The rise of the Internet irrevocably changed marketing. We all know that. It paved the way for effective content marketing thanks to the ability to not just speak to customers but to speak with them, to have a conversation. Blog comments, social media, and more have opened a two-way street that lets us bond with and build an audience.
But long before WordPress and tweets there was email. It seems every year we hear how email marketing is dead or dying, that efforts to market via email are being wasted. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Email has changed, as all things do (especially in the tech space), but it’s still very much alive.
Why is Email Still Important?
In January 2015, Facebook announced that it surpassed 1.39 billion monthly users. Twitter has 288 million users. Those are huge numbers, and we focus on social media for good reason. Email? Well, there are nearly 4 billion email accounts in the world, expected to reach 4.9 billion by the end of 2017. Obviously not all of those will be active, but that’s still a ton of opportunities to reach out to people – certainly enough to pay attention to email marketing.
Need proof? Email marketing has an ROI of 4,300%. No, that’s not a typo. That means it’s an extremely cost-effective means of marketing, and businesses should always be looking for ways to stretch a dollar.
Email marketing is a good investment not only because of the cost, but because of the effectiveness. For example: did you know that email campaigns are 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter are? With numbers like that, it’s obvious that the reports of email’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and that you can’t afford to not be using it.
Anatomy of an Email
You should absolutely be using email. The only question now is how exactly you should be using them. There are a few different parts to an email, so let’s see what’s important about each.
We all know we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but a lot of us decide on whether or not we open an email based on its subject line. 35% of recipients open emails based on the subject line, and 65% use the subject line as the sole determinant of whether or not an email is spam. That’s why it’s so critical to get it right.
The most important thing is to make sure the subject line is relevant to the email you’re sending. Know the context: don’t pull a bait-and-switch with a misleading headline, as that’s a surefire way to lead your customers to the unsubscribe link.
A MailChimp study shows that “boring” subject lines work pretty well. Boring, in this case, means straightforward – tell the recipient exactly what’s in the email so they know whether or not it’s worth it. MailChimp also notes the difference between a newsletter and a promotional email. Keeping people up to date or informing them of a relevant topic is a lot different than “10% off X product!” and your subject line should be clear about which you’re sending.
Time is money on the fast-paced Internet, so you need to get someone’s attention quickly. How long should your subject line be? Well, that sort of depends. Subject lines between 6-10 words have been shown to have the highest open rate. However, going to MailChimp again, they found subject line length (this time measured in character count) didn’t make a huge difference in open rate, although it’s worth noting that there seem to be diminishing returns on higher character counts.
As with most things marketing, you should do what works for you. Many email marketing providers offer A/B testing – that is, comparing the efficiency of two separate elements or campaigns – so you can see if your audience is more receptive to longer or shorter subject lines, as well as other aspects of your emails.
If you’re one of the millions upon millions who use Gmail, you know what this is: the subject line of an email is followed by a snippet of text from the email itself, sometimes called a preheader. Some email services also provide an entire pane to preview an email. In fact, 84% of people 18-34 use an email preview pane. That means the beginning of your email is important. Opening with a clever or funny line, a call to action, or some other way to make sure you’ll catch someone’s eye.
Again, you should experiment to see if anything in particular has a higher open rate than anything else. Just keep in mind that even if you get past the subject line, you won’t have long before you have to capture your audience again.
Here it is – the meat of your email. This is where you’ll focus most of your efforts. The body of the email will be specific to you: the voice you’re using to communicate with your audience, what you’re trying to achieve with the email, and so on.
These factors will determine the length of your email, because unfortunately there aren’t any hard and fast rules on how short or long your emails should be. It’s a tightrope, just as it is when you’re writing a blog post: you don’t want it to be so long that people don’t have the time or inclination to read through it, but you want it to have enough heft that it’s worth their time. If you’re trying to sell something, you might keep it short with a specific call to action, but if it’s a newsletter it allows for articles of longer length.
Besides text, you should also be aware of the images in your emails. Keep their size in mind – both dimensions and file size. Don’t make them so large that they disrupt the flow of the text, and also don’t make them so big that it takes the email forever (in Internet terms) to load.
You should also be aware of the format of the email, specifically desktop vs mobile. Responsive design is a great design choice that you should already be using for your website. It means that your site will be optimized for viewing on different device sizes and will be mobile-friendly when viewed on a phone or tablet. Your marketing emails can be set up the same way.
As of 2013, only 11% of emails were optimized for mobile viewing. If your email looks good on a small screen, it’ll definitely stand out. Add to that the fact that 48% of emails are opened on mobile devices, and you see how important it is to not treat all platforms the same. Not only will it provide an easier reading experience for you audience, but it’ll show that you’re committed to serving their needs.
Call to Action
This might be the most important part of your email. In simplest terms, it’s what you want the recipient to do with your email. Maybe it’s clicking through to buy something, or maybe it’s Liking your Facebook page. No matter the case, it should be simple, straightforward, and clear. You never want anyone wondering why they read your email, because if they don’t see a point, there’s a good chance they won’t bother next time.
Who Can Help
So email marketing is important, but it can also seem daunting. The good news is you don’t have to do it alone. There are a number of providers out there who specifically help with email marketing and all of the intricacies and metrics that go along with it.
MailChimp, Constant Contact, AWeber, and Bronto are just a few of the more well-known names in the email marketing game. This help will come at a price, but it’s pretty reasonable for even a small business or startup: Constant Contact and AWeber, for example, are only around $20/month for 500 subscribers, while MailChimp is free for companies with under 2,000 subscribers. Extra features or more contacts will cost you more, but remember the ROI on email marketing. Depending on what you need and how many customers you’re trying to reach, it could be worth the cost.
There are a few things you want to keep in mind when choosing a provider. You want to make sure it integrates well with any systems you have so, for example, you can give buying customers the option to automatically be added to a mailing list.
Also think about the analytics features you’ll need. You want to be able to track your emails so you know what’s working, and things like the aforementioned A/B testing is a valuable tool. Check out each provider, see what they offer, and take them for a free trial spin to see what works for you. As always, your needs will be specific, so the only important thing is finding what works for you.
One of the keys to content marketing is making sure you’re reaching your potential audience wherever they are. If you’re ignoring an entire format – in this case, email – you’re missing out on a huge segment of potential customers. Email can be a great way to reach an underserved audience and give you a leg up on the competition.
Have any tips or experience regarding email marketing? Let us know in the comments!