Email Marketing Best Practices – A Solid Guide to Drive Results (2021)

Email Marketing Best Practices

Introduction

To start sending bulk emails, one often wonders about what to put and whatnot. The starting always seems confusing and overwhelming. As a sender you definitely want to send emails that can make sales, have a high click-rate, and of course, not to end up in spam. 
In this guide, we will cover mostly the non-technical side of bulk email marketing best practices. If you are using SMTP services like amazonSES, make sure you are following these steps to hit the subscribers’ inbox every time: How to Prevent your Email Newsletters from Going to SPAM

We aim to put up all those things you need to consider when sending emails to many subscribers. But if you are just getting started with email marketing, you will certainly find this guide useful as you start growing your subscriber base. Let’s hop into the guideline and make the emails shoot for the star right away.


Table of contents


Whom to send

How to collect your Subscribers:

First thing First! We need an email list to send the bulk emails to, a list/record which consists of active email addresses. You can either purchase an email list or build an authentic one by influencing your customers to sign up for your newsletter. Let’s compare these two methods –

Building Authentic subscribers:

So the key to successful email marketing is building an authentic list of subscribers – by letting your customers subscribe to your newsletters willingly. Some of the key things to consider when building your list is – 

  1. Give your subscribers the option to choose what type of emails they want to receive and whatnot. This way, you will have a general idea about what type of marketing subscribers are looking for and sort them accordingly. It helps to provide users with a sense of importance as well.
  2. Ask them to include your business email (The “from email” you will use to send the newsletter) in their address book at Gmail or whatever email service provider they are using. That ensures smooth delivery against bouncing and spam filtering.
  3. Use Double opt-in instead of single opt-in if possible. For single opt-in, users have to put their personal information only once, not confirming their email address anyway. But with double opt-in, users need to confirm their email id through signing in into their given email id. All the marketers do not highly applaud it because traditional double opt-in systems send a confirmation email to the users’ inbox, and they have to log in to their inbox and click on the confirmation link. This extra step may discourage the users from the subscription, though it guarantees the authenticity of the subscribers’ given email ids. Instead of using common double opt-ins, you can put forward a few incentives to encourage the subscribers to sign in to their inbox. Like asking their email to send them a white paper or a download link for some free goodies, you can easily verify their emails and sort out the authentic users when they click the download link. ThemeWagon uses such ideas in action – Whenever a user tries to download a free template from their site, they ask for their email address for delivering the download link.

It could take years and lots of effort to build a big list with millions of subscribers. But in the long run, it pays off.

Sending to a purchased list:

Having a readymade email list is very lucrative, and lots of people fall into the trap of the purchased email lists. There are so many online sites or companies promising you to give a list of prospective recipients. What those lists lack is real authenticity. And as a result, what happens is people mark your emails as Spam. It could also drastically increase your bounce rate and destroy your reputation as a sender because over 25% of emails in purchased lists are usually likely to be “dead” or “trash” emails. However, if you have to use a purchased list, make sure you use a list cleaning service like NeverBounce, ZeroBounce, or something similar to avoid bounces. Start sending a small number of emails from that list at first and see how it goes. If the list is too “trashy,” converts very little, or has a high complaint rate, give it up.


List Segmentation

Segmentation is the process of dividing the list of email subscribers into smaller segments based on certain criteria. Segments are created so that the marketer can cater specifically to each different email list rather than sending one mass message for all.This personalization tactic serves the purpose of relevance based on recipients’ interests, geographic location, purchase history, open rate, and much more.

Generally, if you’re going to provide all your subscribers something generic, they will seldom get interested in the offer you want to preach. So, set out your email marketing based on information retrieved from the user during the subscription and analysis process. A largely used way of segmentation is geographic email segmentation. There are other ways, as well. Content, specialization, and behavior specific segmentation are good ways to divide the list to gain the user’s interest. Mainly, you have to use data of your subscriber’s interests to curate content that you know they’ll love. Some high converting circumstances you can segment your list are:

  1. People who did not open your last email
  2. People who did not click any links in your last email
  3. People who did not purchase after getting your last email
  4. Ecommerce events such as – people who added items in the cart but did not complete the purchase, have failed payment, or viewed an item for a long time or over and over but have not purchased yet.

Keep in mind that open rate and page views are not always correct, because most of the time bots open the email for checking for spam and mail tracking systems can not understand the difference between a bot and a human properly. But the click rates are more accurate. Also, sometimes people use one email address to sign up and another for purchasing an item, in that case sending them a discount offer after they purchase will hamper your reputation.

Overall, segmenting your email list will always pay off. It highly reduces the unsubscribe rate and complaints while raising the conversion. For us, we sold more than 20 fold by targeting the customers “who did not click the CTA link on our last email”.


A/B testing

A/B testing is a widely used method for coming up with the best converting email by sending differently styled and written emails to several test groups of subscribers.

Hundreds of little changes are possible in any email. But do not get overwhelmed by it. Focus on basics like – call to action, subject line, overall graphical presentation, products or sales description. Calling these basics cause they can directly affect the open, click-through or conversion rates. For example, the subject line will directly affect how many people will open your email in the first place. Or the color or position of the call to action button hugely puts an impact on how many people are gonna buy your product or click through to your landing page.

Here comes the other important factor – If you really want to have a proper result from which email a better response is coming from, you have to stick to testing one thing at a time. Along with that, testing regularly and simultaneously is of no less importance. Variation in timing may induce other time-based factors and skew the results which is in no way acceptable or desirable by the tester.

Analyze the result of your A/B testing properly. The final goal here is conversions, not just click-throughs or opening rates. On that note, your email should echo the look and promise of your website. Confusing the audiences broadly decreases the conversion rate. 

If you’re using email marketing service tools like MailBluster, A/B testing your campaigns is a complete cakewalk, as you can use the “A/B testing slice” to slice your subscriber list into multiple segments, send different emails to them, and figure out which variation performs best.

A/B testing may not always give an absolute winning segmentation. Sometimes the results vary very little and sometimes the winning email for the sample subscribers converts less for the entire group. It is better to take a simple random sampling when picking up the subscribers for the test. And a substantial number of them. For example, in ThemeWagon we have around 1Million subscribers and to get the least skewed data, we take around 5% of them for the A/B testing purpose.


What to Write

Subject Line

Once the email gets inside the inbox, the next important thing you need to be careful of is the subject line as it is quite a weighing factor to convince the recipient about opening the mail or not. A small tweak in the subject line could double the open rate. Here are some actionable tips and insights for making your subject line polished – 

  • First, the subject line has to be simple and need to have a tone of urgency, if not always. The FOMO(fear of missing out) of the users can help increase the opening rate in such cases. Like, “Act fast and save 20% on stylish bags” or “Limited offer on our hottest collection.” But be careful of being repetitive and the necessity of using the urgency tone.
  • Try not to put nonsense into the subject line like wasting precious space on the subject line by putting some greeting into it, as “Hello {user},” “Warm Greetings,” and many more like this. Keep it precise and straightforward as much as possible. To be precise, one needs to assure not to give any false promises, and the site where they are gonna divert the customer echoes the theme and promises properly. In addition to that, do tell them what’s inside. 
  • Be careful about the number of words. Let us present the data related to the length of the subject line, according to a study:
Number of WordsOpen Rate
0 – 5 16%
6 – 1021%
11 – 1514%
16 – 2012%
21 – 259%
Different Open Rate depending on Number of Words
  • The most alluring part of the subject line can be the presentation of incorporating numbers of benefits or sales the deal has to offer. Try to use the exact number rather than a percentage. This way, the discount looks more real to the user. For example – “Save $45” works five times better than “5% Off”, while the 5% off is actually equal to $45. 
  • Personalized subject lines attract recipients to click on the email and go further with it. All you need to do is use personal data like name, occupation, and previous purchase into the subject line. For example – “Hello <first name>,” Always gives more opens.
  • Stimulate your recipient’s curiosity through your email’s subject line. Try different methods. Like storytelling, presenting intriguing words, and many more. Some triggering starting could be like – “Here’s what happens when you…” or “The secret of the <whatever> is finally revealed.”
  • Using emojis properly can translate to much higher open rates. As of 2020, more than 56% of promotional emails come with emojis in their subject lines. Sometimes senders use multiple emojis. While using emojis makes your email stand out but use them properly and do not overkill. 
  • Preview text: In the subscribers’ inbox, right after the subject line or the sender name, you can see a snippet of text which is pulled in from the body of your email. The preview text idea is just like the “Johnson Box” used on direct mail pieces to draw readers’ attention to key points of a message. For email, preview text can capture your subscriber’s attention, encouraging them to open. It can also influence subscribers’ behavior – getting them to open, scroll, and click specific articles stated in the text. For example, WeddingWire, a company, showed a 30% increase in click-through rates by testing preview text.
Name, Subject Line & Preview Text
Stay away from Such words:
  1. Don’t write anything deceptive into the subject line. Like, if it is not any reply or forwarded email, then don’t write “Re:” or “Fwd:”.
  2. Don’t go with such starting“Do you want” or “Do you need”. You can say these types of intros are excessively overused and do not attract the user anymore.
  3. Try your best not to go with any sort of lies. For example, don’t send a message to people saying they’ve won a prize which in reality they haven’t. This way your reputation as a company would be hugely damaged to the recipient and would refrain them from getting to your services.
  4. Simply don’t include a percentage more than 100, it is quite a common criteria to mark any email as spam. You can not even offer anything more than 100 percent in reality. So let not over-enthusiasm kill our marketing rate.
  5. There are certain spam prone words which easily take your email to the spam, some are manipulative, others either needy or cheap, few are sleazy and shady. Let us mention those words in the list, so that you can easily hold yourself not to use words into your emails.

Manipulative

Though asking the recipients to take action is no wrong at all, excessive urgency always gets caught into the spam filter. That is why we need to be careful about how to present the urgency excluding the following words:

  • Act Now
  • Action
  • Apply now
  • Apply online
  • Buy
  • Buy direct
  • Call
  • Call now
  • Click here
  • Clearance

Needy

 Desperate and exaggerated claim generally seems distasteful to users. If you genuinely got something valuable to offer to them, you definitely shouldn’t go with such approach with the mentioned words:

  • 100%
  • All-new
  • Bargain
  • Best price
  • Bonus
  • Email Marketing
  • Free
  • For instant access
  • Free
  • For instant access
  • Free gift
  • Free trial

Sleazy & Shady

You need to be aware of words which can question your motive ethically or legally. Plus you should not be too pushy on pursuing, as they result more in detaching the user than attaching them with your services. To put in one word, stay away from using the following words in your email:

  • As seen on
  • What are you waiting for
  • Click below
  • Deal
  • Direct email
  • Direct marketing
  • Do it today
  • Order now
  • Order today
  • Unlimited
  • Addresses
  • Beneficiary
  • Billing
  • Casino
  • Celebrity
  • Collect child support
  • Copy DVDs
  • Fast viagra delivery
  • Hidden
  • Human growth hormone

Cheap

Stay away any sorta presentation which will make your offer not that exclusive. Easily attainable and available products never going to drive any user to take certain action. To have a win-win email marketing, stay away from such words:

  • Acceptance
  • Access
  • Avoid bankruptcy
  • Boss
  • Cancel
  • Card accepted
  • Certified
  • Cheap
  • Compare
  • Compare rates
Examples for good subject lines:
  1. Get a scratchcard and win up to $150* in prizes!
  2. Full taste, half price! Get 50% off 1 year of MailBluster Pro
  3. Flash Sale ends today! 😱
  4. ⏳ 24 hours left to grab your 96% discount
  5. BlackFriday – 96% OFF! 🎁 Take everything with $29 Only [Save up to $1195] 🤑
  6. Earn $100 per Referral Starting Today!
  7. 👋 Say goodbye to code: MORE PLZ!
  8. ONLY 1 DAY LEFT to save 30%
  9. Productivity level: legendary💥
  10. Finish your online visit. These women did.
  11. Get 20% off new 👕 now!!
  12. ✨ NEW PRODUCT ✨ Magic for your hair!
Examples for ugly subject lines:
  1. 🙌😱2️⃣0️⃣% off 🔥 new 👕👚 now‼️✨
  2. ⚡ SET Today: Daily title came here for 10 days
  3. 80% off on our bundle, grab it anytime
  4. Free at 3 pm today? Please Join our webinar! 
  5. Dumbhead, why don’t you try this offer?
  6. GET Fa$t CA$H Now!
  7. Honestly! This can wait.
  8. FWD: You won’t believe it.
  9. FIRST DAILY POST
  10. 50-Point Checklist for Creating the Ultimate Optin Form(Avoid Using Round Number)
  11. Hey, open me! I’m fun and interesting
  12. Stop! See! Move!     

Remember, the subject line is sort of a gate pass for the involvement of the users. As per a study, 68% of the users use the subject line as the only factor in deciding when to report an email as spam (Source) and 47% of email recipients decide to open the email based on the subject line alone (Source). That clearly shows how important the subject line is. So, try to be unique and experimental about it and observe what’s attracting the users. With more exploring, you will definitely get your secret elixir.


Email Body

Clarity and Good Content

First and foremost, present your offer as clearly as possible. This is a must to present your offer effectively to the prospective and current customer. Try to add things which would make the offer more valuable, like special offers on holidays, not-to-miss discount offers and many more. 

Ensure your campaign is relevant to all your subscribers. As you’re creating the campaign, ask yourself: Why will my clients care about this? What will it do to improve their lives? Be clear about the privileges and advantages you’re offering to your clients, and give them a compelling reason to take action. In addition to that, be extra cautious about providing good content. It should not be forgotten that a fine transparent email adds a strong value proposition. It is highly recommended that you keep your descriptions concise and on to-the-point. Basically, it would be best to put exactly as much as needed, no more than that.


Length

We need to get off the idea of “the bigger, the better”. For email marketing, you need to understand you won’t be having a lot of time to engage the subscriber. The ideal length of a perfect email is between 50 to 125 words. You may think 125 words is not enough to fully convey a marketing message. That could be the case sometimes, but the fact is: in general, brief performs better.
But don’t go for too short either. Pick up the minimum length for the email body to convey your offer and try to be precise about conveying your offer.


Layout

Be a bit careful about organizing your email layout. Try to follow some basic and Wala✨! You can send a well-structured and attractive email to your subscribers. Follow the suggested tips, and that definitely takes you further:

  1. First of all, try to use the Inverted Pyramid Model: Begins with attention-grabbing headlines with your principal motif, then description with supporting info, and finally CTA. This structure encourages the reader to stick with the email and continue to the end.
  2. You agree or not, White Space is your best friend. Use it often to balance the visual representation and make the user direct flow down to your CTA.
  3. Another important thing to cover, create a visual hierarchy, like headings and subheadings, and different colors and font styles.

Personalized Language

In email marketing, personalized language is the way to construct more targeted email. To make the email more acceptable to the recipients, you should obviously try implementing it in most of your emails. That gives the audiences a feel of importance which usually makes them interested in the offer. Researches have shown that personalized email campaigns receive 29 percent higher email open rates and 41 percent higher click-through rates than ordinary emails (Source). Another case study shows that 77% of marketers believe real-time personalization is crucial, though most of them struggle to implement it in real-time (Source).

  1. Begin by mentioning the specific name of your subscriber in the subject line or the email body. This excellent way promisingly targets the reader and increases the chance of opening the email drastically. Many email tools, including MailBluster, allow you to enter codes replaced with the recipient’s name when the email is delivered.
  2. As data is your true friend, you need to use them wisely to cater to your subscriber’s proper offers as they want to have it. For example, if your audience likes BTS, you can use pop-culture references in your email campaigns to offer a better-personalized experience through content and increase conversions. It will also help you to build stronger and more personal relationships with your customers.
  3. You can show how important and appreciated your customers are to you and also you care about every one of your customers by showing your gratitude, by sending an email wishing for their birthday, giving them “exclusive” access, “sneak peeks,” and special tokens. Try to use your newsletter to nurture your relationship with the reader/customer rather than pitch them and consider it as a rule of thumb.

Let us put it straight and simple. Put a visible, and operable unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email. Any hide and seek on this thing won’t help you anyway. In contrast, you should make it pretty easy for the subscriber as the count is a key to win subscribers’ trust. Including a viewable way to unsubscribe from your email list proves that you have confidence in your content value and structure.

Some brands take the confidence theory to the extreme level, putting an unsubscribe button in the header and the footer as well in the emails. You can do this, but there are also chances of being unnoticed by people. In that case, people will either unsubscribe without reading the email or hit the button by mistake. A simple unsubscribe button in the email footer can reduce the chances of your email not going to SPAM anymore.


Company Address(Physical)

Including the physical address of the company in email is always considered a good practice. Even the anti-spam legislation of several countries has put it as a basic requirement. You can easily keep your email away from spam by adding up the company’s original mailing address. Mainly add your company or organization name and postal address at the footer. If there is no template available, then you can add that directly into the email campaign.


Call to Action

In email marketing, Call-to-Action(CTA) is either a button or hypertext, used to prompt the users to take a specific action. To engage the recipients in certain activities, nothing better than call-to-action. CTAs are usually placed in a prominent spot of the marketing email. 

May it be the Hypertext or Simple button, it has to be clear and prominent enough to stand out in the crowd of letters. Remember, a clear call to action wins the click. To increase efficiency, give people a single actionable thing to do when they read your email, and they’ll definitely likely do it. This is how CTA takes the spotlight of the show. Email marketing company Campaign Monitor found that button-based CTAs increased their click-through rate by 28 percent over link-based ones (Source). Beware of putting up the right amount of actionable links or buttons. OverCrowdy emails with links and buttons can never engage any reader for long.

More Importantly, CTA placement is important. According to Digital Doughnuts, putting their CTA on the right of the email increased their email marketing click rate pretty significantly.


Content / Image / HTML Ratio

The most common mistake done in terms of providing images is putting straight a whole picture. It is in no way recommendable as it has loading issues, and device size varies from user to user. We need to make sure the email body has a balance between image and text that makes sense for the type of devices you’re sending. That is why it is highly suggested to find a total mixture of photos and text in the email body. Generally, a 40-60 or 20-80 image-text ratio is laudable for the email body. You’ll know that the popular guideline is no more than 40% image coverage and a minimum of 60% text. The exposure of the image should not be 40%. If you are thinking about going for multiple images, no more than three images would be there. You need to ensure that the pictures don’t touch each other. Beside that, don’t forget to use Alt text with images.

Another important thing is even if you take the images out from the email, the email should still make sense. This way, it guarantees that even if the photos could not be loaded on the users’ device, the email would not turn out to be a complete blunder. Nowadays, the image to text ratio is gaining high importance because this ratio determines if the message is spam or not. So, we better not ignore its importance.


When and How

From Address

When you are up for bulk email sending, go with an authentic email sender address instead of email ids like those that start with “no-reply” or other undefined sub-domain, like any “catch-all” email account. Generally, it is the account that captures emails sent to any invalid email addresses of the domain. Those sending email id can easily be marked as spam and increase the bounce rate exponentially.  Usually, undefined co-operative emails are counted as junk by spam filters. Always keep the window open for interaction, try to send email to which recipient can do their queries. It may convince them about authenticity and integrity.


Time-Warp Delivery

TimeWarp is a feature that delivers a campaign to your audience based on the recipient’s time zone. As you may have recipients all over the globe, time for each can vary in quite a fluctuating way. Suppose, you live in a place of GMT + 8 and send emails for your recipients at 11 am, normally your subscribers living in a place of GMT + 6 will receive the mail at 9 am. With timewarp, they will receive the mail exactly at 9 am in their time zone.

TimeWarp can increase open and click rate pretty significantly. Like, for sending emails to 1Milion subscribers in Mailbluster last Monday morning at 10, the A/B tested with 50%/50% (with/without timewarp), the result was click rate 10.06% vs 5.18%.

To get all of the TimeWarp, either you need to know the subscriber’s IP address or address.  you know all of your receivers are from your same time zone for certain, then timewarp can be considered as a plain redundancy that way.

Many email marketing services have the tool of TimeWarp to facilitate the service of email marketing. So does our service, MailBluster. It can help you to go stress-free on utilizing time warping in the email in no time.


Sending rate/limit

Generally, it is normal to have a certain amount of bounces over any large email campaign. It can occur for many reasons like addresses can be changed or abandoned by their owners, network problems, people can change their jobs, and temporary delivery issues. But no matter what, the benchmark for bounces should be less than 2%. If it gets above a 2% bounce rate, you should be careful about it. As per Campaign Monitor research, the retail industry’s average bounce rate is somewhat around 0.69%. On the other hand, marketing and advertising agencies have a higher but tolerable bounce rate of 1.29% (Source).

To prevent a higher bounce rate, one needs to use services like ZeroBounce or NeverBounce, especially if the address list is purchased. This way someone could ensure which email addresses are still active and keeps the bounce rate in check. If you are using dedicated IP for sending, you have to “warm-up” the IP before sending. Also, if you use amazonSES, make sure you have the sending limit uplifted before you start sending. Here is how to increase your sending quota on amazonSES.


Conclusion

These are some of the non-technical ideas and outlines that our team found useful over their long working with email marketing. These are no hard fast rules that you have to maintain by hook or by crook. As all the businesses are unique in their way, one thing we genuinely suggest is to explore and experiment with your mail marketing without risking a lot on it. Moreover, following the guidelines mentioned above will ensure better click-through and open rates and might help you be dumped in the spam folder.

Leave your valuable thoughts about this topic in our comment section and let us know what you are thinking about it.

Happy Sending!

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