While email marketing isn’t as flashy or en vogue as other, newer marketing channels, the fact is that it remains very much relevant, and boasts one of the highest ROIs of any marketing channel.
That said, it’s very easy to get email marketing wrong. It’s not simply a case of purchasing a contact list and bombarding them with emails to get a handful of leads. That way lies frustration, disappointment, and your emails being filtered through to recipients’ spam folders.
It’s therefore important that you follow best practices in email marketing, in order to avoid alienating potential customers, and to maximize your ROI.
But that inevitably raises the question: what are the best practices in email marketing? Are there email marketing guidelines that can make your life easier?
Thankfully, there are answers to these questions. And if you adhere to these email marketing best practices, you will soon see fantastic results on your mass mail campaigns.
Don’t Buy Contact Lists
As a rule: if something seems like a lazy shortcut, then chances are that it is. Purchasing somebody else’s contact list is the epitome of the lazy shortcut, and as with many such quick fixes, it’s unlikely to net the results that you want.
The problem with using such a list is that you are, by definition, sending unsolicited emails – and you’re sending them en masse. At best, you’re going to get a lot of unsubscribes. More likely is that a lot of ‘subscribers’ are going to mark you as spam. This will have a knock-on effect – the more people that mark you as spam, the more email providers are going to treat your emails as spam and move them to the spam folder without anybody setting their eyes on it.
How can you avoid this? By avoiding such quick fixes. Put the legwork into building up a strong, healthy mailing list that’s full of people who want to be on it. It’s really the only way to guarantee a high open rate, a strong click-through rate, and, ultimately, a healthy ROI.
Send Welcome Emails To New Customers
One of the most important best practices in email marketing is to personalize your emails wherever possible. This doesn’t just mean using the recipient’s name, but applies to a whole lot of things – including sending a welcome email to new subscribers.
Doesn’t this smack of desperation? Far from it. It immediately shows the subscriber that you care about them, and that their subscription means something to you. It shows that you’re responsive and engaged. You can even include purchase incentives like new customer discounts, and it’s a great idea to include a call to action (CTA) in the welcome email that can get new subscribers making purchases immediately.
Use Double-Opt-In Signups
Email marketing is, in essence, a type of permission marketing in which you obtain the customer’s consent before sending them marketing material (or if it isn’t, it ought to be – see our point about buying contact lists).
This means that it pays to be extra sure that the person you’re emailing really wants that email. But aren’t you already doing that by having them opt in to your mailing list? Yes, but what about niche cases where somebody gives someone else’s email address, for whatever reason? What if the recipient felt too embarrassed or rude to refuse an opt-in request that they didn’t actually want, and accepted out of a sense of obligation?
Double-opt-in signups obviate this issue by making doubly sure that people on your mailing list(s) want to be there. They add an extra step in the sign-up process; subscribers opt into the list, then receive a confirmation email asking them to follow through by clicking a link that activates their subscription.
Double-opt-in signups are great for two reasons: firstly, they ensure that you end up only with people who want to receive your promotional materials. Secondly, when that recipient clicks through to confirm their subscription, they’re taken through to your website, making it function as a CTA. This, again, can result in immediate conversions.
Vary Your Email Delivery Times
Any automated marketing platform worth its salt (such as HubSpot) allows you to schedule mail campaigns ahead of time, ensuring that you can fine-tune the time at which your emails are sent out. This is one of the best practices you should follow in email marketing to make sure that you catch your customers at the best possible time.
But what is the best possible time? Plenty of studies suggest one time or another (Tuesday at 10am comes up a lot), which leads to people being bombarded with marketing emails. Not only does this turn them off from marketing emails, but it’s not necessarily the best time for your customers anyway.
This means that it’s a good idea to research your customers and when they’re most receptive to mass mails. This usually involves trial and error; you can send your emails in batches at different times, and observe open and click-through rates at those times. Which ones get opened more? When are customers more likely to click through on your CTA?
Armed with this information, you can fine-tune your approach and make sure that you’re sending emails at the optimal time for you, your company, and your customers. By following this simple email marketing guideline, you can massively improve your ROI.
Don’t Use Generic Sender Addresses
One of the biggest turn-offs for subscribers (or email recipients in general) is emails that have been sent by generic, impersonal senders. Names like “Do-Not-Reply” or “Customer-Service” are unlikely to entice the recipient to open the email in the first place, let alone elicit a click-through.
This is easily avoided by using actual names. People are much more likely to open an email from “Steven” than they are from “Admin”, and, what’s more, such emails keep you compliant with US regulations on emails.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize!
If there’s one email marketing best practice that should be enshrined as the golden rule, then it’s this one: personalize your emails! Many of the things we’ve already covered in this article (and many more that we’ve yet to cover) fall under this general umbrella. Purchasing contact lists is a depersonalization problem. Sending emails and using actual names is a personalization touch. Almost every aspect of email marketing is improved by personalization.
Personalization can be as simple as using the recipient’s name in the subject line, but it takes many forms. Segmenting your various customers into different mailing lists is a form of personalization, as is the previously mentioned technique of tweaking email send times.
One of the best forms of personalization is to have customers personalize their own emails. This can be achieved by simply asking customers what they’d like to see from emails, and responding accordingly. Do they want to see restock alerts? Emails about new merchandise? Perhaps they’d like to see a new newsletter? Whatever they want, the fact is that they’re going to know it better than anyone else. You have an in-built audience that want to receive your emails – make sure that you’re sending them things they want to see.
Keep It Casual, Not Formal
Most businesses want to come off as professional and competent whenever they interact with customers. This is perfectly understandable, but in practice it means that many businesses come across as detached and impersonal.
In order to avoid this, a lot of businesses have adapted their approach to come across as more relatable. This means using less formal language and using language that their customers are used to using with friends and acquaintances. This makes the business warmer and more relatable, which – when it comes to email marketing – makes customers more likely to open and click through on your emails.
In order to achieve this, it’s a good idea to avoid stiff and formal language. Similarly, it’s a good idea to eschew the use of complex or inaccessible language. There’s no need to write “pulchritudinous” when “pretty” will do just as easily, and won’t have people opening a new tab for dictionary.com.
Further to this, try to use contractions (“where’s” as opposed to “where is”) and write how you talk, as opposed to writing how you, uh, write. This may seem counter-intuitive at first – we’ve all been raised to write properly and formally – but in the long run, it will reap dividends.
Don’t Overdo The Frequency Of Your Campaigns
One of the best practices in email marketing campaigns is one the most counter-intuitive: don’t send too many emails.
This isn’t all that counter-intuitive, in all honesty. Nobody likes being bombarded with emails, and chances are that if you notice your inbox filling up with unopened emails from the same sender, you’re eventually going to reach for that ‘unsubscribe’ button. Even emails that you’re interested in can rapidly sour if you’re inundated with them.
With all this in mind, it’s crucial that you hit that sweet spot of campaign frequency. Research suggests that between 2-5 campaigns a month is the magic number. What’s the best number for your particular customer base? That’s for you to ascertain with appropriate research.
By sticking to this email marketing best practice, you can ensure a high open and CTR rate.
Don’t Use More Than Three Typefaces
The best marketing emails are clear, simple and easy to read. This means sticking to three fonts or fewer; any more than that, and your emails will become cluttered and difficult to follow – which means that recipients will rapidly lose interest and navigate back to their inbox, leaving your email to gather dust among the ‘read’ emails.
Similarly, be careful with the size of the typeface you use. Email marketing best practices call for fonts of between 10-12pt. Remember that many recipients will not be reading your email on a computer; an increasing number of people check their emails from their phones. 10-12pt font keeps your emails readable on any device, including phones, tablets and computers.
Schedule Emails At A Regular Time
If sending newsletters (and you should), it’s a good idea to make sure that it’s sent out at the same time every week/month/quarter. Customers appreciate punctuality and reliability, and if it’s a newsletter done well, they’ll grow to anticipate it dropping into their inbox.
Beyond that, it’s a good idea to come up with unique and creative ways to market your business on the dates of big festivals. If you come up with something that captures the attention of consumers enough, there’s no reason you can’t co-opt Christmas, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and other big holidays and make them dates that customers associate not only with chocolates, pumpkins or Santa Claus, but also with your product or service. Just look at how inextricably Coca-Cola has intertwined itself with Christmas!
Keep Emails Short
Ranked among the best of email marketing techniques, one of the most important aspects of your emails is to keep them short. We live in an age of short attention spans, and you only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention before they move onto something else.
Most people, in fact, will spend less than a minute looking at an email before moving on. The ideal length for an email, then, is between 50 and 125 words – not very long at all. For reference, this article is almost at 2000 words at this point.
It’s a good idea to prioritize images and design in your emails, then. Any text should exist to support the images and your CTA (which should be big and bold), and it should be to the point. Bullet points are also a good idea, as they keep your thoughts concise and clearly organized.
Give Your Subscribers Compelling CTAs
You may have followed a lot of best practices, but that won’t help your email marketing unless you have a compelling CTA. It’s all well and good having the perfectly designed mass mail, but it doesn’t matter at all if your subscribers don’t click through. How can you ensure that they do? By giving them a reason to.
The best CTAs have strong incentives for customers to click through. This could be offering a trial subscription to a premium account, or a discount, or a chance to win something. Everybody likes something for nothing, and it’s a great way to up that click-through rate – which, in turn, leads to increased conversions.
Tweak Your Email’s Preview Text
One of the biggest beginner errors with marketing emails is leaving the preview text to be automatically generated. This often leads to dull, uninspiring or irrelevant preview text in the recipient’s inbox, and can lead them to never open your email at all.
That’s why it’s important that, for every email, you make sure to manually input the preview line. Make sure that it’s eye-catching and immediately engaging. “Email not displaying correctly” is not only boring, but it sets subscribers up to expect failure from you. “Win a year’s supply of [x]!” is immediately more engaging and will have many subscribers opening your email without a second thought.
Ensure Consistent Branding
Branding is hugely important in any facet of marketing, and that goes just as much for email marketing as much as anything else. Be sure that you are consistent with your color schemes (though they can be varied depending upon the tone you’re aiming for; a light, frothy promotion may call for a different color scheme to a newsletter), typefaces and logos.
Building brand awareness is invaluable for associating your brand with your product and/or service, and it’s one of the best email marketing techniques you can use.
Use The Perfect Subject Line
More important than the preview text, the subject line is your primary tool in steering subscribers from the chaos of their inbox into the welcoming arms of your marketing email. And to stand out from that chaos, it needs to be snappy and engaging in the same way that your preview text is. However, it’s much more important than the preview text, as previously mentioned; it’s the first thing that subscribers see, and often the only thing they’ll bother reading.
With that in mind, it needs to be concise, it needs to pique the subscriber’s interest, and it needs to reel them in. It should, wherever possible, evoke a sense of urgency or immediacy (timed deals are great for this), be personalized (of course) and be as original as possible.
The subject line is the hook that you cast into the waters of your mailing list(s). Make sure it’s baited well.
It would be easy to provide another 20 (or even 30) email marketing best practices, as the art of the mass mail is a complex and subtle one that can be tweaked and fine-tuned infinitely. However, we are confident that we have provided the most important ones above, and that if you stick to these email marketing guidelines, you’ll soon have not only a strong and healthy set of mailing lists, but an outstanding open rate, a favorable ratio of click-throughs, and a much better ROI. It’s simply a matter of tweaking your mass mail campaigns to be the best that they can be!