What Is Email Marketing?
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In this article, we’ll answer the question “what is email marketing?”. We’ll also share a practical tutorial on how you can get started with email marketing, with screenshots and tips for beginners to help guide you.

If you’re ready to add this powerful marketing tactic to your arsenal, then keep reading!

For your convenience, we will share the breakdown of what you can expect to learn about email marketing below. Feel free to click on any of the sections to skip to that section directly.

📚 Table of contents

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

What is email marketing? A basic definition

Simply put, email marketing refers to the act of reaching out to consumers through email.

Now, the beauty of email marketing lies in its versatility.

You can use email marketing to…

  • Drive traffic to a new blog post you’ve published
  • Survey your customers
  • Nurture customers who aren’t ready to make a purchase yet
  • Sell to customers who are ready to make a purchase
  • Promote other people’s products (e.g. affiliate marketing)

Most people think of email marketing as “old-school”, but email still has the best ROI of any marketing channel.

More specifically, the average company generates $44 for every $1 they spend on email marketing. For comparison, you’d only generate $2 for every $1 that you spend on your AdWords campaigns.

You can view email marketing as a funnel

So how does a funnel connect to the question of what is email marketing?

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “funnel”, it’s basically a model that you can use to guide your consumers towards making a purchase.

Here’s what an email marketing funnel might look like:

🚗 TrafficLead magnetEducation & nurturingPitchSale 💰

At the top is “Traffic” – these are the folks who visit your site.

Draw subscribers in with the lead magnet

Next, you have the “Lead magnet”. This is a valuable resource that you offer to your site visitors in exchange for their email.

Your lead magnet might be:

  • An eBook
  • An infographic
  • A case study
  • A whitepaper
  • A cheat sheet

Or anything else that brings value to your visitors (for example, we offer a guide on how to speed up your WordPress site, which you’ll see at the end of this post).

Here’s how it works:

You set up a form offering your lead magnet to site visitors. Like this one:

Email Marketing Lead Magnet

Your site visitors enter their contact details into this form, and your email marketing platform triggers an email to them. (This email contains a link to download the lead magnet.)

Convert new subscribers with education and nurturing

From there, you move onto the “Education And Nurturing” stage.

The lead magnet that you’ve sent your customers should serve to educate them…

But if you’d like, you can also bring your customers through a separate automated email campaign that will do the same thing.

Say, for example, your consumers are interested in learning how to optimize their site for SEO.

You might send them the following email series:

  • #1: Learn how to conduct an SEO audit for your site
  • #2: Do’s and Don’ts of SEO
  • #3: Advanced SEO tips

Pitch your customers once you’ve built a relationship

Once you’re done nurturing your consumers, it’s time to move on to the next stage of the funnel – the “Pitch”.

In this step, you hit your leads with the offer.

Maybe you want to sell them your services, or perhaps you’re promoting your products. Either way, in this email you can tell them all about your offer and its benefits.

Finally, the last step of the funnel is the “Sale”, where you convert your lead into a paying customer.

Why do you need a funnel, anyway?

Now, you might be wondering…

Why do you have to go through the funnel in the first place? Can’t you just sell to your consumers right off the bat?

Yes, that’s possible – but you probably won’t experience much success.

Here’s the thing: not everyone who looks at your website is ready to buy immediately.

Some of your visitors might still be researching their problem. Other visitors may be crystal-clear on their problem, but they might still be looking at various solutions.

That’s why you need to nurture them with email marketing.

At this stage you’re trying to:

  1. Educate your consumers so they’re aware of their problem
  2. Position your company as the best candidate to provide the solution to their problem

Got it? Great!

Let’s move on to talk about how you can get started with email marketing.

How to get started with email marketing

Now that you can answer “what is email marketing?”, it’s time to learn how you can start building your own email list.

To get started with email marketing, you’ll need a third-party email marketing service to help you:

  • Collect and manage your subscribers
  • Send emails to those subscribers and ensure those emails don’t go to spam (that second part is hard to do, which is why you shouldn’t just send emails by yourself)

There are plenty of email marketing services out there, but one of the most popular is MailChimp.

For those of you who are new to email marketing, we recommend using MailChimp to begin your journey. They have a free plan that you can use until you exceed 500 subscribers, which gives you one less expense to worry about when you’re first getting started with email marketing.

To sign up with MailChimp, click on this link.

After you input your email address, MailChimp will send you a confirmation email. Click on the link in that email, and start setting up your email account…

signing up for a mailchimp account

Create your first email marketing campaign

Once you have an account, it’s time to set up your first automated campaign. Click on Campaigns > All Campaigns in the menu, then select Create Campaign.

creating an email marketing campaign

Click to design a Regular Email. The next page offers settings to:

  • Edit the email name (for your own reference)
  • Edit recipients (choose an audience)
  • Edit From (change the email address from which the email comes)
  • Edit Subject (Make an appealing subject line)
  • Design Email (Customize all content within the email)

Walk through all of those settings. Click on the Design Email button to continue.

setting email marketing essentials like subject line and schedule

This brings you to the Mailchimp marketing email editor. It includes tabs for Content and Layouts. Both help with designing the email using elements like paragraphs, headings, buttons, logos, social buttons, images, video, and more. Simply drag and drop the content blocks or layouts you want to use, then click on them inside the email to customize the content. Once you’re done designing the email, click the Save and exit button.

designing the email marketing campaign

The last step is to either Schedule or Send the email. The Schedule function lets you choose the date and time to send, while the Send button starts delivering the emails to customers immediately.

As an alternative, you can configure automated email campaigns to:

  • Welcome new subscribers
  • Email tagged customers
  • Recover abandoned carts
  • Remind customers to reorder
  • Drip content
  • Celebrate annual events
  • And much more!

To turn on automations, go to Automations in Mailchimp. Click on Pre-built journeys.

what is email marketing without prebuilt journeys

You have the option to click the Create Journey button, but Mailchimp already has commonly used automations built for you. We recommend clicking on one of those to begin. For example, you can click the Welcome new contacts journey to send a welcome message to all new subscribers.

making a journey to welcome new contacts

Each step of the pre-built journey gets displayed for you to understand how the automation works. There are four steps for the Welcome new contacts journey: Contact signs up to an audience; Send welcome email; 1 week delay; Send email with information about products.

Click Use this journey. You can always edit the steps of the journey further along in the process.


using this email marketing journey

After that, you edit the automation by clicking each step. For instance, you can click to Create an email, which allows you to edit the automated email with Mailchimp’s email campaign builder.

making an email marketing journey

Fill in important details like the marketing email subject line, sending schedule, and “From” email address. Continue the process by choosing the New or Classic Builder to design your email.

choosing things like subject and schedule

In the Mailchimp builder, you’re able to customize everything from the email logo to the content. Use Content blocks and Layouts to insert items like social buttons, logos, dividers, and images into the email. Click the Save and return to journey button when you’re done.

designing the email marketing automation

Finally, you should save the journey and activate it to run automatically.

And you’re done! You’ve successfully set up your first manual and automated email marketing campaigns.

Start collecting email subscribers

As mentioned previously, most people typically use lead magnets to capture their leads’ emails.

You can also just create a plain email sign-up form, but that won’t be as enticing for your visitors.

Either way, you can follow our guide on how to create opt-in forms on WordPress.

This guide outlines the steps to successfully create and add email opt-in forms to WordPress using the following steps:

  1. Sign up with an email marketing provider (we recommend Mailchimp)
  2. Integrate Mailchimp with Optin Forms
  3. Configure the Optin Forms plugin
  4. Style your form
  5. Set form options, functionality, and placement of the form

After walking through that guide, you’ll have a beautiful opt-in form that automatically adds contact information to your Mailchimp database when users type it in on your website. In addition, Mailchimp offers a powerful newsletter builder for sending out emails to contacts in the database.

How to grow an email list

Once you’ve got your basic form in place, you can read our guide on how to double your email subscribers to start implementing more advanced list building methods.

The overall goal is to grow the email list at a regular rate using some tried-and-true email marketing strategies.

In our guide to double email subscribers, we share the secret to gaining email subscribers: content upgrades. That means taking your current content and repurposing it to give away as a freebie when users sign up through your opt-in form. Examples of content upgrades include case studies of a blog post in action, cheat sheets to implement what a blog post is about, or a PDF version of a blog post.

The guide offers a more in-depth tutorial, but here are the steps to create content upgrades:

  1. Find your most trafficked pages
  2. Come up with upgrade ideas that are suitable for your content niche
  3. Create the content upgrade
  4. Add the upgrade to your WordPress website (like uploading a PDF to your site or making a Google Doc public.

There are also several tips to maximize the effectiveness of your content upgrades, like:

  1. Implementing popups to attract readers to the email marketing offering
  2. Making the content upgrade extremely relevant to the article’s goal
  3. Adding in-line opt-ins to naturally attract subscribers (like placing a box within a blog post that’s related to the content you’re giving away)
  4. Putting multiple opt-in forms on your site (and in different formats, like popups and slide-ins)
  5. Using push notifications, since a browser notification is an excellent form of email advertising to get your message across
  6. Ensuring you follow GDPR rules if necessary (EU only)

Upgrading content takes some time, but it’s much faster than creating something completely new. Not to mention, you’re able to identify the content that’s actually working; this way, you’re not trying to grow your email list with content that no one wants.

With your opt-in forms and content upgrades complete, you’re ready to move onto another one of the key email marketing strategies of segmenting your list.

How to segment an email list

Segmenting an email list allows you to target users with specific marketing emails. This not only improves the relevancy of your email marketing content, but it’s bound to boost open and click rates, since people actually want to see the content you send them.

For instance, you may want to segment your email list based on:

  • General demographics like gender, age, and location
  • Who attended certain events
  • Product interests
  • Purchasing habits
  • Open rates and other email engagement stats
  • Device usage, like sending out one email version to mobile phone users and another version to desktop users
  • Time since last purchase
  • Position in the sales funnel
  • Amount spent
  • Survey or quiz results

Luckily, it’s easy to segment with Mailchimp. Simply log into the Mailchimp dashboard and go to Audience > Segments. Keep in mind that you must already have an Audience configured for this to work. The Audience is just another name that Mailchimp uses for a general email list.

going to the segments part of mailchimp

This displays your current audience. You may already use Audiences to separate multiple email lists, but the segmentation portion of Mailchimp allows for more refined separation. Click the Create Segment button to proceed.

making a new segment

Click the dropdown field to assign conditions to the segment. There are options to generate segments that match any of the following conditions or all of the following conditions. It’s also possible to include multiple conditions for one segment.

picking a segmentation format

You’ll notice a long list of options for conditions.

Choose from the categories:

  • Personal details about your contacts
  • How your contacts were acquired
  • What your contacts have done

selecting a segmentation option

As an example, you may want to make a segment of all customers who purchased a certain product. This way, you could send out an email asking them for feedback, or to give out a coupon to buy more.

an email marketing segment example like products purchased

Once you’ve established the segment, view the list of contacts to ensure it looks right. Click the Save Segment button. Mailchimp will ask you to name the segment for your own reference.

saving the segment

Now whenever you create a campaign or automation, Mailchimp gives you the option to only send to a specific segment, as opposed to the entire email list.

How to improve email open rate

Open rates are almost entirely reliant on:

  1. The time in which you send the email
  2. The email headline
  3. The sender

You can’t do much about the sender, outside of improving your brand image. Yet, you can actively improve your email subject lines, and pick the right times to send emails (explained in the next section).

Your best bet is to mainly focus on writing the best possible subject lines. Start by reading our guide on 6 tips to write the best email subject lines to boost open rates.

In this guide, you’ll learn to:

  • Utilize hobby-related subject lines
  • Convey a sense of urgency in the headline
  • Avoid words such as “reminder,” “help,” and “free”
  • Optimize title lengths for mobile devices
  • Use personalization in subject lines
  • Incorporate emojis in your subject lines

Best time to send emails

Another way to increase open rates is by ensuring emails get sent at the right times. After all, people won’t open their emails if it’s the middle of the night (and by the time they wake up it might get pushed below many other emails).

There’s a significant amount of data available on the web on when to send emails for the best results. To make things easier for you, we’ve included a summary of when to send emails below:

  • The best days to send emails are Wedensday through Thursday
  • The best time to send emails is between 10AM and 11AM
  • There’s a peak in click-through rates from 3PM to 4PM
  • For some industries, it’s better to send at different times, like 8AM to 10AM for B2B or 7AM to 8:30AM for the hobby industry
  • Send emails to college-aged users between noon and 2PM; send to people in their 40s between 8AM and 10AM; send to retirement-aged people between 9:30AM and 10:30AM
  • If you’re looking for the most responses to emails, shoot for Tuesdays at 8AM
  • Transaction rates are the highest from 8PM to midnight, since that’s when many people do their online shopping

It’s also worth mentioning that the frequency in which you send emails factors into open and click-through rates. Eventually, if someone feels you send too many emails, they may get annoyed and either unsubscribe or delete your emails the second they see them. Sources like CampaignMonitor and Keap argue that 2-3 times a month is a good place to start for email marketing campaigns. After that, you might try increasing email frequency if the customer-base seems okay with it.

What is email marketing? It’s your new best friend!

At this point, we hope you can answer the question of “what is email marketing?” Not only that, but you now have the knowledge to start collecting email subscribers, grow an email list, segment that list, and improve your email open rate. You should also feel more confident about the time in which to send marketing emails based on your industry and target demographics.

Overall, email marketing is a powerful way to build a life-long asset for your site. While search engine rankings and social media traffic come and go, your email list is forever!

Still a little confused by the question of “what is email marketing?” Let us know your questions in the comments and we’ll try to help out!

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