How to start email marketing

Table of contents

If you’re running an E-commerce store, email marketing should be one of your top priorities. No other channel gives you as much control over the customer relationship as email. The fact that it is also affordable and platform-agnostic makes it the perfect marketing tool for online stores.

Getting started with email marketing can be tough. This guide will help you understand the importance of email marketing and how to start sending your very first emails.

You’ll learn:

  • Why email marketing matters in the age of social media
  • The difference between transactional and marketing emails
  • How to collect emails from your website visitors
  • The three elements of a successful email
  • Best practices for writing subject lines, email copy, and CTAs

Why Invest in Email Marketing?

At a time when everyone is on social media, you might wonder: why even bother with email marketing? Can’t you just reach out to people on Facebook and Instagram?

You’ll be surprised to know that email usage completely dwarfs all social networks. In 2019, 3.9 billion people - nearly 90% of all internet users - used email in some form.

In other words, if your customers are online, they are almost guaranteed to use email.

That’s not the only reason to invest in email marketing. There are countless other benefits as well, such as:

1. Own the Relationship

When you rely on a platform - Google search, Facebook, Twitter, etc. - your customer relationship is essentially mediated by the platform. Everything from your organic reach to the things you can and cannot say depends on the platform’s policies.

Email, however, is free and open. The only rules you have to adhere to are your local anti-spam laws.

This gives you much greater ownership over the customer relationship. You can email customers when you want and say whatever you need to say. There is no danger of losing organic reach because of a shift in the platform’s policies.

Owning the relationship alone is the single biggest reason why you should invest in email marketing.

2. Limit Uncertainties

Have you ever woken up to find that your top social network changed its organic reach rules overnight? Or that your website suffered a rankings drop and now your organic traffic is 1/3rd what it used to be?

There are no such uncertainties with email. If you have 1,000 people on your email list, you will always have them on your list - until they decide to unsubscribe.

This applies to costs as well. A paid campaign on Facebook can easily balloon out of control. Ads on Google might yield variable CPC (Cost Per Click) depending on the keyword, competitors, and even time of day.

But with email, your costs are always in your control. Sending every email costs the same, regardless of when you send it or who you send it to.

For a growing small business, this makes cost control and future planning much easier.

3. Engagement Across Devices and Platforms

With social media and search marketing, you have to create different campaigns for different platforms and devices. Your Twitter followers don’t behave like your Instagram followers, nor do your desktop users have the same expectations as your smartphone users.

If you have a large enough audience, you might eventually find yourself running dozens of campaigns just to keep in touch with them.

Email marketing doesn’t have any of these constraints. Your emails can be read on smartphones, desktops, and even smart devices.

For resource-strapped small retailers, this means lower costs and more organized campaigns. Instead of creating custom campaigns for half a dozen channels, you can create a single email and call it a day.

4. More Effective Than Social Media

Perhaps the biggest reason to invest in email marketing is simply because it is effective.

Email is a private channel. Your customers might share their social media handles everywhere, but they’ll be less likely to be as indiscriminate with their email addresses.

Thus, when customers share their email addresses with you, they’re essentially saying “I trust you”.

This trust is the reason why email is ranked the highest ROI channel for marketers, far ahead of social media or video.

It’s not just the effectiveness - email also gives you a world of insight into your customers. You can run split tests easily, track open rates across devices, and measure overall ROI easily. Getting all this data from channels such as organic search can be tricky, but with email, you get them baked right into most marketing tools.

5. You’re Already Doing It

You might not realize it, but as an Ecwid store owner, you’re already doing some form of email marketing.

When customers place an order on your store, they have to share their email addresses. Ecwid shares all transaction details through this address (called “transactional emails”).

Since you’re already collecting emails, you’re in a prime position to start an email marketing campaign. You don’t have to go out of your way to build an email list - it’s already a part of your Ecwid store.

In the next section, we’ll walk you through your very first email marketing campaign. You’ll learn how to collect emails and how to write good copy.

Getting Started With Email Marketing

The email marketing process can be broken down into two broad steps:

  1. Collect emails
  2. Create an email campaign

Let’s look at each of these steps in detail below.

Collecting Emails

Before you can create an email campaign, you have to first collect customer emails.

As an Ecwid store owner, you’re already at an advantage - by default, customers have to share their email addresses to place orders (unless you’re using this app to checkout with phone numbers).

Thus, for every new sale you make, you add a person to your email list.

But existing customers aren’t the only ones whose emails you can collect. You can gather emails from anyone - blog readers, website visitors, etc.

Before you can do that, however, you need to learn the difference between transactional and marketing emails.

Transactional Emails vs Marketing Emails

Transactional emails are programmatic (i.e. automated) emails that are triggered when certain events happen. These events are “transactional” in that they don’t require any manual input. Examples of such events include:

  • Password reset requests
  • E-commerce order confirmations
  • Account creation confirmations

When a customer places an order on your Ecwid store, he gets an email confirming the order. This is an example of a transactional email.

You can read more about Ecwid’s email notifications here.

Marketing emails, in contrast, are strategic. That is, they are sent as part of a broader marketing campaign. Every email is specifically created to meet a specific marketing goal. Examples of marketing emails include:

  • Sales and promotions messages
  • How-to emails
  • Newsletters

You usually collect addresses for transactional emails at transaction points such as account creation or checkout.

While you can use these email addresses for marketing purposes, it’s not ideal. Since these customers did not explicitly agree to receive marketing messages from you, they can flag your emails as spam.

It’s much better to collect emails specifically for marketing purposes.

Note that Ecwid allows customers to check a box that confirms that they want to receive marketing emails from you. Read more about this feature here.

Should customers not check this box - or should you want to collect emails from visitors, not just customers - you’ll want to learn how to collect emails.

How to Collect Emails for Marketing

To collect emails for marketing, you need two things:

  1. Something that customers are willing to give up their email addresses for, i.e. your offer
  2. A way to collect emails, i.e. your email opt-in tool

Let’s look at both of these steps in more detail.

Creating a Compelling Offer

Customers are very careful about sharing their email addresses. If you want customers to share them with you, you have to offer them something in return.

As an E-commerce store owner, you have several carrots to dangle before them, such as:

  • Exclusive discounts and offers, available only for email subscribers
  • High-quality content in the form of how-to guides, newsletters, etc.
  • Private, members-only sales
  • Big discounts - especially for users about to leave the purchase process midway
  • Alerts and previews to new sales, launches, etc.

You can broadly divide these offers into two categories:

  • Content-based: Newsletters, previews, launches, etc
  • Money-based: Discounts, offers, sales that have a monetary value

What kind of offer you show customers will depend on what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re currently in.

Generally speaking, content-based offers work best for customers still early into the decision-making process. If they’re just browsing around or checking out your blog, show them offers for your how-to series or newsletter.

Monetary offers work better when customers are closer to decision-making. If they’re spending a lot of time on the product page or adding products to cart, show them discounts and coupon codes.

Refer to this table to match offers with the buyer’s journey:

Stage Behavior Offer
Awareness Browsing blog posts and beginner-level guides; checking out broad product categories Newsletters, guides, product catalogs, etc.
Consideration Browsing product pages; reading FAQs; talking to customer support; surfing specific product pages Initial discounts, upcoming sale alerts, etc.
Decision Adding products to cart; abandoning checkout midway; asking customer support about detailed product-related questions Big discounts, exclusive coupon codes, members-only deals, etc.

Some of these offers are easier to create than others. In your Ecwid store, you can create a series of automated emails that go out only when a certain trigger is pulled (such as the customer abandoning a full cart). See this guide to learn more about this feature.

Ecwid also has you covered if you want to create discounts and coupon codes. You can create a range of discount-types right from your Ecwid dashboard. Refer to this guide to learn how to create coupons.

Noteworthy apps:

Further reading:

Creating Email Collection Forms

The technical part of email collection - through forms - is much more straightforward.

Broadly speaking, emails can be collected through two types of forms:

  • In-line opt-in forms embedded into a page or pop-up
  • Landing pages with forms built into them

For example, here’s an in-line newsletter subscription form on the Ecwid blog:

How_to_Start_Email_Marketing__2_.jpg

If you’re a new Ecwid user, you might see a landing page like this with a sign-up form:

How_to_Start_Email_Marketing__1_.jpg

You’ll want to use a combination of both types of forms. If you have an existing page that you want to collect emails on (such as a blog post or product page), use in-line opt-in forms.

On the other hand, if you’re running a campaign and want to collect emails from your traffic, divert them to a dedicated landing page.

Your Ecwid store also supports collecting email addresses during checkout. If you enable this option, users will be asked if they want to receive marketing emails while they’re checking out.

How_to_Start_Email_Marketing__1_.png

Refer to this page to learn more about collecting emails during checkout.

Ecwid integrates closely with MailChimp for collecting and sending emails. Read more about Ecwid + MailChimp integration here.

There are also several other apps for creating email collection forms in the Ecwid app store, such as:

Once you’ve collected email addresses, you can start sending emails.

We’ll cover this part in the section below.

Creating and Sending Emails

Creating compelling marketing emails is a difficult skill that can take years to master.

The good news is that you can become ferociously competent simply by following a few simple tips.

In this section, we’ll break down the elements of great email marketing and how to use them in your store.

Three Key Elements of Marketing Emails

Marketing emails can vary greatly in content and format. You can have collections of links in the form of newsletters, long-form sales pitches, short blurbs introducing new blog posts, visually rich emails announcing new sales, etc.

While they might vary in content, they all have three core elements:

  1. The subject line
  2. The body
  3. The Call to Action (CTA)

Let’s take a closer look at all these elements.

The Subject Line

The subject line might just have a few words, but it has a big impact on the success of your email marketing campaign. Whether customers decide to open your email or not will depend a great deal on the subject line.

There is no fixed recipe for writing a great subject line - every email and audience will be different. However, following these best practices will usually get you strong results:

  • Use personalization: Personalization - where you add the customer's name or location into the subject line - can lead to higher open rates. It creates a personal connection with your audience - you're not just another anonymous brand, but someone who knows them by name.
  • Keep it short: A lot of your users will view your email on their mobile phones. Anything beyond 60 characters will be truncated on most email clients. By keeping your subject lines short, you'll not only make them easier to read, but also avoid truncation.
  • Be clear and descriptive: Using fluffy marketing copy - like "Splashy Summer Bonanza!" or "Winter Winds Carnival!" - sounds good on paper, but rarely translates into good results. Email users are busy; they don't have time to decipher cryptic marketing messages. It's better to tell customers exactly what the email is about than to bombard them with marketing copy. If you're sending them a coupon code, tell them exactly what they're getting - like "Get 10% off your next order with this coupon".
  • Avoid words that can trigger spam filters: Words like "Free", "Earn extra cash", "Loan", etc. can trigger spam filters. Even if your offer is genuinely related to these words, avoid using them in subject lines. If your emails trigger spam filters, not only will your current campaign be affected, but it can also affect the deliverability of all future emails.
  • Pique their interest: While it's important to be descriptive, you also want users to click and read your emails. Don't give away the punchline in the subject line itself. Give them enough information that they feel compelled to open the email. For instance, the subject line we shared above - "Get 10% off your next order with this coupon" - compels users to open the email if they want to see the actual coupon code. Tactics like this can increase your open rate.
  • Use preheader text effectively: The preheader text is a short one-sentence blurb that shows up below the subject line on mobile devices. This bit of text can go a long way towards improving your conversion rates. Use it to talk about the contents of the email or to further substantiate the subject line. For instance, if the subject line is about a discount, you could talk about the specific discount percent.

Be prepared to experiment extensively with your subject lines. Most email marketing tools, such as MailChimp, will allow you to run A/B tests (where half your audience gets Subject Line A, the other half gets Subject Line B). Use this feature to figure out what kind of subject lines work best for your audience.

The Email Content

The next step in the email marketing process is to create the body of the email.

This body can be either in plain text or HTML.

  • Plain text emails, as the name implies, are text-based only. They do not contain any HTML tags, images, or interactive features. These emails have high deliverability since every email client can send and receive text emails.
  • HTML emails can contain HTML elements. Thus, you can have custom styling, complex layouts, images, etc. HTML emails can be slow to load, especially if your users have slow internet speeds. Older text-only email clients also can’t display them.

More and more users are switching to modern email clients that can comfortably deliver HTML emails. In most cases, you can safely use HTML emails without worrying about deliverability.

As far as content is concerned, it will vary greatly based on the kind of email you’re trying to create. If you’re sending a newsletter, good design will be important. With a long sales pitch, you’ll have to invest in copywriting.

While there is no silver bullet to creating high-converting emails, there are a few best practices you should follow:

  • Use personalization: As with subject lines, engagement and conversion rates go up when you use personalization. A simple "Hi {user_name}" goes a long way towards building rapport with the user. If you have this data, always use it in your emails.
  • Use copywriting formulas: Copywriting might be an art, but its core structure can be distilled into easy-to-follow formulas. The three most popular formulas in copywriting are BAB (Before - After - Bridge), the 4Ps Technique (Promise, Paint, Proof, Push), and the PAS method (Pain, Agitate, Solve). Use one of these if you're creating long sales pitches.
  • Rely on templates: For a small business without email marketing experience, the best tactic is to simply rely on pre-built templates. Most email marketing tools include plenty of templates for newsletters, sales promotions, etc. While these might not be unique, they're at least proven to work. Use them until you build up your email marketing skills.
  • Use lots of visuals: For sales promotions, new launches, etc. it's better to include lots of visuals instead of relying on text only. Since the information you're trying to convey in such emails is limited - the start of a new sale or a discount code - you can easily compress it into an easy to follow image. This makes your emails far more readable.

The last element your emails need is a Call to Action, which we’ll cover below.

The Call to Action (CTA)

The CTA is arguably the most important element in any email. This is what all your hard work is driving towards. The success of an email is largely measured by the number of people who take action after reading it, i.e. click the CTA.

A CTA can be a plain link, or it can be visual, such as a button.

Regardless of its shape or form, the CTA leads away from the email. Consequently, you’ll meet a lot of resistance in getting people to click the CTA. Unless your email and the CTA are convincing enough, you’ll see poor results.

The good news is that if you’ve written a strong email, your readers should already be half-ready to pursue your offer. The only thing you need now is a CTA that convinces them to take action.

Some best practices for creating better CTAs include:

  • Use contrasting colors: If you're using a CTA button, use a color that contrasts against the rest of the email. Say, if your email body graphic is blue, use an orange CTA. This helps the CTA stand out against the body of the email. Refer to complementary colors on the color wheel for inspiration and ideas.
  • Use action-oriented copy: Instead of generic "Read More" or "Click Here" copy in the CTA, use something more descriptive and action-oriented. For example, if you're offering a 20% discount, you could use "Get 20% Off Instantly" as your copy in place of "Click here". Such copy inspires action and can boost your click-through rate (CTR).
  • Add multiple CTAs: Ideally, you should have at least two CTAs in the body of the email. The first should be above the fold (i.e. the area that's visible when a reader first opens your email). The other should be at the bottom of the email. This will ensure that you don't miss any clicks.
  • Create a sense of urgency: Users are more likely to click the CTA if they feel that the offer might run out. You can create this sense of urgency by making your offer limited by time or quantity. For example, replacing "Get 50% Off" with "Get 50% Off Today Only" can boost your CTR. Even something as simple as adding "Now" (such as "Shop Now") can result in more clicks.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but following all these tips should help you get started with email marketing.

You’ll be pleased to know that Ecwid’s MailChimp integration makes sending newsletters and collecting emails very easy. You can also use these apps to send customer data directly to different email tools such as ConvertKit and ConstantContact.

You can also use some of the apps on the Ecwid store to make it easy to send emails.

Noteworthy apps:

Further reading:

Next Steps

Collecting and sending emails is just the start of the email marketing process. As you grow your skills further, you’ll want to test and optimize your emails for better results.

For new store owners, however, the tips in this guide will be enough to get started.

Start collecting emails and begin your email marketing journey today.