What Is Email Marketing?
Email is one of the oldest forms of digital communication—but it’s also one of the most effective digital marketing strategies out there.
Sure, there are newer methods of communicating with your audience and customers like social media and live chat. However, with a user base of over 4.5 billion people, email is the king of marketing channels.
Additionally, email marketing has an ROI of $36 for every dollar spent, meaning it deserves a place in every marketer’s toolbox.
Email marketing is still ranked as the most effective marketing channel, beating out social media, SEO, and affiliate marketing.
Why? With all the hype over new channels, why is this decades-old technology still one of the most effective marketing strategies?
Is Email Marketing Outdated?
Despite the rise of social, people use email more than other platforms. After all, what’s the good of marketing to someone if they’re not there?
Data shows that most people are on email—and the number increases every year.
In addition, with email marketing you own the connections—you don’t have to worry about algorithm changes tanking your reach.
Still not convinced? According to HubSpot, four out of five marketers say they’d rather give up social media than email marketing.
That’s why building a successful email marketing campaign is more important than ever.
There’s a problem—most people don’t know how to do it right. (In fact, you’ve probably seen those people in your email box.)
This post is long, but it’s worth the read. We’ll walk through tips and strategies for building an email list, creating an email that users want to read, designing automated campaigns—and tracking your efforts.
Getting Started With Email Marketing
Email marketing is a marketing strategy where businesses send promotional messages to people in mass quantities. It is typically used to generate sales by sharing promotional offers, nurturing leads, or expanding the impact of content marketing efforts.
If you open up your email box right now, there’s a good chance at least half of your messages are email marketing, like this one from GlassesUSA:
The Fundamentals of Email Marketing
Before diving into the strategies you’ll use to build and leverage email marketing, let’s cover the fundamentals. These tips will help you maximize your email marketing campaign, which we’ll dive into next.
- Stay Human: Email marketing is popular—which also means it is competitive. Use email to speak directly to your users, use their name, and let them see the human side of your brand.
- Use Engaging Titles, But Don’t Bait And Switch: Using interesting subject titles is crucial to increasing email open rates, but keep them on topic and non-spammy. If users feel duped, they’re likely to unsubscribe or mark your message as spam, which impacts deliverability.
- Keep Messages Short: Most email is read on a mobile device, so keep your copy concise and to the point. Direct users to a blog post or landing page if you need to share a ton of information.
- Include CTAs at the Top and Bottom: On landing pages, CTAs are always included above the fold—use the same strategy with email by including strong CTAs after the first paragraph and again at the end.
- Ask Permission and Deliver On Your Promises: Never buy email lists—that is illegal in most cases and won’t deliver ROI. If you offer a deal or great content, make sure to deliver high-quality content or offers.
Remember: You’re a Guest in Their Inbox
People are inundated with interruptions, pitches, and ads everywhere they look.
You might think your email is special, but to the reader, your email is one in a million—and not in a good way.
This is why it’s important to use good manners.
Getting into someone’s inbox is like being invited to their home for dinner. If they ask you to take your shoes off, you respectfully do so.
Treat their email inbox with the same respect. You’re a guest they’ve invited into their lives and they can ask you to leave at any point. So be on your best behavior and remember… you’re a guest in their inbox.
Now, let’s talk about how to build your strategy from the ground up.
How Does Email Marketing Work?
Email marketing is one of the top-performing marketing strategies, in no small part because it’s
fairly intuitive and often automated.
It can also support a number of other marketing initiatives, including lead generation, sales, and content marketing.
An effective email marketing campaign requires three essential elements:
1. An Email List
An email list is a database of subscribers that have agreed to let you send them emails.
To build successful email campaigns, you need an active, engaged email list.
There are many ways to build an email list. One of the easiest is to create a lead magnet (also called an offer) your target audience is interested in, like a coupon, in exchange for their email addresses.
2. An Email Service Provider
Using an ESP also allows you to create automatic triggers when your audience completes specific actions, such as sending a cart reminder if a user adds an item to their cart and doesn’t checkout. These triggers enable you to personalize interactions, which improves engagement and open rates.
3. Clearly Defined Goals
Email can help you achieve a variety of business goals, including:
- drive sales
- boost brand awareness
- generate and nurture leads
- keep customers engaged
- increase customer loyalty and lifetime value
To execute an effective email marketing campaign, your email list, ESP, and goals must align. Then, you can get to work.
The first step is to segment your email list according to subscriber demographics or actions.
Next, create an email or series of emails designed to get consumers to do something (your goal).
Finally, use your ESP to send emails and monitor the campaign automatically.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Email Marketing
Just like any other marketing channel, email marketing has pros and cons. Let’s briefly dive into some of the more significant ones:
Advantages of Email Marketing
There are plenty of benefits of email marketing. These are just a few of the top benefits to keep in mind.
Email Is Permission-based
When a customer trusts you with their email address, it’s the virtual equivalent of being given the keys to their house. Gaining permission to enter rather than showing up uninvited increases the chances of engagement and conversion.
Provides Direct Access to Your Audience
You can communicate directly with subscribers on their schedules. Plus, because most people check email multiple times a day, your message is more likely to be seen.
Email Provides More Control
With most other marketing platforms, you don’t own the platform. If the platform ceases to exist, all your hard work sinks with it. If Google or Facebook updates their algorithm, your reach could be drastically reduced.
However, with email, you own the relationships you forge with your subscribers.
More Personalization Capabilities
You can use demographic or psychographic data to create personalized and hyper-targeted campaigns. Research shows segmented and personalized campaigns increase revenue by as much as 760 percent.
Easy to Measure Success
Measuring the effectiveness of a marketing campaign is crucial, and automated email marketing makes measuring your campaign a breeze.
Email marketing campaigns can easily scale as your audience grows without straining your resources or compromising quality.
Disadvantages of Email Marketing
Email isn’t all roses and butterflies. There are a few disadvantages to be aware of. The good news is a great strategy can reduce the impact of disadvantages such as:
Standing out in a cluttered inbox can be a challenge. You’ll need to get creative to ensure your emails get opened.
You Need an Email List
With email marketing, you must already have an email list for your campaigns to be effective. Building an email list can be tricky and takes time.
Many Rules and Regulations to Navigate
There are several laws governing the use of email for commercial purposes. Common examples include GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and CCPA. All of these ban businesses from sending unsolicited emails and outline data storage requirements.
Unfortunately, some subscribers might report your emails as being spam even if they subscribe. As a result, your sender’s reputation takes a hit.
Delivery and Deliverability Issues
Deliverability is not guaranteed. Many email providers (think Gmail or Outlook) use spam filters. To run effective email marketing campaigns, you must contend with delivery and deliverability issues.
Email Marketing Examples to Inspire Your Next Campaign
Let’s briefly look at a couple of email marketing examples for a bit of inspiration.
Teaonic is an e-commerce brand specializing in organic, healthy teas.
Subject line: Getting Low On Wellness?
What does this email get right?
- Great Subject Line: The subject line focuses on the target audience’s main pain point, i.e., improving their health.
- Leverages Color Psychology: The bright, warm colors trigger feelings of health and happiness.
- Well-Timed: The email targets people who have purchased the product and is sent when the customer’s supply is about to run out.
Well-known for its hosting services, Bluehost decided to try its hand at creating a website builder.
Subject line: Bluehost’s new Website Builder makes building simple.
- Focuses on Benefits, Not Features: Selling the benefits makes the copy more compelling.
- Clean Design: The simple design makes the email aesthetically pleasing and easy to read.
- Excellent Targeting: Bluehost knows its audience is mainly small business owners without technical expertise. The email uses language targeting this demographic.
How to Automate Your Email Marketing
While the automation process varies by ESP, there are several universal steps you’ll take when automating the process.
Define Your Email Segments
Effective campaigns start with list segmentation. Use the data about your subscribers to group them. This allows you to create more personalized campaigns.
Depending on your audience, this data might include:
- Behavioral data from your website.
- Demographic data, such as location, age, or gender.
- Topics that are important to them.
Design an Efficient Email Series
After segmenting your email list, it’s time to design a series. This is a list of emails that fulfill the objective of the campaign.
Determine the Right Triggers
Once you’ve designed your workflow, determine what actions will trigger the next email in the sequence. Examples of triggers can include customers opening your email, clicking on a link, or not opening it within a predetermined time frame.
Depending on your goals, your email triggers might look something like this:
- Subscriber signs up for your email list → Send a welcome email with a coupon and several popular items.
- After one week → Send a second email promoting new arrivals.
- Subscriber visits your women’s clothing section → Send an email promoting a new collection.
- Subscriber adds an item to their cart, but doesn’t convert → Send an email reminder with a 10 percent off coupon.
While this example is for an ecommerce company, you can create similar series for nurturing leads, promoting a course, or driving traffic to your blog.
Best Email Marketing Strategies
To succeed with email, you need to design strategic campaigns. Here are some of the best strategies you can employ.
Use the Right Email List-Building Strategies
The success of your email marketing campaigns depends on the quality of your email list. To build a list, you must use list-building strategies designed to attract your target audience.
For example, a case study promoted on LinkedIn may help a B2B brand build a list of engaged subscribers, but would flop when used by a B2C brand.
Examples of good list-building strategies include:
- offering a coupon
- creating a downloadable asset
- hosting a webinar
Practice Good Email List Hygiene
Another essential email marketing strategy is practicing good email list hygiene. Removing inactive subscribers and incorrect email addresses will improve your sender reputation.
Consider sending an email to subscribers who haven’t opened your messages and ask if they’re still interested. If they aren’t, remove them from your list.
Keep Your List Warm
Regularly send emails to your list to keep your subscribers engaged (warm). Sporadic emailing could result in subscribers forgetting who you are and lead to low conversion rates.
If some of your subscribers go cold, you can run a re-engagement campaign through paid ads.
Focus on One Objective
Design each campaign and email to focus on one objective. Trying to kill two (or more) birds with one stone doesn’t work with email marketing. It only confuses your audience and reduces your conversion rates.
Define and Track the Right KPIs
Success requires more than sending subscribers an email every few weeks. To understand which strategies are effective, you must track the performance of your campaigns. That means defining and tracking the right key performance indicators (KPIs).
Depending on your goals, your KPIs might include:
- open rates
- blog traffic
- unsubscribe rate
Top 7 Email Marketing Tools Every Marketer Should Know
To pull off a successful email campaign, you’ll need email marketing tools to optimize your processes. Here are the top seven email tools you’ll need for success:
Email Service Providers (ESP)
One of the most critical email tools you need is an ESP. Top ESPs include:
- Constant Contact: This is best for e-commerce email marketing campaigns, thanks to features like automated product recommendations and shoppable emails. Plans start at $36 per month.
- Sendinblue: Sendinblue is best for small businesses running simple email campaigns. It has a rich feature set with a CRM, live chat, and SMS, among others. Paid plans start at $25 per month, though they do offer a free version.
- Pardot (Salesforce): B2B email campaigns require a platform specifically designed for the B2B buyer journey. Pardot fits the bill perfectly. However, to build high-growth email campaigns with Pardot, be prepared to part with at least $1,250 per month for up to 10,000 contacts.
Email Deliverability Tools
Email deliverability refers to the ability of an ESP to place emails in your receivers’ inboxes successfully. The wise email marketer will have an email deliverability tester in their toolbox. Here are some of the top ones:
- MailGenius: MailGenius inspects your emails for possible spam triggers. You can use it to run deliverability tests to ensure your emails reach their intended recipients’ inboxes. MailGenius is a free tool.
- GlockApps: GlockApps shows your delivery results in real-time, including whether your email landed in the Inbox, Spam folder, Gmail’s Promotional or Social tabs, or if it was never delivered at all. Personal accounts are free, and prices go up from there.
Email Testing and Tracking Tool
Testing and tracking the campaign performance helps you create optimized iterations of your campaigns. Which email marketing tools are best for testing and tracking?
- Litmus: You can use Litmus to test and track your emails in traditional web clients and popular mobile devices.
The ESP you use may also offer this functionality.
Email Personalization Tools
Take your personalization game beyond adding your recipients’ names by leveraging an email personalization tool.
- Hyperise: When it comes to personalizing email marketing campaigns, no tool does it better than Hyperise. It helps you add dynamic, personalized images to each of your emails, including profile images from social media platforms.
Other tools may also offer this functionality, including your ESP or customer engagement platform.
How to Write Email Marketing Copy That Drives Results
Whatever your goal is, it all hinges on email marketing copy.
That’s why you must write yours well. Here’s how to do that.
Know Your Audience
The first step to crafting compelling email marketing copy is knowing your audience. This will help you better segment your list and create hyper-targeted email copy.
Craft a Hard-to-Ignore Subject Line
The subject line is one of the most important elements of email copy as it helps readers decide whether to open your email. To craft a hard-to-ignore subject line, follow these tips:
- use keywords
- make it benefit-driven
- use the active voice
- personalize as much as possible
Depending on your audience, including emojis may help drive open rates as well. Avoid terms that might trigger spam filters such as clearance, free, bargain, cash bonus, etc.
Get the Preview Text Right
Email preview text appears immediately below or beside the subject line. Limited to a maximum of 140 characters (email client dependent), it acts as an elevator pitch to convince people to open your email.
An optimized preview text is an extension of your subject line and reinforces your value proposition. Make sure users can see what the email is about and give them a reason to open it.
Make It Easy to Read
People are busy and won’t spend much time figuring out what you want to say. Write your email copy so it’s easy to read and understand. Do this by:
- using short sentences and paragraphs
- avoiding jargon and complicated words
- using bullet points
If your readers find your emails easy to read, they’ll likely engage with them more.
Stories are a powerful way to grab attention and get your message across. That’s why you should leverage storytelling in your email copy.
Consider using the “Attention – Interest – Desire – Action” concept to build interest and draw users in.
Use Psychology to Your Advantage
Human beings are wired to react in specific ways. Use psychological triggers to direct your readers towards fulfilling your campaign objectives. Examples of such triggers include:
- fear of missing out (FOMO)
- color psychology
- social proof
Used well, these triggers can help you craft email effective copy.
Email Marketing Step 1: Build Your List
Before you can start sending out emails, you need people to send emails to. How do you get started building your list? Start by adding a banner or form to your website simply asking people to subscribe.
Then, follow these tips.
1. Offer An Incentive
Think of email addresses as a currency: you wouldn’t give money away for free, right? Offering an incentive is a simple way to gather email addresses.
There are many ways you can do this. Some prefer to give away downloadable assets or offer coupons, while other businesses simply offer a newsletter or product updates.
For example, the business newsletter Morning Brew offers readers a simple benefit: their fun, interesting updates every morning.
Search Engine Journal uses a small form in their right sidebar offering daily news—they also ask which topics the user is interested in, which helps them send more valuable content.
You can also offer a checklist, ebook, white paper, or another downloadable asset. Contests and giveaways are another great way to convince people to share their email addresses.
I can’t tell you which is the right or wrong path for your business, but I say it’s important to have a clear purpose when asking for an address.
Simply posting “enter your email for updates” isn’t going to get anyone excited. Instead, share specifics.
You’ll attract more subscribers by sharing a specific call to action or benefit from providing their email addresses.
Common ways to entice people to sign up to your email list include:
- email series
- free downloads
- free white papers or eBooks
- update lists, like new releases and product updates
Whatever incentive you offer, make it clear and enticing, and don’t be afraid to promote it.
2. Follow Email Marketing Laws and Regulations
Don’t let all the legalese scare you.
All this means is you can never buy email lists, and you should consider using double opt-in options so people know what they are getting into. Finally, make it easy for people to unsubscribe.
Email Marketing Step 2: Provide Great Content
Email marketing is all about expectations, and it’s up to you to set them.
If your call to action is strong, and your follow-up is consistent, then you can count on a successful email campaign.
However, if you promise to send one email per week and instead send them daily, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. (And annoying your list.)
On the contrary, if someone is expecting daily updates or critical product updates and you don’t deliver, they are likely to be upset in that case, too.
This is why the first follow-up email is so crucial to the success of your email marketing efforts.
Send an Introduction Email
Here’s a basic welcome email from Airbnb to a new customer. It explains the process, including how to fill out your profile, verify your information, and book your first stay.
Spotify sends out a similar email that confirms the subscription and lets them know what they can expect.
Almost all email service providers allow you to create an automated welcome sequence, so take advantage of it.
The initial follow-up email should be sent immediately as a way to introduce yourself and explain what new subscribers should expect.
In this first email, it’s better to be detailed than quick and unobtrusive, but if you can pull off quick and concise, then more power to you.
From here, it’s simply a matter of living up to their expectations.
Don’t Pitch Right Away
You’re not running an email list just for the fun of it—you want to engage customers and make sales.
Transitioning from an email list that provides tons of free value into a list that pitches a product for money can be tricky.
To do it effectively, think ahead about how and when you’ll send the pitch. You don’t want to surprise everyone with a pitch all of the sudden.
You’ll have a much more successful campaign if people expect sales pitches every once in a while.
If you’re going to get in the habit of selling often, put yourself in the reader’s shoes.
Ask yourself if your messaging is consistent with the expectations you’ve set. If possible, pay attention to the customer’s interests and send relevant offers down the line.
Those that send blind offers are far more likely to lose permission to keep doing so.
Again, each business has different needs, so there aren’t any hard and fast rules as to how often you can pitch or provide content.
Just remember that an email list is an asset, and it’s better to err on the side of caution than to be reckless.
How to Write a Great Email Newsletter
Let’s talk about the difference between a good newsletter and a bad newsletter.
The first sign you’ve received a bad newsletter is you don’t recall asking to receive it.
Typically, this happens when a business either fails to maintain a regular email routine or manually adds someone to their list after receiving a business card or personal email.
Make sure everyone remembers you—the best way to do this is to send regular updates. Try to send an email at least once a month, or once a week if you can.
I find the most compelling newsletters are those that do a great job of mixing messaging and updates.
For example, while the email might contain a list of product updates and images, it’s balanced by a personal message or friendly memo.
Use your newsletter to further your relationship with the reader/customer rather than to pitch them.
Save the pitch for unique updates, offers, and announcements.
Use Email Automation, But Keep It Human
If you’re just starting your email list, it’s easy to imagine you’ll have time to personally respond to every new subscriber.
Once you have more than a handful of subscribers, it becomes next to impossible to keep up.
You’ll start building more complex campaigns, and following through with everyone all the time is impossible.
Top marketers seem to pull this off, but how?
Their secret is email automation.
This automatically sends out emails scheduled in advance and sends emails based on triggers.
By scheduling a set of emails to send in advance, you can prevent “going dark” for any length of time.
Oftentimes, companies plan out a series of emails—ranging from a few days to a few months—that automatically deliver, warming up anyone who signs up for your list.
That way, when you do need to announce a new product or sale, you know they are paying attention.
Since you’ve built up a relationship over several weeks or months, you’re much less likely to annoy your readers.
Email Marketing Step 3: Analytics and Segmentation
Now that you understand the basics of an effective email campaign, let’s talk about how to take things to the next level.
Specifically, using segmentation and analytics to refine your broadcasts and generate even better results.
How To Understand Email Analytics
We’ve discussed the importance of analytics in web copy, and email is no different.
Every email service provider I’ve ever worked with provides complimentary analytics.
Though they’re all important, the three most important are open rate, click-through rate, and unsubscribes.
Let’s break down each one and see what you can learn from these metrics.
Email Open Rate
Your open rate explains how many people open your emails. It’s based on an invisible tracking pixel that loads when someone clicks on your message.
Open rates tell you how good your relationship is with your subscribers. Ideally, people are excited to read your emails and open them quickly.
If your open rate is low, it usually means you have a lot of unengaged subscribers. You need to focus on providing value and managing expectations. Here are a few tips on raising your open rate.
Next, your click-through rate, or CTR, shows how many people clicked on a link (if any) in your email.
If your CTR is low, it means your message is either not targeted enough, or simply not getting through. In this case, focus on improving your copy.
Finally, your unsubscribe rate tells you how many people have clicked the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of your email.
If your unsubscribe rate is high relative to your opt-in rate, then you’ve passed the point of building value and writing good copy… you’ve got some serious work to do.
Essentially, you’ve built a sieve, and people who sign up eventually leave. If this is you, examine when people are leaving and take action based on those leaks.
If they’re leaving after a certain automated email, then re-work it. If they’re leaving after marketing messages, then re-work the way you present offers.
If they’re leaving early in your email funnel, you need to fix your original call to action to align with the rest of your messages.
Email analytics are critical because they provide very specific clues as to what you’re doing wrong if you’re paying attention.
Of course, the key here is “paying attention.”
How To Segment Your Email Marketing List
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, email segmentation is the practice of splitting up your email list into more targeted groups.
Here are a few ways to segment your list:
- customer list (in comparison to leads who haven’t bought)
- newsletter subscribers
- daily email list (in comparison to weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc)
- demographics, such as age, location, or job title
- interests, such as marketing or sales topics
Just like targeting in paid ads, dividing your list gives you the ability to send more targeted communications.
For example, some customers want both product and sales updates, while others might only want to hear about new product updates. Sales team leads might want to hear about a new sales feature but not a new marketing tool.
Plus, you can send specific emails to buyers thanking them for their purchase, like this email from Chrome Industries thanking people for making a purchase.
With segmentation, you can send a broadcast only to those that didn’t open your last message (ask them why), or to those that showed interest (a second pitch).
As you can see, segmentation isn’t rocket science, but it is work, which is why most don’t take the time to do it right.
If you do, you’ll immediately separate yourself from the pack.
How Much Is Your Email List Worth?
Your email list is one of your most valuable resources, and if you learn how to treat it right, it will pay for itself many times over.
Over time, you can start tracking how much money people on your list spend on average. This will tell you how much your list is worth.
If a list of 10,000 people usually spends $50,000 on a campaign, and you run two of those campaigns each year, you could average it out and say that each subscriber is worth $10 a year.
When you do the math like that, it is easy to see how losing several hundred subscribers could be dangerous to your bottom line.
What are the benefits of email marketing?
Email marketing can help businesses reach a wider audience, drive sales, recover abandoned carts, and further develop your relationship with your audience. It’s also one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies.
How do I build an email list?
Build your email list by offering a downloadable asset, hosting a giveaway, or offering a free email course. Consider placing a banner at the top of your site to gather emails as well. Build your email list by offering a downloadable asset, hosting a giveaway, or offering a free
What email marketing regulations are there?
CAN-SPAM and GDPR (for Europe) require you to protect user’s privacy and avoid sending emails to purchased lists.
What is email automation?
Email automation allows you to create complex email campaigns that send automatic emails based on actions, such as when a subscriber adds an item to their cart or downloads an asset.
How do I segment my email list?
Use your email tool to split subscribers based on demographics, interests, or customers versus non-customers. Then, send customized messages to each segment.
If you’ve been ignoring email marketing or putting your strategy on autopilot, it’s time to step up your strategy.
Email marketing delivers huge returns for marketers willing to learn how to do it right—and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
First, remember you’re a guest in the inboxes of your subscribers. You are just one click away from losing their interest forever. Be polite, respectful, and deliver value.
You’ll want to follow through with the promises you make. Provide people with what they’ve asked for and email regularly to line up with their expectations.
There’s no formula for boosting email automation. It’s all about what works best for you and your company’s voice and style.
Finally, you can move on to email segmentation and analytics once you’ve mastered the basics. Start sending separate emails to different groups so you can deliver more useful emails.
What email marketing practices keep your readers engaged?