2019 A-Z Email Marketing Guide
The following 26 email marketing best practice tips–updated for 2019–empower and help inspire you to push past your edge to create your best email marketing campaigns yet.
Email marketing serves as a primary component of customer acquisition programs for companies across all industries. Keeping a pulse on the most up-to-date email marketing best practices enables you to 1) optimize your email marketing program 2) realize the highest returns on your email investment, and 3) most importantly, sleep more soundly each night (no more email stress dreams, promise!).
If you’re responsible for maintaining the day-to-day details of your company’s email program, you may feel like there are so many elements to keep track of to get your email program *just right*. To help, we’ve compiled our top tips to guide you so that you put any email fears to bed for good.
Audience: Get to Know Them
It’s fitting that audience sits at the top of our list because it’s one of the most important aspects to take stock of before you start emailing them. Your audience is more than just a demographic group. Ask yourself and try to address the following questions in as granular detail as possible:
- How and when do they prefer to be communicated to?
- Is there a specific vernacular, or slang even, that might resonate with them more than others (another great element to A/B test)?
- What types of actions or activities distinguish your audience from the general population?
You’re unlikely to address these questions completely the first time around, but the beauty of email marketing is that, over time, you will amass critical insights and data about your recipients so that you can make intelligent changes to your program in your proceeding email marketing campaigns.
Build Your Own Email List
Whether you started from scratch or inherited a list of email addresses, it’s essential to verify that every name on that list was added organically and by the individual’s own choice.
Remove any rented or purchased email addresses immediately from your email list.
Not only will you likely experience low engagement (a lot of purchased emails aren’t even real people), but you risk getting blacklisted by the major ISPs and your accounts with your ESP will probably be shut down.
It may not be the fastest way to build a large email list, but it is the best way to curate an engaged recipient base, and one that will keep your email delivery rates as high as possible.
Copywriting for Email
Whether you dread or look forward to writing email copy, there are a few high-level pointers that will help you craft engaging copy efficiently and consistently.
These are the steps to get started:
Determine brand voice
Take a step back and ensure that you (and all stakeholders) are working off of a strong foundation and understanding of your brand voice. Bonus: This agreement will help guide you craft copy across various campaigns beyond just email.
Write a conversation, not a brochure
The best way to connect with your audience is to write to them on a conversational and personal level. Imagine you're at the bar with your audience and write to them in a similar fashion.
Break up the pieces
Each email copy component serves a specific purpose (ultimately to persuade the reader to continue reading to the next copy element). As you start to plan out email copy, think about how every piece from your subject line to your CTA fit together.
Your brand voice is a lot like your email sender reputation. Once it’s gone, it’s hard to get back. This gets easier the more and more you practice.
The first edit should review how the pieces work together and whether the email has become a persuasive, warm, and engaging email. This is a great time to ensure that a piece like the subject line still fits in with the entire email now that you’ve written it.
Although you don't want to make any drastic changes to your voice and tone, measure your copywriting performance by performing small A/B tests (second person vs.third) and using the winning result in your future.
Whether you’re using a template, hiring a designer (keep in mind not all designers are email designers), or have a developer on hand to code your emails, your email design should align with your overall brand found on your website.
Clicking through from an email to your website should be a fluid experience so they know exactly how and where they can take the next step. Designing your templates with this in mind ensures that you provide just that.
It’s important to A/B test every part of your email, from subject lines to your calls to action (CTAs). Some tips to keep in mind during your tests (checklist feature):
- Only test one element at a time (otherwise your results will be inconclusive)
- Make sure you have a significant sample size in your testing
- Once you find a winning element, move onto the next test!
Remember, your product changes, and so do your recipients, so a good email marketer is never done testing. For more tips, check out our A/B Testing Guide.
Curious about what to put as your from name?
Sending an email with a no-reply stifles any sort of 1:1 conversation feel to your email messaging, and is just generally unfriendly.
You may or may not want to use a personal name, company, or format, but the only way to know for sure what works best for you is to test to see what segment receives the most opens. At the very least, remove the no-reply response!
GDPR dominated a lot of email marketing conversations in 2018, and this is expected to continue throughout 2019. The General Data Protection Act (GDPR) applies to the processing of data subjects’ personal data by any size of EU or non-EU organizations that provides goods or services to the EU or monitors the behavior of EU users. If you send email to European users, it’s critical to understand the law, and know if you need to make any changes to your program.
We’re not replacing legal advice at all, but we do provide a deep dive into the law, implications, and tips for your email program in our GDPR best practice guide. Finally, although GDPR applies to the EU, following the law for everyone is just a good practice for email marketing in general.
It’s the jolliest–and, unfortunately, spammiest–time of the year. Subscribers are already expecting increased promotion and deals leading up to the holiday season, but it’s still important to remain mindful and courteous about your sending so you don’t end up overwhelming your users.
Our delivery experts recommend modifying your preference centers during the holiday season to include a checkbox that asks your subscribers if they’d like to opt into holiday email communications. This helps properly set expectations with your recipients while helping you tailor your holiday email content.
Want to brush up on your email sending for the holidays? Take our quiz below.
An IP address is a unique number block that identifies a device using the Internet Protocol (IP) to communicate over a certain network. When it comes to your email, your IP address behavior affects your sender reputation, and how ISPs judge your sending patterns.
Most email service providers (ESPs) provide the option to send email on a shared IP pool or a dedicated IP address. When you’re sending from a dedicated IP address, you are the sole sender and your reputation (and how it affects your deliverability) is yours, and yours alone.
If you’re sending both transactional and marketing email, it’s a good idea to separate those two streams of email. Because transactional email is crucial and requested by your user, don’t risk that delivery by combining it with the reputation of your marketing emails (typically much lower engagement).
How many IPs you add from there will depend on your monthly sending volume. Check out our recommendations on IP addresses based on monthly email activity.
(Don’t) Jinx yourself with simple mistakes
Don’t set yourself up for failure on your next email campaign—create a checklist of all the important steps you need to consider before pressing “send.”
We’ve compiled a simple checklist that you can reference, but be sure to add your own items custom to your program to make sure you have a seamless sending experience, every time.
These are the steps to get started:
Customize your "from" line
If you're not sure what the from name should be, AB test!
Write clear subject lines
Keep it short: based on our research 3-6 word subject lines perform best.
Personalize your content
Don't forget about providing a compelling CTA.
Make it easy to unsubscribe
Remember, this is a legal requirement, not an optional feature
Disclose your location
You are also obligated to provide this information in all of your email campaigns.
Say thank you!
Don't forget to show your appreciation to your users
When the time comes when you do make an inevitable mistake (nobody is perfect), it’s a good idea to have a plan for when things go wrong. An apology email may be an appropriate response and, when executed correctly, maintains trust with your users (and it will even help humanize your brand).
Keep it simple
It’s easy to start planning out an email program that consists of a lot of moving parts. It’s even easier to get carried away and overwhelmed. But consider starting simple with all aspects of your email program: design, components, sending schedule and adding elements with each preceding email campaign.
Bonus: Simplicity makes email testing that much clearer and definitive.
Landing page love
Designing and writing copy for your email campaigns will require a good chunk of your time. But also consider where you are sending your recipients.
Send your recipients to landing pages that make sense based on your goals and email copy and that provides a seamless transition. For example, if you want to direct them to a certain product, send them to the landing page for that product, not your homepage or product line home page.
Opens, clicks, ctor, and….so. Many. Metrics. Take a breath; it doesn’t have to be complicated. To determine what metrics are best to monitor, first determine the purpose of your email. For example:
- If you want recipients to read an important update to your terms of service (and the content is directly in your email), you will want to use a compelling subject line and measure your opens.
- If you want to extend an offer or discount, clicks (and subsequently visits and conversions from your offer) are your main metric to watch.
SendGrid helps you track 9 metrics with our Event Webhook. Learn more about our Event Webhook in our Event Webhook Guide.GET EVENT WEBHOOK GUIDE →
Ok, this one isn’t email related, however, you’ve gotten halfway down this list, and you might need a break for a snack. And nachos…they are deeply satisfying, and we’re pretty sure a lot of people on your email list would agree.
We also already covered no-reply use earlier so take some time for some cheese on chips if you need.
Opt-in, make it double
How do your recipients get onto your email list? There are a few ways to do this including single opt-in, double, pre-confirmed opt-in to name a few. We highly recommend that you use a double opt-in method, that requires recipients to not only click a box on your sign-up page but to follow a link in your email that double confirms that they meant to do that in the first place.
To read about all the types of opt-in processes, check out a blog that one of our email delivery experts wrote about how to choose the right one.OPTIMIZE THOSE OPT-INS →
Personalization isn’t necessarily new for 2019, but it keeps picking up steam and becoming increasingly important for email programs. Batch and blast emails just aren’t going to cut it or result in high conversion and engagement rates.
To personalize your emails, you must first consider the data about your users that you have.
Tip: try to focus on behavior whenever you can. If you have a highly engaged portion of your email list, personalize content for that user behavior. And for those who rarely open your emails, customize content through a re-engagement email campaign.
Email automation can be a key strategy to help you provide personalized email experiences. Learn more about SendGrid’s email automation beta product, and sign up to be added to our early access waitlist!
Quality beats frequency
Email marketing can be a powerful tool for digital communication, but that doesn’t mean that ramping up your email frequency will make your message more effective. In fact, sending too many emails to your recipients will likely achieve the opposite result. Recipients may unsubscribe if they feel overwhelmed with your, or worse they may even decide to mark your email as spam.
Start slow, and test how your audience responds to your email sending frequency. Learn more about fighting email fatigue.
Email marketing (much like direct marketing) used to be more of a “batch and blast” communication—everyone gets the same message at the same time. These days, you’ll experience higher engagement if you cater your messages to specific characteristics, i.e. segments you know about your customers.
You could segment your email streams according to factors such as:
- What did they purchase lately?
- Where do they live?
- What time are they opening your other mail?
The more you cater your messages to your subscribers’ tastes, interests, activities, etc., the more likely you are to reach and resonate with your recipients.
Figuring out the perfect time to send your email is a hot topic. And while we don’t have the silver bullet answer for you, we do have some advice and insight. Based on our tests, we found that for our emails, Tuesdays were a good day for our recipients to engage. Test this day in your program and if you see success continue to do so.
Consider sending your emails on “off” times, i.e. not on the top of the hour. So for example, send your newsletters at 10:07 am instead of 10 am. Sending at the top of the hour increases the chance that your emails will be delayed and not reach the recipient when you originally intended.
Unsubscribes: part of the game
At some point in your email campaigns, even if they once opted into your emails, some recipients may not want to hear from you anymore. That’s ok (and a natural part of the email lifecycle), as long as you have a stable unsubscribe system in place for these users. The ability to unsubscribe from your email program should never be confusing, should be available in one click, and finally, it should be instantaneous.
And no matter what, don’t make your users have to log into any sort of account to unsubscribe from emails.
Consistent sending volumes is crucial for maintaining a good reputation with the ISPs. Sending 100 emails on Monday and then 100,000 on Tuesday sends a mixed signal. Was that 100,000 campaign just a massive spam send? The ISPs probably think so.
Breaking up your sending volumes to a consistent level shows the ISPs it’s just business as usual (and you’re not a phisher or spammer).
If you do end up sending high volumes of mail, make sure you build up your amount gradually (known as warming up a new sending IP)—send too much email at one time and ISPs will likely throttle your emails which can delay delivery time, frustrate your users, and likely cause a decrease in engagement.
If you’re a high-volume sender who sends millions of emails a month, check out our guide specifically for sending large volumes of email.
It may seem obvious, but give your new subscribers a warm welcome! Welcome emails give you an opportunity to say “hello,” re-introduce yourself, and set expectations for what kind of email your recipients will be receiving from you–and how often.
Welcome emails also provide the perfect opportunity to send subscribers to your preference center so they can adjust the frequency and type of email they’ll be receiving from you. Getting started on the right note can make a world of a difference in keeping your subscribers happy.
Take the following quiz before you send your first welcome email series:
Consider sharing an example of a recent newsletter or promotional email you’ve sent on the sign-up page or preference center, so your subscribers know what to expect, and there are no surprises once they start receiving your emails.
Yearly recap emails
If you’re looking for additional ways to reach out and retain your email list in an engaging and fun way, consider sending a yearly recap email campaign. This sort of data will be highly reliant on the types of information and data that you have for your users.
The Spotify and Strava yearly recap emails provide detailed information for each user. You’re likely not going to be in possession of the data of these large brands, but this doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with ways to recap the year with your users or recipients.
Check out some other winning yearly recap emails here.
Zone in on your VIPs
Your VIP recipients are your biggest brand ambassadors. Subscribers who always open and click (and maybe even share!) your email deserve a little extra attention for their loyalty and engagement. Plus, you can glean valuable information from your VIPs.
Have a new email template or call to action you’d like to try out? It’s a good idea to start with your VIP recipients first. Survey your VIPs to see how you can improve your email program (or highlight what you’re doing right), and be sure to reward them with special offers and discounts. Reward and retain them and you’ll both notice the benefits.