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Email Marketing Best Practices – The Basics


Email marketing can be one of the most easiest and affordable ways to connect with a customer. All you have to do is load up your million-and-one subscriber list and fire away, right? Well, not so fast Ramrod. Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that you’re doing it correctly and actually reaching your target audience.

The following rules and tips will help you understand some of the important elements that go into effective email marketing and how you can keep from getting yourself in trouble. Even if you make it to the inbox, all it takes is one click to skip, delete or unsubscribe from the list. So take a little extra time and follow these basic guidelines and you’ll be on the path from sinus supremus to marketing supremacy before you know it.

Send your emails from a real person’s email address.

A transparent “from” name is a good first step to get people to see that an actual person sent the email and that it’s not spam or some mass, corporate junk blast. Something like instead of is a great way to get yourself in the door – or into the inbox where you intended.

Write a great subject line. Then rewrite it again to make it even better.

Your key to the customer inbox is your subject line. It’s the big decision-maker when it comes to whether your potential customer even opens the email, so take the time to get it right. Getting it right involves choosing the right message and testing that message to ensure that the best message is used for the largest segment of your list. Use A/B testing and try new things to improve your open rate over time and find out what works and what doesn’t. Have you heard of split testing? If not, learn everything you can to become better and more effective.

Avoid spammy, BOLD, and sales weasel words in your subject line.

This is where the battle can be won or lost right out the gate. Customers will decide to open an email or even mark it as spam based on what’s in the subject line so take it seriously. Over 69% of your customers will make the decision to click on the “report spam” or “junk” button using the subject line, according to the ESPC. – Email Sender and Provider Coalition (2007).

Don’t be evil. Don’t spam.

Don’t be accused of spamming. Make sure that the people you’re sending to have given explicit permission to receive emails from you and don’t even try to bend the rules. Did Bob Smith explicitly confirm that he wants emails from YOUR company? If you can’t answer this question with an honest “yes” then you’re a borderline spammer. Did you buy a list where people said they might be interested in offers from “companies like yours”? Sorry, you’re a spammer in my book.

The best way to be successful with email marketing is to build your own list and make sure that your subscribers actually ask to be on your list. If they are signing up on your website, provide a double opt-in system to ensure that all email addresses are signed up legitimately. You should also provide ways for customers to unsubscribe without the hassle and remind them in the email how they got on your list. Don’t send too often, build trust, provide great value and personalize your message to build relationships. When in doubt read the bible on what’s allowable in email marketing here.

Don’t forget about mobile devices.

Have you heard of the iPhone? (Yea, that’s supposed to be sarcastic!) Here are some stats and quotes for your consideration:

  • Mobile email usage increased 36% in 2010, according to ComScore.
  • Nielsen put the percentage even higher at 38.5% and you can only imagine what it might be in 2012.
  • Checking personal email is the most common web-based activity for smartphone users. – Comscore
  • Retail has the highest average opens with 20.08% on mobile devices. – Knotice.
  • “Email is actually more important than ever with the groundswell of social and mobile,” says Greg Cangialosi, CEO of email marketing company Blue Sky Factory, which also partners with Mashable.
  • In November 2010, 70.1 million mobile users accessed email on their mobile devices, a figure representing some 30% of all mobile subscribers. – Comscore

Ensuring that emails are designed for mobile devices is more important than ever so make sure this is a focus with your content and design. (More to come on that subject)

Did we say “Focus on mobile devices?”

One of the most important things you can do to improve your open rate is to ensure that the important part of your email appears in the mobile viewer’s preview pane. Email Marketing Fact: Most people decide if an email is interesting by previewing it, without opening it. If your email begins with images, links, random messages, disclaimers, and messages like “Can’t view this? Click here to view online” then customers could skip it, delete it, or just completely forget about it. The first line of your email is premium real estate so make sure that your most important message and call to action is there as TEXT so you can grab mobile users and not establish any hurdles.

Text, Text and more TEXT.

It has become popular to see who can build the most beautiful emails. While I don’t discount the value of a great presentation, you should never sacrifice effectiveness and you do this by making sure that all your most important information is within the email as text. That should include call-to-action messages, links, supporting information, offers and all-important supporting information.

The reason? Many email programs are set by default to not display images. Many more like mobile devices take too much time to download images or they won’t be displayed at all. If your entire message, offer, and links are within an image there’s a good chance that they’re not being seen. Having text in your emails WILL increase your open rate and responses.

Deliverability – Getting to the inbox.

How you send your emails is important. In fact, according to my recent experience and discussions with top industry professionals at a conference in California, it’s the only thing that matters. The reputation and the proper configuration of your sending source (the server that actually sends your emails) is critical. Forget about your subject line, your offer, your beautiful email, and all the finely crafted wordsmithing in your email if you don’t have a reputable sending source where you can manage your own reputation. If you can’t do this through a company like mine (Sanctuary Marketing Group), check out the various managed email delivery services like and

Divide and conquer.

Blasting irrelevant content to your entire subscriber list is another one of the biggest email marketing mistakes you can make. Whenever possible you should try to segment your email list and target your message to specific customers. At the most basic level, maybe this is accomplished by sending a different message to men and women. But you can do this by location and almost any other metric that you have available. Take the time to do this if possible and design your message to appeal to different segments.

Timing is everything.

I won’t even try to say when the best time is to send emails. Everyone has their opinions. Ok, maybe I’ll provide a guess — which would be late morning in the middle of the week. My thinking is that people are caught up with emergencies by this time of the week, they’re awake and they may have time before, during or just after lunch to actually digest an email. But when it comes down to it I think every case is different. If you’re a pizza company, you would probably guess that Friday at 4:00 might be an excellent time to deliver your emails. Again, testing and documenting when you have successes will help you determine what works for you.

Provide great value.

Nothing will help you be more effective than actually providing value to your subscribers. If you continually send the same sale information over and over, customers will tune out or possibly unsubscribe. Your message should be unique, and valuable and give them more than just a reminder to buy from you. What this means for you is that you actually have to be creative and do actual work beyond sticking a sale promotion into an email. This is the easy way out. Combine your sale message with advice, subscriber-only offers, free downloads, benefits, and news and ultimately give them a reason to stay subscribed. Provide value beyond trying to sell them something.

Analyze and Improve

After you send your emails you should have some kind of system to review your successes. You should know how many people opened the emails, who clicked on what and which segments worked better than others. Beyond that, you can get as sophisticated as you want but it’s pointless to send a message out to thousands of people without a way to know if anybody opened it. You should measure if it’s working and analyze the data to improve as you go forward.

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About Chris Auman:

Chris Auman is a veteran digital marketer with over 25 years of experience in the trenches. As Sanctuary’s founder and President, Chris has successfully guided online marketing efforts for companies large and small.

Learn more about Chris.

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