Email Marketing Best Practices to Connect With Your Audience

Caitlin Knudsen

Content Marketing,
Small Business

For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you get a $42 return on investment (ROI), and that’s more than any other form of marketing out there. That’s huge! And having a robust and growing email list gives you direct access to an interested audience. With all that potential, you want to make sure you’re going about your email marketing in a practical, impactful way. 

Fortunately, email marketing doesn’t have to be complicated, and once you know email marketing best practices, you can sit back and watch your ROI increase over time. Let’s go through the anatomy of a stellar email, the dos of email marketing, how to make sure you’re sending your emails without major snafus, and how to manage your email marketing like a well-oiled machine.    


The Anatomy of a Stellar Email

Behind the scenes of a restaurant, there are chefs, sous chefs, sauciers, pastry chefs, kitchen managers, and more, making sure your meal gets to you on time and with the right balance of flavors and textures to leave you saying, “Wow!” We’re going to get to all the behind-the-scenes stuff in a few minutes, but let’s talk about the finished dish that you send out to your email list: the perfect email. 


  • Personalize Your Greeting
    Let’s start at the beginning. People love feeling special, and one way to make them feel special is to personalize your greeting. Include personalization in your email marketing to treat your audience like individuals, not numbers; they’re more likely to open and engage with your email if they feel seen. Many email marketing services include an option to send an email to your audience by first name, last name, or full name. Use it. It makes a difference.
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  • Write a Subject Line That Inspires Action
    Without a solid subject line, people are not going to open your emails. But it’s easy to go south with subject lines and focus too much on creativity and not enough on efficacy. Find the balance between an enticing subject line and clarifying what they will find in the email. Get to the point and be truthful.

    If you’re having a sale, tell them what kind of sale. If you have a free downloadable resource in the email, tell them it’s there and what it will do for them. Pique their curiosity, but don’t rely on evasive phrasing (“Do you want to know a secret?”) and overused buzzwords to get them to open. And one final note: people are more likely to open emails that include numbers in the subject line.
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  • Include Tempting Preview Text
    While you’re crafting your top-notch subject line, make sure you think about your preview text as well. You may have heard the term preheader text when it comes to email marketing, and it’s time we defined the difference between preheaders and previews.

    Preheader text is the text in the body of the email that comes first. People use preheader text as the preview text, which is the few text lines that show up underneath the subject line in your inbox. It’s just as important as the subject line as it can be an extension of it or expand upon its message. Include a call to action (CTA), and use that extra space to convince your audience they need to open your email and see what’s inside.
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  • Don’t Forget Your Logo
    Your emails need to be recognizable, and one of the ways to make them pop is to include your logo at the top of the email. It’s an excellent strategy for building brand identity. There are a few best practices for executing your brand-building logo: use a transparent background, use a consistent color scheme that reflects your brand, and when in doubt, place your logo in the top left corner of your email. Add it to the footer of your email as well.Want to save time? Build a template for your emails with your brand colors, logo, and footer. Your email marketing gurus can log in, use the template, and focus their time on crafting effective content.
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  • Put the Most Important Info First
    Human attention spans are short, like eight seconds short. And in an increasingly digital world, there’s a lot to distract all of us. These are essential truths to keep in mind with email marketing. How do you make sure you keep your audience’s attention long enough to get your information across? Put the most vital information at the beginning of your email. Are you sending them an email to let them know about a new product release? Spend the first few sentences talking about what the product can do for them and then immediately tell them the next steps.
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  • CTA All Day
    A big part of the art of email marketing is making the process of connecting easy for your audience. Ease of connection hinges on high-quality CTAs. CTAs, or calls to action, are directives. You never want your audience wondering what they do next; tell them.In an email, this directive is usually a button they can click on that takes them to their next step—a sign-up form, product page, or landing page. CTA buttons need to be clear, direct, and actionable. Think “Sign up today” vs. “Click here.” Keep your CTAs brief, and use contrasting colors to make them stand out.
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  • Use High-Quality Images and Video
    While you’re crafting your copy, don’t forget about images. Include custom graphics or vibrant and evocative photography to support your content. You can even embed videos, giving people a preview of a new Youtube video your team created, for example. Include links so that they can click to watch the whole video. While you’re selecting your email images, don’t forget to include alt text. A lot of people read emails with images disabled, and alt text is another opportunity to get your message across. It’s also important for accessibility.
     
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  • Create A Recognizable Signature
    Remember the movie Anchorman? “You stay classy, San Diego.” Whether you love Ron Burgundy or not, a signature signoff is a seed that puts down roots in your audience’s memory. They know it’s you, they recognize it’s you, and may even feel a sense of familiarity with you when they get to the bottom of their emails. It’s like a Starbucks; give your audience the gift of consistency, and they’ll keep coming back.
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  • Link to Social
    Many email marketing services allow you to include social links in your email footer, but you can also embed them in the email’s body. Whichever you choose, make sure you have them. Linking to your social accounts gives your audience additional options to stay in touch, see what your company is up to, and take advantage of discounts or promotions, which can start or continue a relationship with your company.
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  • Click to Subscribe
    One-off emails can lead to conversions, but adding people to your email list opens up a world of possibilities. Having access to an audience interested in or willing to hear from you regularly puts you solidly in the nurture phase of marketing. They may ignore 27 of your emails, but number 28 just might pique their interest and transition them from a passive lead to an active customer.

    The best part about this? You probably sent email 28 to hundreds or thousands of people, and every single email recipient represents potential off of a couple of hour’s work. Make it easy for people to subscribe by adding a subscriber button in your email or footer. While you’re at it, make sure you have a signup form for your newsletter on your website. Keep the signup form brief, and avoid asking for a bunch of personal information. You have to get their email; everything else is icing on the cake.

And if you’re looking for help with your content marketing strategy—emails included—we offer flexible content retainers to give you a blueprint for success and an ongoing stream of high-quality content. If you’re flying solo, follow along for our dos of email marketing.     

 

Dos of Email Marketing

To further expand on our anatomy of a successful email, let’s go through the dos of email marketing. These pointers will help you refine your approach and send emails that hit the mark. 

Be intentional. Email your audience with a purpose. Do you have news? Share it. Are you launching a new product? Tell them about it. Are you having a sale? Give them the deets. Don’t email just to email because you’re playing a numbers game. Email with a reason. 

Provide value. You’re taking up time in your audience’s day and space in their email inbox. Always ask what value you’re providing them in your email. Are you giving them essential information? Great! Better yet, are you being generous with your resources? Ask for their email address, but in exchange, provide them with a lead magnet. Your free eBook. An ultimate guide. A checklist. Let them know you’re here and you’re interested. 

Keep it brief. Longer isn’t better when it comes to emails. The ideal copy length is 50-125 words. Focus on creating the most significant impact in the fewest words. 

Time your emails. The time of day or day of the week you send your email can affect how many people open it. Generally speaking, sending emails Tuesday-Thursday from 10 am-2 pm has the best stats, but the best way to manage your timing is to pull data from your email list. Experiment! Trial and error is part of the fun of marketing.  

Keep it clean. Cluttered emails are distracting and more likely to be deleted. Keep your emails visually clean by using the same typeface throughout, formatting your images correctly, and making the content skimmable with bullet points, section headings, and spacing.  

You follow? Once you’ve constructed your email and cross-referenced our dos for email marketing, it’s time to go through it with a fine-toothed comb. 


Quality Assurance for Better Results

Okay, so you’ve followed our advice and created a stellar email that builds your brand identity, features impactful content, and nurtures a relationship with your audience. Before you hit send, make sure you QA your work to avoid any miscommunication.

Check Mobile and Web
Nearly 50% of people open emails on their mobile devices. Many email marketing websites have options for checking mobile and desktop formatting before sending. Check both! 

The Power of the A/B Test
A/B testing can be fascinating and help you collect crucial insights into what resonates with your audience. Here’s how it works: when you set up your email, you can divide your audience into two and test two different parts of your email, such as subject lines, CTAs, or even portions of your content. Once the email sends, you get to track the stats and see which version wins.   

Send to a Friend
Before you send an email out, make sure somebody other than the original creator takes a peek. Having at least two sets of eyes on your emails can catch errors, help clarify content, and refine your message. It’s a must-have. And once you have a solid foundation for your email marketing process and development, it’s time to start tracking your data. 

 

The Benefits of Data: Improving Your Results

Most email marketing services include data tracking, and it’s a whole Pandora’s Box and then some. If you work at a larger company, data analysis may become a role unto itself. Still, if you’re on the smaller side, regular data analysis from your team is vital in improving your marketing practices and evolving your strategy.  

Some of the data you can check includes open rates, click-through rates on links and attachments, unsubscribes, purchases, and recipients’ location. Once you have your raw data, you want to ask questions about your numbers. Look at your demographics. What age ranges open your emails? Do most of your purchases happen in some regions of the country? What types of emails have the highest rates of unsubscribes? 

Seek to understand the why underneath the data and make changes accordingly. You can also look at your emails from a content perspective and keep lists of the types of content that work best. Did you send an A/B test with a specific subject line, and its performance was Olympic? Create a document of ace subject lines to reuse and repurpose. If your audience responds well to one particular part of your content, there’s probably a reason. A good reason. And keeping track of that information is an email marketing best practice.

After you have your email marketing process in place, implement ongoing maintenance.  

 

After the Email: Managing Your Email Marketing

 

Once you’ve successfully launched an email marketing campaign, you can move beyond the basics. Start by segmenting your email list. 

Segment Your List
Chances are your business isn’t so niche that it only markets to one very specific demographic. You likely have straightforward ways you can divide up your email list to optimize your engagement. Most people delete or unsubscribe due to relevancy issues. You can avoid this marketing disappointment by segmenting your audience and sending well-crafted emails that specifically target each segment’s interests.

There are all kinds of fancy ways to segment your audience, but just know you can segment by things like location, purchasing behavior, and even their job or interests. Pretend you own an online education platform. You may have segments for instructors who use your platform in classrooms and parents who use your platform at home. While segments are a filtering tool, tags are retrospective and created from the data you gather.

Use Tags
You can further organize your email list by using tags. Tags are customizable, which means you can create them yourself. Say Customer A attended your recent webinar. Boom! Create a webinar tag and add them. Then, the next time you host a webinar, send a series of emails to this tag talking up your upcoming event. Somebody that attended a webinar previously is more likely to sign up again, especially if they enjoyed your event.

Check Your Automations
While it can be tempting to treat your email automations like a set-it-and-forget-it, maintenance is super important. Periodically revisit your automations, check and update links, and assess if you have any deliverability issues so that you can fix them promptly and keep your automation on track.

Troubleshoot Deliverability Issues
Email deliverability is how easily your email lands in a recipient’s inbox, and there are many, many factors that impact this process. If you’re tech-savvy, there is a lot you can do with IP addresses, encryption, and more, but let’s talk about how to do basic troubleshooting for deliverability issues. Here are the high points: 

  • Make sure your content is relevant; don’t spam people
  • Use a company email address versus a free personal account
  • Use consistent design
  • Send at consistent times
  • Send consistent quantities of emails
  • Don’t use no-reply email addresses
  • Give people the option to unsubscribe
  • Use double opt-ins to ensure people want to be added to your list
  • Check for bounce rates and make adjustments


Regarding the consistency points, a big part of keeping your list fresh and engaged is being reliable. If your audience is used to a certain design, receiving newsletters on certain days of the week, and know they get an extra email or two from you around the holidays, any deviation can throw your recipients off. Your emails may be flagged as spam, people may report your emails as spam, and your deliverability will suffer. Carefully weigh any drastic changes in your email practices. And if people aren’t engaging with your emails, it’s best to remove them from your database.

Clean Your List
Building and organizing your email list is pretty important. You also need to do regular maintenance, just like you do with a car. Here are the facts: if you have people on your email list that rarely or never open your emails, they are sitting in your database, lowering your open rate. While you want to keep growing your email list, disengaged members aren’t doing you any favors.

Regularly—try quarterly—go through your email list and remove people who don’t engage with your emails. You can also look for the telltale signs it’s time for deep cleaning: decreasing open rates, decreasing click rates, increasing bounce rates, increasing unsubscribes, and increasing spam complaints.

Well-oiled machine, people. 

Email Marketing Best Practices Build Relationships

Underneath all the dos, tips, and techniques are foundational principles for content marketing: speak to your audience, form sincere connections, and adjust and refine your approach when you have new information. Keep these marketing best practices in mind, and you’ll set your business up for success. 

Caitlin Lead Copywriter

Caitlin Knudsen is a writer, editor, and food photographer based in the Midwest. With a background in nursing and decades spent writing, she is a published eBook author and knows a thing or two about communicating complex concepts in easy-to-understand language. Caitlin spends her free time developing gluten-free recipes, reading psychology books, and wrangling two pugs and a Dutch rabbit.

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