The Badass Guide to Sustainable Email Marketing
Updated: Feb 14
Email has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. It's a vital outlet for eco-focused brands, in particular, who must be transparent and trustworthy in their market.
"But Captain, most green businesses do their email marketing wrong!"
Never fear! My email guide for eco-friendly business is here! It's packed with powerful marketing advice for any brand, but it's tailored for those operating with sustainability in mind.
Happy to help, Planeteers!
And don't forget to...
Bookmark this Beauty - Whenever I find new winning strategies for my clients, I update this post.
TL;DR: This hearty guide covers everything about the basics of email marketing for sustainable brands. Bookmark this page to keep as your Secret Email Weapon. Don't read this whole guide at once unless you're ready to transcend the mortal plane and become a supreme email being.
Table of Contents
*This section contains a controversial opinion (oh noes!)
What is email marketing?
Email marketing refers to the promotional email communication a business has with its customers or clients. This includes newsletters, welcome sequences, cart abandonment flows, new product campaigns, and every type of email outlined in this guide.
Email Service Providers (ESPs) like Klaviyo and MailChimp have list segmentation and sending tools that make mass emailing easy. Some CRMs and Webhosting services also offer ESP features, so it's easy to add email marketing to your existing customer management strategy.
Email marketing is more complicated than just writing and sending emails. There are hundreds of variables to tinker with. It pays to work with a professional email list manager if you don't have the time to learn and implement everything in this guide.
Why use email marketing for sustainable business?
Done correctly, email has the highest ROI of any marketing channel. Email is best for increasing Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) by fostering loyalty over time. So if you're not using email (or using it wrong), you're leaving a fat pile of $$$ on the table.
More importantly, email has the power to build lasting relationships with your subscribers. That's crucial in the sustainability sector, where customer trust is fragile.
When asked why they didn't purchase an eco-friendly product, 42% of buyers said they were "not sure if the product is truly sustainable." Customer trust is clearly a huge gap for new (and established) businesses with a green angle.
Since email is a direct connection with customers, it's the perfect outlet to tell your eco-story. You can use an exciting array of emails to obliterate the natural distrust customers have for eco-friendly brands.
Since I kinda hate the words "eco-friendly" and "sustainable," use your emails to show off your regenerative, organic, vegan, recyclable, renewable, plastic-free, circular, offset, carbon-neutral, inclusive, fair-wage, equitable line of products or services. Email is a chance to strut your green stuff.
In each email, get specific about one reason why you're awesome. Check the Broadcasts section of this guide for a list of fun email ideas, so you never run out.
Then you can use segmentation to automatically send your emails to the right people at the right time, maximizing your ability to convert them into buyers (and repeat buyers). Building sequences and campaigns around segments allows you to sell around the clock on autopilot.
Compare that to social media, where it's pay-to-play. Organic reach on social platforms is decreasing every day, even if you have a big following. Worse, your social media accounts can be permanently deleted if you upset the Big Tech Gods. Your audiences there can be lost forever at the snap of a finger.
Better to funnel those social audiences over to email.
An email list is an asset you own (especially when you do regular back-ups). Your email audience is yours to keep. And there's no limit to how many customers you can reach with it, as long as you send entertaining emails about offers people actually want.
One survey found that businesses see an average ROI of 4,224% (!) with email marketing. That's a whopping $42.24 generated for every $1 invested in your email list. Another survey estimates $38 in revenue for every $1 spent on email marketing, a paltry 3,800% ROI. Paid social media ads and other marketing channels can't compete with that. If you're not building a list, you're missing out on a ton of sales.
An email list of loyal customers is the most valuable asset your eco-business can create. When it comes to building a relationship with your community and distinguishing yourself in the market, nothing compares to email.
If you need your email marketing to perform like an essential-oiled machine, there's only one sustainability copywriter who's also a pro list manager.
Some important terms and abbreviations you'll encounter in this guide:
Average Order Value (AOV) - The average amount a customer spends in one transaction with your business
Bounce Rate - % of emails that do not reach recipients
Broadcast - Another term for one installment of a Newsletter or a One-time send
Campaign - An email series for a specific event, like a holiday or a new product launch
Click-through Rate (CTR) - % of subscribers who clicked a link in your email
Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) - All the money a customer spends with you across every order
Deliverability - Whether your emails are being delivered to the Spam Folder (low deliverability), the Promo Tab (average deliverability), or the Primary Inbox (high deliverability); closely tied to your domain reputation
Disengaged - A segment of subscribers who haven't opened/clicked your emails in a while, another term for Inactive
Domain Reputation - The health of your domain as determined by ISPs and Google Postmaster, a major deciding factor in your deliverability
Email Service Provider (ESP) - Software designed to organize email subscribers and manage mass emailings. Examples include: Klaviyo, MailChimp, and ActiveCampaign. Your existing CRM or Webhost might offer ESP tools
Engaged - A segment of subscribers who regularly open/click your emails
Open Rate - % of subscribers who opened an email
Return on Investment (ROI) - Revenue attributed to money invested (on email marketing, in this case)
Segmentation - Grouping subscribers into "segments" defined by purchase history, engagement, location, and other data
Sender Name - Your name (or company name) as it appears on your emails in your subscribers' inboxes, good ESPs allow you to tinker with this
Sequence - An email series that's "always on," like your welcome sequence; also called a Flow or a Drip Funnel
Opt-in Forms + Subscribers
The form where new subscribers enter their email address to join your list is called the opt-in. There are five major types of opt-in forms:
When a customer ticks a box to join your list at check-out, using the email address already attached to their order.
An opt-in form that's embedded on a page of your website.
A type of in-line form that's embedded in your website's footer so it displays on every page.
Interstitials and pop-ups can also host opt-in forms.
An entire web page devoted to an opt-in form, best done as a squeeze page.
Your subscribers probably come from a variety of opt-in sources and are in various stages of building their relationship with your brand. You can (and should) treat different subscribers differently, which is why segmentation is important.
In 2022, it's best practice to have a "double opt-in," which means all new subscribers immediately get an email with a button to confirm they actually intended to join your list. Only after they click that button do they officially subscribe, so optimize that confirmation email for a response. Setting up a double opt-in helps you meet GDPR compliance.
This moment of "opt-in" is a huge sign of trust in your brand, and you must always remember that.
Place your right hand over your heart and repeat after me: "I will not spam. Spam is the reputation-killer. Spam is the little email that brings total obliteration" (OMG sorry Frank).
Always, ALWAYS treat your subscribers with respect. Prioritize your relationship with them above all else. They trusted you with their email address. Reward them in kind with stories, insights, and other fun emails for their engaged readership.
This is your chance to captivate them with the story of you. This guide, and my services, are designed to help you do exactly that.
Do I need a lead magnet? (*UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT*)
A lead magnet is a gift or freebie you offer to new subscribers to tempt them into joining your email list, like a free eBook or a coupon code. It's a bribe to subscribe. And it's become very popular in recent years.
But I think it's a half-baked idea that fills your email list with freebie-seekers and bad customers who don't understand the true value of your product/service. Having a gift for new subscribers can be a good idea, but I think it's best to bury it a little deeper as a reward for replying to your first email. I call it an engagement magnet.
It works something like this:
Offer the magnet on your opt-in form (like usual), with something like "open our welcome email for details," in the confirmation message
In your first welcome email, have a simple CTA that asks readers to reply, and be clear that you'll send their gift (the magnet) when they reply
Send the gift to anyone who replies, and acknowledge them for being among your best subscribers
BEST IDEA: Offer a normal discount on a popular product in the first welcome email, then offer the deeper engagement magnet discount for replying. Treat it like an easter egg when they unlock the extra discount with a reply. This trains new leads to engage AND purchase.
When you give out your magnet as a reward for replying, it trains new subscribers to open and read your emails. And it's not just for your welcome sequence, you can send gifts or hidden content in exchange for replies any time you want to boost engagement with your list. Just make sure what you're giving away is actually valuable to your audience.
Plus, getting an early reply from new subscribers will help ensure you always land in their Inbox (and not their Spam folder).
An engagement magnet has all the benefits of a lead magnet, with the added bonus of training new leads to... well... engage with your brand.
If y'all need more detail about that, drop a comment at the bottom and maybe I'll write a proper how-to post for engagement magnets soon.
A segment is a group of email subscribers with a common behavior or trait. ESPs allow you to tag subscribers by these common behaviors and traits, automatically sorting them into segments you can use to send more personalized messages. It's normal for one customer to fall into multiple segments.
Combine smart segmentation with strong copywriting and you'll get inside your customers' heads. Some examples of good subscriber segment tags include:
Frequent purchaser (3x average)
Big purchaser (3x AOV)
VIPs (frequent AND big purchasers)
Engaged (actually open/click your emails)
Disengaged (don't open/click your emails)
Top Fans (open, read, and click all your emails)
So many more...
You probably don't have enough data to tag all those segments on your list, and that's fine. Not all those segments will be relevant to your subscribers. And you should be thinking up your own useful segments.
Segments are defined by customer data: The more data you have, the more segments you can create. That's why I prefer ESPs like Klaviyo with integrated analytics tools that automatically collect many types of behavioral and qualitative customer data. (Woof! Say that sentence 5 times fast)
Just remember: The more you segment your list, the more you can personalize your messages, and the more your emails will resonate with your readers. Think about a customer quality that's relevant to your product or service, then collect that data point and build a segment around it.
That's a good intro to segmentation, but it doesn't cover the mechanics of actually implementing segments into your list. Leave a comment at the bottom if you want me to write a detailed blog post about how smart segmentation actually works.
And just hire a gosh dern email list manager if this segmentation stuff is abuncha gobbledygook to you.
An email sequence (also called a Flow or a Funnel or a Drip Campaign) is a series of emails that send any time a subscriber takes a specific action. Once an email sequence is up and running, it's always on, waiting to trigger whenever the correct action is taken.
Sequences are the best way to automate routine email marketing tasks, like welcoming new subscribers. The more sequences you have, the more your email list runs on autopilot. This is where your segments come into play, automatically grouping your subscribers by behavior and triggering sequences that target those behaviors.
Set a sequence up once, and it runs forever.
But sequences aren't "set it and forget it." You should monitor them and tweak them whenever they're under-performing. And your most popular one-time broadcasts should be worked into your "always-on" sequences.
The truth is, some sequences are more effective at driving sales and building trust. To really move the revenue needle, make sure you have these essential sequences set up in your ESP:
This is your most important sequence, your digital "first impression" that new subscribers see as soon as they sign up.
I recommend a minimum of 5 daily emails in your welcome sequence, and as many as 20. You should be selling in each email, even if you're just selling a click or a follow. Rob Allen once added nearly $100k in revenue to one welcome sequence, mostly by beefing it up with 9 more emails (and by being a badass copywriter).
The fact remains, your current welcome sequence is probably too short. And it probably doesn't do enough selling.
Don't worry about annoying your new subscribers with too many promotional emails. They'll never be more excited about your brand than when they first join your list. If you have a good product that can help the world, you have an obligation to promote it. Anyone who unsubscribes because you're selling to them wouldn't make a good customer, anyway.
And it's possible to sell without being icky, especially if your offer isn't icky.
Green brands should NOT follow the tired old welcome sequence advice that's all over the internet. Keep your eye on this blog for a future post with an email-by-email breakdown of an ideal welcome sequence, complete with best practices for setting it up. (HINT: It's not what everyone else is doing).
This is a catch-all term for logistical emails you send to your customers, like order confirmation and shipping updates. Treat these emails like a part of your marketing plan. Deliver the crucial info, then sex-'em-up with stuff like: upsells, product backstories, reminders of your environmental vision, congratulations memes, etc.
The types of transactional emails you need depend on your type of business. i.e. If you're selling info products, you don't need shipping updates (obvs).
These emails tend to get the best engagement because people enjoy status updates about their orders. It's exciting to get something new. Build on that excitement by including upsells, product factoids, or an invite to follow you on social.
Keep your eye on this blog for a future post with breakdowns of essential transactional emails, complete with best practices for setting them up.
This sequence goes hand-in-hand with your transactional emails. While your customers wait for their order updates, hit them with a couple of emails that validate their purchase decision and answer some FAQs.
The length of your post purchase sequence depends on the complexity of your product. The bare minimum for a simple product is 2 emails, one to congratulate and one to provide context. For complex offers, add as many emails as necessary to fully explain the best use of the product.
I'll include some fun and unique ideas for post purchase emails in an upcoming bloggymajig.
Multiple studies show that 70% of online shopping carts are abandoned before checkout is complete (on mobile it's over 85%). It's crucial to set up a sequence targeting that 70% so you can recapture some of those customers before you lose all that revenue.
Something like 3 strong emails is enough for an abandoned checkout sequence, with the first one sent within 5-10 minutes of the customer closing the cart. Use a discount (like free shipping) to address price concerns, which is the main reason carts get abandoned in the first place.
Keep your eye on this blog for a future post with an email-by-email breakdown of an ideal abandoned checkout sequence, complete with best practices for setting it up.
Win-back List Scrubber
This sequence targets disengaged subscribers with a dual purpose: get them reading your emails again or unsubscribe them. If you're sending emails people don't open, inbox providers view that as spammy behavior (because it is). It's crucial to either re-engage "dead" subscribers or give 'em the boot, before they nuke your domain reputation. This is one instance where unsubscribes are good for your list's overall hygiene.
My favorite win-back list scrubber sequence is just 1-3 emails long. Target subscribers who haven't opened your emails in 30 - 180 days (depending on your send frequency). Use a jarring subject line like, "Do you hate me now?" and a new sender name for intrigue. Remind them who you are, why they signed up, and what you do, and offer them a bonus for replying to a fun CTA.
If they open/click this email, the sequence tags them as engaged and they stay on your list. If they don't, the sequence tags them to unsubscribe.
Once you have this sequence set up, your list will keep itself clean. At the most, you'll have to manually delete everyone who's been tagged "unsubscribe" once every few months (if your ESP can't do it automatically). And your domain reputation will soar.
Keep your eye on this blog for a future post outlining a strong win-back email, with details about setting it up to make your list self-cleaning.
Apple Mail User Re-engage
In September of 2021, Apple threw a curveball at email marketers everywhere. The infamous iOS 15 Update added a feature called Privacy Protection that automatically opens all tracking pixels. That means your subscribers who use Apple Mail appear to open all your emails, even if they don't. This falsely inflates your open rates. If you rely too much on your open rate as a metric, your Apple Mail subscribers will become inactive without you noticing.
Luckily, you can target them with a re-engagement sequence and pull some of them back into active readership. As of September 2021, this Apple Mail User Re-engage is an essential sequence.
This sequence should work best as 3-5 emails. Target subscribers who have opened 100% of your emails since October 2021, but haven't clicked once. You are including CTAs in every email, right? Send them high-interest emails ("Do you hate me now?") and give them something tempting to click.
This sequence works just like the list scrubber. Apple Mail users will either re-engage if they click, or be tagged for manual/automatic unsubscription if they don't.
Want more details about how to re-engage Apple Mail users with this super-smart sequence? Ask real nice in the comments and maybe I'll write a full post with all the deets.
If one of your subscribers clicks a product link in your email and doesn't buy anything, you can target them with a browse abandon sequence.
It only needs to be 1 email. If they clicked but didn't buy (or book a call, etc.) within 1 hour, send them a simple "Because you clicked" message that addresses common objections and asks if they have any questions about what they browsed. This simple email has a large impact by handling objections during a moment of high curiosity.
You know the drill: Keep your eye on this blog for a future post about how to write and implement a kick-ass browse abandon email.
Advanced eComm Sequences
Beyond the essentials, I recommend setting up more nuanced sequences if you run an eComm store. Not all of these advanced flows will be a good fit for your shop, but they tend to have a very high impact, so try as many of them as possible.
If one of your subscribers purchases something from you more than once, it's hard evidence they enjoy that thing. These are prime customers to target with a review request sequence.
Just 1 email (maybe 2) is enough for this sequence. After their second purchase, set up your review request email to send immediately after the order confirmation. Celebrate and acknowledge the repeat purchase. Praise the wisdom of their opinion, and ask them to share it on Google, Facebook, your website, Amazon, Yelp!, or where ever you gather reviews. Include a link directly to the page where they type the review to make it easy.
BONUS: Add a 2nd email with a special offer that sends to anyone who clicks to leave a review. Tease the special offer in your 1st email to boost its CTR.
This is pretty simple, so leave a comment at the bottom if you want me to write a future post detailing a robust review request sequence. Otherwise, you can probably figure it out.
If you sell a consumable good, a reorder sequence can drive repeat sales and boost your AOV. The goal is simple: anticipate your customers' needs by sending them a reminder to re-order a product when they're running low.
You don't need more than 1 email in this sequence, but 2 or 3 might be good. Set your 1st re-order email to send 3-10 days before the average customer normally runs out of your product. Keep it simple with a subject like "Running low?" and include a link that brings them to checkout with the product in their cart.
There are also some advanced tactics to try with this sequence. If the product is available on subscription, the reorder email could include a nudge to subscribe at a discount. Or if the product pairs well with others in your inventory, include some upsells. Spread your reorder series out across 2-3 emails if you want to try all these techniques.
Whaddya think? Should I write another post with a full reorder sequence breakdown? Let me know in the comments if you want it!
Back in Stock
A back in stock sequence is something eComm stores can send to previous customers when a sold-out product is... ya know... back in stock. This sequence can turn your routine inventory shipments into exciting events for your customers.
1 or 2 emails will be enough for most back in stock sequences. Set the sequence to trigger whenever you update your shop's product inventory from "0" to a new quantity. Hype this email with a subject like "___ is back!" Behind-the-scenes stories about unloading the product at your warehouse, or unboxing it in your office/living room, are the most fun. Show customers you're also excited about receiving your products.
These can be a little complicated to set up, so I'll deffo write a future post about how to set up a back in stock sequence that boosts sales.
Campaigns are email flows for one-time events, like a holiday or a new product launch. Instead of being "always-on" like your sequences, campaigns only send during a set promo period. You can send full-list campaigns or target individual segments.
Every holiday, launch, and event is different, so my advice in this section will focus on the purpose of each campaign and what you should accomplish with them. Except for the very controversial opinion I have about Black Friday...
Black Friday/Cyber Monday (*UNPOPULAR OPINION ALERT*)
This is historically the biggest sales weekend of the year for many companies. That fact is not lost on me. However, when it comes to the sustainable sector, I have a very unpopular opinion about Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
ECO-FRIENDLY BRANDS SHOULD NOT DO A TYPICAL BLACK FRIDAY SALE.
That's a bold opinion, so allow me to explain:
Black Friday is a relic from the late 20th Century. It's a dinosaur. The entire weekend is a symbol of vapid consumerism, the kind of mindless buying your brand should not associate with. Yours is a thoughtful product line, not a cheap sale that pumps more plastic gizmos into the world.
It's not here yet, but a Black Friday fallout is coming. The charm has run its course. Frankly, it's an embarrassing cultural practice that makes a joke of western spending habits. In the near future, as consumer trends become more responsible, Black Friday will become an outdated reminder of how wasteful and thoughtless we used to be. Sustainable brands who embrace Black Friday today will have a dark stain on their record tomorrow. That is my prediction.
SO IF YOU'RE GOING TO DO A BLACK FRIDAY CAMPAIGN, DO IT DIFFERENTLY.
Plant twice as many trees. Offset double the carbon. Switch to renewable energy. Announce a new partnership with EcoCart. Donate to a purpose-driven cause with each purchase.
A feel-good promo can generate sales AND advance your environmental mission. You'll position yourself as a superior alternative to brand names who'll do the same old milquetoast discounts that EVERYONE does on BFCM.
New Product Launch
A new product launch campaign should build hype and generate sales for your new offer on launch day. The best new product launch campaigns begin weeks (or months) in advance with teasers sprinkled into your broadcasts. Smart brands use customer surveys to guide their new product development, which is an organic way to build excitement for your new offers far in advance.
New product launches should be your most aggressive campaigns. You'll see best results if you email at least once a day during the entire launch period (i.e. one week), with extra emails on the first and last day. This is the time for hard selling.
Sales & Holidays
Build an email campaign any time you run a sale or a special offer. Holidays relevant to your industry are a great reason to run a sale campaign. Your goal is the same as a launch campaign, build hype and generate sales. One email a day during the duration of the sale should be enough, with more at the beginning and end of the sale if you want. Keep it simple (and on topic) by explaining the reason for the sale and which products are discounted.
Campaigns are only limited by your creativity. Any event can become a fun reason to send a special campaign to your list or one of its segments.
Here is a list of fun campaign ideas for your sustainable business:
New partnership (influencer, affiliate, ect.)
Current event tie-in
Use those ideas, or come up with some campaigns of your own. If you dream up a campaign you think your subscribers will enjoy, go for it! Use any excuse to brag about how awesomely recyclable, renewable, regenerative, compostable, biodegradable, vegan, equitable, and socially responsible you are.
A broadcast is a blanket term for one-time sends, like the next installment of your weekly newsletter (for example). It's a single email you write and send once. It's not a part of a sequence or a campaign. However, a top-performing broadcast should be added to one of your sequences if the data proves it was popular with readers.
Your newsletter (or whatever you call your broadcasts) is the beating heart of your email marketing plan. It's the rolling momentum that keeps engaged subscribers in touch with your brand. It's how you keep your readers up-to-date.
Some email marketers swear that daily broadcasts are the best. Others prefer a weekly basis. Honestly, the right broadcast rhythm for your business is probably somewhere in between.
As you can imagine, sending emails on a daily (or even weekly) basis requires a lot of email ideas. What do you write about 365 days (or 52 weeks) every year?
Well, you could hire a professional email marketer who does this kinda stuff for a living. Or start with this list of ideas for topics, check out my quick copywriting advice, then try writing broadcasts for yourself:
Behind the scenes story from your office, warehouse, etc.
Fun brand factoid
One of your eco-friendly credentials
Testimonial, positive review, or social proof
Silly spin on a bad review
New product teasers
Roy Furr's PAISA formula
Address a problem people are whining about on Reddit
Share a curiosity
Take a controversial stance on something about your industry
A simple 'Reply' survey with rewards
Tell a story from a product's POV
Ok, that's enough free email ideas for you. Go think up some of your own! Or pay me to do it!
When one of your broadcasts proves incredibly popular (a lot of opens and clicks), work it into one of your sequences, and consider creating a regular feature out of it.
This is not a copywriting guide, but I do want to cover some of the aspects of copywriting that play the biggest role in email marketing.
First off, you should be selling in every email, whether it's in a sequence or a single broadcast. That means you're writing direct response copy: text intended to elicit a response from the reader (ideally an action, like buying something). Always include a Call to Action (CTA).
In general, a mix of 80% soft selling and 20% hard selling is a good ratio.
Soft selling = A fun story that relates to one of your products, with a link to said product
Hard selling = BUY THIS RIGHT NOW IT'S 15% OFF FOR THE NEXT 24 HOURS
Discuss only one thing in each email. Don't tell a story, then talk about a new shipment, then mention a sale, then ask for a follow on Twitter. Keep it simple and focused on one topic/story, then segue to one relevant CTA. Don't give people more than one thing to pay attention to or they'll get distracted.
Don't assume anyone has read your past emails. A strong open rate for one email is 40%. That means on day 2 of a campaign, statistically, 16% of your subscribers have seen both emails. On day 7 of a week-long campaign, as few as .04% of your readers will see every email. For that reason, make sure every email is a self-contained unit that doesn't depend on others.
Try to keep it light and funny. We're all tackling this climate crisis together, and the anxiety is real, but doom-and-gloom is not a good brand image.
Humans aren't perfect, neither is your company. Don't waste a bunch of time making everything perfectly cute. No one is going to die over a few typos (except grammar Nazis, but they're going to hell, anyway 😂).
Brag about your accomplishments AND be honest about your faults. Customers will be (rightly) suspicious of your product if it seems too good to be true.
Focus on developing a unique voice that reads how you speak. Give character to the personality who sends your brand emails. We form emotional connections with other human beings. We don't form emotional connections with faceless corporate behemoths. So write like a human.
Managing Your List
Wait, did you think email marketing was just writing and sending emails? Well, things get a little more complicated when you're sending 50,000 emails at once. Segmentation is the ultimate email list manager skill, but it's not the only one...
Choosing an ESP
We're blessed with an embarrassment of Email Service Providers (ESPs) these days. Mailchimp is one of the most popular and one of the most universally hated. Klaviyo and Active Campaign are great for ecomm stores. Convertkit is popular with creators, and I use AWeber. Harcore email marketing pros use BerserkerMail for its aggressive deliverability, but it has limits. And that's just to mention a few.
The line between customer relations and email management has blurred. Most CRM software now has ESP features built-in, so you can easily add email marketing to your existing customer relations gameplan.
Heck, even Webhosts are offering email management services now. Wix (where I host this blog) has a suite of email marketing tools I could use from the backend of my website. Email is everywhere!
When you're my client, I'll tell you which ESP I think is best for your business. On your own, here are a few factors to consider before committing to one ESP:
What you want to accomplish with your emails
How the ESPs features will help you accomplish that
What is the ESP's reputation with deliverability?
Deliverability is a big word for something very simple: Are your emails going to the Spam folder or the Primary Inbox?
If your emails are going to Spam, or the Promotions Tab, your stats are sinking and your domain reputation is taking serious damage. Your deliverability is low.
If your emails are going to your subscribers' Primary Inboxes, your emails are far more likely to be opened and read. Your deliverability is high.
In reality, your deliverability is somewhere in between the two. Landing in one subscriber's inbox does not mean you'll land in everyone's. You must optimize every message, and your entire email ecosystem, around increasing your deliverability.
Using tactics from this guide (like my list-scrubber) will naturally keep your deliverability high and your domain reputation clean, especially the advice in this next section...
Domain Reputation (and how to boost it)
Your domain reputation is your "score" with email providers like Gmail. If they think you're being spammy, they'll give you a low score and send your emails to the Spam folder. If you email like a human, they'll give you a high score and send your emails to the Primary Inbox.
Luckily, these things can build your domain reputation:
Add DKIM, SPF, and DMARC to the DNS records of your company website. They will verify your email address against your domain and send you reports if spoofing is detected. Gmail likes that. I won't attempt to explain DNS records here, so go read Google's support documents if you want to know more about this (or hire me to do it).
Encourage replies early and often. When a subscriber replies to one of your emails, it looks like a conversation between friends. Those emails get sent to the Primary Inbox. If someone has replied to one of your emails in the past, chances are much higher all future emails will land in their Inbox. Include a fun CTA in your first welcome email that makes it very tempting for new subscribers to reply, and turn your lead magnet into an engagement magnet. Encourage replies in your broadcasts once in a while, too.
Go for the click. Getting subscribers to click a link in one of your emails is also good for your reputation. Got anything fun for them to click on?
Remove unnecessary images. Gmail doesn't love images and tends to filter out emails with a lot of graphics. Your beautifully-designed email might look great, but no one's gonna see it in the Spam folder. Include more text than graphics in your emails, or you'll get docked at the gate.
Improve your "Promo %". Words like free are considered highly "promotional" and can get you sent to Spam. Every email must have a low % of "promotional" words to avoid Spam. Many ESPs now offer a tool to test your Promo % (sometimes called Spam Score) before you send an email. Use it!
Tweak "Sender" name + email. Most ESPs allow you to change the "Sender" name of an email. This is the "From" name attached to your email, the name subscribers see next to your subject line. Changing this name a little, and the email address associated with it, can add intrigue and boost your chances of getting opened.
The best way to boost your domain reputation is to consistently write emails that people enjoy reading. Hire a copywriter if you're not good at that.
Having good list hygiene will naturally keep your domain reputation high. Engaged subscribers who open and read your emails are ideal. In a perfect world, that would describe your entire list.
But subscribers can become disengaged and not open your emails for a long time. If you keep sending to them, even if they aren't opening, Gmail will point the "Spam" finger at you.
Or worse, you could get a "spam trap" on your list! This can happen even if you're careful and practice double opt-in. Sometimes an email address "dies," i.e. one of your subscribers moves from Hotmail to Gmail. After a few months of inactivity, Hotmail will deactivate that address. But actually, they turn that dead address into a spam trap. If you're still emailing that spam trap 6 months later, they'll know you're not practicing good hygiene, and your domain reputation will take a massive hit.
Keep your list clean by scrubbing the dead subscribers out of it once in a while. That's the essence of good hygiene, and why I consider the list-scrubbing sequence an essential one.
You'll see an automatic boost in your domain reputation if it's been a while since you cleaned your list because only your engaged readers will remain. If it's been a long time (or if you've never cleaned your list 😱), don't scrub it all at once. Re-engage subscribers in small chunks, then implement my list-scrubbing sequence so you don't have to do that ever again.
Consider adding Troy Ericson's "Unsub Secret" to your unsubscribe page, which will turn some unsubs into paying customers on their way out the door. It's a super-smart strategy I use on pretty much all the lists I manage.
Backup your list of subscriber email addresses once a day (or at least once a week). You should be able to download a spreadsheet file of subscribers from your ESP. Keep the backup file on a secure hard drive. If your email account ever gets removed, you won't lose everything. Just migrate your backup list of subscribers to a new ESP. This is the only real way to "own" your list.
Below are benchmark performance stats to aim for with your email marketing. These numbers are based on my experience and are only meant to be a guide. Under each metric, you'll find a list of ideas for improvement if your number is off.
Open Rate = Let it Go
Not as important after Apple's iOS 15 update
Worry if it's consistently <25%
Click-through Rate = >2%
Write more engaging content
Craft more tempting CTAs
Bounce Rate = <1%
Remove bounced addresses from list
Unsubscribe Rate = <1%
Unsubscribes are good (up to 1% of total list size)
Tweak your opt-in text to set expectations clearly
Make sure opt-in text matches welcome sequence
Keep it relevant to what people signed up for
Spam Complaint Rate = <0.10%
Write more engaging content
Tweak your opt-in text to set expectations clearly
Make sure opt-in text matches welcome sequence
Keep it relevant to what people signed up for
Sales Attributable to Email = >20%
You have unrealized email potential, leaving $$$ on the table
Implement the ideas in this guide
Hire me to boost email sales for you
Sustainability in Email
As a final note, let's talk about the environmental impact of email. This is the biggest thorn in my side, knowing that my chosen field contributes to the crisis I'm committed to fighting.
Like many other aspects of commerce and capitalism, email carries an ecological cost. The emails in your inbox and your archive take up space in a server. That server eats a huge amount of electricity, likely from coal or fossil fuels. Your email inbox has a tangible carbon footprint.
If you send one broadcast with a lot of graphics to a list of 50,000 subscribers, the total emissions for that single email are roughly 2.75 tons (2,500 kg). That's more than 5 round-trip commercial flights between London and Rome! To send one email! AHHHHHHH!
Take a breath, it's going to be ok.
Now that we know there's an issue, we can take steps to address it. Here are some of my ideas for getting your email marketing back to net-zero emissions:
Use less images, which will make your emails smaller. It has the added benefit of improving your deliverability.
Don't buy lead lists. Earn your leads with good ads and content, they'll become better customers than some shady list of email addresses you bought.
Practice good list hygiene so you're only sending your emails to engaged readers who actually want them. Clean out inactive subscribers, and set up your list scrubber + Apple Mail Re-engage sequences.
Send a "Delete this email" broadcast that encourages your subscribers to delete the email after they finish reading it (and clicking your CTA). Encourage them to delete ALL the unwanted emails in their inbox and archives, as an easy way to "green-up" their lives.
Offset the carbon equivalent of your email activity.
You did it, Champ! You made it to the end of this beast.
Did you read the whole thing?
Your email marketing game just upgraded to Level 99 with +5,000 XP. You are now an email God among mortals.
Did you scroll down here as fast as possible?
I hope your finger got a great workout!
If you have any questions about what you just read, drop a comment. I always check them, and sometimes I respond. 😉
And don't forget to revisit this post often, since I keep it up-to-date with cutting-edge techniques.
Until next time, Planeteers, this is the Eco-Copywriter signing off.