How many emails are in your inbox right now? If you’re anything like us, it’s probably more than you have time to read. That means you’ll have to make a strategic decision about what you have time to open and read. Well, guess what? The subscribers to your email marketing efforts do the exact same thing.

Despite crowded inboxes and picky spam filters, email marketing has still been shown to have one of the best returns on investment of any marketing channel. That’s in part due to the ease and affordability of automated email campaigns, but it’s also because people are constantly checking their email, whether for business or personal use. The difficult part is standing out from the crowd, but there are some fairly easy steps you can take to improve your email marketing.

Gather Data Right From the Start

Data is always going to play a huge role in any email marketing campaign. To begin with, you’ll want to gather as much data as possible when initially collecting emails. This is a careful balance of asking the right amount of relevant questions. Ask too many, and people may not complete the form and you’ll get nothing. Ask too few, and you won’t get the information you need. A good place to start is collecting names and zip codes, then diversify from there.

You should also be collecting as much data as possible throughout your campaigns so that you can know what’s working and what isn’t. Does a certain email have an extremely low open rate? Try avoiding the subject line you used or sending it at a different time of day.

Build Your Lists - Yes, Several

Once you’ve collected email addresses and whatever other information you could gather, it’s time to fine-tune your process. Starting with a big picture view, look at what types of information you have in front of you. How is your audience defined by the data you have? How are they the same? How are they different?

Where they’re different is where you have an opportunity to target and specify. Maybe in your initial collecting, you were able to gather zip codes. By separating people by geographic location you can better schedule your emails to go out at the best time. Or perhaps after a year of gathering analytics, you notice a trend in users opening emails about a certain subject. Separate those users into their own customer persona list, and begin targeting them more directly with content and subject lines that match their interests.

Be Consistent With Your Scheduling

The average user receives so many emails it’s hard to keep track of what’s important and what’s not. Even with filters and sorting, emails still get lost or overlooked, especially if they aren’t urgent or business related. It’s important to keep that in mind when scheduling your email marketing campaigns. A good way to keep your subscribers looking out for emails is to send them on the same day and at the same time week after week. This creates a level of dependability, and even a level of trust, between you and the subscriber.

Newsletters especially use this tactic to their benefit. One of my favorites is 7:30DC. Sent out daily at, you guessed it, 7:30 am, the newsletter has become a source for news and events in Washington DC. By consistently delivering content subscribers are interested, at a time they are able to read it (during commuting hours), the managers at 7:30DC were able to build a substantial list of subscribers they could then leverage into promoted partnerships. It just goes to show that consistency is key.

Don’t Be Overwhelming

A quick way to get your readers to smash the unsubscribe button is sending too many emails, too often. Just because you have someone’s email doesn’t mean you can spam them about every deal, promotion or thought you have. Users volunteer their email and information because they hope to get information that is relevant to their interests. Provide your subscribers only the information they need, and if the content is good, it will be enough to draw them in.

What’s too much will, of course, depend on your specific goals. In some industries, the newsletter mentioned above, for example, daily emails are expected and appreciated. But for other organizations, daily emails feel greedy and full of pressure. Start with an email every two weeks, and then ramp up until you hit the sweet spot. If you start to see your unsubscribes go up, or your open rate drop, you’ve probably gone too far.

Give People Amazing Content

This last point may be the most important because without great content your ability to gather data, segment, and schedule won’t mean much. As we’ve already touched on, the content you send out to your subscribers needs to be relevant to their interests, but it should also be compelling. Part of writing compelling content requires writing for the medium, in this case, email. There are some good tips in this blog post on writing for the web that can get you started.

Another great way to drive click-throughs and raise engagement is to include different types of media. Your content strategy should include ways to implement multimedia into your email marketing through videos, photos and graphics. A diversity of content in your email marketing will give subscribers an additional reason to open your emails, just make sure they are presented in a way that is easy to load and consume.

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