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With all the hype over the past few years being about social media you could be forgiven for thinking that email marketing was in decline, but you’d be wrong. Email marketing is still one of the most popular marketing techniques and one that can yield great results. However for a beginner, email marketing can be intimidating and full of pitfalls, so here are our 12 top tips to help you get started.

The top tips

1. The database

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Before you do anything you need a database to send the emails to. There are several key factors to consider here; do you purchase a list or build your own? Are your contacts all opt-ins or are you at risk of breaking data protection laws? Is this database relevant to the message you want to send? Is the database clean and up to date? Are you planning to build your own database over time (e.g. a list of existing customers)? You need to consider these points carefully. Most importantly, if you are not sure if your contacts have opted in to your emails – don’t send to them, when purchasing databases the list provider will be able to answer this for you.

2. Frequency
Don’t send too many emails too often to the same contact list or you will irritate them, so consider your frequency. Every market and database is different but a good rule of thumb is no more than 1 email per week at most – you can of course email various contact lists within the same week, just check for any overlapping contacts first. Another key consideration – one off emails seldom work, instead build a message through 2-3 emails over a period of say 1 month, as recipients get used to your emails you may see your CTR (Click Through Rate) increase and you could repeat this exercise the following quarter to further build the relationship.

3. Consider content and design – carefully!
Email marketing is about leading your target audience to take steps in the direction you want them to and, at the very least, comprises the email itself and a web landing page. When considering the content then, don’t try and fit everything into the email. While it’s important to get your key messages across, you need to say enough to encourage them to click through to the landing page to learn more. Ideally there should be a single ‘call-to-action’ that’s compelling enough to get them to click. Meanwhile, the design of an email is also very important. It needs to be clear, concise and eye catching making the recipient want to open it to find out more. Consider the F- shape (the way in which people read things quickly) and make sure a catchy and informative title is near the top. You also need to make sure you maximise your design for the preview pane i.e. consider what your email looks like when viewed in the preview pane of the email client rather than fully opened and make sure it’s still clear and the key information is visible. Remember – preview panes can be located in different areas and be different sizes too. As if that’s not enough to think about you should also consider (and test in) multiple email clients and devices including mobile devices.

4. Consider the email without images
This is very important! Most recipients (unless they have added you as a safe sender) will first view your email without the images downloaded. The images will just be shown as a series of boxes with red crosses. If you build your email as one big image or several smaller images it’s unlikely to be opened as the recipient will have no idea what it’s about and is unlikely to trust the email. Where possible use text and don’t put text in an image if you can help it – if you can use text, then do! Consider the location of the images too, as per the point above about the preview pane it’s important to consider what the recipient sees first, a big blank box or a catchy text headline. When using images it’s also important to ensure you use alt tags and title tags.

5. Use plain text versions
When sending HTML emails it’s important you also send a plain text version. Most email marketing systems will encourage you to do this and provide a facility to upload the HTML and the plain text versions. For recipients that have blocked HTML, your plain text version may still get through, increasing your CTR. Some recipients will also prefer to receive plain text and may have set their preferences to only accept this format. The plain text version should replicate the content in the HTML email as much as possible.

6. The subject line
The subject line is very important. The decision to read/open or delete is often based on the effectiveness of the subject line. Therefore make it relevant, catchy and clear. It should tell the recipient what they can expect if they open the email and encourage them to want to open it. Many studies have shown that personalisation (when done correctly) can also help, especially when used in the subject line. For more tips on successful subject lines see http://www.communigator.co.uk/communigator-blog/12-08-14/Writing_effective_B2B_email_subject_lines.aspx

7. The ‘from’ email address
Another key factor in the success of your email is the senders email address. This is where the important issue of trust comes into play. If the recipient trusts your email address they are more likely to open it, if they don’t you will be deleted and possibly even marked as SPAM. If you know your audience (e.g. they are existing customers) use an email address they are familiar with and ensure your company name is obvious in the domain e.g. marketing@enta.net. If possible encourage your recipients to add this address as a safe sender so that your emails will get through and won’t get caught in SPAM traps, this is easier and more important when emailing existing customers and sending emails such as newsletters and regular updates.

8. Unsubscribe options
By law you MUST provide an option for the recipient to unsubscribe from your emails and when they request to unsubscribe you must honour this or you will find yourself in serious hot water. However, your email doesn’t have to use the word ‘unsubscribe’. Many email marketers prefer to use ‘modify preferences’ or ‘manage my emails’ as these do not trigger SPAM filters and allow them to direct the recipient to a preference centre where they can attempt to encourage the recipient to stay on at least some of their lists rather than a straightforward unsubscribe and removal from all. Most email marketing platforms provide this service in their software. Some best practice sites suggest making unsubscribing difficult but I personally think this is a risky strategy. If they can’t easily unsubscribe they may just report you as SPAM and that’s a lot worse in the long term.

9. The dreaded SPAM filter
Avoiding the SPAM filters is not an easy task and it gets harder all the time as the software is improved and updated and real spammers find ways around them. SPAM filters work by grading your email and giving it a score based on the content, use of images, sender information and many more key factors. The best way to avoid spam filters is to avoid using obvious SPAM language such as ‘free’, ‘special offer’, ‘limited time only’ etc. However there are many more words and phrases that you may not realise can get you trapped. Read http://mailchimp.com/resources/guides/how-to-avoid-spam-filters/ for a more detailed guide to avoiding SPAM filters and remember the best way to avoid them is to test every email several times over.

10. Track your results
How do you know if your emails are working? It’s not just about the number of enquiries you get back, you should be measuring other KPI such as CTR and open rates too. Track each email and compare them to check on your progress. This will allow you to see what works and what doesn’t work. Remember, email marketing is subjective, what works for one database might not work for another but by tracking your progress you can make tweaks and improvements that can help you to improve your results.

11. Call to actions and follow up
Having a lovely designed email that looks good and is getting good read rates is great but it’s no use if they can’t enquire or find out more. Ensure you have a call to action on the email. Best practice is usually a dedicated landing page where they can find out more and enquire. Then when the enquiries come flooding in make sure you follow them up, promptly! Don’t waste time and effort and spend money doing email marketing campaigns if you don’t have the resources to respond to the enquiries promptly or it will be a complete waste of time as the leads will soon go cold.

12. Finally – testing, testing, 123
Test, test and test again. The only way to improve your results and performance is to keep testing. Try new ideas, varying subject lines, different designs and layouts, try sending at different times of the day or days of the week and more to find the best combination that works for you. There is no right or wrong answer so the more you test the more you will learn. Remember to test on multiple devices (e.g. PCs, phones) and using multiple email clients to ensure your emails always look as they should to the recipients.

So why not give email marketing a try? Even if it’s just to improve your communications with your existing customers to start, you might even retain and generate new business from it.

For more information on email marketing read our informative Guide for beginners.

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