Every year, millions of dollars are spent on email marketing. The race to present a product or service to customers drives an ever-growing industry of copywriters, campaign creators, graphic designers and brand managers. More and more, however, companies are creating the tools for entrepreneurs and small business owners to create their own digital strategies and become in-home marketing firms. This is great news, but only as long as you know how to work it.
Email marketing isn’t as straightforward as in-person sales. Your company’s message is vying for precious little space in a consumer’s schedule, and is easier than ever to simply skip over. So what divides successful email marketing from unread inbox clutter? We offer a few tips to keep your work sharp and effective so that your clients get the message.
Bad Subject Lines
The purpose of a cover is to sell a book. The purpose of an email subject line is exactly the same. Think back on which emails you open every morning. What drives you to click? Chances are, there’s a strong subject line that piques your interest. Experts estimate that 33% of all opens come from subject line alone. If one-third of your clicks rely on something, it’s foundational important. Brevity is the soul of wit, so keep your subject lines short and to-the-point. Make them crackle with energy. Use them to hook your clients, either emotionally or by appealing to their wallets. Ideally, your subject line should convey the soul of your marketing message.
And here’s what you shouldn’t do.
- Don’t repeat your name. Emails come to us showing by a sender and a subject line. Use the sender field to get your name out there. The subject line is where you sell this particular email. If you don’t know why you’re sending the email, the customer won’t either – and they won’t open it.
- Don’t oversell. Customers will call your bluff, according to e-marketing group Selligent. If you claim that your product works wonders, make sure it does. If it only helps in small amounts, don’t overstate your case. Overselling customers is a great way to lose email subscribers and ding the reputation of your company.
- Don’t get wordy. The fewer characters, the better. Subject lines with 30 characters or less tend to have better results, in part because mobile displays typically show only the first 30 characters. Don’t miss out on the phone viewership. Keep it short – and avoid all caps. It can read as angry.
Not Knowing Your Audience
Nobody likes receiving spam. And, worse, it’s useless from a business perspective. The amount of customers who buy from unsolicited emails is virtually non-existent. So make sure that you’re emailing only people who want to get your email. Post a sign-up button on your web page and social media outlets, and be sure to have an “unsubscribe” option attached. In the meantime, be sure to keep away from these audience pitfalls:
- Avoid generalizing. In the hyper-personal digital age, one size does not fit all. Instead of creating one generic email for all of your customers, break them down into bite-sized chunks of consumers and sell to that audience. You can categorize customers by location, age, product or service need or even history with your company. The point is to make it personal.
- Timing, timing, timing. Just like comedy, a good email marketer nails the timing. HubSpot found that click-through rates were the highest on Saturday and Sunday for product-selling emails. The next-best solution was between 10 a.m. and noon on weekdays. However, if your clients tend to prefer mobile devices, consider sending your emails between 6 and 8 (both morning and night). TailoredMail.com found that those hours garnered about 15% clicks for mobile readers. Your best bet is to make sure you’re sending at a time when your customer is likely to see your email — and has time to read it. (On the flip side, most unsubscribes happen on Tuesdays.)
- Too much of a good thing. The number one reason that customers opt-out from email marketing campaigns is, by far, because they receive too many messages. Consumers, like you, are busy people. Don’t waste their time with unnecessary verbiage.
There’s no faster way to lose consumer confidence than through bad writing. Don’t buy into the idea that you can be lazy with words and your clients will still “get the message.” When you’re dealing with customers, your words not only sell your product, they sell your business. Clients will instinctively judge you — your attention to detail, your carelessness, how clear your thinking is — by your writing. Don’t let them down; your credibility rests on it. Time spent crafting carefully worded copy can pay big dividends down the road, so it’s worth your time to get it right. Here are some quick tips to rev up your writing:
- Words to cut from your writing. There’s a reason we still have spam filters: because they work. But you don’t only want to avoid getting spammed out; you also want to keep from triggering any negative responses from potential buyers. Cut this words from your writing, and you’ll see more engagement: Discount, Partner, Specials, Don’t, Final, Complimentary, Obligation, Limited-Time, Money-Back, Click Here, Order Now, and Urgent.
- Bad grammar. Your diction communicates just as much about your product or service as it does about your company. Be sure to run your email through a spell-checking program before you send it. Even better, have someone else read it. If you can’t get another set of eyes, give yourself a few hours away from your copy before you edit it again. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll catch. If you’re hopeless, try using a grammar and spell-checking service like Grammarly.
- Accentuate the positive. Negative words lead to negative emotions, which aren’t conducive to a sale. Instead, try to frame your emails in more chipper tones. The overall feel of your email should be honest and straightforward. Don’t hide behind trite clichés and doublespeak. UnBounce suggests that marketers avoid aggressive language and focus on meeting very specific customer needs.
A good, vibrant image can increase engagement. But beware. Images come up with hassles. And if you’re not prepared to thoroughly vet your image from a variety of angles, it may be best to leave it out altogether. The best email campaigns use images precisely and sparingly in order to make specific points and drive traffic toward a particular point. Here are a few rookie mistakes that happen over and over again in email campaigns:
- Forgetting the link. Make your images clickable! Most of us have been conditioned to expect that clicking on an image will take us directly to a website. Don’t go against the grain on this one. Especially if you’re featuring a main image or a company logo, make sure there’s a linked URL behind it. There’s nothing more frustrating for consumers than trying to buy a product only to have your phone simply display a bigger version of the image. And make sure the landing page you link to is related to your image. It’s confusing for customers to click on an image that advertises one item only to be taken to a company’s home page, especially if that item isn’t listed there. Use the right link.
- Bad sizing. Before you hit “send” on your campaign, be sure to test it out. A beautiful display in your browser may look confusing or awkward on a different platform. Be sure that you’re optimized for mobile viewing, and that your images will size correctly for phone readers.
- Making too many assumptions. Some folks out there are all business and set their email clients to “text only” mode. You need to make sure that your emails accommodate that audience as well. Check it for yourself and be sure to include multiple HTML links throughout your email – not only on the image – just in case. The same ideas hold true for colorblind individuals. Don’t think that everyone sees the image in exactly the same way that you do.
Failing to Engage
Don’t think of your marketing email as a one-sided conversation between you and a faceless void. Instead, think of your campaign as the beginning of a dialogue between your company and potential customers. You want to follow all the same rules you’d follow face-to-face, and then some. Chief among them, don’t ignore the customer. Internet surfers have notoriously short attention spans. If you don’t engage with them, they’ll lose interest or find information elsewhere. Here are some guidelines to help you engage:
- Don’t be unreachable. Interested customers should have easy ways to contact your company with questions or concerns. Responding to customers is invaluable. And it’s only fair. If you’re asking them to consider reading an email from you, you should extend them the same courtesy. Encourage your clients to reply back or have a dedicated email address specifically for questions from subscribers.
- Don’t think you know best. Too many marketers want to bask in the glow of their expertise. But it’s foolish to think that you’re meeting all of your clients’ needs, even if you’re doing good business. Forbes recommends that email marketers do regular surveys of their customers. This way, clients have an incentive to converse with you – and you have a reliable way to test the waters about new products and services. It’s a win-win situation that most companies fail to take advantage of.
- Address them by name. Dale Carnegie famously pointed out the power of using people’s name, and his wisdom holds true in email marketing. Researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago found that adding the recipient’s first name to the email’s subject line increased open rates by 20%. That simple maneuver also led to a decrease in unsubscribing by a whopping 17%. That’s a lot of mileage for a simple action. In this instance, name dropping is a very good thing.
Forgoing a Test
There’s no single key to effective email marketing, and every business will have different needs. But these guidelines will set you on the right track. But once you’ve pieced together a professional email marketing campaign and are ready to send it, don’t think you’re finished. A final, crucial part of email marketing is still ahead of you. As you begin to build a subscriber base and listen to customers, throw in some A/B testing. That’s what marketers call sending slightly different copies of your emails to customers in order to note which of the two options gets more responses. It’s a crucial tool, but one that too many people get wrong. Follow these tips to increase the productivity of your tests.
- Gather your data. A/B tests can only help if you have to know your audience’s general patterns. So gather data on normal opens, click rates, sales, and engagements before you start an A/B test. The fewer changes you make, the more you can extrapolate from what you learn. But not matter what you change, you need to measure it against a base. Load up a spreadsheet before you begin.
- Make a plan. Decide what your end goals are and then create a strategy, advises Kissmetrics. If you want to drive more clickthroughs to your home page, consider changing the size of your logo or putting in another hyperlink. If you’re aiming to sell more products, try changing the headline. Whatever you do, make sure that you follow through with it and collect as much data as you can. Even if your business is small, the more you can increase your sample size, the more the data can tell you. Be sure to send out both versions of your test at the same time. An A/B test doesn’t do much good if the A version is sent on a Monday morning and the B version disseminates Friday evening. Reduce the variables and send your tests simultaneously.
- Be selective. SmashingMagazine advises companies not to surprise loyal customers with an unannounced change. If you’re considering a substantial re-do of your website or email template, try it out on new customers first. And once you start an A/B test, stick with it until you have enough data to draw a firm conclusion. Don’t chicken out and go with your gut. A telling A/B test is one that gives you confident results. Once you know what your customers prefer, use that information to make all of your material better.