Successful email campaigns attend to improve:

  • Deliverability: Ensuring that your emails are delivered to the inbox of the recipients and
  • Desired Response: Improving the percentage of recipients who open, read, and act upon the email

In this post, we look at best practices that help achieve these results.

The Issue of Email Deliverability

The emails you send might never reach the inboxes of intended recipients owing to two reasons:

  • The email program of the recipient sees your email as spam and sends it to the spam folder instead of to the inbox. Few people read emails that land in their spam folders. In effect, your mail does not reach the recipient
  • Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) blocks your mail on the assumption that you are sending spam mail and the mail does not go to the destination at all

To avoid this fate, you can authenticate your email domain and build a reputation for not sending spam mail from that domain.

Authentication of your Email Domain

Spammers and fraudsters can “spoof” your email address by sending mail that looks like they came from your address. To prevent this from happening, you should work with your domain’s DNS (Domain Name Server) records to do the following:

  • Add an SPF Record: SPF records list the Internet Protocol addresses (IPs) that are authorized to send emails using your domain name. Receiving servers check to see whether the emails they receive come from IP’s authorized by relevant domains. The SPF check will fail if an email does not come from such an IP.
  • DKIM: DKIM involves using a pair of keys – one private and one public – for the domain. The private key is used by the sender to encrypt the signature attached to the mail. The recipient checks the signature with the public key. If the signature verifies, it means an authorized person sent the message with access to the private key, i.e., the domain owner.
  • DMARC: DMARC tells recipients of emails which authentication methods to use for validating the mail, and what to do if the validation fails. For example, a mail that fails validation might be quarantined or rejected outright.

Here is a resource to set the above records. Working with DNS records should be done very carefully by people who are familiar with the process. If you do not have the familiarity, it is best to seek the help of someone with the required skills.

You can authorize your email service providers to send emails on your behalf by creating relevant DNS records as above.

Build a Reputation Among Internet Service Providers

Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) look for signals that identify IP addresses that send large volumes of spam mail. You can go a long way to ensure that your emails go to the inbox of recipients by:

  • Using a dedicated IP address for sending emails and 
  • Creating a reputation for non-spam mail for that IP

You can minimize spam signals by attending to the following:

  • Ensure that the recipients have permitted you to send them mail and also that they remember the permission. Create your mailing list using an opt-in process (preferably a double opt-in) and send regular emails so that the recipients continue to remember you. These will minimize the chances of your emails being reported as spam by them
  • Avoid specific words and phrases in your subject lines. These words and phrases tend to get the mail being labeled as spam by many ISP’s. “Salesy” words like FREE and multiple exclamation marks are examples
  • Segment your mailing list into groups with common interests. This will help you to send emails that are aligned to the interests of each group. In turn, this can prevent the mails from being reported as spam
  • Clean the list periodically, removing inactive members, and non-functional email addresses. This can reduce bounce rates, the percentage of mails returned as undelivered, another adverse signal
  • Send mails that make recipients want to open them. If you deliver value consistently, recipients tend to open the emails you send. This is a signal of engaged recipients and helps you build your reputation further with ISP’s

Never use third party email lists to send your mails. Many recipients on that list are likely to report your emails as spam. Such lists could also include spam traps that could trap you into the blacklists of ISP’s.

Creating Emails that Convert

The second element (after the element of deliverability discussed above) of successful email campaigns are emails that convert.

Conversion means that recipients of your emails take actions you want them to take. For example, if you are sending emails asking them to try out your training course, a conversion happens when a recipient signs up for the trial.

Specific best practices tend to maximize such conversions. We look at these now.

  • Develop a Clear Picture of the Recipients: If you have a clear idea about the interests and preferences of an audience:
    • You can write emails that are aligned to those interests, and also
    • Write in a way that is likely to get a better response

To get that clear idea, you should talk to existing and prospective customers and try to find out their goals, problems, and typical characteristics. 

This resource on buyer persona could help you with the task.

  • Work on the Subject Line of Your Email: Subject lines with the following characteristics tend to make recipients want to open the mail: 
    • Arouses curiosity
    • Addresses pain points
    • Promises an easy way to do what the recipient wants to be done or
    • Otherwise makes the recipient want to read more

Here is another resource, this time on great subject lines.

  • Attend to the Preview Text: Preview text is the short material that the recipient sees (in addition to the subject line) before opening the mail. This could be the first line (or part of it) of the email. Ensure that this preview text also works to persuade the reader to open the mail.
  • Work on Communication: Now that you have (hopefully) succeeded in getting the reader to open your mail, it is time to make the email itself readable and persuasive. To start the process:
    • Identify the result you want to achieve through the mailing
    • Decide what to say to achieve that result and
    • Split that (what to say) content into three components:
      • A Subject Line that arouses interest
      • Email copy that is clear, brief and promises a value the recipient would be interested in
      • A landing page that elaborates on the promise and explains how to receive the value

All three should be aligned with each other.

Write the email content with:

    • Emphasis on user benefit rather than product features. A benefit is directly related to user needs and wants – entertainment, pain relief, prestige or some such
    • A conversational tone that talks to the recipient in a personal and friendly way
    • Great pictures of your product; but be aware that many recipients will use text versions that will not show pictures
    • Bulleted or numbered lists to communicate multiple points
    • No ALL CAPS or salesy devices like extra exclamation marks
    • No false promises, or promises you can’t deliver
    • A visible (and actionable) Call to Action (CTA) telling the recipient what to do next
    • An effective presentation sequence for the message as a whole

Lead the reader to the website landing page for more details.

  • Test Different Elements: There are a number of different tests that apply to email campaigns.
    • Spam testing: Would your email pass spam filters?
    • Device testing: Would your email render great across different platforms?
    • Effectiveness testing: Would your campaign produce desired results?

There are many tools on the web to do the first two of these tests. (Just search “email testing.”)

Effectiveness testing includes A/B testing and multivariate testing. A/B testing involves changing just one element at a time and finding out which version works better. Multivariate testing requires testing with variations in multiple elements.

You should also look carefully at the reports provided by your Email Service Providers on deliverability, open rates, and click-through rates. Try to find out the reasons for both poor and high performance in these areas.

Effective Email Campaigns: Summary

Email campaigns become effective when (i) the emails pass spam filters and land in the recipients’ inboxes, (ii) the recipients open and read the emails, and (iii) they take an action that leads to the achievement of the campaign objective. Specific best practices can facilitate all the three sub-objectives leading to a successful email campaign. This post discussed these practices.

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