We’re suffering from a mixed message. Everyone complains about getting so many emails, yet marketers swear email marketing is a great way to reach your audience. Which is it?
Both! Through email marketing, you can send updates, offer special values, and remain top of mind for your clients and customers. And email reportedly has the highest ROI of all marketing channels. But only if they open your message. Read these 6 tips for building a great marketing email—one your audience won’t regret opening.
1. Know your goal
Do not email your customers because you feel lonely or because you finally have a spare hour or because some marketing blog—even ours—said you should. Each message you send needs to have a specific purpose, such as:
- engagement/re-engagement (We missed you!)
- confirming an action (Your payment has processed.)
- promotion/value offer (20% off socks!)
- sharing necessary information (Your flight has been cancelled.)
Having a clear goal will help you decide if the email should be short and sweet—likely for a promotion—or if you can share some detail—as you would in a newsletter. You’re probably thinking, My goal is to grow my business, make more sales, or book more customers. That’s great. But to reach that loftier goal, you need to have a mini goal for each email you send.
However, the number one goal of any email is…to get opened.
On average, people receive 121 business emails per day and only open about 1 in 5. To make your email one of the lucky 20%, keep these best practices in mind.
First, do not send emails to accounts who have never interacted with you. Don’t buy a list of leads. Stick to communicating with people who have voluntarily signed up to receive your messages or who have connected with your business through a transaction.
Ask yourself: Which emails did I open today and why? Which did I delete and why?
2. Nail the subject line
The first step to getting your email opened is writing a great subject line. You want to catch a person’s eye as he skims his inbox. It’s a balance between standing out and getting to the point. With as many checking their inboxes on mobile devices, you want to stay under 50 characters long.
Tell people what’s inside: “40% off coupon just for you” “Your free ebook from [business name]”
Or let them know what they need to do: “📦 Ready to review your latest order?” “Don’t miss free shipping this Saturday”
Instead of saying newsletter, hit the highlights: “Kitchen reno before & after” “Fave updos from the Grammys”
Stick to your brand. If you’re a no-nonsense financial firm, skip the emojis. If you own a fun-loving candy company, be playful. Customers want a consistent brand experience, so your emails—starting with the subject line—should feel aligned with your brand voice.
Don’t lie. This shouldn’t need to be said, but it does. If your email doesn’t contain cute cat photos, don’t say it will. If you’re not actually giving away free concert tickets, don’t pretend you are. If you think your subject feels fishy, so will your readers—and they’ll never want to open another email from you. Market, don’t manipulate.
Ask yourself: What subject lines catch my eye? Which ones make me roll my eyes and hit delete?
3. Write skimmable content
Within the first five seconds of opening your email, the reader should know who sent it, what it’s about, and what they need to do. Don’t bury the lead. Give it all away as fast as you can, while sticking to your brand voice. Answering key questions up front builds trust with your reader, making it more likely that they’ll take the desired action.
According to Nielson Norman Group’s eye-tracking study, email readers spend 57% of their time on content “above the fold,”meaning what they can see on a desktop without scrolling. This makes a strong case for getting to the point quickly.
Headings and bullet points also aid in skimming. A strong headline at the top of the email grounds the read. Keep paragraphs short and bold important phrases. Chances are, you’re not reading every word of this blog, but you probably paused over that phrase. See? It works.
Ask yourself: When was the last time I read every word of a non-personal email?
4. Give a clear call to action
A call to action or CTA is a marketing term for what you want the consumer to do. What’s the next step you hope the reader takes after skimming your email? Should they visit your website, head to your store, or call for an appointment? Whatever it is, make it big and obvious, and put it on a button if possible.
Here’s another time to keep your brand in mind. Engaging CTAs that instill a sense of urgency will get the most clicks. But don’t write like someone you’re not.
“Snag your exclusive clutch bag before they’re gone!”
“Call for a free tax return review”
“Donate now to save pandas like Ernie”
The CTA should appear above the fold and be easy to understand without reading the rest of the email. Even in a newsletter, you can (and should) build in action steps, such as “Read more on the blog” or “Forward this message to a friend.”
Ask yourself: What is the one, simple next step I want this person to take? What is stopping them, and how can I remove that obstacle?
5. Engage with clean design
Great emails are easy to process and satisfying to engage. First up, put your logo on top. A 2020 study found that both brand recall and purchase likeliness increased when the company logo was included in the email. It also answers one of the reader’s key questions: who sent this?
Use images to capture attention, and make sure they link to a relevant destination—like a blog header sending you to a blog or a product image linking to the product listing. Stick to a simple color palette that aligns with your visual style, and keep your text in a high-contrast color to ensure readability.
About a quarter of emails are opened on mobile but almost half of all clicks occur through mobile email. So, it’s pretty important that your messages are mobile friendly. I’m still shocked when I receive emails for legitimate sources that shrink to tininess when I open them on my phone. Of course, using the right email tools will solve that problem for you. Hint, hint. Scroll down.
Ask yourself: What is the first thing I looked at on this email? Why did I look there?
6. Use the right tools
Do not send emails to your customers through Gmail, Outlook, or another typical mail platform. They will look terrible and you may end up on a spam list.
Using an email marketing platform gives you access to design templates and should ensure a mobile-friendly message. And there are a number of great tools out there. Most charge by the number of contacts on your list and number of emails sent per period.
We have the most experience with MailChimp. Their free account is business-friendly and includes lots of analytics including open rate, click rate, and more. We’ve also heard good things about HubSpot, Constant Contact, and Flodesk. As you become more advanced, these tools will help you run A/B testing, segment your audience, and create automations.
Ask yourself: Now that I know so much about email marketing, which tool will help me get started?
Frequently asked questions about email marketing
How do I build my email list?
This is a hot topic. In a nutshell, have your web developer set up a place on your site where people can subscribe to your emails (like the one at the bottom of this blog). This generally works best if you offer something of value: a sign-up coupon, an ebook or helpful guide, exclusive content. Do NOT buy your email list.
When should I send my emails?
Timing is everything. According to Campaign Monitor, emails sent on Monday get opened the most, but Tuesday and Wednesday get the most clicks. Focus on sending the message when your audience needs the information.
How often should I send emails?
We always recommend consistency over frequency. Sending three emails one week then zero for six months is confusing to your audience. Start small. Consider a quarterly newsletter or a notification to accompany a certain type of promotion, then build from there.
What is GDPR and does it apply to my marketing emails?
We are NOT legal experts, but as we understand it, GDPR affects emails to European recipients. The issue is whether or not they agreed to the receive emails by opting-in, not just failing to opt-out.
Do I need an unsubscribe link on my emails campaigns?
Yes! Include an unsubscribe link in the footer of every email you send. Don’t try to hide it. A good platform will put it there for you.
Do you feel ready to add email marketing to your business strategy? Let us know in the comments below!