Email Marketing: A complete guide

Learn all about how to get the best ROI out of your email marketing campaigns with effective email marketing. In this comprehensive guide

We’ll cover:
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What is email marketing?

Simply put, email marketing is the use of email to deliver marketing messages to customers. It has the great advantage of being flexible, and thus customizable for audience segments. Most people are reachable via email, and it is a cost-effective, paperless means to get messages across. 

Email marketing can take many shapes and forms, and thus requires a solid plan to be effective and generate the maximum ROI for a business. In this guide, we will be taking you through all the ways to ensure that your email marketing plan has a bedrock foundation and how to manage it effectively throughout its lifecycle.

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Email marketing is one aspect of the overall digital marketing strategy of the business. It should ideally tie into the other aspects well to develop a consistency in brand for the company. Email marketing is a powerful way to connect to customers, as we shall see below, and thus is a vital part of the arsenal at the disposal of a savvy marketer.  

The benefits of email marketing

Email is a great way to build relationships with your customers. Customers rarely give out information easily, and that includes email addresses. So if you have your customers’ email addresses and their permission to email them, then you have a golden opportunity for your business. Here are some of the benefits of email marketing, when it is used well:

Immense ROI: No other marketing channel delivers the kind of ROI that email marketing does. Since it is comparatively cost effective also, the returns tend to be higher than all other digital marketing strategies. Calculate how much you may want to consider spending on email marketing.

Global and universal: Email almost always reaches the intended target and, because 3 billion people use it regularly, it has a global reach. 

Top means of communication: People generally prefer to receive email over other modes of communication. Social media communication can sometimes be jarring, and mobile messaging can be intrusive. Email finds the fine line in between and ends up being relevant and acceptable. 

Technology agnostic: As we have seen with browsers and mobile devices, technology rendering plays a huge role in how design and content are received by an individual. The advantage of email is that it doesn’t depend at all on prevailing technology trends. Sure, there needs to be a responsive component to your email design, but the logistics of email delivery do not depend on the type of device your customer is using for access. 

Build relationships with customers: Sharing valuable content with your customers is a great way to establish credibility with them. Good relationships are built slowly and with consistency, and email works out to be the perfect medium for that sort of exercise. 

Boost sales: There are different ways to amplify sales using email marketing, and they are specific to the business, the product, and the customers. However, since customers are available through the medium of an email, it is easy to quickly tap into that resource to boost sales. 

Build an email list

Truly effective email marketing comes from sending emails to people who actually want to receive them. Consider how many emails a person receives in a day; it is a lot. Therefore, the chances of your email being read if it isn’t wanted are quite small. This is where an email list comes in. An email list contains all the addresses of people who want to be on that list. 

A common way to encourage signups is to reward people for signing up. The idea behind this is to exchange someone’s email address for something they might find valuable. Is there content you have that could be useful to a customer? An e-book or a webinar immediately springs to mind. Offering a valuable incentive for a person to sign up for a newsletter tends to signal that the newsletter adds value, and thus is desirable to receive. This incentive is also known as a buzz piece. 

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Opt-in or permission marketing

Some businesses use an opt-in system to ensure that the customers on their email list really want to be on that list. Only if someone signs up for a newsletter, will they receive one. The reasoning behind this logic is that it is far better to have a smaller list of happily subscribed people, rather than risk annoying someone and having them mark your email marketing campaign as spam.

In fact, some people have taken opt-in marketing a step further, and send a confirmation email to the subscriber to ensure that they do indeed want to receive marketing emails from you. Even though it may seem excessive, this is rapidly becoming de facto for email marketing across the board.

How to do email marketing:

Create an email marketing strategy

There are multitudes of possibilities with email marketing, and it can be quite overwhelming to grapple with at first.

However, like most things, email marketing is best tackled with a plan.

Once you have a plan in place, it is a question of filling in the blanks and tweaking it to suit your needs, based off feedback you receive. 

Email marketing strategy Email marketing strategy

Email campaigns 

Just as with advertising campaigns, email marketing is broken down into email campaigns. Each campaign is a self-contained unit and has one main goal. A campaign may, and usually does consist of multiple emails sent over a period of time. An example of this could be the announcement of a new feature. A campaign could comprise an announcement email, a reminder email, and a tutorial email. 

Before we kick off with the steps, remember the rule of thumb with email marketing: always make it about the customer. If you keep that in mind, you will rarely go wrong. 

Set up your structure:

This is arguably the most important step in your email marketing plan because it forms the foundation for everything that comes hereinafter. That is not to say that it cannot be changed later but ideally spend considerable time thinking about the factors at this stage, as it will save you time later on. 

Create a content strategy:

In order to achieve your goals for email marketing, you need to have an idea of what you plan to send. This can vary dramatically from goal to goal, ranging from transactional emails to marketing emails, and those that fall in the intersection of both. Draw up a list of what you would like to communicate with your customers, and match them up to the goals that you defined earlier.

Tip: Don’t forget to personalize your emails using the customer data you have in hand. Personalized emails foster relationships and signal to a customer that they are important and valued as an individual. 

Create your email marketing campaign:

Now that you have planned your strategy well, we’ve come to the brass tacks of your email marketing strategy: develop the content. The content is what forms the crux of your communication with your customer, and thus must be clear, engaging, valuable, and built on the foundation of all your strategies. Here is the step that will require the most work, and will need to be revisited time and again, after the analytics are in. The content will cause the customer to either engage with your brand or not. That is how critical it is to your overall email marketing strategy. 

Tip: Always A/B test your content. Treat your email marketing campaigns like you would your website pages, and plug in the insights you get in subsequent campaigns. 


Once you have zeroed in on a good CRO suite for email delivery, you need to set a schedule for delivery. It is best to stagger email delivery in batches, and keeping in mind customer time zones. Your marketing automation suite will be able to suggest the best slots for delivery, based on a number of factors and previously collected data. 

Send the email:

For the moment, you’re done. The campaign is sent, and you need to wait for the numbers to come in for analysis and review. Take a breather. 

Review the analytics: 

Your suite’s dashboard will generate statistics for your campaign. There are certain KPIs that you will need to monitor, and which will paint a picture of either success or failure of your campaign. We describe each of these metrics in detail, later on in this article. 


As is the case with any endeavor, don’t expect to get your email marketing campaign perfect the first time around. With luck and a great deal of planning, you can reasonably expect it to be fairly good. However, the true key to cracking a successful email marketing campaign is to keep on innovating and improving, using the insights gleaned from many sources to refine each subsequent time. 


Types of email for marketing

Broadly speaking, there are two types of emails that you can send when conducting an email marketing campaign: engagement and transactional emails. A single email can have elements of both categories to varying degrees. This isn’t a rare occurrence, and essentially the best practices of both categories apply in those cases. We’ve looked at these categories briefly, before talking more about other, more specific types of emails: 

Engagement Emails Transactional Emails
Used for branding Used for essential communication
Two Two again
Creative Information-driven
Can be triggered by customer action, but also can be sent in campaigns Always triggered by customer action
  • Welcome emails
  • Tutorials + tips
  • Customer stories
  • Shopping cart abandonment reminders
  • Time-sensitive promotions
  • Purchase confirmations


As we said before, quite a few email marketing campaigns straddle both engagement and transactional emails. We’ve drilled down further into some of the more popular types of email campaigns. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list, but intended to give you an idea of possibilities that can be used to use email marketing effectively for conversions. 

As we said before, this is not an exhaustive list of the types of emails that can be sent to the customer. Emails are a flexible and highly customizable channel for customer interaction, and there are always new ideas on how to leverage it better and more creatively. 



Email marketing templates

Having a consistent brand voice for your business can go a long way to fixing the identity in the minds of customers. This consistency has to be maintained across your messaging, design, offerings and perspectives. Consistent branding helps you build awareness, and increase trust and loyalty among your audience.

In fact, this is how iconic brands are built.

Consider how Google’s primary color palette and its minimalist design aesthetic immediately mark any one of its products as a ‘Google’ product.

This recognition is achieved with consistency across designs – including marketing emails. 

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As you grow your digital marketing, you will find that design and voice play a large role within that process. If you ensure that it sounds complementary and consistent, there will be better brand recall across various media. One of the ways to do that is to have email marketing templates. We’ve already outlined the different types of marketing emails that can be sent in a previous section, so you can reasonably project that each type of email can have its own template. 

That is not to say that the design cannot or should not be varied – it can and most certainly should. But each email marketing template can have a basic skeleton structure with content placeholders, which can then be filled out with live content. The advantages of this are two-fold: brand consistency is achieved, and the whole process becomes more efficient. 

If you are new to email marketing, then pick an email marketing platform with pre-designed templates to get you started. The ease of plugging in your information to customize a template will be considerable. Then, as you slowly get into the groove of this CRO technique, you can create your own templates at a later stage.

Email marketing metrics that matter

Having a solid email marketing strategy doesn't guarantee high success.

Certain KPIs are important when calculating the effectiveness of an email marketing campaign. Only when you measure these metrics, you can gauge how strong your email marketing game is.

Some of the important metrics that really matter in email marketing include: 

  • Deliverability
  • Open rates
  • Clickthrough rate
  • Unsubscribes
  • Bounce rate

We'll talk about each of these briefly, explore what they really mean, and how they are important:

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Tip: Choose an email marketing platform with an established track record and that is reputable; monitor your list for emails that constantly bounce back emails and remove them; and ensure compliance with all regulations.

Tip: Change up the content and subject lines of your campaigns. Be different and try new things to find what has the greatest effect. 

Email Scheduling

Deciding when the best time to send emails is a valid consideration when planning an email marketing campaign, because the goal is to maximize open rates as much as possible. You don’t want to send an email when your recipient is too busy to read it or act upon it, and thus there must be a perfect time to send your emails. 

There are plenty of studies that have tried to crack this particular conundrum, and have come up with answers based on data. The trouble is that the results are sometimes in conjunction with each other, but can also wildly differ. So what does one do? 

Read up on all the studies that other people have done. This is a solid starting point, because it informs your initial decision. No shots in the dark, as it were. Then, once you become more familiar with the behavioral patterns of your audience segments, you will be able to decide for yourself what the best time to send out emails is. A word of caution here: be advised by studies, but don’t treat them like gospel. There are no silver bullets in email marketing. 

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Email marketing reports

Reviews are an integral part of any process, and email marketing is certainly not an exception. You need to be able to analyze your campaigns for effectiveness so that you can improve in subsequent iterations. The most commonly used approach to reviewing your campaigns is the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Record your results with the KPIs clearly marked out, and thus build a reference that only gets better each time you send out a campaign. 

Typically, email marketing reports should contain:


Email marketing automation

Email marketing delivers high ROI at the best of times, but there are ways to refine your process even further, so you spend even less time actually drafting out emails. Automation is the way to do this. 

Once you have a grasp of what works for your audiences – segmented, of course – you can then set up elaborate user journeys through your website.

These journeys then enable to you send emails at various points in that user’s journey, making it highly targeted, timely, and relevant for your customer, and resource-efficient for you. Autoresponders are another form of email marketing automation. A purchase on your website can trigger a series of emails, and so too can a download.

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A good email marketing service will have an automation builder as an integral part of the product. Ideally, an automation builder will allow you to define salient variables, such as segments or triggers, and assist in personalization of the campaign emails.

The possibilities with automation are limitless, and can really ramp up your marketing effort, without requiring too much input of resources.  Refer to our post if you want to get started with email marketing automation.

Drip email marketing

In primers on how to use CRO effectively, you will often come across the term: drip email marketing, or perhaps even: drip campaigns. What do they mean? 

As the name may imply, drip marketing campaign involves sending a customer small bits of information one at a time. The overall campaign has a goal, but the delivery system is piecemeal. The idea is to nudge the customer gently towards your goal using a steady stream of information. 

Drip email marketing is a form of email marketing automation, as the emails that are sent out are prewritten. As a new customer signs up to a service, for example, they may receive emails every day for 6 days – a welcome email and a bunch of primers on getting started. This is a classic case of a drip campaign. 

Email regulations

With the current spikes in misused personal data, regulations on how to responsibly use data have been brought into the public sphere and enforced.

Essentially, these boil down to respecting an individual enough not to misuse their personal data and being transparent about how their information is stored and used. 

This approach is fundamental to building a trust-based relationship with a customer, and you, being a responsible marketer, would care to ensure that all your customers are comfortable transacting with your business. 

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There are two major regulations that you need to comply with: 


This compliance seeks to protect users by only sending them emails that they actually request. While in practice this may seem a far-fetched goal, it is possible for companies to ensure that they comply with this regulation by being transparent with the company name and address, placing the unsubscribe links prominently in the email, and making sure the subject line and email content are consistent with each other. 


When this regulation was implemented, everyone was inundated with GDPR compliance emails from the companies that send them email communications. GDPR is primarily an EU compliance, however since it is unnecessarily complicated to maintain different legal processes for different segments, it makes sense to have emails that are compliant across the board. The regulation concerns itself with the storage of personal data, and for customers to be able to control how it is used. Companies have to obtain express consent to store personal data from each individual, and indicate the purposes of its use. It is best to have an established GDPR policy before embarking on email marketing campaigns. 

How to avoid spamming

A quality list, excellent copy, and beautiful design make the perfect recipe for a successful email campaign. 

But aren't you forgetting a major hindrance to your email marketing efforts here?

Yes, we are talking about the dreaded spam folder.

An email marketer’s worst nightmare is – or at least it should be – the spam folder. Not only does your beautifully crafted message go into the bin without being read, but it also causes all sorts of havoc with your reputation and analytics. 

Here, we uncover a few but effective ways to avoid this sorry fate:

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New ways to avoid spam filters keep coming up as processes are refined with the individual in mind. Ideally, if you keep the customer’s needs front and center, you are unlikely to make any major blunders on this front. Make absolutely certain that the people you are emailing want to hear from you. 

Best practices of email marketing

The flexibility of email marketing makes it a powerful tool, and can reasonably make or break your brand in the minds of your customers. As we have mentioned before, to ensure that you are always on the right side of things, always make your campaigns about the customer. Each individual must perceive value in your email newsletter, otherwise, they will unsubscribe. You may not have lost that customer, but you have lost the opportunity to communicate with them in a richly textured way. 
Apart from the golden rule of email marketing, here are a few things you may want to consider when creating a campaign: 

Crafting a good subject line

Subject lines are the subject [no pun intended] of many case studies done by marketers and with good reason. The subject line is what a customer first sees, and is instrumental in the decision of whether or not to open the email at all. You will find several articles online about how to craft the perfect subject line, which are backed by statistics to show how using certain words will guarantee larger open rates; or how using emojis creates a more attractive email; and so on. 

The truth of the matter is that these things change, and are not constant. There is no bulletproof subject line that will get 100% open rates. It is subjective and depends on the audience segment you are targeting. The best course for you to take is to keep the following factors in mind: 

  • Ensure the subject line is relevant to the customer
  • A good subject line accurately reflects the content of the email – bait and switch tactics work only once and break trust
  • Change according to your audience analytics – if a particular style works with your target audience, use that more often; also A/B test subject lines to find out what works better
  • Change things up every so often – even though this appears to be in direct contradiction with our previous point, it isn’t actually. Consider that using the same template over and over again will become boring and stale. 

Think about the kind of subject lines that entice you to open an email. There are the standard tricks to be interesting that can be used for campaigns: amusing, thought-provoking, personalized, and those that encourage participation.

Segment your email list

We covered the importance of creating personas for your customer list earlier in the guide. Now we will discuss the reasoning behind this a little more. Each individual on your email list is at a different point on the customer lifecycle, meaning that some people are need a small reminder to nudge them into a purchase, whereas others may require a little more cajoling. Thus there is no chance that one size fits all – and one email for everyone isn’t going to cut it. 

How do you create segments though? Personas aren’t the only mechanism to segment your list, although they form an important aspect. You can segment your list based on where in the user journey a user has signed up for your newsletter. Was it the front page, indicating that the customer is interested in getting more information, or was it through a pop up when they were about to leave the website? These behavioral patterns are clues to the psyche of the customer, and enable you to grow your relationship with that individual more effectively with targeted content.

Note: There are times when you have to, as a business, send the same message to all yours customers. A policy change is a good example of when this need may arise. Although we have waxed eloquent about how important it is to segment your email list, the occasional email broadcast is sometimes unavoidable. This is not a bad thing; so do not be discouraged from doing so, if they occasion should present itself.  

Personalize your emails

It is natural for humans to respond to communicate that addresses them directly – even if they know that there is a program behind it. Personalization speaks to the human psychological need to be recognized as an individual and thus is a vital component of email marketing. Good CRO suites offer a range of information that can be used to personalize emails through the use of tokens. You create a template, placing tokens wherever they fit, and the suite replaces them with the actual information when it goes out to customers. An easy way to make your email much more impactful. 

Responsive design

Keep in mind that a majority of users now access emails on their mobile devices, especially when out of the office or home environment. If you want to capture attention positively, ensure that email content renders well on all screen sizes. This is common knowledge for web design, and yet emails seem to fall through the crack. A well-designed email signals forethought and planning – always good associations to have.


How to choose an email marketing service for your business?


While it is up to you to get email subscribers and create engaging content, the logistics of your email marketing has to be carried out by a proper email marketing tool. It is vital to opt for an email marketing software that ensures optimum email deliverability and has enough features to give you bang for your buck. 

Additionally, emails are often sent out by different management software platforms, a situation which creates an inefficient system for emails.

So what features should you be looking for? It depends on what stage of business operations you are in, so we’ve divided this list into bare essentials for solopreneurs and startups, scaling up for SMBs, and fully-fledged suites for enterprises. 

Bare Essentials Scaling up to the next level Enterprise Level
Good deliverability Segmentation capabilities Unlimited subscribers
Contact management
  • Email marketing templates
  • Easy to build opt-in forms
  • Easy to build landing pages
Spam filtration 
Performance tracking Social media integration Multivariate testing
Good standing with ISPs Send time optimization Compliance guidelines

Split testing capabilities Compliance guidelines

Integration with other tools, or a complete suite in itself

Advanced reporting

The relevance of email marketing

There is almost constant innovation in the Internet domain, which sees a constant slew of new products and technologies hitting the market. Of these, several are new ways of communication. We have come a long way from when email was a revolution and nearly wiped out snail mail as a means of communication. This is not an extraordinary phenomenon: each new technology generally replaces the one preceding it. 

The questions then arise: considering the proliferation of ways of effective communication, several of which came after email, is email itself still relevant? Does anyone even check their email anymore? Finally, is it worth investing in email marketing for my business? 

The answer is a resounding yes. As a matter of fact, email usage has steadily grown over time and therefore is one of the best ways to touch base with a large group of people. Most people prefer email for commercial communication, and it is, without doubt, the biggest marketing channel a business can leverage. 


Still not convinced? Here are some stats.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is email marketing?

 An aspect of digital marketing, email marketing is the use of emails to connect with customers, disseminate information, and building trust. Marketing messages are sent to groups of people in order to encourage them to engage with the business, and thereby increase conversions.

How to do email marketing?

As with any type of marketing, it is important to have a strategy before embarking upon email marketing. Understand what goals can be achieved using this process, and align them to the overall business goals. Research customers to develop targeted campaigns for maximum effectiveness. Analyze the results and plug that data into subsequent campaigns. 

Why is email marketing important?

Emails have been a steady communication channel since their inception. Other channels have come and prospered, but haven’t been able to replace email due to its pervasiveness. Even today, most individuals prefer to receive commercial communication via email, and it is known to have the best conversion rate when compared to all other channels. 

How to start email marketing?

Always start with lots of research, as it saves time later on. To start with email marketing, read guides like this one to grasp the concepts and to understand the parameters of the process. Then apply this learning within the context of an organization. 

Why use email marketing?

The arsenal of a digital marketer is incomplete without email marketing. Email is ubiquitous and universal, and thus has immense potential to increase engagement and conversions. Email marketing is an excellent means to communicate with customers, and draw them further into a valued relationship with the brand. 

How does email marketing work?

A digital marketer creates email marketing campaigns in conjunction with their other channels, and complementary to the brand. Then, they use a good email marketing tool to deliver their messages to their subscribers. The tool allows the marketer to segment their list, personalize it, and track the delivery statistics for later review.

How effective is email marketing?

Several studies have been conducted on the efficacy of email marketing. Most agree that email marketing is the most effective of all digital marketing practices, as individuals prefer to receive commercial communication via email, and are thus more likely to read and engage with the content in the medium. 

How to create an email marketing campaign?

Start with goals, and curate an email list. Analyze the subscribers on the email list, and segment them into groups. Then create content directed at each group, and use automation tools to personalize the emails to individuals. Send the emails out, and track the metrics. Once the numbers are in, evaluate the success or failure of the campaign, and prepare a report for future use.