Whether you’re an email marketing pro or just getting started, there are ways you can improve your strategy. (Trust us, your subscribers and ROI will thank you.)
We’ll cover what you need to know to create a winning email marketing strategy:
- Why creating an email strategy is important
- 16 best practices for an effective email marketing strategy
- How to collect email addresses
- Picking an email service provider
Before we dive into what you need to do to create and/or improve your email strategy, let’s first cover why it’s important to have one.
Why you need an email strategy
Creating a solid email marketing strategy isn’t just good practice. It’s also an important part of boosting your conversions and revenue. Just look at these statistics:
- Conversion rates for emails are higher than social media, direct traffic, and search.
- Email offers result in shoppers spending 138 percent on their purchases.
- For every $1 spent, email marketing generates $32 in ROI.
- More than half of marketers say email is their No. 1 source of ROI.
And the importance of email is only going to continue to go up as the number of emails sent do the same. By the end of 2023, there are expected to be nearly 350 billion emails sent a day. For some context, that’s 60 billion more than go out each day now.
Email is the most cost-effective way to promote your products, communicate with your customers, and reach your company’s goals. So the question isn’t if you should put together a solid email strategy — it’s how you can create the most effective one to attract and convert more leads.
16 elements of an effective email marketing strategy
We’ll share all of the insider tips, tricks, and techniques you need to know about creating the best email marketing strategy.
1. Define your audience.
Who is your ideal consumer? If you want to engage that person with your email campaigns, you need to know who they are first. And the answer is right in front of you. Your target audience is who your company serves.
For example, if you sell dog food, your target audience would be pet owners. If you sell children’s clothes, your audience would be moms, like in this Carter's email:
You get the idea. Make sure all of your email marketing campaigns are tailored to your brand’s specific audience.
2. Craft engaging subject lines.
Your email’s subject lines should tell subscribers what the email is about and why they should open it. Here are a few things to consider when crafting your subject lines:
Here are a few examples of the type of subject lines brands are sending;
We’ll cover more on personalization in the next point, so let’s focus on the length and wording of your subject line. For the length, you want to avoid ones that are 60 to 70 characters long. This is often referred to as the dead zone of subject length.
Subject lines that are 70 characters and longer tested to be the most beneficial to engage readers in clicking through to the content, while ones that have less than 49 characters tested well with open rates. And ones with fewer than 10 characters have more than a 50-percent open rate.
3. Personalize the emails.
A great way to catch a subscriber’s attention and let them know the message was designed just for them (even when it’s simply automated) is by using personalization techniques. Here are a few easy ways you can do that:
- Use their name. By adding [FIRSTNAME] — or whatever the formatting is for your ESP — to the subject line and/or email copy, it makes the email seem more personal.
- Give recommendations. “You viewed this, so you might like these other options.” That kind of approach followed by some products related to their recent searches or purchases shows them you care about what they like. This email from Lyst pulls recommendations based off of the brand they viewed.
But don't just personalize the email to the subscriber. Remember, this is a two-way relationship you’re trying to create with the consumer. So, you should also add your brand’s personal information:
- Include a real reply-to address. Don’t use those email@example.com. That gives the email an automated, un-personalized feel. Plus, that limits their ability to engage with your brand if they want to ask you something.
- Use a real email signature. Include your name and contact information (or the information for the person who’s responsible for customer service) at the bottom of the email. You want your emails to seem as genuine and approachable as possible. They should feel like messages between two friends.
Make it even easier for your subscribers to reach out to you by including a CTA at the bottom.
4. Segment your subscribers.
One of the best ways you can create personalized campaigns is by segmenting your subscribers. When you segment your audience, you’re able to take a much more targeted approach with your email campaigns. That helps you deliver applicable, valuable, and useful content to the right people.
After subscribers fill in your form, this data will be added as a variable to your mailing list. Then, you can choose either a specific variable or a mailing list segment to send your email campaign to. As a result, every subscriber will receive the offers they’re interested in.
How to segment
These are a few factors you can use to segment your audience:
- Job title
- Purchase history
- Interest level
- CTA clicks
- Company size
These are some good starting criteria to use when segmenting your lists, but figure out which factors work best for your brand. You can use the information you’ve collected from them online, along with surveys and other data. The more you’re able to hone into what your subscribers want, the happier you will all be.
How do we know that? Because segmented lists result in higher open rates, revenue, sales leads, transactions, and deliverability.
For example, Target sent this email to subscribers with children:
5. Use email automation when possible.
Automation and marketing go hand in hand. So, we suggest you set up automated processes anytime it’s possible. And not only is it possible when it comes to your email strategy, but it’s also highly necessary.
Automated, or trigger-based, emails are ones that you send automatically based on user behavior. You can set up these Journeys, as they are called, based on several types of events, like in this example from Robly:
Popular trigger emails
- Welcome: Confirm they signed up, send a double opt-in, or let them know what type of emails they can look forward to from your brand.
- Thank you: Thank them for taking an action, like entering an online giveaway.
- Transactional: This could be a confirmation email or email receipt.
- Cart abandonment: Remind them they left something in their cart so they will go back and complete the purchase with a cart abandonment email.
- Browse abandonment: Unlike with cart abandonment, these shoppers never add anything to their cart. They simply look and leave — similar to window shoppers at physical stores.
- Milestone: These emails help you build long-lasting relationships with your customers. It could be a customer’s birthday or anniversary with your company. This type of campaign is known for great open and click-through rates because of their personalized nature.
Here’s more on setting up and sending a welcome email series:
Data shows that these automated emails perform better than traditional emails. They have:
- Much higher open rates
- An average click-through rate that is more than double the rate
Plus, sites with the best conversion rates use these trigger emails, and these emails can generate a higher ROI.
What makes this strategy so effective is that the emails hit their inboxes at the perfect time — right after they’ve completed some sort of action. So, you know these messages will be timely and provide relevant, personalized information to the subscriber.
6. Create a design hierarchy.
Your email needs to be straightforward, so no hiding the main point. Start with a headline or leading image — or combine them and put the text on the image, if it’s easy to read. Then, you can move into the body of your email, which will be in a smaller font. Think of the design as an inverted pyramid with the meat of the message at the top.
You can see a hierarchy in this email from McAllisters:
7. Conduct A/B testing.
Also known as split testing, A/B testing allows you to try out different versions of a campaign to see which one performs the best. For example, send subscribers the same email but with two different subject lines. That will show you which subject line worked best, and you can use that information to create future subject lines.
Other ways to use A/B testing
- Plain text vs. HTML campaigns: You’re probably already sending a plain text version of your email. But, have you considered testing an email campaign that is plain text only? That approach can look like it was written just for that subscriber, especially if you throw in a personalized element.
- “From” address: This is the name that appears in the “From” field of the email, and it has a huge impact on whether or not the subscriber opens your email. The sender name is often the main reason why people do or don’t open an email. Test your “From” address by sending your campaigns from a person’s name, person + company, or from your company’s CEO.
- Short vs. long emails: Try a short and sweet approach, and then create another version that’s longer with more details. Shorter emails can link to a targeted landing page if they want more information. Whereas long-form emails can include more of that information directly in the copy. See which one your subscribers prefer, and use more of that format going forward.
Here's an example of one that's short and sweet from Postmates:
It’s important to keep everything else the same about the campaign, except for the component you’re testing (ex. subject line). If you alter more than one thing, you won’t know which element helped or hurt your metrics.
8. Use one CTA.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, so there can be exceptions. However, for the most part, you’ll want to have just one CTA in your email campaign. You can repeat the CTA a few times throughout the email (we all have short attention spans).
Overstock does repeat this "Shop Now" CTA in this email example:
But, when you have different CTAs asking for different things, it becomes difficult to convert prospects. You won’t be helping subscribers buy your product when you use multiple CTAs. Most likely, they will be confused about which action to take — and that’s not good for your ROI.
9. Give them something.
Everyone likes getting something, especially if that something is free. So, send your subscribers a link to a lead magnet (ex. downloadable PDF with premium content), a free trial or subscription to your services, or a link to a video that’s only for subscribers.
You want your email campaigns to seem like a special feature only a few can enjoy, so don’t forget to reward your subscribers. You can also use exclusivity to build a deeper connection with your email subscribers.
10. Stay out of their spam folder.
You want your email marketing campaigns to engage your audience. But, it can only do that if it lands in their inbox to begin with. That means you need to make sure your email avoids spam filters.
We have a whole blog on that topic alone (linked to above), but here are some of the main ways you can keep your message from being labeled as spam:
- Stay compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act
- Use a double opt-in approach
- Regularly clean your lists
- Don’t send attachments or media
- Follow email marketing best practices
- Avoid spammy words
That’s just a short list, but you’ll want to make sure you check your emails for anything that could flag them as spam.
11. Track your email metrics.
The only way you will know if your email strategy is succeeding or failing is if you monitor your email metrics. The exact metrics you look at will depend on your specific goals. For example, are you trying to increase click-throughs to a lead magnet, or are you wanting to boost your open rate?
No matter your goal, here are a few of the rates you’ll want to monitor:
- Open rate: The number of emails opened compared to the total amount delivered
- Click-through rate: The number of clicks on the link contained in the email message
- Bounce rate: The number of emails that returned an error after being sent (hard or soft)
- Unsubscribe rate: The number of people who unsubscribed to your emails
- Return on investment: The total sales value resulting from an email campaign minus the cost to create it, divided by the same cost — multiply that number by 100 to get your ROI
Again, these metrics are a good place to start. But, there are plenty of other numbers to look at, depending on what your brand is trying to achieve with your email marketing strategy.
12. Make sure your emails are optimized for mobile.
You might design your email campaigns on a computer, but you better make sure that’s not the only place they can be properly viewed.
More than half of all consumers are viewing their email on mobile devices, so your campaigns better be showing up correctly on these smartphones and tablets. Because if they aren’t, your emails will probably end up in their Spam or Trash.
Here's a mobile view of PatPat's email:
How can you do that? Here are a few methods to making sure your email is optimized for mobile devices:
- Keep the subject line short. Smaller devices mean a smaller space to read your text. Someone who views a subject line on a mobile device is going to see fewer characters compared to someone on a desktop. So, make sure they can still understand what your email is about in the 30 to 40 characters they can view.
- Use a responsive email design. This design ensures the subscriber sees your email correctly, regardless of the device or screen size they use. Most ESPs offer this solution within their email functionality.
- Go with an easy-to-spot CTA. You have limited real estate on a mobile device, so be straightforward with the CTA. It needs to be large enough that they don’t have any issue clicking it with their fingers.
13. Pick the best time(s) to send your emails.
Sometimes, finding the right time to send your email campaigns is the difference between getting the open and heading to the Trash folder. You’ll need to look at your subscribers’ open times to see when is the best send time for your brand, but here are some of the best times to send across the board:
- Time: Between 10 and 11 a.m. (local time)
- Day (best opens): Thursday
- Day (best click-through): Tuesday
Those can serve as a good starting point, but just remember there isn’t a one-size-fits-all for this type of stuff. So, you’ll still need to rely on your metrics and data to find the best day and time to send your email campaigns. If your subscribers are in different time zones, you’ll want to make sure the emails hit their inbox at the right time for them.
14. Encourage social sharing.
To improve your campaigns, you can integrate your social media and email marketing strategy. You can do that by:
- Posting something to your followers about signing up for your newsletter/emails.
- Running a social media ad with a signup form.
You can also include your social icons in the footer of your email to show subscribers your social channels, helping to continue their engagement with your brand. Wayfair even gives subscribers a hashtag to use:
Be sure to design your email so subscribers are able to share a version of the message on their social channels. That will help you gain exposure and increase engagement with your contacts.
15. Test and edit everything!
One of the biggest mistakes marketers make each and every day is also one of the easiest to avoid: They don’t test their email campaigns before sending them. That means:
- Read your email, subject line, and “From” text.
- Use an editing tool like Grammarly (if your editing skills are lacking)
- Send yourself and a friend or coworker a test email.
Once everything is designed to your liking, you should send yourself (and a coworker, if possible) a test email. Depending on your ESP, you’ll be able to choose to send a test message from inside of the design tool and/or from your campaign builder page.
That’s how you can make sure everything works, from the CTA and other links to images. This is your chance to make sure nothing’s broken or going to send them to the wrong place. Not only is it inconvenient for the subscriber, but it also makes your brand look unprofessional. And that can cause them to mark your message as spam.
16. Be consistent with your sends.
Like with send times, there’s no hard rule on how often you should email campaigns. However, it has been proven it’s better to send emails more often than less often. You want to stay relevant to your subscribers, and it’s hard to do that if they only receive messages from you once in a blue moon.
The best approach is a consistent one. If you decide to email them once a week, for example, make sure you stick to that schedule. You can even send at the same day and time so they learn to expect your message then.
To ensure you’re sending the number of emails each subscriber wants, let them choose how many messages they receive. You can include these checkboxes with your subscription form or even in a double opt-in message. Put the power in their hands.
How to collect email addresses
You want to create an email strategy that engages your audience. And if you follow all of the techniques we’ve listed above, you’ll be on the right path. But, what if you don’t have much of an audience yet? Don’t worry: We’ll help you with that too!
There are a few different ways to collect email addresses, and here are some of the most popular methods:
- Sign-up form on your website. If visitors are interested in your brand, they’ll want to subscribe to your emails so they don’t miss anything.
- Ecommerce site. When someone makes a purchase, follow up with a transaction email and then continue to engage with them from there.
- Lead magnets. Have an ebook, whitepaper, or other content that your audience would find valuable? Post about it on social media, and include buttons or pop-ups to it on your homepage. When people sign up to download the materials, they’ll be added to your email list.
- Physical sign-up sheet. If your brand is more focused on a brick-and-mortar store, be sure to have a sign-up sheet people can add their email addresses to. These can also be useful for events.
- Social media links. Post a link to your newsletter signup on your social media pages. People who follow your pages are already engaging with your brand, so help them take the next step. You can even run a contest that’s only for email subscribers, encouraging them to sign up.
- Use Retention.com. At Retention.com, we identify up to 35 percent of your website’s anonymous traffic via a code snippet that’s placed on your website. We do that through either cookies or a contact database. And yes, you can send marketing emails without opt-ins.
Once you start building your email list, be sure to keep it clean. That means you should remove addresses that have a hard bounce, don’t open your emails after several months, or lack other engagement metrics.
A good email strategy puts quality over quantity, so don’t be afraid to remove a subscriber if they aren’t interested in your brand. You can run a re-engagement campaign to try and win them back, but if that doesn’t work, it’s time to let them go.
Pick an email service provider (ESP)
An important component in having an effective email strategy is picking the right ESP. The ESP is your partner when it comes to sending email marketing campaigns, and they can also take some of the guesswork out of the equation.
So, how do you go about picking the right one for your company? There are several to choose from — both with free and paid options — but we’ve put together a list of some of the top ones:
- Mailchimp is one of the leading email service providers and is known for its easy-to-use interface — perfect for beginners wanting to send newsletters and automated messages with little to no learning curve.
- Autopilot allows you to personalize the customer’s experience by sending emails, in-app messages, SMS, and postcards to deliver your marketing.
- Constant Contact gives you the tools you need to manage your email marketing, social media ads, website, and e-commerce store.
- Robly is known for its OpenGen technology, which resends your email campaign within 10 days after the initial send (with a different subject line) to your subscribers who didn’t open it the first time.
- AWeber is pretty intuitive and it integrates well with platforms like WordPress, Facebook and PayPal.
- Drip has a lead-scoring algorithm that tracks a variety of events to show which of your subscribers are the most engaged.
These are just a few of the ESP options out there, so do your homework to figure out which one is best for your brand. Each option has pros and cons, along with a range of package prices, so it’s just about finding the right fit.
Put your email strategy to work!
Once you implement a solid email strategy, you can start enjoying the fruits of your labor — i.e. improved ROI, engagement, and user experience. There’s no time like the present, so start incorporating these techniques today!