Email Best Practices: A Primer to Successful Email Marketing

As the new year draws closer, email best practices continue to be one of the most sought after needs in the marketing toolbox.

After all, email marketing does have the highest ROI of any marketing channel available.

It’s easy to get distracted by the latest social media platform and take for granted the tremendous value of a group of people that have already shown interest in your business.

Email isn’t just inexpensive (when compared to paid advertising, especially): It’s also effective, and those who have used email best practices successfully have learned just how effective it can be.

Email makes it extremely easy to personalize communications and segment offers by customer type and behavior.

Plus, it can be deployed far more quickly than more traditional forms of marketing communications, making it extremely measurable. This allows marketers to collect and analyze data, and then refine their efforts.

In this guide to email best practices, you’ll learn what’s needed to implement an effective email marketing plan in 2020.

Step 1: Start with clear objectives

Developing a successful email marketing program begins with a focus on the objectives. While that may seem obvious, too many marketers leap into an email without clearly defined objectives. It should come as no surprise that they never achieve more than a vague sense of their efforts’ success or failure.

With email marketing, the technology’s performance is so readily measured that failing to track it becomes a costly waste of resources.

Determining exactly what to track depends on the specific objectives. Perhaps the organization wants to increase visits to its website. Maybe the goal is to secure actual purchases of products. Or, it may be to encourage prospects to download more information to guide them through the purchase process.

Once the objective has been identified, it’s only a matter of pinpointing the metrics related to that objective. If the goal is website visits, the metrics may include the number of click-throughs from links in the email. If it’s product sales, raw numbers (coded by source) are important to your goal.

Email best practices tell us no single metric works best for everyone. The key is to identify those that will best allow you to set goals and evaluate your program’s performance.

You also have to determine the time periods for which you’ll gather and compare those metrics. Are you interested in daily performance? Week-to-week comparisons?

You can also set up metrics that allow you to compare the performance of specific campaigns or approaches. For example, you can measure to see whether emails that include discounts perform better than those without.

Step 2: Understanding your email list

Email marketing is most effective when you’re sending relevant messages to people who want to receive them. Additionally, when it comes to email, there’s an expectation that you must first gain permission before emailing recipients.

That expectation is reflected in regulations passed in both the United States and the European Union.

The most common concept related to permission is what’s known as “opting in” (in which a recipient agrees to receiving emails). In most cases, a visitor fills out a form on a website, provides an email address, or checks a box when conducting business online with the organization.

Some marketers simply purchase lists and send emails without first gaining permission. However, these emails tend to irritate consumers and may violate laws and regulations. Additionally, reputable email marketing service providers such as Delivra don’t work with organizations that pursue these potentially dangerous methods.

Email best practices tell us the “double-opt-in” process is even better at ensuring list quality. With that approach, before someone’s name is added to the mailing list, they receive a confirmation email, usually with a link that needs to be clicked. If the organization doesn’t receive that confirmation, they won’t add the name to the list.

Clearly, adding names to your list is an important and delicate process, but so is removing names from your list. The best way to do this is to include an unsubscribe link in every email.

Clicking on that link takes the email recipient to a page that allows them to verify that they want to be taken off the list. Some organizations include a question that asks why the individual wants to be removed, so they can determine whether there are flaws in their programs.

However you handle unsubscribes, be sure that you remove the individual’s address quickly—definitely before your next email. This is simple using automation.

List management is one of the most important ongoing email best practices that ensures your list is accurate and useful. In addition to prompt removal of unsubscribes, pay close attention to bounces and other problems. If you see multiple hard bounces, consider investigating the issue more thoroughly. Is it possible you haven’t cleaned your list in a while?

Step 3: Building your list

One of the most common questions about email marketing is how an organization can build its mailing list. For most organizations, the key is acquiring email addresses and doing it regularly. Most organizations do not begin with a large list, but they’re amazed at how the list will grow over time.

Start with the email addresses that you already acquired from customers and prospects. Email best practices tell us if they haven’t already given you permission to email them, set up some kind of opt-in program.

Let them know exactly how you plan to use their email addresses, and what you expect to send them.

Going forward, look for every opportunity to capture email addresses. When dealing with prospects, ask if you can send them information by email. O­ffer a giveaway of some sort, and put opt-in information on the sign-up screen or entry form.

You can also direct customers to a sign-up form landing page through your invoices, direct mail or other forms of customer contact. But be careful about which devices these forms appear on your website. Mobile popups have become ways for Google to penalize your website from appearing in search results.

Some other places to include an opt-in or signup form are your website’s sidebar, somewhere below the fold on your website (give people enough time to read through some of your site so they have a reason to sign up), and your website’s footer.

You may also include a call-to-action in your blog posts and on your landing pages, or set up a page exclusively for your signups, like a dedicated preference center.

Step 4: Segment for effectiveness

Email is one of the most personalized marketing channels you can use, making it even more effective at communicating with customers, prospects, and other stakeholders. You can make it most effective by segmenting your email efforts.

It’s as simple as breaking your entire list of customers and prospects into smaller groups that share common characteristics. Those characteristics may be based on demographics, behavior, the nature of their business or relationship with your organization, or any other factor that may differentiate them from others on your list.

For example, suppose you operate an online retailer that serves outdoor sporting enthusiasts. If you research your customer base, you’ll find that you can divide customers into groups by the primary interests.

Some prefer biking, some hiking, and other subscribers probably prefer other activities. And, of course, some enjoy multiple activities. Within those groups, you can perform additional segmentation.

Those who enjoy fishing may be divided into freshwater and saltwater enthusiasts. Among cyclists, you’ll have anyone from extreme mountain bikers to people who enjoy a slow cruise through the local park. The more you dig in, the more you’ll realize there are virtually endless segmentation opportunities.

This REI email example is a perfect portrayal of the best email practices in use.

Source: Really Good Emails

Another one of the email best practices for segmentation is to segment based upon interaction with your emails. In addition to seeing who opened your email, you can determine who performed particular actions, such as clicking on specific links.

Clicking on specific links could trigger another email to be sent at a later point. That email could be a product-based email, with products like the one they clicked on or viewed when they visited your website.

The potential for segmentation is limited only by your imagination and the amount of information at your disposal. Some of the most common approaches include:

  • Basic Demographics—such as gender, age, location, and size of their company.
  • Engagement—reflects how recipients react to your emails.
  • Source—address, referrals, search engines, promotions, and other means.
  • Lifecycle—how their email address was acquired and how long they’ve been on the list.
  • Occupation—both the type of work performed and the level within a company.
  • Employer—by company size or industry.
  • Technology—segment by platforms recipients are using.
  • Value—relate to the recipient, such as average order size and number of products purchased.

As you create your email marketing program, consider how your audience might be segmented, and how you’ll go about acquiring that data. One example might be a brief survey about areas of interest that are part of your opt-in program.

Another may be a quick questionnaire when they sign up for your email list. It’s as simple as asking them to choose a few of their interests before submitting their email.

Tip: Don’t require them to submit preferences unless it’s critical to your email list signup forms. This is considered a barrier and can result in people not signing up for your list.

Step 5: Understanding permission and spam risks

One of the most misunderstood aspects of email best practices is spamming. Organizations may assume that because they are legitimate and are sending out emails on legitimate subjects, they’re safe from being tagged as spam. Sadly, that’s not always the case.

As the volume of spam has increased, services and software designed to protect email users have become more aggressive. If you don’t follow email best practices, you could struggle to have your emails seen.

Many organizations familiar with email develop a working familiarity with the laws, including ones outside their own countries.

High-quality email marketing service providers have a thorough understanding of what increases the risk of spam complaints and can provide advice to help their clients avoid problems.

Additionally, they maintain working relationships with Internet service providers and anti-spam organizations to ensure their clients’ emails are perceived as legitimate communications. That’s one of the key advantages of working with an ESP, instead of going it alone.

Keep in mind that each spam filter works differently, and it’s possible that a particular filter could incorrectly identify one of your messages as spam. This is why engagement and a familiar send name are vital to your cause.

Some email programs allow users to label incoming mail as spam and send that message back to their ISP, so someone who doesn’t want to receive your emails may actually create a problem for those who do. Give people plenty of opportunities to unsubscribe from your email list to prevent this from happening.

Step 6: Campaign timing and frequency

Some self-styled email experts will tell you that the only way to achieve success is to send your emails at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Or maybe it’s 4 p.m. on Friday. They’ll be happy to give you a convincing rationale, but there’s no perfect time and no magic answer.

You see, no two organizations are exactly the same—and nor are any two lists of email addresses. What works great for one group may be a disappointment for another.

If the folks in your audience need information on Monday morning to plan for the week, that’s when you want to email them. If they’re wildly busy from first thing in the morning until 3:00 p.m., late afternoon is probably a better choice.

Email best practices tell us to make your initial decision based on your knowledge of your audience. Then conduct tests to determine whether you’ve made the right decision.

If you notice higher open rates and click-throughs when you send emails at a particular time of day, that’s probably the right time for you. Good email marketing software gives you the data needed to determine your most effective times and messages.

Lyft uses best email practices in their product announcement email

Source: Really Good Emails

You may even want to ask recipients when they sign up. If a substantial number of them indicate that they’d prefer to receive emails on Friday mornings, you’d be crazy to send them at other times.

How often should you send? However often it takes to stay top-of-mind with your audience without irritating them—and not so often that you run out of relevant content.

As long as the recipients believe that what you’re sending is worth their time, they’ll take the time to read your emails.

But if you start sending emails that don’t interest them—or if your content makes it clear that it’s just an exercise rather than a genuine effort to share something worthwhile—they’ll ignore you and start unsubscribing.

If your email marketing service provider’s system allows you to segment by engagement, you can tailor messages to groups of recipients who react the same way.

For example, if you know that a recipient nearly always opens your emails and clicks through to key links, that recipient is probably pretty happy with your organization and your messages.

But if a recipient hasn’t been opening messages or showed an interest in any of your links, you may need to pique his or her interest. One way is to send a special email that includes some kind of inducement for action, such as a discount or a free gift.

If they click on that email, wait a bit and send a follow-up email with the same discount but featuring products they looked at on your site.

Step 7: Creating your email campaigns

Every time you send out an email, the recipient has a series of choices. Is he or she interested enough to open it, or will it receive a quick delete?

Once it’s open, will it be scanned quickly or read thoroughly? Is there any reason to click on the links? And what impact will all of this have on the recipient’s impressions and opinion of your organization?

For marketers, one of the primary goals is , which reflects the percentage of recipients who actually open the email. As the number of emails increase, busy recipients are becoming increasingly selective about which emails they will open and which they will ignore.

Email best practices tell us the best way to ensure that your recipients open and engage with your emails is to consistently send them relevant content.

But having great content won’t help you if recipients don’t see a reason to open your emails in the first place. That’s where aspects such as design and carefully crafted subject lines come into play.

Here are some email best practices for certain common business sectors:

Compelling subject lines

Your subject line is often the make-or-break item that determines whether a recipient will read your emails. That’s particularly important for web-based email clients like Gmail that display the sender, subject line, and little else.

Email best practices tell us you should include something that will be of interest to the recipient, or that will intrigue him enough to open the email. Don’t make subject lines misleading, or your reputation will suffer.

Who’s it from?

Make sure your emails are coming from a recognized source, whether that’s a name your recipients would recognize, your organization’s name, or both. Cryptic sender names or email addresses like “noreply” may make your message appear to be spam.

No-reply emails are also a frustrating experience for customers who want to quickly get back in touch with your organization. It’s a good idea to open contact up to your customers in as many ways as possible.

Responsive design

The design of your email is incredibly vital to the information you hope the subscriber receives or the action you hope they take. There are more email clients and mobile devices than ever before.

That means the message you design for one email client on one specific device may be difficult or impossible to read in another.

Email best practices tell us it’s a good idea to test your emails in as many different clients as possible to ensure that they are readable. A high-quality email marketing service provider will have the capability to perform that testing.

Email content

To capture your reader’s attention, your email campaigns must be unique. You need to hold the interest of your audience and be informative as well as relevant. Being clear, precise and friendly is key to capturing your subscribers and getting them to act.

A reader’s attention span only lasts a few seconds when scanning through the emails, so you need to reel them in with compelling content. The shorter your content is, the better you are at having the subscriber consume everything you’re trying to get them to read.

Using video in your emails

Adding video to email campaigns is increasing in popularity. While video is growing as a marketing channel it leaves many marketers searching for new ways to get views and shares of their content.

It may sound difficult to intertwine these two powerhouse channels together, but connecting the two can provide increased engagement and revenue. In addition to videos, GIFs are fun animations that you can incorporate into your emails.

Email Rendering

At this point, you’re ready to send out your first email campaign. But first, you need to make sure your email will work in as many email clients as possible.

By performing email rendering tests, you can see a preview of how a subscriber using a certain email client would receive your email.

Any inconsistencies can keep your message from fully being received and should be corrected if possible. This is also a great opportunity to see how your messages look on multiple email clients and on mobile. Make sure to optimize your emails for mobile when possible.

A lot of people read their emails on their mobile devices, and if an email doesn’t render properly, it will reduce your click-through rates.

Step 8: Measuring results and testing

A subscriber can react to an email campaign or offer in a number of ways: Read it, ignore it, skim it, forward it to a friend or click on a link in the email.

While most of those actions would be classified successes, email best practices point marketers to needing to narrow their focus before analyzing their campaigns.

You can determine the success of your email campaign by tracking the following key metrics:

Delivery rate: This determines the number of emails that were delivered corresponding to the number of emails that were sent. In order to ensure deliverability, your email will have to have relevant content and has to be sent from a valid send address, to avoid being blacklisted.

  • Bounce rate: This denotes the number of emails that were not delivered corresponding to the number of emails that were sent. Hard bounces happen when your email encounters an invalid or non-existent email address, while soft bounces result from a temporary problem such as a full inbox or a server problem. They rectify themselves in time, but email addresses with hard bounces have to be immediately taken off of your list as increased hard bounces can make you look like a spammer.
  • Open rate: This attributes to the number of times your email actually gets opened by your customer. The open rate denotes the effectiveness of the subject line and the validity of you as a sender. Most automated email platforms will track this, and if they don’t, you don’t want to use them.
  • Click-through rate: Yes, your email has been opened, but how many of your customers actually responded to your message or call-to-action? This can be determined from the click-through rate. It determines the effectiveness of your email message and how well the customer responded to your call-to-action. This is probably one of the most important metrics to track.
  • Website traffic: Maybe your campaign was a monthly newsletter. Did traffic to your website pick up after you sent your newsletter? How long are visitors staying on your website that visited from your newsletter? Is traffic growing after each mailing? These are important metrics to keep track of when considering the relevancy of your emails and the success of your campaigns.
  • Conversion rate: This determines if your email was successful in achieving what it set out to do. Has your customer accepted your offer and made a purchase? This helps you find out if your potential customer has, in fact, become your actual customer. This is the most important metric. Conversions are sales. They determine whether you stay in business or not.
  • Unsubscribe rate: This shows how many of your opt-in customers have opted out from receiving emails from you. Measuring your unsubscribe rate lets you determine if your email campaign needs to be revamped and if the frequency with which your email reaches your customer needs to be evaluated.

The ready availability of data about your email marketing makes it easy to refine and improve your efforts. By incorporating a “feedback loop” into your program, you can analyze the performance of each email and determine which strategies work best.

Suppose you have a list of 100,000 names, and you want to offer a discount to build sales during your slow time of the year. How much of a discount should you offer?

You could create a test email to 5,000 of the names that offered a 10 percent discount, and a second email to another 5,000 names offering a 20 percent discount.

Once you receive the results, you’ll know what to do with the balance of the list. For example, if there’s no appreciable difference in response between the two segments, you can roll out the 10 percent discount.

Other things you can test include subject lines, how and where links are presented within your emails, types of content, how graphics are handled–the list is endless. . Ideally, that should help you increase performance with every email.

Another simple technique is to send surveys out to your entire list, or to a representative sample.

While you may not receive many responses to a survey, the answers and comments you do receive will give you insight into your stakeholders’ opinions of your program and organization. (It’s generally considered polite to offer them something in return—perhaps a special discount.)

We hope this has given you some ways to launch or refine your current email program. If you have any questions about Delivra, please feel free to reach out to us. We also have additional resources that cover email best practices.

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