I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Stu Carty at Constant Contact last week and he did a great job of laying out the best practices in email marketing. Stu first defined the basic goal of email marketing: Deliver professional email communications, to an interested audience, containing information they find relevant, timely, and valuable, and that conform to best practices and anti-spam laws.

Following is a summary of all the great information Stu shared, which you can read all about in his full presentation.

1. Connect: Build good, permission-based -mail lists

In order for you to legally use an email list, it must be filled with customers with whom you already have a relationship. There are some great ways to build your contact list:

  • collect email addresses at events, meetings, trade shows
  • get sign ups on your website and social networks
  • ask for email addresses in person or on the phone
  • ask customers to sign up at a retail location
  • add email addresses of your colleagues and business associates
  • include all of your past and current customers

Although you can legally buy or sell a list of email addresses, it is illegal to use it to send emails! If you want to reach out to new customers that you’ve never met, you can use direct mail, advertising, web marketing, telemarketing, and event marketing—not email marketing.

2. Inform: Create and send targeted email campaigns

You should create a master calendar with all the emails you plan on sending. There are three main types of emails you should consider adding to your email marketing calendar:

  • Newsletters—monthly or quarterly emails featuring educational content
  • Promotions—bi-weekly or monthly emails featuring promotional content, offers, coupons
  • Announcements—periodical emails, depending on content, which usually includes targeted messages about invitations, new products, or special events

When building your emails, consider everything that will help your email get past spam filters, get opened by the recipient, and cause them to click on your links:

  • Design or select a clean, well-designed template that represents your company and brand
  • Use a real person’s name in the “from” line
  • Write an honest, straightforward, simple “subject” line
  • Catch the reader’s attention in the first lines of the body of the message
  • Keep it short and simple—include 2 to 3 newsworthy topics only

For more information on creating emails that work, read Getting your HTML emails delivered, Getting your HTML emails opened, and Getting your HTML emails read, Two little words: Subject Lines, and Watch your language in your emails!

3. Grow: Evaluate results and refine the process

Creating a robust email marketing program is an ongoing process. You should be sure to analyze every eail you send out to find out what works with your audience, and what doesn’t.

Most email service providers offer analytics on each of your campaigns, including information on who did and didn’t receive your email, who opened the email, which links they clicked, and more. You should use this information to find out which types of information are most interesting to your readers.

If your readers are divided on what they like, consider splitting your list into two or more lists, each with emails targeted to that list. Remember, your goal is to deliver information your recipients find relevant, timely, and valuable.

A few email stats (be sure to test for your particular situation):

  • Average open rates = 15-20% (For large companies, this number falls to 10%)
  • Expect 1 person to click on “spam” for every 1,000 emails you send
  • Include 3 or fewer links in one email
  • Use 5 or fewer graphics in one email
  • Best days to send emails: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
  • Best time to send emails: 10 am to 3 pm

Do you have any best practices you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments section.