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Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

So you want to be an email marketer…

But email marketing sounds complicated right?

Don’t worry, it’s really not as scary or complex as it sounds.

In fact, anyone can be an email marketer.

And once you’ve finished this guide, you’ll be well on your way to growing your business, converting more leads, and building brand loyalty (all in your sleep!).

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to:

  • Choose the best email service provider (ESP) for your business
  • Build your email list quickly (even if you’re starting with zero subscribers)
  • Convert more leads with effective email content
  • Choose the best email schedule
  • Increase your deliverability and avoid being marked as spam
  • Measure the success of your email campaigns
  • Use A/B testing to increase engagement

So, first things first:

What is email marketing?

It’s really just a fancy term for sending a direct message via email to a group of leads who have opted in.

Basically, any email sent from the business to a customer or a prospect falls under the email marketing umbrella.

But you may be asking…

Isn’t email dead?

WHAT?! Hey now, don’t let the noise of social media paint your idea of email marketing in a poor light.

In fact, one might even argue that the constant frenzy on social media has helped shine a spotlight on businesses who use effective email marketing strategies.

Think of it this way:

How many tweets and Facebook status updates do you think you miss every day? Probably a lot.

Now think about your email.

How many emails do you think you miss every day? Probably very few.

Those hundreds of emails you get in your inbox every day are emails that, for the most part, you’re expecting. They are either from people you know, or they are from companies whose emails you’ve opted into.

So what does that mean?

Well, unless your inbox gets full extremely fast, you will usually take some sort of action on every single email. You may delete most of them, open some of them, and click on the occasional one.

But here’s the kicker:

Even though you may delete most of those emails, those companies are still able to market their brand to you. And one of these days, when they hit you at the right time, you’ll open up one of those emails and make a purchase.

Why email marketing still trumps social media

social media

Why use email when it’s faster and cheaper just to post on social media?

Think about it:

When people opt into your emails, you know they already like you.

They’re interested in a possible relationship with you (if you haven’t already swooned them).

That is exactly why email marketing thrives in a time of social media fury.

Instead of pumping out multiple social media posts a day and hoping somebody sees one, becomes interested, and becomes a customer… you’re already 2 steps ahead of any successful social media post.

Don’t get me wrong:

Social media is a powerful tool that most companies can immensely benefit from.

But if you also know how to create a successful email campaign, you’ll be able to stay in front of your prospects and create brand loyalty (which has an incredible ROI if you’re using a free email marketing service like MailChimp), follow up with interested leads until they become customers, retain current customers to get more repeat business, and grow your business to a level you never thought was possible.

So… are you ready to dive into the world of successful email marketing?

Let’s start with step 1, choosing an email service provider (ESP):

Step 1. Choosing the best email service provider for your small business

For the purposes of this guide, I will be referring to MailChimp, since you can sign up for free in just a few minutes.

If you already have an email list and/or you need more sophisticated email capabilities, here are some great options to choose from:

AWeber
30 day free trial, and you can get started with for your first month free and then $19.00 monthly.

Constant Contact
Free trial, starts at $20.00 per month, many options available for different email list sizes.

Vertical Response
Free plan available, fantastic customer support, unlimited emails per month, starts at $11.00 per month.

Here’s a more in-depth guide to choosing the right ESP, and you can find more detailed reviews here.

Step 2. Build your Email List FAST (WITHOUT buying a list)

The easiest way to grow your email list is to smack a signup form right on the front page of your website.

But here’s the catch:

Simply asking for someone’s email address isn’t going to be very effective…

You need to have a reason for someone to want to let you into their email inbox.

No worries! The secret to obtaining email addresses is to offer something “valuable” in exchange.

What do I mean by valuable?

Just a good enough reason to provide an email address. The offer does not have to cost you anything.

Here are just some of the most popular offers:

  • Newsletter
  • Educational email series
  • Discount/coupon for subscribing
  • Free download/ebook
  • Product, company, or industry updates
  • Email address is required for signup/purchase

Once you’ve decided on an offer, it’s time to start on your list.

Don’t have a list?

Or have a list but not an email service provider?

No problem —

Here’s how to start building your email list in just 10 minutes:

1. Sign up for a MailChimp account. (It’s FREE!)

mailchimp

2. Follow the instructions to verify and set up your account.

mailchimp2

3. Create a list

The next step is to create a list.

Even if you already have a list of leads, you’ll still create a list to be able to import them.

Once you’ve signed up with MailChimp, click “Create a List” on the Dashboard (your homepage).

create a list

 

On the next page, you’ll click “Create List”

create list button

 

Follow the instructions on the next page to create your list:

createlist2

4. Create a signup form

In order to grow your email list, you need to have a signup form.

Once you’ve created your list, click “Signup Forms”

create signup form

 

In order to create a form, you’ll have to fill in your campaign details on the next page:

fill out list details

Once you’ve verified your email, you’ll be able to create the actual signup form.

Click on “Signup Forms” again.

Here you have the option to create a form from scratch, embed a pre-made form, create a popup, or integrate a form:

form options

 

Select an option and simply follow the instructions to create your form.

The “embedded forms” option is the quickest and most beginner-friendly.

All you have to do is input a form title. MailChimp will handle the rest!

And they automatically generate the code for the form, so all you have to do is paste it onto your website:

embedded form

 

Once it’s on your home page, you’ll start collecting email address immediately.

Here are some examples of effective signup forms:

Blog Tyrant

This one is brilliant. Ramsay made the email signup the focal point of the home page with a captivating image. He offers free updates and two free reports in exchange for your email address.

blogtyranthomepage

CopyBlogger

Here’s a simple one. CopyBlogger offers blog updates in exchange for your email address. But they take it one step further and offer you 16 free ebooks and a 20-part marketing course in exchange for registering with them to become a member.

copyblogger

5. (Optional) Import Existing Leads

Maybe you already have a list of email addresses of your customers or other leads.

All you have to do is import your list:

upload your list

MailChimp provides many options for importing. You will probably find it easiest to just import them from a TXT, CSV, or Excel file.

upload options

Step 3. Define your audience

Now that you’re collecting emails, it’s time to define your audience.

Here are a few things you should be thinking about:

  1. Who are these people?
  2. Why did they sign up for your emails?
  3. What are their interests/hobbies/frustrations/fears/desires? (related to your niche)

You probably defined your audience when you created your signup form:

If you acquired their emails from a newsletter or free updates signup, you’re obviously going to send them a newsletter and/or free updates.

But what about if they gave you their email address as part of the purchase process?

Customers generally get different kinds of emails than a more general audience of prospects.

Identify your audience by how they came into your email list. Think about why they signed up and what kinds of emails they’re expecting.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re a musician.

Your readers are going to be interested in your new music, tour schedule, updates, merchandise, etc.

So you probably won’t want to be sending them emails about cupcake recipes or political issues.

When you send relevant, targeted information to a well-defined audience, you tremendously improve your relationships with them, as well as increase your engagement and conversion rates.

If you’re a super new company or just a blogger like I am, you only really need to collect your leads’ email addresses.

However:

For bigger businesses with huge email lists, it would be extremely beneficial to segment your email list.

Here are some examples:

  • Source (how they found out about your company/signed up for emails) The lead source information is extremely helpful when you want to know which of your marketing avenues have been most successful.
  • Demographics (age, sex, location)
  • Purchase history
  • Engagement level (how often they interact with your emails, website, social media)

You can get this information from surveys, purchasing forms, or even the email signup form.

Step 4. Convert more leads by tailoring your email content effectively

emailYou officially have an audience.

Groovy!

Now it’s time to think about what kind of content they should be getting:

First things first: Avoid this common email mistake

Most newsletters and email lists I sign up for get this part wrong:

They forget to introduce themselves.

There’s nothing worse than signing up for emails, jumping over to my inbox, and not getting an instant, warm welcome.

At that point, I kind of just assume my email address was taken hostage and is now being sold on some shady black market for email addresses.

Let’s be real:

When people sign up for your emails, they’re looking for some instant gratification.

Autoresponders are your best friend.

Most email marketing services have the ability to send automatic, triggered emails.

Take advantage of this. Your very first email sets the tone for what your subscribers should expect in your emails.

Introduce yourself, and let them know exactly what types of emails they’ll be getting and how often they’ll be receiving them.

At the very least, send an automated email that thanks the reader for signing up, and provide a couple of links to relevant content on your website.

Meet expectations and BE RELEVANT

Why did your subscribers sign up for your emails?

Deliver that content to them.

Make sure your content is useful and relevant to your subscribers.

Don’t just try to sell a single product to your entire email list.

Segment your list by their products purchased, location, page visits, form fill-outs, and any other groups relevant to your company.

Send more targeted emails to those groups instead of a one-size-fits-all email blast.

Show your readers some love

Your emails focus on the readers’ interests.

Keep them happy, and give them information they don’t already have.

Your readers have done you a favor by signing up, so treat them like VIPs!

Give them perks that non-subscribers don’t have access to:

Maybe they’re the first to know about a new product or an upcoming sale…

…or how about giving them a subscriber discount?

And for the love of baby animals, have some PERSONALITY!

Keep it lighthearted and consistent, and speak to your audience the same way you’d speak to a friend…

Maybe spare the dirty jokes.

Don’t be too pushy… Try the 4-1-1 Rule for effective lead nurturing:

I first heard about this strategy on a blog post written by Marketo’s Jon Miller.

The rule states that for every 1 self-serving communication you send, you should send 1 relevant communication and 4 pieces of relevant content written by others.

A common mistake that email marketers make is to come across to sales-y.

Spend a little bit of time writing quality emails that YOU would be interested in reading and clicking.

It’s okay to promote yourself every once in a while, but the purpose of email marketing isn’t to sell; the purpose is to build a loyal relationship between you and your customers (and potential customers) so that they remember to come back to YOU when they’re ready.

Keep it short

Remember:

Your readers want some instant gratification.

Keep your emails relatively short and to the point.

Break your message up into smaller paragraphs and use bullet points, subheadings, and lists to convey your message in a way that makes it much easier to scan.

I’m doing it right now in this guide…

Pretty easy to read, right?

Remember that more and more people are going to be reading (but probably more like scanning) your emails on their mobile devices, so well-organized and concise messages are key!

Here’s an easy trick for getting more newsletter clicks:

Cut the content off after the first paragraph or so of the featured articles and provide a “continue reading” link.

Not only does this keep your newsletter shorter, but it promotes click-throughs back to your website.

Because if your subscribers are interested in those articles, they WILL go to your website to read the rest.

Increase your email engagement by 2 – 3X by including clear call to action

This is a technique that is often overlooked.

Your subscribers and website visitors need to know exactly what you’re offering them and exactly how they can get it.

Here are some examples you can use in your buttons or links:

  • Grab your free ebook
  • Grow your business
  • Start earning money
  • Get valuable tips, hacks, and secrets in your inbox, free
  • Begin your free trial

Design for efficiency

Keep your email design simple and consistent. Your text is the most important part of your emails, so make sure it’s not getting lost between chaotic graphics.

Remember that HTML emails are also rendered differently across different devices and browsers, so don’t get to extravagant.

Don’t rely on images — Images are often blocked in the first emails that you send, so focus on your text and get your message across effectively.

As a rule of thumb, don’t let the email layout width exceed 600 pixels. This will ensure that your design is visible in preview panes, as well as within different clients, browsers, and devices.

Test, test, TEST!

This should go without saying:

Remember to test your design to make sure it’s rendering properly across different devices and browsers.

Set up different email accounts on different computers to send the email to yourself if you can.

You can also send the emails to your friends or coworkers before it goes live. They can help you catch rendering issues, broken images/links, and typos.

Litmus is a real lifesaver when it comes to previewing your emails. They also offer analytics and spam filter testing.

Step 5. Pick an email schedule

clockI’m not going to lie:

There is no perfect email schedule.

Some companies send their emails once a day, others send their emails once every two weeks.

Don’t focus too much on what other companies are doing!

You need to decide what the right amount is for your subscribers, and make sure that amount is a realistic number for you to keep up with and stay consistent. Your email schedule depends on your goals and what you think your subscribers are expecting.

Your schedule should be easy if you introduced a schedule in an autoresponder email following a signup, or if the email form on your website said something like “Sign up for weekly updates!”

It’s totally okay if you did not define an email schedule in either of those communications. Just put yourself in your subscribers’ shoes and think about what email frequency is most appropriate for your company.

Above all else, content trumps frequency. Don’t rush sending out an email to keep on schedule if it means degraded quality.

Step 6. 4 actionable ways to increase deliverability and avoid the spam folder

Here’s a secret:

Spam filters evolve every day.

Every time someone marks an email as spam, that spam filter adapts and even teaches other spam filters what its learned.

Being marked as spam negatively affects your deliverability, so it is vital that you educate yourself about spam filters and what constitutes as spam.

I have some good news and bad news:

Bad news is…

There is no magic formula to avoiding the spam folder. :(

But the good news is…

There are a few proven techniques that can greatly improve your inbox deliverability:

Tip #1: Don’t send actual spam (duh)

Most importantly, familiarize yourself with the CAN-SPAM act. Make sure your emails comply with these guidelines, as violations can be penalized up to $16,000 per offense.

Make sure you’re only sending to people who have opted in, and honor opt-out requests promptly. Include an unsubscribe link in EVERY email (Your ESP should do this automatically for you).

Tip #2: Get whitelisted, and get your subscribers to do it for you

Getting whitelisted means your emails will be allowed into someones inbox, rather than going to their spam folder or being completely blocked altogether.

There are several methods you can use to get whitelisted:

  1. Remind your subscribers to add you to their address book. Add this reminder to a thank-you page after they’ve signed up for your emails. You can also place the reminder within every email, perhaps near the signature.
  2. Get your subscribers to reply to your email. The act of replying will add your email address to the recipient’s contact list or whitelist.
  3. Send a confirmation email after someone signs up. If your subscribers are expecting a confirmation email, it gives them a chance to check their spam folder and whitelist you for future emails. This is known as a double opt-in and also cuts down on the possibility that an erroneous address or spam trap was entered.

Tip #3: Avoid spammy content (duh, again)

Look:

It wouldn’t be very smart for spam companies and filters to go public with the factors that they consider when deciding the spam score of an email.

But there are some basic words, phrases, and implications that you should avoid in your emails.

If you’d like to be marked as spam and lower your email deliverability, be sure to use the following words and phrases:

  • MAKE TONS OF MONEY AT HOME!!!!!!!
  • Click here NOW to win FREE MONEY!
  • CLICK HERE NOW!!!!
  • OPEN NOW TO WIN!!!!
  • FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE!!!!!
  • (no subject)

I think you get the idea.

Tip #4: Keep your email list updated

Here’s something you might not know:

A subscriber’s opt-in permission goes stale after a few months of not engaging with your emails

ISPs (Internet service providers) will often begin marking your emails as spam if too many people are ignoring your emails.

A safe way to avoid this is to reconfirm your list by sending them a reconfirmation email to weed out inactive subscribers.

Don’t worry about your list getting smaller.

The idea behind reconfirming your list is to narrow down your list to only active people so that your engagement level goes up. Your open amounts should be the same, but your open rate should grow tremendously.

Step 7. Measuring email engagement and determining a campaign’s success

rulerOnce you’ve sent out a few email campaigns, it’s time to look into the results to see what went right and what went wrong.

The success, or engagement, of your campaigns can be measured by the opens, unsubscribes, bounces, clicks, conversions, form fill-outs, web page visits, or any other call to action you use in your emails.

Open rate

Your open rate is determined by the level of trust you have earned from your subscribers, as well as the subject line quality.

A drastically lower open rate for a single email campaign can be an indicator of a poor subject line. But an overall downward trend of opens can mean that you are failing to meet your subscribers expectations, and they may be deleting your emails without even opening them.

If you find yourself on a downward trend for open rates, consider how often you are sending emails and if your content has changed…

Have you been sending more emails recently?

Are you delivering anything other than what you promised when they gave you their email address?

Try cutting back on the emails or improving your email copy.

Unsubscribe Rate

A normal unsubscribe rate for a consistent email schedule is less than 1% (although it is also normal for your first few campaigns to have a higher unsubscribe rate).

Unsubscribes can also indicate the quality of your content, so keep an eye on your unsubscribe rate for every email campaign.

If your content quality has been consistent, but you’re seeing a spike in unsubscribes from your campaigns, consider sending emails less frequently.

Bounces

An email is “bounced” when the email failed to be delivered due to being rejected by the recipient’s email server.

Most email marketing services distinguish your bounces as hard or soft. It’s important to pay attention to your bounce rate to measure the quality of your content and lower the possibility of your emails being flagged as spam before even reaching inboxes.

A hard bounce is when an email failed to be delivered due to a misspelled email, no longer exists at that domain, or is invalid for any other reason.

Keep an eye on your hard bounces, and clean them out of your email list regularly. Failure to cut down on hard bounces can cause trouble for your ESP because your emails may start to be flagged as spam if you’ve been sending to too many invalid email addresses.

A soft bounce occurs when your email is temporarily undeliverable even though the recipient’s email address is valid.

The most common problems are the recipient’s inbox being full, the email message being too long, or the recipient’s email server being down.

Soft bounces aren’t as hazardous as hard bounces, but should still be watched to see if any particular email addresses have been soft bouncing more than 10 times. Those email addresses should be treated as hard bounces and cleaned out of your list as well.

Clicks

Do you ask your subscribers to visit links in your emails? Your email marketing service keeps track of who clicked those links. Your click through rate is a measure of how targeted your email was, the strength of your call to action, and the quality of your copy.

Other analytics

There are many other email statistics you can and maybe should pay attention to:

If you’re just looking to build your brand with your emails, consider web page visits and form fill-outs as a measurement of success.

Perhaps you’re looking to convert more of your subscribers into customers, so your emails occasionally try to sell. Keep track of those conversion rates.

Once you get a feel for what your normal engagement rates are, you can set goals for your email campaigns and begin to split test your emails to improve your engagement rates.

Step 8. A/B test your emails

flask
If you’re looking to improve your engagement and conversion rates, you should be A/B testing as much as humanly possible.

You might be asking:

What’s an A/B test?

An A/B test is when you divide your email list into smaller groups and send slightly different versions of an email to each group.

The key here is to only test one variable at a time to minimize any other hidden factors that could be affecting your engagement rate. You will also get more accurate results by sending to thousands of people, rather than hundreds.

Some things should consider A/B testing:

  • Subject line/keywords in subject (Save 20% today only! vs. A discount enclosed for you)
  • Call to action (Fill out this form vs. call us)
  • Body (html vs text, long copy vs. short copy)
  • Images (size, placement)
  • Links (colors, text vs. buttons)
  • Headline (copy, size, color, placement)
  • Offer (50% off vs. Buy one get one free)

Now, go create some awesome email campaigns

I hope this guide has helped you understand the world of email marketing and how to begin to create successful email campaigns.

Please feel free to comment below with any questions or email me at alyssa@theemailmarketingblog.com.

Did you find this guide helpful? What email marketing practices do you follow to grow your email list and keep your readers engaged? Let me know in the comments, and I might feature your tip in this article!

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