Email marketing is an undeniably powerful and cost-effective way of spreading your brand image and converting customers. But, there’s also a ton of work that goes into making an email marketing campaign work.
The purpose of this email marketing guide is to provide a simple, accurate, and actionable blueprint for your own email marketing efforts. This may be email marketing for beginners, but even the most jaded digital marketers can use a refresher once in a while too.
I want you to be able to walk away from this article and immediately start applying some of what shared within.
Email Marketing Services And Platforms
Disclaimer: There are loads of email marketing services out there. These are just a few that I’ve seen continually recommended and that have stood the test of time.
- Easy to use
- Allows for creation and execution of surveys promoting two-way communication between customer and business
- Easy cross-promotion of offers to social media
- Extensive third-party support (you can even track campaigns from your iPhone!)
- Access to conversion rate statistics only available through the Salesforce app
- Easy to import contact lists
- Easy to segment contact lists
- One of the most visual email marketing platforms, easily integrate videos and images into your campaigns
- Does not offer conversion tracking
- Very flexible design system (can design using style sheets, “designer mode”, or XHTML)
- Great third-party support, such as the WordPress plugin
- Access to individual customer information from any computer, at any time
- 5,000 monthly response cap
- Additional monthly fee to send surveys
Some other services I would recommend include but are GetResponse, Mailgen, Mad Mimi, MailChimp, Vertical Response, and GraphicMail.
I highly recommend using one of these services. The fact of the matter in designing emails using HTML requires a skill set that you may not possess. And doing so alongside managing your contacts through an Excel spreadsheet could be suicidally (in business terms) time consuming and overall just an inefficient process.
These services aren’t particularly expensive, ranging from $15-$150 a month depending upon the scope of your operation. Regardless, these tools make constructing, managing, & monitoring email campaigns far easier to do it on your own.
They facilitate you to create the most effective email campaign possible without pouring time and effort into the basic technical aspects of doing so.
Spam Laws And How To Avoid Them
The CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 16th, 2003, setting the first national guidelines for commercial e-mail campaigns as enforced by the Federal Trade Commission. These are real laws and you can get into real trouble for breaking them. Each separate email can be subject of up to $16,000 in fines for violations.
The CAN-SPAM Act covers more than just bulk emails or email “blasts”. Infact it covers commercial messages, which are defined as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”. This means that the CAN-SPAM Act applies equally to B2B email marketing as well as B2C email marketing.
One area in which the CAN-SPAM Act falls short is that it does not cover the topic of “permission” in regards to email marketing. This is to say that the CAN-SPAM Act does not explicitly require customers to give permissions to an agency or business to begin marketing to them before they start to receive emails.
But, many states have laws against unsolicited email marketing which are important to keep in mind. The general rule of thumb here is to simply not send emails to people who haven’t given you permission.
Avoiding the CAN-SPAM Act Penalties
1. No Misleading Subject Lines
The subject line of your email must match the content of the email itself, no “bait and switch”
2. No Deceptive Header Information
You “From”, “To”, “Reply-To”, originating domain name and email address must be true. And must also reflect the origin of the message truthfully.
3. Identify Your Message as an Ad
There are a lot of leeways here as this specific portion of the bill is fairly ambiguous in terms of the legal language it employs.
For example, if the email is being used with the purpose of driving traffic to a piece of content. Just mentioning that you are sending the email out to show them this piece of content would satisfy the requirement. Something as simple as “brought to you by” at the end of the email would be satisfactory under the guidelines.
4. Provide a Physical Address
Your messages must include some form of a physical address within the email. Most businesses include this in the footer, along with other information about their business such as a phone number, etc.
This physical address can be the street address of your business, a PO box registered with the US Postal Service, or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
5. Tell Recipients How to Opt-Out of Future Emails
Your message needs to include a clearly outlined and easily understood process through which the customer can remove themselves from your mailing list.
Suggested methods for doing this would be to either provide an email address that they can contact to be removed or to create a single webpage that can be easily accessed with the function of servicing termination requests.
6. Follow Through on Opt-Out Requests
The two major legal stipulations here are
1) If you have an automated opt-out mechanism in place it must be active for at least 30 days since the last message was sent.
2) You must honor opt-out requests within 10 business days of their occurrence.
You may not request payment or any information other than an email address when processing these requests. I would highly recommend that you follow through with these requests immediately.
7. If You Outsource, Stay on Top of It
The CAN-SPAM Act is explicitly clear in stating that just because you have contracted out your email marketing does not mean you are no longer liable for the legal penalties attached to the campaign.
Both the company which is actually sending out the messages and the the company who they are marketing for are equally liable under the heavy-handed penalties mentioned earlier.
Depending upon the content of the email and the level of deception employed there may also be criminal consequences attached to violations of the CAN-SPAM Act. If you are going to outsource, make sure that you do your research first. Only employ an agency or individual that you can trust to stay within the bounds of what is legal.
Email Marketing Jargon You Need To Know
A list that labels certain IP addresses as “spammer IPs” and can set off spam filters and other measures. It used to impede the delivery of content from these spammer IPs. You absolutely do not want to end up on one of these lists. So stick to the best practices outlined in the last chapter about the CAN-SPAM Act.
This is the ratio of your messages that are not actually being delivered to inboxes. Or one of the most common technical terms you will hear in relation to email marketing. A good rule of thumb measurement for the bounce rate would be right around 5% mark. Anything above this and you may want to review your contacts database.
When an email fails to deliver due to a perpetually occurring reason, such as an attempted delivery to a non-existent or blocked email address.
When an email fails to deliver due to temporary reasons such as a full inbox.
A CTA is just a button, link, image or other pieces of media that use actionable language with the intent of having the reader click on the CTA, taking them to a landing page on which more details concerning the offer or promotion are available alongside efforts from your end to capture more information on this potential lead. Look to the left for an example of a great CTA.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
The measurement of the number of unique clicks on a link within your message divided by the number of messages that were opened. This figure helps you get an idea of whether or not your campaign is resonating with people who are willing to check it out.
A low CTR could be indicative of many things, but generally, it comes down to the poor placement of the link or a lack of incentive for the reader to click through.
The percentage of recipients who respond to the call-to-action within your message or messages. This is one of the most direct measures of the success of an email campaign.
If your messages are not converting prospects into leads then the campaign is not working. A good rule of thumb measurement for conversion rates in email marketing campaigns would be anywhere between 1%-3% for a successful campaign.
It is very important to view your conversion rate within the historical context of your own business though, as well as within the context of your return on interest from each campaign or offer.
When an explicit permission email is identified and stopped by a spam filter. Identifying false positives is vital to effectively manage your own email marketing campaigns, any good email marketing software will greatly aid you in this.
False positives are the worst kind of bounce because they indicate you are missing out on people that actually want to get your emails!
Landing pages are the lead capturing pages which you link your call-to-actions to. These pages serve to provide further information on your product or offer as well as capture more information on this prospective lead through a form which they must complete before actually accessing the product or offer.
This is the technique of partitioning sections of your contact database so that you can send them more targeted email marketing efforts. More targeted marketing leads to higher conversions, lower unsubscribe, and a lower likelihood of spam reports from recipients that can land you in hot water.
A list of contacts that have given you explicit permission to market directly to their own inbox. Treat this document like you would your own child, which is hopefully pretty damn well!
The short blurb of text you will find at the end of almost every marketing email. This should include basic information about the business or the sender. Such as physical address (to cover you under CAN-SPAM) and general contact information.
Essentials Of Email Design (To, From, Subject, Pre-Header, Header)
Since this guide is primarily aimed at beginners I’ve included a bare-bones mock-up of the anatomy of a standard email. All of the different parts will be discussing are labeled with a number. So that you may reference this image as you read through the post.
- Your brand name should always be part of the “From” field
- Your “From” address should always be easily readable and identifiable. If you are a small company or looking to build an especially intimate relationship with your customers I would highly recommend using a personal name here.
- The “To” field of your emails should show the name of the recipient, not just their email address.
3) Subject Line
- Keep your subject line short and relevant to the offer within the message you are sending. Avoid using all caps and “sales” language that you see online such as… “LIMITED TIME ONLY”, “AS SEEN ON”, “MEET SINGLES”, “ACT NOW” and my personal favorite “DOCTORS HATE HIM”.
The reasoning here is two-fold, first off it’s just tacky and you are better than that. Secondly, in cases where emails are coming from domains without a lot of “authority” (ie. the age, popularity, and size of a domain all boiled down into one figure) certain terms and phrases are used by spam filters to tag potentially spammy emails.
It should go without saying that you want to avoid this at all costs!
- Only use special characters and symbols when they are totally relevant to the message, don’t force it.
- As a general rule of thumb, subject lines should be 50 characters or less. You will simply lose the attention of the reader and they are less likely to open your email if your subject line goes over 50 characters.
- A good subject line needs to be short, informative, and compelling. This sounds like a big ask but it’s not that hard if you really sit down and put your mind to it. It’s very much an exercise in the omission of “fluff”, a bit like third grade English class all over again.
- Apologies if I’ve triggered any traumatic memories. To get your mind going I’ve written some example subject lines for you:
- Invitation to Webinar Featuring (Speaker X)
- 5 Tips to Improve Your Organizational Skills
- Inbound Marketing: 3 Ways to Increase Leads
- If you haven’t picked up on the trend, what really sets these subject lines apart is the immediate and clear delivery of a value proposition.
Within two seconds the readers know exactly what is contained in that email and this greatly improves the likelihood that they will open it.
People tend to appreciate not being jerked around by bait-and-switch subject lines.
- Be careful not to repeat subject lines as you run through a campaign or a newsletter.
Subject lines that are recycled usually trend towards decreasing open rates as the lack of engagement brought on. The repetitive nature of the subject line tends to lead the entire message getting drowned out in the buzz of incoming messages with unique and engaging subject lines.
- If you haven’t picked up on the trend, what really sets these subject lines apart is the immediate and clear delivery of a value proposition.
4) Pre-header and Header
- The two most important elements of the pre-header are the “View Online” and “Unsubscribe” buttons/links. These two links should be in the pre-header of every single email your company sends out.
Why? The “View Online” button is a safety net for your conversions because sometimes things happen and your emails won’t format properly 100% of the time on every platform. Having this button easily viewable makes it easy for the potential conversion to view the message in full on your website, instead of moving on and forgetting about your message entirely.
The “Unsubscribe” button should be included because it protects two things, the integrity of your metrics, and your own ass. Making it easy for people to unsubscribe will leave you both better off.
- I’m a big advocate of visual email headers. I think that when done properly they add loads of value to your email and will definitely help engage and convert recipients of your messages. When designing a visual header it’s important to keep a few things in mind:
- Keep the image at 150 pixels or less in height, any more and your header could end up displacing your body copy and CTA when opened on mobile platforms.
- Also, keep the header consistent with your branding guidelines, it’s another visual representation of your brand and another chance to imprint your brand upon the recipient.
- Keep the image clean, stick to a primary image or background, and no more than a handful of words. I recommend using the name of your company or newsletter here, and no more than a few other words.
- Make it look professional, even if this means spending a few hundred dollars to have a professional designer make the header for you.
- Make sure that the header image is not essential to understanding your email, as I mentioned earlier you cannot guarantee that things will always format properly or be displayed at all.
- See below for a prime example of a visual email header.
5) Essentials Of Email Design (Body/Copy)
One of the biggest misconceptions about the visual aspect of email design is that it must be pretty. This just isn’t true. Your emails need to be clean and engaging – not pretty. Things like considering the likely eye-path of your customer, or ensuring that you are being consistent with your branding are all more important than making your email pretty.
It’s important to remember that these emails are conversion tools and if a flowing poster-like design is going to detract from your conversion rates by distracting readers from your CTAs, then it should not be implemented.
Many email platforms also block images as a default feature so going overboard with imagery, in general, is just not something I recommend. Be especially sure that your email can still express its message clearly if the image is unavailable.
You should be focusing your efforts on a visual design that is simple, consistent with your branding, and is set up in a way that does not draw attention away from the conversion tools within your email messages. Now, onto exactly how you can do this with some great examples.
- I recommend a single-column layout (although double-column can work as well) with a width of no more than 500-600 pixels (never use landscape layouts for emails, please), anything wider and there will likely be formatting issues on mobile browsers.
51% of emails are now opened on mobile platforms and 90% of smartphone users access the same email account from both heir mobile and desktop platforms (Litmus “Email Analytics Jan 2014 + ExactTarget Survey 2012”).
- Buttons and links should cover an area of at least 44×44 pixels, otherwise, you run the risk of them becoming unreadable blobs when converted to mobile.
- You should use a minimum font size of 13 pixels so your text isn’t reformatted on mobile devices, 13 pixels = ~size 10 font. I recommend a minimum of size 15 font (~22 pixels) for any kind of title within the email.
- Some email clients, such as Gmail, take snippets from your body text and use them to preview your message. Be conscious of this and make sure your first few lines of text build on your subject line and make for an engaging and appropriate preview.
- Your CTAs should “pop”, they need to be easily distinguishable from the rest of your copy. After all, that is the entire point of the CTA. To the right is one of the best examples out there of a CTA that “pops”.
- If for some reason your email will be of significant length (say you’re running a newsletter than publishes quarterly), include a table of contents with hyperlinks to different “chapters” of the email. This is doubly important as mobile users are generally not fond of anything that requires them to scroll for eternity to get to what they want to read.
- Make use of design elements (spacing, dividing lines) to properly space and partition the content of your body copy. Try to do this in such a way that the eye of the reader naturally flows to the parts of the message which you most want the reader to view.
While not every company has the resources to order a heat-mapping test on their campaigns, simply asking a few friends or colleagues what they see when they look at a sample email could help you out here.
- The body copy is an incredible opportunity to engage your recipients with more than just traditional visual media. It’s a chance to embed a relevant video or even a relevant GIF (always good for easy laughs, and there’s a nearly endless library of these GIFs on dozens of different websites).
Outlook 2007 used to have issues with GIFs, as it would only play the first frame of them and then freeze. Luckily for you, users are rapidly migrating away from the Outlook desktop client, making this much less of an issue.
Engaging forms of visual media such as video clips or GIFs are far more likely to be shared than walls of text, no matter how informative they may be. Throw in a little branding magic and you’ve got pieces of content with your name on them which may travel far beyond your own email list, which is the whole goal here!
- I don’t recommend using background colors for two simple reasons, 1) Some clients simply do not register colored backgrounds and this could wreak havoc if your formatting is based around having this background color, 2) people are conditioned to reading black text on a white background, this seems obvious but the number of times I’ve seen emails using things like reverse text color schemes could make me pull my own hair out.
This isn’t even to mention the fact that up to 7-10% of the male population is some form of colorblind. I would even steer away from using patterned backgrounds behind your black-text-on-white-background body copy.
Unless you have a background in design or are hiring a professional designer to help you, these backgrounds can easily be distracting and ultimately detract from your message and its ability to convert as a whole.
- See below for an incredibly well-done example of a highly visual email copy.
- Use short, concise sentences and paragraphs. Don’t sacrifice your writing voice (which can be a vital part of your brand identity) for this, but make sure to avoid overly-flowery language.
After all, you want your value proposition in your body to be as clear and accessible as it was in your subject line. The possible exception to this may be a well-established newsletter, where people are expecting to access a lengthier piece of content.
But, for those using emails as a method of increasing leads, keeping it short and sweet is the best option.
- Don’t be afraid to make use of bold and italicized typeface to emphasize parts of your message or offer that you would like to see special attention paid to. Just be careful to use discretion when applying this technique, it can be very effective when done properly but look absolutely horrid when overdone.
- Make use of number lists and bullet points when you are outlining specific benefits of your offer or value proposition, this ties back into the philosophy of “short and sweet”. It allows the recipient to access the most important parts of your message quickly and digest them very easily.
- I recommend sticking to what is known as “web-safe” fonts for your body copy. These fonts should register on all platforms and will help you avoid formatting issues with your messages.
Some platforms allow you the option of setting a “web-safe” font as a backup for any other font you’d like to use in the case that the recipient can’t process your chosen font for some reason.
If you’ve got access to a feature like this, go for it. Remember, just like any other visual element of your design your message should be clear in ANY font.
Also, keep in mind that the more “exotic” font is the more likely the readers will burn out. The most common “Web-safe” fonts include. Georgia, Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Arial Black, Comic Sans, Impact, Lucida Sans, Tahoma, Trebuchet, Courier New, and Verdana.
- Of course, always remember to spell check and edit anything you are even thinking of sending out to potential customers. Then spell check and edit it again.
- See below for a top-shelf example of properly done written email copy.
6) Essentials Of Email Design (Footer)
- Like every other element of your message, keep your footer simple and functionally relevant.
- Include your company contact information (website, email, phone, address).
- Also, include links back to your main webpage as well as any primary/relevant services/products you are offering.
- Include social share buttons, as well as “send to a friend” button that makes your content easy to spread.
- Add a blurb about “Why are you receiving this email?” to help users remember that they registered for your list, this helps to reduce SPAM complaints on the recipient end.
- Always include a second unsubscribe button in your footer, cover your ass!
- See below for an amazing example of an email footer.
Constructing Your Campaign
So now you’ve learned about some platforms that you can use to launch email marketing campaigns. How to design your emails, and how to do it all without getting into trouble! Time for the next step, time to start planning your campaign.
If there’s one word you should keep in your mind while planning an email marketing campaign, it should be the word “focus”. Everything needs to be focused on. A sloppy hodgepodge of scattered information won’t get you anywhere. I don’t care how great your design or how many best practices you followed. If your campaign isn’t focused on a single, then it isn’t focused on the right people, it will fail.
In terms of making sure you’re targeting the right people, you should consider segmenting your email lists. In ways that make sense regarding your offer and who it should be aimed at. If you’re drawing a total blank here. You may want to consider taking the time to develop a buyer persona that you’re comfortable with before moving forward.
If you have a good idea who you want to send your offer to. You should then think of the most appropriate way to segment your email list to get your message to these people. Some of the most common methods of email list segmentation include:
- Geographic Location
- Lead Source
- Email Service Provider (used more for research about your delivery rate than anything else)
I know that this section isn’t as hands-on as the previous ones, and for that, I apologize. The simple matter is that every campaign construction process is slightly different than any other. As you tailor it towards your target market or buyer persona, as well as tailoring it to “fit” with your offer or value proposition.
This is where the training wheels really come off and you’ve to pedal down the street on your own. If you’re really struggling with this, feel free to reach out to me. I would love to help you.
Metric Analysis And Follow-Up
Tracking your campaigns and analyzing the metrics produced by these campaigns is possibly the single most important step in executing a successful email campaign.
The fact is, if you aren’t keeping an eye on the metrics or tracking your campaigns you will have a hard time. Even telling if a campaign is successful (assuming you are executing on other channels of marketing at the same time) and it will be nearly impossible to figure out what you can do to improve upon your campaigns as time passes.
Every service worth mentioning that assists in email campaigning will include some kind of metric tracking suite, use it.
Now, let’s take a look at the three primary channels you’ll be tracking and receiving data through:
The campaign itself
How many emails went out, who they went to, bounce rates, etc.
Post click-through data
Where did these people go on your website after clicking on your offer and what did they do?
What other ways are people using to access your website and offers? How are these channels related to one another in the conversion process?
Before we get into exactly what metrics you should be tracking, let’s go over a little acronym coined by the prolific Avinash Kaushik – ABO.
So what does ABO stand for? Well, it’s simple: Acquisition, Behavior, and Outcome.
Acquisition refers to what processes or offers you used to acquire leads. And how many came through from these processes and offers.
Behavior refers to what these people did after accessing your offer through the message you sent out.
Outcome refers to what happened as a result of this behavior. The outcome should always be considered relative to your goals for the campaign you are running. Always set goals, even if it feels like an arbitrary exercise at the time.
So why bother with this ABO acronym? Isn’t it just another piece of marketing jargon? Well, yes, and also no. Technically ABO is a piece of marketing jargon, but it is also so much more than that.
The ABO acronym helps to ensure that you are thinking on the macro-level. That you are considering the campaign from end-to-end by forcing you to acknowledge all stages of the conversion process individually.
Delivery Rate = (# of emails sent – # of bounces) / # of emails sent
- This should be the first metric you look at whenever you are attempting to gauge the effectiveness of your delivery infrastructure. It is a very high-level metric that allows you to gauge whether or not your campaign stood a chance, to begin with.
A delivery rate lower than 30-35% may be indicative of an issue with your email contact list. Or could be indicative of your messages getting tagged as spam or being relegated to junk boxes for some reason. If it is the latter, it may be worth reviewing the language you used in your message. As this may be tripping spam detectors when you try to deliver your messages.
Click-Through Rate = # of clicks / # of emails delivered
- This is the direct measure of the effectiveness of your email, and the appeal of your offer, as a whole. This is a GREAT metric to the A/B test! Just create two different versions of your offer and segment your current list this way. Then see if you are getting stronger metrics from one version of the message.
It doesn’t have to be a big change, something as simple as moving the CTA or changing up a few phrases can have a big impact on the success of a campaign. Many email marketing platforms have an A/B testing tool that makes running two different versions of the same message and offers very simple.
Retention Rate = # of subscribers – bounce – unsubscribed / # of subscribers
- Another very strong metric that can quickly indicate the health of an email campaign. I’d recommend measuring this one on a longer time scale than your other metrics. Ultimately your retention rate will reflect both the effectiveness of your delivery as well as the relevance of your message and offer to the recipient.
Bounce Rate = # of email driven visits with a single page view / # of email campaign visits
- This is probably the first and highest level metric you can measure for behaviors related to an email marketing campaign. You could be running an extremely “successful” campaign with a remarkably high click-through rate. But if you are also experiencing a high bounce rate on the related page then you are hardly running a successful campaign.
After all, the entire goal is to get these people to fill out the landing page and move onto a thank you page. Or to explore your website even further than that.
Time on Page = Time spent on pages after clicking through the offer
- This is a great way to measure the effectiveness of your landing pages. Or the pieces of content you may be promoted through an email campaign.
In case of landing pages, if a recipient is spending abnormally short or long periods of time (especially if they are not converting after this) on your landing pages. It may be well worth taking another look at your landing page design, or even reaching out to these folks and asking them what they did not like or potentially got stuck on.
For pieces of content, you should have a general idea of how long it takes to consume a piece of your content. If the time-on-page you are seeing doesn’t match this it may be worth taking a closer look at your content and the page design that it is on.
Conversion Rate = # of Conversion Actions / # of email campaign driven visits
- One you should be most concerned about at the bottom level of your marketing funnel. After all, a campaign that generates a lot of traffic but isn’t converting this traffic into leads is not giving any real good.
This conversion action can be specific to your page design, or the goals of your campaign. The most general form of conversion action you will see out there are forms asking for simple information about the recipient such as name and email address, in exchange for whatever your offer is.
A conversion rate north of 3% is great, anything below 1.5% should be looked at with scrutiny. Don’t be afraid to subdivide this data to search for specific trends. Infact, I highly recommend you do this for a lot of your data, but especially so for conversion rates.
A great way to do this would be to separate your converted leads from the rest of your email list. Why do this? Well, because these are your success stories.
Dig in and start reviewing their journey from acquisition, to behavior. And see the outcome of why you were successful with these folks and not others. You can seriously learn so much from doing this that I cannot overstate it.
Revenue Per Email = Revenue Generated By Campaign / # Of Emails Delivered
- How much money are your email campaigns making for you, really? This is the easiest way to figure this out, just track your conversions that become paying customers. Or who started by accessing the offer contained in a given email campaign. Divide them by the number of emails your campaign successfully delivered to inboxes.
Not only is this metric a great way to gauge the overall efficiency of your campaign, but it is also a great way to project expenses for future campaigns based on your conversion goals.
Profit = (revenue generated – campaign cost – cost of goods) / # of emails sent
- A seemingly obvious, but obviously very important formulation. This is your end-game where you really see if a campaign was financially viable and whether futures ones will be for this segment or buyer persona. Email campaigns are able to generate great profits in the realm of $40 of profit per $1 spent on the campaign.
I hope that this email marketing guide was able to help you wrap your head around all of what goes into constructing an effective email marketing campaign. While writing the blogpost we aren’t happy with the available resources on this subject.
I found that a lot of it was disjointed, or less actionable than it was the waxing of a jaded marketing professional. I wanted to create a simple, but comprehensive and above all actionable resource about email marketing.
More blogs –