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Email Marketing Best Practices: How to Connect, Deliver, and Profit in the Inbox

Email marketing best practices

Today’s article is long. Do you prefer to listen? Scroll down and I’ll read it to you.

You can also watch the Email Best Practices video to boost retention after you’ve read or listened to the information here.

 

Email marketing can be absolutely mortifying.

Why?

Because any mistake you make in your email marketing goes out to hundreds, thousands — sometimes tens of thousands of people all at once.

And you can’t take it back.

It sits there as a witness to your imperfections, glowing on screens across the world.

Email marketing mistake
Here’s my face when I realize I sent an email with a mistake.

My personal email marketing Hall of Shame

Mistakes with email marketing? I’ve made a few. Here’s a sample:

  • In my early days online, I advertised new products to my entire list, over and over, rather than figure out who might want to know about them. Now I know about interest lists and segmentation (more on both below).
  • Later, I promoted products to people who had already purchased them. Now I know how to stop messages from going to people who don’t need them (more on this below).
  • I have sent out broken links multiple times. (Read on for a solution.)

Email marketing is so nerve-wracking because any mistake you make is amplified.

So why do we do it? Here’s why:

90% of email gets delivered to the subscriber’s inbox. Only 2% of your Facebook followers see your updates in their News Feed. – Forrester Research

Email is effective, efficient, and inexpensive. Despite the landmines, email should be the foundation of your online brand.

The email marketing Hall of Fame (and Fortune)

Why bother with email marketing when it causes so much distress? That’s easy.

Email marketing enables long-term customer relationships.

When you deliver useful, helpful, engaging messages, your most interested subscribers will stay tuned in.

I have proof — my Weekend Digest newsletter has been going strong since 2010 with thousands of subscribers who stay connected with Big Brand System on a weekly basis.

Email marketing is intimate, personal, and builds trust.

Your email message sits in an inbox next to messages from friends and family. You’ve been invited into this space by someone who has signed up for your messages. That’s trust.

And your messages are getting seen:

92% of online adults use email. 61% use it on an average day. –Pew Research Center

Email marketing is a proven way to make more online sales.

Social media gets all the press these days. And as a whole, social platforms are very useful for marketers.

But email marketing is in a class by itself:

Email remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media — nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined. –McKinsey & Company

Email marketing connection
A solid email marketing strategy helps you connect — and profit — in the inbox.

Here’s the thing about email marketing that will always make it worth it for me — despite the occasional embarrassing (and very public) mistake:

Email allows you to powerfully connect with your prospects and customers.

They can reply directly (and privately) to you. And they will, as long as you write with an “email voice” that’s friendly, approachable, and helpful.

You’ll learn about their challenges. You’ll hear their questions. You’ll have the privilege to respond personally.

Email marketing — next to content marketing — is one of the most profitable and effective marketing techniques for any online business that is trying to serve an audience of readers.

Email marketing trust
Don’t shatter your relationship with prospects and customers.

Today’s email marketing best practices

All of the above — the plusses and minuses of email marketing — may have you feeling anxious about how to make it work for you.

It’s a natural reaction. But never fear: the rest of this article is devoted to sharing what’s working right now in email marketing.

We’ll go through the essentials step-by-step.

Email automation delivers what your subscriber wants when they want it.
Email automation delivers what your subscriber wants when they want it.

1. Choose an email service provider that offers automation and tagging

After spending years with another company, I recently switched to ConvertKit and it was primarily because of their easy-to-use automation and tagging features.

Automation allows you to set up “recipes” that perform actions automatically when your subscriber does something. It delivers a personalized email experience.

Here’s an example of email marketing automation in action:

  • Current subscriber clicks on an email link to request information about a topic
  • Subscriber receives pre-written email sequence about topic
  • Subscriber receives discount offer
  • Subscriber buys product
  • Subscriber receives “post-purchase follow up” sequence

All of this happens behind the scenes while you sleep.

You set up your sequences and “trigger” links once, and then watch as the automation serves up whatever the subscriber desires.

That’s how email marketing should be and if your current email provider won’t let you set this kind of thing up, you might want to consider changing.

Email marketing incentives
Create an opt-in incentive that delivers results — fast.

2. Get new subscribers with a list-building incentive that delivers fast results

Of course, no amount of sophisticated automation matters if you don’t actually have subscribers.

That’s why once you choose an email service provider, your next job is to create an irresistible opt-in incentive that will make them want to hand over their email address.

Need ideas? There are plenty in this article: Stop Begging and Start Giving: Why Perks Work to Build Your Email List

The most important question to ask yourself when creating your incentive is:

What can I deliver that will give my subscribers maximum results with a minimum time investment?

The days of the 48-page ebook, 3-month email sequence, or 14-part video series are long gone. People simply don’t have the time to consume that much information so they can solve their problems.

Give them a quick result instead.

It will be easier and faster for you to create, and when your new subscriber sees immediate results, they’ll stick around to see what else you have for them.

Tagging your subscribers helps you make targeted offers.
Tagging your subscribers helps you make targeted offers.

3. Play tag with your subscribers

I chose ConvertKit because they offer sophisticated tagging capabilities that allow me to have a better idea of how my subscribers are interacting with my information.

Tagging allows you to send messages without annoying people.

Use tags to group subscribers by topics they’ve shown interest in and by purchases they’ve made. No more sending the wrong message to the wrong person at the wrong time!

Email newsletters
Create a publication you’ll deliver consistently.

4. Create a publication you’ll deliver by email

Content marketing is amazing. (I love it so much I wrote a book about content marketing.)

You publish valuable information that draws readers to your website, listeners to your podcast, viewers to your videos.

But when you want to go to the next level of engagement, you move your readers, listeners, and viewers onto an email list.

And once they’re there, you stay in touch. Regularly. This is how the magical effect of email marketing kicks in.

When you show up on a regular basis with helpful information, you earn your place in the inbox.

The most common approach is to send out a newsletter every week or two.  If that’s your tactic, aim to publish at least monthly. Otherwise, you risk having subscribers scratch their heads and wonder who you are and why you’re emailing them — just before they click the “Unsubscribe” link in your email.

Email newsletters don’t need to be called newsletters, by the way. Some ideas:

  • Weekly Tip Sheets
  • Best of the Web for [YOUR TOPIC HERE]
  • Weekly Tutorial
  • Resource Roundup

My newsletter is called the Weekend Digest. It consists of one main article plus a handful of links to other great resources I’ve found. Having a set format makes it fast and easy to put together.

Email marketing targeted offers
Targeted offers are less annoying!

5. Send out targeted offers (occasionally)

How do you profit from your spot in the inbox? You make offers.

How can you make an offer without being pushy? You target your offers carefully. And you don’t make too many of them.

If you’ve followed the advice in this article thus far, you’ll have a group of subscribers that you’ve tagged according to their interests. You’ll know what they want to know more about. And you’ll know which products they may have already purchased.

When you know your subscribers well, you can make offers they’ll be interested in.

Offer your own products or affiliate products that will help them meet their challenges. Watch carefully over time to see which offers convert to sales, and which offers cause you to lose subscribers.

This data will help you refine what you offer and your targeting will become more accurate over time.

Email marketing segments
Segment interested subscribers before a product launch.

BONUS: Segment by interest before you launch

Getting ready to launch a new online product? Create an interest list.

An interest list offers an email incentive that’s specially created to attract the exact kind of customer who will be interested in your new product.

Here’s an example: A few months ago, I created an interest list for an upcoming product, The Image Lab. The Image Lab will show people how to create brand images they can use both on their websites and in social media. To entice people to put their name on the interest list, I created an incentive, How to Create 5 High-Impact Brand Images.

Here’s the beauty of an interest list:

When it’s time to launch your product, you can use a combination “soft sell” and “hard sell” approach.

To your general list, you’ll send an email letting subscribers know that your new product is available. You may ask them to opt into your launch series, whether those are emails, videos, or other resources.

To your interest list, you’ll go ahead and send the launch series. You will likely email them more often, and use greater urgency and scarcity messaging to encourage them to purchase. Because they’ve said they’re interested, you can use a “harder sell” approach.

The final word on email marketing best practices — take your time

You won’t be able to 100% avoid making email marketing mistakes.

  • Sometimes websites go down and even though your link is correct, the site isn’t available.
  • Spelling errors and typos happen to the best of us.
  • Information changes and we forget to update our emails.

But there is one simple technique you can use to create more accurate and polished emails. I use it all the time and can vouch for this simple habit:

To avoid most email mistakes, I recommend adding some time between the email writing process and the email review process.

This extra cushion of time gives you “fresh eyes” that will see mistakes more readily. It will give you a chance to double-check your work and correct errors before they go out into the world.

Let’s talk about email marketing

Email marketing is a hot topic with my coaching clients. I know it can feel daunting: that’s why I wanted to spell out the essentials in one place.

But you may still have questions. If you do, scroll down to the comments and ask away.

A free resource to help you create your email marketing program the right way

My friends at ConvertKit have a free resource that will set you up for email marketing success. It’s called The Complete Guide to Email Marketing (affiliate link). The ebook is chock-full of best practices for email marketing and will get you off to a solid start.

Boost your retention! Watch this video summary:

Get the simple approach to online business building. It’s free!

13 thoughts on “Email Marketing Best Practices: How to Connect, Deliver, and Profit in the Inbox”

  1. Informative post. Email marketing is the top promotional method nowadays for products and contents. The strategies you mentioned in the post will bring it to new heights.

    With best wishes,

  2. I’m delighted to have a transcript along with the article. I can scan the article to see if I want to go to the trouble of (and take the time) to listen to it (which is rare for me). I really dislike podcasts that give me no clue as to what is actually covered. I read widely and I just don’t have time to do all that listening.

    And, yes, I agree with other comments – it’s a nice combination of solid information (including references to research), with links to suggested deeper information of your own, as well as bonus bits. (As a collector of information, I appreciate article “usability.” )

    I have another question too. Given your recent connection with Rainmaker, why did you choose ConvertKit instead of Rainmaker’s platform that allows (or will have) similar tagging and segmenting?

    • So glad you enjoyed the article, Kate. Thanks for letting me know you listened to the audio, too.

      I needed a few features that ConvertKit has that Rainmail doesn’t (yet). The good news is that ConvertKit integrates flawlessly with Rainmaker: they talk between themselves like they’re old friends. It has been a very smooth transition, thankfully.

      • Hi Pamela. I found your post because I’m thinking of switching from ConvertKit to RainMail. I’ve had lots of problems with NRM and CK playing nicely. I get random page freezes from the modal opt ins. And CK support has been so unresponsive (compared to AWeber, which was awesome).

        I see your comment is pretty recent though, so maybe RainMail isn’t ready for prime time yet…

        Though I’ve thought the same thing about CK, and it’s so expensive (at least for a service I’m not happy with).

        Appreciate any advice.

        • I’m probably not the best person to ask for advice on this: I haven’t used RainMail at all, so I’d check with the Rainmaker Digital team.

          My experience with Rainmaker and ConvertKit has been trouble-free so far, I’m happy to report.

  3. I prefer both. The podcast is like a lecture and gives me the first pass at a topic.
    Reading is a follow up if I want to make notes and follow links.
    This was an excellent piece Pam. And Mark’s book sounds like a winner too.
    50 reviews on Amazon as of today. All 5 star. It’s on my order list.
    Thank you.

    • Barry, thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the audio! That’s great to hear. I think it’s helpful on longer articles like this one.

      I really liked “KNOWN” — Mark Schaefer’s book. I hope you enjoy it.

  4. Hi Pamela,

    I love that you included an audio version of this article! I consume best listening first and then having a written version to refer to afterwards. So this was great.

    And the content was perfect for where I am now. Thank you so much!

    Nicole

Comments are closed.

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