12 Best Email Marketing Tips for Professionals

From obtaining relevant data to reaching customers wherever they are, these best-of-breed email marketing tips can help you improve your campaigns beyond generic email blasts.

Today's consumers want to connect with businesses in a variety of ways, but the sophisticated consumers in your database and on your subscriber list are not willing to tolerate generic email blasts from corporations. Email campaigns must be targeted and relevant to the customer. It all starts with knowing the best email marketing tips and strategies to obtain customer data and how to reach your consumers wherever they are online.

To find out what email marketing tips are trending and showing success with list subscribers, CIO.com spoke with leading email marketing vendors and analysts to come up with this best-of-breed email marketing tactics list.

1. Capture Emails With Double Opt-In

"Using double opt-in forms on websites, blogs, social media pages and anywhere prospective recipients may be looking to stay in touch with you is a must," says Paul Turnbull, product marketing manager at Campaigner. Double opt-in means the system sends a confirmation request to the submitted email address, requiring the owner to take an action—usually click a link in the email—to confirm that they are the email address owner and want to subscribe to the mail list.

2. Reach Consumers Wherever They Are

"In today's highly connected world, consumers want to connect with businesses in a variety of ways: email, social media, mobile and more. As a result, businesses need the ability to reach consumers wherever they are," says Ron Cates, director of new market development at Constant Contact. Outside of using traditional tools to grow your email list, there are many unique and interesting options. These include "placing a sign-up form or guest book at your place of business and adding a Join My Mailing List button to your website and your Facebook page," Cates says. In addition, there are new tools for signing up to stay connected with businesses or organizations from virtually anywhere. For example, Constant Contact offers Text-to-Join, in which users are added to an email list after sending a text message to a designated keyword, and Scan-to-Join, which lets customers join a list by scanning a QR code that a business has placed on a flyer, business card or other printed media, he says.

3. Get Only What You Need

"Think about what information is most valuable for your list and how to capture it in the briefest way possible," Turnbull says. "For example, if geographic location is needed, consider prompting only for zip code instead of street address or phone number." An email address is the only prompt you need, but if you do ask for additional information, he recommends you consider making it optional and give some reason or additional incentive for doing so. "You can also get more info later, either directly or indirectly, after they sign up," he explains.

4. Keep Subject Lines Short and Precise

"Subject lines should be less than 50 characters, and that includes spaces," Cates says. The very best subject lines—the ones that get opened the most every time—are the ones that tell exactly what's in the email. Turnbull agrees that good subject lines should be as brief as possible, accurately reflect what is inside and motivate the recipient to open the message. "Ask yourself if this subject would stand out if it was one of the dozens of unread emails in your inbox," he says.

5. Write Like a Human

Remember that your email subscribers are people too, so don't be afraid to let your personality show. Good writing really matters in marketing, and one of the email marketing tips Cates says can really make a difference in connecting with customers is to write like a human. "Drop all the marketing and sales-speak. Just like social media, one of the great things about email is that it has allowed businesses to speak in a more casual voice with their customers and fans. This means you can be funny and loose in the ways you get your messages across," he explains. "Write to your readers like they're people, not customers or subscribers, because that's exactly what they are."

6. Brand With a Clear Call-To-Action

"Ensure the content in the body of the email is well-branded, contains relevant content and has clear and compelling call-to-action links that are evident early on in the email—above the fold," Turnbull says. "These important links should always be tracked, so those [who] click through (or not) can be potentially targeted in the future."

7. Be Mobile Aware

Econsultancy Research Manager Aliya Zaidi says email is no longer just on a computer—it's also mobile content on smartphones and iPads. As a result, Zaidi's email marketing tips include being aware of how your message is delivered and displayed on different mobile devices. "Think about touchscreens and how you can optimize an email to improve this part of the customer experience," Zaidi says. For some, mobile is read offline, which limits real-time offers in the content, she says. On the other hand, mobile does let you do some things better, such as target by location.

8. Send the Right Message to the Right Person

"It's hard to overestimate how useful a really good list can be—especially when it's been targeted to include the right groups of people," Cates says. People who are interested in only one product or aspect of your business or organization may not always be interested in every part. "Whether you are a pet store that wants to give a coupon to dog owners and not cat owners, or a nonprofit that wants to communicate with previous contributors but not volunteers, having separate lists so that you can tailor your email campaigns is a must," he advises.

9. Get a Real Sense of Your Customer

You need a real sense of where your customers, clients, or supporters fit to effectively segment your lists. Cates' email marketing tips include thinking about what sort of campaigns you plan to send in the future, as well as what your customers want and expect from you. "This can be as easy as sending out a brief survey to find out who wants to be receiving what. Just be clear, and explain why you're asking these questions," he says. This sets expectations up front and will often result in a higher response rate. "Once you know how you want to segment your lists and know how you'll create them, you can work on filling them with subscribers."

10. Use Polls to Gather Data Quickly

If you need more customer data to properly segment lists, Cates recommends the use of a poll as a quick way to get people's opinions on a single topic. For customers, it's visual, it's interesting, and it takes just a second to answer, Cates says. As a result, you can use a poll to "help foster a sense of interaction, since those who answer can see what other customers have picked," he says. "Once you've got a good pool of responses, you can create new lists based on your results."

11. Test: Don't Spray and Pray

"Spray and pray emails will never perform as well as tailored emails to particular contact segments," Turnbull says. He recommends segmentation for creating targeted email campaigns based on behavioral information or other contact data you know about each recipient. Doing so also helps to "determine&the right tactic for each segment," he adds. This can be done through A/B testing, which tracks the performance of two or more entirely different versions of an email message. "You can try a soft-sell message to your most active subscribers while offering a significant discount to those that are less active or haven't clicked lately," he explains.

12. Enrich the Contact Data

While segmentation is effective, Turnbull notes that it is only as flexible as your contact data. He suggests that you look for ways to enrich contact data for purposes of targeting email campaigns by "appending contact data from other sources you have available—for example, CRM databases, website behavioral data, purchase history or other contact historical data."

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.

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