The average business sends 26.8 marketing emails to their lists every week.

And plenty of those emails are landing in the crowded inboxes of your target audience, where they get ignored.

It’s not that the potential customers on your email list aren’t interested in your business. They’re just not interested enough to pick another boring marketing email out of the pile.

The good news is that you can catch their attention.

You need the right email marketing strategy.

This article outlines 10 proven steps to build an email marketing strategy that gets results.

  • Step 1. Start with a high quality list
  • Step 2. Segment your list
  • Step 3. Understand the goal of each email campaign
  • Step 4. Provide valuable content
  • Step 5: Personalize your messages
  • Step 6. Make it pretty
  • Step 7. End with a strong call to action
  • Step 8. Be conscious of sending frequency
  • Step 9. Automate your emails
  • Step 10. Track, test, and optimize

What is an email marketing strategy?

An email marketing strategy is a plan to send targeted emails to your subscribers. It’s an opportunity to nurture and build high-quality relationships with your customers. When done effectively, your email marketing strategy can increase customer loyalty and retention.

Having a strategy ensures that every aspect of your email marketing is working towards your business goals. With an email marketing strategy, you can:

  • Reach the right people at the right time — Maybe one segment of your list knows all about your product and is one email away from a purchase decision. But another segment would be turned off by an email asking them to buy something and they need more time to learn about your brand.
  • Increase click-throughs and conversions — An email marketing strategy makes it more likely that prospects will read your email, connect with your message, and convert.
  • Improve and optimize with each email you send — A good email strategy involves collecting data you can use to optimize future campaigns.

We want to make it as simple as possible for you to build an email strategy that pays off. Follow these 10 steps.

Step 1. Start with a high-quality list

It doesn’t matter how great your emails are if you’re sending them to the wrong people.

The best way to ensure that you have a receptive audience is to let people opt-in to your list.

How do I build an email list?

Build a high-quality email list with opt-ins

  • Add an email list subscription form to your website.
  • Collect emails from people who download gated content (like an ebook, whitepaper, or webinar).
  • Put a “Please add me to your email list” checkbox at the bottom of all your forms.
  • Let people sign up at tradeshows and other events.
  • Link to an opt-in form from social media
  • Generate content to drive organic traffic to your site and subscription form

It’s worth noting that some of these contacts are going to have higher buyer intent than others.

Someone who filled out a subscription form, for example, is eager to hear from you. On the other hand, someone who downloaded your ebook might not know anything about you.

But we’ll get into segmentation in a second.

So, you now have a list of contacts to develop your email marketing strategy around.

The next step is to maintain the quality of that list by keeping your audience engaged with regular, valuable emails. But how do you do that?

Step 2. Segment your audience

You want to get the right message to the right people. That means you can’t send every email to your whole list.

You need to create groups of contacts who have something in common. These groups are called audience segments.

Segmenting your list lets you speak to the needs and desires of that specific audience. For example, young men might respond to a different message than middle-aged women. A holiday email in one country might make no sense in another. Or maybe you have multiple products that appeal to different groups.

Consider segmenting your audience based on:

  • Geography: Country, state, city
  • Demographics: Age, gender, income, life stage
  • Psychographics: Lifestyle and interests
  • Behavior (website data): Pages visited, shopping carts abandoned, emails opened, past purchases, etc.

Ways to segment your email audience

Step 3. Understand the goal of each email campaign

Every email you send should have an objective.

Sometimes the goal is to get them to buy your product. But not all of your audience segments are ready for that.

You’ll likely have seen the customer journey visualized as a funnel.

Stages of the customer journey

At the top of the funnel, prospects don’t know much about you. They may be researching solutions to a problem, and you got their attention. They’re not ready to buy those solutions yet, but you can build brand awareness with informative content.

In the middle of the funnel, the prospect is interested but unsure. Your goal should be to convince them of the benefits of your product or service.

People at the bottom of the funnel have a clear desire and are ready to take action. An email to this group should have the goal of conversions.

Understanding your goal will help you decide what type of email to send.

Step 4. Provide valuable content

If you take away one thing from this list, make it this one.

It doesn’t matter who you send your email to, what subject line you use, or how beautiful it looks if it’s not something your audience wants to read.

Valuable content is:

  • Relevant to your audience
  • Helpful, engaging, or inspiring
  • Timely
  • Written in a clear and engaging style

But how do you know if your audience finds your emails valuable?

For that, you need analytics. We’ll review analytics in step 10.

Step 5. Personalize your messages

We all know that marketing should be personalized. That’s why 69% of marketers are using some type of email personalization.

But not everyone is doing it right. These days, an email that starts with “Hi, FirstName” isn’t good enough. To impress your audience, you need to tailor your message to your target audience.

One simple way to send personalized emails is with conditional content. Conditional content lets you start with the same base email but personalize aspects of the content.

For example, you could:

  • Change the product image based on the prospect’s interests.
  • Link to a different knowledge base article depending on what links a prospect has clicked in the past.
  • Insert a different special offer depending on what stage of the marketing funnel the potential customer is in.

Step 6. Make it pretty

A compelling email is about more than the words on the page. It has to be visually appealing to grab the attention of your audience.

If you don’t have graphic designers to create your emails, that’s okay. Customizable, responsive templates can look just as professional as an original creation.

ActiveCampaign email templates

Templates let you create a beautiful email quickly and effortlessly. And it can still have your personal touch — start with a template and your voice and branding.

Make sure your emails look great in multiple email clients and on a mobile device as well as desktop.

Step 7. End with a strong call to action

A call to action (CTA) is a phrase or button designed to convince the reader to do something. It’s usually at the end of the email and might be something like “Buy it today” or “Download the white paper,” depending on the goal of the email.

A good email CTA should:

  • Start with an action verb
  • Inspire urgency
  • Be noticeable
  • Align with your email objective

Step 8. Be conscious of sending frequency

You should keep your audience engaged by sending emails regularly.

But not too regularly.

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of marketing emails that started out interesting and quickly got annoying when the emails came too frequently.

Marketers recognize the problem but aren’t doing much about it — 84% of email marketers believe that organizations should have frequency of contact rules in place, but only 62% actually have them.

There’s no universal rule for how often to send emails, but you can gauge how your audience feels based on email performance metrics. If you see your open rate and CTR dropping while your unsubscribes go up, your list might be sick of hearing from you.

Step 9. Automate your emails

After reading the first 8 steps of this list, you may be thinking that creating an email marketing strategy is a whole lot of work.

It would be if you had to send all those emails manually. Fortunately, we have email marketing automation.

The most basic type of email automation is time-based scheduling, like setting an email to send on a certain date. But modern email marketing solutions have more advanced options as well.

For example, you could:

  • Trigger an email based on a list subscriber’s behavior on your website, like an abandoned shopping cart
  • Send customers emails with special offers on their birthdays
  • Send content to subscribers who opened an email with similar content
  • Trigger an email after a customer makes a purchase

It’s often useful to automate a whole series of emails. This article outlines a 6-email welcome email series that you can send to each new subscriber on your list.

Step 10. Track, test, and optimize

We can make recommendations based on our email marketing experience, but the only way to know for sure what your audience responds to is to track and test everything.

Let’s start with the tracking. There are several metrics you can monitor to find out how your campaigns are doing.

Open rate: How many people open your email?

They haven’t seen your content yet, so this metric is mostly a test of the subject line. The average email open rate for marketing emails is 25% for B2C emails and 22% for B2B emails.

Click through rate (CTR): How many people click the links in your email?

If the CTR is high, people are interested in your content. A strong call to action (see step seven, above) can influence this number.

Conversion rate: How many people complete the goal action of the email, such as purchasing a product or downloading an asset?

Unsubscribe rate: How many people opted to unsubscribe from receiving your automated emails?

Your unsubscribe rate could be high if your emails are going to the wrong audience or if you’re sending too many.

For more useful email marketing metrics, check out this list.

How do I test my campaigns?

You can improve your email marketing performance through A/B testing, also called split testing. That’s when you send multiple versions of an email — often to a small test group — to see which one does better.

For example, you could send the same email with different subject lines or a different image.

Testing emails with an A/B test

A split test ensures that you’re sending the best version of your email marketing campaign and helps you learn more about your audience.

Bonus tip: Simplify your email marketing strategy with ActiveCampaign

Implementing all these parts of your email marketing strategy might sound complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.

You need an effective email marketing solution that makes it easy. ActiveCampaign takes the hard work out of the tactics this article introduced. You can:

  • Build beautiful emails with a few clicks. Over 125 attractive, responsive email templates are available.
  • Segment your audience in detail. Use the segment builder to group your list and send targeted emails.
  • Personalize your message. Add conditional content to your emails to make them relevant and engaging to a specific audience.
  • Automate your emails. Send campaigns on a set schedule or trigger emails based on events like website visits and email interactions.
  • Run split tests. Create up to five different versions of an email to test and choose how many contacts can receive each version.

Final thoughts

You don’t just need email marketing, you need an email marketing strategy.

Creating a strategy allows you to reach an interested audience with the content they’re looking for. And when your email subscribers are engaged, they’re more likely to convert.