Some good SEO work will drive new visitors to your site, and social media networks are great for sharing your content as soon as it’s live on your website. But often your most valuable visitors are the ones who already know about your site—especially if it’s a business—and you want to keep those people coming back. That’s where email newsletters can be extremely valuable.
Got a new product, promotion, or limited-time discount for your business? Send an email to your subscribers. Just added some great new content? Send an email to your subscribers. Making a major update to your site? Send an … you get the idea.
Choosing an email marketing service
The best advice here is to shop around. Most email marketing services let you create an account for free. You can create emails and even send test campaigns, and won’t have to pay until you actually start sending emails to your subscribers.
All services have their pros and cons. Do some research, create a few free accounts, and see what works best based on the number of emails you want to send, the features offered, and your own technical savvy.
A few popular services to check out:
*Campaign Monitor is my preferred email marketing service. They don’t force you to include their branding in your email footers, they make it easy to include social sharing options in your emails, it’s easy to import your own designs and make them compatible with most email clients, and their stat tracking is outstanding. But again, each service has its pros and cons. Here are a few articles with detailed recommendations.
Before you can send an email newsletter you need subscribers. You can’t just send an email to anyone you choose—you need permission.
- Don’t purchase lists of email addresses. Email marketing services don’t mess around—they’ll recognize that you’re spamming and quickly suspend or shut down your account.
- You can manually add subscribers, but remember that you need permission. Someone signed up for your newsletter at a seminar, convention, in-store, etc.? Add them to your subscriber list. Someone recently purchased a product from your website? You can add them to your list, too.
- Most email newsletter services have features that allow you to create a signup form and embed it on your website. It’s the most seamless way to add subscribers.
- It’s cool to promote your newsletter signup form on social media, but do it sparingly, and remember to tell people why they should sign up. What are the benefits? Notifications about new content? Exclusive discounts? There’s gotta be a hook.
If you’ve got some HTML and CSS skills you’ll get the greatest flexibility by creating your own emails from scratch. Coding emails can be tricky because some of the most popular email clients are finicky when it comes to how HTML emails are displayed (Gmail especially).
- A lot of email clients (Gmail again!) don’t play nice with CSS, so all styling needs to be done inline. However, you can code an email with CSS and then use a free service like Premailer to automatically move your CSS inline. Some email marketing services will automatically move your CSS inline when you import a .HTML file.
- Get some inspiration! Here’s a terrific infographic on email design best practices. Campaign Monitor has a nice gallery of email designs. You can find tons of other examples of great email design by searching.
- Don’t know how to code, or you’re nervous about getting it right? It’s probably best to stick to the template-building options that your email marketing service offers. The templates may not be the prettiest, but they’ll be readable when they reach your readers’ inboxes, and that’s what’s most important.**
**If you’re going this route, it’s my personal opinion that Constant Contact’s templates are ugly and their design interface is clumsy and awkward.
That’s it for Part 1. Next week I’ll discuss best practices for subject lines and email content, scheduling tips, and a few other bits and pieces about email marketing.