This article was originally published on July 16, 2015, and was updated on June 7, 2018, and August 5, 2019.
Since you’re reading this email marketing guide, it’s probably safe to assume that you already see some value in email marketing for your business. I’ll take the opportunity anyway to mention a few salient points about email and why marketing and email go together well.
Nearly half of all people worldwide use email. That’s about 3.9 billion people (including about 233 million in the U.S.), according to 2019 stats. It’s estimated that the number of email users worldwide will top 4.3 billion by 2023. Yup, email’s popular.
Email marketing is a vibrant and powerful way to connect with people.
Email is a part of our lives. A very big part. And if you run a business, email marketing can play a vital role in your success. In fact, 59% of consumers say email marketing influences their decision to purchase.
Ready to get in on some of that action? Good.
Email marketing guide: Covering the basics
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this entry-level email marketing guide:
- Contact lists.
- Email content.
- Email design.
- Sending and deliverability.
- Email analytics.
- Wrapping Up.
Let’s get started.
Right off the bat, let’s get some terminology out of the way.
You’ll often hear of opt-in and permission-based email marketing. Both of these terms mean that your subscribers gave you permission to email them. And that’s important.
With the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), following the rules regarding your email subscribers’ data privacy has never been more critical.
Permission can come in a variety of ways, including being an active customer or filling out a form on your website.
The key thing is that they specifically gave you — not another company — permission to send them specific types of emails.
With email lists, bigger is not better. In fact, there are benefits to “cleaning” your list frequently. From a monetary standpoint, you’ll save yourself some expenses.
If 30% of your list is utterly unresponsive, why pay for it? But there’s a more compelling reason to keep your list healthy: delivery!
8 tips for building a contact list
No email marketing guide would be complete with some recommendations for building a contact (aka subscriber) list.
- Write a strong call-to-action on or near your signup form. Tell people exactly why they should subscribe. Perhaps they’ll enjoy special offers, exclusive content or a quote of the day. What’s in it for them?
- Create a relevant online quiz. With a quiz-hosting platform, you can trade quiz results for the quiz taker’s email address. And who knows — it might just go viral!
- Host a virtual conference. Interview leaders in your industry and market the series of recorded interviews as a virtual conference. Ask “attendees” to subscribe to your email list to gain access to the content.
- Share your signup form in your content. Yep — right in the middle of a blog post! When you make a particularly strong point, follow it up with a newsletter plug: “To receive more ideas like this in your inbox, subscribe to my email list.” Include a link to your signup form.
- Offer to give new subscribers something special on their birthday. Whether it’s a coupon, a freebie, or a social media shoutout, most people like it when other people — and brands — acknowledge their big day.
- Create a free email-based course. Cull your best content and organize it into a series of autoresponders. Create a special signup form for the course and spread the word.
- Host a contest on social media. Offer a drool-worthy prize and tell folks they can secure an entry by subscribing to your fabulous newsletter.
- Offer a new-subscriber discount. Let folks know that as soon as they subscribe, they’ll receive a one-time promo code or print-ready coupon. Set up an autoresponder to deliver your discount.
Your contact list and delivery
Your delivery is affected more by your list health than anything else.
If your recipients have no idea who you are, they’ll mark your emails as spam.
If your list contains “spam traps” or old email addresses from accounts that haven’t been logged into in years, internet service providers (ISPs) like Gmail pay attention to that. They start assuming the worst and might even start sending your emails to the spam folder.
The most common way to grow your list (healthily) is to add a signup form to your website.
While you can add an email signup form anywhere, I’d recommend placing it somewhere obvious on your website’s home page.
You can also share the URL for your signup form anywhere you like, including on social media.
If you’re interacting with people in person, have a signup sheet handy and ask visitors and customers to give you their email addresses and other info.
What information to collect
Many people collect info beyond just the email address — like name, city, state and more. Depending on what type of business you run, this info may or may not be pertinent.
Consider your email marketing goals.
Will it be important to be able to sort your contacts by state or ZIP code? A band on tour might need this, but a web-based business might not. Would you like to send an automated email to customers on their birthdays?
If you’re not sure whether you need lots of info, you probably don’t.
And a simple signup form might seem less daunting to potential subscribers.
Editor’s note: GoDaddy Email Marketing includes a signup form for your business’s website or Facebook page. Plus, this elegant but easy-to-use email marketing tool seamlessly integrates with our Website Builder and Managed WordPress Hosting.
Here’s the REAL reason you’re emailing: You want to connect with your customers and fans.
You want to provide value, keep them informed, and give them a bit of enjoyment in their hectic day.
You also want them to read your next one, to share it with friends, and to stay loyal customers. Don’t lose sight of that.
And how do you do that?
Email marketing topics
Start by sitting down and asking yourself, “What do I look forward to receiving in my inbox? What can I share that my customers might not know? If I were my customer, what would I find interesting?”
These could be personal stories about a product, the chef’s inspiration behind a new dish, or news about the industry you’re in.
If you’re informing, you’re already being interesting. If you’re interesting, it won’t feel like an advertisement.
Say your business is selling small-batch roasted coffee beans. A weekly email that highlights various ways to prepare coffee, from cold press to stove-top percolators (my favorite!), would be perfect. Talk roasting techniques or why the chief coffee poobah created a blend of dark-roasted Sumatran beans and medium roasted Arabica or … you get the point. As a passionate coffee drinker, I’d find this fascinating and I’d be inspired to try out those techniques or new blends.
I’m a fan of being concise. I like to be able to scan an email quickly and “get it.”
If you have a lot to say on a specific subject, consider hosting the whole article on your website or blog and linking to it from your email. That’s one of the goals of email marketing — to drive more traffic to your site.
If your readers need 10 minutes to get through your email, it’s probably too long.
If you’re sending a newsletter with a ton of valuable information, consider organizing it into sections and including a clickable table of contents. This is sometimes referred to as creating “named anchors.” Here’s how to do it.
A call-to-action (aka CTA) is an appeal to your readers — a request that they do something in particular.
A good marketing email is built around a primary call-to-action, whether it’s clicking through to an article, buying a new product, or checking out your events calendar.
Once you’ve determined your primary call-to-action, make it clear what you want your readers to do. When designing your email:
- Keep your layout simple and clean.
- Don’t waste any time — get to the point quickly.
- Place your primary call-to-action (with link) toward the top.
If your email requires readers to scroll to read to the end, you might want to reiterate your CTA toward the bottom.
Simply put, good writing matters. Don’t distract your readers with typos or exhaust them with too many exclamation marks. Before you hit “send,” heed these three pieces of advice:
- Ban passivity from your writing.
- Cut the fluff.
- Phrase things in a more interesting way.
And have an eagle-eyed friend proofread your email — it’s worth the extra step to catch run-on sentences and poor grammar.
Major blogs and publications usually have a main title, an article heading, maybe a teaser (I call this a subheading) and then some text. Oh, and an image. This works great for emails, too. Pretty neat and easy to read, right?
While dual columns might seem attractive because well, you’ve seen emails with that format, it’s a “noisy” format that distracts from your message. Keep it simple!
The banner is a logo or an image that goes right up at the top of your email. Nearly every website you’ll ever visit has something similar.
The banner image is the first step to branding your email, and since it makes the first impression, it’s vitally important!
To create a banner image, you’ll need an image-editing application (online or desktop) or a friend with design skills. If you’re the DIY type, here are some resources to help you get started with image editing:
- 5 must-know Photoshop tricks for beginners
- 10 best practices for picture editing
- How to use Canva to create branded images in less than an hour
Import your logo into an image-editing application and do any necessary cropping and resizing. Don’t go overboard with some elaborate design — your company name is usually enough.
Some of the most beautiful and effective email banners are just pictures.
For brick-and-mortar stores, try using a photograph of your shop with the name captured in the frame. The point is, have a banner image! It’s your brand. Even if it’s simply your business name in big block letters, that’s fine. It’s easy to change later.
Editor’s note: Need someone else to create a high-quality logo for your business, without breaking the bank? Look into GoDaddy’s Logo Design Service.
Color can set the vibe of your emails, whether you’re going for a calming effect with subdued grays and blues or “party time” with neon and black.
A stylish, well-thought-out color scheme ties everything together and plays a role in emphasizing important information and links.
There are plenty of ready-made color schemes out there, but I like to create my own. In GoDaddy Email Marketing, you can create a custom theme (aka template) with your favorite colors and fonts.
Grab ideas, inspiration and guidance from your website and your banner image.
Here’s where a color-picking tool comes in handy. The color picker — like this one — will give you the exact color, usually in the form of a hexadecimal color code.
The “hex” code is a six-character code made up of numbers and letters.
So if you hover the color picker over a color in your banner, you’ll get the hex code. Then you can use that same color in your custom email theme.
Tips for creating a great color scheme
Here are some suggestions for coming up with a color scheme for compelling emails:
- Find your boldest color. It could be a bright red, a dark blue or a green that just stands out. It’s usually an eye-catching color in your banner or on your website. Use this for section titles and links.
- Keep it readable. Keep the inner background color behind your text white or something light. Dark text on white background is very easy to read.
- Set a neutral outer background. Make your outer background a light gray or something similar. This allows your content to be the focus and helps make it pop.
- Use a strong dark border. This highlights the space you want your readers to focus on and can help make your content “float” above the outer areas.
- Experiment with heading colors. You can’t go wrong with simple here. I tend to make my headings a dark charcoal and the subheading a medium (but readably dark) gray. These colors work with nearly every theme.
- Keep it common. Paragraph text should be a very dark shade of gray. Many designers say that off-black is the most readable font color, and I suggest using color codes #222222 or #444444.
Fonts matter, too.
Your readers will notice the difference between Helvetica and Comic Sans. More subtly, there’s a difference in mood between Georgia and Optima. While it might not be as obvious as a jarring color scheme, using mismatched (or oddly sized) fonts is bit like wearing pink socks with a tuxedo.
When in doubt, keep it simple. The goal is to make your emails as easy to read as possible.
There are lots of great reasons to include images in emails. Online stores can include thumbnails of their cool new products. Bands can include photos from their latest show. Restaurants can show off their seasonal creations.
Images can be very fun and engaging.
Thankfully, there’s seldom any reason to hire a designer or pay for images. Almost everything you need can be found on your website, your camera, or free stock photo sites.
A few tips for using images in emails:
- Don’t use too many images. Be restrained and tasteful (whatever that means to you).
- Make sure your images complement your content and don’t distract from it.
- Format your images. In GoDaddy Email Marketing, banner images are always the full width of your email — 590 pixels. You can resize other images from 79 to 554 pixels in width, with no height limitations.
- Avoid using images larger than 1MB. The ideal file size is less than 150KB. The smaller the file size, the faster your image will download.
And that’s it for the mostly creative part of this email marketing guide!
Next, let’s talk about …
Sending and deliverability
Of course, you don’t want to go through the effort of creating beautiful, useful and engaging emails that no one is going to open! That’s where subject lines, personalization and sender ID come into play.
Don’t worry about the ideal day or time to send your emails — that will drive you mad.
To get more people to open your emails, focus on your subject lines.
While there’s no such thing as the perfect subject line, some are certainly more powerful than others.
A compelling subject line can only be built on a strong foundation of content, so make sure that your email offers value.
If you want to drive higher open rates, write content that inspires great subject lines. Here are some tips:
- Be honest. “Hilarious Cat Video Inside!” is not a good subject line if your email does not contain a cat video.
- Be brief. Limit yourself to 10 words. Nothing bad will happen if your subject line is 11 words, but in general, concise is better.
- Be descriptive. If your email is all about the latest in international politics, then go with something like “North Korea at it Again and U.S.-China Relations Strained.” In a few words, it captures what the email is about and your readers will know there’s good stuff inside!
- Be funny. When appropriate, humorous subject lines can drive more opens — but it’s a fine line. Only be funny if you can also follow the other rules.
- Avoid all CAPS! No one likes being yelled at, and it might even trigger spam filters.
- Avoid excessive punctuation. A comma or a period is fine, but there’s really no need for five exclamation marks.
- Create a sense of urgency. Using phrases like “only three days left” might boost open rates.
- Focus on the first words. When a reader is previewing your email in the inbox, he or she might only see the first few words. Make them count.
- Identify yourself. Using your business name or your product name might boost open rates.
- Do your research. Try using the Google Trends tool to identify some strong keywords. While the tool is for SEO, it can tell you what terms people are searching for on Google, and thus, what they’re interested in.
- Be true to the purpose of a subject line. The purpose is a preview of the email: a handful of words that capture the essence of the subject matter.
I’ve always found feedback to be extremely constructive and with subject lines, getting some outside perspective is vital. Ask your friends and colleagues what they think the subject line should be or have them edit your subject lines.
Better yet, come up with a few options and ask them to come up with some themselves. Then decide which is best. This often results in a really effective subject line.
On average, personalized email messages perform three times better than their generic “blast and batch” counterparts. That makes sense, right?
Use your customer’s name, send them emails triggered by certain events (like their birthday), and cater to their interests. Your customers will appreciate the special attention.
Here’s how to use personalization tags with GoDaddy Email Marketing.
Before you send your email, consider the name that will appear in your readers’ inboxes. Who is this email from? It’s from you!
As a recipient, you probably like receiving emails from a real email address, not firstname.lastname@example.org. See the difference?
You can reply to a person or a business, but you’re never going to start up a conversation with a computer.
If you run a small business, it’s really lovely to send your emails to your readers from “you.” You’ll create connections that way. I even recommend avoiding addresses like newsletter@ or news@. They’re nicer than a do-not-reply address but still a little stiff.
Now, we come to the name you’re going to be using.
Sending as your full name (e.g., Dean Levitt) might be a logical conclusion but not all your customers know your full name. When I sent newsletters from my previous company, I used: Mad Mimi or Dean – Mad Mimi. Both made it clear that I’m a real person and I represent a specific company.
No email marketing guide would be complete without a section on email analytics. Why? Stats count! They are what you use to measure and improve your small business’s email marketing efforts.
Email marketing is about connecting with your readers and customers. Statistics are a way to affirm that the connection is being made.
It’s fun to watch the stats update after a send, but if you sit there obsessing about whether three more people will open the email tonight, email stats will become a lot less fun. And so will email marketing.
Stats can help you learn more about your customers and fans.
Knowledge is power. If a particular theme or subject line consistently gets considerably high stats, you’ll know to create similar content in the future.
Stats are something to enjoy! It’s wonderful to know that 20% of the folks you emailed yesterday read your thoughts and some even clicked through and purchased some stuff. Statistics can either be helpful or misleading, so it’s vital you understand the basics.
Email stats are almost universally broken up into:
- Views (or “opened”)
- Clicks (or “engaged”)
Editor's note: GoDaddy Email Marketing includes reports that show which emails get opened, clicked and shared. You can also easily add Google Analytics to your account to see how long email subscribers stayed on your website once they clicked through, what they clicked on, which pages they read, and where they went from there.
How many people opened your email?
When a reader sees your email in her inbox and clicks on it, there’s still one more step before it gets counted as a view. The images need to load.
However, many email clients like Gmail and Yahoo don’t load images right away unless the sender is in the reader’s address book or marked as trusted.
Open rates depend on multiple factors — including collection practices, list age, sending frequency, industry, subject lines and your relationship with your readers.
The average view rates for bulk sending are 10% to 25%. So, if only a quarter of your contacts open your email, don’t worry — you’re doing fine! If less than 10% read your email, it’s time to make some changes.
How many people clicked on a link in your email?
Click-through rates tend to be quite a bit lower than views.
Many senders think of clicks as the most important statistic, but I find opens to be more indicative of whether you’re reaching your readers and how engaged they are with your brand in general.
However, click-through rates can reflect whether you’re using links effectively.
If it’s easy to click, people will. To make it easy for readers to visit your site, make all your images clickable (including the banner) and place multiple text links in your content.
How many people opted out?
Sometimes people just don’t want to receive your emails anymore. Unsubscribing doesn’t mean they hate you or that they’re no longer customers — they simply don’t want to receive emails from you right now.
However, it’s time to start worrying if more than 1% of your list unsubscribes each time. And if your unsubscribe rate is consistently above 0.5%, review your list and content.
Unsubscribes should not be a noticeable trend.
If you respect your readers and are adding value to their day with your emails, you won’t see many unsubscribes.
You can use your email statistics to keep your list up to date. After more than about 15 sends (or six months), you’ll likely see that much more than 25% of your readers viewed at least one email. The views add up, usually to a nice, high number.
These are your fans — let them know you love and appreciate their loyalty!
Conversely, someone who never viewed an email in six months probably won’t be interested in the next email either. Isolate them from your main list and send them a special email asking them to opt-in again, reminding them why they signed up in the first place.
If that doesn’t work, remove these email addresses from your list. You’ll probably save money and keep your list healthy and up to date.
While you can’t reach everyone every time, with consistent sending, you’ll reach most of your audience (and grow your audience). Be patient and be positive!
That’s it — the basics of email marketing for your small business! To sum up:
- Start building a contact list. Remember to pay close attention to subscriber opt-in details. When collecting subscriber information on your signup form, less is more.
- Create engaging content. Offer topics that will interest your target audience, always including a strong call-to-action. Keep your newsletter content short and snappy and link back to more information on your website or blog. And don’t forget the proofreader!
- Use a design that jives with your brand. Include an eye-catching banner image and limit the number of fonts.
- To increase open rates and click-throughs, write compelling subject lines, personalize your emails, and sign them with your name.
- Track and measure email marketing metrics such as views, clicks and unsubscribes to continue learning and improving your efforts. Regularly clean up your email list.
Taking those five main steps will get you well on your way to effectively marketing your business using email. Good luck!