Email marketing continues to be one of the most popular and widely used communication channels for both b2b and b2c marketers. The appeal is obvious as both consumers and business professionals use emails on a daily basis, whether it be to communicate with friends and family or with customers and prospects. On top of this the rise in popularity of smartphones and tablets enables people to access their emails anytime, anywhere, which is why email provides the perfect platform from which to have an ongoing dialogue with your target contacts.

Despite this, many marketers are still not tapping the full potential of email as a marketing tool. So what’s the formula for success? Well, there are many components to consider when devising a successful email strategy and here are ten things you should know.

Write a winning subject line

Marketers should spend as much time constructing the subject line as they do the body copy of the email. This may sound like extreme advice, but it’s important to remember that the subject line is the first thing your recipient is likely to see. This means that more often than not your subject line determines whether your email is ignored, deleted or opened!

So what makes a winning subject line? Without a doubt the subject line should be succinct, to the point and engaging. It should be factual not “salesy”. Tell, don’t sell or you are at risk of alienating your recipients. More importantly make sure you get the context right.  By this I mean the subject line should directly relate to the content of the email. This may sound like basic and rudimentary advice, but so many get it wrong!

Personalise and automate your content

Many marketers are still guilty of sending generic batch and blast emails to their entire database. The content you put in your email is important, but unless it’s personalised and targeted to specific recipients it’s less likely to be read and more importantly, acted on.

With the help of a good email service provider (ESP) you should be able to effortlessly automate your email campaigns by setting up pre-defined triggers, so you send the right message to the right person at the right time, based on past behaviour, browsing patterns, personal preferences and purchasing history.

According to a recent RazorSocial report, 20% of businesses that practice marketing automation increased their revenue by a minimum of 75%; so it does work!

Don’t forget a strong call to action

One of the biggest challenges email marketers face is getting their subscribers to perform an action once they have received, opened and read the email. A well thought out and suitably executed call to action (CTA) can mean the difference between a great email campaign and a very poor one.

It might be tempting to incorporate a variety of CTAs in one email but this can result in a confusing experience. So remember to keep it simple! One strong CTA works best. It should be strategically placed “above the fold” so it can be seen without the need for scrolling, but it should also be littered throughout the message so your recipients are given multiple opportunities to click through.

Plain and simple

Marketers should create a plain text back-up for every campaign they send. A plain text email is essentially stripped of any formatting and is readable as just text. When you compose a plain text email you can’t bold text, you can’t underline certain words and you can’t even change colours or font sizes.

So why would a marketer choose to send a plain text alongside or instead of a visually appealing HTML version? The primary reason is because HTMLs can still be unpredictable and may display differently from email client to email client. However with plain text you know that your recipients will see exactly what you see.

It’s also important to note that some subscribers actually prefer plain text because they look more like personal messages, such as what you would receive from a friend or colleague.

Optimise for mobile

Nearly half of all emails are opened on a mobile device (source: Econsultancy), yet many marketers are still not optimising for mobile. This is a mistake as emails solely designed for desktops will often display incorrectly on mobile devices which may compel subscribers to hit the delete button.

You need to make sure you are using a mobile responsive template which will automatically alter the layout of the email depending on the size of screen it is being viewed on. So for example, if your email design on desktop has three columns, on mobile it would filter into one.

It’s also important to note that people reading emails on mobile devices are often on the move, so make it easy to quickly scan your email by breaking it up with paragraphs, headings, bullet points and prominent CTAs.

Integrate with social media

Smart marketers recognise the value of integrating social and email to create a powerful synchronicity. There are numerous ways you can manipulate these two channels to ensure they complement one another. As a starting point, whenever you send an email campaign include a link to it on your social media channels as this will extend the reach of your messaging.

Add share buttons to all your email messages to make it easy for your subscribers to share your content with their own personal social networks. With this approach, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your emails will go viral!

Pay close attention to engagement levels on social media. Which of your tweets and posts generated the highest levels of response? This should act as a barometer for what’s a hot, timely topic. You can then use this insight to inform email messages that will resonate.

Maximising deliverability

Deliverability is a complex minefield, as a range of factors will determine whether your email is delivered, how fast it will be delivered and where it eventually ends up!  

This is why you should keep your lists clean. Quality is more important than quantity.  A small list of highly-engaged users will achieve better deliverability than a large list peppered with inactive users. This is because ISPs are more likely to recognise you as a spammer if you frequently mail recipients who never open or click within your email.

A good way to keep your email list full of engaged users is by implementing a preference centre, whereby you ask your target contacts to select the type of content they would like to receive. This in turn will keep your messages relevant!

Less is not always more

Many marketers are afraid of sending too many emails to their subscribers for fear they will gain a reputation for spamming. But it’s important to remember that email marketing plays an important role in generating leads and increasing revenue – so why wouldn’t a marketer choose to increase the frequency of their email communications?

Of course, I am not recommending that you fire off generic daily emails to every single contact on your database. Relevance is the key word. Naturally, when I suggest marketers should be sending more emails, I mean targeted and personalised content that your subscribers just cannot resist reading. By segmenting your database and using marketing automation to trigger emails for certain behaviours, on specific dates or after specific purchases, you can be sure you’ll be sending emails to your contacts that give them the information they want to receive. 

Test and learn

It’s fair to say that testing has been commonplace for some years now but many marketers are quite narrow in their approach and will simply undertake the occasional split test, which will always focus on the same element i.e. the ever popular subject line! But if marketers want to see the true benefit of testing they need to make bolder choices.

Split testing is always valuable but you also need to employ multivariate testing whereby you test multiple variables as opposed to just two. And you need look beyond the subject line and test every aspect of your email campaign from the frequency, target audience, content and landing pages to the time of day and the day of the week when you send your emails.

A well-structured testing programme will deliver absolute answers and equip you with the insight you need to maximise click-through, engagement and ROI.

Evaluating your campaign

To ensure a continuously successful email programme you need to constantly evaluate your campaigns so you can understand where you can make improvements. The main analytics you should focus on are open rates, bounce rates, click-through rates and unsubscribe rates. For example, if your open rate is low, perhaps you need to re-word your subject lines. If your click-through rate is low, you should consider making your CTA stronger and if unsubscribe rates are high, it could be time to clean your lists and implement that all important preference centre!

It’s also essential to look beyond these initial metrics and undertake an in-depth ROI analysis by focusing on conversion rates. For instance, you may run a campaign where only a small proportion of the recipients open the email, but if these opens lead to actual sales, your perception of the campaign as initially disappointing will quickly change.