The steady rise of spam (which is now said to make up over 90% of all emails) has resulted in less emphasis on email as an instrument of online marketing. But well-managed email marketing campaigns are still, and will continue to be, an important instrument in your online marketing toolbox with a great ROI.
Email allows you to engage with your website visitors in two-way conversations, enabling you to connect with your customers. Email marketing is a great way to enhance customer retention as well as cross-sell and up-sell your products and services.
But you can’t just start harvesting email addresses and spam them at your whim. You need to develop a solid email marketing strategy based on your customers’ needs and requirements.
In this article I will outline the basics of email marketing to help you get started.
1. BUILD YOUR LIST
The most important aspect of your email marketing is the list of email addresses your messages are sent to. A good way to build your list is to have a sign-up form on your website that allows visitors to subscribe to your emails. You can also harvest emails from your online order process and contact forms, as long as you give users a clear way to opt-out – or better still, opt them out by default and make opt-in optional.
There are varying levels of legislation for each country regarding opting your users in on your email lists, so be sure to do some research and find out what the requirements are where you’re based. It’s usually best to err on the safe side, as not only will this ensure your emails won’t be marked as spam, your users will appreciate it and you’ll have a greater level of engagement with your subscribers.
2. WRITE YOUR MESSAGE
A good email starts with a great subject line. Users are bombarded with dozens, if not hundreds, of emails a day, and the first thing they see when your emails arrive is the subject line. This is the most important aspect of your email that determines whether or not a user will open the email and read it.
Tips for good subject lines:
- Clarify the benefit: users have crowded inboxes so your email’s subject line needs to communicate a clear benefit. What will a subscriber get out of it if he opens and reads your email?
- Personalise: use the recipient’s name in the subject line, as this helps your email stand out and helps make a connection with the recipient.
- Ask a provocative question: Questions make recipients wonder and often encourage them to open your email. An example would be “Are you at risk of overpaying on your insurance?”.
- Avoid spam words: words like ‘cheap’, ‘free’, ‘instant’, and dozens more are often interpreted as signs of spam.
- Be mindful of character limitations: many email clients cut the subject line off at some point, either due to the user’s screen resolution or the program’s layout. Understand what part of the subject is seen by most of your recipients.
- Test, test, test: try out different subject lines with different formats and benefits, and never stop experimenting.
Next is the actual content of the email. Needless to say this needs to match the subject line. If you make a promise in the subject that you don’t keep in the content, chances are most readers will either delete your message straight away, unsubscribe from your list, or report your email as spam. Too many spam reports and your email will never reach another inbox ever again, instead being redirected to your recipients’ junk mail folders and thus oblivion.
This means starting with a strong headline that describes the content accurately and challenges users to read it. Then you need to divide your content into short paragraphs that are easy to read – large blocks of text are unattractive and discourage readers. It’s also a good idea to emphasize key phrases in your text with bold and italics so that readers that quickly scan through it still catch the general idea.
And finally you need to finish with a clear call-to-action. What do you want readers to do with what you’ve just told them? If you want them to visit your website and buy a product, tell them! If you want them to forward your email to their contacts, encourage them! Use buttons in combination with text links and get users to interact with your email.
3. FORMAT YOUR EMAIL
A good subject line and strong content aren’t enough to get the most out of your emails. Your message needs to look good too. A plain text email will look boring no matter how good the content is. Nearly all email programs support HTML emails, which means you can write email messages the same way as you build web pages.
This means you need to keep the HTML code as simple and straightforward as you can. A good rule of thumb is to avoid using any CSS and scripting languages, and stick to plain simple HTML code using tables to build your email’s layout.
If you don’t have sufficient knowledge of HTML, there are literally thousands of email templates available for download online which you can use and adapt for your own emails. Of course you can also avoid the whole HTML hassle and just use plain text emails, as long as you understand that your emails will look unexciting and may not be as effective.
4. USE EMAIL MARKETING SOFTWARE
So you’ve built a list of subscribers, written a good email and formatted it in an attractive layout, and you’re ready to send it out. You can use your own email address for this and manually send it – this is adequate for small lists. (Just make sure to use BCC so your readers don’t see the whole mailing list!)
But if you want to get serious with email marketing, the best approach is to use professional email marketing software. Good email marketing software does most of the hard work for you: managing your subscriber lists, building good HTML emails, and reporting on the success of your email campaigns.
There are hundreds of options available, usually in the form of online services, and for all different business sizes. So you don’t need to have a big budget to make use of good email marketing software.
A good place to start is AWeber, a very popular online email marketing service provider that offers cheap rates for lists under 500 subscribers and has over a hundred ready-made HTML templates to choose from. (Disclosure: I am an AWeber affiliate and get paid a small commission for every sign-up through this website.)
5. MEASURE AND IMPROVE
Once you’ve sent out your first email campaign it’s important to analyse how it performed. Did you achieve what you hoped for? If not, why? Was the open rate low? You may need to work on better subject lines. Were there few clicks from the email to your website? Maybe you need better content or stronger calls-to-action, or maybe the HTML layout wasn’t right.
With email marketing, as with your website, you’re never done testing and improving. There’s always a way to get more out of your marketing campaigns and increase user engagement. Never get complacent, but strive to continually improve your email marketing.
6. ENGAGE IN CONVERSATIONS
Email started out as a two-way communication medium. Despite the rise of unsolicited bulk email, that core essence of email hasn’t changed. Don’t just send out your campaigns and turn a deaf ear to what your subscribers say, but engage with them.
A good way to do this is to make sure that the reply-to address of your email campaigns is a valid email address. Yes, you may get a lot of mail delivery errors and out of office replies, but you will find that many users will reply to your email marketing campaign in various ways. This is not a bad thing – quite the contrary, it means that they took the time and effort to respond to your message.
Engage with your readers in conversations, whether they’re complaining about your email or complimenting you. Not only can you get valuable feedback on your email marketing, you will also build customer loyalty this way as well as enhance your online reputation.
Another method is to put polls, surveys, and contests in your emails. This increases user interaction with your emails and will allow you to gather valuable information from your customers.
Email marketing is a powerful instrument that can bring strong value to your online marketing efforts. A well-run email campaign will ensure your customers keep coming back to your website. A badly run campaign however can have a detrimental effect on your reputation and might hurt your long-term prospects. So put the effort in and you’ll find the rewards will exceed your expectations.