Email Marketing Best Practices

Jesse Hopps

E-mail marketing is a form of direct marketing that uses electronic mail as a means of communicating messages to an audience. This term usually refers to emails that are being sent over the internet and can include:

  • Sending e-mails with the purpose of enhancing the relationship of a merchant with its current or old customers and to encourage customer loyalty and repeat business.
  • Sending e-mails with the purpose of acquiring new customers or convincing old customers to buy something immediately.
  • Adding advertisements in e-mails sent by other companies to their customers.”

Source - Wikipedia

Important Definitions:

  • Unique Opens: A single open by a single user.
  • Unique Clicks: A single click by a single user.
  • Hard Bounces: A permanent failure due to a non-existent address or a blocking condition by the receiver that returns the email to the server that sent it.
  • Soft Bounces: A temporary failure due to a full mailbox or an unavailable server that returns the email to the server that sent it.
  • Open Rate: The total number of emails opened divided by the total number of emails delivered as a percentage.
  • Click Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of those clicking on a link out of the total number who see the link.
  • Click To Open Rate (CTOR): The ratio of unique clicks as a percentage of unique opens.
  • Conversion Rate: The number or percentage of visitors who convert casual content views or website visits into desired actions.

Email Marketing Benefits

Many companies have been able to reduce their marketing costs by running effective email marketing campaigns. According to the Direct Marketing Association, email will deliver $45.56 in sales for every dollar spent in 2008. Although this indicates a steady decline in the ROI associated with email marketing in recent years, the tangible and intangible benefits of email marketing can’t be ignored.

Most companies are using email marketing for the following reasons:

  • Lower Cost: Email marketing provides a very inexpensive way of communicating with your target audience.
  • Increased Sales: Not only can a permission based email campaign increase your sales conversion, but it can also help to generate repeat business and cross/up sell existing customers.
  • Faster Delivery: Email provides a faster medium than traditional forms of marketing (i.e. direct mail) because it reaches your audience almost immediately.
  • Build Relationships: Email allows you to make your customers happier by keeping them “in the loop.” It also provides the opportunity to raise brand awareness by reaching out to customers while positioning yourself as you would like to be seen in the market.
  • Go Green: Email is an environmentally friendly way of reaching out to prospects and customers.
  • Save Time: Emails are quick to create and allow for more frequent contact.
  • Measure Results: Email metrics are displayed almost immediately. By tracking and monitor campaigns, email marketers have the ability to improve and refine their strategy over time.

The bottom line is that this law has 4 main provisions:

  1. It bans false or misleading header information
  2. It prohibits deceptive subject lines
  3. It required that you give recipients an opt-out method
  4. It requires that commercial email be identified as an advertisement and include the sender's valid physical postal address.

The penalties for not complying with this Act are severe and can include hefty fines. Not only can an illegal email marketing campaign hurt your company financially, SPAMMING can also damage your brand, hurt relationships with customers/prospects, and make you appear desperate.

Email Delivery Best Practices

As discussed above, email marketing can tarnish your brand if it’s not done correctly. Follow these simple guidelines to ensure your next email marketing campaign will provide you with a solid ROI.

  • Send Email only when it’s Relevant: Send emails based on what you know about the recipient (i.e. where they are in the buying cycle, what content they have requested, etc.). It is also important to make sure you show respect for recipient’s time by sending emails at the frequency the recipient asks for.
  • Establish Credibility: The consistency and timeliness of communication has an impact on your brand. By maintaining consistent communication and delivering content that is valuable to the recipient you will improves your brand image and create longer customer relationships.
  • Include a Privacy Policy Link: Ensure that prospects and customers know what you plan to do with their personal information by creating a privacy policy that is easily accessible.
  • Make Unsubscribe Easy: Make sure the unsubscribe link is noticeable, clearly defined and easy to use.
  • Have a Clear Call to Action: Don’t send an email unless the required action is easy to understand and will provide value to the recipient.
  • Personalize the Email: Include the recipients name and ensure the spelling is correct. If possible, try to include name in the subject line.
  • Monitor and Measure Campaigns: It is critical that metrics are identified well in advance and improvements are made over time.
  • Include both Plan Text and HTML: It is important that the formatting is done properly. Emails should be tested to ensure they can be seen properly on different screen sizes, with different browsers and on Blackberry’s.
  • Subject Line should be Clear and Concise: As a general rule of thumb, try not to include a dollar sign, the word free, or multiple exclamation marks as they increase the likelihood of being identified as spam. Use a subject line that actually speaks to what is in the email.
  • Keep the Sender Consistent: Make sure the sender is well known and well respected. Use someone from the company instead of a generic email account.
  • Clean your List: Keep your list of subscribers clean by asking receivers to update their information on an ongoing basis.
  • Monitor and Classify your Bounces: This will help to ensure your lists are clean and up-to-date. A review of your bounces will also help you understand why emails are undeliverable (ISP, Domain, etc.) and adjust your strategy accordingly.
  • Use Email Marketing as part of an Integrated Marketing Plan: Email alone will not allow you to achieve your desired end result. Read Demand Metric’s report on “Integrating Lead Generation Campaigns” for practical advice on how to use email as part of an integrated marketing plan.

Benchmarking and Metrics

If you are interested in obtaining benchmarking data, Marketing Sherpa released an “Email Marketing Benchmarking Guide” in 2008. Although the metrics are a bit outdated (the study was conducted in October 2007 – November 2007) the report contains real life data as reported by 1210 marketers. It also contains data from private, third-party and other research studies. Other sources of benchmarking information include eMarketer and EmailLabs.

Depending on your objectives, there are many metrics you can monitor. The most popular performance based metrics include:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Click to open rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Delivery rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Referral rate
  • Subscriber retention
  • Number of orders, transactions, downloads or actions
  • Total revenue
  • Conversion rate

If you would like more information on selecting the right metrics, contact Demand Metric and schedule an appointment with one of our research analysts.

Email Marketing Best Practices

Consider these Best Practices for creating an effective email marketing campaign.

    1. Build a Business Case: use Demand Metric’s Business Case Template to provide an opportunity overview and document objectives, requirements, scope, timelines, budget and benchmarks.
    2. Select the Right Vendor: It is critical that you evaluate vendors based on your business requirements. Demand Metric’s Email Marketing Vendor Evaluation Matrix provides a structured approach to evaluating vendors and should be used as a customizable framework.
  1. Develop an Email Marketing Strategy: use our Lead Generation Strategy Scorecard to set your strategic objectives, initiatives, measures and targets.
  2. Build your Lists: read Demand Metric’s “Creating Permission Based Email Marketing Campaigns” and follow the step-by-step plan for creating an effective list.
  3. Create the Content: Depending on the nature of your objectives, select content that is relevant and valuable to the recipient. It is also important to decide on the type and frequency of communication as well as the sender.
  4. Test the Solution: Test your email messages prior to sending out a major campaign. Send your email to different browsers to ensure it is being displayed correctly.
  5. Launch the Campaign: Split testing is extremely important during your first few email campaigns. By sending 2 different emails to the same list at the same time, you can determine: Headline A vs. Headline B, Long email vs. Short Email, Single link vs. Two / three links, the effectiveness of putting the name in the headline, Hard sell vs. Presell
  6. Monitor and Review: Evaluate your program following every batch of email that is sent. Pay close attention to trends (i.e. Best time to Sent email) Report on improvements to key metrics and invest further in programs that are providing a quantifiable return on investment.