Email Marketing

7 Steps to a High-Converting Email Marketing Campaign

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“The money’s in the list!” Marketing gurus croon.  But just creating a simple opt-in form and hoping that “if you build it, they will come” is not enough to base a solid email marketing campaign on.  You need real, proven, actionable steps that not only attract subscribers, but get them to stay – and act – on your messages.

Fortunately, help is here.  Print off this list and use it as your own personal “email marketing campaign checklist” of how to not only launch a profitable mailing list, but keep subscribers hungry for more.

Step 1: Create Your Sign Up Form

The sign up form is your “first impression” to your subscribers – so what kind of an impression is yours making?  Like with your website, a professionally-designed opt-in form, complete with a visual representation of what people get as a result of signing up, can go a long way to inviting subscribers in.

Whether you ask for name and email address, or simply email address, is a matter of testing to see which information visitors will part with.  If your sign up form doesn’t look trustworthy – or asks for too much information right from the start, you’ll be turning away more visitors than you subscribe.

An example of the opt-in form on iElectrify along with e-covers featuring the two reports subscribers get when signing up.

In some cases, people are more willing to part with valuable contact information (such as their cell phone number) if you throw in a few carrots along the way – such as member exclusives, notifications, contests or other events that only subscribers are privy to.

Charlotte Russe encourages teens to sign up for BFF text alerts on deals, contests and other sales.

Step 2: Place Your Opt-In Form on Your Site

What’s the Best Placement for Opt-in Forms?

You’ve likely seen most opt-in forms placed either in the top right, or at the top of the sidebar of a website – and for good reason.  This is the second area that our eyes are naturally drawn to (the first is the logo in the upper left corner).  Placing your opt-in form “above the fold” in this area makes it more noticeable and compels users to take action before they read the rest of the site.

An example of the opt-in form on QualityStocks, placed within the header itself, where a logo might typically go.

Some sites place opt-in forms in both the sidebar and near the header, to encourage sign-ups from both “scanners” and sidebar readers.

Ideally, you’ll want to test what works for your particular subscriber group.  Remember that you’re not trying to cast a huge net over every person who could possibly be interested in your offer – you’re trying to target the right people who have a dilemma and need your expertise – right now or in the near future.

Step 3: Designing Your Opt-In Form and Newsletter

Email marketing providers like Aweber and Constant Contact provide their users with plenty of templates to customize their opt-in form, as well as the email newsletter itself.  But should you use these pre-made templates at all?

A selection of’s email templates provide you with a default style to start from

Most opt-in and newsletter templates that come by default with your mailing list provider are made to simply give you a starting point.  They may not match your site design or may look out of place.  That’s why it’s better to create a more uniform, branded look, by choosing the default “blank” opt-in form, and then using the full HTML editing possibilities (rather than a quick Javascript version) to further customize your opt-in form to be uniquely your own.

The same applies to the actual newsletter design – the more you can pull away from the default template and personalize it as yours, the smoother the transition subscribers will have from the design of your site to the similar design of your newsletter.  You’ll then be less likely to accidentally be marked as spam or junk – which can in turn affect your email’s “sendability” and decrease conversion rates.

“Sign Up for Newsletter” Doesn’t Cut it Anymore

When the internet was new and novel, the idea of being able to receive a newsletter in your email was a welcome addition.  Now, with the glut of newsletters, e-zines and other demands on your inbox, it’s not so welcome.  That’s why a simple “Sign up for Newsletter” button rarely works well.

An example of a simple “Sign up for Newsletter” form, which gives the user no incentive whatsoever to part with their contact information.

Instead, you now have to work harder to get visitors to give up their contact information.

  • Prove you’re not a spammer by including a sample or “preview” issue to show them what to expect.  Let them know their information is safe with you – and live up to that promise.  Let them know how often to expect your newsletter and, if you have a free download, how they can go about saving it to their computer and opening it. You may think these instructions are simple but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to save that great free report you’ve just provided.
  • Give them the opportunity to unsubscribe in every issue – and don’t freak out when they do. Unsubscribes can actually be viewed as a GOOD thing.  You’re essentially pruning your list by having people voluntarily remove themselves simply because your message wasn’t the right fit for them – maybe it was too soon for them to take action, or maybe you weren’t what they were looking for.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.  The people who are electing to stay are the ones you should concentrate on.
  • Mailing your users often can actually decrease unsubscribes – Although this sounds contrary to popular belief, the “spammer label” pendulum has actually swung too far in the wrong direction.  Emailing often shows your list that you’re interested in helping them succeed – and provided your content is valuable and actionable, they’ll want to hear from you, and they’ll look forward to it!

Don’t forget, the area after each blog post you write is also prime real estate that’s ripe for an opt-in form.  Invite users to subscribe after they’ve read a post, so they’ll know they can continue to get more engaging information from you

A footer-based opt-in form from Career Renegade encourages opt-ins after a blog post.

Step 4: The Confirmation Email

Here comes the moment of truth.  If you have a double-opt-in newsletter (and you should), this is where the rubber meets the road.  Have you provided enough value (and instruction) to compel the subscriber to click that opt-in confirmation link?

This is the point at which most autoresponder services try to be helpful by giving you a helpful “how-to” video that you can direct your subscribers to, that shows them how to opt-in and confirm.  But as far as your list is concerned – they’re yours now, not the autoresponder company’s. This is why I’d suggest not using the default opt-in confirmation how-to video, but rather personalize that “thank you” message in the style of your own brand and tone.

Burger King really, really appreciates your opt-in.

Step 5: The Subject Line

Take the time now to create a memorable subject tag for your newsletters. This is something like [Your Company Name] in brackets, and then your subject line.  Over time, subscribers will come to recognize these tagged messages as being from someone they trust, and they may even go so far as to create a folder that your subject-line-tagged notes are filtered into, for easier reading.

The best subject lines are, of course, the ones you test to see what kind of open and response rate you’re getting.  But typically, sales-type messages like “Save 10% on Summer Swimwear” tend to tank, while more personalized messages like “You’ll Look Great in This Summer Swimwear, [firstname]!” tend to increase open rates because they’re direct, not pushy, and tailored to the visitor.

Bonus points if your mailing list provider offers a list segmentation feature, where you can filter your list to target things like the subscriber’s location, gender, age range and so forth.

Step 6: Initial Content Delivery

If you thought you were already over the hardest part of the email marketing process – you’re in for a surprise.  Getting people to opt-in is only half of your success plan.  Your initial content delivery, from the welcome message to your first issue, is going to be the true test of how well your emails convert.

Of course, many people again just accept the default “Welcome” message that goes something like “Thanks for signing up for my list, blah blah blah”.  It’s great for saving time, but not so great for inspiring people to stick around and learn more.

Instead, make your welcome email more of a basic overview of what they can expect. Link them to some of your best performing or most helpful blog posts.  Tell them a little about your personal story and invite them to share theirs as well.  Connect with them on a more personal level and you’ll start the seeds of a business relationship that can continue to grow and flourish.

Don’t forget, if you’ve promised to give them a free download or special report, to include step-by-step instructions on how they can download/open and read it, including any software they might need (such as Adobe Reader).

Step 7: Always Be Asking “How Can I Help You?”

As Dave Navarro, “The Launch Coach” says, the worst email newsletters are those that treat their users like “a goldmine waiting to be plundered” rather than an “orchard waiting to be nurtured”.  Your subscribers may eventually bear fruit, in the form of sales, but you shouldn’t rush the process.  Going back to the orchard example, you can’t constantly dig up your plants to see how they’re growing.

To better nurture the list, always be conducting basic tests and surveys to ask your users what they’d like to see more, or less of.  Don’t assume that delivering content is a top-down drip feed.  This is the internet – and communication is a two-way street. Ask them what specific questions they have about the topic you’re covering, and you’re likely to get a landslide of great potential content ideas.

Then, with every newsletter you publish, create an archive page of it in WordPress (don’t forget to include the opt-in form at the bottom of the page!) to encourage search engine traffic to subscribe as well.  It’s a one-two punch that can double, or even triple your subscriber rate.

Your Email Marketing Best Practices “Battle Plan”

  • Your opt-in form is often the first impression users will make about your newsletter content – even if they haven’t seen it yet.  Place your opt-in form above the fold, typically on the upper right side of the sidebar, or in the header itself, where the form is most likely to be noticed and acted upon.
  • Use the default autoresponder provider templates as a starting point if you’d like, but work with your webmaster or designer to truly brand them as your own. Creating a seamless flow from website to email is your ultimate goal, so that your prospects learn to recognize your email newsletter when it arrives.
  • A simple “sign up for newsletter” isn’t enough to encourage subscriptions anymore.  Tell them, or even better, show them what they get when they subscribe.  E-covers work great for free reports and giveaways.  Let them preview a sample issue, email them with great content at a frequency that won’t burn you out, and don’t question yourself if you get unsubscribes – they’re a natural part of the subscriber pruning process.
  • At the point where users confirm their message, they’re yours.  Don’t settle for the default “Thanks for Subscribing!” page.  Show them you’re appreciative of them and let them know how soon they can expect your first message.
  • Let your welcome message act as a virtual tour guide through some of your best posts or videos. Share your story or invite users to share theirs.  Ask questions and find out what they’d like to see more of in your newsletters (or what they could do without).  This allows you to fine-tune your list so that you’re always reaching “your best customers” with every message.

What about you?  What works for you in your email marketing?  What questions do you have?

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