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Guide to Email Marketing

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

Email marketing is critical for small businesses. Here's your step-by-step guide on how to do it.

In terms of reaching customers, email marketing falls somewhere between the wide, impersonal reach of a billboard and the highly personal feel of a handwritten note. Ever since the first marketing email was sent in 1978 and resulted in $13 million in sales, email marketing has grown into a flourishing industry that sends millions of emails every day. Specific guidelines, etiquette and best practices around email marketing have also been established.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that uses email to send marketing messages to a specific list of customers or subscribers. Effective email marketing can convert prospects into customers and convert one-time buyers into loyal customers. Email marketing is one of the most effective forms of digital marketing, with a high return on investment (ROI), returning $38 for every $1 spent, according to Campaign Monitor.  

What is an email marketing campaign?

An email marketing campaign is a coordinated set of individual emails that are sent over a certain period of time with one specific purpose, referred to as a call to action (CTA). Examples of common email marketing CTAs include downloading a white paper, signing up for a webinar or making a purchase.

The main goals of an email marketing campaign should be to have a well-written and attention-grabbing subject line, focused content and a specific CTA that helps you achieve your campaign's goal.

Email campaigns are generally created through the use of an email marketing service, which can streamline the entire process, from creating the campaign to analyzing the results.

Email marketing pricing

Generally, pricing of email marketing services varies depending on the provider, what features it offers and your business's unique needs. The size of your subscriber base, the number of messages you expect to send each month and the analytics features you need all influence the cost of an email marketing service. For example, if you had 500 contacts and wanted to send unlimited emails each month with features such as a template suite, marketing automation and analytics, you could expect to pay around $30 each month.

Pros of email marketing

Here are some of the main benefits of using email marketing:

  • Building relationships with customers. Because email marketing can be highly customizable, it makes it easy to build personal relationships with customers. By using data on customer behavior, likes and dislikes, and demographics, you can target each campaign to appeal directly to specific groups of customers, which often results in higher customer engagement.

  • Boosting brand awareness. Sending regular emails helps keep your business at the top of customers' minds, since you'll be at the top of their inbox whenever they log in to their email. You can also easily gain new customers by sending follow-up campaigns after a new customer visits your website or makes a purchase.

  • Promoting your content. Email is an excellent avenue for sharing news, updates and fresh content about your company, since there are so many media options and ways to display content. Include relevant business news, exclusive coupons or deals, or links to videos or blog posts.

  • Generating leads. Through email, you can entice customers to consent to receiving regular email updates in exchange for something they find valuable, like a discount code or voucher, which gains you new customers for your subscriber list.

  • Marketing your products. An easy way to market your products is to include them in your emails. Sending out regular emails with product information is a great way to remind customers of what you have to offer.

  • Saving money. Compared with other digital marketing options, such as social media marketing, email is relatively affordable, especially when you shop around to find a plan that works for your business's budget.

  • Reaching a large audience. Nearly everyone in the world with an online presence has an email address, meaning you have billions of chances to get your business in front of people. "The average American checks their email 15 times a day," said Leanna DeBellevue, owner and CEO of DeBellevue Global. "As long as you can create a headline that piques their interest, the probability of getting in front of someone directly is high."

Cons of email marketing

Before starting a campaign or searching for a provider, however, you should be aware of these potential drawbacks of email marketing:

  • Getting marked as spam. Because email marketing is so popular, many customers experience "email fatigue," leading them to mark many marketing emails as spam. This can relegate your emails to the spam folder, where they are never seen or opened.

  • Having trouble reaching the right audience. One trick for avoiding the spam box is to target your campaigns. If a recipient identifies with your message, they're much more likely to open it and read what you have to say. That's why it's important to make groups and lists within your contacts: If you send a message to everyone on your list, it probably won't apply to half of them, so your efforts are wasted.
    "Context is king! Don't write an email for just anyone," said Kevin McKenzie, co-owner of Built-Right Digital. "Write it for the recipient. Address them by name, talk about subjects that will interest them and help them do their jobs better."

  • Limiting creativity options. Although email is highly customizable, there are many conventions, compliance rules and template limits you should adhere to for the best chance of having a successful campaign.

Email marketing compliance

Several laws guide and govern the use of email marketing. The main law businesses need to be concerned about in the United States is the CAN-SPAM Act, which dictates a number of conditions that email marketers must follow to avoid receiving a hefty fine. The laws are aimed mostly at spammers and work to prevent the unauthorized use of people's email addresses. So, if you are a legitimate business using an email marketing tool to send your campaigns, you're likely already in compliance.

How to comply with email marketing laws

Here are six simple things you can do to ensure you're complying with email marketing laws:

1. Make sure you have consent to email people on your list.

The main goal of the CAN-SPAM Act is to prevent spammers from contacting people without their permission, so this is the most important thing you can do to ensure you're staying in compliance. There are two types of permission: express and implicit.

Implicit permission is when you have an existing business relationship with someone, such as an existing customer, a donor or an active member of your website.

If you do not have implicit permission, you'll need express permission, which is when someone actively grants permission for you to send them emails by entering their email address into a form.

2. Be upfront with header information.

Your header information is anything extra sent with your email campaign, including the "from" name, subject line and reply-to address. Email marketing laws state that you must not include inaccurate or misleading information in these fields to trick people into opening your emails.

3. Be transparent about the purpose of your emails.

The CAN-SPAM Act states that you must disclose your marketing emails as advertisements to avoid misleading customers, though there is a lot of leeway in how you do this. You don't have to explicitly state, "This email is an advertisement," every time; just make it clear that the email is a promotional message from a business and not a personal email from a friend.

4. Include a valid mailing address.

You should include a valid postal address for your company in all of your emails. This can be a current street address, a P.O. box or an address with a registered commercial mail-receiving company.

5. Make it easy to opt out.

Each of your marketing emails should include a clear and conspicuous option to opt out of receiving future emails from you.

6. Honor opt-out requests in a timely manner.

The CAN-SPAM Act stipulates that you must honor all opt-out requests within 10 business days, and that you cannot charge a fee for opting out, require the recipient to provide any identifying information beyond their email address, or require multiple steps besides a reply email or visiting a webpage to opt out.

Tips for creating an effective email marketing strategy

Before you create your email marketing campaign, it's important to have a detailed strategy that can help guide you during the creation process and give you a clear goal. Follow these tips for developing a successful email marketing strategy:

Define your audience.

For an email to be effective, it needs to be relevant to the recipient. A 20-year-old fashion student probably isn't interested in an email about construction equipment, for example, so start with a customer profile to understand who your audience is and what they want to see from you.

Establish your goals.

Each of your campaigns should have a goal. Don't just send campaigns for the sake of sending them – this can come off as annoying and unnecessary to customers. For example, do you want to gain new customers, explain a new product or service, or increase brand awareness?

Make it easy for people to sign up.

One of the hardest parts of email marketing is building an email list with genuine, interested customers, so you'll want to make that process as easy as possible. Include a pop-up box when people enter your website, have links to sign up in your social media posts and make sign-up forms easy to find.

"You'll never get any email subscribers if you don't ask or make it easy," said Colin Little, owner of Social Launch. "If you're not technically proficient, hire a local digital marketing expert to set up email capture for you."

Decide on a campaign type early on.

There are many types of campaigns, and each has a different purpose. Consider your goal and audience research when deciding whether to send a newsletter, announcement or blog post update.

Schedule your emails.

One of the best ways to build a loyal following is to have a steady email schedule so that customers know what to expect and when. Most email marketing services offer built-in scheduling services to help make this step easy.

How to create an email marketing campaign

Creating an email marketing campaign is simple, especially when you have a goal in mind and have decided which provider is best for you. Follow these steps to create your email marketing campaign:

1. Set a goal.

The first thing you should do when starting an email campaign is decide what you want the campaign to accomplish for your business. Having a clear goal in mind will help guide you through the process and assist you in making key decisions. Here are some common campaign goals:

  • Driving website traffic
  • Spurring online or in-person sales
  • Promoting products or services
  • Welcoming new members
  • Sending news
  • Requesting donations

2. Choose an email marketing service.

To choose a service, think about your business needs and your goal, and find the service that best fits those requirements.

3. Build an email list.

Creating your email list will likely be the most time-consuming part of the process, but it's a necessary one. Your email list is the most vital part of your email marketing campaign, as it creates your target audience. And while it can be tempting to buy email lists, you're much better off growing your list organically, since it's the best way to ensure you're reaching people who want to receive your emails and will engage with your content. Here are some places to source email addresses for your list:

  • Existing email lists
  • Email accounts
  • Customer relationship management software
  • Contact management systems
  • E-commerce systems
  • Requests for new emails via social media or your website

4. Segment your email list.

Once you have your email list, it's important to segment it. This allows you to send targeted emails to your audience based on their interests or demographic information. The more relevant an email is to someone, the more likely they are to open and engage with it. Here are some examples of ways to segment your audience:

  • Geography
  • Demographics
  • Past purchases
  • Buyer behavior
  • Expressed interests
  • Email engagement

5. Create a campaign, and build your email.

If you use an email marketing platform, creating an email campaign is straightforward, though the exact steps will vary based on the provider. Most services offer templates and provide guidance on where to place elements such as headers and CTAs.

6. Use autoresponders.

Most email marketing software includes autoresponders, which, as the name suggests, automate the sending of emails. This feature can be triggered by specific actions, like a customer submitting their email address, or timed for regular sending. Autoresponders are used to generate leads, build trust, provide purchase or shipping confirmation emails, send transactional emails and convey useful information to customers.

Autoresponders can save you a lot of time and effort by automatically knowing when to send triggered emails, like an email newsletter or a welcome email.

7. Enable tracking and analytics.

The best way to understand your email campaigns is to be actively involved in their analytics, which can tell you where you need to improve, how many customers are engaging with your emails and more. There are hundreds of ways to customize your analytics to give you exactly the numbers you're looking for. Here are some key metrics to track:

  • Unique open rate. This is the number of distinct recipients who have opened your emails.

  • Click-through rate. The click-through rate tracks how many recipients click one or more links within your email.

  • Bounce rate. The bounce rate is how often your emails are rejected by email servers. A high bounce rate indicates that your email list has many unproductive addresses.

  • Unsubscribe rate. This is how many people have requested to opt out of receiving your emails. An unsubscribe rate of over 1% means you should reevaluate your content and make it more relevant to your audience.

How to choose an email marketing service

With so many options available, it can be difficult to know which email marketing service is right for your business. Here are some tips to help you choose an email marketing platform:

Consider your business's needs.

Start by examining your business. What do you need an email service provider to do for you? Do you need a start-to-finish, full-featured service? Or do you just want help segmenting your contact list? Knowing your needs can help you narrow down your options.

Have a goal in mind.

Set a goal for each campaign or an overall goal you hope to accomplish through email marketing. Then, consider this goal along with your business's needs to determine which platforms can meet those needs and help you accomplish your goals.

Know what features you want.

It can be helpful to make a list of features you want in an email marketing platform in order of priority: the features that are absolutely necessary, the features you would like and the features you don't feel you need.

Have an idea of your sending numbers and list volume.

Because most email marketing services offer monthly or annual plans based on how many emails you send and how many subscribers you have, you should have at least a solid estimate of these numbers so you can determine your costs.

Find out if you'll need the option to scale.

If you know your business will be growing in the near future, be sure to choose a provider that can grow with you. Many platforms offer multiple pricing plans that can evolve as your business does.

Best email marketing services

Here are some of our top picks for email marketing services:

Benchmark Email

Benchmark has a free plan that allows you to send up to 250 emails per month to an unlimited number of subscribers. Benchmark also offers features such as a drag-and-drop editor, email templates and the option to use custom HTML to build your own email designs.


Mailchimp is a popular option because it provides a full-featured service for free. The Free Forever plan allows users to send up to 12,000 monthly emails to 2,000 contacts, and offers paid plans that support more emails and subscribers. Mailchimp is easy to use and has plenty of customizable options, as well as key features such as list segmentation and automation.

Constant Contact

Constant Contact offers plans to fit any budget, all of the important features for a successful campaign and a user-friendly interface. The service provides an easy-to-use email builder tool and plenty of automation options that make creating campaigns a breeze.


Sendinblue is a great option for larger businesses or businesses that have a large email volume. With this service, you pay only for what you use, which also makes it a good choice for companies on a budget. Sendinblue offers unlimited contacts, a drag-and-drop email editor and detailed list segmentation tools.

Image Credit: BongkarnThanyakij / Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski Staff
Kiely Kuligowski is a and Business News Daily writer and has written more than 200 B2B-related articles on topics designed to help small businesses market and grow their companies. Kiely spent hundreds of hours researching, analyzing and writing about the best marketing services for small businesses, including email marketing and text message marketing software. Additionally, Kiely writes on topics that help small business owners and entrepreneurs boost their social media engagement on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.