20 Email Marketing Best Practices That Will Improve Results
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Emails are incredibly powerful.
A third of customers have visited a website or purchased something just from seeing an email in their inbox – without ever actually opening the email. That’s the power of email!
Whether you’re running a blog, selling products online, or collecting sales leads, everybody wants a healthy email list.
But how do you make that email list an engaged one? By following best practices.
Consider the following 20 tips your complete guide to an excellent email marketing program that boosts open and click rates, reduces churn, and increases your subscriber lifetime value!
Let’s get started.
Implement Email Best Practices With Three Free Templates
This post is packed with actionable advice. To help you execute your email marketing even better, we’ve included these three free templates:
- Email Marketing Calendar: Plan all your email content in advance and get more organized.
- Email Subject Line Template: Make writing subject lines easy with these simple fill-in-the-blank templates. It’s a great complement to the CoSchedule Email Subject Line Tester.
- Email Subject Line A/B Test Template: Record results from A/B tests and refine your messaging over time.
Infographic: Best Practices, At a Glance.
Email marketing is an art and science. Navigate its complexities successfully by following these 20 simple best practices.
1. Send to Yourself First.
This one feels like a no-brainer, but when you reflect on how few people actually proofread their own emails, you quickly realize it isn't. Always send yourself a test email first to ensure that:
- There are no typos
- The images show up
- The format looks great on both your desktop and smartphone
- All the links work
- There is nothing glaringly wrong with the email
Double-check both the HTML and plain-text versions.
2. Do NOT Spam.
This is another no-brainer, but it’s so important it bears repeating: do not spam. Spamminess can refer to poor judgment within the email itself - irrelevant content, all-uppercase subject lines, etc. - but it mainly refers to how you collect and engage with your email subscribers.
Buying email lists or signing people up without them expressly opting in first is an absolute no no. Do not do this. If you think you can get away with this, know that you can’t. Purchased lists are associated with extremely high unsubscribe and spam rates. Get too many of those, and you could get banned from your email marketing provider.
Other best practices include:
- adding your physical address somewhere in the email (the footer is a good option).
- giving people a way to unsubscribe (most reputable email marketing providers include this by default).
Leave out either of these, and you are breaking anti-spam laws.
3. Make it Easy to Subscribe.
Since you won’t be purchasing email lists, you want to make it as easy and as enticing as possible for people to subscribe to your email. Here are some ideas:
- Embed signup CTAs throughout your website or blog.
- Include a pre-checked checkbox besides any other form where people enter their email address (such as a member registration or checkout page).
- Add a signup form to your Facebook page.
- Regularly tweet out a link to your subscribe page.
Send your first email within 24 hours of subscribing, if not immediately. With human attention spans officially shorter than that of goldfish, you can’t risk people forgetting what they signed up for.
4. Use a Double Opt-in.
Because sharing your email address has become so commonplace these days, people don’t always realize they’re signing up to get overloaded with emails. This is why most experts recommend a double opt-in process.
A double opt-in involves sending a person a confirmation email after they sign up, letting them know that they signed up and requiring them to click a button to confirm they indeed want to stay signed up.
Keep your double opt-in email short and sweet like Haute Hijab does below, emphasizing the confirmation button and placing it above-the-fold. Below that button, include validation of why signing up for your email is a good idea: it’s the best way to avoid FOMO on your best offers and freshest content.
Here's the confirmation email button:
5. Schedule Smart.
The best day and time to send your emails depends on your unique customer set. However, you can make some educated guesses using the research others have already done.
CoSchedule helpfully aggregated studies from the top email providers to conclude that the best day and time to send emails is Tuesdays around 10am. Start there, and then test and optimize based off your own data.
Remember that these times are specific to your recipient’s time zones, which may or may not match yours. Depending on the size of your customer base, you may segment your list based on time zones (more on segmentation later).
6. Develop a Cadence.
Speaking of timing, how frequently do you want to send your emails? Much of your email will be automated based on your user’s actions (e.g. double opt-in confirmations, order confirmation and shipping notifications), but you want to touch subscribers at least once a month.
To support this goal, brainstorm an email calendar that corresponds to your content marketing, event marketing, and other promotional calendars. This helps keep you sane while ensuring you stay in touch. Plan sales emails and product launch announcements ahead of time. Help people prepare for the holidays by emailing gift guides and encouraging them to make reservations now vs. later.
Not sure how much is too much? If you start sending more emails and witness a downward trend in your open and click rates but an uptick in your unsubscribes, that’s a telltale sign that you’re sending too much.
7. Give People Options.
Of course, rather than guessing for them, you can always let people choose the frequency themselves. When Hubspot started offering separate newsletter subscriptions options for their blog, organized by frequency and topics, their subscriber churn rate went way down:
Other ideas include:
- Letting people opt for “less” email
- Letting people “pause” their subscription for 30 or 90 days
Sometimes people care about your brand but they’re simply overwhelmed or taking a healthy hiatus from email. Help them stay in touch by letting them choose the frequency of your emails.
8. Focus on Your Subject Line...
Subject lines are critically important. These are the headline that convince a subscriber your email is worth opening. That means you should do everything within your power to set yourself up for success here.
Research and tinker to find the two best options possible, then A/B test among those with a small subset of your subscribers. Then, repeat this process for every single email you send.
Things that do well in subject lines include:
- The recipient’s name
- A tasteful emoji or two
- 30-50 characters tops
- Action verbs
- A clear and irresistible value proposition that matches the content of your email
- Consistency (Some emails, like blog newsletters, perform best with the same subject line everytime - it helps readers know what to expect so they keep an eye for it in their inbox)
Things that don’t do so great are:
- Spammy keywords (urgent, buy now, win, free)
- All uppercase letters
- Overuse of emojis
- Deceptive subject lines that don’t match the email content (these lead to unhappy subscribers who unsubscribe and grow to resent you as a brand)
Remember: the goal of your subject line is to get the people who care about the content within your email to open it, not to get opens at any cost.
9. ...But Don’t Forget the Sender.
Perhaps even more important the subject line, the “from” name can literally make or break your email.
Sender names tend to perform best when they’re personalized. Instead of just your company name, use a person’s name, like “Your Name from Your Company.” And never use the default “No-Reply @ Your Company” option - it’s impersonal, and frankly, frustrating. Use a real name and assign a team member to respond to emails.
Don’t forget your pre-header either. This is the preview text that displays after the subject line in most email clients. If you don’t set it, the client will preview something from your email which can look messy and unprofessional. Test these just as vigorously as your subject lines and sender names.
10. Keep It Simple, Stupid.
On to the body of the email. The goal here is to grab your reader’s attention quickly and follow up with a strong CTA. Regardless of whether you want them to sign up, order a product, or read your blog post, organize your copy using the “power of three”:
Here's another example from Dropbox:
Where possible, limit your CTAs. Try to keep it to one main CTA and place it above-the fold. Also make your CTA a bright, beautiful button that’s easy to find and click - otherwise you’re making people search for it.
Before you send, double-check your work by sharing the email with a colleague. Can they instantly (within a few seconds) relay back to you the CTA? If so, move forward with your email. If not, do not pass go. Your email needs work as the message is not clear.
11. Add Alt Text to Images and Buttons.
Alt text isn’t just for images on your website. Adding them to your emails helps users understand what they’re reading, in case the HTML doesn’t render properly or their email client blocks images by default.
Without alt text, readers will simply see a blank space where a button or image used to be. With alt text, they’ll still be able to read the action you want to take and understand where to click.
Add alt text to all of your images and CTA buttons, and hyperlink them to your landing pages while you’re at it.
12. Send the Right Emails.
The longer a person has subscribed, the more personalized the emails they receive from you should be - because you’re collecting information from their purchases, their interactions with your support team, and the content they’re clicking on from your previous email sends… right? Right.
But at a minimum, most successful email marketing programs tend to include the following types of emails:
- Double opt-in for subscribing (see tip #4)
- Welcome/thank you for signing up
- Some form of blog newsletter
- Important brand announcements
- Request for feedback or online review
- Abandoned cart reminder, order confirmation, shipping confirmation (for e-commerce)
What’s the one type of email you should never send? The kind you send, just to send it. Every single email you send should have a purpose that provides value to your customers. Their inbox is not the place to simply remind them of your existence. No one liked the poke button on Facebook, remember?
13. Create Drip Campaigns.
Drip campaigns are another successful type of email companies send. Drip campaigns extend the water metaphor of the sales funnel. Here’s an example of what a drip campaign might look like for a new e-commerce blog subscriber:
- Welcome email: “Thanks for subscribing! Here’s a % off coupon.”
- A few days later: “Hope you’re enjoying our blog. Here are our top articles you may have missed.”
- One week after that: “If you like our blog, you’ll love our whitepaper about X! It goes into way more detail.”
- If the prospect downloads the whitepaper, you might then enter them into a new drip campaign.
If you’re wondering how you can create drip campaigns, start by knowing your audience. Once you know your audience and define your user personas, you can segment your email list. Different personas get different campaigns with copy choices, send frequency, and content catered specifically to them.
14. Automate Your Outreach.
Drip campaigns are just one type of automated email you can create. There are all sorts of behaviors that could trigger different marketing emails, such as:
- Someone who subscribes to your blog receives a welcome email sharing your most popular articles.
- Someone who buys an item gets notified of future sales in that item’s category, plus any new styles of that particular item.
- Someone who abandons their shopping cart receives a reminder of the items in their cart, with a steep discount or an urgent call to buy while supplies still alst.
15. Keep It True to You.
Your emails should match your brand. The colors and font choices should be the same. The tone should read like the same voice of the person who wrote your web copy or your latest Facebook post.
However, that’s not to say you can’t give your emails a special flair. Some brands have done this to great success, so they’re essentially known for an outstanding email marketing program. Warby Parker is one such example:
16. Encourage Sharing.
Want more subscribers? Ask people to share your email!
Encourage recipients to forward your email to anyone else who might be interested. Link the CTA to prepopulate a new email message with the subject and body text already pre-filled. For example:
Incorporate social sharing, too, but do so with purpose:
- Want more eyes on your content? Add social buttons for people to share the newsletter link itself on social media.
- Want more followers? Add social buttons that link to your social media channels.
17. Optimize for Mobile.
How many of us have spent time waiting in line at the coffee shop checking our emails? Over half of emails are now read on mobile devices, and that trend should only continue as people increasingly rely on mobile devices over desktop computers.
That means your email needs to be easy to read, view, and click on mobile.
It should load fast (aim for 300KB or less), and it shouldn't require too much scrolling. Keep your email as short as possible, and go heavy on the imagery (while compressing it to ensure optimal load times). Make CTA buttons and any links 45-57 pixels tall to match the size of adult fingertips. Limit the width of your email body to 650 pixels so it displays nicely on most phones.
18. Test, Test, and Test Again.
Nearly all email marketing providers have A/B testing functionality built-in. Many offer multivariate testing as part of an upgrade. Either way, there is absolutely no reason for you to not test your emails. Here are just a few examples of what you can test:
- Subject lines and preheader text
- Send times and days of the week
- Format and layout
- Featured image or copy
- CTA placements and types of buttons
19. Track, Analyze, and Review.
Email marketing is not a one-and-done thing. Once you send an email, you’re not done with that particular email - you’re just onto the next step. Review your analytics the day of, the next day, and even a few weeks to a few months later to compare how well the email did against your predictions and similar emails you’ve sent. Things you’ll want to review in your analysis include:
- Open rates
- Click rates
- A/B test results
- Conversion numbers
- Popular content
- Overall assessment
That’s at a roll-up view. You’ll also want to dive into that particular email and get more granular. For instance, which CTA button performed better? Did the in text links do better than buttons? How about links from images? For newsletters, which articles seemed to be the most popular? Do you need to adjust your content strategy? Or maybe just place your more conversion-worthy articles earlier in the newsletter? These are just some of the questions you can ask yourself.
Also compare how you're doing against industry benchmarks. Mailchimp breaks it down by industry and sender company size based on their own customers.
20. Reward Your Subscribers.
Want to keep your subscribers? Make them feel special.
These people invited you into their private email inbox. They are invested in your company. Lean into that by inviting them to provide feedback via surveys.
Reward them with exclusive preview access to your newest offering. Give them freebies and special discounts. Your email offers them something they can’t get in store, on your Facebook page, or anywhere else.
Provide value. Delight your readers. Optimize your subject lines, copy, send times, and everything else. Then, test, double-check, re-test, and analyze your work.
With these principles in mind, go forth, and send great email.
March 14, 2018