Email Marketing Is Easy, Right?

Email marketing can seem simple when you first start out. You have some information or an event that you are promoting this week and want to send an email about it to a list of people. It gets more complicated when you get into all of the details and planning that go into doing that effectively. And to create a truly successful email marketing program that adds value to both the consumers and the company gets more complicated still.

There is an enormous amount of information available and plenty of talented people out there writing about email marketing. I tried to link to resources and articles written by influential people in this field to help get you started below. This is a constantly changing field, though, that requires you to always be aware of what is going on now and to be on the lookout for the future.

To start off with, you need a list of subscribers to email to. You might already have your own list or be thinking about renting, buying, appending, or ECOA to get you started or increase your list size. Just remember that buying a list has its consequences. If you acquire new email addresses at your website, then there are several different options available on how to actually do that. The first rule is to make it easy. You might also want to validate the email addresses themselves to see if they were entered properly. Getting clear permission at the point of collection to send email to subscribers is very important and will greatly benefit the program’s health over the long run. Just because they are a customer doesn’t necessarily mean that they also want to receive marketing emails from you.

Once you get going, it’s helpful to begin with a welcome email that says thanks for joining, explains how often you send email, and makes it clear what the subscriber should expect from being on your list. Another way to give the subscriber control over how often and what they receive is to create a preference center to allow them to make these changes themselves.

You have your list now, but what are the objectives of your email program? It should be clear for all those involved as to what your goals are and how to know when you have reached them. You’re probably interested in building awareness for your brand and increasing sales. There are several email benchmarks to help you track this. How many times your email is opened can be tracked with a hidden pixel inside your email and clicks can be counted by using special links. If the subscriber makes it to your website, you want to be sure the landing page is optimized in a way that supports your goals. Keep in mind how you are going to track your conversions, calculate ROI, and prove that all of your goals were met in your marketing campaigns. You also want to always be thinking ahead so you’re ready for what might be next. In the end, though, if you develop an open conversation with your consumers and treat them with respect, then you’ll be well on your way to success.

One of the biggest decisions you need to make will be how to send your emails. You can send them yourself, but an Email Service Provider (ESP) may be best choice, especially when you’re just starting out. Choosing an ESP with the right features, cost, support, and room for growth is important. Knowing more about the metrics reported for delivered, bounced, opened, etc., will also help in your decision. You will also need to consider whether to use a dedicated IP or a shared IP, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages. The ESP that you choose can help you sign up for feedback loops and whitelists, or you can look into this yourself starting with the ISP postmaster pages.

To achieve your email marketing goals, you need an engaged set of subscribers and proper email list hygiene. Important things to consider can be how emails that bounce are handled and what rules should be put in place to handle them effectively. There are log files kept from all sent email newsletters that can be monitored to quickly identify any problems that occur. Also, the first place you might be informed of a problem may be from your own subscribers replying directly to the emails they received, so it is important to review this mailbox on a regular basis. If your subscribers lose interest over time, maybe it’s time to try something new or implement a re-engagement campaign. Having too many inactive subscribers in your email list can cause delivery problems and hurt your ROI. Sometimes you won’t be able to win back a subscriber, and in those cases, you want to make it easy for them to unsubscribe.

Once you get down to building your email newsletters, you’ll need to decide what should be included in it. A visually stunning email will only get you so far if the content included inside is not useful to your subscribers. You might also want to keep an eye on what others are doing in the email marketing field and your industry for ideas that might be worth trying out. Technically, there are many other details that you will need to know when it comes to building your email newsletters. With the huge number of email applications, browsers, and operating systems, there are many compromises that must be made to ensure that your email renders properly in as many as possible. Every detail must be considered when developing your email, from the doctype to the styles and html code that can be used. Even things like animated gifs that may not work all of the time and how image blocking will affect the subscriber’s experience need to all be thought through beforehand.

Now that you have most of the basics on the structure and strategy of your email program in place, you can start thinking more about testing. It can be a challenge to set up and configure the many email applications available, but there are services out there that you can use to preview email rendering very easily. One basic option to address some of these rendering concerns is to always offer the option of a text version of your email for subscribers who prefer this or can’t open the html version. Mobile marketing is becoming more and more important and gives you additional challenges like a smaller screen, touch UI, and even more available email applications to consider.

Testing is more about email rendering though. To get the most out of your email marketing program, you need to know what resonates with your subscribers. Think about initiating some A/B or Multivariate testing to try out new subject lines or email designs to see which ones perform better. Looking out for what others are doing is a good way to get inspiration for new subject lines to test. There are also some great tools out there to help come up with new ideas, such as Google’s Wonder Wheel. Preheader text can be added and can even be used as a combined message with your subject line giving it more impact. Results can be very surprising and will almost certainly end up with valuable insight with the testing that you perform. Constantly monitoring and tweaking your program can achieve some amazing ROI. Email marketing certainly isn’t dead and can provide some immense benefits to your company.

As you can see now, there is a lot more that goes into a successful email marketing program than what you might expect at first. So to answer the question “Email Marketing is easy, right?” I’m sure we can all agree that it takes a lot of work, but with a good plan of action and a little help, it can be one of the most successful components of your overall marketing goals.

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  1. thomas glennon
    Posted December 28, 2010 at 2:21 PM | Permalink

    Thank you Bill
    This is clear and helpful.

    It interfaces with the work that I am
    doing here in Nebraska.

    Thanks for writing.


  2. Seth Baum
    Posted January 6, 2011 at 12:56 PM | Permalink

    FANTASTIC article – email marketing (for acquisition or CRM) is MUCH more difficult than most realize – and this article’s step by step breakdown (and related links) is a true resource. Thank you for writing it!

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