10 commandments that will transform your email marketing efforts forever

10 Commandments

To win at any game, you need to first learn its rules inside out and then practice, practice, practice till you become an expert at it. The same philosophy applies to most things in life, including email marketing.

Email marketing is probably the most scientific part of marketing, where every single aspect of the communication can be tested to zero in on the best variation, its results are distinctly measured and attributable to specific actions made by the user, thanks to the latest advances in email automation technology.

Not only is it measurable and easily optimizable, it also offers the best ROI among all other forms of digital marketing. So let’s figure out the 10 commandments to keep our email marketing on the straight and narrow, so we can hone it further into a lean, mean conversion machine!

1. Be CAN-SPAM compliant

The CAN-SPAM Act, was signed into law in 2003 by U.S. President George W. Bush as a way to protect the interests of users in the midst of the digital marketing maelstrom that was unleashed at the turn of the century. This is self-evident in the name of the law. ‘CAN-SPAM’ stands for Controlling the Assault of Non Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act.

It lays down guidelines that all commercial emails need to abide by, or face the legal consequences for the same.

Some key guidelines of the CAN-SPAM Act include, not using misleading subject lines to entice users to open emails, using the correct from name and email ID as that of your business for proper identification, allowing users the option of opting out and enforcing the opt-out process within 10 days of the users’ request.

The CAN-SPAM Act is the most fundamental commandment of them all, as non-compliance with it can get your domain name blacklisted and your domain authority will be banished to the netherworlds of email spam. Don’t perform this hara-kiri on your email campaigns. Follow the rules.

2. Regular health check on list

An average email list decays at the rate of 25% per year, which means in about 4 years, almost all of your current users would stop reading, opening or receiving your brand communication.

It is important to weed out this chunk of disengaged users from your list on a regular to ensure that you’re not sending emails to customers who have explicitly opted out – an offence punishable under the CAN –SPAM act. Performing regular health checks will reduce your bounce rate and will target only those individuals who are genuinely interested in receiving your marketing communication; thus increasing conversions.

3. Grow lists organically

If your list decays at the rate of 25% per year, you need to replace the lost users and add to the total list strength on a regular basis. Simple ways to grow your email list include:

  1. Always have a prominent light box on your website asking for email IDs in exchange for special offers / deals
  2. If a user checks out as a guest, ask them to sign up for your newsletter to get more deals and deep discounts. This is an especially effective tip as the user is in a positive state of mind after having just finished a transaction with your brand.
  3. Home page sign up box. According to Marketing Sherpa, 75% of marketers integrate their email programs with their website.
  4. Ask social media fans to sign up to newsletters – a free way to grow your base and expose them to your marketing communication on more platforms than one.

The worst thing you can do for your email list is to buy an email database from one of the many scammy operators lurking around on the internet.

4. Welcome email with opt-in messaging

Sending an opt-in email immediately after a purchase makes sure you reach them at a time when the user is already favourably inclined towards your brand and will offer a higher probability of signups than other wise.

A welcome email in itself is a nice relationship building measure which few brands have adopted so far, but is deeply effective in the long run.

5. Social integration

You spend countless hours (and substantial marketing budgets) building a loyal fan base on relevant social networking sites. Then why allow these users to just interact with your brand via social media?

Ask fans or followers to sign up for your newsletters via your social media platforms. Have a newsletter sign up tab on your Facebook brand page and your Linkedin company page. On Facebook, you can use the Custom Audiences option and send targeted communication to only those fans who are not on your email list to sign up for the newsletters right away.

Besides asking for signups on social media, integrate social media into the emails you send out. Have clearly visible social sharing icons next to your key articles or products. Emails with social integration get 115% higher CTRs.

6. Segmentation, personalisation

Big Data has been a big blessing for most marketers. The abundance of customer information that we now have access to is unprecedented. Use click data, browse data, drop offs, customer journeys across your site, information on past purchases, profile information and more to create a 360 degree customer profile for each customer.

The Experian “2013 Email Market Study” shows that personalized promotional emails sent during 2013 had 26% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click rates than non-personalized mailings.

Experian Marketing Services

Use these customer profiles to create clear customer segments with distinctly different needs and customize your email communication to these users accordingly. For example, segments that buy frequently but have never used a coupon to make a purchase, should not be mixed with communication carrying coupons. This will save marketing budgets and make the user price agnostic in the long run.

7. Go mobile

This is the standard refrain you hear from marketing gurus from around the world. And for good reason too.

Mobile email

Image: Movable Ink (Q1 2014)

Even more importantly, according to TopRankBlog, 64% of decision-makers read their email via mobile devices.

Opt for responsive emails that render well on all types of mobile devices as well as on desktops. Some of the mobile specific things you need to mind are:

  1. Use shorter subject lines that display well on small mobile screens
  2. Go with responsive design on email and landing page
  3. Opt for larger fonts and buttons, offer more click space – at least 45 x 45 px per button, text size at 14-15px for body copy
  4. Use light images, avoid flash to display emails properly on iPhones
  5. Width max of 300 – 400px if you do not go for responsive design
  6. Stick to a single column layout in your emails to prevent the need to scroll left to right on mobile devices to simply read your communication

8. Automate wherever possible, test rigorously

Email automation has come a long way from just uploading CSV files of email addresses with an HTML file into the server and pushing out a mass mailer to thousands of users in one shot.

You can now use email-specific A/B Test tools like the one from GetResponse to test out every aspect of your email before sending it out. Test and arrive at the best time of send out, best message layout and copy, subject lines and so much more to improve deliverability, open rates and conversions.

Set up automated emails for each customer segment targeting different milestones – birthday mails, anniversary or festive greetings, welcome emails and other such ‘triggered emails’ that are sent out based on customer activity on your site.

9. Recover abandoned shopping carts

You don’t need to be an e-commerce expert to know that abandoned shopping carts are a huge pain point for all e-commerce businesses. The Baymard Institute estimates that about 59.7% of all shopping carts are abandoned mid-purchase for some reason or the other. This is a customer on whom your customer acquisition budgets were totally wasted as they arrived on your site but did not buy anything at all.


Do not waste such missed opportunities. Retarget these customers with abandoned cart emails to help them complete their shopping. Throw in a special offer to sweeten the deal and ensure that the user actually ends up buying. Ecommercefuel uses retargeted emails to recover up to 11% of abandoned shopping carts per month.

10. “SEO” your emails

If you SEO your website, then why not your emails? Use the same fundamentals of SEO in your emails to ensure that web versions of your emails show up when users search for topics relevant to your email content.

Use important key words in your subject line and your email heading to catch Google’s eye. Make sure your subject and section headings are relevant to the content. Use a combination of text and images that catches the eye and conveys your message as effectively as possible in as few words as possible.

Use captions and descriptions with each image in your email, as many email services block images automatically. In the absence of the actual image, users will be able to read the image description to get the full impact of your communication.

The last word

Email marketing has the potential to give $67 of revenue for every $1.7 spent (Direct Marketing Association). Don’t miss out on such a powerful opportunity by not optimizing it to its fullest extent. Follow these ten commandments to the ‘T’ as watch your email marketing grow wings and give you conversions you never thought possible.



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