Email is still the heart and soul of internet marketing.
Web browsers have come and gone, social media have changed how we interact with information online, and half of you are reading this sentence on a phone or a tablet. Throughout all of these changes, email has continued to provide the highest ROI for digital marketers.
At first blush, it may appear as if specialists from the content and email marketing worlds speak totally different languages, but as businesses and organizations continue to discover the power of content, they realize just how effectively content marketing can support, complement and reinforce email efforts.
Below are 14 expert tips, tricks and pieces of insight for igniting email marketing with quality content.
The Power of Email
First, we need to address why the email channel is such an important one. If your business already has a hosted blog, five active social channels and an app that sends push notifications, isn’t that enough to convert prospects into leads and leads into customers?
Not quite. The power of email comes from the comfort of the inbox itself. As Copyblogger pointed out long ago, “It moves the conversation about your business to a more personal environment.”
It’s the same change-of-venue move defense attorneys, Rainbow vacuum salespeople and pick-up artists use. And it works wonders.
Crystal Overmyer points out on Skyword’s ContentStandard blog that internet marketing professionals prefer email over any other form of outreach by a factor of at least 2.5. “A resounding 62 percent of marketers ranked email marketing as a top return-on-investment generator, followed by social media (26 percent), SEO (25 percent), and offline direct marketing (20 percent),” she writes, citing a late-2014 survey from Campaigner.
That report, Overmyer says, suggests marketers simply crave more email marketing tips over new tools or innovations.
In that spirit, let’s explore how smart marketers are boosting their email campaigns with good content.
Using Content to Gain Email Subscribers
The logical starting point here is right at the top of the funnel, where you begin to convert your prospects into leads.
If you have a blog that already has some nice organic and social traffic coming in every day, there are a few easy ways to move your most interested readers over to your email list.
Kristi Hines at iACQUIRE offers a couple of ideas. First, she suggests repurposing a quality post that is now deep in your archives as a lead magnet.
“For example, if you have a list of more than 200 online marketing tools buried in your archives from two or three years ago, there’s little chance anyone is going to dig through your archives to find it,” Hines writes. “So you can put an opt-in form on your blog that says, ‘Subscribe and receive our free list of 200+ online marketing tools recommended by the experts.’”
Similarly, if that old post is still pulling quality long-tail traffic, you should put a lead magnet on that post to capture those potential leads:
“Let’s say that you have a how-to post on creating a content audit spreadsheet that is still getting tons of traffic. Create an example spreadsheet on Google Drive and place an opt-in form in the middle of your post that says, ‘Download our content audit spreadsheet to start your content audit today.’ It’s a small addition to your already valuable content that will boost your email subscribers.
Noah Kagan from OkDork.com and AppSumo suggests an application of the Pareto principle to determine where those lead magnets should go.
“Most blog traffic is 80/20, meaning only a few pages account for the majority of that traffic,” Kagan writes at WPMU.
“All of these pages should have clear calls to actions for your visitors to subscribe. Just remember to start at the top of the funnel. On OkDork.com, my top posts all feature special bonuses that deliver additional value. In order for readers to access the bonus, they have to submit their email address.”
Next-Level List Building
Many marketers have found success by qualifying leads with what they call a “content upgrade.” Content upgrades are simply pieces of gated content that are only accessible in exchange for an email address.
Typically, the best-performing examples of such content are highly specific in their promises and in their use cases. “For example, if you publish a post on cloud security, your content upgrade might be a checklist that readers can use to determine where they have gaps in their cloud security,” Toronto copywriter Rachel Foster suggests.
Foster says she offered an editorial calendar template as a content upgrade in a LinkedIn Pulse piece she wrote called “How to Plan Your 2015 Content Calendar.” Foster reports a conversion rate of 61% and more than 600 new members to her email list.
Now, we generally imagine opt-ins and content upgrade offers live at the bottom of a piece of content, right? It’s a logical place for them, and we are conditioned to find them there.
Devesh Khanal, writing for the Crazy Egg blog, upends that conventional wisdom with work he did for the Backlinko blog (more from Backlinko in just a moment).
“Posts that promoted the content upgrade twice, including at the top, converted 315% better than posts with the content upgrade promoted only at the bottom (3.8% vs. 1.2%, respectively),” Khanal notes.
“What does this mean? Even people who love your content enough to give you their email address still don’t have time to make it to the end of your posts when they first land.
“Think about that. The people who opt in for the content upgrade at the top aren’t ‘duped’ or ‘tricked’ into it. They could very easily just read your post and leave your site without opting in at all. But they don’t. They opt in because they want that information.”
So, if you want to convert many of your blog’s readers into leads, capture emails with a solid piece of content. If your stuff tends to run a little long, ahem, consider putting the offer for upgraded content up at the top to capture readers who’ve found they don’t have time for a 2,000-word post.
And finally, Brian Dean at Backlinko has a post called “17 Insanely Actionable List Building Strategies That Will Generate More Subscribers Today” that dives deep into all the ways you can capture emails when interested readers find your content.
Use Existing Content to Fuel Email Campaigns
Once readers become genuine leads and move a little further down your funnel, their needs change, and the content they receive from you must adjust accordingly.
They expect highly relevant messaging in their inboxes, after all.
Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content at MECLABS, hosted a webinar with Courtney Eckerle, who recalled some of the most useful points in a piece for MarketingSherpa. Eckerle noted Burstein’s emphasis on repurposing existing good content for those email campaigns.
“Information from your website, data sheets and publicity can all be repurposed for your email messages,” he said. “Sharing highlights from analyst reports, extracting quotes from an executive email with the press, or interesting product attributes can all be of value to your customers.”
Burstein recommended starting with “a really robust” piece of content and slicing it up as necessary. Perhaps the content in its entirety doesn’t need to port to a recipient’s inbox, but the golden nuggets within certainly do.
This process gets a little turned on its head for publishers whose sites are ad-supported.
Take the satirical news outlet The Onion, which uses MailChimp for its email campaigns and was profiled on MailChimp’s blog in early February. The Onion’s marketing team actually tries to send subscribers to the primary site, or otherwise at least help recipients get the publication’s content.
“The Onion averages 8 new pieces of content per weekday,” MailChimp’s Austin L. Ray writes. “Their daily newsletter is simple — just five stories — and what goes in depends on what’s published and ready to be promoted. For the weekly campaign, though, traffic dictates curation.”
Thus, for a site with strong existing readership, email can simply help curate the experience for readers. It also never hurts to have a direct line to your most interested readers.
If you’re ready to really go down this rabbit hole, in a January blog post the email newsletter platform Campaign Monitor dissected how its own email marketing strategy has evolved over the course of a decade.
The company now balances multiple campaigns, which include the onboarding emails to get users familiar with the service and a monthly newsletter that drives as many as 20,000 readers per day to specific pieces of content. If you want to see some of the above-mentioned best practices put to use, read through Campaign Monitor’s post.
Is the Email Marketing Landscape Shifting?
There have been roughly 50 million obituaries written for email marketing, so consider us dubious in the face of any trends or innovations that intend to kill off email marketing once and for all.
That said, there are some email and content consumption patterns developing that you should take into consideration.
Travel intelligence publisher Skift noted in January 2015 that customers in the travel industry are showing signs of medium agnosticism, i.e. they only care about the message received and not the channel by which the message was delivered.
“Consumers exist more accurately, perhaps, not in a world of neatly divided emails, texts, social-media posts, app notifications, and alerts but in a world of pushed content,” Skift’s James O’Brien wrote.
“In other words, the traveler may not care exactly how an airline’s or hotel’s message comes to them, only that it does. And they may well want it to come to them in multiple ways, all at once.
Perhaps much of this has to do with wider adoption of mobile technology.
Chad White at ConvinceAndConvert.com writes that “email is the number 1 smartphone activity,” according to research from Salesforce, and that phones are increasingly becoming the go-to place for people to read their emails.
Still, White notes, 49% of the B2C brands he tracked in a November survey were sending out emails that were neither mobile-responsive nor mobile-aware. If this is representative across most industries, that means email marketers are sending out messages that simply don’t render well on the devices where those emails are consumed.
For the generation of consumers who are growing up in a mobile-native environment, a push notification might not move the conversation into an arena as comfortable as the inbox, but it is certainly a lot more readable than some of the content that gets emailed out.
On the other end of this spectrum are marketers who are using smart content to tailor a message to a specific buyer persona. In a piece for SparkReaction Marketing’s blog, inbound marketing consultant Sami Smith cites Iowa startup Men’s Style Lab as a prime example of a company doing smart, relevant targeting correctly.
Smith says smart content allows even the welcome email the company sends out to be phrased in a way that would more strongly resonate with the recipient, at least according to the data Men’s Style Lab captured from them.
“For example, MSL created a Welcome Email to be sent to any new customer,” she writes. “But each persona received an entirely different message in the body of the email than other personas would.
“‘Young Professional’ and ‘Significant Other of Someone Needing a Style Upgrade’ are two of the possible personas. The former gets a greeting talking about what they can expect with the company, while the latter receives information about how to go about gifting a style upgrade to another or approaching the subject with their significant other.”
Enticing (or intimidating) as smart content may sound, let us not get bogged down in the technology at this stage. More important for this conversation is the bigger picture, which comes courtesy of Inc.com editor Geoffrey James:
“Email marketing isn’t like direct mail. While you can send big documents through email, most email traffic consists of short messages conducted in the context of a back-and-forth conversation. Email is a conversation, not a one-way distribution. The best way to envision email marketing is as a process consisting of several short, tight emails that attempt to open a conversation (i.e. get an email response).”