Email marketing can be one of your most powerful digital marketing tools because people on your lists have “opted in” to your brand—they’ve given you their attention. The exciting challenge with email is strategizing ways to entice and engage your captive audience on a regular basis.

Establishing Customer Relationships: Email List Building

List building can be achieved in a variety of ways, including social media contests, advertising, website offers, etc. But the most foundational strategy used to establish an email relationship with a customer is through a website sign-up form (aka email opt-in form). As your SEO, digital advertising, social media, and PR efforts drive more traffic to your website, it’s incredibly valuable to capture as many visitors’ emails as you can.

Best Practices: Email Sign-Up Forms

Sign-up forms should be placed in numerous locations on your website, with the most common being:

  • Homepage (embedded form and/or pop-up)
  • Blog (embedded form and/or pop-up)
  • Article/product page sidebar
  • Landing pages (embedded form and/or pop-up)
  • Website footer

Your homepage, landing pages, and high-traffic blog or product pages are the most important locations to place a sign-up form. If you are using an embed form, be sure to position this as close to the top of your page as possible so visitors don’t miss it (aka above the fold).

Embed forms and pop-ups should be clear, accessible, and easy to use. In general, people prefer sign-up forms that do not demand too much time or energy. I like to stick to two or three fields. Here are a few options:

  • Email address
  • First name
  • Last name


  • Email address
  • First name
  • Zip code


  • Email address
  • Zip code

In some cases, it may be most suitable for design or user experience to ask for email only. To make a final decision regarding the information you ask for, I strongly recommend walking yourself, employees, and friends through the sign-up process to determine how it feels. Also, make sure that the information you ask for is the most critical to your marketing efforts. For example, if you produce events or sell products that are location specific, you will likely want to prioritize zip code over a name.

Maintaining Customer Relationships: Email Design, List Organization & Subject Lines

Now that you’ve earned someone’s email address, what you do next will either cement or break the relationship.

Create Branded Email Templates

Email design and templates should be a reminder of your brand! When your new subscriber receives their first email or welcome message, you want them to remember who you are. Therefore, be sure to include imagery, colors, and other design elements similar to those on your website.

Organize Your Emails for Conversion

The process of developing emails is somewhat similar to designing a website in the sense that it’s vital that you present your information in a way that will enhance user experience and drive clicks. Here are some simple best practices for achieving that:

  • Organize content by priority and for readability.
  • Make call to action clear and easy to click.
  • Use buttons when possible (higher click rate when compared to text links).
  • Link call to action directly to conversion area (e.g. product, landing page, purchase area, form).
  • Limit # of calls to action: A singular goal is ideal, especially for sales-focused emails.

Organize Your Email List + Use Segmentation

List organization is a big deal! Messy lists typically equate to poorly executed campaigns and increase the likelihood for errors. Organized lists usually lead to better engagement and fewer unsubscribes. Here are some organization tips:

  • If possible, have one master marketing list that contains all of your subscribers: Why one list? With most email platforms, you pay for each subscriber you have. Multiple lists are often cause for duplicate emails and, therefore, duplicate cost.
  • Organize that list into groups and segments: Some campaigns are not applicable to everyone on your list. Creating groups or segments of your list allows you to target the most relevant client base.

I begin most email projects by taking a close look at a client’s lists, how they’re organized, and if any segments are present/being utilized. I use segmented lists for more than 50% of the campaigns I send for two primary reasons: 1) segmentation reduces unsubscribes and spam complaints, and 2) segmentation heightens engagement (opens, clicks, conversions). Plus, there are numerous segmentation options that can be tried and tested (depending upon your goals).

Subject Line Best Practices: Stay Relevant and A/B Test

Subject lines and I have a long history. Early on in my career when I was learning about email marketing, I participated in numerous webinars so I could learn the “industry secrets.” After hearing the same tips over and over again, I came to the realization that there is not a secret sauce that works for everyone. Email subject lines are truly a matter of audience and relevance. (I wrote a whole blog post on it here.) As a result, I’ve turned to A/B testing to guide my subject line writing and help me optimize open rates.

A/B Testing Subject Lines

A/B testing (aka variable-testing emails) can be set up in a variety of ways, with the most common being an A/B test of two or more different subject lines based on open-rate results. In a nutshell, A/B Testing takes the guesswork out of writing subject lines. It helps you determine which subject lines resonate most with your subscribers and then automatically delivers the most popular subject line to the majority of your list. Like list segmentation, A/B testing is a tool I use for the majority of my campaigns and it always pays off!

Basic Subject Line Tips

To do:

Since a subject line is your audience’s first impression of each email, I recommend using language that will clearly convey what your subscriber will gain from opening. Here, I reiterate relevance!

To avoid:

Since we all want to avoid getting flagged as spam or have an email bounce, there are spam-triggering words/characters you should not include in subject lines. These include:

  • % off
  • Sale
  • Deal
  • Coupon
  • $
  • All caps
  • Emojis or symbols.

You’re Not Done, Yet! Monitor Your Campaigns and Study Reports

Tools like segmentation and A/B testing are most effective when you pay attention to the impact they are having. I recommended that your website is set up to track emails in Google Analytics. If you run an e-commerce store (e.g. Shopify), I also recommend integration with your email marketing account so you can track conversions and revenue most accurately.

As you complete campaigns, keep a close eye on open rate, click rate, unsubscribes, and traffic and/or conversions. If you noticed any major changes, use these reports as an opportunity to reassess your overall strategy. Happy sending!