Email marketing is one of the best ways to connect with your audience, whether you’re looking for sales, donations, or prospects, or just staying front of mind. When you’re invited into someone’s inbox (and you should always be an invited guest), it’s a personal, one-on-one connection. At the moment they are looking at your message, there’s nothing competing with it.
Here are some basics to get you started with email marketing:
- Choose a provider. There are many to choose from, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. I’ve used Constant Contact, Vertical Response, Campaign Monitor, Emma, and currently use MailChimp, although the others can work just as well. I like MailChimp’s simple interface, it has great reporting and plenty of nice, responsive templates (we’ll get to that in a minute).
- Build your list. If you already have an email marketing list or database of people who have opted in, you’re ahead of the game. If you’ve collected email addresses on paper, you’ll have to spend some time entering them into a spreadsheet. You’ll want to import your list into your provider. If you have more than one list, no problem; you can create multiple lists and choose which you want to send to each time.
- Follow the law. Acquaint yourself well with the Federal Trade Commision’s (FTC) CAN-SPAM act. It spells out the requirements for commercial emails and penalties for violations.
Don’t add people to your email list unless they have specifically requested it and given permission.
When you upload your list or add subscribers you’ll have to certify that they have given permission. The FTC has an overview of the requirements at the link above, and you can download a PDF for more information. Conduct your business with integrity — follow the law.
- Decide what information to collect. My advice is to keep your form very simple. The more information a reader is asked to provide, the more resistant they become. I ask for only first name (in order to personalize) and email address. Depending on what you do, you may ask for more, but keep it to a minimum.
- Add a signup form to your website. If you’re a WordPress user, you’ll probably do this in the form of a plugin or widget. Otherwise, your provider will offer HTML code you can copy and paste that will automatically add the user to your list after they enter their email address. Be sure to include a heading or other text that tells the user why they should opt in, and assures them that you won’t sell their information.
- Use double opt-in. The double opt-in process sends a confirmation email that requires the user to confirm that they do want to receive email from you. This is the recommended process. Yes, it’s an extra step, and you may lose a few folks who don’t complete the process, but you’ll end up with more engaged and interested readers, and have less chance of being marked as spam.
- Consider mobile. Always, always preview your email on a mobile device. Most of your readers will open your email on their phone or tablet; no matter how lovely it looks on a desktop, if it isn’t readable and attractive on mobile, you’re likely to get deleted. Be sure you’re using a mobile-friendly template, and watch the sizes of your images – none should be wider than 600px.
- Plan. Decide on the frequency of your emails and what topics they will cover. Will you have recurring items, like a quote of the week, or fun fact? Consider the needs of your audience; what do they need to know? What is the goal — is it to drive sales, or purely informational?
- Design. Think carefully about your design, as it should remain consistent. Most organizations design the email to complement their website. This gives it credibility and familiarity so that the reader instantly knows who it’s from.
- Format. Some emails have one feature article in its entirety; others only show a paragraph or two with links to more on the website. Test to see which your audience prefers. Just be sure that your copy is brief and crisp; few people will read long blocks of copy, especially on a phone. Use images to break up the copy and catch the reader’s eye, but be sure they are appropriate to the copy and don’t use too many.
- Use words. I get emails all the time that look fantastic, but are made up of a large image with text and graphics. This is disaster for anyone who turns images off in their email client or subscribes to the text version; they’ll miss your entire message. Use text to convey what you want to say and images to highlight the content.
- Consider the subject line. Be sure the subject line reflects what’s in the email and is short (MailChimp recommends 50 characters). It’s the first thing your reader will see, so it needs to entice them to open. You can now use emojis in your subject, which some studies have shown increases open rates. Test them thoroughly though, as some email clients won’t render them correctly.
Check your stats. All email providers will give you open rates, unsubscribes, bounces (when the email can’t be delivered for some reason), and click rates. Keep an eye on these to see what actions readers are taking. For example, you can test different types of content or calls to action by observing which gets the most clicks. Open and click-through (the number of links in your email that the reader clicks) rates vary widely between industries, so be sure you’re comparing yourself to others in your field. As a rule, open rates across industries vary from 16 – 26 percent according to SmartInsights.com.
- Consider a giveaway. Most list building experts will advise that you offer a free giveaway to help build your list. It should be quality content that is helpful to your readers. You offer the content, the reader clicks to download it, and they enter their email address in return. This is an effective way to build a list of interested subscribers. A contest works well too.
- Be sure you have a prominent unsubscribe link. See item 3. It’s required by CAN-SPAM, and it will save you the trouble of removing subscribers manually on their request. Most email providers add it by default, but if not, be sure it’s checked. You may be required to select the option, depending on your provider. It’s usually in the footer of the email.
Overwhelmed yet? I hope not. Today’s providers make the technical part easy; so you only have to think about your message. Set aside some time to read through these tips and browse the websites of the providers I’ve mentioned and you’ll get a feel for which one will work for you and your budget.
If you’re really stuck, or don’t have time, I do offer email marketing as a service, so get in touch.
I get no compensation from the email services mentioned; I’m just a satisfied user.