Elisabeth Willits, a senior content marketing specialist with AWeber, is back again sharing her top tips for email marketing based on the data she’s gleaned about what works and what doesn’t based on sending out millions of emails.  

In the first part, we talked about why email marketing is the ideal way to grow an ecommerce business. We also cleared up some misconceptions about email that all too many marketers still believe. 

This time we focus on how to improve your current email marketing strategy (it can probably be performing much better) or ways to kick-start your email marketing efforts if you’ve never done it before. 

Listen in to find out… 

  • What your welcome emails must have
  • The most important purpose of every email you send out
  • How to make sure your subject line stands out in your prospects’ inboxes
  • The power of the “story” email
  • Clear and concise instructions on how to set up an effective automated email marketing funnel

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 continue our conversation about email marketing. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the first episode, where we talked about what email marketing is, why it’s not dead, and what companies need to get started, make sure to check it out. 

I’m happy to welcome back Liz Willits, who is the Senior Content Marketing Specialist at AWeber, one of the world’s leading email marketing automation platforms. Liz is a professional copywriter and editor who create successful and popular book posts, landing pages and email automation campaigns for AWeber. Over the past six years, she 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. Welcome back, Liz. 

Elisabeth Willits: Thanks, Steffen.

Steffen: And, you know, today, I want to dive deeper into email marketing, I really want to give people, give the listeners some hands-on ideas on how they can either get started with email marketing or how they can improve the email marketing activities. So with any marketing activities, it’s important to have strategies laid out on how you want to approach things. Are there specific strategies for email marketing that you can recommend people should consider when thinking about getting started or adjusting to your marketing activities?

The Seven Email Strategy

Liz: Yeah. There’s actually something I’ve called a seven email strategy that I recommend when you’re creating your automated email funnel. So this could be the first automated funnel you create. And it’s just a strategy of seven different emails I recommend sending in that automated email series. And you can separate these emails, you can have a few days in between each email, you could have one day in between each email. But I recommend having the seven emails in your strategy. You can combine certain emails together if it makes sense. So it doesn’t have to be a total of seven.

But I recommend you at least cover all seven of the points from these emails. So the first email I recommend is called the welcome email. We covered it a bit last week but it’s an automated email that you send out to your subscribers immediately after they join your list. And in this email, you thank them for subscribing. If you offered a lead magnet or freebie on your signup form you give them that lead magnet or freebie in the welcome email. You also want to set expectations for the kind of content you’ll be emailing to your subscribers and how often you’ll be emailing that content. 

You can introduce your business a bit, and I recommend making this a sentence or two about what your mission is or why you do what you do. And another thing I recommend is you ask people to whitelist your email address. And that helps with reaching the inbox. It makes it more likely that you’ll reach the inbox. And whitelisting is when a subscriber adds your email address to their address book. Another thing you could ask them to do in your welcome email is if your email landed in the Gmail promotions tab, they can drag it to the primary tab. And then Gmail says that your email is more likely to go to the primary tab after they take that action. 

So that’s what I recommend in the welcome email. Another email I recommend and the seven email strategy is the story email. And the story email is where you tell your business story, why you do what you do, and why it’s important. And so if you’re an entrepreneur, let’s say you’re a fitness entrepreneur, your story email could talk about your own fitness journey, and how fitness has changed your life. It’s made you healthier, it’s made you feel better. And now you want to bring that to the world. And that is why you started your business. And the story email is important because it shows who you are, and it builds a relationship with your subscriber. 

So I definitely recommend sending that. A third email is the value email. And this is an email where you simply give people valuable content. It could be your top 10 blog posts. It could be your top podcast episodes of all time, your top video, it could be exclusive content that’s just in this email that’s valuable to your audience. One thing you can do is answer the most common questions your audience has in this email. But basically, you just want to give them value. 

Because you’re trying to build a relationship in this first email funnel. And to build a relationship and to build trust in a digital world you need to show your audience that you’re there to help them and that you’re going to give them value. Because with all the spammers out there and all the spam content out there, and all the shady marketers and shady businesses, one of the things that we really need to do as marketers is to build trust. And value emails are a great way to do that. Another email I recommend is the agitation email. And you can use this email as you’re starting to sell to your audience. 

And the agitation email simply agitates a problem that they have. So going back to our example of a fitness business, an issue that you might agitate for that audience might be building muscle. So you could in this agitation email, talk about how difficult it is to build muscle and the challenges that go with that and then maybe the challenges you’ve had with building muscle. And you’re basically agitating this problem and talking about how big of an issue it is. And then you follow that agitation email up with the solution email. And the solution email. presenting your services or your products as a solution to that problem that you just agitated. 

So you’re going to create this big problem and then you’re going to provide or show that your service and/or your product is the solution to that problem you agitated. And then the sixth email is the proof email. And that’s an email where you include proof that your product your service works. This could be case studies. This could be testimonials. It could be ratings, reviews, you know, any kind of thing that backs up what you’re saying, and backs up your product. And then finally, you can have the question email. And the question, email is just a great opportunity to engage with your audience and to interact with them. 

And so in the question email, I recommend you ask people what problems are you struggling with? How can I help you? What kind of content do you want to see from me? What kind of products would make your life better? And mostly you’re trying to figure out what problems do they have, what questions they have because then you want to present your product or your service as a solution to those problems. And you also want to create content that is going to solve those problems. 

And so it’s a great way to find out how to create long-term engaging content for your audience because one of the biggest marketing challenges we face as marketers is understanding our audience. And it is vital. So vital that we understand our audience. And the question, email is a great way to start getting that deeper understanding of your audience because you can ask them what are the problems you’re facing? 

What are the challenges you struggle with? What questions do you have? And when people share these kinds of insights with you, you really get to know them. And then you can create content and products and services that solve those problems. And you can set this seven email series up with action-based automation, or with any kind of automation platform.

Steffen: That’s very interesting. It makes me wonder whether you are not overwhelming the person that just signed up to get your content with seven emails if you sent them to short, you know, in a row.

Liz: Yeah, I think that’s a good point and something to consider for sure. And it’s going to vary from audience to audience. So one audience might want seven emails seven days in a row, and another audience might be overwhelmed by that. So I would recommend testing and AB testing the frequency of your emails. And so if your audience isn’t responding to seven emails seven days in a row, spread them out. 

Or like I mentioned in the beginning, you can combine some of these emails into one. So the agitation and the solution email and the proof email, they’re all focused on conversion. So technically, you could combine those into one email if you feel like seven is too much. But one of the best ways to figure out the right frequency, the right email frequency for your audience, is to AB test, or just ask them, Hey, am I sending too many emails? Let me know. 

Steffen: That’s a good point. So there’s no kind of golden rule that between the emails you should have X amount of days. It really depends on probably your target audience that you’re communicating with.

Liz: Yeah, I don’t have a golden rule because, you know, your audience is different. And if your audience is a bunch of CEOs, for instance, notoriously, they are extremely busy. And so you might want to make your email shorter. You might want to make your frequency, you might want to send less free frequent emails because of how busy your audience is. But that’s just an assumption too. 

The best way to really figure this out is to AB test and to figure out that way, but I know email marketers who send daily emails and their audience loves it. I know email marketers who send like four or five emails a day. And they also have an engaged audience. So it really varies. And what matters the most is the value of the content you’re sending. If you’re sending great content, audiences are more lenient if you’re sending frequent emails.

Steffen: So as a company, you know, AWeber focuses on email marketing,.You guys must have a ton of data available to identify best practices for email marketing campaigns. The first thing people see when they obviously open up their inbox is the subject of an email. Do longer or shorter subject lines do better?

Email Subject Line Length and Content

Liz: That, I hear that question all the time. And yeah, I recently dove into a bunch of data and analyzed 1000 emails from 100 top marketers. And so these marketers get insane engagement on their emails. And so I was looking at, you know, what do they do? What are they doing that’s making them so successful? And so I found with those emails that on average, there are 43.85 characters in an email subject line. And so that’s probably not that helpful, because you probably don’t know what 43.85 characters even is or what it looks like. 

When you look at that in the inbox, it’s a subject line of pretty much fills the space in your subject line on a desktop. So it fills the space that you have in like Gmail, which is also not that descriptive. But one thing that you can think about for context is that on most mobile inboxes, so if you’re reading an email from your phone, most subject lines get cut off at between 30 and 40 characters. So they get cut off. And if the average subject line is 43.85 characters, the end of it is getting, so that’s something you can think about for context. But I actually don’t recommend that you use 43.85 characters in your email subject line, because that’s what everyone’s doing. 

I think what I would I recommend is you actually try for 25 or 20 characters or less because what I found in my research was only 10.9% of people are sending subject lines with 20 characters or less. So first off, most people aren’t doing it. So when you do it, you’re going to stand out. It’s difficult to send short subject lines because you have to be really succinct. And so a lot of people don’t do it. But I recommend you do it because you stand out. 

And I also recommend you do it because 50% of emails are read on mobile phones now or on mobile devices. And if you’re, if you have a subject line that is over 30 to 40 characters, it’s getting cut off for you’re mobile viewers. And that can be a problem. That can really hurt your open rates. So that’s why right now, I’m recommending short subject lines to people. And if you’re not going to use short subject lines, I actually recommend really long subject lines. 

So over 60 characters, because again, most people aren’t doing this, it’s going to get cut off on mobile anyway. And then it can make people curious when your subject line gets cut off and is really long. So it stands out. It can make people curious about what the rest of your subject line is actually saying. And you’re going to get cut off on mobile anyway. So you might as well just go with it at that point.

Steffen: What information should be communicated in the subject line to generate a positive reaction for someone opening that email?

Liz: Well, I’ll first off tell you what to avoid. Don’t be deceptive in your subject line. And one of my colleagues was recently told me the story. He just got married, but before he got married, the one wedding sites that they were on sent him this email with a subject line like something like urgent action required, all in caps. And he freaked out because he thought like their wedding website had gone down, or like some huge issue had happened. 

And he opened the email and they just showed a bunch of options for different wedding photographer pictures. So it was really misleading. It got him all upset for no reason. And it made him annoyed. So deceptive, misleading subject lines like that, that their sole purpose is to get people to open it. And you might have a higher open rate, but it’s going to impact your engagement when you’re doing things that are misleading your subscribers. 

So I would recommend never trying to mislead your subscribers with your subject lines because while you might get a higher open rate, you’re going to be losing brand trust, and you’re probably not going to get much engagement. So avoid that. But as far as what I do recommend, I recommend a subject line that either incites curiosity. So it makes people curious about the content inside your email. Or two, it’s descriptive. And so it says exactly what is in an email. 

So one of the things that we, one of the subject lines we use all the time here at AWeber that’s effective is after a webinar, we email people the replay of that webinar. And our subject line for that is, here’s your webinar replay. And webinar audiences are notoriously engaged anyway. But this email gets really, really, really high open rates. 

Like sometimes open rates 80%, at least 60% or higher. And it’s not creative. It’s just extremely straightforward. And people know what is inside that email. So I recommend being straightforward or inciting curiosity. Or, you know, another thing you can do is try emojis. I kind of think that, you know, I think emojis vary from audience to audience. But sometimes they can also improve open rates.

Steffen: You just took away my next question. I have to say I recently started to receive a number of emails were in the subject lines were emojis. Is that a new thing to send out?

Are Emojis Appropriate for Email Subject Lines?

Liz: Yeah, it’s relatively new. And most people, in my research, I actually looked at that to how many people send subject lines with emojis in them. And I found that only 6.9% of email marketers are doing that right now. So a huge minority. Not many people are doing it. And I think there’s a couple ways to look at that. One thing to consider with emojis is that they could appear unprofessional. You know, some people don’t like them. Some people are annoyed by them. And so that’s one risk. Another risk is that they don’t necessarily render correctly in all inboxes. So if you are opening from a different device an emoji will look different. 

So like if you’re opening from a Windows 7 operating system versus a Windows 8.1 operating system, an emoji will look entirely different because it’s older tech had different emojis in the platform. So that’s something to consider. And sometimes with older platforms, your emojis aren’t going to render correctly at all. They’re going to appear like a bunch of jumbled characters. So when you use emojis, that’s a risk you’re taking. 

And you can use testing services such as Litmus to see how your emojis are going to render on different devices, but that is a risk of emojis. The flip side all of this is that emojis could increase your open rates. And I’ve seen them increase open rates and I’ve seen them used really effectively with companies that have playful copy, fun copy. So I have seen them increase open rates before. But again, I do think there is a risk to it. So what I recommend with emojis is, again, you AB split test it. 

You AB test it to see what works with your audience. You know, when it comes to email, I recommend a lot you AB test it, because I keep, you know, I’ll always say every audience is different. So your audience may react entirely different to emojis than my audience. If you’re a lawyer and you’re emailing your audience, you probably want to avoid emojis. But maybe if you’re a food blogger, email subject lines with food emojis, they could skyrocket your open rates. So it really depends.

Steffen; You know, when I talk to marketing peers, one topic that is quite often discussed is whether to capitalize words in the subject line. What is your stand on that?

Liz: Yeah. So again, I looked at this In my research, and what the stats say, are that 60% of email subject lines use sentence case capitalization. So they’re capitalized like you would capitalize a sentence where the first word is capitalized, and the rest are not. 34% use title case capitalization, and that is where all the first letters of every word, every proper word, are capitalized. And then only 6% are using all lowercase email subject lines. So most people are using sentence case capitalization. That’s what we use here at AWeber. But then the second most is title case capitalization. 

And as far as my recommendation on which to us, I think it depends on the content standards you follow, and also on your audience. So if it’s a more formal thing, you might want to use title case capitalization. It’s extremely informal, you could try lowercase. I have heard from some marketers that they use lowercase subject lines and that they’ve seen through split testing, through AB testing, that lowercase email subject lines get higher open rates. But again, I think that, you know, that can come off as unprofessional too because some people might think that it’s a, that you don’t know how to capitalize a sentence properly. So

Steffen: Interesting. I mean, one might say, you know, what, swimming against the stream, right? Be different than what the mass is doing and trying to stand out like that. As you explained earlier, in regards to rather have short or long subject lines, for example. Once we send out an email people get interested based on the subject line, they click, the content that is displayed on a message of the email, obviously, is the next thing that will make or break whether someone engages by clicking on the link that you have in there or is interested in the information you’re sharing. Is it better to have short emails or long emails? Or does it depend?

Liz: Yeah. So, again, I’m going to say it depends. Through my research, I found that, on average, there are 434.48 words in an email. And that takes about 3.3 minutes to read. So 3.3 minutes isn’t super long. It’s \ kind of in the middle, I would say, right? But then there are 52% of people who are sending emails under 300 words, and that’s about a two-minute read. But in there are 11.4% of emails that had 900 plus words, which is a pretty long read. 

So this totally varies. It totally varies. Most people are sending shorter emails. But the reason they’re sending shorter emails is because they’re convinced that people’s attention spans are like a gold fish’s, you know that stat was going around everywhere. But I don’t think it’s really about the length of the email. I think it’s about how good the content is. 

Because these, there are a lot of people who send these long, long, long emails, and I’m talking about emails that take like 12 minutes to read, 13 minutes to read. They’re really long. But when you look at their engagement, their engagement is off the charts. So they will have these crazy high open rates and these crazy high click-through rates, but when you read their content, it’s so engaging, it’s so valuable, it’s so interesting. 

And so it’s not really the length of the email that matters, but how engaging your content is. But with that, if you don’t feel like you’re this phenomenal writer, you might want to stick with shorter emails, and maybe those shorter emails link off to video content because you are really great on video. You’re really great at creating videos. So play to your strengths. If you’re not a great writer, maybe keep your email shorter. But if you love to write, you’re a phenomenal writer, try those longer emails.

Steffen: Great advice there. So when writing content, you just said, you know, some people are more natural in writing emails or content pieces that go into emails. Some people are less. Do you have some tips for the listeners when it comes to copywriting in order to get great engagement?

Problem Agitate Solution

Liz: Yeah, absolutely. So when it comes to conversion, one of the things that I use all the time is called the PAS formula. And the PAS s formula stands for problem agitate solution. And I use this in email copy, I use it in landing page copy, I use it all over the place. But basically what you do is you show and you talk to your audience about a problem that they have. You then agitate that problem, you explain why the problem is so painful and such a big deal, and then you present your product or your service as a solution to that problem. 

And you’re really just catching your subscribers’ interest by talking about this problem that they feel deeply because it’s something that they’re dealing with all the time. And then you’re agitating this problem. And again, this is a problem they’re dealing with in their life that they’re struggling with and so it’s painful to them. And then you show, after all of that, that your product, your service can help them with that problem. And so, it’s a really great way to set up your product or service and to explain why it’s valuable. So when it comes to conversion, I definitely recommend PAS. 

Another thing I recommend as far as writing is remember who your audience is and write for them. Make sure you know who they are. And also don’t write like a robot. I find when people, you know, people, I’ll talk to people in person, and they’re so engaging, they’re so funny, and I really love talking to them. And then I’ll read their email content and all sudden this really engaging person sounds like a robot because they’re not writing how they speak. 

They don’t sound natural. So be human in your email marketing. Write naturally and don’t be robotic. And another thing I recommend to people is use short sentences. Use short paragraphs and break up your email into small chunks that are easy to read. In English, we’re taught to use compound sentences and semicolons and things like that. 

And those lead to really long sentences. And in digital marketing, it’s hard to read those sentences because a lot of people read from their mobile devices. So if you send them an email with this huge text, this huge chunk of text, it is overwhelming, and they are less likely to read it. But if you take that same exact copy, and you break it up into short sentences and really short paragraphs, it is much easier to read on a mobile device. So I recommend you do that. It’s easy to do. You don’t have to actually change your writing, you just need to change how you present your writing.

Steffen: That’s a good tip. I’ve actually seen that in blog posts where instead of having big chunks of paragraphs, it’s like almost every sentence has kind of its own line. And then by doing, it’s much more pleasing to the eye when you go through it. Very early, in the beginning of the second episode, when you talked about, you know, the seven different emails, you talked about a seven email sequence. Is there an ideal email sequence or a number of emails in a sequence? Or does it depend on what is communicated and what is offered?

Liz: Yeah, it definitely depends what’s being communicated. If you haven’t started using automation at all, and you’re just about to start to use email automation and automated sequences. I typically recommend starting with an email sequence of maybe three to five emails. Because I don’t think, I think sometimes people don’t get their email automation setup, because they think their email automation series needs to be 50 emails over the course of a year or whatever. 

And I don’t, that’s not the case. You can have a really effective three to five email automated email series. So that’s what I recommend to beginners. Now, if you have a huge company, your automation is going to look a lot different than that. I have seen companies with series with like 300 emails. So it really does vary on what you want to convey and your content. But one of the things I recommend to everyone is don’t overcomplicate things. 

So sometimes we’re tempted with the power of email automation because there’s so much you can do with email automation, but we’re tempted to create these insanely complex series where if you do this, then 50 steps later this may happen. And sometimes simple is better, and it’s more effective. So that would definitely be my clip. Don’t overcomplicate things.

Steffen: Liz, the last thing I want to talk about is targeting when it comes to your email list and to the people you’re reaching out to. First question is, how important is it to look at your email list and break it up into sub-segments in order to be more targeted from a communication perspective? And then how would you go about to do that?

Email Segmentation

Liz: Good questions. So first off, email segmentation is really important. And when I use like, when we send segmented emails here at AWeber and when other people send segmented emails, they see a huge increase in engagement and in opens and clicks. So engagement is off the charts when you segment. And segmenting is basically when you take your email list, instead of sending an email to your entire list, you group your list into subsets, and you send different emails to those subsets, and typically how you segment. 

So the answer that part of your question how you would segment is to segment based off some commonality in those groups. So that might be their interests. I keep using fitness as an example. So let me switch over like a food blogger. So let’s say you’re a food blogger, the interests you might, you segment your subscribers by could be their dietary preferences. So you could have a segment of people who are vegans. You can have a segment of people who have no dietary restrictions. 

You can have a segment of paleo subscribers, and you send relevant content to each of those segments because if you think about that use case if you’re sending a recipe about how to cook the best steak ever to your vegan audience, first off, they’re never going to use that recipe. Second off, it’s kind of insulting because they don’t have, they don’t eat meat, and they might not eat meat because of, you know, they feel that, you know, the way, that eating meat is wrong. And so it’s a deeply felt conviction of theirs. 

And then you’re sending them as content about meat. So, segmentation allows you to send more relevant content to those different subsets of your list, and it increases engagement. It also makes your subscribers feel like you know them and understand them better. So one way you can do that is off interest. You could do it off of the stage in the marketing funnel. So if you have someone who just became aware of your brand, you should talk to them differently than someone who’s been a customer for 20 years. 

So you can segment off of the stage in the customer journey. You can segment based off of actions. So if you have a group of people who always open and click on your emails. You could send them different content than people who never engage with your emails. And there are a ton of different ways you can segment. So those are just a few. But when it comes to segmenting, I would think about, think about your audience and think about some of the common differences within your audience and then create groups based off those common differences.

Steffen: Well Liz, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about email marketing and for joining the Performance Delivered Podcast. 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 aweber.com to find us as well, and AWeber is spelled AWEBER. So, if you go to aweber.com. 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 you’d like to follow me, and I would love it if you follow me, because like I said in our first episode, I’m trying to build my social network. And 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 symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.