14 Tips for Effective Email Marketing

January 9th, 2015
14 Tips for Effective Email Marketing

Have you ever sent an email out to your clients only to get no responses? Bad open rates? Bad click rates? Where are you campaigns going wrong? What makes them so ineffective?

We’ve all received a message in our inbox only to immediately delete, mark it as spam or completely ignore it. For some reason, you email marketing efforts are receiving the same treatment. You aren’t effectively grabbing your audience’s attention. Perhaps your subject lines don’t reach out and say “Open me!” or your calls to action don’t yell “Click me!”

As long as you aren’t heartlessly spamming your subscriber lists, email marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool for getting messages directly to your clients and prospects. It can be a channel that strengthens your relationship with your existing clients and keeps you top of mind with your prospects.

First let’s discuss the types of emails you might send:

Marketing Emails

These might be informational or promotional messages sent to your permission-based lists of prospects, clients, reporters, vendors, affiliates, etc. They might have a variety of content but most commonly are used to send newsletters, sales promotions, announcements, press releases, follow-ups and surveys.

Transactional Emails

This type of email is usually automated and triggered by your customer’s activity. Examples of a transactional email might be welcome messages, order tracking, payment received and registration confirmation etc.

Don’t underestimate the value of these. If someone has already interacted with your business to the point where you send them a transactional email, they are more likely to engage with you in another interaction. These emails tend to have higher open rates and offer the chance to greater engagement and cross-sell opportunities.

Operational Emails

These are emails with important information about your business such as being closed for the holidays, planned maintenance downtime or changes to your services. Although these might not have a direct impact on your sales, it’s still important to follow best practices to ensure a greater chance that your audience will read these crucial messages.

Again, there’s hidden value here. Even though operational emails are generally just informative, they can be crafted in a way that puts your business in a positive light. For example, if you service will be down for maintenance, describing what kind of updates you’ll be performing is a great way to remind your clients of the value you provide.

Whichever type of email you use, it’s important consider what you are trying to accomplish and structure your message and strategy around that. Here a few tips to help you to succeed along the way:

1. Build your subscriber list

You may already have an email of list of clients and prospects, but you should always be working to build upon this list. First, make sure it’s easy to subscribe to your email list through your website. Put subscribe forms on your blog page and on your blog articles since people already reading your blog might want to start receiving more content from you.

Groove does a great job at collecting email subscribers on their blog. At the very top, impossible to miss (without being annoying), they clearly explain the value of subscribing to their email list and make it easy to do so.

Groove Subscribers

You can also build your list through more traditional means. If you have a booth at an industry conference, provide an option for people to sign up for your newsletter. Even if you don’t end up closing at sale directly at the conference, getting someone to sign up for your email list can turn into a business opportunity down the road.

2. Talk with your audience, not at them

Unlike the old system of direct mail, in email marketing, if you’ve got the right content, you are starting to actually engage in a conversation with clients, not simply throwing information at them. This conversation starts with three basic steps:

  1. Great subject writing – To ensure that people open your email, which they need to do before they can engage with your company. A dull subject encourages people to just hit delete.
  2. An entertaining and distinctive voice – To make sure that once the email has been opened, it’s actually read and also engages the reader’s interest.
  3. Tailored content – Which is customized based on the subscriber’s demographic or previously collected data, and encourages them to take up an offer, engage with you or even to pass it onto other prospective clients.

Avoid using "noreply" type addresses for emails your subscribers are likely to respond to. That's a surefire way to appear that you don't value your subscribers' input.

And while you're at it, make sure the reply address for your email is one that you’ll actually check on a regular basis. Instead of clicking your call to action, some people might end up responding directly to you. This is your chance to engage with them and push them further along the sales funnel.

3. Make your email interesting from the minute it lands in the recipient’s inbox

Think of it like a newspaper – it’s the headline that grabs your attention and in an email this is your subject line. This is your one opportunity to grab the reader’s attention and make sure they open your email, so write something that piques their curiosity and makes them want to hear more of what you have to say.

January Newsletter Is Here! isn’t going to generate any clicks. But if you are teasing the reader, arousing their curiosity or asking a question, (e.g., Have You Been Secretly Penalized by Google?) you are more likely to sustain people’s interest.

With that said, it’s also important that your subject line sets appropriate expectations for the rest of the content in your email. A wild, outlandish subject line might get people to open your email, but if it isn’t backed up by equally great content, that email will quickly find itself in the trash.

4. Make it personal

Whenever possible, add a personal element to your emails. Most email tools allow you to enter shortcodes that will be replaced with the recipient’s name when the email is sent out.

Emails from Treehouse Co-Founder Ryan are always fun and personal. The subject lines are creative, messages are sent "from" Ryan's email address, and the content is personalized. If you reply to the mail, you'll even get a prompt response from Ryan himself!

Treehouse Email

On top of this, you can segment your messages to particular portions of your audience. If you have a business that works with multiple industries, consider sending out different versions of your email with each one providing information specific to each industry.

5. Ensure that your emails are not sent to spam

If your carefully constructed emails are sent directly to spam, they’ll never see the light of day, and certainly won't generate any results. The first step here is making sure your recipients have opted in to your emails so you aren't running afoul of any regulations like the CAN-SPAM Act.

Beyond that, there are certain steps you want to take so your emails don't accidentally get flagged as spam by filters. Spam filters works by running your email through a set of criteria and looking for features that are common among spam messages.

A few key things to avoid are using all caps, too many exclamation marks, hyperbolic phrases like "Act now before time runs out!!!!", or using poorly formatted HTML in your email templates.

All spam filters are slightly different so an email that might pass in some filters could be flagged as spam in others. For more comprehensive on how spam filters work and how to avoid them, check out this guide by MailChimp.

6. Make sure your copy looks clean and crisp

This sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people send out emails that look like amateur websites from the 90s. If someone has opened your mail because of an engaging heading, you want to keep their interest. This means:

  • Using short paragraphs and ensuring that keywords and phrases relevant to your readers stand out.
  • Making use of bullet points to let people quickly browse the content and take in the vital points.
  • Using pictures properly. Any images should be there merely to illustrate your message and not to replace content. This is important to remember as many email service providers block images in their default settings. Large images also make your email more likely to be sent to spam or make them impossible to view on mobile devices.

Here’s an example of what an email newsletter template might look like.

email newsletter template

For a real world example, Campaign Monitor's always beautiful emails include the right balance of text, images and different layouts keeping the content interesting and easy to digest.

Campaign Monitor Email

You can view the full version of the above Campaign Monitor example here.

7. Make the links and call to action obvious

The aim of your email marketing campaign is to increase traffic to your landing page and website. No clicks means no customers, it really is that simple. So make your links obvious and give readers more than one opportunity to interact. This is helped with strong calls to action that speak to emotions and feelings. A simple “click here” just won’t cut it these days.

Promotional emails from Anrbnb include impossible-to-miss CTAs encouraging the subscriber to "Book it now!"

Airbnb Email

In general, calls to action should be written as just that - actions. The more exciting the action you describe, the more enticing it will be to your audience. For example, “Download your free report” is more exciting than “Learn more” or “Click here”.

8. Make it easy to unsubscribe

Your email marketing campaign needs to be friendly. After all, no one wants to buy anything off an aggressive salesman, at least not willingly. It may seem you are cutting off the ‘conversation’ by giving clients the chance to opt-out but if a user wants to remove their name from your lists and can’t do so easily, they’ll flag emails as spam which will cause you problems in the future.

unsubscribe link in footer

9. Make it mobile-friendly

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? For many people, after turning off their alarm, the first thing they grab is their phone. In fact, 66% of email opens occur on smartphones or tablets. If your emails aren’t optimized for viewing on these devices, you’re potentially missing out on a huge number of clicks.

email device usage

10. Test, test, test

Don’t send anything without making sure it’s working. Test internally, at the very least engaging all the major providers: Outlook.com, Gmail, and Yahoo as well as the most popular mobile devices.

For more robust testing, check out Litmus, a tool that tests and provides screen shots of your email in dozens of different email tools.

Litmus Example

Ensure that emails are not falling apart, all your links work, and any personalization is not failing. Sending email marketing without testing it first would be like turning up to a business meeting having chosen your outfit in the dark. If it goes wrong, you’ll look foolish and unprofessional.

11. More testing!

While #10 is about testing the usability of your email on different platforms, this one is about running experiments to see what kind of subject lines, calls to action and content work best for engaging with your audience.

email A/B testing results

Some email tools have built in A/B testing modules that allow you to compare the results of different versions of your emails, but even if you don’t have access to these, you can run tests on your own. Try sending your emails on different days of the week or different times of the day to see when you get the best response rate.

12. Track your data

Along with testing, it’s crucial to look at all the data you can collect from your emails to see what is and isn’t working. Most email marketing tools provide information on open rates and click rates. These are a great start, but with the appropriate setup, you can learn even more about your email performance.

email analytics data

If you’re using Google Analytics on your website, tagging your emails with custom campaign tracking can show you how they are driving traffic to your landing pages and how those visitor behave once they arrive on your site. Equipped with this powerful information you can now really tailor your marketing message to people who will make use of it.

13. Don’t overwhelm your subscribers

Armed with all these new tips, you might be eager to start sending out as many emails as you can, but aware of how often you are sending messages to your audience. You don’t want to flood their inbox with marketing messages about everything you offer - that would potentially lead to many of your readers unsubscribing and all your hard work going down the drain.

14. Provide value

Great email marketing ultimately comes down to providing value to your audience. Each email you send should have something in it for them. Be it educational information about your industry, operational messages about your service or marketing messages about the products you offer, every email needs to provide some sort of positive aspect for the reader. Otherwise, that message is just going to end up in the trash.

This is just the beginning

Like most marketing efforts, becoming successful with email marketing is a process. It’s a combination of good planning and analyzing data to make improvements to your campaigns, but the only way to learn and improve is to get out there and start emailing!

Need help with your email marketing? See what Pronto can do for you.

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Tim Kelsey

Tim Kelsey

As the Director of Client Marketing Services at Pronto, Tim works closely with our clients to help them build and strengthen their online presence through a wide range of digital marketing channels.

Cory Brown

Cory Brown


If he's not making you smile with his quick wit, charm and kindness, Cory is hard at work serving customers at Pronto Marketing. His talents also include playing piano and navigating his motorbike through Bangkok’s sea of traffic with aplomb. - Cory's mother

  • loras

    I agree with all your tips especially this one about unsubsribe form. As a user of GetResponse I always remember to create good looking and useful newsletters.

  • Marcello

    Your tips are really useful! Especially the the ninth one about mobile-friendly emails. I’m using GetResponse software and I always remember about it- it’s so important to create responsive newsletters for our subscribers.