Email marketing is an effective and cheap way to stay in touch with your customers, but it’s also easy for recipients to ignore. With the volume of email we all receive every day, you’ll need to implement some specific strategies to stand out in your customers’ inboxes. 

1. Write Snappy Subject Lines

The subject line is everything for emails. It’s one of the very few things a recipient will see before actually opening your email. On the force of their first impression, they will either open your email or consign it to the archive heap of history. Writing the best subject line is an art, but there’s a few basic guidelines you can follow:

Avoid clickbait. “You’ll never guess how good our sales are!” is not going to work for you.

Stay away from words like “free” or “special offer!” Email is still a marketing medium overrun by spam, which can make recipients hyper-skeptical. Separate yourself from the faux-pharmaceutical crowd as much as possible.

Keep it short. Shorter subject lines perform better and are easier to view on mobile.

Create a sense of urgency. Readers don’t want to miss out on good deals or opportunities.

Be clever. Like tweets, funny or surprising email subject lines fare especially well. Just don’t veer off brand.

2. Segment Your Way to Personalization

The degree of personalization you can accomplish depends largely on the size of your list. If you’re prospecting for individual, big-ticket sales, then the sky is the limit. If, like most marketers, you’ve got a list with thousands of subscribers, you’ll want to categorize those subscribers into different segments. If you base these segments on your recipient’s behavior or attributes, you can then target your marketing messages based on that information.

For example, shoppers that have visited your website but haven’t purchased a product might respond especially well to a coupon, whereas repeat customers might want to see your new inventory. And the more precise you can get, the better: companies have managed to increase checkout conversions by as much as 65% through effective email segmentation.

There are about as many potential segments as you can imagine, but you can focus on things like the following to get started:

  • Geographic location
  • Demographics (age, gender, etc.)
  • The last time they opened one of your emails
  • The last time they made a purchase
  • The size of their last purchase

3. Time It Just Right

Sometimes it seems like emails are designed to accumulate in your inbox unread. You don’t want your carefully crafted email message to end up stacked underneath messages from thirty other inferior marketers. You want to be at the top of that list, and that means sending your email when your subscribers are likely to it.

Finding that perfect time takes some trial and error, but you can get a head start by seeing what works for other marketers. Your own audience will have their own behaviors depending on a bewildering array of factors, so test out different send times to find out what works best for your particular audience.

4. Give Them Something to Read About

There’s nothing more pleasantly surprising that receiving an email that is filled, not with marketing spin and product shots, but with useful and relevant information. Whether it’s in the form of a list, a chart, or a white paper, folks love useful stuff.

For example, if your company sells photo framing services, an email about getting the best out of the new iPhone’s camera might be a great option. If you offer landscaping, “The 5 Best Shade Trees for Your Home” could be a big hit. Provide useful content without trying to sell something aggressively. When its time to buy, your potential customers will have a much warmer association with your brand than they do with the company that just send them coupons every Friday.

5. Test Your Options

A/B testing is tedious, time-consuming, and mandatory. It’s easy to make assumptions about your clients, but you’ll never know if you’re right without testing. And while best practices are great for basic planning, there’s nothing as valuable as knowing exactly how well your audience will respond to an email send at 2 p.m. on Thursday versus 6 a.m. on Friday. A/B testing gives you the tools to replace your assumptions and guesses with something approximating certainty, and you can’t afford to miss out.

Running a successful A/B test is a lot like running an experiment in high school science class. First find a segment you want to target and randomly split it into sub-groups. Then, tweak one aspect of your email and see how your recipients respond.

The subject line is a classic option for A/B testing, but don’t limit yourself. Try out different offers, styling, send times, or images depending on what sort of metric your evaluating. Just make sure you only tweak one thing at a time, or you won’t be able to sort out what made one campaign more effective than another.

6. Make Mobile a Priority

If you have a smartphone, you know how much email you read on your phone. You probably also know how bad a lot of that email looks. Don’t let that be you!

At least 50% of your emails will be opened on mobile. More than anywhere else, that’s where your recipients are viewing your emails. If they don’t look good there, it doesn’t matter how perfect they are in webmail.

But mobile optimization goes beyond making your text the right size. People use email on mobile differently, and a strong, clear message will be your ticket to success. Incidentally, that same technique will serve you well on desktop emails, so keep mobile in mind from the very start of your email campaign.

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