Best Practices for Building a Better Email Marketing Campaign
Email marketing has changed a lot over the last few decades—and yes, it’s been decades.
In the “olden” days, email marketers would just send any type of message to anyone who had an email address. At the time, this method of “spray and pray” did work. The main goal was to get into as many inboxes as possible and hope for the best. Today, we know it’s not as simple as that; every email you send is like a representative from your company stepping into your subscriber’s house or business, and it’s important to get it right.
To use an ESP or not? That is the question.
Going with an ESP (email service provider) is a big decision, but it can also help prevent a lot of headaches. If you’re managing your own email servers and everything is going well, you may not need an ESP. But if you are having delivery issues with ISPs, firewalls, throttling, feedback loops, and bounce backs—or if you do not know what those things are—it may be worth your while to make the move.
Switching to an ESP is not a silver bullet for deliverability, however. ESPs can’t help if your message is spammy or you manage your lists poorly. They do help with the infrastructure, but they are really only a tool. And it’s ultimately up to you how to use the tool.
In choosing an ESP, it’s best that you do your own research first. Many articles have been written on this topic and are readily accessible on the internet, so I encourage you to take a look at some of them before you make your decision. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some reputable ESPs you may want to look into:
- Constant Contact
- Exact Target
Many of these providers have dedicated salespeople who can help you find the right solution for your needs. You will want to consider key factors such as:
- Your list size now and in the future
- The resources it will take to set up
- What level of support they offer and what you will need
- Price (make sure it fits into your marketing budget)
- The ESP’s reputation (look for reviews)
Once you decide whether to use an ESP or not, the next step is building your list.
Subscribers need to welcome you in
Just like any good guest, you need to be welcomed in. Getting someone’s permission to email them is not just important to your relationship with them—it is also the law. But simply asking for an email address isn’t going to cut it anymore. It is absolutely crucial to be completely open and honest from the outset. You need to clearly state why you want their email address and how you are going to use it. Before you try to explain this to your subscribers, iron out the details first by asking yourself the following questions:
- How often will I email them?
- Will I give them special offers?
- Will I give them sneak peeks or first cracks at the new products?
- Will the email be relevant to them specifically or just generic for everyone
You don’t need to stop here; there are many more questions you can ask yourself to ensure you clearly convey your intent to your subscribers. If you need more ideas, take a look at email lists you are already on, and sign up for some new ones to see how other companies have done it. Once you feel you have come up with enough questions, answer them truthfully. These answers will form the basis of the information you present to your subscribers. It is important that you have a good copywriter who can properly and briefly explain exactly what subscribers can expect. There’s no need to be vague or not present the whole story. If your subscriber feels they have been lied to, the ramifications will be disastrous for your company.
You got the invite to come in—now what? Get whitelisted!
So your subscriber has given you permission to email them. Now let’s make sure they think of you as a friend. This is done by being “whitelisted.” If you are already going with an ESP, then your emails should be whitelisted on an ISP level, meaning the major internet providers should let them through. But it doesn’t end there; you still need to get through on the inbox level. How is this done? It’s as simple as asking your subscribers to add your send-from email address to their safe senders list.
There are many ways to do this, but here are some easy ones:
- Sign-up and/or thank-you page
- This is probably the best place to ask. If subscribers add you to their safe lists before you even send them your first email, there is less of a chance your email will end up in a junk mail or spam folder. You can also remind them at this point to check those folders, just in case they receive your first email before they have added you.
- Welcome email
- Hopefully this won’t end up in a spam folder, but if it does, keep your fingers crossed that your subscriber will check for it (as per your request above). In your welcome email, make sure you state the email address you are sending from so your subscribers can add it as a safe sender. All this takes is a short, well-worded sentence.
- Subtly place reminders in your email
- If your subscribers have missed your initial requests, continue to politely mention it either in the header or the footer of your emails.
- The entire email
- This is more of a last-chance effort that might annoy some subscribers (so be careful), but you can devote an entire email to requesting they add you to their safe senders list. If you try this, be sure to reiterate the benefits of being a subscriber and explain clearly what they will be getting.
A very important note is to not make the email address clickable. If you do and your subscriber clicks on it, they may think they have added you to their safe senders list. It does not work that way. It will most likely just open up a new message window in their inbox. Your subscribers will have to copy and paste your email address into their address book. Here is a good example of a brief request:
To ensure you receive our future emails, please copy and paste email@example.com into your address book.
Content is king
Since everyone’s business and customers’ expectations are different, there are no hard and fast rules for the content of your email. But think about ones you have received in the past. Did you enjoy them or were they just a nuisance? Generally speaking, compelling newsletters will do a great job of mixing brand messaging with sales and updates. For example, while the email might contain a list of product for sale and their images, it’s balanced by a personal message or friendly update.
As a rule of thumb, try to use your newsletter as a way to further your relationship with your subscribers. Save your pitch for unique updates, offers, and special announcements.
Manage the expectations
Email marketing is also about expectations, and it’s up to you to set them. If you promise to send one email per week and instead send them daily, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. On the contrary, if someone is expecting daily updates or critical product notices and you don’t deliver, then they are likely to be just as upset in that case too. It’s ok to change up the game down the road, but always follow through with what you say and keep your subscribers up to date on any changes you are planning to make. If you are changing a newsletter that you send every Thursday to Mondays, start telling them about the upcoming change in the Thursday email to give them proper time to adjust. You may even want to include a countdown for added visibility. If you have a reason for making the change (and you should!), it wouldn’t hurt to explain it as well.
Above all, be transparent with your subscribers. Remember, you are a guest in their house; treat them with respect and they will continue to welcome you.