The Complete Guide to E-mail Marketing: You won’t believe what you will learn

Think of the number of times that you have submitted your e-mail address somewhere. It seems that whenever you visit some website you will most likely leave your e-mail address there: they ask you, they force you, they trick you – they will do anything to get this tiny piece of information.  “The money is in the list” – that’s what marketers say.

Now I should probably start rambling about all the benefits of having a huge e-mail list to give you the necessary incentive to read this guide from start to finish. But I’d rather amaze you with this awesome infographic that we made for this post:


This pretty “litte” infographic is nothing else but the visual recap of what you’re about to read. If you’ve fallen in love with it from the first sight you can easily save the full version available under “click for full size” button. Ok. Enough about the infographic, let’s get to the actual post:


Your e-mail marketing campaign starts from getting people to opt-in to your e-mail list. Even if you are able to convert 10% of your visitors into sales (which is nonsense), 90% are leaving your site without a trace! That’s a huge opportunity being lost here! You have to get their e-mail and try to sell your product to them a bit later!

There is an infinite number of ways to have people tell you their e-mail addresses, however all of them seem to fall into 3 different categories: ask, force and trick.

News – visiting your website over and over for new updates might not be so handy, especially when you post them infrequently. Ask people to leave their e-mails to send the news directly to their inboxes and you’ll be amazed by the number of subscribers.

Discounts & Promotions – wouldn’t you like to receive a text message every time your favourite clothing store announces a 50% off sale? So are your visitors – offer them “e-mail only” discounts and watch your list grow.

Freebies – did you ever submit your e-mail address to receive a link to download a free e-book? I bet most of you will say “Yes”. This is where you’re giving out your e-mail to get some value in return. If you have some piece of unique content (e-book, e-mail course, infographic, spreadsheet, cheatsheet, product guide, shopping guide, video, audio, podcast) – create an opt-in form, where people have to leave their e-mail addresses to receive that content.

Report – yes, it may also be considered as a freebie, but I felt like I should make a separate point out of it. Industry reports, which can really help people in their jobs/businesses are a holy grail which people are always looking for. I personally receive about a dozen different reports, and they are extremely helpful! Reports tend to have the biggest open rates, as people are actually looking forward to receiving them. The downside is that you need to work hard to keep the quality level of your reports as high as possible.


Do you happen to sell a product with a high learning curve? You’re lucky, as you can offer your customers a “tips & tricks” campaign right on the “Thank you for the purchase” page. Once they opt-in, you’ll be able to sell them accessories or related products with just a couple autoresponder e-mails being set up.

E-mail Course – is another widely spread tactic, worth a separate mention. An e-mail course is basically an auto-responder which consists of a certain number of e-mails. All you have to do is write the actual course about a specific topic, split it into several e-mails and setup the auto-responder to send an e-mail once in a while. A catchy course title and prominent placement of a subscription form will do the rest.

Squeeze pages – a simple “free newsletter” box in your sidebar may not work very well, instead you can pitch your subscription using one of those long sales letters. Then, once in a while, as you write a blog post, you can mention your newsletter and give a link to your squeeze page, which will do the job of convincing people to opt-in.


E-mail list brokers will most likely pitch you that the ROI from purchasing (or even rental) of some third-party e-mail list will cover all your expenses, but in most cases that is not true. Just like the search traffic is your most targeted and high converting of all, your own e-mail list will work much better than any rental one. Put your money and efforts into your own list, rather than purchasing if from third parties.

Existing contacts – you might already have a large contact list of your friends/colleagues/customers, you might as well collect contact information from your payment receipts. Well, adding everyone to your newsletter may get you into big trouble, as people might simply mark you as SPAM. What you CAN do, is e-mail them a link to your squeeze page and have them voluntarily opt-in to receive your newsletters in the future.

Expiration – once you have posted some free content, you may hide it behind an log-in form after some time. This way a returning visitor, who has watched your video, read your report or used your free tool will be forced to register and leave his e-mail to get access to this content again.

Members only – there might be a “members only” area on your website, which should be really attractive and be enough incentive that people leave their e-mails to get access to it.

Contests/Sweepstakes – you may list your newsletter subscription as an obligatory condition to enter, but note that this can somewhat decrease the number of participants.

Registration – speaking about the laziness, when was the last time you clicked the privacy policy link, which is given once you register somewhere? In most cases, you agree to receiving the newsletter of that company :)

Commenters – you can easily turn your commenters into subscribers by adding a checkbox to a comment form, which is checked by default. Again people are too lazy to be attentive, that’s why they will just leave a comment and opt-in.

Testimonials/Reviews/UGC – the trick is exactly the same as with comments, but this time you’re asking for a testimonial or some sort of review or feedback and put that tiny newsletter checkbox, which lots of people will overlook; (just in case – UGC stands for User Generated Content)


Once you have some people on your list, why not to use them to grow your list even more?
Add social buttons and endorse people to share the information with their friends. You’ll have to create a web-based version of your e-mail, so that once a person clicks the twitter icon in his e-mail, his friends will land on it’s web-based version, which can be equipped with a subscription box. According to MailChimp survey over 70% of people forward/share commercial e-mails less than once or month or never, but still a 30% chance is worth it!

Surveys/Quizzes – I bet many of you got really pissed off by a request to leave an e-mail in order to get a result of a 50-question-long quiz that you just thoroughly passed from start to finish. Well, “you just got punk’d” – either leave your e-mail, or you will never know the result and half an hour of your life will be lost :)

Polls/Tools – once you participate in a poll, the system may offer you to e-mail the final results once it ends, so that you can use them for future reference. Alternatively you can create a tool, like a price calculator, and add an option to e-mail the results to a customers inbox, so that he had an access to this information once he needs it.


Now you know the most common ways to get people to opt-in to your newsletter and the second logical part would be to actually implement them on your website. Ever heard of CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization)? This is basically a number of techniques to have your website visitors do what you want them to do. Newsletter signup forms are yet another object for CRO best practices, which mainly rely on location, size and color.

Lightbox – yes, that’s extremely irritating when the website you visit gets greyed out and some message appears above the fold. Yet studies show that this thing gathers e-mails like crazy! And besides, there are some cool plugins, that allow you to control whether to show the lightbox right away, or wait till a person visits two or three pages of your website (and lots of other things can be configured actually).

Sidebar – the most common place to put your newsletter subscription forms. This way they will be highly visible and won’t irritate anyone. What’s more important, is that you can actually have a number of different opt-ins in your sidebar: one for blog subscription, one for e-book download, one for a poll, etc.

Don’t forget to enhance your newsletter subscription box with the so-called risk removals as: “no spam” & “not selling to third parties”.

After the content – once a person reads your piece of content till the very end, you can tell that he is very interested in your resource, so why not to offer them to sign up? I really like the way Neil Patel from QuickSprout does it:

The e-mail opt-in process is usually full of the so-called “gate” pages that have close to no value – “thank you for registration” page, “please confirm your e-mail” page, etc. Try to put some call to action with a hot offer to those pages and see what the results will be.

Bottom – I’ve seen some websites having a newsletter subscription box sticking to the bottom of the browser window. If you ask me – that’s irritating. I wanted to show a screenshot of that practice, but it appears that those websites are no longer using it. But you can still try and see if it works for you.

Feedburner actually allows you to get a hold of your subscribers’ e-mail addresses, so if all the above methods are too time-consuming for you, use the Feedburner plugins to grow your e-mail list.

As a part of your signup box design, try using “Mad Libs” style for a chance of 25-40% conversion increase.


“I have the list, now what?” – that’s a fair question. Getting people to opt-in is actually not as hard as it may seem (especially following the above tips). The hard part is getting some value/revenue out of your list. The strategy (as well as the purpose) of your e-mail marketing campaign is mostly being determined by your business/niche, but here are some core things to do with your e-mail list:

Traffic – an e-mail to 10.000 people will obviously grant you an instant blast of a couple thousand visitors. Whatever you need this traffic for – you have it.

Cross Promotion – I did say that using a third-party list is way less effective as opposed to using your own one. However if you have a partner in your niche with a large e-mail list, and you know that his clients might be potentially interested in what you have to offer, you can ask him to mention you in his next e-mail newsletter. What you can do in return is mention him in yours. This practice is a sort of a cross promotion and it may give some really good results.

Relationship – being helpful and informative is a great way of building trust in your company/brand. Useful advice, product tips, industry reports – those are the things people are always looking for and you will surely get some credit for sharing those things.

Lots of people like to use their e-mail box as an archive: all the important e-mails are being carefully archived, so that they can refer to them later. Your e-mails should be the ones people would want to store – use a lot of data, citations, references, useful information and people will come back to your e-mails over and over.

Lead Nurturing – once you have a person’s e-mail address, there’s one more chance to convince them to buy your product/service. Don’t send the gibberish sales stuff that everyone is already sick of – be wise and nurture your future customers carefully. People love exclusivity, make them feel like they are in a special club and you’ll make that sale!


Studies show that 70% of people will read the whole e-mail or most of it. 

Sales – once you announce a new product, you can easily spread awareness and probably even get some instant sales. Other than that, you can include a discount code in your e-mail, which will be another incentive for people on your list to make a purchase.

Pro bloggers often stuff their newsletters with affiliate links to refer people and get some money once they make a purchase. When you mention some product/service in your newsletter, maybe you should check if it has an affiliate program?

Support – There is a post of “The Dirty Dozen” Marketing Processes that every internet start-up must master. And seems like about a half of those processes require you to send an e-mail to your customer.


Most of the numbers and graphics that I am about to use were taken from a free webinar by my favourite social media scientist Dan Zarella who was granted a dataset of 9,5 BILLION e-mail sends within MailChimp.

I will mention and comment on only a few of his findings and I strongly insist that you go and spend an hour watching this webinar from start to finish.

Timing – surprisingly, the highest possible Click Through Rate occurs on weekends. This is explained by the fact that on weekends people are not overloaded by incoming e-mails as well as have some free time to explore what’s there.

Frequency – The best frequency to get a higher Click Through Rate is the lowest one. However the graph shows that it won’t hurt to send an extra e-mail. And besides, you’ll get a lot more clicks from two e-mails with a slightly low CTR than from a one with a bigger CTR (simple math here).

Number of links – the more links you put in your e-mail, the higher CTR you get. Don’t be afraid to duplicate your links in the e-mail, present them in different type/context. It’s actually a good practice to list all your links with short comments at the very end of your e-mail.

Subscriber recency – your recent subscribers are likely to leave you real soon, and unfortunately that’s inevitable. Don’t panic when you see your numbers drop within the first few days after the campaign was launched, it’s totally ok.


Most of them will leave you anyway and there’s nothing much that you can do about it. Though what you CAN do is make it easy to unsubscribe. Why? Because reports show that people who cannot find the “unsubscribe” button, or find the process too hard and complicated will simply click the Spam button, which will dramatically affect your reputation across the e-mail network. Just make it easy to unsubscribe.

Reasons – we have previously discussed that an extra e-mail will not decrease your Click Through Rate that much, but still you should be careful with sending too many e-mails to your subscribers, and here’s why:

Analyzing the graph above, you might come up with a logical solution to save a decent percentage of your subscribers. Instead of just providing two options (a) receive e-mails and (b) not receive e-mails, you can actually offer them to change the frequency of the newsletter, for that is the #1 factor that bothers them. Perhaps an e-mail once a month rather than a weekly e-mail will save you a subscriber.


This e-mail marketing guide is already quite big, but there are still hundreds of things that you need to learn in order to become a successful e-mail marketer. Test, Measure & Optimize – those are the core things that take about a half of your e-mail marketing efforts:

Don’t SPAMhere is the document I strongly recommend you to read before you ruin your very first e-mail marketing campaign. (And here’s another one for “black hat” e-mail marketers :) )

Optimize for mobile – welcome to the mobile era! Studies show that 81% of people read their e-mails on mobile devices. And here’s what you want to do:

  • avoid large images (67% of people do not “automatically download images”);
  • avoid tables/columns (or ensure they look nice when shrunk to an iPhone size);
  • avoid long e-mails (you don’t want mobile phone owners to burn their fingers scrolling);

Segment – lots of different people opt-in to your e-mail list. Why would you send the exact same e-mail to everyone? Here is just a couple of most commonly used segments:

  • buyers vs non-buyers – statistics show that people who have purchased your product once are much more likely to buy again than those who have not purchased anything. It’s bloody obvious that those two groups should receive quite different e-mails.
  • one-time-buyers vs repeat-buyers – though the difference between these two is not as big as above, you should apply a different approach to each of them.
  • engaged vs not – you can quite easily track which of your subscribers are not clicking your links and not opening/responding your e-mails. Create a special segment for them and try to catch their attention.
  • relevancy – you need to target your customers with communication, which is relevant to them. If you are able to get some more information about them (demographic, psychographic, behavioral patterns) – use it to create relevant segments.

Win-back – once you determine your “unresponsive” segment, you can try to reactivate it with a win-back or re-engagement campaign. This includes e-mailing them some special offers, offering to toggle the newsletter frequency, or asking if they still want to receive your e-mails at all.

A/B Testing – there’s nothing new about split testing the pages of your site, but split testing e-mails is not that widely spread. There are many parts of your e-mail message that you might consider for testing, here are some of them:

  • e-mail subject
  • sending time
  • the layout
  • body text
  • closing text
  • images

This definitely deserves a separate post, so I will only give you a taste. The well-known 80/20 rule can be applied here: 8 out of 10 people will read the subject and only 2 of 10 will read the e-mail itself. This fact makes it obvious that you should work really hard to polish your e-mail subject till it gets a decent open rate. In general, people will open your e-mail because your subject promises some information of an exceptional relevance to them or either persuades that there’s something exciting and entertaining inside. There’s an exceptional series of posts by CopyBlogger called “Magnetic Headlines” and blog post headlines and e-mail subject lines are pretty close – this should get you started.

Measure – there is a ton of metrics available for measurement, but if I were to choose one, I’d definitely pick MONEY. That is the only metric that shows the success of your marketing efforts – whether it’s e-mail marketing, search engine marketing or social media marketing. Configure your analytics to track how much money you get and optimize your campaign solely around this metric.

Tools – most of the tips that I have mentioned in this guide may seem like a nightmare to implement. However with such great online e-mail marketing tools as MailChimp, Aweber, iContact, and others you can actually do anything with just a few clicks of a mouse.

Reputation – these days SPAM filter gets social. Passing the good ol’ SPAM filter of a Gmail user is now only the half of the job. Since the time Google released it’s Priority Inbox feature, you need to actually get your e-mail marked as “Priority” to get noticed.
Other than that many e-mail providers are now considering all the positive and negative interactions to decide whether to mark your e-mails as SPAM or not. People who rarely open your messages, never reply to them, never click the links inside can bring your reputation down. That is why those win-back campaigns are so important. You either re-engage your subscribers or remove them from the list to avoid trouble.


Just like my other guides this one is only an “intro” to the world of e-mail marketing as there’s so much left to learn. I really hope that my job on this guide will be a perfect starting point for you.

Is it possible to grow a blog from nothing to 100,000 monthly visits in only 6 months? That is what I’m going to find out at Blogger JET – an experiment that I’ve just launched, and which is already having some success. Whether you’re new to all things blogging and internet marketing, or you’re an experienced blogger – I’m sure you’ll find some valuable tips inside as I’m sharing all of the steps I take as well as the results it brings me! Here’s one of the latest posts: “How I Got 37 Tweets On My Very First Blogpost: Unveiling a Secret Tool.

PS: Speaking of my other guides you might want to check the “Facebook Marketing: Ultimate Guide” published at SEOmoz (Top Post of 2010 by Thumbs-Up, Traffic and ReTweets) and my recent fancy “Twitter Marketing Guide: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” published here at 1WD.

PPS: I want to say thanks to @playgrey for his work on styling this post to make it look sexy :)

Tim Soulo

Tim Soulo calls himself a "web strategist" as for almost 3 years now he has been helping various online projects with their internet marketing endeavours.

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Comments

  1. Rob Konrad says

    Hey guys,

    just found the infographic that led me here – awesome work!
    I created a little blog post about it on my blog, you can find the post here: .

    Good work, and Tim I hope I pronounced your name correctly!

    Cheers
    Rob Konrad

  2. Colly says

    We always observe what big companies do in their advertisements, especially their e-mail newsletter ads. Sometimes they have great call to action words and techniques, like giveaways and discounts. You can get ideas or incorporate their techniques into your own business marketing.

    Always keep a lookout and keep your eyes open for inspiration and ideas.

    Great article!

  3. Mike Cowburn says

    In a world with so much of the 10 steps to this that or the other, 5 killer strategies to win new business, 3 yawn yawn insights into who knows what – it is really great to benefit from some fantastic content generously shared by Tim.

    Thank you so much Tim :-)

  4. says

    This was an EXTREMELY resourceful post! By the way, I really like your “infographic’s” that you put together at the top of this post – very professional! And I really like the infographic that shows the top reason’s why people “unsubscribe from email blasts” – It’s so true that if you “bombard” them with emails, you will end up hurting yourself in the long run. Some of the other points you brought up, I really hadn’t given a whole lot of thought till now – Thanks alot for this post Tim! (I just bookmarked it for future reference as well)
    Cheers,
    Jeremiah

    • says

      thanks! :) it was our first experience with infographic, and we had several different sketches.. so I’m really glad you like the resulting one :) as for the info – I was torturing Google for a looong time to find all these bits of wisdom and bring them together in one post :)

  5. says

    I’m in the process of redesigning my blog and thinking about a customised email newsletter. This guide and tips will be of great help and guidance for me in this process.

    Thanks a lot for sharing. There’re alot of good information here.

  6. Sergey says

    By the way, thank you Tim, Dainis and Michael for the amazing collaboration!
    It was my first experience of infographic design as well as designing for the popular non-corporate blogs :)

    I would be happy to answer any design question considering this post or your own project. Here or @playgrey.

    P.S.: i wonder, if anyone can help me to get a dribbble invitation? :)

  7. Sergey says

    Seems like this website’s community are full of designers, not marketers. So, maybe you would like to discuss the infographic design? Or even the post design? :)
    I would be happy to receive the most ruthless reviews you can provide with the arguments ;)

    • says

      A post explaining how a designer could create an infographic could be quite good and interesting, although I think the article issue is still valuable sharing and discussing.

      • David says

        yes… I think so… a detailed explanation of “infographic”, it would be helpful for a designer to learn more! :)

  8. Gustavs says

    What really amazes me is the graphic approach that was used to make this post. Excellent!

  9. Gary L says

    Article was fantastic

    Infographic was designed nicely…however I would never use it…
    WAY too many spelling and grammar mistakes.
    “Make you (r) content expire”
    Creat (e) “member only” areas
    “Emails the (that?) arrive on weekends…”

    Not professional at all. In this business, everything HAS to be checked and double-checked for accuracy. Your reputation depends on it.

    • says

      True.. I guess this is totally my bad as I was only checking how it looks, but not reading what was there. I think we’ll fix the mistakes and reupload the file.
      THis is our first attempt of infographic.. that’s why we made those mistakes :((

      • Gary says

        I must apologize to you and Playgrey. I think I must have been very grumpy this morning, and my post sounds more than a bit condescending and rude. That was not my intention. The article was so good, and the graphic styling was exactly what I love… in fact, isn’t that color scheme on the top list on Kuler?

        (I’m using it now for an Android theme I’m working on)

        Thank you for great information, and again, my sincerest apologies.

        Gary

        • says

          No problem mate, at least we quickly fixed all those typos and spelling mistakes :) Most of us (who were working on that post) are not native speakers, so this happens to us :) thanks again for being attentive! :)

      • says

        At least you received comments. The article is timely and constant reminder to share with clients. Many ignore the power of emails. Thank you

    • Sergey Lukyanov says

      Thank you Gary and sorry for the mistakes… it’s really dissapointing (
      We will fix it immediately ;)

  10. Wasim Ismail says

    Amazing Stuff, abit of info overload, but defiantly a post id bookmark to come back to.

    • says

      Somehow I like to guestpost “info overload” posts :) It may really not be that interesting to read.. but once you need to manage your e-mail marketing strategy – this post has almost all you may need :)

      • says

        That’s it right. As the title shows it is a “complete guide”, not a simple and ordinary post about email marketing. So the more information the better. Besides It’s better more information than less.

        Hell of job pals! :)

  11. Gavin says

    This is a great post, I wish I wasn’t in the office so I could read it all, certainly saved to my bookmarks and will be passing it around the office for sure.

    Thanks guys!

  12. says

    Nice article. I just wish the majority of email clients would catch up with browser standards and make the process of designing emails a little easier.