Email Marketing Guide: The skinny on successful mail campaigns

Written by Zaki Usman.

Email marketing is a cost-effective and a robust way to approach business prospects. It’s no wonder so many vendors from iContact, ConstantContact, Campaigner, VerticalResponse, MailChimp amongst hundreds of others operate in this domain. But with some much attention, also comes confusion. To overcome this I’m including some factors I consider when rolling out my email marketing campaigns.

Which email marketing service to use?

If you are still short-listing service providers, then ask yourself the following:
  • How reputable is this service? (e.g. waste of money if your service provider is blacklisted for spam.)
  • How well does the service interface with your CRM system? (e.g. SalesForce)
  • How closely can it integrate with your web-analytics (e.g. ActiveConversion, LeadLander, Snoobi, Enecto, etc.)
  • How easy is it to know campaign metrics and performance? (e.g. almost instant, or do you get email reports at the end of the day.)
  • How much effort is required to create and manage the email templates? (e.g. can your marketing specialist do it, or do you need someone with html skills?)
  • Does the service only send to “opt-in” lists or can you also include unsolicited emails?
  • Does it provide an automatic email nurturing cycle? If so, how easy is it to use?
  • Depending on your annual email blasts, how much will the service cost (including fees, training and team-effort.)

What should my email say?

Your email can be a welcome note to a new service or it can be a thank-you note for a recent download. It can be a newsletter or an unsolicited email to a potential client. It can be any message that you want as long as it’s clear and has a purpose (i.e. call-to-action.) The email design can be HTML based or in text format. Some techies prefer no-frills emails, whereas consumer market prefer graphic intensive emails. So make sure to purpose your content, as well as your design towards your audience.

How important are email lists?

The quality of the mail list is just as important as the mailing itself. So as you either develop your own in-house list or purchase a list from a reputable vendor, consider the following.
  • Opt-in Lists: Subscribed/Opt-in lists are the most responsive since recipients have already committed to hearing from you. Most email marketing services only allow subscribed lists and don’t accept unsolicited email lists anymore.
  • List Bounce rate: Good quality email lists have a bounce rate in single digits. This is the accepted norm and you should speak to your list vendor if you get worse bounces.
  • Fresh recipients: For opt-in lists, the fresher the list the more responsive they are. Opt-in readers tend to lose interest if the email messages aren’t exciting enough.
  • Vertical Focused: Different verticals/industry are more receptive to email marketing than others. IT/Geek recipients tend to have lower open rates because either they don’t read your emails (especially if unsolicited) or because they are overzealous with their security settings (preventing you from tracking open rates.)
  • List Geography: Some geographic regions give better open rates than others. For example, I’ve noticed drastic differences in open rates within Scandinavia (Finland +60%, followed by Norway, Denmark and Sweden 20%.)

What metrics should I measure in my campaign?

This brings us to the next point, what to measure? Here are three stats that you should always monitor:
  • Open rates: Open rates show when an email was viewed on the recipient’s computer. This is done by embedding a script/image in the email that “calls home”.  Open rates indicate subject line effectiveness (was it exciting enough for people to peek at your email?) Do try out different subject lines to figure out what gives you most bang-for-the-buck. A poorly written subject line is a guaranteed fail. Also, do remember that open rates are not very reliable since most mail programs (Outlook, Livemail, Thunderbird, etc.) and webmail services (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) by default block these call home requests.
  • Click-through: After viewing your email, if a visitor acts on any of the embedded links, then that’s a click-thru. This is very important because it’s an active action the recipient does. Click-thrus can be accurately measured and are more meaningful than open rates.
  • Conversions: Visitors who come to your site who convert (i.e. download a file, or register for a service, or buy your product) are conversions. Conversions are the most meaningful in determining the success of a campaign. Email marketing services can use cookies to track visitors as they come through an email marketing campaign. This way the right campaign is given credit for conversions.

What other factors to consider?

At the end of the day, you should look at Open rates and  Click-thrus together. Both these metrics together give good insight on campaign performance. But the most important are the actual conversions (what brings home the bacon.) Try different subject lines, creatives and marketing hooks to see how your email funnel maps out. Some other things to monitor are: time of day when campaign was sent, viewed and clicked, list-bounce-rate and graphic intense mailings vs. plain-Jane formats.

Originally posted 2010-10-21 00:21:51.

About the Author 

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Comments (8)

  • Sanna Hokkanen

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    I find this very useful. I only started using email for bulk marketing, but I’m learning. Thank you!

    Reply

  • Magnus Nils

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    Email marketing is not easy, especially when you think about spam type emails that have lowered response rates, but, it is still worth it when properly done.

    Reply

  • Arthit

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    Email marketing has become harder and harder to do. Because of spam filters and people are not responding as much to it anymore. It’s easier to use Twitter to generate traffic/clicks.

    Reply

  • Tommi

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    Open email rates are very important in determining how good a campagin is. Even if the click through rate is low, it doesnt mean that much. Sometimes people just google your name/brand to visit your site, rather than visiting you through the email. I find its very important to see how much web traffic spikes after you send your emails.

    Reply

  • David Chang

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    Email marketing is always tricky business. I’ve offered some very cool things in my emails, but some of my subscribers responded as if I was spamming them. C’mon, they had already subscribed to newsletters.. but anyway email marketing isnt that easy.

    Reply

  • Leena

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    I’m interested to learn about open and click through rates for various industries and regions in the nordics. Do you’ve numbers to share about that?

    Reply

    • Zaki Usman

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      No, I dont have numbers on click-through and open rates. But I recently read a very interesting piece on subject lines that generated the highest click thru. It’s when the subject line started with “You arent the only one…”

      And then you can end it with whatever problem you are trying to solve. The article said that such opening subject lines consistently produced very good open and click through rates (I remember reading 90%, which I found very questionable.)

      Reply

  • Martha L

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    Not to go on with the same, but I find subject lines make a huge difference. For example I’ve used the word “free” in a few of my mailings to find zero open rates. But then change the wording to indicate that its a no-risk offer, and bamm! You get good open rates (20%) and click rates of the same. This in my business and in my experience has worked well, but then again I’ve a very small clientèle and a niche business :).

    Reply

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