Creating High-Performing Email
Updated: Sep 25
Sending email, checking email, and drafting email has become as much a part of our day-to-day lives as getting up and going to work. And email is going to continue to play an important role in both our professional and personal lives. Take for example, what Loren McDonald, Marketing Evangelist has to say about email: “In the next five years, however, email will be seen as not just a high ROI channel by itself but rather a platform that integrates with and makes other channels more successful.”
Email has consistently been described as having a high return on investment. For every dollar you spend on email it has consistently produced anywhere from a $40-44 return. It had also been found that three-quarters of companies agree that email offers "excellent" to "good" ROI. But that ROI is not promised just by pressing send. As an inbound professional, you know your contacts need to see value in your emails. Your emails will need to benefit both you and your business. It can be a delicate balance.
This is where high-performing emails come in. You know as inbound professionals that sending the right email means focusing on the content that you send, the segment of people you send it to, and the time you send it. With that strategy and mindset in place, you can start to draft and send high-performing emails. High-performing emails will drive engagement with your contacts. You will set the right goals and then optimize each part of your email to drive the conversions toward that goal. High-performing emails are focused on taking the essential parts of an email and making sure they are optimized to drive your contacts toward your specific goal. And when all of your emails are focused on this you will be driving that high ROI for your business. Your emails will be driving engagement and be the vehicle for growth for both your contacts and your business.
The conversations you have with your contacts will guide them through the stages of the inbound methodology, ideally leading them to become a delighted long-lasting customer. High-performing emails can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. What does a high performing email look like? How do you know if you’ve included or optimized the right features? To use email as a vehicle for growth, we need to be on the same page.
Let’s do a quick exercise together.
Find a pen and paper, and draw an email template. It’ll most likely look something like this ‘showing email template’. Now, for the next few moments, draw in the features of what a high-performing email means to you. This might be the images you use (or don’t use), where the CTA is, or even the subject line you might use. This exercise is designed to get your creative mind awake and thinking about how you create high-performing emails right now. Ok, let’s go!
Drawing Email Template.
Great! Now you should have an outline of what a high-performing email might look like for you and your business. You can see here on my drawing that I actually started outside of my email template, with a goal. For all emails, you need to set a goal — an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve is the most important part of creating high-performing emails. I then outlined the sections of the email I’ll need to complete. First, the to and from name. Then the subject line. Up next, the email copy, and finally, adding the footer and image. Each of these pieces come together to make a high-performing email: the goal of why you are sending it and then the carefully designed components layered on top of each other.
Taking those essential pieces of any email and optimizing each piece to help drive conversions towards your set goal. You might have had something that looks slightly different and that’s okay. There are a lot of ways to send emails, but this is where you want to set the foundation of an engaging email and thus creating a high-performing email strategy. Starting with a goal of why you are sending it and then connect each piece of the email to support that goal. High-performing emails will help your business achieve a high return on investment as well as help your contacts see value in the conversations they are having with you.
How do you create a high performing email?
How do you create high-performing emails that will engage with your contacts? Creating high-performing emails comes down to two main themes: first, selecting the right goal for your email and second, optimizing each part of your email to drive the conversions toward that goal.
Inside each of these themes are best practices and key components to execute on. Let’s break down each of them and see how you can create high-performing emails that can act as your business’ vehicle for growth. First let’s discuss selecting the right goal for you email. This is an important one because it sets up the rest of your email creation for success. Try and think about the last time you entered a meeting, and there was no centralized goal or agenda. Things probably seemed unclear and you might have walked away thinking it wasn’t a productive use of your time. Now imagine sending an email without a goal. You’d be creating the same experience. If someone doesn't know why you are sending them an email, it won't add value to those contacts or drive the results you want.
That’s why you always want to start with a strong goal before pressing send. It might sound obvious, but we can all get into the habit of thinking, “Well, this is just what we do every month.” When setting the goal for your email, you want to consider how to send the right email to the right person at the right time. In other words, you will need to decide what content you’re sending to what segment of contacts and at what point of time. We can break this down further with the five whys: who, what, when, where, and why.
You might use this framework to drill down into other aspects of your marketing, sales, and service goals. And you’ll also have a larger goal for your email strategy as a whole. You should be able to explain what you’re trying to accomplish with all the types of emails you are sending. But the five whys will help you narrow down the goal of a single email you are sending out.
So let’s take a look.
First up is the who. Who are you sending your email to? Relevancy is always key when looking at the who. Great content for the wrong set of contacts won’t add value, just like the right contacts receiving poor content won’t either. You need to decide who the right person for this content and your email send is. Deciding on the right set of contacts means looking at what information will be valuable to what contacts. For example, you can look at your different contacts of where they are in the buyer's journey to help you target the right content to the right contacts.
At the core of who you should send to is send emails to lists that want to hear from you.
If you have email lists with low rates of engagement activity, stop sending to them. Every time you send to a list with low open and engagement rates, it hurts your domain reputation and your chances of connecting with other potential customers. Make sure the contacts you are connecting with are receiving value from your emails but also want to hear from you.
Once you decide on who you are targeting, you can move into the what.
What do you want your contacts to do with this email? Are you asking them to sign up for a webinar, download content, or subscribe to your blog? The what needs to be clear and quantifiable so you know if your email send was successful. Think about defining what using the framework SMART.
A smart goal is defined as specific: measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. With a smart goal for your email you will be able to say: my contacts met the goal of my email or they didn’t. Inside of your email tool you will be able to measuring the success of your email. HubSpot calls this the ‘postsend’ details page and displays all the information of what occurred during the email send. Next you need to ask when. This relates back to the who. Because when doesn't just mean the time of day but when in the buyer's journey are you sending this content to your contacts? When will this content be the most relevant to them? Take a look the buyer’s journey here. At the different stages, different types of content and education will be necessary to further your conversations with your contacts.
Understanding when you need to serve up specific types of content is an important piece of setting goals. Take for example, when a contact is in the consideration stage. The types of content they will be looking for will be drastically different than what they would need in the other two stages. In this stage they have defined their problem and are actively researching different solutions.
You will also need to ask yourself where. Where are your contacts going to be reading this email?. Movable Ink, a cloud-based software company, found that 48% of emails are opened on a smartphone and 41% of emails are opened on an iPhone (Movable Ink, 2015). Which means it’s extremely important for you to keep in mind the type of device your contacts will be viewing your email on. Even as phones get bigger each day it seems, they’re still smaller than a computer screen, which means you need to keep size in mind when designing your emails. Keep your contacts’ location top of mind as you’re creating your emails. Lastly, ask yourself why. This is your most important question and relates back to the overall theme that we are discussing here of setting the right goals. You are asking yourself and team: why have you and your team decided to press send?
Here a few questions to help you answer why.
What is the desired outcome? Is that outcome more for your benefit than for the reader’s? What value does the reader receive in this email, and finally, how does this email fit it with all the other conversations you are having with your contacts?
Why is always an important question in inbound marketing. A whole philosophy has been built around asking why, with author Simon Sinek at the charge. He says that “people don’t buy what you do but why you do it.” And if this is true, then deciding why you are sending an email will be a step in the right direction to make sure your contacts know why you do what you do. Now that we’ve looked about how to define your goal for your email, let’s take a look at the second theme of creating high-performing emails: optimizing each part of your email to drive the conversions toward that goal.
Optimizing each part of your email to focus on conversion is the key to creating high-performing emails. With all the elements aligned and working together your contacts are going to be receiving the most value from your emails and in turn you will see the most ROI for your email sends. So what does it mean to optimize each part of your email to drive the conversions toward that goal? It means looking at two key actions someone takes on your email: the open and the click.
To optimize for a conversion, let’s first define what a conversion is. We can define conversion as “the completion of a desired action.” Each email you are sending will have a goal which is the desired action you are hoping your contacts are completing. Now you will want to make sure each part of your email is guiding your contacts towards that desired action. To optimize for a conversion, you need to have someone first open your email and then compel them to take action. You can think about it like a funnel. Before anyone can click, they have to open your email. If a reader doesn’t open your email, it’s safe to say they’ll never click on your call-to-action.
Let’s take a look at each of these actions, both the open and the click, and break down how you can use them to create a high-performing email. First, someone needs to open your email. There are several things that will affect whether or not someone decides to open your email, specifically the subject line, the sender name and email, and the preview text.
Each of these should be designed to influence your overall goal and encourage your readers to progress toward the desired action. First is your subject line. Your subject line is the door to your email. For someone to come in, they first need to enter through the subject line. This makes it an important piece of your overall conversion rates. It also provides you insight into what type of messaging appeals to your personas. Let’s look at a few best practices for crafting a great subject line.
With subject lines, shorter is better. 41-50 characters is the average character length that will appear on a mobile device. And given our world today, where most of us are reading emails on our mobile devices, aiming for this range will be important since a majority of your readers will be taking a look at your email on their mobile device. As in most aspects of inbound marketing, you will want to avoid any language that isn’t human or helpful. Words like “free” or “percent off” will not only trigger spam filters but also don’t make your email sound like it’s coming from a real person. Some other things to keep in mind are keeping it straightforward, short, and sweet.
Personalize it when it’s appropriate to have the recipient’s first name, company name, or even location appear. And lastly, try to mix it up — get creative and run tests on what your contacts like or don’t like by A/B testing your subject lines. Next, you will need to look at the other information that guides someone into your email, such as the sender name and email and the preview text. Great emails build trust. They show you are human and helpful and are going to provide value. This can be communicated in the name and email you have appear in the from section. Keep it as familiar as possible. Have the email come from your company not a no-reply email address, and if your contacts have an account manager or a dedicated communication person at your company, the email should probably come from them. This will help you keep your emails as a conversation, which at its core is more human.
Next is your preview text. Preview text is the snippet of copy that’s pulled in from the body of your email. It’s typically displayed underneath the from name and subject line in a subscriber's inbox. You will use your preview text to continue the theme presented in your subject line, tease out the content of your email, add a personalized message, and of course show the value of the content inside of your email. With these in place, you’re setting your email up for a successful open and then you can focus on the value you are providing inside of your email. Inside of your email, you are giving your readers valuable content guided toward helping them take a specific action.
Whether that is downloading a piece of educational content, subscribing to a blog, or signing up for an upcoming live training with you and your business, you need to provide value. To do this effectively, you will need to write effective email copy. The truth is that you can design the best email in the world with the most high-resolution pictures, but without great copy, your readers are not going to find the most value from your email. There are many ways to write great email copy, but the main themes are: write with clarity, purpose, and your primary goal in mind. Your copy is showing your readers why you sent this email. Channel your inner Simon Sinek and show them why you do what you do and the value they get from it. You are creating a conversation. And while the other parts of your email can support that, the copy you write will be the core of creating that engaging conversation.
Each business has its own style and brand, and you need to take that into consideration with your email copy, but there a few best practices that you should follow to keep your email copy conversational and helpful. The first is write for scanability. The best thing you can do for your reader, and for your metrics, is to do the work for them. Use short paragraphs, bolding, headlines, and bullet points to display information in a way that makes it easy to blink once and get the purpose and value of the email. The second is using the right tone. You will probably have a few different personas who you send emails to, and you might need to adjust the tone of your email copy depending on the persona or their context. There’s so little time and space when it comes to email, so every word counts. Seth Godin says this really well, "Why waste a sentence saying nothing?"
Next, personalize when appropriate. Personalization is discussed a lot with email, and it’s more than just personalization tokens — it’s about making the content relevant and engaging for the reader. But you also want to use personalization tokens to amplify your email copy. Consider adding the contact’s first name, mention their interests, or an action the contact has taken with your company. All of this provides a personalized experience for your reader. And lastly, proofread. Take the time to spell check. People lose trust over small things, so don’t let a few misspelled words be the reason you turn a contact away.
The last piece of your email that you will need to optimize to drive the conversions toward that goal is your callto-action. This might be the most important aspect of your email because it's what gets your reader out of the inbox and onto the next step. To make a great CTA, you need to ask yourself three main questions: What do I want the reader to do? Why should they do it? How will they know to do it? You’ll want to stick to one CTA to promote the primary goal. I can’t stress this enough. You have one goal for your email and your CTA should drive the reader toward that goal. Now this doesn't mean that you can’t turn multiple components of your email into a CTA. You can link images to your offer, hyperlink appropriate copy, or edit the alt-text of your images. But all these links should guide your reader toward one desired action that will provide value to them and benefit you and your business. There many different ways to design your CTA, and that will depend on your brand’s look and feel. But remember, if you have one goal for your email then you need one desired action to encourage the reader to take.
With these elements both the open and the click optimized for engagement you will be showing value to your readers and optimizing for success. Putting these two themes to work: selecting the right goal for your email and second, optimizing each part of your email to drive the conversions toward that goal, you will build a strong strategy for creating high-performing emails. In the end, when you bring all of this together, you’ll be providing the most value to your contacts who in turn will help you grow your business.
What do high-performing emails look like?
You need a strategy for creating high-performing email if you want to consistently send email your contacts love. To achieve this, it is also important to keep in mind the key components every high-performing email will need. Let’s look at what high-performing emails look like in action and each component your email needs before you press send. There are a few ways to look at what every email needs. Let’s look at the key components: your email template, footer information and CAN-SPAM compliance, and images and design.
The first is the email template you choose to use. Marketers have discussed many times over which email performs better: HTML or text-based emails. While there is a lot of discussion around it, and particularly around what B2B vs B2C audiences prefer, the most important aspect of the debate is regardless of which type of email you are sending, your reader needs to know what you’re trying to convey. Aim for a clean, straightforward design to display the value you are sending. That’s where your email template will come in. It sets the foundation of your email for you to design around providing value to your reader. You know that not all of your readers will be opening your emails on the same device or with the same email provider. Having an email template to support you in creating an email will take some of the weight off you and help you get your content out to your contacts quicker.
Use an email template that is on-brand with the rest of your website, and you should have a few options for the different types of emails you send: newsletter, blog updates, or promotion of products or services. For example, take a look at these different types of email templates here. This example comes directly from the HubSpot Marketplace. Having options with the types of email templates you use will help you create a consistent experience for your users across all emails you send. The second component you want to look at is an important one. Every email you send needs to have a footer. In that footer, you will include information that will help to be compliant with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Every time you press send on a marketing email, you need to be CAN-SPAM compliant. To review, the CANSPAM Act is a law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives contacts the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations. To be compliant with this law, you must have a footer that includes your physical address and unsubscribe links for your readers to access at any time. This means in every email you send you need to include company name, company street address, city, state, and a link to email preferences or unsubscribe all. Remember that sending great inbound email is all about building trust.
Giving your readers the option to unsubscribe from content they do not want to receive is how you build trust and keep it. Lastly, you will want to look at the images and design of the rest of your email. The first is the images you add. Images are a great way to engage your reader and add some flare to your email sends. But images are not created equal across email clients. Some email clients will prevent automatic image loading, which means your images will not appear in your email, so you want to make sure you know what will the reader will see if the email is image-heavy and the images don’t load.
Keep in mind always that your readers are not interacting with your emails in a bubble. They are also reading your blog posts and interacting with you on social media. Ask yourself if all of that information needs to be communicated in an email format. Use all of your channels available to vary and communicate your value and information. While I think we can agree that email is the best channel to have conversations but, it can’t do everything. Use all of your channels to your advantage to help your readers grow. With these key components: your email template, footer information and CAN-SPAM compliance, and images and design, you will be able to design and send a high-performing email that is engaging and provides value to your reader. Remember that your goal with all your emails is to be human and helpful with each send to further the