Of all the tactics in a marketer's arsenal, traditional email marketing is still among the most efficient, measurable and profitable methods of converting prospects into paying customers.

However, where do you begin? You need to know the email marketing software options available to you, the laws governing fair email practices and some basic strategies that will yield the best return on investment (ROI).

In this guide, we break all those concepts down and provide some key takeaways to help small businesses form cohesive email marketing campaigns. Read on and you'll be well on your way to becoming an email marketing pro.

Step 1: Choose the Right Mass-Mailing Software

From MailChimp to Constant Contact, you have several options when it comes to mass-mailing software. When you begin down the email marketing road, it's hard to know which service will meet your needs. These components are what you should look for.

  • In-depth analytics: Make sure the software reports open rates, click-through rates, times on site and other key analytics that help determine successes and weaknesses. These numbers can even tell you the exact amount of revenue generated from each email campaign.
  • Filtering: You should be able to break your primary list into several little ones and filter your recipients by gender, age, location and other factors. This saves time and money, allowing you to tailor your messaging and targeting specific audiences' needs.
  • Contact integration: Make sure the software can sync with your website's contact list. Manually updating lists is outdated and time-consuming.
  • Scaling potential: Even if your list is small in the beginning, give it some room to grow. You might choose a good option for a small business, but you still may need to upgrade in the future.
  • Mobile compatibility: In the first quarter of 2014, 66 percent of emails were opened via smartphone or tablet, according to a report by Movable Ink. This number will only continue to grow. Make sure your emails look good on different screens.

Step 2: Grow Your Subscription List

What's the point of having e-blasts if you don't have an audience to send your messages to? If you're serious about launching an email marketing campaign, you need to incorporate the calls to action into every aspect of your business.

You'll also want to have an email capture box prominently displayed on your homepage. Use newsletters (see below), white papers, eBooks, software or other valuable content to compel visitors to provide their email information via your homepage's email capture box. Aside from those basics, consider the following five acquisition tactics.

  • Opt in at checkout: When customers purchase a product online, offer them an option where they can opt in to receive future updates and sales. That way, your email marketing efforts can be used to keep existing customers returning for more.
  • Add CTAs to blog posts: In the concluding paragraphs of your blog articles, include a call to action asking readers to sign up for more if they enjoyed the content they just read. More often than not, this is the first step in moving prospects into your sales funnel.
  • Advertise in store: If you have a brick-and-mortar location, set up a poster advertising the benefits of the newsletter. Believe it or not, this can be particularly effective if you have a lot of smartphone-savvy customers, because these posters can be designed with a QR code for easy opt-ins.
  • Keep subscription forms short: Don't ask subscribers to submit phone numbers, addresses or any other extraneous information. A simple name and email usually suffices. Remember, when it comes to convincing customers to disclose information, less is usually more.
  • Provide options: For more advanced businesses that send multiple e-blasts each month, let users opt in to receive weekly or monthly updates. This prevents burnout and reduces your unsubscribe rate.

Another option is to add a pop-up to your website, but these can be tricky. Follow these pop-up guidelines when trying to grow newsletter subscribers.

Step 3: Know Your Laws and Regulations

Before you hit the send button, familiarize yourself with the CAN-SPAM Act implemented by the Federal Trade Commission to protect email users across the country. Failure to follow these laws can cost your company up to $16,000 per offense, which adds up if you have hundreds of names on your email list. Just make sure you abide by each of the following rules with every message.

  • Include an address: Your message must include your valid physical address or P.O. Box where users can send you mail.
  • Don't use misleading headers or subject lines: Your "from" and reply information must be accurate and identify the company affiliated with the message. Your subject line should also accurately convey the content in the body of the email.
  • Label the message as an ad: Even your content newsletters need to be labeled as promotional material sent by your company.
  • Let your subscribers opt out: Tell subscribers clearly how they can opt out of receiving mail from you. When people want to opt out, honor their request immediately.
  • Never buy email lists: The only time you can legally email people is when they've asked to be added to your list. Never buy email lists or steal email addresses.
  • Remember you're responsible for third-party senders: If you hire an agency to handle your marketing and it fails to follow these regulations, you're liable because your name is on the marketing materials.

Step 4: Create Engaging Email Content

Now that you have the right software and understand the rules and regulations, it's time to fill the body of your email with interesting content. Consider sending these nine types of emails to turn leads and fans into paying customers.

Promotional Emails

In 2013, 44 percent of email recipients made at least one purchase based on a promotional email, according to Convince & Convert. The ability to directly send new products into the inboxes of current and potential customers has done wonders for the marketing world. In the body of your email, feel free to take a sales-like tone, but make sure to offer the recipients something they can't get on your website. For example, include a coupon or give them early access to a new product.

Bottom line: Approximately 40 percent of people check their emails six to 20 times a day, according to Media Literacy Clearinghouse. Promotional emails are a fast and effective way to reach them.

New-Arrival Emails

Product launches are some of the most exciting and stressful events that a business experiences   that is, they are exciting if all goes well. If the launch isn't as successful, consider a second push through your mailing list. The power of analytics means you can report the exact number of people your message was exposed to through unique opens and even track custom URLs to prove the e-blast generated sales.

Bottom line: The Blue Kangaroo Study found that 7 in 10 people say they used a coupon or discount in a marketing email in 2012. Use coupons and discounts to boost sales of a new product.


If your company has a blog   and more than 34 percent of Fortune 500 companies do   consider starting a newsletter to highlight your best posts and drive traffic to older ones. As with Google search results, articles that fall off the first page of your blog feed tend to disappear into history. However, you can revive them with a newsletter.

A weekly or monthly newsletter pulls old posts from a few weeks prior, and it helps maximize the potential of your site's content. The traffic to your site draws visitors into your sales funnel, which keeps older posts profitable.

Bottom line: Content is the lifeblood of any strong email marketing strategy. A 2012 CEB survey found that 44 percent of companies had a 40 percent or greater newsletter readership rate.

Holiday Emails

Small businesses might not be able to afford physical mailing for their Christmas and holiday cards; sending a digital one is a cheaper alternative. According to a study published in Human Nature, 14 percent of people are replacing their physical cards with e-cards this year, and businesses are beginning to follow this trend as well. Of course, this has the added benefit of driving readers to your website and potentially creating more holiday sales.

Bottom line: E-cards are cheaper and more socially accepted. In a single year, mailed greeting cards declined from 17.42 billion to 16.5 billion.

Reorder Emails

ExactTarget Marketing Cloud found that 27 percent of consumers said their favorite companies should invest in more email. Reorders are triggered when your customers are running low on a product or need a new service. For example, auto mechanics let their customers know every three months that it's time for an oil change. Returning customers also are more likely to become brand evangelists, assuming you keep them happy.

Bottom line: Data from marketing expert Laura Lake shows that repeat customers spend 33 percent more than new customers, so reorder emails are useful for preventing customers from shopping through your competition.

'We Miss You' Emails

Retailers lose $18 billion annually to shopping cart abandonment, according to Business Insider, but those same abandoners spend 55 percent more when they've been recovered through remarketing efforts. Setting up your eCommerce software to remarket to your customers who have either abandoned their carts or haven't visited your sites for several weeks or months is a proven effective way to bring them back and close the sale. Also offer a deal when you can   93 percent of online buyers are encouraged to purchase when shipping is free.

Bottom line: Use your email marketing campaign to bring people back. Returning site visitors typically account for 12 percent of your traffic.

Product Use Emails

Customers usually don't buy a product because they don't know what it is or how to use it. This is especially the case for new products entering an undefined market space. Create a video explaining the benefits and link back to the product pages. Your audience is more likely to embrace this tactic than you might otherwise think; Litmus found that 82 percent of consumers open emails from companies seeking their business.

Bottom line: Email is worth it, particularly when it comes to product use content. For every dollar spent on email marketing, the average ROI is $44.25.

Industry News

B2B companies thrive when they educate their customers, and one of the most topical ways to do that is with emails relating to industry news. Convince your customers that you know what you're doing more than your competition and they'll stick with you much longer. ExactTarget reports that 64 percent of decision-makers open their emails on their smartphones, so make your message mobile-friendly.

Bottom line: For a long-term sales funnel, prove that you know what you're talking about with industry news.

Testimonial Emails

Testimonials are among the most respected marketing tactics out there. Let your customers speak for you in a testimonial email. Approximately 66 percent of consumers have made a purchase based off a marketing message, according to the Direct Marketing Association, so what you say in your email can make or break a sale. Talk to some of your most loyal customers and ask them to help you with a testimonial.

Bottom line: Nielsen found that 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than other forms of marketing, meaning customer testimonials can be incredibly valuable to you.

Pick and choose which of these email strategies work best for your company; just be careful not to overload your customers. Let them opt into how many times a week they want to receive communication from you. If you send too much unwanted communication, your customers will be diving for the unsubscribe button instead of the purchase one.

Step 5: Following and Improving Your Analytics

You can send an email every day, but if no one opens it or clicks through to buy something, then it's a waste of your marketing budget. Consider these five key performance indicators (KPIs) as you look to evaluate your campaigns' success and profitability:

  • Unique opens: There's a significant difference between unique opens and total opens. Unique opens track the number of individuals who have opened your email, while total opens quantify the number of times a message was opened. The latter number inflates when people open the email multiple times and is less reliable than unique opens.
  • Unsubscribe rate: A low unsubscribe rate means that people want to see your content   or that you're emailing a list of zombie accounts. To ensure the people receiving your emails are quality leads, consider using a two-step opt-in process. Also, high unsubscribe rates on content types can help dictate the types of emails you send.
  • Click-through rate: Your email marketing is meant to be a driver to your blog and website. If you're including complete content in your message, consider just putting snippets and links to the full article. Many services require opening an email to delete it, which boosts the open rate. Given this, click-through rate is a more realistic KPI.
  • Conversion rate: This is possibly the most important metric in tracking the effectiveness of the goals you set. Let's say you're looking to convince readers to sign up for a webinar, make a purchase or download an eBook. The conversion rate is the number of desired actions achieved versus number of emails sent.
  • Email revenue: At the end of the day, you should be able to compare the cost of your email marketing to your profit goals. Whether you track sales with an exclusive coupon code or follow the path to purchase with a URL builder, make sure you're not losing money on this marketing tactic.

When one of these is weak, it's time for a change. You could be wasting time and money if you keep sending emails without measuring the effectiveness. Plus, you'll eventually have to defend this tactic during annual budget evaluations.

Step 6: Email Marketing Success

In some senses, email marketing is a cycle of wash, rinse, repeat. You should constantly be looking to improve your KPIs, increase your acquisition list and try new forms of content.

Annually, you should consider implementing a complete overhaul of your email marketing strategy. Have you outgrown the software? How can you better improve your templates? Clean out zombie emails and make sure you're getting the most bang for your buck.

Never stop improving on your email marketing strategies, and your engaged audiences will thank you.

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