Ready to start enjoying all of the benefits that come from email marketing? We’ve put together an extensive guide to walk you through the entire process, all the way from collecting contacts to hitting send.
Email marketing is a digital strategy where you send emails to leads and customers to build a relationship with them.
The thing that makes it so special is that it’s one of the only channels customers ask to receive. Email marketing allows your brand to keep customers informed, while customizing your marketing messages. It’s one of the most cost-effective and conversion-rich forms of marketing: For every dollar you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return on investment (ROI) of $42. So, it’s no wonder so many are boasting its benefits.
To help you get started with email marketing, we’ve put together the ultimate guide on everything you need to know.
After reading this guide, you’ll know how to successfully send an email marketing campaign, grow your customer email list, create the best email content for marketing, optimize your campaigns, and start seeing a major ROI for your efforts. Let’s get started!
We’ve already covered how email marketing is a great way to reach your audience, but now let’s dive even deeper into why this form of marketing is so important. Because if you’re going to be spending precious time creating and scheduling an email campaign, it better be worth it, right?
Here are just a few of the reasons why companies use email marketing on the nearly 4 billion active email users around the world.
People who buy products marketed through email also spend more than those who don’t receive email offers — and that ROI is three times more than what you’ll find on social media. Now that you see it’s more a question of “how” than “if” you should get started with email marketing, we’ll break it all down for you.
Creating an email marketing strategy doesn’t have to be difficult. Really, if you cover the basics, it shouldn’t be. An email strategy includes several moving pieces, but once you understand how they work together, it’s smooth sailing.
The first thing you should do is create measurable, long-term goals. Those objectives could be things like increasing the number of subscribers by a certain percentage by the end of the year or increasing ROI from promotional campaigns. The important thing is to set goals with real numbers and deadlines that are attainable, yet still push you to be better.
Once you understand what you’re trying to achieve with your campaigns, figure out who you want to target with them. You need to know who your audience is so you can provide campaigns that meet their needs and preferences. While your target audience obviously includes your target customers, it should also include people like influencers and company staff who may influence your target customers’ decisions.
Your brand’s goal and target audience are the foundation for everything else you’ll do with your email marketing efforts. Make sure you have a firm grasp on those two things, and then you can move on to finding the right tools to make them possible.
Before you can start sending campaigns and enjoying the benefits of email marketing, you’ll need to pick an email marketing service to use. There are plenty of options available online, and most of them have some sort of free plan you can use to test out the features before you commit to them. Here are five of the best online email marketing services to check out.
MailChimp is one of the leading email marketing platforms 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.
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.
The purpose of marketing automation is to, well, automate things — and that’s something Drip heavily focuses on. They have 18 triggers and 16 actions in their automation rule builder, which covers things like moving subscribers in and out of campaigns and synching their details to another application, such as your CRM.
For small businesses looking to combine a variety of different tools into one solution, Infusionsoft is worth taking a look at. It allows you to capture leads, manage your e-commerce sales, create email newsletters and, oh yeah, handle your marketing automation too.
Using a whiteboard-like layout, you can create multi-channel messaging journeys in Autopilot’s canvas — all before publishing it and watching the live results. Autopilot also allows you to connect apps, forms, and sites to automate your email marketing and communication tasks.
Note: It helps to know your email marketing needs before looking for a service. That way, you can see which one checks off all or most of your list.
If you have any existing email addresses for customers or leads, you can import those to start building your email list. How you can import those will depend on which email service provider you go with.
Generally, you can either manually upload an existing list from an Excel file, for example. Or, you can connect your email service account to the tool where your customer data lives — like your CRM, accounting, eCommerce tool, or others. Before you import any contacts, ensure you have adequate permission to email these subscribers. These existing contacts are a great starting point for your new email marketing strategy.
If you don’t already have email addresses to import — or you’re ready to start growing your list — you can craft an eye-catching opt-in form to start collecting email addresses. An opt-in form is your tool to gather addresses. It’s the “Subscribe Here” box you’ve seen on sites plenty of times.
Email addresses are the lifeline of your email marketing strategy, and the better qualified they are, the better the engagement will be. The purpose of your opt-in form is to make website visitors want to subscribe to your newsletter. To make sure your opt-in form converts, it should include certain components:
After you create the design and text for your opt-in form, it’s time to choose where to put it on your site. Here are a few placement options:
Then, you need to choose whether you want it to be a single or double opt-in. That just means whether or not you want your subscriber to confirm they opted in or not.
With a single opt-in, subscribers only have to fill out your sign up form and click submit. They immediately receive your campaigns and are now a subscriber.
A double opt-in means a subscriber clicks submit and then has to wait for an email confirmation. Once they receive that email, they click on the link to confirm their subscription. Here’s an example of a double opt-in:
So which one is better? It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. A single opt-in will have a higher conversion rate because there are fewer obstacles to join your list. However, a double opt-in list will be more engaged. These contacts typically will have higher open and click-through rates — and have half as many unsubscribes as a single opt-in list. So, sending the confirmation email with the double opt-in helps increase the quality of the contacts, meaning a higher chance of generating sales during time.
If you serve EU-based clients, be sure you understand and comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Do not use pre-ticked boxes, and include unsubscribe options in all of your emails.
It’s up to your company to decide whether or not it will send emails to addresses that haven’t opted in. In the United States, it’s not illegal to send to an address that hasn’t opted in, as long as you include an opt-out link in your email. (However, it is illegal in Europe and Canada.)
Some organizations have decided they’ll only send opt-in emails. Others don’t care if they got an explicit first-party opt-in or not, so long as the engagement is good and it doesn’t adversely impact their deliverability or their brand. Some are specific about the types of emails they will send to people who don’t opt-in explicitly. Others will only send cart abandonment emails to people without an opt-in, but they won’t send an unsolicited newsletter unless the person asked for it.
So, it’s up to your brand to decide what’s best. The most important thing is that your emails earn engagement, whether it’s from an opt-in list or not. If you send emails that have high open rates, high click-throughs, low unsubscribes, and low complaints, you will see your deliverability (meaning your ability to hit the inbox) improve. A highly engaged, non-opt-in list is better for you in the long run than a low-engagement, opt-in list.
Here’s more on if you can send an email without an opt-in:
Simply adding your “Subscribe” button to your website normally isn’t enough of a reason for people to fill in their information. Most people aren’t going to want to give you their email address if they aren’t getting something in return. You need to give them a compelling reason or offer to attract them — like a lead magnet.
A lead magnet, also known as an opt-in bribe, is something valuable you give away for free in exchange for someone's email address. You’ve seen these on various sites. The brand will offer you some sort of premium content if you give them your info.
Lead magnets can come in many different digital forms, such as a PDF, audio file, MP3, video, or other file format. It doesn’t matter what type of file it is as long as it’s free for the visitor. Their only payment, if you’d like to call it that, is providing you with their email address — which, as you know by now, is very valuable.
Here are a few popular types of lead magnets you can use to collect their addresses:
The possibilities are as endless as your imagination. Just make sure that the lead magnet is something your targeted audience will find valuable. You can place the magnet offer in pop-up windows on blogs or in the sidebar of your site.
Improve your chances of collecting email addresses by pairing the lead magnet with a relevant topic. For example, offer a downloadable tip sheet lead magnet on “How to grow your Instagram followers” on a blog about social media best practices — similar to this example. You know people reading it will find that useful, which makes it more valuable to them.
Congrats! Your list is growing by leaps and bounds at this point if you’ve imported old lists and incorporated lead magnets. Isn’t it an amazing feeling? Now, you need to focus on keeping your list as clean as possible so that you keep your engagement metrics high. What that means is that you don’t want email addresses on your lists that aren’t interacting with you. Obviously, your emails aren’t helping the subscriber if they aren’t opening them, and the inactive addresses are only pulling down your metrics.
To keep your lists fresh, it’s good practice to remove unengaged subscribers every so often. An inactive subscriber could be anyone who has not engaged with any of your emails in the past six months or more, for example.
Before you make any cuts, you can try one more time to reach them by sending a re-engage campaign. We’re sure you’ve seen these before. They have subject lines like:
This is your last-ditch-effort to see if you can get them to open your email. Sometimes people will, and sometimes they won’t.
Another option is to check in with your inactive subscribers and ask them if they’d like to update their information and preferences. That way, they’re reminded they are on your list, and it gives them control over how they want to engage with your brand.
If none of that works, it’s time to let them go. We know it can be difficult to remove a contact you worked so hard to add to your list, but we promise, it’s for the best.
No two people are exactly alike, so why would you group them together in one massive list? The answer is “you wouldn’t.” That’s where segmentation comes in. You can segment your contacts into different lists so that you can send them targeted content based on their customer profiles. And it’s easy to see why so many are using this technique: Marketers who segment their campaigns have seen as much as a 760-percent increase in revenue.
For example, if your customer has purchased children’s clothing from your brand before, they would probably enjoy a blog on “Top summer activities for kids” or “Toddler naptime basics.” An article like that wouldn’t be useful for someone who doesn’t have children, which is why segmenting your lists is so important.
You can gather data about your audience from website analytics, polls, surveys, predictive technology (AI), previous email experiences, social media analytics, or other engagement points. If you really want to know what they’re interested in, give them the power to choose which lists they’re added to as part of your email signup process. They can check the boxes next to all of the lists they want to join (ex. daily newsletter, deals, blog posts, etc.).
Here’s a breakdown of some of the top ways marketers segment their lists:
Demographics: Age, gender, education, location, income, employment, cultural affiliation
Behaviors: Buying history, search history, online engagement, social media preferences, interests, referral method
Your segments can be as simple or in-depth as you want. But when you’re first starting out, it’s best to keep them simple. Start with two or three clear-cut groups and then track the data, test your methods, and consider adding additional groups or layers to your plan.
The whole point of creating segments is to provide your audience with personalized content so they feel like what you’re sending was made just for them. And to help you do that, you’ll need to collect and incorporate what you learn from the data.
Make sure you follow where the data takes you. If your analytics show the highest engagement comes from 30-to 40-year-old women, one of your target segments should be geared toward 30-to 40-year old women. Likewise, if your data is showing more activity in Canada than Mexico, make a specific segment for Canada and target their cultural interests and relevant topics. If you’re not sure who your target audience is, take a step back and start with buyer personas.
The only way to perfect your segments is to put them to the test. Start with simple segments like locations and run some test campaigns. Try two different campaigns both geared specifically toward people in Texas, for example, and see which campaign does better. Then, use those analytics to create sub-segments to better personalize the customer experience.
Coming up with engaging content on a regular basis can seem overwhelming. One way to get a better grasp of the content is to start by figuring out what kind of message you have to share. (Because, there should always be a reason for sending your subscribers an email — not just because you need to hit your quota for the week.)
There are six basic types of email marketing content you can send to your subscribers:
Your email marketing strategy should include a mix of these content types over time so that you aren’t sending them the same kind of email each time. Give them a taste of different types of content to keep interested in reading your next message.
You should also treat your subscribers like the VIPs they are. Your subscribers are so interested in what you have to say that they’re willing to invite you into their inbox. Don’t take that for granted. Show them you appreciate them by letting them be the first to know about new products and sales.
Your content should also be useful and provide value to your customers. If you’re not sure if the email will be of use to them, think about the types of messages you get in your inbox. Which ones do you delete, and which ones do you read and enjoy? Then, think about the email you’re sending to your subscribers and if it fits in the group with the ones you’d actually want in your inbox. Emails with how-to articles, videos, and other informational pieces are good options, as long as the topic relates to the subscriber.
While useful content has a way of being longer, you don’t have to cram it all into your email message. Actually, it’s best that you don’t. Provide your reader with enough information in the email to hook them, and then include a “Read More” link to your website with the complete text. You only have a few seconds to catch their attention, and you don’t want a long, text-filled email to scare them away. Plus, that gives them a reason to click-through.
Even if your company covers the most boring topic known to mankind, your email content better not sound like it. So, make sure your content doesn’t sound like a textbook. Add in your brand’s voice, personality, and sense of humor (if that’s in line with your branding) so they know exactly whose email they are reading. That will remind them why they signed up for your emails in the first place. Your email should sound like you’re talking to someone, so when in doubt, try reading it out loud and see how it sounds.
Here are some content examples that do and don’t work to help you figure out what type of content to send:
No one wants to feel like just another name on your email list. That’s why it’s so important to personalize your email campaigns. From the content topics to adding their name, there are several ways you can make them feel like you wrote the email just for them.
Most email marketing service providers will have some sort of format they use for adding in a contact’s name. For example, if you put “Hi [FNAME]!” it will pull in their name, showing up for them as “Hi John!” That beats a “To whom it may concern” any day.
You can also remind them why you’re sending them a certain piece of content. Tell them you chose this content because they liked another similar article. Or, they viewed a product on your site, and this one is similar. The goal is to tailor your message as much as humanly possible (without sounding creepy) to each subscriber.
Here are some more ideas for what you can send:
Whether you’re an HTML master or you don’t even know what those letters stand for, there are ways you can create a stunning campaign design. Most email marketing services will give you a few options when it comes to building your design, including Text, HTML, and some sort of Drag-and-Drop designer tool with pre-designed templates. Your level of experience and preferences will help you choose the type of designer you’re most comfortable with using.
But no matter what type of design tool you decide to use for your campaign, there are a few components you’ll want to include in your design to get the most engagement.
For starters, the design should make your content easy to read and be appealing to the eyes. That means breaking up the text so that it isn’t one long chunk of black that makes their eyes glaze over. Keep the paragraphs to one or two sentences top, which also makes it easier for them to scan and figure out if it applies to them (which it should).
Speaking of the text, you should use a legible font that’s within the 14- to 16-pixel range that will be rendered across email clients. Your headline can be a larger font size and then move to a smaller size for the main meat of your message.
Break up your text with some interesting images. You can use original photos (highly recommended), stock images, or other graphics. Just remember to use the web-res version of the images so that your email size isn’t too large to load. Sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash have plenty of free images you can download and use if you don’t have many in-house options. Don’t be afraid to have fun with the images — and make the text part of the visual component — like in this example from InchBug:
Make sure your call to action (CTA) stands out in the design by creating a colorful button for it. Your CTA is the next step you want readers to take — such as reading your blog, viewing a product, creating your label (like in the example above), or signing up for a consultation. So, it needs to be easy to spot.
With more than half of users accessing their email from a mobile device, you can’t afford to miss out on that big chunk because your email isn’t responsive and optimized for mobile. Everything in your message should be easily loadable on a phone or tablet. Also, remember that most mobile devices are smaller, so take that into consideration when laying out your design.
Some other general pointers are to keep the formatting under 600 pixels wide, use a larger font, ensure images display correctly, keep CTA buttons on the larger side so they are easier to tap with a finger, and don’t place two links right next to each other.
Decide how often you plan to send your email campaigns, and share that information with your audience. That will help your subscribers know what to expect — and keep them on the lookout for your next message — and also help you stay on track. Make sure your schedule is something you can consistently stick to so you can build trust with your readers.
You will be able to schedule your campaigns ahead of time using your email marketing service provider. Keeping an updated content calendar can ensure you’re staying on schedule and also providing a variety of content types. On your calendar, you could include the email topic, images/art needed, CTA, and type of content.
As for when to send your email, that depends on your industry. But to help you have a solid starting point, here are a few send trends from across different industries:
Pick one of those options, like Tuesday at 10 a.m., and see how your campaign performs. Then, hone in on the best time/day for your brand. You can use services like Google Analytics to get a better idea of when your subscribers are interacting with your brand.
No one wants their email campaign to end up in someone’s spam folder, especially after they put all of that work into creating it. Luckily, there are some simple ways you can avoid the dreaded “spam” word.
It might be tempting to purchase email addresses, but nine times out of 10, they aren’t worth anything. You’d rather have 100 subscribers who engage with your emails than 1,000 who don’t. And with Google, inorganic, deceptive methods of building engagement are punished.
The best way to ensure your contacts actually want to receive your emails is by having them opt-in. A double opt-in is even better. Remember, it’s all about quality over quantity. Always gain permission from subscribers before sending emails for each new email campaign, even if they’re returning customers.
This is a requirement for email marketing services, so make sure you have an Unsubscribe button or link somewhere in your email. Most of the time, you’ll find this at the body of an email.
By sending new subscribers a Welcome email, you’re reminding them that they signed up to be on your list. Be sure to send this email within 24 hours of them signing up — and the sooner you send it, the better.
Spam filters are always on the lookout for unsolicited emails and scams. Use the merge function to personalize your recipient list, and request that subscribers add you to their address book.
A good IP address is one that hasn’t been used by someone else who has sent spam in the past.
Using too many sales-like or trigger words like “cash,” “clearance,” “buy,” “needy,” “sleazy,” and “cheap,” could land you in spam. Your email marketing platform should flag any words that are known to cause spam issues.
Don’t use deceptive subject lines. Provide whatever the subject line promises in the email body.
Put your company’s address in the bottom or the email. It shows your company doesn’t just live online.
Remember: Your email campaigns are an extension of your brand, so act with the same integrity you would with all customer interactions. You can increase the odds of your emails making it to the desired recipients by taking the above precautions.
Staying out of their spam folders is great, but we know what you’re really after: open rates. You want to know that your subscribers have opened the message you crafted just for them.
A low open rate could mean a few things, but a good place to start is with your subject line. If your subject line isn’t compelling, subscribers will never click to open your email.
You can test different subject lines by using A/B testing with your campaigns — which simply means you send out different versions of the email to your list to see which one performs the best. That will show you which one performs the best so you can recreate that for future campaigns. Only test one component at a time (so the subject line in this case) so that you know which variable it was that had an effect on the open rate.
Here are some tips for improving your subject lines, which in return will boost your open rates.
You can have the most amazing content on the planet. But, if your subject line stinks, no one will ever know. Your subject line should make subscribers want to read more. That can seem like a daunting task, which is why we put together some tips that will help you craft the next must-read subject line.
Here are other tips on writing great subject lines that are sure to earn you an open:
It’s hard to know if your campaigns are performing well, especially in the beginning, if you don’t have anything to go off of. While metrics vary from industry to industry and business and business, here are the average rates for all industries (rounded up to the nearest decimal):
Not sure which email metrics you should be looking at? Check out this video:
Now that you’ve learned how to grow, segment, and effectively reach your email list, it’s time to talk about how you can automate the process. That’s right: You can turn on your little money-making machine and let it do its thing with automated emails.
Autoresponders are a sequence of emails that are automatically sent to your subscribers. They are sent to people on your email list after that person does something to trigger the send. For example, an autoresponder can be triggered by events like joining a list, abandoning their cart, downloading an ebook, making a purchase, or specific browsing behavior.
The autoresponder’s content is something you create in advance and set up to go out after they make the set action, with help from your email marketing software. For example, you would create an email that would go out to anyone who purchases your dog food to let them know you also have dog treats.
Not only do autoresponders take some of the work off of you, but they are also a great tool for nurturing leads and turning prospective leads into customers. This type of email provides the reader with valuable information because it’s based on one (or more) of their actions.
You can make your autoresponder sequence — which is basically a series of causes and effects — as simple or complex as you want. These series, often referred to as journeys, let you set what happens when a person makes a certain action. You can also set conditions based around these actions, like if they are/aren’t on a list or have/don’t have a tag. Here’s an example of what an autoresponder journey looks like.
You can set whatever type of goal you want with an autoresponder, but here are some of the most popular options. You can choose one (or a combination) of these goals for your series:
Once you’ve figured out what you want to use your email autoresponder for, you can start to draft out the specific sequence and how long you want it to be (ex. how many days and how many emails).
There’s no set rule for how many emails you need to include in your email sequence. It just needs to be long enough so that you can reach your goal. So, the length for your autoresponder will be based on its purpose, your segments, subscribers’ preferences, and other specific factors.
After you know how many emails you want to use, you can start figuring out how you want to space them out. It’s OK to send an email once every two days for educational emails — and several in a single day when you’re running a huge sale that’s about to end.
It’s all about finding a healthy balance between your sales and “value” emails. A good way to go about it is to follow the 80/20 rule. That means 80 percent of your emails should provide value, while 20 percent are about making a sale.
Next, create an outline for your email sequence, either by typing it out or putting it directly in your email marketing platform. You’ll want to include what topics each email will cover and what CTA will be included. With an outline in place, you can begin to create the campaigns that will be a part of the autoresponder series.
There’s nothing worse than hitting “Send” on your email campaign, only for it to go out with a mistake to hundreds or thousands of subscribers. Typos, broken links, and distorted images are a good way for your email to end up in the Trash folder. Or worse, they could unsubscribe from your list because it makes your brand seem unprofessional.
The best way to avoid all of that is to edit and review your email marketing campaign before it goes out to the masses. So whether it’s a single email campaign or an autoresponder series, you need to make sure everything looks good and works before you schedule or send it out.
Read (and then reread) the subject line, from name, preview text, headline, body text, footer, CTA, and any other text that’s in the email. If that all checks out, look over the design to make sure it’s clean and gets your message across (without taking away from it).
When everything looks good from within your email marketing platform, send a test email to yourself and a friend or coworker. Make sure you view the test email on your desktop and mobile device to ensure it works on them both. If everything still looks great, check to see if your email service has flagged anything that might land your message in spam. And when it gives you the go-ahead, you’re good to go.
We’ve covered some of this information already, but here’s a quick list of some of the top questions we hear from people.
Yep. Most email marketing services will provide you with free design templates — anywhere from a handful of templates to dozens. So, all you’ll have to do is plug in your information, and you’re good to go.
Here’s a rundown of what you can do to make your campaign more successful:
Start by setting a goal for your email marketing campaigns to decide which metrics are the most important for your brand. Probably the easiest one to track is the open rate, which will give you a better understanding of how well your subscribers are receiving your messages. As the name suggests, the open rate measures how many subscribers opened the email you sent.
Another good one is the click-through rate, which shows how many people clicked the links in your email. These can be links for them to “Read More,” or you can include CTA buttons. Typically, your click-through rate will be much lower than your open rate.
Take your click-through rate a step further with the conversion rate. That will show you how many people clicked on the link and then completed a specific action, like making a purchase. The bounce rate is another good one to look at since you want to minimize this number. Your email marketing service should remove hard bounces from your lists, and some will also flag or remove soft bounces after a certain number of attempts.
A few others you can look at include unsubscribes, list growth rate, spam complaints, forwarding rate/email sharing, engagement over time, and overall ROI.
It depends. We know that’s not a great answer, but the best day and time to send will depend on your industry and specific company. You can try sending them at different times to see which ones get the best results. While the specific moment that’s best to send emails varies, here are a few trends across the board that can help you narrow it down:
Pick one of those options, like Tuesday at 10 a.m., and see how your campaign performs. Then, hone in on the best time/day for your brand. You can use services like Google Analytics to get a better idea of when your subscribers are interacting with your brand.
There are six main categories of email marketing campaigns:
Each campaign you create and send should serve a purpose. It needs to provide some sort of value to the reader, whether that’s an important piece of information, coupon, or helpful article. Don’t send campaigns just for the sake of it.
Start by creating a goal for your email campaign, whether that’s achieving a certain open or click-through rate or reaching a certain number of engaged subscribers. Once you have your goal set, you can then put things in place to help you reach it. Then, go down this checklist:
No. For starters, if you buy an email list, you could be violating the rules of consent under the GDPR. Another reason to steer clear of this practice is that reputable email services won’t allow you to send emails to lists you’ve purchased. If you attempt to email these lists (which will be low-quality anyway), you’ll harm your email deliverability and IP reputation.
Yes! Email marketing is a cost-effective way for your brand to reach customers and leads. More than 80 percent of B2B marketers send email newsletters as part of their content marketing strategy, and newsletters are an important part of any marketing strategy. Oh, and did we mention for every dollar you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average ROI of $42.