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What is Email Marketing? (Definition, How-To, & Best Practices)

  • Jennifer AylingJennifer Ayling

If you want to up your email marketing game in 2022, you’re in the right place.

Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to market your business, with a return of $42 for every dollar spent.

Every email subscriber is a potential customer, and the goal of email marketing is to change your potential customers into loyal, raving fans. 

As part of your overall marketing strategy, there are different benefits that you might want to explore with email marketing. Email marketing can help with list-building or sales promotion. It can drive traffic to your website or help build customer loyalty and retention. 

To make the most of these benefits, you need to maximize your email marketing efforts

We’ve got all the information you need to craft email campaigns that get you stellar results.

Let’s get started!

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that connects you with your target audience in order to promote your business. 

This form of marketing helps you build brand awareness and boost lead generation. It enables you to cultivate relationships and keeps your customers engaged as they move along in their buyers’ journey. 

Email marketing is a flexible, cost-effective way to promote your products or services with many options for automating and customizing your marketing message.

Using marketing automation tools or platforms to automate your email communication allows you to accomplish many different tasks via email. You can sell products or services, provide educational content for your readers, resurrect abandoned shopping carts, welcome new subscribers, and more. 

And these things are automatically done once you set up your systems. That means you can stay in touch with your potential customers and clients while leaving automation to do the heavy lifting.

How Does Email Marketing Work?

There are three components to a successful email marketing system. You need an email service provider, an email list, and an email marketing strategy.

Your Email Service Provider

First, you need to sign up with an email service provider (ESP). These providers use software systems to help you manage your list. 

With an ESP, you can create automations based on your readers’ actions and customize messages for a more personal touch. 

There are many providers available on the market, but they all offer similar services. The fundamental difference between providers is their price and features. We recommend ConvertKit or MailerLite.

You’ll send all your emails via your ESP. Internet service providers whitelist ESPs as legitimate email delivery systems, which will (usually) keep your emails out of the junk folder. 

Your personal Gmail or business email is not equipped to deliver mass quantities of emails. Any emails you try to send via a personal account will likely end up labeled as spam. 

Your Email List

After you’ve signed up with your email service provider, you can start growing your email list

The first step is to create a lead magnet, or offer, that entices those in your target audience to sign up for your email list. 

A lead magnet is usually something simple like a checklist, a template, or an ebook. It should be something that offers a real benefit and is related to your product or services. 

Sometimes your lead magnet could be a percentage off of a customer’s first purchase. A code for free shipping is another popular lead magnet for businesses with physical products.

As each person signs up for your offer, they get added to your email list, where you can keep in touch with them. 

Your Email Strategy

Now that you have an email service provider and started your email list, you should have an email strategy for staying in touch with your people.

Remember, every email you send should have a purpose. 

It might be to promote a product for which you are an affiliate. 

Maybe you want to warm up your audience before you launch a new product.

Perhaps you want to build customer loyalty by providing educational and valuable content to your list. 

Your goal could be to increase your authority by sending subscribers a case study showing how your products or services have helped others. 

Or maybe you’re just saying hi to keep in touch with your people.

You should never send an email without a specific goal. Emails without goals rarely provide any benefit to the reader (or you), and your subscribers are likely to hit Unsubscribe.

If your only goal is to stay in touch, email your list something helpful. Teach your subscribers how to do something. Help them with a problem they have. Update them on the latest news in your industry as it applies to them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Email Marketing

Like any marketing effort, there are pros to email marketing, and there are cons. The pros far outweigh the cons, but let’s look at a few of each.

The Pros of Email Marketing

You Own Your Email List

In social media marketing, you are at the mercy of the algorithms. And huge platforms like Facebook and Twitter can strip your access to your social media followers at any time. Platforms crash, accounts get blocked, followers disappear.

With email marketing, you own your list. The people on your list have given you permission to contact them, and you can do so at any time. And because you routinely export your subscriber list as a backup, you never have to worry about losing touch with your list.

Higher Conversion Rate

Emails have a higher conversion rate than other forms of contact. Business owners repeatedly report higher sales rates from email marketing compared to social media or ads.

And while people may swear off social media, most everyone still uses email. And they check it regularly.

Access to Analytics

All email service providers have analytics. This gives you the chance to measure what works and what doesn’t and make changes accordingly. 

If you find that your emails have a higher open and click-through rate on Thursdays than Sundays, then you know to send emails to your list on Thursdays.

If you look at the analytics and see that Affiliate Product A generates a higher click-through rate than Affiliate Product B, you know which resonates more with your readers. This tells you where to focus your attention in the future.

The Cons of Email Marketing

Lots of Laws and Regulations

You must follow laws and regulations in email marketing, and it’s your responsibility to stay up-to-date with the legal information.

Currently, you must follow CCPA, GDPR, and CAN-SPAM laws. For instance, you must have permission to email someone and include an unsubscribe link in every email. 

Email Requires Consistency

Staying in regular contact with your people helps you build the know, like, and trust factor necessary for the buyer’s journey. 

When you start email marketing, you need to be consistent with your emails. If you tell your readers that you’ll email them once a week, then you need to show up in their inbox once a week. But don’t email them daily. By the same token, don’t disappear and only contact them when you want to sell something.

You Need to Stand Out

Your readers’ inboxes are crowded, and it might be tough to get your email noticed and opened. If you want your emails to be read, they need to be eye-catching. One way to do this is with a good subject line and preheader. The preheader is the bit of text after the subject line indicating the topic of your email.

How to Start Email Marketing

Here’s what you need to do to get started with email marketing.

Step 1: Develop an email marketing plan.

An email marketing plan is an integral part of any marketing strategy. It helps you reach out to customers and keep them engaged while also promoting your business.

Your goals for your emails should tie into your overall marketing objectives.

Do you have a new product or service that you want to promote? Your emails prior to the launch of your new product should highlight the problem your product solves and get your subscribers excited about learning how to solve that problem.

Do you need to build authority in your niche? Your emails should demonstrate your knowledge about your field and show your readers that you are the one to help them with the pain points they are facing.

Every email you send needs to have a clear objective.

Step 2: Choose your email marketing software.

When you choose your email service provider, you have two options.

You can choose a provider based on your budget or choose one based on the features the provider offers, like segmentation. 

Email segmentation is dividing an email list into smaller groups by filtering it for specific criteria. Segmenting your list helps send marketing messages, offers, and incentives to the portion of your audience that is more likely to be interested in them.

Another feature to consider is A/B testing capabilities. A/B testing is an excellent way to gather data about what your subscribers like to see, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try different things. 

Staying within your marketing budget is critical, but features like segmentation make your email strategy more effective, which pays off in the long run. 

You may also want to look for integrations with your shopping or website platforms and the support the email service provider offers to its users.

If you choose your provider based on price, you’ll want to find out if you’re going to be paying by the number of emails you send each month or the number of subscribers you have on your list. That can impact your email marketing budget.

Step 3: Design your email format.

Your email format doesn’t have to be fancy. What is most important is for the reader to have a positive experience reading your email.

Many ESPs have templates you can customize to match your brand, but you can also send a plain email with just text on a white background.

There are a few things to keep in mind as you design your emails.

  • Use a mobile responsive design.
  • Make sure you use large fonts. This is really important for subscribers who read emails on their phones. I’ve unsubscribed from email lists where the text was too small for easy reading on a mobile device.
  • Write short paragraphs and use lots of white space.
  • Don’t include too many images. Be ADA-compliant and verify that each image has the appropriate ALT text.
  • Make sure your call to action stands out from the rest of the text.
  • Emojis are acceptable to include and can add personality to your message.
  • Be concise with your words.

Step 4: Set up an amazing email welcome sequence.

You want to set up a welcome sequence for new subscribers.

A welcome sequence is a marketing email campaign you send out when someone signs up for your email list. 

It’s a series of emails, usually 3-7 emails over 3-10 days, that help new subscribers get to know you and how you can help them. You want to include content that gets subscribers excited to open your emails in the future.

You’ll set up your welcome sequence so it’s automatically delivered as each new person subscribes. 

Step 5: Start building your email list.

Next, you’ll need to create your lead magnet or offer. A lead magnet is an offer that should entice visitors to give you their email address in exchange. Examples of lead magnets include:

  • Downloadable ebooks
  • White papers or case studies
  • Free shipping offers
  • Percentage off offers
  • Resource libraries
  • A webinar
  • A quiz
  • Templates
  • Exclusive savings or content available only to subscribers
  • Printables related to your products or services like checklists, planners, or cheat sheets
  • Access to a private Facebook group or similar community

Your lead magnet should be something simple but juicy. You want it to have a real benefit to the subscriber. You’re asking for permission to be in their email inbox, after all. Make it worth their while, so they want to sign up. 

Step 6: Create your first email marketing campaign

There are a few things you’ll want to do as you get ready to send your first email marketing campaign.

First, you want to know your goal. For example, do you want to:

  • Tell your subscribers about a new product? 
  • Build trust with your subscribers? 
  • Establish yourself in their minds as an authority on a specific topic?
  • Drive traffic to a blog post on your website? 

Your end goal for this email will determine what sort of content you send. 

Next, you need to pick a great headline. You want a headline that’s related to the content inside but is also intriguing. Something that makes the receiver say, I need to read this! Appeal to the reader’s curiosity or desire to save money, something that targets an emotion. 

Be sure to optimize the preview text. The preview text works with the headline to grab readers’ attention, so they are excited to open your email.

Be engaging and show some personality. Your readers signed up to hear from you, so don’t be afraid to add a personal touch.

Step 7: Send your first email marketing campaign

Before you send your first email, take the time to send yourself a test email so you can proofread it carefully.

Look for things like misspelled words, broken links, missing punctuation, or formatting errors.

How does the headline look? Is it cut off because it’s too long? 

What about the preview text? Did you remember to use it?

Is there any stray placeholder text? Some ESPs include placeholder text to help guide you as you write your email. Be sure to delete any that are left behind.

Most email service providers have a preview option, which you’ll want to use to see what your email looks like on a mobile device. The elements that look great on a desktop may not look so good on a mobile device.

Fix any errors you find, and you are ready to hit Send!

Step 8: Measure and track campaign results 

All email service providers offer email analytics. Take advantage of this data. You can learn a lot from it.

What works for one business or email campaign doesn’t necessarily work for another, so you need to analyze your metrics and regularly test new ideas. Track and pay close attention to the click-through rate and unsubscribe rate.

Click-through rates will tell you if your emails get readers to take action, such as clicking over to a product or sales page.

Your unsubscribe rates will tell you if you’re targeting the right people for your list and if you’re providing them with enough value for them to stick around.

Run a test by sending your email at different times and days. See what works best for your audience. Generally speaking, sending emails in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday works best.

Email Marketing Best Practices

Everyone should follow a few simple practices to get the best results from their email marketing and keep their email subscribers happy.

1. Never buy an email list.

You might be tempted to build your list by buying or renting someone else’s list, but that’s a bad idea.

Those people aren’t your target market, didn’t ask to be on your list, and will likely report your emails as spam. Too many spam reports can harm your sending reputation. And as your list grows, you’ll end up paying for subscribers who don’t want to be there.

You want people on your list who are your ideal customers or clients and are happy to hear from you. Don’t fall into the trap of building an email list around artificially inflated numbers.

2. Unsubscribe Link

You must include an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email. Readers should have a clear and obvious way to opt out if they no longer want to be on your list.

3. Double Opt-In

A double opt-in is a two-step process. A double optin requires the customer to click a confirmation link in the first email you send them. If they don’t confirm, they won’t receive any more emails from you.

Not everyone agrees that a double opt-in is necessary. Some marketers and business owners think it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

The double opt-in process is an effective way to ensure that recipients want to receive messages from you. But if you have doubts about the effectiveness of a double opt-in, you can test both single and double opt-ins to see what works best for your community. 

4. Optimize For Mobile

As we mentioned earlier, you want to optimize your email for mobile viewing. 85% of people use a smartphone to check for email, and 42% of users open their email via their mobile phones. 

Use large, clear fonts with dark colors that show up on mobile devices. Keep paragraphs short, limit the number of images used, and leave lots of white space.

5. Segment Your List

Depending on your business model, not all of your products or services will interest everyone. This is especially true as your list size grows.

Use segmentation or tags to divide your list into subcategories to keep everyone happy and help subscribers get only the emails they want to see. The more targeted your emails, the better your results will be.

6. Clean Your List

As your list grows and time goes by, it’s only natural that you’ll have subscribers who stop opening your emails. Maybe their interests changed, your services or products no longer apply to them, or perhaps they simply abandoned their email account.

Whatever the reasons, you want to maintain a healthy list and rid your list of people who aren’t engaging with your emails.

To do this, you can send a re-engagement campaign. Then follow your email service provider’s directions for deleting inactive subscribers.

7. Optimize for Deliverability

To keep your emails from landing in your subscriber’s spam folders, you want to optimize for deliverability. 

As we mentioned before, use an email service provider and not your personal email account to send emails.

To avoid spam filters, don’t use spammy words in your emails. Spammy words include:

  • 100% free
  • Fast cash
  • Free
  • Miracle
  • Exclusive deal

If you want to learn more words to avoid, check out this list of words you shouldn’t use.

8. Personalize Your Emails

It never hurts to use your subscribers’ first names in your email opening, and Hi Jane sounds more personable than Hey you. These little details are part of your brand experience.

But don’t overdo it, either. Using a subscriber’s name once is fine. Repeating it multiple times throughout the email is overkill.

9. Build a Relationship

Remember that an email subscriber is a potential customer. The goal of email marketing is to convert them from passive readers to passionate supporters and brand advocates.

It’s actually pretty simple to build a relationship with your email subscribers. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, but the benefits are worth it. Offer them tips and advice on a topic they care about. 

Give your customers something in return for being a subscriber – something that adds value and they cannot get anywhere else.

10. Give More Than You Ask

Avoid being too sales-y. 

While you’re obviously in business to sell things, subscribers want to know they are more than just a sale to you. No matter how fantastic your offer is, constant selling will turn readers off.

Give your people helpful information. Write emails that have helpful tips, tricks, or advice that is interesting and valuable. You’ll generate more loyalty and engagement from your customer base if you provide value outside of your paid offers.

Are You Ready To Take Your Email Marketing To The Next Level?

Email marketing is really one of the best ways to connect with your target audience. 

With a strong email strategy, you can leverage the benefits of email marketing to achieve your business goals. Your emails will help you turn casual subscribers into loyal repeat customers when you offer your readers valuable insights and helpful content.

With this guide, you have everything you need to start your email marketing off on the right foot. Now, go ahead and take that first step!