Your no-fluff guide to what a great email marketing strategy entails and pieces your strategy might be missing.
Guide content (skip to what you need to know):
- Why Email Marketing
- Words to Know for Email Marketers
- How Email Marketing Works
- Step-by-Step Email Marketing
- It’s Time to Send (Marketing Services)
- Think Outside the Inbox (what’s missing)
- Email List Best Practices & Segmenting
- Ramp Up Email Open Rates
- Mobile-Minded Email Marketing
Why Email Marketing
Email is time-tested and here to stay. Social media companies rise and fall. Even giant ones.
This makes email marketing more stable than other digital channels. It’s not been around as long as direct mail advertising but longer than all other online marketing channels.
The first email was sent in 1971. Comparatively, the first tweet was like yesterday – 2006.
✉Email is 40% better at converting than Facebook and Twitter.
Another reason to invest in email marketing is you control how you interact with your audience.
Other digital outlets control their user data. You have access to some, not all. With social media, you could also lose access.
For any number of reasons:
- You get suspended
- Account hacked
- Algorithm changes
- Policy changes
With email marketing, your email list belongs to you.
Keep your subscribers happy – that’s the only focus you need. The CEO of Meta won’t affect your marketing emails. Google Ad policies either.
Inbox is Quieter – Way More
Talking to your followers, fans, and customers on social media is hard. Why? Too distracting.
Facebook uses casino type tactics to keep users from being bored. So your message is competing with shiny moving objects on Instagram and OG Facebook.
Email marketing is your inside track to a private chat with your readers.
Sure, their inbox is full of other emails. But only emails they allow! On websites, forums like Reddit, YouTube, etc. they are hit with endless messages and recommendations that distract them.
Inboxes may be more crowded than in 2017, but they are still the quietest place on the web.
✉86% of professionals give priority to email connection.
✉52% of responders said that email is their main communication tool.
Email Conversions Show You the Money
Stats vary on email marketing ROI.
You may have seen $36 to $1 or $44 to $1 ROI.
Email success depends on too many factors to pin the ROI down. Same with direct mail advertising, radio ads, Google and Facebook Ads too.
One thing is for sure. Email campaigns ROI always rank ahead of other digital marketing channels on nearly every comparison you locate.
Regardless of the specific ROI.
What about trust?
Truth in Email Marketing
You also own your marketing metrics with email.
All ESPs (email service platforms) have dashboards to show how many readers opened your email. How many clicks. Click-to-open rate and more.
If you trust the biggest online advertisers (1. Google 2. Meta), please investigate click fraud.
- 88% of online ad clicks could be fraudulent (Prof. Scott Galloway)
- Barracuda says bad bots make up nearly 40% of web traffic
- Imperva estimates 27.7% of all online traffic is fraudulent
*Short ebook on click fraud.
If you keep a clean email list, your email open stats should be reliable. Same goes for clicks.
And replies from your readers? Obviously real and great for ensuring ongoing email deliverability (your future emails are not seen as spam when subscribers engage with you).
Everyone knows spam – but other key definitions?
Words to Know for Email Marketers
Subscribers: People who sign up for your emails.
List: Formally called an email list. Entirety of your subscribers’ email addresses, + more info.
Deliverability: Likelihood your emails reach inboxes. High deliverability is your aim.
Bounce: Emails that do not make it to an inbox at all.
Unsubscribe: When readers opt out of being on your list.
Segment: Subscriber categories. Helps personalize email efforts.
Automation: Pre-written emails triggered to send automatically. (Analogy: an assistant sending your direct mail advertising if you were using postcards).
Landing page: Often a one-page website directed at specific visitors or a laser-focused offer.
Opt-in Form: Forms people fill out to join your email list. Where you place forms depends on your reach and desired audience.
Spam trap: Toxic email address designed to locate spammers.
Mailer: Email marketer.
Open rate: (Email open rate) Percentage of subscribers who open your email campaign.
Click rate: Percentage of readers who click on links in your emails.
Apple Privacy open rate: Specific rate for users of Apple’s Mail Privacy.
Sender score: Score given by ISPs to mailers. Mailer reputation score.
Spamhaus: Largest blocklist service. They sniff out spammers.
From address: The email address email subscribers see (who it’s from).
Reply-to address: Address subscribers reach when hitting “reply.”
Spam test: Services to test emails pre-send. Included in many ESPs.
Warm up: For new IP addresses and domains. Mailers warm up slowly with emails to avoid mass mailing too fast, which can label them as spam.
Dead list: Subscribers who lose interest in your email marketing campaigns. Can be reEngaged with this tool.
Re-engagement: Efforts to get inactive subscribers to open, click, or reply to emails.
Triggers: Various actions that automatically send a ready-to-go email.
Subscriber fatigue: When readers tire of your messages or too many brand emails in general.
AMP email: Emails users can interact with inside the inbox (ex. surveys)
Acronyms in Email Marketing
- DKIM – DomainKeys Identified Mail
- SPF – Sender Policy Framework
- DMARC – Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance
- MBP – Mail Box provider. Ex. Microsoft, Gmail, Yahoo.
- COI – confirmed opt-in (also DOI – double opt-in)
Step-by-Step Email Marketing
Begin with an email list. Same as the old days of direct mail advertising or sales call rolodex.
You have to have people to contact.
Times have changed though. You don’t want to contact those who are not interested in your offers or emails.
Buying lists of email addresses is no good. Many addresses will be worthless because they are old or fake or stolen.
Even if they are active addresses, the recipient is not typically going to open or click on emails from brands or people they don’t know.
✉#1 reason people open emails – recognizing the sender.
✉#2 Having time to read emails (PathWire).
So the bottom line is you have to work to build an email list.
Ensure everyone in your niche who wants / needs your info and offers can find a sign-up form.
- On your website
- Unique landing pages
- Partner websites
- Link to forms in email signatures
- Social media
- Google Ads
Be honed in on your target client, customer, or fan, so you will find the best place for sign-up forms.
Services to Create Forms
ESPs like MailChimp and AWeber also help build attractive email list sign-up forms.
Website builders like WordPress also have form plug-ins.
Forms need to be eye-catching. Just as vital is a form that resonates with the viewer.
Why are they on the website or social media page? Mix that mindset into building forms to increase sign-ups.
*Pro Tip: Make signing up an easy choice by using landing pages with the only option being to sign up for emails.
What’s after the list-building step?
It’s Time to Send
Just like a direct mail advertising company needs a solid mailman or mailwoman, you need the best way to send your marketing emails.
Plenty of email service providers (ESPs) exist. Most will get the job done.
It’s best to find a perfect fit though. Some email platforms overwhelm new mailers.
Some may not have enough features or be too pricey.
While you’re building your list up you can test two or three services to find the best fit.
You can always switch later if your needs change with growth.
Below are the top 5 ESPs based on popularity.
Links show comparisons head-to-head with other platforms:
Questions to Ask Yourself about an ESP
Yes, you can switch ESPs down the line. But save time by picking the right one to start.
Things to consider with an email marketing service platform:
- Do I need automation?
- How many contacts do I have and plan to have in the future?
- Is having multiple users pricey?
- Does the ESP offer features for offline marketing (ex. postcards)?
- Will the mobile version do what you need on the go?
Match your email strategy to the email software that integrates best with your marketing plans.
ESP and Your List
One way to tell if the ESP you choose is working out is if you find it helpful in managing your list.
Tagging, segmenting, cleaning lists up. All should be made easier with your email service.
Email lists can get out of hand as they grow.
You will want automated tools to keep spam traps off your list. Automated tagging saves you hours of doing it manually.
Let the ESP work for you. Managing hundreds of contacts is hard. Thousands and tens of thousands is impossible.
Speaking of tagging and contacts.
Pulling in Leads
Not only can your email platform make list management simpler, it can help add leads to your contact list.
Many programs, especially CRM-focused platforms like HubSpot, can organize lead magnets.
Keeping them in one place, ready to insert where you place new forms as your marketing strategy evolves.
See the power of a rock-solid ESP? Leads, contacts, lead magnets, forms, etc. Housed in the same place. No logging in and out of multiple programs and wasting time searching for files.
Lead magnets can include:
- Recorded webinars
- Q&A events
- Ask-Me-Anything discussions
- Software tutorials
- Discount offers
- Self assessment (personality tests, career path quizzes)
- Free samples (physical or digital)
- Free or discounted trial
- Curated reports
- Cheat sheets
- Infographics or Instructographics
- Case Study
- Membership group access
Lead magnets should be relevant to the target user. Needs to be enticing, with a clear call-to-action.
📨Clear? If it’s a 3,000-word whitepaper, be clear or someone expecting a short guide won’t read one word of it.
Lead magnets, forms, segmented lists, ESPs – lots of moving parts in an email marketing strategy.
Here are some things that can get lost in the shuffle.
Think Outside the Inbox
I mentioned offline marketing such as postcards and direct mail advertising. Some say old-school methods should be left in the past.
Not true. Why ignore channels that still work?
✉MarketingSherpa found 76% of people trust ads received in physical mailboxes.
✉Plus, direct mail has a lifespan of 17 days once the recipient takes the ad inside the house (RetailWire).
Direct mail advertising can take your email marketing strategy up a notch. Make you stand out in the inbox even more.
Who’s email are you going to open more often – the brand that mails you a birthday card? Or the one only sending you a birthday email?
I say the greeting card wins me over. I love the extra effort.
MailChimp gives you the power to integrate direct mail in email campaigns. This ESP has thrived for many years. They would not offer this feature were it not effective.
✉73% of Americans like direct mail’s benefit of being able to read it when they choose (Epsilon)
Can’t forget cold calling. SalesForce and other large CRMs provide automation pipelines that flow with email marketing.
For example, if your 7-email series results in clicks but no sales or sign-ups, a cold call may be the closer you need.
If your company is still using the power of the telephone and human voice, make sure your email marketing strategy incorporates this tactic.
Don’t forget. Old-school marketing has ironically advanced too.
QR codes on direct mail advertising postcards help gather web traffic and resulting click data.
Calls can be followed-up with automated SMS messages as a thank you or discount offer after a set number of days.
Onto the next step with email strategy.
Segment to Cement Your Email Marketing Strategy
✉Top 3 email marketing tactics are: list segmentation (51%), personalization (50%), and triggered emails (45%).
Without good segmenting, your list is just a pile of names and addresses.
Faceless strangers who will be hard to connect with via email.
Put 100% effort into segmenting your list.
Here’s How to Segment:
#1 New here? Fresh subscribers need a welcome email. Or welcome series. Automate your welcome emails to this segment of your list. They don’t belong to “past buyers segment” (yet).
#2 Whatcha into? If you send multiple types of emails then let readers segment themselves when they choose between various email categories you have. Example: Forbes gives me personalized options and here are the brand’s general email options.
#3 The ask. Zero-party subscriber data is contact info they give you directly. Great for learning about readers’ interests. Ask your subscribers via surveys. Also with quizzes at initial sign-ups for your list.
#4 Connect the map dots. Location can be another useful segment. This is sometimes trackable. But a given in some cases. Example: A lead magnet guide called “5 Tax Credits Miami Businesses Can Get this Year.”
✉58% of revenue is generated thanks to segmented and personalized emails.
#5 What do you do? Career, industry, retirement status, etc. All can be useful as a list segment. Subject lines personalized to math teachers get opened more than ones directed at teachers in general.
#6 Open(s) for business. The best segment of lists? Super engaged subscribers. Give those who boost your email open rates some special offers and special attention. This segment helps you make sales, provides referrals, awesome reviews, and improves your sender score by opening your emails consistently.
#7 Crickets. Low activity can even be used in email segmentation. It’s vital to segment the unengaged subscribers, else they can drag your sender score down over time. When grouped together you can manage their sends properly. And if need be, cut some loose if they don’t respond to re-engagement email efforts. Don’t give up before you check out reEngaged first. Up to 35% re-engagement has been shown.
#8 Leading segments. The lead magnet tells you much about a subscriber. Segment based on which lead magnet nudged users to join your list. If you have 5 magnets, what are the specifics that give you insights into the interested subscriber?
#9 Shopping cart CSI. Abandoned cart emails should be used since they are proven to boost profits. But also, you can tell a lot about customers by what they put into carts. Whether the abandoned email gets them to finish the checkout or not.
✉Abandoned cart emails sent within 1 hour of customer shopping session increased completed checkouts by 6.33%.
5 More Segmenting Options to Consider
- Subscribers you’ve connected with in the physical world
- Those who opt in for direct mail advertising (coupons etc.)
- Purchase patterns / frequency
- Mobile or desktop user
- Lifetime value
Number five is a biggie. Subscribers who buy once per year versus buying once per month will need different marketing messages. It will be more relatable and boost lifetime value of both segments.
Better segmentation helps with the next step in your email marketing strategy…
How to Improve Email Open Rates
More subscribers will open your emails when you implement segmentation.
That’s just one tool to boost opens though.
Think of an open email as unlocking the door to a sale. You’re in, eyes are on your message. The rest gets easier after the OPEN!
Techniques that work
⏰Timing. Don’t bother searching for “best time to email.” Your audience’s timing will be unique. Triggered emails are the only proven best time for email.
Does this sound familiar? Jane sits down with her coffee to read emails. She deletes 8 or 9. Then sips on her coffee as she begins reading the emails she kept. The ones she wants.
Inbox Mailers uses triggers that let us know Jane is actively reading those emails she wants. We trigger our clients’ emails to land when Jane is open to reading emails!
📬Get to the inbox. We talked about deliverability earlier. It’s crucial your emails do not appear spammy.
Automatic filters can mistake good mailers for spammers. To avoid that email marketing disaster use these best practices:
- Let subscribers opt out easily
- Use double opt-in systems
- Clean your list regularly
- Don’t buy email addresses
- Only email those who truly subscribed
- Don’t email too often or to too many addresses at first (new domains / IPs)
- Put real effort into subject lines
- Make your email content worth readers’ time
- Watch bounce rate closely
- Monitor metrics for big swings
*Before those steps, you should have already verified / authenticated your domain and email addresses. Be sure, with the tools below.
Words Power Email Marketing Strategies
Words make up your messages. Each word matters. Each has power.
Use the right ones and subscribers will open more of your emails. Great subject lines and great content in the email.
Promotional emails can hold awesome content too. Not only editorial emails.
Be creative, empowering, and helpful with every message you send. Remember, you’re competing with other email marketers landing in the same inbox.
And readers only have so much time to check out emails. Make sure yours are must-reads.
Ways to ensure this:
✒Also, don’t forget to write to one person. You can’t write to an audience. That’s intimidating and loses the personal feel. A good tip from pro writers is to start any email or letter with a person’s name even when you’re writing to a group. Example…
“Hey (James)”… gives you a concrete thought of a real person and a starting point for a real message.
✒Be bold. People are going to unsubscribe for all sorts of reasons. So don’t be afraid to show your personality and your beliefs in your email campaigns. The people who leave as a result were not the right audience anyway.
✒Use subject line testers to gauge effectiveness. Also, metrics from past emails show you which subject lines got more opens. Something as simple as adding an emoji can ramp up email open rates.
✒Concrete. That word again. Vague emails are easy to stop reading. They don’t help readers imagine what you want to convey. Action verbs help. Power words too. And to get a better idea what “concrete writing” is, use this tool – Writer’s Diet.
You can also proofread your email and ask yourself these questions:
- Is this clear to a 4th grader?
- Can I find the weakest sentence and improve it?
- Would I open this email based on the subject line?
Words need not fend for themselves always though.
Test Content Formats to Increase Open Rates
There’s more than one way to increase opens. Test different formats to see which gets more engagement.
Look at your inbox to see examples of this. Various brands have different looks, feels, and formats.
Some are text only. While some use 70% graphics. Other brands “steal” themes from pop culture trends, viral memes, comic books, and major magazines.
I get it. The simplest email marketing strategies use mostly text-fueled emails. It’s less work. Plus, less risk of getting marked as spam (example- trying to embed video in emails).
Stick with the easy route. Just be sure to mix in and test different email content formats to keep things fresh and raise open rates.
Scoop.It has alternative content formats to help when you’re ready.
Touching on Click Rates
Most of the above open-rate practices will help your click rates too. More opens equal more chances for readers to click your links.
Be sure of your click goals with every email. An informative email may contain 5-10-20 links. Great. But an email with the goal of making a sale usually works best using one desired link. Multiple calls-to-action work with this as long as they all lead to the one desired link.
After you finish this post (wrap-up is just below), check out a deep dive on getting more clicks at Inbox Hacking.
Mobile-Minded Email Marketing
✉42.3% of email recipients delete messages if they are not optimized for mobile.
✉In 70% of cases, if the message doesn’t display correctly, it’s likely to be deleted within 3 seconds.
Open rates and click rates will suffer if your emails aren’t optimized for mobile devices.
99% of ESPs help you optimize each email for smartphones.
Yet it is on you to test before every send.
Preview what the email looks like on desktop and on the mobile preview provided by the ESP. But don’t fail to look at the email test on your actual phone. Checking both a real iPhone and Android is best. Desktop previews don’t always show the true view.
Besides graphics and photos, consider text length and sentence formatting on mobile email too.
Is the font size big enough, for example? This example reminds us to keep audience needs in mind. Older readers will appreciate larger fonts.
A few more mobile tips for your email marketing strategy.
- Make links easy to click on
- Subject lines may be cut off
- Make CTAs ob-vi-ous!
Time to wrap up.
Email Marketing Strategy Summed Up
We covered a lot. Key takeaways?
Deliverability, open rates, and sender scores → top glossary words to memorize.
Build your list properly with clean tactics. Clean your list early and often.
Invest in awesome forms and place them in optimal locations to forever increase your subscriber base.
Pick the best ESP for your specific needs then use it to automate your email marketing efforts. Don’t be overwhelmed by features you don’t need. Focus on features that ease your workload and enhance audience experience.
Power up your email campaigns by utilizing offline channels like direct mail advertising, postcards, radio ads, flyers, cold calls, contests / challenges in physical locations, etc.
Segment your list as you grow and learn via email analytics. Much of this can be automated.
Segmenting helps open rates. So do triggered sends with Inbox Mailers (demo here), great subject lines, avoiding spam practices, and improving your writing – constantly. Mobile best practices are a must for opens and clicks too.
Marketing has changed. Email remains our best channel though. Keep this guide handy and the resources you invest in your email marketing strategy will pay off now and in the long term.