Email Marketing: The Ultimate Guide (+ Expert Tips)
Done correctly, email marketing can be as powerful as any other tactic today. Research has repeatedly found that the ROI for email is consistently high. In 2022, Litmus found that the return could be as high as $36 for every dollar invested.
With that in mind, let’s review the best ways to leverage email marketing. We’ll also cover benefits and statistics that show the importance of email, just in case you need extra convincing. Let’s dig in.
Marketers have been using email as a channel for almost as long as they’ve been using the internet. The first marketing email was sent in 1978, resulting in $13 million in sales.
Email has been one of the most highly used marketing channels ever since.
This is because email is a flexible yet cost-effective way to reach many people relatively quickly. You can also personalize your message to target specific audiences and generate leads.
Email marketing can take many different forms. These campaigns can include a single email announcing new content, an ongoing newsletter delivered regularly, or contacting customers about product updates.
Email isn’t as shiny as newer channels, like messaging and social. However, email is an effective way to build an audience that gets results.
“One of my favorite parts about email marketing is its intimacy,” says Rob Litterst, head of strategy and operations for HubSpot’s Newsletter Network.
“Access to someone’s inbox is sacred, and for a person to welcome you in, there’s already a certain level of trust that you just can’t achieve with other platforms,” he says.
When to Use Email Marketing
Email marketing remains a powerful tactic to:
- Build relationships. Build connections through personalized engagement.
- Boost brand awareness. Keep your company and your services top-of-mind for the moment when your prospects are ready to engage.
- Promote your content. Use email to share relevant blog content or valuable assets with your prospects.
- Generate leads. Entice subscribers to provide their personal information in exchange for an asset that they’d find valuable.
- Market your products. Promote your products and services.
- Nurture leads. Delight your customers with content that can help them succeed in their goals.
Email Marketing Benefits
- There are over 4.3 billion email users worldwide, so if you’re looking for a way to reach your customers, email is the perfect place to find them.
- As of 2022, email generates $36 for every dollar spent.
- 51% of marketers say email marketing is the most effective marketing channel, according to our Marketing Trends survey.
- 53% of marketers are continuing to invest in email marketing in 2023.
- 33% are increasing their investment in email marketing in 2023.
- 33% of marketers send weekly emails, and 26% send emails multiple times monthly.
Beyond just the statistics, perhaps the best reason to use email marketing is that you own the channel. Outside of compliance regulations, no external entity can impact how, when, or why you reach out to your subscribers.
Time and time again, email proves to be an unsung hero in marketing.
“For HubSpot — and our blog team — we’ve deeply leveraged email and even catered blog posts to our very subscribers,” she says. “Over the years, this has driven high ROI, millions of page views, countless conversions, and even customers.”
Email Marketing Stats by Industry
Email marketing rules change based on your industry and who you’re marketing to. Below are some email marketing trends for B2B, B2C, e-commerce, and real estate companies that can inform your email marketing strategy.
Email Marketing Stats for B2B
- Email is the third-highest owned-media platform B2B marketers used to distribute content in the last 12 months.
- 44% of B2B marketers say email marketing is the most effective marketing channel.
- B2B marketers say email engagement is the fourth most insightful metric when evaluating performance over the past year, more than social media, search rankings, and lead quality.
Email Marketing Stats for B2C
- 50% of B2C marketers say growing their email list is one of the biggest challenges in their role.
- 37% of B2C marketers send daily marketing emails to their subscribers.
Email Marketing Stats for Ecommerce
- 57.2% of marketers say the e-commerce brands they manage have 1,000 to 10,000 contacts on their email lists.
- 85.7% of e-commerce marketers say the primary business objective of their email strategy is increasing brand awareness.
- Roughly 72% of e-commerce marketers say the biggest challenge they face with email is low open rates.
Getting Started with Email Marketing
Before you get overwhelmed with the vast possibilities of email marketing, let’s break down a few key steps to get you started building a solid email campaign that will delight your customers.
You can think of these steps as creating a successful email marketing strategy.
1. Create an Email Marketing Strategy
You can learn how to build an effective email strategy and send emails that people actually want to read. It just takes a plan (one that can be broken down into a few key steps).
Think of the following five steps as an outline for your email strategy. We’ll dive deeper into some of these in a moment.
1. Define your audience.
Effective emails, whether a campaign or a one-off, start with understanding your audience.
Like everything else in marketing, start with your buyer persona, understand what pain points they’re dealing with, and tailor your email campaign to your audience’s needs.
2. Establish your goals.
Before you come up with your campaign goals, gather some context.
You’ll want to know the average email stats for your industry and use them as benchmarks for your goals.
As you can see, these benchmarks vary greatly. Using this guide will help you create realistic goals for your team.
3. Build your email list.
You need people to email, right? An email list (we’ll cover how to build your email list in the next section) is a group of users who have permitted you to send them relevant content.
To build that list, you need several ways for prospects to opt-in to receive your emails which we’ll cover in another section in just a moment.
Don’t be discouraged if you only have a few people on your list. It can take some time to build. In the meantime, treat every subscriber and lead like gold, and you’ll start seeing your email list grow organically.
4. Choose an email campaign type.
Email campaigns vary, and trying to decide between them can be overwhelming. Do you send a weekly newsletter? Should you send out new product announcements? Which blog posts are worth sharing?
The answer is subjective.
You can start by learning about the types of email campaigns, then decide which is best for your audience.
You should also set up different lists for different types of emails, so customers and prospects can sign up for only the emails that are relevant to them.
5. Make a schedule.
Decide how often you plan to contact your list and inform your audience upfront.
This way, they’ll know exactly what to expect ahead of time. Forgetting this can lead to high unsubscribe lists and even get you in their spam.
In addition, once you set a schedule, be consistent. It will build trust and ensure you stay top of mind for your audience.
6. Measure your results.
This should come as no surprise. As marketers, we measure everything. Being meticulous about every key metric will help you make small changes to your emails, yielding large results.
We’re going to touch on the exact KPIs to monitor in a bit (or you can jump ahead).
Now that you understand the steps to creating an email marketing strategy, we’ll look at what’s involved in building your email list.
2. Choose an email marketing platform.
An email marketing provider (ESP) is an excellent resource if you’re looking any support while fine-tuning your email marketing efforts.
For example, HubSpot’s Email Marketing tool allows you to efficiently create, personalize, and optimize marketing emails that feel and look professional without designers or IT.
There are a variety of features to help you create the best email marketing campaigns and support all of your email marketing goals.
Additionally, you can analyze the success of your email marketing so you can share the data that matters most to your business with your team. The best part? You can use HubSpot’s Email Marketing service for free.
- CRM platform with segmentation capabilities
- Good standing with Internet Service Providers
- A positive reputation as an email service provider (ESP)
- Easy-to-build forms, landing pages, and CTAs
- Simple ways to comply with email regulations
- Ability to split test your emails
- Built-in analytics
- Downloadable reports
3. Build Your Email List
Now to the fun part: filling your email list with eager prospects excited to hear from you.
Tactically speaking, list building comes down to two key elements that work cohesively to grow your subscriber numbers: lead magnets and opt-in forms.
Here’s how to get started building and growing your email list.
3. Use lead magnets.
Your lead magnet is exactly as it sounds: It attracts prospects to your email list, usually as a free offer.
The offer can take many formats, should be valuable to your prospects, and is given away for free in exchange for an email address.
There’s just one problem: People have become hyper-protective of their personal information. You can’t expect to receive an email address without exchanging it for something valuable.
Think about a lead magnet that is relevant, useful, and makes your prospects’ lives easier.
Here are a few types of lead magnets you could create:
- Reports or studies.
- Webinars or courses.
If you’re short on resources, you can even repurpour existing content to create lead magnets.
4. Create an enticing opt-in form.
Your opt-in form is how you get a prospect’s information to add them to your list. It’s the gate between your future leads and the incredible asset you created with them in mind.
Here are some tips for creating an enticing opt-in form:
Create an attractive design and attention-grabbing header.
Your form should be branded, stand out from the page, and entice people to sign up. You want to excite readers with the offer.
Make the copy relevant to the offer.
While your goal is to get people to enter their information, it isn’t to deceive them. Any information on your form should be a truthful representation of the offer.
Keep the form simple.
This could be one of your first interactions with your prospect. Don’t scare them away with a long long-form several fields.
Ask for only the most essential information: first name and email is a good place to start.
Set your opt-in form for double confirmation.
It may seem counterproductive to ask your subscribers to opt into your emails twice, but some research on open rates suggests that customers may prefer a confirmed opt-in (COI) email more than a welcome email.
Ensure that the flow works.
Take yourself through the user experience before you go live. Double-check that the form works as intended, the thank you page is live, and your offer is delivered as promised.
This is one of your first impressions of your new lead — make it a professional and positive one.
Next, let’s take a moment to cover some universally-accepted email marketing best practices regarding how to send marketing emails.
If all goes well, you’ll have built a robust list of subscribers and leads waiting to hear from you. But you can’t start emailing just yet unless you want to end up in a spam folder, or worse, a blocked list.
Here are a few important things to remember before you start emailing your list.
1. Implement email segmentation.
Once you’ve added people to your list, you must break them down into different segments.
That way, instead of having a monolithic email list of everybody, you’ll have easier-to-manage subcategories that pertain to your subscribers’ unique characteristics, interests, and preferences.
Our subscribers are humans, after all, and we should do our best to treat them as such. That means not sending generic email blasts.
Why should you segment your email list?
Each person who signs up to receive your emails is at a different level of readiness to convert into a customer (which is the ultimate goal of all this).
If you send a discount coupon for your product to subscribers that don’t even know how to diagnose their problem, you’ll probably lose them. That’s because you’re skipping the part where you build trust and develop the relationship.
Every email you send should treat your subscribers like humans you want to connect with, as opposed to a herd of leads you’re trying to corral into a one-size-fits-all box.
The more you segment your list, the more trust you build with your leads, and the easier it’ll be to convert them later.
How to Segment Email Lists
The first step in segmentation is creating separate lead magnets and opt-in forms for each part of the buyer’s journey. That way, your contacts are automatically divided into separate lists.
Beyond that, email marketing platforms allow you to segment your email list by contact data and behavior to help you send the right emails to the right people.
Here are some ways you could break up your list:
- Geographical location.
- Lifecycle stage.
- Awareness, consideration, and decision stage.
- Previous engagement with your brand.
- Job Title.
In reality, you can segment your list any way that you want. Just make sure to be as exclusive as possible when sending emails to each subgroup.
2. A/B test your marketing emails.
Not all email lists are created equal. Some audiences prefer personalization, and others will think it’s spammy. Some audiences will like bright, eye-catching CTA buttons. Others will prefer a more subtle call-to-action.
You’ll never know what type of people make up your email list until you test the variables. That’s where A/B testing comes in handy.
“If you’re considering making any structural or content alterations to your email marketing, A/B testing is an excellent way to determine if the changes will be successful or worthwhile before they’re implemented on a larger scale,” says Madison Zoey Vettorino, marketing manager and SEO content writer for HubSpot’s Website Blog.
Surprisingly, not many brands leverage it. A 2021 Litmus study found that 44% of marketers rarely A/B or multivariate test their emails. Only 19% do it often or always.
A/B testing, or split testing, is a way to see what type of email performs best with your audience by analyzing the results of email A against email B. This can be especially helpful when working with templates.
“Since emails often have the same template, A/B testing is smart because you can usually control variables outside of the test and get a solid signal on what performs better,” HubSpot’s Litterst says.
Here’s the step-by-step process for A/B testing your emails:
- Select one variable to test at a time, e.g., subject line, CTA, images.
- Create two versions of the email: one with and one without the variable.
- Allow your emails to be sent out simultaneously for a period of time.
- Analyze your results and keep only the version that performed better.
- Test a new variable and repeat the process.
Most email service providers will have A/B testing built into their software, which will make it easy for you to compare email results without much manual work.
When conducting an A/B test, consider these tips:
Test one element at a time.
“For example, try the same email with a different subject line. Or the same email and same subject line with a different CTA,” says Curtis del Principe, a user acquisition program lead and content strategist at HubSpot.
“It might be tempting to make several changes at once, but that makes it harder to pinpoint the true cause of your wins or losses,” he says.
Don’t try to “eyeball” an A/B test.
A/B test should be run with intention. Making quick changes and approaching results unscientifically can lead to incorrect conclusions.
“You might be tempted to run an informal A/B test by making a change and then casually paying attention to the responses that you get. This unscientific method can easily be skewed by factors outside your control (like seasonality or deliverability),” says del Principe. “It also leaves out a ton of valuable data, like open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate, or sharing/forwarding rate.”
Instead, use an email marketing tool, like Marketing Hub or BuzzStream, to help you get a broader and more accurate understanding of your email performance.
3. Analyze your email marketing performance.
Once you’ve got your first few campaigns, it’s time to see how they’re performing.
By diving into your email marketing analytics, you’ll be able to make better decisions that will help your business’s bottom line, resonate with your subscribers, readers, and customers, and justify your work to the rest of your company.
Here are the best ways to analyze the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.
4. Set email marketing KPIs.
There are four key metrics to pay attention to when evaluating the effectiveness of your email marketing campaign.
- Deliverability measures the rate at which emails reach your intended subscribers’ inboxes.
- Open rate is the percentage of people that open your email once it reaches their inbox.
- Clickthrough rate (CTR) is the percentage of people that click on your CTAs.
- Unsubscribes measures the number of people who opt out of your email list once they receive your email.
5. Adjust email components to improve results.
Many factors impact your KPIs, and it will take some experimentation and guesswork to figure out which tweaks to your emails will yield the biggest significance.
If you aren’t getting the desired numbers, try playing with these variables to improve your email results.
- Ensure that you’re following best practices regarding spam filters.
- Remove inactive people from your email list to keep only engaged subscribers.
- Check which emails have bounced and remove those email addresses from your list.
- Play with the language in your subject line to entice people to click on your email.
- Adjust the time and day that you send your email to see what works best.
Clickthrough Rate (CTR)
- Evaluate your offer to ensure that it provides value to your segmented list.
- Rewrite your copy to make sure that it’s clear what you want the reader to do.
- Try different CTAs, e.g., graphic versus Inline copy, bold versus subtle.
- First, consider if this is a blessing in disguise, as uninterested parties are removing themselves from your list.
- Regularly send an email to inactive subscribers on your list asking if they still want to be a part of it
- Evaluate whether the email you sent is aligned with your brand.
- Ensure you haven’t performed a bait-and-switch by promising one thing and delivering another.
- Make sure your emails are providing value to your audience before trying to upsell.
6. Use an email marketing report template.
Once you’ve got some campaigns under your belt, it’s time to look at how they performed. Your data does no good if you can’t report it in an organized fashion.
An email marketing report is a spreadsheet where you can record your results in one place to help you make inferences from your KPIs and take action to improve them.
Here’s how you should organize your report.
- Total number of emails sent
- Number of emails delivered
- Deliverability Rate
- Bounce Rate
- Open Rate
- Clickthrough Rate (CTR)
- Click-to-open Rate (CTOR)
- Unsubscribe Rate
- Subject line
- Length of the email body
- CTA (inline or graphic)
- List segment(s)
Questions To Ask:
- Was your deliverability rate high in comparison to previous periods?
- How did your CTR compare to your open rate?
- Were your unsubscribe numbers consistent with other emails?
- Did a certain subject line perform better than others?
- Does the length of the email make a difference in CTR?
- Could another style of CTA perform better?
- Was the offer appropriate for the list segment?
Email Regulations You Should Know
Email regulations are important to follow as they regulate and protect consumers’ desires to know how and why their information is being used.
If there’s anything we care about, it’s complying with what our customers—or potential customers—want.
There are a few key ones that you should understand:
1. CAN-SPAM Compliance
Technically, CAN-SPAM is an acronym for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (because sometimes the two go together).
In practice, it’s a way to protect your subscribers’ right to only receive emails that they’ve requested.
The law was passed in 2003 and applies to any commercial emails used for business purposes.
Here are the ways to ensure that your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant:
- Include your company name and address in every email.
- Place visible unsubscribe links within your emails.
- Use real email addresses in the “From” and “Reply to” fields.
- Write subject lines that indicate the contents of the email.
Please note: This is not to be confused with legal advice. See the FTC’s site for more specific legal information regarding CAN-SPAM laws.
2. GDPR Compliance
While some may view these newly implemented email regulations as burdensome and unnecessary, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) moves us closer to building long-lasting, trusting customer relationships.
GDPR is about giving your customers the right to choose. They choose your emails. They decide to hear from you. They choose your products. And that is exactly what inbound marketing is about.
It is important to note that GDPR only applies to businesses operating in the European Union and businesses that market to EU citizens.
Noncompliance will result in significant fees that aren’t worth the risk, so make sure to read the GDPR guidelines entirely.
Here’s an overview of how you can comply with GDPR laws:
- Use precise language when requesting consent to store personal information.
- Only collect contact data that is necessary for and relevant to your business.
- Store contact data securely and only use it for the agreed-upon purpose.
- Retain data for justifiable business purposes only.
- Delete contact data on request.
- Make it easy for contacts to unsubscribe from your list or update their preferences.
- Comply promptly with a contact’s request for access to their data.
- Keep company records to prove GDPR compliance.
These regulations will be taken seriously (as they should), so it’s a good idea to create a GDPR strategy for your business before sending emails.
3. Avoid Spam Filters
You spend time creating the perfect email and adhering to regulations, so the last thing you want is to end up in a spam folder.
You’ll want to avoid the spam folder because:
- It hurts your deliverability rates across the board.
- Your contacts will likely miss all of your emails.
- You won’t be able to measure your email marketing effectiveness accurately.
- Your analytics will be skewed.
You can avoid being deduced to spam with the following.
A whitelist is a list of approved senders that can reach the subscriber’s inbox. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have your new subscriber add your email address to their address book.
Include directions on how to do this in your welcome email.
Mind your copy.
Avoid using all caps and multiple exclamation points, as well as spam trigger words, like “opt-in,” “click below,” and “order,” that are easily detected and marked down by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Use a reliable email service provider.
Your email service provider’s reputation affects your deliverability, so stick to established, well-known companies.
Implement a double opt-in.
Once someone opts in to your email list, send an email asking them to confirm. This ensures that your new subscriber is genuinely interested in your emails and will likely be more engaged.
(Check out more ways you can avoid the spam filter.)
And last but certainly not least, you need to consistently measure the success of your email marketing efforts. There are a number of options you can choose from when it comes to your business’s email marketing analytics.
Email Marketing Tips
While you probably don’t think twice about the formatting or subject line of an email you send to a friend, email marketing requires a lot more consideration.
Everything from the time you send your email to the devices on which your email could be opened matters.
Your goal with every email is to generate more leads, which makes crafting a marketing email a more involved process than other emails you’ve written.
Let’s touch on the components of a successful marketing email:
Copy: The copy in the body of your email should be consistent with your voice and stick to only one topic.
Images: Choose images that are optimized for all devices, eye-catching, and relevant.
CTA: Your call-to-action should lead to a relevant offer and stand out from the rest of the email.
Timing: Based on a study that observed response rates of 20 million emails, Tuesday at 11 AM ET is the best day and time to send your email.
Responsiveness: 55% of emails are opened on mobile. Your email should, therefore, be optimized for this as well as all other devices.
Personalization: Write every email like you’re sending it to a friend. Be personable and address your reader in a familiar tone.
Subject Line: Use clear, actionable, enticing language that is personalized and aligned with the body of the email.
Personalize your email marketing.
“Personalization isn’t just about adding a contact’s name to the subject line anymore but is all about creating personalized experiences that demonstrate you understand them and have insider knowledge about how they can use your products to succeed,” Aleia Walker, growth marketing manager at HubSpot.
Now that you know who you’re emailing and what’s important to them, sending emails with personalized touches will be much easier.
Sure, you’re speaking to 100+ people at one time, but your leads don’t need to know it.
A 2021 report by Litmus revealed that 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.
To really drive this point home, consider this: Personalized emails have higher open rates. In addition, 83% of customers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience.
You’ve gathered all this unique data. Your email marketing software allows for personalization tokens. You have no excuse for sending generic emails that don’t make your leads feel special.
“It’s more impactful to base email personalization on two or three factors instead of just what a contact is engaging with on your side,” Walker says.
Walker suggests, “Consider personalizing emails based on what you know about your contact, such as their location, industry, employee size, etc., alongside how they engage with your content.”
Here are a few ways to personalize your emails:
- Add a first name field in your subject line and/or greeting.
- Include region-specific information when appropriate.
- Send content that is relevant to your lead’s lifecycle stage.
- Only send emails that pertain to the last engagement a lead has had with your brand.
- Write about relevant and/or personal events, like region-specific holidays or birthdays.
- End your emails with a personal signature from a human (not your company).
- Use a relevant call-to-action to an offer that the reader will find useful.
6. Use email marketing templates.
Email marketing templates — like these ones from HubSpot — are another great resource to help you with your email marketing.
Unless you’re a designer and developer, on top of being a skilled marketer, templates will save you a ton of time — they take the design, coding, and UX-definition work out of crafting your emails.
Just one caveat: when making your selection, choose email templates that are proven to be effective.
The highest-quality templates come from the most reputable ESPs that have tested them against thousands of alternatives. So, stick with the professionals.
If you’re struggling with the above tips, HubSpot offers e-mail marketing tools to help personalize your marketing emails, optimize your emails with A/B testing, and create aesthetically pleasing emails using templates.
Furthermore, HubSpot’s Campaign Assistant uses AI technology to generate copy for marketing emails.
Beginning Email Marketing
While there are many rules to sending a marketing email, the most important is this: Treat the reader on the other end like you’re writing to a friend.
You can achieve all of your email marketing goals if you keep this golden rule top of mind in every autoresponder, lead magnet, and subject line.
And remember, the more you help your subscribers, the more they will want to hear from you and look forward to opening emails that you send.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.