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The 10 commandments of email marketing: Part 1

By now, just about every company, large and small, understands that there is value in email marketing, and is actively attempting to engage with their audience via email. This is great, because email is a fantastic way to keep in touch with your customers – if it’s done right. The sad truth is, most companies are still doing a bunch of stuff wrong when it comes to email marketing. Don’t worry, I’m here to help you beat out all those chumps. Here are the first five of the Ten Commandments of Email Marketing. These first five commandments focus mostly on the content of your emails. Part Two, coming next week, will look at the more “mechanical” aspects, so stay tuned.

1. Thou Shalt Craft a Superb Subject Line

What's a good subject line? It's one that's both compelling and relevant to the recipient. A subject line has an incredibly important job to do – It is responsible for getting people to open the email; it has to sell the email. In order to do that, it must be honest, and intriguing. It has to be that girl at the party whom everyone likes because she’s genuine and pretty.

So, for example, you can’t just say “Hey, Christal, open this email” – well, maybe you can if I know who you are and I have a track record of opening and responding to your emails on a regular basis. But for the most part, even though that subject line contains personalization (which is not a magic bullet, by the way,) it doesn’t tell me anything about what’s actually in the email. So I have no way of knowing that the email is not a waste of my time… which means I’ll assume it is a waste of my time, and I will delete it – or worse, report it as SPAM.

Instead, you could say “Hey, Christal, All Boots 30% Off Today Only”. That subject line has a sense of urgency, it’s honest, and it tells me exactly what I can expect to see in the email. And since you know I have a thing for boots (actually, in real life I mostly just wear flip flops, but I digress), you’ve sent me something that’s really relevant to me.

2. Thou Shalt Not Send From a Dummy Email Address

This can mean a few things. It can be one of those gosh-awful “donotreply” email addresses – you know, the ones that when you do hit “reply” you usually get an auto-response telling you the in-box is not monitored and so your message will wind up in a giant cyber junkyard where sad abandoned emails go to die.

Or it can be an email address that does exist, but has a different domain than the one you’ve registered with your Email Service Provider. Most ESPs won’t let you get away with this, though.

Or it can be an email address that seems like it’s from a person (say, Sally Facepalm,) but your recipient doesn’t actually know that person. So when they see “Sally Facepalm” in the “from” column of their inbox (instead of “XCompany,” a name they actually would recognize,) they’re going to ignore the email. Unless you know for sure that your audience actually knows who Sally Facepalm is, just use your company name as your marketing email “from” name.

3. Thou Shalt Always Include An Unsubscribe Link

If you are sending your email through an ESP, most likely this is taken care of for you, and you don’t even have to worry about breaking this commandment. All ESPs should require that an “unsubscribe” link be included in every email sent through their platform, because it is federal law (part of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003) to include one. However, some ESPs, even though they say it’s a requirement, still put the onus on you, the sender, to include this link, by making it a manual process.

If you do not include an unsubscribe link, not only are you a terrible person who will spend eternity in marketing hell, you are in fact breaking the law. So just don’t think about it, don’t hesitate, don’t worry that you are going to lose subscribers by showing them how to leave your list… just include the link!

4. Thou Shalt Segment Thy List

If you are sending the exact same content to everyone in your database, you either have a very small database OR it’s super important content that everyone must know. Like, you’re changing your logo, or you’re changing the way people add items to their online shopping cart, or some other thing that truly impacts every. single. one. of. your. customers.

Otherwise, segment your audience. There are as many ways to segment as there are ways to build a sandcastle (never that close to the water!) However, one common way to break up your list is by audience category (if you’re a B2B company, for example, you might sell to companies in the education, healthcare and government sectors). Other popular methods include segmenting by demographic info (location, for example,) purchase information (product type, date of purchase, purchase amount, etc.) and broader categories like customer type (end user, reseller, etc.)

Failure to segment is failure to engage. You will be throwing stuff at the proverbial wall to see what sticks… and most likely, not much is gonna stick. You must send your audience content that is relevant to them, that is meaningful to them, or they won’t care about it – which means they won’t care about any of your email messages, ever again, and they will unsubscribe or ignore your emails or report you as spam – or all three!

5. Thou Shalt Include a Clear CTA

A lot of the time, when a company sends an email newsletter, they consider it just a “keep in touch” email, or something informational. But let me tell ya, most people just don’t care that much about your company. So send an email that is interactive, that tells people what is expected of them, and that does so in a clear and obvious manner.

Including a CTA doesn’t make you pushy. It makes you transparent. It doesn’t mean you’re sales-y. It means you’re confident that you’ve something of value to offer. It won’t scare your customers away – it will provide them with guidance.

The CTA in an email should almost always lead people to your website; that’s the purpose of most email marketing, after all, to get people to the site. It can’t just lead to your homepage, though (unless your CTA is “check out our newly redesigned website”). A good CTA must lead people to a specific place, a place where the messaging is unmistakably a continuation of that in the email. You want people to have a clearly marked path to follow, all the way to conversion – never send your customers down a rabbit hole. Ideally, your landing page will echo specific imagery and copy used in the email, so that when people get there they can relax, knowing instantly that they are in the right place.

So there you have it. Five of the most important email marketing rules ever. Five of the Ten Commandments of Email Marketing. Break them, and suffer the consequences – low open rates, even lower clickthru rates, high list attrition, and SPAM complaints. Follow them, and live in email prosperity forever.