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Marketing - 9 min READ

The 8 top email marketing best practices to know

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Author photo: Carrie Shaw

Carrie Shaw

Chief Marketing Officer

Email marketing works. After all, it has one of the highest marketing ROI of all channels.

But like any good thing in life, it’s not a slam dunk or instant gratification—it takes time to build a great email list.

Reaping the benefits of email marketing begins with following a few best practices to connect with your target audience. These guidelines will help you identify who, what, where, and when to send emails to get the most out of your mailing list and email marketing efforts.

In this digital marketing guide, we'll look at the benefits of email marketing and 8 best practices:

  1. Don't send spam.
  2. A/B test.
  3. Send emails at the right time.
  4. Send relevant content.
  5. Don’t forget the “from” name.
  6. Write good subject lines.
  7. Keep it simple.
  8. Always do quality control.

The benefits of email marketing

You know email marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels. But its reach goes far beyond that.

Here are the top benefits of email marketing:

  • Greater credibility
    • You’ve heard it before. People do business with people and organizations they know, like, and trust. Email is a channel to build and nurture relationships.
  • Improved communication
    • You can’t reach everyone over the phone. Whether it’s a follow-up sales email or abandoned cart reminder, emails are a pretty reliable way of reaching people.
  • Testing what works
    • Emails are great for getting to know your audience because it's a low-risk way to share new product ideas, gather feedback, and test what type of content works and what doesn’t work. It’s a useful testing ground to identify what resonates with your audience and build content that speaks to them.
  • Easy to get started
    • There’s a low barrier to entry in email marketing. Even if you have a limited budget and just a few subscribers, you can start sending emails. For instance, Mailchimp lets you send emails to up to 2,000 contacts a month for free.
  • More website traffic
    • Emails can also drive people to your site, getting more people to see that latest product and check out what your brand is all about.
  • New clients
    • Your email list is a prime source of warm leads. They know who you are, what you’re about, and a little about your product and services. With your mailing list, email marketing can then help you convert those subscribers into paying customers.

Now, let’s look at some email marketing best practices.

1. Don’t send spam.

This sounds obvious for an email marketing campaign and for email marketing best practices, but many businesses continue to toe the line. I’m going to repeat it again for the people in the back. Stop. Sending. Spam. Emails.

That includes purchasing any lists, sharing email contact lists with other companies, and gathering email addresses from conference attendees (unless they’ve specifically said it’s okay to send them emails.)

And yes, I might be a bit biased, but I’d highly recommend using a CRM to manage your email contacts throughout every email campaign.

CRMs like Copper integrate with email platforms (like Gmail and Mailchimp), which lets you export contacts (leads, customers, partners, you name it) from your CRM into email databases. It’s a good way to ensure your database is updated and consistent across every channel to avoid accidentally sending an email to old, outdated contacts, which could cause your emails to be marked as spam and hurt your email reputation:

If you want to learn more about this, check out our marketing emails post on how to send bulk email without spamming.

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2. A/B test.

Also known as split testing, A/B testing is the process of isolating and testing different elements of your email marketing campaign (in your emails, webpages, ads, and so on) to see what works.

Here’s how A/B testing works. There are two main elements in A/B testing an email:

Control element = your original email or test object

Variation = what you want to test for your marketing campaign

Pro-tip: Always make sure to test only one element of email content at a time. Otherwise, you won’t be able to identify what worked and what didn’t.

For example, say you want to test your idea that personalizing a subject line will increase open rates. You typically send a follow-up email to customers with the subject line, “Give us one more chance.” You want to try adding the subscriber’s first name to grab their attention.

Let’s apply A/B testing to this scenario:

Control element = “Give us one more chance.”

Variation = “Eric, give us one more chance.”

For example, say you want to test your idea that personalizing a subject line will increase open rates. You typically send a follow-up email to customers with the subject line, “Give us one more chance.” You want to try adding the subscriber’s first name in an email subject line to grab their attention.

Let’s apply A/B testing to this scenario:

Control element = “Give us one more chance.”

Variation = “Eric, give us one more chance.”

Next, randomly split your email list. Send half of your list the first email with the control subject line. Send the other half of your target audience email list the variation, or test, email to see which version increases open rates.

You can test more than just open rates and subject lines too. There are countless different variations and elements to A/B test, from body copy, and calls to action to the button color and type of graphics.

A/B testing seems like an advanced marketing concept, but technology has made it incredibly simple to implement and use. Most popular email platforms today have A/B testing features that allow you to divide your list for a marketing campaign and test email performance easily. (Mailchimp, Aweber, and Campaign Monitor all offer A/B testing.)

3. Send the right emails at the right time.

There’s a delicate balance between consistent communication, and overloading your subscribers with so much information that they opt out (aka. unsubscribe).

When it comes to email frequency, you should already know, as an email marketer, the answer based on my first point above: test it!

While you can find plenty of digital marketing research on email sending frequency and recommendations, the reality is every brand’s email list, objectives, and campaigns are different.

You need to test and fine-tune the process yourself to see what is the best time to send emails, during a marketing campaign, to your subscribers.

It also depends on the type of emails. For example, an e-commerce business might only send one newsletter a month. However, they might find that sending multiple email promotions during a sale increases sales more than if they send just one.

Companies like Nordstrom and Bloomingdales for example, might send weekly newsletters and product features to their audience. However, during huge sales or promotions, they might increase it to daily emails as part of an email marketing strategy.

As a marketer, you should also account for the right time to send emails. If it’s business or B2B correspondence, they might be more likely to open their emails Monday through Friday during business hours. (Or possibly on Sunday night when they’re checking email to prepare for the week.)

There are even tools like the Seventh Sense that help you send marketing emails when your customers are most likely to open them.

Finally, make sure you establish a consistent cadence. If you do start sending more emails and notice a downward trend on your open rate, and more people unsubscribing, it might be time to scale back and send fewer emails so you don’t annoy your readers.

4. Send relevant content.

Where people tend to go wrong with emails is when they think with their sales hat (e.g., “I need to sell this right away.”) instead of building a relationship by sending valuable and relevant content.

Sending relevant content simply means sending content your readers are interested in.

One way to be sure you’re sending relevant content to email addresses is to give your subscribers options—when they sign up, you can let people choose by frequency (daily, weekly, or monthly updates), or by topic.

Take a look at this welcome email from Mashable’s email campaign. Subscribers see exactly what they’re getting (top stories, viral news and breaking news alerts), and they can manage their subscription to control which type of email alerts they want to see:

Instead of trying to sell your customers something using an email marketing strategy, take a moment to brainstorm what they need. Are they looking for an answer to a question? Solving a problem? What challenges are they facing?

Think about what your target customers would enjoy and build email marketing content around that. Providing value is the first step in nurturing a relationship and converting them to customers.

5. Don’t forget the “from” name.

Send emails at the right time. Who the email is actually from makes a big difference, whether you are a friend or email marketer. Take a look at this study by Litmus and Fluent:

Over 42% of respondents reported that they looked at who an email was from before they looked at the subject line or preview text.

Make your “from” fields personal. Include your name and company, like “Siena from Copper.” Don’t use “No-Reply”—it’s spammy and impersonal for effective email marketing.

6. Write good subject lines.

Are you taking subject lines seriously enough?

Think about it. After the “from” email address, the subject line is your first impression. It’s your split-second chance to convince people to open your emails.

Great subject lines are key for effective email marketing but vary widely. (If there’s one thing you take away from this, always test and try your ideas!)

Here are some ideas to test as a marketer:

  • Using subscribers’ names
  • Emojis
  • Action verbs: keep it direct and concise
  • Consistency: Especially if it’s a regular monthly or weekly newsletter, a consistent, strong subject line will help subscribers recognize what it is and who it’s from.

7. Keep it simple.

Next, let’s move on to the body of your emails. The goal here is to get your subscribers’ attention quickly with quality written email content.

Keep it focused and short. Don’t ask people to do too much in one email. People have an eight-section attention span when they open up an email, so put the most important call-to-action high in the email.

Make sure all the essential information appears “above-the-fold”—it’s the area of your screen that appears without someone having to scroll down, like this example from Headspace:

Your email should also be easy to read. Use bullet points when possible to make the content scannable.

8. Always conduct quality control.

Quality control, or QA, is the last step before you send out an email. During QA, you double-check everything to make sure it’s correct, accurate, and is ready to be sent.

  • Mobile vs. desktop: Check that your email is formatted correctly on all devices including computers, tablets, and mobile phones
  • Verify all links are correct and working
  • Are there any typos?
  • Make sure all the images are showing up

Nothing looks sloppier than an email with typos or broken links. Always QA every email before you send it out.

Why email marketing best practices matter.

Email marketing works. After all, email has been around for over 40 years and it’s still going strong.

But email marketing has changed. Tactics that used to work 10 years ago are considered spammy today.

It’s also a crowded marketplace. Because it’s cheap and easy to start an email list, nearly every company these days has one, making it a competition to get into your audience’s inbox.

It’s also time-consuming. You invest a ton of time into your email marketing. From copy to design to building a list, it takes a significant amount of time, creativity, and resources every month.

Make sure it’s worth your while. Use the tried-and-true email best practices above to get high-quality, relevant emails into the inboxes of your target customers.

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