In this post, we share some basic tips for those of you who are just starting out in email marketing. You might be about to launch a regular email newsletter to raise awareness of your work and/or invite your readers to sign up to a product or list (responding to a 'call to action’ or COA).
While email marketing has been described as 'one of the oldest digital marketing techniques’, it remains highly effective. Conversion rates from marketing emails tend to be about three times higher than from social media.
Here are our top five tips to bear in mind:
1. Personalise your emails
An email that reads like a generic message sent to hundreds of list members is much less likely to be read and acted on. By starting your email with your list member’s name, you are more likely to catch their attention. With Simplelists, you can add a member’s name into your emails (see how here). You might also want to think about more imaginative ways to customise the content of your email to match with the reader’s age, gender, location etc. Little details like this are likely to give you email a more 'human touch’ and help the email to feel more relevant to the recipient.
2. Get to the point and keep it relevant
Recipients like to receive messages that are relevant to them so it’s not a good idea to try to sell or promote something that they didn’t sign up for in the first place. Communicate key messages at the top of your email content, especially as many email clients do not automatically show the whole email. Therefore, the top content needs to motivate recipients to scroll down. It is also a good idea to keep the subject line short and concise. You should try to avoid words that might be seen as 'junk’ by spam filters (e.g. 'free’ or 'cheap’). You can read more about how to write a good subject line in an earlier post on our blog.
3. Use visuals
Today, we access our emails on a variety of devices at different times of the day. We can be at our desk, on the move, commuting, or relaxing at home. So, visuals can be an essential tool for sending an email that is more engaging than your competitors’, catching the eye of the recipient and encouraging them to read it. Images are processed much faster than text by the brain and, as we all know, our attention span is short in an age where emails and other notifications bombard our devices 24 hours a day. Some good ideas to try include: charts/diagrams, graphs, icons, videos (or a thumbnail link to a video), headers and emojis. Every audience is different though, so make sure the visuals you use are suitable for your recipient group.
4. Target/segment the recipients
It is important to remember that the goal of most email marketing campaigns isn’t simply to deliver a message. It can be to raise awareness of an organisation’s work, sell a product, fill in a form, etc. Ultimately, you are prompting a COA (call to action). While following tips 1-3 above will ensure that your email is relevant and engaging, it is also worth thinking about further targeting, or separating your contacts into different groups, depending on certain characteristics/activities. You can then personalise your emails for each group. With Simplelists, you can do this by using multiple lists to manage your contacts.
5. Measure success
At the end of the day, it is not worth putting all of this work in if you do not have a sense of the results that you are achieving. It is a good idea to decide what you would like your 'key performance indicators’ to be. Examples might be:
open rate (how many people opened your email);
click-through rate (how many people clicked on links in your email);
click-to-open rate (the number of unique clicks/number of unique opens);
bounce rate (how many emails didn’t get delivered);
delivery rate (emails sent, measured against bounces);
unsubscribe rate (how many people unsubscribed from your list);
referral rate (how many people sent the email on to someone else); and/or
There is lots of information out there about when is the best time of the day/week to send email newsletters, ensuring that as many people as possible open (and read) your message. We’ve already written about how to come up with a good subject line to increase your open rates and in this post we’ll look at the variety of data that analyses the best time to send your email.
Time of day
An analysis of more than a billion emails was recently conducted by a major email newsletter company to identify trends in the best time to send marketing emails/newsletters. The results showed that the number of ‘email opens’ increased after 12pm, with the optimum period being between 2pm and 5pm. This suggests that people prefer to read newsletters or other marketing emails once they have cleared the more urgent emails in the morning. It goes without saying that you should aim to send your email within working hours, otherwise they are likely to be deleted in the morning ‘clear out’ of the inbox. If some of your contacts are in a different time zone, you’ll need to take this into account as well.
Time of week
The same study also revealed that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the busiest days for the average person/worker in terms of email volume. With that in mind, it might be advisable to aim for other days of the week (although Mondays are not recommended as 'back to work blues’ may get in the way), to help your email ‘stand out from the crowd’, or you may wish to stick with these two days as they have been shown to be successful for many marketers. Sending marketing emails at the weekends is not advised, although this may be a good time for you, if your audience dictates.
Know your audience
Your audience is likely to have certain habits, depending on their interests and the information that you are sending to them. These habits might render some of the more established statistics about ‘when is a good time’ somewhat less useful. For example, if you are communicating with a young, technologically-motivated demographic, evening emails may work just as well as ones sent during the day. If your email requires a response, evenings may also generate higher engagement, especially if your email isn’t directly work-related. Similarly, Fridays (which are often not recommended as the weekend is a distraction) may work better if your email is about entertainment and the weekend is about to start.
What about the device?
A lot of the points above are not necessarily applicable to mobile users. A lot of the research tends to focus on desktop users who open emails at work. Mobile users continue to be active into the evening and at weekends. In 2013, a study found that 55% of consumers open their emails on desktops, while only 25% opened emails on mobile devices. With the ever-growing use of (and reliance on) mobile devices, this number is now likely to be much higher. Making emails more ‘mobile friendly’ and responsive will also affect the user’s experience of the content that you send.
So, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘right’ time to send your emails but being aware of these points will help you to choose the best time for your content/audience.
With Simplelists you have the option to send emails that are plain text or HTML. So which should you choose?
The answer, as with so many of these questions, is 'it depends’... on the purpose of the email that you are sending. In some circumstances HTML will be the best choice and in others plain text will be preferable.
First it’s worth considering the pros and cons:
HTML Emails - Pros:
The main advantage of HTML emails is that they can look great - you can include colours, pictures, nice fonts and a pretty layout. This means that your email can have visual impact and reading it can be a pleasant experience for the viewer. You can create a professional image.
It can also make the email easy to skim - emphasis can be placed on important points so people receive the important information at a glance. You can effectively steer people towards a 'call to action’ by highlighting it in a manner that makes people want to click.
You can include logos for your company or organisation, making the email instantly recognisable while increasing the visibility of your brand. It is also possible to include social media buttons that lead to your Facebook, Twitter or Google+ pages, therefore increasing the reach of the email beyond a single 'call to action’.
Tracking can also be made possible in HTML emails - you can include code to track open rates for the email and click through rates for links within the email.
So HTML emails have loads of advantages, but don’t jump the gun just yet - there are some downsides...
HTML Emails - Cons:
Using templates can hurt your engagement. People get hundreds of emails every week and sort through these, cutting out the irrelevant ones. Most of these irrelevant emails will be made from HTML templates and people subconsciously associate the layouts of these templates with spam. More often than not, people send templated emails to the recycle bin, or worse, the spam folder. In fact, for templated emails if 4% of people who receive the email click on the 'call to action’ it is seen as a huge success! This excellent blog post gives more detail.
So, it is best to avoid email templates and create your own HTML emails which can be unique enough to be different from the templates.
This takes us to the next point: you have to have the ability to use HTML and CSS code to create the email. Now HTML and CSS are pretty straightforward but there are some unique points when it comes to emails, because unlike web pages which are read directly in the browser, HTML emails are read in an email client, and each email client is a little bit different. However, by following a few basic rules it is possible to make HTML emails that look consistent across email clients.
Another issue is time - plain text emails can be written in a few minutes but creating a high quality unique HTML email will take longer, possibly a few hours.
Plain Text Emails - Pros:
Personal emails are plain text and people are used to receiving plain text emails - therefore people are more likely to read them compared with HTML emails.
They are also very quick and easy to write and with Simplelists you can write a plain text email and send it to your whole list in a few minutes.
Plain Text Emails - Cons:
As you’d expect there are downsides - effectively all the pros of HTML emails are not possible with plain text. You can’t make social media buttons, include a logo or use a distinct layout in a plain text email. You also can’t track open rates with plain text emails (although it is possible to track click through rates).
So, there are pros and cons to both plain text and HTML emails and you should consider these when deciding which one to use.
A good compromise can be to make an HTML email that looks very similar to plain text but that contains the features that you want, such as a social media buttons, a logo and a subtly highlighted 'call to action’. This way you’ll get the benefits of the personal feel that a plain text email has but with the added advantages that HTML emails can bring.
Above all, avoid HTML email templates as they are likely to be trashed or sent to the spam folder!
In our last blog post, we explained that your email delivery rates might be reduced if your list members report your emails as 'spam’. A feature of Simplelists is that we enable the members of your list to engage easily in private group discussion with one another. So, it’s important that your emails get opened and that your members don’t mark them as spam before doing so, whether accidentally or not.
One way to ensure that list members open your email and are sure that it is from a recognised, trustworthy source, is to make sure you have a good email subject line.
Top tips for writing a good subject line
Short is sweet. It is worth bearing in mind that the average email client can display between 38 and 47 characters in a subject line. A study carried out by Return Path in 2006 found that "click through rates for subject lines with 49 or fewer characters were 75% higher than those with 50 or more". So, brevity is probably best.
Resonate with your readers. Content-related subject lines that 'hit home’ with your readers will work better than something more general. You could consider using a teaser: 'This month: Is it worth buying organic?’ might be more tempting that 'August newsletter’.
Avoid spam 'trigger words’. Email clients generally have inbuilt mail filters to automatically file messages in the spam folder. Words like 'video, trial, sample, mortgage’ are examples of potentially problematic choices. You can study lists of spam words and you can also use websites like EmailSpamTest to test the likelihood of your email being filed as spam.
Avoid repetition and add a dash of intrigue. It’s always a good habit to avoid repeating a subject line you used before, even it worked really well previously. Give people a reason to open the email by focusing on something that 'whets their appetite’. Use something memorable or funny to catch their eye.
Personalise and localise. There is always an element of 'what’s in it for me’ when ruthlessly scanning an inbox full of messages. A study carried out by Experian in 2013 found that personalising emails by using words like 'you’ and 'your’ in subject lines may help to boost open rates. Mentioning a place can also help to focus people’s attention.
Finally, make it clear who you are in the 'From’ line. With Simplelists, you can send your email from your own email account , directly to the list address. Check that your name/company name is displayed clearly so that your members will immediately remember who you are and why they subscribed to the list in the first place.
It’s becoming more common for people to report emails as spam, even if they signed up to a list in the first place. If enough emails are reported as spam, delivery rates can be reduced and in the worst case scenario email addresses can be blacklisted and emails won’t get through at all.
Management of email addresses that have marked an email as spam is critical in keeping delivery rates high and preventing email lists from being blacklisted. You’ll be happy to know that Simplelists fully manages spam reporting for you, ensuring that your emails continue to get through.
What happens when someone hits 'report spam’?
When a list member marks an email as spam their email provider creates a 'feedback loop’, which automatically notifies Simplelists. We receive reports from email providers such as Gmail, Yahoo mail, Hotmail and a number of Internet Service Providers.
We use this information to automatically remove the email addresses of people who reported emails as spam from your list(s). This prevents them from receiving further emails from the list and from repeatedly marking emails as spam.
By taking this action Simplelists keeps your 'marked as spam’ rate low and helps ensure that the delivery rate of your emails is as high as possible. It also helps to keep your list up to date with those people who really want to receive your message.
Emails accidentally marked as spam?
Occasionally people can accidentally mark emails as spam - if this is the case they can always subscribe to your list again in order to receive emails.
Ideally you want accidental marking as spam to be kept to a minimum - here are a few tips on how to achieve this:
Keep your branding consistent. If you have set up a list and people have subscribed to it, try to remove anything that could cause confusion, such as: changing the name of the list; using a different name from your company or organisation name; adding members to a new list with a different name; using an acronym rather than the full company name. Ideally, your branding should be recognisable every time so that your members can look at your email and immediately remember why they subscribed.
Ensure subscribers are clear about what they signed up for in the first place. If they’re not getting what they thought they opted-in to, or there is a long delay between subscribing to the list and receiving the first email, they may have lost interest or even forgotten that they originally subscribed.
For a more in-depth look into using subject lines that will help prevent emails being marked as spam please see this post.
It can be worth noting that marking as spam can be an invaluable source of information about your members’ behaviours and preferences. If a particular list is producing a lot of complaints, it is worth investigating further.
If you’re using Simplelists for email marketing campaigns then the email you send will probably contain a link to a webpage so that readers can go to your website. It’s really important to get this landing page right - here are some tips...
1) Don’t Just Link To Your Home Page
This is pretty obvious but is something that people get wrong far too much! The landing page should be specific to the email that you’ve sent - visitors will be looking for information related to the email and if they land on a general home page then you’ll lose them.
2) Use A Concise Headline
The headline will be the first thing that visitors see when they click through. It should be close to the top of the page and large enough to be obvious and also be concise and catchy. It should also inform people that they have landed on the correct page by matching the content of your email.
3) Include A Striking Image
Pictures create an impression quickly, add colour and style to your page and encourage people to read the content. The main image should be high up the page so that people don’t need to scroll to see it and should be relevant to the page content. Remember to include 'alt tags’ for your images so that sight-impaired people’s screen-readers will pick up on them.
4) ... Or Video
If the main content of your landing page is video based then there is no need to include a picture as well - that would just serve to distract. It can be a good idea to include a brief introduction to the video - just a couple of sentences to encourage people to click play. A written summary of the video can be a good idea too as some people will prefer to read/scan rather than watch video.
5) Think About Colours
Think about the image that you’re trying to portray and match your colours to this. It can be a good idea to look into colour psychology when you’re doing this. People associate different feelings with different colours, for example blues are associated with trust, wisdom, confidence and stability while reds are associated with energy, strength, passion and desire. Also consider colour contrasts - avoid those colour schemes that make people’s eyes bleed!
6) Use Sub-Headings To Break-Up Long Text
People are more likely to scan than read online, so breaking your text into bite-sized chunks with clear headings is a good idea. Not many will read a long block of continuous text.
7) Include An Obvious Call To Action
Decide what you’d like visitors to do... maybe you want visitors to view your special offers, subscribe to your service or buy a product. Whatever action you’d like people to take, make it clear and easy for them.
8) Remember To Optimise The Page
Give the page a relevant Page Title Tag, URL and Meta Description. This will help search engines and can also improve click through rates from emails as people can see that the link has a trustworthy address.
9) Make The Page Mobile Friendly
Ideally the landing page can be viewed on all kinds of devices, from widescreens, to laptops, to tablets and smart-phones. A responsive page is best but if this is not possible at least make sure that the page works on phones and tablets. This is especially important if you want visitors to fill in a form or make an online purchase.
Simplelists has a feature which allows you to insert members’ names into the group emails that you send. We’ll jump straight in and tell you how to do it and then discuss why it’s useful and when it is important to include a person’s name.
How To Add Names To Your Emails
1) First you need to activate this feature for your Simplelists account - just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org requesting to 'activate the insert names feature’ and we’ll activate the feature for your account. You can also tell us your preferred default option which is used if the member’s name is missing from their details in your address book - for example 'Member’ or 'Customer’ could be chosen as a default.
2) Simply add $FIRSTNAME to your email where you want the members first name to appear and $SURNAME where you want their last name to appear.
That’s all there is to it - each member will receive a personalised version of the email that includes they’re own name.
Here’s an example:
As a valued customer we are giving you a 10% discount code for...
What if a member’s name is missing from their details?
Don’t worry - if a member’s name is missing from your address book and you have let us know your preference for a default it will revert to the default setting in place of their name.
In the example above the email that would be received would read:
As a valued customer we are giving you a 10% discount code for...
When To Use The 'Insert Name’ Feature
Personalisation of emails is becoming increasingly important for email marketing.
Mail clients like Gmail are now showing the first 15-20 words of emails in the inbox before emails are opened. This means that, at a glance, people can see whether an email addresses them in person or not. If you don’t include a person’s name in your email and they don’t instantly recognise you as the sender it’s quite likely that they simply won’t open your email.
Stats from 2012 show that emails with personalised subject lines were opened 22.2% more frequently than those without (email marketing stats) - this is likely to be even higher now.
For these reasons, we’d recommend that you use the 'insert name’ feature in all email marketing emails and in any email where you think that the person receiving it might not instantly recognise the sender.
Large shopping websites like eBay and Amazon can be a great way for retailers to get new customers - in fact many online businesses take almost all of their orders through websites like eBay or Amazon, even if they have their own website. But it’s not all a bed of roses - there are several downsides for retailers that use large online stores. Find out how to drive existing customers from large shopping websites directly to your website...
The Big Advantage
The reason that these super-sites are so useful to retailers is that they increase the visibility of products that would otherwise never be found online. For lots of small online retailers, eBay and Amazon get their products sold while their own websites are lost in obscurity on Google’s search results, never to be found.
The number one disadvantage of selling on large shopping sites is the cost imposed by the site: a seller can expect to pay in the region of 20% in fees to eBay by the time they include Paypal fees and Seller Fees. With Amazon the costs are even higher - more like 25%!
eBay sellers are effectively tied to using Paypal and this can come with problems. For example, Paypal regularly holds a merchants balance for several days, preventing them from withdrawing funds while they carry out routine checks. This can occur at short notice and could be a real hassle for small businesses if their cash-flow is stopped when employees’ wages are due.
eBay and Amazon show many different sellers’ products alongside each other - this can be a bad thing for sellers that have a regular customers who keep on coming back as they may end up buying a competitor’s product instead.
So, if you are an online retailer, it can make sense to use eBay and Amazon to get new customers but then to channel returning customers to your own website. But it’s against the terms and conditions of these shopping sites to advertise or even mention your own website - if you do that you could end up getting banned from the site altogether.
However, there is nothing to stop you from emailing your customers independently and including details of your own website in the email. When a customer makes a purchase via Paypal or credit card they’ll almost always include an email address. The customer will be expecting to receive emails from you since they have just bought something from you - this can be a good time to convert a new customer to a returning customer. It is also an excellent opportunity to direct that customer to your own website... add them to your email list right away!
Here are some methods that can be used when trying to channel customers to your website.
Offer the same products at a slightly cheaper price on your website than you do at the large shopping sites - without the expensive fees you’ll still increase your profit. Advertise these products in your email newsletter.
Offer some products exclusively on your website - people will be more likely to browse your website if they know that there are products that they can’t get anywhere else. Include the details in your emails to customers.
Provide special offers exclusively on your website an let your customers know via email.
You have probably noticed that these methods generally involve some incentive for your customers to change their regular shopping behavior. If you do this regularly their first stop will be your own website rather than a shopping site like eBay or Amazon.