Email Marketing Basics – Perspectives From the Trenches

email illustration

One dark and stormy night, while puzzling over the best way to design an email marketing strategy for a client (using Infusionsoft’s incredibly powerful Campaign Builder feature), it occurred to me that I should take a break, let my mind settle, and compose a group interview project via a brand new tool recently launched by my friend and mentor, Ann Smarty.

My theory is that there is only one place to go when you aren’t sure of where to go next: Return to the basics. Therefore, I tried to get right down to brass tacks … the basics of email marketing.

Group interviews provide a varied perspective that just isn’t possible with one-on-ones. For this project, I collected responses from a varied bunch of online marketers (read the addendum to find out more about the new tool).

Nevertheless, those who responded to the interview request came through with some gems.

email pebbles

via Will Lion

Are you building an email list? If so, how many addresses have you collected?

Steve Counsell

As with every business owner or marketer who’s interested in digital marketing I am building a marketing list. Notice I use the term “marketing list.” I require each entry to have an email address, so you could call it an “email list,” but the point is that we should not rely on one method of marketing to the people we connect with.

Sure email is easy and cheap to send, and we can customize each email to include details for each person on the list, but what if that email goes straight to the spam folder?

The way I am dealing with this is to include people on my marketing list in all sorts of marketing: email, direct mail, telephone, hand written notes, and anything else I can think of.

I currently have around 200 people on my marketing list. All local … and I’ve spoken to every one of them personally, either on the phone or in person.

Yoav Ezer

I’m building several email lists. One has 400 names, another has 3000 names. The biggest list I ever built reached a size of 40,000.

How often do you mail to your list?

Ryan BeMiller

I mail to my list once per week. If I had the time, I would mail more often. I think you can mail as often as once per day, if you have a good relationship with your list.

Steve Counsell

I try to keep in touch via email once a week at least. I send out snippets of news and useful tips on SEO. Occasionally, I send out an offer of some sort in an effort to turn that contact into a paying customer.

Yoav Ezer

Every weekday. I currently don’t mail on the weekends.

Paul Manwaring 

I’d say once per week, but sometimes there’s a bigger gap. It really depends on whether I have something to say I know they are going to be interested in.

Tim Soulo

That would be once per week, on average.

Angela Alcorn

I have some RSS updates that go out weekly or monthly, depending on the list. Manual updates are also weekly or monthly, depending on the list.

Andrea Fontebasso

I will email to my list every time I post an article. In other websites I use the rule of the 7. I send out 7 follow-ups if I am trying to sell a product. If a client doesn’t buy before the 7th email goes out, this means there is not a real interest in the product. From there, I will send only a monthly newsletter.

Ian Jackson

Monthly seems optimal for my business

Julie Kalungi

I send mail to my list every day, apart from Sundays. My broadcasts range from follow-up messages, auto responses, quick updates, and uplifting messages to a new-release message, a promotional message, or blog links.

So I keep them fed, warm cuddled, and loved … and I haven’t had an unsubscribe yet! Mind you, though, my list is only a baby one :)

Phil Johnson

I do broadcast emails 1-2 times per month. New members of my list go through an autoresponder series that contacts them every 10-14 days.  And if I’m doing a campaign to promote something specific, then I’ll contact the people it is meant for approximately every 5-7 days.

Maxwell Ivey

I mail once a week. I promised my subscribers never to write more often.

What do you send? (Newsletters, sales letters, blog post notifications … etc.)

email world

via Prawny

How do you measure email marketing results? How successful have you been thus far?

Ryan BeMiller

To me, the only thing that matters is conversions. Not open rates, not click-throughs. Just the bottom line sales. The more personal I get with my emails, the better the results.

Steve Counsell

This is a tricky question for me to answer. I don’t really take much account of the open rate in emails as that can be pretty innacurate these days. I do look at the click rate with more interest, but I have to say that the click-through rates are not where I’d want them to be.

In terms of how successful I am, I feel like it’s working. I know more now than before, for all the right reasons, and I am picking up new clients.

Yoav Ezer

I count sales.

When I started to mail daily, my sales doubled. It’s as simple as that.

Paul Manwaring 

If I’m sending them to a sales pages, I’ll measure how many convert using a tracking pixel.

If it’s just sending them to a blog post, I’ll measure the rate of open and clicks.

Tim Soulo

It’s really easy to measure your success. Check your monthly email list growth and divide this number by the amount of unique visitors you got this month. You’ll get the overall conversion rate of your blog.

Like I already said, my conversion rate is 3%, which is very low. But I have identified the reasons behind that, and I think I can easily triple that number.

Angela Alcorn

If I keep building the lists at this rate I’d be pleased, however I think things will be better in the future. I haven’t been promoting them much so far.

Most of them have a 40% open rate and a 10% click rate, which is (by all accounts) pretty good.

Andrea Fontebasso

Selling is the key, if we are talking about a website that has this purpose. So to measure the success of an email campaign, I try to figure out how many sells are made thanks to my email campaign. If we are talking about a blog, I consider subscriber likes a key indicator of the success of contents.

Julie Kalungi

I measure results by the response from my “Tribe.” They send me emails saying “Thank you.” They may post on social media or give a shout out. They may send me their results, good or not so good.

My autoresponder also tells me when something worked. I get a full report on every email I send out, so I know which one went down well. I use Google Analytics to measure bounce rate on every web page. I have several other ways of checking, split testing, and measuring!

Always check. Its the only way to ensure you are hitting the sweet spot!

Phil Johnson

How I measure depends on the purpose of the email. For show announcements, it’s who shows up to the gig. If it’s a new release, I judge by sales and downloads. I do always look at open rates and how many people email me back when I ask them to as well. I find the greatest successes with 2-3 campaign emails and it drops off a bit from there.

Maxwell Ivey

I use a simple program to measure results by replies, leads, sales, etc. On the coaching site, I use a service to track bounces, unsubscribes, email opens, link clicks, etc. Link clicks is my ultimate judge of success

What are your three best tips for someone considering email marketing?

Ryan BeMiller

  1. Start now!
  2. Do everything you can to increase subscription rates. Test multiple sign-up forms, multiple positions throughout your site, and multiple incentives.
  3. Build a relationship with your list. Let them know who you are, and give them your best information.

Steve Counsell

  1. Make sure that you provide value.
  2. Don’t rely on email mareting alone.
  3. Sell, once in a while. Maybe every 7th email should be a sales letter.

Yoav Ezer

  1. Start doing it right away. It took me years to get over my fear of being thought of as a spammer. And then, finally one day, I wrote the simplest promotion email and sent it to my list. We made over $10,000 worth of sales from that email alone. And I never looked back.
  2. Don’t be afraid to email your client list. They are much more likely to buy from you than your prospect list.
  3. Use joint ventures to build your email list. The easiest way to build a list is to have someone endorse you and direct his existing readers to your site. Conversion rates from an endorsed email are as high as 50%.

If you hop over to my site and sign-up, I’ll show you exactly how.

Paul Manwaring

  1. It takes time to build a quality list. Consistency is key.
  2. Don’t just bombard your list with free stuff.
  3. Send relevant emails, don’t just lump everyone into the same list.

Tim Soulo

  1. Give out a freebie. It’s really hard to convince people to opt in, unless you’re offering them something in return. I guess it’s an industry standard to write an ebook and offer it for free to your website visitors in exchange for their email address.
  2. Design good looking email forms. Once you have your freebie, you have to design a few good looking email forms that would promote this freebie on your website.
  3. Send regular updates.

If you’re just focused on growing your email list and forget about giving them something valuable on a regular basis – your email subscribers will simply forget about you.

So make sure you’re regularly sending something of value to your email subscribers. Remind them that they made the right decision when they signed up to your email list.

Andrea Fontebasso

Depends on your audience, but of course the best tips are:

  1. Give away value to make your readers to subscribe.
  2. Don’t force too much. People don’t buy because you tell them to. They buy because they are interested.
  3. Don’t lie.

Julie Kalungi

  1. Have something of value to share in every email. Make it 100% FREE to start with, to help you build trust!
  2. Email your list, however small, DAILY. No sales pitches. Simply recommend or suggest something you found useful and which they too may find useful.
  3. Don’t care/mind about the unsubscribes. It’s not personal. They would never have become raving fans or bought anyway!

Phil Johnson

  1. Start early and improve as you go along
  2. Use lots of different entry points to your list
  3. Offer an incentive that either provides something they can’t get anywhere else, or makes something easier than it would be

Maxwell Ivey

  • Make your opt-in forms easy to find and easy to use
  • People will subscribe to get the free gift and then unsubscribe after receiving it, so don’t give too much away
  • Always respect the people who trust you enough to give you their email address

What are your three biggest problems or challenges with email marketing?

Ryan BeMiller

  1. Volume. Who doesn’t want more subscribers!
  2. Time. It takes time to write emails.
  3. Content. It’s hard coming up with content ideas.

Steve Counsell

  1. Getting permission from the people I meet
  2. Making sure that I do provide information that the recipients actually want to read
  3. Properly tracking and assessing the outcome of a campaign

Yoav Ezer

  1. Coming up with daily emails. It’s a lot of work to come up with new, fresh ideas every day, but definitely worth it.
  2. Handling the crazies: every list contains a few people who have really lost their marbles. And when you mail daily, they come out of the woodworks.
  3. Time – again. It takes a lot of time to cultivate and entertain a list. But again … worth it!!!!

Paul Manwaring

  1. Getting people to sign up without a free incentive. You want buyers in your list not just a bunch of freeloaders.
  2. At the moment hard to justify using a paid email service, when my list is so small and growth is slow.
  3. Creating content for your lists, as well as the blog, is hard.

Andrea Fontebasso

  1. To create enough quality in order to make people subscribe to the newsletter … without any free give away
  2. Not make people get bored by my communication
  3. Increase conversion

Phil Johnson

  1. Generating more traffic to opt in opportunities
  2. Not having my emails dumped into spam boxes or “promotions” tabs
  3. Who needs a third with those first two? :)

Maxwell Ivey

  1. You have to invest time and effort into crafting quality email messages, and even then some people will still unsubscribe
  2. You have to constantly find new ways to promote email sign ups
  3. As a blind computer user, a lot of this process is less than accessible … meaning it all takes me more time than it takes a sighted person


Questions: How did this magic happen? Does it take long to set up a group interview? Where do you find people willing to participate?

One answer: MyBlogU. It’s a new tool. It’s plenty of fun. And it’s free to use (at least is it right now). Check it out. Ping me. I would love to help out with your own group interview. We all learn from one another — regardless the experience level.

But that’s not all, folks!

email illustration

via Kristie Wells

There was something else I had been pondering on for a while: When checking email, do most folks begin their sorting (and deleting) by first scanning through the “From” column … or do they begin with the “Subject” column?

Standard advice for sending mail, writing an article, or designing an ad is to write a compelling subject line or headline. If the reader gets rid of much of the mail before even reading the subject line … isn’t who the mail is FROM quite important as well?

My (quite informal) poll — using the MyBlogU Brainstorm tool — delivered an interesting result: The tally was split 50/50. A few brave souls said they actually read every email before deciding whether to toss it or not, but most either went primarily by Sender or Subject.

Go figure.

email study

Thank you to all who helped with this interview and study.

He’s More Than a Friend; He’s My Client

Shalt Not Park

I was speaking with a friend this morning — really he is more than a friend, he is a client (miss that and you miss the whole story).

Well, the truth is he is my client and I am his client … and we are friends. Brothers, in a very real way.

His business is tiered. There’s an entry-level point and several different investment levels. Some of his clients bring in only $120 or so each year. Some bring that much an hour.

His tech guy wasn’t available, so my friend was helping me get a new customer set up — one I had referred to him. I called him directly. He said the tech team doesn’t like that. We needed to make sure we had a proper “Trouble Ticket” open.

Do you have Trouble Tickets for your customers?

Says my friend, “This is a lot of work. We’ve been on the phone for 45 minutes now. Maybe 15 minutes of that has been catching up on personal matters, but I can’t afford to put 30 minutes of my time into a new client. I should be charging a pretty penny for that.”

He didn’t mean anything personal. He wasn’t haranguing me for contacting him. He was just thinking aloud, wondering if he should implement a new policy.

That makes sense, right? A business that gives time away will soon go broke. A CEO who gets his hands dirty in the trenches is wasting time, right?

work in progress

creative commons via Alexander Baxevanis

I don’t think so. Here’s why.

After we got off the phone (Skype, actually; he is overseas), I got to thinking about that idea. Should he tack on an extra bill or two when new people need help getting set up? Aren’t his prices low enough as they are?

Seems to me, there are several reasons why he should not just help new people, but go out of his way to help them (as he did me today) and not take a dime from them — even if they beg to pay him.

  • You never get a second chance to make a first impression. By cementing the relationship up front, you are setting the stage for a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
  • When you impress someone with the quality of your service, especially when you go out of your way to help, then that person is much more likely to tell others and to give you good referrals.
  • That new client may be entering on the low tier, but could very well rise up to higher tiers. Even if the low level investment is maintained, the lifetime value of the customer is well worth the extra effort.

An example from Church

Shalt Not Park

creative commons via njhdiver

We lived in Appalachian Kentucky for a while. Some of the congregations there would station deacons outside the door of the church building.

If you were dressed improperly or didn’t smell just right (maybe a little moonshine on your breath), you would either be told to go home and come back when you cleaned up your act a bit, or you would be seated in the rear pew and closely watched to make sure you were minding your manners.

Do you think those visitors felt welcome? Do you think they were inclined to ever return again?

It’s the same way in business. Don’t just tolerate people who don’t look exactly like you wish they would look. Heck no. Invite them right up front. Introduce them to the boss. Offer the best you have and make sure those new folks know you like and appreciate them.

The moral of the story

The seller/client relationship is sacred. It is about giving and receiving, and we are all on both sides of the stick every day.

Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Appreciate them the way you would want to be appreciated. Give them your very best service and then press it on a few more yards. Go out of your way to be kind.

Sounds religious?

It is.

Sounds like selling?

It is.

Sounds line something extraordinary?

It is.

And so are you.

** P.S. … the trick is to go the extra mile without complaining. Whimper and you blow the whole deal.

Maybe It’s My Attitude

Open parachute

Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open … 

Thomas Dewar

Open parachute

Parachute open – CC by bluecot


DO YOU EVER FIND YOURSELF closed down to new ideas — or, worse yet, acting as if you know it all and require no further information?

I do.

It may be that there is no more insidious habit than that of close-mindedness … of refusing to even TRY to see things differently. How do you feel when someone won’t listen to you and your ideas?

That is exactly how others feel when you do the same.

What is the cure for this relationship-wrecking malady?

When I was in grade school, I adopted an attitude that poisoned my education for years: I figured everything one could know was already known — that the textbooks and teachers were absolutely correct, that there was nothing left to discover.

I don’t know how I arrived at that conclusion. But it doomed me to mediocrity.

When I read “theory” or “theorem” behind a principle, I assumed it really meant “fact.”

In order to begin opening up, to learn to listen to others and accept that there are other possibilities … I need only develop a modicum of humility – humility for myself and humility for my position as a member of humankind.

I don’t know it all … and neither do you

The apparent truth (and this could be grossly inaccurate) is that we are spinning through space on a giant chunk of rock — every second of every day journeying through a position in the vastness of space where we have never, ever been before. The reality of our situation makes any ride at any amusement park seem tame by comparison.

Anything could happen next. Absolutely anything.

It may be that the reason we busy ourselves with knowing it all is that we are afraid to admit this fundamental truth. I call it “existential anxiety.” We all know, innately, that we know very little (if anything at all) … that our situation in life is precarious, at best, and we ware TERRIFIED to admit it.

So we hang on to the only thread we have: a cocksure determination that, indeed, we know everything … we do not require any outside information. The book is closed.

I am god.