By Simon Horton, founder of ShopIntegrator

Email is one of the most effective channels to drive traffic and grow sales. Its popularity is unlikely to decrease any time soon since 74% of marketers believe that in five years time email will still be the channel delivering the highest return on investment (ROI).

Here are the benefits of email marketing and my 10 top tips.

Embrace email marketing

Email offers small business owners a number of important benefits.

High ROI - Email is cost–effective. In the UK for every £1 spent on a B2C campaign the average ROI is an impressive £30.52.
Adaptability - Email enables you to communicate varied business messages from service updates to sales promotions.
DIY - Email service providers (ESP) such as MailChimp, Mad Mimi and AWeber mean you can create and send your own great looking emails.

10 best practice tips for successful emails

1. Varied, relevant content

Don’t bombard your audience with sales messages alone. This is a surefire way for your emails to end up unopened. Send a variety of emails with content that is interesting and ‘adds-value’. For example:

• Newsletters
• Industry news and developments
• Product launches
• Competitions and quizzes
• Customer surveys
• Special offers
• Latest trends
• How to video guides
• Links to blog posts.

2. Enticing subject line

Your email could be packed full of great content but if you don’t have an interesting subject line it may not even get opened.

• Accurately and concisely reflect the content of your email. Keep to about 11 words.
• Avoid using ALL CAPS as it can look a bit pushy and some servers may think its spam.
• Use words that create a sense of urgency such as ‘last chance’. Numbers can also work well. For example, ‘5 essential tips’.
• Include a benefit. What is in it for the reader if they take the time to open your email?

3. Well designed layout

If your email looks confusing and cluttered people will be put off.

• Include plenty of white space
• Be concise. Reams of text can be off-putting
• Include links for more information
• Use a good balance of text and images.

Always send a test to different email software clients. This way you can double check everything is formatted correctly with working links.

4. Include visual content

Images will help capture readers’ attention and convey meaning instantaneously.

• Use high-quality images
• Check they can be viewed on a mobile device
• Be creative don’t just drag out the same old stock photos
• Include videos. Videos are popular and are a great way to engage an audience.

5. Segment your audience

Try not to view your database as one big mass. The more you can customise your emails to a specific group the higher your response is likely to be. Depending on your business segment your list into related target groups such as by interest or previous purchases.

6. Clear call to action

Whether you are asking your audience to make a purchase, read an article or like your Facebook page, always have a clear call to action that leaves the reader in no doubt about what it is you are requesting.

When readers click though to your landing page it should be well designed and well thought out. Try to create campaign-specific landing pages for all your marketing activities.

7. Plan ahead

Plan your email schedule in advance so you don’t miss out on any opportunities. For example, schedule ahead your email activity during high sales periods like Christmas, Valentine’s and Easter. Planning will help you focus on producing great emails and avoids ill-thought out mailings at the last minute.

8. Responsive design

There is a high-likelihood that your email will be read on a mobile device. Consider using an ESP that provides responsive design. This will ensure your email will be formatted properly on multiple devices and can lead to 130% more increase in email clicks.

9. Split test

To ensure you are getting the best possible response from your email marketing you need to understand how your activities are performing. Try split testing different variables to see what has the most success. Use web analytics to measure response rates such as click-through rates and open rates.

10. Don’t fall foul of the law

Familiarise yourself with the appropriate legislation for your country. For example, in the UK this would be the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulation Act.

• Only email people who have ‘opted-in’ to receiving communications from your business.
• Always include a clear ‘Unsubscribe’ link and your registered business address.

These best practice tips are simple to implement but will help ensure your emails are successful and get the best possible response.