For years, so-called experts have been touting the demise of email marketing. But, says Elisabeth Willits, this marketing channel is far from dead. In fact, in many ways it’s more relevant than ever.

As a senior content marketing specialist at AWeber, over the last six years Elisabeth has seen the industry up close and personal every day. Along the way, she’s collected data from emails sent to millions of subscribers, allowing her to figure out what works and what doesn’t in email.

She shares her results and insights into how to grow a business with this veteran marketing channel, including… 

  • The factors that most influence click-through rates
  • Creating effective – and deliverable – email content
  • The three types of emails ecommerce stores must send their prospects and customers
  • An email list you should never mail to… in fact, it could be dangerous to your business
  • Exciting new innovations in email marketing and the opportunities they offer

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today we’re going to talk about email marketing. Here to speak with me about the topic is Liz Willits, who was the senior content marketing specialist at AWeber, one of the world’s leading email marketing and automation platforms. 

Liz is a professional copywriter and editor who creates successful and popular blog posts, landing pages and email automation campaigns for AWeber. Over the past six years, she’s sent hundreds of emails to millions of subscribers. She’s constantly scouring the email data of the best of the best and she knows what works and what doesn’t when it comes to growing your business with the help of email. Liz, great to have you on the show.

Elisabeth Willits: Thanks for having me, Steffen. How are you?

Steffen: I’m not too bad. I’m really excited to talk about email marketing today. But before we go there, I would love to find out a little bit more about yourself. Liz, how did you get started in advertising and what led you to this point in your career?

How Liz Became an Email Marketing Guru 

Liz: Great question. So back in college to take it all the way back to college, I was an English communications major, because I loved to write. And I love the way that writing allows you to communicate with people. And as I came to my senior year, I really became interested in marketing. Digital marketing, specifically, because it allows you to write and to communicate with tons of people and it’s kind of a mixture of education when you’re content marketer and writing. So I got this huge interest in content marketing,  specifically senior year. 

And then once I graduated college, I got a job at a SAS technology company in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. And there I did all kinds of marketing things. One of them was content marketing. And I really loved the content side of things. So, after a few years there, I got a job at AWeber. And AWeber is one of the longest-lasting and most successful email marketing platforms in the world. And I got a job as a content marketer here. 

And what’s really cool is that it’s allowed me to create all kinds of content, but also to really spend time learning about email marketing, and working with some of the best email marketers in the world and analyzing the kind of email campaigns that really work. And I recently started looking at how many emails I’ve sent and it’s millions of millions of emails. And so over the course of this time, I always liked marketing but now I would say that I am this email marketing nerd. I’m obsessed with it. I’m always looking at the numbers. 

I’m always looking at what other really successful marketers are doing with their email marketing campaigns and then sending emails myself. So I got really obsessed with email marketing here at AWeber. And I create all kinds of content besides email. Written content, webinars, I speak around the country at different conferences. So I love content creation, but I have this huge passion for email marketing now, which is why I love what I do here at AWeber.

Steffen: That sounds like a great story. When people think about email marketing, most likely what comes to their mind is the huge amount of unsolicited emails they receive every day. But is that really the extent of email marketing? Or is there more to email marketing?

Liz: Right, yeah. So when I tell people that I’ve sent millions of emails, sometimes they look at me with this look like I hate, because all they can think about is the spam emails that we all get. So our inboxes are crowded with these annoying spam emails that we don’t want. But that is not email marketing. That’s just spam. So true, good email marketing is content that you asked to receive, and that you get and what you want and you expect. So one of the most important things you need to do in email marketing is first off permission to email them. 

Tell them the kind of content you’re going to send them and deliver that content. Because when you are sending people emails that they want to get, and they like, your email marketing strategy is going to really work for you. You’re going to get insane engagement. So when people talk about how they hate email, they’re really thinking about spammers. But when we see an email marketer who is sending emails that are awesome, we actually want to get them.

Steffen: That makes a lot of sense. Obviously, email marketing is also used to kind of close the loop from an ecommerce perspective. Do you pay much attention to that part? So for example, when people go to a website and they want to buy a product, put stuff in their basket and then just abandon the basket. They might have locked into the email, and therefore they know where it is and they do and receiving email about whether they want to check out. For you, is that part of email marketing?

Liz: Yeah, good question. Yes. I call those cart abandonment emails. So yeah, ecommerce email is really really effective if you work in ecommerce. Cart abandonment emails are extremely effective. And online retailers send these beautiful emails that work really well for them. Both cart abandonment emails and just regular promotional emails. So yeah, if you work in ecommerce, I definitely recommend using email marketing and cart abandonment emails as well as promotional newsletters.

Steffen: You mentioned a second ago that the unsolicited emails that’s not really email marketing. What is, in your eyes, email marketing is when someone has asked permission to send content to someone? Are there’s some good use cases you can share?

Spam is Not Email Marketing

Liz: Yeah, sure. So when I think of email marketing and permission-based email marketing, and that’s where you have your subscribers’ permission to send to them. I think of a signup form, for instance. So you create a signup form and you offer a lead magnet, which is free content, on that signup form in exchange for someone subscribing. Or you promote your newsletter, or the kind of email content you send on that signup form. 

And you tell people, I’m going to give you all of this valuable content when you subscribe. All you have to do is put in your name and your email address and click that button. And so that is a great example of getting permission, getting people to opt-in because they’re the ones filling out that signup form. And the same thing with a landing page. A landing page where you offer a person a webinar content, a white paper, a guide, templates. 

Even if you have an ecommerce store, what ecommerce stores often do is they’ll offer a 15% discount on your first purchase. And they do this in exchange for the email address, but they’re getting the subscribers’ permission to email them. And so that’s what I mean when I say it’s really important to receive your subscribers’ consent or permission before you start sending them emails. So an example of the opposite of this, an example of not having permission would be bought email lists. 

Steffen: Talk a little bit more about that. 

Liz: Yeah, for sure. So, buying an email list is when you just purchase an email list from another company that is selling this list of leads. And there’s a couple problems with doing it. It seems like the easy way out and it seems like it’s going to be really effective, right? But the problem with it is that these people aren’t expecting to receive emails from you. And if they are on a purchase list, a lot of other companies are purchasing this list as well.

So they’re being spammed if all this content, there’s all this email content they don’t want, so they’re unlikely to really engage with those emails because they don’t want it. And they’re much more likely to mark your emails as spam, to unsubscribe, to complain about your emails. And all of these things can really hurt your email deliverability which is your chances of reaching the inbox. 

So when you buy an email list, and you get, send these emails where you get low engagement, where you get high spam, where people ultimately don’t want your emails, you are much more likely to go to the spam box and actually ruin your email reputation. So as a sender, you have a reputation associated with your domain name. So your website’s domain name. And if you wreck that reputation by sending spam emails to people who haven’t opted in, then your chances of reaching the inbox across the board go down. So that’s one of the big risks of sending to a purchased list. And another thing is, it’s really with the Can-Spam act, it’s illegal.

Steffen: Okay, that’s a good point. Are there ways for businesses to see what the email deliverability is? So how clean their emails are and if they’re really able to reach the group of people they’re targeting or that subscribed? 

Liz: You know, one of the things you can look at is your click-through rates. So if your click-through rates are really low, you might have bad email deliverability. It could be a problem with your content, you know, so if you’re sending poor content, then people aren’t going to click that even if your deliverability is great. But you’re sending this great phenomenal, valuable content. And you know your audience likes it. But your email click-through rates are terrible, then it might be a problem with your inbox placement and your email deliverability. 

And another way you can kind of figure this out is when you hear from your subscribers that your emails are going to spam. And not when you hear this once or twice, but when you hear from a lot of subscribers that your emails are going to spam because number one, they’re telling you that the email went to spam, and number two, they obviously want your content because they took the time to reach out to you to let you know that your email went to spam. So then you know that your content’s good. So that’s a good way to tell with email deliverability. A lot of people look at open rates, and they use that as a test of what their email deliverability might be. 

But the problem with using open rates is that not everyone has their inbox preferences sets so they can view images. And the way that we determine open rates is we put this little image in an email and if we see that that image was viewed, then that is considered an open. But when people have images turned off in their inbox preferences, then that will never happen. And it’ll show is a no open, even if they open the email. So it’s better to look at click-through rates.

Steffen: Okay, interesting. So let’s say a company got himself into, I’ll use the word jail, because you know, they’ve used some questionable tactics in the past, but they now understand that you know what, that’s not the right way. They have to change their approach. What can the company do to kind of get out of jail card to kind of clean up their online reputation when it comes to sending emails?

Cleaning Up Your Email Reputation

Liz: Great question and I’ve definitely heard this before. One of the best things you can do is first off if you have a purchased list stop sending to those people. They didn’t opt into to hear from you. They’re, you’re probably not getting great engagement from that list. And like I said, it’s kind of, it’s a risky thing to do. So we say, you know, don’t buy an email list, that’s our number one recommendation. But if you have bought one, you’re not alone. 

A lot of people have done that. And it’s okay. I would recommend stopping, ceasing to send that list. And if you don’t have an email list at all, start building your email list the right way, which is by creating valuable content and giving that to people in exchange for subscribing and just asking them to opt-in. But if you are, have really bad email reputation and your delivery, the best way to improve that is to show ISPs, like Gmail, like Yahoo, that you are sending good email content that your subscribers want. So the reason they don’t deliver your emails is because they are seeing that you’re sending emails your subscribers don’t like. 

And they use a complex algorithm to determine whether or not your subscribers like the emails. So one of the things that goes into that, among a bunch of other things is engagement. So if you can send high-quality content, and get people to open it, to click it, and to keep reading it, then that’s a great signal to ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail. So my recommendation if you want to improve your email deliverability is to send a really valuable free content for a while. So maybe, you know, eight weeks in a row, you send just awesome valuable content that your subscribers are going to love. 

And I recommend that as a long term strategy too. You should always send awesome content to your email list that helps them out. And it should be content that answers the questions they have and solves the problems they have. And when you’re sending great content like this, they’re going to open your emails, they’re going to read your emails, and they’re not going to unsubscribe because they love what you’re sending them. And when you go to actually try to sell to them, they’re going to be much more likely to open and to click your emails. 

And they’re going to feel indebted to you, to your company, because you help them out so much. And we know in psychology when someone feels indebted to us, or they feel loyal to us, they’re more likely to buy from us. And that’s called the theory of reciprocity. I’m not going to say it right. I never can say it right. So ignore how I said it. But yeah, when you create this relationship where you’re giving, giving and giving people are more likely to buy from you.

Steffen: That makes sense. Okay, so it sounds to me, it goes two ways to build an email list. One, that’s not really good. You can go out and buy a list, but results will be bad you might get yourself into email-sender jail. And few of your emails will actually be seen by your, by the audience that you really want to engage with. Or you can build an email list from the ground up, which to me sounds like it’s a slow grind. Why? Because you have to get traffic to your website first for people to opt-in, or whatever other activities you use to drive traffic to, to kind of a signup page. What are some tactics people can use to accelerate the collection of emails?

Liz: Great question. So one thing you can do, and this is something I recommend to, this is for newbies, so if you’re not a newbie and you already have an email list, this is probably not a good tactic for you. But if you don’t have any subscribers, you just have a few subscribers, this is one of the first things I recommend. Reach out to your current network, send them your signup form or your landing page, tell them how valuable your email list and ask them really sincerely to subscribe. 

So you can reach out to people, your email contacts, you can reach out to people on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Twitter, and ask them this and send them your signup form. And that can be a really effective way to get your first hundred subscribers. And again, these aren’t like insane results, you’re not going to get a million subscribers doing this, but you might get 100 really engaged subscribers who then tell their friends about your newsletter and about your email list. And so you can grow through word of mouth that way. And my one tip when doing this is don’t spam your friends. 

Ask them once and if they don’t get back to you, leave it alone from there and make sure you talk about the value that they’ll get from subscribing and be real in your messaging there. But if you’re hoping to do something that’s a little bit quicker, if you already have an email list and you’re ready to scale that, something you can use is Facebook ads. So you can have, let’s say you have Facebook ads that drive people to a landing page that promotes a webinar you’re hosting. So you can get people. you can get thousands of email addresses by doing this. And now again, this does take a budget. 

You have to spend money with paid ads, but that’s one potential way. Another thing to do that a lot of experts did to grow their email list, I know a lot of bloggers who did this and they now have like hundreds of thousands of subscribers now, but they do guest blog posts on all kinds of big blogs. And then they mention their newsletter in those guest blog posts that they write. Another tactic that works really well is like I’ve mentioned a few times, I host a lot of webinars. And we get a lot of email subscribers through webinars. So webinars work really well if your b2b. 

If you are in ecommerce, I do recommend using a method like 10% off your first purchase coupon in exchange for an email address. That is a great way to get people’s email addresses. And then let’s see what else? What are some other ways that you could go about this? I think the best way, you know, email list growth, when you’re growing a really great email list, it does take time. But if you can create content that gets organic SEO results, so people are finding it in Google and they’re clicking on it, and then that content has a signup form on it, that is a great way to scale. So for instance, here AWeber we have a blog post about the marketing funnel. 

And this blog post ranks number two in Google for the term marketing funnel, and we get a ton of subscribers because we get thousands of people to view that post, and they then subscribe to our email list. So organic SEO is another great way to grow your email list quickly. But to be totally frank, growing a healthy email list does take time unless you’re an overnight success. But you can also use your social media channels to grow your email list. So if you have a huge Instagram following, promote your newsletter in your Instagram story, promote it on your page and talk again about the value. 

You can do the same on Facebook, you can do the same on Twitter, you can do the same on LinkedIn. And one of the ways I recommend people to get their social following to move over is by talking about the exclusive content that they send to their email list. So if you send exclusive content to your email us your social following already likes you, so they’ll join your email list to get that content.

Steffen: Although we’re already quite deep into the topic of email marketing, I wanted to ask you in the beginning is, you know, there is no year when I don’t hear someone say email marketing is dead. And obviously you gave some examples of what could be done a second ago but is that really true to email marketing is dead? Or why is it still effective? 

You Own Your Email Marketing Campaign

Liz: Right. Yeah, I hear email marketing is dead all the time too. And then people will say things like email marketing is dead. And social media is the new email marketing. But when you actually look at the numbers, that’s simply not true. So Monistat did some research and they found that email marketing drives more conversions than any other marketing channel. So it’s actually more effective at actually converting your audience, which is what we all want to do. On top of that, email marketing still has an ROI, or return on investment of 38 to one. 

So if you spend $1 on email marketing, you are likely to earn $38 in return. So email pays for itself. It’s kind of a no brainer. But also, you know, not using data. If you look at what happened, has happened this year with the email newsletter, so right now there are these insanely successful email newsletters. And I’m talking about daily email newsletters like the Skim, like Morning Brew. Like, let’s see, there’s Finimize, and there’s all of these, there’s the New York Times also sends I think a daily newsletter. And these newsletters are extraordinarily successful. 

Skim has millions and millions of email subscribers, and it’s just a daily newsletter about the news. And they built their whole business on this newsletter. They’re very profitable. And it’s all because of this email newsletter. So even if you ignore the data, you can go to your inbox and you can check out the industry and you see that all of the top experts are using email marketing, and that’s because it works. Like even Gary Vaynerchuk. You know, you look at Gary V, one of the most successful marketers in the world, he uses email and he loves social media, but he’s still using Is email. 

So you can look at both data and at what other marketers are doing and see that email marketing isn’t dead. And one of the beauties of email marketing over your social media channels is that you own your email list. It might take time to build your email list but once you’ve built it, you own it. You could spend years building a huge Facebook following, building a huge Twitter following, building a huge LinkedIn following. And one day LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter could just decide that they’re going to change their algorithm. And now all the posts that you put on that platform, they’re not going to show it to your own followers unless you pay money. 

And they could decide to do that because they own those platforms. But when it comes to your email list, you own it. So if your email marketing platform is doing something you don’t like, you can just switch to another email and take your email list with you. So there’s this beauty of owning the platform, you don’t have to worry about the algorithm because if you send an email you know your recipients are going to get it. You can send an email whenever you want. And you also don’t need to pay an additional advertising fee to get your subscribers to see that email, which is what happened with Facebook.

You know, if you want someone to see the post on your Facebook business page, you got to promote that post. And that’s, you know, that’s the kind of changes that social media can just do, and it can really impact your business. And I know because I’ve been working on growing my social following. It takes a long time, and it’s a lot of work, and I still love doing it. But if the social platform just all sudden changed tomorrow, I would not really have any options because I’m not in control of the platform. And so that’s one of the beauties of email.

Steffen: That’s a good point. So now that we’ve kind of debunked the statements some people that email marketing is dead, where’s email marketing heading in 2020 from your perspective?

Accelerated Mobile Pages

Liz: The one thing that I am super excited about in the email world is the AMP for email. And AMP for email stands for accelerated mobile pages. But what AMP does, is it allows you to easily create dynamic and interactive content in your emails. So one of the ways we’ve experimented with this at AWeber is you can have a form in your email that people can fill out directly from the email, and then that data goes to you. So typically, what we had to do in the past was send people to a landing page to fill out a form. 

But now they can do that within an email thanks to AMP for email. Or another example, think of a Memorial Day Sale or a Black Friday sale. After the holiday is over, the content in that email is irrelevant. It’s about Memorial Day, it’s about Black Friday, and after the holiday, it’s irrelevant. And people go back to that email and open it later, which we found in the data happens quite a bit. People will go back to your email weeks later and look at it. And if it’s about a timely event, like a sale, then that content’s no longer relevant. 

But what AMP allows you to do is dynamically change that content after you’ve sent it so that you can update it and have relevant content in that email instead. Another thing that’s going to be really revolutionary about AMP for email is eventually you’re going to be able to order products from it. So imagine if Amazon sends you an email with a bunch of different products in the email. Eventually, you’re going to be able to place orders right from that email and you won’t need to go to Amazon at all. 

And this is great for your end-user because we know in marketing that the more friction you have in the process, the more stages you have in the marketing process, the less likely someone is to complete all those stages. So you want to make it really easy for them to purchase. So by being able to order directly from an email, you’ve made the purchase cycle and the purchase process that much easier. So AMP is going to allow you to create these dynamic interactive emails really easily. And that’s what it allows you to do right now. And it is so so cool.

Steffen: Wow. That sounds like some really interesting stuff is coming our way. What do businesses need to get started with email marketing, just to kick things into gear? And then what would they need in order to take advantage of things like the AMP part that you just mentioned?

Liz: Right, yeah. So to get started, you definitely need an email marketing platform, and then you need to sign up form because you want to start growing your list and you want to add that signup form to your website, if you have a website. Or you can use your signup form as a hosted signup form and it can kind of act as your website if you don’t have one yet. And so you can create the signup form, you can do this in AWeber, you can create a signup form, and then you’ll have a link that you can send to people and when they go to that link, it’s your posted signup form and it acts as a web page for you. 

But first off, you want to have a way to grow your list. So you want to have that signup form. Secondly, if you want to get started, I recommend starting with, by sending a newsletter. So send the regular newsletter to your list, updating them with your latest content or the latest content from other people. That’s really great. So definitely recommend a newsletter. You can set up an automated welcome email and an automated welcome email is just the first email that goes to your new subscribers. 

It’s a pretty basic first step, but I definitely think you should have an automated welcome email. And then you know, look at what’s happening with your email marketing, analyze your results, and look at your open rates and your click-through rates and improve from there. So those are kind of the steps I recommend to get started. If you want to use AMP, Amp requires, at this point, a little bit of coding knowledge to use. 

But one of the cool things about AWeber is we are one of the first small business email marketing platforms to allow you to use AMP. So you can go to Google, Google is the companies that has helped launch AMP, you can go to the AMP Resource Center and check out the different things you can do with AMP. And you can see code samples as well. So AMP is a little bit more complex to implement right now but if you know code, then it’s going to be pretty easy for you.

Steffen: If people want to find out more about you, and/or AWeber, how can they get in touch?

Liz: First off, if you want to find out about AWeber, which I definitely recommend you do, check us out on Twitter, or Instagram at AWeber. You can find us on LinkedIn at AWeber. And you can go to to find this as well and AWeber is spelled AWEBER. So if you go to, we also have a 30-day free trial. 

If you would like to try out our great email platform, I recommend you go there. And if you’d like to follow me, and I would love it if you followed me because I would love to build my social network with brilliant marketers like all of you. So if you’d like to follow me, my handle is Liz Willits. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn under Liz Willits.

Steffen: Great. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit our website or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. 

Liz, thank you for joining me on the Performance Delivered Podcast and sharing your knowledge about email marketing. In our next episode, we will dive much deeper into email marketing. We’ll talk about strategies, some ideas about copywriting whether short or long, subject lines are better and many more. So you tune in again next week when Liz and I continue talking about email marketing.