June 15, 2023

The Best Email Marketing Best Practices to Use — No Matter Your Industry

Multicolor envelopes and arrows on a dark blue background

Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp, sent the very first email campaign in 1978. His mass message promoted DEC machines to about 400 recipients and resulted in $13 million worth of sales, immediately cementing email as an impactful marketing strategy.

In the age of social media and one-click ads, email might seem like an outdated practice. But with 4 billion email users online daily, it still has the potential to greatly affect your bottom line. To help you stay on top of the competition — and at the top of your customers’ inboxes — we’ve taken a deep dive into what email marketing is, its benefits, and the email marketing best practices that drive results.

What is email marketing?

Typically a part of a brand’s larger marketing plan, email marketing is a form of direct and digital marketing that uses email to target audiences and promote a business’s products or services. The strategy is emailing valuable content to current or prospective customers with the goals of increasing brand awareness, boosting traffic, generating leads, driving sales, encouraging engagement, and/or nurturing relationships. Brands can use one or a combination of these goals in any of their email marketing campaigns.

What are the benefits of email marketing?

Email is the Swiss Army knife of marketing; it’s a multipurpose tool that allows you to reach various goals and audiences. It lets brands promote their products and services and educate customers on their latest offerings. In turn, customers receive the insights they need to make informed decisions and purchases. Email is still also one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to market your business; the average email ROI is $36 for every $1 spent. 

With the goals mentioned above in mind, here are the biggest benefits of email marketing:

  • Enhanced brand awareness: Email marketing places your business in front of more consumers. Get the word out on your offerings by sharing product updates, news, educational content, and other resources with your audience.

  • Improved website traffic: Emails with links will directly lead more users to your website. Use short summaries of articles to entice subscribers to read them in full on your site or include promotions that take them to product landing pages.

  • Boosted sales and revenue: More brand awareness and website traffic increase the likelihood of your customers making a purchase. You can spotlight your best-selling products and even use sales and discounts to influence purchases.

  • Expanded engagement: Nurturing positive relationships with your audience is crucial to creating a lasting brand. Email campaigns with relevant, engaging content keep your business top of mind and your customers interested.

  • Accumulated business data: Email analytics provide valuable insights into your audience and how they feel about your brand and content. Tracking campaign metrics or collecting survey responses can help inform and improve future marketing strategies.

  • Cross-promoted channels: If subscribers are already reading your emails, you can steer their attention to the rest of your marketing channels. Integrate other touchpoints by including links to social media profiles, blogs, events, or other websites.

Though you always have the option to advertise on social media channels like Instagram or Facebook, social media is still social — it’s meant for pleasure, not promotion. Your ads can get lost (or ignored) in an endless scroll and while social media can show your content to a wide audience, there’s no guarantee they’ll be enticed enough to learn more. With email marketing, users opt-in and actively choose to become a subscriber. That means they’re already interested in what you offer, making them more likely to take action.

Top Email Marketing Best Practices to Drive Results

1. Write impactful subject lines and preview text

Since the subject line is the first thing readers see and the preview (or preheader) text is the second, both must be compelling enough to get people to click. When writing the copy, it helps to ask, “Would this catch my attention if I was the recipient?” Subject lines should be short (no more than 9 words or 60 characters) and to the point, so readers know exactly what they’re getting into. Avoid using all caps, excessive punctuation or emojis, and phrases like “Free” or “Click Here,” which can trigger spam filters. Rather than restating the subject line, customize the preview text to add context and tease the email’s content.

2. Make Calls-to-Action clear

One of the most important email marketing best practices is a good CTA; it convinces customers to take action while clearly communicating what will happen if they click on it. Limit CTA copy to one to five words and make sure all buttons stand out from the rest of your email content.

3. Keep copy and designs simple

There are approximately 347.3 billion emails sent around the world each day, so your email campaigns are competing in an already crowded inbox. An overly flashy email with long blocks of copy won’t hold your audience’s attention for long; people generally want content that’s easily skimmable with design elements that load quickly. 

4. Place the most relevant content above-the-fold

Above-the-fold describes what readers see before they scroll further down the page. Though they’re likely to continue scrolling to explore the rest of your content, about 57% of their viewing time will be spent above the fold. If you’re sharing a lot of information, the best practice for email marketing is to direct attention to your most noteworthy messaging and CTA by putting it at the top.

5. Optimize for mobile

1.7 billion people use their mobile devices to check their emails, which means any email that isn’t optimized for mobile misses the chance to connect with a large audience. Fewer clicks, lower conversion rates, and more unsubscribers can all result from a poor mobile experience. Ensure your campaigns work well on any device by using responsive design, a design and development technique that scales interfaces to adapt to multiple screen sizes. 

6. Personalize the experience

You already know how vital connecting and building trust with your audience is, but you can take it one step further by personalizing your email campaigns. It’s as simple as addressing subscribers by name, making them feel as if the message is just for them. As an email marketing best practice, most platforms offer personalization tokens or merge tags that automatically customize content with a user’s information. For example, pasting *|FNAME|* into a campaign in Mailchimp will populate a subscriber's first name if they’ve entered it into their contact details.

7. Continually audit your mailing lists 

A high subscriber count can be something to brag about, but it can also be a vanity metric that ends up hurting your performance and sender reputation. Let’s say you have 1,000 contacts on your mailing list but only 500 of them are actively invested; that’ll decrease your open, click-through, and click-to-open rates by half — sometimes even more. Take time to review and remove subscribers who haven’t engaged with any of your campaigns over a given period of time (maybe one month or 90 days). You can establish an automated workflow that sorts subscribers based on activity, or send a targeted re-engagement campaign that asks recipients to confirm their email preferences.

8. Segment your audiences

Targeted campaigns have a 14.31% higher open rate than non-targeted campaigns. Make it easier to tailor content to specific groups in your mailing list with audience segmentation, the process of identifying and building subcategories within your audience. When new contacts sign up for your mailing list, you can give them the option to share additional information and preferences like gender, age, location, interests, and email frequency. Collecting these insights is another email marketing best practice because it helps you deliver content your subscribers actually want, adding another level of personalization to your campaigns. The most common audience segmentations are based on demographics, content interests, requested frequency, and website activity.

9. Use a valid, dedicated email address

Every email you send is an opportunity to nurture relationships with your subscribers. Using a no-reply email address (ex. noreply@bighuman.com) in your sender field prevents readers from replying to your messages, discouraging feedback and engagement. It also alerts spam filters and violates the CAN-SPAM Act, a law that outlines commercial messaging rules and recipients’ rights. To personalize campaigns and encourage two-way communication, opt for a valid email address (ex. contact@bighuman.com) that subscribers can respond to.

10. A/B test your content

There are several factors, big and small, that can affect email performance. To gauge what works and what doesn’t, try A/B testing your campaigns. A feature offered by most email marketing platforms, A/B testing lets you test different versions of your email to see what’s driving or hindering your results. After you choose one or a few variables (subject line, sender name, content, and/or send time) to test, you can deploy one version of your email to half of your audience and another to the second half. The results from this email marketing best practice can then inform and improve future campaigns.

11. Let subscriber lists grow organically

Purchasing a contact list from another website might seem like an easy way to expand your audience, but it’s also a fast way to lose them. When customers subscribe to a company’s mailing list, they give that company permission to email them. Lack of direct consent from your “subscribers” can hurt your email performance; if they aren’t familiar with your business, users can unsubscribe and even report your emails as spam. Not only can that sow distrust, but it can have legal ramifications, too.

Interested in scaling your email marketing efforts? Send us a message.

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