6 Questions for 6 Email Marketing Experts

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Amanda Gant

Email marketing has been around for ages and will continue to be one of the most effective marketing strategies for any company, regardless of size. I’ve found six of the top email marketing experts and asked them to answer a few questions for us.

Lets meet the pros and learn some new tricks, shall we?

 igor-125x125 Igor Polevoy, CEO of Express Pigeon@expresspigeon
 emily-konouchi-125x125 Emily Konouchi, Director of Content & Communications at Emma@emmaemail
steve-robinson-125x125 Steve Robinson, Area Director for the Midwest and Canada at Constant Contact@ctctillinois
 john-murphy-125x125 John Murphy, President of Reachmail@reachmail
Hunter-Boyle-125x125 Hunter Boyle, Senior Business Development Manager at AWeber@AWeber
Jeff-Teitelbaum-125x125 Jeff Teitelbaum, Vice President of Account Management at Rise Interactive@riseinteractive

Question 1: What is the biggest mistake you see people make in email marketing?

Igor, Express Pigeon:

The biggest mistake in email marketing is not doing it. Surprisingly, some companies are not doing any email marketing, despite the fact they do have considerable lists of customers.

Other big mistakes, that could be costly too, is to not comply with CAN SPAM Act (not including unsubscribe links, purchasing lists, lying in subject lines, not suppressing bounces, etc).

Smaller mistakes include:

  • Sending boring irrelevant information – open rates will be low and deliverability will soon collapse as well.

  • Sending to stale lists – this creates a huge bounce percentage

  • Scraping emails from sites (illegal)

  • Not testing emails on popular devices prior to sending (not an issue for our customers)

Emily, Emma:

Not taking advantage of the personal nature of email. With all the data points you have (or could have) on your recipients, there’s no excuse for “blasting” emails anymore.

When you know things like purchase history, inbox behavior, gender, and so on — you can segment your list and send super targeted messages, which hey, leads to great results. You can’t personalize a marketing experience like that in any other channel, and people should take more advantage of it.

Steve, Constant Contact:

A big mistake, that is having more and more impact, is ignoring mobile readers. Today, more than 40 percent of all emails are opened on a mobile device. For some comparison, mobile opens were at just 10 percent in 2011 — that’s a 330% increase in three years. While you may not have paid much attention to mobile in the past, 2014 is the year you need to design emails that work on all devices.

The easiest way to find out if your emails are mobile friendly is to send a test, and read your email on your own mobile device. Can you read your content without pinching to zoom in? Are your images displaying effectively? Can you easily click the links inside your emails?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you may want to rethink your email design to make it more mobile-friendly.

John, Reachmail:

Treating all your subscribers the same. Probably 50% of your list has not opened your email in 6 months. Spend some time trying to re-engage them with surveys, special offers, something targeted.

Hunter, AWeber:

Big picture, it’s the lack of an audience-centric strategy for email. It’s a tool, and a means to an end, but you need to have a clear handle on how your audience is going to benefit from your emails: What needs are you fulfilling? What’s unique (or at least rare) about what you’re sending? Why should they care, sign up, stay engaged, and share your content and offers? Is all of that crystal clear to the audience in every email sent?

At a more tactical level, it’s not taking full advantage of email tools to accomplish the aforementioned objectives. Functions like segmentation and split testing, features like autoresponders, and assets like detailed analytics — these are widely available, and can provide a powerful boost to email marketers. There can be a slight learning curve, but not investing time in capitalizing on these areas is a missed opportunity.

Jeff, Rise Interactive:

Batch and blast is the biggest mistake that I see email marketers making. We as marketers have so much data on our customers and it is tragic that we don’t use it to provide relevant communications or no communication at all.

You drop a penny into a barrel full of pennies: it makes very little sound. You drop a penny into an empty barrel; it will make a loud sound.

Marketers need to ask themselves whether the email they are about to send out is what the company wants or what the customer wants—if the answer is what the company wants, then they shouldn’t send the email.

Question 2: What is the biggest factor for email deliverability?

Igor, Express Pigeon:

Quality of content and engagement of the audience. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are tracking individual reactions of people more and more. What is spam for one person might be ham for another.

Generally, campaigns with the highest value of content will see the highest open rates, and as a result highest deliverability. Deliverability by itself is nothing, unless emails are opened, read, and acted upon. This will only happen if messages have high value to subscribers.

Emily, Emma:

The most important thing an email marketer can do is partner with a trusted email service provider that has a great reputation and strong relationships with ISPs. Beyond that, every sender should do their part by maintaining a clean list and reacting to any less than stellar response results — this could mean sending more relevant content, simplifying your formatting or optimizing your subject line.

Steve, Constant Contact:

Deliverability is a hot topic in the world of email marketing. As a business using email marketing, one of the best ways to ensure that your email reaches an inbox is to use an email service provider (ESP) like Constant Contact. When a business sends emails through an ESP you benefit from a reputation and a high delivery rate that is fought for and protected every day. Constant Contact maintains strong permission policies and has an active anti-spam team that works on your behalf with the receiving Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to ensure that your email is delivered with proper protocols.

Still, there are some key things that you should be doing as well to ensure your emails stand out in the inbox. Use a “from” name and sending address that your audience recognizes. Include your name and the name of your business, and always use the SAME from name and email address so they know who you are. Include a permission reminder and tell them why they are getting your emails. This will reduce your unsubscribe rate AND the number of spam reports you receive. Most importantly—always make sure you have permission to email them.

John, Reachmail:

Focus on engagement (keeping open and click rates high) by segmenting your list as much as possible.

Hunter, AWeber:

Reputation is the biggest factor, but that’s actually a combination of many factors. The reputation of your email service provider and their adherence to quality content and traffic on their system is critical. On the client side, reputation also includes how recipients perceive your emails: if the content is irrelevant or low quality, or doesn’t match the readers’ expectations, you’ll get high complaints, spam flagging, unsubscribes, etc. If your content is engaging, your frequency is hitting the mark, and your audience is engaged with your emails, it’s only going to help your cause.

Jeff, Rise Interactive:

I am not an expert on deliverability, so take this with a grain of salt. Bad addresses, to me, would be the biggest factor that could destroy deliverability. If one does not frequently cleanse their list, there is a higher risk of hitting spam traps and thus an exponentially negative impact to deliverability.

Question 3: Images or no images? Which side are you on?

Igor, Express Pigeon:

Images, of course. This topic of images/no images is similar to what Hollywood went through when transitioning from silent movies to ones with sound 🙂

Images allow for setting the mood, improving impact, and a professional look. Oh, they also allow to track opens! Some people are sending text-only emails to look “more personal”, but c’mon, we know they send the same message to thousands of other people!

However, I’d suggest using plain HTML for the Call to Action and buttons instead of images so that subscribers can act on these even if they did not enable images, or they are on a slow connection and can’t wait for the download.

Emily, Emma:

Oh, we love images, and they play such an important role in email communication. After all, the average attention span is down to just eight seconds. That means it’s unlikely your email is getting read from top to bottom (sorry, copywriters).

The good news is that people process images up to 60,000 times faster than text, so smartly placed images that tell your story can engage your email audience right away and even get them to spend a little more time reading those word thingies.

Steve, Constant Contact:

Images can be an incredibly powerful component to an email marketing campaign, but I recommend that you take it easy and only use the images that are essential to your email.

Here’s why: Apple’s iOS automatically enables images to display by default, but many other mobile device platforms—like Android—turn images off by default.  With more and more people viewing emails on their mobile devices, you can’t assume that your email images will be displayed.

If your email has a bunch of images in it, they might just look like chunks of white space. Because of this, I also recommend including image descriptions (also known as alt text) to let people know what the image is even when it’s not being displayed. And always preview your email and make sure it still looks great, even if none of the images are displayed.

John, Reachmail:

Occasionally a plain text message that is crafted as a personal message to your subscribers will often surprise and engage your subscribers. Otherwise images help people process your message so it’s good to include them.

Hunter, AWeber:

The answer here isn’t exactly an either-or. I’m in favor of images that support the goals of an email, especially when we’re talking about impact on conversions. In many cases, a strong image can really get attention (and compel action) and reduce the need for lots of copy.

That said, plain text emails or very simple designs with lots of white space can perform extremely well. And where mobile is concerned, marketers need to be aware of how they’re using very precious screen real estate, so that’s yet another factor that cuts across both sides. Great area for split testing, right?

Jeff, Rise Interactive:

Images if relevant.  Because mobile opens have been growing YOY, it is important to make sure the images presented are relevant as the potential negative impact to customer experience is huge.

Question 4: What is your stance on double opt-ins?

Igor, Express Pigeon:

We advice to use double opt-in or social opt-in. Our platform supports both. Single opt-in is used by a few though successfully. With double opt-in or social opt-in we have a durable subscription record in case of a dispute. We do not have such a record in social opt-in cases, since anyone can sign up anyone else (not that this was a common case!).

Emily, Emma:

The first email that lands in a new subscriber’s inbox is your best opportunity to make a memorable — and branded — first impression, so we actually like the idea of skipping over the transactional-feeling opt-in email and getting right to the good stuff.

Think about it: The number one reason people sign up for your emails is because they think they’re going to get something from you. That’s why we’re big on automated welcome emails that provide value to the recipient right away. But sometimes it makes sense for a sender to follow a double opt-in process, so in Emma, it’s an option.

Steve, Constant Contact:

While it does require an extra step for subscribers to sign up, double opt-in is a surefire way to know that the people on your list really want to be there. When a person signs up through your website or other avenues, they will automatically receive an email from you asking them to confirm their subscription. This approach is seen as a best practice. It’s important to tell new subscribers that if they do not respond to your confirmation email, they won’t be added to your list.

John, Reachmail:

Confirmed opt-ins are the ideal way to build and maintain a quality list.

Hunter, AWeber:

There are a few reasons we strongly recommend double opt-ins, but the short answer is it helps keep your email lists clean, active and engaged. Yes, it’s an extra couple of steps for visitors and prospects to take, but that also demonstrates stronger interest. We understand why marketers are hesitant about this, but if you believe confirmed opt in will kill your list growth, consider sites like SocialMediaExaminer (234% list growth) and Social Triggers (tripled its list), which both use double opt in to great advantage.

Jeff, Rise Interactive:

A necessary evil for text but not for email.

Question 5: What’s your best advice on growing your list?

Igor, Express Pigeon:

Start with current customers, and develop a good content marketing plan. Without good content, there will be no list growth. Pick a good send frequency (once per 2 weeks seems reasonable), and push your best articles to your customers.

Use all channels to advertise (Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, FB, and so on). If content is valuable, people will take notice and start signing up. Include viral tools into emails: forward link, subscribe if forwarded, share on social, etc. Setup subscription forms in places that are convenient for people. Use social opt-in wherever you can, since this will eliminate the confirmation email (and a subscription drop of 30%).

Emily, Emma:

We’re often surprised by how many places people forget to ask for an email address. Sure, there’s your website, but asking on Facebook, Twitter, your email signature, and in person at events or at the cash register, can add up to big-time growth.

Don’t discount the power of smartly integrating your email service with the other programs you use to run your business. Connect your CRM, shopping cart, or event management software to automatically populate your email list, and you’ll be off to the races without a bunch of manual effort.

Steve, Constant Contact:

An effective list growth strategy starts with covering your touch points. By covering your touch points and making it easy for people to join your list in all the places they interact with your business, you’ll cast a wide net that will be guaranteed to deliver the new contacts you need to grow your audience.

The most common ways small businesses are growing their lists today include having a paper signup sheet at your place of business, a signup form on your website on your Facebook Page, and using automated signup tools like text-to-join or scan-to-join.

In addition to covering your touch points, small businesses can also incorporate list building into the things they’re already doing like collecting email addresses when people register to attend your events, collecting contact information from people when they redeem a local deal, or using social campaigns to grow  your email list.

Once you have all of your touch points mapped out, take an inventory of which methods are actually working and what you could be doing differently to improve your overall results.

John, Reachmail:

Try develop a highly relevant contest to your product/brand and promote it via social media. You can give it a boost with sponsored tweets or facebook advertising.

Hunter, AWeber:

Think beyond the tactical and build a solid foundation for your email efforts. Would you have a housewarming party if your new home was only half done? Of course not.

Develop an email strategy rooted in your core business goals, link it to your audience personas so it’s serving their critical needs, and create distinctive, kick-ass content, and offers. Channel all of that into a content calendar, so it’s aligned with social and your other marketing efforts, and start testing how you present and deliver this value to your audience with email, from the sign up forms to the messages themselves. Analyze your program on a monthly basis, and audit it on an annual or quarterly basis.

Jeff, Rise Interactive:

Don’t purchase a list. Find those contextual moments that provide the opportunity to capture a customer’s email address. If a customer is online and takes advantage of certain promotion to buy an item, then provide a contextual placement on the website to be able to offer them more offers like the one they just took advantage of.

Question 6: If you could give your best tip, what would that be?

Igor, Express Pigeon:

It is hard to point to one best tip in email marketing, since this is a vast field, but in email marketing content rules. Some of the best customers have open rates in a range 50 – 70%, only because they have content that their subscribers wait for in anticipation.

I’d say that the most important things are:

  • Quality content (see above)

  • Frequency – send too often people will be tired of you and will unsubscribe. Send not often enough, people will forget about you and unsubscribe!

  • Segmentation – send relevant information to the right people at the right time.

  • Measurement  – measure engagement, understand reactions, and make adjustments on your next campaign.

  • Test: A/B split testing is a great tool that eliminates guesswork out of subject lines.

  • If you make a mistake, understand it, correct it and start afresh!

Emily, Emma:

Craft emails that speak to your mobile audience. Over half of all email gets opened on a smart phone or tablet these days, which means that in addition to designing for small screens, you’ve got to captivate people who are on-the-go or multi-tasking (and sometimes both, yikes).

Pay attention to what grabs your attention in the mobile inbox — it’s probably a punchy subject line, preheader text that highlights value, and eye-catching images that beg you to scroll for more.

Steve, Constant Contact:

Take the time to learn a new marketing skill this year. It will help expand your marketing expertise and have a positive impact on all of the business goals you have set for the year.

Constant Contact offers plenty of free resources you can turn to in order to learn something new, and you don’t need to be a customer. Our team of small business marketing experts hosts  live events throughout the year, in markets across North America, and partner with SCORE and more than 3,000 Chambers to help bring education to you. We also offer online webinars give you the chance to get the training you need right from your home or place of business.

John, Reachmail:

Never send to a purchased list.

Hunter, AWeber:

Done well, email is an incredibly valuable relationship building tool. And not just leads and newsletters, but ecommerce and sales as well (see Fab.com’s awesome unsubscribe email). Email clients like Gmail are getting smarter, filtering is increasing, and social media is absorbing more online time with our inner circles. In a world where almost every site is using email, and most of us are overwhelmed by the amount of emails we receive, my best tip is simple: Respect the inbox.

Jeff, Rise Interactive:

Context is king, not content.

Well there you have it. What to do and what not to do, from the pros themselves. Special thanks to all of our email marketing experts that contributed!

Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask your own question in the comments below.

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Comments (20)
  • Thinking and crafting emails for the right people at the right time always clicks the switch. Offering things for those people are waiting will surely do the job. Valuable advice and insight from experts! Thanks for sharing!

  • Great Post!

    I’m a subscriber to your newsletter and I really enjoy your blog cause it has great content.

    I am wondering if I could have your permission to translate this post into spanish and publish it on my blog, of course, putting on it the contribution link to the original post of your blog…

    So, would you give me your authorization?

  • I wanted to drop some +1 love on the great questions and answers coming in here through the comments. That doesn’t happen every day on log posts, so kudos to the Orbit team and audience, and Emily and John for spot-on advice. Part II, anyone? 🙂

  • Great post. I enjoy hearing a variety of view points.

  • Great post and great advice everyone!

    Question: What is the best email address to use as the ‘from’ address when sending an email campaign?

    • Beyond the general rule of thumb to send from an address that welcomes replies (i.e. never use a do-not-reply@mycompany.com address), I’m in favor of sending brand messages from the brand. Here’s an interesting stat from a survey issued Chadwick Martin Bailey that backs that up: 64% of the respondents list “the organization it is from” as a reason that they open email. But if the content of the email feels personal in nature, like a letter from your CEO, changing up the from address to a real person (preferably the actual CEO and not the company intern) might make sense.

      That said, if you want to optimize your open rate, there’s lots of opportunity to test your from name and address. Dial in to what works best for your audience.

    • I would suggest a personable email address, something people can identify with. Things like “noreply” really mean “do not bother, we are not going to do anything!”
      Just look at Andy’s campaigns

  • We get clients all the time that ask us what an average CTR or open rate should be for X industry. I know it’s all relative, but can you talk a little about benchmarks?

    • That’s an awesome question Amanda. The first way to approach the answer is to think how engaged is the audience is with the sender. We find that clubs and associations where there is a paid membership often have the highest open rates – 50-70%. At the opposite end are free newsletter subscribers. How often have you signed up for a newsletter but then not opened a single one? We see rates from low single digits to the thirties. For ecommerce – it’s in between – typically low teens to twenties?

      • This is exactly what I was looking for. Great answer. Thanks, John!

  • Great advice everyone! It has already spurred some good conversation.

    What criteria can organizations use to measure if they’ve successfully segmented their email list well enough? In other words, if they have one big list now, what are some rules of thumb to know that they’ve broken that list down enough?

    • That’s such an interesting question, Todd. My gut says it’s less about segmenting *enough* and more about segmenting with a strategy in mind. If you have good reason to segment, like you’ve defined audiences that would benefit from different messages, then you don’t need to justify it beyond that.

      Also, the fact that you’re asking this question leads me to think you’re segmenting enough. So, high five.

      • Thanks Emily! Good tips. Thanks for the high five, but we can get better!

  • Great article Amanda. It’s always nice to know what others are doing with their email marketing. Now I do, thanks.

    • Thanks, Adam! Your emails are one of the best. In my humble opinion. 🙂

  • Great post!

    Question: How do you convince decision makers to increase the frequency of newsletters/e-blasts, when you have great information to share?

    • One great way is to make sure that your email marketing is tied in with Google Analytics (free from Google) and make sure your Email Service Provider integrates with it. (ReachMail) does. You can set up Goals for conversion on your site i.e. purchase or downloads – whatever matters to you. Then you can literally “Show them the money”! and show how email works for them.

    • Hi Amandah,

      Thanks for the great question. Whether you’re talking about internal decision makers or clients, your best tool for persuasion is analytics. If you can show current results, make a strong case for increased frequency, and apply testing with a list segment/s before a total rollout, you’ll likely find support for your efforts.

      Another related option would be a reader survey on frequency, but depending on how they’re presented, surveys can create a gap between what people say they want and what they actually respond to in real life. Hope that helps!

      Cheers — Hunter

    • John and Hunter make a great point — analytics can be powerful and persuasive. But focus on the goals of your email strategy, and don’t chase after metrics until you and your colleagues are aligned on those goals.

      Segmenting your list can also help here. Rather than share all your news with your entire list, think about what segments can benefit from more targeted messages and change your communication plan accordingly. You might end up sending more frequently without changing how often subscribers hear from you — they’ll just receive emails that feel relevant, which should result in higher engagement with your content.

      Or, you can just tell those decision makers you consulted with email experts. That’s pretty convincing 🙂

      • I like the way you think, Emily. 🙂

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