There is an art to sending emails. The first step to creating said art is following the three basic golden rules, which are: don’t spam, be a friend and automate your emails.

If you’re going to start implementing email marketing as part of your marketing mix, you probably also want to know all of the ins and outs about making emails – unfortunately they don’t just magically appear no matter how hard you stare at your computer screen. Let’s just say I know from experience.

Here, I’ll cover techniques and guidelines — six to be exact — for crafting better emails. 

  1. Make sure your emails are hitting the right inbox.
  2. Give a clear reason for opening your email.
  3. Send the email from someone they know.
  4. Greet your audience by name.
  5. Make sure your emails are free of errors and pretty (but not too pretty!).
  6. Track your results.

But first, the back story…

Initially, I prepared this information as a 20 minute talk from our annual CoMoGives marketing workshop. CoMoGives is a month long, year-end giving campaign that we run in our community of Columbia, Missouri. This year 138 nonprofits will get donations through a website that we built and manage. Together with the Community Foundation, we raised over $800,000 in 2018 year for local nonprofits. It’s pretty much awesome.

After a few years of running the CoMoGive campaign, I realized many of the participating nonprofits were super unequipped to run a fundraising campaign themselves. So we initiated a marketing workshop where — for four hours — we sit down and talk about concepts and techniques that will help them market themselves and raise money for their organizations.

Here’s the slides and workbook from the presentation in case you’re someone who likes slides and workbooks. Feel free to download them before we get going with the rest of this article.

In past workshops, we spoke so much about social media, ads and planning a campaign, we just we never dug into emails, so why now?

Two years ago, we were planning the CoMoGives campaign and focused heavily on doing online ads that year. We were totally gung ho on Google Ads because we had just been to a workshop. And when I say workshop, I mean it was more of a week-long bootcamp that we actually drove out of state for. So much car karaoke and exquisite harmonies.

Anyway, we thought this was definitely the way to go, but after running them for a week and a half, we looked at them and saw no one was converting…. Tons of clicks, sure… but no donations. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

Tips for Writing Effective Emails - Man shuns Google Ads in one frame and then embraces Email in another

Google did not come through for us that day, but we were not emotionally attached to our marketing plans — I firmly believe no marketer should be. Digital marketing is a gigantic social science experiment, and this particular social science experiment had failed.

Our backup plan was to send emails to all the past CoMoGives donors, so we took four years of donor data, scheduled three emails over the course of the campaign and turned off the Google Ads.

The results were ridiculous: the conversion rate on those emails were soo much higher than ads! 

Email accounted for only 7% of the total donations that came in through the campaign, bringing in $55,376, but the conversion rate was 16%. The only thing that converted higher were direct visitors – which was 17%.

This is impressive, because direct visitors generally know what they’re doing when they get to your website — they’re visiting because they have your domain name memorized, or have your site bookmarked.

tips for writing effective emails - CoMoGives metrics: Direct Visitors had over $370k in donations with a 17.06% conversion rate, Organic Search had over $252k in donations with a 9.70% conversion rate, Referral traffic had over $50k in donations with a 10.02% conversion rate, Email had over $55k in donations with a 16.12% conversion rate, Social Media had over $64k in donations with a 5,62% conversion rate.

We loved seeing those numbers! Obviously email was killing it.

Hence I decided to talk about email marketing at the CoMoGives Marketing Workshop because email marketing is something nonprofits already understand.

Now, onto how you can benefit from all this goodness…

The Tips

Okay, after that long-winded intro, let’s get to it and talk about the six things that make a successful email.

0. Hit “Send.”

This is labeled 0 because…well, it’s not really a tip so much as a “duh.” You have to physically send the email for it to arrive in someone’s inbox. So if you’re just not sending the email, and if you’re not sure why you want to send emails, go back over to our Why Email Marketing is Important post and re-familiarize yourself with the content there.

1. Make sure your emails are hitting actual inboxes.

If you use Gmail, then you know that it automatically sorts emails into tabs, which creates a roadblock for email marketers. That means that when your messages come in, they are divided into category tabs. You can define what categories you want them to be in – there’s Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates by default. If you’re not careful, your email marketing messages are going to show up in Promotions.

That sucks, because when I’m asking people for donations to CoMoGives that have to be done within a one month period, I need them to be in Primary so the recipients actually SEE the emails. This is especially true if I’m asking them over the holidays when marketers are spamming the crap out of them with tons of crazy offerings.

The good news is you can avoid the auto-sorting inbox and spam filters by being normal. Straight up. Be normal. And follow steps three through five.

2. Give a clear reason for opening your email.

Make sure the reason for your email is clear and relevant. People have to open the email to read it, and that means that you have to establish the need to open said email.

That’s where your subject line comes in. You see people creating urgency with phrases like “don’t miss” and “last chance” in their subject lines. Pay attention to what makes you want to open an email and try to emulate that.

There’s also things that you don’t want to do in the subject line of your email like:

  • ALL CAPS
  • Multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!!

For a while, including emojis in email subject lines was a big question mark, but there are supportive studies showing they aren’t bad to include. Just don’t overdo it. 😉

3. Send the email from someone they know.

Are you more likely to answer the phone from an unknown caller or someone you really know? 

Gmail weighs several factors to judge whether your email deserves a reply. It mainly looks at the frequency of previous interactions between a sender and a recipient. When applicable, it also reminds people when they haven’t replied yet.

The two reasons why it’s important to send emails from someone your audience knows are:

  1. Your audience prefers it, and they’re more likely to open the email.
  2. You are more likely to get it into the Primary inbox if it is from someone they’ve had frequent conversations with before.

For example: If your salesperson is the one usually talking to your customers, you would send your sales emails from that salesperson’s email address and not a general inbox (like [email protected] or [email protected]).

4. Greet your audience by name.

Many email marketing programs can include a recipient’s first name into your emails – you can put it in the subject line and body of the email.

You can make this easy on yourself by organizing your email addresses into a spreadsheet using three columns:

  1. One column for first name
  2. One column for last name
  3. And one column for email address

Then when you go to import them into your email marketing platform, you can use a merge field in your email subject and body to pull in your recipients’ first names.

Storytime – Why Using Names is so Effective

One year we had a tailgate, and it was fun (as most tailgates are). We had smoked meats – compliments of my awesome meat-making husband – and invited all of our clients. I sent multiple emails (three to be exact). The first two, nobody looked at.

Nobody? For realz? Yes, for realz. I know because I care about the data tracking of the things.

We used Emma to send the emails, and with Emma, you can see who opens them. I could see all the people that I sent it to and all the people who opened it, or in this case, didn’t open it. As a last ditch effort, I sent a third email to get people to come to my event. I said, “Hey, Katie, we’re having a tailgate. Do you want to come?” and guess what — people opened the email.

So I’m here to tell you that when you do it, it actually does work. Use. People’s. Names.

5. Make sure your emails are free of errors and pretty (but not too pretty).

Maybe I should say, make them not ugly.

Here’s why…

When you choose a pretty template in an email marketing platform, that email is built through HTML. Heavy HTML in an email is an indicator to Google that it’s a promotional email and should be put in the Promotions tab. Which makes sense. When was the last time you emailed somebody in normal correspondence, and you put everything in tables, added a gigantic teal background, reversed out the text in white letters, and included buttons and photos? Yup. Never.

Here’s a few more tips to keep your emails out of the Promotions tab and get people to actually open them:

  • Feature some message characteristics that aren’t purely promotional.
  • Communicate clearly with people.
  • Keep your content short (bulleted lists – like this one! – are handy to keep everything concise).
  • Don’t use a bajillion links and images (this is also a signal to Google that you’re sending a promotional email).

Even if you have 5 links in your email going to the same page, Google still counts that as 5 links and can make your email seem overly promotional. That’s straight from the mouth of the horse – Google being the horse. So try to send your emails with just one link.

I also read an article about someone who took a simple, unstyled Mailchimp email and added all kinds of things. As soon as they added price, the email ended up in the Promotions tab.

There are testing tools out online, so definitely test this out.

One tool is litmus.com. They have a free trial for 30 days, and after that, it’s about $100 a month. You can you try it out for free, learn what you need to learn, and then move on from there.

Be friendly to mobile.

This tip for making sure your emails are pretty and free of errors gets its own section. Why? Mobile responsiveness for websites is hugely important to the Google gods, so you’ve got to make sure your email works on mobile, too. A lot of people open their emails on their phone, so this should be a required step.

Some emails tools (like MailChimp) have a feature where you can preview the email on tablet or mobile.

6. Track ‘em!

At-a-Glance Snapshot of MailChimp Tracking Report

I knew my tailgate emails didn’t work because I tracked them. The reason we knew our CoMoGives emails worked is because we had tracking on both the emails and the website.

You can’t win at marketing if you’re not tracking because you won’t know what to improve or remove.

A Few Methods for Sending Emails

Method #1: Send them from your inbox.

This method is great for newbies, but it will still yield great results for pros who have the time to put into sending one-off emails because it’s super personal.

One really neat thing I’ve seen nonprofits do is “Thank You” videos in a personal email. If someone makes a big donation, do a quick almost selfie-like video saying “Thanks!” You can literally just record yourself sitting at your laptop or desk and say, “Hey Katie, thank you so much for your donation to CoMoGives. It helped 138 local nonprofits spread good throughout the community.”

If you’re going to track your emails from Gmail, try Mailtrack.io – I use it on my email account. It tells me whether or not people have opened an email I sent. Boomerang and HubSpot Sales (which has an Outlook plugin) also lets you do that. They all have limited usage for free.

Here’s the deal though — if you’re sending your emails in bulk rather than one at a time, you need to send in very small batches. You can get blacklisted if you send emails in big batches. If you’re sending your emails more than a few at a time, though, you might consider using an email marketing service. MailChimp has a free plan you can check out.

If you’re sending from Outlook or Gmail, make sure you include a way to unsubscribe. It can be very rudimentary, like “Reply ‘Unsubscribe’ to this Email to Unsubscribe.” This method is great for very small groups. Like I said, though, I don’t think it’s ideal to be batching out this way all the time for your regular email marketing. Investing in something a bit more robust can save you gobs of time.

Method #2: Send personalized messages to small groups from a spreadsheet.

If you’re still not on board with signing up for an actual email marketing service, you can do a mail merge. This lets you use a Google Sheet and your Gmail to send an email to many recipients at once, complete with customized attachments, messages, salutations, everything. Here’s a great how-to video on doing a mail merge (Thank you to the awesome person who made this awesome video, by the way. I’ve referenced it many times).

Keep in mind if you send via mail merge, there is no tracking. And once again, you need to do this in very small batches, and include a way to unsubscribe.

At MayeCreate, we only send emails via mail merge when we need to notify clients of something really important, like an address change, billing change, etc, so we use it very selectively.

The takeaway on sending bulk emails is…

The best plan is to choose a mass email service provider. We like using MailChimpEmma and Constant Contact. There’s so much tracking in them, lots of A/B testing capabilities, you can automate your emails via RSS feed and more.

MailChimp also has a few other useful features:

  • MailChimp can decide when the best time to send an email is for you
  • Easy, drag-and-drop interface to build attractive emails
  • Free for up to 2,000 subscribers
  • Email scheduling

Fín (The End)

You can implement these six rules, techniques, guidelines – whatever you want to call them – to create emails that actually land in people’s inboxes.

What were the six rules again?

  1. Make sure your emails are hitting the right inbox.
  2. Give a clear reason for opening your email.
  3. Send the email from someone they know.
  4. Greet your audience by name.
  5. Make sure your emails are free of errors and pretty (but not too pretty!).
  6. Track your results.

Just a reminder we do have the slides from this presentation and also a workbook that you can download. Check out our other email marketing resources below, including two ebooks just about email marketing that are free to download, and more email marketing related stuff in our blog.

More about the Author

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Monica Pitts

Monica is the creative force and founder of MayeCreate. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics, Education and Plant Science from the University of Missouri. Monica possesses a rare combination of design savvy and technological know-how. Her clients know this quite well. Her passion for making friends and helping businesses grow gives her the skills she needs to make sure that each client, or friend, gets the attention and service he or she deserves.

© MayeCreate Design 2020 | 573-447-1836 | [email protected] | 700 Cherry St. Suite C, Columbia, MO 65201