Small business email marketing guide

small business email marketing

Three years from now, around half the world’s population will use email.

That’s according to research by Statista, who found that the number of global email users will grow to 4.4 billion by 2023. The same study found that in 2018, approximately 281 billion emails were sent and received every day worldwide. That figure is forecast to jump to over 347 billion daily emails by 2023.

So, what does this mean for your small business email marketing strategy?

For a start, it’s going to get harder to capture people’s attention in their inbox.

With that in mind, the following tips will help make sure your emails stand out in this increasingly competitive channel. You’ll get a better understanding of how to:

  • Determine your email marketing objectives
  • Simplify the sign-up process
  • Customize the “from” line
  • Write attention-grabbing subject lines
  • Define your key performance indicators
  • Keep the conversation going

First, determine your email marketing objectives

Whether you’re promoting a sale, sending a survey, introducing a new product, or sharing a recent blog article, your subscribers will only open your emails if you prove that they're useful. Make sure your business emails cover what the people receiving them are looking for, and not just what you want them to see.

In short, your audience should be the top consideration when determining your email objectives.

Once you’ve established your goals, think about how you’ll measure if your email efforts are having a positive effect on business.

Simplify the sign-up process

You can’t contact your customers if you don’t have their email addresses. Add sign-up buttons or boxes to your website and include direct sign-up links on all social media profiles or other online places where your business is listed.

To increase the probability of people signing up for your emails, make it easy for your audience to type in their email address and hit “submit.”

A multi-step sign-up process loses people’s interest quickly. Simplicity is best when asking people for their personal information.

Customize the “from” line in your emails

Using your name shows that your email is from a trusted or valued sender. That’s half the battle in convincing someone to open your email. It also goes some way to growing recognition of your business among your subscribers.

Create a dedicated email address with a personal feel (e.g., that's linked to your marketing campaigns.

That way, you can monitor responses and reply from that account without giving a direct link to your inbox.

Remember, you only have a few seconds to make a good impression and motivate people to open and read your emails.

Write attention-grabbing subject lines

According to OptionMonster, 69% of email recipients report email as spam on the subject line alone.

So, how do you capture attention and encourage interaction while sounding honest and authentic?

Consider the 4 U’s Formula

The 4 U’s Formula helps you evaluate how potential subject lines measure up against four criteria – Urgent, Unique, Useful, and Ultra-Specific. A successful subject line should include a combination of at least two of the 4 U’s.

You can also apply these criteria to the preheader text (the summary that follows the subject line when you view an email in the inbox). It provides more context and additional information to persuade the reader to open your email.

Keep your subject lines clear and concise

2019 data from Marketo found that 41 characters or seven words is the ideal length for email subject lines, which is about ten characters less than the average-length subject line.

Spending some extra time crafting your email subject lines can help you increase open rates, get more clicks, and avoid the spam folder.

When it comes to your small business email marketing content, provide the necessary information and link to full articles or sites where the reader can find out more. A clean, uncrowded email gives the reader space to digest your content and retain what you’re telling them.

But that’s not all.

Including links to your website, relevant articles, or social media profiles is a great engagement tool as you can measure how many clicks a specific link generates. This metric lets you know what your audience is interested in for future content.

Make your message personal

Personalizing your subject lines is a great way to get your emails opened, and it can be as simple as using the first name of the recipient. PeoplePerHour and do a great job of addressing people by their first names. Addressing someone by name makes your communications feel more like a conversation than a marketing message.

If you can, send emails related to past purchases or consumer behavior. Understanding what your customers prefer and are attracted to, on an individual level, will make your emails more compelling.

And if you gather valuable data for your distribution lists subscribers, put it to good use. Pre-populate customer information wherever possible, such as account number and customer anniversary date, and send emails that are specific to their buying patterns.

Which leads us to the next section.

Segment your mailing lists

Organizing the people in your email list into groups based on their interests, needs and wants helps make sure you only send relevant messages to each recipient. The best way to get through to readers is to show them you know who they are, what they want, and that your business has products or services that complement their needs.

Share useful information

Showing the reader what value your email offers is a powerful way to stand out in a cluttered inbox. For example, the subject line “Top 10 Spas in the US” is likely to appeal to those interested in visiting spas in that region.

Use action verbs

Want to trigger a specific action? Front-load your message with a verb. For instance, “Sign up to Receive Invites for Our Calendar Event” is likely to be more effective than “Our Calendar Event is Coming”— if you’re trying to drive people to your event. Action verbs like “sign up” and “join us” create a sense of urgency and curiosity, prompting recipients to check out your offer.

Include emojis—when appropriate

Dressing up your email subject lines with emojis can help to grab people’s attention. A contextually relevant emoji can add value to your subject line, which will boost your open rate.

With that said, use emojis purposefully. If your subject line is about a summer discount, add a sunny smiley face with sunglasses or a beach scene. If the subject line is serious—for instance, something related to loss of customer data—skip the emojis altogether.

Get past the spam filter

While it’s understandable why some emails are immediately marked as spam, a few seemingly harmless practices can also trigger the journey to the scrap heap. Follow these tips to ensure your small business’s emails don’t get knocked back by the bots.


  • Using ALL CAPS as it’s the written equivalent to shouting at the reader.
  • Excessive usage of asterisks and punctuation as they can make your subject line appear unprofessional.
  • Words that are known to flag spam triggers, such as “free offer,” “lotto winner,” and “save $.” Here’s a detailed list of common spam words.


  • Send emails with one-word subject lines. They don’t convey value.
  • Trick recipients by using “fwd:” or “re:” at the start of your email subject lines to suggest ongoing communication.
  • Mislead people. We’ve all experienced it before: you read an intriguing subject line, then you open the email and find there’s no content related to the subject line. This is classified as “clickbait,” as your subject line lures people into opening your emails, but it has little to do with your email’s content.

Define your key performance indicators (KPIs)

If you’re sending multiple emails and using subject line variations, how do you know which are succeeding and which aren’t? The answer lies in knowing what key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure to determine your email marketing return on investment (ROI). Depending on your business goals, certain KPIs will serve as a better measure of success than others.

The following KPIs commonly reflect recipient engagement and the overall performance of an email marketing campaign.

Open rate

Figure out the open rate by dividing the number of emails opened by the number of emails sent. Then, multiply that number by 100.

So, if you send ten emails, and only two are opened, your open rate is 20 percent. According to Get Response’s benchmark report, the average email open rate was 22.86%%. An open rate below this figure suggests that your email subject lines aren’t performing well. Try different subject line variations to see what resonates with your audience.

Click-through rate (CTR)

Calculate the click-through rate by dividing the number of clicks within opened emails by the number of emails sent. Then, multiply that answer by 100.

According to Econsultancy’s email marketing benchmark guide, the average CTR is 3.42% across all sectors. A CTR above 3.42% means people are opening your emails and responding to your call-to-action. Small businesses with a low CTR should experiment with different subject lines and call-to-actions to see which variation generates the most clicks.

Spam complaint rate

Determine your spam complaint rate by dividing the total number of spam complaints by the total number of emails sent. And again, multiply the answer by 100.

Aim for a spam complaint rate below 0.1% at any given point. That equals one spam complaint per 1,000 emails sent. If you’re experiencing a higher spam complaint rate, it could mean that people find your subject lines misleading or, more specifically, that the email content doesn’t represent what you promise in the subject line.

Keep the conversation going

If your resources permit it, encourage a conversation. Many businesses use “do not reply” email addresses, so the customer has no way of getting back in touch. That effectively says you only want to market to people. And while people love to shop, nobody likes to be sold to.

Set up a specific email address for your mass communications where people can reply. If possible, dedicate time every day to respond to your clients. They’ll appreciate a quick reply, and that will go a long way to developing long-term, loyal customers.

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