Tips for Emails That Deliver

Email marketing has been around for decades, but best practices have shifted over the years. When “buying a list” was previously the norm, it is now about lead generation from your own organic or paid efforts. More data and automation tools have also changed the game – but what remains true is that nothing beats compelling subject lines coupled with timely and relevant content.

Tip 1: Add to your contact list

Don’t buy email lists. Now that we’ve covered that, let’s talk about other ways you can add to your contact list. Note, you should always require an explicit opt-in, and you’ll see how below.

  1. Include an email opt-in module on your website. If collecting email is a priority, make sure this form matches that priority on your site. Don’t hide it if you want people to take action!
  2. Utilize social media. You can post (organic) periodic reminders to sign up or include a link in your bio / profile. You can also use paid media with sign up forms.
  3. Have new and existing customers opt-in to promotional emails. Or make this part of the on-boarding process. You can use incentives such as content only available to subscribers or the traditional discount for signing up. To be clear, just because someone provides their email address for transactional emails (e.g., receipts or invoices) does not always mean you have permission to send promotional emails. Check your opt-in language.
  4. Ask your existing and new contacts. If you’re just starting out, friends and family are a great resource – both for sign ups and for them to spread the word. Or as you network, instead of simply collecting a business card / LinkedIn connection, ask them if they’re interested in [insert content of your emails]. You can manually add them in at that point, but be sure to make a note of when/how they agreed to receive emails. Don’t just add everyone to your list if you haven’t asked.
  5. Gate your content. Essentially you require an email address and an opt-in to access a white paper or webinar you’re promoting. The lead “pays” for exclusive information with their email address. This tactic works best for B2B marketers and for specific types of content and audiences, so tread carefully here.

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Tip 2: Create and follow user journeys for your email campaigns

However you are collecting email addresses, keeping accurate data on each lead is important. And once that lead enters your email program, you should track all of their behavior (or as much as possible) not only with email engagement but also buying habits and any other marketing tactics. This data will help you create and execute user journeys for each segment of your business.

So what exactly are user journeys? In this context, they are plans with predetermined triggers and tactics. They can be designed with many different automation tools, or you can simply create it in PowerPoint as a guideline for you to follow. The goal is to make sure you know how you’ll take a lead from awareness to conversion to retention and upsell. Triggers can include email engagement (opens, clicks, etc.), cart abandon (when someone leaves something in their cart or if they do not finish a registration process), conversions (what they buy or register for), etc. Tactics can be a combo of emails and other channels that you utilize.

And remember, just as growing your list is important, so is maintaining your list. You want to keep people from opting out or reporting you as SPAM. But don’t fret if you lose a few subscribers – oftentimes the content is truly irrelevant or situations evolve.

Tip 3: Consistently review your results to optimize future efforts

In addition to tracking unsubscribe and SPAM rates, you should also monitor your hard bounces especially as leads come into your database. Hard bounces are emails that are undeliverable due to a bad email address (e.g., fake) or ones that do not exist (e.g., a corporate email for a former employee). This will help you determine if the source of the emails may need either a validity check for email format or if it is not a reliable collection tactic.

What are some common success metrics and what do they measure?

Open rate is the percent of recipients that opened the email. Note, you can track unique or total. My preference is to report on unique opens; however, keeping an eye on total is helpful anecdotally to see if people are referring back to your email. One thing this does not measure is how many people may see the email in a preview pane.

To optimize open rates, you can test these variables:

  • Subject line
  • Day of week / time of day
  • Frequency

Click-thru-rate (CTR) is the number of recipients who click on a link in the email divided by the total number of recipients. Similar to open rate, this can be tracked as a unique or total stat. This measures how relevant, engaging, and user friendly your email is.

To optimize your CTR, you can test these variables:

  • Layout / template
  • Offer / call to action
  • Headlines or body copy

Click-to-open rate (CTOR) is the number of recipients who click on a link in the email divided by the number of recipients who opened the email. This measures if your subject line effectively communicated the content in your email. Similarly to CTR, it also measures the general effectiveness of the design and copy.

Remember not all email campaigns are the same

You often hear about people talk about what works for them. A recent example is a direct-to-consumer (DTC) retailer who has a three touchpoint campaign that always performs in the same way. Email 1 announces a sale. Email 2 reminds you about the sale. Email 3 warns you the item is about to sell out. With this cadence, Email 3 always performs well – and the best. However, your audience may behave differently, so relying solely on what works for someone else is not necessarily the right – or best – solution. You should always look for your own winning formula.

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