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9 Email Marketing Best Practices for 2021 Growth
July 19, 2021
Sarah Peterson
Want to make the most of email marketing in 2021? Here are 9 email marketing best practices to build into your growth strategy.

Email marketing is one of the most effective growth channels to activate for your business— no, it’s not “old school,” and yes, even in 2021. 

Don’t believe me? The average ROI of email marketing is $42 per dollar spent, up from $38 in 2018[*]. 

Why is it still so good?

For starters, we all check it all the time. I’m guilty of squinting into that tiny screen even before I switch on the lights in the morning.

Plus, unlike with social media, brands don't have to pay Facebook or Google just to reach their own audience. You own that relationship, and you can chat with your customers any time.

But while the effectiveness of email marketing has aged like a fine wine, some folks are still sending emails like they’ve imbibed a little too much

If you want to keep your email skills sharp, dear reader, come step into my office. 

Here are 9 email marketing best practices to work into your strategy in 2021. 

#1. Use Data to Personalize Your Messaging

Have you ever gotten an email for a discount on exactly the product you were creeping yesterday?

One of the benefits of email marketing is that you can really get to know your subscribers and send them exactly what they need, when they need it.

Also, if you have ever worried that you’re sending too many emails (and who among us hasn’t?), personalization ensures your subscribers only get the things they want and care about.

Dynamic personalization leverages data about each user to send highly targeted campaigns. In email marketing, personalization is made possible through segmentation. 

You can segment based on where the subscriber is in their customer journey, the products they’re most interested in, their demographics, location, and pretty much any other piece of data you can glean from customers. 

Domino’s uses this to get you to buy more pizza by leveraging personalization with their Piece of the Pie rewards program. Domino's sends personalized emails showing users how many points they've collected and how far they are from earning a free pizza. 

email marketing best practices example


You can recreate this with a rewards program software like Smile.io, and integrate it with your email provider.

Here are a few other ways to add personalization to your email strategy: 

  • Segment emails based on user behavior. For example, by sending a discount coupon to users who visited your pricing page. 
  • Send cart abandonment emails to customers who added an item to their cart but didn't complete their purchase. 
  • Send personalized emails to check in after a purchase and show the customer how to use the product. 
  • Provide personalized tips or training to customers after they purchase a specific item or software. 

Customers have come to expect personalized offers and messages. Segmenting your subscribers and adding personalization to your email marketing strategy can increase open rates and create a stronger relationship with users. 

#2. A/B Test Every 👏 Single 👏 Email 👏 

Email marketing is a relationship-building channel, which makes every email you send  an opportunity to get to know your customers — and what makes them open, click, engage, and convert. 

That’s why it’s crucial to perform an A/B test on every single email. Doing so provides you with the data to allow you to optimize your emails for every metric. 

Some aspects of email you can A/B test include the: 

  • Email subject line. This is the most important part of your email  — it's the first thing users see, and hugely influences whether they open your message. A/B testing your subject lines can help you improve your open rates and the health of your email program. Test things like language and tone, short vs. long subject lines, mysterious vs. straightforward emphasis, emojis vs. plain text. 
  • “From” name. Does your audience open and respond better to emails from a company name vs. a personal name, the founder’s name or a team members, first and last name vs. first name and last initial, or a combination of all?  
  • Design. Some companies and audiences do very well with design-heavy, coded, beautifully-branded emails, whereas for others, plain text  or basic text and image designs perform better, eliciting higher clickthrough and conversion rates. 
  • Offer or promotion. Are your customers price-sensitive, and love a good coupon code? Or do they convert without the push of an offer or promotion? Test this to maximize not only your conversion rates, but your profitability too.  
  • Email types. You can send dozens of different emails. A healthy email marketing strategy includes many that are catered to different segments and stages of the funnel. A user closer to converting might respond to an email using the term "discount," while someone who’s comparing their options may be intrigued by a guide for your industry. 

Each of your emails offers a new opportunity for you to test something different, and add leverage to your email marketing program. 

By making even incremental improvements to email metrics like open, clickthrough, and conversion can make a massive impact to your engagement and revenue over time. 

I recently tested the “from” name in an email in my company’s onboarding series, where I: 

  • Paired my co-founders name with our brand name (Variation B) 
  • Had just her first and last name with no brand name (Variation C)

Variation C outperformed B’s open rate by 46%, and click through rate by 111%. 

This impact is huge. 

If we implement this winning variation across all of  our drip series and campaign emails, with an average of 3 emails a month to our list of 10,000 subscribers, we’d be looking at an additional 50,400 opened emails and 7,560 clicks per year.

email marketing best practices a/b testing

And that’s just from one A/B test.

Can you think of any other marketing channel that can drive this many conversions, while helping you develop a relationship with your audience and arm you with data to make informed decisions? (Yeah… didn’t think so).

#3. Protect Your Email Deliverability 

Building an email list is your first step to a fulsome, growth-focused email marketing strategy. The next step is making sure that your messages actually land in your subscribers' inbox. 

Email spam is a huge problem. In fact, nearly 85% of all email messages are spam. The CAN-SPAM act actually made it illegal to send spam, but that hasn't slowed down some bad actors. 

As a result, email platforms are working hard to combat spam by creating filters and automatically blocking spam senders. This means if your messages are marked as spam by users, you risk getting kicked off your email platform. 

To make sure your messages don't wind up in the spam folder: 

  • Use a double opt-in, which requires users to click a link to confirm they meant to subscribe. 
  • Never buy email marketing lists. Besides being illegal, many of the addresses may be out of date.  
  • Avoid email spam trigger words in your headings. 
  • Use recognizable sender email addresses. "From:bob@bobscleaners" looks better than "From:12sdfwe@bobcleaners.com." 

And make sure to clean up your email list every few months by removing inactive addresses. 

#4. Make Your Emails Run on Autopilot

When you get a new subscriber, how long does it take for them to hear from you?


When they do get an email from you, does it meet them where they are in their customer journey? 


You want to make sure your users have a seamless onboarding experience. Set up an automated drip series to welcome new subscribers, and provide them with valuable context behind the brand and problem your product solves.. 


Slack sends a welcome email with tips on how to use its platform. This encourages users to sign in and explore. 

email marketing best practices


Depending on your email marketing strategy and industry, you might send a one-email welcome letter or several over the course of the first few weeks. 


A complex software company might send three or four tutorials showing users how to sign up and install their software, while an ecommerce company might send a few emails showcasing their best-sellers, along with their brand story and customer testimonials. 

#5. Never Send Image-Only Emails 

Image-only emails are pretty and easy to design once you have a template — which makes the format tempting. 


But they could be killing your open and conversion rates. 


The problem is, images don't always load correctly on mobile devices (where 47% of users check their email.) 


Plus, some email clients block images, especially in corporate settings. That means when your email comes through, users won't be able to view it at all. Image-only emails can also land your message in a spam filter. 


Instead of sending image-only emails, use HTML or templates from your email provider that add images to the background. Thi way, your emails will look good and be accessible to all viewers. 

#6. Never Stop Growing Your Email List 🌱

Even the best email marketing strategy won't work if you don't have an email list. 


But your customers are more protective of their privacy than ever before, and email addresses are becoming more difficult to collect due to spam concerns. 


It’s not enough to just ask for your visitors to subscribe to your “newsletter” anymore. You have to give them a reason to part with their personal information. 


Some offers that convert well include: 


  1. Hosting a Webinar. While the number of email addresses you collect will vary by industry (and how well you promote your webinar), hosting webinars can bring in a steady pipeline of qualified leads. Start by asking your current customers what challenges they face. Then, create a presentation that addresses that pain point. Use a free platform, like Zoom, or a paid platform, like GoToMeeting, which connects to your email marketing platform and makes it easier to collect addresses. 
  2. Offering a Lead Magnet. If webinars aren't your jam, consider offering a different type of lead magnet, such as a checklist, blog, workshop, worksheet, or template. If you do decide to host a webinar, record it and offer the recording as a lead magnet in exchange for email addresses.  
  3. Providing a Discount. Many eCommerce stores offer a “welcome” discount in exchange for their visitor’s email address. This is effective because it not only gives would-be customers an incentive to convert, but it also helps to collect valuable information from qualified prospects. 
  4. Organizing a Contest. If you don’t want to provide a welcome coupon but want to start collecting emails now, you can host an ongoing giveaway on your site for email subscribers. Check out how Growclass alumni Three Ships Beauty does this:

As with most aspects of your growth strategy, what works for your brand will depend on your customers. Test different offers and incentives to see what your audience responds to and how you can offer them the greatest value. 

#7. Pay Attention to the Right Email Metrics 

How do you know if your email campaign is effective? It all depends on your goals. 


If you want to drive sales, your forwarding rate might not be the right metric to measure. However, if your goal is to increase blog post reads, having people share your email can broaden your reach. 


Open rates are the most commonly tracked email metric, but it doesn't always give the full picture. It tells you how many people open your emails, but not if they purchase, read a blog post, or engage with your brand. 


Before you decide which email metrics to track, outline your email marketing goals. Then make a list of the metrics that will keep you on track. 


Here are a few metrics to consider tracking: 


  • Conversion rate: The percentage of subscribers that take a specific action, such as making a purchase.
  • Click through rate: What percentage of subscribers click on links in your email. 
  • Overall ROI: How much revenue does your email marketing drive? 
  • Unsubscribe rate: How often do users unsubscribe from your list. 
  • Subscriber growth rate: How many new subscribers you gained in a specified period.  

There is no one right email marketing metric to track. Make sure to compare the different metrics to your overall marketing goals — and track the metrics that provide insight into email marketing success. 

#8. Leverage Email as a Relationship Building Platform 

Think about the last time you opened your email inbox. Which messages grabbed your eye? The ones promoting a new product line or sale — or the ones that offer solutions you need? 


The end goal of email marketing is usually to make a sale. (Even if the direct goal is to drive traffic or increase brand awareness.) 


But to use email only as a bottom of funnel conversion machine is missing the point — and the value — of email marketing. 


Your email marketing strategy should take a full-funnel, relationship-building approach. This means nurturing the subscribers on your list and managing their entire customer lifecycle with your company. 


Don't push a sale right away. Take the time to both build a relationship with and provide value to customers before selling. This might look like: 

  • Suggesting tips and tricks related to your industry, sharing relevant news, or providing solutions to a problem. 
  • Telling your company’s origin story or building an email into your welcome series that acts as a personal introduction to the founders. 
  • Asking questions and requesting feedback to get to know your customers better. 
  • Sharing content and resources from your own company, partners, and affiliates.

By establishing your brand as a source of information and focusing on nurturing your subscribers, they’re far more likely to trust you when it comes time to pull out their wallet. 

#9. Keep Your Email List Healthy & Engaged

Make it easy for users to unsubscribe. Don't hide the button in a paragraph of text or ask users if they are 'sure' they want to unsubscribe. 


That might sound counterintuitive — after all, a larger email list is better, right? 


A large email list will help you grow your business — but only if subscribers are interested and engaged. Making it easy for users to unsubscribe ensures that the people on your list actually care about your business and want to hear from you. 


Make it easy for users to adjust the frequency of their messages, share what topics they want to hear about, and unsubscribe if they just aren't interested. Your email list might be smaller, but it will be more effective. 

Create a Growth-Focused Email Marketing Strategy in 2021

Email is one of the cheapest and most effective channels to reach your audience. Unlike social media and paid ads, you don't have to pay to reach your audience. 


To be effective, however, businesses must respect the user's inbox. Don't send messages every day, don't send only sales emails, and make your messages easy to read. 


Follow the steps above to build a growth-focused email marketing strategy that creates a real relationship with your users. 

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