By Jonathan Rodger, Message Horizon

How successful are your email marketing campaigns? Do offers reach the right inbox? How many are opened? How many bounce? And most important of all, what proportion convert to sales? Here’s some simple secrets of success.

Use a commercial mailing service

Don’t use Outlook for bulk mailings as it looks unprofessional, will lead to problems with your ISP and you may even break the law without knowing it. Ensure you pick a good email service provider (ESP). ESPs manage your mailing list, deliver the emails and track the responses. What you pay can vary a lot so look around and aware of the break points in the price list. Look for a fixed cost supplier if you have a database of several thousand and make regular mailshots.

Adhere to the Sender Policy Framework (SPF)

SPF is an email validation system used by virtually all ISPs, therefore compliance is critical to ensure that you don't fall at the first hurdle.Check that the domain you send from is set up with a SPF record which allows you to distribute emails from your ESP's mail servers - it costs nothing to do. .

List quality

Ensure you have a quality mailing list. Unsolicited marketing emails can be unlawful unless the recipient has in some way consented to receive the email, so the best lists are of your existing customers or those who have ‘opted in’ to receive communications.

Avoid using an old list or buying one from an untested source as it could generate lots of bounces and complaints which may affect the deliverability of the rest of your list and will cause your ESP to question how your details were obtained.

Beware certain words

You can reduce the risk of your messages being labelled as spam by avoiding ‘spammy’ words like ’FREE’, ’£££’, ’Cash’, ‘Special promotion’, ‘Discount’. Less obvious ones include ’Visit our website’ and ’Click here’. There is a useful list of less obvious spammy words at http://bit.ly/aq7xVl.

Content and design

Avoid HTML emails where there is a high ratio of images to text, as these will often fall foul of spam filters.

And if you are marketing to consumers you will need an email design that will be very different and less formal compared to a mailing to business people. Remember to check how it appears in all email client software.

Avoid using an off-the-shelf template even though it may be free. Better to commission a designer to create your HTML email template, or ask your ESP to help (some include HTML design in their service).

Make it relevant

Make sure the message is relevant to your recipient; include personalisation in the subject line and the salutation. Split your database into different interest groups or demographics for greater relevancy.


Research on when to send is often conflicting. The only way to know for sure which time is optimum for your customers is to experiment with a mixture of different days and times. For a consumer list, weekends are surprisingly successful for click and open rates. Your ESP should allow you to schedule messages to send at a given time so that you don't have to wait by your PC.

Sending email announcements regularly means your audience gets to expect communication from you, but experiment with the frequency. Ideally pick an ESP providing a service that allows unlimited emails.


Give your recipients a compelling reason to open the email, AND to make a purchase too. Limited time discounts work, as do competitions or free delivery/returns. If your email subscribers feel they get something over and above your standard deal, they will feel more inclined to remain on your list.

Follow up

Recipients may read the email and follow a link with the intention to purchase, but not complete the transaction for various reasons. Most email marketing packages will allow you to download a list of such recipients so you can follow up individually.

Measure success & failure

For most businesses using email marketing, the ultimate gauge of success is not just clicks and open rates, but actual conversions. As well as Google Analytics for measuring traffic stats, your ESP software should measure traffic and sales generated by each email campaign. You can even gauge the performance of each individual link within the email to judge which is best.

About the author:

Jonathan Rodger is the founder of Message Horizon, an email marketing service for small companies. www.messagehorizon.com