Email Marketing: 6 Must Do's & 5 Definite Don'ts

Email Marketing: 6 Must Do's & 5 Definite Don'ts

March 12, 2014

Email Marketing: 6 Must Do's & 5 Definite Don'ts

When people tell me email marketing is dead, I tell them to check their inbox for signs of life.

Email marketing is still very much alive and kicking, and if used alongside a content marketing strategy, email can be incredibly powerful for your brand’s promotion.

Email marketing is not archaic – it’s evolved to become a wiser, more grown-up medium.

How so?

How do I know all of this? Because whenever you sign up for a new service, make an enquiry, lodge a complaint or even download something, what’s the first thing you’re asked to hand over? That’s right, your email address.

An email address is the first consumer connector with your business. Once you have that email address it’s your direct line of communication with your audience. You can then begin to have conversations about your brand in a more personal place; their inbox. And more importantly, you can use email to try to move your recipients further down the sales funnel. They don’t call it direct marketing for no reason!

I’m a die-hard advocate of email marketing. That’s why I want to make sure your campaigns are rock solid.

Here are my do’s and don’ts to help you build the best email strategy.

6 Must Do’s

#1 Personalise your emails

As a devout vegetarian and lover of animals, a voucher for “a cheap steak” in my inbox doesn’t fill me with excitement. If anything, it’s slightly rude because it shows that the business in question (I shan’t name names) really hasn’t taken the time to get to know me. Yet I have taken the time to sign up to their newsletter.

And I’m not alone. According to a survey by Janrain and Harris Interactive:

“Nearly three-fourths (74%) of online consumers get frustrated with websites when content (e.g. offers, ads, promotions) appears that has nothing to do with their interests”

Similarly, a “Dear Customer” immediately reeks of spam, so I tend to delete said email straight away – unless my spam filter hasn’t already gobbled it up.

There are a number of things that you can do to make sure your emails are personalised. According to this source:

“Personalized subject lines are 22.2% more likely to be opened”.

So, let’s start increasing your open-rates.

Here are my tips for personalisation:

1. Segment your email database

If you want to achieve true personalisation, you should segment your email list.

Segmentation helps you to target prospects based upon their needs, demographics and interests.  Targeted emails result in higher click through rates. It goes without saying that if someone is interested in a topic, they will spend more time reading it.

You can segment your audience via a number of methods. This could be:

  • Age
  • Demographic
  • Marketing persona
  • Subject interest
  • Past purchases (if you’re an ecommerce merchant)

For example, Receptional might decide to segment our email list based upon our service offerings, because those who have engaged with our SEO content and those who have engaged with our PPC content have different needs.

Similarly, an ecommerce site might decide to segment its lists based upon gender for a more targeted shopping experience. For example, the brand Forever 21 has clearly done their homework because I received this underwear promotion recently:

forever 21

Not sure this would have been appreciated by a male – unless he was looking for a present.

Once you’ve segmented your lists, you can begin to create highly targeted messaging and content within your emails.

2. Customise messages and content via segment

With this approach, you’ll have to start getting personal with your email campaigns. You’ll need to think about content that addresses individual segments. It might be tricky at first, but the personalisation will be noticed and appreciated by your audience.

For example, Receptional could target our SEO segmented list with content and a subject line that addresses the core benefits of a fully optimised website in 2014.

We’re not trying to look for a sale straight away, but we want our consumers to know that we’re aware of what they’re interested in, and we want to provide useful content to help them with their needs. It will keep our subscribers engaged because we are addressing their specific interests.

3. Allow subscribers to make choices about the content they receive

There is a simple way to segment your lists.

Co.Design does a fantastic job of allowing newbie mail list subscribers to pick and choose which types of content they want to arrive in their inbox. Check it out:

The benefit to your company is that you can analyse which areas of your content are the most appealing to website visitors and it helps with forward planning of content.

#2 Use automation to follow up leads

Use lead intelligence to follow up enquiries. You can do this by storing information about your subscribers within your CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software.

Amazon is a master at this.

Having recently used Amazon to research tablets, but not yet followed through with a sale, I regularly receive promotions for tablets as a way to tempt me into making a sale. Like this:


These emails are suitable for ecommerce clients because they serve as reminders for products recently viewed.

Similarly, these types of emails help to shorten the path to purchase. By showcasing images of products with a direct link back to the product landing page, you’re making it easy for the consumer to close a sale.

This also works with non-ecommerce clients. For example, if I’ve recently downloaded an ebook, I’ll usually receive a follow up email telling me about related services and relevant articles. I recently downloaded a dental marketing guide from Mediahawk and received this follow-up email:

mediahawk follow up email

This is a great way of retargeting prospects with good value content and keeping them engaged with your brand.

#3 Make your email mobile friendly

According to a recent litmus report:

“51% of emails are now opened on mobile devices”

That’s over half of all emails. And it’s safe to say this is only going to increase. Ian Carrington, Google’s Director of Performance, predicts that

“By 2020, 8 billion people in the world will have access to the internet.”

When we look at Receptional’s email activity, just over a quarter of our recipients read our emails via mobile:

receptional email activity

Before you send anything, make sure you check what your emails look like in different browsers and devices.

Most email software allows you to check what your emails look like before you ping them out to the masses. We use MailChimp for our email marketing. There’s a handy feature where you can preview your email across many types of devices:

 email mobile

But most of the top email marketing software provides this feature.

#4 Show your personality: your brand voice.

A common theme from this year’s SES London Conference was the importance of adding a human element and personality to branded content.

Some brands naturally lend themselves to a unique and quirky voice. One brand that gets their content right is Compare the Market, or should I say Compare the MeerKat. Their newsletters are from their furry meerkat mascot, Aleksandr, and are written in his accent:


They’ve not only kept me engaged, but also managed to align all areas of their marketing by writing in the style of their well-known TV adverts.

Not all businesses can adopt this approach. But there are ways to add personality for more conservative sectors. For example, if you work in the legal, hospitality or financial sector, I recommend signing off your newsletter from an actual person, not your company name, as Barclays does:


As you can see, the email has been signed off by the Managing Director of the Branch Network – a human. Not garbled together by a robot. Also, the phrase “we like to listen” positions the bank in a receptive light, as opposed to an impenetrable corporation. (I know that’s debatable).

Or, if you’re an insurance firm, show your personality in your emails by using colourful and imagery and design, like 1st Central Insurance:

central insurance

#5 Track your emails

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of segmenting your lists, designing your template and injecting some personality in your email copy please, please don’t forget to track your efforts.

The sort of things you’ll want to track are:

  • Open rates – how many of your subscribers have actually opened your email?
  • Click-throughs – how many people have clicked on your links?
  • Bounces – how many emails weren’t delivered?
  • Unsubscribes – how many people decided they no longer wanted to receive your emails?

You can see all of these statistics within your email marketing software. As previously mentioned, Receptional uses Mailchimp and the reports look like this:

receptional newsletter stats

Once your readers move from your email to your website, you’ll need to use another set of analytics. The easiest way to track site visitors is by syncing your email campaigns with Google Analytics.

Your email marketing software should help you achieve this. As we use MailChimp as an email platform, there’s a handy guide here detailing how you add Google Analytics Tracking to your campaigns

But if you use another piece of software, or if you need to add tracking parameters to your links’ URLs manually, Google has built a Campaigns URL Builder which is so simple to use.

Once you’ve added tracking codes to your email campaigns with you’ll want to keep an eye on a few things in Google Analytics. These are:

  • How many visits have been generated by your email campaign?
  • Which device did visitors use to read your email?
  • How many enquiries you’ve had off the back of each campaign?

You’ll find these metrics under your campaign tab in Google Analytics:

GA campaign tab

These metrics will help you to discover which emails were well received, which will in turn help you improve your messaging, subject lines and pinpoint the best time of day to send your emails.

#6 Write enticing subject lines and messaging

Speaking of subject lines and email messaging, there are a number of approaches that you can take to achieve better open and click-through rates.

Subject lines are the first thing that your newsletter subscribers will see so it’s the most important element of your email. They function like a newspaper headline, and as such, you should apply the principles of writing eye-catching headlines to your subject lines. These two fundamental principles are:

a) Attracting attention

b) Getting your content read

I’ve written a blog post about winning headline styles, but as a quick guide, here are some key considerations for when you’re next writing a subject line:

  • Useful: Does the message make your content sound useful?
  • Specific: Does the reader know what they’ll be reading?
  • Unique: Is the promised message compelling and engaging?
  • Urgent: Does the reader feel the need to read your content right now?

If you want a subscriber to invest their valuable time in reading your email, all four of these elements help to influence their decision-making process as to whether they should open your email and continue reading.

Here’s a perfect example that targets all four points from Copyblogger:

copyblogger email subject line

You can then apply these same four principles for your copy’s headings and body text to make sure you sustain your readers’ interest.

5 Definite Don’ts

If you want to annoy your audience and have the worst possible click-through and open rates, do these five things!

#1 Spammy subject lines

Spam filters can be triggered for a number of reasons. If words in your subject line trigger the spam filter, your emails will be banished into the spam folder, never to be seen again.

Email programmes like Outlook, Gmail and Hotmail have different tolerance levels to words, but here’s an idea of the ‘spammiest’ words that will trigger the spambot based upon industry sectors. I’ve compiled these courtesy of Hubspot’s post

Financial (general)

  • Buy direct
  • Clearance
  • Order
  • Buy
  • £££
  • Free
  • Money
  • £xxx
  • One hundred percent free
  • Money back
  • Save £££
  • Unsecured credit
  • Deal
  • Additional income
  • Double your
  • Earn per week
  • Money making
  • Earn £
  • Earn extra cash
  • Work from home
  • Friend
  • Hello
  • Marketing solutions
  • Increase sales
  • Trial offer
  • Increase traffic
  • Sale
  • Search Engine Listings
  • This isn’t junk
  • Unsubscribe
  • Online marketing
  • Web traffic
  • Win
  • Lose weight
  • Cure baldness
  • Viagra
  • No medical exams


  • Additional income
  • Double your
  • Earn per week
  • Money making
  • Earn £
  • Earn extra cash
  • Work from home


  • Friend
  • Hello


  • Marketing solutions
  • Increase sales
  • Trial offer
  • Increase traffic
  • Sale
  • Search Engine Listings
  • This isn’t junk
  • Unsubscribe
  • Online marketing
  • Web traffic
  • Win


  • Lose weight
  • Cure baldness
  • Viagra
  • No medical exams

…the list goes on. Most of these pretty obvious terms – we’ve all seen these subject lines in our spam folders! Like this one, for example:

spam subject line

The brand’s that use these terms are going for the hard sell and this kind of interruption advertising just doesn’t work anymore.

Your subject lines need to strike the perfect balance between being enticing and explicit. To write eyeball ‘grabbingly’ good subject lines, please refer to point six of my email marketing “do’s” section.

And lastly, try writing your subject lines in as few characters as possible. As more people are viewing emails on their mobile devices, the longer your subject lines are, the more likely it is that they’ll be cut off. Where possible, use fewer than 50 characters.

#2 Relying too much on images

We know that imagery is engaging, but we know from experience that not all email programmes and devices were born equal. Some email programmes instantly block images, and it’s so annoying when you open an email only to be greeted by this:

images not appearing

If this happens, you won’t be able to get your proposition across and you’ve wasted your effort and time.

If you’re an ecommerce business that relies upon images to market your products, or even if you’re using images to accompany your copy, please use the alt-text to describe your images. This will make your audience trust your emails, leaving them more inclined to read on.

#3 Not embracing new tech – video email

Yes, you heard right. Video email is here and it’s getting easier to include in your emails. Video is now supported in most web app environments. Like images, the chances of your video displaying can be hit and miss – but there is a fall back plan.

If your video doesn’t display within the email, you can use a fall back image; a substitute image if you will.

Nike’s well-known “Run” campaign is an excellent example of a brand incorporating video into email marketing:

nike run

As you can see, the video sits within an image that represents the context of the campaign. Therefore, should the video fail to load, the recipient has a pretty good idea of what the email is about.

#4 Banging on about features instead of benefits

If you simply talk about the features of your product or service, you’re leaving the benefits up to guesswork.

In order to create a need for your services and products, you must tell people what they can actually do for them and how and why they will make their life a million times better.

Here’s a good example from Lomography introducing their newest camera in an appealing way:

konstructor camera


The email is promoting the benefits that this kit camera has for analogue enthusiasts. The copy highlights also highlights how it’s “an awesome creative gift” for those who love DIY. Plus, the email also tells you how you’ll achieve wonderfully sharp and vibrant photos like you would expect from any other camera.

Note that it’s not talking about the camera spec in any great detail, rather the impact that it will have on your life and your photography skills.

#5 Forgetting social buttons

Forgetting to add links to your social media channels is like forgetting to put your trousers on before you leave for work. They’re essential.

Social media buttons complete your email campaigns and can give your brand’s reach an extra push. You’ll be reminding your subscribers that they can engage with your brand on other platforms, thus providing you with yet another chance to place your products and services under their nose.

A few years ago, digital marketers predicted that the rise of social media would be the death of email marketing. They were wrong. Today you should try to integrate both platforms as much as possible.

Here’s an example of StolenSpace Gallery in London, getting it right:

email using social share buttons

Here, you can see that Stolen Space has given their email subscribers the opportunity to engage with their brand in different places. Make sure you’re advertising where your brand is posting on social media.


If you need help setting up your email marketing, or you would like some advice on how to get the most back from your efforts, get in touch with Receptional today.

Zoe-Lee Skelton

Senior SEO Consultant

Zoe-Lee is responsible for creating Receptional’s content strategies. Her work has encompassed everything from performing keyword research to re-writing a company’s entire website. She has created successful content marketing plans for clients from a variety of industries, Zoe-Lee is analytics qualified. In her spare time Zoe-Lee enjoys writing her blog, photography and getting outdoors.

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