Want to know what’s under the ‘marketing hood’ here at WriterAccess? This series will give you a better understanding of what marketing concepts we think about, and it’s straight from the man responsible for keeping WriterAccess marketing moving.
Email marketing can seem like a daunting task for most small businesses. Lists, HTML editing, forms, spam compliance, email copywriting? These issues shouldn’t and can’t turn you away from using emails. It took a while for WriterAccess to get consistent with our emails, but our business has taken off ever since.
Time and again email marketing is considered to have the highest return on investment (ROI) for your marketing dollar. Ben Tepfer at Neolane has a great email marketing article for anyone needing convincing. Email marketing is far ahead of any other marketing channel with the average return of $40 for every $1 spent.
So here’s a comprehensive overview to take advantage of this opportunity:
Use the Right Tools
Any carpenter will tell you that the right tools make all the difference. There are a couple of tools that you should download right away.
- HTML Inspector – Looking at existing HTML is the easiest way to learn. Most browsers have one built in. I personally use Firebug.
- HTML Editor – Editing HTML can be as easy as opening up Notepad and writing your code. And if you’re looking for an easier and faster route, try downloading a free editor like Coffee Cup.
- Image Editor – If you’re looking to bring your brand into your emails, you’ll need to create images for your HTML templates. Photoshop is the industry standard with a monthly fee, but GIMP is a good free solution.
- Email Marketing Platform – Sending emails through Gmail might be great for personal messages, but you need something with more power to email a list of people. Here’s a group of platforms that have easy to use templates, list management and sign-up form integration.
These may seem like a lot, but after your initial setup you’ll only need to manage your email marketing platform to send out your emails.
Start Building Your List
There’s no point to sending emails if you have nobody to send them to. Start collecting email addresses as early as you can. The more you gather, the more potential customers you’ll reach, and the more successful your marketing will be.
Managing your contacts can be as easy or complex as you want it to be, but at some point you’ll need them in a digital list. It’s possible to manually add email addresses to a spreadsheet and manage the contacts on your local computer. A better method is using the database provided to you by your email marketing platform. Their forms take care of the collection process by allowing the contact to update the fields and add it to a list.
Here are some creative ways for small businesses to gather email addresses:
- Loyalty systems – Reward customers for coming back and gather their email address in the process.
- Raffles and giveaways – Giving something away for an email address is a great way to build your brand and another great way to gather contacts.
- Newsletters – Set up a newsletter form on your site asking for email addresses. Make the form as short as possible for the best results.
- Content marketing – Create an engaging blog or whitepaper and ask for an email address to gain full access to the content.
- Join a local organization – Many local small business organizations are looking to engage their members. Sign up with one and see if you can piggyback on their existing email list.
Try to be creative and honest with your email gathering. The more open you are with your marketing goals, the more likely you’ll be able to gather quality email addresses.
One important thing: never buy an email list. They are usually filled with spam traps and low quality email addresses that will have no effect or even a negative effect on your business.
Finding HTML Email Templates
Opening up an HTML document is where the average small business owner stops trying to understand email marketing. Have no fear, the internet is here. Great sites like Codeacademy and W3Schools make it easy to brush up on your basic HTML skills.
And even better, people have been creating essentially the same HTML emails since the beginning of email marketing. There are thousands of HTML emails that you can use for your own template.
Make sure to take a look at an email best practice checklist before you select your email template. It will help you understand the pros and cons of different layouts while giving you guidelines to follow. We’ve used Marketo’s Email Deliverability Design and Creative Checklist to review our templates, but the best way to start is to use an HTML email template that’s already been created and used.
The easiest way to find existing templates is to search through the ones provided by your email marketing platform. Their templates are ready for you to replace their default images and text while still staying email compatible.
Templates can also be downloaded at third party sites like ThemeForest for a one-time cost. This can be a good route for you if you’re looking for a special template with unusual features.
And a more complex way to find templates is to use ones that you’ve received. Scan through your inbox for email templates that you like and open up your HTML inspector. With a little practice, you’ll be able to identify the HTML code used to generate that email. Copy it and paste it into your HTML editor and start editing.
Editing HTML Email Templates
Editing your templates can take a little bit of practice, but it relies on the simple concept of tables.
Each square table can have as many rows and columns as your design. Here’s an example of a basic table from W3Schools:
|row 1, cell 1||row 1, cell 2|
|row 2, cell 1||row 2, cell 2|
However, most emails use the concept of embedding tables into tables:
|table 1, row 1, cell 1||table 1, row 1, cell 2|
|table 1, row 2, cell 1||table 1, row 2, cell 2
Spend a lot of time figuring out how tables work and interact with each other. Once you’ve mastered your table layout, you should start to understand how to map out the different sections of your email.
Below is an actual sample that we used to draft and code our content marketing webinar emails.
Notice how we mapped out our cells based on their function. The red rectangles are our image or colored cells that will remain the same for every email. The blue rectangles are our spacer and padding cells that will also remain the same. And the green rectangle is where our email marketing content goes.
This layout makes it easy to change the content each time we want to send out an email because we only need to update one cell. All that’s needed is to swap out the URL locations of the template images to images that we created and hosted.
One common issue is sizing of the cells and images. Make sure that you’re sizing your images to your templates and then using the correct height and width measurements. Being a few pixels off can lead to strange gaps between cells.
- colspan=”” – Changes how many columns are spanned within a row.
- align=”” – Allows you to align content left, right, and center.
- valign=”” Allows you to align content top, bottom, and center.
- width=”” – Defines the width of content or a cell.
- height=”” – Defines the height of content or a cell.
- bgcolor=”” – Sets the background color of a cell.
- border=”” – Add a border to your table.
- cellpadding=”” – Add spacing into your cells.
Email Marketing Copywriting
WriterAccess publishes a lot of posts on email marketing copywriting that you can read, so I’ll be brief in this section.
When it comes to email marketing content, there’s one rule: grab your reader’s attention quickly.
Your subject should be straight to the point and make the reader want to open the email. Once you get them in the email, you need to explain the value of the message quickly and have one clear call to action. You should be thinking about walking them down the path from opening the email, to clicking within the email, to landing on your site, to making a purchase.
The faster your content can walk customers through those steps, the more successful your email marketing will be.
Things to Look Out For
There are some pitfalls that you can run into if you’re not careful. So make sure that you always double check your work and are aware of these issues:
- Test emails – Make sure you check your email template in every possible email provider and every possible browser. Sites like Email on Acid make this process easy by generating screen shots for you, but they charge a fee. We created a few email addresses from each of the big providers and send out a test run to those addresses before we send out the real blast.
- style=”display: block;” – This <img> tag style is something that you should use on every image that you send. Some service providers will overwrite your HTML and add in different effects if you don’t explicitly tell them not to.
- Unsubscribe option – Every email you send should have an option to unsubscribe along with your physical mailing address. This isn’t only necessary to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, but it’s also a good way to protect yourself from bugging people. Making people angry with emails can lead to bad reviews and negatively impact your business.
- SPAM words – Spam words are words that are picked up by SPAM filters to quickly weed out garbage emails. Avoid using SPAM words as much as possible. Words like: free, buy, order, earn $, best price, and get paid can get you blocked from sending more emails. HubSpot put together a solid SPAM words list that you should review before you hit send.
- Shouting text – Shouting text is another way to end up in the SPAM box. Avoid writing words in all caps, using supersized text, and exclamation points. Nobody likes to get yelled at in person. The same goes for email.
- Hidden formatting – Don’t try to trick people with hidden formatting. Your readers should be happy receiving your emails, so don’t trick them into clicking on things they’re not interested in. And putting your unsubscribe link in white text on a white background makes you noncompliant with the CAN-SPAM Act, so don’t do it.
- Consistent domain and name – Staying consistent with your sending name and domain is a great way to boost your credibility with your readers and the SPAM filters. Changing your sending domain every email looks fishy to internet service providers and can get you in trouble.
- Too many images – Make sure that you have enough written content within your emails. SPAM filters will pick up on a bad ratio of content to text and penalize you.
- Alt text – Make sure every image that you use has appropriate alt text. This helps filters understand what your email is about along with the user. Have you ever noticed the “Show Images” link when you receive an email? Before a user clicks on that link, they only see blank spaces and alt text where your images are supposed to be. Give them a reason to click show images with descriptive alt text.
- Don’t be a pest – Only email people when you have something great to say. Sending them a useless email every week will turn people away from your brand and lead them to opt out.
- Monitor blacklists – Make sure you’re always monitoring your email sender’s reputation with a tool like MxToolbox. If your domain or the IP address you’re using to send emails ends up on a blacklist, you can see your email deliverability fall off the map.
That $40 to $1 ratio isn’t a complete walk in the park to tap into, but once you get your templates set up, you’ll find each consecutive email getting easier and easier. This guide may seem long but there is a lot that I left out. Make sure to do your research or ask a professional if you get lost. And feel free reach out to me directly.
Your success is our success here at WriterAccess. Market on.
Glen Jackman is the Marketing Specialist at WriterAccess and ideaLaunch. He’s responsible for managing the database, running email marketing campaigns, executing SEO and content marketing strategies, and managing social media marketing. Contact Glen on Twitter @GlenJackman or by email Glen (at) WriterAccess.com.