Email marketing intro

Email Marketing (Complete Beginner's Guide)

Disclosure: Just so you know, we may sometimes earn a small commission from affiliate links on this site.

Email marketing is a popular and effective online strategy for small businesses (as well as large corporates). Like all marketing strategies, email comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses - but it can also be dangerous for unwary companies.

Unlike advertising on your own site, email is disruptive. It reaches out to potential clients and customers - and because of this there are severe penalties for email spam. This is why many organizations that engage in email based marketing, do so through a trusted mailing service, that helps ensure compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

Ultimately, you need to know:

  1. why it is important to use an email marketing service
  2. which are the most trusted and recognised services
  3. shows how to draft high converting emails
  4. how to grow your mailing list

Why use an email marketing service

The CAN-SPAM act sounds really scary in that it allows for US $16,000 penalty, per violation, for spamming individual recipients. This would quickly add up for even modest email lists. Despite this...

90% of all emails sent out are spam.

So why should you care about following the rules if almost no-one else does? There are three good reasons:

  1. Every now and then spammers are caught, fined and sentenced
  2. The vast majority of spam emails come from a few spam networks
  3. It's easy for legitimate businesses to get blacklisted as a spammer for sending out emails

Basically, the spammers make it their business to get around all the checks and controls. However, if you begin sending out reasonable volumes of emails, somewhere along the line, your domain will end up being blacklisted.

It's not impossible to operate your own email list, but it's a lot quicker, easier (and cheaper) to have professional services streamline your efforts.

As easy as it may seem to compose and email stuff to your friends, colleagues, and coworkers, growing and managing a decent size mailing list is a completely different beast. Bulk mailing comes with a range of challenges from technical, to legal, to strategic, and using a quality service will ensure that your blog or business is able to instantly benefit from the experience and know-how of industry leaders.

1. It's a technical challenge

Marketing via email should be about reaching out and engaging with readers, clients and customers. The more time spent on dealing with technical issues, the more time you're not spending on growing your mailing list and generating profits.

Using a quality mailing service removes most, if not all, of the technical issues associated with sending valid emails in bulk (without being blacklisted as spammer).

2. Lots of red tape

Because something like 90% of all emails sent in the world is spam, you can be sure that there is plenty of legislation outlining how companies can and can't grow and manage their lists. While, in practice, it is difficult to enforce adherence to laws, there is little point in flirting with potential legal problems. Using a service ensures that you only create legally compliant campaigns and aren't caught unawares by legal issues.

3. Proper analytics

Manually sending out bulk mails as part of a newsletter or campaign without a service is certainly possible - and most CMS systems come with reasonable newsletter plugins to manage this. However, one of the real value add-ons of mailing services is their ability to provide detailed analytics reporting. This allows you to see which mails are getting through, which are getting read, and how readers are responding and converting as a result.

Absolutely vital intelligence for any business.

4. Design

Emailing services provide facilities to design emails that go beyond your standard text (possibly with a bit of color, and a few links thrown in). Emails should be fun and engaging and visually attractive. Not only that, but it's very likely that you'll want to add different media types at some stage.

If you are creating video clips as part of your overall online and content strategy, then a quality mailing service will allow you to build those clips straight into your emails ,and share them with clients and customers at the click of a button (without getting bogged down in technical issues).

5. Integration

Every venture needs a decent mix of strategies in order to reach different target audiences, or get to people at different times, and in different ways, in order to be effective. Email doesn't need to work in a vacuum. In fact, it's a great idea to integrate it into other aspects of your marketing - like social media, printed materials, in-store QR codes, and more.

Get started (for free)

We have put together a complete, step-by-step setup guide using our winning email marketing service, AWeber. You'll be able to do everything from create a free account (AWeber offers a 30 day no strings attached free trial) to designing awesome email using their freely available templates and a drag-n-drop builder, to managing subscribers, mailing lists, integrating cool 3rd party apps, and more.

Get started with our step-by-step setup guide

Comparing the best services

The following table ranks the major services according to their value for money metric that is determined by aggregating and comparing their quality, pricing and customers reviews:

Rank Service Features Price Reviews* Value**
1 AWeber Autoresponders. Campaign automation. Drag-n-drop form editor. Landing page designer. Social integration. Email analytics. Contact imports. 3rd party apps. Stats & reporting. API access. $16+ 9 89%
2 GetResponse Autoresponders. Customizable email automation. Drag-n-drop email creation. Landing page designer. Social integration. Email analytics. Contact imports. Sign up form builder. Inbox preview - with mobile support. $15+ 9 88%
3 Constant Contact Customizable templates. Drag-n-drop editing. Image editing + storage. Contact management. Contact import. Automatic list management. Social integration. FaceBook. QR codes. Coaching & support. Real time analytics. Google analytics integration. $15+ 8 85%
4 Vertical Response Customizable email templates. Social media integration. Custom email design. 3rd party integration - SalesForce, etc. Award winning support. List management. Scheduling.Analytics & insights. $15+ 8 83%
5 Campaigner Email templates. Subscriber forms. Contact lists. List segmentation. Autoresponders. Reports. API integration with 3rd parties. Mobile management interface. $10+ 7 80%
6 iContact Email templates. HTML tool. Social media integration. Comprehensive contact management. Sign up forms. Email tracking & analytics. Customer support. $14+ 7.5 79%

Prices shown in this table are given in $ per month, and do not take into account any special offers and deals that may be available (although we will keep this post updated with any specials and discounts that are available - hint: look for orange callout notices in this article)

It's also important to note that while we have made every attempt to list the salient features of each service, it is impossible to list each and every one. Instead, click on an individual service to explore their features in more depth.

* Reviews are given an aggregate value between 1 and 10, based on our research into customer reviews about each service found online.

** Value is determined by combining the quality of the service, range of offerings, with the quality, pricing, and prevailing sentiment (customer reviews) to give a rating expressed as a percentage.

100% is perfect value for money, while 0% is no value for money whatsoever.

From our research and using the criteria listed in the above table, we can see that:

AWeber offers the overall best value for money.

Email delivery rate - deliverability

One extremely important rating factor that must be taken into account when thinking about which email marketing service to use is the email delivery rate. This determines that likelihood that your emails will get through to their intended audience without being blocked by spam lists or email servers along the way.

Depending on the type of emails your business is sending, you may find it harder or easier to get emails through to your list. And, in some cases, the problem may be with the email service provider.

We did some research into what the delivery rates are for each of our top 5 email marketing services, but chose not to include the results in the above table because we couldn't find reliable enough stats.

However, we can confirm that AWeber, GetResponse, iContact, and Constant Contact all have delivery rates high enough to have been mentioned in independent reviews.

I should point out too that GetResponse claims to have an industry leading 99% email delivery rate that has been verified by an independent 3rd party service.

Brand popularity comparison

While not always 100% accurate, it is often worthwhile comparing the brand recognition and popularity of online services to see how many people use each service. In general, online services that are larger, with positive growth, tend to be of high quality and reliable.

Here's a comparison table that shows the brand recognition for our 5 top email marketing services:

Rank Service Alexa Trends* Google**
1 Constant Contact 426 60 1
2 GetResponse 782 20 2
3 AWeber 1117 14 1
4 iContact 1999 10 1
5 Vertical Response 6195 5 2
6 Campaigner 15657 2 2

* The Trends value is given as a relative search volume, for that particular brand - as reported by Google Trends for search. In general, the higher the brand search volume, the more popular the brand.

** The Google metric is an aggregate of how prominent each email marketing service is in Google search, for a selection of targeted keywords relating to email marketing. A lower score is better.

To give you a better sense of how popular each brand is, in graph format, here's the Google Trends graph we used to tabulate and rank each email marketing service's popularity:

In terms of popularity, there is little doubt that Constant Contact leads the field.

Ok, so far we have AWeber as the best value for money, and best overall service, but Constant Contact is the biggest and most popular (with GetResponse coming in second).

But, it is important to note that regardless of which service you choose for your business, it is the way in which you grow and manage your list, and create engaging and useful content that encourages high conversions that will ultimately determine your success.

An email marketing service is just a platform/tool for you to bring in more sales and profits - it's still up to you how to use that tool. Talking of which...

How to create high converting emails

I won't consider the graphic design aspect in this part of the discussion because beautiful, professional, customizable email themes and templates are provided by services like AWeber.

Instead, I want to focus on the content itself. What goes into an email in order to get potential customers and clients to take action? Designing the content and structure of an email for maximum conversions is the same as designing a great landing page.

In general, you need to:

  • understand who the target audience is
  • understand the target audience's needs
  • understand your objectives (i.e. what do you want to get readers to do)
  • create content to meet the needs of the reader to build trust and authority
  • present a clear value offering
  • make it intuitive and easy to convert

In a nutshell, focus your content so that it is really helpful, interesting and engaging for your target audience. Build trust, and offer your products and services so that it is easy to convert (i.e. purchase something, take some action, etc).

Here are some actionable tips and techniques you can implement from day one...

1. Provide relevant content of real value

There is absolutely nothing to be gained from spending time and effort setting up a mailing list, promoting it to your customers or readers, only to spam them with self-promotional material.

It's a good idea to stick to the 80/20 rule here.

Make 80% of all content you send out to a mailing list highly relevant and useful to those readers - with absolutely no sales bias. The remaining 20% of your content can be promotional in some way or another.

2. Respect subscribers

As heartbreaking as it might be to have potentially valuable readers unsubscribe to your mailing list, the important thing is to make it easy for them to do so.

Make sure that everyone on your list is opt-in, and that a very simple and easy path to opting out is made available to them. Most services will have opt-in and opt-out functionality built-in in accordance with the relevant anti-spam legislation and guidelines.

There is no point in keeping people on your list who don't want to be on it. Rather maintain a small, lean and mean list of highly engaged people that do want your content - they are far more likely to convert and drive revenue anyway.

3. Segment your mailing lists

Don't simply plaster your website with links to sign up to a generic newsletter. Very often it is better to segment the audience based on their interests - especially if your site covers a diverse range of topics.

For example, I might offer a small business ideas newsletter. This allows me to make the sign up form contextually relevant to those people (i.e. for more great small business ideas...).

People arriving on the site to look at marketing strategies have probably already started up, so the same mailing list sign up form won't be as effective.

4. Offer incentives

While mailing services provide sign up forms and pages that make it easy for people to subscribe to your newsletters, they won't do it unless there is a compelling reason.

One powerful strategy for encouraging sign-ups is to offer free giveaways or discounts that are only available to subscribers. You might also want to offer unique and original content for subscribers - think along the lines of providing more in-depth, "premium content" over and above what appears on your blog.

5. Analyze & refine

In the same way that it is really important for webmasters to constantly monitor their Web traffic volumes (especially organic search traffic from Google), so you must monitor and analyze your campaigns.

Remember that email comes with its own set of challenges - like spam blacklists, email blockers, and so on. There are a host of factors that can prevent your emails from arriving at their destination, or being effective once they have arrived.

Good services, like the ones mentioned above, provide plenty of stats and analytics to help analyze your performance, and make changes to improve profits and revenue. Hopefully, by taking some inspiration from these tips, and picking the right email service to run your campaigns, you will see some decent, sustainable profits.

Tips to grow your list

A blog or website needs plenty of Web traffic in order to drive conversions and profits. In the same way, an email based campaign is pretty useless without a list full of juicy opt-in readers. So how do we go about getting those subscribers?

To start with, leading email marketing services offer very affordable list growth and management facilities that make the job of starting and growing a successful email list much quicker and easier. Both AWeber and GetResponse, and others, offer various types of sign-up Web forms for your blog, or social media platforms.

There are in-depth instructions on how to create a Web form for sign ups on your own site at our 5 minute email marketing setup guide.

Here are some other great strategies and ideas for growing your own list...

1. In-store signs & QR codes

Internet marketing is undergoing a transformation; driven partly by sanity returning after the frenzied enthusiasm about social media, as well as lower budgets in these tough economic conditions.

Instead of trying to generate millions of likes and followers on social networks, companies have now realized that reaching out to smaller, more engaged audiences is more efficient (well, duh!).

Capturing emails from people that are predisposed to buying your products and services is crucial. So getting people, who are actually physically in your store or business, to sign up to your mailing list is a really good strategy.

This is where a good email service comes in.

Customers who have smartphones (which will be everybody, very soon) can scan QR codes that take them directly to your mailing list sign up page, making it quick and convenient to sign up right there and then.

Now it's unlikely that many people will simply walk into your business and start signing up to a mailing list. But, do this in conjunction with...

2. Discount incentives or giveaways

Give people a good reason to sign up to your mailing list. They are already in your store, or place of business, so they can buy anything they like without needing to sign up to anything.

Design and print signs (complete with QR codes) offering exclusive discounts and savings available only to people registered on your mailing list.

Of course, your newsletters or emails should also offer a promise of valuable content - perhaps in the form of expert advice on your particular niche. For example, a nursery might offer a free online class about pruning techniques for avid gardeners - or whatever.

Your point of sale should be the tip of the spear of your email list growth strategy because people who are already buying from you shouldn't be allowed to simply walk away - convert them into repeat business by incentivizing the mailing list.

This gives you access to their inbox, and the opportunity to convert additional sales down the line.

3. Social & Web integration

The Internet is a great place to offer freebies, discounts, and deals. A strong value offering can serve to convert much larger numbers of people into opt-in email subscribers.

Having a good email marketing service pays dividends here too because they:

  • ensure compliance with anti-spam regulations (i.e. opt-in and double opt-in)
  • provide easily embedded sign-up forms (no complicated software or downloads)
  • integrate with social media

These features mean that you are able to give your mailing list a presence virtually anywhere you have a presence on the Web - your blog/website or Facebook business page. Not only that, but the process of signing-up is professionally managed according to the parameters you set.

What's nice about having Facebook integration is that social conversation and digital oriented promotions can be integrated into your email list growth strategy.

There's stuff you can do on Facebook that isn't possible offline - think along the lines of running a photo contest. Customers enter a competition to show off [whatever it is that relates to your business], and the entry confirmation email sent to contestants can offer a link to sign up to the mailing list.

In fact, social media, a blog/website, traditional (in-store) marketing, and email can all be integrated to play off each other, and create a vibrant and engaging environment for customers and potential customers alike.

Of course managing an integrated campaign takes additional tools and resources, so you might be interested in checking out the top 10 online marketing tools & services.

Do you use email marketing? What tips and techniques can you share to help others succeed in this arena? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments.

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