Best Practices for Email Marketing Automation
Thoughtful and effective omni-channel marketing is the best way to reach and connect with your target audiences, but email remains the most important cog in the digital marketing machine. To underscore this point, half of all companies use some form of email marketing automation, and the average ROI for email marketing is nearly 4,000 percent! Additionally, B2B emails result in 47% higher click-through rates than B2C emails.
So if you’re part of that shrinking crowd of businesses not yet using email marketing automation, you’re already missing out on valuable opportunities and losing ground on your competitors. But we’re not suggesting you invest in just any platform, start cobbling together random messaging, and blast your prospects and customers with the same emails. Instead, gather the key stakeholders in your organization to choose a vendor with a powerful platform and proven customer support.
Once you’ve decided on a marketing automation platform, your next step is to build a comprehensive email marketing strategy, keeping in mind the four email marketing automation best practices covered below.
Only Send to Verified Recipients
As digital marketing regulations are becoming more and more stringent, it’s critical to understand where and how you’re collecting your data and ensure you are only sending to recipients who have actively requested to receive communications from your company. Here’s a good list of essential information you should be gathering prior to emailing your prospects and customers (although certainly not all at once — the fewer fields in your conversion forms, the better.)
- Email address (you’d be surprised)
- First and last name
- Specific opt-in source
- The time and date the recipient opted-in
- Company name
- Position within the company
Whenever you’re attempting to capture new leads, you should always include an unchecked checkbox asking for their consent to send marketing emails. Your forms should have reCAPTCHA functionality to minimize or even eliminate potential bots. And you should immediately send a follow-up email thanking them for their interest and asking for them to once more confirm their identity and desire to receive emails from your company.
In addition to following these best practices, there are two data sources you should never use because they can quickly decimate your email reputation and deliverability.
1) Scraped Data
Scraping data involves adding emails that are visible online into a database and is illegal in certain locations, including the EU and Canada. Emailing to these addresses is the definition of unsolicited commercial email, which will quickly lead to senders being blacklisted by most internet service providers (ISPs). It’s also the fastest way to get pristine spam traps into a database, so stick to gathering your data through great content and smart marketing campaigns.
2) Purchased (or Rented) Data
Purchasing data remains a surprisingly common practice and is one that can severely damage your email deliverability efforts. While many of these third-party data sources claim to only sell opted-in emails, the opt-in is usually manufactured through misrepresentation or hidden terms. In some cases, the data has actually been scraped for resale. Purchasing data and sending to these addresses might seem like an easy way to get a jump on your competition, but we assure you that it’s more trouble than it’s worth and should be avoided at all costs.
Maintain Quality Data Hygiene
Maintaining a clean email list is paramount to a well-oiled email marketing automation machine. Periodically review and clean your email list to remove opt-outs, hard bounces, and unengaged recipients. This will increase system speed, create more accurate lists and results, and boost reputation by removing unengaged recipients who decrease email reputation through inaction.
However, be careful not to be too hasty when removing unengaged email addresses (AKA “Sunsetting”). You should sunset those emails according to your sending cadence and level of contact. For instance, unengaged prospects who haven’t met the threshold for a marketing qualified lead (MQL) should be treated differently than those leads that have previously interacted with your brand and web properties — and definitely differently than existing customers who have recently gone silent.
Your marketing and sales team should work together to establish engagement limits that will define when to sunset an email. Similar to lead scoring, engagement limits should be based on several factors — including industry, sales funnel position, and period of inaction, among others.
Segment Your Lists and Provide Personalized Email Content
List segmentation is one of the principal benefits of email marketing automation and separates marketing automation platforms from email service providers (ESPs). Segmenting according to engagement level, areas of interest, and demographics allows email marketers to tailor their messaging to target their audiences with compelling content when and where they’re looking for it.
Compared with the traditional batch-and-blast approach used by ESPs, segmented sending produces exceptional open rates, engagement, and return on investment. It also results in fewer unsubscribes and spam complaints because the content being sent via email has been written for each specific audience — and increased relevance leads to increased resonance every time.
Yet, while segmentation is crucial in the modern digital environment, many companies continue to struggle to group their audiences properly. Here are three ways to ensure accurate audience segmentation and increased engagement through personalized content.
1) Learn Your Audience’s Pain Points
As marketers, sometimes we have a tendency to overcomplicate things, which is only natural considering the tools at our disposal. However, one proven way to learn more about your audience’s challenges and interests is to simply ask them! When you seek your initial or follow-up opt-in, include a checklist of 5-10 pain points or areas of interest for them to complete. Once armed with this valuable information, segment your lists accordingly and work on developing relevant content for all stages of the sales funnel.
2) Collect Website Visitor Data
The great thing about digital marketing is that skilled marketers are able to gather tons of meaningful data and then leverage that data to segment their marketing lists and deliver content that pushes prospects and customers through the sales cycle. First, you’ll have to create intuitive email reporting dashboards in your marketing automation platform so you can see which emails certain recipients are opening, reading, and engaging with. From there, you simply divide and conquer with compelling content delivered to the appropriate inbox.
3) Market Based on Location
Depending on the type and size of your company, knowing where your customers live, work, and shop can be a major competitive advantage because, more often than not, geography influences purchasing patterns. Email marketing based on location also helps senders optimize for multiple time zones, execute regional promotions, and deliver geo-targeted content to different audience segments. One particularly powerful way to do this is to send emails with testimonials from satisfied customers who live close to your intended recipients. Understanding where your customers and prospects live will help you understand what makes them tick and empower you to foster trust and nurture relationships.
Test Your Marketing Emails for Consistent Improvement
If you’re not testing, tracking, and optimizing your email marketing automation campaigns, you’re not going to improve. How could you – you wouldn’t know where to start? Depending on your audience, products and services, or general industry climate, what works one week might totally fail the next. Therefore, to ensure continued and increased success, you need to test and optimize your email marketing campaigns consistently.
The most effective method is A/B testing, also sometimes known as split testing. The process is simple: randomly divide a specific audience segment into two distinct groups and send them each an email with one distinguishing variable. Whichever email produces better results (open rates, click-throughs, conversions, attributable revenue, etc.) is the winner and moves into the next round of testing, in which you’ll chose a new version of your chosen variant. The subject line is the most common variable, but you can test any number of email components — such as from address, copy, CTA, sending times, or even design elements. (Shameless plug: Act-On has built-in A/B testing features designed for consistent optimization.)
Testing your emails not only helps you determine what’s working; more importantly, it helps you understand what isn’t working. By building on your strengths over time and increasing engagement, you’ll minimize spam complaints and opt-outs, which will help bolster your email reputation and deliverability.
Learn More About Email Deliverability to Hit the Inbox Every Time!
Following the best practices outlined above will improve the messaging and results of your emails, but if you want to make absolutely sure your marketing communications are landing in the inbox, you need to dig deeper into email deliverability.
Download the eBook below to learn the fundamentals of email deliverability and review our proven email sending checklist. After reading this helpful resource, you’ll finally have the knowledge, skills, and tools to kiss the Spam folder goodbye!