As referenced in our last blog, Email Marketing Basics, email marketing is still growing in use, and can be effective in reaching otherwise elusive prospects, and extremely measurable. But like all marketing tactics, there are email best practice techniques to realize the best return on your marketing investment (MROI).

To support your success with email, the Modern Marketing University shares 6 Email Essentials for Successful Campaigns including email list development, email design, email software and email service providers, email timing and frequency, email testing and campaign measurement.

1) The Email List

The foundation of any email (even direct mail) campaign or program is the list. Obviously, home-grown customer lists have the highest potential for opening, followed by opt-in email lists from a variety of your own sources. The problem with email lists in business-to-business is employee turnover. A good portion of email (or mail) lists become inaccurate over time, thus requiring ongoing efforts to purge hard-bounces, or non-deliverables (reported by most ESPs).

Purchased lists are available from publishers, associations, list brokers and online databases. List costs typically range from $100-$400 per thousand records. Often the list seller will not provide the list, but will distribute your email to their list to maintain control. Having a hard time generating an email list? Following is a list of sources for your email list.

Sources of Email Lists

  • Publisher lists
  • List brokers
  • Association lists
  • Online databases
  • Website registrations
  • Website contact forms, questions
  • Customer phone inquiries including RFQs
  • Sales contacts
  • Email has forward to friend feature
  • Trade show scans
  • Warranty registrations
  • LinkedIn connections
  • RSS registrations
  • Research people and companies using directories like Jigsaw

List hygiene, or continually cleaning your list is critical to email success. When using an ESP, un-subscribers or opt-outs will be automatically purged from the list. If not using an ESP, you must perform this task manually. Hard bounces are invalid email addresses and should be removed from the list. Soft bounces should be tested as these can be out-of-the-office auto-responders or server issues on the client-side.

2) Email Design

There are 3 elements to be considered with each email design—subject line, layout, and offer(s) or call-to-action.

One of the most basic email success factors is to avoid spam subject lines. Spam filters are employed by most email providers today. Each closely looks at the subject line and message body to determine the likeliness of spam. Here is a list of what spam filters hone in on that you should avoid:

  • The words: Free / Act Now / All New
  • 50% Off / Call Now / Subscribe Now
  • Earn Money / Discount / Double Your Income
  • You’re A Winner! Million Dollar Opportunity
  • Why Pay More?
  • Special Promotion Information You Requested
  • Amazing Cash Bonus
  • Promise You Credit
  • Loans As Seen On Buy Direct
  • Get Paid Order Now Please Read
  • You’ve Been Selected Excessive $ or !

Regarding email layout, simple and brief is a good start. A combination of copy and visuals or images is another key. Treat the email layout like a print ad with a strong headline, light support copy, and clear offer (big buttons are good!). Email newsletters can have multiple content areas, but ideally, stay away from long-copy and use abstracts with READ MORE hyperlinks to full text. The added advantage of links is the opportunity to measure the click-through via your email service provider (ESP).

Always have complete contact information including phone, website, email, and links to your social profiles. Ensure that the unsubscribe link is easy to find.

As for a call to action, think about what resources you have to offer. For example, if you have a white paper, be sure to ask readers to download their free copy of the white paper by clicking a link.

3) Email Software and Email Service Providers

We recommend using email software or an email service provider for all email distribution. Why? If you mail from your own email system, you can be blacklisted by the receiver. Second, ESPs will optimize against spam filtering. As mentioned, ESPs provide user-friendly tools for list management and even design. And ESPs offer great dashboards for measuring your email campaign. Finally, ESP fees are very reasonable.

List of Top Email Service Providers (ESPs)

4) Email Timing and Frequency

Timing and frequency of emails are crucial when considering an email campaign. For business-to-business markets, we recommend Tuesday through Thursday, after 9:30 am, or 1:30 pm. Why? Because Monday morning will have a back-up of email, and coupled with staff meetings, email will more likely be deleted. Also, emails overnight will be more likely deleted due to the quantity of other emails everyday. Fridays in the summer, forget about it. If you are doing nationally distributed emails, be sure to take into account different time zones. If marketing to consumers, weekends are actually preferred timing.

Another consideration for email success is frequency. If you bombard your list with emails, recipients will unsubscribe. If you email twice a year, there will be no continuity. Somewhere in between is a happy medium. Each scenario is unique. Do your customers and prospects use or buy your product (or service) frequently? Is your product complex, or require a lot of information, generate questions? A rule-of-thumb would be no more than weekly, and no less than quarterly. This is why a monthly eNewsletter is popular frequency, delivering continuity without annoying your target audience.

Finally, to ensure deliverability, add a message to your emails along the lines of, “Please add our email address to your email contacts/address book to ensure that you receive our emails.Again, ESP software may have this feature.

5) Email Testing

One of the advantages of email is the ease of testing and optimizing campaigns. Before sending an email out to your full email list, test each campaign, keeping all (email) elements constant but change one variable. This approach is often referred to as A/B Testing. Since this type of testing is an industry standard, email service providers (ESPs) allow you to do this easily. It is vital to run tests when you are trying to decide on subject lines, layouts, or an offer.

To conduct the test, simply email one or more versions to a small list. Depending on the list size, typically 50-100 email addresses is sufficient. Next, measure and compare open rates for different subject lines, or click-through rates (CTRs) for different layouts or offers. Lower open rates or CTRs should be dropped in favor of higher open rates and CTRs. If all versions test low, go back to the drawing board or consult an expert.

Email elements to test before sending out an email:

  • Subject Line
  • Offer/promotion/Call-to-action
  • Layout of the email
  • Design (colors, images etc.)
  • Level of personalization (Mr. _____ vs. First name)
  • Content (balance of written copy and visuals)
  • Headline/Title
  • Mobile Version

6) Measuring Email Campaigns

As marketing budgets have become more restrictive, tracking, measuring and reporting have become increasingly important. Any ESP you choose will have a robust measurement dashboard that will allow for easy analysis and reporting.

A typical ESP dashboard will report and track the following:

  • Emails Sent
  • Hard and soft bounces (see glossary)
  • Open rate
  • Click-through-rate (CTR)

When measuring an email campaign success you need to track the progress of your goals. The typical open rate for business-to-business (B2B) markets is between 10-20%. If your focus is CTR then be sure to measure and track that statistic. The typical B2B CTR is 10%. Measuring and tracking your email ensures the success of future email campaigns.

Remember to always test, optimize, execute, track and report your email campaigns for maximum results!

If you know anyone who is looking for more information on email campaigns and how to create a successful email marketing campaign, please share this post with them by using the share tools below! For those of you who have created email campaigns, please comment and offer tips as well.