Email marketing 101

Looking to enter your business into the world of email marketing? Find out why email works, what you can do with it and how you measure effectiveness.

Why email?

Social media may be the trendier option, but email remains the easiest and most effective way for small businesses to get in touch with customers – past, present and future.

Email comes with a long list of benefits. It helps you:

  • Bypass Google and avoid competing against millions of other search results
  • Build relationships with customers since emails are relatively unobtrusive
  • Proactively target customers with messages they’ve opted to receive
  • Measure success easily since you can see who is opening your emails and reading them

What's your plan?

Before you enthusiastically send out your first email, you need to set out a strategy that connects your emails to your overall business objectives. You should ask yourself:

  • What do you want from your email activity?
  • How will it support your business goals?
  • Who do you aim to reach?
  • Why would they care about your emails?
  • What do you want them to do next?
  • What sort of resource can you put in place so you’re able to deliver email content sustainably?
  • How will you measure success?

What email marketing system should you go with?

Picking a system is the trickiest thing for many small businesses. Here are a few questions to ask of every one that you’re looking at:

  • Does it have the features I need?
  • Can it support the volume of emails I’ll be sending?
  • Is it cost-effective if I’m sending a small amount?
  • Is there good technical support that’s always on hand?
  • Can I easily measure the success of my emails?
  • Are there in-built measurement tools?
  • Is the system interface easy to understand?

What emails do you want to send?

In the world of email, there are plenty of different formats you can experiment with, depending on your business and the content you’re best at producing.

  • Newsletters – they’re tried and tested, and give you a great chance to communicate who you are as a brand
  • Digests – they’re less time-consuming than newsletters, since they collate content from across your website
  • One-off – these dedicated emails notify users of a single thing, whether it be an offer, event or new white paper
  • Transactional – these are sent out during the buying process, from abandoned shopping carts to asking for feedback

How will you build your list?

There are 2 ways of doing it: organically or by buying a list legally.

  • Organic lists are slower to grow, but they give you qualified subscribers
  • Bought lists give you lots of email addresses quickly, but you might find that fewer users open your emails

Whether you go with a bought list or decide to grow it organically, there are a few ways to expand it over time:

  1. Make it easy to sign up – your email sign up should be promoted everywhere, from receipts to transactional emails
  2. Incentivise joining your list – offer a prize, or have email-only offers: anything to make your emails beneficial to users
  3. Promote your honesty – assure them there’s no spam on its way and head off any objections around online privacy
  4. Test your incentives – see what’s working and roll it out across your emails

Do you know the legal ins and outs?

There are a few laws around sending out marketing emails and building up a list. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Your recipient has to be able to clearly see this is a message with a commercial nature
  • You can’t hide or disguise the origin of the message
  • Unsubscribe addresses have to be visible and valid
  • Anyone receiving your email must have opted in – if you’ve bought a list, it’s up to you to see everyone in it opted in at some point

There are a couple of caveats to the opt-in rule.

One is that you can promote your business products to employees of a Limited Company. And secondly you can contact people who have bought something from you and promote similar products.

How often are you sending out emails?

Experimenting with frequency is a cost-effective and much-underrated tactic. Use triggered emails and seasonal spikes to experiment with sending more – for instance, at Christmas everyone is in shopping mode so people are happy to receive more emails.

Sending infrequently or irregularly is a key reason why people mark you as spam. But if you are going to send more you need to give value in return.

How do you measure success?

  • Delivery rate: Find out whether your campaign even stood a chance with this simple metric. It tells you how many of your emails made it to your users’ inboxes.
  • Open rate: See how many people opened your email and looked inside. It can help you judge the effectiveness of your subject lines.
  • Click-to-deliver rate: Learn whether your messages are getting across and users are clicking on links through to your website.
  • Profitability: Measure whether your emails are bringing you profit, by taking the revenue generated through the emails and dividing it by emails sent.

What are the next steps?

Once you’ve established yourself as an email marketer, you can look at taking your emails to the next level. You can look at segmenting your emails and delivering messages that are tailored to different groups.

Then there are triggered emails that go out automatically, once your user has perhaps:

  • Looked at something on your site
  • Signed up to an event or seminar
  • Abandoned their shopping cart
  • Not visited your site in a few months

There are many more examples, and each one delivers a timely and relevant email based on a user’s behaviour – so it’s an invaluable tool for small businesses.