You know what email is and you know what marketing is – so why is email marketing so hard to get right?
It shouldn’t be. And it won’t be after you read this article.
If you think email marketing can help you grow your online business, you’re right.
In terms of marketing investment, email is still the biggest bang for your buck.
Because speaking directly to people who have ASKED to hear from you is the most effective way to get (and retain) customers.
This article will show you everything you need to know about email marketing — including how I use it to sell products every day and what business tools I recommend.
Chapter 1: Email Marketing Defined
Chapter 2: How Does Email Marketing Work?
Chapter 3: Email Marketing Platforms
Chapter 4: Email Marketing Strategy
Chapter 5: Email marketing tips
What is Email Marketing?
Email marketing is the digital marketing activity of sending commercial messages – to a group of people – using an email service provider. In the simplest sense, every email message sent to a person for commercial purposes would be considered email marketing.
Chapter 1: Email Marketing Defined
A basic email marketing definition:
Messages sent by email with commercial intent.
In other words, any time a business uses email to reach prospects or customers, it can be considered email marketing.
If you are picturing the digital equivalent of flyers stuffed into a mailbox, it’s no wonder. Ever since marketers realized they could sell products directly to consumers via email, inboxes have been inundated with “special offers.”
No printing costs, no postage, and instant delivery to inboxes all over the world — email is an advertiser’s dream.
Early on, it was a free for all: companies bought and sold email lists, sent endless spam, and used pushy sales tactics.
Today, email marketing is much different, and better.
Sure, there are still bad actors buying lists and sending spam. But service providers filter out junk mail and (mostly) keep it out of your inbox.
And many countries have implemented laws banning spam.
What else is different about modern email marketing?
Most marketing messages you see in your inbox are a result of you asking to receive them.
That means voluntarily joining a list, submitting your email, and agreeing to receive messages from a business.
We’re surrounded by advertising we didn’t ask to see — flyers in the mailbox, commercials on TV, promoted social media posts, billboards, and even podcast sponsorships.
The difference with email marketing is, generally, we’ve asked to see it.
And done right, marketing emails can actually be welcomed and appreciated.
It’s relevant and personalized.
Whether it’s a newsletter, a product pitch, or a reminder to complete the purchase in a shopping cart, the receiver is interested.
Otherwise, they wouldn’t have signed up.
How much more targeted can you get?
Opting into an email list is now a transparent and respectful process.
Businesses typically explain what kind of emails they will send, and with what frequency.
For example, Further promises to send one email per week, with a specific type of content:
The focus of email marketing should be providing added value to the customer. Giving away useful content and resources is usually part of the strategy — not constant sales offers.
And respectful marketing emails clearly explain how to unsubscribe and stop getting emails.
But the purpose of this guide is not to give you a long-winded history. It is to teach you how to use direct email marketing to grow your business, and why it’s essential that you start today.
The most compelling reason:
Every other marketing channel puts you at the mercy of someone else’s agenda.
When you have an email list, you own your traffic.
Consider these popular marketing channels:
- SEO: Google updates the search algorithm and suddenly your blog posts are buried on page 43. You had a steady stream of website visitors, but it dries up overnight.
- Social media: Your target demographic starts drifting to a new platform, and fewer people are seeing your posts. You now have to start from scratch building followers while you are losing sales.
- YouTube: Your niche becomes crowded with competitors and suddenly, nobody is watching your videos (or clicking the links to buy).
All the time, effort, and money spent on those traffic sources up in smoke.
Unless… you’ve been building an email list.
When you collect email addresses (with permission) from people who are interested in your business, you retain a lasting benefit from all of your marketing efforts.
If you take care of that email list, it’s an asset that will drive your business for years to come.
So, how can you use email marketing to grow your business in 2021?
Let’s keep going to find out.
Chapter 2: How Does Email Marketing Work?
By now, you should be convinced:
Email marketing is essential to the success of your business.
But if you don’t have an email list, how do you get one?
This section is a step-by-step guide on how to do email marketing when you’re starting from scratch.
Step 1: Sign up with an email service provider
Email service providers are basically software services for managing subscribers and sending email campaigns.
Make sure you read Chapter 3 before you commit to a service. It covers my top picks for email marketing companies, and how to choose the best one for your business.
For now, just know the email service provider is the software you will use to:
- Store email addresses and customer data.
- Manage lists, add tags, and process unsubscribe requests.
- Create sign up forms on your website.
- Design and send emails to subscribers.
Step 2: Create an opt-in offer
What will you offer in exchange for an email address?
People are, understandably, reluctant to sign up for more email. For most of us, Inbox Zero is a cruel joke. But we still want free stuff!
“Sign up for my free newsletter” is not likely to convince anyone.
You need to provide a compelling reason for someone to hand over that email address. For example, here’s a lead magnet we use to attract people who want to learn how to start a podcast.
An opt-in offer is an instant benefit, free of charge, you will provide when someone joins your email list. In digital marketing, it’s often referred to as a lead magnet.
Lead magnets can be different things, depending on the type of business.
Here are three examples for you:
- A discount offer like free shipping or a coupon code
2. A digital resource like an e-book or course
3. A free trial of the service
Whatever you decide to use as an opt-in offer, it must provide real value.
Try to think like your customers and ask yourself, “Would I hand over my email address for this?”
Here are a few tips for coming up with an enticing opt-in offer:
- Save time by re-purposing resources you’ve already created into a new format. For example:
- Books and guides >> video tutorials or email courses
- Multiple small resources >> a bundle or a comprehensive package
- A paid course >> offer one module for free
- A book for sale >> give the first chapter for free
- Target a specific and immediate problem your audience has. For example:
- Don’t know what to make for dinner? Faster Than Takeout: Top 10 Recipes to Solve Dinner
- Yearning for chiseled abs? 7 Workouts to Blast Your Abs Fast
- Are new parents desperate for sleep? Bedtime Cheat-Sheet: Get Your Kids to Sleep On Time TONIGHT
Step 3: Place an opt-in form on your website
The opt-in form (also called a sign-up form) is how people will submit their email and join your list. I use Thrive Leads for creating my forms, it enables me to create forms within my WordPress dashboard.
Here’s how it works.
First, choose which type of form you want.
When you log into your email service provider, you will find a variety of form options.
Choose a design and function to suit your website, the placement, and the opt-in offer.
For example, here are a few common types of opt-in form:
Popup box: Pops up in front of the page to grab attention.
Inline form: A box that can be placed anywhere on a page, including within the text of a blog post, or at the bottom of any page.
This example is taken from the Soul Salt blog where they are offering a content upgrade to how to find your purpose in life.
Ribbon: A banner across the full length of a page, usually at the top.
Next, customize the form.
The objective of an opt-in form is to convince the maximum number of people to opt-in.
Make it as easy as possible to complete.
Every extra field to complete means more work for potential subscribers — and more opportunities for them to change their minds before they hit “submit.”
These are the only things you really need to include:
- Place to type an email address
- Call to action button
With the text on your form, remember to focus on the benefit of signing up — think about what the opt-in offer does, rather than what it is.
You can also customize the colors on forms to stand out from the rest of your site.
If your website is on WordPress, you can take your opt-in forms to the next level with Thrive Leads, which you can get here:
- Create all kinds of high-conversion forms.
- Test different offers and forms: Automatically display variations of forms to see which ones get more sign-ups.
- Target different users: Automatically display different forms, depending on which type of content they are interested in.
Finally, place the form on your website.
Your email provider will produce a block of code representing your customized form.
Copy and paste into your website.
After you save and refresh the page, this:
Will look like this:
If you use Thrive Leads, you won’t have to deal with any code — opt-in forms are created and placed from within your WordPress dashboard.
Step 4: Write a welcome series
There are two common mistakes that can derail your email marketing before you see any return on your investment.
- The first mistake is not sending enough emails. A new prospect gives you their email address, only to have it sit there for weeks until you feel like sending an email blast.Weeks later, they don’t care nearly as much as they did when they first signed up. In fact, they may have forgotten signing up. Your first email is likely to go straight to the trash.
- The second mistake is asking subscribers to buy something right away. Not only is that off-putting, but it’s ineffective. It’s a quick way to lose your new subscriber.
- Here’s what I love most about it:
- ConvertKit is NOT trying to be everything to everyone. They have developed and are continuing to develop the perfect email marketing service for creators – bloggers, podcasts, YouTubers, etc.
- Simple, yet effective. Yes, ConvertKit does automation and segmenting, but they have managed to create a tool that is intuitive and easy to use.
- ConvertKit is founded and run by Nathan Barry, an honest, hard-working, and great guy.
That said, some of the email marketing platforms I’ve seen are way too complex, even for me. Sometimes I need to set up complicated automation. I do not want to spend weeks figuring out how to do it, or depend on outside help to make it work.
I’ve settled on ActiveCampaign because they make it incredibly easy to set up complex automations – from basic automated emails to transactional emails, and evergreen email funnels to RSS feed automation.
Yes, ActiveCampaign has advanced marketing automation built-in, but they make it simple to implement and understand.
I can map out a subscriber’s journey down to the tiniest detail, in minutes.
Chapter 4: Email Marketing Strategy
The first three chapters were all about how email marketing works, and how to start building an email list.
Now we get to the juicy part — what and when to email your subscribers.
Your email marketing strategy has one purpose.
(Hint: It’s not to let people know what you’re up to in newsletters.)
It’s sales. If selling doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t worry. It’s a skill you can learn.
And the best part?
You don’t have to be extroverted, pushy, or underhanded to sell products to your email list.
This chapter will show you how to bring subscribers on the following journey:
An effective email strategy accomplishes this lofty goal with three kinds of email.
I’m not talking about the content of the messages, which can look very different depending on what business you are in.
Instead, consider the three types of intent behind each message:
- Engaging: Teaching readers what you’re all about, and engaging them further with your business.
- Selling: Making relevant offers, and asking for the sale.
- Segmenting: Finding out more about your subscribers and grouping or “tagging” them to sell more effectively.
Here’s how to use each type of email to build a strategy that will maximize your profits, without being sleazy.
The first few emails you send any new subscriber should aim to engage them — get them to open, read, and take action.
Why? Because jumping straight into a sales pitch would be like proposing marriage on a first date. You can imagine what the answer would be.
New subscribers are most engaged in the first few days after signing up. You have their attention now, more than ever.
This is your opportunity to show them they are in the right place, and good things are going to happen when they stay on your list.
Writing an effective email welcome series
In terms of a subscriber’s journey, the first few emails should bring them from stranger to friend.
Starting with your very first welcome email, write with these objectives in mind:
- Introduce yourself and your business: Personally welcome and celebrate your new subscriber. Help them get to know you a little better.
- Tell your new subscriber what to expect: Let people know how often you will email them, and what kind of emails you will send.
- Demonstrate the value of being a subscriber: Remind people why they signed up, and why they are going to love opening your emails.
- Engage the subscriber to take further action: Ask them to “whitelist” you, by adding you to their contacts. Entice them to further engage by visiting your website and following your social media accounts.
- Raise curiosity about what’s coming next: Give them a strong incentive to open your next emails, by hinting at good things to come.
Here’s what it looks like in action:
You can see in the example above that it’s possible to cover all the bases in one email. But sending a few more emails while your new prospect is still engaged and excited puts you in a much better position.
You want to provide plenty of opportunities for them to engage with one of your emails during this phase.
If they were busy and missed your first email, this gives new subscribers a few more chances to get on board.
Staying in touch
After the welcome series, some of your prospects should be ready to become customers. So absolutely, if you have a product to sell, start selling.
But what if you don’t have a product for sale yet? (If this is the case, you could try affiliate marketing.)
What if you’re still working on products for different segments of your market?
What if you have a product to sell, but it’s something with a longer sales cycle?
Even if none of those questions apply to your business, it’s a bad strategy to email only when you want to sell something.
In fact, regularly sending helpful resources, curated content, or news updates can help with a few important objectives:
- Establishing authority: Branding yourself as an expert, and your business as a valuable resource.
- Staying top of mind: When they need your product or service, you’ll be the first one they think of.
- Deepening the relationship: Over time, regular contact helps readers get to know you better, and trust you more. Conversely, you get to learn more about them as you see what kind of messages get the best response.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what to send. There’s no standard recipe for email marketing success. Frequency, content, and tone can vary widely, even within the same niche.
For example, The Hustle sends an email every single day, and Brian Clark at Further emails once a week.
A big retail store like Ikea sends targeted product listings, but a small independent cabinet maker might send updates from the workshop, or pictures of their latest project.
For Hack the Entrepreneur, I like to send a personal message every time I publish a new resource. Not so much when I just want to share a motivational quote.
While I can’t tell you exactly what to send, I can tell you to keep these guiding principles in mind with every email blast:
Be consistent: Whether you’re going to email every day, or once a month, tell people what to expect when they sign up. Then make sure you deliver.
Make it about them, not you: Always put your customer first. Ask yourself how what you are sending is going to help them. If you are writing about yourself, that’s fine. As long as you focus the message on how your story benefits the reader.
Direct selling is the bread and butter of your email marketing strategy. This is how you will grow your business and make real sales to real customers.
Ultimately, all of the emails you send are intended to sell customers on you and your brand. But product launches and sales funnels are specific art (and science).
The good news is, everything in this guide so far has been about placing you in a strategically brilliant position to close the sale.
If you’ve followed along so far, you have already “influenced” your potential customers.
With an awesome lead magnet, you’ve already provided value.
With an effective welcome series, you’ve convinced leads that they are in the right place.
Anyone still on your list is ready to consider the next step of the journey, moving from friend to customer.
Segmenting your email list is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy list.
Because irrelevant messages are a bother. People will unsubscribe.
Chances are, your business offers a variety of products and services that will appeal to different segments of your readers.
- A gardening supply business:
- Different plants grow in different climates.
- Some gardeners grow vegetables, and some only flowers.
- The list includes a combination of experienced gardeners and people buying their very first seed packet.
If this doesn’t sound anything like your business, you might be tempted to skip over this section. That would be a mistake.
Even if your email list is already super-targeted, segmenting emails helps to re-engage readers.
Here’s how segmenting emails work:
- Email your readers and ask them to take an action related to a specific topic. For example:
- Clicking a link to an article, on your blog or another high-quality website.
- Taking a quiz or survey.
- Jumping to a landing page for a free download, webinar, or video.
- Clicking a button to stop receiving info about a certain topic.
- Subscribers who take the requested action identify themselves as interested.
- Email software tracks who clicks on the links your messages, and automatically adds tags. If you use a quiz, same thing — the results are tracked and responders are tagged.
- You now have a subgroup of subscribers to target with relevant content, and you’ve re-engaged your long-term readers.
Now you know what segmenting emails are, and how they work. But when should you segment?
There are lots of reasons you might want to tag different groups of your audience. Here are a few of the most common uses:
- After the welcome series: Filter new subscribers into the most relevant sales funnel after the welcome series.
- Researching demand: Send a quiz, lead magnet, or new content to find out who might be interested in a new product, service, or business book.
- Launching a new product: Find out who is interested first, so you can avoid pitching to readers who won’t care.
If you’re not actively researching or launching new products, you should still consider a segmenting email once or twice per year.
Why? To re-engage with your subscribers.
Segmenting emails are engaging — you are asking readers to do something.
Checking out something on your website, clicking to an interesting article, or getting a useful download — all of these things remind subscribers why they signed up in the first place.
Chapter 5: Email marketing tips
With a solid email marketing strategy in place and a few email marketing best practices, your list should be ticking along with steady growth in subscribers.
Time to sit back and watch sales roll in!
Yeah, no. It would be a minor miracle if everything worked flawlessly from day one.
Chances are, you’ll need to make some adjustments along the way to get the results you expect from your email marketing.
Even if you are getting decent results, there will always be room for improvement.
This chapter covers the most common obstacles that trip up many first-time email marketers — and some tips to get phenomenal results.
How do I know if my email marketing is working?
Email marketing covers multiple phases of the sales process, from lead generation to nurturing and closing a sale.
That means there are a few places that things can go… sideways.
The good news about any kind of online marketing: everything is tracked. You can use data to assess performance and diagnose weak points in your email marketing strategy.
Here are the key metrics you need to know, where to find them, and how to improve them.
1. Page impressions:
Page impressions is a simple measure of how many people are seeing the page. This metric is also referred to as traffic. It’s the first number to look at.
If you are getting lots of traffic, but nobody is signing up to your list, go on to the next metric (opt-in rate).
2. Opt-in rate:
The opt-in rate is a percentage of total visitors who sign up (opt-in) to your email list.
5 percent is a reasonable expectation. But if you target your lead magnet well, you can get as high 15 – 20 percent.
3. Open rate:
The open rate is the next thing to look at. It tells you how many people are opening (and hopefully reading) your emails, as a percentage.
Your initial message to a new subscriber will almost always have the highest open rate — 50 to 75 percent is normal.
It’s natural for the rates to drop over time. For example, in an automated welcome sequence or sales funnel, message two will usually drop into a range of 25 to 50 percent.
As the sequence continues, people will unsubscribe and open rates in the 30 percent range are normal.
4. Click-through rate:
This is the final step — and the limits of what email marketing can do: getting a subscriber to click on a link in your email.
Click-through rates vary quite a bit, depending on what you are asking subscribers to do.
For example, if your message is selling something, you might include a link to a sales page, and expect a rate of 7 to 30 percent.
If it’s a link to a free download, you 40 to 60 percent is reasonable.
How do I get (and keep) more subscribers?
First, let me answer that question with another question:
Do you have low traffic?
If only a handful of people visit your site each day, increasing traffic should be your most immediate concern. Without enough targeted traffic to your opt-in offer, nothing else you do will make a difference.
Stop reading this right now and learn how to increase traffic to your website (start with getting onto the first page of google)!
As traffic increases to your website, your email list should be growing. If it’s not, the question becomes:
Why isn’t your opt-in converting?
There are many things you can adjust to improve conversions. The easiest thing to try is simply changing your opt-in forms to make them more eye-catching.
Next, you can test different lead magnets to find a more compelling offer.
Finally, consider the sources of traffic to your website. How well do your website visitors match your offer, and how mentally prepared are they to take the next step?
For example, people who are referred by someone they trust are more likely to sign up. People who happen upon your site while looking for something else are less likely to sign up.
How do I get more people to open my emails?
The first challenge in getting opened is deliverability. So here’s another question for you:
Are your emails arriving in subscribers’ inboxes?
Although your welcome email should direct people to whitelist you, there is more you can do to avoid getting caught in spam filters:
After making it into the inbox, there are some factors that make a big impact on open rates:
In general, emails are more likely to be opened on weekday mornings.
This is when most people have a minute to scan their inbox for anything interesting — before they start working or going about their day.
Of course, this varies depending on who you are targeting. Some audiences (like mine) prefer to open emails later in the week and weekends.
Find the sweet spot for your audience by experimenting with different times and days.
People are more likely to open an email from friends and family first. And it’s hard to feel friendly towards a corporate entity, isn’t it?
Always use your name as the sender, and not the name of your company.
The subject line is a critical element in open rates. If it’s not compelling, your message will get ignored or deleted.
The subject should be descriptive of the contents, but also intriguing. And it has to be within 30 – 35 characters, or it will be shortened in the display.
4. Opening sentence
Many email clients, like Gmail, show the first sentence or two within the inbox.
Pay special attention to the opening of your message to make sure it grabs attention and promises to be worth reading.
5. Inactive subscribers
Low open rates can indicate a problem with list quality.
Over time, subscribers change email addresses or lose interest and stop reading. Some people provide fake email addresses to get a free offer.
The best thing to do is periodically prune the list by removing inactive email addresses.
How do I keep people from unsubscribing?
The short answer:
You can’t. And you shouldn’t try.
Don’t be afraid of unsubscribes. You can’t expect to keep every subscriber because your business isn’t for everyone.
Of course, you want to keep every potential customer on your list. The best way to do that is to be clear about what subscribers should expect to receive from you — and then deliver.
Many first-time email marketers worry about emailing too frequently. They don’t want to be perceived as pushy or annoying. They are also concerned that asking people to buy things all the time is too “salesy” and gross.
These concerns are understandable but wrong.
Your job is to offer as much value as you can with your email marketing. That means sending valuable information and sending frequently. That also includes relevant sales offers.
Never forget — your subscribers are being inundated with other people’s marketing messages. You need to stay in their awareness.
How do increase sales through email marketing?
Email marketing sales funnels are very effective for selling certain types of products. A series of messages strategically composed and timed can:
- Create desire
- Demonstrate value of the product
- Establish urgency to buy
However, it’s difficult for readers to take the leap directly from an email to a shopping cart — especially for higher-priced products.
If you have an online business, your sales funnel should always direct readers to a sales page on your website. Read more about how to create a sales page that converts.
Thrive Leads is an excellent plugin for creating sales and landing pages in WordPress.
Where email marketing take you in 2021?
Now that you know how to get started with email marketing and build a solid list, it’s your turn. If you are looking to make money online, then you need to have a list.