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September 1, 2017

The 9 Essential Email Marketing Best Practices You Need to Know

Since the first email was sent in 1971, the medium has become the prime form of communication for most marketers.

Say what you want about social media or good old-fashioned sales calls – email as a marketing method has proven time and time again that it is simple, fast, affordable, and effective.

Though email marketing has been around for years, it has continued to evolve, with marketers looking for small tips & tricks they can use to boost their open and click-through rates.

Often, however, it’s best to go back to basics.

In this article, I’ll share with you the pillars of email marketing best practices, ranging from simple foundational advice to more technical tricks you can implement.

If the main purpose of your email list is to get more customers for your business, you want to maximize the effectiveness of your email campaigns.

That means sending the right emails to the right group of people at the right time – and the best way to do this is to segment your list.

The first thing you need to do is identify your segments. This will vary drastically depending on your business.

For example, the Wishpond blog has lists for social media, growth hacking, and lead generation readers, which determine the different types of content our various subscribers receive. If you were a fitness center, you might create different segments for contacts who are interested in weightlifting, fitness classes, and personal training.

The best way to think about these segments is as different subsets of your target market: how does your product differ in the eyes of different types of consumers?

Once you’ve determined these segments, we’re ready to set up the workflows that will help make creating these segments simple.

Using marketing automation, we’ll create multiple lists of subscribers based on the topics they’re interested in. Let’s look at two ways to do this:

Using a form

This method is rather straightforward – it relies on blog or website visitors to segment themselves using an extra field that you’ll add to your subscription flow.

On your subscription popup or landing page, add either a drop down or multiple choice form field with your list of segments. This gives people a greater degree of choice when it comes to the types of emails they’ll receive.

This is generally a good approach if you’re not as confident in segmentation by pageview (more on that below), or if you believe your subscribers will be likely to want content that spans multiple topics.

Once you’ve created your form field, you’ll set up a workflow that assigns people to certain lists based on the “interest” lead property:

Proactive segmentation by pageview/action

While it’s ostensibly less reliable, segmenting your subscribers based on the pages they’ve visited removes the need to directly ask them for their interests, and is also just a neat way to use marketing automation.

All you need to do is create workflows that segment users based on the pages they’ve converted on, instead of segmenting based on a property they’ve assigned themselves.

Let’s continue with our hypothetical fitness center. I’m running ads to three landing pages for my different segments (weightlifting, yoga and personal training), collecting leads to pass on to my sales team and to market to with email drip campaigns.

I’ve created workflows that send each of these leads to a specific list based on interest, so I can tailor and personalize my drip campaigns to contain content specific to each of these types of people. This maximizes the effect of your email marketing efforts, drastically increasing conversion rate.

Marketing to Segments

Creating detailed segments isn’t worth it if you’re not going to personalize the way you’re marketing to them. Set up a new drip campaign for each of your segments containing content that they would find interesting.

For example, my weightlifting segment might receive emails like “5 Tips to Boost Your Bench Press” or “3 Six-Pack Shortcuts”, while my personal training segment might receive content like “How 95% of Our Clients Achieved Their Goals in 3 Months”. It’s up to you to identify the type of content that will resonate with each segment to maximize the chances you’ll convert them.

When writing our emails, about half of the time we spend on each email is devoted to creating an intriguing subject line.

When writing a subject line, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize – namely, an email open. While a click-through to your final destination (whether that’s content, a landing page, or something else) and a subsequent conversion are the main goals of your email, your subject line is built almost solely to capture your subscribers’ attention and get them to open your email.

Why? It’s safe to assume your subscribers’ email inboxes are a digital Hunger Games arena, with emails from countless businesses (including yours!) vying for those precious, precious opens.

As a result, it’s important to follow subject line best practices to help you survive the mailbox battle royale.

Here are the most important ones:

  • Cater to your audience: Write a subject line that connects directly with your audience’s interests. For example, if you’re an apparel company mailing your “Female” segment, you could say something like “Save 40% On Women’s Fall Fashion!”.
  • Use merge tags: Though this a tip all on its own, using a merge tag in the subject line itself can have a huge impact on email performance. I know I’m more likely to open an email that has my name in it: “Carlo, you’re one step away from 30 free email templates!”.

  • Keep it short: Subject lines that are too long will be cut off in your readers’ inboxes. Keep it as short as possible so you don’t lose the meaning in your messaging.
  • Test emojis!: Who says email can’t be fun? Try adding some spice to your subject lines with an emoji or two… But, as usual, test them out and see how your audience responds to them.

  • Put a time on it: Generally, people like to minimize the number of things they have to do – which means they won’t take an action unless they feel pressured to do so. Showing how much time is left in your offer (“Only 3 days left to get 50% off!”) will increase urgency and boost opens.

  • Communicate value: Your subscribers shouldn’t need to open your emails to see what they’ll get out of clicking through on them. Showing them the benefit right away will make them more likely to click, and will reduce any lurking ambiguity.

Following these should-do’s will give you a solid foundation on which to build your email subject lines, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of this facet of email marketing. Test headlines often so you can see what works best for you and your audience.

When it comes to email marketing, the numbers don’t lie. As is the case with all of your other marketing tactics, you should be watching your analytics like a hawk.

Particularly, it’s essential to keep an eye on:

  • Open rates: Your open rates are representative of the effectiveness of your subject lines, as well as the “gravity” that your brand name governs.
  • Click-through rates: Click-through rates are generally representative of the content within your emails – if it sounds interesting, you’re more likely to get people clicking through. It’s also inherently affected by your offer. A 30% discount on a brand new product, for example, is probably more exciting than a new blog post.
  • Bounce rates: As opposed to being indicative of email marketing performance, your bounce rate is a good measure of list health. A high bounce rate might mean an incorrectly imported list, or an old list with stale or inactive emails.
  • Landing page conversion rates: Though this isn’t technically a part of your email, it’s an impactful section within your funnel that shouldn’t be ignored. Your page conversion rates are generally representative of on-page conversion rate optimization, but can also be indicative of the expectations you’re setting up for visitors.

Though all of these are important, the first two statistics are the ones that are directly impacted by changes in your email marketing strategies.

Continue testing and optimizing your email campaigns to maximize both of these numbers, and you’ll find your email marketing efforts bring you better results.

One of the many benefits of using a single platform to manage your list-building campaigns, your contacts, and your emails is the ability to better personalize your email marketing campaigns based on the information you have on your contacts.

And as far as personalization goes, merge tags are a game-changer, making it incredibly simple to populate your emails with information you’ve gathered from the people on your mailing list.

Their uses vary greatly – whether it’s something as simple as saying “Hey <>” instead of “Hey there!”, or dynamically changing the bulk of the content in your email based on a user’s interests or geographical location, merge tags can take your email marketing efforts to the next level.

Remember, you can only populate merge tags with information you already have about your contacts, whether that’s information they gave you themselves or information you added to their contact profiles based on specific actions they took. As a result, your options may be limited based on how extensive your lead generation forms are.

A few use cases for merge tags:

  • Sending your prospective customers information (time, date, etc.) on their upcoming sales call
  • Reminding a customer they’re due for an appointment (e.g. “It’s been {{timesincelast_appointment}} since your last checkup!)
  • Asking people if they’re satisfied with a purchase (e.g. “Are you happy with your {{lastitempurchased}}?)

Your CTA is the final email touchpoint readers encounter before they’re whisked away to your landing page, blog, or whatever destination you’ve chosen for them.

As a result, you need to craft a CTA that helps push your viewers that extra little bit so they click through and end up at their intended destination.

Experiment with different types of CTAs, playing with their wording and placement to maximize click-throughs. Generally, you want to write a CTA that’s action-oriented and specific to the email they’re reading.

For example, an CTA linking to a blog post about healthy recipes might say “Get 5 Free Healthy Recipes!”, but a discount email might have a CTA saying “Get 40% Off Now!”

When choosing your email marketing platform, try to pick one that features a variety of templates. The last thing you want to worry about when you’re fussing over your email copy and subject line is how to make your email look nice.

Take a default template and edit it slightly by adding your logo and changing the colors of buttons, text and other elements to fit your company’s branding guidelines as well as possible. Save this template (or duplicate this email) so you can reuse it in the future and create a consistent experience for your readers.

As is the case with every other step of your marketing funnel, extensively testing your emails is a key step to finding success and driving sales.

Make A/B testing the emails in your various drip campaigns a habit, so you’re constantly optimizing for the best results to maximize your email marketing ROI.

Though you can test two drastically different emails, I’d test conservatively so you can come away with specific takeaways for each of your experiments. Testing a single element at a time allows you to see exactly what effect each element is having on your email.

A list of things to A/B test in your email:

  • Subject line
  • CTA text
  • Design/layout
  • Length
  • Copy
  • Sender
  • Types of content

When you’re first getting into email marketing, it’s a good idea to play with a variety of content types to find out what your audience likes best – don’t rely on existing data to make assumptions about the people who sign up for your list.

For example, our SEO-focused social media content drastically outperforms other content when it comes to traffic, but it pales in comparison to deep-dive case studies and growth hacking articles when it comes to email engagement.

Had we taken our existing statistics for granted, we would’ve started sending exclusively social media content, missing out on precious email opens and click-throughs.

So, get a feel for your audience’s engagement. Do they respond best to list posts? Maybe they like receiving video tips, or simple discounts. Whatever it may be, try sending a variety of content early on so you can come to a conclusion that’s statistically significant.

As tempting as it may be to give into sites that promise to give you large lists of emails for a couple bucks, don’t.

Besides being morally ambiguous, it’s just not worth it. If you think about email marketing as a whole, your goal is to create an engaged group of customers (and prospective customers) who read your emails and, hopefully, buy your products.

Building your own list – from scratch – means every single person on that list is someone who has converted on a list-building form or signed up for your newsletter, which points to them being people who have at least some interest in your business or products.

Put the work into creating your very own list of subscribers, and you’ll be rewarded with higher engagement, more opens, and increased conversions.

There you have it: 9 best practices that will help you create a solid email marketing strategy. Whether you’re new to email marketing or are a veteran of the medium, I hope these tips have taught you a new thing or two.

Any cool new email marketing techniques you’ve seen lately? Let me know in the comments below!


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