9 tips for structuring your email marketing process
“Can you send the email next week?” my manager asked. “Of course, no problem!” I said. What could go wrong with sending an email? You just manage that in between your other tasks, right? With this mindset, things can go wrong with sending an email. Do you want to do better with your email marketing? Use these nine tips for structuring your email marketing process.
Two types of email marketing
Before we start, it’s important to distinguish two types of email marketing. Both of these types can occur in your annual marketing plan.
- Manually sent campaigns (such as periodic newsletters)
- Automated campaigns (or email marketing automation campaigns)
This blogpost is mainly about the first form of email marketing: manual emailing. Since this is a recurring activity, we can clearly describe its process. Developing automated campaigns is more of a small IT project that you have to set up. With automated campaigns the design can differ considerably per campaign. Therefore, in this blogpost we only focus on the process of manual emailing.
The first step in the process of manually sending email campaigns is to create an email marketing calendar.
1. Create an email marketing calendar
The first step in setting up the process, is knowing what is to come. Your marketing department probably has an annual plan in place. This contains the most important marketing activities of the year, of which email marketing is a part. This annual planning is the starting point of your email marketing calendar: an overview of all emails that you are going to send, including a rough planning of the content it will contain. When drawing up the email marketing calendar, you have to take the following elements into account:
- Public holidays
- Trade fairs where your organization will be present
- Events organized by your organization (a day for your customers, webinars, etc.)
- Holiday season (due to outreach, but also understaffing)
- Other marketing campaigns (newspaper, radio, television, etc.)
The email marketing calendar also features the main subject of every campaign. This all will result in a document in which the campaigns you will be sending that year are listed per period. The content for the email campaigns may not be final yet, but the calendar does provide guidance.
When you’ve finished the email marketing calendar, share the document with all internal and external parties involved in the email marketing process. This way, there are no surprises and you are assured of sufficient capacity to actually produce the campaigns. Because of the email marketing calendar, you know when your emails should be sent. This will give you a foundation to make a back planning.
2. Create an overall back planning
A back planning is an overview of all activities that are required to achieve a certain end result. To make a back planning you calculate back from the deadline to the moment you have to start. The following activities could be included in a back planning for sending an email:
- Determine the final subject
- Determine which content you need
- Design the email
- Convert the design to HTML
- Make the address selection
- Write the copy
- Compose the email
- Create the landing page
- Build the form for the ebook download
Depending on your organization, your back planning includes more or fewer activities than the example above. It’s important to mention the number of hours required for the activity and the person responsible for execution. You then share the back planning with your stakeholders. This way, everyone knows what to expect in advance.
One advantage of making a back planning is, once you’ve made a back planning for a campaign, you can just reuse it for your other campaigns.
3. Use a content calendar
Content development can be tackled in a process-based manner. The content calendar should be created for multiple channels. Email is one of those channels. The email marketing calendar shows the upcoming campaign including the subject. When making the back planning, you determine the final subject.
Content is one of the most important parts of your campaign. It’s therefore important to discuss whether the subject is still correct and which content is further needed in a timely manner. Of course, it could be that you are overtaken by current affairs. Or that a colleague comes up with a brilliant idea that you just have to use.
During a content meeting you determine what needs to be done. For example, actions like:
- Determine the final topic (e.g. ebook about selecting the best SEO solution)
- Determine other articles that support the topic
- Which landing pages are included?
- Which forms need to be built?
- What should your thank you page look like?
- What follow-up will you send after a download?
- What images, audio and video are needed?
- Who will develop the content? Inhouse or outsourcing?
- Which tags are you going to use for the campaign (Google Analytics)?
- Who will manage it all?
Tip: make sure all the elements of your email campaign are finished before you start setting it up. You can then check all the elements by using the content calendar you made.
4. Request your segments in time
Creating segments can take more time than you can imagine. From a marketing perspective you tend to think: we just need a segment of prospects, customers or anyone who became a member last month. But from the perspective of the database marketers or IT department, even the simplest segment can be a daunting task. It’s therefore important to include IT early in the process.
Right after you made your back planning, you know what the segment should include. At that point, ask for the segment and don’t wait until the very last minute. Sometimes a segment does not only require an internal IT department, but also external sources. Make sure to include these people early on as well. If your back planning is comprehensive enough, you have already described this and you know when to inform them.
5. Create your email campaign backwards
Creating an email marketing campaign consists of much more than just composing one email. You also have to create landing pages, write copy, etc. Because a campaign consists of this many elements, creating the campaign can get messy. You can also use a back planning for this. The elements of an email campaign mostly are:
- Content for landing pages, thank you pages and blogposts
- Confirmation emails of registration or a download
- Thank you pages
- Landing pages
- Content for the email itself
- Sender, subject line and pre-header
- Convert design to HTML
- Email design
An approach that causes many mistakes, is to start at the beginning of your email marketing process. That is starting with the email. Why? Because when you start with your email, you have to link to a landing page that doesn’t exist yet. So you will stop that process to make one. Only then, you can use the URL in your email. The same goes for the form on the landing page. When you create the landing page, you reserve a spot for the form. You then have to build the form first, before you can embed it on your landing page. This back-and-forth approach leads to mistakes. It’s therefore the preferred choice to work backwards. (The list above is already in a backwards order.)
When your email campaign is fully finished, you can start testing.
6. Establish an effective operational testing program
In an ideal world, all content is tested before being incorporated in the campaign. In the same world, every link to a website is a working link. But we don’t live in an ideal world and sometimes changes come into play at the very end. That’s why a clear testing process is important. There are different levels of testing:
- Checking content
- Testing the email design in different clients
- Testing the functioning of variable content
- Testing for personalization
- Testing if the links are working
- Testing landing pages, forms, thank you pages and follow-up
- Live data test for personalization
This is too much and too complex for just one or two people to test and check. That’s why it’s useful to divide the attention. For instance:
- Person W looks at the design in different clients
- Person X pays attention to the copy
- Person Y focuses on the working links
- Person Z checks the functioning of forms
This is efficient, because not everyone has to pay attention to everything. It also provides clear responsibilities. You know who to look at when something doesn’t work or there is a mistake made. Choose people whose strength is in the part they are checking. For example, some people are better with checking copy than others. To test your emails in different clients, we suggest to use a solution such as Litmus or the feature of your own email marketing software.
Within some organizations there is a communication approval process in place. If you have one, make sure you reserve the time needed for this in your back planning.
7. Monitor your sent emails
Picture this wonderful moment. The hard work has finished and you can now start monitoring how your campaign is performing. If it goes according to plan, it will be a reward for all your hard work. The first step is making sure that the rest of the organization knows the email is going to be sent.
Then it’s time to send the actual email, right? No. Never send an email at the same moment, schedule it. Even if it’s going to be sent in 30 minutes. Why? When you schedule the campaign, your brain signals that the work is done. The stress of your hard work falls away and the relaxation gives your brain the space to process everything. And then you suddenly think of that one download that’s not ready yet. Or another improvement you can apply. A mistake you can fix before it’s actually sent. That’s why scheduling your email is crucial.
Once you’ve sent the email, it’s interesting to check up on your email now and then. You can check:
- How does the A/B test function?
- Are opens and clicks registered?
- Do you see visitors on the landing page?
- Are there any registrations or downloads?
By keeping track of the campaign for at least an hour after sending, you can make sure that everything is fine. In the unlikely event that things don’t go well, you can still make adjustments.
8. Analyse and log
About 98 percent of the response to your campaign should be in after four days to a week after sending it. Then it’s time to check how your campaign has performed. These are the elements you should pay attention to:
- Open rate
- Click through rate
- Bounce rate
- Results of performed A/B tests
- Visits to the landing pages
- Number of inquiries or registrations
- Time spent on the website by visitors from the email
- Number of pages viewed by visitors from the email
- Compare with visitors from other channels
These rates and KPIs don’t only reflect the success compared to previously sent emails, but also compared to other channels. This is important given the budget that the marketing department has to allocate to each channel.
If your email marketing software doesn’t provide an easy way to compare different campaigns, you can create a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet should contain the above rates and KPIs, along with distinctive results per campaign. It should also provide the conclusions you have drawn as a team. That knowledge is important while preparing and developing the next campaign.
Is everything finished now? Not quite yet. Another important thing is managing your email campaigns.
9. Manage your email campaigns
The last step in the email marketing process is managing your campaigns. This ensures the quality of your subscriber database. It also makes sure that you work comfortably and make fewer mistakes.
When it comes to your database of email subscribers, you should check for bounces and unsubscribes after sending every campaign. The hard bounces are the most interesting. Why do you have an incorrect email address in your database? Is there something wrong with the registration form? Has the person in question changed their email address? These are situations that you as a marketer want to prevent. By analyzing the bounces you will uncover the reasons and that makes it able for you to take needed measures.
The unsubscribes are also of importance. Especially to measure if the content you send actually suits the needs of your target group. When you put a survey in place that people have to fill in after subscribing, you can retrieve important information from that.
The final step is to clean up your campaigns. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done after every campaign, but would be good to conduct every quarter, for example. Make sure to archive or delete the parts you no longer need.
Let 100%EMAIL help you
So, when my manager asked me, “Can you send the email next week?” it seemed to be a simple question, but that wasn’t the case. In reality, it is way more complex than most people (and managers) can imagine.
Do you need extra help from an email marketer in your marketing department? Or do you need some extra knowledge on a particular expertise? 100%EMAIL has all the quality and experience present. We also work email marketing software independent. This means that we can work with every email software, so you don’t have to switch to another system.
So tell us, how much email marketing do you need?