As an account manager, I've had the chance to work with hundreds of companies starting out with email marketing over the year. I've seen that those willing to invest some initial time to learn and apply basic best practices tend to enjoy better delivery and more success with their email campaigns. There is always a lot to learn about email marketing, and it should be an ongoing process, but when getting started there are a few basic principles that email marketers should pay attention to for best results.
The following is my "Getting Started Checklist" I share with new email marketers to get their campaigns started correctly. It doesn't take much time, and if you pay attention to these from the start, you will have fewer problems and enjoy more success with your email marketing campaigns.
SPF Record - An Optional Feature That You Need To Have
A few years ago, SPF records were only somewhat helpful for improving delivery. These days, however, they have been adopted by most of the mainstream Internet Service Providers ( ISPs), making it a vital email marketing component for companies serious about getting through to their subscribers.
The ISPs are able to detect that your messages, while addressed from your domain, are actually coming from your email service provider (ESP). This raises a flag on their end, because this is also a common practice among spammers. The SPF record will separate you from those who send spam. It acts as a confirmation that, even though messages aren't being sent directly from your mail server, they are still coming from you.
Setting up an SPF record clears up about 90 percent of initial email delivery problems. Your ESP should be able to help you set up your SPF record.
Build Your List The Right Way
It isn't always easy to build and maintain a good list of subscribers, especially if you are a young company looking to reach new clients. It may be tempting to purchase or otherwise acquire a list of addresses in an effort to quickly spread the word, but it's extremely important to only send to people who have contacted you directly (and opted in) to receive information. The reason for this is easy: so much email sent is spam that recipients are used complaining, or marking unfamiliar messages as spam. When you send out to a list of people who don't really know who are, you can bet that these complaints are going to roll in. This typically results in bad reputation with the ISPs and your emails can be diverted to spam folders or blocked (blacklisted) all together. The threshold for complaints, before getting tagged as a questionable sender, is approximately 1 complaint for 1,000 emails sent. To stay in good standing, only send to subscribers who are expecting your messages.
On a related note, signup forms tied into your database are very helpful for growing your list. For best results, add an email list signup link on every page of your website. While they may seem to only trickle in, over time they will begin to build up into a list of subscribers who will be very likely to open your messages and click your links.
Create Content That Will Be Delivered and Read
The unsubscribe link is one of the most important parts of your email. Some companies opt to downplay the unsubscribe link, hiding it in small text, usually at the bottom of the message. I always advise against this, which sometimes concerns users worried that their subscribers will opt out in waves. The fact of the matter is, if people want to stop receiving your emails, they will find a way - and that often means hitting the Mark as Spam button provided by many email clients. It's in your best interest to make unsubscribing easier than complaining, as the more complaints you receive, the more likely you are to be blocked by the major ISPs. Believe it or not, placing your unsubscribe link to the very top of your message can reduce complaints by up to 75 percent, and can transform an average sender into a good sender, and a good sender into a great one.
The omission of a text version of your email is another oversight. Obviously, HTML emails allow for nicer, more effective messages, but you can't forget about those subscribers with either basic or overly secure email clients that won't view HTML, not to mention the growing number of people checking email on mobile devices. What's more is that ISPs are now looking for text versions, and often filter messages into junk or spam folders if emails are sent without them. Even if you're just providing a link to where the HTML version of the message can be viewed online, a text version is important. Additionally, even within an HTML email, it pays to make sure your message is mostly text, supported by graphics and is not just one big graphic. Graphics are often stripped out by email clients, or flagged by ISPs. The optimal mix is about 60 percent text and 40 percent graphics.
Another easy way to maximize your effectiveness is to send to your most recent subscribers first. Your newest subscribers will be the most likely to view your message and click on links. They are also sure to remember signing up for your email list, making them less likely to complain. Sending to these types of subscribers first is a great way to establish a good reputation with the ISPs.
Before You Hit Send - How's Your Subject Line?
A simple misstep companies often make when venturing into email marketing is to underestimate the importance of a good subject line. It's hard to guess what will entice your subscribers into opening your message, but with a little common sense and testing, you can figure out the most effective format to use. Try several variations of the subject line for each of your first few sends, and then keep an eye on your open rates. Figure out which one is most effective, and stick to the format for future sends.
A few tips to keep in mind for subject lines include: 1) Keep them short, 35 - 45 characters are ideal so they can be read easily in most email clients and on mobile devices, 2) Put the important part of your message near the front of the subject line so it comes across, 3) Convey value and urgency to encourage opens.
...And The Results Are In
To make sure your emails are doing well, you need to check in on the reports periodically. Delivery rate is a key metric, you want to make sure your subscribers are receiving your content, and views are obviously also important. But something to look out for: emails with good delivery rates (89 - 90% is average), but low view rates (10-15% view rate is average). This indicates is that your email messages are being delivered, but that they are likely going to a junk or spam folder and not viewed. This can easily go undetected by email marketers, who will continue to devote resources to an email newsletter or other campaign that isn't even reaching all of their clients. You may need to contact the ISP to resolve this filtering issue, but a good way to start is to adjust your content and apply best email design practices (or consider having a professional design a template for you). And you should see that open rate jump.
In my experience, those willing to apply these basic principles in their email marketing efforts are guaranteed to have a successful and trouble-free email marketing experiences.