Email marketing 101

Posted by Owen Powis on 11 Nov, 2015
View comments Marketing
If you’re not using email to your advantage you’re missing out. It’s that simple. Luckily we’ve made it easy to get started with this simple 101 guide that will introduce you to the key factors you need to consider and give you some actionable steps to get started.

Choosing a marketing platform

There are a myriad of different email marketing platforms out there, some good, some not so good. Here at Wordtracker we have used Mailchimp for a long time. However, there are some pretty big limitations with this service, which is why we decided to build our own platform -  Mailflow.

There are lots of services to choose from, so it’s a good idea to have a shop around and see what fits your requirements. These are some of the most useful features to look out for:

Email templates

Quality beats quantity here. You can spend a lot of time designing templates and trying to remember how to use tables in html. To avoid all this, a decent email template is a must. It means you can launch with something that looks great, right away.

Automated sequences

The ability to send emails in a sequence is crucial. Automated sequences allow you to line up emails and send follow-ups at a pre-set time after a user has opened or clicked within an email.  This is a really useful feature that allows for much smarter, tailored marketing.

Support

Don’t underestimate the value of good support. Live chat or email is fine - as long as you're confident you can get in touch when you need to. Don't rely on a forum or other community based support. You want to be able to talk to someone at the company.

Pricing

Look for a free tier and check how much it costs to buy additional sends. Remember your list might be small now but it will grow, so you need pricing that is scalable.

Building your email list

Once again, the old maxim of quality over quantity holds true here. The trouble is it’s all too easy to become fixated on the numbers and just concentrate on growing these, but you need to build a quality list.

When you start out, and if you have low traffic numbers, there simply won’t be the footfall to build a large list quickly. Following these basics will help you get started without falling into the numbers trap.

Make it easy - The more fields you make people fill in, the fewer sign ups you’ll get. It’s worth doing some basic split testing on the sign up form using different variations for a set time and working out the ratio of visitors to sign ups to see which gets the best response.

Make it sound enticing - It’s amazing the number of people who use the standard “Sign up to our newsletter for special offers” type introduction. That’s not going to get people excited about being on your mailing list. Try something that’s tailored to your audience, which shows that your newsletter will give them access to exclusive offers or great content (otherwise what’s the point in subscribing?). So instead of:

“Sign up to the newsletter for the latest news and information”

try something like:

“Sign up to receive the latest email marketing strategies to help you make your marketing more effective. Packed full of exclusive content and interviews.”

Test a few variants to see what works best for you and your audience. This sort of copy can make a huge difference to the sign up rates.

However, don’t go too far down this line...

Created by coercion -  This is basically the carrot / stick approach, which is probably best avoided. You can make signing up a barrier to something (content, information, etc), or you can bribe your users into signing up (offering free credits / products, competitions, etc).

The problem here is the quality of the audience you create. You will likely have higher unsubscribe rates from your first couple of emails and more junk reports. If just  0.1% of people report your emails as junk you’ll be raising flags with your email platform and may well have your account suspended. If you generate a list by coercion, you may end up with a list who just want the freebies and nothing else. So be careful when you give away an incentive to sign up, if the appeal is restricted to your niche you're more likely to get actionable emails out of it. It's also even more important than ever to double opt in emails added in this way to filter out the junk.

Use a lightbox opt in form - This can be a useful option, though it does have its pitfalls.  The way it works is to display a lightbox over the top of a page with the email sign up form. This effectively forces the issue for the user, who has to choose whether to sign up or not. So, they can’t just ignore the sign up form in the sidebar. The downside is the potential annoyance to users. However, through the use of cookies most of these forms can be set to appear only once per user. Some will even predict when the user is about to leave and will serve the form just before they do so.

Best practice

A good email platform will not let you go too far wrong in terms of best practice. However it pays to know the basics…

Don’t ever buy lists or import a list you have not collected yourself to use as your own. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea but the bottom line is there are laws governing the use and collection of emails and if you're using a purchased list you could well be falling foul of them. Also you don't want to be one of 'those guys' adding to the ever mounting collection of unwanted emails in people's inboxes.

Do make sure you use a double opt in. This is a service most email platforms should offer (and many insist on). It means that when people sign up on your site they are sent a confirmation email. They are only added to the list after they click to confirm in the email. At this point they can also be given the option to unsubscribe, stopping a problem before it occurs.

Have a clear unsubscribe button. It may seem counterintuitive but making it easy for a user to unsubscribe means your list becomes self cleaning. It also means people are less likely to report you as spam or junk out of frustration because they can’t stop emails from you. We’re working with an email platform at the moment on a system to automatically remove people from email lists (such as newsletters) when they are consistently unresponsive. These users can then be either reactivated or removed from the wider audience.

Make email marketing an opt in process. Don’t have a sign up process for your product with “Sign me up for the newsletter” already ticked. People should make the decision to add themselves to the list.

Understand the difference between transactional and marketing emails. If someone makes a purchase from your site and you send them an email to say that the payment has been received and the product is on its way, that’s transactional. However if you were then to email them weekly with new products and offers, this is marketing.  Users need to have specifically opted in to receive such communications. We'll deal with this specific issue in the next article in the series.

Think of an email address as a person. Each one represents VIP access to someone’s digital life. If you abuse that access it will be revoked, so make sure every email you send them is relevant, interesting and genuinely likely to provoke positive action. The more you sell to your list with mediocre offers the more unresponsive the people on it will become and the less traction you will have with them.

In summary

Much like in search, in email content is king. However, with email you have the advantage of segmenting your audience and providing the content that will work best for them. Don’t be drawn into thinking that bigger numbers are better, but concentrate instead on how responsive your audience is. That way you will be able to create a positive and lasting relationship between them and your brand.

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