A guide to email marketing best practices

10 proven email marketing tactics for small businesses (and everyone else)

Chapter 01: Why email best practices matter

Top 10 email marketing best practices:

  1. get personal
  2. connect the subject line to the first line
  3. time it right
  4. keep it short and sweet
  5. be clear and conversational
  6. ask questions
  7. remember mobile users
  8. try a/b testing
  9. measure, tweak, repeat
  10. make sharing easy

Is email "old school"? Sure―and it's still with us because it works wonders. Social media may get more press, but email marketing campaigns reach and engage billions of people worldwide every year.

Email has many advantages. It goes direct to a customer's digital doorstep. It can be personalized, not just sent to a generic user base. And it’s so much cheaper than many other marketing tactics. If you're a small business, email can be your best friend.

Smart businesses use email marketing tactics as an integral part of their workflows, even when they use other approaches. Email marketing technology is used by 82% of companies, according to a report by marketing research firm Ascend2. Professional marketers depend on email marketing more than any other practice.

Whatever the size of your business, here are 10 email marketing best practices that will help you make the most of your campaigns.

Marketing automation is used by 42% of companies, CRM / sales automation systems by 54%, while Email marketing technology has the highest adoption: It is used by 82% of companies. – Ascend2 “Marketing Technology Strategy” (August 2015)

Chapter 02: 1. Get personal

If you have someone's email address, you likely have their name as well. Don't be shy: use it!

A recent industry study of 24 billion emails found that personalized messages had the highest open rate after timely news and affiliation emails. The same study recommends staying away from uses of “Dear,” especially in the subject line, where characters are limited. A simple "Kim" or "Chris" will do. When customers know you know them, they pay more attention.

Chapter 03: 2. Connect the subject line to the first line

An email subject line should make people want to click. Then the first line of the email should follow with a message that's clearly related.

Be brief and descriptive with the subject line. Tease your message; don't be too cryptic (like “You won’t believe this!”) or too general (like “February Newsletter”). A colorful subject line will set the stage for your first line. Remember, too, that first lines will appear in the preview text on most email platforms.

Let's imagine that your organization has an upcoming event. You might craft your message this way:

Subject line: Join us this Friday in MidtownSalutation: John,First line: We’re partnering with the Such and Such Organization for a stellar event this Friday at 7 p.m.

If John is interested, he’ll keep reading about your stellar event. And if he’s not, at least you delivered your message.

Chapter 04: 3. Time it right

You wouldn't knock on a client's door at 3:00 in the morning (unless you're selling sleep aids). Naturally, you knock at the times you're most likely to succeed.

The right timing is also one of the best email marketing tactics you have to work with. There's no one right time for every business, but here are some basic guidelines.

  • Open rates are highest early in the morning. 6:00 a.m. is the best time of day to send emails, according to Dan Zarella's book The Science of Marketing.

  • People also respond well to emails that arrive after they get off work ― between 7 and 10 p.m. — according to the same study.

  • Avoid the middle of the work day and weekends. At midday, people are swamped with work. On the weekends, they're probably enjoying being unplugged. At best, you might be ignored; at worst, you might annoy the recipient.

  • Avoid Mondays. Your customers are stressed, sizing up the week ahead, and don’t want to spend their time reading an email that doesn’t have bearing on that.

Chapter 05: 4. Keep it short and sweet

There’s no need for detailed back story in email marketing campaigns. Have a sense of urgency; your reader is busy and if they don't get your message quickly, they won't wait long before they hit 'delete.'

Your subject line should be 6-10 words, according to one oft-cited study. Your email should be concise as well. If your goal is to drive traffic to your website, keep that in mind as you create your email. House most of your content on your site and use emails to drive traffic there.

In that case, not saying everything can be a helpful part of your email marketing tactics. If readers want to know more, they’ll click through ― exactly what you want.

Chapter 06: 5. Be clear and conversational

Fog kills. If your message is hazy, fuzzy, or as hard to read as a legal brief, nobody will take the time to figure it out.

So make it personal and make it conversational. That's the great strength of email, after all: it's not a billboard or skywriting, it’s a direct conversation. And try not to resort to the hard sell. Believe in your message, yes, but don’t diminish your brand by being pushy or demanding the recipient ACT NOW.

Chapter 07: 6. Ask questions

You want your email to generate a response: a click, an RSVP, a visit to your site. So one of the top email marketing best practices is to generate a response as you do in a face-to-face conversation: by asking questions.

Perhaps you’re looking for feedback on a new product, or maybe you just want to tease a new feature on your website. Asking "What do you think?" or "Can you give us your opinion?" is a simple way to accomplish both.

Chapter 08: 7. Remember mobile users

Any list of email best practices must include mobile. 54% of all email opens now happen on a mobile device, so more than half of readers will see your message on a small screen. If you can, use a responsive sending program which will adjust your message for mobile users. Send users to mobile-friendly pages on your website, and keep the HTML simple for fast loading.

Chapter 09: 8. Try A/B testing

Test, analyze, repeat: the best marketers test their email marketing tactics relentlessly. Small business owners may feel like testing is too hard, but the right platform can help. And it's always harder to ignore email testing and lose revenue than to test and earn more.

A/B testing simply means testing two versions of a message ― one is A, the other B ― to hone an email marketing campaign. A simple version of A/B testing: divide your recipient list into halves, then use one subject line with the first half and a different subject line with the second. Then see which has the best open rates. Or, use alternate first lines, calls to action, or even types of capitalization to see how readers respond.

Chapter 10: 9. Measure, tweak, repeat

Once you start to A/B test and measure, be ready to keep testing and tweaking in the months ahead. Compile as much data about your readership as you can while you measure: What subject lines get you the most opens? Do first-person, conversational tones help you to get click-throughs?

Chapter 11: 10. Make sharing easy

You did it! Your reader saw your message and loved it. Now what?

Easy: help them share it. They’ll need some guidance and (possibly) some kind of incentive. Simply dropping a "share" button at the bottom of a message won’t do the trick. Make yours more prominent. Offer a promo code or a giveaway to new subscribers and to those who share.

If promo codes or offers aren't right for your business, don't be afraid to just ask directly for a share. You’ll be surprised at how people respond to light prompting.

That's it: with these 10 email marketing best practices, you're ready to work wonders with your own email marketing campaigns. Good luck! And if you need a hand, remember that Keap can help you take the next step toward powerful client communication.

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