Email Marketing Best Practices for Bloggers

email marketing best practices

Haven't you heard? Email is dead.

Much like how Back to the Future II portrayed 2015 with flying cars and hydrating pizzas, journalists and people who "knew such things" had predicted the demise of email in 2009. "Email is dead! We'll all be communicating with Twitter and Facebook!" they said.

Yet here we stand years later, and email is now more important than ever before.

What is 'Email Marketing', anyway?

Your email list is the wind beneath your blog's wing. It's incredibly important. It's the best way to

  • stay in contact with your readers
  • pitch a product you're working on
  • ask questions and get direction on what to write about next

... and on and on.

Your lifeblood is in your email list. And it's far and away the best platform to enlist and engage your readers.

So what is it? Well, email marketing is simply using email marketing software to broadcast your message. For your blog, this could mean sending emails to people who have given you their email address ("subscribers").

Perhaps you've heard that email isn't as viable of a marketing platform as it used to be. This couldn't be further from the truth.

The Reports of Email's Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

A few sobering statistics for the Email Is Dead crowd:

  • 55% of companies generate more than 10% of all sales from email (Econsultancy)
  • Customer acquisition via email has quadrupled over the last four years (Custora)
  • And my personal favorite: Email is 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter. (McKinsey&Company)

Email is still king when it comes to getting your message out. Whether you're selling or just getting people to read what you've written, email wins at all of these things.

So what about these upstart social networks that were supposed to cream the Old School email marketing method?

While people use social networks frequently, they're still sub-par marketing platforms compared to email.

Social networks are geared towards getting your brand to pay for advertising space, not build communities. At the end of the day, the social network's goal is to sell advertising.

There's no better example of this than Facebook's squelching of brand's reach on their brand pages. As 2014 has played out, brands have seen their organic reach (see: un-paid) on Facebook drop from around 16% to 6%, in about 4 months. This means that for each update a brand posts on their page, more than half of the people who used to see it now won't.

Average organic reach on Facebook dropping

Facebook has said this is because they're trying to improve the user experience, there is more content than ever before being shared, among other reasons.

Later in the year Facebook informed brands that overly promotion page posts were going to be hidden from most people. (This was probably a good move for Facebook users, but it's another example of Facebook cracking down on businesses who want to use their platform for free.)

Then a month later it was announced that news posts would be weighted much higher than they had previously, because that's what Facebook thinks you want to see.

Meanwhile the organic reach for brands on Facebook keeps free falling.

And it's no surprise the solution to improving your brand's reach on the Facebook platform is to buy Facebook advertising.

Social Networks: You're still swimming in their pool

At the end of the day you can't blame social networks for trying to make a buck. It's their platform, after all. They make the rules, and if you don't like it, well tough.

This is the beauty of email marketing: you own the pool.

While you do have to worry about things like email deliverability among ISPs, once someone has given you their email address, you now have permission to speak to them directly.

You don't have to hope they see your broadcast, it's delivered to their inbox. Unless your email is going straight to their spam folder, they're going to at least see it long enough to delete.

Contrast that to posting on your Facebook page and crossing your fingers that you're able to reach 1% of your of the people who have liked your page.

Permission is a valuable tool

There's a big psychological shift in your advantage when someone gives you permission to market to them. They've gone from a casual bystander to actually taking the action (filling in their email address into a form) and saying "Yes! I want more of what you're talking about!".

If you're wanting to gain repeat customers, email is the best method for doing so. If you're wanting to build engagement and authority over time, email is the best way to do so. They've given you the permission to speak to them.

This is a huge deal.

The easiest way to get people to unsubscribe from your list…

"With great power comes great responsibility." ~ Voltaire

Now that you've just taken someone's email address, you have a responsibility. They've entrusted you with valuable information about themselves–their email–with the understanding that you won't abuse it.

This is the biggest, most important rule in email marketing:

Don't abuse your power.

The biggest temptation you'll face, (and where bad marketers fail), is by trying to push too hard. Your first email from them will be a call to buy a product, followed by another email with another product, and so on.

They believe that you have to hit hard and fast, while the prospect is still hot.

This is a terrible idea. The best case scenario that happens is they'll actually buy a product from you. However, once they see that all they are to you is a wallet, they'll unsubscribe.

The worst case is they immediately start marking your emails as spam, lowering your score with ISPs so that all of the other emails that you send will go straight into junk folders.

We'll get into tactics to keep people engaged reading every email you send, but for now just let this point sink in:

Don't push too hard, too fast.

Resist the temptation to throw a bunch of offers down a subscriber's throat the second they sign up.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First we need the why of your email list.

What's the main objective to growing your email list?

We're going to take a step back for a second. Why are you wanting to grow your email list, anyway? Is it to build authority? Attention? Or grow profits?

Every action you take with your blog must meet an objective. There is no wasted effort or time.

The same is true with email.

Like a drill sergeant who's constantly in the face of his troops, we'll be in your face until you embrace this fact for not only your blog, but your email list too.

Email marketing tools

Here are some of the tools that we use often for email marketing.

  • Aweber. Aweber is a cornerstone in most email marketing efforts around here. Aweber is a mailing list provider, allowing you to use subscribe forms on your blog to let people add themselves to your email list. Another great provider is Mailchimp, which offers a free service. (Blogfuse uses Mandrill to roll our own transactional email service for our own needs… but we made things way more complicated than we had to ;) )
  • SumoMe List Builder. This nifty plugin is an app that shows a popup for visitors to your blog, offering them a chance to join your blog's newsletter. (We've seen clients boost their signups by 100% with this plugin alone.)
  • Litmus Subject Line Checker. Each email client shows your subject line differently. Gmail may show it one way, Outlook another. You can use the tool to check for some of the most popular clients for free.
    Litmus subject line checker
  • OptinSkin. OptinSkin takes your signup forms and makes adding email list forms to your site easy and adds some tried-and-true designs that inspire people to join your list. Not only that, it split tests different forms to show the best converting form.
  • Postmark's Spam Check. Check the spam score of the email message that you're going to send to make sure it just doesn't land in junk folders.
    Postmark Spam Checker
  • Litmus Email Previews. It's not cheap (starts at $79/month), but Litmus allows you to test the design and look of your email across 30+ email clients.

Our method for setting up blogs with Aweber (or Mailchimp)

Once you've signed up for either Mailchimp or Aweber, then you'll want to go in and create a list in the email provider. Once you've done that, it's time to add a subscribe form to your blog.

Fortunately, both Aweber and Mailchimp provide plugins for adding forms to any Wordpress blog.

  • Mailchimp Wordpress Plugin. Mailchimp offers a fantastic plugin that allows you to not only install signup forms on your blog without any HTML experience, you can also add checkmarks to contact forms made by many of the most popular contact plugins. For example, you could have a contact form that says "check here to receive updates".
    Wordpress Mailchimp plugin
  • Aweber Wordpress Plugin. The Aweber plugin allows you to drag and drop forms created in Aweber to your blog.
    Aweber for Wordpress Plugin

If you're using the SumoMe List Builder Plugin or OptinSkin, now would be the time to install those Wordpress plugins too.

Email Techniques

Below is a collection of techniques that we've developed (or found) over the years that have worked really well in terms of your overall email marketing goal: getting people to open and read your email.

1. Warm them up to you

The very first email you send (often the "Thanks for subscribing!" email), you should be selling yourself to the new subscriber. The goal for this first email is to create a connection with you and the subscriber.

Acclimate her to the list that she's just joined, tell her what to expect, how often you'll send emails, etc. You might even give something away at this point (like a PDF, guide or checklist) to create positive connection with opening and reading your emails.

Too often people waste this email just saying "Thanks!" or, even worse, a stock email message. Nobody wants to read that. Make sure this email makes an impact on the person who's just subscribed.

After all, they've just given you their trust. Reward them in their time of vulnerability by reassuring them they've made the right decision and how you won't let them down.

Over-deliver (even when it hurts)

If you can live by this one rule, you'll be way ahead of everyone else trying to master email marketing. It's a simple rule.

With every single email you send, it has to be insanely valuable to the recipient.

That's it. Provide value at all costs. Your goal is to help the subscriber to your email list at all costs. You're helping way before you start selling.

Jay Abraham has the strategy of pre-eminence, which is essentially establishing yourself as the subscriber's most trusted advisor.

And as their most trusted advisor, it's your obligation to give them the best advice, even if it means having them buy less or sending them to a competitor.

If your subscriber base knows that you're giving away information and material to them knowing without a doubt that you're doing it with their best interests, they'll stick with you for life.

This is what makes a responsive list. And a responsive list is a healthy list.

Use Open Loops

Open loops are leaving things unclosed throughout the email. Humans want closure, so they'll keep reading or watching until they get it.

The best example I can give of using open loops is the TV show Lost. The writers for Lost had an amazing ability to add in open loops throughout the entire episode, weaving these loops both inside of the episode and between episodes. (These were usually cliffhangers at the very end of the episode.)

It was truly masterful marketing because you couldn't just watch one show at a time. If you devoured seasons like I did, only watching one show at a time was not an option.

In email writing, this is a little more subtle than in TV. But you might sprinkle in things like starting a story, pausing in the middle to talk about something unrelated, and then finishing the story at the end.

Or you might casually mention that you'll be showing something "in a few days… keep an eye on your inbox."

One thing to note about the open loop though: It can get salesy and overused really, really quickly.

It's a lot like salt: a little bit goes a long way. Too much makes your food inedible. Too blatant of an attempt to overuse open loops will cause people to backfire and unsubscribe from your list. So use it sparingly.

(Tip: You should be using this technique with just about any writing that you're doing, not just in emails.)

Culling the herd

I've mentioned ISPs a few times on here and how weird and temperamental they can be.

One thing that draws their attention in a bad way is having a list that's unresponsive. If you have 1,000 people on your list and only 50 of them actually open your emails, ISPs will raise a glaring eye your direction.

Engagement is a huge factor in email marketing. You have to keep your readers engaged. If they're not opening and clicking, they're only dragging the rest of the list down.

Many marketers consider it good practice to take people who haven't opened any email in a set amount of time (60 days or so), and putting that list in a completely different email provider. So if you use Aweber for your email marketing, you might take these Non-Openers and plunk them in a different MailChimp account.

The goal is to just get them off of that list. You want your primary list to be active and engaged. (Have we stressed this enough?)

Segment like crazy

Here's a great general rule about emailing people:

The more you can tailor the email to the subscriber, the more likely they are to open and read it.

Segmenting is literally "segmenting" your subscribers into interests or other defining criteria. For example, they might be Gender, Age, Interests, and the segments can get as specific as you want. "Interested in marketing", "Interesting in blogging", etc.

The goal of segmenting is that it allows you to send highly-targeted emails, with highly specific messages.

Segmenting is one of the best ways to boost engagement in your email campaigns.

Let's say you have an exercise site. If you know Sarah does Pilates, then you could send them emails about Pilates courses, etc. If you Jack does cross fit, you definitely wouldn't send him Pilates information, and instead would send him cross fit material.

Segmenting is powerful. Knowing who to send (and not to send) emails to is incredibly valuable.

Win them back

At some point a subscriber will most likely stop opening your email.

This is a fact of life, and it really can't be avoided. A few years ago MailChimp determined that the average was about 4 months from initial email before the subscriber stopped opening your emails.

Mailchimp - Subscriber half life

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. You don't want people on your list who aren't crazy about your stuff. If somebody doesn't want to read your emails anymore, you can always plunk them in another list (see above).

But, there are some things that you can do to win back that email subscriber. After a pre-determined time you could send them a perk or bonus, like a free ebook or a coupon. Anything to reach out and say "Hey, I want you back!".

Be Deliberate With EVERY Email

If you're using the RSS to Email feature, turn that thing off right now.

For starters, the formatting never really works right when it goes and slurps the webpage the article is on and then shoehorns the content into your template. It's almost always just a bit off.

Secondly, if you can't take the time to manually write your subscribers a quick email to tell them to read the latest post on your blog, then you shouldn't send the email.

It could be something as quick as "Hey, I wrote a new post on the topic of . Find it here: ".

That's it! Easy peasy.

You have to be deliberate with every email you send, every time. Email readers are a fickle bunch, and if they have a reason to not read your email, they'll take it.

Don't give them any. Only put your best foot forward every time.