Apr 8, 2016 · 8 min read

by Roy Olende

If you want to make money online, you need to build an email list.

While social media marketing gets lots of attention, the reality is that email is still the most effective online channel.

A study by McKinsey revealed that, “E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media — nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.”

  • There are over 4 billion email accounts worldwide. That’s more than double the amount of Facebook and Twitter accounts combined!
  • Organic reach on Facebook is 6%, and falling every year. Email open rates are generally in the 20% range.
  • Email click-through rates are commonly in the 3% range, far eclipsing the 0.5% average on Twitter.

However, while research highlights the incredible importance of email, most of us tend to ignore many of the newsletters that land in our inboxes. Think about it — how many company or blogs emails do you really look forward to receiving? One, two…maybe three?

And here’s the problem — there seems to be an increased appreciation for the power of email, yet a lack of awareness about how to send emails that readers really want to read!

So, once you’ve started to build your email list, how do you keep your readers engaged and converting?

Here are 4strategies to supercharge your efforts!

1. Spend More Time On Your Subject Line

Brian Clark, the CEO of Copyblogger tells this story about legendary copywriter Joe Sugarman:

“In his seminars, Sugarman would quiz his students on the purpose of various copy elements: the headline, the graphics, the sub-headlines, etc. Why are they important?

“What is the purpose of a headline?” Sugarman would ask.

Every time the student started with some complicated, jargon-filled explanation, he would cut them off.

“The purpose is to get the first sentence read,” he would counter.

“And the purpose of the first sentence is to get the second sentence read,” he continued. And so on, down a slippery slide that leads to your offer and the sale.

This same principle applies in emails just as much as any other copy. If you have a strong headline, people are far more likely to open your email and read what you have to say.

One great example of this in practice is Jay Baer. His headlines are short, engaging and really relevant to online marketers.

Neville Medhora also nails his subject lines. He has a very conversational and down-to-earth approach, which is very different to Jay Baer.

So, what should you be doing?

Spend at least 10 minutes brainstorming subject lines.

To be honest, you should be spending much more time on this, but 10 minutes is a realistic goal for most people.

  • Write down 20 different subject lines
  • Select your top 5
  • Ask a couple of colleagues or friends to pick their favourite

You might be surprised by what they pick and you’ll be better off for it.

2. Use Text, Not Images

In 2004, Pepsi launched a new cola named Pepsi Edge. What made this drink unique was that it tasted just like regular Pepsi, but with only half the calories!

Pepsi tested out the drink on focus groups and they loved it. It was launched publicly with lots of fanfare but within a few years Pepsi Edge was discontinued. So, what went wrong?

It turns out that while the focus groups said they liked the drink, in reality, most people preferred to have the original Pepsi or Diet Pepsi, not something in between.

This disparity between what people say they want and what they actually want plays out in email marketing, too.

Hubspot recently conducted a survey asking over 1000 people whether they preferred plain text or image-heavy emails. The answer was clear — emails with images (HTML) came out on top.

Luckily for you and me, Hubspot ran a few A/B tests to confirm this result. Lo and behold, they discovered that simpler, text-heavy emails outperformed their image-heavy counterparts.

People said they wanted image-laden emails, but they really didn’t.

At first glance this sounds counterintuitive. Every other marketing channel is successfully adopting more visual elements, but email is going in the opposite direction.

Why? Because it’s primarily a 1-to-1 interaction.

Image-rich messages inherently feel like they’re coming from an organization, not another person.

So, what should you be doing?

Stick to text-heavy emails.

Here’s a great example from Farnam Street, a wildly popular blog with over 75,000 newsletter subscribers.

He simply links out to various articles of his from the previous week. On his blog he’s free to use imagery as much as he wants, but he understands that people are accustomed to only seeing text within their emails.

3. Keep it Short

Humans have shorter attention spans than goldfish!

That’s the conclusion researchers from Microsoft reached after surveying and studying over two thousand participants in 2015. According to these scientists, the average human attention span is eight seconds, one second less than our favourite aquatic pet.

Your readers face a barrage of information, so standing out amongst the crowd is hard work. Vee Smith sums it up perfectly when he says:

“Time is precious and we all have filtering processes when we’re checking our emails. When I check my emails, the first thing I check is who it’s from — do I know them? Then I check the subject — is it relevant to me? Then I open the email to see how long it’s going to take to read it.

“Best practice — keep it short and sweet.”

However, this is easier said than done.

I receive weekly updates from a local business group (and no, I have no idea why I haven’t yet unsubscribed). Here’s a typical snippet from their email.

They have paragraph after paragraph of this stuff — over 5000 words per email!

Compare that to this one from Neville Medhora.

Yes, he does include an image (which may lead to lower open rates), but what an email (and what an image)! That’s part of the reason Neville’s newsletter is one of my favourites.

So, what should you be doing?

Edit your emails down so they take less than 30 seconds to read/scan.

This process is tough but it’ll help you prioritize what’s most important for your reader.

Here’s a great example from Jay Baer. Not only is the email short, but it’s also easily scannable.

Blaise Pascal famously wrote, “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

Writing short, punchy emails is hard work but it’s worth the effort to get your emails read!

4. Encourage People To Unsubscribe

Anum Hussain is a marketing phenom. She leads the growth team at Sidekick where they successfully grew an email list of 60,000 subscribers in record time.

As part of their growth strategy, Hussain and her team did something that nearly nobody would have advised. They removed nearly 40,000 people from their own list.

You read that right! The Sidekick team purposefully unsubscribed the majority of their users. Hussain explains:

“Although we eventually reached 60K blog subscribers, we noticed that only 22K of them were actively reading our content. So we removed the others from our subscriber list.

We sacrificed subscribers for success. We believe having a healthy list of engaged readers is far more important than having a large list of inactive readers. This also ensures our strategy is directed by those who care about us most.

“Now we run routine “unsubscribe campaigns” where we let folks know we’ll remove them from our list. We provide them with the option to stay on our list, but if they don’t click that CTA, we remove them. Many people have responded to me in the past thanking me for helping clear their inboxes.

“Remember: Our goal isn’t to shove content into inboxes. It’s to provide something worth reading.

So what should you be doing?

Ask people if they’re getting value from your emails, and if not, let them go.

Joanna Wiebe from Copy Hackers includes this note in the very first email she sends out to subscribers.

Andrew Warner from Mixergy recently sent out this email that allows him to gather feedback from this readers.

Whichever approach you use, remember that a reader unsubscribing from your newsletter is a great source of learning and focus.

Over to You!

So there they are — 4 tactics that I hope will be helpful in your marketing efforts!

Now that I’ve shared my approach I’d love to hear how you think about emails and newsletters. What has worked well for you and what has flopped? I’d love to learn from your experiences so please let me know!

Images & Icon: Hubspot, Turan Kent

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