Ali is our Head of Content and Blogging Trainer. She is author of 'Publishing E-Books For Dummies' (Wiley, 2012).
Post feature image by RaHuL Rodriguez.
Back in December, I wrote that ten word comment – a suggested email subject line – on a Copyblogger post.
And – rather to my surprise! – I won not just one but both prizes on offer: a complimentary ticket to Email Summit 2014, along with a stay in the five-star Aria conference hotel, plus access to MECLABS Email Messaging Online Course. That has to be, by far, the best return on ten words I’ve ever had!
Email Summit is described by MarketingSherpa as “the world’s longest-running research-based email marketing event” that teaches “proven email strategies for maximum results.” I was definitely impressed with the speakers and the amount of evidence-based knowledge being shared.
Here are the top twelve things I learned, that I hope will help you with your email marketing too. Whether you’re a tiny startup or a huge brand, these simple yet brilliant tips should be easy to put into practice.
Note: where possible, I’ve named the speaker who gave the tip. You can find out more about all these speakers and their sessions from the Email Summit agenda.
1. Test Everything
If I had to take just one thing from Email Summit, it would be this: test everything.
Time and time again, speakers showed us how results could go against expectations. While there are some key principles of good email marketing (which I’ll come to in the next 11 points!), nothing can replace testing out your emails and landing pages on your own audience.
This testing is especially crucial if you’re part of a marketing team, or if you get over-ruled by your bosses idea. Instead of creating a mashup email incorporating bits and pieces of everyone’s ideas, test three or four different emails against one another.
2. “Clarity Trumps Persuasion.” (Flint McGlaughlin)
I scribbled down quite a few quotes from Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, the Managing Director of MECLABS (MarketingSherpa’s parent company). Flint had a ton of great wisdom to share, and this was one of my favourites.
Clarity trumps persuasion.
Simply being as clear as possible about what you’re offering will take you a long way with email marketing. Instead of coming up with clever email subject lines, or pulling out all the persuasive tricks in your bag, focus on being totally clear and straightforward.
3. Limit Your Calls to Action (Jessica Andreasen)
This point came up in other sessions too: stick to one call to action, and one button for it, rather than cluttering your email with three or four different buttons.
Interestingly, you might even be better off placing your call to action button or link “below the fold” so that your email doesn’t get automatically dismissed by the recipient as being too salesy.
On landing pages, you can have more buttons and options, but again, don’t go over the top.
4. Use the Snippet Text in Emails
This came up a couple of times. It’s such a simple but powerful tip: make use of the “snippet” that appears straight after the subject line in many email clients. (I’m always surprised that more marketers don’t do this.) The snippet is created from the first words in your email.
Here’s how it looks in Gmail:
And in case that’s a bit small, here’s how the subject lines plus snippets read:
Offers now available at your Cherwell Drive Store – Take a look. Half price deals and much more for you in st…
10% discount when you spend £40 before midnight 25th February – Unable to view this email? View online h…
No prizes for guessing which is better!
If you look at the promotional emails you receive, you’ll see that a huge number of them have a snippet that reads something like:
- Unable to view this email?
- Having trouble viewing this email?
- Can’t see the pictures?
- View in a browser
While of course these links are handy for readers whose email client doesn’t display the email correctly, they make for poor snippets.
Unless you have a really long subject line so that no email displays, it’s much better to start off with a line or two of compelling text, then include your links. (You could use a template with a tiny snippet box on the top left.)
5. Let Email Subscribers Know What to Expect (Loren McDonald)
When someone is on the sign-up page for your newsletter, do you have anything telling them what to expect?
A surprising number of companies don’t.
Let people know what to expect in terms of:
- Frequency – how often they’ll hear from you. Once a day or once a month?
- Content – information-heavy or promotion-heavy?
- Offers – will they receive exclusive deals?
You could even link to an example newsletter so they can see exactly what they’re signing up for.
6. Don’t Make Them Think (Loren McDonald)
Make your email copy as straightforward as possible. If you’re offering a discount, for instance, show exactly what it means – Loren used the example of Amazon, who show discounts both as a flat amount and a percentage:
If the reader is likely to have obvious questions (e.g. “how much is postage?”) then try to answer them in the email itself.
Tip #7: Make Emails “Finger Friendly” (Loren McDonald)
More and more people are reading emails on mobile devices, so make it easy to engage with yours.
This means not putting links one after another, or small buttons right next to one another. (I’m sure you’ve had the annoying experience of trying to click one link on an email or webpage, only to accidentally hit the one above or below.)
The same goes for buttons: make them large and easy to hit with a finger.
#8: Tell People What They’ll Get, Not What They Have to Do (Flint McGlaughlin)
With an example of a sign-up form for a site offering money for survey responses, Flint showed how much the headline on a landing page matters. The best-performing headlines started out by telling readers what they would get, e.g.:
- Get paid…
- Get cash…
The worst ones focused on what readers needed to do:
- Fill in the form…
- Take surveys…
#9: Deliver Content Over Time Rather than in One Big Chunk (Brian Clark)
If you’ve got the option of delivering a single massive ebook or a bunch of shorter emails, go for delivering content over time.
There are two key advantages:
- It’s better for your reader. They’re much more likely to read and benefit from the content if it’s delivered in small doses.
- It’s better for you. Readers won’t just sign up to download your free ebook, then immediately unsubscribe, if the content comes in a steady stream.
#10: Consider Using a Membership Site to Deliver Content (Brian Clark)
Copyblogger switched from an email list (Internet Marketing for Smart People) to a free membership site (My Copyblogger) which acts as a resource library with 15 short ebooks plus a 20-part course. The course content is on the site itself, though members receive alerts by email.
This has lead to greater engagement and much faster list growth. Brian also suggested that people are more comfortable signing up for a site than handing over their email address to be put on an email list: they’re used to the website sign-up process from Facebook, Twitter, etc.
#11: Focus on Loss, not Gain (Noah Goldstein)
While this might seem to go against #8, it’s not necessarily a technique that you can use in every instance. Where it makes sense, though, focus on what people will lose, not what they’ll gain, to encourage action.
Here’s an example of the start of two subject lines that could be for the same email:
- Keep your airmiles…
- Don’t lose your airmiles…
The second is more compelling. You don’t have to use the word “lose” – you could also try “miss out” or “get left behind”.
#12: Show Progress Toward Task Completion (Noah Goldstein)
If you’re encouraging people to complete something, like their profile, it’s useful to show progress. Telling them “Your profile is 55% complete” will encourage them to finish it.
Noah mentioned a study about loyalty cards for a car wash, described in How to Turn New Customers into Repeat Customers (Secrets of Sticky Loyalty Programs) – it’s a really interesting illustration of this principle.
You can also use this technique to encourage people to persevere when filling in a form, or to keep them engaged with an email or online course.
Whatever stage you’re at with email marketing – whether it’s something pretty new for your company, or something you’ve had quite a bit of experience with – I’m pretty sure you’ll find at least one tip here that you want to put into practice. Let us know your favourite in the comments (and tell us what you’ll be doing with it)!