Email marketing best practices you need to know…

If you’ve been collecting email addresses for a while, chances are you have hundreds or even thousands of names on your list. That’s a great start. But now what?

Done correctly, email marketing can generate a lot of hot leads quickly and cheaply. For those of you who are new to the email marketing game, I want to share with you some best practices for creating and running a successful email campaign.

First, a little background on email marketing. The first email was 46 years ago and the first mass email was sent six years after that. But until the 1990s, direct marketing was really all about phone calls and snail-mail. Once services like Hotmail and Yahoo began offering free email addresses to the general public, however, everything changed.

In the mid-1990s, marketers employed the “spray and pray” method of email marketing. They blasted everyone on their email list (usually once a month) and hoped someone would respond.

By the late 1990s, email users were frustrated by their cluttered inboxes, so providers created Spam folders to filter out mass messages. Also, the Data Protection Act in the US required emails to contain a way to opt-out. And in 2003, the Can-Spam Law imposed strict regulations on commercial email. Not long after, smartphones became commonplace and social media took off.

All of these changes forced marketers to reimagine email campaigns. It was no longer enough to blindly send emails and hope they were opened. Email marketing had to get much more strategic.

Today, email marketing looks very different than the “spray and pray” method of nearly three decades ago. Unfortunately, I still see many businesses using this outdated approach. Just like most of us would be laughed out of a room if we wore our hair as we did in the late 90s, we can’t use the same marketing practices and expect to be taken seriously by prospects and clients.

So what are the keys to a successful email campaign? Here are six best practices to consider.

Best Practice #1: The List

The email list you market to will determine the success of your email campaign. Having the most up-to-date data when you start marketing is important.

Make sure your list is new or, if not, consider purchasing or renting a new one. There are providers who append emails to an existing database, asking recipients to opt-in to receive communication from you.

If you’ve been compiling your list yourself and are certain the names and addresses are current, then you are already one step ahead of many others!

List hygiene is becoming more important in the marketing arena. If you have an email database that you have been emailing for a while – when was the last time you cleaned the list? If someone has never opened any of your emails in the past 2 years, it is best practice to remove those from regular email sends or drip campaigns, and segment those into a different reactivation campaign. If after a couple of attempts to reactivate the email and the person still does not open the email, remove them. You might be asking yourself; “If email is essentially free to send, why should I care if someone opens my email or not?”

An email sender’s reputation is not the sole factor that decides whether a message gets delivered. It is determined on a subscriber by subscriber basis. Deliverability has become personalised, similar to the way Google search results show different listings for different users.

Internet Service Providers or ISPs are sophisticated enough to decide on inbox placement not by just the sender score, but by what each email subscriber has previously shown interest in. To say it another way, deliverability is decided at the subscriber level, not the sender level.

Deliverability is determined by algorithms now. Hundreds, if not thousands of signals determine if an email gets through. Gmail actually uses “several thousand” different signals. Here’s a statistic that will give you an idea of how the ISPs view deliverability, and what they’re up against: They estimate about 95% of emails have ZERO value. That’s right: In the eyes of an ISP, only about one of twenty emails deserves to reach the inbox. That does not mean these guys are out to get email marketers. If your subscribers like your emails, they actually want your messages to get through.

Here are just a handful of different deliverability signals that ISPs look for:

– Engagement rates, things like open rates, whether a message is marked as important, whether the email sender address is in the email recipient’s address book if the recipient has replied to the sender before if the email recipient has opened messages from the sender before.

– How many messages are marked as spam?

– Reputation, which includes the reputation of the IP address you’re sending from and the reputation of the email sender and other signals.

– Email content, especially if a message trips a spam score tester.

At the end of the day, if you want to achieve success in the email marketing arena, it truly does start and end with the quality of your list and the quality and relevance of your email messages.

Best Practice #2: LinkedIn

Upload your list of email addresses into LinkedIn, which connects emails with profiles. When you sync your email list with the LinkedIn contact database, LinkedIn will send connection requests to the people associated with your email addresses. This step helps with your “know, like, and trust” factor—and gets your name in front of your prospects.

People will open emails from people they know. Coupling your internal business database with an external social media platform like LinkedIn will help future emails campaigns overall engagement because the recipient has (hopefully) connected with you on LinkedIn and they are now familiar with you – increasing the chance of them engaging with the emails you send them.

However, this process does not work the other way around. Just because someone connects with you on LinkedIn does not mean they want you to add them to regular email campaigns, without opting in or giving permission first.

Best Practice #3: Segmentation

If you’re going to send an email to a group of people on your database, you need to segment. Segmentation allows you to send emails based on common characteristics of the recipients, making your emails more personalised and relevant. This helps open and clickthrough rates (more on that in a minute).

Best Practice # 4: Structure

It’s important to understand the structure of an email—what’s important, what gets opened, and what gets read.

1.   From: The sender of an email should be your name and that is it. Don’t put your name in caps or put your name and company name together. Don’t use a formal version of your name or add a title or degree. Keep it simple and clear.

2.   Subject: The subject line is the most important component of an email. It’s even more important than the body because it’s what gets someone to open and read the email. Don’t summarise the contents or make it generic (ie, Newsletter #23). Also, remember most email is read on a mobile device, which will cut off long subject lines. This line should arouse curiosity, assume familiarity, and be short (between 41 and 50 characters). For example, if you’re sending an invite to a business event, “Are you free next Thursday?” versus “Invitation to XYZ event”.

3.   Preview: Scroll through emails using different devices and platforms. They look different on Android vs. iPhone, or in Gmail vs. Outlook. What’s generally the same is you see the sender’s name, the subject line (at a certain number of characters), and a preview of the first bit of the email. If the first line of your email is an image HTML header, the recipient will likely write it off as mass mail. You want your email to look like a regular business email, so keep it simple with just text (your email signature should be the only graphic component). And make sure the unsubscribe button is at the end of the email.

4.   Length: Again, the key is to keep it simple and short. In general, 50 to 125 words is considered the optimal length for an email. That gives you about 30 seconds to get your point across. Get to the point and make your email about them, not you.

5.   Call to Action/Offer: Don’t end your email by saying you’ll call the recipient soon. Include a way they can respond digitally (if they opened your email, the chances are good they prefer to communicate digitally). For example, include a link to the calendaring system to book an appointment, or to a white paper they can download,

Best Practice # 5: Skip Attachments

Don’t include attachments, especially for cold outreach emails. Spam filters flag certain emails as potential spam. Emails that include attachments are often seen as suspicious because this is how malware is often distributed.

Best Practice #6: Know Your Numbers

The average open rate in the business and finance category is 20.97% (19.54% for consulting). The average click-through rate in business and finance is 2.73% (1.95% for consulting). The average landing page conversion is 2.35% (the very best landing pages only convert at 5.31%). If you send 1,000 emails, about 200 people will actually open it, 30 of those will then click through to your landing, and you will convert 1-2 of those into leads.

Happy (and responsible) emailing!