Ergo Email

by Patricia Fitzgerald

You get dozens of them every day. Emails promoting last-minutes sales, petitions to sign, events to attend, Nigerian prince’s fortunes to be had, herbal supplements guaranteed to enlarge (or shrink) certain anatomical regions. They clutter your inbox, jam your spam filter, and distract you from deadlines. In spite of its ability to annoy, email marketing works. That is, when done right.

And there are reasons businesses keep sending us all those emails. For starters, they’re a low-cost and relatively low-effort way to reach lots of customers in one fell swoop. This small investment generates a big return, too. According to a leading email automator, businesses see a whopping 4400 percent return for every $1 spent on emails. That a lot of cha-ching-per-click.

Even with the proliferation of Facebook and Twitter, email is still more effective than social media in terms of response rates. Consider this: According to Forrester research, only about 2 percent of your Facebook fans actually see your posts in their newsfeed. Ninety percent of emails, on the other hand, get delivered into the recipient’s inbox where they’re much more likely to be noticed — and opened. Senders are also six times more likely to get a click-through from an email than from a tweet.

And email is 40 times more likely to capture new customers than Facebook or Twitter. Compared with social media and direct mail, email is more effective in generating sales with an amazingly high 66 percent conversion rate.

That all sounds great, right? But think about your own experience with emails from the myriad businesses who want you to buy something. How many do you bother to read? How many do you instantly classify as junk and delete? Simply sending an email is not a guarantee that you’ll get a sale or even a click.

Over the years, we’ve seen what works — and what doesn’t — in email marketing. For the sake of this post, we’ll focus on the “what works” part.

Spam I am (not)

The last thing you want is for your email to be judged as junk. So make sure you’re complying with the Federal Government's CAN SPAM guidelines. It’s not just legally required, it’s also good business practice that keeps your credibility intact. Here are a few key ways to avoid being ID’d as spam:

  • Be who you say you are, and use your real company name and email address when you send out email.
  • Don’t be misleading with your subject line, i.e. claim you’re selling something you ain’t.
  • Let your readers know that they’re looking at an advertising or solicitation.
  • Give recipients the ability to unsubscribe from your email list, and then respect that request when they do.
  • Include your business’s physical address somewhere in the email.

Be subjective

Your subject line has one job: To get your recipients to open the dang email. So think about the best way to do that (while still following the CAN SPAM guidelines above).

We find shorter subject lines — 50 characters or less — have the highest open rates. Any longer, and the subject line gets truncated in most receipients’ email apps. Subjects lines can be intriguing (to play on your customers’ curiosity) or direct (for those recipients who don’t want to mess around). It depends on who’s on your list and what you have to sell. We suggest trying different subject-line approaches to see what gets the best open rates.

Perhaps surprisingly, the ALL CAPS subject lines (i.e. URGENT: READ NOW!!!) get a 30 percent lower response rate, according to a recent survey. We find being friendly, honest, and not-spammy is the way to go.

Sneak peek

Many iOS and Android email apps have something known as preview text along with the subject line that provides a sneak peek of the email content. Preview text can be pulled from the first few lines of text in your email, but some email automation services also let you customize it. Take advantage of this feature to provide even more incentive for opening the email.

Image isn’t everything

Be judicious with your images, since many email applications and platforms don’t support them — leaving ugly blank spaces when the pretty pictures don’t load. Instead, rely on HTML (HyperText Markup Language) — or code — to spruce up your emails and make them visually appealing. When properly coded, images that don’t load will display text in their place, ideally linking to a specific page on your website.

That being said, you do want your emails to look good — preferably with a bit of branding that’s unique to you. We’ll get into that toward the end of this post, when we talk about automated email services.

Think links

When people see a link, their first urge is to click it. Sprinkle links throughout your email, and make them easy to find and obviously linkable. Use these links to drive recipients to a specific page on your website, or other online content you want them to see.

Short and sweet

When it comes to the body copy of your email, less is more. Keep the copy short and easy to scan, with small paragraphs and maybe even bullet points. If you have more to say, use brief teaser copy (a few lines at most) and then link to the full copy housed elsewhere — say, on your website.

Mobilize it

Keep in mind that many of your recipients will likely be looking at your email on their smart phone. According to research, over 50 percent of opened emails are opened on mobile devices. If an email doesn’t look good on that mobile device, 71 percent of recipients will delete it. Sixteen percent will go one step further and unsubscribe.

On the upside, 23 percent of readers who open an email on a mobile device will open it again later. If they open it again while at their computers, 65 percent of recipients are more likely to click on links provided in the email content. In other words, make sure your emails work well on smart phones and other mobile devices as well as desktops and laptops. Here’s some good information on how to create responsive emails that work on multiple platforms.

Get a goal

The most effective emails have a purpose. So before you create it, think about what you want your email to accomplish. Do you want to drive sales of a particular product? Showcase a recent project? Increase attendance at a specific event? Direct people to your website? Share an update? Encourage customers to come back to your store? Identify a specific goal and focus your email on achieving just that.

Transaction emails — those triggered by an action the recipient took such as signing up to receive information — typically have the highest response rate. In fact, transactional emails are opened and clicked on eight times more frequently than any other type of email and can generate up to six times more revenue.

Promotional emails — those promoting a discount, sale, or event, for example — are another common category. People tend to be more responsive to promotions they receive via email, versus those they see on social media. In fact, 72 percent of people prefer to receive promotional email content, compared to 17 percent who prefer promotions on social media.

Call to action

Whatever goal you have for your email, make sure you include a clear call to action. Buy now and save 25 percent. RSVP today to save your spot. Visit our website to learn more. Show this email at our store for a free thingamajig. Whatever action you want your recipient to take, make it easy to see, understand, and do.

Make It meaningful

We’ll address how to build your email list (and keep it current) on another post. But once you do have your list in place, make sure the email you send to the folks on that list is relevant to them. There are a few ways to go about doing that.

If you’re able to segment your list by audience categories, send different variations of the email targeted to those different segments. So let’s say you have a list of current customers and another list of prospects who aren’t yet customers. For your current customers, send emails that reward them for their repeat business. For prospects, send a welcome email that offers a discount on their first purchase.

Or say you’re an event planner who does a variety of events. You’ll want to send different emails to individuals interested in wedding planning, than you do to companies interested in corporate retreats. In a recent survey, 74 percent of online customers expressed frustration when they’re sent content that doesn’t reflect their interests. So whenever possible, customize your emails for the audience you’re sending them to.

Be real

Whether you personalize content or not, make sure your emails are personable. Email as a medium is conversational and informal. Your emails should read like they’re coming from a person, not a robot or anonymous source. So give them some personality. Save the boring corporate-speak for PowerPoints.

Be reachable

Give your recipients multiple ways to reach you. We always recommend including a phone number, a link to an email address you check often, and links to your social media pages as well. Invite your recipients to share the email with anyone else who might be interested, and provide them with a link to do so.

Test run

Before you send any email to everyone on your list, first send a test run to someone on your staff. Have them check for broken links, funky images, typos, and anything else that could reflect badly on you and prompt recipients to disregard, delete, or unsubscribe.

Stay in touch

While you don’t want to be annoying, you do want to send emails with some regularity — weekly if you have frequent deals and/or updates, and monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly if you plan on sending out more of an e-newsletter or recap type of email. It’s a good idea to set up a schedule for your email mailings to stay on track.

You can also try pinpointing a time of day when you think your recipients are most likely to be checking and opening emails. For instance, if your primary customers are working moms, consider sending your emails later in the evening — after dinner, baths and bedtime when moms have downtown to check emails while finishing off a bottle of well-deserved wine.

Geek out

You may not get a 4400 percent return on your email investment, but you’ll never know if you don’t track the results. Put on your nerd hat and take note of how many recipients actually open the emails you send, how many click on the links in your emails, and which links they’re clicking on. You’ll also want to track the number of recipients who unsubscribe from your email list along with bounce rates (emails that get sent back to you, unopened).

Go it alone, or go with a service?

Now comes the task of actually creating your emails. The question is: do you use your Outlook Express or whatever to send out text-only emails (bo-ring)? Or do you have the chops to hand-code more attractive and attention-grabbing emails yourself?

If the answer to either is “no,” then you might want to look into using an online service that automates the email-creation process for you. That’s what we do.

There are a lot of email automation services out there to choose from — some better than others. We’ve tried a bunch, and our favorite by far is MailChimp. Used by Fortune 500s and small businesses alike, MailChimp offers a bevy of easy-to-use, flexible features that we — and our clients — appreciate. Here are just some of them.

  • MailChimp’s simple drag-and-drop tools make it easy to create good-looking emails branded for you. They have a decent number of templates that are easy to customize, and that look great. You can check out their gallery here.

  • With MailChimp, you can target your emails to recipients based on their preferences, actions they’ve taken (or haven’t taken), and previous purchases. So they’re getting content that actually interests them.
  • No need to worry about CAN SPAM compliance; MailChimp automatically does that that for you including adding an unsubscribe link.
  • MailChimp works with common e-commerce systems like Shopify, which means you can create targeted emails, send out product-purchase follow ups, and let customers know when an item they want is in stock. A great feature for online stores.

  • MailChimp comes with attractive reports that let you track open rates, clicks, bounces, unsubcribes, online orders, and more. Their reports are super simple to decipher, even for us creative types.

  • Easy-to-use calendar features let you schedule emails ahead of time, and even account for different time zones. They also have resources that help you identify the best times to send emails for optimal open rates.

  • MailChimp also makes it easy to manage your email list. The service automatically scrubs (removes) emails that are no longer valid or get bounced back.

There’s a lot more we like about MailChimp. We encourage you to explore their website for yourself. And if you need help with email marketing strategies or content, we encourage you to give us a shout. Why, you can even send us an email. We promise to open it.

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