Marketing

23 Proven Email Marketing Tips From Top Digital Marketers

To improve all of your email KPIs—get more opens, drive more clicks, and boost your conversions—follow these 23 proven email marketing tips.

Avatar Kevin Kononenko on October 3, 2019 (last modified on October 4, 2019) • 24 minute read

If you think that email is an oversaturated channel, you probably haven’t discovered these email marketing tips yet.

Even in 2019, email is still one of the best ways to nurture leads.

So to help you succeed with email marketing, we asked our community of digital marketers to tell us about the email marketing tactics that have worked well for them.

They shared all sorts of ideas, from better segmenting your list to personalizing the send time of each email to re-sending the same email again.

To improve all of your email KPIs—get more opens, drive more clicks, and boost your conversions—follow these 23 proven email marketing tips:

  1. Write for Humans, Not Conversions
  2. Get to Know Your Audience
  3. Add Everyone to Your List
  4. Keep Things Simple
  5. Focus on Deliverability
  6. Get Your Subject Line Right
  7. Thoroughly Edit Your Emails Before Sending
  8. Format Your Email Properly
  9. Keep Your Emails Focused
  10. Use Your Emails to Engage with Leads
  11. Nurture Leads with Email Sequences
  12. Shorten the Time Between Nurturing Emails
  13. A/B Test Your Emails
  14. Segment Your List
  15. Pair List Segmentation with Contextual Targeting
  16. Use Your Data to Your Advantage
  17. Combine Personalization and Automation
  18. Take Advantage of All of Your Personalization Tokens
  19. Personalize Your Send Times
  20. Send Fewer Emails
  21. Don’t Send Emails to Unengaged Subscribers
  22. Resend Unopened Emails
  23. Finally, Analyze Your Results

1. Write for Humans, Not Conversions

“Write for humans, not conversions,” says David Freund of Junto. “In today’s metric-driven world, it’s easy for marketers to forget the human on the other side of the screen. If the list data is there, marketers should be using it to further personalize their content for their audience.”

“Even if it’s something as simple as using a subscriber’s first name or sending a happy birthday email, we should be using each and every opportunity to speak more genuinely to our audience, treating them less like conversions and more like humans,” Freund says.

Chris Handy of ConnectEngine agrees: “We stopped trying to make email an epic task. When we started writing emails from a human perspective—remembering that there is another person on the other end of the send button—we started to get better results.”

2. Get to Know Your Audience

“The best advice I can give about email marketing is to make it relevant and contextual for the user,” says Kayla Lewkowicz of Privy. “To do that, you really have to know what your audience cares about and what they want to see.”

Chad Lauterbach of Be Structured Technology Group agrees: “We’re focused on small- and medium-sized businesses. With that in mind, we don’t have a huge email list or even tons of web traffic. So we were always under the impression that email marketing was too big for us.”

“That really changed when we started using a more data-driven approach to sending emails. We performed a ton of persona research and identified who we wanted to reach and why we wanted to reach them.”

“The persona process unlocked incredible insights for our team, and it allowed us to change the way we think about marketing as a whole—email marketing specifically. We’re now sending our relatively small database more targeted emails with messaging that is specific to their needs and challenges,” Lauterbach says.

“Personalisation is the key to success when it comes to email marketing,” says Deepa Venkataraman of Vajra Global Consulting Services. “There are several emails that flood your inbox. However, only a few get opened and clicked.”

3. Add Everyone to Your List

“Something that marketing professionals seem to frequently omit from their email marketing is updating their database with relevant, interested parties,” says Damian Leonard of Roland Dransfield.

“Regardless of whether you receive someone’s email address from a business card at a networking event or from them filling in a form to get your latest ebook, you must add them to your list. If they’re engaging with you, they’re interested in what you have to offer.”

“No matter how good your email marketing campaign is, it won’t matter if it’s not going to anyone who may want it.”

Editor’s note: Mailchimp users can easily keep track of the growth trends for their contact lists over time by grabbing this free Mailchimp dashboard.

mailchimp kpi dashboard

4. Keep Things Simple

“While personalization is very common in emails—i.e. ‘Hi [insert first name here]’—it’s more important than ever to not overdo it,” says Drew Cohen of SmartBug Media.

“Less is usually more—both in terms of content and personalization. A subtle, natural-sounding personalization token can grab readers’ attention and really make it feel like a company has gone the extra mile to reach out to them or their specific persona.”

“I’ve also noticed with several of my clients that a simple, plain text email can really boost engagement. If you put your consumer hat on, you probably receive tons of marketing emails each and every week. An email that is lightweight, text-only, and gets to the point will probably grab your attention,” Cohen says.

Tim Watson of Zettasphere also recommends sending plain-text emails: “We switched from graphical format to plain-text emails with well-written, conversational, personalized, and engaging copy, and it increased responses by 400%.”

Related: HTML vs. Plain Text Emails: Which Do Marketers Send Most? (And Why?)

5. Focus on Deliverability

“It’s nowhere near as sexy a topic as list building, subject lines, or copywriting, but one reliable way of significantly increasing the ROI from your email marketing is simply to make sure your emails get through to more inboxes,” says Ian Brodie.

“For example, according to email delivery expert Chris Lang, you can get an immediate increase of 8-10% in opens and clicks to your emails simply by making sure they get to the primary inbox rather than the promotions tab in Gmail. That’s the equivalent of growing your email list 10% overnight.”

“So how do you do it? The first step is to check where you have problems with inbox placement using a tool like GlockApps. It’ll tell you which services you’re struggling to get into the inbox for and show some of the potential reasons why.”

“To get into the primary inbox, you’ll want to practice good email hygiene: reducing the number of emails you send to people who don’t open or click or potentially stopping sending to them completely.”

“You’ll want to have a welcome email that asks people to whitelist your email address and gives them clear instructions on how to do it. And every now and then you’ll want to email your Gmail subscribers and ask them to drag your emails out of the promotions tab and into the primary inbox to make sure they keep getting them.”

“Following these tips can have a big and immediate impact,” Brodie says.

Editor’s note: SendGrid users can keep track of the deliverability of their emails by grabbing this free SendGrid Global Stats dashboard that shows trends in the number of emails delivered and opened over time.

sendgrid kpi dashboard

6. Get Your Subject Line Right

“Cute, flowery, or vague email subject lines don’t get your emails opened,” says Tammy Duggan-Herd of Campaign Creators. “Short and straight to the point wins every time.”

“We have witnessed this across B2B, B2C and ecommerce clients. After three months of testing, our ecommerce client VitaCup improved their average open rate from 11.75% to 25.9%, resulting in a 242% increase in email revenue.”

“For example, in one A/B test, the subject line ‘30% Off Clearance’ garnered a significantly higher open rate than ‘☕️ This Coffee Gets You Ready for Action👏.’”

“In the B2B space, our own email open rate has been significantly better when we include the exact offer we are promoting in brackets along with a very short description of the content.”

“For example, the subject line ‘Lead Generation [Guide]’ outperformed ‘Ready to fill that funnel with leads?’ A few more examples of subject lines that garner high open rates for us are:’ Email Testing [Workshop],’ ‘State of Marketing [Report],’ and ‘Campaign Optimization [Webinar].’”

“Our average email open rate on 79,836 emails we have sent in the last year is 30.54%—that’s 12.73% higher than the industry average,” Duggan-Herd says.

Jennifer Rae Schulman of Fortune Web Marketing also recommends this approach: “We like to place interactive content inside our emails and let our readers know upfront, especially in the subject line. For example, if our emails contain a video or an infographic, we will use {Video} or {Infographic} in the subject line.”

“We have seen our open rates and click-throughs increase by 30-35%,” Schulman says.

Related: Email Subject Line Examples: 42 Marketers Share Their Very Best

7. Thoroughly Edit Your Emails Before Sending

Phil Wiseman of Analytics That Profit recommends following these basic best practices:

  • “Remember to provide a plain-text version of the email.”
  • “Use smart sending to match time zones.”
  • “Run a spelling and grammar test.”
  • “Send the email to yourself and read it aloud.”

“Once you are completely satisfied that you have created a brilliant email, send a test email to someone else and find out if you really do have a clear message,” Wiseman says.

Related: 22 Common Email Marketing Mistakes & How to Avoid and Overcome Them

8. Format Your Email Properly

“The components of an email that most impact whether or not people will open your email are the subject line, sender name, and preview text,” says Kristen May of TANK New Media. “What makes them want to read and interact with it are:”

  • short paragraphs
  • bullet points
  • at least one image
  • appropriate and actionable call-to-action (CTA)
  • at least one clickable element above the fold (image, link, CTA)
  • social sharing links

“A high-performing email has all of these components,” May says.

9. Keep Your Emails Focused

“You should limit the amount of content in your email and provide clear calls-to-action,” says Andy Hoek of Invalshoek.

“Many businesses tend to overload their newsletters with content, but the result is a lack of focus. The poor person who receives the email doesn’t know what’s important and what isn’t, so (s)he decides that nothing in the mail is important, doesn’t click on any of the links, and maybe even unsubscribes.”

“Even worse is when an email doesn’t have a clear call-to-action. Many newsletters I see still hyperlink part of a sentence instead of adding a big nice button with some good micro-copy as a call-to-action. It should be clear what gets clicked more often,” Hoek says.

Ian Evenstar provided an example of how UNINCORPORATED created successful email sequences using focused emails:

“One tip we’ve employed successfully to increase the ROI from email marketing is converting our client’s graduate application process into a series of email nurtures.”

“We converted the application process into a step-by-step email nurture. Once a prospective student has prequalified for the program through a web form and expressed their interest in applying, we enroll them in an email marketing campaign. Each email in the campaign has a clear call-to-action and desired outcome.”

“The email campaign includes an application timeline and information on requesting transcripts, requesting letters of recommendation, how to tailor your resume, how to write a statement of intent, how to pay for and submit the application, and financial assistance.”

“Through our effort of digitizing and automating the application process, we’ve observed an increased conversion rate from prequalified prospects to submitted applications.”

“We like this process because it allows us to track where our prospects are within the application cycle and target them with the right message at the right time,” Evenstar says.

10. Use Your Emails to Engage with Leads

Two of our respondents said that you should engage with leads by asking questions in your marketing emails.

“Most marketing emails are pitching products/services,” says Adam Rowles of Inbound Marketing Agency. “But before you start sending emails, you should know a person’s problems or desires.”

“By asking a simple question such as ‘What’s your biggest challenge?’ you can uncover those needs. And once you know someone’s needs, you’ll be able to nurture him/her down the sales journey more effectively.”

“For example, when a prospect downloads a whitepaper, most marketers send an email with more educational content. Instead, I send a simple email asking, “Why did you download our whitepaper—any particular marketing challenge you wanted to solve? I schedule many more prospect meetings now that I do this,” Rowles says.

Melissa Breau of Click and Repeat also recommends asking questions. “A subscriber is never more engaged than when they first sign up. Ask them a question in your welcome email, and tell them if they email you back with their answer that you promise to read every response.”

“I’ve seen this tactic earn clients thousands of dollars. Asking people what problems they’re struggling with right now or what they were looking for when they found your site gives you insight into the problems your target audience faces in their own words—and gives you information you can follow up on,” Breau says.

11. Nurture Leads with Email Sequences

“Done properly, email is a powerful tool that allows both marketing and sales team to be patient until a prospect is ready to buy,” says Darrell Evans of Yokel Local.

“When people subscribe, they’ve raised their hands and given you their names and email addresses. But you can’t assume they’re ready to buy or ready to jump on a sales call with you. They might simply be at the awareness or consideration stage of the purchase process.”

“Let’s say, as an example, you are a bankruptcy attorney. You know that no one wakes up one day and just decides to file bankruptcy. Typically, it’s the last thing someone ever wants to do. It’s emotional. It makes people feel like failures.”

“Let’s say you’ve created a guide titled ‘7 Things You Should Know About Bankruptcy That Most People Don’t.’ It’s a free report. Your lead downloads it. What next?”

“Well, we know they might be considering filing bankruptcy. If we’ve done our buyer persona work properly and understand what’s going on in their minds, we’ll know a few things:”

  • “They are afraid.”
  • “They are embarrassed.”
  • “They don’t know how much it costs.”
  • “They wonder if there are other options.”
  • “They want to know if they should hire you if they decide to file.”

“Emails should answer the mental objections they have yet to voice to you yet. If they feel embarrassed, you should write an empathy-based email that lets them know they are not the only ones to have ever been in their situation.”

“If they are scared, you should write an assurance-based email that reassures them that everything is going to be okay.”

“If your market is crowded with professionals, then you may want to add in a proof email showing how many people you’ve helped solve their financial problems.”

“Any objection or concern they may have can be addressed in an email that will help them see you as an authority in the field before they pick up the phone to call for a consultation.”

“A properly sequenced campaign will address their concerns and conclude with a gentle call to action to take the next step. When taking this approach, you’ll eventually have decision-stage” buyers who are you ready to do business with you with zero objections,” Evans says.

Editor’s note: Need a better way to track the actions your leads or subscribers take on your website after clicking a link in one of your emails? Grab this free Email Traffic Overview dashboard that uses Google Analytics data to see exactly which pages of your site people viewed after clicking any link in your email.

google analytics kpi dashboard

12. Shorten the Time Between Nurturing Emails

Roman Kniahynyckyj of LyntonWeb recommends “shortening the time between lead nurturing emails.”

“Many times, when we build out lead nurturing campaigns for clients, they think they automatically have to wait five or seven days between emails. This seems to be an ingrained standard that may not be right for the type of lead, type of sale, or type of industry.”

“Experiment with different time frames—one day instead of five, three days instead of seven, or trigger emails immediately if a bottom-of-the-funnel lead visits your site again.”

“For sales cycles ranging from 3-6 weeks, we’ve seen better open and click rates for emails that are three or less days apart over emails that are seven days apart,” Kniahynyckyj says.

13. A/B Test Your Emails

“We saw a significant return on investment from our email marketing initiatives when we made the time to begin A/B testing email copy,” says Adam Wiggins of Palmer Ad Agency. “Testing multiple versions of copy revealed the key messaging that resonates with our audience and drives conversions.”

Athena Bond of Evo Strategies says to test everything: “Testing subject lines, calls to action, headlines, offers, design, and so on is the only way to know for sure what works and what doesn’t work for your target audience.”

“We grew a client’s behavior-based email click-throughs by 25% over a period of six months last year by adopting a testing mindset to the email,” says Mark Innes of Fifth Ring. “By using A/B tests on every email sent, we were able to incrementally improve our client’s results and, most importantly, find out exactly what wasn’t working!”

“Instead of relying on opinions or debating details endlessly, regular testing will often reveal the right headline choices, image positions, and calls-to-action,” Innes says.

And Luke Severn of Kaufer DMC says that A/B testing can also help you learn more about what your audience wants to read. “One of my clients is a recruiting company. I can see from testing different headlines that people love resume and interview tips, so we’ve tried to increase the amount of content we put out on those topics.”

Related: How to Run Effective A/B Tests According to 28 Marketing Experts

14. Segment Your List

“Set up a regular schedule of emails and decide which of your personas should get which messages,” says Stephen Plotkin of Indigo Inbound. “Do not send everything to everyone.”

Lots of respondents agreed. In fact, “segment your list” was the most popular email marketing tip we received.

“Email segmentation allows you to send personalized emails to each individual,” says Dennis Dayman of Return Path. “It classifies every lead into distinct groups based on common interests, such as customer personas, user demographics, onsite behavior, etc.”

“The biggest success we’ve seen in email marketing efforts for clients has been focusing less on general email blasts (newsletters, etc.) that go out to the whole database,” says Kelley Wrede of Revenue River. “Instead, we focus more on highly targeted and behavior-based emails that go out to smaller, segmented lists.”

“By focusing on targeting messaging and promoting pieces of content or conversion points that make the most sense based on a recipient’s previous actions, we are seeing much higher click rates, and, ultimately, users are taking the desired actions. This has been key in getting more sales-ready leads for our clients,” Wrede says.

So how should you segment your list? MaryAnn Pfeiffer of 108 Degrees says to “segment by interests, demographics, and, most importantly, behavioral data. Examine contacts’ behaviors with your website and past email campaigns to figure out what really piques their interest.”

“If they regularly click on articles for a specific topic area, feature that in the subject line and preheader text to make sure they open your next email. If they have purchased items from you in the past, offer them information to support that purchase or complimentary items that are of interest to buyers of that product,” Pfeiffer says.

Julie Ewald of MailMunch also recommends segmenting by “lead/customer lifecycle stage, persona, vertical, previous actions, join dates, and locations.”

“We have successfully used lead scoring to understand how we should segment the list of prospects to receive the monthly special offer email from a client,” says Alison Leishman of Spitfire Inbound.

“In the past, they were mailing all their sales-qualified leads (SQLs) the same offer, but by using segmentation, we were able to personalize the call-to-action. This personalization allowed us to expand who we sent the offer to. This resulted in shortening the time that it took for people to move from lead/MQL to customer,” Leishman says.

Related: Dozens of Proven Email Segmentation Tips for Improving Your Open Rates

15. Pair List Segmentation with Contextual Targeting

Frank Isca of Weidert Group says to “pair list segmentation with contextual targeting.”

“For example, you can segment clients based on the services they’re already using. For clients who are only taking advantage of one service, you can target them with specific content and messaging to encourage them to buy another service.”

16. Use Your Data to Your Advantage

“Implement data-driven, specifically targeted, and highly personalized email marketing campaigns to rapidly improve ROI,” says Ross Sibbald of Striata.

“One of our clients was a prominent financial services provider. Email was the channel of choice for the client’s campaign, which was aimed at helping its customers manage their debt. The database was segmented according to risk categories.”

“Each customer was addressed individually, while the subject line, tone of the message, and the actual outstanding and installment values were all personalized and customized per customer, and the personalized, responsive landing page and form offered the opportunity for customers to immediately accept the customized offer.”

“It was a success! There was a substantial drop (approx 50%) in the number of accounts defaulting in the six months following the campaign, which converted into a 6000% ROI,” Sibbald says.

“By using data in the right way, the results can be phenomenal,” says Ryan Phelan of Adestra. “Our client NakedWines did just that, and their results were outstanding.”

“By bringing in lookalike modeling and rich data across their entire customer base to give their customers highly relevant and personalized wine recommendations, the company achieved an increase of 8% in profit per customer and an astounding 40% conversion rate,” Phelan says.

Editor’s note: Concerned you might be sending too many emails to your contacts? There’s data that tells that story, too. HubSpot Marketing users can grab this free Audience Email Fatigue dashboard to quickly identify when they’re sending too many—or too few—emails.

audience fatigue email marketing dashboard

17. Combine Personalization and Automation

“With our clients, we’re using tools like Ontraport, ActiveCampaign, and HubSpot to automate our emails,” says Todd Laire of Laire Group Marketing. “With segmented lists integrated with our website content and forms, we can send personalized information to our contact lists.”

“Did your contact fill out a form from a specific service page? Automate an email response that includes messaging around that service. Do you have your contacts identify themselves as one of your personas? Use that to your advantage by giving them the most helpful content based on their job role, industry, and more.”

“We use HubSpot’s sequences for ourselves and many clients to make sure the content we deliver to prospect’s inboxes is the most relevant to their interests,” Laire says.

Michael Rand of Market Veep agrees: “Automated emails, in general, have had a huge impact on our ROI. We always recommend them to our clients.”

“For a while, we were only sending out a regular newsletter with links to our blog and ebook content. We did this manually. Sure, the newsletter got opens and clicks, but not as many conversions as we wanted.”

“We decided to create email workflows for each of our target personas. Contacts were enrolled automatically based on lead segmentation and how they responded in our forms. We filled each email with exclusive content that couldn’t be found on our website. The last email in the workflow is an opportunity for a free consultation.”

“It worked! All of our workflow emails have healthy open and click-rates.”

“With workflows, we gain qualified prospects, too. Email workflows are great for converting and qualifying leads. They also represent a powerful service we can provide for our clients. They really help us demonstrate our ROI,” Rand says.

18. Take Advantage of All of Your Personalization Tokens

“If you gather and input detailed client and lead information, personalization tokens will transform your email marketing,” says Molly Rigatti of Laire Group Marketing. “We’ve seen clients use the [FIRST NAME] token, but you probably have more information than that stored in your CRM.”

“We use tokens like [COMPANY NAME], [CITY], and more to hyper-personalize our and our clients’ emails and subject lines so recipients automatically identify with your message.”

“Imagine opening an email that says, ‘Hi Joe! Here are five tips you can use to make sure potential clients in [YOUR CITY] see more of [YOUR COMPANY NAME]’s content on your website.’ How local, personal and actually helpful is that?!”

19. Personalize Your Send Times

“At the start of 2017, we reinvented how we saw email marketing,” says Greg Moore of JustBats. “Instead of huge blasts sent to everyone at 7 a.m., we analyzed everything. That led to us excluding people who didn’t engage with our emails, making our segmented lists smarter, and employing Seventh Sense.”

“Seventh Sense allows us to deliver emails to people at a time that’s optimized for them. So instead of everyone receiving our emails at 7 a.m., a person who was more apt to open the email at 6:30 p.m. now receives their email at that time.”

“What we saw was extraordinary. Despite sending 44% fewer emails year-over-year, we grew our email marketing revenue by 11%. Additionally, our open rates and click rates doubled.”

Related: The Best Time To Send Email, According to Marketing and Sales Experts

“Seventh Sense integrates with HubSpot,” says Damien Elsing of CLCK Digital. “After using it for more than a year now, we’ve found this type of advanced personalization is improving our clients’ open and click rates significantly.”

“Using Seventh Sense to optimize email delivery times had helped us re-engage dormant prospects and minimize unsubscribers,” says Beth Foulk of Axcet HR Solutions.

Editor’s note: Seventh Sense users can easily track how well their new personalized send times are helping to re-engage dormant leads/subscribers with this free Seventh Sense Engagement Overview dashboard.

seventh sense engagement overview dashboard

20. Send Fewer Emails

“Send fewer emails,” says Doug Davidoff of Imagine Business Development. “A recipient’s engagement tells you a lot about their mindset.”

“Automating your email cadence using a tool like Seventh Sense enables you to stay in alignment with leads/prospects, avoid email fatigue, improve engagement, and gain insights that support your sales strategy.”

21. Don’t Send Emails to Unengaged Subscribers

“Don’t send emails to non-engaged contacts,” says Joachim Koch of Aspiration Marketing. “Leaving them off your sends improves your deliverability and gets you in the Gmail inbox (rather than promotion tab) more often.”

22. Resend Unopened Emails

“Here’s one email marketing tip that can improve your open rate by an additional 7%-20%,” says Alisa Nemova of Eastside Co. “Try resending your campaigns to those who haven’t opened the initial one.”

“Here’s how to do it right:”

  1. “Send the original campaign.”
  2. “Duplicate it.”
  3. “Amend your subject line.”
  4. “Send it to those people who haven’t opened the original campaign within 24 hours.”

“Additional tips: choose a different time for your second campaign, keep an eye on your unsubscribes, and adjust accordingly.”

Related: 34 Email Pros on How They Achieve Above Average Email Open Rates

23. Finally, Analyze Your Results

“A successful email marketing strategy depends greatly on the type of company, area, and the specific needs of the company,” says Isabel Delmas of Ondho. “But what is common to every company and should be implemented from the very beginning is:”

  • “Establish a primary objective of increasing the database of subscribers and leads.”
  • “Maintain a well-segmented contact list.”
  • “Have your entire strategy planned and scheduled.”
  • “Finally, analyze the results obtained according to the KPIs you set.”

The last step is especially important if you implement any of these email marketing tips. After all, it will be hard to know if these tips are working if you aren’t tracking your results.

Not sure where to start? Check out this list of the 22 most important email marketing metrics.

Originally published in January 2018, this post has been updated for clarity and to include links to some of our newer email marketing resources.

About the author
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Kevin Kononenko Growth Marketer @ Databox. Making it easy for marketers to tell the story of their success. Everton FC supporter. Startup guy.
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