Whether you’re a starter in the email marketing world or a true email veteran, engaging with your audience can be pretty hard. Where do you find people that are interested in your emails? How do you keep them engaged with your email content? What triggers them to buy from you? Without a proper strategy, you’re going on a wild goose chase with your email marketing. In this article, I’m breaking down effective strategies to engage with your email audience.
When you’re still considering email marketing as a viable addition to your marketing mix, you might want to know precisely how effective email marketing can be for your business. That’s why we gained some data from around the web to show you how email marketing is still alive and kicking.
Peers often ask me if the email medium isn’t long dead, but statistics prove it’s one of the highest converting marketing tools in the game:
Long story short, email marketing is definitely (still) worth your investment in time and money.
Where to start, you ask? Gain subscribers to your email lists. Without recipients, there’s a lot to email about, but no one to email it to. Seriously, invest time into creating recipient lists that connect to your brand. Investing in email lists will repay you in high conversion/engagement rates.
Further down this article, we’ll discuss ways to attract people to your email list with free giveaways. When you’re selling products or delivering services, however, asking your customers if they want to receive your newsletter or stay up to date on your product is a useful start to your email list. These recipients have just connected to your brand and are likely to keep in touch with you.
There is a simple answer to this evergreen of a question: No, you shouldn’t.
Buying a list of email addresses is not a long-term solution to your drought of subscribers. Buying lists might have been an effective way of harvesting subscribers back in the days (the beginning of the internet, maybe?). Still, we’re in a time and place where recipients have the power over your email deliverability.
Legislation about sending ‘spam’ might not apply to every country, but receiving mail servers will target you when a high number of recipients mark you as unwanted. A target on your head will drastically decrease the chances of your emails ever hitting the inbox again.
Sure, retrieving email addresses from a tool like Uplead, Hunter.io, or Crystal will help you find people who might be interested in your product or service. Extensive email address lists for your newsletters or promotional campaigns, however, will do more harm than good in the long run. People who aren’t interested in you in the first place are highly likely to report you as spam.
Instead, focus on long-lasting relationships with people that are interested in (buying) your product or service. Let’s take a deep dive into how to do that.
The best way to convince people to subscribe to your email list is to give away your awesome content for free. Think of:
Maybe even branded goodies if you’re feeling philanthropic.
This way, your new subscriber will appreciate your email’s worth from the very beginning. You just offered something entirely for free that has value to the reader. Imagine what you’ve got in stock for them!
Persuasion guru Cialdini describes this as the Principle of Reciprocity. It’s when a person invites you to their party; there’s a (moral) obligation for you to ask them to a future party you are hosting. For businesses, reciprocity is the way to break the ice: Give something, designed for that specific person, they didn’t see coming.
When giving away premium content at the cost of an email address, customers are more likely to subscribe to your promotional emails.
Another strategy to gaining subscribers right from your website is to promote a subscription form in your blogs or knowledge base. This is the most common way of subscribing to your email list, but there’s more to it than you might think.
This strategy is based on another Cialdini Principle: Authority. You’re the specialist people were searching for. They read your content, and now they want to learn more whenever you’re dropping new content. Promise them you will send them a frequent email on changes in the field, updates to your product, or alerts for new content. People want to learn from authoritative figures (otherwise, expert speakers would be out of jobs).
Found this little gem at GetResponse
Email series can be a great tactic as well. Provide original content on your website, and promise to discover more in a series of emails. Tell people what to expect in the emails you’re going to send and let them decide whether they want to learn more every day.
Whilst building your email list, start with the foundations of email marketing: templates and deliverability.
We all know the promotional emails that look like they’ve just copied advertising brochures and hit send. Emails stuffed with offers, large portions of text, and giant images. Stop doing that. These emails will look ugly on every device, but especially on the ones they aren’t designed for.
Responsive email templates enable you to make emails that adjust to the device it’s being read on. For example, you can have two columns in an email. Non-responsive templates will show these two next to each other on every device. But mobile devices are too small to show that properly. Responsive templates, however, would should these below each other, making them more readable on mobile devices (which affects your click rates).
Why optimize for mobile devices? Our friends at EmailMonday saw an immense increase in opens of emails on mobile devices:
With a growing dependence on our mobile devices, these numbers will only increase over the years, making it vital to optimize your emails for mobile devices.
Optimizing for mobile devices also means you will have to kill your darlings. That four-paragraph long piece you wrote for your email? Scrape it down to a few lines. Mobile content consumption is 90% of the time on the go. Consumption happens fast, there is no time to read extensive emails. The best mobile email messages are short, simple, and direct.
To save you some time developing responsive email templates, most Email Marketing Platforms (like Automizy or Mailchimp) have tons of ready-made templates for you to use. If your marketing platform doesn’t, just Google for responsive email templates or find really good examples at ReallyGoodEmails.
A vital part of sending emails is the actual delivery of them. The odds of your emails hitting the inbox is called “deliverability”. To increase your deliverability, there are a few things you can do.
That email list you’re building consists of people and if there’s one thing people do best is change their mind. It so happens that they once wanted your emails in their inbox, and now they don’t. Having a working unsubscribe page will help you with that. This keeps your list clean in terms of preference.
People also change their minds about inbox providers (Gmail, Outlook, Zoho, et cetera). Since most of them are free to use, switching to another mailbox is fairly simple. For you, this means the email address on your list is not being used anymore. In some cases, email addresses will just cease to exist (especially in B2B environments). Emails will then bounce. The more bounces you create, the more spam filters will perceive you as spammy.
Keeping your recipient list clean is vital to your email sending practices, so regularly update it!
Another way of granting more emails to hit the inbox is to ask your fans to add your domain to their ‘whitelist’. As email domains are divided into whitelists, greylists, and blacklists, whitelisted domains are always granted access to ones inbox. When a lot of people add your domain to their whitelist, you’re more likely to hit someone else’s inbox too.
The single most important thing about delivering your emails, though, is domain & IP reputation. I spoke about email deliverability in a previous post, but I’m happily scratching the surface in this article again.
Domain Reputation is the way your domain (example: @saleslovesmarketing.co) is valued by a receiving mail server. IP reputation works the same, but on the level of the sending IP. Having a bad reputation inevitably means fewer emails will hit the inbox. On the other hand, having a great email reputation will practically guarantee inbox placement. So, have a bad domain or IP reputation? Work on it with a dedicated tool, like Flowmailer.
Alright, so now you have a solid backbone for your email marketing plus a rich list of recipients. How do you start with audience engagement? How to create compelling copy? What will turn your readers into customers? Next up, we’re looking at content best practices for email engagement.
The first rule of creating email content is Know Who You Are Talking To. Without knowing who’s on the other end of the email, you’re practically nowhere. To truly understand your recipients’ needs and create compelling, engaging content, start with segmenting your email lists.
Segmenting allows you to organize your recipient lists based on:
The most used way of segmenting a subscriber list is by demographic information. Demographics are the easiest to gather, as they involve i.e. age, gender, and job title, and the easiest to personalize your email content with.
Another common type of segmenting your lists is by geolocation. This can either be the town they live in, the place they open their emails, like in the office, or places of interest (holiday destinations, frequently visited places). Geolocation allows you to send emails containing tailor-made content about the weather in the area, great places to visit, or your nearest physical store (see chapter 10).
Once you know where your visitors spend most of their time, sending email content that complements their previous experience will grab their attention and interest. Segmenting on page views works particularly well for businesses that blog often.
When your emails get more and more focused on selling, segmenting on purchase cycles is a great way to optimize your email content. Not only does it encourage people to purchase repetitively, you can also adjust your content to the phase a cold lead or SQL is in.
What did people buy from you before? Knowing what people in your lists have bought enables you to send content that complements or substitutes their current product or service. Plus, it stops you from sending promotions of things they already have.
If your subscribers are true fans of your emails, you’ll know. By tracking opens, clicks, and forwards, you know exactly what triggers your subscribers to engage with your email. You can use that to segment your email list as well: people that opened your email vs. unopened, people that clicked button 1 vs. button 2, et cetera.
To get to know your customers, let them take a quiz or a survey. You can use these results to write compelling copy and have a little fun. Quizzes can vary from an IQ test to “Which superhero are you?”, leaving endless opportunities to segment and personalize your following email messages.
How to build an interactive quiz in email
By segmenting your campaigns, you can target various subscriber groups. To make your emails feel even more valuable and thus make more engaging, is by personalizing your content. So take the data you used to segment your list, add some basic information (like first and last name) and there you have it. Personalized emails feel like proper one-on-one communication and will therefore lead to more engagement.
New to personalization or already a pro in dynamic content? Check out this Litmus guide about literally everything you should know about dynamic email content. Want to get started with hyper personalizing your email content? Try out personalized images by our friends at NiftyImages.
If you know your recipients, you will know what content they like, and what content they don’t like. This helps you in selecting what content you’re sharing with your email messages, and what links you’re embedding in your email.
To get your recipients to engage with your email, another best practice is to direct your email messages to a high-quality page (HQP) or (social media) post. Make sure your email copy is compelling, but leaves room for the recipient to find out more. Only show your recipient the peak of the iceberg.
If the copy is compelling enough and the content interests your recipients, engagement will certainly increase.
Here are some examples of how that’s put into practice:
To let their customers find out about the story behind their cream, La Mer introduced a HQP to show everything about the product. With awesome imagery and some mysterious copywriting (“treasure”, “limited edition”) the emails trigger the recipient to click that button.
Engagement with your customers can be achieved through User Generated Content, or UGC. Fabletics knows, and makes good use of it in their emails. With a compelling “Show us how you rock your Fabletics”, the brand increases engagement through the art of community-building (one of Cialdini’s Principles: Unity).
Everlane believes we can all make a difference through buying responsibly. That’s why it teams up with organizations like “Feeding America” to show they’re socially involved. Their emails are not (primarily) focused on selling more items, but on showing how buying their items has an impact on society.
We’ve already discussed how to make your recipient love your email content, now we focus on creating a High Quality (Landing) Page. To increase traffic from your email to this page, I’ll discuss increasing CTR later on. The tips I’m sharing to create a HQP:
The moment your email recipient clicks your email CTA, he or she is only focused on one task. Keeping the page all about that task, increases the likelihood of following through with the action.
The key to quick conversion on a landing page is to make it look and feel the same as your email content. Continuity is very important here, as it removes any question the recipient might have about it being the right page or the right offer.
Even though you want to impress with your HQP, try keeping it simple and short. People appreciate complexity, but it gets in the way of actual conversion. So do long forms. They might be handy for your sales rep, but the longer the form, the lower the conversion. Unbounce reports that a 3-field form has a conversion rate of 25%, with this rate decreases with every added field.
By reinforcing your recipient's decision to click the email link, he or she might get more interested in what you’re offering. Your HQP is suited to display reasons why your recipient should choose your product, show reviews or play a video on how your product is made / how it is used. This way, the recipient has some more information before actually converting, providing the necessary push.
Tip no 1 was to keep your content focused, so my last tip shouldn’t really surprise you. By using only one CTA (or two but with the same message) you’re focusing on the single action of converting. That’s what your landing page is supposed to achieve in the first place, so by placing only one CTA on your HQP, you’re increasing conversion.
The best way to find out which emails will convert is to “split” or A/B test with different sending times and varying email copy. Basically, that means sending version A of your email to a part of your email list, whilst sending version B to another part. Or sending your email at 8AM versus at 5PM.
To get started with split testing your email sending times and email copy, you first have to determine what it is that you want to A/B test. If you have no clue of how your recipients will behave, you can send two completely different emails to examine your audience. But, once you’re done with testing the overall email, the best thing to do is test different parts of the email. The color of a button, for example. Same goes for sending times. Start big, end small, and you’ll gradually get to know your audience.
Lucky for you, you’re not the only one sending a lot of emails. That means more people have tested the best time to send emails. The amount of research conducted on the topic is endless, but all come to one conclusion. No matter what their research says, you should always find out what suits your business best.
Results of Sendinblue’s send time per business type research
However, there are some “best practices” for email send time:
Obviously, if everyone would send emails at the very same time, people would get flooded with emails – resulting in a lot of deleted emails. So besides perfecting your sending time, focus on perfecting your email copy.
Split testing your email can be done in two ways: 50/50 or sampling. Both are correct and valid methods of split testing (source: Orientation Marketing).
This method is fairly simple. You divide your email list in the amount of email variations you want to test (mostly 2 or 3) and send each part a different email element. The best performing email element can then be used in your next email.
Sample testing gets interesting when your email list is quite large. With sampling, you’re testing on two (or more) small parts of your entire list, where the other part of that list gets the email that won the A/B test.
The reason you should try and keep your testing as focused as possible, is that the testing results have lesser impact when there are more variables involved. Say you’re seeing an increase in clicks, but you’ve changed the header image, CTA text and button color. There’s simply no way of knowing what influenced your click rate. To eliminate this so-called ‘ambiguity’ in your results, try focusing on:
To make a statement about any A/B test, you need to know its statistical significance. Statistical significance gives you the certainty that, whenever you’re testing the same thing again, results wouldn’t differ. Calculating this (as a marketer) is pretty hard, but luckily Neil Patel’s A/B testing calculator can help you out.
So far, the main concept of Audience Engagement in this article is based on opens and clicks. This chapter provides you with two hands-on tips to enhance your click rates, but also gives you a new POV on engagement: in the email itself.
As promised, we’re showing some CTAs that actually work when you need your recipients to click your buttons. Next to providing quality content, strong and actionable CTAs do the trick. Here are some fine examples for you to A/B test:
Keep your CTA copy only a few words long. Nobody’s going to click a button that takes long to read. 5-6 word CTAs work miracles. Is your CTA shorter? Awesome! Have a longer CTA? You’re probably going to see lower click rates.
Next to the regular “buy us”, “read more”, and “claim your free goodie”, linking to your social feeds can also increase engagement with your brand. It might not be as converting as you’d like, but extra followers on your socials mean extra visibility. Plus, you just gained a new fan! To convince people to follow you on social media, these are effective CTAs:
Another way to make your recipients LOVE your emails, is by adding some interactivity in the email. Stand out from the crowd with emails that stimulate the recipient to stay engaged with the email for a long time. With modern techniques, your emails are capable of so much more than only text and images.
Take a look at some wonderful examples of interactive emails I found:
Creating interactivity in your emails obviously isn’t the easiest, but it most definitely is the most fun way to engage with your recipients. In the future, we might even be able to do our shopping in an email. Developments in the email industry only vouch for you to take a look into interactivity.
With content best practices and future developments in mind, I still have two strategies to discuss with you. Until now, I’ve been talking about the ‘traditional’ way of email marketing. There are, however, four types of email marketing. Commercial and informational (‘traditional’), but also loyalty and location. Having talked (a lot) about the first, I now would like to explain how the last two can increase your audience engagement as well.
I’ve told you about Cialdini’s principles before (reciprocity, unity, and authority), but loyalty program email marketing introduces another Cialdini principle: liking. In its core, this principle is about mutual respect and understanding. This ‘method’ is generally used in two ways: either building a relationship on common grounds, or appreciating the relationship through genuine praise - the loyalty rewarding email.
We know the loyalty programs that allow customers to gather points or free objects with every purchase they make. Loyalty programs, however, often aim to sell more. Sure, that can be a good thing, and will result in more conversion as people love loyalty programs, but I’m rooting for genuinely appreciative emails.
There is this one email I found that I really love. It’s a loyalty rewarding email in its true essence. It’s not looking to sell more. It’s not seeking ways to let you click buttons or anything. This email takes the time to appreciate its recipient. It’s “You’re the best” by DavidsTea, which I found on ReallyGoodEmails (again):
Sure, in the end it’s all about selling more. But let’s not forget that people who feel appreciated by you as a brand, probably return the favor later. Think about how you’d feel if your go-to supermarket’s manager came up to you and told you he appreciates you for being their customer. No strings attached, just that. For me, that would light up my day.
Since a few years, offering relevant content based on someone’s location has become a hot-topic in (email) marketing. “Beacons”, “geo-targeting”, “LBS” and many more terms have been introduced over the years. In the final chapter of “Email Marketing Strategies To Improve Your Audience Engagement”, we’re looking into ways to implement location-based content in email.
The difference in how to target people on a specific location is illustrated in the image below. Whereas geo-targeting looks for the geographic location of a recipient, geofencing and beaconing connect the recipient’s location with a physical store or product nearby. As beaconing isn’t suited for email marketing (people don’t regularly check their emails whilst shopping), we’re only discussing geo-targeting and geofencing for audience engagement in email marketing.
Geo-targeting is a method of offering content to people in a specific area. For example: emails to customers in Los Angeles have a different header image than the emails that head for New York. Or, even better, the header image varies between darker or lighter, depending on the local weather.
Geofencing is the combination between knowing where your customer is located and what brick-and-mortar store is nearby. This allows you to further specify and personalize your content, like we’ve seen in the appreciation email by DavidsTea where they talk about where they first met. Geofencing allows you to move from a “one size fits all” email, to a tailor-made message. Our friends at NiftyImages have a feature designed specifically for that, resulting in this:
You might wonder how geo-targeting and geofencing could help you build a more engaged email audience. Well, if you know your email marketing rules, you should know this:
“Be relevant or be deleted.”
With my previous tips and strategies, I’ve shown you how to be relevant to segments of your email list. Geo-location, however, let’s you be relevant to unique persons. Sending out geo-targeted emails allows you to direct your recipients to a nearby store, can influence a person’s mood, and can make it feel like you’re always closeby, even though you’re nowhere near each other.
To build, maintain, nurture, and reward a large email audience for your brand, follow the strategies we’ve laid out above. Build your audience through giving value from the start and be the topic expert your recipients expect you to be. Maintain your audience through thoroughly tested email templates, legislative compliance, and a solid deliverability backbone. Nurture your audience through proper segmentation, high quality and continuously optimized content, and location-based offerings. Then, reward your audience through genuine praise.