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You've Got Mail: A Guide to Email Marketing

Andreas Rivera
Andreas Rivera

Make sure your email communications inspire your customers

Despite the rise of social media and its numerous platforms, an email address is still a necessity for the internet and has remained the top universal form of digital communication. In fact, by 2020, 3 billion people worldwide will be using email, according to a study by the Radicati Group. For comparison, Facebook has 1.9 billion users.

Email marketing is still a form of direct marketing that's important for a business's growth. You can use it to keep in touch with customers and keep them informed about what's new with your business, such as sales, new products and promotional deals. 

However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. This guide will detail several dos and don'ts for email marketing and showcase useful tools and services to get you started.

Finding your audience

The first thing you'll need, of course, is email addresses to target. Nearly every email marketer will agree that opt-in emails are far superior to unsolicited emails, which almost always end up in the intended recipient's spam folder. There are a few different ways to get emails, most of which require some time and patience.

    • Website: Adding an email sign-up widget to your website is simple. Many email marketing services have ones you can drop into your site to automatically add addresses to your list. If you have an online store, pose the question when customers check out. To convince people to sign up, feature a clear and concise call to action on what you want to email people. Don't be ambiguous; let visitors know that they'll receive a newsletter or deals and discounts when they sign up.


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  • Physical interactions: Brick-and-mortar locations give your customer the option to sign up for more deals or news on products from you. You can incentivize this with a discount or free item. Pose this to them as if they're signing up for a free membership, and let them know that establishing this relationship is to their benefit and that you're not going to inundate them with spam. Other places you can sign up interested consumers include conventions or fairs.
  • Ads: You can craft online ads that include calls to action to sign up for your email newsletter. You can even buy ads in other companies' newsletters. Better yet, form relationships with other companies to include newsletter sign-ups on each other's emails.
  • List brokers: This is an option that embodies quantity over quality. List broker services sell lists of email addresses for you to add to your own. To reduce the risk of most of these emails ending up in the spam folder, buy from list brokers that feature opt-in email addresses only, which are recipients who have shown interest in receiving emails related to your industry. You can also rent lists, which allows you to send a one-time email campaign that the list broker sends for you. Include a sign-up option for continued emails.

When to send

Now that you have a list of recipients willing to listen to what you have to say, optimize your message to get the most out of your newfound audience. Your conversion rate is the number of your email recipients who answer your call to action, such as clicking a link in the message to your website. There are a few things to think about if you want to increase your conversion rate.

Know when and how frequently to send your email campaigns. There is no shortage of marketing consulting firms and marketing bloggers who claim to know the magic number for how much to send and what day of the week and what time to send. However, the optimal time and frequency will likely depend on your audience. Experiment and learn how your audience responds to your email campaigns. Most of the top email marketing services provide you with analytics to help you determine if your audience responds more to your emails daily, weekly, biweekly, etc.

Experiment by segmenting your email lists into samples and trying different campaigns at different frequencies and times of day. For example, set up a group you send to once every weekend and another you send to twice a week on weekdays. Stay involved and see what works best for your audience.

Once you're confident you've found a good timetable for sending out your emails, be consistent. Consistency will keep your audience engaged and remind them you exist. After a while, if you feel like your conversion rate is dropping, try experimenting once more. It never hurts to set aside small samples of emails to try different campaigns on.

Optimize for mobile

It's essential that your emails are optimized for mobile devices, as 65 percent of users access their email on a smartphone or tablet, according to the study by the Radicati Group. Fortunately, most email services will let you craft both a desktop and mobile version of your email. Furthermore, keep the message short and to the point, especially in the subject line. Mobile users will swipe away your email if the subject doesn't immediately grab them.

Avoid the spam folder

An important thing to keep in mind is that U.S. law protects consumers from overbearing email campaigns with several guidelines that you must follow. CAN-SPAM sets requirements for commercial emailing, with the biggest rule being that you must provide recipients an option to opt out of receiving your emails, commonly done through an unsubscribe button. Other guidelines include no misleading or deceptive information and identifying your messages as advertisements. Running afoul of these requirements can result in penalties.

Even if you do comply with CAN-SPAM, recipients' email spam filters may still single you out as unwanted spam. They usually do this by detecting certain keywords in your emails. Avoid using overly promotional or sales-pitchy terms such as "free," "buy," "offer" or "claim." Try being subtler in your messaging.

Email marketing services

To send out mass emails from your domain, you'll either need your own email server or an email marketing service. If you don't have the technical know-how to set up and run a server or don't want to devote the time and resources to its upkeep, then going with a service is the better option.

These services can automate your emailing process, organize your contacts and offer templates for you to design your emails with. Services such as Constant Contact, iContact and MailChimp are email platforms that help automate your emails with automatic responses to recipients who sign up for emails.  

  • Constant Contact is an email platform that assists you with every step of your email campaigns, from gathering email addresses to designing your newsletters. It has an automation feature that allows you to set up and auto response email to every new subscriber. Build profiles of your audience and set up such scheduled events as birthday or holiday messages. Pricing is based on the number of subscribers and the number of emails you send.
  • MailChimp is an affordable mailing platform with a free version for businesses that have small lists and send under 12,000 emails per month. The paid version of $10 per month gets you unlimited emails. Engagement reports allow you to monitor how well your campaigns are going so you can get the best ROI.
  • Zoho ContactManager is an in-depth contact organizer that allows you to build detailed profiles of your audience and sort them into different categories. This platform integrates with MailChimp, so you can build specialized mailing lists for different campaigns.
  • CoffeeCup Responsive Email Designer can help you craft good-looking email designs for your campaigns. Responsive emails are adaptable to whatever device recipients use to open them. You can impress subscribers with clean and consistent designs to keep them engaged. This software has a yearly license of $299.


As with all forms of marketing, there's no one-size-fits-all solution to email marketing. The only thing that's for sure is that if your company isn't doing it, then you're losing out. As one of the only essential platforms tied to an individual's online identity, email is only growing. Get to know your audience through email and keep them informed and thinking of your business.

Image Credit: Guadilab/Shutterstock
Andreas Rivera
Andreas Rivera
business.com Staff
Andreas Rivera graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in Mass Communication and is now a staff writer for Business.com and Business News Daily. His background in journalism brings a critical eye to his reviews and features, helping business leaders make the best decisions for their companies.