You have a million things that you could be doing right now to try to grow your website.
You could focus on anything from SEO to guest posting to improving your site speed. Those are great things that you should definitely do. However, many people push email marketing to the side because they don't see its true value.
If you run an online business and are not prioritizing email marketing, you ignore your most valuable growth channel and miss out on revenue opportunities. Despite being one of the oldest digital marketing channels, email marketing remains the most powerful, hands-down.
If used effectively, it can be the difference between being a hobby blogger and being a full-time, independent content creator. If you run an eCommerce shop, it can be the difference between a few one-time buyers and loyal fans who come back repeatedly.
But you have to know how to use it.
In this guide, we'll walk through exactly what email marketing is, the key components, and how you can use it to grow your business.
Email Marketing Potential
Email marketing has been around for a long time – a really long time.
Gary Thuerk sent the first marketing email blast in 1978 when he sent 400 cold emails to ARPANET users. That one bulk email reportedly landed him over $13 million in contracts.
Things have changed a bit since then.
Email marketing still fundamentally consists of building an email list and sending out email broadcasts. However, things have become much more sophisticated, and they have also become more challenging.
We'll discuss the challenges a bit later and how to handle them. First, it's important to realize the potential value of an email subscriber to your business.
Email marketing has a staggering average ROI of 3,800%. For every dollar spent, $38 is generated.
If you're running a business by yourself, you might not be spending actual money on marketing yet. If that's the case, consider what you'd have to pay someone else to create and run an email marketing program.
Whatever number you come up with, multiply it by 38 to see how much revenue you could be generating according to the stats.
Some people claim that an email subscriber is worth as much as $1 per month. So 10,000 email subscribers could be worth as much as $10k per month… in theory. This is something that varies wildly from business to business.
How can you actually get that kind of value out of your email list, and how do you build your email list in the first place?
As we will see, it all comes down to your strategy.
What is Email Marketing, Exactly?
Contrary to what many prominent blogs suggest, email marketing is NOT a marketing strategy.
Email marketing is a digital marketing channel.
Simply put, a marketing channel is a means of reaching your audience. Here are some other examples of marketing channels:
- Google Search
- Facebook Ads
- YouTube Search
- YouTube Ads
- LinkedIn Ads
- LinkedIn Topics
Just to name a few.
Digital Marketing Channels
You can think of a marketing channel as a pipeline that you can use to reach out to your desired audience.
The distinction between “strategy” and “channel” turns out to be really important.
When you identify a channel – a place where your audience hangs out – you have to invest time, energy, and sometimes money into understanding the channel.
Only once you deeply understand the channel can you design a strategy that you believe will be effective.
Here's a story that explains what I mean.
A while back, a friend of mine decided to try running some Facebook ads for their business. They jumped right into it and spent $500 over the course of two weeks without doing any research.
They got zero sales.
After a few weeks of basically just lighting money on fire, they came back to me and said, “Facebook ads don't work. It's a total waste.”
Meanwhile, I was running a very profitable eCommerce shop getting most of my traffic from Facebook ads.
What's the difference?
I spent three months taking courses and reading articles on how to run effective Facebook ads. When I eventually started running ads, I followed a specific testing framework that helped me develop a feel for it without spending too much money.
That investment is the difference between complete failure and smashing success.
Invest in the Channel
To get results from a marketing channel, you don't have to be a professional marketer, but you have to invest in it.
Most bloggers do this without realizing it when it comes to Google Search.
As I mentioned above, Google Search is another channel.
Learning about keyword research, building backlinks, and making sure your site speed is optimized can be a big endeavor. Still, it's how you get your initial traction. When you do that, you are investing in the Google Search channel.
Similarly, if we want to achieve maximum results from email marketing, it requires a serious investment.
Many people don't really understand their email list's true potential, so they fail to prioritize it properly. This leads to mediocre or even bad results.
In the next section, we'll look at a baseline email marketing system. We'll go through the exact components you need to get an email marketing program up and running.
Then we'll walk through how to create your own strategy and some general tips to be more effective.
An Email Marketing System
Imagine email marketing as a machine – a machine that you'd like to make money for you. That machine is going to be made up of components…
Think about a car for a second. A car has to have specific parts to actually function.
It has to have a motor.
It's got to have wheels.
It's got to have brakes.
You get the idea.
All cars have these things, whether it's a fancy new electric car or an old pickup truck.
We might say that these are the essential, core components that make up a car – the things you absolutely have to have for it to take you from point A to point B.
When we're designing our email system, the first thing we need to know is what the essential components are.
Once we know that, we can get into the details about which technologies will work best for each component. You'll see what I mean in a second.
Let's look at the components and some potential technology solutions we can use for each one.
The 4 C's of Email Marketing
There are 4 key components that you must have to run any email strategy, no matter what your business is. I call these the 4 C's of email marketing:
You may incorporate other elements into your email marketing system, but these are the ones that you can't function without.
The first thing you have to do to start building your email list is set up a method for collecting email addresses. This is technically referred to as “email capture” or “lead capture,” depending on what line of business you are in.
At the most basic level, you need to set up a signup form on your website where people can give you their contact information, typically their first name and email address.
Obviously, a simple form isn't going to grab anyone's attention. You need to make a compelling offer to get them to connect with you.
You've most likely interacted with all sorts of email capture tools across the web.
While being simple on the surface, email capture is a big subject. There are a wide variety of methods available to capture email subscribers.
Here are some approaches to email capture that you may have seen:
- Newsletter opt-ins
- Free PDF downloads
- Email courses
Each of these email capture approaches may show up in different formats.
For example, you could offer a free ebook download on a standalone landing page. You could also offer the same download via a form embedded in the middle of a blog post. Another option would be to offer the ebook in a popup when the reader starts to leave the page (i.e., “exit intent”).
Most email marketing software, such as ConvertKit, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and ActiveCampaign, comes with various simple email signup tools that you can use. Typically they will have basic newsletter opt-ins as well as landing pages.
It isn't necessarily critical which email service you choose when you're just getting started, so don't get too hung up on it.
Any of the ones listed here will serve as a good starting point, and there are many others.
We'll discuss more email marketing tools and strategies that you can use to grow your list faster a bit later.
Once someone gives you their email, before you add them to an email campaign, it's important to send them an opt-in email.
This is typically an automated email that goes out with a link for the subscriber to click, confirming that they really want to be on your email list.
This process is referred to as double opt-in because it takes two steps:
- The subscriber provides you with their email address.
- They click the link that you send them, which gives you express permission to follow up.
This is important for at least two reasons.
First of all, it prevents you from sending emails to fake or incorrect email addresses.
People (or robots) will often fill out an email field on your website with an email address that isn't real or doesn't belong to them, especially if you offer an incentive. By requiring double opt-in, you mostly prevent this.
Second, it helps protect your email sender reputation and keeps you out of the spam folder.
By requiring double opt-in, you will get fewer email subscribers.
Still, you'll get higher-quality email contacts that will be more engaged. These people are much less likely to flag your emails as spam.
All email marketing software should have the ability to send an automated confirmation email when someone joins your list. This is typically referred to as an autoresponder.
Some systems like ConvertKit, which is designed specifically for content creators, make it easy to use incentives to get people to join your list.
For example, when you create a ConvertKit form, you can attach a PDF file sent to the user as soon as they confirm their email.
This is great because it actually provides more incentive to the reader to double opt-in. They can't get the PDF that they want until they double confirm.
Many people just redirect to a PDF as soon as a person enters their email. When you do this, you reduce the chance of getting the person to click the double opt-in link in the email.
Once someone is a confirmed member of your list, you need to develop a relationship with them.
Without a strong connection, it's much harder to sell products or get your readers to take action.
One of the best ways to do this is to set up an automated sequence of evergreen content that the subscriber will receive on a schedule. This can be blog posts that you think the subscriber will be interested in, or it can be exclusive email content.
It's also a great idea to include some emails in your sequence that ask your readers open-ended questions. If you do this, be sure to respond to readers who answer.
If you really want to take this to the next level, incorporate segmentation into your system. That way, you are only sending your readers the most relevant content and resources.
Exactly how to connect with your readers depends on who your audience is and the topics they are interested in. That said, building this relationship is critical to your success.
Once you've established a real relationship with your audience, you can start to promote products and services.
Selling via email deserves its own entire post. Depending on your business, you could be selling anything from services to eCommerce products to affiliate offers.
Bearing that in mind, here are a few tips.
First, don't skip the “connect” step.
Building a genuine relationship with your audience sets you up for success with anything you're looking to promote.
Trying to make a quick buck off of your audience will make you come off scammy, and even if you make a few dollars, you'll get a lot of unsubscribes and a bad reputation.
This works in every type of business.
When working on our eCommerce store, I sent several articles like “A Brief History of Mechanical Watches” before I ever pitched a sale or discount in our store.
I got a bunch of people replying, thanking me for taking the time to write those emails. Many of those people became repeat customers and true fans.
Second, make use of sales sequences.
Again, this strategy will look a lot different for different kinds of businesses. However, it can be very effective for most businesses to create a 3 to 5 email sequence with a mix of reviews, case studies, promos, etc.
You can set up these sequences so that they gradually ramp up the sales pitch. The first email might be a gentle introduction to what you want to sell, and the last email is a fully blown promotion.
Last, use triggers to activate sales sequences.
Only a fraction of your audience will be ready to buy a particular product or service at any given time. While you can blast out sales emails to your entire list, what if you could just email the people most likely to be ready to buy?
That would dramatically increase your conversion rates and the ROI in your email system.
Most email marketing software tools have features that allow you to kick off email sequences when your readers take specific actions, for example, opening an email or clicking a link.
This requires some creativity on your end, but if you can pinpoint links in your emails that only someone interested in a particular product or service would click, you can use that action to add them to a related sales sequence.
Email List Mistakes
Now that we've discussed how the whole system works let's look at how you can grow your list faster. We'll take a look at the most common mistakes and discuss what you should do instead.
Your Opt-in Forms Are Out of Sight
Many people who haven't focused much on email marketing will just have a form somewhere tucked away out of view on their website.
Some people even offer free ebook downloads or training series. But they put it deep within a section of their site that nobody ever visits.
It doesn't matter if you have an amazing offer if nobody can find it. You're making it hard for people to sign up.
Remember how most people end up on your website. They do a quick Google search, click a link, and scan. If your opt-in box isn't somewhere obvious, nobody will use it.
Instead, it would be best to place calls to action (CTAs) prominently on highly trafficked pages, preferably towards the top.
Your Offer Isn't Appealing
How many times have you seen a form on a website that says “Join my newsletter”?
These types of forms typically convert very poorly. Most people are super busy, and they don't want any more newsletters cluttering their inboxes.
There are exceptions, but most websites will get more email opt-ins by offering a lead magnet – something valuable that you offer for free to attract new subscribers.
We'll go over several ideas for lead magnets in the next section.
Your Copy Isn't Great
Even if you're making a fantastic offer, your conversion rate will sometimes suffer if you get the wording wrong.
As a content creator, copywriting is one of the most valuable skills you can develop.
It's crucial to take the time to really understand how your audience thinks, what their real problems are, and how they would actually describe them.
When you can actually speak your audience's language and incorporate it into your offers, you will significantly improve your results.
It's also important to use tools that allow you to split-test the copy of whatever you are offering. Split testing essentially means that you run multiple versions of your offer, compare how they each perform, and progressively improve your conversion rate.
This is powerful because even if you deeply know your audience, some words and phrases will connect differently than you might imagine, and split testing helps you find what works best.
Focusing on Email Design
For the most part, a plain-text email will work just as well, if not better, than a fancy HTML email. Also, they work the same across all email clients without any issues.
Ecommerce might be the only category where this isn't true, but only if you're doing a product promo. If you're sending out an email that is meant to build a connection, tell a story, or otherwise engage with your audience, stick to plain text.
As I mentioned above, simple newsletter forms aren't likely to help you grow your email list quickly.
Instead, it would be best to offer something valuable that grabs a reader's attention and makes them want to hear more from you.
Here are a few powerful list building techniques to help you grow faster.
Free Downloads (Ebooks, Guides, etc.)
The most common type of lead magnet is probably PDF downloads. These can convert really well if you avoid the mistakes listed above.
There are entire posts about how to create great lead magnets, but here are a few tips.
To create a high-converting download, you need to tap into your reader's biggest hopes, dreams, fears, and pains. Create something that quickly solves a real problem for them.
It often helps to think of this less like an ebook or a long blog post and more like some tool or checklist.
For example, instead of writing an ebook called “Your Ultimate Guide to Personal Finance Mastery,” which sounds lofty and lengthy, you could put together the “Get Out of Debt Checklist.”
The nice thing is that the “checklist” is probably easier for you to create. If your reader is in debt, it's going to resonate more than the personal finance guide.
You (hopefully) know your audience better than I could from the outside, so I'm sure that you can come up with something even more targeted.
With as high as a 50% conversion rate, quizzes are among the most powerful email capture tools available.
Quizzes do take time and energy to design. However, if done well, they are extremely engaging for your audience. They also provide you interesting data about who is taking them.
There are a few different types of quizzes, and they each have their own benefits and drawbacks. They are definitely worth investing in if you want to get serious about growing your email list.
Email Courses or Series
Email courses make for a great lead magnet for a few reasons.
First, you and your subscriber's goals are aligned. You want to email them. They are signing up to receive emails. It's perfect.
Sometimes PDF downloads and quizzes kind of “trick” people into subscribing. They don't really want to join your list, but they really want your lead magnet.
Email courses are different. The email content is literally why they are signing up.
Second, many people love to feel like they are part of a program. Email courses have a rhythm to them. With you download a PDF, it's easy to skim it and then promptly forget about it in your downloads folder.
By showing up in the reader's inbox on a schedule, you're able to keep their attention with more touchpoints.
Last, with an email series, you get the chance to develop a real relationship with your audience. As discussed above, this is the kind of thing that you should send your audience anyway.
Calling it a “course” and promoting the benefits is really just selling the value of being on your list.
As an online business owner, email marketing is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox.
Learning how to use it properly could be the difference between a thriving business and a time-consuming hobby.
It will require a serious investment, but you can absolutely get massive value from this old marketing channel.