Brenda Peterson
Brenda Peterson
Email Marketing Beginner’s Guide: Boosting Conversions the Old School Way
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Gone are the times when email was the only way to communicate online. Sending electronic letters the good old fashioned way is being gradually replaced by instant personal messaging and posting on social media.

Remember when people were grumbling about the lack of personal touch and intimacy in emails as opposed to traditional hand-written letters? Well, as ironic as it may sound, today emailing seems to be the most personal and intimate way of online correspondence.

Many argue that email is getting outdated and inefficient. But you know what? It is still in demand. Emailing is actively used not only for interpersonal communication but for business purposes as well. Email marketing is still afloat and doing pretty well despite the pervasive rumours claiming it is dead as a dodo.

In fact, 73% of expert marketers acknowledge that email is still vital for their business, helping to build an effective conversion funnel. This said, turning a blind eye to email is simply a waste of a good opportunity to boost your business.

But first things first – this is a beginner’s guide after all. So before we dig deeper, let’s figure out what email marketing is all about.

What is email marketing?

In its basic sense, email marketing is a way of promoting products or services through sending electronic letters to potential customers. But on a more advanced level, it is rather a method of building trustful relationships between a brand and its prospects with the eventual goal of converting the latter into long-term clients.

When you approach email marketing, it is very important to understand that the whole idea is not about barraging your email list with as many offers as you can possibly come up with. Ideally, the goal of email marketing is keeping in touch with people who might be interested in you, reminding them from time to time that you’re still there, and keeping your audience informed… while not forgetting to place a convincing call-to-action button leading to your website, of course. If you get it right and stay consistent, your efforts will be fairly rewarded by significant revenue increase.

As a matter of fact, 80% of retailers believe that email marketing is still the most powerful strategy for customer retention. Just to be clear, social media is lagging behind by 36%. Furthermore, email remains the preferred channel of communication for 86% of businesses in a B2B segment. These stats demonstrate that email marketing is not just alive and well, it is actually surpassing the almighty social media in terms of both effectiveness and popularity!

Advantages of email marketing

Alright now, email marketing should clearly not be taken lightly. But what makes it so remarkable?

    • Reach: Email is used by 94% of all Internet users, and only 61% are on social media; this means you have plenty of opportunities to reach out to your potential customers and be heard anywhere in the world.
    • Efficiency: 60% of buyers agree that marketing emails influence their decision to make a purchase; so why not give YOUR audience an extra incentive to buy YOUR product?
    • Cost: Email marketing is indeed a very cost-effective solution. It is estimated that with the right approach its ROI can reach as much as $38 per one dollar spent. Impressive, isn’t it?
    • Personalization: You can send customers highly personalized emails based on their buying habits and preferences, behavior on your website, demographic, etc. By customizing the design and content of your emails, you can successfully get your message across to different audience groups.
    • Automation: There are plenty of software solutions to automate your email marketing efforts so you don’t have to spend countless hours on sending every email manually. If you manage to set everything up correctly, emailing your customers will require the minimum of your involvement.
  • Measurability: Analyzing the effectiveness of your email campaign is actually very easy. With accurate analytic software available in abundance these days, you can track how many emails are opened, rejected or tagged as spam; see if people actually read your messages and click on the links provided by you; compare your emails in terms of their performance, etc. This allows you to figure out what works well for your audience and what needs improvement.

inboxGetting ready for your first email campaign

Before launching into action and starting your email campaign, it is important to get things straight and go through some preparations.

  1. Define your goals

Although this step might seem a bit too theoretic at the first glance, it is strongly recommended to take a moment and put some thought into your marketing goals. Depending on your objectives, you will plan your further strategy – it’s as simple as that. What type of campaigns are you going to employ? What content will you provide? What audience do you want to engage? And how are you going to measure your success? All these questions can be answered only by determining your goals.

Depending on your business, your objectives can be the following:

    • Driving more traffic to your website: If you’re planning to make money from ads, for example, you’ll want more people to visit your site. Therefore, your strategy will be mostly revolving around newsletters with links, blog updates, weekly/monthly digests, and other types of data-rich content.
    • Increasing your sales: Are you dealing with e-commerce? Then, you need more buyers! Send them emails highlighting your new products, offer special deals and discounts, run email promotions, etc.
    • Collecting donations: In case you’re a charity organization or NGO, you’ll be interested in raising funds for your charitable missions. Email is a great way to educate your potential donors, draw public attention to relevant issues, and ask for donations.
  • Raising awareness: Does your income depend on the number of people that know about your activities? Are you organizing public events? Do you make money from ticket sales? In all these cases, you need to keep people informed on what is coming up on the horizon. Thus, announcements, invitations, and updates will be at the core of your email campaign.
  1. Build your email list

Before you can send your emails to anybody, you have to form your first email list. It should incorporate as many email addresses of people who might be interested in becoming your customers as you can get hold of. Unless you already have them, there’s no other choice but generating those leads from scratch.

To capture an email address, you have to persuade its owner to share it willingly. This is called ‘opt-in’, meaning that a user is opting to join your email list and giving you a permission to send emails to this particular address. Opt-in lists are much more effective than bulk emailing which is usually considered as spam. Due to the abundance of anti-spam filters and strict regulations implemented by email providers, you can expect no more than 20% of your emails to be eventually delivered to the inbox unless you get whitelisted.

To get the permissions, give people an incentive to join in. But how to do it? First, create a powerful lead magnet by promising users something of value in return for an email address. There are few things you can offer:

    • Quality content: There are plenty of useful materials you can come up with, including free downloads, ebooks, white papers, brochures, catalogs, educational articles, links to informative blog posts, update lists, regular digests, etc.
    • Discounts: Well, this is a no-brainer, really; it’s no secret that people love when you cut down the prices, especially when you do it exclusively for them. Make an offer they won’t be able to resist!
  • Industry-specific bonuses: You are free to be as creative as you can. Think whether there is something special you can offer to your audience: a free shipping, access to your software beta, small but pleasant gift accompanying the first purchase, etc.

Apart from a generous offer, it is vital to make it easy to subscribe. Create a nice opt-in form on your website and don’t forget to place a noticeable call-to-action button to be readily available for users and prompt them to take the next step toward your brand. Generally, the best place for a subscription button is in a page header/footer or slider. Just make it visible and appealing.

While creating an opt-in, it is important to be both descriptive and concise. Try not to annoy users with big chunks of text but make sure you are specific about the details. Mention up-front what exactly they will get in exchange for their email address, explain when and how often they can expect an email from you.

If you do all these things right, your email list will grow beyond your wildest expectations.audience

  1. Segment your audience

Audience segmentation is a process of dividing your email list into multiple target groups according to their demographics, buying habits, interests, and personal preferences. For example, you can create several mailing lists to offer different content types to different groups of the audience or send updates about certain products specifically to those who might be interested in them.

The practice shows that one-for-all approach doesn’t really work for email marketing. Some of your clients will be happy to receive newsletters, some will be annoyed with anything unrelated to discounts, some will be only interested in product updates. As a marketer, you must take all these nuances into account and adjust your strategy accordingly. For your email campaign to be successful, it must be, first and foremost, relevant to every subscriber on the list.

  1. Plan your content

Defining the right type of content is crucial to the success of your campaign. Of course, your choice depends on your goals, audience, and niche you work in. Think what your customers would like to find in their inbox, what information they would consider useful.

There are few typical options:

    • Newsletters – regular emails containing valuable information like product updates, industry insights, articles, reviews, useful links, etc. Newsletters can also garner engagement through embedded videos, photos, and other types of media content. However, a good newsletter is not just an email packed with raw data. It should also include a thoughtful introduction, personal message, and instruction about further actions (to take a user one step closer to a conversion).
    • Product offers – quite straightforward marketing emails showcasing your products. The aim of these emails is directly boosting your sales. That’s why it is important to encourage recipients to click through to your website and make a purchase. You can stimulate the process by including appealing product photos and convincing descriptions, as well as offering discounts. And don’t forget about a vivid call-to-action button!
    • Announcements – emails that let people know about something they might be interested in, be it a release of a new product, event, special deal, service, etc. A good announcement must be clear, inviting, and detailed. It is important to mention a subject matter, time, place, special conditions and so on.
  • Invitations – emails that offer an opportunity to attend an event. Events can take place both in real life and online. Invitations help to increase customer loyalty by showing that you really care about your clients and want to meet them in person or cooperate on a mutually beneficial cause. But don’t forget to include an easy RSVP, especially for real-life events.

When you decide what kind of emails to send, prepare a schedule that will allow you to be consistent and launch mailouts exactly when your customers expect them.

  1. Choose an email automation solution

To prepare, customize, and manage your email campaigns effectively, you will inevitably need a reliable email automation tool (an autoresponder). The good news is that there are plenty of those on the market (MailChimp, Aweber, GetResponse, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact to name a few), so the only thing you have to do is select the one that meets your personal requirements.

A decent autoresponder can save you a lot of time and trouble by minimizing manual operations. With its help, you can schedule your emails, manage multiple email lists, automatically send welcoming letters and follow-ups, etc.

As a matter of fact, websites created on Ning can benefit from the opportunity to be seamlessly integrated with MailChimp, one of the world’s leaders in email automation. This means that Ning network creators can run their email campaigns with maximum effectiveness.


Tips for building successful email marketing campaigns

Now when you know how to prepare for your first email marketing campaign, it’s time to get down to business. But there are still some important things to know to guarantee success. Here are some basic recommendations you might find useful while running your campaign:

  1. Be respectful and friendly: Keep in mind that email inbox is a more private place than, for example, an account on social media. That’s why it is important to show respect to this privacy and refrain from being too obtrusive. Make sure your emails are written in a friendly and diplomatic tone.
  2. Don’t buy email lists: As mentioned before in this article, try to build an opt-in list where prospects join by consent. In this way, the chances that your emails will be taken as spam will significantly decrease.
  3. Remember to send the first follow-up email: When somebody subscribes to your emails, let them know you care and express your gratitude. Just write a couple of friendly and welcoming lines to show your appreciation. You can also provide more details about your business and explain what kind of letters a new subscriber can expect to receive and how often.
  4. Avoid blind offers: If you send your customers lots of product offers or updates, do your best not to send one and the same email to everybody on your list. Make your offer personalized. For example, if a customer has already bought something at your online store, offer products related to the previous purchase.
  5. Communicate before selling: Imagine someone you don’t even know appearing at your doorstep and persuading you to buy something. What would your reaction be? Most likely, you’d be annoyed. The same goes for emails. Start with earning some trust and credibility by providing your prospects with some engaging content before you make your first offer.
  6. Send emails consistently but not too often: Email marketing is aimed at cultivating communication, rather than peddling the stuff. If you are too pushy with your emails, you will be considered a spammer. People are extremely susceptible to spam: 70% of all spam complaints are attributed namely to marketing emails. That’s why cautiousness is pretty much a cornerstone of any email campaign.
  7. Make sure your emails are mobile-optimized: Around 41% of emails are opened on mobile devices. If you don’t want to lose this much of your audience, make your emails look as good on smartphones and tablets as on a desktop.
  8. Pay attention to the design of your emails: Not only should your emails look aesthetically appealing. They must convey the identity of your brand. Therefore, it is recommended to unify the design of emails so that users can associate it with your brand. Don’t forget to add your own logo and try to develop your own visual style.
  9. Make conversion simple: Sustaining communication with your customers via email is extremely important, but don’t forget that your primary goal is increasing the conversion rate and promoting sales. While including a personal message in your emails, remember to provide a convincing and visually discernible button
  10. Keep your emails brief yet informative: An average user’s attention span is very short so try not to overburden your readers with huge walls of text. Be concise and get to business as soon as possible. Make a key statement at the very beginning and add details as you go along. Finish your email with a clear instruction for further actions (a call-to-action button or link to your website). The ideal length of your standard marketing message shouldn’t exceed 124 words.
  11. Put some thought into your subject line: A huge number of marketing emails end up in the trash. That’s why it is so important to come up with a subject line that would convince users to open your email.
  12. Make use of media content: Add some nice images or product photos to your emails to make them more eye-pleasing. Videos are also a great medium to enhance engagement, especially the personalized ones. It is reported that personalized videos included in emails are capable of boosting conversions by 500%.
  13. Interactivity is the key: The top trend in email marketing these days is interactive emails as they increase the click-to-open rate by 73%.
  14. Mind the timing: The best time to send emails is in the middle of a week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday) before 10-11 am. It is estimated that most people check their inbox at around this time.  
  15. Use both email and social media: When you promote your products, it is worth combining several marketing approaches. So if you focus on email, don’t give up on social media. Combining these two will bring you much more impressive results.

Following email analytics

Once an email campaign is launched, another issue to take care of is measuring how successful it is. To determine whether your efforts are effective, you’ll have to collect analytical data that will allow you to figure out where your weak points are.

Email analytics can be tracked through your email marketing software or website analytics tools like Google Analytics. There are few key metrics you should closely follow:

    • Open rate – the percentage of people who actually opened your email;
    • Click through rate (CTR) – the percentage of users who opened your email and clicked on the link provided inside;
    • Unsubscribe rate – the percentage of users who opted-out from your email list;
    • Bounces – the number of emails that could not reach the inbox for various reasons;
  • Spam complaints – the number of emails which were tagged as spam by your recipients.

There are certainly more metrics to take into account, but these are the most important and should be monitored all the time. If you manage to draw the right conclusions out of your email analytics and adjust your strategy accordingly, your chances to boost conversions will imminently grow.

Final words

Email marketing is not dead. It is still a powerful tool every business should utilize in order to reach out to the target audience, increase the conversion rate, and boost sales.

However, achieving great results and hitting the maximum ROI is possible only when you carefully plan your actions and constantly work on understanding your customers’ habits and preferences. There is a share of a trial and error you cannot avoid, but if you manage to adapt, email can become your most faithful companion on the path to success.

Brenda Peterson

Brenda is Technical Specialist at Ning