7 Email Campaign Optimization Tips for Small Businesses

By Kelsey McKeon / 24 February 2021

Email campaigns are essential to an inbound marketer’s toolkit. The most effective email campaigns prioritize customer experience, providing relevant information to the right audience. The Manifest’s survey of 501 people outlines a roadmap for businesses to optimize their email campaigns.

Think about the worst marketing email you’ve ever received. 

Was it a spam email? Was the third, fourth, or fifth email from a company whose product you only purchased once? 

Marketing emails are a part of everyday life because of their ability to drive sales, regardless of how irritated recipients claim to be.

Emails are a critical component of any inbound marketing strategy because they open opportunities to communicate business value directly to both current and potential customers.

Still, it’s challenging for businesses to cut through the noise and reach the right audiences at the right time. 

The Manifest surveyed 501 people in the U.S. and found 20% of people receive 21 or more marketing emails each day. 

Email marketing is also on the rise as we pass the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. 

More than half of consumers (59%) say the volume of marketing emails they receive has increased in the last year as businesses increased online communication. It’s no surprise, then, that 84% of people have unsubscribed from a marketing email in the past. 

This survey explores common reasons people unsubscribe from marketing emails and provides tips for businesses looking optimize their email marketing campaigns.

7 Tips to Optimize Your Email Campaigns

  • Target only email subscribers: 23% of people commonly unsubscribe because they never subscribed to begin with. Emailing people who didn't explicitly opt in to messages can also have legal consequences.
  • Avoid spam flags: about one-third (36%) of people unsubscribe from emails they perceive to be spam or junk. Businesses must ensure their emails appear reputable.
  • Send at the best time: almost half of people (44%) receive more than 10 marketing emails a day. Understand the best times to send emails that are noticed.
  • Make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe: about one-third of people (36%) appreciate easy unsubscribe or opt-out options most in marketing emails. Providing an easy way to opt out of emails can improve the customer’s overall experience.
  • Keep sends minimal and prioritize which emails to send: 59% of people say the most common reason they unsubscribe from marketing emails is because the emails are too frequent.
  • Include custom content: 38% of people unsubscribe because of irrelevant content and 11% value custom email content the most.
  • Keep emails brief: just 11% of people value brief messages the most, but businesses should combine concise copywriting with visual design to make emails easy to consume.

Require Email Recipients To Opt In

It can be easy, and tempting, for marketers to send valuable emails to prospects or leads who haven’t opted in to receive emails in attempt to grow their audience. Businesses who do this, though, do so at their own expense. 

Almost one-quarter of people (23%) say the most common reason they unsubscribe from marketing emails is because they never subscribed to emails from that company in the first place.

23% of people unsubscribe from emails because they never signed up to receive them in the first place.

Sending marketing emails to individuals who have not “opted in” through a past purchase or a specific form is not only poor customer service, it could also mean potential legal consequences for the business.

Governments around the world are implementing privacy and opt-in laws that require customers’ explicit consent for companies to email them.

Perhaps the most commonly known example of one of these laws is the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR,  the EU passed in 2018.

GDPR requires businesses to disclose when they collect client information like email addresses. A

business that sends a marketing email to a customer in the EU who has not opted in to receive emails could face a penalty, regardless of that business’s location.

While most businesses don’t go out of their way to scrape or acquire emails addresses, sometimes just adding a current customer contact to emails they didn’t opt in to can lead to potential privacy lawsuit.

Marketers should err on the side of caution and avoid sending marketing emails to customers that have not explicitly consented to email communications. 

A few ways businesses can obtain explicit consent to email an individual include:

  • Opt-in forms on a website or landing page
  • Gated content such as whitepapers or survey reports
  • Purchases made on a company website

By limiting email lists to opt-ins, businesses can avoid legal penalties while improving customer satisfaction.

Avoid Being Marked as Spam

One of the most common reasons people unsubscribe from marketing emails is when the messages appear to be spam or junk mail.

About one-third of people (36%) commonly opt out of emails they consider to be spam or junk.

36% of people commonly opt out of emails they find spammy

Customer marks a marketing email as spam while unsubscribing often triggers a spam report through the recipient’s email client, such as Google or Outlook.

Consistently being marked as spam can limit a company's ability to send messages to certain contacts, hurt their overall email deliverability, and send a signal to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that their company is not a reputable sender, pushing their emails to spam folders more frequently.

What makes an email spam or junk to a customer, though?

The most obvious examples of spam are emails that solicit personal information from the recipient, or appear to be part of spear phishing attacks

Still, even companies with the best intentions can wind up being marked as spam. 

One report from HubSpot outlined some common reasons emails are flagged as spam, which include: 

  • “Trigger words” such as “free” or “guarantee” 
  • Email attachments
  • Embedded forms or videos
  • All-caps subject lines

Businesses can avoid being marked as spam and improve deliverability rates by avoiding using all-caps, exclamation marks, and words like “free” in their subject lines.

By avoiding common email mistakes and sending emails to the right audience, businesses can stay out of the spam folder and increase their emails’ value for customers.

Optimize Email Sends for Time of Day

When almost every company uses email marketing to reach customers, it’s important to find ways to make your emails stand out.

Almost half of people (44%) receive more than 10 marketing emails every day.

44% of consumers receive more than 10 marketing emails a day

Send emails at the right time will increase the likelihood that recipients will open and engage with the content.

Most marketing email tools allow marketers to schedule email sends for specific dates and times.

To identify the best time of day to send an email, marketers should start by thinking critically about the audience in a specific email list.

  • Do they open emails on their phones, or wait until they get to their desks?
  • Is the list made up of work emails or personal emails? 

Say, for example, a company wants to send a marketing email to a list of sales managers and executives. Sales executives often have workdays full of calls and meetings with prospects. This audience may be more likely to open a marketing email sent at 6:30 a.m. when they check their emails first thing in the morning, rather than after lunch or in between afternoon calls.

Early email send times often have the best overall open rates. Still, it’s important for marketers to consider their industry and audience. What works for B2B companies might not work for B2C companies, for example.

Companies with an international audience should be especially mindful of their recipients’ time zones. Early morning for one recipient might be the middle of the night for another.

HubSpot, for example, has a “Time Zone Send” feature that sends emails at different times depending on the recipients’ time zones.

HubSpot offers a feature that allows users to schedule emails to recipients in different time zones.

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Features like this that factor in different time zones help marketers reach people at the right times, resulting in improved open rates

Offer Easy Unsubscribe Options

People value websites that are easy to read and understand. The same is true for emails.

About one-third of people (36%) appreciate when companies make it easy to unsubscribe from their marketing emails.

36% of consumers appreciate when it is easy to unsubscribe from marketing emails

For email marketers who work hard to attract and retain subscribers, it might seem counterintuitive to make it easier to unsubscribe.

Unsubscribe buttons are also legally required by many email service providers and regional laws, such as the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act

Most companies include an unsubscribe link in small text in the footer of an email.

Safeway offers clear unsubscribe options in the footer of their emails

This email from Safeway includes an unsubscribe link along with its privacy and digital accessibility policies underneath legal language about opting into emails.

Providing an easy way to unsubscribe from emails is an easy way to improve customer service while optimizing email lists. 

"With email marketing, the biggest challenge is deliverability,” said Blake Bobit, founder of business resource website Solution Scout. “Including a button helps [recipients] interact with your email service provider letting you know they want to be unsubscribed instantly, which helps improve your deliverability and email credibility."

Customers will appreciate the ability to opt out of sales emails that are no longer relevant to them.

When people unsubscribe, it also cleans your company’s email lists of people who are not engaging with your content. 

Many companies use an unsubscribe button to offer different email subscription options to recipients, or prompt them to manage their preferences instead of opting out altogether.

Many companies use unsubscribe buttons to help users manage their preferences before opting out all together

Some people may not want to opt out of your emails altogether, but giving them the option to decide what emails they want to receive from your company will reflect better on your company’s customer service.

Prioritize Important Emails to Send

For most people, it’s impossible to achieve “inbox zero,” or the thrill of an empty unread email inbox.

In fact, frequency of emails is a common reason 59% of people unsubscribe from marketing emails. 

59% of people's most common reason for unsubscribing from marketing emails is based on frequency

Inbound marketers should prioritize which emails are most effective for each of their email lists to ensure that customers are receiving relevant communication without being bombarded with unnecessary emails.

Customer email journey mapping can help businesses with large email lists and diverse client groups visualize and monitor how many emails customers are getting at a time.

The visual representation of the number of emails a recipient receives can help businesses determine which marketing emails are necessary and which can be eliminated.

Businesses shouldn't wait until someone complains about receiving too many emails to create a customer journey map and prioritize sending — it could be too late. 

Customize Content for Individual Recipients

Targeted advertising has made hyper-customized content the norm online. Emails should be no different.

More than one-third of people (38%) commonly unsubscribe from emails when the email content is irrelevant.

38% of people commonly unsubscribe from marketing emails because their content is irrelevant.

Companies can use customer information and A/B testing to tailor content to each customer to avoid increased unsubscribe rates.

Post-purchase follow-up emails are a great example.

That customer might become frustrated with daily emails promoting a product they’ve just purchased. A better alternative would be to email that customer with a prompt to review the product they’ve purchased, because that content might be more relevant to their current needs.

Customer journey mapping can help tailor content to specific audiences by identifying actions customers take and creating different emails accordingly.

The best way to ensure each customer is receiving relevant content is by segmenting your business’s marketing email lists.

Most customer relationship management (CRM) systems allow marketing teams to download and segment audience lists by opt in, engagement level, past purchases, and even demographic information.

Many email tools also allow businesses to customize subject lines, copy, and CTAs, and use customer first names, which creates an even more tailored experience for the customer.

After creating this custom email content, businesses can A/B test it to a small segment of their audience at a time to determine which features drive more engagement.

Customized content has become an essential part of the customer experience online. Custom email marketing content can help lower unsubscribe rates and boost customer engagement.

Keep Emails Brief

With so much competing for our attention online, businesses need to make sure their point gets across quickly in marketing emails.

About one-tenth of people (11%) value and appreciate brief marketing emails.

11% of people value emails with short messages.

Because the average person only spends 8 seconds on any given task during the day, businesses should keep their emails brief. 

Short, concise email copy helps recipients understand the most important information quickly. According to a study from Constant Contact, emails with fewer than 200 words have higher click-through rates. 

This marketing email from Peloton announces a new scheduling feature. All of the important information fits into a single “scroll” on a mobile device.

Peloton shared an update about a new feature within one page on a mobile device.

Peloton’s email communicates the app’s new class scheduling feature in fewer than 15 lines of text. The red CTA entices recipients to learn more about the tool’s specific details.

For customers, emails should be a stop along the way to more knowledge about a product or offering. Emails don’t need to include every detail about a product. They just need to communicate why the product will benefit the email’s recipient.

Keeping emails brief will ensure customers receive the right information quickly, and allow them to take action to learn more about a company or product.

Optimizes Email Campaigns Improve Customer Experience

Email campaigns, when used correctly, can help businesses close more sales and attract new customers. 

First, businesses should ensure their inbound marketing emails comply with local and international laws. This means only emailing people who have opted in and providing a clear way to unsubscribe from future emails.

Businesses can avoid being marked as spam by refraining from using common spam language, such as “free,” or “guarantee” in subject lines, and by making sure people who unsubscribe are fully removed from their email lists.

Marketing teams should also make sure their emails are optimized for their audience by choosing appropriate send times and customizing content to meet their lists’ needs and expectations.

Finally, businesses should keep their marketing emails brief to direct their audience to their website and, eventually, to making a purchase.

Email marketing will be a vital tool for businesses until in-person interactions can resume. Businesses should optimize their campaigns to reduce opt-outs and provide a great customer experience.

About the Survey

The Manifest surveyed 501 U.S. consumers that receive marketing emails.

Forty-four percent (44%) of respondents are male and 33% are female; 24% chose not to disclose this information.

Respondents are ages 18–24 (5%); 25–34 (10%); 35–44 (11%); 45–54 (17%); 55–64 (14%); and over 65 (18%). One quarter of respondents (25%) chose not to disclose their age.

Respondents are from the Midwest (32%), the Northeast (10%), the South (36%), and the West (22%).  

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