With a multitude of social media platforms and messaging services all vying for our attention, we’ve never had so many ways to stay connected. Despite the enormous boom in social, it is social’s less trendy and comparatively ancient cousin, e-mail, that consistently produces results where it matters. Not only is e-mail marketing more versatile than social, its also more effective for getting those all important click throughs. Well written, well designed e-mail marketing can consistently drive traffic to your site in ways social cannot. With that in mind, we’ve drawn up 50 tips to help you win at e-mail marketing.
Before you can start firing out e-mails or even writing content, you’ll need to get a few essentials in place first.
1. Pick some mailing list software
Before you start sending marketing e-mails, you’ll need some mailing list software. There are tons of different options, from free open source tools like Dada Mail or Mailman, to paid for services (often with freemium options) such as MailChimp or Campaign Monitor. These bits of software will help you send mail out to thousands of e-mail addresses without any fuss, often providing key statistics and performance metrics too.
2. Get some subscribers
It goes without saying that if you’re going to send out marketing e-mails, you need an audience. Some businesses might already have a database or their customers, if so that is a great place to start. Other might need to grow a mailing list, which can be done by setting up a “Subscribe to our newsletter” form on your home page. If you are really keen to grow your subscriber list, you can incentivise sign ups with special offers or exclusive free content.
3. Create multiple opportunities to subscribe
The more opportunities people have to subscribe to your content, the more likely your mailing list will grow. Therefore don’t just leave your “Subscribe to our newsletter” form on your home page and hope for the best. It’s possible to position your subscription sign up form in multiple places, including on social media. Lots of mailing list platforms have developed their own Facebook apps (for example, MailChimps), so adding a subscription form to Facebook can be really easy to setup. Twitter also allows you to collect e-mail addresses via forms, using their lead generation card.
4. Establish your objectives
After you’ve found the right piece of mailing list software and grown your mailing list to a suitable size, you need to decide what the objectives of your e-mail marketing are. It could be that you want to increase sales of a specific product, or raise awareness of a new forthcoming service. Maybe you want to drive reviews to TrustPilot, or just remind your customers that you still exist. Whatever your aims, make sure you establish them early on and set yourself a targets that will help you fulfil those goals.
5. Know the rules
Before you send out a single marketing e-mail, you should get up to speed with the law. There are a number of anti spam laws and regulations that you need to make sure you abide by, otherwise you could end up in legal hot water. So be sure to familiarise yourself with the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 and the USA’s CAN SPAM Act of 2003, as an absolute minimum.
When you’re ready to start designing, it’s important to remember your objectives. A good design can be the difference between achieving or failing your objectives.
6. Stand out from the crowd
Most people receive hundreds of marketing e-mails every week. To make sure yours gets read, you need to make it stand out from the crowd. There a many different ways to do that, whether it be through creative copy or jaw dropping design, do something that makes your e-mail distinctive.
7. Add your branding
Make sure you add your logo and your brand colours, so that the email looks like it belongs to your company. Not only does this provide a cohesive user experience, if the design feels familiar and looks authentic people are more likely to trust it.
8. Responsive layout
It’s vital that your e-mails are responsive, so they can be viewed on mobile. Responsive, mobile friendly design doesn’t just mean having a column width that adjusts to the size of the screen. Make sure your text is legible on smaller screens and that any buttons or links are large enough to be easily be tapped on a touch screen.
9. Use images
Images can bring your content to life, they help break up blocks of text and provide points of reference for skim readers. Choose images that are related to your content and fit with your brand. When working with images, its important to remember file size is always an important consideration – make sure your files are the smallest they can be in order to reduce loading times.
Research suggests personalisation can lead to a dramatic increase in conversions. This is most commonly seen in e-mails that start “Hello, [Name]”. Personalisation however, can go much further than that. If you have data on your subscribers, you can use that to create a more personal content. For example if you are selling fashion items and you also know your subscribers gender, it would make sense to tailor your e-mails to feature products for that gender. If you take that one step further and an tailor your e-mail in relation to your subscribers order history, you suddenly have sophisticated personalised email.
11. Include a pre-header
Pre-headers are a little hack e-mail marketers use to get control of how their e-mail is displayed. When an e-mail lands in a subscribers inbox, the subscriber immediately sees 3 things. Who the e-mail is from, the subject line and a short description – which is called the pre-header. This content is automatically generated by your email client, based on the content of your e-mail. What e-mail marketers do is put this content right at the very top of the email, but hide it with CSS so that it cannot be see by humans. This way, the pre-header can be optimised to be the best content possible, without affecting the design or layout of your e-mail.
12. Use the footer
The footer is a great place to house ancillary information. As per the legal requirements to sending marketing e-mails (see point #5) you need to include your company information and have an opt out link in every e-mail. The footer is the logical place to put this information, along with anything else you might want to include such as links to your social media profiles.
13. Include your contact details
When you send an e-mail, you are starting a conversation. It makes sense therefore to include your contact details in your e-mail, so that anyone receiving your e-mail can get in touch with you and continue that conversation.
14. Include an opt-out link
Make sure your subscribers have the option to opt-out (or unsubscribe) from receiving your marketing e-mails. Failure to provide one will not only upset your subscribers, it also means you are breaking the law
15. Test your design’s compatibility
Designing for e-mail is notoriously tricky, as cross-client support for more modern HTML & CSS is very hit and miss. This means it can be tricky getting your e-mail to look great across a wide range of e-mail apps and devices. Services such as Litmus provide instant e-mail previews across the most popular email apps, making the testing process considerably easier.
16. Test your design with images disabled
Webmail services like Gmail (and many e-mail apps) may block images by default. Some subscribers will never click the ‘Unblock images’ button, meaning they’ll never see your e-mail as you had intended. Bare this in mind and make sure your e-mail holds together without images, ensuring that all your images have correctly labelled alt tags too.
Having a nice looking e-mail is great, but as they say – content is king. The aim with e-mail marketing is to create content that is going to engage your users, compelling them to click through an visit your site.
17. Find your tone of voice
Before you write a single word, it’s important to consider your tone of voice. Striking the right tone, so that your content is engaging without being overly salesy or pushy can be a difficult balancing act. Try to ensure your tone is consistent across your brand, so if your company tends to use aspirational language or humour in other marketing material, then try to emulate that tone in your e-mails too.
18. Pick a killer subject line
The subject of your e-mail is one of the first thing your subscribers will see, and will in many cases determine if they open your e-mail or not. A good subject line should compel the user to want to read your e-mail, preferably without resorting to click-bate style headlines. Creating curiosity, urgency or desire are great ways of ensuring people will open your e-mail.
19. Get emojitional
Love them or hate them, emoji’s are only going to become more and more common place in future. Many e-mail marketers have started using emoji’s in their subject lines and it’s easy to understand why. Putting an emoji or two in your subject line can make your e-mail stand out, adding a splash of colour to your customers inboxes.
20. Prioritise for maximum impact
Referring back to your main objectives (see point #4), make sure the content of your email is ordered with your priority messaging at the top of your e-mail, with the low priority content towards the bottom. The truth is that the majority of your subscribers are not going to read your whole e-mail, so make sure the really important bits are close to the top.
21. Create high-quality content
It might sound obvious, but you should always strive to create the highest quality content that you can. High quality content will mean your subscribers will be more engaged with your brand, they might even look forward to receiving future e-mails from you. Well written, high quality content that is of real value to your subscribers can create brand loyalty, as well as increase the chances of your content being shared across social media.
22. Keep your content diverse
Variety is the spice of life, so instead of writing a wall of text try to mix up your content by using infographics, video or animated gifs to create mixed media content that will have a much broader appeal.
23. Keep it short and snappy
Nobody wants to read reams of spiel, and research shows that people are far more likely to skim read your content. As such, you should write your content accordingly. Keep your word count as low as you can and use heading or sub-headings to break up your content and make it easier to skim read.
24. Have a call to action
Whatever the aims or objectives of your e-mail marketing are, you need a call to action (CTA) to prompt your subscribers and drive them to your site. Your CTA can be repeated throughout the e-mail, but be careful not to overdo it as you will end up overwhelming the reader as a result. Make your CTA large, easy to read and use colour to highlight your prompts.
25. Include exclusive offers
People like to feel special, so rewarding your subscribers with exclusive ‘e-mail only’ special offers or promotional code is a great way to ensure they’ll remain a subscriber.
26. Use urgency
You don’t need to be a psychologist to understand that fear of loss is a great motivator. Therefore introducing urgency to your call to action can see a dramatic rise in engagement. You can introduce urgency through offering limited time discounts, limiting supply or highlighting the speed in which your products are selling out.
27. Don’t get caught in spam filters
As spam filters get tighter, our job as e-mail marketers gets harder. All your good work writing perfect content could be worthless if your e-mail gets caught in your subscribers spam filters. Thankfully there is plenty you can do to reduce the risk of this happening. If you are sending out e-mail via your own domain you should setup SPF records and enable DKIM to prove your domain is a legitimate. Additionally you should try to avoid using ‘trigger’ words for phrases that spam filters are looking for, such as those listed in this blog post from Hubspot. Frustratingly, even if you avoid all the trigger words and phrases, you can still end up accidentally getting caught in spam filters from time to time by using a word that contains a blocked word within it (know as the the Scunthorpe problem).
Once you’ve got your design and content perfected, you are ready to send… almost. Before you hit that send button, we recommend you do the following.
28. Proof read
Seems like an obvious one, but make sure to double check your content for spelling or grammatical errors. Sometimes it can be very difficult to spot errors if you have written the copy yourself, so ask a friend or colleague to give it a once over.
29. Check all your links, twice
Make sure you check all the links in your e-mail. Once you have checked your links and are happy that they all work, check them again. Its really easy (especially if you are using a template) to let an old or broken link slip through the net, so be thorough.
30. Send it to the right people
Make sure your mailing list is up to date before you send anything. If you are sending out regular content to a high volume a subscribers, there is a good chance your subscribers would have changed since your last mailshot. You may have got a ton more new subscribers, but you may have also had a few people unsubscribe too and if you continue to e-mail those people, they are not going to be overly impressed. Some mailing list software will automatically handle this for you, some won’t – so double check who you are mailing first.
31. Check your data
Make sure your mailing list data is up-to-date and relevant. There is no point having a huge mailing list, if 90% of the addresses aren’t genuine. Services such as kickbox.io will analyse your mailing list and get rid of those low quality addresses. Additionally, if you are using your data for things like personalisation (see point #10), you should make sure you have all the data points you need.
32. Don’t send from a no-reply address
No-reply email addresses are impersonal, cold and aloof. If you are going to e-mail someone, you are starting a conversation. Don’t end that conversation down before it’s even started by telling your subscribers they cannot reply to you. Instead try sending from a friendly, approachable email address such as hello@.
33. Pick the right time
Timing can be crucial for maximising the impact of your e-mail marketing. The key to maximising your impact is understanding your audience. It stands to reason for example, that if you are a B2B brand, then your e-mails will most likely be viewed during working hours. If your selling lifestyle products, it may be that you get higher engagement from the post-work/evening crowd. Experiment with different days of the week at different times, and find out what works best for you.
34. Use a custom ‘from’ name
Just as your want to pick a great subject line (see point #18) and peak interest with a well written pre-header (see point #11), you can also set a custom ‘from’ name. Simply set your ‘from’ field to read ‘Brand name <firstname.lastname@example.org>’ and when your email lands in your subscribers inbox, it will appear from ‘Your custom name’. You can use this customisation so that your brand name is the first thing your subscribers see. Alternatively, if you are mailing out a special offer or promotions, you could change your from address to reflect that, i.e. ‘Brand name special offers <email@example.com>’.
The ethos of digital marketing is frequently ‘if you can’t measure it, it’s probably not worth doing’. Thankfully e-mail marketing can be measured in depth, and we can track the success of our e-mails using an array of different tools.
36. Add UTM to all your links
The first step to successful tracking is adding UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) to all your links. You can build your own UTM link using tools such as Google’s Campaign URL Builder. URL’s with UTM added to them play nicely with Google Analytics, so you can see exactly how many people clicked specific links in your e-mail. If you have your e-commerce sales funnel setup on Google Analytics, you’ll also be able to see how many sales a specific link or piece of content generated.
37. Use metrics
Your mailing list software should provide you with some key metrics, such as ‘unique views’ or ‘number of bounces’. You can use this data to understand what percentage of your mailing list are actually reading your e-mails and make adjustments to improve those numbers.
38. A/B test
A/B testing (also known as split testing) has become a staple of online marketing, even the biggest tech companies in the world have been found A/B testing their content. If it’s not something you are familiar with, an A/B test is a simple experiment with 2 variables. It might be that you want to test two different headlines, or two different hero images. With A/B testing, you can see which headline or hero image has the most engagement. It’s a fantastic way to gain insights and understanding of your subscriber.
39. Keep the conversation going
After you have sent out your e-mail don’t be scared to follow it up with another, should you think its necessary. It might be that you are running a promotion, if so your follow up e-mail could be a reminder that the promotion is about to end. Perhaps you could follow up on subscribers who have responded to your call to action and offer them further product information or discounts.
40. Don’t send too many emails
It should go without saying that if you send too many e-mails, you will increase the number of people unsubscribing to your mailing list. Not only that, but people who remain on your mailing list will become fatigued with your overzealous e-mail marketing, meaning even if they receive your e-mail the chances of them reading it decrease. I’m sure you receive e-mails just like this every day, I certainly do (Groupon, I’m looking at you).
41. Observe, learn, improve
In digital marketing this mantra will only help you improve. Simply put, you should record stats of your e-mail marketing, study those stats to gain insights and then improve your marketing accordingly. This is an endless cycle of learning and improvement that will help you perfect your e-mail marketing over time.
Now you’ve learnt the basics of e-mail marketing it’s time to take it to the next level, with automation. Automated mails are e-mail that are sent out by your systems, triggered by specific criteria. You can apply all you have learnt about e-mail marketing to automated e-mail, to create a series of e-mails that can help improve your sales, customer experience and customer loyalty. Of course, the great thing about automation is that once you have set up your e-mails, you don’t have to do anything, your systems will send them out on your behalf. Here are some great ways to implement automated mail across your website.
42. Welcome e-mails
One of the most commonly read automated mails are ‘welcome’ e-mails. Usually these are sent out after someone signs up to your website or service, in order to let the user know that their account has been created. Because these e-mails are nearly always read, they provide marketers a great platform to include a special offer or highlight a specific product.
43. Order confirmation
Order confirmation is another automated mail that you can be certain your users will read. It stands to reason that after a customer has completed an order on your website, they are going to expect confirmation that their purchase was been completed. As such, just like the welcome mail this provides marketers with a great opportunity. If we think back to using effective personalisation (point #10), this would be the perfect place to recommend products that are similar to or compliment those in the customer’s order.
44. Product on-boarding
Product on-boarding is great way to introduce new customers or users to your products. Perhaps your product has features or capabilities that you want to highlight, or maybe there is a common pain point that can be avoided with a well written explanation. Product on-boarding can improve your customers user experience, increasing customer loyalty and reduce help desk inquiries.
45. Cart abandonment
The typical cart abandonment rate for online retailers varies between 60% and 80%. E-mailing customers who have abandoned their cart before completing their order, and reminding them that their order was not completed in an effective way to increase sales.
46. Subscriber milestone
A great form of personalisation, reward a customer with a exclusive content or a special offer because they have hit a personal milestone. That milestone could be their birthday or the anniversary of their first order on your website. Whatever the reason, use your customer data to show your customers that you value their business.
Re-engagement is an extension of customer retention, and is simply the process of reminding a customer that your website or service still exist. Perhaps they haven’t logged into their account for 3 months, or placed an order in a year. Why not send them an e-mail incentivising them to return?
48. Reward VIP’s
VIPs, brand evangelists, influencers or hot buyers – whatever you call them, these are groups of people you want to build long term consumer relationships with. As they are usually small groups, you can incentivise them with aggressive discounts and special offers, so their brand loyalty is rewarded.
49. Request a review
After a user has used your service, it’s a good time to ask them for feedback. This could be feedback you use internally to improve your products/services, or it could be a public review on a review site such as Trustpilot.
If you have a large number of subscribers, you may find that segmentation leads to improved results. Dividing up your customers into logical groups depending on shared characteristics means you can tailor your content to those groups. Think of it a bit like personalisation, but for large group of subscribers.