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9 expert-endorsed steps to create an email marketing strategy that works

· 23 min read · Email marketing · Apr 13, 2023
Indrė and Paulius strategizing over a game of chess.

Planning an email marketing strategy can feel like staring at a blank canvas. But you don’t have to be an email marketing Michelangelo to get great results. Creating an effective campaign is more paint-by-numbers than Mona Lisa—just follow proven steps and adjust them to your goals.

Today, our in-house marketing expert Georgia Harrison will share the steps we took when undergoing a recent email strategy revamp. Take what we learned and use these ideas to build your own campaigns, from planning goals to growing your list and creating content your subscribers love.

Who will benefit from this article?

This cheat sheet will help anyone creating a new email marketing strategy or trying to get more from their existing campaigns. We’re coming to the tactics from the point of view of a software tool, but they can be applied to any business. We’ve included plenty of examples from both large and small businesses to highlight the points.

Start the email marketing campaign strategy planning process by defining your goals. Ours were simple: to attract new subscribers and build relationships that lead to loyal customers

Defining this early on gave us a clear target to aim for. We knew that to attract subscribers, we’d have to create and promote lead magnets. And to build relationships, we’d have to send content that was useful and showed our human side. 

Once our goals were clear, we needed to define the metrics that would show if we were on the right track.

This meant measuring campaign outcomes like subscriber count and conversion, as well as leading indicators like the performance of new lead magnets, automation and newsletters.

Georgia explained that “tracking both final outcomes and leading indicators ensures we can see how all parts of our campaign perform. We get insight into what does and doesn’t work and can make changes based on this data.”

Your turn: Think about why you want to start email marketing

Clearly define what you want to achieve to ensure your strategy pushes towards your business goals. 

Some common reasons to start email marketing include:

  • Improve conversions at specific parts of the customer journey

  • Nurture leads to customers

  • Encourage repeat sales or reduce churn

  • Generate more traffic to your website or blog

  • Maximize newsletter views to generate ad income 

Once you know your goals, you’ll have a better idea of the steps to take to reach them.

If you need some inspiration, check out the article below for a rundown of common email marketing metrics used to track campaign success.

The hardest part of an email marketing plan is generating new subscribers. But choosing a method of subscriber acquisition that works with your existing strengths and resources can make the task more manageable.

“At MailerLite, our biggest strength is our blog,” explained Georgia. “It gets a ton of traffic every day, and we already use it to convert visitors onto our email list. But we knew there was room for improvement."

We realized that even a small percentage increase in list conversions could lead to a big jump in the number of people that join our list and eventually become customers.

With that in mind, we settled on two list-building strategies: 

  1. Increasing the exposure of our existing lead magnets by adding them to more relevant blog posts 

  2. Creating new lead magnets relating to blog topics that get a lot of traffic

The goal was to maximize opportunities for people to join our email list by ensuring that all our popular pages had targeted content that people could download.

Using search volume to create lead magnets

You probably know how important search volume is for creating blog posts. But you can also use knowledge of what people are looking for to create lead magnets that target common problems.

The idea for one of our best-performing downloads came after our SEO specialist Veronika noticed that many people were searching for a particular term and that we were well-placed to offer a solution. 

As we created these lead magnets, we started to promote them with forms and pop-ups on our website. We typically use a combination of modal pop-ups, in-content forms, and bars at the bottom of the page. 

The screenshot below shows how the latter two types of email signup forms look in one of our articles. Using multiple forms increases the exposure of our offer and gives readers more chances to sign up. 

MailerLite signup forms
Source: MailerLite blog

Your turn: How will you generate new subscribers?

Creating lead magnets to promote on blog posts is a good email address acquisition strategy if your website generates a lot of traffic. But, businesses without a blog have plenty of alternatives they can turn to. 

Here are some ideas to try out:

Promote your newsletter on your social media accounts. The Marketing Millennials newsletter does a great job of attracting subscribers on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Marketing Millenials social media newsletter growth
Source: Marketing Millenials LinkedIn

Convert visitors to your e-commerce store with a coupon or special offer, like clothing brand Theory. You’ll form relationships with people who aren’t quite ready to buy but might do so at a later time. 

Theory email list website pop-up
Source: Theory

Use paid ads to get your list in front of potential subscribers who you can convert to customers. Contentsquare does this by using Facebook ads to promote its latest digital experience benchmarks report. 

Use Facebook's targeting features to show your ads to your target audience or create a lookalike audience based on your email list to show ads to people similar to your existing subscribers.

Facebook ads for list growth
Source: ContentSquare

Even if you’re just getting started and you don’t have any of these options open to you, you can still promote your newsletter to your network of contacts. 

Don’t be afraid to start small. The faster you start collecting subscribers, the sooner you’ll build your list. And list growth can snowball as you get more customers and contacts. 

Check out this article for 13 strategies you can use to get more email subscribers.

We’ve learned a thing or two about our users during over ten years of being in business. But, we wanted to get even more granular so we could create more useful campaigns. 

This meant learning about our target audience and creating subscriber segments we could send content to. 

Georgia told us that “understanding key customer personas meant knowing the typical demographics of our visitors such as their age, career and experience with email marketing. We were also interested in the problems they face and how exposed they were to the MailerLite brand.”

We got this information by surveying our existing customers. We then created in-depth customer persona documents that included everything from the persona’s industry and team size to their email marketing experience and how they discovered MailerLite. 

Your turn: Perform audience research

You probably already have a good idea of who your audience is. But you can always go deeper. Here are some ways to find out more.

  • Add surveys and quizzes to your newsletters so people can tell you about themselves

  • Add extra fields to sign-up forms to encourage sign-ups to provide information

  • Look on review platforms like G2 or Capterra to see a breakdown of the types of people that use your product (or your competitors, if yours is a new product)

  • Look at your website or social platform analytics to see the types of people who interact with your brand

Once you have this information, create in-depth customer personas to ensure all your email marketing efforts focus on the goals of your target audience. 

Once we better understood our audience, we were able to create new audience segments. This allowed us to send targeted content, whether separate emails or dynamic content included within an email that speaks to the goals of each group. 

We focused our list segmentation efforts on 3 main groups. 

1. Engaged and unengaged subscribers

We defined inactive subscribers as those who haven’t opened or clicked on one of our emails in 90 days. Meanwhile, engaged subscribers are those who have opened or clicked on an email in the last 3 weeks. 

“Having an unengaged segment helps us in 2 ways” explained Georgia. “We can protect our domain reputation by not sending our regular campaigns to people who are unlikely to open the messages. We can also try to re-engage these people with dedicated campaigns designed to grab their attention.”

2. By Industry: Subscribers and customers

We identified our customers’ main industries and then built segments for each one. This lets us create content around each group’s challenges, which can improve engagement metrics like open, unsubscribe, bounce and click-through rates. 

This leads back to our goal of nurturing subscribers into new customers. Sending relevant content increases engagement, and engaged subscribers are more likely to convert. 

3. By the version of MailerLite they are using

We segmented subscribers based on the version of MailerLite they use. This allows us to promote guides, help content, and CTAs that are relevant to their needs. 

Your turn: Create audience segments 

Use the information you gathered about your customers to create audience segments. Consider factors like interests, company size, location, job role or customer value. 

In MailerlLite, you can head over to the Subscribers page to create a segment and set up rules that define which subscribers to include. See the video below to find out more.

You can then set up workflows that automatically add subscribers to segments based on actions they take, for example:

  • Add fields to signup forms requesting extra information and automatically assign contacts to segments based on the data they input

  • Add quizzes or surveys to your email and segment users based on their answers

  • Add links to your email and create segments based on the ones people click

  • Connect to your e-commerce store and create segments based on store activity

Read our complete guide to email segmentation to learn more about how to segment your audience.

A weekly newsletter is a core part of many email marketing strategies. Prior to our strategy refresh, we used ours to provide email marketing tips and company updates. 

We wanted to continue promoting these articles while building closer connections by sending more personal content.

Georgia explained that “by showing the human side of our business, whether that’s showcasing our employees and their pets or sharing our guilty-pleasures Spotify playlist, we ensure that subscribers who want to know us better can do so.”

Screenshot of our weekly newsletter showing our furry friends
Source: MailerLite

We also increased the value of our newsletter by using dynamic blocks to target content at specific customer segments

We used this feature in 2 ways:

  • Provide help resources to customers depending on which version of MailerLite they are using

  • Target segments with calls-to-action and offers related to their needs

Using dynamic content means each of our subscribers gets a targeted experience that only includes information relevant to their needs and challenges. 

Read this article for more about how to add dynamic content to your email newsletters.

Use a preference center to create target experiences

Another way to ensure customers get a tailored experience is to let them choose when they want to hear from you and the topics you send information on. The way we do this at MailerLite is to include a preferences center in our emails that lets customers choose which emails to receive.

Your turn: Create a content calendar

Start by defining the types of emails that will resonate with your subscribers and push towards the goals you set in step one. 

E-commerce stores can send information about the latest drops related to the customer’s interests, like the Unisports email below.

e-commerce email campaign example
Source: Unisports

Software companies or agencies can send content related to the customer’s challenges, like the content marketing starter kit offered by Semrush.

Semrush downloadable content
Source: Semrush

Blogs and publishers could share blog posts or story roundups, like RetroDodo. 

Retrodod roundup newsletter
Source: Retrododo

You can then put your ideas into a content calendar. Planning your campaigns in advance enables you to think more about creating content that your email list will enjoy, thus helping you build stronger connections. 

Automations are a powerful tool to help email marketers increase conversions while saving time. 

Our email automation strategy plan involved 2 main points, revamping existing workflows and rolling these out in more relevant places, and creating completely new workflows at points of friction in the customer journey. 

Here’s the checklist we used when deciding which automated workflows to refresh:

  • Do the emails contain outdated information that needs to be refreshed?

  • Do the emails align with the goal of the automation?

  • Does the email design align with our branding?

  • If the email has a low click rate, can we improve the copy, CTA or content? 

  • If the workflows have low email open rates, can we update our subject or preview lines or change the email timings?

  • If the email has a high unsubscribe rate or spam rate, do we need to consider sending fewer emails or changing the content or segment?

When creating new workflows, we looked for customer journey touchpoints that contained friction and brainstormed ways to automate the process. We identified lead signups, demo requests, onboarding, and the point of signup as interactions we could streamline. 

Use A/B testing to improve automation

Workflow A/B testing helps you optimize each step of your workflow. Set up different versions of each action and then test to see which is most effective. You can then choose to take the best-performing step every time. 

Your turn: Revamp or add new automation

Make a list of all your customer touchpoints and consider whether building an automated workflow would help streamline this part of the customer journey. 

Almost all businesses will benefit from a welcome email sequence that goes to people as soon as they join your list. Use this to start building a relationship with the subscriber, introduce your business, and set out expectations for the newsletter.

Other workflows to consider include:

  • Reengagement campaigns to win back unengaged customers

  • Promotional email workflows based on subscriber interests

  • Nurture campaigns that go out to people who sign up for a lead magnet

  • Workflows and reminders for events or webinars

  • Survey emails that go out based on customer behavior, such as purchases or event attendance

  • Membership renewal workflows that encourage customers to renew their membership

  • Abandoned cart emails to encourage buyers to complete purchases

Start playing with our workflow builder to see the types of automated emails you can create. Or get started in an instant by customizing one of our marketing automation templates.

Deliverability is an often overlooked part of an email marketing strategy. It’s not as exciting as creating content or workflows, but it is essential for ensuring people on your list receive your emails. 

“We do two things to ensure our email deliverability is on point,” explained Georgia. “First, we keep our email list healthy by using MailerCheck to analyze our email list and highlight addresses that are likely to bounce so we can remove them from our list.”

“Then we check each email using MailerCheck’s email insights and inbox placement features. This shows where the email is likely to land in the subscriber’s inbox, and highlights if there is a potential spam problem.” 

Once we’ve performed these checks, we know that our campaigns will have the highest possible chance of landing in each subscriber’s inbox. 

Your turn: Verify your email list

Verify your email list to remove low-quality email subscribers and ensure you only send your campaigns to real people. This is essential if you have a large list or one with many email addresses over 6 months old. 

MailerCheck lets you check your list in bulk by uploading it to the platform. It will then generate a report like the one below showing if you have any low-quality email addresses. 

MailerCheck email verification
Source: MailerCheck

If you generate a high volume of new subscribers, consider adding real-time verification to your forms to stop low-quality addresses from making it onto your list in the first place. 

People with a large email list will also benefit from the inbox insight and placement features as it increases the chances that your emails will end up in the recipient’s inbox, rather than the spam folder. 

The final step of an effective email marketing strategy is to measure performance so you know where to improve. 

The first thing we track is the email KPIs we set out in the planning stage. We want to check that our list is growing as expected and that our lead magnets are performing. 

We also do a lot of A/B tests. This lets us see how different email subject lines, content, CTAs and even sending times impact our campaigns. We can then roll out the best-performing elements across more campaigns.  

“Even if your emails are performing well and your metrics align with your industry standards, that doesn’t mean you can’t still improve. A/B testing lets you compare what’s already performing against a new idea you may be curious to try.”

And while tracking data is certainly useful, it doesn’t tell the entire story. That’s why we also send out surveys to our most engaged subscribers to discover what they love about our campaigns. 

We can then use a combination of all this data to ensure we are sending out emails that effectively engage our list. 

Your turn: Track metrics and set up A/B testing

You already decided on the metrics to check in step one, now you just need to monitor them over time to see how they change. 

Consider looking at industry benchmarks to see how your performance stacks up when compared to your competitors. 

You can also use A/B testing to further optimize your campaigns by testing whether changes can positively impact your campaigns. With MailerLite, you can test all parts of your campaign, including: 

  • Subject lines and preheaders

  • Email content 

  • Form, pop-up and landing page conversion rates

  • The impact of different steps in a workflow

Our software will track the results of the test and you can simply select the winner to ensure you always use the most impactful version of your email marketing campaign. 

We’ve now done the majority of the work for revamping our email marketing strategy. But, it’s an ongoing task and we’ll keep optimizing and adding to our strategy as we discover more opportunities and find places to improve. 

By following the steps in this email marketing cheat sheet, you’ll be able to perform your own refresh. Let us know any steps you take in the comments section below! 

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Duncan Elder
Duncan Elder
I’m Duncan, a content writer at MailerLite. I love building websites with no-code tools and writing about what I learn. I created my first site in 2011 with Blogger—it’s safe to say that website builders have improved a lot since then!