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dos and don'ts for email marketing

Most companies don’t hand out Email Marketing 101 guides when you join the team. You’re probably busy enough figuring out all of the company’s account logins. And even for more seasoned marketers, there are always new ways of doing things and newer, more updated tools coming out.

To (hopefully) make your job a little easier, we’ve put together the Top 40 dos and don’ts for email marketing.

What to Do

1. Reach Out Right Away

Whenever someone signs up for your emails, send them an automated email immediately or within a few hours. Thank them for signing up, and consider sharing a discount or valuable content with them to get them engaged from the start.

This is also the time to set expectations with your contacts, like how often you plan to send out emails. Just be sure to follow through with what you promise.

2. Track Your Analytics

The only way you can tell if your marketing techniques are working is to measure results. Start by getting a baseline for all of the metrics you want to measure, such as open, click-through, subscription and bounce rates.

Once you’ve got that, you can see how and if each is improving. Set realistic goals, and track your progress. Your marketing automation platform should give you the analytic tools you need to manage your rates.

Pro tip: use a list cleaning service like Neverbounce to avoid problems with your bounce rate – especially if you’re using a list that’s more than 3 months old.

3. Create A Voice

We can be in another room and know if an Apple commercial is on TV. Aside from the fact that we’re commercial nerds, we can identify it by the music, sound effects, and verbiage used. Why? Because it sounds like Apple.

That’s the same type of effect your email marketing should have. It needs to evoke your brand, from the subject line all the way down to the footer. Creating a brand voice doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s important to craft one. Pull from your company values and overall tone to get on the right path.

4. Perform A/B Tests

Want to see which subject line, “from” field, or CTA (Call To Action) will get the most opens? No problem. Use A/B testing to optimize your campaign.

You can test a variety of components (think: subject lines, send times, or content), but only test one at a time so you get clear results. Once you figure out what is and isn’t working, apply that to the rest of your campaigns.

5. Know Your Audience

If your target customer is a middle-aged executive, sending an email with a silly GIF might not be the best choice. You need to understand who you are trying to reach and what type of email content they appreciate.

That goes for the tone and design of the emails, too. A business professional might appreciate an email with heavy content, whereas a casual shopper might expect more photos and less text.

6. Make Subscribing Easy

Joining a newsletter shouldn’t be a complicated maze of scrolling or links — unless you don’t want people to sign up. Make your CTAs clear and easy to find to encourage more people to sign up.

Also, be sure to clearly state what they are signing up for when they submit their email address. That will help reduce unsubscribes down the road.

7. Respond Quickly

Customer feedback is a valuable resource, and your email marketing campaign can be a great way to collect some. Maybe you email them a survey or just ask how you can improve. Consider adding a button linked to an email address, pre-populated with a subject line, to make it that much easier for people to respond.

And when they give you feedback, reply within 24 hours. Let them know you value their thoughts.

8. Know Your Brand

Your email marketing should be a seamless extension of your brand and style. You want your contacts to be able to identify your company by the look and feel of your communications.

Use consistent colors, fonts, logos, and designs that tie all of your materials together. That could mean using the same template on all of your emails or sticking to your core brand colors. 

If you don’t have a set of brand guidelines, have your design team put one together.

9. Remove Unengaged Contacts

You’re not helping anyone if you keep sending emails to people who aren’t reading them. They’re dragging down your open rates, and you’re annoying them with messages they don’t want.

Solve the problem for both sides by removing contacts that haven’t engaged with you in three to six months. It’s a quick fix to improve your open rates.

10. Be Easy on the Eyes

Use an uncluttered design that’s easy for your audience to read and navigate. That means sticking to black body text for the most part, creating a good flow, and having prominent CTAs.

Don’t try to squeeze too much content into an email. People want an easy viewing experience, not an overwhelming eyesore.

11. Think About the Sales Cycle

One way you can segment your contacts is by where they are in the sales cycle. Then, use that information to push them relevant information based on where they fall. Are they still evaluating your product or are they potentially ready to buy? Or have they already purchased something from you?

You’re going to get a better response if you’re giving them what they want. Schedule the newsletters to go out to them as they progress through the cycle.

12. Put Together a Calendar

Email marketing should be a marathon, not a sprint. You need to think about the long term and how to manage your strategy, and a calendar can keep you on pace.

Track when and what you’ll be sending out, and don’t forget about upcoming deals or holidays. A publishing calendar can be a lifesaver and also help you keep up with your schedule. You can create a spreadsheet with your topics, target audience and send dates, marking them off as you go along. A calendar will also help you when mapping out your email sequencing plan.

13. Grow Organically

We shouldn’t even have to say it, but here goes: Don’t buy email lists.

On top of the fact that most reputable email marketing platforms strictly prohibit them (Robly included), you’ll lose brand credibility, email people who don’t want to hear from you, and maybe even get blacklisted. Trust us when we tell you that digging yourself out of that hole is much harder than you think. Yes, it takes time to grow organically, but it’s well worth it.

14. Target Non Openers

Want to reach all of the people who didn’t open your campaign the first time around? Instead of manually going through your lists to see who didn’t view it, you can use Robly’s OpenGen technology.

It will resend your campaign one to 10 days after the initial send date with a different subject line of your choosing — and only to the people who didn’t open the first campaign. Then you can sit back and enjoy 50 percent more opens. Easy!

15. Write to a Friend

Imagine talking to a close friend. Now, think about how you talk or type to a customer. Different, right? There shouldn’t be that big of a divide.

We’re not saying you need to share personal details necessarily, but you do want your content to come across as personable and friendly. Leave out the marketing jargon, and talk to your customers like they are your friends. People want to do business with other people, and that will help you build that relationship.

16. Don’t Be So Serious

Along those same lines of creating a relationship with your customers, keep the content lighthearted and fun when you can. We know not all topics lend themselves to jokes or crazy cat memes, but there are plenty of ways to get creative with your emails.

Emails that make you laugh are the ones you remember the most. We can all think of a clever marketing campaign or two that stuck with us simply because it was smile-worthy. Just make sure you know your audience and what they’ll find funny.

17. Set Automations

You can’t do everything at once, so use email automations for the heavy lifting. Use your email marketing platform to send out emails to customers on their birthdays; after they complete a certain action, make a purchase, or downloaded a whitepaper on your website; left something in their cart; haven’t interacted with you in a certain amount of time; or dozens of other actions.

Email automation is an amazing tool that reaches customers right at the moment they need it, all without you having to lift a finger. You just need to set the parameters and watch it go.

18. Use Advanced Personalization

People aren’t going to be overly wowed anymore if you use their first name in an email. But what will get their attention is if your email seems to read their mind.

Maybe they left something in their cart, so you send an email with related products they might like. Or, they read a blog on how to bake the perfect pie, and you email them pie recipes. You get the idea.

That level of personalization is going to give them what they want and also improve your rates and conversions. Put big data to work for your marketing efforts.

19. Get Social

Be sure to include social media icons and links at the bottom of your campaigns so people can interact with you there. Don’t make them go searching for you, because odds are they won’t make the effort.

You can even add something like, “Follow us on Facebook for more updates and special deals.” Give them an incentive to follow you, and you’ll improve both your email and social numbers at the same time.

20. Pop On In

Pop-ups are an excellent tool to encourage newsletter signups. Robly offers an Exit-Intent and/or timed popup option that appears when someone is leaving your website, encouraging them to join your mailing list. Add a teaser for the valuable content or offers that they will receive by signing up.

They’re already engaging with your brand by being on your site, so close the deal with a pop-up at just the right moment.

What Not to Do

21. Don’t Skip Personalization

Any chance you get to personalize your communications, don’t let that opportunity go to waste. Everyone wants to feel like you’re talking to just them, and that will give you points if you can pull it off.

Use your subject line, segmented lists, and “from” field to give that personal touch your contacts will appreciate.

22. Don’t Send Infrequently

Gone are the days of monthly newsletters, at least for most. The majority go out daily, weekly, or biweekly, with the exact frequency depending on your industry and customer base. The majority of marketers send them two to three times a month.

So if you’re sending emails less often than that, you might be missing out on a chance to engage your contacts and risk the chance of them forgetting about you.

23. Don’t Send Too Often

I know, we just finished saying how you need to send your emails regularly. But too much of a good thing is a possibility — unless its puppies. You can never have too many puppies.

You don’t want your contacts to get overwhelmed with the number of emails you’re sending them. The average worker receives 121 emails a day, so you want to be respectful of their time and inbox clutter.

Are you getting a ton of unsubscribes when you send weekly as opposed to bi-weekly? It’s about finding a sweet spot with your contacts to see what works. You can also see what your competitors are doing to get an idea for what frequency is working.

24. Don’t Use Overwhelming Design

Big chunks of text, flashing images or poor font choices can be a big turnoff for people when they open an email. It isn’t just about what emails say but also how it’s said.

When it comes to email design, less is more. Break up text into small paragraphs, avoid distracting visual components, and stick to font families that match your brand’s style. Don’t use more than 2 or 3 fonts. Your email contacts (and their eyes) will thank you.

25. Don’t Send Poor-Quality Content

You can have an award-winning design, but if your content isn’t on the same level, your email marketing will suffer. You need something that’s going to catch — and keep — their attention.

Use a personal tone, and share content that provides value to your contacts. Also, use your content to increase click-through rates by giving them something they actually want to click on.

26. Don’t Have Bad Timing 

Does your audience read emails while drinking coffee in the mornings, or do they wait to catch up when they get home at night? You need to know when your contacts are reading their emails to get the best open and click rates.

To make sure you aren’t sending your campaigns at the wrong time, you can perform A/B testing and view hourly open rate reports.

In Robly, you can use our patent-pending Robly A.I. technology. This tool collects data about when your contacts are most likely to open their emails, then delivers your campaign when each subscriber is most likely to check their inbox. Talk about personalization.

27. Don’t Segment Improperly

No two contacts are the same. You shouldn’t send a welcome email explaining how to take advantage of your company’s benefits to a decades-old customer, for example. To keep that from happening and improve your campaigns, be sure to segment your contacts.

Break up your contacts into lists based off of things like their demographics, interests, purchase history or engagement level. That allows you to better personalize the content you’re sending them, improving their experience and your read rates.

28. Don’t Forget Your Goal

What action or result are you trying to achieve by sending your newsletter? Is there a CTA you want people to click, or are you sharing an important update with your list?

Each email campaign needs a purpose, which should impact the design, content, and approach. You want to make sure everything works together to meet that goal.

For example, to promote an event, make sure the essentials — date, time and location — are prominent in the email design. You could also include a photo from last year’s event, a logo, and a button to click on to buy tickets.

29. Don’t Be Mobile Unfriendly

If your emails aren’t optimized for mobile devices, you’re alienating the majority of your audience, considering 54 percent of emails are opened on mobile devices. And that’s a number that’s only going to continue to go up.

Be sure you’re using a responsive template in your messages, which will automatically fit whatever size screen they’re viewing on. Sticking with a simple design and using large CTA buttons that are easy to tap will also help.

You can even track how your contacts are opening your emails — whether it’s on their desktop, phone or tablet — with Robly’s device-specific reporting.

30. Don’t Attach Files

We’re well into the 21st century now, so everyone should have received the memo about not sending attachments. And if you insist on attaching something, it’s time to step away from the paperclip icon.

Anything you want to share with your contacts, whether it’s a signup form, image, PDF, survey, or other content, you can do with a link. Not only will that help keep your email out of their spam folder, but including a relevant link will improve your click-through rate and site traffic.

Most bulk email senders won’t let you attach files anyway, so this one should be easy to avoid.

31. Don’t Leaving Off the Opt-Out Option

Build credibility with your contacts, Internet service providers, and marketing automation platforms by including an opt-out button in your emails. It can be a simple unsubscribe link at the bottom of the message.

That will help keep you from being blacklisted and also improve your engagement metrics because you’re only sending to the people who want to receive your emails.

In Robly, this link is automatically included in the footer of every email you send out.

32. Don’t Use Boring Subject Lines

It’s likely that the first thing your contacts will see is the subject line. It needs to catch their eye and tell them why they should open the message. You’re working with 50 characters or fewer, so make them count.

Some of the best subject lines utilize urgency, deals, self-interest, curiosity, and humor. And if you’re messaging them about a seasonal sale or just want an excuse to add a smiley with sunglasses, you can also use an emoji in your subject line.

33. Don’t Use Large Images

A stellar image can boost your email interactions — but only if people can actually view the image.

If you use a massive, high-resolution photo in your design, it may not load properly or at all due to all that extra bandwidth it needs to load. Then all you’re left with is a grey, empty box and some confused readers.

Check the file size of any photo or logo you’re using in a message, and preview the email in desktop and mobile modes to make sure it shows up correctly.

34. Don’t Skip Proofreading

Whether your emails go to 12 or 12,000 contacts, you must edit it before sending it out. There’s nothing worse than hitting send, only to spot a typo or a broken link. Use spellcheck, and send yourself test emails to check all your links.

After you’ve given it a once (or twice or third)-over, send it to another team member to get their feedback. It’s easy to miss something if you’ve been staring at the message all day, and another set of eyes is always a bonus.

35. Don’t Be Long-Winded

You aren’t writing a novel, which is good because your audience doesn’t have the time or attention span for that in an email.

Get your message across in 50 to 125 words for the best results. You can link to additional content if you can’t fit everything in those parameters. 

This is also a great way to drive more traffic to your website. Share the first paragraph of an article or blog post, then add a button with a link to the remainder of the content on your website.

36. Don’t Anger the Spam Filter Gods

“No. 1 Brand in the World!!!”

“Guaranteed 100% Satisfaction!”

“Make Millions of Dollars FAST!”

And the list of cringe-worthy subject line goes on and on. Make sure you aren’t using words or phrases that are more likely to flag your message as spam.

Avoid extraneous punctuation and if you’re not familiar with what words are spammy, here’s a great resource.

37. Don’t Have Poor Text to Image Ratio

Most emails include a combination of content and images like photos, logos, or other design elements. While both are good to have, don’t overwhelm your contacts with too much of either one: All-image or all-text emails will likely go straight to spam.

Keeping about an 80:20 ratio of text to images is a pretty solid plan. Some users turn off images in their emails, so make sure your text would still make sense if the images weren’t there and add alt tags to all your images.

38. Don’t Use a Bland “From” Field

Another way to personalize your emails is with the “from” field. Don’t use an email address in this field – it won’t catch anyone’s attention or help them easily figure out who it’s from.

You can use a person’s name with the company, like “Adam from Robly,” or even a department name. Keep it consistent so they learn to recognize who it’s from.

39. Don’t Get Too Salesy

There’s a fine line between promotional and sales material, and you don’t want to cross it. People want to feel that an email informational and provides value — they don’t want to feel like an aggressive sales pitch is in their face. That will get a quick unsubscribe.

Don’t use sales jargon or try to oversell something – provide an irresistible offer that’s in line with where the person is in your sales funnel.

40. Don’t Forget to Get Permission

Consent is a necessary part of email marketing – make sure you’re getting the proper permission to send to your list before you load it into your email marketing platform and send to it. Put a signup form on your website, steer clear of purchased lists, and tread carefully when it comes to trade show or sweepstakes lists.

If you have an old or stale list, you should clean it first – but beware that even the best list cleaning services cannot prevent spam complaints, too many of which will tarnish your sending reputation and will send your emails straight to spam folders.

We’ve covered some of the top best practices for email marketing, but to truly be successful, you need to personalize your approach to your specific audience.

These tips will help you create a solid foundation for your email marketing strategy — and keep you from making some costly mistakes. You just need to tailor them through testing and analyzing your metrics to give your contacts the best experience. Basically, what works for one company might not bring the same results for another.

What are your dos and don’ts for email marketing? Share them in the comments section below!

By Lauren Dowdle

Lauren Dowdle is an award-winning writer and magazine editor based in Nashville, Tenn. Her nearly decade-long writing career has covered everything from landscaping to marketing.


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