How to get the most out of your email marketing: 6 questions to ask

Email marketing expert Matt McNeill answers the key questions to get your e-newsletters opened and read

Is email a part of your marketing plan? Are you doing it well? If not then you could be losing out to your competition.

From the research my email marketing software company carried out, we have seen open rates climbing to 22.87%.

This is an average though – so it’s possible to perform much better, or far worse. What can you do to help ensure success? How can you stop your hard work being rejected as spam?

Start by making sure you understand what the goal of your email is.

  • How should you be measuring success?
  • Are you trying to directly generate sales or do you want to remind readers of your brand?
  • What’s more important to you – how many people open your message or how many go on to buy?

Set some goals to guide your thinking.

1.     What does the reader want from your e-newsletter?

Before you even place finger to keyboard, remember that the key principle of email marketing (in fact, all marketing) is that your readers don’t care about you – they care about themselves.

No one cares that you’ve brought out a new product – they care about what that product will do for them. If it’s not crystal clear, stop and think again. How does what you’re about to send help them?

2.     How much of an e-newsletter will they read?

When writing your copy, remember that shorter is usually better. This is trickier than it sounds. To paraphrase Blaise Pascal, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time”.

Long emails rarely work well unless you have a very compelling topic and you’re an excellent writer. Attention spans online are incredibly short, so stick to the key points in your email and link off to web pages to expand on your content. Bullet points and short paragraphs work very well.

3.     How important is mobile for email marketing?

Over half of all emails are read on mobile devices. That’s right – email marketing is now mobile marketing, so you have even less screen space to play with.

Making sure your emails look great on mobiles is vital. The name of the game here is responsive design – a layout that adapts to the screen size of the reader’s device so that it always looks great.

Of course, it’s also essential that any site you’re linking to from your emails works well on mobiles too.

4.     What’s the best way to grab someone’s attention?

Something that makes well performing emails stand out from the rest is the time and effort put in to the subject line. This looks like such a small thing that it’s tempting to leave it to last and just rush it off. This is a big mistake.

The subject line is your newspaper headline. Headlines are what sell papers (or did, when people still bought them) and subject lines are what convince readers to open your email – and they can have a dramatic impact on click-through rates as well.

  • 5.     How long should e-newsletter subject lines be?

There’s an argument for keeping subject lines reasonably short – around 50 characters – as many devices can’t show more, but tests show that length alone doesn’t have a significant impact, it’s all about how compelling the subject line is and how it relates to the content of the email.

Think of it like this – can you write a your subject line so that if it’s the only thing someone reads, it still gives them (and you) some benefit? That’s the ultimate win, because then you also gain from the 77% (on average) who don’t open your email.

6.     Who can you send e-newsletters to?

Finally, the unbreakable golden rule of a successful email campaign is to make sure you have permission from your recipients to contact them. That means that they’ve directly opted in to hear from you. Anything else is spam.

No matter what some people might tell you, ‘third party opt-in’ doesn’t exist, permission isn’t transferrable. It’s like sending someone else along to a date you’ve arranged with your girlfriend and telling her that it’s fine because you said it was OK for them to go instead of you.

Matt McNeill is the founder of, which carries out annual reports into email marketing. The full 2014 UK Email Marketing Benchmarks report is available from


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