Email Marketing

The definitive article by Spike [updated for 2021]

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I was asked by Linda Coles to create a chapter for her book, Social Media for Business, because, “that’s all he does all day – email marketing. We may as well learn from the master!”

In the following article, you’ll find the answers to most of the email marketing questions we get asked regularly plus many answers to areas you didn’t know you didn’t know about.

Key areas we will cover in this article:

  • using email marketing
  • building a list
  • designing your email
  • making sure it’s working
  • allowing for mobile phone use.

Effective email marketing will unlock the value from your prospects and customers and build a solid foundation on which you can build a successful marketing campaign. And, business.

Quick facts on email marketing
Here are some interesting email marketing facts:

  • Mobile accounts for 46% of all email opens – [hubspot]
  • 3.8 billion people have smartphones [statista]
  • Remote workers don’t always use a computer

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is sending your message directly to a relevant consumer’s inbox. It’s delivered; they don’t need to go anywhere to find it. Think about it: an email can be in your hand on your phone, it’s often personalized and it’s usually tailored to particular tastes and preferences. What other medium can do that? Every other method of marketing such as magazines or billboards sends out a message to a huge audience in the hope people respond. It might work, it might not but an email can get right in front of relevant eyeballs if done correctly.

After direct cold telephone calling, there is simply no more direct method of communication in the marketing sphere.

Best return on investment

With traditional forms of advertising, it’s hard to fathom where your money has gone. Maybe you’ve generated brand awareness; maybe you’ve generated a customer. In reality, it’s nigh on impossible to tell or measure.

Things are different with email marketing.

Every email sent creates data. This data can show how long someone spent looking at the content, if they clicked any links, what links they clicked. With more specialist software and a deeper look, you can see if they made a purchase and even how much they spent. This allows you to see which promotions/products are working well, those that aren’t working so well, and which customers are more likely to click through than others.

With this data, you’ll see the exact ROI on dollar-spent to dollar-earned and can make marketing decisions based on concrete sales data.

Getting Started

Before starting any new campaign it’s important to think about the following:

  • Audience. What demographic of people are on your database? You need to speak their language and create offers that are relevant to them.
  • Targeted vs non-targeted. Is this email going to the whole database or to a specific segment where you can target the message to them.
  • Message. What is the one thing you want people to take away from your email?
  • Goal. Your purpose or what you want to achieve. Is it brand awareness, sales, feedback or to impart information? If you try and combine everything all at once you may give people too many choices so they end up choosing nothing.
  • Design. Do you have a look and feel/design in mind? Are there brand guidelines to follow? Should the emails match the website?

Answer these questions ahead of time and you’ll have a much clearer and effective email marketing plan. It will also ensure you match your business objectives and send only email with purpose.

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Build a list

Collect, curate, continue.

A ‘list’ is your spreadsheet of customers/clients and their contact details. If you’re meticulous and savvy about your records you can divide this list up into smaller lists based on buying habits, location, age, gender, hobbies and so on – in fact, anything you can think of which will allow better targeting and a stronger message to reach your audience.

A good list will contain: First and last name | Email address | Where they signed up from

Keep this database on your computer and also on a secure server, preferably backed up in the cloud.

Give people a reason to sign up to your emails. For example, if someone purchases for the first time, they could be offered 10% on their next purchase if they sign up to your newsletter or you could run a contest offering a prize where entry is via email, or you could give an eBook away in exchange for their details.

After sending a few emails, you’ll notice trends appearing. If certain people buy certain products more often than others it’s possible (and recommended) to tailor the content of their future emails to their interests. Do they like books in a certain genre, or music from a certain artist? The data collected can be put to use in your marketing initiatives such as running a promotion on relevant products or helping you further divide your list.

Activity 1
Start creating your list with your current customers’ details.

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Design

Some points to keep in mind:

  • Tone. Think about the tone of your copy: does it match your business?
  • Look and feel. Think about the look and feel: does it match your brand?

When creating the layout for your email it’s important to consider the following:

  • Design for email. A printed flyer may not necessarily work in email form.
  • Navigation. How easy is it for people to get through your email? Especially with longer emails it’s important to be able to scan quickly for content that is of particular interest.
  • Length of email. Would your email be more effective broken up into smaller pieces and sent over a few days? If it’s too long, then content at the bottom could be missed.
  • Plain text email. A plain text email is just that – plain text. No images, no HTML, no hyperlinks, just text. Plain text can be useful as some devices (smartwatches) only display text, spam filters don’t flag plain text emails, some email clients don’t handle HTML very well and some readers might just prefer it.
  • 102 KB Limit. In Gmail an email stops loading when it gets to 102 KB, so you’ll see the message “Message clipped”. Not ideal. A shorter email will have less HTML code, so less chance it’ll get this message. For longer emails there is a chance the customer won’t click to download the remaining code so never sees the bottom of your email. Also, clipping means the email won’t be tracked by your email platform. You won’t know if someone opened it or it.
  • Maximum width 600 px. Ensures your email looks its best across different screen sizes and email clients.

Quick tip
To make the email less likely to be treated as spam, also create a plain text version.

Top of the Email

The subject line and preheader are the first things your audience will read and play a pivotal role in getting people to open your emails.

  • Subject Line. This needs to be enticing and clear. Subject line length is less important as modern devices display the whole line. However, shorter is often better.
  • Preheader. This is a valuable piece of content that is often overlooked. Use this content to build on the subject line. In Gmail, Outlook and on iPhone this text displays under the subject line as preview text (usually around 100 characters).
  • Personalised “From” Address. People are more likely to open an email from an actual person such as [email protected] rather than [email protected]
  • Link to View/Read Online. This is not necessary if an email is fully tested across all popular email clients (see section 8). Plus it’s a waste of valuable email real estate.
  • Link to Subscribe. A handy addition. This way, if your email is forwarded, the recipient has an easy way of joining your list.

Quick tip
Wherever possible, do not have “Trouble viewing this email…”, “Read online” or “Unsubscribe” displaying in the teaser text.

Content

For the main body of your email, there are some guidelines to follow that will make it more effective:

  • Clear calls to action. Think about what you want the customer to do. If they need to take action, make it obvious; for example, insert an instruction to ‘Click here!’
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs. You want your customer to keep reading, not fall asleep
  • Use white space to make it easy to read and draw your eye to different content.
  • Add hyperlinks. Link your articles/products/images back to your website for more information and an easy purchase.
  • Use text formatting such as bold text, bullet points and subheadings for effect.
  • Use spacing and horizontal lines to separate content areas.
  • Use web-safe fonts only. Alternatively, you can use images to display text in a different font, but only use these where necessary as they add size to your email.
  • Use social sharing and ‘Forward to a friend’ links to increase open rates and grow your database.

Quick tip
These are our suggested minimum font sizes: Body text: 14px | Header text: 22px

Remember, in today’s mobile-first world your email will be being read on a small screen.

Above all, keep the content relevant to your audience. By dealing with their problems and offering them a solution in line with your content plan, you should never be at a loss with what to write each month.

Images

Images speak louder than words, so use them to emphasise your message. There are some important points to note:

  • Alternative text. Always use alternative (alt) text for images. By combining these with styles and background colours you can create an attractive ‘images off’ email where your message is still visible. ‘Alt text’ is words or phrases used in HTML to tell the website viewers the content of an image. Alt text appears in a blank box that would normally contain the image and can be incredibly useful when an image link is not available or when an image is not supported in the recipient’s email program.
  • Background images. These aren’t supported in all email clients so ensure the email is still ‘attractive’ without them.
  • Image size. Always resize and optimise your images with Photoshop or a similar app. Do not exceed the maximum width of the email and scale images to 72 dpi (dots per inch). The smaller in file size your images are, the quicker your email will load. Photoshop has a ‘save for web’ function, which removes all the unnecessary data from image files.
  • Animated GIFs. These are okay in moderation and can add great visual impact to an otherwise static email.
  • Image-to-text ratio. Too much text is off-putting. Too many images might get the email flagged as spam and not seen. Strike a healthy balance between images and words. Bear in mind that on average 24 per cent of email text is read thoroughly, but 80 per cent of images are seen.
  • Images-only emails: Although images-only emails are sometimes necessary, we suggest keeping the preheader and footer as text elements, otherwise the email could be flagged as spam.
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Footer

The footer of an email usually includes contact details, social links and other general information about the company. Some notes:

  • Why me? It’s good practice to include, ‘You are receiving this email because you signed up on our website’ or a similar message to remind people of why they’re receiving the email. This will cut down on spam complaints lodged against the sender’s email address.
  • What are spam complaints? This is when someone clicks the ‘Mark as spam’ or ‘Report as junk’ button in an email. Some people also use this as a lazy way to unsubscribe so remember to include an unsubscribe link.
  • Unsubscribe link. It is a legal requirement to include this: even the most loyal customer may want to break up the relationship some time. The ‘unsubscribe’ link has to be clear and must be a one-click unsubscribe rather than the ‘send an email to this address with unsubscribe in the subject line …’ method. When contacting an old or inactive list, consider adding an extra unsubscribe link in the header. Don’t worry about unsubscribes — you want a clean list with only those on it who want to hear from you.

Quick tip
It’s good practice to include your company name, address and contact details—it just adds to your credibility.

Designing for mobile phones

A huge 53 per cent of email readers opened their email on a portable device in 2016.

Creating a mobile-friendly version is crucial as the number of people opening email on mobile phones increases. It’s the new norm. Think about the following:

  • Optimised for mobile. If you aren’t using responsive code — that is when it automatically fits the screen in a way that’s easy to read — ensure your email is still readable on a small screen.
  • Calls to action. These must be tappable on a touchscreen with image sizes a minimum of 44 × 44 pixels.
  • Layout. Increase font sizes, line heights and the use of white space to make the layout finger-navigation friendly.
  • One-column format works best for mobile. Anything else becomes hard to read.

Testing

Test! Test! Test! Then test again.

Once the email has been built it is important to test the hell out of it, ensuring the customer will see it the way it was intended. Test your HTML code across all major email clients to ensure your email displays correctly for all your customers. If an email is broken, you could lose that customer. Litmus and Email on Acid are great, simple, easy to use programs for ensuring email readability across all clients and platforms.

Proofread your content and get it peer reviewed before sending, you might have missed something. Typoes an Bad Grama doesnt look good!

Your database is invaluable so spending a few minutes to triple check everything is worth it.

Quick tip
Adding the Litmus tracking code will help you to identify your database’s specific viewing habits.

Database

A lot goes on behind the scenes besides simply building the email. Maintaining your database is incredibly important. Regularly sending emails to your list helps keep the database fresh and engaged with your content.

We suggest sending emails at least monthly and sticking to a schedule. This will help create user habits so they’ll come to expect your email. For infrequent sends to less active lists there is a risk of people marking you as spam, simply because they forgot they even signed up.

When trying to grow your database, use these ideas to get started:

  • Collect contacts in-store and online. Run competitions where entry is via email; if you have an event, take a signup form.
  • Use competitions and tell-a-friend promotions.
  • Collect more data from customers to enable targeted emails.
    For example, add new fields to the signup forms, then create content-specific campaigns to the users’ interests or demographic.

Quick tip
If people aren’t opening your monthly emails, target these people with a re-engagement campaign to get them back on board.

Sending

When should you send your emails, and should you resend them?

We normally schedule emails anywhere between 10 am and 3 pm, but there are no hard rules around this—it is really dependent on your database.

Collect information on when emails are opened. It’s a good idea to try sending at different times, or sending the same email at different times to different lists in order to get some concrete data on the best open times.

Resending emails to those contacts who haven’t opened your latest email is a great way to encourage more readers. We suggest changing the subject line and preheader text on these resends.

Be aware of your audience. International emails need to be relevant, double-checked for spelling (optimize vs optimise) and sent at appropriate times.

Quick tip
Resends win! After sending an email, wait two to three days and then resend to the people who didn’t open the first time around.

Activity 2
Choose your email marketing campaign provider. MailChimp is extremely popular, as are Constant Contact, Aweber and Infusionsoft.

Lifecycle Emails

Lifecycle emails are automated messages sent to a (usually inactive) contact after a certain period of time (such as one month, two months, or six months, for example). These emails are used to remind the recipient to take action (activate a card, pop in for an oil change or save 10 per cent, for example) and convert them into active customers, usually by offering them a reason to get back on track and involved with your business.

As lifecycle emails are usually automated they’re a great way to get in touch and reconnect with those customers who may have slipped through the cracks. If there is no contact from the recipient after 12 months they are typically removed from the database.

Conclusion

This might sound like a lot of work and time, but once your database is up and running it’s a matter of maintenance. Think of your database like a garden: the ground needs to be cleared, then you add your plants, then once the hard work is done all that’s required is a little pruning here, some feeding and watering, and a bit of attention to allow it to flourish.

If you’d like to send better email, contact Spike today.