Basics of Email Marketing: Best Practices Part Two

Hrvoje Pilić

Head of Digital Advertising

Welcome to the second part of email marketing best practices guide. Make sure you read the first part of this email marketing series of posts if you miss it or read it again to get a better understanding of what we’ll be talking about in this part.

In the first part of this series we defined what’s email marketing, newsletter marketing, its importance and how to get those precious subscribers. Part two contains some real gems, so keep reading and learn how to use email marketing effectively.

Second part covers the following:
1. (Most) Important elements of an email newsletter
2. Examples of some great emails
3. Flow of an Email Newsletter Campaign
4. MailChimp and some of its features

1. (Most) Important elements of an email newsletter

There are many elements which make a great email newsletter, so let’s name a few. I’ll introduce you to some of the most important elements like subject, email content, template design, quality email database, sending time, from name and preheader text.

Email Subject

Subject is the most prominent element which opens the door for visitors to view and engage with your content. Short and concise, intriguing, descriptive, straight to the point, personalized and time-limited subjects usually work best for boosting your email open rate.
Please avoid aggressive words and ALL CAPS (all capitals) letters or spam filter trigger words. Check this research on subject lines comparison before you write your next subject line and please provide the reader a valid incentive to open your email and enjoy your message. One quick tip, try using symbols in your subject line to influence your open rate.

Recipe for Great email Subject:

  • Short and concise
  • Intriguing
  • Descriptive
  • Straight to the point
  • Personalized
  • Time-limited

Email content

When you’re creating your newsletter strategy, your content plays a big role in engaging your readers. Content of your email should be aligned with your campaign goal(s), so if your campaign is sales oriented you could include a strong message emphasizing your USP (unique selling proposition) and a call to action, maybe accompanied with an image and/or a nice, big button.
Your content should later influence how your template will be designed, so keep that in mind, or adjust your content for your existing email template to maximise the effect. Did you know that you can also do an A/B tests for your email content?

Email Template Design

In order to present the email content you carefully crafted, get a nice template and your readers will love you for it. Have your designer make a nice template, maybe one that can be easily edited with your email marketing software, or you can contact us for help, our designers will be happy to assist you.
I advise you to get a responsive design HTML template so your message will be nicely displayed on various devices and email clients, and if you’re using MailChimp, you can take advantage of its editable email templates. For email template inspiration and ideas, check out Really Good Emails.

Quality Email Database

Quality of your email database or a list of emails you have for your email marketing efforts can greatly influence your email open rate and engagement. If the subscribers in your email list are new and they went through the DOI (double opt-in) process, if the list is correctly segmented and the incentives to join the email list are properly communicated to prospects or contact cleaned from time to time etc., you should achieve great success with email marketing.

Email Sending Time

Wondering when is the best time to send an email campaign?
Well, my advice is to combine the data from your customers and business, industry reports and researches and start your testing from there. Before doing this, you should ask yourself a couple of questions like: is my business/product anyhow specific, are my customers employed etc.
So, if you’re targeting for example B2B, you could avoid weekends and lunch time, but also hours nearing the end of the work day. Regarding studies and researches, have in mind that it’s always best to use localized studies as a starting point for your testing, because customer behavior usually isn’t the same globally.

Email From Name

From name is the name of the email sender that can also greatly influence your open rate. There are many options to play with. If your brand is well known, use its name as from name. If your CEO is well known among your email subscribers, you could use his name as from name.
One great example of using well known person as a bait to influence open rate I really like comes from Arsenal football club. They are using the name of their football manager, Arsene Wenger as a from name for some newsletters – brilliant way to leverage his name and influence open rates from fans subscribed to their newsletters.
Of course, if your brand isn’t established and well-known, you can always try it with female names like Anna, but please combine it with your business name like “Anna Surname – Degordian”, so you don’t look like a spammer.

Email Preheader Text

Finally, one element I like a lot that is so often overlooked – the preheader text. Customizing the text that is shown as a preview in email clients can be a big time win for your open rate, so try different combinations in your upcoming newsletters. Not convinced? I like the story of “The Hillstrom experiment” regarding preheaders, so check it out. I bet you’ll change your mind.
Discover below how to implement it in your HTML templates right away.
Just put some text next to your opening body tag inside your HTML template. Something like this:
<body><span class=”preheader_text”>Write a short sentence why a reader should open this email</span>...

I prefer the preheader text to be visible only as a preview and not inside the content when the subscriber opens the email, so I usually hide it with CSS. You can hide it like this:
<style type="text/css">
span.preheader_text { display: none !important; }

Looking at all these elements, they are all connected and play some part in your email newsletter strategy. Use them wisely and make sure to align them (perfectly) with the goal(s) of your email newsletter campaigns in order to get the best results.

2. Examples of some great emails

Let’s see some examples of email marketing in action.

Combination of Educational and Promotional Aspects

Here is an email that combines educational content with a promotional one. The main goal of this email campaign is to help the potential customer with its eyesight. Educational part of the content educates subscribers by letting them know how consuming vitamins can influence their vision. Promotional part of this email is supported with strong call to actions inside the buttons, image or text, and it’s oriented towards booking an appointment for an eye examination.

Educational email marketing

Another great example comes from Unbounce. I could tell that their primary goal with the email below was to provide value to their subscribers by informing and calling them to join a webinar they held, but they subtly introduce their service by including a call to action at the end of an email. Notice that PS at the end? That PS (postscript, post scriptum) can be a pretty powerful tactic to grab the attention of the reader.

Example of good email marketing

Informational Email

Next comes an informational email whose goal is to provide the subscriber with current informations and/or news. At Degordian, we are sending one like this every month and in it we cover some happenings from the previous month, our recent blog posts, industry news etc. This kind of email content usually has high open rates. It usually yields us open-rates in the range of 30 to 60%.

Informational email marketing

Amusement or Fun Emails

You don’t always have to send “serious” emails, you can also use emails to provide amusement to your subscribers. Below is the example of an email we sent as a part of our last Christmas greeting campaign. We used an email to direct our subscribers to our Holiday Den, where they could see “live” interactive greetings and best wishes from people at Degordian. Interesting thing here is that we sent a customized content to every email subscriber as we dynamically tagged every email to work with Octalytics, our offline measurement tool we recently developed, so we can later track the impact of our holiday campaign on new deals and projects with our clients.

Email marketing with fun content for subscribers

Responsive Email Templates

In the first part of this email marketing basics we learned how important is the mobile aspect for email marketing. I don’t even have to tell you to use responsive templates so your emails look good across devices. See below how our monthly newsletter looks like on mobile, or the one from Benedict Evans, who is covering interesting stuff from tech and mobile industry on a weekly basis.

Example of responsive email marketing

3. Flow of an Email Newsletter Campaign

The process of an email newsletter campaign usually contains these steps:

  • List setup and segmentation
  • HTML template creation of modification
  • Campaign setup
  • Testing
  • Sending
  • Reporting

If we’re sending an email for the first time, we need to first set up a list. Basic setup usually means setting up contact data, inserting obligatory business or client info etc. More advanced setup includes implementing the whole subscriber signup process, modifying forms, automation flows, segmenting the list etc. When the list setup is complete, we create or modify the current template by changing some design elements and inserting the content.
Then we move on to setting up a campaign in MailChimp, the tool we use and love – that means creating a new campaign and adjusting parameters and choosing or uploading a template. After that, it’s a must have to send a test email to a few people before sending it to the whole list. That way you can see how your email looks like in an email client, which is very important because sometimes your template looks different when viewing it in your browser than in your Gmail or Outlook. There are often some small glitches that can be easily fixed if you notice them on time. When the test goes well or quick fixes are made, we are ready to send it to the whole list of subscribers or our chosen segment.
When the sending is complete, it’s time for reporting – it’s best to make a report after at least a week, so your campaign numbers can settle in. It’s OK to look at reports right away to see how the numbers are changing, but for the final report it’s best to wait for a little to have the most complete data.

4. MailChimp and some of its Features

For our email marketing needs and wishes, we tend to use MailChimp. Wondering why or is MailChimp the right choice for you? Then read on.
I love MailChimp for its ease of use, stable and clean infrastructure responsible for sending emails, a bunch of great features, and I don’t even have to mention you how cool and funny Freddie the Chimp can be. Freddie is so awesome that he even has its comic Th’ Adventoorz of Freddie and Mannie, and he also tells great jokes.

Some of MailChimp features I like is that we can integrate it through its API with the custom apps we do for our internal and clients needs. We often integrate it with custom Facebook canvas applications. Great things you can do with it are A/B tests. You can A/B test things like subject lines, from names, delivery times and content.
You can also automate your work in so many different ways, like sending your latest blog post when it’s published, sending dynamic content like we did for our holiday greeting last few years by sending everyone different content. Sending (some) email(s) triggered by an action on your website like follow up or thank you emails after the purchase or maybe sending another email to users who did (not) click on your last email campaign can be achieved too. You can send scheduled emails after the user subscribes to your email list or send an email with articles or an ebook etc., related to the content your subscriber is viewing on your website.
Not to mention the possibilities for segmenting your email subscribers, and the hard work the people from MailChimp are to doing to keep its system clean and free from “spammers” and individuals with bad intentions, so our emails can be delivered straight to inboxes without any trouble.

These are just some of the reasons why we use it and the ideas you can achieve by using MailChimp. We use it that much, and became so proficient in using it, that we’re even featured in the MailChimp Expert Directory.

Have you had any experience with email marketing?
Feel free to drop us an email if you have some questions or you find email marketing interesting for promoting your business.

P.S. subscribe to our newsletter (a bit lower) to see in practice what I just talked about!


Hrvoje Pilić

Head of Digital Advertising

Curious about numbers, exploring and testing new things in digital. Loves football, food and reading. Huge Arsenal fan.

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