Ensure the Open: Tips & Tests for Email Marketing Success

Ask yourself this question, could you go a full day without checking your email? 

Me neither. That’s why email still works. We’re all addicted. As a marketer, you’re doing your company a disservice if you’re not using email to nurture buyers.

No matter how hard marketers try to sell you on chatbots, SMS, and getting your daily affirmations from a smart mirror, email still reigns supreme for business and commercial communication. 

According to researchers at the University of British Columbia, the average person checks their email about 15 times per day. This study was conducted back in 2016, pre-Covid, meaning that the number of times an average person checks their email is probably significantly higher today. 

Every single one of my friends and colleagues checks their email constantly throughout the day. When you’re a working professional, you have to. It’s literally the first thing I do every morning, at least from Mondays through Fridays. 

In 2020, approximately 306 billion emails were sent and received every day worldwide. That number is projected to increase this year. So when you hear people say email marketing no longer works, it’s safe to assume that they are not doing this email marketing thing right. 

Email is direct. It’s an effective channel to connect with your target audience. Sure, people are “immune” to poorly crafted marketing emails, but sending the right messages to the right person at the right time will yield great results. 

If your email is sent to someone that is genuinely interested in your offer, email marketing can generate massive ROI for your business. We’re talking $38$42 for every $1 spent. 

Now that you understand why email marketing is still alive and well, let’s dive into how you can execute your email marketing strategies successfully.

Building A Quality Email List

What’s the biggest mistake most marketers make? They don’t take the time to build out a quality email list

An email list is a database of contacts that have opted-in to receiving your emails. Attracting quality contacts determines conversion rates. You’ll be more successful communicating with an audience that wants your emails in their inbox. 

In order to build a quality email list, be ultra-clear about the following:

  1. Your marketing goals 
  2. Your targeted audience personas 
  3. The different stages of the buyer’s journey  
  4. Your overall email marketing strategy 
  5. Your email frequency

Segment your email list based on audience personas and the different stages of the buyer’s journey. It will inform the different types of emails each group will more likely engage with. 

Does it make sense to send the same email to someone looking to buy a house as someone looking to sell a house? Nope. How about someone who loves your brand versus someone who only heard about you yesterday for the first time? A one size fits all approach to email marketing just doesn’t make sense.

Effective Ways to Collect Emails

People aren’t going to magically show up on your email list. How can you make it as easy as possible to share their email and opt in to your marketing?

Some of the most effective ways to build a quality email list include: 

  • Collect emails directly on your website – Website visits indicate interest. Strategically place newsletter sign-ups, contact forms or call-to-actions buttons that funnel to a sign-up page across your site
  • Create sign-up worthy gated content – Offer to provide valuable content in return for email addresses. This content can be in the form of webinars, ebooks, courses, or any type of 10x content that is worth submitting an email
  • Generate email submissions using Social Media – Encourage your social media followers to sign-up for your content. These engaged audiences are already familiar with your brand
  • Advertise your lead generation campaigns – Launch campaigns that provide value for your audience in exchange for their email addresses
  • Event registration – Host events that speak to the interests of your audience. Use registration pages for the event to collect emails., Then, you can continuously notify them with relevant events and offers in the future

Building a quality email list takes time, but it needs to be done the right way. Once you have a diverse set of contacts, it’s time to segment your email lists.

Email List Segmentation 

The key to effective email list segmentation is understanding your target audience to the core. 

  • What industries do your buyers work in? 
  • What are their responsibilities?
  • What are their goals?
  • What are they looking for when they engage with your content?

Let’s take iPullRank for example. We are a digital marketing agency focusing on SEO & Content Strategy. We target decision-makers who have marketing budgets to spend. However, we are also a source of knowledge for marketers who want to learn about the ins and outs of the SEO industry (and who might refer us to potential buyers if they consider us to be thought-leaders). 

The need state for these personas though is drastically different. 

With CMOs and Marketing Managers looking for solutions to their business challenges, and others looking to learn from one of the best SEOs in the game,Mike King, our Founder & Managing Director (as well as his very knowledgeable team.) 

We customize our emails according to each audience segment and always keep the different stages of the customer journey in mind. Do not send CMOs and Marketing Managers emails with basic, top-of-the-funnel content explaining what SEO is. Instead, send them industry-specific service pages with actionable insights to show them how valuable your offerings can be for their business. 

Once you have segmented your email lists, you can then start to develop email content for each list.

Create & Share Content that Aligns with Your Email List

Time to create content that resonates with your audience segments. The way I like to approach email creation is by finding a good balance between the customer journey stages and the variety of email content formats to share. 

But before we go any further, it’s important for you to have a basic understanding of the 5 stages of the customer journey. They include:

  1. Awareness: Potential customers become aware of a problem. They start to learn about the problem. (Social Media posts, Infographics, Newsletter)
  2. Consideration: Potential customers have done their research and are looking for a more comprehensive answer to their specific needs. (Case Studies, Ebooks/Guides, Webinars)
  3. Purchase: Potential customers are ready to purchase from brands they believe can solve their problems. (Demos, Pricing Pages, Detailed Specifications)
  4. Retention: You have successfully converted a potential customer into a paying customer. Work hard to retain these customers as it costs 5 times more to acquire a new customer. (Satisfaction Survey, Client Service Outreach)
  5. Advocacy: The customer you have acquired becomes an advocate for your brand and can help spread the word about how great your brand is.

We can then take these customer journey stages and group them into the top of funnel (TOF), middle of funnel (MOF), and bottom of funnel (BOF). Each of these funnel stages help describe where your potential customers are in the purchasing process. You should tailor your emails accordingly. 

Good email marketing campaigns should always include different pieces of content that compliment each other. Sending your email list 5 blog posts in a row is boring. Always look for ways to diversify the types of content sent to your audience. 

For example, when I built an email marketing campaign around our Ultimate Guide to Forecasting & Predicting ROI for SEO (MOF), I opted for a 2-week nurture sequence. My goal was to provide additional value around the value of investing in SEO. My 4 email nurture campaign included the following:

  • Email #1: A downloadable PDF version of our Guide, a brief but concise summary of what our guide entails, and a link to our resources page.
  • Email #2: A downloadable PDF version of our Guide, a blog post on why investing in SEO is crucial (ties in with understanding ROI for SEO), and a link to our resources page.
  • Email #3: A webinar that CallRail hosted, featuring Mike King, Founder & Managing Director at iPullRank, discussing Agency Growth and proving the SEO business value with Call Tracking, and a link to our resources page.
  • Email #4: A link to our Ultimate Guide to Modern Enterprise SEO (Showcase our ability to create other valuable 10x content and to also demonstrate our expertise as an Enterprise SEO Agency), a brief summary of what this guide entails, and a link to our contact page.

This simple email nurture campaign yielded great results validated by a high open and click through rate. We tied in different forms of content that aligned with our centerpiece content (Forecasting & Predicting ROI for SEO Guide) while showcasing our business offering as an SEO agency. 

Screenshot via HubSpot

Our email list consists of an audience interested in our awesome guide. We provided additional value with our email nurture campaign. We leveraged different content that we already produced. Our list received supplemental content that matched their need states and resulted in more opens and clicks. The process works.

Email Copywriting that Drives Engagement

Copywriting is difficult. Email copywriting has its own unique challenges. Why? Imagine having to draw someone’s attention with 5-7 words (~40-45 characters) and minimal visual aid. 

Yea. It’s not easy. Simplicity and limitations can be infuriating.

Email copy consists of 3 main components: 

  • The subject line
  • Preview text
  • Main email copy 

The subject line and preview text need to be eye-catching. They must entice the recipient to click. You’re competing in the inbox. The average business professional receives around 121 emails every day. The only way you can break through that barrier is to write great subject lines.

Email Subject Lines

Let’s take the Rank Report, our bi-weekly newsletter, as an example (you can subscribe here). When I first took charge of our newsletter campaigns back in February 2020, I played it safe. I sent out newsletters with boring subject lines like “February 13th Newsletter by iPullRank”. The results were mediocre because most of our subscribers are marketers who are already buried in newsletters. 

My subject lines did not stand out and our open rates stayed flat (hovering around ~26%-30%).We showed no signs of improvement for a couple of months.

Then came MozCon 2020. Due to the pandemic, the event was virtual. So instead of giving a regular pre-recorded presentation, the team at iPullRank created the first-ever SEO action movie called “Runtime: The 3 Ring Circus of Technical SEO” to debut at MozCon. 

We did a lot of promotion to prepare the industry for the movie’s debut. When they played it at MozCon, the feedback was thunderous across all of our social media channels, especially Twitter. 

I recognized this as an opportunity. I changed the subject line of that week’s newsletter to “Did iPullRank just break Twitter?!”, linked to our Runtime landing page, paired with content that complemented the theme of Runtime.

The results were amazing. The open rate surpassed 40% for the first time and we earned a very impressive click-through rate. 

Since then, I’ve tested new, creative subject lines for every single one of our newsletters. Our audience is way more engaged with the new style compared to the old, boring “here’s this week’s newsletter” type subject lines. 

Since July 2020, our newsletter open rates have been consistently over 40%. We hit a record high open rate of 47.53% with an email list of almost 2,000 contacts. So don’t be afraid to test new subject lines, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Email Body Copy

Once people open your marketing emails, you have to deliver good content tailored to your audience. 

Now ask yourself this, when you open an email, would you rather it be lengthy or concise? 

The answer is almost always concise. 

Say what you need to say, and get out. I know that sounds like a “Well, Duh” statement, but I have received way too many marketing emails that are just way too wordy. We have been trained to skim through things, simply out of necessity. We don’t have time to read every word. So keep it short and to the point. 

Here’s a short example from one of the best marketers in the game, Brian Dean, A.K.A Backlinko.  

<img width="100%" height="100%" src="https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/cnAmVMvnJZxKN5UreP6fU1EovBotUy9Opa_ktiYA5gb_zX9nrDvYMsHAI56_YoL1qDoOMvimUCj6MRv_70L9H7dDOZhf5w046SqERnRNJ8bg3DZg5LIPvNns8GeuNfvXAJCDW8TV">

I am able to skim through this in less than 5 seconds. It covers everything I need to know about this piece of content he’s promoting. Naturally, I am more likely to engage with this marketing email than those that seem to have a thousand words. 

Another tip for your email copy: highlight the important parts. Bold the letters, use italics, or drop hyperlinks

Remember your goals. Generate interest and drive engagement. Experiment and find what works. Here is the email template for our Rankable podcast. The highlighted portions consist of:

  • Episode Number (Links to Event Page)
  • Date & Time
  • Guest information
  • Topic of Discussion
  • Link to Event Page

Our Rankable marketing emails also have consistently high engagement rates (opens/clicks) well above industry averages. 

Remember, marketing emails are about adding value. Please, limit the amount of “selling”. Keeping your sales messaging to under 10% of your emails. 

Trust me, people will be more inclined to engage with your content this way. When they are ready to buy, you will be on top of their minds. 

Start Email Marketing Today

Email marketing works. It is still one of the most direct and effective ways to send a message across to your ideal audience. If you haven’t invested in email marketing, I suggest you start right away, because email marketing done right can help your business grow tremendously.

  1. Start building out email lists – Identify your ideal audience and segment your email lists according to your core business goals
  2. Map out your content strategy – Build your email marketing campaigns around content that aligns with each other and your centerpiece content
  3. Test, test, and test – If your email campaigns are not performing as well as you would like, don’t be afraid to switch it up and try out new things, you never know if you don’t try
  4. Aim to provide additional value – The point of email marketing is to showcase the different types of content you have to offer. Don’t go in expecting immediate sales, take time to provide value for your audience, and when the time comes, you will reap the rewards.

Email marketing is not complicated. It is a great digital marketing avenue that many marketers are missing out on. Do it right, and you’ll be surprised by the results. If you can’t figure it out yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out. The team at iPullRank will always be ready to help you with your digital marketing needs. 

Kevin Kuo

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