With all the buzz around Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram — not to mention mobile marketing to smartphones — it’s tempting to think that online entrepreneurs don’t have to use email marketing. Some pundits even say email marketing has fallen by the wayside.
But they’ve been saying that for more than a decade, now.
The fact is, email marketing — which is basically direct mail brought into the internet era — should still be a major part of most online businesses, for the simple reason that it’s still very effective.
In fact, 82 percent of B2B and B2C companies use email marketing, according to industry watcher Ascend2. And for good reason:
- According to Campaign Monitor, an email is six times more likely to get a click than a tweet.
- McKinsey says email is much more effective than Facebook or Twitter at landing new customers — about 40 times more effective at that.
- Direct Marketing Association data shows that email marketing has the highest conversion rate (66 percent) when it comes to purchasing from marketing messages — more than social media, direct mail, and other channels.
You’ve seen email marketing before. Think about when you buy something at an online retailer. Soon after your order, you start receiving emails about upcoming sales and promotions for similar items, right?
Or perhaps you were reading a blog about investing and saw an ad offering a free report on a certain stock play, along with a free daily email newsletter on the stock market. You gave them your email address and soon started getting messages from them in your inbox.
Those are just two of the thousands of ways companies doing business online use email marketing.
Yes, all those new social platforms and marketing channels are important. And they can be part of your marketing efforts — in fact, they should and can work together. But email marketing does something they can’t do, and it’s why it should be a major part of your business.
Why Email Marketing Works
Many website visitors aren’t ready to “pull the trigger” and make a purchase when they first visit your website or e-commerce store. Email marketing helps you build a relationship so that the prospect comes to know, like, and trust you.
It familiarizes them with your product(s) or services(s).
The vital part of this strategy is that you must provide valuable free information. You can’t just send them sales offers all the time. You must also position yourself as an expert in your niche and show the reader how you are different and better than your competitors. You can let your personality come through here, which will also set you apart from other companies in the same or similar niches.
This is why “buying” email lists of random people is not a good idea. It could get you flagged as “spam” and, at the very least, you’ll be ignored because those people never signed up for your list. Why should they read your emails if they don’t know you?
Instead, it’s best to grow your own email list from the ground up, because you know the source of those emails — you’ve set up your lead generation campaign. And when those people sign up, they do so because they are interested in what you have to offer.
From Sign-Up to Sale: How Email Marketing Works
Let’s walk through the process of email marketing.
One of the first things you have to do is start building your list of email subscribers and put a system in place so you can add new subscribers consistently. Yes, that can seem daunting. But you can do this, and, in many cases, you don’t have to spend much, if any, money.
You could have an ad or post on Facebook, a pay-per-click ad, a banner ad, a video on YouTube…. Whatever it is, you’ll have a compelling message that, hopefully, convinces the prospect to click your link to get more information. It often helps to include a limited-time offer of some sort, to create urgency. You should include a link on whatever type of ad you use.
When they click on the link, they are taken to a landing page that has strong copy that reveals the biggest benefits of your product or service. Show the prospect how their life will change. You want this landing page, also called a signup page or squeeze page, to be short and to the point. (It is possible, of course, to just send them to your main website. But it could be distracting with all the links and different pages.
With a landing page there is only one message and one action to take: submit your email.)
The box to include their email address and name should be prominent on the page — with something like a big button that says Sign Up. You don’t want your visitors to miss it.
You could even have multiple signups — say, another one at the bottom of your landing page — but at least one should be “above the fold” so the prospect does not have to scroll down to see it. Many experts say the best spot for a signup box is near the top right corner of the page.
To incentivize the prospect to sign up, it’s important to offer them some sort of free bonus, like an ebook, access to a webinar, or whatever attractive freebie you can give them that is related to your business. But you shouldn't have to bust your butt to put this bonus together. You could collect together past blog posts into one PDF, for example.
Once they’ve signed up, you send your new subscribers an initial email with access details for the bonus or an attached download.
This is done automatically in your email system. This type of email is called an autoresponder.
Now they’re on your list and you can start marketing to them in earnest.
Using Automated Email Marketing Systems
It’s important to note that you won’t be collecting names or sending out emails by hand, one email at a time. You’d soon be overwhelmed by the volume! You can use systems like Constant Contact, Get Response, AWeber, and Campaign Monitor to manage your email lists and broadcast your emails. Systems like this can also track leads, opt-in rates, sales, open rates, click-through rates and other important stats.
It’s important to note that these systems make your job a whole lot easier through automation. The leads can sign up, be added to the list, start getting emails, even make sales… All while you sleep. With these systems, you can send the same email to thousands of people at the same time, automatically. You could potentially set up a schedule of emails going out for weeks or more at a time. You can even manually send emails if you want to run campaigns or send out messages on the fly.
There is one downside to being able to reach so many people so efficiently: Any mistake you make is multiplied by thousands, and could mean a bunch of lost subscribers or lost sales. So make sure an email is just how you want it before you hit Send! Look for typos, make sure the information is correct, and the links to any sales offers work.
You can usually do a test mailing to just yourself to confirm everything is good to go. And even if you have everything automated for weeks, it pays to check in every once in awhile to make sure everything is running smoothly.
What You Should Email Your List
Once you have your leads on your list, you often send them an introductory series of emails to get to know you. And, because you want to strike while the iron is hot and they’re interested in your products, you can also include some offers for low-cost items.
This series of emails is often called a gauntlet. Again, all sent automatically. And every new subscriber goes through it.
A gauntlet could be three emails, five, 10… Whatever works or your niche and business. Figure out what’s best for you through testing. Once they’ve gone through the gauntlet, your leads are added to your regular email list. You should have a consistent schedule, sending around the same time, usually daily (though you may opt for a less frequent schedule).
There are different approaches to marketing to your new audience by email, and all have their place in an email marketing strategy:
- Email newsletters packed with useful content.
- Short, quick-to-read emails. Remember, people are busy and get dozens of emails daily!
- Links to videos with useful content.
- Announcements of product launches.
- Industry news and your commentary.
- Sales offers.
What you send should be a mix of useful “editorial” content and sales offers, product launches, affiliate offers, and similar.
The editorial content is easy to put together. It could be your take on trends in your industry, or lists of top 10 best practices in your niche. If you’re in the weight loss niche, that might mean diet and exercise tips. An inspirational story of one of your past customers might work, too.
You get the idea. This free information is kind of a “tease” for your paid products. To get the full story, so to speak, they have to become a paid up customer. That’s why you throw in the sales offers in your emails too — to give them a way to buy while they’re excited about your products and your business.
Turning Your Email Leads Into Valuable Customers
Just by signing up, the people who have signed up for your email list, called “names” (a holdover from direct mail) or leads, have shown an interest in what you’re offering. This makes them valuable. You want to treat that list of names well, and not miss the opportunity to turn that interest into sales.
Your best bet is to offer a low-cost introductory product first. This is known as a front end. Then you can start offering the buyers of that low-cost product steadily higher-priced products.
Fewer people on the list will buy the “expensive” products. But the idea is that, through your name collection/lead generation (often shortened to lead gen) efforts, you will be constantly bringing new names on to your list. Out of those, a certain percentage will buy. A smaller percentage will buy higher priced products. And the smallest percentage will buy your most expensive offerings. Think of them like the “whales” in a casino. You want to cultivate your back-end buyers by offering good products and great customer service. They’re VIPs.
Also important for the growth of your business is that you’re always adding new customers. That’s what’s going to grow your revenues and make your business profitable. You can never stop generating new leads, because old leads will fall off the list or start ignoring your emails… and many will never buy. So it’s key to not let your list stagnate: Keep it fresh with an infusion of new names, all of whom are potential buyers.
Email Marketing Best Practices: How to Maximize Your Profits
In the old “Wild West” days of email marketing, you could send out just about any message and make money. But as email marketing has matured and become more sophisticated, so has the audience. And you need to keep that in mind as you prepare email campaigns.
Here are some best practices for pulling a profit from an email list:
- Use engaging subject lines that grab attention and compel the reader to click.
- Get whitelisted. You don’t want to be considered spam and then banned (each email service, like Gmail or Hotmail, has a way to do this). In your first email to them, send the instructions to the subscriber to add you to their list of trusted emailers.
- Mix in sales offers with useful content — you can’t pitch every day.
- Find the best times of day to send messages to your list — determine by testing what your open rates are at different times, then run with the winner.
- Don't neglect mobile. 56 percent of all emails are opened on mobile devices, according to Litmus Email Analytics. So it’s important that your emails be mobile-friendly! This is a basic option in most email delivery programs you might use.
Through all this, offer good customer service. Make sure products, whether physical or digital, are delivered on time. Respond to customer questions in a timely manner. If a customer brings up a problem, try to solve it.
Taking Your Email Marketing to the Next Level
You might be pulling in some nice revenues from your email-marketing-based business using the techniques above. But there are ways to improve your results.
You shouldn’t set up a campaign once and then try to let it run forever. You never know when your copy, your offer, or your product will just stop resonating with the marketplace. So the key is to always try to be improving, which you do through testing.
- Test by offering different copy in the lead generation ads and on the landing page.
- Offer different bonuses for sign up for your list.
- Change the price of the products you offer in sales messages.
- Try to advertise in different ways in different channels.
For effective and actionable results, you should do A/B tests, which test two (or more) different approaches. For example, you could send half of your list one subject line, and an alternate subject line to the other half. You could also A/B test the two approaches with a small subset of your list, then send the winning headline to the rest of the list.
Because you’ll be doing so much testing, tracking is so important. You should always know:
- How many people visit your page
- How many of those folks sign up
- How many people open your emails
- How many people buy
- How much each individual name on your list has bought
- The average lifetime value (how much people buy while on your list)
Your Next Steps
To be sure, this is a lot to take in. Email marketing has a lot of moving parts. But at its heart is a simple process.
So start simply. Set up some basic email campaigns to get practice in writing copy, setting up landing pages, using automated email systems, testing offers, and creating content to create a relationship with your prospects and customers.
Over time, you’ll get experience and practical skills so you can take your email marketing business to the next level.