6 Best Practices for Savvy E-mail Marketing

I love e-mail marketing. I love it because it’s universally understood and suited for normal people–people like your mom, your neighbor Jane down the street, and your customers who still haven’t signed away their life and privacy for a Facebook account (yet). E-mail marketing gives small business owners an intimate way to reach the “everyone else” of their market. And that’s where its power it lives.

But not all e-mail marketing is created equal. You know this because you, too, have an inbox. You see what arrives there. You can feel the difference between the e-mails you rush to open and the ones that cause you to angrily hit the delete key. If you’re a small business owner trying to tweak your e-mail marketing campaign, where you should start? What’s most important to readers?

Here are six e-mail marketing best practices to help you get started.

1. Be personal: If you’re using your e-mail newsletter as another way to shout at your customers or tout your Web site, you’re missing out. The power of e-mail marketing comes from its intimacy. Because you’re reaching someone in their inbox, they’ve already put you on a trusted pedestal. People will give their Twitter account to anyone, but they only share their e-mail with people they know won’t abuse it. So take the opportunity to forge a more personal relationship. Talk to your readers like they’re friends getting special access. Let them in on deals before the rest of the public. Use e-mail to tell your company’s story and create a special connection. Use a friendlier tone than perhaps you use on your Web site. Make e-mails special.

2. Know when to send it: You want to send your e-mail newsletter when people are most likely to be around to read it. Every industry will have slightly different data on when is the best time to send, so you need to experiment to see what works best for you. You probably know not to send your newsletter out at 6 p.m. on a Friday, but should you send it on Monday afternoon or Wednesday morning? Which will get you more clickthroughs and more readers? What does your competition do? The only way to know for sure is to test. Once you know which day of the week/time of day is best suited for your industry, be consistent about it. Make sure people know when to expect your newsletter so they’re waiting for it to hit their inbox.

3. Master the subject line: Your subject line will determine the fate of your newsletter. If you can set up a compelling promise, customers will click through to read it. If you don’t, they won’t. To attract readers to click, stay away from spammy words, clichés and over-promising, and learn to write succinct, snappy and engaging messages. I’d recommend testing different tones, lengths and calls to action to help you find out what your audience best responds to. You should also read marketing blogs like Copyblogger, Problogger and IttyBiz to help you find your brand voice.

4. Remember the preview pane: How many of your customers will be viewing your e-mail marketing via an e-mail application like Outlook or Thunderbird? That’s something you want to consider when designing. By optimizing your e-mail newsletter to be properly viewed in a preview pane, you increase your chances that readers see the most important part of your message. Designing for the preview pane may mean removing large images from the header, moving up your call to action so it’s visible even before the clickthrough, or placing your key points higher in the message. If customers like what they see, they’ll clickthrough and keep reading. But you have to get them there. I’d also recommend sending yourself a test version to see how things will appear when viewed in a preview pane. Don’t assume they look OK. Know.

5. Track everything: You want to monitor absolutely everything that is going on inside your e-mail campaign. Look at delivery rates, open rates, links clicks, conversions, customer service calls, etc. If there’s an option to track it, do it. The more you know about what’s not working, the more you can tweak your e-mail marketing so that it does. You can also use this information to segment your e-mails in the future to help you use persona marketing to reach specific customer types. This is where e-mail really starts to get powerful. The right message, to the right person, at the right time will give you the trifecta of effectiveness. I was pretty impressed to see that nearly 70 percent of marketers segment their e-mail lists regularly.

6. Don’t spam. Ever: There’s no greater way to lose a customer’s trust than to spam him or her. Make sure you’ve read up on the CAN-SPAM act and that your e-mail marketing techniques fall squarely inside of its regulations.

Those are some e-mail marketing best practices that I try to live by. Do you have others that work for you and your audience?


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

16 Reactions
  1. Lisa,

    Like you, I love email marketing. I’ve really been trying to make mine more one-on-one personal.

    It’s working. I’m getting emails back from my subs, and even phone calls.

    Thanks for the reminder about optimizing for the “preview pane.”

    The Franchise King

  2. Hi Lisa,
    I’m with Joel, email marketing rocks for small biz owners. I use Infusionsoft because it allows for very robust programs. You can set up sequences when customers do something. I like the personal dialogue option that Joel suggests and I use automation to help start the conversation with a cold prospect. For ones where I have a relationship, I segment my database into areas of interest so that I’m sending the right message (something relevant) to the right person. It takes more work in the beginning, but then it helps me keep out of the trash bin!

  3. The Retail Email Blog (http://www.retailemailblog.com/) examines emails from some of the top retail companies, and reports on email redesigns, subject lines companies are using, where the unsubscribe links are being placed, etc. Even if you’re not in retail, it can provide you with some inspiration and examples without you yourself having to subscribe to a lot of newsletters.

    When testing, have your email set to NOT automatically display images, so you can see what the email looks like if someone is not loading images. You can see if the email still makes sense, and if it gives the user a reason to load images or click to view the email in a browser.

    Also consider what the email looks like on a mobile phone, as this may be the first place where someone sees your email and decides to keep or trash it before they even look at it on a regular computer.

  4. Lisa,

    Love your writing style, and this list. Short and to the point. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d love for you to check out a blog article I wrote recently on email marketing that is more long winded, but alas, offers an entertaining (I hope it’s entertaining anyhow) approach to educating people on the subject. http://bit.ly/alZvn0 “Email Marketing with Bobby Knight.” Again, wonderful post, and I’d love to hear what you think about this realm of things through the eyes of Bobby Knight. :o)

    -Chris H.

  5. Email Marketing is all about conversions, so any new ideas on how to get people to come back or pay for your products is good to know. I linked your article on my blog. I hope my readers will like it as much as I did. Great read!

  6. VideoCustomizer

    Simple yet so relevant points. To me, email marketing is about using content and tools to engage, educate or amuse clients.

  7. Lisa:

    We are just starting off a brand new business (commercial lending brokerage). Unfortunately for us, we do not maintain a brick and motar facility, nor do not we have many of the options that other businesses have of places to build a opt in – subscribe list such as conferences to attend, a tangible product, newsletter to start off with, etc. What would you recommend for a brand new company with no clients yet who would like to build a marketing list? The only thing we know to do is to start off with letters of introduction to our target markets.

  8. After reading this wonderful article on email marketing I will completely change my strategy and start working correctly with my list of leads, thanks for the excellent tips.

  9. Great list, thanx!