Email Marketing, Part II: Make Your Email Programs Work

In the second part of this email marketing series, content strategist Barry Feldman delves into effective techniques for generating higher email open rates and response.

It’s time to do email.

In part one of our email marketing series, we looked at why email marketing is so vital and how to create and grow your subscriber lists.

In this edition, we’ll focus on how you get readers to open your emails and respond.

email marketing, part 2

Four effective email marketing strategies

Kill it with curiosity.

That old cat killer, curiosity, is a mighty powerful tool in the email marketer’s bag.

George Loewenstein, a Carnegie Melon University professor, studied curiosity and coined the term, “information gap theory.” Loewenstein wrote curiosity is an innate human behavior triggered when people experience a gap between what they know and what they want to know. Of course, it influences people to take action.

As an email strategy, it’s highly effective to pique your reader’s interest, but not reveal “the goods” in the email itself. Create suspense in your email to inspire readers to click-through to a page you want them on. This is your foremost goal.


Studies consistently reveal it’s counter-productive to overwhelm readers with too many choices. They often elect to not act at all.

You can avoid this pitfall by sending emails that focus on a desired outcome. Less choices, more interest. On some occasions you may have to give in and offer a variety of choices, but generally, you’ll achieve better results when you focus your emails on a limited number of choices, or better yet, just one.

Provide directions.

Clarity and simplicity are your allies. Don’t overwrite. Help the reader help themselves with crystal clear directions. You may not consider a call to action such as “click here now” an advanced copywriting tactic, but when you tell readers precisely what to do next, you increase the odds they will.

Address readers by name.

It’s often said everyone’s favorite word is their first name. Readers tend to engage more willingly and are more trustful of messages in which their name appears. Your email service makes it easy to collect your readers’ names in your opt-in forms. Try using their name at least once in your emails.

Five types of emails worth sending

As an email marketer, you can create and send a variety of different types of emails to fulfill different purposes. The type of business you have and the objectives you’ve set will factor into the choices you make.

Consider the following popular email types used by online marketers.


The enewsletter is the most popular type of email, especially for businesses that  consider themselves content marketers.

Enewsletters can be highly effective for lead nurturing. The objectives are to maintain mindshare with clients and prospects and encourage them to return to your website, ultimately, of course, to do business with your company. Because enewsletters include links to your website, they are effective for creating traffic.

Newsletters are very flexible and can serve various objectives. Common tactics include promoting blog posts or other content, delivering special offers, making announcements, and conducting surveys.


This edition of a newsletter by Lumosity features a special offer and content intended to encourage free members to consider upgrading their accounts.


Digests summarize and promote collections of content you’d like your subscribers to know about (and may have missed). Your email may simply highlight your most popular, useful, and/or recent content.

If you create a lot of content, digests are highly useful for getting extended mileage from your content. Create digest emails that list valuable resources such as books, eBooks, podcasts, videos, etc.


LickLibrary doesn’t want its subscribers to “miss a lick,” so they create digests to promote popular lessons from, for instance, accomplished guitarist Slash.


Email can be an ideal vehicle for delivering special offers to encourage repeat business. Offer emails might be sent to everyone on your email database, however, you may achieve higher response rates by strategically segmenting your list by some type of category.

Generally, offer emails direct readers to landing pages specifically about the product or service. The extreme focus of an offer email lends itself to tracking, which should help inform subsequent marketing and sales decisions.


Ironstone Winery emailed me an invitation to join an exclusive pre-concert party for wine club members. (It might have been more targeted or personalized if I actually was a member, but it sounds compelling nonetheless.)  


Often called “drip campaigns,” autoresponders focus on lead nurturing. Prospects are sent a series of emails, usually focused on a specific topic, over time.

Autoresponders address “attention attrition,” a common challenge in email marketing where interest tends to decline over time. The idea with autoresponders is to strike when the moment’s right.

Email service providers make it easy for you to create an autoresponder series and schedule them at any given interval. So you can invest time upfront and “set it and forget it.” For example, you might offer a series for new subscribers designed to deliver lessons on how to create effective email marketing programs.

Your autoresponders should be created to nurture leads in the most targeted way possible. That is, your messages highlight a specific program and thus, focus on a singular conversion goal (sign-up, try, buy).

To nurture leads even more effectively, you can further customize autoresponders with “if” scenarios. Email services and marketing automation tools will allow you to modify the specific email message that will be delivered next based on the behavior of the recipient (clicked, or didn’t; purchased, or didn’t).

Transaction emails

Transactional emails are designed to automatically fulfill a customer action, such as a request or new order. For examples, these types of emails might be a response to a reservation for a webinar, a request for product demo, or even signing up for an email list.

As a marketer, you should take advantage of the fact the customer has just actively engaged by providing a specific call-to-action. Research indicates transactional messages help increase revenue and brand recognition.

Five ways to improve your open rates

Your open rates will be affected by your subject lines and your reputation as an email marketer. Keep the following tips in mind.

Keep your subject lines simple.

People blast through their inbox with their finger on the delete key. For higher open rates, be sure to make your subject lines simple and relevant to your subscriber’s interests as well as the content of your email.

Write short subject lines.

Research indicates short subjects lines work better. I’ve tested the theory many times and have concluded the research to be accurate.

Email marketing experts generally recommend subject lines that are 50 characters or shorter. If you write longer subject lines, portions may not be seen due to the screen space of the recipient.


Open rates begin to decline when subject lines exceed 10 words.

Today, more than half of all email is accessed via a mobile device, which introduces an even greater challenge with screen space. A timely infographic from Mass Transmit offers useful guidance on the use of subject lines for mobile.

Perfect your timing.

You’ll want to time your email deliveries as best you can. You’ll need to experiment a bit. In most cases, early morning deliveries perform best. Weekend emails perform better than you probably expect. Get insightful research findings from this great infographic.

Consider spam filters.

Spam filters work differently, so there’s a good bit of mystery surrounding the subject. To be on the safe side, avoid the use of “free,” “save,” and other financial lures in subject lines. Never play subject line games like the all-too-common use of “Re: or Fwd:” in the subject line.

Again, spam is in the eyes of the beholder (or spam filter), but If you’re questioning whether your subject is spammy, it probably is. Reconsider your subject line—or your entire email. HubSpot offers an extensive list of spammy words here.

Earn trust.

IMO, no factor weighs more heavily into your success or failure with your email marketing programs than the sender line, which, of course, is the first thing recipients see in their inbox.

Use your name or your company name. No exceptions. No updates@. No reminder @, or anything@ except your name.

Most importantly, be a good citizen of the email marketing world. When you consistently deliver useful email, your sender line is a positive signal to the reader.

Four ways to increase effectiveness with segmentation

Segmenting your email database into groups with specific interests and sending unique messages to each is a proven way to improve effectiveness. By segmenting your email lists, you’ll deliver more relevant email and demonstrated to your customers you’re tuned into their specific needs.

Creating segmented lists might be simpler than you realize. You could stratify lists simply by those that have and have not bought products from you.

Smart segmentation approaches include:

Recognize new subscribers.

Roll out the welcome wagon to new subscribers. Think about the questions and concerns newcomers have and create a special track to answer their questions, share resources you offer, encourage dialogue and nurture the lead toward a sale. A “welcome” autoresponder series for new subscribers could prove highly beneficial.

Reheat cold contacts.

Often, over time, subscribers’ interest wanes, though they may note opt-out. You should be able to create a segment of non-responsive subscribers. Send these people an email asking them how you can better help them.

Offer responsive subscribers something special.

Consider sending your most responsive subscribers an special email to reward or thank them. A special “thanks” promotion might help increase engagement or even sales. You might also offer loyal readers early access to new products, events, and content.

Create interest groups.

Your business can probably be segmented by “interest groups,” say for example, by gender-specific products or price points. Use your data to create segments by interest and you’ll deliver a more personal and satisfying experience for your readers.

There’s more

We covered email marketing strategies, the different types of email, ways to improve open rates and list segmentation strategies, but there’s more to come. In part three of our email marketing services, we’ll look at how to use email metrics to test and refine your tactics as well as the top four email marketing no-no’s.

Want more? Read Part I of this series, “Where it’s at or Old Hat?” or skip ahead to Part III, “The Secrets to Achieving Better Results.”

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