5 email marketing tips I’ve found useful

Email marketing is one of those things that I never set out to do. In the early days of Distilled (much like the book-keeping, tax returns, and general admin) it was my job simply because someone had to do it.

We started small - emailing the dozens of people who came to our early events. A few years ago we decided to work to grow our list more actively - I distinctly remember working with one of our early interns on the campaign that took us past 500 subscribers.

Free video trio

The first big thing we did was to create a reason people might actually want to hear from us frequently. Our first attempt at that was our monthly free video email - something that a little over half our list has opted-in to receive. Since then, we have added blog updates by email, DistilledU news and, of course, updates about our events.

Along the way, I've made most of the mistakes you'd imagine. I've sent emails to the wrong segments, I've sent emails with typos, I've sent emails with broken links. But I've also picked up a bunch of useful tips and tricks - and I thought I'd share a few of them here:

1. Encourage replies

My first tip is straight from Patrick McKenzie (aka patio11 on Hacker News) but having tried it out myself, I can't resist telling everyone I know who writes marketing emails. It's the simplest of them all - simply encourage people to reply. Email is a two-way medium, but it's incredible how many businesses send their email marketing from a no-reply address.

Firstly, it should be clear that the people who are giving you permission to appear in their inbox on a regular basis are good prospects and secondly, it should be even clearer that if they want to get in touch with you, they are great prospects. Sending marketing from an email address that goes to a human is necessary but not sufficient. Too many people have been conditioned to believe that email marketing comes from a black hole. You have to encourage people repeatedly and tell them it's ok to reply.

Even having done that, it still shocks people when I reply to their replies to our email marketing.

As a sidenote, I highly recommend Patrick's training material.

2. Draft in Gmail

See! Here's I am sporting it for a recent DistilledLive video. See, here I am sporting it on a recent DistilledLive video!

I am a huge Mailchimp fan. They sent me one of my favourite t-shirts.

But I try to avoid writing emails in their editor. I do this even though they recently rolled out an enhanced editor that's really slick and easy to use. I do it because writing emails in Mailchimp feels like writing email marketing. I don't typically want to write email marketing. I want to write emails to people. And where do I normally do that? Gmail. So that's where I write my first draft.

Sometimes I'll even go so far as to put someone in the TO: field and imagine I am writing just to them. I find it helps me write in a human way.

3. Use a "from" line that includes a name and a company

I forget where I got this tip, but I think it works really well. I send out emails from "Will Critchlow (Distilled)". That lets me simultaneously remind people who the hell I am, where they signed up for the email and emphasise that it's coming from a real person (see tip #1).

Unless you are a celebrity, you probably shouldn't assume that everyone who signs up for your emails knows exactly who you are. Give them comfort that this is an email they actively signed up to receive but back it up with a human face - the exact opposite of the noreply@companyname.com reply addresses that are all too common.

4. Check your spam folders for your own emails

If you use Gmail, you can use a search like:

from:distilled.net AND in:spam

(Replace "distilled.net" with your own domain).

There are two big reasons for ending up in spam folders - message content and sender reputation. If you find some of your messages getting caught, this Mailchimp article is a great primer on common causes.

The tip, though (and again, I can't remember where this came from), is to get a bunch of people to do the search above and mark any messages they find there as not spam. Relatively few people mark legitimate emails as spam and even fewer dig through their spam folder correcting false positives - so this kind of behaviour is a pretty strong positive signal.

5. Checklists are your friend

I mentioned above that I've made all the mistakes in the book. Most of these would have been avoided if I'd religiously followed our checklist. I strongly recommend starting your own and including things like:
  • Do all the links work?
  • Have I spell-checked? [Include specific checks for common typos like your / you're or whatever your own spelling / grammar weaknesses are]
  • Am I sure who's receiving this email?
  • Are all images clickable?
  • Do the mail-merge fields work?
You'll add more of these kinds of checks as you make your own mistakes - the critical thing is (a) to use a checklist every time you send and (b) to update it to make sure you only make any given mistake once!

I really enjoy email marketing - people giving you permission to send messages to their inbox is pretty powerful stuff - it's a fun challenge to write for large groups of people in such a way that it's relevant and valuable to individuals.

I'd love to hear your email marketing tips in the comments - and if you like the sound of our emails, you can sign up in the right-hand sidebar.

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About the author
Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

Will founded Distilled with Duncan in 2005. Since then, he has consulted with some of the world’s largest organisations and most famous websites, spoken at most major industry events and regularly appeared in local and national press. For the...   read more