The Ultimate List of E-mail Marketing Tips

The Ultimate List of E-mail Marketing Tips
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Recently I was invited to be part of the Networx Marketers Meetings panel discussion on e-mail marketing, discussing why it still works even though it’s often written off in the age of social media.

These panel discussions (facilitated by the talented Cat Matson) are great as they allow for some really passionate conversations about the topic from experts in the field (in this case I was on the panel with two e-mail service providers – Simon Byrne from and Kelly Newbery from Vision6). We could’ve spoken passionately about the topic for a full day, so not everything was covered… but don’t fret! I’ve included some expanded thoughts below including some questions we didn’t have time for (and a couple of funny videos to boot)!

Why is e-mail still a powerful marketing tool?

E-mail has been around for 20 years, and it often gets a bad wrap due to poor quality e-mail campaigns and inboxes flooded with spam. But e-mail is still a great way to cut through to your customers by building a relationship with them over time. If you’ve built your e-mail list naturally, then your customers have given you permission to communicate with them. If your e-mails are well thought out and you can get the customer to open them, you have just opened a 1-on-1 conversation with them and don’t have to compete with other noise. The ROI of e-mail marketing is phenomenal if you do it right.

Tracking the ROI of an e-mail

Tracking ROI depends what your goal is (and you need to be absolutely clear on that before you start). There are certain things that are easy to measure: opens, clicks, site analytics (sales etc), but it’s important to remember that e-mail doesn’t exist in a bubble; most businesses market through multiple different methods. Someone that clicks on a link in your e-mail and purchases may have done so because of other marketing leading up to that point. Similarly, someone may see your e-mails but come to your site directly (not by a link from e-mail) and purchase.

Here are some potential tracking solutions:

  • Opens/Clicks
  • Use Google Analytics to track goals/return visitors.
  • Match subscriber activity to purchase history. Do people that open your e-mails spend more than non-subscribers/inactive subscribers?
  • Use an offer code/printable voucher that’s exclusive to e-mail.
  • Survey purchasers to find out where they’ve seen/interacted with you.

What mistakes should we avoid when sending e-mails?

Don’t just push, push, push your message. Bombarding subscribers with newsletters that aren’t interesting or offers will get you ignored quickly. Here’s a screenshot of my deleted items from 24 hours. Every single one of these was deleted without me even bothering to open them. One look at the sender and subject lines told me that I’m not interested – mostly because I keep getting the same boring e-mails day after day.

email spam

This is one of the worst scenarios possible because it means that when you finally do send something interesting or useful, your subscribers will probably ignore it out of habit.

Use your e-mails as a relationship-building tool. Offer some information that’s valuable to your customer, open up a 2-way dialogue and be personal. It’s a great way to connect people emotionally with your brand personality.

Other common mistakes include:

  • Not making your e-mails mobile-friendly. (this one’s easily solved and I’ll delve into it more below)
  • Not testing – always split test your e-mails. Try new things. Learn. Try again.
  • Not sending e-mails. Sounds simple, but if you’re not sending any e-mails your ROI will be 0%.

How to use e-mail marketing to sell a product that people don’t need right now

There are plenty of businesses that have a long or infrequent buying cycle. Think about dentists, party planners or car rental. In this case it’s about frequency and recency. With many of these products and services, even if you give it away for free, people won’t use it if they don’t need it. The product/service only becomes relevant to them when they’re ready.

So how do you get people to read your e-mails when they don’t want your product? The key is to send them something consistent and get them to engage with it so that your brand is front of mind when they’re ready to purchase. Offer them great info and interesting content to keep up the engagement. A travel brand could send money-saving travel tips, inspiring travel photos, interesting trivia as well as the occasional offer or promotion. A dentist could send tips on how to keep your teeth white at home in between visits. You get the idea. When that person needs to book travel or needs to visit a dentist, which brand do you think will be the first one that pops into their head? The one they’re most familiar with!

How to build a quality e-mail list naturally

Obviously if you don’t have anyone on your e-mail list, there’s nobody to market to. Building your list is important, but it’s also crucial that you only build it with the right subscribers. You want people that are in your target market and that are likely to engage with you. Here are some ideas to help you build up your e-mail list the right way.

These are the most controversial item on the list, with most people absolutely hating them. From a list-building point of view they can actually work extremely well, but it’s important to get it right.


An example of a pop-over to collect e-mail addresses

  • Don’t use them on pages that are part of your ordering process. If someone’s ready to buy, you don’t want to distract them or send them anywhere else. If they’re already in the sales funnel, keep it as smooth as possible.
  • Another no-no is displaying the pop-over as soon as your site loads. This will certainly result in a lot of subscribers, but the quality will be low. People fill out the form just to get rid of it.
  • Delay them (either by time or number of page views) and use cookies to make sure they don’t show up again. Slide-ins are another option if you want something less obtrusive (though less effective). If you’re using WordPress these are a piece of cake with plugins.

At the bottom of EVERY post
If you have a blog or information pages on your website, give the visitor an action to take after reading. If they make it to the bottom of your article they’re definitely engaged, so offer them another opportunity to receive valuable information – by e-mail! You can also add a checkbox to your comments form to do the same thing.

email checkbox

Add an action at the end of your posts

Competitions can be a great way to encourage sign-ups, but you need to be careful not to attract too many prize grabbers that aren’t really interested in your products/services. Use a small prize as an incentive to sign up and promote it in-store, on your website, at events and on social media. I’d usually avoid posting this on competition websites to make sure you only get relevant subscribers.

Create a resource
You’re the expert in your field, so create a resource that would be useful to your potential market. Set up an auto-responder to e-mail them a link to the resource after they sign up to your e-mail list. Create a how-to guide, money-saving tips, traps to avoid, etc.

create a resource

Create a resource to offer in exchange for subscribing

Ask customers to subscribe at the point of sale
Whether you have a bricks and mortar retail store or an e-commerce site, the best time to get someone to subscribe to your e-mail list is when they’re most engaged with your business – at the point of sale! Give a simple explanation of what the benefit is, then ask if they’d like to sign up. If it’s on your website, you probably already have their name and e-mail address, so just add a checkbox they can tick to sign up (don’t pre-select it because then they’re not really choosing to sign up). The success rate for this is super high. A classic retail example is “Would you like to receive e-mails with future discount offers?”.

Add a subscription tab to your Facebook Page
This one may not convert as well as others, but it’s very easy to set up with most ESPs (e-mail service providers).

ALL customers should go into a CRM
Whether or not they sign up to a regular e-mail newsletter or other e-mail list, you should add every customer to a CRM database when they make a purchase. You can use this for all sorts of things – market research, identifying trends, etc. If your product/service has a regular buying cycle, you can use this data is to plan anniversary e-mails – send them a friendly reminder or offer to use for their next purchase.

How to deal with a stale e-mail list

If you’ve got an e-mail list that just doesn’t perform as it used to, all is not lost. There are a few ways to re-engage subscribers.

The first thing to do is segment out the inactive users. Find all people that haven’t opened/clicked in 6 months and send them a personal, attention grabbing e-mail. I have written a bit of a case study about this before: (see How I pissed off a bunch of people on an e-mail list, and why it was worth it). You can offer them something different and ask for feedback about what they’d like to see. Of course, it’s also a good way to get uninterested people to unsubscribe. There’s no point paying to send e-mails to someone that will never be interested.

There’s no point getting someone’s attention only to start sending them the same e-mails that lost their attention in the first place. This is where list segmentation comes in.

How to segment your e-mail lists for better targeting

Different people have different interests. Even people that buy the same product will have differing interests and intent. For this reason it’s important to find out as much information about your subscribers as possible, then use this to target them with relevant e-mails.

Buyer personas are a marketing staple, and if you don’t have them already you should definitely try to create some (if you’re not sure how, there are plenty of guides to discover through Google). Here are some things to try and work out about your customers which you can then use to set up different e-mail segments:

  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Purchase history (products purchased, timeframe between purchases, average spend, etc)
  • E-mail activity (segment by the topics they click on vs don’t click on)

If you don’t have this data, consider sending an “update your details” campaign with a small incentive. Once your lists are segmented you can start sending customised information to each segment instead of a generic e-mail to everyone.

When to send e-mails to get the most opens

This one’s a common question (because it seems like a silver bullet) but it’s also very misleading. Every study I can find says different things. Some say afternoon is best, some say late at night. Even the days of week differ! There’s no one size fits all. It depends on your industry, where your customers are, and which segment you’re sending to. Look at your own data to decide on the best time to send, but you’ll probably get more impact by creating a great subject line, killer content, or if you’ve already built a relationship with that subscriber. Think about your inbox – there are some e-mails you’ll open because of who they’re from rather than when you received them.

mailchimp time of day

Data from MailChimp study

Things to consider when designing e-mails for mobile devices

Mobile devices are a huge part of our modern lives, and most people read e-mails on their mobile or tablet. But the way we use e-mail on mobile devices can be quite different to how we use it on a desktop. Think about when you’re checking your mobile – if I’m on my mobile I’m probably watching TV, getting out of bed, bored in a meeting, or (let’s be honest) on the toilet. It’s important to keep messages short and useful. Give quick headlines and snippets with a link to read more information on your website or blog if they want more information.

Make sure you have a responsive e-mail template (and website!) – they’re available with most email service providers, but you can also get template builders from places like ThemeForest for a few dollars. This will ensure that your e-mails will look good at any size and on any device. If you’re linking to your website from the e-mail, make sure the webpages you’re linking to are mobile-friendly as well! Most ESPs will give you a preview of what your e-mail will look like on different devices. My tip would be to send some test e-mails to your own devices, or use a service like Litmus.

Latest trends in e-mail marketing

Expect to see more of the following in e-mail marketing throughout 2014 and into 2015.

  • Moving promotional emails out of the inbox. Gmail was one of the first to do this, moving newsletters and deals to a “Promotions” tab and out of the inbox. Stats have shown that it’s resulted in a small drop in open rates, which is even more reason to create that relationship with your readers and offer them value. Make them WANT to look out for your e-mails.
  • More marketers using advanced segmentation. You’ll see plenty more e-mails targeted specifically to buying habits and predictions based on user data (think Woolworths Everyday Rewards, or the Target pregnancy saga).
  • Sharing data across marketing channels. A great example of how you can use e-mail data combined with other marketing efforts is Facebook’s Custom Audiences feature. You can upload your e-mail list to Facebook and target your existing users with ads.
  • HTML5 is becoming more widely supported in e-mail clients. It will allow easy integration of rich media like videos.
  • Schema markup is being used to highlight important data from e-mails and display it in other places (e.g. popping up reminders on your phone automatically). Gmail and Android (Google Now) are good examples of how this can be used (see the flight schema screenshots below).
gmail schema flights

Example of markup in Gmail

android now gmail schema flights markup used for Google Now cards on Android

Final Tips

Here are a few bonus tips and reminders to help you on your way.

  • Start building your list and sending e-mails. If you’re not sending anything, you’re really missing out!
  • Set up a Welcome E-mail (auto-responder). The Welcome email sets your subscribers expectations, it will get the highest read rate, reinforces your brand and gives you a chance to show some personality and connect with your audience.
  • Develop a relationship with your readers before asking them for anything. Give more than you ask for.
  • Try something new. If you do the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same result. Keep tweaking, testing and learning. If you’re not making mistakes you’re not moving forward!
  • Use industry stats as a guide, but nothing beats your own data.
  • An unsubscribe doesn’t mean that you’ve lost a customer. Use it as an opportunity to funnel them into other engagement methods like social media, or to seek feedback from your customers. It’s also a great opportunity to show some personality and reinforce the connection with your customer. The two videos below are from unsubscribe pages (Groupon and Hubspot) and both of them demonstrate this beautifully!

Do you have a great e-mail tip that works for you? Share it with our readers in the comments below!

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  1. Getting a qualified list of subscribers through opt in form requires a lot of time unless you are having incredible traffic on your website. But even if it takes some time, it is worth it. I do not prefer buying list from a 3rd party for my email marketing activities as it ofter fires back. Any way thanks for a wonderful post on email marketing tips.

  2. Great list. I’m saving it for myself and linking to it for my clients.

    My email tips:
    Every email needs two things: something valuable to offer readers, and a call to action (click here to learn more, reply with your thoughts, sign up today!)


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