Email marketing is here to stay.

Pretty much everyone has an email address they maintain with at least some consistency—even if just to manage login info for web and social applications. For marketers, this means that even in 2019 email is likely the most personal and distraction-free channel you can get with your audience.

In today’s post, we’re going to explore the absolute basics of email marketing tactics: What to know, what to avoid, and some quick ideas to get you up-and-running, if you don’t know quite where to begin.

What you should know:

  1. Subject lines

  2. Segmentation

  3. Multivariate testing

  4. Automation

Let’s dive in.

Subject Lines: What matters, and what doesn't

Okay, let’s dispel a myth: Great subject lines are powerful—but a user base that genuinely cares about your content always wins. There are some general guidelines to delivering a great subject line and boosting your open rate, but ultimately the success of your email will come down to the relevancy of your message to its recipient.

That being said, there is a crucial point that hinges on subject line usage: Deliverability.

Without getting too in-the-weeds, deliverability is the overall measure of how successfully your audience received your email, and what amount of messages were bounced, filtered into spam, or otherwise failed to deliver. It’s arguably the most important metric in email marketing, because if you can’t deliver a message, then your content doesn’t even matter.

Subject lines play a disproportionately large role in deliverability, and spammy subject lines or otherwise poor practices can quickly trigger spam blockers that crush your deliverability overnight.

So what should I do, and what should I avoid?


  • Keep contrast high. If you just sent out a short, snippy subject line, then consider a slightly longer subject line with more defined sentence structure for next time.

  • Find creative ways to convey urgency. Phrases like “Don’t wait” or “Just in:” elicit action without resorting to trigger words like “Urgent” or “Special Promotion”.

  • Keep it personal, but professional. If an offer is going to a very small-yet-dedicated group, let them know with a subject line like “An exclusive offer—just for you”. You can even use a conditional first name tag if your ESP provides that option (but don’t go overboard).


  • Use ALL CAPS OFFERS in subject lines. Sometimes you can get away with a little bit ( FREE: Get the Ebook today), but this tactic often comes off as spammy, and is quick to trigger spam traps.

  • Overuse phrases like “limited time”, “free”, “Important:”, or anything else that generates artificial urgency. Not only will it sanitize the moments you actually do have sometime to offer for free or for a limited time, these phrases also trigger ISP spam traps when used repetitively.

  • Write a novel. In general, 50-60 characters or less is a good rule to apply.

  • Use exclamation points or excessive grammar. This won’t necessarily trigger spam filters—but it’s a bad practice and should be avoided.

  • Re-use subject lines. This is a big one for deliverability and will also reduce open rates, because two messages delivered to an email address with the same subject line will “stack” on top of each other in many email clients, meaning that the second message will appear as a reply to the first instead of a unique message.

Segmentation: Why you should do this for every message

Email segmentation is the practice of crafting a recipient pool for a particular message or set of messages through (usually) two conditions: Audiences and suppressions.

Audiences define who receives the message, while segments define who doesn’t. An example of an audience and segment could look like this:

Ecommerce offer: Spring products 15% off

Opened a message in last 3 months
Clicked on a message in last 6 months
Under 55
Over 35

Hasn’t opened a message in 9 months
Email address has bounced
Has made a purchase within 7 days
Is receiving [X] message same day

In the above example, there are a few different ideas being expressed:

A suppression such as “Has made a purchase in 7 days” is useful for an ecommerce-type offer, where you don’t want to burn out your email list with excessive sales messages.

A suppression such as “Is receiving [X] message” is useful when complex parallel campaigns are happening, and you want to ensure message spillover doesn’t happen. For many companies, it’s beneficial to follow the general rule of 1 message per person, per day.

Finally, there are what I refer to as the “base” audience and suppression categories. For audiences, these are “has opened/clicked a message in [X] time”. For suppressions, it’s reversed: “Hasn’t opened a message in [X] time”, and also “has bounced more than 1 time”.

This base audience and base suppression is what you should be employing with every email.

Every organization will define these conditions differently, but nobody should be sending email message to their entire email list, ever. Even setting up a method of suppressing only email address that have bounced can yield drastic improvements to deliverability and KPI’s across the board, since these improvements tend to compound (improved deliverability improves open rates, which in turn improves click rates…).

Confused where to start?

Here’s a great foundation for getting you started, and simply includes a base suppression to filter out email addresses you definitely don’t want to send to. From here, you can begin diving into the never-ending wormhole of audience segments and unique strategies.

Base Suppression
Has been sent more than 7 messages
Never clicked or opened
Hasn’t opened a message in 12 months
Has bounced more than 1 time

Multivariate Testing: What is it, and when should I be using it?

Multivariate testing is the practice of testing an idea or tactic by creating two or more iterations of an offer, and sending each version to a unique audience. You may know this as A/B testing—”multivariate” simply indicates that there are more than two versions.

People get really, really excited about multivariate testing. Sometimes it’s important…and (hot take alert) sometimes it really isn’t.

So when should I be testing?

The key here is to always keep an intent behind your test. It’s easy to get lost in the habits of constantly A/B testing two completely different subject lines or button CTA’s, without ever really honing in on what exactly you’re testing, and what you hope to discover from your results. This type of habitual testing often leads to false assumptions when analyzing elements that might not necessarily be comparable.

That being said, consider your experiments at the earliest stages of your marketing campaigns—not a layer you throw on top at the very end—and don’t test just because you think you need to. Land on a testing volume that makes sense for you and your business. Maybe it’s one test per campaign, or maybe it’s one test per quarter. Either way, take the time to think about exactly what you’re trying to do, and how you’ll analyze the results with accuracy and statistical significance (are results reproducible? How certain are you?).

Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tests for you to try out:

  • Time of deployment: Morning, afternoon, or evening?

    • 3-way test

    • Performance metric: Open Rate

    • Secondary metrics: Click Rate, Conversion Rate

  • Subject line length: Long vs. Short

    • 2-way test

    • Performance metric: Open Rate

  • Email body length: Long vs. Short

    • 2-way test

    • Performance metrics: Open Rate, Click Rate, Conversion Rate

Automation Basics: Where to get started

Automation: A word that inspires confusion, fear, and sentiments of human-eating robots controlling the Earth. Maybe that last one is just me.

There’s a lot of whispers in 2019 about massive increases in automated campaigning…and while there are certainly a few elements in which automation has sparked real innovation, there’s also a lot of hearsay akin to the late-00’s virtual reality and 3DTV hype.

For most businesses, there are really only two components of automation that they need to be keen on: Welcome series automation and Reactivation series automation.

So, let’s talk about it.

An email welcome series is essentially an email marketing campaign tailored for onboarding new leads to your email program. So, when users sign up for your email list, they’ll receive a predetermined series of email messages over a predetermined set of time, with the goal of “activating” users to open, click, and take action on your emails. This tactic is massively powerful, and every business capturing email address should have a welcome series in place.

A typical welcome series involves about 5-7 messages over roughly a month’s time, and usually incorporates an introduction of high-performing engagement content to get users opening/clicking, and closes with a purchasing or actionable offer.

Conversely, an email reactivation series is an automated campaign directed at reactivating users who haven'‘t recently engaged with your messages. This type of automated campaigning is much more “optional”, but still quite useful to have.

A typical reactivation series involves 3-4 messages over roughly a months time, with one engagement message and 2-3 actionable offers which have increasing urgency.

In either case, these automated series are fairly simple to set up, and offer an abundance of opportunity for sincerely engaging with your audience at crucial touch points, as well as generating special offers for both new users and lapsed users.

That’s it!

From colleges to careers, having and maintaining an email address has become a central component of communication in the modern age.

I hope these tips and suggestions help you jumpstart your email marketing journey. If you’ve got questions, comments, or additional thoughts, feel free to comment below, or shoot me an email if you’re feeling conversational!

Be sure to also check out:

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