We’ve talked a number of times about the importance of email marketing when it comes to staying connected with your customers. Your website of course is the most important part of your online presence, and social media definitely helps you reach new people. But once you’ve made that connection, the best way to maintain a good relationship is by sending content directly to your followers. And the best way to do that is through email marketing.
Once you’ve made the decision to expand your reach with email marketing, you need to choose the tool that will work best for your needs. You’ll quickly find that there are a number of services out there that claim to do everything you could possibly need. They’ll use terminology you may not be familiar with yet, like CRM syncing, A/B testing, or drip campaigns. Information overload can get in the way of making the best choice for your business or organization.
Starting at the Beginning
Given my experience assisting clients with setup and maintenance of their email marketing, there are a few things I look for when recommending a particular tool. First, let’s start with the basics.
- Subscriptions Options: To begin with, I need to know if I can manually add subscribers or if they must fill out an online form. This is important because your business may come up in conversation and someone may verbally agree to join your mailing list. At that point, you need to be able to manually add them into your chosen system.
- Email Templates: A lot of people like to design their own emails, so it’s important to have at least a bit of variety in designs. However, if I’m assisting with their email marketing efforts, I like to be able to customize a design as much as possible. This includes custom colors, web-friendly fonts, and overall content structure. Ideally, the best service will allow for both a variety of pre-designed templates and flexible options for customizing.
- Tracking: Once your emails are sent, you need to know who receives them and who opens them. It’s as simple as that. This is a given for any email marketing system. I honestly don’t know anyone out there who doesn’t offer tracking.
More to the Story
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about the extras. These are options that can make your work easier, and definitely assist me in doing everything I’d like to do for a client.
- Contact Form Integration: I personally am usually not a fan of whatever “sign-up box” a particular service offers. This is usually because it’s designed to be in keeping with their brand, not yours. I prefer something I can integrate more fully into an existing website, because it will take on the style and branding of the individual client. In particular, I like tools that play nicely with Gravity Forms, my chosen tool for website contact forms. My favorite email marketing system allows me to use a single form to funnel subscribers to any one (or more) of multiple subscription lists. Not everybody offers this!
- Automatic Social Media Posting: Just because social media isn’t the helpmate it used to be doesn’t mean it should be ignored in your marketing efforts. With certain types of content, it can be very helpful to duplicate your newsletter as a post on your social media platform of choice. And if your chosen tool will just do it for you automatically, that’s even better.
- Seamless Integration with WordPress: One of the things I love to do for clients who have an active blog is automatically generate email newsletters that are populated with their blog content. It’s kind of an “In Case You Missed It” nudge to encourage your customers to come back to your website. And you just set it and forget it! Write your content, and know that it’s going where it’s supposed to! I love it.
- Mobile-Friendly: In this instance, I’m not just talking about how something looks on a mobile device. The best email marketing tools allow you to actually create and send emails directly from your phone.
Tools for Growth
Lastly, let’s talk about Things You Didn’t Know You Wanted. Once you’ve been working with email marketing for a while, you may come up with a “wish list” of things you’d like to try as part of your strategy. So it’s good to start off with a tool that allows you to do more.
- Video Embedding: You may not be aware of it, but most email clients don’t allow videos to play directly inside an email. You’re often stuck with a text link or graphic sending your reader to YouTube or Vimeo or wherever your video happens to be stored. A good email marketing tool will automatically convert videos found in your content, and display them in a way that can easily be viewed via email.
- A/B Testing: If you’re tweaking your message, either visually or with content types, it’s nice to be able to compare and contrast between styles. This way you can make better choices for future email messages.
- Vetting Existing Lists: This is a big one, especially if you’re transferring lists from one email marketing service to another. Remember the tracking data I mentioned earlier? A good email marketing tool will review your subscriber list and filter out contacts that have been identified as non-openers or bounce-backs. Since pricing for the various tools is dependent on the number of subscribers, filtering out subscribers you’re not reaching can help you save money while reaching a more targeted audience.
- Integration with Related Software: Some people look for email marketing systems that also do other related tasks like SMS marketing or event management. While the system I use doesn’t natively do those things, it integrates nicely with third-party services like Eventbrite and Zapier to accomplish those goals. All in all, I much prefer using more specialized tools, particularly when the array of functions it offers is larger than their competition.
And the Winner Is…
The tool I use to accomplish all of these goals is MailChimp. It’s one of the top three email marketing systems out there, and it meets my needs very nicely. There are lots of tools out there that do most of the things on this list. And of course your choice may vary based on your particular needs. But if you’re just starting to get into email marketing, you can’t go wrong with MailChimp.