The Beginner’s Guide to Email Marketing

email_marketingHere are some things I’ve learned over the past year working in the email marketing industry.

There are lots of good, positive, and useful email marketing tactics, as well as shady, unfair, and terrible practices.

If you ever find yourself in the latter, purchasing lists of emails from folks, or sending people email without a functional unsubscribe button, you should get out, and quick!

Now, on to the merry and lighthearted world of good email marketing.

There are a few different elements to email marketing:

1. Content

You’ll need to make sure the message and content of the email is in line with what the reader would expect to receive.

First Impressions
Subject lines are almost directly correlated to open rates. If your open rates are suffering, maybe your subject line and leading text weren’t enough to capture the reader’s attention.

Another facet of your email that plays a big role in open rates is the ‘From Line.’ This is where you’ll let the user know where the email is coming from. This should be your business name, or even your own personal name if you’re sending the email on your behalf. If the user isn’t interested in who is sending the mail, they may not even look at the ‘Subject Line’ which details the what.

Look and Feel
Keep it classy, and keep it similar to the theme of your brand/topic. Sometimes less decorative elements are better, as not everyone can immediately view images in their inboxes. Many times images are disabled automatically by an email service provider so that you’re not subjected to obscene images and what not.

My advice is to stick with something classic, and that doesn’t get in the way of your message. Make sure that the readability of your text is not compromised by the design. Function over form.

Length of Copy
Some audiences want an essay when they receive an email. Some want to get straight to the point. Evaluate which category your audience falls into, and change it up every now and then to keep things fresh.

Refer to your analytics (noted below in bullet point #4), when comparing whether long-form emails or short-form emails perform better for your list. Remember that not every list is the same–you’ll encounter a different response if you’re an insurance company versus a comedy club.

Call to Action
A call to action is when you ask your audience to perform a task. This is usually represented in email marketing by having them click on a button to “Find out more” or “View this page” or “Buy now.”

To get your reader to feel comfortable trusting you and your email enough to actually follow through with this call to action, you’ll need to set the foundation of everything I’ve listed above. They need to open your email, feel comfortable reading it, identify with the information, and feel compelled to read more about what you have to say or buy something from you.

You can analyze calls to action and how effective they are by taking a look at your click through rate (this is most often calculated by taking the number of clicks divided by the number of opens that your email received).

If your click-through rate is good, you can expect that a certain percentage of those clicks will turn into conversions (or purchases, or whatever it means for your audience to effectively convert on your message).

One of my main goals anytime I do an email campaign is to give the reader something valuable to come away with. If they’re not gaining some type of value by reading your email, they will have no incentive to open the next one. It’s great way to give something away to your readers. It makes them feel cherished and special.

2. Timing

It’s best to have an automated drip program go out to users when they sign up for your email list. If you have automated and ongoing communication with your subscriber, there’s a lot less work for you, and you are able to cater the program to best fit what you think the intent of the user is.

Additionally, it’s good to note that lists get stale. You might have a list of people who were really engaged in the beginning, but that you see gradually drop off in terms of interest. It’s best to filter out the most unresponsive people (I.e. the people who haven’t taken an action with your email like opening or clicking in 90 or 180 days).

The time frame is really up to you, but if you don’t ‘clean up your list’ as it’s called in email marketing jargon, then your deliverability rates will suffer. Your emails may even be denied from being delivered to your audience’s inboxes.

Why is deliverability important?

It takes a while to ‘warm up’ your IP address, and your sender’s address, so to speak. If you all of a sudden blast out one hundred thousand emails to people, and half of them unsubscribe from you or report you as spam, then internet service providers like Google, Yahoo, etc. will view you as a spammy source, and block emails from being able to be delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes.

This would be the case if you purchased a list of emails to send to, or if you’re sending to an extremely stale list (one that probably doesn’t even remember that you gained permission for them to receive your emails in the first place).

3. Services

The main services that I hear of people using for personal and business sites (not enterprise-level), are Aweber and MailChimp. I recommend going with Aweber if you can afford it (it’s worth the extra $20 per month if you’re going to be serious about using email).

I’ve heard good things about Aweber’s tracking and flexibility. With the free version of MailChimp, you’re unable to send out emails based on triggers (i.e. when someone first signs up to your email list, you can’t send them an automated welcome email; you must do it manually with the free version). This is a big pain in the butt and not a good user experience.

The biggest piece of advice I’ve heard from internet marketers about email is that they wish they had started their list sooner. So choose a service, and get started.

4. Analysis

You need to find a way to record and report on the data that you’re seeing come from your campaigns.

It’s important to analyze exactly what is happening with your campaigns. Are people responding by taking actions with your emails? Are they opening, clicking through, sending you emails back?

If you don’t know what’s happening with the templates you currently have built out, you’ll never know if what you’re doing is working, or how to improve it.

5. How to get subscribers

You can set up a subscription box on your site or blog. The more prominent it is, the better. If it’s in your sidebar as well as at the bottom of each post, even better. People are more likely to subscribe that way.

I’ve heard it said that an email list is one of the most important things you can have as an internet entrepreneur. Even if much of your traffic relies on organic search from popular search engines like Google, and Google changes it’s algorithm in some way, you’ll still have your email list. It’s all yours, and you have permission to send communication to the users on your list.

6. Feel out your competition

One really effective way to create your own campaigns is to see what your competition is currently doing, and match what you think is working, as well as build a better version of what they’ve got. If you’re seeing a need that is going unfulfilled, then that would be a good starting place as well.

In summary, I think that email has the potential to be an amazing addition to your marketing channels, and can be an extremely important to your brand as well as profitable. Your true fans read the emails that you send out. This makes it worthwhile to continue to have them receive communication from you. The bottom line is, you don’t want your fans to forget about you, so you stay in touch by utilizing email.

Further reading:

I’ve found some amazing resources on the web that have been really helpful for me as I was starting out and getting introduced to the industry.

See Sean Ogle’s guide on Everything You Need to Know About Email Marketing.
See also 2createawebsite’s post about Email Marketing List Strategies.


The picture in this post is mostly unrelated, but is undeniably cute. It is a turtle from a pet store inside a mall in Spokane, WA.


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