13
min read

Email marketing best practices and tips for 2022

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On average, email earns $36 for every $1 spent. The next–highest ROI growth channel returns half that.

In 2022, you simply need a strong email marketing strategy to grow your business.

Email stands out as a growth marketing channel because it’s permission-based. Unlike ads, subscribers choose to hear from you. If you play your cards right, you earn access to inboxes—and you earn trust.

Commerce follows trust.

Given the importance of email marketing, we spent a month interviewing top email marketers at fast-growing startups. These are practitioners—folks who are actually scaling email marketing engines. Email isn’t just an afterthought for them. It’s their craft.

Turns out, most of the legacy advice you’ll find on the internet is outdated at best, and very often misleading.

So this blog post breaks down a list of 10 email marketing best practices and tips that have been rigorously tested this year. You can immediately apply them to your email marketing strategy.

1. Grow your email list in 3 simple steps

2. How to write subject lines that actually get clicks

3. Great marketing emails are mobile-first

4. Use automation: segmentation and email flows

5. Change your call to action (CTA) to a call to value

6. Improve deliverability to get your emails in more inboxes

7. Ignore open rates—here are the metrics that matter

8. The best marketing automation tools based on your business model

9. Optimal time to send emails

10. Practice good email list hygiene

Why does email marketing even matter?

Before we dive in, it pays to know the two main reasons why email marketing is worth investing in.

1. Email is an owned channel

It’s great to grow a Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn following. But with social media, only a fraction of your audience will ever see your organic content. You’re at the mercy of an algorithm that decides whether to surface your content.

With email, you're directly in subscribers’ inboxes. No gatekeepers.

2. Email is high ROI

Email is the most profitable marketing channel.

Why? Because it’s cheap to send emails, and your best-converting customers are people who are already on your list. Email is where the most dollars remain uncaptured.

Breakdown of email ROI by industry
A breakdown of email ROI by industry from Litmus.

Email marketing best practices and tips

We’ll skip the basics. Instead, here’s a list of email marketing tips that the pros are implementing to build real, fast-growing businesses.

Use them to create an email marketing engine that turns prospects and leads into paying customers, and that retains existing customers for high lifetime value.

1. Grow your email list in 3 simple steps

You don’t need a huge list. Instead, you want a growing list of people who are likely to trust you and buy from you.

The quality of your email marketing strategy comes down to the quality of your subscribers.

Here’s a tried-and-true email list growth framework for getting the right type of people to join your list.

Step 1: Choose a lead gen offer (lead magnet)

Create a lead magnet: a valuable resource you offer leads in exchange for their email addresses.

When a person visits your site and sees your lead magnet, they’re going to decide whether the magnet—the incentive—is attractive enough to justify providing access to their inbox.

Examples:

  • For ecommerce: A discount, free shipping, or product giveaway contest
  • For SaaS: Free trials and demos or free tools
  • For B2B: Gated high-quality content (white papers, ebooks, guides) or webinars
Vuori lead gen 15% off first purchase
Fast-growing ecommerce companies like Vuori often offer a first-purchase discount as their lead magnet.

Step 2: Select a lead source (traffic source)

A lead source sends traffic to your lead magnet.

We suggest leaning into your main growth marketing channel, which is typically where most of your traffic is already coming from. We can help you develop your growth channel when you enroll in the Growth Program.

If you don’t yet have traffic coming to your site, experiment with these tactics:

  • Paid promotion: Ads are the fastest way to drive email signups. You can pay to send traffic to your lead gen landing page. The ad channels that work best for lead gen include Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok.
  • Organic social media: Send your organic social media traffic to your lead magnet. Post about it, and link it in your bio.
  • Online communities: Add value to communities where your target audience hangs out. Slack groups, Reddit, Discord, etc. Answer questions, engage in discussions, make introductions—be as helpful as you can. Then occasionally share your lead magnet landing page with community members to move some of them over to your list.

You want to tap a source where you can get your lead gen asset in front of high-value leads.

Step 3: Set up email signup forms

Create email capture forms to pitch your lead gen asset. We suggest using a combination of the two types of forms below:

  • Standard forms: Add an inline form to your landing page that clearly highlights the value of your lead magnet. Ask for an email in exchange.
  • Popups: Marketers love to hate them, but they convert people who wouldn’t fill out a standard form. Consider adding one to your site.
Demand Cruve newsletter signup form
Our Growth Newsletter is one of our primary lead magnets. We set up a form on our blog to offer a valuable content asset to our readers.

While you’re working through each step of the framework, consider experimenting with different email list growth tactics.

Remember, quality of email subscribers matters more than quantity. Email addresses that sit idle on your list are worth little and can actually hurt your email deliverability, something we’ll cover later.

2. How to write subject lines that actually get clicks

If people don't open your email, then your design, copy, and clever tactics won’t matter.

Your subject line (along with past email quality) determines whether people open your email.

Every email subject line you write should pique curiosity and be self-evident, personalized, and concise.

  • Pique curiosity: Subject lines are like cliffhangers. Provide an inkling of the content within without revealing too much. Intrigue readers to open to satisfy their curiosity.
  • Self-evident: You don’t want people guessing why you’re bugging them.
  • Personalized: Your campaigns should be segmented (covered shortly in this post). Use a subject that's hyper-relevant to each sub-audience.
  • Concise: Use 30 characters or less, or your subject will be cut off on mobile—and mobile users won’t open.

If you have the time when you’re setting up a new email, consider A/B testing your subject lines. You can do this for broadcasts like newsletters or campaigns like nurture flows.

Create multiple subject lines for a given email, and A/B test them on roughly 10% of your list or segment.

Then set up your email service provider (ESP) to send the variant that receives the highest open rate to the rest of your list or segment.

We've found that small iterations on your initial subject line work best because they require less time to write. And slight tweaks to your email subject line can lead to significant swings in open rates.

Subject line A/B test
Here's an example of a test we ran for a recent campaign, set up in Customer.io.

People are often curious about whether they should include emojis in subject lines. 

We’ve seen emails do well with and without them. Context matters, of course. Consumer businesses—ecommerce and consumer SaaS—with playful, casual brands can often get high open rates by using a single emoji in a subject line. Multiple emojis can come across as over-the-top and unprofessional.

Morning Brew subject line
Morning Brew uses a single emoji here and keeps the subject under 30 characters. It’s clean and enticing in inboxes.

When in doubt, run a quick test and go with the winning variant.

Also, avoid clickbait like the plague. This is one of the biggest mistakes marketers make when it comes to subject lines. People might open your emails, but they’ll soon associate your brand with spam—hurting your email open rates in the long run.

Clickbait subject line
You likely wouldn't open a message with a spammy subject like this.

3. Great marketing emails are mobile-first

Most people read email on their phones.

Sounds obvious, but marketers neglect this far too often because there’s a disconnect—they use desktop platforms to create and send emails. It's easy to overlook mobile when you're working from a desktop computer.

If you're not creating mobile-first emails, your email marketing campaigns aren't fully optimized. 

The good news is that it's easy for email clients like Gmail and internet service providers (ISPs) to automatically adapt mobile-first designs to desktop (whereas the opposite isn’t true). So if you optimize for mobile, your design will look sharp regardless of the device.

Here's how you create great mobile-first emails:

  • Back to subject lines. Remember, 30 characters or less to prevent them from getting cut off on mobile.
  • Use a narrower, single-column design with plenty of negative space. This performs better on vertical screens.
  • Use only big, legible fonts.
  • Create large, easy-to-click calls-to-action (CTAs).
  • Use small image files only. Many mobile devices are running weak processors. Compress your image files to prevent people from bouncing because of slow load times.
  • Send a test email, and read it on your own phone before scheduling it.
  • Add alt text to images in case they don’t render correctly on mobile.
  • Don’t forget to add preheader text (preview text)—the text that appears next to or below your subject in email services like Gmail. 

Spotify’s year-end music recap executes mobile-first email to a T.

Subject: Your 2021 Wrapped is finally here—just over 30 characters long, and it's visible on most mobile devices.

Spotify email

Take a look at the bullet points above one more time. See how it weaves in all the elements of a great mobile-first email?

4. Use automation: segmentation and email flows

Marketers generate 760% more email revenue from segmented email marketing campaigns vs. non-segmented.

Segmentation is the practice of splitting your email list into different groups to provide contacts with more relevant and personalized content.

For example, say you’re growing a holistic health company. One person signs up for your email list while reading an article your team wrote about gut health. They then get an email that educates them on gut health, with relevant products. 

But another person lands on a meditation article and subscribes. They’d be in a separate segment and would receive emails and products relating to meditation.

Segmentation helps you deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.

That’s why it has such a high ROI.

With more targeted campaigns, your emails will see better performance: higher open rates and click-throughs. Plus, fewer people will mark your email as spam and unsubscribe.

So how do you actually use segmentation in your strategy?

Set up email flows. These are email marketing campaigns that automatically trigger based on the way you segment your list, using factors like demographics, psychographics, behaviors, and subscribers’ relationships with your business.

Here’s an example of a flow:

  • A customer signs up for your email list.
  • They click on a blog post shared in your welcome email.
  • They then visit five other pages on your blog over the next week.
  • The fifth page visit triggers a follow-up email to them pitching a free trial.

You can vary the number of emails in each flow based on how your subscribers are engaging. Some flows perform best with three emails, while others need more than ten to drive action.

5. Change your call to action (CTA) to a call to value

Use a call to action (CTA) to highlight the action you want subscribers to take, and to make that action stand out from the rest of your email’s copy:

Alltrails CTA
"Start exploring" is more enticing than "visit app."

Your CTA button should be the easy next step for your email readers. And it should be enticing.

There are two common mistakes we see with CTA copy:

  • It describes an action, but it doesn’t provide value. “Visit site” doesn’t offer anything to readers.
  • It’s vague and salesy. "Improve yourself!" would set off any bs radar. (Another reason to avoid this mistake: Because of its spammy language, ISPs could block your email from getting delivered to inboxes.)

Instead of a traditional CTA, feature a call to value. Use your CTA button copy to describe the value readers receive from clicking the button:

  • “See it in action” instead of “learn more”
  • “Begin designing” instead of “visit site”
  • “Browse winter jackets” instead of “shop now”
  • “Tell your friends” instead of “share to social media”

Recipients often skim emails and don’t pay close attention. So when copywriting, create eye-catching CTA copy with specific next steps.

You can use text links for your CTAs, but just make sure they’re on their own line. They’ll stand out more and will be more likely to be clicked by people who are quickly skimming the email.

Demand Curve text CTA
An example of a text-link CTA we used in our Growth Newsletter.

6. Improve deliverability to get your emails in more inboxes

Email deliverability is the percentage of emails that make it to subscribers’ inboxes.

High deliverability means your emails will land in front of more subscribers, as opposed to getting trapped in spam folders or blocked by firewalls. 

The result? More people open, read, click, and convert on your emails—so your email ROI increases.

Low deliverability means your emails reach fewer subscribers. Naturally, your emails then get less engagement, which further reduces your deliverability in a vicious yet avoidable cycle.

How do you improve deliverability?

  • List hygiene: Collect emails ethically, remove inactive contacts, and use double opt-in. More on this one shortly.
  • Get your content right: Send quality emails to people who genuinely want to receive them. All great email marketing strategies do that.
  • Encourage engagement: Make emails a two-way street to prompt replies.
  • Follow privacy laws. There are a few you need to follow in order to maintain healthy delivery: GDPR in the EU, CAN-SPAM in the US, CCPA in California, and CASL in Canada.

7. Ignore open rates—here are the metrics that matter

The email marketing metrics you should be tracking have changed rapidly over the last couple of years. 

That’s in large part because of privacy updates that hamper accurate metric tracking.

One practical example: Don’t put much emphasis on open rates. Open rates have always been kind of a vanity metric. They don’t tell you how good your email is. They tell you how good your subject line is, and how much recipients liked your past emails.

And in 2022, some email clients automatically open all images. Since tracking pixels are image elements, guess what that means for accurate reporting?

iOS15 rightly gave subscribers the option to opt out of tracking. And it’s likely that most iOS users chose not to let marketers track opens on their emails.

Instead of open rate, here are four metrics we recommend tracking—even if you don’t have time to track the rest:

  1. Conversion rate: The percentage of recipients who convert based on your email
  2. Revenue per subscriber: Revenue earned per subscriber on your list
  3. Revenue per email: Revenue earned per email
  4. Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of recipients who click any link in an email

To improve the metrics you’re tracking, create really good emails. That’s what will drive clicks, conversions, shares, forwards, and overall email marketing performance.

8. The best marketing automation tools based on your business model

Your ESP is email marketing software that automates your campaign distribution.

You can handle almost all aspects of email marketing from your ESP: email templates and flows, email writing, list hygiene, segmentation, even basic tracking.

The right ESP will set you up for success. 

Here are the email marketing tools we most often recommend, based on your business type:

  • SaaS, apps, B2B: CustomerIO, Iterable. These generally offer the most flexible automations. They're best for the complex email marketing systems that SaaS businesses often require.
  • Ecommerce: Klaviyo, Drip, Mailchimp. Each has unique ecommerce-specific features and seamless integrations with Shopify.
  • Creators/influencers: ConvertKit. ConvertKit was built for creators. It comes with easy content-upgrade features that other ESPs lack. And it’s not bloated with ecommerce features that creators don’t need. It’s simple and easy to use, and it allows creators to focus on … creating. It’s also priced fairly for individual creators—not full-blown businesses.

9. Optimal time to send emails

Typically, late morning around 10am in the recipient’s time zone is the best time to send emails.

But the better way to approach send times is to personalize them to the recipients. Email marketing tools provide Send Time Optimization to automatically send your email at the time when your recipient is most likely to open it.

Send Time Optimization from Mailchimp
Send Time Optimization from Mailchimp.

And another tip: Try delaying your welcome email.

Most marketers set up a welcome-email automation that greets new subscribers immediately after signup.

Welcome emails are a critical opportunity to move leads down your funnel. They tend to get more opens than other promotional campaigns.

To get more people to open and read it, delay your welcome email by 15 to 45 minutes in your ESP.

The time delay removes the subscriber's mental connection between their signup and your email. This bypasses the reflex to ignore. You’ll likely get more opens as a result.

10. Practice good email list hygiene

We hinted at list hygiene earlier when we covered deliverability—it’s an email best practice that’s often overlooked.

Be sure to apply these three important tactics:

  • Use double opt-in.
  • Clean your list regularly.
  • Make it easy for people to unsubscribe.

Use double opt-in to improve email engagement

A low open rate doesn’t necessarily mean people are ignoring your emails.

It’s possible your emails weren’t opened because a visitor:

  • Misspelled their email address
  • Used a fake email
  • Used an old corporate email
  • Is a bot

Broken emails can be a drag on your email deliverability.

That’s one of the many reasons why it's a wise idea to use a double opt-in confirmation for subscribers.

Double opt-in means subscribers get a confirmation email, which they must click before they can be added to your list. It ensures that people truly want your emails.

The result: fewer emails going to spam, and greater engagement from your recipients.

Clean your list each quarter

We recommend deleting inactive contacts from your email list for two reasons:

  • Since email platforms charge per contact, inactive contacts can cost you upwards of 50% of your email bill.
  • The higher your open rate, the more Google delivers your emails to inboxes as opposed to the spam folder. You can increase your open rate by removing contacts who don't open your email.

That's yet another benefit of removing inactive contacts: Those who remain see your emails even more.

Here’s a process you can use to clean your list:

  • Once per quarter, duplicate your email list, and search for contacts who've been inactive for over three months.
  • Before you remove them, try a win-back email campaign. Explain that recipients will be removed if they don’t start engaging with your emails.
  • Once you have a cleaned list, test a new campaign for a higher CTR.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

Make it easy for folks to unsubscribe. Include a clear unsubscribe link in the footer of your email. There’s no sense in burying it—if people stay on your list because they can’t find your unsubscribe link, then they’re weighing it down. Or they might find it easier to just mark your email as spam.

Growth Newsletter unsubcribe link
At the top of each newsletter we send, we let people know they can easily unsubscribe.

The best email marketing is built on trust

There you have it! Implement these email marketing best practices, and you’ll be well on your way to a growing list of people who trust you and choose to buy from you.

Inboxes can be overwhelming. So the best approach is a human one: Show subscribers that there are humans behind your emails—people who truly want to help solve their problems. That's how your email will rise above a flooded inbox.

At the end of the day, if you create great email content for people who actually want to hear from your brand, you'll grow your list, your leads—and your business.

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Head of Content @ Demand Curve. I press “send” on the Growth Newsletter. Also into bikes, hikes, and spontaneous pickup soccer.

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