As a small business owner in a digital age, you understand the importance of generating new leads and keeping your prospects engaged at every opportunity online.

One of the best ways to do this in terms of measurable results and ROI is by running targeted email marketing campaign.

Today, with the abundance of email marketing services that are out there, sending regular communications to finely-tuned audiences doesn’t need to break the bank or give you a headache in setup and execution. Even if email marketing isn’t always a walk in the park, and does require an approach all of its own.

Get ahead of your competition and ensure your emails hit the right note with their recipients by following these 16 tips.

Before You Begin

1. Have a clear goal in mind (plan your customers’ journeys)

First and foremost, before you even consider an email marketing campaign in structure, you need to have a clear goal in mind. At the end of the day, your emails are being sent with one overriding objective (no matter how far off), to nurture leads into sales.

In effect, anyone who subscribes to your email database is embarking on a sales journey which, hopefully, will result in them hitting the ‘buy’ button with you.

To ensure your emails are right on the money and optimized accordingly, it is important to map this journey out and then create email marketing messaging around it.

2. Make subscribing (and unsubscribing) easy

It may sound obvious, but you’re going to get far more subscribers if you make the subscribing process as easy as possible. Some businesses don’t even feature a subscribe box on their websites, instead choosing to sign people up offline/in-store.

By not having an obvious subscription box on your website, you are missing out on countless opportunities.

Your subscription box should also be as simple as possible. That’s because people are more likely to sign up if all they have to do is enter their first name and email address.

Likewise, you should include a simple unsubscribe option in every email you send. Nothing annoys consumers more than not being able to remove themselves from a company’s email list.

Tip: For more on this be sure to read the very last section in this piece about GDPR. It’s extremely important.

3. Let people know what to expect

Whether you intend to send company updates, special offers or simply promote your blog posts, you must tell people what to expect before they sign up. Those last four words are in bold because this is actually a GDPR requirement.

But aside from it being the law, it’s also just courteous. By providing as much information as possible you are giving your visitors an informed choice. This alone will reduce the chances of them unsubscribing in the future.

4. Offer an incentive

Ask yourself, why should someone give me their email address? What’s in it for them?

The bottom line is there’s nothing wrong with offering an incentive for people to subscribe to your newsletter and doing so will boost the chances of them signing up.

The best part is that an incentive doesn’t need to cost too much either. A free eBook, discount voucher or raffle entry are all perfectly acceptable incentives and could be the difference between securing a sign up or not.

5. Segment your lists and market them accordingly

Once your email lists start to grow, you’ll want to start segmenting them so you can effectively market to each one separately.

Now you may be wondering why this is so important, especially as it’s going to involve more work in the long run. The answer is simple: purely because all of your subscribers are different. For example, you wouldn’t send the same marketing email to a 70-year-old woman that you would to an 18-year-old man. Well you might, but it wouldn’t be particularly effective for at least one of the recipients.

Look to segment your lists by age, gender, location, previous purchases, whatever. Doing so will enable you to effectively target your audience and drive more ROI as a result.

Now For The Actual Emails

6. Design your emails around your brand

Chances are you’ve already got an established brand voice and associated visual imagery. The last thing you want to do is ignore these in your email marketing.

Create templates that include your logo, colors, and are consistent with the rest of your image/brand. This not only leaves nothing to the imagination in terms of where the email came from, but also instils confidence from the start.

7. Test, test, and test again

Unfortunately, with an email, once you’ve hit send it’s almost immediately delivered to the recipient’s inbox. And while there are delay features to reduce the chances of you sending something that’s not quite right, they are not infallible.

That’s why you need to test your campaigns before you even contemplate sending them.

What looks okay on your computer might look terrible on someone else’s – different screen sizes, different browsers, and even different user preferences can all make your meticulously designed newsletter look awful.

It’s also a good idea to test your newsletter on Internet connections of varying speeds. That big image which loads fast on your corporate Internet pipe might die a death on a lesser connection. Eliminate all these risks through rigorous testing.

8. Mobile-friendly is a must

Your testing should also include checking how your newsletter/email campaign displays on a mobile device (tablet, smartphone, etc.). If it doesn’t, don’t bother sending at all.

According to Adestra, mobile accounts for 61% of email opens (15% desktop and 24% webmail client) [source: emailmonday]. Furthermore, 3 in 5 consumers check their email on the go on their mobile devices and three-quarters (75%) say they use their smartphones most often to check email.

If those stats alone don’t highlight the need to test mobile compatibility I don’t know what will.

In short, if your email campaign isn’t optimized for mobile and/or doesn’t display correctly on a much smaller screen, you’re doomed before you even start.

9. Make your emails easy to read/scan

Sticking with the theme of user experience, your email should be easy to digest. That means no walls of large text and definitely plenty of subheadings and images. Moreover, people reading it on the go will likely scan its content, so facilitate that with your content structure.

Your subscribers are busy people, so don’t consume too much of their time with an email that’s off-putting as soon as they open it. A short teaser/summary of what follows is a nice element to add at the top.

Remember, your subscribers inevitably get lots of emails every day, so assume you haven’t got their undivided attention and that you need to earn it to keep it every time you email them.

10. Have an irresistible subject line

Again, following on from the previous tip, this one is crucial for boosting the chances of your email piquing the recipient’s interest and triggering them to open it.

An irresistible subject line isn’t something that always comes easily. Some marketers spend huge amounts of time coming up with ideas and A/B test them to determine effectiveness. The trick is to be unique and (somehow) make the recipient feel as though they’d be missing out if they didn’t open your email – easier said than done, right?

By including links to your social media profiles in your emails, you encourage engagement and build consumer-brand trust. In a world of social media omnipresence that just makes sense when you think about it.

Your subscribers have proactively signed up to receive emails from you. In other words they are (in theory) interested in what you have to say, so it stands to reason that what’s happening on your social media accounts would interest them too.

It may be the case that your email subscribers didn’t even know you were on social media, so kill two birds with one stone by always including them (clearly) in every email you send.

12. Be personal

When it comes to the tone and style of your emails, always keep it friendly. Email is a very personal communication method and since they usually go from one person to another, recipients expect human voices.

Also, it’s highly likely that they’ve already given you their first name so use it when you address them. It’s amazing how much more engaging an email is when it speaks to an individual directly.

Keep your correspondence informal and really build a strong, prosperous relationship with your subscribers.

13. Check it yourself, have it proofread by others

Have you ever received a marketing email or a newsletter from a large company and noticed a glaring spelling mistake? It doesn’t happen very often because these companies check their email outreach with a fine-toothed comb. But when it does it reeks of unprofessionalism.

As mentioned, emails go directly into a person’s inbox, so spotting a mistake after you’ve hit send is simply too late. And while the odd spelling mistake isn’t exactly the end of the world, it does speak volumes about you as a company in terms of how meticulous and conscientious you are.

Remember, grammar and style are just as important in your emails as they are your blog content and marketing literature.

14. Send a welcome email

I’m a big fan of welcome emails. They serve two main purposes: (a) they act as a nice introduction and allow you to thank people for subscribing (b) they provide the subscriber with an early opportunity to unsubscribe. Now while that second purpose may sound decidedly counter-intuitive, there’s no point in having people on your list who simply aren’t interested in what you’ve got to say. It’s one of the downfalls of offering free incentives.

On the other hand, your welcome email can also be used to send the subscriber a special offer or point them to some more exclusive content as a way of saying ‘thank you’.

15. Be consistent (utilize an editorial calendar)

If you’ve told people you are going to send them a newsletter or email on a monthly basis, follow through with your promise and do just that. A publishing calendar is excellent at helping you combine email outreach with a coordinated content calendar, you’ll know ahead of time exactly what you’re sending and when.

The problem with going several months without sending anything at all is that you run the risk of your subscribers forgetting about you. Then when you do send something there’s a strong chance they’ll simply ignore it or, even worse, mark it as spam.

16. Analyze and optimize

Finally, in the same way you would for any new business initiative, you need to evaluate the performance of your newsletters/email campaigns are and optimize them accordingly as they need it.

Four important things to monitor:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Unsubscribe rates
  • User action rates

Try to identify any patterns that affect (both positively and negatively) your open and click-through rates. If you get a high number of unsubscribes following a particular email, consider changing your approach in your next one. Most of all, every email should have a definitive purpose – to attract website traffic, drive a sales, build social engagement – so make sure user action is getting monitored and improved to deliver true email marketing ROI.

A final (quick) word about GDPR

The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on May 25, 2018. And even if you are a US-based organization, it is still likely to have implications for you. That’s because as well as encompassing all businesses operating within the EU, GDPR also applies to businesses that offer goods or services to customers or other businesses in the EU. In other words, if you have just one person on your email list who is based in the EU (or you might in the future), GDPR applies to you.

When it comes to email marketing and GDPR, you need to be aware of the following as a minimum:

  • Never trick someone into giving up their email address
  • Always highlight how their email address will be used e.g. for newsletters, marketing purposes, special offers, etc.
  • Make sure there’s a clear, affirmative action. For example, a box they have to tick (not one that’s pre-ticked) to explicitly say they want to hear from you
  • Provide an easy way to unsubscribe at any time.

The penalties for breaching GDPR guidelines are severe, which is why you need to be on top of them at all times.

Wrapping Up

While some people will (wrongly) tell you that email marketing has had its day, the reality is that it’s still one of the best ways to keep customers informed and prospects engaged.

And yet it’s an increasingly tough nut to crack because people don’t just give their email addresses to anyone, which is why you should make the most of every single one you obtain.