email-amazingly-effectiveEmail is the smart marketer’s secret weapon. Despite all the rumors about it being boring or dead, email marketing quietly remains the powerful engine that drives most successful marketing campaigns today.

There are dozens of studies and stats touting email’s awesomeness. The most often quoted may be the Direct Marketing Association’s 2013 Statistical Fact Book which clocked email marketing in at generating a 4300% return on investment. A whopping $42.08 earned for every dollar spent. (If only my 401K could do that.)

While I love that stat, 4300% ROI is so huge that I’m not sure everyone believes it. So while the DMA stat gets lots of play, this chart from Ascend2 is my favorite proof of how well email works. Tabulated in September of last year, the data compares different types of digital marketing. Then it ranks them according to most effective and most difficult. Email hits the sweet spot on both fronts: It gets the best results and it’s the easiest to use.


Maybe you didn’t need to be told how well email works. But if your email marketing program has room for improvement (never mind falling a little short of the DMA’s 4300% ROI mark), these nine best practices might help you get there.

1. Ask for an email address in exchange for access.

Ascend2’s January 2015 Email List Growth Survey named “website access” (aka form-based registration) as the best way to build a list. Content downloads came in as a close second.

Ascend2-Email-List-Growth2. Use a pop-up.

Adding a pop-up as a list-building tactic was not included in the Ascend2 report, but there’s plenty of evidence of efficacy elsewhere. There are reports of pop-ups lifting opt-in rates by 1000%. That is not a typo.

While it’s unrealistic to expect a marketing miracle, if you add a pop-up and don’t get at least 20% more opt-ins, you’re probably doing something wrong. Dan Zarrella showed a pop-up doubling his opt-in rate with no effect on bounce rates.


Hate pop-ups? Refuse to give in to their evil ways, no matter what? Consider a scroll box. It’s an overlay opt-in box that slides down from the top of the browser into the bottom corner after a user has scrolled down the page. It’s less invasive and nearly as effective as a pop-up.


3. Personalize.

I’m sure you’ve seen more than a few articles about personalizing emails. There’s a reason it gets written about so much. It works.

Here’s some recent data from MarketingSherpa. It’s sliced in an unusually interesting way, in that it shows how personalization can boost open rates in different industries. The study found personalization increased open rates by 29.3% overall.

MarketingSherpa email personalization June 2015

While I love the chart, it leaves out what might be the biggest find in the study: “The impact didn’t end at the open. Transaction rates were 49% higher (0.09% compared to 0.06%) and revenue per email was 73% higher ($0.15 compared to $0.08) with personalization.”

Sadly, only 35% of brands are personalizing subject lines, again according to the study. That means a lot of marketers are missing out. It also means you’ve got a nice opening to get ahead.

4. Send a welcome series.

Welcome emails get some of the highest open and clickthrough rates of any email you’ll ever send. Given how hungry we all are for subscriber engagement, you’d think welcome emails would be more common. But they’re not: A recent study from Return Path found only 75% of retailers send welcome emails. Keep in mind that’s B2C, which tends to be more proactive about welcome emails than B2B firms.

Speaking of revenue, it ends up welcome emails don’t just boost clickthrough rates. They kick up the revenue, too. That same Return Path study broke out how much someone would spend based on how many emails of the welcome series they read. This is what it looks like:


Given this data, even if you are among the smart marketers sending a welcome email, seriously consider sending a series of welcome emails.

Already doing that? Take email marketer Diana Primeau’s advice and test the order of your welcome emails. Diana is the director of member services at CNET. She gets to test and plan mailings for over twenty different niche email newsletters that go to millions of different subscribers. Her talk at the Email Summit 2015 about how she optimized CNET’s welcome emails is amazing.

5. Optimize transactional emails.

Wanna know the other type of email that gets crazy open rates? Transactional emails. Earlier this year Vero released the results of a study of over 100 million sent emails, and found:


The click rate for transactional emails is 42% higher than the click rate for a newsletter. That’s 142 clicks for your “thank you, you widget will be shipped on Tuesday” versus 100 for your “Here’s your newsletter” emails. Make sure your transactional emails support your branding and encourage engagement. Don’t outright sell; you don’t want to turn it into a commercial email. But don’t overlook this opportunity, either.

6. Test email subject lines.

These stats blew me away. A/B testing your subject lines is a best practice, with phenomenal results. But most marketers aren’t doing it. Well, this is just another place you can grab a competitive advantage. Trust me, take the time to do this and it will pay you back. Also, check our this terrific post about the ins and outs of writing awesome subject lines.

Percentage of marketers who test subject lines

7. Increase click-through rates with the right call to action.

The single biggest win of my career was from a call-to-action test. It was the simplest little test – I just changed the words on the button of a landing page of an online service. It doubled the conversion rate. That netted out to nearly a million dollars in extra revenue for the client that year.

I may never pull off something like that again, but maybe you will. Maybe you have already. If you haven’t, start tinkering with your campaigns’ calls to action.

The mighty power of call to actions also came up in Act-On’s Email Marketing Trends Survey published just last month. Calls to action actually make the top of the list for most effective ways to increase click-through rates.


Calls to action also came in surprisingly high for how difficult they are to get right. If you’re having trouble crafting calls to action, check out this blog post for some tips.

8. Segment your lists.

Experts across the email marketing industry say that the era of batch and blast is over. I heartily agree. Subscribers expect email messages tailored to their interests and needs. If you want to keep them engaged, you’ll have to deliver that.

Remember the Act-On survey I just mentioned when I was talking about calls to action? Guess what made item #2 for effectiveness? Yup – list segmentation. If you’re ready to get started, here’s a guide to defining segments.

9. Use responsive emails.

It’s hard to overstate how critical mobile email is. If your emails aren’t mobile friendly, just fixing that one issue may be enough to skyrocket your results this year. To give you an example of how big a result you can get by using a responsive design, consider this test from our own marketing, as described in the KISSmetrics/Litmus webinar, Beyond Email Open Rates: How to Unlock the Potential of Your Audience. We more than doubled our own clickthrough rate with responsive email and significantly increased the number of sales-ready leads (SLRs) generated.


Those are the best of the best for effective email marketing techniques… unless you know of one I missed. If you do, tell us about it in the comments.

Want more tips to improve the results of your email marketing? Download the Amazingly Effective Email Guide to learn how to create more successful – and profitable – campaigns.