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9 No-fail Email Marketing Best Practices

By Martha Mueller NeffJun 29, 2017

You know that feeling. That feeling when you get an email in your inbox and you just can’t NOT click on it. We all get so many emails (and they said email was dead!), so when we get one that speaks to our hearts, it’s a momentous occasion.

Maybe it was the subject line, maybe it was the offer or maybe you just needed that exact product, service or knowledge at that exact time. The best marketers see every email as a small puzzle, each piece as important as the next, and take the time to craft something their readers can’t resist.

For instance, this one (subject line is “Don't Play with Dead Snakes — Kill Projects Before They Kill You”):

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So as we dig into what makes a good email even better, let’s take a lesson from dead snakes and consider these nine email marketing best practices you can use beginning today.

1. Track your sender reputation.

The best way to know whether people are engaging with your emails is watching the metrics closely: What are your open rates? How about the click-through rates? Are people unsubscribing in droves? Are they complaining about spam? As SendGrid points out, think of this as your credit score and continually try to improve it by monitoring the numbers—preferably across platforms and in several locations. Then do A/B tests, and test again until you achieve results that make you happy.

2. Keep it short.

Writing emails is an art form, and it’s an art form that not everyone executes well, or executes well even after years of practice. But this much is true: The most successful emails respect your reader’s time and therefore get to the point quickly. There’s even a movement to keep all emails to no more than five sentences.

You can’t always keep your emails to five sentences. So how do you write enough to get the point across but not too much to turn away a prospect? Start with the goal of writing fewer than five sentences; even if you go over that amount you can trim the email later. Second, make every sentence active voice. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to make 99.9 percent of everything you write active. Readers respond to active language—especially when they’re pressed for time and they’re reading an email.

When you have crafted what you think is the perfect copy, run it past an editor of your choice (including the nearest member of Generation Z, who will be characteristically blunt), then A/B test it for length. The resulting objective data will help guide your future strategy on everything related to emails, including length.

3. Make sure the subject is relevant.

This requires you to have a good handle on your audience. Just who is your audience? Is it engineers? Is it busy CEOs? Or could it be women between the ages of 14 and 40 who are looking for a drop-dead perfect matte lipstick?

Cosmetics company Morphe uses a motion GIF of beautifully colored lips to show what their product can do. The language in the email (“A Morphe Babe doesn’t budge, so why should their lip color?”) matches the in-your-face subject line, “Kiss this, Morphe Babes.”

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Morphe knows its audience, and so should every good marketer. The subject line and email body must be tailored to exactly the persona you’re targeting. If it’s the busy CEO mentioned above, get to the point early with professional language you would use on LinkedIn; if it’s an engineer, don’t be afraid to get technical with product or service specifications.

4. Personalize the subject line for your recipient.

HubSpot and others have found that emails that included the first name of the recipient in their subject line had higher click-through rates than emails that did not. The open rate for emails with a personalized message was 17.6 percent, compared with 11.4 percent without personalization.

Other key points to remember when crafting your subject line:

  • Most clicked-on emails include “secrets,” “e-sales” and “awesome” in the subject line. Again, it’s wise to do some testing.
  • Emails mostly reported as spam included the words “confirm,” “features” and “upgrade” in the subject line.
  • People are less likely to open emails that include a question mark (?) or a hashtag (#).

5. Include a valuable offer or opportunity.

There are many ways to offer value in an email—HubSpot details six of them, including sending a case study and referencing a mutual connection—but the best way is to know your prospect and where he or she is in the sales pipeline.

Offering something of value in every email, and making that offer clear high in the email for your busy prospects or clients, will help build loyalty among your email subscribers. Don’t make them work to find the offer; this isn’t the time to tell a great story. Since we all are inundated with emails every day, it’s essential to get to your offer early and make it powerful to entice your subscriber to stay with you.

This simple, effective email from GoToMeeting had the subject line “4 steps to scheduling a meeting.” What makes it powerful—besides that it is targeted precisely at new customers or someone doing a trial—is its use of just the four steps with a bold orange call-to-action button.

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6. Make the offer and the email timely.

The subject line in this REI email (“The Early Bird Gets the Bacon”) is enough to get our attention. But the offer of campfire gear is even more enticing given the time of year—summertime, vacation time, fun time—when people across the United States are enjoying the great outdoors, need to eat and are more inclined to cook for themselves.

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7. Make it function across all devices.

Since more than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices, why wouldn't you make your email design responsive, and make that your FIRST priority? And because you want your email to work on tablets, smartphones and desktops, you want to make sure all imagery (including photos and CTAs) is fluid and your coding is perfect.

One more design element that could make the difference between a mere open and the coveted click-through? Video. In fact, 82 percent of marketers surveyed in the 2014 Online Video Marketing Survey and Trends Report, said video email marketing is effective. This includes animated GIFs (see the Morphe email above) and other motion graphics.

8. Optimize your links and CTAs.

No one wants to see link after link after link in an email. Instant turn-off. Nor do we want to be overwhelmed by 12 in-text or graphic CTAs. As we pointed out in a previous blog, by including direct CTAs with clear benefits you can drive traffic to your site or encourage the desired conversion. Pique your reader’s interest with just enough intriguing copy, then offer no more than three easy-to-read graphic or in-text CTAs using language and images your readers won’t be able to resist.

9. Analyze, analyze, analyze.

There are so many ways to analyze email KPIs that there really is no excuse for emails that perform badly. HubSpot offers a heat chart for open and click-through rates, telling you how each email in your selected time period performed. You can also evaluate email performance KPIs for specific time periods and campaigns, and you can find out all about engagement, deliverability and contacts lost. With these metrics and a clear focus, you can’t fail to make an irresistible email, regardless of your campaign.

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While metrics and data play a big part in the performance of your emails, crafting a winning email isn’t rocket science. Learn how to stand out in crowded inboxes with these nine best practices and our Strategies in Content & Design for 2017.

Email Marketing Strategies in Content & Design for 2017

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The Author

Martha Mueller Neff

Martha puts into play her skills and experience as an award-winning newspaper and magazine editor, helping to craft bright, clean communications that get results.
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