Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to connect with customers and grow your business. At its core, email marketing simply means sending commercial messages via email to a list of contacts or subscribers. When done right, it can help you nurture relationships, promote products and services, and drive sales.
With email open rates averaging around 20% and click-through rates around 2-3%, email continually delivers higher conversion rates than social media. For every $1 spent, email marketing yields an average return of $42. That’s a 4,200% return on investment!
With those numbers, it’s no wonder that email marketing is considered one of the highest-converting digital marketing channels. Simply put, email works. This guide will walk you through the basics of getting started with email marketing so you can start seeing results.
Setting Goals and Objectives
Identify Your Purpose
The first step is clearly defining why you want to start email marketing. Common reasons include:
- Generating leads and sales
- Driving traffic to your website
- Building brand awareness
- Developing relationships with customers
- Delivering valuable content and information
Get specific about what you hope to achieve so you can track progress.
Define Measurable Goals
Once you know your purpose, set measurable goals, such as:
- Increase sales by 15% in 6 months
- Grow email list to 1,000 subscribers in 3 months
- Boost website traffic from email by 30% in the first month
Quantifiable goals allow you to benchmark success as you get started.
Determine Your Target Audience
Identify who you want to reach with your emails. Ideal targets include:
- Existing customers: Upsell, get referrals, build loyalty
- Prospects: Turn leads into customers
- Industry influencers: Build relationships, get exposure
Understanding your audience’s needs and challenges is key to creating relevant, valuable content. Specify demographics like age, location, gender, and interests.
Building Your Email List
The foundation of effective email marketing is building a permission-based list of engaged subscribers who want to hear from you.
There are several strategies to ethically and legally grow your list:
Opt-In Forms on Website
Place opt-in forms on high-traffic pages like your homepage, blog, contact page, and landing pages. Offer a compelling free resource like an ebook, checklist, or coupon in exchange for their email address. Make sure you have a clear value proposition and explain how their information will be used.
Dedicated Landing Pages
Create dedicated landing pages that focus solely on getting emails, as in the example below:
Explain the value proposition like a free downloadable guide and have a strong call to action to subscribe. Promote your landing pages through paid ads and social media campaigns.
Social Media Integration
Add links to your opt-in forms on all your social media bios and consistently promote opt-ins in your social posts, videos, and stories. Running contests and giveaways on social platforms is also an excellent way to capture emails. Just make sure you’re clear about entry terms.
Create and offer “lead magnets” – free, valuable content like ebooks, templates, or email courses in exchange for an email address. For example, a freelance designer could offer a free guide to planning your website as a lead magnet.
Distribute signup sheets at industry events, conferences, and in-person networking meetings. Let people know they’ll receive future updates and offers from your business.
Once you have permission-based emails, you can segment your list into groups so you can tailor content and send more relevant, targeted campaigns.
Ways to segment subscribers include:
- Demographics: Divide by basic demographic info like age, gender, location, job title, industry, company size, interests, etc. Send content and offers suited to that demographic.
- Behavior: Group by engagement metrics like open and click-through rates, pages visited, purchases made, and shopping cart abandonment. Send re-engagement campaigns to less active segments.
- Preferences: Let subscribers choose specific topics, types of content, and frequency preferences. Send emails aligned with those preferences.
- Customer Lifecycle Stage: Segment by where contacts are in the customer journey – new subscribers, engaged shoppers, repeat customers, inactive shoppers, etc. Tailor messaging accordingly.
Segmenting allows you to cater to different needs, behaviors, and interests for improved deliverability, open rates, and conversion from your email campaigns.
Choosing an Email Marketing Platform
Comparison of Top Email Marketing Tools
With so many email service providers (ESPs) to choose from, it can be tricky selecting the right platform for your needs and budget.
Here is an overview of some of the leading email marketing solutions:
- Mailchimp – The most popular ESP, Mailchimp offers a generous free tier supporting up to 2,000 subscribers and unlimited emails. Easy drag-and-drop builder and automations make it a top choice for beginners.
- Constant Contact – A long-standing ESP with strong deliverability and automation tools. Competitive pricing plans and integration with popular ecommerce platforms like Shopify. Best for small ecommerce businesses.
- AWeber – With over 500 mobile-responsive templates and integrated with many CRMs and ecommerce platforms, AWeber makes campaign creation easy. However, it lacks some advanced features.
- ConvertKit – ConvertKit is made specifically for digital creatives like bloggers and is more affordable than competitors. It has excellent automation for sequences and tagging.
- HubSpot – The all-in-one inbound marketing platform, HubSpot has robust email capabilities like dynamic content, A/B testing, and workflows. The free CRM is a major plus.
- Sendinblue – An affordable solution good for small businesses, with features like automation, landing pages, SMS marketing, and CRM. Easy to get started.
Features to Look For in an Email Platform
When researching options, look for these key features:
- List management – Easy list building, segmentation, and management tools.
- Templates – Professionally designed, mobile-responsive templates make campaign creation effortless.
- Drag-and-drop editor – Visual editor to quickly build and customize campaign content.
- Workflows & automation – Set up triggers and multi-step sequences like welcome series, cart abandonment, re-engagement flows.
- Analytics – Track opens, clicks, unsubscribes, spam complaints, deliverability, ROI and other metrics.
- Integrations – Connect your ESP to other software like your CRM, ecommerce platform, payment processor, etc.
- Signup forms – Embed opt-in forms on your website, landing pages, and ads to capture leads.
- Contact management – Organize subscriber profiles with custom fields like demographics, preferences, and history.
- Deliverability monitoring – Check inbox placement and get alerts to maintain sender reputation.
- Scheduling & RSS – Schedule sends in advance and automatically turn blog posts into emails.
Selecting the right email marketing platform is key to creating and sending campaigns effectively. Look for an affordable solution that has the capabilities and integrations your business needs.
Creating Valuable Content
Types of Emails
Include a mix of informational and promotional emails:
- Newsletters – Send regularly scheduled newsletters with helpful tips, how-to articles, company updates, special features, and other value-focused content.
- Promotional Emails – Send promotional blasts about sales, deals, coupons, contests, new arrivals, and other offers. Time these with marketing campaigns.
- Transactional Emails – Service emails like order confirmations, shipping updates, password reset helpers, and other account notices. Triggered by user actions.
- Lead Nurturing – Sequences that build relationships with prospects by sending helpful, relevant content over time that moves them through the sales funnel.
- Cart Abandonment – Emails reminding people about items left in their cart and prompting them to complete the purchase.
- Re-engagement – Win back inactive subscribers with special offers and content tailored to their interests.
Map out themes, promos, and content types in an editorial calendar to organize when each type of email will be sent.
Initially, send 1-2 emails per week as you get started and assess engagement. You can gradually increase frequency, but avoid sending too many emails.
Writing Engaging Email Copy
- Subject Lines – Catch readers’ attention by highlighting value, using urgency, social proof, curiosity, and relevance in subject lines. Keep them short.
- Personalization – Use first names, subscriber preferences, purchase history, and other data to tailor content to each subscriber for better open rates.
- Call-to-Action – Every email needs a clear, clickable CTA button to guide readers to convert or take action, like “Shop Now” or “Download Ebook.”
The cornerstone of effective email marketing is providing subscribers with consistent value and relevant content tailored to their needs and interests. Put subscriber experience first, not sales.
Designing Eye-Catching Emails
Responsive Email Templates
Use responsive templates that adapt to the size and display needs of all devices – desktop, mobile, and tablets. Most email service providers offer professionally designed, mobile-friendly templates to choose from.
Emails are an extension of your brand. Maintain brand consistency in your emails by using the same logo placement, color scheme, fonts, tone of voice, and overall visual style as your website and other branding. This helps reinforce brand recognition.
Include relevant images, graphics, gifs, and videos in your emails. Visual content can boost engagement, convey important information, and get readers excited about clicking. Just be sure to properly size and optimize images for email and include alt text. Don’t overload emails with too many large images.
Try different email variations through A/B split testing – like subject line phrasing, content structure, visuals, calls-to-action, send times, etc. See what resonates best with your audience. Many email service providers have A/B testing capabilities built-in.
Layout and Copy
Organize emails with clear sections, headings, paragraphs, and calls to action. Write copy in an engaging, conversational tone using natural language. Use highlighting techniques like bold and italics sparingly.
The preview text gives readers a snapshot view of the email content when viewing the inbox. Make sure it generates interest to open.
With clever design and optimization guided by testing, you can create emails that captivate subscribers and achieve results.
Automating Email Campaigns
One of the most powerful features of email marketing platforms is the ability to automate campaigns based on subscriber behaviors, time delays, and other triggers.
Drip campaigns automatically send a pre-written sequence of emails to subscribers over certain time intervals. For example, you could set up a 5-email nurturing sequence to send to new subscribers over their first two weeks.
Autoresponders immediately send automated replies when specific triggers are met. Common uses include welcoming new subscribers, following up on downloads, and saying thanks after purchases.
You can create customized emails to deploy when subscribers take (or don’t take) certain actions:
- Re-engagement – Win back inactive subscribers with special content and offers tailored to their interests.
- Win Back Customers – Send targeted email campaigns to recover customers who haven’t purchased in a while.
- Birthday Offers – Send subscribers discounts/gifts for their birthday if you collect this data.
- Cart Abandonment – Remind people about products left in their cart. Include incentive to complete the purchase, such as a discount.
Automation allows you to deliver timely, relevant messaging without constant manual effort. Set it up once, and let technology do the work!
Compliance with Email Laws and Regulations
To maintain a responsible, ethical email marketing program, you must comply with relevant laws and regulations.
The CAN-SPAM Act establishes requirements for commercial emails in the United States, such as:
- Don’t use false or misleading headers
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines
- Identify the message as an ad
- Honor opt-out requests promptly
- Include physical mailing address
Violations can lead to fines or other penalties. Other regulations to follow include:
- GDPR: The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has strict consent and data protection rules you must adhere to if contacting EU subscribers.
- CASL: Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation sets similar commercial email regulations to CAN-SPAM.
- Opt-Out Mechanisms: Easy, accessible unsubscribe links must be included in all emails. Honor opt-out requests right away.
By staying up-to-date on email regulations in the regions you contact, you can ensure your practices align with requirements to maintain compliance.
Testing and Optimization
Try different email variants like subject lines, content, layouts, images, calls-to-action, etc. to see what best engages your subscribers.
Email Performance Metrics
Track key metrics:
- Open Rate – Percentage of recipients who open the email. Benchmark: 15-25%.
- Click-Through Rate (CTR) – Clicks divided by total emails sent. Benchmark: 2-5%.
- Conversion Rate – Percentage who take your desired action after clicking.
Use learnings to continually test new variations and incrementally improve open rates, CTRs, and conversion over time. Optimization never ends!
Monitor performance and run A/B tests to refine your approach, boost engagement, and maximize results from email campaigns.
Deliverability and Spam Avoidance
Maintaining a Clean List
Remove inactive, bounced, and unsubscribed contacts regularly. Segment and target engaged subscribers.
Build trust and a positive reputation with email providers by following best practices. Keep spam complaints low.
Implement email authentication protocols like DKIM, SPF, and DMARC to prove your legitimacy and boost inbox placement.
Avoiding Spam Triggers
Stay away from subject lines, content, and practices that could trigger spam filters like misleading text, overuse of exclamation points, inappropriate content, etc.
Proper list management, sender reputation, and authentication help maximize the deliverability of your campaigns while avoiding spam folder purgatory.
Tracking and Analytics
Carefully tracking email performance and analyzing the data provides the visibility you need to continually gauge effectiveness and make informed optimizations.
Monitoring Email Campaign Performance
Use your email service provider’s reporting tools to monitor metrics like:
- Open rates – Percentage of recipients who open each email campaign
- Click-through rates – Ratio of clicks to emails sent
- Bounce rates – Emails rejected due to invalid addresses
- Unsubscribe rates – Recipients opting out of your emails
- Spam reports – Recipients marking your email as spam
- Conversions – Subscribers taking your desired action
- Sales revenue – Ecommerce sales attributed to email campaigns
Review campaign reports to catch issues early and identify opportunities.
Analyzing Data for Insights
Segment and filter your data by campaigns, segments, time periods, and other criteria to uncover deeper insights, such as:
- Content performance – Which topics, offers, and campaigns perform best?
- Engagement trends – Are open and click rates consistent or changing over time?
- Conversion funnels – Where are subscribers dropping off?
- Win-back success – Are re-engagement campaigns effective?
Adjusting Strategies Based on Data
Use insights from your email analytics to make informed optimizations like:
- Improving subject lines and content based on top performers
- Removing inactive subscribers from lists
- Adjusting send frequency and timing
- Refining your segments and automations
- Doubling down on high-converting campaigns
- Changing design layouts and visual content
Let data guide your email marketing strategy to maximize results over time.
Scaling and Growing Your Email Marketing Efforts
Once your email marketing program is up and running smoothly, it’s time to focus on growth by:
List Building Strategies
- Expand lead capture forms on the website and social media
- Provide more incentives for prospects to opt-in like exclusive content
- Run giveaways and contests to capture emails
- Experiment with paid ads to landing pages
Scaling Content Production
- Create templates and frameworks for efficient content creation
- Hire freelance writers or use AI copywriting tools
- Develop a bank of evergreen content that can be repurposed
- Create visual content like videos to integrate
- Trigger hyper-targeted behavioral emails
- Set up workflows for complex nurture streams
- Integrate with ecommerce platforms and CRM for robust data
- Automate post-purchase follow-ups
Keep optimizing your processes and technology stack to support scaling your email marketing program efficiently.
As your email program grows, it’s critical to have regular audits to ensure you remain compliant with rapidly evolving laws and regulations.
Regularly Reviewing Compliance Procedures
Conduct periodic reviews of internal policies and platform settings to confirm adherence to key requirements around:
- Permission-based lists
- Honoring unsubscribe requests
- Spam trigger avoidance
- Accurate sender identity
- Functional opt-out mechanisms
- CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CASL, and other regulation compliance
Staying Updated on Regulations
Monitor developments related to email laws and data privacy regulations. Sign up for update newsletters from government agencies and platforms.
Adjust your compliance approach proactively as needed to mitigate risk exposure as regulations change.
Regular self-audits help ensure your growing email program remains compliant at all times.
Case Studies and Best Practices
Continuous learning from others’ email marketing successes and industry best practices can provide a wealth of ideas to improve your own strategies.
Learning from Successful Email Marketing Campaigns
Study case studies and examples of impactful email campaigns in your industry and others. Analyze what elements made them effective, from creative content to savvy segmentation.
Implementing Best Practices
Research and stay up-to-date on email marketing best practices related to:
- Design – Structure, content formatting, visual identity
- Subject lines – Tactics for high open rates
- Copywriting – Voice, personalization, calls-to-action
- Segmentation – Behavioral, demographic, preference-based
- Automation – Workflows, triggers, contextual sends
- Metrics – Key performance indicators to track
- Deliverability – Optimizations to increase inbox placement
Look at proven strategies and industry benchmark data to continually elevate your email approach and results.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Email marketing is an extremely versatile and high-return channel that belongs in every modern marketing strategy.
To build a successful email program:
- Set clear goals and KPIs to benchmark performance
- Ethically and legally build your subscriber list with valuable opt-in incentives
- Create engaging content that provides real value to your audience
- Automate time-intensive tasks like welcome sequences and re-engagement
- Design aesthetically pleasing, on-brand emails optimized for all devices
- Continuously test and optimize based on detailed analytics
- Maintain deliverability by managing sender reputation and list hygiene
- Scale your efforts while adhering to changing regulations
By taking a strategic approach guided by in-depth analytics, you can develop an email marketing machine that forges lasting connections with subscribers to drive results. Of course, there are many folks who have an email marketing business that can help with these steps, but it can cost a pretty penny.
The rewards of well-executed, value-focused email marketing are immense. Now is the time to start building your list and honing your approach. Every journey begins with a single step – let this guide provide the blueprint.