amount of work your readers need to do to carry out the preferred action.
Building up a sustainable email marketing strategy takes a lot of effort and testing. A/B testing is particularly effective for email marketing, since it allows you to test multiple formats and content types simultaneously until you find the solution that functions best. When benchmarking your campaign’s performance, you’ll want to pay close attention to the following metrics in particular:
- Click-through rate. Particularly effective when determining the results of preliminary A/B tests, the click-through rate refers to the number of times people click on the call to action in your newsletter and end up on its landing page. Far more important and accurate than the open rate alone, it gives you an essential insight into how people are engaging with your brand via email.
- Conversion rate. If someone has clicked on your email and continued to fulfil the preferred action, such as download a free e-book or make a purchase through your website, then your newsletter has succeeded in that particular case. Consider your conversion rate goal-related, since it might not be directly related to revenue alone.
- Bounce rate. In terms of email marketing, the bounce rate refers to the number of emails that could not be delivered. A soft bounce refers to a temporary problem, while a hard bounce is a result of a closed or invalid email address. Hard-bounce addresses should be removed from your mailing list immediately, since they make you look like a spammer.
- Email sharing rate. An email newsletter that gets shared on social networks or forwarded a great deal is highly successful, since you effectively end up in a situation where your subscribers are promoting your brand for you. Although conversions may be the primary focus, a high sharing and forwarding rate points to increased engagement and lead generation.
- Return on investment. As is the case with any kind of marketing strategy, you will need to keep a close eye on the overall return on investment. You can assign different values to promising leads and conversions for a more accurate insight into the revenue that your email marketing campaign is generating for your business.
Tracking the above metrics will yield invaluable insights into the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy. With this data at your disposal, you’ll be able to adapt and evolve your campaign to greatly improve its effectiveness over time.
A carefully executed email marketing campaign provides the best return on investment of any form of digital or traditional marketing strategy. To summarize the key points you have learned from this beginner’s guide, consider the following characteristics that define an excellent email newsletter campaign:
- It fulfills all legal requirements, including the provision of an easy-to-find unsubscribe link and an opt-in mailing list.
- It facilitates easy and trackable forwarding and sharing due to the integration of social buttons.
- It uses a responsive design that scales to the size of the screen it is displayed in but also includes a Web-based viewing option and a plain-text version.
- It features informative and relevant content personalized for the recipient rather than generic promotional material and sales hype.
- It is brief and to-the-point with the most important information placed clearly above the fold.
- It has an irresistible subject line, opening introduction and a clearly visible call to action.