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The Inbox is the recipient's personal space that is being invaded by hundreds of newsletters, pitches, promotions, and advertisements every day. You may think your email stands out, but there's a high probability that to the reader, it looks the same as others.
That's why it's important to remember that you are only a guest in their "house", and use your good manners as a result. Creating successful email marketing campaigns has never been more important than it is now. But a lot of marketers don't know how to do email marketing right.
So for helping you succeed as an email marketer and business, I want to get back to the basics and talk about how to build a successful email marketing campaign, from the ground up.
To make it easy, I broke it down into six chapters:
It's important that you remember this: you're not allowed to email people without permission.
No email marketing campaign can be built without getting permission to email the recipients, so we'll start by focusing on email list building do's and dont's.
Building a Confirmed Opt-In List
Though a single opt-in method is possible, a confirmed opt-in is most recommended. It protects you from malicious and bot subscriptions and eliminates invalid email addresses at the subscription stage.
The best way to set up a confirmed opt-in process is by using a subscription form on your website or landing page.
There are many ways you can use to motivate people to subscribe. Some marketers prefer to give something for free immediately while others simply promise a newsletter or product updates.
It's up to you to decide what is better in your particular case, but what you must have is a clear purpose when asking for an address. This is where you need to think about a strong call to action, and this is where copywriting is super important.
Simply saying “Enter your email address” isn't going to get people willing to do so. Instead, consider sharing:
Giving something to the subscriber in return for their email address is a far more specific, and effective, way of doing business.
There are things you need to address on your landing page or website if you want to be successful in email marketing. Put yourself in your reader's shoes and read your call to action.
You can hire a designer to create a nice landing page for you, or you can use a ready to use code to place the subscription form on your website.
Most email service providers provide the subscription form for use on the website.
Plus, some hybrid email systems like EasyMail7 allow to create a subscription form and collect email recipients on the website in real time.
Permission-based email marketing implies that people gave you an explicit permission to send them emails.
However, sometimes marketers use back-door methods to add an email address to their list thinking that they have the right to do it. These methods are not legal and not recommended when it comes to list building.
Thus, to be on the safe side, don't use the following back-door list building practices:
1. Don't add a person's email address to your mailing list if you've just exchanged the email addresses. If someone gives you their email address, it doesn't mean they want to receive marketing emails from you.
And if you start sending your newsletters and promotions to them, not only is this spamming, it’s professionally unethical.
2. Don't add a person's email address to your mailing list just because they've signed up for your service or trial. There is nothing wrong with sending new customers relevant emails right after a signup or purchase. They may be account creation confirmations, welcome emails, receipts, startup instructions, or on boarding documentation. They are all relevant to the flow and are completely acceptable.
What is not acceptable is the marketing emails that follow. So, if the user did not check the option to receive newsletters or promotional emails during the signup process, don't spam them!
3. Don't add a person's email address to your mailing list just because you are in the same industry. Often marketers are just scraping email addresses and emailing everyone who is bearing on the same niche as they are. It's not cool at all.
Those people did not give their consent to receive marketing emails from you, and they'll likely mark you as spam hoping to never hear from you again.
Why Not Violate the First Rule of Email Marketing
In addition to ethical and legal reasons, there are also pure financial and practical reasons why you will not want to use blackhat list building methods.
You should be careful to get permission before sending email newsletters and promotions to the recipients for two main reasons:
1. Email marketing can get expensive.
While email marketing is still cheaper than any other form of advertisement or promotion, it can be very expensive if you have to send large volumes of emails.
Imagine that you have a decent email marketing list with 1 million emails. Here's what you're paying with MailChimp:
You're paying for every email you send.
So, would you want to waste money for sending messages to people who don't want to hear what you have to say?
Wouldn't you rather focus on people who are eagerly waiting to hear from you?
2. Your bounce and complaint rates affect your email deliverability.
The bounce ratio shouldn't exceed 5%. If higher, you're sending a signal to the email service providers and mailbox providers that your list acquisition method is not good.
With complaints, it gets even worse: if 1-2% of recipients per campaign complain about your email, the email service provider will suspend your account.
If you are using an in-house email software with a dedicated SMTP server, your account won't be suspended but your deliverability will suffer. ISP now use the tracking of recipients' actions upon the emails to decide if it is a legitimate sender or spammer. Would you like to be flagged as such?
But most important, marketers and companies that carefully manage their lists have higher email deliverability. That means more emails get to Inboxes, and more emails get opened and read.
When you think of the damage of spamming wrong people and the cost of over-emailing, you'll understand why you want to focus on permission-based list building and emailing your target audience who is waiting for your emails.
People gave you their email address because they expressed interest in what you promised to give them. So, your next goal after you've got someone's email address is to nurture that interest with relevant and engaging email messages softly leading the subscriber to the closing deal -- sale. At this stage, email frequency plays an important role.
Needless to say, you have to follow the expectations you set. If you promised to send one email per week, do not send every day -- you're setting yourself up for failure. On the contrary, if a subscriber is expecting daily updates and you don't deliver them, then they are likely to be upset in that case too.
Almost all email service providers and some in-house email systems like EasyMail7 give you the option to create an automated emails sequence, and it's highly recommended that you take advantage of it. If your follow-up series is consistent and relevant, then you can count on a positive email marketing campaign.
The key is to find the balance between emailing often enough to build a relationship and generate revenue and emailing so much to burn your list. A good way to do it is through an engagement-based automated series, for example, a 7-day email series.
Let's have a quick look at some ideas for what you can consider sending in each email.
The first email can be an introduction email. It means that you introduce yourself to your audience, show a bit of your personality and endear yourself to your readers. You can tell a funny story from your life and tie it to the thing that you have in mind and want to sell.
Be fun, show your personality and add the call-to-action. Who's going to click in the first email? Those are people on your list who are most engaged and excited about you and your company, you and your brand.
In the second email, you can send a direct promotion. Here you specifically tell about the problem, offer the solution and highlight the benefits of using your product or service. This email will attract subscribers who are not very engaged with you and your company but are very engaged with the topic.
In the third email, you send a valuable content. Content must be something related to what you talked in previous emails. It may be a training video, free download, blog post, tips or tricks they can take advantage of. No promotion here. Why? To reset their attention.
If you send promotion after promotion, you're risking of getting unsubscribers. The content resets their attention and re-engages them. A great place to do a promotion though is a P.S. There is nothing wrong if you add a quick ad or promo in a P.S after the content.
In the fourth email, you can follow with more content about the same thing or come back with a recap (you recap all previous messages). Again, you can add a promo in a P.S.
In the fifth message, you'll want to talk about a completely different thing and offer them something completely different to make a flash sale. It kills two birds at a time -- it wakes them up, shakes them and resets their attention, and it generates you some quick revenue.
The sixth email is still about the content. Published a new blog post? Launched a new service? Released a demo? Created a video? Send them an exclusive subscriber-only link to access your content.
In the seventh email, you can return to promotion and sell. Again, outline the problem, tell about consequences, and provide your product or service as a solution. Highlight the benefits why they need your product, tell why yours is better than others to eliminate all doubts and get them make a sale.
Your series can contain 7, 10, 15 or even more emails depending on your needs.
Here are some more thoughts you can combine into a single automated email sequence:
Automated email series improve your reader's experience and help convert prospects into customers. When all emails in the series are sent, you can continue sending occasional newsletters to the subscribers. Have something new or interesting to tell them? Send an email to shake them up.
How often should you send? Remember that your email list is a permission asset, and it's better to stay on the safe side than ruining everything. It's normal to send a follow-up series with 2 or 3-day gaps between the emails. For regular newsletters, one email per week is considered enough.
The big benefit of this is that it gives you that balance -- balance between mailing enough to generate a revenue behind mailing so much to hurt your relationship.
You are probably aware of the importance of analytics on the website. Same is for email. Email service providers have complimentary analytics for their clients. Plus, there are standalone email analytics services like G-Lock Analytics that can be used with in-house email software and systems.
The three most important email analytics metrics are open rate, click through rate (CTR), and unsubscribes. It's crucial that you add email analytics to each email in your automated email sequence.
Your open rate will tell you how well you're building your relationship with the subscribers and how well you're engaging them. If after a certain email the open rate goes down, it means that people lost the interest in your emails, and you need to re-work your campaign.
The main things that determine the open rate are the "From" email address, the Subject line and email frequency.
Needless to say that your "From" field must be easily recognizable. It can contain your name, company name or your personal name with your company name (for example, "Julia from G-Lock"). If it shows your email address, make sure that you're sending from your domain reflecting your brand.
And I hope you are not sending from a "no-reply" email address, are you? Here you can read more about why it is always a bad idea to use a "no-reply" email address in the "From" field.
If your "From" field is OK, consider changing your Subject line. Try to be more creative at subject lines. If the same Subject repeats from email to email, it may be boring. Use a teasing Subject line that pushes the reader to open the email.
Then look at your frequency. Probably you send too much, so your subscribers are over-emailed and lose the interest after a certain email. Or on the contrary, you wait for too long to send the next email, so people forget about you.
There are also technical reasons for a low open rate. A drop in the open rate may be connected with a poor deliverability. If a lot of your emails get filtered out as spam or junk mail or blocked altogether, it's normal that your subscribers don't see them in their Inboxes and don't open them. Thus, it's a good idea to test your email deliverability and see where your email lands (Inbox or spam). But we'll talk more about it in the next chapter.
These are the things to do if your open rate drops. If your click-through rate is low, it means that your message is not targeted enough, or your call-to-action is bad. In this case, focus on improving your copy. Make sure your call-to-action is clear and irresistible. Focus on one call-to-action per email only. People must clearly understand what you want them to do from the email.
If your unsubscribe rate is high in relation to your opt-in rate, then you've passed the point of building value and writing a good copy. You've got some serious work to do to improve your email campaign.
Try to examine when people are leaving your list. If they're unsubscribing after a certain follow-up email, then re-work it. If they're unsubscribing after marketing messages, then re-work the way you present offers. Try to promote softly, give them more reasons to take the offer.
Email analytics is important in terms that if you're paying attention to the statistics, they give you very specific understanding of what you're doing wrong.
Also, subscriber engagement (email open and clicks) determine your sender reputation and deliverability of your future campaigns. These days, big Internet service providers such as Gmail, Hotmail, AOL, and some others track the user's actions on the message to determine the sender reputation and decide where the messages from that particular sender should go: to the Inbox or Junk mail folder.
With that said, marketers should use email analytics to measure their subscribers' engagement and be able to detect a deliverability problem when it happens.
The term segmentation means the practice of splitting up the email list into smaller lists by certain criteria with the purpose of sending more targeted emails to each list.
The most common segmentation comes from the subscribers' preferences. Some subscribers want both product updates and marketing offers, others might only want to hear about new versions, others might choose to receive emails about new product releases, etc. etc.
If you don't give them the option to choose, you may lose them all. Since existing customers are the best buyers, you'll want to keep them on your email list. Segmenting your list in this manner, you get the ability to send more targeted email messages and deliver the content that each subscriber requested.
In addition to that, you can segment your list by opens and clicks. For example, you can prepare and send a re-engagement email to people who did not open your emails within the last 3-6 months and ask them to re-subscribe if they still have interest in what you are sending, or unsubscribe in order not to send unwanted emails to them.
On the other hand, you can send more offers to active people and try to sell them more. It may be an affiliate product that you think may be useful to them or one of your products that compliments the product they already have. Since they are active recipients and read your emails willingly, why not take a chance to make some additional sales from them?
Using segmentation, you can also make split tests amongst different groups to find out what kind of Subject lines, offers, and content works bets for you and refine your best practices.
With that said, segmentation isn't a big science, but it works. However, many marketers don't take the time to apply it to their email marketing campaigns. If you do, you'll immediately separate yourself from the crowd.
When your email service provider is reporting 100% deliverability, it means that your email reached 100% recipients. But do you know whether 100% emails were delivered to the Inbox or not? Despite the perfect deliverability reported, it may be 80% Inbox placements and 20% spam placements.
Thus, 20% of your recipients may not see your email. With time, your spam rate could be increasing and preventing your email from reaching your subscribers at all. For some senders, this could mean thousands in lost revenue.
How to protect yourself and send with confidence that all your recipients will see your email?
Luckily, there are email delivery testing tools like G-Lock Apps out there. G-Lock Apps differentiates between Inbox and spam folder placement, giving you the most accurate and comprehensive real-time delivery reports.
Plus, G-Lock Apps verifies the sender authentication such as DKIM and SPF, checks the email against spam filters, monitors your IP address reputation, and tracks email delivery duration.
These valuable email placement reports help you track and fix possible deliverability problems to land in the recipient's Inbox.
The delivery duration shows you if there is a temporary issue with email delivery at your delivery service or email provider. Temporary delivery issues may occur with any email service provider (ESP) and G-Lock Apps test will help you reveal them in advance and take steps to get email campaigns sent seamlessly.
You'll be able to delay your email campaign until the problem is fixed, or send the campaign through a different ESP if it's important and must be delivered on time.
To be on the safe, it's recommended that you test each email message you are going to send to your subscriber base. But running a delivery test is a must-have when:
The above things are the signs that something goes wrong with your deliverability. The sooner you start testing your email deliverability, the sooner you will able to discover what causes the problem and fix it. This will ensure that your further email marketing campaigns will be delivered to the subscribers' inboxes.
Email marketing is not about sending email campaigns only. The important role in email marketing takes an email list hygiene. An email list hygiene includes processing of bounce emails, unsubscribes, and complaints.
You should differentiate soft bounce and hard bounce emails. Soft bounces result from temporary delivery issues and can be re-tried several times. After 5 failed attempts, they should be considered as hard bounces and excluded from your mailing list.
Hard bounces result from invalid email addresses and nonexistent users. They must be removed from your mailing list once and forever.
You must process the bounce data on time because if you continue sending to bounce addresses, your emails will be filtered and eventually blocked. Plus, sending to bad addresses is fraught with a negative reaction from your email service provider or delivery service. They usually suspend the account until the user has the bounce handling process in place.
With that said, if you have a "cold" email list of subscribers to which you have not emails within the last 6-12 months, it is a good idea to check the list for validity and remove invalid addresses if they exist.
You can check out online email verification services like BriteVerify, DataValidation or FreshAddress and compare their prices. Or, you can look at desktop email verifier software Advanced Email Verifier and consider using it with a 3rd party API for more accurate verification.
If you want a teammate to track all the bounced emails, you can set up a shared label, and use that to delegate and monitor the statuses of bounced emails.
Besides bounce emails, you have to pay attention to unsubscribe requests. If you don't address unsubscribe requests on time, the recipients who wish to leave your email list are more likely to click on the report spam button, which will cause even more harm to your reputation.
Another reason for having an unsubscribe link is that email messages without an unsubscribe link are subject to a more thorough filtering by ISPs.
Most of ESPs and in-house email systems like EasyMail7 provide handling of bounce and unsubscribe emails as a feature. The system automatically stops sending messages to the unsubscribed recipients and hard bounce addresses.
Spam complaints are one more issue that must be addressed. Spam complaints happen when the recipients click the "This is spam" button for the email. It's a good idea to sign up for feedback loops with ISPs to be notified when someone complains. You can find links to feedback loop signup pages here.
If you don't pay attention to complaints, ISPs will throttle your emails and eventually block them. Plus, ESPs and delivery services will ban your account if your campaign generates too many complaints.
As you see, your deliverability directly connected with your list hygiene. The cleaner your list, the better deliverability, and response. Therefore, you cannot afford to neglect to manage your list properly. The consequences would be serious and irreparable.
What's the bottom line?
Email marketing is a complex topic that includes list building and managing, content writing, email campaign testing and sending, email analytics collection and analysis. Marketers should think about all these aspects before they start sending email campaigns.
To build a good sender reputation and avoid deliverability issues, you need to understand how to do email marketing in the right way and what email marketing practices to follow to get the emails delivered to the recipient's Inbox.
In case a deliverability issue happens, you have to understand what you did wrong and how to fix the problem to deliver your future emails flawlessly.
Julia Gulevich is an email marketing and deliverability expert and customer care service consultant at G-Lock Software with 10+ years of experience. She is the author of numerous articles, newspapers and ebooks about email marketing, list building and email deliverability.