How to Get Started with Email Marketing
If you own a small business – whether online or a brick-and-mortar shop – you need to start email marketing. Full stop. The statistics on the performance of this channel are too compelling to ignore:
- You are 6x more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. (Campaign Monitor)
- Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter. (McKinsey)
- 81% of online shoppers who receive emails based on previous shopping habits were at least somewhat likely to make a purchase as a result of targeted email. (eMarketer)
- When it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), when compared to social, direct mail and more. (DMA)
Are you going to implement email marketing and immediately see these kinds of results? Probably not. It takes time to find your footing and iterate your best approach with email marketing. But given how effective this channel is at converting prospects and leads into customers, it’s well-worth your investment early on.
How Does Email Marketing Work?
Email, in a marketing context, is about more than firing off messages to customers whenever you feel like it. For starters, you need to get permission from people before sending them promotional messages. Usually, this is done through an opt-in form, a simple opt-in check or a manual request to add someone’s email address to your campaigns.
Here’s an example of a single-field opt-in form from the homepage of popular email marketing provider Constant Contact:
Shopify (and most other ecommerce providers) allow shoppers to opt-in to receiving promotional messages with a single checkbox added during the sign-up process:
Depending on the email marketing provider you’re using (Ontraport is featured below), you may also be able to add new subscribers manually, based on your personal interactions with them:
When it comes to email marketing opt-ins, you have two choices:
- Single opt-in means you can begin immediately mailing people once they’ve indicated interest in receiving your email messages.
- Double opt-in means they’ll be sent a message to the email they entered, requesting that they confirm their interest in your content. Only after they’ve done so can you begin sending to them.
There are pros and cons to both options. When you use double opt-in, some subscribers will undoubtedly fall through the cracks. They may decide they no longer wish to receive messages from you, or they may simply miss the confirmation message that’s sent to them. That’s why Chad White of Litmus says:
“Single opt-in is the superior subscription process because it maximizes list growth and overall performance by minimizing signup barriers and opportunities for errors.”
On the other hand, requiring double opt-in ensures that those subscribers who do make it on your list are the ones who want to be there. This eliminates spam sign-ups or people who only joined your email list for whatever freebie or incentive you’ve tied to it (more on that in a bit).
Sean Bestor, writing for the Sumo blog, argues that this makes double opt-in especially important to new senders:
“If you build your email list on sand — a mixed list of fake and real email addresses — you’ll hurt yourself down the road when costs and deliverability failures start to add up. It’s harder to fix something later on instead of getting it right the first time. BUT, if you build your list on a rock — a smaller list of almost 100% real email addresses — you’ll have a stronger list in the future. You build a secure email list and give yourself room to experiment later.”
If you choose a double opt-in arrangement, you’ll need to customize the workflow new subscribers will follow. Typically, this includes:
- A “thank you for subscribing” landing page that’s displayed upon opt-in form submission
- A double opt-in confirmation email that’s automatically sent after form submission
- A “thank you for opting in” landing page that’s displayed once a subscription is confirmed
Your chosen email marketing provider should offer templates for each of these elements, but you’ll still need to customize them to suit your branding and preferred language or tone.
Choosing an Email Marketing Provider
At this point, you may be asking, “Can’t I just send marketing emails from my business email address?”
While the answer is technically yes, it’s not a great idea. Not only is your business email not really set up to handle the single opt-in vs double opt-in question (let alone provide you with the tools needed to implement them correctly), it falls short of CAN-SPAM standards.
Launched in September 2009 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the CAN-SPAM Act is “a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations.” The Act involves seven main requirements:
- Don’t use false or misleading header information
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines
- Identify the message as an ad
- Tell recipients where you’re located
- Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you
- Honor opt-out requests promptly
- Monitor what others are doing on your behalf
Professional email marketing providers offer features specifically designed to meet these requirements, such as opt-out management and address inclusion, that standard email accounts don’t. They also offer guidance on remaining on the right side of the CAN-SPAM Act. Their success comes from getting your messages delivered. Let them take on the heavy lifting of staying compliant while you focus on running your business.
There are tons of different email marketing providers out there, but some of the most common options include:
These tools vary significantly in price, from a few dollars per month to a few hundred. The reason for this disparity is the different features they offer. Some of the tools above focus exclusively on sending marketing emails. Others are fully-fledged marketing automation services that can send messages to segmented lists based on behavioral or time-based triggers.
Review these options and more carefully while asking yourself the following questions:
- How frequently will I be sending messages?
- How many subscribers do I hope to have on my list?
- Do I want to be able to send messages automatically, or will manual sending suffice?
- Do I need an email marketing provider that offers landing page builder tools?
- How important is having CRM features tied to my email account to me?
- Am I offered any onboarding assistance as a new sender?
Once you’ve chosen your service, spend some time going through any free training resources provided to accelerate the process of getting your new system up-and-running.
Email Marketing Best Practices
As a business owner, the messages you send your subscribers will be uniquely tailored to their needs and your company’s brand positioning. That said, there are still a few best practices you’ll want to consider as you get started with email marketing.
Incentivize Your Opt-Ins
According to data gathered by TextRequest, 205.6 billion emails were being sent and received every day in 2015 – and that was three years ago. With the volume of email that floods into our inboxes everyday, people are understandably wary about giving out their addresses to random strangers and businesses.
That’s why most businesses offer an incentive to opt-in. This could be anything from a discount code off a future purchase to some type of free product – like the cheeky guide to space travel sample found on Aweber’s homepage:
Another thing to consider as a new sender is that subscribers need to hear from you regularly in order to remain “warm” or engaged.
Imagine that you buy something from a company. You receive a thank you email for your purchase and then, months down the road, you receive a promotional message out of the blue. Odds are you’d be put off by such a move. Since you don’t have an ongoing relationship with the company, it may read as self-promotional – as if the company’s only reaching out to you for their benefit.
Instead, keep the lines of communication open with your subscribers. In addition to transactional emails, send regular promotions and non-promotional helpful content. Watch your email analytics to find the right balance. If your opt-outs increase after individual sales messages, you may have tipped the scales too far in one direction.
Personalize Your Messages
Finally, remember that recipients like to feel special. Personalizing your messages – whether you do so with merge fields that allow you to sub their personal details into individual emails or full segmentation based on buyer behavior – is associated with 6x higher transaction rates, according to Experian.
While this guide is by no means complete, taking the steps above should get you on your way to using email marketing as a successful promotional channel. Now, we want to hear from you. What questions do you have about email marketing? What’s holding you back from getting started?