Email Marketing Best Practices for 2019: Getting Higher Open Rates
If you’re new to email marketing, it’s perfectly natural to feel a bit overwhelmed. Managing an on-going email marketing campaign is a complex task, and a lot can go wrong. But if you do want to learn this valuable skill, we can help you get started.
In this post, we’ll cover how to outline an effective promotional email, and we’ll let you in on current best practices for that all-important subject line. You’ll also learn how to optimize your emails for mobile and why you should always segment your lists. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.
What is Email Marketing?
The first thing you need to know about email marketing is that there are two definitions, and that for our purposes, one is better than the other.
Email marketing is a way for marketers to promote their products and services.
Email marketing is the strategic use of email to develop and foster strong relationships with potential customers or clients.
We prefer to stick with number two.
When you embark on your email marketing journey, keep in mind that the long-term goal is to establish strong relationships with fans of your product or service. Over time, this will allow you to lower your direct marketing costs significantly. Effective email marketing can also help you recruit passionate brand ambassadors who will bring in new business through word-of-mouth.
Email marketing is but one aspect of Internet marketing, of which there are many. But there is an effective way to do it, and a not-so-great way. In fact, if you want to see what the ineffective way looks like, just open your Spam folder. Email providers like Gmail use algorithms to identify spammy emails that are likely to bother you. They them send those emails automatically to your Spam folder so you don’t have to see them.
Why Should You Bother with Email Marketing?
The quick answer to this question is two-fold:
Even if you don’t, your closest competitors probably will.
As touched upon already, email marketing can reduce your advertising expenses over time and produce significant revenue.
But let’s take a step back and answer the question in a broader sense.
There are over 4-billion email accounts. This may seem like a lot, but consider this: when you sign up for any new service, the service always asks for your email. They do this to ensure that they can reach you about new features, and of course, so they can market new services to you. You even need a valid email address to use services like Facebook or Twitter.
In other words, email is the currency of the Web. Anyone who comes online regularly has a working email account.
If you, as a marketer, have to choose between building an email list and relying on social media marketing, you should choose the email list every time. Here’s why:
Over 90 percent of email gets delivered correctly, whereas social media platforms like Facebook arbitrarily limit how many of your followers or fans you can reach organically. They do this to nudge you toward using their advertising platforms.
Everyone on your email list has given you permission to contact them. But think for a moment about your Facebook feed. How many of the companies asked for permission to advertise to you? Email marketing allows you to build relationships.
Finally, email offers a higher ROI, or Return On Investment, than other free or low-cost marketing methods. Email has an unmatched ability to drive conversations, which in turn allows you to receive high open and click-through rates once you demonstrate to your list that you’re committed to sending them quality content.
Email is a cost-effective marketing route for practically any business.
An Overview of Providers
Naturally, there are several email marketing service providers. In this section, we’ll briefly touch on three of them.
#1 Constant Contact
Constant Content is geared toward small-to-large business owners. If you have an established business and want to get into email marketing as soon as possible, Constant Contact is a great option. They offer a generous free trial, and their email automation software is a robust solution. What’s more, their customization options are among the best in the industry.
Founded in 1995, Constant Contact quickly grew to become the largest email marketing service.
However, the service does not offer a free tier, as it’s geared primarily to business owners.
The ever-popular MailChimp is a favorite of small business owners, bloggers and smaller websites. MailChimp comes with a free tier, so you can experiment with the service to your heart’s content. The service is, along with Constant Contact, one of the most popular email service providers in the world. Their service is feature-rich, and they pride themselves in adding new features on a regular basis.
Drip is new to the scene. They cater to bloggers and eCommerce site owners. While new, they already offer an impressive feature set that can help you launch your eCommerce business. The service is very user-friendly and offers powerful automation tools.
Drip offers a free tier so you can see how it all works while you’re getting off the ground.
All email marketing service providers offer the basics, such as list segmentation and access to campaign metrics like open rate and click-through rate, as well as powerful automation tools.
How a Free Tier Works
Many services, like Drip and MailChimp, above, will allow you to use their service for free—for a while. You see, as you grow your list, you will be able to use the available tools as much as you need. But at some point, and this point varies from service to service, your list will grow so large that you will exit the free tier. At this point, you’ll have the option of paying monthly or annually to continue using the service.
The Anatomy of An Effective Email
In broad terms, a promotional email consists of two components: the subject line, and the body.
The Subject Line
The subject line is perhaps the most important aspect of your email. There are a few things you want to do, every time:
Keep your subject line to around 60 characters, but no more than 70. The people on your list are busy. They won’t read a long subject line. Between 60 and 70 characters is the sweet spot that has shown to be most effective.
Make promises you can keep. If you make a promise in the subject line, make sure you honor it in the body of the email. Don’t use click-bait tactics. Click-bait tactics will lead to low open rates, and that can, in turn, prompt Gmail and other email providers to consider your messages spam.
Use a service like Sender Score periodically. Services like these can tell you if the major email providers consider you to be a spammer.
Consider hiring an expert if in doubt. If you’re a small business owner, and all of this is well over your head, there’s no shame in getting help. You can do serious damage to your brand if you shoot in the dark and miss.
Similarly, there are few things you should not do:
Don’t use unnecessary punctuation. Don’t add unusual! or unnecessary, punctuation in an attempt to grab the reader’s attention. Gmail and other email providers recognize this tactic, and you’ll get dinged for it—if you want an example of what we mean, refer to the previous sentence. See the exclamation point and misplaced comma?
Do use ‘power words’ in your subject lines. You only have a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention, and you’re competing with other marketers, too. So it’s imperative that you use power words in your subject lines. You can google around for lists, but here are a few to get you started: invitation, we, introducing, you, your, year, update, new, special. Subject lines containing these and similar words get opened more than emails without them. If in doubt, make it all about the reader and their wants and needs.
The Email Body
This is a very deep topic, and much of it is outside the scope of this article. However, we can offer you one powerful tip: use the Inverted Pyramid Technique.
If you open your Email client right now and locate a few promotional emails you actually read, you will probably find that the sender used this technique.
The Inverted Pyramid technique is pretty simple. Imagine your email body, and then mentally overlay an inverted pyramid over it so that:
The bottom of the pyramid, or the widest section, is over your image. This image is at the top of the page. A good image grabs the reader’s attention and holds it.
The middle section of the pyramid falls over your headline. A strong headline focuses the reader’s attention and prepares them to receive valuable information.
Below that, near the tip of the pyramid, but not quite, is your copy. Your copy makes a promise, and it prompts the reader to want to click your CTA button.
At the tip of the inverted pyramid is your CTA—call to action—button.
Note the shape of an inverted pyramid: a funnel. That’s the idea. You want to funnel your reader from your subject line to your CTA button in as little time as possible. However, there is no shame in adding your CTA button to the top as well. A quick A/B test will show you which is more effective for your specific audience.
If you craft every promotional email in this way, you will keep your reader focused and you will prime them to take action.
Note that this format does not allow room for personal anecdotes, stories or other content. This format is a structure for quick promotional emails where the main goal is to get the reader to click a link. If you want to keep your users updated and engaged, that’s great too. But for that, you should send a periodic newsletter.
Optimizing Your Emails for Mobile
Smartphones and tablets are becoming more popular, and that trend is unlikely to reverse any time soon. Consequently, you should ensure that your emails are optimized for viewing on mobile.
How can you make sure your emails look good on phones?
#1 Don’t rely on images.
In the previous section, we noted that part of the Inverted Pyramid technique was to use one image, at the top of the page. If you use more than one image in an email, users on mobile devices will have to scroll quite a bit to read your message. They don’t want to do this and are instead likely to delete your email.
#2 Use a responsive template.
Your email service provider may offer responsive templates. Take advantage of these as they will automatically fit the user’s screen. This way, you don’t have to worry about whether your email is rendering properly.
#3 Remove redundant words.
Mobile screens are tiny, and as mentioned, you don’t want your users to have to scroll much to read your message. So you should read your copy and remove any filler words. Never use two words when one will do.
#4 Break up your text.
On the other hand, walls of text on mobile are extremely intimidating. When a user of a mobile device sees a wall of text, it’s easier for them to justify deleting your message. Use small paragraphs and frequent line breaks.
#5 Use buttons, not links
Most templates these days will allow you to use buttons instead of links. Like walls of text, links are intimidating to mobile users as they represent a further time investment. Instead, offer the user an attractive button to press instead.
Segmenting Your List
Do you want higher open rates? Would you like a higher click-through rate? Would it be nice to see your unsubscribe rate decrease?
You can achieve all this and more by segmenting your list. Practically all email service providers allow you—and encourage you—to do this. Savvy marketers use list segregation to improve relevance.
Think about your business, and then think about two hypothetical people who might want to sign up for your list. Let’s call them Tom and Wanda.
It’s a safe bet that both Tom and Wanda are interested in your product or service, or else they enjoy the content you produce. But beyond that, Tom and Wanda might have wildly different interests. Sending the same email to Tom that you send to Wanda—a shotgun approach—may not work.
What if you could, instead, send a personalized email to both Tom and Wanda at the same time? You can, and personalized emails are opened much, much more frequently than generic emails.
But What is Segmentation?
Put simply, email segregation is a technique that marketers use to break their list down into smaller groups. When creating subgroups, you think about the traits that specific users have in common. Let’s consider a hypothetical.
Let’s say there’s a website that caters to outdoorsy folks. This website makes money through affiliate marketing, and they have a large, active list. But they could make much, much more money if they broke that one large list down into separate lists based on demographic data from their users. So, they might create a sub-list for people who enjoy fishing and another one for people who enjoy hunting. They could create a third sub-group that focuses on camping equipment and yet another group that caters specifically to doomsday preppers.
You see, you can get fairly granular with this, and the more you do, the better your open rates will be.
There are a few basics you’ll need to understand before you can segment:
Make sure your email marketing service allows segmentation. If you’re using a service not on the lists above, make sure they’ll let you segment. If they don’t offer segmentation, you might want to find another provider.
Use page-level targeting. Your service may or may not have this feature. If they don’t offer it, you’ll need to use a third-party service. Page-level targeting allows you to segment your list at email capture. This is a powerful feature that will save you a lot of time. To go back to our camping website example, page-level targeting would allow the site to segment users based on page content. So if the user signs up from a page about prepping, it’s a good bet they will respond well to doomsday prepping-themed emails.
Lead magnets are little incentives you offer to get more email sign ups. If you’ve ever been on a site and they offered you an ‘instant download’ in exchange for your email, they were offering a lead magnet. You should too, as they can drastically increase your sign up rates.
A good lead magnet solves a real problem and gives the reader instant gratification. There are three types of lead magnet:
The checklist. The checklist gives enough information, in a concise and organized way, so that the reader can do something new, right now.
The cheat sheet. The cheat sheet is similar, but it can be longer and can contain more detailed information.
The template. The template allows the user to create something quickly. It should be plug and play.
Adjusting an On-Going Campaign
Sending your email is just the first step. You must continually monitor an on-going campaign. Remember, if your open rates are very low, Gmail and the other major email providers might take a dim view of your messages.
To get better open rates, you need to collect information and then adjust your campaigns as you go. At minimum, you should test:
Your design and email layout
Your CTAs—calls to action
You can use segmentation, discussed above, to split-test various aspects of your emails.
All email service providers offer analytics. With these tools, you should track:
Your open rate
Your click-through rate
Your forward rate
In general, you want these to improve over time.
Use a service like Sender Score to monitor your sender reputation. If your reputation starts to slip, you must take corrective action immediately. This may mean taking a less aggressive stance, such as sending fewer promotional emails. Never send back-to-back sales emails unless they’re part of a drip-feed that also contains useful information. If you want to keep people on your list, you should send useful emails that contain valuable content more often than you send promotional emails. If your business is looking to undertake email marketing, but don't have the internal resources to make it happen, reach out to us! We'd love to help your business reach its goals!