Beginners guide to starting an email campaign

A Beginner’s Guide: Email Campaigns From Start to Finish

A Beginner's Guide: Email Campaigns From Start to FinishCreating an email campaign from scratch can be a daunting task. We're going to cover the basic steps of bringing an email campaign to fruition in this blog. We'll help you get your bearings and plan out the steps you need to complete before you hit the "send" button.

First, let's take a look at all the steps that are part of the email campaign process.

  1. Identify the need for an email.
  2. Document this campaign's requirements.
  3. Draft email copy and find artwork.
  4. Add copy and art to template.
  5. Set up tracking and add to email.
  6. Test your email and make edits.
  7. Complete the email checklist.
  8. Send your email.
  9. Use data to revise tactics.

1. Identify the need for an email.

Step 1 in this process has to be noticing that an email is needed. This can happen in a lot of ways. There are many emails that a company sends that serve a functional purpose, and their need is fairly obvious. For example, if you allow customers to make a profile online, you'll want to send them a registration confirmation email. If they can make purchases on your site, you'll want to send them a receipt. If you think transactional emails should be just plain text and as little info as possible, think again! Take a look at our blog on making the most of your transactional emails.

Or, you may have an idea for a one-time only email. Perhaps you want to do a special advertising campaign, or you've just come out with a new feature or service. Whatever the case, you'll need to create a requirements document to record your goals and other design ideas for the email. This will help you create more campaigns in the future, and makes it easier for a team to work together on the project.


2. Document this campaign's requirements.

This document is your (and your team's) guide to creating the email. You can download our template for the requirements doc here. Filling this guide out may also help remind you of some of the steps involved. Start by filling out the summary for the email, which should let people know what the email is about at a glance.



The goal is probably the most important part of the requirements doc. Without a clear goal, it's hard for others working on the project to know if they're doing the right thing. Your goal should be a concrete action when possible, such as "Get the recipient to sign up for our webinar," or, "Get the recipient to buy a specific product of ours." Incorporating email analytics for your email campaign can help you track how many people actually clicked-through.

Fill out the tone, voice & person section to help whoever writes the copy make sure that they achieve the effect you were looking for. Who you are writing to is very important. Is this email directed at a power-user or a novice? Make sure you know your audience. Check out a common email myth regarding tone if you need a jumping off point. Personalization is key when it comes to email marketing. Note the "from" address and name as well. Is this email from your CEO, or just a newsletter? Make it clear using your from name and address. Note which segment or list this email will go to. When it comes to personalization, there is nothing better than a well segmented list. Small businesses or those just starting their email marketing efforts may only have one list.

The subject line is a very important part of an email, some marketers would argue that it's the most important part. After all, a bad subject line can get your email deleted before it's even opened. Spend enough time on your subject line that you end up with something really compelling. Note which template will be used for this email, if you have more than one.

Finally, we need to detail the outline. This is where you lay down the bones of your email. Where will the images go? What will they look like? How much copy will you have, and what will it communicate? By writing all of this out carefully in the requirements doc, you make sure that the rest of the team involved in creating this campaign (or you yourself at a later date) will share the same vision. When creating the outline, keep in mind the final goal of the email. Everything in your email (subject line, art work, copy, and so on) should be working towards that goal.


3. Draft email copy and find artwork.

Draft Email Copy

Now that you have a clear idea of the purpose of your email you can begin writing the copy. We could write volumes on how to craft excellent marketing copy, but for this beginner guide we'll try to keep it short. Here are a few points to keep in mind when writing your copy:

  • Stick to the point. Keep it short and sweet when possible. People aren't going to stick around just to read through fluff. If you have a lot of valuable content to offer, don't be afraid to go long, though.
  • Provide value. If you only send promotional (AKA sales) emails, people are going to lose interest quickly. Try to provide some value to them to keep your readers interested.
  • Make text scannable. Make good use of bulleted lists, bold, underline and italics to make the most important parts of the email easy to find. Don't go too overboard with these, though, or you'll do more harm than good.
  • Have a clear and powerful CTA. The "Call to Action" of the email should be a large button or link that moves the recipient one step closer to your email's goal. For example, if you want them to sign up for your webinar, your CTA button might read, "Sign up now!" Make sure the CTA is easy to identify and very visible. Grab some tips on crafting your CTA, here!
  • Make it relevant to your audience. You should put some thought into what your audience needs and wants. Focus not on what you're trying to sell, but rather on what your readers need. Make sure the content is useful or important to your readers and you'll do well.
  • Personalize if possible. If you've collected first and last name, or other personal information, make use of this to add a personal touch to the email. When a reader sees their first name, they will be much more attentive to your message.
  • Control your tone. It's not only WHAT you are saying, but HOW you are saying it. Sometimes a flippant or humorous tone can work wonders, but make sure you use it in the right places. Nobody wants to hear your funny jokes in an email about why the site went down for two hours.
  • Revise carefully. Once you've got your rough draft down, revise it a few times. Make sure that the grammar and spelling are perfect. Also take a look back at your requirements document to make sure you've covered everything and your copy is working towards the stated goal of the email.

Find Artwork

You'll probably want some eye-catching artwork to improve your email. Avoid stock photos when possible, as these will turn off some readers. Make sure the images fit correctly within your template. Adding a few images can greatly increase your click-through rate, but don't go too crazy as this will increase file size and decrease deliverability. We recommend that you keep your total email size under 102k. Make sure that the artwork pushes the goal of your email.


4. Add copy and art to template.

If you're tech-savvy this may be a very simple step. For those of you who don't code HTML, we recommend hiring a professional or using a visual editor/email builder. If you've got questions about code, check out our list of email experts.

Responsive design is an important consideration when coding an email. We can't say enough about the importance of making sure your email looks amazing in every client and device. Responsive design will help you control the appearance of your email on mobile devices, making sure that readers on the go don't just delete your carefully created content. If you'd like to try your hand at coding a responsive email, check out our tutorial. Using email analytics (see below) will help you determine if responsive design is a necessity for your audience.

Need a template for your new campaign?


5. Set up tracking and add to email.

Tracking your email campaigns is the easiest way to quantify the success of those campaigns. Check out our blog on getting started with analytics if you'd like to know more about how to implement EOA's advanced analytics and reporting. Your ESP may offer their own analytics, so check their site to see what options you have.

Many beginning email marketers are curious about how email analytics work. The basic idea is that a 1x1 pixel image, or "tracking pixel," is added just before the closing body tag of the email. When this image is loaded by the reader, the image request is logged by the server. The number of requests (and a lot more information) is collected by the analytics service, which can then generate statistics on email open rates, click-throughs and more.

In fact, our advanced analytics can also track how long a user has an email open. This is called an "engagement" score, and can be used to add context to other statistics like click-throughs and number of opens. For more on reader engagement, check out our email engagement series.

After gathering all of this information, you'll want to review it and use the insights it gives you to revise your strategy. We'll go over that in more detail in the last step.


6. Test your email and make edits.

This step is absolutely critical to your success as a marketer. If your email looks like garbage, a recipient is likely to close it without even reading all of your carefully crafted copy. You'd be surprised how different an email can look in all of the different clients out there. Gmail is notorious for stripping most of the styles from the head of the email, while Outlook is infamous for destroying layouts after rendering them with the Word engine.

We specialize in email testing here at Email on Acid, and now it's easier than ever. In fact, the easiest and most accurate way to test your email is just to send it to your EOA testing address. We'll take the code from the email and process it through our collection of different email clients to generate a preview of what it will look like in each one. You'll scan through the previews and easily be able to identify any potential issues before they ruin your campaign's success.

You'll need to develop a process for noting problems with the email and correcting them, then testing again to ensure that they've been fixed. You should achieve a final test that looks perfect in every client (or every client that gets high open rates) before you do the final send.


7. Complete the email checklist.

email checklist

As an email marketer, one of the worst, most stomach turning moments is realizing you sent an email out to thousands of subscribers with a mistake in it. Whether you sent the email to the wrong list, used the wrong link in your CTA or left out a crucial piece of information, we've all been there. We've all felt that panic.

That's why it's important that you never become complacent when checking your work. The moment you become comfortable is the moment something slips through the cracks. It's not always easy though to be juggling your many tasks AND checking every minute detail. That's why we did some of the heavy lifting for you and created a pre-deployment checklist you can utilize before every email send.


8. Send your email.

Now that you've created your email, tested it, revised it, and double-checked everything, it's finally time to send! But hold on. You'll want to make sure that you're sending at the most optimal time. Part 3 of our Open Rate Optimization guide covers this in a lot more detail.


9. Use data to revise tactics.

Finally, after waiting a few days for the data to accumulate, you'll want to take a look at what you learned from this send. Analytics are the key to understanding what worked and what didn't, and where you have room to improve. Here are a few key questions to consider as you revise your strategy.

  • How successful was your CTA? Your subject line? Closely watch your email campaigns to see how successful your marketing copy is, especially your CTA and subject line.
  • Which email clients(s) are most popular with your readers? This will let you know where to focus your design and testing efforts. These clients should look perfect every time.
  • How many of your readers are using mobile devices? If you have a lot of mobile readers, you'll want to make sure you're using a responsive design that looks great on mobile.
  • How can you subdivide your list? If you can subdivide your list (by customer type, interest, how you got their email, etc.) you can vastly improve your marketing efforts by addressing them much more directly and specifically. Market the right products to the right people and you'll be very successful.
  • Who is least engaged with your emails? Segmenting these users out will allow you to retarget them and try to get them engaged with your emails again.

Rinse and Repeat

Well that's pretty much it. Once you've finished your first campaign, you'll find that it gets easier and easier to go from just an idea to a completed campaign. You'll start to know what works and what doesn't. For all of your email questions along the way, we're here to help find answers and keep you on track. Good luck, and happy testing!