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Top Tips for Email Marketing

Planning your emails doesn’t need to be complicated. It all starts with defining what you want to achieve with each email you send. This article will give you ideas for planning your email content and design, as well as how to learn from what you’ve sent in the past.

Define your objectives

A clear objective will help you see whether your email has been a success, so try to think about what you want to achieve with each email before you start to plan it. Objectives don’t just have to be about getting people to buy things, they could be actions like:

  • clicking through to read an article on your blog
  • buying tickets for an event
  • posting a photo on your Facebook page
  • sharing your email with their friends

Write your call to action first

Your call to action (CTA) is how you let your readers know exactly what you want them to do once they’ve read your email, and it should directly link to the objective you’ve already established. You’ll often see CTAs as buttons that stand out from the rest of the email. Writing your CTA first will help you to direct the content and design of your email.

Try not to have too many CTAs: for most emails 1 would be enough, but in a newsletter you might have 3 or 4. If you do have more than one CTA, put them in order of importance before you start writing or designing your email.

When you’re writing your CTA, use active and descriptive words. Here are some examples:

  • Read the full story on our blog
  • Save my place
  • See the difference your donation has made
  • Like us on Facebook

Know your audience

How well do you know the people who read your emails? If you know a bit more than just their name and email address, it’s a good idea to segment your audience. This means that instead of sending every email to every email address on your list, you only send emails to people who will find them relevant. For example, if you are a travelling theatre company and you collect location information from your newsletter audience, you might send specific emails when you’re going to be in their area.

When you segment your audience, the overall volume of your sends will decrease, but engagement should improve and unsubscribes should decrease.

Here are some ways you can get extra information about your audience:

  • using information from other areas of your organisation, such as your CRM system, online shop or box office
  • adding extra questions to your email sign-up form to find out a bit more about your audience’s profile and preferences
  • setting up a preference centre so your audience can update their interests
  • learning from interaction with your emails – for example, you might send a different email to people who always open your emails compared to those who rarely open them

A note on GDPR. Remember to only collect information you’re going to use and let your audience know what you’re going to use it for. Don’t be tempted to collect a lot of information ‘just in case’.

Image of ‘Mind Pilot’ installation by Loop.pH. London Design Festival 2018 at the Design Museum

Write your email copy

Once you’ve planned the objective, call to action and audience for your email, writing the copy should be straightforward. Hopefully as an organisation you already have an established tone of voice. If not, it’s a good idea to work this out before you start to write your email. Think about the core offer of your organisation and how you present yourself across your public channels. You might be an entertainment venue where people go for a fun night out, or an authority on a certain subject. You might be playful, serious or comedic. Whatever your organisation’s personality, try to be consistent across your external platforms.

A general rule is to keep your emails concise, as people don’t tend to have very long attention spans when reading online. However, all audiences are different. If your audience is made up of business contacts and your emails are closely related to their work, they might engage well with a long email. Think about your audience and what they’re likely to respond to and keep learning from your previous sends (more on that later).

Design your email

Unless you have the resource for an email expert to build a bespoke design, chances are you’ll be using a ready-made template from your chosen email sending platform. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun with the design though. Here are some starting points for getting your design right.

Make sure you use a mobile-responsive template. According to Litmus, 42% of all emails are read on a mobile device. The good news is that simplicity works well on both mobile and desktop. The most straightforward style is a one-column email which will work across multiple devices. It will look clean and tidy and is easier to read than a multi-column design.

Use your CTA to inform your design. Any CTA buttons should stand out from the rest of your email. You can use a contrasting colour or add some extra white space around them. And remember, if you have multiple CTAs, put the most important one at the top.

Add images that reflect your organisation, if appropriate for your email. Try to use images related to the content of your email and your organisation rather than generic imagery. Remember to ensure you have permission to use all images and credit the photographer or creator.

Make your emails accessible. There are lots of design features that can help people with low vision or those using screen readers to access the content of your emails. At the very least you need to:

  • Add alt text to images if they are integral to your email. Any text that is part of an image cannot be picked up by screen readers so will need to be written out in the alt text
  • Make sure there is enough contrast in your colours – pale grey on a white background may look lovely but can be very difficult to read
  • Use a big enough font size (14px is a good start) and leave some white space around your text. Left-align any large bodies of text to make it easier to read
  • Use active, descriptive text on your links – that includes hyperlinked text and your call to action buttons. For example: Download the PDF and Book tickets are more useful than Read more and Click here.

Write your subject line and preview text

Your subject line, preview text and sender name are the first things that your subscribers will see when your email reaches their inbox. The preview text or preheader is the small piece of text that appears in the inbox view, normally underneath the subject line. Getting these parts right can be the difference between your audience opening your email or marking it as spam.

Your subject line should let people know what’s in the email. It doesn’t need to be a sales pitch – if your content is interesting to the subscriber, then a description of what’s inside should be enough. You can use the preview text to add a bit more detail, or to complement what you’ve written in the subject line. Try to avoid subject lines like ‘Here’s our July newsletter’, or ‘An update from the team’. Instead, use subject lines that are specific to each email.

Review your email

Before you hit send, check your email against your plan. Does the email design reflect the objective you’ve set for the email? Does the copy tell the audience what they need to know? Is the email going to add value for the audience you’re sending it to?

Make sure you take time to send a test email and check for typos, broken links and design flaws. If possible, get someone else to read through your email – it can be harder to spot mistakes when you’re the author.

Finally, always try to test your email in a couple of different inboxes as your email will look different depending on the platform your readers are using. Send a test to your work email address and a Gmail or Hotmail account. Check what it looks like on your mobile phone as well as your desktop or laptop. Your email platform should tell you the most common inboxes that your subscribers use, so make a point of checking how your email looks in these providers.

Send your email and learn from the results

Finally, after all that work, you’ve sent your email and it’s almost time to put your feet up. Congratulations! Just one more thing: make sure you check through the email send report.

Most email sending platforms will have inbuilt reporting where you can track how many people opened, clicked and forwarded your emails, as well as which links were the most popular. You’ll also be able to check for unsubscribes and bounces. Use this information to help you work out whether you met your objectives and to help you plan your next email. If nobody used the links right at the bottom of the email, perhaps it was too long. If lots of people unsubscribed, perhaps you sent it to the wrong group of people. If nobody opened it perhaps you need to tweak your subject line and preview text to entice people to open.

As well as in-built reporting, you can use UTM parameters in your emails to gain a deeper understanding of your audience in Google Analytics. Check out our video on Getting started with Google Analytics 4 if you want to learn more about how this works.

What next?

This article has outlined the basics of planning, executing and analysing the success of sending an email to your mailing list, as well as providing tips on what to look out for when building your campaigns. To learn more, you can read one of the articles linked below.

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up to our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

Original article by Peggy Naumann. Reviewed on 24th February 2021.

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