25 email marketing tips to drive engagement and sales
It’s estimated that 4.03 billion people use email globally – over half the world’s population.
“There are three times more email accounts than Facebook and Twitter accounts combined”, explains Leah Miranda, senior email marketing manager at Campaign Monitor. “It’s easy to get caught up thinking about other, newer mediums for marketing but email is regularly producing return on investment (ROI) as high as $44 for every $1 spent, making it one of the most effective places to put your marketing spend.”
There are three times more email accounts than Facebook and Twitter accounts combined”- Leah Miranda, senior email marketing manager at Campaign Monitor
While email marketing remains one of the most direct and cost-effective ways to talk to your audience, the way success is measured is in for a shake-up.
In the past, open rates have typically been the key indicator of success, with the average open rate for all industries sitting at 18 per cent, according to Campaign Monitor’s 2021 benchmark report . Click-through rates are another oft-quoted measurement (and are 2.6 per cent across all industries on average).
A new way to measure email campaign success
However, a raft of privacy-focused changes, such as Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection Update (MPP) on September 21, will soon make it harder for companies to view users’ IP addresses and track when emails are being opened.
So, what does that mean for retailers, brands and small businesses? Miranda says that while it might “sound scary – don’t worry, email’s not dead. Apple’s MPP update is just another opportunity to help us reframe how we think about email marketing.”
Apple’s MPP update is just another opportunity to help us reframe how we think about email marketing.”- Leah Miranda, senior email marketing manager at Campaign Monitor
From now on, businesses need to start focusing on engagement – such as clicks to specific pages as well as conversions – rather than open rates.
Here are some tips on how to drive engagement – and conversions – direct from the experts:
1. Focus on your audience
“Ensure the content is customer-centric. This email is for them, not you, so deliver the content your customers want. In fact, I challenge you to surprise and delight your customers,” urges Miranda.
This is true for Shenae Boorman, email coordinator at Adore Beauty, which uses the email platform Emarsys. “Our customer is always front of mind when creating our email campaigns. We A/B test [see below] almost every single eDM (Electronic Direct Mail) campaign to ensure we are always learning and creating a meaningful, engaging customer experience.”
Ellie McDonald, head of social and email marketing at Are Media – Australia’s biggest magazine publishing business – agrees: “It’s critical to balance your intent and objectives with the user experience (UX) of the campaign itself”. She believes that: “providing your subscriber with a bespoke content experience, personalised just for them, guarantees higher click-through rates”.
2. A/B test
“From my experience, you should never make assumptions about your audience and always A/B test before making an informed decision,” recommends Boorman.
A/B testing (once referred to as ‘split testing’) is when two – or sometimes more – variations of an email are shown to users at random to test which performs best. It’s one of the best ways to discover what works for your audience – and what doesn’t.
McDonald also regularly A/B tests, particularly subject lines, noting that “learning from the performance of myriad subject lines will set you up for success for campaigns to come”.
3. Write effective subject lines
“Fact: a subject line can make or break your campaign,” says McDonald. “Keep things short and simple yet descriptive – you can say a lot in just a few words! Take the time to finesse your subject line so it’s as informative as it is eye-catching. You need to motivate your subscriber to open your campaign above the rest of the emails they receive on a daily basis.”
Keep things short and simple yet descriptive – you can say a lot in just a few words!”- Ellie McDonald, head of social and email marketing at Are Media
Gregory Zakowicz, email marketing expert at Omnisend, agrees: “Surveys have shown that 47 per cent of people open an email based on subject lines. This goes for your super fans, too. The average consumer receives around 115 emails per day, so you need to pique their interest.”
Boorman recommends “utilising pre-header space to include supporting messaging or create a sense of urgency. It’s also important to A/B test things like casing, emojis and personalisation and making sure subject line length is checked across multiple devices.”
- Keep it short – between 6-10 words, or 28-50 characters
- Create a sense of urgency
- Use relevant keywords
- Use buzzwords
- Look spammy
- Be aggressive
- Mislead your reader
4. Send from a known sender
Given the Apple privacy changes, it’s even more crucial for email recipients to know who you are.
“Be a known sender through a ‘from’ name your subscribers will recognise” advises Miranda. “Pro tip: Take it a step further and implement Google’s Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI) to help your subscribers see your logo in Gmail.”
To be a known sender, you need to authenticate your domain. If you use an email service provider, they’ll likely provide an authentication process for you – as Campaign Monitor does. If not, you may need some technical help to authenticate your email using either Sender Policy Framework (SPF), DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM), Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC), or all three. Google Workspace Admin Help provides detailed set up steps, however, this can be a bit tricky process.
5. Don’t use ‘noreply’ email addresses
How would you feel if you were a valued customer receiving an email from ‘noreply’? Avoid ‘noreply’ emails at all costs.
6. Optimise for mobile
“Make the email responsive,” instructs Zakowicz. “Ensure your email translates well, no matter what device is being used to view it.”
Ensure your email translates well, no matter what device is being used to view it.”- Gregory Zakowicz, email marketing expert at Omnisend
Miranda advises that the best way is to “create a mobile-first design to ensure your email looks great regardless of screen size. Balance your live text and images — aiming for a 60/40 split between your images and text. And don’t forget to add alt-text to your images to create a better experience if someone has their images turned off or they are using a screen-reader.”
7. Clear and clickable CTA
Zakowicz stresses you need a “clear call to action (CTA). Including too many CTAs is confusing. So is including nothing at all. [You need to] clearly direct subscribers where you want them to go with an easy-to-find CTA.”
“Optimise your emails to motivate your audience to click on [them]” advises Miranda. “Test button colours, placement, and the number of clickable elements.”
Pro tip: keep your CTA between two to five words, using active language and strong verbs – ‘Learn more’ or ‘Read now’.
8. Use buttons
Buttons are a top click-through driver, with Campaign Monitor reporting they can raise click-through rates by more than 25 per cent.
At Are Media, buttons are a tactic McDonald employs. “[Let’s] say you want to drive subscribers to redeem an offer on your website. I would create a clear, purposefully positioned CTA button instructing the subscriber to click the button to redeem said offer,” she explains. “There’s no need for ‘fluff’ when it comes to building eDM campaigns.”
9. Set clear goals
“Businesses often ignore the strategy behind email and start sending out impersonal, unsegmented emails hoping it will work. So how do you build an effective strategy to grow your business or impress your boss?” asks Miranda.
“First and foremost, define the goals for your email marketing efforts. Are you looking to increase sales or brand awareness? Acquire new customers or build stronger relationships with existing customers?” asks Miranda. “You need to make sure your email marketing objectives are clear and actionable.”
Make sure your email marketing objectives are clear and actionable.”- Leah Miranda, senior email marketing manager at Campaign Monitor
From there, every email should have a clear goal. “At Adore,” explains Boorman, “it’s important for us to have a clear goal for each email campaign – whether that’s driving conversion for a specific category, creating awareness for newly onboarded brands or increasing traffic to our on-site content – as it’s essential in deciding which metrics to focus on, and what type of content to include.”
McDonald emphasises, “It’s important to be clear about what you’re trying to get across and why you’re creating an email campaign in the first place. Setting your intention and objective for an email campaign from the get-go will help you hone in. A short, to-the-point and objective-driven eDM will maximise your open, click, and conversion rates. Because, if you think about it, if the intent of your email isn’t clear to you, it’s not going to be clear to your subscriber, either.”
10. Set a content hierarchy
“Create a visual hierarchy and sort your content” instructs Miranda. “You can do this through colours, typographic hierarchy, and white space, with dividing lines and coloured backgrounds. Put your content in an inverted pyramid, starting with the most important information. If you try to emphasise everything, you’ll end up emphasising nothing.”
11. Be unique
“I always tell my teams that the combination of data and creative intuition drives successful marketing strategies,” explains McDonald. “While I lean heavily (and quickly!) on past performance data – focusing on patterns across open rates, click-rates, opt outs, sign-ups and bounce rates – I believe unique, bespoke content experiences really elevate a campaign above the rest of the emails flooding a person’s inbox.”
12. Ensure your emails are branded
“Consistency is key. Hold fast to your brand guidelines. Your emails should be easily recognisable from your logo, fonts and colours,” advises Miranda.
13. Less is more – and length matters
People only skim emails – they aren’t there to read a novel. Make it sharp, succinct, engaging and straight to the point.
“Unless you’re running a long-form newsletter, your copy should be between 50 to 125 words. If you’re thinking that’s not enough, think about how long you spend reading a typical email, then apply that to your copy,” advises Miranda.
14. Segment your audience
Campaign Monitor reports that “marketers have noted a 760 per cent increase in revenue from segmented campaigns”.
“Adopting segmentation is integral to producing a higher return on investment (ROI)” advises Zakowicz. “The options to segment are vast, from creating groups based on the subscriber’s geographic location or interests, to their purchase behaviour or engagement with your brand. Once segments are created and subscribers are assigned, your ability to send pertinent messages skyrockets.”
Segmentation is key for Adore Beauty, as Boorman explains. “As a pure-play retailer with a number of brands, categories and price points, segmentation is critical to us. We want to make sure we’re delivering relevant content to our customer’s inboxes to drive engagement and retention. By using customer data to drive our segmentation strategy, we’ve seen significant uplifts across open rates, click-through rates and conversion rates.”
- Email engagement – open or click-through rates
- Using past purchase history
- Content interests or brand preferences
- Stage of the sales funnel
- Weather or location – eg promote jackets an unusually cold day; summer sales late in the season to sunny states or cities; spring outfits when the sun comes out
- Demographic information – eg age, gender, family status, occupation
McDonald advises, “Utilise subscriber segments strategically. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to speak to every single subscriber on your database. Depending on your sign-up data capture, you can tailor content based on a subscriber’s age, location, engagement rate and more. Creating a bespoke, tailored email experience for each subscriber will boost click-rates.”
Zakowicz stresses the importance of personalisation. “There are times where the promotional email is suitable for everyone. But more often than not, emails tailored to a particular audience – such as a particular demographic, or a group of customers with typically high average order values (AOVs) who haven’t purchased in a while – are more likely to engage. Research shows that 91 per cent of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that provide relevant offers.”
In fact, “63 per cent of consumers expect personalisation. Personalisation can manifest through targeted promotional campaigns, such as a [July] sale on swimsuits sent to subscribers residing in [warmer states], or a special gift for your most loyal customers” he explains.
Personalising content for each individual subscriber optimises click rates exponentially.”- Ellie McDonald, head of social and email marketing at Are Media
At Are Media, McDonald explains “Personalising content for each individual subscriber optimises click rates exponentially. Make your subscriber feel like you’re speaking directly to them, through tactics such as using their first name in your subject line. [And] adding a personalisation tag in the subject line boosts engagement, too.”
Using an email service provider (ESP), like Omnisend or Campaign Monitor, makes it easy to personalise emails.
16. Send a welcome email
Miranda explains that one of the common mistakes businesses make is “not sending welcome emails to new subscribers”.
“Your brand recognition will never be higher than at this exact moment, which is why welcome emails boast an impressive five times more clicks than regular email campaigns,” she explains. “Make the most of your welcome emails by creating specialised offers or setting expectations of what a subscriber can expect from your newsletter.”
17. Set up automated trigger emails
Your welcome email or ‘welcome series’ should be set up as an automated ‘trigger’ email.
“Marketers should prioritise automated messages (those immediately triggered by a user’s behaviour, such as subscribing to the brand’s communications or abandoning a shopping cart)” explains Zakowicz.
Automated emails show a higher rate of return, with less work required than manually scheduled promotional campaigns.”- Gregory Zakowicz, email marketing expert at Omnisend
“Automated emails show an even higher rate of return, with less work required than manually scheduled promotional campaigns. [Our] customers sent more than 10 billion emails during the first half of 2021, and conversion rates for promotional campaigns were 6.82 per cent, while automated messages converted at 33.19 per cent.”
Meaning “automations made up just 2.4 per cent of sends but netted 32 per cent of all email marketing orders,” emphasises Zakowicz. “We can’t stress enough the immense power of workflows in addressing the customer at their point in the journey and thus driving sales.”
Effective automated trigger emails:
- Welcome series
- Abandoning cart series
- Reactivating inactive subscribers’ series
- Product refills series
At vintage clothing retailer Restated Vintage, customers are sent an automated ‘thank you’ email featuring a photo of the team after every order. “Things like that make the brand very personable to people,” says founder Ben Randall.
18. Include value-adds
“To help separate yourself from the pack, highlight the additional value your company brings. Include features like free shipping, customer support details and extended return policies,” recommends Zakowicz.
19. Manage your list
He also advises keeping “a clean list”. Remove hard bounces (email addresses that no longer exist) and unsubscribers (if it doesn’t occur automatically). Removing unsubscribers from your list ensures your metrics are more accurate, and not removing them to keep email list numbers up is pointless.
Zakowicz explains, “A high-quality subscriber list is important for keeping yourself off an email blacklist that blocks your messages. Since we can’t rid lists of non-openers anymore [due to privacy changes impacting the ability to see open rates], list-cleaning strategies should be formulated by analysing other metrics that remain available, like click rates or purchase history.”
I’d rather have 500 engaged subscribers than 500,000 disengaged people on a list.”- Leah Miranda, senior email marketing manager at Campaign Monitor
As Miranda reinforces, “While list size and growth are important, it’s best to focus on engagement. I’d rather have 500 engaged subscribers than 500,000 disengaged people on a list.”
Filter out inactive subscribers by sending re-engagement emails with a special offer to pique their interest. If that fails, consider simply asking whether they still want to hear from you.
20. Don’t buy lists
“There is not enough space for me to list why this is such a bad idea,” says Miranda. “Grow your lists organically or through paid ads, because at the end of the day, you want people in your database that actually want to hear from you.”
21. Invest in an email service tool
“Using an Email Service Provider (ESP), like Campaign Monitor, is the best way to get the most out of email marketing” advises Miranda. “From beautiful email templates to easy-but-powerful email automation journeys and advanced campaign reporting, Campaign Monitor gives marketers everything they need to start sending engaging, personalised emails that get results.”
22. Utilise analytics
She also advises using “tools like Google Analytics to track how many people are going to your site from your campaigns”.
Google Analytics is free and an easy way to expertly track your click-throughs and the website traffic generated from your email campaigns.
23. Implement a double opt-in and preferences centre
Having a double opt-in will keep your data cleaner and improve delivery rates as you avoid adding inactive or incorrect email addresses to your list.
Pairing it with a preference centre at the start of the funnel will enable you to segment more effectively immediately. Alternatively, you can offer preferences as an alternative option to unsubscribing.
24. Build an informed contact strategy
“Create a comprehensive contact plan to help you determine the who, what, where, and when of your email strategy,” recommends Miranda. “Map out the full subscriber journey, beginning with the top of your funnel, keeping in mind you’ll probably have several different funnels for different types of customers or subscribers.”
The right email frequency is an important part of increasing and maintaining engagement, too, as is choosing the right day and time.
“It’s important to take into consideration the long-term impacts of a high-frequency email calendar,” recommends Boorman. “At Adore, we’ve found it invaluable to utilise segmentation, audience testing and refining our contact strategy to find the sweet spot for our customer database.”
However, Zakowicz reminds us that, “since email is opt-in, you know you’re reaching someone who wants to hear from you, and quite regularly. More than three-quarters of subscribers want to hear from a brand at least once a week, while 51.9 per cent prefer greater email frequency.”
25. Test your emails
It may sound basic, but nothing deters readers more than a broken link when they want to click. Similarly, typos and mistakes distract readers. Proofread and test each email to ensure it’s responsive, your subject line fits, that spelling and grammar are correct, and that all links are working.
Creating a successful email campaign is an art.”- Ellie McDonald, head of social and email marketing at Are Media
You can also send a test email to free platforms like mail-tester.com, which offer feedback on factors like readability, image-to-text ratios, and the likelihood that an email will get caught in spam filters.
As McDonald says, “creating a successful email campaign truly, is an art.” But if you can get it right, the benefits are endless – after all, there’s over four billion people waiting to subscribe…
Isabel Sandercock-Brown is a freelance writer and content marketer
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